pale moon

The Pale Moonlight

Today’s message features Batman, Jesus, Martin Luther and a rap video, all seen through the lens of the Protestant Reformation.  If you’re listening to the message just pause at the 3 minute mark, scroll down to the video below, and then fire up the audio file to hear the rest.  For those that prefer to read it’s all laid out in order.  Enjoy!


“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

This quote may sound familiar; it’s from the 1989 Batman movie, the first Batman film of the modern era.  In it, the Joker, played by Jack Nicolson, asks Batman this question, right before shooting him, and leaving Batman for dead.  It’s a dark scene from a dark movie about the dark knight.  That’s knight with a K.

I had to look up the word pale to get a better sense of what this phrase means.  It turns out that a pale moonlight is dull, not bright at all.  For me this conjures up an image of dancing with your own personal demons, in the darkness of night, with only a dull, pale light from above.  It sounds kind of hopeless.

Batman was a critical and financial success, earning over $400 million in box office totals. It was the fifth-highest grossing film in history at the time of its release.  Our society it seems, is fascinated with darkness.  Perhaps we’re fascinated with hopeless situations too.

Martin Luther

Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday, it’s why many of you are wearing red, looking good!  On this day we also celebrate the man who started the Protestant Reformation almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a law student turned monk, then turned priest.

Luther knew about dancing with the devil too; as a young adult he spent years fighting his own demons.  Living in a monastery at the time, Luther worried a lot about sin, and that he may have committed it.  When he thought he had sinned he would apologize to God, through confession, whenever he failed.  He did A LOT of confessing.  While Luther was living in a monastery he would often wake up the head monk in the middle of the night to confess.   I can almost picture him looking up to the heavens, seeing only a dim, pale moon as he journeyed to confess.  At times Luther was so obsessed with sin he would literally whip himself, again, and again and again, as punishment.  Painful stuff.

So why all this extreme behavior?  Because Luther believed that if he died without confessing all his sins that he was destined for hell.  It’s no wonder he feared this dance with the devil in the pale moon light.  But fortunately for Luther, and for all of us, it gets better.  I’d like to show you a short video, it’s a rap song, about Luther’s life, that describes his role in reforming the church.

Isn’t that fun? It’s a great summary of Luther’s major complaint with the church of the time.  A few scenes from the video are from a movie aptly called “Luther” that came out in 2003.  The movie is available on DVD, maybe it can be streamed too, it’s highly recommended if you’d like to know more about the man.

Luther and Romans

The turning point for Martin Luther happened after deeply studying the Bible, particularly Paul’s letter to the Romans.

One of the scripture verses Luther ran across helped him to understand salvation in a new way.  Those verses are in Romans 3, verses 22-24:

22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

There’s some big words in there, let’s break this this down a little.  Another way of saying righteousness is morally good.  That could be shortened even more just to be “goodness.”  So we’re talking about the goodness of God.  A second word that trips me up in here is justified, that word comes up all the time in seminary.  Another way of saying justified is to be worthy of salvation, or to be “made right.”  When you swap out those two words the text gets a little easier to read, at least to me, and goes like this.

22 the goodness of God through faith in Jesus Christ is for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now made right by his grace as a gift, through the redemption in Christ Jesus.

So the goodness of God is for all who believe.  That sounds like pretty good news.  And how do we get that goodness? Through faith in Jesus Christ.  Ok, so through faith.  All have sinned it says.  We’re all in the same boat, every single one of us.  We’ve fallen short of God’s glory because of sin.  We just can’t help it.  It’s in our DNA.  But more good news is in this text, Paul reminds us.  We are made right, by the grace of Jesus, given to us as gift.

This notion, that there is nothing for us to do to receive the goodness of God beyond belief in Jesus, was radical at the time.  When Martin Luther discovered this he was freed from his dance with the devil in the pale moon light.  I’m guessing he slept a lot better at night after truly grasping Paul’s letter to the Romans.


But at the time, 500 years ago, that’s not how the church looked at how you get the goodness of God.  The church at the time used indulgences to forgive sins.  Indulgences is another funky word.  The way indulgences worked is that people would give money to the church, and the church would then forgive your sins.  Or even forgive the sins of your ancestors. We could summarize the concept of indulgences like this:

(1) Sin.  (2) Pay church.  (3) Avoid hell.  It’s a simple formula.  Fear sells.  One place you’ll find that sells fear in our culture is in TV commercials.  Marketers use fear to sell their products all the time.  Unfortunately some churches still use fear to motivate people.  Pastor Frank, I hope this doesn’t screw up any sermons you’re planning for the next giving campaign.  Probably not.  Just kidding.

