Apr 5, 2020
We Cry Hosanna!
Series: (All)
April 5, 2020. The people walking along with Jesus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem were yelling out, "Hosanna!" This was not so much a cry of joy, though, as it was a cry for help. Palm Sunday this year is different from other years, isn't it? Here we are a week away from Easter, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and we are crying out for help that we know only God can give.
 
Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
 
*** Transcript ***
 
We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a parade like St. Patrick's Day, a big street party with lots of music and dancing and food, a time of exuberant celebration, and unbridled fun. And that was certainly part of it, that day so long ago, when Jesus was entering Jerusalem. The people gathered spontaneously to sing and wave branches, and to walk along the road together as a community.
 
My favorite Twin Cities parade, before it was canceled a few years ago, was always the Holidazzle Parade. It would take place every night from Thanksgiving through Christmas, outside — yes, we are crazy like that in Minnesota! — and people would come hours early to eat downtown, to go to the Macy's Eighth-Floor Holiday Display, and then line up on the street to watch the parade after it was dark. All the floats and even the costumes were lit, and the costumes and music were amazing. It was a great chance for the community to come together in defiance of the winter snow and ice and cold. What's your favorite parade?
 
There is more to this parade though, this Palm Sunday parade, this triumphant entry into Jerusalem, than what appears at first glance. Because this was a parade not to celebrate an anniversary or a heritage or a season or even a community. The people, Matthew tells us, were shouting "Hosanna!" as they walked with Jesus into the city. It can be understood to be an exclamation of praise and honor, and it is. But interestingly, most closely translated, hosanna means "save us." Think about that for a moment. The people walking along with Jesus were crying out to be saved. Jesus was the focal point of this parade, the whole reason for the spontaneous gathering. And those who gathered there were poor, oppressed, beaten down by the occupying forces. And they were yelling out, "Hosanna!" This was not so much a cry of joy as it was a cry for help, from a people who believed that Jesus could save them.
 
This gathering of people claiming their right to be heard, and their faith in the possibility of freedom and justice, was probably more like the March on Selma for basic rights and freedom for black people led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black leaders, or the historic demonstration for LGBTQ rights and lives at Stonewall that was led by queer trans women, than it was like your typical St. Patrick's Day parade. This was an act of resistance to the injustice and despair in their world, an act of hope, of community standing together in solidarity with one another, welcoming the one they believed could change their lives. As Matthew tells the story, this is emphasized by the passage from Zachariah that Matthew quotes: "Your king is coming to you, mounted on a donkey and a colt," claiming Jesus as that king who would save God's people — not the Roman emperor, but Jesus, God come to us in human form, to fulfill God's promise.
 
This Palm Sunday is different from other years, isn't it? Here we are a week away from Easter, knowing we'll be experiencing a Lent of sorts for a while, as we all do everything we can to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. This year, more than other years, we are fully aware that we need more than our own efforts, more than our local and national rulers can do, to bring us through this crisis that is impacting all of humanity. We know this year, more than most, the limits to our human capacity. We know more than ever that we need one another and that we need God to save us. This year, more than most, we join the crowd that gathered around Jesus and claimed him as the king come to save God's people. We cry out with those most vulnerable to becoming ill, those who do not have access to what they need at this time, those whose jobs have ended, those waiting for basic protective equipment but continuing to heal and serve, those who are painfully lonely in this time of physical separation.
 
Let us together — in joy and desperation, in hope and determination and faith, across time and space and Zoom — add our voices to the voices of resistance crying, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Grab your noisemakers, friends. It is time for a parade. Or you may have something to wave, or you may wave your palms as John Hoffmann likes to say, or you may just choose to watch the parade as it goes in front of you. Let us celebrate together.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 21:1-11, Zechariah 9:9, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, coronavirus
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  • Apr 5, 2020We Cry Hosanna!
    Apr 5, 2020
    We Cry Hosanna!
    Series: (All)
    April 5, 2020. The people walking along with Jesus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem were yelling out, "Hosanna!" This was not so much a cry of joy, though, as it was a cry for help. Palm Sunday this year is different from other years, isn't it? Here we are a week away from Easter, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and we are crying out for help that we know only God can give.
     
    Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a parade like St. Patrick's Day, a big street party with lots of music and dancing and food, a time of exuberant celebration, and unbridled fun. And that was certainly part of it, that day so long ago, when Jesus was entering Jerusalem. The people gathered spontaneously to sing and wave branches, and to walk along the road together as a community.
     
