Palm Sunday 2023

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Matthew 21:8-19

8 Now a very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of Jesus and the ones that followed were shouting, 

 “Hosanna to the Son of David!

  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 Jesus said to them, “It is written,

 ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’

  but you are making it a den of robbers.”

14 The blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that Jesus did and heard the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, written,

 ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies

  you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

18 In the morning, when Jesus returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then Jesus said to the fig tree, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving Christ,

As we come to the end of Lenten journeys

And enter into Holy Week,

We join with the crowds in shouting “Hosanna!”—

“Lord, save us!”

Save us, God. Feed us. Nurture us. And sustain us.

By your love.





Good morning, church! Great to see you.

Welcome to Holy Week.


You look great this morning. Sound great, too. How’re you feeling?

Feeling good? Ready to tackle this week together?

I wonder, are you more of a full, expansive experience of Holy Week kind of person? Or more of a Sunday-only, just get me to Easter kind of person? We’ll get to more on this in a bit, but I just think it’s helpful to know what kind of energy we’re bringing to the space this morning.


I said you looked and sounded great this morning…I wonder how you felt? How are your “Hosannas” feeling this year? You know, every year I ask you to really get into the palm processional…to wave your palms, but to really get after it during the refrain of All Glory, Laud, and Honor. Do you do that? How vigorous is your palm shaking?


I used to be timid…like I imagine most of you are…”Pastor Chris, this is my excited waving.” Well, ok. I used to be a little more reserved, too. But then a few years back I taught the young ones about palm waving, and I asked them to help lead us in, and church, I don’t know if you know this about young people or not, but they kind of love to put on a show…and man, did they ever show me up. I thought I was being energetic… Not by a long shot. At least not compared to them.

And that experience has really helped inform the spirit I bring to Holy Week, broadly, and to Palm Sunday, more specifically. Worship doesn’t need to be all buttoned up all the time. Good and proper order, yes. But we can have fun. Worship can be tactile and experiential. We can move our bodies. Shake our rumps as the Spirit moves us. I know, I know…I’ve already gone too far for some you…I hear you…


But I wonder how you feel shaking your palms vigorously and singing “Hosannas”. What energy are your bringing to the space? Are you letting loose and getting into it? Or does it feel a little silly…a little foolish…?


This palm processional is not supposed to be so serious, church. It is a little silly, a little foolish. The whole triumphal entry is a little foolish. But the people’s participation in it…your participation in it…is also incredibly faithful.


Foolish, yes. And faithful.


Whenever Roman officials would enter into cities in the empire, they often rode big, impressive stallions. They wore fine robes and jewelry, crowns. They had accolades shouted at them. Imagine thousands of flowers falling around them. The processional entries were lavish and lauded affairs. Praise and honor being heaped upon the leader or the official or even the Caesar himself on certain occasions.


Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem wasn’t really intended to be a celebration. You’ll notice the similarities to the parades of the empire, but it’s really different. It’s kind of backwards. It’s a mockery of the Caesar and how the Romans would announce their entries into the city.

Foolish. And faithful.

It’s satire, it’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s comedy, and it’s theater.

It is a protest march. A display that flies in the face of the Roman decorum.

And amidst all of this, there’s an air of meaning and consequence. Like with all satire, there’s a sharp edge of truth that is convicting and that dissects right at the heart of the Roman parades that it’s critiquing. Rome operates this way…the kingdom of God operates completely differently.


Roman conquerors ride the white horse, the war-horse. The Messiah comes riding on a donkey proclaiming peace.

The powers of this world are crowned with laurels and gold. The Messiah will be crowned with thorns.

The Caesar is showered with flowers and perfume as he enters the city. The Messiah’s way is paved with cloaks and branches and palms.

The occupying Roman oppressors sit on thrones in magnificent palaces. The Messiah reigns affixed to a cross.

The Roman military machine maintains peace through conquest and oppression. The Messiah commands swords be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, guns into garden tools, instruments of death into instruments to nurture life.

The imperial structure says that some lives are more valuable than others, you exist only within a strata. The Messiah declares that all lives are sacred and all people are beloved children of the Creator, especially those on the margins and those the world sees as less than…preaching love of neighbor instead of outlawing someone’s personhood…a message of love, by the way, which became so threatening to the empire that they put Jesus to death rather than abide such an expansive and inclusive love.

The empire asserts power through might and submission. The Messiah reigns in humility and peace and love, taking the lower place, obedient even unto death.


The kingdom of God sits diametrically opposed to the way the world works and the so-called powerful and mighty. To the world, the kingdom of God is foolishness. It’s backward. It is weak.

And yet, time and again, we are told and shown that God uses what is weak in the world to shame the proud and strong. God uses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God takes what is lowly and despised by the world, and raises it up to new life.

Following this Messiah is foolish. but these people who found themselves as part of Jesus’ parade are also incredibly faithful…shouting out “Hosanna!”—”Save us!”—to the one who actually could.


Following this Jesus is not a smart move, dear children. It will not make you friends with the empire and the powers of the world. By every standard of the world, this Messiah is a failure. Arrested…beaten…tortured…crucified…and died. Foolish. Messiahs don’t die.

The power of Christ comes through humility. Not exploiting power, but giving it up. By emptying oneself. By pouring yourself out for the sake of others. Totally backwards from how the world works. 


But through death, this Messiah brings life.


Spoiler alert. 


Friends, we know how this story ends. We know what’s coming next Sunday. We do not live as people who pretend as if we don’t know. We are resurrection people, after all.

And yet, this story is important.


It’s the greatest story ever told. And every part of it is important. I urge you…I implore you…do not skip to Sunday. Enter into this Holy Week. Make time for it.

This story has everything: High drama, friendship, betrayal, violence, and denial. Immeasurable and overflowing love, bargaining, and sacrifice. False accusations, contrived charges, and a sham trial. Intrigue and conversion. Suffering. And death.

And a plot twist that even Hollywood couldn’t come up with.


…But you already knew that…


Still…do not miss this story.


Look, I get it, it’s foolish to set aside time during your week to hear a story you’ve heard countless times throughout your life. You already know the ending, why does the story matter? Church, part of the story is the experience itself. It requires your participation. Your presence becomes part of the story.

Be foolishly faithful with me.

Attend to these mysteries.

Be present. Participate. Enter into the story.


