Musings Sermon Starter

Beloved, Let us Love

Image of a yellow lab looking into the eyes of a little girl whose back is to the camera. The background is grass and trees.

Sometimes I feel like I keep saying the same things and the echoes go on and on with no one listening. It’s how I’m feeling now as I contemplate the familiar words of 1 John 4:7-8: 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. How have we failed to take in these words and let them shape our actions, our relationships, our communities? These words are not consistent with the ways in which we have divided ourselves one from another, even within Christianity, never mind outside of the church.

Hearing these words in conjunction with the story of Peter baptizing the eunuch in Acts and Jesus’ explanation of the vine and branches in John, I wonder how it is we have gotten to a place where church is declining. Peter had his misgivings about the eunuch and then could not refuse to baptize him when the opportunity came. Shouldn’t this story be an invitation for us to baptize all those who come seeking with passion and commitment? Moreover, shouldn’t this story invite us to journey with those we perceive to be different from us? I mean, we never really know through whom God is working, do we? Peter certainly didn’t think a eunuch would be called by God, and yet…

While I strongly suspect the words in John 15 about the vine and branches are more the Fourth Evangelist and less Jesus, there is truth in them, though maybe not the truth that is usually extracted from them. Jesus is the vine. God is the vinegrower. We are the branches. We are connected to one another and to the Sacred and function best when we live into that connectedness, that interdependence. Let’s not worry about who isn’t abiding in sacred community; that isn’t our job. Our job is to grow, to thrive, and to bear fruit, fruit that will last. Fruit that is nourishing and inviting for all those who feel disconnected and lost and, yet, are still seeking – maybe like that eunuch. Who can be part of the vine is not ours to determine; it is up to the vinegrower and the vine itself. We are simply meant to invite and enfold those around us with radical inclusion and hospitality. There’s nothing that says that every branch is identical or every fruit the same.

In a time when we long for pandemic to be over and we know that it is not, practicing love for one another must be our first priority. Now is not time to stop wearing masks, keeping physical distance, and staying apart. Those who say they are Christian and refuse to wear a mask and insist on acting as if pandemic were not real, are not loving their neighbors as themselves. 1 John isn’t talking about easy love, like loving chocolate cake or loving kittens, puppies, and babies. The writer is inviting us to live in the challenging kind of love, agape, the love that God has for the whole of Creation, the Love that Jesus embodied, the Love that the world could not tolerate, the Love that brings new life from dreadful tombs of death. This is hard and it takes our attention and intention. I’m not sure it comes naturally to human beings.

Think of all the ways in which human beings display their lack of love for neighbor and/or self. There are wars. There is gun violence. There is domestic violence. There is racism. There is White supremacy. There is fear of those who seem to be other. There is judgement. There is division created by human beings where God intended unity. What will it take for us to abide in Love, to attach ourselves to the vine in ways that bring new life to ourselves, our communities, our neighbors?

I honestly believe we can do better at embodying Divine Love. With intention, we can dismantle the systems of hatred and create systems of justice. Trusting that we are all Beloved and that God’s ways are all about Love, we can stop our fear-based responses and become better stewards of Creation, including church in all its varied forms.

May we all abide in Love, especially in the uncomfortable places, and allow that Love to calm our fears, educate our ignorance, and heal all that is broken – one person at a time if need be. Beloved, let us love one another…

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 2, 2021 Acts 8:26-40  • Psalm 22:25-31  • 1 John 4:7-21  • John 15:1-8

Photo: CC0image by Stephen Chantzis

Musings Sermon Starter

Celebrating Resurrection

Image of a tan baby bunny sitting in front of a bird’s nest with 3 colored eggs. All in a green field with small, white flowers.

A sense of Resurrection hit me early this year. Yesterday I was able to get a vaccine sooner than I had anticipated. I needed to be in a hospital setting because of my medical conditions and the possibility of an allergic reaction. I have been on all kinds of waiting lists for a few weeks and had to turn down one place because it wasn’t a hospital. Yesterday, though, my wife came home from a morning appointment at the VA (she’s a veteran) and told me that if I went there right then, I could get a vaccine. Good news, indeed. I have had to keep my exposure to the world so minimal over the last 13 months because of my high risk. Now I am imagining what I can do five weeks from now when I am fully vaccinated. It won’t be anything exciting by most people’s standards. Just things like the dentist, the ophthalmologist, a mammogram, and in-person PT for my frozen shoulder. I might be brave enough to go to the Asian market for somethings that aren’t available on Instacart, though I won’t go in if it’s too crowded. I also like to dream about having friends who also vaccinated over this summer – outside, masked, and distanced, of course. It feels like a bit of resurrection is on the horizon.

