Tag Archives: ELCA

“Speak the Truth” – Sermon on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

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One year ago today, unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown was shot at least 6 times and killed by an officer in Ferguson, MO. And throughout the year, we have become more aware that this is not a new or an isolated incident. Thousands of people from around the country (including many seminary professors and pastors from the Chicago area) are gathering in Ferguson this weekend and around the U.S. in prayer meetings, actions, vigils, and conversations about confronting and dismantling systemic racism. So I’d like to take this time right now to join with them in a moment of silence, lifting up Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Ruben Garcia Villalpando, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, the nine who were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church, and all of our brothers and sisters who are victims of racial violence and injustice.

Let’s take a few moments of silence right now.

(Moment of Silence)

God, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.


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“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 4:25-5:2


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Most likely, many of us here have stated or thought this popular phrase a time or two in response to an insult or a put-down. And yet, no matter how confident we may have sounded and no matter how much we may have wished this phrase to be true, we likely walked away overwhelmed with pain from those cutting words.

As many of us have unfortunately had to learn at some time or another – words are powerful and can cut deep, creating wounds that are difficult to heal. Words can stick with a person much longer than a broken bone. They can affect one’s self-esteem. They can cause fear and prejudice and influence and inspire people to participate in actions of dehumanizing and “other”-ing an individual or group.

Words can and do divide us…

This is true in our personal relationships, in our relationships with others in the greater society, and in our relationships with others in the Church.

And as we look at our passage in Ephesians today, we can tell it was the case for the church in Ephesus, as well.

While we don’t know the specific arguments among the Christians in the Ephesian church, we do know that there had been tension throughout the early years of the Church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians because of their differences. Because of differences between their theological beliefs and faith practices. Their diets and clothing attire. Their native languages, world-views, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Outside of the Church, these differences were what kept Jews and Gentiles from marrying each another, eating together, or even associating with one another in public. And as Jewish and Gentile Christians began to worship together within the Church, it was quite difficult for them to give up their deeply ingrained prejudices against each other and fully embrace one another.

So it’s no wonder that these tensions and quarrels at some point – as we see early in the letter to the Ephesians – had gotten quite hostile. Evil words. Belittling. Dehumanizing. Excluding. Blaming the “other” while denying one’s own wrongs and privileges.

And while it’s easy for us to look at this letter and point our fingers at those first century Gentile and Jewish Christians for not being “imitators of God” – as Paul calls them to be – I think too often we can relate to those early Christians.

Because isn’t it easy for us to fear the differences of our brother’s and sister’s faith practices and beliefs, native languages or countries of origin, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and world-views?

Don’t we often expect our brothers and sisters to conform to our way of doing things and when they don’t, don’t we tend to use our words to blame, to “other,” to exclude?

And when we hear the cries of our brothers and sisters that challenge our way: that our expectations, our heritage, our traditions might actually be exclusive and even oppressive, we too often immediately and angrily shut them down and ignore them. We let the sun go down on our anger and use evil words to justify our way, because placing blame on our brothers and sisters is so much easier than admitting our own wrongs against them. Because belitting and “other”ing our brothers and sisters is much less troubling than admitting our own participation in and benefits from systems, institutions, and traditions that uplift those who look, talk, and think like us, while causing harm on those who don’t.

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But the thing is, this is not the way God intended the Church to be. Throughout the first three chapters of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that though the Gentiles were at one time “far off… they are no longer strangers and aliens, but are citizens with the saints and also members of the [same] household of God.”

“For in his flesh,” Paul continues, “Christ has made both [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus… reconciling both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

It is for this reason that Paul pleads with the Ephesian Christians at the beginning of chapter 4, just before our reading for today: “As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you,” he says, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of ALL, who is above all and through all and IN all.”

“So then,” Paul continues in our passage for today. “Let us put away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of ONE ANOTHER.”

Let us speak the truth to our neighbors…

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A few weeks ago, a PEW research study revealed that out of 29 religious groups, the ELCA is one of the two least diverse religious groups in the U.S. People in the ELCA are starting to talk and ask: Why is this the case? What does this mean and say about us as an institution and as a faith community?

