Jan 10, 2021
Truth, Empire, and the Long Road Home
Series: (All)
January 10, 2021. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on the feast of Epiphany, and what it means for us in these days of racism and violence.
 
Readings: Matthew 2:1-17
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Today, we are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany. We are celebrating Christ with us and God leading us. I was finishing my sermon on Wednesday afternoon, January 6, when Pastor Kendra came across the hall from her office and told me to turn on the news. I watched with a mix of shock and horror as thousands of armed white people climbed walls, broke windows, and entered and interrupted congressional session in what was by clear definition an attempted coup. I have been sickened as I have heard the pain of colleagues and friends of color who know just how differently this would have turned out if the coup had been led by people of color.
 
And so, the sermon I had written has changed, as our worship has changed, in light of what has unfolded in front of us the last few days. Epiphany tells us a story about the three kings, following the star, traveling from far parts of the earth to see what God is up to. They make a pit stop at the palace of King Herod when the star disappears, before continuing on their journey. It's a familiar story, showing us that even the kings come before Jesus to bring gifts from all corners of the earth, so that they can worship God, Emmanuel. And this is certainly an important message of this story. But what I have realized in this time more than ever is that Epiphany is teaching us about truth, and empire, and the persistence and faithfulness of God’s surprising guidance and work in this world.
 
Epiphany literally means, in one definition, a sudden revelation or insight, an awareness of a truth that wasn’t apparent before. I think about when I realized that I was not, and never would be, perfect, a revelation that left me at once horrified and giddy with relief. Or that moment when I saw my parents as actual human beings for the first time. (Yes kids, this may happen to you too.) I think about those major national events of my lifetime that have changed forever how I see the world, like the explosion of the Challenger, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the attack on the World Trade Center, and of course the events of January 6, 2021.
 
Epiphany is about truth revealed, and that is not always a comfortable or welcome thing. Because often the truth God shows us challenges us to see things differently, to acknowledge issues and problems and barriers within ourselves, to change our minds on things we thought we were certain of. And often, the truths God reveals are a threat to the empire, the powers and privileges that shape our world, in some ways making us feel safe. The three kings brought news to Herod of what they saw God doing — bringing a new king into the world — that threatened everything he had. And look at what Herod did — when the wise people, who he tried to make allies to his empire, failed to return to tell him where he could find Jesus, he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies, to try to prevent this “new king” from taking his power. We don’t really know how many children were slaughtered on Herod’s orders, and he may in fact have done many worse things, but it was certainly among the worst things we can imagine empire doing.
 
And in our country, these last months, we have empire threatened now, willing to use any means to hold onto the little power they have left — even if, we realize especially after this week, it means figuratively speaking burning everything.
 
The good news is, Herod, the empire of Jesus’s time, didn’t succeed. And neither, Christ Lutheran family, will the empire of today. The journey will not be easy, far from it, and we are a long ways from the end of it. But still, God is here, among us. The good news of God in Jesus Christ is that God’s work in this world cannot be subverted, or prevented, or even delayed. Empire notwithstanding, God continues to guide us in the most surprising of ways.
 
As the three wise people, these three kings, arrived in Bethlehem, they had been on the road for months, perhaps even years, as they studied the skies, following a strange convergence of stars or planets that seemed to indicate something amazing was on the horizon. They weren’t sure what would come of it all, but they did believe that whatever they found when they got there, it would be worth their trouble. We don’t know where they came from, except from “the East.”
 
We do know, from Matthew’s telling, that they travelled together at least part of the journey, and they all ended up in the same place: a stable, not in Herod’s throne room, not in Jerusalem or any of the other large imperial cities, but in Bethlehem of all places, where a baby had been born to a poor couple who were far from home. And as surprising as the scene might have been for its seeming insignificance, the wise people somehow knew that they were exactly where they were supposed to be.
 
There was no way to tell what would happen from there, and the journey was not over for these kings who had already traveled so far, but they had seen what they knew to be truth. Matthew tells us they resisted Herod, the empire, and continued on a different path. And God continued to lead them.
 
We are in our own time in a moment of Epiphany. On our TV screens and laptops and newspapers on January 6th, we saw clearly the truth of the damage caused by the sins of racism, violence, individualism, and lies. We saw unfolding in real time what the empire of our day is willing to do to hold onto power. And in the days since, we have seen hope, as conflicts have been resolved (at least for now) and the immediate questions that led to Wednesday’s events have been answered. But Christ Lutheran family, just as the three kings continued their journey long after they left Bethlehem, our journey continues also.
 
Colleagues from across the country who gathered for a January 7th Zoom meeting exhorted us to recognize that part of the challenge for us as people of faith is to see the brokenness in ourselves, as well as in the world. We as Lutherans know we are sinner and saint, and we have all benefited from, and contributed to, the broken systems of racism, poverty, oppression, and division that have led us to this moment in our history. The full truth that is being revealed in our Epiphany must be heard and embraced, before healing can begin.
 
We as people of faith know that God is present and at work. God is even now guiding us to leave behind the empire of our day, to renounce systems and powers warped by racism and greed and untruth, and follow where God is leading us by another path, guided by truth, justice, grace, and love, as frightening or unfamiliar or surprising as it might be.
 
We have been on a journey of our own this last year, haven’t we? We were just beginning to get to know each other when the pandemic came and so much of what we had planned, and what was familiar to us, was necessarily changed. In our own lives and homes, we have made countless decisions about how to keep ourselves and our families safe, navigated new ways of working and studying in person or online, watched and prayed for family members who were ill, cancelled and changed plans for holidays and vacations, said goodbye to loved ones who died, and welcomed new life. We have grieved countless losses and celebrated joys of all sizes. We have been tired, lonely, anxious, giddy, grateful, and so many other things. So much has happened, and we have traveled so far in the year that seemed to go on forever.
 
And God has been with us through it all. Guiding us, as the star guided the three kings. Giving us hope. Bringing us together, as our Isaiah reading says, from all corners of the world, even if it is over Zoom. God has shown us that new life comes out of death in Christ’s resurrection, even in a pandemic. That we can share the abundance of God’s table in communion, each from our own homes. That prayer can cross oceans in ways that seem tangible. That simple things like a bag of groceries, Advent gifts, Christmas lights, sidewalk chalk messages, phone calls and emails and notes, can mean more than we ever knew before.
 
So in the midst of the sometimes frightening and ugly truths we are faced with, we know we can trust that God is with us now. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which we will sing in a minute, in the midst of the Civil War when his son had just died, offering profound witness to this truth. The journey of the wise men, the revelation they experienced, their courage in defying Herod, and God’s faithfulness in guiding them through the unknown teaches us this. God is here, showing us truths we need to see, leading us away from brokenness and death, and guiding us on a new way home.
 
Where have you seen the star, this last year? What truths have you learned, about yourself and the world? What signs have you seen of God’s transforming, creative, life-giving, abundant love, in this community, your families, our world? And where is God leading you, and us of Christ Lutheran, next?
 
Amen.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 2:1-17
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  • Jan 10, 2021Truth, Empire, and the Long Road Home
    Jan 10, 2021
    Truth, Empire, and the Long Road Home
    Series: (All)
    January 10, 2021. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on the feast of Epiphany, and what it means for us in these days of racism and violence.
     
    Readings: Matthew 2:1-17
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Today, we are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany. We are celebrating Christ with us and God leading us. I was finishing my sermon on Wednesday afternoon, January 6, when Pastor Kendra came across the hall from her office and told me to turn on the news. I watched with a mix of shock and horror as thousands of armed white people climbed walls, broke windows, and entered and interrupted congressional session in what was by clear definition an attempted coup. I have been sickened as I have heard the pain of colleagues and friends of color who know just how differently this would have turned out if the coup had been led by people of color.
     
    And so, the sermon I had written has changed, as our worship has changed, in light of what has unfolded in front of us the last few days. Epiphany tells us a story about the three kings, following the star, traveling from far parts of the earth to see what God is up to. They make a pit stop at the palace of King Herod when the star disappears, before continuing on their journey. It's a familiar story, showing us that even the kings come before Jesus to bring gifts from all corners of the earth, so that they can worship God, Emmanuel. And this is certainly an important message of this story. But what I have realized in this time more than ever is that Epiphany is teaching us about truth, and empire, and the persistence and faithfulness of God’s surprising guidance and work in this world.
     
