31 December 2013

The 2013 Book List - Final Edition

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly (more or less), for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

My Ten Favorite Books of 2013

These books are listed in no particular order.  Really.  I couldn't rank them in any sort of order even if I tried.  Links are to the versions of the books I enjoyed - audio when I listened, Kindle when I bought eBook, hardcover when I got that.  Happy 2014 reading!

An Unabashed FanPost for Disney's "Frozen"

Earlier this year, when Beloved and I took our girls to see the movie Despicable Me 2, we were treated to an interesting trailer:

It's a wonder in and of itself.  This trailer has nothing, not thing one, to do with the plot of the movie it's teasing.  You don't even find out the names of the characters involved or what connection they have with the story, if any.  And yet it piqued our interest.  So when the movie was released over Thanksgiving weekend, Beloved and I decided to go see it with her sister and family.

18 December 2013

Faith, Fear, and Trembling

So there we were in Bible study today at the local cafe, the same way we are every week.  This week we were looking at the readings for our Christmas Eve service, particularly the gospel narrative of Jesus' birth from Luke 2.  We were all talking about what it must have been like for the shepherds, wandering around Bethlehem in the dark, looking for that one stable where Jesus was born out of the many nooks and crannies likely available in a little hill town like Bethlehem.  No streetlights.  Nothing but the stars and the occasional household fire.  Then one of the members of the Bible study said, "I always figured the star led the shepherds to where Jesus was."

02 November 2013

Days of Thankfulness: Sports

Today was quite the day.  Beloved and I got up and drove into town without the girls thanks to a family friend volunteering to take them for a few hours.  Beloved had a class to teach at the gym, so I rode in with her and jogged about 1.5 miles to central campus at Iowa State, where I registered for and ran in the Lutheran Services in Iowa Blue Sky Day 5K.  Nice little 3.1 miler around campus, for a total of about 4.5 for the day.  Ran pretty quickly too, even though I overdressed and got very hot toward the end.  Then we came home and I got to spend a few hours doing my favorite thing this time of year:  watch college football.

I was a decent player in high school.  Could have played some small college ball if I'd chosen to do so, but I chose to attend the University of Nebraska, where I would not have measured up.  But I've always loved sports of all shapes and sizes.  Yes, we overemphasize sports in this country.  Yes, parents are far too willing to spend far too much and sacrifice far too many things for the sake of their kids' sports dreams.  Yes, I agree that we're obsessed with them to an unhealthy degree.  But for all that, there's a core that remains good.

What's good?  When moments like this happen:

I never had a Hail Mary moment work out for me as a player, but I remember good things about sports all the same.  Working together to achieve a common goal.  Pain.  Sweat.  Sacrifice.  Unity.  Adversity shared.  Losses acknowledged.  Victories cherished.  When we do sports right, it helps us grow as people.  Those boys in scarlet today will remember the time they bonded together, refused to quit fighting and accomplished the near-impossible.  Those boys in purple today will remember the time they worked together, gave everything they had, and lost it in a heartbeat.  BOTH experiences teach us life lessons.

There's an inscription on Memorial Stadium in Lincoln that Husker fans have cherished for years:
Not the victory but the action:
Not the goal but the game:
In the deed the glory.
Today I'm thankful for sports.  Whether it's the kind I play now, where I'm mainly measuring myself against my own goals and efforts, or the kind where someone keeps score, when we do it right sport is magnificent and wonderful and heartbreaking and terrible all at once, just like we are.

01 November 2013

Days of Thankfulness: Sabbath

In what will likely become a vain attempt to blog more this month, I'm taking on the 30 Days of Thankfulness challenge this year.

Today is my "day off" and I'm using it to get some things done around the house that needed doing.  Tomorrow I'll run in a 5K raising money for Lutheran Services in Iowa, watch the Nebraska game in the afternoon and take in a movie with Beloved at night.  These are sabbaths for me.  Yes, there's work to be done at the church.  But it needs to wait for a bit.  Earlier this year I noted that I'd been at the church for over 52 consecutive weeks - that's not good sabbath-keeping for a pastor.  So, today, I'm thankful for sabbath and the chance to step away from one vocation to pay attention to others and recharge for a couple of days.  Here's hoping you have the same opportunity.

14 October 2013

On Silence and Learning

Last week I had two experiences of silence.  Both were extraordinary moments for me.

13 October 2013

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

The story read at the beginning of this sermon is "Where Are The Nine?" from The Way of the Wolf by Martin Bell.

04 October 2013

2013 Book List: October Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly (more or less), for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

*1.  The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe #1) by Raymond Chandler
2.  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
+3.  A Failure of Nerve:  Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman
4.  Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell.
5.  Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, #7) by Jim Butcher
6.  A Memory of Light (The Wheel of Time #14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
*7.  The Defenders and Other Stories by Phillip K. Dick
+8.  Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
9.  Proven Guilty (The Dresden Files, #8) by Jim Butcher
+10.  Dust:  Jacob's Ladder Trilogy #1 by Elizabeth Bear
*11.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
+12.  The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins
13.  White Night (The Dresden Files #9) by Jim Butcher
14.  Redshirts by John Scalzi
*15.  Firestarter by Stephen King
16.  Small Favor (The Dresden Files #10) by Jim Butcher
17.  Turn Coat (The Dresden Files #11) by Jim Butcher
18.  Changes (The Dresden Files #12) by Jim Butcher
19.  Side Jobs (The Dresden Files #.5) by Jim Butcher
*20.  Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
21.  Ghost Story (The Dresden Files #13) by Jim Butcher
22.  Where God Meets Man:  Luther's Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel by Gerhard O. Forde
*23.  Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
24.  Cold Days (The Dresden Files #14) by Jim Butcher
*25.  Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
*26.  World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
27.  Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
+28.  By Paths Untrodden by James Honig
29.  Evensong by Gail Goodwin
*30.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
+31.  Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen
*32.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
33.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
+34.  The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
+35.  Click2Save:  The Digital Ministry Bible by Elizabeth Drescher & Keith Anderson
36.  The Ragamuffin Gospel:  Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt-Out by Brennan Manning
37.  Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card
*38.  Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
39.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
40.  Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Friday Five: Roots and Wings Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five, from 3dogmom:
I’ve just returned from an extended road trip, a portion of which included travel through ancestral homelands. While I was gone our son’s first child, Hunter, was born, making me mindful of the gift that our roots can offer to us as we venture through life. That juxtaposition inspires today’s Friday Five.
At a baby shower honoring Hunter guests filled out a card full of hopes and wishes for his life. Thinking about whatever new life may be touching yours (the birth of a child, a marriage, a new call…), choose five wishes from the following and do the same. (For instance, I wrote for Hunter, “I hope you laugh at your grandfather’s jokes.)
I hope you: learn, grow, remember, laugh, get, follow, aren’t afraid, love, respect, try to, never forget, become, experience. 
Bonus: what hopes did someone in your life offer to you that have stayed with and inspired you?

