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
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • 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
  • Mar 21, 2021A Place to Belong
    Mar 21, 2021
    A Place to Belong
    Series: (All)
    March 21, 2021. The truth of our identity as children of God is in our very DNA. We humans struggle. But ultimately we don’t have to struggle to see Jesus, because he draws us to him.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    From the time we're born, we human beings long to know who we are and where we belong. When we're infants, those who love and care for us watch and listen for each little gurgle and smile and coo, and they delight as they see our unique personalities emerging. And as we grow, we figure out how we fit in our family, adjusting as younger siblings are born, grandparents or others move in or out, or as family members die. Our families are generally our first place of belonging, and our first place of discovering who we are.
     
    As we grow older, that process continues. We go to school, we make our first friends, maybe find a best friend, another person with whom we fit. We go to college, leaving our families behind, and after a time find our “people.” And along with what we learn in the classroom, we learn about ourselves in ways we would never have expected. We begin to find out who we are as adults, and dream of what our lives might be like when we are on our own — where we'll live, what our purpose will be, who we'll spend our time with, who we will be, and where and with whom we'll belong.
     
    We find out at some point along the way that we will never be completely done with this. Divorce, death, loss in abilities or illness, employment transition, even perhaps a pandemic, could lead to a change in our circumstances we didn’t anticipate. And we may once again find ourselves wondering who we are and where we belong, long after we thought we had figured that out.
     
    There can be joy and excitement along the way. And the process can also bring loneliness, isolation, confusion, grief, frustration, and a host of other very real human emotions. The truth is, becoming the person God created us to be, and finding our purpose and place of belonging, are not easy — not for us, or for those close to us.
     
    If we have ever struggled with this, or are struggling with it now, we can find a lot of hope in our readings for today. Because one thing that becomes clear as we listen is that God understands our need for belonging, and how easy it is to forget who we are. Jeremiah is bringing God’s word to a people who have been exiled, cut off from the place they belonged and from many of those they belonged with. It even felt to them that they had been cut off from God, as they had been driven away from the temple in Jerusalem where they had celebrated all of their holy days, the place they went to be with God.
     
    Perhaps we can understand that better now than ever, when it is almost exactly a year since we celebrated our first Zoom worship. We have, in a very real sense, been living through a time of exile, from our church building and for many of us also from our schools and workplaces, and we've been physically separated from one another in ways we have never experienced before. We have had to do so much rethinking about who we spend our time with, and how. We as a community have had to reimagine what it means to be church, and how to minister together.
     
    I find it really encouraging to know that none of this is new. God knew how hard it was for the Israelites, and through Jeremiah’s words, he reminded them of who they were: ones with God’s promise written on their hearts. And the same is true for us. Think about that for a moment. God has written God’s promise on our hearts. Your council reflected on this at our monthly meeting this last week, and shared what this means for them: forgiveness, as we know God is with us when we make mistakes, guiding us back to the right path, knowing that no matter how hard or confusing things are, God will show us what we need to know. Comfort, in trusting God's presence, even in chaotic or frightening times. And the freedom to be the people God has created us to be. Our identity as beloved of God is coded in our DNA. Nothing can change that. In spite of recent declarations that LGBTQ people are not acceptable as they are, the constant denial of basic human rights and dignity of People of Color, the shootings targeting Asian people in Atlanta that took eight lives this week, the brutal assault on life and freedom of people in Myanmar who are calling for justice, the trauma and exile of pandemic. Despite all of that, God is faithful, and the promise holds. We don’t have to struggle and work and study and strive to belong to God. We just belong.
     
    In our gospel from John today, Jesus tells everyone listening just how faithful God is to this promise. John tells us that two Greek people showed up wanting to see Jesus, and in response, Jesus says not only that all people are welcome, but that this is exactly why he came — to draw us all to himself, and to God. Jesus doesn’t shy away from the pain and the struggle of that call. He says that his death will lead to the life that is promised, and that it is through being raised on the cross that we will be drawn together. Jesus, in John, knows who he is and what he is here to do, and it is all part of that plan to bring us home.
     
    This world carries so much beauty and promise, and we know this year more than most that there is pain and suffering in this life too. As Mr. Jesse is saying, there are things that are positive and strong and happy and hopeful, and there is struggle and mistakes and pain in this world too. And through all of it, the truth of the cross is clear. As much as we humans may wonder and question and seek, God’s promise is coded in our very DNA, so nothing can erase it. No matter what else happens or what changes may come, no matter what challenges or pain we face, through the cross, Jesus calls us all to him. It's what he came to do, and it is where we belong.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jesse Helton, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Mar 14, 2021The Power of the Cross
    Mar 14, 2021
    The Power of the Cross
    Series: (All)
    March 14, 2021. Challenges are part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. God doesn't always remove our challenges, but God does show us mercy. God promises he will always be with us no matter what happens, that suffering and death will not be the final word. And as Pastor Meagan preaches today, the cross is evidence for that.
     
    Readings: Numbers 21:4-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On March 7, 1965 black people and allies, led by 25-year-old John Lewis, marched toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as part of a long, hard journey for freedom — and in particular the right for black people to vote. They planned to cross the bridge that day and continue on to Montgomery, but instead they were met by one of the more brutal assaults in the history of civil rights. So much blood was shed, and so many people died as the result of dogs, chains, hoses, and clubs, that it became known as Bloody Sunday. After that attack, many wondered if they should just give up. Martin Luther King himself, it is said, wondered about the wisdom of trying again after what had happened.
     
    And in spite of the progress that has been made since then, the struggle against racism continues. And this week the Minneapolis community is praying its way through the beginning of the trial for the person who murdered George Floyd last May 25th. The same pain, wondering, exhaustion, and woundedness the freedom fighters felt after Bloody Sunday is very real among those still working for justice today in George Floyd Square.
     