I can’t help but think of the heavy grief those women carried to Jesus’ tomb along with the anointing spices. They had no idea that they would be greeted by Resurrection. By John’s account, Mary Magdalene mistook the Risen Christ for the gardener. Imagine how much her spirits lifted when she recognized her beloved friend, rabbi, teacher. By Mark’s account the women were terrified by the very idea of Resurrection; they ran away. I get that. If I had been there, I would have dropped my anointing spices and ran for home. No one expects the power of God to change the laws of nature. No one expects Resurrection and when it happens we should be awestruck, if not also filled with fear and trembling.

Even today. Yes, today, when we encounter Resurrection, we must also be open to the awe, or the fear, or the terror. God’s power is so much more than anything we encounter on a day-to-day basis. And, let’s face it, these days we are weighed down by the grief we carry. All of us know at least one person who has died from COVID. Most of us know many. And then there is the loss of “normal,” whatever that meant for us. When we encounter Resurrection this year, will the heaviness of the grief we carry lessen? Will we be able to breathe a little more deeply with the reminder that God is truly with us through everything?

Also, with the Resurrection comes the knowledge that nothing will ever be “normal” again. Encounters with the Risen Christ were not the same as being with Jesus before his death. He was different. He had to identify himself every time he showed up for any of his disciples. New Life means different life. This is good for us to remember as we look at the end of pandemic, whenever it comes. There are things that will never be the same again. Masking in public is likely here to stay. Handshakes are probably a thing of the past. Many of us will never feel comfortable being part of a large crowd again. Some of us will be reluctant to eat in restaurants or even get takeout again. And church will be different, too. We don’t know when or if we’ll be able to sing together again. We won’t pass the offering plate or pass the Peace. We won’t be handing out bulletins or casually hugging each other. Who knows what kinship time will look like. Are potlucks a thing of the past? Church might have to take a cue from the Resurrected Christ and be different in appearance and action.

While most of us resist change and long to “get back to normal,” Resurrection reminds us that this is not how the Body of Christ started out. We, as church, have an amazing opportunity to appear and behave differently, like the Resurrected Christ. Maybe we won’t have to point out our wounds or explain that we are still the church, yet we can embrace transformation. We can emerge from pandemic very unlike we were prior. Yes, it’s scary not to know the future shape we will take. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to take risks. Yes, it seems counterintuitive to intentionally embrace more change when so much has already changed. Some may, in fact, run away in fear. That’s okay. The women ran away at first. Yet, we know they told the story at some point because here we are a couple thousand years later.

With the promise of new life, life after pandemic, on the horizon, may we all embrace the power and truth of Resurrection this Easter. May we move through our fear and welcome the differences that will eventually become normative. May our congregations live into transformation and Resurrection in a way that beckons to those who have yet to find welcome in the church. It’s okay to be anxious or afraid. We have yet to know what resurrection will look like in the wake of pandemic. We are still caught somewhere between Maundy Thursday and Easter morning. We will celebrate Easter in spirit this week. It may be several more months before we get to experience New Life in-person. The key is to be open to whatever comes and give thanks for the promise of Resurrection.

Happy Easter!

Looking for sermon help? Try here.

RCL – Year B – Easter – April 4, 2021

Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9  • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43  • John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Photo: CC0image by Rebekka D

Musings Sermon Starter

In Search of God’s Good Pleasure

Image: a field crowded with sunflowers in full bloom

Anger. Outrage. Despair. These feelings coursed through my body, and linger even now. At first I heard that none of the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder were indicted. Then I saw that one officer was charged with “wanton endangerment.” Not because Breonna Taylor died. Rather, because the other bullets endangered Breonna’s white neighbors. It is no wonder that uprisings are happening in Louisville and other cities. If I were not high risk for COVID-19, I would be out on the streets protesting police brutality, state sanctioned murder. It is hard for me to stay at home and do nothing other than pray and write.

How much more blood has to fill our streets before we recognize that our militarized policing system, which grew out of slave catching, has no place in civilized society. And the criminal legal system is no better. The officer was indicted for the bullets that threatened white neighbors, not for the bullets that ended Breonna’s life. There is no justice to be had here. Police need to be held accountable for the lives they have stolen from POC.

