Sunday, July 19, 2015

For He is Our Peace -- A sermon on Ephesians, mostly.

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 50-56

I bring you greetings this morning from the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry at UC Davis, and LEVN, the Lutheran-Episcopal Volunteer Network. I spend my days with a gaggle of young adults—some Lutheran, some Episcopalian, a whole bunch trying to figure out just where they fit in God’s world. 

My favorite thing about this—about my job, about ministry—is that not a single one of them is going it alone. For centuries—millennia, even—people of faith have been grappling with just what that means, what that looks like, and what to do about it. Sometimes, we do really well and life is good—we love our selves, we love our neighbors, we love our God. 
Other times, we do less well, and life is less good. We doubt ourselves, we hurt our neighbors, we ignore our God. 

If we look at the texts before us this morning, there’s some of this confusion. The prophet Jeremiah is lamenting that the flocks have been scattered; Psalm 23—a crowd favorite—acknowledges that we do occasionally walk through the valley of the shadow of death; Paul’s letter to the Ephesians centers on a schism between early Christians; and Mark’s gospel recounts a story of Jesus teaching wayward people who “were like sheep without a shepherd.” These stories take place hundreds of years apart, and yet carry with them the same idea—we cannot go it alone.

I want to focus on the Ephesians passage this morning; it feels like the real gut of these stories. The Apostle Paul is writing to a group of folks who are together, in some way, as a religious community in Ephesus, but who seem to have lost the spirit of that. They’ve tried to set up barriers. They’re all Gentiles, he says, so it’s not the classic Jewish Christian versus Gentile Christian argument. It’s a bunch of people who were once excluded now using their religion to exclude others. 

“Remember,” Paul writes, “that you were at one time without Christ…strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” How soon they have forgotten who they once were. “But now,” he continues, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” How soon they have forgotten the promise. 

These texts can speak to all of us. Whether we are “in” or “out”—or whether we’re not sure if we’re “in” or “out”, or whether we’ll remain “in” or “out” for long!

Just like these ancient Ephesians, we as 21st-century Americans have forgotten the promise. We have forgotten that all of our fellow humans are created in the image of God, and we have forgotten that all of us have been created equal. We have treated our neighbor in ways unworthy of the gospel. 
We have slandered our neighbor, we have enslaved our neighbor, we have terrorized our neighbor, we have assaulted our neighbor, we have deported our neighbor, we have incarcerated our neighbor, we have subjugated our neighbor, we have murdered our neighbor. 

Some among us are bold enough to call this a Christian nation—would the Apostle Paul? He begs the Ephesians, and us, to remember that Jesus “is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” 

We have gone and rebuilt that wall, time and time again. We have built that wall between members of our congregations—between those who prefer the hymnal and those who prefer the electric guitar; between those with small, noisy children and those without; between those who give a lot and those who give a little. 

We have built that wall between ourselves and our communities, offering our space to the AA meeting, but not inviting addicts to join our worshipping community. 

We have built that wall between ourselves and the poor—donating to the food bank but not asking why children go hungry. 

We have built that wall between ourselves and other people of faith—proclaiming the love of God through Jesus applies only through our particular set of circumstances. 

We have built that wall between ourselves and the LGBT community—proclaiming that the unconditional love of God does, in fact, have conditions. 

We have built that wall between white americans and black americans—by refusing to acknowledge the racist system that continues to oppress and enslave.

We have built that wall between ourselves and God—blaming our struggles on God’s absence, yet failing to praise God’s presence for our every blessing.

The Apostle Paul reminds the Ephesians, and us, that Jesus the Christ “has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death hostility through it.”

In Christ there is no more need for division. In Christ there is a new creation. We are made whole, new, and unified through our baptism into the body of Christ. 

“So then,” Paul writes, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” 

Here in the household of God, the challenge and the solution are the same—Jesus the Christ lived, died, and was resurrected to end divisions. To free us from the power of sin and death, to liberate us from powers and principalities. In this new, undivided world we are free to love ourselves and one another—and we must.

