Sunday, July 26, 2020

8 Pentecost


July 26, 2020

1 Kings 3.5-12; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

+ If you are on any kind of social media, you have no doubt seen videos of the so-called “Karen” syndrome.

These “Karens” are a real phenomenon in our country right now.

Maybe you’ve encountered them in your own life.

Or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of a Karen.

Wikipedia defines a “Karen” as “pejorative term used…for a woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others. Depictions also include demanding to "speak to the manager", anti-vaccination beliefs (sometimes in favor of the unproven medical use of essential oils), being racist... As of 2020, the term was increasingly being used as a general-purpose term of disapproval for middle-aged white women.

Wikipedia goes on to say this about Karens:

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the term was used to describe women abusing Asian-American health workers due to the virus's origins in China, those hoarding essential supplies such as toilet paper, and both those who policed others' behavior to enforce quarantine and those who protested the continuance of the restrictions because they prevented them visiting hair salons, prompting one critic to ask whether the term had devolved into an all-purpose term for middle-aged white women. Use of the term increased from 100,000 mentions on social media in January 2020 to 2.7 million in May 2020.”

I want to stress that this is not only an issue about women.

There is also a male counterpart for Karen.

The videos of Karens and their male counter[arts which are called “Kevins” are often people who are suspicious of people of different colors, or younger people, or people who make life miserable for everyone else because they reffuse to follow the rules.

They are complainers, the ones who feel they have a right to say or do anything they please without worrying about the consequences of those words or actions.

They are the ones who believe that what their opinions or what they believe is more important than anyone’s else opinions or beliefs.

I had an interesting discussion just yesterday with a good friend of mine about why these Karens and Kens are so prominent now.

This is what I think:

“Karens and Kevins, deep down, know that their way of life is dying rapidly. It is not white, straight, evangelical Christian America anymore (not that it ever really was) and that scares them. And they are desperate. They are really scared. They are acting out in droves right because of these underlying issues.

“Fear is eating away at the Karens and Kevins of our society. And we are seeing how that fear can be destructive.”

It’s about control—and the fact that there are losing their perceived control in this world.

And they are afraid.

And because they are, the rest of us have to pay.

But, let’s face it, Karens and Kevins don’t have the market cornered on fear.

No matter where you are politically or religiously or personally, there’s a lot fear at work in our lives right now. .

Real fear.

You can cut it with a knife, it’s that REAL.

But what is most shocking to me is how so much fear, so much anxiety, so much darkness, can come forth from some seemingly small, other-wise  insignificant actions.

It doesn’t take much to fan the flames of fear anymore.

It doesn’t take much stoke the fire of our personal and collective anxiety.

A car parked too closely to another in a parking lot.

A simple phone call.

A tweet. 

Which is a reminder to all of us: it is not the big things we sometimes need to fear.

It not always the Pandemic and the secret mercenaries that really get our fear factors going—though that’s pretty frightening.

Sometimes—more often than not—it is the small things that affect us most.

In our Gospel for this morning, we heard the Kingdom of God being compared to several small things: mustard, yeast, treasure, pearls and fish.

The gist of these parables is that something small can make a difference.

Something small can actually be worth much.

As I pondered this these last few days, I realized that Jesus really is, as always, VERY right on with this.

When we do a bit of good—like planting a little bitty mustard seed—a lot of good can come forth.

But, as I said, we also realize that a little bit of bad can also do much bad.

A little bit of fear can grow into something out of control.

And I’m not just talking about the news and the government. Or the President

We all live with various forms of fear.

Fear of the future.

Fear of change.

Fear of things that are different, or strange, or that don’t fit into our confining understanding of things.

Our fear of these kind of things can be crippling.

We sow the small seeds of fear that grow into larger ugly plants of fear when we when wallow in that fear, when we let fear grow and flourish into a huge, overwhelming weed.

When we let fear reign, when we let it run roughshod through our lives, we see
bitterness and anger following.

We become the “Karens” and the “Kevins” of our world.