    My favorite Twin Cities parade, before it was canceled a few years ago, was always the Holidazzle Parade. It would take place every night from Thanksgiving through Christmas, outside — yes, we are crazy like that in Minnesota! — and people would come hours early to eat downtown, to go to the Macy's Eighth-Floor Holiday Display, and then line up on the street to watch the parade after it was dark. All the floats and even the costumes were lit, and the costumes and music were amazing. It was a great chance for the community to come together in defiance of the winter snow and ice and cold. What's your favorite parade?
     
    There is more to this parade though, this Palm Sunday parade, this triumphant entry into Jerusalem, than what appears at first glance. Because this was a parade not to celebrate an anniversary or a heritage or a season or even a community. The people, Matthew tells us, were shouting "Hosanna!" as they walked with Jesus into the city. It can be understood to be an exclamation of praise and honor, and it is. But interestingly, most closely translated, hosanna means "save us." Think about that for a moment. The people walking along with Jesus were crying out to be saved. Jesus was the focal point of this parade, the whole reason for the spontaneous gathering. And those who gathered there were poor, oppressed, beaten down by the occupying forces. And they were yelling out, "Hosanna!" This was not so much a cry of joy as it was a cry for help, from a people who believed that Jesus could save them.
     
    This gathering of people claiming their right to be heard, and their faith in the possibility of freedom and justice, was probably more like the March on Selma for basic rights and freedom for black people led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black leaders, or the historic demonstration for LGBTQ rights and lives at Stonewall that was led by queer trans women, than it was like your typical St. Patrick's Day parade. This was an act of resistance to the injustice and despair in their world, an act of hope, of community standing together in solidarity with one another, welcoming the one they believed could change their lives. As Matthew tells the story, this is emphasized by the passage from Zachariah that Matthew quotes: "Your king is coming to you, mounted on a donkey and a colt," claiming Jesus as that king who would save God's people — not the Roman emperor, but Jesus, God come to us in human form, to fulfill God's promise.
     
    This Palm Sunday is different from other years, isn't it? Here we are a week away from Easter, knowing we'll be experiencing a Lent of sorts for a while, as we all do everything we can to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. This year, more than other years, we are fully aware that we need more than our own efforts, more than our local and national rulers can do, to bring us through this crisis that is impacting all of humanity. We know this year, more than most, the limits to our human capacity. We know more than ever that we need one another and that we need God to save us. This year, more than most, we join the crowd that gathered around Jesus and claimed him as the king come to save God's people. We cry out with those most vulnerable to becoming ill, those who do not have access to what they need at this time, those whose jobs have ended, those waiting for basic protective equipment but continuing to heal and serve, those who are painfully lonely in this time of physical separation.
     
    Let us together — in joy and desperation, in hope and determination and faith, across time and space and Zoom — add our voices to the voices of resistance crying, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Grab your noisemakers, friends. It is time for a parade. Or you may have something to wave, or you may wave your palms as John Hoffmann likes to say, or you may just choose to watch the parade as it goes in front of you. Let us celebrate together.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 21:1-11, Zechariah 9:9, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, coronavirus
  • Mar 29, 2020Can These Bones Live?
    Mar 29, 2020
    Can These Bones Live?
    Series: (All)
    March 29, 2020. The readings today include the Valley of Dry Bones from Ezekiel, and Jesus raising Lazarus to life from the Gospel of John. Pastor Meagan preaches on these texts, on the death that is already happening in our world with the pandemic we are facing, and the life anew that we know is coming from the breath of God.
     
    Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Twice, I've been present in the room at the moment when someone took their last breath. Stood at the bedside, waiting and watching, holding hands, praying and singing, as breath by breath, life slipped away. In both cases, I and those I stood vigil with listened closely, wondering which breath would be the last one — this, or this, or this. In the end, when the final breath was released, we collectively held our own breaths until we were sure: the final exhale had indeed signaled the end of this unique life in human form, the body still warm, but quickly cooling.
     
    The bones God leads Ezekiel to in that valley have no warmth. There is no indication that they ever had breath, and for my money, if I were the betting type, no hope that they would ever breathe again. It’s kind of like the feeling I would get being out in our yard in Minneapolis, after the snow melted, but before any buds had popped or grass had appeared. It just doesn’t seem possible that life could return, it all looks so dead, twigs and sticks and brown.
     
    If I had been Ezekiel, I might have said, “No way!” in response to the question of whether these bones can live. “Are we looking at the same thing? Not possible.” And Mary and the other mourners say basically the same thing to Jesus, when he says he wants to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb. “It’s going to smell! He’s been in there for four days!”
     
    Jesus persists, because he knows something that the others don’t know. Even when death is so final that you can smell it, when breath has been gone for so long that the bones are literally dry, God can still bring life.
     
