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.

Mira voce: now I know

This post is part of a series of reflections during Lent. This year for Lent I’m trying to create more than copy once a week, inspired by the Portuguese phrase mira voce, prominently featured in my jam “Mira,” by Melody Gardot.

I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to close out this Lenten series, hence I haven’t written in a few weeks – eek – so, not good, but now I think I know what I want to say.

I started this mira voce series with the intent of creating something new on a weekly basis instead of copying or imitating people or online things. But as I listen to this song (nsfw-ish; G-rated version starts at 1:28) now, on the other side of this series – on the other side of Easter Sunday – I’m realizing I was so taken by this song and this phrase because mira voce is all about celebrating life and its surprises. A celebration – an honest to God celebration of the miracle of life – of this undeserving, inexplainable phenomenon of you waking up this morning not by your own will, but by something else. A something else that I’m courageous enough to say is God saying, “I’m not done with you yet!” I think God says, “There is more I want for you, more I dream for you, more I wish you to see and you to exclaim in awe ‘Holy buckets!'” or translated in Protugese: mira voce.

Good Easter Morning, Trinidad. 2008.

Good Easter Morning, Trinidad. 2008.

I’ve had these mira voce moments all over the map this past Lent. I realized it’s okay to have different interests and passions than my significant other (with the help of Mindy Kaling). I realized how fervently alive the fire is within me, still, to travel and be bathed in sunshine and that’s a desire to travel that I won’t loose any time soon. I learned that making friends after grad school is rough but not impossible – and choosing a good attitude about that and other things can make or a break a 60 minute cardio workout (this is a big deal, people). I shared my voice with other young people who are sick of getting asked “How do I get more young people to come to my church?” when we’re standing right there in front of them, hungry to serve and make a difference in the world but are rarely challenged to. I was also inspired by Chimananda Adichie’s TED talk that helped me see that we are all storytellers who are beautiful, complex, unique, and have way more than one story to tell. 

This might be the end of this series, but it is certainly not the end of moments when you or I feel a tug or a tap on the shoulder that says “Look at that!” – mira voce – because God is not a proper noun; God is a verb. God is set loose in the world in resurrected joy as pieces of inspiration, as the inspired, and as the one who taps you on the shoulder and says “Look at that!” The women who saw the first evidence of Jesus’ resurrection were not merely “property” as they were economically and socially valued in the first century, but were people of courage, inspired enough to tell others what they saw. They were brave enough to tell others their mira voce moment.

My hope is that you look out for those moments that take your breath away. Look out for those opportunities to be brave and speak something new into existence by saying “look that that!” – mira voce – because I have a sneaking suspicion that the world needs more people brave enough to say what has brought them to life.

So thank you, Melody Gardot, for such a beautiful song to inspire this series. It’s been so much fun to play, reflect, write, and be present in this theme over the last couple months. I can’t wait to see what’s in store as I keep my eyes open to more mira voce moments in the world, and as I travel into a new blog series!

This blog has no ownership or rights to music by Melody Gardot or Verve Music Group.