May 17, 2020
I Will Not Leave You Orphaned
Series: (All)
May 17, 2020. What does it look like to embody the unity of the Spirit in this time of physical separation? What does the commandment of love, for God and one another, look like in this time of COVID-19? Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on these questions, and Jesus' promise not to leave us orphaned, in this time of uncertainty.
 
Readings: John 14:15-21, 1 Peter 3:13-22
 
*** Transcript ***
 
By now, you probably know that I have a thing for cats. Over the last few weeks, I've had the joy of watching over Facebook as a colleague who lives in Virginia has been raising five tiny kittens whose mother disappeared and has not been found. Weighing in at less than a pound when they were rescued, they needed help with absolutely everything. Their eyes still closed, and their little legs still too weak to support even their bitty weight, they started their time in foster care in a box just big enough for them. They were fed with eyedroppers at first, as they couldn't even handle even a bottle yet. They needed to be cleaned from head to tail, as their mother would have done frequently. As they have gained strength, their space has been expanded to include room to play, a designated litter box, and an increasing number of toys. In the last week, there have been pictures and video of these fur babies, now all over a pound, eyes wide open, exploring not just a box but a whole room, hungrily inhaling solid wet food, pulling on strings and leaping back when the string responds, and pouncing on toys, and one another, and their parents’ hands and feet. They still wobble as they navigate their new surroundings, and they return frequently to the safety of their protected habitat to rest and regroup, guided by the nurturing hands and hearts of their caregivers. Their mother may have disappeared, but they have not been abandoned.
 
“I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus told his disciples. And although we are now in the Easter season, this promise came before that — before Jesus had even been arrested, before his crucifixion and death, before the disciples discovered the empty tomb. Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what was to come, letting them know that everything was about to change, that he was going to be arrested and die, that their whole world as they knew it was about to fall apart, that they would in fact betray him — and yet, they would not be alone.
 
“I will not leave you orphaned.” In our own time of uncertainty, this is so comforting to hear! And there is so much in Jesus’ counsel that can guide us as we navigate our new world, a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
 
“I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus promises that the Spirit of truth will be with us, that God will be present around and before and within us, bringing us together. And, Jesus says that the world will not see the truth, but that the disciples will. I hear this and can’t help but echo Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” How, in the chaos of this broken world, can we see where we are to go, what we are to do, how we are to be church in the midst of it all?
 
Our eyes are being opened, Christ Lutheran family, in this time when everything we have been used to has been altered. Our routines have been disrupted, the easy sense of inherent safety as we navigate the world undermined. Any illusion that “church” means the building in which we worship has been exposed. Because right in this moment, we're separated from our building, and physically separated from one another. And yet the truth of what it means to be the church is perhaps more accessible to us than ever. Jesus talks about keeping the commandment of love, for God and one another, as a mark of God’s people. It is the greatest commandment, one by which we will be known as the church. What does that look like, in this time of COVID-19? How can we be the church, by embodying love — for one another, for God, and for the world around us?
 
Jesus says the Spirit brings us together, with one another and with God. Jesus abides in us; we abide in God. No matter what forces may try to pull us apart, we are all human, children of God, and in our humanity we are connected. The systems of this world are designed to separate us, put us into categories based on so many things: race and ethnicity, gender and orientation, socio-economic status, language, the list goes on. This pandemic experience can widen the gap, and all we have to do is look at a map of cases of COVID-19 in the St. Louis area to know that the Delmar Divide is real — this virus, while devastating to all of us, is particularly damaging to people of color, and people living in poverty, many of whom do not have adequate sick leave and access to health care.
 
What does it look like to embody the unity of the Spirit in this time of physical separation? Especially in times like this, being the church means noticing when people are left out, oppressed, and excluded, and claiming the love of God that surrounds and embraces and fills everything that is, speaking the truth that we are all one and working actively for a world where all people have what they need. With eyes that are opened, we can see our neighbors living this out every day. Webster-Rock Hill Ministries is there each day, providing food and other necessities for those who need them. Our schools are continuing to provide meals for their students, so no one will go hungry while the buildings are closed. Room at the Inn continues to provide shelter for families without housing, in new ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. Advocates around the city are calling attention to the injustices that exist in our prisons, housing, and health care, and immigration systems, injustices that are particularly poignant as we all navigate a public health crisis like none we have ever lived through.
 
Our reading from 1 Peter today tells us to be ready. Be ready to walk into the world as it is, and embody something different. Stand face to face with separation, and fear, and anxiety, and violence, and be the church — in our families, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods — to witness the love of God, and see God’s creation and our fellow humans, and ourselves, in the light of God’s love.
 
“I will not leave you orphaned.” Just as those tiny kittens have so much yet to learn about the world around them, for us, too, much is yet unknown. And, the Spirit of love, of truth, of hope, is with us, and will be, guiding us as we find our way forward. In our weariness, anxiety, fear, grief, and yes, excitement and joy as we discover new ways of doing ministry together, we can rest assured that we have not been abandoned. God is with us, and we are in this together.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21, coronavirus
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  • May 17, 2020I Will Not Leave You Orphaned
    May 17, 2020
    I Will Not Leave You Orphaned
    Series: (All)
    May 17, 2020. What does it look like to embody the unity of the Spirit in this time of physical separation? What does the commandment of love, for God and one another, look like in this time of COVID-19? Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on these questions, and Jesus' promise not to leave us orphaned, in this time of uncertainty.
     
    Readings: John 14:15-21, 1 Peter 3:13-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    By now, you probably know that I have a thing for cats. Over the last few weeks, I've had the joy of watching over Facebook as a colleague who lives in Virginia has been raising five tiny kittens whose mother disappeared and has not been found. Weighing in at less than a pound when they were rescued, they needed help with absolutely everything. Their eyes still closed, and their little legs still too weak to support even their bitty weight, they started their time in foster care in a box just big enough for them. They were fed with eyedroppers at first, as they couldn't even handle even a bottle yet. They needed to be cleaned from head to tail, as their mother would have done frequently. As they have gained strength, their space has been expanded to include room to play, a designated litter box, and an increasing number of toys. In the last week, there have been pictures and video of these fur babies, now all over a pound, eyes wide open, exploring not just a box but a whole room, hungrily inhaling solid wet food, pulling on strings and leaping back when the string responds, and pouncing on toys, and one another, and their parents’ hands and feet. They still wobble as they navigate their new surroundings, and they return frequently to the safety of their protected habitat to rest and regroup, guided by the nurturing hands and hearts of their caregivers. Their mother may have disappeared, but they have not been abandoned.
     
    “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus told his disciples. And although we are now in the Easter season, this promise came before that — before Jesus had even been arrested, before his crucifixion and death, before the disciples discovered the empty tomb. Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what was to come, letting them know that everything was about to change, that he was going to be arrested and die, that their whole world as they knew it was about to fall apart, that they would in fact betray him — and yet, they would not be alone.
     
    “I will not leave you orphaned.” In our own time of uncertainty, this is so comforting to hear! And there is so much in Jesus’ counsel that can guide us as we navigate our new world, a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
     
    “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus promises that the Spirit of truth will be with us, that God will be present around and before and within us, bringing us together. And, Jesus says that the world will not see the truth, but that the disciples will. I hear this and can’t help but echo Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” How, in the chaos of this broken world, can we see where we are to go, what we are to do, how we are to be church in the midst of it all?
     
    Our eyes are being opened, Christ Lutheran family, in this time when everything we have been used to has been altered. Our routines have been disrupted, the easy sense of inherent safety as we navigate the world undermined. Any illusion that “church” means the building in which we worship has been exposed. Because right in this moment, we're separated from our building, and physically separated from one another. And yet the truth of what it means to be the church is perhaps more accessible to us than ever. Jesus talks about keeping the commandment of love, for God and one another, as a mark of God’s people. It is the greatest commandment, one by which we will be known as the church. What does that look like, in this time of COVID-19? How can we be the church, by embodying love — for one another, for God, and for the world around us?
     
    Jesus says the Spirit brings us together, with one another and with God. Jesus abides in us; we abide in God. No matter what forces may try to pull us apart, we are all human, children of God, and in our humanity we are connected. The systems of this world are designed to separate us, put us into categories based on so many things: race and ethnicity, gender and orientation, socio-economic status, language, the list goes on. This pandemic experience can widen the gap, and all we have to do is look at a map of cases of COVID-19 in the St. Louis area to know that the Delmar Divide is real — this virus, while devastating to all of us, is particularly damaging to people of color, and people living in poverty, many of whom do not have adequate sick leave and access to health care.
     
    What does it look like to embody the unity of the Spirit in this time of physical separation? Especially in times like this, being the church means noticing when people are left out, oppressed, and excluded, and claiming the love of God that surrounds and embraces and fills everything that is, speaking the truth that we are all one and working actively for a world where all people have what they need. With eyes that are opened, we can see our neighbors living this out every day. Webster-Rock Hill Ministries is there each day, providing food and other necessities for those who need them. Our schools are continuing to provide meals for their students, so no one will go hungry while the buildings are closed. Room at the Inn continues to provide shelter for families without housing, in new ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. Advocates around the city are calling attention to the injustices that exist in our prisons, housing, and health care, and immigration systems, injustices that are particularly poignant as we all navigate a public health crisis like none we have ever lived through.
     
    Our reading from 1 Peter today tells us to be ready. Be ready to walk into the world as it is, and embody something different. Stand face to face with separation, and fear, and anxiety, and violence, and be the church — in our families, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods — to witness the love of God, and see God’s creation and our fellow humans, and ourselves, in the light of God’s love.
     
    “I will not leave you orphaned.” Just as those tiny kittens have so much yet to learn about the world around them, for us, too, much is yet unknown. And, the Spirit of love, of truth, of hope, is with us, and will be, guiding us as we find our way forward. In our weariness, anxiety, fear, grief, and yes, excitement and joy as we discover new ways of doing ministry together, we can rest assured that we have not been abandoned. God is with us, and we are in this together.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21, coronavirus
  • May 3, 2020Walking the Valley of the Shadow
    May 3, 2020
    Walking the Valley of the Shadow
    Series: (All)
    May 3, 2020. Pastor Meagan reflects on today's readings by noting that none of them promise that danger will be eliminated, death will cease to exist, or evil will be no more. Things change and we are not the same. But God does not change.
     
    Readings: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, John 10:1-10
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I was struck, as I read today’s readings, that although all of them mention danger in one form or another, none of them promise that danger will be eliminated. That death will cease to exist. That evil will be no more. Acts 2 acknowledges that there are needs in the community. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” says Psalm 23. And our gospel today names thieves and bandits that attempt to steal and harm the sheep. Our texts do not present a promise that hardship and even evil will be absent, but something else. It reminded me of something that happened when I was young, my first experience of God’s presence in the midst of things that we don’t understand, sadness and confusion.
     
    When I was about seven years old, my favorite pastor collapsed after church one Sunday. We went home unsure of what the outcome would be, and being one who likes to have answers, and wants to understand, I went to the source: my children’s Bible. I read it from cover to cover that day, looking for the answer to why someone so good would die like that, if that’s what was happening. I remember finishing, and still not having my answer — and yet realizing that somehow that was okay, because God knew the plan even if I didn’t.
     
    Now, lest you begin to think that I have spent all of the intervening years feeling serene and peaceful and hopeful, let me assure you — I have not. Doubts, questions, frustrations, grief, anger, are all a normal part of human existence and I, like all of you, have experienced them all along the way. But this experience was one of those touchstone moments in my life that has shaped me, revealed something of God to me, and has in many ways informed how I experience God and understand life and death. It has made possible a slow, gradual, sometimes painful, unclenching of the need to have answers for everything as I have grown older.
     
    Christ Lutheran family, as the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 continues, we are walking together through a time that is full of unanswered questions. Why is this happening? Who is this going to impact? Where is God? What are we supposed to do in this really strange time? And maybe most importantly, how long is this going to last? So much we don’t know and don’t understand. We may sense the thieves and the bandits, feel the weight of the shadow in the valley at times, as we navigate hospital corridors, or grocery store aisles, or cross streets to give our neighbors space as we walk on these sunny days of spring, or stay in our Upper Rooms to keep ourselves and our fellow humans safe. None of our readings today promise us that the thieves and the bandits and shadows will go away, much as we wish they might.
     
    For those of us used to feeling safe most of the time, and sure of ourselves and our future, these readings today can often be taken as a promise that we will be protected from the dangers and the sadness of this human life. In this time of COVID-19, when danger and sadness and anxiety and uncertainty seem to be all around us, these readings sound very different.
     
    Psalm 23 is so often used at funerals, and there is a reason for that. Psalm 23 names head-on the reality of death, the presence of the valley of the shadow. It speaks of a table of abundance, in the midst of enemies who seek to destroy. A wise woman I know created a painting of that image, a table with enemies surrounding it, and she named the enemies — fear, anxiety, self-loathing, resentment. Anyone else felt those enemies, those internal enemies, hovering close in these days? What does your valley look like in this time? Take a moment to name that for yourself, and if you would like to, share that in the chat. Psalm 23 names the valley, and it claims the promise that God the shepherd is there with us. God is with us as we walk the valley, leading us toward places of stillness and healing and renewal. Even in the presence of enemies, the table God provides is ready, abundant, overflowing, and open to everyone. Where are your still places in this time? Where are you finding healing and renewal? Take a moment to name that for yourself, and share in the chat if you wish.
     
    Jesus the shepherd, in our gospel, comes to us bringing life to the full. Thieves and bandits, whatever shape they may take in our nightmares, or our imaginations, or even our daily news feeds, may bring death, and lack, and a reason for fear, but our Risen God brings life, and guides us out to pastures that have all we need. And if we wonder what to do as we navigate the valley, feel the shadow, sense the presence of the thieves and the bandits, we can take courage from the story of the early church, as shared in Acts today. They experienced daily threat from Roman soldiers, and all of the stresses of living as an occupied people. They, like us, were separated from their primary place of worship, as the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. They, like us, were coming together to live out their faith in new ways, to make sense of what was happening, and to be church together. When — not if — people were in need, they shared what they had. They prayed and they broke bread together. And they gave thanks to God for what they had. We at Christ Lutheran are called to follow their example, even, and perhaps especially, in this time of transformation. Pray. Break bread together. Share what we have with those who are in need. And most of all, give thanks!
     
    Fr. Slattery did die that day, and following his funeral life proceeded in many ways as normal from that day forward, as if things were the same. And yet, it was not quite the same. I was not the same. And we living through this time of COVID-19 will not be the same. But one thing will not change: God is with us, guiding us and leading us to green pastures and still waters, places of healing and renewal. We, the Christ Lutheran family, will continue to pray, and break bread, and share what we have with those who are in need. The voice of Jesus our shepherd calls us, and we know that voice, perhaps more clearly in times like this than usual. And in this moment, as we gather together via Zoom and phone and email, and in our homes, and as this crisis passes and we slowly return to our church building, wherever we are — we will dwell in God’s house, forever. Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, John 10:1-10, coronavirus
  • Apr 26, 2020Encountering Jesus on the Road
    Apr 26, 2020
    Encountering Jesus on the Road
    Series: (All)
    April 26, 2020. Pastor Meagan preaches on the story of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and the unnamed disciple tell Jesus everything. What would you tell Jesus, if you were walking with him, about the events of these last few weeks?
     
    Reading: Luke 24:13-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When change happens quickly, or when something somewhat traumatic occurs, it can take time to grasp even the simplest details of what has happened. One such event that stands out for me took place many years ago. I was driving from La Crescent in southern Minnesota up to the Twin Cities with a college friend, and another driver pulled in front of me and then hit the brakes. I immediately tried to slow down, but I knew that it was no use. We hit the other car from behind, and we came to an abrupt stop. My first reaction was to apologize profusely to my friend for the colorful language that had come spewing out of my mouth as I watched the accident unfold. And as we got out of the car and began to assess the damage, the reality of what had happened slowly began to seep in. I looked at the front of the car, now pushed into itself accordion-like. “This doesn’t look good.” I noted the broken headlights, the glass and the plastic scattered on the ground. “No, not good at all.” Then I saw fluids seeping out from under the car, and the peculiar angle of the front tires. “I’m not sure I can drive this home.” The liquid began to pool, the colors blending together on the ground. “No, I don’t think I can drive my car home.” Then, it dawned on me that we were two hours from home. And no cell phone. And no extra car in my pocket.
     
    It sounds pretty quick laying it out like that, but the embarrassing truth is, to my recollection, it took nearly half an hour to figure all that out. I couldn’t bear the full picture of what had happened all at once. We can probably all think of times when something happened that took a long time to “sink in.” Some of them may be painful or traumatic things, like accidents. Or diagnoses. Or losing a job. Or the death of a loved one. Painful things happen, and it can take a while to process and settle into new realities that are not what we anticipated or hoped for. Some of them may be joyful things. Like the birth of a healthy child. Falling in love, or getting married. Even times of joy can be overwhelming. And we can find ourselves struggling to grasp and name what has happened, and what it means.
     
    And so, we can relate to the disciples, as they struggled to sort out for themselves the reality of Jesus’ death, the empty tomb, the reports that Jesus had been seen alive, impossible though that seemed. And so as Cleopas and the unnamed disciple walked along the road to Emmaus together — breathing in fresh air and absorbing the sunshine, perhaps watching the birds flying overhead, after days of being closed up in the Upper Room — they talked it all over again, trying to make sense of it. And then a stranger joins them on the road, and overwhelmed and exhausted and confused as they are, they don’t even realize it’s Jesus! And Jesus, as they are walking along, doesn’t seem to know anything about what his disciples are discussing. And he asks them: what things? What things have happened? Tell me the story.
     
    And so Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, walking along the road with their new friend, are invited to share all of the challenges, the fears, the heartbreaks, and the confusion that they're going through, while Jesus listens to them. Jesus didn’t need them to tell him what had happened. Remember, he was there! But he wanted to know their story, how they were experiencing things, how they were feeling about it. Jesus knew how important it was, as they worked through it all, to tell that story one more time.
     
    And this invitation is not just for them. Cleopas is not one of the more “famous” disciples, not one of the leaders. And the unnamed disciple could be anyone. We are all included in this invitation. In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of the adjusting, and adapting, and loss and grief, and closing ourselves away physically for a time, and uncertainty, and discovering new skills and new ways of doing things, we all need to do literally or figuratively what Cleopas and his companion did: take time to ground ourselves in God’s creation, breathe in fresh air, move our bodies, and share what we are experiencing with a friend. Jesus invites not only the disciples, but us, to walk with him, to tell our story, to share our thoughts and experiences with all that has taken place in these recent weeks.
     
    Cleopas and the unnamed disciple tell Jesus everything. How Jesus had been arrested, and put on trial, and crucified. What would you tell Jesus, if you were walking with him, about the events of these last few weeks?
     
    They told their new friend how they had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel. What are things that you hoped for that now seem uncertain, or even impossible? What hopes have been lost, or have changed?
     
    Cleopas and the unnamed disciple told Jesus that some of the other disciples had seen signs of hope in the midst of the gruesome events they had experienced. Indications that perhaps Jesus’ death was not as final as it seemed. What signs of hope do you see in these days? Where have you experienced joy, in the midst of the challenges of this time? Where have you seen evidence of new life?
     
    And after they had talked, the disciples invited Jesus to stay with them and eat. The table for Jesus is a place of bounty, of unity with all of those with whom Jesus ate, of renewal of community for those who had been excluded. Jesus’ table shows up in so many places in our gospel stories: the wedding at Cana where Jesus provides wine, the religious leader’s home, the tax collector’s home, the field where 5,000 people are gathered, the feast celebrating the return of the Prodigal Son, the Passover supper that Jesus and disciples shared, the shore where the disciples are despondently cooking fish after Jesus died, just to name a few.
     
    So it is no surprise really when they sit down to eat, and broke the bread together as they had so many times before, that this is the moment when Cleopas and the unnamed disciple realize that the “stranger” with whom they had been walking was Jesus. He had been with them all along! And it dawned on them: that is why their hearts had been burning as they walked along the road with Jesus! As they had been talking, they had been looking, hoping, yearning for answers to all of the questions they were holding. Why Jesus had to die. Why he hadn’t saved himself. Why God hadn’t saved him. Why Jesus had left them. We often feel those questions, that weight, in our bodies — in our shoulders, our head, our gut, our chest — and the disciples are no different. And when Jesus was listening to them, reassuring them of God’s love and presence, they felt the hope and promise in their bodies too, in the burning of their hearts.
     
    The thing is, the disciples didn’t actually understand any better why things were happening the way they were. That ultimate question of why bad things happen has been the subject of books and lectures and study for years, and no one has really come up with a good answer. The hard truth is, as much as we wish we could understand why things like the pandemic happen, why loved ones die, why we experience pain, we don’t know. But the disciples did know that God was with them. They did understand, as they saw that Jesus had been with them all along, that God’s love and mercy was a promise that God would never break.
     
    We see again this week, as we walk along with the disciples, that resurrection is not an act completed, but is about persistence in the midst of the very real challenges of this human life. Resurrection springs up like a burning in our hearts, an eruption of hope and maybe even joy in the recognition of Jesus’ presence. Where have you seen the Lord?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Luke 24:13-35, coronavirus
  • Apr 19, 2020Coming to Terms with the Resurrection
    Apr 19, 2020
    Coming to Terms with the Resurrection
    Series: (All)
    April 19, 2020. After Jesus had been arrested, tortured, and crucified, the disciples waited  — hidden away in their Upper Room — and were afraid. We hear this gospel story every year. But this year, we know more than ever what it means to be isolated in our rooms and afraid too. Today's sermon reminds us that even so, the promise of God is still with us.
     
    Reading: John 20:19-31
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Is anyone else tired this week? I will admit that I am. Easter is over, Jesus is risen, the adrenaline of the fast-paced adjustments of the last several weeks has worn off — and I am a little worn out. And yet, all of the reliable sources on the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 indicate that we're not done yet, and we'll be sticking together while staying physically apart for a while yet. The nightly news is not hopeful, for us who long for the widespread testing and successful management of the virus that will allow us to open the doors of our Upper Rooms, and come out safely to resume our regular routines, to travel, to go to parks and movies and museums and restaurants, like we did every day until just five weeks ago. Think about that — just five weeks, and how much has changed.
     
    And I wonder, if the disciples didn’t feel a similar weariness, waiting in their Upper Room. The news they heard from outside wasn’t good, either. Jesus, their friend, with whom they had eaten the Passover meal, who had washed their feet, who had shared the promise of God’s love and forgiveness and mercy, had been arrested. And Jesus was tortured. And murdered. And Jesus had been betrayed by Judas, their friend, who was now dead too. All of the hopes they had for freedom and justice and change in their world had seemingly died, on the cross, with Jesus.
     
    And they, the followers of Jesus that they were, were vulnerable also. Peter especially knew that — he had been noticed, as he waited for word on what was happening to Jesus in the sham trial held by the religious leaders and the Roman occupiers. And he was afraid that he himself, and maybe his family too, would also be arrested by the religious leaders. So afraid that he had denied not only Jesus, but his own ideals and hopes, multiple times, in order to protect himself. They were all afraid.
     
    And so they waited, hidden away in their Upper Room, perhaps the same Upper Room where they had their last meal with Jesus. The witness of Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James and John, that Jesus’ tomb was empty, corroborated by Peter and the other disciple reporting on the linens left abandoned where Jesus had been buried, and Mary Magdalene’s claim that she had actually seen Jesus, could stir hope, but not enough to set them free to leave their place of safety for good, and return to their normal lives. It was all too confusing, too hard to believe.
     
    We hear today’s gospel story every year, and it is so familiar. How Jesus came to the disciples as they hid. How Thomas wasn’t there, and refused to believe that Jesus had come while he was out. And how, when Jesus came again, Thomas demanded proof from him of who he was, proof of the good news that he brought. And how Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds, and Thomas then believed. “Doubting Thomas,” as he has been dubbed, gets a bad rap often, in our Easter story. And I always stick up for Thomas, point out how often we too need proof in order to believe, how Jesus sees what Thomas needs, and offers him the opportunity to touch the wounds in his hands, his feet, his side. But this year, as we wait still in our Upper Rooms for good news that will allow us to venture out again, a question occurred to me about this story of the disciples in their Upper Room.
     
    Where was Thomas, when Jesus came the first time? It’s easy to take this for granted, to let it pass as insignificant to the story we are hearing. But in this season of COVID-19, a new light is shed on this throw-away phrase from our gospel. And I wonder, where was Thomas, the so-called doubting one? From our new point of view on this ancient story, from our Upper Rooms, this feels strangely significant. Given the circumstances, I don’t think Thomas was out just for fun, attending a party or going to the local baths. I suspect Thomas was out with a purpose, perhaps trying to get news on what was happening, in a world without TV or internet to help the disciples stay informed. Or perhaps he was getting food and supplies, so they would have what they needed while they stayed safely hidden. Thomas may have, for some reason, been least at risk of arrest by the Romans, and so was the one sent out while the rest remained, not having any idea that Jesus was going to come through that locked door.
     
    Having been the one at home and the one to go out during this time of physical distancing, I can imagine how they all felt. Thomas, hearing the whispers of fate that awaited any followers of Jesus, having perhaps seen armed soldiers searching the shops and the streets, having maybe even had to quickly cross the street to avoid coming face-to-face with someone who might betray him, gets back to the Upper Room, breathing a sigh of relief as he locked the door behind him again. And he doesn’t have a chance to tell his friends what it’s like out there before they tell him the news: Jesus had come while he was out, breathing life into their place of refuge, bringing hope to a situation that felt completely hopeless. How can Thomas reconcile that with what he has just seen?
     
    And the rest of the disciples, having seen Jesus, have had their minds blown, one more time. The hope of being with Jesus, hearing the promises, seeing the miracles, shattered on the cross. And just when they thought there was no way to redeem the situation, Jesus shows them that everything they thought about him, and what he was going to do, was wrong — and right.
     
    Coming to terms with the resurrection isn’t something we think about a lot, is it? And yet this year, we know more than ever what it means to be afraid. What it means to be closed away. What it means to long and grieve for nothing more than what has been and what we had hoped for, for the people who we have loved and lost, for what was familiar and comfortable such a short time ago. It takes time, this process, and we are just at the beginning.
     
    And Jesus, he was so patient, so understanding of the fear that the disciples felt, and how hard it would be for them to embrace their new reality and understanding of who Jesus was, who God is. He breathed on them, promised them peace, and came not just once, but many times, as many times as it would take for the disciples to finally get it.
     
    And we are being transformed, as people, as a community of faith, as a human family, just as Thomas and the disciples were transformed. We are being renewed and prepared for something we can’t yet imagine or understand. And the promise of God is with us, here and now. There is grief in transformation, and there is hope and life, too. We can be patient with one another, patient with ourselves, and lean on each other through this time. Jesus breathed the Spirit on his disciples, and he breathes on us gathered here this morning. “Peace be with you,” my family. Peace be with you. Christ is alive!
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, John 20:19-31, coronavirus
  • Apr 12, 2020Easter in the Upper Room
    Apr 12, 2020
    Easter in the Upper Room
    Series: (All)
    April 12, 2020. It's been challenging thinking about how to mark Easter this year, when in the season of COVID-19 we can't be together physically. In our isolation, we feel a little closer to the disciples in theirs, waiting for a bit of good news. Pastor Meagan's sermon this morning is on the promise of the resurrection, on the light and life and healing and hope on the other side.
     
    Reading: John 20:1-18
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    This Easter feels really weird, doesn't it? It's been challenging thinking about how to mark Easter this year, when in the season of COVID-19 we can't be together physically. We aren't gathered in our sanctuary with the altar full of gorgeous color, and the choir resounding, and the smell of lilies flooding the space. We won't be feasting on a brunch, at a table surrounded by loved ones, traveling from distant places to celebrate. In comparison with "normal" years, in some ways it hardly feels like Easter.
     
    And yet here we are. We have shared the Last Supper in our Upper Rooms. We've been at the cross with Jesus, remembered how he died, acknowledged the ways in which we contribute to the brokenness that still oppresses and wounds so many today. And now we are huddled again in our Upper Rooms — just as the disciples were that early first Easter morning — waiting for a bit of good news, something to let us know that resurrection is coming, something to prove that Jesus has in fact risen from the dead.
     
    In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens declares, "Marley was dead to begin with. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story that I'm going to relate." And I say to you this morning, Jesus was dead to begin with. And this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I'm going to relate. Because although Jesus' death is not the end of the story, if we don't know the sacredness and intimacy of Maundy Thursday, the horror of Good Friday, and the silent despair of Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday comes like too much chocolate and jelly beans on an empty stomach: it tastes really good but it won't get us very far. And so, my family of faith, this year may in fact be more like that first Easter than our typical Easter celebration, because we in our Upper Rooms are a little closer to the disciples in theirs.
     
    The women — Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and John — who went to the tomb that morning bearing spices, were there when Jesus died. They knew he was gone, and they didn't have the slightest expectation that he had survived all that had happened. They were drawn to the tomb that morning not by the thought that Jesus might be alive, but by the call of their faith to honor one they had loved and followed by anointing the body that was left. They were there because they were not afraid to face the darkness of the tomb. They faced the darkness, walked into the tomb, and saw evidence of the miracle: the stone rolled away, an empty tomb, a pile of linen left lying on the floor. What would you have thought had you been there? How would you have told the story to the others, waiting back in the Upper Room to hear about their visit to the tomb? What would you have thought if you were one of Jesus' other followers hearing this story?
     
    The women themselves didn't believe it at first. Mary was sure that someone was playing a cruel trick, that Jesus' body had been stolen and hidden. As Mary begs to know where Jesus is, she hears the voice — that voice, the one she knew so well — saying her name. And she believed, or began to believe. And knowing how crazy it might sound, she runs to tell the others.
     
    Resurrection, this coming of life out of certain and undeniable death, is impossible to explain or prove. And yet for those who have experienced it, it changes everything. The women who went to the tomb and the other disciples who followed them, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, once they had witnessed the resurrection, they were never the same. They faced the darkness of the tomb. They knew the despair. And they were transformed when they discovered that death is not the final word.
     
    And resurrection isn't just a one-time event. It is a promise from God in Jesus that when we enter that tomb, God will be there. Those who have been to the tomb know this. People who have lived with the devastation of addiction and found recovery. People who have experienced profound grief, and found to their surprise that one day, if only for a moment, they could feel joy again. People who have found reconciliation after years of estrangement. Or healing and empowerment after living with abuse.
     
    Resurrection, beloveds, is not so much a one-time event as it is a process of coming out of death, over and over and over. Just as the disciples did not instantly understand and believe and experience the freedom of Jesus rising from the dead, the resurrection in our lives comes slowly. In times of darkness and destruction, we need to hear this promise — as we follow the news of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we stick close to our phones and computers and tablets to stay in contact with loved ones we can't be with right now, as we struggle to navigate all new routines and all new ways of sharing space, as we live with the loneliness of not being able to be with our close communities, as we pray for the health of those who are called to risk their well-being and lives to serve others, as we hold our breaths hoping for good news about those who are ill, and as we grieve from a distance those whose funerals are deferred to an uncertain future. We need to know that even in the face of illness, oppression, loneliness, and grief, death will never be the final word.
     
    Resurrection is not a magic eraser that takes away the pain and the despair. Jesus was dead to begin with, and nothing can ever change the horror of that. The women in the tomb knew that. The good news came to them when they were fully expecting to anoint a body. The disciples in the Upper Room knew that. It took many days and many encounters with the risen Jesus to ease their fear and fulfill their freedom. Resurrection does not erase death, but it does reveal the loving, redemptive presence of God in the midst of it. And that changes everything.
     
    The promise of the resurrection, brought first by Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and John, is that no matter how dark the tomb is, God is with us in the tomb, and there is light and life and healing and hope on the other side. When we know that, we can face the tomb, even if we are afraid. Resurrection is hard to explain and impossible to prove, but when we see it we have to tell the story. Today, just as Jesus said Mary's name, the Risen One is whispering our names, and calling us to be witnesses to the resurrection. Today we celebrate this promise in our Upper Rooms, trusting that new life is here and it is coming to us in its fullness. We celebrate today in our Upper Rooms, claiming the hope of a celebratory feast, with flowers and food and physical community, when the doors can be safely opened. Come with me and tell anyone who will listen: alleluia, Christ is risen!
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, John 20:1-18, coronavirus, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  • Apr 9, 2020In Our Upper Rooms
    Apr 9, 2020
    In Our Upper Rooms
    Series: (All)
    April 9, 2020. For many people of faith, washing is a sign of spiritual cleansing. In our gospel this evening, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. And all these years later as we prepare to break the Eucharistic bread together, each of us in our own separate Upper Room during this time of social distancing, we are more aware than ever of how important washing is.
     
    Reading: John 13:1-7, 31-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    A few years ago when I was in Tanzania, we had the opportunity to “break bread” many times, in many places. We had a rich meal with many different foods, spread on a large table, in the home of a bishop. We had cakes and tea, served with a face-splitting smile by the mother of three young boys living with a degenerative disease, as we sat on bales of hay in their living space. And we had a meal of peanuts, which our hosts poured into the hands of guests sitting on the floor of their one-room village home. “You can’t leave until you take something,” said the boy’s mother. And so it was, everywhere we went. Always there was food, something to nourish our bodies. And always there was that profound joy in having something to share. And always, there was a washing of hands. In the Bishop’s home, and in the restaurants, there was a sink with running water in the corner of the dining space, at which we lined up to wash our hands before the meal was served. In the mother’s home, there was a pail of water and a cup for pouring water over our hands before we took the cakes. And before the peanuts were divided among the guests, a banana leaf, broken open to reveal its moist inside, was passed around so all could receive that rare treat with clean hands.
     
    The breaking of bread and the washing are central to Tanzanian culture. And, they were central to the culture shared by Jesus and his friends, and their surrounding community. This story of the Last Supper is not the first time we have heard about washing in our gospels. There is perhaps most notably the poignant story of the woman who enters Simon’s house, when Jesus is there, to wash and anoint his feet. And when people chastise her for “invading” the home of a temple leader, sinner that she was, Jesus chastises Simon for not having offered Jesus the opportunity to wash his feet when he arrived.
     
    There are many reasons why washing is so important to different cultures and different times. For many people of faith, it's a sign of spiritual cleansing. For us as Lutherans, the use of water in baptism is a way of claiming our identities as children of God, a way of entering into the community of faith, and the promise of forgiveness. For we humans, at our essence, water is life. And the use of water for washing can be a reminder of the water that exists in our bodies, our very cells. For the disciples who lived in a hot, dry land where travel by foot was the norm, even when there were miles to cover, the opportunity to wash one’s feet upon entering a home was very basic hospitality. And washing feet was essential for health and well-being, in a way that we often take for granted — washing feet that were covered with dust and dirt, blistered and cut and bruised from walking for days, was necessary to ensure that they could walk another day.
     
    And in this season, this time of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, we are more aware than ever of how important washing is. “Wash your hands” has become a mantra for us these days, as we see more clearly than usual that doing this simple ritual is not only a way to keep ourselves clean, but to stay healthy, prevent disease, and indeed to show our love for others as we contribute to the health of our whole community.
     
    The disciples gathered with Jesus over 2,000 years ago in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. Jesus broke bread with them in that Upper Room. And before they ate in that Upper Room, Jesus washed their feet for them. And he said, “Do this in memory of me. Do for others, as I have done for you.” “You can’t leave until you take something!”
     
    And tonight, 2,000 years later, we are here, all of us in our Upper Rooms, preparing to break the Eucharistic bread together for the first time in a few weeks. Separated by space but not by time, we have come together at the table of God, which knows no limits. We will hear those words of Jesus — this is my body, this is my blood, do this in memory of me.
     
    And together, separated by space but not by time, as so many have done before us, we will wash. We will wash for our health. We will wash out of love for those with whom we live, and those with whom we cross paths in this time of isolation — at the grocery store, at the pharmacy, on the sidewalk, or in the hallway. We will wash to remember our baptisms, and our identity as children of God, always seen and known by the one who is present with us in our Upper Rooms. We will wash with water to claim the promise of life. As people across all times and places, all the cultures, all faiths have washed themselves and one another — for health, for hospitality, for spiritual practice — so we tonight, each in our Upper Rooms, wash one another, or wash ourselves, in preparation for the meal that we are about to eat.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, John 13:1-7, 31-35, coronavirus
  • Apr 5, 2020We Cry Hosanna!
    Apr 5, 2020
    We Cry Hosanna!
    Series: (All)
    April 5, 2020. The people walking along with Jesus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem were yelling out, "Hosanna!" This was not so much a cry of joy, though, as it was a cry for help. Palm Sunday this year is different from other years, isn't it? Here we are a week away from Easter, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and we are crying out for help that we know only God can give.
     
    Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a parade like St. Patrick's Day, a big street party with lots of music and dancing and food, a time of exuberant celebration, and unbridled fun. And that was certainly part of it, that day so long ago, when Jesus was entering Jerusalem. The people gathered spontaneously to sing and wave branches, and to walk along the road together as a community.
     
    My favorite Twin Cities parade, before it was canceled a few years ago, was always the Holidazzle Parade. It would take place every night from Thanksgiving through Christmas, outside — yes, we are crazy like that in Minnesota! — and people would come hours early to eat downtown, to go to the Macy's Eighth-Floor Holiday Display, and then line up on the street to watch the parade after it was dark. All the floats and even the costumes were lit, and the costumes and music were amazing. It was a great chance for the community to come together in defiance of the winter snow and ice and cold. What's your favorite parade?
     
    There is more to this parade though, this Palm Sunday parade, this triumphant entry into Jerusalem, than what appears at first glance. Because this was a parade not to celebrate an anniversary or a heritage or a season or even a community. The people, Matthew tells us, were shouting "Hosanna!" as they walked with Jesus into the city. It can be understood to be an exclamation of praise and honor, and it is. But interestingly, most closely translated, hosanna means "save us." Think about that for a moment. The people walking along with Jesus were crying out to be saved. Jesus was the focal point of this parade, the whole reason for the spontaneous gathering. And those who gathered there were poor, oppressed, beaten down by the occupying forces. And they were yelling out, "Hosanna!" This was not so much a cry of joy as it was a cry for help, from a people who believed that Jesus could save them.
     
    This gathering of people claiming their right to be heard, and their faith in the possibility of freedom and justice, was probably more like the March on Selma for basic rights and freedom for black people led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black leaders, or the historic demonstration for LGBTQ rights and lives at Stonewall that was led by queer trans women, than it was like your typical St. Patrick's Day parade. This was an act of resistance to the injustice and despair in their world, an act of hope, of community standing together in solidarity with one another, welcoming the one they believed could change their lives. As Matthew tells the story, this is emphasized by the passage from Zachariah that Matthew quotes: "Your king is coming to you, mounted on a donkey and a colt," claiming Jesus as that king who would save God's people — not the Roman emperor, but Jesus, God come to us in human form, to fulfill God's promise.
     
    This Palm Sunday is different from other years, isn't it? Here we are a week away from Easter, knowing we'll be experiencing a Lent of sorts for a while, as we all do everything we can to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. This year, more than other years, we are fully aware that we need more than our own efforts, more than our local and national rulers can do, to bring us through this crisis that is impacting all of humanity. We know this year, more than most, the limits to our human capacity. We know more than ever that we need one another and that we need God to save us. This year, more than most, we join the crowd that gathered around Jesus and claimed him as the king come to save God's people. We cry out with those most vulnerable to becoming ill, those who do not have access to what they need at this time, those whose jobs have ended, those waiting for basic protective equipment but continuing to heal and serve, those who are painfully lonely in this time of physical separation.
     
    Let us together — in joy and desperation, in hope and determination and faith, across time and space and Zoom — add our voices to the voices of resistance crying, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" Grab your noisemakers, friends. It is time for a parade. Or you may have something to wave, or you may wave your palms as John Hoffmann likes to say, or you may just choose to watch the parade as it goes in front of you. Let us celebrate together.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Matthew 21:1-11, Zechariah 9:9, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, coronavirus
  • Mar 29, 2020Can These Bones Live?
    Mar 29, 2020
    Can These Bones Live?
    Series: (All)
    March 29, 2020. The readings today include the Valley of Dry Bones from Ezekiel, and Jesus raising Lazarus to life from the Gospel of John. Pastor Meagan preaches on these texts, on the death that is already happening in our world with the pandemic we are facing, and the life anew that we know is coming from the breath of God.
     
    Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Twice, I've been present in the room at the moment when someone took their last breath. Stood at the bedside, waiting and watching, holding hands, praying and singing, as breath by breath, life slipped away. In both cases, I and those I stood vigil with listened closely, wondering which breath would be the last one — this, or this, or this. In the end, when the final breath was released, we collectively held our own breaths until we were sure: the final exhale had indeed signaled the end of this unique life in human form, the body still warm, but quickly cooling.
     
    The bones God leads Ezekiel to in that valley have no warmth. There is no indication that they ever had breath, and for my money, if I were the betting type, no hope that they would ever breathe again. It’s kind of like the feeling I would get being out in our yard in Minneapolis, after the snow melted, but before any buds had popped or grass had appeared. It just doesn’t seem possible that life could return, it all looks so dead, twigs and sticks and brown.
     
    If I had been Ezekiel, I might have said, “No way!” in response to the question of whether these bones can live. “Are we looking at the same thing? Not possible.” And Mary and the other mourners say basically the same thing to Jesus, when he says he wants to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb. “It’s going to smell! He’s been in there for four days!”
     
    Jesus persists, because he knows something that the others don’t know. Even when death is so final that you can smell it, when breath has been gone for so long that the bones are literally dry, God can still bring life.
     
    The winds, the Spirit, moves, in concert with Ezekiel’s prophecy, and the breath enters the bones and they live! When the stone is rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, we have to imagine the stench of certain death was terrible, and yet in response to Jesus’ cry — Lazarus, come out — Lazarus comes!
     
    My family of faith, the pandemic that we are facing is like the stench of death from Lazarus’ tomb, or the rattle of bones from Ezekiel’s valley, or the brown, lifeless branches in my yard before spring begins. Signs of death, undeniably. Death is already happening, and beloveds, there will be more before this passes.
     
    And, the Spirit is still at work. The wind is blowing, ready to bring life out of the bones that have no flesh left on them. The stone is rolled away, waiting for Lazarus to step out into the fresh air. In our yard here in South City, our cats are discovering every green blade, all the new plants they've never seen before.
     
    This coming of life is not a passive thing. We human beings living this human life are invited to be active, breathing participants in the life-giving movement of the Spirit around us. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” and he says, in effect, “I don’t know, can they?” And God says, “Prophecy to these bones. Tell the winds, breathe on these bones, and they might have life.” In other words, claim the promise, Ezekiel, and proclaim the promise, that God brings life where we can only see death.
     
    Lazarus’ sisters, and their gathered community, are invited to participate in Lazarus’ re-birth by unbinding him. Letting go of old ideas perhaps of who he was, letting go of grief, opening their minds to receive the new life that stood before them.
     
    We, too are invited to witness to death, family of faith, as Ezekiel did in the Valley of Dry Bones, as the mourners gathered smelled death at Lazarus’ tomb. God witnesses with us all the griefs we experience, all the losses we bear now, and those yet to come — not as a passive observer, but weeping alongside us, as Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus.
     
    We, too, are invited into the promises of the living God, family of faith. We, too, are invited to prophecy with Ezekiel, to join the mourners in unbinding new life when it appears.
     
    And when we are the dry bones, when we are sealed in a tomb as dead as Lazarus, the community here gathered prophecies to you, and for you, and unbinds you, that you might find life again. Because we can’t always see it for ourselves, in the midst of the tomb, in the midst of the valley. I don’t know about you, but I suspect I am not alone in having experienced dryness the last couple of weeks. I will confess to having had a temper tantrum over a minor inconvenience a few days ago, to having felt overwhelmed by all the changes we have been asked to make in a brief two weeks, to having felt the helplessness of wondering how my family is, from a distance, as I know many of you have as well. Anyone else felt dry, keenly aware of fear and grief and tiredness this week?
     
    And yet, I have also felt the wind blowing, and the Spirit moving. Your worship team gathered, and a new life entered into our imaginings about how to celebrate Holy Week and Easter together, while we are still physically apart. Our youngest cat figured out he can climb the wooden fence in our yard, much to his delight and our chagrin. A neighbor down the block hosted her own block concert this week, with a professional sound system set up on her porch. My brother’s family posted a photo of their family taking a run together in their neighborhood. A mentor sent me a link to an acapella recording of “It is Well” that brought tears to my eyes. And all of you, family of faith, are caring for one another so well, in these days.
     
    When we are dry and can’t speak, we prophecy to one another, proclaiming that we know the breath of God will come, bringing life anew, however that looks, on the other side, whenever that is. Family of faith, no matter what happens, life is coming. We are here, and so is God, and we are in this together. Life is coming!
     
    Family of faith, God is whispering to us, “Mortal, can these bones live?” What is your answer this morning?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45, coronavirus, COVID-19, St. Louis
  • Mar 22, 2020We Are Still Here
    Mar 22, 2020
    We Are Still Here
    Series: (All)
    March 22, 2020. Here we are today, in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, an experience that we living through it will not soon forget. And just like other such events, it is going to transform our country, transform us as people, transform us as a family of faith. But Pastor Meagan reminds us that there is good news to be heard in our readings today. First and most important: we are still here. And God is still here.
     
    Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    September 11, 2001 is a date that many of us of a certain age or older will not easily forget. I was at work, alone as it was still early, when the first reports came in. My coworker called, exclaiming in shock about the plane that had crashed into the Trade Center in Manhattan, and promised she would pack her TV into the car and be at the office in twenty minutes. Fifteen minutes later she called again, and in horror I pulled up images of the second plane hitting the tower. And again she promised to be at the office quickly with her TV in tow. Ten minutes later, she called again.
     
    But finally she made it, and the two of us spent the greater part of the day glued to the TV, hearing the President’s announcement that this was a terrorist attack, the likes of which had never been seen in this country before. People dying, flames burning, the seeming impossibility of navigating the wreckage to rescue survivors.
     
    Over the weeks to come, I found myself shaken to the core. I was afraid of what the future held, in a way I never had been before. I felt economically vulnerable. I was horrified by the thought that my cousin, who lived in Manhattan, had run past the building a scant hour before the attack. I grieved for the loss of so many lives, the terror they had experienced in their final minutes, and the devastation for all the families who had lost loved ones that day. Nothing felt safe, or secure, or familiar anymore. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    I remember talking to my dad in the weeks after September 11th, as I struggled to find solid ground again. And he told me that he had experienced just such uncertainty, and fear, and grief, following the assassination of President Kennedy — another national event that had rattled everyone who lived through it, leaving them wondering how they would make it through. Grief, anxiety, isolation, confusion.
     
    And here we are today, in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, an experience that we living through it will not soon forget. And just like other such events, it is going to transform our country, transform us as people, transform us as a family of faith. But for now, as things are shifting minute by minute so quickly, it is hard to keep up. Many aspects of our lives may feel unrecognizable compared to what they were even last week.
     
    So, family of faith, let us take a minute on this Sunday morning, breathe deeply, and listen to what God may be saying to each of us as we gather together for worship and prayer as a community. We can find grounding, for a few minutes at least, in the story of Samuel seeking a way forward after losing his relationship with Saul, and in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind.
     
    In our first reading today, Samuel was grieving the loss of his relationship with Saul. We are grieving right now. Grief is real, very real. We are grieving the loss of our Good Friday Cantata, in addition to grieving the loss of worshipping together in our sanctuary each Sunday and Wednesday.
     
    ALL of us are grieving different personal losses and family losses, from vacations to concerts to sporting events and parties. We are all grieving different things in different ways. And God is with us in that. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. And God grieves with us, today and in the days to come. God is present, leads us forward in the journey, just as he led Samuel forward to find David. What are you grieving, at this time?
     
    The people around the man born blind are anxious. Why did it happen? Whose fault was it? Who sinned, that God caused this man to be born blind? And then the man was healed, just like that. The community around the man born blind, we are told, when they saw him after his encounter with Jesus, did not recognize him as the man they had known their whole life. And they immediately begin once again to seek answers, seek direction. Who are you? Who did this? Is this your son? Are you sure? What happened?
     
    Events like these shake up what we think we know and challenge our assumptions and expectations, and at times we might feel like we are not even sure who we are or what we're supposed to do. We seek answers, want to know who to blame, whose fault this situation is. I’ll be honest, I have my list. How about you? What are you anxious about today? What answers are you seeking?
     
    The man born blind had lived most of his life isolated from the community around him. He was less than, defective, other, the one who must have sinned, or whose parents must have sinned. Today, we are asked to voluntarily set ourselves physically apart, for a time. Some of us, and some of our loved ones, are in situations where they can’t receive visitors, can’t see the friends they spend their days with, even if they live right down the hall. Some of us, and some of our loved ones, are thrust suddenly into 24-7 community that we are struggling to navigate — even though we love our close companions dearly. Some of us are feeling the weight of not having needed space. Some of us are feeling the panic and exhaustion of not having access to energizing, renewing, physical interactions that typically fill our days.
     
    This time of flattening the curve, of choosing to love our neighbor by maintaining sacred distance for a time, has completely disrupted our regular rhythm of life. Samuel wasn’t sure what to do, once Saul was gone, until God guided him to David. The man born blind, and his parents, were cast into the focus of their community in an unexpected way after his encounter with Jesus. His parents were afraid. The man, it seems, was a little irritated at the persistence of the religious leaders, and snaps back, brilliantly, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” How are you experiencing the disruption of your community today? Are you feeling lonely? Are you craving silence and solitude that are not easily available right now? Have you, like the man born blind and transformed in his encounter with Jesus, found yourself short on patience, and long on irritation?
     
    My family of faith, there is good news to be heard in our readings today, very good news indeed. First and most important: we are still here. In the midst of the transformation of the blind man, people don’t seem to believe that he is actually the same person. The man himself explains the encounter he had with Jesus, and his parents claim him — "He is our son.” We are still here, nonetheless. Our world is changing, and yes we are being transformed by the events of our times, but we are still here.
     
    And God is still here. God was there to guide Samuel forward, in the midst of his grief, and his confusion about what to do next, without Saul at his side. God is here with us, inspiring and guiding us as we continue to be church, together. Just over a week ago, coming together for worship on Zoom was the last thing we anticipated. And yet today, here we are. Zoom Sunday School will happen at 11am. We are caring for one another, reaching out in intentional and thoughtful ways, as best we can in this time of transformation. We are physically separated, but will not be torn apart. The blind man told his questioners, “I can’t explain it, but I know this: I was blind, and now I see.” In other words, “I encountered God.” As confusing and unfamiliar as things may feel right now, we are still here, and God is still with us!
     
    The grief, and anxiety, and loneliness, and confusion are real. Extend grace, abundantly, to one another — and to yourselves. We will come to balance again. We will be transformed by this season in ways we can’t yet anticipate, gain a clarity and grounding that right now may feel somewhat elusive. We will continue to be the church, in this space and time, and all the times and spaces to come. Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, coronavirus, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41, John 11:30-40
  • Mar 8, 2020Follow the Wind
    Mar 8, 2020
    Follow the Wind
    Series: (All)
    March 8, 2020. Although we have times in our lives when things seem predictable and stable, we don’t ever really know what is going to happen. Just as God told Abraham and Sarah to go and they went, just as Jesus told Nicodemus to follow the wind, just as we sometimes can't see more than one step in front of us, God is guiding each of us along the way.
     
    Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Some years ago, I was working at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, and my co-worker and I received a phone call that a volunteer we worked closely with was going to be married. But this was not an ordinary sharing of news that is full of excitement and joy, hope for a long future for this couple beginning life together with a wedding they would spend months planning and preparing for. This couple was getting married that afternoon. In her hospital room, where she lay in her final hours of life. Darla had been diagnosed with cancer, and although the doctors had tried to do what they could, she would not survive. And she and her fiancée wanted to get married before she died.
     
    So of course, we went. And so began my journey into the unknown, via seminary — although I didn’t know that yet. We entered her hospital room, and two things overwhelmed me right away. First, I could see immediately that Darla was close to death. I had never experienced that before, but somehow, I knew. And second, was the profound presence of God in that space at Minneapolis’ University Hospital. To this day I can’t quite describe it, but God was there.
     
    Following this encounter I called my mom, and told her what had happened. In that moment, she didn’t quite understand what I had experienced, and she wondered out loud why they would want to be married, when she was so close to death. I called a friend, who listened closely, and then asked the questions: Why do you think God led you to that room? Have you ever thought about going into ministry? I hadn’t. And quite honestly, a good Catholic girl, I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about at that moment. But her question echoed, bringing shape to that encounter I had had in that hospital room, and some years later, I took my first official class at seminary.
     
    I was not sure where it would lead me, this adventure into the unknown, and when I finally made the decision a year later to quit my job and go to seminary full time, I still didn’t know. I only knew I had to go.
     
    Which brings us to the story of Abraham, and Sarah, from our first reading today. “Go to the land that I will show you,” God told them. "Leave everything you know. Leave your home. Leave your family. Leave your land. No map, no itinerary for the journey, no plan for what you will do when you get there. Just go. I’ll show you the way.” And so, our reading tells us, Abraham and Sarah went.
     
    And I find myself thinking, “Who ARE these people?” I mean, really, who does that? Certainly not me. I'm a planner, if you haven’t already figured that out about me. I had never made a major decision without thinking I knew what was going to happen next.
     
    And yet, there I was, in March, knowing I would be leaving my job and starting school in August, and I had no idea what my schedule would be, what classes I would be taking, or how I would even spend my time. And I had absolutely no idea what would happen when I was done. I only knew I had to go.
     
    Seems crazy, right? And since that time, I have come to realize that although we have times in our lives when things seem predictable and stable, we don’t ever really know what is going to happen. We never know when an unanticipated encounter with God in the world, in our neighbors, in our family, even a stranger, will call us out of what is familiar and comfortable, and lead us, if we follow it, to unknown places. Places God will show us.
     
    You can imagine the relief I felt when I had finally registered for my first semester, and at least knew when I needed to be at school, and what books to buy! And that was just the beginning of my journey into the unknown, with many encounters along the way. There was the invitation to look at robes in the seminary bookstore where everything was on sale, my reflection that sure I could look but I still didn’t think I would ever need a robe really, and finding that the one robe remaining in the entire store fit as though it were tailored for me. AND it was 75% off! And then, being encouraged by fellow travelers from my home congregation to buy my first stole, in Tanzania, while I thought to myself, I hope I at least get my money’s worth from this. And then, the feeling I experienced at CPE Chaplaincy residency, as I came to realize that chaplaincy was awesome, but it wasn’t “IT,” not for me. And the sense of coming back home as I settled into my congregational internship, and knew beyond a doubt that this is where I belonged.
     
    And now, after some years of seeking the right time, the right place, the right people for my first official call as a pastor, here I am, in MISSOURI, of all places! And already, I know, this is where I have been headed, all along, although I couldn’t see more than one step in front of me the entire way.
     
    Abraham and Sarah’s journey to the land God would show them, although the story makes it sound so straightforward at the beginning, was long and complicated and challenging. They travelled through unfriendly territory, had to talk themselves out of sticky situations, waited years to see evidence of God’s promise to them. I can only imagine that they were not always so nonchalant as they started out. I can only imagine that they had plenty of questions and arguments and times of despair wondering if they would ever get there, and yet, somehow, they did.
     
    And, as we do, they ran into challenges. Scary things happened. And they happen for us in this human life that we lead. We face storms that do great damage, like the tornadoes in Tennessee. We experience change that is outside of our control. We encounter illnesses and disease that are new and intimidating. We are all following the news, doing and learning what we can about the coronavirus, knowing that there is so much unknown about this thing that we face together. And the promise is that God is with us as we journey.
     
    There is the rest of God’s invitation from our reading today. “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Because this journey of life that we are on, is never just about us. It is about us and the encounters we have with one another along the way. It is about how God guides us through just when we think we have hit the final dead end, the one that means we are lost completely.
     
    When Nicodemus seeks Jesus out, in the garden, at night, he is not just trying to figure out the theological truth of Jesus’ origin. He is seeking the way to God. He is lost, and looking for a way home. And somehow, Nicodemus knew Jesus had the answers he was seeking. And Jesus gives him the wisdom that could have come straight from Abraham and Sarah: follow the wind. You don’t know where it came from, and you don’t know where it’s going, but you know that it is there. You can trust the Spirit to lead you, encounter by encounter, on this journey.
     
    We are blessed by these encounters we have, with one another, with God. And as God told Abraham and Sarah, the whole point of the journey is not so much where we are going, as it is the blessing we receive as we travel. And just as important, the blessings that we bring to one another. Blessed to be a blessing.
     
    We may not know where we are going, or when we will arrive, or what we will do when we get there, but one thing we do know for sure — God is guiding each of us, in this community gathered here, just as surely as God showed Abraham and Sarah on where to go, just as surely as we know the wind is blowing. And just like Abraham and Sarah had Lot with them, we travel with one another along the way. Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17