    The Israelites' journey from Egypt to the Promised Land had been really long, and like the march to Montgomery and the struggle for justice today, it was not exactly easy. They had been walking in the desert for literally years, nearly starved before God provided manna for them. And when some of them were taken captive by the Canaanites, they had to fight to defeat them. And they still weren’t there yet.
     
    And as our journey in COVID continues — one year ago tomorrow we made the decision to close our buildings for a while — we may be feeling this too. We are so tired, but we still haven’t arrived yet. The Israelites’ walk continued, and after all that time they were getting really sick of eating only manna. And, we are told, they complained not once, but continually. They whined, as Mr. Jesse talked about. “Are we there yet?!”
     
    So often, we move along in our routines until we find ourselves expecting that this is how life should be. Work gets done, bills paid, vacations taken, decisions made, perhaps with some bumps along the way, but more or less predictable. And when things happen to make life difficult, our first response is typically to complain, as the Israelites did. The food is not good or hot or fast enough. The internet keeps cutting out on us, right in the middle of that email we’re sending — or worse yet, in the middle of a Zoom meeting with our boss or our teacher. We have to wait too long in traffic, or the doctor’s office, or the grocery store.
     
    The Israelites were sick of manna, and they complained. It's so human, isn't it? And they soon found themselves facing something much bigger than boring food. Poisonous snakes, perhaps symbolic of the toxic atmosphere they had created in their community, came into the camp, and many of them died. Suddenly the food didn’t matter, and they realized how foolish they had been, having forgotten that God freed them, fed them, and given them water to drink when they were thirsty — having forgotten that they still had each other, that God was still with them. They realized their sin and told Moses to ask God to have mercy on them. And in the mind of the Israelites, mercy meant removing the snakes that were biting them.
     
    God didn’t remove the snakes, but God did show mercy. Interestingly enough, the proof of God’s mercy looked just like the thing the Israelites feared the most: the snakes. God told Moses to raise a bronze serpent in the middle of the camp, a reminder of both the sin of the people, and the faithfulness of God. Like Mr. Jesse said, God is big enough for all this, isn't he? By looking at the bronze serpent raised in their camp, the Israelites saw that their God was bigger than a few poisonous reptiles, and even their own sin and brokenness. God assured them that God was with them, even in the midst of this. The snakes remained, but the people lived. A source of pain and fear and death was transformed into a symbol of God’s faithfulness and triumph over death. And I am struck that as we read these passages this year, in the middle of George Floyd Square in Minneapolis another bronze statue has been raised — an image of a black hand, a reminder of both the pain and damage of the sin of racism that still exists, and the resilience and hope of redemption to come for all of us.
     
    Often, the big challenges in our lives — unemployment, illness, death — are not removed either. These things are not interruptions to the life we are supposed to live, although they can certainly feel that way. Nor are they, as the Israelites believed, punishment from God for sin — although at times, if we're honest, it can feel like that too. The truth is, the challenges of life are all a part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. Sometimes these challenges are of our own making, or someone else’s, and they truly are the result of choices made, natural consequences of our sin. And sometimes, difficult things just happen. Life is not always easy, and it is certainly not what we might think of as fair. But either way, the struggles and pain we experience does not mean that God has abandoned us.
     
    God never promised that life would be easy, or go according to our plans, but God did promise that God would be faithful to the covenant and always be with us, no matter what happens. God did promise that suffering and death will not be the final word. And the proof of that for us as Christians is revealed in another symbol of pain and humiliation and death — the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. As we make our way through Lent, we look to the cross, and remember not only the reality of Jesus’ death, but the truth that because of the resurrection, the cross, like the bronze snake, is transformed into evidence that God has power over everything, even death.
     
    Our encounter with the cross of Jesus does not take away the challenges of our lives, but it transforms them — it transforms us. When we are finished with our complaining, our questioning, our blaming, God is still right there with us, and the cross of Jesus is proof of that promise. The cross reminds us that the little things in life — long lines, spotty internet service, cold food — are not really that important. And the big things, the real sin and pain and struggles of life, are not too much for God to handle.
     
    God created us to bring good and beauty into this world, and we can trust God to make it possible for us to do that, even when we don’t see how we can possibly make a difference. The Israelites, and centuries later the marchers in Selma, and today those who continue to seek healing and justice in Minneapolis and across the country, lived out that truth in every step they took. We too are called to march on, carrying the truth of faith in that struggle.
     
    When we in our humanity fail, as we are bound to, the cross reminds us that God is still there, giving us the courage and the strength to face the ways we have caused or contributed to the struggles of this world. We have seen in the last year how economic injustice and inequities in access to health care and other resources that continue to exist have resulted in a stark disparity in how the pandemic has impacted marginalized communities, and how reluctance to change allows these and other wounds in the world to continue.
     
    Debie Thomas says in her blog this week, “In other words, he unveiled the poison, he showed us the snake, he revealed what our human kingdoms, left to themselves, will  always become unless God in God’s mercy delivers us. In the cross, we are forced to see what our refusal to love . . . , our hatred of difference, our addiction to judgment, and our fear of the Other must wreak. When the Son of Man is lifted up, we see with chilling and desperate clarity our need for a God who will take our most horrific instruments of death, and transform them, at great cost, for the purposes of resurrection.” We look to the cross, acknowledge our sin, and ask God for forgiveness and help. And we're renewed for the journey.
     
    When we're in pain, the cross is a symbol of the promise that even death is not the final word. We have a God who answers prayer, if not in the ways we might expect. God has promised to be with us, to lead us to truth and redemption when we can’t see the way.
     
    God will not break the covenant, no matter how we stumble. From the Israelites in the desert, to the marchers in Selma in 1965, to each of us today, God loves, forgives, and strengthens us. Nothing is too much for God to handle — even our whining. And every time we see the cross, we are reminded of the lengths God will go to keep that promise.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Numbers 21:4-9, Jesse Helton, pandemic, COVID-19, coronavirus, Debie Thomas
  • Mar 7, 2021The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Mar 7, 2021
    The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Series: (All)
    March 7, 2021. Today's sermon is on how the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, paired with the Ten Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about.
     
