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?

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.

A sermon in which I didn’t have to say Washington after Tacoma

Hi friends. I promise I’m not trying to ignore you. My pastoral internship started a few weeks ago. If you were to ask me “How’s it going?” I would stumble over a response that tries to express my stubborn gratitude, fear, and my terrifying optimism that I don’t even recognize.

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P.S. These tealight holders? Shoot. I’m so glad I don’t shop online… often. For now, pretty holders, you will look pretty and live on my laptop.

Back to the sermon: The first time I preached at my internship site, Messiah Lutheran Church (in the same state where I’m from) was two days ago. It felt familiar since I’ve done pulpit supply over the last few years, and it felt different — scratch that, it felt new. There’s a whole other blog post! But for now, this is what I said. It’s based on Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV), with Allison commentary:

“They went on from there and passed through Galilee [a metaphor for home, Mark 1:16-20, fishing becomes adventures with Jesus]. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ [say that again?] But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. [they’re afraid] Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. [they’re still afraid] He sat down, called the twelve, [come to Jesus meeting] and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'”

Here’s what I said:

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

Hi, I’m Allison your pastoral intern this year. I just want to take a moment and thank you for all the ways you have welcomed Timothy and me. It’s such a blessing to be back in the Northwest. Some of you have already had us over for dinner and shared your stories with us, and even given us some of your amazing barbecue (Jim I’m looking at you) – we just can’t thank you enough, after our road trip out from Minnesota last month to here. Which reminds me…

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Did anyone take a road trip this summer? Does anyone wish the had taken a road trip? Have you ever been on a road trip, and there’s that one guy? Kicking the back of your seat or humming the same song over and over again? Now, in all of my road trips I’m not going to say which people I’m thinking of (I’m probably one myself)! But they’re the ones that you have to turn around and say, “Don’t make me come back there.”

I think Jesus was at a point like that in this gospel passage. I mean, we’re nine chapters in, and they’ve put some miles on together. His disciples were arguing and it was driving Jesus crazy.

Truthfully though, I think it’s more than bickering. I think the disciples are afraid because these are high stakes and they’re far from home, and they’ve put their lives on hold to follow this man.

And just before this, Jesus says something big: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Woah. We just met you and now you’re going to die? Holy moly what is going on. The disciples are probably sad, confused. This is all turning into defensiveness and anger as they want to know who is the greatest disciple. So Jesus shows him a child and in the face of their fear says, “Welcome this child in my name and you’ll welcome me. Whoever welcomes me, doesn’t welcome me but the one who sent me.” (paraphrasing) Who knows where the child goes, but in whatever happens next, Jesus has made his point. The big joys and tears of a child, are no match for your arguing and fear. Don’t welcome your fear – welcome this child.

Welcome this child. This squealing, constantly moving, laughing, crying, loving, snuggling child.

I have to tell you, when I read this passage I imagined my God-son whose back in MN just climbing up a storm around one of his parents, mouth wide open, giggling like crazy, swarming around him that makes it hard to keep up with him.

Jesus says, “Welcome him.”

The child in this gospel story is meant to invite the reader to think of other vulnerable people we are called to welcome, like our neighbors or friends or family members who are sick, in tough situations, or people in trouble. But I think this story is just as much about the child within us as the child next to us.

Jesus says, “Welcome him” or “Welcome her,” as if to say “Welcome you.”

[editor’s note: this is heavily influenced by Brene Brown here, here, and here, so, Brene THANK YOU and I am terrible for not mentioning you in my sermon]

Because — we see the disciples are arguing about who is the best. They’re one-up-ing each other because they don’t think they’re enough. They keep their confusion and questions to themselves because they’re afraid of what will happen to them and to their leader Jesus; and let’s face it, they’re afraid of life in general at this point.

They’re afraid. They don’t think their enough. They can’t see past themselves.

Then Jesus plops a kid in front of them, as if to say “LOOK.” Life is greater than worrying about if you’re enough or worrying about what tomorrow brings. Love is this child. Welcome yourself so you can welcome her.

Now, this sermon could easily turn into: Get a better attitude! Don’t worry, be happy! Stop thinking silly things like you’re not good enough or pretty enough or smarter enough; just change your thinking and love yourself!

If only it was that easy. Thankfully, Jesus gets that this is complicated. Vulnerability is complicated.

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Two words: College applications. Talk about vulnerability. We even had a class in high school where we to write an essay about ourselves to practice writing college essays. To me, it felt like “Here is me, please judge me, measure me, and rip me to shreds, just please don’t tell me about the room you all adults sat in together to do this.” I felt so open, so vulnerable: me, on paper, for strangers to see, to correct my grammar, to critique my argument about why I’m the best and I should go to your college.

So to battle this feeling of not feeling enough – I tried to hide. I didn’t apply to any colleges, until my confirmation mentor suggest her alma mater – Pacific Lutheran University In Tacoma, Washington [to which the congregation and I laughed at how I didn’t have to say “Washington” for the first time in five years]. She said, just try it out, visit campus, I loved it, maybe you will too. So I did. I don’t think it had anything to do with the college itself, but the fact that it felt like someone could advocate for me if my application was as terrible as I thought it was going to be.

So during dinner a few months after I applied I got a phone call & it was my admissions counselor at PLU. She said, “We think you have gifts for this community and we want you to come here.” I asked her a few times if she was kidding, and she kept saying she was for real. I dropped to the ground in tears. I felt enough, and them some. Someone believed in me. And I knew my family and my parents believed in me, but it’s something about hearing it from someone who’s not your family that takes a lot of courage to hear, and to believe. So I took a chance and believed her. Someone wanted me. And not only wanted me, but articulated that I was needed there – that that place would be different if I wasn’t there.

I wonder – Isn’t that the beauty of the body of Christ? This group, this church, is different when you’re not here. Your gifts are needed in this community – the community of Messiah, of Vancouver, of this world. This place is different when you show up.

I think that is what Jesus is trying to tell us today. That child that he holds up? She is vibrant, and full of energy, and cries loud, and laughs so hard her body can barely take it. She knows nothing else but to show up as completely herself. She has yet to learn by watching adults around her that you escape to the bathroom to cry, you laugh appropriately even when something isn’t that funny, you keep their thoughts at bay so as to not risk others thinking you’re stupid or out of touch with reality.

But here’s the funny thing, your age isn’t even the whole story. On Friday we were at Chuck’s Produce, and “Stayin’ Alive” came on intercom. A woman starts dancing her way out the store, while the clerk has the face of, “Oh my goodness.” But this kind of unabashed openness to whatever comes your way is what Jesus asks of us.

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I mean, look at this small human’s face.

Jesus says stop vying for worthiness and competing for value and for joy; because your value can not be filled like a jar weighed down with change at the end of the day; your value and your worth come from me – your savior and redeemer shines brightest when you open yourself up to failures, to judgement, to risk, but also to belly-clutching laughter, to radical ideas that no one else has thought of, to vulnerability that helps you say what you need and what you want.

God says that God is the root of all of that.

We can’t pick and choose the ups and the downs. In the unknowns that are always with us Jesus doesn’t say, “Welcome your fear,” or “Welcome defensiveness.” Jesus says “Welcome her” and Jesus says “Welcome yourself–all of yourself.”

Because if you miss the risk to be yourself, you might just miss the chance to see the fullness of God working in you.

Jesus sits down and holds you, and says, “Welcome this child.” Amen.