Yes, as white people we are conditioned to call police when we feel we are in danger. There is so much wrong with this. What constitutes danger? Surely, it has to be more than the presence of someone whose skin is not white. And police cannot continue to justify their murdersome ways by claiming that they fear for their lives. This is ridiculous. This white supremacist nonsense is lethal to too many of our neighbors. It must stop. How do we not remember that Jesus had brown skin and would be targeted by police in this country if he were alive and speaking truth to power today?

In Philippians, Paul calls us to account: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… (2:3-5) Notice there are no qualifiers here. If we have true humility, we regard others is if they were better than we are – all others not just white others. Moreover, their interests are to be attended to before our own. Those police officers and D.A.s who call themselves Christians seem to forget this when they “fear for their lives.” And the mind that was in Christ, the mind that ought to be in the church as the Body of Christ, is a mind of Love. This Love views all human beings as beloved. Shouldn’t we?

Elections are weeks away. While I’m sure most people have decided for whom they will vote, there is yet time to prayerfully consider which candidate will better serve the interests of all who call the U.S. home. Which candidate is more inclined to advocate for those who are different from himself? Which candidate is more likely to recognize the rights of every citizen, and those seeking to become citizens? Which candidate is willing to learn what he doesn’t know and change his behavior if he learns his ways are causing someone(s) harm? Is there humility to be found in either candidate? When you are still, and listen to God, which candidate is likely to do the greatest good, or at minimum, the least harm?

Friends, there are days when COVID-19 seems the least of our worries, and it is very worrisome. However, the loss of lives because we refuse to change systems of policing and the criminal legal system and remain bound by systems that were built on and thrive on white supremacy, seems to me to be at least as concerning, if not more so. More so because there is no vaccine being developed for racism and white supremacy. The example and teachings of Jesus should be enough of a vaccine against hatred, though it seems not to be the case.

Later in the second chapter of Philippians Paul writes, “…with fear and trembling work out your own salvation, for God is the One working in you to both will and work according to God’s good pleasure” (2:12b-13, my own translation). May we all take an honest inventory of our lives and figure out where we have more work to do on our own hearts and minds. If we can open ourselves more to God’s work within us, then maybe more of us will be transformed from ways of hatred and death to ways of Love and life, not just for ourselves, for the whole of Creation. Because we need to be more focused on “God’s good pleasure,” I leave you with this prayer attributed to Marthe Robins who relied heavily on a similar prayer by Ignatius Loyola:

May God take my memory and all it remembers,
Take my heart and all its affections,
Take my intelligence and all its powers;
May they only serve your greatest glory.
Take my will completely,
for always I empty it out in yours.
No longer what I want, O my sweetest Jesus,
but always what you want!
Take me … receive me … direct me.
Guide me! I surrender and abandon myself to you!
I surrender myself to you as a small sacrifice of
Love, of praise and Gratitude, for the Glory of your Holy Name,
for the enjoyment of your Love, the triumph of your Sacred Heart,
and for the perfect fulfillment of your Designs in me and around me.

RCL – Year A – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 27, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7 with Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 with Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Photo: CC0image by Inactive account – ID 9301

Musings Sermon Starter

Learning and Growing in the Wilderness

Image of earth viewed from space with grid points of light connected across the globe

In recent days I’ve witnessed people romanticizing their past in ways I don’t quite understand. There was the person who continues to grieve over parents, stating that they were “the best” parents and how much they are missed. I know for a fact that these people were not good parents and caused a lot of harm in the world. Another person was lamenting the end of their marriage and saying how much they missed the relationship and all the “good” it brought. In fact, it was not a good relationship at all and caused a good deal of pain. And then there are the many people longing for the days “before pandemic” as if they were perfect days where love, peace, and justice reigned over the world. I don’t think I will ever understand what it is that causes people to forget the hard parts of their history and glorify the better parts. However, it’s a long-standing human behavior.

Remember the Israelites right after they crossed the Red Sea and found themselves in the wilderness? They were angry. They wished they had died in Egypt where they had fire, fleshpots, and bread. They were unhappy with the emptiness in their bellies and focused on that rather than on their new-found freedom. They quickly came to believe that the God who led them out of slavery had abandoned them to the challenges of the wilderness. Instead of asking for what they needed, instead of looking for God’s presence among them, they complained to Moses and regretted their choice to follow him away from the comforts of Egypt where they had been slaves into the discomforts and unknowns of liberation. Fortunately for them, God heard their complaints and provided manna and pheasants (they would later complain about these).

