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Thanksgiving Sermon: Remembered. November 24, 2022

This is the sermon I preached on Thanksgiving at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL). If you want to hear my scratchy voice, feel free to check out the livestream. I hope you all had a marvelous holiday!

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. It’s a day when memories come back on their own, unbidden. The aromas of today’s kitchen will bring me back to the farmhouse, where Grandma Nyhus and the other women in the family prepared the turkey and all the fixings. Desert will bring visions of the pantry just off that kitchen, stacked high with sugar cookies and krumkake. The Cowboys-Giants game will bring back memories of, well, nothing at all. I’ll probably be asleep on the couch by time this afternoon. In the company of family and friends today, I’ll remember times spent with different family and friends years ago. On Thanksgiving, I don’t have to try to remember. The remembering happens all on its own. And while there is a melancholic hue to these visions, reminding me of those who won’t be around the table today, they are happy memories. I don’t know that times were actually simpler or better, but they sure felt that way then, and I seem to remember them that way now. If today is a feast for our stomachs, it is also a festival for our memories.
  2. Most days, of course, we aren’t quite as good at remembering. Sometimes it’s hard on Thanksgiving; the first two Thanksgivings we were married, I forgot to take the giblet bag out of the turkey before we cooked, although that worked out well for me in the long run, as I never get asked to help any more. But our problem runs deeper. We remember wrongly, pretending that the past was a golden age in which all was well. Or we focus so much on what is wrong with the present that we don’t remember the good that has happened to us in the past. We are selective, if not downright self-serving, in how we remember things. We are short-memoried, more concerned with what’s been done for us lately. And eventually, of course, memory fades. Whether we are sharp until the end or dementia comes first, our minds will stop remembering.
  3. “What sign are you going to give us?” The crowded thousands gathered around Jesus are having a memory lapse. It’s like all 5,000 of them walked into the kitchen only to find they no longer had any idea what they were looking for. What sign are you going to give us? Not ten minutes ago he had found the one kid smart enough to pack a lunch and turned his five loaves and two fish into a meal to feed the multitude. Sure, Jesus, but what have you done for us lately? Humans have short, selective memories. Where nine minutes ago they were eating their fill of filet-o-fish sandwiches, now they’re wondering if Jesus is even worth their time. At least Moses, they say, gave their ancestors something to eat.
  4. Jesus stirs their memories. It was not Moses who was the source of the manna, the mysterious “what is it?” bread that nourished the people as they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan, from slavery to the Promised Land. It was Jesus’ Father who fed them. It was God who, day after day and year after year, made sure the people had provisions, who gave them that day – each day – their daily bread. Not only had Jesus’ just performed a sign, a miraculous feeding; in doing so he had shown that his mission was entirely consistent with that of his Father. Jesus came to feed God’s people.
  5. In the past referenced by Jesus, of course, God did not simply feed. God freed. At the end of the Exodus, after forty years of manna, God brought the people into the Land. They are commanded by God to keep the Feast of Weeks, a festival of the harvest in which they give of their first fruits to the Lord. And it’s not because God needs it; it’s because the people need to remember. They need to remember that the first of them was a wandering Aramean. A migrant. A refugee. They need to remember that their sojourn in Egypt was not one of leisure. They had been enslaved, subjected, oppressed. But God did not forget them; God remember the people. God remembered the covenants made with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. Though the people forgot, God remembered. Remembering, God saved them and set them free.
  6. Jesus invites the crowd to look beyond the gift to the giver. The work to which we are called is faith in Christ, trusting that this One sent by the God who fed our ancestors in the past will carry us safely into the future, all the way into eternal life. What sign will the Son of Man perform? In the end, the most wondrous of all: He will give himself away for the sake of the world. Remembering the covenants of the past, God now makes a new covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ and freely given to those who call upon his name. Jesus becomes for us food that will not perish. Take, he says, and eat. Take and drink. Do this for the remembrance of me. Whatever hurts or sorrows you bear this day, remember what Jesus has done for you, and trust what Jesus will do for you. Eat, drink, and remember.
  7. However you mark this day, remember, too, that our forebears in faith once wandered homeless, suffered oppression, and worried about hunger. As we feast today, both around the Lord’s table and our own, bear in mind that we are not fed for ourselves alone, but that we might be strengthened and nourished to be signs of God’s presence and care for those in need in our midst.
  8. And rejoice! Always rejoice. For while our memories falter and fail, God’s does not. The promise is sure. Around this table, God re-members us, joining us together with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, in this foretaste of the heavenly feast. Believe in Christ and you’ll never be hungry again. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

Thankfuls, 2022

Well, it’s Thanksgiving Eve, I’m sitting at a hockey rink, and I’ve got a blank Word document open where I should be writing tomorrow’s sermon. So, it must be time for the 9th Annual Thankfuls.