02 October 2013

Healthy Pastor, Healthy Church

My denomination's provider of health insurance and retirement benefits has spent most of the past few years preparing to shift with the Affordable Care Act, and one of the resulting changes is a four-tiered health insurance plan rather than the single option previously provided to rostered leaders in the ELCA.  Among rostered leaders, this has produced some hand-wringing and consternation, and I hate to say there's good reason for it:  many fear that congregations, upon learning that more inexpensive options are available, will automatically dive to the cheapest plan to save money.  While being fiscally responsible is quite often commendable, in this instance I'd like to offer some thoughts about why paying less may cost congregations more in the long run.

25 September 2013

(Some) Parents Just Don't Understand

It's Banned Books Week.  So what did one group of parents in Anoka, Minnesota do?  They got a book banned.  A book that, by all reports, tells a great story of kids rising above poverty and abuse without compromising their dignity and integrity.

23 September 2013

A Review of Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Okay, so first, I need to confess that this is not my review of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  My copy arrived in the mail last week, but due to an exceptionally full schedule I've not had the time to sit down and read the book just yet.  I will do so soon, and I expect to enjoy it immensely. 

20 September 2013

Hey there, old friend.

Ten years ago, I wanted my campus pastor, Larry Meyer, to preach at my ordination service.  Unfortunately (for me), he had a prior commitment to his nephew to preach at his wedding.  At the time it was just a disappointment (again, for me - family trumps ministry every time and twice on Sundays).  Within a year and a half, though, Larry was gone.  Turns out that I never got to hear Larry preach again.

Until now.

This is the wedding message Larry gave at his nephew's wedding.  That nephew digitized the message and sent it to Larry's daughter Rachel, who is getting married this weekend (congrats, Rach!).  She shared it with the internet and gave me permission to share it here.  It's short - to the point - much like many of the others Larry gave (including the message Larry gave when he married my ex and me).  But tonight is the first time I've heard my old friend preach since at least 1999, possibly earlier.  And it's so fucking good to hear that voice again.  

Miss you, my friend.  Oh, how I wish we could share a beer & catch up.

18 September 2013

Vision, Direction and Over-Correction

Last night, Beloved and I rode down to the library with our girls.  Our eldest is a very good rider these days - she scoots right along on her big girl bike.  Little sister, however, remains a work in progress.  Riding behind her last night was both comical and nerve-wracking.  She's not good enough to drop her training wheels yet, but she wants to ride fast enough to stay up with big sister; the resulting mess is a wobbly, heart-stopping mix of weaving all over the sidewalk, sudden stops, violent bursts and, in the end, bruised tailbones (and thankfully, thus far, no broken bones).

This child?  Not mine. Most emphatically not.

12 September 2013

52 Straight Weeks. Oops.

So I checked in at the church building on Foursquare the other day and this happened:

52 straight weeks I've checked in at the church where I work.  That's not good.

06 September 2013

Friday Five: Let's Eat!

This week's Friday Five comes from 3dogmom over at RevGalBlogPals:
My first ever Friday Five is dedicated to Nikki MacDonald, sister RevGal, who was hungering for an opportunity to write about Haggis. With that introduction, today’s FF is all about food!

1) Is there a food from a foreign land whose reputation led to trepidation when you had a chance to give it a try? Did you find the courage to sample it anyway? If so, were you pleasantly surprised or did you endorse the less than favorable reputation that preceded it?
Growing up in the middle of the midwest, anything remotely "Oriental" sounded exotic and strange.  I remember reading about and seeing people in "New York" eating "Chinese food" but never having the guts to try it myself.  Until I got to college and actually smelled the aromas wafting away from the Imperial Palace in the Union.  First time I tried it I was hooked, completely.  Now I love the stuff.

2) What food from your own country/culture gets a bad rap?
I love many of the delicacies that come with my ethnic heritages:  German and Swedish.  I'm not sure if potato sausage and pickled herring are authentically German/Swedish or if they're an American development, but I love them both, particularly around Christmas.

3) Of what food are you fond that others find distasteful?
My campus pastor introduced every board member to his favorite pizza:  Canadian Bacon & Sauerkraut.  It sounds disgusting, but it's actually wonderful.  Add in some black olives and onions and it's a wonderful pizza if you're not going to be speaking in close proximity to anyone in the near future.

4) Is there a country’s food, not native to you, that you go out of your way to eat?
My ex-wife introduced me to Korean food when she was a student at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, and I still love the stuff.  Bibimbap, bulgogi, and kimchee, which makes my father wince because he remembers seeing it made and buried to ferment when he was stationed in Korea in 1968.  Thanks to Christina, I'm also able to remember to thank my host in Korean when I order and receive my food.  "Kam sa ham ni da" is guaranteed to make any Korean restaurant worker smile in delight.

