Saturday, September 21, 2019


This year I dropped of my daughter Phoebe for her first day of high school.
And then something unexpected happened.
I cried.
The crying part is not unusual for me.
But I didn't expect it in this case.
People kept asking me all summer, "Are you freaking out that your daughter is going to be in high school".
And the answer was no.
I was looking forward to it.
In fact, I love the fact that my kids are growing up.
They are more interesting to me all the time.
So I thought as we left the house that morning that all was going to be fine.
It would be no big deal.
Just another first day of school, like all the other first days.
I have been thinking about my reaction a lot.
I think what it was about for me was loss.
I was losing part of my daughter.
All the things that we had done up to that moment where gone.
She was not the little girl I once knew.
And even though on an intellectual level I knew this was all good.
I knew this is how life is, I still had to take a moment and mourn the loss.

And thinking about it this week in light of our Gospel for this morning I have come to understand that all of our lives are about loss.
Every day we lose something.
We lose moments that we will never get back.
We lose time.
We lose our age.
We lose who we were.
All of us have experienced this in our lives.
We have all lost things.
And when we lose those things we have to readjust.
And in losing those things we might even feel that we have lost a part of ourselves.

I was looking at the pictures on Facebook of people starting the new year.
Of kids that have grown.
Of parents who are rushing to keep up with the demands of life.
Of kids who are moving away.
And I realized that all of my friends and families are not the same.
Or at least we are not in the same part of our lives.
We used to be concerned with diapers, and middle of the night feedings.
And now we are concerned with homework, dating, driving kids from one place to the next.
And the truth is that in every phase there is loss.
When I had kids I had to lose parts of my life that I had when I single or without kids.
I remember one year, when my kids were little, my wife asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday I said I wanted to go to a movie because we haven't been in so long.
I got to see Kung-Fu Panda.
We had to leave before it was over because the kids wouldn't sit through the whole thing.

I have to let you know that in our congregation there are people dealing with some serious life things.
All of those things are about loss.
Death, illness, aging.
They all make us reexamine our lives and who we thought we were.
One person is going through a lot of stuff with family.
And they asked their spouse, "I hope I will be the same when all this is done."
And their spouse very wisely said, "Of course you won't be."
Life is about loss.

This would be a real depressing sermon if that is all there was to say.
The good news is that God is always looking for us.
Because of that we are never lost.
We never lose us, because we always belong to God.
In every phase of our lives while we are losing I ask you today to think about what is found.
What do you discover about yourself in the loss?
What truth is God unveiling to you?
How is the loss helping you grow in faith?

I am no longer the father of young kids.
That part of my life is lost.
And I didn't realize that I had to mourn it.
But now I am wondering what does it mean to be me in this time.
What ways will I have to rely on God now?

When my kids were young I used to pray that God would simply help me get through the day.
That I would learn how to be a better man so I could be a better father.
My prayers have changed.
I pray so much for them now.
I pray so much that they might know and understand how great they are.
I pray they will know how much God loves them.

Because that is the beauty of the parables that Jesus tells this morning.
How much God cares for us.
That God will leave everything, God will stop all the other work to search for us.
Think about what Jesus says God is willing to do.
God will light a lamp, sweep the house, search carefully.
And when God does find us God will rejoice and throw a party.

Think about how much we do to try and hide from ourselves.
How much we do to hide from God.
We put up such a good fight.
We put up all sorts of walls so that no one will know who we really are.
And the amazing thing is that all God wants from us is to be who we are.
Just be you.
Be lost.
Be out of sorts.
Ugly cry in the car after dropping off your daughter for high school.
Don't know the answer to why people you love die or get sick.
Don't know what to say to make it all better.
Be you.
Because that is who God is really searching for.
Not the fake you who likes others to think you have it all together.
Not the person who says, "It is great. No problem. I am glad she is going to high school."
When people ask you about a major life change.
It is in the loss that we are found.
There in that place we discover over and over again who we really are, and what we really care about.

Life is about loss.
And that is why we gather here this morning.
We gather to mourn the loss, but more importantly to celebrate that we are found.
This week as you go about losing, know that God is lighting a lamb, sweeping the house, and searching carefully until you are found.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

10 Years Later Still Rolling the Dice

Something of significance happened this summer for our congregation and me.
It has been 10 years since we have been together.
I will be honest I wasn't expecting it.
I told Phil Joseph early on in our ministry together that I thought I would be here either 3 years or 8 years.
It would be a short time, and I would realize that this was not the place for me.
Or it would be a good 8 year run.
I want to explain the eight years.
My grandfather was also a pastor, and according to him eight years is the perfect amount of time to be the pastor of a congregation.
It was long enough to build relationships and trust so that you could get things done, but not too long were you both wear each other out.
But here we are at ten years, and I have no plans on leaving as long as you will still have me.
I still feel called here, I still feel that we have work to do together.
God is still keeping things interesting for me, and I hope for you.

