Nov 8, 2020
Are You Prepared?
Series: (All)
November 8, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on Jesus' Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and being prepared in the midst of so many long hauls.
 
Readings: Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
 
*** Transcript ***
 
I am a planner. I always have been, since birth. As a kid, I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, and when I read the Tale of the Twister, it offered a list of things to include in an “emergency preparedness kit” and I was all over it. I assembled the most complete backpack of supplies I could manage at the age of 9 — water, flashlight, batteries, granola bars, duct tape, even toothpaste. My brothers got a lot of mileage teasing me when I insisted on bringing the kit on a boat ride one day — until the lights on the boat went out, after dark. And my kit, if you recall, included a flashlight, which we were able to use to aid our way home. I have rarely felt more vindicated in my passion for preparing than in that moment.
 
This desire to plan ahead has followed me into adulthood, and when we were heading out to be with my mother-in-law in her final days in a Wisconsin hospital and weren’t sure how long we would be gone, I made a list of over 30 things to do before we left so we would be ready for an extended absence. And, I got them done in a day!
 
Part of me, when I read today’s gospel about preparing for God’s coming, immediately wants to get out a piece of paper and pen — or maybe the task list on my phone — and begin making my checklist of things to do. Fellow planners back me up on this: isn’t that what Jesus is telling us? To be prepared? To get everything ready, so that we aren’t taken by surprise when God shows up?
 
In spite of the passion I have for planning ahead and preparing, I have to admit that I find Jesus’ parable, of the wise people who planned ahead and had a good stock of oil for their lamps, and the foolish people who didn't have enough oil, a little disturbing. After all, no matter how well we prepare, we may never be fully ready for what actually happens. I don’t think any of us felt prepared for a pandemic — I certainly didn’t, and still don’t, although it’s not from lack of trying.
 
This story of the unprepared, foolish people who miss their opportunity to be with the bridegroom definitely triggers anxiety, and assuming that Jesus is the bridegroom, it leaves us with a rather unforgiving image of our God. If you have enough oil, it seems to say, you’re in. If not, you’re out. The poor, foolish bridesmaids live out the worst nightmare for a planner like me — having failed to plan well enough, they miss their chance, and they're left in the cold. And although the wise bridesmaids don’t overtly judge the foolish ones who don’t have oil, their decision not to share their oil is rather harsh. At least Matthew leaves out the often-mentioned “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that is the punishment for those who are turned away from the banquet!
 
As we look more closely, though, some interesting details are revealed that may help us to understand this parable perhaps a little better. For one thing, Jesus tells us that it wasn’t just the foolish bridesmaids who fell asleep. They all did. None of them were awake and waiting for the bridegroom when he approached. The bridesmaids, the foolish ones, weren’t any better off in that regard.
 
And then, there is the oil. The wise people had oil to spare, and the bridegroom had arrived. Was there really not enough to light all the lamps? Couldn’t they have split the oil among them, like Martin divided his cloak? They just needed enough oil to get them back to the banquet hall, after all. It seems a little selfish not to share, when the light would benefit them all in the end.
 
Theologian Debi Thomas, in her blog “Journey with Jesus,” offers an additional perspective on the oil situation. Perhaps, she suggests, the problem isn’t so much that the foolish ones didn’t have enough oil and the wise ones did but wouldn’t share, but that they all believed that having an abundance of oil was necessary in order to be allowed into the banquet hall. They all thought that the bridegroom cared more about the oil than he did about them!
 
It is, Thomas points out, a very human thing to feel like we can’t present ourselves for the banquet, or whatever challenge or opportunity is in front of us, unless we are completely prepared. The wise people, with their extra oil, probably didn’t want to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They were tired, we know, and fell asleep because it took so long for him to get there. They were probably as impatient as we were waiting for the last of those election results to come in, perhaps feeling that familiar catch of breath every time they thought they saw a glint of light in the distance the way we did when our browser recycled or we thought we saw a breaking news banner on the top of the page and thought, maybe it’s finally Nevada, or Pennsylvania, or Arizona. And then we sighed and sat back again, until the next time, and the next.
 
No, the wise people probably didn’t want to wait, but they realized that they might have to. And so, they were prepared not just for what they hoped for — the eventual coming of the bridegroom — but for what they knew might be a very long night. If they were anything like me, they probably not only had extra oil, but some food and drink and blankets as well. And so, if we set aside their selfishness for a moment, we can appreciate and learn from them the wisdom of being ready not just for what we hope for, but for the very long wait and journey that it will take to get there.
 
We are in the midst of so many long hauls, family of faith. The pandemic, with its treatments and eventual vaccine that we know so many people are working so hard on, but it still seems like it's taking far too long, certainly much longer than we thought it would take when we began that journey in March. The continued pain and woundedness and division of racism in our country, which people of color and allies have been living with and addressing for so many years. And people are still suffering and dying in its wake wondering, “How long must we wait before justice comes?”
 
The wise ones were prepared for the long haul, and we are wise too if we also prepare for the long haul. But we are foolish if we think that our preparation will make what we wait for come any faster, or make us any more acceptable to the one for whom we are waiting. The wise ones could have shared, like St. Martin did his robe, and not been loved any less. The foolish ones, had they stayed, would have been loved just as well without oil, but they didn’t realize that, and they missed seeing the bridegroom because they thought they weren’t ready enough as they were.
 
The long haul is not an easy path, is it? It is not what any of us choose. It's tiring. It can wear us down, if we aren't ready — and even if we are. And it can leave us feeling unworthy and raggedly unacceptable, even if the truth is that the bridegroom we are waiting for loves us no matter how little oil we have, or how soundly we fall asleep while we're waiting.
 
Because worst of all, the long haul can make us forget what we are really hoping and waiting for to begin with. We can forget that no matter how long it takes, the bridegroom is coming! All of the prophets, and Jesus himself, remind us of this all the time. There will be a banquet. This pandemic will end. The election will be resolved. There will come a time when racism, homophobia and transphobia, poverty and injustices of all kinds will be overcome by the love of God.
 
And we are invited to wait and watch and participate in the reign of God as it approaches, knowing that it will come. Amos reminds the people that it’s not so much about getting everything right so that we can make God’s spirit come on this earth, but about recognizing that God is already here, at work in the world all around us. It’s about letting God’s justice roll down like water, like an ever-flowing stream. We're invited into God’s reign, which is coming not someday way in the future, but is happening right now. And no matter how prepared, or unprepared, or raggedy, or tired we are, we are all invited, and known, and loved.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13, Debi Thomas, Journey with Jesus, coronavirus, COVID-19
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  • Nov 8, 2020Are You Prepared?
    Nov 8, 2020
    Are You Prepared?
    Series: (All)
    November 8, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on Jesus' Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and being prepared in the midst of so many long hauls.
     
    Readings: Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I am a planner. I always have been, since birth. As a kid, I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, and when I read the Tale of the Twister, it offered a list of things to include in an “emergency preparedness kit” and I was all over it. I assembled the most complete backpack of supplies I could manage at the age of 9 — water, flashlight, batteries, granola bars, duct tape, even toothpaste. My brothers got a lot of mileage teasing me when I insisted on bringing the kit on a boat ride one day — until the lights on the boat went out, after dark. And my kit, if you recall, included a flashlight, which we were able to use to aid our way home. I have rarely felt more vindicated in my passion for preparing than in that moment.
     
    This desire to plan ahead has followed me into adulthood, and when we were heading out to be with my mother-in-law in her final days in a Wisconsin hospital and weren’t sure how long we would be gone, I made a list of over 30 things to do before we left so we would be ready for an extended absence. And, I got them done in a day!
     
    Part of me, when I read today’s gospel about preparing for God’s coming, immediately wants to get out a piece of paper and pen — or maybe the task list on my phone — and begin making my checklist of things to do. Fellow planners back me up on this: isn’t that what Jesus is telling us? To be prepared? To get everything ready, so that we aren’t taken by surprise when God shows up?
     
