Children’s Message: God is present in the frustrations. Blessing of Backpacks.

Delivered on September 10, 2023.

*bring lots of copies of the same coloring sheet*

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And today I have a stack of coloring sheets. They’re kind of neat – and something you can color during the sermon. So if we got a copy of this – we might feel it’s pretty neat, especially if we like the characters on it. So getting one copy of it is cool. But what if, after you finish coloring that sheet, I gave you another one? Still neat – but maybe not as fun. And then – after you finished that one, I gave you another one – the exact same thing. How many coloring sheets would I need to give you before you started to feel a bit bored or tired or wondering why you’re doing it? 2 or 3 or 5. At some point, even this fun thing can feel very routine or not exciting.

Now I know school started – and school can be fun and exciting and terrifying. What kind of feelings did you have on your first day? Accept answers. I remember feeling excited because I’d get to meet new teachers, see my friends, make new ones, and get excited about learning. But then the homework would start. And the lessons that, while exciting, started to feel routine. Sometimes knowing that we’re going to do similar kinds of things at similar parts of the day is pretty helpful – especially if we need that kind of structure to do our best. But at some point – the excitement starts to fade. It might take a day or a week or a month but there are times when school feels like a bit of a drudge. And it’s totally okay if, at some points in the school year, it starts to feel like that. It’s completely normal and natural for that to happen. In fact – and here’s a secret – even parents and teachers and aids and administrators feel like that sometimes to. The teachers have to plan and prep for all the lessons they’re going to be teaching you. The aids have to help too. The administrators have lots of paperwork to do and happen to deal with teachers, parents, and all the not-fun part of education that is necessary to make things run as smoothly as possible. And then parents have lots of schedules to keep track of, lunches to pack, school supplies to buy, and more. Some days are exciting and energetic and we can’t wait for what the day might bring. But other days aren’t as exciting. We just feel we’ve got to get through them.

And on days like those, I like to remember that we’re not going through those days alone. Jesus is with us on exciting days and scary days and on those boring days too. Jesus knows what it’s like to have all those kinds of days and I’m pretty sure Jesus felt a lot of the same emotions you feel too. Jesus got scared and nervous. He laughed and cried. And I’m pretty sure there were a lot of times when, especially when his friends didn’t seem to understand the lesson he was trying to teach, I’m pretty sure Jesus got a little frustrated that he needed to come up with a new lesson plan to try and make it stick. Jesus knows that life isn’t always exciting and new. In fact, most of life doesn’t feel like that. Instead – there are things we get to do and Jesus makes sure we have the grace, the energy, and the community – the church – to help carry us through. That means, when you wake up and you can’t wait to go to school, Jesus is with you – cheering you on. And when you wake up and don’t want to go to school, Jesus is still with you – totally feeling what you feel – but also gently getting you out the door to embrace your vocation as a student or a teacher or an aide or an administrator. Your feelings are totally valid and you get to feel all you feel. Yet you’ve also been given an opportunity to learn, to grow, to teach, to lead, to support, and to love. Being in school right now is hard. Jesus gets that, Jesus sees that, and Jesus will help you through it all.

So I’ve given these before but I figured they might be helpful now too. During the routine of the school year, I hope you remember that you are not alone. I pray that you realize you are a gift to the world and that we, together, can help each other thrive. So we get to be loved cuz you are loved. We get to be kind – to support each other. And you get to be you because the world, and Jesus’s body and the church can’t be what it’s supposed to be without you. The days might not always be exciting, especially when the work just seems like it’s just one thing after the other, but you have all the skills you need be the student God knows you can be.

So let’s bless one another for this upcoming school year.

Let us pray. O God, today we gather to celebrate the beginning of a new school year. It is a time filled with joy and excitement as well as uncertainty and wonder. You are the giver of all knowledge and wisdom and ask for all centers of learning be safe, lively, and fully of the joy, peace, and welcome so all can focus on the pursuit of education and the betterment of ourselves.

Bless students as they enter new settings, meet new people, and learn new ideas. Give them open minds and open hearts to learn and to experience more fully the majesty of the world You have created. Strengthen them as they learn and grow this year. Show them how to serve you best by studying hard, and by discovering and using the gifts you have given them. Fill them with the joy of learning and uplift each of them with your grace and love. Enable them to grow in knowledge and wisdom during this school year and all the days of their lives.

Bless teachers, aides, and all those who stand alongside our students as they work diligently using the skills and abilities you have given them. Whatever their task or duty, guide them to do it in love and faithfulness to you, knowing that even the most ordinary task becomes extraordinary when done in your name. Give them calm strength and patient wisdom as they help, teach, support, protect, guide and encourage all through this road of education. Grant them joy as they lay the foundation of hope for all learners.

Bless support staff, administrators, and all whose work often goes unseen. Remind them that Your work also often goes unseen and yet serves as the foundation that the rest of life is built on. Give them calm strength, patient wisdom, and boundless grace as they hold together every center of living through their dedication and work.