Here we are in the midst of pandemic, a wilderness of unknowns and discomforts for sure. The challenge for us as church is not to romanticize the past and long for when we can get back to “normal.” This wandering we are doing now will lead us to a new place. We must remember that before pandemic life was not perfect for the church. Our numbers were on the decline, our budgets were tighter every year, our technology was barely adequate, our buildings were needing repairs and updates… the list goes on. The complaints about Zoom worship, Facebook live, YouTube Live, and all the other ways we try to meet the needs of our communities, are a distraction and no real difference from the days when the sound system didn’t work or the projector overheated. Our longing for what was (in our own romanticized recollections) may prevent us from seeing what God is doing right here, right now.

Online worship, education, and kinship activities in whatever form provides access to folx who might not be able to join us in person for a variety of reasons. For those of us who are offering online communion, the complaints that it doesn’t “feel like communion” could distract from the ways in which God is drawing us together across miles. And what does communion feel like? Yes, we are all missing the in-person gatherings. It’s true. That missing of being with people does not need to negate the beauty and wonder of our online gatherings. We can grieve for what was and embrace what is.

The more we look back with the proverbial rose-colored glasses the more we will miss in the present. What are the manna and quail of our wandering in the wilderness of pandemic? Are they the wonders of technology that allows us to gather online? Are they the beauty of being able to expand our welcome? Are they the renewed appreciation for community? Are they the generosity of folx who provide tech access to those who didn’t have it before? Let’s not mistake grieving for what was for a longing that recreates the past to meet our own needs in this moment. God is in our midst and still doing the liberating, the leading, the transforming that God has always done.

Friends, there will be no going back. Just as those ancient Israelites could not return to Egypt in spite of their longing for fires and food, the church cannot go back to what was. This life in the wilderness of pandemic, no matter how long it goes on or how soon it ends, will forever change us. Perhaps we should spend our time searching out where God is active now and seek that vision for our future that God has for us. May we lean into the liberation from the limits of our buildings, the leading into a new shape for the Body of Christ, and the transformation of our communities that God is doing. Let us not grumble about what was and embrace what is. After all, our histories have shown us that there is far worse than manna and quail by whatever name.

RCL – Year A – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20, 2020
Exodus 16:2-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or
Jonah 3:10-4:11 with Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Photo: CC0image by Inactive account – ID 9301


A Conversation with Jesus

Image of face overlaid with shadows of trees on a background of red, rippling water
in a Roman stronghold, You asked your first disciples
     a seemingly simple question
yet You asked them to put their lives on the line for You
their answers could be, should be
      treasonous to the ears of the Empire

Who do you say that I am?

a worthy question, even now, especially now
we live in another Empire with a Pharoah who does not know Joseph
and would enslave us all, try us for treason if he could
Your question hangs in the air, awaiting our answers

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Messiah, of course
the One who sets us free
and saves our souls

what does this mean for children in cages, families torn apart?
what does this mean for immigrants, refugees, assylum seekers,
all who come with hopes and dreams for a life of freedom
and are met with white supremacy, racism, and rejection?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Prince of Peace
the One who guides our feet
in the ways of justice
Prince of Peace

our lips may speak these words
our actions say otherwise
there is no peace without justice
ask George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmoud Arbery
     and counteless others

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Great Physician, Healer of the Nations
the One who makes us whole
and unites us in love
Great Physician

there is no evidence of this truth
in a nation that values perfection over wholeness and wealth
     over people
where is unity for those on the edges, devalued and dismissed
     by Empire?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Living Water
the One who quenches thirst
and brings new life
Living Water

then why are so many so very thirsty
in Flint, at the border, on our streets?
why withhold water for the poorest
when we have more than enough

Who do you say that I am?

Lord and Savior
the One who saves us from ourselves
and frees us to love without condition
Lord and Savior

again, where is the proof?
we act as if Love were a precious commodity
and hoard it for ourselves because Empire tells us
there is not enough for those who are undeserving

Who do you say that I am?

Light of life
the One who shines with hope
chasing away our despair
Light of Life

then why not wear a mask to show our love for our neighbors?
why not welcome all with grace and mercy?
suicide rates are climbing and we refuse to share our hope
perhaps our trust, our faith, is not up for the task at hand

Who do you say that I am?

Wonderful Counselor
the One who guides life
offering wisdom, healing, grace
Wonderful Counselor

is it not Empire that guides our choices?
is it not Empire that teaches us to hate?
is it not Empire that divides us from our neighbors?
when will we listen and actually care for the vulnerable among us?

Who do you say that I am?

