Sunday, June 28, 2020 – Pentecost 4

June 28, 2020  
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Pentecost 4 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Matthew 10:40-42

I read a great commentary on our gospel text!

I read commentaries in the Christian Century as I prepare sermons. The commentary for this week was written by a Lutheran pastor who now ministers to a parish in Texas. She wrote about her first sermon preached on this text in her first parish twenty years ago, not in Texas but in South Dakota. During the week that followed her preaching her sermon, there was a stranger floating around the pastor’s small South Dakota town. A member of her church told her that, remembering the pastor’s sermon, the member gave the stranger a sandwich. The pastor, hearing the parishioner, was excited, thinking “People do listen to what I am saying…” (“June 28, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time” Christian Century June 17, 2020 p. 23).

Her words remind me of when Sally Fields won an academy award and she went to the podium and she said “You like me, you really like me!”

As the writer of the commentary reflected on our short scripture reading from Matthew again twenty years later, she wrote that she felt, in previous sermons on this text, “there is something that I skipped right over in this passage. It’s the very first phrase, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” She wrote about those words: “This makes me uncomfortable” (ibid).

I’ve been thinking about her story and about her words “This makes me uncomfortable.” I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

The writer’s discomfort comes from being a guest; her discomfort comes from wondering if, as a guest, she would be welcomed.

I’ve been asking myself: How privileged is it to have the luxury to feel uncomfortable imagining ourselves as strangers needing to be welcomed? How privileged is it to imagine ourselves needing to be fed, and then to find that discomforting?

How privileged are we when we just automatically put ourselves at the head of the table, as the host or hostess? How privileged is it when we automatically think: We’re the ones welcoming the strangers! We’re the ones giving out the bread to eat. We’re the ones giving out cold cups of water.

Going even further, how privileged are we when being a “stranger” is a choice we get to make?

Some of us will never have to be strangers if we don’t want to be. We can work with people like us and we can go to church with people like us and we can go shopping with people like us and we can have fun with people who are just like us.

It makes sense, if that’s our reality, it makes sense that we are uncomfortable imagining Jesus saying to us “whoever welcomes you welcomes me”– like it is a great big deal if somebody lets us in the door or invites us to sit at their table.

The privilege many of us have allows us to assume: of course they let us in. Of course they let us sit with them. Of course they feed us.

Unless of course, they don’t. Which is probably what happened to the first disciples of Jesus. Which is probably why Jesus tried to give the disciples some encouragement: whoever welcomes you welcomes me.

Imagine always being the stranger.

Worse yet, imagine, being “welcomed,” and then wondering if the welcome is real or not. Imagine waiting for the other sandal to drop. Imagine expecting your welcome to be taken back if you say just the wrong thing just the wrong way, or you do the wrong thing wrong. Imagine if you did nothing when someone thought you should do something and then, bam! You are no longer welcome.

I’ve been thinking… if we pride ourselves in how we welcome others, we need to ask ourselves why we are always the welcome-ers and rarely the welcomed. Are we expecting others to always come to us? How is it that we came to be the ones who set the table? How can we change this?

This is a real challenge, a challenge to all of us who represent the most “historically traditional” aspects of the ELCA. How can we change this?

Then, a tangential thought: I’m thinking most of us sharing worship today have dedicated our lives to being disciples of Jesus Christ. How is it that, as his disciples, we exempt ourselves from experiencing the uncomfortableness of sharing his gospel message with friends and neighbors and yes, even strangers?   We say we’re too shy. We’re too “nice”. We don’t want to offend anyone or embarrass ourselves…

How is it most of us get a free pass when it comes to boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, that he loves the world and has saved us all from our sins?

I’m asking this because, if we were really preaching and teaching and living the way Jesus wants us to preach and teach and live, our lives would often be uncomfortable. We would be wanting, we would be needing the comfort of hearing Jesus say to us “When they welcome you they welcome me.”

I can’t believe I’m saying this but, there is good news for us as we live in the midst of a pandemic while simultaneously being confronted by centuries of systematic racism.

There is good news for those of us who might be beginning to think comfort isn’t quite achieving the dream Jesus had for us.

Right now, we have what policy-makers describe as a “window of opportunity.”

Right now, opportunity lies in the fact that, when we all go back to our respective ministries worshiping in our respective places, we are going to be required to change the way we do things.

We know we are going to have to change the ways we worship; we know we are going to have to change the ways we learn; we know we are going to have to change the ways we gather and the ways we share the gospel…

We know: we just have to. The pandemic alone will require we make changes.

As we embrace those opportunities, why not take the opportunity to evaluate everything we do, not just through the lens of contagion but also through the lens of privilege.

I’m asking “Why not?” as if we have a choice.

We don’t have a choice. Not really.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, it is our call, to evaluate everything we do in order to do better, in order to be the people Jesus calls us to be. This kind of change is our call.

This kind of change is our hope. Because when we dare to change, moving forward with hope, we are walking not alone, but with Jesus, who said “When they welcome you, they welcome me.”



