In pm's words
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March 12, 2018, 9:26 AM

the one about trust...

Sermon from March 11, 2018

Text: Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

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 thoughts of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

John 3:16. I know this verse well. I know that y’all know this verse well too. We’ve heard it a lot, we’ve seen it a lot. We see it everywhere; on billboards, t-shirts, and bathroom stalls. I know that I saw it at least once – in each of those places - on our trip down and back from Florida last week. It’s everywhere.

But, before we even dive into the meat of this, we kind of have to look at the story that Jesus references here at the beginning of our gospel text. The good thing is that we were able to hear that story as well and it is a rather interesting story.

In the quick summary of this story, we see the people of Israel re-turn towards God in confession of their sins. In that confession, God hears them and provides a way of salvation for them.

Their complaint and sin? Being unhappy with God’s provision. They have been wandering in the wilderness for almost an entire generation or two, and they’re a little fed up with the sustenance they have been given. So, they complain.

Now, a lot of the stories that we read of in scripture are not literal events, but told in an allegorical way to express how they felt and how God interacted. So, it might not actually be that God sent venomous snakes upon the people, but I’m sure for them it certainly felt that way. In any event, God did provide a way of salvation from those venomous snakes. A symbol was lifted up, and all the people had to do was look upon that snake on a pole, and they would be healed and survive.

In one of the most simple interpretations of this story, it can be boiled down to – the people confess of their sin, God provides salvation, the people are asked to trust.

With that in mind, we read the Gospel for this morning, and see Jesus comparing himself to that same serpent on a pole. Just as the serpent was lifted up, so too will the Son of Man be lifted up.

Jesus is comparing himself to a way of salvation (the way of salvation for the world) – a gift from God to the people of God – which in John is expanded from the Israelites to include the world, the cosmos – and everything that is in it.

And, as we read this part of John’s gospel – as Jesus is having a rather in-depth discussion with Nicodemus – we encounter that well known verse. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.

A few things that I wanted to hone in on with this.

First, belief. We are asked to believe in what God has done and some have difficulty wrapping their mind around that. Mostly because it is hard to ‘believe’ something that we cannot readily see. I’m sure it was easier for the Isrealites to believe on the serpent on the pole. It was physically there. There is even a story in 2 Kings about that very symbol being removed and destroyed from the temple. It was there.

It is easy for us to ‘believe’ in things that are readily and physically before us.

But, in this case, it isn’t so much that the gospel is asking us to believe in this good gift from God in Jesus who is the Christ – though it is asking us to believe. However, it is more accurate to say that we are asked to trust in this gift.

We are asked and called to trust that this gift from God – this son of man – this Son of God – this messiah – is our salvation. We have trust in what God has already given to us. We have trust in what God has already given to the world – the whole world. As another commentator wrote this week, ‘trusting’ in what Jesus is telling us allows us to ‘lean in to something far bigger than we can understand.’

I think that’s important for us to realize. That belief is trust. It is why when I’m confronted by how someone usually uses John 3:16 – as some sort of boastful measuring stick of faith – where they then ask – do you know where you are in God’s eyes? I – for the most part – confidently respond that, “No, I don’t know where I stand because it isn’t about me – it is about God. I trust God when it has been said that God so loved the world that he sent the Son so that the world might be saved through him.”

I trust that to be true. I trust that I am a part of that salvation.

I trust that there is nothing that I have done to earn this gift. In fact, I know that I have done things that should exclude me from that sort of life changing and freeing gift. Yet, I trust that God’s love extends even to me.

I trust God. It isn’t so much ‘believing’ or at least how we interpret belief to be today, but steady trust in what God has already done, trust that God’s hand and love extends even to us, trust that that sort of love never fails or falters. That trust that we are saved because of what God has already given to the world.

Eternal life. Many will interpret this as the ‘life after death’ that so many faithful sisters and brothers are adamant about during our life today. Yet, I don’t think that ‘eternal life’ is limited to just what happens after death. But, I trust that eternal life may more truthfully be described as life in God’s new age. That life – that new life – begins in baptism. That new life is fed and nourished at the table. That new life is lived out as all of us are molded and shaped by God’s spirit to live this life for others. Where we gather in community, we serve those in need, we think of others before and over ourselves.