    The winds, the Spirit, moves, in concert with Ezekiel’s prophecy, and the breath enters the bones and they live! When the stone is rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, we have to imagine the stench of certain death was terrible, and yet in response to Jesus’ cry — Lazarus, come out — Lazarus comes!
     
    My family of faith, the pandemic that we are facing is like the stench of death from Lazarus’ tomb, or the rattle of bones from Ezekiel’s valley, or the brown, lifeless branches in my yard before spring begins. Signs of death, undeniably. Death is already happening, and beloveds, there will be more before this passes.
     
    And, the Spirit is still at work. The wind is blowing, ready to bring life out of the bones that have no flesh left on them. The stone is rolled away, waiting for Lazarus to step out into the fresh air. In our yard here in South City, our cats are discovering every green blade, all the new plants they've never seen before.
     
    This coming of life is not a passive thing. We human beings living this human life are invited to be active, breathing participants in the life-giving movement of the Spirit around us. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” and he says, in effect, “I don’t know, can they?” And God says, “Prophecy to these bones. Tell the winds, breathe on these bones, and they might have life.” In other words, claim the promise, Ezekiel, and proclaim the promise, that God brings life where we can only see death.
     
    Lazarus’ sisters, and their gathered community, are invited to participate in Lazarus’ re-birth by unbinding him. Letting go of old ideas perhaps of who he was, letting go of grief, opening their minds to receive the new life that stood before them.
     
    We, too are invited to witness to death, family of faith, as Ezekiel did in the Valley of Dry Bones, as the mourners gathered smelled death at Lazarus’ tomb. God witnesses with us all the griefs we experience, all the losses we bear now, and those yet to come — not as a passive observer, but weeping alongside us, as Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus.
     
    We, too, are invited into the promises of the living God, family of faith. We, too, are invited to prophecy with Ezekiel, to join the mourners in unbinding new life when it appears.
     
    And when we are the dry bones, when we are sealed in a tomb as dead as Lazarus, the community here gathered prophecies to you, and for you, and unbinds you, that you might find life again. Because we can’t always see it for ourselves, in the midst of the tomb, in the midst of the valley. I don’t know about you, but I suspect I am not alone in having experienced dryness the last couple of weeks. I will confess to having had a temper tantrum over a minor inconvenience a few days ago, to having felt overwhelmed by all the changes we have been asked to make in a brief two weeks, to having felt the helplessness of wondering how my family is, from a distance, as I know many of you have as well. Anyone else felt dry, keenly aware of fear and grief and tiredness this week?
     
    And yet, I have also felt the wind blowing, and the Spirit moving. Your worship team gathered, and a new life entered into our imaginings about how to celebrate Holy Week and Easter together, while we are still physically apart. Our youngest cat figured out he can climb the wooden fence in our yard, much to his delight and our chagrin. A neighbor down the block hosted her own block concert this week, with a professional sound system set up on her porch. My brother’s family posted a photo of their family taking a run together in their neighborhood. A mentor sent me a link to an acapella recording of “It is Well” that brought tears to my eyes. And all of you, family of faith, are caring for one another so well, in these days.
     
    When we are dry and can’t speak, we prophecy to one another, proclaiming that we know the breath of God will come, bringing life anew, however that looks, on the other side, whenever that is. Family of faith, no matter what happens, life is coming. We are here, and so is God, and we are in this together. Life is coming!
     
    Family of faith, God is whispering to us, “Mortal, can these bones live?” What is your answer this morning?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45, coronavirus, COVID-19, St. Louis
  • Mar 22, 2020We Are Still Here
    Mar 22, 2020
    We Are Still Here
    Series: (All)
    March 22, 2020. Here we are today, in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience that we living through it will not soon forget. And just like other such events, it is going to transform our country, transform us as people, transform us as a family of faith. But Pastor Meagan reminds us that there is good news to be heard in our readings today. First and most important: we are still here. And God is still here.
     
    Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    September 11, 2001 is a date that many of us of a certain age or older will not easily forget. I was at work, alone as it was still early, when the first reports came in. My coworker called, exclaiming in shock about the plane that had crashed into the Trade Center in Manhattan, and promised she would pack her TV into the car and be at the office in twenty minutes. Fifteen minutes later she called again, and in horror I pulled up images of the second plane hitting the tower. And again she promised to be at the office quickly with her TV in tow. Ten minutes later, she called again.
     
    But finally she made it, and the two of us spent the greater part of the day glued to the TV, hearing the President’s announcement that this was a terrorist attack, the likes of which had never been seen in this country before. People dying, flames burning, the seeming impossibility of navigating the wreckage to rescue survivors.
     
