We have moved

Hey everyone! Awesome news: The Fire Escape has moved to a new address lutheranfireescape.net. We hope to see you all there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mercy for the in-between – a sermon on Ferguson and Thanksgiving

Author’s note: I don’t usually post my sermons on this blog, mostly because I don’t write anything down when I preach, but if you are interested in what an inner-city pastor preaches on Thanksgiving (with Ferguson in the headlines) then here you go. Word of warning: I can in no way guarantee this is exactly what I said.


Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

I want to talk to you today about being “in-between” and where we find our God. 

I’ll be honest… I’m a secret perfectionist. It may not seem like it (especially if you have ever seen my office), but my attitude is usually “do it well” or “don’t do it at all.” So being “in- between” is not easy for me. I want people to choose one way or another, but not to choose both. I want people to do one thing or another, but not to try and do both. I want people to be one thing or another, but not to do both.

In our gospel lesson today Jesus is going “through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” Between Samaria and Galilee is not an easy place to be. Good Jews from Galilee don’t associate with those Samaritans… those half breeds, those unclean people and Samaritans can’t stand those people from Galilee who always look down their noses at them.

Sound familiar yet.

Here is little fact: geographically, there is no place “between Samaria and Galilee.” Galilee and Samaria are right next to each other.

Luke could just have no clue about geography, but I think he is trying to make a point.

The honest truth of the matter is this: We don’t like the “in-between” place. We want things to be one or the other, but not both. For the love of God be good or evil, but not both. For the love of God be right or wrong, but not both. Through all of that it is hard to admit that our beliefs are a little more “in-between” then we really want to admit.

Daren Wilson has to be right or wrong, but he can’t be both. Michael Brown has be right or wrong, but he can’t be both. The protesters are good or evil, but not both. The police are good or bad, but not both. Through all of this it is hard to admit that our side might be a little more “in-between” then we think.

It’s hard to admit that the things we might be giving thanks for this Thanksgiving, our luxuries and comforts, might be not be as clearly good as we think. As wonderful as my Xbox is, or as wonderful as it is for me to able to afford to fly to see family it is hard for to admit that perhaps those things are also signs of my wealth and power. In the holidays we are forced endure images of perfect families, perfect meals, and perfect people. It’s hard to admit that our whole lives might be a little more in-between Galilee and Samaria than we want

In our story we happen upon ten lepers. There is no real in-between for the lepers; they are true outcasts. Neither Galilee nor Samaria will have them. No one will welcome them and no one wants them.

Yet the gospel of the matter is this: it is precisely in this in-between place that these lepers find God. It is preciously in this place, this place where we really don’t want to be with these people who nobody really wants, that the living and loving God is found.

It is precisely in this place, and precisely by these outcasts, that the best response to all that going in our world, our nation, and our community is uttered: “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”

Healing is found in this in-between place. The Word of God is found in this in-between place. Between Samaria and Galilee the lepers find God. And not an angry God, not the God of fire and brimstone, not the God who declares victors and losers. Instead these lepers find God in Jesus Christ. The God who truly listens and truly sees them. The God who truly heals instead of a God who ignores them. The God who is found not just on Zion or any other hill, but in the in-between places. In the burned and destroyed places. In the rough and dirty places.

I am absolutely convinced of this: in the place between protesters and police we will find God.

I am absolutely convinced of this: We will find God in the place between our imperfect famlies

The only question then is this: where do you claim to be? 

Do you claim to be on the right side? On the clean side?

Or do you claim to be in the in-between place? Do we, as a church, dare be in that place where no one wants to be?

Because I can absolutely assure you that God is there. I can absolutely assure you that the healing and love of God is in that in-between place. I can absolutely assure you that God calls us to truly listen and to truly see just as Jesus did when he was walking between Galilee and Samaria.

And I can also guarantee that the people of God have age after age done their best work when they have been in that place uttering that same cry of the lepers:

“Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”


Posted in The Word, The World | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Four beliefs about ministry that I got completely wrong

It's called ministry...right?

It’s called ministry…right?

Here is a revelation about me: I’m frequently wrong.

And I don’t mean every day, run of the mill mistakes either (although that certainly happens too). I mean mistakes on the scale of Greedo thinking it was a good idea to try and get Han Solo in that bar in Star Wars Episode IV. If ministry has taught me anything it is that my beliefs are, on a daily basis, proved wrong. Continue reading

Posted in The Church, The Word | Tagged , | 1 Comment

All I have – Matthew 25:1-13

Not quite what I had in mind...

Not quite what I had in mind…

I have a confession to make: I have sincerely prayed “Amen! Come Lord Jesus.” And I don’t mean “come Lord Jesus” in a “I hope I have a meaningful communion experience” way or “I hope I meet Jesus in the face of the poor today” way. No… I mean that I have prayed that statement from scripture with the hope that Jesus would come down on the clouds right then and there. I mean that I have prayed that statement sincerely hoping for a full-on apocalypse.

And yes… I am still a faithful Lutheran. Continue reading

Posted in The Word | 3 Comments

Hymns for a difficult church: retrospective on Millennials & Church

Somethings not quite right...

Somethings not quite right…

I have a confession to make… There are certain hymns that I just can’t stand.  These aren’t complicated, hard to sing hymns either. No, I mean that there are classic hymns whose lyrics drive me crazy. Why is my ire directed at these church favorites? Because they reflect a spirituality that I just don’t understand. A spirituality that even confuses me. They reflect a spirituality that seems to skip over the extreme difficulty of this whole faith thing. By skipping over that difficulty we confuse and isolate a lot of people; especially in the so called “Millennial generation.”  Continue reading

Posted in The Church | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The good, the bad, and the ugly: the weekly roundup

The-Good-The-Bad-and-The-Ugly-movie-poster-1020415096The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the greatest westerns ever made and also one of my favorite movies. It also makes for a convenient structure for talking about what I’ve been reading and learning this week. Don’t worry though, no three-way duels to the death here (although if you feel like humming the theme music from the movie while read this go right ahead). Continue reading

Posted in The Word, The World | Leave a comment

5 Reasons why inner-city ministry is awesome

The Church I am pastor of... believe me, it's here to stay.

The Church where I am pastor… believe me, it’s here to stay.

“That Church is so beautiful. If only it wasn’t in that neighborhood…”

Someone says that comment to me on a regular basis these days. You see, I’m pastor of church in the inner-city. My Church is a beautiful cathedral of building that was built in the 1930’s. Since that time the neighborhood has changed. The neighborhood is more African-American, less white middle class, and has a lot more abandoned buildings then there were in 1936. So when I tell people that I am the new pastor in town and then tell them where the conversation frequently goes like this: “Oh… I love your building. Too bad it is in that neighborhood. ”

And you know what? I love the building too, but I also love the neighborhood. Actually, it’s not just “the neighborhood” but MY neighborhood because I live right next door to the church. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade my neighborhood for anything. Continue reading

Posted in The World | Tagged , , | 5 Comments