Third Sunday in Lent 2023

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

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.


Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36

31 Then Jesus said to the Judeans who had believed in him, “When you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 The Judeans answered Jesus, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the Son has a place there forever. 36 “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy One,

You reform the church in every age,

And you call us to be ever-reforming people.

Be our refuge and stronghold in the midst of life’s tumults.

Strengthen us with the gifts of your Spirit.

And nurture and sustain us with your very self

For the work to which you are calling us.





Luther’s foundational Reformation hymn Ein Feste Burg or “A Mighty Fortress” was written between 1527 and 1529, 10 years after what we know as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, but very much in the thick and in the muck of how this Reformation was coming about. Life was far from easy for Brother Martin. See, when you start making suggestions about how those in power should start using their power differently, those in power who want to stay in power don’t like you very much anymore and start trying to make your life incredibly difficult, even dangerous.

There are a handful of theories about when and why Luther composed this hymn, but what isn’t disputed is that Luther based it on the text of Psalm 46:

1 God is our refuge and strength,

  a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,

  and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea;

3 though its waters rage and foam,

  and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

  the holy habitation of the Most High.

5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be shaken;

  God will help it at the break of day.

6 The nations rage, and the kingdoms shake;

  God speaks, and the earth melts away.

7 The Lord of hosts is with us;

  the God of Jacob is our stronghold.


You can hear why such words would be a tremendous comfort for Luther during such a contentious time.


A couple of weeks ago, at our Staff Meeting, I asked our Staff where they were finding refuge and strength these days, where did they find themselves turning for an unshakeable stronghold. Things like the outdoors or gardens, music, meditation, and family came up. These are the things that anchor us in times of difficulty. This place also came up…New Hope. Gathering together with you as God’s people to worship, pray, sing, fellowship, and share in a meal together…this, too, provides a touchpoint or a guidepost…an anchor, if you will…in the midst of some pretty hefty storms.


I wonder about for you, church? Where…or in whom…do you find refuge and strength? What…or who…is your stronghold?


Like Luther, in the midst of turmoil and difficulty, I wonder how many of us would respond with “God” right off the bat? That’s a convicting question for me, too, by the way, because I don’t know that “God” would always be the first words out of my mouth either.


There are some Lutheran pastors and preachers in recent years who are shying away from Reformation Sunday as a cause for celebration. Rather than a kind of Lutheran pep rally and a nostalgic pining for decades gone by, some find it more useful to remain firmly rooted in the present, asking the questions about how the reformed church can continually be reforming. And while I’ve never been one for pep rallies or certainly nostalgia without appropriate thoughtful and realistic reflection, I do think we can honor the gifts of the Protestant Reformation, and particularly the gifts of Lutheran theology, especially in a place and region where a Lutheran interpretation and lens isn’t necessarily a given. I mean, we’re split about 50/50 here at New Hope, those who were born into and grew up in the Lutheran church, and those who came to Lutheranism later in life…some of us much later, like in the past couple of years. And so a helpful reflection on some basic Lutheran theological understandings can be a really welcome and good thing.


Especially on a Sunday when we also celebrate a Confirmation.

Congratulations, again, Joe. We’re very proud of you.


That’s what Confirmation is, really. A time of working out and figuring out what we mean by this word “Lutheran.”


I had a rather rude learning a couple of months ago. I knew that Lutherans weren’t the only ones who participated in Confirmation, right? Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians all have some version of Confirmation as well. But Lutherans, as I understand it, are really the only ones who make such a big deal out of it. I mean, Confirmation for Lutherans is like a 2 year process. Some churches stretch it out to a 3 year process…so, you know…you’re welcome, Joe. And to our other Confirmation students: you’re welcome.

But for like our Episcopalian and Methodist siblings, did you know Confirmation is only like a 2 week process? Yeah…some churches do a few evenings over a couple of weeks in the summer, and that’s the extent of their Confirmation learning. I mean, at first I was jealous, but then I was a little incredulous. “What do you mean 2 weeks? How could you possibly learn everything you needed to learn in just 2 weeks?”


Starting this year, we’ve also changed our process around Confirmation here at New Hope. Over the summer, Pastor Janelle and I sat down and we started with a conversation about what we hope to accomplish with Confirmation, what’s our goal. And pretty quickly, we arrived at a place where we understood that we’re interested more in formation than information. In regards to Confirmation, I’m less concerned with what you know, and more interested in how you come to understand and wrestle with your faith and how you can use it as a tool to help guide and ground you in your lifelong journey of discipleship going forward. Rather than being able to answer Lutheran trivia questions, my goal for our Confirmation students is to be able to say “Why does my faith matter? Who is this God, who is this Jesus…and how does my relationship with them have an impact and influence on my life?”


It’s why over the course of the year, you’ll hear me invite all of you to our Confirmation Retreats. We’ve got 4 times throughout the year, a couple of hours on a Sunday after worship, where we’re diving into Lutheran history, Lutheran theology, living a life rooted in Lutheransim, plus learning about Baptism and Communion. And the reason we’re opening these up and inviting all of you wonderful people is two fold: first, we believe that we have much more to learn from each other than we do siloed apart from one another, and two, maybe it’s been a while since you were Confirmed and you could use a refresher, or maybe you were never Confirmed and you want to know more about just what this whole Lutheran thing is all about. This is some what we’ll be tackling in these mini-retreats. And you are invited…encouraged…urged, even…to attend and participate.


Why does your faith matter?

Especially as we journey throughout our lives, having some place to return to when the inevitable storm arises is helpful. Your faith can be that stronghold, that anchor. God can be that refuge. At it’s best, the congregation, the community of faith, the gathered and assembled body of Christ can be and is your strength and fortress in the myriad of your life’s difficulties.

Because Lord knows life can be difficult. And in those moments it’s the love and care and compassion and generosity and forgiveness and grace shown to us by others that sustains us. A love, care, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, and grace we learned, by the way, from being recipients of those same gifts from God. We share only what we have been first given.


This is a theme that Joe reflected on in his final Confirmation project, a theme Joe lifted up from 1 John 4:19: “We love because God first loved us.” We only know how to love because we were first shown love by God, through Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God so fundamentally demonstrated God’s love for us, for all of humanity, that our whole lives are lived as a response to this incredible gift.


