Children’s Sermon: King (Queen)

Bring a printout of a coloring sheet that has “Love the Lord with all your heart, etc.” Bring the book of Peppa Goes to London.

Hi everyone! I’m so glad you are here today. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving. I’m still pretty full from all the delicious foods I was able to eat. My favorite was a fancy cheesecake and pie that I had. What was something you ate recently that you liked? Accept answers.

So when I was thinking about today’s lesson today, I was thinking a lot about a king. What does a king have? Fancy clothes, a castle, a crown. It’s hard to think about kings and queens and royalty here because we don’t have them. But there’s a book my in-laws recently gave my kids that I thought might. Read Peppa Goes to London through the page where the Queen takes over a bus. A king or queen is someone who, like in the story, tells us to do something – and we’re called to do it. Kings were people that were in charge. They oversaw countries, territories, and towns. They made decisions about government, who did what, and what kind of things they should do. And there were all sorts of different kings – and kings with other kings over them. So in Jesus’ time, there was a king over where he lived – King Herod – who had a king who told him what to do, Pontius Pilate – who was a governor from Rome – and Pontius Pilate had a king he reported to – the Emperor of Rome who was in charge over everyone and everything. What the Emperor said, was what everyone was supposed to do. And, sometimes, the Emperor would say good things but sometimes they would say bad. And it was hard to say no when the Emperor asked everyone to do bad things – things that hurt people, or made people cry, or took things from them. When people said no to that, they would be arrested or hurt themselves. So people did what the Emperor did because the Emperor was in charge – and it was dangerous if they didn’t do what the Emperor asked.

But you know what? There’s a king who is even more important than the Emperor. It’s a king who oversees everything. It’s a king who cares about what we say, what we do, and loves everyone – whether they call him king or not. And it’s a king who will always tell you to do the king, caring, and loving thing. And that’s Jesus. As Christians, as people who have been baptized, and as people who know who Jesus is – Jesus is our king. But what are the things you think Jesus tells us? Accept answers.

Well – one thing that Jesus tells us is to do this – go over the coloring sheet. Point out the crown. Point out our response. What are the ways we can love and serve like Jesus does? Take care of people. Help people. Be kind. If you want to connect to the lesson last week, talk about the leaves full of promises.

So I want you to take these back to your seat – these coloring sheets – and color them during the service. And then, when you get home, you can hang it on your fridge and your wall – as reminder that we have a king who will never steer us wrong, who will love us always, and who will help us always.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed week!

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on Christ the King Sunday, 11/26/2017.

Surprise! A surprising text and a surprising God

[Jesus said to the disciples: ] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

My sermon from Christ the King Sunday (November 26, 2017) on Matthew 25:31-46. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So what are the things you expect to see on Thanksgiving weekend?

For me, I like to drive down route 17 and see the miles of cars trying to get into the Garden State Mall parking lot. Others, I know, are glued to the tv, watching football on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and praying that their NFL team will do all they can to secure the #1 spot in next year’s draft. This is a weekend where some set-up Christmas trees, hang garland and lights, and place 9” long inflatable dinosaurs in Santa hats on their front lawns. It’s a busy weekend for weekend warriors, travelers, and all kinds of consumers. But it’s also a busy weekend for everyone who works. Even though more and more people spend their holidays shopping online, retail stores and malls still need a small army of employees to open, staff, and survive this ultra busy time of year. Thanksgiving weekend isn’t only the start of a season where we stuff ourselves full of turkey and eggnog and a huge amount of stress as we try to do everything and still find that perfect gift for family and friends. This weekend is also when hundreds of thousands of people will become a seasonal retail employee. As you stare at a mountain of tvs, trying to decide which one is right for you, the staff person who helps you might not be who you expect. It could be a college student trying to pick up some extra hours of work, or a stay-at-home dad trying to help his family stay afloat, or it could be one of the countless underemployed folks in this country who need these kinds of jobs to survive. Even pastors, seminarians, and interns take these kind of seasonal retail jobs. Now, that fact might surprise you since the holiday season is a busy one for pastors – but sometimes student loans, a health crisis, and an unexpected expense makes seasonal work a requirement for a clergyperson. That cashier you saw yesterday at Target could be, at this very moment, preaching in a pulpit. And I know this because, yesterday, that cashier/preacher posted in a clergy Facebook group a note he received from his new boss. The boss sent out a group-text to all the seasonal employees as they got ready for Black Friday. The boss wanted to remind them of the expectations management had. After writing about being on time and how to dress, they ended with an important piece in big, capital letters: “PLEASE ALWAYS BE AWARE THAT OUR GUESTS MAY BE TARGET EXECUTIVES. WE ARE TO TREAT EVERY GUEST AS IF THEY ARE.” It might surprise you to find out that the seasonal retail worker helping you might be clergy. But it’s probably just as surprising to learn that the management at Target is sharing with their seasonal employees a version of today’s reading from the gospel of Matthew. The sheep and the goats is not a parable only for the Bible. It’s a story for our modern retail life because you never know who you might run into while shopping this holiday season.

