Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

John 6:56-69

[Jesus said,] 56 “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living God sent me, and I live because of God, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
  60 When many of Jesus’ disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of humanity ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe, who do not have faith.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And Jesus said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by God.”
  66 Because of this many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to trust and know that you are the Holy One of God.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Living God,

Amidst all the worries, horrors, and difficulties

We see in our world,

It can all feel like too much.

We can feel like not enough.

Give us food that nourishes.

Feed and sustain us to be your body—

Your hands, your feet, your heart—

Broken, given, and shared

For the world, for our neighbor, and for each other.





There is very little that I enjoy about seeing the numbers 5, 4, and 5 on my watch and on my phone, most especially when they have an A and an M next to them.

I am not a morning person. But most mornings, that’s when I drag myself out of bed. Except for Fridays and Saturdays when I sleep in until whenever Master of the House, Oliver, decides it’s time for the house to be awake, and except for Sundays when those numbers read more like 4:15.

I hate early mornings. But I get up anyway, and I exercise every single morning for at least 45 minutes.

This is a new thing for me.


I’m not big on tooting my own horn or throwing my own party, so I’m not going to dwell on this, but maybe you’ve noticed, I’ve lost a little bit of weight since the pandemic started. It’s something I’m proud of and something that’s taken a long time and will continue to take a long time, but it’s a journey I’m grateful to be on. But since last summer I’ve exercised every single day and I started watching and tracking what I eat, and it’s really helped me with my journey.

In the midst of so much craziness in our world, focusing on my health has been a small thing that I feel like I have a certain amount of control over.

Again, not tooting my own horn, but here’s what I want to say about all of this…I’m still not sure if this is a habit for me. Like, I still don’t really like to do this. I don’t think I would necessarily choose this for myself, and if left to my own devices, I think I’d rather not do these things. I’m still not one of those people who enjoy running or even enjoys working out. But at this point, I’ve got quite a bit of a streak going, and I think my fear of breaking the streak is stronger than my desire to not exercise and eat well.


I don’t know if I would call any of this a habit…but I would say that exercise and watching what I eat and paying attention to my health are practices that I’ve taken on and continue to work at.


There are things in our lives that are difficult things, hard things…and we may not particularly like to do them, but we recognize that they’re good for us. We derive a benefit from them, and the benefits outweigh the costs, and so we work at these practices.


Friends, worship…is one of these practices.


Not that we don’t enjoy worship, or that worship shouldn’t be fun and uplifting…it should be those things. But gathering together for worship, whether in-person or online, it’s something we have to choose with intentionality.


As we come to the end of our worship series for the second half of the summer called Bread of Life, focusing on Jesus’ words that “I am the bread of life,” and discerning difficult questions about what feeds and nourishes and sustains us…I bet you’re ready for a break from bread. It’s like the breadstick basket at Olive Garden or the cheddar bay biscuits at Red Lobster…you’re not exactly sure how much is too much, but you definitely know when you’re there. And maybe by now, you’re feeling that way with these bread texts. And like the loaves and fish on the side of the mountain, Jesus is just the breadbasket that keeps on giving.

But take heart, friends. This indeed is the end of all these weeks of bread. And maybe in some ways you’ve needed to be reminded of the nourishing and sustaining presence of Christ in your life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the news cycle or news feed, and so maybe it takes something repetitive over and over and over again to finally breakthrough before we truly grasp it. Like a habit…or a practice that’s not yet a habit…but it just takes doing or hearing something again and again and again before we recognize and truly see its benefits.


I said it last week, worship together is what has fed and nourished and sustained us so far through this pandemic, and worship together is what will feed and nourish and sustain us going forward, through the end of this pandemic and beyond it. Like Christ feeding us with Christ’s very own body and blood, we, too, feed one another. Whether here or for your neighbor or for someone you don’t know yet, you are the body of Christ, broken, poured out, and given for the sake and for the life of the world.

And worship together isn’t just something we picked up, or something that we like to do on occasion when we feel like it, worship is a habit, it’s a practice. And you have to be committed to practices. They require intentionality. They require…practice.

Even when we might not feel like it.


“This teaching is difficult, Lord. Who can accept it?”


There are things in our lives that are difficult things, hard things…some of these things we may not even particularly like to do them, but we come to recognize that they’re good for us. We derive a benefit from them, and the benefits outweigh the costs, and so we work at these practices.


But wait, work at worship…? What about my coming to be fed, what about my enjoyment, my coming to feel good and be uplifted?

I’m so glad you asked. Not that worship isn’t those things, but worship is also more than those things.


