The Hard Thing—March 29, 2020, Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 11:1-45

It feels like this passage hits a little close to home today. If you get on the internet, you can’t help but see stories about the personal challenges across the globe—churches filled with coffins instead of worshipers; people dying alone because their loved ones weren’t allowed to be by their side; hospitals having to use trash bags as scrubs and bandanas as masks; people going without food because they lost their job or can’t go to their job and therefore have no income. The struggle is so real—and it’s here. It isn’t somewhere out there in some distant, third-world country. It isn’t happening to those people over there. It’s here. It’s happening to us. It’s real and it’s close and it’s personal—and it’s hard.

It’s hard to minister to those in the nursing home when you’re not allowed inside. It’s hard to teach your kids when you’re also trying to get your own work done. It’s hard to stay positive. It’s hard to reach out. Sometimes, it’s just plain hard to get out of bed, to get dressed, to make a meal, to do what you may have taken for granted before.

All of us around the world are in a time of grief. And there’s no getting around it.

Grief is one of those things that can often make us uncomfortable, anyway. When someone else is in grief, sometimes our first response is to try to make it better. Someone may say something like, “They’re in a better place,” or “When life closes a door, God opens a window.” But grief can’t be skirted or diminished or undone.

I’m reminded of the movie, “Inside Out.” Inside a twelve-year-old girl named Rylie, we meet five emotions: Joy was the first to appear, right from birth. Sadness showed up shortly after. Then came Fear and Anger, and even Disgust. And while they all make an appearance in Rylie’s memories, Joy takes great pride in being the prominent emotion. But when Rylie’s family moves from Minnesota to California, the emotions start to get a bit muddled. And Joy really struggles to keep her position as the leader. It seems Sadness keeps getting in the way and changing happy memories to sad ones.

Eventually, as it seems all the emotional world is falling apart—perfect for 12-year-old, I think—Joy finally realizes how necessary Sadness is. Sadness doesn’t try to fix the bad emotions. She lets one simply feel them. She sits with a beloved memory and cries with him, and talks about the things they’ll miss. And we learn that it’s okay to be sad—even for those who live in faith and hope. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to feel lost.

Even Jesus wept.

Jesus has both the long-view perspective of a whole creation being restored to life and wholeness, free from the curse of death. But he also has a very personal, intimate view of a friend who has died. He holds his hope of resurrection even while grieving the loss of a loved one. And he, perhaps foolishly, sets in motion his own demise by daring to raise this dead one for the sake of those around him.

“The people who see Lazarus come out of his tomb are given the ability to believe because Jesus does not do the easy thing (keep bad things from happening), Jesus does the hard thing, which is to reverse destruction.”[1]

Consider the paralyzed man lowered into the home on the mat. Jesus does the hard thing of forgiving his sins rather than starting with the easier thing of healing his body. Jesus does the hard thing of putting himself in peril by raising the dead rather than the easy thing of healing the sick. He does the hard thing by going to Jerusalem rather than going into hiding to save his life. He does the hard thing by allowing himself to be killed rather than the easy thing of destroying his captors. He does the hard thing by declaring victory over death itself rather than the easy thing of declaring victory over human enemies. He does the hard thing of loving us so much that he went to the grave and showed us the way through it than the easy thing of telling us how to avoid it altogether.

The raising of Lazarus is the final miracle—the final sign in John—that Jesus performs before he is murdered. He begins with water made into wine to signal a great feast and ends with the dead being raised. And in between, every sign points to the deeper work that the Messiah has come to do: “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:5).

This is the way of the Lord. This is the way of the Church—to do the hard things so that life may truly prosper for all and not just some. We are called to do the hard things of justice—to welcome the immigrant and refugee, to minister to the addict and imprisoned, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to sew masks for the healthcare workers, to shelter in place for the long haul, to approach Holy Week knowing that we can’t physically gather around the cross or feast at the table together. We are called to do the hard work of grief—to acknowledge how much it hurts and to lean into the darkness.

But we lean in with the light of Christ held tightly in our hearts. We lean in so that we might help light the way for others who can’t see their way out. We lean in and do the hard things with the strength of Christ’s faithfulness.

These are hard things—this is the work of God’s people. This is the work of the life that comes after going through death. It is sacramental, baptismal, holy work. It is literally liturgy: the work of the people. May your life be a liturgical tapestry of God’s grace, woven and spread over the world today.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4411

“Marriage–or something like it”–Midweek Sermon, March 25, 2020

marriage

Ephesians 5:21-33

 “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday.” (You can’t give a sermon about marriage with this quote from The Princess Bride.)

Now, I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of this passage from Ephesians. Some people use it to support ideas of patriarchy and male dominance. Some people put themselves in a pretzel to prove that it’s not patriarchal or male dominant. But I think we miss something when we put our primary focus on human marriage—we miss what Paul is saying about the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God.

I’ll come back to that. Today, our sacramental focus is on marriage. Now, before you click out of this video because you’re not married, or you were married and are now divorced, or you want to be married, or you don’t want to be married, just wait. The point of this so-called sacrament isn’t marriage. It isn’t about one man and one woman. The point is relationship. The point is intimacy. The point is vulnerability. The point is promises kept even more than promises made. In the end, the point is how our lives and those we encounter resemble God’s kingdom.

In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans says:

“Marriage is not an inherently holy institution. And it cannot magically be made so by the government, by a priest, or even by the church. Rather, marriage is a relationship that is made holy, or sacramental, when it reflects the life-giving, self-sacrificing love of Jesus. All relationships and vocations—marriage, friendship, singleness, parenthood, partnership, ministry monastic vows, adoption, neighborhoods, families, churches—give Christians the opportunity to reflect the grace and peace of the kingdom of God, however clumsily, however imperfectly.”