    Readings: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, John 2:13-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was kid I was really strange: I actually loved the rules! I knew them all and followed them, well, religiously. And not only did I follow them, but I made it my job to be sure you did too. I remember being in third grade and getting into an argument with a friend in the classroom, because she wanted to break a rule and I was trying to stop her. I can still tell you to this day what the rule was, why she thought it was okay to break, and why she was wrong. And I remember coming home from school on more than one occasion to report to my mom that my brother hadn’t worn his hat and mittens on recess. I had a really good whine to it, too. As my brothers can attest, I was lots of fun at parties! I'm guessing I'm not alone in this.
     
    Some of you, on the other hand, likely follow or followed my brothers’ perspective on the rules — that it only counts as breaking rules if you get caught. And someone from a text study this week shared that they have always been inclined not to break the rules exactly, but to push the edge just a bit, just to see how far they could go.
     
    Whatever your perspective, it certainly is a fact, like Mr. Jesse pointed out, that rules are a part of life. Traffic laws, classroom rules, rules against things that harm others, rules that help keep order. And these days, rules for public health: mask mandates, capacity limitations, and distancing — all for the purpose of lessening our risk of catching or passing on the virus that is still circulating. And our motives for following them can range from wanting to protect ourselves and others, to fear of the consequences if we are caught not following them.
     
    For those of us who do like the rules, the first reading today is a real treasure, the ultimate in rule books: the 10 Commandments. Some of us may still be able to recite them by heart: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Here we have a set of rules that has been handed down to us for millennia, from God!
     
    We as Christians often, I think, overlook the 10 Commandments, perhaps relegating it to a thing we had to learn and study in Confirmation class — perhaps thinking, mistakenly, that since Jesus came the law just isn’t important anymore. We may even have heard it said that Jesus came to overturn the law. As we hear our gospel story about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and making a ruckus in the synagogue, which could be interpreted to be a story of Jesus tearing down Judaism, it's really important to remember that Jesus was Jewish. As a faithful Jewish teacher, Jesus probably felt about the law and the commandments the way the psalmist describes today — reviving, rejoicing, enduring, true, desirable, sweeter, clear, enlightening. Wow. All of that, for a list of rules, like honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not steal?
     
    Luther shared a great appreciation for the Commandments, and had actually a lot to say about them — not just as a list of do's and don’ts, but as a guide for our lives. Because ultimately Jesus tells us in Matthew, like Mr. Jesse pointed out today, the greatest commandment is love of God and love of neighbor. As we humans wrestle with how to live out the law, how to be in relationship with one another, the answer is simply to love.
     
    Simple but not easy. We humans often need specifics to help us get it — specifics like don’t covet our neighbor’s goods, and don’t bear false witness against one another. And still, we fall and get up, and fall and get up, and fall again... Luther makes it clear, as he describes the law, that we will never be able to live this out perfectly. Part of what we learn from understanding the law is that we on our own can’t do it. We humans will always and forever need God to help and guide us along the way.
     
    We need to be reminded, often, that the whole purpose of the law to begin with is to guide our life in community, and guide our relationship with God. As Fred Buechner writes, “The difficulty is increased when you realize that by loving God and your neighbors, Jesus doesn't mean loving as primarily a feeling. Instead, he seems to mean that whether or not any feeling is involved, loving God means honoring and obeying and staying in constant touch with God, and loving your neighbors means acting in their best interests no matter what, even if personally you can't stand them.”
     
    As Luther says in his explanation of the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” not only are we not to tell lies or slander, but we are to “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Even, to echo Buechner again, if you personally can’t stand them.
     
    Simple, but certainly not easy. We will never be able to do this on our own, and we are greatly mistaken if we think we can, or if we think that doing so is required to earn God’s approval — that we can simply check the boxes and know that we have made it, somehow. Jesus understands this, I think.
     
    And Jesus, in his zeal in the courtyard of the temple, is reminding all of us of two other very important things about the law. One is that faith is not just about what we do in the sanctuary. Our faith is meant to be lived out in every aspect of our lives, in all of our relationships. As Jesus turns the tables, he is telling the money changers in no uncertain terms that they don’t get to profit off of their neighbors in the courtyard, and then enter the sanctuary and feel good about themselves. The 10 Commandments offer us not a way to earn our righteousness badge or as a measure by which to judge others, but a guide for embodying the love of God and neighbor in everything we do — especially with those we don’t like. All of this leads us to realize once again that sacred space and our lives of faith are not limited to what happens in the sanctuary, that sacred space is not defined by walls, but by how we live. How do we live sacred space? The barriers are down, and our whole lives become sacred!
     
    The other thing Jesus is telling the money changers and us is that the path of faith, the way we live with God and our neighbors, is not transactional — it's relational. Jesus’ burning zeal and passion came from holy anger at the barriers of wealth and privilege that prevented some from having access to the temple. In turning over the tables in the courtyard, Jesus is removing artificial barriers that had been placed between the people and God, ensuring that everyone could enter the temple without going through the money changers.
     
    This is one of the more interesting stories of Jesus we have in our gospels. We don’t often see Jesus get angry, but we see today that he did. If you are like me, this can be a really uncomfortable truth. I like the rules, after all, and isn’t one of the rules to not show anger like that? And yet, sometimes faithful love calls us to holy anger. And I will admit too, as one who has experienced barriers to the sanctuary in my own life, that in spite of my discomfort with passionate anger, there is something very satisfying about seeing Jesus let loose today.
     
    This story of Jesus turning over the tables, paired with the 10 Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about. So I will leave you with just a few questions to reflect on. What about our faith brings out our passion? What are we willing to turn tables to proclaim or to defend? What walls and barriers are we willing to tear down, to ensure that someone who is excluded can come in? And whose wrath are we willing to risk?
     
