Oct 4, 2020
Tenants in God’s Vineyard
Series: (All)
October 4, 2020. The parable of the wicked tenants is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. In his sermon today, guest preacher Jon Heerboth delves into the meaning of this reading, and what God expects of us.
 
Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
 
*** Transcript ***
 
Well, that's quite a parable. Sometimes it is hard to interpret the parables. "Why did you always talk in parables?" we ask Jesus, along with his disciples. The disciples were right there with Jesus and struggled to understand what he was talking about. What chance do we have?
 
The parable in today's gospel is easier to interpret than many, but its meaning is difficult to accept. Jesus is in Jerusalem. It's a couple of days after Palm Sunday. The people welcomed him with loud hosannas. It's been a long time since the light first shined on Jesus' listeners in Galilee. Many miles have been walked, many words have been spoken, and many wonders done. Jesus has been through the towns and cities of Galilee. He's been in the synagogues teaching and proclaiming, talking about the kingdom of heaven. He has healed every kind of disease and affliction, he's been in Gentile territory, and he's been in Judea.
 
It's been a long time, many miles walked, many words spoken, many wonders done. Everyone has heard about him or gone to see him. Now Jesus arrives at the temple in Jerusalem, and he puts them on notice. He ran off the people who were selling. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove sellers. He said they were turning a house of prayer into a den of robbers. And then he went back to healing the sick and lame and restoring sight to the blind.
 
In the gospel lesson, the leaders of the temple came to challenge Jesus. They were the wealthy, the religious elite of their day. They depended on the money spent at the temple to maintain their power. You have to hand it to the chief priests and the elders: when Jesus told them the parable about the bad tenants, they got it. They understood right away that Jesus was talking about them. Jesus showed them the truth, that they were looking after themselves and their own wealth rather than tending to the needs of God's people. Jesus held a mirror to them, and they did not like it. They wanted to arrest him, but didn't want to offend the crowds he drew, who thought Jesus was a prophet.
 
This parable is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. God's people — the vineyard — were producing fruit, but the tenants were not returning any of that fruit to God. God sent prophets, but they were rejected. Jesus is the son of the landlord who came to reclaim what rightfully belongs to his father, but his mission was violently received by the father's own tenants, the very religious leaders who were confronting Jesus on the temple grounds. Jesus told them that the stone that the builders rejected would become the cornerstone. That would be the Lord's doing, and would be amazing. Jesus also told them that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to the people who produce the fruits of the kingdom.
 
We're going to retell that whole gospel story in the Apostle's Creed in a few minutes. That's the centerpiece of our faith. To reclaim the fruits that rightfully belong to the Father, the Son sets out to restore the world to its divinely created order. Jesus' own ministry revealed what that would look like: the sick made well, sinners forgiven and restored, the poor cared for, so that the people would praise God. Jesus was here to bring wholeness to a broken world and to give us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. He showed us what God wanted creation to look like.
 
It would be easy to read this parable and turn our eyes to our pastors, our bishops, and the churchwide leaders. Like the high priests in Jesus' time, they are God's tenants in the institutional church, and should make sure the landlord is receiving the fruits of their labor. Let's not leave the entire job to the church leaders though.
 
When we lived in the country some years ago, our neighbors were all farmers. They were all tenants whose farming had expanded far beyond their original fields. They rented almost any productive parcel of ground they could find. They farmed the land and returned to the landlord cash rent, or a share of the crop — or both, depending upon their agreement. The farmers I knew, and they were very successful indeed, worked hard to keep their landlords happy. They cared for the land. The most conscientious cut the weeds in the ditches to keep the fence lines looking neat. One farmer I know made a point to travel around the country to visit his landlords in person during the winter. If the landlords were unhappy they would rent to another, and the farmer would lose production.
 
We are all like tenants, aren't we? God has given our congregation and ourselves vineyards to tend. We have our personal lives and families. We have our professional lives. We have our friendships and other relationships. We have our faith and our worship together. Our landlord expects us to produce and share the harvests from every aspect of our lives. When we read again the words of verse 43, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who produces the fruits of the kingdom," we know that our landlord will hold us to account.
 
In the lesson from Isaiah, the prophet was speaking for God to Israel asking, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done?" The vineyard was Israel and Judah. God's people were his pleasant planting. That vineyard produced only wild, sour fruit. What was the sweet fruit that God expected? God demanded justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry of oppression from the poor of the day. The prophet tried to hold the leaders accountable. What more was there for God to do? Nothing? Then God would tear the vineyard down and stop the rainfall, and God's people would soon be gone.
 
Well what are the sweet fruits of God's vineyard? What is God looking for from us? Fortunately, Matthew doesn't make us guess. If we walk back Jesus' many steps to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, we can listen again to the words from the Sermon on the Mount. Who bears the fruit? "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The mourners, the meek who inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers who will be called the children of God, the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, those who are reviled and persecuted and falsely accused for Jesus' sake. Remember, they did the same thing to the prophets who came before.
 
If we are committed to a church that bears fruit, we ought to be feeding the poor — not giving cover to the rich. We ought to be concerned about preserving the land God gave us, in terms of the earth and climate change. We ought to be concerned with treating all of God's creatures equally, and not give support to those who have made it their business to be divisive, within the church and in our society as a whole. We don't want to stand behind Jesus and wag an accusatory finger at his opponents. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the high priests and the elders, and allow ourselves to be confronted by what Jesus has to say. When we step back from the lesson and examine ourselves, we can find bits and pieces of the rebellious and self-serving tenants.
 
Our charge is to render unto God what is God's. For anyone called by God to a particular ministry, namely all of us, there is temptation to claim ownership of that ministry and to confuse service with entitlement. When we feel a sense of entitlement, we close ourselves off to what Jesus is doing in the world. We are no longer serving Jesus, but are protecting ourselves from him.
 
Paul wrote about his own sense of entitlement. He said if there was anyone who had reason to be confident, he had more. He listed his pedigree, his compliance with the law, his status as a Pharisee. As a conscientious Pharisee he was a zealous persecutor of the church. He was totally without blame. Paul says all of that is rubbish. It counts for nothing before God. He lost everything he thought mattered, because he learned that righteousness before God can only come from the work of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we learn that all of the stuff we think we own and in which we trust is rubbish. Everything that matters is God's. As tenants in God's vineyard, we can say with Paul, "But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."
 
Let us pray for God to bless us all, but to extend a hand of particular care to our pastor and professional staff at Christ, so that they may continue to remind us that we are all tenants in vineyards that are the Lord's.
 
Thanks be to God.
 
*** Keywords ***
 
2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth, Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
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  • Oct 4, 2020Tenants in God’s Vineyard
    Oct 4, 2020
    Tenants in God’s Vineyard
    Series: (All)
    October 4, 2020. The parable of the wicked tenants is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. In his sermon today, guest preacher Jon Heerboth delves into the meaning of this reading, and what God expects of us.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Well, that's quite a parable. Sometimes it is hard to interpret the parables. "Why did you always talk in parables?" we ask Jesus, along with his disciples. The disciples were right there with Jesus and struggled to understand what he was talking about. What chance do we have?
     
    The parable in today's gospel is easier to interpret than many, but its meaning is difficult to accept. Jesus is in Jerusalem. It's a couple of days after Palm Sunday. The people welcomed him with loud hosannas. It's been a long time since the light first shined on Jesus' listeners in Galilee. Many miles have been walked, many words have been spoken, and many wonders done. Jesus has been through the towns and cities of Galilee. He's been in the synagogues teaching and proclaiming, talking about the kingdom of heaven. He has healed every kind of disease and affliction, he's been in Gentile territory, and he's been in Judea.
     
    It's been a long time, many miles walked, many words spoken, many wonders done. Everyone has heard about him or gone to see him. Now Jesus arrives at the temple in Jerusalem, and he puts them on notice. He ran off the people who were selling. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dove sellers. He said they were turning a house of prayer into a den of robbers. And then he went back to healing the sick and lame and restoring sight to the blind.
     
    In the gospel lesson, the leaders of the temple came to challenge Jesus. They were the wealthy, the religious elite of their day. They depended on the money spent at the temple to maintain their power. You have to hand it to the chief priests and the elders: when Jesus told them the parable about the bad tenants, they got it. They understood right away that Jesus was talking about them. Jesus showed them the truth, that they were looking after themselves and their own wealth rather than tending to the needs of God's people. Jesus held a mirror to them, and they did not like it. They wanted to arrest him, but didn't want to offend the crowds he drew, who thought Jesus was a prophet.
     