Last Thursday night, presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCA member William B. Horne II hosted a webcast discussion called “confronting racism” – both as a way to start addressing these questions about our denomination, as well as a way to connect these findings with the racialized structures in our country and the multiple tragedies caused by racism that have been filling our news feeds this past year. If you haven’t had an opportunity to watch this webcast, I recommend that you check it out. You can access it on the ELCA website. While this webcast is not the answer to these hard questions, it is the beginning of a crucial ongoing discussion we – as members of the body of Christ – need to be having.

During the discussion, Bishop Eaton reminded us that the white shooter at Mother Emanuel AME Church who so hatefully took the lives of nine of our black brothers and sisters was a member of the ELCA. Two of the victims were graduates of one of our ELCA seminaries. She explains: “Here we have one of our own alleged to have shot these people, two of whom had adopted us as their own. So one of the visions I would have for our church is to no longer put racism, or the racial tensions, or the racial disparities somewhere out there. Because, [racism] is in us. We have to come to grips with this.”

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Let us all speak the truth to our neighbors, Paul urges us.

Yes, we must speak the truth to our neighbors… But we must also speak the truth to ourselves. We must admit, confess, denounce, and repent of the racism that does – in fact – prevail throughout our systems, our traditions, our institutions and congregations, and even within ourselves. And we need to do it over and over again.

This is difficult. This is difficult to come to grips with – let alone to confront and challenge. Our tendency as humans is to deny that some of us have – indeed – been born into and granted privilege over others. Our temptation when we hear this is to respond with anger and defensiveness. We tend to make room for the devil, let sin guide and direct our anger, and allow evil to come out of our mouths in order to place blame on the “other.”

And yet, as Bishop Eaton said on Thursday night: “the fact is: there is not equity in America and we have to be willing to take a hard look at that and come to the painful and disappointing realization that when we say at liberty and justice for all: that is not necessarily the truth for everyone. And [we] can’t get paralyzed by defensiveness or guilt. [Rather, we must] say that that is what we have inherited. That is who we are. So [the question becomes] how do we move beyond that?”

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Let us put away falsehood, Paul says. And let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors… For we are ALL members of the same household, the same body of Christ. We are ALL members of one another. And when even one of our own is treated unjustly, our baptismal calling is to join and work together to call out, to dismantle, and to break down the walls of injustice – the walls of racism – that divide us and dehumanize, hurt, and kill members of our body.

“Be angry,” Paul urges us.

Yes, there are times when we need to be angry… But when our brothers and sisters cry out and speak truth to us, let us not allow sin to take over and misdirect that anger toward them because we feel defensive and overcome with guilt. Rather, let us be angry at the privilege we have been born into and have inherited. Let us be angry at the unjust systems and institutions that we often – even unknowingly – participate in and benefit from – that uplift only some while deeming others as less than.

Let us be angry at the racialized systems that have brought fear upon our brothers and sisters of color when they wear a hoodie, ride their bikes at night, drive their car, or go to church.

We must let our anger lead us to move beyond. We must allow our anger to help us acknowledge our own privilege and the narrow lens through which we see the world, give us courage to speak this truth to our neighbors, and help us to stop holding onto our privilege over others… Instead, working diligently with our own hands so as to share what we do have with those who don’t.

We must let no evil talk come out of our mouths or out of the mouths of those around us. When racist comments, jokes, and stereotypes are spoken, we must immediately shut them down. When we hear someone make generalizations about others, we must tell them to stop. When we – ourselves – begin to complain that we are sick and tired of hearing about racism in our country, we must remind ourselves that it is a privilege to be able to pick and choose when we get to talk about racism and when we do not. Because our brothers and sisters of color don’t get this same choice.

May we use our speech to build one another up so that our words may give grace to those who hear them.

May we be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another – as Christ has forgiven us – when we do fall short – because there will be times when we do.

