OMG Part 5, God Sends

Posted on Sun 28 August 2016 in misc

Isaiah 55:6-13, Psalm 63:1-8, John 21:1-17

When I was a kid, one of the most coveted and exciting items you could have in your possession was a Hall Pass. In my school it was a little pink square. And if your pink square had a teacher’s signature on it, it meant that you could travel freely about the hallways…during class…without getting in trouble. That was a huge freedom!

  • walk by other classrooms to make sure your peers saw you
  • conceal your pass until you were ‘caught’ only to reveal it (Nice try Principal Rooney, but I have a hall pass!)

I can still remember the feeling of floating through the hallways with a Hall Pass in my pocket.

The Gospel we heard today finds the disciples floating in a boat again. This time, though, they are missing Jesus. Jesus has been crucified, buried, and resurrected.

The disciples are out of sorts and can’t even do what for many of them was the one thing they knew how to do before meeting Jesus: catch fish. They are so out of sorts that they don’t recognize the risen Jesus when he stands on the beach and calls to them, telling them to cast the net to the other side of the boat. When they do what Jesus says, they are suddenly overwhelmed with abundant fish. Almost more fish than they can handle. Certainly more fish than they had earned. And that’s how they recognized it was Jesus.

When Jesus shows up they have enough, more than enough. They are given an abundance that is miraculous. That doesn’t make sense. They will be well-fed. But the story doesn’t end there.

While the disciples are feasting with Jesus, he asks Peter some questions. “Peter, do you love me?” … “Yes.” … “Feed my lambs.” Again, Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” … “Yes, you already know I do.” … “Tend my sheep.” And again: “Peter, do you love me?” … Peter’s hurt. “Jesus, yes, yes, you already know I do.”

Feed my sheep.”

It’s no coincidence that in the story, Jesus moves from feeding the disciples to sending the disciples to feed others.

We are fed to feed.

We are filled with good things unconditionally so that we can share with others unconditionally.

One of the greatest gifts, one of the most radically abundant treasures that God has granted us is forgiveness. It’s freedom:

  • Freedom to forgive ourselves (try it; ‘that was an oops’)
  • Freedom to forgive others

We also have freedom to choose between two obvious responses to Grace:

  • saved by Grace, so why bother?
  • saved by Grace, so why not?

You can live as a fully alive, passionate sharer of God’s amazing grace, with boldness to reach out to others sharing your particular gifts and unique contributions with others. Why bother, or why not?

I neglected to mention an important part of the Hall Pass. The destination line. See, our teachers knew that a pink pass of permission would lead to no good if there wasn’t some kind of accountability. Before signing the pass, each teacher will fill out the destination. The purpose of the pass.

Grace is a Hall Pass with a purpose. Grace is forgiveness with a destination.

If you look at the destination on your Hall Pass from God it will say, “to your neighbors.” “For the sake of the world.” “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus fills us up with abundant love, abundant forgiveness, abundant freedom so that nothing can stop us from loving our neighbors. Not fear, not failure.

Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Peter, who had abandoned and denied Jesus before the crucifixion. Peter, who had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and getting so excited that he jumped out of boats. That Peter was found by God, fed with abundant fish, forgiven with abundant love and told, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter had never been more free than he was in that moment, and at the same time, had never been more committed to serving others.

Think about what you could do as an individual if you lived in the freedom to boldly forgive and love others. The freedom to make mistakes (to make an oops) and to be forgiven.

Think about what we could do together as a congregation… to work towards our shared mission in a state of grace where we focused more on forgiveness than failure? Where we had everything we needed to reach our destination?

Think about how you would move through your daily life if you knew that you had a Hall Pass in your pocket that was signed by Grace and marked for your neighbor.

Series recap: God creates, God helps, God loves, God calms…God is present in amazing ways. Maybe the most amazing way, is thru us! God sends us to share amazing grace with the world around us. God sends us to be the presence of Jesus to our neighbor.

It’s almost impossible to believe that God would actually be present in and through our lives. It’s almost scary to think of the freedom and responsibility that come with sharing the presence of the living God with others…

But then again, we are saved by Grace, so why not?

OMG Part 4, God Calms

Posted on Sun 21 August 2016 in misc

1 John 4:15-21, Luke 8:22-25

What are you afraid of? What calms you?

If there’s one place in my life where I can consistently look back and recognize the impact of God on me and on others, it’s in the moment where calm was needed.

If there is one place I can look back and say, OMG, God was there, it’s when God brought calm.

And calm can be needed at a moment’s notice. The disciples discovered this in the Gospel. Luke 8 begins like this:

“Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8.1–3 NRSV)

  • 12 disciples have gotten on board
  • many others now following…the movement is growing…Luke makes sure to point out the women
  • people that Jesus has healed, but not just along for the ride, they are bankrolling! Sugar mommas!