    In spite of the passion I have for planning ahead and preparing, I have to admit that I find Jesus’ parable, of the wise people who planned ahead and had a good stock of oil for their lamps, and the foolish people who didn't have enough oil, a little disturbing. After all, no matter how well we prepare, we may never be fully ready for what actually happens. I don’t think any of us felt prepared for a pandemic — I certainly didn’t, and still don’t, although it’s not from lack of trying.
     
    This story of the unprepared, foolish people who miss their opportunity to be with the bridegroom definitely triggers anxiety, and assuming that Jesus is the bridegroom, it leaves us with a rather unforgiving image of our God. If you have enough oil, it seems to say, you’re in. If not, you’re out. The poor, foolish bridesmaids live out the worst nightmare for a planner like me — having failed to plan well enough, they miss their chance, and they're left in the cold. And although the wise bridesmaids don’t overtly judge the foolish ones who don’t have oil, their decision not to share their oil is rather harsh. At least Matthew leaves out the often-mentioned “wailing and gnashing of teeth” that is the punishment for those who are turned away from the banquet!
     
    As we look more closely, though, some interesting details are revealed that may help us to understand this parable perhaps a little better. For one thing, Jesus tells us that it wasn’t just the foolish bridesmaids who fell asleep. They all did. None of them were awake and waiting for the bridegroom when he approached. The bridesmaids, the foolish ones, weren’t any better off in that regard.
     
    And then, there is the oil. The wise people had oil to spare, and the bridegroom had arrived. Was there really not enough to light all the lamps? Couldn’t they have split the oil among them, like Martin divided his cloak? They just needed enough oil to get them back to the banquet hall, after all. It seems a little selfish not to share, when the light would benefit them all in the end.
     
    Theologian Debi Thomas, in her blog “Journey with Jesus,” offers an additional perspective on the oil situation. Perhaps, she suggests, the problem isn’t so much that the foolish ones didn’t have enough oil and the wise ones did but wouldn’t share, but that they all believed that having an abundance of oil was necessary in order to be allowed into the banquet hall. They all thought that the bridegroom cared more about the oil than he did about them!
     
    It is, Thomas points out, a very human thing to feel like we can’t present ourselves for the banquet, or whatever challenge or opportunity is in front of us, unless we are completely prepared. The wise people, with their extra oil, probably didn’t want to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They were tired, we know, and fell asleep because it took so long for him to get there. They were probably as impatient as we were waiting for the last of those election results to come in, perhaps feeling that familiar catch of breath every time they thought they saw a glint of light in the distance the way we did when our browser recycled or we thought we saw a breaking news banner on the top of the page and thought, maybe it’s finally Nevada, or Pennsylvania, or Arizona. And then we sighed and sat back again, until the next time, and the next.
     
    No, the wise people probably didn’t want to wait, but they realized that they might have to. And so, they were prepared not just for what they hoped for — the eventual coming of the bridegroom — but for what they knew might be a very long night. If they were anything like me, they probably not only had extra oil, but some food and drink and blankets as well. And so, if we set aside their selfishness for a moment, we can appreciate and learn from them the wisdom of being ready not just for what we hope for, but for the very long wait and journey that it will take to get there.
     
    We are in the midst of so many long hauls, family of faith. The pandemic, with its treatments and eventual vaccine that we know so many people are working so hard on, but it still seems like it's taking far too long, certainly much longer than we thought it would take when we began that journey in March. The continued pain and woundedness and division of racism in our country, which people of color and allies have been living with and addressing for so many years. And people are still suffering and dying in its wake wondering, “How long must we wait before justice comes?”
     
    The wise ones were prepared for the long haul, and we are wise too if we also prepare for the long haul. But we are foolish if we think that our preparation will make what we wait for come any faster, or make us any more acceptable to the one for whom we are waiting. The wise ones could have shared, like St. Martin did his robe, and not been loved any less. The foolish ones, had they stayed, would have been loved just as well without oil, but they didn’t realize that, and they missed seeing the bridegroom because they thought they weren’t ready enough as they were.
     
    The long haul is not an easy path, is it? It is not what any of us choose. It's tiring. It can wear us down, if we aren't ready — and even if we are. And it can leave us feeling unworthy and raggedly unacceptable, even if the truth is that the bridegroom we are waiting for loves us no matter how little oil we have, or how soundly we fall asleep while we're waiting.
     
    Because worst of all, the long haul can make us forget what we are really hoping and waiting for to begin with. We can forget that no matter how long it takes, the bridegroom is coming! All of the prophets, and Jesus himself, remind us of this all the time. There will be a banquet. This pandemic will end. The election will be resolved. There will come a time when racism, homophobia and transphobia, poverty and injustices of all kinds will be overcome by the love of God.
     
    And we are invited to wait and watch and participate in the reign of God as it approaches, knowing that it will come. Amos reminds the people that it’s not so much about getting everything right so that we can make God’s spirit come on this earth, but about recognizing that God is already here, at work in the world all around us. It’s about letting God’s justice roll down like water, like an ever-flowing stream. We're invited into God’s reign, which is coming not someday way in the future, but is happening right now. And no matter how prepared, or unprepared, or raggedy, or tired we are, we are all invited, and known, and loved.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13, Debi Thomas, Journey with Jesus, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Nov 1, 2020Celebrating the Saints
    Nov 1, 2020
    Celebrating the Saints
    Series: (All)
    November 1, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon on this All Saint's Day celebrates all the saints who have come before us.
     
    Readings: Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some years ago, we got word that Joanne O’Neil, a beloved administrator of the church and school that we attended as kids, had died. Although she wasn't a family friend exactly, Joanne was one of those iconic figures in our lives for all of our growing up years — one of those steady, ever-present people who always seemed to have space and time in her office for anyone. She seemed to particularly love those who were expert trouble-makers in class, like my youngest brother, perhaps because she had a spark of that rebellious nature in herself. Upon hearing that she'd died, as a young adult, I remember calling my youngest brother and saying to him, “So bro, who’s the adult now?” Who's going to take the place of this iconic figure who was just always there, embodying love and grace in her unique way?
     
    And we both realized — we were now the ones called upon to be those iconic ever-present people in the lives of those coming after us. We were now the adults. And we wondered with each other, as young people in our early twenties, what that even meant.
     
    Today is All Saint’s Day, that specific day each year that we remember those people who have died. We grieve again in community the loss of those who are no longer physically with us, whose deaths have left a gap in our contact lists, our tables, and our lives. We remember those who have, like Joanne, made an impact on our lives, blessed us, helping to shape in many different ways who we are as people of God. We grieve, and we're grateful.
     
    The reading from the first letter of John today says that we continue to be transformed by the love of the God who created us, and even if others don’t understand, they can’t help but notice. And we don’t know yet, John says, what we will become.
     
    Jesus fleshes this out for his disciples in many ways. But in today’s reading, the gospel, through the beatitudes Jesus lifts up empathy, a capacity for love and grief, humility, mercy, passion for justice, truth, and God’s shalom as some of the ways that God’s love can be embodied in this world. Jesus encourages his followers to aspire to live out these ideals, telling them, in effect, that when you are empathetic, humble or merciful, or when you grieve someone you’ve lost, or seek truth, justice or peace, you are experiencing God’s realm on earth.
     
    And beyond that, theologian Raj Nadella suggests that we are invited to participate in the kin-dom of God by actively noticing when we experience these things, and living out the second part of the beatitudes — showing mercy, working for justice and peace, offering comfort, approving and affirming truth. As we all know, we human beings are not God. We're all in process, becoming more and more the people God created us to be, and it is in our relationships with one another that God works this transformation in us.
     
    There are many people in my life who have helped make me the person I am, who have embodied the love of God and the beatitudes for me in ways that have changed me forever. My Grandma Anne had a faithful sense of humor, and a generous spirit — she would have given the shirt off her back to anyone, and in her gruff way showered the love of God on those around her. My neighbor Gail, whose children I babysat for years, had a capacity to really see me with a love that didn’t need to change me that few others seemed to have. And my mom’s sister, my Aunt Kate, who died in February this year, always inspired me with her sense of hungering for justice, her gratitude and joy, and her capacity to walk through the challenges of life with authenticity and grace.
     