Sunday, June 14, 2020 – Pentecost 2

June 14, 2020  
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Pentecost 2   2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

They and their ancestors were kept as slaves. Working without income for the benefit of others, bent over by the burdens they carried (always for others), beaten by those they served, they and their ancestors were kept as slaves. The only hopes they had were whatever hopes they managed to keep burning like embers in their own hearts, hopes whispered, one person to another when no one else was listening. They were held captive in a foreign land. Where they lived was not the place they called home. What they did was not what they desired to do.

One day, a man appeared with his brother. The man spoke to the leader of the nation holding the people captive, telling the leader he needed to free those who were being kept as slaves. The leader said “No” to the man and his brother. The leader said “No, I will not let the people being kept as slaves free.” The man and his brother warned the leader there would be great suffering if the leader did not release the people being kept as slaves.. The leader continued to refuse to release them.

There was suffering. There were waves of suffering inflicted over and over again on the people who inhabited the land. No suffering provoked the leader to change his mind. Nothing. At least not until one night. On that one particular night the firstborn male of every family in the land was killed (except for the firstborn male of the people being kept as slaves; their firstborn sons were not killed). The dead included the firstborn son of the leader of the nation. Anguished, the leader told the man and his brother he would let go the people being kept. The people being kept as slaves were free.

If you aren’t familiar with this story you might expect that the free people would suddenly find happiness. You might expect that the free people would all find homes and establish their families and start businesses and live lives filled with joy. That’s not what happened.

Instead the free people struggled, year after year they struggled. Decade after decade. Finally, decades later, the free people were shown where their home would be. The free people were shown their promised land. But there was a catch! The man who asked the leader of the nation to let the people living as slaves go free—the man who for years had been leading the free people through the wilderness, toward their promised new home—he was not going to be able to go home with them. He was old. Soon, he would die.

The old man who remembered asking for the freedom of those who were kept as slaves but then were free, the old man who remembered leading the free people through the wilderness asked, “Who shall go before them? Who shall lead them?” He cried out “They will be like sheep without a shepherd!”


Jesus was traveling. Jesus was going here and there, through cities and villages. Jesus was teaching people in their holy places, telling them the good news. Jesus was curing people of diseases and sicknesses.

The people that Jesus was teaching, the people Jesus was telling the good news, the people Jesus was healing… they were the children’s children’s children’s children’s children of the people who had been kept as slaves and then were free. Jesus saw that they were suffering. Jesus saw that they were harassed. Jesus said to himself: “They are like sheep without a shepherd.”


When I read the gospel reading for today I read the rest of the story. After seeing that the Israelites were like sheep without a shepherd “Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness” (Matthew 10:1).

I know what we have been taught, especially most all of those of us who are gathered wherever we are today who are white. We have been taught– we think—“WE need to go and cast out those unclean spirits! WE need to cure those diseases!

That is God’s call for every believer.

But, rather than hear our call to be DISCIPLES of the Shepherd, we tend to jump right in and think we are all shepherds. Better yet, some of us think we are called to be like Moses, called to free the suffering people from their slavery.

We are NOT Moses. We are NOT shepherds. Thinking of ourselves as Moses, thinking of ourselves as shepherds leads to thinking of ourselves as saviors. We are not saviors.

We are sheep. We are sinful, unclean sheep. Just like every other child of God, we are captive to sin and we cannot free ourselves.

We need a shepherd. We need a savior.

We need Jesus.


This is my sin.

I used to be the executive director of a local non-profit. I ran a food bank dedicated to feeding people who lived with hunger in their bellies. In all the years I had that job, I don’t think I ever asked anybody if food was what they needed. I don’t think I ever listened. I just assumed I knew.

This is my sin.

When disaster strikes, I want to run in and fix things. That’s what I do: I fix things. I don’t even ask what needs to be fixed! I certainly never imagined the people hurt the most might have a better idea than me what needs to be done to fix the damage. I’ve got to DO something!!! And so I go and I fix.


The past few weeks have shown the world over and over again what has been known for centuries—there is a disease that needs to be healed, and I’m not talking about the Corona Virus.

I’m talking about racism.

Over and over again we see in scripture what we read that Jesus said in today’s gospel verses: disease and evil; evil and disease. They are twin children of the same devil.

I believe there are diseases that are evil and I think there are evils that are disease.

Racism is both.

Racism is a sin we must confess. Racism is a disease that must be cured. We make a mistake if we think we can jump and “fix things” without first confessing.

We are making a mistake if we jump and start doing this and doing that, getting busy, before we have turned our eyes inward and started examining our own lives, our own souls. After that we need to turn our eyes outward and examine all that we as a people have done for centuries to create unjust systems that hold others captive.

To do those things…

We need Jesus.

We need Jesus to forgive us.

That’s where the road to freedom begins for us.

Then, like every other lamb in Jesus’ flock, we need the listen to the folks who have suffered because of racism as they lead us forward.

And we all need Jesus to lead us.

We all need Jesus to guide us.




