Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Advocacy Sermon for the Second Sunday After Epiphany

Editor's note: This is a sermon I preached as a representative of the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. Once a month I visit another congregation for the LPPO-WA, and this Sunday I visited Ballard First Lutheran Church, which is actually the church where Chris and I live! So I guess I preached in our basement. :)

Sermon for the Second Sunday After Epiphany
Preached at Ballard First Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington


The holy gospel according to John.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him,
“They have no wine.”
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?
My hour is not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now standing there were six stone water jars
for the Jewish rites of purification,
each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”
And they filled them up to the brim.
He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”
So they took it.
When the steward tasted the water that had become wine,
and did not know where it came from
(though the servants who had drawn the water knew),
the steward called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Everyone serves the good wine first,
and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.
But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee,
and revealed his glory;
and his disciples believed in him.

The gospel of the Lord.


“They have run out.”

On Thursday morning I woke to this message, drifting out of my clock radio. There was the voice of the morning news, reporting that only 24 hours after a massive earthquake, the Red Cross in Haiti had run out of medical supplies.

There was, it seems, only this relatively small amount to begin with, and the overwhelming demand had already exhausted it.

As reports continued pouring out of the radio, I soon learned what so many already knew, that this report about the rapid depletion of medical supplies was only one sign pointing toward Haiti’s much larger story.

The story of this island nation over the last four hundred years is the story of a people exploited into scarcity by our world of abundance, battered by a series of their own brutal dictators, and now shaken to the core by the sudden scraping of tectonic plates – an unnaturally cruel disaster for which there are no adequate words.

In our Gospel reading for this Second Sunday After Epiphany, we find ourselves at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. At first it seems far from the events of recent days, but it soon reveals itself to be closer to our world than it at first appears.

The story takes place in a wedding, an event where we would expect to find feasting and celebration, a time to share in the abundance of creation’s many gifts. Yet where we would expect to find abundance, we find instead scarcity, a sudden need that threatens to derail the entire story: The wine has run out.

Now wine at a wedding is not the same as medical supplies in the midst of a natural disaster, but in Cana of Galilee in the first century, wine is the very lifeblood of the wedding event. If there is no wine, there is no wedding. If there is no wine, there is no gathering of the community to celebrate common gifts. If there is no wine, the story ends.

Thanks be to God, then, that the mother of Jesus was there.

We first heard her voice during Advent, when she opened her mouth to sing of the hungry being filled with good things, to sing of abundance flowing in the direction of need, to sing of the ancient promise that the wholeness of shalom would one day be restored.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a woman steeped in this tradition would lift up her voice when the wine ran out. It should come as no surprise that she would lift up her voice on behalf of a community in need. It should come as no surprise that she would lift up her voice to advocate for others.

Like so many acts of advocacy, her first request was not met with immediate results. Jesus’ first answer to her petition was enigmatic at best. But like Isaiah in today’s reading from the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus would not keep silent.

And before anyone could understand what was happening, God’s abundance broke in. More than one-hundred-and-twenty gallons of everyday water were transformed into much-needed wine, filling the empty places, filling them right up to the brim.

Sometimes God’s work begins when we speak up.

This year I have the privilege of serving as a seminary intern at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. As a branch of the church, we engage in advocacy on behalf neighbors in need.

In the halls of the state legislature, we represent the church’s interest in a just and compassionate society. In communities, we cooperate with a variety of coalitions. And in congregations just like this one, we offer guidance and support to all those who are called through the waters of baptism to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

It is a difficult time for any of us to be advocates. It is a time of scarcity, of need, a time when everywhere we look, resources seem to be running out. The Washington state budget currently faces a 2.6 billion dollar deficit. If those funds are not made up through additional revenue, critical social services will be cut – direct services that principally affect the least among us.

And yet, even in a time of apparent scarcity, God’s abundance is breaking in, through advocates who, like the mother of Jesus, speak up.

