Oct 10, 2021
Through the Eyes of Grace
Series: (All)
October 10, 2021. We may be tempted to see grace as a free pass to mess up forever, but it is so much more than that. The eyes of grace see and love us exactly as we are, and as we can be. The eyes of grace see us with love first, and know and understand our humanity.
 
Readings: Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Imagine that you're talking to two friends about a new movie. “The trailers are really great!” one of them says. “It’s funny, it's set in New Zealand, and Nicole Kidman is in it.” The other one replies, “Well, I saw it yesterday, and it is funny, Nicole is awesome as usual, and the videography really captures New Zealand. There are some scenes that get really intense, though. It might not a good movie for kids. And be ready for a serious cry and have some Kleenex handy!” Which is most helpful, as you decide if this movie might be for you, or who you might want to see it with? It is much easier to trust someone who has actually seen the movie. They have actually experienced what you are about to experience, and you know that they know what you’ll be getting into.
 
Our passage from Hebrews today has one of my favorite scripture verses in it: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one [Jesus] who in every respect has been tested as we have, yet without sin.” Like someone who has actually seen the movie, and cried the tears, and gripped the arm on the movie theater seat (or their companion’s hand), Jesus isn’t just guessing what our human life is like from a teaser. Jesus has been here, lived life as a human being on this earth, and because of that he knows exactly what being human is all about.
 
This, I think, is one of the most profound things for me about knowing God in Jesus. No matter what happens to us in this life, no matter what griefs, or joys, or surprises, or frustrations, or betrayals, or redemptions we face, Jesus hasn’t simply read or heard about it. He has been through it. As a foundation for trust, you really can’t beat that.
 
As if that isn’t enough, there is another line in our Hebrews text that might easily slip past, but is no less profound: “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness...“ For anyone who grew up hearing about God’s seat on the throne being the vantage point from which he judges who is worthy and who isn’t, who’s getting to heaven and who isn’t, this is a completely different image, isn’t it?
 
We approach the throne of grace. We approach Jesus, who knows what our human life is like because he has experienced it for himself. Not only that, but the God who the author of Hebrews tells us knows us, not just on the surface, but right to the very marrow of our bones. In our time of need, in our greatest woundedness and vulnerability, God is waiting to offer us mercy, not judgment. And when we are genuinely seeking to follow God’s call for us, and are stumbling on selfishness or fear or the illusion that there isn’t enough to share, Jesus looks on us just like he did that rich young man. He looks on us first with eyes of love. He understands that we get stuck sometimes, and still calls us to be our better selves. He calls us to give all that we are in spite of the fear.
 
I think sometimes we see grace as a magic eraser, a free pass to mess up forever. But grace is so much more than that. The eyes of grace see and love us exactly as we are, with all the stumbles and mistakes and resistance, and all the fears and selfishness and confusion. The eyes of grace see us exactly as we are, and as we can be. The eyes of grace see us with love first, know and understand our humanity — and because of and not in spite of that, never give up on us.
 
On an occasion when I showed up badly at work, my boss rightfully called me out for the attitude I had brought with me. I made my amends and I did what I could to show up better, but I still was absolutely mortified and I felt that I had broken trust in a way that was going to take a long time to repair. I don’t remember today what I did, but I will never forget what my boss said to me when we talked about it later. She said that far from breaking trust, the fact that we had faced the difficulty head on and worked through it together actually built trust between us. In that moment, I felt the grace of God embodied, knowing that I was seen and accepted as I was, and trusted to be more fully the person that I could be. It was still not easy.
 
And the disciples, hearing Jesus talk about how hard it will be to be vulnerable, how hard it will be to give everything like Jesus asked the rich young man to do, to welcome God’s kin-dom where the first are last and the last are first, they wonder how anyone can possibly measure up to this standard. The rich young man certainly felt that. Jesus tells the disciples that it will be easier for that camel to go through the eye of the needle than it will be for a rich person to get into the kin-dom of heaven. Jesus in fact tells the disciples that for us on our own, it is impossible.
 
These are not easy words, in this world that presents so many complicated situations, so many conflicting opinions and options for how to respond to the brokenness around us and live out God’s call. Jesus’ directive to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” was too much for that young man, and at least for that moment, he left, sad. The consistent call to welcome the stranger, and Jesus telling his disciples that “the last will be first and the first will be last,” has very different implications for us when you place it squarely in the context of hundreds of people coming to our border and getting in line, fleeing violence, starvation, and death. The last shall be first, and first shall be last. Following Jesus is about letting go of excuses, taking God’s call to love seriously, and embracing the complexities of this world that we live in, even when it is impossible for us.
 
Seeing that young man — and the disciples, and us today — with eyes of grace, Jesus reminds us all that we are not on our own. Jesus is not talking to just one of the disciples, but to all of them — and all of us — together, telling them that for us living out God’s call is impossible, but for and with God and one another, it is possible. Grace reveals itself best in relationship, between us and God, and between us and our companions on this journey.
 
We human beings don’t always embody that kind of grace — in fact, I feel it something of a miracle when we do. But God shares our human experience without sin, without the limitations and the barriers that we as humans face. In Christ, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human, and always sees us with eyes of grace. It is with eyes of grace that Jesus calls us to repent from our sin, and to grow and better embody the love of God in the world. In Christ we know that with God, anything is possible.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
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  • Oct 10, 2021Through the Eyes of Grace
    Oct 10, 2021
    Through the Eyes of Grace
    Series: (All)
    October 10, 2021. We may be tempted to see grace as a free pass to mess up forever, but it is so much more than that. The eyes of grace see and love us exactly as we are, and as we can be. The eyes of grace see us with love first, and know and understand our humanity.
     
    Readings: Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Imagine that you're talking to two friends about a new movie. “The trailers are really great!” one of them says. “It’s funny, it's set in New Zealand, and Nicole Kidman is in it.” The other one replies, “Well, I saw it yesterday, and it is funny, Nicole is awesome as usual, and the videography really captures New Zealand. There are some scenes that get really intense, though. It might not a good movie for kids. And be ready for a serious cry and have some Kleenex handy!” Which is most helpful, as you decide if this movie might be for you, or who you might want to see it with? It is much easier to trust someone who has actually seen the movie. They have actually experienced what you are about to experience, and you know that they know what you’ll be getting into.
     
    Our passage from Hebrews today has one of my favorite scripture verses in it: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one [Jesus] who in every respect has been tested as we have, yet without sin.” Like someone who has actually seen the movie, and cried the tears, and gripped the arm on the movie theater seat (or their companion’s hand), Jesus isn’t just guessing what our human life is like from a teaser. Jesus has been here, lived life as a human being on this earth, and because of that he knows exactly what being human is all about.
     
    This, I think, is one of the most profound things for me about knowing God in Jesus. No matter what happens to us in this life, no matter what griefs, or joys, or surprises, or frustrations, or betrayals, or redemptions we face, Jesus hasn’t simply read or heard about it. He has been through it. As a foundation for trust, you really can’t beat that.
     
    As if that isn’t enough, there is another line in our Hebrews text that might easily slip past, but is no less profound: “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness...“ For anyone who grew up hearing about God’s seat on the throne being the vantage point from which he judges who is worthy and who isn’t, who’s getting to heaven and who isn’t, this is a completely different image, isn’t it?
     
    We approach the throne of grace. We approach Jesus, who knows what our human life is like because he has experienced it for himself. Not only that, but the God who the author of Hebrews tells us knows us, not just on the surface, but right to the very marrow of our bones. In our time of need, in our greatest woundedness and vulnerability, God is waiting to offer us mercy, not judgment. And when we are genuinely seeking to follow God’s call for us, and are stumbling on selfishness or fear or the illusion that there isn’t enough to share, Jesus looks on us just like he did that rich young man. He looks on us first with eyes of love. He understands that we get stuck sometimes, and still calls us to be our better selves. He calls us to give all that we are in spite of the fear.
     