This life in God’s new age overlaps with the life we live and the resurrected life that we trust is gifted to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.

We have trust in the love that God has for the world – in which we are included in and are active participants in. We trust that this new life in which we have been gifted through this love is one that encompasses our baptism, is fed at the table, and is lived out through word and service to the those around us. We live this new and gifted life in full trust that we have already received salvation.

And in this known trust of saving that we receive and live into, there is another part of this story of God that I want us to know. Think back to our text in Numbers. What was God’s salvation? That when the serpent on the pole is raised up, all the Israelites would have to do is trust that looking to that symbol would heal them. Did you notice that the symbol of the serpent on the pole didn’t keep the snakes from biting. The danger still existed. There was still caution to be wary of in that time.

Yet, their trust was in their Lord and God who would heal them if and when tragedy struck.

I believe that the same still holds true for each of us as we look to the cross and the one who was lifted upon it for the world.

Jesus’ death and resurrection didn’t end evil, tragedy, and hardship. People still hurt. Death still occurs. Evil continues to root in the hearts and souls of God’s people. Yet, the cross still stands. The cross still stands as that symbol of God’s love for the world.

We have trust that though sin and evil still lurks – both in the world and in our very beings, we live into the trust that Paul writes of in our text from Ephesians - But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ --by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace each of us – the entire world – has already been saved through faith. Not so that we might boast (also meaning not so that we might use John 3:16 as some measuring stick to beat over the heads of those around us). But, we have been created out of love – in that love we trust that God’s love continues to extend and save us through what God has done in Christ our Lord.

We have trust in what God has already done for the world – in that trust, in that knowledge, in that gift of new life we live this life for others, serving those around us – living in action of God’s grace.

Trust. New life. We’ve been given that. Trust that you are a part of it, and live into that trust and faith for the world. Amen.

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March 1, 2018, 9:48 AM

March 2018 Newsletter

Grace and peace to each of you this day. It is March and we are in the full swing of Lent. Still a few more weeks left before we get to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus who is the Christ.

Recently, the debate around guns, gun violence, and the second amendment has reared its head because another deadly school shooting has happened. The latest is in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I pray and hope that by the time you receive and read this newsletter it will still be only the ‘most recent’ deadly school shooting.

I have posted on Facebook, I’ve alluded to it in sermons, and I’ve had direct conversations with many about my views on gun violence. I know that there are a wide range of beliefs in regard to this issue, but as your pastor I wanted to focus in on one thing – and it may upset some of you.

I think we – as a culture – have a problem. But, it isn’t the usual ‘problem’ that most people prop up during these times. It isn’t video games. It isn’t violent movies or books. It isn’t because prayer isn’t ‘allowed’ in schools. It isn’t because God has been ‘removed’ from society.

No, I think our problem is the same one that has afflicted our world from the very beginning of time. We have an idol problem.

I feel that we as a culture have placed guns, and specifically the 2nd Amendment on a pedestal. It has become an issue that has become incredibly divisive in our country, yet no matter how much we shout and fight nothing seems to get done. It has become the ‘golden calf’ of our current time.

For many, it is something that cannot be discussed. It cannot be changed. It cannot be moved. It has become untouchable in almost every way. It has become an idol to us.

Yet, we come to this reignited discussion during the season of Lent. A time of self-reflection and devotion to God. A time where we intentionally see where we have been separated from God and seek out those ways to bring God to the center of our lives again.

I ask that we do this as individual people, as a congregation, as a community of the faithful. To take down our cultural ‘devotion’ of guns so that we might be able to talk. So that we might find a reasonable and appropriate response to this issue. So that we might finally find a way to prevent not just these school shootings, but the numerous deaths caused by guns in our country.

As people of faith, we are called to be in relationship and life with those around us. God calls us to be a part of and wrapped up in the life and service of others. When we begin to live our lives according to that call (and it is not easy, and we will fail in that endeavor time and time again) it places us in situations that we otherwise wouldn’t want to be in. We live our life in devotion of the one who washes feet, who calls us to take up our cross.