We become bitter, complaining, nitpicky people who by doing so, expose our own fear and privilege.

Our reading from the Hebrew scriptures is a great example of how we should respond to issues of fear.

In our reading from the 1 Kings, we find God telling King Solomon that anything he asks will be granted.

This would be something most of us really would want God to say to us as well.

If God spoke to you and told you that anything you prayed for would be granted, what would you ask for?

I know a few things I would ask for.

And most of those things we ask would be normal.

But Solomon doesn’t ask for the normal things, if you notice.

Solomon asks God for the gift of understanding.

And that is the gift God grants Solomon.

And us too!

When we ask for the gift of understanding, God usually seems to grant it.

As long as we are open to the gift.

The fact is, most of us aren’t open to understanding.

We are too set in our ways, into believing we know what is right or what is wrong.

But when we ask, when we open ourselves to this gift, God gives us the Holy Spirit. 

And how do we know when the Holy Spirit is given to us?

We know the work of the Holy Spirit, by the Spirit’s fruits.

Those fruits blossom into real, tangible signs.

But when we resist the Spirit, when we resist the movement of God, we find ourselves trapped—in fear, in bitterness, in anger.

But it is not an option for us as Christians to be stuck and trapped in fear. 

How can we fear when we hear Paul say to us in his letter to the Romans:

“if God is for us, who is against us.”

We cannot let fear rule our lives.

After all, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”

Will any of the hardships of life be able to defeat us or separate us from the love of God?

Will pandemics r secret mercenary police or the Kevins and Karens of this world separate us from God’s love?  

“No, in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”

Nothing—not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, not powers, not height, not depth, not anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(By the way, I am convinced that this might be the most powerful scripture we have as Christians!)

After all, when we get stuck in fear, when we let ourselves be separated from the love of God in our lives, that is when we hinder the Kingdom.

It prevents the harvest from happening.

It prevents growth from happening.

It makes the Church—and us—not a vital, living place proclaiming God’s loving and living and accepting Presence.

It makes us into the Karens and Kevins of this world.

Our job is to banish fear so the Kingdom can flourish.

The flourishing of the kingdom can be frightening.

Like the mustard seed, it can be overwhelming.

Because when the Kingdom of God flourishes, it flourishes beyond our control.

We can’t control that flourishing.

All we can do is plant the seeds and tend the growth as best we can.

Rooting our endeavors in God’s love is a sure guarantee that what is planted will flourish.

Because rooting our endeavors in God’s love means we are rooting our endeavors in a living, vital Presence.

We are rooting them in a wild God who knows no bounds, who knows no limits and who cannot be controlled by us.

Rooting our endeavors in God’s love means that our job is simply to go with God and the growth that God brings about wherever and however that growth may happen.

When we do, God banishes our fears.

So, let us help God’s Kingdom flourish!

To be righteous does not mean being good and sweet and nice and right all the time.

To be righteous one simply needs to further the harvest of the Kingdom by doing what those of us who follow Jesus do.

It means seeking understanding from God.

It means to plant the good small seeds.

And in those instances when we fail, we must allow the mustard seed of the Kingdom to flourish.

And when we do strive to do good and to further the kingdom of God, then will we being doing what Jesus commands us to do.

The Kingdom will flourish and we can take some joy in knowing that we helped, working with God, to make it flourish.

And, in that wonderful, holy moment, we will know the fruits of our efforts.

And we—like the kingdom of which we are citizens—we will also truly flourish!

Let us pray.
Holy and loving God, plant in us the seeds of your love so that your love will flourish within us and in all whom we encounter in this world; we ask this in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

7 Pentecost


July 19, 2020

Matthew 13.24-30;36-43

+ Annette Morrow is attending Mass this morning.

And I know she wouldn’t mind me telling people that she, on a very regular basis, utilizes the Sacrament of Confession  with me, usually at our regular confessional, HoDo downtown.


She will also tell you that I’m bound by this wonderful thing called the “seal of confession.”

It’s good thing.

It means that anything anyone confesses to me stays “under the stole.”

