Monthly Archives: February 2013

Redeeming the seemingly irredeemable

So many lives broken by this one act

So many lives broken by this one act

A sermon on Jacob. Text: Genesis 27

During this season of Lent, we will be hearing the stories of some of our Biblical heroes – people whose stories have been passed down to us as great, heroic stories. But we will not be focusing on their greatness, but their brokenness. So many of the heroes of our faith were beyond imperfect in the eyes of the law. They were thieves, murderers, easy women, persecutors of Christians or people who walked away from God. Repeatedly. And yet… God was able to take their brokenness and make them beautiful. God redeemed Jacob, Daniel, Jonah, the woman at the well, Peter, and Paul – just as God redeems all of us. God sees in us beauty that we don’t see, and, through God’s love we become even more beautiful. That is why I have used the word kintsukuroi for these worship services. Kintsukuroi is an ancient art of repairing broken pottery with gold, making it more beautiful and valuable not in spite of, but because of its brokenness. This is the same thing God does with us. Takes our broken pieces, makes us whole and more beautiful than ever before. But, at one point or another, we all end up broken.

Jacob, the father of Joseph, the one blessed by God with a dream of a ladder that reached heaven, the one escorted through his travels by hosts of heaven, who wrestled with God and lived. Jacob, one of the great fathers of Israel, was a broken man, a sinful man. He did many things throughout his life that were not right in the eyes of God, but this is where it begins. When he steals his brother’s birthright.

Now, I don’t want to let his mother off easily – she had a favorite son and worked tirelessly for one son and not the other. She coerced her young son to steal his brothers’ inheritance. But her story will be covered some other time. Right now, this is about Jacob.

You see, even though Rebekah put the plan in place, Jacob made it happen. Jacob followed through. To take his brother’s birthright was to take his livelihood – he would now receive twice the land Esau would. Jacob not only lied to his father, a clear violation of the fourth commandment, he also tricked a blind man, which was expressly forbidden by Hebrew law. ON top of that, he caused Isaac to violate the law. Hebrew law stated that the birthright HAD to go to the firstborn son. To give it to anyone else was a violation of the law. Jacob, in his brokenness, causes others to become newly broken.

Reading Genesis, I don’t really ever like Jacob. He’s not a likeable character, really. He does little that I find redeeming, he’s not the flawed but loveable protagonist. And yet – God bestows upon him dreams, angels and even God’s own presence to guide him.  I may not find anything in him that is redeeming, but God does. God uses him. And, to my reading, Jacob never even asks for an apology. This just seems so unfair!

When I was 19, I was in a bad state. I was miserable; I was lost. I felt like I was going the wrong direction in life. I really, really wanted to drop out of college, but I know that my parents would be so hurt and angry and I couldn’t stand the thought of letting them down.

That winter, I went to the Christmas/New Years gathering at the camp I went to for most of my childhood and worked at throughout college. One summer, we had a very broken director. She did some things that were in total violation of her call as minister. Then she fired all of the people who knew about it. She was incredibly cold, often mean (I would much later find out that she was going through some serious stuff of her own). As far as I was concerned, she had ruined my camp. She had broken the lives of many people I love and call family to this day. Many people would never come back to camp after that summer. She would be presiding over our worship service that winter, and I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t see how anything good could come out of it

Then, in her sermon, she starts talking about how, if we are going the wrong way on the highway, there are all these signs saying “no u-turn.” But, God isn’t like that. If we are going the wrong way on the road of life, we should flip a u-turn right there and go the way we need to be going. I just started to cry. I felt a friends arm around me. That was exactly the sermon I needed to hear. God was speaking through a woman I positively despised. She was an instrument of God.

This is always a sticky space, because there are some people we need to not have in our lives, some people we need to keep a distance from and I never want to come off sounding like I don’t get that. There are people we need to stop giving chances to, people we need to say no too. God, however, never stops giving chances.

Like that pastor in Ohio, like Jacob, everyone can be an instrument of God. Everyone. God uses some people in spite of their brokenness, some people because of it. But that chance for redemption is always there. There is always the possibility that God can use a person who appears, in our eyes, irredeemably broken. Even us.


The devil’s question

If the devil really looked like this, he would be much easier to avoid.

If the devil really looked like this, he would be much easier to avoid.

