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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Recent Sermon: Why do you know what you know? Why do you have what you have?

The sermon that follows here is truly a one-of-a-kind. I am preaching before First Lutheran Church in Blair, NE, right before their annual meeting. Like all congregations, the people of Blair are better than the believe they are, and probably not as good as they think. That famous quote from St. Augustine comes to mind: "Do not despair, one of the criminals was saved. Do not presume, one of the criminals was damned." Good stuff.

The setting for this worship is a L.I.F.E. Center, and you can see the trombone player left it there. We have a wonderful worship Ensemble that brings life and music that that worship, and it has been one of the great treats of this job to be part of the music here. I've worked with many, many gifted musicians in my pastoral career. Mr. Vince Krysyl is a true delight, and you never know what he's going to write for a worship service.

Anyhow, don't assume you know why God gives you a gift. Sometimes, that answer is quite a few years down the road. When I'm in the pulpit, I often think, this is what I've been trained for." But for most of that training, it never occurred to me that I would wind up in a pulpit. Where might your gifts lead you in God's mission to create a trustworthy world?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recent Sermon: A Challenge

The sermon that follows is a challenge to make lemonade from lemons. The goodness of God is our constant source of life and love, and how wonderful it is to be surrounded by that goodness, especially when things aren't going so well.

This sermon is pretty self-explanatory, except for a few things. Our Children's Ministry Director, Nikki O'Neil had our Sunday School kids play kazoos for us that morning. Watching 30 kids play kazoos in worship is about as good as it gets. I wish we had that on video.

The City of Blair was destroyed by hail in June 2014, about 4 months before I got there. Estimated property damage was over a billion dollars. That's a lot for a town on 7990. A year later people are just now getting repairs done. (Our congregation's roof is being replaced as I type.)

You see a lot of my Lutheran liturgical tradition here. I'm in a cleric, which I wear a lot here at this place, but many of you have worshiped with me for years, and never seen me in a cleric. They are "adiophora" (not essential) in terms of our salvation, and I take that seriously in this case. We chant Psalms in worship, in this case Psalm 23. My sermons always try to be about the promissory and trustworthy nature of God, in spite of our struggles and lack of available evidence sometimes that God is either one of those.

For those wondering, I do preach extemporaneously. The only note I had in front of me was the words to Psalm 23. It is a style I have come to trust over the years, although it is not the only style of preaching I do. It is my preferred style however.

 How do you trust in God's goodness? Where is the pasture the goodness of God calling you to these days?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Recent Sermons: Being Vulnerable in an Angry World is scary

High School Graduation. Looking back without anger. Responding with love and forgiveness when anger is directed at us. Where you have received forgiveness or given forgiveness over the past few weeks?

This is one is trying not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. We struggle to let God create our garden so we can live with God. We am I so afraid of vulnerability?

Charleston, South Carolina, June 2015

(On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, nine Black Americans where shot in a congregation in Charleston, SC. The killer (allegedly, although he left witnesses) is a White American, and there is evidence that the killings were racially motivated. The alleged killer spent 45 minutes with the congregation in Bible study, and there is a rumor that he almost didn't follow through because the people were  so nice. Not nice enough apparently. May their families find peace, and may their deaths not be in vain.)

How do I preach in a world where people kill others because they do not like the color of someone's skin? What sense does it make to live in a world where so much hatred resides, and because in the USA we allow people access to firearms, that hatred can often have tragic consequences? What to preach? How to preach? Why preach?

The sermon that follows gets to what I believe is the cause of racism: fear. Racism is an excuse to be fearful, and to not trust God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit has taken care of you and will continue to care for you. The alleged killer was afraid, and rather than trust God, he trusted himself and his gun, and nine people died from his fear. More than cowardice, he blasphemed the Holy Spirit, in theological language, and made himself "God." He was wrong, as all people are who live in fear, and use racism, class-ism, sexism, and any other "ism" to justify their actions. (Living in fear isn't the problem, it's using the "isms" to cover up that fear.)