    This parable is a powerful story that contains the entire gospel message. God's people — the vineyard — were producing fruit, but the tenants were not returning any of that fruit to God. God sent prophets, but they were rejected. Jesus is the son of the landlord who came to reclaim what rightfully belongs to his father, but his mission was violently received by the father's own tenants, the very religious leaders who were confronting Jesus on the temple grounds. Jesus told them that the stone that the builders rejected would become the cornerstone. That would be the Lord's doing, and would be amazing. Jesus also told them that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to the people who produce the fruits of the kingdom.
     
    We're going to retell that whole gospel story in the Apostle's Creed in a few minutes. That's the centerpiece of our faith. To reclaim the fruits that rightfully belong to the Father, the Son sets out to restore the world to its divinely created order. Jesus' own ministry revealed what that would look like: the sick made well, sinners forgiven and restored, the poor cared for, so that the people would praise God. Jesus was here to bring wholeness to a broken world and to give us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. He showed us what God wanted creation to look like.
     
    It would be easy to read this parable and turn our eyes to our pastors, our bishops, and the churchwide leaders. Like the high priests in Jesus' time, they are God's tenants in the institutional church, and should make sure the landlord is receiving the fruits of their labor. Let's not leave the entire job to the church leaders though.
     
    When we lived in the country some years ago, our neighbors were all farmers. They were all tenants whose farming had expanded far beyond their original fields. They rented almost any productive parcel of ground they could find. They farmed the land and returned to the landlord cash rent, or a share of the crop — or both, depending upon their agreement. The farmers I knew, and they were very successful indeed, worked hard to keep their landlords happy. They cared for the land. The most conscientious cut the weeds in the ditches to keep the fence lines looking neat. One farmer I know made a point to travel around the country to visit his landlords in person during the winter. If the landlords were unhappy they would rent to another, and the farmer would lose production.
     
    We are all like tenants, aren't we? God has given our congregation and ourselves vineyards to tend. We have our personal lives and families. We have our professional lives. We have our friendships and other relationships. We have our faith and our worship together. Our landlord expects us to produce and share the harvests from every aspect of our lives. When we read again the words of verse 43, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who produces the fruits of the kingdom," we know that our landlord will hold us to account.
     
    In the lesson from Isaiah, the prophet was speaking for God to Israel asking, "What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done?" The vineyard was Israel and Judah. God's people were his pleasant planting. That vineyard produced only wild, sour fruit. What was the sweet fruit that God expected? God demanded justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry of oppression from the poor of the day. The prophet tried to hold the leaders accountable. What more was there for God to do? Nothing? Then God would tear the vineyard down and stop the rainfall, and God's people would soon be gone.
     
    Well what are the sweet fruits of God's vineyard? What is God looking for from us? Fortunately, Matthew doesn't make us guess. If we walk back Jesus' many steps to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, we can listen again to the words from the Sermon on the Mount. Who bears the fruit? "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The mourners, the meek who inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers who will be called the children of God, the persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, those who are reviled and persecuted and falsely accused for Jesus' sake. Remember, they did the same thing to the prophets who came before.
     
    If we are committed to a church that bears fruit, we ought to be feeding the poor — not giving cover to the rich. We ought to be concerned about preserving the land God gave us, in terms of the earth and climate change. We ought to be concerned with treating all of God's creatures equally, and not give support to those who have made it their business to be divisive, within the church and in our society as a whole. We don't want to stand behind Jesus and wag an accusatory finger at his opponents. We should put ourselves in the shoes of the high priests and the elders, and allow ourselves to be confronted by what Jesus has to say. When we step back from the lesson and examine ourselves, we can find bits and pieces of the rebellious and self-serving tenants.
     
    Our charge is to render unto God what is God's. For anyone called by God to a particular ministry, namely all of us, there is temptation to claim ownership of that ministry and to confuse service with entitlement. When we feel a sense of entitlement, we close ourselves off to what Jesus is doing in the world. We are no longer serving Jesus, but are protecting ourselves from him.
     
    Paul wrote about his own sense of entitlement. He said if there was anyone who had reason to be confident, he had more. He listed his pedigree, his compliance with the law, his status as a Pharisee. As a conscientious Pharisee he was a zealous persecutor of the church. He was totally without blame. Paul says all of that is rubbish. It counts for nothing before God. He lost everything he thought mattered, because he learned that righteousness before God can only come from the work of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we learn that all of the stuff we think we own and in which we trust is rubbish. Everything that matters is God's. As tenants in God's vineyard, we can say with Paul, "But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."
     
    Let us pray for God to bless us all, but to extend a hand of particular care to our pastor and professional staff at Christ, so that they may continue to remind us that we are all tenants in vineyards that are the Lord's.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Jon Heerboth, Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46
  • Sep 27, 2020Actions Speak Louder than Words
    Sep 27, 2020
    Actions Speak Louder than Words
    Series: (All)
    September 27, 2020. We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. And actions speak louder than words.
     
    Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    As I reflected on our readings this week, and the story that Alena shared of the Archangel Michael, the phrase “actions speak louder than words” kept echoing through my head. The parable Jesus tells his listeners describes one son saying he won't do something his father wants him to do, and then thinking better of it and doing it anyway, and the other son saying of course he would help, and then choosing not to. It’s pretty clear in the end who did what their father asked of them. What each of them said in this parable is not nearly so important as what they did. Michael too, in Alena’s story, went beyond words and took action, and stood against the evil of Lucifer. Actions speak louder than words.
     
    I thought of the classic 1988 movie “Working Girl” — starring Sigourney Weaver as Katharine, a high-powered executive woman, and Melanie Griffith as Tess, her new and naïve employee. Tess finds out how true it is that actions speak louder than words. Katharine sounds so supportive, promising to present Tess’s innovative ideas for consideration. And then she comes back to tell Tess that her ideas had been rejected. But Tess finds out later that Katharine lied — Tess’s ideas were approved, but Katharine took credit for them. Katharine said one thing, and did another thing entirely, and her actions definitely revealed far more of who she was than her words had.
     
    I’m sure we can all think of times in our own lives when someone said something, perhaps believing deeply they were speaking the truth and that they would keep their promise, but like the situation with Katharine and Tess, what actually happened didn’t match their words at all. As an LGBTQIA person, I have learned that the words “all are welcome,” far from being the end of a conversation, are not enough on their own, and that hearing stories about commitments kept and actions taken that show how a community lives into that promise is far more revealing. Actions speak louder than words.
     
    Perhaps like me, you yourself may have said you would do something, and not done it. It’s easy, isn’t it, to blame the religious leaders in today’s tale, laying responsibility solely at the feet of the Sadducees? But the truth is we’ve all been there — perhaps truly wanting to make the commitment we are giving voice to, perhaps wanting to say the thing we know we should say, maybe if we’re honest wanting to look better than our sibling who has just told our parent, “No!” It’s one thing, isn’t it, to say that we’ll do something, or that we believe something, and quite another to put those words and beliefs into action.
     
    Debie Thomas, in her entry for this week on her blog “Journey with Jesus,” says this:
     
    "We are meant to be uncomfortable, to be confronted, to ask ourselves: which son am I? Am I the child who makes promises I fail to keep? Am I the daughter who talks the talk, and sincerely believes that my sacred-sounding words are enough? Am I the son who doesn’t see repentance as a lifelong business, a business that didn’t end at the altar call, or the confirmation service, or the baptism, or the newcomer's class at church, that first drew me to Jesus?"
     
    Actions speak louder than words! And action, people of Christ, especially action that meets criticism and judgment by the world around us, is not easy. It is slow, hard work that results in change. Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” And lack of action, we know, can do immeasurable harm. It's how Nazism rose in Germany. Inaction contributed to slavery lasting for 400 years on this continent. And inaction allows for the wounds of racism, violence, poverty, and homelessness to continue in our country today. It is why someone could shoot Breonna Taylor, in her own apartment and — as we found out this week — not be charged. Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.“ Action — and sometimes inaction — speak louder than words.
     
