Aug 23, 2020
What is Your Superpower?
Series: (All)
August 23, 2020. God has given all of us gifts, not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. What gifts did he give you? What are your superpowers?
 
Readings: Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8
 
*** Transcript ***
 
A few years ago I got to go to Heifer Ranch in Little Rock, Arkansas with a group of youth. We spent a week doing different projects around the ranch — taking care of their animals, tending the crops as they grow for their CSA, packing food boxes. And we gathered to learn about food justice all around the world, and the benefits that a community can get from having healthy animals, and even how to make pizza completely from scratch, with just goat milk, corn, oil, and tomatoes. We even made our own cheese from the goat milk. The cornerstone event of being at Heifer Ranch, though, is a night in what they call the Global Village. The Global Village is a long trail around a lake, with houses set up that look just like what you would find in places all over the world — from Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other places where Heifer International has worked with local communities to address issues of poverty. And they also included a refugee camp.
 
So I was assigned to the Appalachian House for the night with three of our ninth grade boys, two of whom were Cub Scouts working toward Eagle Scout. One of them was a Master Fire Builder — which was a great asset for our house, because the first task of the Global Village evening is to trade what you have for what you need to make dinner over a fire. Fortunately for us in Appalachian House we had all the firewood, and that made our job of trading for food and supplies really easy. To add some extra challenge to the experience, one of the kids in every group was told that they were pregnant, and so they wore a water balloon in a sling the entire time that we were making dinner.
 
The boy in our group assigned to wear the balloon happened to be the Master Fire Builder. He had been so excited about the evening, and expected to make good use of his fire-building expertise. But once he put the sling on with that heavy water balloon, and we arrived at our house and began to get settled in, our Master Fire Builder quickly realized that he didn’t feel like he could do anything at all while wearing that fragile, cumbersome balloon. “I can’t do anything!” became a refrain. It turns out, the other Cub Scout in our group was quite a good fire builder himself, and after a short time the two Scouts were busy at work discussing the best way to set up the fire, and which sticks would make the most viable kindling.
 
As I watched them, I noticed that our Master Fire Builder was not only really good at building fires, but also had a really profound way of supporting and empowering his friend, offering insight and encouragement in a way that allowed his friend to recognize and develop his own gift for fire building. In the meantime, our third Appalachian villager just kept finding ways to help. He gathered sticks and broke them down. He cut carrots, and then potato, and went for water. He washed the dishes, helped stir the pot, and transferred food into bowls so that we could eat. And I still say today, I think we had the best dinner in the entire camp! Scrambled eggs, carrots, potatoes, and onion. And the Cub Scouts even knew how to make really good rice — not the instant kind — over the fire, something I would never have been able to accomplish. And later in the evening, when we noticed that there were two wasps in the house where we were sleeping, I found myself able to trust them when they assured me that the wasps were as tired as we were, and would not bother us overnight.
 
The gifts that each Appalachian House member had were all valuable, and together they allowed us to eat well, stay safe, and have fun along the way.
 
So a mere six months ago, February 26, we celebrated Ash Wednesday together — my first Worship time as your Pastor. Remember that? Time gets so weird in times of transition, doesn’t it? Karen and I can hardly believe that we haven’t lived here forever. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before. And yet it's only been a short time, really. A short time in which I have learned so much already. And part of what I have experienced in these months is what my Appalachian House team learned during their night in the Global Village.
 
I noticed it first in that Worship Team, as various gifts of creativity, organization, Biblical knowledge, and music came together in a way that energized all of us, and give us life now as we continue to re-imagine Worship in Corona-tide and beyond. I have seen it in the ways in which gifts we didn’t need in the same way before — gifts for making use of technology in so many different ways — have become essential, and Mike and Dave’s willingness to share those gifts has supported our Worship life together as we join in Worship from all over the country, even at one point from the middle of a lake! Most recently, I have been so grateful for those who have expertise in building maintenance and construction, as we have faced multiple challenges in caring for the Mead Center.
 
And this is exactly what Paul talks about in our reading from the letter of Romans today. God has given all of us gifts — each one of us — not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. Isaiah tells us we were formed out of the earth to bring God’s love and justice to the world, and God continues to teach us and form us. Paul calls us not to give in to the messages that we hear that tell us we need to stand on our own, look out for ourselves, or that we don’t have anything to give others, but to be transformed by the Spirit, and recognize our place in the body of Christ. To recognize that we, as God’s children, are all parts of one another, and if any one of us is missing, we all lose out. Christ’s body is not complete without us. And as we grow in wisdom, we get better at seeing God at work in us, in others, and the world around us.
 
And we continue to learn about the gifts we have been given throughout our lives. All of you heading back to school this year have the chance to work on building the gifts you already have, discover new gifts you didn’t know about before, and to help your students and your classmates and your friends discover their gifts too. School can seem disconnected from our faith lives sometimes, but really it is sacred space to learn about who God created us to be. And those of us not in school are called to keep learning, too.
 
This week, at our Council meeting, we talked about the visioning work that we're beginning. We're asking those big questions — where are we today? What is working well for us, and what needs to be transformed? Where is God calling us, as we look ahead to what is in store for Christ Lutheran Church?
 
Asking these questions can be a little scary, because change is hard. And it can be really exciting, as we unleash the gifts among us in our family of faith, and seek God’s will for how we can be church in our community today. And one of the important places to start is to recognize the gifts of God among us. I asked the Council when we met this week, and I asked the children this morning, and I ask you now: what are your superpowers? What are the gifts that God has given you, to be shared with your family, and your neighborhood, and this community of faith?
 
In a moment I'll share some of the gifts that the Council shared at their meeting, and we'll pull the white board back up and see some of the gifts that the kids named as well. So, as we did with the kids a little bit ago, take a minute to share your superpowers with us by typing them in chat, and I will do my best to add them to the white board as we sing the Hymn of the Day.
 
The promise of God stands firm, in the midst of pandemics and all the challenges we face in our life. God’s word will guide us, and we all have a place in the body of Christ.
 
What are your superpowers?
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8, community supported agriculture, Karen McLaughlin, Mike Wagner, Dave Ringkor, coronavirus, COVID-19
WatchNotesDownloadDateTitle
  • Aug 23, 2020What is Your Superpower?
    Aug 23, 2020
    What is Your Superpower?
    Series: (All)
    August 23, 2020. God has given all of us gifts, not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. What gifts did he give you? What are your superpowers?
     
    Readings: Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    A few years ago I got to go to Heifer Ranch in Little Rock, Arkansas with a group of youth. We spent a week doing different projects around the ranch — taking care of their animals, tending the crops as they grow for their CSA, packing food boxes. And we gathered to learn about food justice all around the world, and the benefits that a community can get from having healthy animals, and even how to make pizza completely from scratch, with just goat milk, corn, oil, and tomatoes. We even made our own cheese from the goat milk. The cornerstone event of being at Heifer Ranch, though, is a night in what they call the Global Village. The Global Village is a long trail around a lake, with houses set up that look just like what you would find in places all over the world — from Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other places where Heifer International has worked with local communities to address issues of poverty. And they also included a refugee camp.
     
    So I was assigned to the Appalachian House for the night with three of our ninth grade boys, two of whom were Cub Scouts working toward Eagle Scout. One of them was a Master Fire Builder — which was a great asset for our house, because the first task of the Global Village evening is to trade what you have for what you need to make dinner over a fire. Fortunately for us in Appalachian House we had all the firewood, and that made our job of trading for food and supplies really easy. To add some extra challenge to the experience, one of the kids in every group was told that they were pregnant, and so they wore a water balloon in a sling the entire time that we were making dinner.
     
    The boy in our group assigned to wear the balloon happened to be the Master Fire Builder. He had been so excited about the evening, and expected to make good use of his fire-building expertise. But once he put the sling on with that heavy water balloon, and we arrived at our house and began to get settled in, our Master Fire Builder quickly realized that he didn’t feel like he could do anything at all while wearing that fragile, cumbersome balloon. “I can’t do anything!” became a refrain. It turns out, the other Cub Scout in our group was quite a good fire builder himself, and after a short time the two Scouts were busy at work discussing the best way to set up the fire, and which sticks would make the most viable kindling.
     
    As I watched them, I noticed that our Master Fire Builder was not only really good at building fires, but also had a really profound way of supporting and empowering his friend, offering insight and encouragement in a way that allowed his friend to recognize and develop his own gift for fire building. In the meantime, our third Appalachian villager just kept finding ways to help. He gathered sticks and broke them down. He cut carrots, and then potato, and went for water. He washed the dishes, helped stir the pot, and transferred food into bowls so that we could eat. And I still say today, I think we had the best dinner in the entire camp! Scrambled eggs, carrots, potatoes, and onion. And the Cub Scouts even knew how to make really good rice — not the instant kind — over the fire, something I would never have been able to accomplish. And later in the evening, when we noticed that there were two wasps in the house where we were sleeping, I found myself able to trust them when they assured me that the wasps were as tired as we were, and would not bother us overnight.
     