    Over the weeks to come, I found myself shaken to the core. I was afraid of what the future held, in a way I never had been before. I felt economically vulnerable. I was horrified by the thought that my cousin, who lived in Manhattan, had run past the building a scant hour before the attack. I grieved for the loss of so many lives, the terror they had experienced in their final minutes, and the devastation for all the 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 11th, as I struggled to find solid ground again. And he told me that he had experienced just such uncertainty, and fear, and grief, following the assassination of President Kennedy — another national event that had rattled everyone who lived through it, leaving them wondering how they would make it through. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    And here we are today, in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, an experience that we living through it will not soon forget. And just like other such events, it is going to transform our country, transform us as people, transform us as a family of faith. But for now, as things are shifting minute by minute so quickly, it is hard to keep up. Many aspects of our lives may feel unrecognizable compared to what they were even last week.
     
    So, family of faith, let us take a minute on this Sunday morning, breathe deeply, and listen to what God may be saying to each of us as we gather together for worship and prayer as a community. We can find grounding, for a few minutes at least, in the story of Samuel seeking a way forward after losing his relationship with Saul, and in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind.
     
    In our first reading today, Samuel was grieving the loss of his relationship with Saul. We are grieving right now. Grief is real, very real. We are grieving the loss of our Good Friday Cantata, in addition to grieving the loss of worshipping together in our sanctuary each Sunday and Wednesday.
     
    ALL of us are grieving different personal losses and family losses, from vacations to concerts to sporting events and parties. We are all grieving different things in different ways. And God is with us in that. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. And God grieves with us, today and in the days to come. God is present, leads us forward in the journey, just as he led Samuel forward to find David. What are you grieving, at this time?
     
    The people around the man born blind are anxious. Why did it happen? Whose fault was it? Who sinned, that God caused this man to be born blind? And then the man was healed, just like that. The community around the man born blind, we are told, when they saw him after his encounter with Jesus, did not recognize him as the man they had known their whole life. And they immediately begin once again to seek answers, seek direction. Who are you? Who did this? Is this your son? Are you sure? What happened?
     
    Events like these shake up what we think we know and challenge our assumptions and expectations, and at times we might feel like we are not even sure who we are or what we're supposed to do. We seek answers, want to know who to blame, whose fault this situation is. I’ll be honest, I have my list. How about you? What are you anxious about today? What answers are you seeking?
     
    The man born blind had lived most of his life isolated from the community around him. He was less than, defective, other, the one who must have sinned, or whose parents must have sinned. Today, we are asked to voluntarily set ourselves physically apart, for a time. Some of us, and some of our loved ones, are in situations where they can’t receive visitors, can’t see the friends they spend their days with, even if they live right down the hall. Some of us, and some of our loved ones, are thrust suddenly into 24-7 community that we are struggling to navigate — even though we love our close companions dearly. Some of us are feeling the weight of not having needed space. Some of us are feeling the panic and exhaustion of not having access to energizing, renewing, physical interactions that typically fill our days.
     
    This time of flattening the curve, of choosing to love our neighbor by maintaining sacred distance for a time, has completely disrupted our regular rhythm of life. Samuel wasn’t sure what to do, once Saul was gone, until God guided him to David. The man born blind, and his parents, were cast into the focus of their community in an unexpected way after his encounter with Jesus. His parents were afraid. The man, it seems, was a little irritated at the persistence of the religious leaders, and snaps back, brilliantly, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” How are you experiencing the disruption of your community today? Are you feeling lonely? Are you craving silence and solitude that are not easily available right now? Have you, like the man born blind and transformed in his encounter with Jesus, found yourself short on patience, and long on irritation?
     
    My family of faith, there is good news to be heard in our readings today, very good news indeed. First and most important: we are still here. In the midst of the transformation of the blind man, people don’t seem to believe that he is actually the same person. The man himself explains the encounter he had with Jesus, and his parents claim him — "He is our son.” We are still here, nonetheless. Our world is changing, and yes we are being transformed by the events of our times, but we are still here.
     
    And God is still here. God was there to guide Samuel forward, in the midst of his grief, and his confusion about what to do next, without Saul at his side. God is here with us, inspiring and guiding us as we continue to be church, together. Just over a week ago, coming together for worship on Zoom was the last thing we anticipated. And yet today, here we are. Zoom Sunday School will happen at 11am. We are caring for one another, reaching out in intentional and thoughtful ways, as best we can in this time of transformation. We are physically separated, but will not be torn apart. The blind man told his questioners, “I can’t explain it, but I know this: I was blind, and now I see.” In other words, “I encountered God.” As confusing and unfamiliar as things may feel right now, we are still here, and God is still with us!
     
