May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable you, O Lord, our strength, and our Redeemer.
Before I came here, whenever I would preach
I would write or use a different prayer to start my sermon.
But those words from Psalm 19 just seem to fit, here, so well—
What with the Redeemer reference and everything—
And writing those words has helped me get started,
Get going on many sermons where I wasn’t sure what I should say
Or where the Spirit would lead.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue using that prayer every time I preach anymore,
But I know that every time I do,
I will surely think of you.
I will think of Redeemer Lutheran Church.
Redeemer will always be very special to me.
Redeemer is the congregation that made me a pastor.
Redeemer is the congregation that witnessed the births and baptisms of my children.
And Redeemer is the place where,
I’ve finally come to some kind of peace with resurrection stories.
Before I came here I was very uneasy with stories in the Bible
About people being brought back to life,
Stories like the two we heard from the old and new testament today.
They bothered me because I wondered why
The widow of Zarephath or the widow of Nain got her son back,
But so many other mothers don’t get their sons back.
The one that really bothered me was Tabitha,
Because she reminded me so much of my grandma,
And I would have loved to have gotten her back in this life.
I always thought of these stories from the point of view
Of the great majority of us
Who experience death as something very final.
Yes, we believe it is the beginning of a new life,
An eternal life with God,
But it also just as surely the end of something,
The end of our time with people we love here on earth.
It’s a terrible loss,
And we mourn it,
And sometimes we wish for these earthly resurrections,
These strange few times recorded in the Bible,
Where people were brought back to this life.
I thought about it this way until a few years ago
When I did a sermon series here where I gave sermons
In the form of monologues from the
Point of view of different Bible characters.
One of those characters was Lazarus,
And I realized as I was writing his monologue that
It was very, very easy for me to relate to him.
Most of you know that, when I was four and half,
The age my son Walter is now,
My parents were told I wouldn’t live to see the age of five.
Two major abdominal surgeries and several miracles later,
My mom wrote,
“She’s cured. She’s going to be fine.
I can go back to worrying about normal things, now.”
Like the widow of Zarephath’s son,
Like the widow of Nain’s son,
Like Jairus’ daughter,
I was given another chance at this life.
And like all those people, I will face death again someday.
The Bible never tells us what happens to the people
Who are miraculously cured or brought back to life.
The only thing we can say for sure is that they all eventually died, again.
But I can tell you with some degree of certainty
That the people who experienced these miracles
And their families and loved ones were changed forever by the experience.
I can extrapolate from my own life and my own experience
That the widow of Zarephath’s son had a great sense of gratitude for his life.
And a desire to use his life to help others.
And the widow of Nain’s son knew that he didn’t deserve life
Any more than any other widow’s son did.
In fact, there were a lot of families worse off than his,
In greater need of a miracle than his family was.
And yet, here he was, alive.
And so he tried to do as much good with that life as he could.
My husband, Sean, has also helped me think about these earthly resurrection stories.
He thinks about them as acts of excessive love.
God’s love is so great, so abundant, that sometimes it spills over and breaks down
Even the barriers of life and death,
Even the rules of biology and chemistry and physics,
Even our sense of fairness and good common sense …
And you get these miracles that go beyond what makes sense
And what is fair
And what is normal for human beings to expect and experience.
It gives glimpses of the love we will all receive when we are one with God
In the next life.
And the impact of that overflow miracle
Goes on to continue to overflow, and spread, and grow
Far beyond the individual or family it first touched.
The love of God shines.
It is irrepressible, uncontainable, overflowing.
It shines in the midst of death, of loss,
It is healing and resurrection in places you would least expect.
I heard the love and the voice of God this week
Reading the heart-wrenching statement of a young woman
Who was sexually assaulted by a student at Stanford.
In her final paragraph she speaks as a beacon of hope for girls
And women everywhere:
“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”
God comes to us,
Again and again,
In love that shines brightly, constantly,
Resurrection hope that persists right in the midst of death and loss and fear.
The fear is real.
The loss is real.
But the love and the hope that God give are real, too.
My friend and mentor Mark Miller who teaches at Drew University
And leads the Gospel Choir at Yale Divinity School
Wrote a song we’re going to sing after this message
And before C.’s baptism.