It’s about more than marriage or family—it’s about love. And love is, indeed, sacramental. Evans goes on to point out that the point of the great mystery of marriage and other relationships is this: “what each of us longs for the most is to be both fully known and fully loved.” Because, quite frankly, how can we be loved if we’ve not been known? And what if this is what God wants as well—to be fully known and fully loved?

That’s, in part, why Christ came into our world and lived among us—to show us who God is. In this world that insists on placating an angry god, Jesus shows us a compassionate God. In this world that strives to harness a vindictive god for its own means, Jesus shows us a humble God. God wants us to know God fully, so that we can love God with our whole hearts and minds and strength.

This is what Paul refers to in today’s passage from Ephesians—this mystery that is the relationship between Christ and the Church—or, rather, Christ and the people of God. In his own patriarchal society, Paul used the metaphor of Christ as the husband and the Church as the bride. In that world, the division of roles was not only presumed, but necessary. It was a full-time job to provide the meals and care for the kids and keep the house going and tend the garden. Not that it isn’t still, but supermarkets and microwaves sure cut down on time. So, while the woman kept things afloat at home, the man worked to provide income. This was how things were—not a prescription for how they should be today.

But the point being made by Paul isn’t about gender roles. It is the great mystery of how two people in a relationship care for each other. How they sacrifice for the well-being of the other. How they communicate. How they serve. How they love. How they are intimate. And he uses the mystery of the known—human relationships—to show us the mystery of God and our relationship with the divine. And, as always, he also uses God’s love through Christ to draw us into what ours should look like. He helps us see that, with a kingdom lens, every relationship we have and everything we do and everything that is can be made holy when they point to the great love God has for this crazy, imperfect gathering of hearts and minds, hands and feet.

And we don’t have to be heroic to point to the love Christ offers. We merely need to be brought into God’s kingdom ways. Evans says:

“In contrast to every other kingdom that has been and ever will be, this kingdom belongs to the poor, Jesus said, and to the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for God. In this kingdom, the people from the margins and the bottom rungs will be lifted up to places of honor, seated at the best spots at the table. This kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a warhorse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Seeing Jesus”–Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020

blind man

John 9:1-41

This story in John is so fascinating—John is a phenomenal story-teller. The story begins with the disciples asking Jesus why the man was born blind. In those days—and even, sadly, today—people associate misfortune with sin. It must be someone’s fault. It’s a human response to difficulty. If you can find a definitive link between misfortune and sin, then you can step clearly around the misfortune and avoid it for yourself.

But Jesus won’t have it. Bad things happen—to the good and the evil, alike. Illness happens. Accidents happen. Weather happens. And it is out of our control. All we can do is manage our response. We see this today as COVID-19 spreads far and wide. It doesn’t care if someone is young or old, black or white, American or Chinese. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, educated or not, Christian or atheist, president or pastor. If you find yourself in proximity to the virus, it’s highly likely that you will get it. Bad things happen in this world. We don’t get to control it. We only get to manage ourselves. And that can often be beyond scary—because you can’t manage anyone BUT yourself.

Now, a whole verse and a half is dedicated to the miracle of giving the man sight. Jesus just spits in the dirt and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to find the pool named ‘Sent’ and wash. The man never sees Jesus at this point. He doesn’t know what he looks like. He won’t be able to recognize him in a crowd. Ironically, once he can see, the people around him don’t recognize the man, either. Because they had only seen his blindness. They only saw the ways in which he was different from them. They couldn’t see his humanity, his personhood, his character.

It was as if they had been looking at a caricature of him the whole time. You know what a caricature is. You go to some street booth where an artist is drawing a cartoon of the person in front of them. And the cartoon overemphasizes the unique visual elements of the person.

I like the Liberty Mutual commercial where it seems a caricature artist is drawing her cameraman. The picture has a man standing behind his camera wearing a cap with a super long bill, holding a sandwich as tall as he is. Clearly hyperbole. Except when the sights pan to the cameraman, we discover that his hat bill really is three feet long and his sandwich really is 6 feet tall, and the man says, “I don’t see it.”

Obviously, it’s funny because everyone else recognizes the resemblance except him. Or do we? If you’ve seen the commercial, can you describe the man—or just the hat and sandwich? Do you really see the man or just what jumps out at you? Do we really see one another for who we are—or just the elements that are most prominent?

At this point in the story, the questioning begins. Who are you? Who is the man who healed you? Where is he? How did he do this? Why on the Sabbath? Throughout this impromptu trial, only the man and his parents ever say the dreaded words, “I don’t know.” I. Don’t. Know. In the meantime, the Pharisees—like Nicodemus—trot out all the things they do know (and, perhaps, things they only think they know). “We know this man is a sinner. We know that God has spoken to Moses. The only thing they admit to not know is where Jesus came from—because that’s easier than admitting that he came from God.

Instead, they resort to gaslighting the man who had been blind. You know…turning the conversation around, put blame on the other person and make sure they’re discredited. That way you can have the upper hand, even if you have no idea what you’re talking about. So, they say, “Listen, you were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out of the Temple. Which doesn’t seem to bother the man at all. He was probably tired of explaining himself to them, anyway.

Debie Thomas points out:

“Not only does the community’s legalistic approach to faith prevent them from seeing the healed man; it also prevents them from seeing God’s love and power at work in their midst.  No one in the story rejoices when the man is healed.  No one – not even the man’s parents — expresses joy, or wonder, or gratitude, or awe.   Instead, the community responds with contempt, its need to preserve its own sense of righteousness more important than celebrating a fellow human being’s restoration to life.”

Because, quite frankly, once they admit to the amazing work of God in their midst, they will have to let go of their assumption about sin, about the bad things in life, and about whom God chooses to heal and where God chooses to work. And it’s just too much for those of us who are comfortable being in control of our situation—for those of us who insist we know what’s going on, regardless of the truth.

