A Nation Possessed

by Lowell Chilton

The massacre in Pulse is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. An armed individual shattered a community, killed forty-nine persons, and physically and emotionally injured many more.

And yet, Sunday was just another day in America.
On any given day in America, 36 people are killed by a gun.
On any given day in America, 76 people are injured by a gun.
On any given day in America, there is at least one mass shooting, where 4 or more people are killed or injured by a gun. Not including the shooter.

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Growing up fast

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of the Lutheran Church of the Cross, Berkeley, CA.
The texts are: 1 Samuel 19-21,26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

I grew up in Tennessee, mostly. After college I moved out to Seattle for a job. Not long after I moved to Seattle, eight or nine years ago, I started volunteering with the youth group in the church I joined.

As is common in many youth groups, a favorite activity of this youth group was the lock-in. Despite my best efforts planning devotions and educational activities, the highlight was usually some variation on turn off the lights and hide.

Back then there was a kid, maybe 13 years old, who was small enough to fit under a small prayer table in the hallway during those hide in the dark games.

Now that kid is as taller than my shoulder, and I am quite tall. This summer I took him out for beer to celebrate his 21st birthday and he came to my moving away party, at a bar.

Time moves quickly doesn’t it. Certainly feels like it today. Jesus was only born two days ago and already we’ve moved on to when he is twelve. Where did the time go?

It seems a little jarring to have just been celebrating the incarnation, the birth of God into the world as Jesus of Nazareth. And now he’s a pre-teen. And like most pre-teen boys I know, he’s showing off, doing what he wants to do, and angering his mom.

All the other Gospel writers skip over this part of God’s time on Earth as Jesus. Mark and John don’t even talk about the birth. John the Baptizer starts foretelling things and then there’s this dude named Jesus preaching and getting followers.


Our ancient creeds skip over this too. To be fair, they also skip over Jesus’ adult ministry. They go from being born to Mary to suffering under Pontius Pilot. It often seems as though Jesus came into the world ready for ministry.

And yet, none of us go from birth to adulthood in one fell swoop. We all grew up, shaped by the world around us, by our relationships with our parents, and by participating in the life of the church.

Despite being God incarnate, Jesus was no different. As God incarnate, Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. As fully human, Jesus grew up surrounded by family, friends, parents, and the practice of religion of the day.

Last week we heard the Magnificat, the Song of Mary to some. Mary sings this song to Elizabeth, but it was probably not her original song, but rather music from her life of faith.

The Magnificat is remarkably similar to the song that Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the other prodigious youngster we heard about today, sings when she finds out that she is pregnant with Samuel. It is thought that this song or a version of it was a part of the worship practice in Mary’s day.

Since Mary spontaneously bursts into church music at learning of the pregnancy, it seems likely to me that she probably continued in her faith practices. She and her husband Joseph brought up Jesus in the life of faith of their household, teaching him the ancient songs and scriptures.

A part of this life of faith was going to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. We only have mention of the family going for Passover, but they likely would also have gone twice more each year, for Sukkot and Shavuot.


When Jesus was twelve, they made the trip for the Passover festival as usual and on the way home they noticed Jesus was missing.

It took them a whole day to notice.

Now they weren’t travelling alone, they were traveling with a large group. It was probably normal for the kids to find each other and walk together, roughhousing and goofing off.

So when he doesn’t show up when they stop for the night, they freak out. They talk to all their neighbors, trying to find out if anyone saw him. Finally, someone tells them that Jesus turned back into the city not long after they left it.


Mary and Joseph rush back to Jerusalem, which is another day’s journey,
they search everywhere-there were a great many pilgrims to search through,
and finally find Jesus at the end of the third day.

In the Temple.

Three days later they find him in the temple being a bit of a show off, impressing all the teachers with his questions and answers.

Now, he is the Son of God, and also God, but perhaps he has these great insights in part because he grew up with the religious formation of Mary and Joseph.

And because he made the yearly pilgrimage. And because he had friends and family and knew the world.

Upon finding him, after three days, his mother rightly gets angry with him:

Child, why have you treated us like this?
Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.


