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, March 27, 2016

March 27 -- Resurrection of our Lord

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  

A couple years ago now, as many of you remember, Heather and I took a small group of high schoolers backpacking in Colorado.  We went to Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  And each day, in addition to magnificent high country adventures, each day began in very intentional silence, until one member of our group shouted, “This is the day that the Lord has made!” and we would all respond, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” then another person would open the bible and read a verse of Scripture.  That’s how every day began.  No talking from the moment we woke up until that Word of Scripture was read.  It was called First Word.  And the idea was obviously intended to get us thinking (and it did) about what our first words were each morning.  Even after the trip, it stuck with me for a little while: What are the first words words that come out of my mouth in the morning, in yet another day that God has given me?  Are they words of hope and joy?  Are they kind words?  Are they words of worry or fear?  Are they cruel words?  I invite you to think about your first words this new Easter season (50 days!). And like we were encouraged at camp, consider making them words of praise to God, thanksgiving and joy.  

That sounds good, right?  And then reality sets in.  

(catacomb I visited in Rome)
The first words out of the women’s mouths in the Gospel of Mark today were words of worry: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?  There’s a huge rock there.  Who’s going to move it for us?”  “There are a bunch of heavy tables that need to be moved for the Easter Brunch on Sunday morning.  Who’s going to help us?  How are we going to get all the supplies we need from the house to the car to the fellowship space?  What about the kids?  What are they going to wear?  Oh no, we need to fill up the gas tank!  How are we going to get there?  And taxes are due later this month!  I don’t know that there’s time for this.  I don’t know if this is going to work?  Why bring all these spices when there’s a big rock in the way?”  You see how the anxiety can work us up and into a frenzy?  

There are lots of things to be worried and even scared about.  The reality is women traveling by themselves to a graveyard, before the sun rises -- then and now -- can be dangerous.    

The reality is that there’s a lot to do -- and not enough help, and not enough money, and not enough time.  The reality is there’s a lot to be scared of, there’s a lot to worry about.  Appointments to keep, bills to be paid, errands to run, spices to deliver...not to mention what’s happening on the state, national and global scale: election frenzy, media hype, grand standing politicians...and this tragic week: suicide bombings in Brussels.       

There are a lot of things to be worried and even scared about.  We can all relate to the logistical, busy, up-at-dawn, anxious, scared women at the tomb: Mary Magdalene, James’ mom Mary, and Salome.

But they went about their work anyway, even in their fear.  They did what they did.  They moved through the darkness, carried the spices, not even knowing who was going to move that stone.  There’s something profound in what they are doing.  After everything that’s happened, they still show up.  They creep out, even in their fear, and do what they do.  Those women were faithful in their practice, even if their “first word” was filled with worry and anxiety.   

And even after their encounter with the messenger clothed in a white robe, they’re still scared.  I tried to find a way to translate fear and amazement and trembling in some kind of positive, worshipful light, but friends, I couldn’t.  In Mark’s Gospel, they were terrified...and the last line of our passage says they told no one, and they were afraid.  And many biblical authorities, claim that’s where Mark’s gospel ends.  (Early-century editors of came and added endings to this because they thought Mark’s gospel couldn’t just end like this -- in terror and silence.) I’ll leave it to you to do your own study of that…does it end right here at verse 8, or with one of the 2 (!) different endings, that clearly try to wrap it up?  

This is my point:  We know how the Easter story ends, we’ve heard it so many times before, we celebrate it big time, each year on this great day...and every Sunday really, because every Sunday for us Christians is a mini-Easter Sunday.  And yet, we still worry, even after we’re told, and we tell ourselves, “He is risen indeed.”  We still get scared, we still get wrapped up in all the logistics, in who will roll the stones away, in what we say or don’t say, in what we hear and what we see.  We still can get worked into a frenzy of anxiety and fear, and even anger and despair...even after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I cherish this version from Mark (which is the oldest, btw), because it’s real.  I’m grateful for the other versions too, but this version ends in fear.  [slowly]  Jesus‘ resurrection doesn’t just make all our troubles and worries go away like the ending of a Disney movie.  You’re going to go out there after this service, and terrorism is still a reality, Donald Trump is still inciting prejudice and bigotry, taxes are still due in two weeks, our children are still exposed to bullying and guns in school, our veterans are still being overlooked and under-served, our women are still being objectified and underpaid.
So many are still not safe on the roads and in the dark graveyards of this world.  Jesus‘ resurrection doesn’t just take all that away.  

