Sunday, May 26, 2013


I found myself intrigued by the discussion of post-modern liturgical experience in the last portion of this article.  Searle writes, “Indeed it may be that anthropological studies could better help us understand how our liturgy used to work than how it works today” (15). I agree with the author that liturgy still fulfills functionalist and symbolic purposes, but that it still bears further examination.   For example, the rituals demarcating various transitions in life (marriage, funerals, etc) serve important functions in our social environment and the ritual actions contained in these reenactments serve to mark the passing of time from one thing to another (11).  However, a need for group solidarity (11) might be less important when the church is no longer the primary social center for a group.  Granted, this is impacted by such demographics as age, social strata, and geographic location as well. 
I believe that a popular thing to argue is that ritual is outdated and in order to “meet people where they are” we must never impose ritual, in particular such things as confession and forgiveness, passing the offering plate, and so on, for fear of alienating them from the church.  This probably stems from bad experiences in churches who idolize ritual itself.  This attitude has lead to an epidemic of blasé pseudo-emergent congregations that attempt to stand for everything and be all things to all people, and in the process, actually stand for nothing.  Neither extreme is helpful. Humans need ritual more than ever in a time of absolute anomie. 
            So by way of a statement worth making: Is there a way to balance the human need for ritual in a time of anomie with the damage done by congregations making an idol out of ritual itself?  What is the role of ritual in the post-modern church?  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Easter Vigil

The end of the semester got a little crazy so I never finished writing about the triduum at House for All Sinners and Saints.  Easter Vigil is the largest liturgy of the year at HFASS.  (credit to Amy Clifford for all photographs)

The evening starts with the lighting of the new fire in the courtyard.  The congregation processes into the worship space to participate in the Vigil Readings.  There are about 8-10, depending on how many people sign up to participate.

Amy and Ken act out the fiery furnace

Kate and Alex act out the Genesis creation account

After the vigil readings, the entire congregation processes outside to walk around the block to chant the names of our saints (those people who have died in the past year) and invite them to come celebrate the resurrection with us, as the thurifer swings the thurible full of incense.

After this solemn procession occurs, the assembly goes back into the courtyard to dig up the alleluia banner that was buried on Transfiguration Sunday.  Then the congregation rushes into the sanctuary singing "Alleluia" over and over again, which has not been spoken during the season of Lent.

The children unbury the Alleluia banner
The worship space is bright and dazzlingly white.  There are Easter lilies everywhere.  The Exultet is sung, the Easter story is read, and the resurrection is proclaimed over and over again.  A traditional part of the Easter Vigil is for baptisms to occur.  This year my friend Sherry asked me to be her baptismal sponsor.  Sherry is in her sixties and had never attended church before.  She thought she was too old be to baptized. She was so nervous about being baptized that I held her hand the entire time.

I present Sherry for baptism

Sherry is baptized! 

After the vigil, there is a huge feast and a dance party that goes into the wee hours of the morning.  Christ has Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

Chocolate Fountain
(no longer in the baptismal font)

Cristina and me.  I am eating chocolate bacon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sermon on Pentecost

Raptor Dove Parament
Credit Amy Clifford for Photograph
HFASS, Denver, 2013
Preached at Humble Walk Lutheran Church, May 19, 2013.  