It stays with me.

I can’t tell anyone what has been confessed to me.

But, someone—a parishioner—recently confessed something to me recently that truly shocked me.

And I am going to share it with you.

Don’t worry. I’m not a horrible priest standing before you.

I asked this parishioner if I could share this shocking confession with all of you.

This parishioner, for some bizarre reason I will never understand, confessed me to me that she---sigh—did not “get” my poetry.

Did not “get” my poetry!

She actually said, “It’s so Zen!”

What does that mean?!?

Is Zen a bad thing?

Ok, yes, it might be a bit esoteric, shall we say?

But, if this parishioner thought I was being esoteric, I wonder what she thought of Jesus’s parables.

Let’s talk about esoteric.

That word esoteric mean belonging to an inner circle

In other words, it means that only a  small number of people get it.

Because, in our Gospel readings at this time of the year, we’re getting a good many parables.

Oh no, you’re probably thinking to yourself.

More  parables from Jesus!

Some of us really enjoy the parables.

I enjoy the parables!

But, let’s face it, most people feel a certain level of frustration when they come across them.

After all, we, as a society, aren’t comfortable with such things.

Yes, we love our “typical” stories.

We love to hear a good story that really captures our imagination—a story we can retell to others.

But, for the most part, we like them for purely entertainment reasons.

We like stories that are straightforward.

A story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

We don’t want to think too deeply about these stories.

We want something simple and clear.

“Why couldn’t Jesus just tell us what he was thinking?” we might say to ourselves. “Why did he have to tell us these difficult riddles that don’t have anything to do with us?”

Of course, even by saying that we  miss the point completely.

The fact is, when we start talking about God and God’s work among us, we are dealing with issues that are never simple or clear.

 To put it bluntly, there is no simple and clear way to convey the truth of the Gospel.

That is why Jesus spoke in Parables.

The word parable comes from the word “parabola,” which can be defined as “comparison” or “reflection.”

“Relationship” is probably the better definition of the word.

When we look at Jesus’ parables with that definition—reflection, comparison, relationship—they start to make even more sense to us.

These stories Jesus told then—and which we hear now—are all about comparison.

For example, the Kingdom of God.

This Kingdom is difficult for us to wrap our minds around—are we talking about heaven, some otherworldly place? or are we talking about the kingdom of God in our midst?

(Jesus talks about both actually)

The parables help explain all of that in a way those first hearers could understand.

Jesus spoke in parables simply because the people he was speaking to would not have understood any type deep theological explanations.

Jesus used the images they would have known.

He met the people where they were, and accepted them for who they were.

He didn’t try to change them.

He didn’t force them to adopt something they couldn’t comprehend.

He just met them where they were and spoke to them in ways they would understand.

When he talked that day of a mustard seed, for example, and what it grows into, when he talks of yeast being mixed into dough, when he speaks of a treasure hidden in a field or of a merchant looking for fine pearls, those people understood these images.

They could actually wrap their minds around the fact that something as massive as a bush of mustard can come from such a small seed.

They understood that something as simple as a small amount of yeast worked into dough will make something large and substantial.

Yes, they could say, even with the smallest amount of faith in our lives, glorious thing can happen.

That is the message they were able to take away from Jesus that day.

So, these parables worked for those people who were listening to Jesus, but—we need to ask ourselves—does it work for us, here and now?

Does this comparison of the kingdom of heaven being like someone sowing good seed in a field  seed make sense to us?

Do we fully appreciate these images?

First of all, we need to establish what is the kingdom of God?

Is it that place that is awaiting us in the next world?

Is it heaven?

Is it the place we will go to when we die?

Or is it something right here, right now.

Certainly, Jesus believed it was all of those things and certainly believed it was something we could actually experience here and now.

Or, at least, we experience a glimpse of it here and now.

Over and over again, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God can be found within each of us.

We carry inside us the capability to bring God’s kingdom into being.

We do it through what we do and what we say.

We do it planting good seed, as we hear in today’s Gospel.