5) What is your guilty pleasure food?
Ice cream.  Love, love, love the stuff, but we don't keep a lot of it around as I find it hard to resist.  We've limited the girls to weekend treats only, and so far that's keeping everyone's sweet tooth at bay.

Bonus: What was your most memorable meal (good or bad), either because of the menu, the occasion, the company, or some other circumstance that makes it stand out?
I've blogged and preached about this before, but the wedding banquet for our friends Sven & Eva at a castle outside Coburg, Germany was the most incredible meal we've ever experienced.  It was four hours long, your wine glass/beer stein never went dry, no one got hammered, and everyone laughed, cried and had a wonderful time.
Yeah.  It was as good as it looks.

05 September 2013

2013 Book List - September Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly (more or less), for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

03 September 2013

Let Us Not Live In Fear

A few weeks ago, just after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's 2013 Churchwide Assembly concluded its business, a colleague posted a link and I followed it.  It was about the recent election of a gay bishop and his taking part in a worship service with other pro-GLBT folks in our denomination.  Specifically, it was a liturgical critique; ironic, since most of the GLBT clergy I know are also liturgy geeks, but that's an unhelpful over-generalization and I digress.

01 September 2013

Sermon for 1 September 2013 - "The Lunchroom Gospel"

God Pause for Sunday, 1 September 2013

Sunday:  “We Plow the Fields and Scatter” ELW #681
1 We plow the fields and scatter

The good seed on the land,

But it is fed and watered

By God's almighty hand.

He sends the snow in winter,

The warmth to swell the grain,

The breezes and the sunshine,

And soft refreshing rain.


All good gifts around us

Are sent from heav'n above.

Then thank the Lord, oh, thank the Lord 

For all his love. 

2 He only is the maker 

Of all things near and far;

He paints the wayside flower,

He lights the evening star.

The winds and waves obey him;

By him the birds are fed.

Much more to us, his children,

He gives our daily bread.


3 We thank you, our creator, 

For all things bright and good,

The seed-time and the harvest,

Our life, our health, our food.

No gifts have we to offer

For all your love imparts,

But what you most would treasure

Our humble, thankful hearts.


We are teaching our daughters the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s explanations from the Small Catechism.  Not by rote memorization yet, but through conceptual means.  We are particularly fond of the 4th petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and we’ve developed a game where we try to identify the many different ways God has given us all we need to tend to our bodies and lives in the course of the day.  There’s nothing quite like telling a giggling 4 year-old that God provided the broccoli she didn’t want to eat at supper as well as the ice cream we promised if she would just eat her vegetables.  This is the holy work to which we are called, parents and all of us:  to teach the world about our good Creator who gives all good gifts and to whom we offer praise and thanksgiving.

We thank you, O God, for the many ways you provide all we need and more.  Your goodness is everlasting and your mercy stretches beyond sunrise and sunset.  Instill in us your grace and care for all of creation, that we might offer ourselves and all you have given us to you in thanksgiving.  Amen.

31 August 2013

God Pause for Saturday, 31 August 2013

Saturday:  "When Peace Like A River" ELW #785
1 When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.  
3 He lives -- oh the bliss of this glorious thought;
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

4 Lord, hasten the day, when our faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
God reminds us that even in pain, sorrow and death we cannot be separated from the One who loves us.  There are harsh realities in this broken and sinful world:  some have much but will not be generous, while others go hungry and fall into despair.  We are helpless to stop sinning and helpless to fully heal the brokenness of this world.  Yet it is not so with God.  Whether peaceful and content or wracked by doubt, sorrow, fear or guilt, in Christ we all have assurance that it is well with our souls, and that the day will come when all of God’s children will live in peace in the presence of the living God, full of sight and praise, faith made real and sins washed away.

Lord, we travel rough seas in this life.  Our sins shake us to our very bones.  This broken world surrounds us with reminders of how often we have failed you.  Yet you promise mercy.  Renew our faith in the assurance of your righteousness and mercy, that it may be well with our souls.  Amen.

30 August 2013

God Pause for Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday:  Luke 14.12-14
12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  
Parables are hard work, especially oblique ones like this.  The first temptation is to spiritualize the parable, to interpret “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” as people who are all those things in spirit.  But this is the Gospel of Luke, where the Beatitudes are specifically NOT spiritual.  In Luke, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor.”  Period.

There’s two things going on here.  First, Jesus is exposing the way we use people and keep track of favors owed, love expressed, etc.  Our relationships are not to be commodified.  Second, Jesus is reminding us that if it’s accounting we’re after, it’s not our friends who matter:  it’s God.  Want to put a good mark in the ledger of righteousness?  Invite those who can’t repay you.  Period.

But it’s the last four words that hold my attention.  “The resurrection of the righteous.”  All the accounting in the world can’t make us righteous.  That’s what Jesus does for us.  So stop keeping track of the poor and the rich, the lame and the healthy, the blind and those who can see.  See the people around you, all of them, as God’s beloved children, because that’s how Jesus sees them.

Mighty God, rip away our selfish and short-sighted weighing of relationships.  Show us the world through your cross, where all your children are made righteous in your love alone.  Amen.

29 August 2013

God Pause for Thursday, 29 August 2013

Thursday:  Luke 14.1, 7-14
“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely…  7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.  8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.””
I don’t know about you, but when we invite people to our home, we usually have an idea about where everyone’s going to sit.  It’s our house, after all, and usually the invitation is in celebration of someone or something that’s going to have the place of honor.  Maybe it was different in Jesus’ time, but I figure the guests sorting themselves out has always been a serious breach in etiquette.  Part of the pleasure of providing hospitality is honoring one’s friends, neighbors and beloved guests:  it just won’t do to have them squabbling over the choice seats.

