Mar 17, 2021
The Truth of Being Beloved
Series: (All)
March 17, 2021. Tonight's testimonial comes from Rachel Helton, who shares with us the idea that finding the truth can be complicated. Some things that are not true can sound and almost feel true. And some things are so absurd that they sound like lies, but are actually true.
 
Reading: John 8:12-20, John 3:16
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Have any of you ever played the game Two Truths and a Lie? So I’ve played this game both as a kid in the middle of the night at slumber parties, and as an adult as an icebreaker activity. And so if you haven’t played it, here’s how it works: you tell the group of people that you're with two true statements (usually about yourself) and one that's a lie, and then the group has to try and figure out which of the things you're saying is the lie. So if it were my turn, it might go something like this: as a kid I used to ride my bike to my grandma’s house almost every day; I once had a pet goat; I learned to drive a tractor before I learned to drive a car. Okay, those are my three things. And depending on how well you know me, and how much you know about my life as a kid growing up on our family’s farm in rural Illinois, you may or may not be able to pick out which one of those is the lie.
 
So interestingly when you're playing this game, the more absurd your truths are, the more complicated it is to tease out which one of your statements is the lie — because they all sound suspiciously untrue, right? So if I were to say: I once rode an elephant through the streets of a city in India; I once came within 20 feet of a leopard shark while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; and I once walked on a suspension bridge made of rope above the rainforest canopy in west Africa. Now which one of those is the lie? It gets a little bit trickier, right? Because they all sound somewhat far-fetched and untrue, right?
 
And on the flip side, if your lie is really close to the truth, it makes it hard to spot. So this is my last example, I promise — and if you want to play this game on your own later, you are welcome to do that. So, here are my last three statements: today is the birthday of a kid who's pretty special to me; on my next birthday I’ll be 45; next Sunday is the baptismal birthday of one of my own kids. It might be hard to find the lie, because those three statements probably all sound like they probably could be true.
 
So all that to say: finding the truth can be complicated. And that’s maybe why I’ve struggled to put down into words the reflection that I wanted to share tonight. The more we know about the subject or the person, the easier it is. But sometimes, it requires us to trust that something that sounds completely absurd, just might actually be true. And sometimes it requires us to question whether something that sounds “mostly true” might in fact be a lie.
 
So when our son Isaac was a baby, Easter fell on the same date as it does this year. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Lent from the year 2010. The first time we ever took Isaac out in public, we took him to the Ash Wednesday service at our church — and he wasn’t even a month old yet then. When I went forward to be marked with ashes, our pastor reached out and marked the cross on my forehead with ashes, and then without even a moment's hesitation he reached down and traced the cross on the forehead of the baby who was sleeping in my arms.
 
I remember thinking wow, this kid hasn’t even been baptized yet. He hasn't even received a blessing at communion. For goodness sakes, his belly button hasn’t even healed. He had just arrived to the world, and here we were marking that he would one day return to dust — that his life on earth, just like mine and yours, would someday end. And the truth of that felt so very heavy to me. And it wouldn’t be hard for me to get stuck in the weight of that truth — the truth that we are sinful and mortal.
 
A good friend recently reminded me though that the ashes that mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are mixed with the oil that anoints us at our baptisms, so that that mark of our mortality is also the promise of life, the promise of being chosen and beloved — not because of anything we do or don’t do, but because of who God is.
 
The truth of being beloved, no matter who I am or what I do or don't do, is almost too absurd to sound true. The lie that I sometimes hear myself saying to myself is that I can earn God’s love, maybe even that I should somehow earn God’s love — because that almost sounds true by the standards of the world.
 
But there’s another lie that sometimes sneaks in — that because I am freed by grace, because I am given it without having to earn it, that I am also freed from any responsibility. And that part is simply not true.
 
In tonight’s reading, Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world… the light of life.” And in Sunday’s reading from John chapter 3 we heard that God so loved the world that God sent his only Son into it, not for the sake of wagging an accusing finger at us, but to bring about justice and to put the world right again. And I really think that we have a responsibility to be a part of that ongoing work of bringing about God’s justice and love in the world.
 
So in a world of uncertainty, of indistinction where sometimes it's hard to tell the truth from the lies, in a world where we do not need to look hard to be reminded that we will one day die, the truth that I’m holding onto right now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to believe, is that I am beloved — beloved by a God who is life. And being loved by the God of life frees me from trying to earn God’s love. It frees me to focus on loving others, and to participate in bringing about God’s justice. That is my responsibility.
 
And just for the record: I’ve never driven a tractor, and I’ll be 44 (not 45) on my next birthday, and I’ve never snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. And as far as those truths go? Well, if you're watching, happy birthday Xavier!
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Rachel Helton, John 8:12-20, John 3:16
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  • Mar 17, 2021The Truth of Being Beloved
    Mar 17, 2021
    The Truth of Being Beloved
    Series: (All)
    March 17, 2021. Tonight's testimonial comes from Rachel Helton, who shares with us the idea that finding the truth can be complicated. Some things that are not true can sound and almost feel true. And some things are so absurd that they sound like lies, but are actually true.
     
    Reading: John 8:12-20, John 3:16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Have any of you ever played the game Two Truths and a Lie? So I’ve played this game both as a kid in the middle of the night at slumber parties, and as an adult as an icebreaker activity. And so if you haven’t played it, here’s how it works: you tell the group of people that you're with two true statements (usually about yourself) and one that's a lie, and then the group has to try and figure out which of the things you're saying is the lie. So if it were my turn, it might go something like this: as a kid I used to ride my bike to my grandma’s house almost every day; I once had a pet goat; I learned to drive a tractor before I learned to drive a car. Okay, those are my three things. And depending on how well you know me, and how much you know about my life as a kid growing up on our family’s farm in rural Illinois, you may or may not be able to pick out which one of those is the lie.
     
    So interestingly when you're playing this game, the more absurd your truths are, the more complicated it is to tease out which one of your statements is the lie — because they all sound suspiciously untrue, right? So if I were to say: I once rode an elephant through the streets of a city in India; I once came within 20 feet of a leopard shark while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; and I once walked on a suspension bridge made of rope above the rainforest canopy in west Africa. Now which one of those is the lie? It gets a little bit trickier, right? Because they all sound somewhat far-fetched and untrue, right?
     
    And on the flip side, if your lie is really close to the truth, it makes it hard to spot. So this is my last example, I promise — and if you want to play this game on your own later, you are welcome to do that. So, here are my last three statements: today is the birthday of a kid who's pretty special to me; on my next birthday I’ll be 45; next Sunday is the baptismal birthday of one of my own kids. It might be hard to find the lie, because those three statements probably all sound like they probably could be true.
     
    So all that to say: finding the truth can be complicated. And that’s maybe why I’ve struggled to put down into words the reflection that I wanted to share tonight. The more we know about the subject or the person, the easier it is. But sometimes, it requires us to trust that something that sounds completely absurd, just might actually be true. And sometimes it requires us to question whether something that sounds “mostly true” might in fact be a lie.
     