    I think sometimes we see grace as a magic eraser, a free pass to mess up forever. But grace is so much more than that. The eyes of grace see and love us exactly as we are, with all the stumbles and mistakes and resistance, and all the fears and selfishness and confusion. The eyes of grace see us exactly as we are, and as we can be. The eyes of grace see us with love first, know and understand our humanity — and because of and not in spite of that, never give up on us.
     
    On an occasion when I showed up badly at work, my boss rightfully called me out for the attitude I had brought with me. I made my amends and I did what I could to show up better, but I still was absolutely mortified and I felt that I had broken trust in a way that was going to take a long time to repair. I don’t remember today what I did, but I will never forget what my boss said to me when we talked about it later. She said that far from breaking trust, the fact that we had faced the difficulty head on and worked through it together actually built trust between us. In that moment, I felt the grace of God embodied, knowing that I was seen and accepted as I was, and trusted to be more fully the person that I could be. It was still not easy.
     
    And the disciples, hearing Jesus talk about how hard it will be to be vulnerable, how hard it will be to give everything like Jesus asked the rich young man to do, to welcome God’s kin-dom where the first are last and the last are first, they wonder how anyone can possibly measure up to this standard. The rich young man certainly felt that. Jesus tells the disciples that it will be easier for that camel to go through the eye of the needle than it will be for a rich person to get into the kin-dom of heaven. Jesus in fact tells the disciples that for us on our own, it is impossible.
     
    These are not easy words, in this world that presents so many complicated situations, so many conflicting opinions and options for how to respond to the brokenness around us and live out God’s call. Jesus’ directive to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” was too much for that young man, and at least for that moment, he left, sad. The consistent call to welcome the stranger, and Jesus telling his disciples that “the last will be first and the first will be last,” has very different implications for us when you place it squarely in the context of hundreds of people coming to our border and getting in line, fleeing violence, starvation, and death. The last shall be first, and first shall be last. Following Jesus is about letting go of excuses, taking God’s call to love seriously, and embracing the complexities of this world that we live in, even when it is impossible for us.
     
    Seeing that young man — and the disciples, and us today — with eyes of grace, Jesus reminds us all that we are not on our own. Jesus is not talking to just one of the disciples, but to all of them — and all of us — together, telling them that for us living out God’s call is impossible, but for and with God and one another, it is possible. Grace reveals itself best in relationship, between us and God, and between us and our companions on this journey.
     
    We human beings don’t always embody that kind of grace — in fact, I feel it something of a miracle when we do. But God shares our human experience without sin, without the limitations and the barriers that we as humans face. In Christ, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human, and always sees us with eyes of grace. It is with eyes of grace that Jesus calls us to repent from our sin, and to grow and better embody the love of God in the world. In Christ we know that with God, anything is possible.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
  • Sep 19, 2021Imagination, Curiosity, Abundance, Vulnerability
    Sep 19, 2021
    Imagination, Curiosity, Abundance, Vulnerability
    Series: (All)
    September 19, 2021. How can we use our imagination, caring curiosity, abundant generosity, and vulnerability to welcome more intentionally?
     
    Readings: James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9: 30-37
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The hard conversations continue again this week. Jesus reminds his disciples that there are difficult times ahead — rejection and even death, and not glory, are in store for the one who they hope will free them from oppressive Roman rule. And the disciples still don’t get it. Perhaps they don’t really want to understand. And who can blame them? This time, rather than arguing with Jesus about this as we heard last week, the disciples get into a conversation of their own, trying to work out among them who will have the biggest share of the glory that they are sure still is going to come, when Jesus seizes power.
     
    They are embarrassed to tell Jesus that this is what they’d been talking about. But Jesus knows anyway, and he calls them to focus on what is more important: welcoming those who are commonly overlooked and rejected to the table. Making sure that those usually left behind get the seats closest to Jesus. He shifts the conversation to radical welcome. And this got me thinking about welcome, what it means and how we live it out, and one of the places where I have experienced profound welcome.
     
    When we arrived in Tanzania, on one hand everything felt different. Mostly dirt roads, food that was unfamiliar to me, unknown language, and most of all, the monkeys that were playing in the trees where we were used to seeing squirrels. It didn’t take long, however, before we knew that we were thoroughly welcomed there.
     
    Our hosts met us, with face-splitting smiles and bear hugs, even though, we found out later, one of them had malaria when we arrived. They walked us to the hotel, where our rooms were ready for us. Everywhere we went, there was food and drink offered. Even those who seemed to have nothing had what they could give to us, and they gave it freely — whether that be peanuts, or little cakes or tea. And there was always the opportunity to wash our hands… echoing the tradition in Jesus’s time of washing the dust and dirt of long travel off the feet of every visitor who entered your house.
     
    We went to worship, and every word of Swahili was translated for us by one of our hosts, who intently wrote a couple of sentences at a time on small sheets of paper that she sent down our row so we could all read what was being said. And behind, around, and through it all, our first and most frequent Swahili words, as I mentioned earlier: Karibu sana! Not simply welcome, but close. And not just close, but very close.
     
    “All are welcome” is something that we say a lot, isn’t it? And yet, it's so easy to get caught in our own “stuff” and fail to welcome well. Sometimes we're stuck in the feeling that there isn’t enough to share with someone else. Like the disciples, we may find ourselves arguing over where we sit, rather than looking to make sure everyone has a place.
     
    We may be stuck in “old ways” of doing things, thinking that the way we have always done things is the only way. As James points out today, the desires or cravings in our hearts can distract us, and get us lost in what’s in it for us. Soon we are arguing, as the disciples did, over who gets recognition, the best seat, the most power, and we have completely forgotten the God of abundance who has made sure there is enough for everyone.
     
    Jesus understands where the disciples have gotten lost, and shifts the conversation to radical welcome. And as so often happens, Jesus lifts up those who are overlooked as he describes how to live out the call of God in our lives. This time, it’s not a Samaritan, or a woman, but a child. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Whoever welcomes the forgotten one, the last one, welcomes God.
     
    Debie Thomas, in her blog “Journey With Jesus,” turns this around a little bit, and reflects not on how children are welcomed, but on how children can show us how to welcome. Children use their imaginations, Thomas points out. The disciples struggled to break out of their hierarchical thinking, but children have a great capacity to see things from different angles.
     
    Anyone who has spent time with children knows that unlike the disciples who were afraid to ask Jesus about what they didn’t understand, children are not afraid to ask the hard questions, sometimes to our great embarrassment, as when my younger brother chose the quietest moment of worship to loudly ask, “Why that man ain’t got no hair?!”
     
    The disciples, and many of us adults, don’t easily trust in abundance, but children often tend by nature to trust that there is enough, that they are enough, and that they will have what they need. Children often have to be taught to fear not having enough.
     
    And from children we can learn that, contrary to what we might expect, God shows up best in vulnerability. Jesus shows us this truth over and over throughout his ministry, all the way to the cross. Thomas writes, “Do we want to see God? Do we really want to see God? Then look to the child abandoned in the alleyway. Look to the child detained at our border. Look to the child who has been abused. Look to the child who is fleeing from war. Look to the least of these, and see the face of God.” Imagination, honest curiosity, abundant generosity, vulnerability. This is the welcome we are called to.
     
    Last Sunday, you all gave approval for the Council to receive a bid on the Mead Center, and to move forward with conversation about renovation plans for our church building. Welcome and accessibility are clear, core values that have been named in the process of renovation, and this came up again in our conversations over the last couple of months.
     
