Every Meal a Eucharist

This morning I preached on John 6:51-58 where Jesus, the true bread from heaven, teaches that if we would live, we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This is a Holy Mystery that means all kinds of things, the simplest of which is, “Have faith in me.”

Later today I read this passage from Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor:

“There are no ‘pearls [of wisdom]’ out there that you can use–no scripture verses to hand out, advice to guide, prayers to tap into. As we live and give witness to Jesus to our children and whoever else, we are handing out seeds, not pearls, and seeds need soil in which to germinate. A meal is soil just like that. It provides a daily relational context in which everything you say and don’t say, feel or don’t feel, God’s Word and snatches of gossip, gets assimilated along with the food and becomes you, but not you by yourself–you and your words and acts embedded in acts of love and need, acceptance and doubt. Nothing is abstract or in general when you are eating a meal together. You realize, don’t you, that Jesus didn’t drop pearls around Galilee for people as clues to find their way to God or their neighbors. He ate meals with them. And you can do what Jesus did. Every evening take and receive the life of Jesus around your table.” (p. 195)

In this way, every shared meal is Eucharistic–a feast of thanksgiving. The growing, harvesting, preparing, serving, and eating of food connects us with the whole creation and the Creator. As we bow before this mystery we recognize the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper at the center of all our eating, drinking, and table fellowship. In that Holy Meal, we are connected in a life-giving way with Jesus himself and all people for whom he came down from heaven and gave his life. (See, Peterson, p. 191.)

God is always good, and we are in his hands. +james



I am finding it very hard to write lately. It is easy to write about a brave little girl (think how many stories begin with a brave little girl!), it is much harder to write in the voice of a sad woman. Or maybe to feel that what a sad woman has to say is as worthy to be written as the story of a brave little girl.
It is difficult to talk, too. There are days when you are bursting with rage, or grief, or confusion, and there you are: dancing nervously between two paths. Do you spare people by keeping all that in, lest they find themselves the unwitting target for your ire, or do you strike a blow for honesty and express yourself? See, there’s the rub, honesty feels much more aggressive, and I’m not usually one for aggression. (Rather more of a wallower in the passive-aggressive mud. Yuck. OK, so now we’re back to not saying anything.)

I feel like I’ve lost my voice without Lucy. – Katie



My Prayer of Faith in the Morning

Psalm 61. A Paraphrase.

1 Listen, God, when I cry aloud to you!
Hear my prayer;
2  from far, far away I am calling to you
with heaviness in my heart.
Lead me to the rock of support
that is higher than the muck of my present circumstance,
3  for you have been my refuge,
a strong place of safety against my enemies.
4  Draw near to me and let me live with you in your tent forever!
Let me find safety under the shelter of your wings!
5  For you, O God, have heard my promises;
you have adopted me into the family those who fear, love, and trust in your name.
6  Prolong the life of the Savior King;
may His years endure to all generations!
7  May He be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over Him!
8  While Jesus lives and reigns, I will always sing praises to your name,
as I wake up each morning and Try Again.
Glory be to the Father and to the + Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever. Amen.

God is always good, and we are in his hands. +james

My Heart’s Complaint to God

A complaint against God held inside my heart alone is self-worship and will consume me.

A complaint about God made only to other people is an act of unbelief and leads to destructive behaviors.

A complaint made to God himself is an act of faith and opens me to the healing presence of the Spirit.