Every night at bedtime, we gather in the boys’ bedroom for prayers. Well, those of us who are home. It’s getting busier in our world. So many sports practices! But if we’re not all together, we still say prayers with each child before they go to sleep. Part of our prayer routine is to share the things for which we are thankful. While this occasional devolves into a lying-down standup routine, it’s always a good way to end the day on a good note. There’s always something to be thankful for; here’s my list for 2022:

  • Anders, our walk-off winner
  • Long walks
  • New baseball gloves
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Not Ticketmaster
  • All mortal flesh keeping silence
  • Zlatý Bažant
  • 400 blog posts, and the wisdom to not write 401
  • Alexander Ilyich Rostov, Tinker Grey, Emmett Watson
  • Not having to repaint the deck next year, God willing
  • Live Lumineers
  • Brady Singer and Bobby Witt, Jr. and not much else
  • Rooftop goats
  • Finally meeting my DMin cohort in person
  • Learning I’m taller than I look on Zoom
  • Devotions written by the laity
  • Greta, our singing, sewing, stick-handling, studious teenager (!)
  • Bo Giertz, and his clear understanding of righteousness as gift
  • Naps
  • Coaches, who pour so much time and talent into our children
  • The Altar Guild
  • Steve, Dustin, and COVID binge-watch marathons
  • Hawks and Ice Bears
  • 7-Eleven
  • 4:14, Christmas Eve
  • Walking through Bratislava
  • Challah
  • Jon Fishman, live vacuum cleanerist extraordinaire
  • Door County campfires
  • Impending sabbaticals
  • Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet
  • My Lighthouse! My Lighthouse!
  • Hockey rink concession stands
  • New sunglasses
  • Torsten, who is frankly a bit of a character
  • Cough drops
  • SigEp
  • A nice cabernet. Who doesn’t like a nice cabernet?
  • Christmas trees, plural
  • Nashville’s rooftop dining scene
  • Spring baseball, summer baseball, fall ball, winter workouts…
  • People coming back to church
  • Cheese, all of it
  • Eagles 10U Grey, MTXE!
  • Getting to coach and cheer for my kids
  • The faculty and staff of GLCS
  • Martin, Slovakia, and its wonderful, faithful people
  • The food I’m going to eat tomorrow and, even more, the people with whom we’ll celebrate
  • Erika. Always.
  • Jesus, in whom the end is sure and certain, wherever we wander in the meantime

I hope and pray that your Thanksgiving is filled with faith, family, friends, and French-fried onions.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Sermon: A Kingdom Built for All. November 20, 2022

This is my sermon for Christ the King Sunday, preached at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL). You can view both the livestream and the bulletin. The image is Crucifixion of Christ, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (public domain).

