In pm's words
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August 13, 2017, 1:44 PM

the one about Jesus being here in the midst of it...

Sermon from August 13, 2017

Text: Matthew 14: 22-33, 1 King 19:9-18

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, this is our second week of miracles and this is a big one, right? Jesus walks on the water! But, I noticed something this week. We focus on the spectacular and miraculous of this story (as this part of Matthew’s gospel is titled Jesus walks on Water), but have you ever noticed that this particular part of the story really isn’t about Jesus walking in a way that others can’t.

Sure, it’s a big deal, especially when Peter asks to walk out to Jesus as well. Peter tries, which seems like par for the course for this great disciple, he doesn’t quite make it.

But, when we focus on just Jesus walking on the water, we lose sight of other stuff – important and faithful stuff – that is going on as well.

This story occurs immediately after the feeding miracle we heard last week. Jesus sends the disciples back on the boat. He’ll catch up. Finally, Jesus is able to venture off alone to the mountain to pray, reflect, and possibly mourn the death of John the Baptist (it’s what he was trying to do before he was sidetracked by the crowds).

During this time and evening with Jesus on the mountain, the sea becomes rougher as the wind picks up and pushes the boat further from the coast. Then Jesus descends from the mountain early the following morning. He sees the boat and walks out there. No big deal (yeah right).

The disciples see him – they see someone – and they’re taken aback, afraid even. Jesus assures them that it is he, and then Peter calls out to the Lord to command him to walk on the waves as well. Alright, come on then.

Peter begins, but he is soon overcome with fear because of the wind and the waves. As he begins to sink down, Peter cries out and Jesus reaches out and grabs him. He’s safe.

Jesus gets in the boat, the wind stalls, and the disciples proclaim him to be the Son of God.

Quite a bit of action in this short little pat of Matthew’s gospel.

Since it is another miracle story we know well, we just go from point A to point B because we’ve done it before. Kind of like when you’re driving home from work – the same route you’ve taken for years – and there’s that one time that you don’t really remember driving it. You know you left your office, and then you were at your home. It’s scary when those things happen – because you missed out and looked past all those other ‘familiar’ sights.

So, the temptation here is to misremember the timeline. There’s the storm, Jesus calms it, and walks on the water. And then talks to the disciples.

Except, that’s not really how it happened. Throughout this whole story, the winds don’t cease until after Jesus gets back in the boat.

I think that’s pretty significant. Especially as it pertains to our lives of faith.

In this part of Matthew’s gospel, in this little sliver of life and faith that we see of Jesus – our wind doesn’t cease until after the disciples know they’re safe.

Think about it. When life is a storm, rocking away, what’s the one thing we pray, hope, and yearn for? If you’re like me its that the seas stop crashing, the wind dies down, and the boat of life floats in calm waters.

I think that might be what the disciples were wanting too. Especially with the added drama and fear of someone walking out where they shouldn’t be. That can be scary.

In the middle of choppy sea of life, as the seas foam and the wind blows, we just want the storm to cease and the winds to die down. Then Lord, walk to us so that you can help us.

I had planned at this point to write something about the beginning of school and to preach about the storms those new beginnings can bring. But after the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, VA. I don’t think I can anymore.

We live life now within choppy waters. The seas rage and the winds blow. Evil rises up. Fears heighten. We saw that come to fruition yesterday as a young man, distorted in his views about people different from him, drove his car into them. Something that we have seen happen in other parts of the world, but it happened here. Just a half a day’s drive from Newberry.

There is a temptation to only speak once things have died down. To only speak while looking back and saying that it was wrong and despicable. But, the storm is out there now as it rages and the winds blow. We are called in our faith, called out by Christ to speak against the things that we saw and read about from yesterday.

We yearn for those calm waters so that we might speak. We yearn for that time of tranquility to talk as we look back together and agree with one another that this was of course sinful. That it is wrong and evil to disparage someone - to hate someone - because of the color of their skin, the faith they believe, the ideology they identify with, or the life they live. That it is wrong to have such radicalized thoughts in your heart that you seek to hurt, to maim, to even murder others, other children of God.

It is in those moments, as the storms rage within our souls about whether we should speak – be it from the pulpit, your cubicle, on the golf course, at the restaurant, or out on the streets – it is in those moments, that we remember that Christ is right there with us. Our Lord has indeed stretched out those merciful hands and holds us tight so that we know we are not sinking down.

It is right and faithful of us to say – This isn’t what God desires. At all. This isn’t what Jesus calls us towards. As we prepare to speak out against such hateful views that storm and those rising waters strike fear into our hearts. We don’t want to ruffle feathers. We don’t want to ‘get political’ or talk about ‘race.’

There is even temptation to just move our little boat out of those waters and find calmer seas. Pulling ourselves away from that turmoil. To just ignore and look past.

But, we can’t. Not anymore.

We remember that Jesus is right there. Standing firm in resolve as we speak definitively and defiantly against those who distort the Gospel truth. Who speak ill and seek to harm and hurt those who are different from their experience of life.

As hard as it is to comprehend, we also remember that Jesus stands with those who seek harm, speak hateful words, and act out terrible and evil plans. Not hurling the same rhetoric. Not participating in the same monstrous deeds. But, reminding us that we are indeed called to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.

Yet, I know that loving someone doesn't have to mean we cannot speak firmly in opposition to their views. Loving someone doesn't mean I can't stand in the way of hate while protecting those that are being attacked. Loving someone doesn't mean I let them 'get away' with any of the things that they say or do that are against Jesus' call to love those around us.

In the life of the Christian - there is NO ROOM for the sort of violence (physical, verbal, visual, and spiritual) that were shown in the streets of Charlottesville. No. Room. At. All. That's not what Jesus stood for in any way shape or form. In our love, we say no.

The waves rise and the wind continues to push against the boat.

Our cry and our prayer during those times is for the storm to stop. The waves to calm. The wind to stall.

Lord, just calm the storm around me so that I can know you’re with me. Make all this stuff around me disappear so I know you’re here.

I noticed in this text that all of this is happening as the waves still rise and crash and the wind still blows. The wind is strong enough to distract Peter as he walks out to Jesus. Distracts him enough that his fear begins to overwhelm him and he begins to be surrounded by the waves.

Yet, the one he thought was so far off, was right there. Reaches out and grabs him. Lifts him up and places him in the boat. His presence calms the disciples there as well. He’s right there. He’s with them. The storm around them might ‘rage,’ but the storm within them is calmed. They know they are safe.

Then, and only then do the winds cease. Do the waters calm. Does the boat become still.

