Dec 24, 2021
God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
Series: (All)
December 24, 2021. On this Christmas Eve, Pastor Meagan's message is on how Jesus in all his humanity comes to us, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
 
Readings: Luke 2:1-20
 
*** Transcript ***
 
All Advent, we have been waiting and watching for Christmas to come. We've been listening to the messages of hope that have come to us through so many voices this season, letting us know of God’s promises to all people and all creation. And now, Christmas Eve has finally arrived, and we celebrate one more time the coming of God into the world in Jesus.
 
Throughout all of humanity’s story, our story, as revealed in our scriptures, we hear over and over how we've been in relationship with God. God has come to us and spoken with us, made promises to us, and we've made promises to God. And over and over, humanity has fallen short. We have not loved and trusted the God who formed and loves us so well, we've not shown each other God’s love the way God created us to do. And we humans haven’t always lived up to God’s call for us, and we've revealed ourselves to be, as Luther says, not fully saint, not perfect, but both saint and sinner.
 
There are those moments in scripture — like Noah and the ark, and the Israelites in the desert, and Lot and his family — where it seems God has given up on us. And at the last minute, always, something or someone changes God’s mind, convinces God to give us another chance.
 
Often, we might think of Jesus’s coming as God’s final, last-ditch effort to save humanity, redeeming that which sometimes seems irredeemable... somehow emphasizing the brokenness of our humanity as compared with the divinity of God. This evening, as we come together to celebrate the coming of God in Christ, recognize the dawn of hope into our world in Jesus, there is another message that we can see in this most important story of our faith, and humanity’s place among God’s beloved creation.
 
There are so many ways God could have come to us. Look at all the ways God showed up before this. A voice in a burning bush. A whisper in wind. Angels, over and over. A pillar of fire, and cloud. In the psalms, God moves mountains and shakes the earth. I could go on. And certainly the God who has come to us in so many ways could have come to us like this again, showing up in a way that illustrates a distinction between God and humans.
 
But God didn’t do that when they came in Jesus. Of all the ways that God could have chosen to come into our world and reveal the love they have for us, in Jesus they chose to become one of us. A human being, flesh and blood. God embodied all of the love, mercy, and joy they have for creation and for us in this tiny little human baby.
 
The most amazing thing about Christ’s coming is that it shows us that God has not given up on us, after all. The promises of God are not beyond us. In Christ, God has shown us that human beings, along with the earth and sky and trees and water and the fellow creatures with whom we live on this planet, are God’s beloved creation so much so that God chose to become human to reveal God's self to us.
 
God has not given up on us. God came to us in Jesus, and because of that, we know God’s love for us endures no matter how much we might stumble. We know that, in all of our struggles, joys, pains, hopes, grief, and love, we have never been alone, and never will be. In Christ, God understands our human experience, claims us as part of God's beloved creation, and walks alongside us every step we take. Human and divine are not so separate as we might think. God is intimately connected to all of creation, and because Jesus came to us, we know that includes us humans, too.
 
And just in case we might think that God came for some and not for all, look at our gospel today tells a different story. As so often happens, when it came time to let people know that Jesus was born, the angels first brought the joyous news to the shepherds, not the emperor. It was those caring for their sheep in the fields, unseen by most, uncounted by the emperor’s census, who were among the first to hear the incredible news of just how much God loves us.
 
Jesus came to embody God’s love for all of us human creatures. And in the birth, life, and death and resurrection of Christ, we know that we are called to do the same. We can’t love and serve perfectly on our own — we are saint and sinner after all — but we followers of Christ are called to be transformed by the Spirit, to let God love others through us when we can’t do it ourselves. Jesus, in all his humanity, comes to us in this moment, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
 
Fellow beloved human children of God, this is the promise of Jesus. Just when we feel the most alone, the most unworthy, the most irredeemable, just when the world around us seems to have crossed over that tipping point and is as hopeless as the world before the flood, God breaks in. Right into the beauty and the brokenness, God shows up in Jesus to make sure we know the truth, and everything changes as we enter into this promise. Hope dawns. God’s love persists. God hasn’t given up with us yet, and never will. And that is truly good news.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 2:1-20
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Dec 24, 2021God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
    Dec 24, 2021
    God Hasn’t Given Up on Us Yet
    Series: (All)
    December 24, 2021. On this Christmas Eve, Pastor Meagan's message is on how Jesus in all his humanity comes to us, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
     
    Readings: Luke 2:1-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    All Advent, we have been waiting and watching for Christmas to come. We've been listening to the messages of hope that have come to us through so many voices this season, letting us know of God’s promises to all people and all creation. And now, Christmas Eve has finally arrived, and we celebrate one more time the coming of God into the world in Jesus.
     
    Throughout all of humanity’s story, our story, as revealed in our scriptures, we hear over and over how we've been in relationship with God. God has come to us and spoken with us, made promises to us, and we've made promises to God. And over and over, humanity has fallen short. We have not loved and trusted the God who formed and loves us so well, we've not shown each other God’s love the way God created us to do. And we humans haven’t always lived up to God’s call for us, and we've revealed ourselves to be, as Luther says, not fully saint, not perfect, but both saint and sinner.
     
    There are those moments in scripture — like Noah and the ark, and the Israelites in the desert, and Lot and his family — where it seems God has given up on us. And at the last minute, always, something or someone changes God’s mind, convinces God to give us another chance.
     
    Often, we might think of Jesus’s coming as God’s final, last-ditch effort to save humanity, redeeming that which sometimes seems irredeemable... somehow emphasizing the brokenness of our humanity as compared with the divinity of God. This evening, as we come together to celebrate the coming of God in Christ, recognize the dawn of hope into our world in Jesus, there is another message that we can see in this most important story of our faith, and humanity’s place among God’s beloved creation.
     
    There are so many ways God could have come to us. Look at all the ways God showed up before this. A voice in a burning bush. A whisper in wind. Angels, over and over. A pillar of fire, and cloud. In the psalms, God moves mountains and shakes the earth. I could go on. And certainly the God who has come to us in so many ways could have come to us like this again, showing up in a way that illustrates a distinction between God and humans.
     
    But God didn’t do that when they came in Jesus. Of all the ways that God could have chosen to come into our world and reveal the love they have for us, in Jesus they chose to become one of us. A human being, flesh and blood. God embodied all of the love, mercy, and joy they have for creation and for us in this tiny little human baby.
     
    The most amazing thing about Christ’s coming is that it shows us that God has not given up on us, after all. The promises of God are not beyond us. In Christ, God has shown us that human beings, along with the earth and sky and trees and water and the fellow creatures with whom we live on this planet, are God’s beloved creation so much so that God chose to become human to reveal God's self to us.
     
    God has not given up on us. God came to us in Jesus, and because of that, we know God’s love for us endures no matter how much we might stumble. We know that, in all of our struggles, joys, pains, hopes, grief, and love, we have never been alone, and never will be. In Christ, God understands our human experience, claims us as part of God's beloved creation, and walks alongside us every step we take. Human and divine are not so separate as we might think. God is intimately connected to all of creation, and because Jesus came to us, we know that includes us humans, too.
     