In living into the life that Jesus has called us in, we will put others ahead of ourselves. During this season of Lent, what would it look like if we truly, honestly, and earnestly lived that call out in our lives? It won’t be easy, it will put us at odds with those around us. But, it just might help us have the conversation. It just might be a way to help prevent the vast majority of these deaths.

I know there are many who will disagree with me. I now there are some who might think I shouldn’t speak about this sort of stuff. I know that there are some who feel I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But, as a pastor – as your pastor – I’m tired. I’m saddened. I’m angry. Tired, sad, and angry that we still have these circular conversations in our country.

Maybe this time will be different. It seems that it might be. I’m hopeful. I’m in prayer for something to come from these conversations around our community and in the highest places of government in our society.

However, if we cannot understand that we have an idol problem when it comes to guns in our country (and in turn repent from this idol), I fear that those conversations will end up in the same places again and I honestly don’t think anyone wants that to take place…

Remember, I love each of you. And I truly mean it.



February 19, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about about temptation...

Sermon from February 18, 2018

Text: Mark 1: 9-15

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 you heard this gospel reading this morning, how many of you had a slight case of déjà vu and you were trying to figure out why? There’s good reason – we’ve heard this text twice already. This is the third time we have looked into the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as told by St. Mark since December.

Whenever I read this part of Marks gospel, I’m always tempted to do something that I shouldn’t. We know Jesus is baptized, he hears a voice from heaven, and immediately he is forced out into the wilderness to be tempted.

All of that happens very quickly in Mark’s gospel, literally five verses. It happens so quickly because Mark is not as verbose as Matthew or Luke. Our temptation – my temptation – is to ‘fill in’ what Mark has apparently left out.

I think that can be dangerous – even though I’m tempted to do it and do fall victim to that temptation. We needn’t fill in what other gospels are trying to say; but it is hard to let the gospels themselves stand alone.

But, then I thought a little more – why is it that we have this temptation to fill in these words – especially as we read Mark’s gospel and as we begin this season of Lent.

I think about our world today and there is so much noise. There is so much noise that we cannot find comfort in the silence or the unfamiliar. One of my favorite movies, My Cousin Vinny, has a scene where Vinny cannot sleep at all in the cabin he and his girlfriend are given. It’s too quiet and when there is a strange sound – the sound of wild animals – he freaks out. Later in the movie he is sent to jail for contempt of court and the next scene is him smiling and sleeping peacefully as the jail riots around him. The noise brings him an amusing, if not familiar sort of peace.

I think – in many ways – we are all like that. With our reckless addiction to technology, the need to feel empty time, to always be busy with something – we have become frightened of the quiet. We’ve become fearful of the unknown.

We read verse 14 and we cannot stand to see nothing else explained. What are the temptations? What happened?

Why do we need to know? I feel at times, we have a desire to know because we want Jesus to be like us. Or, more accurately, we want to be like Jesus.

We know he’s tempted, but we want to know how his temptation took place. Did it look like what I’m going through? Is it similar to what I know a family member or friend is experiencing? Perhaps, if I can know the temptation, I can know that I too can get through this difficult time.

As much as we do this – even if we do this unknowingly – I want to tell y’all something. You. Are not. Like Jesus.

You’re not. I’m not. We are not.

As we begin this season of Lent we think a lot about temptations and fasting from those things that we know might not be the best for us. On Wednesday we heard Bishop Younan talk about how even today our technological gadgets have become more important in our lives than even food. Where we are more willing to fast from chocolates, Coke, or sweets than we are to fast from being connected to the online world at every moment of our life.

As we think about those temptations and how we can ‘overcome’ those desires, we at times will attempt to line ourselves right up there with Jesus. If he can do it, surely, I can too!

Except – I hate to break it to you – we aren’t God; Jesus is. Jesus is able to withstand those temptations – whatever they are in Mark’s gospel because of who he is. Jesus is able to stand firm in those moments because he is the messiah. He doesn’t need anyone else.

