Speak the word

This past weekend I preached at my internship site on Luke 7:1-10. Here’s what I said:

Grace and peace to you from our savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It’s a weird time to be a pastoral intern. I mean that in my calendar here – we’re less than three month away until my internship is complete. I wrote in my personal calendar a couple weeks ago all the preaching and worship assisting weekends I have left and got to see what Sunday will be my last one where I preach (I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to wait and see).

The thought crossed my mind, “Wow, that’ll be fun, I’ll preach what’s on my heart and what I feel God really wants me to say, and I’ll put it all out there.”

But that’s not really a way to preach on a last Sunday. That’s how you preach every time.

So here we go:

Today’s Gospel story is all about speaking the word.

Because that’s what this centurion, a Roman officer, asks Jesus to do so his servant can be healed. He says speak the word and heal my servant.

Like Ezekiel speaks and dry bones get up and walk like we read in the Old Testament.

Jesus here speaks and heals a man, and he’s not even near him.

Speaking changes things. Speaking changes people.

Speak the word.

Like the apostles dared to speak as they felt a spark of fire on top of their heads after Jesus ascended into heaven.

Pentecost

Speak the word – not knowing what exactly you’ll say, but trusting beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will speak through you – Christ will bring new life through you – and the Holy Spirit will unite people through you, speak the word.

And yes, I am playing with words here. We use words to write and speak, and Jesus is also the word in the beginning with God (John 1). Jesus found a home here in our skin to know our ups and downs, our emotions and experiences all the way to death on a cross; so that he might give us abundant life…so that we might rise in a resurrection and new life with him. We have the privilege of speaking words and the word.

Now, you might be thinking, that since I’m a pastoral intern and Kathy and Peter are your pastors, that we speak the word, that’s our job, but I have bad news for you: you are called to as well. In Acts 2 it says, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”– a promise that holds you and calls you to speak.

“Speak the word and let my servant be healed”—for Jesus speaks through you for the sake of someone’s life.

This looks like Moses when God spoke to him and called him through the burning bush.

This looks like the women at the tomb who first witnessed the resurrection.

This looks like the Samariatan woman at the at the well in the gospel of John, who for all intensive purposes should not have been talking to Jesus, a single man, in broad day light, but nonetheless went back to her town praising God and calling her people to join in this movement of Jesus.

This year Pastor Peter and I taught “A Year of Living Luke” and together we dove into the book of Luke and had some fun and good questions along the way. During the Spring at the end of every class I asked two questions: now that we’ve read this Bible story, what have we learned about who Jesus is, and who we are? Who is Jesus? Who are we?

I took notes, and over the weeks this is who we discovered Jesus is to us:

Slide A

Caretaker, healer, truth-teller, and yes, at times you can see “frustrated” on the right side.

This is who we are:

Slide B

Seeker, blessed, learners, afraid, filled, wanting, self-centered.

Today we hear this Roman officer strongly encouraging Jesus – speak the word, and let my servant be healed. Let one of my people be healed.

Jesus, let us be healed.

Because at the root of this, and I think you know this, Jesus speaks through you. The Spirit of Jesus continues to soar in our lives, calling us to moments where we can lend a hand, help a stranger, and serve those who are struggling. I think you know this, but Jesus continues to redeem this world, to heal this world, and to bring love to this world, still today, through you. Jesus speaks through you.

You might be wondering though, like I do: What if we don’t speak the word? Sometimes I think speaking the word or a word of love, peace, or hope can be left to the experts; I’d rather not get into that business. Maybe you’re thinking that too.

So what if we don’t speak?

I’m willing to bet that God will find a way to bring about hope and love in this world. It’s not up to us to save the world or heal the world. We just trust God is working through us in some capacity – but what if we don’t. What if we don’t speak the word?

My question back to you: Why does that matter?

Are you asking because you don’t have enough time—time that God gave you?

You don’t have enough money/resources—money/resources that God gave you?

You don’t have enough brain-space—a beautiful intelligent brain that God gave you?

