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. 


Summer Spaces: peace, Satan falls, and the 70 disciples

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

My sermon from the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 3, 2022) on Luke 10:1-11,16-20 and Psalm 66:1-9.


One of the fun things about summer in suburbia is that we, unintentionally, have created these little opportunities where we can wonder. Since this is the season when schools shut down and a lot of us head to the shore, we live in this strange reality where life is still busy but our urgent emails that need an immediate response go unanswered. We, together, slow down because we have to wait for someone else to answer. That’s a bit maddening but there’s not much we can do about it because so many folks have out-of-office announcements on their voicemail. We find ourselves living through these little gaps of space and time where we have to wait. And while we wait, our minds are allowed to wander. We could ponder one of the deep fundamental questions about our place in the universe. Or, if you’re like me, you might wonder why hot dogs are sold in packs of ten but their buns are sold in bags of eight. When I recently let my mind wander, I learned there’s something called the National Hot Dog Sausage Council and they’ve explained the difference between dogs and buns in this way. Around the year 1940, hot dogs were sold in packs of ten but, at the time, industrial technology required buns to be baked eight rolls at a time. Even though bakers today are not limited by that kind of technology, most still follow the old ways. If we wanted to make the buns and the dogs come out even at our next barbecue, we would need to be creative about how we use them. That creativity might resemble a recent article I saw by Jonny Sun where he imagined turning hot dogs into tacos or a weird kind of sushi or just throwing everything into a blender and making a really dense and bready smoothie. By giving us little moments when all we can do is wait, the season of summer grants us the opportunity to strengthen our spiritual imagination. All of us, no matter our age, can grow in wonder. And when we spend time wondering about big and small things, we learn how to see God’s word in a new way. That, I think, is a really helpful skill to have because we often stumble into some really weird things in our Bible like when Jesus said he saw “Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”

Now this one sentence has inspired a lot of people’s spiritual imagination over the years. I’ve seen it used to inspire some incredible paintings and even movies that depict a kind of cosmic battle between the devil and God. Scholars, theologians, and deep thinkers have used this line to create a framework describing how heaven, hell, good, and evil interact in our world. This one line has been used a lot but it’s a bit odd since Luke doesn’t give us any words to flesh what Jesus said. There’s no actual description of some kind of cosmic battle and Luke doesn’t interrupt Jesus’ speech with a description of the disciples seeing something divine happening around them. Instead, this one sentence is embedded in a series of sentences Jesus spoke after seventy disciples returned and told him all they had seen and heard. Jesus was already beginning his final journey into Jerusalem. Yet he sent his followers to visit the land of the Samaritans which really wasn’t on the way. Jesus was doing something strange and I’m not sure if this one line was about some comic thing he had seen in the past. Rather it seems to me that Jesus, while looking at those who he had sent into an unexpected place, knew that their work had, in small and big ways, changed the world.

So if my interpretation is correct, how did the seventy disciples actually do that? Well I think part of it was because they went into an unexpected place, met with people they weren’t supposed to, and created tiny moments to wonder. Since Jesus was Jewish, there was no expectation that he, or his followers, would hang out with Samaritans. There was a long simmering religious and cultural conflict between these two groups even though they had some similar beliefs about God. Jesus was supposed to visit other Jews yet he sent his disciples, two by two, into villages full of people not like him. He gave the one he sent special instructions, telling them to bring basically nothing including no bags, money, or even an extra pair of sandals. None of them would have control over the hospitality they received; depending entirely on people they hadn’t met yet for food and shelter. They would go into these villages, knock on a door, and the first word out of their mouths would be: “peace.”

For the Samaritans meeting these followers of Jesus, that experience must have been weird. The strangers at their door wouldn’t, at first, introduce themselves or explain why they were there. All they said was “peace” and then they stood there, waiting for a response. The Samaritans probably recognized these strangers as members of the Jewish community which made the whole experience even weirder. In the constant religious and cultural struggle between these two communities, rarely would one put themselves in a position where the other side has control. Yet here they were, creating this strange moment in time and space where they waited for the Samaritans to respond. The strangers at the door put themselves in a position where the people who weren’t supposed to like them would be the ones to take care of them. And in this strange moment, the disciples didn’t try to coerce the Samaritans to get their way or flex some kind of faith-based muscle to show how awesome they were. Instead, they offered “peace” and created a moment where the people they were talking to could wonder what that peace should look like.

And that, I think, is something we, as followers of Jesus, get to do. Since Jesus included us in his holy family through baptism and faith, we get to bring peace into everyone’s home. This peace is more than merely a feeling of being comfortable and at ease. Instead, it’s a peace that encourages vulnerability while letting people be exactly who they are. The barriers, fears, mistrust, and anxieties we put into the spaces between us and others are meant to be bridged by those who follow Jesus. That isn’t always an easy thing to do because it requires us to be vulnerable with others. We, in those moments, create tiny spaces where they, and us, are empowered to make their own choices. That can feel very risky because we have no control over what they might do. Yet when we let others choose, we show how Jesus has already made a difference in our lives. It’s a strange thing to be so beloved by God that we are able to let others be exactly who they are. Yet it’s through the grace we are given every day by a God who has claimed us as God’s own, that we are empowered to love and serve; to sing and praise; and to tell others about what God has done for us and for them. By letting others choose, we show how our spiritual imagination has changed our lives and invite them to imagine what their lives can be too. And that helps us eat together; spend time with one another; and learn how our story isn’t the only story that matters to God. It’s within those little gaps of time and space when peace begins to be made real. And as peace grows, everything that stands against the kingdom of God – including Satan and the myriad of ways we keep each other apart – all of that comes tumbling down.


A Wider Conversation

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.

For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16

My sermon from the Third Sunday after Pentecost (June 26, 2022) on Psalm 16.


So when my kids wrap up their school year, they bring home lots and lots of stuff. The dumping ground that has become my house is currently filled with partially used art supplies, pencils without erasers, flashcards for reading and math, and lots of paper filled with some really creative thoughts. I think it’s very cool I get to see all they’ve done but I also lament having to figure out what to do with all the stuff. I don’t have the physical room to store every piece of paper my kids bring home but I do like to hold onto a few things that are unique. It’s my way of letting them discover how, through it all, they’ve grown. While getting ready to sort through the current pile of stuff, I opened up the file full of everything I’ve saved. And right there, in the front, was a piece of paper I didn’t know was there. It was a random handout of 47 questions handed out at a back-to-school night. That piece of paper wasn’t for kids but, rather, was to help older folks move past simply asking kids: “how was your day?” The hope was instead of getting a one word answer in return, we might actually have a conversation. By using these 47 one sentence questions, kids would learn how to think about their own story while showing older folks how big their story is. Some of the questions felt small like asking: “what was the best thing that happened at school today?” But others seemed to ask all of us to be a bit vulnerable with one another. We could, for example, invite kids to name who they sat next to at lunch; who they didn’t want to sit next to during circle time; and who, at recess, is that one kid they would like to play with that they’ve never played with before. We could also ask how they were a good friend today or if they were able to do the really hard thing of asking for help. And if that wasn’t enough, we could ask what made them frustrated or angry or caused them to laugh so loud, they completely disrupted the class. An honest conversation, rooted in real listening and real questions, isn’t the easiest thing for parents, guardians, and kids to have. We older folks assume we know what’s up and kids always remind us we don’t. When adults engage in this kind of conversation, we discover what kids actually go through and what we thought we knew ends up being challenged. That’s an uncomfortable place to be because it requires us to look beyond what we thought we knew and towards what’s right in front of us. 

And that, I think, is something to be mindful of when we’re sitting with the psalms. Like I said last week, the book of psalms is a book of poems and songs written over hundreds of years that, in their own way, speak to incredible possibilities of life. Some were meant to be sung in the Temple like some kind of liturgical chant while others were prayers full of sorrow, joy, and fear. When we read, listen, and recite these psalms, we’re not just absorbing the words into our heads. We’re also stepping into a conversation people have been having for a long long time with this God who always listens. We’re wrapped up in a conversation between us and the text; between us and God; and between us and whatever we’re going through. Yet this conversation is also much bigger than us because we’re part of a body of Christ – a community filled with other people having this same kind of conversation right now. The psalms are always bigger than just words on a page. They’re also words Jesus meditated on and even quoted out loud when he showed how God’s love can, and will, transform us and the world. 

So if the psalms put us within a wider conversation that includes us, our community, our world, and our God – what should that conversation look like? Last week, psalm 22 showed how this  conversation isn’t always going to feel reverent and holy. God is okay with us feeling all our feelings and allows us to even bring our anger to God. Today’s psalm tries to give us a tool we can use during that conversation when we’re worried, scared, and afraid. Psalm 16 is a miktam which is a word I’m pretty sure I’m mispronouncing. A miktam is, most likely, a type of psalm that, in the words of Ellen Charry, “teach[es] one how to think and behave theologically when [in danger].” When things get hard, it’s not always easy to know what faith can do. And so psalm 16 is structured as a literal conversation between a speaker and their very human audience. It begins, in verse 1, with a simple request for refuge. The psalm doesn’t describe exactly what this kind of divine protection might look like but it seeks safety away from all the stuff that’s going on. It takes a bit of guts and a lot of humility to admit our need for help and to say we might not be in control. That’s one of the ways we begin having a real conversation with God. And once we turn to God, the speaker invites us to utter – like a kind of mantra – one simple phrase: “You are my LORD; I have no good apart from you.” 

Now it’s a bit surprising this psalm gives us only one sentence to address everything life might bring. It doesn’t feel like this is enough since this moment feels like too much. If the author of the psalm was like me, they would have written many more verses;  hoping that the sheer volume of words they wrote would somehow reveal the one word that could change everything. But instead, we get one sentence: telling us to claim who our God is and why being with God matters. When we’re overwhelmed by whatever we’re going through, we’re told to pause and recognize our place in God. Regardless of the danger, the pain, the worry, the fear, and the anxiety we’re living through – we belong to God. And that won’t change. The psalm isn’t trying to diminish or lessen all we’re feeling in our moment. But the psalm knows that when we’re feeling hopeless, what we need is hope. When we’re living through what we’re living through, we don’t always have the ability to see beyond what’s around us. What we need is a word to come to us, breaking through all the stuff that encircles us. That outside word often comes through the conversations we have with each other and with our God. The Psalms are like a tangible expression of the ongoing dialogue between us and the divine. The songs and poems are not the end all, be all, of that ongoing conversation but they serve as little reminders of how God is with you as your life progresses. When we find ourselves going through things that are so consuming we can’t see beyond them, we need a word of hope to say that this moment isn’t the limit to our story. There is still more because you, through the baptized and faith, are part of Jesus; whose own story shows what God’s love will do. Right now isn’t the only part of your story and when you need to be reminded of who you and whose you are, that’s when you can turn towards God and say: “You are my LORD; I have no good apart from you.” 


A Psalm for Real Life

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;

I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;

they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!

Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!

Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Psalm 22

When I told the worship committee I wanted to bring the psalms into worship this summer, Ed Bailey soon sent me a poem I hadn’t read before. It was first published in 1838 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and it’s called “A Psalm of Life.” Longfellow is one of those poets who was super successful during his life but whose reputation started to fall quickly after his death. But this poem is one that is still regularly published and it goes like this: 

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

     Life is but an empty dream!—

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

     And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

     And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

     Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

     Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

     Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

     And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

     Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

     In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

     Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

     Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act,—act in the living Present!

     Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

     We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

     Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

     Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

     Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,

     With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

     Learn to labor and to wait.

Longfellow wrote these words shortly after the death of his first wife. And his not-so-subtle message is that life is meant to be lived. We shouldn’t lament the past or take the future for granted. We should go ever forward: achieving, pursuing, and always doing. “A Psalm of Life” is sort of like a 19th century kind of pep talk. And that’s one way the psalms in our Bible can be used. The 150 songs and poems are sometimes a tool meant to inspire us out of whatever we’re living through. But there are times when we can’t do or achieve or progress our way out of this moment. All we can do is just be. So when you can’t move forward, what does it mean to be with God? 

Now I would like to say that being with God means having a constant sense of peace and joy that directs our lives. There are those who experience God in this way but my life with God is a little more chaotic. There are times when things feel like they’re going exactly the way they’re supposed to. But there are other moments when life feels like it’s completely gone off the rails. We find ourselves living through things we never expected while, at the same time, discovering we aren’t who we thought we were. Broken relationships, broken bodies, broken dreams, and broken prayers means we’re not always progressing forward. Time marches forward but we might feel as if we’re standing still, falling backwards, or just spiraling because of things we’ve done or that have been done to us. Life is meant to be lived but that doesn’t mean living is easy. Sometimes we need permission to just be – holding all the emotions, fears, and uncertainty that comes with life. 

Which is why I’m grateful for psalms like 22. It begins in a difficult place with the writer spiraling through suffering. We might expect the author to name what they’re going through. But they don’t. Instead of letting us judge how worthy their suffering is, all we get is the intensity of their lament. They begged God to intervene and their constant prayers have left them exhausted. God has yet to act and they have no idea why. They feel entirely alone – isolated from their God and the community around them. And while we might believe that when you talk to God, you should speak in a way that feels holy and reverent. Yet the author does the complete opposite. They are fully themselves – feeling every one of their feelings – and not hiding behind a facade of holiness, goodness, or that they’re “doing okay.” What they’re going through is hard and they put into words the very strange experience of feeling as if God is gone but also present at the same time. The psalmist doesn’t try to be kind and asks God to be who God claims to be. 

One of the interesting things about this psalm is we’re not quite sure if the author’s bad circumstances ever go away. All we get are hints something happened. By verse 24, their pleading has been transformed into praise but, once again, we’re not allowed to explain away their experience by knowing all the details. Instead we’re invited to just be there and notice how their story is no longer what it once was. We have no idea if their life got better; all we know is their life was lived. And while they lived, God was there. God was there when they felt alone; God was there when they vented and raged. And God was there when they felt isolated from all they knew. Living with God means we get to be with God. And because God is there, our story doesn’t have to remain the same. The author could have kept their story to themselves but instead of thanking God in a private exchange no one else would hear, their words to God became a word from God meant for others. The entirety of their story – their frustration, their anger, and even their joy – was meant to be shared. And it’s through those words, we all see what it means to be and to live within the kingdom of God. Our God is big enough to hold all our anger and our Jesus is merciful enough to not let our story remain the same. Our lives are filled with change – and that change can be amazing, exciting, or downright awful. And while we might try to use the psalms to inspire us into achieving and doing more, we have a God who knows our lives are more than just an attempt to progress into whatever we think is sentimental and good. Life is full of challenges and our journeys that do not always make sense. Yet when Jesus shows up, the limits of our lives encounter the limitlessness of God’s love. That love knows change is real and how difficult it is for us to integrate that change into our lives and into our world. These changes can be amazing, like graduating from high school and heading off to college. But these changes can also be really hard and involve all sorts of  heartbreak we couldn’t possibly be ready for. Life isn’t easy and we don’t have a God who promises that hardships won’t come. What we have, instead, is a God who will live with us and hold through the moments when all we can do is be. Sometimes we will plead and beg and pray and say some not nice things to God. Yet even when we feel we can no longer cling to God, we – through baptism and faith – have a God who will always cling to us. This is the story we get to share with our friends, our church, our neighbors, and the world. And when we share this story, they will discover how they, as they are, can be with God too.  


The Anxiety of Can We Talk Later?

[Jesus said:] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

John 16:12-15

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (June 12, 2022) on John 16:12-15.


One of the more anxiety inducing phrases we sometimes hear or say is: “can we talk?” Those words, on their own, don’t really mean too much but they hit differently when used by someone important to us. When someone I care about or respect uses those words, my mind immediately starts preparing for the worst. I wonder: are they going to tell me bad news? Are they angry at me? Did I do something wrong? My throat begins to tighten while my heart starts to race. And I suddenly become really uncomfortable as my brain comes up with every worst case scenario possible. Every once in a while, my physical and mental reaction to these words are way over the top. But there are other moments when it’s not. When someone says “can we talk,” we don’t know exactly what they want to bring up. We’re given a lot of uncertainty which is why, I think, our bodies and minds react so quickly once we hear those words. This simple phrase tells us we might be starting a really difficult conversation. Yet there’s also the option to make this phrase hit even harder. And that’s when the important person in our life asks, “can we talk later?” 

By just adding one word, everything we’ve already started to feel gets expanded. It’s hard to wait for that difficult conversation to begin and so we usually fall into an anxious spiral centered on what we don’t know is about to come. That feeling is one Elizabeth Evans, a deacon in the United Methodist Church, noticed while looking at our reading from the gospel according to John. She wondered if the disciples felt all these kinds of feelings when Jesus said his version of: “can we talk later?” “I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now” is a weird thing for Jesus to say in the middle of his last long sermon to his disciples before his death in John. Jesus, at this moment, is in the middle of his “Farewell discourse” which stretches from chapter 14 through chapter 17. During John’s version of the last supper, Jesus interrupted their meal by assuming the social and cultural position of a slave and washed  the feet of every one around the table. Once he was done, Jesus talked; and talked; and talked. Since he, according to John, knew the disciples would soon see him betrayed, arrested, and killed;  Jesus wanted to prepare them for the horror of experiencing what people do when God’s love makes itself known. This wasn’t the first time Jesus had talked about the Cross but the disciples struggled to integrate this reality into themselves because Jesus was still in front of them. Jesus, then, wanted to give them words they could hold onto to help them live through whatever came next. Yet in the middle of all his words, Jesus had the audacity to say there were even heavier things he couldn’t share with them right now. I imagine that once those words left Jesus’ lips, the disciples entered deeper into an emotional spiral of worry and fear and anguish that everything that might come next. When they needed reassurances that their experience with Jesus wasn’t for nothing, the disciples had to sit with every one of their uncomfortable feelings about their uncertain future. 

And the truth is that we don’t really know how to cope or handle all the stuff that comes with holding these kinds of feelings in our bodies and in our minds. In fact, we don’t often even acknowledge these feelings because of the amount of vulnerability required to admit we can’t control tomorrow. We sometimes try to shift the blame of these feelings onto others, saying it’s their problem or it’s them that caused us to feel this way. We get angry, defensive, or even bury our head in the sand, acting as if this uncertainty doesn’t really exist. But those feelings that reality is right there and “psychologists remind us that the only way to get past emotions is to feel them, as if [we’re] practicing the Marie Kondo method of tidying up—holding our feeling in front of us, naming it, thanking it for what it taught us, and letting it pass.” Admitting and then holding onto all of the stuff that comes with uncertainty is really hard. And I often wonder if some of the anger and worry and hatred and violence and the inability to empathize with people who are not exactly like us I see swirling in our world – comes from our inability to admit the uncertainty deep inside us. We convince ourselves that our real problem is that we’re just uncomfortable and the solution is to seek out, above all, a kind of comfort that avoids the conversations and experiences that might challenge who we imagine ourselves to be. And by ignoring that uncertainty, we end up letting it define how we live in the world. We act as if we’re in control but it’s the fear which makes us who we are. And so we do not reflect or wonder or ask meaningful questions about ourselves, our community, and our world because we don’t want to show how vulnerable this uncertainty makes us feel. 

Which is, I think, why we Christians need a Trinity. Instead of only describing what God is, we – as Christians – also give a name to how God is made real in our lives. God is the creator of everything and the reason why we’re here. Yet God is also the one who revealed God’s self in Jesus – who was crucified because we’re not as good or loving or as welcoming as we think we are. We need help – something stirring with, in, and through us, helping us to love like God loves. And that, I think, is one way to describe the spirit – this gift from God that animates us through the promise of the continued presence of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we see this Spirit throughout all of our holy scriptures, noting how it’s often described with a variety of pronouns, male and female, because the presence of God contains all. The Spirit doesn’t cure our “uncomfortable feelings associated with uncertainty,” but she comes to remind us we’re not alone. The Spirit reassures us we are not forgotten or that the pain or pride or fear or worry or uncertainty or uncomfortable feelings that define us will not define our relationship with God. It’s the Spirit that lets us sit with these uncomfortable feelings and exposes the uncertainty we’ve tried to hide from ourselves and from God. And when we experience all those feelings and truths and sorrows and anger and sadness we’ve tried so long to avoid, it’s the Spirit that gifts us faith, prayer, the Bible, worship, the Lord’s table, and the opportunity to bring everything to the foot of the Cross. Once there, we do not immediately get all the answers that will tame the uncertainty at the center of our fear. But we do see more clearly the promises given to us by God. You were created. You are loved. And in Christ, you are worth living and dying and rising for. The uncertainty you face and feel is very real but the love of God for you is real too. We can name and see and sit with all the uncomfortable feelings that come from the uncertainty we can’t control. Yet we don’t have to let those feelings limit the love we share because we have a God who will always carry us through. 


Pentecost: what love looks like

When the day of Pentecost had come, they 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 5, 2022) on Acts 2:1-21


Pete Holmes is a comedian who I’ve followed ever since he talked about what it’s like to carry google in your pocket. For the first time in human history, we have access to an incredible amount of information and yet we’re not a lick smarter for it. He encourages us to dwell in wonder: that space when we don’t have an answer for all the stuff we’ve lived through. Not knowing isn’t always a comfortable place to be in but there’s power in staying open to what we don’t know. A couple months ago, he was interviewed on the Late Show by Stephen Colbert and he started a comedy bit about having to re-learn how to act in public since we’ve chosen to move into a different stage of the pandemic. He described how people move in two modes: a group mode and a solo mode. Group mode is when we’re actively engaged with others by talking, chatting, or simply existing around each other. But solo mode is when you’re in the world but not trying to be a part of it. It’s when you bury yourself in an oversized hoodie, pop on some headphones, and sort of isolate yourself even when you’re surrounded by others. There are times when we need to be in group mode or solo mode and we often switch between them several times a day. Pete tried to set up a joke by saying how he saw someone in real time go from group mode to solo mode. Yet that was when Stephen Colbert, who is a trained comedian and should have recognized the kind of joke setup Pete was trying to do, interrupted with a question. He asked: “how do you see someone going from group mode to solo mode if you’re there?” How, when you’re in a group with someone else, can you see them enter their solo mode? That was a really good question that Pete didn’t expect. And when he tried to continue the joke, he couldn’t and he called out Colbert for not doing what he was supposed to do. In a really humorous way, Pete pointed out how he was Colbert’s guest and it was Colbert’s job to support him. The host was to help their guests sparkle and shine. Stephen Colbert didn’t do what he was supposed to do. And while it’s a silly moment, I couldn’t help thinking about it while reflecting on our reading from the book of Acts because helping others shine is what the Holy Spirit empowers us to do. 

Now this reading occured on a very specific day. The day of Pentecost was – and still is – a Jewish religious festival and it’s known as Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. In Jesus’ day, it was a harvest festival remembering and celebrating the generosity of God. People would go to the Temple and bring the first ripe grains of wheat that had grown in their fields. They were, in that moment, thanking God for those grains and trusting more would follow. The festival took place fifty days after Passover and in ancient Greek, the word for the “fiftieth day,” is Pentecost. This festival brought together people from all over the Mediterranean Sea into the city of Jerusalem. Today’s text, in fact, lists 15 different ethnicities, which most likely represented only a tiny fraction of those celebrating in God’s holy city. Together, they had a shared identity of being Jewish. Yet they also, as individuals, had their own stories, histories, and ethnicities reflecting how big their identities were. The people in the city were there to celebrate God and that diverse community included a small group of folks who followed Jesus. They were there to celebrate Pentecost but they were also wondering what it meant to follow Jesus. He was no longer with them like he once was and they didn’t know what their lives should now look like. They were wondering what would happen next. And that’s when, while gathered in a small house, something like the wind from a tornado filled the room. While wondering what this wind was all about, suddenly flames appeared over their heads that looked like tongues made of fire. The noise and commotion soon attracted the attention of those in the surrounding neighborhood who wondered what was going on. And that’s when the Holy Spirit, an empowering force from God, drew these two groups together. While they wondered, the Spirit moved through the followers of Jesus so that the crowd could shine. 

Now I’m not quite sure what the crowd expected to happen when they saw the small group of folks at the center of all the noise. But I’m pretty sure they didn’t think they would hear Jesus’ story in the language their parents spoke to them when they were born. The wind and the fire were soon forgotten because the experience of hearing those words drew all their attention. Some tried to come up with an answer to explain away what they heard. But Peter knew God was simply doing what God always does. God’s commitment to all of creation is always shown, and made real, in love. And that love does not replace the identities that make us who we are but rather celebrates who, in Jesus, we get to become. No one story or one kind of person or one experience defines what it means to be with God. God comes to us as we are because when Jesus died on the Cross, his arms were open to all. When the Spirit moved on the day of Pentecost, it didn’t empower everyone to speak or understand the same language. Instead, it enabled the followers of Jesus to share the good news: how God lived a complete human life and promised to transform us into something more. And because the crowd heard those words in a very personal way, they witnessed how the whole of who were was welcomed into the fullness of the body of Christ. This, I think, gives us a vision of what being a Christian and living a Christian life is all about. We, because of baptism and faith, get to help others shine. We, through the gifts God gives us, help the people around us become who God wants them to be. We, through our acts of care and service, simply help them thrive. Now to do that well, we need to act as if they’re already part of the group. That doesn’t mean we behave in a way that belittles their distinctiveness or acts as if their identity is something other than what it is. Instead, it’s a call for those of who follow Jesus to always see the other person as someone we’re already connected to. We might not know each other but because of Christ, we love them and through our love, empower them to love others too. Living our lives in this way is a bit hard and we’re not always going to do it right. But God, as we’ll hear in the promises we’ll affirm alongside with Anderson when he is confirmed later today, doesn’t ask us to live out that love on our own. God, instead, gives us the Spirit, this force empowering us to know who we are and to love others like God loves us. We’ll often wonder what this kind of life and what this kind of love looks like. But I’m pretty sure we see it and we live it when we choose to welcome, include, support, and help others shine. And that’s a love that all people, regardless of language, background, ethnicity, or identity, can feel, experience, and see. 


Sermon: God’s Weird in Love

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

My sermon from the Seventh Sunday after Easter (May 29, 2022) on Luke 10:25-37 (with a hint to Psalm 25:1-10)


How do you end a book about the end? 

If that question sounds familiar to you, it’s because I’ve asked it before. But unlike other writings we know, the questions we bring to Revelation rarely have only one answer. And that’s because the entire book is a little weird. Revelation was written by a man named John who was living in exile on the island of Patmos, a small piece of rock off the coast of modern day Turkey. After receiving a series of visions from God, he composed a manuscript known as an apocalypse. Now to us, an apocalypse is the end of the world but in John’s day, an apocalypse was a genre of writing meant to unveil or disclose something new. The idea was to show that no matter what people were going through, there was always more to the story. That more was hidden behind the everyday troubles of our world; a world wrapped in violence, fear, and sorrow. An apocalypse might be filled with descriptions of incredibly outlandish things but it was always written for real people living real lives. And so that’s why, way back in chapter 1, John mentioned seven specific faith communities in Asia Minor – aka modern day Turkey – that his book was written for. Each one of those communities was going through their own set of challenges – with some being persecuted by local authorities because they called someone other than the Roman Emperor, Lord. Others, though, were doing just fine. And yet that fine was, to John, a bit inauthentic. They were communities that busied themselves with being comfortable. They lacked a sense of urgency or purpose, seeking out the status quo because they assumed there would be enough time tomorrow to deal with the Jesus who came to them today. These kinds of communities were going through a very different experience than those who faced persecution from the government. Yet to John, the very weird visions God gave to him were visions meant for them both. 

So that’s why I like to imagine John, while trying to end his book about the end, re-reading everything that came before. He had used words to paint images of very odd things that cycled in and through and around each other. There was this throne in heaven, surrounded by four really weird looking creatures, a host of angels, and a chorus of singers that included all of creation – even the microbes living in the sea. There was Jesus who wasn’t described with long brown hair or sandaled feet. Instead, he had a sword for a mouth, looked like a lamb who was killed, and shone so bright there was no longer a need for a sun in the sky. John’s words also described broken seals, monstrous beasts, angelic trumpets, a red dragon, the spilling of all kinds of wrath on all kinds of people, and even several horsemen who brought death to a world reeling in pain. In the end, John wrote about a new holy city descending from above with streets covered in precious jewels and gates that never shut. Everything in Revelation is over the top, shocking, and downright weird. But through it all, God was present, active, and chose to do something even more weird: which was to just love. God took what was already here and made it new. And even when God felt far away – too far to care about those who were suffering and too far to make a difference in the here and now – Jesus was right there with you. 

Yet I know that kind of hope isn’t always easy to see because real life paints its own kinds of pictures we can’t easily shake from our heads. The picture I keep seeing are the words used to sketch out the timeline of cell phone calls made from Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas while the attack was on going. It’s an image I wish never had to be made yet shows how heartbreaking this life can be. And I’m not sure, exactly, what hope looks like when our status quo tolerates this kind of pain. Our first instinct might be to try and sketch out a competing vision for the world. It’s possible to imagine John of Patmos choosing to end his book with all kinds of blessings, joys, and images of love. He could have stopped with the weird and focused more on bringing us a sense of comfort and peace. Yet that wasn’t what John chose to do. Revelation “weaves notes of inclusion,” welcome, and blessing and notes of exclusion, expulsion, and fear “into a single fabric.” As Greg Carey noted, this “passage excludes transgressors from the Holy City, but it also extends an invitation—’Come!’—to everyone who is thirsty. The broader context of Revelation’s closing chapters imagines a lake of fire that receives every person whose name is missing from the Book of Life (20:15) but also a tree that bears fruit ‘for the healing of the nations’ (22:2). Revelation shows the nations and kings being annihilated during the final battle (19:15, 19), but in the New Jerusalem the nations walk by its illumination and their kings bring their ‘glory’ into the city (21:24–26).” And if we try to choose which kinds of weird from Revelation we pay attention to, Revelation doesn’t let us pay attention to only what brings us comfort. This book is meant to be taken as a whole because our whole lives are meant to be taken as a whole too. Real life is very weird and so, I think, Revelation is supposed to stay weird too. The book doesn’t contain some kind of secret message we’re supposed to decode that reveals when God’s kingdom will finally come. Rather, John used images and pictures that mixed, cycled, terrified, and excited because only that kind of weirdness can speak to how ridiculously weird it is to live in a world where what happened at Robb Elementary is accepted as part of the status quo. When John wrote the end to the end, he wanted it big enough to contain all the ridiculousness of real life. Because when we notice and accept and own just how strange, wonderful, and hard life actually is, we realize we’re not actually God. And if we’re not God, that might be the hope we need. 

Because if we are not God, then the story we’re currently writing through our actions and inactions isn’t the real story. The status quo we’re living through isn’t all there is because there’s another story – a heavenly story – where God’s weird trumps our own. God’s weird includes how we, through baptism and faith, are transformed into more than who we thought we were. We are Christ’s body – which is a weird thing to say and an even weirder thing to trust and know is true. And while that’s a beautiful sentiment to express, it’s also difficult when we admit the whole of who we are. We are not perfect. We are often at fault. We exclude, push aside, and let others be expendable as long as we’re as comfortable as we feel entitled to be. We’re broken and wounded and far from ever feeling as whole as we believe we’re supposed to be. We’re just people – people who need Jesus rather than the other way around. Yet Jesus, the son of Mary, the healer, teacher, and rabble rouser who kept reaching out to include all he could, doesn’t expect us to be perfect. Jesus just asks us to trust that the more is our whole story. The body of Christ – a body full of wounded people – is a body with hands and feet that still bear the wounds of the nails that were smashed through them. Yet even the status quo of the Cross for that body was changed into something new. We can, like John of Patmos, paint a new picture that takes seriously the whole of our lives while, because of Christ, knows how the end of our story is already being written. What we imagine is the status quo today is a contradiction from the true status quo we were given in baptism and in faith. Things can, and should, change because we are part of the weird of God. And if God’s weird is to always love – then our status quo can only be to love just as weird as God. 


Sermon: Where We’re From

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:9-15

My sermon from the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 22, 2022) on Acts 16:9-15.


So last Sunday afternoon, I managed the Tri-Boro Food Pantry’s table at Woodcliff Lake United: a day of service. We, along with other faith communities and organizations, gathered together hundreds of rolls of paper towels, toilet paper, toothbrushes, dish soap, maxipads, tampons, adult diapers, toothpaste, shampoo, and laundry detergent. Our hope was that attendees would learn which items were not covered by SNAP benefits and then pack tote bags filled with those items for the 130+ families who rely on the food pantry every week. My favorite part of the event was seeing people having “ah-ha” moments when they imagined what their lives would be like without toilet paper or soap. This event not only made a real difference in people’s lives; it also invited everyone into a deeper conversation about who calls Northern New Jersey home. Yet one of those conversations has been gnawing at me all week. Two women came to me, wondering what all the stuff was about. I explained to them, in detail, about what we were trying to do and how food isn’t always enough. They were excited to learn there was a pantry and local faith communities who actually cared. As we talked, the conversation became a little more personal as they wanted to know more about this church and about me. It’s then when one of them asked me a question I’m never quite sure how to answer. She looked at me and with incredible kindness and sincerity in her voice, asked: “where are you from?” 

Now it took me a moment to respond because we were at an event called Woodcliff Lake United and so I knew she wasn’t asking about my connection to New Jersey. I had a hunch, based on our entire conversation, that she was asking about my ethnicity. She had expectations of who I was based on what I looked like. And I knew, at that moment, I needed to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually ready to deal with whatever this conversation brought up. I hoped that at its best, we might be amazed at how so many different people from so many different places throughout the ages led us to be, together at that moment, packing bags to support all the people who call Northern New Jersey home. But I also knew, at its worst, I might be asked to prove how American I actually am. “Where are you from” is a difficult question for me to answer since my family tree is a little complicated. I can trace my ancestors back to colonial America and to people who, legend says, fought for the British in the Revolutionary war. There’s also another branch of people who were indigenous to the land and those whose  nationality changed after the border moved during the US-Mexico War of 1848. I also have ancestors who were refugees who fled Mexico in 1917 as well as others who left southern Italy to make a new life for themselves in the city of brotherly love. There’s a lot of stories within my ethnicity but I chose, at that moment, to simply say I grew up in Colorado. That wasn’t what she was looking for so she followed up with another question. She wondered “if I spoke Spanish because I look like I should.” There is, in our culture, an expectation that Americans look a certain way, speak a certain way, and are always easy to see. But the idea of what an American is – is an idea that’s been contested for centuries. Way back in the 1700s, Ben Franklin said some nasty things about Germans because he thought they could never be like him. And our violent, complex, and painful history of slavery and the treatment of Native Americans show that even acting like an American doesn’t mean you’ll be accepted as one. The Irish, at first, weren’t included in the fabric of America and it took awhile before people from Italy were as beloved as the pasta dishes and pizza they cooked. It even took a Chinese-American who simply wanted to return home to the city in California he was born in to redefine our idea of citizenship. We are engaged in an on-going conversation about who’s allowed to claim the American dream as their own and this conversation is full of conflict, protest, anger, fear, joy, inclusion, welcome, and violence. This question of American identity isn’t a question limited to our past because there are some who have done horrible things because of this conversation at a grocery store in Buffalo, a Walmart in El Paso, and at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Who we are and who we’re allowed to be is a big part of our story. And that reality shows up in our reading from the book of Acts because when Paul went looking for one identity, he instead met a woman from somewhere else. 

Up to this point in the book of Acts, Paul – a Jewish man who was also a Pharisee and a Roman citizen – had been primarily bringing Jesus to the people living in Asia Minor, aka modern-day Turkey. But one day God showed him a vision of a man asking for help. Paul and his companions then crossed the Aegean Seas because they recognized the man as Macedonian. This small group landed in the city of Philippi, the capital of the Roman Macedonian province, on the mainland of Europe. Now when Paul arrived at a new place to share Jesus, he had a pattern of first visiting the marketplace or the local synagogue. But instead, we’re told he went to a place outside the city gates that was known as a place for prayer. We don’t know exactly what Paul was looking for but we do know what he found. He came across a group of women and among them was Lydia, who is the first named person in Europe we meet. But Lydia, herself, wasn’t known as a European. She was, instead, from Thyatira, which was located in Asia minor. Lydia was a businesswoman, a trader in purple cloth which was the color reserved for emperors, kings, and the very rich. She was also known as a worshiper of God which meant she was, like Paul, either Jewish or a God-fearer, a gentile who believed in God but who hadn’t fully converted to Judaism. Since it was the Sabbath, I assume Lydia and the other women were there to worship God. And since only women were in that space, there’s a possibility that Paul wasn’t supposed to be there. But Paul didn’t let other people’s expectations get in the way of Jesus. He, on that holy day, shared how the divine and human had come together in a way where neither lost its distinctiveness nor became something it wasn’t. Jesus was fully human, fully divine, and had an identity big enough to hold all other identities within the limitlessness of the kingdom of God. Lydia, even though she lived in Philippi, was still known as someone from somewhere else. She knew what it was like to be asked if she belonged. Lydia, because of her career, her wealth, her status, her gender, her background, and her ethnicity, lived with an identity that was often contested. Yet when Paul showed her Jesus, she saw her place in Him. Through faith, grace, and baptism, Lydia gained a new identity as a publicly declared child of God. This identity did not replace who she was but invited her to become something more. 

In the words of Professor Jennifer T. Kaalund,  ​​”Paul [set] sail looking for a man to share the good news with in Macedonia. Instead, he encounter[d] a group of women.” His expectations were modified and replaced because Jesus’ story is a story meant for all. The question – “where are you from” doesn’t just impact those whose identities are contested by others because who we are and who we are allowed to be matters to us all. Yet through Jesus – you are always more than what others say about you. And that’s because you are the body of Christ. When we find ourselves face to face with sinful, heretical, and unChristian ideologies like “the great replacement theory” or any other belief that draws boundaries based on hatred and fear, our Christian response starts by noticing our place within the body of Christ. We, through Jesus, are part of something more; a more than includes a Macedonian man, a woman from Thyatira, a Pharisee from Tarsus, a person who recently discovered what isn’t covered by SNAP benefits, those families who rely on the Tri-Boro Food Pantry to survive, and all of us gathered in worship right now. When we have Jesus, where we’re from is not limited to where we were born or where others think we belong. Instead, we’re first – and foremost – with God and we’re part of a love which, even on the Cross, kept its arms open to all.