I know I said that the Ephesians text was the meat of this week’s lectionary selection, but it’s the last two sentences of the passage from Mark that really seal the deal. Jesus and the disciples get out of the boat, and “people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

The people who meet Jesus, who know Jesus, immediately bring all of their people that they know and love who are sick to also meet him. They rushed about the whole region, it says! They understand that what Jesus is bringing to them is life. They do not hoard that for themselves, they do not keep it quiet. They tell everyone they know, they crowd him, they are relentless in their pursuit of the opportunity to share in the love of God through Jesus. 

That, too, is what we should be doing! Since we, through our baptism, meet Jesus and know Jesus, we should prioritize bringing everyone else into the love we know and that we receive, and that we therefore reflect. The way in which we do that is by proclaiming the good news, loving our neighbors, fighting for justice, tearing down walls, seeking reconciliation—all of these are the deeply rooted challenges that come with being people who are oriented in love. 

That is a blessing. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fill in the Blank

I listen to a lot of great podcasts. A while ago, I wanted to like, "get into" podcasts, and thought that there was like, some sort of...way that one did that. Turns out, you just click on some and listen to them and then subscribe if you want new episodes to appear on your phone. And like, I didn't want to listen to Serial or to This American Life or to Radiolab or any of the NPR and NPR-esque podcasts that everyone says "but you HAVE to listen to it!" Sometimes I am a horrific contrarian. I love NPR for life, but INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH there is more to life than NPR.

[Tangent! Once, at a Secular Student Alliance meeting at CLU, we joked for a while about what the podcast would be called that each of us would host. Grant and Evan's podcast (related to their atheism) would be called The Lack Thereof--mostly because they were always punctuating other people's descriptions of things with a jabbing "or the lack thereof!" to underscore how inauthentic everything is in American society or whatever. Hashtag undergrads. Mine, it was determined, would be called Interestingly Enough (essentially an audio version of this blog, it turns out--I just get to tell the world about things I find interesting) because I throw that phrase into a lot of sentences, usually exposing some sort of irony or bullsh or whatever, usually about church. Thanks for playing!]

If you were with me a few months ago, you know that I added some rad podcasts to my life during my white media fast during Lent. [Read all about that here.] One of those excellent podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend, recently spoke right to me.  Not literally--they didn't answer my listener question or something, but Aminatou and Ann were talking about "making it" as a writer (in an answer to a listener question, actually) and I am grateful for the care they took in answering. They noticed that the question came from a place of fear and scarcity--the woman writing in expressed the concern that there were so many great writers around her that she could never be as good as. Ann, a journalist and freelance writer extraordinaire, explained a common phase among writers that involves feeling like nothing you write is ever as good as anything you read. And then she said,
"If you're stopped in your tracks by other people's great writing instead of inspired by it, there's no future in that for you" (Episode 29).
I said, "huh" out loud. I paused the podcast for a second. I "rewound" a bit to hear her again, because I wanted to copy down the sentence so I could eventually write this about it. I do not consider myself "a writer", per se, and as such am rarely intimidated out of writing something based on reading the excellent writing of others--I so do not equate myself with them, and therefore find no problem rambling madly here with you. :)

But the reason this spoke right to me is because I often feel this way about other pastors. I sometimes allow the incredible preaching, teaching, and caring of others to stop me in my tracks and intimidate me away from being my best pastoral self. What Ann has so simply and deeply reminded me is that all those other superb pastors are part of how I am the pastor that I am. We, together, are the church. We, together, are the ELCA. We, together, are the body of Christ. Because a colleague of mine can succinctly/beautifully/boldly/radically/poetically express the Gospel does not mean that I should discontinue expressing the Gospel. So so much the opposite. I need the excellence of my peers to foster the excellence in me.

What about you? If we changed "writing" to a _______, what would it be for you? What do you do, and whose doing of that thing falsely intimidates you out of doing it the way you know to be true? Fill in that blank. And then really fill it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The one where a Lutheran agrees with the Pope

Recently, I've been in conversation with a local organizer from NextGen Climate who is rallying support from faith leaders in Yolo County for SB 350. I wrote this letter to the editor in response to Pope Francis' recent encyclical

As a Lutheran, I don’t often agree with the pope. After reading Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change, however, I must. 