    As our gospel ends today, there is one other thing to note as we continue our journey with Jesus of Nazareth in these 40 days of Lent. Jesus foreshadows his death, telling them that the temple of his body will be destroyed, and then says that it will be raised again in three days. The disciples, we're told, don’t get it then, or in the few days following Jesus’s death. It is only after Jesus has risen from the dead that they understand what he was trying to tell them — that he would die, but that would not be the end of the story. Sometimes the old has to die before the new can emerge. Love and life would prevail, even after the horror of Good Friday. And this is the promise of God revealed in all our scriptures: life springs forth in the most unexpected places, and death will never be the final word.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, YouTube, video, Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Martin Luther, Fred Buechner
  • Feb 28, 2021The Cost of Discipleship
    Feb 28, 2021
    The Cost of Discipleship
    Series: (All)
    February 28, 2021. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, there is a cost to discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. What does this mean for us? Today's sermon is on truths that are not easy.
     
    Readings: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was in third grade at Our Lady of Grace Catholic school in Edina, Minnesota, I remember a specific time when I was introduced to the concept of doing hard things, of sacrificing myself for God perhaps. We were lining up in the hallway to go to the gym, and I asked to get a drink of water from the nearby water fountain. My teacher, who was eager to keep us in line and not start a flood of “I’m thirsty toos!” from the kids surrounding me, said, “No, give up your thirst for the holy souls in purgatory.” It was, in all my Catholic years, just about the only time anyone ever suggested anything like this, and my third grade self was taken a bit aback. In my mind I can still hear my very faithful Catholic grandmothers chuckling at the idea that giving up a drink of water might allow someone who had died to get into heaven.
     
    But another part of my mind truly took a step back in that moment from my own desire for a drink of water, and thought about the importance of setting aside my own needs and wants — at least for a moment — to consider something bigger than myself.
     
    It seems that my teacher’s statement, in a way perhaps both a little silly and profound, aligns with what Jesus is telling his disciples today. Jesus’ language is daunting and strong. But he, like my teacher, is trying to let us know that there are things much more important than our own desires and comfort — things worth actually sacrificing ourselves for.
     
    On this Sunday, the second Sunday in Lent, as we continue to explore our call to truth, I think this may be a truth our scriptures have for us in this season. We are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that there is a cost to that. Like Miss Katie said, sometimes stepping out of the boxes that the world has for us can be really hard. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, there is a cost to discipleship.
     
    Jesus’s statement that following him means “taking up the cross” was no off-the-cuff remark. In that time and place, everyone listening would immediately have envisioned Calvary, where not just once on Good Friday but many times people who stood against empire and challenged the status quo stepped outside of those boxes, were brutally punished by the Roman Empire for not falling in line. The cross was not a punishment for simple law-breaking. It was not the fate of those who stole, or attacked, or even murdered a fellow citizen. Death on the cross was reserved for those who rioted, or protested unfair Roman taxes, or in other ways challenged the authority of Roman rule. In other words, taking up the cross was the dramatic and brutal warning intentionally designed to silence those who had the courage to stand against the empire.
     
    Jesus knew that the empire would not take kindly to his radical proclamation of love, justice, and mercy. He knew that Pilate would be eager to quash beliefs that all people had value, and that those who were marginalized and cast out might actually be considered before those who held power. Jesus knew well how violent the response would be, eventually. And he refused to back away from that. Jesus of Nazareth, rather than softening his message to avoid the cross, rather than trying to stay inside the boxes they wanted him in, began with his message to his disciples to embrace the cross and invite them to do the same.
     
    We can imagine how the disciples must have felt about this. They expected the Messiah to come with military power, prepared to overthrow Roman rule in the end. And then Jesus tells them that not only would he suffer and die, if they were to follow him they also must be ready to accept the most painful and shameful death imaginable at that time. It must have been quite a shock to hear the one they expected to free Israel from occupation suggest that the way of liberation led not to glorious military victory, but shameful death. In fact, more than one of Jesus’s disciples eventually were crucified as well.
     
    If we too are Jesus’s disciples, we too are called to take up the cross as we follow him. We too are called to embrace the truth that there is a cost to discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. So what does this mean for us today? Because although I got a glimpse of the call of our faith to sacrifice ourselves in that moment in the hallway, there is much more to understand than that.
     
    Denying ourselves a drink of water, or finding other ways to fast, can become a token action, something we can feel good about that doesn’t go below the surface. It can become something that is so rigid and restrictive that the joy of the good news, the message of God’s love and our identity as God’s kids, is lost. Or, at its best, fasting in the spirit of the gospel can be a spiritual practice that leads us into deeper relationship with the God who formed us, and prepares us to follow Christ all the way to the cross.
     
    Debie Thomas, theologian and blogger, wrote this week, “To take up a cross as Jesus did is to stand in the center of the world’s pain. Taking up the cross means recognizing Christ crucified in every suffering soul and body that surrounds us, and pouring our energies and our lives into alleviating that pain — no matter what it costs.” You may remember from last week that Jesus began his ministry by leaving the desert and walking straight into the grief and horror of John the Baptist’s death. And we hear today that Christ was willing to challenge the empire and face the cross to stay true to the gospel he was called to preach. The cross we are invited to take up as followers of Jesus is to stand with all who suffer, to step outside of our comfortable boxes and lean into the pain of the world with the promise of God’s faithfulness, and to commit ourselves to challenging the systems that bring death even if it means that we ourselves suffer.
     
    This is, I think, one of the hardest truths of the gospel. We, like the disciples, would much rather Jesus just move and in and destroy in victorious battle all of the ills of this world — illness, violence, oppression, and death. The way of the cross, as Luther explains it, means that we do not avoid the suffering and pain of life, but call it what it is. We face head on the evils of this world and call it evil, and we proclaim the gospel, no matter what the cost.
     