    The gifts that each Appalachian House member had were all valuable, and together they allowed us to eat well, stay safe, and have fun along the way.
     
    So a mere six months ago, February 26, we celebrated Ash Wednesday together — my first Worship time as your Pastor. Remember that? Time gets so weird in times of transition, doesn’t it? Karen and I can hardly believe that we haven’t lived here forever. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before. And yet it's only been a short time, really. A short time in which I have learned so much already. And part of what I have experienced in these months is what my Appalachian House team learned during their night in the Global Village.
     
    I noticed it first in that Worship Team, as various gifts of creativity, organization, Biblical knowledge, and music came together in a way that energized all of us, and give us life now as we continue to re-imagine Worship in Corona-tide and beyond. I have seen it in the ways in which gifts we didn’t need in the same way before — gifts for making use of technology in so many different ways — have become essential, and Mike and Dave’s willingness to share those gifts has supported our Worship life together as we join in Worship from all over the country, even at one point from the middle of a lake! Most recently, I have been so grateful for those who have expertise in building maintenance and construction, as we have faced multiple challenges in caring for the Mead Center.
     
    And this is exactly what Paul talks about in our reading from the letter of Romans today. God has given all of us gifts — each one of us — not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. Isaiah tells us we were formed out of the earth to bring God’s love and justice to the world, and God continues to teach us and form us. Paul calls us not to give in to the messages that we hear that tell us we need to stand on our own, look out for ourselves, or that we don’t have anything to give others, but to be transformed by the Spirit, and recognize our place in the body of Christ. To recognize that we, as God’s children, are all parts of one another, and if any one of us is missing, we all lose out. Christ’s body is not complete without us. And as we grow in wisdom, we get better at seeing God at work in us, in others, and the world around us.
     
    And we continue to learn about the gifts we have been given throughout our lives. All of you heading back to school this year have the chance to work on building the gifts you already have, discover new gifts you didn’t know about before, and to help your students and your classmates and your friends discover their gifts too. School can seem disconnected from our faith lives sometimes, but really it is sacred space to learn about who God created us to be. And those of us not in school are called to keep learning, too.
     
    This week, at our Council meeting, we talked about the visioning work that we're beginning. We're asking those big questions — where are we today? What is working well for us, and what needs to be transformed? Where is God calling us, as we look ahead to what is in store for Christ Lutheran Church?
     
    Asking these questions can be a little scary, because change is hard. And it can be really exciting, as we unleash the gifts among us in our family of faith, and seek God’s will for how we can be church in our community today. And one of the important places to start is to recognize the gifts of God among us. I asked the Council when we met this week, and I asked the children this morning, and I ask you now: what are your superpowers? What are the gifts that God has given you, to be shared with your family, and your neighborhood, and this community of faith?
     
    In a moment I'll share some of the gifts that the Council shared at their meeting, and we'll pull the white board back up and see some of the gifts that the kids named as well. So, as we did with the kids a little bit ago, take a minute to share your superpowers with us by typing them in chat, and I will do my best to add them to the white board as we sing the Hymn of the Day.
     
    The promise of God stands firm, in the midst of pandemics and all the challenges we face in our life. God’s word will guide us, and we all have a place in the body of Christ.
     
    What are your superpowers?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8, community supported agriculture, Karen McLaughlin, Mike Wagner, Dave Ringkor, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Aug 16, 2020Nevertheless, She Persisted
    Aug 16, 2020
    Nevertheless, She Persisted
    Series: (All)
    August 16, 2020. In today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He claims that all are beloved, and yet he refuses to help the Canaanite woman and calls her a dog. Nevertheless, she persisted. And she shows us something of what it means to be a protestor, of the highest order.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Is anyone else feeling kind of tired this week? Like you're spinning your wheels and you're not getting anywhere? As if no matter what you say or do, it’s falling on deaf ears? I am so tired of looking at other people’s eyes over their masks, or seeing them in little squares on our Zoom screens. Weary of wondering how to spend free time, holidays, with options so limited, always calculating the risk. Parents, teachers, and students are wading through pages of plans and protocols and weighing all the choices for the upcoming school year — none of them ideal, all of them hard. And we all want more than anything to be fully in community, safely. There are many who are living in loneliness, and grief, and isolation these days. Perhaps highlighted a bit as we edge back to “normal” but we can’t quite get there. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like one more Zoom meeting, and I’m going to go soak my laptop in the water pooling on the Mead Center roof! But maybe I should just sit that Zoom meeting out instead. We're all a little weary in different ways, experiencing stress and grief, and to be honest, some trauma. Our brains are understandably a bit sloggier than normal, and our capacity perhaps lower than we feel it should be.
     
    And then today, we have this gospel. The one where Jesus, Jesus, calls the Canaanite woman, who is just trying to save her daughter, a dog. Maybe we should just sit this reading out? Or maybe, if we take a moment to breathe, there is something to be learned from the story, as there always seems to be in the end.
     
    For one thing, if you are feeling worn out today, we can hear in this story that we are not alone. The Canaanite woman comes to the square, crying out for help, and nobody listens to her. And although she doesn’t say how long her daughter has been possessed, we do know that this isn’t the first time she has made her plea. The disciples say she keeps yelling, and they ask Jesus to send her away or make her stop. When Jesus says her problem is not his responsibility, she is not his responsibility — in spite of the fact that she as a Canaanite is of the house of David just like Jesus is — the woman comes right up to him and names their common ancestry saying, “Son of David, help me.” And this is when Jesus, the Son of God, equates her to a dog. Maybe he should sit this one out!
     
    Just because our brains at their best learn really well through repetition, if we take a look at how Jesus taught and the stories he told, we will see that this is not the first time Jesus has addressed the place and beloved-ness of someone seen as an outcast, someone like the Canaanite woman. Jesus likes to give us the same message again and again, to make sure we can get it, and that’s especially helpful with our brains a little bit foggy. And most of the time, the lesson is: all are beloved. This message starts for us today with our Isaiah text: “Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” No limits to God’s embrace all through the Older Testament. And Jesus’ ministry carries that through.
     
    Think about the Prodigal Son. He too is unheard, outcast, and he calls himself a servant not worthy of sonship. And his older brother would certainly have agreed. But their father claims him as a child. God claims them both as beloved. The Good Samaritan was rejected by those around him simply because he's a Samaritan. But as the parable unfolds, we come to see that this person we least expect — the Samaritan, of all people — is the one Jesus chooses to lift up as good, the one we will come face-to-face with when we are laying in the ditch. And then there is the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Zacchaeus and other tax collectors, and on and on. There are countless examples of God welcoming the outsider, Jesus lifting up the outcast.
     
    And still, today, Jesus takes away this woman’s humanity by the language he uses — explicitly excludes her from the message he himself has given us 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 in our humanity 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 checking us out 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 won’t stop digging up our lawn, 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 people with disabilities, our community, workplace, or school is not actually welcoming for LGBTQIA people. Or we hear the voices of our black siblings, and come to realize that, in so many places where we take our comfort and belonging for granted, they do not feel valued, heard, or even safe. We all have those days — and we all have those barriers within us.
     
    Matthew shows us a Jesus who is fully human, as well as divine. And in today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. And we learn from what we see Jesus doing in this story how we are called to respond when we are caught in our blind spots, when we hit a wall. We don’t know why or how it happened. Maybe Jesus was tired, and caught off-guard by the woman’s plea and the disciples’ reaction. Maybe Jesus wanted to demonstrate in full ugliness what we shouldn’t do, almost like a living parable. However it happened, in that moment the Canaanite woman doesn’t challenge his words, but says that even dogs deserve 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. He hears her, perhaps for the first time. And then, Jesus heals her daughter.
     
    In the end, this story is about Jesus. But it is also very much about the Canaanite woman. The one with the ill daughter. The one seen as an outsider. The one called a pest, and then a dog. The one who had cried out, over and over. The one who had been unheard, and explicitly excluded. And yet, she didn’t give up. They tried to push her away and silence her. Nevertheless, she persisted.
     
    The Canaanite woman, family of faith, is in truth a protestor, of the highest order. One of the more famous writings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his letter from the Birmingham Jail, which he wrote while imprisoned for his own persistence as a protestor. In it he says, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The Canaanite woman seems to have known this. She knew Jesus could heal her daughter, 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.
     
    In all of our history, people claiming their right to justice and dignity and their place among God’s children have done as the Canaanite 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 systemic racism and brutality against them end.
     