To trust in God is to trust in God, like the 9 who were killed trusted in God. And although they died, we would be remiss to think their trust in God was misplaced or lacking. They still live with God, although in a way we on this planet don't get to see. They may have been some of the greatest martyrs for the Christian faith in the last 1800 years. They didn't choose to be martyrs, they might not have wanted to be martyrs, and it may seem rather wasteful to think of them as such. But if you're going to have faith in a God who died on a cross, you shouldn't be surprised if you should die in a cross of sorts too. This doesn't mean we have to go seeking out such death, but we don't have to act surprised when it happens either.

Because I preach on the Revised Common Lectionary, the text this sermon is based on comes from the gospel of Mark, chapter 4, right at the end. I didn't pick the text, and truth be told I didn't pick this weekend to preach either, but my colleague went on vacation on Saturday. I hope somebody hears some gospel in this sermon, and I hope it's just not the white folks either.

One last thing: our quarterly healing service fell on this Sunday as well. This worship is a time for people to offer prayers, blessings, communion, lighting a candle of memories and hope, and quiet reflection on the presence of Jesus in their lives. Jesus is actively working to heal and make us whole. In my mind it was the "perfect storm," and what follows is my journey across the sea.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Who do you have conversations with in a day?

Because of my job, status, power, and personal choice, I pretty much get to have conversations with people I WANT to have conversations with over the course of a normal day. (There is one exception to this, and I'll get to it shortly.) My colleagues, staff, family, and friends pretty much know what I do. They respect my space, and I thank God every day for the wonderful people I have in my life.

I also don't mind being alone. For example, I am alone in my office right now, listening to a gentle morning rain as the city of Omaha awakes from another night. There's the constant sound of birds and tires on wet pavement, but I am alone. Gardening is a bit of a solitary endeavor. (We saw a snake this year, so they wave at me from the house.) And I like to explore. And if you've been exploring with me, know how that usually ends...

I always love to see how my colleagues and staff will approach me. I have an open door policy, so people have to learn some new behaviors sometimes. Some will just come right in. "Scott, what are we going to do about...?" Others; linger by the doorway in hopes that I'll see them and invite them in. They truly don't want to intrude. Still others just kind of knock, and ask if this is a "good time?" That's a close as I come to unscheduled conversations in the course of a normal day. I get to choose who I talk to most of the time.

And, because of who I am, we often talk about what I want to talk about. If not the topic, then certainly the way we will approach the topic. (This is does not always happen, as I am married, and have children; plus, I do want to listen to see how I can help. But I am never shy about asking the first question.) So most days I talk about the things I want to talk about with the people I want to talk about them with. Whether it's my mom, my wife, my colleagues, or even my neighbors, I have the privilege to talk with whomever I desire.

Except Sundays. I never know who is going to stop me on a Sunday for a conversation, much less what we are going to talk about. And I enjoy that. On Sundays. I enjoy getting to hear the stories that animate the lives of people. I enjoy sharing in the celebrations, and I am honored to share in the griefs and struggles. I love seeing how God is at play and work in the lives of people.

I understand that a lot of people do not get to choose who they will have conversations with during the course of a normal day. Especially if you work retail... I also understand that many people don't want many (or any!) conversations during the course of a normal day. I'm OK with that, but that's not my reality.

So I try to have as much variety in my conversations over the course of a day as possible. People of different color, women, different ages, different economic classes (always have a lunch meeting with someone wealthier than you--standard rule.) However it works out, I want to be able to look back on the day, and remember wonderful, intelligent, and hopeful conversations from lots of different kinds of folks.

Who do you talk to in a day? Do you get much say in who or when or where you have conversations? Do you like "talking?" (My daughter calls it her "hobby.") Well, out here on the prairie there is plenty of time and space to be alone, but when you do talk, who are you talking with?

Funny thing about this Christian faith I live, I follow a guy who talked a lot, and who had a lot of his talks written down. But even with all that was written down, there ain't enough words to fill up a person's life. I wonder who Jesus talked with when he wasn't praying to his Father, when he wasn't teaching his friends? No matter how much talk, silence is a constant friend.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.