    So when our son Isaac was a baby, Easter fell on the same date as it does this year. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Lent from the year 2010. The first time we ever took Isaac out in public, we took him to the Ash Wednesday service at our church — and he wasn’t even a month old yet then. When I went forward to be marked with ashes, our pastor reached out and marked the cross on my forehead with ashes, and then without even a moment's hesitation he reached down and traced the cross on the forehead of the baby who was sleeping in my arms.
     
    I remember thinking wow, this kid hasn’t even been baptized yet. He hasn't even received a blessing at communion. For goodness sakes, his belly button hasn’t even healed. He had just arrived to the world, and here we were marking that he would one day return to dust — that his life on earth, just like mine and yours, would someday end. And the truth of that felt so very heavy to me. And it wouldn’t be hard for me to get stuck in the weight of that truth — the truth that we are sinful and mortal.
     
    A good friend recently reminded me though that the ashes that mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are mixed with the oil that anoints us at our baptisms, so that that mark of our mortality is also the promise of life, the promise of being chosen and beloved — not because of anything we do or don’t do, but because of who God is.
     
    The truth of being beloved, no matter who I am or what I do or don't do, is almost too absurd to sound true. The lie that I sometimes hear myself saying to myself is that I can earn God’s love, maybe even that I should somehow earn God’s love — because that almost sounds true by the standards of the world.
     
    But there’s another lie that sometimes sneaks in — that because I am freed by grace, because I am given it without having to earn it, that I am also freed from any responsibility. And that part is simply not true.
     
    In tonight’s reading, Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world… the light of life.” And in Sunday’s reading from John chapter 3 we heard that God so loved the world that God sent his only Son into it, not for the sake of wagging an accusing finger at us, but to bring about justice and to put the world right again. And I really think that we have a responsibility to be a part of that ongoing work of bringing about God’s justice and love in the world.
     
    So in a world of uncertainty, of indistinction where sometimes it's hard to tell the truth from the lies, in a world where we do not need to look hard to be reminded that we will one day die, the truth that I’m holding onto right now, no matter how hard it is sometimes to believe, is that I am beloved — beloved by a God who is life. And being loved by the God of life frees me from trying to earn God’s love. It frees me to focus on loving others, and to participate in bringing about God’s justice. That is my responsibility.
     
    And just for the record: I’ve never driven a tractor, and I’ll be 44 (not 45) on my next birthday, and I’ve never snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. And as far as those truths go? Well, if you're watching, happy birthday Xavier!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Rachel Helton, John 8:12-20, John 3:16
  • Mar 14, 2021The Power of the Cross
    Mar 14, 2021
    The Power of the Cross
    Series: (All)
    March 14, 2021. Challenges are part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. God doesn't always remove our challenges, but God does show us mercy. God promises he will always be with us no matter what happens, that suffering and death will not be the final word. And as Pastor Meagan preaches today, the cross is evidence for that.
     
    Readings: Numbers 21:4-9
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    On March 7, 1965 black people and allies, led by 25-year-old John Lewis, marched toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama as part of a long, hard journey for freedom — and in particular the right for black people to vote. They planned to cross the bridge that day and continue on to Montgomery, but instead they were met by one of the more brutal assaults in the history of civil rights. So much blood was shed, and so many people died as the result of dogs, chains, hoses, and clubs, that it became known as Bloody Sunday. After that attack, many wondered if they should just give up. Martin Luther King himself, it is said, wondered about the wisdom of trying again after what had happened.
     
    And in spite of the progress that has been made since then, the struggle against racism continues. And this week the Minneapolis community is praying its way through the beginning of the trial for the person who murdered George Floyd last May 25th. The same pain, wondering, exhaustion, and woundedness the freedom fighters felt after Bloody Sunday is very real among those still working for justice today in George Floyd Square.
     
    The Israelites' journey from Egypt to the Promised Land had been really long, and like the march to Montgomery and the struggle for justice today, it was not exactly easy. They had been walking in the desert for literally years, nearly starved before God provided manna for them. And when some of them were taken captive by the Canaanites, they had to fight to defeat them. And they still weren’t there yet.
     
    And as our journey in COVID continues — one year ago tomorrow we made the decision to close our buildings for a while — we may be feeling this too. We are so tired, but we still haven’t arrived yet. The Israelites’ walk continued, and after all that time they were getting really sick of eating only manna. And, we are told, they complained not once, but continually. They whined, as Mr. Jesse talked about. “Are we there yet?!”
     
    So often, we move along in our routines until we find ourselves expecting that this is how life should be. Work gets done, bills paid, vacations taken, decisions made, perhaps with some bumps along the way, but more or less predictable. And when things happen to make life difficult, our first response is typically to complain, as the Israelites did. The food is not good or hot or fast enough. The internet keeps cutting out on us, right in the middle of that email we’re sending — or worse yet, in the middle of a Zoom meeting with our boss or our teacher. We have to wait too long in traffic, or the doctor’s office, or the grocery store.
     
    The Israelites were sick of manna, and they complained. It's so human, isn't it? And they soon found themselves facing something much bigger than boring food. Poisonous snakes, perhaps symbolic of the toxic atmosphere they had created in their community, came into the camp, and many of them died. Suddenly the food didn’t matter, and they realized how foolish they had been, having forgotten that God freed them, fed them, and given them water to drink when they were thirsty — having forgotten that they still had each other, that God was still with them. They realized their sin and told Moses to ask God to have mercy on them. And in the mind of the Israelites, mercy meant removing the snakes that were biting them.
     
    God didn’t remove the snakes, but God did show mercy. Interestingly enough, the proof of God’s mercy looked just like the thing the Israelites feared the most: the snakes. God told Moses to raise a bronze serpent in the middle of the camp, a reminder of both the sin of the people, and the faithfulness of God. Like Mr. Jesse said, God is big enough for all this, isn't he? By looking at the bronze serpent raised in their camp, the Israelites saw that their God was bigger than a few poisonous reptiles, and even their own sin and brokenness. God assured them that God was with them, even in the midst of this. The snakes remained, but the people lived. A source of pain and fear and death was transformed into a symbol of God’s faithfulness and triumph over death. And I am struck that as we read these passages this year, in the middle of George Floyd Square in Minneapolis another bronze statue has been raised — an image of a black hand, a reminder of both the pain and damage of the sin of racism that still exists, and the resilience and hope of redemption to come for all of us.
     
    Often, the big challenges in our lives — unemployment, illness, death — are not removed either. These things are not interruptions to the life we are supposed to live, although they can certainly feel that way. Nor are they, as the Israelites believed, punishment from God for sin — although at times, if we're honest, it can feel like that too. The truth is, the challenges of life are all a part of human experience, and our life is meant to be lived in their midst. Sometimes these challenges are of our own making, or someone else’s, and they truly are the result of choices made, natural consequences of our sin. And sometimes, difficult things just happen. Life is not always easy, and it is certainly not what we might think of as fair. But either way, the struggles and pain we experience does not mean that God has abandoned us.
     
    God never promised that life would be easy, or go according to our plans, but God did promise that God would be faithful to the covenant and always be with us, no matter what happens. God did promise that suffering and death will not be the final word. And the proof of that for us as Christians is revealed in another symbol of pain and humiliation and death — the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. As we make our way through Lent, we look to the cross, and remember not only the reality of Jesus’ death, but the truth that because of the resurrection, the cross, like the bronze snake, is transformed into evidence that God has power over everything, even death.
     