    Even in 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 Canaanite woman in their own times and places. Because of their persistence, this year we celebrate the anniversaries — 50 years since women could be ordained, 40 years since the first black woman was ordained, and 10 years since the Churchwide Assembly voted to allow ordination for LGBTQIA clergy. All of this took not days, weeks, or months, but years of sacrifice and courage and persistence, people following the lead of the Canaanite woman insisting she be heard.
     
    So we of the soggy brains and weary souls and short tempers can take heart today. The Canaanite woman was tired too, but her persistence succeeded. And even Jesus hit those walls and barriers and tripped up sometimes, 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 sit this one out. Paul assured us God’s mercy is wide when we fall, and the Canaanite woman is leading the way.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, asexual, 2009 vote
  • Aug 9, 2020The Storms of Life are Nothing New to God
    Aug 9, 2020
    The Storms of Life are Nothing New to God
    Series: (All)
    August 9, 2020. Elijah, and Jesus' disciples, were all beset by “storms” at different times in today’s readings. And surrounded by all the chaos in the world today, we may feel that we've been blown off course and are lost. But Pastor Meagan preaches today on the comfort that comes from knowing that the storms of life are nothing new to God.
     
    Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    2020 is bringing us some pretty mighty storms so far, isn’t it? The initial onset of the pandemic, uprisings around racism, economic uncertainty, political upheaval, the resurgence of the virus that we're seeing right now. Christ Lutheran family, we started out this year, and our ministry together way back in the end of February, thinking that we were headed in one direction. It seems the next thing we knew, we were blown so far off course that we aren’t even sure where we are anymore sometimes!
     
    So it's quite comforting, isn’t it, to know that the storms of life are nothing new to God. The disciples, and Elijah, were all beset by “storms” at different times in today’s readings. Elijah has been chased, run out of town by Jezebel’s threats to his life. Many, although not all, of his fellow prophets had lost their lives, and Elijah is exhausted, afraid, despairing. He finds a cave to hide in, and he has no idea what to do next. And even if he did, he doesn't have the energy to do it. And the disciples, having been sent out in a boat to cross the lake ahead of Jesus, encounter a storm. And they are trapped on the lake in the boat, wondering if they will survive.
     
    And into this chaos, God appears. A few weeks ago at Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit appearing in wind and fire, enabling the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned, empowering them to boldly and publicly speak truth when they had been hiding from the authorities for days, I reflected that sometimes God comes to wake us up! To shake us from our complacency, to bring us out of our comfortable places, leading us to share God’s justice and mercy and love with the world. And sometimes, like today, God comes to heal, to feed, to calm, and then equip us to go out again.
     
    As he fled from Jezebel an angel came to Elijah, offered him food and water and rest, and then left. And the angel returned, to offer more food and water and rest, and left again. And then the angel returned to bring Elijah to the cave, where our reading today starts. And God appears.
     
    I picture the disciples, buffeted and tossed by the wind and the rain in an open boat, holding onto each other and the sides of the boat trying their best to not fall out, and to keep the boat balanced, perhaps struggling to figure out what direction they should be heading, if they can manage to direct the boat at all. And then, they see what they think at first is a ghost — until Jesus tells them it’s him. Most of the disciples stay in the boat, still holding on, perhaps gaping in disbelief at the figure that's coming towards them on the water. Peter, in classic Peter fashion, jumps out of the boat into the water and begins to walk toward Jesus, wanting to see for himself if it’s really him. And Jesus has to remind him, once again, that Jesus is God and Peter is not — Peter will not stay afloat without Jesus.
     
    So, where are you today? Are you with Elijah, laying in the cave, resting, feeling completely alone in the chaos and grief and the danger, trying to recover and make sense of what has happened and decide what to do next? Are you with the disciples in the boat, struggling to hold on while the storm continues to rage all around you? Are you Peter, leaping out of the boat into the chaotic waters, making your way toward Jesus?
     
    Wherever you are right now, it is comforting to know that the storms of life are nothing new to God. Elijah feels so alone, as we often may in these situations, and yet we can see from the outside that he is not alone. The angel offers such practical guidance for Elijah, and for us. Eat. Drink. Rest. Repeat. I remember a time some years ago when I was at a really low point in my life, wracked by fear and anxiety, struggling at times to do even basic things, and a friend gave me this exact advice. Eat. Drink. Rest. Repeat. This is sacred direction, family of faith, if you are exhausted. Jesus himself sought time to rest and reconnect with God often in the gospels. And he does again at the beginning of today’s gospel. The disciples in the boat probably felt abandoned by God too, with Jesus off who knows where while they fought for their lives in the storm. And yet, they were not as alone as they thought. Jesus is with them, in the storm, ghostly as he may look.
     
    In the middle of the storm, God is with us. In that low point of my life, through the voice of my friends and the presence of the Spirit in silence, God was with me, bringing healing and new life and peace. When we are exhausted, and feel afraid, alone, and even abandoned, God is there.
     
    Where are you seeing God, in the midst of the storms you are living in, right now? Is God in the sheer silence, as you rest and seek God? Is God off the port bow, almost glowing as they make their ghostly way through the chaos toward you? Is God in the boat, holding you safely as you ride out the storm together? Are you struggling through the storm, trying to stay afloat on the water, wondering if God is actually there?
     
    It is comforting to know that the storms of life are not new to God. And when we have had food, water, and rest, God reminds us that we're not alone. God made the earth, the sea, the sky, light and dark and everything in between, all the animals, the birds, plants, trees, and each one of us, bringing creation of out unformed chaos. And even in the midst of the sometimes chaotic life around us, God is present, continuing to bring life and make a way through the storm.
     
    Elijah felt alone, but God sent Elisha, and the 7,000, so they could walk together in faith, claiming the goodness of God. And the disciples had one another, and they had Jesus, as they made their way through the storm. In the middle of the chaos, God is with us, preparing us to go back out again, sharing the good news that God can handle the pandemic, and racial injustice, and political upheaval, and economic uncertainty, and loneliness, and fear, and anxiety.
     
    As we continue our ministry together, Christ Lutheran family, we may not know yet what the coming months will bring, but we can trust in the promise that God is with us. Your Council is reflecting on where we are and where God is calling us, and we invite you to do so too. Like Elijah, we hear God in the sheer silence. Like the disciples, we see Jesus navigating the stormy water in front of us, and claim the good news that God has not abandoned us. We eat, drink, rest, and continue the journey, until everyone knows. The storms of life are not new to God. And with God, we have nothing to fear.
     
    Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Jul 26, 2020When the Ordinary is Sacred
    Jul 26, 2020
    When the Ordinary is Sacred
    Series: (All)
    July 26, 2020. In the most ordinary of tasks, God shows up. In the most ordinary of things God is present, and the ordinary is sacred. The weekly practice of baking bread at home, for online worship on Sunday, connects us with generations of people in all times and all parts of the earth. And today, with our friends Jack and Ruthie and Maggie and Megan, we celebrate the sacrament of Communion.
     
    Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I don't know how many of you have made bread, but there is something unique about bread dough for those who have made it, isn’t there? I hadn’t done a lot of bread baking prior to COVID-19, but suddenly I've found myself making bread on a weekly basis, for the celebration of Communion. I use a really simple recipe — only four ingredients plus water. And there is no yeast in it. I put the flour, baking powder, salt, and oil in the bowl and add some water, and begin to turn it over and over with the spoon. If there’s still any flour left in the bowl then I add a little bit more water and turn it some more. And maybe a bit more — but not too much. Once all the flour is all mixed in, when there’s just the right amount of water, there is that moment when the bread dough becomes super stretchy and almost stringy, flaky-looking in a damp sort of way I think. That’s when I wash my hands (again) and mush the dough between them, digging my fingers in to be sure that any dry bits are well-mixed. And then I let it sit for about half an hour before I fry it in a pan. My favorite part is when the dough is just done enough to hold its shape really well, and I use the spatula to make the cross on the bread before I flip it over to cook the other side.
     
    Most weeks I make my bread on Fridays, and it sits wrapped in paper towel on the counter waiting for Sunday morning. I'm kind of shocked that none of my cats has discovered this routine yet, but maybe they just don’t like bread. Making the bread has become one of my favorite parts of the week, the mixing and the kneading and the frying and the crossing, and this ritual has brought new meaning to the sacrament for me, in its ordinary-ness.
     
    This weekly practice of taking such simple ingredients, come right out of God’s earth, to make the bread that feeds my body, connects me with generations of people in all times and all parts of the earth, who have done the same to feed their families. Generations of Christians who have made flour and water into loaves and wafers, poured the wine, and set the table for their Sunday Eucharist celebrations, for two thousand years now. Each Sunday as we celebrate Communion, I have felt nourished in body as well as spirit. It has surprisingly become one of my favorite meals of the week.
     