I thought of that stillness as I read our text from 1 Kings. Where God was not in the fire, the storm, or the earthquake – all the places one would expect to find God. Instead God was present in the calm and the sound of sheer silence. That was the holy place in which Elijah stepped out to speak from the cave.

That calm stillness – in the midst of the storm – because we know that God is there. Because we know that Christ is present. The one who reaches out and grabs us.

I like to think that Peter didn’t get very far on the water. Mostly because Peter was known for biting off more than he could chew and falling spectacularly in his faith. Jesus was ‘far off’ enough that they thought him to be a ghost, nevertheless the one who grasps him in the waters was right there. Firm and strong to raise him up and place him back in the boat.

As we look out into the life we live; a life with all its waves, wind, and more – we have faith that Jesus is present with us in the midst of it all. Calming us to see and know our Lord within the stillness and silence of ourselves. Where that prayer changes from, “Lord calm the seas and wind so that I can know you’re here.” to “Lord, I know your calm and peace is here within me so that I can venture through these waters.”

Remember, Jesus is here. Jesus reaches out to hold you in his grasp. Reminding you again and again that though the seas may rage – and do they ever rage – that you are not alone. You are not abandoned.

Jesus is here as we speak out against groups like the KKK, Nazis, and the alt-right. Jesus is here with you as you speak a loving NO to those who try to disparage, rail against, or harm another through words and actions simply because of their skin, faith, country of origin, or life.

Jesus reaches out to calm us all in the midst of the storms. Jesus is in that calm. That calm that those hands are holding you firmly and tightly. That’s the sheer silence of peace. God indeed is present with you. Present with us. Amen.

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August 7, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about that feeding

Sermon from August 6, 2017

Text: Matthew 14: 13-21

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, this is one of those stories that almost everyone knows. Jesus performing the miracle of feeding the vast multitudes of people gathered around him. I’d say its Jesus feeding the more than 5000 simply because it appears the tellers of this story only counted the men.

Miracles are pretty special and interesting aspects of our faith life and our lives in general. When we think of miracles we can think of a whole host of things that can fit that description.

Some would say that having young children and getting them awake, fed, cleaned, dressed, out the door and to church (or wherever) on time is a miracle in and of itself.

There are even those who look to incredibly exciting moments in the shared experiences of others as ‘miracles’ too. Like when Clemson won the National Championship with one second left in the game or for Texas Rangers fans like me when a former catcher - Benji Molina (not a little guy by any measure) hit for the cycle (hitting a single, double, triple, and a homerun in a single game) against the Red Sox at Fenway Park a few years ago.

There are those who have been diagnosed with a disease or some sort of potentially life-threatening ailment – like cancer or other serious foreign ‘things’ within their bodies – and the next time they have a check-up that ‘thing’ is gone.

Some will even say that a miracle is just what you spread on your sandwich to make it taste better.

Yet, as we encounter this miracle in Matthew’s gospel, I’m not sure we always notice where the miracle actually takes place. When we tell this story – or have heard this story told and interpreted – we usually hear about how the miracle is in the actual feeding. Look at how many people Jesus fed! 5000 people were fed – just like that! Even more than 5000 since women and children (unfortunately) weren’t included in the count.

It is wonderful and amazing that Jesus in this miracle was able to feed those who gathered around him in that remote place so that they could hear what he had to say and be healed by him. Yet, when we focus strictly on the feeding, we might lose sight as to what Jesus actually did. As it seems with every story involving Jesus, there is actually much more to this story than we might have thought before.

We’ve heard the stories about the five loaves and two fish. This particular account of the feeding miracle is significant because of how the disciples approach Jesus before the miracle takes place.

Now, a lot of places within the wilderness desert land of Israel are pretty ‘remote.’ Way more ‘out there’ than any place here in South Carolina. Probably a lot closer to the ‘remoteness’ of driving through Texas where I was last week. Jesus after hearing about John the Baptist’s death heads out to a deserted place to be alone – perhaps to mourn, reflect, and pray, but the people catch wind of where he is and follow him and gather around him. He doesn’t push them away or continue to find a place away from the masses. Instead, he was moved with compassion. He heard their stories and he healed them where they needed to be made whole – which is almost a sermon in and of itself, but for another day.

I imagine the hour becomes late and the disciples are getting tired and grumpy. Maybe the onset of being ‘hangry’ is nigh. They don’t want to be responsible for all these people who will need to eat - soon. Sure, it is what good hosts would do – feed the people in their midst and essentially under their care. But, that’s way more do-able with 10 people than it is with 50 or more; almost impossible with over 5000. They come to Jesus and ask that he ‘send the crowds’ away so that they – the crowds – can go and eat. It’s a long walk back to town; we’re spent, tapped out. We don’t have anything to give them.

Jesus just asks, “Well, what do you have to eat?”

Their reply, “Not much – just this little bit of bread and fish.”

“I can work with that, tell the people to sit…”

When have you been at those times where you’re tapped out and dried up? When you feel like you have almost nothing else to give? Or that what you are able to give is almost nothing compared to what you feel you need or want to give?

The disciples are in that spot – it isn’t so much that they don’t want to help. They just feel like they don’t have the ability to help. What they have to offer wouldn’t be enough. Too small. Too little. Too late.

I believe that this is the sense that the greater church is feeling now. As we continue to hear about the shrinking numbers, the dried-up faith, the apparent ‘moral decay,’ the multitude of stories insisting ‘it didn’t used to be this way.’ We – as the church – are like the disciples coming to Jesus and saying, “this is all we’ve got… it isn’t much… probably more of an insult to offer this than nothing at all.”

Have y’all experienced something similar to that before in your own lives? Those times when you truly feel almost spent? Where you feel this way as you’ve approached the ministry within the church, in your relationships, at your job, in the community, among your family? Where you feel that whatever you have to offer is nothing compared to what you feel like you need to offer?

We can’t do anything about it; we don’t have anything here, but some older folks and a few kids.

We can’t do anything about it; we don’t have anything here, but enough money to pay the bills.

We can’t do anything about it; we don’t have anything here, but, but, but, but . . .

How often has a thought like that rolled through your mind the past few years? We don’t have thing here, but…

Yet, Jesus’ response is – bring them here or I can work with that.

Whatever we have to give Jesus – to give to God – no matter how small we might think it is, it can be used. Not only can God use what we offer, but God can do great things with just even a little bit of what we can bring.

God has, does, can, and will use what we bring to be used. We open and share what we have so that God might be able to use it. We offer it freely and without obligations/restrictions. We give of ourselves – our talents and skills. We give of our time – re-prioritizing what we devote to so that we continue to look towards and serve our God. We give of our treasure – seeing that what we have can and will be used to help spread the Word of God and enrich the Kingdom of Heaven. We may not be where Redeemer once was in years past (and almost every congregation can share a similar story), but that doesn’t mean God can’t still use what we have to offer – use us as sisters and brothers in Christ, use us as Redeemer, use us as the ELCA, use us as Christians speaking to the world – God can and does use that which we bring to do great things. And with that little bit, Jesus gathers it up, blesses it and watches it grow.

The disciples brought to Jesus barely enough food to feed themselves – yet Jesus uses what they had to offer – a meager meal – and was able to do something pretty fantastic. Miraculous we say.

What we offer and bring to God to be used in the world seems pretty small – words of encouragement, a little bread, a little wine, a splash of water, a helping hand, a few dollars here and there – but God can and does use that to bring about miracles in everyday life.

The person who hears they are loved...

The person who gets a little food…

The person who receives a few bucks for gas…

What we might be able to offer may be small – but God can do miracles with even that.

As one of my favorite sermon writers wrote once.

The kingdom of heaven is like – a tiny mustard seed that turns into a tree that grows big enough for a bird to roost in.

The kingdom of heaven is like – leaven that a woman puts in the dough and the bread rises and rises and rises.

The kingdom of heaven is like – Jesus taking loaves and fishes and turning them into a feast that knows no end.

The kingdom of heaven is like – a congregation of Christians bringing all they are and all they have to Jesus, and being ready to be a part of the amazing new things God will do through them. Amen.

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August 1, 2017, 9:00 AM

August 2017 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

As you read this I’m probably somewhere in Texas having a good time with my family as we visit my dad in Dallas. We’ll be going to Six Flags, a Texas Rangers game, touring AT&T Stadium (where the Dallas Cowboys play), and who knows what else. I’m really looking forward to it.

Some might say, “Now wait a minute, he just got time off…” And you’d be right. I did just have a lovely and wonderful time away with my family in the mountains of North Carolina and at the beach along the SC coast. It was a great opportunity for rest.

Here’s the thing – we all need rest. Even Jesus sought rest from the ministry in which he was involved. There are numerous texts telling us where Jesus ‘withdrew’ from the crowd in order to pray/rest.

Rest is even built into our lives as people of faith as it is written that even God rested on that seventh day of creation. In the Ten Commandments, we are called to acknowledge the sabbath and keep it holy. A part of our faithful living is finding time to take a break.

Rest. Sabbath. Time away. We all need it. We live in a world that is constantly on the go. I recently read on article about a CEO who – as a test – will send texts or e-mails to prospective employees late Friday night or early Sunday morning, just to see how long it takes them to respond. The reason for this test; the CEO works all the time and expects their employees to at least be thinking about work even while they are a way from work.

I don’t believe that’s healthy and I don’t believe that is the sort of life that Christ has called us into.

When you’re bone tired and dragging you’re not being faithful to yourself nor are you being faithful to those around you. You cannot be the best and most faith-filled parent, child, spouse, friend, or even employee when you’re running on fumes. We can’t work non-stop. We are not created to be that way.

When we rest we, when we take a brief moment to ourselves, we give thanks for what God has already given to us. Our selves, our gifts, our life. We gain that energy to continue to do wonderful and faithful work in our lives because we can take a moment and be with those around us.

So, take a break. Put the phone down. The e-mails can wait. Rest in the life that God has given you. Be filled again with that life and love of the work you get to do in and for God through your family and your vocation.

Jesus invites us into rest (Mark 6:31), take heed and follow. Rest, be filled, so that you can get back to the work God has called you into. Amen.

July 17, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about God being at work...

Sermon from Sunday July 16, 2017

Text: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

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 of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the parable we hear this morning is another popular one. There’s a farmer throwing out seed and caution to the wind. As the farmer walks down the path, the seed falls on the ground, falls in not-so-great places, and some even finds its way into good soil.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this parable with those in my ministry who are way more agriculturally capable than I am. We have blueberry bushes in our yard that are producing a small yield and I’m just surprised that they haven’t died yet. But, when I have talked about this particular parable to those who farm, they get a little put-off by these words of Jesus.

Why? Because the farmer in this story isn’t very good at being a farmer. The farmer really doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Just walking around and throwing seed everywhere. Not really caring about what’s going on, just making sure the seed gets out, not minding that a lot of the seed isn’t going to produce – at all. Sure, there’s a lot of luck that goes into producing a good harvest, but those who farm use their skills and gifts to maximize that opportunity to produce from their fields.

It’s made me wonder a bit about how I’ve preached this text before. In the past, I would focus on the joyous spreading of the Word of God. The farmer – who I typically identify as God in this story – is out there spreading that seed no matter what. Indiscriminately tossing the seed and spreading the Word to every place on this earth. That there is so much that it just overflows and falls in all the places of the world.

Of course, what does that mean for the particular seed – those that hear the Word who receive it on the ‘paths, rocky places, and thorny areas’ of life? When I step back a bit, it sounds like there isn’t a whole lot of hope there. The Word of God is going to spread, but you might not be able to hear it. So, tough. I didn’t preach about that, but that is kind of the unsaid implication.

God’s gonna spread the word whether you can hear it or not, and if you don’t? Well… it might not be good.

That’s not the most embracing, fulfilling, and live-giving type of message to deliver.

But, what I do love about this indiscriminate spreading of the Word of God is that it never runs out. The farmer in Jesus’ parable never worries about that outcome because it won’t happen. The farmers that I know are some of the most deliberate and focused individuals that I’ve met. They have to be. You have a finite amount of seed, so you’re going to plant in such a way to maximize what is going to (hopefully) happen. There will be seed that doesn’t take, there will be seed that gets ‘snatched’ away, there will be seed that doesn’t produce. It happens in every field. So, you better be deliberately careful about where you plant and how you take care of that field so that the field might produce.

As I have continued to think about this parable I ask myself a question that I hope we all ask when we hear any parable from Jesus’ lips; where would I be in this story?

Most of us will say – I’m the good soil. I’ve heard, I’ve grown, I’ve produced. And there’s gospel in that as well because the seed that finds good soil produces in different ways. Jesus doesn’t compare and cast shade at the seed that produces thirty-fold. He doesn’t place the one that has produced a hundred-fold on a higher level. Jesus mentions that the seed produces and that is good.

But, if I’m really being honest about where I see myself in this parable, I think I can find myself in the ground itself. All of it. I’ve been on the path – heard the word and just moved on. I’ve been in the rocky ground and been overcome by the goodness of the Spirit and Word, but when tragedy and hard times struck, I withered away. I’ve been in among the thorns, where I heard the word yet, because of the draw and lure of life and sin of the world, I turned away from what the Word is trying to tell me.

Sometimes I even find myself in good soil, I hear and take heart, I produce in the ways that need to be as I help and contribute to the spreading of God’s word to the world.

Throughout my life, I’ve been in all those places. More often than not, I’ve been in all those places in a week, a day, an hour.

We find ourselves in each of those places – the path, the rocky ground, among the thorns, and in good soil – throughout our life. We may even venture into one type of ground more often than we should.

The grace, beauty, and good news of this day is that no matter what – God is still spreading that abundant word. It doesn’t run out. It never dries up. It doesn’t end. Ever.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should just stay in the places that aren’t good for us. We should strive to make our lives and hearts good soil. Surrounding ourselves in the community of God, seeking to find and know God in scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship, and more. Remembering each day that God has indeed claimed us in the waters of our baptism, filled us with the bread and wine – the body and blood of our Lord. Where we are indeed sent out into the world to care and serve because of what God has already done and continues to do.

In caring for these blueberry bushes this past year, I learned something. As hardy as a plant as it is – and it is pretty resilient. Doing even a little bit to care for that seed and plant can do amazing things. A little water, a bit of turning soil, adding some fertilizer. It’s amazing what just a little can do. It’s not overflowing in its produce this year, but it’s produce. When that first blueberry popped up and turned dark blue I was overjoyed. There was only one fruit on there, but man did I and my family celebrate.

So too does God celebrate when we produce in the Word of God. When we grow. When we share. When we invite. When we step out of our comfortable boxes and walk into the radical life that Christ calls us into.

No matter where you are in life – God is speaking to you. God is speaking to us. God is speaking to the world. Sometimes we hear it. Sometimes we might ignore it for something a little flashier. Yet, God continues to speak. Working and living together, we can help make our lives like good soil so that the Word God spreads – spreading through the work of others and even our own work – takes root in our hearts and produces rich and wonderful fruit. God celebrates that – even if it is just a little blueberry. Amen.

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July 10, 2017, 8:57 AM

the one about the yoke..

Sermon from July 9, 2017

Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
          Romans 7:15-25a
          Zechariah 9:9-12

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!

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

So, I’m going to ask for honest answers here – who here has ever scoffed at those words? Lord, I love you – I mean it – but, I think we need to understand what we both think are ‘easy’ and ‘light’ because I’m not sure you and I are on the same page here.

So much of what we do is burdensome to us at times. We’re weighed down. Moving from one place to another at a frenetic pace. Sure, its summer, but it seems like things shifted gears.

Deaths. Grievances. News of the world. All that coupled with wanting to move in directions that others don’t. Whether it be in the community here, or Newberry itself, in your family, in our country.

Many times, it seems like the yoke that has been placed around us is the furthest from what anyone would call ‘easy.’ The burdens that we haul seem monumental at times.

No matter where we go and move and live out our lives of faith, someone is always going to take objection, it seems like we might have to move mountains (and potentially physically undertake that venture) in order for things to be done.

We have a sense – much like we talked about last week – if we don’t struggle in it, then we’re not really doing anything worthwhile. Nothing good ever came from something easy.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Here’s the thing about a yoke at this time and even our time today. They didn’t just hastily carve any ol’ piece of wood and throw it on an oxen’s shoulders. No. They measured. They scaled. They intricately adjusted the yoke and all the ropes attaching it to the wagon or plow. There was thought and intent placed into the device to yield work in the field. It isn’t just any yoke – it’s that animal’s yoke. Specifically designed for one. That yoke is easy. With that ‘easy’ yoke, the burden is indeed light.

Here’s the deal. A yoke has been placed upon our shoulders – or at least its been tried. Yet, like Paul writes we continue to do the things that we know we shouldn’t, but we just can’t help it at times. We begrudgingly and stubbornly pull upon the loads in our life because we feel that we have to.

We’ve got to do it this way because we’ve always done it that way. We have to stay in this box because we’ve always been here. We have to use these words because that’s what was taught to us.

This weekend we hosted a funeral here at Redeemer. As a church, that isn’t uncommon. Funerals happen. Yet, this one was a little different. It wasn’t a member of the church. It involves a family whose faith tradition in the Body of Christ is much different from our own.

When first approached with the prospect of being the place to gather for this service – I balked.

If you have it here, it has to be done sort of this way. I have to be involved – I’m the pastor so it makes sense.

Yet, the more I stubbornly placed that yoke upon me, the heavier and heavier the burden seemed. I started questioning; if I can’t feel comfortable with this – are we the place for this family to gather and mourn?

I took a step back. I talked with some friends and trusted colleagues, I spoke with those in leadership here at Redeemer. In many ways, more subtle than direct – the question brought up the most was, “Whose yoke are you wearing?”

This is a family that needed to grieve. Needed to mourn. Needed to gather. Let them. Don’t get bogged down with the traditions we’ve created. Have faith. Trust.

So, I did. So, we did.

When at first it was – ‘you can come here, if…’ it quickly became ‘you can come here, so that…’

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

My role – Redeemer’s role – wasn’t to welcome and insist on our own way, but to welcome and to be with. Come, use our space. Mourn. Gather. Worship.

That burden was light – and it wasn’t just because I didn’t have to have the ‘burden’ of leading a funeral service.

But, the burden was light because I was able to wear the yoke that God and our Lord have placed on all our shoulders, the one crafted for each of us so that we might live into the life of faith and hold and care for the person before us.

What might our lives as a whole look like if we could put down the yokes that we struggle to place on our shoulders and instead wear the yoke that has been crafted for each of us?

What if we acknowledged as St. Paul does in his letter to the Romans that we at times are our own worst enemies when it comes to living the life of faith? Where though we know what God has created us for and where we know what God might be calling us to be in that moment – caring, loving, gracious, and forgiving – yet, we insist on our own way. The way we know to be wrong. The way we know to be of sin.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Jesus calls us to wear the yoke that he offers, in the words of Zechariah, that sounds and looks a lot like ‘prisoners of hope.’

Wear the yoke, the mantle placed on your shoulders. That mantle that boxes us in hope for one another and hope for the world.

That’s a life whose burdens are light. A life lived in hope in such a way that you cannot escape from those loving, releasing, and charitable words. Rejoice in that life.

Rejoice not in the life that we force ourselves into. The life where we have to do things a certain way, but rejoice in the life that God has created us for.

That life of hope and faith.

There is one final thing specific to what it means to wear a yoke. A yoke – for the most part – doesn’t involve just one animal. Two or more animals are yoked together. That yoke is crafted not only to be worn by a specific animal, but a pair. And the one who we are yoked to is not only one another, but Christ himself.

We are yoked with God not to struggle alone, but to work in life, faith, and ministry together. Each of us is yoked to one another and to the one who has crafted that mantle that lays not only upon our shoulders, but faithfully placed upon the crafter’s shoulders as well.

That’s amazing. That’s relief. That’s what it means to be a prisoner of hope.

Knowing that we aren’t in this alone. We are in this together – not only with one another as we plow and harvest the field of faith before us, but we are yoked to the one who has sent us out into the world. We are all in this together.

It won’t always be easy – Jesus has been telling us that and even alludes to it today as he describes both himself and John the Baptist as being ones who proclaim God to the world. Though, they do it in completely different ways. And still people would rag on them and attempt to drag them down into the fields.

Yet, the yoke they wear is the one that God had placed upon their shoulders – the one that was light for them. God places the yoke – our yoke – so that we might and are able to live into and live out the life of faith that we are called towards. Then God places that yoke upon God’s own shoulders. The burden is ‘light’ because we don’t pull it alone.

Wear the yoke that God offers to each of us. It just might not be the one that you’re forcing yourself to bear.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Amen.

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July 3, 2017, 9:33 AM

the one where it doesn't have to be flashy...

Sermon from July 2, 2017

Text: Matthew 10:40-42

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, have you ever felt like doing something in the church? You might have felt a slight or even a strong urge to dive into a new or existing ministry that Redeemer or another congregation was supporting; but, you just didn’t do it? Have y’all felt that way before? Even as a pastor, I too at times suffer from this inability to participate in new and existing ministries.

And the reason I typically fall on is that, “I just don’t know if it’ll be good enough. I just don’t know if I can do as well as I would want to really good.” So, instead of just trying and doing good ministry – truly good ministry – we end up not participating and then doing no ministry.

In our Gospel reading today, we hear the end of the conversation that Jesus has been having with his disciples. A few weeks ago, Jesus invited them to do ministry with him. Sending them to the places that he has already been. Participating in the ministries of healing, cleansing, raising, and forgiving. Jesus invited them and continues to invite each of us as followers in faith to do those very same ministries. Jesus was and is inviting all into the same work that he himself is doing and is present in.

Then, Jesus got to the tough parts. How doing ministry in his name, in the radical and drastic ways that he was calling for, would bring people into conflict because it pushes against our inner most thoughts and easily built walls and borders. The radical hospitality and love that he calls us into isn’t easy. It does indeed go against the normal grain of the world and the prevailing and established norms of the culturally religious – even today. It is hard and difficult to live into the radical grace, welcoming, and hospitality that Christ calls for because it places each of us outside of our tidy little boxes. It shatters our sense of what community is and reshapes and molds it into the community of God that Christ envisions. A community that is diverse, loving, and caring. A community that thrives in its worship and service to God because of what God has already done in the life of the world.

It’s hard and many others will balk at it, even though it is what God is moving us towards.

So, we’ve heard Jesus invite the disciples and us into ministry. We’ve heard Jesus tell us that it won’t be easy – in fact it’ll be pretty difficult.

Today, we hear what that ministry might actually look like.

Welcoming and offering.

Really. That’s it.

Welcome one another and be welcomed by offering yourself and the gifts you bring.

But, here’s the thing. Because of the American culture we live in where everything has to be ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ than what others have done – no matter if it is good we tend to not do anything if we cannot ‘compete’ with the flashier folks down the road. Where if we can’t do something BIG than why even bother doing it?

Jesus ends our very short – perhaps the shortest Gospel lesson in the entire lectionary – with something that is relatively small and easy. Giving a cold cup of water.

That’s easy. But, it isn’t flashy. It isn’t necessarily ‘special’ compared to what others might do. But, for the person that receives it? It can mean the world.

Each Sunday we read in our bulletin that there are those in this community who are in need of food and that we have an opportunity to give of our abundance to help a family in need. Yet, at times the buggy grows empty and the shelves at the Manna House hold less and less. I’ve talked with folks – in many places not just here in Newberry – that they feel like they can’t give because they can only give a jar here or there, a box of this. When in actuality they want to be able to give 20 or more boxes of a meal or food, but they aren’t in a place in their life to do that. So, if they can’t give the big number, they end up giving nothing. The little number doesn’t look like it’ll help anyone.

My dad tells a joke that he’d love to have a million dollars – who wouldn’t right? But, he doesn’t want to ask some multi-millionaire or billionaire for a free gift – that’s crazy. He’d rather just have 1 million people give him a dollar. Believe me, he’s tried. Each of those dollars alone don’t amount to a whole lot, but together? You could do a whole lot.

Currently we’re in the midst of collecting water bottles to give to those in need walking on the roads in our community and in the communities in which many of y’all work. In the times that I’ve done this, no one wants to give just ‘one’ bottle. They always want to give ‘more.’ They want to be able to give a box of bottles – big bottles – bottles in such size and quantity to really make a difference! But, if they have only one bottle the prevailing thought at times is, “Well – I’ve only got this. I’ll look bad. I don’t have anything else to offer. So, I’ll just wait until I have more…” Yet, the waiting turns to forgetfulness and busyness – and that can turn to nothing.

This applies to so much of our ministry and life of faith. If I can’t give SO MUCH, then I really can’t give anything. Is it really worth it? If I can only offer an hour to help out in this ministry and/or service in the community – am I really doing anything?

If I can only go and visit one person – is it really worth it?

If I can only give one jar of peanut butter – does it really make a difference?

If I can only offer one dollar – does it even matter?

The answer from our Lord this morning is yes. Yes, it does.

Even a cup of cold water to these littles ones. Yes.

There is so much we can do to be with, to serve, to do great ministry through Redeemer in our community in the name of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t have to be flashy, it doesn’t have to be grand, it doesn’t need a seemingly endless marketing campaign – it just needs to be authentic and intentional.

Offering a cup of cold water to a person in need.

Giving even a dollar to a worthy ministry.

Handing over one box of spaghetti.

Offering an hour of our time to someone else.

All of it is worthy. All of it is wonderful. All of it is good.

The ministry doesn’t have to be grand or flashy. In fact, most ministry isn’t grand or flashy. It’s usually small, intimate, and incredibly powerful in those moments.

The sin of our world in which we are FREED from in Christ’s death and resurrection is the thought that we can’t make a difference in small ways. The sin that if we don’t measure up, you better come back only when you’re bigger and of better use and to be used over the person next to you. Our Lord has freed us from all of that stress and anxiety. We don’t have to do that. We are free – to serve others in all the ways we can.

I want to end with a short story I’ve heard and I’ve shared through my time in ministry.

Once upon a time there was a man who used to go to the ocean for peace and quiet, and for inspiration to do his writing. In the morning, he usually walked on the beach before he began his work. One day as he was walking along the shore, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer, bending, then wading into the waves, arms extended.

It pleased him that someone would dance to the beauty of the day and the rhythm of the waves. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young girl. The girl wasn’t dancing, but instead she was reaching down to the sand, picking up something and throwing it gently into the ocean.

He called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?”

The girl paused and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.”

“I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?”

“The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll be stranded on the beach and die.”

“But don’t you realize that there are thousands of miles of beach and starfish all along the way. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The girl listened and considered. Then she bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea. She watched a wave lift it high, and then it sank into the life-giving water.

“It makes a difference for that one,” she said.

Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones… Amen.



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July 1, 2017, 8:00 AM

July 2017 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to each of you this beautiful (and most likely very warm) summer day. As I write this, I have just returned from Lutheridge after a week of camp and I’m here only so long to keep my office chair warm before I head off for some much-needed time away with my family.

As we approach and encounter the summer months, schedules and routines get tossed out the window. Especially if you have school age children at home from school. Though, I think those with college age children are and can be thrown for a whirlwind as well.

Amid this new craziness things inevitably get ‘lost’ in the shuffle. What was once relatively easy to do becomes more difficult because that time is gone. Perhaps during the school year, you relished those brief moments of silence in the morning before the kids arose from their slumber or the calm evenings after they begrudgingly headed to bed. You might have even enjoyed the great peace knowing that if you went to the fridge to get a snack there was more than likely something in there to eat. But now that the older kids are back? It appears the animals have more food to eat than you.

For me, the time that seems to slip away the most is the time spent in study and conversation with God. Even as a pastor I truly do struggle with that devotional time. If I get even a little bit ‘off’ that schedule, weeks might go by before I realize that I haven’t spent deliberate and intentional time in prayer and conversation.

So, this summer I’ve been looking at ways to help me ‘find the time’ to be in more intentional space with God. I’ve created an ‘appointment’ with God on my calendar each day. I intend to spend 10 minutes every day reading, praying, and dwelling in God’s presence. I’m also using a new devotional program that I have been very impressed with – It is short, yet deep in its ability to bring God into my life and the life of others.

Maybe, you’re a lot like me. Struggling to find that time to give to God – especially in the crazy and funky schedules that the summer months bring. If you are, I invite you to join with me in the endeavor to create space for God each day. An intentional and specific period of the day to give thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will do in your life.

The summer months bring their challenges – I invite you to join me in keeping our God of grace, love, and forgiveness at the forefront of each day.

June 19, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about Jesus already being there...

Sermon from June 18, 2017

Text: Matthew 9:35 - 10:8

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, as most of y’all know, this past week I was lucky enough to be ‘working away.’ I – along with five of our young members – got to go to camp at Lutheridge in Arden, NC.

I love camp. I really do. I didn’t like it so much when I was a camper, but I was 13 and didn’t really know any better. Though, when I look back on it and remember that time over 20 years ago, I do look back on it with bright memories. As a counselor, I fell in love with Lutheridge. The camp, the people, the schedule, even the food. Though, I discovered this week my stomach is not as iron clad as it was almost 14 years ago when I was last a counselor there.

I love camp. I talk it up. Even with some of the not so great things about camp, I still feel like the positives outweigh it all.

It’s fun. You learn about Jesus. You meet new people. You step out of your comfort zones. You get to be silly. There are people to look up to. You learn, you grow, you love.

I love camp. And I really enjoy taking new people to camp. Youth. Adults. If they had camp for animals there, I’d probably talk that up as well. I want people to go to camp. To live that experience.

But, I talk it up because I’ve been there. I’ve gone through those motions. I’ve struggled there. I’ve had fun there. I’ve been there a lot. I can tell campers and youth. I promise it’ll be OK. I’ve been through it. I’ve been there. I want you to come with me, so we can share in this together.

I thought of that as I read the first verse in our gospel this morning. I don’t think I’ve really noticed that part before. Perhaps, I was just in a better place to receive it this week – exhausted, sore, yet full of spirit – as I prepared this sermon in a much different way and environment than I had before.

But, I noticed that before Jesus sends out his disciples – his friends – to go and do ministry, the gospel writer points out that Jesus has gone and done it too.

He’s gone out to the cities. He’s taught in the synagogues. He’s proclaimed God to the people. Up to this point we’ve read of those times that Jesus has healed, cleansed, and been with those that others would rather steer clear of.

Jesus has gone ahead of his disciples.

Jesus invites his friends to share in this ministry that Jesus is already participating in.

I think that’s pretty important to note here.

Jesus invites and sends his friends out to do the very things that he has already been doing and continues to do.

Jesus is there. Jesus has been there. Jesus will continue to be there.

Whenever anyone asks of something from you – to go and do something important or go to a place you’ve never been; doesn’t it make you feel a little better when that person has done it too?

We find a little solace and comfort when the person sending us out has done that before as well. They can assure you. Warn you of the struggles. Share in the joys.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get scared. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be anxious. It doesn’t mean that we won’t experience new struggles. But, we know that we are not alone. We haven’t been cast off with no help.

Jesus is there. God is present. The Spirit is guiding.

Periodically, I was able to check in with AC, Katerina, Philip, Madeleine, and Steven. How are things? How do you feel about what’s going on?

They shared, we laughed, we sighed, we even agreed on some of those struggles.

I hope they knew that they were not alone in this new camp experience. I was there. The other pastors were. Counselors. Fellow campers and most of all – God was indeed present each and every moment of that week.

The Spirit moved through them and all those at camp to bring light and life to the world. Sending us down from that mountain to proclaim, share, sing, and play.

As the years move on and Confirmation Camp rolls around each summer. I hope that each of them and all those who come after them will again join in in sharing the life and light of Camp. That place where people are formed and fashioned in and for ministry. Sharing with those that are new coming along about those great moments, sharing in those struggles, but reminding them that they are not alone.

We’ve been there before. God is with you. I’m praying for you. The Spirit is moving through you.

My hope is that we can do that for not just camp ministry, but for all ministry. The new stuff we get to do here at Redeemer to share the gospel with those around us in our community. The partnerships we establish to strengthen our message and voice. The opportunities we’ve already been given and continue to live through as we proclaim, heal, and send out.

We do none of this alone. We do none of this truly on paths not taken. Our Lord has gone before us to prepare the way. Our God is present with us throughout our journey of faith. Our Spirit rushes into us and moves through us to proclaim this word and this life.

Heal. Raise. Cleanse. Cast out.

Jesus has called us into this ministry with his disciples. It might not quite look like what those disciples did many, many years ago – but, the ministry we are called to do is just as important. Just as faithful. Just as forming. Just as powerful. We get to participate in God’s healing hand by being present with those around us. We get to participate in God’s raising grace when we share in our struggles with those who feel lost or broken, when we invite those who feel pushed to the side to join with us because God is indeed for everyone. We participate in cleansing and casting out as we are reminded and are a reminder for others that they are not alone, that God has not abandoned them, that hope still remains, that all of us are worthy of God’s love and receive God’s love.

Jesus has been there. He’s gone before us. He sends us out strengthened in his love and presence. He sends us out with one another. Let us follow too. Amen.

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June 12, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about God with us...

Holy Trinity Sunday Sermon - June 11, 2017

Text: Matthew 28: 16-20

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, my fellow colleagues and I gather almost every week to discuss and brainstorm about that Sunday’s upcoming sermon. We read the texts, we share insights about what we’ve read or how we might interpret a word, phrase, or meaning behind the text, we tend to get lost in the weeds of our conversation a lot. This week – like every year around this time in the church year – is met with both awe and hesitancy.

The Holy Trinity – that we celebrate this day – is a particularly difficult revelation of God to speak about. As we joked this past week, ‘whenever you begin to talk about the Trinity, chances are you’re stepping – unintentionally most of the time – into a little bit of heresy.’ Which is to say that just because we wear these collars and humbly place these stoles upon our shoulders, we don’t understand it all fully either. Each way we attempt to explain the Holy Three-in-One and One-in-Three we always – always – fall short of the fullness of God.

I mention that, and I try to do that every year, as a reminder to y’all and others that I don’t have all the answers. I too still struggle in this life of faith in many ways, one of which is to define those things that are foundational to our faith. Pastors, they’re just like everyone else!

There is a tendency to try to focus this day solely on ‘explaining’ the very unexplainable and mysterious. I try not to do that because like I mentioned early, the more we do that the more likely we are to unintentionally venture into places that we just don’t want to trifle with. However, as I read this Gospel text we receive this morning, there is something particular about it that when I noticed it was sort of mind-blowing.

But, before we get to that part, I’d like us to think a little bit about the beginning of this gospel. The birth narrative. We really haven’t paid all that much attention to it since Advent – at least not specifically within our worship readings. Way back in chapter one of Matthew Joseph experiences a vision. A vision of an angel of the Lord speaking to him about the child that grows in his fiancé’s womb. The angel specifically cites scripture (Isaiah specifically) that speaks of a virgin who is to conceive and bear a son and that his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.

I always chuckle a bit at that. Because the angel cites this scripture about how the child shall be named Emmanuel, but tells them to call him Jesus instead.

But, that name Emmanuel is indeed the name we place upon our Lord. We believe in that celebration of that pregnancy and birth that God has come down to be with us. That out of that great love that God has for creation, that God has come to dwell in the chaotic messiness of life. Not only with us, but as one of creation.

That name is lived into throughout the gospel of Matthew. Jesus ventures into places and interacts lovingly and compassionately with those that others steer clear. People who are sick – Jesus is with them. Visiting places (and people) outside the ‘normal’ cultural realms – Jesus is with them. Amongst those who disagree with him – Jesus is with them. In the midst of discussions that make people uncomfortable – Jesus is with them.

Jesus is with them – teaching, healing, traveling, standing alongside, listening, forgiving, calling. Jesus is with them.

And, what do we hear Jesus tell his disciples and friends at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew this morning? The final promise that Jesus speaks unto his disciples is this – Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. For me, that was pretty mind blowing.

The promise of Emmanuel has been fulfilled in our Lord.

This time, I think the promise we hear is a desperately needed one. Because, Jesus is sending out his disciples – including us – into the world in the name of the Trinity to do ministry.

I think we need that promise that Jesus is with us because well, sometimes it is really hard to see and to know that Jesus is indeed with us. That we do live a life of Emmanuel. We may get close to this realization during times of tragedy or loss, when even the most infrequently religious of us call on God for some extra help. (Though, now that I think of it, calling on God and experiencing God with us are not the same.) But what about all the other times. Good times, not so good times, joyous times, sad times, expectant times, anxious times. Do we sense God’s presence?

Whenever I am humbled and honored to be with a family or person that has experienced loss in some way – a death of a loved one, an ending of a relationship, a failure to achieve a desired goal, receiving dire news – I usually say something to the effect of, “I don’t know how and I’m not sure where, but I know God is here with you and all of us in this. I know this, because God has promised to be here. Jesus has promised to be here. The Spirit is promised to be here.”

Jesus’ promise as he sends his disciples (and us) out in ministry is said in the present tense. It isn’t a ‘will be’ or a ‘might be’ scenario. Jesus says he IS with them. Here. Now. Forever.

That same promise is extended to each of us. God is here with us. Christ is here with us. The Spirit is here with us.

We don’t quite know how it all works, or what exactly it looks like. But, we trust in the promise that God has made. God is revealed to us in three persons – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Trinity that shares in the love of creation – in the love of each of us. Where that love so flourishes that it spills over the sides and washes us within it. Full of grace and forgiveness. In that model and example of love, we too are called to live out that sort of love. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other that spills out from our lives and into our neighborhoods and communities. Where that love is revealed to others in ways where others can see, touch, and participate. Giving out water to those on the road. Holding those in our arms as they are sent to camp. Being present with the sick, the hurt, the grieving. Finding new ways to be loving in a community that invites others to participate. Working, talking, and listening to one another to see where God is present.

Where we live into the promise that God has for us. Promises bind us together, they provide hope, and they create courage to live with each other, support each other, forgive each other, and encourage each other. At the heart of every real relationship, when you think about it, is a promise. A promise that is a whole lot like Jesus’ promise: I will be with you. I am for you. You can count on me. I’ve got your back. Let’s see what we can do together.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday – as we are sent out in the ministry that Jesus invites us into we do so in the promise that God is there. God is here. God promises to be present with each of us. Always. Forever. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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June 5, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about breath and wind...

Sermon from June 4, 2017
Day of Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2: 1-21 and John 20: 19-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen 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, I don’t love this day just because it has one of my favorite ‘funny’ verses in all of scripture. Where Peter tells those making snide comments around him that these disciples and followers of Jesus are NOT acting in a drunken stupor, because its only 9am. Peter of course must not have ever lived near a college campus. No, I love this day because this is truly one of the most important days and celebrations of our lives of faith. This Day of Pentecost, unfortunately, is not celebrated nor does it garner as much attention as Easter or Christmas, though it is right up there in that echelon of feast days.

As you listened to the readings this morning you might have noticed that we get ‘bookended’ with a text that we heard the Second Sunday of Easter in our gospel reading this morning. Of course – the focus during the second Sunday of Easter was on the reassurance of those disciples that there is no need to be in fear because Christ is alive – Jesus brings peace.

This morning, while we still hear and welcome that reassurance from our Lord – our emphasis is on Jesus breathing. Now, the NRSV that we read from translates verse 22 as Jesus breathing on the disciples, but another and perhaps more correct translation would be that Jesus breathes into the disciples. In the original Greek, it can be translated both ways.

Doesn’t that change how we view and interpret this text? Jesus breathes into them and says – receive the Holy Spirit. When, I hear of that action I think of how when someone stops breathing how we perform CPR. Along with those chest compressions you give rescue breaths into their body. You give those in need air from your own body to help move their lungs – all in the hopes of bringing signs of life back into them.

Here our Lord sees that out of fear and trepidation his disciples and friends are ‘locked away.’ They are not living in their called life, in many ways they are ‘dead.’ So, Jesus breathes the Spirit into them. Giving them new life. New life and hope to live into and proclaim the resurrected life of Christ.

Scripturally, this directly connects what Jesus is doing to what God did to the a-dam in Genesis during creation. God breathed life into the first of creation. Filling them with God’s breath.

Through his own breath Jesus is gifting the Holy Spirit– the one whom Jesus has promised will come – to his friends and followers.

In our reading from Acts we see a wider gifting of the Holy Spirit as we read of a group of individuals who see tongues of flame upon one another’s foreheads and they begin to speak about God – they prophesy. Those around them are awestruck as they hear this group speak in their own native tongues. It is a miracle of hearing.

This group is brought together as one – but retains their own culture and that which makes them unique within God’s good creation.

This is one of the most fascinating and awesome things about our faith history. This is the birth of the church; the faithful gathered in Christ’s name.

Unfortunately, I continue to hear from so many sources that believe that you’re only the ‘true church’ or only a ‘true anything’ when you act, look, speak, and believe like the ‘true’ ones around you. That if you aren’t ‘like us’ then you are not ‘one of us.’

One of the ways that people ‘distinguish’ if you’re ‘one of us’ and a part of the ‘true church’ is how the Spirit manifests itself in your life.

I remember watching the movie Jesus Camp (have y’all seen that documentary? It is a fascinating yet, at times incredibly troubling and sad depiction of theological life in our country). One of the young girls in the documentary railed against ‘quiet’ churches as being ‘dead’ or without the Spirit. In her opinion and the formation of belief in which she had been raised – if your church isn’t hopping, screaming, dancing, and being ecstatic with the Spirit you weren’t really ‘church.’ She expresses that those churches (that look and sound like ours) are ‘dead’ and where the Holy Spirit is not present. Instead, you always hav to be ‘up.’ Anything ‘down’ or ‘quiet’ was bad and non-spiritual.

Just so y’all know – one of the quickest ways to upset your pastor is to state the spirit isn’t ‘present’ in this place (or any place) because it reveals itself ‘differently’ than somewhere else. The Spirit is alive and well within this place and all places.

The Spirit’s job in ‘unifying’ us as one isn’t done in such a way that we all speak the same language – act the same way – or look the same as everyone else.

We are not a ‘melting pot.’

We are not melted down to our base parts and molded into similar shapes like everyone else. Instead, the Spirit uses us and expresses itself differently in each of us as we come together in praising God and Christ in our own unique ways and flavors. Our reading from First Corinthians helps emphasize that quite a bit.

I like to think that in the body of Christ we are more like a salad. Having a salad of just lettuce doesn’t seem all that appetizing – at least not to me. Having a salad of just tomatoes ceases to really be a salad. However, when you continue adding in additional parts it helps bring out so many wonderful flavors. Salad, spinach, onions, tomatoes, cheese, dressing, and more all add to the salad and help make it more full, rich, and whole. Sometimes, you receive a salad and it contains items that you initially don’t like – carrots, cucumbers, arugula – yet they are there because they are good for you and they help enrich the entire flavor of the salad. Further bringing out the richness and fuller taste of that meal.

In the body of Christ, we can have those who clap, raise hands, and yell amen next to those who pray mightily and fervently with their head down, seated next to the ones with their eyes closed as they absorb the act of worship and presence of the Spirit around them.

The Spirit that we are gifted is a beautiful and wonderful part of our lives. That Spirit which guides and helps us to discern God’s presence around us and in us. That Spirit that has been poured into us and breathed into us as the words of the Trinity were said above us and upon us in our baptisms.

Each of us gets to bring our own uniqueness into the Body of Christ to help all of us celebrate more fully and completely and passionately to our God. We get to live out and live into the Spirit that dwells in us through our whole lives – here at Redeemer; out in the community of Newberry; within each of our vocations; shown through all that we do at work, play, and in private. The Spirit dwells in us and moves us in our faith throughout all of our life and all aspects of our life.

We get to look at one another and see this wonderful body of Christ and share in the gifts, quirkiness, and beauty of all around us. Coming together in beautiful chaos as one in praise, thanksgiving, and service to God. All because Jesus breathed into us. All through that loud rushing wind of the Spirit on that Day of Pentecost thousands of years ago. The Spirit isn’t just around us and beside us. The Spirit of God dwells within each of us.

Today we celebrate that. Today we leave from this place with faith and hope. Knowing that whatever we do – God is present with us. That wherever we go – God is present with us. The Spirit has been breathed into each of us, bringing us to life. The Spirit moves through us to serve God and serve all our neighbors.

Gathering us together as one body, working and struggling together to live into and to live out those promises we’ve made in baptism – to live among God’s faithful people, hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people – following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

We get to do that. The Holy Spirit has been breathed and rushed into us so that we can do that. We do this all together, gathered as one, in our own unique and beautiful ways. Amen.

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