    Our encounter with the cross of Jesus does not take away the challenges of our lives, but it transforms them — it transforms us. When we are finished with our complaining, our questioning, our blaming, God is still right there with us, and the cross of Jesus is proof of that promise. The cross reminds us that the little things in life — long lines, spotty internet service, cold food — are not really that important. And the big things, the real sin and pain and struggles of life, are not too much for God to handle.
     
    God created us to bring good and beauty into this world, and we can trust God to make it possible for us to do that, even when we don’t see how we can possibly make a difference. The Israelites, and centuries later the marchers in Selma, and today those who continue to seek healing and justice in Minneapolis and across the country, lived out that truth in every step they took. We too are called to march on, carrying the truth of faith in that struggle.
     
    When we in our humanity fail, as we are bound to, the cross reminds us that God is still there, giving us the courage and the strength to face the ways we have caused or contributed to the struggles of this world. We have seen in the last year how economic injustice and inequities in access to health care and other resources that continue to exist have resulted in a stark disparity in how the pandemic has impacted marginalized communities, and how reluctance to change allows these and other wounds in the world to continue.
     
    Debie Thomas says in her blog this week, “In other words, he unveiled the poison, he showed us the snake, he revealed what our human kingdoms, left to themselves, will  always become unless God in God’s mercy delivers us. In the cross, we are forced to see what our refusal to love . . . , our hatred of difference, our addiction to judgment, and our fear of the Other must wreak. When the Son of Man is lifted up, we see with chilling and desperate clarity our need for a God who will take our most horrific instruments of death, and transform them, at great cost, for the purposes of resurrection.” We look to the cross, acknowledge our sin, and ask God for forgiveness and help. And we're renewed for the journey.
     
    When we're in pain, the cross is a symbol of the promise that even death is not the final word. We have a God who answers prayer, if not in the ways we might expect. God has promised to be with us, to lead us to truth and redemption when we can’t see the way.
     
    God will not break the covenant, no matter how we stumble. From the Israelites in the desert, to the marchers in Selma in 1965, to each of us today, God loves, forgives, and strengthens us. Nothing is too much for God to handle — even our whining. And every time we see the cross, we are reminded of the lengths God will go to keep that promise.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Numbers 21:4-9, Jesse Helton, pandemic, COVID-19, coronavirus, Debie Thomas
  • Mar 10, 2021Telling the Truth When it Matters
    Mar 10, 2021
    Telling the Truth When it Matters
    Series: (All)
    March 10, 2021. In tonight's testimonial, Jon Heerboth reflects on telling the truth. He relates the story of a young student who confessed the truth of his actions after 60 years of carrying the guilt around with him, and contrasts it with the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, telling the truth as he saw it and facing the consequences immediately.
     
    Readings: Mark 11:15-19, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Aren't we lucky to hear this same, wonderful story about Jesus cleansing the temple twice in one week? We had the lesson from John on Sunday, and my favorite version of this story from Mark tonight. So crisp, and Mark always leaves you wanting a little more.
     
    But tonight I want to talk to you about Frieda Peck. Frieda Peck was a legend in the school district I served for the last ten years prior to my retirement. She was a high school teacher for many years, and then became the high school principal in our small town, when the high school was the center of community life. Ms. Peck, according to her former students — all of whom were in their 70s and 80s — was an intimidating woman. They knew when she spoke, she meant business.
     
    In 1956 Ms. Peck disciplined a boy, who came back that night and threw a brick through the principal’s window. (It was one of those that was reinforced with metal wire. We used to see that back then.) He was angry about some discipline action and took it out on the school. He was too scared of the consequences to ever bring himself to fess up.
     
    In 2015 I received a letter from him in my office, and a $50 check. The young man — who was now an old man — was dying, and he wanted to confess and make good on the damage he did almost sixty years before. He carried that guilt around with him all his life. This sort of thing happened to me several times in my career as a school administrator. As people neared the end, they wanted to make something that had been wrong in the past into something that was right for them.
     
    So at the point of death, the man felt compelled to tell the truth and somehow to make this right. I guess he felt better about himself, but that truth didn’t matter anymore. I asked around. No one had seen him in the decades after high school. In 1956 he was angry, and then he was afraid when he realized what he had done. He couldn’t face up to the truth, and it affected his life to the point of his death. But according to his obituary he was a good and faithful family man, who regularly volunteered to visit and minister his faith to people who were in prison. The lapse in behavior from his school days did not keep him from having a good life.
     
    Jesus, on the other hand, faced the truth immediately when he walked through the temple grounds in the gospel for today. At that time people believed that goods and wealth were finite, so that one person’s gain was another person’s loss. Calling the temple square a "den of robbers," where thieves stored their stolen goods that others might have had, was a harsh condemnation. Jesus called it like he saw it. I can imagine the disciples with him at the time. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Wait a minute,” they might say. “Lighten up, man. You’re going to get us all killed.” But Jesus was willing to face the immediate consequences of telling the truth as he saw it.
     
    The business of the temple was to enrich the traders, the priests, the Romans — at the expense of the poorer people. “Don’t you know,” Jesus said, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations?” A place of prayer for all nations. That’s the truth he was willing to risk death to pronounce. Jesus calls our church to confront the truth of our own mission, to proclaim the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Christ.
     
    You’ll recall, I'm sure, the lesson from last Sunday from 1 Corinthians: For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
     
    Who was scared of Jesus’ truth? It was the people he spoke against — the temple bigwigs. Jesus had his listeners spellbound, the text said. He paid the price for it later when they crucified him. But his teaching and truth-telling left the people spellbound, and the leaders were terrified of that.
     
    One of Ms. Peck’s former students told me that he spent four years terrified of the woman. And then, on their senior class trip to Chicago, she took them all dancing and they had the time of their lives. Sometimes the truth is tough to discern when we don’t have the wisdom to separate our fears from truth. Let’s grasp our truth: that Jesus suffered, died, and rose so that together we are free to confess our sins, embrace our forgiveness, and be people of prayer and service to all the nations.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jonathan (Jon) Heerboth, Mark 11:15-19, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
  • Mar 7, 2021The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Mar 7, 2021
    The Commandments and Holy Anger
    Series: (All)
    March 7, 2021. Today's sermon is on how the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, paired with the Ten Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about.
     
    Readings: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, John 2:13-22
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was kid I was really strange: I actually loved the rules! I knew them all and followed them, well, religiously. And not only did I follow them, but I made it my job to be sure you did too. I remember being in third grade and getting into an argument with a friend in the classroom, because she wanted to break a rule and I was trying to stop her. I can still tell you to this day what the rule was, why she thought it was okay to break, and why she was wrong. And I remember coming home from school on more than one occasion to report to my mom that my brother hadn’t worn his hat and mittens on recess. I had a really good whine to it, too. As my brothers can attest, I was lots of fun at parties! I'm guessing I'm not alone in this.
     
    Some of you, on the other hand, likely follow or followed my brothers’ perspective on the rules — that it only counts as breaking rules if you get caught. And someone from a text study this week shared that they have always been inclined not to break the rules exactly, but to push the edge just a bit, just to see how far they could go.
     