    The grief, and anxiety, and loneliness, and confusion are real. Extend grace, abundantly, to one another — and to yourselves. We will come to balance again. We will be transformed by this season in ways we can’t yet anticipate, gain a clarity and grounding that right now may feel somewhat elusive. We will continue to be the church, in this space and time, and all the times and spaces to come. Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, coronavirus, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41, John 11:30-40
  • Mar 8, 2020Follow the Wind
    Mar 8, 2020
    Follow the Wind
    Series: (All)
    March 8, 2020. Although we have times in our lives when things seem predictable and stable, we don’t ever really know what is going to happen. Just as God told Abraham and Sarah to go and they went, just as Jesus told Nicodemus to follow the wind, just as we sometimes can't see more than one step in front of us, God is guiding each of us along the way.
     
    Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some years ago, I was working at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, and my co-worker and I received a phone call that a volunteer we worked closely with was going to be married. But this was not an ordinary sharing of news that is full of excitement and joy, hope for a long future for this couple beginning life together with a wedding they would spend months planning and preparing for. This couple was getting married that afternoon. In her hospital room, where she lay in her final hours of life. Darla had been diagnosed with cancer, and although the doctors had tried to do what they could, she would not survive. And she and her fiancée wanted to get married before she died.
     
    So of course, we went. And so began my journey into the unknown, via seminary — although I didn’t know that yet. We entered her hospital room, and two things overwhelmed me right away. First, I could see immediately that Darla was close to death. I had never experienced that before, but somehow, I knew. And second, was the profound presence of God in that space at Minneapolis’ University Hospital. To this day I can’t quite describe it, but God was there.
     
    Following this encounter I called my mom, and told her what had happened. In that moment, she didn’t quite understand what I had experienced, and she wondered out loud why they would want to be married, when she was so close to death. I called a friend, who listened closely, and then asked the questions: Why do you think God led you to that room? Have you ever thought about going into ministry? I hadn’t. And quite honestly, a good Catholic girl, I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about at that moment. But her question echoed, bringing shape to that encounter I had had in that hospital room, and some years later, I took my first official class at seminary.
     
    I was not sure where it would lead me, this adventure into the unknown, and when I finally made the decision a year later to quit my job and go to seminary full time, I still didn’t know. I only knew I had to go.
     
    Which brings us to the story of Abraham, and Sarah, from our first reading today. “Go to the land that I will show you,” God told them. "Leave everything you know. Leave your home. Leave your family. Leave your land. No map, no itinerary for the journey, no plan for what you will do when you get there. Just go. I’ll show you the way.” And so, our reading tells us, Abraham and Sarah went.
     
    And I find myself thinking, “Who ARE these people?” I mean, really, who does that? Certainly not me. I'm a planner, if you haven’t already figured that out about me. I had never made a major decision without thinking I knew what was going to happen next.
     
    And yet, there I was, in March, knowing I would be leaving my job and starting school in August, and I had no idea what my schedule would be, what classes I would be taking, or how I would even spend my time. And I had absolutely no idea what would happen when I was done. I only knew I had to go.
     
    Seems crazy, right? And since that time, I have come to realize that although we have times in our lives when things seem predictable and stable, we don’t ever really know what is going to happen. We never know when an unanticipated encounter with God in the world, in our neighbors, in our family, even a stranger, will call us out of what is familiar and comfortable, and lead us, if we follow it, to unknown places. Places God will show us.
     
    You can imagine the relief I felt when I had finally registered for my first semester, and at least knew when I needed to be at school, and what books to buy! And that was just the beginning of my journey into the unknown, with many encounters along the way. There was the invitation to look at robes in the seminary bookstore where everything was on sale, my reflection that sure I could look but I still didn’t think I would ever need a robe really, and finding that the one robe remaining in the entire store fit as though it were tailored for me. AND it was 75% off! And then, being encouraged by fellow travelers from my home congregation to buy my first stole, in Tanzania, while I thought to myself, I hope I at least get my money’s worth from this. And then, the feeling I experienced at CPE Chaplaincy residency, as I came to realize that chaplaincy was awesome, but it wasn’t “IT,” not for me. And the sense of coming back home as I settled into my congregational internship, and knew beyond a doubt that this is where I belonged.
     
    And now, after some years of seeking the right time, the right place, the right people for my first official call as a pastor, here I am, in MISSOURI, of all places! And already, I know, this is where I have been headed, all along, although I couldn’t see more than one step in front of me the entire way.
     
