Mansion in a living room: a funeral homily.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:1-6

I’ve never shared a funeral reflection in a living room before. Usually, when I’m sharing these kinds of thoughts, I’m in a funeral home or at a church or standing next to a grave. I’m not usually preaching in a space like this. But I’m glad I am because this space….is filled with Dorothy. This is the building where she spent her nights. This is the town she called home. And this is the place where she created memories with you – memories she cherished and memories you will carry with you forever. We are in a place where Dorothy did a lot of living. And we should be here. We should be sharing our memories of her, here. We should be telling each other our joys and our sorrows, here. We should, ina sense, live in this space like she did. By sharing even these sad moments together, we are making this space a real living room. So It’s good for us to be here. It’s good for us to share how Dorothy made a difference in our lives. And it’s important that Robert and Jean picked this gospel reading from John. Because, in our reading, Jesus is also in a room filled with people who loved him. They had done a lot of living together. So Jesus makes a promise to his friends and to us – the living and love we share will continue, no matter what.

Today’s reading from John is the start of Jesus’ Farewell discourse. It’s called that because that’s exactly what is. It’s sort of like John’s version of the last supper. Jesus and his friends are in a room. They shared a large meal together. They’re starting to get comfortable and they’re wondering what’s going to happen next. But before they could decide what to do, Jesus does something unexpected. He washes their feet. Now, this action confuses Jesus’ friends because, in their world, only slaves wash people’s feet. Jesus, as their teacher and leader isn’t supposed to act like a slave. He isn’t supposed to serve in this way. But Jesus does. And then he keeps serving them by launching into a long speech that lasts 3 whole chapters. Because, in the gospel according to John, Jesus is always in control. He’s always one step ahead of his friends and his enemies. Jesus knows how his life, and his death, will play out. But he also knows that the disciples aren’t him. They have a vision of the future that doesn’t match what God is about to do. So – Jesus talks. He uses his words to say farewell but he isn’t saying goodbye. He’s promising his friends that the love they share, this relationship that binds them together, won’t be broken by what comes next. The death Jesus experiences – a death his friends will see and feel – won’t be the final word. There’s so much more in store for all of them.

So the discourse begins with this image of a giant building full of many rooms. We’re using an older translation of the Bible today so the words house and mansions brings to mind big giant spaces, like those new homes developers build on Ridge Road or by the high school when they tear down older homes and build something gigantic to replace it. But a better translation of our reading today wouldn’t include the words mansions or rooms. It would instead say dwelling places. Jesus isn’t building a castle in heaven full of palaces that his followers can live in. Jesus is telling those who know him, those whom he has called by name, that what matters most is the relationship he has with them. What’s important is how much he cares and loves them. And since love and care are verbs, the word mansion or house isn’t enough. Instead, we need dwelling places because dwelling places are lived in. They’re the kind of places where the dishes in the sink might stay an extra day because company is over and the conversation about the most recent book we’ve read is just too good to break away from. A dwelling place is filled with memories and laughter, joys and even tears. A dwelling place, in other words, is a living room where stories are created and shared and is a place where God’s promise of life and love, in the end, conquers all.

Dorothy, from what you all have shared, lived. This place was truly her dwelling place, her living room. The way she lived will continue to ripple outwards, through the memories you share, and into the new memories you create in the living rooms of your own. We are blessed because Dorothy blessed us. We are blessed because Dorothy loved. And we know that everything that made Dorothy who she is – is now basking in the eternal light of our glorious Lord, forever and ever.


A sermon on John 14:1-6 at a memorial service held in a living room on 6/17/2017.

The Right Time: Promise, Hope, and Faith

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:1-8

My sermon from 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 18, 2017) on Romans 5:1-80. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Yesterday, around noon, I was sitting at my dining room table, putting the finishing touches on a funeral sermon I would share a few hours later. When I was done, I gathered my things and headed out the door. And that’s when I noticed…the rain. By the time I was halfway down the block, it was pouring. This..wasn’t good because the funeral service I was about to lead was taking place outdoors in our Memorial Garden. When I finally got to church, I stood in the narthex, looked out the front doors, and did all I could to make the rain stop. I said a prayer. I stared intently at the sky, hoping the seriousness of my face would convince the clouds to back off for a little bit. But nothing I did worked. The rain kept falling. I then decided to move the service inside, hoping we could by some time, and give the skies another 15 minutes to clear out before we would bury ashes in the ground. We started the service, read the lessons, said our prayers, and the rain kept falling. Now I know it’s a bit presumptuous to act like yesterday’s rainstorm was specifically designed to interfere with what I wanted to do. But the rain came at the exact right time to upend the plans I made. If the clouds had stayed away for just one more hour, the service would have gone on without a hitch. But instead, the right time for the funeral was also the right time for the rain to fall.

Our reading today from the book of Romans mentions this…idea of the right time. Now, we call Romans the book of Romans but it’s really a letter. Paul is writing to a group of people in the city of Rome who believe in Jesus. We don’t know when this community was founded or who was first to bring Jesus there. Yet by the time Paul is planting churches all over the Eastern Mediterranean, a church in Rome had already been formed. Paul is hoping to visit this community and he introduces himself with a very long letter. The community in Rome seems to have some…concerns about who Paul is and what he’s teaching. They want to know more about what the gospel means to him. We sometimes make this long letter to the Romans seem like it’s Paul’s great attempt to put all his experiences of Jesus and faith and the church into a neat, cohesive, and coherent package that should be easy to understand. But I don’t think that’s Paul’s goal. He’s not trying to talk about Jesus as if Jesus is…some kind of fancy thought experiment, something we only have to keep in our heads. Paul isn’t hoping that the community in Rome will hear his words and then start nodding their heads in agreement. Instead, Paul is trying make Jesus happen to them. He’s trying to convey an experience that touches the core of all who hear it. Paul, using the only thing he has at that moment to share Jesus, uses a scroll and a pen to plant seeds of faith in those who hear it. And this faith doesn’t start by understanding an idea or a concept. This faith begins with a promise. In Christ, God has claimed you. In Christ, God has shown how much God loves you. In Christ, you are given a gift of faith that’s always in awe because the creator of everything has decided that this is the right time for you to know how much you matter. And you matter not because you are perfect or because you always do the right thing. You matter because God has created you. And that’s…enough. In a society that still makes up rules about who has value and who does not, God promises that even those society views as valueless are seen and noticed by God. The values of our society and of our culture are not the limit to the values God has. Everyone’s value is grounded in the relationship God starts with them and not the other way around. This promise God makes is a promise of hope. Because when your hope is rooted in God, it’s a hope no one can take away from you.

