In pm's words
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April 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

April 2017 Newsletter


I pray and hope that each of you reading this are doing well as the weather begins to get warmer. Hopefully the yellow tint of the world at the moment isn’t keeping you too down and out!

So, spring is finally here! The weather is getting warmer, flowers are beginning to bloom, and animals are starting to emerge and add their noise to the melody of life around us. Spring just might be might favorite season. That which was old and dead has new life bursting from it.

As winter transitions to spring, one of my favorite activities is to just sit and listen. Listening to the life that is beginning to wake up and burst forth around us. I love the sound of birds and animals chirping and ‘speaking’ in their own way. I imagine they are calling out to the world, “We’re still here! You can’t hold us down!” I love hearing those noises after the ‘dead’ silence of winter.

What would our world – what would we - be like if we were this excited and eager to proclaim and share? We have an amazing message to give to those around us in our community. We can shout from the rooftops towards the world, “We’re still here! You can’t hold us down!” Why? Christ is here! God has redeemed the world through Jesus’ saving action on the cross. The Spirit is guiding us towards a life that reminds us that we are not dead. That we live a life of new life. Of eternal life. All because of what God has done in Christ for the world.

As we approach the end of the season of Lent we continually become more excited about the message of Easter. That thrum and heartbeat of new life continues to build and resonate through our very depths. The closer Easter approaches, the louder and quicker that beat drums. Throughout Lent we build up to proclaim this message to the world.

That’s an exciting message to proclaim. So, get out. Shout! Speak to the world. Drive back the ‘dead silence’ with the proclamation that Christ is a victor over death and we are joined into that victory through our baptisms! What a wonderful story to share with those around us!

Join in with the birds and the animals in the celebration of new life! Add your voice to the orchestra of proclamation of God’s victory in Christ! Let’s do this!

 




March 27, 2017, 8:09 AM

the one about hearing...


Sermon from March 26, 2017

Text: John 9: 1-41

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, like I said, these past few gospel readings and even the next two are all exceptionally long. They are also packed with so much information that we can’t cover everything. In all of this it seems like I – like we – do a disservice to these texts because we can’t cover everything that they speak about. Sometimes that is frustrating, but in other ways it is very freeing as well. Allowing us the opportunity to just focus in on one thing, while opening up our curiosity to dive in further for the others.

This morning we get to look in on something that I think we all assume is about one thing – sight and light. And, that’s true. It is about sight and light. A man who was born blind is healed with regained sight. He was blind, now he sees. Jesus talks at length about sight and blindness. Everyone wants to know how this man can now see. Was he really born blind or was he pulling one over on everybody throughout his life? This text indeed centers a lot around sight, light, and blindness.

But, as I read this text again I started to notice something else too. This text also centers around ‘conversation’ and ‘hearing’. I want to pose a question – does anyone actually hear this newly healed man? To make it easy for you, yes – but, only one person actually listens to him. Our Lord listens and speaks with him.

No one else does.

The disciples talk about him in a way to make sense about their discomfort in his existence. What I mean by that is that they speak about the blind man in front of them and ask Jesus why this man is blind. Is it his fault or the fault of his parents? The man’s ‘sin’ brings them unease because they don’t know how to process his very being among them. His existence is an outlier to what they consider normal or routine. They use him as a seminary discussion topic. They don’t talk to him, they talk about him to figure out what went ‘wrong’.

Yet, when Jesus does speak to him – he doesn’t accuse him or place blame on him. He spits and wipes mud on his eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.

The neighbors that see him don’t talk to him. They babble among themselves if this is really the guy that they’ve known for so long. Even when the man attempts to tell him that he is in fact that man, they ignore him.

The Pharisees – those in authority within the Jewish society – speak words to this man, but they don’t talk to him. They don’t even really listen to him. They don’t even want to know that he’s been healed; they want to know how and by who. They want to know just the means of his healing and if it was ‘lawful’ to conduct it. Because if he was healed on the sabbath, then obviously, it wasn’t of God because we aren’t supposed to do anything on that day and everyone knows better.

Even the man’s parents don’t talk to or about him. They tell the authorities to just talk to their son. They don’t know what’s going on and they aren’t going to find out.

No one talks. They spout words, accusations, and blame. Nobody talks to this man. He wasn’t ‘worthy’ to talk in his previous state and even now there must be some dubious reason as to why he has been ‘healed’ (if he really ever was blind).

Even today, we don’t do a very good job at talking with one another.

When I walk and journey with couples in premarital conversations leading up to their wedding date, one of the first things we go over is communication. We have a habit as people that when we talk, we talk only to respond and never to hear or listen to the other person. We pay attention just enough in order to respond in some fashion. I listen to hear what I want and I keep that thought in my head until you quit moving your mouth so I can respond. Sometimes we respond to the ‘good’ things another speaks about, but we really practice this ‘non-attentive’ listening when we disagree with something. Especially when it concerns something about us in some way.

This happens among our relationships with our friends and our families. It happens within marriage. We see it on display in almost every conversation we witness on television. Whether people are talking about sports, religion, or politics no one is actually having a conversation, it’s just voices rising above one another.

We fail to listen, because we see what we want to see. We speak to that in order to prove what we perceive in those around us.

Yet, here comes Jesus again throwing our worldview upside down.

He refuses to place blame on this man born blind. Instead he heals him to show God’s glory and power. Jesus speaks with and listens to this man not because he has been healed, but because he is a creation and child of God. He speaks with him because of whose he is.

For me, that’s pretty powerful and speaks directly to us as well. We all – even I many times – have a bad habit of not speaking with others. We love to talk about others. Especially those people who are different from us in some way. When we are afforded the opportunity to develop a potential relationship and conversation with another, we do so in such a way to confirm our own preconceived notions. We don’t listen to them.

This morning we get to be witness to this miraculous sign of a man receiving sight for the first time in his life. All throughout this story we are witness to people who can’t even talk with this man about what has happened. They talk at him, they talk around him, but they don’t talk with him.

He is witness and product of the greatest sign in his entire life – he wants to talk to anyone and everyone about this wonderful gift; yet, no one will talk with him.

The disciples don’t. The neighbors won’t. The Pharisees don’t listen. Even his parents kick the can down the line.

The only one who does listen is our Lord. The only one who will look him in his new filled with life eyes to tell him what this means. He’s the Son of man.

The Son of Man – our Lord – Jesus who is the Christ has come into the world to bring light and life. Our God has opened our eyes through his life, death, and resurrection so that we might see the truth and life around us. In that seeing, we are invited to be in conversation not only with God through prayer and thanksgiving, but we also are invited to be in conversation, relationship, and love with those around us.

Even and especially with those we could not see before – the homeless, the naked, the afraid, the hungry, the hurt.

