Reflection: Not Knowing

What does it mean to “know” God? I use the word “know” to point to a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. This kind of relationship is in our bones, in our mind, and in our heart. Our connection with God is so embodied within us that all our interactions with the world are framed by Jesus, his teachings, and our hope in him. This kind of knowing is very aspirational. We rarely have moments in our lives when we, in the present, notice God in this way. But when we take a look back at our lives, sometimes God shows up in a visible way. The tools of faith (prayer, worship, reading the Bible, caring for each other, and receiving communion) can help us see the God who was with us. In worship, we see who we are and receive God’s eternal promises. In prayer, we name our deep needs and listen for the God who is always speaking to us. In reading the bible, we uncover God’s story and how our lives are wrapped up in the God who created everything. And through service and a meal, we are fed to continue the work God is already doing in the world. It takes effort, time, and energy to know God and discover just how much God already knows us.

Paul, in this passage from 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, is pointing to a version of what this knowing looks like. He is projecting a confidence that looks almost foolish. He is writing to a faith community struggling with divisions and hardships. Members of the church in Corinth are arguing about everything: from how communion should be served, the role of women in the faith community, and what kind of lives followers of Jesus should lead. Over and over again, the fractures in the community imply that there’s little that anyone could be confident in. But Paul is confident because he is focused on why the community exists in the first place. Paul trusts Jesus and knows that Jesus changes everything.

Paul’s journey with Jesus changed his life but it did not eliminate the hardships he experienced. He struggled with doubt. He struggled being part of a wider church that didn’t always agree with what he said. Yet he knew that wherever Jesus is, something new is happening. Verse 17 in our reading adds a few words that shouldn’t be there. Paul doesn’t write, “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” The greek words he uses are, “so if anyone is in Christ, there NEW CREATION!” When Jesus shows up (and he does in baptism, at the communion table, and when 2 or 3 gather in his name), we are living in that new thing God is already doing. The tools of faith help us see what Jesus has done with us already. Once we see what Jesus has done, we can face the uncertainty of our future with a confidence that Jesus is, in every moment, making everything new.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 6/17/2018.

Children’s Sermon: Seeds seeds seeds

Bring a coloring sheet for kids to color. Sheet is the life-cycle of the seed. Bring crayons so they can color too.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So today, like all Sundays, I want to talk a little bit about Jesus. Jesus, when he was talking to people, liked to talk in about stories. He liked to tell these stories – that we call parables – to help us try to imagine a little bit about who God is, what God is doing in the world, and how much God loves us. Today, in our reading about Jesus from the gospel according to Mark, we’re going to hear Jesus use two different stories. And I’d like to, right now, talk about the first story he tells.

And that story involves this: show the coloring sheet of the plant’s life cycle.

Now, I’m going to talk about this piece of paper but as I do – I want you to color. Pass out crayons.

So this picture tells a story…of what’s this little round thing? A seed. And where is the seed? In the soil. And what’s it doing through the other pictures? It grows. That’s right. This picture shows how a plant grows. It starts as a seed. And then little sprouts grow. And then little roots. And then the sprout comes out of the ground. Leaves grow and the plant gets bigger and bigger. For most plants, this is how they grow. They start as a seed…and then the grow big.

Now, we know what a plant needs to grow. It’s needs soil; it needs sun; it needs enough water. And sometimes Jesus and his friends talk about the ways we can help Jeff a plant grow. But Jesus, in the first story today, doesn’t talk about how we can help a plant grow. Rather, Jesus points us to something amazing: that this plant, in the first place, grows at all.

Because is there any way you can tell a seed to grow? Can you point to it and say…GROW! And make it grow right then and there? Nope. We can help them grow – but we can’t make them grow. Instead, the seed is planted and it grows when it grows.

Jesus uses this image of a seed to tell us something about God. It’s hard to always see God at work. There are times when we are sad; or we are hurting; or we’re super happy – and we just don’t really see God around us. It’s difficult to see God’s love showing up in the people around us and in our world. But Jesus reminds us that even though we don’t see God, God is here. Even though we don’t always know how God’s love shows up around us, God’s love is here – and it’s growing – and it’s showing up – and it’s making a difference. God loves you. Jesus is with you. Jesus is helping you. And we are, like the seed, becoming more like the loving, kind, and Christian person God knows we can be.

Thank you for being here! And I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 6/17/2018.

Except In: Did Jesus Tell Jokes? And can you imagine that he did?