We can bring the kingdom about when we strive to do good, to act justly, to bring God into the world in some small way.

The kingdom of God is here—alive and present among us—when we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Yes, the good seed represents our faith, but it also represents in some way, those small actions we make to further the Kingdom.

Those little things we do in our lives will make all the difference.

 Even the smallest action on our part can bring forth the kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of those we know.

But those small actions—those little seeds that we sow in our lives—can also bring about not only God’s kingdom but the exact opposite of God’s Kingdom.

Our smallest bad actions, can destroy the kingdom in our midst and drive us further away from God and each other.

See, bad seeds.

I think we all have experienced what bad seeds do to people and to the Church and to our world.  

When we act arrogantly or presumptuously, when we act in a conceited manner, or even when we intend to be helpful and end up riding roughshod over others also trying to do good, we show bad seeds.

When we are racist or when we promote fear or division we are bad seeds.

What grows from a small seed like this is a flowering tree of hurt and despair and anger and bitterness and division.

So, it is true.

Those seeds we sow do make a huge difference in the world.

We get to make the choice.

We can sow seeds of goodness and graciousness—seeds of the Gospel.

We can sow the seeds of God’s kingdom.

Or we can sow the seeds of discontent.

We can, through our actions, sow the weeds and thistles that will kill off the harvest.

We forget about how important the small things in life are—or more importantly we forget how important the small things in life are to God.

God does take notice of the small things.

We have often heard the term “the devil is in the details.”

But I can’t help but believe that it is truly God who is in the details.

God works just as mightily through the small things of life as through the large.

And in that way WE become the good seeds, that Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.

We may not seem like much.

But when we do good, we do much good, and when we do bad, we do much bad.

This is what Jesus is telling us in the parable of the good and bad seeds.

So let us take notice of the small things.

It is there we will find our faith—it is there we will find God.

And when we do, we will truly shine like the sun in the kingdom of our God. 

It is in those small places that God’s kingdom flourishes in our lives.

So, let us be mindful of those smallest seeds we sow in our lives.

Let us remind ourselves that sometimes what we produce can either be a wonderful and glorious tree or a painful, hurtful weed.

Let us sow God’s love from the smallest ounce of faith.

Let us further the kingdom of God’s love in whatever seemingly small way we can.

And then let it flower and flourish and become a great treasure in our life before God.

Let us pray.
Holy and loving God, you are the giver of life and you sustain us throughout all our days; we ask you to let us sow the seeds of goodness and righteous—the seeds of your holy kingdom—in this world, through all we do and say, and as we do, let us find you, the living God; we ask this in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

The funeral for Jennifer Johnson


The Funerals for
Jennifer Johnson
(July 1, 1971-July 11, 2020)

10:00 a.m. - The Fargo Dome, Fargo
2:00 p.m. – Karvonen’s Funeral Home, Wadena, MN

July 18, 2020

Revelation 7.9-17
+ As I said at the beginning of our service, it is real honor for me to officiate at this service for Jennifer.

I am especially happy to say that I was Jennifer’s priest.

My role in her life was actually a short one.

I was only her priest for a little over a month.

But in that time, Jennifer and I definitely bonded.

We became close in that time.

And it is a friendship and a bond that I will always cherish.

As we all know Jennifer really fought hard with this battle with cancer.

And she was able to show us all real courage in the face of the hard things of this life.

And as grateful as I am today that Jennifer is not suffering, as grateful as I am that she not in pain anymore, that she is not having to fight anymore, I have something to admit.

I am also angry today.

There should’ve been more time.

Her life was cut short entirely too soon.

She had so much life, so much living ahead of her.

There should’ve been another 30 or 40 years to her life.

She should’ve grown old with Mark.

There should’ve have been more time at the lake, more time to travel, more time to just live and enjoy life.

There was so much life ahead of her.

And I can say that there was maybe a moment or two over these last weeks when my most common prayer for Jennifer was a fist shaken at the sky.

Now, mind you I love God.