    Epiphany literally means, in one definition, a sudden revelation or insight, an awareness of a truth that wasn’t apparent before. I think about when I realized that I was not, and never would be, perfect, a revelation that left me at once horrified and giddy with relief. Or that moment when I saw my parents as actual human beings for the first time. (Yes kids, this may happen to you too.) I think about those major national events of my lifetime that have changed forever how I see the world, like the explosion of the Challenger, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the attack on the World Trade Center, and of course the events of January 6, 2021.
     
    Epiphany is about truth revealed, and that is not always a comfortable or welcome thing. Because often the truth God shows us challenges us to see things differently, to acknowledge issues and problems and barriers within ourselves, to change our minds on things we thought we were certain of. And often, the truths God reveals are a threat to the empire, the powers and privileges that shape our world, in some ways making us feel safe. The three kings brought news to Herod of what they saw God doing — bringing a new king into the world — that threatened everything he had. And look at what Herod did — when the wise people, who he tried to make allies to his empire, failed to return to tell him where he could find Jesus, he sent his soldiers to kill all the babies, to try to prevent this “new king” from taking his power. We don’t really know how many children were slaughtered on Herod’s orders, and he may in fact have done many worse things, but it was certainly among the worst things we can imagine empire doing.
     
    And in our country, these last months, we have empire threatened now, willing to use any means to hold onto the little power they have left — even if, we realize especially after this week, it means figuratively speaking burning everything.
     
    The good news is, Herod, the empire of Jesus’s time, didn’t succeed. And neither, Christ Lutheran family, will the empire of today. The journey will not be easy, far from it, and we are a long ways from the end of it. But still, God is here, among us. The good news of God in Jesus Christ is that God’s work in this world cannot be subverted, or prevented, or even delayed. Empire notwithstanding, God continues to guide us in the most surprising of ways.
     
    As the three wise people, these three kings, arrived in Bethlehem, they had been on the road for months, perhaps even years, as they studied the skies, following a strange convergence of stars or planets that seemed to indicate something amazing was on the horizon. They weren’t sure what would come of it all, but they did believe that whatever they found when they got there, it would be worth their trouble. We don’t know where they came from, except from “the East.”
     
    We do know, from Matthew’s telling, that they travelled together at least part of the journey, and they all ended up in the same place: a stable, not in Herod’s throne room, not in Jerusalem or any of the other large imperial cities, but in Bethlehem of all places, where a baby had been born to a poor couple who were far from home. And as surprising as the scene might have been for its seeming insignificance, the wise people somehow knew that they were exactly where they were supposed to be.
     
    There was no way to tell what would happen from there, and the journey was not over for these kings who had already traveled so far, but they had seen what they knew to be truth. Matthew tells us they resisted Herod, the empire, and continued on a different path. And God continued to lead them.
     
    We are in our own time in a moment of Epiphany. On our TV screens and laptops and newspapers on January 6th, we saw clearly the truth of the damage caused by the sins of racism, violence, individualism, and lies. We saw unfolding in real time what the empire of our day is willing to do to hold onto power. And in the days since, we have seen hope, as conflicts have been resolved (at least for now) and the immediate questions that led to Wednesday’s events have been answered. But Christ Lutheran family, just as the three kings continued their journey long after they left Bethlehem, our journey continues also.
     
    Colleagues from across the country who gathered for a January 7th Zoom meeting exhorted us to recognize that part of the challenge for us as people of faith is to see the brokenness in ourselves, as well as in the world. We as Lutherans know we are sinner and saint, and we have all benefited from, and contributed to, the broken systems of racism, poverty, oppression, and division that have led us to this moment in our history. The full truth that is being revealed in our Epiphany must be heard and embraced, before healing can begin.
     
    We as people of faith know that God is present and at work. God is even now guiding us to leave behind the empire of our day, to renounce systems and powers warped by racism and greed and untruth, and follow where God is leading us by another path, guided by truth, justice, grace, and love, as frightening or unfamiliar or surprising as it might be.
     
    We have been on a journey of our own this last year, haven’t we? We were just beginning to get to know each other when the pandemic came and so much of what we had planned, and what was familiar to us, was necessarily changed. In our own lives and homes, we have made countless decisions about how to keep ourselves and our families safe, navigated new ways of working and studying in person or online, watched and prayed for family members who were ill, cancelled and changed plans for holidays and vacations, said goodbye to loved ones who died, and welcomed new life. We have grieved countless losses and celebrated joys of all sizes. We have been tired, lonely, anxious, giddy, grateful, and so many other things. So much has happened, and we have traveled so far in the year that seemed to go on forever.
     
    And God has been with us through it all. Guiding us, as the star guided the three kings. Giving us hope. Bringing us together, as our Isaiah reading says, from all corners of the world, even if it is over Zoom. God has shown us that new life comes out of death in Christ’s resurrection, even in a pandemic. That we can share the abundance of God’s table in communion, each from our own homes. That prayer can cross oceans in ways that seem tangible. That simple things like a bag of groceries, Advent gifts, Christmas lights, sidewalk chalk messages, phone calls and emails and notes, can mean more than we ever knew before.
     
    So in the midst of the sometimes frightening and ugly truths we are faced with, we know we can trust that God is with us now. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which we will sing in a minute, in the midst of the Civil War when his son had just died, offering profound witness to this truth. The journey of the wise men, the revelation they experienced, their courage in defying Herod, and God’s faithfulness in guiding them through the unknown teaches us this. God is here, showing us truths we need to see, leading us away from brokenness and death, and guiding us on a new way home.
     
    Where have you seen the star, this last year? What truths have you learned, about yourself and the world? What signs have you seen of God’s transforming, creative, life-giving, abundant love, in this community, your families, our world? And where is God leading you, and us of Christ Lutheran, next?
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 2:1-17
  • Dec 27, 2020Now What?
    Dec 27, 2020
    Now What?
    Series: (All)
    December 27, 2020. From the small snippet we have about the adolescent Jesus, we are assured that in Jesus, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on the good news of Christmas for us as Christians, that in Jesus we are never alone on our human journey, because God is there, in the tiniest details of our daily life.
     
    Readings: Luke 2:22-40
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Christmas Day 2020 is over. We have gathered for Christmas Eve Worship, in the ways we could this season. We gathered in our households, Zoomed in our extended family to share Christmas greetings, opened presents, ate special meals with those closest to us. We probably haven’t taken down the decorations yet, but we might be starting to think about it — even if there are still almost two weeks left until Epiphany arrives and Christmas is officially over. And in this pandemic time, we may be feeling extra lonely, missing those we couldn’t be with this year. We may be feeling tired, from working hard to find new ways to celebrate Christmas. We may be feeling discouraged, wanting this pandemic to be over and feeling like Christmas just wasn’t what we hoped for, and wondering when we will finally be able to celebrate together. We may be joyful, having been surprised by the new and creative things that happened this year. Or peaceful, knowing that God is present in this messy world after all.
     
    And however we are feeling, Jesus was born. God is among us. And the Spirit is at work in this world of ours, just like she has been since creation. So, now what? What happens next? Because the birth of Christ, we know, was just the beginning of the story.
     
    We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood, really. Luke provides us with a detailed story of Jesus’ birth — where he was born, who was there, the shepherds visiting after the angel came to them. We are told in Matthew of the visit of the wise people, and the Holy Family leaving soon after for Egypt, when Jesus was probably no more than a couple of years old. Then, there are just two stories of Jesus’ childhood, before the story continues with Jesus as an adult.
     
    In today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents, bring their son Jesus to the temple to fulfill the rites of dedication, and once again the prophets speak. Anna had been in the temple much of her adult life, waiting for the arrival of the one she knew God would send. She tells everyone there that Jesus, this little babe-in-arms, is the one for whom they had all been waiting for so long. Simeon sings one of the most beloved prayers of our scriptures, proclaiming that in Christ all that God has promised has been fulfilled.
     
    Then, in the verses following today’s gospel, we have a story of Jesus around the age of 12, leaving his parents and going to the temple, where they finally find him. And then, nothing, until Jesus is somewhere around 30 years old, and he begins his public ministry.
     
    One can imagine Jesus’ baby book, the first several pages full of pictures from his early days, a note stuck in the back about how Mary and Joseph found him in the temple when he was 12, and then, blank pages until he was a grown man and the world around him started to really take notice of what he was saying and doing. So parents, if you ever feel guilty about not having a complete baby book for each of your children, don’t worry, you aren’t the only one.
     