    At times, we say the “right thing” and do the “wrong thing,” and at other times we say the “wrong thing” and do the “right thing.” Debie Thomas continues:
     
    "Or am I the son who says the wrong thing, but finally repents and obeys, anyway? The child who might not sound all spiritual and sanctified, but still does the work of love and mercy when the rubber meets the road? The daughter who recognizes that God is still at work, here and now, doing new things, transformative things, salvific things? The son who changes his mind when new truth, new life, new possibility, and new hope, reveal themselves?"
     
    Our reading from the letter of Philippians today is all about transformation. Jesus, out of radical, reckless, love, offers himself completely to God, and to us. And the promise Paul shares with us is that Jesus’ supporting act of surrender changes us, too. We are empowered to not only speak justice and mercy and truth, but live it out, the way Jesus did, in actions as well as words, as Alena suggested. With Jesus, we can face the evils of this world like the Archangel Michael did, and not turn away.
     
    For us as humans, on our own, this is not possible. In our reading from Exodus, we hear that one more time, the Israelites are struggling to trust that they will be OK, and one more time, God shows them that God will provide what they need to take the next step — this time, by bringing water from a stone. God provides for us, too.
     
    Putting our faith into action is not about our own strength, or earning our place with God, but about being transformed by God, turning outward to think of God, others, and creation, before ourselves, trusting as Paul says, that God is at work in us. Actions speak much louder than words. More in these days than ever it seems, it is so important to remember how much damage inaction can do.
     
    We are all being transformed, called to humbly embody God’s justice for all of creation, one action at a time. Each day we can ask, “What am I being called to do? How can I embody God’s love and justice, for my neighbor, for my community?” And when we're unsure of what to do, or afraid, God has shown that they will guide us and provide what that need — perhaps even sending angels to walk with us on the way. With the psalmist, we can pray: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning, Alena Horn
  • Sep 20, 2020God’s Justice and Our Belonging
    Sep 20, 2020
    God’s Justice and Our Belonging
    Series: (All)
    September 20, 2020. Pastor Meagan's sermon today is on the story of the laborers in the vineyard. As we learn from our readings, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours.
     
    Readings: Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Once there was a woman who owned a small company that makes clothes. Business was steady and things were going well, and then the pandemic hit. She and her leadership team watched in shock, with the rest of the country, as sales plummeted. One of the team suggested that they make masks, and quickly they saw that had been a really wise decision. They had managed to keep most of their staff on with the help of a PPP loan, but soon they needed to hire more people to handle the extra workload.
     
    First, they hired a tech specialist to manage their online orders. The next week they brought on two people to help make the masks, and work on new designs for special fits and needs. Two weeks later they hired another person to deliver masks locally to larger clients like senior residences, care centers, and schools.
     
    The time came when all of the new staff were receiving their first paychecks, and although of course their hourly pay was supposed to be confidential, the delivery person exclaimed in surprise when they saw their check, and one of the long-time staff couldn’t help but overhear. They were frustrated because it didn’t seem right that someone who was so new to the staff, and only a driver after all, was getting paid so well. They went to the owner of the shop and complained. The shop owner replied, “Friend, I haven’t hurt you; we agreed on your salary, and you have been paid. Spend it as you wish with gratitude. I choose to pay our new staff a just wage also. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
     
    Sound at all familiar? Comparison, fairness, justice, and deserving are so much a part of our culture, and when someone gets something we don’t think they deserve — or when we don’t get something we think we do deserve — we are annoyed. It raises all kinds of questions of value, and belonging, and we’re tempted to judge who is deserving. We're all at least somewhat invested in the idea of fairness and justice. The thing is, as we learn from this parable, and from the story of the manna in the desert, God’s concept of justice doesn’t look like ours.
     
    So, what do we learn of God’s justice, from our readings today? It's easiest, perhaps, to look at where the justice of God and our concept of justice conflict.
     
    Our sense of justice says, “There is no free lunch. We get only what we earn.” Has anyone heard that? Anyone maybe said that? I certainly have that message in me that says I need to earn my place, earn love, earn approval, and at times it's even felt like I needed to earn the very air that I breathe. And I suspect I'm not alone in that.
     
    God’s sense of justice says look, every evening there's meat to eat. Every morning there's bread. No need to store anything away, no need to earn it, no pay being docked if you don’t make your quota or have to stay home with your sick child. Every evening and every morning, God provides what we need for the day.
     
    And Luther, in the Small Catechism, reminds us that this isn’t just about food and drink, but about trusting that everything we need — clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like — is provided for us, and for all people, by God. It may not look as we expected. Did you notice, the Israelites saw the manna and at first they were like, “What is that?” But unexpected as it may be, God provides enough for everyone. God’s sense of justice is that all people have what they need, for the day.
     
    Our sense of justice says, we have a right to judge whether something is just or not — that justice is based on values of fairness and equality, objective values that we can measure. Think of Jonah, and how upset he was at seeing God’s mercy for the Ninevites. Or the older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, angry because his father showed compassion and abundance toward his younger sibling, who had abandoned the family and spent his inheritance. I remember vividly how frustrated I was when a classmate received a higher award than I did at our science fair, when I had helped her at the very last minute to put her project together — and I had spent weeks working on mine!
     
    And God’s response, as today when the workers who came in first were jealous of those who came in last and still received what they needed, is that it’s not up to us. God’s sense of justice says that we're called simply to ensure that God’s abundance is available to all without judgement, and whether something is fair or equal is up to God, and not us. Our sense of justice is grounded in what seems right for us. Like the long-time worker in the clothing shop, we can often slip into wanting to be sure we are getting what we deserve. We can, out of fear perhaps, be afraid of not having enough, and feel like the only way we can be sure is to prevent others — people who are not us — from having more than we do. As hard as I have tried to divest myself from companies that I know don’t treat their employees fairly, I admit that I'm still guilty at times of making the choice for convenience rather than justice.
     
    God’s justice is grounded in relationship. Belonging. The Israelites are in it together, all getting what they need to continue their common journey. And the workers are all paid, so they can all have food and shelter and safety, so that they can continue their common work. And here’s the thing — in the end, as God sees it, everyone belongs. As Jesse was saying, we are all interconnected and dependent on one another. God’s sense of justice is about relationship and belonging.
     
    And this brings us back to the first thing about justice. We can trust that God’s plan is to provide all people with what they need, for the day. And when we have that trust, we can let go more easily of what is fair or equal, and see more clearly the deep belonging that we share with all of God’s people, and all of creation. And if we discern with God’s sense of justice, we will see the damage that racism, anti-LGBTQIA action, ableism, economic oppression, and sexism, have done to us. We will know deeply the brokenness of a community that does not allow all people access to the bounty that God has provided, the woundedness that comes from denying people what they need to survive.
     
    Today, I am thinking so much about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of many who, like the shop owner in our story, imagined and worked for a sense of justice quite different from what is often lived out in this world. The notorious RBG claimed that laws that separated people on the basis of gender, preventing women from accessing education, employment, financial resources, and so much more, were not just, in spite of the fact that so many in power were convinced otherwise. And she continued to work for justice for all marginalized people right up until her death two days ago, at the age of 87. Like our shop owner, RBG can inspire and empower us as people of faith to live out a new vision of justice that is truly about trusting in God’s abundance, ensuring that it is available to all of creation, and it is based in a belief that all people belong, in our communities and in our world.
     
    When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating the intimate presence of God in our midst, and we're experiencing in a bodily way the abundance of God, in the smallest things, like bread and wine. Just like the Israelites did. We can see how God is providing for us, and for all people, each day. We can more easily see what we do have, and know that it is enough. And we're sent out share the good news in that awareness — there is enough for all, and God means for all of God’s children to have what they need, for this day. I invite you to take a step back today, and notice. Where is God providing for you today? Like Jesse said, who are the people that are participating in sharing in that abundance? And how can you ensure that God’s abundance is available for all people, as God intended?
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16, coronavirus, COVID-19, Paycheck Protection Program, Jesse Helton, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, queer, questioning
  • Sep 13, 2020Forgiving 77 Times
    Sep 13, 2020
    Forgiving 77 Times
    Series: (All)
    September 13, 2020. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. This morning, Pastor Meagan preaches on the challenges of forgiving.
     
    Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In the 12-step community, step 9 is the process of making amends — going to those that we've harmed and doing what we can to make things right. As we do this, we often discover that the people we have harmed may also have harmed us, leading us to hold those resentments close. This can make acknowledging our own part in what happened in our relationships very hard to do. After all, who wants to admit that we did something that hurt someone, when what they did seems so much worse?
     
    The process of sweeping our side of the street, so to speak, is often long, sometimes taking years. As we think about letting go of our own resentments and making amends for what we have done, often sponsors will suggest that we divide our list of people to whom we owe amends into three parts: those to whom we're ready to make amends, those to whom we're willing to consider making amends, and those to whom we are convinced we will never, ever, ever make amends. The harm they have done to us feels insurmountable.
     
    Once the lists are made and the process of making amends begins, we set aside that third list. We start with the first one, and we slowly work our way toward healing and strengthening our relationships, asking God to guide that process. Over time, we find ourselves dipping into the second list, those to whom we were willing to consider making amends. We have experiences of asking for forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves, and we begin to trust this process of letting go of past wrongs.
     
    And often, sometimes when we least expect it, we realize to our surprise that one of those people who was on our third list has moved over to the second. We find ourselves willing to consider forgiving, and acknowledging our own part, to someone we never thought we could possibly forgive. This 12-step wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a quick and easy thing. Like Jesse said, there are so many things that can make this a challenging and complicated process. Letting go of what someone else has done, and acknowledging our own mistakes, and taking care of ourselves, and holding good boundaries takes a lot of time. This is not something we expected, or decided, or chose necessarily, but often it becomes something that happened to us, when God stepped in.
     
    And this, I believe, is the main gospel we receive from our readings today. We know from these scriptures that this wisdom is far from new. Joseph was attacked by his brothers. They considered leaving him for dead, and then sold him into slavery, where he lived for years. When they stand in front of him in today’s reading from Genesis, we are told that when his brothers ask his forgiveness, and he gives it, Joseph cries. He claims God’s work in the healing that's happened in his life, and is happening in his brothers' lives. Yes, they intended harm, and they did it, Joseph tells them. And God transformed it. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over years, as Joseph faithfully followed the path God laid out for him.
     
    Jesus tells his disciples that they are to forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times. In Jewish tradition, seven is the number of completion, of wholeness. Seventy is the number of wholeness times ten, the number of commandments — and we know from our own Lutheran teaching that none of us are capable on our own of keeping those commandments. We try, and we fail. And grace enters in.
     
    I like to say that the reason Jesus tells his disciples to forgive seventy-seven times, not just seven, is that he knew that’s what it would take. Over and over, asking for help, taking the step, falling, and starting over again, until we are complete. Whole. And through it all, as Paul tells the Romans, we belong to God. Whether we live, or whether we die, we belong to God.
     
    Last week, love — not love that comes easily, but love that takes time and commitment and work, and ultimately is impossible without God. This week, forgiveness. In the end, it’s all about relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Jesus embodies and teaches God’s wisdom for our life in community, and it’s so core to who God is that it even shows up in the way Jesus taught us to pray! “Forgive us, as we forgive others.” And as beloveds who belong to God, we learn that God forgives us, we come to forgive ourselves, too, and understand how connected we are with all of our fellow humans.
     
    When I have struggled to forgive, one of the most powerful ways I've learned to invite God in is to pray the Prayer of St. Francis. You might be familiar with it — “Make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.”
     
    At a time when I had to frequently encounter people by whom I felt wounded, I would take the time to pray this prayer, for them, and for myself, by name. Asking God to love me and love through me, because I was empty. Asking God to bring healing for my woundedness, and in the process, seeing their woundedness as well. Claiming the faith of God, for them and for myself. I had long drives at that time, and sometimes I would find that it had taken me the entire drive — nearly two hours — just to get through the prayer.
     
    So this morning, I invite you to call to mind someone for whom you would like to pray, someone for whom you feel ready to pray. If you think of someone who you realize is on your third list, that list of people who you will never be ready to forgive, it's okay to set them aside for today. Pick someone else. So having in mind this person that you're ready to pray for today, we will pray the St. Francis Prayer together for them, for ourselves, and for each other. So, take a breath and let us get ready to pray.
     
     
    Lord, make me a channel of Your peace, not mine, with my sibling
     
    Where there is hatred in me and around me, fill me with your love, and let it overflow so that it surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is injury in me and around me, fill me with your healing and forgiveness, and let it overflow so that your healing and forgiveness surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is doubt in me and around me, fill me with your faith, and let it overflow so that your faith surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is despair in me and around me, fill me with your hope, and let it overflow so that your hope surrounds my sibling
     
    Where there is darkness in me and around me, fill me with your light, and let it overflow so that your light surrounds my sibling
     
    And where there is sadness in me and around me, fill me with your joy, and let it overflow so that your joy surrounds my sibling
     
    God, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled by my sibling as to console them
     
    To be understood by my sibling, as to understand them;
     
    To be loved by my sibling, as to love them;
     
    For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
     
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35, Jesse Helton
  • Sep 6, 2020We Are All In Debt
    Sep 6, 2020
    We Are All In Debt
    Series: (All)
    September 6, 2020. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The sermon today is on God's call to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love.
     
    Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Did you catch what Paul said in the letter to the Romans today? Like we were just saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” That's an amazing statement! Take all of the law encompassed in the Old Testament, and it can be fulfilled by simply loving one another. Rather than attending to what can seem to be an endless list of rules, we can trust that if we love our neighbor, we're doing God’s will. For those of us who can get bogged down in details, this is really liberating. The only thing we need to do is love one another.
     
    It's not always as simple as it seems, however. In the time of Jesus, faithful Jewish leaders debated long and hard about the statement “Love your neighbor,” particularly asking who their neighbor was. Jesus was part of these faithful discussions, and as we've seen time and time again, Jesus often presents us with a challenge to view things from a different perspective. During one such conversation, Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, which forced his listeners to see the Samaritan, a hated enemy of mainline Jewish people, as the neighbor who saved them from the ditch. Jesus calls us not only to love, but to love without distinction.
     
    Even in small things, this is not easy. It can be hard to love the person who cuts us off in traffic, the person who gets too close to us without a mask in the grocery store, the neighbor who turns their music up at 10pm, the fellow church member with whom we've never gotten along, the frequent dog walker who doesn’t clean up when their puppy visits our lawn.
     
    The question of who we should consider to be our neighbor, who is worthy of love, is still debated today. And the truth is we are, often without realizing it, tempted to draw a line defining who is and who isn't our neighbor. Many in the United States wrestle with how to respond to our neighbors from the South who come to this country out of desperation. Police officers and community leaders here in St. Louis, and in Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle — so many cities around the country — are separated by thick walls of hate and fear. We struggle to get along with the family member whose political beliefs around these issues and others seem to go against our very core.
     
    Divisions along racial lines are more volatile than ever as the realities of racism, and the evil of white supremacy, are visible in all their ugliness. Just this week, in Webster Groves, white supremacist tagging was left in several places around our neighboring churches, making it clear that even in Webster, hatred and oppression are present. These things happen, and it's heartbreaking and appalling. At the same time, those of us who don’t live with this experience daily might find it hard to see as neighbor the person whose pain and anger at ongoing systemic oppression and violence is expressed in ways we don’t understand.
     
    Loving one another in fulfillment of the law doesn’t sound so simple when we understand that Paul was talking about loving those we find it difficult to love. In Matthew, Jesus says that if a neighbor who has sinned against us will not listen even to the church, we are to consider them to be a tax collector or a Gentile. This text has often been used to justify shunning or excommunicating someone who doesn’t measure up. But if we're to understand what Jesus is really saying here, we need to remember that, far from separating himself from tax collectors and Gentiles, Jesus often found himself the center of attention for doing precisely the opposite. Jesus talked with them, listened to them, ate with them. Jesus loved them as they were, and called them, especially, to the fullness of life.
     
    We're called to love not only when it's convenient for us, not only when our neighbor is someone we like and approve of, but to love everyone we meet, without condition. Even more unthinkable, perhaps, we're called to love those who have hurt us — those by whom we feel betrayed, or misunderstood, or abused. Sometimes we're called to love by doing the incredibly difficult work of maintaining boundaries and distance to prevent additional physical and emotional harm, for the safety and health of ourselves and our families.
     