So there is excitement. And then Jesus has a big crowd in front of him and teaches them using a parable. Jesus does this a lot, but this particular time, the disciples ask him what the parable actually means — and Jesus explains it line by line, and says to them:

““To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God…” (Luke 8.10 NRSV)

They are on the inside!

And then, Jesus is confronted by his biological family. We don’t know exactly why, but it may be that they were asking Jesus to ‘tone it down.’ To come home. To be ‘normal.’ Or maybe they wanted a special favor from him now that he was famous. Or maybe they just missed him. Either way, Jesus says,

““My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”” (Luke 8.21 NRSV)

This would have been bitter news for his family, yes, but for those following him…for those in the movement — maybe some who didn’t have family, didn’t have brothers, or mothers, or sons — they just heard that Jesus was not just their leader, but their family.

I have to think — especially for the 12 closest disciples at this point — that they must have felt energized. Maybe on top of the world. How exciting to be a part of a movement that was growing. That was changing lives. That had new visitors sitting in the pews every Sunday. They must have had that glorious feeling when you realize that you’ve hitched your wagon to the next big thing. Jesus was gonna take them places…

And then they get into a boat with Jesus.

Jesus says, ‘hey guys, let’s go over to the other side,’ and then promptly falls asleep. And without warning there is a storm.

Not just a normal storm, but a terrible storm that terrifies even the experienced fishermen among the disciples. They actually thought they weren’t going to make it. They wake Jesus up in a panic saying, ‘We’re dying! We’re dying!’

What a shock to go from being on the inside track as followers of Jesus and at the birth of a movement that was saving lives to being on the brink of demise.

To go from having everything figured out to the possibility of losing it all.

Isn’t that what we fear, too?

I do. I fear that phone call out of the blue that will bring terrible news. I am anxious when the doctor is examining one of my kids and says, ‘hm.’ I dread having to plan that next funeral.

Life can change so quickly when the things we hold on to fall apart. And all the success that we’ve had, and all the support we’ve been offered, and even the promises of God can be forgotten when fear takes over in our minds.

Although fear effects our minds in much the same way, it comes from very different places — and not equally.

  • Gulf Coast Flooding

In our area, there are different and unequal fears:

  • parents who are 1 or 2 paychecks from not being able to feed children
  • people who, because of the color of their skin, are fearful of any interaction with a person in authority
  • neighbors who have been told their entire lives that they aren’t good enough…that they are bad…from their family, from their friends, from their church

We do not all have the same fears, but we may share some:

  • snakes
  • that our children will suffer
  • that our parents won’t be able to help us someday
  • that we will be failures

And like the disciples discovered, there will be times when we fear for our lives.

When the disciples woke Jesus in a panic, saying ‘we’re dying!’, Jesus didn’t seem to share their anxiety. He rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. Just as quickly as the disciples encountered the storm, it was gone. After it all, Jesus simply asked, “Where is your faith?”

For as much as the disciples must have felt they were already participating in something incredible in the ministry of Jesus, they weren’t done being formed as disciples yet. Neither are we.

1 John has something to teach us about fear and faith.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18-19 NRSV)

Love is God’s answer to fear.

The unfathomable love that God has for us which is deeper than the strongest wave and can calm the most violent storm.

What the disciples may not yet have known in the boat, is that the perfect love of Jesus for them — for you and me — would carry him into even deeper water, would carry him to the cross, would carry him into the worst storms of our own lives to join us, to show us love even there…at our worst…at our bleakest moments…in our biggest failures…and to show us love there … casting out fear … and bringing calm.

When you experience storms in your life, when you experience moments of fear — whether they come on suddenly or grow over time … you are not a bad person … you are not a failure … you are a disciple. Jesus is in the storm with you. God’s love is with you.

So here’s how you’ll know when you are participating in God’s love — when you are growing just as the disciples did:

You’ll be casting out fear. You’ll be spreading God’s calm to the people and situations in your life. One storm at a time, you’ll be sharing the calm that only comes from knowing that God never leaves or forsakes us. That because of love, God abides in us.

OMG Part 3, God Loves

Posted on Sun 14 August 2016 in misc

Isaiah 43:1-4, Psalm 139:1-12, Matthew 3:13-17

What amazed you this week? …… OMG

Olympics? ……

Competition good for Athletics and world records; not so good for relationships with God and with one another — and with ourselves. When competition creeps into the way that we treat one another as humans, we get ourselves into trouble.

God has a different way. A more amazing way. The way that God accomplishes the most dramatic changes in our lives and in the world is through love.

God’s actions in the Gospel represent love in action — more dramatic (more OMG) than we even think.