Notice, however that Jesus doesn’t reorder the seating arrangements.  It’s not his place.  He’s not the host.  It’s a parable:  a story told alongside reality.  Here the seating is unimportant.  In the kingdom of heaven, God IS the host, and we the guests:  time to stop fighting over who gets to sit at the head of the table.

Merciful God, forgive us when we fight for what is not ours to determine.  Have mercy on us when we bicker over our place in your world.  It is enough to be in your banquet hall:  humble us, and help us to enjoy the feast of love and grace you offer.  Amen.

28 August 2013

God Pause for Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 (NRSV)
1 Let brotherly love continue.
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.
4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous.
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never fail you nor forsake you."
6 Hence we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?"
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.
15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
In the Nooma video Rich, theologian Rob Bell states, "I have a car. Eight percent of the people in the world have a car. Ninety-two percent of the people in the world see you and me driving in our cars...and they think, 'Rich.'" It is hard to realize exactly how much we take for granted. Yet we never seem to have enough. We don't show hospitality. We put people in prison and forget about them. We dishonor our bonds of marriage & family. We chase salaries and can't get away from advertising designed to create "needs" we never realized we had. Truth is, we seem always to have operated in the same way. But so has Jesus. The Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever forgives us our current sins of excess and covetousness just the same way he always has. Then he sends us out to do good and share—the sacrifice that pleases the God who has blessed us with so much.

Loving God, you entrust us with so much—help us to share with others for the healing of your world. Help us to open our clenched hands and live for the world you love. Amen.

27 August 2013

God Pause for Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Psalm 112:1-6 (NRSV)
1 Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!
2 His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house; and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the LORD is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever.
I saw a t-shirt a few weeks ago with the words: "I came into this world with nothing, and I've still got most of it left." It's funny, but the words were far truer than I think the person who wore it realized. We "have" far less than what we think we have if we believe God entrusts the world to our stewardship rather than our ownership. The righteous who fear the Lord are wealthy and rich in life and grace, not necessarily in abundance of possessions. To be generous and just is to remember Who has created all things and to Whom all things must return. God gives us the commandments to restrain us individually so that the community of believers might flourish. To delight in God's commandments is to delight in being part of God's world, to be rich in connectedness to one another, to be a light in the darkness of greed and envy.

Generous God, we ask your Spirit to dwell in us richly, that we might live generously and justly. Amen.

26 August 2013

God Pause for Monday, 26 August 2013

I was asked to write the "God Pause" devotions for Luther Seminary this week.  I'll be posting here as they're published.  If you'd like to subscribe (you should:  yours truly being the exception, they're consistently good little devotions for the day), point your browser in this direction.
Proverbs 25:6-7 (NRSV)
6 Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great;
7 for it is better to be told, "Come up here," than to be put lower in the presence of the prince.
My fourth year in college I was fairly certain I'd be playing principal euphonium in the Wind Ensemble, the best concert group at my college. I met two good freshmen players during auditions, and told them I thought they were good enough that one of them would be playing with me. Little did I know they would both be better players and I would be playing bass trombone instead. Humility is a funny thing: you never know you need it until you get it. That's why it's passive: we "get" humbled far more often than we "are" humble.

Mighty God, humble us gently. Even at our most gracious, we're often far too sure of ourselves. Make us certain only in you and proud only in being claimed by your Holy Spirit for work in your world. Amen.

23 August 2013

A Fully-Packed Friday Five

We are 90% done with the pack-em-up-and-move-em-out week here are our hacienda. One daughter is moving to her first apartment, the other daughter to her dorm for her freshman year of college. Not gonna lie, it was an adventure these last few days!

As a part of the process, we let our daughters manage their own packing (with our input and support.) Part of that educational experience (for all of us) was letting them figure out how to create their own organization, make choices, and consolidate what they were packing. And also pack carefully enough so that they could still get everything in the car -- and in the dorm/apartment!

It made me realize that there are some elements to packing and moving that are learned, and some that are innate. So let's talk "packing or pack rat?" for this week's Friday Five.

21 August 2013

Should've Known Better

Someone posted a link on the ELCA Clergy Facebook page earlier this week.  I followed the link.  Read the article.  Read the comments.  Then I posted a comment of my own.  Then this happened:

Sermon for 18 August 2013

14 August 2013

We Should All Be #ChurchNerds

I got up excited this morning.  Today was the first day of school for our girls:  Ainsley is a 1st grader and Alanna will start pre-Kindergarten tomorrow.  In addition to this momentous occasion, the third ballot for Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was to be held in Pittsburgh at 7:00ish CDT, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I could follow via streaming video even though I'm halfway across the country.  So I sent this out:

12 August 2013

Churchwide Assembly 2013

It's that time again:  Lutherans from around the United States are landing in Pittsburgh for the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  Church nerds like myself are sitting at home pining for the day when we get our chance to join in all the fun.  
The theme for our 25th anniversary and this year's Churchwide Assembly.
Click here for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly page.
This year there's more import to what we do, for two reasons:

09 August 2013

After Ten Years

Bishop Rolf Wangberg, me, Prof. Dennis Everson at my ordination
Salem Lutheran Church, Wakefield, NE.
Today is the tenth anniversary of my ordination.  I'm amazed to think it's been that long already, and at the same time I give thanks because after ten years ministry still feels like the thing I've always been meant to do.  Here are ten things I've learned in ten years as a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

29 July 2013

July Culture Update

When I finished Cryptonomicon a few weeks ago, I swore I wouldn't read another big thick Neal Stephenson book.  I loved Snow Crash & The Diamond Age but I really struggled with Cryptonomicon.  Then Amazon offered Quicksilver cheap on audio & Kindle - paired together it would be less than the cost of a paperback copy.  Guess who's now sailing toward England on the Minerva with Daniel Waterhouse and Captain van Hoek?  I'm happy to say I more or less get where this one is going a little better, and frankly it's a little more humorous as well.  Seems more tightly focused than Cryptonomicon was.  The sheer number of characters gets a little overwhelming at times, but thankfully the reader for the audio version is excellent at creating distinct accents for all of the characters.  I've never listened to Jim Dale doing the Harry Potter series, but I would imagine Simon Prebble is a close second if what I'm hearing now is true.  I'm also trying to finish Evensong by Gail Godwin before it's due back at the library.  She knows pastoral ministry in and out, even if the novel itself gets a little clunky and the main characters are incredibly high church Episcopalians.  It's good stuff.  Just yesterday I checked out Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs from the library and I'll get into that one as soon as I'm done with Godwin.