18 months ago and long before that, worship used to be inconvenient. Largely, communities of faith hadn’t really adopted live streaming or online ways of gathering together, at least not in a super widespread way, and so for most folks, including us here at New Hope, you would have to make a conscious decision whether or not you were going to come gather together for worship. You’d have to get up, get ready, get dressed, get in your car, drive here, and show up to worship. It was a very inconvenient thing, not generally something you just woke up and decided, “Oh, I think I’ll go to worship this morning.” Worship used to require forethought and planning.


But then the pandemic hit and communities of faith everywhere, including us, scrambled to figure out how to provide a worship experience that our folks could tap into while we were being urged to stay home, keep safe, and not gather together in-person. And I’m probably biased, but I think we did a pretty good job of doing that. And I think we continue to do a pretty good job of providing multiple ways for folks to gather together in worship regardless of their vaccination status, regardless of their level of comfortability with being in close contact with other people outside of their household, even regardless if they’re physically in town or away on vacation. The pandemic forced our hands in a lot of ways and we’ve made it very convenient to worship. In-person, live stream, recorded virtual worship that you can watch on Tuesday afternoon with a glass of wine in your hand if you want… Something that used to be done in one very specific way, now broadened and made very easy and convenient to gather together…if you want.


Because see…there’s still quite a bit of intentionality behind gathering together for worship. You have to decide whether or not you’ll engage with what’s going on here, whether or not you’ll come in-person for worship or join online via the live stream or our recorded worship.

You still have to make a choice about how much you’re willing to engage. That’s always been true.


But this global pandemic laid that decision bare even moreso.


Because until the past few months, you only had a virtual option available to you, and you had to decide whether or not you were going to push play on that worship service. You had to decide if you were going to log on for Zoom Faith Formation on Sunday mornings or the Zoom Happy Hour Conversations midweek.


And the thing is, those that did, those that chose to engage and be connected, went through a lot over the past 18 months. And it wasn’t just the pandemic.

Maybe you’ll recall. Amidst a global health crisis, we also lived through an ongoing national reckoning and conversation on racial justice and #BlackLivesMatter. We went through an incredibly contentious political season and election. We witnessed a historic attack on one of our country’s great institutions of democracy.

And to be completely frank, some people opted out of the conversations that we had together as a community of faith in the midst of all these events. Some folks chose not to engage in these conversations. And that’s ok. Truly. Zero judgment at all. But those who did…those who did engage these difficult events and even more difficult conversations…they grew together. They grew, and were changed, and were transformed.


We are not the same community of faith that we were in March of 2020 before this pandemic started. And honestly, we will never be that again. Something has changed in and with this place. Values have been clarified, people have been drawn closer together, the mission we are called to by God in this place has become more focused. Friends, it’s becoming clear to those of us in leadership here at New Hope exactly what and to whom God is calling us in these times.


And this mission field looks an awful lot like our immediate neighborhood. It looks like the 41.9% people of African descent population of Missouri City, the 31.6% people of Hispanic descent population of Stafford, and the 36.6% people of Asian or Indian descent population of Sugar Land. Friends, we live in the most diverse county of the United States. How can our worship, how can our expression of faith, the very heart of who we are, our very identity, reflect our neighborhood?


These are the clarifying questions that we’re asking as Leadership and as Staff. This is what we’re working on and what we’re excited about as New Hope is resurrected out of this pandemic.


“This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?”


Heck yeah, it’s difficult! But when has being disciples of Jesus and followers of Christ ever been easy? This is the same Jesus who says, “Give up your life to gain it.” The same Jesus whose love was shown most clearly on the cross, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Church, you don’t get to the joy of Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday…and my LORD have these past 18 months been a Good Friday!


But hear me say this…Easter. Is. Coming.

I don’t know when, I don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I trust and I have faith that it is coming. Because I trust Jesus. I have faith in Christ. I have faith in Christ who says, “I am the resurrection…and the life. I am…the bread of life.”


To which my response can only be, “To whom else can we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”


It’s difficult to see the difference that’s been made. It’s difficult to see the transformation while we’re still in the midst of it. This is where faith comes in.

Council was surprised to hear that our worship numbers now are 75% of what they were pre-pandemic—which, honestly, is pretty dang good—but you wouldn’t know that if all you saw or experienced was in-person Sunday morning worship. But we have folks joining us on our live stream, folks joining us later in the week as their schedule allows through our virtual worship services…we have folks joining us from across the state and across the country, people who have never stepped foot through those doors, but they found Jesus here. They found something to love and trust, something that called them beyond themselves, into their neighborhood, living for their neighbor.


The pandemic has launched us into a completely new reality where we are wrestling with what it means to be a community of faith. How do we welcome and show hospitality to those that we can’t necessarily see? How can we ensure that we’re connecting with one another, making folks feel like part of this community, even though we might not see them as regularly?

Referencing the ones who struggle with his difficult teachings, Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Let’s be honest, there will be some who leave…there are some who have already left… Oh, but what of the ones who stay…?! What of the ones who are new and are caught up in this vision of what we’re doing?!