On Feburary 16th Lutheran advocates from congregations across the state will travel to Olympia with other people of faith for Interfaith Advocacy Day. By speaking up on behalf of neighbors in need, they will be living out their baptismal calling and following in the footsteps of the mother of Jesus, who spoke up at a wedding so many years ago.

It may be difficult to believe, that advocates living out their baptismal calling can make a difference in a time like this, when the needs seem so overwhelming, from Seattle to Haiti and in a million other places.

But God is at work, and God will not rest until all of creation shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a burning torch for all to see.

This weekend we commemorate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, renewer of society and renewer of the church. In a 1967 speech titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” Dr. King spoke words that continue to ring out when justice seems scarce. These are the words that he spoke near the end of that speech.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out.

Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. ... When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Today we share the bread and wine of Jesus Christ, signs for us that God’s abundance is still breaking through in the midst of scarcity, that God is still making a way out of no way, that God is still transforming dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, from Olympia to Port-au-Prince. The arc of the moral universe is long, but the good wine of justice has been saved until now.

Come to the table. Taste and see.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Intern's Annual Report

Dear faithful reader,
I'm copying my annual report into this blog to give those of you who are interested a sense of what I've been up do this fall. Enjoy!

Annual Report of the Seminary Intern
September 2009-January 2010

This report is based on the five months I have been with St. John United (SJU) and the shared site of the Lutheran Public Policy Office (LPPO). My internship began at my installation on August 30, 2009, and will continue through mid-August, 2010.

My standard weeks have been organized similarly to those of past interns: On Tuesdays and Fridays I am at the LPPO offices, and on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays I am here at SJU. Saturdays are a wild card, depending on the ministry needs of each site that week. Monday is my day off, and my day with Chris, and usually a day for us to adventure somewhere in Seattle or its surrounding outdoor wonderland.

As a pastor-in-training, I’ve been encouraged to understand my ministry throughout the week as flowing out of the Word and Sacrament we share each Sunday morning. Most Sundays here at SJU I serve as a worship assistant. This is the first time that I have had a leadership role in worship on a weekly basis, and it has been a tremendous gift to me. Once a month I preach during worship. Sermon preparation has been deeply challenging and difficult for me since my first preaching class two years ago, but over these last five months your warm and encouraging feedback has helped me mature in this process, calming my nerves and giving me the confidence to try new things in my preaching.

In September I attended a theology conference at Holden Village – my first visit to this remarkable place – and joined an impromptu hike to Holden Lake with several other area clergy. I also began attending a text study on a weekly basis at Ballard First Lutheran. These activities allowed me to begin and develop relationships with professional colleagues, and have helped deepen a growing sense of my own vocation and what it means.

By October, I had attended two Garden Work Parties, both eye-opening experiences, truly. At the first, I learned that what I guessed was an irritating weed (it pricked me, after all) was, in fact, a wild rose – good to know. A few weeks later I gathered with a few hardy souls at Woodland Park Zoo for their annual Fall Fecal Fest, where we shoveled great steaming piles of Zoo Doo, carting them over to the garden, where in the months to come they’ll help sprout tasty vegetables and pretty flowers. These are the kinds of rich learning experiences not found at seminary.

When I arrived at SJU I assumed leadership of the just-born SJU Young Adult Group, and through November the group was continuing to grow. Eight twentysomethings attended Theology on Tap night on November 11, and on November 25 four other young adults joined Chris and I at Qwest Field for the Annual MLS Cup soccer championship. In December we started a Facebook group, and this spring we’re hoping to plan more field trips and pub nights to continue building a sense of fellowship and community among the young adults of St. John United.

In December I was charged with directing the annual Sunday School Christmas Pageant. I can honestly say that, to put it mildly, I had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, with the help of Nathan’s inspired script, Pastor Carol’s guidance, and the amazing creative talents of SJU members, I watched as the kids overcame chaos, strengthened their own script, tore into their roles, and on December 20 brought an amazing seriousness of purpose to their telling of the Christmas story. I can honestly say that the Christmas Pageant was one of the absolute highlights of my first five months here, and I am so grateful to you all for allowing me to be a part of it.