Martin Luther, after a careful reading of Romans, came to a different conclusion.  The formula he saw through scripture looks a little more like this:  (1) Sin. (2) Have Faith in Jesus. (3) Experience God’s goodness.

The rap video we saw earlier has a great way of saying this poetically.  I’ll try to repeat that, though probably not as well.

People dropping Benjamins, to be forgiven of their sins

Buying up indulgences, man is this what salvation is?

Been spending most my life, trying to find my way to Jesus Christ,

Been spending most my life, trying to buy my way to paradise.

The church demanded money, money to atone,

Says the only way to heaven is indulgences alone,

Sorry Mr. Pope if this disturbs you on your throne,

The Bible that I’m reading says by faith and faith alone.

Before Luther’s epiphany he lived in fear.  He feared an angry God that would send him to hell for his sins.  He now knew those sins were covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  There were no works, no behaviors needed on his part.  It has all be done, already, on the cross.

Theologian Gerhard Forde summarizes Luther’s insight like this, saying:

“What shall I do to be saved? The answer is shocking. Nothing! Just be still, stop talking, and listen for once in your life…Listen to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer is saying to the world, and to you, in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!”

And with this new understanding of grace and salvation the personal reformation of Martin Luther had begun.  Luther, now aware of this grace, stopped dancing with the devil.  The pale moonlight that clouded his soul gave way to the Son, the risen Christ.


Luther, now set free, went about sharing this message with others.  He wrote up 95 complaints, known as the 95 theses, and nailed them on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral in 1517.  I brought in a poster with the 95 theses, feel free to check it out after service, there’s some interesting stuff in here.  There is also a depiction of this in the video we saw earlier.  The video shows a determined man marching up the church steps, loudly nailing his freshly written document to the door.  His actions that day paved the way for a host of reforms in Christians and the churches they attend.  These reforms have molded and changed us and our faith communities ever since.

This scene in the video of Luther marching up those church steps reminds me of something else: an annual pilgrimage a few friends of mine took each year in college.  While I wasn’t raised Lutheran, by chance I went to a Lutheran college in Northwest Indiana.  Each year a few friends from my college fraternity would take the 45 minute drive to Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is Catholic, they even have the famous touchdown Jesus at their football stadium.  The pilgrimage my friends took annually was right about this time of year, the end of October.  Their goal?  To nail Martin Luther’s 95 theses to the door of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It’s a silly thing to do, for sure, but I took away another message: reform is still happening in our world today.

For Luther, as is for us, we are free through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We need not fear dancing with the devil.  The dark knight of our soul, and the pale moonlight we sometimes find ourselves in, has been washed in the vibrant light of grace.  Salvation is ours, just believe, nothing else.

So whatever happened to Batman, after dancing with the devil, being shot and left for dead?  Of course the story doesn’t end there.  Batman had been wearing a silver serving tray when he was shot, well protected from any bullets heading his way.  Batman goes on to discover the Joker’s plot, and then foil it, saving the entire city of Gotham from certain death.  While our society may be fascinated by stories of darkness, we’re even more fascinated by salvation from it.  And those stories, my friends, go back more than 2,000 years, all the way to the cross.


Faith, Hope & Love: The Dude Abides

If I had to pick a few words to describe the central qualities of a Christian lifestyle the nouns faith, hope and love would top the list. The apostle Paul spoke about these traits of Christ-followers a good bit in his many letters in the New Testament. Taken together, lives infused with faith, hope and love give us a lens to view humanity, a common purpose, and a shared identity to draw from.

Paul builds his case for faith from the Old Testament, heading all the way back to Abraham when he writes in Romans 4:13 that “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” He expands on this to consider how one lives by faith, saying in Galatians 2:20 that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul, living by faith is an essential ingredient to experience this new life in Christ.

Hope is also central to Paul’s identity as a Christ follower. He reaches a rhetorical climax on the implications of hope in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, concluding that “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Why all the optimism, Paul? Aren’t you constantly in trouble with the law, often ending up behind bars, wasting away? He gives us a hint about the source of this optimism in Romans 8:11, reminding us that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” No wonder you’re hopeful Paul, the Spirit of Christ is in you. In all of us. And that’s pretty sweet.