    And this week, I got to make bread with friends! Wednesday evening, Jack and Ruthie and Maggie and Megan, and their families and I, got together on Zoom, and we had the privilege of sharing this ritual together (thanks parents!) while we continued to learn and talk about what the sacrament of Communion means and the grace of finding God in the making, and the breaking, of the bread.
     
    The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a huge tree for the birds to nest in. The kingdom of God is like a bit of yeast — when it's mixed in with a whole bag of flour, it makes the whole loaf rise. The kingdom of God is like finding treasure while you are plowing your field. The kingdom of God is like sorting fish with nets. Not stories of grand miracles or royal parades, but ordinary folks doing ordinary things, and discovering that God is right there in the ordinary-ness.
     
    In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experience of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
     
    In the most ordinary of tasks, God shows up. In the most ordinary of things, God is present, and the ordinary is sacred. In the catechism, Luther explains that baptism reveals God’s grace not because of the ordinary water alone, but because in the water and the word and the promise of our God, God extends forgiveness of sins, rescues us from evil, and brings us new life. The sacrament of Communion reveals God’s grace, not because of the bread and the wine, but because in the bread and the wine and in the word and the promise of our God, God extends forgiveness, and salvation, and life.
     
    We as Lutheran Christians celebrate these sacraments, and in these moments of grace, we experience God making the ordinary sacred. Nourished and fed and forgiven and blessed in these sacraments, we can see God’s presence in all ordinary things. Deer in the yard. Tending your garden. Washing your dishes. Conversation about the Sunday scriptures with a friend. A headbutt from your kitty, or an affectionate lick from your puppy.
     
    And Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, God’s promise to be faithful has no limits. Even when everything is working against you, even when death surrounds you, even when it seems that there is no way out, when we are so confused and wounded and exhausted that we can’t string two words together, God is present. Because nothing, Paul says, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
     
    And so today, we come together to worship, we hear the promises of God in the scriptures, and with our friends Jack and Ruthie and Maggie and Megan, we celebrate the sacrament of Communion. And in the ordinary bread — or the crackers, or the waffle, or the cookies — with the word and the promise of our God, the grace of God is present with us.
     
    In our first reading today, we hear that Solomon could have chosen wealth or power as his gifts from God. But he didn’t. Instead, he chose to ask for God’s Spirit of Wisdom to change him, so that he might know God’s will, and be able to bring justice for God’s people. And as we are fed and nourished by the bread and the wine today, we see God in the ordinary. We too are empowered to embody the love and the mercy of our God. We too, like Solomon, are granted wisdom to know God’s will and be a voice for justice for all of God’s people.
     
    Jack, Ruthie, Maggie, and Megan, in your baptisms we celebrated the love and wisdom and justice and joy that you each bring into this world, and claimed the promise of God that you are God’s beloved child forever. Today, we celebrate with you the sacrament of Communion, and we are all strengthened and blessed by your presence in our family of faith. We pray that you will always know how much God loves you, that you will know you are forgiven when you make mistakes, and that you will see the presence of God in the ordinary things all around you.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, video, YouTube, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Kings 3:5-12, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, Matthew 13:44-52, coronavirus, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jack Wood, Ruthie Helton, Maggie Ringkor, Megan Eftink, First Communion
  • Jul 19, 2020Living in the Messy Middle
    Jul 19, 2020
    Living in the Messy Middle
    Series: (All)
    July 19, 2020. Any gardener knows that weeds are a never-ending challenge. Pastor Meagan preaches today on Jesus' parable of the weeds among the wheat, and how our world and our lives are a lot like the field in the story.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In our gospel today, Jesus takes his parable about the sower and the seed from last week and he extends it, saying that these gardens that have so many weeds growing in them are like the Kingdom of Heaven. And as much as I love gardens, I am not a very skilled gardener, so my first reaction to hearing this image quite honestly is, “Ugh!” Any gardener knows weeds are a never-ending challenge. This spring, it seemed like every time we thought we had gotten all of the dandelions up, we would turn around and there would be half a dozen more. And of course dandelions aren’t ones that you can just grab with your hand and pull up easily. It takes some work with a weed puller to get at the roots. And even so, often at least part of it will remain tightly entrenched in the soil. Or more seeds, unseen in the earth, are preparing themselves to sprout, leaving the possibility that another dandelion will pop up where the last one lay.
     
    And being new to St Louis, and tending new gardens, there are of course many things growing in our yard with which we are not yet familiar. Often, as a new plant would sprout, one of us would say to the other, “Is that a plant or a weed?” And as often as not, the other would say, “Beats me.” We've learned a lot by uploading photos to online plant identification apps, or posting pictures on Facebook and asking friends what they thought. But we've been left with a certain amount of guesswork, pulling out what we believed to be weeds, and leaving what we weren't sure of. In the front yard, we had several small lily flowers pop up in just random places. They bloomed beautifully and then they died, leaving green leaves and a brown, crusty stem behind in the midst of the grass. I initially advocated to leave them where they grew. But once the flowers died, they provided far more of a challenge as Karen would attempt to mow around them than they offered in beauty. So I relented, and Karen took them out. “Are they plants or weeds?” “Beats me.”
     
    And the process of weeding, as we all know, is an ongoing one, requiring patient, hard work — and it is as much about tending the plants and flowers as it is about removing the weeds. I learned long ago to take it in blocks, addressing one section, then another, then another, of the garden beds. Attempts to remove all the weeds at once have never ended well. So, this parable of the weeds in the wheat as the Kingdom of Heaven definitely gives me pause. But the more I think about it, the more it resonates. Because in spite of my initial “ugh” reaction to this image, truth be told, this world, and our lives, are an awful lot like the field in Jesus’ parable — not clean and neat, yielding only wheat and no weeds, but a mix of wheat, weeds, and things we can’t even identify.
     
    I remember as a teenager getting into an argument with one of my brothers, probably about something really silly, and feeling desperate for him to know that I was right. And the more we got into it, the more my voice went up — and the more I tried to make myself tall (a futile effort at any time). And my brother said, “You’re really mad about this!” And in the midst of my unawareness, I replied of course, “No, I’m not.” “Oh yeah, you are.” “No, I’m not!” “Uh huh!” “No I'm not! Stop telling me I'm angry! You're just wrong!" I was so frustrated and angry. It was happening right inside me, and yet I couldn’t see it. Has anyone else ever had that happen? Where something was going on around you, or with a another person, or inside you, and you just couldn’t figure it out?
     
    Over the years, getting to know myself, understanding how I am feeling or what I am doing, and what is helpful and what is not, what is wheat and what is weed if you will, has been a process — much like the ongoing process of weeding a garden. Because being human is not a clean, neat, clear venture, but really super complicated at times. Paul describes it in a lot of different ways, today using the image of labor pains to describe the challenges of living through this process of becoming, of finding our way when so many things can distract and block us from seeing and doing God’s will in the world. In Luther’s language, we are all sinner and saint. We all have weeds and wheat. I think of it as living through a really messy middle, certainly in process, but not there yet.
     
    The good news in all of this is, God knows this. And as it tells us in Isaiah today, no matter what, we belong to God. We have been adopted, chosen, to be God’s children, beloved. And from “of old,” Isaiah says, God has told us that only God is God. In other words, in all this messiness, of good and evil, saint and sinner, God is ultimately in charge. We are not. We, along with all of creation, are in process, family of faith. And God is with us in that. God will be faithful right up to the end. And we can have hope that in the end, God will heal all wounds, remove all evil, leaving only the wheat that is growing along the way. Jesus’ parable tells us this too. He says it is not up to us to pull out all of those pesky weeds and create a perfect garden. It's enough for us to live what we call the theology of the cross — we name the wheat and the weeds, the good and the evil that we see, as best we can. We do what we can with God’s help to nurture the good, in ourselves and in others.
     
    C. T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, who had been working for decades for civil rights and racial justice, against the evils of racism and oppression, know this. Last year Congressman Lewis said, "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never be afraid to get in some good trouble," said congressman John Lewis. And we too can do this, trusting that in the end, only God will be able to sort it all out. Twelve Step spiritual wisdom tells us this too — it is our job to listen, to tend, to notice, and to name, and to ask God for help. But removing the weeds of our lives is up to God and not ours.
     
    Jesus tells his followers that in the end, the weeds will be cast into the fire, conjuring up perhaps images of the devil and those overcome by sin, burning in hell. Interestingly, overwhelmingly in scriptures, fire is very sacred. Fire lets Moses know that he should pay attention, that something is happening that he needs to learn about. Fire guides the Israelites in the desert by night. And tongues of fire come upon the disciples at Pentecost, purifying them and empowering them for the work that they have ahead.
     