Grace, Peace, and Mercy are yours from the Triune God.  Amen
Today is the day in the church year that we call Pentecost.  This festival occurs about fifty days after Easter and after the ascension of Jesus into heaven after his Resurrection.  Pentecost is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit into the world.  Up to this point, knowledge of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was limited to a select few.  In Pentecost, all of that is blown apart and the life and death of Jesus is for everyone.  Pentecost is a sending out of God’s people into the world.  It is the birth of the wildly diverse Body of Christ, the Church, on earth. 
  In today’s reading we hear that the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem. The eleven apostles who remained after Judas betrayed Jesus had just decided to elect Matthias to join their ranks and they were undoubtedly making a neat and orderly strategic plan for how to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  At this time there was much debate about who could be a part of this Jesus movement and who could not.  It was no doubt pretty ugly at times.  Peter remarks to the crowd, about 120 people, that the scriptures had been fulfilled and they were going go out into the countryside to bear witness to all that they had seen.  They were in the city at the same time that a huge Jewish festival called the Festival of the Weeks was occurring, and were in a crowd of thousands…  The Holy Spirit was about to show up and it’s not in her nature to adhere to the best-laid human plans. 
            Imagine for a second the situation that we hear about in today’s text. The disciples are all gathered in one place, probably a fenced courtyard of some type, because they were afraid of the crowds in the city.  Crowds that were hostile towards them and what they believed. They were trying to keep some semblance of order, and out of nowhere, they hear a rush of violent wind, imagine a tornado or a particularly spectacular thunderstorm, and then tongues of fire.  An inferno that engulfs each one of them.  Then an uproar of speaking in other languages. Absolute chaos.  And it gets worse.
            The devout Jews who are in Jerusalem for this particular festival are drawn to the spectacle.  They are astonished at the sights and sounds and in particular, that this strange group of people is speaking many languages.  And the content of this speech is about what God is up to in the world.  This violent in-breaking is the very spirit of God coming into the world and smashing apart every distinction of language and ethnicity and every possible flimsy construction we have for understanding who God is.  The Holy Spirit is wild and unpredictable and dangerous.  She brings together people who wouldn’t be associating with one another in a million years.   She breaks down walls of misunderstanding and builds up something even stronger in their place. The onlookers think that this can’t possibly be for real, and try to explain it away saying, “They are drunk, not to mention probably crazy.” 
            Old reliable Peter, who is never at a loss for words, remarks, “they are not drunk, it is only 9:00 in the morning.  No, all of this was foretold by the prophet Joel: God declares ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams…and on and on...and then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  The prophet Joel’s words galvanize the people to go out into all the lands and talk about Jesus Christ and that is how the church was born.  Forever and ever.  Amen.  The End. 
            And that is how we understand Pentecost most of the time.  This quaint little idea of The Birthday of the Church.  Something that happened once, a very long time ago.  We take the wildly unpredictable movement of the spirit and domesticate it into a neat and tidy little understanding of what it means to be church and do church.  
  I think it is worth exploring a different idea of what Pentecost is.  Let’s consider that Pentecost is not a one-time event that happened a really long time ago.  Maybe it is something that happens over and over again.  The Holy Spirit is moving about right now, right here in this room. Breaking us open and forming and reforming us, the body of Christ, the church, every single day.  In fact, the second that we think we have the spirit pinned down into a neat little box of our own understanding, it is blown apart and positively incinerated. 
I think that we all sometimes operate under the mistaken assumption that when the Holy Spirit enters into our lives and starts remaking us, it is going to feel good.  The Holy Spirit not only forms and reforms us as a church, it also forms and reforms us as individuals.  I am not sure where we get the idea that the Holy Spirit is a gentle dove that is guiding our way, because the Holy Spirit that we hear about in today’s reading is downright terrifying.  Flames and noise and confusion.  But this Spirit…she speaks truth.  The truth is often painful to hear and might not be what we want. Just as the Holy Spirit gathers together an improbable collection of people in today’s text to form the body of Christ, she continues to do so even today.  What if Pentecost is less about the establishment of the institutional church and more about being broken open and baptized by a fire of truth over and over again? 
            In just a few minutes we are going to all get up and work on creating a visible representation of Pentecost. But before we go to it, I want to share a story with you about how I experienced the Holy Spirit this week.  In the heartbreakingly truthful way that she often works upon us.  I spent most of last Monday at the capital building as we awaited the results of the vote for marriage equality in our state.  I was with friends, surrounded by at least a thousand others chanting and singing. You could feel the spirit move as we implored our senators to “be on the right side of history” and “make the right choice” and generally we all got caught up in the joy and excitement. I went outside to get some fresh air and that is where the Holy Spirit really got me.  In the midst of a sea of orange t-shirts and rainbow flags was a lone middle-aged man wearing a polo shirt and khakis sitting on the steps holding a pink “Vote No” sign.  It was clear that he was fearful and uncomfortable.  I really wanted to dislike this guy because he was invested in the idea that people like me and so many of those whom I love should not be allowed to marry.  Instead of hatred, I only felt compassion.  This man was trying to be faithful in the best way that he knew how, just as I was attempting to do the same thing.  And believe me, I am not a good enough person to pull this off on my own.  The Holy Spirit is behind this one.  It would have felt good to be angry with this guy, even to hate him, and instead, my eyes met his and I felt my heart break.  Even though I didn’t want to claim this guy as a fellow worker in the Kingdom of God, an integral part of the Body of Christ, he’s most certainly a part of it, and it’s not my job to decide whether he is in or out and not something I can do on my own.  THIS is what the Holy Spirit will do to you. 
This very Spirit is God coming into the world and smashing apart every human judgment and every disagreement and every possible flimsy construction we have for understanding who God is.   The church that was created on Pentecost is not a building and not a denomination and not a place you go on Sundays, but a body of wildly diverse people who are continually being made and remade in the image of God.  And we need each other.  That is what we celebrate with Pentecost.  Thanks be to God.  

