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Sermon: Joy in Safetyville

Exodus 20:1-20
Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 5, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

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-826adfcef174d44bI get my hometown newspaper, the Flint Journal  via email daily.  Like a lot of newspapers, the Journal prints a physical copy only four days a week, so a lot of what they do is online.  Everything Thursday they have a feature called Throwback Thursday, something that has been done on social media for quite some time.  Since the Journal has a vast selection of old photos, they spend each Thursday looking back at something in Flint’s past.  One week about a month ago, the featured a place called Safetyville.  Safteyville was located east of downtown and it was a place where kids went to learn about living with cars safely.  This place existed from the mid-1960s until the early-80s.  Safetyville was a miniature town with kid-sized buildings and roads.  Kids could get into small cars and learn how to drive safely.  For nearly twenty years, kids from the Flint area learned how to be safe drivers and pedestrians from the time spent at Safetyville.

A lot of people have great memories of the place which if you think about it is rather odd.  This was a place where you learned the dos and don’ts of driving and walking around cars.  Learning the rules of driving is not always the most exciting thing, but the people behind Safetyville made it exciting.  They knew how to make something that could seem burdensome into a thing of wonder and mystery.  A place where you were to learn the rules was a place that brings fond memories to adults who are now in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Read More…

Sermon: Running to Stand Still

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 28, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

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Where have you seen God today?

 

Dennis at the BusLast year, in the midst of getting my parents moved to their apartment, Daniel and I took a mini vacation around places in Michigan and Ohio.  We stopped at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, which of course is the also the town where the headquarters for Ford is located.  I hadn’t been in the museum in about 30 years, so I was excited to walk through the museum again. There are a number of famous cars in the building including a number of Presidential limosuines, some cars from the last 70 or 80s years and exhibits on how the car has changed American society.

 

But there is one display that has become the heart of the Henry Ford’s collection.  It’s an old city bus painted in yellow and green.  It’s the bus that civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was on that sparked the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.  As most of us know, in the 1950s in many parts of the South, blacks had to sit in the back of the bus and if they were towards the front and a white person entered the bus they had to move towards the back.  One day in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger who entered the bus.  The result was Parks was arrested and blacks in Montgomery began boycotting the busses to protest an unjust law.  It was during this time that a young preacher came to prominence for taking leadership during this boycott.  Martin Luther King became the other public faith of the boycott and after Montgomery he became the face of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

 

All of this started on this bus that now had its home in Dearborn, Michigan.  In the years following the boycott, the bus was sold and ended up in farmer’s field.  In the early 2000s, the bus was found, restored and delivered to the Henry Ford for permanent viewing.  Rosa Parks had moved to Detroit in the years following Montgomery and before she died in 2005, she was able to see the old bus that was witness to an earth shaking change in American society.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

It’s been 25 years since the events at Tiennamen Square took place.  I was in my second year of college at the time, and I remember seeing footage of the protests.  What was going to happen?  Could political change come to the world’s largest country?

 

We got our answer on June 4 when the Chinese Army came in and removed the protesters from the square.  When I mean removed, I mean slaughter.  Scores of mostly college students were killed or injured by the army.  I remember seeing the footage of the destruction of the Goddess of Democracy, a Chinese version of the Statue of Liberty that took root in the square.  The downfall of the statue was also the downfall of hope for a different way of governing the country.

 

There is another image that remains.  You’ve all see it.  In the aftermath of the crackdown, there is a sole man in the middle of a wide avenue standing in front of a line of tanks.  It seemed that no one else was around.  This man stood his ground against these large tanks and at one point even got up on one of the tanks.  No one ever knew who this man was or what happened to him, but he was a symbol of defiance in a hopeless situtation.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

The people of Israel were now free.  They had spent years as slave under the Pharaoh, a leader that didn’t know their ancestor Joseph and how another king welcomed Joseph’s family with open arms.  God hears the cries of the Israelites and raises up Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.  Pharaoh was stubborn and his heart was hardened.  He would not let the Israelites leave.  God sends 10 plagues or catastrophes that wreack havoc on the Egyptian people.  After the last plague, Pharaoh had enough.  He kicked the Israelites out.  Moses and the people of Israel left and started making their way to the Promised Land.

 

The people might have thought the nightmare was over.  But it wasn’t over.  Pharaoh’s heart hardened again and he decided to go after the fleeing Israelites.

 

The Hebrews were at the shore of the Red Sea with the advancing Egyptian army on their tail.  Things looked hopless and they shared their fear with Moses.  “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt like this? 12 Didn’t we tell you the same thing in Egypt?”  Moses tells them to stand strong, be still in and know that God will be with them.  God tells Moses to tell the Israelites to “get moving.”  They needed to be ready when God works to save them.

 

And save them God did.  God caused a mighty wind to blow back the waters of the mighty sea so that dry ground would appear.  The Israelites were able to walk through the newly dry ground and away from the Egyptians.  The Egyptians went in after the Israelites and God causes the waters to come crashing in on the army which was totally destroyed.

 

“Don’t be afraid,” Moses said to the people. “Stand your ground, and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never ever see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you. You just keep still.”

 

Do we believe God can make a difference in our lives?  Moses told the people that God was going to rescue the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians, with their mighty army.  Logic tells us that the Egyptians were going to slaughter the Israelites.  They were a powerful army with the tools of war; the Israelites were former slaves that probably didn’t have much.  Moses tells them to stand still, to stop their worrying and fretting and see what God is doing.  God tells the people to start moving in faith.  Together the people were called to run and stand still.  Both meant that God was moving, but the people needed to believe God was going to win the battle against the Egyptians.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

There’s a reason that I keep saying that same sentence.  It’s because in mainline Protestant churches like this one, there is a tendency to not see God in our daily lives.  Some take this a step further and think there no such thing as divine action by God.  Methodist pastor David Watson notes that the world wars of the last century, the holocuast and other attrocities have led mainline theologians to focus on the nature of evil to the exclusion of believing in a God that can do miracles. All of this has had an effect in our churches.  Watson writes:

One result of this liberal theological position has been that mainline Protestants have by and large ceased to expect any significant type of divine action. If someone in our churches received a world of prophecy that he or she wished to share with the congregation, would we receive this as legitimate? Would we take the time to test the prophecy against scripture and discern its truthfulness within our ongoing life together? Would we let the person speak at all? Or, as another example, when we pray for healing, are we taking a shot in the dark when all other hope is lost, or do we pray with the expectation that God will show up? Another example may hit closer to home: when we receive the Eucharist, do we believe that we are changed in that moment, that we have really and truly received the spiritual presence of Christ into our bodies and that the work of sanctification is taking place within us?

 

For many mainline Protestants, God has essentially become a construct. God gives weight to our ethical claims, credence to our feelings about social justice. God is not, however, an agent who can directly and radically change the course of events in our lives.

My observations make me agree with Watson, we don’t expect God to show up.

 

Some theologians think that the who experience at the Red Sea didn’t happen as we think it might or what Cecil B. Demile thought.  They think that all this might have happened at the Reed Sea, a shallow body of water.  The winds could push the waters back allowing the Israelites to escape and causing the Egyptian chariots to bog down.

 

I shared this with the folks at our Wednesday Bible Study.  Which story makes sense?  The consensus is that we liked the more familiar story, because it was more dramatic.  I would agree, but I think there is  related reason.  We want to believe that God shows up and fights for the Israelites.  We don’t want a nice explaination, we want a miracle.  We want to see God in action.

 

We have no idea what happened that day.  Maybe it was the Reed Sea scenario, maybe not.  What makes the difference is that God was active and the people believed God was alive and working for them.

 

It’s time for us to believe that God is going to show up.  It’s time to stand still and stop worrying.  To stop and see where God is active.  It’s time to believe that God can make a way out of now way in this church, in our lives and in the world.  We need to believe that God is a healer that can restore the sick even if our prayers are not answered.  We need to believe in a God that in the words heard in the black church growing up “woke me up in the morning and started me on my way.” We need to believe that the bread and wine of communion remind us of Christ’s time on earth and Christ’s work in our lives now.

 

We have to believe in a God that can do miracles, because if we can’t believe God will show up, it’s hard to be church and it’s hard to persuade anyone to come to church.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

In history, God was at work with Rosa Parks as she stood against segregation.  God was at work with that one unknown man in China as he faced down tanks.  God is at work, feed the poor, welcoming the homeless and the outcast and facing down the Pharaohs in the world.
Where have you seen God at today?  Stand still to find out and then move out in faith.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: God Is Good?

Genesis 39:1-23
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 21, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

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Before we go into today’s text, some backstory.  Joseph was the son of Jacob who happened to be the grandson of Abraham.  He was the youngest of Jacob’s sons.  Being an only child, I’ve never totally understood sibling rivarly, but this is definitely a textbook case.  Jacob doted on his youngest, keeping him from doing the really hard work.  He even gave him a fancy robe, something his brothers didn’t get.

 

Of course, his older brothers hated their little brother.  But they didn’t react by whining, they wanted to kill Joseph.  Ruben, one of the brothers was able to disuade his brothers from offing Joseph.  Instead, Joseph was sold into slavery and was soon on his way to Egypt.

 

potipharswifeThis is where we find Joseph at the start of chapter 39.  Joseph was sold as a slave to the house of Potiphar.  He has gone from a favored son to a slave.  But as the passage notes, the Lord with Joseph.  He ends up in the house of a high-ranking Egyptian official.  After a time, Joseph went from being a common slave to running the household.  He went from working in the elements to working inside and managing the affairs of the household. Joseph was so good at what he did, that his boss completely trusted him with everything.

 

So far, Joseph’s story sounds very much like a rags-to-riches story.  Our society loves these kind of stories.  We love hearing about someone who was down and out and some how improves himself despite the challenges set in his way.  We love these stories because they talk about someone who through hard work is able to pull himself up by his bootstrap and succeed.

 

Now, when you hear these stories, most of the time we never talk about what happens after they “make it.”  We want to believe that the pinnacle of success is constant, but of course, nothing ever stays the same.  We can go from making $100K a year to losing a job  and then making $24K in a lower paying job.  Things can go from good to bad in a second.

 

So, Joseph was doing well.  God was truly with Joseph.  But was the good time a sign of Joseph being faithful, of being rewarded by God?  But would God still be with Joseph when things took a turn south? Read More…

Sermon: No Maps!

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

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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.

Read More…

Sermon: “I Promise.”

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

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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…

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