[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 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 17, 2018) on Mark 4:26-34. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Do you think Jesus was funny?

Last week, our reading according to Mark had folks saying that Jesus “was out of his mind.” Now, that’s a kind of funny but it’s not the funny I’m thinking about. Instead, I want to know if Jesus told jokes. Like, when he sat around the campfire in the middle of the Judean desert, after having left one village where he casted out demons and before he walked into the next – did Jesus unwind by telling everyone a funny story? The odds are good that he probably did. And if we take a look at his life as shared by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John – Jesus probably needed a sense of humor just to get through it all. His life, from the very beginning, was full of the kinds of stories we tell over and over again. There were incredible joys, like when magi from the east came to visit him when he was merely a baby. But there was also terror, like when his family fled to Egypt as refugees, escape King Herod and the government’s violence. Jesus life, I think, needed humor and laughter to help carry him to the next part of his story. So I’m sure Jesus laughed. And when he was at the countless campfires and dining room tables Scripture doesn’t tell us about, I’m sure he told funny stories. Yet we rarely, as a church, talk about Jesus as being funny. We rarely listen to the stories he tells and expect to laugh. Instead, we assume that everything Jesus says must be very deep and full of a kind of spiritual flavoring that strips his words of most human emotions. We don’t let Jesus get angry or tell a joke. We demand that every word Jesus says sounds like what we imagine “holiness” to be. Because it’s easy to say that Jesus is the Son of God. But it’s harder to say that Jesus was also a human being. And human beings, when they speak, aren’t always as holy or reverent or spiritual as we would like them to be. Sometimes a person gets angry. Sometimes they yell. Sometimes people cry and sob and we can’t understand a word their saying because of their tears. Our words are filled with a variety emotions. And today, in our reading from the gospel according to Mark, Jesus tells a joke.
Now the joke is subtle but it’s there. And it involves that mustard seed. Jesus starts his story by saying that the kingdom of God – God’s dream for what world can be – is like a mustard seed that is put into the ground. Jesus, like all good storytellers, ramps up the drama by claiming that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds (even though it’s not) and when the seed grows, it multiplies and becomes something huge. This tiny seed grows…and grows…and grows until it is something so big that even birds can make their home in it. The mustard seed is amazing because it can grow into something bigger than itself. But this is where Jesus’ joke shows up. And we miss seeing that joke when we focus only on the seed’s size. We marvel at how big the seed grows but we forget what the seed is. It’s a mustard seed. Now, I like mustard; I like it with pretzels; and I know that the mustard plant served all sorts of medicinal purposes back in Jesus’ day. But it’s still mustard, and in Jesus’ day, this was a normal everyday plant that grew like a weed. It didn’t need much soil or sun or water to take root. And once it did, good luck trying to get rid of it. This weed would dig in, sprout more versions of itself, and keep growing. And it would grow and grow and grow until it was the greatest of all shrubs. Now, that shrub would be big – maybe 10 feet high. But a shrub is still just a bush. When you imagine what heaven on earth would look like, what this kingdom of God might be, does it resemble the beauty, girth, and strength of a well manicured house plant? Probably not. And even scripture, when it imagines God’s kingdom, usually talks about a tree. Because a tree can be huge. A tree is full of life and it becomes a home for all kinds of animals, from squirrels to birds to rabbits who live in its roots. In the book of Revelation, the final image of God’s kingdom on earth includes a giant tree that grows 12 different kinds of fruit. A tree is something tall, strong, mighty, and majestic. And when we imagine the kingdom of God, it should include everything a powerful tree symbolizes. And that usually doesn’t involve shrubbery.
Jesus, in this short parable, takes aim at the assumptions we bring when we encounter him. We want God’s kingdom to be mighty, strong, and overwhelming. We want Jesus’ presence to show up in a way that’s spectacular and in a way that stands up to the test of time – just like the best oaks or elms or cedar trees do. We want our faith to be precious and expensive – like a vintage of wine that comes from only the very best grapes. We come to Jesus with the expectation that his presence and our faith will be obvious, mighty, and important. And when it’s not, we then wonder if maybe there’s something wrong. Or maybe Jesus doesn’t really care about me. Or maybe Jesus isn’t important at all. We come to scripture, to Jesus, and to our faith with expectations and assumptions. And we need to know what those things are. Because when we don’t, we let our broken expectations define our faith rather than letting our faith grow into what Jesus’ expectations for us actually are.

