Children’s Message: Be A Birthday Party!

Delivered on October 15, 2023.

*Bring a birthday hat* 

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 something I’m wearing on my head. It’s a birthday hat! Since my youngest is now in school, she’s been invited to several birthday parties recently. Even if we haven’t been to a birthday party in awhile – what happens at a party? Accept answers. Where do these parties take place? Accept answers. Who gets invited to the party? Accept answers. 

 Jesus is going to tell another one of his parables – a short story today. And it’s a story that is a little weird with lots of strange details. But one of the important parts of the story is its setting – where the party happens. And it happens at a party. It’s not a birthday party but a wedding party thrown by a king. And since it’s a king – who do you think would go to that kind of party? Accept answers. If the king invites you to go to a party, you pretty much have to go. Yet Jesus’ story will reveal something a bit weird. The king will send out invitations – and no one who was invited wanted to come. So the king made the guest list even igger – inviting EVERYONE TO THE PARTY. It includes people the king loved – and many who they didn’t. It included people who were good, helpful, and kind; and those who weren’t. The king invited everyone to the party because everyone deserves to be at that party. 

So if everyone belongs in that party – do you know who else belongs in that party? Us! That’s right. And since it’s a party – it means that we get to follow the party rules which is all about having fun, making sure others have fun, and that we do our part to experience joy – and help other folks experience that joy too. In other words, to join in the party together – with each other – and with our God who always invites us into a heavenly party where the only party rule is that we should love and serve one another like God loves, serves, and includes each of us.

Sermon: “Be” You

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:1-14

My sermon from the Twentith Sunday after Pentecost (October 15, 2023) on Matthew 22:1-14.

So last week, I noted that the story Jesus told was one of the more violent ones he ever shared. I had to qualify that statement, though, since I knew today’s story was just on the horizon. Jesus, after entering the city of Jerusalem while riding a donkey, immediately headed to the Holy Temple to disrupt worship during one of the holiest weeks of the year. He, in his own way, kept challenging the status quo which was risky since Roman soldiers were busy patrolling the streets. The local religious leaders asked Jesus why he was doing what he was doing and he responded by sharing a few stories. The first involved two sons who struggled to fully embrace the promises of God. And then, while the faithful around him grumbled, Jesus told another story about renters who lashed out violently when they were told to share the fruit of their labor. This, according to Matthew, was when folks decided that Jesus had become too much of a problem. But instead of taking a step back and embracing his identity as the prince of peace, Jesus pushed forward and told another story about a wedding party that was anything but fun. 

Now I tend to read Jesus’ parables from beginning to end, letting his creative choices reveal God’s word to me. But today, I think it would be better to begin our reading of the story near the end. Once the city was burned to the ground and everyone in the surrounding area dragged to the wedding reception they couldn’t say no to, that’s when the king noticed someone who wasn’t properly dressed. This person is someone we know very little about since they’re not described as good or bad or as anything in between. All we know is that they weren’t among those who received the initial invitation to the party. And they, like everyone else in the crowd, had their lives interrupted by a king who took them from their homes, workplaces, and schools t so they could gather in a wedding hall before all the food got cold. No one in that space had the opportunity to head home and change into an outfit worthy of a royal wedding. They, instead, came exactly as they were since they never expected to be there in the first place. My hunch is that the people listening to Jesus’ story would have recognized this problem but automatically assumed that a king who prepared everything at the party before any RSVPs rolled in would have a plan to deal with it. When the guests arrived in their ripped jeans, wrinkled chinos, and brightly colored athleisure – everyone would have received a wedding robe once they arrived. The king not only prepared the feast but made sure everyone, the good, the bad, and those who weren’t even supposed to be there, had everything they needed to fully participate in the party. What the king saw, then, wasn’t someone who was underdressed or who lacked the resources or opportunity to let loose and have fun. What they saw was someone who was enjoying the food, getting busy on the dance floor, and admiring all the elaborate ice sculptures at the center of every table, but who refused to be as fully committed to the party as the king was to his guests. They chose to not embrace what the king had given to them. And so, in response, the king refused to let them stay and “be” among those who had made that party a part of who they are. 

Now a few nights ago, I was invited by Rabbi Loren Monosov of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley to attend a short solidarity gathering at their temple. It was organized as a response to the terrorist attack that occurred last weekend and the ongoing crisis that everyone knew was about to come. She began the event by inviting everyone to simply be. We were given permission to recognize our fear, worry, anxiety, confusion, sadness, horror, anger and whatever else that we felt. After a short prayer and reading Psalm 121 together, we took a moment to listen to a song recorded and filmed in Jerusalem itself. As a non-Jew who doesn’t speak any Hebrew, I’ll admit I didn’t really know what the song was about. Yet being there with our Jewish friends and neighbors helped to ground me in a story that wasn’t fully my own. Instead of letting my own perspective, point of view, or religious story supersede everything they were experiencing in that moment, I saw how letting people “be” can often be the most faithful thing we can do. Holding space so that others can navigate through a crisis is a necessary difficult thing to do. And as the video of the song reached its end, I also saw how much work us Christians still have to do. The video we were watching was being streamed from Youtube and, when it got to the end, Youtube automatically invited us to click on a few other videos the algorithm thought we might be interested to see. The tech operator at Temple Emanuel didn’t let those recommendations appear on the screen for very long but I had a moment to read a variety of video captions on the screen. Many of the recommendations were simply additional videos from the same event that song was recorded from. But at the very top was, from what I could tell, a video attacking Judaism itself. It would be easy to act as if I didn’t really see what I saw or as if it didn’t matter since we regularly work and serve, teach and pray, and listen to all of our Jewish friends and neighbors. Yet brushing it aside would be a failure of our own Christian duty to recognize how those videos and the algorithm that recommends them are often crafted by those who profess to follow the same Jewish rabbi, prophet, teacher, healer, king of kings, and lord of lords that we do. It’s hard to “simply be” when there are those who would choose, either consciously or unconsciously, chaos over hope, peace, and love. And when we’re caught up in moments when it looks like disruption, fear, and hurt is about to come out on top, Jesus’ words remind us of the wedding feast we’ve already been invited to. When the waters of baptism were poured over us and the seal of the Cross etched in oil on our forehead, our invitation to the party God’s already started was publicly given to us. That invitation wasn’t something we did anything to earn but was given to us because God remains faithful and committed to all that God’s loves. God’s commitment, then, invites us to fully embrace what the wedding party of God should be all about. We, then, are called to welcome because Jesus welcomed; to include because Jesus included; and to heal, serve, share, and disrupt every status quo that denies the humanity, hope, and peace that is God’s wish for all. That kind of work often requires us to recognize the ways we as individuals and as a community have hurt and harmed others by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone. And it’s through that work when we get to show up for our neighbors while they navigate through a crisis that makes hope so hard to see. Creating the space needed so that others can safely “just be” is one of the ways we embrace the garment of grace given to us in our baptism and faith. And when we fully embrace the commitment God has first made to us, that’s when we get to do the very holy thing of showing up for our families, our friends, and our neighbors with a love that never ends. 


Sermon: Turn a New Page

Jesus shared with the people: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Matthew 21:33-46

My sermon from the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (October 8, 2023) on Matthew 21:33-46.

I’m sure many of you have noticed how full our lawns have suddenly become at the start of October. Where once there was a lawn chair, some dandelions, and a smattering of toys our kids forgot to put away, there’s now quite a few gravestones, giant skeletons, and dozens of inflatable Disney characters holding all kinds of jack-o-lanterns. When it comes to the Halloween season, I tend to focus on all the fun: like costumes and parties and eating body weight in fun-sized candy bars. But October is also a month when dozens upon dozens of new movies, tv shows, graphic novels and comic books suddenly show up to frighten us. I, personally, do not like being scared but I am a bit fascinated by the creative process that makes “scaring” work. A little while ago, I was listening to an interview with Emily Carrol, an award winning cartoonist who recently released a horror graphic novel called “A Guest in the House.” That comic book is all about a young woman who, after marrying a rather kind dentist, realizes there’s a mystery surrounding his former wife’s death. The person interviewing Emily could have spent the entire interview focused on the book itself, asking her why she wrote it and what she hoped readers would get from it. But what I heard instead was a different kind of discussion focused on the nuts and bolts of scaring people through comic books. Unlike movies, tv shows, or even the radio, cartoonists can’t use a variety of sounds, moments of silence, quick movements, or an unexpected camera change to surprise the viewer. So many of our October scares are defined by that unexpected thing that makes us jump out of our skin. To do that well, bits of information need to be revealed and shown at the exact right time to increase the tension and startle the audience. But that’s a bit hard to pull off in a medium where a reader can look down at an entire piece of paper and have all the art laid out before them. The primary tool Emily and other cartoonists use to mimic the kind of jump scare that we long for from movies and shows involves the physicality of the comic itself. Turning the page from one part of the story to whatever comes next is the moment when that unexpected jolt can suddenly appear. Turing the page, then, is one way we make October as spooktacular as we want it to be. And I wonder if Jesus, in our reading from the gospel according to Matthew, used a similar kind of page turning technique to show a little of what the kingdom of God is all about. 

Now today’s reading is a continuation of what we heard last week. Jesus had just entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey and had annoyed everyone by disrupting how the Holy Temple functioned during one of its busiest times of year. The local religious leaders were a bit concerned by Jesus’ behavior since it seemed as if he was purposefully upsetting the delicate balance the community had established the occupying Roman Empire. They wanted Jesus to explain to them why he was doing what he was doing. And so Jesus, being Jesus, used a series of stories to illustrate his point. The first story involved two sons: one who said they wouldn’t work in the vineyard but then changed their mind; and another who said they would work in the vineyard but chose not to. The second story, which I Just read, detailed what happened when a vineyard was leased to tenants who didn’t really want to pay their rent. This parable is, I think, one of the more violent stories that Jesus ever told. And it’s one we seem particularly drawn to since the violence within it would soon echo through the violence done to Jesus on the Cross. It’s also a parable that we, as Christians, have used to justify our own violence and hateful acts towards the Jewish community while claiming that God has made us superior to everyone else. In light of the ongoing violence that occurs around the world everyday, I sort of wish that our lectionary – the 3 year cycle of readings we use on Sunday morning – had given us something a bit more peaceful. Yet when I read Jesus’ words in light of everything else that’s going on right now, I couldn’t help but notice the specific creative choices Jesus made in telling this story. Since he was the one telling the story, he controlled how certain bits of information would be revealed to everyone else. Jesus could heighten the tension by using specific words, different tones, and other storytelling techniques to invite us deeper into the story. He could have, for example, added a few value judgments to the different characters within his story by giving them specific adjectives like “good,” “faithful,” or “wicked.” Jesus, though, chose to do something else. He kept his words very plain, allowing our imaginations to paint a more vivid picture. All Jesus did was tell us what happened, allowing us to sketch a scene of what we assumed was going to happen once the page turned. Since violence and suffering is something we often focus our attention on, we couldn’t help but describe the violent outcome we’d expect to befall those wicked tenants who spilled so much blood within the story. Yet it’s interesting that Jesus, while not denying that part of the story, doesn’t actually turn to that page himself. All he did was ask a question – and we, in an almost unconscious way, revealed how focused we are noticing and using violence to get what we want in the world. We assume that the landowner is like us and so, like us, the violence within the story would grow. Yet I wonder what would happen if we didn’t turn the page so quickly. What if, instead of answering Jesus’ question, we let Jesus turn the page by himself? If we did, I imagine we might notice better how his words throughout the story were centered not on the tenants but on the one character who, over and over again, sent servants to those whose only response was violence. Rather than perpetuating the kind of violence he would soon experience himself, the part of the story Jesus focused on was all about the One who wants our lives to be as fruitful, and joyous, as a vineyard. That doesn’t necessarily mean that God expects our lives to be untroubled or that there will never be consequences for the ways we choose to hate and disregard our neighbors. But it does mean that when God chooses to act, the page God is turning to is focused primarily on mercy, forgiveness, justice, and joy. On one level, none of that feels too scary especially in light of an October full of spooks, ghosts, and ghouls. But if God’s love and God’s mercy ended up being the last thing we’d expect to see as we turned to the next page of our story, then that’s a pretty scary thought indeed. Yet I am grateful that we are not the ones who, no matter how hard we try, define what page God will turn to. Instead God will keep doing what God does – choosing to use words and people, prayers and songs, justice and wisdom, truth and hope, the Spirit and even Jesus himself to show how our focus on violence, pain, and hurt will be the page God turns us from so that our lives and our world will be filled with mercy, peace, and love. 


Sermon: Balance Differently

When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Matthew 21:23-32

My sermon from the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (October 1, 2023) on Matthew 21:23-32.

A few days ago, I stood on a skateboard and I’ll admit it was a little terrifying. In a past life, I regularly rode one around my college campus but I’ve since traded my Vans skate shoes for ones that primarily step on a gas pedal. Standing on a thin board a few inches off the ground shouldn’t be so difficult. But my balance isn’t what it used to be and I kept leaning forward and backward and side to side. Everytime I moved, my toes tried in vain to grip the side of the board while I made a million tiny bodily adjustments to keep it from sliding out from under me. I pretended as if I knew exactly what I was doing but the old skills I built up when I was younger no longer apply. Maintaining any kind of balance, whether physically, emotionally, financially, or spirituality is a rather difficult thing to do since it doesn’t take much for something to throw off our attempt at equilibrium. Tilting from one side to another is, on the surface, a type of balance that exists within a binary that knows we can never quite grab hold of that middle way that’s right in front of us. It would be awesome if we could step outside this way of being and find something a little more peaceful and holy. And I wonder if seeking, finding, and living with that type of balance is something Jesus hinted at in today’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew. 

Now Jesus spoke these words during a rather busy week in the city of Jerusalem as it prepared to celebrate the festival of Passover. He had, the day before, entered the city at the head of a small procession riding a donkey while others waved palm branches in the air. Some in the crowd recognized that Jesus was presenting himself as a kind of humble king. Yet others were a bit suspicious that this carpenter from Galilee seemed to be copying a different kind of procession that was occurring on the opposite side of the city. Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea appointed by the Roman Emperor himself, was, at nearly the same time, leading his own procession into Jerusalem surrounded by a legion of Roman soldiers. They were there to police the city  and intervene if anyone decided to use the Passover story as a pretext to upset the delicate political balance the Romans had worked hard to create. The soldiers were on high alert to respond if anyone, for example, entered the Holy Temple and disrupted the economic system allowing Jews from all over the empire to make specific kinds of offerings to God. Jesus, in Matthew’s version of His story, did exactly that after arriving on Palm Sunday. He flipped a few tables, drove out the moneychangers, and then took care of those within the Temple who needed help. The next day, Jesus returned to the Temple and the local leaders wanted some kind of explanation. They wanted to know why Jesus was trying to upset the balance that existed between the community and Roman solidres who had the capacity to burn the entire city to the ground. Jesus, in response, asked a question of his own and then followed up with a story involving a vineyard, a father, and a handful of kids. 

This story, compared to the other parables Jesus told, doesn’t appear to be too complicated. Within its structure, we find a kind of binary with a kid who refused to work but later changed his mind on one side and a kid who refused to fulfill the promise they made on the other. Both of the kids messed up and it’s pretty easy to place ourselves within the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re thinking about one specific experience – even one from today – that shows how we are the one who said no and then yes or the one who said yes and did no. Oscillating between these two experiences is, in one sense, a kind of balance since, on most days, we’re often doing one – and then the other – in rather quick succession. This way of being in the world is very human but it’s also pretty exhausting. What would be better is if there was another character, maybe even another son connected to this story that would invite us to notice a different kind of balance we can live into in our world. 

Now seeing ourselves within Jesus’ stories is, I think, one of the reasons why Jesus told them. When we see ourselves within Jesus’ words, we discover how normal we are while, at the same time, witness the absurd generosity that makes up the kingdom of God. Every story, though, includes more than simply the characters within the words. There’s also those listening to it which includes those who saw Jesus face to face and us, gathered together, nearly 2,000 years later. But a story without a storyteller is one that cannot be told. And Jesus, I imagine, knew we didn’t have to settle into this kind of binary choice to find our balance with God. Rather than merely being the kid who says no and does it anyways or the kid who says yes and does nothing, there’s also a third way where our response matches the life God calls us to. To get to that point, we need to empty ourselves of the either/ors that define what we imagine balance might look like. We can, instead, look outside ourselves and towards the One who bore witness to what our humanity could be. Jesus, who was there when the universe was made, had the power to do anything and yet he chose to show how being human is always enough. Rather than tilting from one side to the other while seeking a balance that never quite gets there, we could focus on the third way Paul described in his letter to the Phillippians. Instead of acting as if we are the only ones who can bring balance into our own lives, we could look to Jesus who used His power to bring healing and hope to all. The balance Jesus modeled was less about trying to feel balanced since he, like all of us, wept, laughed, got angry, and rolled his eyes everytime his disciples failed to grasp what God was up to. Instead of being balanced, he lived out God’s holy balance by inviting those who were exploited, pushed aside, or up on their high horses, to discover the love God already had for them. This kind of balance admits the ways we are accountable to one another while, at the same time, have needs that are valid and real. It’s a balance we often won’t feel since an illness, an accident, a change in our employment or just life itself, can easily upend what we hoped this whole thing would be. The balance we need, then, can’t be created only by ourselves. What we need is a community – people around and outside of us – who can help us live balanced even when we’re feeling anything but. That’s why, when we were baptized, the promises uttered over us included more than a declaration of God’s love. We also heard how we were now part of something bigger than ourselves. We were brought into the body of Christ – a community bound to Jesus himself to make real God’s harmony of grace and peace. To do that well, we need to do more than simply tilt from one extreme to another. We have to choose to care. We do that kind of care by recognizing each other’s needs and our own. We practice care by noticing all the different gifts God has given us to share. We live this care out by not letting ourselves get in our own way while serving those God has united us to. We care by asking for help and doing our best at being a community that people trust will answer their call when help is needed. None of us can do that kind of care on our own since there are times when we need the care we’ve often given to others. Offering care or needing care is not a sign that our life has become, somehow, unbalanced, out of whack, or that life is about to zoom out from under us. It is, instead, a reminder that Jesus knows we need each other. We, together, are invited to care so that we can bring balance into the lives of those around us. And we do that not because we are perfect or awesome but rather because, through the Cross, Jesus has shown that God will always seek a new way where love and hope are found.


Sermon: A New Think

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16

My sermon from the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 24, 2023) on Matthew 20:1-16.

A couple weeks ago, a trend on TikTok had people asking their husbands and boyfriends how often they think about the Roman Empire. On one level, it’s sort of a weird question since the Roman Empire, especially the part centered on the city of Rome itself, collapsed over 1500 years ago. Yet what was striking was how often, without hesitation, people admitted they thought about the Roman Empire every day. That doesn’t, necessarily, mean they’re obsessed with it since most of us probably think about the things we’re interested in quite often. But it does mean that among the people around you, at least one would love it if you asked them what SPQR actually means. This fascination with the Roman Empire tends to skew male since so much of the Roman story was shaped by a male lens. This allows, in the words of Mike Duncan, a man who turned his thinking about Rome into a successful podcast – men to do a lot of historical fantasizing since “we can see men who were poor, men who were middle-aged, men who were smart, men who were dumb, men who were emperors. Every available option is” open to them. The Roman story, though, is much bigger since it shaped our culture and our practice as the church in very tangible ways. Taking the time to ponder, wonder, and sit with something we find really interesting is a very human thing to do. And today’s parable from the gospel according to Matthew is Jesus’ way, I think, of inviting us to purposefully spend a bit of every day thinking about a specific characteristic of our God. 

This parable, in some ways, is a continuation of what we heard last week. Jesus told a story about the kingdom of God being like a generous king who showcased what forgiveness is supposed to do. Today’s story, which Jesus shared immediately after, described the kingdom of God as if it included a generous employer whose hiring practices were a bit bizarre. The employer arrived at the local market at the break of day, looking for day laborers. He found some who, after agreeing to the typical daily wage, were then sent into the vineyard. A few hours later, he came back and, for some reason, hired a few more. It’s possible these new folks had been initially passed over because they were too small or too ill to properly tend to the vineyard. But it’s also possible they arrived late after dropping their kids off at the ancient Israeli equivalent of daycare. Either way, they were chosen while others were left to wait in the marketplace. Many, though, didn’t have to wait very long because at 12 noon, 3 pm, and 5 pm, he came back to hire even more. We find ourselves in a strange situation where people who did very little were promised to receive the same as everyone else. Now the employer could have hidden what he was doing, by paying those who started the day first and sending them out before he paid everyone else. But instead, he called everyone together and paid those who started late, first. Those who worked all day, when they saw what the others were paid, assumed they would receive more. Yet when they looked at the coins placed in their hands, they saw the equal wage they were paid. This was, without a doubt, completely unfair which is why they, rightfully, complained. It felt as if they were being pushed aside and undervalued. As they simmered in anger, frustration, and a bit of confusion, I get a sense that a rage against those who they imagined had done less began to grow. In protest, those who had worked since dawn, pointed to all the things they had done. They mentioned their hard work, the length of their service, and all their personal qualities related to their time in  the vineyard. They identified what they, and we, believe they deserved. And, in response, their employer looked at them and said “tough.” He doesn’t invalidate their feelings nor does he say that their complaints aren’t true. Rather, he invites them to think about things differently by noticing one of his inherent qualities. He was free to reward others as he saw fit. And so what they received was not based on their hard work, their abilities, or even in their sense of fairness or equality. What mattered most was that the employer had a holy generosity that shaped everything that the employer chose to do. 

Generosity is easy to talk about but difficult to put into practice because it has to be willing to risk, and trust that there is always enough. We know, from our own lives, how hard that can be since an illness, an injury, a loss of employment, or a lack of opportunities can wipe away what we can place on our table. And we also live in communities and in a world with social media, tv, radio, newspapers, books, and all kinds of tools that show, and tell us, all about those who we think don’t deserve what they receive. The reasons we have for these kinds of thoughts are, we imagine, are always truthful, honest, and incredibly fair. Yet I wonder if at the heart of all those thoughts is a deep rooted sense of scarcity that believes, more than anything, that there’s only so much that can go around. Any generosity we offer, then, must be small, self-contained, and limited by the qualities of those who receive whatever we choose to give. And while we should be the proper stewards of every gift God gives, we often pretend that this scarcity is really a wisdom that ends up limiting how free we choose to be. We let the voices around and in us act as if the voice of God proclaimed that there never is, nor ever will be, enough for our lives, our world, and our souls. Yet the God who, in baptism and in faith generosity claimed as God’s own, constantly shows us how this isn’t true. It isn’t our goodness, our faithfulness, our success, our good looks, or whatever our culture uses to define who is worthy and who isn’t – that brings us into the body of Christ. It is, instead, God’s free and generous gift that knew the church couldn’t be what it’s supposed to be with you as a part of it.  There’s something pretty awesome about knowing how far God will go, even to death on the Cross, to show much we belong. But if we’re not too careful, we can act as if this free gift is a limited gift that’s for us alone. It should, though, instill within us a sense of awe, responsibility, and even a little fear that the God who could include anyone decided that, in Christ, we – as we are – are part of what God is up to. This is one aspect of answering the call Jesus has already placed on our lives. And it in, and through him, we are invited to think differently about ourselves and our world. Rather than letting scarcity be what primarily defines us, we get to wonder what it would mean to let the generosity displayed in this parable be at the heart of who we are. What if, every day, instead of reflecting on the Roman Empire or whatever else we’re interested in – we chose to make God’s generosity one of our daily thoughts too? It would, I think, help us get better at recognizing our greatest needs while, at the same time, showing how generous we can be. By shifting our thinking towards God’s radical, inclusive, and over-the-top generosity, we might untangle that sense of the scarcity that has warped what generosity can be about.  And I can’t wait to see how our thoughts can, with Jesus’ help, make God’s free, holy, and unimaginable generosity become the primary characteristic of who we get to be. 


Sermon: Spiritual Baseball Cards

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

My sermon from the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 17, 2023) on Matthew 18:21-35.

So something I don’t know much about is whether professional athletes – or their agents – get to choose the picture used on their trading card? I would think, on some level, that they’d want the chance to select a photo showcasing their strength, confidence, and athleticism. An action shot showing a diving catch, an incredible dunk, or an unbelievable kick, combined with an intense emotional stare, would be the shot every athlete would pick. But if they don’t choose, then their card might look like it belongs in the 1973 edition of Topps baseball cards. Most of those cards are pretty basic, with the ballplayer either holding a bat, fielding a ball, or posing as if they’re taking a photo for their driver’s license. Yet there are other cards which are a little different. Steve Garvey, 3rd baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was photographed strolling down the baseline towards home plate. However, standing in front of him was another Dodgers player whose backside practically hid Steve Garvey from view. Willie Davis, who also played for the Dodgers, was immortalized for all time on his card with a photo of him in shock after nearing being hit by the ball. Ellie Rodriguez, catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, wasn’t even on his card, replaced by the butt of an umpire and the catcher for the Minnesota Twins. All of these athletes probably had a million other athletic snapshots they wish were highlighted on their baseball cards instead. But what they got was that one moment when they were anything but their best. 

Today’s parable – the short story we just heard Jesus tell – pictures someone who also wasn’t at their best. It began in a very Jesus-y way by telling us what the parable is about. It’s not merely meant to be a description of God’s reign in heaven. Instead, it’s about what life is supposed to be like when God shows up. We meet a king – a ruler with incredible power – who enslaved a number of people. At some point in the past, he gave a few of them an unknown task that involved the handing, or creation, of a lot of money. The king brought the entire community together and decided, in a very public way, to go over everyone’s books. The first enslaved person we hear about is one who managed to create a financial obligation of almost unimaginable size. We don’t need to know how much a talent was actually worth since Jesus simply took the largest named numerical value in his world, aka 10,000, and attached to it the largest monetary value as well. If Jesus was telling this story today, he’d probably use a similar number in the range of $10 trillion dollars – or higher. The king chose to empower someone with no social power – to generate a debt that, in reality, could never be paid back. Even though the king knew this, he ordered the slave to be imprisoned and his family sold. Desperate, the enslaved person made a promise – saying they would find some way to pay it back. The king, after listening to this promise they also knew would never be fulfilled, then did something that none of the people listening to Jesus’ story – the enslaved, the tenant farmers, those who lived with immense debt, and those who could make other indebted to them – something none of them had ever experienced. The king forgave it and canceled the entire debt. 

Now if Jesus’ story had ended there, we’d have a short parable that could easily fit on anyone’s spiritual baseball card. The picture on the front for the king would be filled with grace and the newly forgiven slave would be shown having this immense emotional, spiritual, and financial weight lifted from their shoulders. Jesus’ parable could then be defined as a feel-good story about paying attention to the kind of forgiveness we receive from God. The story, though, continued and we saw the one who was forgiven refuse to offer that same forgiveness to others. Before the gathered community, he grabbed the debtor by the neck and threw him into prison. That behavior is pretty shocking though we, in our own ways, have experienced that or done the same thing to others. It’s not difficult for us to blame the newly forgiven for their behavior yet those who heard Jesus tell this story also recognized within it the environment that shaped that enslaved person’s action. In the greco-roman-near-eastern culture that surrounded them, creating specific obligations between people was how relationships were defined. Those with power – and those who society said had none – were constantly negotiating with each other the opportunities and privileges that would enable them to survive. Being in-debt and or having the options to make folks indebted to them was often how people formed the kinds of social bonds keeping their community together. It was more than simply scratching the back that scratches yours since it determined who you talked to, hung out with, where you worked, and who you married. When the newly forgiven had their debt wiped away, they probably felt as if they had now had a new obligation to fulfill with their king. He, after all, still owned him and had the power to upend his life. Everyone, including those listening to the story, assumed that the normal social contract was still intact even though the irony of the forgiven not forgiving was obvious to see. When the king learned what happened, he was furious and invited everyone to discover just how unbelievable the forgiveness he offered truly was. The king didn’t just simply cancel their debt; he also shifted the obligation that defined their relationship. The practice of forgiveness didn’t just change the enslaved person’s life; it was also meant to change the community’s life too. In the words of Richard Lischer, this parable “is not merely a story of God’s forgiveness wasted, or a tale of human fallibility, but” an illustration of what happens within communities where forgiveness isn’t found. “When we refuse, [within the Christian community], to forgive we cancel the [very] identity of God.” Forgiveness isn’t merely something we do; forgiveness is what happens when God’s kingdom comes near. 

Now forgiveness, itself, is complicated since the forgiveness we need and the forgiveness we offer is always going to be very specific. Yet within Jesus’ story we glimpse a vision of what this forgiveness is supposed to do. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting nor is forgiveness primarily the responsibility of the victim rather than the one who did harm. Forgiveness isn’t about returning to how things were but, instead, makes us free by breaking what binds us and others. Forgiveness is gracious, transforming and making holy the ways we relate, listen, and live with each other. Forgiveness empowers us to take full responsibility, in a very public way, of the harm we cause others. And forgiveness refuses to keep score because, through Christ, it knows we’ve already won. If what we’re asking for or offering to others doesn’t free them or help them or repair the harm that’s impacted their lives, then what we’re giving isn’t forgiveness at all. Forgiveness helps us – and others – thrive – and is supposed to be front and center on our spiritual baseball card. If we could choose the picture on the front of that card, we’d probably pick something showing us offering forgiveness, love, or grace. But what we’d actually get would probably be a picture of when our choices, behaviors, points of view, actions, and inactions – showed how we needed forgiveness in the first place. It wouldn’t be the kind of set we’d spend money to collect but it would be one that’s truly honest because it would reveal why we’d need Jesus on the front of that card too. We often struggle practicing forgiveness since we refuse to truly admit the harm we cause, often acting as if our intentions matter more than the impact of our actions. We, like the enslaved man, quickly forget what forgiveness feels like. Yet we, through baptism and faith, have already been wrapped up in a forgiveness that doesn’t end. It’s through God and in Christ where we discover a grace that is not defined by our obligations but by an abundance that focuses us on our Lord and on our neighbors. It’s never too late for us to own the harm we cause, repair the relationships we’ve shattered, and lean into the limitless love that has a hold on us. We can, when it’s safe and holy and sure, learn how to forgive because our God is already head. 


Children’s Message: Debt and Credits

Delivered on September 17, 2023.

bring coins

So it’s my tradition after the prayer of the day to bring a message to all of God’s children. And today I have with me a few coins. I have a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and some pennies. We use money – usually plastic money rather than physical money – to pay for things and the work people do. For example, if I wanted to buy a pack of pokemon cards in person, I’d need to go to the store – pick a pack – have the store tell me how much that costs – and give them the amount of coins or dollar bills for me to walk out the door with it. We’ve decided that money has value – and we can exchange that value for something else of value too. But what happens if we don’t have enough money for what we want?

We don’t get it. Or we borrow money to buy it.

Right. We can borrow money – telling a company or a bank or a friend or our parents that, we promise, to pay back, eventually, what we owe. If I’m explaining this correctly, when we borrow money – we take on what is called a “debt.” We’ll get the pokemon cards but we’ll owe money to someone else. And that other person or bank or whatever will often charge us “interest.” They want to make a little money from us by giving the money first hand. So sometimes we take on debts – believing and trusting or knowing we can pay that debt off in the future. Every person and family has different debts they can safely hold and, sometimes, debt becomes a problem based on things we can and can’t control. Knowing our debts – and how having a debt impacts our thoughts, feelings, and life – are important. And the language of debts – and situations about debts – show up in our Bible all the time.

Jesus will, in a few minutes, share a story about debts. He’ll talk about the story of someone who owed someone else 10,000 talents which is a lot of money. But this person couldn’t pay it back. They were going to be punished for it – but begged for another chance. Instead of being given more time to pay it back – or lessening the amount or anything of the sort – Jesus talks about this person having their debt forgiven. What do you think it means for a debt to be forgiven? Accept.

In this story, the debt is wiped away. It’s now 0 and the person no longer has to pay it back. Imagine having a debt for the pokemon cards and always just having to worry about it. But now…you wouldn’t. The debt is gone so you can live and act as if it no longer exists. That kind of forgiveness is freeing. It enables us to do things we might not be able to do. And Jesus, in the story, invites us to practice that kind of forgiveness. Part of what we do as followers of Jesus is to live as if forgiveness is real. It’s something we experience and something we offer to others. Forgiveness, though, is really difficult because it can involve more than just money. Our feelings or our bodies or our emotional health might have been impacted by the behaviors of others or we might have done something, said something, that hurt someone else too. Forgiving someone in those cases might not be something we can, or want, or should do since it might ask us to forget or act as if something that harmed us never did. Forgiveness is hard and complicated work – but if we pay attention to what forgiveness does in the story Jesus shared – we can see what forgiveness should do. It should be difficult, costly, but also freeing – something that, if we can, we offer to others. It’s about letting ourselves and others live freely – but not to simply just do or get what we want. But rather, a forgiveness that recognizes how we all need forgiveness because we are not perfect yet we receive that forgiveness from our God who wants to free us from our hurts and how we hurt each other so we can love, care, and support one another just like God does with us – everyday.

Sermon: Live Out the Meal

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Exodus 12:1-14

My sermon from the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 10, 2023) on Exodus 12:1-14.

A couple of weeks ago, after I put my kids to bed, I took a seat in my gray easy chair, opened up my laptop, and got ready to learn about Bloodborne Pathogens. The Fall sports season was about to begin and my town’s rec leagues, like every other volunteer based organizations, needed a little help. I know that most of us are too busy, too stretched, and too tired to do all the things that need to be done. And while we do our best to set our priorities, it doesn’t take much for everything to fall apart. It’s tricky to know how, and in what way, we can contribute in the communities we are called to live in. But I figured taking a few required training courses, including one about blood, is how I can contribute on the Cross Country field this year. And I noticed, while reflecting on our first reading from the book of Exodus, how contributing and participating in the community is within God’s words about a sacred meal.

Now a lot has happened since last week when we heard about Moses meeting God on a mountain top. After fleeing the land of Egypt after spilling the blood of an Egyptian who had brutalized an enslaved Israelite, Moses built a new life for himself in the land of Midian. He married into the family of a local religious leader, started a family, and took on the task of managing his father-in-law’s sheep. One day, nearly a generation after he left Egypt, he led the sheep to the base of Mt. Sinai. While there, his curiosity drew him to notice a burning bush that didn’t burn up. God, who was in the bush, told Moses it was time for him to return to Egypt and let Moses’ kin know God had heard their cries. The attempt by the Egyptians to distort their own history and exploit the lives of others was coming to an end. Moses went back to Egypt, bringing a word of promise to the Israelites and a word of warning to the Pharaoh. But the Pharaoh refused to listen so God created the first plague, transforming the water in the Nile River to blood. That, though, merely made the Pharaoh more stubborn so God sent 9 more plagues into the land. In quick succession, frogs, gnats, and flies covered the land. All the livestock was struck by a deadly disease and boils appeared on everyone’s skin. A massive storm pummeled every city while locusts devoured every green thing to its root. God then covered the land with a deep darkness that, on-top of everything else, should have convinced the Pharaoh to simply give up. Yet the king of the Egyptians refused to be moved so God promised that a final plague was on its way. Every one of the plagues was, in its own way, a response to what the Isrealites had experienced. The Pharaoh had used them to build the Egyptians economy so God took all of that away. The last plague, though, would mimic the original command that caused Moses to be placed floating in a basket after he was born. The Egyptians used violence and death as a way to tear apart the Israelite’s community. God in response, was going to do the same to them. Now we’d expect after all this excitement and tension and drama within the story, that the words immediately following God’s promise would show exactly what God was doing to do. But before the one final plagues comes, everything is interrupted by God’s description of a meal.

The meal, appearing at this moment in the story, feels a bit out of place since it doesn’t feel big enough to commemorate what’s about to take place. The food God told them to eat is pretty simple and everyone must dress as if they’re about to rush out the front door. The main course, the lamb or goat, is singled out for a ritual where its blood is brushed onto the outside of the door frame so that anyone coming by would notice who is gathered there. The blood acts as a kind of marker even though I’d expect the creator of the universe to know who’s already inside the home. Up to this point in the story, none of the plagues required the Israelites to do anything to make them happen. Yet here, before this climactic moment, God gives the community something to do. It’s almost, I think, as if God told the people that in the midst of everything – they could still contribute something to their world too. Much of what the Pharaoh and Egyptians had tried to do was to isolate, oppress, and diminish who the Isrealites got to be. And so, in response, God gave them a meal which could show who they would be instead. The meal, like all meals, begins with the people around the table. God wanted these tablemates to be connected but still diverse, welcoming, and suppurative. Their connection to each other invited them into the difficult work of truly knowing who their neighbors were. And, in that process, being very honest about their own abundance or lack there-of. Everyone had a place at the table and God wanted them to participate in making it happen. And it’s only after the table is set when food is finally served. The meal is simple yet points to the complexities and variety of life. The blood on the door mimics the blood in our bodies, an animating force that doesn’t serve as some kind of insurance against the wrath that’s about to come. It is, instead, a proclamation that the community gathered around God’s table will be defined, shaped, and rooted in something other than all the blood the Pharaoh tried to spill. They will have a future, a new life, shaped, formed, and nurtured by the One who had already claimed them as God’s own.

And one way this shaping takes place is through a meal. It’s there where God’s passover took shape, showing what life with God might look like. It’s around a table where God passed over and upended the contributions we make to the world that take life rather than animates it. It’s while wearing garments rooted in our complicated story where God passed over our attempts to forget or distort our history by choosing to highlight a few privileged voices at the expense of others. It’s over a few simple foods where God passed over our lack of curiosity to invite us deeper into God’s vision for our world. And it’s through God’s ongoing work that our love of power, control, and violence was passed over for something more. As Christians, engaging with the story of Passover isn’t easy since it’s not as foundational to our own story as it is to our Jewish friends and neighbors. Yet within our faith is another powerful simple meal that shapes us too. In that meal, the promises declared to us in baptism and faith are lived out in the ways we love and mutually support one another. In the meal of Holy Communion, we discover who God knows we can be. God’s vision and Jesus’ presence among us is what, as disciples, animates what we say, think, and do. And when we eat around the Lord’s table, we become something more too. It’s these sacred meals that show us who we can be and how, through simple acts, we can contribute to the vision God is making real all around us. And while that’s often hard to see, it’s through our honesty, empathy, and doing what we can to prioritize God’s way rather than our own, that we discover how different things can be.


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

Delivered on September 10, 2023.

*bring lots of copies of the same coloring sheet*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hand out tags.