    And love is meant to be active. We're called to practice it, in our community of faith, our families, and our neighborhoods. In Ezekiel today, the prophet says God does not want anyone to be lost. We're called to embody God’s relentless love, using the scriptures as our guide. We're called, as Moses was, to go toward the injustice, the pain, the woundedness, and proclaim God’s redemptive justice and mercy. Love one another. What does that look like? Is it even possible?
     
    The truth is, if our one primary directive, the fulfillment of all the law and the commands of God, is to love one another, to owe no one anything but love, we all fall short. None of us can love another to the fulfillment of the law. And yet, there it is. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” We owe our neighbors love. And we are all in debt.
     
    We see evidence in the readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew that God understands our plight, knows our indebtedness. In the verses immediately following this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that we are to forgive “seventy times seven times” when our neighbor asks forgiveness. When — not if — we fail to love, Ezekiel tells us we're to invite each other back to God, and remind ourselves of who we are called to be. We're all in debt. And the God of love knows this, and promises forgiveness, and life, no matter how far we fall.
     
    And it is precisely where we fall that God steps in. When I have struggled most to love, because I feel overwhelmed by my own pain, anger, judgment, the wisdom of my mentors and companions on the road has led me straight to the cross, in two steps. One, often to my chagrin, is to remember and embrace my own humanity, my own capacity to make mistakes and harm others. If the person I struggle to love is imperfect, so am I. And Christ who travelled this human road to suffering and death understands the pain I bear — the pain that we bear — and our struggle to embody love. Two, is to pray for those I don’t want to love. Not that they will see the light and come crawling to us on their knees, although that's tempting sometimes, but to pray that they have the very things we hope for ourselves. Healing. Justice. Mercy. Joy. Give them to the love of God, who can love them when I can’t.
     
    It is precisely where we fall that God steps in. For us as humans, on our own, loving to the fulfillment of the law is not possible. But with God miracles of love and healing are possible, and they happen every day. It is the love of God revealed in Jesus that redeems us from our debt. The love of God in Jesus enables us to love our neighbors, even when it's difficult. God’s love in Jesus empowers us to speak words of promise and truth, to embody God’s unbounded love and justice for all people.
     
    Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” We are called to act, to claim, out loud and clear, that God’s love extends to the very margins, and that racism, and hatred, and oppression are evils that cannot stand in the light of that love. We humans do this so imperfectly, but still, the call persists. We are all in debt. But through the grace of God we are forgiven, and we are deeply loved and capable of loving. Where can God's love work in and through you to heal brokenness in your life, your family, and especially today, in your community?
     
    “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” God calls us to fulfill the law by embodying God’s love today, for we are redeemed by God’s love for each of us, today and every day.
     
    Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Ezekiel 33:7-11, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
  • Aug 30, 2020Barefoot on Holy Ground
    Aug 30, 2020
    Barefoot on Holy Ground
    Series: (All)
    August 30, 2020. When Moses sees the burning bush and hears the voice of God, he is told to remove the sandals from his feet, for the place on which he is standing is holy ground. Today, God is calling us too. And Pastor Meagan reminds us that, like Moses, we too are standing on holy ground.
     
    Readings: Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    In case you haven't already figured it out from the children's sermon, I love going barefoot. The first thing I do when I enter my house is I take off my shoes and socks, so I can free my feet to feel the hardwood floor as I walk. And when we bring the cats out in the backyard, I go barefoot unless the wood and stone are hot enough to burn my feet. I love feeling all the different textures — the smooth wood of the deck and stairs, the knobbly cement and stone of the patio, the tickly grass between my toes, and the air and sun playing on them as we sit. There's something really grounding for me about going barefoot. It helps me to feel connected somehow, to the world around me and to the god who created it all. And being grounded, I can be ready to start a new thing: ready to learn, ready for things like Sunday School and Confirmation and Adult Forums to begin for the year. Ready perhaps to hear God, like Moses did.
     
    We all know Moses’ story. He was a Hebrew, and he should have been murdered by the midwives, because Pharaoh had ordered them to murder all the Egyptian boys. But they saved him. Because those midwives, Shifra and Puah, they didn’t follow the law of Pharaoh. They followed the law of God. So Moses lived, and was taken in to be raised in Pharaoh’s house, as an Egyptian. For some years he doesn’t realize who he is, and when he does, he can’t take the pain of his people. In a moment of anger and grief, as he witnesses yet another injustice, he murders an overseer and then runs for his life.
     
    In one sense, Moses creates a great life for himself. He finds community, he marries, he tends his father-in-law’s animals. But in another sense, Moses has lost a great deal. He is cut off from his people, and his history. Even God. Then Moses sees the flame in the bush and he hears the voice, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground!” He takes off his shoes, and he walks closer to the bush, and he is grounded again. God reminds Moses of who he is, and who his people are. God tells Moses who God is: I am. The one who has always been, the God of all Moses’ ancestors, the one who created all things, the one who is in that moment alive and present in the flame in the bush in front of Moses. Not just I was, or I will be, but I am.
     
    And God tells Moses that he hears the cries of the Hebrew people, of Moses’ people, and that he always has. Moses couldn’t bear the pain, but God can, and does. And he calls Moses to return, promising to be with him, to give him the words he needs to speak, to claim God’s justice for his people. In spite of his fear, his uncertainty about his abilities to take on this task, perhaps his shame about how he'd failed before, Moses goes.
     
    Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. Throughout history, God has always heard God’s people. God heard the Hebrew people. God heard the cries of Rizpah: the sons she had with King Saul had been murdered, and she stood watch mourning and wailing for months until they were buried. Mary, Jesus’ mother, claims that God has heard her, and not only her, but the cries of all who suffer.
     
    Not just I was, or I will be, but I am. In Stand Your Ground, the book about the history and pain of white exceptionalism and faith that a group of us at Christ Lutheran are reading together, author Kelly Brown Douglas writes, “In telling his poignant story of life in a concentration camp during the Jewish Holocaust, Eli Wiesel recalls ‘a most horrible day, even among all of those other bad days,’ when he witnessed the hanging of a child . . . . Wiesel heard a man cry out, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ To that question, Wiesel said a voice inside him answered, ‘Hanging from this gallows.’ ”
     
    And this, as Moses learns, is where God always is, when people are in pain. God hears the cries of all of those wounded by the systemic racism in our communities. God heard the cries of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and just this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, who was severely injured in a shooting. God heard the cries of several others who were shot by a white supremacist while calling for justice in Kenosha.
     
    God heard the cries of the more than 180,000 who have died from COVID-19 now, and he hears the grief of those who loved them, and those who are still struggling to recover from being ill. God hears the cries of those who have lost loved ones, and homes, and jobs, to the devastating wildfires in California. God hears the pain of those recovering from the destruction of the storms in Iowa, and the catastrophic hurricanes that have borne down on communities in the Gulf. God hears the cries of all the officers in the police and military, who face daily the pain and struggle of our community. God hears the cries of those who are unemployed, or not paid adequately, who can't feed and clothe and house themselves and their children. God hears the anguish of those living with mental illness and addiction, isolation and loneliness, and the despair of their families.
     
    And then, family of faith, God sends us. But not without preparing us for the work ahead. God teaches us who God is — the god who is always present, the god who hears people's cry. God teaches us how to live in community. Moses is sent with Aaron, and we are sent with one another. Paul, in the letter to the Romans today, talks about persevering in faith when our life together is hard, and loving our enemies in concrete ways, making room for God to be God in our lives and in the world.
     
    And as we see with Peter today in our gospel from Matthew, knowing that we will make mistakes, God continues to teach us. God reminds us that no matter what, above any nation, state, or flag, it is God who made and sustains us, our faith in God that guides us, and Christ whom we follow. As people of faith, every year we come together for Sunday School, Confirmation, Adult Forums, Bible Studies, so we continue to ground ourselves and learn more about our God.
     
    Hearing Moses’ story reminds me that we, like Moses, are standing on holy ground. God is calling to us too, and is right in front of us. Taking off my shoes, reading passages of scripture, lighting a candle, can all help me to remember that I am on holy ground. How do you “holy ground” yourself, so that you can hear God’s voice?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28, Exodus 3:1-15, Whirl Story Bible, coronavirus, pandemic
  • Aug 23, 2020What is Your Superpower?
    Aug 23, 2020
    What is Your Superpower?
    Series: (All)
    August 23, 2020. God has given all of us gifts, not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. What gifts did he give you? What are your superpowers?
     
