God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

May 26 — Holy Trinity Sunday

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Grace to you and peace, from God in three persons, blessed Trinity.  AMEN.

When I was a boy, growing up, we used to spend some of our summer vacations visiting Grandma and Grandpa Roschke in Kansas City, Missouri.  

And one of my favorite things to do there, I remember, was to go with my brothers and my cousins, to one of the city centers in KC (I think it was downtown), and play in the jumping fountains.  Ever seen one of these?

We would put our swim suits and Mom would put our sunscreen on in the hot Midwest summer.  And we’d all go down to the jumping fountains, and try to catch the water,  shooting from one pod to the next.  We’d try to figure out the pattern of the jumping fountain, but we never could.  And then after an interval of sporadic jumping water, the whole fountain would just explode with a huge shower!  And then quiet again.

I just remember so much laughing and squealing with glee and holding onto each other (both in teasing and in joy)...  And I remember when you got hit with that water [gasp] how cold and shocking it was (our parents would take pictures of our faces), and at the same time how refreshing it was.  It’s hard to talk about it and not smile…[pause]

The memories of that place—from another time in my life—come flooding back this day as I think about the Holy Trinity on this Holy Trinity Sunday, first Sunday after Pentecost, the beginning of what many of our liturgical brothers and sisters call Ordinary Time, what I have called Outside Time.

And it all starts today with the celebration of the Holy Trinity!  
What can we say of God the Holy Trinity?

My guess is that pastors everywhere are sheepishly and humbly approaching church pulpits today—or at least they should be—because whenever you talk about the Trinity, you’re always in danger of committing heresy.

This might seem silly to us now: just say what you want to say about God...it’s a free country, right?  What’s the big deal?  In recent years, I haven’t heard a whole lot of synod conventions arguing about the nature of Christ, and God the Son’s relationship to and with God the Father.  
But please remember today, that the early Christians really went to the mat on this stuff.  (Sex and biblical interpretation? — the things we fight about: “boring” to them.)  Some wanted to say that there was a pecking order to the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son (who was a little bit less than God the Father) and the Holy Spirit...just like this extra bird or something.

But Athanasius really put the nail in Arius’ theological coffin.  Arius was the one who wanted to say that that God the Father was greater than God the Son.  Remember the Athanasian Creed from the old green hymnal, the LBW?  We used to always say this on Holy Trinity Sunday...

We worship one God in trinity, and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons, nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another. But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty. What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.
The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.
Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit:
And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal;
as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings,
     but one who is uncreated and unlimited.
Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit:
And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty. 

Still with me?  This Trinity stuff is crazy.  But it should not just be tossed out: “Who cares?”  This is the doctrine we confess, to which we cling, which gives us hope and joy (actually) and is the basis for a rich theological tradition...to which Luther subscribed, and we many, many years later still put on this great outfit called the Trinity/our creeds.  To think that God the Spirit, is equal to God the Father, is equal to God the Son, who we name as Jesus!

Just trying to wrap our head around this, with the words of these ancient creeds, we start to enter into the mystery and the wonder of our God.  That God is not someone we can capture.  Saying these old creeds, while at first for us might seem restricting or limiting or too doctrinal — 
I’d actually encourage you to see these creeds (these fabulous outfits) rather as a threshold—or an entry way—into a wondrous relationship with God and with one another!  

And so I began with an image of children playing in a jumping fountain — I tried to put words around an experience that I really can’t put words around. [pause]

But I hope you could at least catch the joy, even in my meager telling of that time in the jumping fountain…[pause]

...so it is with God:
We like children revel in the majesty of God’s splendor...even in this life, not just in the life hereafter.  We laugh and run, we hold each other, sometimes we hurt each other, we are soaked with the waters of our baptism — and sometimes that’s shocking and freezing, but mostly it’s a joy, it is refreshing/renewing.  And we keep coming back to those waters to play, whether we’re 3 or 73... 

One of the newer hymns for Holy Trinity in our red hymnal is called “Come, Join the Dance of Trinity” (turn to it #412).  We’re not going to sing it (we’ll sing something more majestic), but I wanted to point you to it, because here is a modern hymn writer, shifting away from an explanation of the mystery of the Trinity—not in a heretical way—but rather imagining us people of God as being interwoven with God, caught up in the “dance” of the Trinity...I would say, reveling in the jumping fountain of God.  

