Sunday, January 17, 2016

Confession & Thanksgiving as We Celebrate MLK



Earlier today I was blessed with the opportunity to give the opening invocation of the Schenectady County Human Right's Commission's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. What follows my manuscript for that invocation.

Good afternoon everyone,

When Ms. Morris called me up a few days before Christmas and asked me to open today’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. with a word of prayer, I felt incredibly honored, but honestly a bit distraught as well. You see, us Lutherans aren’t necessarily known for our rousing, inspiring praying… we certainly pray, quite a bit actually, but we tend to just like politely reading something out of a book and then going off to the fellowship hall to enjoy a nice potluck. And furthermore, I mean not everyone here’s Christian I imagine, so I thought offering prayerful words in such a situation might not be entirely inclusive. Eventually, and frankly not till pretty early this morning, I realized it was far better to offer up something from my tradition that we all in a sense could take part in no matter one’s faith: confession and thanksgiving. You see, from a Lutheran and indeed many Christian perspectives, confession isn’t about feeling all guilty, bummed out or down on one’s self like it’s often portrayed… not at all! Indeed, when we confess things, we’re simply naming the things that ail us, we’re simply naming what’s really going on, and in doing so, we are thereby freed to see and celebrate the many incredible things we should be thankful for. So, with that said, instead of opening with a word of prayer, I’d ask that we open with a word of confession and thanksgiving.

First of all, as Dr. Jacqui Williams stated this past Thursday at the Pre-Celebration Community Forum, let us confess that if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were here today, he would cry, fall to his knees, and pray, “What did I do wrong?” That’s because, while it’s certainly not Dr. King’s fault, we must also confess that Jim Crow is indeed alive and well not just in the South but throughout America in the form of a criminal justice system run amok, a system which now imprisons a higher percentage of the black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. Let us confess, that as the political strategist Lee Atwater admitted to decades ago, fear of the criminal, fear of the drug addict, fear of the welfare recipient was created and stoked in the minds of America’s white population simply to garner votes. And more importantly, let all my fellow white folks in the room today confess that far too many of us fell for such tactics, and continue to fall for these harmful manipulations. Let us confess that not only has Reagan’s so called “War on Drugs” been a miserable failure, but also that due to racial profiling, certainly not rates of drug use, the “War on Drugs” has often become a war on communities of color. Let us confess that when we say we’re in a post-racial society, or that we live in an age of colorblindness, all we’re really saying is that we’re simply blind to what’s really going. Let us confess that when we respond to the refrain “black lives matter” with “all lives matter,” we simply do not understand the issue at hand.

To all those who are Christians in the room, both black and white, let us confess that far too many of our houses of worship have become houses of complacency, houses of polite superficialities and houses of creature comforts rather than places where we learn what the gospel is really about… faith, hope and liberating love. Let us confess far too many of us lift Dr. King up as a universally beloved saint, rather than the controversial, radical, justice-seeker he was. Finally, let us confess that we all have failed to care for one another, and as Michelle Alexander states in her book The New Jim Crow, “It is this failure to care, really care across color lines, that lies at the core of this system of control and the very racial caste system that has existed in the United States or anywhere else in the world.

However, having confessed such things, let us also turn forward this day and give joyful thanksgiving as we the celebrate the immense possibilities of a bright future. Let us lift up words of thanksgiving that in the tradition of Isaiah, Micah, Elijah and indeed of Jesus Christ, any true faith must seek justice and therefore any true faith must be in a sense political. Let us give thanks that our houses of worship are well poised to provide safe and comfortable spaces for our community to have incredibly uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Let us give thanks for the rich, beautiful diversity of creation in all its forms… for diversity of race and culture and creed and for humanity’s full spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. Let us give thanks for a new generation of civil rights activists who refuse to be silenced, those who have aptly been called the #blacklivesmatter generation. Let us give thanks for the lives of those beloved martyrs of gun violence and police violence, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and all the others whose lives have once again brought issues of race and justice to the forefront of our national conversation. Most importantly, let us give thanks for the real Dr. King, a man who was a “troublemaker,” a man who was a “radical,” a man who necessarily made people feel uncomfortable, but as Cornell West puts its, also a man who taught us to be love-struck with each other rather than colorblind toward each other. Thanks be to God for these things, and thank you for joining us in today’s celebration.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Turn Towards Hope

Hi all,

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached earlier this morning at Messiah Lutheran Church in Schenectady, New York where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It was my best attempt to proclaim a message of hope as we begin the season of Advent while focusing on the first reading for this Sunday, Jeremiah 33: 14 - 16. Please, let me know what you think!

God's peace,
Dustin

Sisters and brothers,

It’s so heartening for me to be back with you, despite having had an awesome week away visiting loved ones and hiking in all sorts of beautiful places with Willy Bear all around New England. It was a great week for sure, filled with some much needed rest time, hours spent reading and reflecting about the past year and of course multiple courses of eating way too much turkey. That all said, both the best and most thought provoking parts of my week were the conversations I had with folks of a wide variety ages and backgrounds. I was blessed with the opportunity to hear what was going on in the life of my beloved Grandma Tinie for instance, who still cooked the most delicious Thanksgiving meal despite being in her late eighties. I also learned about the joys and challenges a close childhood friend of mine is facing as her and her husband begin their careers with a second child on the way. It was fantastic to talk with a high school student about how things were going with the hometown cross country team in my hometown of Manchester, Connecticut before the annual Thanksgiving Day Road Race. Now to the best of my understanding, there seemed to be one common thread though that bubbled up in a nearly all these conversations no matter what else was being talked about, a common thread that really informs what I’d like to speak to today… given everything going on in the world over especially the past year, wow, there is a huge amount of fear in our society, and worse yet, there is even more apathy about the possibility of things improving. There is a great amount of fear in our society, and worse yet, there is even more apathy about the possibility of things improving.

