“Swords of Justice”–Sermon for June 25, 2017

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Jeremiah 20:7-13

Romans 6:1b-11

Matthew 10:24-39

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Lord of Life—these are the names we love to use for the Christ. But it is not the description Jesus gives us today. Rather, he says, “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” And then he goes on to describe how his message will divide families and destroy relationships.

That’s just not what we expect to hear from the Prince of Peace. It’s not what we expect from the God of Love. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be about uniting the world, healing the world, making us whole—not tearing us apart? Well…yes. He is. And he does do that. But first, the gospel must be proclaimed—the message must be spoken. And, as Jesus exemplifies in his death, that message is not always welcome. His message of love, hospitality, and sacrifice is not easily embraced. And those who embrace it—those who proclaim it—will not always be welcome, either.

Today’s gospel passage comes at the end of Jesus sending the disciples out into the towns and villages. He told them they might not always be welcome and how they are to respond when they are not. He warned them that eventually they will be arrested and beat and killed because of the gospel. And finally, at the end of his teaching, he says, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What is that to mean when he hasn’t even been crucified yet? What do the disciples hear in those words? They hear a call to stand against the empire—a power that kills people as a warning to get behind the empire. A power that shuts down any resistance to oppression. A power that silences voices of hope—voices that empower the vulnerable and outcast. A power afraid of an uprising.

You see, when truth-telling exposes the mighty, peace must wait for justice.

This isn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy gospel we all hope to hear when we come to church. And that’s the whole point. The prophet Micah speaks out against, “The prophets who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths.” When the world isn’t as it should be, we have no right to rest comfortably within our cozy understandings of faith.

Martin Luther recognized the need to speak the truth of the gospel to an Empire-Church that was oppressing its people. In 1517, he made public 95 statements of opposition that exposed the Pope and the Church of distorting the message of Christ. His work to expose this Truth not only divided his family—it divided his Church. He was excommunicated from the people he loved, forced out of the community that had cultivated his faith. And still, he persisted in his faithful proclamation, nearly getting himself killed multiple times.

When truth-telling exposes the mighty, peace must wait for justice.

Another example is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Born into a somewhat elite family, he learned a certain amount of national loyalty to Germany, his beloved home. He became a pastor and seminary professor within the Lutheran Church. And as Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer began to recognize the power his government had over his church—how discipleship was being undermined by patriotism—how the Savior of the vulnerable and oppressed was being hijacked and made into a symbol of oppression.

I can’t imagine the courage it took to speak against this movement. But Bonhoeffer took steps to establish an underground church and seminary that wasn’t subject to the government’s management. He spoke out against Nazi atrocities over the radio. And in the end he and two brothers-in-law were arrested and killed for plotting against Hitler, himself.

Before his arrest, Bonhoeffer wrote several books, including one called “Life Together.” In it, he speaks about the consequences of the gospel and quotes Martin Luther, himself.

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”

When truth-telling exposes the mighty, peace must wait for justice.

We could probably tell stories of Christian martyrs and prophets all day long—Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mendela, and so many more. But today, I want to point out a non-Christian prophet who stood up to the empire, who nearly lost her life fighting for the oppressed and vulnerable in her community.

Many of you have heard of Malala Yousafzai. She was born in 1997 and as a young girl attended a local school her father founded. Her community had once been a tourist destination until the Taliban took over. They destroyed her town and attacked schools dedicated to educating Pakistani girls. In 2008, at the age of 11, she gave a speech entitled, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” In 2009, she began blogging for the BBC about her experience under Taliban rule.

Malala and her family became the target of a death threat put out by the Taliban. On October 9, 2012, while riding her school bus, a terrorist boarded the bus and shot her in the head. She was treated and sent to the United Kingdom to continue her recovery. After several surgeries, she recovered and continued her education and her advocacy. In 2014, Malala was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. And even though the Taliban still considers her a threat and still has a contract out on her, she persists in her proclamation of truth and justice.

When truth-telling exposes the mighty, peace must wait for justice.

 In family systems theory, we learn that as soon as one person changes their role in the system, the whole system gets anxious. Maybe it’s an addict who gets healthy, or the peace-maker learns to let her siblings fight it out, or the door-mat stands up for himself. Even the healthiest changes produce anxiety because everyone’s roles get changed. If the symptom-bearer get healthy, the care-taker doesn’t know who they are anymore.

In some systems, the anxiety is too much to bear and eventually everyone goes back to where they were. The recovering addict goes back to the old ways or takes on new habits; the peace-maker can’t stand the division and steps in to mediate; the door-mat doesn’t like being disliked—and the system returns to the way it was. But sometimes, everyone learns a new way of being and, for the first time, experiences peace—peace that comes, not of familiarity of the old, but of experiencing the new. It may only be possible after a divorce, or a change in jobs, or the end of a friendship. It never comes without loss—it never happens without a cross and a death.

When truth-telling exposes the mighty, peace must wait for justice.

Proclaiming the Truth of the cross will always lead to an upheaval of a system, division in relationships, and a challenge of those in power. But the death of Jesus gives us hope—because his death proves that death isn’t the end. His resurrection shows us that the cross we take up is a temporary but necessary part of the process to true peace and abundant life. And his cross shows us, if anything, that the division and difficulties resulting from truthful proclamation aren’t a sign of failure but a sign of faithfulness. If we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, this will get harder before it gets better. But the end product, if we are around to see it, will be closer God’s promise of peace, hope, and life.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

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“Bologna Sauce (BS) and the Truth of the Gospel”–Sermon for June 18, 2017

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Exodus 19:2-8a

Romans 5:1-8

Matthew 9:35-10:23

The first time I learned to the play the card game, BS (or bologna), I was on a Girl Scout trip in Mexico. And then, I played it at church camps. I like it because it’s fast-moving, it doesn’t require much skill, and I don’t have to understand how to bid or ‘shoot the moon.’ It’s simple. And I love watching that scene in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” where Andi, played by Kate Hudson, gets the secret help of Benjamin’s family as she learns the game and beats the pants off of Ben, the family’s high-scorer.

When Ben, played by Matthew McConaughay, realizes his whole family is cheating, he calls them all on it. BS! Bologna! That’s the first thing I think of as we get to the end of the Exodus reading today. Moses has gone up the mountain and received a message from God to give the Israelites. God says, “Remember what I did in Egypt. Remember how I saved you. Remember how the Egyptians suffered. Remember how I’ve been with you on this journey. Follow me, trust me, rely on me, and you will live out the glorious plans I have for you on this earth. You will be my ambassadors—my emissaries. You will be my proclaimers. You will be my representatives to the world.”

And the people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” I call a BS on that. Because what follows within the rest of the Holy Scriptures is a litany of how the people did just the opposite. God called for justice—and the people lorded their lives over one another. God called for peace—and the people sought security by demanding a king. God called for new life revealed in Jesus—and the people handed him over to be killed. God continues calling—and we continue disobeying.

I had the privilege this week to join one of our women’s circle groups for a Bible study. The study, I thought, was fascinating and not unrelated to today’s readings. It started off with a reading from Revelation in which the angel of the Lord writes to the church in Laodicea, saying that they are neither hot nor cold. They are lukewarm. They say they are blessed and are rich and need nothing. And God says, “Bologna!”

Rather, the angel describes them as wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. They refuse to see their need for God because they have managed to take care of themselves. They fly beneath the Roman radar. They don’t cause any waves. They don’t fight for or against anything. They don’t make themselves known through their actions. They blend in—they’re just like everyone else—and that is how they survive. And to that, God says, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Unlike the salt of the earth, they have become tasteless—useless in making the gospel known to the world.

It’s a really harsh image. It evokes some pretty scary feelings when we take the time to look closely at it. And it challenges us. The point of the study was to push us to consider whether or not we are ready for the renewal we pray for—whether or not we want to be the Church called out to witness to the gospel of Jesus the Christ—or whether we’d prefer to remain just as we are.