God’s love refocuses us from competing to sharing our unique contribution to the whole.

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” (Matthew 3.13–15 NRSV)

John was stuck in competing mindset

  • didn’t make sense that Jesus would disregard pecking order

Let it be so now; righteousness > winning

In the Kingdom of God, there is no first place, second place, there is your place. There are no gold, silver, or bronze medals. In the Kingdom of God, all are precious.

We need this kind of game-changing love so urgently because the need to compete creeps into every part of our lives.

Happens in household

  • diaper competition

Happens in classrooms

Happens in politics

Love works differently. As the Apostle Paul writes, ‘love is patient; love is kind…love does not boast…or insist on its own way.’ In other words, love doesn’t try to win against others. Love changes life from an individual event to a team event. And we’re all on the same team.

We’re all in this together, but we aren’t all the same. We each have our own unique contribution to make. It’s how God made us…

God’s love reminds us we are each personally chosen.

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3.16–17 NRSV)

God is pretty direct about his love.

The amazing thing, though, is that Jesus hasn’t actually done anything yet……This is like awarding the medals before the competition.

God’s love is not about what we’ve done, but who we are. God’s love reminds us who we are. Like Jesus, we each receive the blessing of God in the waters of baptism. We each are named beloved child of God, with whom God is pleased. Not because we’re Lutheran, not because we’re good people, not because we go to church…because: Jesus.

In Jesus, God drew close to us so that we could see that we are made in the image of God. That each neighbor of ours is a holy connection to the God who calls us by name.

It can be an amazing experience to come to know that God doesn’t just love everybody. God loves me. God loves you.

But what’s most amazing is what happens next.

God’s love gives us courage to do the impossible.

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, he heads into the wilderness. He fasts — no food! — for forty days. This would be a test for anyone and I won’t pretend it was easy even for the Son of God.

But Jesus did not go alone into that wilderness. He was accompanied by God’s love. He had just been told, and he trusted that truly he was beloved. We know he did, because how else could he have made it through those 40 days? When those moments of panic, fear, temptation, questioning and doubt arose — and we can be sure they did — what else could have kept Jesus from giving up…except knowing that he was loved. That God’s love held him despite hunger, anger, fear. And kept him focused on what he was called to do.

God’s love always connects us to others, and Jesus knew that love was calling him to connect others with his Father — that was the ultimate mission of Jesus and it began with love.

There will be times in your life when God’s love calls you to difficult tasks. Maybe tasks that seem impossible. You will not go alone — God’s love will accompany you. It will give you courage to face fear, anger, or doubt that otherwise might make you give up — except you know that God is with you.

With God’s love, nothing is impossible. It’s the very nature of the church to do the impossible over and over again…to die and then to rise. We live in a world that is full of injustice, violence, and hatred. There is evil not just in far away places, but in our own society, in our own homes, in our own hearts. The evil may seem impossible to defeat.

But God does not call us to win. God calls us to love. In love, you are freed to offer your own contribution. In love, you are chosen by God. In love, all things are possible. In God’s love, you will be amazed.

OMG Part 2, God Helps

Posted on Sun 07 August 2016 in misc

Exodus 2:1-10, Psalm 121, Luke 1:30-38

A terrible thing happens to you when you go to seminary.

Good things too, but along with critical thinking comes cynicism. Phrases your grandmother used like cleanliness is next to godliness and God helps those who help themselves…

The beloved Footprints poem:

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,

“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

(At least 12 people claim to have written that!)

If offered glibly as the solution to any difficult time, it could come across as unhelpful. But the thing I think that know-it-all pastors hate about the poem the most is that: it’s so true.

I’ve been thinking about the Footprints poem because right now, in our Sunday worship and the VBS theme we just wrapped up, we’ve been exploring the ways that God amazes us. Amazes us to the point we could say OMG and really mean it. One of the ways God amazes us is by helping us.

Maybe the thing we most want to be amazed about is God helping us when we need it.

It’s perhaps the most basic religious instinct: even those who profess no faith in God sometimes find themselves praying for deliverance during difficult times.

The kind of help that I want is big dramatic help. Heroic help. I want to be amazed by the kind of glorious deliverance where I can see the sparks fly and hear the triumphant soundtrack. In other words, I want to see my God beat up on whatever comes in my way.

This, as you might be aware, is not usually how God works.

Even in one of the most glorious of mighty God deliverance stories, God works in other ways.

Maybe the mightiest and most glorious deliverance story there is is the Exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

When I think of dramatic help from God, I think of the Israelites being delivered from Pharaoh…

But our reading today tells a different side of the story. It’s more like the Footprints poem.

You see, only by the Grace of God did Moses even make it out of infancy.

