Jan 22, 2023
A Road Full of Promise
Series: (All)
January 22, 2023. What drew the disciples to follow Jesus? What draws us to be disciples and follow Jesus? We know that the road is not easy, but as Pastor Meagan reminds us today, we do not walk alone.
 
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Recently we've been watching the Disney+ series "Willow." Has anyone seen that? I think I see a couple of hands out there. So, this is a series that focuses on a quest to rescue a kidnapped princess, and restore safety and peace to Tir Asleen. You would think that the hero of the story would be Willow since the show is called "Willow" — and he certainly has a critical role — but by the end of the first episode it is clear that the success or failure of the quest actually depends on Elora Danan, a young sorcerer whose power has been hidden for her own safety until she was needed. As she discovers who she really is, she says repeatedly that she doesn't actually want to be Elora Danan. She may be destined to be the most powerful sorceress of all time, but the road ahead isn't easy. It involves leaving behind everything she's ever known, trusting only in the promise that things will be okay. And Willow and the rest of their companions also leave everything they've ever known, and follow Elora on a journey into the unknown that is filled with all the risk such a journey entails.
 
And this is not the only story about an unlikely hero and faithful, courageous companions. Harry Potter has Hermione and Ron. Ms. Marvel has Nakia Bahadir. Luke Skywalker has Han Solo. Xena has Gabrielle. Batman has Robin. All the heroes have a sidekick, a companion — a disciple, if you will.
 
As I reflect on the gospel for this week, I'm struck by the flow of Jesus' ministry, as it is shared in Matthew. Jesus hears that John, who has baptized Jesus, had been arrested for calling those with power to repentance. And we know that John will be beheaded. And when Jesus hears about the arrest, he immediately begins to preach the very same thing that got John into so much trouble: "Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near." This was not a popular message. Quite the opposite. And those who have followed Jesus on this road of truth-telling and gospel-sharing have faced similar opposition.
 
Especially this week as we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we think of him as a hero whose words inspired thousands across the country. And that is certainly true. But not everyone saw it that way at the time. He wrote some of his most profound words from a jail cell after being arrested, and called out those around him who wished that the truths he spoke about racism, classism, and economic injustice were not so hard to swallow. And he was actually arrested over 30 times before he died. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s gifts were seen as threats to those in power, to the point that he had an FBI file and was ultimately assassinated.
 
Truth be told, we generally still prefer the easier truths, the soft-spoken and soft, gentle words and tones, to the clear, prophetic voices that reveal the broken places and pain we would rather not face. We will sing in a few minutes about how Jacob dreamed of the ladder that represented for him the promise of God. And a few chapters later, Jacob wrestled with God all night as he tried to find his way forward. Jacob, like Jesus, had to face truth and challenge head on.
 
Jesus preaches this challenging message, knowing it would make those in power angry. And then Jesus goes out and begins to call people to follow him, gathering disciples for the journey ahead. And somehow, some way, when Jesus called, knowing what was happening with John, knowing that Jesus was preaching the same message that got John arrested, the disciples followed him right into that fire — immediately, Matthew tells us. It makes me wonder what they were thinking when they dropped their nets, left their families, and began to walk the hard, dangerous road alongside the prophet from Galilee. What drew the disciples to follow Jesus? What draws us to be disciples and follow Jesus? What is the vision of God that Jesus embodies for us?
 
God's vision, as we know from so many promises throughout our scriptures, promises healing for every sickness and illness, as Matthew says at the end of today's gospel. Every disease of body, mind, and spirit — including, I imagine, diseases of violence, oppression, and division that Dr. King pointed out — break down our communities as well. God's vision turns us in a new direction, expanding our vision of who God is, and showing us the way when we get sick or lost or stuck. God's vision shows us hope.
 
Matthew tells us Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, echoing the promise in Isaiah that the Spirit of God reaches all places, all peoples, all creation. God's healing extends to the ends of the earth, and no one is left behind. God's vision brings clarity and truth. Jesus faces and proclaims hard truths, such as our need for healing and redemption, knowing that truth brings freedom. Jacob discovered this freedom when he saw the ladder, and even more so when he wrestled with God to find his way. Paul writes to the Corinthians, who were divided over what human leader they should be listening to, and warns them that we humans can get lost very easily, and following Christ is what will bring truth and clarity to our lives.
 
We as Christian disciples today follow God in Jesus, and we find clarity and truth in a world where there is so much confusion and lies and still arguing over personalities trying to build power for themselves. We follow Christ and find healing, clarity, and truth. And around all of this, God envisions holy community, grounded in love, commitment, and hope. Isaiah proclaims that God brings us together in joy and strength. Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ is the one to trust. Jesus invites the disciples, us, to join him to grow the community of love, truth, and healing that God envisions for us. God envisions holy community, and there is a place for us, each one of us, to be present and share the unique gifts that God has given us.
 
The disciples immediately dropped their nets and set off to follow Jesus, on a road that was difficult and dangerous, but still full of promise. The road is not easy, but we do not walk alone. We disciples of Christ today hear Jesus' invitation and follow Christ to the promises of God. And that is why we follow.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2023, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
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  • Jan 22, 2023A Road Full of Promise
    Jan 22, 2023
    A Road Full of Promise
    Series: (All)
    January 22, 2023. What drew the disciples to follow Jesus? What draws us to be disciples and follow Jesus? We know that the road is not easy, but as Pastor Meagan reminds us today, we do not walk alone.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Recently we've been watching the Disney+ series "Willow." Has anyone seen that? I think I see a couple of hands out there. So, this is a series that focuses on a quest to rescue a kidnapped princess, and restore safety and peace to Tir Asleen. You would think that the hero of the story would be Willow since the show is called "Willow" — and he certainly has a critical role — but by the end of the first episode it is clear that the success or failure of the quest actually depends on Elora Danan, a young sorcerer whose power has been hidden for her own safety until she was needed. As she discovers who she really is, she says repeatedly that she doesn't actually want to be Elora Danan. She may be destined to be the most powerful sorceress of all time, but the road ahead isn't easy. It involves leaving behind everything she's ever known, trusting only in the promise that things will be okay. And Willow and the rest of their companions also leave everything they've ever known, and follow Elora on a journey into the unknown that is filled with all the risk such a journey entails.
     
    And this is not the only story about an unlikely hero and faithful, courageous companions. Harry Potter has Hermione and Ron. Ms. Marvel has Nakia Bahadir. Luke Skywalker has Han Solo. Xena has Gabrielle. Batman has Robin. All the heroes have a sidekick, a companion — a disciple, if you will.
     
    As I reflect on the gospel for this week, I'm struck by the flow of Jesus' ministry, as it is shared in Matthew. Jesus hears that John, who has baptized Jesus, had been arrested for calling those with power to repentance. And we know that John will be beheaded. And when Jesus hears about the arrest, he immediately begins to preach the very same thing that got John into so much trouble: "Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near." This was not a popular message. Quite the opposite. And those who have followed Jesus on this road of truth-telling and gospel-sharing have faced similar opposition.
     