    Readings: Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    A few years ago I got to go to Heifer Ranch in Little Rock, Arkansas with a group of youth. We spent a week doing different projects around the ranch — taking care of their animals, tending the crops as they grow for their CSA, packing food boxes. And we gathered to learn about food justice all around the world, and the benefits that a community can get from having healthy animals, and even how to make pizza completely from scratch, with just goat milk, corn, oil, and tomatoes. We even made our own cheese from the goat milk. The cornerstone event of being at Heifer Ranch, though, is a night in what they call the Global Village. The Global Village is a long trail around a lake, with houses set up that look just like what you would find in places all over the world — from Guatemala, the Philippines, Thailand, and many other places where Heifer International has worked with local communities to address issues of poverty. And they also included a refugee camp.
     
    So I was assigned to the Appalachian House for the night with three of our ninth grade boys, two of whom were Cub Scouts working toward Eagle Scout. One of them was a Master Fire Builder — which was a great asset for our house, because the first task of the Global Village evening is to trade what you have for what you need to make dinner over a fire. Fortunately for us in Appalachian House we had all the firewood, and that made our job of trading for food and supplies really easy. To add some extra challenge to the experience, one of the kids in every group was told that they were pregnant, and so they wore a water balloon in a sling the entire time that we were making dinner.
     
    The boy in our group assigned to wear the balloon happened to be the Master Fire Builder. He had been so excited about the evening, and expected to make good use of his fire-building expertise. But once he put the sling on with that heavy water balloon, and we arrived at our house and began to get settled in, our Master Fire Builder quickly realized that he didn’t feel like he could do anything at all while wearing that fragile, cumbersome balloon. “I can’t do anything!” became a refrain. It turns out, the other Cub Scout in our group was quite a good fire builder himself, and after a short time the two Scouts were busy at work discussing the best way to set up the fire, and which sticks would make the most viable kindling.
     
    As I watched them, I noticed that our Master Fire Builder was not only really good at building fires, but also had a really profound way of supporting and empowering his friend, offering insight and encouragement in a way that allowed his friend to recognize and develop his own gift for fire building. In the meantime, our third Appalachian villager just kept finding ways to help. He gathered sticks and broke them down. He cut carrots, and then potato, and went for water. He washed the dishes, helped stir the pot, and transferred food into bowls so that we could eat. And I still say today, I think we had the best dinner in the entire camp! Scrambled eggs, carrots, potatoes, and onion. And the Cub Scouts even knew how to make really good rice — not the instant kind — over the fire, something I would never have been able to accomplish. And later in the evening, when we noticed that there were two wasps in the house where we were sleeping, I found myself able to trust them when they assured me that the wasps were as tired as we were, and would not bother us overnight.
     
    The gifts that each Appalachian House member had were all valuable, and together they allowed us to eat well, stay safe, and have fun along the way.
     
    So a mere six months ago, February 26, we celebrated Ash Wednesday together — my first Worship time as your Pastor. Remember that? Time gets so weird in times of transition, doesn’t it? Karen and I can hardly believe that we haven’t lived here forever. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before. And yet it's only been a short time, really. A short time in which I have learned so much already. And part of what I have experienced in these months is what my Appalachian House team learned during their night in the Global Village.
     
    I noticed it first in that Worship Team, as various gifts of creativity, organization, Biblical knowledge, and music came together in a way that energized all of us, and give us life now as we continue to re-imagine Worship in Corona-tide and beyond. I have seen it in the ways in which gifts we didn’t need in the same way before — gifts for making use of technology in so many different ways — have become essential, and Mike and Dave’s willingness to share those gifts has supported our Worship life together as we join in Worship from all over the country, even at one point from the middle of a lake! Most recently, I have been so grateful for those who have expertise in building maintenance and construction, as we have faced multiple challenges in caring for the Mead Center.
     
    And this is exactly what Paul talks about in our reading from the letter of Romans today. God has given all of us gifts — each one of us — not just for ourselves, but for the good of all of God’s creation. Isaiah tells us we were formed out of the earth to bring God’s love and justice to the world, and God continues to teach us and form us. Paul calls us not to give in to the messages that we hear that tell us we need to stand on our own, look out for ourselves, or that we don’t have anything to give others, but to be transformed by the Spirit, and recognize our place in the body of Christ. To recognize that we, as God’s children, are all parts of one another, and if any one of us is missing, we all lose out. Christ’s body is not complete without us. And as we grow in wisdom, we get better at seeing God at work in us, in others, and the world around us.
     
    And we continue to learn about the gifts we have been given throughout our lives. All of you heading back to school this year have the chance to work on building the gifts you already have, discover new gifts you didn’t know about before, and to help your students and your classmates and your friends discover their gifts too. School can seem disconnected from our faith lives sometimes, but really it is sacred space to learn about who God created us to be. And those of us not in school are called to keep learning, too.
     
    This week, at our Council meeting, we talked about the visioning work that we're beginning. We're asking those big questions — where are we today? What is working well for us, and what needs to be transformed? Where is God calling us, as we look ahead to what is in store for Christ Lutheran Church?
     
    Asking these questions can be a little scary, because change is hard. And it can be really exciting, as we unleash the gifts among us in our family of faith, and seek God’s will for how we can be church in our community today. And one of the important places to start is to recognize the gifts of God among us. I asked the Council when we met this week, and I asked the children this morning, and I ask you now: what are your superpowers? What are the gifts that God has given you, to be shared with your family, and your neighborhood, and this community of faith?
     
    In a moment I'll share some of the gifts that the Council shared at their meeting, and we'll pull the white board back up and see some of the gifts that the kids named as well. So, as we did with the kids a little bit ago, take a minute to share your superpowers with us by typing them in chat, and I will do my best to add them to the white board as we sing the Hymn of the Day.
     
    The promise of God stands firm, in the midst of pandemics and all the challenges we face in our life. God’s word will guide us, and we all have a place in the body of Christ.
     
    What are your superpowers?
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 51:1-6, Romans 12:1-8, community supported agriculture, Karen McLaughlin, Mike Wagner, Dave Ringkor, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Aug 16, 2020Nevertheless, She Persisted
    Aug 16, 2020
    Nevertheless, She Persisted
    Series: (All)
    August 16, 2020. In today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. He claims that all are beloved, and yet he refuses to help the Canaanite woman and calls her a dog. Nevertheless, she persisted. And she shows us something of what it means to be a protestor, of the highest order.
     
    Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    Is anyone else feeling kind of tired this week? Like you're spinning your wheels and you're not getting anywhere? As if no matter what you say or do, it’s falling on deaf ears? I am so tired of looking at other people’s eyes over their masks, or seeing them in little squares on our Zoom screens. Weary of wondering how to spend free time, holidays, with options so limited, always calculating the risk. Parents, teachers, and students are wading through pages of plans and protocols and weighing all the choices for the upcoming school year — none of them ideal, all of them hard. And we all want more than anything to be fully in community, safely. There are many who are living in loneliness, and grief, and isolation these days. Perhaps highlighted a bit as we edge back to “normal” but we can’t quite get there. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like one more Zoom meeting, and I’m going to go soak my laptop in the water pooling on the Mead Center roof! But maybe I should just sit that Zoom meeting out instead. We're all a little weary in different ways, experiencing stress and grief, and to be honest, some trauma. Our brains are understandably a bit sloggier than normal, and our capacity perhaps lower than we feel it should be.
     
    And then today, we have this gospel. The one where Jesus, Jesus, calls the Canaanite woman, who is just trying to save her daughter, a dog. Maybe we should just sit this reading out? Or maybe, if we take a moment to breathe, there is something to be learned from the story, as there always seems to be in the end.
     
    For one thing, if you are feeling worn out today, we can hear in this story that we are not alone. The Canaanite woman comes to the square, crying out for help, and nobody listens to her. And although she doesn’t say how long her daughter has been possessed, we do know that this isn’t the first time she has made her plea. The disciples say she keeps yelling, and they ask Jesus to send her away or make her stop. When Jesus says her problem is not his responsibility, she is not his responsibility — in spite of the fact that she as a Canaanite is of the house of David just like Jesus is — the woman comes right up to him and names their common ancestry saying, “Son of David, help me.” And this is when Jesus, the Son of God, equates her to a dog. Maybe he should sit this one out!
     