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. It’s shocking, shocking I say, that this hasn’t turned out better. The union of FIFA and Qatar, that is. After all, FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, or football as everyone other than us insists on calling it, is one of the most corruption-ridden organizations in the world. And Qatar is among the most repressive regimes on the planet. Who could have predicted that the country wouldn’t be ready to host this year’s World Cup? Who could have imagined that, while FIFA officials lined their pockets with bribes and lived off the largesse of one of sport’s most lucrative events, Qatar would be building the event quite literally on the backs of migrant workers, thousands of whom have died building stadiums and hotels for the event, all while doubling down on the oppression of women and the LGBTQ community? And yet, even with all that money and all that oppression, they still couldn’t get their act together to be ready for the World Cup that starts this morning. Who could have seen that coming, except for anyone with eyes to see? What a shame, as this should be not only a showcase for some of the world’s finest athletes but an event to draw people together from around the world. But no veneer, no matter how spectacular or expensive, can cover up the horrific foundations of this event, not that that will stop them from trying. No doubt we will see signage repeating the slogan with which Qatar bought, erm, I mean won, their bid for the event: “Expect Amazing.”
  2. In a world of sin, suffering, and oppression, the powers that be offer seek to distract us. “Expect amazing,” they tell us. Don’t look at the pain. Don’t think on your own suffering. Expect amazing! We build our kingdoms on the backs of others; much of our own nation’s wealth was built from the blood of people stolen from Africa and their descendants. Our village of River Forest once belonged to the Ojibwa, Menominee, and Potawatomi tribes. Best not to think about those things, of course. We turn away from our own pain, too, paper over our own suffering with style. Not with substance, but substances. We dare not look too directly at the stark nature of our reality. No, we expect amazing!
  3. Jesus ends up with a very different sign over his head as he hangs on Golgotha’s tree: “This is the King of the Jews.” The sign hangs there above his dying brow in mockery, not praise. It is meant to shame him and his people. This dying man, forsaken upon a tree, is the last person anyone would want for a king. But it is Christ himself who stakes a new sign in our midst. Jesus doesn’t turn away from suffering; he endures it. He doesn’t ignore sin; he forgives it. He doesn’t run from injustice and oppression; he becomes victim to it. He doesn’t turn away from his also-forgotten neighbor; he welcomes him into paradise. Jesus doesn’t bear a sign encouraging us to expect amazing, pretending that nothing is wrong. No. Jesus bears the cross. While this world’s shepherds lead us astray through misdirection, Jesus the Good Shepherd joins his sheep in the darkness. And by joining us in the night, Jesus can lead us to the dawn, the great inheritance of light for all the saints. Jesus doesn’t paper over the darkness. He puts it to flight.
  4. From the cross, Jesus speaks to us, freeing us from the two great powers that lord it over us, the same powers we use to dominate one another: sin and death. We often say that Jesus died to forgive our sins, and this is true. But it is also true that Jesus died because he had the audacity to forgive; tyranny doesn’t abide forgiveness – it thrives on punishment. For the very ones who drove spikes through his hands, he prays to his Father: Forgive them. This King proclaims that there is nothing we can do that is beyond his power or his will to forgive. Sin, in the cross, is defeated. And to the criminal by his side, justly condemned in the eyes of the oppressive Roman regime, Jesus promises Paradise. There is nothing we can do to keep us from our Father’s side in eternity. Death, in the cross, is defeated.
  5. This Kingdom does not ignore injustice and oppression. It does not paper over the breaks and bruises our bodies suffer. It does not pretend sin is not a problem. It does not avoid the inevitability of death. Jesus is crowned King, raised to newness of life and lifted up into heaven, because he endures and overcomes the forces arrayed against us. If you want to know what God looks like, look to Christ and him crucified; look to Christ, raised but still bearing wounds from which his atoning blood flowed. This One, this Jesus, is the incarnate image of the invisible God. This One, this Jesus, is the new, true King of creation. This One, this Jesus, is the One to whom we bow down in hope, for through him flows the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection from the dead. His is a Kingdom built not upon the backs of the least of these, but for the least, lowest, and lost. And, by the grace of God, even for you and for me.
  6. Today, we come not into the halls of power, but to the town dump outside Jerusalem’s walls. We bow not before a throne but at the foot of the cross. We turn not our eyes from suffering but follow Christ into and through suffering. In faith, we learn to expect that we will endure; that whatever power or wealth with which we are tempted, it all pales compared to the unending Kingdom held together in Christ, in whom and for whom all things were created. In faith, we know what to expect: Grace, mercy, peace, and love. If you look closely, it’s more amazing than anything this world has to offer, even as we await the fullness of his glory that will one day come. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

Sermon: Unwearied Witness. November 13, 2022

This sermon was preached on the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2022, at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL). You may view the livestream recording here and the bulletin here. The photo of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount was taken by me (August 19, 2017).

