Sunday, June 24, 2018

Good Courage

On the Anniversaries of Ordination of Daryn Holdsworth (20 years) and Kristen Koch (15 years)

Grace and peace to you, Pastor Kristen Koch and Chaplain Daryn Holdsworth, family and friends, and people of Shepherd of the Hills. It is so kind for you to invite a guest to bring the message on this celebration day, and I’m delighted and honored to be with you. I bring greetings from the church up north—from the people of Christ on Capitol Hill, Saint Paul, Minnesota, where our little yellow church stands next door to the Minnesota State Capitol building and where we gather in a diverse immigrant community each Sunday. In that place, our vision is to embody Christ the tree of life in the midst of our neighborhood and beyond... When Bishop Jim Gonia of the Rocky Mountain Synod visited us recently, he said, “Could I bring greetings from you to the church where I’ll be next week?” And everybody clapped & shouted “Yes!” … so I’m going to ask you the same—can I bring your greetings, people gathered here in celebration today, back to the people of Christ on Capitol Hill next Sunday?
Oh yay! It is so good to remember that despite distance and differences, we are one church, called by Christ to deeper connection, deeper love of one another, for the sake of a whole world that God loves.

Today’s gospel tells the story of a long, long day—a day when people were hungry and needing healing and Jesus was reaching out to them and finally as the day was done, Jesus too was done. Let’s cross over to the other side, he said to his equally weary disciples…
A significant number of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, so they most likely knew this was not a good idea.
Who goes out on the sea at night?
Who goes out when the skies are looking like…. this?
But, they go, they follow, and in no time exhausted Jesus falls asleep in the boat.

At this point, the storm becomes a real doozy. Finally, they’re so full of fear that they wake up Jesus, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” they shout. Then Jesus says to the storm, “Be still.” And immediately, the Galilee is a dead calm.
They were filled with fear, again, but this time it’s a little different. Who is this?
In this moment, I have the musical Hamilton singing through my mind—Oh, who are you? Oh, who are you? Oh, who are you? Who’s this guy, now, what’s he gonna do??!

Just like most everyone has a scar story (our brother and sister-in-law joke that it was comparing scar stories that brought them together), most everyone has a storm story. I have a few—like the time we were canoeing and had to get off the river when the rain became a deluge with thunder and lightning… another time, I accompanied my son’s 2nd or 3rd grade class to the Science Museum’s IMAX  “Tornado Alley” and listened as the kids around me showed total empathy, “Oh no, oh no, oh no!” they said with horror. And I wondered for a moment if this was a mistake, thinking this was a good movie for children. I bet you have your own storm stories, too, being right here at the end of Tornado Alley.
I happen to know that the Koch-Holdsworth family weathered tornado sirens once every month from January to September one year by calling them “Family Basement Fun Nights.” Remember that year? (2006)

Life has its storms and it’s hard to know what to make of them when we right in the middle of the wind and waves. Life with Jesus does not mean that we’re protected from storms and never have to go through any… And in fact, sometimes it seems like Jesus is leading us right into them.
On this milestone, anniversary celebration Sunday, it’s certainly a time to look back over our stories, though, and see where God has been faithful in bringing us through storms. Daryn told me his story of sitting in an empty church building early on, when things were not going at all well for him, and pointing a finger at Jesus—didn’t you call me into this? And hearing more clearly than any time before or since, a voice saying, “No, not this… I called you to chaplaincy.”
Ah ha! A place to use incredible musical gifts on a daily basis, a place to try unique and off-the-wall things, a place to accompany people tenderly through the last days of their lives, a way to be a presence through the whole storm of emotions that accompany death, and a way to be the voice of Jesus, 9Ø “Peace to you” at the very end of all we know of this life.

And then there’s Pastor Kristen, celebrating 15 years as a pastor (and nearly 6 years as your pastor), leading you as you celebrate who we are as the church, and what we as the church are called to do. This church is a community of beautiful and broken people whom God has chosen and called, no matter how unlikely.
So it just makes sense that your next experiment together with your creative, dedicated, and innovative pastor would respond to what Jayce’s family has been teaching—that there are many families who need a place to worship without the pressure to be quiet or still, where those who make joyful (or not-so-joyful) noises and need or want to move around have the opportunity to set the rest of us free to be fully in our bodies, to be our whole selves… beautiful and broken. You’re envisioning that the road ahead is one where differences are celebrated, where children and adults will be free to worship with heart, soul and body, a gathering full of unconditional love.
Oh how we need that!—unconditional love.

