A New Kind of Empowerment

The following is a sermon I preached in the church where I am currently serving. It is part of a larger series of stories about “power in weakness” from 2 Corinthians 12.

 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is a quote from 2 Corinthians 12:9. At this point in his letter, Paul is talking about some sort of physical affliction that he has. He prayed and prayed and prayed about it but it would not go away. Then he says that the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When I was asked to talk about this I scratched my head for a long time. Did I really know what that actually means? Have I actually seen that in my own life? It seems kind of doubtful. We are surrounded by power all the time in the world, but power in weakness is something different entirely. I just about gave up right then and walked away.

We don’t really do power in weakness in this world. Instead, power is usually summed up by our achievements. If you do enough and you try hard enough you will gain power and all of the good things that go with it. For those in the world then who do not have power there is an unspoken assumption that they just aren’t doing it right.

So we get caught up in the rat race to gain more power for ourselves. Or more influence, more attention, more recognition that what we are doing matters. We find ourselves following the formula of please, perfect, and perform.

We think that if we can please others around us, perfect certain things in our lives, and perform how we think others want us to be- then we will get power and recognition. Because that’s what life is all about right? We have to make our mark on the world. Do something that we will be remembered by. If not, then our life was a waste.

What happens though when we don’t- and can’t- live up to this expectation? I got a crash course in this last year on my internship. The year had been very difficult on me spiritually and mentally. I had been challenged in ways that I didn’t think were possible. Without realizing it I had gotten trapped in the please, perfect, perform model with everything in my life. It was only with the help of my supervisors that I was able to live in a different way.

I remember the conversation that we had at our last meeting together before the formal end to my internship when one of my supervisors told me, “I’m going to be honest with you. When you first started I didn’t think you were going to make it through the year.”

“Umm…okay…”

The conversation that followed was probably one of the most awkward I have ever had. I mean, what do you say to that? How do you respond when someone reveals to you that they expected you to fail and that they had no confidence in you? Talk about your super uncomfortable moments!

In the months since I finished my internship I have reflected a lot about that comment. It explained a lot of other peoples’ behavior around me. The biggest thing I think that I took from that though was that I am glad I was not told that sooner. If I knew that no one believed in me and had confidence in me, I probably wouldn’t have finished that internship.

Moments like that one, where people don’t believe in you for whatever reason, they can have a deep power over us. When we hear that message, “you are not enough” it can crush us and tear us down. It disempowers us in a variety of ways. And if we hear it long enough- we start to believe it. We begin to think that we are not important. That our lives and our stories carry little value. We start comparing ourselves to other people and we always come up short.

It doesn’t take long for that worthlessness to become a part of our identity, and it stops us from taking a risk or taking an opportunity that comes our way because we feel that we are not good enough to be able to do it. We fear that by trying that we will fail, and so then it is better not to try at all. We fall back into that pattern.

Please.

Perfect.

Perform.

University of Houston Professor Brené Brown talks about this idea in her book Daring Greatly. She talks about how all humans strive for love and belonging and a sense of worthiness. And without this sense of being worthy of love and belonging we are unable to experience genuine connection and relationship. And it is that genuine connection and relationship that we all need to thrive. Instead of this we end up carrying a deep sense of shame feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging because, “I am not enough.”

It seems really bleak doesn’t it? But we have been immensely blessed with promises from God that tell a different story. A promise that we have a God who loves us. A God who wants to know us. A God who tells us you are enough, because you are mine.

Your story, your experiences do matter. We have a God who tells us that she will be with us always. Psalm 139 reads, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” And we too can proclaim the same thing without doubt or fear that this is not true. And so we don’t need to be afraid to take a risk, try something new, and accept opportunities that come our way that lead us out of our comfort zones. We can dare greatly! And if we fail at a task- that’s okay! We are not any less loved, or gifted, or valued. We will not be rejected or cast out.

