Monday, May 16, 2016

#OrdainKloehn

On Saturday, May 14, I was ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA!

The service was held in my home congregation—Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Encinitas, CA—and the Rev. Laura Ziehl, Bishop Mark Holmerud, and the Rev. Amanda Nelson presided. 


As I begin this new iteration of ministry, gratitude is all that comes to mind. These words of thanks were printed in my ordination bulletin:

The depth of my gratitude for those who made this day possible could never be expressed wholly in words, but I never shy away from an opportunity to say something.

I am grateful to my parents, Karin and Gary, for approximately one million things, but especially for their love, support, listening ears, crying eyes, welcoming arms, and open hearts. I am grateful to the Alexes for their love and joyous laughter and willingness to take probably two red-eyes to be here. I am grateful for all the Turpins and Kloehns (and everyone in between), my original cloud of witnesses and communion of saints.

I am grateful to my partner in learning and in love, Jonathan, for his seemingly un-ending willingness to try new things—like date a pastor and read poetry—and for his encouragement in all that I do. I am grateful to my best friend, the Rev. Amanda Nelson, for her grace and wisdom throughout seminary and into our ordained lives (ack!)—and for every minute of silliness that has kept us together.

I am grateful for my sister (bloodlines notwithstanding) Kelsey Sprowell and for the Rev. Gretchen Rode and the Rev. Maria Anderson—the other Pastoritas—whose presence and absence is most certainly felt.

I am grateful for the love and support of my two bonus families—the Vance and Fields clans—and for the years of joys and challenges we’ve seen through together. That so many of you are here today renders me (nearly) speechless.

I am grateful for my colleagues and comrades of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Sierra Pacific Synod, whose community and leadership sustained me throughout my seminary career and into this first call.

I am grateful to all the good folks at The Belfry—my dear students and LEVNeers, to say the least—who provide me the privilege of doing what I love every day.

I am grateful to the pastoral, professional, and professorial squad of California Lutheran University—including but not limited to the Revs. Scott and Melissa Maxwell-Doherty, President Chris Kimball, and the Religion Department—especially the Rev. Dr. Julia Fogg, for her mentorship, for introducing me to Türkiye, for laughing with me throughout Biblical Greek, and for continuing to model the particular strength that women bring to ministry.

I am grateful for Jonathan Garman and the whole BLCYM—those who led me in my youth and those who humored me as I led them in their youth. I’d drive a 15-passenger-van full of y’all every summer in a heartbeat.

I am grateful to the Rev. Laura Ziehl and to Mona Goetsch and to all the good folks here at Bethlehem who did a lot of work to make this evening go as swimmingly as (I imagine, as I type this weeks in advance) it did.

I am grateful for everyone who participated tonight—Global Music Ensemble, ushers, communion assistants, readers, reception-setter-uppers, and every other detailer whom I’ve forgotten—for being part of this monumental day in my life and ministry.


And I am grateful for you! Since you’re here and reading this, you’re part of how I got to this moment in this place. Your community, support, and prayer are integral to my life and work. I’m so glad you’re here to celebrate with me.

And for you, dear reader, I am grateful. Thanks for being the unknown people to whom I blog away the weeks. You're part of my work (and play) and I appreciate you. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Belong—A Sermon of Promises

Grace and peace from God our Creator, Hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you always.

The lectionary is weird. We’re in the seventh week of Easter, but the Gospel lesson today is from the night before Jesus died. At first glance, it’s backward and disorienting. But the people who put the readings together are professionals, so I’ve decided to trust them.

Scholars, like the people who assembled the lectionary, call these chapters of John’s Gospel the “Farewell Discourses.” Jesus is saying a lengthy goodbye to his friends and disciples. In it, he sums up a lot of the things he has said before; he reiterates the most important details; he makes new promises. This week’s text is a prayer he says in the Garden of Gethsemane—just after the Last Supper, just before he’s arrested. That’s quite a moment in the life of his community. He prays “on behalf of these”—the disciples—“but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” That's us! 


The fun thing about being Christians so many generations removed from Jesus is that there is no way that the Church looks like what Jesus thought his followers would look like. Millions of people, across the globe, organized together because of the love of God through Jesus. Except, more often than thought, we’re not very good at being “together.” We have this nasty habit of dividing ourselves on all sorts of lines—denominations, languages, races, classes, nations. 

Even when there were just the dozen or so disciples, it seems Jesus had a hunch that they’d struggle to stay together. I think the lectionary assemblers new that, just like Jesus' friends needed to be reminded of all the ways in which God would remain with them after Jesus' departure, we too need that reminder after we've celebrated Easter. We need to be reminded of the promises that were made, that are still being kept.