Throughout the fall I took part in the Men’s Ministry activities of Wednesday Bible studies and Saturday breakfasts each month. In November I proposed that we read together the book Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, and in January I led the first of these book club discussions. I look forward to more fellowship activities with the men of SJU in the springtime.

These are but a few of the many activities I have had the privilege of participating in at SJU over the last few months. Others include: singing with the kids at Sunday School; participating in a wedding and a funeral; making pastoral visits; attending Church Council meetings and committee meetings; attending the LYONS kick-off event; enjoying a potluck and a movie night; attending the SHARE Christmas Party; attending special worship services like the Lilejuleaften, the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, and the September celebration of full communion between Lutherans and Methodists; teaching adult forum; writing Eagle articles; and more.

I have especially appreciated the fellowship time I have spent with SJU members this fall. Your hospitality and willingness to include us – not only myself but Chris as well – in your lives has meant much to us, more than we can say. Over the next few months I hope to take the initiative in visiting some of you I haven’t gotten to know yet. I am deeply grateful for the time we have spent together and for the gifts of food and fellowship we’ve shared.

Finally, I want to share just a few of the activities I’ve been able to participate in at the LPPO. One of the highlights of working at the LPPO is the opportunity to visit and build relationships with a wide variety of Lutheran churches in Washington State as we invite, nudge, and assist them into their advocacy ministries. In September I joined the LPPO staff on a visit to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, and two months later I was invited to preach in the campus chapel at PLU during their observance of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. In October I accompanied Paul on his visit to Celebration Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee, and we had a wonderful visit with these Lutherans on the “other side” of the Cascades. Also in November I led an “Introduction to Advocacy” adult forum at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bellevue. Beginning at Ballard First Lutheran Church on January 17, I’ll be visiting an average of one church per month on a Sunday to preach and teach as a representative of the LPPO. Besides congregational visits, my main project at the LPPO – and my overall Internship Project for the year – is the work of congregational organizing. Building off the work of previous seminary interns, I have – with the help of the LPPO’s Congregational Relations Committee – set about implementing a systematic strategy for inviting congregations into advocacy, supporting their advocacy ministries, and building their relationship with the LPPO through the Advocating Congregations Network.

In closing, I offer my deepest thanks for this congregation’s support of the internship program. You are shaping the identity of pastors-to-be, giving them deep wells of experience, confidence, and grace for their future life and ministry. For that I am grateful beyond words.

I thank you for the first five months, and I look forward to our next seven months together!

In Christ,
Seminary Intern Matt Keadle

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thoughts on Avatar

It's sort of surprising that a movie prompts my first non-sermon blog entry in a long time. But Avatar was just that compelling - to me, at least.

Here are three things I loved about this movie.

1. It's all about baptism. From the ending to the opening premise of being "reborn" as a new creation, this entire film was about rebirth. The fact that the protagonist, Jake Sully, was reborn as a seven-foot-tall blue humanoid with a tail makes things more colorful, yes, but what was more interesting was that Jake had a complete change, a turning around - a metanoia - of his worldview. Previous worldview: Follow the rules of your society, which just so happen to be Militarism and Capitalism. New worldview: The Divine is in everything, and the needs of all creation are more worthy of your life - and death - than a quarterly report. Most gratifying to the catechumenate crowd: Before being reborn Jake must undergo training and completely subsume his own life into that of the community.

2. It's anticapitalist and antimilitary. Does that mean it's oversimplistic? A bit, yeah. Maybe it should have acknowledged that capitalism has its uses, especially on a very small scale, and many good people have served their fellow citizens through service in the military. (Maybe in the sequel? I smell a trilogy...) But the human propensity to destroy things through the unbridled pursuit of profit above all else is a fact of our world, and the use of the military to serve the pursuit of capital is a tradition that has been repeated again and again through distant and recent history. To have this truth about our world depicted in light and sound and color (in 3D!) was akin to reading apocalyptic literature - creative storytelling that pulls back the curtain to reveal what some already know and some don't want to admit.