Which means we need to let Jesus tell jokes. And we need to be ready to laugh when he does. Because the kingdom of God is really like an ordinary weed that pops up, is hard to remove, and it will get into everything. Our expectations and assumptions will be re-written by this Jesus who shows up in our every day. Jesus is going to be everywhere, even in the smallest moments of our lives. He’s going to be present in every one of our interactions. And he’s going to show up in our relationships. He will re-oriented our desire and expectation for what is mighty, strong, and powerful; and he will show us that when we are at our most vulnerable, when we are our most human, that’s when we can see the kingdom of God in our midst. The kingdom of God is present in the ways we listen, care, and empathize with each other. The kingdom of God comes close to us when we are a Jesus – not only to those we adore but also to those we don’t. It’s in the everyday moments of love and care for the other – for the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, the migrant, the old, the young, and all their families – it’s in those moments when the kingdom of God pops up to show us just who God is. The Christian faith is an everyday kind of faith. It’s a faith meant to be lived and experienced. And it’s a faith that’s not only for the perfect – but it’s also for imperfect people like us. When we follow Jesus, when we leave our assumptions about what he says and how he says it – behind, we discover that the faith he gives us is one that unravels all our expectations. And this faith gets into every nook and cranny of our body, mind, and soul – and it will be a way of life for us that will change us, so that we can love others in ways we never imagined possible before.

Amen.

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Children’s Sermon: Tickets from Jesus

Bring Your Ticket Archive Book.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So tonight is a very special night in my household. It’s the night when my family gather arounds to watch the greatest awards show there is – the Tonys! The Tonys, if you don’t know, is a show that celebrates all the amazing plays and musicals that were on Broadway, in New York City, over the last year. The awards are given out for best musical, best play, best actors, and more. And what’s really fun about it is that a lot of the musicals on Broadway bring a song from their show and perform it at the award show. That means if we’re not able to go to a Broadway show because we can’t afford it or live far away – we can still get a taste of this amazing plays and musicals are about – by turning on the tv and watching this fun show.

So since it’s the Tonys tonight – that got me thinking – and so I brought with me today…this. Show your ticket archive. It’s my ticket stub archive. Inside, I’ve shoved all sorts of ticket stubs, flyers, and some playbills from shows I saw. I don’t think it’s in any kind of order. We can see up in the front this these small little flyers from punk shows I saw when I was in college. Then there’s a few playbills and flyers talking about a Roller Derby show I’ve been to, an improv musical where the actors on stage make up songs, a playbill from the show Matilida…and then when we get into the center…we see rows and rows of tickets. I don’t have every ticket to everything I’ve seen but I’ve got most.

Walk through with them. Show the tickets and ask what the kids see. They see names, dates, numbers.

After a bit, go to the one that is your first Broadway.

Now, I didn’t grow up that interested in Broadway shows. I didn’t really see too many plays or musicals. I was much more interested in rock ‘n roll shows so that’s what I tried to do. But then someone invited me to see my first Broadway show. And it was this one – almost 12 years ago to this day. It was called Hot Feet. And it was…terrible. The story made no sense. The costumes were ridiculous. And the music, while entertaining, didn’t really fit at all. It was such a terrible show that the person who took me to it had to apologize, it was so bad.

Now, I could have decided then and there to never see another musical or play again. I tried it. I went. I stayed in my seat the whole time. I did the whole thing…and I just didn’t like it. But just because something isn’t great the first time – doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it again. And so the next time I was invited to a Broadway show I went. And I liked it. And then I kept going, over and over again. And, now, certain musicals and shows are just a part of my life.

All of you are going to sometimes experience things that, at first, seem boring. Or maybe a little scary. Or maybe you’ll try it and it won’t go well so you’ll want to give up. But I’m going to invite you to keep trying. Don’t give up. If it seems too hard at first, be patient and try again. Because, no matter what we’re trying, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how scared we are – we have someone on our side who is right there with us. And that’s…Jesus. Jesus is with you when things are going well and when things aren’t going well. Jesus is there when you’re working hard and winning all the time. And he’s there when you feel like you want to just give up. Jesus is our ticket [Pass out Tickets that you made talking about Jesus] to keep trying, over and over again, because when as we try, we grow and discover just who Jesus knows we can be.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 6/3/2018.

