Sermon On Our Time in NOLA

For this week’s sermon, I did something a little different. I had help. Lots of it.

I asked some of the youth that went to New Orleans last week for the Youth Gathering to come up and be a panel to help talk about what we saw, heard, and experienced. I think it’s pretty safe to say, it had a lasting impact on them.

Rather than try to post the text of the sermon, I figured I’d post the audio. Give it a listen. It’s safe to say the experience still echoes even though we’re back home.

Our text for the day was Ephesians 2:13-20.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

That being said, you can find the sermon here.

[I can’t post it on the blog because WordPress doesn’t support DivShare. It’s just too awesome.]

I hope all of you who preached on your experience in New Orleans were met with clear eyes and full hearts.


Devotions from New Orleans: “Eyes Wide Open”

Well, today is our last day of the Gathering. We’re getting ready to receive our benediction back to our everyday lives — whether that’s school or work. The hard part about leaving a place like New Orleans and experiences like the Gathering is keeping the momentum going. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had some considerable highs this week when it comes to our faith and our time together as friends and as children of God. So how do we keep that momentum going? Today’s song can hopefully help us with that.

The line that continually sticks out to me in this song — and it’s the prayer I have for us as we come home — is this:

“God, bruise the heels we’ve dug in the ground, that we might move closer to love.” 

I think our everyday lives can be so polarized by who we are and who we want to be. We live in a very dualistic society. Democrat or Republican. Christian or non-Christian. Cool or uncool. Rich or poor. Gay or straight. The list goes on and on. But the prayer that keeps echoing for me as we prepare to leave this place and go home is that God would bruise the heels that we’ve dug in the ground against each other. Against our neighbors and against our friends.

Because the only thing worth moving toward is love.

What are the things that keep your heels dug in? What are those issues or those things that keep us from loving people? How can we loosen the grip our heels have and move closer to love?

These are the questions we’re pondering today. May it be so.


Devotions from the Big Easy: “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place”

Today is our peacemaking day at Gathering. We get to spend some time in the interaction center and do a bunch of different activities. It’ll be a bit more low key than our previous couple days, but I’m sure it’ll be just as great of an experience. Our song for today might be a bit of an unusual choice, but I think the message is so significant for us as we explore more of New Orleans, as well as exploring more about the Biblical story. Check out today’s song.


That refrain of “we found love in a hopeless place” is, I think, the ultimate Easter refrain. I think that if the gospel were re-made into a hip-hop musical (can we all just take a second to dwell on how awesome that would be?) this song should warrant strong consideration for what the two Marys sing as they run away from the empty tomb. We found love in a hopeless place is the ultimate proclamation of Easter morning.

It’s also a spotty proclamation of a place like New Orleans. For a period of time after Katrina, New Orleans, as almost any disaster area, was a relatively hopeless place. People were starving. Homes and lives were destroyed. But in the midst of this chaos and disaster, there are small glimpses of love in these disasters. We find stories of neighbors — strangers even — helping each other.

The proclamation of our time in New Orleans is the same as the entrance to the tomb.

We found love in a hopeless place.


Devotions from the Big Easy: “Some Nights”


“Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for — Oh, what do I stand for?”

Yesterday was our justice day out in the communities around New Orleans and now today we are getting set for a day of discipleship with the churches from our synod and then out and around the city. The devotion we had this morning was the newest of the songs that we are using. It’s a really catchy song and has some good food for thought for us as we are down here in New Orleans… But I think it asks some good questions wherever you are. Take a listen to it.


 How freaking catchy is that song? I thought it was a revamped version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”. Sounds a bit like it. I think this idea that some nights we feel like we’re going one way and others we’re going another.

Some nights we feel really good about ourselves. Some nights we don’t.

Some nights we believe. Some nights we doubt.

Some nights we feel like we can take on the world. Some nights we feel really beaten down and vulnerable.

Some nights we’re saints. Some nights we’re sinners.

We’ve all felt that pull. We’ve all felt those feelings. This is part of life as a disciple. If we think about some of God’s last nights on Earth — gathering with his friends around the table, laughing, joking, being with each other. That was a great night. The very next night would be something completely different. The life of being a disciple is about taking the good nights with the bad nights and still following all the more.

There’s a line in the end of the song that, I think, marks the proclamation of a disciple.

you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from some terrible lies

That’s what we proclaim today on discipleship day in New Orleans. That’s what we stand for. What do you stand for?


Devotions from the Big Easy: “Excuse Me, Mr.”

Our first full day at the Youth Gathering was spent on “Justice Day”. One of the songs that really hits at my sense of justice is this older Ben Harper tune called “Excuse Me, Mister.” Before we go any further, listen to the song.



One of the things we’re looking at down here on justice day is trying to pinpoint what is justice? Is what is just for someone, just for everyone? Last week in church we read about the beheading of John the Baptist. Where’s justice in that? Or when you think back to the fact that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans 7 years ago — 7 years! — and this city is still reeling from that storm. There are people who are still trying to put their life back together. They’ve spent the last 7 years trying to get back to where they were in 2005. Where is our sense of justice in that?

I think the thing that sticks out with this song, is that it puts the responsibility back on us to help each other. There’s no single person that’s designated as the “Mr.” in the song. But it could be anyone. So many of us, myself included, did nothing in the face of that storm. And not even Katrina, but so often when bad things happen, we feel so detached from each other.

So I think “Excuse Me, Mr” is actually about getting reconnected to ourselves and our responsibility to do what we can to help our neighbor. In Micah 6, we hear about how the prophet is trying to find new ways of atoning for his sins, through different sacrifices and other things like that. The prophet gets a new command that lasts through to our time as well. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

So today we focus on justice.


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