    When Sunday School space was discussed recently, Superintendent Mr. Jesse said that if we wait until someone comes who needs an elevator, it is already too late to make that person welcome. It's already too late. We are invited, in reflecting on this, to welcome not just those who are already here, but to use our imaginations so that we can be prepared to welcome those who will come in the future.
     
    And in the not too far future, we know that Afghani people fleeing their homes as refugees will be coming to St. Louis, and with the coordination and guidance of the International Institute of St. Louis, St Louis is already preparing to welcome them. The Afghani people will come bringing their culture, bringing their faith, their families, their losses and their griefs, their hopes and their dreams. It will take all of us St. Louisans to open the door and make way for them to have their homes among us. And we, as Christ Lutheran Church, have already been involved in helping to prepare for those who will be coming to join our communities.
     
    So I ask all of us, myself included… how do people know that they are welcome here, in our community of faith? How do people know that they are welcome in our schools and our workplaces, in our homes, and in our lives? How can we use our imagination, caring curiosity, abundant generosity, and vulnerability to welcome more intentionally? And how can we open our hearts to the Spirit and unleash our capacity to welcome and serve, not just today, but for many years to come? Come, Holy Spirit, and guide us into the future.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9: 30-37, Debie Thomas
  • Sep 12, 2021The Cost of Discipleship
    Sep 12, 2021
    The Cost of Discipleship
    Series: (All)
    September 12, 2021. Where are you called to use your hands to participate in God’s creativity and love? How can you find the courage to speak the gospel’s radical truth in the face of resistance, and hold your tongue when needed so other prophetic voices can be heard?
     
    Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    After five weeks of Jesus’ bread of life discourse, about God giving God’s self to us in very profound, real, and sometimes mystical ways, we are now on our second week of Mark showing us Jesus in all his humanity. Last week Jesus tries (unsuccessfully) to hide from the demands of the ministry he is embodying, and in the process he shows us how not to respond, and how to respond, to someone different from us. Today, as Jesus is trying to explain to his disciples just how hard the road ahead of them all is, Peter tells Jesus (in not-so-polite language) to be quiet. And Jesus in turn tells Peter (in not-so-polite language) to be quiet.
     
    In all fairness, I can sympathize with Peter, who doesn’t want to hear about what will happen to Jesus in Jerusalem, and what will happen to Jesus’ followers later. And I can sympathize with Jesus, who just wants one of his closest companions to get it, so he doesn’t have to carry this load alone. Anyone who has had hard truths to share can probably understand how Jesus was feeling, and just how disheartening it would have been to have Peter discount what he was saying to them. After all, Jesus didn’t want the cross to become a reality, any more than any of us would, or do. And yet, he knew the truth of it, and Peter trying to shut down that truth was just too much.
     
    All through our scriptures today, we see this reality: trust in God does not make things easy. In fact, sometimes the radical, unapologetic, unlimited love of God, fully embraced, can make us a target for the evil in this world, whose only mission is to close into a box that which will not be contained.
     
    Isaiah tells the Israelites that as people of faith they are called to proclaim the good news of God right into the midst of their enemies. We often read this passage in which Isaiah speaks of giving the back to those who beat it, and the face to those who pluck the beard, as being about Jesus. The hard truth here is that Isaiah is actually speaking to the Israelites living in exile among foreigners, and to all followers of God, to us, who are called to claim God’s promise exactly where it is needed the most. To call out radical love and justice for those most vulnerable, even when others are trying their hardest to shut it down.
     
    This is no small thing. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in an attempt to shut down his leadership in the movements for racial and economic justice and peace, not so long ago. Water Protectors standing for the protection of sacred lands, environmental justice, and clean water have faced violent resistance and even death in our own country in the last few years. Many seeking racial justice have found themselves targeted by private citizens, right-wing militia, and even government — and Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a white supremacist during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017, is not the only one to have lost her life.
     
    This week, the ELCA officially welcomes Bishop Megan Rohrer (they/he), newly installed to the Sierra Pacific Synod, the first openly transgender bishop in the ELCA. Since they have served as an openly trans pastor, boldly proclaiming radical love and inclusion for all regardless of gender identity, Bishop Rohrer has received messages of hate and even death threats.
     
    This is not easy truth, family of faith. It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if we could just skip the cross, skip the challenge, skip the suffering, and go straight to resurrection. But Jesus tells Peter, in no uncertain terms, in not-so-polite language, that it doesn’t work that way. God has always come to bring the gospel of healing, hope, justice, and love to the broken places, and God has always sent God’s people to do the same, because that is who God is. And that is not an easy road. No wonder some of the disciples chose to leave, as we heard in our gospel a few weeks back.
     
    Our readings today carry this even further. James makes it clear that sometimes the evil trying to shut down or limit God’s love is nothing more or less than the very tongue in our own mouths. What we say can be very powerful, as Isaiah and James both make clear in today’s readings. Words can do harm and tear down, or words can build up those around us. And likewise, silence can do incredible harm, allowing untruth and evil to go unchecked, or silence can create space for truth that others need to share to be heard and honored. Silence is as powerful, or more, than words.
     
    “The Good Place” is a light-hearted comedy about an unlikely community of people who end up in the show’s version of heaven after they die, some of whom probably got there by mistake. One of them, Jason, is in the Good Place because he was mistaken for Jianyu Li, a Taiwanese monk. He jumps at the offer to “continue his vow of silence” to keep the secret. And everyone thinks he really is a monk until... you guessed it: he opens his mouth and speaks. Jason’s tongue, the second it is unbridled, makes it clear just who he is, for good or for ill.
     
    And in all of our passages today, and in Mark especially, Jesus is sharing words that make it very clear who he is, and what it will mean to follow him. Not the glory of the Messiah lifted up and honored, but the reality that following Jesus, trusting in God, means embodying the truth of God’s promises at the very center of the greatest suffering. Just as Isaiah tells the people that God is calling them to be faithful, bold, and do that in the face of their enemies.
     
    As we remember the 20th anniversary of the death and destruction of the September 11th attack on the Trade Center and Pentagon, we know there is evil in this world. We also recall those who faced the evil to bring rescue and healing wherever it was possible. Many of them died for their efforts. And we know that there is a great capacity for good. The news shows us both the evil and the good every day.
     
    And God is still present, bringing the good news of the gospel right where the suffering is greatest, and calling us, God’s people, to do the same. This weekend is also “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday in the ELCA, highlighting our call to enter the brokenness of the world and proclaim God’s love for all, even when our enemies, or our own tongue, try to shut it down. Jesus followed this path, all the way to death. This is, at its heart, the meaning of the cross.
     
    This is not easy, family of faith. And it is no wonder that some of Jesus’s disciples turned around when they understood it, and no wonder Peter tried, in not-so-polite language, to keep Jesus from telling this truth. We can take courage knowing that even Peter and Jesus wrestled with it, and we do this not alone, but together.
     
    As we mark “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday, where will you bring God’s message of healing and justice? Where are you called to use your hands to participate in God’s creativity and love? How can you find the courage to speak the gospel’s radical truth in the face of resistance, and hold your tongue when needed so other prophetic voices can be heard? All the way back to Isaiah, the call is clear. And all the way to today, God walks the road with us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-9, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38
  • May 30, 2021The Dance of the Trinity
    May 30, 2021
    The Dance of the Trinity
    Series: (All)
    May 30, 2021. What does the Trinity mean for us? Why does it matter? And perhaps most important, what do the readings for today reveal about all the ways that God shows up in our world?
     
    Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Today is Trinity Sunday, so I kinda feel like I should probably be standing up here in front of you who are in your pews, in front of you who are in your homes, and eloquently explain the doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps even using a three-leafed clover metaphor, they way St. Patrick did centuries ago. On the surface, the idea of the Trinity seems pretty straightforward — three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God. Simple enough, right?
     
    The reality is that life is not that simple, and as Mr. Jesse was saying, so much change happens naturally — and then on top of that, in the last year all of the “change to the change.” (I love that phrase.) And the reality is around the Trinity, wars have been fought, and people have died, because of differences in understanding the Trinity. And yet the Trinity stands, and we confess it here at Christ Lutheran every week. In the creeds we claim the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as three persons in this Triune God. And it's one of the greatest mysteries of our faith.
     
    I'm sure you will be relieved to hear that I will not attempt to sort out two millennia of conversations, battles, arguments, and council doctrines on the Trinity today. Far more important for us, I believe, is what does the Trinity mean for us? Why does it matter? And perhaps most important, what do our readings for Trinity Sunday reveal about all the ways that God shows up in our world?
     
    Psalm 29 paints this picture of God in waves crashing on the ocean, in the flashes and booms of powerful storms, and in the silent and formidable presence of enormous trees that are centuries old. God’s majesty surrounds us, overwhelms us, and although it touches us, we can’t quite bear to touch it. This is God, creator of the universe, deserving of glory, before whom none of us, truth be told, are quite ready to stand. The full majesty of God makes us quake in our boots, at least a little bit.
     
    In Isaiah, we enter a vision of God called Yahweh, seated on a throne, surrounded by seraphs singing “Holy, holy, holy!” Isaiah is called into a swirl of turmoil and anxiety of a community that has just lost their king of 30 years. Talk about change! Isaiah feels completely inadequate, and it's no surprise that his first response is, “Woe is me! I am unclean, and yet I have seen the Lord!” In a miracle of grace, God prepares Isaiah, so that he can cry, “Here am I. Send me!” And God prepares not just Isaiah, but us, you and me, to go out as witnesses to this grace.
     
    Jesus, God-in-flesh, tells Nicodemus about the intimate connection between Christ in his humanity, and us in our humanity. God came to us in Christ to bring life and redemption, to embody the love and promise, and to be in relationship with us, on our terms. And in that relationship, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our brokenness is redeemed, and our joy is made complete.
     
    In Christ, God enters fully into our suffering, as well as our joy. God goes through all these changes that we've been talking about with us. God is with us in that. God-in-flesh embraces our grief, and shows us through the resurrection that death and loss will not be the final word. God enters our joy, and revels with us in the beauty of creation around us. Jesus-God sits with us, eats with us, laughs with us, cries with us. Because God revealed God's self to us in Jesus, we know that God is not only majesty and splendor and power, but intimately involved in our everyday life. Because God became fully human, we know that we are never alone. We have a God who understands what it means to be human.
     
    And interwoven in all of this is the Spirit, perhaps the most mysterious aspect of the Trinity. Jesus tries to explain this to Nicodemus, too. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” The Spirit empowers us to recognize who we are as children of God, and it is only through the Spirit that we call God Abba, Father. The Spirit breathes life to dry bones in the desert, anoints and calls the apostles in fire at Pentecost, calls Jews and Gentiles alike to baptism in the days of the early church. “The wind blows where it chooses...”
     
    And as we read this passage again 2000 years later, we can perhaps be comforted by knowing that even Nicodemus, teacher though he was, didn’t understand it fully. He badly wanted to understand, wanted in a way to touch Jesus, but then found that he just couldn’t get there. Just as Isaiah felt overwhelmed by his experience of God, so did Nicodemus.
     
    The Trinity is complex, and it's defied definition for millennia now. So, for today, it seems enough to trust that in the Trinity, our God is all things for us — majesty and power, a fellow traveler intimately acquainted with our human experience, and one who tells us who we are and empowers us to witness to the world.
     
    And when all of these things come together in the one God, something happens that goes far beyond division of labor, each person filling their appointed role. It cannot be adequately captured in any one metaphor, although I am sure you can imagine that doesn’t stop me from trying.
     
    In Quest for the Living God, Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson describes the Trinity as three persons in a dance that never ends. She writes, “The three circling around in a mutual dynamic movement of love, God is not a static being, but a plentitude of self-giving love, a saving mystery that overflows into the world of sin and death to heal, redeem, and liberate.”
     
    Johnson presents an image of God in relationship with God's self, equal, fully grounded in love. This is the motivation for creation — God did not create the world to follow law or do God’s will, but to be in loving relationship with God, with us, and with the rest of creation. And the Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries of our faith. As hard as we may try to neatly define and understand the Trinity, we discover as Nicodemus did that God will not be contained.
     
    Paul tells us that we've been given the Spirit of adoption as children of the Triune God. We are adopted into that love that overflows into our broken world. We are intimately integrated into the mysterious, creative, moving, loving, healing, inspiring, transforming Trinity. We, along with all creation, are invited to the dance, which never stops evolving as creation continues, 2000 years after Nicodemus struggled to wrap his mind around the mysteries of God.
     
    Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses... and so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” We are, Paul tells us, adopted into the Trinity, and we are called to follow the Spirit where it chooses. Not to understand, not to define, certainly not to limit — for ours is a God who will not be so easily contained. We as God’s beloveds are invited to enter the sacred dance, and empowered to join Isaiah in saying, “Here I am, send me!” We're children of the Triune God, and we follow the wind.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17, Quest for the Living God, Elizabeth Johnson, Jesse Helton
  • May 16, 2021Lord, Teach Us to Pray…
    May 16, 2021
    Lord, Teach Us to Pray…
    Series: (All)
    May 16, 2021. Today's sermon is on the prayer Jesus offers in John 17 for his disciples before his arrest, and how it is remarkably vulnerable and intimate.
     
    Readings: John 17:6-19
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    As we are coming to the end of the Easter Season this year, I've been thinking back to February of last year, when we were hearing only whispers of what was to come. March 22nd, we held our first Zoom worship, thinking it would be a few weeks, a couple of months at most. We had no idea at that time the losses this year would bring, the trauma we might experience, and we certainly had no idea how long it would last.
     
    Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Christmas, and Lent and Easter again have passed since we last worshipped in person. And here we are on the 7th Sunday of Easter, and our gospel for today comes from John 17, before Jesus died. In fact, the prayer we hear Jesus pray today are the last words Jesus had for his disciples in the Gospel of John prior to his arrest. Although they don’t realize it, as Jesus is praying this prayer, the disciples are about to have their whole world turned upside down. They don’t know that Jesus, who they have been following for three years, who they believed would free them all from Roman occupation, is going to be arrested and die a horrific death. They don’t know that the next 24 hours will bring an abrupt change to everything they thought they understood about how things were going to be and what they thought Jesus was going to do.
     
    The disciples, not knowing that this would be the last meal they would eat with their friend and mentor, had no context for Jesus’s words, and I can imagine them listening, turning to one another, and whispering to each other, “What on earth is Jesus talking about? What does he mean, he’s no longer in the world? He’s sitting right here. Of course he belongs here. We have work to do. We have plans.”
     
    We listen to these words some 2,000 years later, and knowing what was going to happen, we can see what Jesus is trying to do here — offer comfort, reassurance, and hope for the days to come, turning his beloveds over to God for the journey ahead. As Mr. Jesse pointed out, that is something that never changes. John’s gospel doesn’t often reveal Jesus’ human vulnerability the way the other gospels do. John passes over the agony in the garden, and does everything he can to describe Jesus as fully in control, subject to no one, even choosing for himself the moment of his death.
     