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Things have been falling apart since the beginning, but somehow it always seems worse now than it did in the past. Take these words from a keen observer of current events: “We have seen much of these signs, even though they also happened previously; but they are not for that reason any less sure of signs, especially because they occur at the same time as the others. And everyone acknowledges that today’s wars are of such a character as to make former wars appear as mere child’s play – so very horrible and devastating is what comes with guns, armor and munitions. . . . Let these signs be signs, great signs, signifying great things.” The speaker of these words? None other than our own Dr. Martin Luther, whose 539th birthday was this past Thursday, who was convinced by the greatness and the horror of the events around him that the end of the world was imminent. And yet here we are, in a world that has survived long enough to name churches and denominations after the good doctor.
  2. To be fair, things do usually seem worse than they once did. Jesus’ words from today’s gospel reading could be ripped from the headlines of the Times or the Tribune. Wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. From the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to the war that continues to rage in Ukraine; from famines caused by war and climate change to natural disasters to the reminder from COVID that we have not fully mastered virulent diseases, we know that things are bad. Maybe it seems like the world is ending. Certainly, we are reminded that this creation is entropic, always falling apart. What are we to do?
  3. Jesus’ words are spoken in the shadow of the Jerusalem Temple, two days after his triumphal entry into the city. For some of the provincial fishermen with him, it might have been their first time seeing the grand structure, impressive in two ways. First, having been rebuilt after the exile, King Herod had undertaken huge, and hugely impressive, renovations of the Temple. The place was an architectural marvel. Even more, however, was the fact that this was the mailing address for the Lord of heaven and earth; that of all the other places God might also be, this was where God promised to be. No wonder they mumbled in wonder, mouths agape. And Jesus responds by saying that not one of those stones would be left upon another? And then the bit about wars and all that? Of course, Jesus was right. Twice, in fact. First, by the time Luke wrote these words, the Temple had been thrown down. The Romans razed it in response to rebellion. But in Christ, the Temple was no longer the place God was most truly present. Jesus is the new Temple, and just a few days hence we will be torn down, laid to waste. But that would not be the end.
  4. Jesus points to death to show us from where new life will emerge. Jesus speaks of destruction to make way for the new creation that will emerge. In Christ, the Temple that was cast down has been rebuilt. The grave is now the gate to eternal life. And while we destroy, while we witness and suffer destruction, God’s Kingdom is taking shape. No, nothing we build will last forever. That, finally, is good news. Beyond both the broken, sinfulness of this world and its great truth and beauty is something more. As the preacher Fred Craddock writes, “there is no area of God’s creation so remote as to be unaffected by God fulfillment of the divine intention.” Christ will be raised on the third day, a new Temple built back up, whose divine presence permeates the cosmos. One day, a new heaven and a new earth shall emerge. Alleluia!
  5. The question, then, I suppose, is: What now? Living in a world that will fall apart no matter what we do, waiting for a new day that will come but whose arrival we cannot hasten, what now? What are we to do? Well, Jesus points the way. While suffering is not to be sought for its own sake, neither is it to be shunned. Every moment, no matter how difficult, is an opportunity to testify, to witness. Which is to say, to point to Christ. How will this world know its hope if we keep quiet? Even in the face of death, we do not despair. We point to Christ, the new Temple, who is our home. We point to Christ, telling others of God’s great love for them.
  6. Paul, too, points the way. Paul also thought the world was ending, but far from encouraging people to take it easy or to look out only for themselves, he writes that we should not idle; that we should “not be weary in doing what is right.” To be sure, this happens in big ways. In the face of war, we work for peace. In a world of hunger, we feed as many as we can. Amid sickness, we bring help and relief.
  7. Then again, sometimes we just bring a meal, or offer a kind word, or share an embrace. And that, by the Spirit, makes all the difference. Each day, having been named and claimed by Christ, we have myriad choices about who we will be and what will we do. Reflecting on today’s epistle reading, the inimitable Frederick Buechner writes of the little moments that make up a life: “All the absurd little meetings, decisions, inner skirmishes that go to make up our days. It all adds up to very little, and yet it all adds up to very much. Our days are full of nonsense, and yet not, because it is precisely into the nonsense of our days that God speaks to us words of great significance – not words that are written in the stars but words that are written into the raw staff and nonsense of our day, which are not nonsense just because God speaks into the midst of them.” In conclusion, Buechner writes, “And the words that God says, to each of us differently, are ‘Be brave … be merciful … feed my lambs … press on toward the goal.’”
  8. Luther might have thought the world was ending, but he also said this: Fiat justitita et pereat mundus. “Let justice be done though the world perish.” My friends, things fall apart. And one day they will fall apart altogether. Yet Christ who was crucified is alive; the Temple been rebuilt, and the cosmos will one day be reborn. All of this is true. We can’t stop the one or speed up the other. The question is what we will do in the meantime. As those who have been promised birth in the new world, let us live to God’s glory in this one. Let us witness. Let us not grow weary in doing what is right. In short, let us ask in every moment, “How do I best love my neighbor?” Who knows what God can do through us in the meantime if we seek to live for others? Christ promises to give you words, which is to say, himself. Christ is with you. Go and love this broken, beautiful world as we wait for the world to come. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

