Jul 22, 2018
One of Those Days
Series: (All)
July 22, 2018. Have you ever had one of those days when you just need to have a break? Jesus and his disciples had those days. He had compassion for the human need facing him, and as his followers his compassion begins to take hold in our lives. So what do we do when we need some rest? Pastor Stephanie's sermon today is about following our shepherd and receiving what we need from his hands.
 
*** Transcript ***
 
You've all had "those days," haven't you? When all you want to do is get away from work after a [mic cuts out]. (I'm having one of those days. Okay, at least I got the children's message in the right time. But now I've got to shut the mic off. So here we go.) But you had those days where all you want to do is get away from work after a trying day, or from the nursing home where you become emotionally drained, or from school with its impossible demands on your time, or frankly from your colicky child whom you love more than life itself, but now you just have to have a break. You long for a place where you can relax in peace and quiet, where you can experience some comfort and refreshment, and you're just about to, and the relief is on the way, and then something happens to interrupt your plans. And you're back on duty being responsible and caring for the needs of others.
 
This is pretty much where we find Jesus and his disciples in our gospel reading today. They've had it rough -- and I mean emotionally, physically, mentally, in every possible way rough. They're just coming off the horrific news, as we read in the scriptures last week, of the death of John the Baptist. And that would have been unnerving at the very least. To know that Herod's family system would take such vengeance on one of their own would have shaken them to the core. John was not only a co-worker, if you will. He was Jesus' own cousin and possibly one of his closest confidants.
 
What was going on in Herod's palace? During that time, the disciples had been out in the countryside, sent by Jesus to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sick. That had to be quite demanding as well. Exhilarating, and yet challenging. So now we have them all getting reunited. What a debriefing process that must have been: super, super high highs, and at least one devastating low. They are all beyond tired and weary from it all. So Jesus suggest that they retreat for some much needed R&R, and that is where they are headed as they make their way across the sea when they are met with enormous need, right in front of them. Crowds of people have gathered along the shoreline, desperate to experience Jesus' healing presence for themselves and their loved ones.
 
The nearest I can come to imagining this would be to relate to you an experience I had in South India in 2006. My husband and I were part of a group of eight people who, with our gracious hosts from the church of South India, visited churches, schools, and medical facilities connected to our denomination's mission work. We were there for 14 life-changing days. Never have I met so many joy-filled, dedicated Christian believers all in one place as we met there. Nor have I met such crowds of people with so many looks of desperation and pleas of help on their very beings. To be with a small entourage in a sea of human need in the city of Chennai, or even on the hillsides of Kerala, is something I will never forget. I only know that by about day 12, I was nearly completely physically exhausted, and it was an over-the-top emotionally draining experience.
 
Now, let's go back to the scene where Jesus and his disciples are anticipating a much-needed rest. They've had many days of meeting needs and caring for people, while managing their own weariness from doing so. Imagine the reality of that time of rest fading away as they face the vast human need coming into focus before their eyes. Can you imagine trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus' face in slow motion as he catches a glimpse of the crowd? What kind of face do you expect to see? A tired face, an annoyed face? Perhaps a little mix of both? Maybe we imagine Jesus sighing deeply, knowing there's still work to be done, but internally wishing it were not so. Not right now.
 
We could relate to any one of those responses. Perhaps there was a mixture of those descriptions pertinent to Jesus at that time, but the prevailing image that is created in the gospel of Jesus at that point is whatever it takes for us to imagine a look of compassion on his face, compassion that overrides the rest of what was going on inside of him. We are told that Jesus was moved deeply from within by seeing the people in such need, and with such earnestness to receive from him. In the words ascribed to him there, we see that he noted that the people were tired and harried and "were like sheep without a shepherd." We can hear, even in those words, that he said how his heart was going out to them.
 
Compassion. The Greek word is splagchnizomai. It's not a word synonymous with pity, as we often use it in our own language. It's a word that you can almost feel as you say it. You want to practice that? Splagchnizomai. It calls for something from the deep, because it is literally a visceral word. It means to be moved down deep into the deepest part of our beings, even described as being passion that arrives from our bowels.
 
It makes me think of something like the feeling we had when we heard of the devastating accident at Table Rock Lake a few days ago. It was bad enough learning of the fatalities and feeling with the families who experience the loss of loved ones. But then it got even more intense when we learned that one woman and her nephew lost nine of their family members. For her it was the loss of her husband and all of her children. That is incomprehensible. One cannot help but have a physical reaction to such a situation. That's more than we can bear to imagine for another.
 
But when we have a feeling of relating so deeply to the pain and hurt that another must be feeling, we do often bear some of the pain within ourselves. That is compassion in its rawest form. It means to have pathos or feeling with one another. The prefix "com" means "with." A compassionate response is to relate deeply, to suffer with or alongside, whatever is causing sorrow for another. Even saying this I know that I have hooked some of you in situations where you have had deep compassion for the sorrow of another, and for yourself perhaps.
 
Mark shows us over and over again, Jesus demonstrates for us what it is like to be full of compassion, because just as we say "God is love" it's also true that God in Jesus is compassion. As followers of Jesus, his compassion begins to take hold of our lives. He gives us the opportunity and the ability to see what he sees, the more the reality of his dwelling within us takes hold. As we receive grace and provision for ourselves a transaction of sorts takes place. He transforms us, introducing grateful response for what we have received, which in turn helps us to be able to want to give that to others. We are able to give to another something qualitatively more valuable because of his presence in our lives than we could have ever conjured up ourselves. In a very real way the Good Shepherd operates through us, shaping us into people who are more able to see others with compassion and with love.
 
As we grow in compassion, we can see what Jesus sees in each person a little bit more clearly. I think we together could compile a rather lengthy list among ourselves, if I were to ask you what calls for compassion in your life. What has taken extra strength and prayer for you to deal with, because it is intense and causes you to feel deeply for those who are suffering? I might suggest an easy one: family members and friends with chronic illnesses would surely make the list. Also thinking of those who live without adequate food or shelter. Additionally, policies in our government that make life more difficult for the most vulnerable. Hearing instances of bullying that degrade people, or seeing it in our schools, neighborhoods, or workplaces. And certainly when recurring incidences of racial discrimination and mistreatment occur in our city, time and again, and we imagine how hurtful that is. That's just to name a few items on a list, and I'm sure you have plenty more that pop into your head.
 
I came across a story this week that I liked because it stretches us to see how Jesus taught us to see. It goes like this: A rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when night had ended and day had begun. "Could it be," said one of the students, "That when you see an animal off in the distance, you are able to tell it is a sheep rather than a dog?" "No," said the rabbi. Another said, "Is it when you are looking off in the distance at some trees, and you see a particular one and you can identify that as a fig tree rather than a peach tree?" "No, that is not it," answered the rabbi. After a few more unsuccessful suggestions, the pupils demanded of the rabbi, "Then what is it? How can we tell when night has ended and day has begun?" It is when you look at the face of a woman or man, a girl or a boy, and on that face you see your sister or your brother," said the rabbi, "Because if you cannot see this, it is still night."
 
Even in our short time together, I can already see that this congregation is growing, and has grown significantly in seeing the face of others created in the image of God, not only within the congregation but within this community and the world at large. We see it, we know it, and even yet that isn't always the main issue as we know. Some of you may be thinking in response to all of this: I do see this. I do feel this. I have this list, but I am tired and weary myself. All that is going on in the world and with people for whom I care who are struggling, wears me out. Every day a new crisis or two is reported. We already see and feel too much of the world's burden many times.
 
It is true that we are in a similar place to that of the disciples in our gospel reading. We too are invited to take a rest to be restored within the context of so very much need, so many people who are tired and harried and wanting something which will fill them.
 
So what do we do? We too continue to follow the shepherd and receive what we need from his hands. It is for our own needs. It is also so we have something to give to others. He shepherds us, he feeds us, he heals us because he loves us and wants us to be filled with his love and grace. He also sends us out as the fed and healed sons and daughters to be his compassionate presence wherever we go.
 
As we receive the words of life shared with us today, read, sung, and prayed together, and as we receive the nourishment that is present at the table, we are given some of the rest that we need. We are fed and refreshed from a never-ending supply of grace. It comes from the bread and wine given and poured out by the compassionate one to address the weariness and the hurriedness of our lives. It is given to restore hope, to experience healing, and to receive strength for the journey that each each of us must travel.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
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  • Jul 22, 2018One of Those Days
    Jul 22, 2018
    One of Those Days
    Series: (All)
    July 22, 2018. Have you ever had one of those days when you just need to have a break? Jesus and his disciples had those days. He had compassion for the human need facing him, and as his followers his compassion begins to take hold in our lives. So what do we do when we need some rest? Pastor Stephanie's sermon today is about following our shepherd and receiving what we need from his hands.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    You've all had "those days," haven't you? When all you want to do is get away from work after a [mic cuts out]. (I'm having one of those days. Okay, at least I got the children's message in the right time. But now I've got to shut the mic off. So here we go.) But you had those days where all you want to do is get away from work after a trying day, or from the nursing home where you become emotionally drained, or from school with its impossible demands on your time, or frankly from your colicky child whom you love more than life itself, but now you just have to have a break. You long for a place where you can relax in peace and quiet, where you can experience some comfort and refreshment, and you're just about to, and the relief is on the way, and then something happens to interrupt your plans. And you're back on duty being responsible and caring for the needs of others.
     
    This is pretty much where we find Jesus and his disciples in our gospel reading today. They've had it rough -- and I mean emotionally, physically, mentally, in every possible way rough. They're just coming off the horrific news, as we read in the scriptures last week, of the death of John the Baptist. And that would have been unnerving at the very least. To know that Herod's family system would take such vengeance on one of their own would have shaken them to the core. John was not only a co-worker, if you will. He was Jesus' own cousin and possibly one of his closest confidants.
     
    What was going on in Herod's palace? During that time, the disciples had been out in the countryside, sent by Jesus to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sick. That had to be quite demanding as well. Exhilarating, and yet challenging. So now we have them all getting reunited. What a debriefing process that must have been: super, super high highs, and at least one devastating low. They are all beyond tired and weary from it all. So Jesus suggest that they retreat for some much needed R&R, and that is where they are headed as they make their way across the sea when they are met with enormous need, right in front of them. Crowds of people have gathered along the shoreline, desperate to experience Jesus' healing presence for themselves and their loved ones.
     
    The nearest I can come to imagining this would be to relate to you an experience I had in South India in 2006. My husband and I were part of a group of eight people who, with our gracious hosts from the church of South India, visited churches, schools, and medical facilities connected to our denomination's mission work. We were there for 14 life-changing days. Never have I met so many joy-filled, dedicated Christian believers all in one place as we met there. Nor have I met such crowds of people with so many looks of desperation and pleas of help on their very beings. To be with a small entourage in a sea of human need in the city of Chennai, or even on the hillsides of Kerala, is something I will never forget. I only know that by about day 12, I was nearly completely physically exhausted, and it was an over-the-top emotionally draining experience.
     
    Now, let's go back to the scene where Jesus and his disciples are anticipating a much-needed rest. They've had many days of meeting needs and caring for people, while managing their own weariness from doing so. Imagine the reality of that time of rest fading away as they face the vast human need coming into focus before their eyes. Can you imagine trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus' face in slow motion as he catches a glimpse of the crowd? What kind of face do you expect to see? A tired face, an annoyed face? Perhaps a little mix of both? Maybe we imagine Jesus sighing deeply, knowing there's still work to be done, but internally wishing it were not so. Not right now.
     
    We could relate to any one of those responses. Perhaps there was a mixture of those descriptions pertinent to Jesus at that time, but the prevailing image that is created in the gospel of Jesus at that point is whatever it takes for us to imagine a look of compassion on his face, compassion that overrides the rest of what was going on inside of him. We are told that Jesus was moved deeply from within by seeing the people in such need, and with such earnestness to receive from him. In the words ascribed to him there, we see that he noted that the people were tired and harried and "were like sheep without a shepherd." We can hear, even in those words, that he said how his heart was going out to them.
     