May this year be safe, full of promise, work, and fun. We ask all this in the name of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hand out tags.

Sermon: Be Curious

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Exodus 3:1-15

My sermon from the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 3, 2023) on Exodus 3:1:15


Robert Altar is a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley and he published a complete translation of the Hebrew Bible in 2018. Translations made by one person can be a bit problematic since their conscious and unconscious biases often show up in the work. Yet they also have the opportunity to notice how different themes and ideas are engaged with by the different books within the Bible. Professor Altar, after translating the sections devoted to Moses’s story, noticed something specific that the Biblical authors were paying attention to. He wrote: “the general rule in Exodus, and again in Numbers when the story continues, is that what is of interest about the character of Moses is what bears on his qualities as a leader – his impassioned sense of justice, his easily ignited temper, his selfless compassion, his feelings of personal inadequacy. Alone among biblical characters, he is assigned an oddly generic epithet – the man Moses. There may be some theological motivate for this designation, in order to remind us of his plainly human status, to ward off any inclination to deify the founding leader of the Israelite people, but it also suggests more concretely that Moses as forger of the nation and prince of prophets is, after all, not an absolutely unique figure but a [person]… bringing to the soul-trying tasks of leadership both the moral and temperamental resources and the all-too-human weaknesses that many … may possess.” Moses was more than an almost superhuman figure living through a biblical story full of blockbuster special effects. Moses was also a person with gifts, abilities, and experiences that shaped who he was. After being rescued from genocide by the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Moses was raised as an Egyptian in the home of the the Pharoah’s daughter. He grew up, fully aware of his background and his current privilege. When he came upon an Egyptian brutalizing an Isrealite, Moses killed the Egyptian and then fled into the land of Midian located in the north-west corner of the Arabian Peninsula. While there, he made a new life for himself by marrying into the family of a local religious leader and took on the job of managing his father-in-law’s sheep. He lived there for the next forty years, never forgetting the complex identities that made up his story. One day, when the old grazing spots weren’t quite what they used to be, he led the sheep into someplace new where, on a mountain, a bush on fire refused to be burned up.

Now this moment in Moses’s story has, for centuries, sparked out imagination. Art depicting this scene usually has a large bush surrounded by different shadows, light, and color meant to inspire in us an overwhelming sense of God’s power and might. This is one of the many blockbuster special effects moments within Moses’s story so we imagined it had to be a bit over-the-top. Yet the details within this story invite us to imagine it in a slightly different way. The word we translate as bush is an ancient Hebrew word that is rarely used anywhere else in the text. In fact, it’s a word often applied to the plants that sort of fade into the background that we tend to not notice at all. God, the creator of the universe who will part the Red Sea, fill the Nile with blood, and cover Egypt with a bazillion frogs, chose to show up in a plant most of us wouldn’t even notice. Even a little fire wouldn’t get us to raise an eyebrow since we expect, and hope, for a God who does big things. And yet God appearing in the thing we often overlook also feels like the most God-like thing God can do. God’s work in this world can sometimes be over-the-top, making a splash that changes all our lives. But God is also deeply invested in the little things we do with each other that end up being the most important things after all. Forgiveness, mercy, an act of patience, a listening ear, and a little thing that says we care might not seem important on the outside but is vital for us to truly know we’re not alone. God, then, showing up in what we would first overlook feels a bit too on-the-nose when it comes to pointing out one of our very human character flaws. But if “not noticing” is part of who we are – what character trait did Moses have that made him do something different?

Long ago, a few rabbis noticed that our Bible doesn’t actually tell us when the bush started burning. It could have been lit up right as Moses looked at it or maybe it burned in the days, weeks, or months before he came near. We could, I think, stretch our spiritual imagination to wonder if this bush had been burning since the earth was made – a visible manifestation of the presence of God that everyone had the opportunity to see. Yet it took generations before someone walking by finally noticed it. That is, I think, one of the character traits that helped Moses be who God wanted him to be. Moses was deeply curious, able to notice what others didn’t. This curiosity was more than simply a willingness to ask questions; it enabled Moses to live in a state of constant wonder. The curiosity he held – a curiosity we all can truly have – is simply a trust that this moment isn’t the limit of what all our moments might be. Curiosity never forgets its history nor does it assume our story is the default story meant for all. Curiosity takes seriously our faults, our failures, and our relationships while embracing every single one of our joys. Curiosity knows we are not meant to be experts about everything, nor do we need to always have everything figured out. Instead, curiosity is a gift that opens us to the fullness of God. When we’re curious, words and phrases like “tell me more?” and “what do you mean?” and “your story is important for me to hear” fill the dozens of small interactions we have everyday with a sense of love and hope. Curiosity is always supposed to be a verb that shows how we, and others, are never alone. Being curious, asking questions, and knowing there’s always an opportunity for more is one of the most courageous things we can embrace since it trusts we aren’t finished growing into who God knows we can be.

I wonder, then, if noticing Moses’ curiosity can invite us to grow our own. When we take the entirety of his story seriously, we notice how Moses’ curiosity never let the status quo be the limit of what his story might be. His history, his experiences, and his journey with God helped open him to the God who was already around him. Moses was very aware of how his own struggles, character flaws, and imperfections might get in the way of all that God wanted him to do. Yet God knows that a life of faith is less about knowing everything and is all about trusting how we are already fully known. In our quest to be curious, the questions we ask shouldn’t be about trying to get the other person to agree with what we’ve already come up with. Rather they expand who we – and they – get to be. The gift of curiosity never lets us limit who God might be since God lived curiosity out loud by doing the very curious thing of living a very human story. It was this God of Moses who chose to grow, to experience change, to live, to die, and to rise while helping all of us notice what’s already around us. God embraced curiosity since curiosity trusts that there’s always more to come. And if God can be curious, then the least we can do is be as curious with ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our world, too.


Children’s Message: Different Images from the Bible for God (i.e. God as a pronoun)

So it’s my tradition, after the prayer of the day, to bring a message to all God’s children and I have a hymnal supplement. In 2006, our denomination came out with a new hymnal to replace the one that came out in the late 1970s. Stuff from this hymnal is what we reprint in our bulletin every Sunday – but that hymnal, the ELW, is 17 years old at this point. So last year, our denomination put out a supplement – named All Creation Sings – with new songs, new resources, and new orders for worship that we can try. Sometimes we use these new songs in our liturgy during communion and I’ll explore using them more in the coming months. Yet one thing I find really neat about these hymnals – and the supplement – is the special resources at the end of the book. For example, there’s a list in the ELW where a lot of our language for worship comes from and in All Creation Sings is a list of all different images for God. When the Bible talks about God – describes God – imagines God – compares God to things in the world – there’s a list of all that God is described as. 

So let’s try that. Let’s imagine God. God is…God and our words can’t fully describe who God is. We have to use metaphors or descriptions to say who God is like. So who do you think God is like?

Go through the list. Examples include as a mother, as a man, as feet, as a bear, as a hen, and more. So many images!

You might notice that I tend to say “God” all the time – rather than use pronouns like he or she or they. And that’s because of a list like this. God is described in a lot of different ways that transfers what our words can do. Even the words in the Bible, while sacred, are still our words – so they are a little limited. So I just use God – and imagine that God represents all the things listed in scripture. God invites us to imagine God in all different kinds of ways – and when we want to know who and what God is like – we pay attention to Jesus because he shows us who God is, what love looks like, and how we have the power and responsibility to love like he does too. 

Children’s Message: The Responsibility of the Keys

*Bring your car keys

So it’s my tradition, after the prayer of the day, to bring a message to all God’s children and I have something with me that I carry often in my pocket. It’s my keys. Let’s go through what is on my keys. I have a bunch of little pieces of plastic for the various reward programs that stores I attend have. They give me a special coupon if I give them permission to track everything that I buy. I have a library card, ikea card, shop rite, stop shop, and even a card for A&P grocery store which closed in 2015. I probably should throw that card out. 

I also have keys for my home and keys for here at the church – like my office, the altar guild room, and the front doors in the sanctuary. And then I have these two keys – keys for my cars. Keys, for cars, are changing so these are a bit old skool. They have little buttons that will unlock doors but also this key that you insert into a door or into the engine to turn it on. You might see different kinds of keys, called FOBs, that allow you to turn your car on as long as you have it on you or in your car. So that shows you what a key does: it helps us enter the car, turn it on, and go. 

Now we live in an area where having a car is sort of essential. It’s very difficult to walk to places since we don’t have sidewalks, homes are far apart, and we sometimes need to travel miles to go to school, to fields for sports, to work, and more. Not everyone lives like we do so not everyone needs, wants, or even uses a car. But thinking about what car keys do helps us lean into the story about Jesus we’re going to hear in our second reading from the Bible. Jesus and his friends are traveling around, preaching, teaching, and healing when they near the city of “Caesarea Philippi.” Caesarea Philippi was a newish city that was a very important city – and was named after the Roman Emperor whose title was “Caesar.” The city was full of soldiers, a market place, important government officials, and a lot of different religious buildings that were designed for people who didn’t believe in God. And among those buildings and statues that people thought described the different beings who controlled the universe, influenced lives, etc – was a statue dedicated to an old Roman emperor. Folks were acting and believing and treating as if even the Roman Emperor was someone with power like God or Jesus. It’s there, in sight of those buildings and the Roman military and all these things that said something other than God was in charge of it all – that Jesus asked his friends a question: who do people think I am? The disciples shared what people thought Jesus was. And then Jesus asked “who do you think I am?” and Peter said the Messiah which is a word we don’t use too often but is all about the One who makes God’s love real in our world. Jesus agrees with Peter and promises that his confession – his proclamation about who Jesus is – will be the strong foundation that the church is built on. We continue to think about, proclaim, reflect on who we say Jesus is – and Jesus keeps coming to us to remind us that Jesus is God’s love made real and how that changes the church, our lives, and the world. 

Jesus then talks about keys. And the saying is a bit confusing which is why car keys might help us understand what Jesus is saying. Like how a key enables us to decide, with a car, where to go and to go there – Jesus is saying that because we know him, because of our baptism, because of our faith – we are going to jump into the driver’s seat of, like Jesus, helping make God’s love real in the world. That’s going to mean making decisions, making choices, and doing our best to know Jesus, spend time with Jesus, to pray, and to love like Jesus. And while this is a very powerful thing we get to do – it’s also a great responsibility. Jesus is trusting us – in all that we do, even if we don’t drive or don’t have car keys – to make loving decisions. That’s the freedom our faith gives us – the chance to make love, kindness, patience, hope, and mercy at the heart of everything we do because Jesus chooses each of us to, like him, make God’s love real in our world. 

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 the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 8/27/2023.

Sermon: Don’t Forget Your History

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Exodus 1:8-2:10

My sermon from the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 27, 2023) on Exodus 1:8-2:10.


So there’s an entire genre of movies, shows, books, and comics devoted to “coming of age” stories. Typically within these stories a young person goes through a series of canon events that matures them into adulthood. Often these tales are funny, tragic, light hearted, or deeply emotional. And we can easily relate to them, even if they’re centered in a culture that isn’t our own, because we have either gone through our “coming of age” stories or hope to have one very soon. These stories remind us of who we are and how we, mostly, consider ourselves to be the mature people God calls us to be. We see ourselves through the eyes of the hero even if they’re going through something we never want to go through ourselves. I wonder, though, what would happen if instead of focusing on the hero, we saw ourselves as part of the wider story. Today’s words from the opening chapters of the book of Exodus are, on some level, the opening lines to a coming of age story that eventually raises Moses up as the person who will lead the Isralites out of slavery and into freedom. But it’s also a story centered on two women who refused to let the wider community rewrite its own history to the detriment of all.

The story begins in the years after Joseph and his family were reconciled. As you might recall from a few weeks ago, Joseph had a pretty traumatic life. Their father, Jacob, had continued the family tradition of naming one child as their favorite at the expense of everyone else. Joseph, instead of trying to keep the peace, wasn’t shy about rubbing this fact in the face of his 11 brothers. In response, the brothers did something horrific: they faked his death and sold him into slavery. Joseph quickly ended up in Egypt where he had no control over the violence done to his body nor the freedom to go wherever he wanted to go. After a series of dramatic events, he ended up as part of the Pharoah’s inner circle and, in the process, gained a lot of political power. But that didn’t really mean much since he was still enslaved. Eventually a famine spread through the entire area and Joseph’s skills enabled Egypt to thrive while everyone suffered. His father and brothers became refugees, coming to Egypt to find food. After a rather dramatic and tearful reunion, Joseph’s brothers were encouraged to settle the entire household inside Egypt itself. Their history up to this moment was pretty complicated but the brothers, Joseph, and the Egyptians, had worked together to build a new community that was more than what they were before. But as the years passed, this story was forgotten. The Egyptians grew suspicious of these people who didn’t look or talk or believe like they did. Their fear enabled the Egyptians to become resentful of these folks who had lived there for generations but were now labeled as foreigners. As the Israelites grew in size, the Egyptians became paranoid. They started to narrow their own history to the point where the Israelites could no longer be a part of it. They enslaved them, forcing them to build the cities that symbolized the might of their kingdom. And when this incredible violence failed to satisfy their xenophobia, they moved into the next stage of what this fear often brings. 

Now the next part of the story started with an upside-down request. The Pharaoh ordered midwives to kill all the sons born to Israelite women. He told Shiphrah and Puah, whose vocation was all about bringing life into the world to, instead, do the opposite. Rather than remembering their shared humanity, the Pharaoh chose to let fear consume him, his community, and his people. This was an extreme attempt to end the Israelites’ story and we get the sense that all Egyptians either supported this endeavor or didn’t think that they could, or should, speak up. In light of his power, authority, and a history that pretended to be something other than it was, he assumed this request would be answered and supported. And yet, in the heat of this overwhelming moment, these two midwives said “no.” 

One of the interesting things about this story is that we don’t really know who these women were. We never hear their internal thoughts nor discover a coming of age story that describes how they could, in the future, defy the supreme leader in the land. The only thing we’re told is that Shiphrah and Puah feared God. That was all they were equipped with to do the opposite of what the Pharaoh ordered them to do. The word “fear” is a bit confusing in English since we define it as an extremely unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that someone or something is dangerous. We either try to avoid fear at all times or limit it to something manageable like riding a roller coaster or watching a horror movie. Yet the fear Shiphrah and Puah held wasn’t something designed to be overcome nor was it the opposite of faith. It was, instead, rooted in a faith that trusted that their God was always near. Fear is more than a feeling; it’s a signal that we need to slow down and pay attention. Rather than assuming everything is fine with our status quo, fear invites us to notice that something more is around us. Fear can be helpful, keeping us safe during difficult situations. But fear can also consume us, changing how we live our lives today by warping and forgetting the fullness of our story. The fear that grounded Shiphrah and Puah wasn’t the fear that fed the actions of the Egyptians. It was, instead, a reverence that kept them focused on the God who was active in, around, and through them. This fear didn’t consume them; it, instead, helped them to remember who they were and whose they were while being surrounded by another’s unjustified worry and fear. This doesn’t mean they weren’t fearful of the Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and what could happen if they were caught; nor does it mean that they, as human beings, didn’t have their own biases and prejudices that shaped their relationships with others. But rather than letting their fear or the fear around them limit who they could be, the fear of God enabled them to say “no” in spite of everything else that was going around them. 

Now when we look at the wider Christian story, we have plenty of examples of Christians using their faith to commit the same kinds of genocidal acts the Egyptians are described as doing within the book of Exodus. And while it would be easy for us to ignore that part of our own history by focusing solely on the heroes of our faith, I’m not sure if that’s the most faithful response. We don’t need to rewrite our story; instead, we need to own it – to point to all the complications and joys and sorrow and evil and good that has shaped us into who we are today. God believes that we, though sinners, have the capacity to grasp the fullness of our history since God, in Jesus, chose to enter that same history and let it grow in the nearly 2000 years since he rose from the dead. Jesus didn’t ignore our complicated story; instead, he faced it head on and, through the Cross, showed us how it can become something more. Our urge to celebrate the Shiphrahs and Puahs of the faith is one that we should embrace as part of our collective coming of age story that shows what the kingdom of God is all about. And yet we also need to remember that we’re not always the heroes we want to be because fear can warp who we truly are. There are times when we will feel as if we’re not equipped to do what needs to be done to share and hold and learn and grow from the complicated history that define our lives and our world. But if a little fear is all that was needed for Shiphrah and Puah to make a difference in their world, your baptism and your faith is all you need to do the same. God knows that your story – your full story – should be known and that it will never limit who, in Christ, you get to be. Rather, you and I and the entire church will continue to grow through our own coming of age story that leads into the age of Christ – where God’s mercy, God’s love, and God’s peace is given to all. 


Children’s Message: Don’t Stop Learning

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I have with me a tool used in the kitchen. Have you ever seen something like this before? Let’s describe what we see. 

Describe the tool. 

This is known as a Honing or Sharpening steel. It’s a tool used in the kitchen to help keep knives sharp. A knife works by having one edge sharp – at a point. And that’s why you have to be really careful with knives because if you touch the sharp edge rather than dull edge, you could hurt yourself. When you see knives or use knives, make sure your parents and guardians are around. Knives aren’t toys – they’re tool – that I use a lot to cut strawberries, apples, cucumbers, and other food items in the kitchen. A sharpening steel is pretty easy to use. You take a knife – with a blade and you just gently drag it down one side and then the other. You can hear it make a noise – like a sheeen. After a few “sheens,” the knife is sharper than it once was and that’s important because a sharp knife will do what you want it to do – making it safer and easier to use. For the longest time, I thought the sharpening steel was similar to what a knifer sharpener was. But I was wrong. For years and years, I thought I knew what this thing did. Turns out, I was mistaken and I just recently learned what a sharpening steel does. 

ANd to know what it does, we have to realize we can’t see everything and what we think we know might not be the full story. If you look at the edge of the knife, it looks pointy and sharp. But our eyes, without help, can’t really see what is happening at the pin-point edge. It’s the pin-point edge where the edge of the knife touches the apple – and it’s there where the knife can start to get faulty. The more we use a knife, the more that edge gets out of whack. It’ll start to wobble, no longer be straight, and resemble a squiggly line. Parts will flatten out or point in random ways and will no longer have an edge. That’s what makes the knife dull – which makes it harder to cut and harder to do what you want it to do. When you rub it on a sharpening steel, you’re bending the edge at a microscopic level so that’s it straight. It’s not actually sharpening the edge which would involve using stone or something harder than the knife to actually rub metal off, making a new point. It simply brings the edge back to the way it was. And it takes care of an issue we know is there but that we can’t physically see. 

So why bring up a sharpening steel in church? Well, for a few reasons. One is that, for the longest time, I didn’t know what this thing actually di. I thought it actually changed the blade by physically grinding away bits of metal from the edge. But it didn’t. You’re always going to learn new things, no matter how old you are. And you’ll often discover that what you do know isn’t quite right. It’s okay to admit when we get things wrong because we will. We don’t always see the full story because we’re only human. We can only see what we can see – yet we have opportunities and tools that might help us see in new ways. Seeing things in new ways is an important theme in our stories about Jesus. He is always helping people look at their lives, the people around them, and what they hold most dear – and wonder if there’s a more loving, more kind, more patient, more godly way of looking at things. Jesus knows what it’s like to be like us – to only see a bit of the picture. But Jesus is also God – and knows that there’s so much more to see, to wonder, and to understand. Jesus invites us to stay open the possibility that we’re not right about all things and that we will always need to keep learning. And it’s okay to always be a learner – even when what we learn my challenge something very important to us or upend what we thought we knew. We get to learn and grow and change and, even when it feels difficult to do that, we should do it anyways because Jesus loves us, Jesus is with us, and Jesus – through the gift of faith, the bible, prayer, and the spirit – will keep showing us all the new ways to look at ourselves and the world. 

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 the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/17/2022.

Sermon: Jesus was also in the room with Mary and Martha

Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. \She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-41

My sermon from the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (July 17, 2022) on Luke 10:38-42.


There’s a scene in the 2001 film adaption of The Fellowship of the Ring that makes me wish I could experience the hospitality of a hobbit. Aragorn, an extremely well trained swordsman and a natural leader, had just saved a small group of hobbits from being killed. This small fellowship headed off into the wilderness, seeking safe passage to the elvish city of Rivendell. The next morning while trudging through some rough terrain, Aragorn looked back and saw Pippin, Merry, Frodo, and Sam taking off their packs while preparing a small campfire. Aragorn was a bit confused and he told them they weren’t stopping until nightfall. This bit of news shocked the hobbits because they had some expectations of how the day was supposed to go. Pippin asked the leader of this growing fellowship: “what about breakfast?” Aragorn reminded them they had already eaten. “We’ve had one, yes,” Pippin agreed, but “what about second breakfast?” Aragorn didn’t even bother responding to that and kept leading them through the wilderness. Merry, Pippin’s good friend, came up and said, “I don’t think he knows about second breakfast.” Pippin was crushed and he cried out: “ What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?” Merry, who was getting to keep following the one who saved them, simply replied: “I wouldn’t count on it Pip.” 

Today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke is a story that has been identified as a kind of competition between Martha and Mary. Martha, after welcoming Jesus into her home, was busy showing her guest hospitality. A good definition for what that hospitality looked like comes from The Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras, a Lutheran pastor of Palestinian descent. She recently wrote, “In my culture and in first-century Palestine, hospitality is about allowing the guest to share the sacredness of the family space.” We can imagine the work it took for Martha to make that happen. And while moving between what needed to be done and her guests, she kept seeing her sister Mary doing nothing. Every time Martha refilled a glass or brought out a new snack to share, she noticed her sister just sitting there. Martha, at first, kept her feelings to herself. But after a bit, she begged Jesus to intervene. Jesus, I believe, truly listened to Martha – hearing the anger and worry and frustration in her voice. Yet he chose to answer her in a way she didn’t expect. Jesus said it was Mary who had chosen the better path which makes it seems as if Mary won whatever competition these two were in. One lesson from this passage is that those who do too much should learn how to stop and listen to Jesus. But I also wonder what this story says to those who do too little because serving others is part of our life of faith. Something else, I think, was happening within Martha’s home. And if we only pay attention to what the women did in the home, we forget that Jesus was doing something too. 

Now this story took place only a few verses after Jesus began his long journey to Jerusalem. He was headed towards the cross but he also took the most round-about way to get there. Instead of heading straight to the city, he sent his followers 2 by 2 to visit villages in the land of the Samaritans he planned to go to. Jesus told his disciples they would have to depend on the hospitality of others. And when they came back to him, they overheard Jesus tell a story about an unexpected hero who was a hospitable neighbor to their so-called enemy. After he shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus then entered the village where Martha and Mary lived. Once he wandered into what might have been a strange new place, Martha made the choice to welcome him into her home. There’s a bit of a parallel here between the commands he issued to his disciples and what he, himself, chose to do. And just like he sent them into unexpected places, Jesus did the unexpected thing of entering the home of a woman. It was the cultural practice at the time for the home to be identified as belonging to whoever the male head of the household was. So if Martha lived with her husband, father, or even her brother, Luke would have said the house belonged to them. But this was Martha’s home which meant she was, most likely, an independent woman. This independent woman extended hospitality to a wandering Jewish teacher and those who followed him. Jesus wasn’t supposed to be there yet when he entered the home, he did what he always does. He taught; he listened; he ate; and he was the kingdom of God come near. In that moment, Martha’s hospitality created a space where he belonged. But since Jesus is always Jesus, his presence showed how they belonged too. 

And we can see that by paying attention to Mary. She, like her sister, was expected to serve since the work of including a guest in the sacredness of your family space was often assigned to the women of the household. Even though it was Martha’s home, she and Mary were called on to make sure Jesus was included. Yet instead of following along with what Martha was doing, Mary did something else instead. She sat at the feet of Jesus which isn’t a phrase simply describing her physical location. Rather, when someone sat at Jesus’ feet, they were taking on the posture of a disciple. Mary, in that moment, engaged with Jesus in the same way that all the apostles did. And instead of sending her away to help Martha serve, Jesus served Mary by including her as one of his own. Suddenly, the family space within Martha’s home became bigger because Jesus made sure to include them in his. Jesus, by entering an independent woman’s home, did more than just stretch the boundaries of where God chooses to show up. He also changed what hospitality looks like because he welcomed Martha and Mary while they were welcoming him. Hospitality, when Jesus is involved, means more than just inviting someone into your family space. It also means staying open to the ways you will be changed since the unexpected people God values and loves is now part of your family too. 

Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary is more than an example of our need to prioritize our time with Jesus. It’s also an illustration of how Jesus’ presence extends the body of Christ beyond every one of our expectations. We, who are busy living on the other side of the world almost 2000 years after Jesus visited a certain village, are not much different from the kinds of people Jesus reached out to. We, like Martha and Mary, are the unexpected followers of Jesus who, through baptism and faith, have been brought into his family space. It’s a family space that, like all families, is full of love and joy and hurt and frustrations and many broken expectations. But it’s also a space that’s not centered in blood lines, DNA, cultural bounds, or even our choices. It’s an environment drawn together by Christ because, through God’s love, we have been chosen. You have already been welcomed into God’s family space with a love that will keep pushing the limits of our welcome until it matches God’s own. Instead of serving and loving and welcoming others in the ways we’ve always done, we will need to re-evaluate and change what we do while staying open to the ways Jesus is already changing us. He is the one who shows us what God’s hospitality looks like. And when we find ourselves focused on our expectations, choosing to stop and stew and chew on what we thought we already knew, Jesus will be right there to lead us into a fullness of life that we can always count on. 


Sermon: Do – Not Only Be

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

My sermon from the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (July 10, 2022) on Luke 10:25-37 (with a hint to Psalm 25:1-10)


Marvel Studios’ newest show, Ms. Marvel, tells the story of Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-descent teenager living in Jersey City. She is, for all intents and purposes, a geek in a world where superheroes exist. She’s a gamer, a writer of fan fiction, and a cosplayer who spent days perfecting a costume of her favorite hero – Captain Marvel. Kamala is also a daughter of immigrants, a devout muslim, and lives in a society that doesn’t believe brown girls from New Jersey can save the world. She, like all of us, contains a multitude of identities and everything gets really complicated once she has powers. Once she secretly begins being a hero, everyone in her community can’t stop wondering who this hero might be. And during a party thrown by her parents, Kamala was sitting on her front steps when the iman of her mosque stepped out the front door. He asked her why she was sitting all by herself and she, being a teenager, didn’t exactly answer. Kamala wanted to know what he thought about this new hero but, instead, he turned the question around and asked her what she thought. With a bit of ache, worry, and sorrow in her voice, she wonderered how this muslim, pakistani-american, a daughter of immigrants from Jersey City, could show everyone that she was good. The iman looked at her and before heading on his way, simply said: “Good is not a thing you are, Kamala. It is a thing you do.” 

Today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke is known as “the parable of the Good Samaritan” even though the word “good” never appears in the text. Jesus, while chatting with the disciples who had returned from their mission to share peace with villagers living in the land of the Samaritans, was asked a question by a lawyer. This lawyer sort of shows up unexpectedly because Luke never tells us how they got there. They, an extremely educated person who knew not only the law of the government but also the ethics laid out in the first four books of the Bible, asked Jesus about what God wanted them to do. Now Jesus could have answered the question straightforwardly but instead, he flipped the script. He asked the lawyer what he thought and the lawyer responded with a mashup of two verses from the book of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Jesus told the lawyer that he already has the answer to his question. But the lawyer wasn’t done and instead of asking another question about what to “do,” he wondered “who is my neighbor?” 

Jesus, at this point in the interaction, could have responded in a couple of different ways. He could have flipped the question again or pulled together an answer out of the very same chapters in Leviticus and Deuteronomy the lawyer had quoted. Those chapters show how our neighbors include the immigrant, the stranger, and the person who isn’t like us. Jesus could have made the neighbor the center of his answer but he didn’t. He chose, instead, to tell a story. Now it’s important, I think, for us to remember this story wasn’t only designed for us. It was also meant for the people who first heard Jesus tell it. Stories are how we teach, share, and highlight what matters the most to us. And our stories also rely on certain social cues, tropes, and conventions to get their point across. We know, for example, that when a story begins with “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” what follows next will unfold in a certain kind of way. Jesus knew his culture’s storytelling conventions and so we also need to pay attention to the kinds of stories people told in the years surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. The scholar Amy-Jill Levine has spent a lot of time wondering what Jesus’ words sounded like to the Jewish community living in the first century. Her work has revealed the conventions people expected Jesus to follow when he told a story. Since folks within the 1st century Jewish community often identified themselves as either a member of the priestly tribe or as a Levite or as an Isrealite, those identities popped into people’s heads when Jesus’ story mentioned a priest and levite. When the story was about to reveal the third person who walked by, those in Jesus’ first audience would have expected an Israelite to be named next. And since the Isrealite would be the third person identified as walking by the person left for dead, the storytelling convention meant he would be the hero of the story. The lawyer, Jesus’ disciples, and all who listened in expected an Isrealite to save the day. Yet when Jesus got to that part of his story, the first words out of his mouth were: “a Samaritan.” 

When the lawyer moved from a “do” question to a “who” question, Jesus told a story with a “who” they didn’t expect. The Samaritan was, as we’ve heard over these last few weeks, seen as an outsider and as an enemy. They were the neighbors no one wanted and who, it was assumed, didn’t want the Jewish community as their neighbors either. Those listening to Jesus assumed when the Samaritan showed up, violence would follow. Yet the hero no one expected was the one who showed what “good” looked like. When it comes to a life with faith, good isn’t really a noun or an adjective. Good, like love, is a verb – an action we gift to others through the gifts God has first given us. And if we want to loosely define what good is, all we need to do is to turn to the unexpected hero of this story. Good is noticing the person in need and choosing to care. Good is the giving of a mercy that not only alleviates the immediate peril they’re in but does all it can to make the wounded person whole. When God says we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves, this is what God is talking about. Yet this love – this offering of goodness and mercy and neighborliness to all – is hard because it shows how “goodness” isn’t meant as an identity that defines who we are. We, as human beings, are flawed and we often embrace cultural conventions and ways of being in the world that we uncritically assume are good. But when those conventions are challenged, we do everything we can to justify ourselves because we can’t believe we’re not who we imagined ourselves to be. Rather than letting our identity as a so-called “good person” be what defines us, we can let God – through Jesus – tell us who we really are. You, through baptism and faith, have been publicly declared as a beloved child of God. This is one of the many identities you hold but was one gifted to you rather than one you earned. You are very human, full of a variety of identities, beliefs, opinions, and point of views that might show how you’re not as good or loving or welcoming or neighborly as you thought you were. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do what Jesus knows you can do. You have already been given the gift of grace; the gift of God’s word; the gift of prayer; the gift of Jesus’ stories; the gift of the Holy Spirit; the gift of faith; and the gift of knowing you are valued and loved. We will always struggle using these gifts to help us figure out what is good and neighborly now that we’re living 2000 years after a lawyer questioned Jesus. But during those moments when we feel like we have no idea what we can do, we can lean into the way of our Lord by always choosing to do and give mercy. 


Children’s Message: Showing Your Work

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I have with me a workbook that I make my children work on during the summer.It’s a workbook full of things they might have learned in school over the previous year. I know, I know, having to do schoolwork in the summer sounds awful. But it’s my way of encouraging them to keep their skills sharp so that, in the fall, the school year is easier for them. 

The workbook is full of different sections – including science, social studies, writing, and…math. Math is full of numbers, operations, adding things up, subtracting things away from each other, and more. There’s a lot of different methods or ways of finding an answer to a math problem but one thing I found is that, the more math I did, the easier it got to solve problems in my head. I could do the addition, the subtraction, the division or whatever in my head because I had practiced those kinds of problems over and over again. I remember doing math homework, worksheets, or tests – and simply writing the answer down because I had already done the work in my head. But teachers were never really interested in me getting the answer. What they wanted was to show my work. They wanted to see me take the time and do the steps needed to solve the problem. If I filled out the worksheet and just wrote down an answer – they wouldn’t know how I got the answer. And often showing how you get an answer is more important than getting the answer itself. 

So showing your work – showing how you do something or why you do something – is important. It’s not just enough, sometimes, to have an answer. The people around you want to see how you got that answer as well. When we show others the work we’ve done, we help them see why we do what we do and how we solved the problem. It’s not always easy to show our work because it can reveal our shortcomings; what we got wrong; and maybe how we don’t always know what we’re talking about. But showing our work is how we built trust with others – and also is how we show our faith. We call others we’re a christian or we’re baptized or we’re beloved by God. All those things are true. Yet people around us would also want to show how we’re a Christian – and how following Jesus changes what we do right now. We can tell people we’re a Christian but we can’t show them without doing Christian work. And that work is, as we’ll hear in our story about Jesus today, about showing mercy; about caring for others; about sharing love even when it’s hard. It’s about being kind, patient, and willing to make sacrifices for others. It’s about doing the work of love instead of telling folks we love them. And that’s what God invites us to do; to show the work of what following Jesus is all about.

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 the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/10/2022.