When it comes to understanding the importance of love in Paul’s theology it’s hard to top 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. In modern terms it’s easy to envision the apostle walking around in a tye dye shirt, Jesus sandals, giving lots of hugs and high fives and passing the peace pipe. The love chapter first describes the importance of love, with Paul suggesting you can be the best speaker, the brightest visionary, the most giving philanthropist or even a martyr, but if you don’t have love, you are nothing. Whoa, that kind of sounds important. Paul continues, telling us love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Does that remind you of anyone? Any particular event? Reflecting on this my mind wanders to the cross.

Paul’s famously writes in 1 Corinthians 13, talking about various spiritual gifts that, in Christ, “faith hope and love abide.” Abide, what a funky word, it doesn’t pop up too much in everyday language these days. According to Merriam-Webster to abide is to endure without yielding, to withstand, and to bear patiently.

One place the word appears in pop culture is the 1998 cult classic movie The Big Lebowski. In this film Jeff Bridges plays the Dude, a Christ-like character that takes on the burdens of those around him with a certain simplicity. It’s almost as if this is what he was born to do.

Paul ends the love chapter concluding, of faith hope and love, that the greatest of these is love. Taken another way, in Big Lebowski style, we could say that Christ, the ultimate Dude, abides.  And abides in Love.

the dude abides2

Call stories

One of the beauties of being in seminary is there are so many firsts.  Today was another, the first sermon at my internship site.  The message is a series of call stories, from a few friends, a few personal stories, and call stories from the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran.  Listen or read, whatever suits you.  Enjoy!

Good morning!  I’m Pastor Ryan, serving as your intern pastor for the next year.  A full-time internship is a requirement for graduation, and I’ve been blessed to share this time learning alongside you, the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran.  A month into this role it’s time for that first sermon.

Now in my last career I crunched a lot of numbers, and then presented and made recommendations about those numbers.  So maybe we could begin there, just to get things started.  You have an amazing leader here in Pastor Frank, so I thought a comparison between the two of us would make for a helpful introduction.

First, let’s talk education.  I’m halfway through seminary, two years in.  Pastor Frank has completed all four years, and in a couple of years I’ll catch up.  Ok, that doesn’t look too bad.

How about years in ministry?  I’ve worked in a faith community for two years, until last month my title was the Director of Ministry at St. Michael in Wellington.  But there’s an asterisk, it was part-time, only 20 hours a week.  Pastor Frank has been doing this, full time, a LOT longer, 30 years!  Boy, look at the difference between those two numbers, oif.  Maybe just one more comparison would be handy.

How about number of sermons?  Yikes!  I’ve only done eight.  Pastor Frank, by my calculations you’ve prepared almost 1,500 sermons, and delivered many of them for three straight services!  This is not looking good at all.  I can’t compete with that!

Ok, deep breath.  Maybe this can be turned into a personal goal.  My goal, for this sermon, is to be Two Percent as good as Pastor Frank.   Just two percent.  That may be reachable.  And please, let me know, on the way out, any feedback you may have.

Seminary stories

When Pastor Frank asked me to share a personal call story it reminded me of how unique call stories can be.  In seminary everyone has a call story, and some of them are just fascinating.  I’d like to briefly share a few of them.

Friend Sara describes herself as a middle-aged tattooed lion and tiger keeper.  That’s what she used to do.  Instead of taming lions and tigers these days she feels called to tame something else: the human soul.  She still has those tattoos, that’s also part of her call, and they’re pretty cool.

Ivy first heard her call when she was up front during a children’s sermon at age 7.  In that moment she looked into the pulpit and thought, “I am going to be up there someday.”  Earlier this summer, at age 40, she was ordained and started her first call at a Lutheran church in North Dakota.

Seminary friend Roger first experienced his call in 1991, as his unit was about to cross into Iraq during the Gulf War.  The chaplain for his Battalion held a worship service that day, on the hood of his HUMMV.  Roger says there were more people there at worship than he’d ever experienced in 20 years of going to church back home.  He learned from this about the power of God to calm very real fears, and says he continues to be guided by this experience to this day.

A common thread I heard from most everyone in seminary is that they fought their call, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades.

The best quote I heard about call, and this is pretty funny, is from a former ELCA Assistant to the Bishop, Mark Nelson.  He sums it up by saying that “going to seminary is kind of like throwing up.  You can put it off for a while, but if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen.”

And on that note I’d like to share with you a few call stories of my own.  Yes, that’s stories with an S, plural.  We’ll get to why there’s more than one call story a bit later.


