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Do Unto Others

All Saints Day Luke 6:20-31

There are lots of blessings and woes in this passage. And all of them make us a little squirmy. A seminary cohort of mine used to start sentences with “deep down in my icky dark core…”. This is one of those deep down in my icky dark core moments in scripture for me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want those who hate me to be blessed

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to pray for those who abuse me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to think about the fact that I might be counted among the “rich” of this world, even in the times I struggle to make ends meet.

Deep down in my icky dark core I crave the approval of people, I need everyone to speak well of me, even when I know my call should cause people to feel a little uncomfortable and to even disagree with me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

But the Good News is it isn’t about me. Its never about me. Its about God, and I’m not God, and praise be for that! I need to remember that my sinful self regularly needs grace and forgiveness, and to be reminded, even with scripture that hits my icky dark core that others need grace and forgiveness too.

So I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to honor the parts of scripture that hit my sinful self hard, to honor others as images of God, and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Remember Our Sins No More

This week the Old Testament reading for the Lectionary Text comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34, for Reformation Sunday. I love Reformation Sunday. It gives me a reason to wear my Pentecost pants a 2nd time (a habit I picked up from my childhood pastor, although to be honest, not sure where those pants are since I’ve moved, so I guess it’ll just be Pentecost/Reformation Chacos)

As Lutherans we talk about the Law and the Gospel a lot. A. Lot. We’ve often err on the side of writing off the Old Testament reading some Sundays as irrelevant because of the Gospel, but I love this one.

I love it because God is making promises to God’s people. The people who continue to screw up. The people who can’t quite seem to get it right. The people who fail. Sound familiar?

God not only promises to “forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”. Remember our sins no more. Think about the magnitude of that statement.

We can forgive sin, we know we aren’t perfect and we all sin, and we are supposed to forgive each other, but can we forget each other’s sin? Sometimes I think that’s hard for us as humans, because we can choose to forgive, but we often can’t help remembering. Maybe it has something to do with our survival instincts. We remember what hurt us so we can try to avoid it and not be hurt again.

Then I think about the people I’m closest to. My family, friends from childhood, people I’ve walked through Hell with. Those people have hurt me. I’m sure they’ve hurt me more times than I can count. But I’m not sure I remember all of those times, because we choose love. We choose relationship.

That’s what’s so exciting about this Old Testament reading. God chooses God’s people. The people don’t choose God. That would be too easy and too fleeting. But God chooses us, and God (with Her infinite memory) chooses to remember our sins no more.

That sounds an awful lot like Good News.

Peace be with you.

Justice Seekers – Sermon 10/20

Justice Seeking God, we worship today on the land of the Muscogee people, on a land which has a complicated and rich history. We pray for forgiveness for the sins of the past, and for your justice and mercy for all of your creation. -Amen

I hope everyone has had a chance to look over the bulletin inserts that detail just a little bit of the history of what is now the Deaconess Community of the ELCA

As some of you may already know I am in the candidacy process for the ministry of word and service which means when I am ordained I will be a deacon, or a minister of word and service. What you may not know is that I am also joining an intentional community of women known as the Deaconesses, which means I will also be a Sister. Deaconesses are women who also serve as Deacons in the ELCA, who are set apart for a ministry of word and service and live in intentional community.

The vision of the community is as follows. Compelled by the love of Christ and sustained by community, the Deaconess Community of the ELCA works for justice and flourishing for all of God’s creation.

When Pastor asked if I would preach this week, and I looked at the text, the widow and the unrighteous judge, I couldn’t think of a better time to share just a little bit of what I’ve experienced through my time with the Sisters and other candidates, especially when it comes to working for justice, and the flourishing of all of God’s creation.

The widow in our parable today is demanding the justice she knows she deserves from a judge who neither fears God nor respects people. I wish this didn’t sound so familiar. I wish we lived in a time and place where everyone felt like the justice owed to them was delivered. 

But since we aren’t there yet, I thought maybe some stories of modern day justice seekers might be a good illumination of the Good news of today’s text. 

I wish you could all meet Sister Jane. I wish you could sit with her and listen to her tell stories about her hilarious encounters the police over ending up in the middle of a Nevada highway at night with no headlights on because it was a rental car and they couldn’t figure out where the lights were! I wish you could hear Sister Carol tell the story about how, while Sister Jane was a cottage mother in a group home for teenage boys, she crawled under the fence of a neighbor’s garden, to steal his rabbit traps, because her heart is so big she couldn’t stand the thought of those poor bunnies being hurt.

But its her love for the first nation people of Canada that I really wish you could hear. Sister Jane married a member of a tribe in Canada, and saw the effects that residential schools had on people into their adult lives. She recalls trying to get people to understand the abuse that was happening to the children in residential schools 50 years ago, and no one would listen to her. When I spoke with her this week asking about her experience, she said “I thought this must have been how people felt in Nazi Germany, trying to get people to know what was happening. Because I kept telling people, and no one would listen”

But that never stopped Sister Jane. She became a foster parent and teacher in her community. One day some of the boys, including her foster son were trespassing on city property, and were asked to leave. Obviously that was fine, to ask a group of children to leave a place they shouldn’t be anyway. But the city employees decided to verbally and physically abuse some of the boys, slapping one across the face and knocking his glasses to the ground.

When Sister Jane found out, well you can imagine she was probably something like that widow in our parable today, all fired up. She told her husband, and some of the other foster parents what had happened, and she was met with a chorus of “Jane, this is just the way it is” 

Sister Jane refused to accept what those around her had become accustomed to after generations of abuse. She called the police, and explained what happened to the boys. The police officer acknowledged that she was right, agreed to talk to the city employees, and went and checked on the boys. He appreciated her willingness to reach out, especially for one of the boys, the boy whose glasses had been knocked off his face. 

That boy came from a family who was in trouble with the law quite a bit. He rarely saw police officers in a positive light. The police officer went to check on him, to make sure he was alright, to tell him that what happened to him was not ok, and to let him know the officer cared. When the officer spoke with Sister Jane again he told her that if she hadn’t called, that boy might never have known there was a police officer who cared about him. 

Demanding justice often comes at a price. We know that civil rights leaders in this country, demanding justice for people of color, have been abused, injured, and assassinated. Right before Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968 he launched what he called the Poor People’s Campaign. He believed that rallying the poor of the country to affect real change was the only way we were going to see moral revival. With the death of both Dr King and Robert Kennedy the movement slowed and stalled, but has been revived in recent years. 

I know about this revival because of my fellow candidate Katie. Katie lives in Bangor Maine where she is a Hospice Social Worker. She became involved with the Poor People’s Campaign about two years ago, and I have watched her be transformed as one who demands justice. 

As we walk with the community through our rite of accompaniment we are part of the community in all aspects including having a voice but not a vote until we are no longer candidates. That also means we can’t bring resolutions forth before the community for a vote. So when Katie wanted the Deaconess Community to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign, she found other sisters willing to write the resolution with her, and bring it before the community. She educated the sisters via social media before we gathered for our Annual assembly and made sure she had the chance for many one on one conversations about her passions. Because of her persistence, the Deaconess Community of the ELCA endorses the Poor People’s Campaign, and plans to work with our local movements and leaders to affect change where we live.

These stories are great, but we are people of the word first and foremost, and the reason these justice demanding women can fulfill the call on their lives is ultimately because we worship a God who we know hears us. We know it because Jesus says it, right here in this parable. He told them this parable so they would not cease to pray to God and not lose hope. Because if even unrighteous judges will relent, how much More does God love God’s children?

That my friends is a message of hope in a world full of unrighteous judges. That we worship the God who spoke messages of hope and justice through the prophets. The God who came down to earth as Jesus delivered a message of justice that no one was expecting. A message that spoke of justice and mercy for the most marginalized, for the unwanted and the unloved. 

Children of God that is the call of a deacon. Those of us who serve as those first deacons served in Acts chapter 6 when the Apostles realized that someone needed to look after the neglected Greek speaking widows. Part of the call of a deacon is to speak publicly in the world in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming Gods love for the world. We also advocate a ministry of word and service that commits itself to risk taking and innovative service on the frontiers of the church’s outreach. 

It means we serve and stand alongside our siblings of color who are afraid of the very people tasked to protect them. It means we work to dismantle systems that keep children in cages because their family wanted a better life for them. It means we are radically welcoming to our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community. And it means others don’t always agree with us, but we keep loving anyway, we keep preaching the word anyway, and we keep serving anyway, just like our great example of diakonia, or ministry of word and service, Jesus.

Finally I want to tell you about probably the most important Sister in my life. Sister Gladys Reidenour. Sister Gladys was a dancer. Such a good dancer, in fact, that her instructor told her mother she should make it on Broadway. But her mother never told her that. She did tell Gladys that she couldn’t afford to keep dancing. So the holy spirit had another plan for her life. 

Sister Gladys graduated with a BS in Nursing and was consecrated as a deaconess in the 1950s. She was a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pottstown Pennsylvania. While serving as a deaconess she was called by the foreign mission board to serve as a missionary in Malaysia and Singapore, helping to found the fledgling Lutheran church that began there in the 50s. She responded to the call and worked as a medical missionary as well as the administrator of childcare programs at Good Shepherd Lutheran outside Kuala Lampour. She was Emmanuel Lutheran’s first missionary in its 200 year history, in a time when women couldn’t yet serve as Word and Sacrament pastors she left everything she knew to serve the least of these halfway around the world. 

She ultimately returned to the states and served as a parish deaconess for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Baltimore, running a childcare facility for the church. You may wonder why this sister, who unfortunately passed away in 2013, almost 5 years before I would be accompanied by the community, is the most important Sister in my life. 

I was born in Frederick Maryland, about an hour outside of Baltimore, the daughter of a Baptist mother a father with no religious affiliation, who had yet to find a church home about a year after I was born. One day, as my mother would describe it to me years later, a Lutheran Nun knocked on their door. Her name, was Sister Gladys. She had been asked to come up to Frederick and invite families to attend Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, a congregation who had experienced a split and was reaching out to the community.

Sister Gladys knocked on 500 doors, and I was baptized, and 12 years later confirmed at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Frederick Maryland, the place that showed me my call to diaconal ministry. My mother recalls that of the 500 houses that Sister Gladys visited, only one resulted in a family visiting Good Shepherd, my family. I don’t know which door we were, number 5 or number 495, but I’m so glad she didn’t stop knocking. 

You have a calling brothers and sisters, and through prayer and relationships within the body of Christ, and the movement of the holy spirit I pray that you are strengthened to live out that call and to keep demanding justice. Keep knocking friends. Keep knocking.

Aaaaand We’re Back

And we will come back home, home again.

From Now On – The Greatest Showman

I led a small group of Jr High youth this summer, on a trip we took to Memphis for a theologically engaging service experience. Jr high kiddos can be a bit squirrely, and I am easily distracted by tangents, so every so often I would have to say “Aaaaaaaand we’re back” to get them back on track. Apparently this is what they remembered from the week, and really, that’s not so bad.

I’ve taken a break from writing for a while, not just writing for me, but writing for various youth ministry blogs and curriculum. It wasn’t an intentional break, it was more of a side effect of managing the stress of life. Unfortunately what I let go to manage stress were the things that actually bring me great joy. so its time to come back.

I was reminded of the things that bring me joy, and the things I’m passionate about, by attending the assembly of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA. I gathered with sisters from all over the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, for business meetings, worship, fellowship, and holy time together. In that time I heard stories of Sisters who fought battles I never new about, and heard the passions of those of us who are becoming Sisters now.

I was reminded of my own passions. Of writing and speaking and helping people better understand how we can be the church. I was reminded of the diaconate’s call to serve those on the margins, to bridge the gap between the church and the world, and to continually seek justice.

I also let go of some stuff I’d been holding on to. I let the community bear that for me, and then pass it on to the one who holds all things. I let Sister Le hold onto my face and say “you can’t quit, I need you to not quit”, when she couldn’t have known how close I have come to giving up on this very long process of entering the Ministry of Word and Service.

So I write this reflection with no real purpose, except that writing brings me joy. It is cathartic, it is spiritual, and it is life giving. And to say thank you. Thank you to the community, to the generations of Sisters whose shoulders we stand on now, and for the generations that are pulling each other up and along the road we travel.

We are inextricably connected. And for that I give thanks.

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Love is…

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind…

Flash back to any weddings yet? I think sometimes those of us who work in churches roll our eyes at how often this passage gets used in wedding ceremonies, valentines day social media posts, and everywhere surrounding romantic love.

But Paul isn’t talking about romantic love. There’s a word for romantic love in Greek, and that word is eros. Here Paul is talking about agape love. Agape is the love that God has for us, and that we have for God. Its not bound by attraction or mutual affection. Agape is the kind of love that is unconditional, that we can’t earn or deserve, but is freely offered.

Sometimes I see all of the things listed in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians and I think “yeah, that sounds great, but is love really like that? Are we capable of that?”

I truly believe we are. We catch glimpses of Agape love between people all the time, we just need to be paying attention. I asked some social media pals what they think Agape love is, you’ll find some of their answers below, mixed in with my own musings.

Love is…

When someone stops to help a stranger change a tire, knowing it will be an inconvenience.

Listening.

Showing up week after week to teach Sunday school when you’ve had it up to your neck, because kids deserve someone who loves them.

Selfless

Doing the dishes, and not bragging about it.

Opening every cabinet door in the fellowship hall kitchen with a 2nd grader, because he needs to do that with you instead of sitting in children’s church.

Being present.

Choosing a career that serves others, over the ever driving appeal of wealth.

Giving of oneself.

Not abandoning a teenager who has done everything to push you away.

Sacrificial

Sitting at someones bedside, even if they no longer know you are there, or who you are.

Always looking for the good.

Telling your spouse they will go to every inter-generational event at church because those kids are going to know you love them gosh darn it.

The way. The way of God because God is love. If it’s not agape love, it’s not of God.

Ultimately, love is hard. Its hard because we are human, and we are sinners. We mess up, we make each other mad, we hurt feelings, and we break relationships. But luckily, that love that is of God is the way. Its the way back to restoration, the way back to wholeness, the way back to Shalom.

The greatest of these is Love my friends, the greatest of these is Love.

Great Gifts

2nd Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“Now there are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:4

What is the greatest gift you’ve ever been given? And I’m not talking about any of those noble answers like, the love of my child, or my amazing spouse… save it. When I say greatest gift, what comes to mind?

(Just to be clear, the love of my children and my spouse are both amazing gifts, but that’s just not what we are talking about right now)

I am an only child, and holidays were not a huge deal at our house, so I know I got great gifts as a kid, but I’m not sure I remember a lot of them. Although there was this one year when my mom wrapped up figure skates that I had been wearing for a few months, because those suckers were expensive, and when she said they were my Christmas present, she meant it!

One Christmas when my oldest child was about 5 and his brother was just a baby we were visiting family, and my oldest’s Godfather came over with presents. If ever there was someone who’s love language was gift giving, it would be his. Everyone got great gifts, and I got a laptop. It was such a huge deal for me, because it wasn’t something I would have been able to get for myself, and was something I really needed.

That’s sort of what its like with our Spiritual gifts right? Oftentimes we feel like our spiritual gifts probably don’t matter that much, like the time we got socks when we really hoped we were getting that new bike. But we needed those socks, and people around you need your spiritual gifts. Sometimes your spiritual gifts will be like my Christmas computer, big and bold and desperately needed. Other times your Spiritual gifts might seem more like socks, needed but not necessarily noticed.

But your gifts are unique to you. Even if you and another person both have the gift of hospitality, you are uniquely created and your gift will look different than theirs. That’s the beautiful thing about spiritual gifts, all of them are needed within the church, and outside its walls. Someone is waiting for your gifts to be used, for you to welcome them, talk to them, sing with them, or just sit with them. So take some time to think about what your gifts might be, and how you can best use them to serve your church and the world!

For more information on Spiritual Gifts (definitions, quizzes etc) check out these links:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts-online-assessment

https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Congregations-and-Synods/Faith-Practices/Spiritual-Renewal/Assessment-Tools

Sisterhood

4th Sunday in Advent Year C

Luke 1:39-45

Mary and Elizabeth. Two women who played major roles in history no one could have prepared them for. One would bear a prophet who would herald the coming of the Messiah, and the other would be the mother of that Messiah.

Talk about your big ask. Both of these women would not only become mothers to sons (a very important job in their time), but their sons would hold occupations that did not necessarily bring honor to their families, and both would die pretty horrible deaths. Now, we don’t know if Elizabeth outlived John, but we know Mary was present at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Both women, tasked with huge roles, didn’t ask for them. Elizabeth desperately wanted a child, but I imagine she might have chosen a different life for him. Weather Mary was ready or not, she was to be a mother in a way she didn’t plan either. So where does she go? With haste, she heads to Elizabeth’s house.

Sometimes we need the sisterhood of believers. Women have often existed in the shadows of religious life, and even as more and more serve in leadership roles, we often are not intentional about seeking out those female relationships. Even when we do, (as can be the case in some larger churches) we pigeonhole ourselves into age specific groups of females.

We need Elizabeths. We need women who have gone before us, with struggles, and joys and sorrows to share. We need stories of how they’ve seen God so we can better see God ourselves.

And Elizabeths need Marys too. They need to rejoice in new life, and protect those who come after them. They need to be reminded of who they have been and how much they are needed now.

So enter into the sisterhood of believers and may your soul magnify the Lord!

People Pleasers

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17,21-22

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

I’ve always been a people pleaser, especially people in authority. I wanted my teachers, coaches, pastors, anyone in charge really, to be happy with me. If I’m being honest though, it wasn’t just wanting people to be happy with me, it was for them to like me best. I needed to be better than other people, I needed to be the favorite. (If you get a copy of the Linganore High School yearbook from 2001 you’ll find my picture next to the title of Teacher’s Pet, and yes I am appropriately mortified about that now)

Perhaps that desire to please others, stems from a real desire to please God. And since we don’t generally get to hear the voice that Jesus hears at his baptism “with you I am well pleased”. We don’t always know if what we are doing is pleasing to God.

Or do we? I think we have a pretty good idea of what pleases God. We know Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest we can do is to love God and love others, so if what we are doing is truly loving God, and truly loving others, and not our own self interest, its probably pleasing to God.

There are countless examples in scripture of things that people over the centuries have found to be pleasing to God, from offerings and prayers, to fighting for justice for the marginalized. We don’t have to look hard to find what pleases God, when we shine the light of Christ to others, God is well pleased.

I pray that you can continue to live in the light of Christ, and remember that people are flawed, and that even in all of our brokenness we are pleasing to God. That’s the mystery of Grace, that God loves us in the midst of our flaws. We don’t follow Jesus because it saves us, we follow out of the joy of salvation. And with that, God is well pleased.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12

Its that time. The time when people tend to pack away their trees, and put up the magic of Christmas. But what if we turned that around, and realized that the real “magic” started this Sunday, on Epiphany?!

The Magi (sometimes also translated as the Kings or the Wise men) are some mysterious figures in scripture. We figure they were probably astrologers, the scientists of the time who studied the heavens and were well respected for their knowledge. They saw a sign in the heavens and went in search of this holy baby, signaled by the star in the sky.

What faith it must have taken to go on that journey. To head off in search of something, not knowing what they would find. To be people of science, heading off on a journey of faith.

We are now people of science. We believe in the scientific method, we teach our kids to think critically, and God gave us these abilities to be used to their fullest potential, just as God set stars in the sky for the Magi to study. But even people of science need a little magic.

We need to remember that there are things out there beyond our understanding. That God is bigger than all of our scientific method, and that we don’t have to have it all figured out. God gives us a different star to follow on our faith journeys, and our light is Jesus.

We get to step out in faith, following the light of Christ even though we don’t know where the journey will take us. We will meet Herods, who want us to do things we aren’t comfortable with, and we will change course. Sometimes we will catch glimpses of the glory of God, and like the Magi, we will have no choice but to kneel in worship of the God that lights our paths.

Here’s to the Magic of Epiphany. May it live with you as you continue to journey on.

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