He wrote it for the National Council of Churches,
And also posted it as encouragement to the United Methodist General Assembly.
Mark is a Methodist,
And at the assembly the leaders of the church were debating issues
Related to the inclusion and support of people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.
Mark’s message to the assembly, and to dear ones across the church that he loves, was this:
God has not given a Spirit of fear.
Let your love shine.
Don’t be afraid.
Let your love shine.
It’s a message I knew I wanted to share with all of you today.
And it’s a message I hope this congregation will claim and take to heart
In all the times and transitions to come.
This congregation has so much love and so much light in it.
Don’t be afraid.
Let it shine!
When we light a candle for C. today,
We’ll say words of blessing
That his light will shine before the whole world
And that C.’s light will give glory to God.
Don’t be afraid, little baby boy.
Let it shine!
Wherever you are today in your life,
Whatever fears and loss you are facing,
Know that that God is with you.
The loss is real, and the hope is real, too.
Even when we are afraid, we can know this:
God has not given a Spirit of fear.
Let your love shine.
Sermon on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2016, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright preaching. Today’s text: Luke 7:1-10.
The first time I went to Roman Catholic mass with my husband, Sean,
And his family,
I had a strange experience.
The worship service itself wasn’t strange … I mean, it was a little bit different,
Not very different, though.
I was able to follow along perfectly well,
And I knew all the hymns, and enjoyed singing them with Sean and his mom.
It was a congregation where pretty much everyone was singing, which I love.
I think the sermon was pretty good, though that’s not the part of the service
What I remember is that, as we got closer to the time for Holy Communion,
I started to prepare myself.
I knew I wasn’t going to be welcome at communion—
this was long before
Pope Francis and his recent encouragement to Lutherans that we
Should feel welcome to receive communion in good conscience at Catholic churches.
The rule was that you had to be Catholic to commune, and I wasn’t.
And the rule made me angry, and sad, and frustrated,
And hurt, and that’s a lot of things to be feeling while you’re standing
Next to your mother-in-law singing “One Bread, One Body.”
I was so in the zone of my own hurt that I almost didn’t hear it.
But it was a part of the communion liturgy that’s different,
That we don’t have in the Lutheran church,
So I noticed the difference, and started paying attention again.
The priest said: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.
And then we all said: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
And as I said those words, and heard my Catholic family say those words, too,
Suddenly I felt very different.
A sense of peace came over me, and calm.
I still didn’t and don’t believe in closed communion,
But saying those words together reminded me that Jesus CAN bring healing,
That Jesus DOES bring healing,
Even to my hurt heart,
Even to families where hurts go unspoken,
Even to the very fact of divisions and brokenness between Christians.
Jesus can heal that,
Jesus is healing that.
Historians will probably point to Pope Francis’ words of invitation and welcome,
When speaking of communion sharing between Lutherans and Catholics.
But, for me, the healing started on that day.
Nothing changed in that moment, really.
I still didn’t get to go up for communion.
But Jesus gave me real a sense of healing,
A sense that the seed of healing was planted in my heart.
In the years since then,
The mass has been re-translated,
And that part of the service is one of the parts that changed.
When it changed, it made the connection to our Gospel lesson today much more clear:
The priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
And the people respond with this:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
In our Gospel lesson today, the centurion says,
“Lord … I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
What makes the story of the centurion remarkable is this faith statement,
Which is then translated into a remarkable statement of faith
By the Roman Catholic mass.
The faith statement acknowledges that we are in need of healing that we can’t
Get for ourselves.
It acknowledges that we fall short,
And we are coming to the table humbly because that’s the only we can come.
It says that we need healing,
And we trust that Jesus can heal us.
Jesus can heal our souls with a word.
Jesus IS the Word.
And we take Jesus at his word that we will be healed,
That we can come to this table and this font
And receive that healing.
I don’t want to make this sound easier than it is, though.
Taking Jesus at his word that we will be healed is hard.
Taking Jesus at his word that we are forgiven is hard.
Tomorrow we’ll observe Memorial Day,
Which is a day of remembrance for people who’ve died in military service.
It used to be a day that people went to graveyards,
And some families still go.