    Who are the people who have shaped you and made you the person you are today? Who has blessed you? Who has revealed God’s love, and the values of the beatitudes, to you? And how are you different because of their presence in your life?
     
    In our reading from Revelation today, John shares a vision of all the saints coming together, brought to wholeness once more. Often when I hear this, I think of the designated saints, those whose lives have been what we might think of as perfect, and who seem to have been — seem to have been — flawless in their capacity to follow God. Today, on the heels of Reformation Sunday, I am reminded of Luther’s conviction that we are all sinner and saint, and I am struck by the statement that these saints gathering are those who have been through the ordeal. They've been through struggle, they have fallen short and stood up again, as we all do. They've experienced persecution, hunger, grief, and even death, and they've found healing in the God who loves and redeems us all. These are the saints.
     
    And we too are saints of God, human sinner and saint, called to notice and name when we see God at work among us, and called to embody God’s love in this world for those who come after us, just as others did for us. Called to bless others as we have been blessed. That, perhaps, is the answer to the questions my brother and I had when Joanne died, so many years ago. Who’s the adult? We are. What does that mean? Doing the best we can to be the people God created us to be, modeling God’s kin-dom in our lives, trusting God to bring us through our ordeals, and knowing that even death is not the final word.
     
    Every week when we celebrate communion, we are gathered not only with those we can see, but with the entire communion of saints. God’s table is wide, and as we share the meal, all the saints are present. In these months that we have been Worshipping and celebrating communion together via Zoom, perhaps our vision has been sharpened, as we know that in spite of our physical distance, we are still sharing the table of God together. Today, let’s envision that table extending beyond even the reaches of Zoom, making room for all of the saints who have gone before us to share in this celebration together.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
  • Oct 25, 2020The Truth Will Set Us Free
    Oct 25, 2020
    The Truth Will Set Us Free
    Series: (All)
    October 25, 2020. What does it really mean to be free? Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” His followers were confused, not realizing that they weren't yet free. Jesus’ reply to them is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” In her sermon on this Reformation Sunday, Pastor Meagan delves into these readings.
     
    Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    So, as I was thinking about this — the readings that we have today and Reformation Sunday — I called to mind there was this time I was sitting in a restaurant and I was eating dinner (you know, this was back before COVID, when we could do those things) and I heard several thunks. And I turned around and I saw a bird flying around inside the restaurant, banging into windows here and there and everywhere in her frantic attempt to get outside again. She finally landed on the floor, exhausted, and I went over and I laid my jacket gently over her and I carried her through the door outside. I opened the jacket very cautiously, because I expected her to just burst out. But instead she clung for dear life, her tiny talons hooked into the lining of my jacket, afraid to let go and be free. And as I held her I wondered, how often do we do that? We struggle to be free from the things that confine us, and then cling to our cage when the door is finally opened. What does it really mean to be free anyway? And why are we, if we're really honest with ourselves, terrified of it?
     
    Jesus’ followers are confused when Jesus promises that they will be set free, in that moment not realizing that they aren’t free yet. At times we do the same thing again, don’t we? We can be bound up, trapped in familiar ways of doing things, convinced that the way we see things is the only perspective. Without realizing it, we can get caught up in the violence and the “isms” of this world. And we can forget that we need God, and go off on our own, believing we can handle things on our own. And before we know it, we're trapped in our own illusion of self-sufficiency.
     
    And often, we don’t even realize that we're stuck. Most of the time, we have the luxury of living in the illusion that we're in control of our lives, even if it is only through the false security of believing that we know what our future holds. Jesus in John promises freedom, and his followers protest, and we might well make the same claim. We live in a free country, slavery was abolished over 150 years ago! What do you mean by saying “You will be made free?”
     
    Jesus’ reply to his followers is for us, too: “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” We are all trapped in our own brokenness. And on this Reformation Sunday, it's appropriate to remember that, as Martin Luther taught, we are all both sinners and saints. All of us, at times, forget that we need God. We forget what our true relationship with God is.
     
    We are free in one sense. But at a much deeper level, we are all slaves to our own brokenness. We all forget that, as we heard in Jeremiah today, God’s law — God’s word and God's promise — has been written on our hearts. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s promise of love for all of us, God’s people, and our call to love God and our neighbor, has been coded into our very DNA. Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book Stand Your Ground, which a group of us are reading, says that God is by nature free, transcendent of all the brokenness of this world. And God’s work in us and in the world is about freedom. Freedom to be who we are as children of God. And still, we, all of us, forget who we are.
     
    Even Martin Luther was bound by sin — and I think he'd be the first one to admit that. Luther, whose leadership we celebrate today, did and said so many wonderful things. But he also said terrible things about Jewish people. And by doing that, he shared with us a heritage that contributes to hatred of our siblings in faith. Because of this heritage, we Christians can forget that the Jesus we worship lived and died as a faithful Jew, and so we continue to be bound.
     
    We are all sinner and saint. Especially when we're feeling battered or exhausted by life’s experiences, we can get trapped in fear, and ground our hope in our own efforts instead of trusting in God. We can go beyond reasonable steps to take care of ourselves, and feel separated from others, and from God. We can find ourselves tempted and even trapped into doing whatever we have to do to get the outcome that we believe we need. When I get into this mode of thinking, I end up stuck in a black and white story of my own making, terrified of losing control of the way it will end. We all have our narratives, the stories we create that end up binding us and separating us from life itself.
     
    Much of the time, we have the luxury of thinking we are in control. But there are times, like now perhaps, where we are painfully aware that we are not. Times like now when the world can feel chaotic and terrifying, when as the psalmist says, the earth is changing, the mountains shaking, the waters roaring and foaming, and the mountains trembling with the tumult of violence, uprisings, a global pandemic, and political upheaval.
     
    We can also be bound in the lies that tell us that we're not good enough. Voices that tell us that we're not worthy of love, and don’t have anything to offer the world. And yet, at the same time, this lie tells us that we have to earn our place. We believe we'll have to make ourselves worthy of God’s love, even as we know we’ll never ever get there. Luther struggled with this, daily. I have as well, and I imagine that I'm not alone here. These lies, this denial of our own beloved-ness, are a powerful bond that enslaves us, keeps us from the freedom that God is promising.
     
    We are all slaves to our own brokenness, but Jesus made his followers a promise — and makes us a promise today. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” And the truth that Jesus talks about, the truth that will free us, is precisely why we are so afraid of freedom. The truth, as Paul proclaims it in Romans today, is simply this: we have all sinned, and we all need God. Every one of us, without exception. We all need God.
     
    And as we hear from the prophet Jeremiah, we are all beloved children of God, and we all have the capacity to know and love and trust God within us, written in our hearts. Coded in our very DNA. Without doing anything, we are God’s beloved. We don’t have to earn it. We just are.
     
    What terrifies us about this truth is that when we embrace it, it takes us completely out of the driver’s seat. We can no longer cling to an illusion of safety that is built on our own efforts or beliefs that we are in control. We are vulnerable, exposed for who we are, face-to-face with our own humanity. This, ironically, is the truth that leads us to freedom, the freedom to be exactly the people that God created us to be.
     
    We are freed by this truth, because grounded in our own humanity, we can understand Martin Luther’s claim that we are simultaneously sinner and saint. The very truth of our own weakness reveals our need for God, and our identity as God’s beloved children. The promise of the covenant Jeremiah talks about is our promise. God’s law has been written on our hearts, God is our God, and we are God’s people. In the core of who we are, God has written the law of love, justice, faithfulness, and forgiveness. This is the promise of our baptisms. And as our illusions, addictions, and sinfulness die in the light of this promise, we can see that we've been enslaved. And we can see that we are free.
     