Learning this promise changed my life and has deeply impacted my ministry. It was the reason that I was able to successfully complete my internship. And I know that it can be life changing for you too. Because we have a God who became weak by hanging on a cross so that we could be made strong. A God who redeems us from our past failings so that we don’t have to be afraid to get up and try again. That was the greatest lesson that I learned on my internship and I know that it is something that will continue to carry me through my life. I hope that you too can come to know this so deeply that you can feel it too and be transformed by it.

I want to end with a quote by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he gave in 1910. He says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ I invite you all to remember God’s promises to you. That you have all been freed from fear, renewed in hope, and empowered by God’s spirit. You can enter into the arena with full confidence that no matter what God is right there by your side so that you too can dare greatly.

Amen.

 

Featured Image is “Leadership and Power” from Wikimedia Commons.

For Those of You Waking Up in Sorrow Today (and those who are not)…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  -John 1:5

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven…”

I woke up this morning a good 10-15 minutes before my alarm went off. For those of you who know me you know that this is not a normal occurrence. I am not much of a morning person. I immediately reached for my phone on my bedside table, because I knew that the alerts would be waiting for me to read- and my heart sank.

I had been dreading this day for some weeks now. There was a small part of my brain that knew regardless of the outcome of this election that there would be fallout. There would be angry words thrown at each other. There would be people talking about how the end has come (if you don’t believe me go digging in the internet for a while). And I was not disappointed. News of shock, fear, and grief are all over right beside the triumphant jubilation. A quick glance at my Facebook feed told me that the divisiveness of our country which has dominated over the last few months will not be leaving any time soon. Just as there are millions of people who are feeling triumphant and celebrating there are also several million more who are fearful and grieving.

As I tried to wade through my own thoughts and emotions one thought kept coming back to me- a light shines in the darkness. This simple phrase has been a great comfort to me in times when I have found myself anxious and in need.

Now let me unpack what this thought means to me right now. To me it means that despite our thoughts and reactions (whether they are positive or negative) God is still here. God is still standing beside us in the midst of this. And this same God will still work in and through this decision to bring about God’s will for the world. If you believe that the presidential election results reflect the best path to this, then I certainly hope that you are able to lean into this belief and have it be central to your thoughts and actions going forward. You may even feel that this is already happening and I am glad that you feel hopeful and not abandoned and unheard. If you are feeling angry and hurt wondering why God has allowed us humans to make this decision, then I hope that this belief is a comfort to you. God is still at work in this world and is able to work through all circumstances.

Despite whether you are blue or red God is still with you and will never stop seeing you as a child of God. My only hope going forward is that we can continue to see each other that way. We still have an identity in Christ given to us in baptism that is much more important than any other identity given to us by the world. That is now how we must think and act. We come together and are united as the church by the grace of God through the Spirit. It is in that identity and unity that we are capable of doing the work of God in the world.

Remember that when we pray the Lord’s prayer that we pray for, “thy will be done” not “my will be done.” If you are feeling anxious about the election results I encourage you to pray this prayer. God has promised to listen. If you are feeling happy and excited about the election results I encourage you that when you pray this prayer that the Spirit makes the words real to you. I myself pray that when we pray this prayer together as the church that we remember what we are praying for and that we pray together. I pray that God’s love and grace may fill our hearts and minds so that we may see each other as God’s children and that we continue to be the body of Christ- one body of many members.

 

The link below is to a song that the choir I am in sang in worship this morning. I think ultimately this is what everyone is looking for. God will bring this when we pray for it.

 

Growing in Faith

Hey everyone,

After a long hiatus I am finally back! My apologies for not writing sooner (I feel like I have said that a lot here…). My internship is now over and I am back finishing up my studies to become a pastor. God willing I will graduate this May and be ordained sometime after that.