    Compassion. The Greek word is splagchnizomai. It's not a word synonymous with pity, as we often use it in our own language. It's a word that you can almost feel as you say it. You want to practice that? Splagchnizomai. It calls for something from the deep, because it is literally a visceral word. It means to be moved down deep into the deepest part of our beings, even described as being passion that arrives from our bowels.
     
    It makes me think of something like the feeling we had when we heard of the devastating accident at Table Rock Lake a few days ago. It was bad enough learning of the fatalities and feeling with the families who experience the loss of loved ones. But then it got even more intense when we learned that one woman and her nephew lost nine of their family members. For her it was the loss of her husband and all of her children. That is incomprehensible. One cannot help but have a physical reaction to such a situation. That's more than we can bear to imagine for another.
     
    But when we have a feeling of relating so deeply to the pain and hurt that another must be feeling, we do often bear some of the pain within ourselves. That is compassion in its rawest form. It means to have pathos or feeling with one another. The prefix "com" means "with." A compassionate response is to relate deeply, to suffer with or alongside, whatever is causing sorrow for another. Even saying this I know that I have hooked some of you in situations where you have had deep compassion for the sorrow of another, and for yourself perhaps.
     
    Mark shows us over and over again, Jesus demonstrates for us what it is like to be full of compassion, because just as we say "God is love" it's also true that God in Jesus is compassion. As followers of Jesus, his compassion begins to take hold of our lives. He gives us the opportunity and the ability to see what he sees, the more the reality of his dwelling within us takes hold. As we receive grace and provision for ourselves a transaction of sorts takes place. He transforms us, introducing grateful response for what we have received, which in turn helps us to be able to want to give that to others. We are able to give to another something qualitatively more valuable because of his presence in our lives than we could have ever conjured up ourselves. In a very real way the Good Shepherd operates through us, shaping us into people who are more able to see others with compassion and with love.
     
    As we grow in compassion, we can see what Jesus sees in each person a little bit more clearly. I think we together could compile a rather lengthy list among ourselves, if I were to ask you what calls for compassion in your life. What has taken extra strength and prayer for you to deal with, because it is intense and causes you to feel deeply for those who are suffering? I might suggest an easy one: family members and friends with chronic illnesses would surely make the list. Also thinking of those who live without adequate food or shelter. Additionally, policies in our government that make life more difficult for the most vulnerable. Hearing instances of bullying that degrade people, or seeing it in our schools, neighborhoods, or workplaces. And certainly when recurring incidences of racial discrimination and mistreatment occur in our city, time and again, and we imagine how hurtful that is. That's just to name a few items on a list, and I'm sure you have plenty more that pop into your head.
     
    I came across a story this week that I liked because it stretches us to see how Jesus taught us to see. It goes like this: A rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when night had ended and day had begun. "Could it be," said one of the students, "That when you see an animal off in the distance, you are able to tell it is a sheep rather than a dog?" "No," said the rabbi. Another said, "Is it when you are looking off in the distance at some trees, and you see a particular one and you can identify that as a fig tree rather than a peach tree?" "No, that is not it," answered the rabbi. After a few more unsuccessful suggestions, the pupils demanded of the rabbi, "Then what is it? How can we tell when night has ended and day has begun?" It is when you look at the face of a woman or man, a girl or a boy, and on that face you see your sister or your brother," said the rabbi, "Because if you cannot see this, it is still night."
     
    Even in our short time together, I can already see that this congregation is growing, and has grown significantly in seeing the face of others created in the image of God, not only within the congregation but within this community and the world at large. We see it, we know it, and even yet that isn't always the main issue as we know. Some of you may be thinking in response to all of this: I do see this. I do feel this. I have this list, but I am tired and weary myself. All that is going on in the world and with people for whom I care who are struggling, wears me out. Every day a new crisis or two is reported. We already see and feel too much of the world's burden many times.
     
    It is true that we are in a similar place to that of the disciples in our gospel reading. We too are invited to take a rest to be restored within the context of so very much need, so many people who are tired and harried and wanting something which will fill them.
     
    So what do we do? We too continue to follow the shepherd and receive what we need from his hands. It is for our own needs. It is also so we have something to give to others. He shepherds us, he feeds us, he heals us because he loves us and wants us to be filled with his love and grace. He also sends us out as the fed and healed sons and daughters to be his compassionate presence wherever we go.
     
    As we receive the words of life shared with us today, read, sung, and prayed together, and as we receive the nourishment that is present at the table, we are given some of the rest that we need. We are fed and refreshed from a never-ending supply of grace. It comes from the bread and wine given and poured out by the compassionate one to address the weariness and the hurriedness of our lives. It is given to restore hope, to experience healing, and to receive strength for the journey that each each of us must travel.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Jul 15, 2018Almost Too Good To Be True
    Jul 15, 2018
    Almost Too Good To Be True
    Series: (All)
    July 15, 2018. The Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians sounds almost too good to be true, perhaps a bit too gushy for some of our sensibilities. Pastor Stephanie preaches on this passage, and on the plan that God has for us all.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Sometimes when I confront a Biblical passage, it seems too big, too wonderful, too exalted to dare preach about it. Many of the passages, as you know, are so sublime and glorious that it's downright intimidating to think that any one of us could do it justice. I feel that way this morning about the words of a letter to the Ephesians that was read for us earlier, and yet it kept calling to me to work with it this Sunday.
     
    Realize, dear congregation, that the intro to this letter is something really special. I'm sure you caught the wide sweeping language the Apostle Paul employs to capture our imaginations, of a powerful vision for us regarding our relationship with a grand and loving God. So, how is the Apostle Paul handling this here? Mostly he is not giving a doctrinal lesson, as he sometimes does in Romans, although there is some of that here, nor is he giving an ethical lecture like he does to the church in Corinth. This passage is more like an overture to a vast musical composition in which all the great themes of a symphony are introduced. Paul seems to hurl himself here into a great burst of praise to God. In the Greek text, the passage that Pastor Jim read is one sentence, one sentence of long celebration that goes on and on for 12 verses. It's been broken down into a few sentences for us in English, thankfully for our reading, but it is still a mouthful for a lector to read, and a whole lot of soaring rhetoric for our minds to comprehend.
     
    So, how can and should this be preached? Even at this moment I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think it's to dissect it and analyze every piece of it. That's for an in-depth biblical study to do that. But focusing so narrowly on it would be to miss its wonder and depth. So somehow together I hope we can gain a glimpse of the vision expressed here and enter into its power.
     
    If this happens throughout our time here today, then we will have received what this text wants to give us: mental, emotional, and spiritual engagement that becomes a symphony of praise offered to our God. You do know that I run the risk here of sounding like a salesperson with an offer that is too good to be true, don't you? You heard the language employed here. It's one thing for the Apostle Paul to use this language, but for ordinary people like me, to go on and on about how you and I are chosen, how we are accepted, how we are adopted by God, how we are graced beyond our imaginations, how we are forgiven of everything we have ever done, how we are lavished with the riches of God's grace, how we are destined according to God's promises, and heirs of the almighty God... All of that could breed some distrust and suspicion, as I would imagine. That sounds almost too good to be true.
     
    The superlatives here border on the "bit too gushy" for some of our sensibilities. After all, over time we've had to become realists, and some of this sounds a bit too lofty to comprehend and to be completely true, through and through. Haven't we all listened to enough commercials and promotions to wonder if this language isn't just a bit over the top?
     
    We'll see as we move forward, but maybe, just maybe we need to examine what might be at play for us, even if it does sound too good to be true. First of all, one of the major concepts here is that we are beloved by God. That's well established throughout Scripture. God says in many places and times, "I have called you by name and you are mine." Another psalm says our names are written in the palm of God's hands. We have the whole narrative and theology of the fact that Christ died for us, even in our sin while we were yet sinners, loved us enough to die for us, and Jesus himself calls us his friends.
     
    And further, beyond that, it says that God has plans for us. That is abundantly clear in Ephesians. When I was growing up I knew that my mother had plans for me. She had health issues, and found the physicians who cared for her to be compassionate and admirable. Therefore, she developed this goal or purpose for me since I love studying the natural sciences. Anyway, she made it clear that she thought I should go into medicine. Well, my dad worked in a bank and he thought I could be a warm and friendly hometown loan officer, in the bank in the little community like he was. Since I liked math as well, that was enough for him.
     
    I'm sure you can see where this is going. I never did go into either field that fit my parents' plans for me. I think they got over it, eventually. I did not even go into a field that fit my own earlier plans for myself. I loved, loved, loved my second grade teacher, so much that I thought I was going to be an elementary school teacher. Eventually, of course, a different career path became obvious to me. But what my career became was only a piece, a small piece of the growing recognition of where God was moving in my life. More than what I did as a career, was the awareness that God had a wider, bigger picture for me as a person, as a child of God, a disciple, one baptized and called into the plans of God, just as God does for each and every person, here and beyond.
     
    These plans have existed since before time was created, and they are big and grand and very important. These plans and purposes that God has for us are amazing. What we do relates to this. But even more, who we are and how we operate seem to be in God's scheme of things. Paul tells us in Ephesians that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love. He goes on to say that God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved.
     
    The most obvious connection for this passage is our baptism. Where we rejoice that God has chosen us. God claims us as his own. When we remember how Christ washed away our sins and made us new creations in Christ. In baptism, we experience the sign and seal of God's promises. We recognize that this is a gift, because there's nothing that we could ever do to deserve the life we receive in Christ. Through remembering our baptism, we acknowledge that God chose us to be beloved sons and daughters, and God commissions us to be bearers of the promises of God throughout our lives. That is our true vocation and calling. To live as children of God who see our adoption into God's family as a grace gift, welcoming others to receive that same gift is part of the purpose and plan for our lives that God has always had for us.
     
    One of my favorite seminary professors endlessly found ways to weave a phrase that is prominent in this passage into most of the lectures I remember him giving. He taught homiletics and an elective class on prayer. If William Brownson has a theme to his teaching and his life, and he still does at age 90 I might add, it is that we are called to live for the praise of God's glory, whether we are preaching, teaching, performing surgery, caring for children or the elderly, preparing accounting reports, practicing for a piano recital, playing soccer, or sitting in a wheelchair and wondering what's next, our purposes are to be the same. However our lives evolve, God has destined us to live for the praise of God's glory.
     
    That isn't always easy to figure out, especially when times get tough. I'll give you a clue though in what makes this easier. It's something that most of us profess to know and believe, but in our day-to-day life it can be a little hard to hang on to. Spoiler alert, it's all going to turn out well in the end.
     
    The novel that God is writing has a very, very happy ending. Paul reminds us of this too in this passage. He says according to God's good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, God will gather up all things in him, things in Heaven and things on Earth. All of history is moving steadily toward the time when people of all tribes, of every language, will gather around the throne of God, singing to the praise of God's glory and every wrong will be righted, every tear wiped away. The dead will be raised in Christ, and all that has become corrupt and destructive will be made brand new and beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful, isn't it?
     
    But what about now? We're not there yet. Now all around us people believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Sometimes that even includes us. Taking this Ephesians passage to heart, however, means we cannot give up hope. I'm sure we could all name a few situations that do seem hopeless to us. Most of the time we have good reason to think that, at least in the short term but certainly not in the long term. Paul is showing us this expansive vision for the plan of God as revealed in Christ, which claims that all things eventually work out for the glory of God. That, if nothing else, reminds us of the power of the gospel. God's grace prevails. It's over all and in all and cannot be conquered by evil. It's even given where not deserved. We cannot begin to comprehend how things we find so reprehensible can ever be redeemed, but God can imagine that and is making it so.
     