The reasons for this collective sense of fear and apathy are both incredibly complicated yet probably quite familiar to most of you. First of all, on a societal level, change, even when it’s mostly positive change, creates uncertainty, which in turns often instigates us to react in fear. And while it’s been increasingly a trend for a while now, over the past year especially we’ve heard stories about “the rise of the millennial generation,” folks roughly my age and bit younger, who as we’re at least often characterized have radically different views than the last few few generations of Americans. We’re increasingly interconnected on our iPhones, we greatly value racial and ethnic diversity, and comfortable with what some would consider nontraditional family structures, whether it be championing marriage equality, choosing to live with a partner before marriage or putting off having children until later in life. We also aren’t typically as interested in organized religion, although we are just about as spiritual as any other generation. While in my opinion most of these trends are quite positive and have been in the works for the at least the last fifty years anyway, the fact that we’re rapidly moving away from a “Leave It to Beaver” sort of society is understandably scary for many individuals.

On top of a rapidly changing society, we’ve been absolutely inundated over the past year with all sorts of horrific headlines that tend to breed nothing but fear and apathy… folks twisting the beautiful teachings of Islam into something that leads to beheadings and civil war and the despicable terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut a couple weeks ago. Every week it seems we hear news of another mass shooting, most recently this past Friday outside a women’s health clinic in Colorado. Affirming that black lives matter while also supporting the women and men who have sworn to keep us safe is a near daily task. With NATO allied Turkey shooting down a Russian fighter jet on Turkish/ Syrian border this past week, international tensions in some ways haven’t been this high since the end of the Cold War. And not to mention of course all the difficulties going on in our own lives… from talking to many of you privately in the week before I left for vacation, wow, there is a lot of tough stuff going on for many of us hear at Messiah… all sorts of things that might make us fearful, or lead us to apathetically believe things will never improve.

Today however my sisters and brothers, during the shortest days of the year, the prophet Jeremiah has a word for us that is not just of incredible, but in fact is audaciously good news amidst all that darkness, fear and apathy, as we begin a new church year and liturgical season this first Sunday of Advent… a message quite simply, of hope. I’ll read some of Jeremiah’s words for us again… The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. You see, Jeremiah wrote in some truly horrific times… right in the middle of the Siege of Jerusalem between 589-587 BCE by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar II. The elites of the city were being carted off to exile in Babylon, the city itself was burned and most importantly, the First Temple, the dwelling place of God on Earth was completely destroyed. I can’t stress more highly how this was a truly world shattering event for Jeremiah and his peers… to the point that most of Hebrew Bible we know today was compiled shortly thereafter in an attempt to figure out what to do next. Despite the horrors surrounding him, Jeremiah proclaims “the days are surely coming” where justice and righteousness will once again reign in the land. In other words, Jeremiah proclaimed a message of hope in the darkest, scariest, most apathetic of times… not just incredible but in fact audaciously good news that deeply reflects the sense of hope that our God calls us towards in Christ.

So, what can we learn from Jeremiah’s message as we begin this Advent amidst the darkest season of the year, amidst of overwhelming sense of apathy and fear? Quite simply, turn away from such things towards hope. In the end, that’s what Jesus is all about, the only reason Jesus needed to be born at all, to turn us towards hope. Turn towards hope in Christ, and proclaim that message to everyone you know through word and deed, that in the end, the powers of darkness, and fear and apathy can never win next to the power of God’s love. Now what does an abstract phrase like “turn towards hope” mean for us practically in this time, this place, in twenty-first century Rotterdam? I have three distinct suggestions amongst many other possibilities. First, let us consider what and who we want to stand for as Christians. A couple weeks back, you might have heard the silliness coming out of some Christian quarters complaining about what those red holiday Starbucks cups look like… they no longer had a Santa or nativity or whatever other Christmas scene whatever… is that what’s truly important? Red coffee cups? Is that what it means to be Christian? Or can we radically take up the Biblical call to welcome in the stranger, the alien, the migrant and stand up for those well mean Syrian families seeking asylum in our country as refugees. What’s more important? Being fearful about our seemingly less Christian culture and complaining about red coffee cups or turning towards the hope that we can make the lives of a small number of Syrian refugees just a bit easier.

Second, do we want focus on our fears about the changing values of our young people? Only a couple weeks back I heard an ELCA Lutheran pastor referred to millennials as a “heathen generation,” I kid you not. Really? Or should turn towards hope in Christ? For example, did you know for the past few years, on the first day of every month thousands of young Lutherans around the world fast have fasted for justice ahead of a major climate change conference that will begin tomorrow in Paris? Lutheran young people are putting their into action all around the world and advocating that our leaders finally take action on what may be the defining issue of our time, and it’s acceptable to call us a heathen generation? Rather than reacting out of fear about changing and perhaps improving values, we can turn towards hope in Christ.

Finally, on a more personal and less global scale, should we continue to apathetically focus on old divisions and arguments with friends, family and members of our congregation, especially during this stressful time of the year or can we turns towards hope in Christ that reconciliation is possible? Can we turn towards hope in Christ that we can move forward together into a bright future as closely knit families, communities and as a congregation? Quite simply my sisters and brothers, through Jeremiah’s proclamation of the good news amidst the darkest of times over 2500 years ago, and through Christ coming into the world and triumphing over the worst of human sin a few hundred years later, we can turn away from all the darkness and fear and apathy towards hope. In the end, that’s what Jesus is all about, the only reason Jesus needed to be born at all, to turn us towards hope. Turn towards hope in Christ, and proclaim that message to everyone you know through word and deed, that in the end, the powers of darkness, and fear and apathy can never win next to the power of God’s love. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Confession from the Storm

Hi all,

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached earlier this morning at Messiah Lutheran Church in Schenectady, New York where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It was simply my best attempt to speak to horrific act of racially fueled terrorism that took place in Charleston this past week and brings in the gospel message for this Sunday as well, Mark 4:35-41. Please, let me know what you think!

