In pm's words
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July 29, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about prayer...

Sermon from July 28, 2019

Text: Genesis 18:20-32 and Luke 11:1-13

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

So, there is a lot going on in our texts this morning. One of them could get us pretty side tracked (and has for much of its recent history). Another one could potentially teach us that God will give us anything we ask – no matter what. There is a lot to look over in these two texts, but I want to focus on just a small, but powerful part of these scripture readings we have before us today.

First, Sodom. The Sin of Sodom. A lot of people have varying opinions as to what God is so upset about with the people of Sodom. But, here’s what I believe and trust.

Sodom was a great and rich place. It was powerful, it had loads of wealth, ability, and influence in the world of its day. It was a pretty big deal of a place. Yet, their sin – that which God is so upset about – upset enough that God is willing to wipe it from creation – is not what we’ve typically heard.

Sodom’s sin is that in spite of their wealth, stature, and ability the people of that place didn’t live into caring for those in their midst. They didn’t care for the needy or help those who are poor within their borders. They didn’t welcome those travelers, immigrants, and more with open arms, but instead sought to force themselves upon them – insisting on their own ways – even when hearing no from those they pressed upon. They were cruel to the people who lived in their city and those who came to them for help.

Sodom’s sin was radical inhospitality. Sodom did not live into what the holy scriptures said of loving God with all of who they are and loving their neighbor as themselves. The continuation of our reading this morning speaks of the angels who have come into Sodom and are welcomed into the home of Lot. Yet, the people of the city want to have their own way with them. They don’t welcome them. They don’t listen to them. They don’t care about them.

They only care about themselves and what satisfies them.

Sodom’s sin is being cruel and inhospitable. So against the desire and call of God, that God wishes to wipe them from creation. That’s pretty bad.

And yet, Abraham pleads and prays on their behalf to God.

A thriving and powerful city, teeming with people, who are notoriously cruel and inhospitable – and Abraham prays for them. Abraham insistently (and perhaps to God’s mind annoyingly) pleads that the city be saved if only a few righteous folks dwell there. Abraham barters with God that if only 10 righteous people are there, the city can be saved.

That’s pretty incredible don’t you think? It also flies in the face of those who insist God’s mind cannot be changed.

Persistent prayer can work to sway God’s mind. That something to keep in mind isn’t it?

Let’s jump to the Gospel of Luke.

Here the disciples notice that Jesus prays a lot. So much in fact, that they would like to be like him. Which is what Jesus has been teaching each of them (and in each of us as well) through his stories, life, and love for those around him.

They ask him, ‘teach us to pray.’

Jesus then gives them an outline of a prayer. An outline of how a prayer should be lifted up to God.

Establishing that God is holy above all else. Stating that God is the one who is in control of our lives and reigns over us in creation. Asking that God give us what we need to live. Forgive us of those moments and times that we strayed from God and turned our back to the holy. To help us forgive others as God has forgiven us. To keep us steadfast and safe from those moments that pull us away from God and start the cycle over again.

When I teach those in confirmation about the Lord’s Prayer, I really enjoy getting them to re-write this pivotal and faithful prayer in their own words. Helping them to learn what Jesus is teaching us on a more intimate level.

It has been truly amazing to see where they take that prayer.

Especially when they start re-thinking what ‘daily bread’ means. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther, states that ‘daily bread’ includes everything that is necessary and nourishing for our bodies. A home to live in, food to keep us alive, clothes on our back, shoes on our feet, a loving family, being a part of a faithful community, being within a system of government that treats all with fairness, mercy, and justice, living in a world that is of God’s peace, and more.

Of course, there are those kids (and adults) who like to twist that ‘daily bread’ to include stuff like Xboxes, fancy cars, gobs of money, and Wi-Fi. Well, right now Wi-Fi is probably a pretty necessary thing. I think we can barter with God about that one. Abraham has shown us the way.

I want to tell you a story.

While I was serving as pastor in Michigan, late one night (or early in the morning depending on how you look at it), Erin and I heard a pounding on our door. We noticed that the clock said it was around 1am. Who in the world can be pounding on our door at this hour?

I trudge down in the cold (it was the end of January – in fact the morning after my birthday) and meet a man whose car is stuck in a snowdrift outside our house. Literally 20 feet from our front door. He needs help.

I didn’t want to help him. I was tired. It was bitterly cold out. And I had no idea how I could help him.

Yet, I still did. Why? Because God calls us to help those in need and (probably more truthfully) the man was persistent and wasn’t going to leave. So, I tried to help. Tried digging his tire out of the snow. Attempted to pull the snow away from the front of his car. Tried (and failed) to get his tires some traction on the slick and wet snow.

There was no use. We needed help.

So, I walked across the street and banged on my neighbor’s door. He was a farmer. He had some big tractors. Surely, he could help us. So, that neighbor too came to the door blurry eyed and full of disrupted sleep. I pleaded with him to help this man and me. His car was stuck, we needed the strength of his tractor to pull him out. He obliged, probably because God calls us to be a faithful neighbor, but also because we were annoyingly persistent at this late hour.

With the help of the tractor, we were able to get his car out. And then we did it again when the man drove 10 feet and got stuck again. All told, it was after 2am when we finally got him out and on his way.

That story reminds me of the one that Jesus shares with his disciples and in his teaching about prayer. Jesus tells his disciples how often they should pray by sharing a story about two friends. Where one comes to the other late at night, pounding on his door, asking for food to give to someone who has entered his home. His persistence will pay off. He will get what he needs to serve the one entering his home.

It sounds a lot like my story about the man at my door.

As Jesus continues to speak, he says things like, ‘ask and it will be given, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.’

Some might interpret this as if God is some sort of magical Genie – here to grant the wishes and desires of all those who call upon the one above. That if I just pray hard enough and persistently enough, I’ll get all that I want. I’ll get the Tesla, I’ll get the new phone, I’ll get the clothes, I’ll get the fame, I’ll get the wealth. God will listen if I’m just persistent.

Yet, I think that interpretation greatly misses the point. And that particular interpretation is the crux of the Prosperity Gospel proclaimed by the likes of Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and others. That if you’re faithful enough, if you pray enough, God will reward you those sorts of things. And they’ll more than likely point to this part of Luke’s gospel as assurance that it will happen.

But, here’s the thing.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer at this point is for us to speak and pray on another’s behalf.

The friend at the door isn’t asking for a cup of sugar to bake a midnight snack of cookies because he’s got the munchies. He’s asking for bread – the necessary food for life – to give to the one who has arrived at his home unexpectedly. The man who arrived at my door wasn’t asking for money to buy scratch-offs at the gas station, but was asking for help to get his car out so he could go home. Abraham wasn’t pleading and bartering with God because he liked to have fun in Sodom, but was pleading for the sake of the people so that they might know God’s love and righteousness (even if it only began with 10 people).

Jesus calls us to pray. Jesus gives to us a way to pray and how our prayers can be lifted up. Jesus gives us a guide to how we are to be persistent in our prayer and action to help those in need.

These last few weeks in our readings have greatly emphasized how we are to treat one another in this life of faith that God has gifted to all. Where we show mercy to the ones around us. Where we see the life we have been given as a true gift and as something we get to do in the presence of God. Where we insistently pray on the behalf of those in need around us. Where our prayer moves us into action as we ask, search, and knock for the needs of those we encounter in our journeys of faith.