    Abraham and Sarah’s journey to the land God would show them, although the story makes it sound so straightforward at the beginning, was long and complicated and challenging. They travelled through unfriendly territory, had to talk themselves out of sticky situations, waited years to see evidence of God’s promise to them. I can only imagine that they were not always so nonchalant as they started out. I can only imagine that they had plenty of questions and arguments and times of despair wondering if they would ever get there, and yet, somehow, they did.
     
    And, as we do, they ran into challenges. Scary things happened. And they happen for us in this human life that we lead. We face storms that do great damage, like the tornadoes in Tennessee. We experience change that is outside of our control. We encounter illnesses and disease that are new and intimidating. We are all following the news, doing and learning what we can about the coronavirus, knowing that there is so much unknown about this thing that we face together. And the promise is that God is with us as we journey.
     
    There is the rest of God’s invitation from our reading today. “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Because this journey of life that we are on, is never just about us. It is about us and the encounters we have with one another along the way. It is about how God guides us through just when we think we have hit the final dead end, the one that means we are lost completely.
     
    When Nicodemus seeks Jesus out, in the garden, at night, he is not just trying to figure out the theological truth of Jesus’ origin. He is seeking the way to God. He is lost, and looking for a way home. And somehow, Nicodemus knew Jesus had the answers he was seeking. And Jesus gives him the wisdom that could have come straight from Abraham and Sarah: follow the wind. You don’t know where it came from, and you don’t know where it’s going, but you know that it is there. You can trust the Spirit to lead you, encounter by encounter, on this journey.
     
    We are blessed by these encounters we have, with one another, with God. And as God told Abraham and Sarah, the whole point of the journey is not so much where we are going, as it is the blessing we receive as we travel. And just as important, the blessings that we bring to one another. Blessed to be a blessing.
     
    We may not know where we are going, or when we will arrive, or what we will do when we get there, but one thing we do know for sure — God is guiding each of us, in this community gathered here, just as surely as God showed Abraham and Sarah on where to go, just as surely as we know the wind is blowing. And just like Abraham and Sarah had Lot with them, we travel with one another along the way. Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17
  • Mar 1, 2020Discovering Who We Are
    Mar 1, 2020
    Discovering Who We Are
    Series: (All)
    March 1, 2020. We are beginning two separate journeys at the same time — the journey of Lent and the journey of the ministry that we will discover together. Pastor Meagan's sermon this morning reminds us that as we share these journeys, God is present, guiding us.
     
    Readings: Matthew 4:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Here we are, and it is my first Sunday here at Christ Lutheran, and it is our first Sunday of Lent, and we seek these 40 days to encounter God in the world around us. And so we're going to begin today two separate journeys at the same time — the journey of Lent as we walk with Jesus as he encounters many different people in the community around him on his way to the cross, and the journey of the ministry that we will share and discover together as a family of faith, as we get to know one another and encounter the Spirit working among us, and in our communities and our neighborhoods around us.
     
    And as I reflected on these two journeys, and on today’s readings, it occurred to me that these journeys are really not so different from one another. They are all about relationship. Jesus encountered people as he went, and the people that he met encountered God in Jesus. We will see this over and over in the stories that we will hear as we gather during these 40 days. We in our human journey encounter people as we go, and encounter God along the way. Human relationships, and relationships with God.
     
    And as we look especially at our gospel story from Matthew today, with Jesus in the desert, being tempted by Satan, another common thread of our Lenten journey and our own journey as community is revealed. Jesus is tempted three times — to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from the mountain, and to worship power and evil instead of trusting God. And with each temptation, each encounter with Satan, Jesus becomes a little more clear about who he is as God with skin on.
     
    Each temptation is an attempt to set Jesus apart from humanity, to make him relevant, and spectacular, and powerful, as Henri Nouwen suggests. And each time, Jesus claims his trust in God, and his dependence on God, and his commitment to living fully the human experience with us. It is about relationships, encounters with each other and with God.
     
    And, it's about who Jesus is called to be in the world. Not apart from, but one of. Not to be powerful, and spectacular, but to embody the love and the healing and the reconciliation and the mercy of God for all those that he encounters on the way.
     
    And as we begin to share ministry together, we too are on a journey to discover more about who we are, who we are becoming, as beloved children of God, and as a community of faith. Because each one of us here embodies the love and mercy of God in a beautifully unique way, and as the Spirit is revealed in our encounters with one another, our whole community is transformed, each one of us is transformed.
     
    We all know that I am new among you, and I have already been changed in the short time I've been here. Each week, as we gather, we are changed by the encounters that we have with one another, whether we've been part of this congregation for decades, or whether we are here for the very first time.
     