God's peace,
Dustin

I’d like to start out today with a couple of confessions… First, while I had finished my sermon early for once this past week, all excited to talk about how Jesus shows up in positive masculinity for our first ever Father’s Day Eucharist, I knew immediately upon reading the news on Facebook late Wednesday evening about the massacre of those nine black saints at prayer and studying the Scriptures down in Charleston, that it was essential to preach something different. Yet, despite having three days to prepare, I have to confess that I still couldn’t come up with much… as I speak to you this morning my heart aches. As pastor here at Messiah, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the powerful, life-giving sessions many of us spent together learning about our Creator on Wednesday evenings this past Lent for instance, and what a horrific sin it was to so violently cut short a quite similar gathering last Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church. On top of being sad, just really sad, about what transpired, I can’t help but be infuriated either, especially at the perpetrator of that violence, who it was just found out was in fact a member of an ELCA Lutheran congregation, but also at the folks who over the last few days quite publicly stated this act of domestic terrorism had nothing to do with race, or that the perpetrator’s actions were not representative of wider issues of racial injustice, a sin, indeed America’s original sin, a storm of sorts that still rages across our entire country.

So, while I’ve tried to find some good news in all this, and I promise, we’ll definitely get there, I thought I’d first ground our conversation today in a few more personal confessions as well, stories that I imagine may prove demonstrative of the wider situation we find ourselves in regarding the current way the storm of racism rages in America. One of my first memories of thinking I could have done better regarding race was when I was about ten years old. Growing up living in a two family house owned by my great, great uncle, an amazingly compassionate and highly decorating veteran of the Second World War, after making friends with one of the black families who lived a couple blocks away and playing army in our front yard, my uncle told me, and I quote, “there was only only one colored boy in the yard at a time,” and he thought he was being generous. I mean yeah, I was only ten, but I knew my beloved uncle was wrong, and I should have done something more than simply shrugging him off as a product of his time. I think back to one night in middle school, when I use to make a few extra dollars shoveling the walk in front of the club/ bar place my father was a member of, located in the primarily African American neighborhood my family lived in. An incredibly intelligent buddy of mine from the middle school basketball team, a fellow named Byron was with a few of his friends and saw me shoveling alone from a distance. Wanting to make a point he put his hoodie up before walking towards me and once he got up close, and I could see who it was, he asked if I had been more afraid because he was a black guy. I said no of course, but still deeply taught by our society to make assumptions about folks that looked like he did, I should have probably said maybe.

In college, especially with the idea that I was just sarcastically making fun of folks who were overtly hateful or perhaps because I was a poorer kid around wealth for the first time and I wanted to attack political correctness as just this sort of uppity rich people thing, or maybe just because I was a loud, big personality trying to get attention, I definitely made more than enough stupid jokes about race, religion and ethnicity. As I’ve preached on before, it wasn’t really until the required anti-racism training I took at seminary, where the organizers aptly were able to help the white folks in the room understand racial oppression through the lens of various other types of oppression we had in fact lived through, that I truly was able to understand how thinking we could laugh about our differences was simply not taking the sin of racism seriously enough.

I confess these things, my sisters and brothers, not to throw my own guilt on you this morning or to make you feel uncomfortable, not at all, but rather to demonstrate how the storm of racism rages on today, in our own lives. I mean I had the benefit of growing up in fully integrated schools with roughly a third African-American population in the most progressive part of the country. I prided myself in getting the nickname “Brother Dus” for a bit of my senior year of high school because I was the only white kid taking the African-American History elective. A few years later, at pretty much the same exact time I was making those stupid jokes back in college, I was volunteering with the Obama campaign in four or five different state primaries, so incredibly enthusiastic about what it would mean to have an African-American president. It would have been hard for me to grow up exposed to much more diversity and cross-racial understanding, but coming from that blind place called white privilege, America’s original sin still became my own. And despite my best intentions to learn, to listen and to grow, overcoming the sin of racism is something I know I could always improve upon.

Now while your own stories and experiences may take different forms, and frankly you’re all probably much better people than I am, just because of who we are and the legacy we’ve been born into, whether it was in the 1930s or 1960s or 1990s, in a yes improving but still significant way, the storm of American racism continues to rage in all our lives. Whether it’s letting a relative’s inappropriate joke pass without comment or simply living in a society where you’re less likely to get pulled over because of the color of your skin and not doing much about it, we all have room to improve. And, my sisters and brothers, that’s where the good news starts… You see, recognizing our shortcomings isn’t about being on a guilt trip or being down on ourselves, but rather the exact opposite. Being vulnerable about our shortcomings is about being in turn completely torn open by Christ, about being shown how God is present in all the storms of our lives, working to improve us and thereby equip us to go out and serve our neighbors. Confession is simply saying what’s really going on… that we live in a country where folks are more likely to be arrested and are less likely to get jobs and can even still be murdered simply because of the color of their skin and that as predominately white folks, as people who are on the periphery of but are still negatively affected by and oftentimes passively complicit with the particularly heinous storm that is racism in America, we can always learn more from our black sisters and brothers who are in the middle of those choppy seas each and every day.