    How then do we fit into this as the adopted children of God, into this plan? As we reflect on the grace of God toward us, chosen, adopted, given a purpose, richly blessed with a massive inheritance of love, destined to live for the praise of God's glory, we are repositories of hope and grace to be shown to others.
     
    We can, ironically, be somewhat light-hearted, since the heavy lifting for all of this has already been done by God in and through us. And yet there's something weighty about this role as well. This playing the glory of God is no small thing. The Hebrew word for it is Chabad and it contains a gravitas, a significant awareness of the unique difference the presence of God makes. It's nothing to be taken flippantly. Paul would say that to live for the praise of God's glory means to live daringly, to live conscientiously in the presence of God, that in every situation God wills to bring hope and redemption.
     
    That very thing was what gave the disciples courage, even at the beheading of John the Baptist, something so horrible and vulgar that one could never get over it were it not for the awareness of the goodness of God being able to ultimately triumph over evil. It's also what gave the prophet Amos the chutzpa to speak truth to power about the state of Israel's life. Knowing God's truth and goodness are so much bigger than self-centered leaders gives a person that ability.
     
    It's what gives us the courage and fortitude to look suffering in the face with the eyes of love and the confidence that God is indeed making all things new. William Sloane Coffin, author and longtime pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, once noted that when we think about living as God's beloved children, we are often rather short-sighted in understanding what that really means. We sentimentally describe the sweet, simple trust of children. But Coffin wrote that we should not underestimate this sweet idealism of children. It's children, after all, who want to save the seals, save the whales, and save everybody else while they're at it. It's kids who set up lemonade stands and sell cookies so they can turn their nickels and dimes over to this or that relief effort. It's children who take home those little church-shaped banks and fill them with copper coins and then bring them back to the church, really believing that those pennies will make a new addition to the church or buy enough mosquito nets to really save lives. It's children who have a neighborhood walk around a school, holding up homemade signs calling for racial reconciliation and really believing that they are making a difference by taking to the sidewalk in that way. Of course, we encourage this in children. We buy the lemonade, we compliment their delicious cookies, and we stick our loose change into empty coffee cans.
     
    I think this Ephesians passage is encouraging us all to take up our own hopeful campaigns and causes with the end in mind. If God has plans for our lives to contribute to the restoration of the cosmos that is eventually coming, let's not lose heart at the things that look dismal today. But rather joyfully, enthusiastically join with children of all ages, beloved children of God, in doing the hopeful things that point to a God whose purposes are bigger than we ever dared to ask or imagine.
     
    We are chosen. We are destined. We are the baptized. We are set free and set loose to live for the praise of God's glory. People who live in Christ know that everything we have ever needed has been lavished upon us freely and completely. We know and believe that since we live in that sphere of influence that is Christ Jesus, it is precisely simple acts of trust, quiet acts of kindness, a gentleness of spirit, and a willingness to witness to the gospel, that can make all the difference in the world. One day that grace will change the world.
     
    Actually, by God's grace, it's already happening. Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Jul 8, 2018A Divine Humility
    Jul 8, 2018
    A Divine Humility
    Series: (All)
    July 8, 2018. Jesus was not accepted as the messiah in his own hometown. Pastor Jim Bennett's message is about how God's strength is shown best in weakness and humility, something that may be difficult for us, like the people of Nazareth, to embrace today.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I wonder if Christ Lutheran Church has ever had a son or a daughter who was raised in the church, and then went on to become an ordained pastor. There's a story of a new, young minister being introduced to her home congregation for the first time following her ordination to word and sacrament ministry. Her parents were proud. Her pastor was proud. Her Sunday School teachers were proud. Everybody was proud. She was surprised by the long, loud applause when she was introduced. And being young and quick of wit, she responded, "When there is applause at the start of one's ministry, that's faith. When there is applause in the middle of one's ministry, that's hope. When there's applause at the end of one's ministry, that's charity."
     
    When Jesus walked into his hometown of Nazareth for the first time after his commissioning in the temple, there was no applause. The people were not proud. They were confused. They reacted with disbelief to his words and deeds saying, "Is this not the carpenter?" They could not believe that Jesus of Nazareth, that small child that they perceived as a bit arrogant for having taught in the temple as a young boy, was there in their midst, was actually the Messiah that all the other surrounding towns were so excited about. The people of Nazareth could not accept Jesus for who or what he was because of their preconceived ideas that they carried with them.
     
    Let me digress just for a moment, if you will. Martin Luther was known for conveying some radical ideas about the gospel. I joined the Lutheran Church as a teenager and I have to confess, being unchurched for many, many years, that at that time, my life could have been a poster child for what inspired Luther's well-worn phrase where he said, "Sin boldly that grace may abound."
     
    Now, I'm not trying to compare myself with Jesus. But when I announced ten years later that I was intending to go to seminary to become a pastor, there were some people who, to say the least, had some quizzical looks on their faces. And following my ordination, I remember being invited back to my home congregation to face those proud Sunday School teachers who probably saw me as proof that miracles still exist.
     
    The people of Nazareth in Jesus' day, and sometimes the people in our own congregations, have some firmly set expectations of what or who they expect pastors and prophets to be. And the church has a right to expect that those who are called to be set apart in this way, to be above reproach, and who are respectful and honorable women and men who preach the Good News, who preach the gospel.
     
    But someone forgot to tell the people of Nazareth that the gospel that Jesus wants us to hear really can come across in two ways. The gospel is intended to comfort the afflicted, but it's also intended to inflict the comfortable. And I think Jesus in Nazareth did the latter.
     
    You remember that young woman pastor in the story that I started my sermon with, whose congregation was so proud of her? Well, the sermon that she preached that first Sunday after her ordination was one where the message conveyed an advocation for social justice. She was really challenging her congregation to step up and do some amazing things. She was calling her congregation to a higher level of accountability. Some members thought that she was pretty tough on them, but they thought she was young and they were still proud. So they invited her to return, year after year, and the second year when she came back, the very next year she preached the same sermon. Well, they were still proud. They were a little confused but they thought well, she's young. Maybe she forgot she preached the same sermon the year before.
     
    The next year she returned and she preached the same sermon as the two previous years. At that point they were less proud, and they were a little confused and angry. So the chair of the worship committee was appointed by the church council to take her aside and ask her, "Why is it that you continue to preach that same uncomfortable message year after year?" And she responded, "You know, I grew up in this congregation. And week after week, I heard the gospel that was comfortable to our members. And sometimes we need to hear the gospel that afflicts the comfortable. It sounds like you finally got my message."
     
    Now, I believe that to be an apocryphal story. But it speaks to our gospel lesson today. Jesus' message never got through to the people of his hometown. The story suggests that whenever someone comes into our midst, and shows or invites us to think in a radically different way from what we are used to believing or thinking about God, or about God's love, we feel threatened and our reaction is to judge or disbelieve.
     
    The people of Nazareth had placed their faith in a messiah that turned out to be a carpenter who grew up in their own town, and their belief made it impossible for God's good works to be done there.
     
    God's news can guide the work of God's people. It can be rough going at times. Some might believe that that's because we really need stronger, more charismatic or powerful leaders who represent God and inspire those who respond to God's message of the gospel to action. Well, that's probably the attitude the people of Nazareth had. A God who is strong and all-knowing should have the message proclaimed by those with similar characteristics. Yet there stood Jesus, that humble Carpenter.
     
    In our second lesson today, which was the theme for my children's sermon, the Apostle Paul tried to explain to the church at Corinth that God's strength shows through best in weakness. That may seem counterintuitive, but I invite you to think about it: Christ's human weakness allowed him to die on the cross, and then God turned that weakness into the most powerful message in human history.
     
    There has always been a point of tension between the humanity and divinity of Christ, between his weakness and his strength, and I think that is the same for many of us today. There are those who feel that they need to be in complete control of their lives, who are confident and self-reliant, that there is no room for doubt in their faith. And they have then little need for God. They're self-made women and men. And all of those characteristics, those traits, can be positive except when they become barriers to growth or barriers to relationship.
     
    I could not help think back to an old Mac Davis song from 1980. You probably have to be over 50 to remember this song. And I do believe he wrote it tongue-in-cheek, but it was titled "Oh Lord, It's Hard To Be Humble When You're Perfect In Every Way." You can Google that if you'd like.
     
    But then come those sudden chest pains. The lump in our neck or our breast, maybe a pink slip from work. Or the announcement of a separation or divorce. It stops us in our tracks and it reminds us that we are not gods. But we are mere mortals, frail and vulnerable. Those chinks in our armor are God's contact points. In our broken, imperfect lives God's light finds opportunities to show through in those cracks.
     
    Ralph Waldo Emerson is noted to have said, "As no person had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him or her, so no person had ever a defect that was not in some way made useful to them." Strong, self-reliant people never had the opportunity to know the power or strength that can be found in weakness. Any human weakness can restore our sense of humility that leaves room for God's strength.
     
    It brings us into a condition of grace that is open to the light and spirit of God, and I have found that to be true in my own life and in the lives of many of the people to whom I come in contact with in my ministry.
     
    The people of God in Nazareth did not understand that concept that God's strength is shown best in weakness and humility. And even today it's difficult in our 21st Century for Americans to embrace it. We admire people who are strong, and given the choice between power and weakness, who would not choose power? We look for signs of God in the strong and powerful, and often overlook God in humble human interactions.
     
    But I wonder if our faith in God encountered in our everyday human condition is not really stronger in faith than that which relies on powerful proof in exceptional situations. Our gospel lesson states that because the people of Nazareth could not accept Jesus he could do no mighty works there. If, like the people of Nazareth, we cannot recognize God's presence in the most simple of people or situations, and perhaps even in the tragedies of our lives, God will not be able to do God's Mighty works.
     
    We look back to scripture and see the marvels of God, and have little doubt of the power of God. But the gospel, the Good News of God, wants us to embrace a divine humility found in God's weakness, God's death on the cross. The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to carry such weakness in his life. He talked about it as a thorn in his flesh and he prayed several times to "keep me from being afflicted." But God spoke to him. He said, "I sought the Lord about this that it should leave me. But he said, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' So I am content with weakness, for when I am weak I am strong."
     
    May God use our weakness to spread the Good News. And may we be open to hearing the Good News that comes in unexpected ways from unexpected people.
     
    But not Mac Davis.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jim Bennett
  • Jul 1, 2018The Healing Touch of Jesus
    Jul 1, 2018
    The Healing Touch of Jesus
    Series: (All)
    July 1, 2018. Pastor Stephanie preaches on the raising of Jairus' daughter from Mark 5 and the healing power of Jesus' touch.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Thinking about the scripture reading that I had for today, I was saying that if we read carefully this chapter 5 of Mark and see the power of these stories, a story within a story, we can't miss the feeling of desperation that comes, can we? The desperate need that people have for the healing touch of Jesus. And not only by one person in this story, but two people. Two people from distinctively different stations in life and circumstances, but bound together in this story of people who are desperate for help from Jesus. The first one described for us is a man who is a leader of the local synagogue. That alone tells us a few things. This is a person with respect and authority within the local community. He has visibility. He is named. His name is Jairus. That much we know, and of course that he has a daughter who is at the point of death, because he tells Jesus repeatedly.
     
    What we aren't told explicitly, but can surmise, is that as a leader of the synagogue he has undoubtedly heard things about this rabbi Jesus that made him uneasy. But here's the thing: none of that seems to matter right now. He has also heard that Jesus has a healing touch and his little girl is dying. This isn't the time for theological debates. If there is a chance, any chance at all, that having Jesus come to his house could save his daughter's life -- well, that is what he wants most earnestly. So he dispenses with any sense of how a leader of the synagogue should comport himself and he literally falls at the feet of Jesus.
     