Memorial Service Sermon for Scott Krueger

This is the sermon from the Memorial Service for Scott Krueger, held at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL, November 12, 2022. You can view the beautiful service in its entirety. You may also view the bulletin. I am grateful for the life Scott lived, and for the holy privilege of preaching at this service. Rest eternal grant Scott, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Julie; Colin, Grant, and Drew; Jerry and Phyllis; family and friends in Christ: Grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. It’s not every day that we get to hear Bach, Elgar, Arnesen, Lloyd Webber, and Lauridsen here at Grace. We have, of course, Scott to thank for this. He chose the music for today’s service months ago, long before we knew this service would be needed. Back when we hoped such a day would not come. This tells us at least a few things. For one thing, Scott was just a bit of a planner. For another, he had exquisite taste. He had eyes and ears for beauty. There is much we could say about Scott, and we’ll take time to do that together this evening. And I know I speak for everyone when I say how blessed we were to hear today from you, David and Elizabeth, and especially from you, Colin, Grant, and Drew. Thank you for sharing your words, your memories, your love for your father with us. You know this without me saying it, but not only did your father love you; not only was he enormously proud of you; he also took profound delight in each of you, in watching you grow and become who you are. Long before parenthood was his own childhood, where he was the youngest brother and cousin, a precocious child from a small town with dreams of the whole world. And in between childhood and parenthood, he managed to convince his best friend that they could be so much more, that soulmate might be better, launching a story of adventurous love and support that would span 36 years of marriage. Scott lived with a strong moral imagination, always choosing to follow his ethical compass in his career. When young people (or any people) needed guidance and mentoring, Scott was there. There is so much to say, for his life was a blessing to so many. Which is why it is so hard that this service he planned is needed. It is a hard thing to lose someone, so loved and so loving, so young.
  2. We are here today because this world, so full of beauty and goodness and love, is also broken. Sickness comes. Things fall apart. As St. Paul writes, our mortal nature wastes away, the earthly tent in which we live is destroyed. Scott had the best medical care in the world, a huge network of support, the unwavering care of Julie and their children, and his own will to live. Throughout the past year, there were many hard days. There were, of course, days of great joy, too. We hoped, we prayed, the outcome would be different. But it was not to be. It is right that we cry and grieve. How could we not in the face of such loss?
  3. Scott knew early on that he might not survive this lymphoma, but in my conversations with him over the past year, he never despaired. I think there are two reasons for this, one for each side of eternity. First, Scott knew that as a child of God, he had nothing to fear from death. While he questioned and prodded his faith – and his faith was stronger for it – the foundation was firm; he knew God to be gracious and loving, warm and welcoming. As Christ was killed and yet raised to newness of life for him, Scott trusted the promise of his baptism. Second, I think Scott knew that he had lived life fully; that, though certainly he wanted more years with family, more time with friends, more chances to bless others, he had nevertheless truly made the most of the time he had been given. This is not to pretend he was perfect; who among us is? It is simply to say that Scott lived life to the fullest; he also lived so that others could more fully live, always seeking to help us see more broadly, to see who else we could include, to find beauty in new places. Scott knew he had lived fully and done great good in this world; he knew in faith that his place in the world to come is secure. In both of these, Scott found peace to live out his journey.
  4. We, like Scott, do not despair. Even in our tears, we take heart and find hope. Jesus comes to us this day, this One in whose death and resurrection we find new life. Jesus gives himself to us again. He sets a feast before us today, in the presence of the enemy of illness and in the valley of the shadow of death. He gives himself to us, the true bread from heaven, to nourish us and sustain our hope. In faith, we see that by God’s grace death does not get the last word. Death is not the end. Christ has burst forth from the tomb and in him we shall live. In him, Scott doeslive, received now into the eternal weight of glory. Isaiah writes of a coming day, when God will swallow up death and wipe away all tears and the heavenly banquet of rich foods and good wines shall unfurl forever. In today’s celebrations, we are blessed first by the presence of Christ and, through him, by the presence of one another. Together, even with tear-stained faces, we celebrate. We give thanks for who Scott was for each of us, and we praise God that Scott is very much alive in Christ. Life will not be the same for us, but the Kingdom is just over the horizon, and one day we shall be with Scott, and all the saints in light, into eternity. We can entrust Scott – husband, father, son, friend – into the arms of God’s mercy, for God is faithful and the story does not end here.
  5. We do not lose heart. Let us, then, raise our voices in song, creating beauty in this place in praise of our God. As a few of us sang to Scott in the ICU, let us all sing of that day of God’s glory, when there will be no more dying only light. Remembering how Scott helped us see beauty, let us sing to our Beautiful Savior. With the church on the earth and the hosts of heaven, let us sing to our God, who has won the victory for Scott. Who has won the victory for you. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.