What Paul is doing in these short verses from Romans is to invite the community to live that promise out loud. This hope-filled promise begins in a God who sees them, knows them, values them, and won’t leave them on their own. This kind of hope isn’t wishful thinking or one that is so abstract and heady that we leave it out there, on the horizon, knowing we’ll never see if fulfilled so it never inspires us to live a different way. The hope that Paul sees is certain and sure and true. And it’s hope that knows God acts. In the words of Elizabeth Shively, “what God will do for the believer in Christ is grounded on what God has done.” God didn’t wait for us to be perfect before Jesus visited us. Jesus didn’t wait for us to understand everything he said before Jesus claimed us as his own. The God who acts is a God who doesn’t wait for us to catch-up. Instead, the God who acts is a God who comes to us first. Because the right time for God to meet us is always at our beginning. And God keeps coming to us over and over again because we need a lot of new beginnings. We need God to give us new eyes to see the world as it truly is. We need God to give us new hearts so we can love each other as much as God loves us. We need God to break the bonds of injustice that keep systems of oppression firmly in control. And we need God to keep giving us this hope that the God who has acted in Jesus won’t let upended plans get in the way of what God is about to do.

For people who are claimed by God, the trick to living your faith out loud isn’t trying to wait for the right time or right situation or right feeling to hit you before you start living. The trick is to always live in God’s love and hope and promise – even when the rain of sorrows, anxieties, fears, and hardships fall. Faith doesn’t mean that sorrows won’t come. Faith doesn’t mean that we never will be anxious. Instead, faith means that in spite of what comes, we live and act and believe that the future God has planned will actually come. And faith trusts this because Jesus has already come. Jesus has already called you by name. And once Jesus knows you, there’s nothing in this world that can push that promise away.



The Seed of it All: forgetting and remembering

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017) on Matthew 28:16-20. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


What’s the last thing you forgot? I…don’t remember. I’m sure, if you asked my kids or my spouse or checked my email inbox which is my default to-do list, I’m sure you’d find the last thing I forgot to do. But when we frame forgetting in this way, we make forgetting seem like it’s only about a promise we broke or it’s something that happened when the busyness of life got in our way. But forgetting is more than that. Forgetting can feel like we’ve lost something. This week I stumbled on an article from the New Yorker written by Kathryn Schulz with the title “When Things Go Missing.” It’s an essay that starts in Portland in the summer when suddenly, according to Kathryn, everything “fell out of place.” She writes:

My first day in town, I left the keys to [my] truck on the counter of a coffee shop. The next day, I left the keys to the house in the front door. A few days after that, warming up in the midday sun at an outdoor café, I took off the long-sleeved shirt I’d been wearing, only to leave it hanging over the back of the chair when I headed home. When I returned to claim it, I discovered that I’d left my wallet behind as well….later that afternoon I stopped by a sporting-goods store to buy a lock for my new bike and left my wallet sitting next to the cash register. I got the wallet back, but the next day I lost the bike lock. I’d just arrived home and removed it from its packaging when my phone rang; I stepped away to take the call, and when I returned, some time later, the lock had vanished. This was annoying, because I was planning to bike downtown that evening, to attend an event at Powell’s, Portland’s famous bookstore. Eventually, having spent an absurd amount of time looking for the lock and failing to find it, I gave up and drove the truck downtown instead. I parked, went to the event, hung around talking for a while afterward, browsed the bookshelves, walked outside into a lovely summer evening, and could not find the truck anywhere.

Even on our best days, we’re forgetting something. One insurance company claims that we misplace nine objects every single day. That means, by the time [we’re] [Marcus is] sixty, [we’ll] [he’ll] have lost up to two hundred thousand things. Now, we mostly find the things we lose. But looking for things takes time. When you add up all the time we will spend in our lives looking for things we’ve lost, we’ll spent almost six months looking for our keys and wallets. We’re good at losing things because we’re good at forgetting. But we shouldn’t limit forgetting to just losing things. Forgetting can also be heartbreaking. I’ve witnessed an illness causing someone to forget their own name. I’ve been at the bedside of people who forgot how to speak English and instead, started speaking Spanish and Swedish and all these other languages they hadn’t spoken since they were six. Many of us have parents or siblings or loved ones who have forgotten who we are and who, at the same time, seem to have lost who they are too. Forgetting can be as simple as asking a friend to call our cell-phone because we have no idea where it is in our house. And forgetting can be as terrifying as losing who we are.

Which is why I struggle with our translation of Jesus’ last words in the gospel according to Matthew today. Jesus, after his death on the cross, after his resurrection, and after he has spent time showing his followers that the brokenness of this world is not the final chapter God has planned for us, Jesus makes one more public statement. He gathers his friends on a mountain top because, in Matthew, that’s where important things happen. Some of his followers are excited to be there. Others…don’t really know what’s going on. Even though Jesus is right in front of them, some of his friends doubt. But Jesus pulls them all together because he has one more thing to say. In a few short sentences, Jesus explains who he is. Jesus gives his followers a list of things to do. And then he ends on a word of promise, a promise that our translation today begins with the words: “And remember…”