No matter though how much we have or haven’t contributed to racial injustice, the incredibly good news is that as we heard into today’s gospel message, Jesus is in the storm. Jesus is in the storm. Jesus is with us in all the storms we face, particularly as we work to grow beyond America’s original sin of racism. Jesus is in the storm, even when we mess up, misspeak or misunderstand. Jesus is in the storm of black lives as well, whether it be while they confront the institutional violence of an unjust criminal justice system or the individual violence of a racist young man shooting up a church meeting. And while most of us will never entirely know what it’s like to face the storm of racism in such a way, we can know Christ is there with our black sisters and brothers, there in the storm, calling us to listen, to learn, to accompany our fellow children of God as allies in the cause of justice, of peace, of freedom, of the highest ideals of both our country and even more importantly our faith. Jesus is in the storm. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why Did Jesus Need to Die?

Hi everyone,

In addition to posting sermon videos on my congregation's website, I decided to start putting 'em here as well to hopefully increase viewership. The sermon below was preached today on the gospel message for the day, John 3:14-21, specifically exploring the question, "why did Jesus have to die?" Thanks for watching, and I'd love to hear what you think!

God's peace,
Dustin



Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let's Talk about Fornication!

Hi everyone,

Wow... the lectionary provided us with some pretty choice passages this Sunday. What follows is my take on 1 Corinthians 6: 11-20. If you'd like to see video of the sermon, you can check it out soon on my congregation's website, Messiah Lutheran Church.


Wow, the geniuses who came up with the lectionary really served us up a doozy this week. We have two stories in 1 Samuel and the Gospel of Saint John about God calling disciples… and neither of which is particularly uplifting. The Samuel story is really problematic because it ends with God being pretty mean to poor old Eli. The story from John isn’t too bad, but it’s just kind of dry, no? But then, we got one really coming at us out of left field with the epistle reading… it’s Saint Paul writing to those bothersome Corinthians all about the loaded topic of fornicating! While I firmly believe there’s good news in all these readings my sisters and brothers, they definitely all take a great deal of unpacking to get there, and given that we probably need a little something to warm us up on such a cold winter’s morning, let’s just talk about the fornicating! I figure it’s probably been a couple months since I’ve gotten too controversial in one of my sermons, so why not give it a whirl.

Has anyone here ever heard of the Houses of Hillel and Shammai? Although I had heard a bit about Hillel cause most Jewish student centers on college campuses are named after him, I hadn’t really heard the full story myself about Hillel and Shammai until I got to seminary either, so don’t worry about it. That said though, it might be a little bit too history-nerdish, but try to remember about Hillel and Shammai, because their story can definitely go a long way in helping us figure out difficult ethical issues and sort through difficult Biblical passages as Christians. This is a bit of an oversimplification of their story, but essentially Hillel and Shammai were two competing Jewish sages who lived not long before the time of Christ. Now when these sages disagreed about important matters of Torah or Jewish law, they and their respective followers tended to hold two competing schools of thought. The Shammai folks generally tried to stick more to letter of the law, to do things exactly by the book, while the Hillel folks tended to spend a bit more time thinking about context, how a particular piece of Torah would be applied, the sort of spirit and intent behind what was written in the Scriptures.

The most famous practical example of these two ways of thinking was in a bit of an argument the Hillel and Shammai folks got into over white lies. Now according to the last part of Leviticus 19:11, you’re not supposed to lie: “you shall not lie to one another.” But what happens (and this is the exact example Hillel and Shammai got in an argument about by the way)… what happens if on her wedding day, a not particularly attractive bride asks you if she looks beautiful? Should you lie, be nice, and say she’s beautiful, or should follow the law exactly, and truthfully say, “have a blessed wedding day darling, but no, you are ugly!” Now the right course of action I think seems obvious to all of us, but the Shammai folks would disagree… tell her she’s ugly they’d say, stick to the law! Now the Hillel folks wouldn’t say the law isn’t helpful in this matter, not at all! In fact, in order to give proper respect to the law, think about it a little, what Leviticus 19:11 trying to get at, what’s the intent? What’s the Spirit of the law? In the end, Hillel famously said, “every bride is beautiful on her wedding day.”

During Christ’s time actually, the Shammai folks were more popular. As opposition to Roman domination grew, the more hardline approach of the Shammai folks was more appealing. Eventually though, taking the Shammai approach to foreign policy with the Roman Empire is partially what led to Jerusalem and especially the temple being destroyed around 70 CE. As Jewish leaders reconstituted themselves in the succeeding years, Shammai’s way of looking at things was largely thrown out… you must take one’s context into account when interpreting the law. The spirit of the law is what truly matters! In the end, the Hillel approach largely triumphed, and it grew into majorly influencing the beautiful faith of Judaism we know today (and Christianity too by the way).
So when you see these controversial, difficult Bible passages my sisters and brothers, whether they be in the Old or New Testament, remember this whole Hillel/ Shammai thing… prayerfully try to discern the spirit of the author’s writing, and indeed how the Holy Spirit is currently at work in the author’s writing, right now, in this day in age, in twenty-first century Schenectady or wherever you might find yourselves.

Now when thinking about all this fornicating business, and indeed all the other various types of sexually-related sins listed around it in 1 Corinthians, let’s keep our context in mind. As Christians we’re all members of a religious movement that hasn’t always gotten matters of gender and sexuality exactly right over the years. All the women who were kept out of the pulpit simply because of their gender. All the folks told to stay in horribly abusive marriages by their local priest. All the recent divorcees, who in the midst of crisis, at the time they needed the support of their faith communities the most, were shamed out of churches. Now I imagine we may have some different views in the congregation related to marriage equality, LGBT issues and the like, but wow, I’d hope we could all agree that things like what happened this past week, when a church in Colorado decided to cancel a young woman’s funeral fifteen minutes after it was supposed to begin because she was gay, I’d hope we could agree that things like that are well, far less than ideal and certainly not reflective of Christian love.