A story of foolishness. A story of faithfulness.

The most wonderful story ever told.

The story of your salvation.


Welcome to Holy Week, church.


Fifth Sunday in Lent 2023

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John 11:1-45

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, which was the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Judeans were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, Jesus told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about Lazarus’ death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe and trust. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Judeans had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who trust in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and trusts in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when Mary heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Judeans who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Judeans who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 Jesus said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Judeans said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When Jesus had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Judeans therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, trusted in Jesus.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of new and abundant life,

The new thing you are doing in our midst

May not be all that obvious to us at first.

Keep calling us to pay attention.

Keep calling us out of the graves we shut ourselves up in.

Keep breathing life into our dry and weary bones.





I can be a generally stubborn person. Often I have an idea in my mind about how a particular encounter should go, or an expected outcome of what I think should happen. I tend to trust my instincts, knowing that I have given the situation a good amount of thought, weighed a variety of potential options, and arrived at what I think is the so-called “right” conclusion. And when that conclusion, which, in my mind, may as well be foregone, is not arrived at by someone else or by the universe, I tend to not take it super well. I can get upset or angry, I might argue, but oftentimes I will try to bend the arrived-at conclusion back to what I think the end result should have been. And that usually involves me very stubbornly and incessantly hammering a very square and inflexible peg into a very round and equally rigid hole. Which serves absolutely no purpose, except to give me sore arms and back pains.


I tend to also be somewhat impatient. Anxiously waiting for the universe to just catch up to the conclusion I’ve already arrived at.


And I say all of this to say, our little 8×4 raised bed vegetable garden is teaching me a lot about myself, and the ways the world works, and just how much I think I know and just how little I actually do know.


Aside from a few very small cold snaps over the past few weeks, we’ve been blessed with a relatively early and mostly comfortable spring this year. Which has allowed our family to start in our garden. Much earlier than we did last year. But in my mind, some of the plants and vegetables should have come back where we planted them. But then again, that hard freeze we had back a few months ago would argue differently. Here comes that immovable and inflexible round hole I was talking about…


By the time the freeze arrived, our plants had long stopped producing, we had trimmed them back, and were hopeful that some new shoots would spring up from what was there before. But then the freeze came. And things died. And they became really dead. Like, dead dead.


And when things die—when they’re dead dead—no matter how much we may want, no matter how stubborn I might be, there is just no coaxing life from them. What’s needed is to turn over the soil, add in some new dirt, replant, and begin again. Begin again, so that I can anxiously and impatiently wait for the tomatoes and jalapeños and blueberries to grace the ends of those new shoots once again.


When something dies…and it is dead dead…we really must do a few things all at once. We can grieve what’s been lost. We can give thanks for what was. And we can look hopefully and expectantly for what’s to come. All at the same time. And each of these is important. If you leave out any one of them, the process is incomplete. Grieve…give thanks…hope.


When Jesus finally arrives at Bethany, Lazarus is dead dead. In fact, when Jesus got word two days beforehand that Lazarus was sick, Jesus stayed where he was, almost ensuring that when he finally arrived that Lazarus would be dead dead.

“Jesus if you had been here my brother would not be dead.”

If you had come when we sent word to you at first, you could have made him better, you could have healed him. But instead you stayed, and Lazarus died, and maybe we just want someone to blame and right now you’re a pretty convenient target.

We don’t like death. Perceived preventable death, in particular, makes us angry at the injustice and unfairness of it.


Ezekiel was written within the context of the Jewish exile in Babylon. When the Hebrews were taken to Babylon they were free to marry, build houses, start lives, elect leaders, plant crops, and even worship. But many of them were still angry and upset over the destruction of their holy city and temple in Zion, and so they had a really hard time worshiping and singing God’s song in a strange land. They weren’t where they wanted to be, or where they were supposed to be, so this sadness seeped down to their core, deep into their bones. And after years and years, those families and houses and the way of life they had carved out for themselves and the nice things they had filled their lives with…they started to supplant the need for God. Kind of like we have a tendency to do in the midst of great pain and hurt, the Hebrews filled their lives with things that are not God in an attempt to fill the void of not feeling near to God while they were in exile.

How many of us use stuff to try and fill a God-shaped hole in our lives?


And it is into this lifelessness that God calls the prophet Ezekiel.

Into Lazarus’ very real death—“My Lord…he’s been dead for four days…he stinks…”—Jesus seems to say, don’t miss what’s coming next.

“Prophesy to the bones,” God tells Ezekiel. “Remind them who they are. Tell them that life is coming.”


I’ve had to contend with my stubbornness over expected outcomes this week. I wanted to see a certain result, and even though it’s becoming clear that that result will probably never be, I’m still trying to force that peg into a spot it stands no chance of fitting into.

So I set it aside. I tried to examine it without judgment. I talked about it with those close to me. I tried to gather information.

And then I prayed about it.


Church, I don’t want to oversimplify the difficult task of making important decisions, many of which have very real and lasting impacts on people and organizations, but I do want to say that I prayed about it, I talked to God about it, and I slept on it, and I got to a place earlier this week where I could truly see another way. Perhaps there’s another peg that might fit in this spot, too.


It’s clear that the author of John is trying to prefigure Jesus’ own death and resurrection in this account of Lazarus. There’s foreshadowing…there’s the ever-zealous Thomas exclaiming, “Let’s go with him so we may die, too!”…the burial clothes, the weeping…this is all in anticipation of what will happen to Jesus and the stories we’ll encounter beginning next week with Palm Sunday.

But Lazarus’ story is not Jesus’ story. There’s one big glaring difference.

Lazarus will die again.


Many theologians make the distinction between the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ resurrection. They call Lazarus’ story a resuscitation. In other words, Lazarus was dead, Lazarus was raised to life, but Lazarus will die again. Jesus, on the other hand, was resurrected, ascended to God, and is the source of everlasting and abundant life. Jesus doesn’t die again.

There’s a difference in resuscitation and resurrection.


Lazarus comes out of the tomb, and aside from burial cloths hanging off his body and a really powerful stench, Lazarus looks pretty much the same as he did before he died. But in all the post-resurrection stories about Jesus, one theme you’ll hear a lot in these narratives is that “their eyes were kept from seeing him.” There’s something about the resurrected Jesus that isn’t at all like the Rabbi the disciples traveled around with.

