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Sermon: No Maps!

Genesis 12:1-9
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 Listen to this sermon.

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, I loved when we went on vacation.  We almost always drove to where we were going: Ohio to some of the amusement parks, Northern Michigan or Louisiana to visit my Dad’s relatives.

 

For me, the excitement would start several days before we left.  Mom would drive downtown to the local AAA office to get maps and guidebooks for the trip.  The most exciting thing was when the salesperson would put together the Triptik.  If you or someone you know was a member of AAA, you know what a Triptik is.  The name is a play on words, because the collection of maps looked like a triptych, a painting that was divided in three sections.  One the salesperson had gathered the necessary maps they came back with a red marker and drew the suggested route to our destination, showing where there might be construction and the like.

 

triptikIt was probably those trips to AAA that started my love of maps.  I could spend hours looking at all the road maps that we collected over the years.  I remember during the 80s, buying a Rand McNally Atlas of the United States and Canada just for the heck of it.  An exciting time for me was paging through the states and seeing all the highways as they crisscrossed each other.  Yes, I was, I am a map geek.

 

I know these days that I can use the map app on my phone and I have to get to certain places, but it just isn’t the same as getting that oversized Rand McNally map and just study it.

 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I like maps.  I’ve loved travelling on the highways and as a little kid, I would internalize where my parents drove and was able to repeat them back when they got lost.  I like to know where I am going.

 

Most people like to use a map to get to their desired destination.  It just makes sense to know who to get someplace.  No one likes being lost.

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Sermon: “I Promise.”

Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 7, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Listen to the podcast.

For the next few weeks we are testing out a new lectionary.  Since I’ve been here, we have been using the Revised Common Lectionary, which tries to get you through the major parts of the Bible in three years.  My alma mater, Luther Seminary has devised an alternate lectionary which is called the Narrative Lectionary.  It also tries to get you through the Bible, but it’s in four years and not three.  The main thing about this lectionary is that it looks at the Bible as one large story of God interaction with God’s creation.  The story starts today with what I would call the prologue of God’s story.

 

A rainbow over Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1997.

A rainbow over Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1997.

So today we start with a real familiar story.  Many of us here are aware of this story.  Maybe we were told this story in Sunday School as a youth.  Maybe you read a storybook that had Noah and the ark.  Maybe you sang that song “God said to Noah…”  Whatever it is, the result is the same, we have this image of an ark on the waters with a smiling Noah.  The animals also seemed to have smiles on their faces and the little ship bobbled along the makeshift seas.  It’s a nice and pleasant picture.

 

That’s the story we think we know.  And then you actually read the story.  The earth is this horrible place and God is upset at what God sees.  God regrets making creation and decides to hit the reset button. So, this flood wasn’t something that just happened, it happen because God is angry and grieving over the creation that has gone astray.  We see God judging all of creation with a massive flood that kills everyone-men, women and children save a remnant of creation.

 

And then there’s the animals on the ark.  In those children’s pictures, we see all these happy animals and a happy Noah.  Okay, I’m a city kid, but even I know if you have things like elephants and sheep and horses and cows you end up with poor Noah and his family living in smelly boat cleaning up all the poop produced by the animals. I don’t imagine Noah had a smile on his face after having to clean up after the elephants.

The story of our youth is not a nice sweet story.  It’s a disturbing story.  God judges creation and the body count is more than any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

 

But as hard as it is to come to terms with a violent, judgemental God of fury, we would only have part of the story if we only focused on the flood.  Now it is important to understand that God is a just God.  God doesn’t look at sin and not care.  The sinfulness of creation breaks God’s heart.  But the flood, God as judge is only half of the story and it would be wise that we don’t focus only on the flood- God is a just God, but God is also a loving God and even in the midst of destruction, God shows that God brings salvation and promises to do relate to creation in a new way.

 

This passage starts with the whys of Noah building the ark and ends with the flood ending and God speaking to Noah and his family.  They would be the instruments of salvation as they would repopulate the earth along with the animals.

 

But that is not the important part of the story.  It’s what happens next that matters.  God tells Noah and his family that God will set a “bow in the clouds.”  A bow, a rainbow will grace the heavens as a reminder that God would never again destroy creation.  Maybe in modern parlance God is placing a giant post-it note in the heaven to remind God that God would not unleash such violence on creation ever again. God made a promise to creation; a promise that would come with a cost.  You see, creation didn’t just stop breaking God’s heart.  At some point people would start being evil again and God would become angry at the injustice going on.  God might want to send judgement, but God made a promise, a promise to keep.  What we will start to see from here on out is God trying to reconcile with God’s creation in a different way.  God will use a specific people, the Jews as an example to the world to return to God.  Later on, God uses God’s chosen people to bring for God incarnate, Jesus who would bring salvation to all of creation.

 

The symbol of the rainbow is about hope.  Out of the sadness of creation comes a sign that God is still there, walking with us instead of abandoning us.

 

The rainbow has always been about hope.  After the storms, there is a sign that God remembers.

Most of you here remember the big floods of 1997.  My husband Daniel lived in Grand Forks at the time which we all remember was inundated with water from the swollen Red River.  A city of 50,000 had to grab what they could from their homes and go.  This was the largest peacetime evacuation in modern American history which was suceeded eight years later when New Orleans was evacuated during Hurrican Katrina.  So there is water everywhere in the city.  To add insult to injury, a fire starts in downtown that would damage about 11 buildings.  So here is all this water and in the midst of it is a fire.  The fire trucks couldn’t get through the flood waters and even if they did, the couldn’t use the fire hydrants since the city’s water system had failed. You can’t get anymore absurd than that.

 

There is a picture that I saw from that time that I believe was taken by a photographer from the Grand Forks Herald, which won a Pulitzer for their work even as their own building was flooded and burnt.  The picture has smoke from the buildings and flood waters everywhere.  But there’s something else there.  It’s a rainbow.  Daniel remembers that picture.  It was a sign of hope.  Come hell or highwater (in this case literally) hope was possible.  This was not the end.

 

Over the next few weeks will talk a bit more about God keeping God’s promise of hope.  Just remember when we face the hurts of the world, know that God has and is suffering with you and that this pain is not the last word.  There is a rainbow around the corner.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Let Jesus Be Jesus

Matthew 16:13-20
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 24, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 

youngjusticeI’ve always had an interest in superheroes.  Which is kind of odd, because I tend not to buy comic books or as they are now called, graphic novels.  I know friends that have boxes of comics from years past, but that’s not me.  No, the way that I found out about superheroes was through TV, specifically, the SuperFriends- a light-hearted take on the Justice League which ran on ABC at various times in the 1970s starting in 1973.  Then it was watching the live-action series “Wonder Woman” and the “Incredible Hulk.”

 

In the years following college, I would catch an animated version of the X-Men and during the seminary I was loved watching Batman Beyond,  a futuristic take on on the Dark Knight.  And yes, I still watch superheroes in the movies and on television.  I watch shows like “Arrow” which is a take on the comic book hero, the Green Arrow; Young Justice which focuses on the sidekicks of famous heroes, and well, there are more, but I think that’s enough for you all to know for now.

 

I think that I am fascinated by superheroes because the stories can sometimes take on things that are taking place in the wider culture.  I like the X-Men because the story makes these superheroes are not treated like superheroes by the wider culture.  In fact, they are seen as threats hence why they are referred to as mutants.  Since I was coming out during that time period, I could see X-men as an allegory to how LGBT persons are accepted in society- or not. Comics can also allude to the changing demographics of a society.  Earlier this month, Marvel Comics announced that the next Captain America was going to be African American.  The character is currently one of the current Captain America’s superhero associates, Falcon. Falcon was considered one of Marvel’s first black heroes when he was introduced in the late 1960s and assume the identity of superhero that embodies the American ideal represents the changes take place in the United States.

 

Superheroes tend to have aliases.  Sometimes they want to keep their other identity a secret. Batman was actually billionaire Bruce Wayne. When Superman wasn’t saving the world, he was Clark Kent, a journalist.  Very few people around them actually know of their secret identities.  I think comic books and television use a ton of suspended disbelief in thinking that a mask around people eyes will prevent them from knowing who they are, but for some reason people buy it.

 

Because these heroes didn’t tell people who they were, people became curious.  Who are these people?  Is it someone they know?  What was it that people said after meeting the Lone Ranger: who was that masked man? Regular folk just want to meet their hero and find out about them.  There are some that see them as a threat to society and they want to expose them before they cause more trouble.

 

Superheroes can remind people of how we relate to God: a mysterious powerful creature that seems to want the best for us.  Some just want to meet God and learn more about God, while others see God as a threat to their way of living. Read More…

Sermon: Things Fall Apart

Genesis 45:1-15 and Matthew 15:10-28
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 

thingsfallapartrootsHow is your heart today?

 

You could answer that in two ways.  The first way is probably literal.  How are you doing healthwise?  Are you eating right?  Are you getting enough sleep?

 

As a society, we are obsessed with health, even when we don’t act like we care.  We are told we are to heavy need to go to the gym.  We are told we eat poorly and try the latest fad to get to health.  We’ve quit smoking.  We are doing everything we can to keep our hearts healthy. I try to go to the gym twice a week, and try to walk as much as a I can daily.  I’ve also gained all the weight I lost a year ago, but I still do what I can to keep my heart healthy.

 

But heart can also talk about our whole being, not just the muscle in the center of our chest.  And looking at the news from the past week, humanity’s heart is not doing so well.  Events like the shooting of Michael Brown, an African American man from Ferguson, a Saint Louis suburb by the local police have shocked us.  Islamic extremist have taken one of the world’s great faiths and turned into a murderous ideology that kills anyone from a different faith or who don’t follow Islam in the same way they do.  And then there was the tragic death of actor Robin Williams.  A funny man that we learned took his own life after battling depression for years.

 

In Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus first talking the crowd.  He calls out the Pharisees for their concern of rules like ritual handwashing, but very little concern about what really defiles a person.  There was no concern for the inner life of a person. Read More…

Sermon: Swimming in the Deep End

I Kings 19:1-18 and Matthew 14:22-33
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 10, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Listen to the Podcast.

YMCA

A postcard of the YMCA in Flint, MI. I took swimming lessons here in the 1970s.

I’ve shared some stories in the past of my taking swimming lessons when I was growing up.  I would take lessons sometimes at the local YMCA and at the YWCA which was just down the street.  Most of the time we took lessons, we practiced in the shallow end.  Being seven or eight meant that the shallow end was already a challenge.  But at least I could touch the bottom of the pool.

What scared me was trying to swim in the deep end.  I can remember treading water out towards the middle of the pool feeling the pool’s floor slipping away from me.  At some point, I couldn’t touch anything other than the water that was surrounding me.  It felt like I was like an acrobat; working without a net.

Then there would come that day when we would work at the deep end, learning how to dive into a pool.  I would make my dive, scared that I wouldn’t be able to get to poolside fast.

But I was able to do my dives on the deep end. Albeit with me probably bawling up a storm.

As much as I hated swimming in the deep end, I had to learn this skill.  I had to learn this because the reality is that we will spend a good majority of our time in waters that can be very deep.  We have to stop clinging to the pool floor and step out in faith.  You have to believe that the skills you have learned will keep you afloat will be enough. Read More…

Sermon: “Fit For A Dog”

“Fit for a Dog”
Matthew 15: 10-28
August 17, 2008
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

aDog1During my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I was on the cross country team. I enjoyed distance running, but I wasn’t the best at it. God might have graced me with perserverance, but God didn’t give me the gift of swiftness. In many of the smaller meets, I was usually bringing up the rear.

One day during my freshman year, we my high school had a meeting with another high school in the suburbs. We went out to a local golf course to run the race. As usual, I was in last place, steady running along the rolling hills of the golf course.

At some point, I started hearing voices. At first I think I thought it was someone cheering me on, despite being last. But the voices weren’t friendly, instead they were very menacing voices. At the edge of a cul de sac were several youths, maybe at the most a few years old than I was. They were hurling racial slurs at me, calling me names that I can’t say in a family setting.

I was shocked by the slurs, but kept on running. It made no sense to let them get to me, so I kept the legs pumping, while they kept heaping insult upon insult. At some point, another member of my high school’s cross country team, who also was African American, ran to my aid. He had already finished the race and swiftly ran to confront the teens. From what I was told, all he did was simply look at them, which must have been enough to call off their racial slurs. Read More…

Sermon: “Ain’t No Need to Worry”

Romans 8:26-39
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 27, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Listen to: Ain’t No Need to Worry | Sermons from FCC- St. Paul.

About fifteen years ago, I was down in Louisiana for my uncle Joe’s 80th birthday party.  I remember sitting in the dining room of Uncle Joe’s house when my cousin, Joe’s oldest son also named Joe and his wife Barabra got out something they had been working on for years: the family geneology.  The two looked through court records and we able to patch together the story of the Sanders family.  They went to county courthouses throughout the South and you see in this family tree how my ancestors made their way to Louisiana from South Carolina.

 

If know American history, then you know why South Carolina is the starting point for me and countless millions of African Americans.  South Carolina was known for its slave markets, where farmers would purchase slaves who came off the boat from their African homes.  I don’t know this for certain, but I can imagine part of the journey of my family from South Carolina to Georgia, then Mississippi and finally Louisiana could have been because my ancestors were bought and sold to different plantations over the years.

