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
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  • 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
  • Sep 19, 2021Imagination, Curiosity, Abundance, Vulnerability
    Sep 19, 2021
    Imagination, Curiosity, Abundance, Vulnerability
    Series: (All)
    September 19, 2021. How can we use our imagination, caring curiosity, abundant generosity, and vulnerability to welcome more intentionally?
     
    Readings: James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9: 30-37
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    The hard conversations continue again this week. Jesus reminds his disciples that there are difficult times ahead — rejection and even death, and not glory, are in store for the one who they hope will free them from oppressive Roman rule. And the disciples still don’t get it. Perhaps they don’t really want to understand. And who can blame them? This time, rather than arguing with Jesus about this as we heard last week, the disciples get into a conversation of their own, trying to work out among them who will have the biggest share of the glory that they are sure still is going to come, when Jesus seizes power.
     
    They are embarrassed to tell Jesus that this is what they’d been talking about. But Jesus knows anyway, and he calls them to focus on what is more important: welcoming those who are commonly overlooked and rejected to the table. Making sure that those usually left behind get the seats closest to Jesus. He shifts the conversation to radical welcome. And this got me thinking about welcome, what it means and how we live it out, and one of the places where I have experienced profound welcome.
     
    When we arrived in Tanzania, on one hand everything felt different. Mostly dirt roads, food that was unfamiliar to me, unknown language, and most of all, the monkeys that were playing in the trees where we were used to seeing squirrels. It didn’t take long, however, before we knew that we were thoroughly welcomed there.
     
    Our hosts met us, with face-splitting smiles and bear hugs, even though, we found out later, one of them had malaria when we arrived. They walked us to the hotel, where our rooms were ready for us. Everywhere we went, there was food and drink offered. Even those who seemed to have nothing had what they could give to us, and they gave it freely — whether that be peanuts, or little cakes or tea. And there was always the opportunity to wash our hands… echoing the tradition in Jesus’s time of washing the dust and dirt of long travel off the feet of every visitor who entered your house.
     
    We went to worship, and every word of Swahili was translated for us by one of our hosts, who intently wrote a couple of sentences at a time on small sheets of paper that she sent down our row so we could all read what was being said. And behind, around, and through it all, our first and most frequent Swahili words, as I mentioned earlier: Karibu sana! Not simply welcome, but close. And not just close, but very close.
     
    “All are welcome” is something that we say a lot, isn’t it? And yet, it's so easy to get caught in our own “stuff” and fail to welcome well. Sometimes we're stuck in the feeling that there isn’t enough to share with someone else. Like the disciples, we may find ourselves arguing over where we sit, rather than looking to make sure everyone has a place.
     
    We may be stuck in “old ways” of doing things, thinking that the way we have always done things is the only way. As James points out today, the desires or cravings in our hearts can distract us, and get us lost in what’s in it for us. Soon we are arguing, as the disciples did, over who gets recognition, the best seat, the most power, and we have completely forgotten the God of abundance who has made sure there is enough for everyone.
     
    Jesus understands where the disciples have gotten lost, and shifts the conversation to radical welcome. And as so often happens, Jesus lifts up those who are overlooked as he describes how to live out the call of God in our lives. This time, it’s not a Samaritan, or a woman, but a child. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Whoever welcomes the forgotten one, the last one, welcomes God.
     
    Debie Thomas, in her blog “Journey With Jesus,” turns this around a little bit, and reflects not on how children are welcomed, but on how children can show us how to welcome. Children use their imaginations, Thomas points out. The disciples struggled to break out of their hierarchical thinking, but children have a great capacity to see things from different angles.
     
    Anyone who has spent time with children knows that unlike the disciples who were afraid to ask Jesus about what they didn’t understand, children are not afraid to ask the hard questions, sometimes to our great embarrassment, as when my younger brother chose the quietest moment of worship to loudly ask, “Why that man ain’t got no hair?!”
     
    The disciples, and many of us adults, don’t easily trust in abundance, but children often tend by nature to trust that there is enough, that they are enough, and that they will have what they need. Children often have to be taught to fear not having enough.
     
    And from children we can learn that, contrary to what we might expect, God shows up best in vulnerability. Jesus shows us this truth over and over throughout his ministry, all the way to the cross. Thomas writes, “Do we want to see God? Do we really want to see God? Then look to the child abandoned in the alleyway. Look to the child detained at our border. Look to the child who has been abused. Look to the child who is fleeing from war. Look to the least of these, and see the face of God.” Imagination, honest curiosity, abundant generosity, vulnerability. This is the welcome we are called to.
     