Unfortunately, although many of the congregations in our denomination and others have been improving in recent years, it’s our history as Christians and notable news stories like the one out of Colorado this past week that have made so many folks, and not just people of my generation, associate Christianity not with God or love or Jesus but with being uppity and mean about matters of sexuality. I’ve seen it with my own eyes a bunch of times… Christians talking all about how their “pure” but in the end pretty much just putting themselves over someone else by shaming people who wouldn’t fit their standards of “purity.” These sort of actions, this sort of shaming that takes place far too often in Christian circles in matters related to human sexuality, is in the end complete hogwash, and needs to be called out as such, for at least two reasons.

First, when we put ourselves over and above someone else, whether or not what that other person is doing is actually sinful, it’s all too easy for us to forget about our own things that need improvement. Second though, and even more importantly, we end up just looking silly like Shammai, calling someone ugly on their wedding day. Paul wrote all this business about not fornicating to a church in the first century that was rife with conflict. The text seems to suggest people were committing all sorts of sexual craziness because they thought they were freed by forgiveness in Christ to do whatever they pleased, and as would obviously happen, the Corinthians just ended up hurting each other. They were messing up their relationships with God and with one another. If you take the Hillel approach, and look at the spirit of what Paul is trying to say to the Corinthians, here’s where you start to find the good news! In our day and age, in a time when the church has screwed up issues related to sex for so long and so many people feel so unwelcome in Christian communities because of it, it’s not as much the sexuality that’s getting in the way of being in relationship with God and one another, it’s this over-zealous judgement and shaming that’s the real problem. That’s not to say we should go out and be like the Corinthians doing whatever we want, not at all, misusing the gift of sexual intimacy can really hurt people, but wow, in our context, that over-zealous judgement and shaming is what's really hurt people and truly getting in the way of far too many folks knowing the joy of Christian community.

When you look at the spirit of what Paul’s trying to say with all this fornicating stuff, in the end, he’s saying take Christ seriously. Take Christ seriously! Outside of gathering to hear the Scriptures publicly read, being baptized and celebrating communion (all actions which involve other people, by the way), the best way we can know Christ in this world is simply by seeing Him in the face of other people, oftentimes in the face of people where you would not expect Christ to be. Christ is breaking into your life each and every day! Take that seriously! If you’re part of a community where sexuality is getting in the way of seeing Christ in one another like in first century Corinth, sure, chill out a bit with the sexuality. If you’re part of a community where judgement and shaming is getting in the way of seeing Christ in one another, as it certainly is in many of today’s churches, chill out a bit with the judgement and shaming! Christ, my sisters and brothers, is constantly trying to break into our lives, to heal us, to save us, to liberate us, to make sure that we know we our loved, no matter what. Christ is trying to teach us something too by sometimes showing up in the faces of those we’d least expect it. And indeed, Christ has promised to do these things. And yes, our God in Christ is a God who keeps promises. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Jesus is Not the "Reason for the Season"

Friends,

What follows is a rough manuscript of the sermon I preached this past Christmas Eve at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York, a Spirit-filled church where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It's on the Saint Luke's nativity story, Luke 2: 1 - 14. Finally, you can find video of the sermon at Messiah's brand new website!

God's peace,
Pastor Dustin

So, is anyone here a fan of Saturday Night Live? Until a few months ago when I started spending most of my Saturday evenings writing the sermons which I tend to procrastinate about finishing throughout the week, I definitely watched the show pretty frequently… its pretty funny. I still occasionally get to see a few of the skits posted online though, and there was one a couple weeks ago that went pretty viral… you might have caught it. The skit was simply called “Church,” and it was a spoof commercial advertising how your annual trip to church on Christmas Eve to make your parents’ happy was going to be really different this year, because the local church, this place called Saint Joseph’s was planning on “going full throttle with their one night only Christmas Mass Spectacular!” That’s right… Saint Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular! As the commercial begins to explain over the sound of blaring electric guitars, the main reason for Saint Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular being so rocking this year is due to the presence of “all your church favorites,” all the folks who make Christmas Eve at Saint Joseph’s extra special.

Most of the rest of the skit goes on to showcase all those church favorites, the epic cast of characters who make Saint Joseph’s an especially rocking place to be. There’s Mr. Drubbler of course, who enthusiastically wants to shake your hand while sharing the peace, despite having the most incredibly sweaty hands possible. Then there’s teen soloist Bethany Opsal, who’s up in the choir loft singing it out for the Lord with soulful passion, “thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path! Huh!” Now if that’s not enough to get you excited, there’s Saint Joseph’s pair of exhilarating liturgical readers: twelve year old Ryan Welty who stands up in the pulpit in the hot, itchy Christmas sweater his mom made him wear and starts proclaiming the Word despite clearly not wanting to at all… “and lo, the angel Gabriel appeared unto Mary murmur murmur murmur” and forty-four year old Colleen Chapin who in a bright red festive suit jacket with lots of Christmas flair really, really does want to read this year… “This is reading. From Paul. To the Corinthians!” And whoa, my sisters and brothers, I might be a bit partial, but if you really want to have your mind blown, there’s good ol’ Pastor Pat. Now Pastor Pat might half fall asleep during worship, and he might chant really off-key and at constantly changing speeds… you know something like “all glory be to God the Father all mighty, for everrrr and everrrr,” but, he’s always got at least one incredibly soft sermon joke up his sleeve, to which the congregation of course will politely respond with an incredibly soft chuckle. And finally, after being awed by Saint Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular, you might even have a chance to sneak a peak into Pastor Pat’s house, and see that he’s even got a table in there, just like everyone else has a table in their house! Whoa!!! Radical!!!

