In pm's words
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January 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about baptism...


Sermon from January 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 3: 13-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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, as we journey further from the Bethlehem story of our faith – the birth of our Lord – we enter a new season in the church; the season of Epiphany. As I think about this season – which is more than just the ‘buffer’ before Lent, I sometimes like to think of it as the season of ‘Hey, God’s here!’

You see, Epiphany in its most basic definition is ‘being made known.’ And, we begin this first Sunday after the Epiphany as witnesses to a moment in our Lord’s life where again we hear, “Hey, God’s here!” Of course, the moment we look in on is a little weird for us to hear. For this Sunday, we are witness to the baptism of our Lord.

It’s peculiar to look in on this moment because of what we know of baptism. It is for the forgiveness of sin, makes us clean, washes us before the eyes of God, where our faith is poured into us. So, if that’s what baptism is for us – why is Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – being baptized?

That is a question that many throughout the history of this life of faith have asked – we aren’t the only ones. Church historians, brilliant theological minds, and even the precocious young Sunday School student have all puzzled over this moment in Jesus’ life.

John the baptizer understands the awkwardness of this moment. He even states it pretty explicitly within this part of Matthew’s Gospel. Yet, even as Jesus hears his concerns, he is firm in his desire. We need to do this. We are supposed to go through with this. It is to fulfill righteousness – all of it. It is what God wants. Hey, God’s here!

But, yet… even that answer doesn’t seem altogether ‘complete’ for us. An answer like that basically says – just accept it y’all. For many, that’s hard to take. For me it’s difficult to live into as well. When I hear ‘just accept it,’ it can make me very skeptical and suspicious.

So, I’m not sure that is the most ‘sufficient’ answer for us to seek. Or at least, we don’t have to stop at that answer. So, we dive deeper.

The baptism of Jesus also marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It all begins in this moment. From here, Jesus will wander in temptation through the wilderness, he’ll call and gather his disciples. He’ll perform miracles, he’ll participate in conversations and sermons – continually pointing to the one who sent him and whom he points towards.

In this, his baptismal moment, Jesus begins the journey to the cross. The journey to death. The journey to resurrected life. A journey of life that is lived, died, and resurrected for us.

In this baptism, Jesus lives fully into what God has done in him. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of our Lord. We proclaimed in thanksgiving and joy about the Word made flesh; about God coming down to be with and among us.

Jesus goes so far in this to be baptized with us. It is here that Jesus joins with all of humanity. Here Jesus states – emphatically – that not only have I, God’s son, come down from on high in my birth but, I also live this life with, like, and for you. I too am baptized. Living the life that each of you will live as well.

Wading into the same waters that we wade through. Jesus takes that on, Jesus walks and splashes with us. He is not an ‘imposter,’ a ‘charlatan’ who only speaks words that sound good to our ears and placates our fears. Jesus walks fully into the life that he proclaims, calling us to follow him. For we know that he too has lived this life as well.

As we get to the end of this short, yet powerful moment from Matthew’s Gospel, we get to hear the voice of God. Though, it is interesting that God’s words aren’t directed at Jesus even though the heavens and the descending spirit appear to be only visible to him. Because of how verse 16 ends, you’d think that God would say, “You are my son.” Yet, God states that ‘this is my son – the beloved.’

God is speaking to someone else. God – my brothers and sisters – appears to speak to each of us.

During this season of Epiphany, we continually look to see where God is being made known. Where God looks to us and says, “Hey, I’m right here.”

God is speaking to us – to you and to me – in these words of Matthew’s gospel. This is my son. The one I love. I am greatly pleased.

God speaks to us and says – ‘yep, I’m right there.’ I was baptized – just as you are baptized. I was sent – just as you are sent. I was called into this life – just as you are called into this life.

In this, God is saying to us that Jesus is here. God is here. For us.

When we are baptized, we are wiped clean. We are forgiven of our sins. Washed and welcomed into this family of God.

One of my favorite depictions of baptism occurs in the movie O Brother Where Art Though where one of the escaped prisoners – Delmar – hears singing and sees many individuals coming down to the river to be baptized by the preacher man in the water. He too feels that call and leaps into the waters to be baptized. Later in the car with his friends he says, “I been redeemed. The preacher said so. All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.” His friend replies, “Uh Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.” “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too!”

Jesus enters with us into this life. Joining with us in spite of our sinful nature. Jesus has not been baptized to wipe away some ill-doing in the past or to come in the future. That’s why we are baptized. Washed clean before the eyes of God. Where we are washed, and adopted into this family and community with Christ at the head of the table.

In Jesus’ baptism, he joins himself to humanity and our checkered past. All of it. The violence, the greed, the loathing, the little lies, the big swindles, everything. In baptism – Jesus joins himself to all the world. He is without the need to repent, but still takes on our stain and is willing to be associated with us rather than remain ‘pure.’

Jesus does that – Jesus does all of that – all of this – out of the love that God has had for all the world. As God came down to be with us, Jesus joins with us in baptism. Aligning himself with us. Not just to say, “See, I’m here too.” But, to live this life fully and completely with and for us.

Where in baptism we too are called into life with Christ. Joining ourselves with God to live the life that has been set before us.

Doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. Doesn’t mean we won’t mess up. Doesn’t mean we will always be ‘right.’ But, in that abundant life of water and forgiveness we are continually called to live into the life poured over us. A life that God joined in with us through Jesus’ own baptism.

A life that we get to walk together – not only with one another, but with God as well.

Amen.

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January 4, 2017, 12:00 AM

January 2017 Newsletter article


Grace and peace to y’all! It’s 2017! Can y’all believe it? How fast this previous year flew by. I think we had a great and positive year at Redeemer in 2016 and I look forward in faith to what 2017 can bring.

Towards the end of this past year, I started reading a new book called Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Douglas Abrams. Mr. Abrams’ book is an entire weeklong interview and conversation on joy between His Holiness Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

For years, as I read books about the ‘future’ of many things – the world, Christianity, and more they always center around two main points: it’s not the way it used to be and we can’t make/force it be that way again. With those two points, we move forward in new and different ways. Now, certainly I believe that to be true as well, but those books are never that positive. Lifting up and catering to more of our ‘fears’ of a changing world and how we must change the way we’ve done ‘this’ (whatever it may be) to move forward in our world today.

Those types of books are needed reads and do help us move forward into new and – dare I say – exciting new opportunities and ministries when we live into the proponents that the author specializes in.

What I’ve enjoyed about Book of Joy is that it still calls for us to move forward in life and ministry in new and exciting ways – even in ways that may seem scary and uncomfortable – but, in a much more positive way.

Focusing on the joy in our lives. By focusing on joy of life we can help bring about wonderful and exciting ministry in our life and our world.

It really is a great book with these two wonderful men of faith – who share a deep and caring friendship with one another.

So, this year as we begin 2017, I hope that we all can seek joy – joy in our lives with our families, joy in our life of faith, joy in the ministry at Redeemer, joy in life itself.

So, be joyous this new year in all that you do! Be joyous in all that we get to do in ministry at Redeemer! Be joy at Redeemer!

I end this little article with one of my favorite quotes from Archbishop Tutu from The Book of Joy:

“The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn't pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that's why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”

What a wonderfully simple, scary, and still difficult way to bring about joy in your life and our world by being generous of yourself to all those around you. Living into the faith that has been poured into us in our baptisms. Living this life of faith that our Lord points us toward – living it for others.




January 3, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about all the noise...


Sermon from Saturday December 24, 2016

Text: Luke 2: 1-20

Grace and peace to each of you this night as we gather in celebration as a community of faith. We gather to shout with joy that the Word has become flesh. We sing with praise about our God who has come to dwell with us. We give thanks for what God has done in an unexpected way.

So, I welcome you as we gather this day in the name of the one who has come, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the light that shines in the darkness, 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!

Whenever I begin to work on this message – for this night – I get a little nervous. What should be ‘easy’ ends up being – at times a little difficult. It’s ‘easy’ because this is such a good and well known story. The story of God coming to be with us. The story of a baby born in Bethlehem who is the fulfilment of prophecy. The story of loved literally lived out for the world.

That should be an easy story to tell.

What makes it difficult is getting through all the ‘stuff’ – the noise – to tell that story.

Noise. We’ve got a lot of it during this time of year. We experience so much of it the minute we enter this season – which for reasons I have not been able to explain seem to begin closer to October than ever before.

We’ve got the commercialized ‘noise’ that seems to get louder and louder to drown out this story. Glitter, glamour, ads, songs, manufactured cheeriness, gotta be happy, nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve, gotta get this, why didn’t you get that, who have you forgotten, wouldn’t this make it easier, can’t make that, can’t use that, shouldn’t say that, what’s on their cups, who’s crying now, it’s almost over, if you don’t do this…

Noise.

But, that’s not the only noise we hear and experience during this time of year. We’ve got the noise of – they want what? How can we do that again? What do you mean we aren’t doing it that way anymore? You better tell that story. How do we do this again? What did we do last year? Whose place are we going to again? Why? You always make that. You forgot me you know. What are we going to do now?

And still yet, the nose continues around us and throughout the world.

What happened today? How many died? What did he say now? That isn’t right. Sad isn’t it? Too bad. They should’ve known better. Can’t they be happy? Can’t you see?

And in the midst of all that and we read this story. And again, I see and begin to understand the ‘noise’ that Mary and Joseph must’ve gone through and heard this night.

A town so full, that the space made for them was in a stable. A town so crowded that I imagine that they could hear – over the sounds and through the smells of those animals gathered around them – of people shouting, or just talking. The dull roar of a town filled to the brim. Shouts of move over, why are we here, I’m hungry, there’s nothing to do, why did we have to come here, who are these people.

Then there is the noise that crowds our mind – that I’m sure took up space in this couple’s minds – can we really do this, what is it going to look like, do we have what we need, is God really with him, with us? I just want peace…

In that noise of this story, more noise is added – for Mary gives birth. For those who have experienced it or been witness to birth – it isn’t quiet. It isn’t clean. It isn’t altogether jolly.

I imagine the animals in that stable added to the screams of Mary as she birthed her son. More noise.

In the presence of all this noise, what I think we hope and pine for during this time is peace. And not just any peace, but peace that is brought forth immediately and overwhelmingly upon us.

I think what we want – what we really want – is God to shout from the heavens, through all the noise in our lives and even in this story, “Hey! Be quiet! Listen! I’m about to come down there!”

We want someone – anyone – to yell, “STOP!”

We want that loud and extravagant shout to knock us and others off our paths so that we all might pause, breathless at such an outrage.

I think that’s what we expect. At times, I think that’s what we want and crave.

Yet, the peace that we celebrate this night, doesn’t come like that.

Even in the midst of all that noise, clutter, smells, and more God is born into the world.

Trumpets are sounded, but not where we expect them. In fact, trumpets are sounded far and removed from society, among shifty shepherds who were grazing their flocks by night – which I can only assume wasn’t a ‘proper’ thing to do.

And the message those shepherds are given is the message we crave – peace and joy.

But, this week I pondered on that peace – that peace from the noise. The noise in our life that pulls us from hearing, experiencing, and knowing that God is with us. That God loves us. That God cares for us.

That sort of peace – that deep and abiding peace – is one that I don’t think is immediate.

Even the night that we celebrate today we are told that this peace is born.

For anyone who has seen birth, been witness to it, or was born there’s something about it – it is a process. Children are not born and know what to do. Welcoming a child into one’s home through birth, adoption, or foster care requires patience, nurture, humbleness, and lots of work.

That peace we cry for and call for has to grow up. That peace has to be nurtured. That peace has to be lived in and through. That peace has to dwell within us, so that we can live it out. That peace isn’t immediate, it isn’t easy.

That peace requires sacrifice and love. That peace requires work. That peace goes through uneasy stages. That peace lives through doubt and fear. That peace is lived. We have to participate in that peace.

We celebrate this evening the peace that is born into the world to quiet the noise. It isn’t immediate or clean or quick or easy. But, that peace is born.

That peace has dwelt within us – poured into us through our baptism. That peace has lived, died, and returned to us in new life.

And still, that peace has taken more time. More time for us to be nurtured and cared for. More time for us to take notice and cling to. That peace is here.

That peace which was proclaimed first with those shepherds, calls us to share that peace with those around us. Knowing that it won’t always be easy, it sometimes might be messy as we strive to live and share that peace with one another, with those we haven’t met, and with those that we don’t agree with or understand.

But, that peace is born.

That peace that can quiet the noise. That peace that can pull us towards God. That peace that does help us enter into the sort of space that Mary is able to get to this night, as she gathers what she hears and treasures it.

That peace that turns the ‘noise’ of the world, into shouts and praises, songs of glory and thanksgiving, words of promise and hope.

Where that noise of speaking over and around one another, turns into conversation with and for each other. Where that noise of ‘gimme gimme gimme’ is transformed into a life of here and share. Where that noise of darkness, death, and destruction is turn on its head for light, life, and beauty.

This night, we don’t celebrate that that the peace we seek is being born right now, we celebrate and remember that that peace has been born.

It’s here. God’s here. Christ has been born. Messiah has come.

There’s still a lot of growing up, nurturing, and life still to take place. There’s a lot more participation to be had in that peace.

But, God’s at work. Jesus our Christ has come. It isn’t over, but it also hasn’t just begun.

We are in the midst of it. Dwell in this peace. Share this peace. Seek this peace.

The more we do that, the more the noise quiets down and we get to see where God truly is at. Where God really is calling us towards. We get to see that God is already with us.

Peace has been born. The noise doesn’t stand a chance. Amen.

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January 2, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one where we ask God to restore us...


Sermon from Wednesday December 21, 2016

Text: Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19

Grace and peace to y’all this evening for as we gather for our final Advent Holden Evening Prayer service this year. 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!

It won’t be the first time that I admit that this is just the beginning of a long week and the beginning of the end to a long year. As I prepared this small message for us this evening, I kept being pulled to one of our readings from this past Sunday. That reading was the 80th Psalm, and we don’t typically hear the psalms enough, but I’m continually amazed at how timely the psalms are for us today, even thousands of years after they were written down and collected.

The word that stands out to me in that Psalm is restore. And not just any ol’ restoration, but restore us. The psalmist is calling out to God to restore the people of Israel. To return us to where we were.

I marvel at my father-in-law’s ability to restore old items. Whether it be an old wooden swing that hangs on the porch of their home in Lexington (which the girls love), the old wagon he restored (which the girls love as well), and even his childhood high chair – which though we loved the thought, it was restored so well that the girls would ‘shoot’ right out of it if they moved just a tiny bit. That one we let him keep.

I marvel at it because of the time, skill, and patience that goes into those projects. They are things that I don’t think I’d be able to do, mostly because I don’t have the time, the skill, or the patience. I still love, enjoy, and appreciate the work that he is able to do. To not only bring life back to an old object, but to bring new life into the lives of his granddaughters, and to those who visit his home.

As I read this psalm and reflect upon it during this season of Advent, I wonder and ponder if that original psalmist understood what it might mean to ‘restore us, O Lord.’ Did that writer understand – do we understand – the time and love that would go into that sort of project.

Much like our ‘how-to’ shows and YouTube videos, we like to think that a restoration project is a simple wave of a hand and it’s done. Is that what the psalmist thought? Simply restore us Lord! Get it done! We won’t turn away again!

Is that what we expect as we wait during this season of Advent for the coming of our Lord’s birth? That it just be simple, quick, and easy?

Restoration is a long and loving process. The more intricate an object is, the more time is needed and original parts have to be found, created, and used to complete the project.

Restore us, O God.

We live into the call and cry of the psalmist in asking for God to restore us. Restore us during this season of Advent – so that we might know you more fully and deeply. Restore us in our life – so that we might cling to you in times of struggle and proclaim you in times of great joy. Restore us in worship, prayer, and devotion – so that we might see you at work always in our lives, where we don’t take your action for granted.

Restore us, O God.

I like to think that God hears that cry and prayer and God’s response is something like, “Well, alright – but, it ain’t going to be quick or cheap.” The restoration that God seeks is complete and thorough, not just bringing us back to the time we remember to be good, but restoring us into the image that God has created us for.

Restoring us to be those creations that see, feel, know, and speak of God’s grace and love within our lives. Being ones that look to God and seek God first always. Restoring us to see the one who has given us life.

Taking the time, energy, and patience to work through that sort of love upon us. Restoring us through Word and Sacrament. Restoring us through prayer and service. Restoring us through worship and thanksgiving. Through wine and bread, water and spirit.

We look with hope to the celebration of the beginning of that great restoration. We wait in expectation for the Word to dwell with us, for God to be present among us. Come down to point us towards the one who restores.

We wait. In hope.

Restore us, O God.

Amen.

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January 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the 'little' miracles...


Sermon from December 18, 2016

Text: Matthew 1: 18-25

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior who is to come – 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, when you think of miracles what comes to your mind? I believe that most of us probably skew towards the miracles and signs we see lifted up in scripture – the parting of the sea, the bread that fills the widow and her son, water to wine, walking on water, feeding thousands. I think I am like most people where when I think of a miracle, I think of some large and extraordinary example of goodness – something that no one thought before was possible.

It makes sense since when we hear of miracles we think of those big ones from our holy scriptures, so naturally we assume that miracles today must be like those of ages past.

So, for modern day miracles we think of extraordinary turnabouts in medical diagnosis. Someone has cancer and now they don’t. Someone was declared dead on the table, yet mysteriously revived much later than ever thought possible. Scientists invent a thruster that requires no propellant and they still don’t know how it works, but at least acknowledge that it does. The Cubs somehow didn’t find a way to lose the World Series.

Of course, because we believe that miracles must be so extravagant, extraordinary, and crazy we come up with those ‘sarcastic miracles’ as well. “Daddy – my nose doesn’t hurt since I took that medicine.” It’s a miracle!

For whatever reason, we are conditioned to believe that miracles are truly, truly rare and that only a true miracle is one that is so crazy that it couldn’t otherwise be taken seriously. That isn’t to say that those moments aren’t miracles, but if anything, our gospel lesson this morning at least points out that miracles aren’t just the big events and moments.

Now, if I asked you where the miracle is in this small snippet of Matthew’s gospel, where do you think most people would say it turned up? Probably the whole vision that Joseph had right? It’s a miracle that an angel speaks to Joseph in a dream to allay his fears and doubts concerning his soon-to-be wife.

She holds a ‘miracle’ in her belly, the child is the son of God.

For the most part you’re right – this is a miraculous story. Receiving visions from an angel of the Lord would be pretty high up on my ‘miracle’ list too.

But, there is a subtle moment here in this part of Joseph’s story that is definitely miraculous, and it does involve his dream.

It’s Joseph’s response. Upon receiving this message within his dream, he decided to go against what he had already resolved to do. He followed through in taking Mary as his wife. He approached it – presumably – with no fear. Living into what the messenger had told him.

To me, that’s miraculous. Incredibly miraculous. Something I would never have thought possible.

You’re probably thinking – but, come on pastor. Joseph was a good guy, of course he’d do that.

To be honest, I don’t know.

During this time, it is hard for us to understand the magnitude of what it meant for Mary to be pregnant before her marriage. There were rules against that and their punishments weren’t taken lightly. The way that those punishments were lived out were in order to protect the ‘image’ of the man.

Joseph was being the ‘good guy’ by trying to dismiss Mary quietly. To take her back to her family, end the contract of marriage, and move on. “Unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” is – I think – a nice way of saying he didn’t want her to be stoned to death – which is very likely the outcome that would’ve happened if he followed through with the customs of the day.

Parading and shaming her out in public because of what she apparently had done.

So, Joseph’s a good guy because he didn’t want to subject Mary to that.

The miracle is that Joseph lived into what people knew him as – righteous.

As I’ve mentioned before, being ‘good’ and being ‘righteous’ aren’t necessarily one in the same. Being good is dismissing someone quietly so as not to bring too much shame upon her and upon you. That’s good, but it isn’t righteous.

Being righteous is living a life that takes on the ‘shame’ of Mary’s child – that is not his. Adopting that child and being that child’s father. Righteousness is living in that life while those around you mock, remark, and scorn you for what you’ve done. Wading through the potentially countless conversations of, “Why are you doing this – you don’t have to do this – look what she’s done to you – look what she’s putting you through – why didn’t you take care of that?” Putting up with the remarks of, “Nice of Joseph to do that, but I certainly wouldn’t have stood for it.”

That’s the miracle. Joseph listened to what the angel said to him and lived into it. No matter the cost. Joseph said yes.

What makes this miracle so astounding in our scripture is that what Joseph does is pretty much totally opposite as to what other male faith figures have done. When Moses was approached by God? I’m a nobody. Isaiah? I’m not smart enough. Jonah? Runs literally the other way.

I typically lift up Mary’s desire to live into what she has been set apart for, but even she is astounded by God’s desire and ability to use her as such an important and holy role. She never doubts her own ability to do this, but still ponders how it can be possible.

Joseph is unlike any of those. The angel speaks – Do not be afraid. Joseph awakes and lives into his unspoken, “Ok, God.”

That is a miracle.

So, maybe – just maybe – miracles aren’t always those bombastic, crazy, out from left field moments in our lives. Maybe miracles aren’t just living through cancer after being given a terminal diagnosis. Maybe miracles aren’t always having to be in the right place at the right time.

Maybe miracles are living into what God calls us to do. Maybe miracles are turning to God – in those small, yet powerful ways – despite what the world around us shouts. Maybe miracles are living into those moments where we might even speak up like Mary and say, “How can this be – this can’t happen…” Speaking those words and having faith in God when the response is, “We’ll see.”

Maybe miracles are saying the small and quiet ‘yes’ to God’s call even when it makes cultural and political sense to say, ‘no.’

This Advent season – even the entirety of our lives of faith – are full of those kinds of miracles. When we begin to see those? We can’t stop noticing them in our lives.

Amen.

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December 12, 2016, 7:44 AM

the one to go and tell...


Sermon from December 11, 2016

Text: Matthew 11: 2-11

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Savior who is to come, 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.

So, we are just past the middle of this Advent season, still waiting in expectant hope and celebration. Anyone who has ever heard or seen a young child (or really has ever heard or seen a human) knows what happens the closer you get to something. Those days are not full of – “OH man, it’s going to be so great when this comes or we get to where we are going.”

No, if it were only that simple.

Instead, the closer we get to something the more our brain likes to seep in that doubt of ‘what if…’ and ‘is it ever going to arrive…’

It is about this time as we get to this third week of Advent that the kids I know – not just my own – begin to wonder if that future celebration will ever come, if it will ever come. Add a few gloomy and cold days and that overbearing sense of ‘dread’ becomes that much more present and heavy in our lives.

In our gospel this morning, we again listen in on what is going on in a prominent figure of our faith’s life – John the Baptizer. Last week (and 8 chapters ago in Matthew’s gospel) John was standing at the banks of the Jordan River crying out to all who gathered around him, “Repent! Be baptized! You’re forgiven! Re-turn towards God!”

John’s message is powerful, full of faith and life, and he is confident and even daring in that proclamation. He calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him in that sureness of the message he announces.

Yet, as we read this morning, his tone has changed. He no longer walks and speaks with that strong confidence. Has his faith wavered in the word he proclaimed to the people? Perhaps. You couldn’t blame him either. Last week he was standing in the water of the Jordan. We read this morning that he is locked up behind bars because of that message he proclaimed.

The question he asks Jesus is one that I think everyone has asked, prayed about, and pondered on – Are you the one? Or should we wait for another.

God’s kingdom is at hand, both in John’s time and in ours.

Yet, when we proclaim that we are on the ‘winning’ side we think that means that everything will go smoothly. Everyone will listen – how could they not, right? People will be able to see what I see. People from far and wide will gather in love, relationship. In the repentance of sins – and knowing that God already loves you – all will be able live into this freedom as people around the world are cared for, no matter who they are, where they come from, how they speak, and more.

You’d think that would be an easy message to get behind.

Yet, for John – for us – it doesn’t work out that way.

He’s been placed in jail for the message he preaches. The freedom he empowers people with through God’s word. He proclaims forgiveness of sin. A message that he believes is one that people want and need to hear. A message that he thought all would be open towards.

Yet, he is thrown in jail.

It’s no wonder he sends a message to Jesus asking, “Are you really the one?”

Even Jesus’ response is not one that is full of certainty, for Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes. Don’t worry.”

No, Jesus responds with, “You go and tell John what you see and hear. Go tell him what’s happening out in the world now.”

When I was in college I was a communications major with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. There was this thing about people that we learned and you kind of have to ‘hone’ in on.

You see, people like bad news. They do. We do. The worse it is, the more our curiosity is piqued. Especially if it centers on a subject that you don’t agree with. Or pertains to a person who is well known. We thrive on that bad news.

So, naturally the news industry fills their pages, both physical and virtual, with all sorts of dreadful news. Guess where destruction just happened? Did you hear which celebrity is having an affair? Look where in-fighting is taking place now!

We eat that sort of news up.

But, it messes us up without our knowing. As we are presented with all this awful stuff, we begin to think that is how the world always and really is. The sheer amount of that type of news drowns out everything else. A potentially beautiful day is destroyed when we hear, “statistically speaking fatal car accidents happen within 10 miles of where you live.” Or, sure your relationship is going great now, but look what happened to that couple over there – do you see the signs? Your children love to play outside, but you’ve got to watch them with a vigilant eye because I read a story where someone just walked and picked a kid up and took them from their own yard.

Now, this isn’t to say that bad things don’t happen. This isn’t to say that we should ignore that sort of news; that we shouldn’t be concerned with the underside of the world we live in.

But, when we are on the cusp of something so great – and I believe that in Kairos – God’s time – we are on the cusp of the kingdom of God – we can forget to see what’s going on around the world that is so good. So, faithful. So, beautiful.

25 foster children from young toddlers to teenagers have been ‘adopted’ by this community of faith so that they will have an amazing Christmas morning.

Over 1200 children around the world will receive toys and clothes from the donations collected here at Redeemer.

So many chicks, honey bee farms, goats, sheep, pigs and more have been donated through each of you to help communities and families in need.

I like to think that if Jesus answered that question today as directly as he did to John, his response would include those things about Redeemer, but would also include –

Go and tell about the man who gives free haircuts to people going to job interviews, tell him of the story of a Muslim own restaurant giving free meals on Christmas to the homeless and elderly because – no one eats alone on that day, how about the Palestinian firefighters who are helping contain wildfires in Israel, don’t forget to mention this new technology that is helping a woman and others with Parkinson’s to steady their hands so they can write their own names again, or let’s not overlook how so many people gathered around those at Standing Rock to help peacefully protest encroachment onto their sacred and sovereign lands. Tell him and others where God is at work because God is at work.

When we get so close, so very close, to that which is good for us and for the world, we get discouraged and distracted from God’s presence in our life. Terrible stuff is happening in this world, we should know about it – fully and completely – so that we can proclaim God’s word against it and through it. But, we also remember that God is at work in the rich and deep goodness of the world as well.

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the ‘dead’ are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

Jesus is right. That is happening – God is at work. The messiah has come. We continue to wait in that celebration for just a few more weeks. Amen.

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December 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God failed marketing 101 - Thank God.


Mid-Week Advent Sermon from December 7, 2016

Text: Matthew 3: 1-12

Grace and peace to y’all this evening. Welcome to the second of our Wednesday Evening Advent Services. I continue to pray that these intentional breaks within our week allow you to better focus and open yourselves to God’s presence in your life as we wait in expectant hope during this season.

Whenever I think of Advent – and the wait leading into Christmas – I have to be honest, there’s a pretty important figure within our faith that I usually zip right past. It’s not that this individual is ‘bad’ or not ‘relevant.’ Far from it, in fact his is a voice that we at times most desperately need to hear.

I wonder at times if the reason why I at times ‘skip’ past him is because God didn’t take a marketing 101 course in college. This person is of course – John the Baptist.

Let’s take a look at our gospel from this past Sunday. Would someone please read Matthew 3: 1-12.

Now, from a marketing standpoint, God got it all wrong. All so very wrong. I took communications and marketing classes at Newberry and while I wouldn’t say I’m an ‘expert’ (far from it), I do at least know the ‘basics.’

First – you make your message easily discoverable. Today that’s pretty easy. You’ve got blanket ad campaigns that target radio, print (though not as much as before), TV, web, and social media realms. If you want someone to really hear your pitch – you go to where they are – in all the places they are.

God kind of messed that up. When we are introduced to John the Baptist we find out that he’s ‘outside’ where most people are. People have to go to him to hear his words. Sure, others I’m certain came because of word-of-mouth, but I hazard a guess that they came when their friends said, “Hey – come listen to this dude… he’s kind of nutty.”

That leads right into that second ‘no-no.’ The actual look of your messenger. If you want people to listen or at least be initially intrigued, you present them with an attractive and clean medium to present your product through. You get the best-looking men and women you can find to hawk your product. Straight teeth, good hair, fit body, nice clothes, broad smile. I’m sure God could’ve found someone that didn’t have disheveled hair, presumably ill-fitting and ‘tacky’ clothing, and whose diet consisted of bugs and wild honey.

This is the guy that is shouting your message?

Oh, I almost forgot – the way you present your views is another thing. We read that the Baptist here is shouting his – God’s – message. Sure, the message might be good – but, who here has ever been that convicted by a street preacher? Seriously? Yelling at me usually isn’t going to get me to actually listen to you, it’s just going to make move that much quicker past you. Now, if you get a voice like Morgan Freeman’s? There’s a voice I can listen to all day. Perhaps even a Scarlett Johannsen? Yep, I might not care at all about what you’re trying to push on me, but if it’s the voice of Black Widow? You can guarantee that you’ve got my attention.

From a marketing perspective, there is so much that God got wrong in using John the Baptist. He proclaims his message from outside the place where his audience is located, he presents himself in a way that most people – then and now – would scoff and raise their nose at, and his delivery isn’t the most subtle.

We live in a world, and always have, where people are ‘tricked’ into a product or message. Their wares are packaged behind a slick presentation, through beautiful people, and offered in soothing, sexy, emotional or other shiny ways. All to make you feel better. To feel empowered. To move you.

But, you know what – most times the ad is remembered, but the product is lost. Have y’all seen those Matthew McConaughey ads? I still barely know what they are advertising, but I remember them because they are so odd and beautifully shot.

We have so many ads that bombard us every day – especially during this time of year. They get us to feel ‘less’ than of ourselves in order that we might buy into their services and products. Yet, most of those ads are completely forgotten within days and months, only to be ‘remembered’ over by the next flashy ad.

Yet, for as much as God may have gotten wrong about John the Baptist in the marketing department. One thing can’t be overlooked. It’s a message we still hear today.

And that message? Prepare. God’s coming. Repent. Turn towards God.

It’s a message that still speaks to us, especially during this season of Advent.

A message that comes from an odd individual and from a place outside the comfort of everyday life. That message is spoken through words of care and grace about a God who comes to be in relationship with the entire world. A God who cares so much that he came to be one of us to know what life was like and to lead us to new life through death and resurrection.

Hear the message of Advent. Share the message of Advent. Live out the message of Advent.

God is coming to be with us. God comes to us and we celebrate that during Advent. God’s avenues, mediums, and individuals surprise us relentlessly. They make us squirm and think. They stretch us to places we didn’t think possible.

Perhaps we don’t need a slick messenger, but a hearty message itself. Amen.

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December 5, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God turns it upside down


Sermon from December 4, 2016

Text: Isaiah 11: 1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior to Come who is Jesus 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!

Whenever I hear this particular part of Isaiah I always think of Dr. Venkman from the original Ghostbusters movie – ‘human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!’ Of course, Bill Murray’s character in that film was adding on to the ‘trouble and terribleness’ of ‘biblical proportions’ that his friends were outlying to the mayor of New York City about what was and could possibly happen soon.

I think we like to believe that is what the ‘end times’ will be like. It makes sense right? Blow it all up and start over? Literally wipe the slate clean. We’ve seen so much devastation the past few weeks in our little corner of the country because of wildfires. We are in shock with the amount of devastation that has been wreaked across places that we know so well.

For Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Brevard, NC with Erin’s parents. Just far enough away from those fires to be safe, but close enough to feel the effects. The sight and smell of smoke and ash was everywhere. It was surreal. When I think back on it – yeah, I can see that ‘coming time’ to be sort of like that.

Yet, during the season of Advent we are continually reminded that what God has in store is different than what has ever and will ever be done. The end will indeed be surreal and crazy. We might not be able to comprehend it, but not because of the utter chaos and destruction. Instead, it will be the world flipped over.

When all seems lost, a shoot will rise. From the stump – the cut down and dead – life will spring forth. That life and that light will be the messiah according to Isaiah’s words, vision, and prophesy.

And that messiah will not be like who you think it would be. An individual who will be anointed with and will rest in God’s spirit. When we think of ‘anointing’ during our current time, we like to think of it solely as ‘protection.’ When we talk about someone being ‘anointed and directed by God’ we usually mean that they’ve been kept safe in their life and possibly that they’re pretty successful.

As we read this part of Isaiah, we discover that those are not the ‘outcomes’ of this one having the spirit of God resting upon him.

In fact, the things that this one will do probably won’t bring about safety and any sort of worldly success. I’m sure Isaiah was thinking – this guy – whoever he is; is going to be pushed out and set off somewhere because it doesn’t seem like he’ll ‘fit in’ with the rest of the world.

He’ll judge not by sight or hearing, but with righteousness, equity, and faithfulness.

That’s not something I see going on in the world today. Those are things that scare us. Dealing, working, and dare I say judging someone in those regards brings fear and unknown into our hearts.

Because righteousness isn’t fair – it’s right and just. Fair is giving everyone equal share, treating folks the same – no matter what. Righteousness is giving of what you have so that others are lifted up. Righteousness is letting others speak while you listen. Righteousness is offering up yourself so that another might live more fully.

The one that Isaiah foretells will do that.

As Christians, we look to that Isaiah text and see immediately the one who we wait for in celebration and wait for in expectant hope.

Advent is a weird season. It’s short in length, but powerful in its message. For during Advent we wait for two things – we wait in anticipation for the celebration of that first ‘Advent’ that first time that God came to be with us in the Word made flesh – the incarnation.

We wait for that joyous celebration where we get to cry out to the world – GOD’S HERE! GOD HAS COME! SEE WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE! We wait and proclaim and we celebrate that day. Throughout Advent we are bursting at the seams to shout in joyous chorus about what God has done. It’s what makes Advent so difficult to ‘get’ through at times. We want to already be there – especially in a year like this one. We want to be celebrating something in joy.

But, Advent has a second ‘waiting’ period as well. And that I think is the part of Isaiah’s vision that hasn’t come about yet – but, is still a work in progress. For during Advent, not only do we await the celebration of that first Advent, but we wait in expectant hope for the second Advent as well – the time when the Lord returns.

That’s the one that we get scared of – because we don’t know what it’ll be like or when it’ll come. Yet, Isaiah this morning is full of crazy, outlandish, and dare I say joyous and comforting visions.

Imagine a world where the wolf lies with the lamb? The lion shall eat straw like the ox? Letting your young children stick their hand in a pit of poisonous snakes and not be worried.

Seriously – can y’all imagine that? I can’t. That seems so foolish. So, crazy. So far out there. So, unimaginable. So far and distant from the world we live in.

The biggest surprise of all in that whole vision is that stuck in the middle of these outlandish and foolish visions of the world is that line, “And a little child will lead them.”

Not only will the world literally flip over, but the one to show us the way is a child? Not someone with experience. Not someone with years of learning. Not someone with strength in the most literal of sense. Not someone with extensive knowledge of the operations and machinations of the world, but a child.

I think what stresses many, including myself, about this vision of God’s kingdom that Isaiah proclaims is that we just aren’t there. In fact, it feels like we are so very far from that vision. We continue to hear and see destruction – destruction of the natural world – and humanity’s willingness to be a part of it. Destruction of one another. It still feels like we have been and will live in a world where a lion won’t eat straw, but will devour the ox.

And yet, speaking about that destruction that the wildfires caused in North Carolina – something I heard on the radio this week brought me even a little bit of hope in that. A hope that I think we can look to especially in this season of Advent.

There was an interview with a local fire chief who stated that he was ‘amazed’ that the fire mostly consumed the underbrush, but the trees – those trees that he so lovingly gazed upon his entire life were still there. Still strong. Still alive.

A shoot shall rise out from the stump. Hope remains.

Advent. It surprises us all the time. Whenever things seem most lost and gone – that’s when God shoots forth.

Advent is a season of hope, waiting for and having faith in that expectant hope. Amen.

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December 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

December 2016 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

It’s December! Wow! We’ve been doing this pastor and people thing for a little over a year and a half. Time sure does fly doesn’t it?

I really do love this time of year. I think I like it for reasons that are a bit different than what everybody else enjoys during this time as we approach the end of the year.

Sure, I enjoy the music, the lights, the cooler weather. I enjoy the movies (Elf is still my favorite movie from this time of year) and I even enjoy that jolly ol’ fat guy too. I love the aspect of spending time with friends and family, giving of ourselves to help those in need, having our hearts grow to bursting to care for those around us. Sometimes you just can’t help, but be caught up in all of this.

However, as much as I enjoy this time of year and what it leads to, it’s not all that stuff I listed that really stokes the flames of my soul. What I love about this time of year is that we are in the season of Advent. A time where amid the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we get to pause. In the midst of the world screaming at us (since October mind you) that Christmas is coming and we better be ready; we get to wait.

Now, anyone who has children, works with children, or has seen a child knows that ‘waiting’ is not one of our strong suits as creations of God. We don’t like to wait. We live in an age where we are instantly gratified in all sorts of ways. We can immediately download, stream, or acquire an item at the push of a button. We now have the ability to literally print objects we need (or don’t need). It’s a good time to be alive.

But, in Advent the message we hear is to wait. To be patient. Though, I think we misinterpret what God is telling us in how we are supposed to wait. It isn’t so much that we ‘wait’ like we tell our children or our parents told us – wait, be quiet, don’t move. No, that isn’t what God means by being patient during this season.

Patience means preparation. Patience means slowing down. Patience means living in joy for what is to come, what has come, and what is here in the birth of Christ our Lord.

So, as I wait, I don’t just sit on my hands and wait in anticipation. I’m invited – we are invited – into service and a life lived in faith for those around us – now more than ever.

Yes, Advent is my favorite time of the year because God tells me – tells us – slow down, I’m coming to see you. Be prepared. It’s going to be awesome.




December 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one about the waiting room


Mid-Week Advent Sermon - Nov. 30, 2016

Text: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Grace and peace to you this evening as we begin our Advent Wednesday Evening Services. During this Advent, we will look at a different text from our readings from the previous Sunday. Allowing us to take a greater pause with further contemplation in how God continues to speak to us during this time and place.

At this time during the middle of the week we get to take an intentional break during the busyness of our lives. Our hectic schedules, our need to be ‘caught up’ in our purchasing, our cards, our traditions, and more. During Advent this year, we purposefully seat ourselves in the waiting room.

In many ways, that is what Advent is; a waiting room. A place in which we reside as we wait for the good news to come. Sitting in the waiting room – most times – isn’t all that fun. Especially as we are racked with anxiety and worry about what is going on beyond those doors. Perhaps a friend is in labor, a spouse is in surgery, a child is testing or interviewing. Being in the waiting room doesn’t ease our worries and burdens.

Yet, the surprise of the waiting room is that God is there present with us. Calling to us and inviting us to see God at work in new and marvelous ways. Ways we wouldn’t expect, ways that we don’t anticipate, ways that we thought God wouldn’t possibly be involved or interested in.

This evening, we hear of that first surprise as it is told to us through the words of Isaiah.

As Christians, we look at this text and are surprised by the fact that God apparently dwells in this lofty place atop a mountain. Insert all your own thoughts about the ‘wise man’ on the mountain.

Yet, we remember that the first surprise that we encounter during this season of Advent – as we wait in expectant hope – is that God has come down from the mountain on high. God has come to dwell with us in the Word made flesh; in Christ our Lord.

As Christians, we envision that stream not going to a mountain, but to Christ himself. And when we get there, we are surprised again.

When I talk to people and they ask, “pastor, what will it be like to be in front of God on that day? To sit at the table prepared by Jesus?”

My response is that someone will probably ask Jesus, “Which one of us was right?”

I imagine that Jesus’ response will be surprising, I like to think that Jesus’ answer would be something along the lines of, “Some of you were a little right, some of you were a little wrong – but, you’re all here now and that’s what matters.”

We come to Jesus and the thing we do – according to Isaiah’s vision – is that we sit and learn. We learn the ways of God. We learn new things. We learn old things. To me, that’s pretty surprising.

Especially in light of what that ‘learning’ teaches us through this vision. Weapons of war beaten down into tools for the community. No longer will we rise up against one another, and we won’t learn war anymore.

Most of all, we come to learn from God.

Learning is an interesting activity. Learning is a practice where we may be forced to acknowledge that the answers we know might be wrong. That’s scary. That’s unnerving.

The surprise of Advent is that it’s true. The answers we know just might be and are wrong. You talk to anyone during the time before Jesus’ birth about who and what the messiah would be like and I imagine that they’d all agree that whoever the messiah would be, that person wouldn’t be a baby born to country parents out of wedlock.

We’ve been taught from the earliest of times that if someone wrongs you – especially on such large scales that deal with nations and armies – you retaliate. We see retaliation as the best and most effective course to take.

Yet, Isaiah tells of a vision where weapons of war – swords and spears – are beaten down into plowshares and pruning hooks. Today, what might those weapons of war – guns, bombs, tanks, and planes – be ‘beaten down’ into? What sorts of tools of community and life might we be visioning for today; that God might bring about in the ending of war? What does that kingdom of God look like for us? We may – we might – have an inkling of what it could look like, but God’s vision is perhaps even greater than what we could ever imagine.

This advent season – and every Advent – we hear of these end times. Times envisioned by Isaiah, by John, by Jesus, and others and we always approach them with fear and trepidation. It’s understandable because of the language that is used and the ‘unknown’ that comes along with it.

Yet, during Advent that sense of dread is replaced by hope. And that, my sisters and brothers is probably the biggest surprise. That the ‘end’ that is to come is one of hope and presence. We get to come sit and learn at the feet of our Lord. Learning war no more.

Learning something else. Something different. Learning God’s ways so that we might walk in that path with and towards Jesus.

This is the season of Advent. This season full of surprise – let us walk in the light of the Lord. Amen.

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