Mighty God
the One who loves without condition
waiting patiently for us to believe
Mighty God

Love knows no limits
hatred, destruction, division, violence, war are purely human
perhaps now is the time for transformation
paying heed to the prophets among us

Who do you say that I am?

be careful how you answer
do your words match your deeds?
do you love your neighbor as yourself?
do you follow the ways of Empire
rather than care for the vulnerable among you?
will you put your life on the line
for the sake of love?

Who do you say that I am?

RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2020
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Musings Sermon Starter

Learning from Jacob

After Jacob’s night of wrestling, after his hip was disjointed, did he try to hide his limp or did he embrace it as a sign of his strength and endurance? I would like to think that he did the latter, though I suspect it might have taken him a while. Jacob was known for his cunning, his trickery, his willingness to do what he had to do to get what he wanted. Yes, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah before Rachel. I’m guessing that didn’t alter his personality all that much. Maybe just growing up, claiming his identity, allowed him to accept his faults, flaws, and weaknesses, limp included.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think I have a lot in common with Jacob, or at least the Jacob I imagine. It isn’t that I will do whatever I need to do to get what I want in a way that hurts or uses others; I try to avoid that. However, for most of my life I have tried to hide my weaknesses, my limitations, my disabilities. Yes, I could name them, and yet I never really embraced them. Acceptance of my limitations is hard for me, even now.

When I was in college I was diagnosed with a learning disability that fit under the umbrella of dyslexia. While this diagnosis brought some relief and understanding to me, I told very few people. In my subsequent years of education, I think I told one professor because she asked the class to write down anything that might affect our class work, including learning disabilities. I remember writing that I was dyslexic and that it would not present a problem in class. I did not want to be viewed as “impaired” or “different.”

My journey with my physical health has been similar. It took decades to get an accurate diagnosis of POTS/Dysautonomia. In the intervening years, when my diagnosis went back and forth between Lupus and MS, I would acknowledge that I didn’t feel well and then proceed to do whatever needed doing. I didn’t want whatever was going on in my body to cause people to see me as anything other than fully capable of doing my job or living my life. These were my judgements about myself. I never viewed anyone else with any kind of disability as “less than.” Somehow, though, if I accepted my physical limitations then I would be diminished.

Now, with pandemic, I have no choice but to name my struggles. Dysautonomia and multiple autoimmune disorders put me at high risk for COVID-19. And the pacemaker given me in December doesn’t diminish that risk. I have to stay home, away from people. Sure, I’ve managed to find ways to get out, like kayaking in sparsely populated lakes. I walk my dog every day that is below 80 degrees and humidity below 45% and we cross the street a lot to avoid other people who are out without masks. I am vulnerable and I don’t like it.

Yet, it is this very vulnerability that has me thinking about Jacob in a new way. I’m guessing he didn’t fully become Israel until he embraced his brokenness; he didn’t become whole until he accepted his vulnerability. It’s an odd thing to contemplate. What makes us whole? What makes us able to accept God’s call to live in abundance and share that abundance with those who hunger and thirst (literally and figuratively)?

Jesus told the disciples that they had to feed the hungry and thirsty crowd gathered around them in the wilderness. The disciples thought Jesus may have lost touch with reality. How could they feed 20,000 people (5000 men plus women and children) with nothing? They didn’t actually have nothing. They had five loaves of bread and two fish. That turned out to be more than enough. There’s something to be said for using what we have and trusting God to make it what we need. Not for us on our own. For us and all who gather in community.

Only when we accept our whole selves, limps and limitations included, can we recognize the gifts we truly possess. Only then can we move fully into God’s abundance and serve the hungry, thirsty and vulnerable people in our communities. Whether we use our limitations as an excuse for inaction or we pretend we have no limits and in so doing cannot fully use our gifts, we are serving no one but ourselves.

Now is the perfect time for us as individuals and for us as the church, to embrace our broken places and accept the whole of who we are. Only then will we be the Body of Christ needed right now. Jacob became Israel after his hip was put out of joint and he could not deny his brokenness, his vulnerabilities as a human being. Imagine how the church would change if every congregation would spend a night or more wrestling with God to come limping into a new day. We could name and claim our vulnerabilities, our brokenness, and even our sins, and move just that much closer into living in God’s abundance. The world can be transformed if we stopped pretending to be perfect and embraced our wholeness instead.

