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
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  • 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 11, 2021The Gift We All Need
    Apr 11, 2021
    The Gift We All Need
    Series: (All)
    April 11, 2021. Today's sermon by guest Pastor Tina Reyes is on being more understanding, in this year of all years, of Thomas and the disciples for hiding out in a locked room and struggling with lack of faith and the need for more proof.
     
    Readings: 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So as I said at the beginning of worship, I bring you greetings from LuMin St. Louis and all the students, and I also bring you greetings from the Central States Synod of the ELCA. It is indeed good to be here with you this morning as we hear the good news.
     
    This past week, a man named Earl Simmons died. I can't say I was really aware of who he was or what his gifts were to the music world, or even his journey, until reports of him being in the hospital and being in a vegetative state hit my social media accounts — and not just the news reports, but the instances of friends and colleagues who listened to his music and who were lamenting about how young he was and how he had struggled with his life and his faith in God through those 50 years. But it was the Reverend Traci Blackmon, who is a UCC pastor in residence across the street at Eden, until she wrote this on her wall about DMX, which was his rap name:
     
    “When I listen to DMX... I hear the lamentations and psalms lived out loud. And I wonder if we have sanitized the struggle out of human lives of faith. We’ve decided holiness is achievable instead of aspirational. We hear the stories of the text as victory instead of valiant. It's clear to me that DMX knows God. Not that it matters whether I know that or not. I’m glad I do. DMX’s God is not the God we meet at the finish line... this is the God who runs the race with us.”
     
    And there it was. (Now mind you I was mostly done with my sermon and I'm like, “Oh! Quote! Cool!”) But there it was: the gift of Easter, of faith, of hope that appeared to me this year in the lesson from John’s gospel.
     
    As Jesse told the kids, it's been a week since we proclaimed out loud, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” The alleluia banner is still on the altar here. Let me tilt down so you can see it. There it is. Alleluia! The Easter lilies are behind me, and I have forgotten how fragrant Easter lilies can be in small spaces, especially when you have almost 20 of them. The last church I served was a huge space, and we could have 20 and not really affect me. We’ve more or less gone back to our lives as they are right now. But in the text this morning, it is the same night. We begin on Easter night. I think it's important to remember that. It’s only been a matter of days since the disciples ran in fear, and their rabbi was killed and buried, and just hours, hours since Mary Magdalene came running to the upper room with the news of Jesus' resurrection.
     
    And so I imagine that they're huddled together in this room with the doors locked because they're trying to process the trauma that they have witnessed. (They wouldn’t have used those words, but that's what they're doing — they're trying to process all of these things that have happened.) And so they're together in comfort and community in their grief and questions, because they're wondering: what’s next? And: can we believe Mary? And: I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
     
    The text hits me in a way this year that it hasn’t before — which I believe is a gift in and of itself. You and I have been huddled more or less in small spaces within our immediate communities. I can tell you that that's not a great way to start campus ministry. When you can't actually be in relationship with students, it creates ways. And you have to be creative and you have to be open to different possibilities. And even though we've been huddled in small spaces in our immediate communities, it hasn’t stopped trauma and tragedy happening in the world around us. So I imagine the questions the disciples were uttering are probably familiar in our own lives, like: I don't know if I can take much more of this (not really a question but more of a statement). Or: I can’t breathe — whether it's from COVID which decimates lungs, or physical restraints cutting off air flow. And there's always that, “What’s next?” What's going to happen next? I know I cried that watching angry folks storming the Capitol on January 6th. And I cry that every time I see that legislatures are trying to restrict a transgender person's right to live as God created them.
     
    No beloved, the irony that we’ve been locked in our own dark upper rooms in fear and anxiety for the last year is not lost on me — and I wonder how long we’ve really been waiting for the hurt to stop. And even more irony: out of caution and love for each other, here we are sharing worship together — and apart — at the same time, seeking comfort and joining in praise.
     
    And so I have to tell you that this year I’m not even mad at Thomas and the disciples for hiding out in a locked room, or Thomas not being there the first time and then joining them in that locked room. I get it! I get their behavior and their responses. I've pulled back the pointing finger at their lack of faith and the scapegoating of Thomas, his need for more proof. Somehow, this year, I’m with them — waiting with bated breath, wanting to see, to touch, to hear the good news of the risen Christ, just as they did.
     