As the light shines on and in the kingdom of heaven in our midst – we cannot help, but see, hear, and listen to those around us. Inviting them not only to hear the word of God proclaimed through our lips, but to share in our life with them. To hear them. To know them more fully. To be able to better care for them completely.

We can’t bring healing and wholeness – even with the Word of God – if we cannot see or if we refuse to see the hurt and the needs of those around us. Even if we do see, even if we do somehow resist the urge to be ‘blind’ to others hurts and needs, we can’t help unless we talk and listen.

Our Lord shows us the way. Jesus is the light. Let us follow. Amen.

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March 20, 2017, 9:29 AM

the one about barriers and conversations


Sermon from March 19, 2017

Text: John 4: 5-42

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, wow. That was a long reading, right? Well, get used to it because the next few weeks are all very long readings. Every three years we get to this point in the lectionary where we hear Jesus speak with an individual in an extended discourse. Last week we got a taste of that as we listened in on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus at night. Today, we listened in on Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well of her village.

Because we are so removed from the climate and culture of the time in which we read of this morning, we lose a little bit of the radical shock and scandal that Jesus has stepped into and lived through. There’s a lot going on in this story from John’s gospel – and I won’t be able to cover all of it here, but there really and truly is a lot going on.

But, the one thing that I did want us to focus in on is the sheer desire of our Lord to cross those boundaries that others are unwilling to venture near. Our Lord breaks so many cultural taboos in our gospel reading this morning. He goes above and beyond what anyone else would do. He goes against the norms of the day in order to speak with, begin relationship with, and to bring God’s presence.

In that desire – through that love for all – Jesus welcomes this woman at the well into the life of faith, and if I’m being honest and a little scandalous here – in John’s gospel she becomes the first apostle. She hears our Lord, she’s compelled to share his message, she invites others to know him as well, and she leads them to that source of new life. That’s the definition of an apostle y’all.

This morning we are confronted with our Lord – our God – who travels boldly over those boundaries and taboos in order to be with all those who yearn and need to hear this word of love and grace. Jesus – a Jew – enters into a Samaritan village.

Then we listen in on Jesus’ conversation about water while sitting at a well. The person he is speaking to is a Samaritan. Samaritans are the ‘culturally bad’ people that good Jewish boys and girls are told to stay away from. Samaritans are outsiders and in a culture that focuses on ritual purity and cleanliness you didn’t mix what was considered ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ with what was considered ‘good’ in your own culture.

For us there really isn’t a central cultural group that we all have strong feelings against. There are some that would attempt to put or name a group here that there are a lot of tensions with – strong tensions – but, it still wouldn’t encompass that for everybody. But, to drive the point home for each of us; imagine that Jesus approached a person who was from a group you have the most tension with and towards.

I don’t want to put words in your head – so I’m not going to name groups of people – but, think about that group that you would most like to not be seen around. That group that you would steer clear of, you caution everyone you meet to be wary of ‘those people.’ That is a different group for each of us.

Now, you got that group in your head? Good. Know this; Jesus goes to talk to them. Jesus goes to show them love. Jesus steps over your own boundaries and walls that you’ve erected in order to be with them; fully and completely.

Jesus deliberately travels across that boundary through this area of Samaria. In spite of those who cautioned him to steer clear, Jesus does it anyways. He’s not here to maintain status quos.

And not only does he talk to a Samaritan, but he talks to a woman! And not just talk to her but, out in public! In the middle of town where everyone else came to get their water. This isn’t some back-water hole on the outskirts of town. This is the famous well given to them by their ancestor Jacob! This is what their town was built around. Jesus isn’t about having ‘secret’ meetings to talk about faith and proclaim the kingdom.

So, not only does Jesus talk to a Samaritan. Not only is he talking to a woman. Not only is he talking to her in public. But, he is talking to her as an equal! This isn’t supposed to happen. Women, at this time, were unfairly treated and not given the same level of equality as that of men. Jesus comes into conversation with anyone and everyone. He is not interested in limiting the message that is to be proclaimed for all the world – for all people. All are to hear this message – equally. There is no barrier to hear OR proclaim.

Yet, Jesus continues doing unthinkable things. On top of all of these barriers that Jesus is breaking – his conversations centers a bit around sex! Jesus – come on – what are you doing! Jesus is out there in public talking to this woman about the ‘husbands’ she’s had and that the current guy she’s shacked up with isn’t even her husband now. Yet, Jesus talks to her and tells her about who he is and what he brings. Jesus doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects nor does he appear to limit his message from individuals who live a life different than he’d probably want.

Jesus is there sharing and proclaiming the everlasting water. Jesus is there telling her who he is.

Nowhere else in John’s gospel is Jesus as direct about his own identity than he is here with the woman at the well.

Jesus is ‘I am.’ Jesus steps across the cultural and physical boundaries and divides and offers himself to one on the other side. He gives of himself freely to this woman who is on the outside of the life of faith in which Jesus was raised in and in which he initially proclaimed towards. Jesus comes to speak and share with one who was pushed to the cultural outskirts of her own people.

He speaks with her. He shares with her. He invites her into a deeper relationship. He sends her to bring her ‘husband’ as well.

But, she doesn’t do that. Instead, she goes to tell everyone about who this man is. Not only does she tell them, she invites them to see him, know him, to be with him.

She’s an apostle. She’s an evangelist. She’s one of the first.

All because Jesus was willing to break down those barriers and have a real conversation with someone. Jesus comes to be in a real relationship with this woman. He never dismisses her, despite that people would more than likely consider her dismissible. He doesn’t talk about her previous relationships in a way to talk down to her – but in mentioning it to prove who he is. How else would this stranger who had never met her know these things?

In our own conversations with those who are ‘different,’ with those who live a life a little (or even vastly) different from our own. We tend to talk ‘down’ to those who we don’t agree with totally. We tend to speak negatively. Where our conversations aren’t truly ‘loving’ or ‘full of care’ because we don’t agree with how that other person has lived. And then if we even attempt to have the conversation about faith – its ended before its even begun. Those conversations don’t center around the gift of life that comes from Jesus – no matter who you are – but, instead devolve into something that sounds like, “If you had this that I offer – you wouldn’t be the way you are now.”

Jesus doesn’t talk to this woman that way and I don’t think we’re called to that either. Like Jesus – we can have conversations with all around us about faith and life where we share and grow with one another. Because we get to share this wonderful message of a Savior who comes to be in relationship with us. A relationship of love and care. A God who isn’t afraid to acknowledge the sin – but doesn’t use it as a club over our heads.

Instead – Jesus states the elephant in the room – and says – Listen, I know about this. I’m still here. I still want to be with you. I still want to share with you. I still want you to be with me because my love is more than that. It always will be. No matter what. On top of all that – Jesus wants her to share the message he brings. This woman at the well is sent to proclaim God’s word.

Jesus is there calling us to be in relationship with folks – to be in conversations – to proclaim this message of love, acceptance, and grace. Within those conversations there will be times of awkwardness – but, we are called to proclaim.

We get to share this wonderful message of Christ to the entire world. There’s little that can or should keep us from sharing the message, nor is there anything that keeps people from receiving this message – this grace – this love of God. That’s awesome.

Jesus shares this message and invites us into this conversation of love even with those on the outskirts. Even with those whom we disagree with. So, if Jesus is willing talk to those whom we call ‘them,’ surely Jesus is willing to talk, invite, share with, and love us.

Jesus is at work – in us, through us, for us. Jesus is out having the conversations – we get to be a part of that. I love it. Amen.

 

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March 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the question...


Sermon from March 12, 2017

Text: John 3: 1-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it is an age-old question. It is a question that many have debated, it has split traditions, churches, and families. It is a question that is asked within this conversation that we ‘spy’ in on within our gospel this morning. That question?

Is it born from above or born again? What and perhaps who is Jesus talking about?

The oddest and at times maddening part about all this is that Jesus answers a question that appears so far out of left field. In fact, Nicodemus doesn’t even ask a question let alone the question that Jesus is answering. Nicodemus here is still ‘buttering’ up Jesus in hopes that he sees his approach to him in a non-threatening way.

The image that always pops into my mind as I read John 3 is that of an old film-noir crime story. Two individuals meet in secret in the dead of night with only a lone street light lighting them both. You know those conversations always have deeper significance and ulterior motives. After the conversation ends, the party that arranges the meeting fades back into the cold darkness never to be seen again.

Thinking of it in that way, I can surmise that Nicodemus truly wanted Jesus to know that he doesn’t come with ulterior motives, not at behest of the Jewish authorities and religious elite to which he is a member.

Nevertheless, Jesus cuts right to the chase.

One must be born from above or be born again/anew.

Naturally, we along with Nicodemus are taken aback. The ‘answer’ to the unasked question seems so out there that we are literally caught off guard. When we collect ourselves, we too ask the same questions that Nicodemus does. Still, Jesus’ response hits us square in the gut. Now, he’s answering a question that isn’t being asked as our Lord talks about being born from the Spirit.

As this conversation unfolds, we try to view this all as something that we must do. We must be born from above/again. It is here that I’m being more and more convinced that Jesus just might not be talking about us. Perhaps, just maybe – Jesus is referring to himself.

As we enter into the second week of our Lenten journey, we are confronted with the sin that has been with us from the beginning of time. The sin that it’s all about ‘us.’ That sin where everything revolves around me. They must be talking about me. That’s all about us. Everything.

Now, naturally what God does is indeed for us. In fact, those words ‘for you’ are pivotal to our understanding of the meal in which we will partake in just a few moments and in which we get to receive each week. We know that this meal – this act that we are linked to of Jesus’ ‘final’ supper with his disciples – is indeed for us. We know in our forgiveness through Jesus’ loving action of salvation on the cross we are fed this meal.

It is for us.

But, when so many important, pivotal, and monumental moments of our scripture point towards us, there is the sin that leaks in everywhere else – that everything must be about us.

Yet, here I still think that Jesus is referring to himself.

Nicodemus is stating all those ‘buttery’ truths about Jesus; he is from God, he performs miraculous signs and deeds. No one could do that apart from God.

Jesus agrees, accept he isn’t just a teacher. He’s the one born from above. He’s the one who has come down to point us towards a birth in spirit. He’s the one who sees the kingdom of God at hand. He’s the one who not only has come from God, he isn’t the one who only has God present with him, he is literally of God.

The one sent from above.

Throughout the season of Lent we do a lot of stuff that’s pretty selfish. Sure, selfish for our own Good. But, many of us – myself included at times – view our Lenten disciplines as little ‘new year’s resolutions 2.0.’ It didn’t stick 2.5 months ago, so I’m going to ‘re-up’ during Lent.

I’m going to the gym so I can be in better shape.

I’m going to give up cursing so I can be a better person.

I’m going to give up chocolates/dessert/sweets because I don’t need that…as much.

It’s always about us.

As we read this part of John’s gospel, maybe it’s not always about us. Maybe, just maybe it’s about Jesus. Also, just a pastor point – the way in which John’s gospel is written it is usually more about Jesus than it is about us.

We love John’s gospel so much because it swiftly and deftly points everything to Jesus. Jesus is the one in control. The signs he performs point to him. Every word that comes from his lips, every act that he performs, every step his feet take him – point to who he is.

Jesus cries out to us in so many subtle and direct ways that he’s talking about himself. It’s as if he is pointing at his own chest as he speaks here. Then, and only then, does he breathlessly utter those words that we love so dear. Those words that we have reduced to car bumper stickers, notes written on eye-black, hashtags upon social media, and more.

After Jesus points to himself as the one born from above we receive John 3:16 – For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Don’t worry – I purposely used a different translation than one I’d imagine you are used to hearing. Hearing things in similar ways helps us hear it again as if for the first time.

God sent the one from above to be present with us. That is how much God loves us – sending us God’s own from above to be with us. As Nicodemus begins ‘buttering’ up Jesus with truth and accolades, Jesus is busy building Nicodemus and us up to see our Lord for who he really is.

Yet – thankfully – Jesus doesn’t stop there. We hear that God loves the world. God has sent the Son. God seeks eternal life, not death. He then continues -  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.

Folks – throughout John’s gospel Jesus is talking about who he is. He points to where he’s come from. He invites us into that relationship of love, worship, and service. He reaches out in words and actions to grab a hold of us as if to say, “I’m here. I’ve always been here. I love you. Do not be afraid. Let’s get to work.”

The beginning of this conversation spoken in the darkness of night, points to the one born from above, the one who brings light to the world, the one who is the light of the world. The one who was indeed sent from God – God’s own – to bring life and not death. For God did not send this one – God’s own son – to sentence us, but so that we all might be saved through him.

So, it might not always be about us when Jesus is talking – especially in John’s gospel. But, in that love that God has for us and through our Lord – it always ends up being for us.

That’s what I want to remember during Lent. It’s not always about us, but it just might always be for us and the world. That’s how God loves. That’s the love that Jesus invites us into as well. Amen.

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March 6, 2017, 7:05 AM

the one about jesus in the wilderness...


Sermon from March 5, 2017

Text: Matthew 4: 1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

So, here we are. Lent has begun. Again. On this first Sunday in Lent we are reminded again of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Wilderness. A place far away. Removed from the world.

