A Sermon about the Incarnation, Our Bodies, and Being Enough


St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Midlothian
26 August 2018 + Lectionary 21B (Pentecost 14)
John 6.56-69, [70-71]

Jesus has said a lot of unusual, stunning, even downright shocking things these past five weeks we’ve spent reading our way through John 6:

“I am the bread of life.”

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

“The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

And these sayings have solicited just as many scattered reactions:

Misunderstanding: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

Complaining and offense: “Does this offend you?”

Disbelief: “Among you there are some who do not believe.”

Abandonment: “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

Betrayal: “…Judas son of Simon Iscariot…though one of the twelve, was going to betray [Jesus].”

Jesus has said a lot of things, and he’s gotten some strong reactions. This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? It’s not as though Jesus’s followers were along for the ride, keeping up with the bizarre things he’s been saying, and then suddenly one teaching gives them pause. This momentum has been building. We’re only six chapters into John, and yet there is precedent for this hesitance to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus’s earlier conversation with Nicodemus by night leaves Nicodemus asking, “How can these things be?” Misunderstanding, disbelief, even complaining and offense to the point of betrayal and abandonment, are all hallmarks of the reaction of the crowds to Jesus’s teachings in John.

And yet, what is it exactly that elicits such strong reactions? Granted, the Bread of Life discourse, as this chapter from John we’ve been reading for five weeks is called, is notoriously difficult to understand. Jesus is repetitive. He speaks with metaphor and language we might not otherwise encounter in normal conversation. Yet, it’s the crowd’s initial reaction that holds the key.

This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? …might better be translated more literally as: This word is hard; who is able to listen to it?

This word is hard to listen to. The Word is the starting point of John’s gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… begins John 1. Then a few verses later: The Word became flesh and lived among us.

This Word is hard to listen to! This is the message of John’s gospel: The eternal Word of God has become flesh to live among us, entering into all of our reality and the grit of human existence. This is the great I AM who is beyond all time and space who has become one of us, the Creator becoming the creation, crossing thresholds and subverting boundaries, drawing all people to himself and calling them friends.

Oftentimes, John’s gospel gets a reputation for being the hyper-spiritualized gospel with a head-in-the-clouds Jesus whose divinity outweighs his humanity. That couldn’t be further from the truth. John’s Jesus is literally a down-to-earth Jesus, 100% human even as he is fully divine.

And that, I think, is why this teaching, this word, is so difficult to listen to and accept. It is inconceivable that God should become like one of us, fully human and experiencing everything that entails. It is inconceivable that the extraordinary God should enter into the ordinary stuff of human existence: bread and wine and even human flesh, our very bodies.

This is the perfect and the holy entering into the imperfect and the flawed. God becoming flesh has implications that are offensive to us, just as much as to Jesus’s first followers:

God became flesh in the body of a 1st-century, dark-skinned, Palestinian, Jewish carpenter living under the occupation and oppression of the powerful Roman Empire.

God became flesh in the body of one of society’s nobodies.

God became flesh in the body of someone we would rather ignore for who they are or what they look like or what they believe or where they live or where they come from.

For the past two weeks, I have served as the event coordinator for the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) Orientation, a program of our denomination that sends young people from across our church to ministry partners around the world to live and work alongside bodies that are different from their own for a year. At closing worship during orientation, hours before these YAGM would board their flights for their countries of service, my colleague and friend preached a sermon that reminded us: Wherever God calls us into this work of ministry, in whatever form that work takes, we are enough, just as we are.

Before we leave these precious few weeks of abiding in John’s gospel, let this be our reminder today, too: The God who has become human flesh and entered into the ordinary stuff of human existence in the body of Jesus Christ calls us enough, just as we are.

The bodies of society’s nobodies are enough. Our bodies are enough, not in spite of but precisely because of what they look like and what they believe or don’t believe and where they live and where they come from.

Our bodies are enough because they are enough for God herself.

