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03.18.18 The Surprising Path to Life Mark 14:3-11 Sermon Summary

Note: this sermon was delivered in first person as Simon the Leper.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover he was already famous. We had heard about his baptism by John and his testing in the wilderness. We knew that he had returned powerful with the Spirit and went about teaching and healing.

So when Jesus came to Jerusalem I really wanted him over for dinner: An unfamous guy hosting a famous one. I didn’t know if he’d bring his disciples. Some of them were said to have scruples about his behavior. Like Peter, for example; he didn’t always appreciate Jesus’ interactions with non-Jews.

So how much more to receive an invitation from “Simon the Leper”? Let’s be honest, lepers made a lot of people uncomfortable. They didn’t understand our condition. We couldn’t hide it. No one could heal it. Mostly people feared us. They excommunicated us from synagogue and from society. Some tried to “explain” our condition as sin. So they feared us physically AND spiritually—like we were a human contagion.

So I didn’t know if Jesus would come—or his disciples—to my table. Would Jesus or his disciples come to the table of anyone who made them uncomfortable? To the table of a Leper. To the table of an undocumented immigrant. A violent religious extremist. A mentally ill homeless person. Someone with an ambiguous gender. Like the table of an average poor person? Or, it turns out, a really rich person? Or at least a generous person?

She came in rather unnoticed. She could have been a servant sent in to wash our feet or serve the meal. No one paid her any attention. Why would they? She didn’t bother me. To the mind of leper, what’s another marginalized person?

She was carrying this alabaster jar used to store oil or perfume. And she begins to pour it on Jesus’ head like an anointing. It smelled beautiful, and we all knew it was really expensive stuff—it was nard. It was, in fact, worth a year’s wages for common folk.

So here was Jesus—anointed! Right in my house! Kings were anointed. Priests also; and prophets too. This woman with her alabaster jar was declaring Jesus “Messiah,” Hebrew for “Anointed,” “Christ” in the Greek. And it made sense. He was teaching us, healing us, liberating us from corrupt religion and oppressive governance. He was very messianic, indeed. It was exciting—even though in the house of a Leper; even though it came through a woman.

So she anoints Jesus but keeps on going. The aroma was overwhelming—even sickening. She emptied the whole jar. My house smelled like someone was preparing a funeral. People became uncomfortable—well, even more uncomfortable. And then it all boiled over and they became downright angry.

“What a waste!” they said. “This is going too far.” “It’s too extravagant.” “No one needs THAT much!” “Where did she get that much money?” “Imagine how many mouths that nard could have fed!”

Jesus just sat back. He took a deep breath and enjoyed it, like you would a fine wine or a mountain breeze. He looked at her kindly, with appreciation, with love and intimacy, like it was just the two of them sharing a moment. He seemed both grateful and impressed—amazed, really.

Someone later said they’d seen that look before. Actually, it was with another woman. This one with the alabaster jar and earlier an old widow. She was in line to make her offering. When she got to the front there was this “clink, clink”—two tiny coins. Then also people said, “What’s the use?” “What a waste.” But not Jesus. He said, “She has given more than all the rest. “Out of her poverty she has given more.”

Now this woman at my house obviously gave out of her abundance. Still she was judged. I thought maybe we judge others’ gifts so we don’t have to think about giving ourselves. Maybe if we showed some grace we would be more open to giving. Maybe we could be as generous to Jesus as these women were if we stopped judging them. You’d have thought a Leper would get it sooner than I did.

Well this woman got it. She had listened to Jesus. THREE times he told his disciples, “The kingdom of God is at hand, but first I’m going to die in Jerusalem.” Peter argued with Jesus. James and John wanted high positions in the kingdom. But this woman thought, “If he’s going to die, then his body will need anointing before burial.”

So she anointed Jesus, declaring him Messiah, revealing him as Christ. But he wasn’t the Messiah we expected. He wasn’t just a prophet, priest, or king. He wasn’t the Lion of Judah but rather a Passover Lamb. His was going to be a sacrificial death. Jesus had been saying this. She was the only one who believed: Not Peter; not James and John. They betrayed his teaching. Just like Judas did.

In a couple of days Jesus would be wearing a crown of thorns. We thought it was going to be a royal crown, and that was going to be “good news” for us! Our Messiah was going to wear a crown of victory! But first he had to wear the crown of sacrifice.

Here was the surprising path to life following Jesus. It passes through death. That’s good news of a different kind. This woman understood this good news long before the rest of us. Before his head bore the crown of thorns or of victory it was anointed by this woman.

And Jesus said that wherever this good news is proclaimed in all the world, what she did will be told in remembrance of her. She had infamous faith, and so can anyone. So can you. You can be the woman in the story. That’s why we didn’t record her name—so you can write your name into the story. You can believe Jesus. You can give yourself to him. You can have infamous faith. Imagine how many mouths could be fed if we all did! Amen.


03.11.18 Downward Ambition Mark 10:35-45 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person.

My name is Thaddaeus. In the Bible, I’m only mentioned in the list of apostles. You could say I’m a behind the scenes kind of person, mostly just part of the group. I’m an introvert. I’m most comfortable sitting back and observing. I think about things in silence a lot, and help out occasionally when I see the need.

I was surprised when Jesus called me. He loved being with people. He was always throwing parties. Often he included the “wrong” people, and this upset some folks. Even his family was concerned for him. And he often performed public miracles and drew a large crowd. Even when we tried to get away, crowds would follow us.

It was no wonder he called James and John. That was a really good strategic decision. They were the sons of ambitious parents. Zebedee was a successful fisherman who even had hired men working for him. Their mother was ambitious also. She was always angling for her sons to advance. (see Matthew 20:20-28) Some of us wondered if they weren’t calling the shots with regards to their sons James and John.

Jesus had just started telling us about Jerusalem and our upcoming trip for the Passover festival. He said the religious leaders would hand him over to political leaders who would execute him as a public criminal. But then he said he would rise again. It was all very strange.

James and John pulled Jesus back. They asked to be seated on Jesus right and left after it all was over.

Jesus was very patient with them, as he was with all of us when we didn’t understand him at first. You know how it is. You get this feeling God wants you to do something hard, like give up a dream you have or a dream you’ve accomplished. God tells you you won’t be alone. You’ll have God’s Spirit. And Jesus will be with you, even leading you.

But you know people won’t understand. They’ll think you’re crazy. So you change subject or try to negotiate your dream back into God’s will or just skip to the end of the story when everything works out well.

That’s what James and John did. They heard “rise again” and wanted in. They didn’t really pay attention to the parts about being “betrayed” and “executed.” It’s a lot like your Holy Week for folks who only come on the Sundays.

Well, the rest of us heard about this and got angry. Some of us HAD heard the tough parts. Others of us were still digesting what Jesus had said. And some of us didn’t believe it at all. But none of us started jockeying for position—not at first anyway. I think some of us resented James and John because they actually did what some of us were thinking. Sometimes the most judgmental people are that way because they wish they could do what they are judging others about.

For all these reasons, we were mad at James and John, but Jesus was patient with them. He said, “Can you drink the cup from which I drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said, “Heck, yeah!” We had been drinking with Jesus a long time. Remember all those parties? And just look at what baptism did for Jesus. He gets baptized and comes back full of the Spirit, teaching, healing, and drawing big crowds.

James and John, and maybe their parents, probably were thinking, “Imagine what it could do for business to have these parties and draw these crowds! What could it mean for our family?!”

But then Jesus made this ominous promise: “In fact, you WILL drink and be baptized.” It was like he was changing the way we thought about his cup and baptism. I remember now that every time we tried to sugarcoat Jesus’ teaching—like about turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, selling our possessions, and especially sacrificing ourselves for love of others—every time, Jesus would turn us back. He would call us to repent, to follow him, all the way with all of our lives. He would call us back to our own crosses.

This is kind of like what Lent is supposed to do for you. It shifts the focus from the cup of festivity to the cup of sacrifice. It changes focus from the cute baptism of infants to a life of baptismal living.

Well Jesus went on to say that the places of honor which James and John were asking for weren’t his to grant. James and John would just have to wait and see. So, too, would the rest of us. We’d have to follow Jesus without thought of reward or promise of honor and just see where we ended up.

“We had to trust God,” Jesus was saying. He always said that! “Live for today, do what is right, be patient, and trust God.” That was kind of his message. And it put James and John in their place. And instead of feeling justified in our anger, it put us in our place also.

For me, I found my place is hanging back and watching Jesus, helping where I can. That was my place. I suspect that the right place for you, and probably the right place for everyone, is also somewhere behind Jesus. Thank God he’s so patient to walk with us until we each find our place. Amen.


03.04.18 Resting to Work Mark 6:30-44 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person as a member of the crowd.

We were coming from all directions.

Jesus had sent out his disciples into the countryside surrounding his hometown. He needed a reboot. See, he had come to his hometown after teaching and healing all around. But his hometown rejected him. Familiarity breeds contempt, you know, so those who knew him from childhood couldn’t believe Jesus was anything more than Joseph the carpenter’s son. Here he was proclaiming “the kingdom of God” and healing folks—but not in Nazareth.

So to kind of restart things, he sent out his disciples. He gave them authority over unclean spirits, and they proclaimed the good news. They were good at it also. So good that when they returned to Jesus, a bunch of us followed them.

Well, it worked! The message of Jesus—that the kingdom of God was near and that God’s healing of the world had begun—really took off. Jesus was in high spirits. But his disciples were tired. So they took off across the lake, I suppose to get some quiet time.

But a bunch of us figured it out. We hustled around to the other side, telling everyone we met why. And when Jesus and his disciples landed on the shore, we were there—a whole crowd of us.

Our lives had become routine. Fishing, baking, shepherding. Parenting, avoiding the Romans, praying. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem for religious festivals. It was all so—what you would call the rat race. We were just “doing life” instead of “living life.” We were like sheep without a shepherd, making our own way, getting hopelessly lost without realizing it.

So we flocked to Jesus, even though he was in a deserted place. Obviously he wanted to be alone with his disciples, to give them a break and to hear their stories. Jesus knew how hard it was to proclaim the good news despite such uncertain times. He knew the challenge of keeping peoples’ spirits up when there was so much anxiety and fear. It’s really hard to encourage people week in and week out when the daily news is so disheartening.

After all, he has just been slammed by his hometown, no less. And before that, even his family came to pull him aside because even they didn’t understand his mission. So when the disciples came back from their first missionary activity, he knew they needed some rest. He took them to a desolate place.

But it wasn’t desolate, because we were all there. He came ashore, and even though his disciples were worn out, Jesus really wasn’t so much. So he took one look at us and started teaching. All day he taught. And we were so hungry for spiritual truth that we just sat and listened. We soaked it in.

The day wore on, and as it got later people became a little restless. We had been spiritually fed but our bodies were getting weak. Here we were in this deserted place and away from home. And we were getting hungry.

Jesus kept right on teaching. It was like he wasn’t even aware. Apparently this happened a lot with him. He taught and healed and forgot to eat in his enthusiasm. Eventually his disciples came to him and reminded him that it was late and that maybe we should be dismissed to go eat and head home.

Things got a little chaotic at this point. Jesus started talking back and forth with his disciples while we became increasingly aware of our hunger. Some disciples kept talking with Jesus and the other ones told us to sit down in groups.

We asked them why, but they couldn’t really answer. It felt like being on hold, where the computer voice says, “thank you for your patience, a representative will be with you momentarily.” So we sat. And we waited.

Then we see Jesus take a small amount of bread and some fish, give thanks to God, and hand them to the disciples. They began to distribute it to those nearest him. Then the most amazing thing happened.

All that teaching that Jesus had done all day—about how God was providential and even more, generous. How God had called each of us and given us a purpose. How God desired to transform our communities through us. All those lessons seemed to materialize right before our eyes.

We saw Jesus take the little bit of food he had, give thanks to God, and share it. Then those of us who had some food did the same thing. We gave thanks to God and shared it with those around us. A bit of bread here. A shared fish there.

Later someone said there were 5000 men there. I saw some women and children, too. And would you believe that after Jesus’ teaching and demonstrating God’s generosity, none of us was hungry spiritually or physically! In fact, sharing our physical needs actually enhanced our spiritual satisfaction.

Here’s what I learned that day. I learned that Jesus had some incredible things to teach about God. He made God so real, like sun in my eyes and dust in my mouth real. I learned that Jesus really believed what he taught. When he taught that loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbors as our selves would change the world, he believed it! When he taught that the greatest person was the servant of all, he believed it!

That was why he took what was given him, a few loaves and fish, and began sharing it with those closest to him. When we followed not only his teaching but his example, everyone was fed. All of the sudden everything we had, not just food but everything, became an opportunity to participate in God’s love of the world. We could share what we had, and in doing so, participate in the life of God like Jesus did.

My life took a new turn that day. I became more grateful for what God had given me. I gave thanks for my job, for my health, for my community. I began to think about ways I could share what God had given me. I looked to needy people not as a nuisance, but as an opportunity.

Jesus looked at us with compassion. He shared what he knew and what he had with us. I began to look at others with compassion. I began to follow Jesus. I wanted to share what I knew and what I had with others.

Who knows? Maybe the lives of 5000 plus people will be blessed because of my following Jesus. All I can tell you is that my life of one has been blessed by doing so. I pray your life, and the lives of many others, will be blessed also. Amen.

02.25.18 The Family You Choose Mark 3:13-21, 31-35 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person as Joses, the brother of Jesus.

Few people have given a thought to how difficult it was for me. I’m Joses, the little brother of Jesus. There were four of us: My older brother James, and our younger brothers Simon and Judas. We also had at least two sisters. All of us had it pretty tough as the younger siblings of Jesus.

Being the first born, Jesus always had a greater sense of responsibility. Like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus was a dutiful first son. He followed our father Joseph into carpentry. He looked out for the rest of us brothers and sisters.

Jesus, and not just because he was the first born, had this attitude that he was special. He reminded us that he was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. The rest of us were born in Nazareth in Galilee. There was a saying about Nazareth: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” But Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He always reminded us of this.

After his birth, our parents fled to Egypt and became refugees. Jesus loved to tell this story though he didn’t remember it himself. He said it was because he was so special that King Herod wanted him dead. He said it made him like Moses—our great ancestor whose life as a baby was also threatened and who eventually returned to our land of promise from Egypt.

One time when we were really little Jesus ended up getting left in Jerusalem after the Passover celebration. Our parents left us with relatives and went back to find him. He was in the Temple talking with the religious leaders and told our parents they shouldn’t have worried since he was in his “father’s house.” Like I said, he thought he was pretty special.

Besides that, though, he was generally a pretty good kid. He stayed out of trouble. He loved nature. And he loved our religion.

So I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised when Jesus went to get baptized by this prophet named John. John was strange. He dressed funny and kept a rigorous religious diet. He wasn’t afraid to tell people they needed to repent. John thought the Kingdom of God was coming soon, and for most people it wasn’t going to be very good news.

So Jesus went and got baptized with a baptism of repentance. That made us all feel a little bad because we had lots more to repent over than Jesus. We weren’t there, but apparently some kind of divine appearance occurred and the next thing we know, Jesus is off in the desert for 40 days fasting and praying. It was like he thought he was Moses or Elijah or something. We should have known right then that things weren’t right.

He came back from the desert and he was different. He was at once agitated but also confident. I guess you could say he had conviction. His charisma and conviction attracted some folks, and he started a little movement. The people he called, their lives changed. They left their professions and their families and started following my brother. He even changed their names sometimes, like from Simon to “the Rock,” or gave them nicknames, like “sons of thunder.”

“Sons of thunder”: Jesus would know. After some of my mom’s meals Jesus would let out these huge burps which would rock the hut. We thought the walls would fall like the walls of Jericho. It was like the Word of God at creation calling out, “Let there be light!” Yeah, Jesus knew about being a son of thunder, but that’s what he called James and John of Zebedee.

Anyway, when Jesus called you to follow him, he called you by name, and sometimes by another name all together. And that’s part of what began to bother us, his family. He seemed to be abandoning us. At times he even seemed to be abandoning our religion. And that didn’t go unnoticed by the religious authorities either.

Jesus would go on these teaching binges. He’d teach on the shoreline or the mountainside, for example. He’d get so into his teaching that he forgot to eat. He wasn’t taking care of himself. But he also taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Some of the stuff he said was pretty good. He was like a Rabbi or a Scribe, but with a different kind of authority. It wasn’t official. But it was undeniable.

But sometimes he would do things as part of his teaching that upset the religious folks. Like that one time he silenced the unclean spirit in a man. Or when he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, right there in front of everyone. Sure, he had been talking about God’s love and deliverance and healing, but there were six other days for all that, the religious authorities said. Not Jesus. He said the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath, and he healed that guy.

The Pharisees, who were concerned about moral uprightness, and the Herodians, who were concerned about keeping peace with Rome—now they were concerned about Jesus. These were the “law and order” crowd. They thought our religious piety should be private and personal, not political, and certainly not challenging the religious status quo. But Jesus was upsetting all that. Jesus’ piety was personal and public. It was heartfelt and action-oriented. It was peace-loving but also justice-seeking.

I guess I can understand why people were drawn to him. But it was dangerous to be associated with him, to be sure. Which is why we went to get him that day, his family. We were concerned not only for him but for ourselves. “Look,” we wanted to tell him. “Love God, OK, and be devoted to your religion. But don’t upset the authorities. Don’t forgive law breakers or welcome the outcasts. Don’t question the thirst for vengeance or the way powerless people are treated. People are beginning to talk about you, and about US!”

We thought, being his family, we could rein him in a little. There was this big crowd with him in the house so we couldn’t get too close. So we sent a message. “Tell Jesus his family is here asking for him.” Then Jesus said this, “Who is my family? Who are my brothers and sisters?”

We heard this, and it was very awkward. Then he said, “Here is my family! Here are my brothers and sisters! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother!”

That hurt. It really did. Our mother just put her lips together and looked at the ground. She did this whenever Jesus told the “I had to go to my Father’s house story.” And my older brother James seemed to be thinking about this more deeply. He would eventually become a leader in Jesus’ movement.

But my other siblings and I were like, “Forget this! We’re out of here! Jesus is going through some kind of phase and we’ll just have to wait it out. He’ll come around.” And then we all left.

“Whoever does the will of God is my family,” he had said. WE were doing the will of God! Isn’t it God’s will that families look out for each other? Isn’t it God’s will to be nice and get along and not rock the boat? Isn’t it God’s will to trust God and wait for God to fix things?

And we weren’t alone. Earlier, when some of John’s disciples, the guy who baptized Jesus, were fasting, and Jesus wasn’t, people asked him, “Why don’t you fast? John is fasting. The Pharisees are fasting. Why aren’t you fasting?” Jesus answered something about old ways and new ways. Does God change his ways? Weren’t John and the Pharisees doing the will of God?

And then there were the Scribes. These were the scholars among us. All they did was study the scriptures. They hobnobbed with the Priests and the Herodians, that is, the official religious and political authorities. How could you say they weren’t doing the will of God?

The majority of the people who followed Jesus weren’t the eccentric types like John, or the righteous types like the Pharisees, or the knowledgeable types like the Scribes, or even us, his family who knew him best. The people in that crowded house were fishermen, shepherds, prostitutes, tax-collectors.

And this was the family Jesus chose, over the family he was given by God at his birth.

That got me thinking about what it means to be chosen by God. I thought John was chosen by God. I thought the Pharisees were chosen by God. I thought the Scribes were chosen by God. And I thought our parents Mary and Joseph were chosen by God. And I still think that. I think somehow God is so big and so generous that he could choose the whole world if he wanted to. After all, God made the whole world.

But there’s another choice that has to be made, and that’s the one we make. You see for these folks in the house, it wasn’t obvious they were chosen by God. Not like it was with the Scribes or my parents. Those folks in the house probably felt like they weren’t chosen by God.

So when Jesus chose to spend his time with them, they knew at least that he had chosen then. And being chosen, they were now free to choose also. They could choose to follow Jesus. They could choose to do the will of God. I think Jesus was teaching that you don’t have to be a morally righteous person like a Pharisee or a Bible scholar like a scribe or have angels appear to you like my mom. If Jesus comes to you, you’re chosen. And now you have a choice to make also.

But I’ll tell you something else. Jesus never said the Pharisees weren’t chosen, or that the Scribes weren’t chosen. He never said the Herodians or the Priests or the Romans weren’t chosen. The way Jesus related to all these diverse people suggests rather that he thought they all were chosen. All he did was invite them to choose also.

My brother Jesus, he was pretty remarkable. You’ll excuse me if I have to go. I have some more thinking to do about this. And praying. I have some choices to make about my life, and about whose family I’m really a part of. Amen.

02.18.18 Everyone’s Fishing for Something Mark 1:16-28 Sermon Summary

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person as the man with the unclean spirit.

Jesus arrived in Capernaum with these four local guys: Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They were fishermen, except here’s the thing: They left fishing. James and John even left their dad in the boat! And these guys were following this Jesus around, listening to him, watching him, telling others about him, and inviting others to join them.

So when he came to our synagogue a lot of us were there. And when Jesus taught it blew us away! We’d been taught before about the history and the law and the prophets, about the great people of the past and the way we were to live and how God was going to deliver us someday from the Romans.

But this Jesus . . . he didn’t just teach us the scriptures and the stories and the promises. He taught us about God. And about ourselves.

I doubt anyone suspected I had an unclean spirit. Mostly I was keeping it all together. I earned money. I worked extra when I needed to. I knew things weren’t perfect with me. I mean I wasn’t as bad as some, but I knew I wasn’t as centered or balanced as others. I didn’t even know I had an unclean spirit until I heard the teaching of Jesus.

He talked about people being made in the image of God, and how that image had been distorted by the world and by our choices. Listen, the most any of us hoped for was for a wife and children, for food for the day, safety in our jobs and from the elements, and no run ins with the Romans.

But Jesus talked about God’s vision for our world, for all of us, for me even. And I felt this stirring inside me. You might call it conscience or Spirit. It started with some discomfort. I felt agitated and inexplicably irritable. Then defense mechanisms started. I thought he was some pie in the sky dreamer. I said he probably has had an easy life. Anyway, he doesn’t know what I’ve been through. I dismissed him as young, idealistic, religious guy.

But something inside me also gravitated to him. I was tied up in knots. All this dissonance in my mind and heart. And I thought this guy’s for real. He knows the truth. God himself is speaking through him.

Then it came out . . . I heard all these voices in my head and in my heart accusing me of being a bad son, a bad father, a bad employee, a bad Jew. “God doesn’t love you! No one loves you! You’ll never amount to anything! You’re a nothing!” I started to shake. And I started crying.

Meanwhile, Jesus says to these voices, “Be silent! Come out of him!”

My life changed that day because of Jesus’ teaching and because of the words he spoke directly into my life. I had come to synagogue out of habit and out of curiosity. Boy was I surprised when God spoke directly to me.

Jesus had been talking about repentance for the kingdom of God was near. And that’s what happened to me. As I listened my thinking began to change. Then my behavior changed. Then I changed. I went from having an unclean spirit to being clean.

And I thought this must be what happened to Andrew and Simon, and James and John. Andrew and Simon were famous for their hard work. They worked all day, and all night sometimes. They were obsessed with work. You might say possessed by work.

I think they hated their work. Work was their unclean spirit. Then Jesus comes along and says, “The work you do, fishing for fish, follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” And they followed him! Eventually, you’ll find out, they returned to fishing after Jesus was raised from the dead. But I bet it wasn’t the same.

And James and John? We always wondered why they fished. We all knew they hated it. We figured it was because of Zebedee. He was a hard man. A successful businessman. He even had hired men besides his sons. He was also a hard father. Brought his business attitudes home. Kind of domineering.

So along comes Jesus to James and John, a couple of guys with a hard childhood that was still controlling their lives. That kind of childhood is like an unclean spirit. Jesus calls them and boom! They leave Zebedee in the boat. They leave the family business with the hired men and followed Jesus.

And then there was me. The Bible actually says I had an unclean spirit, and it’s true. But when I look back on Jesus’ message and his healing and the effect he’s had on countless lives ever since, I think probably everyone has some kind of unclean spirit.

There’s something we all need to hear from Jesus. Someplace where we all need some healing. Something unclean about all our spirits.

Spring is coming when apparently dead things come to life. Winter is passing. The days are getting longer. The word “Lent” is actually related to “lengthen.” Our lives—Simon, Andrew, James, John and I—our lives had reached some dead ends. But Jesus called us back to life.

My prayer for you this Lent, these next symbolic 40 days, is that you will hear God’s voice in Jesus, that you’ll hear Jesus calling you wherever you fish or attend worship. And I pray that whatever is unclean in you will speak up and argue with God. It might not be so comfortable, but then Christ can command it to leave.

I think if you can name what it is that is unclean in you, the thing you think might possess you, it will help. You can call it out, pray about it, and let Jesus speak to it and cast it out. Who knows but that by Easter or Pentecost, you also might be filled with a clean spirit? Amen.


We give you thanks, Covenant God, for the renewal of your creation through the cleansing of sin. For forty days you opened the powerful forces of water to cover the earth, bringing new life and a new start. We thank you for the forty days Moses met with you upon the mountain, and for the guidance you gave to us through the commandments he brought back down. We thank you for the forty days Elijah spent resting from his prophetic ministry, being fed by your hands under the broom tree. In all these instances, Faithful God, you proved your determination to overcome the power of sin in the world.

We thank you for Jesus, who continued your work of redemption throughout his life. He would call men and women where he found them, and they would follow him. We thank you for the forty days of prayer and fasting following his baptism that was the foundation of his ministry. These disciplines would sustain him through his welcoming of sinners and his challenging of authorities. And after his death on the cross, and your resurrection of him three days later, we thank you for the forty days he continued to appear to his disciples, teaching them, healing them, and breaking bread with them.

Now, Steadfast God, we have entered the forty days of Lent. We pray you will use these days of our own prayer and fasting, to cleanse us from sin, grant us guidance for our own lives, and sustain us by the meal you provide. Here send your Spirit, we pray, that we might receive the grace we need to maintain our Lenten disciplines, and to be conformed more and more to Christ. Unite us with him through our fellowship with him at this table, and send us forth as you did Noah, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome, that we may proclaim the good news of your faithfulness through word and deed. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

An Ash Wednesday Valentine

This homily is based on the lectionary passages for Ash Wednesday.

Lent is a time of reconciliation. In the tradition, it’s when lapsed Christians return to the church, or new Christians prepare to enter the church at Easter. Lent is when people are reconciled to God.

For Paul, reconciliation is salvation. Salvation occurs every time we turn to God, whenever we seek reconciliation. “Salvation is now,” Paul exclaims. It’s something like vacation. Vacation doesn’t begin when we arrive at our destination. Vacation begins when we depart. We’re already on vacation when we’re on our way.

The beginning of this Lenten season of reconciliation is Ash Wednesday, and this year it falls on St. Valentine’s Day. St. Valentine died a martyr in 269. He was found guilty of marrying Christian couples, and helping Christians escape persecution. He ended up being the patron saint of engaged couples, beekeepers, happy marriages, lovers, travelers, young people, and greetings.

The heart is a symbol of Valentine’s Day because it is a symbol of our affection. Affection is motivation with direction. We find something attractive and then we move towards it. Amidst other symbols of our affection, you see a lot of hearts on Valentine’s Day.

The prophet Joel urges us to “return with our whole heart,” with all our affection, to God. This is hard, because by the time we consider God’s invitation our hearts are divided. We have many affections, mixed motivations, and a multitude of directions. We don’t have a whole heart. It isn’t “clean,” which is a synonym of “whole.” Instead our hearts are “broken,” to use words from Psalm 51.

Lent presents us with the question: “Despite our divided, broken heart, do we want to return to the LORD?” Hearing God’s invitation, what is our response? Is there any affection for God left in our lives?

Joel assures us that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That’s good news for us, because we are not abounding in steadfast love. Ours is not a steadfast love. Lent asks us if we have any love left for God? Do we have any affection? Do we have any motivation with direction?

Psalm 51 says God does not despise a broken heart so long as it is also contrite. The ancient sign of contrition is rending one’s clothes. Tearing one’s clothing served as an outer symbol of inner reality. But you can fool others, you can put on a show by rending your clothes with nothing really going on inside. But you can’t fool Jesus. “Jesus knows the inmost heart, nothing can be hidden.”

This is why Jesus says when giving alms, do so secretly. When praying, do so privately. When fasting, don’t look dismal. Only then do you have some assurance you’re not just rending your clothes. This is what Joel means when he says, “Rend your hearts and not just your clothes.”

If you desire a closer relationship with God, Lent is for you. It is a time of return, a time of reconciliation. It begins by finding more affection for God, more motivation and more direction. G. K. Chesterton said, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Lent is the time to rekindle your love affair with God.

Invest the time of Lent in your relationship with God. These forty days send the treasure of your affection to heaven, and your heart will follow.

Through Christ, let us return to God with our broken and contrite hearts. Through Christ, let us return to God with our divided and torn hearts. Through Christ, let us return to God with our whole hearts. Amen.

02.11.18 Legacies Lived and Left Genesis 23, 25 Sermon Outline

In the past six weeks, we’ve made a number of discoveries about God through our Walk of Faith with Abraham and Sarah. Rituals (like altar building) are important reminders to us of God’s calling and faithfulness, and to God of his promises. Laughter is evidence of God’s presence. Even when we say we “can’t believe it!” it means we’re thinking about it. Joy is an eternal, divine quality. Laughter is the temporal intersection.

Gratitude looks like generosity. When Abraham defeated the kings in battle, he tithed to Melchizedek. When Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, he accompanied her with a generous offering. Forgiveness paves the walk of faith. When we let the past be the past, and humans be human, we are free to look ahead to God’s calling.

God makes promises and reveals himself in stages. God draws us in through ritual like covenant making and renewal. And he deepens our relationship of faith through trials like waiting.

For these reasons and many others, Abraham and Sarah are recognized as the patriarch and matriarch of faith for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The Christian testimony of this honor stretches all the way back to the Bible. Jesus commends the faith of Abraham. Paul bases his theology on it. And in the catalog of the greatest faithful, chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews, Abraham and Sarah occupy 1.5 paragraphs; Moses comes in second place with 1 paragraph.

Here’s how the tribute begins: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”

In the narrative of Abraham and Sarah, their burials serve to summarize the main point of Hebrews. Again, from chapter eleven: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Hebrews helps us recognize that the journey aspect of faith includes continuous walking, exploring, and unfolding. Faith is not a doctrinal assent (“I believe Jesus died for my sins”) but a way of life. Abraham and Sarah exemplify this.

Hebrews goes on to say of the faithful: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland . . . they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

Abraham had to purchase land for burial when Sarah died. The story would have us believe that 100 years have transpired since God first called Abraham and Sarah when Abraham finally dies. At the time of Sarah’s death, he still had no land. It’s a symbolic reminder that all of life is borrowed, and all of life gets returned.

Hebrews continues: “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better . . .”

Some are tempted to conclude from this exaltation of the faithful that this earthly life doesn’t count for much. But Abraham cared deeply about this life. That’s why he mourned Sarah’s death and why he purchased the land and why he was buried there also. He didn’t have the attitude that “the afterlife is better than this life,” or that “the soul is more important than the body.”

Still, Abraham maintained another perspective. He kept in view the legacy he would leave, and how the promises of God would yet be fulfilled after him. All those stars, those descendants of Abraham whose names we wrote and posted on the sky, represent the ongoing fulfilment of God’s promises and Abraham’s faith.

This is why Hebrews continues: “God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” Since the promises are still being fulfilled, the walk of faith begun by Abraham and Sarah goes on. We are the legacy. We carry the faith. We live in this world bearing witness. This is why there is always hope for parents and grandparents who lament that their children and grandchildren are not walking in the faith. The walk isn’t over. Until God fulfills the promises completely, and won’t “apart from us,” the walk isn’t perfected. It isn’t complete. There is hope.

For now, God is calling us. And when we answer, God is glorified. So Hebrews transitions from the catalog of the faithful to one of the most famous images from all of scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Each calling is unique—from Abraham and Sarah to Jesus to Peter to you. Each calling is unique but there are contours of God’s calling that are similar. Hebrews chapters twelve and thirteen provide some of those contours, including: Welcoming trials, pursuing peace, listening for God’s calling, showing hospitality, worshiping together, and listening to church leaders.

As we conclude our walk of faith with Abraham and Sarah, may faith guide your life as it did theirs. May your years be good and full as was theirs. May you hold loosely but faithfully to this life. And when we are gathered to God’s people, may the world mourn, and the heavens rejoice. Amen.