26 July 2013

Friday Five: Keeping My Cool

This was our house in Minnesota the day we baptized Ainsley in 2007.
Keeping cool, indeed.
Ahhhhh... Just a few short months ago, we were shoveling snow. Today, we're sweating buckets!

Highs in the 90s. Humidity in the "uncomfortable" range. And air quality in the "red" zone. It's summer here in the Washington, DC Metro area, and I'm not really a fan.

Recognizing that RevGalBlogPals are from around the world, your weather may be different. But play along and tell us how YOU beat the heat when it's in season with this week's Friday Five.

19 July 2013

Friday Five: Church Libraries

Church libraries seem to be diminishing and even disappearing in some churches. Our church is full of scholarly books that no one looks at, and how should it change, be developed, or continue? As the de-facto chairperson of the library, I need ideas and suggestions about church libraries in this day and age. Please help!

18 July 2013

Things We Should Let Go

Legend has it that when he was asked to preach in Chapel at Luther Seminary years and years ago, Prof. Gerhard Forde walked to the podium with a thick file folder, dropped it loudly on the surface and told his hearers, "These are all the letters I've received as a pastor and teacher over the years.  I just want you to know what being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ might get you."  

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

13 July 2013

The second of three very-much-overdue podcasts...

Between a vacation during the week and some other stuff going on, all of it good, we've been pretty busy lately.  This is the sermon from 23 June on Galatians 4.  I'm having trouble tracking down copies of the two weeks prior, so probably this will be as far back as I go.  The disc I have for July 7th is corrupted, so it's going to be a couple of days before I post that sermon finishing up the Galatians series.  BUT if I remember to set up my recorder tomorrow, I'll post my sermon on the Good Samaritan before we leave to go camping Sunday afternoon.  Have a great day, everyone!

08 July 2013

Culture Update

We have been on a lucky movie kick lately.  First Iron Man 3 as my annual birthday summer blockbuster stuff-what-gets-blowed-up-real-good movie.  Loved it, though it bogged down more than a little at the end.  Great movie.  Then Oblivion when a dear friend surprised us with a free night of babysitting.  I think I enjoyed it even more than Iron Man 3 since it had no real expectations going in.  Great story, incredible visual work & special effects, and for all his craziness, Tom Cruise is just a hellishly good action hero who's almost impossible not to like.  Finally, Star Trek:  Into Darkness.  Star Wars when the time comes.  Zachary Quinto is great as Spock and Benedict Cumberbatch was in-freaking-credible as John Harrison.  You wouldn't think the mannered, abrupt Sherlock of the excellent BBC series could pull off a physical, menacing role like that, but he does it and makes it look natural.  Can't wait to see how he plays the Necromancer when they get him onscreen in The Hobbit.

28 June 2013

Friday Five: Take Five!

Whoosh! My calendar is packed. And June is almost gone! There's the old saying, "Bad luck comes in threes" but I've decided that "Busy-ness comes in fives!" So this week we'll take things five-at-a-time. Tell me:

Hometown Run

I walk down the hill north of the house my parents have built in town.  That in itself is different.  This is not the farm where I grew up.  This is the town I've always called home, but from a different perspective.  The snotty little brother of my best friend in kindergarten built this house for my parents, built it as well as the house he built for himself across the street.  Times change.

19 June 2013

In Which The Pastor Takes A Day Off To Sweat, Swear And Get Filthy Dirty

Much fun was had by all.  Well, some fun was had by most.
I spent most of the day yesterday helping install a new playground at our local elementary school.  My wife had been part of the fundraising team and a few weeks ago she asked if I'd be willing to help.  I said, "Sure!"  Here's why.

09 May 2013

The Small Moments That Change Everything

20 years ago, I was a college freshman working in the snack bar of one of the dorms at the University of Nebraska. I didn't have a job for the summer and was getting nervous. One night, my co-worker Brigette's boyfriend Mike wandered down to walk her home after we closed. He was wearing the staff shirt of the Lutheran camp I had attended as a kid. I told him I'd been a camper there and always thought maybe it would be fun to be a counselor. He handed me a business card for the camp and told me to call them, since they were still looking for male counselors. 

I hadn't been to church since arriving on campus. I didn't think a lot about faith. I was going to be a band director and maybe get a job playing in a symphony on the side. But thanks to a chance conversation with the boyfriend of an acquaintance, my entire life changed. (Said acquaintance is now a friend, and also an ELCA pastor, but at the time we weren't anything more than co-workers. Love ya, Brigette!)

So, I asked my colleagues:  what are the small changes that led you to where you are now?  Here are the answers from those folks who’ve responded.