    Last Sunday, you all gave approval for the Council to receive a bid on the Mead Center, and to move forward with conversation about renovation plans for our church building. Welcome and accessibility are clear, core values that have been named in the process of renovation, and this came up again in our conversations over the last couple of months.
     
    When Sunday School space was discussed recently, Superintendent Mr. Jesse said that if we wait until someone comes who needs an elevator, it is already too late to make that person welcome. It's already too late. We are invited, in reflecting on this, to welcome not just those who are already here, but to use our imaginations so that we can be prepared to welcome those who will come in the future.
     
    And in the not too far future, we know that Afghani people fleeing their homes as refugees will be coming to St. Louis, and with the coordination and guidance of the International Institute of St. Louis, St Louis is already preparing to welcome them. The Afghani people will come bringing their culture, bringing their faith, their families, their losses and their griefs, their hopes and their dreams. It will take all of us St. Louisans to open the door and make way for them to have their homes among us. And we, as Christ Lutheran Church, have already been involved in helping to prepare for those who will be coming to join our communities.
     
    So I ask all of us, myself included… how do people know that they are welcome here, in our community of faith? How do people know that they are welcome in our schools and our workplaces, in our homes, and in our lives? How can we use our imagination, caring curiosity, abundant generosity, and vulnerability to welcome more intentionally? And how can we open our hearts to the Spirit and unleash our capacity to welcome and serve, not just today, but for many years to come? Come, Holy Spirit, and guide us into the future.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9: 30-37, Debie Thomas
  • Sep 12, 2021The Cost of Discipleship
    Sep 12, 2021
    The Cost of Discipleship
    Series: (All)
    September 12, 2021. Where are you called to use your hands to participate in God’s creativity and love? How can you find the courage to speak the gospel’s radical truth in the face of resistance, and hold your tongue when needed so other prophetic voices can be heard?
     
    Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    After five weeks of Jesus’ bread of life discourse, about God giving God’s self to us in very profound, real, and sometimes mystical ways, we are now on our second week of Mark showing us Jesus in all his humanity. Last week Jesus tries (unsuccessfully) to hide from the demands of the ministry he is embodying, and in the process he shows us how not to respond, and how to respond, to someone different from us. Today, as Jesus is trying to explain to his disciples just how hard the road ahead of them all is, Peter tells Jesus (in not-so-polite language) to be quiet. And Jesus in turn tells Peter (in not-so-polite language) to be quiet.
     
    In all fairness, I can sympathize with Peter, who doesn’t want to hear about what will happen to Jesus in Jerusalem, and what will happen to Jesus’ followers later. And I can sympathize with Jesus, who just wants one of his closest companions to get it, so he doesn’t have to carry this load alone. Anyone who has had hard truths to share can probably understand how Jesus was feeling, and just how disheartening it would have been to have Peter discount what he was saying to them. After all, Jesus didn’t want the cross to become a reality, any more than any of us would, or do. And yet, he knew the truth of it, and Peter trying to shut down that truth was just too much.
     
    All through our scriptures today, we see this reality: trust in God does not make things easy. In fact, sometimes the radical, unapologetic, unlimited love of God, fully embraced, can make us a target for the evil in this world, whose only mission is to close into a box that which will not be contained.
     
    Isaiah tells the Israelites that as people of faith they are called to proclaim the good news of God right into the midst of their enemies. We often read this passage in which Isaiah speaks of giving the back to those who beat it, and the face to those who pluck the beard, as being about Jesus. The hard truth here is that Isaiah is actually speaking to the Israelites living in exile among foreigners, and to all followers of God, to us, who are called to claim God’s promise exactly where it is needed the most. To call out radical love and justice for those most vulnerable, even when others are trying their hardest to shut it down.
     
    This is no small thing. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in an attempt to shut down his leadership in the movements for racial and economic justice and peace, not so long ago. Water Protectors standing for the protection of sacred lands, environmental justice, and clean water have faced violent resistance and even death in our own country in the last few years. Many seeking racial justice have found themselves targeted by private citizens, right-wing militia, and even government — and Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a white supremacist during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017, is not the only one to have lost her life.
     
    This week, the ELCA officially welcomes Bishop Megan Rohrer (they/he), newly installed to the Sierra Pacific Synod, the first openly transgender bishop in the ELCA. Since they have served as an openly trans pastor, boldly proclaiming radical love and inclusion for all regardless of gender identity, Bishop Rohrer has received messages of hate and even death threats.
     