    Just because our brains at their best learn really well through repetition, if we take a look at how Jesus taught and the stories he told, we will see that this is not the first time Jesus has addressed the place and beloved-ness of someone seen as an outcast, someone like the Canaanite woman. Jesus likes to give us the same message again and again, to make sure we can get it, and that’s especially helpful with our brains a little bit foggy. And most of the time, the lesson is: all are beloved. This message starts for us today with our Isaiah text: “Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” No limits to God’s embrace all through the Older Testament. And Jesus’ ministry carries that through.
     
    Think about the Prodigal Son. He too is unheard, outcast, and he calls himself a servant not worthy of sonship. And his older brother would certainly have agreed. But their father claims him as a child. God claims them both as beloved. The Good Samaritan was rejected by those around him simply because he's a Samaritan. But as the parable unfolds, we come to see that this person we least expect — the Samaritan, of all people — is the one Jesus chooses to lift up as good, the one we will come face-to-face with when we are laying in the ditch. And then there is the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Zacchaeus and other tax collectors, and on and on. There are countless examples of God welcoming the outsider, Jesus lifting up the outcast.
     
    And still, today, Jesus takes away this woman’s humanity by the language he uses — explicitly excludes her from the message he himself has given us over and over, that all are included as God’s children. I think we all have those days, don’t we? When as hard as we try, we in our humanity fall short of our ideals. We speak about patience, and turn around and snap at those closest to us. We do our best to embody grace, and then growl through our mask at the cashier checking us out at the grocery store, or snarl over the phone at the person trying to solve our internet issues. We preach forgiveness, and then we realize, it means the neighbor whose dog won’t stop digging up our lawn, too.
     
    We claim, as Jesus did so many times, that all are welcome, all are beloved, and then we become aware that although we find it easy to welcome people with disabilities, our community, workplace, or school is not actually welcoming for LGBTQIA people. Or we hear the voices of our black siblings, and come to realize that, in so many places where we take our comfort and belonging for granted, they do not feel valued, heard, or even safe. We all have those days — and we all have those barriers within us.
     
    Matthew shows us a Jesus who is fully human, as well as divine. And in today’s gospel we see a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity. And we learn from what we see Jesus doing in this story how we are called to respond when we are caught in our blind spots, when we hit a wall. We don’t know why or how it happened. Maybe Jesus was tired, and caught off-guard by the woman’s plea and the disciples’ reaction. Maybe Jesus wanted to demonstrate in full ugliness what we shouldn’t do, almost like a living parable. However it happened, in that moment the Canaanite woman doesn’t challenge his words, but says that even dogs deserve to be fed. She reflects Jesus’ words back to him, highlighting just how awful his comment was. Called out, Jesus doesn’t make excuses, or explain why he was right or what he really meant. He hears her, perhaps for the first time. And then, Jesus heals her daughter.
     
    In the end, this story is about Jesus. But it is also very much about the Canaanite woman. The one with the ill daughter. The one seen as an outsider. The one called a pest, and then a dog. The one who had cried out, over and over. The one who had been unheard, and explicitly excluded. And yet, she didn’t give up. They tried to push her away and silence her. Nevertheless, she persisted.
     
    The Canaanite woman, family of faith, is in truth a protestor, of the highest order. One of the more famous writings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his letter from the Birmingham Jail, which he wrote while imprisoned for his own persistence as a protestor. In it he says, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The Canaanite woman seems to have known this. She knew Jesus could heal her daughter, knew she was worthy of healing. And like Dr. King, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement, she didn’t allow attempts to silence her to stop her as she sought what she so desperately needed.
     
    In all of our history, people claiming their right to justice and dignity and their place among God’s children have done as the Canaanite woman did. Slavery ended, women achieved the right to vote, LGBTQIA people claimed their right to exist, and so many other injustices have been righted because of people whose voices have rung out persistently over the years, including today, as black people demand that the long history of systemic racism and brutality against them end.
     
    Even in our church, people who have been shuffled to the side or out the door have claimed their place in the pews and the pulpits, living out the courage and desperation of the Canaanite woman in their own times and places. Because of their persistence, this year we celebrate the anniversaries — 50 years since women could be ordained, 40 years since the first black woman was ordained, and 10 years since the Churchwide Assembly voted to allow ordination for LGBTQIA clergy. All of this took not days, weeks, or months, but years of sacrifice and courage and persistence, people following the lead of the Canaanite woman insisting she be heard.
     
    So we of the soggy brains and weary souls and short tempers can take heart today. The Canaanite woman was tired too, but her persistence succeeded. And even Jesus hit those walls and barriers and tripped up sometimes, as he embodied the vision that God’s love and mercy are for everyone. But that vision rekindled. The promise of God to Isaiah, and Jesus’ challenge and invitation to live out God’s justice, persist, just when we think we are ready to sit this one out. Paul assured us God’s mercy is wide when we fall, and the Canaanite woman is leading the way.
     
    Thanks be to God.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed, asexual, 2009 vote
  • Aug 9, 2020The Storms of Life are Nothing New to God
    Aug 9, 2020
    The Storms of Life are Nothing New to God
    Series: (All)
    August 9, 2020. Elijah, and Jesus' disciples, were all beset by “storms” at different times in today’s readings. And surrounded by all the chaos in the world today, we may feel that we've been blown off course and are lost. But Pastor Meagan preaches today on the comfort that comes from knowing that the storms of life are nothing new to God.
     
    Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    2020 is bringing us some pretty mighty storms so far, isn’t it? The initial onset of the pandemic, uprisings around racism, economic uncertainty, political upheaval, the resurgence of the virus that we're seeing right now. Christ Lutheran family, we started out this year, and our ministry together way back in the end of February, thinking that we were headed in one direction. It seems the next thing we knew, we were blown so far off course that we aren’t even sure where we are anymore sometimes!
     
    So it's quite comforting, isn’t it, to know that the storms of life are nothing new to God. The disciples, and Elijah, were all beset by “storms” at different times in today’s readings. Elijah has been chased, run out of town by Jezebel’s threats to his life. Many, although not all, of his fellow prophets had lost their lives, and Elijah is exhausted, afraid, despairing. He finds a cave to hide in, and he has no idea what to do next. And even if he did, he doesn't have the energy to do it. And the disciples, having been sent out in a boat to cross the lake ahead of Jesus, encounter a storm. And they are trapped on the lake in the boat, wondering if they will survive.
     
    And into this chaos, God appears. A few weeks ago at Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit appearing in wind and fire, enabling the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned, empowering them to boldly and publicly speak truth when they had been hiding from the authorities for days, I reflected that sometimes God comes to wake us up! To shake us from our complacency, to bring us out of our comfortable places, leading us to share God’s justice and mercy and love with the world. And sometimes, like today, God comes to heal, to feed, to calm, and then equip us to go out again.
     
    As he fled from Jezebel an angel came to Elijah, offered him food and water and rest, and then left. And the angel returned, to offer more food and water and rest, and left again. And then the angel returned to bring Elijah to the cave, where our reading today starts. And God appears.
     
    I picture the disciples, buffeted and tossed by the wind and the rain in an open boat, holding onto each other and the sides of the boat trying their best to not fall out, and to keep the boat balanced, perhaps struggling to figure out what direction they should be heading, if they can manage to direct the boat at all. And then, they see what they think at first is a ghost — until Jesus tells them it’s him. Most of the disciples stay in the boat, still holding on, perhaps gaping in disbelief at the figure that's coming towards them on the water. Peter, in classic Peter fashion, jumps out of the boat into the water and begins to walk toward Jesus, wanting to see for himself if it’s really him. And Jesus has to remind him, once again, that Jesus is God and Peter is not — Peter will not stay afloat without Jesus.
     
    So, where are you today? Are you with Elijah, laying in the cave, resting, feeling completely alone in the chaos and grief and the danger, trying to recover and make sense of what has happened and decide what to do next? Are you with the disciples in the boat, struggling to hold on while the storm continues to rage all around you? Are you Peter, leaping out of the boat into the chaotic waters, making your way toward Jesus?
     