For this year I am also working part time in a suburban church helping to teach confirmation. We are trying to engage the youth concerning topics of interfaith and also delving into some of the deeper questions concerning the troubling events in the world. The lessons for the next 2 weeks will be a recap of reformation history since the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the reformation is fast approaching. In the lesson I am teaching I was asked to talk about the larger effects of the reformation on history. I also decided to add a little something that connects to our interfaith theme of the year. I want the youth to discuss how to engage with people who are of a different religion than themselves. I decided to highlight Martin Luther’s poor treatment of the Jewish people in his writings That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) and On the Jews and their Lies (1543). I want to talk a little about why Luther wrote these texts, what we as Lutherans do with this knowledge, and how God is calling us to act differently.

In the past when I have proposed doing something like this it has often been immediately struck down with no opportunity to discuss it. Especially when I have wanted to have these discussions with youth. The explanation I have usually been given is something like, “it’s too difficult. The kids won’t understand.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth! We should be asking these questions and allowing others to do the same. If our job in the church is to help people learn how to go deeper in their faith then stifling their questions about how faith is relevant in the world will only achieve the opposite effect.

Saying that youth and young people will not understand is also a fantastic lie that we tell ourselves. Just a couple of weeks ago some of the college age youth I know had a conversation about how to discuss faith and belief with those who have a different belief on how GLBTQIA people should be treated by Christianity. I have seen younger youth have conversations about difficult topics in their faith too.

WAKE UP CHURCH!!!

Our youth are already asking these questions and we need to be there to answer them! If not they will seek their answers from other sources. Sources that will only continue the ongoing rhetoric of hatred, division, and fear that is prevalent in the world. Also, we will be sending a message to them that by asking questions they are not a “good” Christian, because “that’s not what we do here.” Our young people are searching for more. They want to be challenged. They want to dig deeper. Instead we tell them that they should just memorize the “right” theology and regurgitate it when asked. This is not meaningful to them.This does not speak to their lives.

We have to be willing to go into those difficult spaces. If we don’t then our youth will seek their answers somewhere else. I’m ready to do this with the youth I am teaching.

Are you willing to take a risk and dig deeper too?

 

 

  • For those of you who are unfamiliar with the two Martin Luther writings I reference here is a quick explanation. These two writings were written by Martin Luther discussing how to engage with people of the Jewish faith. In the first writing Luther talks about how Jews should be treated kindly and with dignity (remember how Jesus himself was a Jew). 20 years later Luther creates another writing with a completely different stance. He talks about how the Jews should have their schools and synagogues set on fire, have their scriptures and prayer books destroyed, and have their belongings and money taken away. Some scholars believe that it is this very text that the National Socialist Party (ie. the Nazis) used as inspiration for their acts on the night known as Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938. Scholars of Luther believe that he wrote On the Jews and their Lies in response to his frustration that many Jews did not convert to Christianity like he thought they would as well as his declining physical and perhaps mental health (Luther died 3 years later in 1546).

From Mourning to Morning

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You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

-Psalm 30:11-12

Today has been a very strange day. That is really the only way that I can describe it. As many of you know I am interning at a college and a church in Minneapolis. When I went to a staff meeting today only about half of us were able to be there. It turns out that the others were all gone because they were all dealing with a personal crisis. One was dealing with the recent death of a family member, another had a parent who was undergoing major surgery, a third was giving emergency pastoral care to a family dealing with trauma. It just seemed like constant bad news left and right. It would be really easy to become despondent about things after hearing all of that.

I also happened to be working on a sermon at the time for an evening service as the college. I am preaching on Psalm 30 so the text has been on my mind for a while now. I cannot help but notice the connections to my sermon and all of the experiences of my colleagues.

Psalm 30 talks about having joy and praising God continually. This can be super hard sometimes when we receive bad news or as we are constantly bombarded with all of the horrible and painful things happening in the world. At times it can feel like being joyful is actually strange or even inappropriate. The psalmist here reminds us though that our sorrows will only be temporary and that we can be joyful knowing that God is with us in the midst of it. As one of my colleagues today mentioned at our staff meeting, “we look for the good [when we are in sorrow].” I think that is a little about what the psalmist is saying here too. God is able to bring us hope even when we are in the deepest darkness. We are not alone in those moments, because God is with us. So it is okay to be joyful even when others around us are suffering. That can serve as a reminder to others that eventually their mourning will become dancing as well. We can be happy knowing that is true. Thanks be to God for that promise!