    We all tend to resist the refiner’s fire. Moses comes close to the bush, but he's shaking in his boots. Israelites get weary and frustrated because the end isn’t coming soon enough. The disciples go out after having been blessed by fire, and the people notice their transformation and question it, because of its power. We do this too, when we resist facing the realities of racism and other evils, and see how we ourselves have been blind and complicit with systemic oppressions in this world. Or when we are called out for something we aren't aware that we were doing, we can resist that. Or when we in shame realize something of our own sinfulness, our own being, to change. Because being transformed isn't comfortable, is it? Recognizing the weeds in us isn't comfortable. Living in the messy middle is hard. And sometimes all we want is for this process we are living in to be over. “Is it wheat or weeds?” “Beats me.”
     
    We can be encouraged by Isaiah’s words that God’s promises are from the beginning, and they stretch all the way to the end. Jesus promised that God is not going to abandon us to be overcome by the weeds, even though it may seem that way at times. It’s not our job to pull all those weeds out — thank goodness! Because that is a job that is beyond us. It is enough that we tend our gardens as best we can, ask God for help, and trust in God to sort it all out.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, YouTube, video, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 44:6-8, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:36-43
  • Jul 14, 2020Tending Sacred Places
    Jul 14, 2020
    Tending Sacred Places
    Series: (All)
    July 12, 2020. In the sermon today, we remember those who have recently passed away — and how they, like the sower in Jesus' parable, sowed the seeds of faith in this community.
     
    Readings: Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Many years ago, I was on the phone with the Office Manager from my childhood church, when I heard the extension in my parents’ house pick up. After listening for just a few seconds, my brother exclaimed, “Joanne O’Neill!” It had only taken a couple of words from my conversation partner for him to recognize her voice, though it had been several years since they had spoken. My brother, back in his church grade school days, had been quite a troublemaker, and for whatever reason the kids who fell into that category often ended up spending a lot of time with the feisty, energetic, short, white-haired administrator. And she didn’t mind it one bit. She made quite an impression on my brother and his friends, and they on her.
     
    Some of the teachers, I know, felt like it was pretty hopeless, not worth the effort on a group of kids that seemed intent on just stirring up chaos, having a good laugh, showing no interest in their grade school days — in anything that the teachers might have to teach them. Joanne O’Neill saw it differently. Perhaps she saw something of herself in their rambunctious rebelliousness. Joanne took the time to sow seed into these unlikely fields, planting seeds of hope and watering them faithfully. She made sure that they knew that she, at least, delighted in them.
     
    And I remember Gail Merrill, our neighbor from across the street, showing that same delight in me, an eccentric kid, who always did everything “right” (or at least I tried!), but always seemed to fall a bit outside that circle that defined the “in-crowd.” In the world of “Cheers,” a little more like pedantic Cliff, than I was like cool Sam.
     
    Coming alongside our parents, who loved and nurtured and cared for us, Gail and Joanne, and many others over the years, sowed seed and tended soil, creating a space for my brothers and me to grow and become the people God created us to be. And we all need that, don’t we? Soil in which we can set down roots. Seeds planted in us, that can bear fruit.
     
    Vic, and Gloria, and Gwen, all of whom were laid to rest this week, sowed so much seed into this life. Love for family, sharp wit, passion for traveling, heart for teaching wisdom and knowledge, and a commitment for sharing God’s abundance with everyone. They all embodied the joy of their faith. They were all, in their unique ways, sowers of faith in their families, their communities, and their worlds. Vic, Gloria, and Gwen all sowed seed into this community of faith, and Luther Memorial before it, helping to form and nurture a place where we who are gathered today, and all those who will come, can grow.
     
    A Twin Cities Lakota elder, Jim Bear Jacobs, shared with a group of United Theological seminarians that Lakota tradition tells us that our stories are rooted in place, and not in time. As I shared last evening, according to that tradition the valley below Fort Snelling, on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Paul, is the birthplace of creation, a sort of Garden of Eden. It is also the birthplace of many Lakota people whose mothers travelled days and weeks to get to that place so their children could be born there. You can feel it, when you walk there — no matter how much time passes, their stories and the story of creation itself are alive there in that sacred place.
     
    And in this sacred place, in the gathered community of the Christ Lutheran family, for over a century, we have heard the Word of God, and broken bread, and shared the Eucharist together. Through the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, we live in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us, and because of that, we all live forever. This is a sacred place. The stories of Vic, Gloria, and Gwen are rooted in this place now. No matter how much time passes, their stories are alive here, along with the stories of all who have been here, all who are here now, and all of those yet to come.
     
    We are human, as Paul reminds us so pointedly, and it's easy for us to get caught up in what Paul refers to as the “flesh” — to be distracted and focused on what is best for us at the expense of our neighbors, security that comes from our own efforts, messages that tell us that God’s abundance is not enough for everyone, the voice inside us that says maybe we aren’t worthy of love after all — the sinfulness of disconnection, and judgement, and fear that cuts us off from the life-giving soil of God’s creation, God’s Spirit.
     
    We enter into sacred places, those places where we are tended and fed, and we in our turn feed and tend to the unique lives around us, and we're connected to the Spirit that gives us life. And then, like the sower in Jesus’ parable today, we sow more seed. We will not do it alone, and we will make mistakes, because we're human, and it’s not about being perfect, after all. It’s about creating places where stories can be shared, and songs can be sung, and the will of God can be revealed, where God's spirit can give life. Sacred places, that honor and give birth to life.
     
    Some years later, when Joanne passed away, I remember calling my brother and saying to him, “All of the adults are dying! Who is going to be the grown up now?” And then realizing, that was us! And it is on us, as it has always been, to continue to tend the fields. And sow more seed. Tend, sow, rest, repeat.
     
    We don’t need to worry about whether the soil is right, or what will happen after the seed is sown. Because what happens to that seed isn't up to us. It's up to God. We may sow, but God is constantly tending, tilling, and preparing all of creation — including each one of us — to receive the promise, and let it flourish. We never know where the seed we sow might grow.
     
    Archbishop Oscar Romero offers us a reflection to sow on:
     
     
    "It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
     
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
     
    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
     
    No statement says all that could be said.
     
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
     
    No confession brings perfection.
     
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
     
    No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
     
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
     
    This is what we are about.
     
    We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
     
    We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
     
    We lay foundations that will need future development.
     
    We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
     
    We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
     
    That enables us to do something, and do it well.
     
    It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
     
    We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
     
    We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
     
    We are prophets of a future not our own."
     
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 13:18-23, Vic Saeger, Gloria Richardson, Gwen Hickman
  • Jul 5, 2020Independence Day And the Yoke of Christ
    Jul 5, 2020
    Independence Day And the Yoke of Christ
    Series: (All)
    July 5, 2020. On this Independence Day weekend we think about what independence means. It is not passive. It requires investment and sacrifice. And the work continues, even within the church.
     
    Readings: Zechariah 9:9-12, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Yesterday was the 4th of July, Independence Day. It’s kind hard for me to think about that phrase — Independence Day — without an image of the silver screen movie "Independence Day," with Will Smith rushing off to save the planet from invading alien forces. I was taught to be independent, as so many of us have been. I got to thinking about what independence means. So I looked it up and it says, "Be self-sufficient. Take care of myself." Merriam-Webster says, “Self-dependence, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-support.” A lot of "selfs." And in so many ways, independence has always seemed to be focused on separating, in one way or another — whether it be humans from aliens like in the movie; or people in slavery from those enslaving them; not being part of a political party, being independent politically; or even children growing independent from their parents.
     
    The War of Independence, which we commemorate on this July 4th, involved 8 years of struggle to define the right to self-govern — another self — free from Britain’s rule. The Civil War of the 1860s, a battle between those claiming the right to hold people as slaves versus those claiming the right of the enslaved people to be free, divided the southern states from the northern, Republicans from Democrats, parents and siblings from one another.
     
    One thing is for sure: freedom is not a passive thing — it requires investment, and sacrifice. Jesus and Paul, in today’s readings, both talk about struggle, about confusion, in our human experience. Freedom has always come with a cost. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, 100 years after black people had been granted freedom, was met with horrifyingly violent resistance. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail that “freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” You must demand it, for it will not be given freely. And this has always been true, through the ages, from the story of Moses and Israelites, to today. In the LGBTQIA+ liberation movement 50 years ago, in 1969, transwomen of color did just that, leading the way as they fought for their freedom from police brutality, and the freedom to live as themselves, without fear.
     