    This act alone shows his desperation, to appeal to Jesus, to have mercy on him, and to come with him immediately. His daughter's life is at stake and he cares of nothing else at the moment. He doesn't even have an eloquent, persuasive speech prepared. All he can do as he is laying at the feet of Jesus is to say repeatedly, in the emotion of the moment, that his daughter is dying. Not just sickly, but dying. "Please Jesus, lay your hands on her, that she may be made well and live." We are told that Jesus and a large crowd followed Jairus toward his home.
     
    Next we meet a second person who is desperate also for the help of Jesus. She, however, is an unnamed woman who does not dare to ask Jesus for anything. She is unclean, and is very used to this designation in her community, since she has been bleeding for twelve very long years. It is so much a part of her identity that she dares not even suggest that Jesus might lay his healing hands on her. Instead, she tells herself that if she could only touch the hem of his garment, she might, just might, receive that for which she so desperately longs. Relief. Wholeness. Wellness. Reprieve from the pain and misery of her condition. Perhaps a chance to be seen again as a real person, rather than someone to be shunned. So she reaches out to touch the clothes of Jesus and immediately senses his healing power coursing through her body.
     
    Two people from very different circumstances, bound together in Mark's account by their desperate desire for the healing touch of Jesus to affect their lives.
     
    There is something about the desperate need to be touched in loving and kind ways that is universal. The right kinds of human touch, it is well known, can provide physical relief from pain, as well as healing. In fact, touch is so essential to wellbeing that, without it, something within human beings withers up.
     
    I was reading this week about the power of touch and came upon an account of the Romanian dictator Ceausescu's inhumane orphanages of the 1980s. Children were given food and other basics needed for survival, but they were deprived of something all human beings need in order to be fully human: comforting hugs from another human being, contact like hand-holding, embracing, goodnight kisses. When the children of that orphanage were finally released, their conditions were dismal. The lack of touch had impacted their emotional wellbeing in significant ways. Psychiatrists tell us it's as if a person is affirmed and acknowledged as being real and important, to be touched in honorable ways by another human being
     
    I know what you are thinking right now, because you can't help it. The parallels are too stark. News coverage is full of accounts of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents at our Southern border, are in detention centers where they receive little to no human touch and comfort. As people who know that all people are made in the image of God and deserve the dignity of being treated as such, this is distressing beyond words. Perhaps we need to figuratively throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and ask for his healing power to reverse the trend that is breaking our hearts and breaking the hearts and spirits of children and their parents, and all people of good will. Lord, have mercy.
     
    I believe we're called to advocate for these families as well. But for now, let's hold onto the sense of desperation that comes to us when we discover something that is too big and too painful for easy solutions. There are a couple of things that are revealed to us in Mark chapter 5. First of all, do you see how Jesus is sympathetic to us in our desperation? We all need to hold on to something or someone in times of need.
     
    Jesus has time for us in those situations. If you have ever thought, "I shouldn't bother God about this. There are so many pressing things for God to be concerned about," then look with me at how Jesus showed his mercy with both Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman. One was not more important than the other. Conversely, one was not less important than the other. Both could receive what they needed from Jesus. He is capable like that.
     
    The woman reaches out and touches Jesus' clothes and immediately feels her body to be made well. When Jesus turns around and asks, "Who touched me?" like Jairus, then this woman falls at the feet of Jesus, desperately hoping in this case that he will not condemn her for touching him in her unclean state. She finds a response that heals her to an even greater degree. She is called "daughter," a precious, precious designation. Something that is music to her ears, and a balm to her soul.
     
    Then we see Jesus proceeding on toward Jairus' home, persisting even when told that the little girl has already died. He walks in with no hesitation and takes her by the hand -- something no one expected. After all, the laws of the time forbid him to touch a dead body. But Jesus takes her by the hand and he speaks to her, "Talitha Koum, little girl rise up!"
     
    Some scholars have written that this phrase in Jesus' native tongue is kept in the text for us because the Aramaic comes closer to the intention of what Jesus was saying. It's difficult to translate, but a closer translation might be something like, "My dear precious little lamb, rise up." And we can imagine Jesus saying that, can't we? She wakes from her sleeping death and stands up. The sympathetic, tender care of Jesus infuses each of these situations with tear-inspiring beauty.
     
    Well, what else can we hold onto when we think about the healing abilities of Jesus? Time and experience show us that various kinds of healing will come to us because of Jesus' presence with us. We so wish that we can all recount stories of how each and every time we desperately sought help from God for physical healing, that we could say we received that. Sometimes we and our loved ones do receive extraordinary healing. But then there are those times when that for which we desperately hoped, does not happen as we had envisioned.
     
    For example, I prayed for many years that my mother would be healed from the emotional pain from trauma in her teenage years that manifested itself in erratic and sometimes scary behavior later in her life. She was never in this life released from the hold that these painful memories had on her, and yet there were many moments, and years in fact, of time in which the evidences of God's grace to her were noticeable. There were periods of time when the clouds would part, if you will, and the congenial, caring mother I had known early on would reappear. We were grateful for those times of grace from God's hand.
     
    Also, a dear seminary professor of mine was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease when he was only 45. Many people have prayed for Stan over the years, but he is still living with the effects of this disease. When I visited him a few years ago, he did make this remarkable statement to me: "I have actually been healed. Not of Parkinson's disease, but by God's grace I have been healed of the fear and dread of Parkinson's. I can actually receive each day as a gift to be treasured."
     
    It is certainly true that the healing touch of God can bring hope and relief in various sorts of ways. I know that each of you have your own stories of the touch of Jesus in your difficult situations. Sometimes his healing comes to us in tangible, physical ways. Other times it is less tangible, but no less real. But healing comes in some form to us from our God.
     
    With the writer of Lamentations, may we all be able to say that as we throw ourselves onto the mercy of God and earnestly pray for healing, that we too may see "the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases." God's mercies never come to an end. And may we proclaim that God's mercies are new every morning, for great is God's faithfulness.
     
    Thanks be to God for this word. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Raising of Jairus' Daughter, Mark 5:21-43
  • Jun 24, 2018Not Alone In Our Boats
    Jun 24, 2018
    Not Alone In Our Boats
    Series: (All)
    June 24, 2018. Have you ever had any fearful experiences on the water? Pastor Stephanie preaches today on the story of Jesus calming the storm. She reminds us that there is no storm that we face, personally or as a community of faith or in any other realm, where we are actually alone.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    I'd like you to say a brief prayer with me, please. O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.
     
    I introduced myself a bit last week, and I know that every week I'm going to need to do a little bit of that. I probably won't do that so much from the pulpit today, but I do look forward to meeting each and every one of you. My name is Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, as a you've probably read about somewhere or heard, and I'm looking forward to spending this time with you as your interim pastor, and look forward to what God will do in and through this congregation, and as we work together in partnership to ascertain where God is taking this congregation, and to just be still and be the people of God in the meantime as we continue on loving God and loving one another.
     
    I have a question for you, much like I did for the children: have any of you ever had any fearful experiences, this time on the water? Well, bodies of water can be so beautiful and inviting, but then there are times when they are mighty forces to be reckoned with. Several years ago, my husband and I were on a pastoral sabbatical concluding with a lovely week at a beach cottage south of Monterey, California. If you've been there, I need say no more. That is one of God's finest designs over there. The Pacific rolls in and there's so much beauty to enjoy, and it's very peaceful and wonderful.
     
    Well, it was peaceful until we decided that we would like to try our hand at sea kayaking, which had been highly recommended to us. We made an appointment for the last day of our stay there. It was the only one still available. This was about three weeks after Labor Day. The season was winding down at the rental shop and to have guys go out with you. So we showed up on that Friday morning only to find out that the guide who was to take us on this adventure had not shown up for work. This was our last day. We were flying home the next day and we were determined to take advantage of this opportunity.
     
    The manager of the store had to stay nearby to rent out the kayaks, but he told us with a short tutorial by him that we should be fine. And we fell for it. Well, it was not without difficulty and several attempts, that we did make our way through the first line of the waves that break into the shore, and I assure you on the Pacific Ocean those are no small force to be reckoned with either. My husband made it a little better than I did. But you had to put your kayak perpendicular, heading straight out into the water to break through the waves, and I had a couple of times I have to admit that the waves had the better of me and I would be flipped over. And I would have to get myself up and get the thing readied again, and stand and try to push out, and make it through about four or five layers of these breakers.
     
    Well, we eventually got to do that, and then we were delighted to enjoy a long stretch of peaceful water where the harbor seals would playfully pop their heads up and make their little sounds and look at us, and then they'd pop down to swim. It was idyllic. But the instructor had told us that what we really wanted to do was to go out further, where the kelp beds lie and where we would see more wildlife.
     
    He said we would know we were there when the water turned green all around us. And he was right. What he did not tell us was that when we would get out that far, we would also be likely to be caught up in swells that were for the first twenty seconds rather fun. But after that, sheer terror set in. I know for me much of that was in my head. As I said, I'd already overturned two to three times near the shore when the small but intense waves pitched me out of my kayak. Suddenly now, in the face of these enormous swells where I found myself sometimes at the bottom looking up at what seemed to be 15 to 20 feet of water (maybe I exaggerate but it seemed like it) and then riding up the side of that wave only to be cast down to the bottom of the next swell, panic set in.
     
    I envisioned myself being overturned by a subsequent one, and either not being able to get back into the kayak before some unfriendly sea creature started nibbling at my body parts, or that I would be completely upside down and unable to breathe.
     
    Oh, the dangers we can imagine. Often at least based in some reality, but just as often magnified beyond the bounds of that which is likely to happen. I did not wait to find out how my deepest fears might be realized. At this point I could barely maintain eye contact with my husband, carried away as he was by swells somewhere out of my eyesight, but my lungs still worked. So I called out to him that this was no longer fun, and I wanted to get back to the shore ASAP.
     
    Surprisingly, no argument came from him, and we each managed to turn those kayaks into the direction that they needed to go, because at this point we were still facing Asia. But we managed to get them turned around and headed back to the shore. These kayaks looked to me like a child's toy compared to the size of these gigantic waves. As you can see I'm here today, so we made it safely. But not without sending my pulse into higher regions than ever, I'm pretty sure.
     
    Well, surely you have your own stories. You can relate to times of feeling at the mercy of some powerful force of nature, or a situation where you wonder about the outcome. In our gospel lesson today a storm arises. As you recall, Jesus has been teaching on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples have been getting a chance to get to know him, and who he is about, and marvel over him already, and yet not completely understand him. But when he says to them, let's get in the boat we need to go to the other side, they do it and they fish.
     
    Skilled fisherman that they are, they probably don't think of thing of what lies before them. And then a storm comes up, the likes of which shake them to their toes. As you recall, panic sets in for the disciples. Jesus is sleeping. Sleeping through all of this. And yet they are encountering a storm that has created deep fear in their hearts and their minds, and so what really hooked me this week in responding to this passage was Jesus' response to the panic of the disciples who, with accusing tones in their voices said Jesus, don't you care about us? We are perishing here and you seem not to care. This is a crisis.
     
    So what does Jesus do? He takes charge of the situation, speaking to the wind and the waves and commanding them to be still. And they do calm down. But you get the sense that the storm is still raging inside of his companions. Maybe they're asking themselves: are we really safe with this guy? How do we know he really has our backs? We had to wake him up to pay attention to this, remember? What if he sleeps through the next crisis, or if we can't find him when we need his help? Then what?
     
    Well, the response we have through our English translation doesn't fully carry the full weight of the care and desire that Jesus has in his words to them to stretch them, and to stretch us into another way of framing his relationship with us in times of trouble.
     
    Asking them and us why are you afraid doesn't mean that he doesn't get that many things are fearful. He's prodding them to dig deeper into the reserves of the heritage of their faith. Remember the other passages we just heard this morning? He's reminding them that they would probably have heard them, not in so many words, but he's digging into their heritage where they would have heard this oral tradition of stories passed down, through their families of faith, through their worshiping community, around the campfire, maybe the stories of God addressing Job such as this which is already read, where God says, "Have you people commanded the morning till your days began and caused the dawn to know its place? Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Who of you has cut a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt to bring rain on a land where no one lives and to make the ground put forth grass?" Our fears can be real, for there are many dangers and difficulties. But God, the one who is over and above all circumstances that can threaten us is still, as from before the dawn of time, in charge of it all.
     