    And just in case we might think that God came for some and not for all, look at our gospel today tells a different story. As so often happens, when it came time to let people know that Jesus was born, the angels first brought the joyous news to the shepherds, not the emperor. It was those caring for their sheep in the fields, unseen by most, uncounted by the emperor’s census, who were among the first to hear the incredible news of just how much God loves us.
     
    Jesus came to embody God’s love for all of us human creatures. And in the birth, life, and death and resurrection of Christ, we know that we are called to do the same. We can’t love and serve perfectly on our own — we are saint and sinner after all — but we followers of Christ are called to be transformed by the Spirit, to let God love others through us when we can’t do it ourselves. Jesus, in all his humanity, comes to us in this moment, so that we might begin to let God love us when loving ourselves feels impossible.
     
    Fellow beloved human children of God, this is the promise of Jesus. Just when we feel the most alone, the most unworthy, the most irredeemable, just when the world around us seems to have crossed over that tipping point and is as hopeless as the world before the flood, God breaks in. Right into the beauty and the brokenness, God shows up in Jesus to make sure we know the truth, and everything changes as we enter into this promise. Hope dawns. God’s love persists. God hasn’t given up with us yet, and never will. And that is truly good news.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 2:1-20
  • Dec 5, 2021Unlikely Messenger, Unexpected Message of Hope
    Dec 5, 2021
    Unlikely Messenger, Unexpected Message of Hope
    Series: (All)
    December 5, 2021. God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry the unexpected message of hope. This Advent season, we continue the journey of transformative hope together, listening to God’s messengers and watching for signs of the Spirit.
     
    Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I remember so well, when we had just bought a house and I was tending a yard of perennials, and that feeling that came when the snow first melted and revealed… death. Brown grass. Dry branches. Barren earth. The mucky, thick residue of the final onslaught of leaves that we didn’t quite have time to pick up before the snow buried them in December. I was convinced that nothing had survived, that everything had died and would never come back. It seemed like a hopeless mess. But I was advised to wait, and watch to see what would happen, before digging everything up and starting over.
     
    There are many things that we wait for. We wait in line at the grocery store. We wait for COVID to be over. We wait for our friends or family to arrive. We wait for test results. We wait for the rain to stop. So many feelings can go along with the waiting. Fear. Joy. Anxiety. Curiosity. Impatience. Hope.
     
    This Advent season, as we await the coming of Christ, we reflect on those who waited, 2,000 years ago, for Jesus to come. Each of them longed for the mysterious Spirit of God that would reveal itself in the world in a whole new way in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Simeon and Anna prophetically proclaimed the coming of the creator of the universe in this tiny, vulnerable, little baby. They knew, and sang for all of creation, the promise that Christ’s presence on earth would transform this world.
     
    In our gospel today, we are told of John the Baptist, one of the most well-known messengers of hope, who heralded Jesus’ birth. Luke goes to a great deal of effort to set the scene for John the Baptist’s arrival. Our evangelist names not just where John lives and who his father is, but no fewer than seven leaders who held significant power at the time, from the emperor to the high priests. The way Luke describes it, one can envision the Spirit moving among the people, traveling in and around palaces and temples, looking for the just right person to bear the great message of hope, and ultimately choosing not Tiberius, or Pontius Pilate, or Herod, or Phillip, or Lysanias, or Annas, or Caiaphas, in their seats of power, but John the Baptist, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.
     
    The Spirit of God, we are told clearly in Luke, and throughout all of scriptures, does not seek empire and power, as humans often to do, but blows where she will, often finding her home in the margins. As God so often does, God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry that message of hope. God chose David — the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons — to be king. Moses, a murderer living in exile from his people who described himself as unable to speak, was called to speak to Pharoah and help the Israelites follow God’s lead to freedom in a new land. The angel came to Mary, an unknown, unmarried, poor, teenage girl, to bring her news that she was to be the mother of Jesus, God’s son. And when it was time for the word to be spread that God’s promise was coming true right in the middle of all of this history, the Spirit chose John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was living in the wilderness, wearing skins, and eating locusts and honey, to be the messenger.
     
    God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry a message of hope that is, in its own right, quite unexpected. Hope does not promise the power of empire, government, wealth, and fame, but the power of the Spirit that continually calls us to justice, freedom, and transformative love that reaches to every corner of creation. Malachi describes God’s coming as a refiner’s fire that prepares us to offer all that we are to the God of creation. Paul writes to the Philippians of his prayer that God will lead them to overflow with love in Christ. God will, Paul declares, finish the work in them that has only begun. John cries out in the desert a message not of quick and easy prosperity, but of the faithfulness of the God who calls us to repent, to turn, to grow ever closer to them.
     
    God seems to delight in seeking out the most unlikely of messengers to carry the unexpected message of hope. This Advent season, we continue the journey of transformative hope together, listening to God’s messengers and watching for signs of the Spirit, as the Israelites and early followers of Christ and the generations of people of faith have done since the beginning of time.
     
    We followers of Christ are called not because we are perfect, powerful, strong, brilliant in speech, popular or famous, but because we are beloved children of the God who formed us in the womb and knows us better than we know ourselves. We are invited, as Malachi says, to enter as a people of hope into the refiner’s fire; as John the Baptist says, to turn again and again to the God of all mercy and love; as Paul says, to let God’s love overflow in us as God faithfully completes the work in us that has only just begun.
     
    Today, we claim this hope as we remember the promises of God revealed in our own baptisms, and celebrate today the love and promises of God who formed Hank Borden in the womb and gave him life. God is alive and at work among us, and today we baptize Hank to proclaim out loud in community that God’s faithfulness endures and God’s love is boundless.
     
    Our scriptures tell us that, just as new, green growth finally and faithfully emerges from cold earth every spring, even in my dead yard, God’s Spirit will not fail to carry the promise even to the wilderness places in our lives. Today and every day, we are called to turn to God, overflow with love, and join the prophets of our history as messengers of hope in our world today.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6, COVID-19, coronavirus, Hank Borden, baptism
  • Nov 21, 2021Hope for Thanksgiving
    Nov 21, 2021
    Hope for Thanksgiving
    Series: (All)
    November 21, 2021. As Thanksgiving is upon us, guest preacher Rachel Helton asks us to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives, and open to receiving the things that we need, and generous with our possessions, our bread, our time, our commitment to justice, our willingness to extend mercy and compassion, and our desire to be Christ in the world to one another, in order to experience the fullness of the reign of God.
     
    Reading: John 18:33-37
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Won't you pray with me? Holy God, may the words that I speak and the ponderings of our hearts be full of grace and be pleasing to you. Amen.
     
    Some of you may know that I’m currently interning as a chaplain at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. And this week is Heritage Week for all of the SSM hospitals and ministries, where we are encouraged to remember and reflect upon the legacy and mission of the Sisters of St. Mary. A group of five German nuns, led by Sister Odilia, arrived in St. Louis in 1872 with the mission of revealing the healing presence of God through service to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of others.
     
    So Thursday morning as I entered the hospital I was greeted with a loaf of bread. And I thought that's interesting, but I'll take it. And it was accompanied with this card, which I will read to you:
     
    The Legend of the Loaf of Bread: One day a man came to the convent door asking for food. The sister in charge of the kitchen went to Mother Odilia for help. So picture this, back in the 1870s, this man is coming, asking for help. There was but one loaf of bread in the house. Was she to refuse the appeal of the man, or deprive the sisters? Without hesitation, Mother Odilia said, “Give the man what he asks, sister. The Lord will provide for us.” Only half-convinced, the sister obeyed and gave away the loaf of bread.
     