May we be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

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As you know, three weeks ago, I took 10 of our Edgewater Congregations Together youth to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. There is something so powerful about gathering with 30,000 Lutheran teenagers from all across the world, from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, walks of life, and with different world views and some with different native languages, who embraced one another’s differences as they rose up together to worship God, to proclaim God’s story in their lives and learn how God is in the stories of others, to confess and denounce all forms of racial and economic injustice, and to commit to proclaiming justice and peace to the world throughout their lives.

And I will tell you, those 30,000 inspiring youth gave me a glimpse of what it could look like for us – as the Church – to be imitators of God, living in love, embracing that we are members of one another, and speaking the truth. I saw a glimpse of this as we communed together around Jesus’ table and as we raised our voices in the dark, singing with our hands waving the flashlights on our cell phones in the air: “Love can build a bridge.  Between your heart and mine.  Love can build a bridge.  Don’t you think it’s time?  Don’t you think it’s time?” 

Being imitators of God and living love, as Christ loved us, is not easy.

And yet, in those times when we feel defensive, discouraged, and ready to give up on this work, may we remember the witness of our ELCA youth who have shown us it is – indeed – possible… and powerful. May we – too – strive to lead lives worthy of our baptismal calling to build up and proclaim justice for ALL our brothers and sisters – for ALL members of the body of Christ.

And may we choose to be imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us.

Because love can build a bridge.

So don’t you think it’s time?

Day 3 at the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaim Justice – Heitz-Squad Style

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Salaam. Peace be with you.

The theme for day 3 at the ELCA Youth Gathering was: Rise up and Build Bridges.  We talked about how bridges help bring those who have been disconnected (because of differences, inequality, ignorance, or fear of the “unknown”) together.

This was also our day to Rise up and Proclaim Justice, and we were assigned to painting and cleaning a congregation in the city.

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The Heitz-Squad found this to be a very powerful day.  During our reflection time after the project, many of our youth said it was really neat to get to know our hosts at the church and learn from them. Our youth thought the church was doing great work in the neighborhood, but they were also very sad to hear the church didn’t have much money to continue running a food pantry or do other outreach projects they wanted to do for the numbers of homeless in the community. As we drove through Detroit, our youth were also shocked and sad to see so many abandoned houses and even some boarded up homes that were clearly being occupied.  As one youth, Boyosa, said: “It made me really appreciate what I do have and helped me realize I don’t need all the things that I sometimes wish I had.  I feel like I need to give back to others more… because I can.  And that is why I worked so hard while we were at the church.  I wanted to give back.”

After our final project, we went to the Renaissance Center for some free time (and of course more dancing) and then we headed to New Parthenon in Greektown, where we enjoyed a wonderful Greek meal, which included flaming cheese!

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The mass gathering had incredible speakers, including Rev. Rani Abdulmasih, who talked about how “God – through the Gospel – has given us the ability to act” and Sarah Funkhouser, who talked about her time as a volunteer working with Palestinian children in the West Bank.  Rev. Steve Jerbi, the final speaker, addressed racial injustice and said: “we claim Jesus because he is the one who can eradicate racism and bring us to the place where we can join in that work… Jesus’ holy love is not just sitting back and allowing others to do something.”

A Motown group (which included two of the Temptations) brought the house down.  It was fun to see 30,000 Lutheran teens getting down to Motown in the Ford Field in downtown Detroit!

Throughout the night, the Heitz-Squad stood and cheered, whooped and danced.

They were brought to tears about the injustice they heard and brought to inspiration to rise up with others to address it.  I am so very proud of each and every one of them as they continue to process and discuss what they hear and how this is going to lead them to take action when we get back to Chicago!

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The final song was incredibly powerful: Ford Field was filled with the sounds of youth singing together and lights twinkling from their phones that they were waving in the air:

“Love can build a bridge.  Between your heart and mine.  Love can build a bridge.  Don’t you think it’s time?  Don’t you think it’s time?”  This brought me to tears, as I sat there next to the youth I care so deeply about in the midst of 30,000 youth from around the country and world.  It was there where I experienced resurrection: while this world is full of so much hate, this generation of youth coming together to rise up and condemn systemic evils of hunger, racism, and inequality, and proclaim justice gives me hope that we will one to break down those walls of injustice.