This first story is about family.  It is not good for man to be alone, Genesis chapter 2 tells us.  God felt so strongly about this that God made a partner for Adam, in the form of Eve.  This Adam met his Eve – she prefers to be called Kathi most days – during his freshman year of college.  We became friends that fateful day twenty-one years ago, tho it took another 18 months for our planets to more closely align.  I had to get some college partying out of the system first, and Kathi was still seriously dating her high school boyfriend.  When we did start dating I realized fairly early on this was not just another girl.  Kathi was special.  She was marriage material.  But was she the one for me?

God was calling, I picked up the phone and listened as best I could.  Are you sure she’s the right one, God?  That still, small voice suggested yes, yes she is.  I fought that voice for a while, guys just tend to be a little stubborn when it comes to love.  After six years of dating during college and attending graduate schools thousands of miles apart we married.  That call to marriage for the two of us was almost 15 years ago now.   We haven’t looked back.

After several years of married life we felt a new call, to become parents.  To be honest Kathi felt this call first.  Being the stubborn guy that I am, well, I fought this call too.  Kids are expensive. They take a lot of time.  And you can’t put them in the kennel when you vacation.  At least legally.

But God kept on calling, and the more time went by the louder the ringer became.  And really, it did feel like something was missing from life.  We were being called for more, and eventually we started trying to conceive.  After a few hurdles we were blessed with two children, Hannah, now age five and Graham, who’s almost two.


But way before the call to be a parent there was another call brewing, the call to community.  Or perhaps it’s the call to be part of a faith community.  While Kathi is a lifelong Lutheran, my path has a taken a few more twists and turns.

My journey with faith communities began as an infant, being baptized in a Methodist church. Shortly after that, my mom and dad joined a large Pentecostal congregation, bringing their six month old along with them.  As a kid the church became a center of community for our family; we’d typically be there two to three times a week.

It was also in these Pentecostal churches I first experienced a contemporary worship service.  The music was high energy and vibrant, it seemed like people there were really into their faith.  This was in the 1980s and the pastors there liked to speak about the current hot-button topics of the day.  Sometimes the pastors at this church made God sound kind of angry at certain people for doing certain things.  Where was this God of love we are taught about in Sunday School?  I couldn’t always see God in that way in this church.  Somewhat frustrated by that I began to drift away from church later in high school.

In college I really wasn’t part of a faith community, there were the typical college distractions getting my attention.  That changed when Kathi and I got engaged.  We decided it was important to find a faith community that worked for both of us, and off church shopping we went.  We tried all sorts of settings, Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan, Mennonite, and Lutheran.  I joked to Kathi maybe we should go to a Wiccan gathering.  We never quite got there.   At some point in our church shopping I fell in love with her Lutheran heritage, from the hymns to the liturgy to the pot luck suppers, I was hooked.  It was the Lutheran focus on grace that sealed the deal.  That there is nothing we can do to separate us from the love of God, that we are both saint and sinner, at all times, it’s just a beautiful thing.

Since then faith communities have become an important part of our marriage, and our understanding of what it means to be a parent.  The time we spent church shopping turned out to be one of the best investments in our marriage we’ve made.  In good times and bad it’s given us a shared, solid foundation to build our relationship with something we both believe in and value.


This next story can be a life-long pursuit to if you let it, the call to learn.  It took me a while to figure out what exactly it was I wanted to be when I grew up.  An assessment from the high school guidance counselor said I’d be good at engineering.  I did like Legos, but really had no clue what a career in engineering would look like.  Perhaps not quite trusting this potential call I narrowed my college search to schools with three characteristics:  1) a liberal arts school with 2) an engineering program and 3) a school that had some kind of Christian affiliation.  It turns out not too many schools have this particular combination of traits.  After a couple of visits I settled on a Lutheran college, Valparaiso University in Northwest Indiana.

Going to Valpo for undergrad ended up influencing my future paths in more ways than I ever could have imagined.  After three semesters it became fairly clear that the black-and-white world of civil engineering was not my call.  It turns out there are a set number of ways to build a bridge correctly.  Stray from those ways and the bridge will fall.  But a liberal arts education teaches more than just black and white formulas.  First it taught me to view the world in various shades of gray.  Later I learned to appreciate the world in full color too.  It turns out this worldview, of grays and colors, is compatible with the field of psychology.  Life isn’t always as precise as the mathematical equations engineering requires.  It can be messy, yet colorful, beautiful too.  I was drawn to this messy beauty.