It’s a gift that we sometimes struggle to receive. Which puts us in good company, by the way, because it was one of Luther’s struggles, as well. One of Luther’s most serious wrestlings was with this idea that he could never be good enough to be seen as acceptable in God’s eyes.

Justification is this idea of “right relationship,” of being in good standing, in our relationship with God. Think of justification as in like alignment in a document or on a page, you can align to the right or to the left or to the center, and then there’s the justified alignment, where the left and the right sides are both aligned. This is justification, of being in correct alignment in our relationship with God.


Luther’s tortured wrestling is a mirror to our own. One of our greatest fears as humans when it comes to our relationship with the divine is that somehow we could never be seen as good enough or acceptable to God. And we come by this fear honestly. In all of our dealings with other people, our relationships tend to come with a set of expectations or a sense of quid pro quo, you do this for me and I’ll do this for you. Whether real or imagined, we believe that our relationships with other people are predicated on this idea that either you want something from me or you can do something for me.

In Romans, St. Paul writes that we have been justified with God through Christ. That through the faith, and the faithfulness, of Jesus, all of humanity has been put in this correct alignment, this right relationship with God. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God is reconciling the entire world back to God’s own self. No longer do we have to worry about not being seen as good enough or acceptable to God, because through Christ, we are made to be in right and aligned relationship.


And it’s this gift that gets lived out in our relationships with others. It’s the church, the community of faith, that holds these gifts for and gives these gifts to one another. And it’s why your participation is so vital, church. Your presence here matters, deeply, because you are that refuge and strength, you are that stronghold, you are the body of Christ, the enfleshed embodiment of God, to and for someone else when they’re going through those tumultuous storms.


You wonder if your presence and involvement makes a difference? It does.

Look around you right now. See the faces of those who have held you during difficult times, look into the eyes of those who have promised to care for you and comfort you in all that is to come.


You are God’s gift to one another. The body of Christ.

Here at this font. Here at this table.

Here is your refuge. Here is your strength.

Celebrate that gift. Honor it.

God is with you, and you are here for each other.

That’s a truth, a freedom, and a gift that will never fail.


Pentecost 2022

John 14:8-17, 25-27

8 Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us God, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to Philip, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen God. How can you say, ‘Show us God’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in God and God is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but it is God who dwells in me who does these works. 11 Have faith in me that I am in God and God is in me; but if you do not, then have faith in me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who trusts in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to God. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that God may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask God, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees nor knows that Spirit. You know that Spirit, because that Spirit abides with you, and will be in you.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy Spirit,

Move in this place.

Stir our hearts, rouse us from complacency.

Settle over us with your comfort and peace.

Move in us, again, this morning.

Call us, enlighten us, and move us.





I want to start by saying thank you, church. Last week was a difficult week. For all of us. No one wants to see and experience what we collectively went through last week. But if we are to be stirred in our hearts and in our spirits to create meaningful change in our world, we must be honest about the brokenness, hurt, and pain in our world, we must be willing to look at and not look away from that hurt. It is by beholding the wounds of our siblings and honoring their hurt that our own hearts are broken open for the Spirit to do their work in stirring and rousing us to action.


So thank you. I know it wasn’t easy, and I pray it never becomes easy for us. But I do hope and pray fervently for the day when sermons like last week’s, and prayers and litanies for victims of gun violence are no longer needed.


In the liturgical wisdom of the early church mothers and fathers, the Day of Pentecost comes 10 days after the Feast of the Ascension, 50 days after the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. After Jesus is taken away from the disciples, their instructions are to return to Jerusalem and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, which indeed does arrive as we heard in our readings this morning. This is the beginning of the church movement, the beginning of the ministry instituted by Jesus that begins from Jerusalem and then spreads into Judea and Syria and the surrounding areas, and then through the mission and ministry of the earliest apostles—Peter, Paul, Silas, Tabitha, Thomas, Apollos, Lydia, and so many others—the church spreads beyond that, into modern-day Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Greece, and even into Italy and Rome. And the Holy Spirit is the driving force of this movement.


I’ve found it helpful to try and understand the Holy Spirit as that which moves me, that which propels me, in the work of discipleship that I’ve been called to by God through my baptism.

Once more…for me, I’ve found it helpful to try and understand the Holy Spirit as that which moves me, that which propels me, in the work of discipleship that I’ve been called to by God through my baptism.

The Holy Spirit is an active, moving force. It inspires, it enlightens, it mediates between people. It’s the Holy Spirit that draws God’s people together, and is active in their midst, mediating their conversations and discernment, and ultimately propelling them out into the world to be the people God has called them to be through their baptism.


I lament that we don’t have more days celebrating this movement and the activity of this holy troublemaker. Because let’s be honest…the Spirit…she can be a troublemaker…

We set apart this Day of Pentecost with our red paraments—which, it should be noted, are different than our scarlet paraments that we use for Holy Week—and I suppose I’m grateful that, at least in the Lutheran tradition, we also bring out these same red paraments for Reformation Sunday in October, but I lament that we only get 2 Sundays of red paraments because it means I only get 2 Sundays to wear my red stole. And I love my red stole because it was gifted to me at my ordination, as are most pastors’ red stoles, and I would just like to wear it more often. So if the liturgical powers that be would get to work on that, I’d be appreciative.

But it does strike me as highly appropriate to so closely align the Reformation with Pentecost because the Reformation, too, was and is about the movement of the Spirit among communities, the drawing together of God’s people, and the spread of the Gospel message throughout and beyond Germany and Europe. The Reformation was about finding something central and true amidst a wide diversity of expression within the church.


Pentecost, too, I think, is about something central, true, and universal in the midst of great diversity. Like we heard in our reading from Acts, the Spirit loves diversity, the Spirit births diversity. Can we see and view and honor that diversity in our faith communities as a gift and something to be celebrated, rather than something to be overcome or argued about, or at worst, glossed over and assimilated?


“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.”

What “other languages” has God given New Hope to speak? Think beyond the wide diversity of spoken languages you’ve heard already heard and will hear this morning. Hasn’t God given New Hope the gifts of language, or the ability to speak the language, from other communities as well—the gay and lesbian community, the trans* community, the queer and questioning community, the LGBTQIA2+ community broadly…(Happy Pride, by the way, beloveds)…communities of color, the African descent community, the Latino community, the South American community, the community of South Asian descent…the neurodivergent community, those in the communities of mental illness, the community of parents, grandparents, the community of parents who struggle with infertility…divorced folks, single folks, the cancer community, the alcoholic community, the recovery community—we have so many gifts, so many different languages that are spoken here, beyond just spoken languages.