And to be honest, I’m not so sure we are ready. Look how Jesus sends the disciples out in today’s gospel reading. They go without provisions. They go without making arrangements ahead of time. They go, not knowing how they will be received—IF they will be received. They go with nothing more than the word of God on their lips. They go into the belly of the whale—into the mouth of the lion—into the most disgruntled and angry pockets of society.

Matthew says that these are people who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The Greek is a little more descriptive. These are people who are oppressed and thrown to the ground. Rather than imagining lost sheep who just don’t believe, these are people who have been tossed out—forgotten—left without an advocate, without a shepherd, without protection. These are people who are skeptical of good news because good news for them has so often turned out to be fake news—false promises.

We see these people in our midst all the time. They are legitimately angry, frustrated, in despair, and willing to do just about anything to be recognized—to express their collective anger to a society who has left them for dead. Perhaps their emotions run along the same lines as the man who shot at the congress representatives on Tuesday—beyond logic, reason, and certainly beyond conversation.

These emotions—these reactions—aren’t new. As long as humans have sought power over one another, someone has always found themselves on the outside pointing out their grievances and crying, “BS! Bologna!” And it’s not just the government that is at the other end of the pointed finger. The Church has long been there, as well. We don’t have to display the deep and obvious signs of incongruence shown by the Westboro Baptists Church in Topeka—claiming love of God and hatred of people. We only have to listen to the words of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as we say them to recognize our own inconsistencies.

What does a community look like that actually believes in the resurrection of the body? Would we be so thoughtless about how we treat creation? What does it look like to actually pray for OUR daily bread? Would we be so quick to deny food to the hungry, even if they don’t deserve it? What does it look like to pray for God’s kingdom to come—here on earth? Would we continue to hoard our resources, looking for loopholes and excuses?

What would it look like if we actually believed God loves us—even when we’re filled with bologna and BS? That’s what Paul says to the Romans. “God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” In the midst of our sin. God doesn’t wait for us to live in the Truth. God doesn’t wait for us to get our lives together. God doesn’t wait for us to become saints. God enters our lives through water, bread, wine, and word in order to make real that which we can only hope for. God comes to us despite our BS. Because of our BS.

What would it look like if the Church lived the Truth of this claim in our everyday lives—going out into the world without provision, proclaiming God’s love to the outcast, the disenfranchised, the angry, the excluded, the feared and the fearful? What would it look like if we didn’t worry so much about how we were received but just kept speaking the Truth of God’s love into the dark corners of the world? What would it look like if we lived a gospel life—welcoming the stranger, making room for the different, and praying for a renewal that will not leave us the way we’ve always been?

Well, I think the world would feel a shift in the force, that’s for sure. I think that the terrorists and the tyrants would be dumbfounded. I think that the atheists would take a second look. I think that creation would breathe a fresh sigh of relief and excitement. I think we would look at each other, not with faces of fear but with a little glint in our eyes—sharing the secret we’ve known all along—the secret that all of this hurrying, scurrying, hoarding and hiding, power struggles and fear-mongering, hateful rhetoric and just general ugliness—all of it’s a bunch of BS.

And we know the Truth—the world has always known the Truth—that true life cannot be won through hard work, mighty armies, and good intentions. True life can only be given. And true life is, indeed, given. God has given us true life through the ministry, death, and resurrection of the Christ—the very Word spoken in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. This is what we know and believe on our best days. This is what we’re sent to proclaim. This is what the fear-filled, tossed-out, thrown-down world needs to hear—that the life God gives us isn’t just a bunch of BS.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Mystery and Infinity”–Sermon for Holy Trinity, June 10, 2017

creation-16_9-640x360

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In the beginning when God made the earth

The heavens and stars and the whole universe;

The Spirit of God hovered over it all,

And the Word of God spoke to the deep:

 

Then God said,

“Let there be light”; and there was light.

And God saw that the light was good;

and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.

And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

And God said,

“Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome.

And it was so.

God called the dome Sky.

And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

 

And God said,

“Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”

And it was so.

God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.

And God saw that it was good.

Then God said,

“Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.”

And it was so.

The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.

And God saw that it was good.

And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

 

And God said,

“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.”

And it was so.

God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.

And God saw that it was good.

And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

 

And God said,

“Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind.

And God saw that it was good.

God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

 

And God said,

“Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”

And it was so.

God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind.

And God saw that it was good.

Then God said,

“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

 

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

And it was so.

God saw everything that he had made,

and indeed, it was very good.

And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

 

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

 

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20

Who is it that says, “To infinity and beyond!”? Yes, Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story movies. He comes along in the first movie as the new birthday toy that young Andy receives. And, being a new toy, he quickly becomes the favorite—replacing Woody the Cowboy. Woody and the other toys aren’t too keen on this new arrangement and devise to have Buzz ‘misplaced’ or ‘relocated.’ In the end, they find a way to work together and both become Andy’s favorites.

But along the way, they have to convince Buzz that he’s ‘just a toy.’ He believes that he can fly—just like in the cartoon. He believes that he is the only one of his kind—not a mass-produced toy and one of thousands. He believes that it’s his job to save the galaxy, and he, indeed, has the power to do so. Until he encounters the hundreds of Buzz’s in the local toy store. After that, he no longer thinks he’s special. He has no purpose. He has no power. He has no vocation. He finally believes that he’s ‘just a toy.’

But in order to save himself and Woody from a fate worse than death, he has to believe in himself again. Woody has to convince him that he’s special and that his unique gifts are the only way they will escape their horrible fate. Trusting in himself again, Buzz does ‘fly’, rescues Woody, and saves the day.

In Psalm 8, the Psalmist asks God, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” I am just one of many who will live and die over the course of time. I’m no superhero. I’m no god. Our planet is just one of innumerable planets in the galaxy—our sun one star among the unimaginable across the vast universe. What makes us think we are so special? What do we have to offer? Why are we here? Why does God even bother?

And yet, in this beautiful creation poem in Genesis, we glimpse that even across the wide universe, humanity is the pinnacle of God’s work. Us. I think we’ve lost some of the magnitude of that in our Post-Enlightenment minds. Post-Enlightenment, by the way, is a term used to describe the era we live in—an era that expects a logical answer to every question, that is most comfortable with black and white views of complicated matters, and that looks to science to unmask mystery.

This mindset has encouraged the entrenchment of certain views about creation. There is the young-earth approach in which God established each element of creation with the bounds of six 24-hour days. I kind of imagine God as a micro-manager, designing a spreadsheet outlining what has to be done when. “At precisely 3:42a.m., I’ve got to have the Aardvark completed or I’ll be completely off schedule.”

And there is a purely scientific approach in which God has no hand in anything because this view of science leaves no room for the unexplained. First was the Big Bang, and then eventually there were single-celled creatures which morphed into some sort of amphibians with legs, which somehow, over the course of millions of years, became apes. And then humans came along from there.

Post-Enlightenment thinking means that everything has to be clearly explained. There is no gray area. Everything is either/or—either God created the world in six 24-hour days or God had no hand in it, at all. But part of what makes faith so power and so beautiful is the very mystery from which it comes—the both/and. The teller of the great creation poem wasn’t worried about how many seconds are in a minute. He was more interested in telling a story beyond our words. That’s what poems do. They bring forth things that words and explanations simply aren’t powerful enough to grasp.

And the great creation poet wasn’t interested in how cells evolve over time to form something different based on environmental and circumstantial challenges. He was weaving an image of life that is not only created but sustained by a Word sung into the vast darkness. He reminds us that Elohim, the God above all other gods, created order out of chaos, made something of nothing, and placed humanity in charge of it all—created and commissioned to steward this great gift of love. And this same God gives us the science with which to do just that!

Take a closer look, now, at this poem. Seven times it says that God saw. Like a master artist, God took God’s time. God stepped back, squinted, smiled, took in the wing of the dragonfly and the details of each scale on the salmon. God marveled at the snowcapped mountains and the tiny flowers blooming in the dessert. God breathed in the scent of the lilac and appreciated the nuance of colors within the eyes of the first human—the browns and golds and flecks of lavender.