    And the work of liberation, of independence, has continued, even within the church. In 1970, 50 years ago, the first woman was ordained in the Lutheran Church of America — the LCA, one of our predecessor bodies — after decades of working for this change. In 1990, the first openly gay clergy were ordained in the ELCA, prior to it actually being allowed. And not only did those ordained receive sanction, but so did the congregations that had the courage to call them. They were all expelled from the ELCA. And in the 19 years that followed, many people went through candidacy “extraordinarily,” and congregations called them against the direction of their Synods. And finally in 2009 the Churchwide Assembly made the decision to allow the Ordination of LGBTQIA candidates! And the decision to come back into the ELCA, after all that had happened, was not easy for those that had been expelled — for the pastors or for their congregations.
     
    These journeys — for women, for black people, for LGBTQIA folks — continue. Paul describes in clear terms in his letter to the Romans the ongoing struggle he experienced, as he sought what was right, where the Spirit was leading, over what was easy. Jesus in Matthew talks to his disciples about how difficult it can be, in the chaos of this world, to see truth from lie, to know God’s will when there is so much that distracts us. Liberation, freedom, is and always has been not the work of a moment, but of a movement.
     
    Even in our church today we struggle to evolve. Women continue to face considerable challenges in ministry — seminary enrollment is about 50% men and women, but rostered leadership is only about 30% women, and people who identify as non-binary or gender fluid are often not seen at all. Black people continue to face discrimination, poverty, incarceration, at highly disproportionate rates, as the structures of racism — and overt white supremacy — are alive and well, at all levels. We know, in this time, that black people are literally dying, even today. LGBTQIA people have gained the right to be married, but still face daunting challenges, in the world as well as in the church.
     
    So, as we come together on this Independence Day weekend, what does the gospel have for us today? Because I believe it is always speaking to us. For one thing, freedom doesn’t mean what we often think it means — the ability to determine our own course, without concern for others, all those “selfs” we talked about earlier. In Zechariah, the king is coming not for individuals, but for the people, together. The people, exiled though they may be, are still God’s people. And God is still their God. And Jesus calls us, all of us, to bring our burdens to him, telling us that his yoke is easy. Those of us who have not farmed may not think about yokes often. When Jesus calls us to him, he is calling us not to the freedom of independence, of standing alone, or free completely of burdens, but to the freedom of interdependence and dependence on God — the freedom that comes from being intimately connected, one to another, bearing our burdens together. Yoking brings us together in symbiotic relationship with one another, and with our God.
     
    The truth of the yoke is that our well-being is bound up with the well-being of all of God’s creation. We know that, especially in this time of pandemic. Our continued well-being, the health of the whole community, depends on our willingness to be yoked together, to care for one another, bearing the responsibilities of this time as a people, as closely and intentionally as two oxen sharing a yoke, plowing a field. There is a tension here that is really counter-cultural, between rest and freedom, and yoking. And we are called right into the middle of this tension as people of God. We hear Jesus call to us saying, "Come to me and I will give you rest," and think of putting down the plow. And in this time of COVID and racism, of political upheaval and physical separation and disruption, of fear and anxiety and grief, doesn’t that sound good?
     
    And then we see the growing lines of our neighbors seeking basic food and necessary supplies, communities of people living without housing in a pandemic. We hear the echo of Al Sharpton’s appeal at George Floyd’s funeral — “Get your knee off our necks” — and we know that there is still work to do. Our rest and freedom, family of faith, comes from the yoke of Jesus, knowing that we are in this together, and none of us has to carry this burden alone. When we lean into the yoke it becomes easier, because we’re going with the Spirit, together. Walking the line, together. Resting together, so that we can be ready to walk the next line, together.
     
    And that, family of faith, is what keeps me going. What can keep us going, when we would rather abandon the field? I may have my image of Will Smith, when I think of Independence Day, and I am sure you have your images too. But as Christians, we are called to set aside an independence that allows us to rest comfortably while others are still suffering and dying, and claim the promise of Christ to bring freedom to all people, and all creation.
     
    Zechariah calls us “prisoners of hope.” And that’s the really good news of our message today — no matter the confusion or the chaos of the world we live in, the yet unresolved sin of racism and homophobia and poverty, the struggle we find within ourselves as we seek to find truth in the midst of it all. Because in the end, all those wars and struggles and movements for independence have been about reaching for a vision of a world of truth and justice and mercy that is here now, and not yet. We can claim with Zechariah that the king is coming, to save God’s people. We can trust that Jesus’ yoke has been adjusted, for us, and that we will find rest when we walk with one another, and with God. And we can sing with Mary her vision of a world where the lowly are lifted up, and the hungry are full, and the prisoners are free.
     
    I end with words from Frederick Douglass, a black freedman and truly a prophet for his time and for ours, spoken on Independence Day 1852, 11 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. “I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. 'The arm of the Lord is not shortened,' and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of this age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, 'Let there be Light,' has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light . . . . In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it: ‘God speed the year of jubilee / The whole wide world o'er!'"
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-14, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, Matthew 11:25-30, Magnificat, Independence Day, coronavirus, COVID-19, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, allied, Fourth of July, dictionary
  • Jun 21, 2020As the Brokenness Dies
    Jun 21, 2020
    As the Brokenness Dies
    Series: (All)
    June 21, 2020. Lutheran tradition teaches us that we're all sinner and all saint. We all get lost, make mistakes, and harm others. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on how painful it must have been for Saul to realize the harm he had done to people of God, getting called out, and being guided into a new path forward.
     
    Readings: Romans 6:1b-11, Romans 7:19, Matthew 10:24-39
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    As I read the readings for today, the claim that Paul makes that all of us human beings are sinful, that we aren’t perfect, jumped out at me. As I started to reflect on those times when I have been publicly “not perfect,” the first story that came to my mind happened my very first Sunday when I was on internship. I was a basket case, and I was struggling to make them think that I knew exactly what I was doing. I was helping to serve communion, and when the line had finished I headed back up the stairs, three levels, to the high part of the altar in that sanctuary. And I turned around and I noticed that, to my surprise I was alone — at the top of the world. The rest of the communion serving team was not done yet. Not even close. I was mortified. The sacristan for the day, noticing my plight, moved his finger in a circle at me. And so I turned around, with my back to the congregation, and I experienced immediate relief. I could no longer see anyone watching me.
     
    After worship was over, the sacristan came to me and said, “Sometimes it helps just not to look at anyone else.” Several other people besides that sacristan also made a point of coming up to me and commenting about what had happened — not to make sure I knew I had screwed up (because I certainly knew), but to make sure that I knew it was okay, that we were Lutherans and there is plenty of grace to be spared for a new vicar. It is not the first time that I made a mistake in public, and it has not been the last. And I'm sure there will be plenty more to come. And it is always nice to remember that we are Lutherans, and that grace abounds.
     
    But as I continued to reflect on these readings I realized that there was a much deeper message, burning, as Jeremiah so powerfully describes, to be told. While I was working at the Basilica, I had a phone call one day with a parishioner. The details aren’t important but suffice it to say, I spoke that day out of a broken place, a sinful place, in myself — and in so doing, I deeply wounded her. And she called me out. In no uncertain terms, she named for me exactly how I had sounded, and how it had hurt her. And something in me broke. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. A part of me, when I think about it now looking back, died in that moment — a part of me that needed to die, and had for a long time, to make room for healing, and new life, to emerge.
     
    And although I couldn’t make sense of it at the time, Paul’s letter to the Romans names this very real part of our human experience — the truth of our brokenness, our sinfulness, as human beings — alongside our very deep capacity for change, to grow, to live into new ways of being in the world. And Paul himself was no stranger to this reality. His life as Saul, as a young religious leader, was devoted to uphold all that he had been taught was right and true and good, and destroy all that threatened that. He had, in fact, been complicit in torture and murder of those who had the courage to follow Jesus. Saul was, for everything he knew, like many of us, a good person. He was well-respected by his peers, educated, faithful. He was complacent, as it is so easy for us to be, in his confidence that he was on the right path. Saul, in his zeal, became so caught up in his own experience and his own convictions, that he completely missed the horror of the events that were unfolding right in front of him. And then, all at once, he got called out. He actually heard Jesus speak, telling him that he had been exactly wrong, and in murdering God’s people, he had in fact been murdering Jesus himself. And Saul was struck blind, made vulnerable, compelled to stop what he was doing, and be guided into a new path forward.
     
    We can imagine how painful it must have been for Saul, to realize the harm he had done to people of God. And we, living our human lives, have those moments too. We live our lives, thinking that we're on the right path, doing the right thing, and then something happens and we wake up, and realize somewhere along the way, we got lost. We, perhaps without realizing it, acted out of fear. Or a belief that we would not have enough, if we ensured that others had what they needed. Or a mistaken notion that our experience of the world was shared by everyone. Like Saul, we may have gotten so focused on our own experience that we missed the pain, even the horrors, of events right in front of us. And somewhere along the way, family of faith, we have all made mistakes and harmed others, sometimes those we hold most dear. And then like Saul, we are awakened. Family members or friends or coworkers may let us know that something we did was hurtful, and they're in pain.
     