Praise be to God!


Here is a reflection from Steve, a ninth grader from Immanuel Lutheran Church:

“Today was a great day. It was a day of service and justice work and of building bridges. Building bridges is where we help one another and bear another’s burdens and help build bridges between people to stop racism, sexism, and all sorts of other things. Today we did lots of service work throughout the neighborhoods of Detroit.  We did lots of work with a Baptist church in Detroit with not lots of money and only 25 members. We helped paint the outside and inside walls and we helped clear out debree (which there was a lot of) to help make the church better and cleaner.

We learned that there are some great people in Detroit who really need our partnership to help make Detroit a better community. After the service work and justice day we had our mass gathering. This was probably the best one we had yet. The speakers were terrific especially this one pastor at the end who told a story about one of his youth being shot and killed. It was very emotional and it almost made me cry. At the final song everyone was very energetic and motivated and it was the best song of the gathering. Overall today was a great day of building bridges, service work, and rising up.”

And here is an update from Boyosa, a senior from Unity Lutheran Church:

“The ECT youth gathering never ceases to amaze me. Sadly, I had arrived two days late and I was told that I had missed the fun days and the rest was not going to be as exciting, but I beg to differ. Today was really a terrific day and a night to remember. I have met so many wonderful people. Each individual had a different background and a different story to tell. Though different we may be, I have never felt so much love in my entire life. I am having a fantastic time and I really can’t wait to see what these next couple of days have in store for me.”

“Racism, Repentance, and a Commission that Leads to Opposition” – Sermon on Mark 6:1-13

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He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. – Mark 6:1-13

I’ve always loved homecomings. When I was in high school, I looked forward to homecoming games – where I would reunite with my classmates who had already graduated and had moved away. When I – myself – moved away for college, homecomings were exciting times when I got to return to my hometown and would be welcomed by my family, former teachers, and friends as if nothing had ever changed. I especially loved homecomings while I was in seminary, when I would go back to my home church to preach and would receive so much encouragement and love from my church family.

Homecomings have always been positive and loving experiences for me.

This is not – however – the case for Jesus in our Gospel text for today.

Here in Mark, Jesus has returned to his hometown – along with his disciples – and has begun teaching in his home synagogue. And yet, while this synagogue is filled with people who knew Jesus’ family, had played games with Jesus when he was a boy, or had watched him grow up, they did not exactly respond to his homecoming with welcoming arms.

When the Nazarenes hear him teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, many soon become astounded… And if there was any good sense of this word, it doesn’t last very long… as the Nazarenes soon take offense at him. “Where did this man get all of this?” They soon cry out.

“Isn’t this the poor carpenter we’ve known all these years? Isn’t he the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t these his sisters sitting right here? Isn’t he the son of Mary?” they sneer as they remind each other of Jesus’ shameful origin: that he had been conceived by an unwed teenager. “How could this guy – this poor, carpenter with ordinary siblings and a mother with a disgraceful past teach us with authority? How could his teachings and his actions have any sort of power at all?”

Now our text does not say what it was about Jesus and his teachings that offended this crowd in his hometown synagogue so much that they discredited and insulted him. However, if we look back at the preceding chapters in Mark, we could probably take a wild guess.

In the first several chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see that even from the very beginning, Jesus’ ministry is not what would have been seen as ordinary.

He’s cast out demons and stilled a storm. He’s performed miracles… on the Sabbath day. He’s touched and healed the “untouchables”: the sick, a leper, a haemorraging woman. He’s called twelve disciples to follow him – most of whom are just common fishermen and one who is a tax collector. He proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near and tells those who follow him not to keep anything hidden, but to bring all their dark secrets into the light. He eats with the sinners and the tax collectors and then tells the religious – the righteous ones – to confess and repent of their sins.

He was already seen as such an offensive radical rule-breaker that by the time we get to Mark chapter 3, many of his followers say he is “out of his mind,” some of the religious leaders accuse him of being in line with Satan, himself, and even his very own family questions his abilities and rush to where he is teaching and try to restrain him.