Today’s passage from Matthew is an interesting text to chose to end the church year on. Starting next week, we are in a new year in our 3 year cycle through scripture and we’ll be focusing on the gospel according to Mark. You would think, since we’re starting with a new gospel, we would end this year with the last words from Matthew. But we don’t. Instead, we end with Jesus’ last public teaching before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. We end our church year with Jesus standing in the Temple and talking about farm animals, visiting people in prison, and a final and fiery judgement. This isn’t the most hope-filled text to end the church year on. And it’s also a text where, if we were given the choice to pick which story today to use, the sheep and the goats would be a surprising pick. But maybe that surprise is why our 3 year cycle picked this text to end this church year on. Because this isn’t just a surprising text. It’s also a text with surprise built in.

And did you notice that? The surprise the sheep and the goats both express? In today’s story, the Son of Man shows up in full glory. Everyone knows who he is and everyone understands that something important, amazing, and all-powerful is about to happen. No one doubts what’s going on. But they do have a question for this eternal judge. They are surprised to learn that this isn’t the first time they’ve met him. So Both sides wonder when they saw him last. And this judge, this Son of Man, answers them strangely. Because He simply tells them who he was with. Jesus was with the stranger who lived in their nation. He was with the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the ones who had nothing. Jesus was stuck in the prison cell with the justly and unjustly convicted. He was always there, in the open, with people we could actually see – but we, as a society and as individuals, chose not to see them. We keep our distance because they are different, or scary, or because we assume they brought this pain and suffering and poverty on themselves. We act as if they deserve their fate – and that’s who Jesus chose to be with. Jesus is there, hanging with the ones we don’t like, with the ones we don’t agree with, and with the ones who we label as the goats in our world. When we see the surprise in today’s text, we finally see how Jesus chooses to be with people, even the people we don’t think he should be with, because that’s just who Jesus is. God’s presence in our lives doesn’t depend on us having the title, or the wealth, or the good looks, or all those things society says we need to have to be seen and noticed by everyone else. Jesus is with everyone, especially the ones society doesn’t see, and that’s surprisingly good news. Because a God who chooses to be with people is a God who chooses to be with us; and with the person sitting next to us; and with that seasonal retail employee we might run into later this week. Jesus is right there – in the middle of places and events and with people we don’t expect him to be with. And unlike the management at Target, we don’t have to be afraid that a Target Executive might show up because we know that the king of kings, the Son of Man, this Jesus of Nazareth who was born in a barn and had an animal food dish for his first bed – we know that Jesus is with whoever is in front of us. And he’s also with us, because Jesus keeps his arms outstretched and open so that he, and we, can serve and love all.

Amen.

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A Reflection on Zephaniah 1

This reading from Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 is terrifying.

It begins with a command from God demanding silence. This phrase lets us put this text in context. This command is used when something is taking place in the Temple. In ancient Israel, the Temple was where heaven and earth meet. It’s where God truly is. By demanding our silence, the prophet Zephaniah tells us that these words are spoken in the place where God is present and where God is being worshipped. These words take place as people gather to pray and celebrate God. The people are participating in rituals, telling stories, and experiencing God. As we will discover, the people expect to be blessed when they worship God. Instead, they are challenged and undone.

We don’t worship in the Temple but but we do worship in our church. Within these eight walls, we pray, sing, and experience Jesus’ presence in a holy community. We gather here on Sunday morning because this is where Jesus promises to be. In the stories we share and in the rituals we participate in, we experience a vision of what God’s community of welcome, love, and hope actually looks like. We are living and expressing what God’s reality truly is. Our rituals are both ancient and new. They are designed to help us experience the presence of God. We are invited guests, brought here to find comfort and joy at God’s table.