I don’t mean to guilt-trip anyone here. But we’re sounding an awful lot like Moses.

Because Moses was also:

Slide B

Confused. Grateful. Wanting. Filled. Blessed. Afraid.

Wherever Moses was, and wherever you are, the words you speak–of love, forgiveness or healing–matter. Speak the word.

I wonder, do you know why we say the words of institution every week, the words before communion, “In the night in which he was betrayed…this cup…shed for all people… do this in remembrance of me?”

Because you heard these words last week. You heard those words 5 weeks ago. Maybe you heard those words last week on this same fourth weekend in May. Maybe your parents heard those words the weekend they knew they were driving the family to their new home, or the weekend after one of their parents’ passed away. Your pastors heard those words when they were kids. The people who built this sanctuary, this church, heard those words. The people gathered to ordain the first woman in our Lutheran church in 1971 heard those words. This church’s grandparents and great-grandparents. A skeptical yet faithful Catholic priest in 1517 said these words. At the risk of death by their colonizers, the first followers of Jesus said these words behind closed doors. Jesus said these words to help his closest friends know that they are and will not be alone, because his story of abundant love and everlasting salvation holds them.

Because words make dry bones walk.

They help us understand that my story is your story, and your story is our story.

And like the women at the tomb, they remind us with new eyes and new ears that Christ has risen from the dead.

That is not something that you keep in! Speak the word!

I’ll end with two stories.

In New Jersey, a Jewish rabbi heard a window crack and fire filled his room. Someone threw something like a firebomb into their home, which is the second floor of their synagogue. He was targeted in a hate crime because he was Jewish. Days later he was talking with other religious leaders in the area, and the mail started pouring in. Letters of love and support came to their synagogue from all over the country, from leaders of Jewish, Christian, and Lutheran faith communities, colleges and organizations. Those written words were spoken so that this faith community heard loud and clear: fear and death do not have the final word.

At the Spring commencement this year for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, graduate Donovan Livingston shared the wisdom and observation of his 7th grade teacher: “let’s put all your energy to good use.”

In Donovan’s speech and spoken word poem, he then shares what she once spoke to him: “Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice.”

Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice–a voice that, in all your imperfections and “not good enoughs,” can speak a word of love and new life.

Speak the word.

A new word is here. What is it saying to you?

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Sermon: forget, remember

I got to preach at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN this past weekend. Here’s what I said based on Matthew 16:24-17:8. Most people focus on the last half (Jesus changing/transfiguring on the mountain), but I focused on the first half knowing I had the most problems with it. It’s one of the most challenging passages, so why not! Thankfully this is done and written and preached. So here are my thoughts on “taking up your cross,” currently:

Hi, I’m Allison, I’ll be your preacher today. Pastor Fred and Pastor Diane asked if I would offer my thoughts today and I said of course. Their offer came right at the time when I realized that I wanted to go back for my Master of Divinity at Luther Seminary – which would lead to ordination to help me in my dream of being a professional leadership coach and facilitator for pastors and other leaders in churches. I’m pretty excited. It’s great to have friends like Fred and Diane who affirm me where I feel God is nudging me to lead and contribute to our church and the world.

You might recognize me from choir or from bell choir. I grew up in a church-y and musical family, so when Timothy became the interim worship and music director here at Woodlake in September, I knew I wanted to contribute my voice with these groups.

Now, you can’t really have a choir with just one person, right? Groups are just that – collections of people, united together for a common cause. Jesus keeps trying to get his disciples to see that they are part of something much bigger than themselves, and they get it for the most part, but they forget a lot. Because they’re disciples. Just like us. Humans.

This week’s gospel reading comes from the middle the book of Matthew, and Jesus starts to turn to the cross. Glimpses of the crucifixion start to become bigger and clearer, and honestly, more daunting and kind of scary. Jesus says to the disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Jesus isn’t telling a parable or pointing to another story or something to make a point. He’s saying, rather directly, that the way in which he will die, on a cross, is the way in which we must live our lives – open, sacred, scared, terrified, with vulnerability and courage. He says that his followers lose their lives, or ignore who they are, in order to find it. They have to forget who they are, so they can remember who they are.