Valpo is also where I first studied theology.  But not by choice.  At Valpo all students are required to take three theology courses.  I’ll be honest with you, at the time, taking those theology classes, I hated it.  The course on comparative religions was the worst.  Why study other religions, why seek to understand, if you are secure in your own beliefs?  Those were my thoughts as a freshman in college.  The beliefs of my childhood, which, like engineering, were also fairly black-and-white, were being challenged in these theology courses.  Over time my understanding of God started to change.  Just like with psychology I began to see that God was in the middle of this messy beauty too.

After graduating from Valpo I learned, pretty quickly, that you can’t do much with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  So off to graduate school I went to earn a Master’s degree in Market Research.  This field is a mixture of marketing and psychology, there’s plenty of grey and colors, some messy beauty to be had here as well.  After graduating I accepted an offer to work at a large market research firm, and stayed with them for 13 years.  My time spent working in market research taught me much that relates to this next call.  Marketers are trained to understand differences between people objectively – with no judgements – and then to find ways to reach these various groups with messaging they connect with.  I learned to love and embrace the differences in people, in all their messy beauty.


At times our sense of call takes us through something, to get us to something.  This was the case for me. My through something was a deep personal darkness of depression, and it wasn’t too much fun. This dark episode began in 2011.  Ironically it started with a moment most people would consider a positive, a promotion, into management, at work.  A couple of months later a good friend passed away at the age of 39, far too young.  A few weeks after that my mother-in-law passed away too.

All this change at work and loss of loved ones messed me up pretty good, and led to many sleepless nights.  For six weeks I averaged three hours of sleep a night. Over time this took a toll.

Not being able to sleep, I first went to a psychiatrist to get help sleeping.  Initially he prescribed sleeping pills. When that didn’t work he prescribed ADHD medication. When that didn’t work I requested anxiety pills for particularly stressful moments of life. When all of that failed, I finally went to a psychologist.  She correctly diagnosed me with a major depressive episode and recommended a treatment plan. Within days of treatment the dark fog of depression began to lift. I began to heal. I began to live again.

While all this was going on I also tried another treatment: God. I read scripture, searching for answers in ancient wisdom. I read Christian books, thinking some nugget of Truth would leap off the page. In these depths of despair I was the one calling out to God.  At first my calls started as prayer requests.  When those requests weren’t met they became more like demands.  I yelled at God in the midst of this depression, A LOT, begging God to take this ailment away.

Each attempt I made to call God the answer, as I understood it, was the same. God was silent. I was alone.

Reflecting back on this, with the benefit of time, healing, and a perspective on the Almighty that has evolved some, I see the experience now for what it was.

I know now God had been calling my extension the entire time.  God guided me through the depths of depression that included pills, prayers and pain.  God was present through the love and patience of my wife, who both supported and challenged me.  Most importantly she stayed by my side when times were tough.

God appeared through support from friends and hugs of empathy, from people determined to be present in my pain.

God showed Godself in the wisdom of a psychologist, who within 15 minutes of meeting me spoke with clarity. “I know this problem” she said confidently, “You are clinically depressed. We can do something about that.”

Thinking about all those sleepless nights filled with tears I realize I was not alone at all.  God didn’t need my calls.  God was already there, fully present, phone in hand.  I just didn’t know it at the time.  God hadn’t fallen asleep on me. We both had insomnia.

Next steps

You may be thinking at this point these stories are all well and good, but what led you to pursue ordination? To want to be a Pastor?  You know, answer the call from the Big Guy upstairs?  It’s these small stories, weaved together, that led to this next call.

A second major depressive episode hit me later that year.  This time the depression hit harder, beat me down further, recovery took longer.  It was bad enough this time I walked away from my job of 13 years.  My wife Kathi stood by me like no other.  “Make the most of this fresh start, find something you’re passionate about” she told me.  Without her support this call story isn’t complete.  The bigger call also includes our children, Hannah and Graham.  They continue to teach me about unconditional love, and how to dive into life with both feet.  Without them my understanding of a loving God, there with you through the think and the thin, wouldn’t be the same.

Being part of a faith community is also part of the larger call.  Faith communities have played a central role in my identity most of my life.  Life has made the most sense, and brought the most joy, when I’ve been knee-deep, actively involved in the life of the church.  A good faith community draws out the best in people, gives us a shared purpose, and a common mission that is so much larger than our own.

My time spent learning and doing market research is definitely part of this larger call.  In marketing you learn to identify differences in people, respect those differences, and then draw on those differences, uniting toward a common purpose.  Sounds familiar?  Perhaps that’s not too un-like what we strive for in faith communities.  While the goals of market research may be different, the approaches we take in uniting in a faith community around common purpose are largely the same.