And now here we are a few chapters and several radical teachings, actions, and miracles later. Jesus has definitely shaken things up a bit, and it’s only the sixth chapter in Mark.

And here in our text for today, after all the backlash he’s already gotten, Jesus has the nerve to come back to his hometown and to his home synagogue. And here – in the midst of the ones who’ve watched him grow up, he comes preaching this same kind of message. This same message that treats the outcasts and the untouchables as if they are equals and calls the religious and righteous to bring their dark secrets to light and confess and repent of their sins. This same message that Jesus proclaims at the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel of Luke: “I have come to bring good news to the poor, to bring release to the captives, to give sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”

And then he says he is a prophet!? One who speaks for God… And some say he even claims he is the Son of God? Who does this ordinary carpenter with a shameful family past think he is?

But the insults don’t stop Jesus. “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their kin, and in their own house,” he boldly proclaims. Then he lays his hands on a few more of the untouchables and cures them.

And then – as he and his disciples leave Nazareth and go out into the villages, he gives his disciples authority and commissions them to go out into the world vulnerably – two by two – with nothing but a staff, the clothes on their backs, and the sandals on their feet. They must rely on the people they meet to feed them and to provide them with a place to sleep. And yet Jesus tells them they must go out boldly, proclaiming that all should repent, and they must cast out demons, anoint the untouchables with oil, and heal the sick.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the disciples – who had just watched Jesus get opposed, insulted, and publicly shamed in his hometown synagogue, I would have probably thought quite hard about picking up all of my belongings and running in the opposite direction.

Because I’m sure it would have been very difficult for these disciples to give up their food and clothing and social status – the things they were privileged to have and could rely on for their safety, comfort, and well being. And it would have been very difficult for them to go out vulnerability and proclaim Jesus’ radical good news, with no confirmation that they could find people who would accept them and provide for them.

And I’m sure these disciples knew this event in Jesus’ hometown was not the only time this ministry of proclaiming the good news Jesus proclaimed would lead to rejection and opposition.

Because the good news Jesus brings – that God’s love, healing, and justice is for ALL, especially the most vulnerable and the outcasts – is not always good news to everyone.

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Sometimes I wonder how these disciples had the courage to follow Jesus and to go out risking so much, when it would have been much easier for them to just turn away when Jesus calls out to them, ignore the cries of those around them, and just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to face the suffering and injustice around them.

I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times – particularly as I have recently become more aware of how much systemic racism still prevails throughout our country today – when I just want to pick up all of my belongings and hold tight to my own privilege. There have been many times lately when I have wanted to turn away when I hear Jesus calling me to boldly proclaim his good news and the repentance of the evil sins of racism and just pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in, it allows me to avoid any kind of shaming and opposition that those who speak out often face, it allows me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the racialized systems in our country that still privilege those who look like me while deeming those who don’t as “less than.”

Because as a white, educated, middleclass woman, I have the privilege of being able to just shut everything around me out and to live my life without fear… I can just go to my safe home – without ever being pulled over in my car and without ever being stopped and frisked on my walk home because of the color of my skin. I can come to church without fear because there isn’t a 400 year old history of people terrorizing others with my color of skin in places of worship. I have the privilege of just getting to turn off the news and going about living my own comfortable life without having to think about those around this country who have to live in fear every day.

And yet, this is not a privilege I get to have when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.

Because just as Jesus called out to the twelve disciples and commissioned them to denounce their privilege and go out into the world boldly, he commissions ALL of his disciples to do so, as well. He commissions each one of us to proclaim repentance of the evil sins of systemic racism and to confess and repent of our own participation in and benefits from it. He commissions each one of us to cast out the demons of these unjust systems that privilege some while marginalizing others and to provide care for and offer healing to those who are victims of these racist systems by standing with them in solidarity.