    Some hours later, a child was sent by her mother to deliver a pan of freshly baked rolls to the sisters. When the child arrived at the convent she was greeted with, “The Lord has come. You are the Lord today, little one!” Greatly surprised, the child was told the meaning of the spontaneous exclamation. And so is the legend of the loaf of bread.
     
    This Sunday we come to the close of our church year and we find ourselves at a crux between the season after Pentecost and the season of Advent. In that space between the seasons of celebrating the work of the Spirit in the world and the season of expectation for Emanuel, God with us, and we find ourselves at Christ the King Sunday, pondering what it means to call Jesus “king” and what it means to participate in the kingdom or the reign of God.
     
    Our gospel reading for today takes us not to Jesus transfigured and shining in glory or Jesus ascending into the clouds, but to Jesus on trial before Pilate. On Christ the King Sunday, we take a good hard look at what it means to have a king who is on trial, a king who will be mocked and crucified. And those around him are mocked too, for putting their hope in something beyond the Roman Empire.
     
    When Pilate asks Jesus the first time, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “We’re not even talking about the same thing here.” Last week, we heard about the disciples and Jesus who were both looking at the temple, but seeing different things. And the destruction of the temple was the revealing, or the uncovering, of the truth about God’s presence and God's love. So too, the kingdom of God is completely unrecognizable to Pilate’s understanding of kingship as power and privilege. It's the dismantling of earthly kingdoms and hierarchies that uncovers the full experience of the kingdom of God. Jesus, who cannot be defined and confined by time and space, represents a kingdom that cannot be defined by these measures either.
     
    When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world,” he is not saying that he doesn’t belong here or that his kingdom is somewhere off in the clouds or out in the future. Rather, he is completely redefining the whole idea of kingship. This kingdom, which is both now and not yet, is witnessed in the sharing of a loaf of bread now, and in the not yet reality that there are still those who are hungry.
     
    Jesus is saying that unlike earthly kingdoms which find their security in the power they are able to hold over others, the kingdom of God is grounded in the promise of hope and peace and justice and belonging, promises that are rooted in relationship with a God who was, and is, and is to come, the alpha and omega, the all-encompassing, the ever-present. And we are invited into that relationship, we are invited to participate in the work of the kingdom right now, not out of obligation or subjugation, not because we are forced to by a dictator king, but because it is through reliance on one another, and ultimately reliance on God, that we experience God’s reign and have hope for the full restoration of creation.
     
    When Jesus is asked a second time by Pilate, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Earlier in the Gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus says, “I am the way, the life, and the truth.” And in John 8, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Being in relationship with Christ brings us into relationship with the truth; we belong to the truth — the truth that we are beloved and set free to do justice, to love kindness, to share our bread, knowing that God has already provided enough for all, if only we are willing to share it.
     
    Jesus in his full humanity invites us to embrace our full humanity as we bear witness to the truth of the kingdom where all are fed, where all get what they need rather than what they deserve, where all are welcome, where peace and justice are established, and where love is always the final word.
     
    In closing, I want to share with you the words of a hymn from the new “All Creation Sings” hymnal. It's hymn 1062 and the tune is a French carol that you might recognize from “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I won't sing but I'll hum it at least so you can think of how this would sound. People are nodding. They're recognizing that tune. So the words really speak to me about the vision of God’s kingdom.
     
    1. Build a longer table, not a higher wall, feeding those who hunger, making room for all. Feasting together, stranger turns to friend, Christ breaks walls to pieces; false divisions end.
     
    2. Build a safer refuge, not a larger jail; where the weak find shelter, mercy will not fail. For any place where justice is denied, Christ will breach the jail wall, freeing all inside.
     
    3. Build a broader doorway, not a longer fence. Love protects all people, sparing no expense. When we embrace compassion more than fear, Christ tears down our fences: all are welcome here.
     
    4. When we lived as exiles, refugees abroad, Christ became our doorway to the reign of God. So must our tables welcome those who roam. None can be excluded; all must find a home.
     
    As Thanksgiving is upon us, I hope that we can be thankful for all the blessings in our lives, and open to receiving the things that we need, and generous with our possessions, our bread, our time, our commitment to justice, our willingness to extend mercy and compassion, and our desire to be Christ in the world to one another, in order to experience the fullness of the reign of God.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Rachel Helton, John 18:33-37, Build a Longer Table, David Bjorlin, ACS supplement
  • Nov 14, 2021A Better Source
    Nov 14, 2021
    A Better Source
    Series: (All)
    November 14, 2021. Christ reminds his disciples in their day and us in ours that whatever news may come, important truths about ourselves and the faithfulness of God are being unveiled, and there is always a better source.
     
    Readings: Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The news can be overwhelming sometimes, can’t it? In our communities, and around the world, there is so much that is painful, violent, and destructive. All you have to do is look at the news each day to see it: political upheaval, hunger, challenges in employment (both for employers and workers), illness and death from COVID, the impact of climate change, the list goes on and on. Sometimes it feels like there's no reason for hope.
     
    And more than ever before, it seems, what we hear about the events of our world depends greatly on the source. Just think about the difference in how the Minnesota and Missouri news presented the results of the 1987 World Series when the Twins beat the Cardinals!
     
    And in the last few years, with so much misinformation and even intentional disinformation flooding our media, it has gotten more and more difficult to see things clearly, hasn’t it? I would almost not be surprised to see stories, with pictures included, describing the beauty of the grass coming back in the spring in glorious shades of pink, with comments back and forth arguing “all sides of the issue.” And yet there is so much happening that is far more serious, and profound, than colored grass, clamoring for our attention, and as many perspectives on them as there are people in this world.
     
    This is a very human thing, and in our gospel today the disciples and Jesus are seeing the same thing with very different eyes, as theologian and author Debie Thomas points out in her 2018 reflection on this text in her blog Journey with Jesus. She writes:
     
    "Dazzled by the architectural majesty surrounding them, one of the disciples asks Jesus to notice something in return: 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!' . . . . But Jesus isn’t dazzled. Instead, he responds to the disciple’s remark with a question: 'Do you see these great buildings?' Why does Jesus ask the disciple if he can see what the disciple has just asked Jesus to see? Aren’t the two of them seeing the same thing? Well, no. They’re not. They are not seeing the same thing at all.
     
    "What the disciple sees is a large architectural marvel, yes, but it’s also the biggest, boldest, and most unshakeable symbol of God’s presence that he can imagine. . . . But what does Jesus see? He sees ruins. Rubble. Destruction. Fragility, not permanence. Loss, not glory. Change, not stasis. 'Not one stone will be left upon another,' Jesus tells the stunned disciple. 'All will be thrown down.' ” — Debie Thomas
     
    This gospel today, and our other readings as well, contain a lot of apocalyptic imagery. It feels depressing, full of destruction, hopelessness, even despair. And the same can be said of the events of our world sometimes, as what has been falls away, and we can’t yet see what is coming. It’s hard to find our way to hope when things that seemed as solid as stone walls are bound to come down. There are moments these days, sometimes more than moments if we're honest about it, when we feel we are living through an apocalypse of sorts.
     