But Jesus’ resurrection still changes everything for us!  

It changes our First Word...and our last.  For our first word and our last is God’s word...it’s not ours at all.  AMEN?

And we have a God who speaks peace.  And so we can speak peace even amid a violent and terrifying world.  We have a God who comes with us through our fears and our tragedies.  We have a God who loves us despite our hatred and bigotry.  Christ’s resurrection breaks the barriers of sin and brokenness, as if that stone that’s rolled away crushes our wrongdoings, and the grave cloths that are strewn about the tomb hurl us into a new reality.  

Even in our fear and silence, we too are made new this day.  Even in our fear and silence, we live in a new reality.  Even if we leave hear still scared.  God is still with us.  In fact, we are told that Christ has already gone ahead of us.  Christ is already out there, right smack in the middle of those tired, old realities.  Right smack in the middle of our pain and sorrow, fear and anger.  Right smack in the middle of our death.  Jesus is present, and has already been there.  It’s the new reality.  It’s breaking into our old one.  When you see terror, see Jesus present with the frightened.  When you see hopelessness, see Jesus standing with the oppressed.  When you feel lost, know that God finds you.  When you feel dirty, know that Christ washes you in these baptismal waters of grace.  When you get hungry, taste and see that the Lord is good.  And when you die, know that Christ is right there to lead you home.  

This is the day that God has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  That’s an Easter proclamation!  And let us cling to the resurrection reality is this ours this day and into eternity.  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!  AMEN.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March 20 -- Palm Sunday

Grace to you and peace…from the one who comes, riding in on a donkey, in peace.  AMEN.

That was the symbol, you know: riding in on a horse always meant war, brutal force, violence, the world’s idea of power.  But riding in on a donkey meant peace.  (“The Lord needs it.”)  Love, welcome, grace, mercy, non-violence: God’s idea of power...which is incarnational presence, forgiveness and love.  The greatest of these is love.  God on a donkey.

All these themes that we’ve seen through the Gospel of Mark, come to a head here in this “counter-procession”, as some scholars have called it, this parody of the the Caesars’ triumphal entry and ascension to his throne.  Here begins Jesus’ march to the throne -- that is, his cross.  Because we live in a different time, we miss this, but it would be as if someone did a parody of all the sacred national rituals that we hold dear.  That’s the level of tension Jesus (through the Gospel of Mark) is creating here with his entry on a donkey; his going up to the temple; his procession to Golgotha, the place of the skull; his being offered wine on the cross…Each of these is a sacred spoof on something the Caesars would have done.   But all of Jesus’ very political demonstrations are ultimately for the sake of peace.  He’s mocking and countering Rome’s warring ways, with peace-filled ways -- from the entry of Jerusalem on a donkey to the release of his final breath from the cross, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.  It’s all about peace, mercy and love.  It’s all about emptying himself of power rather than hoarding it and exploiting it.  That’s God’s power -- foolishness to the world but to us, it is the power of God (I Corinthians), this self-emptying.  [pause]


I’d like to spend some time here this morning walking us through the journey of Holy Week, this journey that is before us.  

I want to do this for a few reasons.  Mostly because I’m not sure when else to talk about what we do in worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  We always just do it, but without some reflection on what it means or why we do it, it can come up a little flat.  

Some of you may not be able to make it on Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday, which in effect can “shrink” Easter.  So I think it’s good, at least, to know what you’re missing, and know why and what we’re doing here on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.  

There’s been some incredible liturgical renewal in the last 15 years in the ELCA and beyond -- Lutherans digging up, re-discovering, and reclaiming Early Church rituals and traditions around Holy Week and Easter, much of which was lost and forgotten in recent centuries, and for large parts of our own lifetimes -- I mean, I didn’t even grow up with this stuff (I grew up thinking Good Friday was Jesus’ funeral) -- leaving us a little shorted, quite frankly.  I’ve even heard, from certain blunt scholars who are passionate about these ancient practices, “Friends, we’ve been doing it wrong these past decades; we’ve been missing out.”