As we think about what a physical wilderness is, those are some of the ways that we would use to describe such a place. But, theologically our ‘wilderness’ moments aren’t exactly like that.

For many of us, we would describe our ‘wilderness’ in the life of faith as a sense of ‘being.’ We might describe our wilderness as a feeling of being lost in some way. Lost in a world that seems to be rushing by. Lost in a wayward journey through faith filled with doubts, tests, and obstacles.

Perhaps you might describe the wilderness in your life as a result of something you believe you’ve done or failed to do. The wilderness is a time of ‘punishment’ against you or you see a friend or family member experiencing.

Those are how we describe our own wilderness moments and experiences. So, there is the temptation to think that Jesus must be going through something similar. He’s literally removed from society. He’s wandering through the desert for 40 days, so he might be lost. He’s being tempted and tested by the evil one. That sounds pretty similar to how we might describe our own wilderness experiences. We are just like Jesus! Right?

No, not really. Jesus’ experience in the wilderness being tempted and tested does not quite equate to what we experience in our own wilderness moments in our life.

In this pivotal story from our gospel this morning, we see Jesus in the wilderness in an effort to prove to us who and whose Jesus is. It is here that we are shown proof of Jesus’ readiness as God’s beloved Son.

Jesus isn’t lost. He’s guided by the Holy Spirit to this place of preparation. He’s gone here for a purpose. To be tested and tempted within his debate with the evil one.

Before we get to this point in Matthew’s gospel, the writer has been building up the credentials of Jesus. We’ve got his family history. We have miraculous stories regarding his own birth. We are introduced to wise men who have sought and journeyed to pay him homage and respect. His very existence is so frightening to the king of the land that extreme measures are taken in order to thwart this one day would-be king of the Jews.

Jesus’ ministry plan at this point has begun as well. He’s been baptized. The clouds have opened. The Spirit has descended. The Voice has bellowed – this is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.

We’ve got all of that, and still we are given more. We are told this story as even further proof as to who Jesus is. That this one – this Son of God – truly is who he claims and proclaims himself to be because he withstood and ‘passed’ the test in the wilderness. His preparation is complete.

Jesus is tempted and tested with those things that would buckle even the most faithful person. Hunger, safety, power, and loyalty.

Jesus is hungry. He’s offered the chance to relieve his hunger by turning stones to bread.

The Evil One knows that this man is special – wouldn’t God not let you be injured? Why not prove me wrong?

Look at all these kingdoms – it could all be yours. Free reign. So long as you bend the knee.

I’m pretty certain everyone would’ve fallen to at least one if not all of these tests. Especially that last one. I like to think I’d be a very benevolent dictator.

Yet, in each test Jesus’ response is ‘no.’ He continually thwarted the evil one’s plan and agenda. Jesus withstands when each of us would’ve succumbed.

Now, many might say here that you just gotta be like Jesus! Must withstand! Don’t turn your back on God! Be strong against temptation like our Lord Jesus!

But, we gathered here earlier this week for Ash Wednesday. Where within that service we confessed our sin. We confessed our failure to live into the life that God has set before us. We did this by our fault. Our own fault. Our own most grievous fault.

We journey through Lent with the idea and the goal of ‘giving something up.’ It may be coffee, or fast food. You might give up saying or thinking harsh things about strangers you encounter. But, all it takes is one rushed and full afternoon, with little sleep the night before, and that jerk just swerved and cut you off!

I just had to do it. Who wouldn’t? I was hungry, I was tired, that guy really is a jerk!

We fall. We always do.

So, what are we told in this gospel story this morning? It isn’t that Jesus is just super squeaky clean in life. It isn’t that Jesus is just better than us and is a model that we couldn’t ever possibly hope to live up to.

We are reminded this day that Jesus withstood the temptation and test of the evil one – not to rub it in our noses that he is so much better than us. We don’t read this story in hope that we can ‘be just like our Lord.’ If we do that – we end up feeling a little envious, perhaps a tad bitter, because no matter what we won’t get there.

This day – this first Sunday of Lent – we are reminded of who and whose Jesus is. We are reminded and given proof that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be. If the body of work that preceded this story didn’t convince us of this – then surely this story is the cherry on top.

Jesus is able to do this because of who he is. He is the Son of God. He’s able to stand firm in the presence of God because he is God’s son.

So, again – what does that mean for us?

For that we turn to the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is here that Jesus tells his disciples – Jesus tells us – that he is with us always, to the end of the age.

Throughout this Gospel – throughout our Gospel led life – we are reminded that the one we follow has already gone before us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again. We worship, we live for, we serve with a God who has come to be with us. Through everything.

We don’t worship a God who is out there somewhere over the rainbow. We don’t worship a God who set life in motion and then just left us to fend for ourselves. No, we worship a God who has fashioned us from the dust, whose hands are dirty with creation and life, whose breath has given us new and renewed life, who continues to be at work in and amongst us.

God’s never left.

We are reminded that in the temptations we face. In the tests that we endure. God is there.

Even when we fall. Even when we experience setbacks. Even when we turn away. God is there.

God is there to remind us of who and whose we are.

Reminding us that who we are – those relationships we’ve cultivated, the accolades and the accomplishments we’ve acquired, those things that make us ‘who’ we are. All of that can end in an instant or a moment. It can all come crashing down.

But, we are reminded throughout our scriptures and in this season of Lent about whose we are. We. Are. God’s.

That is eternal. That never ceases.

So, we move through this journey during the season of Lent. Striving, hoping, and praying that we are able to withstand the temptations of our lives. We seek to ‘give up’ those things that draw us away from the love of our Lord. Those moments that keep us from seeing those around us as fellow beloved children of our God. We give up those times where we stop seeing the Spirit present in our lives as we read through scripture, pray, give of ourselves and our possessions, caring for those around us, and more. In all of that we will most likely fall short. We always do.

Yet, we remember that in spite of those falls. God is with us. Jesus is calling us. The Spirit is guiding us.

Where we remember that we live into that sort of life not so that God will love us or continue to love us, but we live into that sort of life of faith because God does love us. Because Jesus has already gone before us. Because the Spirit is always guiding us.

Lent isn’t about measuring up (or more accurately failing to measure up). Lent is a reminder that we are tempted and tested throughout our life and though we might fail and fall in those moments, Christ is there to pull us up. God moves us forward because we cannot do it on our own.

Lent is that constant reminder that God is here. Not as the overbearing and judgmental figure to impose harsh punishments. But, instead as that constant presence of grace and love.

We cannot live a life of faith like Christ. But, we can live a life of faith because of Christ.

The debt has been paid. The victory has been won. The foe has been defeated.