Now, there is something powerful about remembering, especially during difficult times. When life is hard, we can remember that Jesus lived and died for you not because you are perfect but because Jesus loves you. Jesus is there with you while your heart breaks because his heart is breaking too. That’s… who Jesus is. But the words, “And remember…” can also be a tad terrifying because it seems as if Jesus is giving us a task to do that we’re not always cut out for. I mean, I have literally forgotten where I have put my shoes. And I have sent texts to my spouse, telling her to bring the plastic collar I wear around my neck, this collar that signifies my role as a pastor, because…I forgot it and left it at home. Jesus is asking an awful lot of us when he asks us to remember because there are times when we won’t. There are times when we can’t. And there are times when we’re experiencing so much joy and so much sadness that Jesus will be the last thing on our minds. When we take a step back and look at our entire life of faith, it’s easier to talk about what we’ve lost rather than what we remember because losses linger. Loved ones die. Friends move away. Relationships end. We lose our jobs, our sense of stability, and our bodies no longer work the way they use to as we get older, ill, and frail. As Kathryn Schulz writes further in her article, “We lose things because we are flawed; because we are human; because we have things to lose.” I’m not sure Jesus should rely on our ability to remember because forgetting and loss is sometimes all we have.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is doing in these last verses from Matthew. The Greek word that our translation translates as “Remember…” isn’t usually used in that way. Instead, it’s an interjection. It’s a shout. It’s the same word that announces the sudden appearance of an angel and lets us know that Jesus’ friends freaked out when the prophets Moses and Elijah showed up on a mountain. The word really means “Look! See! Hey, over here!” It’s pointing out something that is sudden, exciting, and totally unexpected. It’s a word to that let’s us know that whatever follows it, matters. Jesus doesn’t order his disciples to remember his promises, as if our actions can somehow make these promises true or not. Instead, Jesus is saying: “look! I am with you. I will be with you. And you cannot lose me like you will lose your car keys…or even your memory.” Once God knows us, we cannot stop God from coming to us. Once Jesus claims us in our baptism, we can’t ever stop him from loving us. Our faith and the relationship God has with each of us is too important for God to leave up only to us. Instead, God takes the initiative to claim us, to hold us, and to live with us because God says we are worth more than we will ever know. Our relationship with God doesn’t depend or being with something that we do or rely on whether we can remember who God is. Our relationship depends only on the promises God gives to us – a promise made real in the gift of faith itself. This faith moves us, this faith transforms us, this faith pushes us into the promise Jesus makes here. “Look! See! Hey, this is important.” No matter where we are, or what we do, or where we go – Jesus promises that little Marcus and all of us will never be alone.



Make It So: Keeping the Spirit as a Violent Wind

When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles’] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2:1-21

My sermon from Pentecost (June 4, 2017) on Acts 2:1-21. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


What do you do when you see storm clouds moving towards you? That question has been on my mind since Wednesday night, after I spotted a thunderstorm south of here. I had just left a church meeting and was busy trying to convince my four year old and two year old that staying in their car seats was actually a good idea, when someone pointed out bright flashes lighting up the southern sky. As we looked through the tops of trees, we could see bolts of lightning flashing from cloud to cloud. We couldn’t hear any thunder. And I don’t recall any gusts of wind. But I do remember staring intently at those storm clouds as they moved from west to east. As I put my two kids in their car seats, and I said goodnight to those who attended that church meeting, I kept my eyes turned south. I wanted to know where the storm was going and if I needed to rush home to close some windows before the rain came. But as I stared at that storm, I realized I was also looking for something else. Even though it was dark and the flashes of lightning were the only thing illuminating the storm itself, my eyes were trying to see what the clouds themselves were doing. I strained my eyes trying to see if the clouds were rotating. Regardless of where I am or what time of day it is or even whether the clouds are bringing rain or snow, the first thing I do when I see a storm is to look for clouds rotating around each other. As a kid growing up where the Rocky Mountains met the Great Plains of the midwest, violent winds were just a part of life. During the school year, instead of lock down drills, we had tornado drills. I remember learning how to go into the hallways of my elementary school, kneeling down on the floor, and covering my head and neck. I watched countless cheesy made-for-school movies about what happens to a house when a tornado comes and how the wind announces itself by sounding like a freight train. When a violent wind comes, we were taught to never go towards it. If we were caught outside and couldn’t get into a basement, we were told to run into a ditch and cover our head. We learned how it’s safer to run and hide than trying to outrun a tornado in a car. Violents winds are scary. Violent winds are not something were called to confront. When a violent wind comes, like a tornado or a hurricane or a superstorm, we’re told to find someplace safe. We’re told to protect ourselves. We’re told to stay away. Which is why, when it comes to our reading from the book of Acts today, I wonder: why didn’t the disciples run? When the wind began to blow, when the curtains and doors started to shake, when the wind blew out the candles and knocked papers and dishes onto the floor, when the entire house itself shook – why did they stay? And why did the Spirit of God come to them in this frightening, terrifying, and completely disruptive way?

We have a tendency in the wider church to make the Spirit….safe. We cling to images of the Spirit as a dove, as a little white and fluffy bird. The bird is perfect, without blemish, a bird we think is beautiful enough to have been sent out from the Ark by Noah and to announce who Jesus is at His baptism. And when the bird moves, it never really seems to flap its wings. It just seems to float and glide, as if it fell off a cloud in heaven, caught a bit of an updraft, and is taking it’s time to, ever so gently, come down to earth. When this dove finally lands, making itself known to us, this Spirit doesn’t land with a thud. Instead, we imagine it landing on us with grace and gentleness and comfort, like a feather floating from heaven. This image of the Spirit is very calming. It’s peaceful. It’s comforting because it doesn’t really challenge us. A dove doesn’t ask us to do much. A dove is soft and cuddly and doesn’t disrupt the world around us. A dove invites us in a gentle way to be a little more holy, a little more Christ like, and to share Jesus in whatever way we find comfortable. A dove….isn’t a violent wind. A dove doesn’t shake an entire house. A dove doesn’t knock everything onto the floor, making a mess of everything we set-up and planned for. And a dove doesn’t immediately cause us to go out into the street and start babbling in languages that only immigrants and foreigners and non-citizens understand.

