Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent 2, Monday


Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

-Prayer of the Day for the Second Sunday of Advent, 2009


Stir up our hearts, Lord God, stir up our hearts. Stir up our hearts, even on a day with skies as gray as this one. Part the clouds of our lives, and make a way for your holy light. Open the pores of our skin and draw in the breath of our lungs, that your holy freshness might fill us up anew. Disturb our waters and form new eddies within us and around us. Clear the debris from the streets of our hearts and the streets of our neighborhoods, and remove all obstacles to the way of peace and justice, the way of creativity and liveliness, to the places we yearn most deeply to go. Stir up our world, Lord God, and stir up the world inside of us. Part the clouds of our lives, and make a way for your holy light. Stir up our hearts, even on a day with skies as gray as this one. Stir up our hearts, Lord God, stir up our hearts.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What I made for Sunday School today...

... to teach the kids about Advent.

Advent 1, Sunday

Editor's note: Even though grace travels outside of karma, I still love this song. Biblical prophecy can be rough around the theological edges... but sometimes with good reason. Shine on, John, rough around the theological edges or not, shine on...


Jesus said,

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars..."

Luke 21:25-36, Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent, 2009


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent 1, Saturday

How can we thank God enough for you
in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?
Night and day we pray most earnestly
that we may see you face to face...

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, 2nd Reading for the 1st Sunday in Advent 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Advent 1, Wednesday

Show me your ways, O LORD,
and teach me your paths.

Psalm 25


image copyright daniel w. erlander

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Advent 1, Tuesday

The days are surely coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
In those days and at that time
I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David;
and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
And this is the name by which it will be called:
"The LORD is our righteousness."

- Jeremiah 33:14-16, First Reading for the First Sunday in Advent 2009

A righteous Branch that will spring up... for David. Leave aside for the moment what a "righteous Branch" might be and look at that concluding prepositional phrase. "For David." A Branch for the king, for the governor, for the leader and caretaker of a people. For a person whose primary duty is to care for the needs of others.

Which leads right into the payoff: Thanks to this mysterious "righteous Branch," the one who has been crowned a caretaker "shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." It is not the righteous Branch who executes justice and righteousness - though of course the execution would not be possible without this Branch. No, it is David who plays this part; it is David for whom the branch has been sprung, and it is by David that the justice and righteousness will come to be.

It is, in fact, the primary purpose of the king, the governor, the leader, the caretaker. Not conquering foreign lands. Not acquiring a great wealth of treasure. Not even keeping everyone happy and content so that the king's opulent living can go merrily on. No: The primary purpose of the one who has received the great gift of the righteous Branch is to carry out justice and righteousness. It is why the Branch has been given at all.

Of course, we do not have a David, nor a king. We live in a democratic land, where we share the kingship with each other; we are all governors, all caretakers of each other. We are all Davids.

So if we were to find ourselves living in those days and at that time, if by some heavenly miracle we were to be given the gift of the righteous Branch, if the day were to come and the promise were to be fulfilled, well, then, the next thing to happen seems pretty clear.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Advent 1, Monday

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and redeem us for your life of justice, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

-Prayer of the Day for the First Sunday in Advent

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

Stir up... your power? A comforting thought, at first, and then a terrifying one. I imagine the ways that Holy Power has been stirred up in generations past. Noah comes to mind, a world destroyed. Jonah, too, swallowed by a whale and an inescapable destiny. And Job - poor, miserable Job, who, when he finally stands up for himself, is flattened again by Your voice in a whirlwind.

But then the other stories: The first story, Creation - the first time your power was stirred up, the first time in the story we share with You, anyway. Exodus, too: your power against the powers that be, and a people were set free. And not freed and then abandoned, no - after that your power was stirred into a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, visible signs of a power stirred.

So you will, I hope, forgive me if thoughts of stirring up your power leave me with less than clear feelings. Tremendous excitement! yes, but also a fear of a power I cannot fathom.

And so it is with care that we pray that the advent of your stirred power in our time be one of merciful protection; of the imparting of knowledge, wisdom and courage; of, yes, a justice that redeems this broken and fearful world. It is more comforting to put it that way. Comforting at first, at least. And then a little more uneasy, once the sharpness of mercy, once the brightness of vision, once the instability of justice-making starts to happen, then it begins to be, just a little, terrifying. And yet we pray it all the same.

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What I Preached for the 24th Sunday After Pentecost, 2009

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), November 15, 2009
Preached at St. John United Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington

The readings for today are
Daniel 12:1-13 // Hebrews 10:11-25 // Mark 13:1-8


This month Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary. I know this because for several days last week anytime I used Google – which is a lot – colorful characters would show up against Google’s white-as-snow backdrop. First it was the orange, vertically striped legs of an 8-foot-tall yellow-feathered creature. Then it was a furry, grumpy little green monster poking its head out of a garbage can. And then, finally, the entire word Google was transformed into a collection of chocolate chip cookies and eaten by a furry blue mouth with googly eyes (no pun intended).