02 May 2013

2013 Book List: May Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly, for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

30 April 2013

14 April 2013

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter - "The Dangerous Call to Follow"

If you'd like to subscibe via iTunes, follow this link:  http://www.buzzsprout.com/10202.rss

01 April 2013

2013 Book List: April Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly, for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

30 March 2013

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? 
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour, 
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour, 
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And she that arrived after the sixth hour, 
let her not doubt; for she too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour, 
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And she who arrived only at the eleventh hour, 
let her not be afraid by reason of her delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour, 
as well as to those that toiled from the first.
To this one God gives, and upon another God bestows.
God accepts the works as God greets the endeavor.
The deed God honors and the intention God commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! 
First and last alike receive your reward; 
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, 
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of God’s goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, 
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that she has fallen again and again; 
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
Christ has destroyed it by enduring it.

Christ destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
Christ put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. 
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

29 March 2013

Sermon for Good Friday: "The Kingdom of God - Revealed in the Cross"

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri
"'Ecce homo - behold the man!'  In him the world was reconciled with God.  The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation.  Not ideals, nor programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God's perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it.  Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this.  This love of God for the world does not withdraw from reality into noble souls detached from the world, but experiences and suffers the reality of the world in the harshest possible fashion.  The world takes out its rage on the body of Jesus Christ.  But he, tormented, forgives the world its sins.  Thus does reconciliation come about.  Ecce homo - behold the man!   The figure of the reconciler, of the divine human Jesus Christ, steps into the middle between God and the world, into the center of all that happens.  Through this figure, the mystery of the world is disclosed, just as in the same figure the mystery of God is revealed.  No abyss of evil can hide from him through whom the world is reconciled with God.  But the abyss of God's love encompasses even the most abysmal godlessness of the world.  In an incomprehensible reversal of all righteous and pious thinking, God declares God's guilt toward the world and in so doing extinguishes the guilt of the world.  God sets out upon the humiliating path of reconciliation and thereby pronounces the world free.  God wills to be guilty of our sin, and takes over the punishment and suffering sin has brought upon us.  God answers for godlessness, love for hatred, the saint for the sinner.  Now there is no godlessness, no hatred, no sin which God has not carried, suffered, and atoned.  Now there is no reality, no world that is not reconciled and in peace with God.  God did this in God's beloved son Jesus Christ.  'Ecce homo - behold the man!'"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
Yes, behold the man.  Behold the kingdom of God - revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of Luke, we read, “Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.”  Joseph of Arimathea, looking for the kingdom of God, found Jesus hanging on the cross.  The sign above his head read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Pilate intended it to be a message:  this is what happens to those who threaten the rule and power of Rome.  The message God proclaims, however, is different:  this is the kingdom of God - beholden to no power of throne or violence or sin or death.  On the cross Jesus takes everything.  The loving reign of God is established from below.  
You know the lament of the psalmist, “Out of the depths I cry to you!”  You have cried it yourself.  “I am alone!”  “I am afraid!”  “Is my faith enough?”  “Will God be merciful to me, a sinner?”  “Does God know my fear?  My anger?  My failure?  My trial?”  These laments are answered on the cross:  “It is finished.”  “It is accomplished.”  Now there is no depth of creation or sinfulness that remains unplumbed by the self-emptying love of God.  God does know your loneliness.  God does know your fear.  God does know your failure.  God does know your trial.  The kingdom of God, revealed in the cross, is where God meets the worst of all we are and refuses to abandon us.  It is finished - Jesus has loved his flock to the very end.  Behold the man - Jesus Christ our Lord.  Behold the kingdom of God, revealed in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday: "The Kingdom of God - Founded in Glorious Love"

28 March 2013

Why I Don't Wash Feet In Church On Maundy Thursday

It's Maundy Thursday today.  The word "Maundy" is a bastardized version of the Latin mandatum, meaning "commandment."  Liturgically, we remember this day as the day Jesus gave his last meal and commandments to his disciples before his betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.  We will gather in worship tonight to remember Jesus' last words to his disciples:  "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (John 13:34)

In some congregations, this service will be marked by foot washing.  It won't be in ours.  Here's why.

27 March 2013

The Genesis of a Sermon

I don't know if you've ever wondered how a sermon comes about, but I'm going to tell you anyway.  At least, I'll tell you how this sermon came about.  Actually, it's how this year's entire Triduum (Three Days) series came about.

New Podcast - "Music and the Making of a Preacher"

The sermon from Lenten Luncheon a few weeks ago in audio format.  This is fun!

22 March 2013

A Letter to the Editor of Metro Lutheran

To the Editor:
I was so very disappointed to see information regarding faculty eliminations and retirements attributed to people speaking on the condition of anonymity in your recent article, "Layoffs, retirement of staff, faculty reduce Luther Sem’s debt."  I realize Metro Lutheran is in the news business and that this has been a very important story for the Lutheran community within the Twin Cities.  However, given the openness with which Luther Seminary has approached the situation since it has come to light, the seminary administration, faculty and staff deserved the opportunity to manage the release of information regarding staff and faculty eliminations as they felt most appropriate for those affected and their family and friends.  It appears that your use of anonymous sources forced the seminary to release that information earlier than they had intended, and your irresponsible and uncharitable reporting may have exacerbated the already painful losses the seminary community is undergoing.  

On your website, you claim that "Metro Lutheran is supportive of Lutheran church bodies and the institutions and agencies through which they carry on their work."  These are your brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom have been serving Luther Seminary for more than thirty years.  They deserved better support than to be outed by a source who would not reveal their name.  