The personal darkness of depression, as painful as it was, drew me toward this next call.  I had to literally walk away from a prior call, to make space for this next one.  During this time I also learned important lessons about the nature of God, that God walks with us, and suffers alongside us.  And stays with us, no matter what. These lessons continue to move and mold me, day by day.

Your Call

But enough about that.  Call stories go far, far beyond one person.  Martin Luther refers to a “priesthood of all believers,” suggesting that everyone has been called.  Luther quotes 2nd Peter 2:9 to back up this claim.  That verse says “you are a chosen people. You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

Our reading from Ephesians 4 this week reflects this theme too.  Verses 4 through 6 say “Just as you were called to the one hope of your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Did you notice what two words show up the most in that passage?  The first is CALL.  The second is ALL.

Looked at in a certain way we could summarize the words of Martin Luther, 2nd Peter and Paul writing to the Ephesians with these five short words:  “the Call is for ALL.”  Let’s repeat that together, say it with me.  THE CALL IS FOR ALL.  Yes, all.  Everyone.  Including you.

To illustrate this I’d like to use a few numbers to talk about these next call stories, your call stories.

Seventeen people were installed today as Stephen Ministers.  Their new role is to lend an ear to people that need to know Christ’s love.  This group of seventeen spent 50 hours and a summer of Thursday evenings recently to become certified for this ministry.  And it’s not just that, they signed on for a two year commitment.  Why on earth would anyone make such a time consuming, selfless commitment?  Maybe it’s this concept of call.  Perhaps these Stephen Ministers know that God’s call, is for all, of them.

Twenty people joined the congregation as new members today, thirteen adults, seven kids.  To join, each of them gave up over three hours of a recent Saturday morning to learn more about this community.  Why would they do that? Aren’t Saturday mornings made for relaxing after a long week? For turning the alarm clock off and sleeping in?  Maybe it’s a desire to be part of something life giving, and bigger than ourselves, that calls all of them.

Forty-Three people showed up six days ago in this room to start a nine week course, “Discovering God’s Vision For Your Life.”  These 43 have chosen to invest 14 hours of their time on Monday nights to talk about God, Vision and Life.  Why?  Because they want to listen deeply for God’s vision, God’s call, for their lives.

Thirty-five.  That’s the number of families that felt called away from one faith community to do something new in Juno Beach almost thirty years ago.  You can see a list of people involved in this call, right over there on the wall.  These people felt called to create the community that became Holy Spirit Lutheran.  Without this call story none of these other call stories would even be possible. Or at least they wouldn’t be the same.

Three Hundred.   That’s about the number of people that will walk through the door of this sanctuary today.  If you’re sitting here you’re in that number.  A question, why are you here, in this moment, right now?  It isn’t by chance.  You could be out golfing.  You could be grocery shopping.  Heck, you could be sleeping off a doozy of a hangover.  I’ve had a few of those.  But you aren’t doing any of those things, you’re right here.  I’d like close with a request.  Take a little time to think about what led you to this very place, and where God may be calling you to from here.



Keep Dancing

On Pentecost Sunday this Spring I gave a sermon, Shut up and Dance, which used the recent pop-rock hit of the same name as a way to understand the Holy Spirit.  The sermon message suggests the Holy Spirit is our divine dance partner, moving with us in lock step through the joys and sorrows of life.  Unfortunately who gets to lead in this divine dance often ends up as one big tug-o-war.  Our culture, more often than not, tells us we should take the lead.  You know the mantras.  Be independent.  Play to win.   Carpe diem.  There can be value in that.  It’s part of who we are as Americans.  For many our rugged individualism defines us.

But that’s not how the Holy Spirit works best.  As the song lyrics go, she asks us to “Shut up and Dance”.  To quiet ourselves enough to look and listen to the Spirit, to join in a dance that transcends our wants and desires. To partake in a dance that calls us to be part of so much more.  And not just to dance, but to let the Spirit take the lead.


Ever since I gave this message the song – currently playing on FM, secular radio stations – pops up in the most amazing places.  One place was on the way to that first Sunday service three weeks ago to join the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran for my internship year.  Another was in the middle of a bit of a spat with my wife.  Earlier this week it was while driving to do home visits with members of the congregation not able to make it to our campus.

Each time the message was clear.  The song reminds me to let go of anxieties, fears, and my need for control. To be still, to shut up, and to listen to the Spirit.  And then to dance, letting the Spirit guide my ways.  May you find the Spirit at work in your life, dancing you away from fear and toward a life of joy, impact and higher purpose.  Amen.