She is past angry, she is furious. And what does Jesus do.

He mouths off at her.

Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?
(NRSV modified (“I must be” -> “it is necessary for me to be”))

I like to imagine Mary responding to this with: “What did you say to me?” and a quick smack on the back of the head.

My great-grandmother says that this Jesus’ first miracle, that he survived back-talkin’ his mama like that.

In the midst of that back-talk though, Jesus was also letting it be known that he knew that he was called to teach, that he was the Son of God, and that he had a destiny to fulfill in the temple.

In this moment, in the temple, Jesus is both a prodigy and a jackass. He is fully human and fully divine.

That’s pretty powerful.

That God would so long for connection with humanity, and indeed with the whole of creation, that God came into the world as a baby.

A baby who grew up.

And in the process of growing up, learned the patterns of the faith from his parents and teachers, absorbed the patterns of life from the world around him, and engaged fully in the world around him, including being a smart-mouth to his mama on at least this one occasion.

That kid from my youth group has grown into a fine young man, but I sometimes still see the kid hiding under the little table in the hallway.

And before we know it, that little kid who was showing off in the temple is hanging on the cross, with his mama crying at his feet. And yet he lives on with us as we carry on the Church of Christ.

As we carry on the Church of Christ, we grow up with the faith and practices of the Family of Christ, of the Body of Christ.

And whether it is the faith of our childhood or something we come to as adults, we grow up in the patterns of the faith:
Christmas and Easter,
Birth and Death,
Baptism and Communion.

Today we are still celebrating the wonder and mystery that is God incarnate, that is God choosing
to live life as a human,
to have a mother and father,
and to be a child.

Let us cherish this moment,
let us dwell in the mystery of God incarnate having a human childhood,
let us not force Jesus to grow up too fast,
but also let us never forget what Jesus does for us when he grows up.

God Keeps Coming into the World in Love

by Lowell Chilton

The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.

The land is divided.

The northern kingdom, Israel, has been in a period of relative peace, both internally and externally. The king who reigned over this time of peace, Jeroboam II, has died. There is now a time of great confusion and violence.

Kings keep being assassinated.
The Assyrians are encroaching on the borders.
Egypt is being invited to help combat the Assyrians.

The world is a terrifying and confusing place.

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Created for Relationship with God and Each Other

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church - Oakland, CA.
The texts are Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, and Mark 10:2-16

And God stepped out on space,
and He looked around and said,
“I’m lonely--
I’ll make me a world.”

These words from the poet James Weldon Johnson frame our lessons today as the story of God’s loneliness and God’s longing to enter into relationship with us and to have us enter into relationship with God.

God longs to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with each other.

Just before our story this morning starts, God created the first human being out of the dust of the ground. This human being walked with God and worked the land and tended the trees but was alone. The first human had no one to share in the labor, to tell of the events of the day, to love and by whom to be loved.

God felt this loneliness and decided to create “a helper as a partner” for the human.

The first attempts at creating a helper as a partner don’t go so well.

This next bit is adapted from something I heard on the Sermon Brainwave podcast that Luther Seminary’s WorkingPreacher.org produces.

Photo by TomasSereda/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by TomasSereda/iStock / Getty Images

Put yourself in the place of the first Human. Standing in a field. Gazing at the trees beyond the field.

You are alone.

In front of you, emerging from the ground, you see a large head, with a great toothy smile and flowing hair. As the head continues to emerge you see a long neck that expands into a strong torso, which grows into gorgeous muscly legs.

And you think, “what a beautiful strong creature. What a partner this will be!"


And then out of its mouth comes “NAAAYYY!”
And you think, “As gorgeous and helpful as this animal is, it is not a partner. I will call this Horse.”

And so it was with the first human. God continued to create farm animals and wild animals and sea creatures and the first human continued to name them. But there was still no partner created.

So God puts the first human into a deep sleep. God takes a bit of flesh out of the side of the first human and crafts that bit of flesh into a new human. The first human wakes up, sees the new human and exclaims:

“That’s it! This is the one! This one is just like me, and shall be called Partner”

God felt the loneliness of the human being and after much trial and error created a partner for the human being, another human being. God created us to be in relationship with one another, as equals. As partners in life. As sustainers of community.