OK, enough about why I want to walk us through this, let’s go…

What I want to talk about are the Great Three Days.  Triduum.
“In Christ we die and rise.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday.  The real celebration is the Easter Vigil.

The Mandate: 
“Love one another.”
Washing & Meal.

Gospel of John. (J.S. Bach, Luther)
Silence, but...Triumph. 
Bidding Prayer. 3rd c.
Procession & Adoration of Cross.  4th c.
Solemn Reproaches.  9th c.

Fire and Paschal Candle!
Procession with candles!
The Easter Proclamation: 
“This is the Night!”
Vigil Readings: 12!
Easter Gospel!
Meal & Sending!

Let’s close with prayer:  

God guide us through these holy days.  

Bless us in our prayer, bless us in our devotion, bless us in our silence, bless us in our celebration.  

We give you thanks for scholars and worship leaders through the centuries, who have passed on traditions to be kept, rituals to be practiced, prayers to be said.  

May our worship this week bring us closer to the truth that in Christ we too die and rise.  

Let us come to dwell -- not in our own pride, glory and power, not in our own ideas of power, but -- in your glory and power, through the life-giving passion, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Wednesday, March 16 -- Eva Schneider

At our Lenten "Eating with Our Neighbors" series on March 16, Eva shares part of her story...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

March 13 -- Fifth Sunday in Lent

We are in the final days before Jesus death in this text.  It’s important to see these apocalyptic statements of Jesus in that context: he’s in Jerusalem, he’s in the final week before his crucifixion.  He’s actually in Holy Week here.  (We’re going to backtrack and remember his celebratory entry into Jerusalem next Sunday, Palm Sunday.  This is just before he goes to the Last Supper.)

This is important to see this, because the most significant world-altering event is not the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.  Mark and the other Gospels are often read with that significant and very real event being seen as as a clear and present “end of the age”, the apocalypse, the September 11, the Pearl Harbor, the death of your loved one, the loss of your house, the end of your job -- the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  These are all world-altering, shaken-at-the-foundations events…  

But this text calls us back to the fact that none of these are THE world-altering, shaken-at-the-foundations event.  Jesus passion, death and resurrection is.  And we can often miss that.  The building that comes crashing to the ground...is Jesus’ body.  We can often miss that, just like the disciples do (once again) in this text.    

It’s important to read these predictions of the future with Jesus immanent and very immediate suffering and death in mind.  Jesus is not just speaking about something that’s going to happen...eventually.  “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, nations rising against each other…”  This isn’t some prediction of some day, far out there.  This is his prediction for the end of the week!

It’s beautifully composed.  The darkening of the sky, not knowing what time, the evening, at cock crow, in the morning.  All these clues.  The ripping of the curtain in the temple.  The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son.”  This is the apocalypse.

Apocalypse is a great word, by the way, it literally means a revealing, an unmasking.  Apo = from; calypse = covering.  It’s a pulling (or ripping) the cover back or off.  It’s a disclosure, a revelation:  “Truly this man was God’s Son.”  In January we call it an Epiphany, in February it’s a Transfiguration, and in March we drive it home: it’s the full apocalypse of Jesus Christ.  That’s the end of the age...and the beginning of a new age.  That’s the world-altering, shaken-at-the-foundations event that truly changes everything.  That’s the moment at which we are both doomed and saved.

Jesus is not predicting the Romans are coming to destroy their city, he’s predicting his death.  Wars and rumors of wars, nations rising against nation, building crashing to the ground, famines, floods, fires -- all of this “has got nothin’” on the world altering, cosmic, apocalyptic dimensions of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  

So be ready.  Keep awake.  Stay alert.  Recognize the significance in the highest Holy Days that are before us.  The holiest days are not Christmas, good Christian friends.  The holiest days are the Great Three Days.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday.  Don’t miss it.  