We get to live for and with God. And God is always with us – on the mountain, in the valley. Amidst the plain and especially in the wilderness, wherever it takes us – no matter what. Amen.

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March 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

2017 March Newsletter


Grace and peace to y’all!

Well, as it happens every year – whether you’re ready for it or not – Lent has come.

Every year it always seems to surprise us when this journey begins. Most of the time because the beginning of Lent shifts every year because it is still one of the last (and very few) events in our life that is determined by a lunar calendar (Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring – which is always between March 22 and April 25).

Yet, each year we faithfully journey through this season as we remember that which turns us away from our God. We strive to again and again turn our lives back towards God through prayer, devotion, and even abstaining from ‘joys’ in our life to better focus our joy on and through God.

Typically, the season of Lent also coincides with MLB’s Spring Training every year. At times, I can find no better image of the practices of Lent than what baseball players do throughout Spring Training. They work on the fundamentals of a game they’ve played their entire life. Catching, throwing, hitting, fielding. They practice on situations that could occur in a game, so that when those situations arise they’ll be prepared for them. They practice the things they know so well and have done for so long so that they become second nature.

We do this during Lent as well. Of course, our throwing and hitting is prayer, fasting, and giving of ourselves to others. Those are all things we know to do and have done throughout our life. But, during Lent we purposefully devote ourselves to these practices so that when those times come in our life to care, love, support, and pray for those in need and for those in our life we react out of nature than anything else.

Where prayer becomes an extension of who we are as children of God. Where caring for any in need is the innate response when the situation arises. When giving of ourselves becomes second nature in living this life of faith.

We get to practice that during the season of Lent. We get to live out each of those devotions to our God of love who leads us through this season and through our lives.

How will you live into this journey of Lent? Where will you practice to better live out what God calls us into through our baptism and feeds us at the table?

Welcome to the journey of Lent. Play ball!




February 27, 2017, 7:28 AM

the one about getting up...


Sermon from February 26, 2017 - Transfiguration Sunday

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this is another one of those Sundays where though the gospel might be ‘different’ each year, it still tells the same story. Whether you read from Matthew (like we do today) or Luke or Mark – you essentially get the same story. Sure, there are little differences between the three (note, this particular story does not appear in John’s gospel), but they essentially hold the same meaty parts.

It occurs on a mountain. Elijah and Moses appear. Something happens to Jesus. A cloud covers them all. The disciples present are scared. They walk down the mountain.

There is something distinct about the Matthew account that I hope that we cling to, but before we get there we need to have a little talk.

Listen y’all – I don’t know what happened to Jesus on that mountain. But, I know that something did happen. Jesus’ appearance changed before Peter, James, and John. They saw something. Something so astonishing and amazing, that they could not quite get everything the same as they apparently told this story. In the midst of that moment, they experienced something as well. A cloud covering them and their surroundings and a voice emerging from it. In that moment, I can only imagine their response being, “What in the world is going on…”

Things happen in our life that we don’t understand. Things happen within our life of faith that we can’t comprehend. The more we try to ‘explain’ them, the more we lose sight of what it is that has happened to and for us.

When those moments do happen in our life, we want to stay in them. Who wouldn’t? If you enjoy something you want to keep doing that and experiencing it. So, it is no wonder that these disciples feel an urge and draw to remain on that mountain – who wouldn’t!

The heroes of their faith Moses and Elijah are right there! The one whom they believe is the messiah is talking with them! They don’t know what is going on, but what they do know is that they want to be there. Always. The ground they are on now is indeed holy ground.

A cloud overshadows them and a voice bellows from it. And they become afraid – or are they overwhelmed with awe? We don’t really know. Depending on which translations you read, you’ll see both interpretations.

Today science tells us that our body itself reacts similarly to both of those emotions. Fear and awe/excitement are very, very similar to us. Our heart races, we might visibly shake, we have trouble forming words and thoughts, we sweat, we become flushed.

We react. We don’t know what’s going on.

I imagine those disciples felt much the same way in the midst of that cloud. They have been on a literal roller coaster of emotion in just a few short moments. Things they couldn’t possibly imagine are being made known right in front of their eyes. It – I’m sure – is more than they could possibly comprehend. None of us would be able to comprehend it.

When the cloud lifts and the silence and stillness of the mountain returns – where do you think the disciples find themselves? What do you think is rattling in their minds? What would you do?

Should they stay? Should they go? What happened? What’s happening? What does it all mean? Where do we go from here?

When we experience those moments we want to stay. Mostly because we don’t know what to do. Whether we are too excited to form coherent thoughts to make our brains fire the synapses that causes our limbs to move, or we feel too frightened to take a step for fear of what might happen.

We feel stuck.

What are we to do?

Like I said, I’d guess the disciples felt the same thing.

So, what are we to do? Where do we go? Who do we turn towards?

Here, my sisters and brothers is the part of this story of the Transfiguration that Matthew relays to us that the others do not.

Here, in that moment of excitement or fear – in that moment of utter confusion – Jesus reaches out to the disciples.

Get up, don’t be afraid.

Those are the words I need to hear when all the craziness seems to be compounding around me. Those are the words that I yearn for when I don’t know what to do going forward. Those are the words that I cry for when I cannot find the words for what is happening. Those are the words that move me to action when I feel compelled to stay in that moment.

Get up, don’t be afraid.

In our moments of fear or excitement, that steady hand that reaches out in reassurance. That calm confident voice that calls us into action. That’s what we need. That’s what we crave for.

Throughout the season of Epiphany, we have read stories from the words of scripture about where God is made known. Made known in the places we expect. Made known in those ways that stretch us that are uncomfortable. Made known in ways that speak directly and forcefully in ways in which the world lifts up.

Epiphany bombards us with those moments where God is made known to us. It all comes to a head on this Transfiguration Sunday where we read a story where something happens to and with Jesus our Lord. This story that we cannot explain, we can’t understand.

Where we are left to ponder and wonder. Where we might not know where to go from here.

And Jesus calls to us – get up, don’t be afraid.

Something has been made known to us. But, we don’t stay rooted in that spot. We don’t stay out of fear of what might come next. We don’t stay in hopes to recreate that experience again.

We get up. We are not afraid.

We’re able to do that because God has been made known to us. God is on the mountain, but God doesn’t stay there. Jesus walks down that mountain and tells us to go as well.

The disciples have received the ultimate ‘epiphany’ of God. God had literally been made known to them in the most direct way they could possibly imagine. Yet still, Jesus invites them to walk down the mountain.

Why?

If I were to be so bold to add an addendum to Jesus’ words this day.

Get up, don’t be afraid. We’ve got work to do.

What is that work? Making known to those down the mountain who God is. Making known to them whose God’s.

All those signs, teachings, and moments leading up to the transfiguration on the mountain? We’re going to make that known to all.

As we journey down the mountain of Transfiguration Sunday, we lead right into Lent. In a few short days, we will be thrust with the realization that we are not immortal, that one day we will die. Yet, we hear the assurance from Jesus.

Get up, don’t be afraid.

We journey through Lent from that day as we strive to live with and for God. Turning our hearts and ourselves away from those things that draw us from God. ‘Re-turning’ to the one who formed us, loves us, and guides us. That’s not easy – it never is. We hear the assurance again.

Get up, don’t be afraid.

We live out our lives of faith that at times appear counter cultural to the world around us. Some may listen, many may not. We become discouraged. Perhaps fixed in a spot of indecision or apathy. Again, and again – we hear Jesus’ comforting words of action.

Get up, don’t be afraid.

Get up, don’t be afraid. We’ve got work to do. Amen.

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February 21, 2017, 7:27 AM

the one about being whole...


Sermon from February 19, 2017

Texts: Matthew 5: 38-48 and Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

So, I want to make a confession. Sometimes I think my father-in-law is a bit crazy. I love him dearly. He’s a great guy. Hard-working. Cares deeply about his family and others. Strong and faithful. Incredibly intelligent. But, all that gets thrown out the window when you go Christmas tree shopping with him. Perhaps you want his help hanging pictures. Maybe it’d be fun to wash the car together.

All of those scenarios can be stressful, simply because everything has to be perfect. Finding the perfect Christmas tree. The picture has to be perfectly centered, aligned with everything else, and absolutely level. The car has to be picture perfect before we’re finished.

I love my father-in-law, but he’s kind of a perfectionist. We all know those types of people. Some of you might be those types of people. Knowing all that, is it any wonder that this part of Jesus’ of the Sermon on the Mount scares us to our core?

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.

Perfect. That’s a scary word when you think about it. No errors. No setbacks. Just like the ‘model.’

Isn’t our world centered around this idea of ‘perfection?’ You must fill out this form perfectly so that you won’t be questioned by… the IRS? I.C.E? So you can get into college. Obtain a loan. Buy a house. Adopt a child. Reduce your payment. Pass this test.

It must be perfect.

When we try to be perfect it stresses us out. I must have the perfect interview to get this job. I must dress in the perfect way to get her to notice me. I must write the perfect sermon so they all can hear it. I must act in a perfect way so that God will love me fully.

Isn’t it exhausting?

It’s exhausting and stressful because we are imperfect more than anything else. Where when we are imperfect, we see that as a failure. Not good enough. A waste of ours and others’ time.

Jesus has wrung his disciples and us through the ringer these past few weeks as he’s preached this sermon of teachings. Much of what Jesus has taught throughout this chapter seem wholly impossible to live into a few times, let alone be perfect as God is perfect.

If we must be perfect, I’m here to tell you that we’ve all completely fallen short. Pack-up your bags. Nothing left for us here. Might as well not even try.

But, what if… what if Jesus isn’t using this word ‘perfect’ in the way that we understand ‘perfect’ today?

As I have mentioned these last few weeks, Jesus has been sitting on this mount and speaking with his disciples. The teachings that he has been laying out for them and for us have been incredibly difficult to live into. But, there is still a common theme throughout these teachings and his sermon. I don’t think it leads to ‘perfection,’ but something else.

As I have read, pondered, and prayed over what Jesus has been telling his disciples and us in this Sermon on the Mount, added with the other readings that we have been able to read these past few weeks, and then looking out to how we are called to live in this world, I’m beginning to think that what Jesus is calling for isn’t perfection from us, but more accurately wholeness from us.

Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole.

Being whole or being ‘complete’ is what the Greek is probably better translated as here.

Being whole is different than being perfect.

Being whole implies that everything is there; though it may not all fit perfectly there.

Being whole sounds a lot more doable – with Christ’s presence and help – than being perfect.

Being whole reminds me that it isn’t just making sure you are cared for, not just that your loved ones are provided for, but that the community of God is nurtured and cared for as well.

Here’s something that I don’t often say – let’s look at the grace we see in our reading from Leviticus. Much like being ‘perfect’ being told to be ‘holy’ is another one of those scary words for us.

Today, being ‘holy’ seems to imply that you know your bible well, you faithfully attend worship, you are set a part from the craziness of the world. More often than not, being ‘holy’ means you’re somehow better than others because you believe the right thing, or say the right words, or live the right way over what those other people are doing.

Yet, as the Lord tells Moses, being ‘holy’ in God’s eyes looks a lot different.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

So, don’t use up and harvest all your crops. Leave a portion for those who have less to glean from your abundance. Don’t lie or steal from your neighbor. Don’t horde the earnings of others. Don’t side with or side against a person simply because they are poor or rich – know them – completely and fully.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Be holy in the sense that you’re caring for those around you. Being holy means loving others as you love yourself.

What would that look like in your life if you were to live into that sort of holiness? How would we interact with others if we lived that holy life?

Wouldn’t that be a life that was ‘whole’ and ‘complete’? Wouldn’t that be a life that was perfect?

Where we don’t worry about whether we’ve got it – whatever ‘it’ might be – right, but that our neighbor is cared for.

Where we don’t worry if we’ve erred in some way, but we work to make sure that the bellies of those children are full. That they have warm clothing on cold nights. That they know that someone cares and loves them enough to read them a book, to teach them math, to play with them.

Perhaps being ‘whole’ is living our life in such a way that not only do we give financially to those causes and organizations that care for those less fortunate in our community and world, but we offer ourselves and invest our time and lives into them. Volunteering, working together, getting to know those around us.

Perhaps being holy isn’t about living a life seemingly ‘better’ or ‘more correct’ than another, but getting to know that other – no matter who they are. To share in this life together, to care and love as God cares and loves.

Perhaps being ‘whole’ isn’t about getting everything right, but making sure that we are living into the life that Jesus has called us into.

Listen, throughout this life of faith – we’re going to stumble. We’re going to screw up. We’re going to fall more often than we run. We’re going to strive to be perfect in all that we do and end up being imperfect most of the time.

So, don’t strive to be perfect. Live into the wholeness that God has for you. Live into the life of holiness that the Lord calls us into.

That life of wholeness and holy that cares for the community. Fully, thoroughly, and completely – all of it. All of us. All of ‘them.’ Live the holy life for others, all others.

Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly father is whole. Amen.

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February 13, 2017, 7:46 AM

the one about abundant life


Sermon from February 12, 2017

Text: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 and Matthew 5: 21-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

So, have you ever been a part of something that meant so much to you, but you knew that your time as a part of it was growing short, that soon you wouldn’t be ‘at the head’ and that you hoped and prayed that the organization you were a part of would continue on after you’d left?

I remember when I was younger my dad got really involved with my Little League. Not my team – but the entire league. In fact, he ran the league for almost the entire time we were living in Italy. He helped raise funds so we all didn’t have the same different colored jersey but, instead we had replica MLB t-shirt jerseys and hats. It was awesome. I played for the Reds one year, the Braves another, and the White Sox my final year. It was so cool to have those hats and jerseys. He helped the coaches receive better training and skills, helped improve the ‘draft’ of teams so that there was a more equal distribution of talent so no one team dominated the others.

But, when my mom received orders to move back to the States, my dad had to resign his position as president of the Little League. I remember thinking and asking, “Dad, what’s going to happen to the league?” and he replied – “I don’t know, but I and others have done a lot of hard work to put the league on this path, I hope those after me continue that path.”

In our first reading this morning, Moses is in a peculiar situation. He has led the people of Israel for 40 years in the desert after they left Egypt and on their way to their true home in the land that God would gift them. Of course, Moses has been told that he will lead the people to the cusp, but he wouldn’t lead them into that land.

He is on that tip of transition, as he ages and will soon die; the leadership position that he has held will be transferred to someone else. He has to – as the saying goes, ‘let go and let God.’ But that isn’t always easy. It isn’t easy for those ‘leaving’ and it isn’t easy for those ‘who are left to lead.’

What makes this even more difficult is that we would ‘assume’ that the path that God sets before us as ‘life’ would be the easy, less turbulent road. The road with the least number of switchbacks, rocks, and detours. However, the road to ‘life’ is difficult, but the reward at the other side is life. On the flip side, the road that seems easy and smooth, ends up not helping us out all that much.

I once read a commentary that compared this – in a crude and simple way –to saving money. In fact, Erin probably thinks I should listen to that commentary a bit more. It is hard to put money away each month or a paycheck into savings. It is hard to ‘deny’ yourself the things that are before you that you’d like to enjoy in. Believe me, I know that it is difficult. But, for every bit you put away – the more you’ll have when you really need it. However, when we don’t save money – even a little bit – there are bad consequences that we’d rather avoid. If you spend every penny you earn, there will come a time when you’ll be flat broke and you will have to depend on the kindness of strangers and loved ones to help you out.

The fears that Moses had were real and founded. He didn’t know what life would be like for the Israelites after he was gone. It isn’t like they were all that ‘well-behaved’ and living to God while he was with them in leadership. They at this time were a pretty fickle people always seduced by the greener grass on the other side. He put up with their grumbling, raged at their idolatry, pleaded with God on their behalf, and has now brought them to the cusp of the ‘promised land.’ He wonders – will they keep their end of the deal?

God’s faithfulness had been proved (and still to this day continues to be) – God’s faithfulness is there in and for us, that constant grace that we are given out of great love from God. The question at hand is will the people of God be obedient to God’s faithfulness?

Now, we don’t face the same literal temptations and lures of sin that the Hebrews did, but I don’t think our temptations are all that different from theirs. Yes, our time is radically different than theirs. But, we do face quite a bit that pulls us from the paths that God has set before us.

We are seduced by wealth. We prioritize our own comfort over other’s needs. We put our convenience in front of urgent concerns within our society. If we don’t think it directly affects us, we’d rather not notice or care about it. We consider God’s demands on us to be a lower priority than things of our own choosing. We all do this.

Try as we might to walk ‘both paths’ at the same time. We can’t do it. These paths are far separated and don’t intersect. One is easy, one is difficult. One seeks God’s will and desire, the other is filled with the desires and wants of our own choosing. Yet, the one that is more difficult leads to life – full and abundant with God.

This leads us into our Gospel this morning. Let me just say, this is another one of those ‘wish I didn’t have to preach on this’ sort of texts.  We hear Jesus this morning say and compile a lot of ‘should dos’ for us as disciples. Essentially Jesus is calling for us to ‘do it now.’ Don’t wait.

Make peace, straighten out your life. Because the Kingdom of God is here – now. God is present here, now, to help you in giving strength to do all of what is before you that is difficult.

Throughout this whole time as Jesus has been preaching and teaching this ‘Sermon on the Mount’ he has been building his disciples up to be builders of community. Again, and again emphasizing how important it is to care for those around you.

Now, that doesn’t mean that because God is present that it’ll be less difficult or less awkward. In fact, it doesn’t mean that at all. The life of a Christian isn’t easy, especially when we add in the fact that we are called to care for others outside our little ‘circles of trust.’ We are constantly in flux with the world where we see what’s going on and we know – deep within ourselves, that tiny part we attempt to push down and ignore that shouts to our brains – that isn’t how it’s supposed to be –people shouldn’t be treated like that, that God loves all of us – why can’t we love one another?

We’ve been given commandments and guides to follow and emulate. The commandments of God are not vicious rules imposed upon us by a ‘heavenly tyrant.’ Far from it, instead they are intended for our own good, serving as guides along the way to help us choose the better path.

Jesus didn’t come to say – do this or else. Instead Jesus comes and says – if you do this – forgive, love, be merciful, obedient to God – you will live a life of abundant life. It isn’t going to be easy, but man is it rewarding! Look at the gift you’ve been given.

This life that we have been baptized into; this life that Moses led his people towards and Jesus calls us into. It isn’t easy. But, there is the reward for abundant and full life. Living in this life, following the high standards that Jesus sets before us lead us into a prosperous life with God.

But, it isn’t the life of ‘prosperity’ that others envision, proclaim, and seduce us with. God hasn’t promised wealth, fame, or perfect and easy health. No, God has promised blessing. We recognize that a blessed life is one God is a part of. That God is dwelling with and among you and us. Jesus calls us into this life through our baptism and fills us with strenght to live this life as we are fed at the table.

In this life of faith, there will still be setbacks. There will still be times that we are drawn away by the seemingly greener grasses of the world. However, in and with God, we aren’t turned away. We aren’t cast aside. We aren’t forgotten. God’s promise still holds fast. God continually calls and beckons to us. Wrapping us in those arms with an embrace of love and forgiveness. Reminding us that God is present, here and now.

So, this is the call of today’s text on all of us. Do it now. Live by kingdom values now. Straighten out your life now. Make peace with others now. The kingdom of God is here, now. The spirit of God is giving you strength for whatever changes you need to make, now. The love of Christ is forgiving you and inviting you to forgive others, now. Now.

Amen.

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February 6, 2017, 7:40 AM

the one about salt and light


Sermon from February 5, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 58: 1-12, Matthew 5: 13-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, today is a pretty important day – at least in the life of our country and popular culture. Later today millions of people will witness a game, played by 22 people on a field, being cheered on by 10s of thousands in person. There will be ‘epic’ moments, there will be insane calls and plays. There will be no end to the amount of ‘second guessing’ that will come throughout the game and into the future.

Many of the people watching at home will do so amidst family and friends. There will be huge spreads of food. Drinks of all type will flow freely. There will be gasps and cries; shouts and screams. Many will be on pins and needles for every snap, every throw, every tackle. Many will be impatient for the ‘game’ to break so that they can watch the advertisements. I’d also be willing to bet that almost all will lament that the commercials weren’t as good this year as they were in years gone by.

We will really get worked up about this – and all facets of this game tonight – won’t we? Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the game this evening and I’m really anticipating a good game, good food, good drink, and good fun.

Yet, it’ll still happen as it does each year after the game is over. I’ll look at the food around me and think, “This is a lot of food. We didn’t even eat it all.” I’ll probably feel a little guilty over the mass abundance of food. It’ll go bad. It’ll go to waste. I’ll have to throw it out. I couldn’t possibly eat it all.

My mind drifts to that almost every year. I say this not to guilt us all into giving or holding us accountable to the food we eat. Or even living into that old saying of, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

But, I do bring it up to emphasize the great disparity in abundance that is on display this day – every year.

We gorge ourselves. And it is fun. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun, but perhaps it is an opportunity to recognize those who don’t have that luxury. Those who live in our own community who struggle with the decision of ‘Do I spend this money on a bit of gas to get to my job, or on food so my kids can eat tonight.’ Those who decide between having to get a second (or third) job or making sure someone is home when their kids get out of school.

What are we – members of our community and all children of God – able to do to help those in need around us? The ones we know about and the ones we cannot or even cannot be bothered to see.

I thought about all of this as I read our first reading from Isaiah this week. It’s a powerful message that Isaiah is directing to the nation of Israel. This part of Isaiah was written after the exile into Babylon. The Israelites were able to – finally – travel back into the land they called home and believed was their gift from God. Yet, life didn’t make that a smooth transition. There were some that were better off than others. Some families and generations were able to withstand the exile more resiliently than others.

The people fasted, they observed the rites and rituals that they felt called to. But, there was still the rampant need from those around them. No matter how much they fasted, prayed, or worshipped it didn’t seem to make a dent in the lives of those in need around them.

God’s response to them is strong through the words of Isaiah here. The fasting and praying leads God’s children into action. Through the fast, through those outward observances we feed, shelter, and clothe those around us.

I heard an amazing quote from the late Frederick Douglass this past week that speaks so eloquently to this call to action, he said – I prayed for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

God calls us to pray and to fast so that our result is action to help and care for others.

God this day – through the words of the Prophet Isaiah – is calling us to live into the life of righteousness and grace and justice that God desires. Releasing the bonds of injustice, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free.

Sharing our bread, welcoming the homeless poor into our homes and lives, covering the ‘naked’ in our lives. Those who bear their struggles to the world; who cry out in silent words and ways that they need help.

As we get to the end of passage from Isaiah, we are told of what our ‘reward’ will be from our God. As I read those ‘rewards’ I couldn’t help, but notice something profound and beautiful. Each of those ‘rewards’ is not solely for an individual.

Bones are made strong – so that the work and carrying for the poor can continue.

We shall be a watered garden, a spring of water that never dries up.

I particularly loved that image. I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a gardener. I have what could be called a ‘brown thumb’ for I have the uncanny ability to turn plant life of green into the brown of death. But, as much as I am not a gardener, I am fully aware of how gardens are viewed.

There is no one that I know who gardens – whether it be with flowers or food producing gardens – that keeps it to themselves. We share gardens. We invite others in to view them and see God’s beautiful creation. We recognize the over abundance that the garden produces and we feel called to share that with those around us. A garden can and does produce far more than what we ourselves and our families could ever consume and use.

I love when the harvest comes because so many share in their harvest with others. Tomatoes, basil, apples, corn, potatoes, and more. We share in that abundance.

Being a ‘watered garden’ and a ‘spring of water’ is God calling to us and telling us that we exist for the sake of others. We strive and share together, building one another up so that future generations are not only cared for, but are even more able to live into this life of faith.

But, not all of us are gardeners – like I said, I’m not. However, there are countless ways that we can and we do get to help strengthen the community around us. We rise up together as one as we are caring for another, knowing fully and completely that someone is caring for me and my loved ones as well.

Yet, you might be thinking, “I can’t. Who am I to do this? I don’t have what it takes.”

My sisters and brothers – hear our Lord Jesus speak to us this day, “Y’all are the salt of the earth. Y’all are the light of the world.”

It’s a non-negotiable – you are – y’all are – we are – salt and light.

We’ve got it! God is with us! Christ is beside us! The Spirit is leading us!

I’ve always wondered why Jesus talks about salt losing its saltiness. Mostly because in my research, salt really can’t. Salt doesn’t get less ‘potent’ as far as I have been able to see. Salt still salts. Salt still helps bring out the fuller flavor of the meal that you are having no matter how old it is. Salt doesn’t go bad.

In fact, the only way that salt loses its ‘saltiness’ is when it isn’t used. When the bag of salt, the shaker of spice, is tossed to the other side of the room, pushed into the back of the cabinet to be forgotten and to go unused for its purpose.

Salt does not exist for just itself. Its whole purpose is to bring ‘more’ to something else.

The same goes for light.

Y’all are the light of the world.

Light exists to cast out darkness so that all can be seen. Light exists so that you don’t trip over and fall amongst the stumbling blocks in your life. We are called to let our light shine before others so that the work we do can be seen. So, that the work of faith we do because of what God has done can be seen.

You are salt. You are light. We exist not for ourselves, but for others. We are gathered into community and into the life of others so that all might know the goodness and grace of God. We are then sent out into the community and world to share that good news. To invite others into this life, in this space, so that all might know how loved they are. How completely forgiven they are. How fully accepted they are.

This morning, we get to live into a bit of that call for others. We gather food from our abundance so that it might be shared with those in need through the Manna House. We gather our abundance in pots and pans to be shared with the ministry of Interfaith Community Services to help in those specific needs that go far beyond just food on the table. Yesterday, we held a sale where many new treasures were found and welcomed into the life of others – the proceeds from that sale go towards the caring and health of those in our community through the free medical clinic.

And yet still – there are even more possible ways to help and to care. Even more ways to live into this life of faith that we have been called and claimed into. Ways that are lived out through this community of faith and through the community we are grateful to live among.

God calls us to care for others. To live for more than just ourselves. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. We get to do all of this – with one another – with those we don’t know and haven’t yet met – because of what God has done and continues to do in the life of the world! Again, it is fitting to hear those strong and powerful words of Frederick Douglass once more: I prayed for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. Amen.

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