For too long in the United States, religious rhetoric surrounding the environment has been denial of climate science and ignorant arrogance with regard to its catastrophic effects on the poor and vulnerable. This must change.

For people of faith like Pope Francis and myself, there is a moral imperative to reduce and reverse the effects of climate change. Since we understand ourselves to be connected to all of creation, we are called to protect and preserve it. Pope Francis reminds us that our Scriptures, “bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice, and faithfulness to others” [2.II.70]. 

The saying goes that as goes California, so goes the nation. It is my hope that California will pass legislation including SB 350, which will reinforce our role as a leader in the fight against climate change. SB 350 calls for a 50% reduction in emissions, a 50% increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and that 50% of California’s power come from renewable sources, all by 2030. 

We have the power to make substantive changes—we must. Join me in prayer for our planet and its leaders, and in telling California’s leaders to vote yes on SB 350 and other protections for our world and its inhabitants.

Casey Kloehn, M.Div

Program Director, Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Like literally awesome.

I'm really good at awe.

I follow National Geographic on instagram (do it) and am regularly awed by such cool images of landscapes and animals and outer space and up-close-microscopic whatever!

I read a lot, and when I read something really good, I get in this weird out-of-body kind of zone where I am just awed by that author's capacity to affect me in such a way, with words!

In church, when I'm lucky, I sing a hymn and listen to the voices around me melding together and am awed by the way notes just sound so beautiful together!

In my hometown of Encinitas, when I crest over Leucadia (or Birmingham) and see the ocean, I always say, "hello ocean!" and am awed by it's glittering vastness--time after time.

Last week, Jonathan and I had the immense pleasure of traveling to Oahu and visiting some of his family who live there. We may have also gone to some beaches.

Jonathan kept chuckling as we'd come around a bend or out of a tunnel or just turn a regular ol' corner and I'd gasp and say "hello, ocean!" like I hadn't seen a similar view 19 times that day.

The first day we were there, I posted like five instagrams because I was so awed by everything that was in front of my face. Here's one:
A photo posted by Casey ☀ (@casey_sunshine) on

And here's one of those vistas that I was just like WHAT
A photo posted by Casey ☀ (@casey_sunshine) on

And we went to this botanical garden and there were these plumerias with the buds all spiraled and I was like "oh, that's how that works?!"

A photo posted by Casey ☀ (@casey_sunshine) on
And we went to a beach one day where we were the only people there! We had like half an hour to kill and we saw this random roadside path that said public beach access and so we walked down it...and I could not believe this glorious coastline was just sitting there!

A photo posted by Casey ☀ (@casey_sunshine) on
And then another day we went snorkeling! Which I don't have photos of because I forgot my underwater camera like a big old idiot, but I cannot even tell you how incredible my snorkeling experience was. If Jonathan is reading this he is laughing out loud because I am the hugest goober to ever wear a snorkel--and that is saying a whole lot, since you look like a goon in a snorkel kind of regardless. I couldn't keep my mask from getting foggy and I kept managing to breathe seawater and I'm sure that a significant portion of his GoPro video is me flailing on the edge of the frame. However! There were so many of so many different kinds of fish! And I kept breathing in seawater because a group of yellowy ones would swim across my vision and I'd be like WHOA out loud and then there would be this big beautiful purple one and I'd be like WHOA out loud and then there'd be these tiny stripey ones everywhere and I'd be like WHOA out loud and then there'd definitely be water in my snorkel.

But like it was so nuts as we were leaving the beach and getting back in the car to think about how all those fishies were just keeping on keeping on. That while I'm living my life, those fish are just, you know, living their lives. I hopped into their habitat for an hour like some weird monster and they were like "okay."

I am an absurd human person.

I love to be overwhelmed by how excellent the world is! There is so much to be in awe of, and I hope that even when you're not looking at incredible Hawaiian vistas, you're in awe of whatever it is that is going on around you. Because holy moly the whole world is going on around you! Awesome.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

God loves you. You are free. Go tell everyone else. (Acts 2:1-21)

On Monday afternoon, Jonathan and I were walking through Berkeley for lunch, and he casually asked—as he kindly does when he knows I’m preaching—“What’s your sermon about?” 