Karoline Lewis is a preacher I want to be like when I grow up. She wrote this about this week’s Gospel story: “...God counts on us to embody God’s promise in a world of broken ones. God needs us to give witness to the ultimate promise kept when our experience….knows only empty promises. God invites us to live in the promise that is truly ours forever—that is the resurrection difference.”

Since we are living in the world after the resurrection, there is a whole new range of possibilities open to us. But I think I speak for a lot of us when I confess that the logistics of the resurrection are distracting, and I never really get past that. Karoline continues:

“Resurrection is often relegated to a belief of the church to which we simply comply and that which we by rote confess. We go through the motions each Easter, each time the creed is said, but how often do we stop and say that resurrection makes a difference for how I live my day today? What might it feel like to know that the promise of the resurrection is mine now?”

What might it feel like to be open to the newness of resurrection? What might it feel like to try being church a completely different way? How might it change what we do and what we believe?

Let’s step back a second. What does it even mean to believe? What are some synonyms you can think of? Audience participation! 

When you google the word believe, as you might do, casually and hypothetically, the primary definition is “feel sure of the truth of.” You know those words of the creed we say before the Eucharist? “I believe in God, the father almighty…”

What if we said “I feel sure of the truth of God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I feel sure of the truth of Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord...” and then “I feel sure of the truth of the Holy Spirit…”

I think that, like the resurrection, we get stuck on the word “believe” a lot, because we worry about whether our beliefs are “right” or not. And often, especially on a college campus, it can be challenging to respond when people push you on your beliefs, right? And when you’re still sort of working them out, that can be a big roadblock.

There’s an Episcopal author named Diana Butler Bass who has written several books about church. She wrote one called Christianity After Religion that looks at what we’re going to be in this age of “spiritual but not religious”-ness. It’s an interesting book, and it has one part that I’ve carried with me since I read it. She says that in the old way of being church, there were three B’s: Believe, behave, belong.

You went to a church because you believed the things they believed (or wanted to) and then learned from them how to behave according to those beliefs, and then once you’d gotten all of that squared away, you could “join” the church officially. You could really belong there. That probably sounds familiar, and maybe doesn’t sound entirely problematic to you.

But what if we flipped it? She asks. What if instead, we belong and then behave and then believe? What if we are invited and welcomed into a community, no questions asked? What if, then, we see how others act and we learn new ways to love ourselves and our neighbors? What if, then, we come to believe the truths they teach?

Here at the Belfry, I hope you feel like you are part of something. I hope you feel like you are invited and welcome to be all of who you are, whether you’re even sure who you are. I hope you feel like the other people here are learning alongside you, and that you--as individuals and as a community--are growing. I hope you feel like, as we talk and learn and read and sing and laugh, that these promises that God makes are promises to you.

And I promise you that, while you’re here and after you leave here—whether you graduate or study abroad or finish your service with LEVN—that you will always belong here.

If you discern that you’re Lutheran or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re Episcopalian or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re queer or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re called to be a pastor or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re going to graduate or that you aren’t.

Whoever you are, you belong here.

You don’t have to sit in this chapel every Wednesday to belong here. You don’t have to show up for Bible study every week, or for Tapping Into Theology every month, or for book club, or for Prov, or for anything. I like you, and so I hope you want to show up to all those things and create other spaces for other folks to feel like they belong here, too! That’s the behave part. That can come next.

You are part of the Belfry and you are part of God’s family at all times and in all places. I promise.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Breathe — An Audience-Participation-Required Sermon on Peace

Grace and peace from God our Creator, Hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.


Let’s all take a few deep breaths. A few counts in through your nose and then out again. And again. It’s May, y’all. Can you believe it? Don’t let that heart rate jump back up! Another deep breath.


You probably have a lot to worry about. Whether it’s school—we’re nearing the end of the year! Or work—finding a job, keeping your job, doing your job well. Or money—earning money, saving money, spending money smartly. Or your relationships—good ones with friends or significant others, not-so-good ones with maybe soon-to-be not friends or significant others, roommates, classmates, coworkers. Or your future—what’s next for you? What does the summer hold? Or your family—if they’re nearby or far away, healthy or struggling, supportive of you or a little more challenging. I can understand why we need to sit here, tonight, and take deep breaths together.