Now if you clicked on any of these fantastical images, you would be taken to a list of news stories about Sesame Street. And as I began to read these articles, I not only remembered all the times I spent watching Sesame Street with my dad, but I began to realize just how visionary Sesame Street has been.

Forty years ago, when the show was developed, the television landscape was still radically segregated, and featured overwhelmingly white characters, largely preferring not to address the difficult issues of the day. Ok, so not a whole lot has changed in that regard. But in 1969, the world was changing. Dr. King had been assassinated, but his dream had captured imaginations.

Sesame Street decided to take the dream and put it on television. The basic intent of the show was to bring a preschool education into the homes of poor children in urban neighborhoods who didn’t have access to good schools.

But in addition to teaching the alphabet and numbers and colors, the world presented on Sesame Street sought to instill tolerance, racial pride, and equality. Sure, it did so with fantastical creatures – I’m looking at you, Mr. Snuffleupagus – but that didn’t change the deeper truths contained in its vision. Sesame Street took the dream of racial harmony, economic equality, and religious tolerance, and sought to make it real, even if only on the television set, and even if the world around that television set still had a lot of catching up to do.

It’s a little bit like our Scripture readings for today. Today’s Gospel reading is from the 13th chapter of Mark, a passage sometimes referred to by Biblical scholars as “the Little Apocalypse.” Now, when we hear the word “apocalypse” we probably think of things like the ads for that new John Cusack movie, where the world is coming to an end through a variety of earthquakes, explosions and floods. And it’s true, when we hear today’s Gospel reading we do hear Jesus speak of wars, earthquakes, and famines. But this kind of disaster movie shtick is not really at the heart of what the word apocalypse means. The Greek word apocalypses is often translated as “revelation,” which is where we get the title for that “colorful” book at the end of our Bible. What the word apocalypse literally means is “a lifting of the veil.” A lifting of the veil. A pulling back of the curtain, to reveal some deeper truth about the world and where it’s going.

And if we think of the Little Apocalypse, the Little Revelation, in that way, then we might see something a little different in Jesus’ words. Jesus speaks of wars and earthquakes and famines, yes, but we know about these already. That part is no revelation. All we need to do is read the newspaper to learn about that; we don’t need a revelation from God to learn about the famines and the wars and the earthquakes. What we want to know is what they mean. Will they ever end? Is there anything beyond them? Or is life just one long tumult of earthquakes and wars and famine?

And Jesus, thanks be to God, gives us an answer. Jesus is, in fact, an answer to the question in his very incarnation, in his very existence on this earth. God made human, made vulnerable, sent to rescue us from a neverending cycle of famine, earthquake, and war, a neverending cycle of death. Jesus is God’s answer.

But we live in the meantime. We still live amid the famine, earthquakes, and war, and that seems odd, if Jesus was sent to end those things.

And so I wonder whether this is why Jesus gives us these words today. I wonder if he anticipates that confusion. I wonder if that is why Jesus tells his disciples the following Little Revelation:

This is only the beginning of the birth pangs.

This – by which Jesus means not the famine, earthquakes, and war, but his own life, death, and resurrection – is only the beginning of the birth pangs, is only the beginning of a much larger process. There is so much more to come. God’s great healing of the entire universe has had its beginning in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, truly. But those events are just that – a beginning.

And in order to remind us that this is only the beginning, and that the end is much, much greater, and definitely much, much greater than any large stones and large buildings, much greater than anything we could accomplish on our own, in order to remind us of this, God gives us a Little Revelation from time to time, a little hint of the end of the story, lest we mistake the present for the end. God gives us a little vision of the world as it could be, as it will be.

Now these visions – like the one in the Book of Daniel – are sometimes full of strange shapes and colors and even, yes, fantastical creatures, but underneath them all is God’s holy dream of a world of compassion and curiosity and creativity and, most of all, love, a world as it could be, a world as it will be. The visions show us where we are going, where God is taking us. They are a little like Sesame Street, actually. The biggest difference between Sesame Street and Shalom Street, though is that no one has to tell us how to get to Shalom, because God’s giving us a lift.

And so what do we do while we ride in the backseat of God’s cosmic cab, as we surf God’s teleological timeline with the rest of creation? Well, we might take a cue from the author of the letter to the Hebrews in our epistle lesson for today. The author proposes that we not only lift the veil but walk right through the curtain to begin living the vision today, just like Sesame Street did 40 years ago. Eugene Peterson’s translation of our reading from Hebrews goes like this:

So, friends, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” …So let’s do it – full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. God always keeps God’s word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Let’s do it. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out and worshipping together and spurring each other on. Let’s see how inventive we can be.

I know the Sunday School kids are already being inventive. They’re starting a campaign to buy a cow for their brothers and sisters in Kenya, and I think they’re going to tell us more about it next week.

I know Meridee is helping our Social Ministry Committee be inventive and think up new ways to live out our calling as an Advocating Congregation.