After all this conversation of knowing, we get to verse 35. Jesus again encounters the man and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. Interestingly, maybe because he doesn’t yet rely on his sight, the man doesn’t say “Show me” but says instead “Tell me, so that I may believe.” And Jesus says, “You have seen him.” But so that the man can learn to trust this newfound sight, Jesus also explains, “The one who is speaking with you is he.”

And then the clincher at the end of the story—“I came so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” And when the Pharisees question that particular jab at them, Jesus turns the tables on them. “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” He goes back to the disciples’ initial question and to the gaslighting the Pharisees did to the man and turns it all upside down. He turns the idea of sin and blindness around so that it is clear that sin does not cause blindness, but spiritual blindness leads to sin.

He points out, again, that you can’t control the bad things that happen in this life. There is no sin in being blind. There is no sin in being sick. There is no sin in having been the victim of circumstance. However, the sin comes in when we victimize, when we take advantage of, when we refuse to see the other for who they are and not just how we want to define them—when we turn people away because we don’t like their reality, because it challenges our assumptions, because it brings their situation far too close to home—potentially making it our problem, as well.

You see, I think being blind was never the problem in this story. The miracle of healing was barely even mentioned. Instead, the problem is our inability—or even lack of willingness— to see Jesus and one another for who we truly are. The problem is when we try to create darkness for others so that we can remain in our delusions of sight. But John’s gospel account is very decisive about this: Jesus is the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The light reveals all of our ugliness, but it also reveals all of the beauty in each of us.

Because Christ hasn’t come just to expose our sins. Christ has also come to expose our hearts—the very glory of God who makes all things new and holy. Christ has come to show us that what we see is not all there is to the world. Christ has come to give us new sight—a way to see the kingdom of heaven right here among us. In those who have been dealt a raw deal; in those who have made poor choices; in those who are different; in those who see different. Christ has come so that we can see what we do not know—and believe what we might not see—and trust in the One who sees us and knows us and loves us anyway.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Anointing the Sick”–Midweek Service, March 18, 2020

anointing

Matthew 26:6-13

Not that it happens often, but anytime I get a whiff of Rave hairspray or Degree antiperspirant, I’m immediately transported back to the Junior High locker room after a volleyball game. Images of aerosol mist still hanging in the air, complete with girls completing makeup and doing hair. Other smells take me to other places—other emotions, other images.

That’s because the olfactory nerve is connected to the amygdala—the place in the brain associated with memory and emotion. It bypasses reason and takes you directly to places you though you had forgotten.

This is, in so many ways, the purpose of oil—and of anointing. Rachel Held Evans points out that in Exodus 30, God gave Moses a recipe for oil that he would use to anoint the temple, the altar, the religious furnishing, and even the priests. No one else was to use this particular recipe or mixture. God wanted the people to know God’s smell—to associate this smell only and always with the God who brought them out of Egypt, through the dessert, and into the Promised Land.

But there were other mixtures, other scents, other ways that people connected scent with experience. As Evans says, “the pages of Scripture positively drip with oil. Nearly two hundred references speak of oil to light lamps, oil to soothe dry skin, oil to honor guests, oil to mark a sacred place, oil to solemnify a commitment, oil to entice, oil to comfort, oil to consecrate, oil to heal, oil to anoint priests, prophets, and kings, oil to prepare a body for burial.”

Each with their own fragrance, their own memory. We hear this story of the woman who broke open a bottle of expensive oil and poured it over Jesus. Such a waste. It could have been sold, it could have been saved, but instead, she doused Jesus in its fragrance. The smell permeated the whole house, leaving its imprint even on the taste of the food at the table. It was the fragrance associated with death—the oil used to anoint a body before it is buried. The others would have been transported to the gravesides of loved ones, the grief they felt, the despair, the rupture of their hearts. They would, again, be reminded that Jesus would die—and soon.

He had told them three times before, but each time, they simply couldn’t bear to continue the conversation. So the woman brings them all to the memory of death with this oil. And, with the disciples, we might ask what the point of it all is. Why bother with the oil if he’s going to die anyway? In the church, we use oil to anoint the sick and pray over those who are dying. We use it in our services of healing and wholeness as a sign and symbol of God’s love. We use it to mark the sign of the cross on the newly baptized. Imagine that we use oil enough to elicit the memory of God’s presence every time we smell it.

Because that is the purpose of the oil. There’s nothing special about it. But it carries the grace of God through the feel and scent. It doesn’t cure, but it opens the door to healing. It doesn’t save, but it comforts. It doesn’t bring life, but it reminds us where our life comes from. It tells the truth about who we are and whose we are. And isn’t the gospel about truth?

Evans says, “If the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.

“Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.

“As Brene Brown puts it, ‘I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away…But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife…I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’”

The smell of healing that we use is frankincense and myrrh. Myrrh used for anointing royalty and frankincense used for anointing the dead. Because we live in between these two realities—We are dust, and to dust we shall return; but we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. The smell of this oil brings me, time and again, to the altar, to the bedsides of those with only days or hours left, to the hundreds of prayers we have prayed over one another. It is, for me, the smell of God’s presence.

But perhaps we also need a different smell—a different association. One, today, that brings us into each other’s presence, even while we’re separated; one that smells like hope and relationship and new life. One that reminds us that today’s reality may change the future, but it will not BE the future. We need the smell of a risen Christ.

Maybe there’s a mixture you prefer to make. Like the Israelites who used hyssop to mark cleansing and spikenard to signal wealth, whose sacrifice smelled like hyssop and cedar wood and anointing the prophets smelled like cassia—we, too, can associate a new smell with this extended Sabbath, this time of drawing away, of deep prayer and quiet evenings, of additional phone calls and experimental worship experiences and challenging school approaches and simplified lifestyles. To remind us of fragile tempers and extended compassion. To draw us, again, into new life.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Contagions”–Third Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2020

Through_Samaria_for_web

John 4:5-42

Who is this woman? We often quickly jump to conclusions. Five husbands and now she’s living with another man? She sure gets around, we think. I like the thoughts shared by Lisle Gwynn Garrity, one of the authors of our wilderness devotion this year. She’s the artist who painted this picture (above). Here’s what she says:

“A wilderness of isolation and shame exists within the woman. She has had too many husbands, but not by choice. She’s been labeled infertile, and in turn, been divorced and passed around from man to man. She’s been widowed, grieving men who have died from sickness and from war. She’s had to sell her body to survive. She’s been shunned and shamed by other women. She’s been objectified and sexualized since she was a child. She’s still a child, but she’s lived a hundred lives. She is one woman, but she holds within herself the pain and secrets of thousands of women throughout time and space.”