Indeed, that is the message of John’s gospel and the whole point of this thing we call the incarnation, the “taking on of human flesh” — that God loves God’s world so much that God became one of us, giving us God’s very self as the bread of life, sustenance for the sake of our life, life abundant, life eternal, life and liberation and flourishing in relationship with each other here and now.

This word is hard to listen to and understand. But that’s exactly the point. If ever this mystery of God becoming flesh and everything it implies starts to make sense to us, something has gone wrong. It is nothing that can be or even should be understood. It is an act of love. It is an act of grace. It is enough. It just is.

There’s one last reaction to this word, this teaching, today: Peter’s confession of faith and trust. When asked by Jesus, “Do you also wish to go away?”, Peter’s response is stunningly simple yet profound: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Where else can we go? When the world degrades our bodies and calls into question our existence and self-worth, when our bodies hurl insults and violence at one another, when our bodies are told they are not good enough. Where else can we go but to the one who took on an imperfect, flawed human body and in so doing implicitly called it enough?

The Word became flesh and lived among us. The Word became flesh and called it very good. The Word became flesh and said it is enough.

Thanks be to God.


A Sermon about Being Bread for Each Other


Wicker Park Lutheran Church, Chicago
19 August 2018 + Lectionary 20B (Pentecost 13)
John 6.51-58

When I started seminary four years ago, I learned a lot of new words: Eschatological. Pneumatology. Exegesis. Hermeneutics. (Not to mention all the Greek and Hebrew vocabulary I memorized.) It doesn’t really matter if you know what any of those words mean. There are days I’m not sure I even know what they mean.

There’s one word I learned, though, before classes even started: YAGM. Now, some of you might actually know this one. Four years ago, I definitely did not. YAGM. I couldn’t even begin to guess. But as it turns out, YAGM is not even a word at all. It’s an acronym, short for “Young Adults in Global Mission.” Y-A-G-M. YAGM.

Before seminary, a few of my new classmates had just come from a year living and working abroad through this program of our denomination, the ELCA, that places young people from across the country into new and unfamiliar contexts to live and work alongside our partners in the gospel in the ELCA’s companion churches and organizations.

This past week, I’ve had the delight to serve as the event coordinator for YAGM Orientation. It has been inspiring and encouraging to see nearly 80 young adults from across our church descend on Chicago for a week-long orientation ahead of their year of service in various countries around the globe. And the premise of their work, as any YAGM will tell you, is accompaniment — the idea of walking together, to work alongside, to accompany, to bear the good news of Jesus Christ, the message of liberation for the oppressed, in our bodies.

Oftentimes, the church is called the body of Christ. It’s an idea that medieval Christian mystic and saint Teresa of Ávila captured in her short poem:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world…

We, the church, are the body of Christ for each other and for the sake of the world.

Teresa understood that we carry in our bodies the same work and compassion and blessing that Jesus embodied. Indeed, we the church are, quite literally, the very body of Christ for each other and for the sake of the world.

In Jesus’s words: The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

What began as the feeding of the five thousand, a miracle of abundance, has become something more.

Jesus’s society was a society living under the occupation and oppression of the Roman Empire, a society that privileged the few at the expense of the many, a society plagued by food shortages and insecurity, malnutrition, and disease. Scarcity, not abundance, was the order of the day. In the midst of this scarcity and oppression, Jesus recognizes a deep hunger for bread and more than bread. Jesus offers loaves of bread in abundance, and then he makes the stunning declaration: I am the bread of life.

The bread that Jesus offers is more than bread. It is indeed life itself, abundant life in the midst of scarcity. The bread that he offers is indeed his very self — the eternal Word of God who became flesh and entered into our reality, the grit of human existence, the great I AM who crosses thresholds and subverts boundaries and draws all people to himself and calls them friends.

The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Here, in this place, we hear this Word of Life and are fed by the Bread of Life. If there’s any truth the phrase “you are what you eat,” it’s here: Around this table, we become what we receive — the body of Christ, raised up for the world. We are the body of Christ for the sake of each other, bread for a world so desperate for the promise of life abundant.