St. Michaeleans: the Epistle

My last sermon at 1925 Birkdale as the Director of Ministry turned into more of a letter than a sermon, in the style of the good apostle Paul.  Either listen to the audio below or read the text. It was fun to craft, hopefully fun to hear. Enjoy!

Good morning! This is my last Sunday with you at St. Michael, man, where has the time gone? I’m no good at saying good-byes, so there will be none of that today. Instead, I’d like to leave you with a gift, a letter to the congregation. This letter began as a class assignment in seminary two months ago, and looking at it I thought hmm, this could make for a half decent final sermon too.

Show of hands, who here has read one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament?  Biblical scholars tell us Paul wrote between seven and thirteen of the letters found in the New Testament, so odds are you’ve read something of his.

Paul’s letters in the New Testament contain some unique quirks you don’t see in too many other places in the Bible. He likes to ask rhetorical questions, and then answer them. This answer is often translated into English as “by no means.” At times he even makes fun of his own handwriting. Listen for these kinds of things in this letter to you.

Paul’s letters also often follow the same structure, there’s a certain order and style he likes to use in each one. His letters begin with a salutation where he greets the community, often giving thanks for them, lifting up the gifts they possess in a positive way. He then typically challenges the community to show the love of Christ to each other in new ways. Paul’s letters then close with personal greetings and a final blessing. Listen for these pieces.

Paul also likes to send people in his letters. Many times Paul is in a distant land when the letter is read locally. The person that brings the letter is tasked with reading it to the community. Often the person Paul sends is asked to stay with the community for a while, to help build them up. For this particular letter to the people of St. Michael, I ask you to suspend reality, just a bit, and pretend two things. One, that the writer is in some distant land far from here, perhaps in prison. And two, that the reader of this letter is, well, not me. Pick someone else in your mind.

Ok, let’s get on to reading this letter, to you, an Epistle to the St. Michaeleans.


Ryan, a Christ-follower and good buds with Paul of Tarsus, and called to be Director of Ministry these past two years among the people of St. Michael, writes to you from afar in St. Paul Minnesota, where he currently resides, a prisoner of the educational system at Luther Seminary. While away in this distant land our Savior has placed the people of St. Michael on my heart yet again, with the Spirit gently nudging me to share many things with you. As I sit here, putting finger to keyboard with mine own hand, while using the Calibri typeset and a font of twelve points, I greet you, above all else, with grace and peace from the Father and our Lord Christ Jesus.

Thanks to the community

Now as you know I have dwelt among you these past five years, first as guest, then member, then seminarian and finally as employed servant. Most importantly I claim a new title for you, beyond guest, member or colleague: I now count you as friends. When I first visited your community, pained from hurt suffered in the church of Boca Raton, you welcomed me, with arms stretched wide, into fellowship among you, to a church that boldly proclaims God’s radical welcome for all.

These years have been a time of healing and spiritual growth as you have modeled to me what a healthy body of Christ can be. Indeed, looking back on previous dark times and also in my prior work in the kingdom of Corporate America, I see now as Paul saw, that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to this purpose. I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, each and every day of my life, for sending me to you.

All are welcome

Indeed, as brother Paul of Tarsus eloquently states, and you so faithfully follow, you exemplify that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, that all of you are one in Christ Jesus. As the community has active among you Greeks and Jews, males and females, and even goes further with inclusion of the straight and LGBT it is clear you take the oneness in Christ Jesus to heart.

With Pastor Weiss, a female, leading you, you include and welcome many fully that other groups of Christ followers do not embrace. That the people of St. Michael welcome groups that others do not, to not just participate but to lead, without hesitation, it speaks well of you. This boldness shows the Spirit is alive in you, calling you to new places for the sake of the gospel. I give thanks to our Lord Christ Jesus for your role in expanding the kingdom in ways that embrace, empower and celebrate the diversity of all people, both within St. Michael and the town of Wellington.

All are not present

But does St. Michael fully reflect the local community in representing everyone in this area according to their presence? By no means! As you know the Haitian, the Latino and Americans of African descent, reside in our city and the surrounding countryside. Indeed, the apostle Paul exhorts us to contribute to the needs of the saints by showing hospitality to the stranger. Living in America, the land of immigrants, and knowing this can we choose to do otherwise?

Therefore, to reflect the fullness of Christ we must come together and include the neighbor. And to do this we must be intentional, to take the gospel to new places. It is not enough to invite those not present in the community. Instead I encourage you, go to them, both the believer and those with doubt, embrace all you meet with the love of God, where they are, as they are. For we are one body in Christ, and have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. If we are not one body in Christ, and instead do not include the neighbor, how much less are the gifts we share?

