In pm's words
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September 17, 2018, 7:35 AM

the one about the unexpected story...


Sermon from September 16, 2018

Text: Mark 8: 27-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 




September 10, 2018, 7:54 AM

the one about God showing up...


Sermon from September 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 3, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about traditions...


Sermon from September 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You seem so holy, so close to God.

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

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

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

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




September 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

September 2018 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




August 27, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about stumbling blocks...


Sermon from August 26, 2018

Text: John 6:56-69

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




August 20, 2018, 7:27 AM

the one about body and blood...


Sermon from August 19, 2018

Text: John 6: 51-58

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

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

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

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

And it is still confusing. It is still scandalous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




August 13, 2018, 9:19 AM

the one about the community...


Sermon from August 12, 2018

Text: Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2

News Article mentioned in sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be imitators of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.




August 6, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about manna...


Sermon from August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord has heard, the Lord has provided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




August 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

August 2018 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




July 16, 2018, 8:37 AM

the one about the message surviving...


Sermon from July 15, 2018

Text - Mark 6:14-29

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

So, last Sunday, our gospel text ended with Jesus sending his disciples – his friends – out into the world to do ministry in God’s name. They were sent to proclaim the good news that Jesus brings, to ask the people to repent, and to cure and heal those who were in need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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