What if we went on with the possibilities of this woman’s life? She’s the woman in the grocery store who has a brood of kids she can’t control so that everyone gives her wide birth and dirty looks. She’s been addicted to drugs since her dad got her started when she was only eleven, and now she’s in jail. She’s traveled hundreds of miles on foot with a child in tow to escape the violence of her home only to be denied opportunity to tell her story. She’s the woman who can’t speak English and wonders how to navigate a new culture. Today, perhaps she’s the woman who has a coughing fit and the world takes another two steps back—just in case.

She’s everyone we love to hate. Everyone we are glad we aren’t. Everyone we are at least fairly certain we are better than. But she’s the one Jesus talks to. She’s the one he sits with. She’s the one he asks a favor of. She’s the one he promises living water to.

In John, she’s the first one to whom he gives his true identity. She’s the first one to believe him immediately and so becomes the first evangelist—the first one who goes to others to proclaim this good news that has been showered over her. In all of the ways in which she is marginalized, ostracized, and shamed, Jesus goes to her. And then, he stays two days in this Samaritan city, telling everyone about the Living Water he will give.

He could have left. When she went to tell others, he could have gotten his drink, grabbed a bite to eat from the disciples, and went on his merry way. He could have left her hanging with hope in good news but no way to show her community. Instead, he stayed. He gave her credibility. He gave her a name and a purpose and a hope in a place where she had lost them all.

For this woman, Jesus was the oasis in her wilderness. Right now, we’re finding our way through this wilderness of social distancing and face masks and sanitizer and, God forbid, toilet paper. We’re trying to live the line between recklessness and over-reacting, but we still come to the well, in whatever way we can.

But in this wilderness, we are not alone. Despite those who are hoarding groceries and selling them for three times the amount to those who need it—the rest of us are, ironically, growing closer. We have people stepping up to make sure students who rely on school meals for their ‘daily bread’ still get the food they need while school is out. We have 30 people making phone calls to our members regularly to keep everyone informed of things happening here and checking on their wellbeing. In being forced to explore media to connect when we can’t otherwise be together, we are establishing new practices and opportunities to reach people beyond our own community.

In Romans 8:28, Paul writes: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” When he says that, he isn’t saying that bad things are God’s way of making good happen. Instead, he recognizes that bad things happen, but they don’t mean that God can’t be found in them. This coronavirus—COVID-19—is wreaking havoc across the world. It’s sending healthcare systems and governments into a tailspin. It’s driving people to stay home rather than gather. It’s giving the greedy opportunity to make money off of other’s misfortunes—which isn’t a new thing.

But God has not abandoned us. God has not abandoned the doctors and nurses who are, right now, preparing their limited spaces and equipment to accept more patients than they can manage. God has not abandoned the elderly and physically vulnerable who find themselves at home, often alone, wondering if anyone will notice if they fall ill. God has not abandoned the teachers and professors who will be working around the clock to transform their curriculum into something accessible online. God has not abandoned the custodians who take extra time to make sure door handles and surfaces are sanitized more regularly. God has not abandoned the hourly workers who can’t afford to stay home if they get sick and can’t go to work in case they infect others.

Instead, Jesus has come to the well, in the heat of the day, to offer us living water. We may feel alone and lost and abandoned, but that’s exactly where Jesus meets us. He knows us for everything we are and everything we are not. He sees you in your vulnerability and loneliness and asks for a drink. From you. Because, guess what? You have a bucket. In fact, you are the bucket—you are the vessel that Jesus pours living water into. And then, when you are filled and overflowing, you can’t help but tell everyone about the good news of Jesus Christ. To share the hope you have with others—as you call your neighbors to make sure they are okay, and purchase a bag of groceries for the immigrant family down the street, and pray for the doctors and nurses and custodians in their work, and yes, even as you keep physical distance from those you love BECAUSE you love them.

This virus isn’t the only contagious thing in the world. Hope and love are contagious. Support and forgiveness are contagious. Grace and mercy are contagious. And they don’t need physical contact to spread far and wide, overwhelming the world with goodness and righteousness and life, itself. This is the Living Water Jesus speaks of—the overflowing and abundant life that pours out over and around us and fills the world with the blessings of God.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Holy Orders”–Midweek Lent, March 11, 2020

ordination 1

1 Peter 2:4-10

Today we’re continuing our look at sacraments, and today’s topic is Holy Orders—or more commonly known as ordination. I imagine most people think of ordination as the process pastors and priests go through to officially be recognized by the Church as an official leader. And that’s technically correct, but it’s very narrow. Of course, to be clear, Lutherans don’t consider ordination a sacrament, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a holy element of Christian life. The problem is that we generally have a very narrow view of what it means to be ordained.

When we think of ordination, we typically think of church work—worship, Bible studies, sermons, visiting the sick, baptisms, weddings, funerals. We might think of church budgets and administrating staff. Those who have been ordained as a church leader may also think of fixing toilets, decorating Sanctuaries, babysitting, writing policies, and gathering leaves, as well. But rarely does anyone think beyond the church. Rarely does anyone consider themselves ordained.

What’s interesting to me is that the word ‘ordained’ and the word ‘ordinary’ have the same root—‘ordo’, meaning order. But ordained goes the way of being committed to holy orders, and ordinary goes the way of typical, regular, the daily order of things. But it seems that God doesn’t see a difference—that the regular daily order of things is just as important, if not more important, than the work of a church leader.