And, you know, Jesus knew about a few of those things. No, he was not a UC Davis student or a LEVNeer, but he was a human person. He had parents and siblings and friends. He had politics to lament about and looming wars to furrow his brow. He had a community whose livelihood concerned him. And he lived his adult life with a bunch of dudes who never stopped asking nervous questions. One declarative sentence could hardly escape Jesus’ mouth before Peter’s hand shot into the air with whowhatwhenwherewhyhow tumbling out of his mouth. You can just see Jesus' nostrils flare, eyes close, deep breath in and out before he replies.


This week, the question-asker is Judas. No, not that Judas. There are two, apparently. Just before the text for this week’s lectionary, this other Judas asks “But Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us?” Jesus gives a classic response—not exactly answering the question, and pivoting back to his important talking points about the constancy of God. “Those who love me will keep my word,” he says, “and my father will love them.”


Easy! Love and be loved! Now, I don’t want to mislead you. I don’t want you to think that what I’m saying is that, if you are a Christian, you will never have to worry about anything ever again. If only! But what I can tell you, is that, as a beloved child of God, you do not ever have to worry about your beloved-ness. You are always beloved by God. About that, my dear ones, do not let your hearts be troubled.


A professor from PLTS wrote a book about the Gospel According to John, and he had this to say about today’s gospel lesson:


“The teaching of Jesus is certainly not a self-help program, a path to a tranquil inner life immune to the ills and cares of a troubled world….Jesus is surely a teacher of powerful truth and transformative knowledge, but his teaching and life focus relentlessly on God’s astonishing agape enacted on the cross.”


There are a few weeks each year where I prepare a sermon on a text that is speaking right at me. You who have known me for a little while have noticed that I spend a lot of time planning, anxiously anticipating, playing through worst-case scenarios in my mind. Today, I stand before you and repeat the words of Jesus I so often forget to hear—”do not let your heart be troubled” and “do not be afraid.” Every week, I proclaim “the peace of the Lord be with you, always” and you obediently reply “and also with you.” We say that because right here, in the 14th chapter of the Gospel According to John, Jesus says, “peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”


So let’s take him seriously today. We’re going to do something a little unusual. I have these papers for you, and we’re going to take five minutes, silently, and I want you to write down—not for the group, just for me to read—all the things that trouble your heart. All the things that you’re carrying around right now that make you afraid. You can write your name on it if you want me to know, but you can also stay anonymous. They can be small things, big things, personal things, global things, anything. I’m going trade you. I’m going to take these pieces of paper from you, on which you’ve written things I can pray about, things you want to just get out of your head. Things you want to hand over. And I’m going to give you a different piece of paper, in exchange. One that reminds you that the peace of the risen Christ is with you, always. So everybody get a paper and a pen, excellent. Five minutes starts now.
I bought this image from WordsxWatercolor; you can, too!

And now, here. As you go in peace, take this with you. Stick it to your bulletin board, put it by your desk, put it in your planner or binder or wherever you spend the most time forgetting that the peace of the risen Christ is always with you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Get Up—A Sermon Decidedly Not About Sheep

 Acts 9:36-43
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

We didn’t read the psalm assigned for today, Psalm 23, the Lord is My Shepherd, so you may not have been clued in that this set of texts qualifies as this year’s “Good Shepherd Sunday” lectionary. [You may have noticed that we sang Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us at the beginning, yeah?]

There are a handful of stories that Jesus tells about sheep, and so we have this week every year where we read one or two and then all preachers have to somehow figure out a way to tell people that they are or are not sheep, and that this is good news! Aside from the fact that I definitely befriended a sheep at the petting zoo on Picnic Day, I don’t really know a whole lot about them, and I don’t imagine that you do, either. [Unless, of course, sheep were under your care in FFA, Kenton.]

The interesting thing about this sheepy text is that it is paired with one of the most interesting and underrated stories in the whole New Testament. [Were you listening carefully during the reading from Acts?]

The story goes that in Judea, there was a coastal town called Joppa, and in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha. She was devoted to good works and to acts of charity. She became ill and died. Peter was nearby, in Lydda, so they sent for him right away. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Tabitha had made while she was with them.

This would be a lovely story of one of the first followers of Jesus, even if it ended here. Tabitha was devoted to good works and to acts of charity. Her fellow widows and dearest friends were devastated at her death. They celebrated her life among them by sharing with Peter the tangible proof of all that that she had given to them when she was alive. This is all that we know for certain about Tabitha. This is, to my knowledge, the only story about her. We know, from its few verses, that she was well-loved and a devoted disciple. Tabitha sounds to me like a classic church lady.