    But let’s go back for a moment to that scene at the temple, and Jesus wandering away from his parents. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days. It reminds me of when I was young, and my grandmother was visiting us and babysitting while my parents were out of town. All of a sudden, my younger brother Phil was nowhere to be found. Panic ensued, as my grandmother started looking for him anywhere she could think, enlisted the neighbors to help, and we all went around yelling his name.
     
    They were just on the verge of calling the police when someone finally thought to look in the boat, which sat in the driveway with a cover on it to keep rain from getting in. Sure enough, my younger brother, who loved (and still loves) boats, had managed to undo enough snaps on the cover to slip inside, and he had climbed in and taken a nap. Found at last. It probably felt like forever to my poor grandmother, who was dreading the thought of having to call my parents to let them know she had lost their child. But really, it was likely only about 20 minutes or so.
     
    Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for three days! Three days of walking, asking everyone they encountered if they had seen Jesus, trying to come up with more ideas of where to look, imagining the worst. If my grandmother dreaded calling my parents, Mary must have been horrified at the thought of having to account to God for losing track of His son!
     
    And then, after all of that, there he was: confidently and clearly explaining the scriptures to the temple teachers, while they asked him questions and were astounded at his wisdom, and the young Jesus seemingly unconcerned about how desperately his parents must have been searching for him. It is no wonder then that Mary is at once flooded with relief, shocked at finding him in the temple, where she and Joseph hadn’t thought to look until then, and angry at seeing him so calm when they had been so worried about him.
     
    This is not a peaceful, serene Mary, but one as frantic as my grandmother was at losing my brother, as panicked as any of us would be if we could not find a child in our care. And so, Mary calls Jesus, the 12 year old Son of the living God, to account. “How could you do this to us? Wander away for so long? Did you not ever once think about how terrified we would be, searching for you all this time?”
     
    Jesus’ answer doesn’t really satisfy his parents, as they don’t understand it. But as we listen today to Jesus’ words we notice that at the age of 12 Jesus already related to God as his father, and knew he belonged in his father’s house — an unusual thought at the time. It’s as if Simeon and Anna’s inspired words had seeped into his heart and spirit, and he knew God in a surprising way. Luke also tells us that, having wandered away from his parents so disrespectfully, Jesus went home with them and obeyed them, and grew up and learned and gained wisdom, as we hopefully all do. And the next we hear of Jesus, he is an adult and preparing to enter public life, after so many quiet years of living the seemingly ordinary life of a young Jewish boy/man in first century Palestine.
     
    And so, we know that Jesus did not just go straight from innocent baby to preacher who was known to everyone around, including the Roman leaders, with nothing in between. And Mary and Joseph raised Jesus just as all Jewish children around them were being raised: loving him, teaching him, bringing him to the synagogue, and yes, freaking out when they thought he was in danger. Jesus lived, as we do, with parents, family, friends, work, synagogue life, school, and everything else that went along with being human, just like we do. He upset his parents, as all children do. He grew up, as we all do. From the small snippet we have about the adolescent Jesus, we are assured again that in Jesus, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human.
     
    In the midst of this ordinary life we lead, knowing Jesus means that God is right here with us — not just in the big things, but in all of the ordinary, everyday things that go along with being human. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, shows us that there is no place and no thing where God is not. And this is the good news of Christmas for us as Christians — in Jesus, we are never alone in our human journey, because God is there, in the tiniest details of our daily life.
     
    With Anna and Simeon we can rest, knowing that in Christ, God has broken into this world of ours. We can rejoice, knowing that God’s promises have been, and are being fulfilled. With Mary and Joseph, we can ponder all of these things in our hearts, and grow in our awareness of God in our midst.
     
    Christmas Day is just the beginning of the story. The Spirit of God that created all that is, and came to earth in human form in Christ, comes to heal, transform, redeem, and create today. On this first Sunday of Christmas, 2020, I leave you with these words from Howard Thurman:
     
    “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.”
     
    And now let us sing, as Simeon did, of the trust and the hope that we have in Christ.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 2:22-40, Howard Thurman, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Dec 24, 2020Nine Months Later… Ready or Not!
    Dec 24, 2020
    Nine Months Later… Ready or Not!
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2020. On this Christmas Eve, God comes to us not in the big things, but in the smallest of the particulars.
     
    Reading: Luke 2:1-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Nine months ago we took, as Bishop Candea suggested, a pause in gathering in person. The pause grew, and we celebrated Easter and then Pentecost on Zoom. We have celebrated baptism, and communion, and funerals. We have continued to adapt as summer moved to fall, and Advent began. And here we are, nine months later, greeting anew the birth of God in the flesh, ready or not. Whether the tree is trimmed, or not. Whether the presents are bought and wrapped, or not. Whether the food is ready, or not. Whether the house is clean, or not. Whether our church building is open, or not.
     
    And that is quite fitting, really. Because when you think about it, how ready could Mary and Joseph have been to welcome this new babe, when they were many miles from home, having barely finished a long and exhausting journey before Mary goes into labor, only to find out that somehow or other, their reservation at the inn must have gotten lost? And yet, the labor continued, somehow they found a place to stay, and Jesus is born. Ready or not.
     
    And yes, the angels sang, and the wise people are on their way, following the star — that amazing light in the sky that is marking the place where God has just broken into the world. But inside the stable, what you see when you look in the door is Jesus lying in the manger, Mary resting, and Joseph keeping watch. Nothing there gives any indication that the whole world is about to be transformed.
     
    The world Jesus is born into — under Roman governors and emperors, and puppet religious leaders appointed by Rome — is about to be turned upside down. But in an ironic sort of way, most people have no idea what has taken place. Jesus was born to parents whose job is to follow directions, present themselves where they're told, for Joseph and Mary to work as hard as they can to support the growing family, to care for and protect their child from all the dangers that may present themselves as Jesus gets older. There is nothing remarkable, as you peek in the windows, about this family. And yet, it is this family to whom Jesus is born.
     
    And the first people to hear that news, that the promise of God to bring justice and healing and redemption to this broken world is being fulfilled, are not the wealthy wise people, or the emperor, or the high priest, but the shepherds in the fields. The shepherds were not ready, either. While the rest of the world was following the order to go and be counted, they were in the fields, watching their sheep, almost oblivious to the chaos around them. They were people without a home or a family heritage, or money. They were, in the eyes of the emperor, not worth counting in the census, not worth sending soldiers to usher them to comply with the law. And it is to them, these herders of sheep without a name or a country, that the angel first announces the good news to all the people. It is for them the angel came, and the heavenly hosts sang. And they were the first to go to the place where Jesus lay to see for themselves what God was doing.
     
    I wonder tonight who the shepherds are who are hearing the angels bringing that first word of good news. They may be singing in the tent city here in St Louis of hope for a new life for those who have no homes. They may be offering a gentle lullaby to nurses and aids and doctors and staff and patients in COVID ICU, letting them know that God is present, even in the midst of illness and despair. They may be greeting those desperately seeking a new life in this country as they cross the border, letting them know they, the strangers, are not strangers to God. They may be with those who are not sure where they will find the money to pay their rent, and put groceries on the table, when they are still out of work. As the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol declares, “It is Christmas here too, you know!”
     
    Jesus is the God of all the world, the creator of all that is, breaking into that time and that place — and this time and this place — so that we can all, along with the shepherds who were the first to hear and share the news, know that the God who is bigger than we can possibly imagine, is also as small, and holdable, and accessible, and vulnerable, as this tiny baby, whose fingers and toes we can count once we step over the threshold and draw close to the manger.
     
    God comes to us this night not in the big things — the world and the universe and the mountains and the seas — but in the smallest of the particulars. As we gather, in our cars or on our Zoom screens in our homes, the baby Jesus invites us to pay attention to the details, the miracle that is revealed when God shows up in tiny nose, fuzzy hair on an otherwise bald brown head, in the sound of gurgles and cries and burps, and the wiggling of brand-new arms and legs and fingers and toes.
     