    Especially this week as we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we think of him as a hero whose words inspired thousands across the country. And that is certainly true. But not everyone saw it that way at the time. He wrote some of his most profound words from a jail cell after being arrested, and called out those around him who wished that the truths he spoke about racism, classism, and economic injustice were not so hard to swallow. And he was actually arrested over 30 times before he died. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s gifts were seen as threats to those in power, to the point that he had an FBI file and was ultimately assassinated.
     
    Truth be told, we generally still prefer the easier truths, the soft-spoken and soft, gentle words and tones, to the clear, prophetic voices that reveal the broken places and pain we would rather not face. We will sing in a few minutes about how Jacob dreamed of the ladder that represented for him the promise of God. And a few chapters later, Jacob wrestled with God all night as he tried to find his way forward. Jacob, like Jesus, had to face truth and challenge head on.
     
    Jesus preaches this challenging message, knowing it would make those in power angry. And then Jesus goes out and begins to call people to follow him, gathering disciples for the journey ahead. And somehow, some way, when Jesus called, knowing what was happening with John, knowing that Jesus was preaching the same message that got John arrested, the disciples followed him right into that fire — immediately, Matthew tells us. It makes me wonder what they were thinking when they dropped their nets, left their families, and began to walk the hard, dangerous road alongside the prophet from Galilee. What drew the disciples to follow Jesus? What draws us to be disciples and follow Jesus? What is the vision of God that Jesus embodies for us?
     
    God's vision, as we know from so many promises throughout our scriptures, promises healing for every sickness and illness, as Matthew says at the end of today's gospel. Every disease of body, mind, and spirit — including, I imagine, diseases of violence, oppression, and division that Dr. King pointed out — break down our communities as well. God's vision turns us in a new direction, expanding our vision of who God is, and showing us the way when we get sick or lost or stuck. God's vision shows us hope.
     
    Matthew tells us Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, echoing the promise in Isaiah that the Spirit of God reaches all places, all peoples, all creation. God's healing extends to the ends of the earth, and no one is left behind. God's vision brings clarity and truth. Jesus faces and proclaims hard truths, such as our need for healing and redemption, knowing that truth brings freedom. Jacob discovered this freedom when he saw the ladder, and even more so when he wrestled with God to find his way. Paul writes to the Corinthians, who were divided over what human leader they should be listening to, and warns them that we humans can get lost very easily, and following Christ is what will bring truth and clarity to our lives.
     
    We as Christian disciples today follow God in Jesus, and we find clarity and truth in a world where there is so much confusion and lies and still arguing over personalities trying to build power for themselves. We follow Christ and find healing, clarity, and truth. And around all of this, God envisions holy community, grounded in love, commitment, and hope. Isaiah proclaims that God brings us together in joy and strength. Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ is the one to trust. Jesus invites the disciples, us, to join him to grow the community of love, truth, and healing that God envisions for us. God envisions holy community, and there is a place for us, each one of us, to be present and share the unique gifts that God has given us.
     
    The disciples immediately dropped their nets and set off to follow Jesus, on a road that was difficult and dangerous, but still full of promise. The road is not easy, but we do not walk alone. We disciples of Christ today hear Jesus' invitation and follow Christ to the promises of God. And that is why we follow.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2023, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23
  • Jan 15, 2023Beloved: Called and Sent
    Jan 15, 2023
    Beloved: Called and Sent
    Series: (All)
    January 15, 2023. Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. We remember Peter’s claim that God shows no partiality, and in her sermon Pastor Meagan reminds us to listen for God’s voice calling us, and all people, beloved.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    After telling us about John’s ministry, which John saw as preparing the way for Jesus, in today’s passage Jesus himself comes back on the scene, as we heard in our gospel. He's a grown man about 30 years old, and he's ready to enter into public ministry. And the first thing that Jesus, the Son of God, does is join the crowds of people who present themselves to John for baptism.
     
    John has made it clear to his followers that he is not the Messiah, and that the one to come — Jesus — is so much more powerful than John that John is not fit to untie his sandal straps. And yet Jesus comes to John to be baptized. And by doing this Jesus is placing himself in the midst of all the other people coming to John to offer and commit their lives to God. Jesus is demonstrating his humanity, and his need to be in intentional relationship with God, who he called Father at the age of 12.
     
    And then, as Jesus is praying to God his Father after being baptized, God shows up in a concrete way. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, a visual sign of God’s presence and blessing. And the voice of God is heard calling Jesus his beloved son. And just like that, Jesus goes from one of the crowd, to being called out as beloved child of God!
     
    Jesus’ baptism is significant because of what it reveals to us about Jesus’ identity as human and divine. We read this today and know that not only does Jesus call God Father, but God claims Jesus as beloved son. This event also reminds us who we are, and when we hear it, we're called to remember that we too are God’s beloved children. In Isaiah today, God calls God’s people by name, takes them by the hand, and claims them as their own. We are God’s own. And God promises that even when we are walking through fire, and flood water, God is with us and will never forsake us. We are each called by name, and God claims each one of us as his own.
     
    And, there’s more. In Isaiah, and in Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ baptism, the promise is not only to each of us as individuals, but to all of us, as God's people. God claims us as people of God. Jesus is one of hundreds, thousands perhaps, coming before God to be baptized. And Isaiah tells us God will bring together all of God's people, from every corner of the earth.
     
    The promise of God knows no limits, no boundaries or borders, no nation or race or language, from here to the ends of the earth. Today we heard about Christianity in Africa from Marc Horn in Adult Forum. There is no limits, boundaries, or borders, from here to the ends of the earth, for God's love. The Apostles Peter and John understand this. When they hear that the Samaritans — people seen as second class, outsiders, foreigners — have been baptized, they immediately go to them as leaders of the fledgling church to welcome them and affirm their place as children of God. And the Samaritans too receive the Holy Spirit.
     
    We remember our baptisms today, and as we do, we remember who we are as children of God. This is not something we earn. It is a gift of God freely given to us in grace. The Israelites were far from perfect — they knew they had made mistakes and failed God as a people, and they knew they needed his forgiveness and mercy. All of those coming to John likewise knew that they had sinned and needed God’s forgiveness and blessing in their lives. And as Luther tells us, we are both sinner and saint, and God claims us as God’s own with no conditions or requirements or exceptions.
     
    Celebrating the baptism of Jesus, remembering Peter’s claim that God shows no partiality, hearing the echoes of Isaiah’s words to the Israelites, reminds us to listen for God’s voice calling us, and all people, beloved. We are reminded that not only can we not earn our place as God’s child, but because of God’s grace, we don’t have to earn it. When we're tempted to try to decide who is worthy and who is not, whether we're worthy or we're not, who is in and who is out, whether we're in or we're out, we should hear these words and be reminded. We are invited and challenged to claim the promise of God for ourselves, and for our community at Christ Lutheran, and for our neighboring churches on Lockwood and the ELCA congregations within our conference, and for the church in Africa, and all countries around the world, all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.
     