I think the question of Pentecost is how to honor all of those gifts, how to lift them up and celebrate them. Can we see our giftedness as cause and reason for celebration and excitement and something to be witnessed to and something to invite others to experience?


The Spirit of Pentecost is one of witness and testimony and invitation. The Spirit gave the disciples the ability to say something true about God…something true about what they had experienced in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus…gave the disciples a way to speak and witness and testify to that truth in a way that others could hear it and receive it.


“We hear all of them in our own languages. We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

What has God done in your life, church? How has God blessed and enriched your life and your family’s life as a result of experiencing the giftedness of New Hope?


This same Spirit of truth and love and equality and justice is alive and active and moving in this place. Where do you see the Spirit at work? How will you witness to what you’ve seen and experienced?


The Spirit moves and invites you to extend the invitation.

An incredibly overwhelming majority of people visit a church and a community of faith because someone they know, someone the trust, someone they have a relationship with invited them. Even if they’ve already got a worshiping community they’re a part of, most folks will take you up on the invitation to join them. (Especially if you tell them that you’ll take them out for brunch afterward…)


The Spirit loves diversity.

The Spirit births diversity.

Your beautifully designed, colorful tapestry, rainbow of diversity is a gift.

To me. To the church.

And to God.

Listen and look for the Spirit, church.

She’s moving. They’re moving. Mightily.


Fifth Sunday of Easter 2022

John 13:31-35

31 When Judas had gone out from the room, Jesus said, “Now the Son of humanity has been glorified, and God has been glorified in the Son. 32 If God has been glorified in the Son, God will also glorify the Son in God’s own self and will glorify the Son at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jewish believers so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment so that you love one another. As I have loved you in order that you also love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of love,

Love us back to life again this morning.

Call us again and lead us by your example.

Show us the breadth and depth of your love.

Give us courage to live out that love

In our lives and in our world.





It’s been a tough few weeks at the Michaelis house. Well, honestly, it’s been a tough few months, but it all kind of runs together, and eh, who’s really counting and keeping score, right?

One of the, shall we say, “blessings” of having a pandemic child, or at least a child who’s lived more of their life within than out of a global pandemic, is that the germs and stuff around your house largely don’t change. So when they start going to preschool and interacting with other kids and other houses’ germs…well…it does a number on their immune system. Throw in an oppressively bad spring allergy season, and the conditions are ripe for a sickness that just won’t end.


And when the 2-, almost 3-, year old isn’t happy…ain’t no one happy.


Now, full credit to my spouse who is apparently the only one who can do literally anything that the toddler will approve of…but, as I said, ain’t no one happy right now at our house.

Such is life, for this season.


It reminds me of something that I heard from a good friend and mentor that I usually fit in somewhere to most wedding sermons I’ve done: “Marriage isn’t something you do when you’re in love; marriage is what keeps you together until you fall in love again.”

In times of particular strife in our household, usually onset by a severe lack of sleep, when I find myself having less than charitable thoughts and being less than kind toward my spouse and our kid, I need to be reminded of the promises we made to each other, and the promises I made to her, that help sort of bring me back to a centered place, a place where my emotions and feelings and knee-jerk reactions and flat-out jerk reactions can level out, and I can remember that even in the “worse” parts of “for better or worse”, my commitment to those promises and this person has to be greater than my very strong desire for a couple more hours of sleep.

Although honestly, the two can run fairly close to each other, you know?


I say all this because in our gospel this morning, Jesus has some very particular words to say about love. And marriage is one of, though by no means, the only, place where love gets lived out in relationship.


Remember that we just heard these words from Jesus about a month ago on Maundy Thursday. Just before our gospel reading today picks up, Jesus gets up from dinner, ties a towel around his waist, and washes his disciples’ feet. A humbling act of love and tenderness and service, when a teacher and Rabbi and master submits themselves to their students and servants and friends.


Now, a couple of weeks ago, when Peter and some other disciples were fishing, and Jesus was cooking brunch on the beach, and Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him…you remember this? I mentioned in that sermon to ask me some time about the differences in the words Jesus uses for love and the word Peter uses for love. Because, I said, that sermon was not about this, but this one kind of is, so permit me to get a little nerdy on you for a second.

Back a couple of weeks ago, after brunch, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you have agape love for me?” And Peter responds to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know I have philia love for you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” A second time, Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you have agape love for me?” Peter responds, “Yeah Lord, you know I’ve got philia love for you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” A third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, son of John, do you even have philia love for me?” And Peter, now quite upset since Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” responds, “Lord, you know…everything…you know I have…philia love for you…?” Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”


On the surface, and certainly in English translations, this doesn’t sound like much of an encounter. As I said 2 weeks ago, I think the author of John is using poetic devices to have Peter respond to Jesus’ questions 3 times to mirror or account for the 3 times that Peter denies Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. But the differences in the words used for “love” is important here.

See, the Greeks had 4 different words that they used, all to describe love. C.S. Lewis has a pretty good treatment of all of these in his book The Four Loves. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. The 4 types of Greek love are storge, eros, philia, and agape. There’s not so much a hierarchy as it is they all describe different aspects of love. The exception to this would be agape which is seen as kind of the highest form of love, certainly and especially for Christians.

Storge is empathy. It’s the kind of love between family members and friends and neighbors. It’s a form of love that comes more naturally for us; it’s affection, but it’s pitfall, as Lewis saw it, is that people come to expect it irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.

Eros is romantic love. You could have guessed that. It’s where we get our word “erotic.” It’s passion, sometimes sexual in nature, but it can be blinding, making us act in ways that would otherwise be very out of character for us.

Philia is strong friend love, brotherly/sisterly/sibling-type love—philia actually means “brother” or “sibling” in Greek. This is probably the least natural type of love for us because it’s not instinctive—you choose your close friends. Philia was very well known and prized in the ancient world, and Lewis saw it as all but being forgotten in our modern times.

Agape, as you might know, is God love. Perfect love. It’s completely unconditional. It’s selfless. Completely. The Greeks and Lewis largely saw it as unattainable by humans.


Jesus asks Peter if Peter has agape love for him. Peter responds with, “Of course, Lord, you know I have philia love for you.”

For whatever reason, Peter couldn’t get all the way to where Jesus was in this expression of love.


I think we, like Peter, aspire to our Lord’s example and hope of embodying agape love in our lives…but imperfect beings that we are, we seem to always come up short of the mark.


In my best ideals about myself, I want to believe that the love I have for even my sick kid who upsets me when I just want to sleep or my spouse who gets annoyed when she, too, just wants to sleep is unconditional. I aspire for it to be, I want it to be. I don’t know that it is always.


Because the thing about agape love is that it is sacrificial.

There’s another line I include in almost every wedding sermon, and I said it in my sermon on Maundy Thursday when we last heard these verses from John, and that is “Love costs you something.” Love requires you to give something up. In my wedding sermons, I go on, “Love will cost you the need to always be right, and to win every argument. Love requires give and take and compromise. Love requires giving up your life for the sake of this new collective life.

Love will cost you not having the last say every time. It will cost you swallowing your pride and saying you’re sorry, unqualified and unasked for. Love will cost you the vindication of pulling all the blankets onto yourself because you’re so mad at the person that you think they shouldn’t get the blankets.

Love requires laying down your life.

Laying down the need to be right all the time. Laying down the need for the last word.

Laying down the need for vindication.

Love is costly.”


This is the kind of love that Jesus models for the disciples and the love Jesus asks his disciples to embody in the world.

“By this will the world know that you are my disciples, if you have agape love for one another, for your neighbor, for the world.”


Agape is sacrificial. It always seeks the absolute best for the one being loved, expecting and asking for nothing in return. It is completely turned outward. Agape is giving up of yourself. It is self-emptying—in Greek what is known as kenosis—literally, “being poured out.” Like water into a basin for washing feet. Like blood and water streaming out of a pierced and wounded side on the cross.

Emptying yourself for the sake of others and for the sake of the world.


Last week we talked about the love God has for you, how you are known and loved and named by God. And church, if God has such love for you, what kind of responsibility—what’s the call on your life—to embody that love in your relationships with others?


Church, what if we were a community that was defined and known by how well we cared for each other and our neighbors? What if our defining characteristic wasn’t our worship or our Sunday School or how many people call themselves members, but in a survey that asked “How well do you find yourself cared for, how well do you find your wounds tended and bandaged, how well do you find your joys celebrated and your sorrows held and prayed for at New Hope Lutheran Church?”…what if in that survey we could say that 100% of the people said 10 out of 10, I feel that I’m exceptionally well-cared for, and I feel like the people I worship with and share my life with are deeply invested in my life, and I in theirs.

What if we were a community of faith that our neighbors could say that about, as well? How many of our neighbors, church, do you think know how well we can love or how fervently we can show up in a time of need? Can you just imagine? Can you even imagine how much of an impact that would have, not just on you, not just on the people here…but the kind of impact it would make in a community and world that is desperate for good news?


May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and church, in so many of the conversations I’ve had with parishioners over the past couple of weeks, I need you to know that there are a lot of folks who aren’t ok. I also need you to hear me say that if you’re one of those folks if you’re someone who’s not feeling ok right now, that it is absolutely ok to not be ok. Your struggle matters. I am here during this time, God is here during this time, and I think and I believe that this church is here during this time. And if you need something, I am someone you can come to and I can try and get you connected with folks in my network who can help. But church, you need to know that a good number of people aren’t ok, they’re really struggling with any number of things. And overwhelmingly, it’s our young folks who are struggling. That might not be where you are. Things might be just fine in your life, but please hear me say that for a good number of our young folks, they’re really and truly struggling.


What could it mean for you to reach out? How could you give of yourself to extend a hand and invite them to coffee or lunch and let them share their life with you? How can you reach out in love and empty yourself for the sake of someone who just needs to know there’s a community of faith that cares deeply about them and truly loves them?


What if we were a community of faith that truly loved?


By this will the world know that you are followers of Jesus.

If you have self-giving, self-emptying, sacrificial love for each other.

For your friends.

For your neighbors.

For strangers.

And for the world.


Fourth Sunday of Easter 2022

John 10:22-30

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Judeans gathered around Jesus and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, if you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in God’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not trust, because you do not belong to my sheep.

27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What God has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of God’s hand. 30 God and I are one.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Mothering God,

Hold us. Reassure us.

In the midst of so much in our world,

Remind us that we are yours.

That we are known.

That we are loved.





One of my favorite and tried-and-true ways of clearing my head and doing a good amount of thinking is to go for a drive. Actually, before Oliver was born that’s how I would start my sermon writing process—pull through Starbucks, get the big coffee, and drive while thinking about the scripture lessons and what I might preach about. If I get super-stuck, I’ll still pull that trick out, but my schedule’s much different now and I don’t have the same time in the same way that I had before. All good, all things change.

That, and with the price of gas these days…sheesh…it would be a very expensive part of my process.


But the thing about driving for clarity and thinking is that if you’re trying to work something out in your mind, you can’t be super-worried about where you’re going. You either need to be willing to find your way back with a map, or you need to be on a road or a route with not a lot of variation. Too many twists and turns and you’re defeating the purpose. It can’t be too complicated.

And although it’s no longer part of my regular sermon writing process, I still do enjoy a good drive. It’s uncomplicated. I find it’s easy. And I don’t have to be so sure of the end result before I set off.

But again…gas prices, you know…


I’d be willing to venture a guess that you, too, could use a little less complication in your life. Am I right? A little bit easier. A little bit more clear and certain. Yeah?


“How long will you keep us in suspense? Are you the Messiah, the Christ? Are you the real deal? Tell us plainly.”

Make it clear. Make it uncomplicated for us. Tell us.


The Jewish believers in Jerusalem want certainty. They want what Thomas wanted from Jesus (…if we had heard about Thomas on the Sunday after Easter instead of me changing it the Road to Emmaus…) These people want from Jesus what I feel like most of us all want from Jesus. Certainty.

Tell me, Jesus. Tell me who you are. Reassure me that you are who people say you are.

Tell me, show me, that you really can do the things that people say you can, because truthfully, Jesus…things are starting to feel like they’re getting a little messed up around here, and I really need to know that you can do the whole saving and healing thing. I don’t know if faith is enough to sustain me in this current storm, so I’m gonna need you to do the thing everyone seems to believe you can do…I’m gonna need you to do some fixing…



We crave it.


Former Senior Pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, of blessed memory, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin said, “All of us tend to hold certainty dearer than truth.”

Wow…even if it’s not true, we’ll still believe it as long as someone tells us we can be sure about it. This is how we start taking investing and medical advice from facebook, by the way.


So how do we work it all out? How do we work out what’s true, what we can be certain about? What can make things a little less complicated than they are?


“I’ve told you, and you don’t believe,” Jesus tells the Judeans who are pressing him. “The things that I do in God’s name testify to me and testify to God…If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.”

In other words, Jesus says, see my body of work. See what I’ve done. Refer back to the blind beggar whose sight was restored. Refer back to the wedding at Cana when abundance was served up for the celebration. Healing. Wholeness. 5,000 people fed on a side of a mountain from 5 loaves and 2 fish, and oh, by the way, there were bushels of leftovers. Religious, gender, ethnic, social, and societal boundaries crossed and expanded at a well in Samaria.

Over and over and over again, Jesus shows us a God of abundance, of extravagance, of healing and wellness, of wholeness. Over and over and over again Jesus shows us God in the flesh, and yet we struggle to believe and trust in it because it flies in the face of everything the world tells you is the way things are supposed to work—scarcity, sickness, illness, dis-ease, conflict, war, outrage…

When we desire certainty, God refers us back to the times and moments in our lives that God healed or provided wellness or wholeness or lavished us with abundance.

God’s desire is always for life. Always, always for life, and life abundant.

It is God’s desire, and it is God’s promise.

It’s not complicated, it’s just difficult to trust.


I love that we have a baptism this morning because I don’t think there’s any clearer example of trust and faith in the face of so much uncertainty. There’s so much we don’t know about what our lives hold and what the world will be like. But for just a brief moment, God reaches into our world…heaven and earth touch…and in the simple, uncomplicated ritual of water running over her head, Ellie will hear the voice of God whispering in her ear, “My dear, sweet child…you are mine.”

And with any luck, church, you will have heard it, too.


The simple, clear, uncomplicated truth…that you are God’s. That God delights in you. That God desires life for you. That there is nothing in all of creation that can take you from God’s hand.

Because you, dear, sweet sheep, are known. You are known, and loved, and claimed, and named by God. You…are God’s.


You, Ellie, are God’s beloved. You, Augie, are God’s beloved.

You, Andy…you, Ashley…you, Joanne…you, Buddy…you, Dwight…you, Julie, Andrew, Danny, Jessica, Judy, Suzanne, Piper, Tim, Janelle, Brad, Karen, John, Beth, Abby, Mike, Wanda, Linda, Cheryl, Kim, Diane…mothers, motherly figures, stepmoms, grandmothers, dads, single parents, divorced parents, aunts, uncles, cousins…you with no kids, you who don’t want children, you who want children but struggle with infertility…you, who struggle…you…are God’s beloved.

Mother’s Day can be a complicated day, but this truth is not.


You are loved. So much. So deeply.

Please, hear me say that.

Amidst so much else going on, hear this…know this…you are known by God. You are loved by God. So much.

That’s true. That’s certain.


Third Sunday of Easter 2022

John 21:1-19

1 Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to Jesus, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.) After this Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Risen and living God,

When we find our ways frustrated,

call us to try a new way.

When our spirits are dried up and weary,

fill us with good things.

Call us again this morning.

Remind us of your call on our lives.





I spent this past week down in Rockport, taking a little break with my family, enjoying some time off and trying to rest a little bit. The beach is just one place that we enjoy for some time away. But especially after the lengthy pilgrimage through Lent and the marathon of Holy Week and Easter, some time to fill myself back up and spending some quality uninterrupted time with my people is needed.


One of my colleagues recently quipped, “Why is it that when we talk about God’s desire or God’s call or our call as disciples that it’s always that God wants us to ‘do’ something? Why is no one telling me that God might want me to rest?”


I’ve been reflecting on that this week, thinking about where I am, where we are as a community of faith, and where God might be calling us next. And while there’s certainly work to be done, there has to be an appropriate rhythm between production and rest. Amen? You’ve probably heard it popularly expressed something like, you can’t pour into others from an empty cup. Church, how are you filling yourself up so that you can be for others what they need?


“Come, have breakfast,” Jesus says.


My man…

I’m a sucker for breakfast.


The post-resurrection gospels are some of my favorites, and especially after I switched up our gospel reading last week, I feel like we’re getting some of what I personally feel are the greatest hits this year. Road to Emmaus last week, and brunch on the beach this week, plus we always get Good Shepherd Sunday on Easter 4 next week. It’s all really good stuff. I love them because post-resurrection Jesus doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. Last week, I imagined Jesus sort of playing along with the disciples’ disbelieving as they were on the way to Emmaus—“Are you the only one who hasn’t heard…?” “No! What things?!” To a totally chill and relaxed vibe this morning—lounging on the beach, grilling some fish, eating some brunch, “Come and have some breakfast…”

Yeah, Jesus…this is totally my speed.


Contrary to what I feel like we’ve all been taught and the stew in which we’re all swimming, we can’t “go-go-go” 100% of the time. You are so much more than your output, dear people. We must have a balance between our doing and our resting.

Even fields need seasons to be fallow if they hope to produce good and abundant harvests well into the future. Did you know that if you only tried to grow things in a field all of the time, the crop would use up all of the nutrients in the soil and eventually the crops would dry up and wither away? Giving fields seasons to rest allows the soil to replenish nutrients that are drawn away by the crops and allows those fields to continue feeding their harvest for years and years and years.

Are you with me? Rest is necessary. In fact, it’s commanded. I think we forget that.


Tricia Hersey, known as the Nap Bishop, founded the Nap Ministry in 2016. She advocates rest as resistance. Amidst all the hustle and grind culture, and the pervasive attitudes of “go-go-go”, packed schedules, and calendars calibrated to the quarter-hour, the idea of slowing down is a revolutionary and counter-cultural one. She says, “As a Black woman in America, rest is a tool for liberation and healing…It’s about more than naps. It’s not about fluffy pillows, expensive sheets, silk sleep masks, or any other external, frivolous, consumerist gimmick. It is about a deep unraveling from violent and evil systems. Rest pushes back and disrupts a system that views human bodies as a tool for production and labor. It is a counter narrative. We know that we are not machines. We are divine.” Think about it, church, when was the last time someone told you to take a break? Not as something you earn, but as something you are inherently worthy of. Rest as righteous and holy protest against the powers and principalities, the empires that constantly tell you you are nothing more than your production.

Opt out of the rat race, dear children. Because this is not a race and you are not rats.

You are divine. Even God rested. Not as reward, but because it is necessary.


There is a rhythm to rest and production. Just as we can’t go-go-go 100% of the time, neither are we free to sit back on our laurels and do nothing at all all the time. The poet in Ecclesiastes reminds us, “To everything there is a season.” Just as the season of Lent journeys us toward the cross, and with purpose, the season of Easter journeys us to Ascension Sunday and Pentecost, the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit moves mightily and propels us out from the doors we lock ourselves behind. The mission continues, the work goes on, the call to discipleship that God has placed on your life moves forward.


And the call, mission, and ministry is what it always has been: love the people. Love them.

As easy…and as difficult…as that.


Lord knows it isn’t always easy. But when we find our way or our path frustrated, perhaps God is calling us to try a new way. Like the disciples who had fished all night, Jesus told them to simply try the other side of the boat, and they found what you’ve heard from this pulpit countless times, that God is a God of abundance. What new direction is God calling you this morning? What new direction is God calling New Hope? We just have to be attentive and responsive to God’s call.


Paul receives this call on his way to Damascus…turned from zealous persecutor to prolific disciple. Peter gets this call from Jesus on the beach. Three times Jesus presses Peter. Peter is essentially given the opportunity to undo what he had done just a week before, and the author of John is being extremely poetic in doing so. After Jesus’ arrest in the garden, Peter and another disciple go with Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest. Peter finds himself beside a charcoal fire, denying Jesus three times. This morning, on the beach, Peter once again finds himself beside a charcoal fire, and Jesus asking him three times, “Do you love me?”

A three-fold denial…a three-fold affirmation of love.

These questions are much more for Peter’s sake than Jesus’. Peter finds himself in the abundance of God’s mercy and compassion.


I won’t spend time this morning with the Greek words, because that’s not what this sermon is about, but ask me sometime about the words Jesus uses for love and the words Peter responds with. It’s a fascinating study. But suffice it to say, the call on your life, dear disciple, is to love. To feed lambs, to tend sheep, to feed sheep.

Your call is to love.


A lot of times that call will find you standing alongside the oppressed and the vulnerable, advocating for fair systems, and taking on the many injustices in the world. That will always be true.

Sometimes loving others will find you taking some moments to restore yourself, to renew your own spirit. Because you can’t pour into others from an empty cup.


Make time and find opportunities to rest and restore, church.

Take moments to fill yourself up so you can be for others what they need.

Come. Have brunch.

Come. Be nourished at God’s table of grace.

Take delight and rest in God’s abundance for you, dear child.

Receive God’s love for you, that you would be God’s love for the world.


Good Friday 2022

John 18:1—19:42

The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ




Please pray with me this evening, church:

Holy God,

Hold us in our hurt and suffering.

Draw us close to you.

Draw us to the cross.

Draw us in as we behold your suffering and death,

And in so doing, behold our salvation.





Love is costly, dear friends.


As we enter into this night of longest shadows, it’s worth remembering that love led us to this place. Love brought us here, and love will lead us out of here, but for now, they believe they have succeeded in putting love to death.

They did put love to death. Love did die. And so, for now, the powers of this world have succeeded in silencing love. And so we’ll sit here, rest here, in this nighttime of the soul, this gloom of doubt and despair. We won’t rush out of the tomb just yet. We’ll stay here. Watch. And pray.


We’ve been talking throughout this Holy Week about participation. And mostly about our participation in this narrative. Where do you find yourself in the story…how will you make space and be involved in these liturgies…what’s your role here… And Good Friday is about participation, too.

But in addition to our participation and our role in this story, Good Friday is a love story about God’s participation with us.


See, I think it’s good and worthwhile to explore the parts of ourselves that often come up in the Passion story of Jesus. It is true…that there are sometimes when I’m not as awake and attentive to the suffering in the world as Jesus has asked me to be. There are times that I do deny ever knowing the name Jesus…or at least, times when Jesus doesn’t get my full-throated endorsement, or I’m less than forthcoming about the faith that is in me. There are times I’m tempted to trade off extravagant and scandalous love for a few bucks.

What about you? Do you ever find yourself so offended by radically inclusive love that you’d just as soon see that love and inclusion put to death and buried away so you wouldn’t have to look at it or think about it again? Have you ever ridiculed love for being weak and not able to stand against the powers and personalities of this empire that tell you to be tough, have thick skin, and be strong, no matter who you have to step over or step on or crush underfoot to get ahead?

We do participate in this Good Friday story.


But redemption comes in recognizing that this is still a story about God. Good Friday is God’s deepest participation with us and our story…with you and your story. In the crucifixion and death of Christ, God demonstrates the height and depth and length God will go to be in solidarity with humanity…with you, dear child.

There is no place God won’t go, no human experience God wouldn’t go through, to show you just how much God loves you. There is nowhere God won’t go to be in relationship with you.

Christ’s participation in the fullness of our story, in the fullness of our human experience…by dying, God joins God’s self to your human story. God experiences the very deepest parts of human pain and anguish…so that you would know that no matter what your story, no matter your suffering, no matter how grim and gloomy and despairing you feel, no matter your circumstances…God has been there, too.

God knows your pain and hurt. It’s a knowledge that cost Love its very life.

It’s a knowledge that cost Love everything.


But it’s a cost that came along with a hope that you would know just how much God loves you and cares for you…that you would know that even when you feel furthest from love, that God remains by your side…holding you, embracing you, walking with you through this valley of the shadow of death.


Love is costly, dear friends.


– – – – – – – – – –


In a moment, you’ll be invited to reflect on this love. We’ve set up Stations of the Cross around our Sanctuary and we invite you to get up and move around, as you are able. You may wish to visit the stations in turn, or you may feel free to visit them in whatever order you like.


I invite you to reflect on this mystery of love incarnate. The mystery of a love that chooses death. Reflect on your participation in this narrative. I bet you’ll find more in common than you think.

We’ve had similar experiences, too.


When have you felt betrayed? When have you betrayed someone else or someone else’s trust?

When have you denied knowing the name Jesus? When have you refrained from inviting someone to experience God’s love? When have you withheld your own love from someone else?

When have you been mocked? When have you been the one doing the mocking?

When have you stumbled under a heavy burden? When have you neglected to help someone who you’ve seen struggling with their own burdens?

When have you felt close to death? When have you looked away from pain and suffering because doing so would have made you responsible for trying to do something about it?


This story is your story, church.

It is the story of your salvation.


Love is costly.

Love does die.


But love can not stay buried away.

Love can not and will not stay dead.


Maundy Thursday 2022

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to God. Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end. 2 The Tempter had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray Jesus. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that God had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After Jesus had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Rabbi and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Rabbi, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31b “Now the Son of humanity has been glorified, and God has been glorified in the Son. 32 If God has been glorified in the Son, God will also glorify the Son in God’s self and will glorify the Son at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Judeans so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”




Please pray with me this evening, church:

Holy God,

During these holy days, we confess

that there is a lot about ourselves that feel unloveable.

As we wrestle with pain and anger and cruelty in our world,

pattern a posture of love for us.

Love that offers healing where there is hurt.

Love that offers service where there is derision.

Love that overcomes even the grave.





The culmination of this Holy Week—the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and life—begins as one should begin every important undertaking in one’s life…with a meal.

Even Jesus seems to recognize that you gotta eat. And for all the eternal and cosmic significance we ascribe to Jesus’ final days on this earth, Jesus certainly spends this Holy Week doing very human, almost ordinary, things: touching, healing, riding, chasing, eating, washing…dying… As much as the 4th gospel is not my favorite, for all the all-knowing and all-powerful characteristics that the author ascribes to Jesus, the gospel writer of John does account in meticulous detail the life and ministry of Jesus, and particularly this final holy week. The author of John goes to great lengths to capture the fullness of the culmination of this earthly ministry.


The beginning of the end begins…with a meal.


I remarked on Palm Sunday that our Lenten Midweek Services were some of the most worshipful moments I had experienced in a long, long time. And I mean that. Worship in our Sanctuary with all you fine people is always wonderful, but there was something about being gathered together in our Fellowship Hall around tables and around food and drink and music and sacred story…something about that time together that just touched a part deep within myself, it felt really holy. And I’m grateful for that.


Sharing a meal together is a very intimate act. You can learn a lot about someone by eating with them. You can pick up on their habits—for good, and for bad… There’s something disarming about food, I think. People tend to open up a little bit more when there’s a table that serves as a kind of buffer between you and food spread around between you able to be shared together. In my experience, agreeing to share a meal with you indicates that this person, at some level, feels safe with you.

Sharing a meal together can be a tender, intimate act.


Knowing that the hour was coming to depart and go to God, Jesus shares a meal with his friends…his closest friends, the inner circle. So very ordinary, and yet so profoundly holy. An intimate and tender moment between disciples and Rabbi, “Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end.”


And then Jesus interrupts this tender time together and breaks in with another tender act. He gets water and towels, stoops down, and begins to wash their feet.

In the ancient world, in the first century, washing one’s feet was common, even having one’s feet washed by someone else was common. There weren’t paved roads and sidewalks, you walked on dirt and dust everywhere. And mostly you wore some version of a sandal. All of which is to say, your feet took a beating. And they got incredibly dirty. And before you would enter a house, you would shake off the dust from your feet, but there would always be some dirt caked on and so you would need to wash your feet. And mostly people had servants who would do this for them, hired servants, servants of the house…but this was a servant’s job, a role for some of the very lowest in the societal ladder. Certainly not the posture of a Rabbi, of a teacher.


Jesus continues to demonstrate the upside-down and backwards nature of the way God intends, the same upside-down and backwards nature we saw and heard about a few days ago on Palm Sunday. The dominion of God, God’s vision for how the world should work, is a subversive inversion of the way things are set up. Both then, in the Roman Empire, and now, in this secular empire of our time.


Love one another. Serve one another.

Don’t get even, turn the other cheek. Eat with all the so-called wrong people. Break bread with the outcast and the vulnerable. Give to those who can never pay you back.

Place yourself in close proximity—stand alongside—the ones who have never been given a fair shake, the ones who are told by the world that they are less than human, the ones who have laws written about them that deny their humanity…the ones who get called ugly things like “foreigner,” “alien,” “illegal”…be found standing with and alongside these most derided and devalued because it to such as these as the kingdom of God belongs.

If you want to live into the reign of God and God’s dream and vision for our world, go to where God tells us that God is to be found.


Love costs you something. Always.

It costs part of yourself. Love will cost you the need to win every argument, or the need to feel superior to other people. Love will cost you a certain amount of respectability by asking you to stoop down and take the posture of a servant. Love will cost you the perfectly manicured façades you feel like you need to display to the world by finding you hanging out with, serving, and loving all the so-called wrong people.


I said it on Sunday morning, Holy Week is about participation. The worship services are experiential, the liturgies beg your involvement…the sacred story, though familiar and unchanging, demands to be heard anew and with fresh insights.

Jesus models this participation. Sharing a meal. Having your feet or your hands washed. These intimate and tender actions are at the heart of what it means to share and have love for one another.


“One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you are clean.”

The author of John goes on to insert their interpretation of what they think Jesus meant by saying that Jesus was talking about Judas Iscariot…and that might have been the case…but as I’ve been thinking about these words, I got to reflecting that there are parts of me that feel unclean… There are parts of myself that I’d rather keep hidden from Jesus. There are parts of me that betray Jesus, that are less than the ideal follower of Christ, that don’t always live as God wants me to live… There are parts of me that feel unloveable by God…

Perhaps you, too.


“You are clean…though not all of you…is clean.”


Be honest, church, about those parts of yourself.

Be truthful about your need to wash up.

Difficult as it is, be honest about them.

Do you really think God doesn’t know those parts of you already?


Your participation is invited.

Bring your dusty and weary souls to be washed.

Bring your dusty and weary selves to this feast of mercy and grace.


Welcome to these most holy days. Welcome to the Triduum—the Great Three Days.

The beginning of this end has begun.

First, we wash. Then, we share a meal.

Find compassion here.

Hold love in your hands. A costly love.

Be renewed, strengthened, and nourished to love a world wrestling with its own unloveable places.


Come, beloved.

This gift of love is for you.


Third Sunday of Advent 2021

Luke 3:7-18

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able even from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked John, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply John said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked John, “Rabbi, what should we do?” 13 John said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” John said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, might be the Christ, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. This one will baptize you with Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 With a winnowing fork in hand, this one will clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into the granary, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of joy,

So many things compete for our attention

In these days and seasons.

And it can be hard to find joy

In the midst of everything going on.

Root us, again, in you, this morning.

Center our joy in your unfailing love for us.

Help us extend that joy in our world.





Blessed Advent, a merry Christmas season, and happy holidays, you brood of vipers!


The 3rd Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as the Sunday we talk about joy. That comes from back in the days of the Latin mass, when the 3rd Sunday of Advent was then, and in many places, still is, known as Gaudete Sunday—which means, “Rejoice!”—because both the Hebrew scripture reading and the Epistle reading both start off with “Rejoice!” It’s a bit of a break in the middle of the season marked by such watching and waiting and expectation…a bit of a reprieve from the hopeful anticipation of the not-quite-yet.

So it’s a Sunday that we lift up joy and we talk about joy…and here comes John the baptizer, weird clothes and wild hair and all, you can imagine him shaking his finger or running up to this crowd with a wild look in his eyes and maybe a little spit flying out of his mouth…”You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?!”


Rejoice! — Brood of vipers…?


We might not find much to be joyful about being called names by a desert mystic who eats bugs.

But hang in there…


This season of Advent, we’re in our series from the wonderfully creative women at A Sanctified Art called Close to Home, where we’re exploring our longing for a sense of home and what it means that God has chosen to make God’s home here with us in the person of Jesus. The first Sunday of Advent, we talked about that feeling of homesickness and longing for a place that feels like home and the hope we hold onto in the midst of that longing. Last week, we talked about what we would need to start making God’s dream a reality in our own time and place, and needing to begin by laying a foundation of peace.

This week, we hear more from John the baptizer and we start to put a structure and a roof and doors and windows on this home and start to fill it with all kinds of furniture and art and pictures and all the items that make it feel like home, all the things that bring us joy, and what this home needs to look and feel like to truly have it be a home for all.


You’ve heard me say before, but Advent and Lent are really mirrors of one another. And if Lent is a time of spiritual house-cleaning, then Advent is a time of spiritual house-warming. Both require an attention to the small things, an eye and a desire to sort through what is needful, and the willingness to do away with what is not. But while the purpose of the Lenten spiritual housecleaning is the cleaning itself and the inspection and introspection of our spiritual lives and to strip away all the stuff we fill our spiritual lives with and get back to the core of our faith and make space for God…the purpose of the Advent spiritual housewarming is to make that space feel warm and homey and to create that welcoming space for the God who will arrive in Christ at the end of our Advent journey, the birth of Christ anew into our lives and into our world.


John the baptizer shows up on the scene in the Judean wilderness calling people to repentance and to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sin. These are all familiar words to us, but maybe you haven’t thought about them much since Confirmation. “Forgiveness of sin”…that’s fairly straightforward. I’ve done something wrong, I need to be forgiven for that wrong…boom, forgiveness. Baptism…again, pretty straightforward; usually involving water, a ritual washing, a kind of public declaration and demonstration. But “repentance” is the thing I think a lot of us tend to gloss over. Is it enough to recognize that I’ve done something wrong? Is it enough to be sorry for the thing I did or the person with whom I damaged that relationship?

Repentance acknowledges that there’s an intermediate step in between being sorry and receiving forgiveness. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means “to change one’s mind” but also you have to understand that for the ancient Greeks the mind controlled behavior, so to change your mind was to change your way of living. To change your mind means that you stop going in this direction and living in this way and you start down this other path. To repent is to start living a different way.


This is why, when pressed on the issue in these individual scenarios, John describes different ways of living for each of the groups of people who ask him. “What should we do?” “Well what about us? What should we do?”

“Bear fruit,” John says. But bearing fruit looks different for different individuals. The fruit of your repentance, the way you begin to live differently is going to look different depending on your situation.

But if it’s forgiveness you’re seeking, you recognize the places and the people in your life that you’ve wronged, you commit to living differently (that’s the key…), and then forgiveness is yours to receive. And then you memorialize and ritualize the whole deal with chilly dip in the river, and then you go on your way on this new path that you’ve committed to living.


What fruit looks like isn’t the same from person to person.


The fruit that you are called to bear in this season likely looks different for you than it does for someone who’s been out of work for almost 2 years…or more. The fruit you’re called to bear is different than that of the homeless veteran. Different than those in Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee, and Kentucky this morning…those who woke up this weekend to their entire world changed and shattered and destroyed…less than 2 weeks before Christmas…

Your fruit might look like giving to Lutheran Disaster Response or the Red Cross. Their fruit might be to simply receive what other people of good will are willing to give to help them in their recovery.


I think I’ve often preached these verses and scripture like this as “Joy is found in giving up.” And while I do still think that’s true, I’m feeling a little differently this morning. I do think joy is found in giving up, but I think it’s because of the effect that it has on our neighbor, not necessarily because of the effect of unburdening on ourselves, although unburdening yourself is certainly a welcome side-effect. What I’m getting at here is that I think our joy is connected to, and perhaps even rooted in, the joy and the well-being and the flourishing and thriving of our neighbor. Friends, joy is found when you give something for the sake of your neighbor because of how it impacts your neighbor. When your neighbor thrives and flourishes, that’s what brings you joy, especially if you had something to do with it.


And if each of us is looking out for the needs and concerns of our neighbor, then you can absolutely trust that someone is looking out for your needs and concerns and is especially interested in your thriving and flourishing.

Again, think of those who have just lost everything this weekend.


Like hope…like peace…joy is a rugged thing. It’s tested and worn and gritty. Joy isn’t happiness. Happiness is conditional. Joy doesn’t deny struggle and hardship…joy persists in the midst of struggle and hardship.


This is what is means to build a home for all. A home where all have everything they need. A home where none are exploited or extorted. A home where justice and peace reign, where equity is the family mantra. A home where resources are shared freely and joyfully. A home where people are welcomed, invited, beloved, affirmed, and celebrated as the beautiful beloved children of God they are. A home with longer tables instead of higher walls. A home that is warm and loving. A home where joy is pervasive in every room and in every person.


Rejoice, you brood of vipers.

This home is starting to take shape.