In pm's words
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October 15, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about letting go...

Sermon from October 14, 2018

Text: Mark 10:17-31

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

So, I want to get one thing out there first before we dive into our Gospel text this morning. Some of it may come as a relief to some and a shock to others. Jesus this morning is not, necessarily chastising those who are wealthy. He’s not. He doesn’t say here that wealth is bad. He doesn’t say that those who are rich cannot enter into the kingdom of God upon his return. Jesus doesn’t say any of that. In fact, Jesus speaks to this man (and the disciples) out of love. Not out of condemnation, not out of guilt, not out of any sense of ridicule. Jesus speaks and invites this man into a deeper life of faith out of pure love for him.

However, what Jesus does say – in that same love – is that those who are wealthy, who have many things, and who live by the world’s standard of ‘greatness’ will indeed find difficulty entering into the kingdom of God.

It appears that what Jesus is trying to say is that those who find value in how the world values life have great difficulty living into and living out God’s grace and love that is a part of being in the kingdom of God.

The wealthy man and Peter both believe that what they’ve done in the past and their current riches will outshine all others and distract Jesus from what they lack. For the wealthy man, what he lacks is giving and caring for those around him. What he lacks is knowing his salvation rests solely in God shown and brought to us through Jesus, not in the ‘things’ that he has. For he has many possessions and the absolute worst thing (and most difficult task) that Jesus could set before him is to give up all that he possesses in order to follow him.

A few years ago, I was able to talk to and help a gentleman who continually came to the church for help. For the most part, he was a good guy. He just wasn’t very good with his finances. We helped him out here and there, mostly with food and ice from the Family Life Center. After about the fourth time of him coming in, I sat him down and we had a heart-to-heart conversation.

He always dressed well, he was clean, and wore really good smelling cologne. His van was always neat, shiny, and so forth. I asked him, if he could afford all of these things, why was it difficult for him to buy food, gas, etc… for him to live off.

Well, he told me. He was indeed saving money as much as he could, but a lot of his funds were going to pay for a storage unit he had which was holding all his stuff before he could move into a facility for those 65 and older (he was eclipsing that age soon after this conversation he said). I asked him about what sort of things he was holding in this storage unit. He said, “Well, my stuff. Extra clothes, a few family heirlooms, some furniture, and a 75-inch plasma TV with an equally awesome sound system.”

“Wait. You’re coming to me and the church for help – and you’re literally holding onto a TV in a storage unit that cannot and does not (currently) entertain you at all? You need to sell that TV.”

“Pastor, I can’t do that, I love my shows!”

“I love TV too. But, you could probably sell that for a good sum of money, enough to hold you over until you get into that facility and then with some extra funds, buy a smaller TV so you can still enjoy your shows when you have a home to watch it in.

I don’t know whether he sold that TV and sound system, but he did (for one reason or another) stop coming around the church asking for help.

But, his story reminded me about the man Jesus speaks with in our reading this morning. For the man I talked to, his identity was wrapped up in that stuff. Without that ‘stuff’ who was he? There was a sense of pride and accomplishment (no matter how clouded it might have been) in possessing that large of a television set. I’m sure it was a good one. At that time, they really didn’t make truly ‘terrible’ 75+ inch TVs.

But, the mere thought of letting that item go stopped him cold. He was visibly shaken when I proposed the idea of selling it. How could I possibly think of that – there must be another way? In his attempt to ‘impress’ me and others with his possessions, he was the one distracted in his life. He couldn’t understand that letting that go would allow him to live more fully and freely in the life that God has gifted him. Where he could not only care for himself, but possibly care for others too.

Without the weight and distraction of an unplugged and unused television set, he could potentially follow Jesus that much more closely. Not that possessing the TV was bad, but it was the great millstone around his neck that prevented him seeing God’s value of him. For he believed (I’m almost certain) that his value was wrapped up in that thing and not in God’s love for him.

Much like the wealthy man prided himself not only in his possessions, but also in his ability to uphold the law. Without realizing that living into the law frees us to live and care for others by serving God more fully and deeply.

Peter too at times (not only in this passage, but more so in other places) loses sight of what Jesus is asking. What he lacks is the notion that God finds value in ways that the world does not. Even in the midst of his faithful discipleship, he still needs to let go of the world’s value system and live into the love and care that God already has for him and the world. A love that has begun at creation and isn’t influenced by how much stuff you have or what rules you’ve followed.

He indeed has given up so much. However, for as much as the disciples live into and follow Jesus (they left homes and families to do so) they are still blinded by the prospect of ‘blessings and worldly things’ to come to them because of their devotion to Jesus as his closest and foremost followers. They too fall into the trap that the world ensnares us in – that riches, wealth, and more follow those who ‘lead’ in the world. It was only a few short chapters ago that they were arguing over which one of them was the greatest – the one who would lead this little band of the faithful after Jesus dies – the one that would get the accolades, the gifts, and more that were due the one who brings others into this kingdom of God.

Another story. We know that monkeys are pretty similar to us, in fact, we come from them – it’s pretty apparent. And as much as we like to believe that we’ve evolved so far in advancement of them, we still have to realize that there is so much that we share between our species.

Do you know how to catch a monkey? Put a shiny object or some food into a small gourd. Tie that gourd to a tree or stake it into the ground. A monkey will reach in, grab it, won’t let go, and won’t be able to get its hand out of the container.

If that monkey lets go, it’ll be able to free its hand and go about its life. If it lets go of its object of desire, it’ll be able to live fully and freely into the life God has gifted to it.

But, many won’t. They want that prize. They desire to hold on to their precious. Some will hold onto it for so long and be so consumed by ‘wanting it’ that they can literally starve themself. It becomes consumed by the prospect of possessing this object that it will cease to not only care for itself, but to live into the community around it – no longer caring for those around it. It’s siblings, it’s family, it’s friends. All because it must have this thing.

Our Lord sees us fall into the same sorts of traps in our lives. Where we care more about the ‘things’ we have or the ‘things’ we’ve done to outshine and distract others – even our God – from seeing who we truly are.

Yet, our Lord God sees us for who we are. Sees us as valued, loved, and cared for creations. We are loved so fully and deeply that we are called to follow the one who loves us and to live out our love for others. Caring for them in their needs. Providing for them over ourselves. Not living into the lie and sin of the world that values possessions, wealth, and more over the people around us.

I’m not saying that wealth and possessions are bad or evil, but they can and do blind us to the care and love of not only our God has for us, but our care and love that we are called to live out for those around us. Especially in our relentless zealousness to obtain those possessions – whether it be money, clothes, technology. Our collective fear of missing out. Our ability to overlook all those ways in which we hurt ourselves and others simply to possess ‘that thing’ which we seek and desire.

Our God calls to us to follow the one who lives for others, who calls us to live and care for others; who calls to us out of this deep well of love for all of us because of who we are. For we are beloved children of God.

Don’t be trapped by the world; live into the freedom and love that God has already given to us. Let go. Follow. Live into the life God has for you and for the world. Amen.

October 8, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about those animals...

Reflection from Blessing of the Animals Service
October 7, 2018

Text: Genesis 1:1, 20-28

So, I wanted to give a short reflection this day as we celebrate the Blessing of Animals. No worries, I know you and your critters want to be blessed, and we’ll get to that shortly.

I am a person who has always loved animals, I’ve grown up in a family that has shown great love and care towards animals. I remember when I was in elementary school and living in Italy where my sister, brother, and I kind of adopted every stray dog in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, there were a large number in that pack of dogs. My sister also happened to name everyone after a tree nut of some sort. There have been very few moments in my life where an animal of some sort didn’t live in my house.

There is something about the animals in our lives – whether they be dogs, cats, snakes, or horses – they have an ability to nuzzle up into our lives and show us what the love of God might be like.

Dogs burst with excitement at our mere presence and the sound of our voice. Much like the father who ran to embrace the son he thought to be dead, but was now found.

Cats, though at times appearing aloof and distant, will cuddle upon you to bring comfort when they sense our sadness and hurt. Much like our Lord weeps as those around him hurt.

Horses exude kindness, intellect, and empathy that at times seems to rival our own. Watching out for us, and even though we may ‘push’ to go one way, they’re smart enough and care enough about us to keep us from going where we think will be good. Our Lord guides us in ways that we cannot see and at times don’t appreciate, but God does this out of love, care, and affection for us.

Snakes… well… snakes remind us of things in the bible. But, seriously, snakes remind us of the people of Israel who looked to the bronze serpent and were healed, just as Jesus was lifted up and those who looked upon him were healed and welcomed as well.

This day, we get to remember God’s creation and love extended to us through the love of those furry and scaly friends and family members in our lives. We get to remember God’s creation and our role within this great kingdom of God – how we are called to care, love, and nurture God’s creation. We are called to be good stewards of what has been given to us through God’s grace and love.

We can and do learn so much from our animals friends. We see God present in our lives through them. We get to live into our calls from God as good stewards of creation as we care for those around us.

This day, we get to remember – as Martin Luther said so many centuries ago, “be though comforted, little dog, though too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”

I would expand that to say that all animals have been extended that promise and love from our God. For God created all of this – all of you – all of life – and deemed it very, very good. Amen.


September 24, 2018, 8:48 AM

the one about welcoming...

Sermon from September 23, 2018

Text: Mark 9:30-37

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

So, the gospel text we hear and read this morning is one of those familiar ones to us. It seems that it is intentional on the part of the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that the argument among the disciples about who is the ‘greatest’ is paired with Jesus telling them to welcome the child. Where we might be able to think that living this life of faith is both really difficult (putting others before yourself) and quite easy (who can’t welcome a cute kid?).

I think, for the most part, that is how many people look at this text, especially the part concerning kids. We think that’s the easy part. Just bring’em to Jesus! Lead’em to the cross! It’ll be easy! I’ll get to that more in a little bit, but first we’re going to talk about these disciples and their argument.

We know the disciples are arguing. It says it right there plain as day in the text we’ve read. But, have you ever wondered why they were arguing? We’ve been hearing for the last few weeks Jesus telling his friends that he’s going to suffer and die. That there is a shelf-life on his leadership among their little band of faithful followers. Naturally, the question would arise among his closest friends and followers about who will move into that ‘leader role’ once the teacher is gone (remember, they never seem to hear the part that Jesus is going to ‘rise again’ after three days).

So, Jesus again tells his disciples that he has had more years behind him than time in front of him. They begin to bicker and argue among themselves about who the greatest among them is. Where the ‘greatest’ one will be the one to take the reins and lead this faithful offshoot of Judaism into the future.

Of course, Jesus inserts himself into this conversation and they are all a little embarrassed by it. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed by the conversation that is essentially, “Were arguing over what things are going to be like after you’re dead.”

Yet, Jesus throws them a curve ball about what ‘leadership’ within the kingdom of heaven is like. The world has constantly (and still does) shout about leaders being the ‘best’ at what they do. The ones that look out for themselves. The ones that strive to be at the top of whatever it is that they do. And, in the world that works out. You want your financial manager to be really good, you want your surgeon to be one of the tops of her class, you don’t want the guy who – like the old commercial used to quip – ‘Stayed in a Holiday Inn last night.’

The world, for the most part, lives into the adage made famous by Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Yet, that is not how the kingdom of God works. The kingdom of God that our Lord Jesus calls us into and the Holy Spirit guides, pushes, and pulls us through is one where others are lifted up over ourselves. Where we welcome and care for those over there (whoever they might be) before we care for ourselves.

Most of us would agree, that this is a difficult thing to live into. We don’t like to be ‘last’ in anything. It isn’t how we are wired as people. We want to do well, to be noticed. There are those times where even when we DO live into presumably faithful endeavors, we do it for the wrong reasons. Which is what our text from James is referring to. Where we do care for others, only because it makes us look good, where we get noticed by others, we can add another check onto our transcripts, resumes, and more so that we stand out even more over our peers.

We can acknowledge that living into what Jesus invites us and calls us into can be and is very difficult. We still struggle with how to fully live into that call.

Then, Jesus doubles down and says that being last of all and servant of all is like welcoming a child in Jesus’ name.

Now, the first time we hear that, when we look at it on the surface, it seems really easy. So simple. Who can’t, who doesn’t welcome children in God’s name? Who would push a kid to the side who wanted to know and learn about the Lord?

But, like almost everything with Jesus, even the ‘easy’ things aren’t as easy as they appear to be.

You have to remember – especially at this time – children weren’t considered full people. They were afterthoughts. You didn’t become a ‘real’ person until you were ‘of age.’ For boys that was when you could start contributing to work, and for girls that was when you could get married and have children of your own. Before that, you were probably in the way.

Why? Because you needed to be cared for. Needed to be fed. Needed to be looked after. Needed to be taught. Needed to take up attention from others.

Caring for children means not focusing (as much) on yourself.

Being last and servant of all in the kingdom of God looks like welcoming the one who requires more attention than you’d expect.

Children always require and need more than we expect. As anyone with children or has cared for children or has seen children can attest to.

But, there is something else about what Jesus says that we might look past if we only take a surface glance at this text. The English translation of this text loses the subtext that the original readers and hearers would definitely catch on to.

Jesus talks about serving others; Jesus preaches about being a servant – those with no status or high value – to others. In fact, the servants who brought food were the ‘lowest’ of all servants at this time. They were so ‘unimportant’ that all they did was bring and serve food. Jesus tells his disciples to be like THOSE for others.

The word used for little child – paidion (παιδίον) – is similar enough that it can be used like the word for servant – pais (παῖς). The subtlety would not be lost on the disciples or on those first readers and hearers. Jesus is telling them – telling us – serving others – like children and servants – is doing so for those who cannot give us anything back in return. Serving them gains one nothing for extending that radical hospitality to them. And still, Jesus says, ‘honor them.’

When you welcome them in my name, you welcome the one who sent me. Welcoming them – the ones who cannot give you anything in return nor can you ‘take from’ because they have and are ‘nothing’ in society – is welcoming God in your midst.

Talk about an upheaval of social norms! Jesus is flipping the status quo on its head and calling the disciples to change how they’ve always been taught to be a part of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is not like the world you know. It is something more, it is something deeper, it is something that values all people.

And when you welcome them – welcome them fully.

Recently I had a colleague share a post on social media of an individual who received a card in church that stated.

“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby. A connection Team Member Will Assist You.”

On first glance, it seems like a really nice and welcoming message. They thank you. They like that you’re kid is there with you! That’s great! But, then you start reading the whole message and you start getting the gist of it.

Sure, you’re welcome, but only ‘over there.’ There are other people here who are ‘more important’ than your kid being here. We welcome you, but we don’t really ‘want’ you here.

That is some major shade folks, and not at all what the kingdom of God that Jesus calls for looks like.

Welcoming others and bringing them to God incorporates welcoming all of who they are. When you welcome a child, even one who is considered ‘less than’ in the world, it incorporates welcoming all of who they are in God’s name. For children that means noise, and mess, and sometimes smell. But, it also means seeing and hearing God present in questions, in joy, in unbridled energy.

Welcoming all in God’s name means welcoming all of who they are. Adjustments are made, room is provided, schedules are re-worked, priorities are changed. All of it, for the person before us. Not so that we ‘get something’ out of it or so that we’ll be noticed, but so the other person is cared for and welcomed; fully and completely and with no reservations.

That is the kingdom of God. That is what Jesus calls us into. That is what the Holy Spirit leads and guides us though. We are called to serve others and welcome others; and when we do? To do that service and welcoming completely and fully – no matter what the world and the powerful think and believe. Amen.

September 17, 2018, 7:35 AM

the one about the unexpected story...

Sermon from September 16, 2018

Text: Mark 8: 27-38

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

So, one of the tropes of many movies today is the character who always sacrifices themselves so that the rest of the group can survive. In adventure movies, it’s the character who stays behind to hold back the enemies or to make sure the ‘bomb’ goes off. In horror movies it’s the character who runs off into the woods to distract the enemy so that the rest of the group can (hopefully) get away. In a drama it’s the character who tells the others to go and not worry about them because their collective lives are more important than her single life.

In all of those scenarios (that we’ve seen played out on our screens countless times) those characters are rarely if ever the ‘main’ character. It’s always the loveable sidekick, the person who has been a grouse and a grouch the entire film only to finally have a turn of heart in the climax of the movie. Whoever that sacrificial character is, it is almost always a supporting role. Even if it is ever a ‘main’ role, it is never as dire as it is made out to be.

Have y’all ever wondered why this is? Mostly because it goes against our collective psyche for a ‘hero’ to lose. We don’t like it. We actually become incredibly upset in our world and minds when ‘heroes’ do lose. Because that’s not supposed to happen. It isn’t supposed to play out that way.

If our gospel story from this morning had been written today, Jesus wouldn’t say any of the things that he does to his disciples. In fact, even if he did, someone would step in and say, “Not you my Lord, but me. Your life is more important.” It would perhaps be Peter who would be that one to ‘step in.’ It would make sense wouldn’t it?

But, that isn’t how it happens in our gospel text this morning, and that isn’t how it plays out at the end of the gospel narrative.

Jesus begins this short narrative asking the disciples what the word on the street is about him. Who do people say that he is? Some answers are shared with us and I’m sure more were given that day. Most people agree that Jesus is something special. Much like those heroes of scripture from the past. Yet, still there is something different about this one.

The disciples know this. They can see the thread lines of those old prophets being made known in Jesus’ life and ministry, and yet still there is something more to who Jesus is. Peter is the bold one who proclaims who he believes Jesus to be – he is the messiah, the anointed one, the one the scriptures have pointed to and the one the people have waited for.

When you believe someone to be the messiah the next words you expect are probably not the ones that Jesus utters – at least they weren’t expected by Peter.

Jesus tells them not to tell anyone – because his time isn’t fulfilled yet. And then he goes into a scenario that they cannot quite comprehend, understand, or bear to see lived out.

Jesus foretells his suffering and death. He tells them of his resurrection as well, but it doesn’t seem like they hear that.

All that the disciples, and especially Peter, hear is that the messiah is going to die. The hero’s story will have an untimely and undesirable ending.

This isn’t how it is supposed to be. The hero – the messiah – is not supposed to lose. That is not how the world should work. That is not how it is supposed to be. There must be another way. What you say is so ‘blasphemous’ to our ears that we cannot bare to listen or hear.

Lord, you are wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

That’s what Peter does, bold Peter rebukes Jesus and I assume tells him that Jesus is out of his mind for thinking this way.

And, I don’t think we can fault Peter for believing that way, we surely cannot chastise him either. For, I truly feel that if we were in Peter’s shoes, we too would tell Jesus that he was wrong. In fact, we probably do the same thing constantly in our lives today (though, perhaps not as direct as Peter did here in our gospel story).

We live in a world that proclaims that living the life of a faithful follower of Christ will bring goodness and ease. Where we will be showered with blessings and perhaps some fortunes. Where if we just ‘get it right’ and ‘get right’ with God and our Lord then all those little bothers and big obstacles will disappear.

In fact, there were some who believed that if they just prayed hard enough – if they had just the right and correct amount of faith – Hurricane Florence would pivot into the Atlantic, or at least would descend upon people that weren’t as faithful.

Yet, that’s not how it works. That’s not even how it works for the one we follow and cling to.

Jesus states to his disciples that life following him won’t be easy. In fact, it’ll be dangerous. It’ll put you at odds with those around you. It’ll at times be the opposite of what you would expect.

I’m almost certain that Peter and the others were thinking that if this is truly the messiah they hit the jackpot. Who would mess with them? Who could stand against them? Life is going to be grand from this moment on! There will be honor, and feasts, and fame, and value in our lives! All because we are the closest to the messiah. We will have been there from the beginning. The friends of the ‘hero’ prosper too.

I’m certain that Peter thought this way because that is how I would think. That is how many – perhaps even many of you – think when they befriend someone on the cusp of fame or popularity. This is going to benefit me greatly.

Yet, Jesus tells and leads a different story and life. There will be pomp and circumstance, but it won’t be in the ways that you expect. There will be attention and fame, but not in the way you’d want. People will look to you and seek you out, but you’ll be fearful instead of humbled.

The entire time you’ll think, ‘this is not how the hero’s story is supposed to go.’ This isn’t how it is supposed to be.

Yet, we know that God works in ways that we do not expect. Jesus says as much in his response to Peter and the disciples today.

We worship a God and a Lord that cares so much for creation, that cares so much for humanity, that the messiah is the one to boldly lay down his life for the sake of the world. That in following him, we will be led against the powers of the world.

Where the world and those in power might shout that you need to fight and push back violently, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Where the world and those in power might push stories and narratives that make you fearful of the other and the different, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Where the world and those in power might forcefully persuade you to care only about yourself and those closest to you, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Where the world and those in power might demand you follow one way to show honor or else you will be rolled through the mud, our Lord proclaims a different way.

Following that different way puts you at odds with the world. It does. It always has. It always will.

It is confusing. It goes against what we collectively think to be ‘true’ in the world. It rubs against what we might naturally think.

Yet, our Lord proclaims a different way. A way that loves and includes those around us. A way that shines the light of faith into the dark areas of our lives and world to bring hope, justice, and wholeness. A way that puts us in opposition of the powerful.

There are risks – great risks. Yet, we cling to and follow the one whose story didn’t go the way we expected.

We follow the one who did suffer and die and who calls us into that sort of life as well.

But, the good news is, the gospel we cling our hope to, is that even in suffering and death, we know and have faith that that is not the final word. For we believe in the promise and hope of the resurrection.

For Jesus did share with his friends the troubles that were to come, but he also shared the glory of God, the goodness, and the wholeness of what is to be.

We are a people of death and resurrection. We may focus a lot on the death part in our lives of faith, the struggle, the strife, the anguish. But, all of that pales in comparison to the glory that God has already shown and will continue to live out because of what happened after those three days.

In our Lord, the suffering is not the final act. Death is not the closure or end. For we believe and have hope that life abounds and erupts in the places we don’t expect.

Our Lord tells us, invites us into, and shares a story with us that is different and unexpected. It goes a way that we couldn’t anticipate. And thanks be to God for that.



September 10, 2018, 7:54 AM

the one about God showing up...

Sermon from September 9, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 35:4-7a & Mark 7:24-37

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

So, I’ll be honest. This is one of my least favorite Gospel stories, in fact it is one of my least favorite stories from the entirety of our scriptures. It is here that Jesus just doesn’t act like the Jesus we know. Jesus – at first – doesn’t even live into the life that he’s laid out for his disciples and those gathered around him.

In this small part of Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus – I think – at his most human. He appears to be cranky. He wants to be alone. Yet, in spite of all those ‘wants’ of Jesus, the Syrophoenician woman shows up and approaches our Lord. This woman crosses all those cultural walls and barriers to be with the one whom she believes in and trusts can and will heal her daughter.

And Jesus’ response to her is less than kind. He calls her a dog. He dismisses her plea possibly because she is not a fellow adherent to the Jewish faith and way of life. She’s an outsider. She’s a Gentile. I do not like how Jesus acts towards this mother.

As much as I dislike this text because of how Jesus reacts, there is one aspect of it that I do very much love. This mother’s boldness is what we need in the world. She knows who Jesus is. She trusts in the numerous stories about him. She believes he can and will save her daughter. Even when Jesus seems to ‘pass’ on that opportunity, she persists, and she succeeds in confirming to Jesus that his call and his love is extended to all in the world, not just a select few.

I have a dear friend who likes to say that after meeting Jesus, he wants to go and find this woman to talk to her. To ask her those questions that run in all our minds about this encounter. “How’d you get the courage to do this? What was it like ‘standing up’ to Jesus? Where did that trust and that faith come from?”

I would like to think, that even as a Gentile woman, one who is outside the norm and life of the Jewish faithful, that she would say, “I did it all because when God shows up, look what happens.”

In our first reading from Isaiah this morning, we read of the prophet’s great and uplifting words about God showing up. It first starts with vengeance and terrible recompense, but moves in a way that I think we don’t expect. How often do we hear that our God’s ‘vengeance’ will be swift and powerful? That the world will rue the day when the Lord shows up. We’ve heard that there will be fire and brimstone. That things will cease to be. That God is going to take the truly faithful away from this desolate and unfaithful place.

Except, that’s not really what scripture says. There are more instances that when “that day” comes it will be one of glory and fullness. That God will descend upon the earth and bring creation to its completeness – one truly with and for the Lord.

I love how the prophet Isaiah describes that day where all that has been ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ in the world will be made right. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will jump, the mute will praise. Everyone – every one will experience the fullness, the full goodness, and the glory of God.

Why? Because that’s what happens when God shows up. Things are made right.

The Syrophoenician woman knew that promise. She trusted in that future. She brought her daughter to that well of hope so that she might, so that she would he healed.

This loving mother brought her daughter to Jesus because when God shows up… look what happens.

Healing takes place. Brokenness is made whole. Love is poured in.

She brought the one who couldn’t bring herself. She trusted in the hope and promise of Jesus and God that even her daughter would be lifted up in that love and grace.

So too do the friends of the deaf man trust in that hope. They bring their friend to the one who can heal. Because when God shows up, look what happens.

We bring people to our Lord, we speak on their behalf because when God shows up, look what happens.

This past week a friend of mine from camp ended his life. He was a man who was kind, faithful, loving, full of life, funny (if not a bit odd), and possessed incredible musical gifts. Yet, in spite of all that goodness, he struggled bitterly with depression and hopelessness. As much as he loved and showed loved to others through his goofiness, his faith and hope in others, his back-cracking hugs, his from-the-elbow waves, his willingness to share and teach music, and that loving smile he was tormented by the lies in his head that made him feel unloved, unworthy, un-everything. That those demons were strong enough to end his life.

Even in his death – I, and so many others – still bring Adam to God. We still speak on his behalf so that healing might occur. We still pray that he knows God’s love for him more fully and completely than any of us now.

Because I know that when God shows up…look what happens. Life, new life, resurrected life, the promise of hope, forgiveness, wholeness, unfailing love, never-ending grace show up.

This morning, we read a text where I very much disagree with Jesus’ reaction. He pushed a woman seeking help and healing for her child to the side. Yet, she knew, and she trusted in who Jesus was. She knew that because God shows up, look what can happen.

The deaf man’s friends bring him to Jesus because they knew and trusted in who Jesus was. They knew that because God shows up, look what can happen.

Adam’s friends – we bring him to Jesus, we speak on his behalf even in his death, because we know and trust in who Jesus is. We know that because God shows up, look what can happen. We continue to speak on Adam’s behalf because he spoke on the behalf of others to bring them to this God of love and grace – through his music, through his care and love for others, through his gifts at camp with people of all ages.

Bring folks to God. Allow others to bring you to God. When God shows up, look what happens.

Not so that you ‘get right’ or so they can ‘fix’ whatever ails them. We bring others to God, we speak on their behalf, out of desperate love for those we care about. We bring the ones we love and care for – everyone we meet because we are all brothers and sisters in faith – because we trust in who Jesus is. Because when God shows up – life abounds. Love overflows.

Even when it is difficult for others to see and know, we continue to show God’s love and care for them and the world. Always.

We know we are loved, welcomed, accepted, and forgiven in mercy and love because God showed up. God continues to show up and look what happens. Life and grace and love abound. Amen.

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September 3, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about traditions...

Sermon from September 2, 2018

Text: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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

So, when Erin and I were starting to date, we’d of course – like all couples – talk about our families. Sharing with one another the oddities of our kin. Needless to say – my family is the weird one. But, there was something interesting that I learned about her family that I used to just chuckle at.

Her grandparents were great people. Always willing to give a helping hand. Being models of welcome and hospitality to any and all who ventured to their home. There wasn’t a person that stopped by that didn’t have a meal of some sort. Her grandfather was pretty good at carpentry as well and helped us lay floor and quarter round in our first home.

Grandpa Corley was a great person to ask for advice. How to get things done, how to go about ‘doing’ something. Unless it was steak. Steak in his mind had to be charred, black, and tough. “Correctly” prepared steak in his mind was something that no longer really looked (or tasted) like steak. No wonder, I thought, Erin didn’t ever want to have steak dinners when we began dating (of course, we also didn’t have any money so that didn’t help either).

But, for Erin steak wasn’t a good meal because of the ‘tradition’ set forth by her grandparents because of how it was prepared. That was ‘the way’ to cook steak because that is what her family did growing up. And that way – though always used – wasn’t very good.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Mostly because her brother had really good steak a few times with friends and learned to prepare excellent meals with it for the family. So, now a new tradition has been born!

But, I was reminded of that (very brief) story as I read our gospel lesson this week. The Pharisees questioned Jesus and his followers because they didn’t do things the way they were ‘taught’ throughout their life. They didn’t ritually wash their hands, utensils, and food like the ‘good’ faithful should and did.

For those leaders, the ‘tradition’ was more important than the meal. Where perhaps the ritual washing of hands began as a way to keep people from getting sick, turned into an ornate procedure to show how ‘pure’ one was before eating.

Perhaps Erin’s grandfather had been taught in his family that you could get sick from eating ‘undercooked’ meat – which is true – so, the most correct way to prepare it was char and blacken it through and through. As a fellow man, that seems like a pretty appropriate response from one of us.

Jesus’ response to the incredulous Pharisees is a rather piercing one. He points out that they are hypocrites because they only see what goes into their body as ‘impure and defiled.’ Where they focus more on the ‘act’ of purity and goodness than actually living into and living out a life of goodness and love.

They are more concerned about keeping up appearances than they are about actually living faithfully in God’s love and presence.

And, I think as we look back on that we can think – oh those silly religious leaders from so long ago! How foolish they were! We say that without realizing that at times we fall right into those same predicaments. Where we too might be more concerned about the ‘process’ than we are with the outcome or the purpose.

In my early years of ministry I remember folks a previous place of worship being obsessed with Halloween and the ‘good things’ that come from it, “We get so many visitors! So many people come to the church!” I thought, wow that’s great! I can’t wait to experience this! Turns out, they just backed their cars to the sidewalk and handed out candy to those who just walked by. Every person that walked by the start of the line was considered a ‘visitor’ and was appropriately ‘marked’ on a tally sheet.

So, sure – they had 200+ people walk by, but I didn’t consider them visitors. And it was very difficult to change that mindset. They were so focused on the ‘number’ the ‘tradition’ that was established that they couldn’t see that they really weren’t doing a whole lot besides giving out candy – which isn’t a bad thing at all!

So, we changed some stuff the next year and got people to come inside the church. We still had a trunk or treat, but we also had popcorn, games, prizes, prayer stations, and more! It was a great success.

Except for the few people who had ‘heard’ that it wasn’t as well attended as it was in previous years. Where before we were having 300 people ‘show up’ and that year we had 50.

All they saw was the number, counting the back of people’s heads. Being focused on the ‘tradition’ of having so many people. What they couldn’t see is that instead of someone just walking by and leaving within 5 minutes, people stayed and hung out for 30+ minutes. Smiling, laughing, having fun, getting an opportunity to meet the church family and community, being warmly invited to join us again!

The Pharisees – like many still today – get so locked into their traditions that they cannot at times move past to see where God might actually be present and leading us.

And, I feel that all churches – even Redeemer – can be locked into that mindset. When we become overly focused on the times that things are, or how a certain part of worship is done, or even how we approach opportunities for ministry. Everyone at times becomes stuck behind traditions.

But, even so, traditions themselves aren’t bad. It isn’t bad that the Pharisees washed their hands, and plates, and food. It isn’t bad that Erin’s grandfather wanted to make sure food was fully cooked. It isn’t bad that some members of my former congregation wanted lots of people to do something attached to the church.

Each of those things are not bad. It only became troublesome when the ritual became more important than why someone was doing it.

As followers in the faith, we shouldn’t be so locked into our traditions that we cannot see God’s presence and love within not only our lives, but in the lives of others. We shouldn’t be so focused on what we’ve always done because we might miss out on what new thing God is trying to do.

This past week I read a poem that I thought spoke to this and shed a little light as to what James is saying to us in our second reading. Its author is unknown, but it was shared by a retired professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. The author writes:

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to go and pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God.

But, I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.

Our God calls us – our Lord Jesus invites us – the Holy Spirit guides us into a life that is for and with others. We at times do become trapped within our traditions and our history. Not that those things in and of themselves are bad, but God calls us to see past those things in our lives so that we might be fully present with and better able to care for those around us, in our community, and in the life of the world.

Where in your life – where in the life of Redeemer have you been called by God to do something different so that others might be better cared for and loved? How might the Spirit of God be leading us to live more faithfully and fully into this life of love than ever before? Where have we stopped short because ‘we’ve never done it that way before?’

Jesus continually invites us into this life of faith, to be present with those around us, and to bring the gospel of love, forgiveness, and mercy to the world. It may look different than we’ve ever done it before, but God is with us throughout. Amen.

September 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

September 2018 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

It is September – school is in full swing and new beginnings abound! As I sent my girls off to school this year, there was one thing that I told each of them (even Erin!): Have fun.

Seriously, have fun. When things are not fun, they at times don’t seem worth doing. Or at least, when you’re not having fun it makes the work even more difficult.

I love to have fun. I have fun in life. I have fun in worship. I have fun as much as I can.

The past few months I’ve been having A LOT of fun in a new group that we have started called The Nerd Word. It is ‘sort of’ a Bible Study that involves popular and nerdy movies and TV shows. We get to have really in-depth conversations about science fiction, comic book movies, and so much more. Then we start a conversation about the faith questions that arise from viewing those movies and TV shows.

So far, we’ve had conversations on Avengers: Infinity War, Solo, and the Jurassic Park franchise. We’ve had some of the nerdiest conversations surrounding those movies, but we’ve also had some deep conversations about relationships, ethics in science, creation, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and so much more. It is quite amazing what we get to talk about and where those conversations roam.

There of course has been a lot of laughter, great food, and the building of stronger friendships.

Coming up on September 20th at 7pm we will have our fourth Nerd Word where we will discuss the NBC comedy The Good Place. A show staring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson that centers on the afterlife. Both seasons are currently on Netflix and Hulu and the third season will begin at the end of September.

Again, it has been A LOT of fun because it is fun, and we get to talk and share about our faith.

Have fun in life, see God present in places that you’d never expect, be open to the questions that rise up after watching a movie, reading a book, or hearing a story. You never know where those questions will lead you!

August 27, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about stumbling blocks...

Sermon from August 26, 2018

Text: John 6:56-69

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

So, I want to tell you a story. Many of y’all know that our family includes a beautiful and wonderful dog, Arden. She’s a great dog, she really is. Even though she doesn’t do a lot of the stuff that you’d expect a dog to do. She doesn’t fetch, she doesn’t cuddle. The older she gets the more standoffish she becomes it seems. She’s an anxious dog and always has been.

I remember a number of years ago while Erin and I were living in Huntsville, AL we’d go on our walks around the apartment complex. Arden loved those walks – and until recently loved walks in general. Like any dog, she’d smell everything, she’d do her business, but there was something odd about those daily ventures. On the sidewalk there would be a metal grate of sorts. Just a textured metal covering over a drain for water to pass through to the sewer system. Arden wouldn’t touch it. Never. She would do everything possible not to step one paw on that metal. She’d squeeze herself between a bush and that metal grate and squirt as quickly past as she could.

Anything different than carpet, asphalt, dirt, or grass has been Arden’s stumbling block for some time. It continues even today. When she gets to stay over the weekend at Erin’s parents’ house while we’re out of town, she literally does not move from the carpet in the dining room. Why? Because the whole house has wood flooring. She’s scared of slipping and falling. You almost have to carry her to the door in order for her to go outside to go to the bathroom.

In our Gospel lesson today, the followers of Jesus also came to their own stumbling block as well. Up until these verses in John’s Gospel, people have been flocking to Jesus to hear him, to see him, and to be closer to him.  They have enjoyed seeing him do wonders and signs that can only come from God. The more signs they ask for and Jesus performs, the more people continue to turn to him and listen. Whether it is turning water into wine at a wedding or feeding thousands with mere scraps, people are continuing to come and see what Jesus is all about. Yet, as Jesus has already noticed, and if you’ve been an astute listener these last few weeks, the more Jesus talks – the more he shares about himself and about God – the less people stick around. We started a number of weeks ago hearing about over 5000 people gathered around Jesus and it seems that each week the group is getting smaller and smaller, until we are left with the 12 disciples.

In our text today, the same people who have followed Jesus are now turning away because of what Jesus has said. Keep in mind that these are not just ‘random’ passersby, they aren’t even the skeptical and at times combative Jewish leaders, but these are disciples of Jesus who have turned away. We must eat of the true food of his flesh and drink of the true drink of his blood. Those who do this, abide in Jesus and Jesus in them. What? We have to eat you they might have yelled? That seems a little extreme…and well…kind of nasty I’m sure they pondered. Because of this ‘offense’ by Jesus, many have turned away. For these ‘would be’ disciples, this was their stumbling block.

I’m sure there are many of you here today who have your own stumbling blocks as well. I know I do at times. These stumbling blocks can be small and trivial, or those large disastrous blocks which seem to block our way as we walk in this Christian life with Jesus. These stumbling blocks are physical, emotional, and spiritual. They keep us from experiencing the true glory of God, because for whatever reason we cannot believe that Christ will wash them away. However, no matter what is going on in our lives, Christ is always at work. The Holy Spirit is always with us, and the Father is always calling us.

For me, one of the greatest stumbling blocks has always been love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That’s tough. It isn’t how we naturally want to react. Yet, Jesus calls us to follow a different path. For many in the world a large stumbling block has been that they hear of this Jesus guy – his love, his radical acceptance of those on the outskirts, his willingness and desire to upend political, social, and powerful cultural norms – yet, they see those who follow him live out a completely opposite way of life than what Jesus appears to be teaching and guiding his followers into. Mahatma Ghandi probably summarized that particular stumbling block best when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Everyone has stumbling blocks in this life of faith. Those who are on the ‘inside’ and those looking in from the ‘outside.’ The things that Jesus says, the ways and love in which Jesus calls us into is difficult. It really is. So, difficult that people walk away – even some of the most devout.

At the end of our gospel reading today, Jesus turns to the remaining twelve and asks ‘Do y’all wish to go away?’ Peter responds by claiming that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that Jesus is the Holy One of God. He seems to say, “Where else can we go?”

As we have been told throughout John’s gospel, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is the bread from heaven. Partaking and abiding and eating and drinking of Jesus leads us to eternal life. Believing into all that Jesus is grants us the eternal salvation that comes from the Father. The Father calls us all to Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives us life in Jesus, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are saved from death. 

No matter the stumbling blocks that appear in our lives. Jesus is always the way, the truth, and the life. Despite the stumbling blocks in our lives, our baptisms are still and always valid. We always remain children of God.  Finally, no stumbling block takes the feast away from us. No matter what, the table is always open, the bread and the wine, Christ’s body and blood, are always freely given and available for us to take.

Does this mean that the stumbling blocks in our lives are any less frightening or difficult? Unfortunately, no. Does believing fully into Jesus, partaking in his flesh and body remove these stumbling blocks from ever appearing in our lives? Again, no it doesn’t. However, knowing that God is watching over us, the Holy Spirit is guiding us, and that Christ is walking with us allows us to persevere through the stumbling blocks in our lives and turn back towards God.

You know, when our dog cowers in fear from those metal grates, her stumbling blocks on our walks, when she pulls hard to get away; when she cowers and whimpers because there is a large section of wood floor leading to the door; Erin and I are always with her. Assuring her and leading her to ‘safety.’ No matter where we walk during our lives, Christ is always with us, God is always watching over us, and the Holy Spirit is always guiding us.  That my friends, is good news. Amen.

August 20, 2018, 7:27 AM

the one about body and blood...

Sermon from August 19, 2018

Text: John 6: 51-58

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, whenever I get to this text in John’s gospel, I get a little weirded out. Mostly because Jesus seems to double down on this fact that we need to eat him. Do we take this literally? It appears that those first hearers of Jesus’ message were a bit put off as well. They ask questions, they are confused, what is Jesus to do?

Well, he explains a little bit more. He invites them into deeper conversations. Jesus isn’t putting them down or putting them in their place. He isn’t scoffing at their unbelief, he isn’t refusing their presence with him.

He again is inviting them into conversation. He again is giving of himself so that they might know. He again is meeting them where they are.

And it is still confusing. It is still scandalous.

What Jesus offers us this day about his life and this meal is still confusing. Countless arguments have erupted over this meal, this bread and wine, this body and blood. It has torn congregations and denominations apart.

Some believe that it is literally the body and blood, some believe that it is only a meal of remembrance, some believe that you have to have it every time you gather for worship, some feel that having it more frequently makes it less special, some believe that you have to know everything and understand first before receiving this meal.

Of course, disagreements in the church itself are not new. It’s been going on for a long time and there is no group within the greater church that is immune to it. Everyone has disagreements.

We see it in our Gospel reading this morning. Those in authority question what Jesus means. And I think they ask a pretty important question – how can he give us his flesh to eat?

Jesus doesn’t turn away and say, “Well if you don’t understand it, then I’m just going to take my ball and go home.” No. He continues to invite them in and explain to them and us what this means. Yet, even in his explanation there is still confusion – not only for those around him that day, but for each of us today as well.

Which makes me begin to think, maybe perhaps it isn’t about knowing this fully. It isn’t about learning the ins and outs of what is going on in this meal. It isn’t about getting it right so that it can be good for us.

Instead, we have faith to what Jesus is saying about this meal. He is here. He is here in this bread and in this wine. This meal – this body and blood – is for us. We receive this food and drink and we receive Jesus himself. There is no wall that prevents us from feasting on this meal and being that much closer to our Lord.

Jesus offers us his life; his very being. In this meal – in this bread and wine – Jesus promises to be here. It is a meal for us to live, to live fully and faithfully in the world. It is a meal that reminds us of God’s presence in our life and it is a meal that fills us with strength to go out into the world to share and serve and be with others.

It is a meal that when things are tough and difficult, that we are reminded that Jesus is there. It is a meal that when things are going great, Jesus is right there too. It is a meal that as things are going ‘normal,’ Jesus is present as well.

This is Jesus offering himself to you, to me, to the world so that we might know of God’s love and presence here in this place and here in this world. That no matter whether you ‘understand it’ Jesus is still here. Giving us his body and blood, offering his life and very being so that we and the world might live fully in faith.

I know I shared this story with y’all before, but it is so good that I have to share it again.

A number of years ago I approached a young family to inquire if their children would like to begin receiving communion. I received a reaction that I didn’t expect – at least a reaction I never had before and have not since. The mother was adamant about her children not receiving communion because they didn’t understand it. She didn’t want her kids to unknowingly be receiving communion into their ‘own damnation.’ Even with my assurances that I think she was misinterpreting that specific part of scripture she was relentless.

Which is fine. Though I disagreed, it is a family decision. Forcing this meal upon others is not our Lord’s intent.

Yet, a few weeks later, she had asked for a private meeting with me to talk about communion.

Her mind had changed. A total reversal from a week’s before. What changed? Did her kids know exactly what was going on? Had they had intense Bible studies leading up to this change of heart?

No. Her youngest daughter, who happened to be 3 or 4 at the time simply asked her mom, “Mom – why can’t I have Jesus too?”

In that moment the mom’s mind changed. If she could understand – even a little bit – that this meal represented Jesus and his love, that was good enough for her.

Those were some of the most enthusiastic kids to receive communion.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus talk about things in such a way that it is difficult for not only the leaders in the faith around Jesus to understand, but difficult for each of us to comprehend as well.

Yet, we are not turned away. We are instead invited into this meal. We are invited into this relationship of faith and trust. To know, believe, and have hope that Jesus is indeed present in this meal. So present, in – with – and under the bread and the wine that it is as if it is Jesus himself.

As we seek this communal relationship with our Lord, Jesus is there. As we collectively and individually ask questions, Jesus is present with us. As we struggle and live into this life of faith, our Lord – the one who came down to be with us – is indeed, still with us. Always.

We eat this bread of life so that we no longer hunger or thirst. We no longer hunger for meaning and thirst for acceptance. We find it here in this meal. We share it together. All are welcome to this table. All are welcome to this meal. All are welcome to this grace.

We may not always understand what’s going on. But, here is bread. Here is wine. Eat. Drink. So that you might live and know; Jesus is here. Amen.

August 13, 2018, 9:19 AM

the one about the community...

Sermon from August 12, 2018

Text: Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2

News Article mentioned in sermon.

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, as many of y’all know, the cultural and political climate of our world today is pretty… tense. Long standing feuds. Simmering anger. Violent rhetoric. And, so much more.

I think about how our world and the people around us – both physically and (mostly) on social media – act and I can’t help, but hear the words this morning to the church at Ephesus. In this letter, we are confronted with a young church that is experiencing growing pains. Pains that arise when new members are welcomed into an established group.

Throughout Ephesians, there is an emphasis on working together, possessing differing gifts, but realizing that all gifts are used towards proclaiming God. There is also encouragement – strong encouragement – to live life a new way because of what God has done for us in Christ our Lord. Turning away from that life that pulls us away from God.

A lot of change is going on in the church at Ephesus, and the writer has some advice which I think speaks to and can lead us today.

We are encouraged to speak truth to our neighbors. Which is a great thing. When you see someone spreading falsehoods, or living in such away that is detrimental to themselves and others we are encouraged to speak truth. Speak about the truth that is in Christ our Lord. That truth that all are welcome and loved. That God is indeed present here. That you and others are important. That we live our life for others over ourselves. That we should turn away from that which pulls us from the life God intends for us and has gifted to us.

But, there’s a catch – an important and pivotal catch. The author – attributed to be Paul, but most scholars don’t believe was actually Paul himself – writes that we speak truth to our neighbors because we are members of one another.

How often do we see folks today speak ‘truth’ because they want to ‘impress’ upon others? To show them how terrible they are. To watch them ‘suffer.’ To just be a jerk? Where ‘truth’ is shared to put people in their place. That is not what is written here, that is not how we are encouraged to live this life of faith. Instead we offer to speak the truth of God BECAUSE we are members of one another. We belong to the same God, the same kingdom, the same love.

We are together. Imagine what this world could be like that as we speak to those who utter such disparaging words against groups of people around us and the world, that instead of casting more words to beat down folks, they instead approached those opportunities out of love for the person before them?

I hear you speaking and saying these things about – this group – that I know are not true. I want to share with you this truth I know and love because it is from God. I want to speak this truth to you, because I care for you and my life is wrapped up in yours.

The writer than moves on to another point that I think is highly important as well. Be angry.

Do it. Be angry. Anger isn’t bad. Lots of folks have been angry in scripture. Anger moves us to act. Anger at times is the impetus to do something for others. How many times have you heard a pastor say it is OK to be angry. I like to say that when people begin quoting the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” That an appropriate answer (for Jesus) was turning over tables in the temple because he was angry.

Make your voice heard. Walk in the streets. Share God’s truth to love and welcome.

Yet, as you’re angry – don’t sin. Don’t disparage. Don’t lie. Don’t hurt. Don’t steal. In your anger, don’t make room for sin to worm its way in that might change your anger into something far more destructive and unhelpful.

The author continues on with something that I think can upset everyone. Thieves. What to do with them? They’ve hurt, they’ve violated, they’ve broken bonds of trust that we have with one another.

Many want to see thieves ‘dealt with’ in harsh manners and put outside the community of God. And the temptation to do that is very, very strong. When one has wronged you, the first thing you want to happen to them is that they ‘pay’ for what they’ve done. However, this text from Ephesians takes an interesting turn.

Here, of course, thieves are asked to first – stop stealing. Seriously. Stop.

And then to use their hands for the betterment of those around them. To labor and work honestly so that they can share with those who are in need. To me, that sounds a lot like rehabilitation. Continue to speak truth because we are members of one another, be angry, yet don’t sin. Help those who have hurt us and hurt you work in ways to care for those in need around them and around the community.

Let them work so that they too might have something to share with those in need. That’s profound stuff!

Further on we read that the author of this letter encourages the community to care and love one another. To build one another up, to show value in those around you even the ones whom you disagree with and don’t know. Forgive one another. Encourage one another. Know that you are members of one another.

Be imitators of God.

Now, I’ll be honest, even as your pastor I fail so much in what this author calls us to. I fail so often in how Jesus calls us to live life for and with others. It is difficult.

It is difficult to live into the life that God has for us because there is so much hurt and anger in the world and around us. There is such a great temptation to view the one who is different from us, who hurts us, who goes against what God has called us and the world into as some sort of ‘other.’ That because they are ‘like that’ we don’t need to show love towards them.

They may be near me, but they aren’t my ‘neighbors.’

Yet, we follow God; we are guided by the Holy Spirit that leads in love. That does care for all of us – all of us. The one that calls us to the cross and to live a life different than the world around us. To live a life seeing God present in each and every person before us.

Sure, there will be moments that anger us, that we need to speak truth – God’s truth and love – those before us. But, we do so with love and care.

And sometimes its hard. Really hard. The hardest thing we could ever think to do. Sometimes it seems ridiculous to act that way because of what others have done and continue to do.

Yet, we continue to speak truth to love because of who they are and who we are. We continue to speak truth because our anger moves us to act in love for those around us. So that they and all might know that it doesn’t have to be this way and that God calls us to something else.

One year ago, was the tragedy in Charlottesville, VA. That day where a woman was killed because of anger and hatred. That day where people who avow racist views descended upon that historic city.

A year ago, is when a man named Ken Parker – a former member of the KKK and avowed Nazi began a life of change. He went to Charlottesville to stir trouble. He, along with his friends, wanted to start a race war. Yet, while there he met a woman – who is Muslim – who cared for his well-being because he might be going through a heat stroke. He noted in an article I read this weak that he recalled Deeyah Khan’s kindness in his moment of weakness. He began to question why he was hating ‘these people.’

It was there that he began to see a change in his life. He and his fiancé eventually met an African-American pastor who in love and truth answered his questions. Who shared with them the gospel because he saw God within them too.

Mr. Parker now speaks to current members of the KKK and the neo-Nazi groups and talks about a ‘different way to be.’ A way that is led by love and not hate.

The gospel shared in truth and love is powerful. Powerful enough to change even the most hateful.

And when we cannot live into this life as faithfully as we’d hope to? Then what? Well, Jesus is still there. Working on you, walking with you, forgiving you, loving you, reaching out to you, reminding you of your own salvation that is already complete so that you can see God present in the face of the one before you.

It isn’t easy. It is far from easy. But, we are called to speak truth because we belong together. We are called to live out this love and truth – even when moved by anger. To be caring in our words and actions towards others so that they too might know that they are loved, that those ‘others’ are loved, that the world is loved by God.


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