Gunilla Norris writes these words in her poem “Plenty”:

Having shared our bread,
we know that we are
no longer hungry. It is enough

that you see me for myself.
That I see you for yourself.
That we bless what we see

and do not borrow, do not use
one another. This is how we know
we are no longer hungry… that

the world is full of terror, full of beauty
and yet we are not afraid to find solace here.
To be bread for each other. To love.

To be bread for each other… To be the body of Christ for each other…

The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

We are that bread, friends. In this thing called church, we are continually feeding and being fed by each other, having been fed first by the one who calls us and draws us to himself.

Just prior to YAGM Orientation this past week, I spent several days at a retreat of my own, a gathering of about 70 openly LGBTQIA+ Lutheran deacons, pastors, and seminarians who are all a part of Proclaim, an organization of nearly 300 of us in all. In worship, over meals, in discussions and fellowship with friends and colleagues, this is one of the highlights of my year. The Proclaim Gathering is always a time of rest and sabbath and being fed by our community, but this year especially: We gathered together from many places. Daily we heard the Word of Life and tasted the Bread of Life. In our time together, we were fed, by Christ, by each other, refreshed and revitalized, in order to feed others, sent forth to bear witness to the promise of abundant life in a world so desperately in need of that good news.

There is joy and community at this table. At YAGM Orientation opening worship, we literally danced as the altar furnishings and communion bread and wine were brought forward. At this table, whether at YAGM or Proclaim or Wicker Park Lutheran Church, God forms us into a beloved community, sent to accompany God’s people in this broken, beautiful world.

Jesus says: The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

We are that bread, and we are that flesh. We are the body of Christ raised up for the life of the world. Indeed, we are bread for each other.

Food, Grace, Abundance: A Sermon for Bread of Life Sunday #1


Lutheran Church of the Cross, Arlington Heights
29 July 2018 + Lectionary 17B (Pentecost 10)
John 6.1-21

Last week, I preached a sermon about rest. In the midst of so much busyness and hurry and important but exhausting work, Jesus bids his disciples to come away and rest… And in the midst of our own lives — all the important but exhausting work we do — we hear echoes of our shepherd Jesus bidding us to come away and rest. Rest. Take care of your spirits and your bodies. The work of the gospel, proclaiming good news to the poor and the oppressed, is important — but so are we, bodies made in God’s own image, bodies God calls very good, bodies that need care.

And so in that sermon just seven days ago, I encouraged us to take time for ourselves, to rest, to recharge, to replenish our bodies. And yet, I must confess: Not five minutes after the final “Go in peace,” I was already out the door, off to work: driving to my office, taking a Lyft to the airport to pick up a rental truck, driving back to the office, loading up boxes upon boxes, and finalizing last-minute details for a conference the following day — work that kept me in the office for three hours on a Sunday afternoon, awake until nearly 1 AM that night, and nonstop on-the-go throughout the majority of the next day. In the midst of work, I took no time for myself, no time to notice the needs of my own body and spirit, no time to rest. Quite literally, I didn’t do a very good job of practicing what I preached.

Then on Tuesday morning, something happened. As I sat in the chapel on our retreat campus for day two of the conference I had been so hurriedly planning, our morning devotion leader invited us to ponder a relationship in our own life that had somehow shaped or transformed us. My mind went immediately to the church home I had found after college — a place that welcomed and embraced me for who I was, exactly as I was, no strings attached. The community that enveloped me in those two years helped me imagine a new way of being church together that was bold in our proclamation of the gospel, radically inclusive in our welcome of all people, and relevant in our Monday-through-Saturday lives. That community is, in many ways, the reason I am standing here today as a child of God called to be a pastor among God’s people.

Tuesday morning devotions invited me into a moment to pause, to reflect, to rest. Our devotion leader also invited us to recognize these relationships as experiences of abundant grace. Together we sang a short call-and-response refrain that became something of a theme for our time together this past week:

All who are thirsty, come to the waters.
All who are hungry, come here and eat.
All who are thirsty, come to the waters.
There’s enough for all.