Sunday May 10, 2020 – Easter 5

May 11, 2020  
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Easter 5 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

1 Peter 2: 2-10

Professor David Bartlett from Yale Divinity School wrote in his commentary on our verses from 1 Peter:

Christ is like a stone, a foundation on which to build one’s life. But Christ is   also a living stone. Christ is not static or staid; Christ is alive. Christ is not        barren or cold; Christ is life-giving.

            (“1 Peter 2:1-10 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p.      264)

I majored in Religion in College. I attended Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. In one of my required Theology classes, we studied what is known as process theology.

One of the themes of process theology is that “The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God cannot totally control any series of events or any individual, but God influences the creaturely exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. To say it another way, God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God’s will” (Process Theology” Wikipedia).

A second theme of process theology is that “Because God interacts with the changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid” (ibid).

In other words: God did not create the world then step back and leave God’s creation alone to do what God had already decided creation would do. God continues to live in relationship with creation, all of creation, offering possibilities to creation, interacting with creation even as creation interacts with God.

While studying process theology in college, two classmates and I decided to pull a bit of a prank on our theology professor.

Carthage College is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. The shoreline is covered in large slabs of rock, intentionally placed there to prevent erosion from the constant pressure of the lake’s waves. Students climbed around on those rocks back in my day. Sometimes students got in trouble for climbing around on those rocks.

My friends and I went down to the rocks at the lakeshore just below the building housing our professor’s office. Our intention was to pick up one of the smaller slabs of rock and relocate it in front of our professor’s office door. We would then attach a note from the rock to our professor stating that the rock had spoken to God and together the rock and God decided the rock was asserting its free will and relocating itself in front of the professor’s door.

The problem was, the rock was heavy. We were three 20 year old students. We were struggling to move the rock when a member of campus security came up to us and asked us what we thought we were doing. Religion majors that we were, we could not tell a lie. We explained our mission to the security officer. Then, instead of reprimanding us, the officer grabbed a corner of the rock and helped us carry it to our professor’s office door.

Our prank was a success.

Remember Professor Bartlett’s words?

Christ is like a stone, a foundation on which to build one’s life. But Christ is also a living stone. Christ is not static or staid; Christ is alive. Christ is not barren or cold; Christ is life-giving.

He also wrote:

“… the implication is that Christian life imitates or partakes of the reality of Christ’s own life. He is a living stone, and Christians are living stones as well, full of life and life-giving (“1 Peter 2:1-10 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p. 265).

We might not be feeling full of life or life-giving these days. But, this is our call. Even in time of pandemic, we are called to imitate and partake of the reality of Christ’s life.

How do we do this? By living out our calling. By interacting with God, knowing God is not far away from us but living in relationship with us, calling us into this day and into the days ahead.

I like the suggestion that process theology makes, that God is affected by the pandemic. God is affected by your sudden unemployment or under-employment. God is affected by your cancer. God is affected by your loneliness just as you are affected by any or all of these things. I further like the suggestion that those things that are never changing about God– that God is loving, that God is good, that God is wise—help God set before us an abundance of possibilities. Even now. Even when we might feel like our lives are heavy, impossibly heavy, without any immediate hope for positive change.

There is no hope, not if we forget our lives alone and our lives together are built on a living rock. Jesus Christ is our cornerstone. As Christians our lives are shaped by him even as they are built on and around him. Professor Bartlett said it clearly when he wrote “No Christ; no building” (ibid).

Jesus calls us to live, even when we are afraid. Jesus calls us to love, even when those we love most are far away. Jesus calls us forward, into this day. Jesus calls us to have hope.

What gives me hope? Doing what we are doing right now. Four congregations that sometimes feel the sting of competition are standing strong together, we are worshiping together, we are building this day together as friends, as Christian family—knowing we share a common foundation. Jesus Christ is our cornerstone. We ask him to build us up. Together.


Sunday, April 19, 2020 – Easter 2

April 21, 2020  
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Easter 2 2020

John 20:19-31

Our Savior’s La Crosse


We know what it is like to be afraid.

We know what it is like to sit in a room, in a house, in an apartment—behind doors, afraid of what lives outside those doors.

We know how that fear feels, we know what that fear does to our hearts, we know what that fear does to our minds.

I imagine my mother alone in her house, seeing no one but my sister or her husband when one or the other of them drops off groceries.

Recently widowed, I don’t think she imagined her life alone would be so alone.

I know her doors are locked. Are yours?

We are told to wear masks and (in some situations) gloves when we leave our homes, when we leave our current sanctuaries. The masks and the gloves are another level of protection, a level of protection hard for some people to come by because of shortages that only raise our level of fear.

For those of you who are deemed “essential,” fears don’t go away when you walk outside your locked door. They escalate. How much protection is enough?

Every time we enter or leave a place that isn’t home we rub antiseptic wash on our hands. We return home and we wash our hands, and we wash our hands, and we wash our hands. We wash the clothes we wore outside. We leave our outside shoes at the door.

After Jesus died the disciples gathered behind locked doors because they were afraid. They didn’t do this once. They did this day after day after day.

And then Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:19).

And then Jesus came and he stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

And the disciples rejoiced (John 20:20).

We just heard the rest of the story. Many of us already knew the rest of the story. We read the rest of the story every year on the Sunday following Easter. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus stood among the disciples for the first time following his resurrection. Thomas didn’t believe the story of Jesus visiting the disciples in their locked room when he was told. Thomas said he needed to see Jesus for himself to believe Jesus was there. So Jesus came to them all again in their locked room, Jesus came to them when Thomas was with them. Jesus invited Thomas to touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands, to put his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side. Thomas did those things. Then Jesus said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:24-29).

Those people are us.

We have not seen. We have not seen and yet we have come to believe.

That is why we gather where we do, in our homes with our cellphones or our tablets or our personal computers in front of us, worshiping together. Because we have not seen and yet we have come to believe.

We are blessed.

You may be in your homes…

You may be in a room alone or with others…

You may be behind locked doors.

You are not alone.

You are blessed. Because you have come to believe you are not alone.

Pastor Becky read to us a reading from the letter we call First Peter. The letter is said to have been written by Peter but it probably wasn’t. It was most likely written long after Peter died by some other leader of the early church. The letter was written to the first generation of Christians—to those people who had never seen Jesus, but who believed in him.

The writer of the letter told those first generation Christians that they were more precious than gold, and that, though they were suffering various trials, though they were being tested by fire—that they shared an inheritance that is imperishable, they shared an inheritance that is undefiled, they shared an inheritance that is unfading—and that they were protected by the power of God! (1 Peter 1:3-9).

The writer of the letter reminded those first generation Christians that they were baptized. They were reminded that the gift of their baptism was the salvation of their souls because they had forever been cleansed and pardoned.

Most likely, you are baptized.

As a baptized child of Christ you share an inheritance that is imperishable. As a baptized child of Christ you share an inheritance that is undefiled. As a baptized child of Christ you share an inheritance that is unfading. After all these years, after generation after generation after generation of Christian believers—you are blessed. Just as the believers of every generation have been.

These blessings we receive result in “praise and glory and honor when Jesus is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7).

Jesus comes to us this morning. Jesus comes to us here, in this sanctuary. Jesus comes to you there, in the sanctuary of your homes. Jesus comes to us as we remember our baptisms and give thanks! Jesus comes to us as we hear his Word and we believe. Jesus comes to us as we pray the prayers Jesus teaches us.

We may sit behind locked doors. There are moments we may feel afraid. But we cannot let our fear conquer us. We are not alone. We have each other. We have our God.

And so we write on our doors, on our driveways, on our hearts…

“I believe in the sun, even if it does not shine.

I believe in love, even if I do not feel it.

I believe in God, even if I do not see [God].”

 Because we believe, even in these moments, in this time, we are blessed. Amen.

Sunday, March 29, 2020 – Lent 5

March 29, 2020  
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Lent 5 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

John 11:1-45


What keeps running through my mind as I consider this long story are two short words: Jesus knew.

Jesus knew Lazarus would die.

Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus knew he was “the resurrection and the life” (11:25)

Jesus knew the resurrection of Lazarus would glorify him, therefore bring glory to God (11:4).

Jesus knew.

After hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus knew all that was about to happen, so he stayed where he was for two days longer (11:5).

Two infuriating days.

Jesus loved Mary.

Jesus loved Martha.

Jesus loved Lazarus.

And yet, after hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stayed where he was for two days longer.

Because Jesus knew.

Mary and Martha (and maybe Lazarus himself) must have had an inkling Lazarus would die.

Mary and Martha (and maybe Lazarus himself) had no idea Lazarus would be raised from the dead.

When the two sisters summoned Jesus, they must have wanted him to come quickly because they knew of his power to heal.

John tells us that, after Jesus finally arrived at their home, Martha said to Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21).

Read between the words.

Martha was saying to the friend who loved her, to the friend who loved her sister, to the friend who loved her brother “Where were you?”

“When Lazarus was still alive, where were you?”

“God will give you whatever you ask” Martha said (11:22).

“I trusted you to come, knowing God listens to you, knowing you have the power to heal. Where were you? If you had been here he would not have died.”

Jesus replied with words that weren’t specific enough; Martha didn’t know what he knew. So when Jesus said “Your brother will rise again” (11:23) she thought he meant later, at the last day, when all would rise. (11:24).

Imagine her despair. Imagine her frustration. Imagine what might well have been fury.

Which is why, when Jesus told her “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die.” And then he asked her “Do you believe this?” (11:25-26)

I believe her answer is more of a “yah, yah, alright already” than it is the bold statement of faith some people hear.

“Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah. I believe that you are the Son of God. I believe that you are the one coming into the world” (11:27).

I think her answer is more fury than faith because what does she do next?

She walks away.

She walks away from Jesus, and she goes and gets her sister Mary. (11:28)

She might have well have said “Big whoop-de-do.”

Then Mary went to Jesus and Mary said “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:32).

You can tell Mary and Martha were talking about Jesus before he even got there, they were talking about what he didn’t do, because Mary used the exact same words as her sister Martha. “If you had been here my brother would not have died!”

But, Jesus knew.