Martin Luther is known to have lifted up the holiness of the average work each of us engages in. He writes, “The idea that service to God should have only to do with a church altar, singing, reading, sacrifice and the like is without doubt the worst trick of the devil. How could the devil have led us more effectively astray than by the narrow conception that service to God takes place only in the church and by works done there- in…. The whole world could abound with services to the Lord, not only in churches but also in the home, kitchen, workshop, field.”

Peter tells us that we ALL are holy and living stones. God is building us into a spiritual house. God is making each of us into a royal priesthood. Luther calls this the priesthood of all believers. Our baptism is our ordination. When we kneel at the altar to affirm that baptism, the hands of those who have knelt there before us are laid on our shoulders and heads, the weight of their love bearing down on us, and we are blessed and sent to minister to the world using the gifts we’ve been given—some to be teachers, some builders, some cleaners, some philosophers, some architects, some homemakers, some first responders, some artists, and so on. And yes, some are pastors, too. Each of us brings God’s kingdom into the world in our own precious and unique ways.

This is good news for the people of God. It’s also good news for pastors and priests. Because we have, too often, relegated the work of God to only a few—a few who are expected, then, to somehow be better than the rest: have fuller prayer lives, more moral living, more inspirational speaking, more compassionate hearts. But the truth is that pastors are just as messy and muddy as everyone else. And the people of God are set apart for just as holy work as pastors.

Rachel Held Evans says, “I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. Such an approach may repel the masses looking for easy answers from flawless leaders, but I think it might make more disciples of Jesus, and I think it might make healthier, happier pastors. There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.”

I’m grateful every day of our move here to ‘model imperfection.’ It allows us all to make mistakes as we seek to do the work of God. And I get to go first—relying on the grace and love of a community that knows better than to expect perfection from this broken person. And I get to follow your lead in offering that same grace and love to others who are broken and imperfect, as well. Holiness isn’t being perfect. Frederick Buechner says, “If you want to be holy, be kind.”

And this is something we are all equipped and ordained to do, wherever we are in life, whatever our situation, our vocation, our station. God is building us into God’s holy temple—the Church as a people, not a building. And we are all called to kindness, to love, to care for one another, to build each other up. To build one another up from the foundation of Christ. This is our calling—whether it happens at or in a church building or not. You have been ordained and called by God to be God’s ambassadors to the world.

Evans concludes, “Ultimately, all are commissioned. All are called. All belong to the holy order of God’s beloved. The hands that pass the peace can pass a meal to the man on the street. The hands that cup together to receive Christ in the bread will extend to receive Christ in the immigrant, the refugee, the lonely, or the sick. Hands plant, and uproot, and cook, and caress. They repair, and rewire, and change diapers, and dress wounds. Hands tickle giggling children and wipe away tears. Hands rub heaving bellies of big, ugly dogs. Hands sanctify all sorts of ordinary things and make them holy.”

We take the ordinary and make them holy—just like God did to us.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Knowledge and God”–Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020

stepping-into-the-unknown

Genesis 12:1-4a

Psalm 121

John 3:1-17

 Children’s Message:

I have this wonderful box of crayons with so many colors! What’s your favorite color? Well, mine’s this one (open box, which is empty except for my favorite color). This is my very favorite color, so I threw all the others colors away. What do you think…is that a good idea? Why not?

Oh, I suppose my drawings might get a little boring with just one color, but there were a lot of colors that I didn’t like at all. So, I didn’t want them.

Maybe, though, just maybe this crayon box is like creation with all the people of the world. And the thing is, God is very different than me. God loves every color in the box. And God uses every color in the box. In fact, God uses all the colors that aren’t even in this box. There’s no box of colors big enough to show how God the artist uses color to enhance the world.

Today, we heard Jesus tell Nicodemus that he loved the world so much that he came into the world to show everyone how much he loves us. And that he came for the WHOLE world, not just the parts we like. Is that good news? I think so.

Let’s pray.

Dear God, thank you for loving me so much that you came to be with me. Thank you for loving those I don’t particularly like. Thank you for loving those who scare me. Thank you for loving the whole world. Amen.

Message:

It is said that St. Augustine had been walking along the beach when he came across a boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was frantically going to the sea to gather water and put it in the hole again and again. Augustine asked the boy what he was doing, and he said, “I’m putting the ocean in this hole.” Augustine replied, “Child, you can’t fit the ocean in that hole.” And then, as it turns out, the boy was really a messenger from God who told Augustine, “Yes, and your mind is too small to contain the vastness of God.”

We’re in our wilderness series as we hear the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus. And as I think about it, we don’t really know why he went to Jesus. He didn’t start by asking a question but offering a statement. “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God. We’ve seen your work, and no one can do what you do without God’s blessing.”

And that’s as far as he gets. I wonder what he had intended? Was he intending to associate himself with Jesus—get connected with this miracle-worker? Did he hope Jesus would join the Pharisees and Nicodemus? Did he just want an autograph? But he never gets to share his intentions because Jesus quickly undoes everything.

Nicodemus starts with “we know you’re from God because of what you do.” And Jesus responds, “You know, huh? You can’t even see the kingdom of God without being born again. And you think you know I’m from God?” It isn’t lost on the original readers that Nicodemus goes to Jesus in the dark. John uses light and dark, sight and blindness to express understanding and acceptance of who Jesus is. Nicodemus is in the dark. What he thinks he knows is nothing compared to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has come to do.

And that becomes evident as Jesus describes the new birth, and Nicodemus just can’t keep up. “You mean, we have to go back to our mother’s womb and be born again? Impossible! What are you talking about, Jesus?” He sure didn’t try to tell Jesus what he knew ever again.

But we know how that feels. We think we know something and come to discover we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg, not to mention all that lies beneath the surface. Consider how unsettling it was to the world at the time when science suggested the world was round. There are still people who wrap their heads around it. Or when it was suggested that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Or when it was discovered that no matter how high you go or how deep you dig, you’ll never discover heaven or hell.

Consider how disturbed the world has become with the conversations about climate change. No one wants to believe it because it means turning our lives upside down. Or how about your own internal response to ideas about people from the LGBTQ community being pastors or getting married when your whole life you were told that anything other than heterosexuality was a sin.

In every generation of life, people have been forced to relearn, rethink, reimagine what we thought we knew. Like Nicodemus, we find that we are approaching Jesus completely in the dark, telling him what we have become convinced of. And Jesus responds with ideas so far beyond our ability to understand that it sounds like a different language.

And perhaps it is. Perhaps we are being asked to learn the heavenly language of new life, of rebirth, of resurrection, of the miraculous and unbelievable love that Jesus offers, not only to us but to the world we still don’t understand. Is this not what Jesus came to do—to love the world so much that he came to save the world and not to condemn it.

“Jesus did not come to be another box for God. He came as a door opened to the world and time through which we can pass with new eyes and a new heart.”[1]

This is the intent of the baptism of the Spirit—to let us start again. To unlearn what we think we know in order to make room for what God has to teach us about ourselves, our neighbors, and God. We cannot even begin to put part of that ocean into these minds until we release all the things we have held there—things we thought we knew about race, about history, about life, about love, about sex, about creation. We will not learn what God has to teach while we still cling to those things we say we know—until God completely confounds us.

And that will happen. It does happen. As we gather around the cross on which Jesus hung, we are slapped in the face with all the things we ‘know.’ We know Jesus came from God, but why would God let him die in such a horrible way? We know Jesus is God, so why would he allow himself to die at all when he could have brought hell to bear on his enemies? We know Jesus is the Messiah, so why didn’t he act like it? We know so many things that God doesn’t fit.

In August of 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled “Where do we go from here” at the Eleventh Annual SCLC Convention. In it he referenced Nicodemus, “proclaiming the United States’ need to be born again to successfully tackle ongoing issues of social and economic inequality. Perhaps it’s time to reference Nicodemus in our own contexts and congregations…Now is not the time to fold our arms, close our minds and hearts, and retreat to opposing sides.”[2]

Now is the time to enter the wilderness and admit what we do NOT know. Now is the time to let go of what we SAY we believe and follow Christ to the cross with our feet and not just our words. Now is the time to be reborn—to be the vessels into which Christ pours the ocean of truth so that we might leak the gospel everywhere we go. Let it run out of all of our broken cracks, watering the world with grace instead of judgment, with love instead of hate, with hope instead of despair.

The message of Christ isn’t meant to be understood with the mind or grasped even with the heart. It is meant to be lived with hands and feet. It is meant to renew the spirit, quench the thirst, sate the hunger, and inspire new life for the whole world. The whole world—saved by the message of Christ lived out by those of us who, as Paul puts it, “know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It is not an easy message, but it is good news.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] https://storiesfromapriestlylife.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/nicodemus-john-31-17-2nd-lent-2014/

[2] https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2020/03/continuing-education/

“Baptism”–Midweek Lenten Service, March 4, 2020

water

Acts 8:26-40

As I mentioned last week, what inspired this sermon series was a book by Rachel Held Evans entitled “Searching for Sunday.” In it, she talks about her experience of church and her journey from certainty to mystery, from saving souls to being saved. And she walks through this journey by using the sacraments recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

She writes so eloquently that I can’t help but quote her frequently. So, she begins her look at baptism with this:

“In the beginning, the Spirit of God hovered over water. The water was dark and deep and everywhere, the ancients say, an endless primordial sea.

Then God separated the water, pushing some of it below to make oceans, rivers, dew drops, and springs, and vaulting the rest of the torrents above to be locked behind a glassy firmament, complete with doors that opened for the moon and windows to let out the rain. In ancient Near Eastern cosmology, all of life hung suspended between these waters, vulnerable as a fetus in the womb. With one sigh of the Spirit, the waters could come crashing in and around the earth, drowning its inhabitants in a moment. The story of Noah’s flood begins when ‘the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened’ (Genesis 7:11). The God who had separated the waters in the beginning wanted to start over, so God washed the world away.”[1]

Today, we hear about the unnamed man from Ethiopia. He was a believer in God and had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple—but not in it. He wasn’t allowed in it because of his deformity. He was a Eunuch, castrated in order to serve the Queen and her treasury. Perhaps a choice, perhaps not. Either way, he was separated, literally cut off from the promise of God and the people of Israel.

There are so many ways in which we are cut off from one another and from God. All of it has to do with sin. We separate ourselves based on denomination, skin color, sexuality, gender, political affiliation, nation, wealth, vocation, intellect, and so many other ways. We identify our worth based on these differences. Much like the waters of creation, we make our own world, separating the people above from the people below. Which is better? Who is closer to God?

And our sin is what hangs suspended in our creation. Rather than protecting the vulnerability of humanity by separating the waters as God did, we use the sin to separate humanity. But I love how Evans describes the Spirit—with one sigh, the waters could come crashing in and around the earth. With one sigh of the Spirit, all of humanity comes crashing into one another, intermingling, conjoining, mixing and meshing, and impossible to separate again. With just a sigh of the Spirit.

One sigh—and sin loses its grip. One sigh—and everything changes. One sigh—like the hesitant sentence uttered by a man kept apart: “What is to keep me from being baptized?” In terms of the Temple, he knew the answer. In terms of the Jewish Law, he knew the answer. But Jesus changed all of that. His death and resurrection undid the separations we create between each other. And all of a sudden, the answer changes. I wonder how long the question hung in the air as Philip pondered his answer.

The eunuch had been reading from Isaiah—how “when God became one of us, God suffered, too.”[2] God suffered. God became the marginalized, the oppressed, the one kept out—the one cut off. God chose to connect to the outsider rather than the insider. What is to keep those we keep outside from coming in? Who are we to decide? Who are we to get in the way of what God has called holy? What is to keep this man from being baptized?

So Philip got out of the way. “He remembered that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” Baptism isn’t about Christians being God’s bouncers but about being God’s persistent and ever-present welcome wagon.

Evans ends with this:

“After the government washed its hands of him, God hung on a cross where blood and water spewed from his side. Like Jonah, he got swallowed up for three days.

Then God beat death. God rose from the depths and breathed air once again. When he found his friends on the shoreline, he told them not to be afraid but to go out and baptize the whole world.

The Spirit that once hovered over the waters had inhabited them. Now every drop is holy.”

Every drop is holy. Every body is holy. Every atom is holy. God has God’s hands in everything—and makes all of creation holy. Including you. Including me.”[3]

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] Evans, Rachel Held, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church,” Nelson Books: Nashville, 2015, pg. 3-4.

[2] IBID, 39.

[3] IBID, 5.

“Wilderness Love”–First Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2020

temptation

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

This Lent, we are focusing on the wilderness—the stark places in life, the places in which we may feel abandoned, left without hope, hungry for a word of comfort. We’ve all been there. To be human is to experience the wilderness. It is the place of vulnerability, insecurity, and humility. But it is the place where hope is born, where identity is tested and secured, where who we are and whose we are become central. Wilderness is necessary—but it is typically not wanted.

Today, we hear again the story of Jesus’ wilderness experience. It follows on the heels of his baptism through which his identity was confirmed: “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And from there, the Spirit leads him out, where that very identity is tested.

Forty days he wanders without food or drink. Forty days he watches the ants scurry and the fox feed its young, he sits still while a butterfly lands on his thumb and takes shelter during the rain. Forty days he follows the path of the sun by day and the moon by night, noticing the waxing and waning of its cycles. For forty days he experiences the vulnerability of being human—exposed to the elements, growing weak with hunger and thirst, lips cracked, body fragile, the pains of an empty belly driving him mad.

And then comes company—perhaps much desired company. This new arrival feigns concern. You’re hungry. But aren’t you the Son of God? Look, here’s a stone. You can turn it into bread. You don’t have to go hungry. You don’t have to deny yourself. Jesus, you have the power to make this anything you want.

In her blog, ‘Journey With Jesus,’ Debie Thomas offers an incredibly insightful look at these temptations. She says, “The devil doesn’t come to make Jesus do something “bad.”  He comes to make Jesus do what seems entirely reasonable and good — but for all the wrong reasons…In the devil’s economy, unmet desire is an aberration, not an integral part of what it means to be human…Along the way, the devil encourages Jesus to disrespect and manipulate creation for his own satisfaction.  To turn what is not meant to be eaten — a stone — into an object he can exploit. As if the stone has no intrinsic value, beauty, or goodness, apart from Jesus’s ability to possess and consume it.”[1]

The temptation is to deny the goodness of being human—much like Adam and Eve in the garden. Being human wasn’t good enough. They wanted to be like gods. They wanted to be in charge. They wanted something more than the goodness of creation God had given them.

Unlike the first humans, Jesus denies this temptation to claim a right. “Life,” he says, “is about more than appetite. Life is centered in God’s love, not in feeding desires.”

The devil tries again. Jump, and let the angels catch you. That’s what scripture says, right? Angels will catch you? God will protect you? What’s the point of being the Son of God—a child of God—if it doesn’t mean some special protection from the evils of this world?

I mentioned last week that I seem to just ‘fall’ into things—jobs, vocation, life. I used to think it was because I’m a child of God. I’m baptized, so God protects me from the bad stuff. I’ve had a relatively easy life—especially compared to many. But it’s not because of my baptism or the invisible cross on my forehead. It’s not a talisman that protects us from evil. The ease of my life is because of various privileges I’ve had—being white, being Christian (not the same as being baptized), being an American, coming from a family that worked hard and believed in education, landing in circles that didn’t do drugs. Things could have gone very different for me without any help from me or from God. In many ways, I’ve just been lucky.

Being a child of God has nothing to do with being protected from difficult times and evil people. It doesn’t offer a magical shield that deflects evil intentions or temptations. While Jesus could have jumped and let the angels catch him, it would have been a denial of his humanity—again. The Word came into this world, denying his rightful power and glory in order to be one of us. To grasp that power when things got tough would have meant turning his back on those he came to save. Again, Thomas says, “If the cross teaches us anything, it teaches us that God’s precious children still bleed, still ache, still die. We are loved in our vulnerability.  Not out of it.”

The devil tries one last time, showing Jesus the kingdoms of the world and promising him that he could be king of it all. All he has to do is let the devil be king of him. Not much of a king if he his allegiance is to someone else. We can quickly jump to the political realm. I don’t remember who said it, but it would be interesting if all of the politicians wore their sponsorships on them like a NASCAR driver. Then, at least, we could see who was pulling the financial strings.

But that’s not a new thing, and it isn’t just a political reality. The Church has lived these lies since our beginning, being enticed by money and power, shifting theology to better our situation rather than serving those at the bottom. But Jesus chooses humility, obscurity, working in the shadows because he knows that his life isn’t about him but about all of creation. To be a ‘king,’ so to speak—a ruler, a president, a leader—is to serve, not to be served. It’s a truth we all quickly forget.

Thomas continues, “If Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness is a time of self-creation, a time for Jesus to decide who he is and how he will live out his calling, then consider carefully what the Son of God chooses: deprivation over ease.   Vulnerability over rescue.  Obscurity over honor.  At every instance in which he can reach for the certain, the extraordinary, and the miraculous, he reaches instead for the precarious, the quiet, and the mundane.”