    Whatever your perspective, it certainly is a fact, like Mr. Jesse pointed out, that rules are a part of life. Traffic laws, classroom rules, rules against things that harm others, rules that help keep order. And these days, rules for public health: mask mandates, capacity limitations, and distancing — all for the purpose of lessening our risk of catching or passing on the virus that is still circulating. And our motives for following them can range from wanting to protect ourselves and others, to fear of the consequences if we are caught not following them.
     
    For those of us who do like the rules, the first reading today is a real treasure, the ultimate in rule books: the 10 Commandments. Some of us may still be able to recite them by heart: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” Here we have a set of rules that has been handed down to us for millennia, from God!
     
    We as Christians often, I think, overlook the 10 Commandments, perhaps relegating it to a thing we had to learn and study in Confirmation class — perhaps thinking, mistakenly, that since Jesus came the law just isn’t important anymore. We may even have heard it said that Jesus came to overturn the law. As we hear our gospel story about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers and making a ruckus in the synagogue, which could be interpreted to be a story of Jesus tearing down Judaism, it's really important to remember that Jesus was Jewish. As a faithful Jewish teacher, Jesus probably felt about the law and the commandments the way the psalmist describes today — reviving, rejoicing, enduring, true, desirable, sweeter, clear, enlightening. Wow. All of that, for a list of rules, like honor your father and mother, you shall not murder, you shall not steal?
     
    Luther shared a great appreciation for the Commandments, and had actually a lot to say about them — not just as a list of do's and don’ts, but as a guide for our lives. Because ultimately Jesus tells us in Matthew, like Mr. Jesse pointed out today, the greatest commandment is love of God and love of neighbor. As we humans wrestle with how to live out the law, how to be in relationship with one another, the answer is simply to love.
     
    Simple but not easy. We humans often need specifics to help us get it — specifics like don’t covet our neighbor’s goods, and don’t bear false witness against one another. And still, we fall and get up, and fall and get up, and fall again... Luther makes it clear, as he describes the law, that we will never be able to live this out perfectly. Part of what we learn from understanding the law is that we on our own can’t do it. We humans will always and forever need God to help and guide us along the way.
     
    We need to be reminded, often, that the whole purpose of the law to begin with is to guide our life in community, and guide our relationship with God. As Fred Buechner writes, “The difficulty is increased when you realize that by loving God and your neighbors, Jesus doesn't mean loving as primarily a feeling. Instead, he seems to mean that whether or not any feeling is involved, loving God means honoring and obeying and staying in constant touch with God, and loving your neighbors means acting in their best interests no matter what, even if personally you can't stand them.”
     
    As Luther says in his explanation of the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” not only are we not to tell lies or slander, but we are to “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Even, to echo Buechner again, if you personally can’t stand them.
     
    Simple, but certainly not easy. We will never be able to do this on our own, and we are greatly mistaken if we think we can, or if we think that doing so is required to earn God’s approval — that we can simply check the boxes and know that we have made it, somehow. Jesus understands this, I think.
     
    And Jesus, in his zeal in the courtyard of the temple, is reminding all of us of two other very important things about the law. One is that faith is not just about what we do in the sanctuary. Our faith is meant to be lived out in every aspect of our lives, in all of our relationships. As Jesus turns the tables, he is telling the money changers in no uncertain terms that they don’t get to profit off of their neighbors in the courtyard, and then enter the sanctuary and feel good about themselves. The 10 Commandments offer us not a way to earn our righteousness badge or as a measure by which to judge others, but a guide for embodying the love of God and neighbor in everything we do — especially with those we don’t like. All of this leads us to realize once again that sacred space and our lives of faith are not limited to what happens in the sanctuary, that sacred space is not defined by walls, but by how we live. How do we live sacred space? The barriers are down, and our whole lives become sacred!
     
    The other thing Jesus is telling the money changers and us is that the path of faith, the way we live with God and our neighbors, is not transactional — it's relational. Jesus’ burning zeal and passion came from holy anger at the barriers of wealth and privilege that prevented some from having access to the temple. In turning over the tables in the courtyard, Jesus is removing artificial barriers that had been placed between the people and God, ensuring that everyone could enter the temple without going through the money changers.
     
    This is one of the more interesting stories of Jesus we have in our gospels. We don’t often see Jesus get angry, but we see today that he did. If you are like me, this can be a really uncomfortable truth. I like the rules, after all, and isn’t one of the rules to not show anger like that? And yet, sometimes faithful love calls us to holy anger. And I will admit too, as one who has experienced barriers to the sanctuary in my own life, that in spite of my discomfort with passionate anger, there is something very satisfying about seeing Jesus let loose today.
     
    This story of Jesus turning over the tables, paired with the 10 Commandments as a guide for our lives, gives us a lot to think about. So I will leave you with just a few questions to reflect on. What about our faith brings out our passion? What are we willing to turn tables to proclaim or to defend? What walls and barriers are we willing to tear down, to ensure that someone who is excluded can come in? And whose wrath are we willing to risk?
     
    As our gospel ends today, there is one other thing to note as we continue our journey with Jesus of Nazareth in these 40 days of Lent. Jesus foreshadows his death, telling them that the temple of his body will be destroyed, and then says that it will be raised again in three days. The disciples, we're told, don’t get it then, or in the few days following Jesus’s death. It is only after Jesus has risen from the dead that they understand what he was trying to tell them — that he would die, but that would not be the end of the story. Sometimes the old has to die before the new can emerge. Love and life would prevail, even after the horror of Good Friday. And this is the promise of God revealed in all our scriptures: life springs forth in the most unexpected places, and death will never be the final word.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, YouTube, video, Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Martin Luther, Fred Buechner
  • Mar 3, 2021BOOST-ing Christ
    Mar 3, 2021
    BOOST-ing Christ
    Series: (All)
    March 3, 2021. What would people think if they knew you were a Christian? This evening, Katie Ciorba shares how simply putting a Christian music radio station bumper sticker on a car can trigger the fear of being excluded — but can also serve to bring people together in surprising ways.
     
    Readings: John 12:36-43
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We stumbled upon 95.5 BOOST FM, with the catchy tagline "Pop, Hip Hop & Hope," as we were searching for a mutually agreed-upon song in the car. The positive voice of the DJs urged us to make a 30-day commitment to listen to BOOST FM and see if it changed our attitude or made us feel closer to God. I sarcastically said, “Let’s do it,” and Luther was immediately in — and not in a sarcastic way at all. He loves the beats of hip hop and the rhythms of rap, and gets frustrated by my constant policing of the often violent and anti-woman messages in this music. Listening to BOOST, Luther was instantly drawn into the DJs' messages, their feel good contests, and the music. In fact, he would vociferously remind me of our 30-day commitment anytime I tried to change the radio dial.
     
    At first, I worried his love of BOOST was an example of performative Christianity. He loves sports and adores the way athletes cross themselves, point up to God when they score, and kiss their crucifix necklaces. His only birthday wish this year was a cross necklace. I instantly rolled my eyes, chalking this up to a worship not of Christ, but specifically of masculinity. But we granted his wishes and he wears his cross proudly, everyday.
     