I know that several congregations, including our own, are being inventive as we prepare to join with other Seattle churches and synagogues and mosques to share an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, a witness to that future day when all of God’s creation gathers around the eternal feast and gives thanks to one God, Father and Mother of us all. (Eat your heart out, Sesame Street.)

So let’s keep doing it. Let’s keep encouraging love and helping out and worshipping together and spurring each other on. Let’s keep dreaming out loud, let’s keep living the vision in the month of November, the month of All Saints, as the church year nears its end and God gathers us up and walks us right to the cliff of the kingdom and we peer over the edge into a vision of the holy communion of all people under their cosmic creator, a vision, as Daniel imagines it, of a sleeping dust awakened and transformed into a sky of shining stars, a vision that is the very Reign of Christ.

And so let us approach the table with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I Preached for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

Sermon for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week
Preached at Pacific Lutheran University Chapel, November 9, 2009

A reading from the book of Exodus.

But Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But Moses said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.”

Word of God, Word of Life:
Thanks be to God.

I picture Moses at the burning bush, alone.

He stands there, barefoot, and I imagine that his legs have turned to something roughly approaching the consistency of raspberry Jell-O. Moses is overwhelmed, and he is overwhelmed not just because there is a bush that burns without burning and a voice that comes from out of nowhere. The greatest wonder, really, is in what this voice is saying.

First of all, God: I am God, the voice says. Listen up.

Second, the Israelites: They are suffering in Egypt, this place that is not their home. They hunger for justice, they cry out for it. And God says to Moses, these people, these hungry and homeless people are, God says, my people. These hungry and homeless people are God’s people.

Third, I will come down. God has not only seen the hunger and the homelessness of God’s people, God is doing something about it. God has come down to bring them up into a new home. This is about as good as the good news gets: God has heard the cry of God’s people, God’s hungry and homeless people, and God is acting to save them.

Now, if God were to stop here, Moses might well have sang a song of praise and continued on his way except that then God gives Moses this last part, and it’s this part that turns his legs to Jell-O and dries his tongue so that he can barely speak.

So come, I will send you to Pharaoh.

So come, I will send you to Pharaoh. So come, I will send you to the President. So come, I will send you to the Governor. So come, I will send you to the Senator, to the Representative. So come, I will send you to the Mayor… of Tacoma. I don’t care what you call him or her, Moses, I am sending you there, to speak on behalf of my people, my hungry and homeless people, to be their advocates.

Oh my Lord, please send someone else.

Oh my Lord, please send someone else. Have you read my resume, Lord? I don’t have the right skill set for that. It’s a public speaking gig, right? Yeah, that’s not for me. Moses looks at his own talents, looks down at his hands, sees his reflection in the flickering flames, and he says, “This is not going to be enough.

And he's right.

Fortunately for Moses – and fortunately for us – God doesn’t expect it to be enough. God’s work doesn’t depend on our skill sets, it depends on the One who created them. And then, having created us, having sustained us, having sent us, God sends people to help us, people whose talents complement our own, people who speak and in so doing teach us to speak.

And sometimes these people are the very people we thought we were helping. That is what happened to Moses. Aaron, Moses' brother but still one of God’s own hungry and homeless people, is the very person God sends to help Moses. The very people we think we are rescuing end up rescuing us. Look, Moses – even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad.

Together you will walk to Pharaoh; together you will speak; together you will walk to freedom. You and your brothers and your sisters. For you there will no longer be us and them, only us. No longer will you walk alone. Your journey and their journey will become one. Your journey and their journey will become one.

For the last few months I have had the privilege of working at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. As a branch of the church, rooted in the church, we go to the halls of power, in the state capitol, to plead the cause of the least among us whenever and wherever important policy decisions are being made. As representatives of the church, we urge lawmakers to fund food banks and shelters, to improve childhood nutrition, to increase the availability of low-income housing, always in pursuit of a more just and compassionate society.

But we do not do this alone. When we go to the halls of power, we go with coalitions of social service agencies and community partners, including organizations of the homeless and the formerly homeless. And we go with faithful advocates in churches and missions and universities across the state, advocates whose journeys once upon a time intersected with the journeys of God’s hungry and homeless people, and whose journeys were never the same.

I recently heard a story from one of these advocates.

She had gone to speak at a public hearing, where policymakers were deciding whether or not to fund a network of homeless shelters. She was very nervous. There was a large crowd, and she had to face a panel of powerful people. But she drew up her courage, and she pleaded with the policymakers not to cut the funding for those who needed it.

As she finished her testimony, there was a burst of applause and loud cheering. She turned around. An organization of the homeless had gathered to support her, and they let their presence be known. As she left the hall, they thanked her for speaking up for them. She never forgot it, the day that their journey and her journey became one.

In our hymn for today we will sing: Un pueblo que camina por el mundo, gritando: “¡Ven, Señor!” Un pueblo que busca en esta vida la gran liberación. The people walk throughout the world together, and cry out, “Come, O Lord”; the people who long to claim the promise, God’s liberating Word.