Theologian and writer Marj Leegard wrote about how
Everyone at her church in Northern Minnesota would clean and decorate their
Family graves over Memorial Day weekend.
One year she sat pulling weeds and planting flowers on her daughter’s grave,
And she was angry.
“Why are we doing this,” she mumbled to herself.
“She is not here. She is not here.”
In the midst of her very real hurt and anger,
Broken heartedness and grief,
Marj also experienced Jesus’ healing.
“And then I know that God created her body
And gave us the gift of a daughter for earth years and for eternity.
There is thankfulness in the rush of color,
the blooms of the flowering crab-apple trees …
When the little children help and ask questions,
when the teenagers lend strong backs and arms to lugging plants and water pails,
When grandparents tell stories as they work,
There is groundedness …
Memorial Day is on the calendar because the heart longs to remember.
After a season of winter, it is time.”
When I say that Marj took Jesus at his word,
I am not saying it was easy.
But even though her heart was broken, she experienced God’s healing, too,
The hurt wasn’t erased,
But the healing was just as real as the hurt.
When I say that this congregation has, is now, and always will take Jesus at his word,
I’m not saying that’s an easy thing either.
When I leave, and in the transition time, and when a new pastor comes,
There will be bumps along the way,
But the love, grace and guidance of Jesus will be just as real as those bumps.
When I say that Sutton Firkus is about to be baptized,
And all of her sins will always be completely forgiven,
And nothing, nothing will ever separate her from the love of God:
We are all called to take Jesus at his word.
We take Jesus at his word that these baptismal waters
Are waters of eternal life,
For Sutton and for all of us.
We take Jesus at his word that he shows up,
Somehow, every time,
When we celebrate Holy Communion.
We take Jesus at his word that,
When we come to the table today,
No matter how unworthy we may feel,
Jesus says the word,
Jesus IS the Word,
And that means we truly are healed,
That means this meal truly is for us.
It’s not easy,
But we can trust that it is true.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When I started at Redeemer in late August 2010 I was a brand new, first call pastor. I came to you with experience as a high school teacher, a missionary and a hospital chaplain … but being the solo pastor of a congregation was new to me, and it felt new. I danced with uncertain steps. Over time, with your help, with God’s help, my steps became more certain and sure, more in time with yours and with the Spirit.
Now I find myself facing a situation that is new to me in ministry: leaving a call. It feels new. I am dancing with uncertain steps. But you are dancing with me with grace and love and support. And I can feel the Spirit guiding me, keeping time when my steps falter.
When I leave, your dance will continue. This congregation is full of amazing dancers. Redeemer is blessed with strong lay leaders, with remarkable staff members, with musicians that inspire. The congregation is growing in numbers and, even more importantly, in faith development and discipleship. I expect this growth will continue, not just when a new pastor is called, but in the interim and transition period, too.
Redeemer is a congregation that takes delight in gathering for worship and fellowship. Redeemer is a congregation that provides opportunities for people of all ages to grow in faith and service. Redeemer is a congregation that goes out into the community and the world, building relationships and serving God alongside its neighbors.
Redeemer, by the grace of God and with your help, is going to rock the heck out of this pastoral transition dance.
Perichoresis is a Greek word we use to describe the relationships within the Holy Trinity. You can hear how the word “choreography” is related to it … this idea that, within God, there is a constant turning, a dance of Father, Spirit, Son. We believe God is always in community, and we believe that interrelatedness is always moving, changing … dancing.
Thank you for teaching me how to be a pastor. Thank you for dancing with me, with God, with each other and with the wider community.
May God continue to bless your dance. It is such a beautiful one.
With great gratitude,
or right-click to download the mp3.
At the synod assembly in Green Bay yesterday
We discussed some of the questions that groups all around the ELCA are discussing
As part of the Called Forward Together in Christ process.
Basically a denomination-wide survey of our values, ideas
And thoughts on who we want to be as a church.
One person went to the microphone and made a joke about change,
And how change in the church is essentially a dirty word.
We all laughed,
But I’d just read a Tweet from a friend at another synod assembly,
Who had the perfect response,
So perfect it was like we were having the same conversation
Separated by a time zone.
My friend wrote:
It isn’t change that people are afraid of.