Because those nine people who lost their lives in the middle of a prayer service at Mother Emanuel AME church on June 17th are not just any nine people who live on the other side of the country. They are nine beloved children of God, and they are nine of OUR brothers and sisters. And those members of at least 4 historic black churches that were burnt down and have been deemed victims of arson since the shooting two weeks ago, are not just those “other” church members who live across the country. They are part of the same body of Christ we are a part of. They are members of OUR church family, and we are members of THEIRS. And those black and brown children and youth in Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, Texas, right here in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago who get stopped and frisked and incarcerated at higher rates, who get shot and killed in a park while playing with a toy gun or violently pushed to the ground and sat on by a police officer during a pool party are not just those “other” kids and teens. They are beloved children of God and they are OUR children and youth.

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Many of you have probably already read or heard the statement from the ELCA’s presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in response to the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. However, no matter how many times we may have read or heard it, I think all of us need to hear this message over and over again. And so – while it is a long letter, I want to read it in it’s entirety. Bishop Easton says:

“It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.

Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.

We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture.

Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?

The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.

I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage. Kyrie Eleison.”

As followers of Jesus, we are all commissioned to go out spreading Jesus’ good news boldly, denouncing the evil around us and within us, and proclaiming the repentance of systemic sins until our country does in fact provide liberty and justice for ALL of our brothers, sisters, and children: Whether rich or poor. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Whether white, black, or brown.

And we are all commissioned to do this even though in doing so, we will face opposition.

While following Jesus in this liberative and prophetic work is not easy, the good news is that even when we face opposition, Jesus will not leave us alone.

This season of Pentecost reminds us that we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And that no matter what, when others – even those who are closest to us – take offense at Jesus’ good news and shame and hurl even the harshest of insults at us, we are not left without a family. We have a family right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us, and who will walk alongside us as we discern how Jesus is calling us to go out boldly into the world.

So, may we have the courage to be the body of Christ. May we follow Jesus together, proclaiming his good news for ALL of our brothers, sisters, children and youth.

Amen.

“Babies, Baptisms, and Beginnings” – Sermon on the Baptism of Our Lord

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John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:4-11


I always love hearing the story about my baptism. I was about two months old. My parents dressed me in the same beautiful hand-made white baptismal gown and bonnet that my older sister wore at her baptism five years before. My parents and my sister dressed up in their nicest church clothes – my father sporting his white pant-suit.  (Yes, it was the early 80’s.)  And many of my extended family came into town that weekend to attend the service.

It was a beautiful ceremony – with the liturgy taking place over the baptismal font in front of the congregation at the Presbyterian Church in my hometown. Everything was calm and beautiful. Just perfect for a baptism…

Until I decided to have a huge blowout through my diaper and my gown as my dad was holding me during the baptismal vows in front of the congregation…

And it got all over my dad’s white suite…

*****

Though there was a bit of a surprise and commotion at my baptism after my accident, this was quite tame compared to the baptism of Jesus.

John – the radical Baptizer – the one who hung out in the middle of the wilderness, was clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt tied around his waist, and whose diet consisted of locusts and wild honey – was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People were traveling from all over the Judean countryside and Jerusalem to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. As lines of people awaited their baptisms and were confessing their sins, John loudly cried out: “The one who is greater than I will come after me. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And – in the midst of this chaos – just as we hear about this One who is greater than John the Baptizer, guess who shows up to be baptized by John: Jesus, the Son of God, himself.

Yes, this baptismal event would have been a definite surprise and quite the site to see.

I love so many things about Jesus’ baptism. I love how John – this radical Baptizer seems to remind us of Elijah, the prophet who had been long expected to descend from the heavens and prepare the way for the Messiah to come. And I love that while – in his own insecurity – this popular Baptizer proclaims that he is not even worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals.  And yet, it is this very same John to whom Jesus shows up and is baptized by.

I love how it is in this baptism that we find out that the One who is to come, this Messiah John is preparing the way for, is not the worldly king that the people had expected.  Rather, this Messiah is Jesus, the son of a poor carpenter from Nazareth, the One who had started his life as a homeless refugee on the margins of society.