Now, of course, this SNL skit was an absolutely hilarious exaggeration of what church on Christmas Eve looks like, but there are some a couple really important truths in there too. For the many folks who only make it out to worship on Christmas Eve, and its awesome to have some of you here tonight with us by the way, this SNL skit probably serves as a legitimate indictment of what many churches have become in recent decades… these sort of antiquated, backward thinking communities, where goofy people do goofy things each and every Sunday that are hard to understand and then in turn often don’t embrace folks who might look or act or love in a different sort of way. On Christmas Eve, it might feel nice to go to church, or at least it’ll make Grandma happy, but otherwise, why would one ever want to wake up early on a Sunday morning or miss watching the big game for something like that? This, my sisters and brothers, is a legitimate point, a while I don’t think it at all describes our Spirit filled congregation, its a common concern that all faiths communities in our day and age definitely need to take seriously.

The even more important truth that the SNL skit perhaps inadvertently emphasizes though is also one that is at the heart of Saint Luke’s message for us tonight, in this place, in twenty-first century Schenectady. Every year, in a bid to turn folks away from all the gift buying and over consumption of the holiday season, you always hear folks exclaim, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” Who here’s heard folks say that before? Yeah, quite a few of us. Well, my sisters and brothers, I want to humbly submit to you this holy night that those folks, though certainly having good intentions, are completely wrong. Those folks are completely wrong. Jesus is certainly at the center of what Christmas is all about, absolutely, but no, Jesus is not the reason for the season. The good news God proclaims to us tonight through Saint Luke’s words is that the reason for this season that celebrates Christ’s continual birth into the world, and the reason for church, and the reason for all the hymns and rituals and prayers and coffee hours and potlucks and confirmation classes and service projects is people, the reason for the season is people, all people. The reason for the season, the reason for God’s continual, constant breaking into this world through Christ, is that guy with the really sweaty hands and the kid with the itchy sweater and the overly enthusiastic choir member and even the pastor who isn’t that funny and always chants off key. The reason for the season, the reason for Christ’s constant birth into this world, is you. The reason for the season is you, whether you’ve shown up here at Messiah every week for decades, or whether this is your first time and you’re looking for a new faith community to call home or whether you only show up once a year to make Grandma happy. The reason for the season is you! The reason for the season is you! The reason for the season, and Christ’s constant birth into this world to be with us is you and you and you!

We always tend to talk about Mary and Joseph tonight, but let’s focus elsewhere in the story… just look at what that angel says to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” The “good news for all people” the angel’s going on about is a much bigger deal than a Savior being born to Joseph and Mary. It isn’t that a Savior is born to the people of Israel. It isn’t even that a Savior has been born to God as the Father. While all those things are indeed true, the good news for all the people that the angel proclaims to the shepherds and to all of us, this holy night, my sisters and brothers, is that a Savior is born unto you! A Savior is born unto you! This holy night, and indeed every night, whether celebrating with family after a phenomenal year or battling with anxiety and depression, A Savior is born unto you! Whether all the talk about birthing and babies that happens around this time of the year brings up hard memories of struggling to conceive or whether you’re the proudest, happiest parent in the world, a Savior is born unto you! Whether you’re missing a loved one or have been looking for love in all the wrong places or are surrounded by family this evening without a care in the world, a Savior is born unto you! A Savior is born unto to you, to me, to all of us, to save us, to free us, to bring new meaning to our lives. Indeed, you are the reason for the season, you are the reason God is breaking into our lives, tonight, and each and every night, in liberating love. You are the reason for the season. Merry Christmas, and amen!

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

Hey everyone!

What follows is a rough manuscript of the sermon I preached yesterday at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York, a Spirit-filled church where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It's primarily on the appointed Gospel passage for this Sunday, Mark 1: 1 - 8. Furthermore, it's also the second of a four part sermon series I'll be preaching throughout Advent called "God with Us." Here's what I'll be covering in the coming weeks:

- Advent 1: God with Us in the Face of the Stranger
- Advent 2: God with Us in Rotterdam
- Advent 3: God with Us at Work
- Advent 4: God with Us in Family

Finally, I'll guess it might be worth noting that I wrote this pretty rapidly this morning before church after discarding what I came up over the past week... there's thus a much more sense of immediacy to it, and I hope it still makes sense. Thanks so much, stay tuned for future installments, and I hope you find this helpful!

God's peace,
Pastor Dustin

Let’s just revisit the first few verses of today’s gospel message again… “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. After being tempted by Satan, Jesus then begins preaching, healing and exorcising across the Galilean countryside, picking up a motley crew of disciples along the way, who continue to follow Jesus despite having no idea who He truly is. And this, as Saint Mark says, was “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

You know the rough shape of the rest of the story, right? Jesus isn’t accepted by his family in Nazareth, yet more and more folks seem to flock to him as he continues to heal, cast out demons, and teach in parables. While a demon knows Jesus Christ is the Son of God, yet even despite the transfiguration, ya know, that time when Jesus is on the top of a mountain and everything becomes all white and light and the voice of God says “this is my Son,” the disciples still can’t entirely figure out who Christ is. Even if the disciples couldn’t figure it out though, the people were healed, the people were fed across the Galilee, people learned about how God was active in their everyday lives, in the lives of their local community, in the lives of their families. And this, as Saint Mark calls it, was “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus eventually decides to move south, to Jerusalem, to the local seat of power, to where the temple is, to where God certainly should be! Jesus enters the city triumphantly, yes, but after foretelling the destruction of the temple, and cleansing it, and admonishing the scribes and all the official sounding folks in Jerusalem, all those high and mighty, supposedly super holy people in charge conspire to kill Jesus. And even despite everything that happened at the Last Supper, and all Jesus prayers in Gethsemane, all those super holy religious officials along with the Roman officials put Jesus to death, and this wasn’t like Superman Jesus just hanging out there up on the cross like he is in the Gospel of John. According to Mark, this is a painful, excruciating, all too human process… God in Christ experiences the worst of human suffering in a fully human sort of way, even to the point of crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The disciples continued to deny Jesus, yet at least one unlikely person, a Roman centurion, knew Christ was. And this too, as Saint Mark explains in today’s gospel passage, was also “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