    God’s truth empowers us to claim the promise of freedom not just for ourselves, but for all people, especially those who are marginalized, and for all of creation. The truth frees us to call for change where it’s needed, even when it is chaotic and scary. The truth gave Martin Luther the freedom to challenge even the Pope, calling for the reform that was so desperately needed. He pounded nails and hung his beliefs and challenges on the door of Wittenberg Seminary, even though he had no idea how things would turn out, seeking his refuge in God.
     
    Empowered by the Spirit, the truth can give us the freedom to follow Luther’s lead, navigate the almost constant change and uncertainty that we are living in, and call for the transformation desperately needed today, in our world and in our church.
     
    Like the bird with its talons hooked into my jacket lining, we tend to cling to what we feel sure of, certain that there is nothing to catch us if we let go. The chaos, as the psalmist sings it, does not go away, and times like these can be anxiety-producing and chaotic. God’s promise to us is not that the chaos will end or that change will be easy, but that God will be with us, no matter what. This is the truth, and the truth will set us free. And you can trust in God, in faith that God will not leave you hanging.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36, Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Oct 18, 2020Made in God’s Image
    Oct 18, 2020
    Made in God’s Image
    Series: (All)
    October 18, 2020. In today's gospel reading about paying taxes to the emperor, the religious leaders are trying to draw Jesus into a trap, and he knows it. But if Caesar’s image on the coins belongs to Caesar, then God’s image belongs to God. And we, who have been made in God’s image, belong to God.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    There is no right or easy answer to the question that the religious leaders ask Jesus today. And that’s intentional — the religious leaders are trying to draw Jesus into a trap, and he knows it. Jesus knows he is being flattered, he knows they are trying to catch him off his guard. And if he says yes, of course pay your taxes to the occupying tyrant, he will alienate those who trust him to help them find a way out from under, as well as violating temple law. If he says no, you don’t owe anything to the king, the leaders have grounds to have him arrested by the Romans — which of course they did anyway, eventually. He never tried to hide his alliance with those on the margins, after all. Jesus is caught between a rock and a hard place, isn’t he?
     
    And his answer is really nothing short of brilliant. By making them produce the coin, he is compelling them to demonstrate their alliance with the empire, with Rome, something they didn't necessarily want to do. Instead of successfully forcing Jesus to choose a side, the leaders revealed to everyone watching that they already had picked a side! The lives they lived and the privilege they had was made possible by the same empire that made the lives of so many others miserable and oppressed. The denarius in their pocket, bearing the image of the emperor, was proof of it.
     
    But before we get too comfortable with ourselves here, it occurred to me that if I am honest with myself, I can’t judge the leaders with that denarius in their pocket without acknowledging the denarius that I hold in my own pocket. It’s kind of like Jesus telling his listeners in another conversation that they should not try to remove the speck from their siblings’ eye before removing the plank from their own eye. There are many ways in which I have benefited from systems in this world that do great damage to others — banking with institutions that support payday lending, buying clothes made using unjust labor practices, getting food that is not sustainably produced and does damage to the earth and to other communities, and many others things. And although we've made changes to live more justly, sometimes it seems like there is no way to escape some of these alliances that I have — that we all have if we're honest — with the empire of our day. I know that I, like the leaders who are trying to challenge Jesus, are carrying that denarius in my pocket, too.
     
    Once the coin has been produced, Jesus makes clear this connection, claiming that because of the image on the coin, it belongs to the emperor. And that got me thinking about images and belonging — and this is where we get to the good news! Especially today, as we celebrate in this community Sloane’s baptism that happened yesterday. Because although the denarius has the image of the emperor, we have been made in the image of God! We go back to Genesis and the story of creation, and we know that God made us in God’s image. And if Caesar’s image like those on the coins belongs to Caesar, as Jesus suggests, then God’s image belongs to God. We, who have been made in God’s image, belong to God!
     
    Throughout sacred scripture, we're told over and over that we belong to God. The psalmist sings in Psalm 96 of the god who made all things, and describes all of creation singing out of joy, not because God commanded it, but because it can’t help itself. The heavens are glad, the earth rejoices, the seas roar, and the fields exult! Paul tells the Thessalonians that he has seen them embody the spirit and promise of God so well, that they don’t even need to say it, everyone just knows whose they are.
     
    We too can embody God’s promise in our world. We can makes choices, one decision at a time, that reflect God’s love and abundance and justice, and challenge injustice, violence, and the myth of scarcity. We can practice opening our hearts and our lives to those who are wounded and left out by today’s empire, embodying welcome like Paul says the Thessalonians did.
     
    Being the image of God is not something we do only here, within these virtual walls of Christ Lutheran Church, but in our neighborhoods, our families, our workplaces, and our schools. The image of God that we are can be reflected in all areas of our lives, in particular these next few weeks in our civic life. First, we vote, and we encourage others to do so also. And second, we bring our faith to the polls, claiming God’s promise and desire for the well-being of all people and all creation.
     
    And every time we celebrate a baptism, we remember this promise. Like the Thessalonians, more and more we grow in our capacity to reflect the image of the one who formed us out of clay and breathed life into us. We're reminded that even those we might think don’t belong — like Cyrus, that Persian king who Isaiah calls God’s anointed — they are all God’s children. We remember that we too were formed with great creative joy, and are made in the image of the one who continues to create us all anew today.
     
    Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s. Today we recall our baptisms, as we celebrate in this community Sloane’s baptism. We claim in the baptismal water and words the promise that we are made in God’s image, and belong to the God whose image we bear. So today, we give ourselves to God, and ask God to keep forming and shaping and teaching us throughout our lives, and we go out from here to embody God’s love and justice in the world — not because we are commanded to do so, but simply because we are God’s, and we just can’t help it.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
  • Oct 11, 2020The Raggedy Guest and the Values of God
    Oct 11, 2020
    The Raggedy Guest and the Values of God
    Series: (All)
    October 11, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on Jesus' parable of the petulant king and the raggedy guest, and how they can wake us up to envision our own communities and conflicts differently.
     
    Readings: Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Is anyone else feeling weary this week? The pandemic is ongoing with no break. We struggle with how to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, knowing that the weather is fast-changing and soon being outside isn't going to be an easy option. And that all seems to be weighing in on these last days. And the tension and anxiety around the upcoming election, and the stark divisions over issues that carry so much importance, certainly don’t help.
     
    My family and I have always seen things differently from one another. So many times over the years I've had to remind myself that it is not my job to make sure my family members agree with me, especially when it comes to issues at all related to politics. And in our world today, with so much hard division between one party and the other, so much chaos happening in so many ways, and so much at stake, that's become particularly difficult. And I have to admit, I have not been very good at remembering this of late. Maybe I need to practice Red Light, Green Light when I'm getting into that mindset. It doesn’t help that my youngest brother happens to be a committee chairman for the opposite political party from the one that aligns best with my views, and that my dad and I have diametrically opposed sources of news. It is so easy to get focused on particular personalities, specific issues, and get to arguing about statistics or perspectives on things, isn’t it? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Red light!
     
    Once again, thankfully, we find that there really is nothing new under the sun, no problems that God hasn’t taught us about, nothing that God hasn’t seen before. In our passage from the letter of Paul to the Philippians today, we find that Paul is addressing what we might call political divisions that are happening among the leaders and people of Philippi, 2,000 years ago.
     
    There was a lot at stake for the young church, as they navigated their way through so many challenges and decisions. People argued over a lot of things — who should lead, who could belong, how to practice their faith with integrity with an increasingly diverse community. So we aren’t the first to get lost in personalities and fights over particulars, and struggle with how to live out our faith when so much is changing. Paul is definitely speaking to worry, anxiety, and stress, which I think we can all relate to these days.
     
    Thankfully, Paul has some wisdom to offer us, and not surprisingly, his solution brings us right back to what is really important. Paul starts out by counseling Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in Jesus. I've always read this as meaning that we need to agree with one another in everything — be of the same mind — but what jumps out at me today, in this divided world that we're living in, is the phrase “in Jesus.” As this resonates, it dives deeper than surface agreement on a personality or decision, going from sharing opinions to sharing values.
     
    Paul calls the Philippians, and us, back to the God-given values that Jesus embodied for us. And he gets specific. Joy, gentleness, gratitude, truth, honor, justice, purity. Being of the same mind in Jesus doesn't take away our differences, but Paul suggests that it does unite us as we find our common values. And it starts with rejoicing, and being grateful. Perhaps this is something we can do with our stoplight: rejoice and be grateful.
     
    And then we have the gospel. The religious leaders and Jesus’ disciples, like us, are also trying to figure out how to live their lives in faith, to make sense out of what it means to embody the kin-dom of God in this world. Jesus offers a very different and perhaps complementary answer from Paul, and as he does so often, Jesus talks in parables. And this week’s parable, I have to say, is quite a challenge! What on earth are we to take from this petulant and violent king, the rude people who ignore the king’s invitation, and the raggedy guest who gets bound and cast out into proverbial weeping and gnashing of teeth? Jesus is on a mission, these few weeks, to help us see not only the invitation to the joy and abundance of God’s kin-dom, but our own resistance to the invitation that God offers us so freely.
     
    Starting with the king. He’s throwing a party, and no one wants to come. How could they be so rude as to blow off the king?! It’s so easy to make things about us isn’t it, even when it’s about our faith. The king, it seems, has gotten caught up in what others think of them, and is badly offended when they don’t get the recognition they think they deserve. When you look at how the king acted though, it’s no wonder people blew off his invitation. And it’s easy for us too to get off track quickly, when we get caught up in our own agenda, and forget to delight in the community around us and let our gentleness be known to those around us.
     
    And the first round of guests, the ones who don’t come? They all have reasons — maybe really good ones, although Jesus suggests otherwise in this case — and the truth is, so do we sometimes. We take for granted the invitation we've been given to community, and ignoring the call to share gratefully in the abundance of God.
     
    And then, there is the second round of guests. These guests are not the first choice of the king, but still they're invited. They accept the invitation and all is well, until one of these last-minute guests has the audacity to show up in the wrong clothes. Often, we judge the guest, taking this as a cautionary tale about the need to dress properly (figuratively speaking) for the heavenly banquet. But theologian Debie Thomas in her blog proposes an alternative reading, and a question: what if this “ragged” guest is actually Jesus? What if the invitation to us today is to realize that it is not God who is judging and critiquing our worthiness, or other people’s worthiness, to enter the kin-dom, but us?
     
    Maybe today, we can let the absurdity of this image of a king, God, who sets a town on fire because the “worthy” people don’t show up at his party, invites the “regular people” only because the important people wouldn’t come, and then throws out the guest who doesn’t observe protocol — we can let all that wake us up to envision the kin-dom, and our own communities and conflicts, differently. To realize that when we demand compliance with arbitrary protocols, we cast out Jesus, the one we most want to welcome. We can dream of an abundant table, in the presence of our enemies, that needs no barriers or requirements because it has enough for everyone. And all who show up are transformed by the grace of that invitation.
     
    This brings us back to Paul, and the conflict among the Philippians. Rejoice, he tells us, first and always. When worry sets in, ask God for what we need with gratitude. Rather than seeking agreement on non-essentials, keep our focus on the values that bring us together as people of God. Truth. Justice. Honor. Jesus, the ragged guest at the feast, may not say anything, but he models for us an unwillingness to give in to the petty arguments and rules, he highlights the injustice of the arbitrary boundaries and barriers, and stands firm in his opposition to a king who clearly cares more about himself than he does about the community around him.
     
    Paul tells us to focus on the values of our faith, to ask God for what we need, and practice gratitude — all pillars of living out our faith, and rest for our weary souls. As you heard from Jesse today, and will hear from Carolyn and others in our Adult Forum later, taking care of ourselves and nurturing our community is the foundation of well-being as people of God. The stress of trying to agree may not disappear, but it lessens. Our worry fades. We have the courage and strength to stand firmly for truth, honor, and justice, in our families, our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools, and the ballot box, led by Jesus the ragged guest. And the promise is that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ.
     
    Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, COVID-19, coronavirus, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
  • Sep 27, 2020Actions Speak Louder than Words
    Sep 27, 2020
    Actions Speak Louder than Words
    Series: (All)
    September 27, 2020. We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. And actions speak louder than words.
     
    Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    As I reflected on our readings this week, and the story that Alena shared of the Archangel Michael, the phrase “actions speak louder than words” kept echoing through my head. The parable Jesus tells his listeners describes one son saying he won't do something his father wants him to do, and then thinking better of it and doing it anyway, and the other son saying of course he would help, and then choosing not to. It’s pretty clear in the end who did what their father asked of them. What each of them said in this parable is not nearly so important as what they did. Michael too, in Alena’s story, went beyond words and took action, and stood against the evil of Lucifer. Actions speak louder than words.
     
    I thought of the classic 1988 movie “Working Girl” — starring Sigourney Weaver as Katharine, a high-powered executive woman, and Melanie Griffith as Tess, her new and naïve employee. Tess finds out how true it is that actions speak louder than words. Katharine sounds so supportive, promising to present Tess’s innovative ideas for consideration. And then she comes back to tell Tess that her ideas had been rejected. But Tess finds out later that Katharine lied — Tess’s ideas were approved, but Katharine took credit for them. Katharine said one thing, and did another thing entirely, and her actions definitely revealed far more of who she was than her words had.
     
    I’m sure we can all think of times in our own lives when someone said something, perhaps believing deeply they were speaking the truth and that they would keep their promise, but like the situation with Katharine and Tess, what actually happened didn’t match their words at all. As an LGBTQIA person, I have learned that the words “all are welcome,” far from being the end of a conversation, are not enough on their own, and that hearing stories about commitments kept and actions taken that show how a community lives into that promise is far more revealing. Actions speak louder than words.
     
    Perhaps like me, you yourself may have said you would do something, and not done it. It’s easy, isn’t it, to blame the religious leaders in today’s tale, laying responsibility solely at the feet of the Sadducees? But the truth is we’ve all been there — perhaps truly wanting to make the commitment we are giving voice to, perhaps wanting to say the thing we know we should say, maybe if we’re honest wanting to look better than our sibling who has just told our parent, “No!” It’s one thing, isn’t it, to say that we’ll do something, or that we believe something, and quite another to put those words and beliefs into action.
     
    Debie Thomas, in her entry for this week on her blog “Journey with Jesus,” says this:
     
    "We are meant to be uncomfortable, to be confronted, to ask ourselves: which son am I? Am I the child who makes promises I fail to keep? Am I the daughter who talks the talk, and sincerely believes that my sacred-sounding words are enough? Am I the son who doesn’t see repentance as a lifelong business, a business that didn’t end at the altar call, or the confirmation service, or the baptism, or the newcomer's class at church, that first drew me to Jesus?"
     
    Actions speak louder than words! And action, people of Christ, especially action that meets criticism and judgment by the world around us, is not easy. It is slow, hard work that results in change. Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” And lack of action, we know, can do immeasurable harm. It's how Nazism rose in Germany. Inaction contributed to slavery lasting for 400 years on this continent. And inaction allows for the wounds of racism, violence, poverty, and homelessness to continue in our country today. It is why someone could shoot Breonna Taylor, in her own apartment and — as we found out this week — not be charged. Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.“ Action — and sometimes inaction — speak louder than words.
     
    At times, we say the “right thing” and do the “wrong thing,” and at other times we say the “wrong thing” and do the “right thing.” Debie Thomas continues:
     
    "Or am I the son who says the wrong thing, but finally repents and obeys, anyway? The child who might not sound all spiritual and sanctified, but still does the work of love and mercy when the rubber meets the road? The daughter who recognizes that God is still at work, here and now, doing new things, transformative things, salvific things? The son who changes his mind when new truth, new life, new possibility, and new hope, reveal themselves?"
     
