September 28, 2013


There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house — for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
 Luke 16:19-31

Abraham’s bosom comforts
the fatherless, wounded weeping son
like a fired hearth, a stew,
and a slow, knowing drum beat at night

all the hurting, sore Lazaruses of the earth
will fly there free and
nuzzle him until the pain is taken up
into God’s own welcoming bosom

but not so for those who lounge
on white leather couches clutching
red wine goblets, who do not know
how to mourn the global wail

not to grieve is a luxury for the numbed
and pharmacologically well-fed
their anesthetic blocks the pain
but also the divine comfort of their longing

so drink up believers the cup of suffering
eat the bread of crumbled brokenness
have your numbed souls cracked open again
let the cosmic sorrow drip into you and feel

September 21, 2013


 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

- Amos 8:4-7

I am the woman who bought your swept up wheat

and fed my toddler dirt and chaff cereal

I bought your tainted formula with poison filler

I used my dwindling public food aid for your inflated urban milk

When the great rising comes and we lowly are lifted first

your eyes will widen white in panic as you stay grounded

rushing to shed your wealth like ballast as I and my children

float up above your head in our promised privileged freedom

and you will wonder if I of all proximal people

would let you grab my heel as I become your helium balloon

and in my singing joy I give you my gracious motherly yes

September 15, 2013

Watson and Crick and Moses and Us

The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation." But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
 - Exodus 32:7-14

Watson and Crick and Moses saw mystery like magi
somewhere within you and all enigmatic things
there is a holy of holies like an empty full space
around which even you turn and turn and return
when the world gets off-balance and wobbles
your mad divine passion burns into the red zone
and dangerous hums sing of disintegration
and one of us feels the heat and touches the edge
calling you to your better side with audacious pleas
and so you turn even more than we do
drawing us into your twisting ladder of mercy
joining us in a double helix of compassion
and we become together, holy and mundane alike
a genome of hope that our mad ends are your becoming

September 8, 2013

Sermon for ELCA's 25th Anniversary

Sermon for ELCA 25th Anniversary Sunday
September 8, 2013
Michael Coffey

If you could sum up the good news of God in Jesus Christ
            in one word, what word would you use?
Love? Forgiveness? Peace?
            We’re Lutherans, right, so we’re supposed to say,
                        justification by grace through faith,
                        but that’s 5 words,
                                    so we’re automatically eliminated from the game.
If you read Paul’s letters,
            he only uses the word a few times,
            but it comes at extremely important points in his letters
                        and seems to sum up all of what he wants to say
about God and Jesus and us:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ,
since God is making his appeal through us;
we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

In other famous parts of Paul’s letters
            we hear him say how the human divisions between peoples,
                        race, gender, class, nationality,
                                    no longer divide because those who are in Christ
                                    are one people, one body, reconciled to each other and God.

I looked up the word, reconciliation.
            The best definition I found was
                        the restoration of friendly relations.
That’s pretty good, and a pretty good way
to talk about the good news of God in Christ.
God is friend to us. We’re friendly with God.  Everything is OK.
            And because of that, we’re friendly with one another,
                        even if we come from disparate backgrounds
                        and don’t speak the same language.
It’s what Jesus was saying to his disciples in John’s Gospel:
            We’re friends now.  We’re reconciled to each other and God.
            And nothing is greater than being called friends.
            Love one another like the friendship I have for you.
            And that is how you will experience the love of God:
                        in the love of human friendship.

Our church body, the ELCA, was formed 25 years ago.
Who remembers what you were doing 25 years ago,
            a year before the Berlin wall fell?
I looked up 1988 on Wikipedia.
            The first event listed is the beginning of Perestoika,
                        the economic restructuring of the Soviet Union.
            The second event they list?  The formation of the ELCA.
                        Well, I guess that’s because they start with January 1st.
            The winter Olympics were in Calgary.
            Indictments were given for the Iran/Contra scandal.
            The Last Emperor swept the Academy Awards.
            The Soviets began withdrawing from Afghanistan.
            Microsoft released Windows 2.1.
            The great Yellowstone National Park fire burned 36% of the park land.
            The Savings and Loan scandal was at its height.
            Lloyd Bentson said to Dan Quayle: You’re no Jack Kennedy.
            George H. W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis in the presidential election.
            The Iran/Iraq war ended with an estimated 1 million lives lost.
            The summer Olympics were in Seoul, South Korea.
            Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Scotland by Lybia.
            Vicars Mike Mackey and John Conrad, our 22nd and 23rd interns,
served First English with Pastor Karli.
            It was the year before First English became
a Reconciling in Christ congregation,
officially and openly welcoming people
of all sexual orientations.
            The green book, the LBW, was only 10 years old.

It was a different world then,
            although some of the problems of today
seem strangely connected to some of the problems then.
After years of study and conversation
            three Lutheran church bodies officially joined as one new church.
                        The American Lutheran Church,
                        The Lutheran Church in America,
                        and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
                                    became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
            I recall the years leading up to the merger,
                        and the conversation about what to call the new church.
            I’m not sure we picked the best name,
                        since the word evangelical is often confusing
                        and we usually end up having to say
                                    we’re not that kind of evangelical.

It was clear then and even more clear now
            that this merger of three Lutheran church bodies
            was no easy accomplishment,
                        and it took a lot of reconciliation.
            High church or low church, synodical or congregational,
                        focused on evangelism or social justice,
                        East coast German or Upper Midwest Scandanavian.
            It took a lot of reconciliation.

What I want to give thanks for today
            as we celebrate the ELCA’s 25 years
            is that the theme of reconciliation has carried on
                        as a major theme in the ELCA.
We are a church body that has gone out of its way
            to break open barriers that separate people
                        and reconcile what has been divided.
We have led the formation of full communion agreements
            with other church bodies, the Episcopal church,
            the Presbyterians, Methodists, UCC, Reformed, Moravians.
We helped lead an agreement with the Roman Catholic church
            that Lutherans and Catholics now understand
            justification by grace through faith in a mutual way!
We are working to reconcile the church as one.

We have worked to move the Lutheran church beyond
            the Garrison Keillor stereotypes of Scandanavians
            and Germans and jello and lutefisk and niceness as the highest virtue.
We may still have a large majority of English speaking white folks, 
            but we are working to be a church for all peoples.
            Our new worship book is a witness to the beautiful diversity
                        that we are and want to be.
We are working to reconcile humanity as one.

We have given of ourselves in countless ministries
            where tragedy and disaster strike,
            and the poor and hungry of the world cry out.
We are working to reconcile the comfortable and the suffering,
            the wealthy and the poor.

We have come a long way in being a church
            where peoples of all sexual orientations are welcome,
            and where women and men serve and lead together.
We just elected our first female presiding bishop.
We are working to reconcile all people in Christ.

If you look at the history of the ELCA
            and many of our individual congregations,
            you’ll see that membership numbers have declined,
            the number of congregations has declined.
There are many factors at work in the life of denominations
            that come from historical expressions of the church,
            leading to a decline in numbers.
If you look at our society today
            you’ll see a significant decline over the past 25 years
            in the number of people claiming any religious affiliation
            and a sad but understandable increase in the number of people
                        who mistrust religious institutions.

I’m telling you this because I want us to admit
            that the past 25 years are not an easy story of growth and success.
I’m telling you this because being a church dedicated to the gospel
            of reconciling all things together in Christ
            is so great a mission and ministry
                        that we should not let the hard part get in the way.
To be a part of God’s reconciling work,
            to be as Paul says, ambassadors of reconciliation,
            is about as great a purpose and calling I can think of.
Our world is being torn apart
            by people who want to separate and divide
                        based on fear and ignorance and selfishness and anger.
            We didn’t realize in 1988, one year after the movie Wall Street came out,
                        that Gordon Gekko’s claim that greed is good
                                    would be taken so seriously.
            But now we are more deeply divided by greed and wealth
                        and class than we have been in a long time.
I hope you join me in a sense of gratitude
            and also a sense of urgency and importance
            in being part of a church tradition
                        that knows the good news of God
is about reconciling us all together
                                    not dividing us by worshiping wealth and blaming the poor.
I hope you feel as I do
            that being a part of the ELCA,
            imperfect though it is,
            is a gift and a calling for 25 years to come
                        that we can work together beyond FELC and ourselves
                        to witness to good news.
The work is never done
but the fruits of reconciliation are always flowering.
We are a church body dedicated to the good news
that God’s grace is for all people
that reconciliation between people and God
is a done deal in Christ Jesus
to be celebrated and shared.
We are ambassadors of God’s friendship
            doing God’s work with our hands,
            speaking words of mutual love,
living in friendship with Jesus and one another
            for God’s sake.