    This night, now that it has arrived, we don’t have to understand or prepare. The angel is calling to us, and we can join the shepherds and go to see for ourselves what God is doing. And the heavenly hosts will lead us in song: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to God’s people on earth.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Luke 2:1-20
  • Dec 20, 2020Following the Star, Claiming the Promises
    Dec 20, 2020
    Following the Star, Claiming the Promises
    Series: (All)
    December 20, 2020. Have you ever had a moment when you realized that your whole life was changing, that something was emerging that you couldn’t quite see yet? This year, of all years, we really need to know that there is something much bigger than us going on, that there is order in this chaos that we are living.
     
    Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-56
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Have you ever had a moment when you realized that your whole life was changing, that something was emerging that you couldn’t quite see yet? I can think of several times when I knew that transformation and mystery was happening — and fear, even terror. When I first said out loud that I was gay. When I moved into my first apartment, living on my own for the first time. When I made the decision to leave my job of nine years and go back to school full time. And when I got the phone call from the Call Committee here at Christ Lutheran, one Sunday morning just about a year ago. My pastor at my home congregation describes me as having a look of shock and wonder and disbelief as I shared the news with her a year ago.
     
    I'm not much of an astronomer, but my wife knows enough to be able to point out Mars and Venus and Jupiter in the sky at night, and I can usually spot them when she does. And I do enjoy looking at the stars, even if I can’t find any constellation besides the Big Dipper. There is something about the stars that, like the ocean, takes me out of the minutiae of my daily life, and reminds me just how big this world is, and just how small I am.
     
    The wise people knew far more about the night sky than I do. And although Jesus hadn’t been born yet, and they had no idea what it meant, they knew because of what they saw that something was up. The wise people probably didn’t suddenly see the star after Jesus’ birth, and begin their journey after he had been born. They had been watching the sky for years, and the unique star that they saw probably caught their eyes months prior to that sacred night in the stable in Bethlehem. And when they saw it, they knew that the world was about to change. They knew that something was about to happen that was worth traveling for days or weeks or months, worth lying to King Herod, worth giving up their treasure for.
     
    And soon, the wise people will be greeting a child whose birth was revealed to them by the stars they watched at night — the child whose birth, as insignificant as it might have seemed, would change everything. Jesus hasn’t been born yet, but the wise people already see it coming. They are living, as we Lutherans do, in a world that is, and is not yet. Mary sang of it in our gospel today, and in our opening hymn from Holden. After hearing from the angel what was going to happen and traveling to see Elizabeth.
     
    Mary’s song is really quite remarkable, as Debie Thomas points out in her blog this week. The angel brought Mary news that would shake any unmarried teenager — she is pregnant, with no good way to explain how that happened, and by tradition and law could be easily punished, beaten, ostracized, even killed. And yet, when she greets Elizabeth, her first words are ones of deep joy: “My spirit rejoices in God.” I can only imagine that her journey to Elizabeth must have been quite a wrestling — with herself, with God, reconciling and trying to understand what has just happened to her.
     
    Mary goes on to say that God has seen her in her humanness — poor; female in a world that didn’t value women; living in a brutal, occupied land; young, not yet married. God saw her just as she was, and was mindful of her. Somehow, out of all the people in the world, out of all the people in Nazareth, God saw and knew Mary intimately. And he was mindful of her.
     
    Then Mary the prophet, who was living in a broken world, full of injustice and hunger and poverty, saw and claimed the vision of God’s promise already at work. God has not only seen Mary, but all who are on the edge, as the hungry are filled and the marginalized and forgotten and abused ones are lifted up. The strong and the powerful, it seems, are already taken care of in this world, so God is especially mindful of those who have been pushed aside.
     
    And in the middle of the world still bound with injustice and pain, Mary sang of the world she knew God was bringing into being. “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” As Mary sings, she echoes the faith and the hope of many who came before her — Hannah, and Hagar, and the psalmist, and all the prophets, who proclaimed the hope and promise that is now, but not quite yet.
     
    Jesus hasn’t been born yet, but the wise people are on their way, following signs in the world our God created that pointed to things much bigger than themselves.
     
    And this year of all years, a year of pandemics and fires and elections and racial tensions, so much chaos, we really need to know that there is something much bigger than us going on, that there is order in this chaos that we are living. And in our time, that transformation that Mary speaks of, that the wise people saw coming, continues. Christmas isn’t here yet, but we know Christ is coming. And our world is in just as much need of transformation, healing, and re-creation, as the world the wise people traveled 2000 years ago.
     
    The prophets of today are claiming the promise anew, like Kelly Brown Douglas claiming that God is freedom, William Barber II declaring that people on the margins are seeking transformation and justice and healing and not a return to a disparate normal, Valarie Kauer’s revelation that the chaos we are living in is the darkness of the womb, not the darkness of the tomb, and that it will bring new life and not death.
     
    Jupiter and Saturn are close to aligning, and tomorrow they will come together to show us a sign. Astronomers today think that what we will be seeing in the sky if we venture out tomorrow evening after sunset is perhaps the same sign the wise ones saw so many years ago, the star that gave a glimpse of the promises of God to come that led the wise people to Bethlehem. The very same star that showed them that something new, something world-changing, was about to happen.
     
    In this time of COVID-19, as we have stayed away from our church building for a time, we have learned what Nathan tried to tell David so long ago — God is building a house, has been building it for millennia, a house not of brick and mortar but of people, of us. And Christ Lutheran family, God is still building us up, inspiring us, breathing new life, healing, and transformation into this broken world. We can look to the skies as the wise people did, and know that Christ is coming.
     
    We have just a few days left — I bet some of the kids could tell us even how many hours we have left — and in this moment we join all the people who for millennia have been claiming and proclaiming the promise. This was not a one-time event that happened 2000 years ago and was complete, but a movement of the Spirit of God that began with creation and continues on today. We are not alone. We can see the star, hear the words of the angel Gabriel, and know that something new is happening. With the prophets of yesterday and today, we can embrace all the change and fear and grief and wonder that that brings. And then, we can join Mary in joy, promise, and hope, and sing with her as our spirits rejoice in the promise coming to us in Christ.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Luke 1:26-56, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Dec 6, 2020Good News!
    Dec 6, 2020
    Good News!
    Series: (All)
    December 6, 2020. What does the good news of Jesus mean for our world? Today's sermon is on the first chapter of Mark, and is an invitation to see God’s creative, redemptive work in the world.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We read today from the first chapter of Mark, and he tells us right off what his purpose is in writing. He is sharing the good news with everyone, the good news of Jesus Christ. And of course, as we worship today on this second Sunday in Advent in 2020, we're eager for good news — eager for Jesus to be with us, for the kingdom of God to be revealed in all of its fullness, for all that is broken in this world to be healed and redeemed.
     
    So just imagine for a moment that you turn on the TV, or check in on your Facebook page or your Twitter feed, and instead of the latest news on election recounts and transitions, or COVID statistics, or crime reports, you see this first line from the Gospel of Mark: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” With all that's happening these days, we could all use a little good news, right? So amazed, you quickly do some fact checking, and you find this news — the good news of Jesus Christ — is being shared all over the place, on all the major networks. And although some of the details are still fuzzy, there is wide agreement on the important part: God has come to earth, in Jesus, and our whole world is about to change!
     
    So still wondering what this is all about, you read some more of Mark’s account, and you notice that he doesn’t go straight to Jesus, but he takes a bit of a detour, giving us some backstory, telling us first of John the Baptist — the one preparing the way, crying out in the wilderness, calling for people to get ready for the coming of God.
     
    It refers back to older stories, like Isaiah, that tell us about the need to make straight the highway, lift up the valley, lower the mountain, so the way of God will be made clear. So you show these reports to your family, and talk it over, and together you wonder why this would be necessary. After all, God made the mountains and the valleys, right? So isn’t God capable of coming without us re-shaping God’s creation?
     
    So a bit further in, Mark’s story says that John the Baptist was calling the people to change, and they were coming, from all over, to acknowledge how they as a people had lost their way. They left behind the distractions of their daily lives and their work, and they went to the wilderness so they could hear the good news better. They were called to leave, at least for a while, their alliances to the powers of this world, to acknowledge the ways they had contributed to systems that left people poor, and hungry, and pushed to the margins. John called them to come together, from everywhere, crossing all the lines that usually divided them into groups, or teams, or tribes.
     
    So you talk this over some more, and you come to the conclusion that maybe this preparation, this time of getting ready, is not so much about making it easier for God to “get through,” as it is about helping us be more ready to notice and welcome and receive and share that good news that the prophets bring us today.
     