    We're called to remember that we are not beloved because we are baptized, but we baptize because we are beloved. We're not part of God’s family because we're baptized, but we baptize because we are part of God’s family. And when we come together at the font, at the table, God is with us, calling us by name, calling us beloved.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2023, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
  • Jan 8, 2023The (Non) Science of Following the Star
    Jan 8, 2023
    The (Non) Science of Following the Star
    Series: (All)
    January 8, 2023. On this day when we celebrate Epiphany and we consider the wise people making their way to Bethlehem, Pastor Meagan preaches on finding our way.
     
    Reading: Matthew 2:1-12
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was in grade school, my classmates and I went to camp in northern Minnesota in January, and we were sent out on a competitive orienteering activity. We used compasses to make our way to stations where we would stamp our card to show that we had made it to that point. And then we would head to the next point. Theoretically. I took a wrong turn before we even got to the first station. Rather than backtracking, I had the brilliant idea to take a shortcut. Off the path. Through snow up to our thighs. We finally made it back to a path and found the station, but by that time I was already hoarse from screaming myself silly, using words no good Catholic girl should probably ever use. And once our feet hit the path, there was the station, just feet from where we had been the whole time. And the path it was on was the one that we should have taken to begin with, less than a hundred yards from where I decided to go rogue. We got there, but...
     
    On this day when we celebrate Epiphany and we consider the wise people making their way to Bethlehem, perhaps on camels, and I think about finding my way, many other stories of navigating a journey come to mind.
     
    My mom would often take different routes on different days to get to familiar places, and when we asked her why, she would say she didn’t like going the same way every time. There isn't just one way to get anywhere, and thank goodness for that when roads are closed.
     
    When I got to take a turn driving the boat when our family was on the lake, I learned that navigating a boat involves aiming the boat for a point on a distant shore, avoiding rocks, shallow areas, and other boats, and making many small adjustments as you go. No straight path from A to B on the water. In college, my family and I took a trip to Italy, and we drove from city to city around the country. My dad was the driver, and I was the navigator. At one point, I will admit, we could have been in any one of four countries, for all I knew. And I have found that my dependence on MapQuest means I still don’t know nearly as much about how to get around St. Louis as I probably should after three years.
     
    There are many ways to get where we need to go, and many ways to navigate. And our wise people, in today’s gospel, used a star to guide them to their destination. But they only got started on the journey because of the many years they had spent studying the stars, and a prophecy that following that particular star would lead them to the King of the Jews. But the star didn’t get them all the way there, so they stopped at King Herod’s to ask for directions too — always a very good option. And with the help of another prophecy known to Herod’s people, the wise people found their way to Bethlehem. And then, the wise people trusted a dream guiding them to avoid returning to Herod on their way home, just as Joseph trusted the dream that told him his path forward was to stay with Mary. And Mary and Joseph together made the decision to follow guidance from yet another dream to get to safety in Egypt.
     
    The wise people and Mary and Joseph discovered, as we all have at different times, that finding our way in life, and in faith, is far from being an exact science. I'm sure you all have your own stories of finding your way, or maybe not so much. It doesn’t say how long the wise people had been on the road when they arrived at Bethlehem, but it was likely months or even years, altogether. Mary and Joseph were away from Nazareth far longer than they ever would have expected when they first left for Bethlehem. And yet, through all the twists and turns, and getting lost at times, all along the way they are exactly where they are supposed to be. And they all ultimately encountered the God of the universe, come to us in Jesus.
     
    Finding our way is far from being an exact science, much as we might wish it could be that easy. Many of us, like the wise people and Mary and Joseph, have probably felt quite lost at times, wondering where God was leading, and utilizing many tools as we navigate the path.
     
    Following God is not easy, even when a star does light our path. Herod cannot have been happy with the wise people, for defying him by refusing to tell him what they found in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph’s families probably wondered what on earth they were thinking, fleeing to Egypt when returning to Nazareth was the plan. And the leaders of their community were likely angry with both of them for not adhering to the law, becoming pregnant before getting married. Those proclaiming God’s promises of love and freedom and justice, yesterday and today, often experience threats to their reputation, their wellbeing, and even their lives. And yet, they continue on the journey.
     
    The wise people had the star, the prophecies, Herod’s scholars, and dreams. We have our stars — scriptures, wise mentors and companions in faith, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that tells us in unexpected moments that we, like those who have gone before us, are exactly where we're supposed to be. God is near.
     
    The journeys of the wise people, and Mary and Joseph, and we followers of stars today, are not about following a precise path from A to B, with a need to make the exact right moves with every step lest we are lost beyond hope. After all, I did eventually find the path on my orienteering adventure, and my family and I made it home from Europe in the end.
     
    The journey that we, and they, are on is about taking each step as it comes, following the star as best we can. And that means a lot of patience, adjusting, choosing our stars wisely, and knowing that even wrong turns will get us where we need to be — and perhaps most of all, trusting that wherever we go, no matter how lost we may feel, the God of the Universe is with us. God is with us in Christ, guiding us with every step we take. God is near, perhaps nearer than we think.
     
    Today, as we celebrate the journey of the wise people to Bethlehem, and begin a new calendar year, I'm going to invite each of us to take a star — a piece of scripture — to guide us on our way. And I'm going to ask all of the children to come up and help me make sure everyone gets a star. So if you can start making your way up, come on up. Anyone who wants to help hand out stars. All of the kids can come up. I see a few coming. Alright. Journeying where the God of the Universe is leading us isn't easy, and it's not an exact science, but with the stars as our guide, we know we're on the right path.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2023, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 2:1-12
  • Nov 27, 2022Trading Expectations
    Nov 27, 2022
    Trading Expectations
    Series: (All)
    November 27, 2022. This Advent we reflect on expectations. The people of God were waiting for something that looked like swords to bring the justice they craved to the world, but Isaiah told them that God promised swords turned into plowshares. And today we expect, or at least wish, that God would come with practical, physical power and right the wrongs of the world. But even Jesus doesn’t know the day or the hour when the kin-dom of God will come to pass, and we don’t know what it might look like.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, and expecting. This Advent, we join our Conference in reflecting on expectations — Great Expectations. When you hear the word “expectations” what comes to mind? I asked some friends and colleagues what they thought, and I got a lot of different perspectives as you might imagine.
     
    One person said they define expectations as “waiting for something with preconceived ideas of when or how or what it should be — either good or bad.” Some of you may have heard the phrase, “Expectations are premeditated resentments,” a common saying in twelve-step groups, which warns against having unrealistic expectations of others that will inevitably fail. And it’s even more problematic if you don’t let the other person know what your expectations of them are.
     