    This is not easy truth, family of faith. It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if we could just skip the cross, skip the challenge, skip the suffering, and go straight to resurrection. But Jesus tells Peter, in no uncertain terms, in not-so-polite language, that it doesn’t work that way. God has always come to bring the gospel of healing, hope, justice, and love to the broken places, and God has always sent God’s people to do the same, because that is who God is. And that is not an easy road. No wonder some of the disciples chose to leave, as we heard in our gospel a few weeks back.
     
    Our readings today carry this even further. James makes it clear that sometimes the evil trying to shut down or limit God’s love is nothing more or less than the very tongue in our own mouths. What we say can be very powerful, as Isaiah and James both make clear in today’s readings. Words can do harm and tear down, or words can build up those around us. And likewise, silence can do incredible harm, allowing untruth and evil to go unchecked, or silence can create space for truth that others need to share to be heard and honored. Silence is as powerful, or more, than words.
     
    “The Good Place” is a light-hearted comedy about an unlikely community of people who end up in the show’s version of heaven after they die, some of whom probably got there by mistake. One of them, Jason, is in the Good Place because he was mistaken for Jianyu Li, a Taiwanese monk. He jumps at the offer to “continue his vow of silence” to keep the secret. And everyone thinks he really is a monk until... you guessed it: he opens his mouth and speaks. Jason’s tongue, the second it is unbridled, makes it clear just who he is, for good or for ill.
     
    And in all of our passages today, and in Mark especially, Jesus is sharing words that make it very clear who he is, and what it will mean to follow him. Not the glory of the Messiah lifted up and honored, but the reality that following Jesus, trusting in God, means embodying the truth of God’s promises at the very center of the greatest suffering. Just as Isaiah tells the people that God is calling them to be faithful, bold, and do that in the face of their enemies.
     
    As we remember the 20th anniversary of the death and destruction of the September 11th attack on the Trade Center and Pentagon, we know there is evil in this world. We also recall those who faced the evil to bring rescue and healing wherever it was possible. Many of them died for their efforts. And we know that there is a great capacity for good. The news shows us both the evil and the good every day.
     
    And God is still present, bringing the good news of the gospel right where the suffering is greatest, and calling us, God’s people, to do the same. This weekend is also “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday in the ELCA, highlighting our call to enter the brokenness of the world and proclaim God’s love for all, even when our enemies, or our own tongue, try to shut it down. Jesus followed this path, all the way to death. This is, at its heart, the meaning of the cross.
     
    This is not easy, family of faith. And it is no wonder that some of Jesus’s disciples turned around when they understood it, and no wonder Peter tried, in not-so-polite language, to keep Jesus from telling this truth. We can take courage knowing that even Peter and Jesus wrestled with it, and we do this not alone, but together.
     
    As we mark “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday, where will you bring God’s message of healing and justice? Where are you called to use your hands to participate in God’s creativity and love? How can you find the courage to speak the gospel’s radical truth in the face of resistance, and hold your tongue when needed so other prophetic voices can be heard? All the way back to Isaiah, the call is clear. And all the way to today, God walks the road with us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-9, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38
  • Sep 5, 2021Called Out of Hiding to Embody God’s Love
    Sep 5, 2021
    Called Out of Hiding to Embody God’s Love
    Series: (All)
    September 5, 2021. Sometimes we might feel we want to hide out. In today's sermon we hear about Jesus wanting to hide out, and the Syrophoenician woman who comes and begs for his help for her daughter.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Did any of you have a favorite place to hide out? Or maybe you have one now? When I was in junior high and high school, I would go to the library, or the bookstore, get a couple of new books, and then find a secluded booth at a nearby Taco Bell and settle in to read, sometimes for hours. No cell phones, no way to get ahold of me. I could hide out for as long as I wanted. It was the perfect prescription when I needed to get away from it all.
     
    If any of you can relate to that feeling, we can hear in this story of Jesus today in our gospel that we are not alone. Mark tells us that Jesus himself wants to hide in the house and not let anyone know he is there. And here comes the Syrophoenician woman, asking — no, begging — for help for her daughter who is ill. And Jesus, Jesus, calls her a dog, this Syrophoenician woman who just wants to save her daughter.
     