    Then Jesus asked a second question: have you still no faith? Because when the disciples anxiously accused, "Don't you care, Jesus, that we are perishing?" they indicated that they did not understand the very nature of who it was to whom they were speaking.
     
    Jesus' actions, teaching to the crowds and conversations with them up to this point, were to help them connect to the God that they exalted in the Psalms. As an example from Psalm 107 today, we saw the words that dealt with the fact that the psalmist is extolling the praises of God, who calms the sea, who calms the storm. That would have been their literature. That would have been their context, and yet the connection is not yet made between who this Jesus is, and who is the God whom they worship?
     
    So when Jesus is dead asleep and the disciples call to him, it's a good illustration for us to see because we can find ourselves in the same place. At times, we are in the storms, and in the difficulties. And we too wonder if God just might be taking a nap during this time. We too know the stories of faith. We too know that God is much bigger and mightier than we, and yet don't we also wonder if God is going to rise up in this occasion and change these circumstances for us?
     
    I don't have to prompt you with too many thoughts, because I'm sure our intercessory prayers and the prayers that you offer every day, and the wonderings in your hearts and minds, arise from the situations that are troublesome to us. No need really to mention what's going on in our Southern borders, and yet we as people need I believe to call out to God and say, "O Lord do not sleep through this." Not that we think God will, but to remind ourselves that we are calling on God in the faith tradition of those who have come before us and, I think, honoring God in a very special way to say, "Only you, God, can give us the peace that we need in this process and the peace that we pray for the many people who are troubled by such things."
     
    We have friends who have been in difficult times because of medical conditions. I won't dwell on this, but if I seem a little sleepy this morning it's because last night I had to take my husband to the emergency room. And that's not a common thing. He's the kind who will tough out anything that comes his way if he possibly can, and he's been having some esophageal issues and been under medical care for that. But last night about 8:30 he said, I think I'm having a heart attack.
     
    Don't you just love it when you're teaching or preaching a passage, and then you get a chance to put these words to the test yourself? Yeah, so fear. So anxiety. So a sense of calling on God: God help us. Do I call 911 right now, or will he in half a minute say no no no, I'm fine? Anyway, I did. I didn't call 911, but I did persuade him to jump in the car with me and I took him to the ER.
     
    And he's fine, after lots of medication and lots of time and tests to show that indeed, it was not a heart attack. He just needs to go see a GI specialist. Fine, we can deal with that. But only to illustrate that we all have those moments where something comes up suddenly, or something is pervasive and stays with us a long time. And we so want to see the hand of God bring peace and change of the circumstances to us.
     
    Because there are legitimate fears about things that are too big for us. Jesus doesn't ever say, "Your fear is unfounded. What what do you mean, everything's rosy." But he does give us the proper perspective of how to deal with that.
     
    Rest in Me. Rest with me. Rest in me, Jesus seems to say. He offers instead, and dearly wants disciples at the stormy sea and disciples here present with us, to take that offer to live in what another penned as the "peace of God that passes all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." From this place of peace, a person, a community, a movement can thrive in the midst of any storm.
     
    I promise I won't talk about him every week, but our grandson I mentioned last week is about to celebrate his second birthday. And he's an even-tempered child. He smiles affably and seems to be making good progress in his development. One thing did cause a bit of concern: on the days that I would take care of him around his nap time, as soon as he was awakened from his nap he would cry out and make all kinds of sounds that he normally didn't make. And he would be seeming to express panic if someone wasn't in the room with him right away. It was almost like him saying, "Where is everyone, who's here for me?" Of course, I would rush in and comfort him and pull him out of his crib. And I'm happy to say that as time has gone on he has learned to soothe himself and awaken without anxiety. He seems to have internalized the fact that whatever dream he had (or nightmare) or initial concern for his own safety that he had upon awakening, he is not alone in the larger sense of the meaning, and someone is always nearby for him.
     
    As we grow in faith, may we notice just how true it is that someone is always nearby for us. We can also recount with the psalmist that we have called upon the Lord and found God faithful and true to be with us in all things. Even though, granted there are fear producing situations in our lives, they need not paralyze us. They need not have dominion over us. They need not consume us. They need not cause panic because we are not alone in our boats.
     
    A scene from the end of John Bunyan's classical allegorical novel The Pilgrim's Progress finds the chief character Christian, the archetype of a person struggling to lead a life of faith, nearing the end of his symbolic journey. This journey requires him to cross a great and fearsome river. He is desperately afraid. Together with his friend Hopeful, they wade into the waters with trepidation. Christian cries out, "I sink in deep waters. The billows go over my head. All the waves go over me." Hopeful replies with these grace-filled words: "Be of good cheer, my brother. I feel the bottom and it is good."
     
    Be of good cheer, friends. There is no storm that we face, personally or as a community of faith, or in any other realm, where we are actually alone. The careful, watchful eye of one whose might and compassion is always upon us, let us call upon the name of the Lord for help in times of trouble. For God's mercy is everlasting, and God's peace is able to calm every storm.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Jun 17, 2018Planting Seeds
    Jun 17, 2018
    Planting Seeds
    Series: (All)
    June 17, 2018. Today we welcome our interim pastor, Pastor Stephanie. She talks about her work with the Bridge ministry, relationships that have been made, and the idea of planting a seed that will grow into a great plant that provides sustenance for all.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, I've already confounded some of you by what you should call me. So let's just make it clear: you can call me pastor Stephanie. Or Stephanie. But some of you say you have to use the word "pastor," so we'll go with your comfort level. But don't worry about my last name. It's very difficult. It's Dutch, with some German and French Huguenots influence in it. So it's kind of an amalgamation of many ethnicities. It took me a while to learn how to spell it too, since I took that from my husband's side of the family.
     
    It's really a pleasure to be with you this morning, and I know it's warm for many of you so we'll keep our our words succinct and celebrate together. I feel like I need to give a little bit of an introduction, since I'm going to be here for a while, beyond what I just already said, and that is that I just want to let you know that I really am looking forward to getting acquainted with you. I see some familiar names already, faces from places that I've been before with you. But I look forward to how we can serve God together in these coming months, as Christ Lutheran continues to live out the call of God to witness to the grace of God, made known through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
     
    When I was asked to consider joining you as resident pastoral interim minister -- that's kind of the official term, but whatever, interim pastor's fine -- I was immediately interested because of my previous experiences with this congregation. You will be hearing more of them, I assure you, in future sermons. But be assured these interactions have been positive. So I readily engaged in that conversation when invited. The key connection that I have had with Christ Lutheran has been through the ministry of the Bridge, which is a joint ministry of the ELCA and the denomination to which I was ordained as a minister of word and sacrament, already alluded, to the RCA or the Reformed Church in America.
     
    There will be more on that at another time. But the reason I can be here with you is that we are Formula of Agreement partners, as I said, and therefore we can be involved in joint ministries as brothers and sisters in Christ around one table. Some of you have already connected the dots or recognized my face as being one of the people who has participated in the Lady Gray Beads holiday boutique that you hold each fall at the Arden Mead Center, raising money for missions. I have come bringing a variety of fair trade items from the Bridge, based in New Town, and I have had the pleasure of meeting several of you there.
     
    As you have purchased fairly traded socks or children's sweaters or wooden carved puzzles, you have enabled artisans and farmers to have the dignity of providing food, shelter, education, and more for their families and places where they would not have had that opportunity otherwise. Thank you for your participation in furthering that mission. I mentioned this today because the ministry of the Bridge has relevance as I thought about how today's gospel lesson is experienced in our lives.
     
    First some background. Ten years ago, three ELCA churches in St. Charles County -- Living Lord; Christ the King; and Hope, and one RCA Church, Christ's Church (which I have served in St. Charles County) started with a small dream. We wanted to plant a ministry that could build bridges among our churches and engage people who had not been part of any church, in participating in a ministry for the common good.
     
    So we chose to start with a small fair trade store in a new development called New Town, and from there a coffee house, and a faith community has developed. I got to thinking about what God has done through this ministry more intentionally, because June 8th of this year marked our tenth anniversary. We opened a very small fair trade store as sort of a test to see whether there would be a welcome and an affirmation of that ministry there.
     
    I'm thankful to reflect on a number of signs of God's kingdom presence in that ministry. Relationships have been made, and giftedness, and calling into ministries beyond the Bridge have arisen from our work there, far beyond our initial hopes. One notable thing being a young teenager who came to work with us once we started the coffee house, and she served as a barista and built bridges of conversation with others, sharing the hope that she has in Christ in her life, and the significance of why we were doing what we were doing in order to be a blessing to people. She is now a Harvard Divinity School student and she's preparing for entrepreneurial mission service. She's from Hope Lutheran Church originally. She herself planted another mission in South Africa when she served as a summer intern there and she called that the Bridge. So, things have arisen from small beginnings. But just in terms of the impact of fair trade purchases over the years, I think it's safe to estimate that at least $225 thousand from the total sales (we can only figure sort of a percentage, not knowing exactly how it's portioned out in each country). But at least that much money has made its way to farmers and artisans in places in the world where even one dollar a day makes a big impact, if that is what the increase of what people get back and it's more than that. So many, many people, families, and communities have felt the impact of the growth that God has given to those people from those small initial seeds. The resources coming back to those communities have translated into children receiving education who would not have done so otherwise. More families fed and sheltered. More medical needs addressed. Water Supplies opened, and trafficking averted.
     
    All of that is not to say, "Look how much we did" but "Look what God has already done from a very small start." From one little place, with a handful of people, and we can only imagine the generational impact that can still be realized as time goes on. That is only one ministry among countless ones that could be named that at least in part illustrates the parables that Jesus uses in Mark 4 to expand our awareness of how God's kingdom operates. It's like a seed, a kernel that starts out small yet becomes something far more significant than we could ever have guessed.
     
    Well, we marvel at things that we wouldn't have expected regularly, don't we? Someone we thought of as rather ordinary as we were growing up turns out to be a vibrant force of life and vitality as an adult, a force to be reckoned with. Or a seemingly throwaway idea during a meeting picks up steam and becomes an effective way for an organization to flourish in amazing ways. Sometimes it's the thing we exclaim, "I didn't see that coming." That is one common way we express that at times a thing that we didn't recognize as being anything of any significance will exceed our expectations in amazing ways.
     
    Why do some things that seem small and insignificant to our way of perceiving later turn out to be far more than we could have imagined?
     
    Of course, it is the mystery of the kingdom of God. As I tried to share in terms that a child can understand. But in reality we are all children when it comes to understanding the mystery of God's kingdom work. Jesus spoke in parables, which literally means to cast one thing alongside another in order to make an analogy. We would often like teaching that is more of a scientific bend or in alignment with our Western way of seeking to perceive truth. But God's kingdom is so far beyond our human understanding that at best we can only handle hints of it, intimations of what it is about. And we can never in this life master a full understanding of what God is up to all around us.
     
    In the gospel reading today, Jesus lifts up the grace and power of God, taking a tiny seed and transforming it into a great plant that provides sustenance for all. It is at once a humbling parable and an exhilarating parable for the followers of Jesus. In God's kingdom economy, it is not the large and mighty that bring about the most significant change. God so often chooses to use the lowly, the humble, the people who are more full of hope and trust in what God can do, than they are of their own confidence of which they can do.
     