While all the bros were hunkered down terrified of what had just taken place, Mary Magdalene, another Mary and another woman named Salome went to go attend to Christ’s body after the sabbath was over. But when the went to the tomb, Jesus’ body was not there… only a young man in white who said “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will him, just as he told you.” Yet, at least according to the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, even these women, the most loyal of Christ’s disciples, dropped the ball… the very last sentence in the gospel reads “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Yet somehow, the word God out anyway… Jesus had indeed gone ahead to Galilee, and a seemingly radical, but in fact incredibly simple movement took shape. Increasing numbers of folks were healed, folks were fed from the local seat of power in Jerusalem, to the seat of global power in Rome, and folks learned about how God was active in their everyday lives, in the lives of their local communities, in the lives of their families. And this, as Saint Mark would characterize, was still only “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Now wow, despite countless martyrdoms, the sack of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers and conflicts with those same super holy religious authorities, predominately due to how well Christians care for the physical as well as spiritual needs of people, more people heard about Jesus, and eventually a few hundred years later, the entire Roman Empire converted! While good news in some ways, this also ensured that the Church, the body of Christ on Earth, would from that time forth tangled up in the political order of the day. Yet while the emperors and bishops and Christianity’s own supposedly "super holy people" argued about heresies and creeds, started all sorts of wars and schisms, folks were still healed, folks were fed, and folks learned how God was active in their everyday lives, in the lives of their local communities, in the lives of their families. And despite all the craziness, this too, my sisters and brothers, was still only “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

I know I’m skipping a few details, sure, but despite a ridiculous number of crusades and inquisitions, barbaric colonialism, the corrupt “super holy people” in charge and often silence in the face of immense injustice, somehow, folks were still healed, folks were still fed, folks still learned how God was active their everyday lives, in the lives of their local communities, in the lives of their families. Nearly ninety years ago, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ was founded on the outskirts of a small northern city that electrified and moved the world. Through depressions and wars, and crazy social changes, and immense layoffs and outsourcing, and deindustrialization and a massive loss in population, generations of folks were still healed, still fed and stilled learned how God was active in their everyday lives. Right when things were maybe looking up, 9/11 happened, some controversial wars happened, the Great Recession happened, local tragedies and struggles with pastoral leadership happened, sure. The “supposedly super holy people in charge” often had no idea where or who Jesus was, and still don't, but yet, somehow, folks were still healed, still fed and still learned how God was active in their everyday lives. Just this past week, despite all the craziness and extra commitments of the holiday season, when two of our own families here at Messiah were facing immense difficulties, countless prayers were said, phone calls were made, cards were sent, people were visited and meals were prepared. At the same time, funds were being raised, and quite rapidly actually, to make sure a needy family in Rotterdam had presents under the tree this Christmas. While this was amazing, and I personally have never have been so proud of how supportive and active so many members of this congregation have been over the last week, none of this really was very new. Folks were healed, folks were fed, folks learned how God is still active in their everyday lives. And this too, yes, my sisters and brothers, is only the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I was thinking about it on a long ride from New Hampshire last night, and while I see how it happened, it seems like absolute hogwash that religion, or at least faith in Christ, is often thought of as this sort of lofty, academic, hard to understand, super complicated sort of thing, ya know? I mean anyone that’s taught their daughter or son a bedtime prayer, or visited a sick loved one in the hospital or served a meal to a hungry family, knows just as much about Jesus as the most highly credentialed pastor or professor. Sure, it’s absolutely necessary to sort of work through our experience of God with others in community, but in the end, Christ comes to us not predominately in ancient treatises or esoteric teachings, but in the regular stuff of everyday life, in caring for one another, in raising families, in learning and growing, in trying to make our local community a better place. And as we continue to journey together through this Advent season, as the days continue to get shorter and colder, amidst all the craziness this time of the year brings, yet as we still await Christ’s coming in hope and longing, my sisters and brothers, know that this too things too is only the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

Monday, December 01, 2014

"Why Have You Hidden Your Face from Us?"

Hey everyone!

What follows is a rough manuscript of the sermon I preached yesterday at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York, a Spirit-filled church where I'm incredibly blessed to serve as pastor. It's primarily on the appointed Hebrew Bible passage for this past Sunday, Isaiah 64: 1 - 9. Furthermore, its the first of a four part sermons series I'll be preaching throughout Advent called "God with Us." Here's what I'll be covering in the coming weeks:

- Advent 1: God with Us in the Face of the Stranger
- Advent 2: God with Us in Rotterdam
- Advent 3: God with Us at Work
- Advent 4: God with Us in Family

Thanks so much, stay tuned for future installments, and I hope you find this helpful!

God's peace,
Pastor Dustin

So a couple years back in the very late hours of Christmas Eve or early hours of Christmas Day I found myself sitting on a couch three stories up above Midtown Manhattan, staring out at these stark and lonesome, but also beautifully and atypically still city streets, just sort of taking stock of my life and wrestling with God. You see, I was in the middle of my internship year Saint Peter’s Church, where the final Christmas Eve service gets out quite late and a hot breakfast is served to homeless members of the community early every Tuesday morning, even if that particular Tuesday is Christmas Day. With this in mind, instead of taking the subway back to my tiny apartment in Queens after helping out with the Christmas Eve services, I headed up to the third floor of the church where there was an amazing conference space with massive panel windows on two sides and also an amazingly comfortable couch that I always took naps on Sunday afternoons between services. My plan was to spend the night at Saint Peter’s, wake up early, help with preparing and serving breakfast, assist in a short Christmas morning liturgy and then take off for a few l expected to be melancholy days with folks up in New England. I reasoned that especially on Christmas morning, there wouldn’t be many volunteers to help serve breakfast, or perhaps that our guests would be in need of pastoral care, so staying all night at church seemed like the both logical and upright, Christian thing to do.