    The prayer Jesus offers for his disciples before his arrest, however, is remarkably vulnerable, and intimate. Jesus tells God as he prays that he can’t be with his disciples anymore. And as often as we see God’s expansiveness, in this moment Jesus is praying not for everyone, but for his beloveds. His apostles. Jesus knows the horror, grief, and danger that his death will bring for those closest to him. And Jesus asks God to be with them, to protect them, knowing that he is called to move on, and trusting that ultimately, God is our source. Debie Thomas writes in her blog this week, “ 'I am asking,' Jesus says. How surprising is it that God incarnate spends his final moments with his friends in humble supplication on their behalf? Knowing full well the trials and terrors that lie ahead, he prays into uncertainty. He hopes into doubt. He trusts into danger.”
     
    When we think of Jesus teaching us to pray, we of course think first of the Lord’s Prayer, that clear, beautiful, profession of praise, confession, thanksgiving, and request that we and Christians around the world pray every week. In these final moments of Jesus’s life on earth, Jesus is once more teaching us to pray — all of his beloveds, but in this moment, especially us. You. You and I are invited to receive Jesus’ prayer for us. To know that God is with us. And as Mr. Jesse pointed out, that that's one thing that never changes. To claim the promise of joy and unity and trust in the midst of things we can’t begin to control or even understand.
     
    As hard as this last year has been, as unprepared as we were for all that has happened, God has been with us. What would have been unimaginable last February has become in many ways comfortable and familiar to us, as we have settled into rhythms of life in a pandemic.
     
    And now, things are changing again, as happens in life. We feel excitement, curiosity, and anxiety and fear as we make decisions for ourselves and our families about how and when to return to in-person activities. We are learning that even something we long deeply for, gathering together with people we love dearly and have missed this last year, is not easy, and can be stressful in ways we find surprising. New life is coming as families anticipate the birth of babies in the coming months. Grief circles back, as we who have grieved the deaths of loved ones on our own now have opportunities to gather together with others who share our losses.
     
    And today we celebrate and bless our graduates, who have navigated their final years of high school and college in the pandemic, and are prepared in unique ways for the joys and challenges to come. Graduates, Jesus’ prayer is for you especially today.
     
    As we step into the uncertainties, the new life, the grief, the joy, the anxiety, today we take time to let Jesus’s prayer settle on us like a blanket. Rest in the promise that God will be present even in the face of the challenges that come. Settle in the joy of knowing that God’s love cannot be erased, as Mr. Jese pointed out. Embrace the unity that comes from knowing that God has given us into a community that embodies this love, through all the challenges of life, even in the face of a pandemic. As Mr. Jesse pointed out, we are here for each other. We have been, and we continue to be. Let go in the face of uncertainty. Ask that God be with us. Trust that God will take care of us and those we love, no matter what happens. Today, we sit with Jesus, and say once again, “Teach us to pray.”
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, John 17:6-19, Debie Thomas, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • May 9, 2021Abiding in Love
    May 9, 2021
    Abiding in Love
    Series: (All)
    May 9, 2021. Today's sermon is on how we humans are formed, shaped, and breathed into being by the hands and breath of God, and how we abide in God and God abides in us.
     
    Readings: Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, John 15:9-17
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So many things from today’s readings jump out at me. Abiding in love, like Mr. Jesse just talked about. Giving of one’s life. The Spirit anointing Gentiles. But today, I have to start with the psalm: “Sing to the Lord a new song!” This simple phrase has me almost in tears even this morning, knowing that our choir gathered together on Wednesday evening, wearing masks and keeping a safe distance, to do just that — sing to the Lord a new song, or perhaps old songs, for the first time since March 15, 2020, over a year ago! And for just a moment, before we go any further, it is worth celebrating the truth and promise that even 14 months of pandemic life have not, and cannot, erase the connections between us, and that the Spirit will not be contained. Sing to the Lord, indeed!
     
    The circumcised believers who were with Peter at Cornelius’ household were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. They were astounded that people who differed from them in religious practice and ethnicity could be chosen by God. Have you ever been astounded by who God chose? Surprised by who showed up at just the right time, with just the right gifts for the situation at hand? Shocked by who spoke the words you needed to hear, to the point where you knew God had led you right to them? It has happened to me on more than one occasion, I will admit.
     
    This sense of astounded-ness in the case of the “circumcised believers” was compounded by the fact that those clearly beloved and chosen by God were absolutely, undeniably, other. There were people meant to be part of the promise, worthy of the love that was talked so much about in the Gospel of John, and there were those who just weren’t. And the Gentiles? They weren’t.
     
    It doesn’t help that Hollywood has conditioned us to believe that love is simply an emotion. Either someone is attractive, or they aren’t. Either someone is lovable, or they aren’t. Either we have an emotional response to them, or we don’t. And I am quite sure that all of us can think of people, ones we know and ones we know of, that are difficult for us to love. People that even seem to be unworthy of love. We all know this challenge.
     
    We all know just how hard it is sometimes to make the choice to love, to put love into action as Jesus does. We all know that love, contrary to Hollywood’s illusion, requires intention, sacrifice, and commitment that perseveres even through the hardest of times. Jesus even tells us that love means laying your life down for others, and Jesus certainly did that for us, all the way to death on the cross. And we all know that truthfully, we humans simple aren’t capable of loving this way.
     
    And that brings me to the phrase John uses several times at the beginning of today’s gospel: abiding in love. Abide is not a word we use often, and when we do, it usually means “obey,” as in “abide by my rules” or “abide by the guidelines we've agreed on.” The Greek word used in this passage, however, has a very different connotation: to remain, to be present, to be held, continually. Different, right? Jesus is not inviting us to strive, to exhaust ourselves, only to ultimately fail at loving our neighbors. Jesus is inviting us to abide in God’s love.
     
    Debie Thomas writes this week in her blog, “Journey with Jesus,” ”My problem is that I often treat Jesus as a role model, and then despair when I can’t live up to his high standards. But abiding in something is not the same as emulating it. In the vine-and-branches metaphor, Jesus’ love is not our example; it’s our  source. It’s where our love originates and deepens. Where it replenishes itself. In other words, if we don’t abide, we can’t love. Jesus’ commandment to us is not that we wear ourselves out, trying to conjure love from our own easily depleted resources. Rather, it’s that we abide in the holy place where divine love becomes possible. That we make our home in Jesus’s love — the most abundant and inexhaustible love in existence.”
     
    When I have struggled to love, one of the most powerful ways I have learned to invite God in is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis. You may be familiar with it — Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.
     
    At a time when I had to frequently encounter people by whom I felt wounded, I would take time to pray this prayer, for them, and for myself, by name. Asking God to love me and love through me, because I felt empty. Asking God to bring healing for my woundedness, and in the process, seeing their woundedness as well. Claiming the faith of God, for them and for myself. I had long drives at that time, and sometimes I would find that it had taken me the entire drive — nearly two hours — just to get through the prayer.
     
    We humans, formed and shaped and breathed into being by the hands and breath of God, abide in God, and God abides in us. Because of that, there is nothing that can erase the Spirit’s presence in and among us, nothing that can contain the creative, expansive, extravagant love of God. It is this truth that makes it possible for us to embody the love of God in this beautiful, crazy, dynamic, sometimes broken world that God has made.
     
    So, sing to God, in whom we abide, a new song! Celebrate the Spirit that blows away all barriers, and connects us to one another, creation, and God who created it all. No matter the struggles, let us remind one another always to abide in God, who loves in us and through us when we just can’t. Sing to the Lord, indeed.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, John 15:9-17, Jesse Helton
  • May 2, 2021What is to Prevent Me from Being Baptized?
    May 2, 2021
    What is to Prevent Me from Being Baptized?
    Series: (All)
    May 2, 2021. In today's sermon we learn more about the story from Acts chapter 8 of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch — the foreign, dark-skinned person who does not conform to gender norms — and ask what is to prevent us or anyone from being baptized.
     
