In pm's words
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October 3, 2017, 7:20 AM

the one about God's inclusivity...

Sermon from October 1, 2017

Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and Matthew 21: 23-32

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 these passages for this 17th Sunday of Pentecost, I really focused in on the Old Testament and the Gospel, because though all the texts interweave with one another our first reading and gospel text really connect well. And, the way I see it, they connect because they speak about freedom and hope.

Seems kind of weird right, since they appear to have a lot more to do with authority. Who has it and from whom one is able to do the things that they are able to do. The Pharisees – the thorn in Jesus’ side as he is the thorn in theirs – want to know by whose authority he is capable of doing and saying the things that he’s doing.

Keep in mind, this text comes immediately after Jesus cleanses the temple and curses a fig tree. Let’s just say that the Pharisees are probably not all that happy with Jesus at the moment. They want to know why and from whom he can say and do this sort of stuff.

Of course, Jesus parries their question with his own and then turns the tables on them. He tells a short parable about two sons who are asked to work in the field. The first says ‘no’ and then changes his mind, the second says ‘yes’ and doesn’t follow through.

Through this, Jesus seems to be less concerned about their initial question of authority and more concerned about what his authority frees people to be.

Now, today we aren’t that removed in our outlook on people’s lives than from how people thought back then.

Even today, we still look at what a parent has done (or perhaps an older sibling) and think – big things are in store for you! Or even (and probably more common) ‘I’m going to have to keep my eye on you because I know who you’re kin to.’

We do that a lot, don’t we? Especially when it comes to sports or business. This woman’s dad was so astute in the business world – we’re going to have to watch her and listen, I’m sure the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This guy’s brother was an excellent athlete, I’m sure he’ll be pretty good too.

But, more often than not we hear things like, ‘Your dad was a drunk, and fooled around. I don’t expect much from you either.’ ‘Your sister was a cutup in class, I’m going to keep you on a short leash. Don’t test me.’

We view someone’s family and assume – one way or another – what that person will be like.

They did that a lot in the time that we are reading into as well. Though, they went even deeper. Your grandfather’s father sinned in such a big way that you’re still paying for it now. Your family name is one not to be trifled with or interacted with.

Your dad was a tax collector, so you are. Your mom was a prostitute, you will be too. Even if you try to get out from under that burden, too bad. We know – and God knows – who you are.

That’s pressure, isn’t it? To live in such a way that you can’t escape what your parents did. Conversely, your children wouldn’t be able to distance themselves from what you will do.

That’s bondage. Those are chains shackled to our hands and feet to prevent us from being equal, loved, forgiven, accepted.

Yet, God speaks through Ezekiel as the Word of God happens to him – it’s an experience – and he states God’s intention. Sin doesn’t transfer through blood. Your very being and life is freed from what your parents have done, and your children are freed from what you will do. God loves all. God loves you.

Freedom. True freedom in God’s kingdom.

Jesus builds this up even more in our gospel reading. Here Jesus talks about tax collectors and prostitutes. Those who are ‘beyond the pale’ in society. Those who use others and use themselves in ways that are hurtful, deceptive, and sinful.

Those people who society has cast out, God has called to the table.

These past few weeks we have been seeing God’s radical love being shown against the common culture.

First it was forgiveness. God has forgiven us, we are called to live into forgiveness with those around. Where because of what God has done, our lives are fundamentally changed. We live our life as ones who notice what God has done.

Next, it was generosity. Are we envious because God is generous? If you didn’t figure it out last week, the answer to that question is yes, yes, we are. God shows merciful to all the people of God. Constantly calling all and welcoming them into the kingdom. God is inviting us into that life of mercy so that we don’t take the easy road in being slow to love and abounding in steadfast anger.

This Sunday, we see Jesus pointing out God’s radical inclusivity. All that forgiveness and generosity. All that mercy and love. All of it is not just directed at you, those who have been here from the beginning or those who feel destined to be loved by God because of who they were born to or where they’ve always lived.

No, God’s love and inclusivity is given to even those cast out. Those on the fringes. Those who have experienced God and have changed their mind. What they did, have done, or perhaps will do does not prevent them from God’s love. It never has.

I can only imagine what the Pharisees thought when they heard Jesus speak those words. Perhaps they thought they were being ‘persecuted’ because another and lower voice in their society was being listened to. When in actuality they were just being treated with the same love that they expected for themselves.

God gives people hope and freedom. Jesus shows us how far that freedom and hope extends. It extends far beyond our own perceptions and beliefs. Extending to those we wouldn’t expect. Even extending to us. That can be scary, it can seem unfair, it can even make us ask the question ‘why even me?’

These past few weeks have been building up that word of hope and that act of freedom through God’s forgiveness, generosity, and inclusion. No longer are just the ‘usual types,’ the ‘expected ones’ loved by God. Even the downtrodden and outcast are loved, welcomed. In fact, they’re going to be first.

Here is what I believe to be true, as it is shown in God’s theme throughout scripture. If God is to err (if that’s even possible) God errs on the side of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. God abounds in all of that.

That is hope. There is hope for all. No one is excluded from God’s love. No one.

We hear that we are loved and forgiven. We repent and turn towards God because of that generosity. We are included – all of us – in the kingdom of God. Amen.

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October 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

October 2017 Newsletter

This is a special October as it is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It amazes me that it has been 500 years since Martin Luther lifted up what he thought could and should be changed and re-formed in the church that he loved. Luther brought up a needed conversation. He saw where the church was straying from the gospel and took action to shine the light on it.

When he did that a lot of people didn’t like it. They even sought to kill him. He wasn’t being a good ‘church person.’ Sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, biting off more than he could chew. Putting himself, his vocation, his family in harm’s way. Using his public platform in a way that others thought to be disrespectful.

He still persisted. He stood his ground. He knew he was doing God’s work in shining the Gospel truth for the world to see.

As much as I love the history and story around Luther and the other Reformers, I still find this time rather difficult as a pastor. We give a lot of attention to Luther and his life. Patting ourselves on the back about what ‘good Christians’ we are, wearing red, and having fun. None of that is bad, but when it is coupled with not living into the sort of reforms that Luther advocated within the church it doesn’t help our cause.

The best way to show our love of the Reformation and the work that Luther famously began is to live our lives as followers of Christ knowing that we are constantly being re-formed in God’s love. Where that continual re-formation leads us to love and serve not only God, but every person we meet. Where we remember of this great free gift that we have been given by God; the knowledge that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love.

Our response to that gift? To live our lives for God and for others in love, thankfulness, and service.