Like that fountain in Kansas City, we can’t really figure out the pattern of God, but that doesn’t matter.  That’s not our job.  All we can do is bask in God’s splendor and beauty.  Feel God’s love drench us and chill us, and hold onto one another.  This is life in the swirling, jumping Trinity!  We can’t ever fully put our finger on it.   And so we play and enjoy and try; we are helped today by a poem in Proverbs, a psalm, by Paul, and the Gospel of John, by our prayers and several hymn writers, through the text of our liturgy, and a sermon, and the gift of bread and wine.  We are drawn together into the life of our unfathomable, “immortal, invisible God, only wise.” We revel in the mystery, we dance in the Trinity, we are swept up, soaked and filled with joy, as our praises today reach the rafters and our spirits soar in thanksgiving!  To our Triune God be the glory, forever and ever!  AMEN. AMEN. AMEN.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 19 — Pentecost Sunday

Listen to this sermon HERE.

What can one say about the Holy Spirit?  There is just something about the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that is un-sayable.  We don’t know where she comes from or where she’s going, and how she got here…  (Do you imagine the Holy Spirit as a she?  I do.  The Hebrew word for Spirit/wind/breath ruach, is a feminine word, that same Spirit that blew over the waters of creation, is a she...anyway...)

Other than a pronoun, there’s not a whole lot to say to describe the Holy Spirit.  But we can see evidence of the Holy Spirit...even today.  Kind of like how you can’t look directly at the sun, but you can describe all the things upon which the sun shines… 

It’s not just a cool, kind-of-creepy story from long ago: the disciples gathered in another room, huddled together, and suddenly the doors fling open and “thar she blows!”  

No, there is evidence all around that that same Holy Spirit is with us today.  Can you see it?

Take a deep breath.  And think for a moment about where you’ve seen evidence of the Holy Spirit working lately.

God has not abandoned us, for the Spirit still blows freely among us, through this congregation, and right out these doors and through this world.  Think of signs of the Spirit among us...traces that the Spirit’s “blown through here”.  

On St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve had this tradition spill over into our house from school:  I never had this growing up, both Micah and Katie’s schools get visited by a magical leprechaun.  The leprechaun always makes a mess of things.  And this year, when we got home from church, there were some cups on the counter knocked over in our kitchen, there were little green footprints across our living room floor, there were some tiny gifts left, gold stickers and a coloring book, and there were gold flecks all over the place, even a handwritten note from Larry the Leprechaun…

We’ve had fun discovering and trying to catch (last year Micah made some traps to try to catch) the leprechaun. 

“[gasp] Uh-oh.  What a mess!”  [gasp] Surprise!  All at the same time.

The Holy Spirit surprises us and makes a mess of things too.

I had someone say to me once, “You know, my life used to be great before I met Jesus.  I had a good job, I was in fine shape, my relationships were in order, my family was doing well.  Outlook was good, like a weekly forecast in San Diego: ‘76 and sunny’.  And then I started going to church and learning about Jesus. My life was great before I met Jesus.  Now following him, we go to the pain.  We think about the needy, we’re honest about grief and loss: it sucks.  We give our money away, and we understand ‘family’ in terms, far beyond just the nuclear unit, and so my brothers and sisters in Africa hurting, hurts me.”  That pesky Holy Spirit: knocking stuff over again!  

I think he was being clever, saying that his life had gotten worse since he met Jesus (there are good parts about going to church too), but I don’t know…
He wasn’t in it for himself anymore.

The Holy Spirit gets into our home, into our lives, and makes a mess of things, and surprises us.  “[gasp] Uh-oh.”

My life was great until the Holy Spirit interrupted everything.

Have you seen evidence of that same Spirit?

Have you ever had things worked out in your head about a certain person...namely that you didn’t like a certain person, and you could make very logical argument as to why others shouldn’t like him/her as well.   And then something happens, and you start to actually feel yourself liking that person after all?

This happens all the time for me.  I can be pretty cynical and suspicious of people.  (… :) probably didn’t like most of you) I’ve been hurt before, and so it’s easy to put up a guard and not let people in...to be honest. 