Resurrection is transformation. It looks nothing like what came before it. It’s totally different.


As we consider where things are at in our neighborhood and in our community of faith, what are we longing for?

As you look out into that parking lot, some Sundays struggling to find a parking spot, you might be encouraged at first, but then you realize that a good number of those cars and people are headed over to the Community Center, to our friends at St. Thomas Church. And you might be thinking to yourself, “Don’t they know we’re here, too? What happened to the full parking lot where everyone was coming here to this sanctuary?”


I am not immune to feeling a small amount of jealousy. I want folks to worship and praise God here, too. But I also need you to recognize that they are, church. New friends have joined New Hope in the past few years and are active and vibrant contributors to our shared ministry.

Pay attention to the signs of new life that are popping up. They may not be where you’re expecting.


So what are you longing for? Are we longing for a resuscitation? A longing for what used to be? Or are we hungering after resurrection? Is it transformation we’re after?


In both cases, the old thing has to die. It has to be dead dead.


So I’ll ask you, church…what do you think we’re still holding onto? What do we need to let go of?

What might we need to let die…like become dead dead?

To borrow images from the past few weeks, what water jugs do we need to leave behind? What perceptions need challenging? What story do we need to be telling incessantly and fervently? What needs to be born again? What is it that is springing up in you like a wellspring gushing up to abundant life? What bones are dead that need prophesying to?


Because the Lord is calling you, church. God is calling us.

To prophesy to these bones. To say to these bones, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon you. Hear the word of God.”

God will breathe upon these dry bones. Breath will enter them.

You will stand up. And you will live!

Bone will come upon bone. Flesh and muscle and tendons will cover you.

God will reach into your graves, tear you out of those places of death, and give you life!

God is breathing into you, dry bones.

You will stand up! You will live!

And you will know that the Lord is God.


Resurrection is coming, dear children.

New life is on the way.

Hope may feel lost right now, but joy arrives in the morning.


More than a few years ago, when it felt like things were going really, really well, I was super-aware within myself that the harvest we were enjoying was due to the patient planting and watering and nurturing of those that came before me long before I ever arrived in Missouri City. But I may not have done as good a job at saying that out loud or publicly.


This is a season of planting, church. A season of clearing away, of turning over the soil, of putting some new dirt down, and planting. This is a season of watering.

This is a season of nurturing.

Growth is coming. New life is getting ready to spring forth.

God has promised it.

Wait and watch for what happens next.


Fourth Sunday in Lent 2023

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John 9:1-41

1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; this young man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

4 We must do the works of the One who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When Jesus had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then the young man went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is him.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” The young man kept saying, “I’m the one.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” The young man said, “I do not know.”

13 So the people brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 It was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened the young man’s eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can someone who is a sinner perform such signs?” And the Pharisees were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The young man said, “He seems to be a prophet.”

18 The religious leaders did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He can speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the religious leaders; who had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore the young man’s parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 The young man answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 The religious leaders said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled the young man, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this person, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The young man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but God does listen to anyone who is devout and obeys God’s will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this person were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered the young man, “You were born entirely in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven out the young man, and when Jesus found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of humanity?” 36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you.” 38 The young man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Jesus. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

40 Some of the Pharisees near Jesus heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

We want to see Jesus.

We want to be aware of you in our midst.

But often our eyes are closed to the

New thing you’re doing among us.

Give us eyes to see and ears to hear, this morning.

Give us vision.



Look, I think we all did a great job of picking up a number of good health and hygiene habits over the past three years. I think most of us probably learned some new things. But it has never really been considered sanitary to put someone’s spit in your eyes. It’s just not. This is not a new pandemic rule, we’ve understood this for a while. Keep your bodily fluids to yourself, Jesus.

It’s also interesting to me that Jesus never asks this young man if he can rub spit-mud in his eyes or even if he wants to receive sight…but this sermon is not about consent. That’s for another time, I guess. But, just to get it out of the way…yes, consent is very important. We’ve been working on that with a very touchy toddler recently…with varying degrees of success. Mostly unsuccess.

But Jesus almost seems tangential to this story from the Gospel according to John this morning. I mean, Jesus only makes 2 appearances, at the beginning and at the end. The rest of the story and dialogue takes place between this young man born without sight and the Hebrew religious leaders, who are just incensed that Jesus would do such a thing as heal someone, much less do so on the Sabbath. Man, doesn’t that hit close to home? How often do we get our hackles up in the church because someone wants to do something a different way or try something new altogether? Anyway, the young man and the Pharisees are just talking past each other, the Pharisees trying to figure out what’s going on and how they might catch Jesus doing something he shouldn’t be, and the young man who’s really just relaying his experience of receiving sight and who it was that did this in the first place. Plus, the kid’s parents get involved. It’s like a really bad game of telephone.

I don’t think the Pharisees are questioning honestly here, I think their motives are not innocent, but there is a moment, right at the end of our reading, when the religious leaders, perhaps in a moment of clarity and introspection, ask a very revealing question.

“Surely we’re not blind……are we…?”

This season of Lent we’ve been talking about hunger, both physical and spiritual hunger, and the things our heart and our spirits hunger and long for. This morning, I want to talk about our hunger to see clearly.

How can we be attentive to what God is doing in our midst?

How can we be open to being challenged by a different perspective?

How can we be mindful of the times in which we’re standing in the way of God doing what God would like to do with us, with our community, and in our world?

I’ve preached before about this Gospel reading from John, and how my preaching professor in seminary absolutely hates it. He’s now a Bishop in Michigan, Bishop Satterlee is legally blind and, in his words, he’s never seen “normally.” He says something similar to the following: “I’ve never seen in a way that folks would call ‘normal’ so I don’t know what that means. My inability to see is part of me, it’s who I am. And so, in the great resurrection of all things, when all things are finally reconciled back to God in their fullness, will I still be blind? I should certainly hope so! If the resurrection of the body means that our bodies become most fully themselves in their most perfect forms, I should think that my most perfect form is some perfect form of me with my blindness. My inability to see is just as much a part of me as my hands or my feet, or the fact that I’m a pastor, or my identity as a baptized and beloved child of God. I don’t believe God’s desire is to ‘cure’ me of my blindness.”

Here’s the money line. Bishop Satterlee says, “Heaven isn’t a place where I can see. Heaven is a place where it doesn’t matter that I can’t.”

Heaven isn’t a place where I can see. Heaven is a place where it doesn’t matter that I can’t.

The hunger to see clearly isn’t about vision with our eyes, it’s about attentiveness. Attentive to the ways in which “the way things are” can become a stumbling block to the proclamation of the Gospel and people meeting and seeing Jesus. What if heaven is a place where we open ourselves up, get out of our own way, and accommodate for those who have been told their whole lives that who they are is somehow sinful, that who they love is wrong, and that the thing that troubles them is some sort of divine punishment? Church, the blindness that God is seeking to cure us of is our blindness to the suffering and hurt of our neighbors, particularly our neighbors the world views as less than, the marginalized ones who aren’t valued by the world’s standards, the unexpected ones.

David was the unexpected one by literally everyone in that story from First Samuel. Jesse had seven of his sons stand in front of Samuel and each time, they weren’t the one God was choosing. Samuel was just as surprised as Jesse. And it wasn’t until Samuel pressed further—“Are all your sons here?’—that David the young shepherd is brought to Samuel and Samuel finally hears an approving word from the Lord.

The young man in our gospel didn’t wake up that morning expecting to receive his sight. The religious leaders didn’t expect Jesus do be able to do what he did, least of all on the Sabbath. The God revealed in Scripture over and over again subverts our expectations, and over and over again I feel like we’re surprised when God does an unexpected thing.

So what did you come here expecting this morning, church?  What brought you here?

Did you come here expecting to see Jesus?

I will confess to you, my siblings, that I don’t know that I really expect anything on Sunday mornings. Or Wednesday nights. I’m not sure I’ve thought very much about what I expect. I don’t know if I expect to see Jesus.

But last Sunday after worship, someone who wasn’t getting many answers from their doctors asked me to pray with them and to pray for healing. Not to do the thing that their doctors can’t do, but just to call out to God in a time of distress, to ask God for help. And so I went and I got my favorite little red book and my little jar of anointing oil and we prayed and I anointed their hands and forehead and wouldn’t you know it, Jesus showed up. Not in a miraculous healing, but in calm spirits and the easing of burdens.

On Wednesday night at our Lenten Midweek worship I read most of that whole gospel from John about the Samaritan woman that you heard last week and my kid was doing laps around the Fellowship Hall for most of it, but then we started in on our table discussions and he brought me a picture he had started drawing with pens I happened to have and he said, “Look Dad, it’s the story. Here’s the well, and here’s Jesus, and here’s the woman, and they’re sharing.” Wouldn’t you know it, church, Jesus showed up.

Why am I so surprised when God shows up unexpectedly and does an unexpected thing…?

Church, where do you see Jesus here? Where does God show up?

I truly believe that we want to see and encounter Jesus, but we don’t always. Sometimes we’re blinded by our own expectations or lack of. So how can we make space for that unexpected appearance? How can we be vessels of Jesus to each other and to a hurting world? How can we make it easier for Jesus to show up?

Sometimes healing isn’t always wellness, but it is wholeness.

In this story, the young man happened to receive his sight, but I think the healing came there at the end of the story. After all this back and forth, the young man is driven out of the synagogue because the powers that be just can’t abide the restoration to wholeness that’s taken place. And it’s just then that Jesus finds the young man again and restores what’s been broken. After being ostracized and put out from the synagogue and the community, Jesus comes to the young man to restore him to wholeness. “Do you trust in the son of humanity?”

“Tell me who he is, so that I might believe.”

“You have seen him…the one who speaking to you.”

“Yes Lord…I believe…”

Surely we’re not blind…are we…?

“If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Where are we turning a blind eye to, church?

What are the unexpected places that God might be doing a new thing that we might be fearful to partner with God in bringing to life?

Is it our partnerships with our many ministries outside these walls? How many of you who volunteer at Armstrong or Eat Fort Bend or Family Promise, how many of you regularly meet Jesus in those volunteer opportunities? Quite a few, I bet…most, I imagine…

Where is God showing up unexpectedly?

Our Welcome and Inclusion Group is going through a training process to help us ask questions as a congregation about our intentional and explicit welcome and hospitality, specifically to members of the LGBTQIA2+ community. As we move through the Reconciling in Christ process, I want to urge us to be attentive to the unexpected ways God is showing up and moving in our midst.

“Surely we’re not blind, are we?”

I don’t think we want to be. I truly believe we want to see Jesus.

Be attentive, church.

Attentive to the unexpected ways God is showing up.

Attentive to Jesus in our midst.


Third Sunday in Lent 2023

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John 4:3-42

3 Jesus left Judea and started back toward the Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (Jesus’ disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jewish man, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jewish people do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus replied to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, the one who gave us the well, and with his children and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered Jesus, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

19 The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman of Samaria, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jewish people. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth, for it is such worshipers that God seeks. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming”(who is called the Christ). “When the Messiah comes, the Messiah will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am…the Messiah…the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then Jesus’ disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see someone who told me everything I have ever done! Can this be the Messiah?” 30 They all left the city and were on their way to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will and accomplish the work of the one who sent me. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that city trusted in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them; and Jesus stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of Jesus’ word.

42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Ever-living God,

In the midst of our everyday lives

It can be difficult to detect your presence.

And yet, our stomachs ache and our mouths thirst for you.

Send us living water, again, this morning.

Feed us with yourself

And lead us to wellsprings gushing up to everlasting life.





Do you have a feeling, or a memory, that instantly brings you comfort? Like a wave that washes and settles over you, and you just feel completely at peace, like all the outside noise and anxieties are lost and forgotten?

For me, almost every time I first get into bed at night. The very first time I pull back the sheets, climb under the blankets, and just sink in, and my body instantly relaxes and I just settle. That, and the feeling of the cool side of the pillow.


Do you have a feeling or a memory like that, church?

That feeling makes me wonder if that safety or security or comfort is what it’s like to experience or encounter God. Like, is that what Moses experienced in the burning bush? Or is that what the Samaritan woman felt like at the well?


Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps Moses was more terrified than relaxed. Maybe the Samaritan woman was more annoyed or apprehensive than comforted.


For me, I’ve been acutely aware of God’s presence at a particular moment in my life maybe only a handful of times.


It may surprise you…or maybe not…to learn that pastors have no more or less tangible encounters with the holy than anyone else. I mean, we have degrees that are literally called Master of Divinity, and we regularly talk about such things for 10-12 minutes on a weekly basis. But aside from that, it’s totally the same. “Pastors are regular people?!?” you say?! **gasp!**


I know…it was a shock to me, too.


But truthfully, just a handful of times where I am pretty certain that I was inhabiting some sort of holy space. Really aware of the presence of something I couldn’t quite name or put my finger on.


One of my good friends and colleagues talks about her call to ministry and hearing what she describes as an affirmation from God that sounded like a really loud thought. My own experience related to my call to ministry was a feeling like a really heavy wool blanket pressing down on my shoulders, but like, in a comforting way. Other folks I know have much more descriptive experiences—real, tangible people…real, tangible encounters…people, places, times they can name and describe.


But aside from my own handful of times, most often I find myself, like the Israelites in our reading from Exodus, testing and quarreling and striving with God, pleading the question, “Well??!? Is God here or not?!?!”


I share with you, friends, that I have pleaded and wrestled with that question more than I’d like to admit over the past three years. The rate of change since the pandemic has been so fast. The changes we’ve seen in our communities have been so big and so great, and things look so different than they did before that it just seems like a really honest question…

Is God among us or not?


Maybe you look around this morning, notice who’s here, but especially who’s not…a Sanctuary less full than you remember…friends with more gray hair than you remember…maybe your own reflection in the mirror looking and feeling a little worse for wear, too. Why doesn’t this feel like it used to? Why does everything all of sudden feel so difficult? Why is it that I feel like I haven’t relaxed my shoulders from hanging out up around my ears for a couple of years or more?


Relax your shoulders, church. Take some deep breaths and try and remember to loosen some of your muscles. It’s going to be ok.


In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is traveling from Judea to the south up to the area of the Galilee to the north, and the most direct path is through Samaria. However, most Jewish folks making the same journey would have crossed the Jordan River to the east and gone around Samaria because, as the author of John reminds us, “Jewish people and Samaritans do not share things in common with one another.” This is a bit of a nicer construction than what was actually happening, see, Jewish people and Samaritans really didn’t like each other. They had a common ancestor in Jacob—you know, the one who wrestled with God and struggled out a blessing and received a new name “Israel” but was left with a limp and a hip out of joint for all his wrestling and striving—Samaritans and Jewish people had Jacob/Israel in common, but from there, their experiences of God, their worship practices, and subsequently, their feelings about each other diverged pretty dramatically.


So Jesus is making an intentional choice by traveling directly through Samaria, and as a Jewish teacher and a man, Jesus has a lot of power in this encounter. But the Samaritan woman doesn’t back down in this exchange. After all, Jesus is the one who’s traveling through the place where she lived. Why should she back down? He’s the one who didn’t travel the long way around Samaria. Jesus holds a lot of power in this encounter, but the Samaritan woman doesn’t automatically subordinate herself to that power. She engages Jesus in conversation, and kind of to everyone’s surprise, Jesus engages her in conversation back. The conversation moves from an exchange about physical thirst to a theological discussion about living water to a comment on how many husbands she’s had and finally the revelation of the Messianic secret to the Samaritan woman—“I am…he…the Messiah…the one who is speaking to you.”


It’s interesting that the first affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah in the Gospel according to John comes not to an insider, not to someone powerful, not to Nicodemus the Jewish religious leader, not even to Jesus’ own disciples…but to a Samaritan woman. An outsider among outsiders. A religious, ethnic, gender, class, and social outsider. Literally the least likely person you would expect.

And yet, Jesus tells her. “I am…the Messiah…the one who is speaking to you.”


Is God among us or not?


Very clearly, yes, I think.


I think both Jesus and the Samaritan woman had their minds changed by this encounter. I think both Jesus and the Samaritan woman are asking that same question—“Is God in the midst of this interaction or not?” And I think they both get an affirmation that indeed God is moving and active in this exchange.


The question of God’s presence among us or not is a deeply honest one. At its heart, the question reveals a deep and nagging hunger to experience God…an almost unquenchable thirst for that living water, to be seen and to be known by God.


So where is God, church? Is God among us or not?

Look for living water. Look for lives being changed and hearts resonating with the truth that who they are is nothing less than beloved by God. It’s in these moments that the kingdom of God breaks forth with living water gushing up like a wellspring of eternal life.

God is found where hunger is satisfied and thirst is quenched. God is where we are seen and known, not for our mistakes and failures, not for the worst parts of ourselves, but seen and known exactly who and how we are—as beloved, as bearers of the divine image, as beautiful and wonderful creations of a gracious and loving creator. God is where people are being served and loved and where communities are being lifted up by the faithful work of disciples who take seriously God’s call to love, care, and serve their neighbor.


Where do you see signs of this living water, church?

I see people gathering for worship and deep and honest questioning over a meal at our Wednesday Night Soup Suppers during Lent. I see Women’s and Men’s Bible Studies engaging consequential and heartfelt matters of faith each week. I see Sunday School classes, adult education, volunteers extending a hand, people giving of their time to feed, clothe, and house others, mentors forming abiding relationships with students… In my estimation, the springs of water are everywhere, church.


Drink deeply from them.

Find a way to get involved and find your own hunger and thirst satisfied.

Discover God in your midst.

Be filled.

Be known.

Be loved.


Second Sunday in Lent 2023

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John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jewish people.

2 Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3 Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the dominion of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of humanity. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of humanity be lifted up, 15 that whoever trusts in the Son may have eternal life.

16 For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who trusts in God’s son may not perish but may have everlasting life.

17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of abundant love,

In the midst of our doubts and fears, worries and hurts,

You come to us and call us beloved.

When we’d prefer to stay hidden,

You lift up our head and shine on our face.

Love us back to life again this morning.

Move your Spirit in our lives and in our world.





When I would get in trouble, the instinctual reaction of my much younger self was to run away from the troubling that was happening and hide in my room until I thought enough time had passed that I was no longer in trouble. Spoiler alert: it was never enough time. As it turns out, there’s not an expiration date on the consequences for one’s own actions.

And then later, at some point in my less younger years, for some reason I thought it a better strategy to stay and try and meet the troubling head on and try and reason or shout my way out of trouble. This, too, turns out, is a fool’s errand.


So whether running away and hiding, or staying and trying to argue my case through yelling, trouble was there to meet me regardless.


And now, in these later years, I know that my default position has become to stubbornly remain in the midst of the frustration and try and wrestle it into submission, but I am trying to relearn how to remove myself from the frustrating situation and to let enough time pass that we all can just take a deep breath, myself included, and address what’s bothering us.


Ollie, for his part, has mastered the art of running away from trouble and hiding until he thinks enough time has passed. His favorite spots are behind the dresser, under the desk, or behind the rocking chair.


There is something perceived as safety with a large, solid object between you and the trouble or frustration you’re hiding from. Sometimes the cover of obscurity makes us feel safe, protected even.


My sister, when she was younger, would go into her closet and sit on the floor behind all the hanging clothes and eat chocolate and candy by the fistful. Neither my sister or I have lived at our parents’ house for going on 20 years now, but our parents swear they’re still finding Hershey Kisses wrappers to this day.


Sometimes the cover of obscurity makes us feel safe, or even protected.


Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, visits Jesus “under the cover of night” to ask some questions. Nicodemus will make another appearance at the end of John’s gospel, tending the body of the crucified Jesus along with Joseph of Arimithea. It’s fair to call Nicodemus a disciple of Jesus, although, as a Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus would have had to keep this tidbit secret for fear of reprisal. Nicodemus comes to Jesus, seeking something from Jesus, about Jesus. Nicodemus has heard about Jesus, word is starting to get around. People are talking, and the religious establishment is feeling threatened. John, chapter 3 picks up right after John’s account of Jesus cleansing the temple—“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”—so at this point, very early on in John’s narrative, Jesus is threatening both the religious and the economic establishment. Very early on Jesus is setting himself, and God, overagainst the powers that be. So Nicodemus wants to hear it from Jesus…”Are you who people say you are? Surely someone can’t do the things you’re doing apart from the presence of God…”


It’s a honest questioning, but one that is concealing a whole host of doubts. Because if Jesus is, in fact, the son of God and the dominion of God is about to be inaugurated, things are going to get really dicey for Nicodemus. The advent of the reign of God means an end to the way things are. The way the author of Luke tells it, the powerful are brought low and the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty handed. The breaking-in of the kingdom of God means a great reversal is underfoot.


So Nicodemus brings honest doubts, but kind of shamefully so, using the shadows of nighttime to obscure these fears and doubts.


How do you feel about your doubts, church? Are you honest about them? Do you maybe feel shame about them?

How often do we feel like faith and doubt exist opposite one another?

Lutheran pastor and theologian Paul Tillich dismisses this dichotomy and says that faith and doubt are actually simply two sides of the same coin. That is, you can’t have faith without doubt. They hold hands. Faith can’t exist without doubt. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.


How do you handle your doubts, church? Do you push them down, suppress them, or try and will them away? Do you embrace them, hold them close, or maybe even befriend them?


We’re spending this season of Lent talking about hunger, mostly of the spiritual type. Last week with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness we talked about our hunger to be close to God.

This morning, Nicodemus is coming to Jesus with a deep hunger. A hunger to be known and to be loved. And Nicodemus’ hunger is any of ours, to be honest. A deep desire to be known and to feel loved.


Have y’all heard or read about the revival at Asbury University in Kentucky? It started a few weeks ago and it quickly gained steam and news as it went on for a few days. I don’t actually know if it’s still going on or not, but it was making headlines both because of how long it was going on, days and then weeks, and because of who was at the center of this revival. College students. Gen-Z. Young people described by many as maybe some of the least spiritual or religious among all the generations.

What was going on at Asbury? Was it truly the movement of the Holy Spirit or was it something else?


I confess to you, my siblings, that my first reaction was more apprehensive than anything else. See, I’ve been to a couple of revivals, I’ve participated in more charismatic worship. There’s a good deal of emotional manipulation that often occurs. And when you couple that tendency for emotional manipulation with a large group of college students—late teens and early-20 year olds—who are in some their more formative years in figuring out who they are and what they’re about…it’s true that you have a situation that is ripe for manipulation.


And maybe you can relate. Maybe we come by our apprehension naturally. Look, I get it, Lutherans are not widely known for being super-in-touch with our Holy Spirit-ness. Being moved by the Spirit in Lutheran worship is more like a “Hmmm…” and a nod when I make a profound point in my sermon, less like weeks-long prayer and healing services.


But when I take a step back…when I try and become more curious and less judgmental, well why can’t the Spirit move mightily among a small religious college in the middle of Kentucky? What if something was started there that extended out to other places, other states, other churches, even those who have never heard of the Holy Spirit?


When I’m more curious than judgmental, I pray that the Spirit does something amazing. I pray that new people become curious about Jesus and want to know more. I pray that these young people who are in such formative years of their lives hear words of acceptance and belonging and grace and love. I pray they hear nothing less than God’s incredible love for them, regardless of who they are, how they identify, how they love, or anything else.


Because if I’m honest, church…I want a revival. I want the Holy Spirit to show up and do a new thing. I want the Spirit’s wind to gust powerfully among us and drive us to do amazing things in our community.


Because God is doing a new thing in our midst. God is actively at work saving and redeeming the world. And not by anything we have or have not done, but through God’s action alone.


Nicodemus asks Jesus about being born a second time, “How can one be born again after having grown old?” Jesus’ words are about being born from above, being born of water and the spirit. It’s not about being born again, it’s about being born differently.


If the wind blows where it chooses and you can’t see where it comes from or goes, and so it is with those who wish to see the dominion of God, then being born from above isn’t something we do for ourselves. This isn’t about us making a choice for God, it’s an awareness of the movement of the Spirit and an openness and willingness to being moved by that Spirit.


This isn’t decision theology, it’s incarnational theology. It’s not about choosing God, it’s about God choosing you, dear child. “For God so loved the whole cosmos, the entire world, even and especially you, that God sent God’s son…God came to earth, walked and lived among us…so that…everyone who trusts in the saving work of God’s son would have life everlasting…life in all it’s fullness, abundant life, life that overflows with an embarrassment of riches, an embarrassment of loving and supportive relationships, life everlasting… Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world…but in order that the whole cosmos, the whole world, would be saved through him.”


This is not about you choosing God, this is about God coming to earth, descending into our mess, coming among our hurt and pain and worry and fear and doubt—“God moving into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson so wonderfully said—God living, breathing, walking, working, healing among us…God living and breathing within humanity…in order to redeem humanity, in order that all of humanity would be saved.


And nothing…no barrier we try and put between us…no obstacle we try and put between us and God will stop that from happening.

Your doubts are not shameful, dear one.

Your fears, your worries, your hurts and pains…they are holy, and they are held by God.

Your hunger to be known and to be loved by God…God sees it, God sees you, and God delights in you.


You are known and you are loved by God.

God so loved the whole world—even and especially you—that God sent God’s son…not to condemn to world, but to save it.


First Sunday in Lent 2023

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Matthew 4:1-11

1 Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Accuser. 2 Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward was famished. 3 The Tempter came and said to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But Jesus answered, “It is written, 

 ‘One does not live by bread alone,

  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the Accuser took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,

6 saying to him, “Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 

 ‘God will give the angels charge over you,’

  and again ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to the Accuser, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 So again, the Tempter took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the realms of the world and their splendor; 9 and said to Jesus, “All these I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to the Accuser, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 

 ‘Worship the Lord your God;

  serve God alone.’”

11 Then the Accuser left Jesus, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy God,

Your voice always speaks words of love and life to us.

Oftentimes we struggle to hear your voice over

The loud voices outside of us or even our own inner critic

Which tell us lies and tempt us with untruths.

Speak clearly to us, this morning.

Come close and settle in our hearts today.





There’s a meme out there that’s pretty popular at our house. It’s a simple meme, just words on a background, and it says, “I’m sorry for the names I called you when I was hungry.”


Truth be told, I think you could sub out “hungry” for “sleepy” at our house right now and the spirit of the meme would still hold water pretty well.


But it’s true, as it turns out hunger can stir up some pretty strong emotions in us. In 2018, the fine folks at Oxford recognized this and added “hangry” to their dictionary for the first time. A combination of hungry and angry, it describes the irritability we feel when we’re hungry. And if that’s the case, I wonder what word Jesus would have used to describe how he felt after 40 days…


I said it on Ash Wednesday, but just in case you missed it, I’m going to try and focus us in on hunger during this Lenten season. Think a bit more of a spiritual hunger than a physical hunger, although, like this morning, we’re going talk a little bit about physical hunger as well.

What do you hunger for, church?

What does your heart long for?

What does your heart ache for? What…or who…does your heart break for?


In the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week, we travel a familiar path together, marking our foreheads in dust in the shape of the very same cross that we’re journeying toward as we culminate on Good Friday in the crucifixion of Christ. So here this morning, only a few days removed from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our Lenten journey together, I want to center us close to where I think we’ll end our pilgrimage—our hunger to be close to God.


What does that hunger feel like for you?

Would you describe it as hunger?

Does your heart long to be close to God?


Mine sure does. Although I’ll be honest, I feel like so much stuff can get in our way…phones, calendars, sports schedules, date nights, to-do lists…so then, how do you take time to be close to God? Or maybe a better way to ask…how do you create space in your life for God to come close to you?

When you feel far from God, do you notice it? What does that feel like for you?

For me it’s like a needling feeling or a nagging I just can’t quite get away from, a pervasive feeling that something’s off or missing, but I might not be able to put my finger on it or name it. Kind of like a grumbly tummy.


As humans, we are created to be in relationship and in close proximity to God, but like we heard in the reading from Genesis, ever since the very beginning of our human story, we’ve been discovering new and inventive ways to drive ourselves further from God.


The placement of our gospel story this morning in the Gospel of Matthew is interesting. Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness comes immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. So immediately after hearing, “This is my son, the Beloved,” Jesus is led by that very same spirit to the wilderness, presumably to work out what all that actually means.

Have you ever gotten just a gigantic piece of news that it’s so overwhelming that what you actually need to do is just set everything down, walk away from everyone, and just go and be by yourself for a while? It’s almost what I imagine happening here. Jesus is set off to work out what it actually means that he’s God’s Beloved and one to be listened to.


By the way, I imagine Jesus probably prefers the writer of Matthew’s version of events to the author of Mark. Matthew’s spirit “leads” Jesus into the wilderness, nice and gently maybe, whereas Mark’s spirit “throws” Jesus out there. Incidentally the same word used back in Genesis when God drives out Adam and Eve from the garden after the incident we heard about this morning.


So Jesus gets to work figuring out what all this means. Fasting and figuring it out. Also, 40 days isn’t so much like an actual determinate amount of time. 40 is the biblical code number for “a really long time”…think 40 days and nights of rain on the ark, 40 years wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt…40 is just about how long it takes to get to the end of your rope, it’s where you find the outer limits of what you’re capable of doing for yourself.

And after 40 days of fasting, not only is Jesus hangry, Jesus is ripe for temptation.


Enter the Accuser, or the Tempter. Ha’Satahn. The Satan. But not really like pointy horns and a spiked tail that you might be thinking of. We’re not really given a description of this Satan, but I imagine this Tempter looks very unassuming, unexpected almost…a Tempter and a temptation that almost surprise you how crafty they are, and it gets you thinking that maybe what they’re offering doesn’t sound so bad. “Yeah, you know, you’re right…I am the son of God, the Beloved…I could turn these stones to bread, I could throw myself down, I could bow down and worship…especially if I would get some relief from this fasting and this hunger and the weight of everything I’ve just experienced of being told who I am…”


Sometimes temptation isn’t overt and obvious as cheating on a test or putting something in your body you know isn’t healthy for you…sometimes temptation is subtle and unexpected, just a small step off the course you’ve been on. But nonetheless a betrayal of who you are and who God says you are.


It’s a question of voices, right? What voices are you listening to? There’s the voice of God that calls you “Beloved” and calls you “Child.” And there are the voices of the Accuser, telling you you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you’re only as good as what you produce, or only valuable if you look a certain way or think a certain way. And listening to and believing those voices sure can be tempting.


And it’s in these moments, which, if we’re being honest, I think happen way more frequently than we think or maybe are comfortable with—it’s in these moments that our hunger to be close or near to the heart of God is strongest, and rightly so.


So what does that look like, church? What might that look like for you in this season of your life, or even just in this season of Lent? How will you satisfy this hunger to be close to God, or listen more intently for those loving words from God in your life?

I threw some ideas out on Ash Wednesday, but just in case you weren’t here or would like a refresher… Maybe that looks like spending some time with Scripture over your morning coffee, or a devotional over your lunch break. Maybe you’ll set aside 1 hour week to volunteer at the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry Food Pantry or Resale Shop, or help pack fresh fruits and veggies for Armstrong Elementary’s Brighter Bites program. Maybe settling closer to the heart of God looks like a more intentional practice of worship this season. Maybe it’s inviting someone to worship with you. Maybe it’s coming and checking out our Wednesday evening soup suppers and Lenten worship, and inviting someone new to join you. Those Wednesday night worship and dinner experiences are a super-low barrier to entry for someone new. It’s very easy going, plus, we feed you! Not much of a better deal than that.


Whatever it is, church, I encourage you to explore that hunger inside this Lenten season. Try something new to break you out of old habits and ruts, and explore those parts of you that hunger for God’s presence.


The things we say to one another or even ourselves when we’re hungry aren’t always the kindest words.

God always speaks words of love and life, especially in our moments of hangriness.

Listen for God, church.

Know that you are worthy.

Know that you are loved.


Ash Wednesday 2023

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Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

[Jesus said:] 1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your God in heaven.

2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Very truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and God who sees in secret will reward you.

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Very truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to God who is in secret; and God who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Very truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by God who is in secret; and God who sees in secret will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”




Please pray with me this evening, church.

Holy One,

As we embark on our Lenten pilgrimage,

our hearts hunger to hear something true.

Something true about us.

Something true about who we are to you.

Remind us that we are dust, God.

Remind us that we are loved.

Remind us that we are yours.





What a way to step back into the pulpit, huh…?


Ash Wednesday seems like an odd way to start back from my time of parental leave (Thank you, church, by the way…I’ve indeed missed you and it’s good to be back…so let’s talk about death, huh!?) An odd way to start back…and yet…I suppose Ash Wednesday is a beginning of sorts… We mark the beginning of our entry into the season of Lent, our starting point as we embark upon this 40 day journey.

Welcome to the beginning.

A beginning when we talk about the ending.

“Remember that you are only dust…and to dust you will return…”

Having recently borne witness to new life being brought into the world…perhaps due to my pastoral sensibilities or something, I’m not sure, but I couldn’t help but be reminded that in just the next building over, there was someone or several someones fighting for their life. And that at the very moment, our brand new son cried out for the first time, someone else took their last breath.

Death is just as much a part of our lives as birth, yet I think we tend to overemphasize one in our consciousness and downplay the other. Perhaps because from the moment we’re born, we begin the methodical and inevitable march toward our ending. Maybe it’s the billions spent on death avoidance and reversing this trek toward inevitability. Whatever the reason, it is true that death may be a more constant reminder for some than for others.

But today, everyone…from newborns to the eldest among us will hear the same words: “Remember, o mortal one, that you are dust…and to dust you will return.”

Something true about us. But also a promise.

This season of Lent, we’re going to be exploring the idea of hunger. Less of a physical or material hunger, and more of a spiritual hunger, although we will talk some about physical hunger. Fasting, of course, being one of the traditional Lenten practices. Throughout the next 40 days, we’ll talk about our hunger to be known, and our hunger to be loved, among others.

Tonight I thought we’d zero in on our hunger to be told something true about ourselves.

There’s a terrifying moment that happens in the hospital room about 24 hours or so after one has welcomed a new child into the world. All the while you’ve been collecting stacks and packets of papers and information, and all of a sudden a nurse comes in and hands you a new packet and tells you this is the information that will go in a database somewhere and is for the new baby’s birth certificate. And there’s a moment of terror when you—you, in your no-longer-a-young-person-but-not-quite-middle-aged self—are given the gargantuan burden of naming something. Like, permanently.

Maybe you and your partner talked it over months ago. Maybe you waited for inspiration to strike before making such a decision. But at any rate, now it’s time. You have to write something down and that is, at least for now, what this brand-new wonderful child will be called.

This is who you are.

It’s a profound responsibility.

I also want to note how much has changed in the three and a half years since we did this the first time. Three and a half years ago, these were paper forms and so my fear was magnified by worrying if some poor clerk behind a desk would be able to read my chicken scratches. Now it’s all online, so my fears were magnified by the worry that I’d fat-finger something on my phone and they wouldn’t release us with the kid because the last names don’t match.

But in the midst of all the worry and fear and anxiety, there’s something beautiful happening…speaking something into existence. This is who you are.

What is your name, child of God?

How do you call yourself?

What are the words that you say about yourself? Are they kind? Or are they more harsh?

What do you imagine God says about you?

We do have a hunger to be told something true about ourselves.

Remember, o mortal one, that you are dust…and to dust you will return.

In a moment, I’m going to invite you into our shared journey of Lent with Confession and a word of promise. I’m going to say the words, “I invite you, therefore, to the discipline of Lent.”

The discipline of Lent. The practice of Lent.

Church, I encourage you to practice Lent this year. Use this set-aside time as an opportunity to set aside time to practice something new or different for you. The traditional Lenten practices are prayer, and fasting, works of charity, and the giving of alms to the poor. How will you practice Lent this year?

Maybe you’ll set aside 10 minutes each morning to pray. Maybe you’ll try out a new devotional and read and reflect and pray over your lunch break. Maybe you’ll commit to 1 or 2 or 3 hours a week at a new volunteer opportunity for you. Maybe the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry Resale Shop or Food Pantry is looking just for you to help them out a time or two each week. Maybe you’d like to try packing fresh fruits and veggies for students and their families at Armstrong Elementary through their Brighter Bites program every Wednesday morning. Maybe you’ll fast from harsh rhetoric of yourself. Or harsh rhetoric of your neighbor who doesn’t think like you or believe all the same things as you…maybe you’ll fast from those disparaging comments, either online or face-to-face or behind their back, but instead interpret everything your neighbor does or says in the best possible light.

Lent is that opportunity, church.

To practice living into who you are. And who God says you are.

You are beloved. You are beautiful.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are redeemed. You are saved.

You are dust.

Dust that God scoops up from the ground, forms, molds, and creates, and breathes life into.

You are dust.