So, yes – we’ve got a lot of stuff planned in our community to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. I’m excited about all of it. There will be so much opportunity for fellowship, fun, music, and worship.

In fact – here is all that is being done.

Thursday, October 26 @ 6pm – Half-Full Coffee and Wine Bar – Beer & Hymns

Friday and Saturday, October 27 and 28 @ 2pm and 7pm – Newberry Opera House – Showing of the new movie “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World.”

Saturday, October 28 @ 4:30pm – Newberry Opera House – Lecture on Luther Woodcuts and the Art of the Reformation.

Sunday, October 29 @ 10:30am – Wiles Chapel at Newberry College – Community Reformation Service

Sunday, October 29 @ 2:00pm – Newberry College – Organ and Choir Recital, “Music of the Reformation and More.”


This is all GOOD stuff. However, as we celebrate this time, let us focus more on where we need to be continually re-formed to live into the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims. Where we need to be re-formed to invite others into this gifted life of faith. Where we need to be re-formed as a church to be the church for the world. Amen!

September 25, 2017, 7:40 AM

the one about mercy...

Sermon from September 24, 2017

Text: Jonah 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:1-16

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, there’s this thing about looking back through history. It appears that the further we are removed from the subject we are reading about the more ‘enlightened’ and advanced we believe we are. In some cases, this is true. Our ability to share information, travel quickly, and the use of our modern technology would appear magical to anyone plucked out of time and placed here.

However, for as much as we have advanced technologically there are many areas in our life where we have not moved from very far or really at all. Take our gospel this morning. The story that Jesus tells in his parable is one that still very much applies to today.

How many of us can identify with those first laborers in the field? The ones who’ve been there ‘from the beginning?’ When news spreads of those ‘newcomers’ receiving the same stuff that we were promised – no matter if it is something involving the church or even in those areas outside the bounds of worship and faith – there is a bit of envy (even arrogance) that rises up from deep within us.

Maybe you’ve been in those conversations where you’re talking to someone about this new band you’ve just heard and how awesome you think their music is. Their first response? Oh, I’ve known about them for a long time, but their older stuff is so much better.

A few years back I remember reading a story about a large swath of student loan debt that was forgiven for those who used a specific loan agency. I remember reading that story and the very first thoughts to pop into my head were, “Why not me? I’ve still got a lot of student loan debt? Why isn’t someone helping me out?”

Or perhaps there was that time that I had one of the most contentious conversations I’ve had in the church, where a long-standing member (not here) asked me to ‘talk’ with someone else in the church in order to slow her down from participating and trying to lead in the church. The reason? She hadn’t been here long enough to do that – she’d only been there for 10 years.

In each of those situations, heavy sighs and deliberate eye rolls were queued up and ready to go.

In our readings today, we read again of the mindset our God has with the world that we’re not – for reasons that at times defy me – always comfortable with. Jonah recalls the words that are used the most often in scripture to describe God – for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. Those words describe God more than any other words in the Old Testament.

Yet, when we actually see and experience God living into those descriptions we can and have become like Jonah and the laborers in the field. Profoundly aghast at what God has done. Lamenting on high about how they didn’t get what they deserve.

Nineveh didn’t get punished for their wicked ways. The laborers who showed up later in the day received the same ‘reward’ as those who had been there from the beginning. Jonah was upset because the citizens of Nineveh – didn’t get it from God. Those first laborers were upset because they didn’t get it from God.

In each faithful story, the response of God is pretty much the same.

So, let me come right out and say it for each and every one of us to hear. These following words are some that even I have to hear (way more than I want to admit at times). Ready?

God. Isn’t. Fair.

Yep, that’s right. God isn’t fair. God’s never been fair. Why? Because God is merciful. Mercy isn’t fair. I think that most of us have experienced mercy as well (and we probably didn’t like it). At least anyone with a sibling. Remember that time when your brother or sister did something wrong and you just knew your parents were going to rake them over the coals? Remember when your sibling apologized and then your parents did nothing to them! Remember how upset you were? That’s mercy. It isn’t fair.

Just as Jonah reminded us again this morning, our Lord isn’t fair, yet God abounds in steadfast love. God is slow to anger. God is gracious and merciful. God is always ready to relent from punishing.

That is who God is.

What would it look like my sisters and brothers if we were able to see and live into that mercy for others? How would our lives and outlooks change if when confronted with those moments of mercy given to someone else we were able to immediately and innately share in their joy?

When I heard that story of debt forgiveness, I was definitely envious. I looked at my sum of debt and acted like a grump. Wanting what they had. It isn’t fair.

When my sister got a cell phone at 16, while I at 20 couldn’t? And the only reason given to me was, “Matt, you wouldn’t get cell signal traveling on 34 going from Newberry to Rock Hill.” It isn’t fair.

The person who grumbles because new people are leading in the church of God immediately as they are welcomed into the fold whereas they felt like they had to ‘serve their time’ first for years. It isn’t fair.

The one who lived their life recklessly and without caution. The one who troubled so many others throughout their life. Who took advantage of people at numerous opportunities. The one who was selfish – that one repents in their late age – maybe at their deathbed – and that person receives the same grace and mercy from God as me? It isn’t fair.

You’re right. It isn’t. It’s merciful. That is who God is.

There are many of us who feel as if we are those first laborers in the field, the ones that have worked from the beginning. Yet, we forget that our God is continually going out and bringing new folks – new laborers – new sisters and brothers – into the kingdom of God. Why? Because there is still work to be done.

That same God – our God – then blesses each of us with mercy and grace.

What would it look like if we remembered and lived into that sort of grace that our God bestows upon each of us? What would it look like if instead of abounding in envy and anger and being slow to love, we followed in our Lord’s path? If we joined our God in the invitation of celebration of God’s mercy’s bestowed upon others? If we remembered each day that God’s love is stronger than punishment and that God is not deaf to the cries of God’s people?

What would it look like if we remembered that that is what the kingdom of God is like?

During Hurricane Harvey there was a story about a bakery in Houston. The owner of that bakery was able to escape to safety. Yet, three employees were trapped and stuck inside that bakery. So, what did they do? They did what they knew and were skilled at; they baked bread. A lot of bread. So much bread that they used up all the flour, sugar, yeast, almost all the ingredients the bakery had. Why? They knew people would be hungry and would need food when the storm finally passed.

The kingdom of God is like that bakery owner who comes back after the storm and sees what his employees have done, noticing the loss of revenue in the store of ingredients that are gone, the lost profit as the bread is freely given to those in need and says, “Good job – give it to these people.”

The kingdom of God is less about ‘fair’ and more about mercy. Are we envious because God is generous?

Sisters and brothers, what would it look like if we lived into God’s mercy for others and God’s mercy for us? Amen.

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September 18, 2017, 7:46 AM

the one about noticing this new life...

Sermon from September 17, 2017

Text - Matthew 18: 21-35

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, forgiveness. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. And, nothing is more frustrating than when someone else talks as if it is something incredibly easy. Jesus gets to be that individual today.

He’s asked by Peter about how much are we required to forgive someone. Peter even offers up a pretty reasonable number. Far greater than many would expect. More than enough times. Seven is a good number.

Yet, Jesus turns it around and gives him an answer that is so crazy that I can only imagine how much Peter stammered in amazement at hearing Jesus speak. Seventy-seven times. Or maybe seven times seven. Or perhaps seventy times seven times (not all translations are in agreement in the number Jesus gives). Truth be told, the exact amount is not important – it’s something else entirely that I think Jesus drives home in the parable, but we get lost in the details searching for it.

Let’s get the details out of the way.

Jesus’ parable tells the story of a king speaking to a person under his reign and command. This individual has a lot of debt. Specifically, a lot of debt to the king. In order to pay it off the king declares to sell not only everything this person owns, but everything that makes up this person’s life and being. His wife, his children, his possessions. It all must be sold.

The indebted person naturally and sincerely asks for forgiveness. And it is granted. This is a big deal. Ever consider how much debt this guy had? A talent in my research was the equivalent to 130 lbs. of silver that would take roughly 15 years to ‘work off.’ This guy owed the equivalent to 10,000 talents! 1.3 million pounds of silver. It would take 150,000 years to work off that debt.

It wouldn’t. It couldn’t be done.

The king forgives that debt. Wipes the slate clean. Sends this freed man off to a new life.

Then the newly freed man meets someone in the streets who owes debt to him – 100 denarii.

Now, many times we look at that number and think that it is such a piddly amount why couldn’t this guy forgive it. But, it’s not an insignificant amount. A denarius was roughly a day’s wage. Let’s compare that to today. $7.25 is the minimum wage in South Carolina. People roughly work about 8 hours/day (though, at this point in history they would probably work about 12-15 hours a day). Before taxes, that’s around $58, multiply that by 100; that’s $5,800.

I don’t know about y’all but, if someone owed me almost six grand I’d probably be a little upset with them. Maybe even unwilling to let that go. For me, as I assume for the man, $5,800 is a lot of money.

I think it is at this point that we get bogged down in the details. This man was forgiven an unfathomable amount of debt. Yet, when presented with a similar issue, he couldn’t be like the king.

Many times, we hear a sermon on this parable we receive a message about needing to be like the king in the story and not the unforgiving servant. But, I’m not so sure that that is even possible.

Peter and the newly freed from debt man do not do anything that any of us wouldn’t do. Peter gives a more than acceptable answer to how often one should forgive. When we know a little bit more about what is going on, we can begin to see why the servant is unwilling to forgive the debt someone has with him. Yet, still Jesus takes the story in a way that further emphasizes not only the goodness, but the new life that we have been given.

In this story, it isn’t so much that the unforgiving man is unwilling to release another from his debt. It’s that his life wasn’t changed by his own release from bondage.

This man received a once-in-a-life gift. His life is literally changed when his debt is forgiven. Not only does he no longer have to worry about that debt hanging over his head, he doesn’t have to live with the fear and worry of where his wife and children are. Not only has he been freed, but his family has been given this gift as well. Y’all, what the king did for this man and his family is huge. A literal new beginning.

So, it isn’t so much that this man is unwilling to forgive the debt from another. It isn’t so much that comparatively it is a much smaller (though not insignificant debt). It isn’t even that he can’t be like the king.

No, my sisters and brothers, the crux of this parable is that even after been given the greatest gift of his life that after he walks out those doors, his life hasn’t changed. It is as if he hasn’t even noticed.

We have been given – freely through the grace of God – that wonderful gift. We have been given that new life, that new clean slate. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been set free. In our baptisms, our old life has died, and we have risen to this new, free, and gifted life from God.

A gift like that? It’s supposed to change us.

I know I talk about it a lot, but I really mean it when I say this. We don’t live a life of have to, we live a life of get to. We get to live this life because of what has already been given to us. This new life freed from the debt of sin and death.

This new life where because we have been given so much we get to go out and serve others. We get to help. We get to forgive. We get to worship. We get to pray. We get to live. All because of what God has already done for us.

That changes you. I think it should change you.

We live this live because we have been forgiven. So, does that mean we should forgive others? I think so. However, as we know, and I’ve already mentioned forgiveness isn’t easy. We live a life striving to love others in that way.

We don’t always succeed. We probably fail more often than we care to admit. Yet, still because of what God – what the king – has already done, we get to live a life that is freed from that worry of ‘what if?’ or ‘is this enough?’ or ‘have I done it right?’ The slate has been wiped clean. That burden has been removed.

We walk through those waters of baptism new people. We remember that a life of forgiveness is indeed possible because we have already been forgiven. We are loved. We are cared for. God has done it already.

In that free gift, we get to live a life of love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance. It isn’t always easy, we will continue to struggle, and we will not always succeed. But, we remember in that struggle what God has already done. Reminding us again and again that that the very possibility of forgiveness – again, whether God’s or ours – creates possibility: things do not always have to be the way they are. And I find that not only comforting, but uplifting and empowering.

The man in Jesus’ parable has been given a great gift, and he doesn’t even seem to notice. Know, see, and live into the gift you – we – have been given.

So, yes. The parable we read and hear today is about forgiveness. However, it just might be about more than that. Perhaps it is about getting to live a life that is profoundly changed and shaped because of the new life that we have already received from our God through Jesus Christ. Live this life as one where you notice that gift. When we live this life noticing that gift? Then we get to live this life of forgiveness with and for others. Amen.

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September 11, 2017, 8:54 AM

the one about Jesus being there...

Sermon from September 10, 2017

Text: Matthew 18: 15-20

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, growing up there was a TV show that I enjoyed from time to time. It was a show that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It was a show that was advertised as being about nothing in particular. Just a group of friends who were normal and yet still, very different from others. This show of course is Seinfeld.

There is one part from that show that I continually laugh about and look back on – George Costanza’s dad’s ‘invented holiday’ of Festivus. Particularly the airing of grievances. Frank’s voice booming out around the table, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it!”

He then proceeds to unload all the little annoyances he has with his friends and family.

I thought of that moment when I read Jesus’ advice to his disciples on how to approach others who have sinned against them in some way.

Now, I don’t know if Jesus would agree with the process of Frank Costanza, but he might think he is at least near the right path.

For the past few years (and truthfully – far longer than that and far longer than we’d like to admit), we’ve been living in a world that is seemingly at ‘odds’ with one another. Or at least at odds with the idea of one another. We grumble; we complain about others and the things they’ve done. We fret about someone who espouses a view that is in line with more liberal or conservative viewpoints. To the point where those words have become derogatory labels.

But, there are other things that we grumble about too that are a little more personal. I can’t believe she didn’t tell me about that. He talked to you and not me! I thought we were friends. You’ll never guess what your mother said this time. Why does my brother keep doing this stuff – doesn’t he know how this affects me?

Don’t even get me started on the grievances aired within communities of faith. In my time in ministry they have ranged from valid criticisms in how a situation was handled to the complaints about how there weren’t enough Christmas hymns sung during Advent – even though what they asked the church to do was already being done. But don’t worry, that last one wasn’t here at Redeemer.

This morning, Jesus gives his disciples instructions on how to ‘air those grievances.’

As we begin to read the words of Jesus this morning, I believe we like to think he’d be more in line with Frank – just laying it all out there. Saying your words, venting your mind, getting it off your chest.

Though, the more I think about it, this has less to do with ‘airing grievances’ and more to do with repairing relationships and the body of Christ. Knitting back the torn fabric that is community.

When someone ‘sins against you’ or you’ve (whether you knew it or not) sinned against another in thought, word, or deed – it hurts. A lot. We’ve all been on the receiving end of those painful moments, and we’ve all been the one to dole out that sort of hurt to others.

There’s brokenness. There’s separation. There’s death.

It is hard to speak up during those times. I know – it is very difficult to do what Jesus is asking his disciples – asking us – to live into. I still have trouble and at times have neglected to heed Jesus’ words from our text this morning in some situations in my own life.

Our life of faith is about relationships. And they are hard. It takes work. Investment. Love. Sometimes lots of love. Yet, we still live into our relationships and live into our community.

Why? Because that is how we have been created. Not to be lone wolfs, walking solo in life. We are created to be with one another. To share in our joys, to grouse together in our laments. To be with each other. Being with one another is so important to our God, that God literally came down to be with us. To wade in the messiness of life.

Our Lord understands how important relationships are. Especially when you – as Jesus said in our reading last Sunday – take up your cross and follow him. When you live a life that is foolishly counter to the powers that be, you need others there with you. As much as the world wants to promote a life of ‘pulling us up by our own bootstraps’ it’s false.

We live, work, worship, and play with one another. We depend on each other. We need one another. We don’t do any of this – faith, work, life – alone.

As the storms ravaged over Houston and the surrounding areas, as we anxiously await what another massive storm might bring – we come together. Being present with each other during times of need. When a loved one dies; we come together to mourn. When a hurdle is finally eclipsed; we come together to celebrate. When the stress and business of life pulls us down; we depend on others to hold us up.

Jesus knows that we need one another – that we need him. And Jesus knows how quickly sin can separate us and cut us off from one another. Our Lord invites us – continually – into the difficult aspects of this life of faith. Boldly approaching one another, in our love for one another, to talk about difficult subjects. To share the hurt that others have caused us or that we -that you – have caused someone else.

We are commanded by Christ to have those conversations. And they aren’t fun.

Yet, even in those moments we are not left alone. For the one who came to be with us in the midst of this messy life of creation is indeed the one who is present in the middle of those messy conversations as well.

I find it interesting that we usually attribute ‘where two or three are gathered’ only to worship – and rightfully so. But, we hear Jesus speak those comforting and promise filled words not in the context of worship, but instead in the context of repairing relationships. In the context of having difficult conversations.

We gather together in love. To worship. To pray. To support. To serve. To be sent. We do all of that out of love. Knowing in those moments that even if only two or three are there – Jesus is right there too. Yet, we forget that we also gather in love to have difficult conversations as well. To confront one another in the sins we have committed and in those moments when we feel someone has sinned against us.

Jesus is there too. In fact, Jesus said he’d be right there. Right here.

So, maybe Jesus would agree with Frank Costanza. We’ve got problems with one another, and now we’re going to hear about it. But, we say it not to belittle, to undercut, or to show dominance over another. But, we ‘air our grievances’ with one another because of not only our love for each other, but our God’s love for each of us.

Community is important. We are the Body of Christ. Love. Talk. Serve. Jesus is there. Amen.


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September 4, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about what it could look like...

Sermon from September 3, 2017

Text: Matthew 16: 21-28

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and 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, in just a few verses separating them, the bold Peter disciple is at first declared the rock on which the church will stand (because he voices the disciples’ proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of the Living God) and then is called a stumbling block that is impeding Jesus’ ministry.

Talk about whiplash, right?

How do you think Peter felt in those moments? I know how I’d feel. First incredibly humbled and honored to be spoken to in such warm and loving terms by Jesus. The admiration speaks volumes as Jesus changes his name to reflect the honor he has received. No longer Simon, you’re Peter now.

Then, incredibly hurt. Saddened. Overwhelmed. The same Lord who changed your name. Who gave keys to the kingdom because of the words you voiced for the group, is now telling you that ‘you’re in the way.’

For the life of me, I couldn’t remember a story that seemed similar in my own life. I don’t know if I’ve gone from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows quite like that. I don’t imagine many have.

Yet, as a church – whether that be specifically as Redeemer here in Newberry, the SC Synod, the institution of church in the country, or even the vast church of the world – it can seem pretty normal. Where in one breath it can seem like God is giving praise and honor to the work that we do – caring for the poor, opening our hearts to those who’ve lost so much because of natural disasters in our country and around the world, walking with those who are systemically tossed aside and looked past.

Where we see so much good that the church does.

Then, the bottom can drop out. All those good words, actions, and intentions can fall flat when things start to get more specific. Lord, you can’t possibly be calling us to go there. Lord, I love you and so do my friends please don’t tell me that those people love you too. God, I give praise and honor to you all my life – as long as you understand that ‘all my life’ mostly consists of little over an hour one day a week.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Peter is a great disciple and a true model of faith for the church. He has done more good for the building and forming of faith than most. He occasionally put is foot in his mouth. In many ways, the church is very much like Peter. On a whole – throughout the different flavors of the church – she has done wonders and miracles in forming faith, spreading the gospel, and serving those in need. Yet, occasionally the people that spread her reach and love have put their collective feet in their mouths.

Why? What’s going on?

I think for Peter and for us as the modern and historical church – we don’t understand. We don’t understand fully what Jesus means for the world. We don’t understand fully the lengths to which Jesus will go to show love, grace, and mercy. We don’t understand that sometimes, many times, the lengths we go to live out Jesus’ radical hospitality and love can cost us so, so much.

Take Peter for example. For him and most practicing Jews at this time, they saw the messiah as a fearless warrior. The one who would come to vanquish the enemies of God. The fierce leader who in one fell swoop would conquer those who oppress the people of God. Would drive them out. Who would show them – one way or another – that the God of Israel was the one true God.

That messiah, the image of the messiah that Peter and many had in their minds, wouldn’t die. Or at least, wouldn’t die such a dishonorable way that Jesus alludes to in our text today. He couldn’t imagine that.

You’re going to ‘win’ by losing? Not even in a dignified way? But, suffering the atrocity of a death on a cross? No. It can’t be Jesus. You must be wrong.

Peter cannot understand because it doesn’t make sense. Remember last week when I mentioned that Jesus told Peter and the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the messiah? It’s because of things like this. They don’t understand.

The church too at times doesn’t understand. We barely understand (if that) what it means to be raised, what a victory over sin and death means for us. Sometimes we can be overcome with that sense of love and grace knowing that God has done that for us. But, when we are confronted by where that love can spread – where it’s just a little bit (or a lot of bit) wider than we thought previously – we can become just like Peter. Indignant, exasperated, a stumbling block.

Sometimes the words and actions of Jesus don’t make sense. We would be fools to think otherwise. No one from before the resurrection would think that through death you could bring life. There are many here now who have trouble comprehending it. Even I at times have trouble with it. It doesn’t make sense.

As one of my favorite preachers wrote this week, “It is no surprise that Jesus died.” Even his birth was so troubling because of the prophecies and noise surrounding it that King Herod slaughtered toddlers and younger in an attempt to quash the would be king.

It is no wonder that Jesus was killed because of his ability to be a constant and persistent thorn in the side of religious authority and the empire. Turning their words against them, proclaiming the love for the outcast and the ones pushed to the side. Empowering all in their identity as children of God – no matter who they are or where they’ve come from. Those are dangerous words to the powers-that-be.

How Peter couldn’t see that is beyond me.

When you think someone is the messiah, you think that in spite of all that mess – they’ll rise above it. They’ll end up victorious over their foes.

Yet, what Peter had difficulty understanding and in which we have difficulty with as well, was that God is going to do something very different. God is at work to do something very radical. The surprising thing, is not that Jesus died, it is that God raised Jesus from the dead. That the power of sin and death had no hold upon him.

He did rise above it, even if it was in a way that we couldn’t expect.

So, what would it look like my sisters and brothers – what would it look like if instead of holding close the abundance we have – we shared it with those in need? What would it look like if we sought forgiveness instead of vengeance when we’ve been wronged in a myriad of ways? What would it look like if we gave second chances after terrible first impressions or stereotypes we’ve heard throughout our lives?

What would it look like if we denied ourselves and took up our cross?

Sure, it’s a hard sell. It really is. Taking up our cross. Following the path and life of our messiah – the one who dies on the cross – is harder, more painful, and could possibly place you at odds with your neighbors – even your country. It could possibly cost you your life. So, what would it look like?

The world might change. It just might get fixed. I could be a kinder place.

I think in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we’re seeing an inkling of what it might mean. The brothers and friends who go in search of those needing rescue and only two of the five return. The mother who gave her life so that her young child could survive the storm. The man who – with no knowledge or learned skills – became the leader of a shelter and helped people survive. Where the only reason he was there was because he dropped everything three months prior to take care of his dad. The countless pictures and stories shared of long lines – not to receive food, water, or shelter – but, to volunteer to help.

What would it look like…

All because we denied ourselves, and took up the cross. In the end it isn’t death, but it is new life we will find. New life for us, new life for the world, new life for the poor, the jerk, the widow, the proud, the humble, the lonely.

New life. Unexpected for sure. But, that’s what the resurrection brings. That’s what the resurrection has given us.

So, I ask again – what would it look like?

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September 1, 2017, 9:00 AM

September 2017 Newsletter

I have to admit. I was a little skeptical of the hype. I’d seen partial eclipses, I’ve looked through a pinhole viewer. I’ve even seen pictures of ‘totality’ on the internet and in books. Yet, still. Nothing could prepare me for what we were able to witness this past August 21st.

In the words of my daughter Ashleigh, “That was amazing.”

Throughout scripture we read the phrase, “…to fear and love the Lord…” It’s a phrase that we think we understand, but we just can’t quite wrap our minds around the concept. However, I think after viewing totality for those two and a half minutes, I’m beginning to get an inkling of what that might actually mean.

I was overcome with all sorts of emotions leading up to that moment and during it. Anticipation, a little worry, excitement. When I removed my eclipse glasses to view the moon completely blocking the son, I was overawed with emotion. My eyes watered and I couldn’t help, but think, “God’s creation is so freaking amazing. I too am a part of that.”

The same hands that intentionally fashioned me and all of you in the womb, the same one who knows every hair on our head, is the same one who put the earth in motion, who set the moon and sun in its place, who started the processes that lead to the beauty and bewilderment of a total solar eclipse. The same God who did all that is the same one who came to earth as flesh and blood, to share the Good News of God’s love for the world, who died, rose, and ascended in the victory over death on the cross. The same one who calls us to love and serve with and for one another.

Being witness to all of that myself was incredible. Being witness to that surrounded by thousands of people that are sharing in that moment? Words can’t begin to describe it all.

Y’all. Y’all. We’re in this together. We are surrounded by our brothers and sisters. We worship and give praise and thanks to God who loves and holds us all. All of us. Wow.

In that spirit of a ‘fuller’ body of Christ on Sunday, October 29th we will be worshipping with our neighbors for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We will gather at Wiles Chapel at Newberry College at 10:30am. We will celebrate in that wonder of God who has fashioned us, continually re-forms us, and sends us out proclaiming God’s love, mercy, acceptance, and forgiveness to the world.

Mark it on your calendars. October 29, 2017 – 10:30am. It’s going to be great. No glasses needed. Just full hearts and serving hands.

August 28, 2017, 9:08 AM

the one about not telling...

Sermon from Sunday August 27, 2017

Text: Matthew 16: 13-20

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!

Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

So, whenever I read that verse (or the variations of it throughout Matthew and Mark’s gospels) I’m always taken aback a little. Why in the world would you want to hide that message? That’s good news, right? People are clamoring for the messiah – why wouldn’t they want to hear about it!

I usually joke that Jesus was just ahead of his time in modern psychology. The Messiah understands that the quickest way to get someone to do what you want is to tell them they can’t do it. And to be really stern in it.

But, after this week I began to think of it in another way.

This might prove difficult for us because of all the ways in which we do and can know things, but imagine 100 – 200 years ago. Or even further back, the same scenario will still hold true. Imagine living back then and telling people – listen to me. At the beginning of the week, in the middle of the afternoon, the moon is going to block the sun. It’s going to remain hidden for a few minutes. It’ll be wonderful.

Now, what do you think people are going to tell you?

Whatever. You’re full of it. Get behind me Satan! Call the doctor, Matt’s lost his marbles – again!

Even with the wonder of science, where we knew the eclipse would happen this past Monday, there were still those who doubted the significance and wonder of it. Would it really be worth all the fuss and hype?

I don’t know about y’all – I thought it was more than worth it. But, even I started to be skeptical about what 2 minutes and 34 seconds could really mean the closer the day of the eclipse approached. Even when I had a friend decide at almost the last minute to fly down from Boston to witness this even, I remember asking – you’re really going to spend that money to watch just under 3 minutes of darkness?

All those worries and doubts and skepticisms vanished the moment the sun was eclipsed by the moon in totality. Words cannot describe what I and what many of us saw. I was overcome with emotion – that I did not expect – when I removed my eclipse glasses and saw what looked like a portal into another dimension opened up where the sun should be.

It was mesmerizing, beautiful, and even a little scary. I even prayed in that moment – not for safety, but in thanks to God for what I was seeing. That the same one who fashioned me, who dug us from the quarry as Isaiah writes is the same one who put the celestial bodies of our universe in motion from the beginning of time millions of years ago in creation. The same one who does these beautifully amazing things is the same one who became flesh and blood on the earth out of deep and abiding love for the world and all of creation.

Throughout scripture we read the sentence to ‘fear and love’ the Lord. I think we always have a little trouble understanding that. It’s hard to wrap our minds around it. Yet, after the eclipse and viewing that amazing sight for just over two and half minutes, I think I have a better understanding (though not a complete one) of what fear and loving the Lord actually means.

So, I’m thinking about all this while reading that Jesus tells his disciples to not mention a word about who he is. And I got to thinking.

Until the eclipse happens – no one really knows exactly what it means to witness it. It’s hard to describe. Sure, we can detail and highlight what happens, the darkness creeping in, the 360-degree sunset, the corona being visible. But, no one can really describe how it feels to witness that. You’ve just got to experience it. To know it. To see it. Especially surrounded by loved ones and even friends who travel just over 900 miles to view 2 and a half minutes.

Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. Why? Well, because Jesus’ life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until after the resurrection.

Think about it. Until the resurrection – Jesus is very similar to many other holy people. Be good. Love one another. Serve God.

Sure, he threw in some distinct uniqueness – love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Eating, drinking, socializing, and showing love to the lowest in society. Elevating the least into equality with the ‘best.’ Enough ‘out there’ thoughts that pushed him and his friends to the fringes of traditional society and put them in the harsh glare of the religious authorities of his day.

In many ways, it is no wonder Jesus orders the disciples not to tell others about who he really is. They won’t understand – you won’t really understand – until after the victory over sin and death. We see that failed understanding play out in the gospels. Even bold Peter – the one who speaks on behalf of the disciples, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God!” is going to be the one who will deny him three times.

Yet, the church is built on those words – that confession. It is in that proclamation – You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God – where the church stands on solid rock. It is in those words that the keys to the kingdom of heaven are given.

But, until the resurrection, no one is going to be able to even comprehend those words. They don’t make sense. They won’t fully understand. But, but… they’ll experience it. They’ll see it. They’ll know.

You’ll know. Even people you wouldn’t expect – they’ll know. The Canaanite woman, the Centurion at the cross, and more.

I didn’t quite know what to expect before the sun was blocked out by the moon. Yet, in that moment – I knew God’s wonderful and beautiful handiwork was there. I knew that even Ieven each of us – am a part of that great creation that God set forth in motion.

We proclaim the resurrection of our Lord. Now seems like as good a time as any to tell. Now seems like a good a time as any to live into that faith and live out that love. Amen.

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August 21, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about staying in the conversation...

Sermon from August 20, 2017

Text: Matthew 15: 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, most weeks you hear me say something to the effect of, “Oh wow – this is a great little text. I really love it.” I love the texts I get to preach in the lectionary we use. They are filled with subtle and direct ways in which the kingdom of heaven is here among us and how we can and do participate in its continued growth and love. Out of the entire three-year lectionary, I can honestly say that almost every gospel lesson is wonderful. Each text is an opportunity for our Lord to teach us how to be in the kingdom of God. Almost every single one. Except, perhaps, the gospel reading we have today.

I dread this particular Sunday every three years. This text where we see and hear Jesus say some disturbing things to a foreign woman. How he and the disciples openly dismiss this woman in their midst. She’s labeled a dog by our Lord.

During this time, there were those who were ‘in’ and those who were ‘out.’ As with any culture, it was hard to earn respect and love from those around you, but it was incredibly easy and quick to be put on that ‘other’ list. Woe be to the ones who were born into a group that the ‘majority’ deemed less than.

That’s the Canaanite woman. Or as she is called in the other gospel where this story occurs (Mark), the Syrophoenician Woman. She was an ‘other.’ Outside the Jewish faith. A Gentile of Gentiles.

Yet, she knew who Jesus was. She knew who Jesus was called to be. She knew what Jesus proclaimed. She knew she was a part of that too. It seems that she knew Jesus’ mission was more than Jesus knew his mission to be.

After the events of last weekend in Charlottesville there has been a call by many for pastors and others in leadership roles to publicly denounce the views of white supremacists, Nazis, and more.

I continue to do that. I denounce with every fiber of my being those who espouse that a person is ‘superior’ to another based on the color of their skin, the faith they practice, or the life they live. No. That’s not how the kingdom of heaven works. That’s not how any of this works. As I said last week in my sermon, there’s no room for that kind of belief in the life of the Christian.

Imagine my own heartbreak and difficulty this week when in the context of the events of Charlottesville I read these words of Jesus to this Canaanite woman. It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t put Jesus in a good light. I think Jesus is wrong here.

Where in the world does one begin to find good news here in this text?

So, I took a closer look at this woman. Reading more intensely what she says and how she acts.

She calls upon Jesus. She knows he can heal her daughter, and by golly – he is going to heal her daughter. Because that’s what Jesus does for those who call upon him.

He ignores her.

She cries and shouts so much that the disciples plead that he do something to this woman because she’s really annoying. Always bringing up her sick kid. We don’t got time for that! We’ve got important things to do Lord. Do something and quiet her.

He speaks over them.

Yet, still. The woman with a child in need persists. She stays in the conversation even though up this point, only she has been participating in it in any meaningful way.

When Jesus enters the conversation? Wow. What a PR disaster. He completely dismisses her and the people she’s from. It’s not ‘fair’ to the people he’s called to.

Yet, she persists. She stays in the conversation. She reasons with him and even challenges his own views.

Jesus changes his mind.

Jesus changed his mind.

Because of the persistence of a foreigner, a disenfranchised individual, a woman – Jesus changes his mind.

Because of HER great faith. The woman’s daughter is healed. She receives blessing from the Son of David.

She stays in the conversation. She insists that others are going to hear her plea, her cry. She persists in the need for others – for Jesus – to see her. To see her as a person and not as a label.

I think of her persistence as I hear and see vicious words being spewed back and forth from so many people with chasm wide opposite views on so many subjects and issues. Sadly, the response I see most often when people disagree is, ‘fine, I’ll have nothing to do with you then. I’m not going to talk to you anymore.’ Well, at least we agree on that!

Stepping out of the conversations. Ceasing our voice to be heard. Removing ourselves from discourse doesn’t change anything. In order for love to win out – and I believe with every ounce of who I am that love will win out – it must be shown. The only way for love – the faithful love that Christ calls us to participate in – can be shown is to continue to be in relationship and conversation with those that we disagree with.

And that’s hard. That’s difficult. I don’t enjoy listening to people who advocate racist, Islamophobic, or homophobic views. I don’t enjoy speaking with those who completely dismiss another because of their political affiliations or religious beliefs. It’s not fun, at all. But, I persist. I want to have the conversation. Because only by talking with and interacting with one another can we bring about the change we desire and (with God’s help) grow the kingdom of heaven.

But, there is something that is even more difficult to come to terms with as well. For as much as I feel that I and others need to be persistent in our desire for others to hear; it is that sometimes even I am resistant to hear. Where someone must be persistent with me so that I can see, and hear, and know, and change.

We don’t quit the conversation. Even, when like the disciples, we think that it is annoying and that we are being ‘badgered.’ People keep bringing up that issue. We continue in the conversations and relationships. Standing firm in our faith that God calls us to love. But, recognizing at times that others might be speaking to us so that we too might see where we need to change to fully live into the faithful love we proclaim and share.

I read of an experience recently shared on Instagram and it is one of those real-life stories that makes you say “Yes, let’s be that in the world.” It comes from an individual whose username is ‘confessionsofamuslimmom.’ She shared a story about a conversation she had on an airplane.

She sat next to a tall, white, middle-aged man. Throughout the course of the flight, they talked and their conversation touched upon many subjects – including how his father was a card-carrying member of the KKK in Virginia.

He asked her, “Do you think people can change?” She said that she absolutely believes people can change. Everyone has that capacity.

He went on to tell her that his brother married a woman from one of the Carolinas. A woman who had grown up surrounded by black people. She even went to a predominately black church, which soon his brother started to attend as well.

When his father saw how his son had changed; he was happy. He even said, “I want to go to your church.” Unsurprisingly, this man and his brother were a bit hesitant about where this conversation could go. They know who their father was and what sorts of things he believed. They also knew that his values were not shared by either of them. Still, the son gave a tentative ‘sure’ to his dad.

Sometime soon, their father attended the church with his son’s family. And loved it. He even remarked that, “you really feel something there.”

She goes on to reflect that she couldn’t stop the conversation that was going on in her own head the whole time. That apparently, this man grew up surrounded by hate. And yet, he sat there with her talking to her with no hesitation. Treating her as fully human. If he held any bias against her because of her gender, faith, color, or religion he absolutely didn’t show it.

As they got off the plane and said their goodbyes, she began to think about that father’s relationship with his sons. Though they didn’t share his values, they didn’t leave him. They didn’t abandon him. They kept trying, insisting, nudging him even as they grew old themselves to change.

People can change. But, that chance and opportunity to change greatly diminishes when we leave them. When we push them away.

The Canaanite woman stayed in the conversation. In her insistence she changed the seemingly unchangeable. The doors opened. The ministry spread. The kingdom of heaven is that much more full.

If this man can change, if our Lord can change, surely, we too can change and be changed in God’s persistent and overflowing love. If we stay in the conversations and relationships, with God’s help we can change others as well. Amen.

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August 13, 2017, 1:44 PM

the one about Jesus being here in the midst of it...

Sermon from August 13, 2017

Text: Matthew 14: 22-33, 1 King 19:9-18

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 is our second week of miracles and this is a big one, right? Jesus walks on the water! But, I noticed something this week. We focus on the spectacular and miraculous of this story (as this part of Matthew’s gospel is titled Jesus walks on Water), but have you ever noticed that this particular part of the story really isn’t about Jesus walking in a way that others can’t.

Sure, it’s a big deal, especially when Peter asks to walk out to Jesus as well. Peter tries, which seems like par for the course for this great disciple, he doesn’t quite make it.

But, when we focus on just Jesus walking on the water, we lose sight of other stuff – important and faithful stuff – that is going on as well.

This story occurs immediately after the feeding miracle we heard last week. Jesus sends the disciples back on the boat. He’ll catch up. Finally, Jesus is able to venture off alone to the mountain to pray, reflect, and possibly mourn the death of John the Baptist (it’s what he was trying to do before he was sidetracked by the crowds).

During this time and evening with Jesus on the mountain, the sea becomes rougher as the wind picks up and pushes the boat further from the coast. Then Jesus descends from the mountain early the following morning. He sees the boat and walks out there. No big deal (yeah right).

The disciples see him – they see someone – and they’re taken aback, afraid even. Jesus assures them that it is he, and then Peter calls out to the Lord to command him to walk on the waves as well. Alright, come on then.

Peter begins, but he is soon overcome with fear because of the wind and the waves. As he begins to sink down, Peter cries out and Jesus reaches out and grabs him. He’s safe.

Jesus gets in the boat, the wind stalls, and the disciples proclaim him to be the Son of God.

Quite a bit of action in this short little pat of Matthew’s gospel.

Since it is another miracle story we know well, we just go from point A to point B because we’ve done it before. Kind of like when you’re driving home from work – the same route you’ve taken for years – and there’s that one time that you don’t really remember driving it. You know you left your office, and then you were at your home. It’s scary when those things happen – because you missed out and looked past all those other ‘familiar’ sights.

So, the temptation here is to misremember the timeline. There’s the storm, Jesus calms it, and walks on the water. And then talks to the disciples.

Except, that’s not really how it happened. Throughout this whole story, the winds don’t cease until after Jesus gets back in the boat.

I think that’s pretty significant. Especially as it pertains to our lives of faith.

In this part of Matthew’s gospel, in this little sliver of life and faith that we see of Jesus – our wind doesn’t cease until after the disciples know they’re safe.

Think about it. When life is a storm, rocking away, what’s the one thing we pray, hope, and yearn for? If you’re like me its that the seas stop crashing, the wind dies down, and the boat of life floats in calm waters.

I think that might be what the disciples were wanting too. Especially with the added drama and fear of someone walking out where they shouldn’t be. That can be scary.

In the middle of choppy sea of life, as the seas foam and the wind blows, we just want the storm to cease and the winds to die down. Then Lord, walk to us so that you can help us.

I had planned at this point to write something about the beginning of school and to preach about the storms those new beginnings can bring. But after the events of yesterday in Charlottesville, VA. I don’t think I can anymore.

We live life now within choppy waters. The seas rage and the winds blow. Evil rises up. Fears heighten. We saw that come to fruition yesterday as a young man, distorted in his views about people different from him, drove his car into them. Something that we have seen happen in other parts of the world, but it happened here. Just a half a day’s drive from Newberry.

There is a temptation to only speak once things have died down. To only speak while looking back and saying that it was wrong and despicable. But, the storm is out there now as it rages and the winds blow. We are called in our faith, called out by Christ to speak against the things that we saw and read about from yesterday.

We yearn for those calm waters so that we might speak. We yearn for that time of tranquility to talk as we look back together and agree with one another that this was of course sinful. That it is wrong and evil to disparage someone - to hate someone - because of the color of their skin, the faith they believe, the ideology they identify with, or the life they live. That it is wrong to have such radicalized thoughts in your heart that you seek to hurt, to maim, to even murder others, other children of God.

It is in those moments, as the storms rage within our souls about whether we should speak – be it from the pulpit, your cubicle, on the golf course, at the restaurant, or out on the streets – it is in those moments, that we remember that Christ is right there with us. Our Lord has indeed stretched out those merciful hands and holds us tight so that we know we are not sinking down.

It is right and faithful of us to say – This isn’t what God desires. At all. This isn’t what Jesus calls us towards. As we prepare to speak out against such hateful views that storm and those rising waters strike fear into our hearts. We don’t want to ruffle feathers. We don’t want to ‘get political’ or talk about ‘race.’

There is even temptation to just move our little boat out of those waters and find calmer seas. Pulling ourselves away from that turmoil. To just ignore and look past.

But, we can’t. Not anymore.

We remember that Jesus is right there. Standing firm in resolve as we speak definitively and defiantly against those who distort the Gospel truth. Who speak ill and seek to harm and hurt those who are different from their experience of life.

As hard as it is to comprehend, we also remember that Jesus stands with those who seek harm, speak hateful words, and act out terrible and evil plans. Not hurling the same rhetoric. Not participating in the same monstrous deeds. But, reminding us that we are indeed called to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.

Yet, I know that loving someone doesn't have to mean we cannot speak firmly in opposition to their views. Loving someone doesn't mean I can't stand in the way of hate while protecting those that are being attacked. Loving someone doesn't mean I let them 'get away' with any of the things that they say or do that are against Jesus' call to love those around us.

In the life of the Christian - there is NO ROOM for the sort of violence (physical, verbal, visual, and spiritual) that were shown in the streets of Charlottesville. No. Room. At. All. That's not what Jesus stood for in any way shape or form. In our love, we say no.

The waves rise and the wind continues to push against the boat.

Our cry and our prayer during those times is for the storm to stop. The waves to calm. The wind to stall.

Lord, just calm the storm around me so that I can know you’re with me. Make all this stuff around me disappear so I know you’re here.

I noticed in this text that all of this is happening as the waves still rise and crash and the wind still blows. The wind is strong enough to distract Peter as he walks out to Jesus. Distracts him enough that his fear begins to overwhelm him and he begins to be surrounded by the waves.

Yet, the one he thought was so far off, was right there. Reaches out and grabs him. Lifts him up and places him in the boat. His presence calms the disciples there as well. He’s right there. He’s with them. The storm around them might ‘rage,’ but the storm within them is calmed. They know they are safe.

Then, and only then do the winds cease. Do the waters calm. Does the boat become still.

I thought of that stillness as I read our text from 1 Kings. Where God was not in the fire, the storm, or the earthquake – all the places one would expect to find God. Instead God was present in the calm and the sound of sheer silence. That was the holy place in which Elijah stepped out to speak from the cave.

That calm stillness – in the midst of the storm – because we know that God is there. Because we know that Christ is present. The one who reaches out and grabs us.

I like to think that Peter didn’t get very far on the water. Mostly because Peter was known for biting off more than he could chew and falling spectacularly in his faith. Jesus was ‘far off’ enough that they thought him to be a ghost, nevertheless the one who grasps him in the waters was right there. Firm and strong to raise him up and place him back in the boat.

As we look out into the life we live; a life with all its waves, wind, and more – we have faith that Jesus is present with us in the midst of it all. Calming us to see and know our Lord within the stillness and silence of ourselves. Where that prayer changes from, “Lord calm the seas and wind so that I can know you’re here.” to “Lord, I know your calm and peace is here within me so that I can venture through these waters.”

Remember, Jesus is here. Jesus reaches out to hold you in his grasp. Reminding you again and again that though the seas may rage – and do they ever rage – that you are not alone. You are not abandoned.

Jesus is here as we speak out against groups like the KKK, Nazis, and the alt-right. Jesus is here with you as you speak a loving NO to those who try to disparage, rail against, or harm another through words and actions simply because of their skin, faith, country of origin, or life.

Jesus reaches out to calm us all in the midst of the storms. Jesus is in that calm. That calm that those hands are holding you firmly and tightly. That’s the sheer silence of peace. God indeed is present with you. Present with us. Amen.

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