    Thomas goes on to reflect on apocalypse, bringing a different perspective to this conversation, and our scripture. Debie Thomas writes:
     
    "But in fact, 'apocalypse' means something quite different. An apocalypse is an unveiling. [Or, to use American author and social activist Adrienne Maree Brown’s words, an uncovering.] In 2016, in the midst of racial unrest, she wrote, 'Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.'  
     
    "In this sense, what Jesus offers his disciples is an apocalyptic vision. He invites them to look beyond the grandeur of the temple, and recognize that God will not suffer domestication. The temple is not the epicenter of his salvific work; God is not bound by mortar and stone. God exceeds every edifice, every institution, every mission statement, every strategic plan, and every symbol human beings create in God's name. Moreover, God is not enslaved to superlatives; we’re the ones easily seduced by the newest, the biggest, the shiniest. 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!' " — Debie Thomas
     
    So how are we called to think and live, about the times we are in right now? The “fallings apart” and the “lettings go” that are part of this and every age are endings, and the grief is real. And, the life and the new thing that is being uncovered, the movement of the Spirit in our world right here and right now, is also very real.
     
    Hebrews was written in about 63 AD, just a few years before the temple in Jerusalem literally came down, stone off of stone, at the hands of the Roman occupiers who sought to quell the movement of the Spirit among the people. Perhaps even more interestingly, the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus tells his disciples that the buildings they are admiring will come down was written in about 70 AD, as the dust of that unthinkable destruction was settling.
     
    So Jesus’ words today in the gospel about stone coming down from stone is not theoretical. The author of Hebrews and their readers were living in the days leading up to the greatest apocalypse they could imagine. Mark’s audience was surrounded by the rubble.
     
    The good news is that nothing happening in our day comes as a surprise to God, and we have the inspired words of people of faith who came before us to guide us in our time. The author of Hebrews counsels the people to not neglect meeting with one another, encouraging one another. It has been hard to do this for the last two years, hasn’t it? In many ways we have failed in the midst of the challenges of COVID, and in many ways we have done that fabulously. In these times that can still feel somewhat apocalyptic as we journey between what has been and what will be, we are invited to recommit ourselves to being the church to one another and the community in which we live in new ways.
     
    The news may tell us something of what is happening, but if we are looking for a Spirit-led perspective on our world and our call in it, our source for truth and hope of the events of our day, Jesus is always the better source. It is Christ who raises Lazarus from the tomb to show us that death is not the final word. It is the one who proclaims that no stone will be left on another who points us to the work of the Spirit that won’t be contained by walls and buildings.
     
    If we take to heart the words of Christ and Hebrews, and seek the better source, we remember that Jesus promised that truth would set us free, not bind us. We will notice, amidst the illness and death and selfishness and fear of COVID, the Spirit alive in how we have cared for one another, witnessed people investing all that they have to develop treatments and preventions that didn’t seem possible. The reality of climate change shows some of the worst that humans can do, and reveals humanity at its best choosing to live well in God’s creation. The visibility of racism and other oppression demonstrates the ugliness of our human condition, and unveils the movement of the Spirit toward honesty, healing, and justice for all people.
     
    Apocalypse, we learn from our scriptures today, is about destruction and endings, but is much more so about the Spirit of God all around us that cannot be destroyed. Christ reminds his disciples in their day and us in ours that whatever news may come, important truths about ourselves and the faithfulness of God are being unveiled, and there is always a better source.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus, Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus
  • Nov 7, 2021The Promises of God Prevail
    Nov 7, 2021
    The Promises of God Prevail
    Series: (All)
    November 7, 2021. On this All Saints Day, in this sacred space, grief and hope intertwine as we acknowledge death and new life together in this community.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Death and grief is something that we often don’t want to talk about. At times, in fact, we will go to lengths to avoid talking about it. But on All Saint’s Day, we come together intentionally to remember those who have gone before us. We name the losses we have experienced, especially remembering those who have died whose lives have impacted our own. Today is a day for remembering those we have lost, and celebrating again the promises of our baptisms — the radical love of God who formed us in the womb, forgives our sins, and gives us life that endures beyond death. And so, we opened worship today by blessing water with the word of God — the waters of baptism with which we celebrate and recognize these promises.
     
    Our readings today tell us that we don’t need to be afraid to acknowledge the realities of death that are an integral part of our human existence. Isaiah tells the people who are facing the grief and pain of exile and death that, in the midst of the very real tears, God is present, and God will wipe away the tears and remove the shrouds. Revelation speaks of the new heaven and earth that are promised — on the other side of death.
     
    And in our gospel from John, Jesus has the courage to face the harsh realities of death. He arrives at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to find that Lazarus has been dead for four days. Jesus goes to the place where Lazarus was buried, in a cave sealed with a stone.
     
    John tells us that Jesus was greatly disturbed and moved, and Jesus weeps, sharing the grief that is felt by Lazarus’ sisters and the rest who loved him. And then, he asks to have the stone rolled away from the tomb. The others protest, saying that the body will smell horribly, now that he has been dead for four days. But Jesus is not afraid to face even the most unpleasant and final details of death. Even the stench of death does not deter him, John tells us.
     
    Today, we face the mortality of our human existence. We remember those we love who have died. We acknowledge our grief and our loss. We celebrate the love and joy of the time we shared with those we loved who have died. And we claim once again the promises of God that were celebrated on the days of their baptisms, and trust that Isaiah, and Revelation, and the Gospel of John in their claims are true: death will never be the final word. We remember the enduring promises of God for each and every one of those who have died, especially those we will name today.
     
    And then we will turn, as all the prophets and Jesus did, to new life. We will wait on God, who wipes away tears and removes shrouds. We wait on God, who will make all things new. We stand at the tomb with Jesus as Lazarus wakes from death and comes out, alive once more. We join with the community around Lazarus, as Jesus invites us to remove the shrouds binding his arms and legs. We experience with all of our senses the truth that death will never be the final word. Our life on this earth is finite and our bodies will pass away, but in Christ this is not the end of the story. God does not abandon God’s people. Though death will come, God’s promises of life will always prevail.
     
    Life will always prevail, and new life is coming. It is so appropriate that on this All Saint’s Day, we celebrate again the promises of God with the baptism of Jack Jordan. One more time, the water and the Word of God come together as we witness the grace of God’s love and forgiveness for each and every one of us, and especially today for Jack.
     
    This morning, in this sacred space, grief and hope intertwine, as we acknowledge death and new life together in this community. God is present, and always has been, from the beginning of time, from the first breath of our lives to the last, to the end of time when all will be transformed and made new. The promises of our baptisms hold true, even to death.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44, Jackson Jordan, baptism
  • Oct 31, 2021Always Reforming: God Hasn’t Given Up Yet!
    Oct 31, 2021
    Always Reforming: God Hasn’t Given Up Yet!
    Series: (All)
    October 31, 2021. Today's sermon is about how we can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, and convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. We forget that it's not just about us, but about God, our fellow children of God, and the world God created that we are called to care for.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8:31-36
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Just a few weeks ago, we heard again the story of creation from Genesis. We were reminded that we are created by God, like a potter who molds and shapes the clay with their hands to get just the right unique shape, like a painter who mixes color to get just the right unique shade, who then breathes Spirit into us, giving us life with their very breath. Creator God then invites us into her creative work, to name our fellow creatures, to care for the earth on which all of us are born and live and breathe and work and rest and are fed with food and beauty.
     