How many of you can think of someone from your home parish, or the parish you attend here in Davis, or the parish you work at, that you think resembles Tabitha? A sweet, kind woman who knits or sews or whatever the textile project of choice is in your congregation, and everyone loves her. And she’s like maybe 1000 years old. Okay, so picture her playing the role of Tabitha. When she dies, people will come to talk about the ways that she made their life better, and show off the quilt she made them when they went away to college. She’s a really nice lady.

But Tabitha’s story is not in our scripture because she was a really nice lady. Her story is in our scripture because Peter was called out to Joppa to resurrect her.

In this season of Easter, we have recently heard a pretty big resurrection story. And we often hear of another, the raising of Lazarus, which is important, too. But here, tucked away into the 9th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles is the quick, quiet story of that time Peter raised Tabitha from the dead.

Did you know this story before today? Did you know there was a woman so devoted to the Christian life that St. Peter himself drew upon the power of God to bring her back to life?

Maybe our dearest Catholic brothers and sisters in the room are more familiar with her, as she is sometimes referred to as Saint Tabitha; the very unthorough google search I did of her was inconclusive as to whether or not she is, in fact, a saint. My main man Martin Luther, though, would certainly call her one. One of the most memorable things Marty left to us was the notion that each one of us is simultaneously saint and sinner.

I think that’s so helpful for us, living in a world of black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, Republican and Democrat. It is possible—it is necessary!—that we understand ourselves to be more than just one thing.

We can be all the things that we feel we are, all the time. We can be happy about something while being sad about something else. We can be excited about the future and worried about it at the same time. We can be grateful for the relationships that we have, and long for the ones that we don’t. We can be pretty confident right now, and have some doubts tomorrow. We can be kind in one minute, and snap at someone the next. None of these things make us only a good or only a bad person.

Like Sirius Black once said to Harry Potter, “the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We've all got both light and dark inside us.” He goes on to say that it only matters which we act on. That’s true, except we act on the light and the dark inside us, all the time. There’s no switch to flip. And that’s okay!

That’s sort of how grace works. We are beloved children of God, no matter what. Because we know that we are beloved, we are more able to act on the goodness we know to be somewhere in there. But we’re not completely sin-free, and we never will be. God knows that. God’s love is beyond that. Because Jesus lived, died, and lived again, we know that God has power over all the things that our world can throw at us.

There’s an awesomely bad hymn that I grew up singing called Every Morning is Easter Morning. Do you know it? I like it because it sounds like Jesus was resurrected to star in a Broadway musical. Hear me out:

Every morning is Easter morning, from now on!
Every day’s resurrection day—the past is over and gone!
Goodbye guilt, goodbye fear—good riddance!
Hello Lord, hello sun!
I am one of the Easter people; my new life has begun!

It helps if you pretend to tap dance while you sing it. Okay, so, this song is like as cheesy as it is possible to be, right? Welcome to church music in the 1970s, I guess. Cheesiness notwithstanding, the lyrics of this song are right on. Every new day,  you are alive. Every new day, you are free. Every new day, you are so beloved by God, that the Holy Spirit is at work in you—as she was in Peter and in Tabitha—to show the world that they, too, can be alive and well. As the Easter people, you are literally shining examples of the love of God through Jesus. The powers of this world—fear, oppression, death—do not have the final say. God has the power to breathe new life into all of us. 

Our world has a habit of knocking people down. But like Peter said to Tabitha, God says to you, so simply, “get up.”



Because Jesus is risen, and Tabitha is risen, you, too, are risen. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Verb My Nouns—A Sermon for Episcopal Service Corps Program Directors

I preached this sermon to my dearest colleagues, the Episcopal Service Corps Program Directors, at our spring meeting.

Acts 9:1-20
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.


At the Belfry, where I routinely preach on Wednesday nights, we use the lectionary from the Sunday prior. Since there are no assigned texts for today in the daily lectionary, I was told I could choose. As an enneagram type six, my deep commitment to the authority of the lectionary—and anxiety about the near-infinite options—led me to just stick with what I know. My, uh, fairly insincere apologies to all y’all who have heard this scripture and a sermon on it already this weekend. At least once. You’re about to hear about it from me, now. You’re welcome.


Okay. So. I self-identify as a word nerd. It’s just too perfect that it rhymes. So, I noticed, as I was reading the texts for the first time, that they all have something in common, grammatically. Each pericope begins with a conjunctive adverb! Pause for enthusiastic response…


In the Acts of the Apostles, it is written, Meanwhile
In the Revelation of John, it is written, Then
In the Gospel According to John, it is written, After


So, in all three of these stories, we’re jumping into the middle of something. Something has happened before we’re involved, or something is happening simultaneously somewhere else, and now we’re just in the thick of it.