    In the community of those gathered here in this moment of time, we encounter one another and God when we enter into relationship with one another as we worship, as we learn, as we enjoy a cup of coffee in the Fellowship Hall.
     
    In the community of those gathered here in this moment in time, we discover a little bit more about who God is calling us to be, and how we can embody the love and mercy of God in our unique human experience for all of those we meet along the way.
     
    Two separate journeys, Lent and the beginning of our ministry together, and yet they are really one journey, aren’t they? As a family of faith, you and I, we go through these 40 days, encountering God in one another, and in the world around us, and we grow in our capacity to see one another, to see God. And with each encounter, we are transformed, know more clearly who we're called to be as children of God, and who God is calling us to be together as a community of faith.
     
    We are just beginning a journey of 40 days. In Biblical language, 40 days doesn't necessarily mean 40 literal 24-hour periods. 40 shows up a lot in scriptures — Noah and his family were in the ark for 40 days, according to one telling of the ancient flood story. Moses spent 40 days with God on the mountain, and the Israelites were in the desert for 40 years! In all of these stories, there is an aspect of the unknown, sometimes a feeling of being lost for a little while, sometimes even a feeling of being abandoned on a journey that seems far too long.
     
    And in each of these stories, we know God is present. God carried Noah and his family and animals to dry land in the ark, with the promise of the rainbow to encourage them as they started life anew after the flood. Moses came away from his time on the mountain with guidance for life together as people of God, and God guided the Israelites to their new home with fire and cloud, and renewed his promise and their covenant for their life together as people of God before they entered the Promised Land.
     
    People of God who were listening to Isaiah were reminded of God’s call, and we're reminded today as well: “Is not this the kind of fasting I've chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, to untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?” We are called to be in a relationship with one another in which God’s abundance is shared. We are called to remember that we are all God’s people.
     
    At the end of Jesus’ time in the desert, as Matthew tells the story, angels “suddenly” appear and wait on him. Suggesting that far from being abandoned, God was with Jesus all along.
     
    And God is with us, this community gathered here this morning, and whether you've been attending for decades or are here for the first time, we walk these 40 days of Lent, and begin ministry together, as a community. And when we feel anxious about the unknown, or a little bit lost, we can look around us, and know that in the midst of this journey, we are not alone. God is present, guiding us, and as we will sing in just a moment, we are all connected with one another.
     
    Our journey has begun, and together we will encounter God, in our relationships with one another, in our neighborhoods, our families, and in this community of faith. As God was with Noah and his family in the ark, with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, and Jesus as he faced Satan, God is with us, showing us who we are called to be in this world. Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 4:1-11
  • Feb 26, 2020Encountering God
    Feb 26, 2020
    Encountering God
    Series: (All)
    February 26, 2020. During the 40 days of Lent, the stories we will hear of all of the encounters that Jesus had with people, and the encounters they had with God in Jesus, show us that God wants nothing more than to meet us right where we are. On this Ash Wednesday we welcome our new pastor, Meagan McLaughlin. She preaches on the story of Adam and Eve, and how no matter how much we may mess up, it can't change the fact that God created us in God's image and will never stop loving us.
     
    Readings: Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:1-7
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I spent much of my life feeling like the key to gaining friends and influencing people was to be perfect. Mistakes were horrifying, asking for help was not an option, and being anything but totally in control was pretty much intolerable. Can anyone relate to that? In order to be okay, I could not be human -- I could not be anything less than superhuman. In short, to be okay, I basically had to be God! Just like Adam and Eve in our story today.
     
    And of course, that is not possible, for us human beings. And so I constantly felt the weight of falling short of my own ideals, and when I did fall short, the easiest thing to do was to cast blame as far from me as I could possibly throw it. Try to pretend that I'm more than human. And what I came to realize is I wasn't fooling anybody, least of all God!
     
    And I think that this, perhaps, is one of the great lessons that we can learn from this ancient tale of Adam and Eve. When we make mistakes, God sees through all of the excuses and the distractions and the blame, and knows the truth: we mess up, just like Adam and Eve did in this legendary tale from the very beginning. Of course we do, we are human after all! And God knows this, no matter how hard we may try to hide. It didn't work for Adam and Eve, it didn't worked for Cain, and it doesn't work for us either.
     
    This is not, however, the only lesson of Adam and Eve, although we often get stuck there, and sometimes in the worst possible way: Eve disobeyed God and ate the apple, and drew Adam into her sin. Evil temptress woman! And then, God threw us out of the garden to suffer. But this is actually not the beginning of the story, and it isn't the end of the story either.
     