Photo by kilgarron from flickr.com

Moments of Holiness

Once again it has been a while since I have written. My sincerest apologies fellow readers. Lent has been even crazier than Advent, and that is saying a lot!

As I write this I am currently sitting in a church in Laredo, Texas. As another part of my internship I am on a spring break trip for the college I am working for. We are with a group of 21 students doing work for Habitat for Humanity here in Texas. What an experience this has been!

I have never really been a  person who sees God in every single thing I am doing all the time. For instance, I do not think it is a holy moment when I am sitting reading a book, or when I brush my teeth at night before bed. So as I sit and reflect about the week so far it is a little bit of a challenge for me.

This trip for me though really is a holy moment. As I stand on a ladder with a nail gun putting nine inch nails in wood (which I got to do on Monday) I can feel God guiding me. After all, since I am serving my neighbor I do not want to do it halfheartedly. To me, God is really blessing our work and helping us to do our jobs to the best of our ability. We have been working fast, but also doing things well despite the fact that many of us have never done this before.

I also feel God’s holiness in this group of students and fellow leaders that I am with. Earlier tonight a student led a large  group activity called Words of Affirmation. We all tape pieces of paper to the wall with our names and we write inspiring messages to each other. Seeing and hearing what people have written to each other has shown me just how much this group has come together. Some of us have never known each other before we left, but now we are comfortable enough to work together, share our stories and cultures together (we have many international students on this trip), learn together, and love together. To me, that could not have happened without God being present in our hearts.

I pray that the rest of our trip is filled with many more of these moments of holiness in our daily lives. We return to Minnesota on Saturday and I hope that the Spirit stays with each and every person as we go our separate ways afterward uniting us together in our hearts.

 

Follow the rest of our trip! The students are also writing a blog about our daily activities here. Also, please consider supporting the work of Habitat for Humanity; they really do amazing work for people who really need it. A link to the Laredo chapter of Habitat can be found here.

A “Real” Day

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Ash Wednesday is probably the most real day in the Christian calendar…

That was the first line of the sermon given by my supervisor tonight during the Ash Wednesday church service at my internship church. What a thing to ponder on! I am sure this is probably not a thought that many Christians have as they receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads on this day.

Earlier today I was in the office building of the church that I work at just moving about doing multiple tasks. This church is located in a neighborhood that has a large population of Somali Muslims living there. I had already received the cross in ashes earlier that day at a chapel service I attended (I am also interning at a college). Some Muslim girls were sitting in the hallway as a part of the after school homework help program the church runs. They saw this sign on my forehead and it came as quite a surprise to them. They asked me why I had a “plus sign” on my head and what it was made of. I think I might have frightened them a little when I told them it was made of ashes.

“Is it a tattoo?”

“Is it permanent?”

“Did you burn yourself?”

“What happens if it doesn’t come off?”

“Can you buy these ashes on Amazon?”

“Do all Christians do this?”

“What is it for?”

Those are just a few of the questions that I received. Some of these are questions that Christians should be asking too. Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our humanity. It is a reminder of our mortality and our need for repentance and return to God. I explained this to the girls sitting in the hallway telling them the ashes remind us that we will one day die, and I will not forget the response I received. One of the girls blurted out, “Well, duh!”

Well, duh! How truthful children can be without intending to! Death is something that we all know will happen to us eventually, but do we really acknowledge the implications of it? Our culture around us tries to get us to forget this reality, or deny it, or push it away from ourselves. It is painful so we hold it at arms length and go through amazing hoops to avoid it regardless of the cost. The very same can be true of our need for repentance. I am grateful for the blunt witness of this young girl to this reality of life that many adults try to forget.