    And as you read the article again, or listen to the reporter on TV reviewing what we know so far, you notice that John says all of this starts by naming and letting go of all the stuff that has gotten in the way, repenting and confessing our sin and brokenness, all those things that come between you and God, and you and God’s people. It starts by remembering your humanity, and your baptism. It starts by remembering again the truth of who you are as God’s kids.
     
    So you set down your smart phone — or turn off the TV — and sit quietly for a bit trying to get your heads around what you've just heard. And then one of you asks the question you've all been trying to answer since you first heard the headline, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: what now?
     
    What distractions from your daily lives do you need to leave behind, so you can notice, and welcome, and receive, and share the good news of God’s love in this world in Jesus Christ? Who are the voices you are hearing, who are crying out in the wilderness today, telling us that God is at work in this world here and now? What does that good news of Jesus mean for our world? How are you called to share this good news with the people around you?
     
    Because Mark’s message wasn't just for the people of his time, but for us too, in this broken world that we live in. The letter from Peter tells us that with God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day — no matter how long we feel we’ve been waiting, no matter how late God seems to be, God’s promises are sure, and we can trust that God is at work even when we can’t see it.
     
    John’s call to the wilderness is an invitation to see God’s creative, redemptive work in what might seem chaotic, confusing, wounded, and even desolate. That headline is echoing, 2000 years later: the Good News of Jesus Christ, Son of God. And it is only the beginning.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1: 1-8, coronavirus, pandemic, COVID-19
  • Nov 29, 2020Room on the Couch
    Nov 29, 2020
    Room on the Couch
    Series: (All)
    November 29, 2020. It is so much more than the birth of a baby that we await in this Advent season. In her sermon today, Pastor Meagan invites us to support each other in our commitment to take seriously the call to keep watch for the presence of God in our midst.
     
    Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Mark 13:24-37
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So thinking about all this waiting, I can still feel the anticipation that filled me as a child when Thanksgiving came, and I knew Christmas was “just around the corner.” When we were expecting company, I would watch from our couch in the living room, because it had a great view of the street and I'd be able to see our guests arriving. I would spend the entire month of December, figuratively speaking, leaning over the back of the couch, trying to make the time go faster! I was desperately curious about every detail of the parties that were being planned — what food would be served, when my cousins would come in from out of town, what service we would attend at church, what Santa would bring me, and could I please, please, please go along when my dad went to pick up my grandmother and my great aunts? Every minute seemed like an hour, hours like days, days like weeks. Christmas was all I could think about, and at the same time it felt like it would never get there. Advent is a time to follow what Jesus calls us to do in Mark — stay awake, keep watch. And I certainly had that down, even if I was more focused on parties and presents than on the birth of Jesus.
     
    Time has changed since then, or perhaps it's my perception that has changed. Now rather than being painfully slow, the month of December flies by so quickly that I hardly have time to realize that it’s Advent before suddenly here it is — Christmas Eve. Being who I am, I am always prepared, at least in one sense. Presents are bought and wrapped, the tree is trimmed, food for the family meal is ready. But spiritually and emotionally, I'm always taken by surprise when Christmas comes. I spend more time on my to-do list and less time leaning over the back of the couch. And as the years go by I find myself yearning for the time that I spent as a child simply anticipating.
     
    Our effort to be present and wait during Advent is certainly not helped when we have to walk past several aisles of Christmas decorations in the store in order to get to the Halloween costumes in mid-October, all while listening to “Deck the Halls” and “Frosty the Snowman” piped through the sound system. Everything around us seems to call us to a flurry of activity: buy, bake, order, send, and hurry up because time is running out! And of course, it is important to do the things necessary to get ready to welcome and celebrate with family and friends. But in the midst of all of this activity, on top of the regular daily life that continues, it's easy to forget that Advent is about waiting, and hope, and it's particularly easy to forget what we are waiting and hoping for.
     
    So, what are we waiting for? The obvious answer is that Advent is a season of waiting for Christmas, Jesus’ birth. But it is so much more than the birth of a baby that we await. God, in all God’s fullness — the God who, as Isaiah described, makes the mountains quake, the God who Mark tells us had the power to make the sun dark and the stars fall, the God of all creation — came to live with us in the messiness of life in the person of Jesus. We remember not just the historical event of Jesus’ birth, but the reality of God’s presence and work in us and in the world, here and now. Advent is a time to remember that God is with us today, a time to live in hope.
     
    When we look at the world, it can sometimes be really challenging to have hope. All we need to do is turn on the news these days, and we know we live in a broken world. Every decision we make — about work, school, Worship, our social gatherings — is impacted by the pandemic that is raging worse than ever. Like one of the kids said, are we done yet? Are we done? Most of us are planning Christmas celebrations that will look quite different from what we're used to, and we already grieve that loss.
     
    We listen, and we hear the voices of nurses, doctors, and other staff at our community hospitals, who are stretched to — and far beyond — their limits. We hold in prayer those who are ill and struggling for breath, and family members of people who are ill and those who have died.
     
    Our communities are in pain, as racial injustice, poverty, and violence are on the rise. And we are in the midst of political turmoil that seems to impact so many things, and make many of our relationships more complicated than ever.
     
    And for those who have experienced losses in the last year — those who have lost loved ones or relationships, or who have moved from beloved homes filled with memories, or who are living with the realities of unemployment or illness, Advent and Christmas carry the pain and grief of knowing that this year will not be like the ones before — and perhaps no Christmas will ever be the same.
     
    So today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we take a few minutes to hear those voices, feel that pain, and ask the question of how we can have hope, and see God at work, in the midst of it all.
     
    We can take comfort in the midst of this brokenness, knowing that the pain of this world is not new. In the verses before our passage from Mark, Jesus describes war, betrayal, murder, destruction. And he encourages his followers, promising that nothing is too much for God to overcome. With the psalmist, we can bring the brokenness of our communities, and our own pain and brokenness, to God, and cry out — “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, shine forth. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
     
    The miracle of the hope that we have in Advent is that we are waiting on a God who has never turned away from our pain. As Christians today, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, whatever grief we live with in this season, whatever challenges we face, we await the birth of Jesus knowing the rest of the story — Jesus lived, taught, challenged, loved, forgave, healed, called.
     
    And Jesus died — and rose again. Death was not the last word then, and it is not the last word today. Jesus transformed people’s lives, and we are invited to put ourselves completely in God’s hands, like clay ready to be formed by the potter, willing to be changed, to be made new.
     
    In Advent, we're called to live in hope that God is with us today, to trust that the kingdom of God is at hand. Waiting, anticipating, living in hope don’t easily find their way onto our “to-do lists,” but in this moment, for this season, it may be the most important thing for us to do.
     
    We don’t know the day or the hour when the kingdom of God will be fully accomplished, but we can keep watch, and if we do, we will see glimpses of it. We can see God at work in the way people love and care for each other, in voices courageously speaking truths that are hard to hear, in the beauty of creation.
     
    And we can call out like a watchperson — Hey, look, there it is, God is here, did you see it? — so those around us will also know that we have great reason for hope. We are called to witness to God’s presence by being the hands and feet of God in the world ourselves, by showing God’s love and care for others and calling for justice when it is due, so that others can see God at work through us. And most of all, we can put our trust in God, who sends Jesus to show us that no matter what is happening in our lives and in the world, we are never alone.
     
    I plan to spend a lot of time leaning over the back of the couch this Advent, anticipating God’s coming into the world anew, trusting in hope in God’s faithful promise. I invite you to join me, so we can support each other in our commitment to take seriously the call to keep watch for the presence of God in our midst. We don’t know the day or the hour, but there is plenty of room on the couch, and it has a great view.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Mark 13:24-37, pandemic, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Nov 22, 2020A Different Kind of King
    Nov 22, 2020
    A Different Kind of King
    Series: (All)
    November 22, 2020. As we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we're doing these days, maybe it's time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. On this Christ the King Sunday, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us, and we see Christ the servant.
     