The thing is, that’s all very well for Jesus, but what about us? What about our hunger? What about our protection and security? What about our leadership? And I’m not asking out of petty desires but deep need. Far too many are hungry. Far too many need protection—often from the far too many who have defiled their leadership. That’s fine that Jesus denied these temptations, but to what end? Aren’t our lives supposed to be better because Jesus came? Aren’t we supposed to be rescued and saved from these realities?

Thomas concludes: “the unnerving fact is this: we can be beloved and uncomfortable at the same time.  We can be beloved and unsafe at the same time.”

Friends, that is the good news—whether it sounds like it or not. Wilderness is a reality. Temptation and evil is a reality. These are things that we will encounter, each in our own way. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t with us. It doesn’t mean that God hasn’t saved us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have enough faith or haven’t prayed hard enough. It means that we are human. But being human is another way of saying that we are God’s beloved creation—God’s beloved children. You are God’s heart. And nothing can change that—no temptation, no mistake, no illness, no ugliness. Nothing and no one can take God’s love away from you. That’s what baptism means. That’s what Jesus came to show us.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Savour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2541

“A Church That Confesses”–Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020

broken

Isaiah 61:1-4

1 John 1:5-10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In her book, “Searching for Sunday,” Rachel Held Evans begins her chapters regarding Confession with this:

“In the creation story of Genesis, God shaped man out of the dust of the earth and animated him with divine breath. God placed the man in a garden by a river and taught him to tend it. When God saw that man needed a partner in this work, God created woman and together the pair learned how to be alive: to plant and prune, to laugh and make love, to crack open sticky pomegranates and dig dirt out from under their fingernails, to recognize the distinct melodies of the birds and to walk with God in the cool of the day. They lived in the shade of the Tree of Life and were naked and unashamed.

But when life was not enough, when the man and woman wanted more, they sought wisdom in the garden’s only forbidden tree—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They thought its fruit would make them like God. But in their grasping and rebellion, in their independence and greed, they instead learned fear, anger, judgment, blame, envy, and shame. When God came to walk with them in the cool of the day, they hid in the brush, afraid. So God banished them from the garden, away from the Tree of Life, and they understood that they would die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”[1]

Confession is about telling the truth—about who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done. But it’s not just telling the truth about all the bad. It’s also the truth about the good—about whose we are, about who loves us and who we love, about the gift of life together. Whether good things or bad, Confession is telling the truth.

Whether good or bad, confession is telling the truth about our mortality. Do we understand that we will die? It’s not exactly something you bring up at parties. And, quite frankly, it surprises me each year just how many people show up to receive ashes on your foreheads—to be reminded that you are dust and to dust you shall return—to acknowledge that you will die.

It’s certainly not a comfortable message. Yet, here we are. I think we long for truth, even as we try to avoid it. Evans quotes Heather Kopps’ memoir about getting sober and points out “that people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” Perhaps that’s why AA groups are so well-attended by such a wonderfully diverse group of people.

For a while, now, I’ve wondered what it would look like if worship were more like an AA meeting. Hi. My name’s Tobi, and I’ve sinned this week—again. And everyone says, “Hi, Tobi.” And I am accepted—not because I’m a pastor or a Christian or have been baptized or attended seminary. I’m accepted because we all know how much we need each other for healing and wholeness. I’m accepted because of all the ways I am broken instead of all the ways I have it together.

Walter Brueggermann has said, “Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town,” but when we gather, more often than not, we come to be made happy—to be lifted up, to prove we’ve got our ducks in a row, to give like someone might be watching, and to leave a little disgruntled over the music or the message or the smell of the person next to us. Friends, I will confess that I don’t have ducks, I have feral cats—and there is no such thing as a row.

What if this were the most honest place? What if people didn’t avoid church because they’re grieving and just can’t be around people with too many ‘helper genes?’ What if people didn’t leave because they didn’t get what they wanted but came because they knew there was something more they needed? What if this were a place of real confession?

What if the Church were full—not of good people but of resurrected people? The thing is that to be resurrected, we must die. We must acknowledge our mortality. We must know and remember and connect to the fact that we will die. Only then can we live.

There is a faith community in Denver called The Refuge. It was started by a woman named Kathy who had been a leader in a megachurch for many years. But she kept encountering Christians who kept their pain over addiction and brokenness a secret from their church because they were afraid and ashamed. She says, “People who make $600 on mental health disability and never graduated from high school are hanging out with friends who have master’s degrees and make $6,000. Suburban moms are building relationships with addicts.” But she recognizes that the healing in this community happens very slowly and points out that “most people don’t go to church to get annoyed.” And yet, the do come to The Rufuge. They get annoyed, but they also get mercy, grace, love, and healing—the kind they wouldn’t often find in a typical church.

Their doctrinal statement ends with the phrase, “At The Refuge, everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.” Everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. That’s beautiful.

Because it is uncomfortable to air your dirty laundry. It’s uncomfortable to let others see the cracks in your armor. In some places, it’s just plain dangerous. But that’s exactly where Jesus takes us. Jesus could have worn the armor of God’s glory for all to see. He could have brandished his weapon of power and laid his enemies out. But Jesus sees the world differently than we do. He doesn’t see enemies—he sees Children of God. He doesn’t see the need for armor—he sees the need for forgiveness. He sees the need for confession—the need for each of us to remove our protective gear so that we can walk hand in hand with him to the cross—together.

Evans closes her chapter on Ash with this:

“A long time ago, a promise was made. A prophet called Isaiah said a messenger would come to proclaim good news to the poor and brokenhearted, ‘to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.’ Those who once repented in dust and ashes ‘will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.’

We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.

We are not spared death, but the power of death has been defeated. The grip of sin has been loosed. We are invited to share the victory, to follow the path of God back to life. We have become like seeds about to transform, Paul said.

[Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.]

Life to death, death to life—like seeds, like soil, like stars.”[2]

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] Evans, Rachel Held, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church,” Nelson Books: Nashville, 2015, pg. 43-44.

[2] IBID, pg. 45-46.