They have to forget who they are, so they can remember who they are.

I don’t know about you but that is a terrifying concept. I have to forget who I am? I have to forget that I’m a Japanese-Norwegian-American, I have to forget that I’m a spouse, I have to forget that I’m going to seminary, I have to forget that I love frozen yogurt, shopping for cute and affordable yet functional purses, and instagramming pictures of my cat?

He's a really smart cat.

He’s a really smart cat.

Those things are all true by the way. I love my husband. I love our cat, and purses, and frozen yogurt. I’m going to seminary, to trade in my Master of Arts degree for a Master of Divinity degree for more job and vocational opportunities and credibility. One of my grandma’s is Norwegian and came through North Dakota to meet my Grandpa in Seattle. My other grandma is from Japan and learned quickly how to act American as she was suddenly a single mom raising three kids in Alaska in the 50’s and 60’s. Stories of courage, resiliency, trust, and adventure. These things don’t come from me; I find draw strength from those before me. My parents met as my dad handed my mom a music stand at band camp at their alma mater in Seattle. I can’t shake these stories. They are my story just as much as they are theirs. I can’t stop being these things. I can’t stop being scared of the dark, and staying up to read the gospel coming through female comedians’ autobiographies, and loving the feeling of being anonymous at a coffee shop, and feeling unstoppable because I have a spouse catches me every time I fall.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

He says, “forget who you are.” If you want to follow me, forget who you are.

It’s important to note that this verse has been used to justify terrible things – chapters, blogs, books have been written on the abuse that women sustain as they stay in abusive relationships because systemically they have no other options because they heard they had to “take up my cross”; racism that is sustained because certain races or ethnicities are worth forgetting because they should “take up their cross”; sexism that is sustained because it’s just easier to ignore the pay gap between men and women and women should just “take up their cross”, not just in this country, but all over the world.

These people have been told, “forget who you are.” Too often this verse has been used to justify corrupted power, and keep those at the margins just there – at the margins.

But the good news is that right after Jesus says this, God says to Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

My beloved.

Jesus is changed, the Bible says he’s transfigured, which means changed radically – and it’s like the writer of Matthew here just gave up and decided to stop describing what’s going on because it’s just out of this world. Jesus turns bright and white and shiny and something is happening. The disciples fall down they’re so scared. Just as quickly as it started, it’s done. Jesus and the disciples are on this mountain top as if nothing had happened and they start to head back down to their rest of their group.

What just happened? God says to Jesus and to the whole world – this one, this one here, he’s my beloved! I love this guy! That’s why, in church, like this morning, we read off our bulletins the confession, the psalm, why you hear someone preach, why we pray together and why we remember baptism and communion together; as a group. Saying this stuff to each other matters – God saying this to Jesus matters. Us telling to each other “you are beloved” – that matters.

But didn’t Jesus just say, “forget who you are?” Yes. And I am beloved? Yes. How?

That’s the mystery of God. The beautiful, frustrating, strange mystery of God. We are each beloved and unique and worthy of being loved by God and our people, and yet we are all part of something bigger than just me, or just you. We must forget ourselves so we can remember who we are; and remember that taking up our crosses does not mean hurting ourselves or others – but serving others out of a place of knowing you are loved.

We are all unique people with unique strengths and stories; and at the same time we are all part of something so much bigger that ourselves – a journey of following Jesus that is and will be challenging but beautiful, imperfect but perfect.

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It’s like when you jump in to the pool or a lake. Maybe you, like me, needed some encouragement by your parents or a trusted adult the first time you went in the water when you were a kid. It can be scary to jump in because your sense of you and your body, feeling your legs grounded into the floor, you have to give that up as you literally jump up and fall into the water. Suddenly you don’t feel that weight, or that gravity – all you feel is your body drifting through the water – moving slowly – but all the while knowing that the water is not there to eat you up like a black hole (it’s okay to use life jackets in this metaphor), but is there as you bob through and swim through. The water is all around you and beneath you.

You are a part of something so much bigger than yourself. This means that the group would not be the same without you. This group, this community is different when you’re not here. We can’t forget that this message is thousands of years old – Jesus tells us For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it – you have to forget who you are, so you can remember who you are.”

There are moments when we get in the way of ourselves. There are moments when we get in the way of our neighbor. It’s in these moments that Jesus is asking us to remember, my presence is at it’s fullest when we are together, with a united cause, dwelling in God’s love for the sake of the world. God’s presence is within you, and it’s also within your neighbor. It’s within the person behind you, in front of you, and sitting next to you. Jesus gathered disciples for the long journey through the cross and in the world – not a disciple – because the community of faith, in it’s beauty, in it’s ethnic diversity, in it’s socio/economic diversity, embodies the presence of God most fully. God’s mission has a church – one full of unique individuals who are called together to reflect Christ’s light in the world. The group – you, me everyone here – we must not forget that speaking and acting like we are beloved and deserve love – that changes lives. Stepping into new life with Christ means daring to believe that you are loved, that you are worthy of your own love and the love of your neighbor.

Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton

Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, our presiding bishop of the ELCA, preached at an event this past year and asked, “What would happen if the church started acting like the resurrection actually happened?” They would know who they are and who they are not. They would forget who they are so they could remember who they are. They would acknowledge their uniqueness and embrace their unity as a bigger community, part of a bigger mission, and a bigger love that can only come from one place: God.

That’s my dream for this church. That we understand that taking up the cross means seeing the resurrection and losing ourselves to find our life in God’s beautiful and sometimes mysterious love. That we are so lost in our sense of unity in God that we don’t undermine each other, and we don’t lash out because of our insecurities and fear that no one will love us.

Jesus is asking us today – will you forget who you are, so you can remember who you are? Will you jump in the water, and take a chance that my love will catch you, and my love will surround you in the form of your ushers, greeters, directors, confirmation guides, parents, teachers, baristas, grocery store clerks, mail carriers, landlords, grandparents, or coaches?

Remember that Jesus says you are mine. You get to be someone’s.

And in this, you still get to be you. I still get to be me. But as we look toward Lent and see the fullness of God to come, we remember that Jesus remembers us as we get lost in each other, as we serve and love each other in this radical experiment called the body of Christ. In this community we get to lift up each other’s strengths, gifts, and stories – in that challenging and beautiful work of being a child of God. And maybe we could even eat a little frozen yogurt along the way. Amen.

Waiting Between the Good Fridays and the Easters

Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

That was the last hymn we sang at our Good Friday service last night. I remember being confused about this hymn growing up. When does Jesus go into his kingdom? Isn’t it the “Kingdom of God” that we always talk about in church, not the “Kingdom of Jesus”? What is that? Where is that? I was getting stuck on the last half of the phrase. What a weird phrase.

I think theologians like myself can get stuck on the theological jumping jacks in a hymn like this. Where? How? What? I’m confused. I’m guessing there are people who have been asking these questions longer than I have. 

But I think the gem of this phrase isn’t in the last half – it’s in the first half. 

Jesus, remember me. 

Remember me. A simple request, and yet one that carries a lot of weight. An intimate request. What does it mean to be remembered? It means that you feel valued. It means that you matter. What greater feeling is there than to be remembered? 

That’s what we ask Jesus. In the ups and downs of life. Jesus, remember me. 

As many heard at Good Friday services around the world last night, Jesus says to the lowest of the low in society, hanging on crosses next to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23). 

Paradise? Heaven? Where is this place? Is this where Jesus goes? 

Perhaps. I think it’s Jesus’ response to our call when we ask “Jesus, remember me.” In the highs and the lows of life. I wonder if the mystery of faith is in the waiting between Good Friday and Easter. 

Today you will be with me in paradise.