Reflection: I…I…I – pay attention to the verbs

“I heard…I was afraid…I was naked…I hid…”

One way to dwell in scripture is to look at what is said and focus on the verbs. Today’s passage from Genesis 3:8-15 is a dialogue between God, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. It begins with God walking in the garden near the start of a new day (in the Jewish calendar, new days begin at sundown). The evening breeze is blowing and sound of God’s rustling alerts Adam and Eve to God’s presence. Adam and Eve how ate from the “Tree of Good and Evil,” panic and hide from God. The fruit gave the first two people access to all knowledge: to what is good, evil, and everything in between. This kind of knowledge is more than just having a thought about something. This knowledge is deep, mythical, cosmic, and expansive. It’s a knowing rooted in a sense of reality that we cannot fully comprehend. This knowledge gave Adam and Eve access to God’s experiences but, unlike God, human beings have no way of making full sense of it. And when Adam and Eve are confronted by God, all they can do is hide.

“I heard…I was afraid…I was naked…I hid…” Adam’s use of verbs show how his perspective has changed. This new experience has reoriented Adam. He has now placed himself at the center of his universe. Instead of seeing himself as part of what God created, Adam can only focus on himself. He blames God for creating Eve and blames Eve for giving him the fruit of the tree. He takes no responsibility for his actions and, in fact, seems even incapable of doing that. Adam becomes so focused on himself that he cannot admit who is he or what has happened. And when confronted by the One who knows Adam better than Adam knows himself, the only thing Adam can do is hide and hope God doesn’t see him.

But God does see him and that changes everything. God, amazingly, doesn’t give up on Adam and Eve. Instead, God keeps coming to them, working within their reality to bring them back into God’s. We know that Adam and Eve will still be themselves. We know all of us struggle to imagine a universe where we aren’t the center of it. We can’t change our reality on our own so God, in Jesus Christ, comes to change it for us. It’s through Jesus and his relationship with us when our use of verbs change. When we say we’re afraid, Jesus says, “Don’t be.” When we say we’re stripped bare and exposed, Jesus gives us a community to care for us. And when we hide from God, Jesus comes to us in our baptism, in our faith, and at the table to say we are his and will be, forever.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 6/10/2018.

Behind the Yellow Line: Jesus and the Unforgivable Sin

[Jesus went home] and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and his 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 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 10, 2018) on Mark 3:20-3. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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There are many spoken and unspoken rules of etiquette that make mass transit work. Some of these rules are obvious, like a sign in an airplane bathroom saying “No smoking.” But other rules are only learned through experience. It usually takes a trip or two to figure out what our airplane attire should be so that we can slip on and off our shoes quickly as we go through airport security. As a former daily rider of the New York City subway, I learned a lot of these unspoken rules while taking rides on the A, the W, and the 1,2, and 3. I learned, for example, where to stand in the subway car when kids did their “what time is it? Showtime!” routines, so they wouldn’t hit me in the head while they twirled around on the overhead bars. I also discovered why you don’t count your blessings when you walk into what appears to be an empty subway car on an otherwise very full train. And I mastered all the jumps, hops, and skips needed to transfer from an express to a local when the doors on both trains are about to close. Yet the place where the spoken and unspoken rules of the subway really made their presence known to me was on that bright yellow line located in the subway stations themselves. That line, usually chipped and barely visible, marks the edge of the subway platform itself. It tells us where it’s safe to stand and where it’s not because when a subway train zooms through the station, the edge of that subway platform ends up being a very dangerous place to be. We’re asked, through vocal announcements and posted signs, to always stand behind the yellow line. But it’s not hard to take a step on that line because there’s nothing really stopping us from doing that. And once a train does enter the station, all of us end up inching onto that line – trying to find that sweet spot on the platform so we can be the first on the train once the doors open. The yellow line marks a place of real danger. The yellow line is there as a warning. And in our reading from the gospel according to Mark, Jesus is pointing to his version of that yellow line when he mentions the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Now, it’s a bit odd to hear Jesus – this Son of God who forgives sins all.the.time – talking about a sin that’s unforgivable. What sin could be so great that even Jesus would stay away from you? Sadly, Jesus isn’t very specific. All we get is this “blasphemy” against the Holy Spirit. We usually want something a little more clear so we let our imaginations run wild. We create lists full of the terrible things people do to each other and to themselves, trying to dream up where Jesus’ line actually is. This kind of list making is pretty normal. But it also can be extremely dangerous. I’ve walked with people who are new to Christianity, who end up spending years in a kind of spiritual torment thinking that something they did in their past was something that God would never forgive. I’ve been at the bedside of people who’ve lived incredibly meaningful lives, but who end up spending their final days in incredible guilt, not knowing if Jesus would welcome them in. I’ve seen church authorities, theologians, and pastors say that something as small as using the wrong word when you stub your toe or something as big as suicide would be the one thing that would keep Jesus away from you. None of these pronouncements are life giving. None of them bring hope. And none of them, I think, get to the heart of what Jesus is saying in this moment. Because this searching for the sin that Jesus won’t forgive pulls us away from the bible and we end up missing what Jesus actually said. When our response to scripture is to pull a quote from Jesus out of it so that we can find something out here we think makes more sense, that’s when we should do the opposite and jump back into scripture, back into the story, and spend time with Jesus as he is. We need to see Jesus in this text. We need to see who he is with. We need to see the crowd.

Now, we’re only in the 3rd chapter of Mark so we’re still at the beginning of Mark’s version of Jesus’ story. Yet, Jesus has already been pretty busy. He’s been preaching and teaching all over Galilee. He’s already started casting out demons, healing the sick, and telling all sorts of people their sins are forgiven. Word about him is starting to spread so people from all over Galilee and from other places like Judea, Jerusalem, and even foreign cities like Tyre and Sidon, come to see Jesus. This crowd around Jesus is full of all kinds of people. Men, women, and children; the educated and uneducated; locals and foreigners; everyone from every part of society is there, including the kinds of people we like and those we try to ignore. Every person in that crowd, through their encounter with Jesus, are being, in some way, restored. People are seeing demons being casted out and lives becoming full and whole. Jesus is seeing people as they are, showing them their value, and loving them because they are worth God’s love. This attracts the attention of the religious elites who come to see what Jesus is doing. They know Jesus is doing something incredible. They see the new life Jesus brings. But they can’t help but call what they see as false and unreal. These religious authorities are so cynical, so prideful, so trusting in themselves, that they can’t see God at work right in front of them. God’s grace and hope and love transforms lives; yet those in the know: the religious, the spiritual, the faithful; they are the ones who can’t see it.

The bright yellow line that Jesus mentions in this reading from Mark isn’t really a line that he draws himself. Rather he points to the line we draw when we miss seeing what Jesus is doing in our lives and in our world. When we give up on grace; when we fail to trust that Jesus is with us; and when we imagine that the new life we see in others somehow means our life is now less; we end up calling good evil and evil good. Now, since we are human beings, we are still sinners. We will look at the world around us, see what God is doing, feel uncomfortable, and let our uncomfortableness define what we do next. But we don’t have to do that. Instead, we can always lean on grace. We can always lean on love. We can do the work it takes to move past our uncomfort and discover where life is being made whole. We can notice the places in our world where brokenness is being restored and we can work to be a community where all people are seen and where all demons are casted out. But when those demons can’t be, when they are present in those we love and worship with, we can be a community that lives with them, offering help, love, and support, even when they can’t ask for any of that help themselves. The yellow line of warning that we imagine Jesus laying down for us is really a line of danger we create for ourselves when we think we know the limits to how God actually works. But when we do that, we forget that Jesus never gives up on us. He never gives up on those he claims and he loves. And his transformative power of grace is with us right now and it’s also out there, moving throughout God’s beloved world. The lines we put down are not the lines God draws. Our limits cannot hold back where God’s grace goes. And that’s a good thing. Because a God who is as limited as we imagine God should be – is never a god who can offer us the limitless love we do need – so that we can become the followers of Jesus that this world, and this church, needs us to be.

Amen.

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Interpreting Scripture in Real Time

Did you notice what Jesus did in this passage according to Mark 2:23-3:6? He applied a scripture story to a situation that appears, at first, unrelated. What we see in this passage is Jesus using different parts of the bible to engage with a current situation. His disciples, who are hungry, are doing work on the sabbath. The Pharisees, using our first reading today as the basis for their interpretation, question Jesus. Jesus, on the fly, remembered a part of scripture where someone was hungry. And so he introduces to all of us a story about David.

This incident in David’s life comes from 1 Samuel 21. David is on the run. David is a fugitive from Saul, the king of Israel. David is on his own and he has two pressing problems: he needs food and weapons. He visits the town of Nov (north of Jerusalem, near the Temple) and meets the local high priest. David pretends to be on a mission from Saul, telling the priest that he needs food to do what Saul wants him to do. The priest counters saying that they only have the bread of the Presence nearby. This bread was used for special rituals and fed to the priests when the priests were ritually pure. David says that he is ritually pure and so the priest, believing what David told him, David the bread. David then takes from the Temple the sword that Goliath once held. Armed and fed, David flees into a foreign country.

Jesus took this story about David and made a bold claim about the sabbath. The sabbath, like all holy things, are designed to give life. Hunger hurts, mains, and kills. Jesus can only respond to hunger by feeding others. Jesus is centered on giving life. Yet this feeding (and healing) on the sabbath is not what gets Jesus into trouble. What becomes the big problem is his claim that the “Son of Man” (i.e. himself) is lord over the sabbath. Jesus is making a claim about his identity. He is saying that he is the Messiah, Emmanuel, God-with-us. And the world around him (and us) can’t help but challenge that claim.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 6/03/2018.

Children’s Sermon: Night Light

Bring a Night Light. Maybe bring something dark to cover the light. It’s based on this: https://dskidsermons.com/2018/05/29/june-3rd-2018-2nd-sunday-after-pentecost/.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today.

So I want to talk about a sentence we’ll hear later, in our 2nd reading, and it’s something God says “let light shine out of darkness.”

Let…light…shine. That got me thinking – what are the different ways we can make light or help light shine? We can light a candle. Turn on a light switch. Light a fire. We can’t, on our own, make light – but we can use or create tools that can make light for us. And so I brought one of those tools today and that’s this: show the nightlight. And so when God says “let light shine!” I can turn this button on and….light shines!

Well, sort of. It’s a bit hard to see. This isn’t designed, like a flashlight, to give out light. It’s instead a light that is used at night. Use the cover to cover the light so that the kids can see how, a little light makes a big difference in a dark place. When we’re in a dark room, maybe in bed sleeping, and we wake up and can’t see anything – we can turn on this light – and we’ll be able to see. It’s not a lot of light so it won’t fill the room or hurt our eyes or what not. It’ll just be a little light to help us see – and to help us feel and believe that we’re okay and we’re not alone.

Now, there are times when we might feel like we’re a bit overwhelmed…or sad…or scared. We might feel like we’re in a room, in the middle of the night, and wondering if anyone can see us – or if there’s any light that can help us. We might even wonder where God is – thinking that, since we can’t see God, God isn’t really with us.

But what we hear in the 2nd reading is a promise that God has made to each of us. And that promise is that, no matter what, we’ve already been given God’s love – God’s joy – and God’s hope – through Jesus. So even in those moments when we feel really sad; even in those moments when we feel all alone; even in those moments when we feel alone – Jesus is right there with us. We might not see Jesus like we see each other. We might not feel Jesus like if we can feel our own hands. But Jesus has been given to us already. So we carry with us always, our own Jesus nightlight – who is always sending light to us when we’re sad; or afraid; or scared. He’s always telling us that we aren’t alone. And he’s making a promise that because we have him, in the end, we will be okay.

So always remember – no matter what – you’ve got Jesus. And there’s nothing in the night that can take that away from you.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 6/3/2018.

Remember: a sermon on the Sabbath

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 3, 2018) on Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So what can you say when the words don’t come?

As a manuscript preacher, I write down every word that I plan to say in my sermon. So it’s bit scary when the clock hits midnight on Sunday morning and I have a blank page. This usually doesn’t happen but for some reason, until a few hours ago, the words for today didn’t come.

Now, if I spend some time thinking about why this happened, it’s probably because I just ran out of words. Much of my time over the last week was spent giving words to the different things going on here at the church. Some of those words you’ll hear in our special congregational meeting right after the service. And others were spent helping to organize the New Jersey Synod Event at the upcoming ELCA Youth Gathering later this month. I also had a long email chain floating with various members of the Upper Pascack Valley Clergy Group as we made plans to meet and talk about our upcoming schedule. And since we’re nearing the end of our programming year here at church, there’s still emails to write about our special Sunday School Walkathon next week, prep for Graduates’ Sunday, Blessing of the Animals Sunday, and gearing up for another fun Vacation Bible School. When you take these different events, throw in the normal pastoral contacts, the Genesis Garden, the Tri-boro Food pantry, the prayers, phone calls and time spent with all the other churchy stuff that we do, together as a community, as we live out our faith – it’s sort of amazing how many words get said in this place before our worship on Sunday even begins.

Yet what probably pushed me over the edge this week was my time yesterday at the New Jersey Synod office near Trenton. As a member of the New Jersey Synod Candidacy Committee, I’m a part of the team that journeys with people as they become the next pastors and deacons in our church. Everything we do in the Candidacy process is, I feel, holy, and amazing, and also …completely draining. Before the meeting, I spend hours reading essays, applications, internship evaluations, and psychological profiles. Then, at the meeting itself, there’s always a pre-interview part where the team prepares themselves for the people we’re about to meet. And then we talk with each candidate for over an hour, discovering what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, where they failed, and how their relationship with Jesus has shifted as they become the leaders God wants them to be. It’s really a blessing to be part of this process. And it’s awesome to see all the different kinds of people who know that Jesus matters; who knows that this church matters; and who want to serve and lead and be a part of what God is already doing in the world. But by the end of the day, after six long interviews and six tough and faithfilled decisions, the candidates and the committee are usually spiritually and emotionally wiped out by the end of the day. We end using a lot of words in a small amount of time to help shape and shepherd the next leaders of the church. So when the meeting is over, im home and the house is quiet – by the time 12:01 am on Sunday morning rolls around – there feels like there’s no more words left to say.

So what do you say when the words don’t seem to come?

Now I know that we all have moments when we feel like we’ve run out of words. But there are other times when we don’t even know where our words should start. We might have a friend or a family member who is hurting and in crisis. When we see them, our throat basically closes up because we know there’s nothing we can say to make their situation better. And there are moments when we are the ones who are hurting and we feel surrounded by too many people giving us words they think will help us but end up being words that are meaningless and Emory. There are moments in our lives when the sheer amount of work we do, be it for our jobs, our families, our homes, our church, and our friends – there are moments when we will use up all the words we could possibly share. And there are still other moments when there are no words that will bring to us, and to others, the peace we need.

And it’s in those moments when, maybe, it’s the act of living in the Sabbath that becomes the only thing we could possibly say.

We tend to, I think, focus on the Sabbath as a day of rest because Exodus 20 and Genesis 1 is where the Sabbath is intimately connected to God’s prior creative act. God created the world in six days and then, like every good project manager, God needed a break once the initial work was done. The Sabbath becomes this moment of time set apart as a divine mini-weekend. It becomes a place where we rest; where we recharge as a way to prepare ourselves for the next day, the 8th day, when the week restarts and we, like God, head back to work. But this connection to creation isn’t the focus we hear in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. The Sabbath isn’t only a moment where we rest, mimicking an all-powerful God who, for some reason, needed to take a break. Rather, the Sabbath is rooted in a freedom that was denied to the Israelites for generations as they served as slaves in Egypt. They didn’t get a break so God gave them one. And then God commanded that this Sabbath is also an invitation for all the people around us to get a break as well. The people we expect to serve us, to help us so that we can relax and recharge – every single one of them, whether they’re the busboy at your favorite restaurant, a masseuse at a Korean Day Spa, or even just a family member – everyone stops together. Everyone is invited to live as if all their necessary work is already done. Instead, all people get to just be – and live with and in the God who loved, and served, and did everything to make them free.

It’s in our nature to turn the Sabbath into a kind of rest designed to only help us do the work we do the other six days of the week. It’s harder, I think, to imagine the Sabbath as a moment in time where we, regardless of our job, regardless of our abilities, and regardless of our social status, where we, together, just get to be with the God who has done all work needed to love us; hold us; and keep us close. Our words, sometimes, can trap us into thinking we need to speak in this moment and every moment. When the words don’t come, we assume that means something’s wrong. But maybe that’s the moment when we need to stop speaking and instead put ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors into God’s Sabbath. And when we do that, we’ll see that it’s okay to not have all the words. It’s okay to sometimes not know what to say. And it’s okay to do that one thing all of us can do: we can sit with each other and just be. Because when the 8th day finally rolls around, who we meet and see there is the God who has already rolled the stone away. This Jesus has already been with us, there in every possible moment, including the ones when no sinkage word could ever undo the hurt we’ve felt, caused, or participated in. Our words won’t always be enough. But God’s Word is. And it’s through your baptism, through your faith, and through your relationship with Jesus Christ that end up moving you into a sabbath of just being where everything, and everyone, is whole, free, and loved.

Amen.

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