    And I wonder: where are you, beloved?
     
    In the midst of their pain and their confusion, a wounded, risen Jesus meets them where they are. A wounded, risen Jesus gifts these siblings with exactly what they need in that moment. He breathes peace on them twice, and then he breathes the Holy Spirit in them. And they are comforted in their trauma and grief, and they know that it is indeed their beloved, that Mary was right. And somehow all those prophecies Jesus made, of his death and resurrection, were true.
     
    And it makes sense to me this year, more so than ever, that Thomas didn’t get it, isn’t comforted by their witness, and is still struggling with his own stuff. Thomas declares that he needs something for himself to begin his own healing, to make it make sense to him. It’s not that Thomas doubts. It's that Thomas has always needed something more, something different, to comprehend the love that Jesus offered. And that’s okay.
     
    It’s okay because there's not one single formula for healing or learning or believing. We live with an amazing diversity of abilities and understandings that were all created by same God. And here we are in this lesson, given a gift that uplifts that diversity. Before I went to seminary I was a middle school history teacher, and I worked with students of all different levels and abilities — from the brightest of the bright, to the students who were just trying to acquire English as a different language, to students who had emotional difficulties. Somehow they all ended up in my class. And in one of the wings in a teacher workroom, there was a quote put on the wall. And it said, “If the students don’t learn how you teach, then teach how they learn.” And my other favorite thing then is to tell Confirmation students, when we talk about our journey of faith it doesn't have a start and a stop, it's this long journey that lasts our lifetime. It's a journey, and we all take the same journey but differently, because we don’t have a socket in the back of our necks, like in the movie “Matrix” (showing my age a little bit) to hook up to the faith computer and to instantly have all the faith and power to comprehend what, in honesty, we just can’t.
     
    And so Jesus meets Thomas where Thomas is — still questioning, needing a different way of accessing and understanding the risen Christ. And so the wounded, risen Jesus enters the room a week later (and Thomas is with them) and he offers peace again to all of them, and then he doesn't put Thomas down, as we have done for a bajillion years. He invites Thomas in. He invites Thomas into a relationship, into that close space, and says, “Put your finger here. See? Go ahead, touch.” And that is exactly what Thomas needed for Thomas' journey of healing and living and ministry.
     
    And that is exactly what Jesus — risen, wounded, and healing — does with us in our times of grief, and confusion, and heartache. Jesus meets us where we are and journeys with us in our own needs. And sometimes we don't recognize it as Jesus. Sometimes it's just the person who sits with us. Sometimes it's the stranger a table away (a year ago) who would offer a ketchup bottle or a napkin. Maybe it's an adult offering a verse of encouragement to a young college student struggling with being on their own for the first time. But Jesus meets us where we are, and journeys with us in our own needs.
     
    In our rush to celebrate the risen Christ, I believe that we often forget the pain and suffering and confusion and hurt and heartache — of Jesus and of those who loved him. It's why I believe that every year, on every second Sunday of Easter in the Revised Common Lectionary, we have this lesson. Faith is never about one or the other. Faith is about both and. We get this lesson not as an exemplar of how to believe. We get this lesson as a reminder of God’s love for us in the wounded, risen Jesus in our own wounded selves. And we come to know that Jesus is with us wherever we may find ourselves on our journey of faith.
     
    Beloved Jesus died & rose —     the gift that eternal death is not the end. And Jesus died & rose & comes to us —     that there may be life in this place for all of God’s people... And Jesus meets us in his woundedness & his divinity     and gifts us with his never-ending presence. And Jesus meets us in our woundedness & divinity     and gifts us with peace and the Holy Spirit. And Jesus is with us     and gifts us with peace and hope to meet the suffering, and the pain,     and the hardest of the hard stuff.
     
    The gifts given in those upper rooms to the disciples and the gifts given continually to us — of peace and the Holy Spirit — are with us, now and always, as we work to bring death to the sins of racism and white supremacy, and as we learn to welcome and celebrate all folks as God created them in amazingly diverse ways, and as we hold on just a little longer to our quarantines and our safe spaces.
     