    Readings: Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So, a new kind of king. We've already talked a little bit about this. What do you think of when you hear that this is Christ the King Sunday? What is your idea of royalty? Even though the United States hasn’t had a king or queen since we declared our independence from England nearly 300 years ago, we’ve probably all seen a king or queen, or a prince or a princess, at least on TV. Maybe you watched Princess Diana get married to Prince Charles, or shed tears as her funeral procession wound through the streets, carrying William and Henry while they mourned their mother. You might picture a large, beautiful palace, with lots of gold, ornamentation, intricate carving, statues by famous artists commissioned by kings and queens past, bustling with servants who keep everything immaculate and take care of every need of the royal family. Perhaps you see young royals, being instructed in the proper ways to dress, speak, sit, walk, stand — ensuring that they will know how they are supposed to act as royalty. You might imagine the grand hall, with the royal leaders sitting on their thrones, ready to make proclamations and lay down orders that no one would dream of opposing. Power. Glory. Wealth. Unquestioned rule. Perfect royal dress, food, speech, and behavior.
     
    And in our reading from Ephesians today, the description of God lifting Jesus above all people, putting all things under Christ’s feet, ensuring that Jesus’ name will be known and revered above all others, certainly seems to lean into the idea of Jesus as king, ruler of all, with a power over everything else in all creation that can never be challenged. A king who wields power over creation, and utilizes authority to send those who do not do enough into eternal torment.
     
    And yet, there are some details in the story that reveal a slightly different picture of Christ our king. Today being Christ the King Sunday seems a good day to reflect on what it really means to be a king — and especially, what it means to us today to say Jesus is our king. What is it we are celebrating today?
     
    Many times in the gospels, we hear stories that indicate Jesus is not the kind of Messiah people were expecting. They thought the Messiah would be a great military leader, ready to challenge and overthrow the occupying rulers who oppressed them so badly. They anticipated Jesus being someone so powerful no one would be able to stand against him. He was, they believed, coming to rule and not to serve. Jesus was not what they expected. He was given the title King of the Jews, but when Pilate asked him about this, Jesus said, enigmatically, that his kingdom was not of this world — and he left Pilate to figure out what that meant.
     
    We still, today, are tempted to lift up and even idolize those who have power and strength, and we can easily miss those who are in the margins — those who are weak, hungry, and powerless. Too often, we as Christians see serving others as something that we do because we are told we should, because God has done so for us. And that's certainly true. But we can easily carry this further, and sometimes come to feel that we need to serve in order to be worthy of God’s love and welcome in God’s kingdom, even though we Lutherans claim the grace and mercy of our God. And our gospel today can easily be read — or misread — to tell us this. If we feed the hungry, visit those in prison, clothe the naked, we will be judged worthy. And if not, we will be sent to eternal punishment.
     
    And all around us the world too often lifts up and celebrates above all else those who have power here on earth, and we even hear it said that God has given that power. And those who do not have power, those who live on the margins, are denigrated and demonized. We even hear, sometimes, that challenging those who hold power here, leaders who have wealth and the capacity to affect people’s lives — for ill or for good — is the same as challenging God.
     
    But maybe, as we continue to rethink and reimagine everything we are doing these days, it's time to reimagine what it means to say that Jesus is our king, and what Jesus’ kingdom looks like. Because something tells me that Pilate never quite understood. But Jesus himself gives us a lot of clues in the parables where he tells us, “The kingdom of God is like this . . . .”
     
    Lutheran Pastor and Bishop’s Assistant Libby Howe shares that when Pope Pius XI established Christ the King Sunday in 1925, he hoped it would inspire Christians of his time, and us today, to do just that. He saw that, like today, people were getting caught up in the empires of their times, prioritizing and valuing economic and social systems that benefited a small number of people in power, at the expense of so many others. He witnessed, all over the world, wealth that depended on poverty, systems of law that worked in favor of those with money and other resources and disproportionately penalized and incarcerated those without. Pope Pius XI saw a culture that cared far more for those like us than it did the stranger.
     
    On the heels of World War I, Germany and other parts of Europe and the United States were fostering a culture that ultimately allowed all of the “others” — non-Christians (especially Jews), people of color, LGBTQIA people, those who had disabilities, immigrants — to not only be cast out, but to be murdered, while those who were not targeted, those seen as privileged and desirable, ignored, watched, supported the efforts, and sometimes even cheered.
     
    Pope Pius XI established this day in hopes that we as Christians would be reminded that we are called to follow not political leaders, or wealthy decision-makers, or those who put nation and power above all else, but we are called to honor and follow Christ. Where some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time proclaimed “we have no king but Caesar,” we are called to turn our hearts to Christ.
     
    Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate never quite understood what that meant, and as we watch and listen to what Jesus is telling us, and notice God’s creative and redemptive acts through all of our scriptures, we begin to see that the kingdom Jesus is talking about is unlike any earthly kingdom we have ever known. Jesus tells us in last week’s parable that the servant who had the courage to challenge and oppose his master and refuse to take advantage of those around him is the hero of the story. The story Jesus shared of the wise and foolish bridesmaids a couple of weeks ago reveals a God who cares far more about us than he cares about oil. And today, Jesus wants his listeners — us — to know that if we are looking for Christ our King, we will find him in the eyes and stomachs and bodies and hearts of those who have nothing.
     
    And we're back to the tripwire of thinking that the way to get God’s approval and love is by doing good, that we need to earn our place. Interestingly, the sheep in Jesus’ parable don’t know that they are serving Jesus. The sheep, apparently, serve their community not because they’ve been made to, or because they’ll get a reward, but because they are sheep. And we, followers of Christ our king, serve one another, ensure that God’s bounty is available for all, value creation and seek justice, not because we are made to, or because we will earn anything, but because we belong to God.
     
    Jesus tells us his kingdom is not of this world — and it isn’t. But it is always, and every day, in this world. The kingdom of God is not a place, but is the creative, redeeming, abundant, loving movement of God that leads us closer and closer to who we were meant to be all along. We're entering into Advent, a season of waiting and watching and preparing and seeking Christ in this world, and this feast that we celebrate as we end one year and prepare for the next shows us where to start.
     
    So this Sunday, Christ the King, we intentionally leave the palaces, and the crowns, and the money, and the power behind us. We see Christ the servant, the one who refused to give in to the empires of this world, and we do the same, not because he told us to but because, in the end, we can’t help it. Like the bridesmaids, we may fall asleep. Like the first two servants, we may be swayed by the promises of the empire at times. Like the goats, on some days we may be blind to the world around us. But still, we belong to God, and Christ’s kingdom is coming. In fact, it's already here! And in a world where there is so much pain, and weariness, and grief, and confusion, that is truly good news.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
  • Nov 15, 2020A Convicting Parable
    Nov 15, 2020
    A Convicting Parable
    Series: (All)
    November 15, 2020. Guest Pastor Karen Scherer preaches on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.
     
    Readings: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Okay, would you all please pray with me? Holy and loving God, we pray open our hearts and our minds this day to receive your word and free us. In your holy name we pray. Amen.
     
    Well I've got the sunlight coming in on me now. I was thinking it was going to be overcast, but I'm going to be sort of like Moses. I'm going to shine so much you may not be able to see me. But I hope that you will hear my word today, the word that I have gleaned from our lesson today.
     
    I'm going to go back today to the beginning. In the beginning, God's ruah, God's spirit, God's creating breath, hovered over the waters of chaos. And God spoke creation and order. Heavenly bodies above, and stars and suns and moons and planets and bodies of earth and water below, were formed and separated. And God said, "It's good." And then God spoke, and systems of life and creatures flowed from the earth. Things that fly and walk and slither and crawl, things that grow and sustain the earth. And God said, "It is good." Then God created human beings out of the earth. In God's image God created them, with the same spirit of God, the ability to imagine and create and love. And God gave them responsibility to look after and care for the earth and its systems. And God even gave them instructions. And God laughed with delight and said, "They are good."
     
    What a mess we have made, of ourselves and of God's good creation. Such a mess. But God chose — rather than to wipe us out and just start over — God chose to come among us, Emmanuel, to be with us, to save us and recreate us in God's image, again. And God has chosen to do that, we know, through Jesus, God's son, Emmanuel. This I believe.
     
    And I believe that this parable God speaks to us today through Jesus, through Matthew, is about just that: about how far we have fallen, how far we have twisted our purpose for being, how far we are from the human beings God created us to be, and the consequences of that. You know, for 50 years I was taught that this parable — of the talents as we call it — was about using our talents and money in service to our master, which was always defined as God or Jesus or the church. And that it was about being good stewards, much as Jesse related to us today.
     
    But I always felt quite uncomfortable with the twist at the end, of the master being as harsh and greedy and cruel as the fearful third slave said he was. Because truly it turns out he is just that. When he takes away what the man had saved, and now returns to him and then gives it to the one manager who really doesn't need it. And the master calls the third slave wicked and lazy and worthless, and commands he be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
     
    Did that not make you a little uncomfortable? A little uncomfortable, as you heard this parable read today? And the use of the language of "master" and "slave" — and I know that that was pretty normal in Jesus' day, but has a very different ring to us today — but the use of that language just adds deeply to my conclusion, of rejection of this parable as one about the traditional form of stewardship interpretation. I believe that this parable is not really about stewardship in the traditional way of thinking, but that it is about how thoroughly messed up we have become in this world of haves and have-nots, and about how badly we have betrayed the goodness of who we were created to be.
     
    So let me try to explain, try to unpack this for you if I can, give you a little bit of background. I'm sure that you've heard that talents were not coins like pennies and quarters and half dollars. But talents were hefty, precious metals like gold and silver, that weighed 80 to 100 pounds, and that a single talent was worth approximately 20 years of an ordinary laborer's wage — a staggering amount of money to Jesus' peasant audience. How did the elite of that time amass that kind of wealth? They lent money to the farming poor at exorbitant interest — which by the way was against Jewish laws on usery. And they systematically stripped those debtors of their land, and they did it this way: often the people who took such loans, at rates between 60% to 200% sometimes, did so out of desperation — the people who took out these loans — putting their fields up as collateral and in last-ditch efforts to save their livelihoods. Inevitably their efforts would fail. Drought, illness, too little crop yield, and then foreclosure was not far behind. The poor man would have no choice but to surrender his ancestral land, and watch as the wealthy elites repurposed his field for profit. And then the poor man joined the multitudes of landless day laborers, who couldn't know from day to day where their bread would come from.
     
    This is the situation Jesus describes in the parable of the talents, I believe. The three slaves in the story are the wealthy masters, retainers, or household bureaucrats — essentially the middlemen who oversee the land and the workers, collect the debts, and keep the profits coming while the master travels away on business or goes to rest at his seaside home in maybe Caesarea. And it is understood by everyone involved that the slaves are free to make a little interest on the side, these middlemen, by charging the farmers additional fees or interest. They can do this as long as they keep the money flowing for their master. So, of course the name of the game is exploitation, and no questions asked. And the only rule is a turn of profit. Turn as huge a profit as possible.
     
    And two of the slaves do exactly that. They do as they're told: they take their talents out into the world and double them on the backs of the poor. When the master returns and sees what they've accomplished on his behalf, he's thrilled. He invites the two enterprising slaves to enter into his joy — the joy of further wealth, further profit, further exploitation. But the third slave? The third slave in this story carries out the Jewish law. He buries the heavy talent in the earth. He hides it, literally taking it out of circulation, putting it where it will do no further harm to the poor. He was being faithful to the law, to the instructions if you will, that God had given God's people. And he did this knowing full well what it will cost him. The slave, afraid yet faithful, speaks truth to the master, speaks truth to power. "I knew that you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed." In Greek, the phrase "a hard man" means one whose eyes and heart, mouth and ears and hands and feet, are rigid, non-functioning, and arrogantly inhumane. "I knew that you were a hard man."
     
    By acting and speaking the truth, this third slave refuses to participate in a messed-up system that goes against God's will for human beings. And for doing so he is deeply shamed by the master and the others, and is fired, thrown out. And without a job, without land, he's as good as dead, thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. I sort of wondered, could this anticipate in fact what will happen to Jesus? Because this comes just before his suffering, his arrest, his crucifixion.
     
    I believe this is a convicting parable about how far we have fallen, how far we have twisted our purpose for being, how far we are from the human beings God created us to be. Yet there is an urgency of hope embedded in the placement and the timing of this parable. For you see, I believe it is an antithesis to the parable that Jesus tells that follows, that you will encounter next week on Christ the King Sunday, the parable of when the Son of Man comes. And it is, yes, a parable of judgment — but a parable of mercy as well. We often hear it called sheep and goats, the parable of the sheep and goats. This parable leads into that parable. This is how messed up we are. "But when the Son of Man comes." Pay attention to these parables. Pay attention to what Pastor Meagan will tell you next week.
     
    This was a time of urgency for Jesus. As he faced his arrest and coming crucifixion, he speaks truth to power, the power that we have that has messed up things. This is a time of urgency for Jesus. It is a time of urgency for us as well to hear this word. But I say to you friends, know this: Jesus Christ — Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel — is God with us. Is with you. For he entered into our messiness, spoke truth to our twisted power, interrupted business as usual for the sake of justice and mercy, suffered rejection, impoverishment, loneliness, and crucifixion, to bring us back to God and to begin God's new creation.
     
    It is through baptism into his life, death, and resurrection that we are being created in God's image again. And it is through the lens of the Son that God sees our goodness still. Through God's living word the Spirit is working, you see, to soften our hard hearts. The Spirit is working to open our blind eyes and see what we have become, and what we are to be. The Spirit is working to open our deaf ears to hear God's word, and to open our clenched fists so that we might be open to neighbor, to our siblings, that we might care for one another and be knit together as one humanity. And that we might care for the earth again as we are meant to do, as we are meant to be for the earth: its caretakers.
     
    So friends in Christ, hear the words of Paul, put on the breastplate of faith and love — and for a helmet, the hope of salvation that God is healing this world, has healed it through Christ Jesus. For God has destined us, Paul writes, not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
     
    And may the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Karen Scherer, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11,  Matthew 25:14-30
  • Nov 8, 2020Are You Prepared?
    Nov 8, 2020
    Are You Prepared?
    Series: (All)
    November 8, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on Jesus' Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and being prepared in the midst of so many long hauls.
     
    Readings: Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I am a planner. I always have been, since birth. As a kid, I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, and when I read the Tale of the Twister, it offered a list of things to include in an “emergency preparedness kit” and I was all over it. I assembled the most complete backpack of supplies I could manage at the age of 9 — water, flashlight, batteries, granola bars, duct tape, even toothpaste. My brothers got a lot of mileage teasing me when I insisted on bringing the kit on a boat ride one day — until the lights on the boat went out, after dark. And my kit, if you recall, included a flashlight, which we were able to use to aid our way home. I have rarely felt more vindicated in my passion for preparing than in that moment.
     
    This desire to plan ahead has followed me into adulthood, and when we were heading out to be with my mother-in-law in her final days in a Wisconsin hospital and weren’t sure how long we would be gone, I made a list of over 30 things to do before we left so we would be ready for an extended absence. And, I got them done in a day!
     
    Part of me, when I read today’s gospel about preparing for God’s coming, immediately wants to get out a piece of paper and pen — or maybe the task list on my phone — and begin making my checklist of things to do. Fellow planners back me up on this: isn’t that what Jesus is telling us? To be prepared? To get everything ready, so that we aren’t taken by surprise when God shows up?
     
    In spite of the passion I have for planning ahead and preparing, I have to admit that I find Jesus’ parable, of the wise people who planned ahead and had a good stock of oil for their lamps, and the foolish people who didn't have enough oil, a little disturbing. After all, no matter how well we prepare, we may never be fully ready for what actually happens. I don’t think any of us felt prepared for a pandemic — I certainly didn’t, and still don’t, although it’s not from lack of trying.
     
    This story of the unprepared, foolish people who miss their opportunity to be with the bridegroom definitely triggers anxiety, and assuming that Jesus is the bridegroom, it leaves us with a rather unforgiving image of our God. If you have enough oil, it seems to say, you’re in. If not, you’re out. The poor, foolish bridesmaids live out the worst nightmare for a planner like me — having failed to plan well enough, they miss their chance, and they're left in the cold. And although the wise bridesmaids don’t overtly judge the foolish ones who don’t have oil, their decision not to share their oil is rather harsh. At least Matthew leaves out the often-mentioned “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that is the punishment for those who are turned away from the banquet!
     
    As we look more closely, though, some interesting details are revealed that may help us to understand this parable perhaps a little better. For one thing, Jesus tells us that it wasn’t just the foolish bridesmaids who fell asleep. They all did. None of them were awake and waiting for the bridegroom when he approached. The bridesmaids, the foolish ones, weren’t any better off in that regard.
     