    Our reading from the letter of Philippians today is all about transformation. Jesus, out of radical, reckless, love, offers himself completely to God, and to us. And the promise Paul shares with us is that Jesus’ supporting act of surrender changes us, too. We are empowered to not only speak justice and mercy and truth, but live it out, the way Jesus did, in actions as well as words, as Alena suggested. With Jesus, we can face the evils of this world like the Archangel Michael did, and not turn away.
     
    For us as humans, on our own, this is not possible. In our reading from Exodus, we hear that one more time, the Israelites are struggling to trust that they will be OK, and one more time, God shows them that God will provide what they need to take the next step — this time, by bringing water from a stone. God provides for us, too.
     
    Putting our faith into action is not about our own strength, or earning our place with God, but about being transformed by God, turning outward to think of God, others, and creation, before ourselves, trusting as Paul says, that God is at work in us. Actions speak much louder than words. More in these days than ever it seems, it is so important to remember how much damage inaction can do.
     
    We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. Each day we can ask, “What am I being called to do? How can I embody God’s love and justice, for my neighbor, for my community?” And when we're unsure of what to do, or afraid, God has shown that they will guide us and provide what that need — perhaps even sending angels to walk with us on the way. With the psalmist, we can pray: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning, Alena Horn
  • Sep 20, 2020God’s Justice and Our Belonging
    Sep 20, 2020
    God’s Justice and Our Belonging
    Series: (All)
    September 20, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on the story of the laborers in the vineyard. As we learn from our readings, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours.
     
    Readings: Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Once there was a woman who owned a small company that makes clothes. Business was steady and things were going well, and then the pandemic hit. She and her leadership team watched in shock, with the rest of the country, as sales plummeted. One of the team suggested that they make masks, and quickly they saw that had been a really wise decision. They had managed to keep most of their staff on with the help of a PPP loan, but soon they needed to hire more people to handle the extra workload.
     
    First, they hired a tech specialist to manage their online orders. The next week they brought on two people to help make the masks, and work on new designs for special fits and needs. Two weeks later they hired another person to deliver masks locally to larger clients like senior residences, care centers, and schools.
     
    The time came when all of the new staff were receiving their first paychecks, and although of course their hourly pay was supposed to be confidential, the delivery person exclaimed in surprise when they saw their check, and one of the long-time staff couldn’t help but overhear. They were frustrated because it didn’t seem right that someone who was so new to the staff, and only a driver after all, was getting paid so well. They went to the owner of the shop and complained. The shop owner replied, “Friend, I haven’t hurt you; we agreed on your salary, and you have been paid. Spend it as you wish with gratitude. I choose to pay our new staff a just wage also. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
     
    Sound at all familiar? Comparison, fairness, justice, and deserving are so much a part of our culture, and when someone gets something we don’t think they deserve — or when we don’t get something we think we do deserve — we are annoyed. It raises all kinds of questions of value, and belonging, and we’re tempted to judge who is deserving. We're all at least somewhat invested in the idea of fairness and justice. The thing is, as we learn from this parable, and from the story of the manna in the desert, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours.
     
    So, what do we learn of God’s justice, from our readings today? It's easiest, perhaps, to look at where the justice of God and our concept of justice conflict.
     
    Our sense of justice says, “There is no free lunch. We get only what we earn.” Has anyone heard that? Anyone maybe said that? I certainly have that message in me that says I need to earn my place, earn love, earn approval, and at times it's even felt like I needed to earn the very air that I breathe. And I suspect I'm not alone in that.
     
    God’s sense of justice says look, every evening there's meat to eat. Every morning there's bread. No need to store anything away, no need to earn it, no pay being docked if you don’t make your quota or have to stay home with your sick child. Every evening and every morning, God provides what we need for the day.
     
    And Luther, in the Small Catechism, reminds us that this isn’t just about food and drink, but about trusting that everything we need — clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like — is provided for us, and for all people, by God. It may not look as we expected. Did you notice, the Israelites saw the manna and at first they were like, “What is that?” But unexpected as it may be, God provides enough for everyone. God’s sense of justice is that all people have what they need, for the day.
     
    Our sense of justice says, we have a right to judge whether something is just or not — that justice is based on values of fairness and equality, objective values that we can measure. Think of Jonah, and how upset he was at seeing God’s mercy for the Ninevites. Or the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, angry because his father showed compassion and abundance toward his younger sibling, who had abandoned the family and spent his inheritance. I remember vividly how frustrated I was when a classmate received a higher award than I did at our science fair, when I had helped her at the very last minute to put her project together — and I had spent weeks working on mine!
     
    And God’s response, as today when the workers who came in first were jealous of those who came in last and still received what they needed, is that it’s not up to us. God’s sense of justice says that we're called simply to ensure that God’s abundance is available to all without judgement, and whether something is fair or equal is up to God, and not us. Our sense of justice is grounded in what seems right for us. Like the long-time worker in the clothing shop, we can often slip into wanting to be sure we are getting what we deserve. We can, out of fear perhaps, be afraid of not having enough, and feel like the only way we can be sure is to prevent others — people who are not us — from having more than we do. As hard as I have tried to divest myself from companies that I know don’t treat their employees fairly, I admit that I'm still guilty at times of making the choice for convenience rather than justice.
     
    God’s justice is grounded in relationship. Belonging. The Israelites are in it together, all getting what they need to continue their common journey. And the workers are all paid, so they can all have food and shelter and safety, so that they can continue their common work. And here’s the thing — in the end, as God sees it, everyone belongs. As Jesse was saying, we are all interconnected and dependent on one another. God’s sense of justice is about relationship and belonging.
     
    And this brings us back to the first thing about justice. We can trust that God’s plan is to provide all people with what they need, for the day. And when we have that trust, we can let go more easily of what is fair or equal, and see more clearly the deep belonging that we share with all of God’s people, and all of creation. And if we discern with God’s sense of justice, we will see the damage that racism, anti-LGBTQIA action, ableism, economic oppression, and sexism, have done to us. We will know deeply the brokenness of a community that does not allow all people access to the bounty that God has provided, the woundedness that comes from denying people what they need to survive.
     
    Today, I am thinking so much about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of many who, like the shop owner in our story, imagined and worked for a sense of justice quite different from what is often lived out in this world. The notorious RBG claimed that laws that separated people on the basis of gender, preventing women from accessing education, employment, financial resources, and so much more, were not just, in spite of the fact that so many in power were convinced otherwise. And she continued to work for justice for all marginalized people right up until her death two days ago, at the age of 87. Like our shop owner, RBG can inspire and empower us as people of faith to live out a new vision of justice that is truly about trusting in God’s abundance, ensuring that it is available to all of creation, and it is based in a belief that all people belong, in our communities and in our world.
     
    When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating the intimate presence of God in our midst, and we're experiencing in a bodily way the abundance of God, in the smallest things, like bread and wine. Just like the Israelites did. We can see how God is providing for us, and for all people, each day. We can more easily see what we do have, and know that it is enough. And we're sent out share the good news in that awareness — there is enough for all, and God means for all of God’s children to have what they need, for this day. I invite you to take a step back today, and notice. Where is God providing for you today? Like Jesse said, who are the people that are participating in sharing in that abundance? And how can you ensure that God’s abundance is available for all people, as God intended?
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16, coronavirus, COVID-19, Paycheck Protection Program, Jesse Helton, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning
  • Sep 13, 2020Forgiving 77 Times
    Sep 13, 2020
    Forgiving 77 Times
    Series: (All)
    September 13, 2020. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. This morning, Pastor Meagan preaches on the challenges of forgiving.
     
    Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the 12-step community, step 9 is the process of making amends — going to those that we've harmed and doing what we can to make things right. As we do this, we often discover that the people we have harmed may also have harmed us, leading us to hold those resentments close. This can make acknowledging our own part in what happened in our relationships very hard to do. After all, who wants to admit that we did something that hurt someone, when what they did seems so much worse?
     