Just as this Muslim girl reminded me this afternoon, Ash Wednesday reminds us of these things. It also reminds us of how blessed we are to have a savior who has defeated death and has granted us eternal life. It reminds us to turn away from the things that separate us from God in a way that is very real since it holds back no punches. Perhaps it is the most “real” day in the Christian calendar…

My conversation this afternoon was a holy moment. Barriers of all kinds were brought down. These Muslim girls and I learned about each other and found new respect for each other. I was also reminded of the bittersweet beauty of this first day of Lent.

So what is Ash Wednesday trying to remind you of? What does Lent mean this year for you. Perhaps by the end of these 40 days may have a revelation like the one I received this afternoon.

 

Picture is from debowscyfoto at pixabay.com

Love Instead of Fear

Hey all!

I tell you, if I had known that it was going to be so hard to keep this blog up during my internship I would have had a much more intentional plan on how to do it. Things are crazy busy, but I am loving every minute of it!

I just thought I would share something that is on my heart and mind right now. I just got back from an open mic event in North Minneapolis (quite literally too. I’ve been home for 20 minutes). For those of you familiar with the Twin Cities area this area is often labeled as the “bad” part of town. I tell you now though there was nothing bad about what I experienced tonight.

I spent over 3 hours in a coffee shop listening to some amazing musicians share their stories, their thoughts, and their feelings. These were people from all walks of life. There were people of color, white people, millennials, young children, some older people… We packed that coffee house in North Minneapolis. And what a holy gathering it was!

People were praising God using many different names. They were also recognizing the work of the Spirit in each other. They were acknowledging the blessings that they have been given and giving thanks for all of these things. You could feel the Spirit move in the hearts of all who were present there tonight as we all came together with such a deep and wonderful sense of community. It truly felt like the embodiment of the words of Galatians 3:28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…”

Nothing bad happened to anyone. Never once did I feel afraid for my safety. Never once did I feel like I did not belong there. And remember this was in the “bad” part of town. All of the biases that I was told to believe in about that community and the people who lived there quickly melted away.

This is what the body of Christ is! A community of ALL people where we are all loved and are able to be who God created us to be. This is why it is worth doing the work of tearing down walls that divide us as people. So that moments like this can become more common. We have all been granted salvation and freedom by God. It is time that we start acting that way. It is time we recognize that freedom and grace and love of God in everyone.

 

 

 

Running Free

Hey everyone!

I am so sorry that it has been so long since my last update! Things have been so busy with me settling into my new role in my internship. I also need to find a new day to post regularly that works with my schedule…

There is a thought that has been on my mind for a little while now that I thought I would share with you.

For those who have known me for a while you will know that I like to run. I started the spring semester of my first year of college and have kept it up ever since. Just last night I registered for my first official 5K with a friend that will take place on Halloween. I am super excited for it! There have been some times though that I have been nervous for it. There are times that I have wondered if I actually will be able to do it, or if I will not make it.

It makes me think of a web comic that I read. The author is also a runner, and he wrote a comic explaining all of the reasons that he runs. One of the things that he talks about is this thing that he calls “the Blerch”. The Blerch represents the little voice in our heads that tell us that we will fail. It is the voice that tells us we are not good enough, and can sometimes silence us and halt us from acting.

What are the “blerches” in your life? I know that I certainly have mine. What are the voices in your head that tell you about all of the things you cannot do? It would be great if we could all do anything in our lives without the risk of failure. Sadly this is impossible though.

The thing is though that we can still boldly take risks even with the possibility of failure. If we do fail, that’s okay. God has already made things new, and can work through our failures to bring about something good. That is such a powerful promise that it can silence even the strongest “blerches” that we may have.

So on Saturday I am going to run free. I may be a little nervous at the start line, but I know that my blerch has already been silenced, and that God will be with me saying, “you can do it!” God is with you too helping you to run free.

The webcomic that I reference in this post is called the Oatmeal by Matthew Inman. The specific comic can be found here.