Pharaoh worried about Israelites…midwives bravely help…mother of Moses hoping against hope that one woman could help her son by resisting a great evil…Pharaoh’s daughter, on the side of that great evil, but taking pity on baby Moses…Moses’ sister who cleverly used the situation to give Moses a chance, convincing the daughter of Pharaoh to seek out a wet nurse for her adopted Moses. The daughter had no idea she had reunited mother and son. All of these people worked together to help accomplish God’s will for the people — often without even knowing it.

Before Moses can even crawl on his own — he has been helped by God in amazing, if less visible, ways.

You wonder if Moses ever looked back on his life during those difficult moments — and he had them — and asked God, ‘Where have you been? I’ve left a lot of footprints in the sand while wandering in the desert for forty years. God, do you know what it’s like to walk alone? To face the anger of your followers?’

God might say: first of all, actually, yes I do, and second: my child, I was with you all along. I was by your side when you were three months old, floating in a basket among the reeds along the bank of the river. I was beside you then, and I never left.

I suspect for most of us, the journey of our lives has not primarily been God’s dramatic acts of help. (Imagine God raining down a plague of frogs the next time someone cuts you off in traffic.) But I imagine instead, your life has been a story of God’s unexpected help in seemingly small but consistent ways throughout your life.

If we look more closely at the sand along our journey, we will see more than just God’s footprints and our own. We will see the tracks of countless others that God has woven into our lives, maybe at times when we most needed it, but least expected it. It’s possible they didn’t even know they were helping us.

If you look back at your life and only see two sets of footprints, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Because not only has God brought these other sets of footprints into your life, but God has woven you into the lives of others. After all, God loves to use unexpected and unsuspecting people to help others in this world. Maybe the last person you expect to be God’s set of footprints…is you.

The most amazing thing about God’s help — the kind of thing that should make us say OMG (and mean it!) — is that God’s help doesn’t just happen to us — it happens through us.

God didn’t draw us up from the water or guide us through the desert or, yes, even carry us along the beach sand for no reason; God has woven together all these minor miracles in your life so that you can share them in the lives of others.

Even when you least expect it.

OMG Part 1, God Creates

Posted on Sun 31 July 2016 in misc

Genesis 2:4-9, Psalm 8, John 1:1-5


Texting language.

We are marvelously creative in the ways we take the Lord’s name in vain.

Inflection depends on what decade you were a teenager.

As many times as I’ve said it, I wonder how many times I meant it literally.

When was the last time that something caused you to turn into your soul and call for God?

Series intro…5 Things that God does, actively, in our lives, whether we realize it or not…God creates, God helps, God loves, God calms, God sends…I’m going to try to keep it basic…Today: God creates.

If you haven’t thought much about God in a while (maybe since last Sunday!), I’ll give you someone to blame! It goes back to the Enlightenment. There was a time, roughly around the time our country was founded that people had gotten really really smart. Science had finally become its own pursuit, and humans figured out a whole bunch of stuff that they had never previously understood.

But, as often happens when we make great progress, we got a little too big for our britches. A lot of folks thought we had outgrown our relationship with God. The problem wasn’t really that they didn’t believe in God — the problem was that they did believe in God, but they believed that God fit into their new view of the world.


God’s like a really amazing math equation. You respect it, you know it’s out there, but you never really have to think about it.

If that works for you — go for it. But it doesn’t really work for me.

God creates. And creates.

  • two different creation accounts
  • God is never really done creating.


  • either/or
  • making the same mistake as our Enlightenment friends
  • evolution seems consistent with a God who loves to keep creating

In the beginning was the Word.

And the Word continues sharing ‘life and light’ with all people. Creation is not over.

God likes to share the act of creation with others.

First human got to name all these animals.

All of us were born, (but you might not remember it.) But if you have been in the room when a baby is born, the whole place becomes holy ground.

  • ongoing creation is a holy thing
  • the kind of thing to make you say, OMG

Your parents chose a name for you. They partnered with God to help create you, and you get to partner with God to create, too. (Not necessarily babies, but all kinds of wonderful things that God delights in.)

God didn’t create us and then abandon us. God just loves to share creating with us.

GK Chesterton:

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

God delights in the rising and setting of the sun, and all of creation like a child. God takes wonder in the world. God takes wonder in us.

Sometimes, when we get too big for our britches, it’s good to be reminded. When we start to believe or fear we’ve outgrown our relationship with God, it’s good to be reminded. When we say ‘OMG’ without even thinking about what the ‘G’ stands for, it’s good to be reminded:

God creates. And still creates. God can partner with you to be a new creation. 2 Corinthians says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.’

Even when it seems that God isn’t really part of the equation anymore, God is ready to create. Telling the Sun to rise each morning; ‘Do it again,’ God says. Telling each of us to rise each morning; ‘Do it again,’ God says.

Maybe it’s just human nature that we lose sight of the wonder and delight in life. But this I know, God never stops delighting in us.

What Kind of Church? Part 5

Posted on Sun 24 July 2016 in misc

Deut 10:17–19; Psalm 32:1-7; Luke 19:1–10

So how would you answer if someone asked what kind of church you go to? Children, Family, and Youth; Worship; Serving Others; Spiritual Growth;

Outreach and hospitality that adds to and cares for the Body of Christ through sincere invitation and loving relationships.

Aspirational Core Value

Tension between welcoming and feeling comfortable

Huddle / Seeing the way Newcomers See

Story about Steve and Kaie

This comparison to speaking a language is an important one for a couple reasons.

For one, we Christians often speak a different language.

E.g. “narthex.”

Even those of us who did grow up in the church may find our vocabulary lacking.

Brueggeman’s ‘behind the wall’ conversations and ‘on the wall’ conversations. (Other walls out there: ‘all are welcome’ might not mean it…)

Something deeper in that story of Steve and Kaie…We believe in a God who loved us so strongly that even though we fail to speak in God’s language, even though our mouths are so often filled with words of hurt and hate, God came to us in the person of Jesus — in our own native language. We call Jesus the Word made flesh, and he brought God’s Word into our language even though it meant suffering through our pain and hatred.

See there is not so much a tension between outreach and hospitality but rather a pattern that we follow. God has reached out to us, and made us family, and now we reach out to others so that they may find hospitality as well.

True hospitality means actually becoming more like a guest. When Jesus approached Zacchaeus, he did one of my all-time favorite Jesus moves: he invited himself over for dinner. For Jesus, good hospitality meant becoming the guest, speaking in the native language of the other.

If we at Good Shepherd are to embrace true outreach and hospitality, it will not mean sprucing up and then waiting for others to come join us here. It will mean inviting ourselves over for dinner! It will mean being willing to be de-centered, to go outside our comfort zones, to listen to other perspectives.

Among the church it could mean joining a small group…outside the church, it could mean talking to someone who is not Christian or has a bad view of the church and listening to their story without defensiveness or judgment — being their guest.

It will mean finding common language with someone you’re pretty sure you’re going to disagree with. But you never know, look what happened with Zacchaeus!

It will mean letting go of our preferences, our most comfortable routines, and our sacred cows (and every church has them.)

It will not mean letting go of our identity or compromising our Core Values…but it will mean bringing those values into new places, into new conversations. And translating them into new languages.

Children, Family, and Youth; Worship; Serving Others; Spiritual Growth; Outreach and Hospitality

Our next step, now that we’ve defined our values, is to clarify our mission. And our mission will answer this question: how will we reach out and bring these gifts that we treasure to others. How can we make sure that as many folks around us have the joy of having their household strengthened, joining in worship that inspires, discovering the gift of serving others, growing deeper in God’s grace, and the peace in embracing others?

Jesus told Zacchaeus that ‘salvation has come to this house.’ Salvation has come to this house, too. Now, let’s bring it to the next one.

What Kind of Church? Part 4

Posted on Sun 17 July 2016 in misc

Psalm 80:7-19; Eph. 3:14-19; Mark 12:29-34

What kind of church is this? Children, Family, and Youth; Worship; Serving Others; Outreach and Hospitality…

Faith formation that leads to spiritual growth as followers of Christ.

Spiritual growth is one of those things — like financial planning — that sound really good and obvious at first, but become elusive and scary the more you think about it.

I mean, of course I want to grow spiritually, but: will it hurt? Will there be homework? What’s it gonna cost? Will I have to stop swearing?

(As if the number one marker of spiritual growth was the amount of swearing we do!)

And the Bible does have a high standard:

“…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12.30 NRSV)

That really sounds like a commitment.

If you’ve hung around Lutheran churches a lot, you might sense that we sometimes shy away from the idea of spiritual growth since that might sound too much like works-righteousness. And why even bother with spiritual growth since we’re always going to be a full mix of sinner and saint anyways?

If you do some serious spiritual growing, does that make you a better Christian than I am? Ooh, I don’t like where this is going…

But the truth is, spiritual growth is not becoming a super christian…

Spiritual growth is not unlimited singular progress…

Spiritual growth is much more … natural.

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3.16–17 NRSV)

For the writer of Ephesians, growth was about being rooted and grounded in love.

If you’ve ever tended to a garden, you probably have experienced that most things in nature don’t just grow endlessly on their own. Of course everything has a different lifespan, but in general, things in the garden grow for a time, then die back, and make way for the next stage of growth.

There is a pattern of dying and rising that repeats through the seasons.

Spiritual growth is not about climbing higher and higher on the spiritual ladder, but instead being rooted throughout all the ups and downs of life. That rooting is about connection…and we are connected to God, and to one another.

We are created to be interdependent. Not dependent… Not independent… but interdependent. We need each other, but we each need everyone being themselves, uniquely created by God. We only truly grow together.

This congregation has deeply valued helping people grow together. Reading through the history of this place, and listening to the stories that are told, I know this is true.

One of the best ways to grow together is in small groups of people that trust each other… Holy ground.

And because this is a strong value of ours, and because of the life-changing potential of small group formation, there is a new team already working at Good Shepherd to support and encourage spiritual growth in small group settings. [Details coming…]

You probably have the experience in your life of having a small group (official or not) of trusted friends that walked with you through a difficult time in your life… I encourage you to be intentional about fostering those kinds of relationships, and the small groups that Good Shepherd will be sponsoring will be a good way to do that.

Real growth happens in small groups because they happen as life happens. After all, our spiritual growth is not just for the ‘church’ part of our lives — it’s for all of our lives. All our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Our goal for spiritual growth is not to become the best super-Christian we can be. That would be a recipe for arrogance and anxiety. Our goal is to become the least that we can be — relying on God’s love for every part of our selves and our lives.

At the very end of Martin Luther’s life — an accomplished life! — he left a final message written on his deathbed: “we are beggars; this is true.”

Your call to be rooted in God’s love means that as you grow more deeply and firmly connected with God and with others, you will have a greater and greater sense that we are all beggars — and that everything you have: your heart, soul, mind, and strength all come from God. And as you are rooted in God through all the ups and downs of life, may you comprehend, as the writer of Ephesians says, “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

What Kind of Church? Part 3

Posted on Sun 10 July 2016 in misc

Psalm 25:1-10; Galatians 5:13-14; Luke 10:25-37

Children, Family, and Youth; Worship; Spiritual Growth; Outreach and Hospitality

Serving others in our community by recognizing what God has given us and turning our gifts “inside out.”

Thought about throwing out the theme…I realize the foremost question on most folks’ minds this week is not, “what kind of church is this?” but rather, “what kind of world is this?”


But, while I thought about departing from the theme for a week, I actually decided that our value of serving others, following the example of Jesus, is exactly what the world needs.

When Jesus was asked about loving our neighbors, he told the parable usually called ‘The Good Samaritan.’ Jesus was asked the question by someone our translation calls a lawyer, but really who was a ‘religious know-it-all.’ He was doing what most religious know-it-alls do: trying to make God’s word fit his life, rather making his life fit into God’s word.

The know-it-all-thinking of those times believed that only some people were truly deserving of the title ‘neighbor’. Those who were outside the lines, well, just weren’t as deserving of God’s love. Samaritans were outside the lines. Jesus’ parable showed a very different way of thinking.

Even the name we call this parable, the ‘Good Samaritan,’ suggests that we don’t fully get it yet. Do you hear it? He’s the good Samaritan, unlike most of those other Samaritans. Or, not all Samaritans are bad. As in, this human, who happens to be a Samaritan is worthy of our time and attention because he’s extra good. As in, we missed the point of the parable. Whoever gave this parable the name ‘Good Samaritan’ sounds to me like someone trying to justify himself, just like the lawyer did to Jesus.

This justifying ourselves is the whole problem. It’s always the first step on our path to suffering and violence. It sets up a pattern where in order for us to be good, we have to make others bad. We think: in order for us to win, others have to lose.

And when that plays out to the extremes…well…we’ve seen that this week.In communities of People of Color, there is a fear that any interaction with police could lead to violence. And among police, there is a fear that any interaction with People of Color could do the same. This week, those fears both came true in horrific ways.

Most commentators seem to subscribe to a theory where there are winners and losers. If police win, than people of color lose. Or, if we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ than police lose. The truth is nobody won this week. There were only losers. Neighbors who lost lives. Families who lost loved ones.

It is a tragedy that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile lost their lives this week. And it is a tragedy that five police officers lost theirs in Dallas. Despite what sells more commercials on TV, I think the overwhelming majority of people believe that both are true. Likewise, vast majority of people want a nation where both police officers and the people they serve and protect are safe and do not need to fear violence. We all want that.

If we’re all trying to win — all trying to justify ourselves — then we will all lose. Gandhi said, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Someone else said, a bullet for a bullet leaves the whole world shot down.

Jesus offers a different way. The Samaritan in the story shows us: it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about turning inside out. Taking what we have and offering it for our neighbor. And we are all neighbors.

Following the example of Jesus, this is the kind of church that is called to be broken open for the sake of the world.

Whatever good will we have, whatever resources we have, whatever gifts we have, whatever joy and safety and security and freedom we have … whatever privilege we have — it is not for us to protect or defend or hoard — it is for the sake of the world. It is for our neighbors.

Crisis when we bought a house … Asking the wrong questions … Samaritan used what he had for his neighbor. Every person here has been given gifts. Especially if you share the color of my skin you have extra privilege (including the fact that you don’t have to think about it very often.) How can you use the privilege you have for the sake of the world?

It’s not about feeling guilty; it’s about being turned inside out.

See, here’s the good news: we don’t have to justify ourselves. God loves us first. We don’t have to fear losing because God has promised us everything we need.

God’s love turns the world inside out. There are no longer winners and losers. There are only neighbors.

God’s love turns us inside out. Every gift we’ve been given is no longer something to have to defend or protect, but instead something to break open and share with our neighbors.

This is the kind of church that believes that God’s love has freed us to love and serve our neighbors. This can be the kind of church that turns inside out to share God’s overflowing love with a world that sorely needs it.

What Kind of Church? Part 2

Posted on Sun 03 July 2016 in misc

Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Luke 24:13-35

Children, Family, and Youth; Serving others; Spiritual Growth; Outreach and Hospitality

Worship that inspires an experience of grace and invites participation in song, prayer, God’s word, and God’s table.

For 10,000 Sundays, worship has been the central corporate act of followers of Christ. It happens in many different ways and styles. But since the first century, worship has followed a pattern: the Gathering, the Word, the Meal, and the Sending. Sometimes the exact order is a little different, but the actions are pretty consistent…we gather together, we hear God’s word, we share a meal, and we are sent into the world. If it helps you remember, you could say it like this: we are found, formed, fed, and freed.

Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke actually shows this pattern in action.


Walk to Emmaus…

Disciples were honest about their feelings of sadness, fear, and disappointment.

We come as we are; honest about our condition. Be honest: have you ever felt like you had to think or feel a certain way in worship? …

There is no particular way we have to think or feel or do to come to worship. We are found.


The best traditional or flashiest contemporary are nothing if they don’t help us participate…

Worship style that is hospitable and accessible to people yet deep and expressing the full range of emotions and experiences

Although we aren’t currently engaged in something like the ‘Worship Wars’ of the past, we’ve sort of compromised on a mix of certain music styles here at Good Shepherd. But it’s always worth asking, is our worship both accessible — understandable — to newcomers, but also deep and rich for all those coming to encounter God?


After the disciples share their current situation with Jesus, he starts to talk to them about the Word. He helps to form and transform the disciples by telling them about God’s love throughout scriptures.

…beginning with Moses and all the prophets…” Jesus walks the disciples through — apparently — all of scripture. But, thru the lens of the Cross.

The message, the Gospel, the story of God’s love for us is at the heart of our worship together. Although, we don’t go through all the scriptures at one time like Jesus did with these two disciples (it must be a long walk to Emmaus from Jerusalem…), we did hear a wide swath of the Bible over the three years that our texts repeat over and over.

But just like Jesus told the story for a reason, so do we. The scriptures serve the Gospel, the Good News. We do not use scripture to prove a point. To win arguments. To be right. To be holier than other people. The scriptures always have the purpose of showing God’s love for us, and our need for God’s love.



The Word that Jesus shares with the disciples inspires them and finds a place in their hearts. So they invite Jesus to stay with them as they prepare for a meal.

Eyes opened. (It’s God that opens eyes.)

Jesus promises to be present when we break bread in his name. The meal is a central part of our worship, and because it’s Jesus’ promise, and because it’s God who opens eyes, we don’t put any restrictions on who can come to the table.

I have heard many people describe the hurt they’ve felt when they have been denied access to communion at other churches.

Those churches may have their reasons, but we move in a different direction here. To remind ourselves and to proclaim to others that this is the Lord’s Table, we invite everyone to participate together in Communion — no matter what. We remember that in this Gospel it is Jesus who breaks the bread. It is God who opens the eyes of disciples. It is not Good Shepherd’s table; not the Lutheran table; it is the Lord’s Table, and Sunday after Sunday we extend the invitation to anyone who wants their eyes opened to the presence of God. It doesn’t matter what their week has been like. It doesn’t matter what their religious background is, or to which church they belong: all are invited to God’s table.

If you know someone who has been hurt by the church, or just not feeling welcome in church: make sure they know that any and every Sunday, this table is open to them — not because we’re really really nice, but because God is really really forgiving.


We are found, formed, fed, and then freed to go out into the world.

After the disciples have their eyes opened and discover they had been sharing in the presence of their Lord, Jesus immediately disappears. As if to say, don’t trap me here, don’t linger inside, but instead go back out into the world.

Disciples weren’t just changed or inspired for their walk and meal with Jesus. They were transformed. It was consequential. Their worship changed their life.

How does our worship change our lives and the world around us? All of a sudden, there’s a pretty high standard for worship: what we do in here, should help us to change the world out there. How are we sent out from here, continuing in the spirit of worship?

Officially, amazing Eucharistic ministers; unofficially we are all Eucharistic ministers, sent out with the leftovers of worship — you know, leftovers like grace and forgiveness and awe and peace…there is always more than enough — and we are all sent out carrying doggy bags of hope into the world. Our worship never really ends, it just changes venues.

And over and over, we are gathered, formed, fed, and sent into the world.

Whether it’s your first time here, or your thousandth, our purpose for being here in worship is the same: to experience the presence and grace of God. We value tradition and holding on to the depth of our worship life, but everything we do should be aimed at inviting others in, helping us all participate, and making space for us to experience God together.

We’ve always got more work to do in adapting our worship service. But in the end, it is God who gathers us, God who forms and transforms us, God who feeds us, and God who sends us back into the world, freed to continue breaking bread with our neighbors.

What Kind of Church? Part 1

Posted on Sun 26 June 2016 in misc

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

If your friend asked you, What kind of Church do you go to? What would be your first response?

Me: Lutheran; ELCA Lutheran?

Some of you are much more sensible than I am when it comes to talking to other people about church. (Warm, Friendly)

In some ways, it’s true for me, that I can only be a Lutheran on the inside — it’s just who I am. But it’s still probably not the best way to describe my faith.

What does being a Lutheran really mean?

Politicians Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann are Lutheran. Travel writer Rick Steves is Lutheran.

The young man (whose name I can’t bring myself to say) who killed nine members of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston last year is a Lutheran.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a Lutheran.

Garrison Keillor, who has talked about Minnesota Lutherans for so many years on Prairie Home Companion is not a Lutheran. Go figure.

Just being Lutheran, does give the full picture, does it?

… not a sermon about being not Lutheran … but when it comes to communicating the most important things about our faith, labels often break down. We need to move beyond just labels to describe our church.

… Core Values …

Worship that inspires an experience of grace and invites participation in song, prayer, God’s word, and God’s table.

Serving others in our community by recognizing what God has given us and turning our gifts “inside out.”

Faith formation that leads to spiritual growth as followers of Christ.

Outreach and hospitality that adds to and cares for the Body of Christ through sincere invitation and loving relationships.

Focusing on children, youth, and families by affirming their gifts and nurturing their growth in discipleship.

Children are not the future of the church; they are the present

  • young folks are not ‘incomplete adults’
  • making kids be more like adults or letting adults be more like kids…
  • young folks have been nurtured here

Faith is for the household

  • percentage of time at church vs. home
  • equipping for discipleship; whatever we do in church, it should be relevant to what you do in your household
  • safe to say this congregation’s heart is in children, youth, and families…next step is not just to try and get a bunch more families in here, but to pour into and invest in the households that are already here, and the ones that aren’t here yet

Leveraging our resources (people, staff, building) to equip households for discipleship; following Jesus; having a vibrant, bold faith

Process of hiring CYF Director

So, why today, of all Sundays, would I read what sounds like one of the most anti-family parts of the whole Bible?

Besides some other difficult sayings of Jesus, we get this rebuke for the man who was ready to follow Jesus, but he had to bury his father: “let the dead bury their own dead,” says Jesus. And this rebuke for the person who is ready to follow Jesus, but he just has to go say goodbye to the people in his household: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Ouch. Reminds me of the time Jesus was teaching and his family tried to come speak with him.

“And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mark 3.33–34 NRSV)

We know from plenty other stories in the Gospels, including his relationship with his own mother, that Jesus is not, in fact, hostile to families. So what point is he trying to make?

  • temptation to make family most important thing; makes family into God
  • unfair burden on people and families
  • not to judge people out there as heathens and idolaters, but to acknowledge the tremendous stress on households and to offer this different vision of family, in whatever configuration that looks like, as a gift from God — a sign of God’s love, a location for God’s love, but not God itself. So that when things inevitably go wrong (no household is perfect), there can be healing and forgiveness

This is where the Lutheran part of me comes back out: we do not focus on faithful children, youth, and families because it’s a way for us to get to heaven. Having a perfect, or even a good, family is not a condition for God’s love. God loves every household, no matter what condition it’s in. Focusing on enriching children, youth, and families is a response to God’s unlimited grace. So that no matter what has happened in the past, there is always hope in the future.

So what kind of church are you in? You are in a church that values children, youth, and families. You are in a church that believes in equipping households — all households of any age, actually — for following Christ, to have that bold, vibrant faith that makes a difference.

This can be a church that recognizes the gifts God has placed in all our households, and uses them to share grace with the world around us.