Today’s gospel reading takes us on a detour from our year of Mark into the beginning of five weeks of John — reflecting on what it means that Jesus comes to us as the Bread of Life, or, to use a favorite word of John’s, abiding in these enigmatic texts for an extended time. But today, before we even get to Jesus’s declaration “I am the bread of life” (that comes later), we have a miracle of abundance. The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle story common to all four gospels, and I suspect that should tell us something about how significant this story is.

Before we try to figure out what this miracle means, I think what happened is just as important on its own: five thousand hungry people were fed — not in some spiritual sense — but with bread and fish, satisfying physical hunger. Karoline Lewis, a scholar on the gospel of John and a favorite theologian of mine, suggests that being literally fed, as Jesus does for the crowd, is a hallmark of the presence of God. She says, “Where people are fed, literally, is where you can expect to experience grace — see it, taste it, smell it, feel it.”

At the conference this past week, our time together was punctuated by meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each day. Every day we ate together, and every day we talked with each other over meals — forming relationships and strengthening community by sharing food. Then on the last night of the conference, we gathered for a banquet, one final celebratory meal together, where we heard the stories of ELCA missionaries who have completed their service in countries around the globe. It was a sacred time to experience stories of what God is up to in the world through the missionaries of our church, a time to experience the abundance of God’s grace in our lives, and a time to eat a meal together.

The intertwining of God’s people, around food, experiencing grace in abundance.


ELCA Summer Missionary Conference Banquet, Thursday, July 26, 2018 (photo credit: Josh Evans)

The first time I came here to preach, way back in May, which feels like ages ago, the fellowship hall was filled with USPS boxes overflowing with food collected for your food pantry, which I would later learn is one of the largest food pantries in your neighborhood, feeding your hungry neighbors in need. Every week that I’ve been with you since then, you have gathered as a community after the liturgy to share coffee and treats and catch up on one another’s lives. And every Sunday you meet, you gather around this table, to eat and drink and experience God’s grace given for you, shed for you.

Food and grace in abundance are the hallmark of God’s presence and living together in the community of the church.

The poet Mary Oliver, in one of my favorite poems, writes:

Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

For now, this first of five Bread of Life Sundays, we rest, we abide, in the miracle — the abundance of loaves and fishes and grace. We don’t need to understand it, to analyze it, to spiritualize it. It is enough to experience it. Food and grace and abundance — taste and see that God is good.

Seeds of Hope, Stories of Resurrection


Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago
17 March 2018 + Lent 5B
Jeremiah 31.31-34; John 12.20-33

Wakanda Forever! (Not to be confused with the Illinois suburb, Wauconda.) It’s the rallying cry of a remote African nation at the heart of the recent theatrical blockbuster Black Panther. Theirs is a civilization technologically advanced beyond that of any modern country, but to the rest of the world, it’s seen as no more than a third-world nation, crippled by poverty and anything but tech-savvy — their discoveries kept a closely guarded secret to avoid exploitation by outsiders.

A central theme set up from the film’s beginning is the extent of Wakanda’s responsibility in global affairs. In a world of so much grave suffering and injustice, can a country so advanced and poised to offer aid really sit idly by? Or do they step in, even at the risk of exploitation?

That’s where I’ll stop, just enough of a teaser to get you to see it for yourself, without treading into the dangerous territory of the spoiler… Suffice it to say that Black Panther brings to the forefront a host of issues: the exploitation of vast parts of the globe by colonial powers, the moral responsibility of nations with the resources to alleviate suffering to step up and help, the ever-shifting and often unpredictable dynamics of world politics.

What does the prophet Jeremiah have to say to all of this? Quite a bit, actually.

Jeremiah knew something of what it’s like to live during a time of tremendous political unrest and turmoil. Jeremiah, in fact, lived through five kingly regimes during a time of drastic change and impending national exile in his country’s history.

Political rivals. Competing factions and parties. International war. Hostile foreign policy debates. It sounds a bit like the fictionalized world of Wakanda. It sounds a bit like our own reality. In the midst of this, Jeremiah prophesies on behalf of God to announce the destruction of Judah for turning away from the covenant between God and God’s people, at the heart of which is the command to love God and love neighbor — in other words, a commitment to social justice… but a commitment the people had long abandoned, turning their backs on those most in need.

Yet even amidst broken promises and the threat of destruction and exile, God acts. To paraphrase Kathleen O’Connor, in this tiny sliver of the promise of a new covenant, the book of Jeremiah testifies to an abiding hope in God despite all evidence to the contrary. This is a new covenant that will not be like the old covenant. We’ve been hearing a lot of covenant stories during these weeks of Lent — with Noah, with Abraham, with all of Israel at Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, and now, this new covenant promised to an exiled people who least deserve it.

There’s a sense here that the promised new covenant is like a seed falling into the earth, buried deep, barely noticeable (to borrow imagery from our gospel text). It’s easy to gloss over these few verses from Jeremiah, buried deep, like a small seed, in prophetic oracles of judgment and hopelessness. But the thing about seeds is that they die in order to sprout new life, to bear much fruit. In that way, there’s a sense that this new covenant is a story of resurrection.

We can begin to draw the parallels to Jesus, but: There’s a danger here in leaping to the conclusion that the new covenant is fulfilled in Jesus. This tendency toward supersessionism — think back to Pr. Craig’s sermon a couple of weeks ago — abounds in Christianity, this idea that somehow Christianity has superseded, or replaced, Judaism with the coming of Jesus. In the first place, that completely misses the point that the first Christians were, technically, not Christians but observant Jews, merely a different “denomination,” you might say. But more importantly, it also misses the richness and profundity of this new covenant in its historical context, given to a people in exile, in the worst of the worst of situations, with no perceivable hope for the future. Yet even there, the new covenant means that God has still not given up on God’s people. Like a seed that falls into the earth and dies, this is a story of resurrection.

The story of resurrection is deeply embedded in the whole of salvation history, not just in the gospels. The story of resurrection shows up even here in Jeremiah and continues into the story of Jesus in John’s gospel.

John’s is a gospel full of rich theological language and words loaded with more-than-literal meaning. In John, Jesus speaks of the appointed time for his death as his hour. And his death is no ordinary death but instead the hour when the Son of Man will be glorified — glorified in the double sense of being physically “lifted up from the earth” on the cross and metaphorically glorified, or in some translations, exalted, raised up to a position of power, thus subverting the image of the cross as an instrument of torture and death and reclaiming it as a symbol of hope and life.

In a more subtle way, the image of the seed offers the same message. This week, I stumbled across these appropriate words of the gay Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos: “What didn’t you do to bury me, but you forgot that I was a seed.” As an outspoken advocate for  the queer community through his poetry, Christianopolous wrote these defiant words in response to critics who tried to bury his work because of his sexuality. But, again, the thing about seeds, buried in the earth, is that they are destined to sprout new life. Seeds are subversive.

What a marvelous metaphor — this seed parable — for the death and resurrection story of Jesus! Life out of death, hope out of despair. Resurrection even in the midst of so much evidence to the contrary. The promise and presence of God even in the midst of desolation, injustice, political unrest, uncertainty, human brokenness. It’s the salvation story in its simplest form. It’s the story behind Jeremiah’s covenant, it’s the story Jesus tells about his own death, it’s a story that continues all around us even today — maybe you’ve seen it — in the voices of the women of the #metoo movement, or, just this week, in the witness of the students who walked out of their schools to call attention to gun violence. Where else?

Seeds of hope, falling into the earth, lying in wait. Resurrection stories in progress.

Covenant, Promise, Presence: A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent


Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
5 March 2018 + Lent 3B
John 2.13-22; Exodus 20.1-17

What does this mean?

I can still hear those words as if I were hearing them in my childhood confirmation classroom. “What does this mean?” “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” An almost robotic response.

The words from Luther’s Small Catechism have been emblazoned on the hearts and minds of Lutheran confirmation students everywhere, as surely as the Ten Commandments were first given to the ancient Israelites at Mt. Sinai many years ago.

Newly brought out of slavery from the land of Egypt, the people of Israel, God’s chosen ones, hear these new “commandments” read to them in the context of the covenant-promise between God and Israel, a marker of national and religious identity already established in the covenant made with Abraham we heard last week, and a moment that would define their relationship with God from that point on.

These “commandments,” however, are not exactly a set of laws or legal codes but are intimately tied to that covenant-promise. It’s unfortunate that Luther’s Catechism misses what our Jewish siblings actually observe as the first commandment: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The commandments begin with a word of good news! The law is rooted in gospel. And the you here is singular: These words are a reminder that God has liberated each person of Israel, that God has redeemed each one of us.

Rooted first in God’s action, the Ten Commandments are ultimately given as a model for living in community, with God and with each other. As later summarized in the version that appears in Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments boil down to this: love God and love your neighbor. It’s a vision of God’s shalom, to borrow from Dr. Menn’s sermon last Wednesday, God’s peace, God’s wholeness. It’s a vision of being in an intimate relationship with God and with each other.

Fast forward to the time of Jesus, to the scene we encounter in John’s gospel, and we get a very different picture. We see religious practice not driven by love of God and neighbor for its own sake but co-opted by a sacrificial system made oppressive by corrupt temple practices by those in authority.

In three out of four gospels, we get an idea of what that corruption looked like. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus accuses the money changers and vendors of making the temple into a “den of robbers,” exploiting the people with price gouging and dishonest transactions. But in John, there’s no reason given. Jesus walks in, takes one look around, and promptly makes a whip to drive everyone out with a stern warning: Take these things out of here! Instead of targeting individual practice, Jesus condemns the whole system.

Then, in an allusion to the passion events still to come, Jesus makes the bold assertion: My body is the real temple, the real place you can meet God. Access to God is not comprised of complex rules and regulations and systems that have corrupted and only exacerbate the problem. Access to God is here and now! God is made known in the very presence of Jesus, the Word made flesh who makes his dwelling among us. Here, in Jesus, is the place where God and humanity meet. Get these other things out of here! What you need is here. As if to say: I AM.

While neither we as Christians nor our Jewish siblings today have any firsthand notion of temple-based worship, we do know something of what it’s like to get bogged down in things that distract or deter us from being in relationship with God.

We who seek ordination and consecration in this church as pastors and deacons know something of what it’s like to jump through hoops, feeling like we’re always having to “prove” our call to ministry, from entrance to approval. And the hoop-jumping continues in the paperwork, interviews, and evaluations of CPE, MIC, internship, assignment, and first call.

For we who are LGBTQIA+ or persons of color or living with disabilities, proving ourselves is made even more difficult by the systemic hurdles of homophobia and transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, the list goes on.

The stress of midterm exams and papers, the hours spent preparing for qualifying exams and writing theses and dissertations, the time-consuming labor of sorting through CVs and interviewing faculty candidates, the minutiae of managing academic administration and accreditation and comprehensive campaigns…

It’s not difficult to get bogged down and burned out in the midst of carrying out our vocations, making us feel like our relationship with the One who called us here is distant, at best. Instead of temple vendors, cattle, sheep, doves, and money changers swarming all around, the demands of academic and administrative hoops to jump through absorb much of our time.

During Lent, a traditional time for “giving up,” we are invited into disciplines and practices that are meant to foster a mindset of repentance, of turning around, of refocusing and reorienting. This season, I found myself returning to Quaker writer and theologian Richard Foster who has written one of my favorite pieces on the spiritual practice of simplicity. Foster offers some very practical marks of what simplicity looks like:

Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
Develop a habit of giving things away.
Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.
Reject anything the breeds the oppression of others.