    Wherever you are right now, it is comforting to know that the storms of life are nothing new to God. Elijah feels so alone, as we often may in these situations, and yet we can see from the outside that he is not alone. The angel offers such practical guidance for Elijah, and for us. Eat. Drink. Rest. Repeat. I remember a time some years ago when I was at a really low point in my life, wracked by fear and anxiety, struggling at times to do even basic things, and a friend gave me this exact advice. Eat. Drink. Rest. Repeat. This is sacred direction, family of faith, if you are exhausted. Jesus himself sought time to rest and reconnect with God often in the gospels. And he does again at the beginning of today’s gospel. The disciples in the boat probably felt abandoned by God too, with Jesus off who knows where while they fought for their lives in the storm. And yet, they were not as alone as they thought. Jesus is with them, in the storm, ghostly as he may look.
     
    In the middle of the storm, God is with us. In that low point of my life, through the voice of my friends and the presence of the Spirit in silence, God was with me, bringing healing and new life and peace. When we are exhausted, and feel afraid, alone, and even abandoned, God is there.
     
    Where are you seeing God, in the midst of the storms you are living in, right now? Is God in the sheer silence, as you rest and seek God? Is God off the port bow, almost glowing as they make their ghostly way through the chaos toward you? Is God in the boat, holding you safely as you ride out the storm together? Are you struggling through the storm, trying to stay afloat on the water, wondering if God is actually there?
     
    It is comforting to know that the storms of life are not new to God. And when we have had food, water, and rest, God reminds us that we're not alone. God made the earth, the sea, the sky, light and dark and everything in between, all the animals, the birds, plants, trees, and each one of us, bringing creation of out unformed chaos. And even in the midst of the sometimes chaotic life around us, God is present, continuing to bring life and make a way through the storm.
     
    Elijah felt alone, but God sent Elisha, and the 7,000, so they could walk together in faith, claiming the goodness of God. And the disciples had one another, and they had Jesus, as they made their way through the storm. In the middle of the chaos, God is with us, preparing us to go back out again, sharing the good news that God can handle the pandemic, and racial injustice, and political upheaval, and economic uncertainty, and loneliness, and fear, and anxiety.
     
    As we continue our ministry together, Christ Lutheran family, we may not know yet what the coming months will bring, but we can trust in the promise that God is with us. Your Council is reflecting on where we are and where God is calling us, and we invite you to do so too. Like Elijah, we hear God in the sheer silence. Like the disciples, we see Jesus navigating the stormy water in front of us, and claim the good news that God has not abandoned us. We eat, drink, rest, and continue the journey, until everyone knows. The storms of life are not new to God. And with God, we have nothing to fear.
     
    Thanks be to God!
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Meagan McLaughlin, 1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33, coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Aug 2, 2020More Than Enough, From Next to Nothing
    Aug 2, 2020
    More Than Enough, From Next to Nothing
    Series: (All)
    August 2, 2020. Guest pastor Karen Scherer preaches today on the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Even though they had next to nothing, the crowd all ate and were filled, because Jesus can turn "next to nothing" into more than enough.
     
    Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
     
    *** Transcript ***
     
    "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself." We can only imagine Jesus' grief and his mourning over the news of John the Baptist's murder at the hands of Herodias and her daughter. John, who was his cousin. John, who had baptized him in the Jordan. John, who had proclaimed repentance and the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, whose proclamation Jesus had picked up when John was arrested. And if John's death wasn't enough, this difficult news was piled on top of the hurt that he must have felt at having been rejected in his own hometown of Nazareth, just before hearing of John's terrible death. So Jesus withdrew to actually a wilderness place — an isolated place — to be alone, to grieve, to mourn, to pray. And when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. They too must have just heard the news regarding John. And just as Jesus, their sojourn may have been an act of grief, or bewilderment, or something else desperate enough for them to end up in a wilderness place with no food, on that hillside far away.
     
    We too may know of such feelings of grief and bewilderment. We are at a particular turmoil in our country. Black lives are clamoring for justice, and white lives are just beginning to understand. Asylum seekers, even children, are being imprisoned, detained. Unknown or unmarked federal law enforcement personnel are snatching citizens from the streets and driving them off in unmarked vans. The backdrop of this turmoil is a pandemic that has caused fear, closed businesses, created massive job losses, and tempts us to make mask wearing a political statement. The world seems to be in chaos. We may not recognize where we are anymore, but I'll tell you it's some kind of wilderness.
     
    When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured the sick. Jesus sees them and he sees us. He not only sees those who are sick and infirm. He sees in the crowd their dispirited, heartbroken pain. Herod's act of killing John was just the final straw for some of these folks. Roman occupation, oppression, corruption. Too big to overthrow, too cruel to endure. "What is left?" they must have been thinking. Jesus' reaction to seeing them is a physical one, one that the English word "compassion" does not do justice to. He was gut-wrenched when he saw the crowd. And so he goes to them, and he goes among them. And he begins healing them, raising their spirits, healing their broken hearts, curing their infirmities.
     
    D. Mark Davis has a great blog spot called Left Behind and Loving It. And he writes this: "A revolutionary leader, like a zealot, could have used this moment to rally troops. Five thousand men, plus women and children, in one place — angry or bewildered or dispirited over the death of John the Baptizer — would make a great start to an army that could have stormed Herod's palace. Instead it becomes a feeding story, a healing story."
     
    Well truth be told, in these current times I find myself much of the time feeling much more like a zealot than a disciple. I find myself feeling angry and sad and anxious. And if you're like me, after many gut-wrenching hours swiping through our social media feeds, we have not seen much cause for hope. Divisions increase. Memes plant seeds of irrational bias. And resigned, depressed, left without hope or otherwise spiritually impoverished, many wonder what hope do we have. In our secular society, where do we look for deliverance? We look to our government, our courts, our church's leadership. But no person or institution can be granted universal moral authority. All such authorities in fact have been systematically eliminated. We disagree on what is fact and what is truth today. So we find ourselves just wanting it to all go away.
     
    When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This is a deserted place and the hour is now late. Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." The disciples just want to send them away. And I suspect that they too just wanted to hunker down with Jesus. And besides, there was nothing they had to give them. Jesus said to them, "They need not go away. The location of abundance is here — in here, in the heart — not elsewhere. They need not go away. You give them something to eat." And they replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." Ah, the response of scarcity. We just have a couple of fish sandwiches. What are we going to do with fish sandwiches? And he said to them, "Bring them here. Bring them to me." And then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass ("ordered" meaning more invitation). "I've got something. I've got a plan. I've got something to give you." And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples. And the disciples gave them to the crowds, and all ate and were filled. And they took up what was left out of the broken pieces: twelve baskets full.
     
    Where do we look for deliverance? What hope do we have? Not in miracles from on high, no. But in the presence of God with us. We disciples may look around and believe that we are out of earthly possibilities. Except that God has inhabited the stuff of this earth. God has come to us in flesh and blood, in bread and wine, in water and word. God has claimed us at baptism. Blessed and broken and shared, Jesus not only offers us bread, but his very life, his presence, his compassion, his promise with us now. "This is my body and blood given for you." For nourishment, for healing, for freedom to act. God has promised that no devil, no ruler, no mob, no injustice, nothing in all creation will separate us from this love of God in Christ Jesus. That's good news for days in the middle of global pandemic.
     
    When you too feel like I've got nothing or next to nothing — I've got next to nothing left for my people, next to nothing left for this ministry, next to nothing left for my family and friends, next to nothing left for this moment... Well, good news: next to nothing is Jesus' favorite thing to work with! Bring it to me. Bring them to me. Like the disciples, we will never have or be enough by ourselves. But Jesus is enough. Sustained by Jesus and his promises, we've returned to the fray with hope. Where worldly wisdom suggests there is no cause for hope, we have hope. And we have so much to share. Jesus invites us to share the food with which we have been fed: bread and wine, mercy and sacrifice, community, hope, faith, and love. And hope and faith and love bubble up in fits of joy as God uses us little Christs to feed our neighbors, to speak the truth we know, and to act and work for the kingdom of God, where we know that all are welcome and all are fed. If you feel like you've got next to nothing left some days, it's enough. Because Jesus can turn next to nothing into more than enough. Bring it to me.
     
    And so may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
     
    *** Keywords ***
     
    2020, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, YouTube, video, Pastor Karen Scherer, Matthew 14:13-21, D. Mark Davis, Left Behind and Loving It, COVID-19, coronavirus