    Along with this hard truth today, we have the knowledge and promise of the covenant between God and Abraham and Sarah. The covenant they make today is profoundly important to us who follow Jesus of Nazareth on the way to the cross. The covenant is only one of many in just a few chapters of Genesis. God seemed to know that as Abraham and Sarah traveled along the road to the unknown, facing countless threats and challenges along the way, they would need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness.
     
    And in the first of those covenants, as they began this long journey, God promised that God would bless them so that they would be a blessing. Because it was not all about them after all, any more that it is all about us. That’s the thing about the way of the cross — it draws us out of our selfishness and greed and into our true selves, in profound relationship with God and all that God created, so that we can participate in the creation, recreation, healing, and redemption of the world around us. We too are blessed to be a blessing, and we too are named and claimed by the God who made us, as Abraham and Sarah received their new names in today’s story.
     
    We continue our Lenten journey on the way of the cross, guided by the truth Jesus shares that this road will not be easy. We follow Jesus of Nazareth, who calls us to take up our cross: to step out of our boxes, to walk into the world’s pain, and stand against the empire, naming and challenging the evils of racism and all forms of oppression, and claiming the promise of the gospel. No matter the consequences, we know we are not alone, because Christ has gone before us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38, Katie Ciorba, Debie Thomas
  • Feb 21, 2021Wilderness and Baptism
    Feb 21, 2021
    Wilderness and Baptism
    Series: (All)
    February 21, 2021. Our readings, and the sermon today, are about wilderness — and also about baptism, and how they were both essential to Jesus.
     
    Readings: Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When you hear the word “wilderness” what comes to mind? You may respond differently depending on how you feel about the wilderness outdoors. If you are one who, like my friend Keith, loves to travel miles by bike and then sleep in a hammock suspended between trees at night, or like the Cub Scouts in the Youth Group, who reveled in the challenge of cooking dinner over a fire the size and shape of a shoe box and were not the least bit disturbed by fire ants or wasps, the wilderness might excite you. If, however, your idea of “roughing it” starts with being without a TV, or if camping means staying in a cabin with a bathroom and a kitchen, the thought of being in the wilderness may make you cringe. I will admit that as much as Karen and I love visiting parks and hiking outdoors and cooking over a campfire, having a solid roof over our heads that we did not need to assemble ourselves, and a bed at sitting height that doesn't require an air pump, has become more and more appealing over the last few years.
     
    As we gather today for our first Sunday in Lent, living into our Lenten theme “Called to Truth,” one short line in the Gospel from Mark tells us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. The gospel today is about wilderness — and it is also about baptism. Because just before Jesus enters the wilderness, he is baptized by John. And he hears the voice of God affirming his beloved-ness, the deep truth of who he is as God’s child. Baptism, followed by wilderness. They seem to be two polar opposites, don’t they? But they are actually inextricably intertwined in God’s world. God is present equally in the wilderness as in baptism. And this, I think, may be the truth that our scriptures have for us today.
     
    Jesus is driven into the wilderness, Mark says. In Mark’s telling, we don’t get a whole lot of detail — just one sentence indicating that his wilderness experience was marked by temptation, wild animals, and angels. Matthew and Luke give us some specific information about the temptations, and they note that Jesus didn’t eat or drink the entire 40 days he spent in the wilderness. All in all, even if you are one who loves the outdoors, this wilderness — Jesus’ wilderness — doesn’t sound exactly peaceful.
     
    Jesus spends 40 days being tempted and challenged, in a very profound way, having everything he had just been told by God at his baptism challenged. Beloved? Child of God? Prove it. Show me. How do you really know that? For 40 long days, Jesus is tempted and challenged. We also heard today, as Mr. Jesse mentioned, the story of Noah and his family, in the ark, battered around by raging flood waters for 40 days before hearing that promise of God’s love again. And then we might recall the Israelites, and their journey through the desert for 40 years before they arrived at the promised land, and they and God renewed their covenant, their promise. The exact length of time doesn’t really matter. The truth we know from all of these stories is that the wilderness is not an instant process, a quick and easy place to be, but takes time.
     
    Another truth we hear from our gospel today is that Jesus’ ministry comes just as much out of his time in the wilderness as it does out of his baptism. After all, Jesus goes straight from the baptism to the wilderness, and straight from the wilderness to begin his ministry. In the wilderness, Jesus learns something of who he is. He is challenged to forget that his identity comes from God, and each time, he affirms his trust in the God from whom he came, the one who called him beloved. And, we are told, the Spirit was with him there in the wilderness, and the angels waited on him. In the wilderness, Jesus learns that even in the midst of trials and temptations, his identity as beloved holds true.
     
    In my wilderness times, this truth has not been clear always in the midst of the struggle. Grief, shame, wounded-ness can overwhelm, making it hard to see, leading us to forget. We have all experienced wildernesses of our own: the death of beloveds, miscarriage, extended unemployment, serious illness and injury, divorce. Even the traumas of this last year of life in a pandemic may feel like something of a wilderness. These times can feel like we are on our own, unsure of who we are and what we are called to do. We may even feel that God has forgotten or abandoned us, leaving us to struggle through on our own.
     
    This is not something we choose, and despite Mark telling us that Jesus was driven into the desert, it is also not something that God foists upon us as a punishment or a lesson. There is pain, loss, and grief, that is very human, very real. And, the wilderness is a part of life, a part of our humanity, and there are deep truths that can be revealed there, in time.
     
    The truth of the wilderness that Jesus shares with us, and that I have learned as I've emerged from my wildernesses, is that nothing can erase our beloved-ness, and nothing can undo the presence of God in all things. This promise is embedded in creation itself, as we also know from the story of Noah like Mr. Jesse talked about, that rainbow that is the promise of God. And that promise is revealed through the rain.
     
    Even death cannot undo God’s promise. The parallels in the Gospel of Mark between Jesus’ baptism and his death are profound. Both include a splitting of the barrier between God and us: at baptism there's a tearing in the sky itself, and at death there's a rending of the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies, where it was believed that God lived. Both demonstrate the clear presence and movement of the Spirit, in the dove and in the breath, in the story of Jesus' death. And in both baptism and death, there is that voice proclaiming beloved-ness and identity as child of God.
     
    In baptism, we claim our beloved-ness as children of God, embracing the truth that goes back to creation, when God formed us from the earth and breathed life into us. In wilderness, our identities are challenged, refined, claimed, and affirmed in new ways. We aren’t told how Jesus felt during his time in the wilderness, or specifically how he may have been changed, but we do know that he left the wilderness ready to begin his ministry, ready to step toward the pain and grief of John the Baptist’s brutal death. The wilderness, it seems, was just as essential to Jesus as his baptism, preparing him to proclaim, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic
  • Feb 17, 2021Broken and Beloved
    Feb 17, 2021
    Broken and Beloved
    Series: (All)
    February 17, 2021. What is truth? Tonight, as Lent begins, we ask God that question, and listen for the truth God reveals to us in scripture.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Many years ago, when I was just getting into twelve-step work in Al-Anon, I remember being told that we are “only as sick as our secrets,” and if that's true I must have been pretty ill when I got there. I was really good at hiding things I didn’t want you to know, and especially good at hiding mistakes. I thought that the way to be okay, to be liked, to have friends, was to only let you know the good stuff. The last thing I wanted to do was let people know the truth.
     
    When the Worship Team met last month to talk about Lent and we were trying to decide on a theme, we bounced around several ideas. And then someone said, “What about 'Called to Truth?'” And we all realized that was it: truth. That thing we often want to hide. That thing we sometimes think will be our undoing. That thing that Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John will set us free.
     
    These days, it seems like there's so much misinformation, distortion, and outright lies being shared on social media and the news that the truth feels really elusive. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was reflecting on the situation we and our country are in, and Jesus’ conversation with Pilate came to mind. Jesus tells Pilate he has come to testify to the truth, and Pilate says, “Truth? What is truth?” I found myself thinking yeah, what is truth? I'm sure I'm not the only one who has struggled with that recently.
     
    Jesus came to testify to the truth — the truth that will set us free. And so in this time of Lent, when we are called to take a step back, to reflect on our lives and our relationship with God and others, to acknowledge the sin that binds us and grow more into the people God is calling us to be, we at Christ Lutheran will lean into God’s call to truth. We will start with Pilate’s very real question: what is truth? Tonight, as Lent begins, we ask God that question, and listen for the truth God reveals to us in scripture.
     
    In all of our readings for today, we hear the truth that we have, all of us, turned away from God, in different ways at different times. We have chosen to depend on ourselves and our own power. We have taken advantage of the privileges we have in ways that have done harm to others. We have gotten lost in our attempts to seek approval from others instead of following the way of Christ. We have forgotten our call to care for God’s creation, for the earth and all that lives on it. Tonight, as Lent begins, we hear the truth of our sin and brokenness.
     
    And we also hear the truth proclaimed by the prophet Joel that while we are still lost, God is calling us to return, to seek God with our whole hearts. We hear the truth from Paul that now is the acceptable time, today is the day, and that there is always new life in Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew that God is with us, knows all the things we hide, and calls us to trust in the love of God to lead us home. The God who sees in secret knows that we have sinned, and the God who sees in secret knows the desire we hold in our hearts to return to God.
     
    We as Lutherans know that we are sinner and saint, and this truth is revealed to us over and over in scripture. Our brokenness and sin, the truth we want to bury, is uncovered. And the call of the God who shaped us out of the earth with their hands and breathed Spirit into us, that promise of faithfulness even when we stumble, the reality of our beloved-ness, the truth that we are sometimes unable to see, is revealed.
     
    We journey these 40 days of Lent together, seeking to follow more closely Christ, who entered into our humanity to show us the ways of God. We follow Jesus of Nazareth, who came to testify to the truth. We receive ash tonight as a symbol of our brokenness and sin, and of our mortality — the truth that we came from dust and will return to dust. The ash traced on our foreheads or on our hands also reminds us of the truth of the forgiveness, faithfulness, and love promised us by the God who formed us out of the dust.
     
    Over the years, I have come to believe and know the freedom that comes from truth. Our scriptures proclaim the promise that the God who created us will never abandon us. The God who sees in secret knows everything about us, and even when we stumble, calls us home. We are called to that truth. And that is good news indeed.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
  • Feb 7, 2021When Jesus Left the Synagogue
    Feb 7, 2021
    When Jesus Left the Synagogue
    Series: (All)
    February 7, 2021. As we gather again for worship in our homes, Pastor Meagan reminds us how Jesus took his ministry out of the synagogue and expanded, into homes and neighboring towns.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Last week the Gospel of Mark told us how Jesus got started in his ministry — the calling of the disciples, the proclamation that the realm of God is here, the amazement of the people at the authority Jesus carried in his teaching and the casting out of the unclean spirit. Jesus spent time in the synagogue and embodied, in what he said and did, the good news of God’s love, and claimed in his actions the authority of God, over and above the authority even of the temple.
     
    This week Jesus does something really awesome: he leaves the synagogue. And this feels significant, in this time when it has been almost a year since we have worshipped together in our sanctuary. I personally have worshipped from my guest room, my living room, my backyard, my parents’ backyard, my parents' living room. It's been almost a year of worshipping from homes, vacation places, and even once I think from a boogie board! As many times as I have heard this passage, the detail of Jesus leaving the synagogue and taking his ministry to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house has mostly escaped me. But this year, it seems like just about the most profound thing Jesus could have done as he began his ministry.
     