I love that in the midst of this chaotic baptismal event in the Jordan River, as Jesus emerges from the waters, the heavens tear open and the Spirit swoops down on him like a dove – reminding us of the Spirit-wind swooping over the waters of chaos in the beginning of creation in Genesis 1.  And it is in this moment during Jesus’ baptism when the heavenly and earthly realms collide and all that has separated God from God’s people is torn apart.

I love how it is in this moment when Jesus hears God’s voice crying out to him from the heavens, claiming him and marking him as God’s beloved Son, saying: “With you I am well pleased.”

But what I love most about this baptismal event is that it comes at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel… before any of Jesus’ miraculous acts or prophetic sermons about the Kingdom of God he was reigning in. Before Jesus’ brave and bold journey toward the cross and his hope-filled resurrection from the dead. Before anything that Jesus does in his ministry.

*****

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend who recently got engaged.  As with many engaged individuals, my friend has found the wedding planning process to be quite a stressful one… Searching for the perfect attire, reserving the ceremony and reception venues, narrowing down the guest list, selecting the best food, cake, photographer, you name it…

Just the other day, this friend said to me: “I am so ready for the wedding to finally occur so that all of this tension will be past us and we can finally be done with this kind of stress in our lives… After the wedding, things will be so much easier and better. I’m so ready for this all to end.’”

These words may sound familiar to many of us who are or have been married, as we, too, may have felt the same way during the planning process of our own weddings. And yet, now that we are on the other side, we have likely come to realize that our weddings were not the endings to struggle and tension and that our marriages are not the “happily ever after’s” our fairy tales have told us they would be.

We have likely come to realize that rather than an ending, our wedding was a beginning. That as we joined with our partners in marriage on that special wedding day, we began the long, wonderful and also quite difficult journey that we have to continue to work at daily.

And this is also true for the gift of baptism.

As Mark states in the very first verse in chapter one, the baptism of Jesus is only: “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

It is in Jesus’ baptism when he is commissioned for the wonderful and yet difficult work of ministry that is to follow. It is in his baptism when his journey of spreading the good news of God’s love to the world begins.

*****

And this is true for us, as well. As we come here today to celebrate the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we also are called to remember our own baptism. Because our baptism is not a means to an end. It is a means of grace and a means to a beginning.

In the ELCA, we talk a lot about being called to live out our baptisms. We do this by following the way of life and love Jesus has set as an example for us. We do this by proclaiming the good news of God who came into the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the dead for each one of us. We proclaim this good news by learning about the story of God’s presence and work in and through us and by hearing about the story of God at work in the lives of others. In recalling our baptism, we are reminded that we are in God’s story and others are in God’s story, as well.

And in our baptisms, we are called to live out that story daily in word and in deed. We live out that story when we worship together here at Ebenezer Lutheran on Sunday mornings, when we care for our children, when we visit someone who is ill. We live out that story when we sit with a grieving friend, when we bring a meal to our homeless neighbors, when we stand with others in our communities to call out injustice.

Through us, God is at work in the world: As our ELCA motto says: “God’s work, our hands.”

Now, there may be times when we – like John the Baptist –wander in the wilderness and get lost in the chaos of our lives, wondering how we might ever be worthy of following Jesus and living this baptismal life we are called to.

And yet, just as Jesus showed up to John the Baptist in the midst of his own insecurities, when we get lost wandering in the chaotic wilderness and our lives seem to be falling apart, Jesus shows up to us, as well.

In these times when we feel overcome with self-doubt and fear, I think we can learn something from Martin Luther.  As he was held up for almost a year hiding away in Wartburg Castle and translating the New Testament from Greek to German, he found himself questioning his adequacy, wondering how he might ever be worthy of doing the ministry Jesus called him to. And it was during these moments of insecurity, when he would often be heard throughout the castle halls shouting: “I am baptized!”

In our own times of feeling inadequate to do the work Jesus has called us to, we should be heard shouting this, as well. For in our baptism, the same voice of God who cried out from the heavens to Jesus while he was being baptized in the Jordan River cried out to each one of us, as well, before we ever even began our faith journey:

“You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you, I am well pleased.”