Yet, we cannot do this alone. We cannot endure the temptations of our lives, the lures of sin, the voices that speak in the silence and darkness by ourselves.

When we attempt to do that – just by ourselves, with no help – we can break. Where the end result can look like what happened in South Florida this past week. A broken individual lashing out in violent and horrific ways. There are other discussions to be had regarding these horrific events – serious and honest discussions to be had – but, we still find help and be the help for the broken.

We do not endure the temptations and the wilderness of our lives alone. We cannot do it. We are not capable of doing it.

We need the support of friends and family. We need the support of professional care workers – doctors, nurses, counselors, and more. We need help.

We want to fill the ‘empty’ and ‘unknown’ in our lives because we have been conditioned and taught through our culture that if you cannot do it alone then you’re not strong. You’re not good enough. You need to be like the other ‘normal’ people. Where in that knowledge we fill the empty, quiet, and unfamiliar of our lives with ‘stuff’ to distract us. All the while the gnawing hole in our life grows larger and no matter how much we throw into it, it is never satisfied.

We need others to help us through the temptations and the wildernesses of our lives. We need to reach out and ask for help. We need to remember that our God has created us to be with one another, to love, support, and care for each other. We are not little gods who can withstand the weight of the world.

But, we need our God, the one who has promised to share that weight and even bear it at times. We need to and we do see our God at work in the community of faith around us. We see God at work in the teachers and counselors who take notice and reach out. We see God at work in the friends and families of those dealing with harsh realities.

We begin this season of Lent and we hear a story about Jesus’ temptation. It’s a story that we know well, but at times can be perplexed by. Especially as it is told to us in Mark’s Gospel. We need to know what Jesus was tempted by so that we can feel confident to survive our own temptations.

Hoping beyond hope that if our Lord can ‘do it’ surely, we can get through it too. Yet, we fall. We fail when we try to go at it alone.

This season of Lent, what would it look like if we ‘gave up’ trying to ‘man up’ or ‘be strong’ when it comes to the hurt we have in our lives? What if we fasted and let go of the fear that holds us back from seeking help? What would the Lenten season teach us this year if we fasted the fear of what others would think if we cared for them in more direct ways?

As Bishop Younan stated from this very pulpit just a few days ago, our fast is wrapped up in the lives of others. By loving one another, we show that we are loving God. We love our neighbor as our love to God.

Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Care for those around us.

Be in prayer – for others and for those hurting in the world – but, let those prayers lead our footsteps and actions. Let our prayers remind us that there are people who hurt – we hurt – but, that doesn’t mean we are alone. We are surrounded by a community called to love one another. To care. To forgive. To accept. Our Lord calls us all to that.

We cannot do it alone. We cannot stand idly by as those who hurt feel that the only way to ease that pain, to bring peace is to lash out violently and deadly. We must reach out within our own pain and loneliness to draw others in, to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our struggles.

This morning we hear a story about our Lord’s temptation in the desert. He went through it alone. We – thank God – do not have to because of what Christ has already done. You don’t have to be fearful of the silence and unknown. Let us draw one another in to that pain and temptation. Let us live into this season of Lent as a time to help and care and love those around us. You don’t have to do it alone. Amen.

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February 12, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about remembering those mountain moments...

Text from February 11, 2018
Transfiguration Sunday

Text: Mark 9:2-9

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’ve said before, one of the most difficult, yet meaningful things I get to do as your pastor is to be with each of you in those moments that are tough or difficult. An illness, an impending death, the tragic loss of a family member, a broken relationship, depression, frustration, and more. It is a part of the job as a pastor to be with people in ‘low’ moments of their life.

Sometimes a question is either asked directly or implied that can freak me out because sometimes I don’t know the answer. That question? “Pastor – where is God in all this…?” My usual response has always been, “I’m not quite sure how or where God is present in this moment, but I know that God is here. Why? Because God has promised to be here among us – even in these difficult times and from what I can tell and have read, God is usually pretty good about holding to those promises and covenants.”

Many of you that I’ve been with in difficult times have heard me share those words, or something similar to them. As a pastor – a person who others look to for those ‘spiritual’ answers – it is difficult at times to respond with, “I don’t know…”

I was reminded of those moments as I prepared for this sermon today. I read a commentary where the writer – Rev. Anna Tew, a Lutheran pastor in Massachusetts – told a story about her time during a year-long ministry of chaplaincy in the hospital. As with all chaplains, she was tasked with coming alongside folks in some of their most vulnerable moments. Always sought after to bring a word of hope and promise during times that seem and are ‘hopeless.’

One story stood out for her. A man – a very sick man – was remarking that he felt God had abandoned him. He asked her if God had left him?

She replied, “Of course not!” Then she was bold to ask a question I’ve never thought to ask before – “Can you tell me about the times in the past that you’ve felt God’s presence before?”

Immediately the man recounted those moments – through tears – of God’s presence and goodness in his life. Telling of those moment where God felt so close to him. As she states it, he and many others whom she has had those conversations with described their own mountaintop experiences.

She then – even bolder now – asked this man, “Do you believe that same God is still around today?”

He responded with, “Of course! God is the same yesterday, and today, and forever!”

“Then I think that God is most certainly with you now as then.”

Y’all, that is an amazing story. And leads me into how we view the Transfiguration of our Lord that we celebrate today.

We read in our gospel this morning about an experience that some of the disciples had with Jesus. They walk up a mountain and at the top they have an incredible experience. They see the heroes of their faith – Moses and Elijah – sitting and interacting with Jesus as his clothes shine a dazzling brightness that no bleach could achieve. Unlike the Super Bowl advertisements last week – this isn’t a Tide commercial.

Upon seeing this amazing sight, Peter is a little bewildered and in fear he bellows out the first thought that comes to his mind – “Let’s build a place for you to be here forever!” It’ll be good for us to do this! We can make this moment last!

Of course, that isn’t what this moment is about. Perhaps, Peter – like most of us at times – saw this as the ‘ultimate’ moment of his faith. Perhaps, Jesus brought him and his friends up on this mountain so that they could see this. That this is the ultimate and final revelation of what it means to follow this messiah. Surely this is the ultimate image and presence of God in our life! Nothing could be better than this! We must stay in this moment!

Does that sound familiar – even a little bit when we have those mountaintop experiences of our own? That yearning to dwell; to reside in those moments forever. To never let go, so that we can always relish in that feeling always? Have y’all felt that way before?

I felt that way when I worked at Lutheridge as a counselor the summer after my freshman year at Newberry. It was an amazing time. I met the girl of my dreams, I felt the call to be a pastor, I formed deep friendships, I had amazing stories, plenty of laughs, and I truly felt closer to God in those days than in any of the days before or many since. I would’ve been happy to stay and hold on to those feelings for as long as I could. There were moments that I just wanted to pitch a tent right there and stay.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and eventually we have to come down from those mountaintops – both the literal and the metaphorical – in our lives.

I wondered as I read this text again – with Rev. Tew’s wise words and story fresh in my mind – perhaps, we think of this Transfiguration as the ‘ultimate revelation’ of God’s presence in the world. Surely, it is a good story. Hits all the checkboxes of what could be the ‘ultimate’ end for anyone. If there was nothing after this particular moment in scripture, I think many would be able to accept that. It has all the trappings of an end of the movie climax and cliffhanger.

But, we know that in spite of the incredible experience that moment on the mountain was – it wasn’t the moment. It wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus himself sternly warns his disciples not to tell anyone about what they saw until after the Son of Man rises from the grave. He tells them not to speak of this because there is and there will be more to come.

We read this story and celebrate this moment as we transition from the season of Epiphany into the season of Lent. Throughout Epiphany we read and heard story after story of God being made known in Christ. Each story building upon the previous; a crescendo of moments of God being made known that leads to the Transfiguration. Where if the disciples – if we – hadn’t been able to see it before certainly, we’d take notice of the Lord glowing brightly and being flanked by the representations of the Law and Prophets, all the while hearing a voice thunder from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” If the disciples didn’t ‘get it’ before the mountain, surely they ‘get it’ now.

We move from the season of God being made known into the season of coming closer to God in our lives. Yet, it is during the long weeks of Lent – that time of personal reflection, denial of self, and more that we can feel distant from God. Where we might discover that we aren’t as faithful was we proclaim. We don’t do the things we wish. We skip past the devotions in order to get to what we think is the ‘good stuff’ of our lives. Where we journey through the proverbial wilderness and might experience moments of despair, loneliness, and isolation. As we walk that path of Lent once more, we again remember where that path leads. It leads to the cross, it leads to death, it leads to fear.

As we experience God in those high-top mountain moments, those moments full of joy, praise, exultation, and more, we sometimes forget that the disciples have to come down from the mountain. They don’t stay up there. They come down from the mountain because God doesn’t stay on the mountain. God is just as present in the valley as God is present on the mountain top. We worship and celebrate our God who has come down to be with us. To be with us in those moments of the mundane. Those moments of fear. Those moments of loneliness. God has come down to be with us through all of what life has to offer.

We get this story of an incredible moment on the mountain as perhaps a reminder for when times come that are difficult in numerous ways. Where we can look back and remember that the God who was present in that moment, is surely the same God who is present now. For just as that man that Rev. Tew spoke with, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Maybe, on the night of Jesus’ resurrection as the disciples locked themselves in the room out of fear and confusion, whispers and stories began to be shared between Peter, James, and John, “Remember… remember that time on the mountain? Remember what we saw? What we felt? What we heard? Maybe this isn’t the end… maybe this isn’t over.”

The disciples received, and we too receive through the sharing of their story, certain proof that the guy they were following wasn’t just some really cool new rabbi. He wasn’t just some guy with good things to say, who happened to make people feel better occasionally. No, this guy – the one whose light literally shined through his very being – flanked by heroes of the faith – was and is the Son of God, the messiah we’ve longed for. He is Immanuel. God with us. Our hope.

We too remember our own mountaintop experiences. Not to dwell on those moments. Not to pine for days gone by. But, we look to our own moments on the mountain in our lives, to remember that the God who we felt was so close to us then, is still the same one who is present with us now. We remember that yes, surely, truly, certainly this is the Son of God, the messiah we’ve longed for. He is Immanuel. He is God with us. He is our Hope.

Remember. Believe. Know that God is with us. Always. Amen.

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February 5, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about being on the move...

Sermon from February 4, 2018

Text: Mark 1:29-39

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, if there is one thing I consistently take from how Jesus acts in Mark’s gospel is this – Jesus is always on the move. Since verse 14 in this chapter which comes after his 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus is doing lots of stuff. He’s not really staying long in any one place.

Walking along the sea of Galilee as he calls out to his disciples to follow him, teaching in the synagogue, cleaning a man with an unclean spirit, and now caring for Simon’s mother-in-law and the many who came in search of healing as well. Everything we’ve been reading as we’ve walked through the first (and ONLY the first) chapter so far in this gospel seems to have transpired over the course of only a day. Maybe two days.

No matter the timeframe, the news about Jesus is quickly spreading. Jesus and his friends enter the house of Simon and Andrew and Simon’s mother-in-law is not feeling so well and Jesus takes her by the hand and the fever leaves her. If only we had Jesus to come around the Newberry and Midlands area right now with all these cases of the flu, right?

From that moment and for the next few hours, many are brought to Jesus so that they might be cured. Cured of fevers and diseases, cured of spirits and demons, cured of those things that removed them from the cultural life of the day. Through Word, prayer, and touch Jesus brings full life back to those who have been separated from the life of the world because of their condition (illness and mental health).

Yet, after he finishes that work he goes off to pray and the disciples have no idea where he is. They go in search of him, wondering where in the world that Silly ol’ Messiah has gone. When they find him, they exclaim, “Where have you been! There are people hurting over there! There’s work to do, Lord!”

I find Jesus’ answer eye-opening.

I think Jesus acknowledges that there is indeed work to do, but they must keep moving.

I find it profound that the disciples don’t ever seem to fully what they are saying. They state to Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.” And it was true. There were many who were searching for Jesus so that he might continue to heal those in need in that small-ish area.

And, if Jesus had done that – the people would’ve been overjoyed. He could have setup shop in this town and had a nice little ‘medical’ practice and life. Simon, Andrew and the others would’ve been tasked with reaching out to the sick and possessed and inviting them to see this guy that cures fevers and demons with just a word!

That would’ve been nice. It would’ve been easy. I’m not sure anyone would’ve faulted Jesus for that. People were being helped, and I’m sure more around the area would’ve heard the rumor about this mysterious healer. They perhaps would’ve come out of curiosity, maybe even desperation.

But, that isn’t how it happened.

The disciples, state to Jesus that many are searching for him, and his response is to go and find some more. To go out into the neighboring towns to proclaim the message that he has – that is what he has come to do.

It is interesting that even at this early stage in Jesus’ ministry that there was the inclination to ‘hold on’ to a specific part of Jesus’ ministry and not go any further. Not to dive deeper, to even (even if innocently or unintentionally) keep others from experiencing God’s grace in and through this man.

And, we tend to still do that don’t we? We get something good, begin a good ministry, get a good group going and we like where it’s at. We’re content with how things are. We want to keep it simple, just continue doing what is working (and working well I might add). Just keep it for these people. This is ours. It isn’t that no one else should have it, but we’re really not interested in doing the work necessary to move it further out than what we have here.

Yet, Jesus here is intent on shattering that world view. He isn’t ‘ours’ in the sense that we hold exclusive claim and right to the message he brings, the miracles and healing he can and does perform, the new-life in which he shares with those he meets. We don’t hold claim to that, and Jesus in our reading this morning is telling his disciples and each of us that Jesus has got some work to do. And it involves venturing further out. It involves going to neighboring areas. It involves interacting with folks you might not know.

If anything, Jesus hasn’t been interested at all in maintaining the ‘status quo.’ Not even the ‘new status quo’ that he ushers into the world.

Jesus is on the move.

But, there something great about Jesus being on the move. He doesn’t go off by himself. He doesn’t leave his disciples by the wayside. He doesn’t abandon those around him.

Jesus invites his friends and those around him to follow him and join him in this life of call, faith, and healing. “Let us go…”

I think that is the thing we forget as we begin to see where ministry is taking us – taking us individually as fellow members on this journey, but also taking us as a group in ministry. It is nerve-racking to see where God might be leading us. Leading us to new opportunities to bring and receive God’s word of healing, life, forgiveness, and love.

Jesus is with us as we venture out. Venturing outside these walls at Redeemer, venturing outside the walls that we erect in our lives, venturing past the ideas of walls that block others from joining us. Jesus calls us outside that which makes us feel comfortable and safe. Jesus calls us into opportunities that involve risk.

Yet, all the while Jesus is present with us in that ministry and in those opportunities.

As we are invited into these new opportunities of ministry, Jesus is saying, ‘there is other work also.’

There is other work, where can we be called to bring new life and hope into the community around us? Where can we offer ourselves and what we have in abundance to bring hope to a world that yearns for it?

As we gather food and money today for the Manna House through the Souper Bowl of Caring, perhaps that new opportunity for ministry is to volunteer at the Manna House. To see, to know, to love those who are in need in our community. Maybe that might lead you to find other ways to care for those in a more profound and sustaining ways. In that risk; the risk that reaches into our abundance to give to others – Jesus is there.

Perhaps it is doing the ‘odd’ and risky thing and not getting wrapped up in the spectacle of the Super Bowl of football today. Not saying we cannot watch or enjoy the game, but understanding that it is just a game and that there are opportunities to help those in need in deep and helpful ways. Maybe skipping past the pre-game festivities and joining in on the worship service at White Oak last this afternoon to continue to help spread this hopeful word of God’s gospel to those who might be looked over or even forgotten. In that risk; the risk of stepping out of the flow of the social pressurized world to intentionally be with those on the outskirts – Jesus is there.

It is risky, it can be scary. Yet, we remember – Jesus is there. Jesus is inviting you – inviting us – to go. To be on the move. To not sit idly by. To be with. To venture forth. To proclaim God’s message of love, forgiveness, and hope. Amen.

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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.


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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 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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