You fools.

Here’s what I preached at my internship site, on Luke 12:13-21.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord God, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one who has a hard time whittling things down. Like many other young adults in the month of July, our place is full of moving boxes, with very full recycling and trash bins.

As I’m going through my things and nic nacs, I found a graduation tassel that says in gold letters “09.” It’s probably been years since I touched it, and a total of 7 years since it actually served a function. But as my fingers sifted through the floppy cotton lines, I was reminded of a really great day of family, and friends, and joining my sister as the second generation of our family to earn bachelors degrees. Should I toss it? Should I keep it?

This is why it’s so hard to throw away things. Because things have meaning and they tell us stories of who we are.

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Graduating from college in 2009

But still, although I decided to keep that graduation tassel, I’m reminded that those things aren’t all of who I am. I am not my things. Even though they give me a sense of security, I am not my things. And that doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning, but when they become the only place that we seek to find out who we are, we’re ultimately disappointed and the answer we seek is incomplete every time.

We realize that we have foolishly raised the finite, Earthly things, our things, to the same level as God.

And I’m afraid that’s the trap that our rich friend has fallen into today found in the 12th chapter of Luke.

Jesus is asked by a nameless man what he should do about his unfair share of his family’s inheritance in the middle of a chaotic, loud crowd. Jesus responds with a parable where a rich man steps back and surveys his abundant crop from a good year. He realizes he doesn’t have enough storage space, so the solution he comes up with is to build not one but many bigger and better barns. All the barns!

Now this parable isn’t just about any person, but a rich man. This is not surprising seeing that we’re in the book of Luke—a gospel that is all about the Great Reversal that Jesus taught about, preached about, and exemplified in his death and resurrection. At the event of the cross, the sin and greediness of the world, and broken relationships were reconciled and made whole in Christ. For a poor man from Galilee, God’s love was poured out into this savior of the world, upending the Roman’s expectations of what a King could look like and do for all humankind.

In our world in the 21st century where those with money and means are featured in the media, those who are looked upon with favor here in Luke are the poor, the widow, and people like Mary, Jesus’ own mother. Luke challenges and reverses our understanding of who is favored, as Mary sang with her relative Elizabeth that “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” We hear about Zacchaeus, the beatitudes where the poor, not the rich, are given the Kingdom of God. Luke’s interest of reversing our expectations of what it means to be rich is shown once again in this unique parable that Jesus shares with a crowd.

It’s as if Luke knew that we would struggle with money and possessions. It’s as if Jesus knew we would struggle in our relationships with money and possessions.

Money is one of those things that touches almost every part of our lives. We make retirement and career decisions with it. We feel more secure with it. We make decisions about where we live and vacation with it.

Even more so, we care what our family or friends will think if they know we have to shop at that grocery store, or use that kind of payment, or what if they knew my credit score, or find out that I don’t know what a credit score is? Sometimes, or all the time, it can feel like we never have enough money or possessions. There’s always something you can’t afford, or is always just beyond our reach. That hunt to feel satisfied, to feel like you have enough, can be a hunt that we’re so embedded in, that we can be blind to the fact that the hunt is all we’re on. This hunt is the only way that we find meaning, or feel joy in our days. Money, and possessions, happiness and identity are tied together in a web that can feel all too mysterious and overwhelming to sort out.

Money and our stuff–touches a very vulnerable part of us. It has the power, if we let it, to tell us who we are.

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Today though, we are shown that it’s only in God, in the death and resurrection of Christ, it is proclaimed to us who we are. A theology of the cross here tells a thing what it is. And God doesn’t take that lightly. God tells us the truth… which on any other day I would say God says I love you! Or You are a part of my flock.

But today, God tells us the truth that we are fools.

And mind you, this is the only time God says anything directly in a parable in the entire book of Luke. And God uses these choice words to address the rich man: “You fool.”

Now, this might feel a little harsh, but it’s a good thing! Otherwise we (and likewise the rich man too) might convince ourselves we have perfect relationship with money, which just isn’t true. God tells us the truth: we are fools.

So often we breeze over this proclamation and go straight to the ominous warning “This very night your life is being demanded of you…”

Before this God tells us up front, plain and clear: You fools.

You fools who value your money and possessions for their ability to ground your whole identity and not for their ability to make you grateful for the bigger meaning and story they connect you too.

You fools who make isolated decisions from your neighbor and your God, and instead of sharing your abundant crop and share, you build your own bigger barn.

This rich man with his bigger and better barns points for us to futility of our choices, and our utter dependence and need of Christ.

Because on our own we can’t stop making poor choices about money. Because on our own we can’t stop defining ourselves by our possessions or bank accounts.

In prayer and in rich relationships that are quantified by time and not a price tag—it’s there we listen and experience the invaluable gift of Christ. Where God takes our greediness and ill-directed attempts at figuring out who we are, and in the cross, through Christ turns them into proclamations that tell us the truth that “You are a fool” and “You are loved.”

Through Christ, God turns them into opportunities for connection, making decisions about money and possessions in conversation with our neighbors, and giving us eyes to see how we understand ourselves through the lens of Christ—a lens that is always infused with unconditional love, as we are both looked upon with favor, and told “You are a fool.” We can’t do this alone, and through Christ our relationship with our neighbors, with money, and our relationship with God is made right.

Right up front, Luke writes in chapter one that the reason he writes this gospel is “So that you may know the truth.” There is no other purpose to tell the story of Jesus than to tell the truth. And that’s what God does for us today. We are told the truth that we are fools—and what better fool to be than a fool for Christ.

A fool that proclaims that light can defeat the darkness.

A fool that sees the cross and doesn’t see death but sees life eternal.

A fool that sees 5 loaves and 2 fish and is confident it can feed 5,000 people.

May we see the truth that we are fools, and see even more clearly Christ’s love working through our relationships and our lives. Amen.

A sermon on being seen

I preached! This is what I said.

It’s based on this Bible passage (Mark 12:38-44):

As he [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

This past week, the nature-loving Pacific Northwest girl came out of me in full force. I got to meet other pastoral interns, supervisors, and colleagues of Region 1 our national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It was a big step for me because I knew a handful of faces, but didn’t really know most of the people there serving at churches from as close as Vancouver, WA (St. Andrew Lutheran), and as far away as Anchorage, Alaska. But through small group time, learning sessions, and conversations over meals and card games, I ended up meeting a lot of people, a lot of colleagues, and had a lot of fun.

One of the activities we did was reflecting on God’s presence in and around the retreat lodge. These acres in the shadow of the beautiful Mt. Si in North Bend just seemed to go on forever.

A foot-path wound through a thick forest of hills, rivers, and weather/mud-worn wood planks.

Off of a stream, I came across a wide tree stump.

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That big thing on the right. Wishing my phone better captured the crazy steam rising up!

All the re-growth and moss on top of the stump made me think that this tree had fallen in a storm decades ago. But what startled me as I approached the stump was that steam was rising from it. As the morning sun sifted through the forest, and hit the stump’s steam, this condensation rose above my head as if to say, “Do you see me now?”

I might as well just tell you now – today’s gospel story is about being seen. A poor woman is making her way through a crowded townscape to offer her coins. Throughout the day, Scribes and men of power walk stridently to the temple and deposit their extravagant planned giving into the treasury. Enjoying all eyes on them, they walk with long robes and they are greeted with respect.

And then this woman comes and deposits her two coins. She gives her offering, a small amount, but an amount that probably drains her savings. An offering that is not greeted with words of respect and admiration. An offering that is not robed in fine clothing. I would venture to guess that she is taking a risk, as a woman, participating in a male-dominated public act. In first century-Palestine if your husband dies, you (you are property), are married to your dead husband’s brother, no questions asked. Cruel, to our 21st century ears, but safe, because without a husband in this time, as a woman you were fresh meat, and vulnerable, economically, socially, and physically.

The Widow's Mite - Luke 21:1-4

The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4 & Mark 12:38-44

For all the reasons I just stated, and probably more that have been lost like sand in the breadth of the millennia that separates us – this woman is invisible – and yet – Jesus sees her.

Jesus sees her.

In a busy space, she puts in and offers to this greater cause, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” She gives her money, her resources, but she offers one thing that you might miss the first time around – she offers her hope.

Perhaps this truly is the biggest offering she can give. She doesn’t have monetary resources from this point on. She has given it all, hoping a better reality is coming her way.

So why does she give?

Because she is hoping beyond all hope that the mission of God, through this bigger treasury might give her abundant life. She gives to something bigger than herself because perhaps that is her last resort. This is not a romanticized hope. This is a hope of necessity.

But what does that mean for us today? Do we have to give all we have to the church? I mean – I won’t stop you! But I think the biggest way we can be inspired by this woman that Jesus sees, is not her perspective of abundance or attitude of abundance – but her audacious abundance of hope. A hope that we are called to demonstrate, however scary, however daring, that proclaims to the world, “we, are all in.”

I was so moved by last weekend’s worship. I remember growing up in the pew as little Allison next to my family, looking at all the big flowers and listening and singing to “For All the Saints.” If I’m being honest, nodding off a little as all the names were read out loud. But in my twenties now I find myself leading worship, including All Saints Sunday where last week we remembered those who had passed away.

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It’s kind of a weird situation, because since my internship only started two months ago, I never met the people whose names I was reading. But as the bell tolled, and together we saw the faces of your loved ones, I felt a sense of stillness and holiness here that I had not yet felt before. Even the activity of the fellowship hall and the narthex came to a halt. I’m so honored that you trusted me, the new kid, with that act of remembering your loved ones, and to share that with you was very meaningful. For a moment, I felt like I knew them, because I know you.

Together, these saints were seen. We saw them. Together, we named them and literally communed with them as you brought forward your sticky notes with their names – notes that filled this communion rail.

We are a people of hope. We hope for things not seen.

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We hope that we will one day be united with our loved ones in paradise. We hope that when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,” as if to say, we don’t do this alone, God, we do this with you and for you. We will keep serving our neighbors as your people, because our love does not come from us, if comes from you; like it says in 1st John, “God is love,” and through our worship and service we proclaim a hope that others might find silly or not based in facts, but God, we proclaim our hope that you are love not just for this church but for this world.

We proclaim our hope that as your Son raised Lazerus from the dead, so too will you raise us and our loved ones from the dead to live with you in paradise: not ashamed of our past or our sin or our insecurities, but because of them, because of our imperfectness, because God we hope and we believe that you meet us here today in the mix and the messiness of life.

You meet us in our longings, in our “what ifs,” in our joys and in our sorrows – God, you see us.

What are you hoping for? What do you dare to hope for?

Do you hope that every returning veteran is loved and cared for?

Do you hope that every child in a one mile radius of this church has everything they need to learn?

Do you hope that young people discover God’s unique call for them, as they’re supported as college and seminary interns, and residential pastors?

Do you hope that we might explore what it means to be church through Messiah’s innovative North County Campus?

Just like God is not done bringing life from that old tree stump in the forest, God is not done holding your hopefulness. The steam from that tree stump continues to rise and refuses to hide. Admits all the signs of death in the forest, it continues to rise and be seen over, and over again.

A widow passes by the central treasury and puts in her two coins. An invisible woman puts in all she has. And yet Jesus sees her. Amen.

Coloring books and being a chaplain

I can see those two fancy squatty buildings on the west side of the metro that I see as we drive on highway 100. I can see a half dozen cranes that look like they’re protecting the new football field construction in downtown Minneapolis. I can see the roofs and windows of hundred-year-old buildings that have been refurbished, repurposed, and reconstructed over and over again to house the now world-class medicine-organization, which is the hospital that I work for this summer. This is my classroom. This is my parish. This is by far the weirdest class credit I’ve ever taken. This is by far the most high-stakes class credit I’ve ever taken.

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Since switching from the Master of Arts back to the Master of Divinity, I get to take the pastor-track-related credit, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which many refer to as the, “just get it done” credit. Just get through it. Take it in the summer – it’s longer hours but fewer weeks. Sounds good to me.

But once I got here, got my badge, my employee parking pass, my pager, and our rotating on-call pager and code blue pager, something felt different than, “just get it done.” Once I saw the list of patients names who wanted a chaplain to visit them, once I read why they were there, once I heard their stories of purpose, desires to walk, meaning, oops, oops again, heartache, the people they miss at home, and the people they wish would move out, I realized this is much more than “just get it done.”

True, this is chaplaincy. My task in this credit is to be a chaplain, which is a different flavor of pastoral-congregational ministry, the route most consider when they enter the MDiv program. I’m the chaplain for my assigned unit, and each intern, resident chaplain (super intern), and board certified chaplain has an assigned unit. At my unit I’m the one who usually asks nurses and physicians, “What’s going on with them?” before I say hi, and sometimes I get asked by nurses and physicians, “What’s going on with them?” Here, I am becoming known. I’m their chaplain. I hope I get so lucky as to be missed come August.

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Instructions for life, and for chaplaincy, I think!

Sometimes a chaplain visit is requested on my unit, but more often than not my day is guided by following energy. I follow the energy as a nurse struggles to finish out recording a note and connect with other units and we talk about how lame it is when shifts don’t end when they’re supposed to. I follow the energy as a patient just glows at the mention of walking around the lake, and she tell me it feels like “freedom,” and then we draw pages together in a nature coloring book (yes that happened, it was awesome). I follow the energy when I pass a waiting room and glance at the serious folks in there, and then walk back to merely sit and talk about whatever they want to talk about for 20 minutes.

In the midst of this, Timothy (The best. Spouse of the year. Thanks for letting me beat you at tennis later.) and I are calling moving truck people and looking up on Google maps the distance between stops between here and Washington state, as we start a new chapter out there in September. That will come soon enough.

But for now I’m just trying to be as much Allison as I can while also being a chaplain. I’m sure some use CPE to “try on” what it means or feels like to be a pastor or a chaplain. I don’t think that’s for me. What I think is working, is being myself, while showing up in the world through this vocation as a chaplain/pastor. Who knew it took so much courage to show up as yourself. But it’s a good challenge, a good opportunity. And I get to use colored pencils and talk about where we want to live when we grow up.

I’m not sure what’s next. I just know who will be there: 1. Allison, 2. God.

Why I Give

This Fall in worship, the community at Woodlake Lutheran Church, is exploring the theme of “I love to tell the story.” Timothy’s on staff, and we’re there pretty regularly. Each Sunday (and Saturday) a different non-staff person tells a faith-related story and connects it to “Why I give” as we enter a season of focusing on stewardship. Pastor Diane Roth asked me to do it this week, and of course I went long, but here’s what I shared with the congregation. 

My earliest memory of giving to a church was participating in offering in our Sunday worship services back in Bellevue, Washington. As a kid it was such a thrill to touch and pass the offering plate if only for a split second, and to feel like it mattered that I carried it from the person on my left to the person on my right – usually my mom and dad. It wasn’t my allowance, but it mattered and it made me feel like I mattered.

Now with my own family of me, cat, and husband, we give a portion of what we earn to this church. You might know my husband, Timothy, who is the interim music and worship director here who started in September. Diane asked me to share my faith story and why I give and I initially said “Why?” because my husband is on staff and that would be weird. But she said she wanted lots of different voices, and my story, so here it is.

In 2010, the average college student graduated with $25,000 in debt – and that’s before they took on any other additional loans for graduate school, a mortgage, or life expenses. In Minnesota, in 2013, the average debt of a graduate grew to $31,000.

As part of a family paying back loans on two college degrees, three graduate degrees, and moving and life expenses – you might think giving to a church is low on our priority list. But it’s not.

We moved from our homes in Washington state to Minnesota a week after we got married. Over a few days we drove a U-Haul to the midwest to start a new chapter together as graduate students at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

Consistently, we have leaned on our faith and spirituality to get through tough times of homework and homesickness and can we talk about winter in Minnesota – just that alone, connecting with God and being hopeful that Jesus will bring about a new life of abundant joy – that’s been our breathing in and breathing out over the last four beautiful years.

But that’s why we give ourselves to our people and to God.

We give our intellect to online blogs, communities, and organizations who want to rethink what it means to serve their neighbor.

We give our energy and our bodies to our communities when we walk around Lake Como and smile at neighbors, and when my girls at Zumba class show up because they are hungry to be courageous and seek out human connection just as much a I am.

We give money to communities whose mission and vision we align with, like here at Woodlake and a local community sourced agricultural business.

We give our hearts when I give away scarves I make or when Timothy designs a friend’s dream ordination service.

I give because it was never mine. I can stare all I want at that black or red line in our monthly budget, but that won’t do anything. I give because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who I don’t always understand, but one that I love because God’s relentless love is one that I can place my hope in. Giving our money is a fraction of how we give ourselves to our people and to God. I respond to God’s dreams and love for me by giving my questions, my curiosities, my money, intellect, passions and energy to God’s people – which is partly a church, but mostly, the world, because so far I haven’t found a place where God’s presence does not exist.

If you ask them where they were when Kennedy was shot, people in my parent’s generation will tell you their story at the drop of a hat. People in my generation will be asked for the rest of their lives, “Where were you on September 11, 2011?” My mom was doing my hair before school and we watched the terror unfold on TV 2,000 miles away.

Young people are keenly aware of their prejudice and power to stand up for and with the voiceless in the world. Even though it might not reflect in a giving tally to a church, I would guess that we are not the only twenty-year-olds who are ripe and ready to give ourselves to God and God’s people. I give because I want look back when I’m older and say “Remember that time when we made a change? I was a part of that.”

Pen Pals and Hope

So I left my last blog post with a quandary, searching for a new fun topic I’d reflect on for next time. Of course now that I’m at the “next time,” I’ve strayed from those three options and I’ve wandered into a different vein of thinking that has hit close to home this evening. It has to do with pen pals and hope.

This whole business about finishing a new fancy shiny graduate degree is exciting. But it’s also terrifying – because, as you’re fresh from growing pains and armored with this new set of ideas and sense of smartness, you’re called to not just think but to do all of these wonderful things that you’ve written hundreds and possibly thousands of pages about.

I breathe theology. I eat theology for breakfast. I think about theology in Zumba class as I listen to lyrics about empowerment, love and lifting each other up (to a very zesty, infectious salsa beat I might add). So it’s no surprise that my Master of Arts is in systematic theology, and I loved every minute (almost every minute) of my theology classes at PLU and Luther Seminary.

One theological topic in one of these classes stood out above the rest, in my last two theology classes at Luther, taught by Dr. Lois Malcolm. The idea is that as a Lutheran, I share in Christ’s death, life, baptism, waking, sleeping, and ultimately Christ’s power and authority over structures of oppression, sin, death and the devil. We are co-heirs in Christ’s authority (1st Corinthians 3:21-23). We can have hope for a new day, knowing Christ conquered sin and death so that we might not live in depression, anxiety, broken, abusive relationships, terror, but that we might live into new life of Christ where there is reconciliation, where there is liberation, where there is hope. Christ is not only present in our most vulnerable and anxiety-ridden moments that remind us of our mortality and humanity. Christ is saving through Christ’s transformative liberating of all people, all creeds, and all nations (Joel 2:28-29, 2nd Cor. 5:17-21).

Perhaps it wasn’t the theological idea of “sharing in Christ’s power and authority” that struck me the most. Perhaps it was the fact that it was Dr. Malcolm, a female in a male-dominated profession, like me, a woman, who was teaching from her heart and soul about power. This somehow made her embody power – where so often men have been in her shoes, as professors, teachers, preachers, teaching about power. Men teaching about Christ’s power. That doesn’t really phase me. But to hear a woman so passionately speaking about the power of Christ that we share in as step into life with Christ – that is something that is unique, counter-cultural, and powerful.

It’s amazing how quickly I forget this (that was May). Fast-forward 6 months. After hearing so many “no”s in my call sales job, I was feeling like the most unqualified, inexperienced person ever in the history of humanity to sell advertising space in a burgeoning, growing, at-the-front-of-a-movement magazine for women in ministry leadership. Sometimes I feel I have no authority or power to hold my own and help people see, whom I’ve never met, that we share a vision: serving, supporting and resourcing women in leadership makes a difference to the women themselves, the communities they serve, and the world at large. I love sharing this vision with people. I can’t tell you how much life it gives me when I’m given a shot to explain to someone whose probably scrambling to get through their own day, that the two of us doing ministry together will strengthen our influence on the world whether we’re selling robes and vestments or providing low-income counseling/leadership services to clergy who work at 50-60 hour work week.

Amidst this internal struggle, I get a letter in the mail from my pen pal, Amanda, who is far, far away as a pastoral intern at a very, very lucky church. She thanked me for my encouragement in my last letter as I told her what a fabulous sermon she wrote on vocation that I LOVED to pieces. She said she appreciated my reiteration that she’s a child of God who is capable and lovable, and I told her that Christ’s new life was in her just shining on through her rockstar ministry. In her letter today, she wrote to me that she appreciated the support, and she wrote “I guess this gospel thing really does have power.”

Sure, pen pals might be most popular among middle schoolers, but I think they’re awesome among post-graduate students. It’s because of Amanda’s words that I felt like I have hope that tomorrow will be better. I hope that Christ will offer me new life tomorrow. Not in a ‘gosh that would be awful, I sure hope thing’s will be better’ but hope, as in the kind of hope that only faith in an ultimate trust can bring. I am so thankful for my pen pal and how she reminds me that I share in Christ’s authority and power, as I step into new life in Christ, with humility and with courage. But above all, in hope.