Who would have thought that Jacob would be a model for living in God’s abundance…

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Photo: CC0image by jplenio

Musings Sermon Starter

Dreams, Visions, Hope, and New Life

During my years as a psychiatric chaplain, I frequently had very vivid dreams that would entangle my every day with my love for urban fantasy novels (and tv shows) and with my theological pursuits. In these dreams I would have to solve some unsolvable puzzle or complete some heroic act which would result in the world being rid of all evil. Were these dreams influenced by providing spiritual care to people in the midst of psychiatric crisis and my frequent feelings of helplessness? Yes. On the other hand, I found hope in them as well. No matter what monsters or demons I fought in my dreams, failure was never a possibility nor was giving up. In my dreams I found the courage, strength, and ingenuity I needed. My dreaming self was always tenacious and often triumphant, though it was not unusual for me to wake up before evil was contained.

Why talk about these dreams now? For the last several nights, I’ve had similar kinds of vivid dreams. One I had to coach an army of Sisyphean-like people on how to keep moving the stones even when they rolled back or the mountain peak seemed no closer. In another my task was to stand at the mouth of a cave and call all faith-filled people to come out, that their time to hide in the Platonic cave had come to end. Last night I had to find a way to unite a million people who had never met without them ever meeting. If I accomplished this task, a million more people would not die and the earth would enter a new age.

Once again these dreams are an odd blend of life, urban fantasy, and theology. The response to COVID-19 ranges from willful ignorance to preparing for the apocalypse. While some are able to ignore all signs of crisis, most of us are dreading the likelihood of illness and more death than we have seen in recent history. Apocalyptic language makes a degree of sense. However, I am a dreamer of dreams and receiver of visions. I see hope when most people speak of despair and desperation. I think of Ezekiel and his visionary valley and of Lazarus walking out of a tomb and the promise of God’s steadfast love allows me to take a deep breath. Preparation is helpful; panic is not. New life is the birthright of the people of God. This is not to say that faithful people have not or will not be included in the millions who will die from COVID-19. Faith is no protection against any virus. The promise of new life is lived out in community.

It’s rare that we witness a true turning point in society or in church and are aware that it is indeed a turning point. Nearly every aspect of life will be different after COVID-19. Church life will be different after this crisis. No matter how we resist the changes necessary to remain in community while “sheltering in place” or in a “lockdown,” church needs to adapt to what is faster than church has ever adapted to anything. I believe the church universal has been in serious danger of being the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. Our reluctance to change enough to meet the needs of the world around us meant that we were dying, slowly, but dying nonetheless. And, yet, the breath of God is still capable of creating new sinews and flesh on our bones.

I have had an inescapable vision haunting my waking hours and influencing my dreams. In the midst of this crisis, I hear Jesus calling the church out of the tomb we have inhabited. I hear Jesus calling us to let go of so much that has unnecessarily defined us and enter into new life. God’s steadfast love for the whole of Creation cannot be undone by a virus. Even though many of us may die, the church will yet live. However, we must not be tied to worshiping in buildings or in familiar sanctuaries. We must not think that the story of Holy Week and Easter only has power in sanctuaries crowded with visitors and lilies. The story of God’s amazing love, love that can overcome any destruction and devastation humanity can dish out or experience, can be told online by virtual connection. In the middle of world-changing crisis it is possible for the church to be transformed and brought to new life.

In these days and weeks where we are physically distancing from one another, we have an excellent opportunity to bridge the communal and spiritual gap. We can respond to Jesus call and come out of the valley with new sinew and new flesh on our old, dry bones. We can move out of the tomb of traditions and experience transformation and resurrection into a Body of Christ as yet unknown and unrecognized.

In these fear-filled and uncertain days may we all be dreamers of dreams and receivers of visions powerful enough to bring life in response to death. May we find hope in the steadfast love of God. Wherever you are be safe, be well, be church.

More sermon help here.

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 29, 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Photo: CC0image by AKS

Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

From the Edge of the Unimagined

What’s the point? Why bother? How is Christianity relevant today? You seem like a smart person, why spend your life working in a dying or irrelevant institution? These are just a few versions of the questions I routinely get from friends, strangers, and those seated next to me on airplanes. I usually respond by saying that this is what God has called me to do and be, and I find meaning, identity, and purpose in it. And then the inquirer changes the subject. In the few weeks since Christmas, I’ve been asking myself versions of these questions, too. I’ve been thinking about them, not because I agree with the presuppositions of the questioners, but because I care about the answer.