In a culture that is full of storms—a culture that seems to bow to terror, following the biggest bully; a culture where we are told that the best ways to deal with those who have needs different than our own is to lock them up, send them back or keep them out; in truly fearful storms made more fearful by the inability to communicate well across differences, we certainly might call out to Jesus, “Don’t you care that we’re about to die??”

We desperately need places where people of faith gathering truly are committed to being a community of unconditional love. Jesus calls ordinary people to faith in spite of fear, both on the sea of Galilee and now, in our presence this morning.

To you, beautiful and broken ones, you are chosen and called, no matter how unlikely. Maybe your politics are not exactly in line with the politics of Jesus—in spite of that, Jesus calls you to new, deeper, embracing love for your very different neighbor, the one who you have the most trouble valuing as a full human being, the one who you may never see eye-to-eye with… even that one you’re called to love, unconditionally, both in this space and in daily life.

To you, beautiful and broken ones, you are chosen and called, no matter how unlikely. Maybe you don’t really think you’re up to the challenges that you face. You’re vulnerable as it is, you’re barely making it as the waves grow and the winds increase, you are in grave danger and wonder if God cares at all… you are invited to be open-hearted to this Jesus who loves you, unconditionally, and God’s Holy Spirit who blows unpredictably—who calls, strengthens, empowers and sends us out to serve neighbors and strangers near and far.

To you, beautiful and broken ones, you are chosen and called, no matter how unlikely.
You who have given your life to ministry, you who are celebrating milestones, you who keep practicing getting into the boat, crossing over to the other side, holding on to life through the storm, and looking to Jesus in both storm and calm. Christ’s peace is in, with, and under you, and I rejoice for your partnership in the gospel from the first time we met until now. For you, Pastor Kristen, Pastor Daryn, people of God, as we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s faithful presence through every storm, I give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever.

And so we can venture into the next 15, the next 20 years with peace, trust, & good courage—pray with me:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Manna…enough and some to share

Exodus 16: 1-5, 29-31 (or read the whole chapter J)
Let me tell the story around our little part of the story, read today.
God's people are freed from slavery but they are really pretty new at trusting God. You can tell because the minute they get out in the wilderness and get hungry, they jump to conclusion, sure that God is trying to kill them.

So many of us are like this! At the first sign of trouble, we look to the heavens in despair, so in the image of Pastor Dan Erlander, God takes the people through the wilderness training school... and a very early, repeated lesson at this school is Manna 101.
Here are the instructions. Each day, there will be manna for you to gather and eat... And each day you'll gather enough for that day. Don't hoard for tomorrow.
So, of course, people test this. They try to hoard it and what happens?
Well, it's full of worms, maggots. It’s rotting.
Really, people, God says, really... Try to trust me. I know it only comes with practice so we're going to work on it together for a really long time.

Each day, they're asked to gather enough for that day, except on the day before the Sabbath, gather two-days-worth (enough for today, enough for the Sabbath). That way, on the Sabbath, you can just rest in God's presence. You can know I love you for who you are and not your work/efforts/productivity... This is my deep gift to you on the Sabbath. (And by the way, in the Wilderness Training School, the extra gathered for Sabbath doesn't rot or get maggots).

So, for a long, long time they practiced, and today, people are still practicing...
Some of those literally practicing Sabbath don’t even drive on the Sabbath—I saw some of them walking to worship together yesterday.
Others of us long for this intentional, weekly rest. Like a friend of mine who recently had brain surgery and just literally is longing for some space to rest and let her brain catch up.
Even now, we’re in what seems a lot like a Wilderness Training School, wondering with those ancient people of God--what to hold onto, what to let go of...

This week, we let go of some of our control of our space as we turned it over to all the children and volunteers that made KICKS a wonderful week. We let go of some of the walls that can divide us (different generations, different behaviors, different ways of managing activities, "church" people or not so familiar around here) and we practiced being open-hearted to one another across those and all kinds of other differences.