In our baptism, we are claimed by our compassionate and merciful God – who loves us in and through all of our failures, our struggles, our doubts. In our baptism, we are called and welcomed into the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims – a Kingdom that is full of grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love. We are welcomed into this Kingdom of God, and nothing and no one can keep us from it. For, as Paul stated in his letter to the Romans: “not even death nor life, not even angels nor demons, not even the present nor the future, nor anything we have done or will do – can separate us from this love of God.”

When we celebrate the baptism of one of the members of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, we do this here in community. Because we are not expected to pursue this baptismal life alone. Rather, in Christ, we are called to live this baptismal life together. In Christ, we are called to join together as one family to help carry the burdens and share in the joys with one another that come as we continue to follow this wonderful and yet difficult journey of sharing this good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

And so as we come together this morning to celebrate the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, let us also remember our own baptisms. Let us remember that each one of us here has been welcomed into the Kingdom of God – this loving family – and that each one of us is and will always be claimed by God as God’s beloved and cherished child. Because no matter what we do or say or think, in the midst of all of our fears, failures, and doubts, Jesus will keep on showing up to us, offering us God’s love and forgiveness whenever we are ready to accept it. And no matter how chaotic our lives may feel or how lost we may be in the wilderness, God’s voice will continue to be calling out to us:

“With you, I am well pleased.”

Amen.

“A God Who Shows Up” – (At Bold Cafe: Women of the ELCA)

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Photo taken in downtown Bethlehem on Jan. 6: Celebrating the Orthodox Christmas (Emily Heitzman

I’m blogging “A God Who Shows Up” over at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA today). Here is part of what I wrote:

Since I moved away after high school, I always look forward to going back to my parent’s home for the holidays. And since Christmas songs, movies, and holiday TV specials often include themes of magical family “homecomings,” I am guessing I’m not the only one whose focus in December is on getting ready to go home. After all, doesn’t Perry Como say: “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays, you can’t beat home sweet home?”

And yet, what about those individuals whose family relationships are broken or abusive, those who feel unsafe in their homes, or those who do not have homes to go to? Can they find places during the holidays that “beat home sweet home?”

It seems as though the theme lately in the news has been one of violence, instability, and displacement. The economy continues to leave many people jobless or underemployed, families are losing their homes to foreclosure, and more and more people are moving to transitional housing or becoming homeless. Additionally, the past several months, we have heard about the terrified children at the border who are fleeing violence. We have seen horrific images of the attack on Gaza that killed thousands of civilians and damaged thousands of homes, and we are aware of domestic violence that occurs in households.

So how can our cultural emphasis on “holiday homecoming” be good news when this “homecoming” is not a reality for so many? 

Read the rest at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA).

An Advent Call Story (at Bold Cafe: Women of the ELCA)

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Today I’m blogging “An Advent Call Story” over at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA).  Here is a part of what I wrote:

As I was getting ready for Advent this year, I realized that our Christmas songs, TV shows, and movies emphasize the importance of going home for the holidays. As I realized this, I thought about the people who cannot relate to this “holiday homecoming.” I could not help but think about those who lack a safe place they can call home.

I know this is not one of our Advent texts, but as we approached Advent, I was reminded of Moses’ call story in Exodus 3:1-12.

For many years, there had been a famine in the land of Canaan, and as a result, the Israelites left their homes in great numbers and traveled to Egypt to make a better life. However, Pharaoh disliked the growing numbers of Israelites who were taking refuge in his land. He did not want them to make Egypt their new home. So Pharaoh took advantage of the situation and turned these refugees into slaves. For centuries, the Hebrew refugees were forced into terrible working conditions and became victims of racism and violence. In their enslavement, they longed for release from their captivity and suffering and cried out to God.

And this is where Exodus 3 comes in.

– Read the rest at: Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA)

Why You Should Join The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

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I’m blogging over at Ed Cyzewski’s page today in his Denominational Derby series about the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America).  If you are looking for a new church home or are interested in hearing more about the ELCA, come check it out.