    One of my friends changed this to say that expectations are “resentments under construction,” which makes me imagine each expectation stacked, like bricks one on top of another, creating a wall of full-blown resentment that will likely require much more time to take down than it did to build.
     
    One friend shared the worry that she’ll be judged and not able to meet the expectations others have of her. And it’s not just other people’s expectations. The pressure of the expectations we place on ourselves can bind and crush us under a weight of disappointment and shame.
     
    And one person, when asked about expectations, simply replied, “Disaster,” while another said that in their experience expectations lead to misery and suffering. That's not what we want! Having no expectations, they feel, means having no attachments to what will or should happen — and they find it freeing. One of my friends said that in defense against all of these challenges, they try to keep their expectations low sometimes, and they often end up pleasantly surprised.
     
    So let’s face it: things don't always happen when and how we want them to happen. And we don’t always achieve what we want to achieve. And this time of year can be really fertile ground for expectations that, as my friend suggested, can lead to disaster — or at least a whole lot of pressure and stress. Perfect cookies, and other baked goods. (I failed this test already when I burned half the Chex Mix I made this week.) Beautiful decorations on a full, even, pine tree. (Not sure how that’s going to work out this year since we have a rambunctious kitten who is just a year old. She hasn’t seen a tree yet.) Peaceful, joy-filled, family gatherings with no conflict or stress. (This is especially hard when our whole society has become so divided, on issues that have a deep impact on dignity, health, and wellbeing.) And of course, a picture-perfect meal all made from scratch. (Has anyone else worked hard for this, and then had the flu, or COVID, strike your household on the morning of the big event?)
     
    The people of God knew something of expectations. And they were tired. They were waiting for something that looked like swords to bring the justice they craved to the world. But as we hear in our scripture today, Isaiah told them that God promised swords turned into plowshares. The disciples following Jesus were expecting swords and military victory too — a worldly king who would overthrow the Romans. We too, I think, often expect, or at least wish, that God would come with practical physical power and right the wrongs of the world. Feed those who are hungry, so that no one need ever go without. End senseless hatred and violence, like that waged against the LGBTQ community this week at Club Q in Colorado Springs, as they gathered in one of the few places they feel safe to be themselves. Resolve the political tension and violence that seems to have infected the whole country, corrupting religion as an excuse to legislate oppression against so many who are vulnerable.
     
    Things don't always happen the way we think they should, or expect they will. Our old church year has ended, and the new church year is beginning with Advent today. And as we join congregations in our Conference in reflecting on Great Expectations, now seems to be the perfect time to trade one set of expectations for another. Expectations that are informed and transformed by grace, which can lead us out of the pressure and shame we hold over ourselves, and others. And lead us into hope for a world that desperately needs it. In the midst of a world that we know is broken, Mary, in the Magnificat which we will sing together each Wednesday evening in Holden evening prayer, claims the promise of a world that hasn’t yet come.
     
    The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief that something will happen in the future, a belief that someone will achieve something, leaning into a promise or hope that hasn’t yet happened. This is something that scriptures talk about often, and it shows up in all of our scriptures today.
     
    Our Advent journey of Great Expectations begins. As we enter into this season of waiting, watching, wondering, this first Sunday of Advent we light the candle of hope on our Advent wreath. Isaiah describes for us God’s vision of hope for the world. The people, lifted up. An end to war, weapons turned into tools that we can use to care for and share the abundance God has created. All of us together, walking with God, as God’s people. In Matthew, Jesus tells us that even though it hasn’t happened yet, it will happen. Another friend defined “expectation” as a kind of resilience, where attitude and effort collide. In a world where we still witness violence, injustice, brokenness, we live and breathe and serve in hope for the promises of God that we know will come, claiming with our very bodies that it will come, when we least expect it. Many of us this morning engaged in an act of hope and resilience this morning, as we packed food for those who are hungry.
     
    It's a choice we make, as people of faith, as followers of Jesus. We as God’s beloved trade in the expectations that bring stress, resentment, and disappointment, and choose to watch, and wait, and notice the signs of Jesus alive in our midst, right here and now. To take small actions, in each moment, that bring the promises of God to life for those around us.
     
    This season, we are invited into a deeper awareness of the hope, peace, joy, and love that flows out of expecting Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Even Jesus, we hear in Matthew, doesn’t know the day or the hour when the kin-dom of God will come to pass, and we don’t know what it might look like — it will likely be far beyond our expectations when it does. We gather today, knowing all the members of our Conference, and Christians around the world, are joined with us in hope.
     
    We're invited in this season to wake up, to pay attention, and make the choice as to what expectations we will hold as we journey together this season. Today we center our hearts, and lean into grace-filled, hopeful expectations, to claim God’s presence with us. Together, each time we gather, we remind ourselves and one another that we are beloved, and God’s love never fails, so we can trust in God’s promise with hopeful expectation.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Nov 13, 2022Falling-Apart-Times and Ordinary Days
    Nov 13, 2022
    Falling-Apart-Times and Ordinary Days
    Series: (All)
    November 13, 2022. In falling-apart-times, we’re afraid. And Jesus tells us that as much as we may want to, as hard as we may try, we can't understand it or change it. But in those times, when the stones are coming down, God is present. And God will guide us and enable us to embody the love and mercy of God, no matter what is happening around us.
     
    Readings: Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Often, when we come across apocalyptic passages like in our gospel today, images of people carrying signs saying “the end of the world is near” come to mind. We read them and often read on, letting these words pass, as we live our lives in a world that generally feels pretty settled, comfortable, and stable. We see the destruction as something that will come someday, in the future — perhaps when Jesus does come again. But not here. Not now. Not today.
     
    And then, there are “those” days. Days when everything we knew seems, in one way or another, to have disappeared. Days which become markers in our lives, creating a “before” and an “after” that will forever be different.
     
    September 11, 2001, is one of those days that many of us of a certain age or older will not easily forget. I was at work, when my co-worker exclaimed in shock about the plane that had crashed into the Trade Center in Manhattan, and the two of us spent the greater part of the day glued to the TV.
     
    Over the weeks to come, I found myself shaken to the core. I was afraid of what the future held, in a way I had never been. I felt economically vulnerable. I grieved for the loss of so many lives, as we all did, and the devastation for families who had lost loved ones that day. Nothing felt safe, or secure, or familiar anymore. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    I remember talking to my dad in the weeks after September 11, as I struggled to find solid ground again. And he told me that he had experienced just such uncertainty, fear, and grief, following the assassination of President Kennedy 40 years earlier — a national tragedy which also rattled everyone who lived through it. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    March 15, 2020 is another day that will be with me, and many of us, forever. I remember gathering in this very space for Worship that day. I remember those who were here, and many who were not, as COVID-19 had begun to take hold in our community. Bishop Susan Candea was here with us that morning as we agreed to take a pause in gathering in person, and in so doing entered a trauma none of us would have anticipated. The virus, we thought, just a few days before that, was not here, but overseas. We wouldn’t be impacted, not really. And then came the stay-at-home orders. Empty shelves, where toilet paper and other necessities were supposed to be. Days stretched to weeks, to months, to over a year, as we worked and studied and worshipped from home, learned new technology, crossed streets to give ourselves space to breathe, wondering as time went on when we would ever get back to normal — and realizing, even still today, that we probably never will return to what felt like normal before, not really. Grief, anxiety, isolation, and confusion.
     