But the Holy Spirit has made a mess of things, flinging open the windows of my heart, blowing in the seeds of patience, love and forgiveness, and new things start to grow and change.

Pentecost is real, sisters and brothers in Christ.  And it’s happening all around us.  The Holy Spirit is always moving and always doing a new thing.  Can you see it?  Wind doesn’t straighten things up.  But the pieces that are blown over, or cracked open, give life to something new and exciting.  Where is the Spirit’s action in your life?  In our world? 

I was traveling this week, to preaching conference in Nashville (bet you're wishing I paid more attention about now)...but I am continually struck by the kindness of strangers.  Little courtesies, big sacrifices, kind gestures...even amid the stress of traveling, and it’s usually not glaring, but it’s always there.   People giving up their seat, moving aside, offering to help, speaking politely.  It’s there.  The Spirit is still moving, cracking us open, making a mess of things, making room for love and forgiveness to take root and grow in a new way.  That same Spirit is working on you, offering you forgiveness and setting you free.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Hymn — you don’t need your hymnal.  “Veni Sancte Spiritus” 

As Lutheran Christians, we are always caught in a both-and:  We are both Sinners and Saints, Christ is both human and divine.  At Communion we share both Bread and Wine and Body and Blood.  

And at Pentecost — we speak of God’s spirit rushing in to be fully with us, whether we want/see/know it or not...and at the same time we call out, beg, cry for that Spirit to come be with us, as if she wasn’t already.  Paradoxically, we sing for the same thing that is already here, just like when we pray “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest”.

We’re going to sing over and over for the Spirit to come (and for us to see the messes) now…

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May 12 — Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mothers' Day)

Listen to this sermon HERE.

How did you like Jesus’ Mothers’ Day Prayer?  Did you catch that prayer?  I often struggle with parts of John’s Gospel, because I think it’s hard to follow some of Jesus words… “I in them and you in me and we one and they one I in them you us we he they…”  I loose track of all those pronouns.  But here’s the bottom line of the loving prayer that Jesus prays:  that Christ is in and with us, and that we are together.  

And what good mother doesn’t want that?    

It’s been something I’ve heard from many of our mothers:  Mothers want the family to be together, in peace, and they want to be there too.  I heard from a few mothers this week, say, “I don’t want any ‘thing’ for Mother’s Day, I just want us to be together, I just want us all to be together.”  And then clarified, “I don’t want to be sent away from the family, to a spa for the day or a retreat alone or even with a friend: I just want us all to be together.”

Of course there’s no “just” about it, like it’s something easy or flippant.  It’s a bold desire.  How hard it is for families to come together, even when it’s possible physically.  So much strife amid families, so much history, and pent up bad/sad memories.  So many ongoing disagreements...on philosophies of parenting, or on politics or religion, or life choices.  It’s so hard to “just” be together, in peace, isn’t it…

And yet the good moms of this world continue to call us back together — not idly and dreamily, but boldly and lovingly, calling us back to the fold, back to the community, back to the earth, back to a healthy life and a full life and a life together, like New Testament prophets encouraging us: stay together brothers and sisters in Christ, live kindly and peaceably with one another.  Love one another.  

This is what Jesus prays for us today...and far beyond just our immediate family to come together.  Jesus prays (boldly not dreamily), like so many of our loving mothers, “I want the family to be together, in peace, and I’m going to be there too.”  I’m not going anywhere, Jesus says to us.  Don’t send me off to some spa or retreat in the clouds.  I’m staying right here with you, no matter what you have to say about.  I’ll be here in bread and wine, water and word.  I’ll be here in the face of both friends and strangers alike.  I’m not going anywhere, Jesus says.  Like a good mother.

Christ. Is. Here. Today.  Loving us.  Praying for us.  (Not sure we think of Jesus praying for us, but here it is, today in the Gospel of John.)  And Christ isn’t going anywhere.  Praying that we come together. 

I want to shift over to this First Lesson that Dusty/Brad read from Acts...because there we have some pretty graphic imagery of family not coming together, of family bickering, not just that, but family hurting each other:  great story from Acts!