    With ears that are opened by George Floyd’s calls for his mother, we hear our black siblings as they tell us one more time the realities of racism, and what has been happening to them while we in our ignorance have been looking the other way. With our eyes focused on our health care system and essential workers, our vision sharpened by our experience of COVID-19, we can see more clearly the injustices that exist as so many people live without health care, or a living wage, or safe and affordable housing, or the ability to care for themselves and their families when they are sick.
     
    We are awakened, as Saul was, and something within us dies. This was such a profound change for Saul that he even got a new name, and Saul became Paul. What needed to die was gone, and new life could begin. As Paul writes, “The death Jesus died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” And we hear in Paul’s letter just a few verses after today’s reading that this was not the one and only time this process needed to happen for him. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do,” he writes in Romans, chapter 7. Paul struggled, as we all do. He claimed his need for God — and we all need God, to bring healing and transformation and new life.
     
    And just as I experienced in my internship congregation on my first Sunday, and with the parishioner from the Basilica when I called her back and apologized for the profound harm I had done and shared what I had learned, there is abundant grace. Our readings today, as violent and as scary as they may seem, remind us of this. "A disciple is not above the teacher," Jesus tells his disciples. "It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher." Jesus never expected his disciples to be perfect. Paul makes it clear that we can’t be. Lutheran tradition teaches us that we're all sinner and all saint. We all get lost, make mistakes, and harm others. And we all have the capacity to live in Christ, who brings healing and new life as the brokenness dies. We all have, as Jeremiah prophesies, the fire in our belly that burns with truth and justice and hope, opening our hearts to see our neighbors with the compassion of God and to see ourselves in that same world.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, transcript, podcast, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 6:1b-11, Romans 7:19, Matthew 10:24-39, coronavirus
  • Jun 14, 2020Called to Share the Good News
    Jun 14, 2020
    Called to Share the Good News
    Series: (All)
    June 14, 2020. Pastor Meagan reflects on Jesus commissioning his disciples to carry the gospel to all the corners of the earth, and how in the wake of George Floyd, our call is to go out and tell the good news: that freedom is for all people.
     
    Readings: Exodus 19:2-8a, Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23], Ephesians 2:14
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On the surface, our gospel story today seems pretty simple. Jesus sees, with compassion, the need for people to hear the good news of God’s love and healing and guidance. And he commissioned people — his disciples — to walk alongside him, to carry the gospel to all the corners of the earth. Jesus prepared them for their work: giving them power to heal, to cleanse, even to bring life where there was death. And out they went, 2000 years ago, to carry out Jesus’ call. Simple, right?
     
    On the surface, the end of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation also seems pretty simple. Millions of people, children of God, had been kept in chains, abused, worked and sold for profit, treated for generations more like animals than human beings. And then, on January 1st of 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — and the slaves, at least legally speaking, were released from their chains, and everything changed. After centuries of bondage, the people of African descent were free. An announcement was made, and slavery was over.
     
    When we look closer, neither the story of Jesus sending out his disciples, nor the story of the freeing of millions of people who had lived in slavery, is as simple as it seems. Both stories warrant a little attention, especially this week. June 17th, we remember the anniversary of the execution of nine black people in Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a young white supremacist. The shooter was born, raised, Confirmed, and communed in the ELCA — which is to this day the whitest denomination in the country. From all of these stories we learn that freedom, healing, and transformation are not simple, one-time, individual events, but communal experiences of growth and change that can take years and even generations to be fully realized.
     
    When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, it certainly meant the end of legal slavery. But it was far from the end of the story. For those living in chains, and for those whose whole lives had been formed in a world built on the institution of slavery, this declaration of freedom turned upside down the only world any of them ever knew. It required transformation at almost every level — financial, social, practical, physical, political — for everyone in the nation. The change would take generations. It certainly started with the signing of the Proclamation over 150 years ago, but what many of us don’t realize is that it would be two-and-a-half years before the last of the slaves even knew of its passing. On June 19th, 1865, the Union Army finally reached Galveston, Texas, where the first order of business was to read the Emancipation Proclamation to the people of God still living in slavery there. In the midst of the wide-ranging reactions to the news, celebrations broke out — which are continued today, each June 19th, in a celebration known as Juneteenth.
     
    The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was only the beginning. The bringing of the good news to Galveston on Juneteenth was another step in that process. In order for freedom to come, the word needed to be spread. And that transformation continues. If we think about the events of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that took place only about 60 years ago, and remember the nine lives lost to white supremacy at Emanuel AME just 5 years ago, June 17th, and today watch the evening news and hear the grief and pain and fear and yes, even the rage of our black siblings in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we know there is still work for all of us to do in our nation, to fully live into and embrace the good news that started with the Emancipation Proclamation. At George Floyd’s funeral, Reverend Al Sharpton called us to continue that work: “What happened to Floyd,” he said, “happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life. It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, 'Get your knee off our necks.' The reason why we are marching all over the world is we were like George: we couldn’t breathe, not because there was something wrong with our lungs, but because you wouldn’t take your knee off our neck.” So much pain. And such a hard word of truth.
     
    When Jesus looked at the world around him, he knew, as we know today, that his world was hurting. Illness, death, division, poverty, and hunger. And he sent out the disciples, out of compassion, into this hurting world, to bring the good word. Not an empty word, but a word of promises made and kept, here and now. Healing. Life. Cleansing. And freedom. Jesus does not promise that the journey will be easy. He tells the disciples they are being sent out as sheep among wolves. He warns them they will face rejection. He invites them to let go of what they know, what makes them comfortable and secure.
     
    I don’t know about you, but I know how easy it has been, for much of my life, for me to rest in a place of familiarity and comfort, oblivious to the suffering of my black siblings. As I have heard the stories over time of the experiences of my black classmates and colleagues and friends that they have had in classrooms, and workplaces, and doctor’s offices, and shopping malls, I have slowly been drawn out of my complacency, to understand that the world as I see or experience it has been designed to help me, as a white person, feel safe and comfortable. The murder of George Floyd is an act of such obvious and cruel racist violence that it has awakened the whole world it seems, to the oppression and fear that has existed for centuries. I have been awakened to the ways in which I have been complicit in this reality, simply because I haven't seen it. As the call to carry the good news continues today, as we are called to proclaim healing and freedom, we like the disciples face a daunting task. We too are asked to let go of what we know, and what makes us comfortable and secure, as we acknowledge the truths of the woundedness of this world that we have been taught not to see. We are asked to confront the ways in which we have, all of us, been formed in a culture that is tainted with racism and white supremacy. And we're called to actively work to dismantle those lies, within ourselves, and in the world around us. And when we fail to do this, we allow the suffering to continue unchecked.
     
    Austin Channing Brown, a speaker and writer who is providing incredible leadership on racial justice, wrote this week, “I received an e-mail . . . . from [someone] who wants to know how she can support racial justice but without risk. And I’m sorry to share, it’s not possible. To be antiracist is to be active. It’s to resist the status quo. It’s raising your voice and making noise. It’s protesting and declaring things must change. It’s challenging supervisors and boards and executive teams and donors. Choosing antiracism is often choosing to be a nuisance.”
     
    The good news in all this: Jesus does not send the disciples, or us, out empty-handed. The disciples didn't start out ready to follow the call. Jesus equipped them, and equips us, for this mission, giving us the capacity to do what we are called to do. This week, as we remember at once the experience of the slaves in Galveston, Texas as they learned of their freedom over 150 year ago, the tragedy of the death of 9 black people at the hands of a white supremacist just 5 years ago, and the death of George Floyd and so many others in recent days, the call and commission Jesus gives to his disciples is for us too.
     
    The call is clear: go out, and tell the good news. Claim the promise that freedom is for all people. The Central States Synod Council, when they met last week via Zoom, wrote the following: “Our relationship to the shooter [of the Emmanuel 9], as well as to two of the slain, reminds us of both our complicity and our calling. Together we confess that we're in bondage to the sins of racism and white supremacy and, at the same time, we rejoice in the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus who 'has broken down the dividing walls, that is, the hostility between us' (Ephesians 2:14). May God continue to guide us as we seek repentance and renewal, and racial justice and reconciliation among God’s precious children.” There is so much work to do, family of faith, it can feel overwhelming. And just when we think we have arrived, we will make mistakes, and will find out how much more we have to learn. But we don't go alone, and we start right where we are.
     
    When asked what people should do to move forward from where we find ourselves, Reverend Angela Khabeb of Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis said to a reporter last week, “Dismantle white supremacy in our congregations and in our hearts. For each congregation, that process may begin in a different place. Wherever you’re starting, you’ve got the world at your fingertips.” There are so many ways to make a difference. Vote, and help others register to vote. Watch the movie "13th" or "Just Mercy" to learn about our criminal justice system. Read a book such as So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. Join a book study or other group committed to learning about racism — we are starting a group at Christ Lutheran soon. As the people said to Moses, when he shared God’s direction with them in the first reading today, “Everything the Lord has spoken, we will do.” We will do it, together.
     
    This is such hard work, family of faith. And the call to bring the message of God’s love to the world will never be completed. We will never do it perfectly. But our God promises healing, and cleansing, and life, and freedom. Jesus called the disciples to embody the good news to the world. As they did so, they were freed of the illusions they lived in that separated them from their neighbors. Their eyes were opened to the beauty that is only evident in the abundant diversity of God’s creation. They were freed from the fear of losing what was familiar, and secure. Their hearts were opened, and they were free to share, and to receive in full, the gift of God’s presence that always surrounds us. In the words of Maya Angelou, “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 19:2-8a, Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23], Ephesians 2:14
  • May 31, 2020Roaring Winds and Flame
    May 31, 2020
    Roaring Winds and Flame
    Series: (All)
    May 31, 2020. Sometimes God comes with words to calm and comfort and reassure. And sometimes God comes to wake us up. Just as the Spirit came upon the disciples in the first Pentecost as roaring winds and flame, we are seeing the Spirit alive today in the city of Minneapolis, as it burns in protest of the murder of George Floyd. The Spirit descends on us too, and frees us to proclaim that healing is possible, even as the fire rages.
     
    Reading: Acts 2:1-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Holy Week seems like such an incredibly long time ago, doesn’t it? And yet just like that, the weirdest Easter season that most of us have ever experienced is over. But let’s think back a minute, to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, and find Peter. As they headed into the city to celebrate Passover, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus warned Peter that he would fall. Peter protests that he is ready to go to prison with Jesus, and he will even die with him. But Jesus knows his people. He tells Peter that not only will he not die with Jesus, but he will deny that he even knows him. And of course, we know the rest of the story. Peter does deny Jesus. The cock crows. The others run and hide. And for these fifty days since, except perhaps for essential tasks or brief trips out of the city, the disciples have been keeping kind of a low profile — waiting and watching and listening and wondering, staying out of the way of the Roman guard who they hear are still looking for the ones who were so close to Jesus — as rumors are beginning to spread and grow about the missing body and the empty tomb. "More dangerous dead than alive," warned one of the religious leaders after Jesus’ death. Maybe so. Everyone is on edge.
     
    It’s that Peter — the one who denied Jesus, the one who hid with his companions, the one who grieved how badly he had failed Jesus just when it counted the most — that we see in our story today from Acts, speaking to a crowd of thousands, shutting down their mocking (of course they aren’t drunk, it’s only 9:30 in the morning), answering their questions. "It is happening," he tells them, "Just as Joel and the other prophets told us. God is upon us." How did that happen? How did Peter go from denial to prophecy? What emboldened Jesus’ followers to come out of their comfort zone and share the good news of life triumphant over death, of God’s deeds of power? And that, I suggest, is really the story here, this Pentecost Sunday. What happened?
     
    There is so much that hadn’t changed, prior to the events of this reading. Jesus’ death was still real, his resurrection, confusing and maybe a bit scary as well as hopeful, his ascension, as perplexing as it was devastating. The authorities were still looking for Jesus’ followers. The disciples, as of yet, really hadn’t left their Upper Room. Hadn’t told the stories outside the circle of trusted followers. Still hadn’t figured out what on earth they were supposed to be doing, what it all meant. So what happened?
     
    When Jesus and Peter were talking, before the Supper, and Peter claimed he was ready to die, Jesus told him that on the contrary Peter would deny even knowing him. Jesus also said something else important. “But I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your siblings.” When you have turned back, strengthen your siblings. And if we remember last week’s gospel, even before Jesus died he had made another promise, perhaps following up on this promise to Peter. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.” All along the way, Jesus promised that we would not be alone. God would be with us. Hard to believe with all that had taken place, but the disciples were trying.
     
    And so, we come to the events of Pentecost. The disciples are expecting something to happen — Jesus told them he would be sending a comforter. They had gathered in anticipation of this, not knowing what to expect. And then the Spirit showed up. Jesus often said, “Peace be with you,” “Be not afraid,” to his disciples when he came upon them after he rose from the dead. Angels would often say this too, when they appeared to unsuspecting humans, who would understandably be caught off guard by a heavenly being making an appearance. But in the Pentecost reading, there are no words of comfort or peace. Roaring winds, filling their room, locked doors and all. Flames of fire, leaping down and resting on their heads. And then suddenly, they are all filled with words that can't be held in, pouring out of them in languages they didn’t even know! I was talking about this story recently with one of you, who suggested that perhaps not all of the words the disciples spoke were, strictly speaking, “good news.” I recall moments when I have been taken by surprise so profoundly that I couldn’t think clearly enough to put words on it myself, and I can imagine the words that might have escaped my mouth if I had been there that day!
     
    Sometimes, God comes with words to calm and comfort and reassure. And sometimes, God comes to WAKE US UP! Pentecost is one of those days, family of faith! Just as fire in a forest can transform and clear the way for new life, the fires of Pentecost, the Spirit come to the disciples, transformed them forever. They had been afraid, and rightly so. Peter had been so afraid he denied that he even knew Jesus. The Spirit came, and in spite of their fear, they embodied courage and spoke the truth of the good news of God they knew to anyone who would listen.
     
    There is so much fear and grief, morphed into understandable anger and rage, at the death of yet one more black man, George Floyd, murdered on the streets of Minneapolis. As my pastor from my Minneapolis home church, just half a block from the Minneapolis 3rd precinct, said, “My city is on fire.” My city is on fire. The fear is palpable, for those living in it, and those watching from afar. And the courage of those speaking truth, ministering in the midst of that fire, calling for an end to the deep, systemic racism that is fueling it, is undeniable. The Spirit is alive.
     
    The disciples had been cut off, hidden away, and the Spirit removed all barriers between them and their neighbors — even language. Think about how often we misunderstand one another, even our closest people, when we speak the same language, and we can get a glimpse of what a miracle this was — that everyone present, regardless of their national origin, or ethnicity, or language, understood what was being said. No longer cut off, they were suddenly connected with everyone around them. Any idea that God would only speak to certain people, of a certain culture, of a certain language, in certain ways, was dispelled, and the Spirit of God insisted on being accessible to everyone, despite our human limitations.
     
    And speaking of limitations... Peter, the one who denied Jesus, the one who failed to be there for his dear friend, who had really screwed up, is still called! The Spirit filled him, empowered him, and he found himself able to share the incredibly good news of God’s mercy and redemption and joy-filled power, with literally thousands. That news has travelled 2,000 years, to us here in the middle of the days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite our human limitations, the Spirit comes to us in the midst of the isolation and fear of illness and unknown future, in the grief surrounding over 103,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in this country. The Spirit has come. In the midst of the very real barriers that divide us, the scourge of systemic racism that binds every single one of us, deeply wounding and oppressing living, breathing human beings, bringing death and fear and destruction and untold misery in its wake, the Spirit has come.
     
    The Spirit descends on us — not quietly and peacefully, but in roaring and in fire. It surrounds and fills us, and sends us out to proclaim the radical news of God’s abundant love, and grace, and justice to this world. We are freed and called to learn how to stand in the midst of pandemics and racism and all the evils of this world, and proclaim that God’s justice and will must prevail, even when it feels scary and risky to do so. We are freed to proclaim that healing is possible, even as the fire rages. We are freed to do everything we can to claim that all people are worthy and beloved children of God, WITH, and not in spite of, our differences. In other words, this is the day we are cut loose, freed from the limitations of our Upper Rooms, to be the church in the world.
     
    The disciples, like us, were not “prepared” to be the church in their time, but the Spirit came and led them, and they were the church. Like the disciples, we too are set free to embody the promise of God in new ways. We too are being transformed, to be the church in our place and time, in ways we couldn’t even fathom three months ago, and we are still discovering as we navigate our way forward together.
     
    Sustained and inspired and strengthened and blessed by the Holy Spirit, we will watch and wait with faith and hope for signs that it is safe to return to our common spaces, while staying physically distant to keep one another, and especially those most vulnerable, safe. And in the meantime, we are called, just like Peter was and the rest of the disciples, to strengthen one another on this journey. We are in this together, together cut loose, freed to be the church, and with the power of the Holy Spirit we will faithfully embody the love and the justice and promise of our God, that essential work that we as people of God have always been called to do, since the very first Pentecost.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 2:1-21, coronavirus, Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church