This week, artist Deanna Parks began the mural on the front doors of our church. If any of you stopped by this week, you might have seen her painting... But you might also have seen her standing, with eyes closed, contemplating... On Tuesday, she told me what she was seeing so far... If you go and peek today, you will see some of the images beginning to emerge. Every day she is asking God’s Holy Spirit, what should she keep? What should she paint over?
Today, we've let go of our walls for worship. It's just a practice, a day when we remember it's not our beautiful sanctuaries that make us church (however much we value beautiful spaces) but it's us... We not only eat the manna God provides, we are the manna that God shares with neighbors... When we are able to share ourselves open heartedly, that's God's providing enough and some to share.

We not only receive healing and all the fruits we need for flourishing from the Tree of Life, but we are intended to be the leaves of healing and the fruits as we cross people's paths in the course of our daily life... This can be as concrete as having conversations with children and really listening to them, in the ways they can tell we are really listening...

This week, one of the many meetings and trainings I was part of was a gathering with our Bishop about the
AAMPARO[1] network throughout our church. Right now, we have one official AAMPARO congregation in the synod designated as part of this network and it's our neighbor, St. Paul-Reformation, due to their longtime relationship with the church in El Salvador and at the request of that church’s Bishop Medardo Gomez. Today, our Bishop Patricia Lull wants more of us to join this network and listen to the list of commitments:
1) accompany migrants in our community congregation
2) physically accompany migrants as needed to medical, legal and pastoral resources
3) pray for the children and families
4) prayerfully advocate for public policy that will that will positively impact the current immigration crisis - including working in partnership with the ELCA Washington office and Lutheran immigration and refugee

Well, Christ has been doing this work in some form at least since the 1980s and even longer than that, welcoming immigrant newcomers... but this is an opportunity be trained so that more of us can do that more effectively... An it's an opportunity lot be a part of a network so that we can help and learn from one another. It also comes at a time when many of us are wondering how exactly to respond to the horrific news we hear about the ways our government has treated immigrant families and continues to make things worse and worse. Joining AAMPARO is one way we can operate not out of a mentality of scarcity as if we as a church don't know that God will provide enough for us and the newcomers in our midst. It's a way of practicing trust in God who provides the manna... Enough and some to share. We don't have to hoard. We don't have to criminalize strangers who are in need. We don't have to fear those we haven't met yet or have trouble communicating with... Although we might consider how, given our human history, we want to do things differently now that we see we are in the Wilderness Training School of God... and how from our most long-time neighbors we have learned that we are all related.

Today, we bless and send of group of youth and leaders who will travel to MYLE (the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event[2]) and then the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. I imagine that throughout your time, gathered with hundreds and then with 30,000 youth from across the U.S. in one of our largest southern border states, you'll have the opportunity to learn more in depth about AAMPARO and so many other ways that our church provides training and inspiration to be the whole person that God created you to be and to do the things together that God can do with manna people. We expect you to be transformed in many small ways as you worship, learn, and serve, and we hope that as you come back, you will bring what you gather back to us. Who knows?
Just as the presence of Jesus changes everything… we are expecting what you witness to change you and because that encounter changes you, we need and want you to bring it back.

Seems like no matter how long we’ve been at this, we’re still pretty new at trusting God, and maybe that’s because we need to keep learning it over and over again. Maybe the best news in that is that each morning, there is a new opportunity to practice together once again. We are not alone but part of a living body: rooted, growing, provided for… with something delicious, enough and some to share.

[1] The Spanish amparo means protection. AMMPARO is a holistic, whole church commitment by the ELCA, as a church in the world, to accompany children today and in the future.

[2]  MYLE - empowers young people of color and those whose primary language is other than English to claim their story as a part of God's story. MYLE 2018 will be held June 24–27, 2018 at the University of Houston.
MYLE’s core values include: 
  • Culture is explored. Participants will experience an inclusive community that seeks to build understanding and appreciation of the various cultures and ethnicities that are a part of this church. 
  • Leaders are formed. Youth and adults will learn about the issues in their communities and how to effect change. 
  • Identity is claimed. Participants will be encouraged to uncover their story and live out their God-given calling in the world. 
  • Faith is deepened. Youth and adults will explore the intersection of faith and life and how our faith calls us to act justly in the world. 
  • Friends are made. Participants will connect with peers who are looking to build relationships and have a good time. 
The theme for MYLE 2018 is “ONE” based in the scripture of Ephesians 2:14-19,
“For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it]17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God”