    Surprisingly, the DJs were right. After 30 days we became big-time BOOST fans — and not just in a sarcastic way. In the month of February, BOOST hosted “Give the Love” events around STL, where they gave away free treats and t-shirts. We attended these events, meeting the DJs and seeing other BOOST fans. Luther even called in the radio station one night to answer a question in a contest, winning a pair of tickets to a local trampoline park. We have learned most of the popular songs, and we've connected around the lyrics. We blast BOOST each night as we stretch and do gymnastics together in the basement. Some songs are fun and silly. Others are blatantly Christian. And still others delve into heavy, human topics in meaningful ways.
     
    Some of the music, frankly, isn’t that good. But I’ve developed a true appreciation for this shared language that gives Luther and me the opportunity to have real conversations about what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be human. It’s given us a chance to talk about race in explicit ways. He noticed that lots of the fans of BOOST at the first “BOOST the Love” event in University City were black, but when we went to a West County event most of the fans were white. It opened up conversations about segregation and race in St. Louis, and in February the BOOST DJs shared a daily Black History Month fact. And it was shared in a way that perked Luther's ears up every time. He listened intently.
     
    So, frankly I was surprised by my reaction to Luther’s request that we get a BOOST bumper sticker to put on my car. “What will people think?” I wondered. Did I want other drivers to know that I was a Christian? I’ve heard the jokes about watching out for the drivers with the Joy FM bumper stickers. What would my liberal friends think? What would my students think if they knew I was a Christian? I felt like those leaders in our text today who believed in Christ, but were afraid that by confessing their faith, the Pharisees would put them out of the synagogue.
     
    I’m currently in a class trying to learn new strategy to gain greater self-regulation. It's called HeartMath, and the goal is to try to balance your mind and body responses to stress and try to stay in a coherent state, not going into our “fight or flight” response. My teacher the other day said that for most of us, our biggest triggers are a fear of one of three things: 1) fear for our safety, 2) fears that something might block our success, or 3) the fear of not belonging. And I know for me, that fear of being out of the community, or out of the synagogue, is my biggest fear. My fear of embracing, announcing, and advertising my support of BOOST made me afraid that by telling the Truth — that I am a Christian — that I would be kicked out of the proverbial synagogue, that people would make further assumptions about my politics or way of living, that I wouldn’t belong.
     
    But Christ challenges us to shine his light, speak the gospel, tell the truth. As bravery goes, putting a bumper sticker on a car doesn’t rank up high. But I’m hoping it's a first, courageous step to embrace my love of Christ, and to share it more exuberantly, and my willingness to share it more lovingly with folks who need it. And I’m thankful for the loving push that Luther gave me, and I now see that his outward symbols of Christianity truly do come from a space of love and truth. Like him, I will outwardly BOOST the love of Christ.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Katie Ciorba, John 12:36-43
  • Feb 28, 2021The Cost of Discipleship
    Feb 28, 2021
    The Cost of Discipleship
    Series: (All)
    February 28, 2021. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, there is a cost to discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. What does this mean for us? Today's sermon is on truths that are not easy.
     
    Readings: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When I was in third grade at Our Lady of Grace Catholic school in Edina, Minnesota, I remember a specific time when I was introduced to the concept of doing hard things, of sacrificing myself for God perhaps. We were lining up in the hallway to go to the gym, and I asked to get a drink of water from the nearby water fountain. My teacher, who was eager to keep us in line and not start a flood of “I’m thirsty toos!” from the kids surrounding me, said, “No, give up your thirst for the holy souls in purgatory.” It was, in all my Catholic years, just about the only time anyone ever suggested anything like this, and my third grade self was taken a bit aback. In my mind I can still hear my very faithful Catholic grandmothers chuckling at the idea that giving up a drink of water might allow someone who had died to get into heaven.
     
    But another part of my mind truly took a step back in that moment from my own desire for a drink of water, and thought about the importance of setting aside my own needs and wants — at least for a moment — to consider something bigger than myself.
     
    It seems that my teacher’s statement, in a way perhaps both a little silly and profound, aligns with what Jesus is telling his disciples today. Jesus’ language is daunting and strong. But he, like my teacher, is trying to let us know that there are things much more important than our own desires and comfort — things worth actually sacrificing ourselves for.
     
    On this Sunday, the second Sunday in Lent, as we continue to explore our call to truth, I think this may be a truth our scriptures have for us in this season. We are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that there is a cost to that. Like Miss Katie said, sometimes stepping out of the boxes that the world has for us can be really hard. As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, there is a cost to discipleship.
     
    Jesus’s statement that following him means “taking up the cross” was no off-the-cuff remark. In that time and place, everyone listening would immediately have envisioned Calvary, where not just once on Good Friday but many times people who stood against empire and challenged the status quo stepped outside of those boxes, were brutally punished by the Roman Empire for not falling in line. The cross was not a punishment for simple law-breaking. It was not the fate of those who stole, or attacked, or even murdered a fellow citizen. Death on the cross was reserved for those who rioted, or protested unfair Roman taxes, or in other ways challenged the authority of Roman rule. In other words, taking up the cross was the dramatic and brutal warning intentionally designed to silence those who had the courage to stand against the empire.
     
    Jesus knew that the empire would not take kindly to his radical proclamation of love, justice, and mercy. He knew that Pilate would be eager to quash beliefs that all people had value, and that those who were marginalized and cast out might actually be considered before those who held power. Jesus knew well how violent the response would be, eventually. And he refused to back away from that. Jesus of Nazareth, rather than softening his message to avoid the cross, rather than trying to stay inside the boxes they wanted him in, began with his message to his disciples to embrace the cross and invite them to do the same.
     
    We can imagine how the disciples must have felt about this. They expected the Messiah to come with military power, prepared to overthrow Roman rule in the end. And then Jesus tells them that not only would he suffer and die, if they were to follow him they also must be ready to accept the most painful and shameful death imaginable at that time. It must have been quite a shock to hear the one they expected to free Israel from occupation suggest that the way of liberation led not to glorious military victory, but shameful death. In fact, more than one of Jesus’s disciples eventually were crucified as well.
     
    If we too are Jesus’s disciples, we too are called to take up the cross as we follow him. We too are called to embrace the truth that there is a cost to discipleship of Jesus of Nazareth. So what does this mean for us today? Because although I got a glimpse of the call of our faith to sacrifice ourselves in that moment in the hallway, there is much more to understand than that.
     
    Denying ourselves a drink of water, or finding other ways to fast, can become a token action, something we can feel good about that doesn’t go below the surface. It can become something that is so rigid and restrictive that the joy of the good news, the message of God’s love and our identity as God’s kids, is lost. Or, at its best, fasting in the spirit of the gospel can be a spiritual practice that leads us into deeper relationship with the God who formed us, and prepares us to follow Christ all the way to the cross.
     
    Debie Thomas, theologian and blogger, wrote this week, “To take up a cross as Jesus did is to stand in the center of the world’s pain. Taking up the cross means recognizing Christ crucified in every suffering soul and body that surrounds us, and pouring our energies and our lives into alleviating that pain — no matter what it costs.” You may remember from last week that Jesus began his ministry by leaving the desert and walking straight into the grief and horror of John the Baptist’s death. And we hear today that Christ was willing to challenge the empire and face the cross to stay true to the gospel he was called to preach. The cross we are invited to take up as followers of Jesus is to stand with all who suffer, to step outside of our comfortable boxes and lean into the pain of the world with the promise of God’s faithfulness, and to commit ourselves to challenging the systems that bring death even if it means that we ourselves suffer.
     