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott Alan Johnson (M.Div Luther Seminary, 2003)
St. Petri Evangelical Lutheran Church
Story City, IA

17 March 2013

13 March 2013

Music and the Making of a Pastor

Our local ministerium is doing a series of Lenten Luncheons this year, touring area churches and inviting one another to tell how we became pastors.  Today was my turn.  Here's the story:

There is a text of Paul’s that comes to mind when I think of my faith story.  Philippians 3.5-6:  “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”  In many ways you could tell my faith story in this way:  “If anyone has reason to be confident in midwestern European Lutheranism, I have more:  a member of the people of Sweden, and also of a tribe of Missouri Synod Germans, a Johnson born of Johnsons; as to the farm, a native son; as to zeal for all things Cornhusker, a fanatic within the state religion; as to righteousness under the lutefisk, blameless.”  I’m a farmer’s son going back four generations in my hometown, baptized and confirmed at the same church my great-great-grandparents joined when they emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s.  My mother’s family emigrated from Germany in the early 1900s and my uncles still live on the farm they owned seventy-odd years ago.  I grew up walking beans.  I’ve harvested Rocky Mountain Oysters.  I know what it’s like to stack straw bales in the loft of your barn and blow brown snot for the rest of the week.  I can put a fence together made up of rusted gates and baling wire.  I know how to hook a manure spreader to a tractor and spread fertilizer.  In many ways I could not be a more stereotypical midwestern farm boy.  But that is not the whole story of my faith, and frankly, I'll bet it's not the whole story for any of you, either.  

01 March 2013

2013 Book List: March Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly, for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).

27 February 2013

And Now A Word from Your Pastor...

You may have heard about The Bible, a miniseries produced and directed by Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and Mark Burnett (Survivor) airing on The History Channel beginning Sunday, March 3rd.  A few of you have asked what I think about it, perhaps not realizing I've seen as little of the actual show as you have.  :-)  

24 February 2013

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent: "Living Between Trust and Anxiety"

So last night I spent the final hours of the day pounding my head against a sermon that WOULD. NOT. BE. WRITTEN.  It happens like that sometimes.  It's no crime to admit you can't bring a new word every single week, particularly if you've got something in the hopper that folks where you're at haven't heard before.  That was the case this morning.  

20 February 2013

Faith Five: SHARE - (2 Corinthians 1.3-7)

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.7Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. (2 Corinthians 1.3-7)

Sent to Nineveh

Today is a big day for ELCA seminarians.  It's the day regional assignments are released and students find out where they've been "drafted."  It's a day of high anxiety and fear.  Some students will find that fear alleviated by receiving the regional and synodical assignments they requested.  Some students will find that fear confirmed by being sent to a part of the country with which they have no experience and for which they feel ill-equipped.  A lucky few are able to go wherever they are needed and simply hope to find a good place to begin their ministry, but the overwhelming majority have a general place in mind where they hope they are called to serve, for whatever reasons may seem best to them.

14 February 2013

A Valentine's Post: Flirting with My Beloved

Warning:  this is SAPPY.  There's no way it won't be.  But it's fun all the same.  At least, I remember it being fun.  I can NOT believe all of this happened ten years ago.  No way has it been that long  Yet here we are...

13 February 2013

Sermon for Ash Wednesday - Saved In Ashes And Rent Hearts

The story that gives rise to Psalm 51 is terrible.  King David, the man after God’s own heart, the shepherd boy chosen by God to be the leader of God’s people, was standing on high and looking out over the city of Jerusalem when he saw a beautiful woman bathing and fell victim to his own desire and power.  He had the woman, Bathsheba, brought to his chambers, where he took her against her will and conceived a child with her.  When she told him she was pregnant, King David brought her husband Uriah home from the battlefield so that he might visit his wife, sleep with her, and thus hide the illegitimate pregnancy as one of his own.  But Uriah was faithful to King David and his fellow soldiers.  Uriah refused to leave King David’s house.  He slept on King David’s doorstep the first night, and stayed there the second night even after King David fed him wine and rich foods to get him drunk and fool him into going home.  In the end, King David sent Uriah back to the battlefield and ordered his commander, Joab, to put Uriah at the front of the army, attack their enemy and pull back quickly so that Uriah would be killed.  Joab followed King David’s orders, Uriah was killed, and King David took Bathsheba into his household as one of his wives soon after.

04 February 2013

2013 Book List

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly, for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle), *(audio/iPod).

Culture Roundup

We gathered with some friends for the Super Bowl last night and, true to form, spent more time watching the commercials than the game.  One of these years I'm going to have to adopt an NFL team I truly love so I might actually care about the game itself if said team ever makes it to the top.

As it is, I'm considering proposing legislation to ban GoDaddy from ever producing a commercial again.  Yeesh.  And as some of my friends noted, there aren't a lot of farmers like the ones Paul Harvey described who could afford the $50,000 pickup Dodge was selling in their commercial, no matter how much it might tug at your heartstrings.  That one and the Clydesdale commercial win for "most likely to make me cry if I watch it by myself."  The Oreo Riot, Miracle Montana Stain and Babylandia were my biggest Laugh Out Loud moments.  And our friends brought a "Snackadium" for us all to enjoy, which we did.  Sloppy Joes, queso, Chex Mix - it was a good night for my tummy 'round these parts.

03 February 2013

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany - Jesus Came Into The World For...