    We are told that Jesus said, with what can we compare the kingdom of God? Or what parable will we use for it? It's like a mustard seed which when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on Earth. Yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all the shrubs and puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
     
    In reality the mustard seed image is about the under-the-radar nature of God's kingdom. The day will come when the results of God's silent, steady growth will be impressive. Meanwhile don't be surprised if the seeds you plant look ineffective. Don't be surprised if the witness you have to offer gets laughed at on account of being so puny. It's the old Jack and the Beanstalk tale in some ways. Jack's mother scorns the tiny beans he brings home from the market. They can never live off those. They'll never amount to anything. So in anger, she hurls them out the window. Those beans were a non-starter, a mistake, a dead end right from the beginning in her mind. Except that of course (as we know the fable) they ended up sprouting into a beanstalk that went in a way clear up to heaven. Seeds that are planted in hopefulness and trust that God will use them to bring blessing yield unimaginable results. Sometimes seen and many times unseen in this life, but significant nonetheless.
     
    In typical fashion, the gospel of Mark says a lot using only a few words. We don't have parables here, like what we call the Prodigal Son or the Lost Sheep Lost Coin and Lost Son as in the Gospel of Luke. Many details, a full story.
     
    So at first glance, we might primarily see that Mark affirms things people have already learned about God's reign. That something very small will eventually morph into something much larger. That is helpful all by itself to know. But there is something else going on. In these few words a vision is given. Something that appears obscure and insignificant will turn into something public and grand. The reign of God or the kingdom of God won't just grow for the sake of looking pretty and assuring us that God made something wonderful.
     
    But we are told that in what God caused to grow creatures will find that which provides them shelter and security. Again, there are examples of this happening near and far and I'm eager to learn more about what you have already seen in the witness of this church because I know it's significant. But sometimes it's also helpful to look at other cultures that are not our own where we can see some of these graphic changes. I was privileged to travel to South India in 2006 to visit churches, schools, and medical facilities that were planted over 150 years ago, and since that time by missionaries who carried initially with them the seed of the gospel. The missionaries who moved into these neighborhoods began by sharing cups of cold water in Jesus' name, giving food and clothing to those nearby, offering prayers of hope and healing for their neighbors, providing medical care, and starting schools and churches.
     
    They were planting seeds.
     
    Years later, those whose lives have been nourished by the growth of those seeds by God are now doing the very same thing with their neighbors, and more people are coming to experience the shelter and protection of that tree, if you will, that has been growing by God's grace, doing small things with great love and seeing what God will do. When someone asked why the church, when we were visiting the church of South India, why they were growing so rapidly, their bishop seemed surprised at such a question. "Why, we just do what Jesus told us to do." We offer what we have to those in need: a cup of cold water in his name, food and clothing as we have them to give, prayers for hope and healing, and people somehow experience our Triune God in the midst of that and they respond.
     
    The image of the shrub, then, is so large that birds can find shelter under its branches. It's more than a happy ending to the biological principle of what a seed can grow into. It's Jesus' way of saying that wherever even the smallest seeds of the gospel are sown, God multiplies the effectiveness to bring about healthy, thriving places of wholeness, of shalom, of well-being, of more than enough, or safety, assurance, sustenance, hope and joy can be found.
     
    Also in our Ezekiel passage in chapter 17 we are told that God plants a tiny cedar twig on a high mountain of Israel, and that twig becomes a large and fruitful tree under whose branches every kind of bird will find shelter. The birds there symbolize the nations that will flock to Israel's god on the glorious day of the Lord. The word picture in both Ezekiel and Mark envisions the day when God's sovereign and life-giving power will embrace the whole world, and this is certainly good news.
     
    So I wonder what this parable means for this church at this time in its life. Since parables are given to expand our wondering, and to free us from our own tendencies to have a script or a formula to follow, I pray we together will live into the freedom of knowing that the kingdom of God is most assuredly growing in our midst where we can see its presence. We give the giver of life praise, knowing that there's always more that God is bringing to fruition than ever meets the human eye or our ability to perceive.
     
    Isn't it marvelous of Jesus to tell us stories that help us to release any anxiety or worry we might have about the present or the future of this church? We can, as this parable assures us, we can adopt a child-like posture that allows us to sleep peacefully at night and to look to each day with wide-eyed wonder knowing that God is always in charge and that God's kingdom is ever growing into beautiful expressions of the love of God, for the blessing of others as well.
     
    In my brief interactions with this congregation recently on some of its leaders, I've already seen signs of the Kingdom. God is continuing to build something in this body that gives safety and peace to all. It's a warm and welcoming tree where shalom is experienced. However the next months unfold, we can be sure that seeds that have been planted in alignment with God's kingdom will flourish beyond our imagination.
     
    It is "God's Work, Our Hands" indeed. Thanks be to God for the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in and through this church to the glory of God and for the blessing of all people and of all creation.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot
  • Jun 3, 2018The Hope Business
    Jun 3, 2018
    The Hope Business
    Series: (All)
    June 3, 2018. Our sermon today is from Jim Bennett, who is a hospital chaplain. He preaches on the metaphor of earthen vessels, healing, and how leaving the hospital is like leaving church on a Sunday morning: you come out better than when you went in.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    Now, some of you may be thinking to yourselves, "What is he doing up there?" I have to tell you that's a question that's gone through my mind a few times this week too. I'm a pastor. I'm a Lutheran Pastor who's served congregations for about ten years, before I responded to what I felt was God's call for me to move into chaplaincy ministry, and eventually education. And so it's been many years since I've preached a sermon, contrary to what my wife tells me every now and then.
     
    But when I was contacted and asked to preach today, I was a little nervous because I'm out of practice. And so that's why I'm going to stay up here in the pulpit. The pulpit's nice and protective. But I was also really excited when I read the lessons for today, because the lessons are just filled with great preaching themes. You know, we have the gospel lesson where Jesus heals the withered hand of a man in the temple. We have the Old Testament lesson that depicts God bringing God's people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand. And in our second lesson, God has bestowed a treasure in earthen vessels. And the psalm, "You called out in distress and I delivered you." Great preaching themes. But there's an overarching theme that I really want to focus on today, and it follows what I said with the children this morning about the people of God being the church, and how God cares for his people.
     
    That ought to be reassuring, right? It is for me, most of the time. Yet if we read the entire second lesson that Paul was sharing with the people in the Corinthian Church, he goes on to write as servants for Jesus' sake we are afflicted, but not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are persecuted, but not forsaken. We are struck down, but not forgotten. So even as we may be reassured that God cares for us, we may not always feel that care in a way that we expected or hoped. And that is exactly where a lot of my ministry comes into play.
     
    I try to show people that God cares, when they don't really feel that God cares, when they feel perplexed or afflicted, when they feel struck down or when they're persecuted. Because you and I and many of the people that I minister to, we are these earthen vessels.
     
    Earthen vessels. I noticed in the lesson today that the version of this translation said we are clay jars. And you know, I was thinking about earthen vessels and clay jars, and which would be a better metaphor today. Last evening my wife and I and some friends went to the Webster art show at Webster University in Eden Seminary. And my wife and I are always drawn to the artists that do clay jars. They have earthen vessels there, and they're beautiful. And we always think about perhaps buying a piece or two. And as I was there I remembered the second lesson for today, that we are like earthen vessels. You know that earthenware is very durable, but sometimes it gets cracked. Sometimes it may get broken, chipped. And it wears out over time. That's like the metaphor of our bodies as earthen vessels, that sometimes we abuse our bodies, or over time they're worn out. And we are breakable. So when those parts wear out or we break, we need to be fixed.
     
    And it's amazing to me. I think about when those body parts wear out or we need a new part. (I myself have had a knee replacement. And I know of others here who've had the same, or a hip replacement. Some of you may even have had an organ transplant.) I'm simply amazed that when our bodies are broken, they can be repaired.
     
    There are times when I converse with others and the topic of vocation comes up and people say, "What is it that you do?" And I say I'm a hospital chaplain. And they look at me and say that must be a really tough job. And I say to them, sometimes it is. But you have to keep in mind that many more people leave the hospital in better shape than they arrived in, than otherwise.
     
    And you know, I feel kind of the same way about church on Sunday morning. When I come here to worship, sometimes I'm still a little bit asleep and I'm not too sure about things. But I always leave church better than when I first arrived.
     
    More often than not, when I see people in the hospital they are hoping for healing. Some of them may even hope for a miracle. But healing miracles today are more often performed by modern medicine. We place our trust in the wisdom and knowledge of God as bestowed on physicians. Yet healing is a process that even modern medicine is not an exact science. So I have found that people of God may be challenged when those purveyors of modern miracles acknowledge that nothing more can be done to heal or to make one whole.
     
    Now, there are times when people then turn to God and they want a miracle more like what occurred in our gospel lesson today. The section of Mark. If you had read earlier portions of Mark you might realize that our gospel lesson today comes at a time after Jesus had performed many healing miracles. He had cast out demons. He had healed the leper and a paralytic. And you may remember that one of the titles that Jesus was known by was the Great Physician, because he healed people. Jesus was God. But today, even though we have some very talented physicians whose work sometimes seems miraculous, they are not God.
     
    We wait for the Good News to come to us from God to proclaim a miracle like Jesus did. Healing a withered hand. Or, as the writer of Deuteronomy says, God brought you out of the land of Egypt. Or the psalmist, "In distress you called and I delivered you." A responsive God that seems to answer our every need.
     
    But then I'm reminded of an old tune as a child that I became familiar with. It's about Humpty Dumpty. And it says Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.
     
    So where is God when we need God most? Jesus taught us that, "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there with you." I didn't ask the children today in the children's sermon where they thought God was. It might have been interesting to hear some of those responses. It might have been a bit too confusing, but I can ask you: where is God?
     
    If you think about it, maybe you'll come to the conclusion that it's not as confusing as one might first think. Where is God? Actually God is right here. When I'm doing my other job as an usher here on a Sunday morning, or when I'm reading the lessons, or when I'm taking up the collection -- you know ushers have the responsibility of counting the number of worshippers on a Sunday morning, and I'm in the practice when I'm doing that at the end -- I always add the number three. Why would I do that? I add the father. Why would I do that? Yes, because of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I'm not just padding the attendance record. It's theologically sound!
     
    Just think about it: God is with us on Sunday morning. And God is not with us just on Sunday morning. God is with us wherever two or more are gathered in God's name. A few weeks ago the church celebrated the holy day of the Ascension of the Lord. It's when Jesus was taken up into heaven. The disciples were worried that when Jesus would go away they would be left alone. But Jesus told his disciples not to worry because he would be sending them the Holy Spirit.
     
    Another name for the holy spirit is the Great Comforter. And the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would be with them. Now, the Holy Spirit has a role in our lives as well. Just like it's been a long time since I've preached, it's also been a long time since I taught confirmation. So I may need some help from some of you. In terms of what we learn about the role of the Holy Spirit In our lives, any recent confirmations here who can name off the four or five things the Holy Spirit does for us? Uh oh, somebody in the back. Yell it out. What does the Holy Spirit do? Okay. The Holy Spirit calls us. The Holy Spirit gathers us. The Holy Spirit enlightens us. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and keeps us. The five things: calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps. All of you coming up for confirmation, remember. That's a good thing to remember. It's good Lutheran theology.
     
    But I practice my ministry in a setting that is multi-faith or no faith at all. So I don't serve just Lutherans anymore. So I practice what we call more of a practical theology. And there is, in practical theology, several roles that God serves. And that is to sustain us, and to guide us, and to reconcile us, and to heal us. These are actions that show that God cares. Now, I have to admit if my loved one was sick and they could not be made whole again, I would expect the function of God's healing to take place. And if it didn't I would be angry about that.
     
    In our lesson today, Jesus was angry at the Pharisees. Well, I would expect I would be angry. Any one of you probably would as well. But once I could move past my anger, my hope and prayer would be that God would sustain me or God might guide me or God might in some way reconcile me to those I love. Those would be actions that God could show God's care.
     