Keeping the Spirit as a dove is safe. Keeping the Spirit as a dove keeps us from seeing what the Spirit does. We don’t want to imagine God’s Spirit literally blowing us out the front door, out of our comfort zones, moving us away from everything we know and love and that keeps us safe until we suddenly find ourselves face to face with people who aren’t like us, who don’t believe like us, but who God has put in our path to know, and to love, and to share Jesus with. When we keep the Spirit locked into the image of a dove, the Spirit stays small, contained, and feels like it’s only designed for me, myself, and I. But when we let the Spirit be the Spirit, we recognize how God’s Spirit shakes our homes, upending the order and stability we built for ourselves, forcing us to do uncomfortable, scary, and even mind-boggling things – all for this wacky thing we call faith. When we let the Spirit be the Spirit, we recognize how the Spirit isn’t only a thing or a force or a wind or some abstract metaphysical concept designed by pastors to confuse and confound Confirmands (like Connor, Josette, and Brendan). The Spirit, at its core, is a promise – a promise that God made to each of us. When God first met us, God made a promise to know us. When Jesus first called us by our name, he made a promise to be with us, no matter what. And when the Spirit was first breathed into us, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the presence of everything holy and divine was wrapped around us, tight. Right now, the mighty wind that shook the apostles’ house is the same Spirit shaking you. The Spirit that makes old men dream dreams is the same Spirit inviting you into the dreams God has for each of you. The Spirit is not abstract. The Spirit is more than a dove. The Spirit is the promise that you have value; that you have worth; and that a world filled with different kind of people from different kinds of places, from Mesopotamia to Cappadocia, from Rome to Arabia, is not a world where God’s love is reserved for a select few. Rather, the Spirit that holds you is the same Spirit that is moving you to help others discover a new vision of love and hope and to dream dreams of safety and peace. In a world where the violent winds of hate and fear, of climate change and terror, of sin and war, cast a long and dark cloud over everyone, the promise that holds you tight is that no wind or evil or even death itself can blow Jesus’ love and care away from you. When the storm clouds come, when they twist and twirl and rotate around you, cling to the promise that the Spirit is with you, the Spirit is acting through you, and that God’s love cannot be torn away from you. The storms in your life, no matter how strong, will not win because the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of the Holy Trinity, will carry you through.



Is This The Time: a sermon on a question that is really a prayer

So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked [Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Acts 1:6-14

My sermon from 7th Sunday of Easter (May 28, 2017) on Acts 1:6-14. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


I always love a bible passage that starts with a very honest question. Today, in our first reading from the book of Acts, the disciples are just outside Jerusalem. For the last forty days, they have been hanging out with the post-resurrection Jesus. Jesus said hello to Peter. He showed up when two of his disciples took a long walk to the village of Emmaus. And Jesus even ate a piece of broiled fish while all his disciples watched to prove that he wasn’t a ghost. For forty days, Jesus taught them and the disciples experienced Jesus after the Cross. Jesus then led his followers to a hill not far from the city of Jerusalem. And it’s there when the disciples ask Jesus their question. “Jesus – is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” “Is this the time when you will kick out the Romans who are occupying your city and oppressing your people? Is this the time when you will establish your kingdom so that your followers can have the peace of mind and the safety they are looking for? After seeing your ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem, after watching you die on the cross, and after seeing you resurrected from the dead – Jesus, is this the time, when you will finally make everything right?”

Now, on one level, we’re supposed to tilt our heads and look a little bit askew at the disciples for asking this question. Because this is the question they’ve been asking since day one. When Jesus first called them as his own, they assumed Jesus would be like every other leader they knew. Jesus, as the Messiah, as the one who would save Israel, would make everything right by putting together some kind of army that would drive the occupying Romans into the sea. The disciples expected Jesus to establish a kingdom like David’s but one that was bigger and better with a special place in it for each of them. The expectations of the disciples never really gelled with what Jesus actually showed them. When they argued over which one would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them to serve one another. When the disciples tried to keep the sick, the poor, and those who were different away from Jesus, Jesus welcomed the unwelcomed to his table. Jesus lived God’s kingdom out loud. And this caused problems. The Romans saw this mixed band of disciples, of men and women, old and young, rich and poor, the socially acceptable and those who should be left on the margins, – the Romans saw the disciples as the beginning of an army designed to rebel with violence. So the Romans killed Jesus, hoping to end his entire movement. And the disciples saw this. They experienced Good Friday. They watched as their teacher was buried in a rocky tomb. But the disciples also witnessed what God did in response. They hung out with Jesus in his full post-resurrection glory. They knew that God had upended our expectations through Jesus’ work on the Cross. And yet…their old question is still their current one: “Jesus, is this the time when will you make everything right?”

I can’t really blame the disciples for not getting it because haven’t we all asked the same question? When we flip on the news, pick up a newspaper, or scroll through a Twitter feed, we can watch in real time as evil makes itself known all over the world. We can be in Manchester as a bomb explodes at an Ariana Grande concert and read eye-witness accounts posted online mere minutes after Coptic Christians on a pilgrimage in Egypt are singled out for their faith and killed. We can see the faces of the two men in Portland who were killed when they stood up to a white supremacist harassing a young woman wearing a hijab and we can be in our homes, sitting on our couches in our pjs, and watch live video as torch bearing mobs gather around the statues of the Confederacy to protect these idols to white supremacy. The early disciples of Jesus knew that evil existed all over their world. But they couldn’t see it unfold in real time like we can. We can witness plenty of events, happening far away from here, where the disciples’ question is our question. And if we turn our eyes inward, taking a look into our cities, homes, families, and lives…the disciples’ question stays as our question too. When unemployment is about to run out, and the 200th resume we sent didn’t even get a response, and we don’t know how the mortgage, the car loan, the grocery bill, or the electricity will be paid…that would be a good time for Jesus to show up, and make everything right. When the experimental drug trial we are on isn’t showing any improvement,…that would be a good time for Jesus to show up and make everything right. And when the scourge of addiction, of greed, of infidelity, and when our own sin has destroyed the relationships that matter to us most…that would be a good time for Jesus to show up and make everything right.

On one hand, we can easily brush aside the disciples’ question as a question from a group of people who just didn’t get it. But we can’t ignore their question because it’s a question that sits on our lips, when our lives and our worlds fall apart. The disciples’ question is more than just a question. It’s a prayer. It’s a prayer asking God to do what God promises. It’s a prayer bold enough to ask God for something specific. It’s a prayer that actually knows God is listening because it asks a question, leaving space for God to answer or not. Which is sort of what Jesus does here. Jesus doesn’t answer the question with a no. Instead, he points the disciples’ back to a promise their question seems to miss. The disciples want a kingdom, a government, and an empire because they think that’s where God’s promises will be fulfilled. But Jesus points them to something more. The source of God’s kingdom is always God. The foundation of what God is doing is rooted always in Jesus. The disciples’ eyes are looking for a kingdom where they can see God at work. But Jesus wants them to know that, because Jesus is with them, God’s kingdom is already unfolding through them, in spite of the troubles, suffering, and sorrow that they cause or that happens to them. The life of faith is less about chasing after Jesus but more about living as if Jesus is actually with you. And since Jesus is with you, the fears and terrors of this world, and the sin that draws us away from each other and away from God, cannot overcome the relationship Jesus has with each of you. Jesus doesn’t promise his disciples an easy life. He doesn’t promise them a life without hardship or pain or sorrow. But What Jesus promises is presence. He promises love. He promises that he will be with them, no matter what. The life of faith isn’t easy. The life of faith sees the evil in this world and in our souls. The life of faith is filled with moments when the prayer “Lord, is it time” will be on our lips. But that prayer will also be on the lips of Jesus because no matter where we are and no matter what we’re going through, right now is always the right time to know that Jesus has us, that Jesus loves us, and that we will,in the end, make it through.



Keep My Commandment: a sermon on dos and don’ts

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

John 14:15-21

My sermon from 6th Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017) on John 14:15-21. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


In New York City, there’s an old, boarded up gas station located on Hudson Street. The entire perimeter is sealed by a 12 foot high chain linked fence and, inside it, is a dilapidated garage with a few white delivery vans parked around it. Along the sidewalk is an old, rusting, gas pump with its last sale still on the dials. The last time it was used, 9.87 gallons of gas cost 3 dollars and sixty-five cents. And because this is New York City, the chain link fence is covered in signs. The last time I walked by this gas station, there was one sign in particular that I noticed. On this giant old white sign, big black letters said: “Unapproved parkers will have the air let out of their tires and their license plates removed.” Now I actually have no idea if it’s even legal to do that but it’s quite a threat, isn’t it? I can totally see myself driving on Hudson street and thinking, for a moment, I finally found the last available parking spot in all of New York City. I pull in, thank Jesus for giving me the spot, and then I look up and see that sign. Those words are saying, in no uncertain terms, just…don’t. Don’t park here. Don’t interfere. Don’t get in the way of the people working here. Because if you do, there will be trouble.

That don’t….is sometimes exactly what we think about when we hear anyone in scripture use the word commandment. Commandments can sometimes be God’s version of a big white sign with big black letters that simply says “Don’t.” And we think this because the word commandment is dominated by the Ten Commandments we once learned in Sunday School or Confirmation Class or that we saw cross stitched and hung on a wall in our great aunt’s home. Don’t have any other god but God. Don’t take God’s name in vain. Don’t murder. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t desire something that belongs to your neighbor. Now, there are some commandments that are not “don’t” related like remember to keep the sabbath, to give that day fully to God, and to also honor your parents. But the “don’ts” outnumber the “dos”. And that ends up giving the word “commandment” an essence and a flavor. A commandment from God is seen, consciously or unconsciously, as God telling us “not” to do something. Commandments are God’s way of creating boundaries for us, fencing us in so to speak, so that we can stay on a straight and narrow path that will lead us to God. The thinking goes, if we stay within the boundaries God sets up, we will be okay. When we follow the rules, we show God and Jesus just how much we love them. And if we show God the right amount of love, then God will fully love us in return. The God of the “dont’s” will shower blessings on those who listen and will finally answer all those prayers that sometimes go unanswered. When the word commandment becomes a word that only means “don’t,” then the God who speaks those don’ts becomes a God who cares only about what you don’t do. And a God who cares only about what you don’t do isn’t the God Jesus is talking about today.

For Jesus, commandments are not about the “don’ts.” The commandments are always a do. And commandments are never fences that keep us on a straight and narrow path that, eventually, bring us to God. Rather, because God is already alongside us, the fences which hem us in are torn down by a love that breaks walls and never builds them. So to understand Jesus and the word commandment, we need to remember a passage in John that never shows up in the 3 year cycle of readings we use in worship. In John chapter 12, just 2 chapters before today’s reading, Jesus is giving his last public speech before John’s version of the last supper. A mixed crowd of many different ethnicities is gathered around him. Jesus is teaching, preaching, and showing signs of who he is but not everyone believes him. There are some that do but they refuse to share this publicly because they are afraid about what others might think. Instead, they remain quiet. But Jesus doesn’t hold their quietness against them. He refuses, at that moment, to judge them. Instead, he talks about his purpose, about his mission, about his goal to save them. He’s there to love and to show everyone who God is. Because seeing Jesus is seeing God. To see how Jesus loves, how Jesus heals, how Jesus embraces and prays and talks to everyone, even those who are his enemies….that’s who God is. Jesus is telling the world exactly what God says and showing everyone how even a Cross can’t stop God from saving them. All of this, Jesus says, is the Father’s commandment for him. This commandment for Jesus isn’t a don’t. It’s a do. It’s a live-a-human-life, love like God does, tell the world just how much it means to God even though this will lead to the Cross – kind of commandment. And Jesus, in chapter 12 verse 50, calls this kind of commandment….eternal life.
Commandments are more than “don’ts.” Commandments are a way of life that embodies God’s love. When Jesus shares his last public speech, he’s telling everyone that love is more than just a feeling and more than just being kind. Love is a way of life that is willing to sacrifice itself so that even a stranger can live and thrive. And today, when Jesus is in the middle of his long speech to his disciples, telling them that Jesus will be with them and they’ll never be orphaned no matter what tragedy befalls them or him, the commandments Jesus points to are centered in a deep and abiding love that even death can’t overcome. When we turn God’s commandments into a series of only don’ts, we sin. We impose limits on God’s love that simply do not exist. We forget that we have, through God’s promises, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus with us, forever. And it’s this spirit that empowers us to change these commandments of don’ts that we think are focused only on limiting what we do in our lives and instead see how God’s commandments invite us to help the person next to us – thrive. Instead of holding signs with big black letters telling others what we’re going to do if they get in our way, the Holy Spirit guides us to take down our signs of don’t and instead help others become the people God wants them to be. This might take some work on our part. And it might cost us some time, some money, and force us to break out of our comfort zone. But this is something we get to do because we are loved; we are chosen; we are, through our baptism and through our faith, part of God’s holy family. We are not orphans. We have Jesus. So let’s act like we do.



Who sees: What Jesus Power Do You Have?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

John 14:1-14

My sermon from 5th Sunday of Easter (May 14, 2017) on John 14:1-14. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


So which of Jesus’ amazing miracles – from feeding 5000 people with just a few loaves of bread to making a man born blind see – do you wish you could do? A few years ago, when I was an intern at a church in Manhattan, I was part of their altar guild. I was setting up the altar for communion before services one Sunday when the unexpected happened. We were out of wine. Jesus’ water to wine trick would have been handy that day. And later, I could have used his gift of healing when I sat at a hospital bedside, helping a family say goodbye to a loved one who was dying way too soon. There are plenty of times when I wish I had a smidget of that awesome Jesus-like power to make an immediate difference in the lives of the people around me. But…more often than not, that amazing moment of power, that awesome miracle, just doesn’t happen the way I wished it would. Which is why, I think, verse 12 in our reading from the gospel according to John can be…well…hard. Jesus says that the one who believes, will not only do what he did, but will do even more.

Now, Jesus in the gospel according to John, does a lot. He turns water into wine, heals a person who is paralyzed, he walks on water, and raises Lazarus from the dead. In total, there are 7 big signs that end up on Jesus’ resume. And when I compare Jesus’ resume to my own, I don’t really come close. One way out of this comparison problem is to remember that we’re human. We’re not the Son of God. We can’t compete or compare ourselves with Jesus, really. But…let’s not do that. Let’s take Jesus seriously. Let’s stand right in front of verse 12, being completely open about our own resumes filled with belief and doubt, struggle and selfishness, love and sin; let’s bring all of who we are – and stand before this word from our Lord who claims that if we truly believed in him, we could do more.

Standing there, alone before this verse from Jesus – it’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it? Because it seems like Jesus is giving us some kind of test that judges how much faith we actually have. If we can make a man born blind see, then we’re good. Our relationship with God is secure because a super power from Jesus showed up. Verse 12 feels like it gives us a way to quantify our relationship with Jesus, to see how much faith we have, and to show just how Christian we are to other people. And if walking on water isn’t showing up in our life as much as it should, then we might need to invent other signs, other signals, that show us how much God loves us. Our wealth; our power; our material blessings; our moral choices – we start to pretend that these are the signs that tell us if we’re with Jesus or not. It doesn’t take long before Jesus stops being Jesus, and instead he looks, and acts, and sounds an awfully lot like us. Faith stops being about knowing and trusting Jesus. Instead, faith becomes a strange attempt to chase after his supposed benefits – benefits that, in the end, are centered in greed, control, in being strong and being right, rather than in being generous, loving, vulnerable, and open.

In the race to compare ourselves to Jesus, we chase after what we think he can give us. We run without first listening to what Jesus actually said. And we forget that Jesus’ words are always spoken in context. Because when we are standing before his words in verse 12, we were not standing alone. We were surrounded by Jesus’ early disciples, by Philip and Thomas and Peter and others, and everyone is scared. Everyone is confused. When we stop for a moment and keep Jesus’ words firmly planted in his story, we hear Jesus talking today to his disciples right before his arrest and trial. Everyone is in one large room, having a meal. And in the middle of this dinner, Jesus gets up and does something weird. He stops being their teacher, being the one who is supposed to be served, and instead he serves others by washing their feet. Even Judas, the one who betrays him, gets his feet washed. After the washing, Judas flees into the night, to arrange for Jesus’ arrest, while Jesus keeps talking. He mentions his impending death. He shares who will leave him. And he promises that when push comes to shove and people want to know if these followers of Jesus know him or not, even Peter, one of his most committed disciples, will deny knowing him. The disciples are confused and scared. Jesus is telling them, that is just a few short days, their faith will fail.

These disciples, on any normal scale of what it means to be faithful believers and true disciples of Jesus Christ, are totally going to blow it once Good Friday comes. Jesus, in this passage, isn’t telling them how they can measure or judge their faith. He isn’t giving them a list of statements of belief that are the end-all-be-all of what it means to be a true believer. None of the verses today can be considered litmus tests that we can use to test whether someone is a true follower of Jesus or not. Because that kind of list, those kinds of ideas, won’t help the disciples live through what’s about to come. Every word in today’s reading is a promise – a promise that even when they can’t see him, even when Jesus feels far away, even when Good Friday and death itself comes, none of that can break the relationship Jesus has formed with each of them. Not even their own fear or doubt, not even their denial or their running away, can overcome Jesus’ love for them. Jesus promises to be with them, to keep coming to them over and over again, even when it looks like evil has won and God has lost. Even when all hope is gone, Jesus isn’t. And that relationship Jesus has with each of us – that Jesus has with this entire world – in the end, means everything.

So, if today’s text from John is about a promise Jesus makes to us, then what could possibly be that greater work Jesus promises? Jesus’ super power isn’t focused on the supernatural acts that we call miracles. Jesus’ power is the relationship he forms with each of us. It’s how even with our resumes full of all the ways we act like God and try to make our opinion or likes or wants be the only ones that matter, even then Jesus keeps coming to us over and over again. It’s through relationship, when our faith grows. It’s through the time and energy we put in with Jesus to struggle and argue, to ask questions and wonder, to shed tears of joy and of sadness with him – it’s when we dwell with him, abide with him, when we discover exactly who we are and who God imagines us to be. The greatest work we can offer to our family and friends, to our neighbors and strangers, is simply to show them our relationship with this Son of God who never gives up on us even when we give up on ourselves. And that relationship is refined, maintained, and strengthened when we live our faith out loud together, in a community that isn’t perfect but one that clings, through all things, to this Jesus who shows us just who God is, and just how far God will go for us.



In Common: what the Holy Spirit asks you to do

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

My sermon from 4th Sunday of Easter (May 7, 2017) on Acts 2:42-47. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Yesterday was my third Trash and Treasure sale. Usually, on the day after the sale, I talk about something I found among the piles of donated, and dusty, boxes. Last year I talked about a record I found. Two years ago, I showed a collection of vintage Star Wars action figures. And today, I’m going to keep that streak alive but I don’t any props up here to show you. Instead, the items I’m thinking about are outside, sitting in our dumpsters. And they’re there because, well, I threw them there. When the sale was over, organizations from all over Northern New Jersey came to take what they could use. But when they were done, there was still stuff left and it needed to go somewhere. We grabbed everything that was left and carried it outside. Anything made of metal was set aside for Joe, a metal scraper, to pick up. Everything else was tossed into the dumpster. In went glasses, vases, toys, linens, kitchenware, lamps – everything that didn’t sell. And it was during that mad dash to clean up everything when some of us recognized stuff on the tables. There was that toy we pulled out from a dusty box that was covered in 30 years of dirt. We cleaned it, made it shine, and…no one bought it. There was that lamp our crew of engineers spent 45 minutes to get working – and it was still there, sitting on the table. We also noticed things we personally donated; items that had made us happy but are now going into the dumpster. One of the joys of Trash and Treasure is seeing all the stuff that is bought and doesn’t end up in landfill. But one of the small sadnesses is seeing what gets left. In that dumpster are the hours of work spent cleaning, sorting, and making sure everything was in its best possible shape so that it could end up in someone’s home. We’re left with a tiny bit of sadness, a smidgen of grief, when the things we spent so much time and energy on – do not turn out the way we hope.

Today’s story from the book of Acts is a fun one. Whenever I’m in a bible study and theses verse comes up, everyone focuses on verses 44-45. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” These verses at the end of Acts chapter 2 are describing Acts vision of what the early Christian community looked like. After the event of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to make Jesus’ story known to people who did not speak their language, the Christian community changed. After a very brief sermon by Peter, something amazing happened and the number of people in the Christian community grew from a just handful of apostles to a community numbering over 3000. This new community is living in Jerusalem and is filled with Jewish people doing very Jewish things. They worship everyday in the Temple. They break bread and eat their meals together. They devote themselves to the teaching of their leaders and they regularly say their prayers. In the book of Acts, we don’t hear about non-Jews being part of the early Christian community until later. At this point in the story, the Christian community is very Jewish and is very devoted to Jesus Christ. And it’s that devotion that compels the community to live in a different way.

Now, we can tell that the make up of this community is diverse because some of those 3000 have stuff and others have needs. The community probably met regularly and worshipped in large dining rooms of people who owned their own homes. Gathered in that space would be the rich, the middle class, the working class, and even slaves. The community would spend so much time together, they would begin to know each other in an authentic and real way. They would know each other’s names and each other’s needs. Inspired by their shared experience as being part of Jesus’ family, everyone would take what they have and sell it. Their possessions, their treasures, and maybe even their trash was gathered together so that anyone could use it. Every resource available to them is used to help individuals in the community, thrive. The great economic dividing lines between those who have and those who don’t – doesn’t limit who is included in Jesus’ family. Instead, the community uses everyone’s wealth to make sure everyone is healthy and secure. Their pre-existing conditions of being part of a society where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor isn’t what the early church, according to Acts, looked like. Now, we might give this way of life, a name. We might call it communism or socialism or some kind of -ism that might scare us because we live in the United States. Capitalism is part of our way of life. Our possessions are our possessions and we don’t want to give up control over what we own. But Acts isn’t about any -ism. Acts is about what it means to be and to do, church. At the start of chapter 2, the Holy Spirit showed up in a big way. Jesus’ story was heard and experienced in diverse languages that the apostles didn’t know. This diversity of languages created a community where the diversity of class and wealth showed up too. The church isn’t supposed to be for only one kind of person with one kind of experience, or language, or economic background. The church is for everyone because the Holy Spirit brings all kinds of people together. And once the Holy Spirit connects us with people who are not like us, we are not called to ignore their needs. We’re not here to maintain the divisions of our wider culture, acting as if economic class is somehow ordained by God or a sign of who God loves. We’re instead called to live a different kind of life where people are known and where needs are not hidden or pushed aside. We’re called to actually form a true and honest and authentic relationship with the people around us.

Now this connection isn’t always easy to maintain or sustain. There are times when we will feel like this connection, this relationship with our community, is something we’ve invested time, energy, and resources into but…it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction we thought it would. No matter how much we clean, or work, or how many hours we spend to make this community more faithful, the future we thought was going to come about might, instead, be placed in a dumpster outback. But even when our ideas fail to materialize, even when a harsh word or a stress-filled moment makes us wonder just what this community of faith is all about, we keep being the church – rooted in Jesus. We keep being with each other even when we don’t want to be. We stay connected through a shared meal at the communion rail and we pray for each other, no matter what. This community isn’t just a random group of people who show up on Sunday for one hour each week. We’re part of the body of Christ. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are a community called to not let divisions be what define us but, instead, to be a community where care, and love, and hope are at the center of everything we do. The community of faith is a community where the Holy Spirit shows up. And when the Holy Spirit shows up, our way of living 0 our way of being – changes.



The Long Walk: Life Giving Living Through

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

My sermon from 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 30, 2017) on Luke 24:13-35. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.


Font. Font is one of those words that means something different in the church than it does in the wider world. When we talk about fonts inside a church, we’re usually talking about the baptismal font. Our font is this little white box on wheels, with a metal bowl inside, and it’s the place where we hear God’s promises tied to something physical. With a little bit of water, we remember that we are part of something that is always life-giving. So a font in church is something physical; it’s connected to God’s promises; and the font is usually wet.

But fonts in non-church places are a little different. Fonts are everywhere. They surround us on signs filled with letters, on papers covered in words, and on little screens we carry in our pockets that show us the food are friends are taking pictures of every single day. The actual graphic design of those letters and words is called a font. And those fonts have names. There’s Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, and Helvetica. Some fonts are crisp, clean, and easy to read. Some fonts are so well designed, they make the actual words themselves look beautiful. But there are other fonts that…well…are not as pretty. They’re not crisp or modern or easy to read. They are fonts that are so curly and flowy and out-of-whack that the words themselves are lost in a spasm of weird design choices. The gold standard for that kind of font is….Comic Sans. Now, Comic Sans is actually a really good font for people with some kind of disability like dyslexia. And we might think that Comic Sans looks whimsical and fun like letters in a comic book but…from a design perspective…from a perspective that thinks it can read everything just fine – Comic Sans is really not. Comic Sans flows and moves in such a way that makes words feel out of place. And when Comic Sans is displayed on an electronic screen, the font itself just…doesn’t work. When we receive a message written in a font that is hard to read or in a font that is downright ugly, we don’t read it. We chose not to engage with it at all. The words appear too harsh, too tough, and too odd for us to take them seriously. Instead, we delete the email or toss that piece of paper aside and ask the person who sent it to send it again but, this time, in a font we can actually read.
But what if that ugly font was all we had? What if all the letters and words in front of us were in this harsh and unforgiving font that we wanted nothing to do with? Recently, I came across a short video that talked about an experiment where psychologists did just that. The experiment took place at a school. One set of classrooms kept all their handouts, papers, and computer screens in a font we all know and love. Everything was easy to read. All the words were beautiful. Everything was as perfect as a high school handout could be. The other classrooms, however, had all their handouts in terrible fonts. Some were incredibly dense, where all the letters were blocky and squished together. Some classrooms put everything in italicized Comic Sans. Nothing about the handouts or screens looked beautiful because the words were displayed in awful ways. Both sets of classrooms used these kinds of fonts all year long. And then, after finals were over and grades were in, the psychologists compared scores. They discovered that the students who suffered all year long with those terrible fonts did better than those who only had beautiful words. Those awful fonts forced the students to take each word seriously; to struggle through the bad design so that they could understand what was in front of them. The students who could read everything in beautiful and well-known fonts, didn’t. Their brain subconsciously disregarded the words because they looked so nice, so easy to read, so the brain acted like it had already seen this information before. Good design actually failed the students because the design itself didn’t invite them to fully understand what was in front of them. This font experiment showed that…sometimes…people need to sit with the ugliness, sit with things that are hard to see, and struggle through periods of shadow and sadness to truly unpack what’s there. Sometimes living through whatever we’re facing is actually the most life-giving thing we can possibly do.

In today’s reading from Luke, the story itself should be much shorter. Those two disciples should have listened to the women. The women had already gone to the tomb and discovered that Death was no longer the final chapter. The women ran and told others and Cleopas and his friend…heard all of it. The beautiful words of the resurrection entered their ears so….they should have listened….but they didn’t. Instead, they left Jerusalem. They vamoose from the city that killed their teacher and those two friends of Jesus tried to go someplace else. They didn’t know what to do with Good Friday. They were there when all the hopes and dreams they placed on Jesus were hung on a cross. Their expectations of what Jesus was going to do was buried when he was placed in that tomb. The healings, the miracles, the teachings – the dreams about a better future right in front of them – all of that was broken. In a few short moments, everything they thought they knew was undone. Cleopas and his friend didn’t know what to do….so they left. They headed to the village of Emmaus because the brokenness of their dreams, and hopes, and expectations was something that even a beautiful word couldn’t break through.

Cleopas and his friend couldn’t listen to the women….but you’d think they could have listened to Jesus. Jesus chose, right at that moment, right at the point when these two couldn’t even hear the good news – that’s when Jesus met them. And Jesus should have made it better right away. He should have introduced himself, called these disciples by names, and poof – end of story. But instead…Jesus joined them. He talked to them. He asked them opened ended questions that let’s these two disciples unload their mourning and grief and worry and confusion – all of that – onto him. Jesus gets everything they’ve got but he still doesn’t break their grief. Even his reasoned arguments about what God was up to couldn’t make the pain of these two disciples melt away. They couldn’t even notice how the core of who they are – their very soul, heart, and identity – is being…revived…and renewed in the midst of their current struggle. Instead, their long journey with Jesus is filled with questions, sadness, worries, and concerns. Their long walk with Jesus is filled with the grief that happens when our hope filled dreams are met by the brokenness of the world we actually live in. The two disciples take their long journey with Jesus not even knowing Jesus is there. But he is – because God’s love, by design, is not only meant for us at a specific moment. God’s love is not like the love we already know so we trick ourselves into thinking we’ve already gone through it. God’s love for us…is… a movement. It’s a movement through our lives and our realities. We don’t always understand why things are the way they are. But we do live our lives with a God who chose to live a life because your life is worth everything to God. And not just the good parts. Not just those parts where everything is joyous or happy or beautiful. All of your life, every bit of it, is worth everything to God. And since all of your life has value, Jesus promises to be there in the moments when your life feels like it’s nothing because there’s no journey, no pain, no sadness, and no Cross Jesus won’t go with you – through.