    A few years back, a Lakota elder shared with a group of United Theological seminarians that Lakota tradition teaches that our stories are rooted in place, not time. And according to that tradition, the valley below Fort Snelling, just blocks from Karen’s and my home in the Twin Cities, is the birthplace of creation — a sort of Garden of Eden. It is also the literal birthplace of many Lakota people whose mothers traveled days and weeks to get to that place so their children could be born there. No matter how much time passes, their stories and the story of creation itself are alive there in that sacred place.
     
    And in this experience of exile we have realized, if we didn’t before, the sacredness of our temple, our sanctuary where I now stand. So many of you have told me how much it means just to see our altar in my Zoom screen on Sunday mornings. We are all longing for the time when we can return to gathering in person here, hearing the organ live rather than via video, drinking coffee and eating meals together in our Fellowship Hall. If we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now: our sanctuary is sacred space.
     
    And this week, Jesus leaves the sacred space of the synagogue. And the first place he goes, just as we did when we left our building behind, is home. Not his home, of course, but a home — the home of Simon’s mother-in-law. And Jesus’ ministry does not pause or end when he leaves the synagogue, but expands, as he continues to preach and heal and the word spreads of what he is doing. In a very real way, Jesus demonstrates for us that it is not just the synagogue that is sacred space. We who have celebrated communion in our homes, heard the word in our homes, blessed and celebrated community and even our furry family members in our homes, grieved the death of beloveds in our homes, know this. Home is sacred space, too.
     
    And still, before the end of that first chapter of Mark, Jesus moves again. After what must have been an exhausting day, as the people of town filled the small home seeking wisdom and healing, Jesus goes to find a deserted place where he could be by himself and pray. Even Jesus believed, as Isaiah so eloquently says, that “Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength.” I am probably not the only one feeling especially worn out these days. I am sure many of you are also done with COVID, ready to celebrate with abandon in this time when we're still called to care for one another with caution. In these days when we are often just one step ahead of weariness and exhaustion, how comforting it is to know that we are not alone — even Jesus needed God to renew his strength.
     
    When the disciples find Jesus, he doesn’t return to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house or to the synagogue, but moves onward once again. Sacred space, as Jesus shows us, is bigger than the temple, bigger than Simon’s mother-in-law’s house, bigger than the town, and Jesus’ ministry expands to neighboring towns. That too is sacred space. In fact, Isaiah tells us, there is no place that God isn’t. The God who created all things is present in all, to the very ends of the earth. One of the most sacred places I have ever had the privilege of being was the two-room home of a family in Tanzania, where we sat on bales of hay to eat homemade cakes and drink tea sweetened with rare and precious sugar, served by the mother of five whose face glowed with pride at having something to offer us. All places are sacred.
     
    Mark tells us that one of the things that happens in sacred places is healing. It's worth taking a moment to think about this, as Miss Kate talked about. We are painfully aware with over 400,000 having died from a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be done with us yet, although we are certainly done with it, and with the losses we have experienced in our own congregation and our own lives, that healing as we would wish for it doesn’t always happen. We know from our own experiences that sometimes mental and physical disease persist despite our best efforts. And that can leave us wondering where our healing, our miracle, our resurrection is. Mark starts his gospel by proclaiming the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. But sometimes, when brokenness seems to overwhelm, it can be hard to trust and believe that the good news of Jesus’ presence and healing is still happening today.
     
    We are part of this dynamic, transformative, and yes healing Spirit that is always moving and breathing around us. Do we believe that? Do we believe the sequel can happen? What does healing even mean? A colleague who lives with disabilities suggested that healing is not so much a restoration to wholeness physically, as if the person healed was not a complete or full human before, but a restoration to community, dignity, and agency. In the midst of the stories of healing in our gospels, Jesus so often not only offers physical healing, but raises people up, brings them back into community, names their humanity and their dignity. In today’s story, Simon’s mother-in-law is initially received as one who simply needs care, as an elderly widow who is in fact ill. Jesus goes to her, and yes he removes her fever, but the true transformation is a restoration to dignity and place in community that allows her to serve — to minister, as Jesus and the disciples did — as well as be served.
     
    The question of who receives healing, why and when, is one that we human beings have been wrestling with since the beginning of time, and we still wonder and ask and lament when healing doesn’t come as we hope. And yet, as Miss Kate suggested, the promise of God stands. In Christ, we know that even in the face of illness and suffering and death, God is present with us. In Christ, we are seen and known, our dignity as a child of God is assured, our lament is heard by a God who has experienced suffering and death for themselves. The ministry of Jesus expands again, and again, and again, all the way to the cross. And because of that we can trust that even our places of brokenness, loss, and death are sacred.
     
    All places, all time, all lives are sacred. And today, as we gather and worship together on our Zoom screens, we know that more than ever. Christ is present in the sacred space of our homes, bringing the good news of God’s love, restoring us to our community in sometimes surprising ways, lifting us up and renewing our strength when we are exhausted, naming us and calling us beloved, and sending us outward to discover and proclaim the sacredness of God’s presence in the places — and the people — around us. And when we come back to our sanctuary, and we will return, we will do so with great joy and celebration, knowing that that is only the beginning.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Feb 1, 2021Amazed and Astounded
    Feb 1, 2021
    Amazed and Astounded
    Series: (All)
    January 31, 2021. In Mark, the people are astounded because Jesus seems to carry an authority that they are not used to hearing. What does authority look like for us today? When was the last time you remember being astounded or amazed about something?
     