    Readings: Acts 8:26-40, John 15:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the relatively new, but definitely classic Disney movie “Zootopia,” bunny Judy Hopps has always been… different. In a world that claims to be inclusive — where anyone can be anything — Zootopia is still largely divided into predator and prey, and you are expected to fit in to whichever group you are born into. So it is assumed that Judy the bunny will do what her entire bunny family has always done — farm carrots. But Judy knows she was born to be a police officer. Her passion for making the world a better place gets her into trouble with bullies, who want to knock her down, and her parents, who wish she would settle for the easy road and not make things so hard for herself and them.
     
    In spite of the challenges, Judy does become a police officer, but finds that her colleagues don’t take her seriously, and her chief relegates her to parking duty. As the story unfolds, Judy stumbles onto an unsolved case, and in trying to solve it, she becomes friends with Nick Wilde, a fox. Judy unwittingly hurts Nick deeply when her own tendency to see all predators as dangerous “others” gets the best of her. She realizes that while she has struggled to claim her place as a bunny police officer, Nick has been rejected his whole life because people didn’t believe a predator like him could ever belong anywhere — and Judy herself wasn’t as ready to embrace Nick the fox as she had thought.
     
    In the gospels, Jesus often calls people to recognize the walls they have put up between them and others. He shocks by making an outsider, the Good Samaritan, the hero of a parable, and eats with all kinds of people seen as “other.” Jesus is always reaching to the margins and once, Jesus himself gets called out when he refuses to help the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter is ill, and she tells him: even the dogs get to eat the scraps from the table. Of course, Jesus then heals the girl. And I have often wondered, was Jesus trying to teach us a lesson in what not to do, or did he in his humanity also need to be taught?
     
    In the early days of what would become the Christian church, chronicled in the Book of Acts that provides our first readings in the Easter season, the followers of Jesus debated about who could belong and who couldn’t belong, and what they had to do to belong. The Spirit kept showing them that all people are children of God and welcome into God’s promises.
     
    After the initial coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit anointed a group of gentiles, and that led to their baptism, if only because the Apostles could hardly deny baptism to people God had so clearly chosen. In the heat of debate about whether or not following Judaic dietary laws should be required, Peter had a dream in which God revealed to him that no one should be excluded from the fellowship for what they eat. Over and over, the gospel expands the circle, continually challenging us to welcome those who seem outside. The promises of baptism are for all people, but especially for those on the margins.
     
    Today’s story is no different. The Ethiopian Eunuch, although he was a Jew and he carried some power and authority in the court in which he served, was an outsider on many counts. He was a foreigner, he was viewed as “exotic” because of his dark skin, and he'd been surgically altered — possibly by force — so that he was outside of gender norms. None of that prevents the Spirit from guiding Philip to head to the south, follow a deserted road, find a random chariot, and join the Eunuch as he studied Isaiah.
     
    Philip shares the gospel with him, and it never occurs to the Eunuch that it might not be for him. They pass by water, and the Eunuch speaks a profound statement of faith: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” What indeed? There was water, and the Word of God. And then and there, the Eunuch and Philip claim that the promises of God have no limits.
     
    We don’t know anything else of the Ethiopian Eunuch, except that he goes on his way rejoicing. It strikes me that, as an Ethiopian, dark-skinned, high court official, he is in the perfect position to carry the good news to new lands. The Spirit, I believe, didn’t send Philip to the Eunuch in spite of who he was, but because he was uniquely equipped to embody the love, forgiveness, and faithfulness of a God who knows no boundaries.
     
    The Eunuch knew without question that God’s promises were for him, in all his uniqueness. Judy Hopps knew without question that she was uniquely equipped to make the world a better place as a bunny police officer, no matter what anyone else thought.
     
    As colleagues and I gathered this week to reflect on these texts, we wondered, what would it look like if we lived the truth that all people really are fully included in the gospel? We realized that we pray for this every week, in the Lord’s Prayer, asking that God’s kingdom and will be done on earth... not just for some, but for all creation. It means letting go of needing to understand, needing to gate-keep, needing to have some control over how things look and how they are done. It means letting go of our own vision and embracing God’s vision instead. We humans will never fully be able to grasp it in this life, but we do get glimpses, and it is the gospel nevertheless.
     
    My colleagues and I recognized the power of the gospel to heal and transform us and our communities, no matter how imperfectly we embody it. We shared from the witness of our own lives and those we care for that when God’s expansive love is embraced and embodied in people around us, it can actually reduce the depression, isolation, and even risk of suicide that comes from being systematically cast out.
     
    The challenge of all this is that, for those of us who “fit” easily in different ways, embracing the expansiveness of the gospel, allowing the Spirit to remove the walls and barriers that leave others outside, means being willing to be uncomfortable. Judy was really uncomfortable as she faced her own prejudices and saw the harm that she had done, and she and Nick had to have really hard conversations. In the end, the walls within them and between them that kept them from being who they were created to be fell apart as they claimed their truth.
     
    And as easy as it seems for Philip to seek out the Eunuch and baptize him, that was clearly the work of the Spirit, sending and snatching and sending again. And we know from all of the stories of the early church just how much conflict, confusion, and even anger had to be worked through as the Spirit revealed herself to them. Like Judy and Nick, and the people of the early church, we today continue to come up against our own walls and barriers, and the Spirit continues to blow through and take them down because she will not be contained.
     
    Today we celebrate the good news of a God so expansive that she embraces a foreign, dark-skinned person who does not conform to gender norms, and connects us all to one another and themselves as surely as branches connect to the vine to receive life and nourishment. Like Mr. Jesse pointed out, we are connected to God, and to each other, and all of creation. The gift of this is that we can help one another feel the expansiveness and connectedness of the love of God when we can’t sense it for ourselves. Beyond anything else, it is what we were created to do.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 8:26-40, John 15:1-8
  • Apr 25, 2021A Leader We Can Trust
    Apr 25, 2021
    A Leader We Can Trust
    Series: (All)
    April 25, 2021. Scripture is filled with images of nature, and one thing evident in all of the stories, and all of our own experiences in God’s creation, is the theme of connection of God to nature, and connection to God through nature.
     
    Readings: 1 John 3:16-24, Psalm 23, John 10:11-18
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    One of my favorite places in Minnesota is Gooseberry Falls, on the North Shore. From the parking lot, you pass by the Visitor’s Center and make your way toward the water, the splashing of the water against the rocks growing louder with every step, along with the sounds of voices and laughter on warm, sunny days. I've always loved water, especially running water, and one of the best parts of Gooseberry is that it is really three waterfalls in one, with the water pouring down each rocky cliff, one after the other, on its way down the river.
     
    The river is surrounded by rock — all colors, all shapes, all sizes, some set like stairs to climb as you make your way to the Upper Falls, some smooth and flat and perfect for sitting on, some rising out of the river itself like stepping stones allowing the courageous to cross from one side to the other in search of new paths. And edging the stone are thousands of trees, with paths running through them, like so many veins, carrying air, light, animals, and people deeper into the woods, and back again.
     
    And then, of course, there is the water itself. I recall one year sitting by the edge of the Upper Falls, listening to the water colliding with the rocks and then rushing over and around them, when I noticed something I hadn’t before. As Gooseberry River makes its way down the Upper Falls, it doesn’t go down all in one rush, but divides and flows around the rocks in the cliff, forming hundreds of mini waterfalls as it goes. I became fascinated with how different they all were, in size, shape, direction, even speed, and I could have spent hours watching them.
     
    I took pictures of course, but that hardly does justice to the beauty that can be experienced when you are sitting there, so close you have to raise your voice to be heard over the roar of the water, and can feel the mist off the rocks a few feet away.
     