 

The look into my past brings up a few conflicting emotions.  There is something cool about seeing all the generations who came before you.  I could see that I belonged to the Sanders family.  But it also brought some sadness and unpleasant feelings because those many of ancestors were treated as nothing more than property; a commodity to be bought and sold.  We were stripped of our heritage and given Christian names including my own last name.  More than likely we were given the name Sanders because it was the name of some plantation owner.

 

Maybe it was because of that earlier history that my mother made sure that I learned about African American history as I grew up.  I remember reading books about famous African Americans, inventors, doctors and the like.  I remember in elementary school that we had days were we had to dress up as a famous person.  In fifth grade and sixth grade I dressed up as the inventor Elijah McCoy and Dr. Charles Drew, the discovery of plasma.  Mom wanted me to remember that African Americans were more than just slaves; we were survivors, acheivers.  I was told I belonged to a people with a rich heritage.

 

Today’s passage in Romans is one where Paul is excited.  He tells the church at Rome about the wonders of belonging to God.  We had a God that prays for us, taking our grunts and sighs to heart.  We have a good that is with us not only in the good times, but in the bad times as well.  When Paul tell the Romans that “ that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God,” he isn’t trying to be glib about tragedy.  Paul is telling us that even when the unthinkable happens,  God is with us.  We belong to God and while evil is around now, it will never, ever have the last word.

 

Paul ends this passage with two wonderful sentences telling the Romans and us that nothing, nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Paul says, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” We are loved by God, no matter what.

 

Paul’s message was one of hope to the Roman church.  No matter how bad it seemed, no matter who you are, no matter how much money you have in the bank, you matter to God; you belong.

 

The notion of belonging to something bigger than you seems even more important than ever.  We live in a time where we are supposed to be liberated from, well everything.  Whereas in the past, there were organizations like the Elks that helped define themselves in community, we are more likely to go it alone.  On the radio recently, there was a segment of a program that was devoted to those parents who are dealing with their children living under their roof again after college.  My husband Daniel wondered why this was a problem.  In our past, family took care of each other, with several generations living under one roof.

 

The role of the church in this individualistic era is to tell people, all people that they belong to God.  There is a world where people need to know that they are loved by God.  That is what this congregation, every congregation is called to do. We are called to welcome people, no matter who they are.

 

This passage in Romans reminds me of baptism.  We know that baptism is about the washing of our sins, but it is also about a promise; that we belong to God. In traditions that do infant baptisms, you might find the baptismal font just as you enter the sanctuary.  It’s a reminder that baptism is what makes us familiy.

 

As I’ve said before, I was the Associate at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.  These days they worship at the Springhouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis.  SpringHouse is the collaboration of three congregations under one roof.  First Christian shares the building with Salem Lutheran and Lyndale United Church of Christ.  The old church building that was Salem’s was gutted and redsigned to include three sanctaries.  In the fellowship space between two sanctuaries is a combination baptistry and baptismal font.  Whenever someone from any of the three congregations is baptized, all the members of all three churches meet and begin their services with this baptism.  It is a powerful reminder that we belong to something, someone bigger than ourselves.

 

This past week, our church was the focus of a special concert given by our own Luke Swanger and his friend Zach Peterson.  About sixty people came to this place to hear wonderful music of piano and violin.  We raised money for the Hope for the Journey Family Shelter in Oakdale.  I think it was a great event.  We were all excited about this because it was a way of telling people we live in this area.  I think people knew as they entered our doors that we welcomed them and showed God’s love in our actions.

 

Church is not about going to a place to give money and see a performance.  No, it is a place where we are reminded that we are loved by God and where we learn how we belong and how we can tell others in word and deed that they are loved by God.

 

I will remember my mom’s dillegence in helping me know that I belonged to a people of survivors.  My ancestors might have been told they belonged to the slavemaster, but they knew who they were and whose they were.

 

The title of this sermon is taken from a 1987 song by the gospel group from Detroit, the Winans.  They sang this song with fellow Detroiter Anita Baker.  The song talks about how trouble will pass and while God isn’t mentioned, we do know that we have someone on our side that will get us through the hard times.  I wanted to share some of the lyrics:

 

Ain’t no need to worrying

What the night is gonna bring

Because it will be all over in the morning

 

Ain’t no need to worrying

What the night is gonna bring

Because it will be all over in the morning

 

There’s a feel of nightfall

When darkness comes

And covers all of the day

 

Sometimes we feel pain

But there are some things

That we can change, just pray

 

Ain’t no need to worrying

What the night is gonna bring

Because it will be all over in the morning

 

You belong.  I belong.  We belong.  Don’t ever forget that.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

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