    It is indeed the second Sunday of Easter. Jesus is with us and among us. Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! (Yes, there's the fist pump action here.) Thanks be to God!
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Tina Reyes, Traci Blackmon, Confession of a woman who preaches, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31, Jesse Helton, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • 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
  • Apr 1, 2021What Has Been Handed Down
    Apr 1, 2021
    What Has Been Handed Down
    Series: (All)
    April 1, 2021. Today as we celebrate Maundy Thursday, we come together to carry on the sacred traditions that have been handed down to us.
     
    Readings: Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35b
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    What traditions or wisdom have been handed on to you? I learned how to make popcorn from my grandmother. Use a big pan — the kind with two handles on it — and put in just enough oil to cover the bottom. Add exactly three kernels of popcorn, put it on medium heat on the stove, and when the third kernel pops add the rest of the popcorn. Shake occasionally. And when the popping slows, remove from the heat. And when all the popping has stopped — not before — pour the popcorn into the bowl. Add real melted butter and salt. Don’t skimp.
     
    Over the years, I have tried many ways of making popcorn, from air poppers to oil poppers to kettle corn makers and even microwave, and none have ever measured up. A big part of it is the taste, of course. But more important than that is the connection that I feel to my grandmother. Sure, I use olive oil instead of Wesson oil, and Kosher salt instead of regular table salt. But in all essentials, each time I make popcorn on the stove, I'm participating in what my grandmother handed on to me. What has been handed on to you?
     
    Jesus knew the hour had come for him to depart from this world, that this was the last time he would sit with his disciples and share a meal. It was his last opportunity to hand on his most sacred thoughts before he died — to show them, and us, what is really important.
     
    Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday, and so we begin the most sacred days of the Christian church year. This is a time set aside for us as a community to remember. We have come before our God, acknowledged our sin, and received God’s love and forgiveness. And now we begin this journey. Over these days, we remember the extravagant, redemptive, love of God for us and for all of creation revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And today, we remember what our dear friend, Jesus, handed on to us in the hours before he died.
     
    Jesus and his friends were preparing to celebrate Passover, to remember how God had saved them and guided them in the desert. They were following an ancient command that had been handed on to them to tell and retell the story of how God brought them out of slavery and led them through the unknown, to freedom.
     
    Jesus wants us to remember, too. In this last year we have been on a journey into the unknown together, far more than we anticipated when John Hoffmann and I distributed ashes in my first worship service with you all. It has been a sort of exile, our own time in the desert in many ways. And it has been an invitation to explore what is means to be church, and how God is calling us to minister together from here. What traditions and ways of being are serving God well, and what we need to let go of, so we can better contribute to the Kin-dom of God.
     
    As we approach the end of the voluntary physical exile from our buildings and one another’s physical presence, these questions are all the more important. Tonight, for one of the few times in over a year, I have three of you with me seated in the pews of the sanctuary. And this is just the start our return to being together in person. We have learned a lot, this last year, about what is possible when we put our minds together. We've committed ourselves to being accessible to one another and our community through technology we never considered before — some of you had never heard of Zoom before March 22, 2020! We’ve discovered in new ways that we, the followers of Christ, are the church. We're renewing our commitment to welcome and to serve, and we're exploring what that looks like for all of our ministries. And in truth, that is what Christ was doing: welcoming his friends by serving them a meal — we love doing that don’t we, and we will do it again — and serving, kneeling to wash his friends’ feet. How will we live into Christ’s call to welcome and serve, as we journey on into 2021?
     
    Times of transition call us to these questions, and Jesus wants us to remember that we are not alone. God freed the Israelites, and guided them every step of their way. God frees us from all that enslaves us, and guides us on our way. The command to remember has been handed on for centuries, and it is ours now.
     
    Jesus wanted us to know this. Our journey in COVID that is finally beginning to evolve into something of a new normal, like the journey in the desert, can feel dry and long and lonely sometimes. Jesus wanted his friends to know that in spite of what would happen later tonight — later that night — and tomorrow, the next day — no matter how much grief and despair they would feel, Jesus’s death would not be the final word. In times like this, with so much division, hatred, and fear in our world, including a pandemic that has gone on far longer than we would have guessed last March, we need to know that God can bring life out of death. We need to know that God is with us — even, and perhaps especially, when things are at their darkest. Jesus tells us to share the Eucharist as a remembrance of his death and the promise of resurrection. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus shares his very life with us. We are nourished, body and soul, as our bodies are fed and our spirits are filled again with the promise of life and forgiveness. This promise has been handed on to us.
     