The truth I didn’t want to admit to myself or to God however that night was that the reason I was trying to sleep on that couch perched high over Lexington Avenue wasn’t because I was a super good intern or fulfilling my Christian duties at all… Rather, I was burdened with the constantly dull but overpowering ache of depression, sadly anticipating the anniversary of my mother’s death, drowning amidst the chaos of a failed relationship, experiencing incredibly loneliness I what I viewed as a way too big city and feeling like I really had nowhere else to go. I could have easily gotten the holiday itself off, but going back home to Connecticut would only bring up more hard feelings about my mom and doing what I considered to at least be burdening a friend’s family with my presence didn’t seem like a good option either. And worst of all, much like the speaker in today’s first lesson from Isaiah, I felt like God had entirely hidden from me. Trying to sort out where God still was in the middle of all the garbage going on in my life, especially at Christmastime, was completely proving impossible, and as you might imagine, I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

That morning, our God of surprises definitely showed up. A former member of Saint Peter’s and pastor at another nearby congregation that didn’t have an early service on Christmas Day, showed up to lead what turned out to be a huge group a volunteers, one giant extended family with no previous connection to Saint Peter’s who had simply decided to spend Christmas morning helping folks out. I honestly wasn’t need at all… there were more than enough volunteers, and frankly just by hanging out with me, our homeless guests probably did more to provide me with pastoral care than the other way around. We engaged in a bunch of great conversations, especially about our guests’ service in our armed forces. Although this number has improved in recent years, as of 2013 still around 53% of America’s homeless population are veterans (according to HUD's "Annual Homeless Assessment Report" ). I got to hang out and laugh with the family who was volunteering too, and community was fostered on Christmas morning… our God of surprises definitely showed up.

Now don’t get me wrong, God definitely showed up in the face of the stranger that Christmas morning, but it wasn’t necessarily in this big, beautiful, idyllic sort of way… it’s not like Scrooge running around giving folks money and ham dinner in a Christmas Carol! Although this isn’t typical, we had to serve an unused catered fish dinner from a giant law firm a couple stories up that morning for breakfast, which thus made for a really stinky breakfast! We often romanticize poverty in our society, especially around this time of the year, but there were definitely a few guests, although not a lot, who showed up drunk or high on who knows what. I even remember banging my elbow like really, really hard and cursing pretty loud for being in a church building. My depression wasn’t cured overnight, the messy parts of my life weren’t immediately fixed, the rest of my year in New York while incredibly rewarding still turned out pretty darn lonely, sure, but our God of surprises definitely showed up. That sense of not joy, but stubborn, resolute peacefulness, community and most importantly hope that God freely gives us when Christ shows up, especially in the face of the stranger, was definitely present.

So two closing thoughts as we enter into a new liturgical year, into the season of hopefully longing that is Advent here at our Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ. First, especially in the midst of the holiday season when we’re constantly told again and again in holiday movies, in commercials and even by family and friends that we should be especially joyful, know that in Christ it is absolutely okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Check out verse five of our reading from Isaiah, where the prophet cries out to God, “because you hid yourself we transgressed.” I mean, Isaiah is at least partially blaming God for his people’s sinful behavior!! The prophet’s really discouraged by God seemingly not showing up as in days of old! And I mean, if the guy or woman who wrote that part of Isaiah, one of the most central books of the Christian Scriptures, can take anger and disappointment to God, I think God in Christ certainly gives us permission to do the same. If you are indeed feeling joyful and jolly this holiday season, that is awesome, rock on, but if you’re not, you have absolutely no reason at all to feel guilty about it.

Second, and relatedly, as Jesus cries out to us RIGHT NOW in twenty-first century Schenectady through today’s gospel, KEEP AWAKE! Yes, while God is present in our church, in our families, in all the places we normally experience Jesus, God in Christ is especially present in the face of the stranger! Last night I had a chance to rewatch Jill’s awesome sermon from last week, and the way she proclaimed the good news about serving our neighbors was amazing. Perhaps the best part of serving our neighbors, whether they be people who are homeless, or hungry, or a family where there isn’t enough money to buy the kids Christmas presents, isn’t about what we’re doing, but rather what God is doing to us in Christ. We know in faith that Jesus especially comes to us in the face of the stranger. I took a break from the news while I was on vacation last week, with the exception of course of watching the aftermath on the grand jury ruling in Ferguson, which outside of that city were not entirely but largely peaceful. Whether or not justice was specifically done in Ferguson isn't my specialty, but I couldn’t help but think when looking at the faces of all those peaceful protestors that from one perspective they were simply proclaiming God is present in the face of our African-American sisters and brothers. Yes, Christ is present in their lives and the lives of all who are crying out against a wider societal system where the sin of racial injustice is still certainly weighing down our country.


After everything the prophet Isaiah cries out to God in today’s lesson, there’s a turn near the end, did you catch it? Check out verse eight: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” I’ll read it one more time, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Wow, despite things certainly being far from perfect in the prophet’s situation, that stubborn, resolute peacefulness, sense of community and most importantly hope that God freely gives us when Christ shows up is definitely present in Isaiah’s words. It may not always be joyful, it might not even always feel good, but God in Christ is certainly at work in your life and life, your life and your life and indeed all our lives, carefully crafting us, forming us, shaping us, showing up in all sorts of places, especially in the face of the stranger. Indeed, God has promised us in Christ that this is the sort of God who God is, and yes, as always my sisters and brothers our God is a God who keeps promises. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.