I mention because I have mixed feelings about our Gospel this morning.
Jesus tells us that to be his disciple we have to "count the costs".
That we have to figure out if once we start something do we have the resources to finish the job.
On the one hand Jesus is right.
It is important to take measure of things and figure out can we do this thing.
We bought a new couch this week, and before we did we looked at all the options, we figured out if we could do it financially, and then we bought the couch.
We counted the cost.
Many times in our ministry together we have done this.
Before the current Capital Campaign the council discussed if we thought it was possible to raise the money we needed, and to figure out what needed to get done and why.
And Jesus is telling us that when we follow him we should do the same.
That there will be a cost to it.
It will cost us our lives.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something we do on the weekend when we have no other plans.
It is something we are all the time.
No matter where we are, or what condition out life is in, we are called to give of ourselves for other people.
And maybe the Church in this time doesn't do a good enough job of helping people see that cost.
The Church is just happy when people show up, and we take Jesus message and make it easier for people to be here.
We don't teach enough what Jesus is actually calling us to.

On the other hand.
How can we really know what the cost is?
I am not sure either Concordia Lutheran Church, nor I really understood what we were getting into ten years ago.
I wonder sometimes if you had really counted the cost would you have called me as your pastor?
Did you realized that some people would leave because of the ELCA vote on gay marriage and clergy?
Did you realize that some people would leave because of our open communion table that invites all people regardless of age, sex, faith tradition, or anything else?
Did you realize that your pastor would be an advocate for repeal of the death penalty, the homeless, immigrants, or LGBTQ+ community?
Did you realize that our church building would get a makeover?
Did you realize that we would get new seating, new bathrooms, new doors, new carpet?
Did you realize that your pastor would be always looking to do and try new things?
Did you realize that we would be running an early learning center?
I want to tell you that I didn't expect or know any of that at the time.
I really didn't.
I had no ten year plan.
(I will say the one thing I knew when I started was we needed new flooring in the fellowship hall.)
I went back and re-read the sermon I gave on the Sunday that you  voted to have me as your pastor.
It was about rolling the dice.
Here is a portion of what I said,
"This morning you all have a decision to make.
This morning together we have to try and discern God’s will for the future of Concordia Lutheran Church.
You have to discern if you feel that God is calling us to do ministry with one another here in Concord NH?
Let me suggest that we both are rolling the dice in this instance.
We are deciding on a course of action that neither of us know the outcome of.
We don’t know if we will be successful together.
We don’t know for sure if we will be a good fit.
I myself have prayed and agonized trying to discern God’s will in this case.
What are we to do?
Well you could flip a coin I guess.
But what I have done in the process as I met with the call committee and then the council is to be open to God’s call.
I have prayed about it.
I have given this my reverent best guess that this is where God is leading and calling me."

In other words in what was probably one of the biggest decisions of my life I simply trusted in God.
I am assuming you did too.
And that is what is difficult about Jesus words this morning.
We don't know the full price always.
We don't know what it will cost.
We certainly don't know how it will turn out.

Jesus disciples were following him from the start of his public ministry, but they didn't even know how it would work out.
They followed in faith.
And maybe this is where our lives and this teaching are most important.
And that is all of our lives are lived in faith.
We have to at some point turn it over to God, because we simply cannot see all the things that will come at us.

I want to end this morning with something my wife always says.
She says that she had no idea what she was getting into when we got married.
She was young and in love and didn't realize all the things that go into a marriage.
She didn't realize she was going to have to put up with me for all these years.
She married me on faith.
I want to say for my part it was worked out wonderfully.
But her point is well taken.
We simply don't know everything.
But we go on faith.

So count the cost, crunch the numbers, take your best guess.
And in the end have faith that on the walk Jesus will be with you.
I believe he has been with us as a congregation for the last ten years.
I am grateful that you rolled the dice and called me as your pastor.
And I still don't know what the future holds, but I know that as we walk together I am ready for the wondrous, glorious things that God will do here at Concordia Lutheran Church through all of us working together to witness to the awesome God we worship.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Diet Coke!

I don't think we need a lesson on sitting in the lowly seats.
Because I notice in Church that everyone likes to sit in the back.
Perhaps that is a good indication that we have heard what Jesus teaches about not taking the seats of honor unless we are called forth.
But that is not really what Jesus parable is about.
It is not advice on where to sit at a dinner party, anymore than it is advice on where to sit at Church.
In fact, it is not advice at all.
It is a teaching about the reign of God.
About the way that God wants the world to be.
About the way that the world was when Jesus walked among us.
And the way the world will be some day.

Right now in our world we make all sorts of assumptions about positions of power and prestige.
People with titles get better treatment then people who don't have it.
People with money or fame get special treatment.
They might get the best table at a restaurant, a special hotel room, people who pay extra attention to them.
The comedian John Mulaney tells this story about Mick Jagger from the rock group the Rolling stones.
John Mulaney wrote for Saturday Night Live and Mick Jagger was the host.
As John Mulaney tells it Mick Jagger would walk around and say, "Diet Coke", and one would appear in his hand.
That is special treatment that we don't get.
I am sure that Mick Jagger makes a lot of assumptions about what he will get in life from other people.
And I am sure if tomorrow you got a call that said Mick Jagger was coming over for dinner at your house you would put on your best meal you could think of.
You would call up your friends and tell them that Mick Jagger was coming over for dinner.
(Just as a side note Mick Jagger is not coming to your house.)
You get my point, if you have money, if you have power, if you are famous, you get treated differently.
And to be fair to Mick Jagger we all have these assumptions about the way we should be treated to some degree.
This week I had to spend a good portion of my day on the phone with the phone company trying to switch over the phones to "With One Heart Early Learning Center".
And I want to tell you it was not the most pastoral moment of my life.
I get so annoyed trying to do things in the world where you can't seem to talk to a live human being, and if you want to talk to a live human being it takes a half hour to get one on the phone.
And then once you get a live human being it is not the right one and they have to transfer you to another department.
Anyway, It was not my finest moment.
But in that moment I made lots of assumptions about what was owed me.
That I was owed good service from the phone company.
But why?
Everyone else gets treated the same way.
In that moment I was like Mick Jagger wanting to snap my fingers and make a diet coke appear.

And then Jesus comes into the world.
If you are like me and you believe that Jesus is God then how Jesus was in this world tells us what God is like in this world.
And Jesus destroys our notions of what we are owed.
Jesus doesn't come with a degree.
He is not rich.
He is not famous, except that he is popular with outcasts.
He holds no title, he not a king, a senator, a CEO.
He eats with undesirable people.
He places himself with the lowly, and he is lowly.
No wonder no one thought he was the messiah.
If Jesus came to your house for dinner what would you do?
Who would you invite?
Perhaps the right answer to that question is nothing special.
Jesus would be happy eating at your table the way you do every night.
Jesus would be happy with meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Jesus would be happy just to sit with you and talk.
There would be no special thing needed.
When we pray before meals in our house one of meal time graces is "Come Lord Jesus be our guest".
We invite Jesus to come into our home and sit with us, among the everyday food we have.
We ask Jesus to sit as we share together our day, our triumphs and struggles, our gains and losses.
We ask Jesus to be with us this day as we struggle to be our best selves.
Isn't that the beauty of Jesus.
Jesus doesn't need a diet coke, just us in all of our human vulnerability.

The second verse to "Come Lord Jesus" is, "Blessed be God who is our bread; may all the world be clothed and fed."
We remember around that table that we are blessed, that we have something to offer the world.
Because there are places where there is no food, where families don't get to share their day with one another.
And we know that Jesus is in those places too.
That Jesus is where we can't see him, because we are blinded by our prejudices.
Jesus came to break down the lines that we put up to separate us from one another.

Then there is the day that Jesus tells us about.
It is different then what was or what is.
It is a day when God will reign.
When those divisions are no more.
When all will sit at the table together, and there will no greater or lesser.
There will be no more winners and losers.
There will only be us together enjoying a meal with our savior.
That is the day I long for.

Do you?
Do you wish it was different then it is?
Do you wish that the comfort you have others had too?
I believe that is what Jesus is asking of us this morning.
Maybe this side of heaven we have privileges based upon superficial human things.
Maybe this side of heaven Mick Jagger is treated differently than the rest of us.
Maybe this side of heaven I we get mad because the Comcast isn't being very helpful and feel that some great injustice has been done to us.
Maybe this side of heaven people starve to death.
Maybe this side of heaven kids are not safe enough to share their day with their parents.
Maybe this side of heaven we are not all treated the same.
But on the other side.
In the world that is to come none of those things are true.

On the other side of heaven Jesus is the main guest, the honored guest, but Jesus as we know doesn't want it.
Instead Jesus just wants to sit with us and enjoy our company.
Let us pray today that we are not so preoccupied with what we have, or what others have, that we miss out on that opportunity.
Let us hope we know that the only one we need or want at our table is Jesus.
"Come Lord Jesus be our guest."