So, my friends. Pray. Pray persistently. Pray for God to be at work in this world. Pray for God to be at work in your life. But, when you pray – pray for those around you. Because remember too, when we’re called to pray for those around us, someone is praying for you too. Always. Amen.



July 22, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about mary and martha...

Sermon from July 21, 2019

Text: Luke 10: 38-42

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

So, this is always a really interesting text to preach on, and I’d hazard a guess that most women who have read it and subsequently have heard sermons regarding it haven’t enjoyed it all that much. I have a hunch, that if Martha heard how this particular Gospel story - that deals entirely with her and her sister Mary – has been preached, she’d be much like Jan from The Brady Bunch. But, instead of exclaiming, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” She’d be crying out “Mary, Mary, Mary!”

You see, Mary has been made to be the exemplar of the faithful life for women because of how this text has been traditionally told. I’m sure there are quite a few women here who have heard this text interpreted in such a way that you are either a “Mary” – one sitting at the feet of God – or you are a “Martha” – one too busy, too bossy, too worried, and ‘distracted’ by many things.

In my study of this text and in conversations with women – there has been an attempt to lump all Christian women into one of these two camps. You’re either a Mary or Martha. Of course, even in that ‘sorting’ the ideal is to be more like Mary and to not fall into the distracted traps of Martha. I’ve heard from numerous women that they always feel shamed by this text because most of the women I’ve known have felt that they are more of a ‘Martha’ than they are a ‘Mary.’

What gets me about this text, and which makes this a little difficult to preach on is that Jesus seems to chide and double tsk Martha for doing what she feels is appropriate as a host. As we are introduced to Martha, Jesus and his friends are welcomed into her home. That is quite significant.

This is Martha’s home. Presumably, she owns this house. There is no male – no father’s or husband’s or brother’s or son’s – name attached to Martha. That is pretty uncommon during this time. This is her home and like any good host – she was busy caring for her guests, especially the VIP guest who is Jesus that has come to visit.

We aren’t told what her ‘many tasks’ were, but I’d be more than certain that Martha was preparing a meal and making sure her guests were comfortable. Perhaps she was in the kitchen, in the dining area cooking up a wonderful meal to serve these guests who are sitting, talking, and sharing in her home. Maybe she was hustling about making sure things in her home were in order, things were clean and tidy, there were enough places to sit and rest for her many guests. If she was anything like the women in my family there were probably many questions of, “Can I get you something to drink?  And, Are you sure you’re alright?” It’s what any good host would do.

Now, I don’t really begrudge Martha for getting a little shall we say – resentful – of her sister Mary at this point. One of the societal ‘roles’ of women during this time was to prepare meals and serve. It was not to sit around and just listen. Especially within a group of men. Yet, that is what Mary is doing. She has shifted her role at this time and stepped out of the box that society has placed on her and others like her. She is in the presence of God, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Enjoying his presence and listening to his words. It is no wonder that this Mary – the one who tends to Jesus – the one who is the first to proclaim of his resurrection – the one that has been so pivotal to our history of faith – is where she is. She is doing a good thing, and this way of living into the life of faith tracks for her particularly well.

Yet, to Martha it looks like she isn’t living into the role that society has for her. So, to Martha it looks like Mary is slacking and leaving her to do all the work. And anyone who has hosted – anything – knows what it feels like when it looks like the entire workload is placed upon a single set of shoulders. If I was Martha, I’d probably be pretty upset too.

When Jesus says, “Martha, Martha…” many have taken that as a – “You don’t need to be there in the kitchen. Just come in here and sit at my feet. What Mary is doing is right, what you’re doing is wrong.”

How many women here have heard that before? Don’t worry about the ‘tasks’ you have to do, just listen to me.

I don’t think that Jesus is necessarily saying that what Martha is doing – the tasks themselves – are bad. She is doing a good thing. Martha is being a good host. She is caring for those she has welcomed into her home. She is being a GOOD neighbor.

Jesus just talked about what being a good neighbor looks like – the story we read before this one is his parable about the good neighbor. Being a neighbor as we heard last week means caring for the ones in need.

I would include that that means even the ones who are welcomed into your home. Martha herself is living into all the things that Jesus lifts up in Luke’s gospel. She has welcomed strangers into her home. She has laid down the welcome mat, and she is in service to those who have come into her life. She is being a good neighbor and host. That is something she should be proud of and I believe Jesus is thankful for that.

However, in her ‘living into’ her service and in the serving of those in her home as host she is, as Luke writes – distracted. The Greek word here from verse 40 is - perispaomai - which means in the process of being pulled or dragged in different directions.

Here she is – doing these tasks as the literal host of God. She is feeding the Lord. She is giving Jesus’ friends a place of rest. She has welcomed strangers into her midst and is treating them like family. Yet, even in that work and presence of God before her, she fails to see what she is doing. In her own way as a humble servant and host, she is in the presence of God and living into the call that God has given her. She is distracted by what others are doing. She is distracted by the ‘tasks’ that she ‘has’ to do.

Anyone who has been around me as a pastor knows my little mantra about the life of faith. That we live a life of ‘get to’ rather than ‘have to.’ It is easy – incredibly easy – for us to shift from get to into have to. We lost sight of the gift we have every day in God’s presence and life.

Here, I think Martha has lost sight of what she is doing. Yes, she is living into the call to be a welcoming host to all those who come to her door. But, instead of living into that call as a gift, she appears to view them as chores, rules that she has to abide by. She is fulfilling a societal obligation. It is no longer a gift that she GETS to do, but it is a role she HAS to do.

Think about your own lives for a moment. Each of us has been called by God to do what we have been gifted to do. Some work with numbers and logistics, some teach, some sweat in their labor more than others. Some get to do things that they enjoy immensely and wouldn’t trade it for the world while others look upon those jobs and tasks and say, “Really? I’m glad God chose you to do that…because I sure don’t think I could.”

Of course, that is just what we do outside this community of faith, but even when we serve inside the confines of this community there are people who feel called to certain areas of ministry. Some proclaim and share, some sing, some stand up for others, some call us to look and see those before us. We all are called by God and gifted with ways to do what God has called us into. 

In the beginning of those ministries we see the great gift that God has given us. We see the wonderful opportunity that Christ has afforded us. We relish in the presence of the Spirit as we go out and do ministry – whatever it may be. 

But, like Martha there comes a time when the ‘get to’ turns into the ‘have to.’ I have to go to church today. I have to read. I have to sing. I have to do this. I have to do that. When we turn our eyes towards the tasks themselves, we can begin to see them as burdens, restrictions, obstacles.

We lose sight of the fact that God is present with us in each of those moments. Especially when it feels like others aren’t pulling their weight, not helping in the ways that we feel are important. When we feel like we’re the only one’s doing what we think is needed.

God has called us to live into our vocations – our own divine calls that God has set apart for each of us. But, in each of those tasks we are always in the presence of God. Christ is there with us. The Holy Spirit is present guiding us.

I don’t think, as I read this text, that Jesus is saying to Martha, “You shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing as host. Instead, you should be with Mary at my feet; only.” No, because that isn’t validating the good work and service that Martha is doing. No, what I think Jesus is ‘chiding’ Martha for is that she has lost sight of the presence of God in her work and service.