I’ve recently come to realize that I am part of a dying breed. I am a single career, seminary educated pastor. While I have traveled an unusual path in ministry and in life, the fact remains that I’ve been employed by church or by an institution in a religious role since I was nineteen years old. I have accumulated a lot of skills and more education than might be useful, but the fact remains that I have no other options without returning to school. Recognizing the shifting and changing (hopefully transformations) going on in Mainline denominations, I might not be working fulltime as a pastor until I retire. Many churches are small enough that they cannot sustain fulltime pastors and the larger congregations are still a bit reluctant to call women to their pulpits, let alone women who are not straight. Even so, I am committed to ministry, to church. And here’s why…

Human beings are better, more complete, when we reach beyond our own little lives and experiences. Left to my own devices, I am more inclined to go hide in the woods and ignore the rest of the world than I am to try to engage with it and heal the broken places. Yes, I am an introvert, but without God insisting that human beings are good and worthy of love, I would believe otherwise. God calls us to a greater awareness of ourselves, our neighbors, and Creation. We are good. Our neighbors are good. Creation is good. Now, trusting in this goodness, treat yourself, your neighbors, and the world with the love, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, grace that highlight that innate “goodness.” Maybe you are better person than I am, but I cannot do this on my own. I need God’s reminder that I am good and that the world is good in order to keep seeking beauty, to keep trying to bring more kindness than hurt into the world.

I think of John the Baptist who risked everything to point the way to Christ, Divine Love Incarnate. He lived on the fringes of society, where civilization and wilderness met. He ate weird food and wore inadequate clothing. He was wild and passionate. Out there on the wild side of the Jordan, he called for repentance. He baptized people to remind them that sin could be washed away and that a new way was possible. His passion was seemingly contagious since many came to be baptized. And then when Jesus showed up, the skies opened up and beloved became possible where it hadn’t been much imagined before.

John somehow understood that focusing on human beings and human actions and human sin was inadequate; there was more to life. God wanted to shift our focus and John the Baptist caught a piece of that. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He risked everything to point toward One greater than himself, One who would change everything. Of course, John was a little extreme and I’m not suggesting we all live as he did. However, I am suggesting that John had the right end of things. He believed passionately that there was a better way just ahead and he spent his life pointing toward that way. What do we all spend our lives passionately pointing toward?

I don’t particularly want to spend my time in the places where wilderness and civilization meet. On the other hand, I try to live where wild imagination and unexamined tradition might intersect. The worst thing to ever happen to the church was Bible literalism and the failure to recognize a God who loves first and foremost. From this perception of a legalistic, punishing God arose the need for personal salvation. The Christian focus on saving souls has left the church in tatters. Jesus’ call to love has been largely overlooked. At no point did Jesus say to make sure that a neighbor’s soul was saved from hell before ensuring that said neighbor had food, clothing, shelter, and community. Imagine a world in which we are all as free with our resources as Jesus was with his.

So what’s the point? Why church? For me it is a question of reaching beyond my own little life, beyond my own perceived limits and shortcomings to benefit of the greater good without negating myself. If I share my passion for saving lives and bringing healing into the world, maybe something new and good and transformative will happen, and others will join with me. Then we will have community in which we share the joys and struggles of seeking to bring Divine Love into the world. We will share in God’s love and the knowledge that we are not alone. Essentially, Micah had it right. If we want to be church, if we want to be the body of Christ in the world today, we must focus on justice, kindness, and moving humbly through the world trusting God’s presence.

The point is to leave the world a better place. I need religion to help me do that. For me, it’s Christianity. For you, it might be something else. However, if your religion is not helping you to find healing, hope, love, and joy for yourself and those around you, you might need a different path. For the time being, I’m going to try to follow John the Baptist’s example. I’m going to live on the edge of where society wants me to be, call for repentance, and proclaim that God is still wanting to that new thing so that we may live in peace on a thriving planet.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Photo: CC0image by SarahRichterArt


A Poem for the Year’s End

Jesus Replied 
(Luke 23:43)

ends. God
reigns whether
we notice or
not. Promises made
long ago remain true -
all are loved, all are valued,
no one excluded. Advent draws
near, calling us to pause and listen,
watch, prepare, and begin again. The days
are surely coming when all feet everywhere
will travel in the way of peace. Fear-filled living
belongs to the days of old. Hope, love, mercy, grace,
and forgiveness belong to God’s people, now
and through all time. While speaking words of faith
we forget God always remembers
the ancient covenant of love
without end. When words become
deeds, wars will cease. God is
our refuge and strength.
May our lives show
God’s glory
and our

RCL – Year C – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 24, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Luke 1:68-79 or
Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Photo: CC0image by ID 11165576


No Turning Back


Following Jesus, true discipleship, is not for the feint of heart. Jesus is not of a fan of the familiar, routine, or status quo. Jesus likes to challenge assumptions, rouse the rabble, and provoke the powerful with truth. Once you put your hand on this particular plough, there is no turning back. It just isn’t possible because Jesus is unconcerned with what the past holds and far more interested in liberating people from oppression right now.