Psalm 39. A Paraphrase
1 I said, “I will pay careful attention to my ways,
that I may not sin against God or offend others with my words;
like a dog, I will lock down my mouth with a muzzle,
as long as I am in the presence of people I have trouble loving–
people like my wife, my children, my extended family, my parishioners, and my neighbors.”
2  So, I was mute and silent;
I held my peace, saying nothing.
It worked for awhile, but soon, it was no use;
my distress only grew worse.
3  With pent-up grief, anger, and resentment
my heart became hot within me.
As I tried to focus my mind; to get hold of myself, the fire burned within me.
Then I could not help myself, I spoke out with my tongue–
not to other people, but to God.
This is my prayer of distress:
4  “Lord, make me aware of my own impending demise.
I will meditate on my mortality, expecting my own death to come any day now.
Let me know how vain and fleeting I am!
5  See, you have made my days on earth just a few inches in length,
and my lifetime is as nothing before your eternity.
Surely all humanity from the beginning of the world till the end
stands as no more than a breath!
6  Surely we go about as a shadow! Life is so short!
Surely there is no good reason for our turmoil–so much suffering!
We work ourselves silly for money, possessions, and power, and we do not even get to enjoy them–because we die. Who are we working for anyway?
  And now, O Lord, what else am I waiting for?
My hope is in you.
8  Deliver me from all my sins,
because Jesus lived, died, and rose again for me.
Do not let me lose my mind and end up being laughed at by fools!
9  I am mute; I do not open my mouth; I am silent
because it feels like you have acted against me.
If I can’t say something good about you, I won’t say anything at all.
10  Stop hitting me, God!
I am worn out by the hostility of your hand, God.
11  It feels like you are punishing me for my sins, because
you consumed my dear little daughter–so young; so helpless–
like a moth in the flame.
Surely all of us are no more than a breath before you!
12  But in spite of it all, I’m still praying. “Hear me, O Lord,
and listen to my anguished cries;
don’t you be silent at my tears!
For I am a traveling pilgrim with you;
just a guest in this world, like all who have come before me.
13  Give me a break, Lord! I don’t want this kind of attention from you.
Go bother somebody else!
Turn your face away from me, that I may breathe easier and smile again,
because my own turn is coming. Soon I too will die.”

God is always good, and we are in his hands. +james

Preaching Through the Grief — Part II

Audio podcast available by following this link.

The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, 2012

Sermon: “Spiritual Strength in the Storms of Life”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21.

Well, last week the message sort of took the form of a Family Meeting. We saw how Jesus meets us in the desolate places of life. When he sees our weakness, he has compassion on us. He teaches us and he feeds us with his Word, his body, and his blood.

The point I wanted to get across last week–and I want to re-cap it this morning–is who do we ultimately look to for help when we are in a desolate place? You know the answer. Jesus.

Jesus who by his Spirit brings and teaches us the Word of God, applying it each to the situations we face. So, when I remind you of that, it is not to excuse myself from being a faithful undershepherd while I work through my own desolate place. It is not to say, “Leave me alone; give me space; don’t bother me, I’m sad.” Not at all. Actually, I don’t want you to change a thing. Keep calling. Keep asking for help. If you’ve been holding back, bring it on! Pick up the phone or stop me in the hall and let’s talk. Because helping you is an important part of my own healing process.

Remember the 3 things that help keep us living healthy spiritual lives? Faith in Jesus, fellowship with the Body of Christ, and service to others in Jesus’ name.

So, the reason I wanted to be so overt in pointing you to Jesus is just to beg your patience and to ask your forgiveness. In spite my best intentions, at some point, I will fail you as a pastor. Hopefully not all of you, but certainly some of you. I won’t meet your expectations. I will drop the ball.

And when that happens, I will need your forgiveness and your patience as we work it out together like a family with God’s help.

So, today let’s talk a little more about finding spiritual strength for the storms of life. In last week’s Gospel the image was a desolate place. This week it is a storm. Either way, they happen, we go through them, and a lot of times we are not sure we will come out of them alive.

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus a prayer for spiritual strength. Because in the end the thing we need when we face a storm is spiritual strength.

Praying just for good health or physical stamina is fine. Praying for wisdom to make good informed decisions is helpful. Praying for emotional strength to face and deal with hard realities is important too. But in a pitched battle between a hurricane and a strong, healthy, emotionally balanced guy who knows how to make good decisions—guess who’s going to win?

And so Paul prays for the kind of strength that can weather whatever storms may come. The kind of strength that we do not have any of on our own. The kind of strength that only comes to us from living in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, we join Paul this morning in his prayer for spiritual strength. He says, “This is why I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in the world learns its name…

I’m about to tell you why I pray this way, and here’s who I’m praying to. It’s God the Father, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. The God by whom all things exist and are sustained to this day. The God who placed his Triune Name upon you in Baptism, claiming you for his own treasured possession.

And here’s what I’m asking him to do. First: “that from the rich storehouses of his glory he may strengthen you with spiritual power in your inner being through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”

Folks, do you know what God has ready for you? A rich storehouse in his glory from which he distributes power to the powerless; strength for the weakhearted; and grace for all people broken by their sins.