Seven times, God saw and called the work of God’s hands ‘good’ and ‘very good.’ Before sin and evil came blessing and goodness. The root systems of the baobab tree and the perfection of the bee hive. New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg, says the creation story is really “strikingly world-affirming.” “Against all world-denying theologies and philosophies,” he writes, “Genesis affirms the world as the good creation of the good God. All that is, is good.”

All that is. What would that look like if humanity actually believed that? Would we be so quick to destroy? Would we be so quick to deplete our resources? Would we be so quick to use and abuse, to eliminate forests in order to plant fields, to use methods like fracking just to squeeze more oil and feed our insatiable hunger for more, to pollute water supplies with our discarded waste, to poison food sources while trying to poison the bugs who destroy them, to process food until it is no longer recognizable as food, to destroy one another over a desire for power?

Wow—talk about a world in need of renewed mystery and beauty.

We are also in need of seeing that God hasn’t finished creating, yet—that God hasn’t just set things in motion and the left it alone—that God isn’t stagnant but vibrant and active and present in our world—in our midst—in our lives.

“When I look at the heavens and the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet, you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”

God did not create us out of boredom. God did not create us out of loneliness. God did not create us out of spite or a desire to experiment. God created us and all around us out of pure love and pure joy and pure relationship. God doesn’t make junk—God makes beautiful mystery. You—your body, your mind, your life—you are a beautiful mystery. This congregation is a beautiful mystery. This city, this country, this planet, this galaxy, this universe, and all things touched by the hand of God are a beautiful mystery. Words and ideas will never be able to grasp the vastness of our existence or our purpose.

And yet, God does give us a purpose. As humankind, our purpose is to be the caretakers of this mysterious gift. As Christians, our purpose is to disciple the nations of the world, proclaiming the good news of God’s mysterious love for us revealed in the death and resurrection of the Christ. Our purpose is to live by the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit, called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified to do the work of the gospel.

Friends, the mystery of God is that we are not just toys, one built after another on a whim. We are each unique and beloved and blessed images of our Creator, called into a life that extends to infinity and beyond!

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“The Amazing People of the Spirit”–Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

pentecost

Are you ready for something amazing?

Pentecost—history (Festival of Weeks, celebrating the giving of the tablets of 10 Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai 50 days after the remembrance of Passover)

John—tells the story differently.

Acts—at Pentecost. Disciples waiting for a new thing promised by Jesus. 1 week after his ascension. A new thing came into the room—rushing wind (like the wind that hovered over the chaos before creation; like the Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness following his baptism)—languages of fire that landed upon the disciples—like the fire of the burning bush. And those gathered for the celebration heard the gospel in their own language—God meeting them where they were, who they were, and bringing them into the story.

So, are you ready for something amazing? This isn’t magic, you know. I’m talking about miracles. I’m talking about mystery. I’m talking about the Holy Spirit. Yes—Lutherans can talk about the Holy Spirit. We may not be good at it, we may not understand the Spirit, we may not know what to say about the Spirit, but it’s time to talk about the Spirit. So, get ready for something amazing.

I have spent the last three days at Synod Assembly in Kearney. Every year, members and pastors of every Nebraska Synod congregation gather to do the business of the Church. We also gather to learn, to pray, to hear what the Spirit is up to in the Church. And I’m here to tell you, the Spirit is on the move! Get ready for something amazing!

Now, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t hear some challenging information, as well. We heard that the pastor shortage across the country is increasing at an alarming rate. We heard that attendance is declining all over the place. We heard that the Church and the world are changing at an exponential rate—yeah, like that’s news. But to that, we heard that we need to change—that what we’ve always done no longer works, and that we cannot reach the future by traveling through the past. We heard that pastors exiting seminaries are coming out with crushing levels of student loans.

But that’s not all. Get ready for something amazing. We also heard that Nebraska Synod is leading the country in Mission Share (that’s giving at the national level), leading the country in giving to Lutheran World Hunger, and leading the country in giving to Lutheran World Relief. We heard and were affirmed at just how generous and faithful and amazing you all are. The Spirit is on the move!

We also heard that when the world is in need, it’s Mainline Christian Congregations that meet that need. We heard that while governmental assistance to the vulnerable in our country is one of the worst in the world, the mainline Christian Congregations of this country is first in assistance to the vulnerable among us. The Spirit is on the move!

We heard about AMMPARO—Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities. It is a movement in the ELCA that works to help unaccompanied minors who are seeking refuge and asylum. It includes a group called Guardian Angels—volunteers who sit in on the court hearings for asylum, bringing a sense of peace and calm to the situation, praying for the children and for those making decisions.

Yes, the Spirit is on the move—and we’re hard-pressed to stay where we are. Let me tell you how the Spirit is moving here at Our Saviour’s. We have people coming into this congregation for the very purpose of participating in a congregation that ministers to prisoners. We have FEAST—prison ministry—partners who beg to come and help work around this building. They’ve spent dozens of hours painting and replacing drywall and building the community garden and planting vegetables.

This past year, every weekday, we hosted a parent group from Randolph Elementary who gathered to learn English and learn how to fully contribute to this Lincoln community and support their students in class. What diversity walked into these doors each day, finding this a safe place to gather. This summer, we’ll be hosting Randolph Elementary students for summer school, again providing a safe place for them to learn. The Spirit is on the move here.

Our youth group is growing again—looking for opportunities to meet and connect, to serve and play. Our young adults are looking for ways to make a difference in the world through their ministry, their worship, their learning, their lives. Our children want to know that they are valued and necessary participants in this congregation—not just for the future, but now. Our parents make worship a priority in the lives of the families, even in the midst of so many other activities and responsibilities. Our older members are blessing the younger ones, praying for them, mentoring them, teaching them, loving them, and leaving a legacy of faith and hope that the Church of the future will receive and steward. Yes, the Spirit is on the move!

And the Spirit is moving us. The synod’s Director of Development and his wife were recently traveling in Australia when they found themselves in a jewelry store which sold very fine jewelry. The owner asked who he was, where he was from, and what he did. When Ted told the owner that he worked for the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA, the guy asked what that meant. And Ted told him. He told him about the ministries and the communities and the faithfulness of the people. And when he was done, the shop owner said, “I want to be a part of THAT!” He gave Ted two opal necklaces and two sets of earrings to bring back to support the ministry. They were just auctioned off at the assembly this week. The Spirit is moving us.

But when the Spirit moves, you can almost be guaranteed that you will end up somewhere completely unexpected—at the edge of the Red Sea, in the waters of the Jordan, in the wilderness, beneath the cross of shame and derision, in the midst of a windy, fire-filled room. The Spirit is on the move.

Recently, two young men from Sudan—originally two of the Sudanese ‘Lost Boys’ who sought refuge in the U.S.—asked to go back home. They had received a seminary education through the TEEM program and were ordained. They wanted to return in order to build a church. Now, since South Sudan declared their independence, the area is one of the most dangerous in the world. All the faith organizations have pulled out—except the Lutherans. And part of the violence is turf warfare between two main tribes. These young men were from opposing tribes.

But they wanted to build a church together—to show their people and the world that God is bigger than the violence and war tribes. They want to bring healing to the wounds caused by sin and evil. And the church is coming along very nicely—both the building and the people.

Yes, the Spirit is on the move. But the Spirit isn’t just moving us out. The Spirit is moving us in—into prayer, into gratitude, into community, into fellowship, into worship, into meal, into blessing, into life. Seth told me, tonight, that sermons are boring. So, I asked him why. He said that they’re just words that I type and erase and work on. So, I explained—sermons are one of the ways in which we can connect God’s Word and God’s story to our own story. It’s how we learn to understand who God is for us through the stories of faith.

And my profound little theologian said this: “Oh, it’s like plugging in a lamp to an outlet.” Yes, honey—it’s like plugging in a lamp to an outlet. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our light shines so that the world may see who God is through us and glorify the maker of heaven and earth.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE