Children’s Message: Don’t Stop Learning

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

Describe the tool. 

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

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

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

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/17/2022.

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

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

Luke 10:38-41

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


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

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

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

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

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


Sermon: Do – Not Only Be

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

Luke 10:25-37

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


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

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

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

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


Children’s Message: Showing Your Work

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

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

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

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/10/2022.

Children’s Message: Prepped for Failure

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I want to talk a little bit with you about something that everyone experiences but we’re not very good at how to deal with it when it happens. It’s something everyone in the pews has experienced and something that even the followers of Jesus, 2000 years ago, experienced too. So to explore what that is, we need to talk a little bit about the story of Jesus we’re going to hear. And to do that, I’ve got a picture.

So what do you see in this picture? There’s groups of people two-by-two knocking on the doors. It seems like there’s a road, a path, and a lot of these groups knocking on doors. What do you think they’re doing?

What we’re going to hear is that Jesus asks his disciples to go ahead of him into places Jesus plans to go. Jesus is going to villages located with folks who were Samaritans. Samaritans had similar beliefs to Jesus’ own Jewish background but there was enough differences that they didn’t get along. Jesus, as a very religious Jewish person, wasn’t supposed to hang out and eat meals with Samaritans. But he went to see them anyways cuz God’s love, regardless of beliefs or religion or culture or background, is for everyone. Jesus told his disciples, who were probably mostly Jewish like him, to go ahead of him. He sent them in groups of two and told them to bring very little with them. They won’t bring money, extra clothes, or extra shoes. Instead, they’d have to rely on the generosity of others – of people not exactly like them – to help take care of them. 

So do you think it would have been easy or hard to accept that kind of help?

It was probably really hard because it could go really well or it could go poorly. And if people didn’t accept them or didn’t talk to them or told them to go away, the disciples would have felt like the failed Jesus. Failure is something we all experience – when we try something and it just doesn’t work. We fail at school when we take a test. We’re not always the best player on our baseball team. We sometimes come up short in the championship game. Or we try to beat a level in the game we’re playing and we just can’t do it. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t practice enough, study enough, or do the work we needed to do well. But sometimes we fail because our best just wasn’t enough or because we were never going to be successful as we thought we were. Failing is a hard thing to experience and, when it happens, we might think we – over all – are just failures too. 

We’re going to hear in our story that the disciples that were sent out were successful – but that Jesus also did something special for them. He also prepared them for failure. He prepared and talked to his disciples about what happens when someone turns them away or when things don’t go as well as they wanted. He told them to shake the dust from their shoes – which is a weird expression – but one that could be like shrugging shoulders and saying “oh well” when we fail. It’s a way to admit we haven’t been able to do what we set out to do. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel angry or upset or frustrated because we’re allowed to feel those things. But we don’t have to blame ourselves or believe that because we failed, we ourselves are a failure. Instead, we learn to move on; to try again; to be okay that we’re not supposed to be the best at everything. We’re going to fail and that’s okay because God’s love for us doesn’t depend on whether we are a success. God loves you; God cares for you; God will guide you; and because we have been baptized and brought into Jesus’ special family, it’s safe for us to try and fail because Jesus will never let us go.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/3/2022.

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.


Children’s Message: Stoles and Grapes

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I want to talk a little bit about my stole. The stole is this scarf-like looking thing I wear around my neck and it’s an ancient symbol of my role as a pastor. Part of my responsibility is to preach, share God’s word, and offer baptism, and holy communion – and this scarf, hung around the neck, means I’ve been called – and selected by this congregation – to do exactly that. In our denomination, some leaders called deacons wear their stole like a sash – going from one shoulder to the opposite part on their waist. That’s a symbol that they have been called by God and by a congregation to preach, share God’s word, and to serve others in a specific role like finding people homes, feeding people, sitting with people as they are dying, etc. This stole was a gift from CLC when I first started and I like it a lot because of the symbol it has here on the corner. What does it look like? Grapes! That’s right – grapes. 

I know I’ve shared a few children’s messages with you about grapes because they’re so cool. I love eating grapes and watching grapes grow. Grapes are used to make grape juice and wine – two items often used in holy communion. And I recently learned that when they’re making wine, after crushing up all the grapes and getting all the liquid they need, the left over pieces – smashed up grapes – is called M A R C (i.e. my name). That MARC is then usually used to make compost – which is a kind of fertilizer to help plants grow. Grapes are amazing and grapes are a fruit. What do you think fruits are for?

Plants grow fruit as a way to spread their seeds. They want you to pick them, carry them, eat them, and drop the seed in the ground so a new plant could grow. So plants, over time, evolved to make their fruit as sweet, juicy, and tasty as they can be. This fruit, though, does more than just help the plant make new versions of itself. This plant also helps those who can eat it. It provides us energy, vitamins, and nutrition we need to grow too. Most individual plants, if they don’t grow fruit, can still survive as long as they are healthy. That’s why we sometimes see fruit trees still growing big and strong even though they no longer grow fruit. But this fruit, while designed to bring a seed to a new place, has this happy accident where we are healthier and stronger. Fruit, in a weird way, isn’t just for the plant. It’s also for others too. And that’s what makes fruits really neat.

A writer named Paul [Galatians 5:1,13-25] noticed this about fruit too – how it provides a benefit to the person but really makes a big difference in the lives of others. He used the image of a fruit – to help describe our responsibilities with others. Because Jesus loves us, because we’re baptized, because God says we matter and we belong – we’ve already received what we need to help show others how God loves them too. The presence of God in our life can, and should, bear fruit – but a fruit meant for others. So Paul will list what that “fruit” – our actions – look like. It looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we spread joy, when we help bring peace, when we are kind, when we share and not hoard everything to ourselves, when we are patient with each other, and when we practice self-control – which means not letting our wants force others to do what we want – these are gifts that help others thrive. Because you never know who around you needs a bit of kindness, joy, a little peace, and the knowledge they are loved to become exactly who God wants them be. 

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, 6/26/2022

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.” 


Children’s Message: What Are Psalms

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And I want to talk about a book from the Bible that we’re going to be hearing a lot in worship over the next few months. The book is a pretty big one and is near the center of a lot of our Bibles when they’re in book form. For example, this is one of my study bibles – which is a bible full of little notes, facts, charts, and figures. This book is over 2000 pages long. When you flip to the middle, you find yourself near the end of one of the largest books in our Bible – the book of Psalms. 

So what’s a psalm? That’s not a super easy question to answer because there are so many of them. In fact, the book of psalms contains 150 psalms. These psalms are songs, poems, and prayers. Some were designed to be sung when a king in ancient Israel was installed as ruler over the country. Others were written as songs to be used when people worshiped in the Holy Temple in Jersualem. A few are specifically songs of thanksgiving – saying thank you to God for all the help God has given to a person. And others are prayers asking God for help. The psalms are full of all kinds of emotions – with the writers sharing their joys, their lows, their sorrow, and even their anger. The psalms, as Martin Luther understood them to be, are designed to explore the highs and the lows in the life of faith. Those highs can be full of fun – when everything is going the way we expect them too; and the lows can be when our hearts are broken in two. “The psalms weep with those who suffer, laugh with those who celebrate, and teach all of us about the long journey of faith.” The psalms are important, meaningful, and a gift God gives us to help us in our lives of faith. And they were so important, even Jesus and those who wrote about Jesus – quoted the psalms a lot.

One way to think about psalms is to think of them like we might our favorite songs. What do you do when you hear a song you really like? You probably play it over and over again. You might sing it really loud in the car when your parents are trying to listen to something else. You might try to learn all the lyrics and maybe even share it with friends. The song is heard over and over again, becoming a part of you because you like the beat, the rhythm, and maybe because it speaks to how you’re feeling or an experience you’ve had. The psalms are like that – a gift given to us by God to let us know that God knows that life can sometimes be awesome and really hard. There are times when we need to know that God sees us, knows us, gets what we’re going through – and that there is also a song or voice we can reach out to that will show us how, no matter what, we’re loved. So I’m going to invite you to pay attention to these psalms over these summer months. And you might find some words or phrases or verses that you’ll find yourself returning to over and over again for support, comfort, and hope.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 6/19/2022.