    Moments like this connect me with the presence of God in profound ways, because with stone, dirt, water, trees, sunlight, and air all around, I feel grounded in the Spirit of the one who created it all.
     
    Scripture has so many images of nature, starting with the story of creation where God spoke and breathed all things into being, as Miss Alena talked about. The psalms described the created world singing and praising the creator, bringing solace, healing, strength, and rest to all of creation, like we heard in Psalm 23 today. Moses finds sacred space in a burning bush, and removes his sandals so that he can touch the holy ground with his feet. Elijah, when he is exhausted, afraid, and completely empty, is nourished, rested, renewed, and reassured by God in a hidden cave on a hill, far from the city he'd fled. And so many stories tell of God speaking to creation and even controlling it, as when he parts the Red Sea for the Israelites, and brings water from stone for them to drink.
     
    And in the gospels, Jesus often teaches in fields, and mountains, and gardens, and even from boats, and uses images of grain, water, and trees, among other things, to explain the kin-dom of God to those who follow him. And he also reveals creation responding to the creator in stories like the calming of the storm. Today, Jesus describes God’s connection to God’s people using the image of a shepherd, guiding and caring for us, the sheep.
     
    One thing evident in all of these stories, and all of our own experiences in God’s creation, is a theme of connection of God to nature, and connection to God through nature. In our gospel today, Jesus tells us that just as the shepherd knows the sheep, he knows us, and we know him. He knows our voice, and we know his voice, just as Mary knew Jesus’ voice when he said her name in the garden outside the tomb. The truth of this knowing is revealed in the world around us. Anyone who has seen the documentary “March of the Penguins,” narrated by Morgan Freeman, may have been struck, as I was, by the description of young penguins hatched while their mothers are on a months-long journey to bring food to their families, who nevertheless know one another’s calls and can find each other out of hundreds of penguins despite never having heard each other’s voices before. Jesus knows us, and we know Jesus, out of all the millions of people on earth.
     
    This feels especially profound this week as the verdict for Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd was rendered, and as I reflected afterwards that George’s cry to his mother was heard. This time, in this moment, justice was served.
     
    There is still so much evil and brokenness and sin in this world, so much healing to happen, as we wait for justice to roll down like waters. Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book Stand Your Ground, describes how black theology speaks to this lived reality: God is by nature free, transcendent of all the brokenness and sin of this world. And, God’s work in us and in the world is about freedom. Freedom to be who we are as children of God.
     
    This, Douglas says, is what gives people who are not yet truly free the courage and endurance to proclaim boldly that wherever people are in bondage, oppressed and marginalized, God is there, and hears their voices just as surely as God heard the cry of the Israelites in Egypt. God heard George Floyd’s cry, and the cries of all who suffer. Our second reading, from 1 John, speaks of this boldness, promising that in this beautiful and broken world of now-and-not-yet, God cannot help but be faithful to who God is. And we cannot help, being created by God, to continue the work of transformation, justice, and shalom.
     
    We don’t often think much about sheep and shepherds, but when we do, if you are like me you probably envision fluffy white cuteness, wandering beautiful countryside, with a shepherd dressed in pristine, flowing robes to follow them. Reality is much different from that — sheep are dirty and smelly, they get lost sometimes, and there are so many dangers that threaten that the shepherd must guard against, sometimes taking the brunt of the damage on themselves in the process. In Psalm 23, the shepherd leads us beside still waters, providing rest and renewal, but also guides the sheep through the inevitable valley of the shadow, walking with them no matter what is happening. In a world where finding leaders that we can truly count on, leaders that know us and hear our voice, can seem nearly impossible, Jesus the good shepherd is a leader we can trust.
     
    We who were created, shaped, and formed in the image of the God of freedom follow Jesus the shepherd, and we're reminded with every step that we are intimately connected with the created world around us. Grounded in the created world of earth, trees, animals, birds, air, sun and moon, we're renewed and reminded that no matter what happens, we always know God, and God always knows us. We can stand against evil, knowing that we can trust the shepherd, who has never failed us yet. Guided by the shepherd, we can face the valley of the shadow, the brokenness and evil of this world and even our own sin, and boldly claim that the God of freedom, creativity, and life means for all of creation to be free, even if we are not there yet.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18, Alena Horn
  • Apr 18, 2021How Do You Know?
    Apr 18, 2021
    How Do You Know?
    Series: (All)
    April 18, 2021. What are we witness to? How has God shown up in your life, and how have you been changed? Who are you called to share the hope, love, and promise of the resurrection with? In today's sermon, Pastor Meagan asks these questions and talks about how we can know.
     
    Readings: Luke 24: 36b-48
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The disciples were understandably a little bit skeptical when Jesus appeared to them. As Pastor Tina pointed out last week, they were exhausted, traumatized, afraid, confused, even despairing. Jesus showing up, in the middle of that, was the last thing that they expected. And yet, there he was. And there they were, caught up in a tangle of trauma, joy, disbelief, and wonderment.
     
    The disciples didn’t know it was Jesus right away. That seems to be a theme of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection, like Mr. Jesse mentioned. Honestly, who can blame them? Trauma is real, and they had been through it. Clear thinking was impossible in the wake of the horror of Good Friday, and Jesus’s appearance was not enough to instantly erase that. On Easter Sunday, we heard that the women were afraid to tell anyone, at the beginning. Last week, Thomas doubts — and as Pastor Tina pointed out, Jesus understood that, and meets him where he is. And today, one more time, the disciples are struggling to make sense out of what is happening right in front of them, how to know what it all meant.
     
    How do we know? When we're encountering something unexpected, traumatic, challenging, new, confusing, how do we discern where God is leading? How do we find God, when any sign of God seems completely absent?
     
    I remember realizing, soon after starting seminary, that for many reasons it was time to seek out a new church. On the website of one of the ELCA churches in our Minneapolis neighborhood, the tagline read “Traditional Worship — Contemporary Message.” The church we had been attending claimed “Traditional Church with a Modern Message.” I got goosebumps and I thought, “I think I’ve found my people!” And I had.
     
    When my Seminary Advisor returned from sabbatical I told her that I had joined the ELCA and was switching to an Mdiv degree, and she exclaimed, “Why not the UCC? Or the Episcopal? How do you know?” To her, the way I had made this decision made no sense. Later, I discovered that she had made a similar change many years before, becoming Presbyterian after months of studying church doctrine. This was my first realization that there are many ways of knowing God's will, and discerning where God is leading.
     
    Looking back, I have always relied at least somewhat on instincts when making decisions. I chose St. Olaf for college largely because of a sense of at-homeness when I visited. And when we were looking at St. Louis houses last year, Karen was gratified to discover that our house had a new furnace and AC, but I knew we were at home when I discovered the sound of the rain on the tin roof of the sun porch — my squeal of joy brought our realtor running, sure that something was dreadfully wrong.
     
    The disciples had heard the experience of the two who walked the road to Emmaus with Jesus, and knew who it was when they broke bread together. But hearing from their fellows didn’t prepare the rest of the disciples to see Jesus’ themselves. Jesus understands this, and he acknowledges how shocking it must be for them, how confusing for brains and spirits that are still shaken by what they'd been through — and he offers them peace, not as a command, but as a gift to beloveds he knows are confused and afraid. He invites them to enter into the truth that he is there — to see his hands, to touch his feet. He asks for something to eat — as Mr. Jesse mentioned — as if to say, I really am here. I still get hungry and I eat, just like you do. And then he teaches them, opening their minds to the scriptures, and all that he told them all those years along the way. My advisor would have loved that part!
     
