In pm's words
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February 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

February Newsletter Article


Grace and peace to each of you this day!

I’ve been thankful this past month to participate in two wonderful gatherings of learning and growth.

Recently I was able to attend the Ventures in Stewardship seminar with some members from Redeemer, colleagues, and other sisters and brothers form the Heartland Conference. What a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow in our discipleship of being good stewards.

In fact, in working in that group and being in conversation with some at Redeemer, I think we are at a perfect opportunity to begin the conversations and even implementing some of these ideas learned through Ventures in Stewardship here within our community of faith. Rest assured, it isn’t all about money and giving financially to the church. But, instead empowering, encouraging, and inviting our community to invest into the ministries offered here at Redeemer as we live into the call to serve God and serve our neighbors. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me, Beth Singletary, or Jerry Haltiwanger and we’ll get this show on the road!

The other opportunity for learning and growth that I’ve been able to partake in this past month has been attending the Lay School of Religion. Specifically, the class called, “Walking in Other People’s Shoes: A conversation about Immigration and Refugees.” I know that both immigration and refugee issues are a very ‘touchy’ subject in our cultural and political climate today. But, hearing firsthand knowledge (offered by Rev. Alejandro Mejía) about what is involved to immigrate to this country (both by conventional and unconventional means) is eye-opening and sobering.

There are so many stories that have spread around our country that contain misleading or blatantly false information in order to stoke fear and worry. How do we live into our calls as followers of Christ and worshippers of God as we care for those around us, including those who weren’t born nearby or come from far-off places around the world? It is a struggle that many of us (including myself at times) continue to wade through every day.

This past month has been one of growth and insight. I invite each of you into conversation and pray about stewardship and those topics where there are many differing opinions. Always remembering, that God has called us to care for one another through love, prayer, service, and forgiveness.

Love each of you, and I mean it.




January 29, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about interruptions


Sermon from January 28, 2017

Text: Mark 1: 21-28

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, what did you do on the first day of your job? Or the first day of school? Normally, you don’t have too much to do that day, right? You get settled in, find out where the bathrooms are, talk to those who you will be working with to begin those new fruitful relationships.

I believe that the first day serving here, the biggest responsibility that I had was making sure I made it to council meeting that evening. Where in my report I wrote a rundown of my day.

9am – I arrived at the church.
9:05am – I got into the building (the key worked).

I then included all sorts of important items like, “put stuff in my office.” “I have a bathroom in here!” “I had a nice lunch!” “I worked on the devotional for this evening.” “I arrived at council meeting on time.”

Most of us – on our first days – don’t have a huge assortment of responsibilities right off the bat. Those responsibilities are coming – for sure – but, on the first day? You’re just getting your bearings straight.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we get to see what Jesus did – according to Marks’ gospel – on essentially his first day serving those around him. Granted, he already reached out to a few contacts and networked a bit as he had a small group with him, but this morning we read of him walking into the local synagogue and beginning his ministry.

What. A. Day.

Sure, it started out pretty easily. He arrived at the synagogue and taught. People were perplexed and amazed at what he was saying and how he was teaching. The people marveled at his knowledge and the authority in which he spoke. He talked like he actually believed this stuff!

Then, the turn in the day happened. A man with an unclean spirit barges in and begins speaking and debating with Jesus.

A fun story, one of my best friends and I did our chaplaincy together at Palmetto Baptist Hospital in downtown Columbia. One of our responsibilities throughout that summer was to be ‘on-call’ overnight. My friend drew the short straw and had to be on call the very first night.

Naturally, he was a little nervous and quite scared about what could happen. Our supervisor told him as he left him for the night, “Don’t worry, nothing ever really happens on the first night.”

Guess what? Something happened.

Around midnight a call to the chaplain from the ER came in. He needed to get down there – fast. A family was in need. Turns out, a young teenager was brought in by her family because she had tried to throw herself from their moving vehicle. Twice. While on the way here. The believed, fully and completely, that she was possessed by an unclean spirit. They wanted her demon to be exorcised.

As my friend was recounting this story to us the next morning, I remember asking him, “What did you do? Exorcising demons is not really in the wheel house of future Lutheran pastors.”

He responded, “I said a prayer and threw some water at her and got out as quickly as I could. The family seemed to be OK with that.”

After that, chaplaincy for the summer was smooth sailing (for the most part) for my friend. He couldn’t have anything more ‘out there’ than what happened that night. It’s still a story that he loves telling as well.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus is interrupted in his ‘first day on the job’ by this man with an unclean spirit who makes his presence known in the midst of Jesus teaching and proclaims Jesus as the Holy One of God!

How many of y’all enjoy being interrupted? It’s annoying isn’t it? Throws you off when you’re talking about something and someone else waltzes in and tries to veer the conversation somewhere else – or even attempts to call you out in a seemingly unrelated manner.

Throughout my time preparing to be a pastor while in seminary and actively living into this call I fully understand that ministry happens in the interruptions. Sure, there are times when ministry happens according to plan – the way we want ministry to happen. During scheduled bible studies, planned visits, and of course within worship. But, more often than not – ministry happens when it derails us from our schedules.

Those moments that make us drop what we’re doing to be with those who need help.

A crisis in the family. The death of a friend’s parent. The loss of a child’s job. The need of a stranger who walks into your life. The birth of a new baby. The news of an engagement. The beauty of a child wanting to play.

All of those and more are opportunities for ministry. If you notice, those opportunities for ministry don’t just happen to pastors and leaders in the church. Those opportunities to be interrupted for ministry are for everyone. They happen to all of us – all the time.

God reaches out to us in moments that we at times cannot prepare for. God offers us opportunities to be ministers for others during their times of need – not our times of convenience.

Of course, we know that those opportunities can happen at any time and that can make us a bit anxious. I know I can get that way as your pastor. When my cell phone rings and I look at whose calling the first thought that crosses through my mind is, “What’s in store for me now?” Most of the time, those calls are for good things. “Pastor, I just wanted to let you know this good thing.” Or they’re for annoying things, “Hey, I see you’ve stayed at one of our hotels in the past…” But, there are and there will be more of those times that they are calls to help folks in their time of need. Sometimes I know them, sometimes I don’t. Yet, for everyone I know that I am there for them – in the ways that I am capable.

And in those moments, I remember and we remember that God is with us. Guiding us and using us to be ministers to those in need. Being present in the time of crisis. Being joyous in the time of celebration. Being Christ-like in times of the needs of others.

We may not (more than likely probably not) be able to ‘command the unclean spirits’ to come out of those around us who are not in their right mind. My friend still doesn’t know what came of that young girl and the prayer that he offered. But, his presence among them calmed the family down. They were made known. Their fears were heard. They were listened to. He helped them in their time of need. With simple words and a simple prayer.

My friend too was comforted in his time of need. He was present. He knew from that moment on if that was one of the most odd and difficult experiences that God could toss his way – and he survived it – that God truly was in control. That God truly was and is present with him and the rest of us. That God can do ministry out of a simple prayer. That God truly is at work in us, through us, and for us.

Ministry happens in the interruptions of life. God offers us opportunities to do ministry – great and small. All important, all holy. We all get to do ministry. Amen!

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January 22, 2018, 7:16 AM

the one about not fearing the turn...


Sermon from Sunday, January 21, 2018

Text: Jonah 3: 1-5,10 & Mark 1: 14-20

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 our first reading and our gospel this week, something struck me. These two texts can scare the daylights out of anyone!

In the book of Jonah (which I feel everyone should read as it is A) kind of funny, and 2) really short and thirdly) it’s really good.), we hear that God comes to Jonah for a second time to proclaim to the people of Nineveh that they will be overthrown! Surprisingly the people of Nineveh – including the king – turn from their evil ways in hopes that God’s mind would change. And God’s mind does change, and the city is not thrown into calamity.

What I think scares us about this text is that very first part of this small slice of Jonah – The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.

If y’all remember, the word of the Lord already came to Jonah one time and what was Jonah’s response? To literally run in the opposite direction. Jonah wanted nothing to do with what God wanted from him. He didn’t want to speak to that large and dangerous city. He didn’t feel he was capable of living into or up to God’s call in his life.

Then we get the whole ordeal with the sea, a storm, a sailors’ revolt, and a fish.

God sticks with – for whatever reason – Jonah so that he might finally speak to the people of Nineveh. To help them understand and repent – to turn in another direction.

I think the fact that we read and believe that God ‘sticks with us’ can be scary. Especially when it pertains to living into the call that God has for each and every one of us. We at times struggle in our lives to understand why anyone would ‘stick with’ us in spite of all the glaring reasons to not stand by us.

We are full of faults and selfish desires. Yet, there are those – those who have cultivated relationships with us – who desire to stick with us. God so too sticks with us. Pursues us. Is in fact, relentless in reaching out to us and guiding us into this life of faith and call.

We constantly ask why God is this way towards us. Why does God desire to use us to speak and act and live to and for others? There must be someone better than me who can do this.

As I’ve said before, in our baptism we get to know what God already knows: that we are good enough. We are so good enough that God has declared each of us beloved children and has claimed us and marked us with the cross of Christ forever.

You. Are. Good. Enough. That’s why God sticks with us. That’s why we stick with family and friends. That’s why we reach out in love to help those in need. That’s why we receive that help from others in our own lives. We are good enough to be loved, helped, and sent to others.

Now, it can be ‘scary’ that God does stick with us, but I think the text that scares most people in God’s call and action in our life is what we read of in our Gospel text today.

It’s short and leaves us asking lots of questions – which most of Mark’s gospel tends to do.

We look in on Jesus’ call of his disciples as told from Mark’s perspective. Jesus speaks and these four disciples – Simon, Andrew, James, and John – immediately stop what they are doing and follow Jesus. They drop their nets and even leave their father behind to live into Jesus’ call for them.

I’ve talked with a lot of people in ministry throughout my life about calls from God and following the Word of the Lord. In fact, in Michigan I was a part of the Candidacy Committee that walked with and talked with people who felt a call and desire to be involved in ministry as either an ordained pastor or deacon. I’ve heard LOTS of call stories.

I’ve talked with people who work actively in the church who are not a ‘professional church person,’ but who have devoted their lives to help enrich the church through education, music, community, and more.

I’ve talked with my friends and colleagues who have been at this pastoring stuff for a few years or even longer than I’ve been alive.

All of them, all of us, look at this text and get a little nervous and worried.

“Follow me.” And they immediately left their nets and followed him. They left their father in the boat and followed him.

When I’ve preached on this text before, I’ve focused on one particular interpretation of the mystery of this text. That there is something about Jesus in his presence and the 10 words he speaks that is so profound and full that these four men drop everything to be with him.

I don’t even know if I – even as a pastor – have EVER felt a call that strong. In fact, I’ve probably been more like Jonah in my life of ministry than anything else. And there is a better chance that I’ll continue to be that way in the future.

Of course, for those who say that they have felt that sort of call and pull, the response has typically been, “When you know – you know, and you follow.” And that’s wonderful and I’m completely supportive of those types of calls. It still freaks me out and unsettles me, but I support and pray for those folks.

But, as I was preparing this week, something struck me. Even though there is so much immediacy to Mark’s gospel, there is nothing to say that these four disciples didn’t know Jesus beforehand. Or that they didn’t have some sort of relationship and friendship with him before this appointed time.

In fact, if we’re being honest, there is a pretty good chance that they knew who he was and possibly knew him personally too. He was from Nazareth of Galilee after all. Jesus was probably the kind of kid growing up that everyone knew of. Whether good or bad, people knew of him. As we’ve read in scripture, he is the kind of a guy who doesn’t really draw the ‘best’ people around him. At least not ‘best’ in the eyes of conventional wisdom and thought.

You know there was some parent that was like, “I know he might be nice, but I don’t want you hanging around that Jesus kid. You hear the things he says, and the people he associates with? That’s not you.” Which of course as any who has lived, worked, seen, or been a teenager hearing an adult say, “Don’t do that.” Immediately calls you to do that very thing.

So, there’s a good chance these guys knew Jesus. They’ve grown up in the relatively same area.

So, if they knew Jesus, there’s a chance that they had conversations with him, even built a relationship with him. A relationship so strong and full that when the appointed time came they would follow him.

For me, that speaks volumes and deep to my soul.

For me, I never felt like my call was an ‘immediate’ thing in the sense of what we read of in our gospel today. I didn’t ‘drop’ everything in order to follow Jesus. It didn’t come as a surprise to those around me. I could probably guess that for many of you – if not most of you – whatever it is that God has ‘used you’ to proclaim, support, and love those around you – it probably wasn’t quite like how we’ve typically read the calls of these four disciples.

It might have seen ‘immediate’ to those around you (the ones that didn’t know you so well), but for you (and even your closest friends and family) – there was a relationship built up over a long time to guide you to that spot and place. You heard ‘The word of the Lord’ and you might have run the other way at first (or even multiple times). Perhaps during the course of that preparation time, you may have felt like you wanted to run away, but you also felt that God stuck with you regardless. Continually calling out to you and pursuing you because you were and are good enough.

Then, when that appointed time came – you jumped at the chance to be a part of the ministry you felt called to – a musician, a teacher, a doctor, a funeral director, a nurse, a custodian, or any other fruitful and wonderful of vocations.

It wasn’t so much that God spoke. You heard. You followed. Dropping everything around you.

But, perhaps after years of being in conversation and prayer – not only with God, but with others around you, you saw where God was calling you in ministry. You’d built up and have been built up in relationship.

Formed, shaped, guided, loved. By God. By those you love. By those who love you. By those you don’t know as well.

I feel that is what it is to be called by God. It can still be nerve racking and a little scary, knowing that God sticks with us because we are good enough, and that when God calls – we follow. But, we remember that God does and has loved you through and through, has built relationship and invites you deeper into that love and community. We are shaped and moved by the Spirit working through us and working through others for and with us.

So, God does call, and we do follow. But, our Lord has been leading us to that call the whole time. Amen.

 

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January 15, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about calls...


Sermon from January 14, 2018

Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-20 & John 1:43-51
 

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 heard a pretty funny quote that can be applied to God stories and calls from God in the life of faith. The comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?” Now, that isn’t to say that God doesn’t talk to us or that we should discount everyone who feels that God is talking to them, but in my inmost being, I know that when God does speak – whether it be to me or someone else – the person being spoken to isn’t the only person involved.

I think we see that throughout scripture. Someone hears a call by God – and someone else confirms that possibly that just might be the case. What I mean to say is, something I’ve said quite a lot in more ways than one. In this life of faith, call, and service – we’re in this together; we are not lone rangers off on our own.

We get to see that a bit in our first reading this morning. Here we get to read the ‘quintessential’ call story. If you ask people if they can remember a story from the bible about God talking to people, there is a good chance they’ll say, “Yeah, that one where the guy keeps getting out of bed.” Here we meet Samuel and Eli. Eli the ‘teacher’ and Samuel the young student in ministry.

Samuel is asleep and hears someone call out his name. Naturally, he assumes it is his teacher and mentor Eli, so he goes and rouses him from slumber. Alas, it isn’t. Go back to bed Samuel.

It happens again. Same response. After the third time of interrupted sleep, Eli believes that Samuel could be having a God moment. So, he gives him instructions. If you hear your name called again, respond with NOT ‘here I am Lord,’ but, ‘Lord speak, for your servant is listening.’ I think that is something for us to remember, and maybe to preach on for another day. Samuel’s response to God’s calling him is profound.

But, I’ve always wondered how Samuel feels in this situation. We always joke about Eli getting a little perturbed with his protégé as he continually has his sleep interrupted. But, have you ever thought about Samuel in this?

He hears his name being called and the person he assumes is calling for him isn’t. What do you think is going on in his head? “What’s wrong with me?” “Why do I feel this way?” “If I could just sleep I can get past this…”

Samuel is unsure of what is taking place, and I can only imagine how that is making him feel. I know how I would feel in that situation. It was just last week during the second service as we received communion that I kept hearing a ‘ringing,’ up here. But, I didn’t know if anyone else could hear it. Is there something going on? Is there something wrong with me? When was the last time I went to the doctor?

Thankfully, I asked the crucifer – Ben Lindsay – if he could hear it too. He said, “yes, he could.”

I may have stuff wrong with me, but that wasn’t a part of it!

When we don’t know what’s going on, it can lead our minds to some pretty dangerous places. Yet, we have folks in our lives in whom we can trust and confide who can settle our hearts and ask questions that just might guide us to where and how God is indeed calling us.

Samuel isn’t alone here, he has Eli to guide him; to get him to think deeper and look closer at what is going on in his life. Broaching the subject that yes, this just might be God calling you!

Throughout our life, we don’t wander this path of faith aimlessly or devoid of others. But, we are encouraged to invite others into these moments of call and are invited by others into this life of faith; deep, true, and rich as it is because of all the people we get to see, know, and live with.

When I was in college, towards the end of my time at Newberry, I felt what can only be God calling me into ministry. I struggled with it because I didn’t know if it was ‘true’ or if I could really be used by God in that way. Internally I debated that possibility for quite a while. In more ways than one, I inwardly wondered what Nathanial spoke out loud, “can anything good come from this place?” I had shared with some friends about that possibility and they gave me the usual, “yeah dude. I could see you doing that!” But, they’re my friends I thought – they’re supposed to support me in my crazy endeavors.

But, finally I decided to have that talk with a person in whom I greatly trusted and still trust today. That person is my dad. I mentioned to him that I was thinking about going to seminary because I was feeling like I might be called to be a pastor.

He pulled up a document on his computer and asked, “You remember when you were a freshman and I had to write your first paper?”

Yeah, so the teacher could know more about me. I remember that.

I want you to read it, it isn’t long. Just read it.

So, I read the short 2-page paper. The beginning was typical dad stuff, “Matt’s smart, most of the time is good, though he can be kind of lazy. Blah blah blah.” Thanks dad… but, the last part that was assigned for this paper was to answer the question, “Where do you see your child in the future?”

My dad’s answer? I don’t know if he can see it yet or even knows it yet. But, I really could see Matt as a pastor or being actively involved in the church. He’s got the heart, the mind, and the soul for it.

I read that and looked at him. Really? You wrote that my freshman year? You mean, I’m not nuts? His response was a laugh that he didn’t say that, but that it might not be the nuttiest idea that I felt called to be a pastor.

We see the inclusion of others throughout the call stories we read of in scripture. There’s always someone there to urge, support, and affirm those wild thoughts. Assuring others that it just might be God at work.

We can read that in our gospel text as well, as our Lord calls his disciples, showing them knowledge and foresight that they have a hard time believing. Even in that short call story of Philip and Nathanial, we again receive words of faithful instruction that are bedrocks to our lives of faith and call by God.

In our first reading, Eli instructs Samuel to respond with, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” And, now in our gospel we read Philip say to Nathanial (after he scoffs at the mere idea that something good can come out of a place like Nazareth – which is something to consider for another sermon and message. God, it seems, typically shows up from the places we find least desirable because of their low status, wealth, or whatever arbitrary ‘bad’ moniker we or society has placed on it.), Philip responds to his skeptical friend, “Come and see.”

Speak Lord. We are listening. Invite us to come and see.

Truly, I think those are the two best indicators of being called and being aware of God’s activity in our lives. Speak Lord, I’m listening. Invite me to come and see.

Listen and invite. Speak Lord and invite us into participation.

We may be surprised at where and how and why God speaks in our lives to us. It comes at unconventional times from places we might not expect. We share those moments with others. God guides us altogether to live into this life of faith.

We don’t live out our faith alone. God calls us to serve and be a servant for all. It might be as a pastor, it might be starting a new ministry, it might just be showing up here in worship more often and inviting some friends and sharing this moment with them too. Why? Because we listen for God is speaking, and we invite (and are invited by) others to share in these moments.

Amen.

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January 8, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about who we are...


Sermon from January 7, 2018

Text: Mark 1:4-11

 

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, for Christmas my father-in-law gave himself and my mother-in-law a special gift. It was a gift that was not only for them, but for their children as well. You see, the gift was AncestryDNA from Ancestry.com. Both of them ‘basically’ spit into a cup and they’ll have that analyzed and the results will give them and subsequently Erin and her brother a more detailed look at their beginnings and family history.

In essence, this little test of saliva and DNA will tell them more fully as to who they are and where they came from. I think it’s pretty neat and it’ll be fun to see where those lines of family history connect and what new branches are added into the tree.

The desire to ‘know who we are’ more fully and deeply is intrinsic to our humanity. We are always wondering where we began so that we can better know where we we’ve come from and where we’ve yet to go. A few years ago, there was a show that looked into the familial histories of celebrities. It was neat to hear their family stories. But, as with anyone who delves into their past, there are always things that we can’t wait to discover, yet there are still some things that we wish never saw the light of day.

In essence, it is a continued quest to determine our identity. To more fully discover who and whose we are.

Our readings this morning have everything to do with identity. We heard the beginnings of our scripture in Genesis as God spoke over the formless void of ‘water and darkness,’ creating and separating the light from the shadow. That moment where God broke into creation to declare it good and well, to bestow the eternal and everlasting blessing of goodness from God. We then jumped to Jesus’ baptism where again God tears open the heavens to speak. The Holy Spirit descends upon our Lord and he hears God state, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ identity is rooted in the beginnings of creation as he is the one foretold to be the Word and the Light come into the world. Just as God used good words in creation, God also declared the light to be good as well. It wasn’t a monologue, it wasn’t a long poem of triumph or grandeur. God speaks simply and beautiful.

It is good. With you I am happy.

Jesus belongs to God because he is God and of God, but Jesus also belongs to humanity as he steps into and is washed by the same waters that we are washed from. As a theologian wrote recently – Jesus’ identities in God and humanity are forever linked, undivided, and whole. His identity is built from the ground up and from the heavens down.

This day, as we celebrate our Lord’s baptism, we in turn celebrate our own baptisms as well. In these waters we have been washed and welcomed into the community and family of God. Like our brother Jesus, God has looked upon us and declared to the world what God has already known:

You are good. With you I am happy.

Within the vast history of what makes us ‘us’ there are an assortment of wonderful accolades, but also those places that make us squirm and sigh that that is a part of our individual and collective history. Yet, God has still declared us to be ‘good’ in these waters. It doesn’t change our past, but it washes our present and future. In these waters, that which tries to hold us back is removed and washed away.

It doesn’t change the past, but it doesn’t impact our future in God’s eyes.

In these waters where we are declared ‘beloved’ we see and know that each declaration of belovedness is wrapped up in our neighbors belovedness as well. If God has called me good, then God has declared my neighbor as good too!

In that knowledge of mutual declaration of beloved, we are called to serve with and for one another. We are wrapped up together in this community and family of God.

The thing I love most about baptisms – apart from the fact that we are told what God already knows – that we are good – is that it isn’t a static moment in our history. I mean, it is a little bit. There was the moment before and after our baptism, but those waters that we were washed and welcomed in move and flow through our whole life.

Our baptism – in which we remember today – moves us forward in the life and faith that God has imbued into each of us. In baptism we don’t just stand there, but in these holy waters, we are moved and pushed forward in love and grace by God. We don’t stay in the same place, but by these waters we are formed and shaped.

In baptism promises were made and many of us affirmed those words in our confirmation. We took notice of what was promised by others and vowed to continue in those promises: to live among God’s faithful, to hear the Word of God and to share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ our Lord through word and deed, to serve all people, following Jesus’ example, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

The waters of our baptism move us through those promises. We are shaped and formed in those words and by this stream. We are swept up into this faith with one another – together.

Soon we again will make public affirmation of what has already been done. We will affirm our baptisms again.

And as we say those words and make those promises once more, we remember that our identity is wrapped up in these waters and in those words of our God. The one who created from the formless void, the one who spoke over Jesus as the heavens were torn to proclaim him beloved, so too does God speak over each of us.

Those words that God speaks are not ornate. They don’t drag on. Surprisingly, they are simple and simply stated. Yet, those words that God speaks over us in our baptism are words that move us. They move us emotionally, rocking our core as we know who and whose we are. They move us forward to live into the promises made for us and by us. The promises we affirm this morning as we live into the waters we have been washed with.

Those words declared by God, were already known by our Creator, but we get to hear them spoken over us.

You are mind. You are beloved. With you I am well pleased.

That is our identity. Sure, its fun to see where our family comes from and I am eager to see where Erin’s family tree shakes out. But, my identity? Our identity?

We are children of God. All of us. All of us.

We are good. As are our neighbors. Let’s move and work together in love, respect, and grace. Amen.

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January 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

January 2018 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

I cannot believe that it is the beginning of a new year already. This past year has been a doozy in so many ways. There was a lot to be uncomfortable with, saddened, and angry about this past year. So, much terrible rhetoric spewed from so many different places. So, many people being upset with others simply because of who they are or whose side they represent.

I am not innocent in this as well, I really liked the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi!

Though the movie did have its own ‘controversies’ regarding its reception by the public, it did provide one line that I think was absolutely brilliant. A character in a climactic scene states:

That’s how we win:
not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.

There was much talk this past year – politically and culturally – about fighting what we hate. No matter which political ideology you identify with, fighting what we hate became an unspoken guide and rule for almost all people. It seeped into every aspect of our life. People argued about sports, movies, games, the news, books, and more. Most argument centered around what we despise about the other person/idea.

It’s exhausting. It was a rough year in that regard for everyone. As a pastor it was an especially trying year to preach the gospel in the midst of those storms and moments of chaos.

When, I watched The Last Jedi and heard that line, I was floored. Of all the connections that the film has with Christmas and Advent; that line was what spoke to me the most deeply. That is what I want to live by. That is what I want my life of faith to live through.

Our life of faith isn’t about ‘fighting what we hate’ (though there are many faithful people who live by that silent mantra), but about saving what we love.

The difficulty with it – and it is difficult – is that it easy to point out the things we don’t like, that we don’t agree with, or that we hate. It is much more difficult to state what we love and what we cherish.

My hope and prayer for me, for us, for our world is that we live into that part of our faith, living out our faith for others in such a way that we are saving what we love, and not fighting what we hate.

Continued Merry Christmas and blessed new year to each and every one of y’all. I love y’all. I mean it.




December 25, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about expectations...


Sermon from December 24, 2017
Christmas Eve

Text: Luke 2: 1-20

 

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ!

Welcome to this night – this the night of celebration – God born into the world.

Birth. For those who have witnessed it is a pretty powerful experience. The labor, the screams, the pain, the sweat, the tears – but, enough about what dads go through. Can you imagine what the moms are dealing with? Birth is a beautifully chaotic experience.

So much preparation goes into a birth, there is so much thought as to what this child will bring to our lives. There is so much expectation. What are they going to be like? How are they going to sound? What will they like – will the like the things I like? What if they like the things that I don’t like? How am I going to deal with that?

Through all that noise, the breathing, the pain a child is born. You love on that child, you care for that child, you make promises to that child in that immediate moment as that child, your child, is placed in your arms.

There are so many expectations that follow of what this child will be like.

Before the birth that we celebrate this night, there were expectations of what the messiah – the Christ, the anointed one of God – would be like.

Powerful and mighty.

Kindness and grace.

Wisdom and strength.

Hope.

Some thought that ‘the one who is to come’ would be a brilliant mind able to solve the worlds problems and issues. Some thought this one would possess cunning debate skills able to leave opposition speechless. Some thought this one would possess cosmic power to lay waste to the enemies of God and Israel.

I’d imagine that – for the most part – none thought it would quite be like what God had in store. As thoughts swirled in minds about what could be, it was as if God was saying, “this is not going to go the way you think!”

There’s something that I think every parent comes to terms with in those first few moments, days, and weeks after an infant is welcomed into their home through birth, adoption, or foster care. The expectations that we have for our children are a long way off. You might hope that your child will have a wicked curve ball, or the charisma of the next best actor in a leading role, but that’s a long way off. A long way off.

For the moment, your kid is capable of crying, sleeping, eating, and messing their pants – at least two of those things at the same time. Always. A part form that, babies really can’t do a whole lot.

So, one of the biggest scandals of our faith is that the all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God that we worship breaks into the world that was formed by that one’s very own words as a baby. We believe that. We worship that. We celebrate that tonight.

It’s pretty crazy isn’t it?

We worship a God who is born to the world and is dependent upon every person he meets. The messiah can’t even hold his own head up without a help.

That’s our God come down to be with us in love!

Some might (and have throughout history) scoff at this ludicrous idea. Yet, there is something special and powerful in the role that God continues to play not only this night, but every night since because of this act of love.

No matter whose child it is – when you see a baby you cannot help, but smile and have an urge to care for that baby in some way. Your words get a little more tender, your actions a little more gentle – just from being in the presence of a newborn.

You can begin to reflect about what you are doing and how that looks and what people might think. Perhaps you want to be better because of this kid present now.

As your child grows into, changes, and grows beyond our expectations, you begin to realize how much this kind individual has taught you about love, grace, and forgiveness. And we have so much more to learn.

New life has the power to do that to us.

I think it’s still a pretty crazy way in which God is made known to us most fully in the world. That through love come down, God is born as a baby to the world.

But, much like a newborn in our life – God fully present with us in this birth for the world can make us reflect a little bit about who and whose we are. How our actions towards others are seen. God’s presence has made us (and continues to make us) a little more tender and gentle. We are able to be better – to be the way God has created us – because of God’s presence in our life. As we’ve grown, we’ve grown into, changed, and grown beyond the expectations that we have for ourselves and perhaps the expectations that God has had for us.

We’ve begun to realize how this birth – this in-breaking of God into the world – has continued to teach us about love, grace, and forgiveness. And we have so much more to learn.

Our God is born to us this night as one who needs to be cared for. Through caring for our God as an infant, we are called to care for the ones God has created as well – all those before us. Those we know and those we have yet to meet.

It seems God’s way of being made known in the world might not be as ridiculous as first thought. Perhaps, through this birth and celebration, we just might learn what power and might; kindness and grace; wisdom and strength; and hope really is. Amen.

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December 24, 2017, 10:54 AM

the one about that crazy story...


Sermon from December 24, 2017

Text: Luke 1: 26-38

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!

I can only imagine as you walked into worship this morning and looked at the bulletin and thought where are the Christmas hymns?! What in the world is pastor Matt doing? Why are they dragging this out! Doesn’t this church know people have and need something to celebrate today! HURRY UP WITH IT!

So yes, we are still waiting to celebrate and look forward to the hope of God’s in-breaking into the world.

Yet, while we wait, we get this really good story leading up to Jesus’ birth.

We get to be with Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Now, no matter where you sit on the spectrum of theology and faith – Mary is important. Really important in the story of our faith and life. There are things that we know about her and lots of stuff (lots of stuff) that we’ve thrown upon her that aren’t really true.

For example – as sweet as the song is, yes Mary knew. Literally. The angel told her.

I think the part of Mary’s life that we always jump past (because we all are pretty impatient to get to the birth and celebration) is this conversation she has with the Angel of the Lord. What I find fascinating with this conversation is that Mary hears an incredible story that involves her. Imagine how we would respond if placed in the same situation?

A few decades ago…FBI agents conducted a “search and seizure” at the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital in San Diego, which was under investigation for medical insurance fraud. After hours of poring over many rooms of financial records, some sixty FBI agents worked up quite an appetite. The case agent in charge of the investigation called a local pizza parlor with delivery service to order a quick dinner for his colleagues.

The following telephone conversation took place:
 

Agent: Hello. I would like to order nineteen large pizzas and sixty-seven cans of soda.

Pizza man: And where would you like them delivered?

Agent: To the Southwood Psychiatric Hospital.

Pizza man: To the psychiatric hospital?

Agent: That’s right. I’m an FBI agent.

Pizza man: You’re an FBI agent?

Agent: That’s correct. Just about everybody here is.

Pizza man: And you’re at the psychiatric hospital?

Agent: That’s correct. And make sure you don’t go through the front doors. We have them locked. You’ll have to go around to the back to the service entrance to deliver the pizzas.

Pizza man: And you say you’re all FBI agents?

Agent: That’s right. How soon can you have them here?

Pizza man: And you’re over at Southwood?

Agent: That’s right. How soon can you have them here?

Pizza man: And everyone at Southwood is an FBI agent?

Agent: That’s right. We’ve been here all day and we’re starving.

Pizza man: How are you going to pay for this?

Agent: I have my check book right here.

Pizza man: And you are all FBI agents?

Agent: That’s right, everyone here is an FBI agent. Can you remember to bring the pizzas and sodas to the service entrance in the rear? We have the front doors locked.

Pizza man: I don’t think so.
Click.

When we are confronted with stories that seem too good to be true or feel like someone is pulling our leg, we don’t believe it. I think if an angel had spoken to us like it spoke to Mary, we’d probably act like that pizza man. Disbelief and finding a way to end the conversation quickly.

Yet, the beauty and wonder of Mary is that she knew the story that was told to her was true. She knew it. And unlike almost every other person that God encountered in scripture as they are told about the plans, journey, and adventure that God has set before them, Mary boldly and confidently accepts that commission.

What faith! She truly is a highly favored one indeed!

A lot of things are going on in this short story. We have this divine message conveyed to Mary. It is unbelievable and even Mary ponders how this could be! As the messenger continues, I can only imagine the thoughts rolling through her head.

She’ll be the mother of God’s literal own son. She’ll hold him. She’ll kiss his boo-boos. She’ll help shape him into the messiah he is foretold to be. She’ll probably even have to scold him from time to time.

Yet, as those thoughts of the possibility of ‘mothering’ God come to her, imagine all those other thoughts as well. The implications and stigma that will be attached to her. The stories and accusations that will swirl around her because she is pregnant and the daddy isn’t her husband. As one of my colleagues and friends puts it, Mary is hearing her place in God’s story and how her life and well-being will be literally put on the line.

In the assurance of the Spirit that things will be OK, she boldly accepts God’s will for her. “Here I am. I am your servant, let it be with me according to your will.

Mary boldly accepts God’s plan for her. It comes with joy, risk, and eventual heartbreak. She knew. She knows. She says, “Here I am.”

God calls each of us into service of our Lord as well. Granted, not in the same way as Mary, but God does call us into avenues and journeys of faith that come with an abundance of joy coupled with a healthy dose of risk and heartbreak.

Through God’s saving action on the cross in the victory over sin and death, we are called to live a life of love and forgiveness for others because we have already received that love and grace. We are called to be like Jesus to those around us. And as much as it gets twisted in commercialization during this time of year, we do tend to see ourselves more open to the idea of being generous, gracious, and forgiving (though, there is still more work for all of us to model that life and live that life towards all others as well).

We celebrate and remember this action of God as love come down to be with us. Living life among us, being present – fully and deeply – in the life of the world; for the world.

And even as we’ve journeyed through and around this little conversation in Mary’s beautiful life, we still overlooked one important and needed part. Before Mary hears this crazy story that involves her, before she boldly accepts this commission and call to be the mother of God born to the world – she hears God’s promise of presence with her.

Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!

Before all this is to take place, Mary is reminded that God is present with her.

So, too is God present with each of us.

Before we take on those calls that are equally exciting and anxiety inducing. God is with us.

Before we have those bold talks about equality, love, and forgiveness. God is with us.

Before we proclaim God’s presence in the world – in ways we wouldn’t expect. God is with us.

Even while we wait in impatience for the celebration of this birth. God is with us.

Even as we hear stories that might be too good to be true about God’s unexpected grace in our lives, even as we question it in so many ways. God is with us.

That is what we remember, celebrate, and look forward to in expectant hope as we end this season of Advent and look to the birth of God – God is with us. Always. Amen.

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December 11, 2017, 8:34 AM

the one about the fringe...


Sermon from December 10, 2017

Text: Mark 1:1-8

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

So, the beginning of Mark’s gospel is a little strange to our ears isn’t it? This is the very beginning of the earliest written gospel. Yet, it doesn’t include the things we expect to find.

No inn.

No manger.

No baby.

None of the stuff that we usually attribute to this time of year and the lead up to the season and celebration of Christmas.

Instead, we’re given a beginning hard cut to a very odd individual. John the Baptist; a guy who appears to be a fringe upon the fringe of society. He comes crying out from the wilderness wearing animal skins and eating foods that many – even those on the fringes of society – would hold their noses at. He is the most unconventional speaker of God’s promise and presence that there is to find in all of scripture – except perhaps for that donkey in the book of Numbers.

John the Baptizer proclaimed a message that is both unconventional and needed. His message is pretty simple too – have faith, repent, be washed. I am more than certain that there were quite a few individuals who came to point, mock, and laugh at the weird guy saying the strange things. Now, we don’t know that for certain, but come on – we know how people are – it totally happened.

Yet still, this unconventional means in which to proclaim God’s truth was heard and craved for. It is written here that whole of the countryside were going to hear him, see him, and be baptized by him.

No matter the strangeness of what he said or how he looked, people began to know that this was a message that they needed to hear, and that this was a community, relationship, and more that they needed and wanted to be a part of. Here they were being told that God wanted to be in relationship with them, to be washed and welcomed into this community with God in a more literal way.

All this coming from a guy who didn’t hold to the (apparent) same cleanliness standard and modes of decorum of the culture of the day (or any day).

John the Baptizer is the epitome of unconventional. From the way he looked, the words he spoke, and even to the actions he took – it was all unconventional, strange, and atypical both for his day and even ours.

But, probably the most unconventional thing that the Baptizer did was his insistence that he was not the end. He was not the ultimate fulfilment of God’s prophecy. He was not the embodiment of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.

For all that the Baptizer did – calling for repentance, knowing forgiveness from God, and washing people in baptism – he did while pointing to the one who is to come. No matter what he did, he continually made known that he was not the answer, he was not the end. That there was another – more powerful than him – who would usher in the peace that God has promised and proclaimed.

If you took away that ‘point towards the messiah’ John the Baptist would begin to look no different than almost any and every politician, leader, or (at times) religious big heads in the world today. The ones who claim – some more boisterously than even the Baptizer – to have all the answers, the right ways, the right things, the right stuff in order to bring peace, wholeness, wellness.

All of them point to their work; their actions alone to be the only way that peace can be achieved. They point to themselves, and if they point to anyone else – it’s only people who appear to talk and act like them.

John the Baptizer is different because he points to God. He acknowledges that he doesn’t have all the answers – nor does he want to be the one who does. When others (as we see in other gospels) attempted to lift him to a higher stature than he was called to, he shut it down. There is someone else – more powerful than I – that one baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

So, what does that mean for us? What can we learn from the Baptizer named John?

Never think that because you’re on the ‘outside’ of what the culture considers ‘normal’ that it excludes you from God’s work. Here we see God use as the ‘voice of God’ one who is a fringe of the fringe. An odd guy – in more ways than one – who proclaimed God’s goodness and love to the world.

No matter who you are, how you dress, what you eat, or anything else – God can, and God does use and work through you to bring about God’s justice, mercy, and love to the world. Each and every one of us – and yes each and every person you meet (all of them even the ones you don’t agree with) – can and do proclaim God’s life and love through our words and actions in the world. You don’t need to have the fancy car, the big house, the pristine white teeth to proclaim God’s love to the world. In fact, its more likely that the more oddball you are considered by the culture at large, the more God might actually speak through your words and actions to bring about that love, forgiveness, and mercy for and towards everyone.

In all the work that you and I might do to proclaim God’s grace and love to the world, we do so as we point to the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Advent reminds us of this celebration of what God has done in Christ and what God will do through Christ. We point to the one who has come down to be with us, to live life among us, to experience the world as creation does. We point to the one who is to be born in a backwater hole in the countryside to unwed parents.

In our service to God and to neighbor, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, that we are not the culmination of God’s promise to the world, but we know where to find that promise. We find it in the promise of water and word in baptism – where we are washed and welcomed. Where we get to see in ourselves and in others what God already knows – that we are good – so repent because you are good!

We point to the promise in the meal that we share. The promise that in this bread and wine – this body and blood – that the messiah is fully and completely present in mystery. Where in this meal, God nourishes our faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses of the Gospel.

We point to the saints gathered in this place, the ministries that we participate in, the love that we share that brings wholeness, life, and justice to those with whom we serve and serve with.

We point outside ourselves to the one who is continually at work in us and through us. The one who was, who is, and who is to come.

Finally, because we are oddballs whom God works and speaks through, we know that we are not the end. We don’t have all the answers. We know that though our work is life-giving (to us and to those who we serve) we know that it is not ever complete. We are a work in progress working together as a part of a greater whole. Working towards an end we might never see. So, I share with you this poem – attributed in memory to the martyred archbishop Oscar Romero, but actually written by the Catholic Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Amen.

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December 4, 2017, 8:44 AM

the one about watching out...


Sermon from December 3, 2017

Text: Mark 13: 24-37

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, if you’ve been paying attention these past few weeks to the gospel readings, you’ve probably noticed that they have a lot to do about ‘the future!’ Particularly our response to the signs that can be seen. These sorts of texts always come around at this ending/beginning time in the church year.

We hear watch out, be prepared, keep awake, as we end the church year – seeing signs of judgment and God’s presence around us. As we begin the church year, we again hear watch out, be prepared, stay awake. Yet, I noticed that this reading in particular has a somewhat different shift in its tone.

Before when we heard ‘watch out’ it was coupled with something negative or terrible. And, when we think about those words today – we always seem to have them associated with danger as well.

WATCH OUT! Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!

CAUTION! This item gets extremely hot as it holds hot liquids!

BE PREPARED! Just because your child says they feel fine does not mean that their recently digested food isn’t going to pay you a return visit soon!

Even today in our world, whenever we hear words of caution from those we love, they never seem to be followed by good stuff. With the news of the day regarding inappropriate touching and actions the unspoken and quiet ‘be prepared’ talks of before have come to light and are shared out in the open – which is good mind you.

It isn’t very often that we hear, “Watch out – the person likes to shower an abundance of goodness upon those they meet!” “Keep awake – if you doze off you’ll miss this wonderful moment for you!” “Caution – gifts of praise and welcome are headed your way!”

In fact, I’d venture to guess we rarely if ever hear those types of warnings.

Yet, this morning we hear a shift from Jesus’ words about ‘the watchfulness and preparedness’ for those around him. Jesus tells them a short little quip about a fig tree.

Just as you see the fig tree branches get loose and grow leaves and know that summer is coming, so too take notice of the sights and sounds you see around you now!

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t particularly invoke in me a sign and sense of dread. I happen to like figs – in fact I have a fig tree (or a few) right at the side of my house. As summer approaches, I enjoy walking by that side as I’m working in the yard or playing with the kids and taking notice of the leaves as they green and the fruit that slowly begins to grow. It’s pretty neat. I also know that soon will come a time that I can pick that fruit and eat it for myself and share it with those I love!

When I see those branches become tender and the leaves putting forth – good things – are about to come.

Leading up to this Sunday, all our ‘watchfulness’ was clouded in dread, destruction, and fear of what could come. Yet, this morning, we hear from Jesus a slight shift in how we are to look and be ever watchful – to keep awake.

As we ‘keep awake’ we remain in hope of what is to come. During this season of advent, we wait. We wait for the celebration of the good thing that God has already done in the world – creation, coming to literally ‘sit-with’ us, and redeeming the world through the victory on the cross over sin and death. During Advent we wait in celebration of that.

But, we also wait in expectant hope for God’s continued work in the world and our Lord’s return to bring us into completeness and wholeness in God. We wait in expectant hope with one another and we wait in hope at work in the world. Continuing to see the signs, to point towards God’s work in the world, seeing the Spirit’s action and prodding among us, and being moved through that action and our prayers to bring God’s continued and life-giving justice to the world.

And, like I’ve said before – it isn’t easy doing any of the stuff. Especially during this time of year. It is odd that Advent is probably the MOST counter cultural season of the church year. Everyone has been rushing to get to Christmas since probably before Halloween, yet we enter into this season with the intention of waiting. Holding off the urge to jump to the celebration – especially because the world has seemed so dark and cloudy within our cultural climate. We wait – we wait in expectant hope – but, we wait.

So, I have an idea. I have this ‘challenge’ I’d like to pass out to y’all. Seeing God at work in our lives isn’t always the easiest endeavor to take. Mostly because we are bad at being intentional about it – not because God isn’t at work. So, here’s a ‘photo-of-the-day’ challenge for each of you. Each day (and you notice two have already come and gone – and that’s OK too), there is a word. Find something that day that reflects that word. Take a picture of it. Post it to our Facebook page, print them out and bring them here, leave them on your phone or your camera as a reminder of God’s presence. If you don’t want to take a picture – tell a story of something that happened to you – something that you’ve witnessed that day which reflects that word. Have fun with it y’all.

We wait – we wait in expectant hope. It isn’t easy to wait – we don’t like it. But, it doesn’t mean we wait alone nor does it mean while we wait, we do nothing. We wait and ‘sit-with’ together. Sharing our stories, our thoughts, our prayers. We work in service and faith together to show and live into God’s love and mercy in the world.

As I end this time with you this morning, I’d like to share a poem I read this week. I think it speaks perfectly about what we are called to live into during this season of Advent. It’s called “The Gates of Hope” and it is written by Reverend Victoria Safford:

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope –
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.

Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
which creak on shrill and angry hinges.

(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)

Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna’ be all right.”

But, a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul of all and its condition.

The place of resistance and defiance,
The peace of ground from which you see the world.

Both as it is and as it could be

As it will be;

The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
but the joy of the struggle

And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing

Asking people what they see.

 

What do you see as we sit this Sunday at the gates of hope as we begin this season of Advent? Waiting in expectation of what God has done, is doing, and will do in the life of the world.

We wait. We hope. We keep awake for what God is doing. Amen.

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