We are praying with Paul for spiritual power from on high. But how is it given? Where is it applied? I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when I’d like God to throw down some lightning bolts of spiritual power and zap a person or a situation or a problem out of my way.

That kind of praying says, “God make them change.” But that is not how we are given to pray. No, we pray “God change me. Let me attend to your Voice in the Word. Let me receive with faith and gladness the near presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. God strengthen me by your Spirit in my inmost being.”

For what purpose? What is the goal of being strengthened spiritually? Paul continues, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” You say, “Well, isn’t that already a given? I mean, I am baptized. I trust in Jesus’ work for me and not in my own works. Why would Paul pray that?

Oswald Chambers once said, “It takes a man all he is to believe in Jesus Christ.” I would rephrase it this way in light of today’s Scripture readings: “It takes a man all he is to keep trusting that Jesus is good and he intends good for us especially when I’m afraid I won’t make it through the present storm alive.

Oh, but it gets better. Listen to the next petition in this prayer for spiritual strength in the storms of life: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all believers the substance and realness of the deep, deep love of Jesus. To reach the extent of its wideness—wider than a Montana sky; to run its full length—like a coastal highway that goes on forever; to climb the height of its altitude—higher than Mt. Everest; and to plumb the fathoms of its depth—a love deeper than the ocean. The funny thing is, the more we live in this Jesus kind of love, the more we realize it is beyond our knowing. Still, in letting ourselves be loved this way, God’s fullness fills all our emptiness.”

Now, you may be wondering how this prayer of St. Paul’s can help in the storms of life. How can we be sure he didn’t mean it just for super Christians who have warm, glowing religious experiences? I mean, the language is pretty big, bold, and beautiful. The realms of power and glory and spirit seem very far removed from the ugly, messy circumstances of our daily lives.

One reason I know we can pray this prayer for spiritual strength when facing life’s storms, is because of what happened in the Gospel. Jesus himself came to his disciples walking on the water through the storm and he rescued them.

The Gospel says, “he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.” (Mark 6:50-51.)

A Christian singer Laura Story sings in a song called Blessings, “What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?” Why would she say that? Because it is in the trials of life that we experience God’s nearness the most.

So, Paul—a follower of Jesus well acquainted with trials and storms in his own life—Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians, and I pray for you today this prayer for spiritual strength in the storms of life. The goal of this prayer is that you would “know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

This prayer is answered by Jesus coming to you in the storm and speaking stillness to the wind and to the waves, not first the ones outside of you, but the ones that rage and crash in your heart.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Preaching Through the Grief — Part I

Audio podcast available by following this link.

The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, 2012

Sermon: “Help for the Desolate: Faith, Fellowship, Service”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Text: Mark 6:30-44.

Have you ever been in a desolate place? If you have, you may resonate with what I have to say this morning. If you haven’t been in a desolate place, God bless you, but I’m afraid your turn will come.

Desolate places can be places of affliction and also places of blessing.

Remember when Jesus went into the wilderness fasting for 40-days and was tempted by the devil? Do you think he came back rested, relaxed, and refreshed? I’m not so sure.

Actually, Jesus may have been physically, emotionally, and mentally more weak and more exhausted after his 40-days of fasting and testing than he was when he started.

But you know what? His spirit and and his faith were strengthened so that he came back proclaiming the gospel and reign of God; calling people to repent and believe.(Mk 1:14-15.)

In today’s Gospel, the disciples have just returned from their mission trip and it says that Jesus “…said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (v. 31.)

He invited his friends, tired and worn out from their time of ministry, to come away by themselves to a remote place for rest and refreshment. They needed some time away to replenish their inner resources so that they could re-engage in the ministry of helping others.

This is one reason I try to go on my yearly Rio Grande canoe trip when it works out. I find that getting away from my work, my friends, and even my family; going to one of the last remaining wilderness areas in North America; and doing the physical work of canoeing and camping for 6 days helps me reset and recharge to re-engage in my vocation of helping others as a follower of Jesus.

We hear in the rest of the Gospel that the plans for Apostolic R&R were foiled by the needy crowd. People found out the location of the campsite where Jesus was taking his worn out disciples, and when they got there, a crowd of at least 5,000 was waiting.

Now, if that had happened to me, my gut instinct would be to turn, run the other way, and find some other desolate place away from the crowds so I could rest in peace. I have a feeling at least some of the 12 disciples would join me.