But imagine Jesus speaking these words to you. What do you hear? What do you feel? The metaphors in the passage are centered around vines, vineyards, and wine. God, in the verses around this passage, is the tender of a vineyard, making fine wines and drinks. This drink is designed to be life-giving to all who consume it. In this metaphor, God’s people are not drinking the wine God created. Rather, the people are the wine itself. God stored us, tending us carefully, and waiting for us to mature. Yet the wine grew complacent in dealing with God and each other. The wine sought out its own comfort at the expense of others. The wine went bad. And so, in the presence of the God, the wine is destroyed. The people trusted their strength as a nation and a culture so that is the first thing God takes. They did not see God living in their community, so God takes their sight. They did not live lives believing that God will do both good and harm. They didn’t believe that God keeps God’s promises. The people just lived, assuming they were good people, and that’s all they need.

When we are in God’s house, we expect God to brings comfort and joy. But this text doesn’t do that. This is not a text meant for other people. It’s a text spoken to the people God claims as God’s own. It’s a text meant for us. Prophets bring us words that are harsh. Their words challenge us and terrify us. They can turn us defensive but they are here to change us into the people God wants us to be. Zephaniah wants to know, when it comes to daily life, do we live as if the vision of welcome, love, and hope that God proclaims is what we strive to be or do we pretend that our point of view, expectations, and perspective is the only thing God actually wants?

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 24th Sunday after Pentecost, 11/19/2017.

Children’s Sermon: Pledge

Set-up a “tree” in the sanctuary. Have leaves of different colors that you can hook to the branches of the tree. Bring a pledge card and time and talent sheet. Start at where the tree is. A commitment/stewardship tree based on Psalm 1:3. “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper”

Hi everyone! I’m so glad you are here today. Thank you for doing something different today and sitting with me by this tree. So let’s talk about the tree. Is it small or big? Is it tall or short? What is it missing? Leaves! Right! It’s missing leaves. Now I know it is fall outside and trees out there are loosing their leaves. But I think this tree could use some pretty leaves, don’t you? YES! So let’s each put a special leaf on the tree but first…I want us to write something on them first because today is a special day at church.

Today is a day when many people here will drop in the offering plate later in the service an envelope that is filled with a green pledge card and a time and talent sheet that is filled out. This pledge card is green, like the leaf of a green and growing tree. The time and talent sheet is filled with different ways to volunteer to help people, help the church, and make a difference all over the world. Each year, we’re asked to fill this out and turn them into the church. They both represent a promise that we make to God of the ways we’ll support what God is doing in the world. God gives us financial gifts so, if we can, we give that money to the church. God made each of us as special and unique; we all have different things we can do that others can’t. So we make a pledge to use our gifts to help the church and the world. This pledge and this time and talent sheet is one way we respond to all the blessings and love God gives us.

But even if we can’t fill out a pledge card or a time and talent sheet, even if we think we’re too young to help out, too busy, or too old, we all have something we can offer to God and to others. We can all make a promise that we will share God’s love by doing one thing. And so these leaves that we have will be leaves of promises that we will hang and cover this tree. So let’s start: what’s one thing you can pledge to God to help love others as much as God loves you? Help at church. Clean my room, Help my brother. Donate a toy to a friend. Listen to someone who needs help. Be kind.

These are all great! And let’s hang them on the tree. Hang them on the tree. Now, I need one more thing for you to do. This tree needs more leaves – and everyone else is going to put them on. So let’s pass out a leaf to everyone – no matter their age. They can spend time thinking about what they can give to God, and then they’ll write it down and before they leave church today, they’ll hang them on this tree. And then, at the end of the worship today, we’ll have a tree covered in promises because God makes a big promise to each of us: no matter what and no matter where we go, God will never stop loving us.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 24th Sunday After Pentecost, 11/19/2017.

Talents: Changing Names

[Jesus said to the disciples: ] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 25:14-30

My sermon from the 24th Sunday After Pentecost (November 19, 2017) on Matthew 25:14-30. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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What are you thankful for today?

Since it’s the start of Thanksgiving week, I’ve been thinking about being thankful. I’m thankful for my health and my family. I’m grateful for a roof over my head. I’m thankful for the pumpkin pie I ate last night. And I’m grateful for each of you, for this church, and for the grace God gives us each and every day. It’s not easy being thankful. But when we pause and take a moment to reflect on what we’ve been given, it’s not hard to find at least one thing to be thankful for. And so if you’re having a little trouble thinking about what you can be thankful for, here’s something you might not know. Three weeks ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Lutheran reformation. We celebrated with special music, a large choir, and welcomed two other churches into this space. We gave thanks because a monk-turned-university-professor turned the Christian world upside down by posting 95 thoughts about Jesus, faith, and the church on a door in Germany. We call this church and this faith community Lutheran because of that German monk. But being “Lutheran” was something that almost didn’t happen. And I’m not talking about the what-ifs of history that could have put an end to the Lutheran reform movement. No, I’m really just thinking about the name. We’re Lutherans because that German monk was named Martin Luther. But, when Luther posted his 95 theses, he wasn’t known as Martin Luther. His real name, the name his parents gave him at his birth, was Martin Luder. Luther and Luder sound the same but they’re actually very different. Luder is a little awkward because, in German, Luder is something lewd. It’s a word associated with immorality. If things had turned out differently, we might know ourselves today as Luderans or the Lewds or something that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Imagine inviting your friends and your family to come worship with you at Christ Lewd Church. That doesn’t sound very pleasant. So we can be a thankful that Martin Luder, after he posted his 95 theses, decided to do a new thing: he embraced his faith, his experience of Jesus Christ, by taking on a new identity so he changed his name to Martin Luther.

But why Luther? And what does that mean?

Well, he chose Luther because Martin was a guy who wasn’t afraid of being trendy. In the 1400s and 1500s, Europe was being transformed. New ways of looking at the world were coming into being. Universities across Europe were still a new thing and they were embracing a new way at looking at the world called humanism. Now humanism has many different parts to it but a core piece of it is a desire to “get back to the sources.” Humanists reached back into their cultural past to rediscover ideas that they had lost. They re-learned ancient greek so that they could read Plato, Aristotle, and other early philosophers in their original languages. Bible scholars started to do the same and published the first greek new testament to appear in Western Europe in something like 1000 years. Humanists loved being humanists and they wanted to make this movement part of their very identity. And some did this by literally changing their name. They created new first and last names and made them as greek as possible. And Martin Luder did the same. After he posted his 95 theses, he started to sign his letters and his papers with the name Martin Eleutherius which means – Martin: the freed one. Eventually, he stopped writing Elutherius and instead shortened it to Luther. This church and this community of faith are named after someone who chose their own name. We are the descendants of a German monk who threw off the name and identity he was given at his birth to become something new. Martin Luther became Martin Luther because his relationship with Jesus changed. He wrestled with doubts, fears, and was angry with God. But his encounter with Scripture forced Martin to realize he was more than just his father’s son. He was, because of Christ, “the freed one.” There was something about Jesus, something about faith and grace, that caused Martin Luder to break his connection with his past and embrace a new point of view. God gifted Martin Luder with an insight into God’s relationship with all of us. Luder no longer saw life as a mere few years where we try to get the God to be somehow on our side. Instead, Luther saw how, in Jesus, God already was. God gave Luther a new way of loving himself and serving the world. God gave Luther a gift. And God gives us these gifts so that we can be gift-givers like God.

So when we think about God or look for God in our lives, God as a gift-giver is one perspective that helps us see God anew. But God as gift-giver doesn’t mean that God is Santa Claus. God’s love for each of us isn’t defined by how many toys or wealth we actually have. And chasing after those things isn’t what God wants for our lives. We can read a parable like today’s from the gospel according to Matthew and think there’s something about faith that requires us to double our money. A talent, in the New Testament, was a physical quantity of silver or gold that weighed something like 130 lbs. This parable, on the surface, seems to celebrate those who turn a lot of money into more. But this isn’t a parable about money. It’s about the kingdom of God. And in that kingdom, the only things we have are what God first gives us. Each slave in this story is entrusted with a gift and are supposed to use that gift as if they were the master himself. Two of the slaves embraced this challenge. They didn’t hide what they were given nor did they keep it for themselves. They took risks. They tried new things. They engaged with the world and, somehow, their gift grew. When they first received their gift, a new relationship was formed. That relationship created a shared identity where they were called to be like the master. At the moment the gift was given, the three in the story were entrusted to become something more than just themsleves. They were now gift-givers, too.