    This is, I think, one of the hardest truths of the gospel. We, like the disciples, would much rather Jesus just move and in and destroy in victorious battle all of the ills of this world — illness, violence, oppression, and death. The way of the cross, as Luther explains it, means that we do not avoid the suffering and pain of life, but call it what it is. We face head on the evils of this world and call it evil, and we proclaim the gospel, no matter what the cost.
     
    Along with this hard truth today, we have the knowledge and promise of the covenant between God and Abraham and Sarah. The covenant they make today is profoundly important to us who follow Jesus of Nazareth on the way to the cross. The covenant is only one of many in just a few chapters of Genesis. God seemed to know that as Abraham and Sarah traveled along the road to the unknown, facing countless threats and challenges along the way, they would need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness.
     
    And in the first of those covenants, as they began this long journey, God promised that God would bless them so that they would be a blessing. Because it was not all about them after all, any more that it is all about us. That’s the thing about the way of the cross — it draws us out of our selfishness and greed and into our true selves, in profound relationship with God and all that God created, so that we can participate in the creation, recreation, healing, and redemption of the world around us. We too are blessed to be a blessing, and we too are named and claimed by the God who made us, as Abraham and Sarah received their new names in today’s story.
     
    We continue our Lenten journey on the way of the cross, guided by the truth Jesus shares that this road will not be easy. We follow Jesus of Nazareth, who calls us to take up our cross: to step out of our boxes, to walk into the world’s pain, and stand against the empire, naming and challenging the evils of racism and all forms of oppression, and claiming the promise of the gospel. No matter the consequences, we know we are not alone, because Christ has gone before us.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38, Katie Ciorba, Debie Thomas
  • Feb 24, 2021Temptation and Truths in Antiracist Work
    Feb 24, 2021
    Temptation and Truths in Antiracist Work
    Series: (All)
    February 24, 2021. Each week during Lent, a member of the congregation will be offering a testimonial. This week, Kate Hoerchler talks about resisting the temptation to be complacent in the midst of systemic racism.
     
    Reading: Matthew 4:1-11
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I really felt like there was a lot in those short eleven verses to really examine, but since we're focused on truth during this Lent season I thought I'd offer some reflections on temptation and commitment to truth.
     
    "Truthiness" is a word I think about often. Some of you may remember that back from the Colbert Report, but basically he would talk about it as meaning "believing something is true based on your perception or intuition, rather than known facts and logic."
     
    How tempting or easy or comfortable it might be to lean on our own perceptions rather than the truth. Sometimes I feel like I know why things are the way they are, until I learn more — revealing my blind spots, or through talking to others with different perceptions. This has played out pretty vividly for me as I've been digging into racist constructs, white privilege, and exceptionalism over the past couple of years.
     
    Things I thought I knew from history were really not as they seemed, due to whitewashing and ingrained stereotypes, such as why is the town that I grew up in full of mostly white people? I used to hold racist stereotypes accountable, like maybe Black people didn't have enough money. Maybe they didn't care enough about education to work to live in a community with "good schools." Or maybe they couldn't leave their crime-ridden neighborhood due to family obligations. It took me way too long to realize this awful truthiness that I perceived was based on upholding white exceptionalism and systemic racism. I did not know, was not taught about racist real estate policies that kept Black people out of white neighborhoods, or that the town I grew up in was likely a "sundown town," which is where Black people were allowed to come in during the day to work but had to leave before the sun went down, to escape harassment and abuse.
     
    It can be tempting, now even, to ignore all of this, to hold on to my old perceptions. It also reminds me of a nice park in Creve Coeur that Phil and I took our kids to this past fall. We are participating in the SEEK STL Adventure, which is organized by We Stories, a local group that promotes white families to talk with their children about race and racism, to encourage racial justice and change in the region. The SEEK STL Adventure takes participants around St. Louis to explore racially significant places and history. Anyway, some of you may know this park or remember it being in the news back in 2019, when it was renamed to Dr. H. Phillip Venable Memorial Park.
     
    It could be tempting to forget or not know the history of this park, as it was by many residents for about 60 years. The land was owned by a Black physician, Dr. Venable, and his wife Katy. They'd even built half of their house before the city refused to issue them plumbing permits. There were 11 other Black doctors that were also planning to build in that neighborhood back in the 1950s, until the city council and white residents protested and the city of Creve Coeur took the land over through eminent domain, so they could build a park rather than have Black neighbors. They were worried about bringing their home prices down due to redlining practices, and surely many other racist notions of what it would be like to have Black neighbors.
     
    It can be tempting to think Black people mostly lived in the city, are poor, uneducated, unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But then, standing in that peaceful park, under old trees that would have been standing when Dr. Venable owned the land, offers a glimpse into just one story of the systemic racism that's so fully ingrained into our community and our country. The SEEK STL Adventure asks you to consider what this neighborhood might have looked like had Black families been allowed to thrive and raise their families there — then to take a step out further to think about how our entire region would look had blatantly racist policy not been in place.
     
    It can be tempting to hear this story and think, "Well how could I have known this?" Or, "I can't do anything about it anyway." But I can do more. I can keep learning, keep seeking real truths outside of perceptions that I don't realize I have yet.
     
    It can be tempting to think, "But it's a pandemic, I don't see people. Maybe once the pandemic's over I could do more." But I can do more now. I can keep reading, independently and with the church race group. I can keep attending the Black Lives Matter vigils on Friday at church to show solidarity and support for racial justice in our community. I can keep working in my daughter's school equity group, trying to bring anti-racism education into our schools.
     
    It can be tempting to sit comfortably in my white privilege, not questioning my perceptions of the world around me. But I can't unknow the truths I've learned. And I know there is much more for me to learn. I also know I won't get everything right on this antiracist journey. But I can work to resist the temptation of complacency, taking lessons from Jesus resisting temptation, as in the gospel that we heard tonight.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, testimonial, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Kate Hoerchler, Matthew 4:1-11, Stephen Colbert
  • Feb 21, 2021Wilderness and Baptism
    Feb 21, 2021
    Wilderness and Baptism
    Series: (All)
    February 21, 2021. Our readings, and the sermon today, are about wilderness — and also about baptism, and how they were both essential to Jesus.
     
    Readings: Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    When you hear the word “wilderness” what comes to mind? You may respond differently depending on how you feel about the wilderness outdoors. If you are one who, like my friend Keith, loves to travel miles by bike and then sleep in a hammock suspended between trees at night, or like the Cub Scouts in the Youth Group, who reveled in the challenge of cooking dinner over a fire the size and shape of a shoe box and were not the least bit disturbed by fire ants or wasps, the wilderness might excite you. If, however, your idea of “roughing it” starts with being without a TV, or if camping means staying in a cabin with a bathroom and a kitchen, the thought of being in the wilderness may make you cringe. I will admit that as much as Karen and I love visiting parks and hiking outdoors and cooking over a campfire, having a solid roof over our heads that we did not need to assemble ourselves, and a bed at sitting height that doesn't require an air pump, has become more and more appealing over the last few years.
     