    All of the angst and the shame and the mistakes and consequences of Adam and Eve cannot erase the real beginning of the story. No matter how much we may mess up, it can't change the fact that God created us in God's image. God spoke words calling us into being. God shaped and formed us with God's own hands. God breathed life into us. And when we breathe, God's very Spirit fills us again, and again, and again. And, when Adam and Eve were ashamed about their nakedness, God provided clothing for them. Our translation says, a couple of verses after our reading today, God gave them clothing made of skin, a profound connection to the human creation that they were. We know through God's provision of clothes, and God's protection of Cain after he killed Abel, that God will never stop loving us, even when we have done great harm.
     
    We know that God will never, ever give up on us. God is so committed to loving us, redeeming us, and bringing us home, that he came to us in Jesus, even though God knew that our sinfulness would result in Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. In Jesus, you might say that God has some serious skin in the game! And God continues to come to us today, because we are God's beloved children and nothing can ever change that. God created us to be precisely human, after all!
     
    We human beings, in this human life we live, are complicated! There's a reason we Lutherans like to talk about so many "both-ands." As we begin Lent, we can hear echoes of Martin Luther telling us that we are all simultaneously sinners and saints. We are humans, imperfect beings who sin -- make mistakes, harm other people and ourselves and God, by what we do and what we fail to do. And, we are humans, beloved children created by God, with an amazing capacity for love, compassion, healing, and joy.
     
    In Lent, we are reminded to embrace the full truth of who we are, both sinner and saint, beloved of God. We are called during these 40 days not to make excuses, not to place blame on others, not to distract from our brokenness and the brokenness of the world, but to acknowledge the areas of our lives that are impacted by sin, that need healing and forgiveness. We are challenged to take the finger we may have pointing at others and point it back at ourselves, and look at our own lives and our own part in our relationships, and invite God in.
     
    Where have we been dishonest in our relationships with God, ourselves, or others? Where have we contributed to the brokenness and oppression in the world, whether by what we have said or done, or by failing to stand up for those who are suffering? How can we learn to be more present for the people in our lives, and less distracted by those things that really don't matter in the end? What can we do these 40 days of Lent to grow our capacity for love, honesty, compassion, justice, and joy?
     
    Because the whole story of Jesus -- all of the stories that we will hear these 40 days, all of the encounters that Jesus had with people, and the encounters they had with God in Jesus -- show us that God wants nothing more than to meet us right where we are. God wants nothing more than to love, and reconcile, and forgive, and heal.
     
    And as we listen to the stories we will hear this Lent, we will know that Jesus crossed a lot of lines that his community didn't think he should cross -- talking to a woman, a Samaritan woman at that. Healing a man born blind, on the Sabbath, and denying that sin caused the blindness in the first place. Suggesting that God, far from wanting us to follow rules perfectly to earn God's love, asks us to embody God's love and mercy and justice, as best we can, for those that we encounter.
     
    Because often, it is in our encounters with other humans, and creation, that we encounter God, and are transformed. The love extended to us by another just when we feel at our most lost and unlovable reveals the unconditional, unfathomable love that God has for us, perfect or not. Healing, reconciliation, life emerge in us and around us, and we know God is there. And we, humans created by this amazing God, have a great capacity to witness God in our world, and reveal the love and mercy of God to all of those that we encounter on our journeys.
     
    During these 40 days, we can prepare for Holy Week and Easter by focusing on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In prayer, we commit time to focus on our relationship with God, acknowledging that we need God in our lives. In fasting, we let go of the things that specifically get in our way, and make room for healing and love to come in and change us. In almsgiving, we look for ways to be of service to the world around us, trusting in the abundance of God for all people.
     
    All of this we do in the spirit of the theme that we are focusing on this Lent. Encountering God in the World. We open our eyes and hearts and minds to the world around us, and we see God in our neighborhoods, our communities, our workplaces, our schools. We encounter God in this community of faith, week after week, as we gather here together.
     
    We walk these 40 days together, and it starts today. It starts with worship, prayer, sharing Communion. Or let's not forget, it actually started downstairs with a feast. I'm still full, I don't know about you. Tonight we will receive ashes to remind us of our humanity, to remind us of our mortality. As a community, we see our own brokenness and sinfulness, and we see the brokenness of this world with no excuses, and we are reminded profoundly of the need that we have for God. We are, as our hymn of the day suggests, restored to love, and power, and joy, and grace, in Christ who lived our human experience.
     
    As we prepare ourselves to go out into the world, embodying the love and mercy of God, and witnessing the breath of the Spirit all around us. And we do this because we know we have a God who will never fail us, even when we, at times in our humanness, fail God.
     
    Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:1-7