Jesus knew Lazarus would die before he ever died.

Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus knew he, himself was “the resurrection and the life” (11:25)

Jesus knew the resurrection of Lazarus would glorify him, Jesus, therefore bringing glory to God.

Jesus cried out “Lazarus, come out!” (11:43).

The brother of Mary, the brother of Martha, the man Jesus loved dearly, Lazarus came out of his tomb (11:44).

These days we are living in are infuriating. We are waiting. We are waiting. We are watching from our homes as we wait for something to change. We watch as we wait for things to get better…

I wonder, if Jesus came up to your door or my door and said “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die.” And then he asked us “Do you believe this?”

What would we say?

“Yah, yah, alright already.”

“Big whoop-de-do.”

Well—yes. Big whoop-de-do.

Jesus defeats the power of death because in him the world meets the power of the love of God incarnate (cf. Rom 8:35-39). God’s full sharing of power over life and death with Jesus is an expression of God’s love for Jesus and for the world. Because God loves Jesus, God has given all things to him (3:35),    culminating in the power over life and death. Because God loves Jesus, God has given him the glory that is revealed in the raising of Lazarus, in the defeat of death (11:4; 17:24). Because God loves the world, God gives Jesus to the world for its salvation (3:16-17), so that the world might come to know fully God’s love for it and live grounded in that love (17:23). Jesus’ own death is a measure of this love (10:17; 15:12), because in it Jesus’ power as the resurrection and the life comes to fullest expression. (“John 1:1-44 Reflections” by Gail R. O’Day in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9,  p. 694)

This is what Jesus knew.

This is what we believe!

“The way to experience the power of God’s love for the world that defeats death, to receive the promises of God as the reality of God, is to believe in Jesus” (ibid).

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die” Jesus said.

“Do you believe this?”


Yes, we believe. We believe.


Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Lent 4

March 22, 2020  
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Lent 4 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

John 9:1-14


A seminary professor, doing some research on the gospel of John, discovered that the phrase “put out of the synagogue” (which we see in verse 22) is used three times in John, but nowhere else in the New Testament and in no other known Jewish or Christian writings of that time.

Knowing this, the scholar proposed that this phrase to “put out of the synagogue”

refers to the Benediction Against Heretics that was introduced into the synagogue liturgy sometime after 70 [AD] and probably between the years 85 and 95 . On the basis of this benediction, [the writer] concluded that the Fourth Gospel was written at the end of the first century… in and to a community that was being expelled from the synagogue, and that this conflict with the synagogue decisively shaped [John’s] story of Jesus.

(Gail R. O’ Day “John 9:13-41 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 657)

As is said in verse 22 of our reading, the parents of the blind man Jesus healed feared the Pharisees that interrogated them. The parents feared the Pharisees because, if the parents were to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be “put out of the synagogue.” The Pharisees’ questions were a trap. And, in real life (in the late first century), this was happening. Christians were put out of the synagogue for confessing their faith in Jesus.

You who are watching this service have been “put out of the synagogue.” Literally. And you aren’t alone in that.

Doors are closed in mosques, temples, churches, shrines and other holy places around the world. Like you, people are worshiping at home: maybe sitting at the kitchen table watching the screen on their tablet, maybe in another part of the house at an altar of their own construction.

Most of us would prefer anything but this. Others of us, because of illness or age or frailty, have been worshiping online for weeks or months or years—unable to physically be in the sanctuary of their choice.

We have been told to take sanctuary outside of our sanctuaries.

The crowds of people in normally our sanctuaries create risk.

Some of us feel hurt. Some of us are angry or frustrated because we think everything is being exaggerated. Some of us are afraid. Some of us are lonely. Some of us might be doing ok, having fun with family or with friends online.

The parents of the blind man Jesus healed feared the Pharisees that interrogated them. The parents feared the Pharisees because, if the parents were to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, they would be “put out of the synagogue.”

They feared they would be “put out of the synagogue” because of their faith in Jesus.

We are not in our places of worship, in part because our faith in Jesus leads us to stay home. Because Jesus calls us to love one another we stay home to minimize risk. Because Jesus calls us to care for the sick we stay home, not wanting to make things worse for them. Because Jesus calls us to care for our elders we close our doors to people who have been accustomed to “going to church” every Sunday for decades. Because Jesus calls us to care for those who are most vulnerable those who are strong do all they can to protect those who immune systems are weak or weakened.

This is hard, in part because many of us are used to doing whatever we want whenever we want with whomever we want. We have had this privilege. Now our privileges, our freedoms are being denied us.

*   *   *   *

When the Pharisees were questioning the man who had been blind, they said of Jesus “we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). The man who had been blind replied (in part) “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (John 9:30).

How might Jesus open your eyes today?

What astonishing things might you see?

Close your eyes and imagine a place you would go if you wanted to find sanctuary. A place you would feel safe. A place you would feel protected and comforted and calm. Your place might be a geographic location or in a specific building. Your place might be outside. Your place might be wrapped in your loved one’s arms or held by a parent…

Now imagine yourself in that place. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath.

Imagine yourself with friends or family there if that makes your safe place a better place for you.

Now answer in your own mind or speak the words out loud… Why is this the place you are imagining as your sanctuary? Why do you feel comforted there? Why do you feel calm there?

Now, in your mind hold on to your safe place, your sanctuary because this place you are imagining is a place you cannot be “put out” of. This place lives in your mind and you can take yourself there anytime you need to.

Your place is your place.

And you are not alone there. God is with you. Imagine being able to physically feel God’s presence with you there.

Now open your eyes and look around. God isn’t just in the place you have imagined in your mind. God is with you now, in this moment. Where you are.

If you haven’t already done this, are there ways you can make the place you are into a sanctuary? Can you make the place you are into your own or your family’s sacred spot? Can you add a candle? Can you lay a few smooth stones or beads or coins to the desktop or table that you can pick up and hold in your hands? Can you add a photo of a friend or family members? Do you have a bible or a hymnal you can keep near you as we worship? Can you or someone else color pictures to decorate the area for worship? Think of your home, or wherever you are, as your sanctuary during this pandemic.

*   *   *   *

The hymn we are about to sing is an advent hymn: All Earth is Hopeful. Advent is our season of hope—hoping for the return of Jesus to the world even as we remember and re-tell the stories of people waiting for Jesus to come.

This moment, these days, these weeks are not a time to lose hope. Jesus is here, with us. As the 4th verse of the hymns tells us: We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbors we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets us free. (ELW #266)

Jesus is with us. Always.


Sunday, March 15, 2020 – Lent 3

March 15, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Lent 3 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Waking Up White Series

Galatians 3:26-28


On our bulletin cover you see a graphic of international trade routes during the time when people were being captured, shipped, bought and sold. The graphic illustrates the horror of the times: that human beings are listed as “slaves,” as items for trade alongside rum, lumber, sugar, gunpowder, and other dry goods.

History tells us that, to transport people:

Two by two the men and women were forced beneath deck into the bowels of the slave ship. The “packing” was done as efficiently as possible. The captives lay down on unfinished planking with virtually no room to move or breathe.

Some [people would] die of disease, some of starvation, and some simply of despair. This was the fate of millions of West Africans across three and a half centuries of the slave trade on the voyage known as the “middle passage.”

Doctors would inspect [people] before purchase from the African trader to determine which individuals [were] most likely [to] survive the voyage. In return, the traders would receive guns, gunpowder, rum or other sprits, textiles or trinkets.

The “middle passage,” which brought the slaves from West Africa to the West Indies, might have taken three weeks. Unfavorable weather conditions [would have] made the trip much longer.

[Captives] were fed twice daily and some captains made vain attempts to clean the hold at this time. Air holes were cut into the deck to allow the people breathing air, but these were closed in stormy conditions. The bodies of the dead were simply thrust overboard.

Upon reaching the West Indies, the [people] were fed and cleaned in the hopes of bringing a high price on the block. Those that could not be sold were left for dead. Those [sold] were then transported to their final destination. It was in this unspeakable manner that between ten and twenty million Africans were introduced to the New World. (“The Middle Passage” U.S. History Online Textbook // copyright 2020 accessed 3/11/2020)

When Jeanne and I were in Memphis two years ago I bought the print you see here, in front of the altar. The print is of a painting done by the artist i.Babatunde, and is sold as a fundraiser for a house that was once on the Underground Railroad. The title on the painting is “The Middle Passage.”

The print depicts the souls of deceased people rising from the ocean water, their faces pointing toward heaven. These people had been transported on a slave ship, where they died. Their bodies were thrown in the ocean water, chains still binding them. In the print the peoples’ hands are lifted upward, broken chains hang from their wrists and from collars around their necks.

I’m telling you this because of the looks on the peoples’ faces in this print.

They are rising from the water, their hands and faces looking up. I believe they are looking toward heaven. The chains on their hands and around their necks are broken. Their spirits are free… free to rise up… looking at their faces I see joy, I see joyful anticipation. These beautiful human beings have escaped the chains of slavery and are going to God.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ” (Galatians 3: 27-28).

Professor Richard B. Hayes wrote that, in Paul’s time

In baptism, the person being baptized confessed the lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation, disrobed to signify the putting off of an entire way of life, was immersed below the water as if undergoing a burial…, was raised to a new life, and was clothed in new garments symbolizing the transformation that had occurred. (“Galatians 3:26-29 Reflections” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11 p. 274)

They disrobed… taking off their old ways of living.

They were clothed in new garments… clothed in Christ!

They were putting on Jesus!

With everything going on in the world around us right now… now is the time to remember that in our baptisms we were transformed, we were clothed in Christ, we put on Jesus! And Jesus has never left us. Jesus is with us.

After worship our church council will meet. We will discuss the La Crosse County Health Department’s recommendation that people not meet in large groups right now. Here we are, meeting in a large group. I’m recommending to council that we not meet again in worship until we are certain it is safe to do so. I’m recommending our worship be online only.