But that is not what the Lord did. The Gospel says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (v. 34.)

I want you to pay attention to who had the compassion here–Jesus. Who did the teaching? Jesus. Who did the feeding of the 5,000? Jesus.

The disciples were there. They helped. But it was Jesus who had compassion; Jesus who taught; and Jesus who fed the people.

Folks the Church needs faithful pastors. The world is full of unfaithful, self-serving shepherds. As we see in the OT lesson, God reserves severe judgments for unfaithful shepherds.

But pastors and shepherds can only be faithful when they are leading people to the Good Shepherd for the help they need. Faithful pastors pray for their people and for the world. Faithful pastors attend to God’s story with Israel and the Church in Sacred Scripture, and speak words of Law and Gospel for God to others. Faithful pastors are stewards of the holy mysteries—the Word and Sacraments—they are called to tend to the life and health of the Gospel in the faith community.

But guess what? Your pastor did not die for your sins. Your pastor did not rise again from the dead. Your pastor did not ascend to the right hand of God to make unbroken intercession for you. Your pastor is not coming back one day to rescue you from a world where people take guns to movie theaters and choose to commit evil acts of murder and mayhem.

See, as Lutherans we understand from the Scriptures that the pastor is just the one Christian selected by all the other Christians to do publicly—on behalf of the group—what everyone else is already doing privately: Speaking God’s Word, announcing God’s forgiveness, sharing the love of Christ with other people—believers and unbelievers alike.

One of the great blessings of the pastoral office is that we have a real guy who is called to speak God’s Word of law and gospel to us whether we like it or not. He is called to pray, read the Scriptures, and pay attention to what God is doing in our lives—most of the time behind the scenes.

But only Jesus, not your pastor is your Lord and Savior.

I am going to be very open and personal with you for a moment. I am called to be your pastor, and I am in a desolate season of life where I am worn very thin. It is taking a lot of my time and energy to work through the grief in my own life and in the life of my family. A lot of times I do not have extra energy to be compassionate, teach, and feed you as well as I would like. I try, but I am aware of my limitations.

I share this fact publicly because I want you to know that: 1) Only Jesus the Christ is your Lord and Savior and only your own faith in him can save you. 2) One of my deepest desires is to be a faithful pastor. I had this passage from Jeremiah 23 read at my ordination because it has been a driving force in my call to pastoral ministry since I was a teenager. 3) God has raised up 5 men as elders in this congregation to help me show compassion, to teach, and to feed you with God’s Word.

The Elders and I are working together intentionally to faithfully shepherd the flock at WOL. If something is bothering you about how things are being handled here, please talk to your elder about it. We can’t know how to help you if we don’t know what you need. If you are hurting or overwhelmed by life, or just need someone to listen, call on your elder. We can’t know how to respond to your hurts if we don’t know what they are.

Gossip and criticism are most destructive of Christian Community.

A couple of things that have been a big help to me personally in my journey through the desolate place are a man who prays with me every week, and another, more experienced pastor I go and talk with once-a-month. I have to ask for help. You do to.

I would be failing in my calling as your pastor if I did not equip each of you to stand before God by your own faith. A mother who ties her 4-year-old’s shoes is being a loving mother, but a mother who ties her 12-year-old’s shoes is not.

In other words, each of you have to take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being. Your own faith in Jesus—calling on him for help in every situation. Your own participation in the fellowship of the Church where your faith will be strengthened. And also, your own service to other people both in the Fellowship and outside of it. You must share God’s love with other people however you can if you want to keep your faith.

So I ask three things of you this morning. 1) How’s your own faith? Are you asking Jesus to give you strength and help you every morning? Are you thanking him for his help every evening? Or are you waiting for the pastor or the Church to fix your problems or make them go away?

2) How’s your participation in the fellowship? Are you making regular use of the Means of Grace? Are you investing in relationships with God’s people?

And 3) How are you doing in service to others? Are you sharing the great love you have been given with those around you who need it?

These are practices I have been building into my own life over the past year or so, and I find I cannot live without them.

When you are in a desolate place, who is going to have compassion on you? Jesus. Who is going to teach you and feed you with the eternal food of God’s Word & the Sacrament? Jesus. Your faith is in him and it is  “by God’s power[—not man’s—that you] are being guarded through [that] faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5.) Amen.