A sermon on Luke 4:1-13

This past Wednesday, we entered into the season of Lent; the time the church has set aside for penitence, reflection, fasting and prayer. It seems only right that we begin our Sundays in Lent with this story about Jesus’ temptation. This is a season when many of us put ourselves face to face with temptation – giving up things we love like chocolate, wine, perhaps whining. We do this to practice discipline (and sometimes to lose weight or give up bad habits), and, in doing so, we enter into prayer and build our relationship to God. Jesus’ temptation was far more formidable than chocolate – the devil tempted him with some of the more difficult things that we wrestle with every day. The need for self-reliance, the desire for power, the easy way out. But at the bottom of all of these temptations, and most of the temptations we face in life is the question, “Do you trust God?” That is what the devil is asking Jesus. Do you trust that God will provide for you? Do you trust that the path God is leading you down is the right path? Do you trust God with your life?

These are the same questions the devil asks us. Do you trust God? Or do you trust yourself?

Jesus had just spent 40 days in the wilderness. He had not eaten, and was very hungry. It is reasonable to imagine that he had not slept all that well either – sleeping out in the open, weather and animals keeping him awake. And here comes the devil, doubt and temptation personified, to offer Jesus a solution to his problems. You are hungry, Jesus, and you have the power to fix this on your own. Use your power for yourself, just this one time. Be fed. Fill yourself with what you have created by yourself. God might not give you the bread your stomach so strongly desires, Jesus. Fix it.

We are hungry. We are hungry for connection, for community, for meaning: we are hungry for love. The media and product peddlers take on the role of temptation and doubt personified. They tell us that we are not attractive enough, but there are pills and diets and surgeries and clothes to fix that. They tell us we are not complete, but there are cars and furniture and kitchen sets to fix that. They tell us we are not truly loved until we have extravagant presents to prove it. We are unsure of who we are and where we belong, we are told that the products we buy can help us define who we are, and along the way provide us with a community who is into the same stuff. We will find connection through our things. And we are surrounded by it, this message. It is in our ears and faces all the time. We absorb it through our pores. We doubt our worth and fall prey to the belief that we have the power to sate our own hunger. We fall into the cycle of spending our time to earn money to buy things to fill our hunger but it never lasts. And so we do it again, and again.

Jesus knows about this cycle. He knows that, on his own, he can do nothing, that it is only through God that he can act for good. Jesus knows that life is about so much more than that bread. He knows that he cannot fill himself on his own. He is hungry, he is weak, he is tired. I would imagine he is salivating at the thought of a meal. But he is also grounded in the Word of God, in scripture and prayer. He is grounded in faith in God and the knowledge that God can and will provide so much more than the things of this world, so much more than Jesus’ own power and abilities can bring him. It is his grounding in the word of God and trust in God’s promises that allows him to put aside his hunger and reply with words from scripture, “The human shall not live by bread alone, but by the word of God.”

By what are we living? The word of the world, or the word of God? Where do we put our trust?

The devil sees that this tack will not work. What else can he offer Jesus? What else might throw Jesus off track? An offer of power, perhaps? The devil offers all of the kingdoms in the world. Just the fact that the devil was able to show this to Jesus hints at the devil’s power. The devil claims that the kingdoms of the world have been given to him – is the devil lying, or does the devil control the major cities of the world? If the devil does have this power, this could make Jesus become the messiah the people of Israel were expecting – a mighty king, a political leader, come to free God’s people. This would be a very different king than the road Jesus is currently on. His power would be more visible, more worldly, would be seen in a way that those around him could understand. Moreover, it would be a power that he could understand, that he could control. Not only is the devil offering Jesus power and control, he is offering him it in a way that makes sense in this world. The power Jesus has, the role he plays in the world is almost never understood by those around him, not until after his death. All he has to do is pledge loyalty to the devil — in return he will recieve power, control and a different destiny.

Power. Control. Understanding. Recognition. We really like those words. Who doesn’t, at one time or another, daydream of being in charge of a kingdom, be it having control of your household for five minutes or having control of the world. We love control, and we really, really hate to admit that we aren’t in charge of much of anything. Most of us want to be recognized for what we do, to be seen as the one who just did that awesome thing. But we have a God who doesn’t show us the end of the story but lets us work it out. We have a God who asks us to do our good deeds on the down low. We have a God who asks us to pledge our loyalty to him and only him, in return for things that are hard to see, hard to explain, and often unrecognized by our world as being awesome. The world tells us the opposite – power is visible, control is ours, and we deserve to be recognized for what we have done. What are we willing to trade for some recognition, some power, some control? What are we willing to give up to God?

Jesus is still hungry, still exhausted, and can likely see some positive outcomes of the devil’s offer. After all, he is fully human as well as fully God. But he knows his call, he knows who he is created to be. Once again, the strength of his faith comes through. His grounding in God and knowledge of his path takes over and he is able to say, “Get behind me Satan: for it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and no other.”

But the devil is not done. There is one more thing. And, really, it’s kind of bratty. Satan must be annoyed that Jesus keeps pushing him back with scripture, so he comes with some of his own. And through that, he manages to ask Jesus if he really trusts that God will protect him. “Jesus, God has said he will protect you. Do you really think he will? If you do, if you really believe in God, put his love to the test.” Or, the flip side of this question, “If you believe what God has told you about who you are, put who you are to the test.”

Most of us know this is a bad move in a relationship. It is rarely, if ever, a good idea to say, “If you really loved me, you’d…” Or to act out to see what your beloved’s response is. And yet… how often do we put God’s love to the test?  How often do we act out hoping for some response from God, for some lightening bolt from the sky. How often do we put God to the test by questioning who we are, by questioning if we are loved?

You are loved. I am loved. We are loved. By God. The proof in this lies in our lives, our community and in stories of God’s love passed down through the generations and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus  had the stories, he had the community, he was rooted in God’s love for him. He didn’t need to throw himself off a building to prove it. He knew.

The devil is done with him… for now. The scripture here tells us that the devil will come back – at an appropriate time. Not even Jesus could escape temptation. But he could face it down, he could push it back – and so can we. With Jesus’ help.

But, why? Why should we push back temptation? Usually temptation has something fun on the other end of the line. True. Usually it does. Just like a fish sees a tasty worm at the end of the line but misses the hook. Giving in to temptation usually does have some fun, but it almost always comes with pain, loss, grief, embarrassment, and more.

Jesus was able to push back temptation because he was deeply grounded in the word of God. Not just the words of God, though his knowledge of scripture and his ability to quote it certainly helped him in this situation. He was grounded in the word of God, the word that was there at the beginning, the word that lived inside of Jesus Christ and the word that lives among us today. As the Apostle Paul writes, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” We have the word in our midst! We have scripture, we have ritual, we have community, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the unending, always forgiving, never fading love of God. When the devil asks us, “Do you trust God?” We can look at all that we have been given, all that is around us, all that God has entrusted to us and respond with a mighty, resounding Yes.

Celebrate the good in the church

buddychrist Every now and then, church stuff gets me down. I have decided that, when that happens, I’m going to look to the many amazing things I know are happening in the name of Jesus.  I need your help. There is some amazing stuff happening in churches around the country (and the world) that should be lifted up, but it is hard to know about all of it when we’re in our little corner of the world. I’m going to list some of the exciting stuff I know about and the awesome people I happen to be connected to. In the comments, add amazing stuff you know about and pass it on. I don’t want to put any parameters here; I’m looking for ministries that are life giving, new and/or renewed, and are moving the people of God into the future. New ways to reach people, interesting ways Christians are working towards the kingdom here on earth.

In no particular order:

Luther’s Table. My friend Gretchen Mertes (with the help of a number of churches and a million volunteers) runs this Lutheran cafe/bar/music venue in Renton, WA. There, one can rock out with a beer and with some Jesus. It is clear you can come as you are and you will be welcomed. The food is good too 😉 They do some great service for the community, including free holiday meals. Luther’s Table is also home to a growing congregation, Roots of the Table, where worship is very different from traditional Lutheran worship and the music is very good.

All People’s Church in Milwaukee, WI. All People’s is an vibrant urban church with an amazing vision and incredibly strong sense of community. If you ever want to listen to a sermon that will get you up out of your seat, listen to Pastor Steve Jerbi (another good friend of mine). The congregation does amazing community education, they are working on issues of food insecurity in their ‘hood (and education around the topic), have a community garden, a food pantry, are building a green house, do job training, and are just generally awesome. I wish I lived closer so I could go to there. I’ll have to subsist off of Pr. Steve’s sermons.

Church of the Apostles in Seattle is one of the original ancient/future or emergent churches. I keep trying to describe aspect of their ministry and, each time, the adjective I want to use is dynamic. I recently went to the ordination of their new pastor, Ivar Hillesland, and it was wonderful. I look forward to what they do in this new phase of their lives together.

Church of the Beloved is a new monastic community in Edmonds, WA. Their music is excellent, as is their idea of communal living. I couldn’t do it, but I greatly admire the way they live.

Valley and Mountain is a community that is also here in Seattle (see, I mostly know what is happening around me) and I love what they do. The way they worship is so life giving. Their tag line on their website is “deep listening. creative liberation. radical hospitality.” That’s a good description. I’m kind of sad I can’t be a part of their community, but that is the life of a pastor.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Ohio is my home church. The people there are a large part of how I grew to be the woman in faith that I am. They have a strong community presence, a soup kitchen, food pantry and community garden. They’re been Reconciling in Christ (open and affirming to the LGBT community and everyone else) for as long as it has been an option (I think) and instead of VBS every summer, they have Peace Camp. They’ve also had a woman pastor for as long as that has been an option. If you live in the greater Cleveland area and are looking for a church, go there. Oh, also, for you Lutherans out there, they’re a mostly white church that uses This Far By Faith. That is another thing I love about them.

Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church is my current internship site. I am an intern at a church that has young people showing up and becoming very active in the church. My first few weeks here I met so many people who were interested in joining who were in their 20’s or 30’s. This is an organ and choir church. This is a church where there is processing and elevating of the gospel and my supervisor wears a chasuble for worship (he gets really dressed up in fancy pastor things). Somehow, with all of the liturgy and hymns and organ, this church feels very alive, like the people aren’t just going through the motions. They’re super into it. And that draws other people in. Also, they are very, very into rite and ritual here, particularly baptism. The membership class is no joke — it’s an adult catechumenate. All potential members gather every Sunday night for months to eat together and have fellowship in small groups. In small groups, people share their faith stories and talk about matters of faith — no questions or topics are off limits. I love this. I’m kind of almost a little Baptist when it comes to asking people to make commitment to their faith, and too many churches seem to be afraid to ask much of members. Phinney asks, and in turn it receives many new members every Easter Vigil.

Re:Imagine out of San Fransisco. I love what they do. Mark and Lisa are incredibly warm people, and the one time I had the opportunity to experience their community, everyone was so welcoming. I wanted more.

Quest Church in Seattle. Multi-ethnic, social justice oriented, prophetic, welcoming… Just rad.

Sorry if I forgot anyone I should have thought about.

Now, what do you know about? Who is doing good work around you? Who is inspiring you? Let’s share the good news!

An adopted child

I am an adopted child.

The first picture of me, in the little box my parents had me in for the drive. No car seats, just a little padded box, strapped to the seats of my dad's Buick with seat belts.

The first picture of me, in the little box my parents had me in for the drive. No car seats, just a little padded box, strapped to the seats of my dad’s Buick with seat belts.

The story goes like this: My parents really wanted a child. They had tried everything biologically possible and there was still no baby. They worked with Lutheran Social Services of Ohio to find a baby. They were excellent candidates — educated, loving, gainfully-employed (and, per my birthmother’s requirement, Lutheran). They waited. And waited. And were let down a few times. Still they waited. My dad (not much of a church goer) promised God that if they got a baby, he would dedicate his life to the church.

My birthmother was divorced with primary custody of an 8-year-old son. She was working at a minimum wage job. I don’t know much about her relationship with the other half of my genetic material, but the story is that when she told him she was pregnant, he ran. Some of her family wanted her to have an abortion, some wanted her to keep me as a punishment. She wanted to keep me and went back and forth about whether she would keep me or give me up. She prayed and went to church and sang in the church choir, hoping the right choice would become clear. Finally, her brother came to her and was blunt: There was not way she could keep me. She just couldn’t afford the time or money to have kid #2. She would put me up for adoption.

I was born with jaundice, so I stayed in the hospital for a few days and then was taken to live with a foster family.

My parents got the call that there was a baby for them a week after I was born (mom, correct me on this if I am wrong). They had two weeks to pull together all of the things most parents have months to get together.

My mom and dad came to pick me up. When I would ask them to tell me the story, my dad liked to tell me that they went to court and I was nailed to the judges bench by my diaper. When all was signed and the judged cleared them to be my parents, they got to unhook me from the bench and take me home (he also claims he wanted to name me Hortense Boom-Boom, I’m glad my mom prevailed).

They arrived at a friends house to stop for the night with me in tow. My mom’s friend had to teach her how to give me a bath and took her shopping because, apparently, everything my mom bought was wrong. It took my dad twice as long to get from where they stayed to their home because he was so nervous driving with me in the car.

I was raised in an amazing family. I have had every opportunity I could imagine, been able to explore both myself and the world. I have been well loved, raised in the church (per my birth mother’s instructions). I am smart, confident, funny and generally awesome 😉

I write this because in all the yelling about abortion, there is not enough conversation about adoption — but there are still many, many misconceptions.

  • Adopted kids aren’t messed up, there isn’t something wrong with us because we are adopted. I hate this assumption. Yes, some adopted kids come with problems. So do some bio-kids. Some of my brothers and sisters in adoption were subject to horrible abuse before they were born. Some of us are born addicted to drugs, many born affected by alcohol. But many of us are not. Many of us had birth parents who took seriously the responsibility of giving us the best life possible, and had the education and support to care for themselves and their fetus. This meant caring for us deeply in utero and then giving us to someone who would be more equipped to raise us.
  • Being adopted doesn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. It means I was doubly wanted, doubly loved. My birthmother could have had an abortion. She didn’t. She kept me, carried me, cared for me until it was time to pass me on. I cannot imagine how difficult this was for her, to give away her child. I am forever grateful that she carried me to term, that she cared for me that whole time, and that she gave me up when and how she did. My parents carried me in their heart, waited for me day after day, never knowing if I would arrive at all. Then, there I was, with my little tuft of black hair and penchant for sleep. My dad followed through on his promise to God, becoming incredibly active in church. They raised me incredibly well. I wanted for nothing. I was doubly loved, doubly wanted.

Not every kids adoption story is so rosy. Some kids are neglected or abandoned. Some kids who are put up for adoption have been abused. But for so many of us, the story is much brighter than that. And you should never, ever assume otherwise when talking to an adoptee. If we want you to know the situation of our adoption, we’ll tell you.

Today, birthparents have some amazing options for giving away their baby. They can meet prospective adoptive parents, they can keep contact with their biological child (if they wish). Birthparents have so many things they can do to ensure your kid goes to an awesome home.

  • No baby should be a punishment. No pregnant woman should ever be encouraged/forced to keep a kid she doesn’t want and/or doesn’t have the ability to care for. I am amazed at how many people will talk about life being a beautiful gift and then talk about keeping babies as punishment. I know a few kids who were kept under this mentality. And they grew up knowing they weren’t wanted, which messed them up a whole lot more than adoption would have. Not everyone has the magic loving parent button that switches on when the baby comes out. Some people aren’t ready to be parents, some people will never be ready. Let everyone make that decision for themselves.
  • Do not assume that because I am adopted I am pro-life. Some adoptees may be. I’m not. My mother had a choice. I’m glad she made the one she did. I would prefer it if more women would choose adoption rather than have an abortion. But I don’t know other people’s situations or what anyone else can handle. However, the adoption community needs to get more vocal about how awesome adoption is and what a wonderful gift it is to this world. Keep it or abort it are not the only options.
  • Don’t keep adoption a secret from the adoptee. If you adopt a child, tell the kid he or she is adopted. Don’t make it a secret. I once worked with a kid whose parents waited until he was 12 and they were getting divorced to tell him he was adopted. That’s messed up. My parents were told to tell me as soon as I could read. My main reaction was, “They won’t come back to take me away, will they?” Three-year-old kids don’t have identity crises, but older kids and adults sure do.
  • Adoptees, if you meet a birthparent, remember that their feelings are involved here too. I met my birthmother and got so excited about meeting her that I told some people. I have no idea how common it is for birth parents and adoptees to have people in common, but we did. She hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy and subsequent adoption and then I went and told people. Now her secret was out. It wasn’t my place to share her information, but I didn’t even think about that when I was so excited to share my news. There will be things birthparents are sensitive about, things they don’t want to talk about or don’t want talked about. Remember that.
  • Finally, don’t use the phrase “real parents.” Ever. It’s nonsensical. Both sets of parents are actual human beings, both cared for me in their own way (well, in my case, my birth father, not so much). I call the people whose genetic material I carry my birth parents and I call the two amazing people that raised me my parents. Some others may do it differently. But real parents? Please. Just don’t.

Adoption is awesome. I’m proud of being adopted. I think it makes me extra special. I hope, over time, the world sees adoption (and all involved in the process) that way too.