Change in and of itself isn’t something to fear, and we know that.
It’s an essential and often exciting aspect of human life.
But part of change is loss,
And that’s what we’re afraid of.
My neighbor, Bill, understands that.
He’s a retired UWSP faculty member, and through a series
Of meetings while walking my dog,
He and I have become friends.
When I told him I was going to Luther College to be a pastor there,
He said, “Of course, and you must, but hearts are going to be broken in this.”
Every day Bill publishes a new blog post, and
the next day the title of his blog was
“Losses I don’t want.”
Bill knows that it isn’t change we fear. It’s loss.
“You can expect to lose a friend if they are elderly.
You have cancer, heart attacks, strokes and such lurking around,
Trying to steal your friends.
But what if you are just minding your business and dusting and
Keeping the grass cut and you strike up a friendship with a neighbor.
A nice neighbor whom you respect.
He is not elderly but WHAM!
His worth becomes apparent to Warren Buffet or the United Arab Emirates
Or the Association of Retired Persons.”
At this point, I was pretty sure Bill was talking about me, male pronouns
And Arab Emirates aside.
Bill’s blog continued a bit, then concluded like this:
“It helps a little to remember that suffering is ennobling,
That I accumulate gift points in paradise for pain visited on me that I bear.
It helps a little that people of worth to either organizations or individuals
Are needed elsewhere and get to go where they are needed.
But that consolation is a little weak.”
In the face of loss, pretty much any consolation you can get or give
Is going to be a little weak.
Especially consolation that tries to claim that loss is somehow a good thing.
That it is good for you,
That it’s ennobling or character building.
St. Paul understands that.
At first it might seem like he doesn’t, based on our reading from his letter to the Romans today.
At first, it might seem like Paul is saying that suffering is a good thing.
But Paul doesn’t think it’s that simple,
And I know this because the following IS NOT a simple sentence:
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Paul’s point isn’t that suffering is good.
Paul’s point is that our hope in Jesus is so good,
It’s good enough to sustain even in the midst of our suffering.
Our hope in Jesus does not disappoint us,
Even when everything and everyone else has.
At Synod Assembly we were led in Pow Wow worship by
The Lutheran Church of the Wilderness from Bowler Wisconsin.
One of the most powerful parts of service for me was hearing a woman
From the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation read that lesson from Romans.
It would be racism of a truly terrible sort to say to an American Indian,
“You know, I bet the suffering of your people has really
Been character building for you.”
But an American Indian can claim the words of Paul as their own truth and
Say: “Hope does not disappoint us.
God’s love has been poured into our hearts,
And the Holy Spirit has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us.
I’m not afraid of change.
But I am afraid of loss.
And I am afraid of disappointing people.
I think that’s a human thing.
Jesus understood that.
According to the Gospel of John,
He took a long, long time to say goodbye to his disciples.
You may have noticed we’ve had essentially the same reading every Sunday
For quite a few Sundays in a row,
And I believe we’re going to get at least one more from this series next week.
Verse upon verse upon verse of words of consolation,
Words of encouragement,
Words of hope.
Jesus knew the disciples were going to need it.
Jesus knew we were going to need it.
And after many, many, many verses
Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you”
But he acknowledges that many of his disciples have, at this point,
Their minds wandered about 50 verses ago.
And there’s a good chance that the ones who are still paying attention
Still won’t really “get it.”
But that’s OK.
The Holy Spirit is coming.
Jesus doesn’t have to say everything in one sermon.
There will be consolation in the Spirit.
There will be hope in the Spirit.
No matter what suffering, what loss may come,
Hope will not disappoint us.
In the children’s message I asked the kids to use a physical action
To help them remember where Jesus is,
And where the church is.
I want to remind you all of two more physical actions I’ve shared in the past
That seem to fit with what we’re talking about today.
**Parker Palmer on heartbreak: if your heart is hard when it breaks, it will shatter. If it is soft, it will open, leaving you with greater capacity to love than before.**
**Greek Orthodox symbol for the Trinity: bring thumb and first two fingers together when you make the sign of the cross. God is always is community, and we are made in the image of God. That is why we yearn for community, and that is why we are never truly alone, we are always with God, and in community with each other.**
May Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Bless you now and Forever.