    Collective events like those, the violence and challenges to democracy in our own country, viruses that threaten life across the globe, and personal experiences like losing a loved one or receiving a life-altering diagnosis, can leave us feeling shaken, and unsure about anything. On days like those, Jesus’ words about walls coming down (like we have on our altar today) and wars and insurrections in the Gospel of Luke, and the prophetic words of Malachi describing fires destroying everything, are no longer future possibilities and theories, but our lived reality as the world we knew in the “before” seems to crumble. It was lived reality for those listening to Luke, as they walked in the shadows of the ruins where the Temple used to be. Their whole world shattered. Their connection God changed forever, in ways they couldn’t understand yet.
     
    Of course, in those falling-apart-times, we’re afraid, and that’s exactly why Luke would want to share these particular words of Jesus.
     
    Jesus wanted the disciples and us to know that no matter what happens, and how final it seems, it is not yet the end of the story. Destruction, trauma, and death, will never be the final word.
     
    And Jesus tells us that as much as we may want to, as hard as we may try, we can't understand it or change it. In fact, we don’t need to know what to say, or how to make sense of it all. Because in those times when everything seems to be falling apart, when the stones are coming down, God is present even when we can’t perceive it. And in each and every moment, God will guide us and enable us to embody the love and mercy of God, no matter what is happening around us.
     
    We, as people of faith together, can face those times when the world seems to be falling apart differently because of this promise. We, as people of faith together, can live life differently on ordinary days because of this promise. As people of faith together.
     
    We witness the stones falling, and the fires burning, and we bear witness in our lives to the promise of God’s love, justice, and mercy that will never fall or burn.
     
    Last week we heard the Beatitudes in our gospel, illustrating for us one way of bearing this witness in falling-apart-times and ordinary days. As Roger pointed out, in our letter to the Ephesians, we are called to take action each and every day to embody this promise. Our passage from Malachi today gives the image of the calf leaping from the stall — claiming the joy and energy of new life in the midst of the fires.
     
    Jesus tells us today in those times when we are shaken, and perhaps exhausted, and maybe a little lost, that we can trust that in each and every moment, we will have the words, and the life, and the hope that we need to share God’s promise with a world that is feeling the same way.
     
    Today, we are reminded that God holds us in our brokenness, exhaustion, and fear. Healing comes, as Malachi says, when we are most wounded. And we are transformed, prepared in each and every moment to embody the holding, and the healing, and the life, and the love in the unique ways God has given to us, in all times. We witness the brokenness, and the beauty, of the world around us, and we bear witness in our lives as we share all that God has given us with courage and with hope. We celebrate today all that we, in this community gathered, have been given, and offer all that we are. And we trust as we will sing in a few minutes, that God will guide us and provide all that we need along the way. Because, family of Christ Lutheran, as all of our scripture tells us today, the story isn’t over yet. In falling-apart-times and ordinary days, the hope and healing of God lift us up and surround us, and we are sent to share that promise with the world.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19, pandemic, coronavirus, Roger Rose
  • Nov 6, 2022Resurrection Hope
    Nov 6, 2022
    Resurrection Hope
    Series: (All)
    November 6, 2022. We who grieve on this All Saints' Day, who feel overwhelmed by the beasts and brokenness of this world, can rest in the promise of resurrection.
     
    Readings: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Ephesians 1:11-23
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Two years ago my family gathered, in an outdoor space to be safe in COVID despite late fall weather in Minnesota, to lay my Aunt Kate to rest. We raged at the disease that had so tragically taken her body, and her mind, and eventually her life. We celebrated her life, claimed hope in the resurrection, and at the same time, we grieved her loss, and wondered together why it had to be this way, and what to do with her gone from our day-to-day lives. In those moments of grief, claiming the resurrection can feel a bit like watching a garden bed of dry earth and brown remnants of perennials in the early spring, hoping against hope that new life will come, eventually, but not quite believing that it will be possible. Those who have had this experience have perhaps also taken comfort in knowing that Jesus grieved too, weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus.
     
    The Ephesians, and many of the other communities that Paul was writing to in his letters, certainly knew death. The Ephesians may not have known Jesus personally, but his life and death impacted them profoundly. They believed in the promise of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And we know from Paul’s letters that they expected Jesus to come back, in their lifetimes, to fulfill the mission and promises that he made while he lived and taught and healed.
     
    But his return had been delayed. In many of Paul’s letters, he is addressing people who are still trying to figure out what Jesus’ promise of life means when they haven’t seen it yet. When people around them, faithful, good people, are still dying. When their own lives are threatened by the Roman soldiers. When resurrection doesn't seem to be happening from anything they are experiencing.
     
    Today we celebrate All Saints' Day together, as a community, many of us in the sanctuary, and some on Zoom. And it is so good to be together, to celebrate the communion of saints, to remember those who have died. We take time this morning to acknowledge the reality of loss and grief, and in the face of that reality we claim, in this time, in this place, the promise of the resurrection that we profess every week in the Apostle’s Creed. We wait together, as the Ephesians did, in the space between the now, and the not yet.
     
    Like the Ephesians, and all peoples who have come before us, we know death. We know the brokenness of this world that comes in so many forms, the powers that Daniel describes as the beasts. Injustices, illness, violence, abuse, and the internal beasts, too — anger, resentment, anxiety, self-judgement... and the reality of death and grief that can overwhelm all of us. All the beasts of this world that can hold onto us, weighing us down, creating the illusion that their power is absolute.
     
    And we know, as we hear the stories, that God is bigger than all of that. God, Daniel proclaims, overcomes the beasts. The kingdom of God, Daniel’s vision reveals, will not be overcome, no matter what beasts may threaten it. We come together because we can’t do this alone. Even Daniel needed the encouragement and clarity of a witness to help him understand the hope of his vision. None of the brokenness and pain of this world surprises God, and God can handle all of it. And The Holy Ones of God — not the perfect or the pious, but all of God’s beloved, all of us, and all of those who have gone before us and all of us who are called God’s children — will possess that kingdom forever.
     
    And the promise we know in Christ, the promise of our baptisms, is that God can even overcome death. Death will not have the final word. God shows up and breathes in life, just when we least expect it. Debie Thomas, in her blog Journey with Jesus, writes, “Resurrection means living in circumstances that should render living impossible. Resurrection means enduring, overcoming, persisting, and surviving.” Just like new growth always, finally, emerges from garden beds that look as if they will never live again, resurrection often happens when we have no hope left.
     
    We who grieve today, who feel overwhelmed by the beasts and brokenness of this world, can rest in the promise of resurrection. We come together as people of faith, because the promise is for all of us children of God, and just like Daniel, we can see that better as a community. We remember with gratitude our communion of saints, those who have died whose lives touched us in profound ways. And with our saints, we claim the promise of Jesus’ resurrection, and we watch in hope for new life, even when it seems slow in coming.
     
    Paul reminds us that we, and all of those who have gone before us, are beloved children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit. And we receive his blessing today: “I pray that you may have wisdom in the Holy Spirit, that you may know the hope that you have.” Family of Christ Lutheran, as we in a moment name and remember our beloveds who have died, our hope is in Jesus. And because of that, resurrection is real, even and especially in the face of death.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, All Saints' Day, Ephesians 1:11-23, Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus
  • Oct 30, 2022The Poetry and Promises of God
    Oct 30, 2022
    The Poetry and Promises of God
    Series: (All)
    October 30, 2022. Today is the perfect day to remember that Martin Luther composed “A Mighty Fortress” while he was in exile. We remember all the promises of God that show up throughout our scriptures. God is our refuge and strength, no matter what happens in our lives.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The passages we have today, and every year on Reformation Sunday, are some of my favorite scriptures. Part of it is the poetry of the words in these readings. But far beyond the beautiful images that these texts present, are the promises that they carry for us. It is so appropriate that we remember these promises today as we celebrate Confirmation for John, James, Harrison, and Marc, affirming the promises of our baptisms.
     
    In Jeremiah we hear, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and will shall be my people.” In a few minutes, our Confirmands will share a passage of scripture that has meaning to them, and tell us why they chose it. Although they will not be reciting it from memory today — that seemed like too much pressure in front of the whole congregation — they did share their passage from memory with me, and with each other, and with their adults as they prepared for today, and there is something profound about having a piece of scripture memorized, to bring it within us, so that we carry it with us wherever we go.
     
    Often when we hear about law, we think about something black and white, something that limits us or constrains us, that looks for where we've failed so that we can be judged. Our founder Martin Luther, whose seal rests on our altar today as we remember the Reformation he began, he wrestled with this throughout his life. He struggled to get it right, so that he would be worthy. And then, finally, Luther recognized the promise of God’s grace. As it says in Romans, we have all sinned. And we are all justified — made whole — by the God who created us.
     
    God’s word, on our hearts. God’s promise, to always be our God. That is the promise, the covenant, that our God made with Israel and Judah. And God is faithful to that covenant with us today, even when we fail. That is what you, and we along with you, are confirming today, Confirmands. We are sinner and saint, none of us perfect. And we are, each of us and all of us, God’s people, beloved forever. And nothing will ever change that.
     
    In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Continue — abide, remain, to be held. “In my word.” Jon Heerboth reminded Tuesday text study that in the Gospel of John, “word” means Jesus. Free, as Luther discovered, from the struggle, the stress, and the guilt of trying to earn your place and God’s love. Free to be the people God created you to be: honest, humble, and authentic. Free to embody the truth of God’s mercy, justice, and love, even if it is not popular, as Luther did when he challenged the corruption and injustice of the church, even the pope himself, in order to call the church he loved back to the truth. If you are held by the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ — and you are, Confirmands, and beloved people of Christ Lutheran — the truth of God’s promise will set you free.
     
    “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” In a few minutes, we will be singing a song that echoes these words from Psalm 46 — “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Many may know that this hymn was composed by Martin Luther. But today is the perfect day to remember that Luther wrote this hymn while he was in exile, hiding away from those who wanted to kill him, in the literal fortress of Wartburg Castle. Trouble comes in so many forms in this world, and we have felt it in a particular way this week as we have grieved, and raged, and resisted, the tragedy at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School on Monday. Luther’s hymn echoes the song of the psalmist, who claimed that God will not forsake us. In the midst of pain, injustice, and suffering in our lives, the psalmist reminds us to take a moment to be still, and know that God is right there in the midst of it.
     
    Today, John, Marc, Harrison, and James, we stand with you as you affirm the promises of your baptism, and we remember our baptisms with you. We come together as a community to celebrate with you this step on your life-long journey of faith. We remember all the promises of God that show up throughout our scriptures. God is our refuge and strength, no matter what happens in our lives. The truth that we are beloved children of God frees us to be who God created us to be, and embody God’s love in the world. We hear God speaking the promise to us today: I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And nothing will ever change that.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36, Marc Horn, Harrison Ringkor, John Uy, James Gilliland, Jon Heerboth
  • Oct 23, 2022Confession is Good for the Soul
    Oct 23, 2022
    Confession is Good for the Soul
    Series: (All)
    October 23, 2022. As we reflect on our gospel text from Luke today, and the varying practices of Confession we each grew up with, we are invited to think about what it means for us as Christians and why Martin Luther saw it as an inherent part of the Good News that he wanted to proclaim.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Luke 18:9-14
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    A family member of mine tells a story from her childhood about the way her congregation, and many churches in some denominations at the time, practiced Confession. Everyone went to the pastor every week, and they were expected to share not only what they had done wrong, but how many times they had done it. Confession was required in order to receive Communion, and a proper Confession was believed to be essential in order to get into heaven. One week, she couldn’t think of anything to say, so she made it up. She confessed that she had stolen the neighbor boy’s purse 13 times. I think it would have been pretty appropriate if she had added on that she'd lied to the priest once!
     
    Confession, in other ways of practicing it, presents a little more like beating one’s breast, as the tax collector did in our gospel today, which can be misunderstood to mean that we need to beat ourselves up, constantly calling ourselves out, focusing on our wrongs to the point of humiliation.
     
    Yet, it is said that confession is good for the soul, and we hear this message clearly from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke today, as he tells his listeners that the tax collector, beating his breast and asking for God’s mercy, came away justified — brought into right relationship and wholeness by God — while the Jewish leader, who lifted himself up in comparison, did not.
     
    And Martin Luther, many centuries later, although he was highly critical of a practice that required a complete counted list of every sin, wrote “An Exhortation to Confession,” in which he said, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”
     
    As we reflect on our gospel text today, and the varying practices of Confession we each grew up with, we are invited to think about what Confession means for us as Christians, why Jesus said the tax collector was made whole when he acknowledged his sinfulness, and why Luther, following Christ, saw Confession as an inherent part of the Good News that he wanted to proclaim.
     
    In “An Exhortation to Confession,” Luther laid out the reasons why he encouraged people to engage in Confession, saying that, “If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession. For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst.” Confession allows us know the forgiveness of God, frees us from the weight of guilt of harm we may have caused, and opens us to receive what we really hunger and thirst for: the mercy and love of God, which is the gospel that we know in Jesus. Luther says that if Christians understood that, we would run after it!
     