    In my years of ministry, I have witnessed great resilience and courage, both in parishioners and patients who may be in pain or suffering for days and and weeks, and maybe even years, waiting for God's healing. Or maybe knowing that that healing may not take place. And sometimes I talk with people who feel hopeless. Hopelessness can be a disease. It can be a disease almost as bad as many others that we are aware of. It can lead us to despair. So I sometimes tell people as sincerely as possible that as a pastor, my chief title is I'm in the hope business.
     
    I'm in the Hope business.
     
    Now, I don't mean that I'm going to try to dispense some pie-in-the-sky hope. But what I try to do is to resurrect hope -- that hope that is within us, the hope that is what Paul talks about in our second lesson, the treasure that is in earthen vessels. You know in Corinthians, Paul talks about faith, hope, and love. These are treasures that we possess within us as earthen vessels. We all have it but sometimes it needs to be resurrected. Those earthen vessels that may be afflicted but remember, Paul said, not crushed. May be perplexed but not driven to despair. May be persecuted but not forsaken. Or struck down but not forgotten. God will not leave us alone.
     
    When we pray to God, we often want God to change things. And sometimes God does change things, but sometimes God changes people. And that's what happens when I come here on Sunday morning. I am changed. I leave better than when I arrived.
     
    I teach as part of my ministry. I just recently completed a class on pastoral care skills for community clergy, and one of the clergymen who was enrolled in the class, he was a pastor in the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee. That pastor's denomination is known to have a rather conservative theology. And part of the training of these clergy who come to me, they are required to visit patients in the hospital. And six months ago when his training began, the pastor wrote that "I've always worked toward the goal of ministry where a person is brought to their knees to the point of asking Jesus into their heart so miracles can take place."
     
    Well, I want to reassure you, I would never allow him to do that to patients in the hospital. But that is the mindset in which he entered this training. But when he left just a few weeks ago, he wrote something very different that almost brought tears to my eyes. He wrote, "In the end, the most important things in life have been relationships with people." In the end, the most important things in life have been relationships with people. And I believe if we look at our lessons again for today, God feels the same way. God cares for God's people. God is with God's people. And we are the church together.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jim Bennett
  • May 27, 2018Listen To the Voice
    May 27, 2018
    Listen To the Voice
    Series: (All)
    May 27, 2018. Pastors Penny and Keith have retired. Guest pastor Tom Schoenherr preaches today on Psalm 29, and grieving the loss. We don't really know what will happen during this time of transition. But what we do know is that God's voice will continue to lead us.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
     
    This may be a day of some sadness and grief for you, as you come together this morning. You may have hoped that pastors Keith and Penny might have been here to lead this worship instead of me. I appreciate the relationship that we've had together. But I also recognize that this is a time when people who have been significant in your life, who have led the congregation for fifteen years, are not here because they've retired. There is grieving that happens.
     
    We need to recognize that, as we move forward into this time of transition. You've heard the announcement about what's going to be happening in the future. There is still opportunity for you to grieve for Keith and Penny that they're not here. And I share that grief with you, because I miss their voices, and you probably miss their voices and their presence too.
     
    But as we come together today, we're having the opportunity to grieve, but also to celebrate a new chapter for Keith and Penny, for the Holstes as they move into a new chapter in their lives. And as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit move this congregation into your new chapter. And where that will lead and what that will mean in the future. We don't really know for sure. But what we do have is a promise that as we listen to God's voice that he will continue to lead us in the days and weeks and months to come.
     
    The text for today is Psalm 29, and you read that psalm earlier. If you would like to refer to it and take a look at that in the bulletin, you are welcome. Psalm 29 is a reflection of a terrible storm, a chaotic storm that has taken place. And there are evidences of that storm throughout the psalm. There are certainly earthquakes. There is thunder. There's fire. There's the breaking of cedars. There's flooding. There is the whirling of oaks turning around. It sounds scary to me. It is a scary storm.
     
    And I think about the pictures that we've been seeing about Kilauea in Hawaii. Some of you maybe have been there yourselves. But that storm, that volcanic storm, can be scary because you see that lava, that hot lava, burning and flowing and it surrounds houses and trees and cars and burns them out. You don't want to get too close to lava because it's extremely hot. It can cause all kinds of problems, particularly also from the gases that are emitted out of the Earth. And we recognize that that volcanic storm, and the storm that's being described in the psalm, are evidence of great power. And we're left just looking at it and saying wow, out of an understanding that we don't have that power at all. We don't have any control over those storms. And that God is the one who is in the midst of it all.
     
    How do we worship a God who has that kind of power? Well, maybe we need to be listening to the voice, as we repeated again and again, the voice of the Lord. To hear that voice, that voice may be speaking to us in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty that we may feel as pastors Keith and Penny are no longer here. As we move into the future, we may sense some bit of confusion and uncertainty, and that's normal.
     
    But as we do, we also listen to the voice. Listen to the voice of the Lord. What is God saying to us in the midst of the storm? If you look at the psalm, the first two verses, the word of the Lord or the name "Lord" is repeated four times. In verses 3 through 9, there are seven "voices of the Lord," and there are ten times when the divine name is mentioned. And in the last two verses of the psalm again four times "the Lord" is spoken. So in the midst of the storm the Lord is present, and in the midst of our confusion and chaos that life can bring to us, how do we respond? How do we respond to this storm in our lives?
     
    One of those storms is certainly the retiring of beloved pastors. Another one, maybe those who are sick or dying who are part of our family and our household. A number of you have attended graduations in these days. And as we come to those graduations, there is a certain amount of sadness, as well as joy, as we see children and grandchildren graduating from high school and from college, and what the future may hold for them as well. And as we come to a time in our lives when maybe we need to make some decisions about where we're going to be living so that somebody else may be taking care of us at a time later in our lives, then in the midst of all of that this psalm is saying to us, God has this. We're in the Lord's hand. God will not forsake us. He is in the midst of the storm. He will not let you go.
     
    But we want to try to control it somehow or other, don't we? We want to figure out a way in which we can deal with this chaos with the vacuum that's been formed. And so we have questions and we wonder, why does it take so long to get a new pastor or pastors? Why can't we speed up that process and just have somebody here right away, because that's what we need. We think. Or we may think that we've lost the voice of the Lord as pastors Keith and Penny are no longer here. Where is the Lord's voice now? Does God know or care about our problems and the kinds of things that we're going through? Where is God's presence for us? Life seems somewhat out of control. It seems a little bit chaotic. Things are not certain. Where do we go from here?
     
    But the psalm says the Lord sits above the flood. God's there. He doesn't stop the flood from happening or the earthquake or the thunder or the whirling oaks or the breaking of trees. But God is there in the midst of it all. And the voice of the Lord, where is it? It is where it's always been. The voice of the Lord is with our Lord Jesus Christ who comes and is in the midst of us, who invites us to the table, who continues to speak God's word to us, who sends that Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds that we might receive a word from the voice of the Lord. That is a word that speaks hope and promise in the midst of some chaos and confusion.
     
    Where is the voice of the Lord? The voice of the Lord is also you. You are the voice of the Lord to one another. And as you gather together and have opportunity to be together, you are speaking words of love and hope and care and peace to one another that are so necessary, and you are God's voice to one another. Where is the voice of the Lord? The voice of the Lord is also in the community. People of different religions, of different cultures, of different races. People who are oppressed, people who are broken, people who are looking for hope listen to those voices because the voice of the Lord is also coming through them.
     
    Listen to the voice.
     
    So when the stormy times, when anxiety levels rise, and we feel so uncertain and a bit confused, it's important to continue to gather for worship. The importance of continuing to be here, to listen to the voice of the Lord, to gather at the table in order that you might be strengthened for the work that you are called to do. Continue to care for one another. Continue to reach out with the voice of the Lord to one another in this desperate and difficult time.
     
    Continue to hear that word gathered at the table, so that you may come to receive the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ, and there be strengthened and connected to one another again, so that your stories and your struggles and your problems and concerns are shared with one another and you can minister to one another with that voice of the Lord that makes so much difference in our lives.
     
    And also continue to reach out in service and care to all of the world that God is calling you to serve. Because you don't need a flashy, exciting pastor to continue to do the work of the Lord in the world. That's you. God speaking to you and moving you into all kinds of ways. Yeah, when a pastor comes that's exciting and wonderful. But you don't need that presence in order to continue to do the work of the Lord in this place.
     
    So, God who's enthroned in the storms of life is also the God who calls you children of God, who loves you and is with you and loves this whole world. There is awesome power in that love. And God is always faithful to us, will never abandon us or forsake us.
     
    Finally God's gift to this congregation is peace to calm the storm. Peace in the midst of the struggle to lead you in ways that can heal a broken and chaotic world. May God bless you and all the people of God say, "Glory." Glory in the name of Jesus.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Tom Schoenherr
  • May 20, 2018Parting Words
    May 20, 2018
    Parting Words
    Series: (All)
    May 20, 2018. As Pastors Penny and Keith retire, they leave us with a twofer sermon. These are their parting words to the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    [Pastor Penny]
     
    Well, you're getting a twofer for today. We decided we would do everything together. So you'll have two messages, but they'll be short.
     
    And it will seem strange after we retire when Sunday comes and I won't put on my clergy shirt. But sometimes I've worn that clergy shirt outside of worship, and I don't wear it very long without remembering that I have it on. If I go to the grocery store, this being a predominantly Catholic community I always get a few looks. And I know they're thinking, "A woman priest?" Or maybe a smile or two and right away I remember I'm wearing a clergy shirt. And my demeanor and my actions might change. I hope not, but they probably do because I realize that I am a witness, or as our gospel said, one who testifies to our Christian faith.
     
    But in truth, whether you're wearing a blue t-shirt or not, we are all witnesses. We all testify to our faith by our demeanor, by our actions. And that's good because the gospel today says we really should testify to the world. But what exactly are we supposed to testify? What is it that we want to convey to the world about our faith?
     
    I was at Rolling Ridge nursery in Webster Groves last week and a friend came up who was buying mint. His mint died. We had a pretty rough summer last summer, even though that's a hardy plant. He looked at me and said, "You're a woman of the cloth. Maybe I should have just had you come over and resurrect my plant." And then he said something really interesting. He said, "Resurrection, that was a one-time thing, wasn't it? It was kind of a 'one-off.'"
     
    And I thought he was right, that really is the heart of our faith. And that's what we hear in the gospel: that the world does not really get Jesus because he was so different, because he really was a "one-off." And in fact a lot of times we don't get Jesus because we are really part of the world. The world of nature is beautiful, especially at this time of the year. Everything that can bloom is blooming. But the laws of nature are not so beautiful: survival of the fittest, dog eat dog. The natural law is that we are born, we decay, and we die. Even where we live, the accident of where we happen to be born, sets something in motion that doesn't seem to be able to be changed. Being born in the United States gives us a much different path than if we were born in a Palestinian refugee camp.
     
    So the world seems to move with laws that just keep going along. And then there's human nature. And there too, we are kind of set. We know as humans that we are born selfish. Of course, sometimes we can do things that are better. Often our minds and our bodies lead us to hurt people, and later we feel bad. The church of course has words for this: original sin and guilt. But if you just set those church words aside, the simple truth that we all know is that we are human and we are born selfish. And so we hurt people and we hurt the world.
     
    In short, we are caught. With the laws of nature and the laws of human nature, we are trapped. We are in this machine that seems to go on without any sense of justice, that just keeps moving along. And we are caught up in it.
     
    But God would not tolerate that. God interceded. Intervened. God threw a wrench in the machine and stopped that cycle, first by giving unmerited goodness to the people of Israel as we hear in the Old Testament, but most perfectly we see that God intervened in the life of Jesus Christ. He lived for justice, and in truth he gave everything and died for justice. And with Jesus, his life defies selfishness and his resurrection defies death.
     