In the last four weeks I’ve been in four different cities and three different states. I’ve spoken at two different suicide prevention conferences, participated in a workshop at the United Church of Christ General Synod, and attended the Minnesota Conference UCC Annual Meeting. I’ve been in four states (MN, NH, MA, and WI) and met up with friends I haven’t seen in decades, and friends I haven’t seen for a few weeks or months. Waves of nostalgia wash over me as I drive through the mountains and walk on the beach. I’m overwhelmed with a longing for what used to be when I encounter friends I haven’t seen since seminary (more than 25 years). This last month has given me plenty of prompts to think about the course of my life and the unexpected twists and turns of my ministry.

June began with a trip to Western Massachusetts where I spoke at a conference. I met up with a high school friend and talking with her took me right back to the days when we were inseparable. We talked about the weirdness of aging where the body feels the years, but the mind and spirit have no concept that time passes; we could easily have been out on a night when we would have to go to school in the morning (except for the multitude of years between then and now).

This experience was followed by the MN UCC Annual Meeting. While I have made friends in MN, I was momentarily consumed by a longing for folks I’ve known a whole lot longer in other states. In those moments, I would have turned back the clock to years gone by without hesitation. At least I would have until I realized what I would not have in my life if I turned back the years. No time machine for me.

Then I went to General Synod and stood at the intersection between now and yesterday. I was there on behalf of the UCC Mental Health Network doing good work. Then I encountered people from across my years in ministry. The longing for what was threatened to overwhelm me once more. Those close friendships from seminary that nothing else quite replicates… those conversations in the dining hall… the hopes and dreams for serving the church… Oh, to begin again! No, not really.

Today, I stood at the ocean’s edge after speaking at another suicide prevention conference in New Hampshire. Nothing renews my spirit quite like the song of the sea and the feel of the sand on my bare feet. As I watched the tide (and the fog) roll in, I reflected on my ministry and where following Jesus had taken me. Never in the proverbial million years would I have ever guessed where Jesus would lead me. Once I figured out that I was called to ministry in the church and not in academia, I thought I had some idea of what that would be. Nope! Not even close.

The church I had prepared to serve no longer exists, and probably didn’t really exist even as I entered ministry. I had visions of youth group mission trips and adult spiritual formation retreats, with some preaching and Bible study in between. The intersection of mental health and faith, let alone suicide prevention, wasn’t in my wildest imaginings. The fact that I speak openly about my early struggles with mental health, being bi-sexual, wrestling with an archaic theology, and telling my story of suicidality and suicidal behavior, is not what I had envisioned. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

65116850_10157392583029375_1975425480005779456_oIn those moments when I think I would, when I think about going back when I kept all these things secret, it’s like watching the fog roll in on the beach. While the illusion of solitude is good, the temperature drop is a little chilling. Sure, I can tell myself that life was somewhat easier “back in the day,” it’s a lie that takes my attention away from the challenges of today. If I am distracted by the church of yesterday, I can miss the joys of today. If I think the past holds the answers, liberation of any kind may prove impossible.

Following Jesus has taken me all over the U.S. My journey of discipleship has made me go places I wouldn’t have the courage to go on my own. While the beach sings to my soul like no place else, I’ve also been restored by songs of the mountains, the woods, the lakes, and the desert, and the prairies. Without my hand on the plough I would never have come out as bisexual and wouldn’t have given a thought to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. I wouldn’t have marched with Black Lives Matter or protested with Latinx folx, or carried signs protesting the current administrations policies on refugees, or shared the journey with those struggling with symptoms of mental illness, or a thousand other things. Once I put my hand on the plough, I committed to leaving behind the shy, fearful days of my youth to become one who shows up and bears witness and tries to lend my voice to those who often go unheard.

It’s been a weird and wonderful journey. But looking back with yearning for what was takes me off-track. Jesus wants us to carry the lessons of where we have been not so we can recreate the past, but so that we can build the Realm of God here and now with the wisdom and compassion we’ve gathered on the way. And lest we forget, the plough creates the best furrows when many hands are on it. We do not and cannot follow Jesus, be healthy disciples, if we fool ourselves into thinking that we are alone. There’s Paul’s great cloud of witnesses and there is also the folx who are with us, hands next to ours making sure we plough a continuous row.

May we all stop looking back with yearning and celebrate all those whose hands guide the plough with courage and strength, wisdom and compassion.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe