Sermon: Reacting Differently Through Every Interruption

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over [after the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water], [Jesus and the disciples] came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

My sermon from the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 21, 2024) on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.


So how do you feel when you’re interrupted? 

Being interrupted isn’t very fun. Sometimes when the interruption is small – like when a spammer calls our cell phone or we catch our kid rooting through our bag while we’re busying singing the opening hymn – we end up being annoyed but we get over it pretty quickly. Other interruptions, though, make us feel as if we don’t even matter. When I think about interruptions, I tend to remember all those times when someone spoke over me. It’s the type of interruption that not only disrupts our train of thought but unravels whatever I planned to do next. Our focus, our attention, and our energy is then diverted to what that other person decided was a priority over us. And while some of these interruptions aren’t really a big deal, they can leave us feeling overwhelmed especially when they happen over and over again. Being interrupted has a way of making us feel small and undervalued which is especially unnerving in our culture since people are taught how they’re allowed to interrupt anyone because they have certain gender, or presitage, or a big fancy bank account. When we’re interrupted, the feelings we feel linger and they can grow into a kind of resentment that will change how we interact with ourselves and with others. Learning how to process being interrupted is often harder than learning how to not interrupt others in the first place. And when we take a moment to look at how Jesus responded to all the interruptions that showed up in his earthly ministry, we notice that anger, frustration, and resentment are not the only things that can influence what we say and do.

Our reading today from the gospel according to Mark begins with the disciples being completely exhausted. Two weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent them out, two by two, to bring grace and wholeness to others. Their journey required them to depend on the hospitality of strangers which, in itself, is pretty scary. And after meeting a bunch of new people, listening to their stories, and inviting them to experience the love God already had for them, they returned to Jesus full of all kinds of feelings. They were excited to share with him all they had done as well as express all the frustrations they experienced too. They need to process with Jesus and with one another all they had lived through. In other words, the disciples were looking to vent – to spiritually, mentally, and emotional decompress all they had experienced in the days and weeks since they last saw Jesus. And this need wasn’t something that they only saw themselves; Jesus recognized it too. So rather than sending them on another mission, Jesus became his own travel agent, organizing an all inclusive retreat where his friends could just get away from all. But when they finally arrived at the so-called deserted place, they ran into a crowd of people waiting for them. 

Now it’s kind of surprising how, in an era without social media and cellphones, everyone knew exactly where Jesus planned to be. Word had quickly spread and a crowd of desperate people, as well as their family and friends, gathered to meet him. The people there weren’t on their own version of a spiritual retreat. They were, instead, people with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. When they heard Jesus was heading to a place near them, they interrupted their lives because they needed someone who could interrupt whatever they were living through. The crowd waiting for Jesus and the disciples were the same kinds of people they had already met in towns, synagogues, and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And so I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine how Jesus’ friends felt when they looked out and saw all the stressful and exhausting work they had tried to leave behind. The disciples, I think, weren’t trying to be mean. They were simply tired. They needed to find a place where they could vent and be cared for too. But when they ended up at their vacation destination, it was interrupted by an incredible amount of human need. I imagine many of us, in our own way, know what it’s like when the break we need is interrupted by whatever real life brings. Even if that interruption is something small silly, when we’re exhausted, worn out, and overwhelmed by it all – a lot of grief, anger, and resentment comes out. It’s not difficult to realize how we would have acted in their situation and so we should give the disciples a pass for whatever they want to do. But instead of focusing on how the disciples reacted to this interruption, Mark choose to focus on how the One who would often go off on his own to pray; the One who could get mad; the One who was sometimes frustrated, sad, full of joy, and incredibly worn out; Mark invited to pay attention to what Jesus chose to do. He is the Son of God but he’s also pretty human too. He, along with the disciples, were tired and worn out in this so-called deserted place. But when his break was interrupted by the kinds of people he regularly met, Jesus, in the words of Pastor Joanna Harader, performed a miracle we often overlook.“In the midst of his own exhaustion,” Jesus responded to the crowd not with “exasperation but with compassion.” He recognized their pain, their suffering, and the hurt that had consumed their lives. And Jesus didn’t simply heal them; he taught them, included them, and in the story from the verses we don’t hear today – he fed them too. Jesus, in other words, simply loved them because his compassion recognized how they were already beloved children of God. 

Jesus’ decision to respond to interruptions with compassion rather than anger or frustration isn’t always easy to do. When we are tired, exhausted, and completely worn out – even listening to someone else feels impossible. Taking the time to recharge our body, our soul, and our mind is something we’re supposed to do. And if you need to vent, simply ask – and remember it’s okay to tell those around you that you really do need help. Jesus knows we can’t go through life on our own which is why he made sure to connect us to each other. We are called to not only take care of each other but to be a people who protect each other too. And when you need to recharge, we all have an obligation to not only tend to your spiritual needs but to your emotional, mental, and physical needs too. We are called to be compassionate with each other so that we can learn how to respond to every interruption with compassion too. Now there are some things that do more than simply interrupt the words coming out of our mouths. There are other kinds of interruptions that utterly upend and transform the lives we planned to live. Those interruption are literally life changing and we can become quickly overwhelmed by all we’re living through. And when that kind of interruption happens, I hope you can experience deep compassion for yourself and through others while you mourn and rage. You are not defined by the worst thing that has happened to you. You are a beloved child of God. And there’s nothing that can happen to you that will ever interrupt the eternal connection that God, through Jesus, has already made with you.


Sermon: Something than Fear Should Be At The Center of Who We Are

King Herod heard of [the disciples’ preaching], for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6:14-29

My sermon from the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 14, 2024) on Mark 6:14-29.


So this week was pretty busy for the Marvel cinematic universe. There’s been a lot of chatter over the upcoming Deadpool & Wolverine movie as well as new trailers for the next Captain America movie and the first season of the show Agatha All Along. I’ll admit my nerd cred has dropped a bit since I haven’t been keeping up with Marvel like I used to. But it was fun to drink my morning coffee a few days ago and see what all the fans were talking about. One particular fan, though, wasn’t thrilled with some of the choices Marvel has made when it comes to their visual storytelling. This person took a few screenshots from the new trailers and the recent shows to show how they’re all filmed in the same way. Rather than using the entire rectangle that makes up the screen on our tvs, at movie theaters, or even on our phones to tell the story; everything has been condensed to the very middle of the screen. We no longer need to focus on the wider perspective to notice what might come next. All the action, the important visuals, and the emotions that make a show what it’s supposed to be – is at the center of it all. Marvel is doing this because they want to do more than simply show a story; they want other people to share it. And one of the best ways to do that is to have people craft their own videos on Instagram, TikTok, and other social media. The videos for those apps, however, are often square – limiting what can be seen. Marvel keeps everything in the center so that clips from the show are easier to share. On one level, that might make the story easier to follow along since we never have to turn our head. But if we’re not careful, we might not realize that what we see in the center isn’t the entirety of what that story is about. 

Mark is probably the version of Jesus’ life that works hardest to keep Jesus in every frame. It started its story when Jesus was already an adult and ended when Mary Magdalene and others fled from the tomb after discovering that his body was no longer there. It’s the other gospels that typically include events and stories where Jesus isn’t around – such as when an angel told Mary she was about to become pregnant. Mark, though, rarely does this and so when we find ourselves in a story where Jesus is out of the game, that’s an invitation for us to listen. This story, though, is pretty terrible – feeling like it fits better in a true crime podcast rather than in God’s holy words. It starts by introducing us to King Herod who was actually Herod Antipas, the son of the other King Herod we met when Jesus was a baby. Antipas, by the time Jesus’ ministry took place, had ruled over Galilee for decades after being installed as its governor by the Roman Empire. Antipas’ primary responsibility was to keep his overlords happy by providing the Romans with all the money and resources they wanted. This mandate gave Antipas a lot of leeway when it came to exercising power in his little region and so there was no one who would really complain if he threw a troublemaking preacher into prison. John had, over time, become a bit of a thorn in his side since he wasn’t a fan of how Antipas chose to use his power. Antipas’ recent marriage to his half-brother’s wife was just another act in a series of them that caused John to wonder why Antipas did what he did. Their confrontation grew and, as reported in Mark, it became something like a biblical version of the TV show Law and Order: SVU. There’s a lot of salacious details that easily grab our attention. But I wonder if there’s another detail, a little off to the side, that we should focus on instead. Mark, in general, doesn’t include many details in his writing since he wants us to move quickly from one thing to the next. Yet one detail that’s a bit easy to miss is one Mark kept repeating since he named, several times, Antipas’ fear. We’re told that he not only feared John but that he was also afraid of what others might think if he didn’t kill him. This wasn’t an attempt to reduce Antipas to some kind of easily manipulated person since he was a person who used power recklessly for his own self-preservation. It was, rather, Mark’s way of answering John’s question about what was at the center of all he said and did. To Mark, Antipas wasn’t merely an evil ruler that we can look at from the sidelines and be glad we’re not like him. Antipas was, rather, a coward who chose to let fear  – the fear of losing power, of losing control, and the fear of losing his reputation – as the central motivating power that shaped who he was. 

Now fear is a very human emotion that we don’t always name. It’s a word we might say when we’re being honest about why we don’t want to see a scary movie but one we won’t say when describing why we interact with some people differently than we do with others. Our culture, I think, doesn’t really know what to do with fear which is why we mask our fear with all kinds of insecurities, anxieties, conspiracies, and a hyper-fixation on violence as an answer to everything. Our inability to process fear in life giving ways is a bit strange since so much of our scripture identifies as an aspect of faith as having a robust fear of God. Yet we choose to make fear into a bad thing unless it’s something we can regularly wield over others. I wonder if one of the reasons why we struggle with fear is because we don’t know how to properly explore it. We don’t have the questions we need to be honest about what it means to be afraid. One of those questions that might be helpful was put together by Professor Marily Mcentyre who saw what Antipas was up to and wanted to ask him: “what are you protecting?” The answer to that question wouldn’t be what he thought he was protecting; it would be honest, authentic, and faithful so that he could see how his power, prestige, and vanity was what he cared for the most. He was a coward not because he was sometimes afraid; what made him a coward was his unwillingness to examine how fear was at the center of everything that made him who he was. And when we keep that part of his story central to what it’s about, it invites us to wonder what’s at the center of us too. If we took all the scenes of our life and put what mattered to us the most in the middle, would we really want to see what’s on that screen? Would we want to notice the hurt, anger, frustration, or fear that we acted out of while not even fully realizing how that was already there? It’s a scene that, if we’re honest, might scare us since we know how human we truly are. But it’s also why we were brought into the One who made us, our needs, our brokenness, and all our fears, the center of everything he said and did too. When you were baptized and gifted with faith, God didn’t choose you because you’ve never been afraid. Rather, Jesus claimed you so that you could discover how his life could be at the center of yours too. Our fears do not have to be the primary motivating force that defines how we act in our homes, schools, workplace, or even our nation. Rather, we can ask ourselves a more faithful question about what we’re called to protect. It’s a question that isn’t always easy to answer especially when there are those who are choosing violence to grow our fears rather than quell them. Yet it is a question we can live out by reflecting on the fullness of what Jesus did. It’s a way of life that doesn’t mean we’ll never be afraid. But it chooses to trust that even when we can’t see Jesus in the middle of it all, he is already here – with a divine love that each one of us can share. 


Sermon: Be Their Guest

[Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Mark 6:1-13

My sermon from the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 7, 2024) on Mark 6:1-13.


Let’s imagine you knew a guest would be at your front door once worship was over today. It might be a friend, a family member, or someone using your spare room as an AirBnb. You knew you were going to church so you spent the last few days cleaning, scrubbing, and carefully putting away your collection of vintage Star Wars action figures. The mental checklist you put together to take care of your space is probably pretty long. Yet just making our space into what we want it to be isn’t the limit of what our welcome can actually look like. Sometimes to better understand what a guest might need, we need to reverse our perspective and think what it’s like to enter into a space we know for the very first time. We have to imagine ourselves as a guest who doesn’t really know which drawer the forks are kept in and that the handle for the toilet in the hallway bathroom needs to be jiggled to get the water to stop. Our homes and our lives are full of all kinds of quirks that we often ask our guests to embrace whenever they enter our space. And while these practices don’t really bother us, they’re not always easy to see – especially when we ask others to do them too. Being a guest and welcoming a guest can be a very humbling and scary event. Yet when we take the time to imagine ourselves as a guest while knowing we are already at home – we can find new ways to bless and serve those we might not fully know. 

Now the practice of being at home but imagining ourselves as a guest is almost like reading a story backwards. We begin at the end – the guest showing up – and read back into all that’s come before. It’s how we better recognize the quirks the guest might need to figure out while, at the same time, discovering a bit more of why we live the way we do. Starting at the end and reflecting on what came before is a process all over our Christian scriptures. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John wrote their stories knowing that the Cross would come since they wrote their words down decades after that first Easter morning. Wondering what our future with Jesus is like while looking back at what has come is one of the ways we digest our faith. And this is a process that I think can help us reflect on today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark. When we start near the end, we notice the disciples who were about to enter into a future full of unknowns and fears. Jesus decided to send them out into communities they didn’t really know with instructions that were a bit specific. Unlike the guest who might show up to your home, Jesus’ friends would travel without a bag or money or even food for their journey. Their well-being would entirely depend on the hospitality of strangers. And while the culture for hospitality in Jesus’ day was much more extensive than our own, the disciples were probably a bit worried about what kind of welcome they would receive. They had, after all, saw how Jesus was welcomed by those who he grew up with. These neighbors, family members, and old friends had spent decades with Jesus and we’d expect them to at least listen to what he might have to say. But Mark shows us that the length of time we have with Jesus doesn’t always mean we’ll get who Jesus is. The disciples saw those who had played with Jesus in the marketplace as a kid, prayed with him when they worshiped together on the sabbath, and those who knew all the quirks that made Jesus’ home his home – wasn’t enough to clearly see who Jesus had become. The community didn’t pretend Jesus couldn’t do what the disciples had seen him do – such as heal the sick, cast out demons, and silence a storm. But there was something about Jesus – maybe a bit of wonder, disappointment and frustration he had left home, his family, and his responsibilities behind – that rendered those who knew Jesus the longest to not see who he truly was. Jesus was home but treated like an unwanted guest who should leave everyone alone. 

So it was a bit odd that Jesus, the unwanted guest, should then choose to send his disciples as guests into places they didn’t necessarily know. They would learn the quirks of all who they encountered. And while there, Jesus gave his disciples something to do. Jesus didn’t tell them to convert anyone or to take over anyone else’s culture or to act as if their relationship with God was better than God’s relationship with anyone else. Instead, in groups of two, he let them do what he did. He called them to listen, to invite, to proclaim, and to heal. These followers of Jesus would take the time to discover not only the quirks of the people they met but also their wants, their needs, and all that would make them whole. They would, as guests, speak into the pain and worry and fear and concerns that we never want any of our guests to know. Jesus had a habit of letting others know they are loved and he invited his friends to do exactly that by, in the words of Professor Matthew Skinner, “humbly… commit[ing] themselves to the well-being of” those around them. For the people around us who know us the longest, it’s not always easy to show what our soul needs. Often what we need is a guest who will meet us as we are to help us discover what we might become. Being that kind of guest, though, isn’t always easy since being welcomed leaves us vulnerable and in need. What would make this whole process easier would be if we were, instead of being guests, we were at home – surrounded by all that makes us who we are. And Jesus, I believe, knew this which is why he reminded the disciples about the home they already had with God. Jesus let them embrace the fullness of who they were with him by letting them be his body, his hands, and his feet in the world. Even when they were someplace new, what rooted them wasn’t where they had come from but who it was that claimed them as their own. Jesus had already granted them a home with their God which freed them to be the kind of guest who could bring healing and hope into the lives of everyone they meet. It’s a calling all who follow Jesus, all who are with Jesus, all who have been given a home in Jesus through the claim he has placed on all our lives – are given too. The homes we have are not simply the homes we’ve made or defined by the communities we are born into. Our homes are not limited to what we rent, what we buy, or what we pay taxes for. Our home is more than the place that holds all the quirks we require our guests to put up when they come to visit us. Instead, because of baptism, faith, grace, and the work Jesus did through the Cross and beyond, we are already at home in God. And since God is our home, we get to enter every home – including the ones we make throughout our lives – as a kind of spiritual guest that takes God’s quirks of mercy, forgiveness, and love and makes them real in the lives of everyone we meet. 


Sermon: The Power of “who”

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43

My sermon from the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (June 30, 2024) on Mark 5:21-43.


Our reading today from the gospel according to Mark includes a story within a story which is Mark’s favorite way to showcase who Jesus is. Jesus rarely ever went from point A to point B according to plan because life always got in the way. So after returning from his journey across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was met on the shore by a man named Jarius. At that time, though, Jesus was surrounded by a crowd full of people with their own requests and needs too. From what I can tell, there was no real effort to organize the process by which Jesus decided who received help and when. Instead, people showed up and what happened next could be pretty chaotic. Jairus’ own request was a bit much since it would require Jesus to get up and leave everyone else behind. He had to repeat it several times but, after a while, Jesus listened. The crowd around him was full of people who waited all day to receive some kind of healing. But before he could reach everyone, Jesus decided to move – and someone in the crowd chose to move too. An unnamed woman had, for the last twelve years, lived with hemorrhages her doctors couldn’t cure. Mark doesn’t go into details about what, exactly, her medical condition might be. It’s possible she had some kind of menstrual disorder or she had suffered some kind of injury during pregnancy. It’s also possible her condition was entirely treatable but since medical care tends to focus its research on the bodies of men from certain wealthy and privileged backgrounds, she ended up spending all she had to live a life with a pain that gradually grew worse. She suffered – and I imagine her faith, her identity, and her relationships with others – and with her God – suffered too. Now she was in the crowd because, at some point, she had heard about Jesus. What she heard, Mark doesn’t say. But it was enough to bring her to that place by the sea. She arrived there unknown and unseen, just one more person in the crowd. Yet when Jesus began to move, she moved too. She reached out, touched Jesus’ cloak, and the healing – from what we’re told – happened quickly. She knew immediately that something changed. And while coming to terms with a body that no longer worked the way it had, Jesus looked around and said: “who?” 