And it’s easy to miss.  It’s easy to be asleep to the significance of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  Most of the world is.  I mean, I’m saying that Jesus’ P, D & R is more significant than September 11!  It’s more significant that World Wars, it’s more significant than Star Wars!  How can that be?  

I mean how many people are in line to attend to those events vs. the maybe 30 people, sometimes less than that, who show up for Maundy Thursday worship.  A few more on Good Friday…  That’s not a guilt trip, that’s an image I’m presenting,  contrast.  It reminds me of all the people who showed up to celebrate Cesar’s triumphal entry into Rome -- on a white steed, with elephants and chariots, and mass bands, and perfumes in the air.  Contrast that to Jesus on an ass.  But that’s what we Christians celebrate.  It’s offensive, it’s an affront to the empire.

It’s easy to miss Jesus, when Star Wars just came out, right?
It’s easy to miss Jesus, when the Super Bowl is on at 4, right?  It’s easy to miss Jesus, when the Presidential primaries have got this nation in a fury, when my job is on the line, when my child is terribly sick, when airplanes are flying into buildings, when earthquakes and fires and floods.  Those are always heralded as the real apocalypses?  It’s easy to miss Jesus when Hillary Clinton is elected president.  It’s easy to miss Jesus when Donald Trump is elected president...

But all that’s “got nothin’” on the world-altering, cosmic, apocalyptic dimensions of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

Don’t miss it.  Keep alert.  Keep awake to the immediacy Christ’s love.  It’s not just something out there some day.  This is the day that the Lord has made. 

The classic question, I think, that rockets us into the immediacy and urgency and apocalyptic dimensions of Jesus’ discourse here is the question “If you know the world was going to end this week, what would you do?”

Suddenly the things, the people that really mattered to you, would rise immediately to the surface.  Reflect on that question this week, as a way of living into the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus.  

Image in closing:  Haven’t used a baseball image for some time (at least 2 weeks) -- Spring Training  with Micah, yesterday and today.  And I recently heard an announcer joking about the insignificance of the 8th inning a Spring Training game.  I mean who cares, right?  Most of us look at baseball in the big picture -- got a whole season in front of us.  But the Minor leaguers -- this is it.  Everything is on the line for this moment, even while others are packing up and not paying attention and walking out.  

Christians pay attention, they play like it’s all on the line.  Today is the day...even while others are missing it, packing up.  

Christ’s love for us is the main event, and our eyes are alert, our hearts are awake, our hands are open.  Today we receive God’s world-altering grace.  AMEN.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6 -- Fourth Sunday in Lent

Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us.  AMEN.

One of my favorite uncles, my mom’s little brother -- Uncle Steve -- got remarried 2 years ago in St. Louis.  

Uncle Steve got remarried, because my wonderful Aunt Kim died at the age of 43 of an unexplained cardiac arrest.  Their kids were 8 and 4, and dear Uncle Steve pretty much raised them through their elementary and middle school years on his own -- with some major help from my grandparents in St. Louis.

But about 5 years ago, he started seeing a woman named Karen from his church.  Steve had tried dating, I think, as early as 3 years after Aunt Kim’s death, but nothing was looking very serious or frankly all that joyful for him.  But one thing led to another with Karen, as the months went by, and before you knew it, they were a serious couple. 

Did I mention this is my mom’s little brother?  They frequently fly up to St. Louis, to visit my grandparents and the rest of her family, and I remember Mom talking to me on the phone about going to meet Karen.  And the way she talked about it, it was like she was going into battle:  “I’m going press her.  She’s not going to know what hit her.  I’m going to find out what’s her deal.  I’m going to [here it comes] ask her what her intentions are with my little brother.”  (He’s in his late 50’s, btw.)  

I said a few things like, “Take it easy, Mom”.  But she wasn’t just the mama bear, I had always known.  She was also apparently quite the big sister bear...and she was pretty determined.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, this is all coming from a place of heart-aching love.

(Turned out all went well!  Karen’s intentions were indeed good and wonderful.  She actually has a son out here, serving in the Marines, and when she came to visit him, she came to church here at SVLC a couple years ago.  I didn’t introduce her as my uncle’s boyfriend or anything, but some of you greeted and welcomed her, and [Pat Swanson] even told me about this incredible woman that we need to make sure we reach out to and invite back.  That was all the endorsement I needed.  Steve and Karen are now happily married, and are really doing the happily ever after thing...)  

But was that question of intentions, that my mom first asked, that I wanted to lift from that story, for our text today.  “What are your intentions?  What’s deep down there that you’re after?  I’m not buying the whole surface act, that everyone else seems to love.  What’s the real deal, pilgrim?”  My mom :)

Jesus in our text is not vetting anyone like Mom was, but he was certainly interested in the intentions too.  That’s really what this whole lesson is about.  Which commandment is the greatest?  “Love God.  And love your neighbor.”  At it occurs to me that these two are so intimately linked.  How can someone say they love God but show no mercy or hospitality or affection for their neighbors?  Our love of God is reflected in our love of the neighbor.  This is where the intentions come to the surface.  

Think of the most hospitable, friendly, loving person you know.     Who comes to mind, for you, as the best at caring for their neighbor? [pause]  I would venture to say that that person has a deep faith.  Might not even be a Christian or even an avowed believer!...but from my perspective, their lived faith is more profound than a statement of faith, and God is very real in their lives and hearts, even if they don’t confess it.  I’d wonder if they do in fact know the God-whose-name-is-Love.     
It’s quite the opposite of those who walk around in long robes, putting on airs, saying long prayers -- How many of you think of pastors?  That might be fair critique, but there are many different kinds of long robes in our society -- expecting to be treated with respect in the marketplace, meanwhile devouring (not just ignoring) but devouring the poor and the voiceless with their lifestyle, their choices, their behind-closed-doors transactions.  “They devour widows houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers.”   

Who in your life, on the other hand, is the best at caring for their neighbors?  That’s deeply and intricately and profoundly linked to loving God with heart, soul and mind.   [pause]

Here’s the other thing that occurs to me.  As we practice, in this Lenten wilderness, greater devotion, discipline, prayer, fasting -- btw, I hope you’ve been able to spend some time these days digging deeper, getting more reflective, praying more than normal, and to that end, struggling.  The mirror is a great tool and image to dig into Lent -- both literally and even more, spiritually.  What do you see when you look at yourself?  As you look at yourself.  The other thing that occurs to me, is that “who is my neighbor, who is that person that God is calling me to love” is a deeply personal question.  [pause]

For some the strange neighbor might be the gay man across the street, who I just don’t get.  For others, the gay man is my brother and I, not only get him, I love him.  So that’s not the street crossing, boundary crossing, radical love Jesus it talking about.  

For some it means figuring out how to love a Democrat, for others it means figuring out how to love a Republican, right?  
“Who is my neighbor” is deeply personal.  
For some it’s a Muslim, for others, who might have a Muslim best friend or in-law, it’s a Christian who openly and harshly condemns all Muslims.  

So who is your neighbor?  And what are your intentions toward your neighbor?  (Note space in the bulletin.)

I think, getting at these questions, helps us understand our deepest intentions toward God.

Love God?  Then love your neighbor.  “I love God, but hate my neighbor.”  Then maybe something’s not connecting in your heart...

Lent is a time to get away and reflect on these hard questions, and frankly it’s not something we can do together.  In Lent, we need to go into solitude...and then come back together at the foot of the cross.  Lent is a time to try to make ourselves better on our own.  And then we need to come back together at the foot of the cross?  Why? Because in the end, we can’t do it alone.  We need come back together because we need this God-whose-name-is love.  When we’re honest -- we need God’s help to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  We need God’s help to unearth and examine our intentions.  And sisters and brothers in Christ, [pause] God is there to help us.

There’s a gift in all this hard work.  In all this digging.  In all this wrestling.  We find God.  We find our need for God, we open ourselves to being cleaned out.  By God.  There’s a gift here when we examine our true intentions.  Like my mom, like Mama Bear, like Big Sister Bear, Jesus‘ challenge to us is coming from a place of heart-aching love.  As one of our children’s Bibles says, from a place of “God’s never stopping, never giving up, un-breaking, always and forever Love.”  That love, that grace, that hope is yours, even today.  AMEN.