    Readings: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I called a family member recently, and we started our conversation in the way that we have repeatedly nearly every time we've talked recently. “How are you?” “Oh, you know. How are you?“ “Oh, you know. What’s going on?” “Nothing! Just hanging out here, nothing new!” “Yeah, same here, not going anywhere!” Sound familiar? It seems like all of us are feeling this a little bit. These many months of living in COVID have been wearing to say the least, and have left us all feeling perhaps a bit trapped. Perhaps a lot trapped, or bored, or lonely, eager for anything to do, anywhere to go, anyone to see. Someone recently described it as like living in the movie “Groundhog Day,” every day similar to the one before: get up, go to the kitchen, eat breakfast, go to the desk in the den and start work, maybe get kids started in school. Even our clothes may have fallen a bit into a rut — someone recently quipped that they now have a pair of sweatpants for each day of the week.
     
    In the meantime, the last few weeks, we have been watching as Jesus has begun his ministry. He was born, and creation itself revealed just how transformative his life would be. He caused his parents some angst when he disappeared for three days, grew in age and wisdom, and his parents pondered and wondered about what his life among us might mean. He went out and sought disciples, inviting them to come and see for themselves who he was, letting them know that he saw them for who they were, and calling them and us to freedom, transformation, and participation in the realm of God. And today, in our gospel reading from Mark, Jesus’ ministry is about to officially begin.
     
    In each gospel, the good news of Jesus’ first public ministry, his introduction to the people, is told a bit differently, and tells us something important about who Jesus was. In Matthew, we know early on that Jesus is Jewish, and he starts by preaching and healing, and the crowds quickly grow so big that he gathers with them on the mountains because so many are drawn to him. In Luke, who apparently believes in the call of the preacher to afflict the comfortable as well as comfort the afflicted, Jesus preaches his first sermon in his home synagogue in Nazareth, and people try to push him off the cliff! In John, Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding in Cana, showing that he is the son of God, but also very much a part of human life and celebration.
     
    The Gospel of Mark wastes no time. Jesus has called disciples to join him in his ministry, and today in the last verses of chapter 1, Jesus is in the synagogue teaching, and the people are astounded because he seems to carry an authority that they are not used to hearing. And then, Jesus casts out an unclean spirit, and the people are amazed once more at the authority that he has. Astounded. Amazed. Authority. By the end of chapter 1 of Mark, Jesus has already made quite an impression.
     
    When was the last time you remember being astounded or amazed about something?
     
    And then, there is the idea of authority. Mark tells us in this story of Jesus that people were amazed because of the authority Jesus had, both in his preaching and in the casting out of the unclean spirit. What does authority look like for us today? How do we know right from wrong, truth from untruth, authentic leaders from imposters? The information, misinformation, and intentional lies that flood our newsfeeds have made it harder than ever to know sometimes what is true and important, and what is not. And as the Corinthians faced their own confusion, Paul offered the Corinthians some guidance as they wrestle with how to live out their faith in Christ. Bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and religious traditions was challenging to say the least.
     
    In particular today, Paul discusses how to handle the confusion among believers in Jesus when some followed particular dietary guidance, some no dietary restrictions, and some feel newly freed from the rules they used to think were important. In the end Paul says, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Rather than being concerned that everyone follow particular dietary law, focus on doing what is best to support and love your neighbor. Don’t be so concerned about what you know or don’t know, Paul says. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
     
    On this Reconciling in Christ Sunday, we among many other ELCA churches celebrate our commitment to welcome LGBTQIA+ people as they are: beloved children of God. And I think of how much debate, division, and damage has happened — and still happens even in Christian community — as people have debated and continue to debate the rightness, beloved-ness, and even the existence of people different from ourselves. Like Mr. Jesse said, welcome can be hard, right?
     
    But carried to an extreme, this desire to be right and pure has led to unspeakable tragedy. This week, we also honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when arguments of white, Christian, Eurocentric superiority were used to justify horrors that are almost unimaginable, including the death of over 600,000 Jewish people and many others who didn’t quite fit the mold. The evil behind this violence is still pervasive today, in the sins of racism, anti-LGBTQIA violence, anti-Semitism, and other ideologies that oppress, bind, and kill children of God.
     
    Paul seems to cut through all the confusion over what is right and wrong, who is in and out, and all the evil that can ensnare us, and offer Christ as our guide. Love for neighbor and the love of God, Paul tells us, is our authority.
     
    I had the opportunity this week to listen to a webinar called “Responding to Christian Nationalism,” in which our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Bishop Michael Curry, participated. What stood out to me from both of their sharing was two points: among all of the possible voices we can listen to, all of the beliefs we can hold, of all the ideologies we can trust, as Christians we are called first and foremost to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth. And in doing so, we are called to love and serve others without distinction, as God does for us.
     
    And back to Jesus of Nazareth in the temple. Approaching the person possessed by the unclean spirit was in itself quite an unusual thing. Most others around him would have been stepping away, distancing themselves from the unclean spirit that had invaded the temple. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Instead he steps toward the unclean spirit and speaks to it, commanding it to leave the possessed person so they could be free again. Rather than aligning himself with the authority and rules of the temple, Jesus embodies the authority of God’s heart in love and service to one in need. And the people took notice. They saw and felt the authority of God in Christ, and they were amazed!
     
    As we live our sometimes “Groundhog-Day-ish” pandemic lives, Christ is still among us. Jesus of Nazareth is calling us to follow him, and embody the authority not of knowledge but of the love of God in Christ. This is not easy — just when we think we've achieved this goal, we'll stumble again, and we'll need to hear one more time Jesus’ call to repentance, and Paul’s direction to let go of the knowledge that puffs up and allow love to build up the people of God again. Like Mr. Jesse said, belonging can be hard. Welcome can be hard. But this is what Christ calls us to.
     
    In a few minutes we'll have our Annual Meeting, a time to celebrate what God has been doing among us in the last year, and ask guidance from God for the year to come. So how have you been amazed by the Spirit of God at work among us? As our Council has spent time envisioning where God is calling us, we invite you to join us in pondering: how is God calling us in this next year to welcome and to serve?
     
    Jesus of Nazareth is calling us, inviting us to bring God’s love to our communities and the world. That amazing call is the only authority that we need.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, RIC, Jesse Helton