3. Spiritually, it emphasizes Eastern panentheism over Western obsessions with kings and kingdoms and kingliness. Some conservative Christians have criticized it as pantheism, but it needn't be construed that way. To say God is present in everything is no heresy - and is probably closer to the truth than the idea that God is present in us humans but not in the trees we cut down. What I really love about Avatar's spirituality is that in some ways it's more interesting than that depicted in The Lord of the Rings. As an immersive film experience, I loved the Lord of the Rings more than Avatar. But as a theological thought piece, I found Avatar more compelling. It leaves the obsession with A King behind. It's true that the protagonist must assume a leadership role, but it's clear that the kind of leadership role he assumes is only temporary, as-needed, and not some kind of permanent king role.

And one response to negative critiques:

While my wife enjoyed the movie as well - more than she thought she would - one of her first critiques was that it was of the white outsider imperialist coming in and saving the day for a bunch of indigenous native peoples. I acknowledge that this is a problematic storyline. Still, I think the movie actually did several important things to offset what could have been far more problematic.

1. The white dude didn't save the people from themselves, he helped lead them to victory over the imperialists.

2. He wasn't a Savior so much as a person who - after learning from the Na'vi - had something of his own to contribute. And why wouldn't he? That's what it meant for him to become a full-fledged member of their community.

3. He didn't lead the people on his own - he joined the Na'vi to co-lead (with the help of the Na'vi leader and Jake's Na'vi girlfriend) them to victory over other imperialists.

4. Jake Sully had lost the use of his legs, leaving him wheelchair bound and a "minority" within his own community/society. These sorts of minority vs. non-minority categories suck because they're so oversimplistic, but it's worth throwing into the mix, especially because no one else seems to be mentioning it as a relevant part of the data set.

Well - that's my visceral, initial reaction, thoughts off the top of my head. Challenge away!

En fin: I remain grateful to have seen the first movie since Up that's had me thinking big thoughts through light and sound and color (in 3D!) on the silver screen.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2010

The heavens are opened quite often around here.

Now, I know it doesn’t rain as much as everyone says it does. Today, for example, yet another beautiful clear day. But on Friday afternoon, it was raining again.

On Friday afternoon, I was driving through downtown Seattle to the Church of Steadfast Love. The Church of Steadfast Love is housed at the Compass Center and is a congregation that, in its own words, “seeks to break down the barriers that separate housed and homeless.”

On this particular Friday the congregation was holding a Service of Remembrance, a time to remember, honor, and pray for those who in the last year had died on the streets or who had died as a result of being homeless.

I was running late to the service, and I parked my car in a lot under the Viaduct, which provided a partial shelter from the pouring rain.

It really was only a partial shelter. I stepped out of the car and into a puddle of water. I paid for my parking and got the receipt all wet. I walked down the street and narrowly dodged the waterfalls created by gaps in the awnings.

By the time I made it to the chapel, the service had already begun. The sanctuary was full, so I stood just outside the door with some other latecoming stragglers and watched the service unfold.

Two men stood up, and performed an Irish folk song. We recited a Psalm and read part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. A guest preacher gave a homily. We prayed.

And then the names were read aloud, the names of those who had died, read aloud one by one. As each name was read, one of us would get up, walk to a table full of candles, light one for that person, and then place the candle on the altar.

Nothing else was said during this part of the service. No songs were sung; no gentle music played. Just candles lit, and names read aloud.

Outside the heavens were opened, and water fell from the sky, like a voice that was trying to tell us something.


For the last few weeks we have been reflecting on seeing. Not merely seeing with our eyes, but perceiving the world in a new way. On Christmas Eve, the shepherds saw an ordinary sky lit up with the blazing lights of the heavenly host. On Epiphany, the magi saw an ordinary star shining with such light that they crossed a continent to follow it. Ordinary people seeing ordinary things in a new way, their vision made new by the light of Christ.