Now “who” is a pronoun in English that does a lot of work. It can point to an individual, a community, an entire people, a sci-fi time traveling time lord, and an English Rock Band all at the same time. That flexibility is why the word “who” can be sort of mystical when it shows up in certain songs, speeches, and poems. Yet the word “who” in the language of ancient Greek – the language the gospel according to Mark was written in – doesn’t have that same kind of flexibility. Ancient Greek, like many of the world’s languages, attaches grammatical gender to nouns and pronouns. What gender might apply to what word varies from language to language but we can roughly expect anywhere from two to four different genders being applied to things like chairs, mountains, or a cloud. When a group of mixed genders are together – say, a group of people – ancient Greek defaulted to the “male” version of the noun or pronoun even if there was only 1 dude in a group of 1000. Since Jesus was, at that moment, surrounded by all kinds of people seeking health and wholeness – we’d expect his “who” to be male and plural. Yet the who he uttered was very specific – a who that was feminine and singular. While he was on the move among a crowd full of religious leaders, disciples, men, women, seekers, believers, doubters, the old, the young, the healed, those in need of healing, and every other flavor of humanity drawn to Jesus – Jesus knew who had reached out to him. The people around Jesus were oblivious, even sort of shocked that Jesus would say what he said. But there was one person in the crowd who knew exactly what he was talking about. The unnamed woman realized that Jesus saw her and she took the chance to share with him everything that had happened over the last twelve years. Her hemorrhages had already been cured but her true healing began when Jesus used one little word to let her know she was never alone. And after publicly commending her, he named her daughter since she was – and always would be – a part of God’s holy family. 

Now the power of “who” does more than reveal Jesus’ power; it also serves as a corrective for our tendency to twist what Jesus meant when he said “your faith has made you well.” It’s a phrase used to blame others – or ourselves – when our prayers go unanswered. It’s a kind of blame we’re especially good at leveraging against those who we don’t like and it’s a blame we internalize since Jesus’ miracles in the Bible don’t always appear to us in the same way. Life has a habit of making us wonder why Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter but not our own parent or friend or spouse or even our own child. I’ll admit I don’t really have a good answer to that very hard question but I do know that the amount of faith you have doesn’t determine your grief, your sorrow, or your pain. Faith doesn’t always look like patience or kindness or goodness or something that is always quiet and stable. There’s also a different kind of faith – of trust – that we live through too. In the words of Rev. Brad Roth, “[that] faith… [is when we] reach out and take hold of Jesus however [we] can—not an arm or a fistful of robe but just the barest little knot of tassel on the corner of his cloak. This sort of faith isn’t entirely explainable—not because it’s ridiculous, an impossible abstraction, but because in faith we’re responding to an overture that we don’t entirely understand from a place that is often heaving and doing something strange in us. [At that moment], there’s no knowing Zen smile [across our face because] we don’t have it [all] together, and our stomachs are knotted up like a wet dish rag. [It’s a faith that knows we’ve been bleeding for years] but there he is [, right there,] in the crowd.” This kind of faith is “a stretching through to something, to someone;” a faith that lives out Mark 5:27 on [an] everlasting loop.” It’s a faith that hears Jesus, comes to Jesus, touches Jesus, reaches out – a faith that can hold every emotion, every sorrow, every joy, every tear, every question, every wonder, and every moment of desperation. It’s a faith that has done everything it’s supposed to do – and yet still wonders where God is. And while that isn’t the faith we often prefer, it is the faith that helps us – when we have nothing left – to just come. And when we do, we sometimes receive a word that reminds us how God already sees us; that God already knows what we’re going through; and that our God is living with us through whatever we’re going through. That is a part of Jesus’ promise – that even our worst moments won’t be the final moment that defines us. Rather, we are – through baptism and in faith – a part of God’s holy family and God’s love, God’s hope, and God’s peace is something we can trust – because it will carry us through today and into a more holy tomorrow. 


Sermon: Jesus In the Storm

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41

My sermon from the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2024) on Mark 4:35-41.


So last October, my family and I welcomed a new dog, Pepper, into the household. She’s colored black and white, with the blue eyes of a Siberian Husky and the attitude of an Australian Cattle Dog. Pepper loves herding the 5 year old around the house and barking at the chipmunks she sees through our back windows. It’s been awhile since I’ve lived with a dog so it’s taken a little time to integrate Pepper into my life. But there are those living in my home who are still struggling with a roommate they didn’t ask for. Our two cats, Finn and Flotus, used to have full ownership over the house. But once this playful puppy moved in, their life became pretty small. They’re primarily staying on one side of the house, spending their days sitting high on a bookshelf or outside in their enclosed patio. When they take the time to nap in front of sunny windows, their rest is never restful. Their ears are always on alert, waiting to hear the click-clack-click of Pepper’s claws on the vinyl floor. These two little furballs spend their days in a constant stage of exhausting vigilance because a puppy-sized storm is always on the horizon. 

Finn and Flotus’ restless sleep pattern seems like something we can relate to since many of us know what it’s like to live in a constant stage of vigilance. Yet it’s a way of living that is different from simply trying to always be prepared or letting others twist our anxieties and our fears for their own personal, spiritual, or political gains. It’s more like what we experience when we take a child to a busy playground. We might spend that time talking to a friend, making a phone call, or even attempting to do some work. But our focus is always split because we’re trying to keep an eye on where our kid is. It’s the mental, physical, and spiritual energy we use to protect ourselves from that person we’re living with who might explode at any moment and to keep tabs on the elderly parent or spouse who needs all the care we can give. It’s a vigilance that, even during our most holy moments, can be utterly exhausting. Yet it’s often the cost that comes with the fact we care. We care about those who matter to us. We care about our loved ones’ health, happiness, and future. We stay vigilant, even when we are asleep, ready to respond to whatever storm might come. It’s a hard way to live but it is also one of the surest ways to show others that we care. 

Now the sea of Galilee isn’t really a sea; it’s more of a large lake – roughly 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. It has, for centuries, served as the economic lifeblood of the entire area. Its water is essential when it comes to irrigating the crops and vineyards dotting the countryside and within its waters were tons of fish that Peter, John, and others regularly caught. The sea is also rather shallow and is surrounded by hills. This creates a situation where large storms can brew up very quickly. The waves and wind generated by these storms would easily swamp the small fishing boats that Jesus and his friends used. And even though the weather seemed fine when Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd left to visit the other side, everyone knew how quickly things could sour. Everyone would need to stay vigilant since a new gust of wind or a small wave could signal trouble for the fleet of ships staffed by not only fishermen but also folks who were old, young, and in need of healing. Everyone knew the kind of danger they could be in. And yet the One who sent them into the boats was soon fast asleep. Jesus – the One who could cast out demons, cure the sick, and who showed how God’s kingdom always upsets the status quo – was acting a little strange since he didn’t seem ready to respond to whatever might come. And when the wind picked up, the waves grew large, and water poured into the boat – Jesus, at the stern of the boat, was literally asleep at the wheel. It’s during the middle of the storm when Jesus’ rest looks incredibly restful since he refused to be moved. And the fact that he doesn’t stir made the disciples wonder if they didn’t know Jesus like they thought they did. They watched him do incredible things and yet he didn’t seem to be, at that moment, paying attention to what was happening around him. He wasn’t being vigilant and so it seemed, to them, as if Jesus didn’t care. 

So the disciples, while their boat is filling with water, called Jesus out for not being who they expected him to be. The disciples didn’t ask for help. They didn’t ask to be saved. They didn’t ask him to calm the storm. All they did was ask him why he didn’t care. It’s a question that is, I think, one of the most human and faithful questions we can ask. When our heart breaks, when our strength fails, when our need to be vigilant has drained our soul dry – asking if our Jesus is asleep at the wheel is probably the most normal thing we can do. What we want and what we expect is a Jesus who will act; a Jesus who shows up; a Jesus who cares. What we desire and what we need is a God who notices our pain, our sorrow, our suffering, and who steps in to say that this isn’t what life is supposed to be. We want a Jesus whose ears are always turned up; a Jesus who is ready to respond; a Jesus who makes our faith real. And yet when Jesus did wake up, the power he showed wasn’t the power they expected. He didn’t just stop the storm; he stopped the waves and the wind. The calm he brought was a calm no one wanted since the current and their sails were now worthless. They were now completely at rest with no easy way to go back to what they were or forward to what they might be. All they had in that moment was themselves and Jesus – which is also exactly what they had when the storm raged around them just a few moments before. The disciples had been through a whirlwind of emotions, feelings, and experiences that required them to be vigilant, to respond, to question, and to worry. Their thoughts, their wondering, and even their faith went up and down like waves swamping boats in a storm. Yet through it all, Jesus was right there – with them. Jesus, before they got into the boat, didn’t tell those who followed them that their life would be without storms. He didn’t claim that we might be overwhelmed by the wind and waves of life that suddenly come. But what Jesus did promise was that, because of our baptism and through the gift of grace, he would carry us through. When our focus is split, when our minds are preoccupied, when our attention is divided by the mentally and physically draining care we are called to give – we are not living through this moment on our own. Jesus is also right there with us – a restful presence even though we cannot rest since a storm might be brewing on the horizon. Yet even when that storm comes, the Jesus who claims you is the same Jesus who will be with you – so that the tomorrow that comes is filled with peace, hope, and light. 


Sermon: Jesus’ Stories Are Not Problems to Solve

[Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Mark 4:26-34

My sermon from the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 16, 2024) on Mark 4:26-34.


So last year, when my youngest transitioned out of daycare, they held a graduation ceremony for her and the forty other kids heading off to new schools. The event took place in a rented gymnasium that was filled to the brim with every parent, grandparents, and extended family member in the land. The four and five year olds were decked out in a mustard yellow graduation gown with a matching hat and tassel. The ceremony was incredibly elaborate and long; with all the kids singing over a dozen songs from memory. They worked really hard to showcase all they could do but something near the start of the ceremony didn’t go in the ways any of us expected. It began with the daycare’s director sharing a few words of welcome before inviting kids to process down the aisle on their own before taking their seats. Once everyone was settled, we were then invited to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. The sound of metal chairs scraping the floor soon filled the space as everyone stood up and looked for the flag. And once we found it, there was a moment of silence as we waited for someone to kick the whole thing off. When it started, it took a few seconds before our voices came together to recite these words all at the same pace. But once the adults were done, we realized the kids were still speaking. They had memorized the pledge at the speed that worked best for them; yet us older folks, with louder voices, soon drowned them out as we raced to say it on our own. We were there to celebrate these kids moving into their new futures. And yet we began our time together by not even noticing our so-called One Voice failed to include all their voices too. 

Now one of the bits from today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark that I find really interesting is how we’re told that Jesus would often explain his stories to his disciples in private. These stories, known as parables, were used by Jesus to reveal a little bit of God’s imagination for our lives and our world. Yet these parables were often a bit absurd which is why people were often left scratching their heads. Having the opportunity to ask Jesus face-to-face what he meant was an amazing gift that the first followers of Jesus had access to. Jesus, it seems, wasn’t only in the business of sharing divine wisdom from above. He also held office hours. Jesus took the time to unpack any confusion the disciples might have. And that, combined with some other words and teachings within our Bible, seems to imply that understanding what Jesus said and did is a big part of faith. And while not every instance of Jesus’ office hours was recorded in our Bible, the fact that some parables were explained might make us imagine that those that weren’t should be easy to figure out. Jesus’ stories then become a kind of puzzle we’re supposed to figure out. For those with direct access to Jesus during his earthly ministry, we’d expect them to find those answers pretty fast. But for the rest of us, solving Jesus becomes the primary way we try to graduate out of our anxiety, fear, and confusion and into a more peaceful experience with our God. Jesus’ stories, then, are less about what God is up to and more a code that we feel we need to crack to finally discover our own place in God. 