    This is quite shocking, really. Far from drawing lines or shutting people out, Jesus usually claims a place and beloved-ness of people seen as outcasts — people like the Syrophoenician woman. Particularly in Mark, Jesus likes to give us the same message again and again, and most of the time the lesson is: all are beloved. This message starts for us today with our Isaiah text, calling us to know the sacredness of creation, and continues in James as he commands us to love without distinction. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
     
    There are no limits to God’s embrace, all through the Older Testament, and Jesus’ ministry carries that through. The Good Samaritan was rejected by those around him simply because he was a Samaritan. But he is the one Jesus says will come to our aid when we are lying in the ditch. And there is the woman at the well, who Jesus takes time to talk to in spite of her status as a foreign woman. The woman caught in adultery, lepers, Zacchaeus and other tax collectors, and on and on: countless examples of God welcoming the outsider, Jesus lifting up the outcast.
     
    And still, today, Jesus takes away this woman’s humanity, explicitly excludes her from the message he himself has given over and over, that all are included as God’s children. I think we all have those days, don’t we? When as hard as we try, we just want to hide, and in our humanity we fall short of our ideals. We speak about patience, and turn around and snap at those closest to us. We do our best to embody grace, and then growl through our mask at the cashier at the grocery store, or snarl over the phone at the person trying to solve our internet issues. We preach forgiveness, and then we realize, it means the neighbor whose dog digs up our yard, too.
     
    We claim, as Jesus did so many times, that all are welcome, all are beloved, and then we become aware that although we find it easy to welcome LGBTQIA people, our community, workplace, or school is not actually welcoming for those with disabilities. Or we hear the voices of our black siblings, and come to realize that, in so many places where we take our comfort and our belonging for granted, they do not feel valued, heard, or even safe. We all have those days. We all have those barriers within us.
     
    Mark shows us a Jesus who is fully human, as well as fully divine, and in today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. And caught hiding, Jesus shows us how we are called to respond when we are caught in our blind spots. We don’t know why or how it happened... maybe Jesus was tired and caught off-guard. Maybe he wanted to demonstrate what we shouldn’t do, kind of like a living parable. However it happened, in that moment the Syrophoenician woman doesn’t challenge his words, but says that even dogs need to be fed. She reflects Jesus’ words back to him, highlighting just how awful his comment was. Called out, Jesus doesn’t make excuses or explain why he was right or what he really meant.
     
    With no further discussion, Jesus heals her daughter. And before we can even move on from today's gospel passage, Jesus does it again: restoring hearing to the deaf man, outcast not only because he couldn’t hear, but also because he, like the Syrophoenician woman, was a gentile. This is no accident. Mark tells us that as he journeys, Jesus is traveling through Greek country and is bound to encounter many who are not Jewish and are seen as outsiders.
     
    In the end, this story is about Jesus, but it is also very much about the Syrophoenician woman. The one with the ill daughter. The one seen as an outcast. The one called a dog. The one who had been unheard, and explicitly excluded. And yet, she didn’t give up. Jesus rejected her, with prejudice. Nevertheless, she persisted.
     
    The Syrophoenician woman seems to have known, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and other activists have always known, that persistence is necessary for justice to come. She knew Jesus could heal her daughter. She knew she was worthy of healing. And like Dr. King, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement, she didn’t allow attempts to silence her to stop her as she sought what she so desperately needed. And the next thing we know, Jesus is restoring the hearing of the deaf gentile, too. Healing for the woman’s daughter opened the possibility for others to be healed as well.
     
    In all of our history, people claiming their right to justice and dignity and their place among God’s children have done as the Syrophoenician woman did. Slavery ended, women achieved the right to vote, LGBTQIA people claimed their right to exist, and so many other injustices have been righted because of people whose voices have rung out persistently over the years, including today, as black people demand that the long history of brutality against them end.
     
    Even in the ELCA, our church, people who have been shuffled to the side or out the door have claimed their place in the pews and the pulpits, living out the courage and desperation of the Syrophoenician woman in their own times and places. All of this took not days, weeks, or months, but years, of people following the lead of the Syrophoenician woman insisting she be heard.
     
    So we can take heart today. The Syrophoenician woman was tired, too, but her persistence succeeded. And even Jesus wanted to hide away sometimes, and stumbled as he embodied the vision that God’s love and mercy are for everyone. But that vision rekindled. The promise of God to Isaiah, and Jesus’ challenge and invitation to live out God’s justice, persist, just when we think we are ready to find a good hiding place. God’s mercy is wide when we fall, and with so many gone before us, we are far from alone.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
  • Aug 29, 2021Be Slow to Anger
    Aug 29, 2021
    Be Slow to Anger
    Series: (All)
    August 29, 2021. In her sermon on our readings today from Deuteronomy, Mark, and James, Pastor Meagan invites us to be quick to listen and slow to anger.
     
    Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Reading today’s passage from James with its direction on how to live out the word of God reminded me of a young Alateen member I knew some years ago. We were in the car with their dad heading to a speaker event where they were going to tell their story, and we talked as we drove about how to best share how Alateen had helped them. When it was their time to speak, they shared for a bit and then they said, “So, how has Alateen helped me? Well, it used to be that when I was talking to my mom and she made me mad I would immediately start screaming. Now, when she says something and I get mad, I wait a minute, and then start screaming.”
     
    I’m not sure that this is exactly what James had in mind when he said, “Be slow to anger.” But hey, in twelve-step programs one of the slogans we often hear is “progress not perfection” — and progress is progress. I wonder how long it took them to end the conversation before screaming.
     
    I don’t know about you, but living out the Word of God, embodying the love of God in all that I do, often feels like a difficult, even impossible, task. All of today’s readings can make following God seem daunting. Deuteronomy says we are to not only know the law, but to observe it. James echoes that, and also says we should rid ourselves of sordidness and wickedness, or our religion will be worth nothing. Just a few verses after today’s passage comes that famous line, “Faith without works is dead.”
     
    And in today’s gospel from Mark, Jesus calls the religious leaders, who pride themselves on knowing and teaching the law of God, hypocrites, saying they honor God with their lips but not their hearts. If even the rabbis aren’t living up to God’s standards, what chance do the rest of us really have?
     
    One of reformer Martin Luther’s clear messages lifted up in the Reformation was that our salvation, our life with God, is grounded in faith, not in works. So what is up with all of these scriptures we have today, calling us not only to live out God’s law, but to do so seemingly perfectly? Because in case you hadn’t already noticed, the pastor you called just a year-and-a-half ago is far from capable of living up to the standards that not even the leaders of Jesus’ time could meet. And it’s not enough to say “James isn’t actually meant for us Lutherans who believe in grace” — not when virtually the same message appears in all the rest of our readings as well.
     
    So how are we to understand these words in Deuteronomy, and Mark, and James? How do we accomplish the seemingly impossible task of embodying the love of God, when literally no one except Jesus has ever been able to do it?
     
    The simple answer is: we can’t. That’s why we have the law to begin with. It gives us a guide for our life together, certainly. And as Luther teaches, it makes it clear to us that on our own, we can’t follow it perfectly. We will always fall short.
     
    Thankfully, we are not on our own. As my young Alateen friend so eloquently demonstrated, following God, living out love and grace, happens not when we follow the law to the letter, but when we allow the Spirit to transform us, bit by bit, from the inside out. That happens often when we least expect it and is most often visible when we look back. Moses tells the Israelites — not just one of them, but all of them as a community — that embodying the law is not about gaining God’s approval, but knowing that God is close. James wants the community of believers to know that when God enters in and changes us, slowly but surely God’s love will be revealed in all that we do. Jesus tells his listeners that God’s law is not about the lips, the head, but about the heart — and that is God’s realm.
     
    It’s not about being perfect, thank goodness, because we never will be. It’s not about having the exact right rituals or beliefs, because God is so much bigger than that. Embodying the law of God is about love, mercy, and perhaps most of all, grace. It is about recognizing when, not if, the heat of anger rises and shoots out of the top of our heads, or that knot of anxiety causes our gut to clench, and inviting God into that moment to slow us down and show us new ways to move forward.
     
    Today, we are invited to be quick to listen — to God, and to one another. To allow the word of God, and the Spirit of mercy and grace, to transform our hearts, so that more and more we embody that Spirit in the world around us. To understand that God forms us in community for a reason, so that we can grow together and learn from one another. And above all, to know in our hearts that the greatest commandment will always be love.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
  • Aug 22, 2021Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
    Aug 22, 2021
    Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
    Series: (All)
    August 22, 2021. After some of his disciples had turned back, Jesus asked the others if anyone else wanted to turn back also. Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Sometimes turning back seems like it would be so much easier. Running away can be so tempting. But even when we are ready to quit, God will always be present.
     
    Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, John 6:56-69
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
     
    We most often hear these words, as we did a few minutes ago, in a song as the prelude to our gospel reading, framed with alleluias, praising the God who we know brings life. I don’t know about you, but in that context it is easy to sort of romanticize the phrase, experience it as a purely joyful introduction to the good news of the gospel that we just heard. I've often received it as a reminder that God’s word brings life, as it certainly does. This gospel acclamation calls us, in not only the words but the dancing beauty of its music, to celebrate the promise of God in the words to come.
     