What Mary is doing is basking in the presence of God in her own way. You too Martha are able to bask in the presence of God as you work and welcome those into your home as a gracious and humble host. You are literally host to God. 

Be aware of that. Be thankful for that.

This is a reminder to each of us – both women and men. In all the work that we do. The work and tasks that we do within the church, the work and tasks we do outside this community of faith. All of it is done in the presence of God. It isn’t a have to life, it is a get to life.

I get to come to church. I get to eat of the bread and drink of the wine; the body and blood of Christ. I get to read. I get to teach children. I get to mow lawns. I get to care for many different people. I get to do all of this because God is present in the work that I do. Christ is present in each day.

Sometimes we have to take deep breaths and remember that. Sometimes it takes setting things aside and sitting at the feet of the Word of God like Mary. But, in all things, we remember that God is in our midst. God is present in all that we do. And when we live a life of ‘get to’ instead of ‘have to’ we are able to more readily see the gift that God has given us.


July 15, 2019, 7:31 AM

the one about the lawyer and the neighbor...

Sermon from July 14, 2019

Text: Luke 10:25-37

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, Luke’s gospel moves right back into one of those ‘old-time classic’ parables. Probably one of the most well-known parables throughout all of scripture. The story of the ‘Good’ Samaritan.

But, first, a few things. We have to understand something as we dive into this poignant and radical story. The Samaritans and the Israelites have a ‘complicated’ relationship to say the least. As a commentary I read this past week stated it, for the first-century Jew, you couldn’t scrub a Samaritan hard enough to make them clean or holy. Israelites were told to never associate with those Samaritans. They were not considered good people at all in the eyes and culture of many first-century Jewish men and women.

The mere fact that a Samaritan is mentioned in this short story from Jesus was more than likely offensive and scandalous to all who could hear. Jesus has a habit of taking what we or the world thinks is ‘normal’ and turning it on its side. It is what parables do. And this one here does it spectacularly.

And another thing, the Samaritan man in this parable is never once called ‘good.’ It is just a title we and translators have placed upon him. But, here’s the trouble with that. Calling him the ‘Good’ Samaritan continues to imply that Samaritans are still inherently ‘bad.’ We have to be careful when we place those sorts of labels on folks. We still do that today with all sorts of cultures and groups.

You’re not like ‘those other ones.’ You’re a good _________ fill-in-the-blank.

The Samaritan is just a Samaritan. And he is a neighbor. Period. He lives into his calling and life as a neighbor beautifully.

And so… This parable begins with a question, and I think it is a question that we still ask today. In fact, it is the question that (more or less) is emblazoned on countless billboards as you travel down the interstate to pretty much anywhere in this country. I remember at least passing by a few of these signs on trips to Alabama and Georgia this past week.

You know those signs, the ones that ask (to some degree), ‘Do you know where you’re going?” and there is allusion of clouds or fire somewhere on that sign. Y’all have seen those billboards, right? We see them all the time. Of course, they kind of just blend into the blur of the background as we travel along to our destinations.

But, at their core, they ask the same question that the lawyer poses to Jesus in today’s gospel reading, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

My grandfather once told me – and I’m sure you’ve heard this before as well – that the BIBLE stands for ‘basic instructions before leaving earth.’ It’s kind of cute right? We like our acronyms and try to apply all sorts of different meanings to things.

I used to joke with a few friends that the NFL team the Buffalo Bills stood for “Boy I love losing Super Bowls.” Interestingly, as big Bills fans they didn’t think it was very funny.

The thing is, whenever we try to apply some cute saying to a word, it usually falls incredibly short or flat in its purpose and intent. It’s ‘cute’ to say that the Bible is some big instruction book that’ll get you a ticket to heaven if you just know it and follow the rules.

The only problem is that at times the Bible seems to speak around itself, changes the rules, and can be very confusing if you try to follow it word for word. It is inherent to a collection of works written by many different people, to many different contexts, at many different times over a long period of history. When we try to follow the ‘rules’ so that we only get to a preferred and desirable end result, we can lose sight of what we’re actually doing or what we’re even called to do. We also try to catch people flat-footed when they don’t adhere to our specific ruleset that we’ve devised.

I think that is exactly what the lawyer we are introduced to in our gospel this morning is attempting to do. He’s a smart guy. He knows scripture. In fact, it is his job and vocation to know the Holy Scrolls and all that they contain. I don’t think he’s really trying to appease or saddle up comfortably to Jesus in our reading today.

No, instead he’s testing him. He’s trying to throw him off his game. He’s attempting to get Jesus to denounce something that is central and core to the life of faith. The life of faith for both those who are Jewish and to those of us today who follow Jesus.

And Jesus, probably knowing the ruse, asks him to answer his own question. Because, obviously this guy knows it already. And, he responds correctly.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your body, and your soul. Also love your neighbor as yourself.

Do that and you will live.

It’s interesting how Jesus changed the question isn’t it? Did you catch it? The lawyer asks Jesus what he must to do to inherit eternal life – what must he do to be saved. To be good in the eyes of God after death.

And yet, Jesus’ response is – do what you’ve said and you’ll live. Now. Present. On-going. Right this minute. Now. Live.

I’ve always loved that response from Jesus. Because, frankly it gets really tiring not only as a pastor, but as a person of faith when people seem to be more concerned about their or another’s after-life than they are about the life of the world right now. Where they’ll look past the suffering and hardship of those around them as they follow some weirdly blended rules of faith, nationalism, and more.

Where someone will try everything to ‘follow the rules,’ so that they are considered ‘good’ and holy. Being behaved. Reading scripture. Saying prayers. Following the ‘right’ rules.

Yet, in the midst of that overzealousness to ‘follow’ the rules, they can at times fail – and sometimes fail miserably – at actually living into the life that God has called us into.

The lawyer is asking a misguided question. He’s more concerned with the afterlife than with his life right now. He’s even less concerned with the lives of those around him.

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that those things he says he follows applies to everyone around him.

Jesus tells him and all those around him a radically offensive story to their culture’s ears. A story about a Samaritan. A Samaritan who lives into the faithful life of being a neighbor! The person that they would least expect is used to embody the life of a faithful neighbor.

And not only that – but, Jesus states that the lawyer (and all those who follow the Lord) should be like that man of Samaria!

Jesus is telling this man – Jesus is telling us – that the things we do and are called to do, to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves, isn’t about inheriting eternal life.

Or at least not the sole purpose. It isn’t.

The Bible – as cute as it is to say – isn’t a book of instructions before leaving earth.

What the Bible is – what scripture tells us – is how to love God and love those around us. To live into that love. To experience that love. And to realize that that love is shared by and through people and groups that you might have been told are ‘bad’ ‘evil’ or ‘wrong.’

Jesus tells this man that he should do this – love God and love neighbor – so that he will live.

Not so that he’ll get a cushy spot in heaven. Not so that he’ll get a front row seat to the resurrection. Not so that he’ll sit at the head of the banquet table in God’s house.

No, Jesus tells this man – Jesus tells us – Love God and love neighbor so that you will live.

So that they will live.

So that you are cared for. So that others are welcomed, nurtured, loved, accepted, affirmed. So that all might know God’s love for them. So that we might all be neighbors.

Don’t live your life always concerned with what comes after this life is over. If we do that, we might miss the opportunity, miss the joy, miss the love that this life offers us. We just might miss the life that God has intended for us and the world.

Go and do.

Love God with all that you are. Live out that love by loving your neighbors – all of them – no matter who they are – no matter where they come from – no matter how they enter into this place – as you love yourself.

Do this and you will live. Amen.


July 1, 2019, 10:00 AM

the one about our human response...

Sermon from June 30, 2019

Text: Luke 9: 51-62

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, remember last Sunday when I mentioned that the Gospel of Luke was my favorite gospel to read? My favorite because it seems to emphasize our Lord who is willing to go out of his way to share the truth of who he is and the truth of God’s love for all to everyone. With no exceptions. In all the gospels, but especially in Luke’s iteration, Jesus is willing to sacrifice his place and standing among the culture he’s grown up in to really drive home the point of God’s radical love and hospitality to all in creation.

Yet, as much as I enjoy almost all of Luke’s gospel, there are still some parts that make me squirm. They make me scratch my head. They make me sigh in exasperation, of ‘Why Lord are you like this?’

Have y’all experienced that in the world? Where it might be someone you truly love and agree with, you get along extremely well with them. Most of what they say you can nod your head along to and be like, “Yep, that’ll preach y’all!’ And then… and then there’s that one thing they’ve done. Or, they say something really questionable in your opinion, and you just sigh heavily? I think we definitely are experiencing that now as our country once again ramps up into the election season. No matter who you agree with or what party you identify most closely with, we always seem to have those moments where someone does or says something that just makes us shake our head and think, “This isn’t going to win over anyone for you…”

This morning we are encountered by what appears to be two instances of people putting their foot in their mouth. Where they miss the point, they jump to conclusions, and they seem to derail their whole mission and point.

First up are James and John. Yikes.

They respond so unequivocally human in this story shared by Luke. As they travel with their and our Lord Jesus, they are confronted by a group – who have a not-so-great history with the Israelites during this time – that refuses Jesus’ entry into their village. Why? Because it seems like he’s more concerned with Jerusalem (you know, the seat of power of the people that treat them so harshly).

They may have heard the story of Jesus going to the land of the Gentiles (people like them!) and healing and proclaiming God’s love and truth. Yet, they hear now that Jesus has firmly set his gaze and march to Jerusalem. It appears he doesn’t have ‘time’ for the Gentiles now.

So, they refuse him. They don’t want him to come to them.

And James and John ask Jesus if they should pray for fire and brimstone to wipe them out. They pray if they might ask the Almighty God to smite them for their rejection of God’s son.

That’s a pretty human response isn’t it? You don’t want to play with us? Be done with you! Burn it down! You don’t agree with us completely, then you don’t deserve to be around anymore. We can’t deal with the likes of you anymore.

We do that too. We do it a lot. Our nostrils flare when someone doesn’t agree completely with us. We setup stances and statements and arguments that discounts everyone if they don’t line up with everything that we believe. The line is drawn thick in the sand. We desire uniformity so much in our world. If you’re not completely with me/us, then you aren’t one with me/us at all!

Yet, it doesn’t help to shove out those who don’t agree completely with us. It doesn’t help to build relationships. It doesn’t help to find places of agreement and compromise.

And perhaps Jesus knows that too. We aren’t told what Jesus said to them exactly, but we might be able to fill in the blanks a bit. He spoke, ‘sternly’ to them and they went on to another village.

I like to think that Jesus turned to them and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, right? Have you not been listening to me all this time? When have I ever wanted to do what you’ve asked? What in – my name – are you thinking? Let them be and we’ll go to the next village over. Sheesh. Seriously? Fire from heaven? Bless your hearts. Let’s go.”

And that response kind of turns us on our sides, right? Knocks us down, doesn’t it? Because truth be told, we as humanity love to call down fire and brimstone when someone doesn’t agree with us. I think at times we relish in it. That fire burns behind our eyes when given the chance to burn the bridges that we have attempted to construct between one another.

Yet, here his Jesus, saying – ‘Let’s move on. Leave them be. I’m still looking towards the future here.’ And, I like to think that that future still includes those Samaritans who refused to welcome him into their village. Especially since in a few short chapters, Jesus will use a Samaritan man as the epitome of a what being a faithful neighbor is. I don’t think Jesus gives ultimatums, but meets people where they are to proclaim that love to them and for them always. Jesus doesn’t stop doing that.

Jesus does not say, “Get with me or get out.” But, boy do his followers love to say that at times. I know that I’ve held that mentality before. More often than I care to admit.

So, Jesus – I believe in great love – chides and sternly deals with his disciples who wish to call fire down upon those who refuse their Lord. And I’m thankful for that. It gives me hope, that when I fall victim to that very human response, Jesus still loves me too.

And then… and then what comes next. Jesus talks to a few other people and it seems like the whole message gets derailed.

People coming to Jesus ask for what I think are very reasonable requests. Let me bury my father – let me say goodbye to my family.

And Jesus’ response? Are you kidding me? Let the dead bury themselves? Those who put their hand on the plow and look back are unfit for the kingdom of God?

Yikes. Those are some harsh words. They make me uncomfortable. They make me a little angry. That burning desire to burn this all down starts simmering. All because of a few strings of words and what I believe are ill chosen statements from our Lord.

And yet, I breathe. And yet, I think. And yet, I pray.

What might Jesus be getting at? What might Jesus be trying to be telling those around him that day? What might Jesus be trying to tell us today?

We pause and question because what Jesus says in response to those who follow him are counter to what we would consider to be good and thoughtful things to do.

To the first, Jesus is saying that if you follow me – you won’t have a home. Even the animals and the birds will have better accommodations than I or you will. The mere fact that we side with Jesus means we are against much of what the world proclaims. The life of faith that is lived in service to others, the life of faith that stands up against the powerful voices and forces of the world, the life of faith that puts us at odds with many things and people and ideas. Jesus is telling this follower that life isn’t going to be easy. Be prepared.

The second individual asks to bury his father and Jesus’ response borders on uncaring and rude. How could the one who calls for the care of those in need not ‘allow’ someone to mourn? A few years ago, I heard an interesting interpretation to this. Typically, during this time when someone dies, they are buried within 24 hours. The mourning process and the rituals surrounding death didn’t really allow people to just ‘go off’ at will. So, there are some who think that this man is essentially saying, “Jesus – I want to follow you, but first I’m going to wait until my father dies and I have to bury him.” Yes, he could die in 10+ years, but he could die tomorrow – so let me bury my father first.

In that light, what Jesus says still seems cold, but not nearly as frigid as before. Following Jesus and the life he proclaims isn’t about when ‘you’re ready’ to do it – it isn’t done on our terms. It is Jesus who calls us into this life and when you are called – you’re called. The life that Jesus calls each of us into is not one that is lived on our terms.