I said, “Pentecost!” And he, as a secular Jew, rightfully said something like, “Right. Whatever that is…?”

I tried to explain, loosely, that it’s the 50th day of Easter and we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the Apostles. This slough of church words did not unfurrow his eyebrows.

I tried again: The apostles were all gathered together for dinner—it was 50 days after Passover—and were locked in their upper room in Jerusalem again because they were still afraid. Things hadn’t quite settled down with the powers that be, and the apostles were struggling to proclaim the Gospel that Jesus had given them.

The thing is, I think, they were so used to Jesus being around, providing direct instructions day after day, that once left to their own devices, they realized how much they’d relied on him to do the work of the church. They felt lost.

Before he died, Jesus had told the apostles, “I will not leave you orphaned…God will send you an advocate to be with you…” (John 14). As usual, I imagine that what Jesus said and the disciples heard were not exactly the same. They likely expected some…person to show up and take the lead. Have you ever felt like that? Like in a “Jesus take the wheel” kind of way? You and Peter both.

So in this Acts story, they’re behind closed doors, whispering the good news to one another, paralyzed with fear. And for good reason! The leaders that killed Jesus are still the leaders. Politics are tenuous, and nobody wants to be made an example. The apostles face a tough choice—stay safe and quiet or take the risk and go public? “Will the movement be ruled by fear? Will the apostles be contained and confined? Rendered timid and silent? Pentecost comes with a bold answer—no.”[1]

Herein lies the deep subversive nature of the Pentecost event and of the early church.

Pentecost was and is a public display of our freedom from fear, found in the liberating power of Christ crucified, emboldening us to speak the truth of the Gospel aloud.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the powers and principalities are wary of this freedom to speak. They try to discredit this revolutionary act by claiming that those bold enough to speak are crazy or drunk.
No earthly power can match this empowered community of believers—preachers, fishermen, widows, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, women, children.

The promise that Jesus made to the apostles—that they will have this power—is of course tied to conflict and persecution. Remember when he warned them that they would be persecuted for being associated with him (John 15)? Welp, this is it. But he also said that in those scary times, the Holy Spirit would empower them to speak their truths even more boldly.

Pentecost means the apostles can go into their community and say “Jesus the Christ is risen—alleluia! You are free from sin! You are free from bondage! Get up—walk! Be healed! You are my sister, my brother—eat at my table! Drink and be filled! You are the beloved child of the living God! No high priest, no king, no excuse for a civic leader can chain you anymore. You are free.”

Here, now, in 2015, where are we? Are we locked in the upper room, fearful of where our truths may lead? Are we cautious to identify ourselves as Christians? Are we cautious to say “God loves you” when we meet someone who clearly believes otherwise? Are we cautious to say “come eat at our table”?

Because here, now, in 2015, it’s not hip to dig Jesus. It’s not hip to say “God loves you” in public. And the Religious Right has commandeered so much of our precious holy language that when we say “My faith informs my politics” we have to explain really hard what we don’t mean.

Proclaiming liberation is still unpopular in our world of war, mass incarceration, police brutality, racism, sexism—we have much to fear.

But after today, after the Pentecost has come, we are free. We are free to be bold. We are bold to proclaim that Jesus the Christ is risen—alleluia! We are bold to proclaim that we and every living thing are free from the power of sin and death.

When we see or hear the “good news” being used to exclude, hurt, control, or otherwise disempower our sisters and brothers, we are bold to say enough now! No more!

When we see or hear the name of Christ used to justify violence, oppression, racism, misogyny, sexism, heterosexism, imperialism, patriarchy, war, slavery, or silence—in our churches, schools, government, families—we are bold say enough now! No more!

The question I leave you with, dear sisters, is not “if” you will boldly proclaim the liberating truths of the Gospel –but when, where, and how.

May you be emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit this day and always. Amen.

[1] Bill Wylie-Kellerman, “In the Boldness of the Spirit: Fellowship and risk before the authorities” Sojourners.