Credit Aram Haroutunian

The Pentecost Tree we created in worship yesterday

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Clergy represent at the Minnesota Capital

Credit City Pages for photograph

Credit Brooke Ross for photograph

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Love is the Law

Credit Minneapolis Star Tribune
Yesterday I spent most of the day at the Minnesota capital building.  What an incredible time to be a part of history.  We sang songs and chanted while we waited for the legislature to vote.  The picture at left is the crowded rotunda where the energy was electric.  There were monitors in the hallway where the debate was being livestreamed, but there were so many people that it was impossible to see.  I was getting my news from twitter and from friends who were listening to the radio outside the building.  God bless Minnesota Public Radio and The Current 89.3 who broadcast the entire debate.  I was in a group of eight clergywomen, all wearing our collars.  It was surreal.  It was also apparently a spectacle because a ton of people requested to take our picture.  I will search around the interwebs  and attempt to find some of the professional photographs taken of us.  In the midst of all the jubilation as we waited for the vote to be tabulated, I found myself unexpectedly

My friend Emmy and I in the Rotunda
saddened by the those who were opposing the bill.  The energy was positive, and everyone was on their best behavior.  There were no confrontations at all.  But it was sad to witness these people who were quietly holding pink signs saying, "Vote No" in the midst of a loud crowd waving orange signs and rainbows and loud singing and chanting. It was like watching the tide of history change before our very eyes, and they were afraid. They were being faithful to their own beliefs, just as those of us representing clergy and people of faith were being faithful to our convictions of faith.  I believe that God is always on the side of love.  I do think it is a testament to Minnesota that there was no ugliness yesterday at the capital.  Nothing but positive energy.  What a time to be living in.  And when I have children some day, I can tell them that I was present in the state capital on the day that history was made in Minnesota, when we became the 12th state to legalize marriage for all people.  What an incredible day! 

My vantage point for the entire afternoon
As soon as the vote was announced and the bill's sponsor's spoke to a roaring crowd in the rotunda, the radio station The Current played "Love is the Law" which has been the theme song for this entire adventure.  The YouTube video link below is from the Minnesota band that sings this song.  

Today at 5:00pm on the capital steps, the governor of Minnesota will sign Marriage Equality into law, followed by a huge party with local bands.  If you are in Minnesota, this is not to be missed.  

Thanks for being on the right side of history, Minnesota!  

Wabasha St Bridge has been honorarily named
"Freedom to Marry" bridge this week

Monday, May 13, 2013

History was made today

There is so much that I want to reflect upon from my experience today in the capital, so that is coming.  But tonight, I go to bed knowing that history was made today in the Minnesota capital.

Final Project

My final project for my online class was to create a website for a congregation without a web presence. So I created a website for my friend Margaret's church, Shobi's Table.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Step One for Marriage Equality in Minnesota

The Minnesota Senate will vote on Monday and the governor has indicated that he will sign this bill into law.  If all goes as planned on Monday, same-sex marriage will be legal in the state of Minnesota starting August 1, 2013.

Prayer Vigil for the Freedom to Marry in Minnesota

start of a prayer vigil at Christ Lutheran on Capital Hill St Paul, MN
Credit C. Scharen for picture
 On Wednesday evening I was part of a prayer vigil held at Christ Lutheran on Capital Hill in support of the freedom to marry in Minnesota in advance of House of Representatives vote on Thursday afternoon.

Credit A. Hanson
We wrote names onto paper hearts of those who we wished would have the freedom to marry or who have inspired us.  Then the group (many hundreds of people) filed over to the steps of the capital to lay our hearts down on the stone steps so that they would be waiting for legislators when they arrived on Thursday morning.

Credit S. Suemnig

Monday, May 06, 2013


I am now a member of the blogroll at RevGalBlogPals:

This is an incredible website and supportive community for women clergy and their friends.  Go check it out.

My favorite feature is the 11th Hour Preacher Party on Saturdays.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Faithful Thomas

"The Incredulity of Saint Thomas"

(from a sermon preached to my Luther Seminary preaching lab on 5/2/13.  It was delivered without notes, the following manuscript was my pre-work)

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name, “Thomas?” 
(This is not a rhetorical question!)  The answer that I immediately received was, "doubting Thomas"

Thomas has a bad reputation in most Christian preaching.  At one time or another we have probably all heard a sermon in which we were exhorted not to be like “doubting Thomas.”  Unquestioning belief is held up over and against honest doubt as a virtue.  Solid belief is good and any doubt at all is bad. 