Finally, the third individual wants to bid his farewells – seems pretty reasonable. Wouldn’t want your family to worry that you dropped off the face of the earth and disappeared. Yet, Jesus’ response again seems cold and harsh. But, even in his response we can see some truth. For those who have ever farmed – especially in the way that the farmers of this time would have – those who didn’t have the luxury of plotting a course in a machine and sitting in an air conditioned cab, but relied on an animal to move them – you couldn’t look back. You had to stay on task, looking forward; making sure that the animal in front of you pulling the plow stayed straight and true. If you looked back constantly, your field wouldn’t be able to yield the fruit of the harvest to its fullest.

In every response that Jesus gives, he gives us a small parable to interpret. And I don’t believe parables are to be taken literally, they are intentionally stated to put us on edge, to make us uncomfortable, so that we can truly see where Jesus is coming from. Where in those frayed moments we are able to see and hear what Jesus calls for us.

And what Jesus is telling us is that the life of faith we are called and claimed into is different from what the world proclaims. It isn’t easy. We don’t respond with death when some disagrees with us, we hear that the life of faith will force us to prioritize our lives in ways that seem counter-intuitive to the world.

And yet, we know that when we are confronted by the ‘otherness’ of Jesus’ life of faith for us; we are not alone. We are not removed from God’s love. That even when James and John respond in such a terribly human way, Jesus doesn’t send them packing. He doesn’t cause calamity and hardship to be inflicted upon those who don’t welcome him.

In fact, he’ll use the Samaritans as an example of true and caring faith as a neighbor soon in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is all about subverting and overturning what we and the world around us thinks is ‘right.’

I also think, that Jesus responds to those who wish to follow him out of love – love that causes them to understand what they are seeking, what they are asking, what they desire to get themselves into. This life of faith isn’t easy. It is challenging. It causes and compels us to see things through a different lens. Challenges us to confront our own hesitancies and ‘excuses’ to not follow our Lord’s call.

Yet, in love Jesus doesn’t cast us out when we stray, when we dawdle, when we arrive at the incredibly wrong conclusion. Jesus walks with us because Jesus is firmly faced towards Jerusalem. He knows what comes next. He knows – out of his love for the world – what he’s about to do and what it will usher into the world.

Jesus’ love for us and for the world covers over the short comings in our lives. It doesn’t remove us from God’s love, but challenges us to live for others, to live not always thinking about ourselves first, to live knowing that God is at the top of our list of priorities.

It’s challenging. It’s difficult. It makes us squirm.

But, God is still there with us – in love – every step of the way. Amen.

July 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

July 2019 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to each of you this wonderful month of July! I hope each of your summers are going splendidly and is filled with rest, adventure, fun, and God’s presence.

A thing to note at the top – Redeemer has ‘gotten with times’ as they (used) to say. Members and others are not able to give electronically to the church. You can sign-up by going to the eGiving tab on our website ( There you can set up one-time or scheduled payments to the church as a part of your offering. It is nice to have this additional way to support the church! I encourage y’all to sign up (I know I did)!

Last month was a big month in the Titus household. Ashleigh went to Lutheridge for her First Campers week. She stayed at the camp from Wednesday through Saturday morning. And let me tell you, Erin and I were a bit nervous for her.

We know she loves Lutheridge, but this was the first time she’d stay the night – multiple nights – away from home with ‘strangers.’ This is the same girl who at times can get a bit nervous about staying at Nana and Papa’s house.

But, when she arrived in her cabin, her counselor invited her to play UNO with the other girls and it was smooth sailing straight through. She had a blast and didn’t want to leave come Saturday morning.

It got me thinking – Redeemer is in the midst of a Visioning Process where there might be those who are a little nervous (I know I have been at times), maybe a bit apprehensive about where this all might lead. How are things going to change? Are they going to change? What new stuff will we get ourselves into?

Much like sending a kid to camp, we are in that anxious time period. We don’t know what to expect. But, we pray. We trust. We lean into God’s presence in our lives. We have faith that God is working through each of us to bring the story and truth of the Gospel into the lives of those around us. We are open to being surprised about how God works through all of this.

It’s OK to be a little nervous, I think that comes with the territory of anything that is new. However, that nervousness doesn’t keep us from praying, jumping in, and walking with God and one another as we see where God might be leading us as a people of faith.

Love y’all. And I mean it.

June 24, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about healing Legion...

Sermon from June 23, 2019

Text: Luke 8:26-39

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen 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, I apparently have a lot of ‘really favorite’ Gospel readings and this is one of them. And, I also noticed that most of my favorite Gospel readings come from the Gospel of Luke. I guess, I really do love this Gospel so much. What I love most about it, is that – for me – it really gets to the point of who Jesus is, what Jesus does, and why Jesus is needed in the world.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we see our Lord go out of his way to make a point, to include others, and to continue to tell the story and truth of who he is. For me, as I read the Gospel of Luke, it seems our Lord lives into the saying that I’ve seen lifted up on social media and in my church-nerd circles as of late – “I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than being included based on who I exclude.”

Every day we hear about God’s love in and through Jesus for the world, yet time after time, we see people and organizations who might proclaim that truth, but never live it out. It becomes frustrating, especially as a pastor who tries to be adamant about God’s inclusive love for all the world and creation, when those who try to live out what God calls for us in Jesus’ love, yet dismisses the very people that it appears Jesus would surround himself with. Especially when because of that inclusivity to all makes others ‘uncomfortable’ because of who you say and believe God truly loves.

Yet, when it becomes frustrating, I see stories like the one we read this morning of the Gerasene Man and Legion.

First, and foremost – Jesus is stepping outside of his ‘supposed’ realm to people that were considered true ‘outsiders’ and foreigners. During this time, communities and places might not have had ‘another side of the tracks,’ but they definitely had ‘those people who live on the other side of the sea.’

Jesus enters – with his disciples – into a land that is not their own. Jesus comes to a culture that is different from the one he and his disciples are accustomed to. Jesus enters a foreign land. Jesus leaves the comfort of a place he ‘knows’ and goes into an ‘unknown’ land.

A land that there were probably rumors and stories about. A land and culture that the ‘good folks’ on their side of the lake always talked about as being different but, not in a good way. A community where you just didn’t associate with those people.

I remember when I was a kid and living in San Diego, CA my family and I went to the border city of Tijuana, Mexico. I remember the smell. I remember the sights. I remember the poverty. I remember the dirtiness of that brief time we spent there. And I only remember that part because that is the only part we visited. We didn’t venture further into that large culturally diverse metropolitan city.

I also remember thinking, “Why would anyone come here? Look at this place?” It took a long time for me to go back to Mexico, because I thought that Mexico was only like what I saw in Tijuana. Which couldn’t be further from the truth at all.

A beautiful country, a rich culture, and amazing people call Mexico home. I got to experience that as I went on a cross-cultural trip while in seminary about 10 years ago now. I get to experience that now as I see the beauty and wonder of that culture lived out around us even in our little neck of the woods of Newberry.

I think of that first trip to Mexico as I read of Jesus entering into this foreign land. Where he and his disciples have probably heard numerous stories about ‘those people’ and ‘that place.’ And who is the very first person they encounter when the step of the boat?

A man who is not in his right mind. A man who is naked with shackles busted around his wrists and ankles. A man who is different in all the ‘bad’ ways that they’d been told. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few disciples were thinking, “Sheesh Lord, this is why we don’t come over here. Look at this person! We need to leave. There is no hope for these people here.”

Yet, thankfully – Jesus didn’t think that. Jesus didn’t live into the fears that he may have heard about this place and these people.

Instead, he hears this man – or what speaks through this man. This man, possessed by numerous demons that it names itself ‘Legion.’ This Legion who knows who Jesus is. This Legion who even fears who Jesus is because of what has been said about them.

And so, in speaking with this man from Gerasene, in speaking with Legion, Jesus heals the man and abides by the wishes of Legion to not be in torment any longer.

Here’s the thing though. Jesus heals the man from Gerasene, not because of what he says. Not because of what he believes. Not because of what he does or has done.

Jesus doesn’t heal this man from his demons because of anything in particular about this man. No, Jesus heals because of who Jesus is.

Jesus heals. Jesus brings reconciliation. Jesus listens. Jesus speaks of God’s power, grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Jesus heals, because Jesus heals. That’s what he does.

Doesn’t matter who the other is, or where they come from, or what they’ve done. Jesus heals.

Jesus heals. And that freaks people out.

Jesus upsets what we’ve been ‘accustomed’ to for so long. Jesus turns the tide and gives those whose voice and place has been ‘removed’ by society a voice once more. And when people who’ve had no voice are given it again – it scares people. It makes them nervous. It causes them to drive out the very thing that has given everyone new life.

We worship a God, we are guided by a Son, we are pushed by a Spirit that drives and compels us to live into the love that our Lord shows to every person we meet. We are called through the waters of baptism, we are fed this love and life at the table, we are sent from this place to live into and live out the love and life that Jesus not only has for us, but for the entire world.

We get to show and proclaim of Jesus’ love for everybody – no matter who they are. We get to know Jesus’ love for us even when the world tells us we aren’t worthy of being loved by anyone. We get to experience a world rocked and upturned by the love of God in Christ our Lord so that we all might be able to see this new thing that God is up to in creation.

And when we live into that love, when we see the voiceless regaining words because of what God has done in Christ our Lord, there will be push back. People will be asked to leave. It makes people uncomfortable because it isn’t what society has deemed ‘right.’

And what does Jesus say then? Stay there. Speak to your community. Talk about what God has done for you. Proclaim this new thing that God has done, is doing, and will do in and through Jesus.

The one who loves. The one who enters into new spaces. The one who heals.

Not because of what someone has said, done, or believed. No, Jesus heals and gives voice and power to the outcast and hurt simply because that is what Jesus does.

Jesus heals.

In and through the waters of baptism, fed at this table, sent from this place – we are called to follow him.

We heal too. We love all. We bring comfort to those in need. Not because of what we say, or believe, or do. We heal, comfort, and love – all, no matter what – because that’s what and who Jesus is, and we are called to follow. Amen.

June 17, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one where we don't know everything...

Sermon from Holy Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019

Text: John 16: 12-15

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen 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, we come to an interesting day. Not only an interesting day in the life of the church, but a pretty interesting one in the life of many young people in our community of faith.

Today we celebrate with nine young men and women as they have completed significant milestones in their life. We celebrate our Confirmation Students – Morgan, Reese, and Andrew and we celebrate those graduating from high school, college, and further secondary education. We celebrate with Ledare, Vanessa, Jordan, Corey, Rachel, and Noel.

We also get to celebrate the odd and confusing relationship of the Holy Trinity. That part of our faith that continually perplexes us, confounds us, makes us scratch our heads, and at times might melt our brains as we try to ‘wrap’ our arms around just who, what, and why is the Trinity.

As we try to ‘wrap’ our minds around the Trinity, it can be a lot like these young men and women trying to wrap their lives over what comes next. Where will they go? How will they be? What will life offer them?

Some of y’all may have already asked those questions and have been thrust with dilemmas and further questions. Will I enjoy what I’ve done so far? Will the path that I’m on be the one that fulfills all that I hope for? What does the future hold? Will it change? Where is God in the midst of all of this?

Whenever we come to those significant moments in our lives, we always ask those deep questions. Those questions that gnaw at our gut, those questions that make us ponder, those questions that can keep us up at night.

We ask those questions, because we like – we want – to be in control. We ask those types of searching questions because we realize that we don’t nearly have as much control as we’d hope to have. And it can be frustrating and a bit scary.

Perhaps scary for those who celebrate their graduation from high school and college. As they look out into their potential future and wonder if they are on the right path. Some have already had intended and hoped for paths change just ever so (frustratingly) slightly.

For our confirmation students, those questions might be more personal or spiritual in nature. Sometimes those questions can rock us to our cores. Those questions of – am I doing the right thing? Do I really believe this stuff? Do I know what I’m getting myself into?

And as we all come to this day as we celebrate the Holy Trinity – we ask many questions as well. How does this all make sense? How can one God be three persons? Where does each part of the Trinity fit in with each other – where does each part fit in with my life?

Those questions too can rock us to our core. Especially as we might be told to ‘just have faith’ or ‘have stronger faith’ or ‘don’t worry about it.’

But, it’s hard not to ponder those things and ask those types of questions. It’s hard not to think about what the future holds if you are affirming your baptism, graduating, or seeking a new vocation in life.

We ask questions. We seek to know more. We desire to know all of what God has to offer to us.

Here’s the thing I know. Getting to know the Holy Trinity, doesn’t mean you’ll ever know it fully. You just can’t. I just don’t think we are capable of fully comprehending the glory and beauty and love of the One God in Three persons is for us and the world. Every attempt to ‘fully realize’ the Godhead fails to capture all of what the Three are to the world and to us. Every explanation glosses over another aspect of life or even diminishes the role and fullness of another part of the Trinity.

It is good to think, to ask questions, and to get to know more – but, all the while trying to reason with the fact that we will never fully know what this means for us and for the world. How the Trinity interacts and shares and works with one another.

We just cannot fully know.

Kind of like finishing school or completing confirmation.

You know a lot. Y’all do. You’ve been taught. You’ve been shaped and formed. You’ve asked questions. You’ve sought answers. You’ve had triumphs and setbacks. You’ve had joys and frustrations.

And yet, in spite of all you’ve learned and grown into so far. You aren’t done. Even if you’ve now achieved the role and title of “Doctor” you’re still not done learning and growing.

There will be more to know. More to learn. More to learn about yourself, more to learn about life, more to learn from others. More to learn from those you know now, and more to learn from those you haven’t even met yet.

There’s always more.

And it is something we do together. All of us.

To ask a question, you need someone to answer it. You need someone to talk to about it with. You need someone to teach, to guide, to love, to grow.

You need others.

You have others. We have others. We have a community that is shaped by love, care, and questions.

We have a God who – though at times confusing and frustrating – invites us deeper into relationship through love, grace, and mercy. We believe in a God who doesn’t shy away nor push away from questions and thoughts. We believe in a God who has gifted us intelligence, and imagination, and interpretation to read, and see, and know who God is and who we are to God.

This past week while at Confirmation Camp, we got to talk and discuss about the Trinity. One of my colleagues mentioned that the Trinity is like three chairs facing a light – the light of glory, love, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, and more.

But, as they situate in loving relationship with one another around that light, it isn’t closed off from us. No, instead it is open. We are invited. There is a space for all of us at that table. We are encouraged and called to look into that light of Glory as well. We are invited to enter into that relationship with God. Where in that relationship we are known and loved. We are shaped and formed. Where we ask questions, we gather with others, we walk with our God.

We celebrate the Holy Trinity today. We celebrate the work and accomplishments of numerous young men and women within our congregation. We remember that God has claimed us in the waters of baptism.

We remember that we don’t know everything (even though we do like to pretend that we know it all), but not knowing doesn’t mean we cannot be with one another. Not knowing encourages us to walk with one another as we – together – get to learn and grow and discover.

Discover this God who has, who does, and who will always love us. Grow in relationship with one another as we see what comes next. Learn from God through those around us just what it means to love and be in relationship with the world.

So, yeah. Today is an interesting day. A day that we celebrate not knowing fully what is before us. But, a day that we celebrate that we are in this together with one another, and our God invites us in love to enter into a deeper relationship of discernment, question, and conversation. And why are we invited? Because God loves us through and through. God loves you. Amen.

June 10, 2019, 12:00 AM

The one about stirring things up...

Sermon from Pentecost Sunday - June 9, 2019

Text: Acts 2: 1-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen 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, here we are. We come to the celebration of the in-rushing of the Holy Spirit. In many ways, this is the birth of the church itself. Not Redeemer, but the church to which Redeemer and all other congregations belong. The day that Jesus promised his disciples came. The Holy Spirit – the advocate – the helper – rushed into creation and set everything on its side.

This morning, we get to read on of my favorite biblical stories. The text from Acts depicts what that event was like as many gathered in that space around the disciples. Where the Spirit rushed in and… confusion took over.

Confusion because no one really knew what was happening. So much so, that Peter utters one of my absolute favorite lines in all of scripture – this must be the work of the Holy Spirit, because it is too early for these guys to all be drunk. I always chuckle at that, because obviously Peter has never been to college.

But, there is confusion as to what is going on. Everyone is speaking in their own native languages and everyone around them can understand them in their own native tongue. Imagine if that would happen today? People speaking English, Spanish, Farsi, Danish, Italian, and more and we would all be able to understand what was being said. In fact, when I was younger, that is exactly how I thought learning a new language would be like. It would just ‘click’ and like a universal translator on Star Trek or the opening scene to Hunt for the Red October, you’d just start hearing everything in English.

This of course, doesn’t even mention the tongues of flame that alight upon the foreheads of those who are speaking.

I’m pretty certain, if I had walked into on this event, I’d slowly start backing out of the room and turning tail and run. It’s a weird event. It turns the world on its side.

I think we like to believe that the Holy Spirit is something that only gives us warm fuzzies. Opens our mind to new ideas, and altogether kind of makes us feel at peace. Somewhat like how the two on the road to Emmaus felt when they exclaimed that their ‘hearts burned within them’ as the walked and spoke to Jesus on the road.

Or perhaps the feeling I get when I venture up the mountain once again and pass through the entrance to Lutheridge. That feeling of God’s presence, amazement, emotion, and more. That feeling that makes me think and ask, “What does God have in store this time?”

But, I’m not so sure that is only what the work of the Holy Spirit does. Those feelings are definitely NOT what the disciples, the faithful, and the ones speaking are living in at the moment. They are confused, they are confounded, perhaps there is a bit of hesitancy and fear running through their minds as well.

Something has changed, something has made this different. Something is at work in the world far beyond our control. And that, my friends, is scary.

The Holy Spirit moves us into unease. The Holy Spirit guides us into uncomfortableness. The Holy Spirit pushes and drags us out of our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up. The Holy Spirit does all the things we’d rather not be a part of – because we like to be at ease, and ‘at peace’ with what is going on.

We don’t like to be pushed. We don’t like to be uncomfortable. We want to be in control.

Yet, still, the Holy Spirit rushes in, breathes into us new life, and we are sent out and into places we couldn’t imagine. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are guided into ways and ministries that we wouldn’t expect. It isn’t comfortable, it isn’t easy, it can be a little scary.

Scary like seeing flames dancing upon the foreheads of people around us as they utter the praises of God’s work and life in languages of the world. Putting them in a position that makes others sneer, perhaps drives others to ‘squash their proclamation’ in decisive ways. Causes others to turn around and walk the other way.

Perhaps even puts their life – their physical, social, political, and economic lives – at risk. Risk of humiliation. Risk of loss. Risk of death.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

We are going through that moment now as we continue to move through this visioning process this year. Where at the end of this month, we will gather as a community to reflect on the past, look at the present, and vision for the future. Where is God leading us? How is the Holy Spirit guiding us? Where will we see Jesus in places and ways we’d never expect?

It can be scary. It can make us hesitant. It can cause disagreements. It can make us uncomfortable as we follow the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

Two things happened this week that remind me of how the Holy Spirit works. One was I saw a movie, and the other was I read a news article.

They both centered on similar issues. Both were powerful. Both made me feel uncomfortable.

While at the SC Synod Assembly this past week in Spartanburg, I and about 70 other attendees were able to watch the movie The Hate You Give. The movie centered around the death of an unarmed young black man by a police officer. The main character – a teenage woman – was witness to the whole thing.

The Spirit moved within her as she was able to use her voice to speak out against the broken system in our country and how it views young black men. She speaks out and she loses friends, she’s torn between the two ‘worlds’ she lives in. But, she also doesn’t speak out just against the broken justice system, but also speaks out on the cycle of life that keeps and locks young black men like her friend in a terrible cycle of drugs, gangs, and violence. Speaking out puts her and her families’ lives at risk.

I highly recommend everyone watch that movie.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

I recently read a news article about a high security prison in Texas. Where the most violent of criminals are placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, behind thick steel doors with just a few airholes. That if they are taken anywhere, they are chained and shackled. Where prison guards are in front and behind them, with two others holding on to their arms. Just in case they act out on their violent tendencies.

Yet, this article was about a church that went into this prison full of violent individuals. Men who were part of numerous and rival gangs. Gangs and groups where the other is considered a mortal enemy and the only way to get ‘out’ of that life is to be killed. Either by one of your ‘friends’ or by a rival gang member.

The church came to those men. The Spirit moved through not only those church members, but also through these men as they shared their stories. As they shared and heard the gospel. As they discerned that they too are a part of this new life that God has promised in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ. The Spirit moved through them all as they uttered the same words of the Eunuch to Philip – what is to keep me from being baptized?

And so, these men were baptized. As one man told the campus pastor, “I have tried it my way my whole life and it’s gotten me here. I want to try it God’s way…we’re going to come out of the water as new men."

These men were baptized. Not separately. But together. Each members of rival and violent gangs. Where the mere friendly interaction with one another could mean their own death at the hands of the group they pledged loyalty to.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

So, my sisters and brothers. So, my friends. Where is the Holy Spirit rushing in and stirring things up for you? For this community? For this world?

Where do we go boldly proclaiming God’s way, coming out of the water as new people – in spite of what others say? Where do we go as we lean into God’s love and ministry for all when it makes us uncomfortable and hesitant? Where is the Spirit flowing through us, around us, in us, and moving us towards ministry and service where we don’t feel quite in control?

Wherever we go. Wherever the Spirit leads us – we remember that God is with us. We remember that as we go proclaiming God’s goodness, love, mercy, and forgiveness to a world in desperate need to hear of that peace that we do this work and ministry of God – together. As one body, working together – not doing the same thing – but, working as one to bring about the new life that God has promised to the world through Jesus who is our Christ.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up. Amen.

June 3, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about Jesus' prayer...

Sermon from June 2, 2019

Text: John 17: 20-26

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the risen Christ! Will y’all pray with me! Let 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!

Is it just me, or as you read this part of John’s gospel you want throw in an ‘I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together – I am the walrus coo coo ca-choo coo coo ca-choo!’ Jesus can get a little confusing here…

So, have you ever had anyone stand up for you? Anyone ever speak on your behalf? Has anyone ever written a letter or voiced an opinion of your recommendation – unsolicited – to ‘authority’ figures for you? Have you ever stood up for someone else – whether you knew them for a long time or not – shown your support, maybe even your love for them – so that others might know who that person was and how good of an individual he or she is?

Have you ever stood up - or had someone stand up for you - so that others might know how much you have in common or that something should be done to help that person in need? Has there been a time where you lived into the prayer that Jesus prays today - so that we all might be 'one'?

I read a story once about a high school in Michigan. At this school, there was a boy with muscular dystrophy. Anyone who knows someone who has MD knows that they aren't able to physically do the things that others without MD can do. For example, in this school, the young man with muscular dystrophy had a difficult time opening his own school locker. In fact, there was a helper student at his side throughout the day. This person was there to help him physically as he needed it. 

However, the robotics team took notice of their fellow student and friend's plight and decided that they would go one step further. They decided to use their own gifts, talents, and skills - bestowed upon them by God - and help him to open his locker on his own. And they did just that. They used their gifts and ministered and served this young man in his need. They spoke with him, knew of his ordeal, and with him developed a way to make his life easier.

Now, I was particularly touched by this story. Especially in light of our gospel this morning. As I read this story, I couldn't help, but think how Jesus prayed so that we all might be 'one' in the name of God and in Jesus' name. Where we look past those things that might separate us and instead see the beauty of the other person before us. Where we see someone in need and seek to serve them in that need. Where we develop the relationship with each person before us - building that love up and making that relationship even deeper and stronger.

When I read this prayer by Jesus I'm struck by how personal and intimate it is. Jesus is here praying on the behalf of and FOR the disciples. But, not just the disciples, but for all those who will believe because of what they proclaim. As Jesus asks for each of us to be 'one' with another - striving to be in a relationship of love with one another - like the robotics team who helped a friend in need - but, Jesus also prays to God on our behalf. Jesus prays for us.

Think about that for a moment. Think of all the times that you or I pray to God. We pray for help; we pray for strength. We might even pray for those that do us harm. We ask for guidance; we ask for presence. We pray in thankfulness; we pray in anger. We pray for answers; we pray for peace amid confusion. We pray to God a lot. It's what we do - it is what we've been taught to do by Jesus himself.

Yet, here towards the end of John's gospel - before Jesus is to boldly walk to the cross - suffer humiliation, punishment, and death. Before Jesus dies and rises from the dead. Before that tomb is even occupied (and of course before he leaves it). Jesus prays for you. Jesus prays for us.

Jesus prays to God for you. And you. And you. And even me. Jesus prays for your neighbor. Jesus prays for your child. Jesus even prays for that guy who cut you off on the interstate a few days ago. Jesus prays. Jesus doesn't just pray for those around him, Jesus prays for all who will believe because of what they say. Jesus prays for you.

Jesus' love for us is so deep and wide that he prays for everyone. Jesus here is about to 'go away' from the disciples to a place that they won't be able to go. Yet, he doesn't go without saying a word for them to the Father who creates, cares, and loves us all.

In this prayer, Jesus asks that we might be in union. That we might be united. That we might know that the Father who creates, cares, and loves us all would show us that we all are one. That we all are one in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - that we are all one in each other - coo coo ca-choo.

Jesus calls for all of us to be one, there are no lone rangers in the faith. We cannot do it alone. We may be able to experience God in solitude, but what good is it if we cannot, will not, or do not tell anyone about it? What good is it if we do not gather in community to learn, grow, and discern – together -what this life of faith that God has poured into us in baptism is for us? Jesus wants us to be in relationship not only with God - but also with each other.

Jesus wants us to see past those things that separate us - disabilities, political beliefs, race, color, lifestyles, cultures - and see that thing that gathers us together as one. That each of us, all of us, every last one of us - have been created by God, cared for by the Spirit, redeemed by the Son - once for all and ever more.

Jesus has done this for all of us. Before he departs from the disciples during the night of their final meal together, he prays to God - on their behalf - on our behalf - that we might know that we are one in God. We are all in this together and that God doesn't set us apart from one another, but gathers us together in one big armful as a parent stretches to hug all their children. As a teacher strives to help every student. As a group reaches out to help even that one on the outside.

Of course, in that oneness Jesus isn’t asking us to be the same. I don’t believe he is looking for uniformity in our unity. We aren’t being called to be a melting pot, but perhaps a salad – or a pizza. Something that has multiple parts that enriches the entire meal.

And whenever you have unity – unity built among people who are indeed different and beautiful because of that diversity – you’re going to have squabbles. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that our unity, our “oneness” is to be a sign to the world of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Oneness and unity are about love. And as we have all been a part of a family, a member in this church, this community, you know that within that love there can be disagreements and tiffs. We are human. It’s going to happen. And yet, Jesus prays that we might see and know what we have in common – in God’s love for us and living that love for one another – first to deepen those relationships. Perhaps, even to guide our conversations within touchy subjects.

The mystery of the incarnation is that God desired unity with us so much that God became one of us. And in that moment, we were drawn into the oneness of God, the Creator/Father/Mother, the Son, and the Spirit. It is with God’s help that we can live into that oneness.

The disciples were in the time between the Ascension and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. We are in the time between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. May we rejoice in the assurance that Christ is with us, continuing to pray for our oneness, our unity, for us.

Our Lord prays for us. Wow. Jesus continues to pray for us to be united in love. Jesus prays for us. That is all sorts of cool. Amen.

June 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

June 2019 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

The weather is getting warmer. School is over this month. Vacations and trips are soon to take place for many people. Relax. Breathe. You’re good.

Here’s my encouragement to you this summer, no matter if the weather is oppressive or discouraging; no matter if you’re busy or relaxing; no matter if you’re working or taking some time off; no matter what is going on in your life, give thanks to God.

Seriously. I think we sometimes forget to do that. We get caught up in the busyness of our lives and we forget that God is indeed present with us. We forget the promise, hope, grace, and love that God has given us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We forget.

Take moments to be in silent prayer. Set aside time to read and study. Peruse some books on faith that just might rekindle something you felt was lost inside you. Come to worship and be present with the community as we collectively give thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will do.

If you go on vacation, check out a place of worship in that area (pastor’s note: it is not a requirement to bring me a bulletin to ‘prove’ that you were worshipping somewhere else. Though, I do find it fun and cute when some of y’all do that 😉).

The summer months don’t usually bring that much ‘downtime’ in the life of the church, even though it might be a bit more ‘relaxed’ in some ways. We’ve got Confirmation Camp, VBS, Vision Retreats, and so much more heading our way this summer.

Remember to pause. Breath. Relax. Pray. Give thanks.

God is with y’all. Amen.

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