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.

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This is what I preached at my internship site on the First Sunday after Epiphany, on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

[It was a little bit of a whirlwind of a preaching morning, two weeks ago, as my supervisor gave me a ride to the airport for my 1:06 flight right after the second worship service, but the sermon itself I think went well. It was certainly a good reminder as I was traveling off to Minnesota for a week-long intensive Public Worship class at Luther Seminary (which I need to blog about too). I hope you will hear some words of promise and peace here as you perhaps are preaching or leading in worship this weekend. So, here’s what I preached:]

It’s hard not to think of your own baptism when you hear about this gospel story of Jesus’ baptism. Not that I could remember it – for my baptism, I was just 2 months old. I was a newbie to this whole human thing, and from what my parents tell me I was not having it. You know those baptisms that feel like they just go on forever because the kid is just crying though the whole thing? That was mine!

I threw my parents off so bad that they switched my first and middle names – so I could have been a Mabel before you today, not an Allison, but they got it squared out. Allison Mabel was declared a baptized & chosen child of God.

Jesus was an adult when he got baptized by John the Baptist. The heavens were opened and God speaks—yes God speaks, not an angel, not a messenger, but God speaks directly and says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It’s unclear if just Jesus heard God say this, or if everyone in the world heard this.

I think it was probably the latter. If we’re talking about the heavens opening and the announcement of Jesus’ ministry, I’m gonna say—that must have been a pretty loud announcement.

Today I want to share with you just a couple gifts of this passage.

I could tell you all the theological holes, discrepancies, or missing plot points, but today I just want to talk about its gifts.

Because, truthfully, sometimes I think I beat-up on Bible passages, and honestly I have been trained to in my theological education—thinking that I’ll get to the root of it; to the real truth of it if I deconstruct it to its atoms and molecules.

But what if we treat this passage like how Jesus is treated here—someone who is talked about as someone who is worthy of love. Someone who is a gift. Someone who is loved, and who is so loved that the person who loves him isn’t afraid to show it or shout it. What if we started there?

The first gift of this passage is that Jesus’ baptism is a marker and a commission into his earthly ministry. It’s like God’s scrapbook page for this memory is full of stars and big hearts and cute metallic eye-catching graphics. This is a big day. Even the universe understands it as a big day as it says “the heavens are opened.” This means that not only is Jesus’ life changing, the world is changing, because of the restoration, healing, and revitalization God will bring through Jesus, the Christ, our Emmanuel.

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What if these were God’s scrapbook choices? Not bad. Needs more sparkles.

When God is with us, things happen, and Jesus’ baptism gets a big, beautiful bookmark in the book of God’s story.

The second gift of this passage is that Luke crafts this story so beautifully, that we see Jesus as a fulfillment of Israel’s desire and longing for a Messiah. Psalm two echoes God’s words saying, “I will tell the decree of the Lord. He said to me ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’” In Isaiah 42 we read, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights…he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” The Israelites in exile, away from home, prophesied about one who will save the nations and establish justice in the earth.

Jesus has been chosen for a task much bigger than him. He is a part of something bigger than himself. Wow, what a feeling that must have been.

But I think the greatest gift of this passage is God’s direct proclamation of love. Rarely do we hear God speaking directly to people—we see angels, and messengers, and speaking through his disciples (and bushes).

But here we hear directly from God. There is no middle-man (or middle-woman).

The heavens have torn open, and now there is nothing that can separate us from the love, and, justice, and voice of God. Wow, what does that mean? I know it means something. God says, “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Isn’t that what we all want to hear? That our dads or moms are proud of us? “You are my Son/You are my daughter. You are beloved. I’m proud of you.”

I’m lucky that I have awesome parents and an amazing husband who tell me that. But not all people are lucky enough to hear that every day. It broke my heart the other day when I read that in 2013, 21.8% of high school students didn’t make it to graduation.

21.8%.

That’s 1 in 5.

This study said the number one reason why students are dropping out of high school before they graduate is because they are disengaged. They don’t know why this material matters and they don’t consistently hear why they’re there.

I wonder if this is a question that ever wanders into your brain when you think about faith?

That you ever wonder, “Why am I here at church?” “Does it matter that I’m here?” Do you want to hear beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re supposed to be here? I’ll just say it from my perspective: I want to know that I’m not wasting my time. I want to hear that I’m not getting the wool pulled over my eyes and I want to hear that my deepest fear isn’t true: that I’m not a part of the most elaborate, complex, two-thousand-year scheme to get us to believe that a man in his 30’s in modern-day Palestine could bring salvation to everyone in the world.

Oh come on– Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh come on, Allison, we don’t need to know that. We know that this is all true, and we’re children of God, loved by God, and worthy of love. Of course we know that.”

Then why do 21.8% of high school students drop out of school before graduation?

Why were there almost as many shootings than days of the year last year (and not just in 2015)?

Why is suicide the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24?

Because have fallen out of the practice of proclaiming to each other that you are loved–in all of your uniqueness, in all of your gifts, in all of your strengths, in all of your ‘oops’ moments, in all of your acceptance letters, mental unstable-ness, bankruptcies, promotions, second chances, and all of your ideas that start with “I wonder if that would work?”

Just like we are called to the vocation of showing and saying our encouragement to one another, God tells Jesus, proclaiming to the world, at his baptism that he is loved, and it’s a passage is begging to be read out loud on a consistent basis to our kids, our adults, and our people that they are loved.

The heavens are opened, and the world hasn’t been the same ever since.

Jesus is made new, and we are made new, in our understanding that we are loved & our unique gifts make God’s smile open like never before. Amen.

Advent Week 1: Yes, We Are Called to Hope

After hanging up Christmas lights for the first time on our house, a house we are graciously hosted in by my internship congregation for the year, I’ve concluded that today I am tired and my productivity has left the building. So I turn to you, friends. It’s Advent. It’s been bugging me, so let’s do it. I’ve been trying to avoid writing a weekly blog series on this time of waiting for Christmas because I have too much to do. I’m in month three of my pastoral internship. I fear I’ve tilted to the attitude of I’m “too busy” when it comes to my creative outlets. So let’s stop pretending that being “too busy” is something outside my control and admit that it’s a choice. So I choose to write: here it goes.

Getting ready to eat. Yes, all 12 of us fit in the dining room, woohoo!

Getting ready to eat. Yes, all 12 of us fit in the dining room, woohoo!

This weekend and Thanksgiving was fabulous. We had a warm, full house of family from both sides for a few days of eating, laughing, napping, and eating, lots. I truly have every reason to proudly name the theme of this week’s Advent reflection: hope.

Yet the violence and fear in the world weigh on me heavily. The preacher this weekend at my church (my supervisor) shared that Jesus says to his people that awful, violent signs of the end of this world are coming, and yet, be hopeful, because “your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21: 25-36).

Are you sure about that? Jesus, have you looked out the window recently, to Paris, to Minneapolis, to Syria, because I don’t see a place that is shouting to me that redemption and reconciliation is near?

But that’s precisely what we’re called to do. In the face of death, redemption and resurrection is on its way. Ironically, in a time of celebrating the incarnation of God through Jesus, this tiny baby, we hear the message of Good Friday & Easter: there is no resurrection without death.

Our biggest threat is not violence: it’s fear. Fear that keeps us from remembering who we are. I’m paraphrasing what our preacher said, but what I heard was, “Name your fear now, before it continues to grow, consume, and spread.” Fear helps protect us from harm (see “Inside Out”), but when it’s our dominant emotion, it keeps our walls so high that there’s no hope to reach and connect with another person, another community, or another group.

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I admit, this is not the happiest reflection the theme of “hope.” But when we fear, we lose our capacity to hope. When we hope, we untighten our fists of fear and hold the future with open hearts and open wills. Yes, my first reaction, too, is “no thank you! That sounds a little too scary.”

But when we hope for God’s grace and love to come, we become less fearful of the changes to come, and become more grateful than we ever thought possible.

Advent week 1: We are called to hope.

You are not Jesus: this was a weird sermon

Hello friends! I preached this last weekend at my internship site. My sermon’s based on Mark 10:35-45:

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

I don’t know about you, but I had a ton of fun at the blessing of the pets last week here at Messiah. Did any of you come? It was awesome. So many fun furry creatures // and one snail. But perhaps even more awesome than seeing the animals and their owners, was my triumphant welcome home by my cat at the end of the day. See it was my husband who brought our mildly-social cat, and as I came home our cat scrambled toward me for a snuggle, as if to say “Did you know what he did to me today?” All of the sudden I was the greatest pet owner, and it was an awesome feeling.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are scrambling to be the greatest, and to feel awesome.

Jesus and the disciples are struggling to make this whole discipleship thing happen, and the disciples just want more. Jesus has just predicted his death for the third time, or described what’s to come. The disciples are becoming increasingly agitated and anxious. Their fear is keeping them from listening, which happens to all of us when we are afraid.

So to find some security, James and John ask Jesus a weird request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus entertains the question, and they go on to say they want to sit at his right and left hand in glory. To this, Jesus asks if they can drink the same cup, and be baptized in Jesus’ baptism. Which to us – a church that baptizes and do communion, it’s like okay – John and James are like ‘Sure, why not!” But Jesus says that these seats of glory aren’t his to grant. Then to all the disciples Jesus says “Whoever wishes to be great, must be your servant… for I came to serve, not to be served, to give my life as a ransom for many.”

Even as I write this, and now preach this, I can’t help but feel for Jesus. Yes, the disciples are lost, figuratively and literally, they hear their leader they left their former lives and former worlds for is really really going to die. But think about Jesus. Once again, his people don’t get it. He’s saying that you can baptize, you can commune, but to sit with me in heaven? To live in the same presence of me, in the paradise, that is now and not yet? That’s not mine to grant. And it’s not yours to grant either. You’re not Jesus. This is where you end, and I start. You do not have the capacity to save people. Jesus says: That’s my role, and not yours.

You are not Jesus.

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I think sometimes we get tricked into thinking that we’re Jesus. We’re the saviors. We’re the greatest. We’re the most free. We win.

But we both know, winning, freedom, greatness – is that what a life following Jesus is all about? Jesus says no. Jesus says “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” Whoever wishes to be great must be radically not free. Must be bound. Must be dependent. If this sounds like things you don’t want to be – you’re not alone. This life doesn’t look all that great to me either.

But what’s the life that is constantly marketed to us? Did you know that you see anywhere from 300-3,000 brands or logos each day? They say: Be more free! Be independent! Be perfect with this product! Save all the children!

But we’re not Jesus.

I’m not Jesus.

I can’t say that from now on I will never try to fix or save someone, but I certainly won’t forget the last time the universe told me that saving a person’s soul was not a cure I could grant.

As a seminary student in the Master of Divinity program, this summer I finished a credit or a class in which I got to learn in whole different kind of classroom – a hospital in downtown Minneapolis. I was on the staff of a spiritual care team as a chaplain. I got to visit with patients, their families, their friends, and the awesome, awesome staff of my assigned space – a medical/surgical unit/wing.

At the beginning of the day, the team of our unit – nurses, staff, coordinators, and the chaplain (me) have rounds – sort of like an update meeting of the last 24 hours.

Now as a chaplain, a ministry person, and not really a morning person either, I was lucky if I caught one or two words of medical words thrown around in that fast-paced meeting.

But when I heard the phrase, “…he doesn’t know that yet…” I knew I had to ask. I put my elbows on the table and asked “What was that again?”

We’ll call him John. John doesn’t know upon discharge (healthy enough to go home) he was going to jail. He was found overdosing on drugs while in rehab, and he was detoxing in the hospital on his way to immediate incarceration. John didn’t know that when he was healthy again he wasn’t headed home.

Now, no one told me I had to visit him. But when there’s a 22-year old patient on your unit who is headed on a dark path, who came from a dark path, it’s hard not feel tugged by the Spirit’s call.

The police officer floating on the unit kept an eye on me as I entered the room, and with the encouragement of his assigned nurse, I knocked and entered John’s space.

He was kind. The supervisor in the room quietly read her book as John and I talked about his family and friends, and why he was there.

Now, I don’t claim to be some miracle-worker, but I felt like I was getting through to him. He even brought up his questions about the Christian faith. I felt like the coolest chaplain – even a drug user talked to me about God – awesome!

But he kept asking me if he could take a walk. And his phone rang while we were in there and he tried to talk quietly, suggesting to me that he wasn’t cured of his dealing habits.

But he was just a kid. 22. He just needed someone to believe him, right? He just needed someone to care for him, and love him, and give him everything he needs, right?

The next day, as I talked with my supervisor and other chaplain interns about this interaction, it became clear that I had an intense feeling of wanting to save John.

I just wanted him to feel like someone believed in him. I just wanted him to feel like someone believed him.

I just wanted to save him.

He even told me what he believed about God! Or – perhaps he emotionally manipulated me, because that’s what users do. They search after what they want at any cost, and ultimately, what they want is something deeper than drugs, but the result is often what harms them the most. Because John wants what we all want – To feel loved. To be told he matters. To know he’s missed. So maybe we’re not that much different?

In his disease, I was on the cusp of being swept into his swirl of masking and manipulation.

But he just needed to be saved, right?

And I could save him, right?

The funny part is that no one else was really prompting me to think this. I don’t remember anyone specifically telling me “Allison – you’re awesome, you can save people, you can fix people, go for it!” No – but this does come from messages in our culture that have squirrelled their way into our bank of wisdom. So in some ways, I expect myself to save people. That inner voice is just so loud and I can’t find the volume knob sometimes.

But I bet it’s in you too. You hear inside yourself that you can save people and fix people. That you can be Jesus.

Where does that come from?

The part of you that says ‘I don’t need anybody.’ The part of you that says ‘I’m independent. I’m free. I’m the greatest.’

The part of the disciples that steers their decisions and requests when they’re afraid.

My hunch, is that we’re so afraid as individuals, as a country, as a world that we don’t trust each other or another presence to save us. I’ve got to do it, it has to be me. Jesus saves me? Jesus saves you? That’s nice. I’d rather save myself, thank you very much.

The good news that Jesus gives us – is that we are not bound by the responsibility to save, liberate, and redeem ourselves.

We are free to not be Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we are freed from the task of being the name above all names. Because being the most independent and the most free is exhausting.

But we’re not totally off the hook – It’s not up to us to save the world, but it’s up to us to do the best we can.

We are given opportunities and gifts and strengths not to save people, not to fix people, but to serve.

We are truly freed, or you could say, “freed up” to serve our neighbor.

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This is the kind of service that doesn’t involve the expectation that we’re going to get something back

This is the kind of service that makes other people wonder, “Why is that guy so willing to go into these dark places and shine a light of hope, and help people out?” To this he might say, “Because Jesus has freed me from the task of saving myself so I can serve my neighbors.” This is the kind of service that makes other people wonder “Why is the girl so excited to serve a meal or clean tables to people who seem to constantly be out of luck?” To this she might say “Because I get to serve my neighbors since I don’t have spend my time worrying about how I’m going to save myself.”

Out of the darkest moment that Jesus is walking toward in Jerusalem, out of the crucifixion, comes his resurrection, not only of our body, mind, and soul, but a resurrection of this world. This is our joy – that we now live in a kingdom, in a paradise now, and not yet, and we as freed people get to share that joy with the world. That is the challenge and the mystery and the beauty of following Jesus – we get to share the good news that a savior has come and it’s not you. We’re not Jesus. That burden has been lifted and we are free to not serve ourselves but serve our neighbor with this good news propelling us into those dark places where the light is dim, but our hope is fierce and speaks a word of life and light into spaces that we thought deserved left to be dead.

Jesus listens to the disciples request today to sit at his left and right side in glory. A bold request, I’ll give them that. But Jesus doesn’t give them an answer they like – and once again the disciples are at a loss for where they went wrong. They’re so afraid of what will happen next that they want to claim a piece of Jesus before he is crucified. All they can see is Good Friday. All they see is their need to be free and be saved and forget that Jesus is Jesus, and they are not. They are blind to the joy of being a disciple which is being freed up to serve their neighbor – not to save, not to fix, but to serve their neighbor. And that just might be the best news of all.

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.

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.