In pm's words
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August 6, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about manna...

Sermon from August 5, 2018

Text: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our 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, our first reading this morning centers on those Israelites once again. If we’re not careful, we look at that reading and say, “Oh y’all… grumbling again.” For it is an interesting beginning to this reading, especially when you read around that text.

You see, the Israelites have been redeemed and taken out of Egypt. No longer are they slaves to Pharaoh and his people. They are free. But, their freedom is a little different than what they had expected. Sure, they don’t have anyone telling them what to do or forcing them to work, but they aren’t really relaxed, and they don’t feel ‘fed and nourished.’ It’s hard work being the people of God! I mean, they’re still walking everywhere – they haven’t even made it ‘home’ yet! Surely, being in Egypt under oppression wasn’t that bad. It definitely wasn’t like this…

I read this text – I hear the cry of the nation of Israel – and I have to catch myself. Because, before I kind of scoff at their neediness, I have to realize I am – and we are – very similar indeed. How many times have we been given new opportunities or looked longingly to the greener grass on the other side of the fence, and when we have been able to seize those moments, do we ‘complain’ that life is a little hard, that it is different from what we remember?

Last week I was blessed to be at Lutheridge with my family – and it was a great time. And I still had to catch myself from thinking (and saying), “Back in my day as a counselor…we did it this way, or referred to them that way, or sang this song…” Where we would say, “What is this song? What is this food? Who are these people?” We pined for the old, without realizing the gifts of the present.

How often do we look back on the past with rose colored glasses and think – ‘why can’t we just go back to the way it was?’ Why can’t it be the way I remember it to be?

Many still look back pining for the days of yore where it was ‘easier,’ without realizing the difficulties of all people back then.

In spite of the grousing and complaining, the Lord God hears the cries of Israel – the cry to be fed – and God provides. God sends meat and bread to the people. And, they are perplexed.

They literally say, “What is this?” Manna?” For that is what manna means in Hebrew – what is this?

They looked at this substance on the ground and didn’t know what it was. Where did it come from, how did it get here, what do we do with it? What is this? Manna?

Moses’ response is simple yet profound, ‘this is the bread the Lord said would be provided. It has been given to you; eat it.’

The Lord has heard, the Lord has provided.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty certain that this ‘provision’ by God isn’t exactly what the Israelites had in mind. Sure, they got bread, but it wasn’t quite like they were used to. No smell of the baking bread in ovens wafting over the whole community. No warm ‘sponginess’ of the bread to make sure it was fresh. None of that.

Yet, every morning the Israelites would wake up and there would be food to eat, enough to fill their bellies for another day’s journey as they continued walking toward home.

I’ve always noticed that when we pray and ask for God’s help, it mostly comes to us in ways that we wouldn’t expect.

Life may be a struggle for us – for you. Days filled with stress, sleepless nights, anxiety, or fear.

Those questions that gnaw at us – are we doing the right thing? Am I where I’m supposed to be? Is there something better I could be doing?

It doesn’t help that the world slides right into those thoughts with advertisements and gimmicks that say, “You probably aren’t, and you probably could be better – with just this…” Of course, every new product we consume doesn’t fill that hole that we might be feeling.

I know I go through those days. Where I too wish to be – to feel – like I used to. Even if those days weren’t necessarily the best. When you ‘pine for the old,’ you can easily ignor those red flags of the past and look past the fortunes you currently have.

And when God provides to help us better care for ourselves, we can sort of scoff – ‘what is this?’ Manna?

God provides through the gifts of others. The presence and love of God bursting through the community surrounding you. God provides through means you wouldn’t expect – through silence, through rain, through laughter, through pets, through doctors and medication, and talking, and love. And so much more. God provides that which sustains us through means we wouldn’t expect.

It reminds me of a joke, that I know I’ve told before and many have hard before. Where a man in the midst of rising flood waters prays for God to save him.

Sure enough, as the waters begin to rise people in trucks, boats, and helicopters come to rescue him. Yet each time, as he climbs higher and higher to drier land upon his house, he declines their help stating, “I’ve prayed, and surely God will save me.”

Alas, the waters consume him and when he does get to speak to God he says, “Why didn’t you save me Lord?” God replies, “What do you mean? I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter to save you!”

God provides for us and delivers salvation through means that we wouldn’t expect. God blesses our lives with love through family and friends, we are provided a community to be a part of and to serve with and for others. We get to live into what God has provided every day so that others and all might know of God’s great love for the world.

It is never what we expect. Yet, it is how God provides.

So, too do we see that in our Lord Jesus – the one who proclaims himself to be the Bread of Life. The people hear that and through the next few weeks in our Gospel readings, we will hear them essentially say, “What is this? Manna?”

God indeed has redeemed us and brought us to salvation. It is nothing that we have done on our own – for we cannot do it on our own. In fact, there is not one thing that we can do to usher in our own salvation. That isn’t how it works. Yet, our God has provided.

God has heard our cries – God continues to hear our grumbles – just as God always has. A new way has been provided, a feast has been shared, we have been invited to the table. To feast, to drink, to consume that bread that ends the hunger of ‘what is this.’ It ends the questions of – am I loved? Am I worth it? Am I a part of something?

We are given just a little bit of bread, a little taste of wine – and we know that this meal provides fully and deeply. God has given us this, to remind us that Jesus is the life and the way. The one who welcomes us fully, completely, and without reservation. The meal that fills that gnawing hole.

In this meal, know that you are loved. You are forgiven. You are not alone. Amen.

August 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

August 2018 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

This summer has FLOWN by. In only a few weeks school will start back up and then that usual routine will be in place once again not only for my family, but for many of y’all as well.

As fun as this summer has been – and it has been fun – I’m going to be honest, it has been an anxious and stressful one for me as your pastor. Mostly because of how we are trying as best as we can to faithfully receive and use this abundant gift given to us by Carl Legrand Amick, Jr.

First and foremost, it has been an exciting and faithful experience. The people who have been a part of these decisions, discussions, and inquiries have been truly wonderful. We’ve talked, we’ve grown, we’ve seen God present along the way in so many ways.

I am truly, truly excited about what this gift will mean for us as a congregation and people of faith. One of the neatest points of conversation that I’ve had with many, is that what we are doing now – laying seeds, making decisions, and more – will bear fruit that our children and children’s children will be able to see and be a part of. The ability to have additional income (and a substantial additional income at that) every year to do God’s mission in the community and world is amazing. I look forward to the possibilities we might be able to be a part of. It is very exciting.

However, with that excitement comes with a healthy dose of stress and anxiety. Are we approaching it as faithfully as we can? Are we placing God in the center of our conversations? Are we listening to enough people? Are we being as clear as we can with others? How will others view this? Where will there, where has been, and has there already been ‘hurt’ experienced by others as we move through this?

Whenever money – and a substantial amount of money – is added to a relationship (whatever that relationship may be) it can make things weird, stressful, and anxious. Mostly because everyone wants it to be used in what they feel is the best way possible. As the rapper Notorious B.I.G. once said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” Where those problems are mostly stress and anxiety related.

What we get to do at this time is truly enormous in its scope for our congregation. We have an opportunity to do wonderful and intentional ministry – in addition to the vibrant ministry that we are already blessed to be participating in.

So, as we continue to move through this process please be in prayer for those who have been a part of this process. Be in prayer for me as your pastor, be in prayer for our council members, our finance team, those who have been a part of numerous conversations, and our potential members of an Endowment team. Be also in prayer for those who will be blessed by Carl’s generosity through this congregation.

I am constantly in prayer for each of y’all and for our congregation as a whole. God is indeed present with us, we have been (and continue to do) wonderful, impactful, and faithful ministry. We are on the cusp of being able to do even more mission and ministry.

It is exciting, but it is also stressful for all involved. Lift up prayers for peace and calm throughout.

Thank you, and God bless each of you! I love you, and I mean it.

July 16, 2018, 8:37 AM

the one about the message surviving...

Sermon from July 15, 2018

Text - Mark 6:14-29

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? 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, last Sunday, our gospel text ended with Jesus sending his disciples – his friends – out into the world to do ministry in God’s name. They were sent to proclaim the good news that Jesus brings, to ask the people to repent, and to cure and heal those who were in need.

Naturally, they’ve been doing all that. In fact, they’ve been so ‘good’ at that ministry that they have been invited into that others are beginning to talk. News is spreading about this man named Jesus.

This man who brings hope to those in need. This man who offers and bestows forgiveness from God. This man who lifts up the lowly, stands with the oppressed, and gives voice to the voiceless. This man is getting on King Herod’s nerves.

News has traveled to the reigning king of the area in which Jesus and his friends have been doing all this good ministry. And it doesn’t look like he’s very happy about it. In fact, it has been rumored that this man Jesus may in fact be John the Baptist – who Herod killed – returned from the dead!

The message sounds similar. The message still pokes and goads those in power. The message still gives the lowly confidence and makes them think they are more highly regarded than they actually are. This message is still around.

I find this an odd story to place within the greater narrative of Mark’s gospel. It is a little odd because Jesus consistently tells those whom he helps and heals (not to mention those who learn directly from him) that they need to be quiet about the message he proclaims. It isn’t yet time for others to hear this message and truth yet. But, here we are – the great and powerful figures of the area have heard this story too.

It’s an odd story also because just as Jesus sends his friends out to proclaim this good news and do all this wonderful work in God’s name, we hear what happened to the last guy who tried to do that. It didn’t seem to work out very well for him.

He was imprisoned. He was seen as a ‘curiosity.’ He was murdered because of the message he spoke and shared.

Does it seem odd that this would be a story that Mark would want to include immediately after sharing with his readers – sharing with us – about the apostles setting out two by two to share this message of love, grace, and forgiveness to those around them? Would you really want to share the story about what sharing this message of God could and possibly would lead to? Doesn’t seem very smart.

But, I think it does teach us a great truth to the message we share. Nothing can stamp it out. It’s been tried before, and continues to be tried now. Yet, we are here. We are proclaiming. We are spreading the word of God.

When I was serving in Michigan, I was lucky enough to be a part of a pretty neat ministry. It is called the Friendship House of Michigan State. It’s purpose is to help acclimate international students to American culture. Helping to explain the things that we have always taken for granted to those who have no idea what is going on.

The example I usually give is that when you go to the grocery store and the bagger asks, “Paper or plastic?” We immediately know what that means right? But, we forget that in many parts of the world, that question is never asked because they bring their own bags to the store when they go shopping. There are even more scenarios like that. It is a really cool ministry and does a lot of wonderful work in helping, walking with, and being with those who are new to the country who are seeking an education. There is also some Bible study opportunities there as well (though it was never required or forced to be a part of the Friendship House).

One story in particular stood out to me as I talked to a woman there who was in the final stages of earning her doctorate in a medical engineering field. She shared with me that she had to hide her Bible before returning home because in her country she wasn’t allowed to possess one. That if discovered, she would be punished and then barred from returning to MSU to finish her degree.

None of us. NONE OF US – as Christians living in the United States have ever had to live through that type of struggle. None of us – ever – have ever been fearful of being punished by our country for carrying a bible around. Or for that matter any other sacred religious text.

Yet, this woman’s faith compelled her to continue to read and share this message of love, grace, and mercy with her friends and family in spite of the grave consequences for doing so.

There are countless stories of people in power from around the world and even in our own country’s history that would punish people for sharing this truth that Jesus proclaims and invites his followers into.

Joseph Stalin was able to thwart, subvert, and destroy almost every institution as he assumed power in Russia. Yet, the institution that continued to survive? The Russian Orthodox Church and its gospel message.

The Nazi regime in Germany twisted, corrupted, and shouted about a ‘gospel’ that proclaimed that certain types of people were better, more important, and superior to others. A completely false interpretation and contradiction of Jesus’ Word. Yet, many like Dietrich Bonhoeffer shared, instructed, challenged the establishment, and brought hope through the Confessing Church. All the while knowing full well what would happen to them if they were caught doing so.

During the time of slavery in the antebellum south, slave owners would limit what scriptures those under their hand could read. In fact, they barred many if not most from reading at all for fear that they’d read Jesus’ words and think that he was including them in his message. Guess what – the message was shared, and it spread.

Much like John the Baptist, people from each of those moments in history continued to share and spread and live into the message that Jesus proclaimed. Inviting others into this message of love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. A message that saw and continues to see value in others because God declared them and all valuable. A message that proclaimed and continues to proclaim a life that is lived for others over ourselves because God has first served the world. A message that speaks truth to power, that calls out those who treat others poorly and view themselves to be superior to others because of their wealth, their status, their position, or their place of birth. A message that cuts through the distortions, the twists, and the lies that are spread about others, about God, about the kingdom of heaven. A message that shines the light of truth and love upon the world.

Those who are in power do not like this message. For it gives hope to the people they don’t believe need it because if they have hope – it can prove dangerous to those in power. Where the fear they might have been able to wield loses its power. The hope and light that it sheds and casts into a person’s life helps them to stand firm against injustice, cruelty, and hate. Even if it means that person might lose their life.

For the promise that this message lifts up – is that God cares. That God thinks this one – all people – are important, loved, welcomed, forgiven, and sent out into the world. A message so important and needed that people are willing to die for it to share it.

A message so important and needed that Jesus was raised from the dead to continue to share this message and power of love.

Like so many others throughout history and today – Herod was an impulsive, power-hungry, and paranoid ruler. He sought to end this message that John the Baptist shared. He sought to end the message of the one that the Baptizer pointed to. He sought to end the message that Jesus proclaimed and shared from God on high.

Even when he thought he was successful in his endeavors – John’s head on a platter, Jesus’ body nailed to a cross – the message survived. The message thrived. It continued to be shared. It continued to bring healing. It continues to bring hope to a world that seems so covered in shadows.

Last week we heard of Jesus sending out his friends to do ministry in God’s name. Today we heard what that message might cost those who dare to share it. The thing we look past as we read this tragic story about John the Baptist, is that we are here; we are listening to and sharing this message still today.

Attempts have been made to squash it, to end it, to alter it, to twist it, to shame it, to do so many things to prevent the world from hearing this message.

Yet, here we are. God’s word continues to be shared. Do not lose hope. For hope is what we preach, share, and invite the world into. Amen.

July 8, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about Jesus making us uncomfortable...

Sermon from July 8, 2018

Text: Mark 6: 1-13

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!

A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and around the people who know him.

Jesus comes home in our gospel reading this morning. And his homecoming was not filled with bands, a parade, or celebration. Contrary to how some might want to think, Jesus’ return home in our Gospel reading this morning does not look like the welcoming of soldier that has come home from a war.

In fact, Jesus is confronted with scoff and ridicule. Where the most common thing said about him (from those who watched him grow up) is essentially, “Who does this guy think he is? Doesn’t he know that we know who he is?”

I’m a firm believer that everyone has experienced a portion of what Jesus is experiencing in our gospel lesson this morning. How many of us have gone off to college, or camp, or a mission trip, or a trip of ‘self-discovery’ and felt like they had ‘changed’ in some way and wanted to share and invite others into that change as well. Perhaps your view of the world has changed, maybe your attitude and relationship to an ‘other’ group has shifted because of your real experiences with those sisters and brothers; all this change and you want to invite others – those you know so well – to see and experience the world as you have and want to continue living in.

And the response more often than not? We know who you are. Change? Yeah right. You better get back in your role.

I think about that as I hear of Jesus’ interactions with those he grew up with. But, when I sit back, and really think about those experiences he probably had, I have to sort of agree with those who scoffed at Jesus. The things he says, proclaims, and invites us into are radical, frustrating, and a little off-putting.

A pastor friend and I talked a little bit this past week about those things that Jesus says and invites us into that make us squirm, that make us a little uneasy as we try to live into this love and mercy that God has for us. Those things that Jesus does and says that frustrate us to no end.

For me, it has always been Jesus’ seemingly unwillingness to answer questions concisely and clearly. Questions are responded with more questions, stories, or what appear to be far off tangents.

Lord, what’s the kingdom of heaven like? Well… it’s like a mustard seed, or a shepherd who lost a sheep, or this older woman who found a coin. Ok…

Lord, what is God’s love like? Well… listen to this story about this guy whose son left and returned.

Jesus, by what power do you do these things? Where did John’s baptism come from?

For a world that operates in clear cut and defined ways, we want our answers printed clearly in black and white as if on the pages of a book. Yet, our Lord God continually invites us into the murky grey area of life. Jesus invites us into deeper conversation and relationship through continued thinking about the things he says. Always telling more stories and parables that open our minds – as they make us squirm – to see how God’s love is lived out in the world.

For my friend (and for me too) there are those things that Jesus tells us that just flat out go against the things we are taught and told. One of the ‘biggest’ sayings of frustration are – love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. What?

Does Jesus not understand that that is one of the hardest things to do? Living into God’s love is caring for people who don’t like you or actively work against you? And how does that love look like? Turning the other cheek, offering a coat, giving your shoes, laying down one’s life.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself. And how do you expect me to do that? Listen to this story about a guy you’ve been told was evil and bad and how he was a neighbor to a beaten man on the road.

Lord, how can we live a faithful life? Give up everything you own – everything – and follow me.

Jesus invites us into a life that is truly counter to what the world shouts out. It’s a life that goes against all that we know and are comfortable with. Yet, it is a life that leads to truth, lives out of love, and cares for the needs of others because God has loved, continues to love, and cares for us first.

Jesus is scoffed and rebuffed in his hometown because of the things he says and invites folks into – even the folks who know him so well; the ones who’ve seen him grow up.

As he leaves his home and continues his ministry he then sends the disciples out with words of advice and direction that seem truly mind-boggling.

Go out into the world – proclaim, heal, and teach. But as you leave, don’t take anything except for the clothes on your back and the sandals on your feet. Stay with strangers as long as they welcome you. If you aren’t, shake the dust off your feet and continue on.

Trying to find an ‘equivalent’ to our day, it would be as if Jesus tells us – go walk across this world proclaiming God’s love and mercy and asking for repentance. When you go, don’t take your phone or your wallet, not even a backpack. Don’t even think about getting in a car. Stay with people you don’t know as you heal and love and teach. If they don’t want you around? Just continue walking on.

I don’t know about y’all – that makes me squirm. That’s not something I look forward to doing or even know if I am capable of participating in. Yet, that’s what he called his disciples into and in many ways calls us into as well.

As I mentioned last Sunday, Jesus calls us to have trust and faith. Trust and faith that God is at work (because God is at work) and that God is indeed present and with you.

For surely, if God is present with the disciples who were sent just as they were, then wouldn’t God be present with us as we live into each day with even more than what they had? And God isn’t ‘with us’ because of this extra stuff we have, but God is present with us because we are God’s – and God is present with us through love, grace, and the life and death of our Lord Jesus the Christ.

What I find most reassuring and comforting – that in spite of the things that Jesus does and says that makes me squirm and uncomfortable – he doesn’t leave me by the wayside. Jesus continues to work on and in and through me so that I might know of God’s grace, love, and presence. Jesus has shown that willingness to be with us despite our hesitancies to what he proclaims and invites us into.

How? Because as I told our young friends last week – asking questions invites us into deeper conversation and relationship. Jesus continues to make us squirm, but he continues to invite us into that life of faith through questions, stories, and more so that we can fully see God at work in and through us and throughout the world.

Jesus can make us squirm, but Jesus is still here with us to help, guide, and love us along the way. Amen.

July 2, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about risk...

Sermon from July 1, 2018

Text: Mark 5:21-43

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

So, as I read and thought about this text over the week (not an easy task when you’re on vacation), I kept thinking about what lengths we’re willing to go to ‘save ourselves’ or to save someone we love, especially a child. I have read and heard countless stories of those parents who have sacrificed for themselves in order for their children to live the life that they never had.

The stories of those parents who don’t feed themselves so that they can feed their children. The folks who come to our church office every once in awhile and tell stories about how they have to choose between paying a light bill or filling their babies’ tummies. Perhaps even putting your children through an arduous journey of immense distances so that they might live. Removing them from the hardship and tragedy of home to find a new and renewed life somewhere else.

I thought about those stories as I read our gospel this week as we are introduced to two individuals who sacrificed a lot in order to hopefully receive healing by this man named Jesus. Both put themselves at cultural risk in order to be with Jesus. To bring new life to themselves or to bring new life to their child.

We are introduced to a woman who has been afflicted with a bleeding disorder for over twelve years. Anything with ‘blood’ was considered unclean and that others would become ‘unclean’ as well if they touched those who were bleeding. I’d imagine that there were not many people who would associate with her in fear that they too would become ritually unclean.

Yet, she heard this story about the man named Jesus. The one who had healed so many. Perhaps, maybe, possibly he could heal her too. She had faith, she trusted what Jesus could do for her. So, in that trust and faith, she pushed through the crowds to get his attention and perhaps just touching his clothes would be enough to heal her (and it was).

An important part of this text – and I can only imagine the fear that pressed in on that newly healed woman – was the fact that after she touched Jesus’ clothes, he immediately stopped for he knew someone had been healed. He stops and looks around, searching for the one who touched him.

This is a woman who – apart from those who have tried to help her medically – has more than likely been in fear of those who she is around. How they would treat her, interact with her, what would they say to her because of her condition? Those words to her that made her feel so ‘outside’ the group and culture; the family of God. When Jesus stops and searches for her, I imagine all those same and familiar fears came rushing back. She’s about to get ‘laid into’ and reprimanded for stepping into where she shouldn’t be.

Yet, when he finally searches her out from the large crowd pressing in on him, he locks eyes with her and calls her daughter. The one rumored to be of God, to be God, the messiah, has not chastised her for inappropriateness, but has claimed her as his own. She is a daughter of God, she is claimed, she is loved. Her faith, her trust in who Jesus has made her well.

She risked so much, yet she trusted in what God could do through Jesus, and she has finally been given new life.

Of course, that is the story within the story. For the ‘main’ story of our gospel this morning surrounds another individual who risks so much in order to save the life of his beloved daughter. Jairus is an honorable and upstanding man. He is looked up to in the life of the Jewish culture. He is one of the leaders of the synagogue. He is a faithful man. He is one who is not supposed to be seeking Jesus out for help.

In fact, the last time we were introduced to leaders within the synagogue – they were saying that the only reason that Jesus was able to do all this healing, was because he was possessed by a demon; the demon. Jairus is supposed to be the one pushes people away from Jesus, he isn’t supposed to be the one running towards him.

Yet, that’s what he does as Jesus approaches. He runs to him and falls at his feet. He risks his status, his power, his influence, his leadership role in the synagogue. People are supposed to come to him, yet he is the one who falls to Jesus’ feet.

He risks it all because of his love for his daughter and his trust and faith that Jesus can and will help her.

As they get closer, it appears all hope is lost. They are too late, Jairus’ daughter has died. Turn back, nothing to do anymore.

Yet, they laugh when Jesus says that this isn’t the end. And, I don’t think this is a laugh to deride Jesus or inflict further pain upon Jairus. I think this community’s laugh is similar to the laugh that Sarah gave when she was told that she would bear a child. A laugh out of utter and sad disbelief. Not to be mean, but because when all hope seems to be gone, we can’t help, but laugh at the ‘luck’ we’ve drawn.

In the trust that Jairus has in Jesus, the faith he exhibits as he comes to meet him, to be with him, to fall at his feet, to risk it all through that trust – Jairus’ daughter gets up. She is given new and renewed life. Hope is there and it comes bursting forth from Jesus’ words and actions.

As I hear these stories and so much more that we read of in our Gospels – here in Mark and throughout the other three, I cannot help but think how so many are willing to risk because of their faith and trust in this man named Jesus. It makes me think – what are we as modern-day followers willing to risk because of our faith and trust in Jesus?

Are we willing to risk following and trusting our Lord? What are we willing to risk as we fall at the feet of the cross? What are we willing to risk as we seek out Jesus in our life?

Are we willing to risk our livelihood? Are we willing to risk our status and power? Are we willing to risk our affluence and our influence? What are we willing to risk as we fall at Jesus’ feet?

Are we willing to risk the stares and the murmurs of others as we care and help someone from ‘over there?’ Are we willing to risk our friendships to confront in love when words of hurt and indecency are flung at someone on the ‘outside’ what many call the ‘norm’? Are we willing to risk our positions to speak God’s word of love and welcome to all – and to live into that love for others?

Last Sunday we had the opportunity to live that out – and I feel we as a community rose to the occasion. During our second service a young family entered our community in need of help – food, clothes, and gas as they traveled from Washington, DC to Miami for an immigration hearing. They came into our community during worship, spoke very little English, and the husband and father walked in with a GPS tracker on his leg. They were in the country illegally and were going through the process to be ‘right’ within our immigration process – as convoluted and difficult as it can be.

I was proud – deeply proud – that this family was welcomed and cared for. I didn’t really have doubts about that. But, how many in other communities we are a part of where someone speaking little English and wearing an ankle bracelet would be turned away?

This family risked a lot to come to our community, to speak and ask for help from people they didn’t know. How would they be treated? Would they be sent away? Would they be ‘reprimanded’ for their actions, would the authorities be alerted?

And we as a community took on risk as well as we listened to their story and provided care the best way we knew how. The more we listened to their story, it may not have been as truthful as they made it out to be. But, that is a risk that we take as well. We risk that in our service and love people might take advantage of that. Yet, we help as we are able. We care, we love, we live into the faith that God has poured into us in our baptisms. We live into this love that God has first given us.

We risk that we err on God’s grace and love. We risk a lot as we care and serve.

But, we risk in hope, trust, and faith that God is at work in this. That Jesus is leading us in this. That the Holy Spirit is guiding us into this life of faith.

We risk. We love. We trust. We live in faith.

What are we willing to risk as we follow, cling to, touch, and fall at Jesus’ feet? What are you willing to risk as you live into God’s love for others? Amen.

July 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

July 2018 Newsletter

Grace and peace to each of y’all! It is July, so everyone knows what that means… IT IS HOT! Please be mindful of the heat as you’re out tending your gardens, walking around, working, and just being in the community. It seems every year the summer gets a little bitter warmer and we continually have to do a better job at recognizing how the heat affects us.

Last month, I wrote a bit about taking sabbath. It is something we need, it is something I think we crave, though it is also something that the busy world continues to keep us from partaking in.

There is another aspect of life – especially during the summer – that I think we all tend to be mindful of that can greatly benefit our lives. Taking care of ourselves. Or at least, taking better care of ourselves.

Our God has gifted us with this wonderful bodies. We breathe, we move, we laugh, we cry, we enjoy. Yet, sometimes we might enjoy too much (I’m guilty of that from time to time) and other times we get locked into those parts of life that don’t encourage us to take active care of our bodies. Yet, we are called to care for what God has given us – which includes our own bodies.

Recently Erin and I have begun working out in the community and something weird has happened. I want to continue with it. In fact, being in that community has helped me better take care of myself. I worked out while at Lutheridge for Confirmation Camp and even look forward to those workout opportunities when my family and I take a couple weeks of vacation at the beginning and end of July.

Everyone can start somewhere. But, what I ask of those of you who may need a letter like this to ‘get off the couch’ and do something is to not seek the goal of ‘getting a summer bod.’ Comparing ourselves to those whose lives are devoted to exercise, beauty, and attention. But, instead to view this opportunity to better care for your body as a way to honor and care for the gift that God has given you.

Taking care of ourselves – with sabbath, exercise, eating right, and more – helps us be better people of faith invested into the lives of those around us. Caring for ourselves helps us be a better parent, sibling, child, friend, and stranger.

So, get out. Walk a bit, lift some weights, put down the 2nd donut, switch that tea with water. Continue to live into, enjoy, and live for others by caring for ourselves. Amen!

June 25, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about getting to the other side...

Sermon from June 24, 2018

Text: Mark 4:35-41

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, who here feels at times that they are in the midst of a storm? We can see it all whirling around us – political anxiety, confusion and fear of what is true and what is false, many of us are realizing we aren’t capable of certain things we like we used to be, the world is changing, some of us are dealing with personal crises, all of us – in some way or another is dealing with a storm of sorts.

For some those storms seem never ending, gale force winds with 100-foot tidal walls slamming into our little and creaky boat. Where the next wave to crash just might be the one to ‘do us in.’ Turn us over, and we’ll finally succumb.

I think we saw that at work within our country these last two weeks in the saga concerning how immigrants and children were being dealt with and mishandled by our government. No matter how you believe immigration should be handled in our country (and there are a myriad of different views) – that was not the correct way.

For many, that was and continues to be a major storm and the same cry that the disciples screamed from their lips to Jesus is the same that is uttered from many today, “Do you care about us or not Jesus?” Are you sleeping on the job? 

I think in those moments we are a bit confused by how God acts in the world. Where we seek and desire the quick and simple fix to whatever storm rages in our world. We pray, we cry out to God, our nerves are frayed and on edge, we feel like we’re screaming for dear life, yet it is as if God is just taking a nap.

And that just upsets us more.

I’ve always been intrigued by this story from Mark’s gospel, and there is something I find rather interesting. The disciples are comfortable with the fact that they are doing something new and different. They have faith enough in Jesus to venture outside their cultural comforts, to go to the other side of the sea to bring what Jesus is proclaiming – God’s word of love, mercy, and forgiveness – to a people who have been told are not a part of God’s love.

They have faith enough to travel to the other side with Jesus in this new ministry opportunity, but it seems that their faith is not yet mature enough to realize the fullness of who he is.

Sure, he has the power to calm the storm (he demonstrates that pretty matter of factly), but perhaps he isn’t here to calm every storm. To quell every whirlwind that rises up. What if Jesus isn’t about the easy and quick answer? What if Jesus isn’t about making life smooth and struggle free?

What if Jesus – intentionally – invites us into this boat of ministry knowing full well that things won’t be smooth. What if Jesus knows that storms will rise? What if Jesus knows things might look pretty bad? What if Jesus knows all that?

What does it mean for Jesus to know all that – and still invite us into the boat? What if Jesus cares about what he’s proclaiming so much and wants us to be a part of it – that he invites us into this proclamation and life knowing full well that it won’t be easy, but in fact it’ll be riddled with storms, and anger, and anxiety?

What if Jesus knows that the Word he proclaims – the Gospel truth he invites and commands us to share – is that disruptive to the world that people will do almost anything to stamp out that hope that God gives through this word? What if Jesus knows that others will use his words and the holy words of scripture to prop up actions that don’t jive with what he intends and how he lives?

What if Jesus knows all of that and still invites us in the boat?

What if Jesus knows all that and still sleeps?

Now, one way to take that is that Jesus is foolish and doesn’t understand how the world works. Thinking that he’s naïve and a little flighty (and believe me, he’s been called that and worse).

But, I don’t think Jesus feels that way, he’s the one that knows. And he’s the one that can calm the storms. But, I don’t think that’s his goal – to calm all the storms in our lives (though within the storm that might be the one thing we want). Instead, Jesus’ goal is to get to the other side so that others might hear this word and truth. This gospel and love about and for and with them.

To invite us and bring us to that truth as well. To proclaim this Gospel truth to all who can hear. To serve with and for those whom others have cast off and put aside. Jesus invites us to hear and experience that life too.

In everything that we read this morning from Job to Mark – it is as if God is saying – as if Jesus is saying – “Trust me.”

Seriously. Trust Jesus.

Does that mean we should lay down and rest in the midst of the storm? Yes. Yes, it does. To a point. There’s a saying that many of us know that I think can keep us from actually doing anything, “Just let go and let God…” Don’t worry about anything, just let God handle it.

I don’t think that is what Jesus is implying at all. Not one bit. Living life fully into that worn out saying can keep us from even encountering the storms. It’s sayings like that which can keep us from getting into the boat in the first place. Just let Jesus do his thing. It has nothing to do with me.

Yet, Jesus is the one who calls us into the boat just as he welcomed the disciples into the boat to get to those who had not yet heard of God’s love and mercy. Jesus calls us into moments and opportunities that will lead to storms. It’s going to happen.

The storms will rise up. Yet our Lord calls us to trust that he is there. Inviting us to rest in his protective arms as a child might rest in their parents embrace.

Throughout the season of Lent, we sang a song at our Wednesday evening services that speak to my soul and remind me of this gospel and how we see God at work in the world today…

Though the earth shall change, though the mountains tremble, though the waters rage, you, God, are here.

Though the nations war, though the peoples battle, though the empire falters, we will not fear.

Jesus is bringing us to the other side. We are in the boat. Waters rage, mountains tremble. God is here.

Jesus isn’t the quick and easy fix, Jesus is the one standing with us, inviting us, pulling us, to proclaim this word that cuts through the darkness and brings light to the world. A light that never goes out and brings hope to the night.

A word and light that welcomes all, that is strong in the face of worldly power, that brings life to those whom life has been wrenched away.

Jesus isn’t ‘sleeping’ on the job, we’re still on our way to the other side. Rest and know and trust that he is here. He’s invited us, he’s welcomed you into this ministry of love and proclamation. It won’t be easy, there is still more to come, but Jesus is here. Amen.

June 18, 2018, 1:48 PM

the one about the kingdom...

Sermon from June 17, 2018

Mark 4: 26-34

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

So, this past week I was able – again – to do something that I not only think is pivotal to the formation of faith life (the faith lives of those whom I’m lucky enough to serve and my own), but also something that I truly and deeply love; being at Lutheridge for a week of camp. In fact, it is something that I think is so important that Erin and I are taking the girls to Family Camp later next month so that Ashleigh and Miriam can receive their first taste of a week of summer camp.

This year, I was lucky to be able to accompany Ben Lindsay and almost 20 other youth from around the Southeast as we learned about the seasons of the church, heard about Jesus’ struggle and his passion narrative, we learned about prayers, miracles, and the Spirit that sends us out to serve God and serve our neighbors – all of them. It was a great week and it makes my heart to feel so full when kids like Ben and the others utter the words, “Pastor Matt…do I have to go home?” Especially after they stated earlier that they were a bit apprehensive to coming to Lutheridge – like really how can learning about Jesus be fun and cool.

Every time I am in those mountains and walking those well-worn paths, stepping into those areas, cabins, the dining hall, and trudging up and down that mountain; I begin to be ever mindful of what I’m experiencing around me.

Mostly, the thing I experience the most is the noise. Camp can be and is loud. And it isn’t the encroaching commercial world that seems to continue to ‘push in’ on what I consider holy ground. The noise comes from these kids. They can be loud y’all. Games of ninja red light green light (a camp favorite I might add), Gaga ball pits, the pool, the songs they sing – all the time, at every moment, and the deafening roar of the Dining Hall. That doesn’t even include the sounds that don’t stop when the lights turn out and the animals of the forest join in and continue the cacophony of noise.

It’s loud.

That loud noise doesn’t extinguish the ‘quiet noise’ that we sometimes overlook, the inter-cabin squabbles that always crop up as a new community is being formed early in the week, or those kids who pine for home as they are in a new environment and away from all their usual comforts, or even those certain youth who require just a little more attention than the others. Those noises at times can be even louder and sometimes messier than all those other things combined.

Yet, in spite of all that chaos that goes on at camp, despite all that extra ‘fun’ that a young kid might bring into camp – there is a place for them. Every single one. They are welcomed with energetic smiles that Sunday afternoon. They are helped into easing into this new community. They are encouraged to take on new challenges. They are helped to see God’s presence not only in the world around them, but in and through their very selves as well.

These young boys and girls are lovingly guided through obstacles – those that are physical; like the Group Interaction Course, working together to solve physical puzzles while including everyone in their new community. But, even those obstacles that are emotional or spiritual. Where they share something about themselves wondering if they’ll truly be accepted and loved. Where they might let a counselor, a new friend, an adult they feel that they can trust in on something personal going on in their lives.

There is a lot of noise, chaos, and mess that goes into a week of camp.

Yet, no matter the noise; no matter the mess; no matter the chaos – people are loved, welcomed, accepted, encouraged, and God’s love is shared with them. In fact, through games, songs, bible study, and more – they are told how God is already present in their lives because of who and whose they are.

God isn’t there because of the ‘them’ they share on social media. God isn’t there because of the clothes they wear or the people they know or the people they are friends with.

No, God is there because of the one God knows. The one God has created. God is there, in full and welcoming love because they – because we – are God’s own.

I thought about all that and more this past week as I read this Gospel text. Here we see Jesus tell another story – another parable – to compare the kingdom of God. This time, the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.

An incredibly tiny seed that grows into an incredibly large bush.

But, not only that it starts from something so small and grows into something large, but that this large shrub welcomes and hosts all sorts of birds, flying creatures, and other animals.

It provides shade, shelter, and care to all who inhabits its branches.

As I was able to talk with my fellow pastors, my colleagues, my friends we began to notice something rather interesting about the trees and shrubs we saw around camp. They don’t really exist to benefit themselves.

A shrub or a tree doesn’t flourish to the highest of heights growing leafy branches to provide shade and shelter to itself. It doesn’t produce an assortment of ‘fruit’ to feed itself. It doesn’t grow strong and sturdy branches so that it can ‘live in’ itself. It doesn’t absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen just, so it can ‘breathe.’

No, it does all of this for others. It provides, it gives a home, it welcomes all into itself so that others are cared for. Whether they be bugs, or birds, or animals nesting in, crawling up, or hanging out – the shrub provides a home, a place of welcome.

It doesn’t ask for papers. It doesn’t threaten violence. It doesn’t separate or divide those families coming to it to find shelter and a little peace and rest.

It welcomes. It provides.

That is the kingdom of God my sisters and brothers.

That kingdom of God doesn’t provide shelter so that it might feel better. It doesn’t provide food so that it can be fed. It doesn’t welcome all so that it can feel smug. The kingdom of God does all of that because it cares for the people around it. It welcomes all those into it’s branches, it’s rooms, it’s homes, it’s lives because it exists for and with others.

So, the kingdom of God is a lot like a shrub. Or a holy place on a mountain. Or these people in a little town like Newberry, or even a country – that welcomes, and cares, and loves. A place where shelter is provided. A place where love is found and shared. A place where all sorts of creations of God can call home.

The kingdom of God is a noisy and sometimes messy place – just like all those other things that look like the kingdom. Yet, in spite of the noise, in spite of the mess – God is present there working through those communities, working through those people, working through them all to be – again and again – a place of shelter; of solace. A place that encourages and shows love. A place that forgives and provides mercy. A place that welcomes all sorts of people. A place that is a home.

That’s the kingdom of God – it looks a lot like a shrub that grows from something tiny – a word, a smile, a stand, a hug, a cross – and grows into something big enough to welcome all into its branches. Amen.

June 11, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one where they called Jesus crazy...

Sermon from June 10, 2018

Mark 3:20-35

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 don’t know about y’all, but the last few weeks in my house have been a never-ending stream of The Greatest Showman songs and viewings of the movie. Literally. Every. Day. The basic premise of that movie (if you haven’t seen it) is that a man wants to ‘make it big’ and the only way he knows how is by doing things differently from what the world has seen before. He brings together a collection – a circus – of human ‘oddities’ to bring entertainment and joy to those who come to see them perform.

He gives life, voice, and more to those ‘oddities’ in 1800s America. He gives them a job, some money, and a little respect. This man, in a sense, brings a little healing into their life. He helps make them more ‘whole.’

All the while, those who come to see his show are aghast at what he’s doing to make a buck. He is going against the conventional norm, and mostly how DARE he bring ‘those sorts of people’ into the spotlight. How dare he give them any sort of honor or respect. How dare he bring them near the rest of us ‘good’ folk. How dare he let the world know that they do exist and are deserving of love.

Those folks that have been given power, voice, and respect come to the peak of their state in the great song of ‘This is Me’ sung by Keala Settle as she portrays the ‘Bearded Woman’ Lettie Lutz. It’s a great song and kind of the anthem that I think would fit Jesus in our gospel lesson today.

Now, let me catch you up on what Jesus has been doing so far in Mark’s gospel up to this point. Remember, in Mark’s gospel things happen fast. We’re only in the third chapter, but already Jesus has stepped on just about everyone’s toes, especially on the toes of those in traditional roles of power.

He’s been baptized by an odd guy screaming out of the wilderness, he has called his disciples from a collection of possible ‘throwaways’ in the rabbinical teaching system there, he’s approached those who are on the outside of society to heal them – those afflicted with unclean spirits or who are possessed by demons, lepers, the paralyzed, he has sat down to share a meal with those whom society has deemed ‘beyond reproach,’ he has (seemingly) gone against the normative teaching of the Sabbath, and he has done this all by parading his message of forgiveness, mercy, God’s love, and healing all around the country side and is making a name for himself and drawing large crowds wherever he goes.

This news has traveled so far and wide that even the religious muckety mucks in Jerusalem hear about this man named Jesus and come to see what he’s been doing. And they aren’t happy.

They and the others who have gathered in Jesus’ hometown just have one thing to say, “This boy has lost his mind.” Even his family is confused by the actions he’s been taking. But, mostly his mother, brothers, and sisters want to protect the one they love. They are fearful for him because of how people are reacting to him because of the things he proclaims and does.

One of the main points of this little gospel story is what Jesus says in verse 28. Ultimately, people think he’s lost his mind because he says that people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. He lives into that gospel and love of God.

This concept of God’s forgiveness and love is so foreign to those around him at this time that they think it is the work of Beelzebub, the work of Satan, the work of the ruler of demons. Of course, Jesus logically argues that that really doesn’t make much sense. Mostly because the devil isn’t typically in the department of healing, and if Satan is casting out Satan and demons wouldn’t that only be beneficial to the people? Because, after all, a divided house cannot stand on its own. If he is who they (wrongly) say he is – than wouldn’t that be good? It would mean that the ruler of demons is working against himself and only making his work that much weaker and allowing the work of God to be that much more successful.

But, people really think he’s ‘crazy’ because of the message he proclaims to give life, wholeness, and love to those who feel that they’ve never had it from God. He has a screw loose because he’s telling as many people as he can that 1. God loves you. Already. Forever. 2. Nothing you’ve done keeps you from God’s love. 3. In fact, all those things that you’ve done or said that people say are wrong – You’re forgiven. For real. God’s forgotten about it.

Here comes this Jesus guy, proclaiming about God’s love and forgiveness. In that love and forgiveness, he heals countless people who believe and trust him about what he proclaims about God. He brings life, wholeness, honor, and respect to people who previously did not have it. He restores what was removed from them by society because of their ‘condition.’ He gives back what has always been theirs and what is bestowed upon them (and the world) by God.

He has gone out of his mind.

Jesus is acting foolish. And thank God he is.

Talking about love and forgiveness for everyone, for all their sins, preaching with more authority than those traditionally educated for such a vocation, what Jesus was, is and continues to do is a bit senseless and what Jesus proclaims is even more ridiculous! He's done and gone lost his mind!

We too are a bit foolish as well. Some, a little further from the norm than others. But, we’re a bit silly because we believe that this, this Word of God, our Lord Jesus, is the truth. We too look upon these words of scripture and listen to the Word and we have to be honest with ourselves and believe that you have to be a bit different to believe this. It's irrational to believe this, not because what we read isn't the truth (because it is), but because what we read, believe, and participate in is so different from what the world outside proclaims.

This Word is radically out-there folks.

This message does not sit well with those in established places and sitting on traditional seats of power. It is a message that gives power and hope to the majority. Jesus brings new voices to the table. Jesus proclaims a message that gives honor and respect where it has been removed. It is a message that rubs against those in power.

We read these words and live into this Gospel; we know that we are a part of that crowd gathered around Jesus' feet. Though many of us have searched far and wide, high and low, to be close to our Lord, within these words spoken by Jesus and those we read throughout this gospel lesson and all the gospels, we learn that we are already a part of the crowd Jesus has called to himself. We're a part of this crowd where Jesus calls us sisters and brothers, where God – through our baptisms – has claimed us as God's own children.

And when you think of it, the message that we believe is truly weird. We believe that the God who created us, the one who claims us as children, sister, brother, and friend has loved us so much that this one has sent the Son to proclaim and show that love to the world, whatever the cost, even if it means death.

Yes, this is a crazy message, and thanks be to God that it is! 

It is a message that leads us into all sorts of odd things. Where we care about our neighbors over ourselves. It means that we take time out of our lives to be with those whom we’ve never met to care for them in their need – no mater what it is or who they are or where they are from. It means that we seek out and develop deep and meaningful relationships with those that society – in all its myriad ways – has told us to be ‘against’ or ‘wary’ of. It’s a message that fights back against the demons in our own minds that can and do tell lies about ourselves and about the world around us. Those lies that push many to take drastic measures as we’ve unfortunately seen in the news this past week with the sudden and tragic deaths of designer Kate Spade and food and travel aficionado Anthony Bourdain at the hand of the disease of depression. It’s a message that calls us to be with those we know and to break through the tension and taboo and ask, “How are you doing?”

It’s a message that proclaims that the one who created the universe, who fashioned life from dust, the one who weaves through every fiber of living is at work in and through even you. Where that work in and through you helps bring wholeness, equity, justice, and righteousness to the world.

That through you – God is at work. That through even that one over there – God is working to bring about change and love to a world in desperate need to hear it. That because God is at work in you, you can seek help to fight those demons in your mind and that because God is in you – your life matters. You are loved. Always.

Let this foolish God of love - this Lord that loves the world and forgives all sins for everyone - work through you and work with you. Allow the Spirit to work around you, pray that God open minds and hearts, yours or even another to see God's amazing self at work within the world, within our world.

Think of how you can be 'foolish' in your proclamation of God's crazy Word of love, grace, and mercy. God loves over and over and over again, expecting one thing - that we know that we are loved, that we are cared for, that we matter, and that we too are called to love others as God has first loved us. 

God is foolish, Christ has lost his mind, the Spirit’s screws are a bit loose, and we are crazy for believing all that Jesus speaks about and that's a good thing. Join in the inane, preach this foolishly abundant love in your own daily lives as you work and play, read this book of faith, be open to new opportunities of ministry; know that though it may seem ridiculous - God is at work throughout the world, proclaiming Christ and this Gospel message of love to all. Even and especially to and through and because of you.

As the refrain in This is Me proclaims (which I’ve slightly adjusted) – we march to the beat of God’s drum. This is who I’m meant to be. This is me.

Jesus has done lost his mind, and thanks be to God for that. Amen.

June 4, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about sabbath...

Sermon from June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23-3:6


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

So, today we get to hear a lot about the Sabbath. How it is holy, alluded to why it was set forth, and unfortunately how it might get in the way of God’s work (because of how humanity views and uses it). As I talked with friends and colleagues about all this during the week, an image popped into our brains to help showcase what Jesus is doing here.

One of my favorite things to do with my daughters is to watch funny videos on the internet. Some of the funniest videos are those of animals, and of those animal videos the most intense and hilarious ones involve cats. Specifically, those videos that involve precious objects (to the human), a table edge, and the indifference of a cat.

Where the cat looks at whatever that object might be – a cup, a plate, a toy, usually something breakable. The human looking at the cat and the object and continually saying, “Don’t do it. You better not do it. Don’t you dare. You know better.”

At each breath, it is as if the cat purposefully nudges that object closer and closer to the edge before one final ‘swat’ and off it tumbles. Perhaps shattering on the floor, while the cat looks up to you with smug indifference.

As I read this story from Mark’s gospel, I can’t help but think that Jesus is that cat, and the religious authorities and elite are the pleading humans, and the sabbath is that precious object.

This gospel begins as Jesus is with his friends as they are traveling on the holy day of rest and his disciples begin picking grain within the field – presumably because they are hungry.

Of course, this riles up the religious elite who appear to be ‘clutching their pearls’ in shock and amazement that they would do such a thing on such a holy day of rest – a day that no work is to be done. At all.

Further still, more shock and awe as Jesus confronts them with the opportunity to help a man in need. A man with a withered and presumably useless hand is in need. Jesus poses the question of whether it is right and good to save a life by doing something for them (or by ‘killing them’ by doing nothing) on the sabbath?

Jesus is angered and deeply saddened by their quiet response. Then, much like that cat continually pushing the precious object right to the edge, the man with the formerly withered hand swats it off to show God’s goodness and grace has been done that day.

Now, the religious elite are besides themselves in anger and seek to finally do something about this man named Jesus.

As we read this I think many of us – of course – side with Jesus. Those dastardly Pharisees don’t know what they’re talking about. How could they not do anything to help themselves live or to give life to another person in need. I mean seriously, bless. Their. Hearts.

Though, if we’re not careful, we’ll begin to think that what Jesus is saying is that the Sabbath is bad. That we shouldn’t follow the sabbath and adhere to the gifted day of rest to creation. I don’t think Jesus is saying that at all.

What I think Jesus is really saying is that we – yes, we – should be careful of our ‘hardened hearts’ that get in the way of helping and caring for others and using ‘religious rules’ as an excuse.

Now that is something that we probably do quite often. I’m guilty of it too.

Where we’ll say, ‘we’d like to help, but… you belong to that group over there and according to this part of scripture or practiced norm in our tradition we just can’t.’

Or, perhaps like the story that was shared across the country this week of a church in South Carolina who voted this month to remove artwork of Jesus from their church because it looked too much like it belonged to another tradition in the Christian faith. We don’t want people to ‘get confused.’

Where their well-being and insecurities was more important than depictions of our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ within their worship space.

There are of course way more examples that I could give that show our hardness of heart in the world when confronted with the opportunity to live into the gospel and model of Jesus for those in the world. It doesn’t take much imagination and thinking to see where we too – individually and as a community – have let ourselves get in the way of helping and caring for others and using religious ‘rules’ as the excuse.

So, about that ‘religious rule’ of Sabbath – what is it for. As a friend wrote this week, when God gives laws – it is not for religious piety. These laws are not designed for us to make a checklist of things to assure ourselves of our righteousness and devotion. On the contrary, the laws given to us by God are designed with the purpose of showing us where we are in ‘right relationship’ with God and neighbor.

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus stated that loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul, while the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. On those two hang the ENTIRETY of the law. If we are loving God and loving neighbor, then the rest of the commandments will fall into place.

So, the law of the Sabbath itself falls in line with that mentality and purpose. It is a gift to humanity of an intentional and frequent day to rest – something that was completely foreign to the world at that time. And to be quite honest – it is still a foreign concept to our modern world as well. That day of rest is taken so that one can be refreshed and renewed to live into the work of loving God and loving neighbor. Yes, it is an intentional day of rest and some observe that to more extremes than others (and still do), yet it is not a day to be a detriment to others.

It is a day to soften our hearts because out of love we have been gifted this day of rest to be aware of the fullness and abundance of God’s grace and love. But, we become blind to God’s grace if we live with those hardened hearts and are incapable of living into that kind of love for others in need simply because we have to ‘adhere’ to a rule.

The truth of what Jesus proclaims is that none of our ‘rules’ even the ones written down in scripture supersede our call to care, love, and be in right relationship with those before us. In fact, the ‘rules’ that we have point us to that sort of life lived in love and grace. The whole law of the prophets hangs on loving God and loving our neighbor.

Yet, there will still be moments where our hearts are hardened – it might be because we have been slighted, hurt, or in fear of what could be. The good news is, that in spite of our hardened hearts, eventually – because of God’s persistent love upon us and shown through others towards us – our hardened hearts will crack. They’ll crack wide open and God’s love and grace will fill in and heal those hearts. Those healed hearts are then sent out to continue to live into God’s love and grace.

God is continually working and loving on us so that we might see the fullness of Jesus’ presence and his activity in the world.

Continue to love one another, so that others and even ourselves, can experience and see God’s full and abundant love present already in their life. Even when that love bends or perhaps ‘breaks’ one of those ‘rules’ in our life. Amen.

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