These recommendations come to us and we receive them not out of fear, but with love for every person. All of us who are at risk (And I’m at risk in multiple ways) are asking those whose risks are less to live in solidarity with us, by practicing social distancing.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. People still need to be fed, in fact, with schools closed, feeding hungry people is going to be more urgent. We need to find safe ways to continue serving the hungry.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. People still need to be prayed for. I urge you all to pray for one another and for the people working in health care and for people without medical insurance and for people who will feel the pains of loneliness and/or depression as they self-isolate. Pray for our elders in nursing homes or living alone at home. Pray for those in prisons who are in lock-down as governments try to lock out disease.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. To love every other human being as Christ loves us. To delight in our diversity.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we are called to hope because our hope comes from God. Our hope is in God. Our trust is in God.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we look toward heaven with joy, knowing (as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said) “our God is able.”

Our God is able.



Sunday, March 8, 2020 – Lent 2

March 8, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Lent 2 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Waking Up White series

Ephesians 4:1-16

Pastor Jehu Jones was the first African-descent pastor in the Lutheran tradition in America. “Pastor Jones was born in the South.” His family was “part of the so-called mulatto aristocracy of South Carolina” (p. 25). Pastor Jones “was an Episcopalian who eventually found his way to the Lutheran Church” (p. 26). Pastor Jones was “ordained in New York City… he was [assigned] to work with the American Colonization Society,” asked to lead“a Lutheran mission” to Liberia” (p. 27). “Instead, upon his return to Charleston, he was arrested with every other free black… He languished in prison…” (p. 27).

Eventually, Pastor Jehu Jones was sent to Philadelphia where he “founded St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Center City… He bought the land and started to build [the church] with his own money. In 1836, the foundation of a truly free black Lutheran Church was laid down in this country” (p. 28). But, “he was never paid. He was constantly under financial pressure, with no help from the Pennsylvania ministerium… After a while, he was viewed as a failed experiment… that must be shut down” (p. 29). The church’s “assets and land were purchased by the Pennsylvania ministerium and sold off for a profit” (p. 29). (As told by Pastor Lenny Duncan in Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. chapter 2, Fortress Press 2019)

A few weeks ago I helped my dear friend Pastor Becky Swanson and her husband Gary Anderson finish packing up their belongings so they could move to their new call to ministry in central Illinois. I spent about six hours with them, loading boxes into a truck they rented and cleaning the parsonage. It has been years since I’ve done as much vacuuming as I did that evening.

The next day, my body hurt. There were places that hurt that I forgot were places I had!

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells us the body of Christ is no different. We are part of the body of Christ. The body of Christ consists of all who believe. Paul wrote there is one body and one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). Paul wrote

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

The body of Christ cannot function properly when any part of the body is neglected or abused.

Pastor Jehu Jones was both neglected and abused. As Pastor Lenny Duncan wrote in his book Dear Church, “Jehu’s welcome into ordained ministry in the church of Jesus Christ was chains and jail” (p. 27).

“He was never paid.”

“He was constantly under financial pressure.”

“He was viewed as a failed experiment.” (all quotes from p. 29)

Pastor Duncan wrote “The story of Rev. Jehu Jones is instructive to a church that screams for diversity and can’t seem to understand why it remains so white” (p. 29).

Like most other professions, our pastors of color and women pastors in the ELCA are paid less than white male pastors even though all pastors come out of seminary with a boat-load of debt. This leaves our pastors of color and women under more financial pressure. Ministries that are developed in communities serving African Americans or Hispanic Americans struggle to find support.

Some of you might remember Pastor Melissa Gonzalez from Tapestry ministry in Richfield MN. She preached here about a year and a half ago, when she was biking down the Mississippi River in memory of her son. Some of her parishioners came and led our service…

Their ministry is multi-cultural and constantly struggling to find financial support. They need help. Maybe we should help them.

Jesus calls us to speak truth in love. The apostle Paul said that, to do this, we need to grow up in every way into him (Ephesians 4:15). If we don’t grow into Christ in equitable ways, (as illustrated in my young persons’ message) we have a body completely out of proportion!

Never forget, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:

“…each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7).

For this reason we are called to

“…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).





Sunday, March 1, 2020 – Lent 1

March 1, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Waking Up White Lenten Series

Lent 1 2020

Philippians 2:1-6

Entering into conversations about race, specifically racism, is a difficult thing to do. We all have our own thoughts about race, about racism, about who we are and who other people are. Knowing this, beginning an entire Lenten series that is about race, specifically racism—is daunting.

No one wants to feel like they are being attacked.

No one wants to feel like they are being judged.

No one wants to address the elephant that is in almost every sanctuary or worship space in the ELCA: that we are the whitest church in the United States. There are a whole lot more white people in our congregations than there are black people, or brown people; there are a whole lot more people of European descent than there are indigenous people, or people of Asian descent.

Obviously, Lutheranism’s heritage is German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish… aka northern European.

Just as obviously, generations have passed since people of those ethnicities immigrated to the United States in large numbers, establishing congregations in the communities where they settled. In that time, most of our Lutheran churches have not changed, even when the communities they are rooted in have.