    We all know what happens next. We humans forgot we were God’s beloved creation, tried to be something else, tried to be God. And God came to find us, reminded us of what we’d forgotten, and for the first time and not the last. With divine compassion, God gave us clothes to cover our shame. God sent us out with work to do, and a promise that the story was not over yet. God had not yet given up on us.
     
    In today’s reading from Jeremiah, the relationship between us and the creator continues. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the God who shapes us and breathes life into us and invites us into creation promises to write the law of love on our hearts. The greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, has been etched into the heart that pumps lifeblood to every cell of our body. God’s promise of love for all of us, God’s people, and our call to love God and our neighbor, has been coded in our very DNA. God has not yet given up on us.
     
    And we know what happened next. Again, God’s people forgot who they were. They forgot that they were intimately connected with the God who created them. They forgot that they were intimately connected with their fellow humans, and the created world around them. They forgot their call to care for creation, to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable among them. And so it goes, for generations.
     
    Some 2000 years ago, we hear in our gospel from John today, Jesus tells his disciples that God has still not given up on us. We will know the truth, Jesus tells his disciples and us, and the truth will set us free. Jesus’ disciples protest, claiming they are already free and always have been. Jesus’ followers are confused, in that moment not realizing they aren’t free yet.
     
    Jesus’ reply to his disciples is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” On this Reformation Sunday, it is appropriate to remember that, as our founder Martin Luther taught, we are all both sinners and saints. All of us are God’s beloved people, created by God. And at times we, like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, and the disciples, forget that we need God. We get comfortable, and forget what our true relationship with God is. We forget that God has written love, and grace, and trust on our hearts. We forget we're part of God’s larger creation. We are all trapped, Jesus tells us, in our own sin and brokenness.
     
    Fish who have lived in a bowl or an aquarium, when set free in expansive waters, will often stay in a space the size of their former habitat, not realizing that they're free to swim further — perhaps afraid to go beyond the limits they have been accustomed to. At times, we do the same thing, don’t we? Just like the fish, we often hold ourselves in captivity.
     
    We are free in one sense, but at a much deeper level, we are all slaves to our own brokenness. We can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. We forget that it's not just about us, but about God, our fellow children of God, and the world God created that we are called to care for. We are trapped by the ways we trust ourselves and forget about God. Like the disciples, we may not even realize it.
     
    Jesus promised the disciples that the truth would set them free. God has not yet given up on us. And 1500 years later, some 500 years ago, Martin Luther spent many years of his life struggling to earn the love of God, prove himself worthy of being called a child of God. Luther found himself trapped, and he could never get there. He finally hit a point of exhaustion, and realized the truth that Jesus was trying to share with his disciples. He was already free, not by his own efforts, but by the grace of God who had formed him out of clay.
     
    The freedom Luther discovered led him to take a stand that had significant consequences, and led to earth-shaking changes in the church over the centuries since. Luther came to know the truth of who he was as a child of God, and sought to bring this freedom to the church he loved.
     
    Luther claimed the freedom of God and called the church to change in the 95 Theses he posted on the doors of the Wittenberg Church, over half a millennium ago. The message he brought was so radical that leaders of his day eventually excommunicated him from the church, and even sought to kill him. We are freed from the legalistic following of the rules for the sake of the rules — we will never be perfect. We are freed to be transformed — reformed — by the Spirit of God within us, the law of love that has been written on our hearts. We are freed not to run riot, or sin without consequence, but freed to serve God and neighbor. We are freed to stand on God’s promises because we know we can trust God.
     
    500 years later, we are still trapped in our own sin. And that isn’t a surprise, really. Even Luther, as he would freely admit, was sinner as well as saint. Alongside the many wonderful things that Luther wrote and taught, we are challenged still today to counter the blatant and unapologetic anti-Semitism that still echoes.
     
    We are still trapped in our own sin. We like things we can depend on, things we can put our hands on, things we can count on, things that endure in a temporal sort of way that we can be comfortable with. We have lost so much of that in the last two years, haven’t we? We easily forget the truth of who we are as children of God, and our connectedness and responsibility to God and the rest of creation.
     
    And 500 years later, we are still called to the freedom of God that Jesus proclaimed, and that Luther claimed in the 95 Theses. When we trust God, we can be freed to follow the Spirit to new places, and try new things, like our Holy Experiment with Saturday night Worship, the potential sale of the Mead Center and the renovation of our church building, the exploration of new community partnerships our Christian Service Committee is leading. We welcome old friends and new neighbors, in all the ways we can. We celebrate the Spirit at work through each one of us, as we follow the Spirit’s call to welcome and to serve — and today we especially celebrate the Spirit at work in Jon Heerboth, who this summer completed the Parish Ministry Associate program.
     
    We still don’t know where we’re going in so many ways, which can be scary sometimes. But we know from our scriptures today that the God who molded, shaped, and breathed life into us is still with us today, writing the law of love on our hearts over and over. No matter how many times we mess up, God provide us with clothes, and food, frees us to be our better selves, and sends us out into creation with work to do and love to share. God still hasn't given up on us yet, and never will.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 8: 31-36
  • Oct 24, 2021Sozo
    Oct 24, 2021
    Sozo
    Series: (All)
    October 24, 2021. Jon Heerboth preaches today on Jesus healing the blind man in Mark 10, the Greek word "sozo," and how we can be tempted to try and find our place in the story.
     
    Reading: Mark 10:46-52
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    "Come bring your burdens to God. Come bring your burdens to God. Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no." That's a little hymn from the new "All Creation Sings" worship supplement that we've been looking at a little bit around here. It's from South Africa. As the earth spins on its axis every Sunday, people all around the world are reading the gospel lesson, getting together to worship and praise God, and ask God for healing and for faith to survive. It's nice to know that we join in with people all over the world as our time comes on Sunday mornings. It makes us feel like we are part of a much larger enterprise than just Christ Lutheran Church. It's fun to think about that.
     
    These words again from the gospel reading: then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "Rabbouni, my teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go, your faith has made you well." Immediately the blind man regained his sight and followed him on the way.
     
    I enjoy watching movies. I wouldn't call myself a movie buff or an expert on film by a long shot, but I can get wrapped up in a movie that has a message or an ambiguous ending. It doesn't have to be a "happily ever after" ending. But in one sense, the stories in the Bible, at least a lot of them, are like movies. Some of them have complete endings. Others of them do not. Time and time again, we read of people being healed by Jesus, never to come on these same people again. Bartimaeus, in our gospel lesson today, was a person like that. He's a good example of what I'm talking about here. Jesus healed his blindness, and Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. That's all we know — nothing more about a new life for him or what he did to serve his healer or his Lord after that.
     
    But maybe that's good. Sometimes happy ending stories can be more troublesome than open-ended ones, because they just don't seem real. That's because you and I know too many people in the community of faith, perhaps even here at Christ Lutheran Church, for whom happiness and living a whole and good life do not represent the end of their stories. The happy ending is elusive. I wonder if happy endings can sometimes make us forget that we need to rely solely upon the grace of God, or that we in the church, in this place, are really living out our lives on this side of the ultimate happy ending — in other words, eternal life in heaven. Perhaps we will see that more clearly as we take a closer look at this story of Jesus healing Bartimaeus.
     
    It's hard to miss the place of today's gospel in the timeline of Jesus' life. Between Mark's recounting of the first time Jesus healed a blind man in Bethsaida in chapter 8, and this story at the end of chapter 10, Jesus predicted his suffering and death three times; Peter confessed that Jesus is Lord; Peter, James, and John went to the mountaintop and saw Jesus transfigured; and then Jesus explained to the rich man — a man the text said Jesus loved — how he might obtain eternal life by selling all he had, giving it to the poor, and coming to follow Jesus. When the rich man heard the cost of being a follower of Jesus, he walked sadly away. Throughout Mark's gospel, Jesus is always looking for followers. But after he explained the potential cost of discipleship, even his own disciples asked how it was possible for anyone to be saved. Jesus explained that for mortals, it is impossible — but not for God. With God, nothing is impossible.
     
    So this story is sandwiched between Jesus' third passion prediction and the start of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The story of blind Bartimaeus actually stands on its own here. So Bartimaeus sits along the side of the way leading from Jericho to Jerusalem. It's about an eight-hour walk through pretty rough country, from well below sea level to well above it. As he gets wind of the fact that Jesus is about to pass by, Bartimaeus cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Bartimaeus seems to know who Jesus is, in a way that the others do not. The crowd tried to hush him, and the disciples ignored him or pretended they didn't even hear him. He was just a wayside blind beggar of no importance. And I'll bet there were many such people along the way. He continued to cry out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." And what does Jesus do? He stands still. The blind man's need and his call for help cause Jesus to stop in his tracks. Only at Jesus' command did his disciples tell the man to come and stand before Jesus. And as Mark tells it, his response was really energetic: he tossed off his cloak, probably jumped up, and almost ran to Jesus. Jesus asked Bartimaeus then, "What do you want me to do for you?" And Bartimaeus said, "Rabbi, teacher, let me see again." And Jesus said, "Go, your faith has made you well." And immediately the man recovered his sight and followed Jesus.
     
    Did you catch the irony? Look at the contrast between the way the disciples treated Jesus as opposed to this blind man. It's clear that Jesus had had a serious communication problem with James and John. They had asked him for special treatment. They could see Jesus only in terms of the value of their culture. They were blind in a spiritual sense — every bit as Bartimaeus was blind, physically. Again, the irony of it all? Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem to begin his passion and death as he continues to walk down the road. He's accompanied by a blind man who sees the way of Jesus even though they had never met before. And his seeing disciples, who were with Jesus day after day, they could not see Jesus for what he was. They were blind to everything but their own need. The same was true with the rich man. When Jesus told him he had to sell all of his land, all he had, give the money to the poor and follow him, the man was shocked, and left grieving.
     
    When I was about 11, we got a hand-me-down TV from a neighbor. I will tell you that was a big day. It barely worked, but we thought it was wonderful. And I certainly watched my share. After church and Sunday dinner, I would want to watch TV. But there was nothing on other than TV preachers and faith healers, so I watched them. Many of us probably remember those guys. They put on a pretty good show for the times. One central tenet of their spiel was that the person who needed healing had to have faith. No faith, no healing. Naturally, everyone professed faith sufficient to move mountains, and the healing, the so-called healing, proceeded for better or for worse. Do you remember those guys? They'd come up, couldn't hear too well. The guy would box the ears. Another guy would shove him in the forehead. Down they'd go, presumably healed after they took the casts off after all that. But it was quite a show, very entertaining. And I know that those guys were financially very successful, if that's what you're looking for. But it always left me wondering whether people who were blind or people with other disabilities simply lacked the faith necessary for healing.
     
    In today's lesson, Jesus told Bartimaeus that his faith had made him well. But I think we can give that philosophy a resounding no. I think that that "making him well" is an unfortunate translation of what happened to Bartimaeus. In Greek, the word is "sozo." I printed and put it here for your edification: sozo. Bartimaeus was sozoed by Jesus. That word can mean "heal" all right, but it also means "saved." When Jesus was talking about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom, the disciples asked: then who can be saved? Sozoed was the word they used. In Mark chapter 13, he who endured till the end will be saved, sozoed. In Mark 16 the one who believes and is baptized will be saved. Sozoed. Here Jesus called Bartimaeus and told him that his faith had saved him, sozoed him. Jesus saved Bartimaeus because he recognized Bartimaeus' faith, and Jesus called him. Jesus also saw his physical need and had compassion on him. He saw the uniqueness in Bartimaeus that required a special act of grace, and he gave him that grace. By his death and resurrection, Jesus does the same for us. Bartimaeus did not regain sight because of some amount of faith that he showed or anything that he did. The healing, like his and our salvation, was purely a gift of God.
     
    It's tempting to try to find our place in this story. Here we could easily imagine ourselves in the crowd around Jesus, annoyed by the needs of some of the people in our communities. I'm even tempted to suggest that we sit next to Bartimaeus and cry out for healing ourselves. Or maybe it would be better for us to sit with the gospel writer Mark and get involved in the ongoing struggle of trying with the disciples to fully understand the teaching of Jesus and the heartbreaking experience of watching his walk to the cross. Maybe that would be good. Maybe it would help us understand how we at times see others and their needs without truly seeing them as valued parts of God's creation. In other words, we allow our own concerns about ourselves to blind us to one another's needs.
     
    This miracle starts with a social outcast sitting alongside the way, and ends with a new disciple following Jesus on the way to the cross. When Jesus looked for followers, he never looked around to find the most upstanding and presentable people to tell others about him. That should be a comfort to us all. Mark includes Gentiles, Pharisees, tax collectors, sinners and now Bartimaeus, because disabilities marginalize people, too.
     
    Believe it or not, there's a happy ending to this gospel story. A blind beggar is called. He's made a model of faith and he's given sight. And then he became a follower. That's also what happens to us. God's action of love in Christ's death and resurrection calls us to faith, sozos us here at the font, gives us sight, and makes us his disciples. This new vision gives us the capacity to see others and their needs. Freed from concern about eternity, we can live out our vocations to care for all of God's creation and all of God's creatures, so that all may find Christ in their lives too. Meeting our Lord, as did Bartimaeus, changes our limited vision, opens our eyes, and starts us off following in Jesus' way.
     
    So, who among us can truly see? Who among us needs a miracle? And who among us is able to pray appropriately for that miracle to take place? Those of us still living on this side of the happily ever after follow Jesus on his and not our way. In our hymn today, we will pray for health for ourselves and our friends. We will also sing that we understand that it is sin and the brokenness of the world that is at the root of all of our collective pain. And we pray that the spiritual oneness of our Christian community will spread from us here at Christ Lutheran Church, to reach all of humankind.
     
    In the name of the father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth, Mark 10:46-52, sozo
  • Oct 17, 2021I Call Shotgun!
    Oct 17, 2021
    I Call Shotgun!
    Series: (All)
    October 17, 2021. In today’s sermon, Pastor Meagan invites us to continue to seek the will of God, not in security or honor as our egos so easily lean into, but in the ways we can uniquely serve, giving of ourselves to God, to others, and to the world.
     
    Reading: Mark 10:35-45
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The Spirit continues to blow where she will, leading us onward in our journey from what has been to what will be. And I think we just got a little taste of maybe what will be. In this week’s gospel, the disciples’ journey with Jesus continues. We hear James and John ask Jesus to assign them to the best seats in the glory to come, and I imagine people edging their way into chairs at a table — perhaps, on this day when we're celebrating Luke, and Emmy, and Anna, the communion table — everyone pushing, perhaps politely, perhaps rudely, to get the best seat, closest to their favorite food, or maybe their favorite person at the table.
     
    But also, I can’t help but go back to being the oldest sister with two younger brothers heading out to the car. Inevitably one of them would shout it out: “I call shotgun!” Has anyone else heard that phrase? I don’t know if this way of claiming the front passenger seat was a Minnesota thing, or a '70s thing, or a McLaughlin family thing, but I can tell you that I rarely got the front seat unless my parents intervened. And if the whole family was in the car together, my spot as the oldest-but-shortest of the kids was in the middle of the back, where my feet rested on the “hump” and my brothers could take turns squishing me as we went around corners. Believe me, my position in the car was less about humbly taking the “last place” than it was about losing out on the best place.
     
    So as I read this story of James and John and right places and left places this time, however, I noticed something a little beyond the fight to get the best place. For weeks now, Jesus has been trying to help the disciples understand what is coming — and it is a far cry from the image of honor that James and John are holding onto. Jesus has told them several times now that struggle, persecution, rejection, and even death is in store for the followers of Jesus, but as so often happens in Mark’s gospel, the disciples just don’t get it. James and John are picturing glory and thrones and recognition, and thinking they may get to share in that at Jesus’ right and left hand — when what is actually coming is the cross, with Jesus in the middle, one at his left and one at his right, hung not in glory, but in suffering and death.
     
    It’s no wonder the disciples don’t understand. They probably don’t want to understand. I know I wouldn’t! The disciples have spent three years following Jesus now, listening to him teach, having left behind their families, friends, source of livelihood, everything, and now Jesus is talking not about overthrowing Roman rule and righting the wrongs of occupation, but about being arrested, tortured, and murdered by the state. I imagine they are all wondering, in their own way, what really is next, and what things will look like when it’s all over. After all, they can’t keep wandering around following an itinerant preacher, depending on handouts and goodwill forever, can they?
     
    It’s not surprising that James and John got a bit stuck in their ego, trying to envision a way that this could turn out well for them. Three years in, with things seemingly falling apart and not together, James and John just want to have some sense that they are on the right path, and haven’t wasted their time, all these years. And yes, maybe they just want a little recognition for everything they’ve given up, to follow this man from Nazareth, who is now showing signs of being a bit lost. Where is that going to leave them if they can’t establish their place?
     
    In his book Let Your Life Speak, author, teacher, and student Parker Palmer shares an experience that may be similar to what James and John were going through in today’s gospel. He was teaching in Pendle Hill, and was offered the job of president at a community educational institution, and he was certain that he should take it. As a practicing Quaker, however, Palmer convened a clearness committee, a group of trusted companions with whom he could talk through the decision and discern what he was called to do.
     
    After a while of questioning and listening, one of the participants asked Palmer the question, “What would you most like about being president?” “The simplicity of the question,” Palmer says, “lowered me from my head to my heart. I remember pondering for at least a full minute before I could respond.” And when he does respond, he finds himself only able to name the things he wouldn’t like — giving up teaching, the politics and gladhanding, no summer vacation — until his companion asks him the question again.
     
    Palmer writes, “ ’Well,’ said I in the smallest voice I possess, ‘I guess what I’d like most would be getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it.’ ” As he reflects on this moment he writes, “By then it was obvious, even to me, that my desire to be president had more to do with my ego than the ecology of my life, so obvious that when the clearness committee ended, I called the school and removed my name from consideration.”
     
    James and John certainly were caught up in ego, rather than being attentive to the ecology of their lives. It is such a human thing, isn’t it? Jesus, one more time, reminds them: it’s not about being first or last, or on the left or on the right, or in the front seat of the car or in the middle with your feet on the hump. At God’s table, all the seats have the best food, the best people, the best view. At the Communion table, and in the kin-dom of heaven, there is room for everyone and no need to fight for a place to sit.
     
    As the Spirit moves on, today’s readings invite us to continue to seek the will of God, not in security or honor as our egos so easily lean into, but in the ways we can uniquely serve, giving of ourselves to God, to others, and to the world. The call to Jesus is, as it always has been, about going where the Spirit leads, embodying the love of God in the world, and serving those around us, trusting that wherever we go we will not be alone.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Mark 10:35-45, Luke Bender, Emily Bender, Anna McIntyre, Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
  • Oct 10, 2021Through the Eyes of Grace
    Oct 10, 2021
    Through the Eyes of Grace
    Series: (All)
    October 10, 2021. We may be tempted to see grace as a free pass to mess up forever, but it is so much more than that. The eyes of grace see and love us exactly as we are, and as we can be. The eyes of grace see us with love first, and know and understand our humanity.
     
    Readings: Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Imagine that you're talking to two friends about a new movie. “The trailers are really great!” one of them says. “It’s funny, it's set in New Zealand, and Nicole Kidman is in it.” The other one replies, “Well, I saw it yesterday, and it is funny, Nicole is awesome as usual, and the videography really captures New Zealand. There are some scenes that get really intense, though. It might not a good movie for kids. And be ready for a serious cry and have some Kleenex handy!” Which is most helpful, as you decide if this movie might be for you, or who you might want to see it with? It is much easier to trust someone who has actually seen the movie. They have actually experienced what you are about to experience, and you know that they know what you’ll be getting into.
     
    Our passage from Hebrews today has one of my favorite scripture verses in it: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one [Jesus] who in every respect has been tested as we have, yet without sin.” Like someone who has actually seen the movie, and cried the tears, and gripped the arm on the movie theater seat (or their companion’s hand), Jesus isn’t just guessing what our human life is like from a teaser. Jesus has been here, lived life as a human being on this earth, and because of that he knows exactly what being human is all about.
     
    This, I think, is one of the most profound things for me about knowing God in Jesus. No matter what happens to us in this life, no matter what griefs, or joys, or surprises, or frustrations, or betrayals, or redemptions we face, Jesus hasn’t simply read or heard about it. He has been through it. As a foundation for trust, you really can’t beat that.
     
    As if that isn’t enough, there is another line in our Hebrews text that might easily slip past, but is no less profound: “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness...“ For anyone who grew up hearing about God’s seat on the throne being the vantage point from which he judges who is worthy and who isn’t, who’s getting to heaven and who isn’t, this is a completely different image, isn’t it?
     
    We approach the throne of grace. We approach Jesus, who knows what our human life is like because he has experienced it for himself. Not only that, but the God who the author of Hebrews tells us knows us, not just on the surface, but right to the very marrow of our bones. In our time of need, in our greatest woundedness and vulnerability, God is waiting to offer us mercy, not judgment. And when we are genuinely seeking to follow God’s call for us, and are stumbling on selfishness or fear or the illusion that there isn’t enough to share, Jesus looks on us just like he did that rich young man. He looks on us first with eyes of love. He understands that we get stuck sometimes, and still calls us to be our better selves. He calls us to give all that we are in spite of the fear.
     