    Now on this Pentecost, we are celebrating that the Holy Spirit came to Jesus' followers long ago. But we also celebrate that it came to us when we were baptized, and that it is with us daily, giving us the strength to testify to the world. And we testify by our actions, by the way we treat people, by the way we raise our children, by the way we spend money, by the things that give us joy and the things that make us sad. We testify. We testify something amazing.
     
    We testify that in a world that is caught and trapped in inevitable selfishness and death, Jesus brings grace. And what that means is there is forgiveness. There are second chances, do-overs. There is the opportunity to turn your life around a hundred and eighty degrees. With Jesus there is mercy for those who don't deserve it and bread for those who haven't earned it and salvation for all, and life. Life here and life after this life.
     
    So in short, we testify. We testify that there is grace in the world. By the love of God and by the life of Jesus Christ there is grace, and that changes everything.
     
     
    [Pastor Keith]
     
    In our gospel today, Jesus says I will not leave you bereft. He's preparing his disciples for the fact that he will not be visible to them anymore, but that the Holy Spirit will come to them. And through the working of the Holy Spirit, they will have his presence to be with them all the time.
     
    The red banner that's before us today is one that was made by my mother on the occasion of my ordination back in 1974. And on that day, I acknowledged the call of God to let the Holy Spirit work through me as a minister of the gospel. The banner shows the main tools that we have to work with as they have the spirit working through us, the word and the sacraments of Communion and of Holy Baptism. And so it's through these ways the spirit works in the congregation.
     
    So as Pastor Penny and I take leave from you, there will be others who will come with the consecration of the spirit to preach and to teach and consecrate Holy Communion. These gifts of the Spirit will continue to be with you. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit doesn't just work through pastors -- that's the main thing -- but works in the congregation through the people of the congregation. Those of you who are gathering here as a people of Christ Lutheran Church, God's spirit will continue to work through you.
     
    While it's not completely accurate because it doesn't really capture the spirituality of the work, I often think of my role as a pastor of being like a coach. The coach brings guidance to a team, but the real playing is done on the soccer field or on the football field or on the basketball court, whatever the sport is. It's the players who do the playing and score the points. At the church, it's the spirit who works through all the people to do the real playing of the church in the world. The pastors kind of guide as coaches.
     
    So we've been here and we've endeavored to be good coaches for Christ Lutheran. We've spoken God's word to you the best that we know how to as you're gathered on Sunday mornings. Maybe worked and hopefully coached you well enough. We've worked with you in different ways through committees, and confirmation classes. We've been with young people. In all kinds of ways, we've tried to exert the influence of the spirit. We've encouraged the music of worship which helps people to internalize the work of God's spirit in us and to lead people to live in that spirit.
     
    But as we know one person can only do so much. When many get involved a whole lot more can be done. So our goal has been to lead in a way that all of you, or many of you, will become more and more involved in different ways of living out the gospel, not only here at church but especially out in the world. Just this week we heard of yet another person in the congregation say, well I do this and I do this and I do this in service in the community, another member of Christ Lutheran. We've been hearing that for years. We've been hearing people saying, I do this, I do that.
     
    And that's the key thing. It's mostly not what happens here on Sunday, but happens Monday through Saturday. That's the important work. You come here and then you go into the world to serve, and that's what we've been about. That's the court. That's the playing field. That's where things happen. We hope that our coaching here helps you be the church out in the world. Coaches have different styles. Some do everything but play the game, as they point out every little play that's supposed to be done on the court or on the field. Other coaches do their work in the locker room where through the work we can do all the preparations -- say this is where we're at, this is a strategy. Now you go do it. We know that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed upon the world. Jesus says, I'm only one. It's much more effective, Jesus says, that I leave and that the spirit comes so that you can be out there in the world living in my name, sharing my word in the world.
     
    And so it is with pastoral leaders. Pastors are only one. They can't do all the living of the Holy Spirit on Earth, but they can coach and teach and inspire others to live the Christian life. And I have no doubt that the spirit will continue to be active among you as you continue to accept your role as people of God in the community and in the world. So as I speak my parting words to you, I want to remind you of that phrase. Really Pastor Penny was kind of talking about this too, we hadn't coordinated quite well enough, but there's that phrase we are saying a lot last fall especially: live generously.
     
    So on the Thrivent and t-shirts, live generously. I think that's a key phrase I want to leave with you. I preached about that several months ago as well. I just really think that's a key phrase for where we are: to live in the spirit of the gospel. God was so generous that he gave us the life of Jesus. There's no greater gift or sacrifice one can make than what Jesus made for us. God has shown us that and God said to us: live generously. I've been generous to you. I gave you my son. Now with that same spirit of self giving live generously to the world. Luther reminded us of that original sin that means that we're basically selfish people. Adam and Eve were tempted right away and they succumbed to the temptation that was come to them to live for their self-interest. We as human beings are so inclined to turn in on ourselves. Jesus has given us a different way, as ones forgiven to live generously for the sake of others.
     
    This congregation has strived to do that and done it. Endeavor to do that in the spirit of generosity that lives this life that way, and I pray that you continue to do that -- to live generously as people of his congregation and as a congregation in the world. That will be a sign that indeed the Holy Spirit is alive and well among you. Because the Holy Spirit calls you to do this, I have no doubt that you will live in the way of Jesus.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, podcast, sermon, transcript, Pastor Penny Holste, Pastor Keith Holste
  • May 13, 2018Romans and Christians
    May 13, 2018
    Romans and Christians
    Series: (All)
    May 13, 2018. How do we as Christians live in a society that is so politicized? That is so anxious? That is so materialistic? That tells us again and again that we should look out for ourselves first? How do we live out our lives as children of God? How do we live in the world and for the world without being of the world? Pastor Penny takes on these questions today and offers some thoughts. Jesus gives us all we need.
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    We begin this morning in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
     
    As some of the people in the congregation know from their own experience, one game that is played at Confirmation Camp, probably every year, is called Romans and Christians. In this game the counselors, and many other adults that happen to be around, make makeshift togas out of bed sheets and they have spears that are cardboard with foil wrapped around, and then they wander around a very large area in this large camp looking for Christians.
     
    If they find Christians then they take them to jail or prison -- a special building on the grounds. They are re-enacting the persecution that the early church suffered at the hands of Rome. The Christians, of course, are the campers. So their first goal is to avoid the Romans, and avoid them long enough, to find the underground church, which will be hidden in some Grove of trees somewhere with a candle that's lit. Once they find that area, they're safe from the Romans.
     
    But safety isn't the only goal of the Christians. Once they get to the underground church where they're safe, then they are encouraged to think about those other Christians wandering out there who haven't found the church and are still in danger, and to willingly leave the safety of the church and go out and bring them in.
     
    There's still a higher goal for these campers as Christians, and that is to consider that once they are in the safety of the church, they might leave it. Not for the other Christians, but to willingly interact with the Romans and possibly, in conversation, convince the Romans to become Christian, and then they would all go to the safety of the church.
     
    And you know, even today churches do have a sense of an aura of safety about them. I think this church in particular, with its big stone walls. We feel that we are leaving day-to-day life for maybe a more sacred, safer place than arched doorways, and the stained glass windows all remind us of that. And of course that's good. You know, we need to on a regular basis extract ourselves from the everyday concerns and spend time here together, hearing the word, praying, receiving Holy Communion, and being sent out as those campers were with the faith into the world.
     
    Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Minneapolis had a fire a number of years ago. It's a church that's bigger than ours, but similar, with stained glass windows. When they rebuilt or remodeled, the stained glass windows had been destroyed. And rather than replacing them with new stained glass windows, they replaced them with plate glass, clear glass. So the front of the church is a clear window. And so while they are hearing the word and singing and coming up and receiving communion, they are seeing city buses drive by and people walking their dogs and people biking by and homeless people. So they are always aware that they're being nurtured to be sent out to bring that love to the world.
     
    Well, it occurred to me that the game of Romans and Christians would be quite different if the Romans didn't wear costumes. Because you wouldn't know who was who then, at least not from a distance. You wouldn't know where the Christians were, who the Romans were, and Christians would be very tempted to just blend in with the Romans for safety's sake.
     
    And I think that is our challenge today. Just on the radio this morning, I did hear of Christians being killed in other parts of the world, but in general we are not being persecuted the way the Romans for 300 years persecuted Christians in the early church. We are not taken to jails. We are not forced to fight gladiators and lions. And that is exactly the problem for us because we are in a position to be tempted to blend in.
     
    You don't really know who's a Christian or isn't a Christian in this world. Unless you're a priest and you wear your clerical to the grocery store as some pastors do, you don't know. And so this world, rather than persecuting us, is much more likely to ignore us and leave us alone. We can blend in. But that's the problem. There is a greater danger in blending in than in being persecuted physically, because while we won't lose our physical lives, we can lose something even more precious: our identity, our soul.
     
    It is very easy to blend in with the values of our society. To not say anything. For instance, when a friend makes a racial slur. Or to join with the media when they demonize one political party or the other. It's so tempting to feel inferior around people who are attractive, gifted, and successful by the standards of our society
     
    And I think it's very easy for us to feel anxious for ourselves or a family member if they don't get into the right class. If they don't get into the right team. If they don't get the right career that would ensure their future happiness. As if God doesn't have promises of happiness and joy for us in our futures.
     
    The writer of the Gospel of John really thought the world was dangerous. While you read in John that God loved the world, John also says the world is enslaved by the evil one. And that is exactly our challenge. How do we as Christians live in a society that is so politicized? That is so anxious? That is so materialistic? That tells us again and again that we should look out for ourselves first? How do we live out our lives as children of God? How do we live in the world and for the world without being of the world?
     
    Well, that's why we have the gospel that we have today, because Jesus says I will help you. And the first way Jesus promises to help is to give us a name. A name that sets us apart and a name that protects us. His name: Christian. We get that name when we are christened and baptized, and in baptism a seed is planted. We are given Jesus' identity. We are given his value. We are given his power. And that seed has DNA in it that, all through our lives, as we water it and nurture it spiritually, we grow and flower and are able to live out our identity as Christians, even in this world. So Jesus gives us the name.
     
    The other thing Jesus gives us is, he makes us one. He gives us Christian Community. The Presbyterian USA church is having their biennial convention in St. Louis this summer, and they expect there'll be about 5,000 people attending. So they've told the Presbyterian churches in our area: we want you to be prepared to host on Sunday morning some of these attendees.
     
    Well, one church is small, predominantly white, and they were a little apprehensive. How will our guests feel? Will they be disappointed if they outnumber us in worship, we're so small? So they looked to a neighboring church, which happened to be predominantly African American, and said let's co-host. But then it became clear that if they were going to both work together to be inviting people, they needed to know one another. So they have set up a number of events this spring to become one community.
     
    God has strange ways of making us into one community. And it's not just that there's strength in numbers. It's that when we are in community -- especially with Christians who don't always see things the way we do, especially with people who come from a different background -- we grow. We grow in our strength. We grow in our ability to maintain our Christian identity.
     
    So Jesus gives us a name and he gives us community. And the last thing we see in the gospel today is that he holds up the power of prayer. Now, you may have recognized the fact that the whole gospel today is a prayer. Jesus is praying to his Heavenly Father for the disciples, who are listening in. And if you've ever been in that situation where someone prays for you, sometimes even you didn't expect it and there you are hearing them pray for you. It's a very uplifting experience. So I want to read a few verses that come right after our gospel lesson. Toward the end of Jesus' prayer he says to the Heavenly Father, "I ask not only on behalf of these," his disciples, "but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word that they may be won." And then he explains this a little later on when he says, "I in them and you and me, Father, that they may become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
     
    In the gospel today, Jesus is not only praying for the disciples. He is praying for us. And we know from Romans 8 that he continues to pray for us and be our advocate at the throne of God throughout our lives.
     
    It is not easy to live out our values as Christians in our society, but we have nothing less than the power of God through the prayer of Christ to protect us and to empower us to carry this love out into the world.
     
    Amen
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, Pastor Penny Holste, transcript