As Lutherans, we need to ask ourselves why this is true. Why aren’t our congregations more diverse? This is not a question we direct to the people of color we know. This has to be a question the white people in the room ask ourselves. What are we doing or thinking or saying or believing or not doing or not thinking or not saying or not believing that leads to our being the whitest denomination in the United States?

Our synod recently had Anti-Racism training for all rostered staff in our congregations. I was unable to attend because of my father’s death. But, at the Anti-Racism Task Force meeting I attended this past Monday, colleagues told me the training began with some ground rules, including that there would be:

No blame, no shame, and no guilt.

The workshop was led by a black man. The workshop was attended by dozens of white rostered ministers and one black minister. No other people of color. Friends who attended said the leader was a master of facilitating no blame, no shame, and no guilt. Even when people said things that made others cringe and want to climb under the furniture, the leader of the workshop stayed true to his own rules. Some attendees were surprised he was able. I’m not. If he has lived in this part of the United States his whole life, he is most likely accustomed to being the only black person in the room, which means he has spent a lifetime nurturing the ability to practice no blame, no shame, and no guilt.

I was studying a commentary on the scripture reading I selected for today, the reading I selected to begin our 40-day Lenten journey with. The writer wrote that “theology and ethics are inseparably joined together” (Morna Hooker, “Philippians Commentary” in the New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 11 p. 514).

As an Ethics teacher, I disagree. There are millions of people in the world thinking about ethics who have no belief in God, and thus no theology. But, as a pastor I agree with the author. As Christians, our theology and our ethics are inseparably joined. Our ethics, our figuring out how we ought to live, is rooted in our knowledge of God. “Theological affirmation leads to ethical demand” (Hooker).

Saying “yes” to the reality of God leads us to an obligation to be the people God calls us to be, doing the things God calls us to do.

Paul is clear in his letter to the Philippians: “Those who confess Jesus as Lord should not be looking for status or power” (Hooker p. 515). “Rather, they should be humbly considering others better than themselves” (Hooker p. 516).

The scholar I cited wrote about today’s scripture reading: “the church as a whole has never taken to heart the true significance of this passage…” adding that we have attempted to “detach theology from ethics” (Hooker p. 516).

When I talk about Christian ethics I am not talking about a set of rules God has provided, like the 10 commandments. I am talking about a way of living, a way of living Paul sets before us when he boldly embraces humility. “Paul, in his teaching, always went back to first principles. In effect, he is saying, ‘This is the gospel. This is what God is like. This is what God has done for you, and this is what God expects you to be like” (Hooker p. 516).

It is vital that we approach our conversations these next 40 days with humility. It vital that we listen to others. It is vital that we set aside our own notions and open ourselves to hear voices that are not our own. It is vital that we have as our ground rules: No blame. No shame. No guilt.

We are seeking to better see our systems, better see our policies, better see the cultural values we have had that are exclusive and privileged and counter-productive to our call to live as disciples of Christ.

In Christ we find our community. Knowing this, the relationships within this community– if they are rooted in love, rooted in selflessness, rooted in concern for others (as Christ calls them to be)—they will be transformed. Doors previously shut will open. Hearts previously hardened will soften.

As Paul wrote:

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…” (Philippians 2:1-2).




Wednesday, February 26, 2020 – Ash Wednesday

February 26, 2020  
Filed under Sermons

Ash-Wednesday 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

“Ash Wednesday” verse 6 T. S. Eliot (1930)

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dream crossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

I have discussed elements of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday poem in sermons before, but I always look at the first stanza. Today I’m looking at the sixth and final stanza, thinking about the meaning of this day, Ash Wednesday, for us as followers of Jesus.

Eliot wrote the poem Ash Wednesday in 1930 shortly after he converted to Anglicanism, or as we know it, the Episcopal faith. According to one scholar, Eliot was turning in his own life, turning away from the temptations of the world, towards God (Dr. Oliver Tearle, “A Short Analysis of T.S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday” found on interesting

Eliot wrote

Although I do not hope to turn again
          Although I do not hope
          Although I do not hope to turn

with the hope that he would not turn his focus, again, away from God.

In his poem Eliot described life:

This is the time of tension between dying and birth

and again he wrote that life is

The dream-crossed twilight between birth and dying

This week, I’ve been focused on Eliot’s notion of life as twilight.


Twilight is the time of day when there is “no intensity of night or day” (Tearle).

The day is not day. The day is not night. The day is twilight.

And so, Eliot wrote, is our lifetime of living.

Ash Wednesday demands we examine our twilight.

There is no purity to who we are. Our lives are stained by sin. In our confession today we will admit to God “that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word and deed” (ELW Ash Wednesday “Confession”).

We have sinned by what we have done.

We have sinned by what we have left undone.

Again, the words point us toward the in-between, toward twilight.

Eliot wrote in his Ash Wednesday poem:

Teach us to sit still

We enter 40 days of Lent today, our time to set aside time to sit still. We sit:

among these rocks

knowing our need for God.

Let our cries come unto God.

We plea for God’s mercy, even as we know and we believe God’s mercy is everlasting.


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