    In our gospel reading today however, we have just heard this question in its full context, and as so often happens, the context changes everything. Peter and the other disciples have been following Jesus for a while, and as Jesus teaches them, some of what he has said has gotten hard. Yes, God feeds God’s people, Jesus says. Knowing that is so important to understanding who God is. And, there is so much more. God brings abundance and life that often comes through and after struggle. The life that God provides for us embraces the confusion (I imagine the disciples were feeling that in spades today), pain, and even death, that is part of our human experience, and it carries us beyond that.
     
    And some of Jesus’ followers, hearing this reality, turned back. It was just too confusing, too hard, too much to take. Jesus asks the remaining disciples if they want to turn back also, and that is when Peter speaks these words. It’s hard. It's painful even. And sometimes, turning back seems like it would be so much easier. But we’ve come so far already. Where else would we go?
     
    When I was at a low point in seeking first call, this gospel reading came up in the lectionary, and my pastor at the time highlighted these words for me. In spite of the challenges, road blocks, and even heartbreak that the journey sometimes brought, my answer to Jesus’ question had to be the same as Peter’s. Not because it was easy, or clear, but because being true to myself, and God’s call and direction in my life, was in the end the only option. Where else would I go?
     
    And yet, as I suspect many of you have experienced, turning back or running away can be so tempting. It can seem like the best thing to do, for all concerned. As I mentioned last week, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King felt that way. Colleagues and friends in Minneapolis felt that way often last summer as they came together over days, weeks, and months to join the call for justice for George Floyd, and they continue to recover from the trauma and build community in new ways. And in 2014, soon-to-be Lutheran pastor and Ferguson uprising activist Elle Dowd felt the same way.
     
    Elle has written a book, Baptized in Tear Gas, about her experience in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown, and the many lessons she as a white woman learned from her black companions as they stayed the course in the midst of the violence, grief, and discouragement they faced every day of that long year. On the November evening when the announcement was made that Michael Brown’s murderer was to be freed without consequence, Elle found herself with peaceful activists fleeing from tear gas and flash bombs, and sought refuge at Christ Church Cathedral to change clothes and re-ground herself in the God who had transformed her over the many months she spent on the streets that summer and winter.
     
    She writes:
     
    And as we gathered around the altar, I noticed a young couple with an infant in a carrier. And I thought of the screams and clouds of tear gas from earlier that night, and I burst into tears as we prayed, thinking the world is ending. Worlds are ending and beginning all the time. And babies are still being born. It was only a month away from Christmas, where we celebrate the hope brought to us in the tiny baby Jesus. For me that night, that baby was a sign that God was with us. Even though things were as bleak as I had ever seen, justice felt far away, and we were all worn down and brokenhearted after going up against empire and losing, despite it all, that baby reminded me that life is stubborn and tenacious, and new life finds a way.
     
    I think we're all feeling the weight of the brokenness of this world these days, in different ways. The reality of racism that reveals itself more and more in our country and our communities. The devastation of the earthquake in Haiti. The horror of Afghanistan, where the oppressive Taliban regime has taken over again. The reality of climate change, revealed in detail in recent reports. The grief and trauma of a pandemic, that not only hasn’t waned as we'd hoped, but seems to be worse than ever, just in time for school to begin again. Add to that other natural challenges of life — illness, work, family circumstances, mental health challenges, death, and grief — and it can be too much to carry. I know there are some and suspect there are many, among us here gathered, who are wondering how to find the energy to keep going.
     
    Jesus is telling his disciples he understands all of this. Jesus knows how hard the road is. He knows just how badly we want to quit, sometimes. And we know from last week’s story of Elijah that God knows we may not be able to take another step forward until we take a step back and grab a snack and a nap. Jesus knows that some of his followers had already decided they needed to turn back, and he offers those left the same choice. And Peter responds.
     
    Peter makes a choice, to follow God even when it seems impossible. Just like the people of Israel, led by Joshua, made a choice to serve God, and Elijah made a choice to rest and then continue the journey. Peter made a choice, to continue to trust Jesus even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense.
     
    All of these stories, from Israel to Jerusalem to Selma to Minneapolis to Ferguson, show us that we are in community if we are following God. Even when we are ready to quit, God will always be present, offering a snack and a nap. And there will always be someone among us who is ready to make the claim just when we can't: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
     
    Fall is a season of transition, leading us to new classrooms or schools, new routines, even change in the weather. It can be exciting, anxiety-producing, joy-filled, and overwhelming. Whatever challenges and hopes stand before you today, whatever griefs you are holding, whatever struggles seem too much to bear, whatever unknowns you face with fear, anxiety, joy, and anticipation, in this season, this promise is for us.
     