    And finally, whether because they saw, or felt, or touched, or learned — or maybe because of all of it — the disciples knew that it was Jesus. Connecting with their own embodied experience through their senses grounded them, and they knew. Perhaps not the kind of knowing that means they fully understood everything that was happening or what the future would hold, but a knowing that helped them to trust in something that they still couldn’t quite understand. Jesus embodied in humanity met the disciples in their humanity to share promise, life, and hope.
     
    And Jesus, having been fully human, meets us where we are. Whether through goosebumps or rain on the tin roof, or website taglines, church teachings or scripture studies, or seeing or touching or eating, God in Christ continues to reveal to us the good news: death is not the final word, we are not alone, the love of God for all creation cannot be contained, and we are, often despite ourselves, exactly where we need to be. How do you know?
     
    In all of the gospels, even in Mark that leaves us hanging with the women at the tomb afraid to speak, Jesus helps us know — and then, as Mr. Jesse talked about, calls us to be witnesses. This can feel impossible — we are overwhelmed by trauma, we're too frightened to speak, we think we don’t know or understand enough, or that we should leave it to the preachers or others better trained, or we feel like our doubts and questions disqualify us from carrying the gospel. But still, we are called. We are witnesses, as Mr. Jesse mentioned.
     
    We are sent out together. And today, with the rest of Central States Synod, we remember the witness of our partner in the gospel, the Kote District of Papua New Guinea. Like the disciples, and like us, they have experienced the struggle and despair. They have, like us, lived through the despair of the pandemic, and had limited resources to help their community. They're grieving the loss of beloved President Mutu, and they're seeking wisdom as they choose a new leader and make decisions about how to use their country’s rich natural resources for the good of all. We stand with them as we all seek to know God’s presence and share the good news of God’s abundant love.
     
    It's interesting to note that as Jesus reveals himself to the disciples, it is not miracles or perfect knowledge that help them know, but Jesus showing up in his humanity, asking for something to eat. The most powerful witnesses in my life in times of despair and woundedness have been those who have also known despair, and found hope in the presence of God who meets them there. When shame, trauma, and despair bound me and blinded me, others who understood embodied Christ for me, reminding me of the truth of my identity as a beloved child of God. Like Mr. Jesse had us sing, Jesus loves me. People were able to witness that, demonstrating by their presence that God of love and life was there.
     
    In the neighborhoods of Minneapolis, as the verdict in the trial surrounding George Floyd’s death looms, trauma, anger, and grief threaten to snuff life out — and guns and tanks and soldiers struggle to contain it. Community is embodying Christ there by bringing food, water, medical supplies, counseling, diapers, and connection, showing up with their presence and demonstrating that the God of life is there. It's like Mary, showing up after the horror of Good Friday and the silent despair of Holy Saturday, proclaiming simply and with great wonder, “I have seen the Lord!”
     
    And this is our call: to know, and to witness. What are we witness to? How has God shown up in your life, and how have you been changed? Who are you called to share the hope, love, and promise of the resurrection with? Feel the breath of Jesus as he proclaims peace. See the wounds in his hands, touch the holes in his feet, share your fish — and bread — with him and watch in wonder as he eats, and hear the promises that are revealed in scripture. And then, know that we too are witnesses to these things, and proclaim the good news: We have seen the Lord! Christ is alive! God is still here! Alleluia!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 24: 36b-48, Jesse Helton
  • Apr 4, 2021Who Will We Tell?
    Apr 4, 2021
    Who Will We Tell?
    Series: (All)
    April 4, 2021. Pastor Meagan's sermon for this Easter Sunday is on the fear felt by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John when they went to the tomb and found that Jesus wasn't there. What would we have thought had we been there?
     
    Readings: Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Last Sunday, when we gathered for Palm Sunday Worship, we had a parade to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem — and some of us took that parade down Lockwood, too. And Easter is another opportunity to celebrate with a procession. Many of you have probably heard the Judy Garland & Fred Astaire song, "In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it / You'll be the grandest fella in the Easter Parade.” So on Palm Sunday, we kept in mind as we walked where we were headed — into the city, where Jesus would be arrested, tortured, and die on the cross. And this Easter Sunday, this morning as we gather with joy to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, it's important to remember where we've come from.
     
    Our Easter story, as joyful as it is as Mr. Jesse pointed out, doesn't begin with hope. It begins with an acknowledgement of death and profound loss. The women — Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and John — who went to the tomb that morning bearing spices, were there when Jesus died. They knew he was gone, and they didn’t have the slightest expectation that he had survived everything that had happened. They were drawn to the tomb that morning not by the thought that Jesus might be alive, but by the call of their faith to honor one that they had loved and followed by anointing the body that was left. They were there because they were not afraid to face the grief and reality of the tomb.
     
    Pastor Luisa Cabello Hanse of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis shared her experience of Holy Week and Easter during her childhood in Chile and Mexico at a Lenten Wednesday service a few years ago, and she told of the parade that they always had every year through town — on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday. Pastor Luisa said that Jesus’ resurrection meant so much more when she first took time to acknowledge the reality of his death.
     
    Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and John faced the grief, they approached the tomb, and there in the place of death they saw evidence of the miracle. The stone, as large as it was, had been rolled away. A young man, sitting in the otherwise empty tomb, was waiting to tell them the good news: Jesus is alive. What would you have thought, had you been there? Each of the gospels tells the story a little differently, as Dr Neidner pointed out in our forum a couple of weeks ago. In Mark’s telling, the women do not instantly believe, and in fact the women who had courageously faced the tomb are so frightened by the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection that they leave with the intent of not telling anyone what had happened.
     
    All of us who have been through wounded-ness, death, and grief know resurrection does not erase the tomb. We all grieve loved ones who have died, losses brought to us by the pandemic, all of those things about church that we miss, the damage wrought by the sins of racism, poverty, and violence. Death is real, and the process of grief lasts a lifetime. Hope, new life, and joy grow slowly as healing continues.
     
    So it's not so surprising to think that the women were not ready to embrace the hope and joy of the good news and go out to tell everyone what’s happened the first minute they're told that Jesus is alive.
     
    And yet we know that eventually they did tell the story of the resurrection, if only because today we are still telling of the miracle that they found when they went to the tomb that first Easter morning. This Easter morning, we are gathered to tell again of how God brought life out of death, and Jesus who has died is now alive again among us.
     
    And today, most appropriately, we celebrate the baptism of Mae Lenhart. From the story of creation when God spoke earth and water into being, to the story of Noah and his family traveling through the flood in an ark and finding dry land to start a new life, to the Israelites crossing through the raging water of the Red Sea to find freedom on the other side, to Jesus’ baptism in water by John when God claimed him as beloved, water has always been a part of our story as people of faith. Baptism with water and the words of God’s promise reminds us that nothing can separate us from God. In baptism, we claim the promise of who we are — children of God, beloved, called and sent, to embody and proclaim the love and mercy of God for the world.
     
    As we celebrate Mae’s baptism on this Easter Sunday of the resurrection, we remember that we too have been through death and grief, and we too have been baptized, and that God’s promises prevail even in the face of death. We are all chosen, all called, all sent, to share the good news that in Christ, death will never be the final word. The women were afraid, and we may be too, but Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that Christ is with us even in our fear, and however unworthy we may feel, we are beloved and called to share the good news. On the other side of horror, loss, and grief, Jesus has come, and we have discovered hope and joy.
     
    How would you have told the story to the others who were waiting back in that Upper Room to hear about the visit to the tomb? What would you have thought, if you were one of Jesus’ other followers, hearing the story of Christ’s resurrection? What are you afraid of today? And who are you called to tell of this miraculous, radical hope? Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 10:34-43, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8, Easter Parade, Irving Berlin, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus