Sermon: Making Christmas

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1-20

My sermon from Christmas Eve (December 24, 2023) on Luke 2:1-20.


So every year, once the leftover mashed potatoes are finally put away in the fridge and I’ve caught my cat for the twentieth time trying to eat an entire Thanksgiving turkey on his own, I then start to think about where to put all the Christmas that’s waiting to come out. The very first thing I do is compose a spirited motivational speech to inspire my three children to move their toys so that the tree can be put where it always goes. I then dig out said tree from the garage and engage in a modern day archeological dig to uncover which plastic tub under which piles holds all the supports I need. Once that’s done, I begin the many trips up and down a pull-down staircase into my attic to bring down the boxes upon boxes of ornaments that are either ancient family heirlooms or were on sale at Target in 2015. It’s not long until my entire house is overflowing with Advent calendars, nativity sets, fake garland, strands of electric lights, and dozens of school art projects that take over every room. When the inside is done, it’s time to move outdoors and figure out if the trees and shrubs have finally made it impossible for me to safely put out a 12 foot tall inflatable Reindeer and a giant Stegosaurus wearing Santa’s hat. By this point, most of that Christmas has a place where it’s supposed to go since I’ve had the chance to make several traditions while living my life. All the special ornaments and knick-nacks and dancing plastic trees that play the same song over and over again – all of that has become the background for the deep relationships and experiences that define our Christmas story. Yet there’s also a sense that this holiday never really stays the same. Sometimes the change might be small, like buying a new ornament to replace the one you loved after it was torn apart by a cat in the middle of the night. But there are other changes that the stuff of Christmas can’t really hide. There’s the smell of a Christmas cookie that reminds us of the last batch we made for a friend. And there’s that nutcracker that doesn’t seem to sit right since the person who always put it in its place is no longer here. The stuff of Christmas isn’t only the colorful accessories filling our homes, our yards, and our social media feeds. There’s also all that other stuff lurking within our minds, our hearts, and our souls. When it comes to Christmas, there’s always a lot of stuff – and we’re not always exactly sure where we can put it.

Now our story tonight began with Mary and Joseph being, in a sense, put into place. The Roman Emperor, according to Luke, organized a census to discover where all the people were. He wanted to know who he could tax and where he could find the soldiers needed to perpetuate a Roman peace won through violence and war. According to our story, the counting was a bit odd because it asked people to return to their ancestral homes. Joseph, a descendant of King David, was then forced to visit the town of Bethlehem where David had first been identified as Israel’s king nearly 1,000 years before Joseph was born. Joseph knew the importance of where his ancestors came from but it wasn’t his home. He and Mary had grown up 90 miles away in the town of Nazareth, which was located near the Sea of Galilee. That was the place where they had lived their lives while surrounded by parents, family members, and friends. But when the Emperor told them to move, a nearly 9 month pregnant Mary as well as her fiance left their home to travel by foot to a town they didn’t really know. And when they got there, they were surrounded by all the other people the Emperor had put there too. Most, I imagine, found shelter with family and friends while some ended up in the homes of strangers who had embraced the biblical call to offer hospitality to all. A handful of others tried their luck at the few hotels operating in the area while the rest pitched tents out in the cold. By the time Mary and Joseph arrived, their available housing options were limited. So they did what they could and found shelter with a few new roommates who were a bit harrier than we might expect. They, along with everyone else in Bethlehem, did the best they could to live their lives through such a disruptive event. Even though things were different now, life kept moving forward. And when Jesus came, these two expectant parents from somewhere else, swaddled him with cloth and held him close. In the very first moments of Jesus’ life, he was cherished by a teenager who had carried him through thick and thin. And around them both was a guardian who put himself into that family when others would have run away. That whole moment was challenging and exciting, filled with terror and joy all at the same time. But they were both soon exhausted, and it came time for even Jesus’ parents to put them down. They looked around in the space they were in and borrowed an animal’s food bowl to make Jesus a crib he could call his own.

On that first Christmas, over 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph didn’t spend their time trying to figure out where to put Christmas. They, instead, simply lived through all the change Christmas brings. This wasn’t, I think, what Mary thought her birthing experience was going to be like when she consented to the message she heard from the angel Gabriel. If she could have planned out what Christmas might be, I imagine her close friends and parents would be among the very first people she’d invited to come over and see the new baby that was born. Yet when dawn drew near, her room wasn’t filled with family but with shepherds she was meeting for the very first time. Being there at that moment and at that specific time wasn’t exactly what she would have planned for. But it was the moment when God put Jesus with us. He wasn’t placed where we’d expect the Son of God to be but rather with the people who needed to know that God chose to put on our hurts, our joys, and everything else life brings. It wasn’t the stuff around Mary and Joseph that made their Christmas what it was supposed to be. Instead, it was about how Jesus chose to put himself into all the stuff that Christmas brings. God’s love for you and the world doesn’t depend on how jolly or merry or festive you feel right now. Christmas doesn’t happen because the tree is exactly where it’s supposed to be and you managed to mail out every Christmas card before you came to church tonight. Christmas doesn’t require you to push aside the grief and sorrow that makes this night harder than we’d like to admit. Christmas doesn’t depend on the stuff we bring because Jesus has already decided to put himself with you. The life you live has value; the experiences that made you who you are – matter; and the relationships that gave you so much joy but are also causing your hearts to ache right now – all of that is wrapped up in a love that will never end. We’ll never know exactly where to put all the stuff that comes with Christmas. The lights hanging outside might have their place but what we hold inside might swirl and swirl and swirl with no other place to go. Yet even during those incredibly disruptive and life-changing moments, Christmas comes – because God has already decided to never let you go. As we spend tonight and tomorrow singing and celebrating, let’s be brave enough to be who we are with all our joys, hurts, cares and needs. Let us, together, live the life we’re actually. Let us believe that even though our experience of Christmas might change, the reality of CHristmas itself never will. And that’s because God sees you, God knows you, and Jesus is right there beside you to carry you through.


Sermon: Knowing We Have Someone Going Through With Us

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

My sermon from the 4th Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2023) on Luke 1:26-38.


So there was a meme floating around the internet not too long ago based on a scene from the movie Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker had just returned to the planet of Dagobah to ask Yoda, a Jedi Master hiding from the Empire, a few questions. The last time they were together, Yoda was training Luke to become like him. But when Darth Vadar captured his friends in the cloud city of Bespin, Luke left Yoda to try and rescue them. After a brutal fight in the bowels of the city, Vader told Luke something he didn’t want to believe. So Luke headed back to Dagobah to discover what Yoda knew. While they talked, Yoda did his best to not answer the question. Yet after a little bit, he admitted that – spoiler alert – Darth Vader really was Luke’s biological father. Once that truth was shared, Yoda died and the meme used a picture from the film right before that happened. But instead of focusing on what Luke learned, the meme was a joke connecting it to an experience all parents and guardians can relate to. It said: “Once I became a parent I finally understood the scene where Yoda gets so tired of answering Luke’s questions he just dies.” Luke, in his own way, is the quintessential sci-fi version of the kid who always asks why. Now that kind of curiosity is a good thing but we don’t always have the energy to try and explain in 30 seconds why the sky is blue, why some dogs are brown, if ghosts are real, and what life would be like if we had no bones. Asking questions or being able to even answer them isn’t always easy to do. Yet while reading this morning passage from the gospel according to Luke, I couldn’t help but notice how Mary was brave enough to question God and Gabriel was smart enough to answer the real question at the heart of her words.

Now when we find ourselves listening to a story that is either new to us or one we’ve heard a million times before, I think it’s important to use our imagination to wonder what it might have been like. We can paint a picture in our heads using all the details the Bible gives while noticing the assumptions we use to fill in any gaps. It’s an exercise that holds us accountable for all the stuff we bring to our Bible while inviting it to surprise us in compelling ways. So let’s do that with our story about what happened when the angel Gabriel visited Mary. Imagine, for a moment, a divine being radiating with the overwhelming majesty and power of God – showing up in your home. We’d hope that such an experience would be peaceful but I think it would be pretty scary. Mary had every reason to be freaked out by this stranger showing up since she was anything but powerful. She was a young teenage girl, maybe only 13 or 14 years old at the time, who came from a poor family. In the eyes of those around her, she was nothing; and yet the God who created the universe came to see her.

It’s a bit hard to imagine the fullness of what that moment must have been like. But I personally can’t help but be in awe of Mary’s courage and bravery. She could have cowered in fear of the overwhelming presence of the divine or acted as if God couldn’t do what God wanted to do. Mary, though, chose to do something else. She asked a question – wondering how her story and God’s story would meet. It was, in a sense, a question of “how” since she knew how babies were made and the story of her life so far. But she was also well aware of the social costs that come with being a young unmarried woman with a child on the way. Mary had no desire to be prop in whatever God was up to since a pregnancy would change or possibly destroy the relationships she had with Joseph, her family, and everyone around her. Since Mary would be the one carrying this baby into the world, she wanted to know if her life would be as scary as she feared it could be.

Now if Gabriel had only answered the biological “how,” he probably would have found themselves in a situation like Yoda – being asked all kinds of questions over and over again. And yet when Mary had the guts to question this messenger from God, Gabriel actually listened. He heard her wanting to know how she was going to live in a world that doesn’t often accept women who do unexpected things. And so he answered by telling her about another woman who was living through the same thing. Mary’s cousin and friend Elizabeth, was entering the final trimester of her own pregnancy that no one thought was possible. She was living the kind of life Mary would live. And that was exactly what Mary needed to hear. It wasn’t the grand pronouncements stating how God was with her and she was favored and her child would be the Son of the Most High that fully addressed the anxiety she felt. But when she heard that a friend was already living her story, Mary consented to what God was about to do in the world.

In the words of Professor Raj Nadella, “For people at the margins facing difficult situations, what matters most is someone who will share in their experience, stand with them, and walk with them.” “In the end…it was the prospect of a shared experience that mattered to Mary more than any of those grand promises from Gabriel.” What Mary needed to know was that she wouldn’t go through this life alone. God wasn’t just going to be with her; God also gave her a person who she could talk to and who would believe every one of her stories. When others laughed at her, derided her, questioned her, and acted as if Mary could never be who God declared her to be – Elizabeth would be there to show her what God’s love actually looks like. God didn’t want Mary to be a prop in the Christmas story; she was, instead, going to live through it first hand. God would do what God has always done and bring grace, hope, mercy, and peace into the lives people lived. Mary, through the words of an angel, discovered that God would not let her live her life without people who would embrace her, love her, and be with her through every part of her story. And that same kind of promise, while maybe not delivered to you through the mouth of an angel, is given to you every time we worship, pray, sing, and gather in many different ways around Jesus’ table. When you were brought into the body of Christ, it wasn’t because God thought you’d never ask questions or that you would be a decent prop in God’s master plan. God, instead, included you in God’s story because God loves you and wants you to experience that love first hand. It isn’t always easy to notice that kind of love while living through everything that life brings. But that’s why God surrounds us with people, a community, and a church who are meant to show us what “God-with-us” actually means. There are days when we will be like Mary, asking questions and wondering why. And yet there will be even more when we get to be an Elizabeth to everyone God brings our way. On this fourth Sunday of Advent which also happens to be Christmas Eve, we gather together on this day not only to proclaim that Jesus – God-with-us – has been born but also to remind us how we, through God’s grace, can be with others in the exact same way.


Sermon: Share Your Story

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

My sermon from the Third Sunday of Advent (December 17, 2023) on John 1:6-8, 19-28.

Our text today from the gospel according to John might sound a bit familiar since we heard a version of this story last week. Mark, in the opening words to his version of Jesus’ life, introduced John the Baptist who was living out in the wilderness. The wilderness, according to the Bible, was more than simply a desert full of creepy, crawling things. The wilderness was always the place where our attempts at control broke down. John the Baptist, instead of living in a house, slept under the stars and relied on what he could find to fill his belly. We get the sense that if John was living today, he’d have a tiktok account showing him living completely off the grid. We’d watch as he collected rain water to wash his clothes and used an old solar panel array to provide all the electricity he needed. That kind of living might not be what we, personally, would want to do. But we’d be curious about the man who left so much behind. John, in a sense, was a kind of influencer who wanted people to see his story. But he wasn’t living in the wilderness as a way to disconnect himself from the world. Rather, there was something out there that he wanted to connect to the world. Scripture described the wilderness as the place where God lived. And John, I think, wanted to use that image as a way to expand the spiritual imagination of those around him. But he was a bit limited by the technology available to him. No one could simply open up their phones from the comfort of their beds and see what John was doing in the desert. They would need a different kind of invitation delivered to them in person. Yet by this point in the story, John had already figured out how to do that. Before he went into the wilderness, he developed his own status as a religious figure. He had his own group of disciples who followed his every word. Those disciples were, I imagine, sent by John to let people know he was doing. And as they told their story, others felt compelled to leave their villages and discover what God was up to in the wilderness. That began a movement of people constantly going in and out of the area. And when those people met John, their experience was exactly their own. Some decided to repent, to change how they lived their lives. While others might have wondered why they even went out to see John in the first place. The area was soon filled with people sharing their stories about a wildman preaching, teaching, and baptizing in the place God lived. And as those stories spread, a few religious leaders from the city of Jerusalem decided they wanted to hear this story for themselves. 

Now since John the Baptist kept drawing people to him, we sort of imagine him as a confident, over-the-top, and very charismatic person. In fact, he’s even described in other parts of our Bible as a firebrand with a bit of a temper. He was, I think, always himself. And yet, when the religious leaders asked who he was, his first response was to tell them what he wasn’t. I wonder, though, if that was his way of trying to reframe their experience of him since what the religious leaders knew was through the stories other people told. It was all those folks who defined who John was by sharing all they had seen and heard. And while we don’t know exactly what those people said, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them turned to the stories and images found in their Bible as a way to describe what their experiences were all about. As they processed and shared their stories, they began to wonder if John really was the Messiah. He was, after all, developing a spiritual community that didn’t seem as if it would stay in the spiritual realm for very long. John actively pushed against Roman rule and he argued extensively against those who appeased them. Many felt as if he was laying the groundwork to try and re-establish the kind of kingdom David had ruled nearly 1000 years before. Their expectations for the Messiah and their experience of John in the wilderness swirled together in a way that made everyone wonder. And when the religious leaders who came to see him, those stories filled their heads. They didn’t know which ones to believe or push aside which is why their first question was so general. They wanted John to tell them who he was and he responded by letting them know that their expectations would not limit who he might be. John didn’t want them to simply hear the story; he wanted them to have their own story too. And so that, I think, is why he started his whole entire conversation with them with a lot of “nos.” He refused to fit into the stories they already carried because God’s story was already on the move. The people assumed that John was preparing the way for the Lord as if God God needed us to do something before God would show up. But John, I think, was doing something else. He wasn’t preparing the way for God; he was preparing us for the Jesus who was already here. 

And that, I think, is why telling our personal stories with our God is so central to John the Baptist’s ministry. It’s also why the gospel according to a different John made the sharing of our story a defining characteristic of what it means to follow Jesus. When we share our faith with others, we’re not only supposed to talk about Jesus himself. We don’t limit our words by only describing his divinity and what he did while walking the earthy nearly two thousand years ago. Instead, we talk about Jesus, we need to talk about the life we’ve actually lived. We need to talk in a way that sounds completely like us – naming our doubts, worries, fears, and joys. We need to admit what we got wrong and all the parts of our lives that have changed. We need to be honest about those moments when we felt God with us no matter how odd those stories might be. And we need to be willing to be vulnerable and reveal those times when God felt cold and distant. When we do this, we’re not doing it to brag or to pretend that all experiences of the divine are supposed to resemble our own. We are, instead, inviting others to discover the God who is already here. Our story, then, becomes the invitation into a wider story where grace, love, and hope transforms us all. As we move into this week before Christmas, let’s remember that there’s always more to God’s story. We don’t have to only focus on the joys, the miracles, and the parts of Christmas that feel angelic, peaceful, and pure. We can, instead, start with us and show others how Christmas is big enough to hold their story too. 


Sermon: Comfort is sometimes Uncomfortable

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:1-11

My sermon from the Second Sunday of Advent (December 10, 2023) on Isaiah 40:1-11.

So this weekend, we’re wrapping up the annual Christmas gift drive organized by CLC’s women’s group. Today is the day when gift cards for those supported by Westwood Social Services are due and tomorrow is when all the physical gifts for kids served by the Tri-Boro Food Pantry need to be dropped off here at church. Now my family participates in the gift giving every year and we like to vary the age range of the kids we choose. This year, we went with someone who was very young and their parents said they needed some clothes, a few learning games, and a bike. Kate, within seconds of signing up for that kid, went online and immediately ordered a balance bike to help the 2 year old develop the skills they’ll eventually need to ride. After a few short days, that bike showed up at my home. I picked it up, brought it inside, and placed it right inside my front door. That bike, though, sat there for several days because it needed to be put together. Opening the box, seeing what’s inside, and reading through an instruction booklet written in three different languages wasn’t something I wanted to do right away. Kate and I were both very busy so we started doing a kind of dance where we kept volunteering each other to put the bike together. That went on for quite a while until my final excuse, that I needed to sit down and write today’s sermon, meant Kate put the whole thing together herself. She opened the box, read the instructions, and did exactly what she was supposed to do to bring a little Christmas joy to a kid and their family who needed some comfort this holiday season. 

Now our first reading today from the book of Isaiah is full of what feels like instructions. We’re told to “Comfort, O comfort …” (40:1). “Speak … cry …” (40:2). “… prepare … make straight …” (40:3). “… Cry out!” (40:6). “… Get you up … lift up your voice … lift it up, do not fear;” and “say …” (40:9). These words feel as if they’re part of a conversation where orders and directions were being given and shared. It’s a bit hard to see what exactly is going on here but when we put this passage back into its context, the whole thing sort of comes into view. So the first thing we need to do is remember what happened at the end of chapter 39 in the book of Isaiah. The prophet went to Hezekiah, the king of Judah, and said that a day was surely coming when the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed and most of its people forced to live in exile. That word, though, wasn’t an immediate prediction because it took nearly 100 years after it was said before Jerusalem fell. There is, within the space between the end of chapter 39 and the beginning of chapter 40, a long silence that the book of Isaiah doesn’t really describe. And when the Babylonian empire finally came to take the community away, the only thing they could do was lament. It felt as if their future had been taken away and they no longer had anyone or anything who would comfort them. The community, wrapped up in their sorrow and grief, waited and waited and waited until, almost 170 years later, the silence was broken and a new future grew. They, in essence, were waiting for God to make a move and when God did, the word to describe what God was doing was simply “comfort.” That word, though, was more than simply offering a gentle pat on the shoulder for those who have lived through so much. It was, instead, a promise that those who had no one to comfort them, now did. And to showcase exactly how decisive that declaration actually was, the book of Isaiah imagines God speaking these words to those among the divine assembly – the angels and messengers who would then go out to make that promise real. These commands, then, are really part of a conversation – trying to articulate what this new decree from God might look like. One voice among those many voices proposed building a kind of superhighway across the desert as a way to make the journey back to Jerusalem safe and easy. Yet that highway was about more than simply creating a safe passage for people to travel. Highways in the ancient world, according to Professor Walter Bruggemann, “were built…primarily for processional events, when rulers and gods could parade in victory…[as they returned] home.” The community, dislocated and forced to live far away, was now going to be brought home by the One who promises they will never be alone. These words, filled with all kinds of urgency, excitement, and energy, were not meant to be a list of what we’re supposed to do to earn this kind of declaration from our God. Rather, it was meant to be a promise of what God would do for the people – and the world – God loves. 

Yet what that comfort might look like is a bit hard to describe. Isaiah is, I think, imagining this comfort to be more than sitting by a cozy fire with a hot cup of tea on a cold snowy day. The comfort God gives often transforms us into something more. It’s a comfort that is often uncomfortable since it requires us to change our minds and our perspectives while undoing all our expectations of what God would do. It’s the kind of work that often leaves us uncomfortable by pushing us to form connections with people and places we don’t easily relate to. It’s the type of work we need to practice which is why we do that kind of work every Sunday morning. When we gather around the Lord’s table, what we’re doing is taking a seat at a meal we didn’t prepare ourselves. The food we’re given isn’t something we ordered off a menu nor do we get to pick where exactly we get to sit. Instead, we are surrounded by people that we know and those we don’t. Some of those people at the table with us are folks we’ve seen for years but, somehow, never learned their names. Others are folks who speak a language we don’t know and whose taste in music, movies, and vacation spots leave us asking the question: why? At Jesus’ table, the people we find ourselves next to are folks who don’t look like us, sound like us, think like us, raise their children like us, vote like us, or even have the same age, nationality, background, gender, career, or even the same abilities. Yet it’s there, while gathered together in the sanctuary, online, at home, and via conference call – when we each discover how the church cannot be what it’s supposed to be without all the other people worshiping with you. Now I’ll admit this isn’t always easy to see since there are times when we feel or make others feel as if they don’t really belong. Yet in the midst of our conflicts, struggles, trials, and tribulations – the spot we have at Jesus’ table is still there and we are fed by the One who will never let us go. This, I think, serves as a model for what God’s comfort is all about. It’s not about being comfortable; it’s about knowing, trusting, and believing that we, no matter what, belong to God. And if God’s comfort means we already have a place at Jesus’ table, then that shows the kind of comfort we get to offer others. We might not always be comfortable together but Jesus’ table can, and will, be the comfort that transforms us all. 


Homily: Being Who We Get To Be

These remarks were shared at the Menorah and Christmas Tree Lighting in Woodcliff Lake, NJ on December 7, 2023.

So my flavor of Christianity, known as Lutheranism, began a little more than 500 years ago in Wittenberg, Germany. Its founder was a man named Martin Luther who was a monk, a priest, and a professor at the local university. And there’s a legend among my people that he was the first person to purposefully put lights on a tree to celebrate Christmas. It’s said that one day, after a snowfall, Martin was walking home in the middle of the night. The air was cold and clear and the snow crunched under his feet. Since he was walking before the invention of electricity, street lights, and the flashlight mode on the iPhone – the only light that could guide his way was the moon and stars. The snow covered the ground, trees, and even houses like icing on a cake. As he walked, he noticed how the starlight, reflecting off the snow stuck on the evergreen trees, made them shiny and bright. Those trees sparkled while everything else around him felt dry, drab, and lifeless. He eventually decided to cut one of those trees down and bring it into his home. He wasn’t the first to decorate the home with an evergreen tree but he wanted to try and copy what he saw during a snowy, starlit night. He, disregarding every first safety tip that we now – rightly – teach our children – placed lit candles on the tree’s branches. It was his way of celebrating the Christmas season by reminding his family and especially his children – that even when the world was at its bleakest, hope and love is never gone. 

Now as a person of faith, I often feel like a tree in winter and I’m not always sure if my hope is always evergreen. It’s a struggle to keep faith fresh and alive when we’re surrounded by so much sorrow, trouble, and despair. In a moment when so much hate, pain, fear, and terror, along with a rise in antisemitism, islamophobia and all those other things that try to keep love in the dark – I’m not sure if it’s always possible or even faithful to just act as if these holidays seasons can only be merry and bright. What I seek and want is a more fuller story that does not hide from the truth of this moment but also imagines of what tomorrow might be. I was recently re-reading a children’s book called “God’s Holy Darkness” which encourage us to think deeper about what the dark and light might mean. Throughout its page, it points to the stories within the Jewish and Christian scriptures where God was stirring even in the dark. Rather than saying that dark or black or night is bad while light and white and bright are good, the book invites us to remember how so many of our stories are pregnant with possibilities that are always present even when things feel lifeless, dry, and drab. We’re told that creation itself began in the dark – and it’s in a holy darkness that God poured out love and brought all things into being. When Abraham began to doubt God’s promises, the Lord took him on a walk and pointed to the night sky to count the stars. When Jacob wrestled with God and was changed, it began at night. We’re told that at midnight, the Lord passed over Egypt to see people free. And when Christmas came, angels announced his birth not to kings and queens and those who we consider important. It was first by angels to shepherds who were watching their flock in the dark. 

So I wonder if, on this holy night, we might admit the fullness of who we are while recognizing how this won’t be the limit of who we might become. We have already lit the Menorah and we will light this tree – to show how we can choose to be for each other and proclaim that Woodcliff Lake cannot be what it’s supposed to be without each one of us. As I look out into the darkness, I see in you an evergreen hope that more is always possible. You are the starlight that illuminates all the possibilities dwelling in the dark which we, together, can reveal. My prayer is that in the days that follow, we will do more than admire the lights that shine. We will remember that they, and we, are meant to be a manifestation of a hope, peace, and joy that never ends. 

And so let’s share a few more prayers as we bless the tree and its lights. 

Sermon: The Yet of Faith

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:1-9

My sermon from the First Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2023) on Isaiah 64:1-9.

So on Monday morning, I pulled into the main parking lot here at church and noticed a plastic cup from Wendys sitting next to a parking spot. It looked as if someone put it down while getting out of their car and forgot to pick it up. A piece of litter sitting in our lot isn’t that surprising since folks often use our lot to eat their lunch in their car, make a phone call, or take a nap. Our lot is, technically, private property but it serves as a kind of refuge for people busy living their lives. I told myself I’d take care of the cup later on but, when later finally came,  I didn’t.  I thought that the wind, weather, and some random car doing donuts in the lot would, by the next morning, move the cup somewhere new. But when I drove up, it was still there – in the exact same spot. When Wednesday morning rolled around, the cup seemed to become more than simply garbage; it had become a part of our parking lot’s future. I now expected the cup to always be there – a testament to the immovable things that show up in our lives. I haven’t checked to see if the cup is out there this morning and I’ll admit it’s a bit silly to talk about a piece of garbage whose future should really be a trip to the recycling center. But it does invite us to wonder about those deeper things that somehow just show up and become those immovable and permanent parts of the futures we want to live. This wondering has been something God’s faithful people have done for a very long time. And in today’s first reading from the book of Isaiah, the community tries to find those immovable characteristics of God that hold us through all our sorrows and joys. 

Now to sit faithfully with this reading, we need to recall how it came to be during a specific part of Israel’s history. 70 years before it was recorded, the Babylonian empire had invaded the kingdom of Judah and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. After a year-long siege, the Babylonians breached the city’s wall and decided that most – but not all – of surviving residents would have to leave. The civic and religious leaders, as well as the rich, the poor, workers, artisans, merchants, teachers, and more were sent on a 1700 mile journey into the heart of the Babylonian empire itself. For the next seventy years, that specific Jewish community built new lives for themselves along the banks of the Euphrates river. And part of that work involved trying to figure out what they were now supposed to be. They could have focused on their successes – only sharing the stories of their past when kings, queens, priests, and everyday people made God’s love real in their world. But they also chose to do the very odd thing of  remembering those bits where everything went wrong. Their identity as God’s people wasn’t merely defined by all the ways they “won.” They made sure to remain authentically themselves by remembering the conflicts that brought prophets into their midst. A prophet was an individual appointed by God to bring to the people a word about who God is and how their faithfulness was lived out in the ways they treated the most vulnerable among them. One of those prophets was Isaiah and near the end of the book attributed to him, we learn about what happened when some of the exiled community finally came home. The Babylonian Empire, at that point, had been overthrown by the Persians who then invited those whose ancestors were exiled from Jerusalem to go back. Not everyone wanted to go but those who did found the city to be a shell of what it once was. As they tried to rebuild God’s Temple and restore the city into something new, those who returned from Babylon and those who had remained in the city, were wondering what their God was up to. It seemed as if the future that some of them wanted had finally come. But strife, conflict, and all kinds of arguments showed that their future wasn’t going to be what they expected. As the grumbling grew, some within the community decided to do something different. They prayed one of the most brash and bold prayers they could do. 

And it began by acting as if God is an immovable force but one that they could still try to move. They demand God to break through what kept them apart and to make real in their own lives the same kinds of stories they heard in their Bible. It was a prayer that asked God to be God by creating the kind of space where life could be lived. We often describe God as all-knowing, all-powerful, an immovable force with a plan for us all. And yet we heard Isaiah share a prayer implying that what the community was going through was caused by God’s neglect. This isn’t the kind of thing we assume we’re allowed to say since we know we’re not perfect ourselves. But when we pray in an incredibly faithful way, being honest is what we’re called to be. It’s why, I think, Isaiah matched that bold assertion with an even bolder acknowledgement that their current trouble was deserved. They confessed that what they were living through wasn’t merely caused by their moral failing but rather how we often make ourselves into an immovable object with no need for God. We live as if grace and love isn’t enough and that we don’t need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s unwilling to hold the fullness and complexity of life together since everything is defined by success or winning. Isaiah was brash enough to admit before God and before the entire community that when we make something other than God the foundation of who we are – there’s no demand we can actually make on God. But it’s then, at that moment, when faith makes its move since what matters isn’t trying to make us, an immovable object of wonder, worry, sin, and imperfection, to somehow come up to God; what matters is that our God chooses to not be an immovable force at all. 

The opening word of verse  8 – the word “yet” – might be the best word to describe what a life of faith is all about. It’s a kind of life that doesn’t pretend to be perfect because it knows how often that “yet” is the only thing we have. Pain, sorrow, grief, and tears make it so that we live in way too many futures we didn’t expect. But it’s the “yet” that carries us through since we know that the only thing we can do, in the words of Professor Walter Bruggemann, is to cede the initiative of our life “over to God, [who is] the only one who can give futures.” Living that way isn’t easy since it requires us to admit that there’s only so much we can do. Yet we have a God who broke down the distance between us by living a life that shows us what love will do. It’s in Jesus where we discover a future that extends beyond the limits of what this life will bring. Jesus does not ask us to create our own future but gives us a new one where grace and hope grows. In just a little bit we will use a little water, some prayers, and a community full of people whose futures have turned out quite different than they expected – to publicly welcome baby Kennedy into what God is already up to. She will be made a part of something bigger than herself because that’s what God’s love always does. Kennedy will be invited to not just become a part of God’s story but to actively participate in it through her own bold and brash prayers. She will be invited to be authentically and faithfully herself as Jesus guides her on the way. And when she finds herself living through a future she didn’t plan for or expect, Jesus will be right there beside her – showing how the only immovable thing in God’s creation is always moving, always flowing, and always stirring – eternal love of God. 


Sermon: Being/Living Integrated into/with the Kingdom of God

Jesus said to the disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46

My sermon from Christ the King Sunday (November 26, 2023) on Matthew 25:31-46.

So about a month ago, a new fuzzball joined my family. She’s about 8 months old, weighs approximately 40 lbs, and barks whenever someone knocks on the door. We named her Pepper and our two cats are finally willing to sit in the same room as her.  I haven’t lived with a dog for awhile so I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect when Pepper showed up. But I was honestly amazed by all the things she chose not to do. She wasn’t really interested in toys; she didn’t chase the cats; and when I accidentally left her alone at home for an entire day, nothing was chewed up. Pepper also surprised me because whenever I accidentally dropped food onto the floor, she simply ignored it. I initially hoped I would never need to sweep under my dining room table again now that Pepper was a part of my home. But in this joint process of integrating one another into our lives, I saw how embracing who she was rather than who I expected her to be, would make our relationship thrive. Working through our expectations into something new is, I think, one of the most faithful things we can do. And as we heard today in our reading from the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus knows just how hard that work will be. 

Now this reading is, if we’re honest, a bit difficult to integrate into who we imagine Jesus is. Outside these church walls, many of us are already gearing up for the story of a little baby born in Bethlehem. We’ve already decorated our homes with twinkling lights and we’re watching every Hallmark holiday movie we can find. We’re ready for a wholesome holiday full of eggnog, gifts, and a Jesus that warms us up like a cozy electric blanket. However the Jesus we just listened to is a bit terrifying. He talked about the Son of Man returning to Earth with every one of God’s angels. This Son was decked out in all his glory and when the entire world was brought before him, he immediately separated everyone into two groups. On his right hand he placed those who he’ll bless by fully welcoming them into the kingdom of God. But those he placed on his left will be sent somewhere else. This is the kind of Jesus we’re fine with as long as he’s focused on someone else. But when this Jesus turns his eyes towards us, a lump grows in our throat. We often use an unbiblical theological shorthand to describe who our experience of Jesus is. We pretend that the God we meet in the first half of our Bible is one who is full of judgment and wrath while the God we discover in Jesus is like a puppy dog wagging their tails. Jesus, though, chose his last sermon to his friends before his arrest, trial, and death, to end with a very complete and fiery judgment. And our struggle to integrate this Jesus with the one we expect even appears within the translation itself. We often choose to lessen Jesus’ impact by picking words that don’t impact us very much. For example, the word for “stranger” in our text is not really about the neighbor down the street who we often wave to but haven’t actually met. This stranger is the foreigner, the migrant, or the immigrant who finds themselves to be a stranger in a strange land – which was an experience Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, and Jesus knew very well. In that same vein, the word for “welcome” is all about integrating people into a new kind of community where everyone is changed. And even the word we translate as “care” really means “to serve” which is something we don’t want to do when we feel like those around us deserve the state they’re in. The Jesus we can’t wait to meet on Christmas isn’t like the Jesus we meet today. And trying to integrate those two Jesuses together is a faithful task everyone of us needs to endure. 

So maybe instead of ignoring that task or choosing one Jesus at the expense of the other, I wonder if there’s a more authentic way to integrate Jesus’ words into our own. We can trust that Jesus really means what he says but we can also pay attention to what Jesus chose to talk about the most. The actual separation of people into two groups happened before Jesus explained any of his actions. He didn’t send people into a kind of courtroom where everyone saw what they had done or left undone before he shared his judgment on them. Instead, Jesus only used a handful of words to describe that judgment while putting most of his emphasis on the life that people actually lived. Both the sheep and the goats were surprised to learn that this wasn’t the first time they had experienced Jesus. They had already met him through the ones Jesus chose to be with. He was with the foreigner who lived among them and alongside those who were hungry, thirsty, sick, and in prison. Jesus was always there, right out in the open, with the people we often choose to ignore. And while we personally might be a bit nervous imagining Jesus to be a kind of judge, he knows we have no problem being the judge ourselves deciding who is worthy of our welcome, love, and service. 

So, in one sense, the judgment Jesus embodies is a reflection of the judgment we’ve already given. And while I personally lean towards the Jesus who chose to grow up and experience the kind of love we are called to bring into the world, I’m also grateful that he won’t let us be the final word on what love will do. Jesus came to integrate us into a holy way of life that breaks through every one of our expectations. That work, though, isn’t always easy since it’s a work we never really stop doing. And it’s often when we’re in a rhythm that feels holy and true when everything changes. That change might be small like discovering after your Thanksgiving dinner that the dog you thought wasn’t food motivated had licked clean every single dessert bowl and plate on the dining room table. But this work can also upend our entire lives when the life we’ve built with other people comes completely undone. Yet through it all we have a Jesus who, no matter what, chooses to be with us. And during those moments when love is hard, trust that you are God’s beloved and Jesus will never let you go. The life of faith is a life that is always trying to integrate Jesus’ love into our own. And while we don’t always know what that looks like, it does, I think, resemble to a small degree what happened when the last runner of the most recent NYC Marathon crossed the finish line. When we wait for each other, support one another, cheer for each other, and include those we don’t even know, we are using all we have been given to serve our God. And while that isn’t an easy thing to do, it is something we can do because the Jesus who has claimed us as his own will be alongside us – forever. 


Sermon: A New Song – Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

My sermon from the 55th annual Upper Pascack Valley Interfaith Thanksgiving Service hosted at Christ Lutheran Church in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. Delivered on November 19, 2023.

So about twenty years ago, my denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – decided it was time to create a new hymnal. Every 30 or 40 years or so, we take what we’re currently doing in worship and wonder what it might look like in the future. This process is how we faithfully hold onto our traditions while noticing the newer songs and prayers that feed our souls. But this work, as you can imagine, often invites people to live into every one of their big feelings. Some who worked on this new hymnal only wanted to sing the songs they already knew since those were foundational to their experience of God. Others, though, wanted to embrace the fullness of a worldwide Lutheran Christian story that isn’t only European and white. Arguing about what we do when we gather together to worship and sing is, I think, an experience every one of our faith traditions knows fairly well. And in my denomination we eventually came up with a compromise that no one was 100% happy with. However, when we physically began to assemble the book itself with all 654 hymns the church decided to include, another issue popped up. Those whose job it was to keep the whole thing under budget noticed that all these hymns made the book a little expensive. These folks decided to try something different so that every song that was picked could be accessible at a more reasonable price. And so one of the ideas they used was to print some of the hymns without their traditional 4 part harmonies. Now for some Lutheran Christians – this was a bit traumatizing. We have a rather long tradition of singing songs that include many different kinds of voices. Tenors, basses, sopranos, altos, those with high voices and those with low voices are necessary for the songs we sing. And while a song without those voices can still be beautiful, it would also be missing all the pieces that make it whole. At the heart of this church’s debate around its new hymnal was, I think, a conversation; one we’ve been having since Jesus’ disciples walked with him almost 2000 years ago. How do we make sure we’re doing all we’re supposed to do so that every voice can be included in the song we believe God is calling us to sing? 

Now, growing up, the only singing I ever did was either with my elementary school choir or in the shower at my parent’s house. Singing out loud in a way that other people could actually hear wasn’t something I really did until this faith thing became a part of my life after college. When I first started to go to church, I chose not to sing because I didn’t know any of the songs and I was embarrassed by how off key I usually was. Yet the flavor of Christianity that claimed me as its own didn’t let my lack of singing stop it from showing how my voice already had a home. The community did this by making sure that singing was something we did all the time, often including those all the additional verses beyond the first 4 that we usually ignore. The people around me made sure that these songs were often repeated so that I could learn what they meant. And my very first pastor modeled to me what voices were allowed to be part of this church community since he never, ever, hit the correct note even after having many different lessons with a variety of professional voice teachers. When we sang together, we were allowed to make mistakes, to feel all that we were feeling, to remain silent if we didn’t know what to say, and to experience what it’s like to have someone sing for you when you no longer can. The perfection of a community’s song doesn’t depend on how perfect it sounds but rather, I think, on who is there when we sing. 

Now creating the kind of space big enough where every voice has its place isn’t always easy to do. Life has a habit of making any kind of singing very hard. When we are living with too much grief, sorrow, fear, doubt, anxiety, and pain – it can seem as if there’s no place in this song for us. We sometimes assume our voice isn’t good enough or we might try to limit all the other voices that are meant to harmonize with us. We act as if a song of unity, strength, power, hope, and love includes only one voice that just so happens to fit with everything we already think and believe. The songs we sing are meant to bring life rather than to take life. And when we spend all our time, energy, and effort on making sure other voices aren’t included in the songs we sing, what comes out of our community ends up being mere noise – reducing our creativity, our beauty, our diversity, and our hope into the sound of a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 

Now, at the moment, too many of us are experiencing what that kind of noise feels like. There are far too many people that we know or who we are connected to who are not spending their version of Thanksgiving sitting with their families and friends at a dining room table. The unholy songs of terror, fear, war, and violence are way too loud. And I often feel as if there’s a sound stuck deep in my throat full of anger, fury, sadness, and fear that’s on the verge of roaring out. It’s been down right heartbreaking to see how the songs of antisemitism and islamophobia have perked up among so many who claim to follow Jesus. And as my community made plans for tonight’s service, we weren’t quite sure what we could sing since the terror attack on October 7 in Israel and the ongoing war in Gaza has impacted so many of you. It feels weird to sing songs of thanksgiving when so many are living through such an overwhelming crisis. And I couldn’t really imagine which songs within our hymnal were big enough to represent who we truly are while being honest about all the tension hanging in the air right now. 

And so that’s why we sort of made the decision to reach deep into our musical tradition of finding ways to simply sing. We, together, have already sung about thankfulness and the wonder of creation and in a bit, we’ll sing about healing, wholeness, peace, and joy. It’s how this church can live into the truth that our towns, schools, and neighborhoods can’t be what they’re supposed to be without each of you. Your voice matters and we’ll do our part to make sure it’s heard. I know we won’t always get that right and we too often focus more on what to sing rather than why we’re singing in the first place. But we have truly been blessed by this interfaith community that has, since 1968, taken the time to listen, learn, and be a part of each other’s songs. My prayer is that this will continue because when we sing together, the songs of hate, fear, terror, and violence that keeps us apart loses all its strength and power. And on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, one thing I can be thankful for is that each of you are you. I’m thankful for your voice. I’m thankful for every one of the leaders that is part of this interfaith community. And I’m thankful that your voice is part of the songs I get to sing. I hope that by taking the time to share, learn, and be part of each other’s songs, we can help write a new song where our love, peace, mutual encouragement and constant support never fades. 


Children’s Message: Talents

Delivered on November 19, 2023.

*Bring some Gold Coins*

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I want to talk a little bit about our reading from Jesus today. He’s going to tell a story and in the story – he’s going to talk about people who had talents. 

Talents is a word we use often and we usually use it to mean some special gifts or ability that someone might have. So what might be a talent? Accept answers. A few of the gifts highlighted on our stewardship drive about the gifts we’ve noticed in others are about their talents – what they do and what skills they have. You all have talents and God gave you those talents because you are worth having those talents. 

But back in Jesus’ day, a talent was like this: show a gold coin. A talent was a coin that was worth a very large amount of money. It was worth all the money you might raise while working for twenty years. It might be hard to process just how much that might be. I know, in my house, my kids like to collect Pokemon cards and we often talk about what it would be like to buy a booster box – 36 packs of pokemon cards. A booster box, depending on what cards it contains and how old it is, is roughly $110 – which is roughly how much a person might make working minimum wage here in NJ. So if you didn’t have to pay for rent or food or health care and clothes – all you needed to buy was booster boxes of Pokemon cards – one talent would allow you to buy over 6,000 of them. That’s a lot! 

And so Jesus tells a story about someone who received 1 talent, 2 talents, and 5 talents. 3 different piles and so we’ll make those piles. Make the piles. If it’s helpful to think in terms of pokemon cards or whatnot – imagine 6000 and then 12000 and then 30000. So we should think about those piles as we listen to those stories and wonder what God would like us to do with all the gifts God has given us. 

Hand out some coins to folks.