I have come to value the practice of simplicity as Foster describes it, though of course these things are easier said than done. But simplicity as a practice is an intentional invitation to declutter and remove those things which distract or harm us and to refocus on that which is life-giving, to enter anew into the intimate relationship with our Creator which they invite us to and so desperately want with us.

When I took a class on preaching the gospel of John last semester, one of the questions we asked after hearing a colleague preach was: What is the image of abundant life in this text? John’s gospel is indeed one of abundance, beginning right away with Jesus’s first miracle of turning water into wine at Cana and including such other signs as the feeding of the five thousand. There is explicit abundance in these stories, but there is abundance in more subtle places too. Jesus’s act of cleansing the temple is an act of  practicing simplicity — a clearing away of distractions, in order that we might experience God’s presence without obstruction. There is abundance here, and it is abundance in simplicity.

And while there is no allusion to the Ten Commandments in this story, it shouldn’t be lost on us that the gospel writer sets this event in the context of Passover — a festival with its roots in the exodus from Egypt, the journey through the wilderness, and the covenant at Sinai. Maybe it’s pure speculation, but I’d like to imagine that maybe, just maybe, Jesus had this in mind, pointing his people back to the covenant, back to all the words which God spoke, beginning with a reminder of their liberation and redemption.

These texts offer us the same thing. Whatever the baggage we carry with us into this space today that weighs us down, Jesus strips all that away and offers us the divine presence and promise in his very self.

I also remember hearing way back at my seminary sampler visit five years ago of LSTC’s mission statement: “to form visionary leaders to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.” In the midst of our work here, no matter what else weighs on us, distracts us, burdens us, stresses us out, this is what are we are here to do, as God’s own redeemed people, loved beyond our wildest imagining.

In the Beginning: A Homily, in Verse, for the Nativity of Our Lord


Preacher’s note: This is a sermon for which you’ll want to listen along, as there are audio elements not included in the manuscript.

Augustana Lutheran Church
25 December 2016 + Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day)
John 1.1-14

In the beginning—
no, before the beginning—
before the beginning
when God sat alone
in the murky abyss and the cosmic swirl:
There was

Then in the beginning—
at the very beginning:
Let there be light!
Let there be sun
and moon and stars!
Let there be waters and fish,
and sky and birds,
and dry land and every creeping thing that creeps upon the ground!

Then at the beginning:
Let us create humankind in our image.
So in the image of God
God created them.
Male and female
and intersex and transgender
and gender non-binary
God created them.

And it was all very good.

and protests
and war
and bombs
and deadly attacks.

Paradise lost.

Did God really say…?
The woman gave it to me…
The serpent tricked me…
Am I my brother’s keeper?

Creation undone,
and a promised flood
to destroy the world
that God had made.

Still: a promised Messiah
that would one day be born.

Still: violence and bloodshed
and oppression
and injustice
and neglect of the poor.

How long, O Lord?
…was the psalmist’s cry.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest…
…was the prophet’s call.

Let justice roll down!
Let justice roll down!
Let justice roll down!

In the beginning—
indeed, before the beginning,
during the beginning,
and for all time—
was the Word,
with God,
is God.

In the beginning
was the Word,
the spark of life
that brought all things
into being:
Let there be light!

Light which no darkness can overcome.

Praise the one who breaks the darkness!

The reign of God has come near!

Praise the one who frees the prisoners!
Praise the one who preached the gospel!
Praise the one who drove out demons!
Praise the one who brings cool water!

Praise the one who breaks the darkness!

Praise the one who birthed creation—
creation restoring,
creation renewing.

Praise the one true love incarnate:
The Word became flesh
and lived among us.

The Word became flesh,
became human,
became vulnerable,
became subject to pain
and stress
and grief
and emotional overload:

The Word lived among us,
the promise of a new chapter,
a new beginning,
the inevitability of dawn,
and the guarantee
to be with us, always, in the meantime.