I love being a priest, even when I have accompany wonderful young people like Jennifer on their last journey.

Anyone who knows me knows I love God.

I really do.

But sometimes I get angry at God.

And that’s all right.

(We know we can be angry at someone we love).

And it’s all right to be angry about this.

Now, maybe I’m not really angry at God.

But I really am angry at death, and I’m angry at cancer, and I am angry at the unfairness of this all.

It is unfair.

This should not have happened to someone like Jennifer.

This should not have happened to Mark or to Jennifer’s parents  Ann or Jerry or to her siblings or to her nieces and nephews or any of the family.

Or to us, who loved her and knew her and cared for her.  

Jennifer did not deserve this.

And that makes me very angry!

I’m really angry that there wasn’t more time.

But, for those of us who have faith—faith like Jennifer—and let me tell you, Jennifer had faith—a fierce, strong faith in God—for us, even in the face of this gut-wrenching pain we feel today, even in the face of our frustration and anger and sadness, we know…

We know that the God of love in which Jennifer believed so strongly, really was with her.

I saw it with my own eyes.

Early last Saturday morning, Mark texted me and told me that Jennifer was nearing the end.

I went over to the house, as we gathered around her bed, we prayed, I laid hands on her. And just as we finished the prayers, she went.

It was a holy moment.

It was truly one of those “God moments.”

Even the Hospice nurse was amazed by it all.

There was a palpable, holy energy in that room.

She left this world surrounded by those who loved her.

She left here knowing she was loved and cherished.

She left here hearing all those wonderful, amazing comments from people were calling and  texting and leaving messages on social media for her.

She heard them.

And, for those of us who have faith, we know:

This is not the end.

In that beautiful reading we just heard from Revelation, we heard:

"These are they who have come out of the great ordeal…
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat; 
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

For Jennifer, her great ordeal is over.

She never hungry or thirst again.

And God has wiped away every tear from Jennifer’s eyes.

She will never cry another tear.

We…well, we are not so lucky.

At least right now.

We have not yet emerged from our great ordeal.

But we know that, one day, our tears too will be wiped away for good.

These tears we cry today will be wiped away.

And, when that day comes, it will be a great day.

All this reminds us that our goodbye today is only a temporary goodbye.

All that we knew and loved about Jennifer is not gone for good.

It is not lost forever from us.

All we loved, all that was good and gracious and beautiful in Jennifer—all that was fierce and strong and amazing in her—all of that dwells now in a place of light and beauty and life unending.

And we will see that smiling face again.

We will see her again.

And it will be beautiful.

Jennifer showed us all true courage, true strength, true determination.

She showed us what real courage was in the face of death.

And we should be grateful for that.

We will all miss her so much.

But I can tell you we will not forget her.

Jennifer Johnson is not someone who will be easily forgotten.

She is not someone who passes quietly into the mists.

Her strength, her dignity, her love lives on in all of us who knew her and loved her.

Today, we are sad, yes.

But for those of us who have faith today, we are also confident.

The Alleuia that say today is a defiant word.

That alleluia in the face of death is a defiant alleluia.

It is fist shaken not at God, but it is a fist shaken at death.

It is the fist Jennifer shook at death.

Jennifer, whose faith was so strong, was able to say, Not even you, death, not even you will defeat me.

I will not fear you. (and she did not fear death!)

And I will not let you win.

And, let me tell you, death has not defeated Jennifer Johnson.

So let us be defiant.

Let us shake our fists at death today.

Let face this day and the days to come with gratitude for this incredible person God let us know.

Let us be grateful.

Let us be sad, yes.

But let’s remind ourselves: death has not defeated her.

Or us.

Let us, like Jennifer, be defiant to death.

Let us sing loudly.

Let us live boldly.

Let us stand up defiantly.

Let us live fully and completely.

That is what Jennifer would want us to do today, and in the future.

Into paradise may the angels lead you, Jennifer.
At your coming may the martyrs receive you.
And may they bring you with joy and gladness into the holy city Jerusalem.
Amen.