Today we change senses, slightly, from seeing to hearing. In today’s Gospel reading, the light of Epiphany comes not through the eyes but through the ears.

We first hear the voice of John the Baptist. His words might sound familiar to you. We heard them only a few weeks ago, on the Second Sunday of Advent. On that Sunday the focus was on the Baptist’s message to the people: “Prepare the way!” he said. “Bear fruits! Share your coat! Share your food! Be fair! Live justly!”

But now, as the light of Epiphany grows, John the Baptist’s voice fades. Or rather, John the Baptist’s voice is shut up.

In the verses that are curiously left out of our reading for today – they would fit right there between verses 17 and 21 – something dramatic happens. In these invisible verses John provoked the ire of the ruler Herod, and Herod – this is a direct quote – “shut him up in prison.” John does not merely fade away, he is silenced. But, as Luke will tell us later in his gospel, “if you silence these, the stones will cry out.” The stones… or the sky.

As the prison bars slam on John the Baptist, the camera pans back to the people, a great mass of ordinary people. And there Jesus is, among them, praying.

Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke tells us no story of John baptizing Jesus, no words exchanged, no formal passing of the torch. Jesus is simply baptized with everyone else, bathing in the river with all of the other ordinary people seeking a fresh start in the cleansing waters.

After his baptism, Jesus prays. Maybe he is praying for a fresh start, like the others. Maybe he is praying for the others. Maybe he is simply praying. And as he prays, the heavens are opened.

Who knows what this looked like? Maybe the heavenly host returned in their blazing lights and appeared like they did to the shepherds. Maybe the clouds parted for a moment to reveal a brief ray of sunshine. Or maybe it just started to rain.

A pigeon flew by. Pigeon: the word we use for dove when the dove is ordinary. The pigeon descended to earth, maybe just to peck around, as pigeons do. The Holy Spirit: Present in the ordinary creatures of the world.

And there was Jesus, in the midst of the ordinary creatures, praying.

And then, suddenly, a voice.

We should be clear about what kind of voice it was, what words it said. It wasn’t a voice that told Jesus to do something, good or bad. Those temptations would come later.

This voice was less like an order, and more like a simple truth dawning, like the sun over a darkened sky.

The truth the voice said wasn’t new. Luke has already told us, a few Sundays ago in the lectionary, the story of Jesus as a boy, sitting in the temple and calling it his Father’s house. For man who was once a boy like this, what the voice said wasn’t news so much as a reminder, a reaffirmation, a rebirth into a truth he knew but needed to hear again.

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Put it another way, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, from our Old Testament reading for today. Isaiah is speaking to a people who long for the return of their estranged Creator. Through Isaiah, the estranged Creator finally speaks. “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

They are simple words, really. Nothing special, on the face of it. We might hear them fly past our ears a hundred times a day, on the bus, on the radio, at the coffee shop, at the movies, in the rush of the wind, in the fluttering wings of an ordinary bird. They are simple words, really! Ordinary, everyday words.

But when you have come looking for a fresh start – to a new year, or to a new day – those words can mean everything. Even if you have heard them before. Maybe especially if you have heard them before.

Martin Luther once wrote that “a truly Christian life is nothing less than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued.” A fresh start, every day. Every day, hearing the words again, and letting them wash over you like water from above:


At the end of the Service of Remembrance at the Church of Steadfast Love,

after we named all the beloved of God who had died on the streets in the last year,

those of us who had gathered made together

a Declaration of Recommitment.

We used different words, but essentially we recommitted ourselves to the covenantal promises of our baptism.

To live among God’s faithful people,

To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,

To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,

To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,

And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

They were just words, ordinary words spoken by ordinary people.

Outside the heavens were opened, and water fell from the sky, like the Spirit of God descending to earth in bodily form. Thanks be to God.