    Our gospel text today starts out by saying that Jesus is telling this parable to those who trust in themselves, and regard others with contempt, which can go a long ways toward understanding what Jesus is calling us to. Because we humans at times all trust in ourselves, and strive to make sure we’re doing better than those around us. Today, the person who lives a moral life, attending church and steering clear of sin, thanks God that they are not like those who steal, or use drugs, or sin in easily identifiable ways — just like the Pharisee in our gospel today. Tomorrow, it may be the one who makes an earnest confession and strives to seek justice in the world, thanking God that they are not like those who they see as contributing to injustice. We all at times trust in ourselves, and fall into the pattern of seeing ourselves as better than others. We all need Jesus’ invitation to come before God, seeking mercy and forgiveness.
     
    And every week, we come together as a community of faith, we enter into the gospel promise. We hear the good news, that we are all created and beloved of God, marked by the cross of Christ, and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, not because of who we are and what we do, or how we confess, but because of who God is. We are all, as Luther says, sinner and saint. We all need God.
     
    We are called to show up as we are, to be honest about the brokenness we have experienced at the hands of others, the brokenness of the world and in our lives that we've participated in, the grief, addiction, woundedness, the abuse we may have experienced, and know that God in Christ embraces all of us in all of that.
     
    We join in worship and community each week and are reminded of our place in relationship with God and creation — not in humiliation, but in humility, knowing our beloved humanness, that we need one another, and that all of us sin, and we all need God.
     
    We don’t do this perfectly, beloveds. As Jeremiah says, our iniquities, our sin and our brokenness, overcomes us all at times, and at times we all harm one another and our community, and we hope in God, who is always faithful to us. Each week, we come together before God in Confession and Forgiveness, acknowledging our sin and trusting God, who knows and loves us as we are, to forgive and guide us as we continue to grow together. We pray together the prayer Jesus taught us, which Luther points out invites us to confession in two ways: as we pray for forgiveness from God, and for help in forgiving those around us.
     
    In humility, and not humiliation, each week we are gathered in just as we are, we name our human weakness, and we remind ourselves and one another of the promise of God who calls us beloved, just as we are, and is always faithful even as we stumble. Confession is core to the gospel we celebrate, and it is good for the soul.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22, Psalm 84:1-7, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Luke 18:9-14, Martin Luther, An Exhortation to Confession
  • Oct 16, 2022Wrestling With God
    Oct 16, 2022
    Wrestling With God
    Series: (All)
    October 16, 2022. Our readings today address head-on a significant truth about what it’s like to be human in a world that's both beautiful and broken. Sometimes, like Jacob, we wrestle with God. But we come out of that wrestling more sure of who we are, as a child of God, more certain of what we're called to do.
     
    Readings: Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Have you ever felt like that persistent widow? Maybe you were wrestling with something and you just couldn't figure out what to do with it, and over and over and over you go and you ask. Maybe it wasn’t a judge you were approaching, but someone else who had authority either to help you or to stand in your way, holding your future in their hands either for good or for ill. How persistent did you feel could you be with this person who seemed to hold so much power? Did your persistence pay off in the end?
     
    Our readings today address head-on a significant truth about what it’s like to be human in a world that's both beautiful and broken. Like Miss Katie was saying, so often in this world we wrestle and we have to earn justice, or struggle to try to do the right thing, when it doesn't feel like what we want to do. Or we struggle with illness, or sadness, or grief. We struggle with so many things. And we know that despite our best efforts, sometimes we go before that judge, we give it everything we've got, and justice doesn’t prevail. Injustice, broken relationships, employment struggles, war, illness, death in our human experience here on this earth can make it seem as if the brokenness and the injustice have won, no matter how persistent we are.
     
    And when that happens, we can be left feeling like we've failed somehow, as if we weren’t persistent enough in our efforts and our requests. And if we've been praying for help, we can feel that we've been abandoned not only by the world, but even by God. Or perhaps, that we've failed God somehow, that our faith wasn’t strong enough.
     
    Our readings also reveal a profound and deep promise that God makes to us as people of faith. God, Jesus promises, is nothing like that unjust judge, who has no desire, he says, to do what is just. God, Jesus promises, will not delay. God does not wait for us to cry out long enough, or loudly enough, or the right way, or using the right words, before hearing our prayers.
     
    And for those of us who may have been taught not to ask for help — anyone else in the room have that experience: we don't ask for help, right? We've been taught not to expect anything from others. There's another piece of good news here in our readings today: God, unlike the unjust judge in our story, or some of the judges in our own lives, will not be annoyed if we continue to persist. In fact, Jesus encourages us to cry out to God, day and night.
     
    And in those times when we're facing the impossible — when the struggles and pain of this world seem like they're too much to bear, and God might as well be a million miles away for all the good praying seems to do — we can take courage from the story of Jacob. Jacob is in trouble. And he is not oppressed, as the widow was, but he is actually the oppressor in this story. Jacob, we're told in the chapters leading up to today’s reading, tricked his father, and stole his brother Esau’s birthright. Jacob hadn’t seen Esau since then, and now Esau is on his way — with 400 men. That doesn’t sound good, does it?
     
    And so, in the middle of the night, alone with his thoughts and his fear and his wondering what will happen when he and Esau meet, Jacob wrestles with God. Many of you may have had that experience. All night, Jacob wrestles with God, insisting that he will not stop, he will not give up, until he receives a blessing from God.
     
    And after a night of wrestling, of refusing to let go until he gets what he needs, Jacob is blessed. And this time, it's not a blessing stolen deceitfully from his brother, but a blessing given freely by the God who loves us so much, as Miss Katie said — along with a new name, Israel, and a unique place in the history of our faith.
     
    And Jacob goes from there on his journey, carrying his faith with him. (Miss Sandy made our flowers today, and she's got our faith packed, as you can see, in the suitcase on our altar.) He goes to face his brother, bringing his faith with him, and their complicated history, reminded that God goes with him because of a new disability, the limp he got from his night of wrestling. Think about that for a minute — Jacob’s limp is a sign of God’s blessing. He's been changed, and he knows now that God is with him, in a way he didn't before.
     
    Because the prayer, and the wrestling, are not so much about changing God, and getting what we hoped for, as it is about changing us. We come out of that wrestling more sure of who we are as a child of God, more certain of what we're called to do. And that, in the end, is the blessing that Jacob was striving for when he deceived his father in the first place.
     
    So when we're facing insurmountable challenges, we know what to do — we pray day and night, not because it's going to make God listen, but because God wants to hear us. God wants to hear our prayers. And when the injustices and pain of this world are overwhelming, and when the waiting is interminable, and when the journey is far too long and God seems to have forgotten us, don’t be afraid to wrestle with God. The youth minister at my childhood church used to tell us it's okay to be angry with God sometimes, to tell God exactly how frustrated and hurt and exhausted you are. God, and my home church pastor, and my spiritual director, could tell you that over the years I've done my share of wrestling with God along the way.
     