The beautitude that Jesus speaks, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” is read not as a promise of faith but a contingency for it.

And the other disciples are held up as models of faith and Thomas serves as an example of “what not to do”

However, I think Thomas has gotten an undue bad reputation.  He is not asking for anything different than that which the other disciples already received.  Thomas just was not in that same upper room with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them. 

These disciples, including Thomas, had just watched Jesus brutally executed and watched him being laid into a tomb.  They had witnessed this same tomb as empty, yet failed to grasp what Jesus had been telling them all along, that he would rise from the dead.  And in the midst of all of this they were being persecuted, chased, and hunted by the authorities. 

The other disciples were gathered in a locked house because they were afraid and Jesus came to them and said, “peace be with you.”  He showed them the wounds in his hand and in his side.  Jesus breathes his spirit into them and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.  If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  And having seen all this, the disciples decide to share it with Thomas.  Thomas honestly says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  If any of us were in that situation, I think that we would probably do the exact same thing.  

I believe that we want to take Jesus’ command, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” and run with it, but if we actually look at our selves and our lives, we are essentially…Thomas.  Yet we wish more than anything that we were not. 

This week I asked two questions of my friends on facebook in preparation for this sermon, and I want to ask them again of you now: 

What is certainty?

What is faith?

Some of the responses I received were:
“Certainty is not a thing, faith is being able to thank God at my best times and rage against her at my worst”

“Certainty is a lie, faith is honest”

“Certainty is that the rent is due on the first of the month, faith is the laughter of children” 

“If you are certain of something, it is of you…if you have faith in something, it is of God”

“Certainty is being without doubt…faith is having hope in that doubt” 

“Certainty means that you don’t have a clue, and faith means you are willing to give it a shot” 

The general consensus (and your responses also indicate this) is that certainty is not possible, nor is it desirable.  Then why do we expect this from ourselves and from others?  

I did a google search for images for this text.  What came up over and over again was Thomas putting his fingers into the wound in Jesus’ side.  But if we read the text closely, we see that Thomas never actually does this.  Jesus invites him to do so, but there is no proof that it actually happens.  Thomas does not TOUCH Jesus…he HEARS him. 

Thomas is not asking for anything special or anything that the other disciples hadn’t already received by being able to see Jesus.  Thomas was one of Jesus’ closest friends. They spent years together, sharing meals and conversation.  But the ludicrous idea that his FRIEND, Jesus of Nazareth, could be raised from the dead, well, that is just a little bit unbelievable.  If someone this close to the situation needed to ask questions of Jesus in order to believe, wouldn’t we be even more invited in to that same questioning? 

And most importantly, out of all this questioning, Thomas confesses Jesus to be God.  There is promise in doubt. 

I want to tell you a story.  Quite a number of years ago, when I was still a teenager, I experienced a crisis of faith.  The faith of my upbringing did not make sense any longer. Believing in God felt hollow and way too difficult.  Through a haze of tears I confided these fears to a friend.  She told me that doubt was bad and that to be a good Christian, I needed to have strong faith.  I took in her words and vowed to never outwardly struggle again.  Doubt was bad.  Certainty was good.   I can’t help but remember this story every time that I hear about Thomas. 

But I also think of another story when I hear about Thomas.  About six years ago, when I had been out of College for a few years, I experienced another crisis of faith. No religion could help me make sense of the chaos that was invading my world.  One bad thing after another piled into my life for a couple years.  I was left adrift with no anchor whatsoever in my world.  God seemed absent.  But this time, the story was different.  A friend said that my doubt was just as holy as my faith.  And faith didn’t come from my own efforts anyway.  Faith was something that was given to me by the Holy Spirit.  And that is liberating. 

Remember a time in which God seemed absent from your life and doubt came more easily than faith.  Maybe you or someone you love was ill.  Perhaps someone died who was close to you.  Maybe you struggled financially or experienced the painful breakup of a relationship.  Maybe it was 10 years ago. Maybe it was this morning. 

So, brothers and sisters, if no one has said this to you, please let me be the first.  Your doubt is holy.  Your questions do not make the story any less real.  Your doubt will not cause God to leave you.  Faith does not happen as a result of your own efforts.  It is a gift.  Thanks be to God.