Paul and Silas...get annoyed...cast out “the spirit of divination”...upset the business establishment...upset the way things are done.  That’s Part 1 of this account. 

Then they get thrown in prison.  And here’s where we see glimpses of our mothering God working and bringing the most unlikely of people together:  the prisoners and the prison guards.  My friend’s dad was a prison guard (Lee E. was a prison guard), and I’ve heard and can certainly imagine that it’s rough in there.  That’s understatement, right?  And yet the other stories I’ve heard, kindnesses that take place, perhaps few and far between.  Perhaps not.  That’s the Spirit working in the unlikeliest of places.  People coming together.  And that’s what happens in this reading for today.  Paul and Silas (the prisoners), befriend and even baptize the prison guard and his whole household!

And you can see Mothering Jesus‘ prayer almost hovering over this whole scene.  Like with brothers and sisters finally reconcile after all these years.  Have you ever seen this in your own life?  It’s rare.  But when peace finally settles into a family’s dynamic, it’s no small moment.  When after years of being at each others throats, calling each other names, arguing and fighting, or going long spells without ever even talking, when finally peace comes and settles into a family’s dynamic, it’s no small thing.  And there’s Mother’s prayer, Jesus‘ prayer for unity and peace and presence, hovering over the whole scene.  What a gift.  Pure grace.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Children of the Heavenly Mother, God is here, and God’s not going anywhere.  God through Christ prays for us today.  Prays for peace, longs for us to reconcile with one another, to forgive one another, as we have been forgiven.  I always say, “That’s the big question, isn’t it:  HOW’S FORGIVENESS GOING FOR YOU?”  God is here as we struggle with that question, holding us like a strong mother, rocking us, reading to us, calming us down.  As we struggle to shed our anger and our resentment, our bitterness and our remorse.  Christ isn’t going anywhere, off to a heavenly spa in clouds.  Christ is right here with us as we struggle.  Christ is right here with us in our pain, in our loneliness (some, Mother’s Day is not a sweet, pretty day at all—it’s a very hard day), Christ is right here in our both in our joy and especially in our sorrow.  This God knows pain, like a mother knows pain when her children fall.  This God knows pain and comes and waits (and wades) with us through our pain.  This God holds us, and gives us hope, gives us peace.  And we are made one; we are together...this day.

All mothers or motherly figures in our congregation are invited to remain seated while the assembly lays hands on them in prayer.

You have prayed over us, let us pay over and bless you...


Mothering God, pour out your blessing on all mothers and those who provide motherly care.

You have made them in your image and given them children to love and care for in your name.

Bless them with a heart like your heart: loving and kind, comforting and strong, nurturing and grace-filled.  As they participate in your ongoing creativity, give them discernment to help their children discover their unique gifts.  

As they teach their children, grant them wisdom to know what is truly valuable.  As they strive to share your unconditional love, give them long-suffering patience and a lively sense of humor.

As they model your mercy, help them extend the forgiveness they themselves freely receive from you.

In all circumstances fortify their faith, that they may love you above all.  We ask this in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Adam and Leaves" — Workshop slides

As promised, here are the slides from the workshop, entitled "Adam and Leaves: A Tale of Two Creation Accounts", given 3 May 2013, at the Pacifica Synod Assembly, San Diego, CA.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

May 5 — Sixth Sunday of Easter

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Oh no!  Now Paul has had a vision.  (Remember last week when Peter had a vision—and everything changes?)  What an energetic and open group of people that must have been accompanying Paul, the way Acts 16 is narrated — “When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.”

And so they set sail from Troas, to Samothrace, to Neapolis and from there to Philippi.  That’s their missionary journey.  How’s yours looking this week?  You know you’re all Christ’s missionaries, right?!

From where will you set sail this week, and where will your visions lead you this week/month?  How would you record your missionary journeys?  God’s calling some of us down to T.A.C.O. again this week, and then maybe over to visit a friend’s house…

“During the night, ____ had a vision: there stood a man on the corner of W. Broadway and India St., pleading with her and saying, come over to the city and help us.  And when she had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over into downtown, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to the people there.  We set sail from Shepherd of the Valley’s parking lot, and took a straight course to Third Avenue Charitable Organization.  The following day we went to visit an aging friend who was lonely and from there we continued…”  Something like that?  

Sound crazy, all this talk of visions?  A little irrational?  Maybe so.  Betty Corsi told me once about a vision she had.  It was Easter Sunday 2009.  We were all arriving to church in our Easter finest, we had brass instruments that that Sunday, and everything was intended to be glorious, to blow the roof off.  That’s when I first changed the seats to be in the round as a way of surprising, shocking everyone.  That first Easter was a shock right...and there’s great symbolism in the Christian community gathering in a circle, equidistant from one another, looking at each other…

Betty, as she appeared to me after the service was unimpressed and un-phased really by any of the shock and awe of Easter fabulous-ness.  She just says to me quietly after the service, pointing over to this plot of land, “Pastor, I’ve had a vision:  Why don’t we have garden over there and grow food for hungry people?”

We set sail from a clump of dirt and weeds, took a straight course and now we have crossed over to these 12 plots where fruits and vegetables and herbs grow, 6 fruit trees, 8 families, a girl scout troupe, a preschool class, our Sunday School class, and members of our community, not even affiliated with our worship on Sunday (gasp!) all planting and growing food out there.  We set sail from a clump of dirt and weeds, and now we have a garden, a community garden...

Our reading from Revelation this morning says “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  Imagine the healing of the nations.  If you could paint or draw or write a song about or act that that out—the healing of the nations—how would you do that?  For some, maybe they see the healing of the nations—in their Holy-Spirit-inspired minds’s eye—as  a community garden.  Where will our visions from God take us?    

We set sail from here...wherever “here” is for you.  

And look what happens to Paul and his companions:  In this story today, they are taken in!  They are taken care of!  The meet this woman of considerable means named Lydia.  Who offers them safety in a strange land, hospitality and welcome.  Who knew? 

We had our Synod Assembly this week.  And all the crossing over, I like to call it cross-pollinating of ideas and stories and laughter and fellowship that takes place.  And I continue to come away surprised:  Who knew?  There’s actually a bunch of us faithful Lutheran around Southern California and even in Hawaii?  Doing incredible ministry (you should see the dvd Jenny did honoring our lay leaders, caretakers of creation around our synod)!  Lydias abound even today.  When we risk the missionary journey — whether we’re traveling to downtown to help out at a soup kitchen or across the world or over to a grieving friends house —when we take the risk and make the missionary journey, sometimes we’re met by Lydias!

There are other amazing people out there, ready to welcome us in, perhaps even ready to be baptized along the waters’ edge!  [pause]

And there is trouble too.  But this is where God calls us to go.  We set sail from clumps of dirt and weeds.  That’s us, by the way.  We were reminded by our key speaker Dr. Ben Stewart that we are earth creatures, dry clumps of dirt and weeds, but God takes us, and sets us to sail by breathing life into us.  And off we go, into this life, filled with God’s spirit/breath/wind (all the same word in Hebrew (ruach).  And look where we go!  Where will God’s spirit/wind/breath blow you this week?  Maybe you’ll meet a Lydia, and maybe you won’t.  But no matter what, sisters and brothers in Christ, know that you will ultimately be taken care of.  For you are a child of God.
Hear Jesus‘ words again from the Gospel of John: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Peace I give to you.”  

"Rescue breaths"
We set sail, because when God gives us CPR (my presentation slide on Genesis 2), we can’t help but live with gusto, live with spirit, live with vision, live like the new Jerusalem has dropped right on top of La Mesa, of San Diego.  When God gives us CPR, when God blows into us spirit/wind/breath, we can’t help but live like the Tree of Life is growing right there in our front yards. (If you have a tree or a plant in your front yard, give thanks for it, and let it be a reminder for you of the beautiful passage from Revelation.) Right there in our own home, apartment, condo or cabin are images of the healing of the nations.  Your house, your dwelling place is a place of God’s healing!  That’s what God breathing life into you and me does for us, it turns everything around, it raises the dead, it hydrates the dry ground, it causes fruit to grow.  That’s what happens when God’s vision sets us to sail.

God, through Christ, sets you to sail this day in love and forgiveness, in peace and joy.  

So off we go!