    As we gather today for our first Sunday in Lent, living into our Lenten theme “Called to Truth,” one short line in the Gospel from Mark tells us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. The gospel today is about wilderness — and it is also about baptism. Because just before Jesus enters the wilderness, he is baptized by John. And he hears the voice of God affirming his beloved-ness, the deep truth of who he is as God’s child. Baptism, followed by wilderness. They seem to be two polar opposites, don’t they? But they are actually inextricably intertwined in God’s world. God is present equally in the wilderness as in baptism. And this, I think, may be the truth that our scriptures have for us today.
     
    Jesus is driven into the wilderness, Mark says. In Mark’s telling, we don’t get a whole lot of detail — just one sentence indicating that his wilderness experience was marked by temptation, wild animals, and angels. Matthew and Luke give us some specific information about the temptations, and they note that Jesus didn’t eat or drink the entire 40 days he spent in the wilderness. All in all, even if you are one who loves the outdoors, this wilderness — Jesus’ wilderness — doesn’t sound exactly peaceful.
     
    Jesus spends 40 days being tempted and challenged, in a very profound way, having everything he had just been told by God at his baptism challenged. Beloved? Child of God? Prove it. Show me. How do you really know that? For 40 long days, Jesus is tempted and challenged. We also heard today, as Mr. Jesse mentioned, the story of Noah and his family, in the ark, battered around by raging flood waters for 40 days before hearing that promise of God’s love again. And then we might recall the Israelites, and their journey through the desert for 40 years before they arrived at the promised land, and they and God renewed their covenant, their promise. The exact length of time doesn’t really matter. The truth we know from all of these stories is that the wilderness is not an instant process, a quick and easy place to be, but takes time.
     
    Another truth we hear from our gospel today is that Jesus’ ministry comes just as much out of his time in the wilderness as it does out of his baptism. After all, Jesus goes straight from the baptism to the wilderness, and straight from the wilderness to begin his ministry. In the wilderness, Jesus learns something of who he is. He is challenged to forget that his identity comes from God, and each time, he affirms his trust in the God from whom he came, the one who called him beloved. And, we are told, the Spirit was with him there in the wilderness, and the angels waited on him. In the wilderness, Jesus learns that even in the midst of trials and temptations, his identity as beloved holds true.
     
    In my wilderness times, this truth has not been clear always in the midst of the struggle. Grief, shame, wounded-ness can overwhelm, making it hard to see, leading us to forget. We have all experienced wildernesses of our own: the death of beloveds, miscarriage, extended unemployment, serious illness and injury, divorce. Even the traumas of this last year of life in a pandemic may feel like something of a wilderness. These times can feel like we are on our own, unsure of who we are and what we are called to do. We may even feel that God has forgotten or abandoned us, leaving us to struggle through on our own.
     
    This is not something we choose, and despite Mark telling us that Jesus was driven into the desert, it is also not something that God foists upon us as a punishment or a lesson. There is pain, loss, and grief, that is very human, very real. And, the wilderness is a part of life, a part of our humanity, and there are deep truths that can be revealed there, in time.
     
    The truth of the wilderness that Jesus shares with us, and that I have learned as I've emerged from my wildernesses, is that nothing can erase our beloved-ness, and nothing can undo the presence of God in all things. This promise is embedded in creation itself, as we also know from the story of Noah like Mr. Jesse talked about, that rainbow that is the promise of God. And that promise is revealed through the rain.
     
    Even death cannot undo God’s promise. The parallels in the Gospel of Mark between Jesus’ baptism and his death are profound. Both include a splitting of the barrier between God and us: at baptism there's a tearing in the sky itself, and at death there's a rending of the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies, where it was believed that God lived. Both demonstrate the clear presence and movement of the Spirit, in the dove and in the breath, in the story of Jesus' death. And in both baptism and death, there is that voice proclaiming beloved-ness and identity as child of God.
     
    In baptism, we claim our beloved-ness as children of God, embracing the truth that goes back to creation, when God formed us from the earth and breathed life into us. In wilderness, our identities are challenged, refined, claimed, and affirmed in new ways. We aren’t told how Jesus felt during his time in the wilderness, or specifically how he may have been changed, but we do know that he left the wilderness ready to begin his ministry, ready to step toward the pain and grief of John the Baptist’s brutal death. The wilderness, it seems, was just as essential to Jesus as his baptism, preparing him to proclaim, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic
  • Feb 17, 2021Broken and Beloved
    Feb 17, 2021
    Broken and Beloved
    Series: (All)
    February 17, 2021. What is truth? Tonight, as Lent begins, we ask God that question, and listen for the truth God reveals to us in scripture.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Many years ago, when I was just getting into twelve-step work in Al-Anon, I remember being told that we are “only as sick as our secrets,” and if that's true I must have been pretty ill when I got there. I was really good at hiding things I didn’t want you to know, and especially good at hiding mistakes. I thought that the way to be okay, to be liked, to have friends, was to only let you know the good stuff. The last thing I wanted to do was let people know the truth.
     
    When the Worship Team met last month to talk about Lent and we were trying to decide on a theme, we bounced around several ideas. And then someone said, “What about 'Called to Truth?'” And we all realized that was it: truth. That thing we often want to hide. That thing we sometimes think will be our undoing. That thing that Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John will set us free.
     
    These days, it seems like there's so much misinformation, distortion, and outright lies being shared on social media and the news that the truth feels really elusive. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was reflecting on the situation we and our country are in, and Jesus’ conversation with Pilate came to mind. Jesus tells Pilate he has come to testify to the truth, and Pilate says, “Truth? What is truth?” I found myself thinking yeah, what is truth? I'm sure I'm not the only one who has struggled with that recently.
     
    Jesus came to testify to the truth — the truth that will set us free. And so in this time of Lent, when we are called to take a step back, to reflect on our lives and our relationship with God and others, to acknowledge the sin that binds us and grow more into the people God is calling us to be, we at Christ Lutheran will lean into God’s call to truth. We will start with Pilate’s very real question: what is truth? Tonight, as Lent begins, we ask God that question, and listen for the truth God reveals to us in scripture.
     
    In all of our readings for today, we hear the truth that we have, all of us, turned away from God, in different ways at different times. We have chosen to depend on ourselves and our own power. We have taken advantage of the privileges we have in ways that have done harm to others. We have gotten lost in our attempts to seek approval from others instead of following the way of Christ. We have forgotten our call to care for God’s creation, for the earth and all that lives on it. Tonight, as Lent begins, we hear the truth of our sin and brokenness.
     
    And we also hear the truth proclaimed by the prophet Joel that while we are still lost, God is calling us to return, to seek God with our whole hearts. We hear the truth from Paul that now is the acceptable time, today is the day, and that there is always new life in Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew that God is with us, knows all the things we hide, and calls us to trust in the love of God to lead us home. The God who sees in secret knows that we have sinned, and the God who sees in secret knows the desire we hold in our hearts to return to God.
     