    And then, we can claim the blessing that God promises for us. God wants to walk with us, especially through the challenges life presents. This is the promise that we claim in our baptisms: God will be with us. God will not abandon us. We're given a new name: Child of God. And that changes everything about how we walk in this world.
     
    And then, every week along the journey, we come bringing our faith with us in our suitcases. And we come to the table, assured of Jesus’ presence in the bread and the wine, and in our bodies, and in our lives. We come to this table, as we talked about in class, as one way of many that we can pray. We connect with Jesus at the table each week, asking God to provide not just what is needed in our lives, but in the lives of all of God’s children, just like mana and quail were provided everyday for the Israelites as they traveled for 40 years in the desert. And then we thank God for all that we have.
     
    Claim this promise, Christ Lutheran family. Claim this promise as you face the challenges of your own lives, as you witness the brokenness of the world. God hears our prayers. God welcomes our wrestling. God feeds us, and all of our siblings. And we will be changed. We will be transformed. And there will be a blessing.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8, Katie Ciorba
  • Mar 20, 2022Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
    Mar 20, 2022
    Dig the Soil and Add the Fertilizer
    Series: (All)
    March 20, 2022. Why? The need to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking for centuries why bad things happen to good people. The sermon today is about our reading from Luke on Jesus' response to the suffering of the Galileans, and the parable of the barren fig tree.
     
    Reading: Luke 13:1-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Years ago, I was babysitting for my cousin’s three kids, the youngest of whom was about two or three at the time. Ben’s favorite word was “why.” “What’s this?” “These are my glasses.” “Why?” “So I can see with them.” “Why?” “Because my eyes need help. You can try them, but you need to be very gentle.” “Why?” “Because they’re breakable.” “They’re breakable… why?” At this point, I couldn’t help it anymore and I began to laugh. Then I promptly needed to apologize, and explain to an offended Ben that my glasses were breakable because they could break.
     
    It seems like most of us go through that phase of asking why about everything we encounter, in our quest to learn about the world that we live in. And for the most part we grow out of that, perhaps because we learn to search for answers to a lot of our questions ourselves. (Google is really helpful, isn't it?) Or perhaps because we begin to feel confident in our capacity to understand the world to our satisfaction, and even at times feel a certain level of control over our lives, illusory though that might be.
     
    The last few years have shattered that illusion of control in spades, hasn’t it? Two years ago, we celebrated my installation with Bishop Candea joining us. And two years ago, we were all entering into a world that at the time we could never have imagined. The pandemic, along with everything else that has been occupying our newsfeed, is enough to have us all scrambling to find ways to manage the chaos. And enough to have us all asking why as much as Ben, although about far weightier subjects than eyeglasses.
     
    Why a pandemic? Why so much upheaval, with so much people in so much pain? Why so much heartless attack on the dignity and lives of vulnerable people, like trans people and their families and allies, who aren’t hurting anyone? Why such a bloodthirsty lust for land and power that they, and we, don’t need, that leads to inhumane treatment of people at our borders, or terrifying war in Ukraine, and so many other places in the world that we have honestly forgotten about most of them? This? Now? Really, God? Why?
     
    The desire — the need — to know is a very human thing. We humans have been asking why bad things happen to good people for so many centuries that books have been written in an attempt to answer that question. (And it is interesting that we don’t necessarily ask why around good things — getting the new job, a clean bill of health, or a just resolution to conflict — but about things at their worst.) It's so much a part of human nature that when people tell Jesus about the death of the Galileans, they don’t have to actually ask the question. Jesus hears the question in the telling... Why did these people all die?
     
    And beyond that, Jesus hears the speculations and the suspicions they carry. The same speculations held by those who looked at the man born blind and asked Jesus, “Who sinned, to cause his blindness?” The same that has us ask today when someone is the victim of a crime, “Why were they there? What were they doing? Do they have a criminal record?” There must be a reason. They must have caused it, somehow.
     
    The first thing Jesus does in our gospel today is acknowledge the why, and name the assumed answers that he knows people carry. “Do you think they died because they were worse sinners than anyone else? Do you think this is punishment for their wrongdoing?” And Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, “No. This same thing could happen to you too,” taking away any safety they may have felt by thinking that the victims of these tragedies had done something to deserve what happened to them.
     
    As I felt the harshness of this, I realized how clearly this illustrates the truth that when we judge others, and try to figure out what they did wrong, in conscious or unconscious hope that we will not suffer the way that they did, we are inevitably judging ourselves, too. By judging others, we are in a sense guaranteeing that we will share their fate, that we too will find ourselves lost not only in the brokenness of this world, but in judgment — our own and others.
     
    Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t stop there. At first, the story of the fig tree seems oddly out of place in the context of the conversation Jesus is having, but as he shares this short parable, Jesus actually tells us what to do when the “whys” of life elude us. We hear first the judgment. “See that fig tree? It’s not good enough. Cut it down.” And then we hear the new way that Jesus is suggesting for us. “Let me nurture it, do the bit I can to give it a chance for life, and give it time. Let’s see what happens.” There is no promise here of the outcome. We never hear what happens to the fig tree in the end. It is not the responsibility of the gardener to make the tree bear fruit, after all. They simply do what they can, what they are moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place they are, in the time they have.
     
    The same is true for us. Like the gardener, we cannot on our own solve the problems of the world, accomplish all the things, make all trees bear fruit — not even ourselves. Like the gardener, we are invited in each moment to do the thing we're moved to do, to embody love and grace in the place we are, in the time we have. To dig soil and add fertilizer, if you will, and entrust the rest to God’s loving care.
     
    And through it all, in Christ we know that God is with us. The God who formed the world, shaped each of us and breathed life into us, has walked with us these last two years of ministry together in a pandemic, guiding and inspiring us as we creatively dug soil and added fertilizer to our community through parking lot food and school supply collections, Palm Sunday processions, park and churchyard cleanups wearing our masks, Saturday evening churchyard worship, and parking lot Advent children's program, trunk or treat, and so many other things.
     
    And God will be with us in the years to come, as we continue to follow the Spirit and discover how we are called in this place, and this time, to embody the love, justice, and grace of God in the world around us.
     
    Jesus ends the parable with an invitation to patience and trust, knowing that it takes time for fertilizer to work and fruit to grow. And so I end with the words from Archbishop Oscar Romero to encourage us on our journey.
     
    “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that's the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
     
    So let us go and dig soil and add fertilizer, and wait to see what the Spirit will do.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2022, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 13:1-9, COVID-19, coronavirus, Prophets of Future Not Our Own, Archbishop Oscar Romero