There have been stories over the last few years about the difficulty of being a lottery winner.  You may have heard of this:  the first thing every big lottery winner should do, according to the people who run the lottery, is hire a lawyer and get ready for everyone you’ve ever known to come out of the woodwork.  Today being Super Bowl Sunday, the members of the Ravens and the 49ers have had similar problems dealing with ticket requests.  One former player interviewed on NPR said he made his spouse deal with ticket requests so he could focus on the game.  I can only imagine how well went over with the spouse.  But what it boils down to is this:  when a local boy or local girl makes it big, everyone comes running to share in the good news.  This was as true in Nazareth in the days of Jesus as it is today.  
The people of Nazareth were welcoming back the hometown boy who was building a good reputation for himself.  “Hey, did you hear Jesus will be back in town on Saturday?”  “If he healed that guy over in Capernaum, just imagine what he’ll do for us!”  “I remember Mary’s boy Jesus when he was still waddling around the house in his diapers.”  “I always knew Jesus would make something of himself.”  But Jesus had harsh words for these folks who thought they knew him so well.  First, as you heard in today’s reading from Luke, Jesus amazed the crowd by claiming that the promises of Isaiah were fulfilled as they listened to him read them aloud.  Odd, but that wasn’t the worst.  The worst was the moment when Jesus picked a fight with the hometown crowd.  
Jesus said, “I’m sure you’re expecting me to do some great things here, things you’ve heard I’ve been doing in other towns.  Well, you’re not going to like what I have to say to you here.  People who speak the truth from God are never welcomed in their hometowns.”
What happens here sets the tone for the rest of the gospel of Luke.  Jesus tells these people who have loved him that their connection to him is not what makes them special.  Jesus makes it very clear:  he has not come into the world to make sure that these people who’ve known him can exploit that connection for their own benefit.  Messiah came into the world for much more than the people of Nazareth.
Jesus came into the world for the Gentiles - for more than just one tribe, more than just one clique.  In Luke 2.10 the angels say that God has brought “good news for all people.”  A few verses later the prophet Simeon says Jesus will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  When John the Baptist arrives on the scene to prepare the way of the Messiah, he proclaims that in Jesus salvation will be seen by all flesh.”  Jesus was promised to Israel for centuries, but the promise was never limited to Israel.  
You have to ask yourself:  what’s the problem for the people of Nazareth?  That they want Jesus to do great things?  No!  The problem is that Nazareth wants Jesus for themselves at the exclusion of others who also need him.  If he is the Messiah, he’s our Messiah - and they will set up walls to keep Jesus in and keep the rabble out if they have to.  There’s no room for outsiders, no room for those who don’t look like us, act like us, don’t meet our standards.  Make no mistake - this is not a failing limited to Nazareth - the same problem lives in us today and will live in us forever.  Jesus is for Nazareth, but Jesus is also for those outside of Nazareth.
Jesus came into the world for sinners, no matter where they might be found.  The things he said to the people of Nazareth offended them because Sidonites and Syrians were sinners.  We can’t say this for certain, but it sure sounds like Jesus picked a fight on purpose to prove his point.  Want to know what it feels like to hear what the people of Nazareth heard?  Imagine that person who epitomizes everything wrong with the world, and put their name in the place of the widow of Zarephath or Naaman the Syrian.  It sounds offensive because it is meant to be offensive.  It is meant to be offensive because God wants to offend our sense of entitlement, which always rises up and gets in the way when we think we’ve joined the “in” group by being part of the church.  God blesses whomever God chooses to bless.  It is not under our control - God blesses whomever God chooses to bless.  
At a concert in 1997, a few months before he died in a car accident, Rich Mullins said, “Being a Christian doesn’t mean you build a community and fence it in, where there are no minorities, no gays, no sinners.  Being a Christian means loving what Jesus loved, and Jesus loved the poor.”  We simply can’t tell God what God should do, whom God should love.  God is free.  God is free to do whatever God wants, even if it doesn’t make us particularly happy.  God can and does call us to love and serve the outsider, the imperfect, those who aren’t necessarily what we think they ought to be.  Above all, the message from Jesus is this:  “DON’T YOU DARE PRESUME TO TELL GOD WHO IS IN AND WHO IS OUT.”  Living in Nazareth didn’t make for a special claim on the Messiah.  Neither does being a member in good standing of St. Petri Lutheran Church, or the ELCA, or the Roman Catholic Church, or any other community of faith.  God decides who is in and who is out, and if God wants to ignore what you might think is your better judgment, well, you’re going to have to take that up with God.  And I wish you good luck.  
Here’s the great thing, though:  you can indeed take this up with God, because if Jesus came into the world for the outsiders and sinners, that means that Jesus came into the world for you.  Or are you going to sit there and tell me you’ve never felt like an outsider - or that you’ve never been a sinner?  If being part of the hometown crowd didn’t do anything for the people of Nazareth, being here this morning isn’t going to make God feel any better about you, either.  It’s not about who you’ve been - it’s all about who Jesus is and who Jesus came into the world to save.  Ann Landers once wrote that the church “is not a hotel for saints:  it’s a hospital for sinners.”  Jesus also seemed to feel this way about faith and why he came into the world.  He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  
Jesus didn’t come into the world to play favorites.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to be the eternal nanny, forever keeping track of our spiritual chore sheets and who gets an extra spoonful of sugar this week.  That’s not how it works.  The people of Nazareth were blessed by Jesus presence, but not because it got them better seats at the resurrection:  they were blessed because God Incarnate grew up among them!  The Word of God took on flesh and bone and lived with them, and they saw his glory - that’s all the blessing we people of God could ever need!  We aren’t righteous here at St. Petri because we’ve got our theology right, or because we got the budget in the black, or because we’ve braved the elements on a cold Iowa morning when it would have been more comfortable to just stay in bed.  We here at St. Petri are blessed because Jesus Christ, the truth of God, came into the world for sinners like us, and in him we’ve been set free of all those other things we think are so important.  God’s church is meant to be a safe place, a hospital for sinners, but it is NEVER a place where the blessings of almighty God are expected as a result of what we do or limited to a chosen few that look, act, and think the way we do.  God’s church is meant to be a safe place turning itself inside out, offering God’s mercy and love to a world that needs it desperately, welcoming those who don't know the story and who haven't been part of the 'in' crowd at the church before.  
This world is changing.  God’s church is changing.   But God’s love hasn’t changed.  From our deepest history, God’s love has always sought outsiders and sinners and made them free in mercy for the sake of the world.  God's reckless love isn't happy until it gives itself away freely.  In the church, God is creating the 'inside-out' crowd, gathered by the Holy Spirit, forgiven in Jesus’ name, sent into the world to proclaim the love of God for all humanity.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to play favorites - Jesus came into the world for outsiders, for sinners, for you.  Be blessed, God’s chosen people.  Amen.