How true is it that we are, here and now, in the thick of the story of God? There are thousands of years of human history behind us, and untold myriads ahead. Any time we open the Bible, we’re being invited to participate in a story that already exists, and helping to write the story of the kingdom which is not yet.


Those of you who are my friends on various social media platforms may be tired of hearing about all of the podcasts that I listen to. Again, fairly insincere apologies. I was recently listening to some old episodes of On Being with Krista Tippet. She has the most classic public radio voice, right? Anyway, a couple of years ago, she was interviewing a man named Gordon Hempton, whose profession is as an “auditory ecologist.” He, admittedly, made up that title. But what Gordon does is travel the world, listening. He records the sounds of natural and human-made ecosystems, preserving the most pristine places through their landscapes of sound.


He talked about the importance of hearing for life. He said that there is no animal, that we know of, that has evolved a way to “turn off” the sense of hearing. No creature with ears has evolved a way to shut them, like we have our eyes. You may think that you can shut your ears off, like when you’re asleep. But there’s a biological reason that alarm clocks work. And that strange noises in your dark house creep you out. Your ears are always on the job.


Hearing is in all three of our texts today. The revelator heard every creature in heaven and on earth, singing; Saul and Ananais heard the voice of the Lord; Simon Peter heard the voice of his fellow disciple. And the Lord called Saul, Ananais, and Simon Peter by name. God is always speaking, so it’s a good thing that we are, technically, always hearing.


But this is where we get to dive into the semantic difference between hearing and listening. In this gospel story, Jesus and a handful of disciples have breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee. I bet there’s a reason why this author calls it by this less familiar name, but, it beats me. This was a place the disciples had been, before. When Peter said, “hey, guys, I’m going fishing,” and they joined him, I doubt there was a discussion of where to go. Probably an autopilot journey to where their boat was already docked. Since nothing about the last few weeks of their lives together had been very routine, a trip to their regular fishing spot would feel normalizing, comforting. As usual, it ends up being anything but.


We, readers of the Gospels are accustomed to Jesus waxing poetic, launching into parables with complex storylines or hard-to-decipher allegories. This time, Jesus enters the story with a simple yes-or-no question. He helps the disciples with an abundant catch--153 fish, as the story goes--and feeds them breakfast. He exchanges several lines of dialogue with Simon Peter, again, with the yes-or-no questions, and simple, declarative sentences. “Do you love me?” He asks, three times. Hearing “yes”, he says “feed my lambs”, “tend my sheep”, “feed my sheep”, “follow me”.  Simple instructions.





And so here ends the story, here ends the sermon, right? Just listen to those instructions, and then do ‘em. You wish you could be so lucky.


When Amity asked me if I’d preach today, I was like, “Oh, man, preaching to priests! I have to dig out all my best theological textbooks and explicate some really complex points where Lutherans and Episcopalians diverge!” And then I started reading, and writing, and hearing, and listening. And I remembered who you are. When you read these texts, and you hear these words of Jesus, you probably get out your to-do list and add “feed sheep” and “follow Jesus” to the very bottom, and then hope no one has noticed you just transfer them to next week’s to-do list…


And then in your sermon, you listed all of the sheep in our world that need tending and feeding. You listed all the ways in which we are not following Jesus. You challenged your congregation to do more feeding, more tending, more following. And you vowed to feed and tend them better, to follow Jesus better. Then you looked at that to-do list again.


Since you are an Episcopal Service Corps Program Director and/or Board Member and/or Executive Director, you have already done a good job of listening to these simple instructions. Helping to shepherd young adults through their journeys of faith and their searches for justice and their personal development is no small feat. I am routinely surprised by how many trips to Costco it takes to tend my particular flock.


Day in and day out you are tending. You are feeding. You are following. During recruitment, you’re even fishing. In doing all of this, you are inspiring and encouraging the young adults you serve to do the same. They’ll move through this year with varying degrees of success, having heard you--and maybe even listened--when you spoke. They’ll remember the ways in which you tended and fed. They’ll remember the ways in which you led by following.


As we sit in this particular time and place, we are in the thick of the story of God and we are in the thick of the story of Episcopal Service Corps. As we transition into a new era of Executive Directorship, we are grateful for the ways in which we have been tended and fed by Amity. As we celebrate the blessings in our programs, and lament the maybe less-than-stellar recruitment numbers, we are grateful to be part of a larger story.


As we go forward, together, keep up the good work. Feed, tend. But remember to also be fed, and be tended. Inasmuch as you are a shepherd, you are a sheep. And for that, thanks be to God.


Amen.