    The process of sweeping our side of the street, so to speak, is often long, sometimes taking years. As we think about letting go of our own resentments and making amends for what we have done, often sponsors will suggest that we divide our list of people to whom we owe amends into three parts: those to whom we're ready to make amends, those to whom we're willing to consider making amends, and those to whom we are convinced we will never, ever, ever make amends. The harm they have done to us feels insurmountable.
     
    Once the lists are made and the process of making amends begins, we set aside that third list. We start with the first one, and we slowly work our way toward healing and strengthening our relationships, asking God to guide that process. Over time, we find ourselves dipping into the second list, those to whom we were willing to consider making amends. We have experiences of asking for forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves, and we begin to trust this process of letting go of past wrongs.
     
    And often, sometimes when we least expect it, we realize to our surprise that one of those people who was on our third list has moved over to the second. We find ourselves willing to consider forgiving, and acknowledging our own part, to someone we never thought we could possibly forgive. This 12-step wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a quick and easy thing. Like Jesse said, there are so many things that can make this a challenging and complicated process. Letting go of what someone else has done, and acknowledging our own mistakes, and taking care of ourselves, and holding good boundaries takes a lot of time. This is not something we expected, or decided, or chose necessarily, but often it becomes something that happened to us, when God stepped in.
     
    And this, I believe, is the main gospel we receive from our readings today. We know from these scriptures that this wisdom is far from new. Joseph was attacked by his brothers. They considered leaving him for dead, and then sold him into slavery, where he lived for years. When they stand in front of him in today’s reading from Genesis, we are told that when his brothers ask his forgiveness, and he gives it, Joseph cries. He claims God’s work in the healing that's happened in his life, and is happening in his brothers' lives. Yes, they intended harm, and they did it, Joseph tells them. And God transformed it. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years, as Joseph faithfully followed the path God laid out for him.
     
    Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of completion, of wholeness. Seventy is the number of wholeness times ten, the number of commandments — and we know from our own Lutheran teaching that none of us are capable on our own of keeping those commandments. We try, and we fail. And grace enters in.
     
    I like to say that the reason Jesus tells his disciples to forgive seventy-seven times, not just seven, is that he knew that’s what it would take. Over and over, asking for help, taking the step, falling, and starting over again, until we are complete. Whole. And through it all, as Paul tells the Romans, we belong to God. Whether we live, or whether we die, we belong to God.
     
    Last week, love — not love that comes easily, but love that takes time and commitment and work, and ultimately is impossible without God. This week, forgiveness. In the end, it’s all about relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Jesus embodies and teaches God’s wisdom for our life in community, and it’s so core to who God is that it even shows up in the way Jesus taught us to pray! “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” And as beloveds who belong to God, we learn that God forgives us, we come to forgive ourselves, too, and understand how connected we are with all of our fellow humans.
     
    When I have struggled to forgive, one of the most powerful ways I've learned to invite God in is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis. You might be familiar with it — “Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.”
     
    At a time when I had to frequently encounter people by whom I felt wounded, I would take the time to pray this prayer, for them, and for myself, by name. Asking God to love me and love through me, because I was empty. Asking God to bring healing for my woundedness, and in the process, seeing their woundedness as well. Claiming the faith of God, for them and for myself. I had long drives at that time, and sometimes I would find that it had taken me the entire drive — nearly two hours — just to get through the prayer.
     
    So this morning, I invite you to call to mind someone for whom you would like to pray, someone for whom you feel ready to pray. If you think of someone who you realize is on your third list, that list of people who you will never be ready to forgive, it's okay to set them aside for today. Pick someone else. So having in mind this person that you're ready to pray for today, we will pray the St. Francis Prayer together for them, for ourselves, and for each other. So, take a breath and let us get ready to pray.
     
     
    Lord, make me a channel of Your peace, not mine, with my sibling
     
    Where there is hatred in me and around me, fill me with your love, and let it overflow so that it surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is injury in me and around me, fill me with your healing and forgiveness, and let it overflow so that your healing and forgiveness surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is doubt in me and around me, fill me with your faith, and let it overflow so that your faith surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is despair in me and around me, fill me with your hope, and let it overflow so that your hope surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is darkness in me and around me, fill me with your light, and let it overflow so that your light surrounds my sibling
     
    And where there is sadness in me and around me, fill me with your joy, and let it overflow so that your joy surrounds my sibling
     
    God, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled by my sibling as to console them
     
    To be understood by my sibling, as to understand them;
     
    To be loved by my sibling, as to love them;
     
    For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
     
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35, Jesse Helton
  • Sep 6, 2020We Are All In Debt
    Sep 6, 2020
    We Are All In Debt
    Series: (All)
    September 6, 2020. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The sermon today is on God's call to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love.
     
    Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Did you catch what Paul said in the letter to the Romans today? Like we were just saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” That's an amazing statement! Take all of the law encompassed in the Old Testament, and it can be fulfilled by simply loving one another. Rather than attending to what can seem to be an endless list of rules, we can trust that if we love our neighbor, we're doing God’s will. For those of us who can get bogged down in details, this is really liberating. The only thing we need to do is love one another.
     
    It's not always as simple as it seems, however. In the time of Jesus, faithful Jewish leaders debated long and hard about the statement “Love your neighbor,” particularly asking who their neighbor was. Jesus was part of these faithful discussions, and as we've seen time and time again, Jesus often presents us with a challenge to view things from a different perspective. During one such conversation, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, which forced his listeners to see the Samaritan, a hated enemy of mainline Jewish people, as the neighbor who saved them from the ditch. Jesus calls us not only to love, but to love without distinction.
     
    Even in small things, this is not easy. It can be hard to love the person who cuts us off in traffic, the person who gets too close to us without a mask in the grocery store, the neighbor who turns their music up at 10pm, the fellow church member with whom we've never gotten along, the frequent dog walker who doesn’t clean up when their puppy visits our lawn.
     
    The question of who we should consider to be our neighbor, who is worthy of love, is still debated today. And the truth is we are, often without realizing it, tempted to draw a line defining who is and who isn't our neighbor. Many in the United States wrestle with how to respond to our neighbors from the South who come to this country out of desperation. Police officers and community leaders here in St. Louis, and in Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle — so many cities around the country — are separated by thick walls of hate and fear. We struggle to get along with the family member whose political beliefs around these issues and others seem to go against our very core.
     
    Divisions along racial lines are more volatile than ever as the realities of racism, and the evil of white supremacy, are visible in all their ugliness. Just this week, in Webster Groves, white supremacist tagging was left in several places around our neighboring churches, making it clear that even in Webster, hatred and oppression are present. These things happen, and it's heartbreaking and appalling. At the same time, those of us who don’t live with this experience daily might find it hard to see as neighbor the person whose pain and anger at ongoing systemic oppression and violence is expressed in ways we don’t understand.
     
    Loving one another in fulfillment of the law doesn’t sound so simple when we understand that Paul was talking about loving those we find it difficult to love. In Matthew, Jesus says that if a neighbor who has sinned against us will not listen even to the church, we are to consider them to be a tax collector or a Gentile. This text has often been used to justify shunning or excommunicating someone who doesn’t measure up. But if we're to understand what Jesus is really saying here, we need to remember that, far from separating himself from tax collectors and Gentiles, Jesus often found himself the center of attention for doing precisely the opposite. Jesus talked with them, listened to them, ate with them. Jesus loved them as they were, and called them, especially, to the fullness of life.
     
    We're called to love not only when it's convenient for us, not only when our neighbor is someone we like and approve of, but to love everyone we meet, without condition. Even more unthinkable, perhaps, we're called to love those who have hurt us — those by whom we feel betrayed, or misunderstood, or abused. Sometimes we're called to love by doing the incredibly difficult work of maintaining boundaries and distance to prevent additional physical and emotional harm, for the safety and health of ourselves and our families.
     
    And love is meant to be active. We're called to practice it, in our community of faith, our families, and our neighborhoods. In Ezekiel today, the prophet says God does not want anyone to be lost. We're called to embody God’s relentless love, using the scriptures as our guide. We're called, as Moses was, to go toward the injustice, the pain, the woundedness, and proclaim God’s redemptive justice and mercy. Love one another. What does that look like? Is it even possible?
     
    The truth is, if our one primary directive, the fulfillment of all the law and the commands of God, is to love one another, to owe no one anything but love, we all fall short. None of us can love another to the fulfillment of the law. And yet, there it is. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” We owe our neighbors love. And we are all in debt.
     
    We see evidence in the readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew that God understands our plight, knows our indebtedness. In the verses immediately following this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that we are to forgive “seventy times seven times” when our neighbor asks forgiveness. When — not if — we fail to love, Ezekiel tells us we're to invite each other back to God, and remind ourselves of who we are called to be. We're all in debt. And the God of love knows this, and promises forgiveness, and life, no matter how far we fall.
     
    And it is precisely where we fall that God steps in. When I have struggled most to love, because I feel overwhelmed by my own pain, anger, judgment, the wisdom of my mentors and companions on the road has led me straight to the cross, in two steps. One, often to my chagrin, is to remember and embrace my own humanity, my own capacity to make mistakes and harm others. If the person I struggle to love is imperfect, so am I. And Christ who travelled this human road to suffering and death understands the pain I bear — the pain that we bear — and our struggle to embody love. Two, is to pray for those I don’t want to love. Not that they will see the light and come crawling to us on their knees, although that's tempting sometimes, but to pray that they have the very things we hope for ourselves. Healing. Justice. Mercy. Joy. Give them to the love of God, who can love them when I can’t.
     
    It is precisely where we fall that God steps in. For us as humans, on our own, loving to the fulfillment of the law is not possible. But with God miracles of love and healing are possible, and they happen every day. It is the love of God revealed in Jesus that redeems us from our debt. The love of God in Jesus enables us to love our neighbors, even when it's difficult. God’s love in Jesus empowers us to speak words of promise and truth, to embody God’s unbounded love and justice for all people.
     
    Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” We are called to act, to claim, out loud and clear, that God’s love extends to the very margins, and that racism, and hatred, and oppression are evils that cannot stand in the light of that love. We humans do this so imperfectly, but still, the call persists. We are all in debt. But through the grace of God we are forgiven, and we are deeply loved and capable of loving. Where can God's love work in and through you to heal brokenness in your life, your family, and especially today, in your community?
     
    “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” God calls us to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love today, for we are redeemed by God’s love for each of us, today and every day.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
  • Aug 30, 2020Barefoot on Holy Ground
    Aug 30, 2020
    Barefoot on Holy Ground
    Series: (All)
    August 30, 2020. When Moses sees the burning bush and hears the voice of God, he is told to remove the sandals from his feet, for the place on which he is standing is holy ground. Today, God is calling us too. And Pastor Meagan reminds us that, like Moses, we too are standing on holy ground.
     
    Readings: Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In case you haven't already figured it out from the children's sermon, I love going barefoot. The first thing I do when I enter my house is I take off my shoes and socks, so I can free my feet to feel the hardwood floor as I walk. And when we bring the cats out in the backyard, I go barefoot unless the wood and stone are hot enough to burn my feet. I love feeling all the different textures — the smooth wood of the deck and stairs, the knobbly cement and stone of the patio, the tickly grass between my toes, and the air and sun playing on them as we sit. There's something really grounding for me about going barefoot. It helps me to feel connected somehow, to the world around me and to the god who created it all. And being grounded, I can be ready to start a new thing: ready to learn, ready for things like Sunday School and Confirmation and Adult Forums to begin for the year. Ready perhaps to hear God, like Moses did.
     
    We all know Moses’ story. He was a Hebrew, and he should have been murdered by the midwives, because Pharaoh had ordered them to murder all the Egyptian boys. But they saved him. Because those midwives, Shifra and Puah, they didn’t follow the law of Pharaoh. They followed the law of God. So Moses lived, and was taken in to be raised in Pharaoh’s house, as an Egyptian. For some years he doesn’t realize who he is, and when he does, he can’t take the pain of his people. In a moment of anger and grief, as he witnesses yet another injustice, he murders an overseer and then runs for his life.
     
    In one sense, Moses creates a great life for himself. He finds community, he marries, he tends his father-in-law’s animals. But in another sense, Moses has lost a great deal. He is cut off from his people, and his history. Even God. Then Moses sees the flame in the bush and he hears the voice, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!” He takes off his shoes, and he walks closer to the bush, and he is grounded again. God reminds Moses of who he is, and who his people are. God tells Moses who God is: I am. The one who has always been, the God of all Moses’ ancestors, the one who created all things, the one who is in that moment alive and present in the flame in the bush in front of Moses. Not just I was, or I will be, but I am.
     
    And God tells Moses that he hears the cries of the Hebrew people, of Moses’ people, and that he always has. Moses couldn’t bear the pain, but God can, and does. And he calls Moses to return, promising to be with him, to give him the words he needs to speak, to claim God’s justice for his people. In spite of his fear, his uncertainty about his abilities to take on this task, perhaps his shame about how he'd failed before, Moses goes.
     
    Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. Throughout history, God has always heard God’s people. God heard the Hebrew people. God heard the cries of Rizpah: the sons she had with King Saul had been murdered, and she stood watch mourning and wailing for months until they were buried. Mary, Jesus’ mother, claims that God has heard her, and not only her, but the cries of all who suffer.
     
    Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. In Stand Your Ground, the book about the history and pain of white exceptionalism and faith that a group of us at Christ Lutheran are reading together, author Kelly Brown Douglas writes, “In telling his poignant story of life in a concentration camp during the Jewish Holocaust, Eli Wiesel recalls ‘a most horrible day, even among all of those other bad days,’ when he witnessed the hanging of a child . . . . Wiesel heard a man cry out, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ To that question, Wiesel said a voice inside him answered, ‘Hanging from this gallows.’ ”
     
    And this, as Moses learns, is where God always is, when people are in pain. God hears the cries of all of those wounded by the systemic racism in our communities. God heard the cries of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and just this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, who was severely injured in a shooting. God heard the cries of several others who were shot by a white supremacist while calling for justice in Kenosha.
     
    God heard the cries of the more than 180,000 who have died from COVID-19 now, and he hears the grief of those who loved them, and those who are still struggling to recover from being ill. God hears the cries of those who have lost loved ones, and homes, and jobs, to the devastating wildfires in California. God hears the pain of those recovering from the destruction of the storms in Iowa, and the catastrophic hurricanes that have borne down on communities in the Gulf. God hears the cries of all the officers in the police and military, who face daily the pain and struggle of our community. God hears the cries of those who are unemployed, or not paid adequately, who can't feed and clothe and house themselves and their children. God hears the anguish of those living with mental illness and addiction, isolation and loneliness, and the despair of their families.
     
    And then, family of faith, God sends us. But not without preparing us for the work ahead. God teaches us who God is — the god who is always present, the god who hears people's cry. God teaches us how to live in community. Moses is sent with Aaron, and we are sent with one another. Paul, in the letter to the Romans today, talks about persevering in faith when our life together is hard, and loving our enemies in concrete ways, making room for God to be God in our lives and in the world.
     
    And as we see with Peter today in our gospel from Matthew, knowing that we will make mistakes, God continues to teach us. God reminds us that no matter what, above any nation, state, or flag, it is God who made and sustains us, our faith in God that guides us, and Christ whom we follow. As people of faith, every year we come together for Sunday School, Confirmation, Adult Forums, Bible Studies, so we continue to ground ourselves and learn more about our God.
     
    Hearing Moses’ story reminds me that we, like Moses, are standing on holy ground. God is calling to us too, and is right in front of us. Taking off my shoes, reading passages of scripture, lighting a candle, can all help me to remember that I am on holy ground. How do you “holy ground” yourself, so that you can hear God’s voice?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15, Whirl Story Bible, coronavirus, pandemic