    We as Lutherans know that we are sinner and saint, and this truth is revealed to us over and over in scripture. Our brokenness and sin, the truth we want to bury, is uncovered. And the call of the God who shaped us out of the earth with their hands and breathed Spirit into us, that promise of faithfulness even when we stumble, the reality of our beloved-ness, the truth that we are sometimes unable to see, is revealed.
     
    We journey these 40 days of Lent together, seeking to follow more closely Christ, who entered into our humanity to show us the ways of God. We follow Jesus of Nazareth, who came to testify to the truth. We receive ash tonight as a symbol of our brokenness and sin, and of our mortality — the truth that we came from dust and will return to dust. The ash traced on our foreheads or on our hands also reminds us of the truth of the forgiveness, faithfulness, and love promised us by the God who formed us out of the dust.
     
    Over the years, I have come to believe and know the freedom that comes from truth. Our scriptures proclaim the promise that the God who created us will never abandon us. The God who sees in secret knows everything about us, and even when we stumble, calls us home. We are called to that truth. And that is good news indeed.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
  • Feb 7, 2021When Jesus Left the Synagogue
    Feb 7, 2021
    When Jesus Left the Synagogue
    Series: (All)
    February 7, 2021. As we gather again for worship in our homes, Pastor Meagan reminds us how Jesus took his ministry out of the synagogue and expanded, into homes and neighboring towns.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Last week the Gospel of Mark told us how Jesus got started in his ministry — the calling of the disciples, the proclamation that the realm of God is here, the amazement of the people at the authority Jesus carried in his teaching and the casting out of the unclean spirit. Jesus spent time in the synagogue and embodied, in what he said and did, the good news of God’s love, and claimed in his actions the authority of God, over and above the authority even of the temple.
     
    This week Jesus does something really awesome: he leaves the synagogue. And this feels significant, in this time when it has been almost a year since we have worshipped together in our sanctuary. I personally have worshipped from my guest room, my living room, my backyard, my parents’ backyard, my parents' living room. It's been almost a year of worshipping from homes, vacation places, and even once I think from a boogie board! As many times as I have heard this passage, the detail of Jesus leaving the synagogue and taking his ministry to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house has mostly escaped me. But this year, it seems like just about the most profound thing Jesus could have done as he began his ministry.
     
    A few years back, a Lakota elder shared with a group of United Theological seminarians that Lakota tradition teaches that our stories are rooted in place, not time. And according to that tradition, the valley below Fort Snelling, just blocks from Karen’s and my home in the Twin Cities, is the birthplace of creation — a sort of Garden of Eden. It is also the literal birthplace of many Lakota people whose mothers traveled days and weeks to get to that place so their children could be born 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 experience of exile we have realized, if we didn’t before, the sacredness of our temple, our sanctuary where I now stand. So many of you have told me how much it means just to see our altar in my Zoom screen on Sunday mornings. We are all longing for the time when we can return to gathering in person here, hearing the organ live rather than via video, drinking coffee and eating meals together in our Fellowship Hall. If we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now: our sanctuary is sacred space.
     
    And this week, Jesus leaves the sacred space of the synagogue. And the first place he goes, just as we did when we left our building behind, is home. Not his home, of course, but a home — the home of Simon’s mother-in-law. And Jesus’ ministry does not pause or end when he leaves the synagogue, but expands, as he continues to preach and heal and the word spreads of what he is doing. In a very real way, Jesus demonstrates for us that it is not just the synagogue that is sacred space. We who have celebrated communion in our homes, heard the word in our homes, blessed and celebrated community and even our furry family members in our homes, grieved the death of beloveds in our homes, know this. Home is sacred space, too.
     
    And still, before the end of that first chapter of Mark, Jesus moves again. After what must have been an exhausting day, as the people of town filled the small home seeking wisdom and healing, Jesus goes to find a deserted place where he could be by himself and pray. Even Jesus believed, as Isaiah so eloquently says, that “Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength.” I am probably not the only one feeling especially worn out these days. I am sure many of you are also done with COVID, ready to celebrate with abandon in this time when we're still called to care for one another with caution. In these days when we are often just one step ahead of weariness and exhaustion, how comforting it is to know that we are not alone — even Jesus needed God to renew his strength.
     
    When the disciples find Jesus, he doesn’t return to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house or to the synagogue, but moves onward once again. Sacred space, as Jesus shows us, is bigger than the temple, bigger than Simon’s mother-in-law’s house, bigger than the town, and Jesus’ ministry expands to neighboring towns. That too is sacred space. In fact, Isaiah tells us, there is no place that God isn’t. The God who created all things is present in all, to the very ends of the earth. One of the most sacred places I have ever had the privilege of being was the two-room home of a family in Tanzania, where we sat on bales of hay to eat homemade cakes and drink tea sweetened with rare and precious sugar, served by the mother of five whose face glowed with pride at having something to offer us. All places are sacred.
     
    Mark tells us that one of the things that happens in sacred places is healing. It's worth taking a moment to think about this, as Miss Kate talked about. We are painfully aware with over 400,000 having died from a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be done with us yet, although we are certainly done with it, and with the losses we have experienced in our own congregation and our own lives, that healing as we would wish for it doesn’t always happen. We know from our own experiences that sometimes mental and physical disease persist despite our best efforts. And that can leave us wondering where our healing, our miracle, our resurrection is. Mark starts his gospel by proclaiming the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. But sometimes, when brokenness seems to overwhelm, it can be hard to trust and believe that the good news of Jesus’ presence and healing is still happening today.
     
    We are part of this dynamic, transformative, and yes healing Spirit that is always moving and breathing around us. Do we believe that? Do we believe the sequel can happen? What does healing even mean? A colleague who lives with disabilities suggested that healing is not so much a restoration to wholeness physically, as if the person healed was not a complete or full human before, but a restoration to community, dignity, and agency. In the midst of the stories of healing in our gospels, Jesus so often not only offers physical healing, but raises people up, brings them back into community, names their humanity and their dignity. In today’s story, Simon’s mother-in-law is initially received as one who simply needs care, as an elderly widow who is in fact ill. Jesus goes to her, and yes he removes her fever, but the true transformation is a restoration to dignity and place in community that allows her to serve — to minister, as Jesus and the disciples did — as well as be served.
     
    The question of who receives healing, why and when, is one that we human beings have been wrestling with since the beginning of time, and we still wonder and ask and lament when healing doesn’t come as we hope. And yet, as Miss Kate suggested, the promise of God stands. In Christ, we know that even in the face of illness and suffering and death, God is present with us. In Christ, we are seen and known, our dignity as a child of God is assured, our lament is heard by a God who has experienced suffering and death for themselves. The ministry of Jesus expands again, and again, and again, all the way to the cross. And because of that we can trust that even our places of brokenness, loss, and death are sacred.
     
    All places, all time, all lives are sacred. And today, as we gather and worship together on our Zoom screens, we know that more than ever. Christ is present in the sacred space of our homes, bringing the good news of God’s love, restoring us to our community in sometimes surprising ways, lifting us up and renewing our strength when we are exhausted, naming us and calling us beloved, and sending us outward to discover and proclaim the sacredness of God’s presence in the places — and the people — around us. And when we come back to our sanctuary, and we will return, we will do so with great joy and celebration, knowing that that is only the beginning.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2021, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic