Monday, January 30, 2023

Sermon: Unexpectedly blessed (Jan. 29, 2023)

Epiphany 4A/Lectionary 4A
January 29, 2023
Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 5:1-12

INTRODUCTION

Today we get to hear a whole lineup of great texts. First, from Micah. You likely have heard somewhere or other the final verse of our passage: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” But maybe you are less familiar with the lead up. Picture this: it is the 8th century BCE, and Israel is in a tough spot – not only is the Assyrian army about to attack, but the leaders of Israel have strayed, trampling the poor rather than leading with justice and mercy. But, Micah says, it’s not too late to change your ways! The passage begins with God saying, “What more could I have done for you, people? Answer me!” Caught in their own mess, the people respond by offering God all manner of outrageous and extravagant offerings. And Micah says that what God has wanted all along from them is not stuff, but rather, to live a life of justice, mercy, and humility, not only when they are in trouble, but every day.

The Gospel reading brings us the beloved Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ first sermon, first teaching, in Matthew’s Gospel, and he’s really laying out his mission and purpose, showing us what that kingdom of heaven he’s been proclaiming really looks like. And it’s not what we think! The message of the Beatitudes is completely counterintuitive, blessing those who we would not ordinarily think of as blessed. 

Micah, Matthew, and maybe even 1 Corinthians are texts that will be familiar to many. But as you listen today, try to hear them anew. We all come here each week with particular joys and celebrations, pains and struggles, and this word can speak differently to us depending on what we bring. Let God’s word speak to you where you are today. Let’s listen.

[READ]

Sermon on the Mount, Persian miniature


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I had a hard time this week deciding what to preach on! Just as soon as I decided one direction, something else would speak to me, and I’d go down that rabbit hole. And then something else, and something else. There is so much richness in these texts! So many preachable moments.

And yet, there are also some hidden traps in them. Take the Beatitudes, for example. These are so well known, used as weddings and funerals, embroidered on pillows, satirized in Monty Python (blessed are the cheesemakers, anyone?). But as is often the case with the Living Word of God, a closer look at some of these well-known and beloved texts can reveal things familiarity might have kept hidden. 

Here is the trap I notice in the Beatitudes. For me, my first inclination with the Beatitudes is to see them as conditions for blessing. As in, “if you want to be blessed, do this: be meeker, commit yourself to seeking peace, be purer of heart, humble yourself and be poor in spirit.” This trap morphs them from the blessings they are intended to be, into a sort of spiritual to-do list.

Why do we fall so easily into this trap? I wonder if it is because we can’t believe God would bless us just exactly where and how we are? Maybe we see God as the stern law-giver with high expectations, and we have a hard time believing that God would freely give blessing without us having to do anything to earn it. That’s not the picture that scripture paints of God, but it is likely a message we have received at some point in life, and maybe even about God. It’s certainly a message we receive from the world: you must do something to earn, to deserve, your blessing.

Or maybe the problem isn’t with our view of God’s character, but with our view of our own. We simply don’t see ourselves as worthy of blessing, worthy of grace. Again, the world often sends us this message: you ought to be smart enough, accomplished enough, thin enough, attractive enough, healthy enough, old or young enough, before you can get what you want in life – even, before you are deserving of God’s mercy, grace, and blessing. Wherever we are hearing that message, it is one I think many of us have internalized, such that we often hear it in our own voice or the voice of someone close to us. 

And yet, here Jesus is shelling out blessings even upon those who may be seen as undeserving of blessing, even upon the underdogs, those on the lowest rung of the ladder, even those the world may not take a second look at. Not the strong, but the meek. Not the winners, but the peacemakers. Not the celebrating, but the grieving. Not the rich, but the poor. 

It undermines what we know about how the world works.

So, what can we take from that?

For starters, we can see that God – and God’s grace and mercy – show up where we do not expect them to. The way we tend to use that word, “blessed,” in our day-to-day life is usually in reference to something that has gone well. Here’s a picture of me with my kids or grandkids – blessed! We got to go on this wonderful vacation – I’m so blessed! My cancer is in remission – God has blessed me! A stranger paid for my coffee at Starbucks – #blessed! But in these strange blessings Jesus offers as the opening to his very first teaching in Matthew, Jesus’ list is the opposite: 

I’m lonely and sad. Blessed!

I’m too weak to go on our family vacation this year – I’m so blessed! 

My loved one died of cancer – God has blessed me.

I can’t afford to buy coffee at Starbucks – #blessed.

“How could these be considered blessings?” we wonder. And here’s why: because in all those situations, and in whatever disheartening thing going on in the news or in our lives, God promises to come near. Remember that Matthew’s special name for Jesus is “Emmanuel” – God with us. And so here, in starting Jesus’ teaching ministry with this unlikely list of blessings, Matthew is hitting home the point: God has come near to us in Jesus, and God comes especially near to us when we are suffering, when things aren’t going well. And by God’s nearness, God’s presence, we are blessed. 

Knowing this, we can start to look for God in all the places of brokenness, weakness, and vulnerability we come across – in a kid struggling at school, in that person for whom you just don’t have any patience, in your mentally ill loved one, in the injustice we see too often, in the sadness and despair of loss. 

Jesus shows us, again and again, that these are the places God shows up. This is Jesus’ first teaching, but do you remember his last teaching in Matthew, right before the passion? It’s the parable of the sheep and the goats, in which he famously says, “As you did it to one of the least of these [who were hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, in prison] you did it unto me.” Because there, in the suffering, there is where Jesus is. And most profoundly of all, Jesus shows us this on the cross – if ever there was a place we don’t expect to see God, it is hanging on a cross, and yet there he is: present in the suffering, joining us there, blessing us there. Blessed are we.

But it doesn’t stop with our receiving a blessing, my friends. We don’t take our blessing and go home, as if we are unchanged by this act. There is a charge within these blessings. God comes close to us, blessing us, healing us, comforting us, and assuring us – so that we might go and be such a blessing to others. As Martin Luther writes, so that we might go and “be a Christ to our neighbor,” bringing to them the mercy and blessing we have received. That is the mission of Christ’s Church: to be God’s merciful, compassionate, justice-seeking, loving, gracious presence in this world, to embody God’s blessing for all who are in need.

Let us pray… To be your presence is our mission here, O God: to show compassion’s face and listening ear, to be your heart of mercy, ever near. Alleluia. Amen. 

Full service can be viewed HERE.

Photo attribution: Sermon on the Mount, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57790 [retrieved January 30, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Persian_depiction_of_Jesus_-_Sermon_on_the_Mount.jpg. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sermon: Ripe for a change (Jan 22, 2023)

 Epiphany 3A/Lectionary 3
January. 22, 2023
Matthew 4:12-23

INTRODUCTION

Last week we heard John’s story about Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, the first disciples. Today we’ll hear Matthew’s version of the same event (which is actually considerably different!). In true Matthew form, he will frame it as a fulfillment of Hebrew scripture (remember, his audience is primarily Jewish). We’ll hear the scripture he refers to as our first reading today, a text from Isaiah that you may remember from Christmas Eve. Matthew’s mention of the location of Jesus’ ministry makes it clear that Jesus is in territory that is occupied by Rome, and in the fishing village of Capernaum of Galilee. And just as God came to the Israelites in Isaiah’s time, when Assyria was the oppressor de jour, God comes in the person of Jesus to Galilee, where the oppressor is now Rome.

Another thing to remember – one of the themes in Matthew is his use of the name, “Emmanuel,” God-with-us. So all this geographical stuff hits home the importance of that: that there is no territory or situation that is off-limits for God. God is with us, and will come to us whoever is in charge, wherever we may be, whatever we are doing. That is a recurring theme throughout Matthew: that God is Emmanuel, God with us, no matter what. Let’s listen.

[READ]



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

It doesn’t sound like a very compelling invitation, does it? And yet, Matthew tells us, “Immediately they dropped their nets and followed him.” I have long wondered what on earth would make them decide to leave everything – their livelihood, everything they’ve known, even, in James and John’s case, their own father – and follow a man they presumably have only just met. 

Over the years, I have tried out a couple of ideas. Maybe Jesus was just that charismatic and irresistible. Maybe there was, you know, divine intervention – God’s own power filled them up and pushed them to it, against all logic. Maybe Matthew just didn’t report that they did, actually, know Jesus, and had been scheming with him about this for some time, and this wasn’t a first meeting but rather Jesus coming to say, “Okay, guys, it’s time. Let’s go put this into action.” 

I suppose any or all of those scenarios are possible. But this week, I’ve been drawn into considering: what has happened to these guys before this point, that may have made them ripe for a change? 

First, consider their context: they live in a land promised to their ancestors, but occupied by the oppressive Roman Empire (the Greek word there for Empire is basileia – remember that, I’ll come back to that later). They are fishermen, who are pretty low on the social totem pole. In fact, they were downright oppressed. The fish in the Sea of Galilee, you see, were a favorite of the urban elites – that’s Romans or Greeks who had settled in Palestine following military conquest, or Jews connected with the Herodian family (not the Herod who wanted Jesus killed, but Herod Antipas, another client king who was Jewish in name, but really served to keep the Roman basileia happy). Because these elites had such a taste for Galilean fish, they had hired fishers to fish more than was sustainable. Locals could not fish without a lease, disrupting their ability to acquire this dietary staple for themselves. The fish product and processing were also heavily taxed, effectively putting them out of price range for the locals who depended upon the fish. This transformation of the local economy served to marginalize and impoverish the formerly self-sufficient native fishing families, and this pushed them further toward the bottom of the economic hierarchy. Elites looked down on them, even as they depended upon them and their labor to accommodate the elites’ sensual desires. 

When you consider all this, it is no wonder Jesus made the strategic decision to start his ministry by standing with the fishermen. It isn’t unlike Martin Luther King’s choice to stand with the sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968. These folks had little to lose and everything to gain by challenging the status quo.

And make no mistake: in Jesus’ short invitation, he made clear that this is exactly what was happening. First, we get a clue from the context Matthew provides. John the Baptist, he tells us, has just been arrested. John, you remember, had been preaching a message of repentance, and calling the powerful a brood of vipers. Now he has been arrested, and word has likely traveled. They had hoped that John might be the one to start turning some tables, but Herod has tried to put a stop to it, and things have consequently escalated. Now here comes Jesus, and he is taking on the mission, and pushing it farther. “Repent,” he says, just as John, adding “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word, kingdom – guess what the Greek is? It is basileia, the same word used for Roman Empire. Jesus is proclaiming, “There’s a new reign in town, and it isn’t the reign of Rome. It is the reign of heaven.” He is overtly undermining the power of the oppressor. Just as his birth had done 30 years before, when King Herod felt so threatened by this new king of the Jews that he tried to kill him, here Jesus is coming right out and saying it: “I’m here to proclaim a reign and rule that is counter to the one under which you currently exist.” It is an affront to the Roman Empire.

But that’s not all. Here comes Jesus down to the lakeshore, and he calls out to the fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” To our 21st century ears, this seems like a strange thing to say. Christians have often interpreted it to mean, “Let’s save some souls for Jesus.” And maybe it does mean that. But for those familiar with Hebrew scripture and the prophetic tradition (as Jesus would have been!), that image of fishing for people is a loaded one. In four different prophetic oracles, that image of fishing for people is used, but it is always referring either to the oppressor or to those who have strayed from God’s way, trampling the poor. For example, in Jeremiah 16, in the context of the Babylonian captivity, God says, “I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them… For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin…” (Jer. 16:16-18). When Jesus hearkens this image, he is essentially saying to these impoverished, peasant fishermen, “Hey – come with me. Let’s go catch some really Big Fish, and together we will bring down this oppressive system that takes much and offers little.” And the fishermen, who are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and have little to lose and everything to gain, leave their nets and follow him. 

Ah, and there’s another key word – when Matthew tells us that they “leave” their nets, the word he uses there, aphiemi (ah-FEE-ay-me) is used elsewhere in describing leaving behind sins, or leaving behind debts. It means forgiveness. That is, followers of Jesus leave behind that which would keep them bound, whether that is their sin from which he calls them to repent, the debts that crush them, or the fishing nets that catch fish, sure, but also keep the fishers themselves caught in a system that demands much of them but doesn’t allow them to move from their low position. It’s a word of freedom, of redemption, a promise of a new and better life. And so, these fishermen, upon hearing Jesus’ intention to disrupt this grueling and unjust status quo, immediately drop that which keeps them bound, and follow him. The call they have heard corresponds with a longing they have within. In short, they are ripe for a change. 

Whew! So much packed into those few lines! 

So, this is all very interesting (at least to me, and I hope to you as well!), but the question is: what does all this have to do with us, with our lives as 21st century Christians? A few take-aways:

First, we can see that God is about redemption. The very first thing Jesus promises his disciples is that following him will mean freedom from that which binds them… What keeps you bound in your day-to-day life may be something external, like it was for the fishermen, or it may be more personal: an inability to forgive or be forgiven, a rift in your family, the relentless self-talk that tells you you’re no good… You know what nets hold you captive, from what you need redemption in order to live your life with wholeness and holiness. The mission of Christ is to free you from these things.

But also, while the promise of redemption is for us personally, we can see that from the first disciples, the call to discipleship has been one that commits to overturning the existing order of power and privilege. In the fishermen’s case, that was the oppressive basileia that exploited them. Some among us are more directly affected by such oppression than others, but whoever you are, the effects of racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and all many of other “isms” do affect all of us, and weaken our society as a whole. Freedom from these systems would certainly bring all of us in the body of Christ closer to the basileia of heaven. 

The call to discipleship offers hope and promise for us, but it is also a call to us to bring this hope to others – to face off with all those “isms” and bring the justice and peace declared throughout scripture. It is a call to do all we can to catch those Big Fish who would exploit the little guy. It is a call even to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, to the people and places that most need to know that God sees them, knows them, and loves them, and that we are working alongside them and our Redeemer to bring about their liberation. That is the call of discipleship: to bring near, by God’s power, the basileia of heaven, the kingdom of God. 

Let us pray… Emmanuel, we are bound by so many forces, internal and external. But you come to us wherever we are, promising redemption. As we are freed, empower us to bring redemption to all the world, that we might all live under your loving reign. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Full service can be viewed HERE.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Sermon: What are you looking for? (January 15, 2023)

Epiphany 2A
January 15, 2023
John 1:29-42

INTRODUCTION

This second Sunday after Epiphany we continue with a strong Epiphany theme: the revelation of God in the world. We’ll see it in the form of Spirit, and voice, and call. And in our Gospel reading, we’re hear it in a special name John uses for Jesus: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If you are familiar with the liturgy, you will likely notice: this is the text on which the song we sing at communion is based. It’s actually the only time in the Bible that this particular phrase is used, but it is clearly important – which is why John the Baptist uses it twice in a row, to make sure we get the message!

That’s interesting, and important, but it is not what draws me in about our Gospel text today, or Epiphany in general. In the season of Epiphany, we talk a lot about seeing God revealed, and this word, see, and other words like it, play a prominent role in today’s story. So, as you listen especially to the Gospel story, notice how often you hear words like see, look, behold, found. Maybe you even want to circle them whenever you hear them. We’ll be making a quick detour today from Matthew’s Gospel into John’s Gospel, and for John, words like that, about seeing, are a big deal, so we’re going to explore that a bit today. Let’s listen. 

[READ]



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In my dream life, I live in a house where I know where everything is. Like, I think, “I need that book,” and I go to the place where the book is, and I find it there, every time. Does that sort of house exist? Does anyone have one? (Teach me!)

Of course, I live with two active and creative young children, and a sometimes absent-minded husband, and I have myself been known to pick something up to do something, get distracted, put it down somewhere else to do something different instead, and then come back later and wonder why my car keys are in the fridge. This is one reason I am almost always late to things – I spend a solid portion of my life looking for things. 

Even if you do have one of those magic houses where you never lose anything, I think all of us spend a good portion of our lives looking for something – and a lot of the time, we don’t even know what it is. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, because what gripped my attention in our Gospel reading are those first words that Jesus utters to his disciples: “What are you looking for?” It seems innocuous enough. Yet this question has taken hold of my heart this week, and not let go. These are the first words Jesus utters in this Gospel at all, and first impressions matter. The Evangelist John is incredibly careful in his writing and every word choice means something, so I have to assume that this first question Jesus asks is an essential one in our understanding of entering a life of discipleship. What are you looking for?

I think a lot of times, our culture tries to answer this for us. It tells us that we are looking for a new car, or a bigger house, or whiter teeth, or a new outfit, or a flatter belly. And then it tells us that if we can find these things, we will be happy. And then it tells us that these things can be ours, for a price. Suddenly, we no longer know what we are truly looking for, because we are so busy trying to acquire what we think will fill whatever void needs filling. But all the while, Jesus’ question lingers over us, persistently asking, “But what are you really looking for? What is your deepest longing? What is your greatest hope? What are you looking for?”

As I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and  so here are some of the things I am looking for, or have found myself looking for in my recent life:

I’m looking for peace, for an escape from my constant monkey brain and the demands of my to-do list.

I’m looking for spiritual stillness and rest – not the sort that I get from binging Netflix, or playing Candy Crush, but rather, the sort that truly rejuvenates my soul and makes me feel refreshed.

I’m looking for community, for places where I can be my authentic self and still trust that I belong, where I can connect meaningfully with other humans trying to live this life with as much wholeness and holiness as we can.

I’m looking for hope, in a world that seems committed to bringing despair.

I’m looking for joy – real, deep joy – that lifts the weight I sometimes carry, often that I’ve taken upon myself.

I’m looking for guidance, for ways of being or praying or living that draw me out of my rut and open my perspective to new ways of encountering God and the world. …

Are you looking for any of these things? What are you looking for? A way to make a meaningful difference in the world? Something to make you feel alive again? Fulfilling work? A deeper prayer life? 

I am actually genuinely interested in your answers. In your bulletin, you will find a sheet of paper with this question on it. Take a minute right now to jot down your thoughts, and give it to me after worship (this will help me know how best to pastor you in the coming year!). Or if you prefer, text me your answer, right now, and I will read it aloud, without your name. Or if you’d rather, talk about it with the person sitting next to you. Go ahead and take a moment, and when you hear the bell, we’ll regather. What are you looking for? And, if you like, where are you looking to find it?

… 

Let’s see how the disciples answer Jesus’ question. Interestingly, they seem to dodge it, by asking another question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” That word, “staying,” is an important one for John the evangelist. In Greek the word is meno, which appears over 40 times in this Gospel and is often translated as “abide.” The reason it is important is that for John, “to abide” is to be in relationship with Jesus, and this is John’s definition of faith, of discipleship: it is abiding with Jesus.

So what does it mean, then, that the disciples’ answer to Jesus’ question, “what are you looking for?” is, “Rabbi, where do you abide?” I read that and hear from them a longing for a life-giving relationship with the Lamb of God. What are you looking for? I’m looking for you, Jesus, for you to know my heart, for you to guide my ways, for your peace and wisdom to fill me up. Where do you abide, teacher, so that I may abide there with you? I’m not sure what exactly I’m looking for, Lord, but I know that I’m going to find it when I abide with you.

Because in the end, that is what we all are looking for, isn’t it? For a meaningful relationship in which we find truth, peace, comfort, wisdom and purpose, to abide for all of time in the one who brings life, who brings it abundantly. For the one whose very essence is love, who is a light to scatter the darkness of night. For the one who loves us just exactly as we are, but who also loves us too much to let us stay in our lostness and our brokenness, and so always is calling us out into service and into life.

Let us pray… Abiding God, we don’t always know what exactly we are looking for, but we know that we will find all that we need in you. Guide our hearts and our ways, so that we would find whatever it is that we are looking for. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 


Full service HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Sermon: God steps in (Jan. 8, 2022 - Baptism of our Lord)

 Baptism of our Lord
January 8, 2023
Matthew 3:13-17
Isaiah 42:1-9

INTRODUCTION

Each Advent, we begin in a new liturgical year, and with each new year we focus on a different Gospel. This year’s Gospel is Matthew. I included in the last two newsletters a few points about what makes Matthew unique among the Gospels, so I encourage you to take a look at that, as we begin our delve into Matthew’s Gospel this year (with a few forays into John). 

One thing to know about Matthew is especially relevant today, as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, is that Matthew is largely writing for a Jewish audience. Because of that, we will see throughout Matthew lots of references, both explicit and implied, to Hebrew scripture, or what Christians often call the Old Testament. Today is no exception – you may notice that this passage from Isaiah, known as one of the “Servant Songs,” sounds very much like it’s describing Jesus, making it clear that the picture Matthew is painting of the Messiah is fulfilling what Israel has been waiting and looking for. 

And one quick comment on the reading from Acts – this the conclusion of a fabulous story that you should be sure to go back and read on your own. Sufficed to say for now, that Cornelius, to whom Peter is speaking, is a Roman centurion – he’s the enemy, and a Gentile, and yet here the message of the Gospel is for him! Cornelius and his family become the first Gentiles to be baptized and brought into the family of Christ. 

As you listen today: remember that we are all brought into that family through our baptism, and members of that family share a mission. Pay attention to what that mission entails! Let’s listen.


[READ]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you think about it, Jesus’ baptism story is… kind of embarrassing. And I don’t mean because the dove may have pooped on Jesus’ head, nor the kind of embarrassment a teenager may feel when their parent calls loudly across the room for everyone to hear, “Hi sweetie! I love you and I’m so proud of you!!” No, this embarrassment runs even deeper, threatening to diminish the God of Israel’s very power and reputation. It’s embarrassing, because what kind of God would find it necessary to come to the dirty Jordan River, to be baptized by the likes of a rabble-rouser like John the Baptist, with a baptism that John has been telling everyone is for repentance? Why would God’s own son need such a baptism? Shouldn’t he be perfect? John is absolutely right – their roles should be reversed! This is embarrassing.

Yes, this could have been a grand moment in which God really shows everyone what they are dealing with in Jesus Christ. And while the trick with the heavens opening, and the voice, and the dove was no doubt pretty impressive, it’s hard not to get stuck on how weird it is that Jesus was being baptized by John in the first place. Couldn’t the heavens have opened in a circumstance less… I’ll say it again… embarrassing? 

Well, I might have planned this differently, but that’s why it’s a good thing I’m not in charge of handling God’s revelation through Jesus Christ. Because the way this happened, embarrassing or not, shows us something immensely valuable about God’s work, plan, and relationship with us, and that is: that God’s M.O. is not only to be transcendent and set apart (though God is certainly both of these!), but also to be immanent, always stepping in – into our lives, our history, and our story, so that we might see how all of these are finally a part of God’s story. Let’s so how Jesus’ baptism shows us this.

First, in Jesus’ baptism, he steps into history. This is not an isolated event at a random location. The river Jordan may not be known for its beauty and cleanliness, but it is known for its historical significance in Israel’s history. It was at the river Jordan that the Israelites crossed from their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness into Canaan, the Promised Land. At the Jordan, the prophet Elijah passed his mantle to Elisha. And it was in the Jordan that Elisha cured Namaan the Syrian of his leprosy. And so much more – the Jordan River is mentioned 185 times in the Bible! For Israel and her history, the Jordan is known as a place where God intervenes and brings about new life, and now God’s own son is stepping into that rich history, stepping into the Story of God’s work on earth.

Second, Jesus is stepping into a legacy. In our first reading today from Isaiah, we hear one of Isaiah’s four “servant songs.” Look how similar the beginning is to what we witness in Jesus’ baptism: In Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” [And Matthew: “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”] And then in Isaiah, “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” [And Matthew: “And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”] That’s pretty darn similar – hard to ignore! And we’re not supposed to ignore it; Matthew is doing that on purpose. He’s not necessarily saying that Jesus is the servant Isaiah is talking about – that person is never name. But he is showing that Jesus is, indeed, stepping into the prophetic legacy of working for justice for the nations, of gentleness, and humility, and faithfulness, and resilience, and all those things Isaiah describes. Jesus is stepping into this legacy, and the hope that God’s people have long clung to – just as he continues to step into our lives, bringing hope to our despair, and offering new life.

Which brings me to the third way Jesus steps in in this story: he steps into relationship with us. That he would step into that dirty river to be baptized just like we are shows that he does not want to be separate from us. Already we knew this; by his very incarnate nature he has shown this, but in his baptism, this desire becomes public: I am here with you, right alongside you, joining the story of God’s people, joining you in your call to seek justice for the nations, and working alongside you in the effort. You see, Jesus is for solidarity, not separateness. We who are baptized are united, interdependent, connected, and one with Jesus, and we are deeply loved.

And finally, Jesus steps in again and again, continually offering that love, and inviting us to join him in the mission we share. I am sometimes asked why Lutherans tend to baptize babies rather than adults, which appears to be the biblical norm and the practice of many Christians today. The primary reason is this: that when one comes to Christ saying, “My faith and commitment are strong and I devote my life to you,” that is a powerful statement, but it means that the relationship forged in baptism is a result of the devotion of the baptized. If their faith falters, so, it would seem, does the relationship. But when we come to the font, or bring a child to the font, saying, “I utterly depend on you, God,” then when we falter, or sin, or stray, we still can trust on God’s faithfulness, and God’s promise to keep stepping into our lives, our history, our story, so that we would continue to be a part of God’s life, history and story. 

That’s not to say our commitment to that promise isn’t also important – and in a moment we will show that by renewing that commitment, even as we remember what it means that Jesus steps in toward us. That relationship means something, and does something in us, and in this rite we will recall what it means that we, too, are a part of this legacy and promise. But know this: that when our faithfulness falters, God’s will not. When our commitment wanes, God’s does not. God will always step in to meet us, wherever we are.

In the past, at the beginning of January, we have done something called Star Gifts – where we each pick a star with a word written on it that focuses our attention on where we are seeing God in our lives throughout the year. This year, we will do the same, but instead of stars, we’ll use drops of water, hearkening God’s baptismal promise to us, to continually step in. On your way out of worship today, pick a drop of water, and whatever word you find on there, use that as a guide and ask, “How is God stepping in to my life through this word, and showing His desire to be close and in relationship with me?” I would love to hear your stories throughout the year, and may call upon you to share! But whether or not you share, know that God does come to you, stepping into the human story to show us over and over again, that with God there is hope, there is peace, there is faithfulness, and there is so much love.

Let us pray… Faithful God, you came to us on Christmas, and you continue to come to us in many and various ways. As we prepare to renew our baptismal vows, step in again, reminding us that you will never leave us. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Full service can be viewed HERE.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sermon: A name and a blessing (Jan. 1, 2023)

 Name of Jesus
January 1, 2023
Numbers 6:22-27

INTRODUCTION

Some festivals in the church year are quite well-known – Easter, Christmas, Pentecost – and some are lesser known. Today is an example of the latter. Today’s festival is The Name of Jesus. In Jewish tradition (of which Jesus was a part), a baby boy was circumcised on the 8th day, and thus brought formally into observant Judaism. This is also when he is officially named. Of course, Jesus was named long before that, by the angel who visited Mary nine months ago. The name, “Jesus,” means “God saves,” which is, as we know, the purpose for which Jesus was sent to earth.

But there is something even more special about this 8th day of Christmas. Since the earliest Christians, Sunday, the day of resurrection, was not only the first day of creation, but also the 8th day of creation – the day of the new creation. How perfect that this day falls on January 1, the first of our secular calendar, a day when we are all naturally thinking about newness and fresh starts already. And so, as Christians coming to worship on this first day of the year, and 8th day of Christmas, we are starting off the year just right: beginning our new year in, under, and through Jesus’ name.

All of our texts today will reflect on the remarkable name of God, and the gift it is that we, as children of God, bear that name as well. As you listen, consider what name you prefer to use for God (it might vary based on the situation), and what that says about your relationship with God. Let’s listen.

[READ]

Unnamed Isaac's hospital bassinet

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

My son Isaac did not have a name for the first 24 hours of his life. Where Grace had been easy to name – we agreed almost immediately on both first and middle – coming up with a boy name was a cause of a lot of stress in our marriage, honestly. Michael wanted to honor his family, I wanted to honor mine. I wanted something that reflected that he was born during Advent (Dec. 7), Michael didn’t like any of my suggestions. What we could agree on was that we wanted his name to be special, to mean something, to have significance. And so, for the first day of our son’s life, we used different names with him, gauging his response to them. “Hello Isaac Richard… or are you, John Karl? Maybe Karl Luke? Isaac Nelson? Nelson Karl?” We finally landed on Isaac Karl: the Karl is from my deceased father-in-law, who died when I was pregnant with Grace, and never knew he’d have a grandson. Isaac came from the name’s meaning, “laughter,” because it was a time in our lives when we needed some laughter, and because he was born on Pearl Harbor Day, and it turns out there was a rear admiral named Isaac Kidd who died at Pearl Harbor. The name was perfect, and our delightful little guy who is ready with a laugh and loves learning about the naval ships on which his grandfather served has absolutely lived into it.

Names are so important. In some cases, of course, names are given just because the parents liked the name, but even in this case, that name becomes a part of your identity. It says something about who you are. When people experience a shift in their self-understanding, or want to communicate such a shift to the world, that often corresponds with a name change – which is also, by the way, biblical, such as with Abram-turned-Abraham, and Jacob-turned-Israel. Names mean something.

Even beyond personal identity, the ability to call someone else by their name, or to be called by your name, communicates a level of intimacy. You are known, at least on some level. Maybe with those with whom you are most intimate, you have different names – for example, my daughter Grace will only let members of her family call her Gracie, and really only those who live in our house, and only while we are in that house. Because for her, that name reflects a level of intimacy only shared by her family.

All this to say: how remarkable that we are allowed to call Jesus by his name – indeed that we call God by God’s name. I mean really, just stop and think about that for a minute: the immortal, omnipotent, ineffably sublime creator of the universe deigned it appropriate and even necessary to become so familiar to us as to become one of us, and to allow us to call him by the familiar name of Jesus. Like… whoa. To paraphrase the Psalmist, what are mere mortals, that God should be mindful of us? Human beings, that God should care for us?

Because think of what it means that we can call God by name: 

First, it means that we can know God. Not everything about God, of course, but on some level, God wants to be known by us, and so gives us this person, this God incarnate, and a name by which to call him, Jesus. God wants to be on a first name basis with us. God wants to be close enough to us that we can call upon him any time, any day.

And second, the reverse is also true: that God wants to know us, and call us  by name. This goes for our given name, of course, but God also gives us a special name in our baptism: child of God. In fact, this was long promised to us – notice in today’s reading from the book of Numbers, we hear this blessing, known as the Aaronic blessing, that you’ve probably heard many times before: “The Lord bless you and keep you,” etc. And at the end, is this amazing line, “So I shall put my name on [them], and will bless them.” Yes, God will put God’s amazing, majestic name that is above every name…. on us. Talk about being intimately connected! 

Today is a special day in our family for another reason – it is also Isaac’s baptism anniversary. It’s the anniversary of the day when we brought him to the font, and he was first called, “Isaac Karl, child of God.” And I can assure you, he takes that name very seriously! The other day we were driving in the car, and I overheard my kids’ conversation. Grace was arguing that she is the oldest child in the family. “No,” Isaac countered, “Mom and dad are both children of their parents, and they are older.” Grace tried to clarify, “No, but I’m the oldest child in the family.” Isaac countered once again, “No, we are all children. We are all children of God.” And so we are! 

But, to ask a very Lutheran question, what does this mean for us? What does it mean that God would put his own name upon us, that we would be called the children of God? 

That same Aaronic blessing can shed some light on that. When we are blessed and claimed in the name of God, such as in this text, it does something to us. It encourages, empowers, and elevates us in ways we do not deserve and did nothing to earn. Just look at these beautiful words, and what they promise to us, in God’s own name:

The Lord bless you and keep you. We are held by this loving God, and kept in God’s loving care, come what may. We find safety in God.

The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. When God’s face shines upon us, we receive that light, just as we received that light on Christmas Eve. And, we are empowered to share that light (again, as we did on Christmas), to shine it wherever else we may go. And when we fall short (which we will – even those blessed in God’s name remain merely mortal), we can be assured of God’s grace for us.

The Lord lift his countenance upon you. Yes, God will look upon us, smiling. Even when we fail. Even when we don’t think we are worth looking at. Even when, frankly, we’d rather God not be looking at us because we are not really at our best right now – God still does, and God smiles, because God loves us, his children.

And give you peace. The peace that comes from knowing that we are seen, and loved. The peace that comes from being assured that we are children of God, claimed and welcomed in baptism, loved beyond measure, and forgiven for all our shortcomings. The peace that comes from knowing – personally – an utterly loving and gracious God, and being known by Him, and still being smiled upon. 

That is what it means to lift up the name of Jesus: it means to trust that all these things are true. It means to live as if we believe them. It means to trust in our identity as children of God, Christians bearing Christ’s own name, and to share this life-giving blessing with all the world.

Let us pray… Jesus, name above all names, we are humbled to be on a first name basis with you. Thank you for blessing us, for knowing us, and for loving us. Empower us, by the strength of your holy name, to be a blessing to the whole world. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Full service can be viewed HERE.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Sermon: What is Christmas joy? (Christmas Eve, 2022)

 Watch the full service (which is lovely, if I do say so myself!) HERE.


Christmas Eve 2022

One of the best things, in my opinion, about being a pastor, is that I get a hefty say in what Christmas carols we sing at our Christmas services. So, we always sing my favorites, and seldom sing my least favorites. And so this year, I was pleased to place Joy to the World, long in my top three Christmas hymns, as the sermon hymn tonight. 

Yes, I have always loved this one. But this year I have been thinking of it in a new way, because I have for the past year or two, been doing some deeper reflection on what joy really is. We throw that word around a lot this time of year, but I’m not convinced we really know what it means, or how we get it, or what difference it makes. When we proclaim in a moment, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!” are those just words? Or what will that really mean for us?

I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean, “It’s Christmas and I’m happy about it!” I mean, sort of – but it is more than that. Joy is deeper than that, deeper than happiness. It also doesn’t simply mean, we got all the presents bought and wrapped, dinner didn’t burn, and the cat or the toddler didn’t destroy our Christmas tree. Those are good things, too, but there is certainly more to joy than that! 

So, what does it mean? I suspect we might all answer that a little differently, and I think I could preach 10 sermons on this topic and still have more to say. On this Christmas night, though, I’d like to share just a few thoughts on what joy means in the context of Christmas, and what difference it makes for us.

First: joy is intrinsically related to peace. Just look at this climactic moment in Luke’s telling of the story. The angel appears to the shepherds in the field, and declares, “I bring you good news of great joy,” and then in almost the next breath (if angels do, indeed breathe), “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those whom He favors.” You see – the good, joyful news here is that Jesus is born, and because of that, peace. News of great joy --> peace.

Once I recognized that relationship, I began to notice it in my life, too. Maybe you can relate: I sometimes get myself so tied up in a bundle of shoulds and anxiety, especially at this busy time of year, that there is little room left to actually enjoy it. But then, if I let go for a minute, let myself share a belly laugh with my kids, or fall into a good book, or I put my phone down and am fully present to a good friend as she shares something true… then all those tangles fall away for a moment, and I feel more settled, more peaceful. And that feeling of peace enables joy to enter in, and then the joy in turn brings me even more peace. The joy and the peace – they feed off of each other, helping me to go deeper into each. Joy is related to peace.

Second observation about joy: as I have sought to identify the moments in life when I have felt the deepest, most genuine joy, I have noticed again and again that a sure pathway toward joy is through connection. That belly laugh with my kids that I mentioned, or being fully present to a friend in need, or even going for a walk, or taking time for prayer – what all of these share is that they facilitate connection, with another person, or with nature, or with ourselves even, or especially with God. And when we find connection, we don’t necessarily find happiness, but we find joy.

Elliot Kone tells of a night in December of 1944, when he was a young sergeant stationed in France, shortly before the Battle of the Bulge. While they waited for their delayed orders to come through, he and another soldier, a private, went into a nearby village in search of food. The village they found was completely deserted; even the road signs had been taken, probably by retreating German soldiers. The only open building was a church, which they entered to escape the winter chill for a while. 

Sergeant Kone could play the organ by ear, and had often been drafted by various army chaplains to play for religious services. He knew quite a lot about the instrument, and so when he saw this church’s organ, he was eager to take a look at it. It was beautiful and well-made, but in poor shape, and no sound could be coaxed from it. He got an idea: “I think we could fix this if we had the tools,” he told his friend. “It would be a wonderful surprise for the villagers when they return.” His friend agreed, and since they had little else to do while they awaited orders, they went back to get the needed tools, and got to work. 

It was a labor of love, but soon enough, the instrument was echoing lovely tones through the church as the sun rose. Kone played a Hebrew lullaby from his childhood, then Faith of our Fathers, at his friend’s request, then several carols that he knew from memory. They imagined the faces of the people who would enter the church to see their organ up and running. They wanted to stay so they could witness that moment themselves, but they knew they had to get back to camp. By the time they returned, orders had come, and they were leaving imminently for the front.

Later, Kone wrote that imagining the faces of those villagers upon seeing their restored organ, tempered the dread of battle. He thought of them many times in the years following, thinking of those unknown villagers as his brothers and sisters, a bond he shared with them even in the face of adversity. The experience forever connected him to them, and, he hoped, them to him, though they could never know it was a Jewish sergeant and a Protestant private who had repaired the organ in their Catholic church.

There is joy in connection – the sort of joy that can fend off fear and carry us through battle, that can connect us across nationality, across enemy lines, across time. 

And isn’t that joy in connection just exactly what God seeks to accomplish by coming to earth to become one of us, by being fully present with us? To go on walks with us, and to be in the midst of belly laughs, and to sit with us in prayer? Did not God come to us so that we would feel that seemingly impossible connection, and be able to find the resulting joy even in difference and in adversity, even as we face our daily fears and battles? 

And that is the last point I want to make tonight about joy: that joy can and does co-exist with pain. In fact, I’d argue that deep pain and deep joy are in many ways not so different from each other: both are vulnerable, both can come upon us when we are not expecting it, both can completely overwhelm us and make us feel out of control, both can change our lives. 

Pastor Norman Vincent Peale tells a story of a Christmas Eve early in his ministry. He was feeling happy, just leaving a wonderful visit with some parishioners, when he looked across the street and saw a house with not one, but two wreaths, side by side. One had the traditional red bow, bright and festive. But the other had a ribbon of somber black, the symbol of a death in the family, a funeral wreath. This unexpected juxtaposition of joy and sorrow had a strange impression on him, and he asked his parishioner about it. The parishioner explained that this was a young family with small children, new to the neighborhood, but that was all he knew.

Peale started to leave, but then decided to approach the house, and he knocked on the young family’s door. “It is Christmas Eve,” he thought, “and if there is joy or suffering to be shared, my calling is to share it.” When a young man opened the door, and the pastor introduced himself and offered his sympathy, the man invited him in. The death, he learned, was their 6-year-old daughter, and was quite recent. In fact, her coffin still sat in their parlor, as was the custom then. Peale was so moved he could barely speak. As if reading his thoughts, the father offered, “It’s all right. She’s with the Lord, you know.” He took the young pastor to meet his wife, who was reading to their two younger sons. Her face, he said, was lovely – sad, but serene.

Peale writes of the encounter, “Suddenly I knew why this little family had been able to hang two wreaths on the door, one signifying life, the other death. They had been able to do it because they knew it was all one process, all part of God’s wonderful and merciful and perfect plan for all of us. They heard the great promise that underlies Christmas: ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ They had heard it and they believed it. That was why they could move forward together with love and dignity, courage and acceptance.”

I know that many here tonight carry with them two wreaths – your festive outfits and smiles cover up some sorrow or pain that you feel. Hear me when I say, there is room in the Christmas story for both wreaths, both the joy and the sorrow. To sing “joy to the world… and heav’n and nature sing!” is not to deny the sorrow in the world. We know all too well that that still exists. Rather, singing these words is to say, with defiance, that we believe that this sorrow does not get the final word. It is to say that our pain does not have to be hidden or denied, and more, it will not keep God from coming to us this night, even still. Because God knew what he was getting into, that he was coming into a world of pain, a world with two wreaths: a red one looking toward love and joy, and a black one still in pain and sorrow. Christ comes there, into the joy, yes, and also into the darkness of night. And Christ brings to that place the joy that the world cannot give: the joy that brings peace, the joy of meaningful connection, and the joy that can exist even in the pain, shining into the shadows a light that will not, in the end, be overcome.

May we all find true joy – peace, connection, love and light – on this mysterious night, when God comes to us to make his blessings flow, and to rule the world with grace and truth. Joy to the world – the Lord is come!

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sermon: Looking for life (in all the wrong places) (Dec. 11, 2022)

Advent 3A
December 11, 2022
Matthew 11:2-11
Isaiah 35:1-10

INTRODUCTION

The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, or “Rejoice!” Sunday. It offers us a bit of respite from all these difficult, end-times-y texts. Hooray! And so where does the Gospel reading drop us? In prison, obviously, with a doubting John the Baptist. 

Last week’s confidence has apparently waned: since we last saw John in the wilderness, he has gotten himself arrested for criticizing King Herod’s marriage practices. And he is starting to wonder why things aren’t looking the way he thought they would. But Jesus’ words, we hope, will set him back on track.

Isaiah is far more joyful. Last week’s reading from Isaiah was from before the exile, as the Assyrians are about to attack. Today’s text is written while the Israelites are in exile, in Babylon, and offers them a vision of healing and restoration – a joyous procession out of Babylon through the blooming desert, and back to Jerusalem and the land promised to their ancestors. It is a truly beautiful text. 

Today’s Psalm, you will notice, is not from Psalms, but is from Luke’s Gospel. This is the text known as the Magnificat: it is the song that Mary sings when she visits her cousin Elizabeth to tell her she is pregnant with God. Much of Luke’s Gospel gives the message that Jesus’ presence on earth means a total reversal of the ways of the world, and this song really sets that up: the low are brought high and the high low, the hungry are filled and the rich sent away empty. It is radical! And also, so very beautiful. Our choir will be singing that for us.

Lots going on in these texts. Take them all in, and listen for a word that will speak joy to whatever ails your heart this day. Let’s listen. 

[READ]


Grace to you and peace from the one who is and who was who is to come. Amen.

Several years ago, a video came out that claimed to test people’s awareness. Thinking of myself as a pretty aware person, I clicked on it. “This is an awareness test,” it begins. Two basketball teams are standing there, one dressed in white, the other in black. “How many passes does the white team make?” asks the voiceover. I watched carefully as both teams weaved in and out, passing the ball in a careful choreography. I counted 13. “The answer is 13 passes,” says the voiceover. (“Yes!” I thought, smugly!) “But,” he goes on, “did you notice the moonwalking bear?” Wait, what? I was stunned. A moonwalking bear? How could I miss something like that? Maybe it was just very subtle. But the video rewinds and plays again, and this time, sure enough, a 6ft man dressed as a bear saunters into the middle of the basketball passing, busts a little move, then moonwalks off the screen. At the end of the video, white texts appears against a black background, “It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.” 

I thought of this moonwalking bear this week when I read this story about John the Baptist. Here John sits in prison, and he is struggling – not because he is in prison (though surely also that), but because he is doubting. He has given his life to preparing the way for the messiah. With roots in the prophet Malachi, in particular the idea that the one who prepares the way for the Lord’s coming will refine and purify the people with both soap and fire (3:11), John has preached a message that is heavy on the judgment. And he likely expected that the long-awaited Messiah would be a person to be reckoned with, perhaps a military power like King David, who would defeat Israel’s enemies with strength and might. In fact, that’s what everyone expected, what everyone was looking for, and what John no doubt had in mind when he identified Jesus as the one they were waiting for. 

But Jesus has not fit that mold. No, instead of coming with an army, ready to defeat, he comes with love, compassion, and mercy. Instead of judgment, Jesus seeks out “the other,” reaching out to the margins to bring in those who would have been forgotten. Instead of military power, Jesus shares meals with tax collectors and notorious sinners. It’s not what anyone was looking for or expecting.

And so John begins to doubt. And this is where we find him in today’s reading: in prison for saying the right thing at the wrong time about King Herod’s marriage, and now waiting for his death. And he is wondering, “If Jesus is the real deal, why is everything still so broken? Why am I in prison? Why is he eating dinner with sinners and tax collectors, instead of over-throwing the oppressive government?” This is not how he expected things to go. And so he sends a message to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for? Or are we still waiting for someone else?” 

As always, Jesus’ answer flips the question on its head. “Go and tell John what you see and hear,” he tells the messenger. “Those who lacked understanding are finding clarity. Those who were crippled are able to walk. Those who were ill are healed, those who couldn’t receive the good news have their hearts opened, those whose lives were ending are finding new life. The poor have good news brought to them.” In other words, help John to turn his attention away from what he expects to see, and tell him what you see happening. Stop counting the passes. Watch instead for the moonwalking bear. Because it is easy to miss something you’re not looking for.

Now, I don’t want to get down on John. He was doing the job he was called to do, and doing a biblical job of it, fulfilling the scriptures. Yet he was so focused on the judgment, that he missed what Jesus was really doing, not with strength, but with love: bringing life, healing, and restoration. Like what Isaiah describes in our first reading today – the desert in full blossom, strengthening of the weak, understanding to the perplexed, a song of rejoicing for those who had no song to sing, a highway where there was previously no way. Jesus’ work may be less obvious or glamorous than some impressive battle that puts all the bad guys in their place and delivers a win for the good guys. But his is the work of peace, of mercy, and of lasting life.

Now, if John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, can miss what’s going on, what Jesus is doing, I have to wonder if it can and does happen to us – that is, do we get so caught up in what we think we are looking for that we miss the true life that God is offering to us?

Further, I wonder if we even know what the thing we’re looking for looks like? What does life look like? That’s not to say we aren’t looking for it. I think we are all looking for life, for people and activities and being that truly fill us with life. But I also think we are looking for life in all the wrong places. We think life comes from feeling we have the power in a situation, but exerting our power hinders the opportunity for connection. Or maybe we think life comes from cramming our days full of Very Important Activities, and constant movement, but these activities, rather than filling us up leave us feeling depleted. Or maybe we think life looks like mindless escape through social media or TV or exercise, but these are only that, an escape from the very things that are sucking our life from us. 

But none of that’s not what Jesus is about! So what are we looking for? What would, or what does life really look like, feel like, to you? This is an awareness test: what form of life is moonwalking through your game of daily living, and are you noticing it?

For me, what I recognize as true life, the sort of life that Jesus brings, always comes with joy. And by joy I don’t mean the feeling of happiness, which is so often fleeting and circumstantial. I mean the deep and lasting state of joy, that feeling we get when we feel a genuine and even vulnerable connection with another (whether through a shared laugh or even a shared cry), or perhaps a connection with nature, or certainly a with God. Joy comes with connection, and with joy comes life.

At our last Mom Group gathering, we talked a bit about this. In this season that is so full of “joy,” we sometimes work ourselves to the bone trying to make that joy happen – with lights, and cookies, and ALL the special traditions and memory-making activities. But all that manufactured joy can be so exhausting that it has the opposite effect! It doesn’t give life; it sucks the life out of us. So in our Mom Group, we committed first, to make sure we found some time just to play – whether with our kids or alone – to do something that was purely for the fun of it. 

And second, we committed to be willing to let go of some “shoulds.” This second one is especially difficult, at least for me. But it is also so important. Because giving ourselves space – not space that we immediately fill with something else, but that we actually keep free – is what leaves our hearts open to God surprising us with those life-giving signs that God is working, in and around us and the world. Those open spaces are what free us up not to count the 13 passes, but to see the moonwalking bear, strutting into our hearts and busting a move. Those open spaces allow us to see the Messiah bringing sight to the blind, healing to the crippled, good news to the poor. They allow us to see and be a part of the kingdom work of healing and restoration. They allow the dead, those whose life and joy have drained out of them, to feel once again alive – not by their own power, but by the power of the one who will come and save us.

Let us pray… Life-giving God, it is easy to miss something we’re not looking for, even when that thing is exactly what will bring us life. Open our eyes and our hearts, and help us to leave them open, so that there would be space to receive all the ways you are giving us the life and joy that we crave. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Full service can be viewed HERE.