Martin Luder struggled to see the gifts God gave. He longed to discover a loving God but his prayer, worship, and study couldn’t shake his sense of worthlessness before the God of all. He was focused on the gifts he thought he needed to give to God, to make God love him, but he could never do enough. Yet once he saw God in a new-light, as a God who is a gift-giver, Martin Luder could no longer be the person he was before. The gifts God gave him were more than just his intellect and other talents. What God gave Martin Luder was a Jesus who, no matter what, would never let him go. That is something he could be thankful for. Jesus is more than just someone to follow, believe, or trust. Jesus is also a gift given to us. We will always be a little like Martin Luder, struggling to see God and wondering if this God thing actually matters at all. But through our baptism and through a faith that God gifts to us each and every day, we can live lives that do more than just focus on ourselves. We can live, like Luther, as a freed one. We can become people thankful for the gift of Jesus himself. And since Jesus is our gift, we are entrusted to do nothing less than share that gift in everything that we say and do.

Amen.

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Oil: Looking for the absurd and the consistent in Jesus’ parables

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13

My sermon from the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost (November 12, 2017) on Matthew 25:1-13. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So I know Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is just around the corner but like every retail store out there, I too, have Christmas on the brain. Well, not Christmas exactly – just Christmas sweaters. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the Ugly Christmas Sweater is a thing. It’s no longer a name we give to the knitted sweaters we find at Goodwill that are covered with trees, snowmen, and lights. The Ugly Christmas Sweater is now a fashion design with the name right on the tag. If, say, you headed north after worship and stopped by a Target in New York, you can pick up a fantastic Ugly Christmas Sweater. If you wanted a sweater that lights up using long lasting LEDs? Target has a dozen to choose from. If you’re looking for something more branded, and you want to celebrate the new Star Wars movie with R2D2 wearing a Santa hat? You can get that in red. And if you love the story of Santa but wished he had tabby cats pulling his sleigh instead of reindeer – your dream is now a reality. Ugly Christmas Sweaters are amazing because they are completely absurd. They’re silly, light hearted, and challenge us to look at the world in a new way. When we see a coworker, family member, or friend wearing a ridiculous sweater, we’re forced to see them in a new light. The more absurd their Ugly Christmas Sweater is, the more that sweater changes our viewpoint and perspective. Ugly Christmas Sweaters are absurd and looking for the absurdities is what we need to do when listening to Jesus’ words today.

And doing this isn’t always easy. When we hear Jesus speak, we want to keep his words reverent, sacred, and important. We should take his words seriously. But that doesn’t mean we can only approach his words in a serious fashion because parables, by their very nature, are not completely serious. They are stories that are a little bit off. And they need to be because they translate into human terms what Jesus “the kingdom of heaven.” Since our world isn’t the kingdom of heaven quite yet, we need stories that are a little off to help us see God more fully. So parables need us to, in my opinion, find those slightly askew parts in the story, to find those Ugly Christmas Sweater moments. the story. And one such moment comes at the very end of today’s parable. Jesus, in a sentence designed to sum up the entire story, tells everyone to “stay awake.” But who, in this parable, actually stays awake? No one! Everyone, the wise and the foolish, sleep. So if everyone sleeps, what’s the point of the story?

Now, the thing about Ugly Christmas Sweaters is that there is always more than one and that rule applies to Jesus’ parables too. We need to look for all the absurd moments. But that’s hard because we no longer live in Jesus’ cultural context. We are not Jews living in Galilee and Jerusalem 2000 years ago. We don’t know what wedding would really be like back then. From what we can tell, the groom would show up on their wedding day and one of the first rituals involved bridesmaids. These bridesmaids would use lamps and torches to escort the entire wedding party from the bride’s home to the groom’s. Once the groom, bride, and everyone else made that move, the three day long party would start. But we don’t know how many bridesmaids would be needed. So the fact that Jesus mentioned ten, and then splits them into two groups of 5, is a little bit off. The story also starts with everyone ready to do their part. Every bridesmaid has a lamp and, it seems to me, every lamp is already on fire. Even when they notice that the groom is delayed, they keep their lamps lit, instead of conserving their oil while they wait. And this waiting is weird because everyone seems to fall asleep, right where they are, with everything still burning. That doesn’t feel very safe. And then, when the groom finally arrives in the middle of the night, some torches are ready but others are about to go out. Five of the bridesmaids need more oil but their sisters do a completely unChristian and unJesus-like thing: they don’t share what they have. They reject their sisters, telling them to go to the store which, if we’re honest, probably wouldn’t be open since it is the middle of the night. But 5 bridesmaids go anyway and while they’re away, the groom finally shows up. The 5 that meet him don’t tell him that others have gone on an errand. Since the groom was late, it would have been thoughtful for him to wait for the other bridesmaids to return. But he doesn’t. Instead, the escort happens, the party begins, and they shut the door behind them. When the other bridesmaids finally show up, they are rejected again. When we look at the details of this story, we see that everyone ends up wearing an Ugly Christmas sweater. Everyone does something slightly absurd. Lamps burn unnecessarily. The wise do not share. The foolish are able to find an oil store at midnight. And the groom, who we usually identify as Jesus himself, isn’t very kind, considerate, or loving. The only part of the story that we can attribute to Jesus himself is that very last sentence which doesn’t seem to make much sense because everyone sleeps. Everyone in this parable is a little absurd. Everyone is wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. The only thing that stays consistent is: the oil.

So what is the oil supposed to be?

Well, without oil, lamps do not burn. Without oil, the bridesmaids have nothing that will bring them light in the middle of the night. Without that light, shadow is all there is. This parable, and the two right after it, are ones where we spend a lot of energy trying to figure out what they say about the afterlife. We don’t want to be denied entry into the party that Jesus is throwing so we latch onto the words “stay awake” and we do whatever we can to figure out what we need to do to get into heaven. We can be so laser focused on getting into that final party that we miss a key to this parable that Jesus gives to us way back in chapter 5. At the start of his ministry, in the very first parable he used to teach something to his friends, he tells them, “you are the light of the world” (5:14). “You are” already burning bright. “You are” already lit up. We don’t start this parable as characters without the fuel, the oil we need. We start as light. And that’s because you have something the characters in this parable do not. A parable needs a storyteller and our storyteller does more than just tell stories. Our storyteller made a promise to you in your baptism that the oil used to mark the sin of the cross on your forehead will never run out. Jesus promised that he will always give you the oil you need to shine bright. In the long periods of waiting, when nothing seems to go right, you will have oil. In those moments when we feel stuck in one place, exhausted, worn out, and unsure of what we’re supposed to do next, you will have oil. When the days feel long and the nights feel even longer, Jesus promised that you will have fuel for your journey. But that fuel isn’t always a motivation, a power, a feeling that we feel deep inside. That fuel is also a community, a church, where we all turn to each other and ask: “what do you need to keep going?” (Lundblad, Feasting on the Word (Matthew volume 2), page 259) And in the moments when we don’t have an answer to that question, the community around us still does what it can to carry us through. The church sings can sing when we cannot. The community can prays when we cannot. Others worship even though you yourself might not be able to set foot through that door. All of us can believe the hurts that you share and we can all break the silence of pain, suffering, stigma, and hate that makes this world hurt too much. And then, with a little piece of bread, a little thimble of drink, and a simple word of promise – we can give you all of Jesus because Jesus has given all for you.

Amen.

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Children’s Sermon: Wait

Bring stickers for kids to have.

So I have something here…what are they? Stickers. Stickers! Who likes stickers? MEEEEEE. I like stickers too. And at the end of this children’s message, I’m going to give you these stickers. I’m going to give you each one. But only at the end. Until then, we all need to wait. And wait. And wait.

So you know what’s something I don’t like doing? Waiting. Waiting can be so boring sometimes. Like, when it’s dinner time, and I have to wait for the food to bake. I’m hungry now. I want to eat now. But I have to wait. And wait. And wait. Do you like waiting? Nope! What are things you don’t like to wait for? Accept answers from the kids. Those are all hard things to wait for.

Today, we’re going to hear a lot of different lessons from the bible that are going to talk about waiting. And we’re waiting for someone specific. The bible tells us that we’re here to wait for…Jesus. Jesus, God’s Son, already came to our world. He lived in it, made friends in it, helped people, and showed everyone what God’s loved looks like. Even though we don’t see him, he’s still here helping us love each other. The bible tells us that, someday, Jesus will come back so that everyone can see him. So we’re waiting for him to return, to come back, so everyone can see him and everyone can see just how much God loves us.

So that means we have to wait. And it’s hard to wait. Like we’re still here, waiting for me to give you the stickers. What are the things we can do while we wait? Be patient. Be kind. Be helpful. Love everyone. So Jesus promises to come. We know he’s going to come. But, right now, we need to wait. But we wait knowing the promise will be fulfilled. So God invites us to act like the promise is true and that it’s already here. So if we think Jesus will take care of everyone when he is here, we take care everyone now. If we think Jesus will welcome everyone into his family, we do the same as well. We can’t do everything Jesus do – Jesus is God so Jesus knows things we don’t. Jesus can judge about people more than we can. So Jesus doesn’t want us to pretend to judge each other like he can. But he does tell us to love each other like we can. So that’s what we do. While we wait – we love.

And here’s your stickers!

Thank you for being up here and I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, 11/12/2017.

Declare: Making a Statement

Cats rarely listen to me. The two that live at my house, Finn and Flotus, never respond well to my verbal commands. When I tell them to stop sleeping on my jacket, they purr. When I order them to jump down from the kitchen counter, they crawl into the kitchen cabinets above. I don’t consider my two cats as pets. They’re really small and furry roommates. Finn and Flotus live their own lives and they enjoy not listening to a word I say. It can be frustrating to live with two cute fuzzballs who ignore everything I declare to them.

As I reflected on our text from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 today, I’m struck by what Paul declared to the community he was writing to. Scholars believe that this is the earliest letter from Paul we have. And since Paul’s letters were the first pieces composed for what became our New Testament, this letter is the first written record of what the gospel is all about. Paul is writing to a small community who are worried. They were expecting to Jesus to return very soon. But there was a delay and people, in their community, have died. The question was: did the ones who die miss out on Jesus?

Paul answers by doing something we don’t always get to do. He stated clearly and forcefully that our union with Jesus transcends life and death. This promise is a promise God made to us in our baptism when we, through no strength of our own, were united to the entirety of Jesus’ story. Paul declared what he knew to be turn and he invited the community to do the same. Imagine, for a moment, making this kind of declaration in your own life. It doesn’t matter if someone (or some cat) listens to you. Paul, in this text, doesn’t tie this promise to anything that the people in this community have to do. The promise is true because God is true. And this promise is something we all have. Part of our life in faith is to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, make these kind of declarations to our family, friends, and even strangers. We don’t always know what the declaration will look like but we know what the declaration will be about. It will be words, actions, and deeds centered in a hope, and a love, that does not end.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 11/12/2017.

Children’s Sermon: What’s Call?

All Saints. Bring a light (iPhone), Justice League action figures, and a batman mask. Make sure light has bat signal on it. Going to shine a bat signal on a piece of paper.

So I brought some friends with me today: my superhero friends! But not Marvel these are DC…the Justice league to be sure. I have…Superman. Green Lantern. And Wonder Woman. But…wait a second. I’m missing someone. Who do you think I’m missing? Batman! Batman. I wonder where he is? If we don’t know where someone is, how can we reach them? Email. Text. Yell. Call. We could call them! Bring out phone. Do you know Batman’s number? I don’t. Is there another way we can call him? Bat signal. The bat signal!

Now, I don’t have a big bat signal but I do have this one. Shine the iPhone and use the little signal. Shine on piece of paper. When we call Batman, when we use the bat signal, we are telling Batman that we have a job for him to do. There’s a villain somewhere or someone needs helps. We need Batman to help make a difference. That’s what we need when we call for Batman.

In church, we sometimes use that same word: call. It’s not an easy word to understand. When I talk about our “calling,” we might be confused. And that’s ok. But that’s why I think about the bat signal. Just like we send out word when we have a job for Batman, God sends us a signal, a call, to do a job God wants us to do. All of us have a calling that God gives us. And the call can show up in different ways. When someone asks us for help, that’s god telling us to help. When we see someone hurting, that’s God calling us to see if we can make them feel better. And if we see someone crying, we might not always be able to make it better, but we can sit with them and let them know that we will stay with them, no matter what. Because that’s some of the jobs God gives us as Christians. Helping is a job God gives you and it’s something you can do, no matter how old or young you are. You are God’s superhero – and just like Batman (put on mask) can help when we call for him, God calls you to help others too.

Thank you for being up here and I hope you have a blessed week!

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on All Saints’ Sunday, 11/05/2017.