God of Relationship

As I sit here at my desk pondering what I wanted to write about today I wanted to write something that is relevant for the day, but also connects with some things that have been on my mind recently. It is almost like writing a sermon. One of my supervisors reminded me last night that we should “preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” That is some of my inspiration for my post today.

Last night I was helping out at a Kickoff event for a program that I am helping to work on this year that does interfaith work for the community where I am serving in my internship. We allowed space for those who attended to tell us what they wanted this program to do and what they want it to look like. One of the others who is leading this program said that she is hoping that this can be a space where we relationships are developed to strengthen the community.

I really love that statement and it has become my hope for this program too. Interfaith work should not stick to covering the basics of what other religions believe(although this is important too). Simply reporting the facts can promote tolerance which can be a good thing in the right setting. Promoting relationships through dialogue and sharing stories/experiences can promote respect, trust, and even friendship. This is something that tolerance alone might not do.

I cannot help but also ponder the significance that this could hold on our communities and our world. 14 years ago today we were hit with a violent wave of hatred that destroyed many lives. The way that we responded here though was also with hatred and also fear that destroyed just as many lives (probably more). If people of faith can come together and promote relationships across lines and boundaries in our communities then when fear and ignorance rear their ugly heads we can better respond to it.

Jesus crossed lines and boundaries all the time. He was known for going against the status quo for the sake of caring for all people. As followers of Christ, should we not be doing the same? Shouldn’t we be showing loving kindness to all the people we encounter instead of viewing them with fear and suspicion just because they believe something different than we do? I hope that what happened in 2001 never happens again, but I also hope that we respond to things differently in the future as well.

That is why I am excited to work on this interfaith program this year. It is really important work to grow and strengthen both individual people and their relationships with each other. I am proud to be doing this work of tearing down boundaries just like Christ did when he was here on Earth. We have a God who seeks to build relationships with love that passes all understanding. That same God is within us too and can shape our hearts with that love for the good of all.

How Visible is too Visible?

Last weekend I went with my mother to a new store in their neighborhood. My mom was super excited about it since she wanted to get my opinion about some things they sold there that I might like. I have to admit that I went along with it simply to make her happy. This particular store has been well known for its owners being very conservatively Christian.* They have also been in the news for some of their more controversial political practices that tie in with these beliefs.

When I was in the store I tried to have an open mind to it even though I had already made up my mind that I did not want to spend any of my money there. As I walked around the store though there was something about it that made me a little bit uncomfortable. Almost everywhere you turned in the store were things that were shaped like crosses, had crosses all over them, or were quoting Bible verses. My feeling of discomfort actually surprised me. I have some things like that in my apartment so it is not new. Just seeing it all over and constantly in your face just bugged me.

I just recently started an internship at a church that is located in a very ethnically diverse neighborhood. It is also very diverse religiously as well. Being in this area has really made me reflect on what it means to be a Christian in a space like that. Walking around the store then, I could not help but think that if I was a person from that neighborhood how uncomfortable I would be in that place.

As Christians our beliefs tell us that we should go and proclaim the good news of Jesus. Many of us think of Bible passages such as Matthew 28 (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”) or Mark 16 (“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”) There are also all of those posts on Facebook that have Bible verses that condemn people who don’t share the gospel (ex. Mark 16:16; Luke 9:26). How can we do this though by avoiding the trap of what I call “Look at me I’m a Christian” syndrome?

As Christians we have been given an amazing gift of salvation and grace through Jesus. This can (and should) affect both our words and our actions in the world. We are freed to live in a different way. Free to serve our neighbors and send them a welcoming invitation into beloved community. Perhaps a more subtle and humble invitation is more appropriate than a harsh in-your-face approach. By demonstrating our faith through our actions and how we treat others the Spirit can enter in and create space and conversation that may lead to something more. Perhaps this store and its owners might want to try a slightly different approach.

*I realize that the owners of this company are simply doing what they think is right according to their beliefs. Taking that into account I will not give out the name of the store in order to protect the integrity of the company and all those who are affiliated with it.