    I think sometimes we see grace as a magic eraser, a free pass to mess up forever. But grace is so much more than that. The eyes of grace see and love us exactly as we are, with all the stumbles and mistakes and resistance, and all the fears and selfishness and confusion. The eyes of grace see us exactly as we are, and as we can be. The eyes of grace see us with love first, know and understand our humanity — and because of and not in spite of that, never give up on us.
     
    On an occasion when I showed up badly at work, my boss rightfully called me out for the attitude I had brought with me. I made my amends and I did what I could to show up better, but I still was absolutely mortified and I felt that I had broken trust in a way that was going to take a long time to repair. I don’t remember today what I did, but I will never forget what my boss said to me when we talked about it later. She said that far from breaking trust, the fact that we had faced the difficulty head on and worked through it together actually built trust between us. In that moment, I felt the grace of God embodied, knowing that I was seen and accepted as I was, and trusted to be more fully the person that I could be. It was still not easy.
     
    And the disciples, hearing Jesus talk about how hard it will be to be vulnerable, how hard it will be to give everything like Jesus asked the rich young man to do, to welcome God’s kin-dom where the first are last and the last are first, they wonder how anyone can possibly measure up to this standard. The rich young man certainly felt that. Jesus tells the disciples that it will be easier for that camel to go through the eye of the needle than it will be for a rich person to get into the kin-dom of heaven. Jesus in fact tells the disciples that for us on our own, it is impossible.
     
    These are not easy words, in this world that presents so many complicated situations, so many conflicting opinions and options for how to respond to the brokenness around us and live out God’s call. Jesus’ directive to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” was too much for that young man, and at least for that moment, he left, sad. The consistent call to welcome the stranger, and Jesus telling his disciples that “the last will be first and the first will be last,” has very different implications for us when you place it squarely in the context of hundreds of people coming to our border and getting in line, fleeing violence, starvation, and death. The last shall be first, and first shall be last. Following Jesus is about letting go of excuses, taking God’s call to love seriously, and embracing the complexities of this world that we live in, even when it is impossible for us.
     
    Seeing that young man — and the disciples, and us today — with eyes of grace, Jesus reminds us all that we are not on our own. Jesus is not talking to just one of the disciples, but to all of them — and all of us — together, telling them that for us living out God’s call is impossible, but for and with God and one another, it is possible. Grace reveals itself best in relationship, between us and God, and between us and our companions on this journey.
     
    We human beings don’t always embody that kind of grace — in fact, I feel it something of a miracle when we do. But God shares our human experience without sin, without the limitations and the barriers that we as humans face. In Christ, we have a God who knows exactly what it means to be human, and always sees us with eyes of grace. It is with eyes of grace that Jesus calls us to repent from our sin, and to grow and better embody the love of God in the world. In Christ we know that with God, anything is possible.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31
  • Oct 3, 2021Bone of My Bone
    Oct 3, 2021
    Bone of My Bone
    Series: (All)
    October 3, 2021. All the creatures around us remind us that in the brokenness and sin of the world, the Spirit is still alive, and there is also unconditional love, healing, joy, and peace.
     
    Readings: Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the Bible, our sacred text that has thousands of pages, it only takes until Chapter 2 of Genesis before some very significant things happen.
     
    Just before this passage, God has breathed Spirit into Adam — that's Hebrew for earth-person,or human — to life. God formed Adam out of the earth with her hands, like a potter working with clay, and breathed into them. Think about that for a moment. Our life came to be out of God’s very breath.
     
    Right after that, still not out of Chapter 2, God knew the human she had created needed community. It is in fact why God created us, for community. And God invests creative energy — more Spirit unleashed — to bring about more life, all around the original human.
     
    And already, here in Chapter 2, God invites us into her creative work. Naming is a profound thing, isn’t it? Think about your own names for a moment. My first name, Meagan, is unique in my family. My given middle name, Catherine, connects me to my mother’s mother, an Irish Catholic doctor’s wife with an epic sense of humor. And Anne, a name I chose at Confirmation, connects me to my father’s mother, a tough-as-nails Croatian who grew up trading with her native neighbors at her father’s store in the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, and her gift for making friends of strangers and feeding anything that moved was legendary. I carry their names, Catherine and Anne, given by their parents when they were born.
     
    Parents everywhere have the joy of choosing a name for their children, and those of us with animal companions listen closely for their perfect name. I had the privilege of being present for a dear friend’s court hearing, where they chose a name that fit who they had come to understand themselves to be. And God invites Adam into this creative venture, giving Adam the responsibility for seeing, knowing, and naming the beings that are created around them.
     
    And then, God created a partner for Adam, giving them to one another so that neither would ever be alone. God gave us all to each other, in all of the ways that we humans can be together — friends, siblings, ministry partners, spouses, neighbors, parents and caregivers, colleagues in learning. God gave us to each other so that we would never have to be alone. And Adam exclaims, perhaps even singing or dancing with delight, that they and the one God created to be with them, are connected, from the flesh, right through to the very bone.
     
    All of our readings today talk about this intimate connection we have with one another, from Genesis, to our Psalm and Hebrews where we are reminded that we are responsible as people to care for all that God created. Love, care, responsibility, commitment, mutuality are held up as ideals in our relationships with God, one another, and the world around us.
     
    In Mark today, we are reminded that sometimes our human relationship fail. Sometimes human brokenness leads to abuse and other harms or dysfunctions that make it clear that remaining in contact is not healthy or even safe for ourselves or for our families. As in all things, we humans are not perfect, and the truth is there is brokenness in our relationships that may not be healed in this lifetime.
     
    And yet, the dream of God, the vision of the one who unleashed the Spirit and breathed life into us, prevails. In a culture that allowed men to wield divorce as a weapon over women, Jesus called his listeners back to the ideals of Genesis, where Adam claimed the companion God made for them not as a servant to be owned or controlled, but as “bone of my bone,” an equal partner with the same rights and responsibilities. Even when our relationships with individuals in the world end, God wants for us to experience the mutual love and intimacy they meant for us to have, with God, our fellow humans and with the creatures created in the world around us, from the very beginning.
     
    Today in this messy, complicated, broken, healing, renewing, creative world, we remember God’s vision for creation. On the eve of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we especially celebrate how this vision is revealed in the relationships we have with our beloved animal companions, with all their fur, scales, feathers, and fins. Sometimes, it seems, these relationships can be so much easier and smoother than our relationships with other humans, right? St. Francis is thought to have said, "Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this earth."
     
    We often in jest think of creation of animals as failed attempts to find a partner for Adam, but it occurs to me that there may have been a beautiful wisdom in imagining God creating animal companions for Adam first, after all. As a cat-parent myself, I know the truth of another St. Francis quote: “A cat purring on your lap is more healing than any drug in the world, as the vibrations you are receiving are of pure love and contentment.”
     
    Our human relationships are messy, and we get frustrated with ourselves for not being perfect, for not showing up as God intended us to. But today, we are invited to celebrate all that we can be, all that God created us to be. All the creatures around us remind us that in the brokenness and sin of the world, the Spirit is still alive, and there is also unconditional love, healing, joy, and peace. We learn from our pets especially that God’s vision for intimate connection is not only possible, but is embodied in the created world God gave us to live in and care for. We listen to the words of Genesis, and Hebrews, and even Mark, and know that this promise of God, like all others, will never fail.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10: 2-16