But if that really was what Jesus’ stories were all about, then those first disciples failed every rest. Over and over and over again, Mark showed how their private access to Jesus never brought about full understanding. The education Jesus provided wasn’t enough for them to clearly see what God was up to. And that’s because, I think, Jesus’ stories were meant to be a code that had to be broken. Rather it was his way of letting them – and us – know how we are already a part of what God is doing in the world. Jesus’ stories are something we’re never meant to graduate from because they are designed to linger in our hearts and minds – especially during those moments when our understanding comes undone. Faith isn’t a puzzle we get to solve; it is, instead, a gift showing us how this current moment isn’t the only moment that defines who we get to be with God. Not fully understanding the nuances, details, and absurdities within the stories Jesus shared doesn’t mean we’re unfaithful, bad Christians, or people who really aren’t part of the body of Christ. Rather, we’re invited to just hold onto Jesus’s words so that we can move from understanding and into a trust that notices how our life is already wrapped up in the divine words, voice, and presence of God. You, in baptism and through faith, have been united with the One voice that has space for all. It’s a voice that is big enough to push through the ways we use our own voices to harm others while forgetting that some are even there. And it’s one of the ways God moves us to become our own kind of seed showing what happens when God’s kingdom comes near. 

Now I know living that out isn’t always easy especially when we don’t understand how we fit in the world. It would seem a bit more reasonable for God to let others – maybe a few religious professionals – make it their responsibility to show others how they have a place in God’s kingdom too. Yet if “understanding” God or fully recognizing how integrated our voice and God’s voice should become was the baseline needed to share God with others, then those first followers of Jesus would have remained silent, telling no one of what they had seen, heard, or experienced. God doesn’t only want those who always understand to let people know of the voice of love, grace, and hope God surrounds them with everyday. God has, instead, chosen you to be that voice and to listen for those voices that invite kids, adults, the young, and the old, about the Jesus who is already there for them. It’s a way of living in the world that I believe I’ve already seen our graduates, some who we’ll recognize later today, embody as they move into their new futures. But it’s also something we’ve also been blessed to see in two very specific ways by those who spent their own careers making sure the voice of their students wasn’t lost amongst the crowd. Those two faithful teachers – Jane Conboy and Craig Post – are, in their own way, graduating this month too. Jane has, for the last 39 years, taught French and Spanish at Pascack Hills High School  while Craig has spent 22 teaching science at Dumont High too. During their tenure, they did more than simply try to help students understand the information before them. They also, in their own ways, invited their students to grow into who they were meant to become. I’m sure that there were times when both Craig and Jane could describe, in detail, how specific lesson plans, office hours, and intentional effort made a difference in the lives of their students. But there were other moments when, out of nowhere, their students blossomed in ways even those kids didn’t expect. It wasn’t just their talents as teachers that changed their students’ lives; it was also how they chose to embrace and live into the grace God gives them everyday. We might not always fully understand what this Jesus thing is all about nor realize how we truly are an important part of what God is up to in our world. But we can trust that, no matter what, our God is with us. And when we recognize how God’s voice has already wrapped itself around all our voices with a love, mercy, and hope that will not end – that’s when our new future breaks through. 


Children’s Message: God is with us through the consequences

Delivered on June 9, 2024

Bring toothpaste. 

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I’d like to do a children’s sermon I’ve done before and it involves…a tube of toothpaste. This is just a regular, everyday, typical tube of toothpaste. And what do we do with toothpaste? Use it to brush our teeth. We squeeze a little out on a toothbrush and then spend 2 minutes brushing our teeth and gums so we’ll have a healthy mouth. These tubes are designed to let us squeeze and get the toothpaste out. So let’s do that. Squirt on a plate. It’s out in the world! The toothpaste tube has done exactly what it wants to do. But I’ve got a question for you. Now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, go ahead and put it back in? 

We can’t. 

And that’s right. We can’t. Once the toothpaste is out in the world, it’s not designed to go back in. The action of squeezing the tube led to the consequence of the toothpaste coming out and not being able to get back in. If we were going to use that toothpaste, great. But if we did it by accident – then we just wasted it. The consequence – the outcome – what happened when something was done – is something we have to live with.

And today’s first reading [Genesis 3:8-15] from our Bible is about that – a consequence. It comes from the very first book of the Bible – the book of Genesis – which is filled with stories wondering why things are the way they are. One of the stories is about how God cares about the world is made, like a hymn, singing it into being. Another story is about the first people – and wondering why we aren’t as kind or loving or helpful or respectful as we should be. In that story, the first people live in a garden that God takes care of. And God tells them they can do anything and eat anything except for the fruits from two trees in the garden. Since they’re people, someone saying “don’t do something” just made them want to do it and a serpent convinces them that they should eat from the tree, claiming that there would be no consequences if they listen to someone else rather than God. So they eat fruit from the tree and the people suddenly discover all about what’s good and bad and everything in between. And once that happens, there’s no going back. Like the toothpaste out of the tube, things are now different and the first people have to live with the consequences. 

We don’t hear much of those consequences in the reading today – and we might want to wonder and spend our energy thinking about why they did that. But rather than focusing so much on the why, I think it’s okay to focus on what God does in this story. God starts the story in the garden. God is there. God is present. God is hanging out with them. And even though Adam and Eve don’t listen to him – God doesn’t give up on them. The consequences are great; their selfishness – and the ways they chose to act like God rather than listening to God – is something we still struggle with today. We want our way and our needs met at the expense of everyone else; we want things our way, right now, and we don’t always listen to people around us. We do this a lot with our actions – but also our words – and we don’t like living with the consequences that come. Those consequences might be something small but they can also be large. And we’ll often get more mad at the consequences rather than the original actions that caused that issue in the first place. God, though, doesn’t let us run away from our consequences. God knows that we make mistakes, we mess up, and that we fail to love others the way they should be loved. God knows that – and doesn’t want us to do that – nor does God sanction us acting as if we are God ourselves. But God doesn’t give up on us. God chooses to be present with us. God chooses to be with us through the consequences with grace and mercy and promise that lets mercy, love, and forgiveness win in the end. So – we should be mindful that our actions and our words are like toothpaste in a tube – once it’s out, it’s out and we should face and live with the consequences that come. And yet those consequences don’t drive God from us. Rather, God chooses to be with us through those consequences – through what we have to live through – so that those who have been affected, those who have been hurt, and even those who did the hurt – can be with the One who, through grace, mercy, attention, time, and guidance – help them discover who God knows they can be. 

Sermon: Living out a Mental Health First Aid Action Plan

[Jesus went home] and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:20-35

My sermon from the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 9, 2024) on Mark 3:20-35.


Earlier this week, I attended a “Mental Health First Aid” training here at the church. The two day event hosted by Meals on Wheels of North Jersey was to help us recognize and respond when people go through a mental health crisis. Nearly 1 in 5 adults, every year, will experience some kind of  mental health issue and youth and young adults are affected as well. Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean we’re always happy, comfortable, and secure. When we’re mentally well, we respond in ways that seem reasonable while living through joyous or difficult things.  If, for example, we do poorly on a test or we’re ghosted by someone we’re into – we’re supposed to get sad, angry, anxious, and more. Those are appropriate responses to something that is hard. But when these feelings linger for weeks at a time, impacting our ability to go to work, school, or take care of ourselves, we might be in the midst of a mental health crisis. Those attending the training were invited to learn how to respond well when a person they know starts to be a little different from who they knew them to be. And while doing that work can be hard, it’s also one of the primary ways we choose to be for each other – no matter what. 

What that care looks like, though, isn’t always easy to figure out since I’m not a mental health professional and God has not called me to diagnose the people around me. What we need is some kind of action plan we can follow when we don’t know what to do. And the training provided one – using the acronym “algee” – a l g e e – to imagine that care can look like. So the first thing we do is “Approach and Assess.” Rather than backing away when someone seems a bit different, we make sure it’s safe and then pay closer attention to whatever they’re going through. This assessment might even include doing the difficult thing of asking if our friend might be suicidal. While we assess, we move pretty quickly into the next stage of the acronym, L, by choosing to “listen non judgmentally.” It’s not helpful or our role to tell someone to calm down, man up, or to just get over it. We can, instead, let them know we’re concerned and we wonder how long they’ve been feeling this way. This kind of listening is hard because we often feel incredibly awkward while doing it. We don’t really know what to say and we might get upset when someone doesn’t accept the help we’re trying to give. Listening is a skill that is both exhausting and life-giving all at the same time. And while we do listen to the person who is suffering, we can move into the “G” of the acronym by giving them assurance that we’re with them and then share any information we might have. This kind giving can include the double “e” of encouraging them to seek appropriate professional help while also encouraging them to practice self-care since therapy, medication, and just taking a break doesn’t mean we’re not good enough or that we’ve somehow failed at life. This action plan isn’t meant to be linear since we often find ourselves listening, encouraging, assessing, listening, and encouraging over and over again. But it can help guide us through those situations when the people we care about aren’t who we expect them to be and this plan might even help us grow into who we can become too. 

I was thinking about the acronym “Algee” while noticing what happened to Jesus in our reading from the gospel according to Mark. Jesus, it seemed, was caught in the difficult situation of being challenged by many religious leaders as well as his own family all at the same time. Both were concerned with not only what Jesus was doing but also with whatever seemed to be happening within him. The leaders imagined that Jesus was, somehow, possessed by demons while even his mom thought he was completely out of his mind. Our notion of mental health is very different from what was commonly thought when Jesus’ walked the earth 2000 years ago. But I wonder if both of these groups thought Jesus needed an intervention because he wasn’t acting in ways they thought he should. Jesus’ own family and the scribes noticed how he kept talking to people he didn’t use to talk to in the past, while offering forgiveness in ways they didn’t expect, and he kept forming bonds with people he was supposed to exclude. Jesus kept talking about how the kingdom of God was near and yet the kingdom Jesus practiced didn’t have the boundaries they assumed it had. We should, I think, give Jesus’ family and the religious leaders the benefit of the doubt. They, I believe, were doing what they could do to live out God’s will. But when they were confronted by the life Jesus chose to live, they didn’t know what to say or do. And they soon fell into the trap we often fall into as well – expecting God, in the words of Professor C. Clifton Black, to abide by our own definitions of what the boundaries of God’s kingdom should be. We act, trust, and honestly believe that what we think is good, holy, and true match what God wants in our world. But Jesus often has a habit of showing how God’s boundaries are always much bigger than our own. This reality can be scary, challenging, and strange since we assume we know what God’s baseline alway is. Yet the baseline Jesus put into practice is always bigger since the kingdom Jesus lives out is a kingdom big enough to include us too. 

On the surface, Jesus’ family and the religious leaders didn’t really do a great job living into any kind of mental health first aid action plan. Jesus’ actions, teachings, and behaviors didn’t match what they considered normal and so their assessment led them to challenge rather than to listen. Jesus, in their mind, was dividing the community when it came to what God’s people were supposed to say and do. Yet much of Jesus’ ministry was about discovering how expansive God’s kingdom truly was. We, I think, often let our own notions of normal, holy, and healthy, get in the way of noticing what God is up to. We let the boundaries we define be the limit of what life can be rather than letting God show us what life can become. It’s an approach to living that we pretend includes us even though we are never as perfect, good, and loving as we demand others be. And we act as if these boundaries we put into place are the same boundaries God has already built even though Jesus’ love will always be more. This more isn’t only big enough to include the people we assume are with our God. It’s also a love big enough to include someone like you. You, through baptism and faith, have already been made part of what God is up to in the world. And while living into that truth can be hard, it is how God transforms us into who God imagines we can be. We won’t always get this kind of living right nor will we, while living through our own mental health issues, always be able to live into the kingdom God has already brought us into. But we can trust that when Jesus made us a part of His holy family, he meant it, and that he will be the One who will carry us through. 


Sermon: Sabbath is meant for everyone

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

My sermon from 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 2, 2024) on Deuteronomy 5:12-15.


Today’s first reading from the book of Deuteronomy can feel a little bit repetitive. It is, after all, repeating what we first heard way back in the book of Exodus. At that point in the biblical story, God had freed the Isrealites from slavery and gathered them together at the foot of Mt. Sinai. For four hundred years, the Egyptians had controlled their work and their rest. So God, through the ten commandments, invited them into a new way of being in the world. Deuteronomy, though, took place 40 years after that moment – and Moses knew he wasn’t going to be with the community once they crossed into the land of Canaan. These words then are primarily a series of messages and sermons Moses wanted the people to hold onto – especially those who were born after they were enslaved. So Moses gathered the community together to hear – once again – the Ten Commandments. And we’d expect this moment to simply be Moses repeating words he had already shared. On one level, he did exactly that – recalling the shared promises they were drawn into such as don’t make idols, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness against their neighbors. But Moses wasn’t interested in only doing what he had always done. And so rather than merely repeating why the sabbath came to be through the work God did during the story of creation, Moses expanded it to speak to those moments when rest isn’t an option. The sabbath doesn’t simply break up our week. The sabbath is meant to be an interruption that shows us who God imagines us to be. 

Now Professor Julián Holguín, in a commentary about this passage, pointed to two stylistic changes that expanded what the sabbath is all about. He noted that when the sabbath first appeared in Exodus, the community was invited to remember it. This remembrance was always more than simply thinking about it but it does seem to treat the sabbath as a kind of object or thought we hold in our head. Moses, though, changed the words – telling the community to observe it. The sabbath wasn’t merely something we hold in our hearts or our heads. That sabbath is something we do and live. It’s a moment in time when put into practice the art of not working – and this not working isn’t only for us. Moses, while describing who gets to stop, added to that invitation the ox, the donkey, and every animal in the field. This break in the week wasn’t only meant for those who had the opportunity, the resources, and the wealth to take a day off. It’s also meant for the enslaved; those of lower social classes; those who came from somewhere else; and even the creatures we use for our food and our lives. God tells everyone to just stop. You, as you are, shouldn’t turn in that spreadsheet that was due last Friday or make that one more phone call trying to fill your sales quota for the month. You shouldn’t take on that extra bit of uncompensated work you think will show your boss how much you care about your job. God, instead, tells you to stop – because your worth isn’t only defined by what you do. This invitation, though, isn’t only for you. The gift of rest – according to Moses – is also a gift meant  for everyone that happens on the exact same day. The rest we take is a rest meant for the gas station attendant who filled up our car before church and also for the undocumented line cook who will prepare our meal during brunch. The rest God imagines for us is a rest meant for everyone else too. And when we make others serve us while we take our break; we’re not really observing the sabbath even if we made it to worship that day. The sabbath, when practiced fully and completely, breaks the cycle that says God’s creation – and everything a part of it- is only valued through the ways it supports us. And instead of letting the community fall into that kind of trap – one they experienced during their long history of enslavement when resting wasn’t an option – Moses grounded the command to live out the sabbath in the kind of future God imagined for all. God’s beloved children aren’t only worth a break; they’re also invited to make sure others get their own kind of break too. 

Now what we should take a break from has been an ongoing conversation since God first gathered those people around Mt. Sinai. It’s a debate we’ve never truly resolved since what we do – and what we ask others to do – always changes. We typically focus the conversation on what we – as individuals or as families do: such as our never-ending-to-do list or how travel teams impact our ability to regularly attend Sunday worship. It’s a conversation that centers us rather than imagining what life might look like if everyone – and everything – could simply rest. Even Jesus, near the very beginning of his public ministry as depicted in the gospel according to Mark, was caught up in the same kind of conversation since the Greco-Roman world didn’t have a weekend. Observing the sabbath was one of the ways the Jewish community practiced their faith out loud. And it was incredibly at odds to be the kind of people who stop while surrounded by a culture that defined people based on what they do and what they could get from others. When anything other than God’s love and grace becomes the primary way we define ourselves and others, we end up falling into the trap that claims certain people, rather than others, are the ones who are truly worthy. Jesus, and those around him, were doing their part of not falling into that trap by engaging in an ongoing conversation about what the sabbath is all about. And while their answers to that question were a bit different, they were all living into the bigger question of what life looks like one God has claimed us as God’s own. It’s a question we keep living into even as new ideas, new technologies, new languages, and new cultures shape what the sabbath might mean. And while taking a break isn’t something all of us can currently do – the promise at the heart of Jesus’ words – is a promise meant for you. The work you do or can do isn’t the limit of who you are. Rather, you are shaped and defined and held by a God who claims you as God’s own. I’ll admit that, most weeks, I don’t rest as much as I should. I struggle to not only claim the sabbath but also to help others live into that sabbath too. It’s so hard to imagine the kind of rest for myself that would enable others to rest too. Yet the Jesus who lived, died, and rose for you doesn’t choose to see us only through the work we do or the value and wealth we create in the world or even through the rest we claim for ourselves and others. Rather who we are is rooted in who Jesus says we are – and Jesus, in faith and through baptism, has included you as a part of him forever. The purpose, hope, meaning, and promise we have in Jesus invites us to see ourselves, and others, as people worthy of rest, care, and love. And that value isn’t built on what we’ve done but on the Jesus who promises to be with you – forever.