    After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. It was, of course, an act of humility and service. But more than that, washing another person’s feet is incredibly vulnerable, intimate, and full of love. Jesus was telling his friends, “I know you. I know those parts of you that you keep hidden. I know your dirt, your sweat, your warts, your pain, your exhaustion. And I love you.” There is no part of you that God does not know, intimately. And there is no part of you that God does not love.
     
    And here is the most remarkable thing about Jesus’ act of intimate love: Jesus washed the feet of not only John — who will stay at Jesus’ side, holding Jesus’ mother while he dies — but all of the disciples. The ones who will abandon him. Peter, who will deny he even knew Jesus. Even Judas, who will betray him, turn him over to be tortured and killed. God knows us intimately, and loves us fully, even when we abandon and deny and betray God, and one another.
     
    And then Jesus says, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” We are called to know and love one another that way, actively, humbly, intimately. We are called to see one another’s warts, and love them. We're called to allow God, and others, to see our warts, and love us. We are reminded of the waters of our baptisms, and the promise of God’s radical, unconditional love and forgiveness. Be vulnerable to one another. Love one another, no matter what. This vulnerability is terrifying... and it is precisely how God heals and frees us to be the people we were created to be. And how God works through us to heal and free others. This kind of love cannot be contained. It must be handed on, and on, and on.
     
    Today we come together to carry on sacred traditions handed on to us, and as happens each time I make my grandmother’s popcorn, we are carried beyond ourselves, beyond this moment in time. This is about us, but it's not just about us. As we share the Eucharist, and tell the stories, we are profoundly connected to God, and to our whole Christian family going back generations. We remember who we are, who we're called to be, as children of God. This is what has been handed on to you. How will you hand that on to those coming after us?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Maundy Thursday, Exodus 12:1-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35b, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus
  • Mar 28, 2021Hosanna! Save Us Now!
    Mar 28, 2021
    Hosanna! Save Us Now!
    Series: (All)
    March 28, 2021. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday and commemorate Jesus' triumphant parade into Jerusalem. But why does it cause such turmoil? What was so earth-shaking about it? And most of all, who is this Jesus who has us all crying out to be saved?
     
    Readings: Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Our 40 Days of Lent is drawing to a close, and once again this year we take time this Palm Sunday to mark the transition from the days of reflection and seeking, to walking with Jesus into Jerusalem as Holy Week begins. And as always, we tell the story of how Jesus, the son of a carpenter turned itinerant preacher, entered Jerusalem with a parade.
     
    A crowd gathered to meet Jesus as he approached the city, perhaps because they had heard him preach when he had been there before, perhaps because they had been among those healed over Jesus’ time of ministry, perhaps because they had heard that Jesus had actually raised a dead man — Lazarus — to life again. Whatever their motives, their cries as they walked revealed the hopes they had as they welcomed Jesus on the road — “Hosanna!” Save us now! The people, whatever their specific longings and desires, believed that Jesus could save them. They had very specific ideas as to what that might look like, and greeted him as they would greet a king: shouts of joy and praise and recognition, leading and following in procession, waving palm branches and laying them along the road in front of him.
     
    Hosanna! Save us now! We have spent our 40 days of Lent seeking God’s truth in our scriptures, and in our lives — the truth of God’s love and mercy and our identities as children of God, and the truth of our sin and brokenness, and the sin and brokenness of the world. Over two thousand years have passed since Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem, but the brokenness of the world and our deep need for God have not changed.
     
    We, like those crying out hosanna on the road into the city, need to be saved. Our communities face the evils of gun violence, which resulted in the deaths of ten people in yet another mass shooting this week, this time in Boulder. And it feels like we hear of more every day. The challenges and even trauma of the pandemic, which is just beginning to wane after a year. The sin of white supremacy and racism which continues to wound and divide, even as the trial for the man who murdered George Floyd moves forward this week. Poverty, which holds so many trapped in situations they cannot escape from.
     
