In pm's words
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June 20, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus goes to the other side...

Sermon from June 19, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 8: 26-39

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, this is a pretty powerful gospel reading that we heard today. It is powerful not only because of the healing that Jesus performs for a man ravaged by a multitude of demons. It is powerful not only because the demons know who Jesus is – which in my mind is pretty peculiar that those on the outskirts and the demons know who Jesus is, but it takes his friends so long to figure out the same thing.

All of that contributes to making this text so powerful to hear – especially today in light of the worse mass shooting performed by a single individual in this country that happened a week ago. In light of the one-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, SC. In light of a world that seems so focused on ‘fear’ of the unknown, the fear of the different, the fear of the stranger, the ‘fear’ of those on the other side; we get to read this incredibly important and powerful story of what Jesus did.

During this particular time in which we are looking in on during our gospel reading, the faith that Jesus was brought up in and the faith from which Christianity grew from could be very exclusionary. If you were not a part of the family to begin with, it was difficult to ‘get in.’ If you wanted ‘in’ then you had to go through quite a few steps in order to become a part of the family and nation of Israel; the people of God.

If you were not a part of the faith life in which Israel proclaimed, you were considered outside; depending which group of people you were from you might be considered unclean in the sense that you were not of the people of God. You didn’t associate with those who were not ‘of the people.’ If you did, you went through rituals to cleanse yourself to be ‘pure’ in the eyes of the people again. That is the worldview in which Jesus is living in during this time and in which he is proclaiming a vastly different message.

But, before we pat ourselves on the back about how much more civilized we are, we have to remember that we can be and sometimes are just as ‘exclusive’ into who we feel is a part of ‘us.’ A part of us as a people, a community of faith, a family, and a community.

You get the small little jabs that people often overlook – he can’t be doing this; he’s too young. Or she can’t lead that because she hasn’t been ‘here’ long enough. We can’t go there because they live ‘over there’ and we wouldn’t fit in. They can’t come be with us since they aren’t ‘like us.’ They are kin to you know who; it’s only inviting trouble.

Those are the more ‘innocent’ things we hear.

But, then – then are those things that we hear, we read of, we see, and sometimes what we say that are far more divisive, dismissive, and more. Well – look who he’s with – that just isn’t right. We can’t have that. Well, I’m not going to talk to her since she’s one of ‘those’ types. Do you know where ‘they’ are from – where they come from? I can’t believe they let those people do that – it’s wrong. I think those types of people shouldn’t be here at all. I wish they’d go away.

Those are things we hear. Those are things we have seen. Those are the underlying thoughts that have driven some to immense acts of violence and evil – acts of evil that we remember that happened a year ago and a week ago. Those thoughts and feelings – those fears of the unknown and different – drive people to commit heinous crimes of terror in places where people should feel safe, loved, and welcomed.

So, in the knowledge of all that; we get to read this gospel and this important healing that takes place in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Jesus goes to the other side.

Jesus hops in a boat and ventures across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes to be with those who others would have rather he not associate with. They wouldn’t want to be linked to the guy who goes to the other side. To be with the Gerasenes – the gentiles – the ones who are not like us.

Jesus crosses the body of water that separates two groups of people, and in the process crosses cultural boundaries that divide them even further.

And when he gets to the other side, he is confronted with an individual that no one - gentile or Jew -would want to associate with. He is confronted by crazy naked man. And not just any strange and naked individual, but someone who was so tormented by demons that he felt more at home among the dead and the tombs, than he did among the living in town.

But, yet we read that the town – perhaps in an attempt to ‘keep him safe’ – bound him in chains and shackles away from everyone else. And he still broke free from those bonds and ran into the wilds and the tombs.

Jesus is confronted by that guy. The guy who probably wasn’t all ‘right’ to begin with, but one who had been further set outside his community in more ways than one.

And Jesus speaks to him. Jesus heals him. Jesus sends him to proclaim God’s work.

This is a story that emphasizes the radical nature and ministry in which Jesus lives out and proclaims.

Jesus associates not only with those who his faith and culture at the time has told him not to be with, but he even associates and cares for their outcast as well.

When I read this snippet of Jesus’ life, I cannot help but think of the new commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples and in turn gave to us. John 13: 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. But, even in that something is missing. Jesus isn’t talking to a ‘single’ person. Jesus is talking to all those gathered around him that day. In fact, it would be more accurate to translate that verse as ‘I give y’all a new commandment, that y’all love one another. Just as I have loved y’all, y’all also should love one another.’

I think that is the thing that we miss so much in our life of faith. We have a world that focuses so much on the individual. That as long as I am good, then I don’t care how others are feeling. Going so far as to make sure others are put out so that I can feel better, safe, and secure.

Yet, our life of faith isn’t built on the individual. It isn’t about making sure just little ‘ol me is taken care of. The life of faith that we live and are called to is one that is lived for others. This life of faith and the love that Jesus calls us all into is one that is given, shed, and served for all those around us. All y’all.

Jesus in our gospel reading this morning, lives out the life of faith and the type of love that he calls each of us to. A life of crossing those physical and proverbial boundaries that separate us from one another. Drawing us all in together out of love, respect, and grace.

It doesn’t matter who you are. How you live. What others think. Where you come from. What you look like.

Jesus loves you. Jesus comes to you. Jesus is with you.

Jesus also calls us to step over those lines, boundaries, walls, thoughts, affiliations, identities, and more that separate us to bring healing, wholeness, relationship, and love to one another. Being able to look into the eyes of those around us and say fully and completely – You are a loved and forgiven child of God. I am a loved and forgiven child of God. We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

We are able to do that – all of that – because of Christ. Jesus walks with us, shows us the way. God calls us into community with one another – all of us. Where we love and care for one another, showing respect, honor, and grace to each person we meet. Because we all – all of us – are wonderfully made creations of God.

It isn’t always easy – getting through the sin that lurks in our lives and world never is – but, God is there – God is here – with us. Guiding us, loving us, pushing us, calling us.

Jesus goes to the other side – to all sides. To the outskirts. To the outcast. Sharing God’s love and presence with them and us, and drawing us all into that relationship of love. Let’s join in. Amen.

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June 14, 2016, 12:00 AM

A response and letter to my elected officials regarding the shooting in Orlando, FL

I post this letter knowing that there are those within my congregation who think differently. The following letter is my own and it's content doesn't necessarily reflect that of The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer...

This letter was addressed to the following elected officials...

Senior Senator Lindsay Graham
Junior Senator Tim Scott

US Representative Mick Mulvaney

State Senator Ronnie Cromer
State Representative Walt McLeod

My name is Rev. Matthew Benjamin Titus. I am the pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Newberry, SC. You have been elected in my area to represent me and all my fellow neighbors. I hope and plead that you take the time to read this letter in its entirety.

On Sunday morning, before I headed to begin the work that I feel I have been called – proclaiming God’s word and love – to the people that I serve in Newberry, I briefly saw a report of yet another shooting in our country. This time it was in Orlando, FL. At that moment, not much was known since the news was so fresh.

I went to worship.

Within our readings, (hopefully) in my words, in our liturgy, and in the meal we heard about God’s love and forgiveness. How God has come to be with us and has forgiven us so that we can live the life that we have been created for. A life to serve others, love fully, and proclaim thankfulness for what God has already done.

Throughout that morning, word began to spread about the violence that had taken place in Orlando. The violence that transpired within a place of refuge, sanctuary, fellowship, and fun for so many who are shunned and turned away. The more I heard, the more my heart began to break. To break for those who had been directly affected by one individual’s rage and hate. To break for the faith in which I believe and proclaim that speaks of God’s love and presence with us all – no matter who you are.

My heart began to break even further because even with this, I don’t feel that those in your position will rise to the occasion to do what is right, just, and decent for those who elect you and others to represent the people. Again, we hear that an individual was able to easily obtain a tool used to cause so much damage and hate. This individual had already piqued the interest of law enforcement agencies in the past; yet that did not slow down or stop his ability to purchase weapons of utter destruction. 

As a pastor I get to tell people about God’s love for them – all of them. I get to share with everyone about God’s grace that is freely given to the world so that we might live into the life that God has created and intended us for. In our Gospel reading from this Sunday (June 12, 2016) we heard the story of Jesus being welcomed into the house of a Pharisee named Simon. During that meal, a woman enters and begins to lavish Jesus with her tears, hair and ointment as she bathes his feet. The Pharisee is incredibly put-off by Jesus’ reaction to this woman.

Yet, Jesus asks Simon to look at her. To look past her sins (whatever they might have been for they aren’t stated in any way), past her station, past the mere fact that she is a woman and to see her. To see her just as he does; just as God does. To see her and know that she too is a loved and forgiven child of God.

Your honor – I ask you to please see them. See those who have been hurt so deeply and permanently by this act of hate and terror in Orlando. Not only to see them, but to also see the victims and families of those in San Bernardino, Charleston, Washington, D.C., Newtown, Aurora, Binghamton, Fort Hood, Blacksburg, and more. To see them and to act.

To lift prayers yes, but to act through those prayers and begin the steps to enact common sense regulations in this country in regards to guns and weapons, mental health, and national security. To stand firmly with those who hurt and cry out and declare boldly on their behalf – “We hear you and see you.”

I recently heard a wonderful sermon by Rev. Norvel Goff, the Presiding Elder at Mother Emmanuel AME, Charleston, SC, at the ELCA South Carolina Synod Assembly in Columbia, SC. In that sermon he said something that will always stick with me forever, and it is something that I hope you can hear and live into as well.

If the church can’t stand up for what is right, have mercy on us.

Please stand up. Please hear. Please see them. Amen.

June 13, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about tears...

Sermon from June 12, 2016

Text: Luke 7: 36 - 8:3

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!

How many of y'all have ever had a huge load taken off your shoulders? Maybe you were like one of the guys in Jesus' little parable. You owed a lot of money - to a friend, a parent, a bookie, who knows.  Maybe you were inundated with work at school or your job. So much work that it seemed that no matter what you did you couldn't make a dent into it because it kept piling up. Who has had the experience in those moments - or any moments - where someone says, "You know what, don't worry about. You don't owe me anything." 

Have y'all experienced that before? How'd that make you feel? Relieved? Excited? Happy? Thankful?  The money you borrowed from a friend to help you out of a tight spot - Don't worry about it.  All that homework that was due so you could graduate - you're done, you'll graduate. That deadline that is rearing its ugly head and the work that keeps piling up - not a problem. Don't stress. I've experienced each of those situations in some form or another, and I can imagine that many - if not all - of you have has well.

Today, we peek into another part of Jesus' life here as he is invited into the home of a Pharisee named Simon. Now, as a refresher - Pharisees are the guys that don't really like this man named Jesus. He's a wrench thrown in their well-oiled machine. Yes, Simon is curious and invites Jesus into his home. He'd heard about this self-taught country preacher and faith healer and was intrigued and curious, but also skeptical and dismissive.

Of course, in small towns - and most of the places Jesus ministered in were small towns - nothing ever stays quiet. And we all know that don’t we? News travels fast in places like ours doesn’t it? So, others gathered to hear and see this Jesus guy. What might he say? What might he do? Would he perform a miracle or not?

And, within this crowd there was a woman who is identified as a sinner - one who has strayed from God's law, a transgressor of the Torah. Now, you can interpret what 'sinner' might mean (and there are countless commentaries that will give you a thousand and one explanations on what the gospel writer means when he says ‘sinner’), but just know that Luke identifies this woman the same way as he identifies the twelve and those who Jesus associates with. They are sinners. This woman, in Jesus' eyes and views is in the same 'ballpark' as all those others he ministered with, to, and for. She’s a sinner. Just like the others. Just like you and I are sinners.

And this woman barges in and begins to weep at Jesus' feet. She bathes them in her tears; wiping them with her hair, and anointed them with the ointment she came with.

As I read this text, I couldn't help but think of what those tears meant.

Were they tears of hurt as she emerged from the crowd - the crowd who much like Simon - spoke about her in hushed (and not so hushed) dismissive terms with sideways glances pointing out all those places where she had done 'wrong' in their eyes?

Were they tears of sorrow and shame as she knew that she was a sinner and maybe even one so distant from the Law she and her community had been taught that she had been told that God would never extend a hand of grace and love towards her?

Maybe they were tears of hope. Hope that this man who she had heard so much about would be able to do for her what she had seen and heard that he had done for others. Maybe this one - this prophet of God - would see HER and not see the sins she had committed.

Perhaps they were tears of joy and thankfulness that she knew in her heart that this man could help her and WOULD help her. Despite what others might have told her that she was 'unredeemable' or 'too far removed from God' to be loved; she came to Jesus knowing - with tears in her eyes - that she would be, could be, and was loved.

No matter what was behind those tears as they streamed down her cheeks and splashed onto the feet of Jesus; he didn't pull away, he didn't shame her, he didn't get 'uneasy' in her presence like so many others would. He didn’t second guess what was going on even as Simon attempted to point out that what was happening was highly irregular and exceedingly improper.

Instead he let those tears fall as a sign of thankfulness and faith. Those tears fell and Jesus spoke to her in a way that I would guess she'd never been spoken to before. He spoke about her to the Pharisee and placed her on equal and even higher standing than him. I can almost guarantee no one else had done that before!

And that is something that is incredibly significant not only during this time and place within the context of our scripture this morning, but also today. Even today women in our society are looked down upon, spoken about in hushed tones. Sideways glances are given and shade is thrown upon them when they try (and succeed) in breaking those gender stereotypes and glass ceilings that life has placed upon them and other women around the world. Where we become so caught up in other things that we can’t – for once – join in celebration of the accomplishments of what women have achieved that no – no one – would ever imagine happening in our country just a few years ago.

Where, when terrible things happen to women, we still look to make sure that the culprit – the accused – are better cared for. That something else must’ve been going on to make that happen. Something she did. It was her fault. Couldn’t be the nice looking guy over there. Never.

Jesus elevates this women – and all women – into a place that breaks down those walls and road blocks that we as a society have continually setup. Where we continually try to dismiss 50% of the world’s population simply because they aren’t men.

And as Jesus elevates this woman – and all women – to a place of worthy honor – equal to that of the Pharisee, have you ever noticed how Jesus speaks about this woman’s sins? They’re always referred in the past tense. Before she even came into this room and laid down at his feet her sins were no more in his eyes. He saw her - a child of God - a beautiful and wonderful creation of the maker. He speaks to her, ‘your sins are forgiven’.  Your faith is great, don't worry about all this because God does love you.

Maybe you've known - for a long time - that you've done something 'wrong' in the eyes of others. Much like the woman in our story today you've seen the quick glances, the hard looks, you've heard the hushed voices, the rumors, the half-truths, maybe even the full truths of how others perceive you or what they know about you. The way folks have talked behind your back or in that passive aggressive way in front of your face. It doesn't seem like you're likely to receive any good wishes or praise because no matter what you do - people will always know what you've done. 

Yet, fear not. As we've seen in this story this morning Jesus has not come to the 'righteous' but to the sinner. Jesus has come to forgive the sins of the world. Why? Because that's how far Jesus' love goes. That's how deep God cherishes and loves the world. Those sins - no matter how small or great they may appear in the eyes of those around you - are forgiven. They are. Jesus has forgiven your sins. God continues to love and care - always has, always will. We proclaim that each and every time we come to worship. When we begin our worship our sins are forgiven. We worship in thankfulness for what God has already done. We are forgiven so that we can love and worship and serve.

Now, what about poor ol' Simon here? Simon looked upon this woman and saw what he believed he was not. He's one of those guys. I’m sure you’ve met the type in your life before the ones who say, “I may have done this, but I surely haven't been as bad as THAT ONE over there.” Simon needed that woman to be a sinner so he would think that he was not. If you can point to someone 'worse' then you, you can make yourself believe you don't 'need' whatever it is that they want as well. As long as others are sinning, and sinning worse than me, I know I'm good. Why do I need to be forgiven when I think someone else is ‘worse’ than me?

We've all met folks like that right? I'd guess we all have been that person before too. I remember when my parents got a divorce my dad went through a really, really tough time. During that time, he liked to joke that as bad as he felt his life was going he'd catch a glance of the Jerry Springer Show or some other daytime ‘bear all’ show and know that his life wasn't as bad as others. Which was probably true, but it always got me thinking – but, that doesn't really solve anything. You're still in need of love and help - no matter if you think what you've done or are doing is 'smaller' compared to others. Even those who are on those shows are still in need of love, care, and forgiveness. We all are in need of that.

You're still in need of love. You're still in need of forgiveness. You're still in need of grace.

The wonderful thing is, that God has given us that - no matter how great or small we may think our 'sins' are in comparison to those around us - God has extended that loving promise of grace and forgiveness to each and every one of us through Jesus Christ.

God has. Each of us is forgiven. We receive that grace just as freely as the woman in our gospel from this morning has.

We didn’t do anything for it – just as the woman didn’t do anything either. We are given that grace; we are shown that we are loved. Not by what we’ve done, but forgiven and loved so that we live into the life that God has created us and intended us for.

The question now remains - how do we show that thankfulness for what God has done? Do we fall at the foot of the cross and wet it with our tears out of thankfulness and joy? Do we spread and proclaim and shout from the depths of our hearts about God’s love for us and for all of our neighbors? Or do we go down the path of the self-righteous? Doing ‘good’ to be better than our neighbors?

What would it look like if we lived our life knowing in our hearts, full of faith that what God has done for us - in the forgiveness of our sins - that God has done that for all as well? How would that change in how we view and perceive those around us? What would that conversation look like in our gospel this morning if Simon saw the woman for what she was? A fellow sinner who is loved and forgiven by God?

What would the world look like where instead of all the different types of walls and borders we build to close us off and keep others out, we lived into the life of freedom that we have been gifted by Christ who has redeemed each of us?

That's the world I want to live in, that's the Gospel I want to spread. That's the Word of God I'd like to see us put into action every single day.

Remember, Jesus ministered, healed, ate with, fellowshipped with all sorts of people. And most, if not all of them have been clearly identified as a sinner. We're all sinners. Jesus has come to us. Jesus has forgiven us. We didn’t do anything to receive it. Let's live a life in thanks to that kind of grace.

Tears and all. Amen.

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June 6, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus steps in...

Sermon from June 5, 2016

Text: Luke 7: 11-17

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!

You know, a few months ago we experienced a lot of death within our community of Newberry and right here at Redeemer. No matter how death strikes – it is always painful, it is always sad. Whether it is expected or unexpected, it always leaves a void within our lives. Our worlds change, we adjust to a new normal that doesn’t include that loved one in our life.

In our text today, Jesus and his disciples (along with a sizeable crowd that was following them) came upon a funeral procession. Much like today, when we are witness to those in mourning we pay respects by moving to the side. It doesn’t matter who the funeral is for – whether you know them or not – the hospitable thing to do is to move to the side as the procession moves forward. It is a small way to let those in mourning know that they are cared for.

I imagine that that is what the funeral procession in our gospel text was expecting to have happen when they came upon the group with Jesus. But, instead – something else took place. Something far more personal, outrageous, and dare I say scandalous.

Before we get into that, there is something we should know about death in Jesus’ culture at that time. Death and those associated with it, as well as those who are touched by it was considered ‘unclean’ in many ways. Humans did not touch dead bodies – or anything that those dead bodies touched – unless they had to or were very close to the family. They were willing to be in the presence of death knowing that they would have to go through a ritualistic separation and cleansing.

If you could avoid it – you showed and expressed your condolences from a short distance, lest you too would be subject to the purification laws that had to be followed through. Naturally, those that did were the ones who were the closest to the deceased and their family – or they were a part of the group that helped facilitate the burial traditions – ancient cultural funeral directors.

There is of course, something else that is pretty profound within this short text. As much as our lives are rocked and sent in spirals when our loved one passes – it was even more so for this widow. Remember, during this time women were not given the ability to provide for themselves in traditional means. Women were dependent upon their husbands and their sons to provide for them. When a woman became a widow, she moved in with her son. If the son happened to die before her, there were not many options available to her. She either had to reduce herself to begging or prostitution in order to survive.

The woman who leads this procession of her recently dead son (ancient customs stated that those who had died needed to be buried with 24 hours) more than likely had all this running through her mind. Enrapt in her own grief and mourning at losing her son, she also had no idea what her future would hold. Who would care for her? Where would she go? What could she do?

This is the situation that Jesus comes to her and to those in mourning around her.

And Jesus does something that I don’t think many of us would be very happy about – at least not at first.

Jesus barges right into the funeral procession and stops it. I don’t know about y’all, but if some stranger came walking by and barged into the procession and stopped it – I wouldn’t imagine there would be too many kind words and thoughts forming in my head or even uttered from my mouth. You’re supposed to move to the side and let us pass through – why are you stopping us?

Yet, Jesus – the one who bucks traditions and rituals – steps into this procession and does something out of complete compassion for this woman and her mourning.

He touches the frame that holds her dead son.

Jesus bursts through all the etiquettes and social norms to be with this woman in her mourning. Out of his compassion, he enters into her life and offers life – new life.

Not only resuscitating her son, but renewing her life as well. A life removed from the dangers that she could face with no husband and no sons to care for her.

In compassion, Jesus comes to be with this woman and brings her the healing and new life that she needs. Jesus steps into her story.


We hear a lot about compassion coming from our Lord. He has compassion for the widow and those mourning with her. Jesus had compassion for those who were hungry. Jesus had compassion for the crowds who surrounded and followed him. Jesus had, does, and will have compassion for those around him.

The compassion that Jesus shows isn’t just a ‘feeling’ or a ‘thought.’ The compassion that Jesus lives into is that of action. But, not only that – but, the willingness to step into an intimate part of someone’s life that others would try to steer him away from because it would place him on the ‘outside.’ Outside the law, outside the norm, outside the social rules and etiquette of his day. Through compassion; Jesus steps and enters into the stories of those in need.

Out of compassion Jesus walks into the life of this widow – into our lives – and brings healing and wholeness in ways that we wouldn’t expect.

Jesus steps into our lives out of compassion, coming to be with us in those moments where we feel so closed off and distant from God and from life.

Death, broken relationships, terrible illness, a change of vocation, a potential move, being the new kid on the block, feeling and knowing you might be ‘different’ from those around you, the stigma of mental illness, the disease of addiction, and more. Jesus comes to us – out of compassion – and gives us new life, healing, and wholeness.

For the widow – that meant the resuscitation of her recently deceased son. Jesus, out of compassion, stepped into her life to bring her renewed life in a way that one would never expect.

Today, it looks a little different, but the act of ‘stepping in’ out of compassion continues to bring renewed life, healing and wholeness.

God’s work is done through our hands, as we continue to bring our Lord’s compassion to those in need. Caring for those on the fringes of life and status, caring for those who experience loss in any way.

Being present – fully present – out of compassion for those in need. Not just offering up words and platitudes to make us feel good, but offering ourselves to make those around us feel loved and cared for. Through which healing and wholeness begins to take place.

Providing food for those who are hurting or who are hungry. Stepping into their lives out of compassion to say – you don’t have to worry about this. We’ve got it. Providing clothing and more to those who have experienced loss in so many ways. Stepping into those lives out of compassion to say – you are not forgotten, you are wrapped in the bands of cloth that Christ provides for all. Standing up for those who are oppressed and on the fringes of society. Stepping into lives different from our own – out of compassion – to say and show that when we proclaim that God loves you, we mean it and live into it – no exceptions.

Compassion. Compassion drives us to action. Action that provides care, healing, and wholeness. Not simply letting those who mourn in any way to pass on by, but following Christ as we walk into those tender and intimate moments to show and live into the care that God provides for all. Through compassion, we enter one another’s story of life. We learn, share, and grow in this community of God that Jesus proclaims and calls us to be.

Compassion is easily stated, but not always easily lived out. Jesus placed himself – in compassion – into situations that others would later mock him for, deride him, and use against him. Yet, Jesus continued to walk in compassion to where healing and wholeness could take place.

Jesus walks with us – as we too follow him into those moments of compassion, but also see others enter our lives in compassion as well.

When we see compassion lived into and lived out, we too are amazed. We too glorify. We too ponder who it is that has come to visit… Amen.

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June 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

June 2016 Newsletter

Grace and peace to y’all during this beautiful season of the year!

Can you believe that it has already been a year since I was called to be your pastor? It has almost been a year since I have been in ministry with each of you. I remarked to Erin the other day that it is amazing how quickly this past year has flown by. I guess the tried and true statement of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ is pretty spot on!

During this summer for the newsletter, I wanted to try something a bit different with this spot in the Reader. I’ve been asked to write a little ‘refresher’ on some of the things that we take for granted in the church or the things that we don’t necessarily notice – or at least ‘look past and through.’ Not that we don’t care about those things, but because they are always there in front of us, sometime we just don’t ‘see’ them like we used to.

So, this month, I’m going to write and share a bit about the paraments colors!

First – because I’ve been asked – what’s are paraments? Paraments are what many call the ‘altar cloths.’ The colored fabric and draping that are placed on the altar, the pulpit (where I preach from), and the lectern (where our readers speak from). The paraments also include our banners and the stoles that I wear as well.

There are different seasons of the church year and each season is designated a specific color. When I was a camp counselor and would be leading a Campfirmation Group (Confirmation Camp) we had a way to remember the seasons of the church year – ACELEP. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

The church year is divided into two main parts. The first half (the Christmas and Easter Cycles) celebrate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The second half (referred to as the season after Pentecost) and concentrates on Jesus’ public ministry.

Each season is designated a specific color to help further instill in us what that season is meant for.

Advent’s color is blue (though in some traditions it is purple). Blue is the color of hope. During Advent we wait in expectant hope for God’s advent (Latin for ‘coming’) in the birth of Christ.

Christmas’ color is white. The white paraments symbolize the light and purity of Christ and our great joy at his birth. All specific celebrations in the church that emphasize Jesus in some way are ‘white’ Sundays and seasons.

Epiphany is where things get a little ‘wonky.’ The day of Epiphany - being that it celebrates the light of Jesus – uses white paraments. However, the season of Epiphany is adorned with green paraments to symbolize our growth in knowing Jesus as God’s Son and the savior of the world and all creation.

The color of Lent is purple. This is a color of penitence. Penitence is our feeling of sorrow of knowing that we have done something wrong. Another word for penitence is repentance. During this mournful season we show great regret or remorse. Purple is a color that helps us live into that thought and belief more fully.

Easter is of course white. Throughout the seven weeks of Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The color white in the church symbolizes purity, being set a part. On Easter Sunday – the day that we celebrate the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection – Redeemer uses gold paraments to celebrate the wonderful uniqueness of what the Day of Easter is. This is the only day that gold paraments are used in the church. That’s how special and significant this celebration is!

Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost are both very short and very long. The day of Pentecost is the shortest ‘season’ of the church year for it is only one day and on that day we have red paraments. The red paraments – which are also used on Reformation Day and days that the church celebrates ordinations – are reminders of the fire of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit that burns within us, sets our hearts on fire, and sends us out into the world to be re-formed, shaped, and molded into the way that God has set for us. During the Season after Pentecost the church is adorned with green paraments for 27 weeks – except for the occasional festival Sunday (Reformation [red], All Saints Day [white], and Christ the King [white]). Green again is a symbol of our spiritual growth.

So, there you have it. At least in this the first of the occasional ‘Pastor – I wish I knew more about that stuff’ Series. Much if not all of the information I used and have learned from come from S. Anita Stauffer’s seminal work Altar Guild and Sacristy Handbook. Otherwise known as the “Altar Guild Bible.”

As you look through this newsletter see and read not only where God has been at work in the life of our community of faith, but also see what God is up to and where the Spirit is guiding us and see where YOU are being invited into this life of faith at Redeemer as well!

God bless each of you and the work we all GET to do in ministry!

May 30, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about foreigners...

Sermon from May 29, 2016

Text: 1 Kings 8:22-3, 41-43 and Luke 7: 1-10

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, recently I was gifted the chance to reminisce a bit about my time abroad. As many of y’all know, I was lucky enough to live in a foreign country for a significant portion of my life. In 1992, my mom – who is a retired navy nurse – was stationed in Naples, Italy. For four years we got to live in a place that people only dream about living. Not necessarily dreaming of living in Naples per say, but living in Italy and Central Europe.

One of my friends and colleagues is soon going to be moving to Stuttgart, Germany because his wife accepted an incredible job to work in the American schools there as an occupational therapist. Naturally, they are very excited and they asked me to come over to talk to their young sons about what life is like living in a foreign country at their age.

One of the more profound things I believe I said – mixed deeply into the myriad of random statements about living in another country – was that being foreigner in a foreign land has helped me not only make me the person I am today, but I think a better pastor. Their oldest boy responded, ‘Yeah, I can see how that could be! Foreigners aren’t bad since you were one too!’

I thought that was pretty good for an 11 year-old to pick up on who is on the cusp of being a distinct ‘outsider’ in a new land and place. There will still be others like him and his family. Fellow Americans to live around, talk, share, and be with. But, they will still be a small minority amongst a vast majority of people who have a different cultural, speak a different language, and have different views on life.

I started thinking about all this again as I read our first lesson this morning.

Here we have King Solomon praying to God before the altar of the Lord. And within his prayer (which quite a bit gets skipped over too I might add) he includes a petition aimed at foreigners in the land of Israel.

Now, I thought that what Solomon lifts up to God about foreigners is pretty incredible – especially in the world and climate we live in today. The views that many take towards those who are not ‘from here’ today were pretty similar to the way that many felt during the early times that these scriptures were written. There is the thought that if things are ‘bad’ in the place we live; it must be because of those people are not from here.

They are the cause.

They are the problem.

They are not like us.

They have to go.

In fact, it is probably the single most-known platform that one of the myriad individuals running for president these past eight months has stood on.

Yet, contrary to that viewpoint – take a look at what King Solomon says again – when a foreigner – a person not of Israel – comes from a distant land – hear them.

When they come and pray. Listen O Lord.

When they come because they have heard of your great name, mighty hand, and your outstretched arm. Do according to all that they call to you.

This is not the typical prayer that would’ve been directed at foreigners – not only during Solomon’s time, but for what appears to be quite a few people during our day and age as well.

Hear, listen, and do according to all that they ask.

That’s just crazy talk right?

Well – God is kind of crazy – in a good way.

The prayer that Solomon invokes is that of a God who cares for those who call and come and seek refuge. God’s great name, mighty hand, and outstretched arm.

Outstretched arms are those images of drawing one in a close embrace, of invitation to join the group, of showing the grand richness shared with all.

Solomon is calling upon God not to shun, drive out, and rid the land of those who are different, but calling and pulling into the lands and people of Israel those who are outside. That the God of Israel hears their prayers and is their God too. That the God of Israel is not exclusive to those who are Hebrews and Israelites.

This thought again pervades even in our Gospel text. This is another story of a foreigner who is not of the people of Israel.

He’s a leader. An authority figure. An occupier. A Roman. Not a Jew.

Yet, he is an atypical Roman figure in this land. He cares and knows. He helped build a synagogue for the people – a place that he himself perhaps worships in. And he calls upon Jesus to help one within his own household. A worker, a slave.

Again – this is not your typical Roman leader. He cares for the lowly – the one who is more than likely – a foreigner too.

This centurion calls upon Jesus – someone different from him; different culture, different values, difference views – and asks Jesus to help his slave. He calls upon Jesus because he knows and has faith in what Jesus can do and who is potentially is.

Jesus is amazed at this man’s faith. This figure of authority who comes to him for help. The foreigner who sees the work and presence of God in our Lord.

Foreigners abound!

As I talked to these young boys as they soon begin their life living as foreigners in a strange land, I cannot help, but remember my time in their position as well. Learning the ability to look and be with someone who is different because you were an outsider once too. That as I looked upon them I could see that they weren’t all that different from me.

We shared, laughed, and liked much of the same things.

Yet, we all introduced one another to the wonders of our own cultures. Never presuming that ‘mine’ was better than ‘yours.’

At the core – as I look back on it now and as I am able to tell and share with these young kids – we remember that though there are those from other distant lands – God, our God, hears and listens.

God has stretched out arms of welcome and invitation bringing all into the embrace of love and relationship that is for all people.

The ministry of Christ shows us and calls us to a life that is lived for others – not just the ones who look, talk, act, and dress like us.

Being with others, not sending them away. Finding grace and love within their lives, not looking for fears or worries. Praying out to God to hear and listen to them too as we pray for God to listen to us. Maybe, maybe – our prayers aren’t as dissimilar as we might think. Amen.

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May 23, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one that makes our brain hurt...

Holy Trinity Sunday - May 22, 2016

Text: John 16: 12-15

Grace and peace to y’all 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!

Ever try to explain something to someone? Some things are easy to explain like how to get to The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Some things take a little effort, but eventually people understand like trying to teach someone how to drive a car.  Eventually they ‘get it.’ Then, there are those things that no matter what we just can’t seem to fully explain even though we know they are true – like why do you love your spouse? Or, why exactly are the Texas Rangers the best team on earth? Or even, as we celebrate today the Holy Trinity – explain.

I remember in seminary that I and my classmates were tasked with writing about the Holy Trinity for a paper in our Theology class. Of course, before we embarked on that journey, our professor told us – ‘now remember, we as humanity and creation can never fully understand the Holy Trinity, but you better not start your paper with that. It’s never good in an academic paper to state that you really don’t know and can’t fully know what you’re writing about. Have fun!’

The Holy Trinity is something that we really and truly cannot full explain (it is a good thing I’m not in seminary anymore). No matter how hard we try, every ‘answer’ and explanation is more wrong than right, more untrue than true. There simply is no way to explain it in a way that actually gives justice and fullness to the Trinity.

So, though we may not be able to fully explain it; we can and we get to do something else. We get to explore it. Instead of trying see how each individual part fits in with the other, diving in like little engineers attempting to tear a lawn-mower down in order to build it again, we get to sit back and think about what the Trinity has to say about us and to us. 

As we sit back and think on the Trinity, most of us usually gravitate to one person of the Trinity that is the most easily understood. Some grasp for God the Father – seeing this person of the Trinity as the ‘guy in the sky,’ creator, sustainer. The loving, yet stern parental figure. The one who sets the rules and dishes out judgment.

Some center their faith on God the Son – Jesus Christ. From have you accepted Jesus today? To “What would Jesus do?” and even looking to Christ Crucified. Many find comfort in the tangible and physical person of God that we know of in Jesus Christ.

Finally, there are those of the faith for whom, feeling the spirit is everything. Speaking in tongues, handling snakes, faith healers, Charismatic Catholics and all in between. Even those who say they are more ‘spiritual’ than religious – those guided by feelings and the movement ‘of the Spirit’ in their daily lives. So naturally, they are drawn to God the Holy Spirit.

Now, all of us are a little bit of each of these, and almost none of us is completely one of them; but all of us favor one more than the other two. And the point is, each is an authentic way to experience God, and none of them is complete in itself; at least not for a healthy Christian life of faith.

Though we may not truly understand how each person of the Trinity interacts with one another we do know one thing – each person of the Trinity never works alone.

There isn’t a moment – at least in my thought and belief – that the Son goes off alone to ‘find himself’ or to seek guidance that is absent from the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t remove himself from the other two in order to learn in solitude. The Father doesn’t abandon the others because he feels like the other two aren’t pulling their weight.

No, the Trinity works in community with one another. They are eternally one together, even though they are individually their own. The relationship they work together in is in their mutual love for one another. They work together – the work that they participate in – the serving, guiding, loving, forgiving, declaring, and more is all done together.

So what does that mean for us today? There are those that feel it necessary to go off alone, to discover themselves or find God in the midst of their life. Yet, they go alone. Lone Rangers out into the wilds of the world – searching for the ‘one.’ Most individuals that I’ve talked to who have done that or are in the midst of that journey usually remark that something is missing, it is an adventure that doesn’t seem quite full.

Of course, my response to that is usually – well, you’re forgetting one major aspect of the life of faith that is modeled for us in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we don’t do this alone. We work in and serve through and are in relationship with not only the Trinity, but with one another as well. As we learn and grow we share and tell. We discover, we discuss, we talk, we disagree, we learn, we continue to grow in our faith.

We look to the Trinity as a model of how that community relationship works and grows. Where there is mutual love, honor, and respect. Each person of the Trinity offers their own gifts and skills, yet leans on and into the others for support and guidance.

We too are called to work in community within this life of faith. Seeing before us all those who are given honor and care, respect and love. We don’t venture off alone, seeking to find the ‘answers’ to life in solitude.

Instead, we strive, struggle, and thrive with one another. Where we are together in love serving, caring, seeking, learning, and growing. Life is better with others.

Others that know your cares and struggles. Others that pray for you. Where you celebrate the joys of those around you. As we all come together to learn and discuss.

This life of faith isn’t one that can be lived fully or completely or even satisfactorily without the presence of others around us.

That is the only way I can explain the Trinity. And it still leaves me scratching my head more often than not. I cannot explain how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are truly one God, yet three persons. Different, yet the same. United, yet individuals. But, what I do know is that as I explore – as I ask questions – as I delve into conversations with each of you – we get to experience the love of God for us. We get to remind ourselves that though we may not fully understand what we’re trying to explain – we can matter-of-factly with no doubt in our mind state – This God, this unexplainable, majestic, makes our brain hurt God loves each of us fully and completely, knows us inside and out, has forgiven of us all that we have done and all that we will do, where we are seen as perfect in this God of Love’s eyes. 

Our God loves us and continually invites us into this relationship of love. Our response to this amazing gift is to tell others that we don’t have to understand God to be loved by God. Not understanding our God doesn’t keep us from exploring how this love works or what it looks like, but we cannot wait to explore it with you – together and in community with one another.

We may not be able to wrap our arms and minds around the Trinity, but it really doesn’t matter.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wants us to know, experience, and feel that we are loved.  Loved fully, completely, without hesitation, with no regrets. Ever. No exceptions.

The Trinity loves, let’s explore it together. Amen.

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May 16, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where the Holy Spirit shows up...

Day of Pentecost - May 15, 2016

Text: Acts 2: 1-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the risen and ascended 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!

What a great day this is! I love the season of Pentecost. I love the imagery of Pentecostal fire, the image of refining fire, the fire of glass blowing, the fire of the Holy Spirit. I love that we deck the church out in red on this day. I love that I get to wear this stole – a stole given to me at my ordination – because I really only get to wear it on Pentecost Sunday, Reformation Sunday, and any other ordinations I’m honored and lucky to attend.

This is a fun day! This is the birthday of the church. It really is. It is here that the people of God who followed the Way of Christ gathered together and began to proclaim Christ and the work of God in different languages. They were overcome by something like a rushing wind and what was like tongues of flame upon their foreheads. I think this is a really cool story and moment in the birth of the Church of Christ – and not just because Peter excuses the odd behavior of those gathered because it is too early for them to be ‘filled with new wine’ and instead recognizes and declares that they have been touched and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Someone obviously has never lived in a college town to understand that 9am isn’t always too early for some…

These gathered in Jerusalem that day were filled with God’s Spirit and compelled to speak in all known languages about the work of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  L’Esprit Saint.  Der Heilige Geist.   Lo Spirito Santo.

What amazes me most is that this is the moment that those who followed Christ felt compelled and called to proclaim Jesus in all aspects of their life. It is here that the work of the Spirit fully guides and is present with those to live into all that Jesus taught, foretold, and proclaimed. It is this interesting and crazy event of people speaking and hearing in a multitude of languages that inspires people to be willing to die for what they believe.

It wasn’t the last supper. It wasn’t the numerous miracles that Jesus performed and pointed to God through. It wasn’t even the resurrection.

It was this moment. This moment of many gathered in Jerusalem who start talking and shouting and proclaiming God’s work. Those around them heard them in their own native tongues – languages that those speaking wouldn’t have known or perhaps even have heard. This is the powder keg moment of the life of faith that explodes in Jerusalem and in which today we are still feeling the fallout.

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us like a strong wind ever blowing through the sails of the church that are her people. The Holy Spirit is there to guide and point God’s people to Christ’s presence among and in us. The Holy Spirit is here to remind us of all that Jesus has taught us. The Holy Spirit is that which enwraps our hearts and directs our bodies to God and our ministries to the world in ways that we cannot explain. This fire of the Holy Spirit is here to let our hearts burn ever so brightly, strong, and hot for God that we are –refined – reformed –re-oriented – again and again towards God. The Holy Spirit is that presence of God among us reminding us of the promise, the sacrifice, and the gift of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And our response to the presence of the Holy Spirit is to shout in thanksgivings and praise – even when others might not understand what’s going on. The work of the Holy Spirit is that which knocks us sideways to proclaim Christ to the world.

The Pentecostal event that we hear and celebrate today is not one that anyone would expect. When we think of the Holy Spirit moving through people, we like to think of the ‘A-Team’ those stalwart men and women of faith who were moved to do wonderful things in the life of the church. People like Peter, Paul, Martin Luther, St. Francis, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many, many, many more. We think of them as superstars – learned individuals, deeply and truly faithful folks.

Yet, when we really look at it – Jesus doesn’t necessarily call on the Avengers to take up the cross. God certainly didn’t in this story of Pentecost that we read today. Those speaking today aren’t sophisticated and learned individuals – at least not in the way we would describe. They more than likely didn’t know the languages that people heard them speaking. They were just simple, ordinary, down-to-earth folks – Just like you and me – who were filled with the Spirit to proclaim God to the world.

God showed up in this unique and one-time way and it changed everything.

In this moment, God knocked creation sideways and from that we are here today.

Think about that for a moment – because of this event the church is birthed. Some have described this as the large rock dropped into the middle of a still pond and the ripples are being sent out today. I like to think it much more as if a nuclear bomb of faith went off. It exploded in this event of Pentecost and the fallout is still being felt today. That fallout of faith that covers everything in our lives – pointing to the one who caused it all – the one who out of love has freed us from sin and death in his victory on the cross and in the empty tomb.

The Holy Spirit is amazing. Our guide. Our helper. Our advocate. The one who Jesus sent to remind us all of what and who Jesus is, but also to remind us of who and whose we are. That we are God’s.

Most importantly the Holy Spirit is that which moves us – where we are literally blown as if by a mighty wind to new and unexpected places of ministry. That in those moments they’ll knock us sideways.

This day, as we listen to the words and this music all inspired by the Holy Spirit how will you be moved? How and where will you and this community of faith here at Redeemer and in Newberry be moved to those unexpected places of ministry? Where is the fire of the Spirit refining us as a community journeying with and for Christ?

The Holy Spirit has wrapped her fire and wind around each of us – refining us and blowing us about in this church and community of faith to see God’s work in our lives and at work around us and reminding us that each and every last one of us are prophets to proclaim the mighty acts of God. 

Y’all – God is here for you. The Holy Spirit is present among us. Christ dwells inside us. Where is the spirit blowing you and setting your heart on fire today? Tomorrow? Next week? Where is the spirit blowing you to proclaim and live out this faith and gift that is from God?

This is a great day to remember, where we remember the birth of the church that the Holy Spirit blew to unexpected places. It is also a great day to be reminded that the Spirit continues to push us to minister to the places and people who we probably wouldn’t want to or expect. Where in those unexpected places we again and again see the ministry of God at work in us and among those who we are called to as we are knocked sideways by this wily Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit brings us to mission and redemption for the world. We may not know what that looks like fully, but it is for everyone. The church is blown to different places so that all might know that God’s grace is for everyone. Amen.

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May 9, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about Jesus' prayer...

Sermon from May 8, 2016

Text: John 17: 20-26

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!

We’ve come to the end of the Easter season. Today – this Sunday – is the final day in the Easter season. We’ve celebrated and praised Jesus’ resurrection these past seven weeks. Just as there are twelve days OF Christmas, there are seven WEEKS of Easter. We have been blessed again to remember what God has done for us and for the world in the death and resurrection of our Lord – God’s son – Jesus who is our Christ.

As we come to this Sunday, we get to hear a pretty important Gospel reading. We would think that this would be the day – this final Sunday of Easter – that we would be celebrating God in what God has done in Jesus. Where again we would be witness to the beauty and mystery of the resurrection and the empty tomb. That final fell swoop to remind us of the magnificence and greatness of what God has done in Christ our Lord.

But, that’s not the story we read this morning. Those aren’t the words we hear Jesus speak. Instead, we get to listen in on a pretty private moment between Jesus and his disciples. A moment that each of us are invited into because Jesus is praying not only for those gathered around him, but also praying for those who will believe because of the disciples’ word and proclamation.

That’s pretty powerful isn’t it? To know that Jesus is praying for us. That makes you step back a bit and take stock of things doesn’t it? That the one who boldly walks to the cross, who willingly dies in a way of torture, who then is raised from the dead – he prays for us. He prays for you; he prays for me. He prays for the whole world. All those we know and all those we will never know or meet.

That’s pretty powerful.

And what is his prayer?

To be happy? No.

To be successful and filled with abundance of riches? No.

That we might find that special someone? No.

To finally wise up and act right and listen to him? No, not really.

Those prayers? Those are mom prayers. And believe me I know. My mom has told me she has prayed those prayers – for me it’s mostly the last one. And, as a pastor I’m told a lot that that’s what many moms pray for.

They aren’t bad prayers in anyway – though depending on what your mom thinks, that last one might not go very far. They are indeed wonderful prayers, but that isn’t what Jesus prays for. Not even close.

Jesus prays that we might be one. That we might be one as he and God are one. That we might be ‘in them’ as they are in one with each other. Now, at first glance it is all pretty confusing and structured in a way that isn’t clearly or easily read and understood.

But, Jesus prays – at the most basic level – that we might be one.

What does that mean for y’all? To be ‘one’ with another?

Does it mean that we are all exactly the same? Does it mean that we all rigidly adhere to and follow the same beliefs and doctrines? I hope not and I don’t think so.

As I think about Jesus’ prayer that we might be ‘one’ I cannot help but, think that Jesus might be a little disappointed in us. That as Jesus looks out upon the world that he sighs in frustration and sadness.

Because, we aren’t ‘one.’

In so many ways we aren’t ‘one.’

We aren’t ‘one’ in how we view one another – in how we view race, lifestyle, political leanings, sports allegiances.

We aren’t even one when it comes to the church. There are a myriad of different traditions, denominations, and flavors of the Christian faith. IN fact, according to a study done in 2011 – there are over 41,000 different Christian denominations and organizations – taking into account of the overlaps based on cultural distinctions from denominations in different countries.

That’s not a lot of ‘one-ness’ being had there. Then you break those divisions even more when we talk about divisions between schools, companies, families, and friends.

Now, like I said earlier I don’t think Jesus is praying that we all be exactly the same or rigidly follow all the same specific practices, doctrines, and beliefs.

Being different from one another is not bad. It never has been and never will be. Differences are natural. We are all different, we cannot help that.

However, what I think is sad and depressing at times – and what makes me personally sad given the prayer that Jesus prays for us – it isn’t that we are different, it is that we are divided. That in many aspects of our life – even our life of faith – we aren’t ‘unified.’ We are divided and we revel in our division. We at times promote our division.

So what can be done to help us live into this prayer of ‘one-ness’ that Jesus prays for us?

For that, I continue to evoke my mom – and what I imagine are what many moms say to their children and families, “For the love of all that is holy – just love each other.”

As Jesus gets to the end of his prayer he says, “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.”

Love, again you’ve heard me say before and I will say it again and again. Love is the crux of Jesus’ ministry and life.

That unconditional love that we strive for that God has for us. That love that looks to those around us and sees them as honorable, worthy, and equal. That love that a mother and father bestow upon their children. The ones who follow and the ones who might stray a little.

The one-ness and unity that Jesus prays for – that Jesus prays that we might have – isn’t a unity that is like the proverbial melting pot. We aren’t melted down to our base parts and poured into similar molds so that we are all the same.

No, the oneness and unity that Jesus calls for is that we view one another as fellow children and creations of God. That even in our differences, we can have love for one another.

The love that calls us to help, serve, and proclaim. That love that honors and cherishes and respects the one before us. The love that gives of ourselves so that others might be full. The love that Jesus has given to us – that love that we share with the world.

Where our ‘one-ness’ and unity is that of a salad. Where each part contributes to the wonder and health of that meal. Where all the different parts of the salad help make the meal even better.

That is the unity that I hope to live into. That is the prayer that I find comfort in that Jesus prays for us.

That the love of God and our Lord might be in us as we live out that love for and with those around us. Amen.

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May 2, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about the wily Spirit

Sermon texts: Acts 16: 9-15; John 14: 23-29


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!

When I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge during the summer of my freshman year at Newberry College – I felt called by God to ministry. I felt called to be a pastor. So, when I came back for my sophomore year, I decided to enroll in some religion classes – the ones I was required to take and some extra ones so I could minor in religion and philosophy. I worked at St. Philip’s off of 219 my senior year to get some church work experience. I took some years off to ‘get settled’ and have a nice break out in the ‘real world’ for a bit before heading to seminary. I also got married then.

In 2007, I was accepted and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Columbia. In 2009 I was sent to Huntsville, AL for internship.

Everything seemed to be going ‘exactly according to plan.’ At least according to the plan and path that I felt God was calling me on. In fact, at my approval panel (the final ‘academic’ hurdle to get through before one can be approved for ordination) the head of my panel even mentioned that things were going pretty well – I was doing well in school, I had just welcomed into our life the birth of our daughter, and the Texas Rangers were well on their way to their best year ever. Things were going very well.

As Erin and I approached the day that I would be assigned to a region in the ELCA – the part of the country that I was to begin my ministry as a pastor – we really thought that we’d end up somewhere that would be familiar, perhaps even as far away as – Georgia or North Carolina.

Well, it didn’t work out quite like that.

In our first reading this morning, we see that Paul has a vision of a man who calls him and his friends to come help the people of Macedonia – to come to Greece and proclaim the gospel. Naturally, Paul and his friends set off to go to this foreign land and place. Sure, it was a Roman colony (something Paul would be familiar with), but it was still a new and different part of the world that he hadn’t been to before.

They arrive in Philippi and they hang out for a few days. Who knows what they were doing during that time. But, then on the Sabbath they went in search of a place to worship and pray. They happened to go to the city gates, by the banks of a river, and it was there that the Spirit led them to do ministry.

I can only imagine that that is not what Paul and his friends thought it was going to be like. His vision said that a man cried out to them from Macedonia. However, it was not a man, but numerous women that they talked and proclaimed to and shared with. Here they were – foreigners to a city and strangers to a land – and they come and talk to women on the outside of the gates of the city, by the river.

I don’t think that is what they thought was going to happen. They didn’t even help those within the city proper – but, instead proclaim the Risen Christ to those outside the gates. And then, the one who they talked to the most – the one who heard their words most fully – was a woman who wasn’t even from Macedonia or Philippi – she was from Thyatira or what is now modern day Turkey.

Talk about a curveball right?

I remember when Erin and I were sitting in the chapel at Southern Seminary waiting to find out what region we were going to be called to. I remember opening that envelope and thinking – something’s wrong. This number is upside down. It says 6, it’s supposed to say 9 right?

The Holy Spirit has a way of throwing us for a loop. Sending us to places that we wouldn’t expect, calling us to the places that we least expect in order for ministry to be done. It isn’t out of spite or out of foolishness. The Spirit doesn’t do this simply for the jokes and laughs. The Spirit sends us where we are needed. The Holy Spirit guides us to where ministry can take place.

I don’t know how Paul and his friends might’ve felt as they traveled from Troas to Philippi. I don’t know how they felt when they wandered around this new and strange city not knowing what to do, where to go, or who to speak to. But, I know how I felt when I was assigned to a region and then to a synod I never expected or even heard of.

I remember being frustrated, a little hurt, upset, and depressed. Really, really bad stuff. This isn’t what I expected. Why did I do all of this? What are we going to do now?

That crazy Holy Spirit – the wily one of the Trinity. Always stirring it up so that ministry might take place. Good, fruitful, and faith-filled ministry.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his disciples and in turn tells us that the Holy Spirit doesn’t come to make us feel good. To give us those warm and fuzzy feelings. Gently assuring us that things are always going to be alright – safe – comfortable – familiar.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit is the one who continually points us to the one who gives us peace. Who promises that he is there – here. The one who commands us to love one another as he has loved us. The one who tells us that in our love – we will follow.

Of course, those are all things that are easier said than done. The disciples had a hard time with it. There was hesitation among the faithful like Paul and his friends.

This work of the Holy Spirit is not usually the story and action we want to hear and take part in.

It’s scary. It’s unfamiliar. It isn’t ‘quick.’

As most of y’all know, I was called to Michigan. It took quite a bit for me to work through that. A southern boy taken by the north. It took a bit for me to realize that I wasn’t so much sent to Michigan, but I was called to do ministry there. A place and a people that viewed what I had done and who I was and said, “Yeah – this guy could do well here. He has gifts that can be used here.”

We had four wonderful years of ministry ‘beyond the wall’ to the north. During that time, I and my family grew in our relationship with God – with one another – with the responsibility and vocation of what it means to be in ministry in, for, and with God and God’s people.

Each day I was reminded of Jesus’ presence. The Holy Spirit was doing her job. The Holy Spirit is doing her ministry and work.

What I think we can learn from these texts is that the Holy Spirit is not something we can control or fully – if at all – understand. That when we are called by God to do ministry – any ministry. Whether it is feeling the call to be a pastor or even to come to serve and be with those in need.

Whether you are knitting hats for babies and cancer patients.

Whether you are called to speak out against those who attempt to oppress those around you.

Whether you are being present with those who are grieving.

Whether you feel a call to gather food, clothes, and more for those in need.

The Holy Spirit moves through those wonderful acts of ministry and then directs and guides us to where we are needed the most.

We might be sent off to places we didn’t expect. We might be sent to people we wouldn’t expect. We might journey to ventures we never even considered – all because of the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout it all – Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit is there.

That the Holy Spirit will remind us of him. Remind us of his words and actions and promises. Remind us of the peace that Christ has offered to us.

That peace that God is with us. That we are saved in the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

The Holy Spirit does send us into ministry in ways and places we wouldn’t expect, but that doesn’t mean we do it alone. Christ is here. God is present. The Spirit is guiding.

It’s going to be OK. And along the way? Amazing ministry can and does happen. Amen.

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