    And then, there is the oil. The wise people had oil to spare, and the bridegroom had arrived. Was there really not enough to light all the lamps? Couldn’t they have split the oil among them, like Martin divided his cloak? They just needed enough oil to get them back to the banquet hall, after all. It seems a little selfish not to share, when the light would benefit them all in the end.
     
    Theologian Debi Thomas, in her blog “Journey with Jesus,” offers an additional perspective on the oil situation. Perhaps, she suggests, the problem isn’t so much that the foolish ones didn’t have enough oil and the wise ones did but wouldn’t share, but that they all believed that having an abundance of oil was necessary in order to be allowed into the banquet hall. They all thought that the bridegroom cared more about the oil than he did about them!
     
    It is, Thomas points out, a very human thing to feel like we can’t present ourselves for the banquet, or whatever challenge or opportunity is in front of us, unless we are completely prepared. The wise people, with their extra oil, probably didn’t want to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They were tired, we know, and fell asleep because it took so long for him to get there. They were probably as impatient as we were waiting for the last of those election results to come in, perhaps feeling that familiar catch of breath every time they thought they saw a glint of light in the distance the way we did when our browser recycled or we thought we saw a breaking news banner on the top of the page and thought, maybe it’s finally Nevada, or Pennsylvania, or Arizona. And then we sighed and sat back again, until the next time, and the next.
     
    No, the wise people probably didn’t want to wait, but they realized that they might have to. And so, they were prepared not just for what they hoped for — the eventual coming of the bridegroom — but for what they knew might be a very long night. If they were anything like me, they probably not only had extra oil, but some food and drink and blankets as well. And so, if we set aside their selfishness for a moment, we can appreciate and learn from them the wisdom of being ready not just for what we hope for, but for the very long wait and journey that it will take to get there.
     
    We are in the midst of so many long hauls, family of faith. The pandemic, with its treatments and eventual vaccine that we know so many people are working so hard on, but it still seems like it's taking far too long, certainly much longer than we thought it would take when we began that journey in March. The continued pain and woundedness and division of racism in our country, which people of color and allies have been living with and addressing for so many years. And people are still suffering and dying in its wake wondering, “How long must we wait before justice comes?”
     
    The wise ones were prepared for the long haul, and we are wise too if we also prepare for the long haul. But we are foolish if we think that our preparation will make what we wait for come any faster, or make us any more acceptable to the one for whom we are waiting. The wise ones could have shared, like St. Martin did his robe, and not been loved any less. The foolish ones, had they stayed, would have been loved just as well without oil, but they didn’t realize that, and they missed seeing the bridegroom because they thought they weren’t ready enough as they were.
     
    The long haul is not an easy path, is it? It is not what any of us choose. It's tiring. It can wear us down, if we aren't ready — and even if we are. And it can leave us feeling unworthy and raggedly unacceptable, even if the truth is that the bridegroom we are waiting for loves us no matter how little oil we have, or how soundly we fall asleep while we're waiting.
     
    Because worst of all, the long haul can make us forget what we are really hoping and waiting for to begin with. We can forget that no matter how long it takes, the bridegroom is coming! All of the prophets, and Jesus himself, remind us of this all the time. There will be a banquet. This pandemic will end. The election will be resolved. There will come a time when racism, homophobia and transphobia, poverty and injustices of all kinds will be overcome by the love of God.
     
    And we are invited to wait and watch and participate in the reign of God as it approaches, knowing that it will come. Amos reminds the people that it’s not so much about getting everything right so that we can make God’s spirit come on this earth, but about recognizing that God is already here, at work in the world all around us. It’s about letting God’s justice roll down like water, like an ever-flowing stream. We're invited into God’s reign, which is coming not someday way in the future, but is happening right now. And no matter how prepared, or unprepared, or raggedy, or tired we are, we are all invited, and known, and loved.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13, Debi Thomas, Journey with Jesus, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Nov 1, 2020Celebrating the Saints
    Nov 1, 2020
    Celebrating the Saints
    Series: (All)
    November 1, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon on this All Saint's Day celebrates all the saints who have come before us.
     
    Readings: Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some years ago, we got word that Joanne O’Neil, a beloved administrator of the church and school that we attended as kids, had died. Although she wasn't a family friend exactly, Joanne was one of those iconic figures in our lives for all of our growing up years — one of those steady, ever-present people who always seemed to have space and time in her office for anyone. She seemed to particularly love those who were expert trouble-makers in class, like my youngest brother, perhaps because she had a spark of that rebellious nature in herself. Upon hearing that she'd died, as a young adult, I remember calling my youngest brother and saying to him, “So bro, who’s the adult now?” Who's going to take the place of this iconic figure who was just always there, embodying love and grace in her unique way?
     
    And we both realized — we were now the ones called upon to be those iconic ever-present people in the lives of those coming after us. We were now the adults. And we wondered with each other, as young people in our early twenties, what that even meant.
     
    Today is All Saint’s Day, that specific day each year that we remember those people who have died. We grieve again in community the loss of those who are no longer physically with us, whose deaths have left a gap in our contact lists, our tables, and our lives. We remember those who have, like Joanne, made an impact on our lives, blessed us, helping to shape in many different ways who we are as people of God. We grieve, and we're grateful.
     
    The reading from the first letter of John today says that we continue to be transformed by the love of the God who created us, and even if others don’t understand, they can’t help but notice. And we don’t know yet, John says, what we will become.
     
    Jesus fleshes this out for his disciples in many ways. But in today’s reading, the gospel, through the beatitudes Jesus lifts up empathy, a capacity for love and grief, humility, mercy, passion for justice, truth, and God’s shalom as some of the ways that God’s love can be embodied in this world. Jesus encourages his followers to aspire to live out these ideals, telling them, in effect, that when you are empathetic, humble or merciful, or when you grieve someone you’ve lost, or seek truth, justice or peace, you are experiencing God’s realm on earth.
     
    And beyond that, theologian Raj Nadella suggests that we are invited to participate in the kin-dom of God by actively noticing when we experience these things, and living out the second part of the beatitudes — showing mercy, working for justice and peace, offering comfort, approving and affirming truth. As we all know, we human beings are not God. We're all in process, becoming more and more the people God created us to be, and it is in our relationships with one another that God works this transformation in us.
     
    There are many people in my life who have helped make me the person I am, who have embodied the love of God and the beatitudes for me in ways that have changed me forever. My Grandma Anne had a faithful sense of humor, and a generous spirit — she would have given the shirt off her back to anyone, and in her gruff way showered the love of God on those around her. My neighbor Gail, whose children I babysat for years, had a capacity to really see me with a love that didn’t need to change me that few others seemed to have. And my mom’s sister, my Aunt Kate, who died in February this year, always inspired me with her sense of hungering for justice, her gratitude and joy, and her capacity to walk through the challenges of life with authenticity and grace.
     
    Who are the people who have shaped you and made you the person you are today? Who has blessed you? Who has revealed God’s love, and the values of the beatitudes, to you? And how are you different because of their presence in your life?
     
    In our reading from Revelation today, John shares a vision of all the saints coming together, brought to wholeness once more. Often when I hear this, I think of the designated saints, those whose lives have been what we might think of as perfect, and who seem to have been — seem to have been — flawless in their capacity to follow God. Today, on the heels of Reformation Sunday, I am reminded of Luther’s conviction that we are all sinner and saint, and I am struck by the statement that these saints gathering are those who have been through the ordeal. They've been through struggle, they have fallen short and stood up again, as we all do. They've experienced persecution, hunger, grief, and even death, and they've found healing in the God who loves and redeems us all. These are the saints.
     
    And we too are saints of God, human sinner and saint, called to notice and name when we see God at work among us, and called to embody God’s love in this world for those who come after us, just as others did for us. Called to bless others as we have been blessed. That, perhaps, is the answer to the questions my brother and I had when Joanne died, so many years ago. Who’s the adult? We are. What does that mean? Doing the best we can to be the people God created us to be, modeling God’s kin-dom in our lives, trusting God to bring us through our ordeals, and knowing that even death is not the final word.
     
    Every week when we celebrate communion, we are gathered not only with those we can see, but with the entire communion of saints. God’s table is wide, and as we share the meal, all the saints are present. In these months that we have been Worshipping and celebrating communion together via Zoom, perhaps our vision has been sharpened, as we know that in spite of our physical distance, we are still sharing the table of God together. Today, let’s envision that table extending beyond even the reaches of Zoom, making room for all of the saints who have gone before us to share in this celebration together.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12