    We think of all the pain in this world that can seem insurmountable, and we know, if we didn’t before, that we need help. We know, as we hear the stories of God’s promise to us and how God has brought freedom, healing, and love to people since the beginning, that there is only one place to turn. And we join our voices with the crowd walking that road with Jesus crying out, “Hosanna! Save us now!”
     
    There is something else about this event that we don’t often think about because it isn’t mentioned in our scriptures, but historically the procession, greeting, and leading the way for Jesus as he enters Jerusalem is not the only parade taking place in the city. Pilate, the Roman ruler who would in a few short days give the order for Jesus’ brutal execution, was also entering Jerusalem — and in a much grander procession: trumpeters, banners, royal guards, strong horses. As the Jewish people celebrated Passover to remember their freedom from slavery in Egypt, Pilate wanted the Jewish people to know without question that no matter what triumphs they may have experienced in the past, Roman rule was absolute. And so, as he did every year, Pilate processed in glory from the east, and Jesus came surrounded by the least of these from the west. Compared to Pilate’s demonstration of a royal glory fit for a king, Jesus’ humble parade hardly seems worthy of mention.
     
    So why does Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem cause, as Matthew puts it, turmoil? This is no mild, eyebrow-raising event that leaves people scratching their heads, but a significant disruption, leaving people as shocked as if an earthquake had moved the ground under their feet. Why would a gathering of people carrying palm branches lead to turmoil? What was so earth-shaking about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? And most of all, who is this Jesus who has us all crying out to be saved?
     
    As we've heard so many times, one thing we know about Jesus is that whatever our expectations, he seems to fail them, and exceed them, all at the same time. Many expected that when the Messiah came, he would come with military might, overthrowing Roman occupation and restoring the kingdom of Israel. Religious leaders expected those who deigned to teach and minister to follow Mosaic law, and show deference to the traditions of the temple above all else. We might expect Jesus to erase all the evil of this world instantly, removing all pain in a magical sort of way, and show us what we are to do in, perhaps in a great billboard in the sky. (How many times have I asked God for that?) But Jesus doesn’t do any of that.
     
    Instead, Jesus tells the story of a man attacked by robbers, and how the religious leaders pass him by — and the Samaritan, of all people, cares for him. Jesus eats with those with power, certainly, but over and over chooses to spend his time with tax collectors, sinners, and outcasts. Of all the conversations Jesus had that are recorded in our gospels, the longest conversation takes place by a well, in the middle of the day, with a Samaritan woman. He heals on the Sabbath, proclaims forgiveness of sins, and in so many other ways, Jesus is constantly pushing the boundaries, stepping outside of accepted norms, and challenging the powers that be with the expansive force of God’s love.
     
    And now he has raised a person from the dead, and has people believing that he can save them too. And he enters the city, a crowd leading the way for him, in a procession that is far less ornate than Pilate’s, but patterned after it so closely that it almost seems to mock with its simplicity and inclusion of the very people Pilate would like to control. It's also interesting to know that palms were meant to be waved only for national heroes, not for “ordinary people,” adding insult to injury for Pilate. Not military might, not conforming to norms, but showing up in a way one would not expect of God incarnate — and making a farce of the emperor while he’s at it. No wonder the city was in turmoil!
     
    Our second reading today gives us one explanation of what Jesus was up to as he walked and talked and ministered among God’s people on this earth, and perhaps what God is still up to in our world today. Jesus, Paul writes, “Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”
     
    Jesus came to be a king, absolutely, but not the kind of king who rules with military might and force and controls through fear and intimidation, but a king who empties himself out of obedience. We might think of Jesus as one who so embodied God’s love for all of us that he couldn’t help but enter into the very depths of our pain and brokenness and empty himself, pouring out his love on all of creation, all of us, even if it meant suffering and dying on the cross.
     
    And this is where God in Jesus exceeds our expectations, over and over and over again. No matter what we do, or what happens to us, Jesus does not turn away. No matter what the mistakes we make, God is always there to forgive, and guide us closer to God’s kin-dom. And however unworthy we may feel, Jesus constantly calls us to be part of the procession, leading the way and proclaiming that Jesus will, in ways we may never expect, save us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 21:1-11