    This claim of Peter’s is so much more than a call to recognize the life to be found in our scriptures. In this passage from John, Jesus meets his disciples at the center of their struggle. And Jesus’ presence, his question, and Peter’s response is a profound reminder of God’s presence, life, and abundance that holds true even when the road is so hard we want to turn back.
     
    “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, John 6:56-69, Elle Dowd, Baptized in Tear Gas, COVID-19, coronavirus
  • Aug 15, 2021Trusting in the God Who Longs to Feed Us
    Aug 15, 2021
    Trusting in the God Who Longs to Feed Us
    Series: (All)
    August 15, 2021. In her sermon today, Pastor Meagan brings us right to the heart of Jesus' message in the Bread of Life Discourse. In giving us God’s self, Jesus tells us, what God is trying to do is provide us with nothing less than life itself.
     
    Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6, John 6:51-58
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was young, I was a very picky eater. Family lore says the only things that I would eat were French toast, bacon, and peas — not cookies, not ice cream, not hamburgers, not popcorn. Nothing else appealed to me, just French toast, bacon, and peas. As I was the first child, and my mom’s angst was already high, my lack of eating became such a big focus that not just my parents but my younger brother all got into it, and one of my brother’s early words, spoken from his highchair with his finger pointed at me, was “Eat! Eat! Eat!” I can only imagine how stressful it must have felt for my mom as she struggled to find things that I would eat and tried to make sure that I got enough to eat, day after day.
     
    We have had a little bit of a taste of this in our house lately as we closely watch our elder kitty Gracie, who has always been a finicky grazer and has only become more picky as she's gotten older. We have found ourselves spending time every day figuring out if she wants her “special” wet food, dry food, or perhaps kitten wet food, which has been a big hit in our house lately. We encourage her to eat frequently, and not to mention keeping her sneaky brother from slipping around her tiny body to help himself to her food.
     
    Today, four weeks into this Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus is once more inviting his followers, all of us, to eat. And more so than the last few weeks, Jesus shares with us the intimacy of what he is doing. Jesus is offering bread and drink to us who are hungry, but there is more to it than that. In today’s gospel Jesus makes it clear that in Christ, God is offering God’s very self to us, in a very intimate way.
     
    And so today, with one more week to go on the Bread of Life Discourse, after several weeks of leading us closer and closer, Jesus brings us right to the heart of the message. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” In giving us God’s self, Jesus tells us, what God is trying to do is provide us with nothing less than life itself.
     
    Often, I think, we read these words as law. This is one of those passages that, unfortunately, can be used to draw the line between who has met God’s requirements for salvation and who has not, who will receive the gift of life and who won’t. However, after so many weeks of witnessing God’s wildly extravagant abundance, the invitation to share in what God has created is extended to everyone. The promise that God provides what we need has been presented in so many ways, even when those receiving feel so thoroughly undeserving. It seems like reading this passage as law might miss the point.
     
    What if we read these words as gospel, instead? What if we hear these words of Jesus as the plea of a mother wanting, perhaps even longing, to feed her child? What if, instead of requirement and limitation, we hear in Jesus’ words the voice of a loving parent saying to us, “Come, let me feed you.” What if we understand that in these words God is offering not just a meal, but God's very self, everything — food, drink, breath, guidance, rest, love, forgiveness, creative energy, life?
     
    Each week, as we worship, we hear the words of promise in our scriptures, leading us on the path of life. We gather as God’s people to acknowledge that we need God. We hear and respond to Jesus’ words calling us to God’s table. And as we celebrate Holy Communion, we receive into our bodies, spirits, our very selves, the God who gives us not just any food, but the bread of life that only God can give.
     
    God gives us life, even when we don’t fully understand it. (Spoiler alert: next week we'll find out that the disciples don't get it either!). Even when we think we don’t deserve it, even — and especially — when we are exhausted and empty and don’t know what we need or how to find it, God provides life. Just like my mom longed to feed me the food she knew would give me life and help me grow, just like Karen and I commit ourselves to feeding Gracie.
     
    God meets us where we are and gives us life, and we're transformed from the inside out. Like the young boy with the loaves and fish, we know that God has given us everything and we have more than enough to share. Like Elijah at his lowest point, when we are exhausted we know that it’s okay to turn to God, rest and eat, and then continue the journey. Like the disciples, we can trust that it’s okay for us not to understand. We can see that our God sticks with us, and never gives up on us, even when we might feel like giving up on God.
     
    So if you are feeling exhausted today, if you are overwhelmed and not sure what the next step should be, or feeling like you have nothing left to give, hear the words of the God who gives their very self to provide everything you need. Jesus told his disciples, and tells all of us today, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” We can trust in the God whose deepest longing is to feed us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Proverbs 9:1-6, John 6:51-58
  • Aug 8, 2021We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Back Now
    Aug 8, 2021
    We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Back Now
    Series: (All)
    August 8, 2021. When Elijah has hit the wall in 1 Kings, God shows up and provides exactly what he needs. No judgment, no expectations, no requirement that Elijah pretend to be energetic and strong when he is clearly not. Just understanding, bread and water, and permission to rest. We all know that feeling of exhaustion, and in her sermon today Pastor Meagan reminds us how encouraging it is to know that God understands it too.
     
    Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25–5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Elijah has been on a really long, hard journey — one that is far from over — and he is exhausted. He has been doing what he knows God is calling him to do, speaking truth to power in the form of the king. Elijah is one of the only faithful prophets left alive, and they want to kill him too. Worse, Elijah feels that he has failed God. He is, frankly, ready to die, and he has no qualms about letting God know that. Then Elijah does the only thing he can do: he lays down and takes a nap.
     
    And God sends an angel to him there, bearing exactly what he needed. Not once but twice, the angel wakes Elijah so that he can eat bread so fresh it’s still warm, and drink water. And once he has eaten, and drank, and slept, he travels 40 days and 40 nights on the strength of that food, to Mount Horeb. The rest, water, and bread do not shorten the journey or eliminate the threat to Elijah’s life, but it is exactly what Elijah needs to give him the strength to make it through.
     
    We all feel it sometimes: that feeling that, whatever our journey, whatever the struggle, it’s just too much to handle. We have tried to keep going, and finally we just can’t do it. Some years ago, when I was going through a really hard time on a really long journey, I got a call from my Aunt Kathie saying she was coming over because she had something for me. When she and her friend arrived, Kathie handed me a painting that she had painted herself for me. I looked at it, stunned that she had done this for me. And then she said, “Its name is Hope.” And her friend said, determinedly, “And its other name is Meagan.”
     
    In that moment, I don’t think there is anything that could have meant more to me than that painting, and the sentiment behind it. When I was at the end of my proverbial rope, God gave me just what I needed, through the hands and hearts of these two women. The journey I was on was far from over and there were more struggles to come, but this gift was exactly what I needed to buoy my sagging spirit and rest my tired soul so I could keep going. Just when I had reached a point of feeling like it might be time to give up, I was quite literally given the gift of Hope.
     
    In one of my favorite scenes in the movie “Selma,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., like Elijah, feels like he has failed, and is about ready to quit. During their first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers were brutally attacked, and more than one person lost their life. Dr. King is exhausted, feels responsible for what has happened, and can’t fathom asking people to make that sacrifice again.
     
    He shares the struggle with John Lewis, at the time a young local leader, and in response John tells Dr. King about a time when he felt that way too, and on the darkest morning made his way to church to hear Dr. King preach. Dr. King doesn’t remember it, so John Lewis tells him what he said: “Fear not. We’ve come too far to turn back now.” Dr. King’s words were exactly what a young John Lewis needed to keep going, and some years later John Lewis returned the words to Dr. King, giving him the strength to continue the journey. Fear not. We’ve come too far to turn back now.
     
    We all know that feeling of exhaustion, we all have those stories, and it is so encouraging to know that God understands it too. When Elijah has hit the wall, God shows up and provides exactly what he needs. No judgment, no expectation that Elijah will immediately leap up and keep going, no requirement that Elijah pretend to be energetic and strong when he is clearly not. Just understanding, bread and water, permission to rest — before continuing 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Horeb. Perhaps this is some of what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Ephesians. Be honest, be angry, but don’t sin, and let God work through you for the good of all.
     
    And Jesus tells his followers today, one more time, on this third week of bread, that God provides everything we need. We are so intimately connected with God’s abundance, that in Christ we will never be hungry again. The journey is long and hard sometimes, and God is with us all the way. In turning to God, we find the bread we need to keep going, spiritually, physically, emotionally.
     
    How is it with your soul today? What weariness and struggle are you living with that needs to be honestly shared? What do you need to rest and nourish your body and spirit so that you can continue the journey? What bread, water, and sleep can you offer to others who are too tired to keep going?
     
    We have two more weeks of Jesus’ bread of life discourse left, and still the message remains the same. God provides what we need, sometimes in the ways we least expect. Fear not. We’ve come too far to turn back now. There is always enough, and more.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25–5:2, John 6:35, 41-51, Selma