God longs to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with each other.

But God was still lonely, for though God had created the world, and the plants and the animals, and the people, we were still separate from God. We still ignored God. We failed to be in relationship with God.

And God still longs to be in relationship with the world that God made.

So God became human. When Jesus of Nazareth was born of Mary, God came fully into relationship with the world that God created. God walked among us. God ate with us. Joked with us. Taught with us. Loved with us.

Died with us.

Because of this relationship, because of this love, when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, God took on all of our suffering and death to sin and carried it.

And yet, we continue to pull away from God.

We continue to hurt those we are created to be in community with.
We continue to suffer the hurts done to us by others created to be in community with us.
We continue to fall prey to sin and death.

And yet God still longs to be in relationship with us and for us to be in relationship with each other.

In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther writes that our baptism is a daily drowning of sin and a daily rising to new life in Christ. Our baptism in the water binds us to Christ and binds us to one another, so that through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, our sufferings and our death to sin in taken on by God and each day is continually taken on by God.

We are always being made new through the cross and through the waters of baptism.

One of the ways we are being made new is through the church.

The Church is larger than we can possibly imagine. Some parts of it have steeples and hymnals and robes and organs. Some parts of it have praise bands with guitars and projector screens. Some parts of it gather around a table with a drum. Some parts of we wouldn’t see as church at all.

We are gathered today as a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As members of the ELCA, we participate in the many ways it reflects the love of God to the world, especially the ELCA’s Malaria campaign and its presence around the world as first responders through Lutheran Disaster Response.

And here in this place, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, the church is alive. Here there is a long history of justice and community outreach. Here there is a legacy of this congregation is life and rebirth. Here today this rebirth continues today in community ministries and the love you show your neighbors.

When we come together to worship,
when we gather around this font or around this table,
when we sing together,
when we pray together,
when we work together,
when we march together,
when we protest together,
when we eat together,
when we laugh together,
when we cry together
we are joined with all those who came before us
and all those who will come after us
and all those who are with us here and all around the world
and we reflect God’s love into the world.

Not through anything we do, but because God so longs for relationship with us that God joins us to God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And through the living Word, through the community of the Holy Spirit, and the everlasting Church, God continues to walk with the world, to eat with the world, to joke with the world, and to die with the world.

God so longs to be in relationship with God’s creation that God continues to take on the suffering of the world and the sin and death of the world and carry it to the cross.

And Christ continues to rise, inviting us to live as people who are joined to the cross and who live to reflect Christ’s love in the world.

For God so longs to be in relationship with us, that God created us to be in relationship with God and with one another.

God created the first human and all the fish and the animals and the plants of the earth because God longed for relationship.

God saw that the first human was alone and so deeply longs for relationship that God created the second human being as “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” to be a partner for the first human so that we too might live in relationship.

And God became human in Jesus of Nazareth, took on our suffering and death on the cross, and brings us daily into new life because of God’s longing for true relationship with God’s creation.

Now and forever more.

Walking Across the Sea, Jesus said to them "It is I; do not be afraid."

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of University Lutheran Church - Seattle, WA.
The texts are Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21

It is good to join you this morning as we gather as the Living Body of Christ. I have been gone from this community for the last year as I have been with Holy Trinity Lutheran on Mercer Island as a field learning experience as a part of my seminary education. It is good to be home.

I am home in another way as well. This past week, I was in Atlanta for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Worship Jubilee. Over the past week I experienced well-crafted worship in many styles, learned in workshops, and met interesting people from around our church. It was an amazing week and I am filled with joy for the future of the church.

Also this week, I awoke on Friday morning to learn of the attempted massacre in a movie theater in Lafayette Louisiana. And then to learn that one of the women killed, Jillian Johnson, graduated from my high school the year before me. As is often the case with people with whom we attend school, I did not know her well, but people who I knew well knew her well. And the community of my youth is grieving.

After a week of being fed in the spirit through worship, prayer, fellowship, and meal, I awoke to great sorrow. 

Sorrow for the life of a classmate and the grief of a community.

Sorrow for a country in which gun violence is all too common.

In the past month in our country, we have had a rash of shootings for which to feel sorrow. Charleston, Chattanooga, Lafayette.

And these are not the only shootings in our country. You see, also last week, according Slate magazine, there were at least fifteen murder-suicides involving guns. Eleven of these were men killing women.

In one week, at least eleven murder-suicides with men killing women with guns.


In a week that for me was filled with joy and love and hope.

This is some serious emotional whiplash.

In our gospel lesson today, the disciples have a similar experience of emotional whiplash.

They spend the day with Jesus preaching. They witness an amazing miracle of abundance. They witness Jesus provide a plentiful, overflowing meal from next to nothing. After all, as Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber said this week, “nothing is like God’s favorite material.”

Photo by Oskari Porkka/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Oskari Porkka/iStock / Getty Images

And then they go out to sea, to cross to Capernaum. As they were crossing the sea a wind came upon them and the sea became rough. After a little while crossing the sea, they saw Jesus coming toward them, walking, across the sea.

In the midst of the topsy-turvy wake of the rough sea, they saw Jesus walking toward them and they became more afraid. For they seemed to not know him.

Until he said “It is I; do not be afraid.

It is I; do not be afraid.

And immediately they reached the other side.

The disciples experienced the sharp whiplash of joy and hope turning to fear and despair. And they were met by Jesus and he calmed their hearts and brought them to the other side.

At the Worship Jubilee, Bishop Eaton reminded us that as LutheranChristians, we are Theology of the Cross people. I think for many of us, this theology flows through us like the post-worship coffee – a natural part of who we are and our life together as people of faith.

The Theology of the Cross is as Paul writes in today’s Epistle - we are grounded in the love of God made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through this life, death, and resurrection we are in a fuller relationship with God than anything we could possibly hope to do on our own.

This fullness frees us from the weight of sin and guilt. 

As Theology of the Cross people, we know that we are freed from worry about doing enough or being good enough or holy enough.
We are freed from the things that tie us to the world. We are freed to try to change the world for the better, knowing that God is there with us, helping us along the way.

Even before Jesus’ death, he was there, calming their souls. When he reached the disciples and proclaimed “It is I; do not be afraid.” He calmed their hearts in the storm and set them free.

And through the Living Body of Christ, Christ continues to calm hearts and declare “It is I; do not be afraid.”

We all are welcomed into and participants in the mystery that is the resurrection of Christ. We are members of the church catholic, the Living Body of Christ, which carries on from the beginning. And we are freed to work toward the creation of a more just and safe society. 

We are freed to dwell in the sorrow of a classmate’s senseless death in a movie theater secure in grace and peace of Christ.

We are freed to confront the knowledge that this week there were at least eleven other murder-suicides with men killing women secure in the hope of the future. 

We are freed to step out of our box and say “It is I; do not be afraid.” and to manifest the grace and peace of Christ which calms hearts and settles seas.

Of course, this will rarely sound like “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Most likely it will take the form of a gentle touch on the shoulder of a worried friend.

Or a letter to a legislator advocating better gun control or better funding for mental health.

Or a prayer that remembers the names of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson and commends their souls to God.

Or a reforming movement in the church catholic and in society which no longer allows shootings like the ones this week to become just background noise as we move on to the next male-centered TV show.

Or a voice raised in a song of lament or protest.

When we do any of these things, we make a statement that the Living Body of Christ is near, walking across the turbulent sea, and proclaiming “It is I; do not be afraid.”

This morning, as we gather around this meal and join in the communion with all the saints, with the Living Body of Christ that was and is and ever shall be, and proclaim together Christ’s death and resurrection in the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, may we be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

May we be filled with the fullness of God and secure in the knowledge that truly goodness is stronger than evil and in Christ all things are brought into the fullness in God.

May we be carried forth from this place secure in the hope and peace of God which surpasses all understanding, freed through the cross to be agents of change in our society, proclaiming to all the world that the living Christ is here and is saying “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Amen and Amen