Atrocious boom box music

While the people of St. Michael are vibrant and full of love, they are not without disharmony on occasion. During a time of change, where you expanded worship of Christ from the traditional hymn to include more modern musical stylings, some among you grumbled. But the Father beckons us to live into the fullness of Christ in new ways. This can be a particular challenge for those that more readily embrace their own ways of worship, their own style.   Again, the apostle Paul guides us well, encouraging people of faith to sing psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts e. As we seek to embrace newness of life in Christ in more ways, ways that excite some and terrify others, let us not forget why we join together in worship: to make melody, lifted to the Lord, from our hearts.

Sending of Another

You may have heard that I will be leaving you soon. This is true. I have been called to preach the good news of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus to the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran, in Juno Beach, for my intern year. You may find yourselves asking, who will lead us in Beer and Hymns? How shall the men’s Bible study go on? Will we again come together for family movie nights, dining on pizza and popcorn while wearing pajamas in the sanctuary?

Fear not, fellow Lutherans! While I mourn the loss of our time together, as some of you also mourn, while others surely rejoice, I am sending someone to this fine community to serve as the new Director of Ministry. This person has been vetted with Pastor Weiss and the Staff Support committee, with all involved parties placing great confidence in their abilities.

This person brings gifts I do not possess, namely an intimate knowledge of outreach needs in our local area, and how to partner with organizations already doing good works here. When the time comes to make this announcement, which will be soon, please welcome this person with open arms into this role as they walk humbly alongside you. Help them, to help you, fulfill the St. Michael mission: to be the Hands and Feet of Christ.

Personal Greetings

Greet Pastor Weiss, who has worked hard for the sake of Christ Jesus, and who risked her neck as both an early female clergyperson and outspoken advocate for those in our society treated as less than. Greet Music Director sister Shirley, who has brought new musical life to the congregation and continues to blend worship tastes both old and new. Greet Administrative Assistant sister Deisy, the Catholic, a diligent worker for Christ that brings joy and humor to all she does. Greet Custodian sister Diane, a gentle spirit, who cleans without complaint. Show her the love of Christ in all ways. Greet Nursery Assistant brother Jared, who possesses great gifts in wrangling children and also teaching them in Sunday School. Greet Youth Director brother Tim, and heap extra prayer on this brother as he continues to recover from time spent at the National Youth Gathering and editing video for our recently completed Vacation Bible School. With the efforts of Tim and the youth we model the love of Christ to many, including the people of Detroit and Wellington.

Greet those belonging to the brotherhood of the Dirty Old Men, in all their numbers, as they work toward the never-ending, and dirty task of keeping the church grounds in tip-top shape. Greet the many who had led Vacation Bible School these past several years, including brother Gregg, sister Holly, brother Andy, and sister Kelly. Their vision and leadership continues to bring new life, and new people to experience this special community.

Greet brother Vern, who journeyed with me recently, in mission to Haiti, and also leads your Outreach committee. Vern serves as a man of few words, when he speaks listen well. Greet sister Barb, who works diligently and with passion across so many groups among you including the Fellowship committee, Facilities Utilization, the Crafters, and most recently worked tirelessly with youth and children for VBS. Greet sister Sue, who puts great effort into the Facilities Utilization and Tenant Boards. Sue performs these tasks with both strength and kindness, a rare and valuable combination. Greet sister Mary, who heads up the Finance committee and now serves as the Church council president. Mary knows, more than many, the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for you. Finally, greet all the members of Council, thanking God for sending them to help lead you, the people of St. Michael, in new and exciting ways. Greet all of these people for me, and also others unnamed, with a holy hug.

Final Instructions and Blessing

I urge you, brothers and sisters, lift up each other in all that you do. Continue to embrace all, regardless of their gender or orientation. Work diligently to embrace all, regardless of their race, ethnicity or status as believers. Embrace all musically, including those that find God in worship by hymn and those that find God in worship through more modern musical forms. For to serve our Lord Christ we must not focus on our own appetites, but instead serve joyfully those who may not look the same, or worship in the same ways as do we. In this way we become one Church, unified in common mission to go forth, boldly proclaiming the good news of our Savior. And in this same way we are better equipped to truly serve as the hands and feet of Christ.

Finally, may the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit, soul and body be kept sound and blameless as you look to our Lord Jesus Christ for guidance. The one who calls you is faithful in all things, and will do this, both now and for eternity. Amen.