Have you seen them? Have you seen the new faces who have walked through that door over the past couple of months? Have you greeted them? Welcomed them? Extended them hospitality?


The Gospel in all of these “bread” texts from Mark and John is a kind of trust—a faith—that the bread is somehow more than bread.

Christ feeds us, yes…but it isn’t just our physical hunger that is satisfied.

Christ gives us one another.

So that our spiritual and our mental and emotional needs are met, as well.


This is a faith that takes intentionality.

A faith that requires commitment.

Like a muscle that needs to be exercised.

This is a faith that takes practice.


Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

John 6:51-58

[Jesus said,] 51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
  52 The Judeans then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of humanity and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living God sent me, and I live because of God, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Nourishing God,

When we are hungry, feed us.

When we are weary, sustain us.

Fill us with yourself,

And send us to feed, nourish, and sustain a weary world.





“It’s like if chemistry and cooking got together and had a kid.”

Now, I do enjoy cooking, and I was terrible at chemistry, but the marriage of the two kinda grabbed my curiosity. That, and I really enjoyed the end product, so I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot.”

It was 2011 or so and one of our friends had told me that you could make 5 gallons of beer for a fraction of the cost per bottle, and it was the economics that ultimately pushed me over the edge.


I never really went all-in on brewing my own beer, but it was a fun hobby for a good number of years. One that I keep telling myself I need to get back into, get together with some of my friends, and really just something for me to do.

Hobbies are good for us. We need things outside of work and family, things that inspire us, that challenge us, that make us feel good.


A lot of folks picked up new hobbies a little over a year ago, toward the very beginning of this global pandemic. Did you? Anyone pick up baking or breadmaking? Anyone with their own little jar of sourdough starter sitting on your kitchen windowsill? How about knitting or crocheting or quilting? Any Tom Daley fans here this morning?


When this virus was very new and we really didn’t know anything about it, the world kind of shut down. Stay at home orders went into effect, restaurants and grocery stores almost shut down, people were quarantining away from one another. It was a really strange time. It all felt very isolating. Do you remember this? Do you remember that feeling?


We had to pivot and change the way we worshiped together as well. We went from live and in-person worship to worship on a screen in less than a week. We went from an assembly gathered and nourished and sent, to a scattered assembly, brought together in worship, though still feeling disconnected, isolated, even, from one another. It’s like we had the sense that we were worshiping together with those same folks we sat in the pews with just a few weeks ago, but we couldn’t really see them, we didn’t know for sure whether or not we were worshiping together with them.


It’s been a really long 18 months, church. And I’m sorry to say that we’re not done with it yet. Whatever we will be, ultimately, on the other side of this pandemic, is still a bit of mystery. The process of coming out of a pandemic is more like a faucet that you turn a little bit at a time, from a trickle to a full flow, rather than a light switch that you just flick on to full blast.

But what an opportunity we’re presented with. What an opportunity to take stock of and analyze our ministry together and ask tough, discerning questions about how we can best be the disciples that God is calling us to be.


But here’s the thing, this is an arduous journey. This is a kind of pilgrimage that you need to pack a lunch for. Maybe a few lunches. This process of reemergence and resurrection requires sustenance. You need to be well-fed for this journey.


A month ago, we launched into our worship series for the second half of the summer focusing on bread and feeding and nourishing, and anchored in this declaration from Jesus that “I am the bread of life.” And since then, we’ve been exploring the questions about what feeds and nourishes us, what sustains us in difficult times, and ultimately, what is it that we truly hunger for.

We’ve talked about the bread of life that we encounter in communion that sustains us, the sustaining presence we can be to one another, how generosity can feed and sustain us, and how it is we are called to nourish each other and especially people who we might not know.

This morning, Jesus gets very specific and even a little oddly morbid in his description. “Feast on me,” Jesus says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” We talked a little bit last week about how we are called to sustain one another as the body of Christ, and this week, we’re going to take that idea a little further and how one of the ways we are sustained and sustain one another as the body of Christ is through worship.


Worship together is what has fed and nourished and sustained us so far through this pandemic, and worship together is what will feed and nourish and sustain us going forward, through the end of this pandemic and beyond it. Like Christ feeding us with Christ’s very own body and blood, we, too, feed one another. Like I said last week, whether here or for your neighbor or for someone you don’t know yet, you are the body of Christ, broken, poured out, and given for the sake and for the life of the world.

Worship together isn’t just a hobby we picked up, or something that we like to do on occasion when we feel like it, worship is a habit, it’s a practice. And you have to be committed to practices. They require intentionality.


And we don’t always get that intentionality right. Sometimes we need reminding. Like the promises we make a newly baptized member of this body and their parents. Promises to pray for, support, nurture, and lift them up at all times, but especially when things are difficult. Church, these are promises you made to Ryan, and Samuel and Megan and Lanie. You promise to love and care for and nurture them as part of this body.


They’re the same kinds of promises we make to our young ones this morning. These tags on their backpacks aren’t just cute little keepsakes…although they are cute. Church, these are tangible reminders for them that they have an entire community of faith rallying behind them, praying for them, blessing them, praying for their success, promising to do what we can to support and encourage them in their journeys.


Friends, this is what it means to be a community of faith. It’s a purposeful and intentional commitment to one another. It’s a purposeful and intentional commitment to our neighborhood. And to the world.

Like the promises of Jesus throughout all these bread texts over the past month, this commitment, this intentionality, these promises…this is what gives life. We can feed and nourish and sustain one another because we were first fed and nourished and sustained by the one who gives himself again and again for the life of the world, given so that you would have life, and life abundant.


Hobbies are a great brain break. They’re fun, you don’t have to think very hard about them…hobbies can be rejuvenating for us.

Hobbies are good for us.

But those things we bring ourselves fully to? Those things we invest ourselves into?

Those things we do with intentionality and purpose?

Those things to which we make promises…and do with commitment?

That’s what gives life.

That’s what feeds and nourishes and sustains.

That’s what abides.

Especially when life gets difficult.


Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 2021

John 6:35, 41-51

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever trusts in me will never be thirsty.”
  41 Then the Jewish faithful began to complain about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying amongst themselves, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the one who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from God comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen God except the one who is from God; this one has seen God. 47 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever trusts has life everlasting. 48 I am the bread of life.

49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will have life everlasting; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of hope,

Our hearts and our spirits are weary.

We yearn for something sustaining.

Feed us with yourself.

Strengthen and nourish us

And call us again and send us to

Strengthen and nourish our neighbors.





Last week marked 4 years since Tiffany and I bought our first house. It’s a great home and we love it, and it’s certainly seen a lot in just 48 short months. I mean, less than a month after we bought it and 2 weeks after we had completely moved in, a little sprinkle, a little event named Harvey…maybe you remember…our first hurricane experience turned those quaint little side yards into something resembling the Colorado River with Class 4 rapids. And 2 years ago, we went from an occupancy of 3—us plus a cat—to an occupancy of 4…which brought with it all kinds of extra stuff—toys, a changing table, a crib, more toys, books, trucks, animals, more toys, and now a toddler bed…and now after a birthday this weekend, even more toys…

But it’s still home.


We love our home.

And I, for one, especially love our home as a place that’s ours where we can spend time together as a family, have our friends over if we want, talk with our neighbors, a place to tend to and try our best to steward well… But for me, I’m especially grateful for our home of 4 years because for the first 7 years of our shared life together, Tiffany and I lived in apartments…our first apartment in North Texas, our apartment in Chicago, and the apartment we lived in when we first moved down here. And it was a bit of a process of growth each time. We started out in a 1-bed, 1-bath 800-some-odd square foot place, but it was enough for us then. Then in Chicago, we upgraded to a 2nd bedroom, still just with the 1 bath. And finally a 2-bed, 2-bath place when we first moved to Sugar Land.

But the thing about apartment living is that you’re so close to your neighbors. Maybe there’s a shared stairwell or a few shared walls…you always feel somehow very connected to your neighbors, whether you want to or not. But we were blessed in our first 2 apartments, in North Texas, and in Chicago, because we lucked into a top-floor unit. It meant we had to go up more flights of stairs, but blessedly, we didn’t feel like the ceiling was about to come tumbling down.

But our last apartment in Sugar Land, there was just no swinging a top-floor apartment. They didn’t have one. And I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal…I met our neighbor, she was a tiny, young woman, her and her partner. They were nice, they seemed quiet… Friends, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a family of elephants parading around in high heels before…but that’s the only explanation I can come up with for what was going on on the floor above us some days. That, or our neighbors picked up Irish dancing in Dutch wooden clogs. I don’t know…but it was cacophonous.


Which is to say, I’m very grateful for our nice, quiet, lovely single-family home.

If there’s any Irish dancing happening, it’s going to be me in my own wooden clogs, thank you very much.


Living together is hard. Living with others, in close relationship, is difficult.

It’s tough work.

It requires give and take, compromise, and intentionality.

It requires you to be open and engaging and communicative and a little bit vulnerable.

Being a good neighbor, and living well together, requires that you bring your fullest self to the relationship.


If we’re going to have and enjoy the kind of life God intends for us, we have to bring something to that table, as well.


In our Gospel reading this morning, the local folks get incensed with Jesus for suggesting that he himself is somehow comparable to the manna that came down from the heavens and sustained the Israelites in their 40-year sojourn out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. “I am the bread…of life,” Jesus says, “Those who come to me and trust in me will never be hungry or thirsty. I’m the bread that came down from heaven.”

“Ummm…we know your mom, and your dad…you didn’t come from heaven,” the folks reply.

But Jesus presses, “Your ancestors ate that manna in the wilderness, and they still died. I am the living bread from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will have life everlasting, whoever has faith in me will have life everlasting.”


It’s interesting, your Bible translates these phrases as “eternal life” or “living forever” but that’s not actually what’s going on here. It’s not that simple of a translation. We’ve become so preoccupied with this idea of living forever that we get caught up in this pattern of death-avoidance. We’ve become so focused on what happens after we die that we neglect to truly live in the present.
But I want to suggest to you that everlasting life has more to do with a kind and quality of life here and now, and has much less to do with the state of your souls for eternity. Because what if everlasting life is the kind of life in which all have their needs met, all are fed, and all are able to live life in such a way that their life isn’t cut short before they’ve had the opportunity to live a full life? What if the zoen aionion—what gets translated as “eternal life” but is perhaps better translated as “the life of the ages”—what if Jesus is talking about what and how we live in the here and now, and not some far off distant place after our bodies are decomposing in the ground?


Because that’s the kind of bread that makes a difference, church. That’s the kind of bread that feeds and nourishes. That’s the kind of bread that sustains weary bodies and spirits.

Jesus says, “The bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh, is my body.” It is the body of Christ that is given for the life of the world.

And if your ears are perking up, church, you are the body of Christ. You are Christ’s flesh and blood. You are the hands and feet and heart of Christ that is given to and for the world.


And when seen this way, then, church, your responsibility is to the world, is to your neighbor. Your obligation is to be broken, poured out, and shared with those who are in need. To be a disciple of Jesus is to allow yourself to be broken and shared and given so that those in need and the whole world would have life everlasting, life in all it’s fullness.


Living well together is difficult work. It requires compromise, give and take. “We are members of one another,” the author of Ephesians writes. Living well together requires us to be vulnerable with one another, naming our needs, naming our hopes and our desires. And I think when we do that. what you’ll find is that we share much more in common with one another than what seeks to drive us apart…certainly when we name and share our hopes and dreams. Just in these times alone, what each of us wants is to feel safe, is to be healthy, is for our families to be safe and healthy and well. And if we can be vulnerable enough to name those hopes and dreams, we can start to see that a shared life together means making certain choices, giving up certain closely-held convictions in the interest of the health and safety of our neighbors. Are you following me, church?

It’s not a question of political opinion, church…it’s doing what is needed from us by our neighbor because that’s what we are called to do, by God, as disciples of Jesus.


You are the ones given to feed and nourish one another. We sustain one another as we are broken and poured out, given to and for one another.


It’s a difficult thing, living well together, but we are fed, nourished, and sustained by the one was first given, broken, and poured out for us.

When we share communion, it’s so much more than a meal done in remembrance of Jesus and the meal he shared with his friends. Communion is an act of nourishing and strengthening. Communion is a reminder that we—this community—we are the bread that is broken and the wine that is poured; we are the ones given for the life of the world.

In this meal, you are invited to receive that which you are called to be.

And you are called to be that which you have received, the very body of Christ, given for the life of the world.

Friends, be nourished and strengthened here.

So that you will be fed and sent to nourish and strengthen others.


Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

John 6:24-35

24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were beside the sea, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
  25 When they found Jesus on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of humanity will give you. For it is the Son of humanity upon whom God has set God’s seal.” 28 Then they said to Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you trust, that you have faith in the one whom God has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and have faith in you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘The one sent by God gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is God who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
  35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Nourishing God,

Our stomachs ache and we hunger.

We hunger after things that fill, but do not satisfy.

Feed us this morning.

Nourish us with your self, that which is sustaining,

And strengthen us to share you, to share our selves,

With a starving world.





I’ve told y’all the story before about I’m a percussionist, but I wasn’t really supposed to be a percussionist. Do y’all remember this? I was going into 5th grade and they were essentially just asking who wanted to be in which sections and play which instruments. And I know this will come as a shocker to all of you, but I was talking and goofing off with my friend and not paying attention, so I missed the opportunity to raise my hand to play the instrument I actually wanted to play, which was trumpet. But I also didn’t want to play trombone or tuba, so I ended up stuck with percussion because it was either that or nothing.


Have you ever been given something that was intended as a gift, but you weren’t really sure about it at first, but then later the gift you were given turns out to be way better than you could have imagined?


That was this for me. I didn’t really want to play percussion, but I ended up liking it pretty well, and then I kept doing it, I kept playing percussion in junior high, and high school, and even in college, and it ended up being something that I fell in love with. I really love playing drums.

But not only that, but if I hadn’t found a passion for drums and music, I wouldn’t have been in band in college, and I wouldn’t have met Tiffany, and we wouldn’t be married.

But not only that, but if I hadn’t met Tiffany and we wouldn’t have married, we wouldn’t have Oliver.

So, see…this one tiny decision…this one seemingly insignificant thing…ended up being an incredible gift that is so much better than I could have even imagined.

I thought I wanted to play trumpet, but having ended up playing and finding a passion for percussion continues even 30 years later to have incalculably profound effects on my life.


The people in our gospel this morning, the crowds in John’s gospel, are experiencing this same phenomenon of not being sure if the gift they’ve received is actually a gift.

Last week, Jesus sat them down in a clearing on the side of a mountain and taught them and fed them, and then Jesus went away. But that gift was so incredible, that bread was so good, they wanted more. “Give us more of this, Jesus.” So they chased down Jesus and the disciples and demand that he do it again. “Do the thing, again, Jesus…make the bread into more bread. We’re hungry…do it again…feed us. We want the gift you gave us before.”


“I’m all out of loaves,” Jesus says, showing them his empty hands out of his pockets. “I don’t have any more dinner rolls and fish, but I’m here. You can have me. I’m the bread of life.”

“Ehhh……I don’t really know what that means, so if you could just give us more bread, that’d be great, and then we can go.” If you remember last week, the people wanted to take Jesus and make him their Bread King. See, food was really hard to come by in 1st-century Palestine under Roman imperial occupation, so someone who could make food just appear was the kind of gift you wanted to keep around. “Do the thing again…the thing with the bread.”


But Jesus says, “I’m not that kind of king. This isn’t that kind of gift.”


We’re in the thick of our worship series for the second half of the summer called Bread of Life, focusing on these bread verses, and especially on what Jesus says in our Gospel this morning, “I am the bread of life.”

It’s an unusual declaration and one that we’ll spend the next few weeks unpacking. But there’s bread…like the bread given to all those people on the side of the mountain…the bread that fills hungry bellies…and then there’s this other bread, the bread of life…the bread that fills…something else…you get the sense that this bread is for satisfying some kind of deeper hunger.


What do you hunger for, church?

What do you really hunger for?

What does your stomach groan and ache for?


The thing is, I think a good many of us would lift up stuff and things. We hunger for that raise. We ache after that extra bedroom or that pool or that new gourmet kitchen. We yearn for a promotion or to be noticed or fancy friends who invite us over to their house full of things we only dream about.

Look, I do, too. I’m no different.


But what if we take Jesus at his word to hunger after something else?

“I’m the bread of life,” Jesus says, “Hunger after me.”


Ok…yes…great… What does that mean…?


What if hungering after Jesus means to allow our stomachs to ache for the same things that Jesus hungered after? What if our hungering after Jesus means to follow Jesus into those places of the world that make us uncomfortable, that challenge us, and that demand something of us? What if hungering after Jesus pushes us into a deeper relationship not just with our neighbors that we know well, but those we don’t know well, our neighbors at the grocery store, the ones who live around us, the ones who don’t look like you, think like you, speak like you, or vote like you?

What if hungering after Jesus means that you have so much care and concern for your neighbor’s wellness and well-being that you’d sacrifice your own preferences and desires if it meant that your neighbor could safely enjoy the life God intends for them, life and life abundant.


Last week, Jesus gave all those people food, yes, but he also reminded them that they are given to each other. Last week loaves and fish were multiplied into a feast of abundance, but the people who were gathered on that mountainside shared what they had with their neighbor until all were fed. Not only did everyone have their needs met, Jesus’ multiplying miracle inspired such generosity that there were baskets full of leftovers.


One of my biggest learnings over the past 18 months of this pandemic is the same thing I’ve preached as long as I’ve stood in pulpits, which is that we are so much more interconnected and interdependent on one another than we realize. We try and pretend as if my decisions affect me and me alone, and nothing I do has any bearing or impact on you. Church, this is a lie. This pandemic, and especially the way the decisions of one or a few have such far-reaching ramifications, have laid that bare in an extraordinary fashion. And it’s astounding to me that it feels like we still struggle to grasp this truth.


Your choices, your decisions, your actions affect your neighbor in profound ways. Does your stomach ache for your neighbor’s well-being as much as it does for your own?


The author of Ephesians pleads with you: “I beg you, lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another…in love…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The gifts God gives to God’s people are for the building up of the body of Christ.


These are surprising gifts.

The gift of your neighbor is a surprising gift.

The gift of giving of yourself for our neighbor is a surprising gift.

Because what you’ll find as you pour yourself out and give of yourself for the sake of your neighbor, is that in emptying you are filled…in giving up, you gain.

What a gift.


Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

John 6:1-21

1 Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jewish people, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 Jesus said this to test Philip, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
  15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
  16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But Jesus said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of abundance,

So often we feel like not enough.

Like we don’t have enough.

Like we aren’t enough.

Bless our not enough-ness this morning.

Bless it and multiply our gifts and abilities.

Use us to feed your world.





I’m not sure what it is about the summer that things just feel lighter to me. At least in the life of the church, we take this big long stretch after Pentecost, and the changes to worship week-to-week don’t feel quite so rapid-fire. Maybe being caught up in the program calendar that’s tied so closely to the academic calendars of the area school districts has something to do with it, too.

Busy-ness-wise, summer’s just an easier time to find time to get away for a vacation.


Whatever the reason, this summer has been a welcome load off of my shoulders. Especially after the past 18 months we’ve all had, I think most of us have needed to get out and stretch our legs a little bit. A lot of folks have taken vacations that were put on hold or took extended time away to be with family. Times and spaces that are regenerating and nourishing for the soul. All great things. Really living into that rest, respite, and sabbath I was talking about last week.


As a reminder, we’re in the midst of a worship series for the second half of the summer called Bread of Life, where the gospel readings are all centered on bread and feeding and nourishing and Jesus referring to himself as the bread of life. And within this series we’re wrestling with the questions of what feeds us and nourishes us and sustains us, especially in those times when we find that we ourselves are the hungry ones. How can we be filled up, so that we’re full and sustained and energized to be sent out to fill others?

Last week, we talked about rest that nourishes and fills us up.

This week, how can generosity sustain and nourish us?


Another reason I enjoy the summer is because of all the memories that pop up for me on Facebook. Do y’all look at these? I think it’s cool to see what I was doing last year, 2, 3, 5, 9 years ago. The summer’s always fun for me, especially within the last 5 years, because 4 years ago, we welcomed some of our friends from our sister congregation El Buen Pastor in El Salvador, and 2 years ago, I was part of the small group that went down to visit them in San Salvador and Usulután.


Really great memories, but one of the things that have stuck with me since 2019 and being in El Salvador—and I’ve found this to be true, not just in El Salvador, but other places around the world, and even here in the U.S.—it’s so striking to me that it’s so often the folks with the least, materially speaking, that are the most generous. Maybe that’s just the perception, because when you have very little, materially, what you do give to others is often seen as extravagant and overabundant.

But one night in particular in 2019, we went to Pastor Julio’s house. And Pastor Julio lives very near to a bunch of his family and everyone had been invited over for dinner. But the next day was also Sunday and there was going to be a special lunch for a few First Communions they had. So on Saturday when we went to Pastor Julio’s house, they were making pupusas for dinner that night and the lunch the next day, and church, I can’t tell you, I’ve never seen just gigantic tubs of masa. Like, there were literally hundreds of pupusas being made. It was incredible.

And one of the things I kept coming back to in my mind was that here was a family, who already give so much of themselves for the 4 communities of El Buen Pastor, here were families who likely pooled resources to get everything they needed so that people in their community were fed.


They didn’t ask if that money would be better spent somewhere else. They didn’t ask whose hunger was greater. They didn’t ask who was worthy.

They made food. Good food. A lot of it.

They took what they had and used their resources so that people in their community were fed.


Because here’s the truth, church…you’re all hungry.

Whether you’re 1 of 9 people in the U.S. experiencing food insecurity, or your emotional needs are being starved, or your stomach is groaning for spiritual fulfillment…what’s true, church, is that we are people who are starving, who are begging someone to share just a crumb with us.


And when Jesus gets involved, watch out, because that “just a crumb” can be a belly-bursting feast of abundance where all are fed and each has their needs met. Especially when each of us brings what we have to the table, offering it to share, and giving it to God to bless and use for God’s purposes and do with it what God does…using what we have and what we offer to feed folks who are starving…including you, dear people.


And you might feel like what you have to share isn’t that much. You may feel like you don’t have much to offer.


One of my favorite lines about this comes from Lutheran pastor and theologian Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was doing a book tour with the release of her first book and I got to go hear her speak in Chicago. She read some excerpts and when she was talking about her own sense of call and identity, just before she decided to pursue this pastor thing, she said that it was as if God had asked her, “So, Nadia, whaddaya got?” She says, “I took my hands out of my pockets and looked at them. ‘Nothing,’ I mumbled, ‘I’ve got some change, a paperclip, and pocket lint. I’ve got nothing.’” “Nothing?! That’s perfect!” God replies, “Now THAT I can work with.”

Nothing is God’s favorite material to work with, she says.


Nothing…not much…those feelings of emptiness and inadequacy…dear friends, your not much…your nothing…that’s God’s favorite material to work with.


That’s the miracle of five loaves and two fish. Not only are people fed and their needs met, but there are leftovers! 12 whole baskets full!

Generosity is a multiplying thing. Generosity begets more generosity. When someone is generous with you, you’re much more likely to be generous with others. And not only that, but when you adopt a posture of generosity in one area of your life, you’ll find yourself extending that same spirit of generosity in other areas of your life. Generosity grows and multiplies…like a weed. It’s contagious. It’s exponential.

Generosity feeds us.


This pandemic has clarified and brought to the forefront a lot of needs in our communities. And churches were no exception. There were times last year, especially toward the beginning of the pandemic, that we were worried about what would happen if things just suddenly dried up. But in those first months right after the start of the pandemic, something amazing happened. People started giving more of their offering, fulfilling their commitments earlier in the year, hoping to help keep us afloat. And it absolutely did. And things evened out, but even still we ended 2020 on budget.

And as this pandemic drags on and on and on, it gets harder and harder to keep going back to that well. Anxieties ratchet up and we all start to wonder if we’ll have “enough.” We’ve had some pretty lean months in 2021, but June was a really great month for offerings. July’s not looking stellar, but I trust that things will even out. I trust that with God, there will always be enough.


Last story…we’ve been holding off launching our Capital Campaign to the entire congregation since the beginning of the pandemic. But since we started actively receiving gifts toward our campaign, we’ve had folks who have been giving regularly to it. Tiffany and I sat down last year, we’re budget people, and we were working out what we thought we could regularly contribute. “What if we just took what we regularly give to our offering and give that same amount to the Capital Campaign?” I said. “What if we just doubled it?”

And so we did. We doubled our monthly giving, half to the General Offering and half to the Capital Campaign. Because that’s how much we believe and we trust in what God is doing in this place. That’s how much we want to see New Hope flourish.

But here’s the thing…there’s always been enough. It was a risk, sure. But we’ve always had enough.


Church, incredible things happen when you share what you have, offer what you can to God, and ask God to bless it and use it for God’s purposes…to do with it what God does…feed folks who are starving.

Generosity is a nourishing and filling thing.

There always seems to be enough.

Even when what we start with is just a crumb.


Holy Trinity Sunday 2021

John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. 2 Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to Jesus, “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 reign 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 Nicodemus, “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 life everlasting.
  16 “For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who trusts in the Son may not perish but may have life everlasting.
  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 the Son.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy Mystery,

You invite us to join with you.

You call us to bear your divine image.

And to see and serve that 

Same divine image in our neighbors.

Strengthen us for this work.

Come alongside us.

Use our hands, feet, and heart.





I’m not a particularly good dancer.

Now, to my credit, I never really tried to learn and I’ve never taken a class. Some of our members decided to take up ballroom dancing in their retirement years, and I think that’s a great idea. Finding new hobbies, discovering ways to keep the body moving and that little spark kindled. I enjoy watching good dancing and complex body movement is certainly impressive to me, I just, you know, haven’t learned up to this point.

And it wasn’t even part of, like, the societal culture when I was growing up. I mean, my junior high and high school dances were in the late 90s, we didn’t have the jitterbug or the lindy hop. Our music basically had 2 speeds, fast and slow, and the dancing was pretty much jumping up and down with your hands in the air for the fast songs, and the suuuuper-awkward sway back and forth for the slow songs. Maybe you remember the ones—guys’ hands on their dance partner’s hips, but not too low…ladies’ hands on their partners’ shoulders, maybe even around their neck if they were super close. But always an appropriate distance between the 2…6-12 inches at school dances. Leave room for Jesus, we always joked. Now I was also a church kid and went to my fair share of church youth gatherings with dances, and there, apparently, the Holy Spirit needed at least 18 inches or 2 whole feet depending on the chaperone.


But it was always this awkward side-to-side sway.

Which is why I am not a very good dancer. Not a lot of practice.

But, like at weddings and stuff, I try, and I have fun. And I’m always good for a wisecrack or a joke in your ear. That’s my go-to move for diffusing situations when I feel uncomfortable or out of my element…humor. Always has been.


For any of you serious dancers, you’ll know that it’s super important that you trust your dance partner. Trust is one of these foundational things to relationships, and especially if you’re flinging and flipping someone around a dance floor, trust is paramount.

You also need to be certain that you’re having fun. Don’t get so caught up in the competition or the mechanics of it that you forget to have a good time.


Holy Trinity Sunday is one of those feast days when the church can get caught up in the mechanics and forget to have fun.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is a relatively recent festival in the church calendar and it’s the one major feast when the church commemorates a doctrine, rather than an event. I’ll just go ahead and say it, hard-nosed and immovable orthodoxy looks good on no one.

Here’s the thing, good theology is important and y’all know I love my good and right order, but doctrine for the sake of being doctrinal is just another box that we foolishly and futilely try to cram God into. A colleague said this week, “Pay attention and beware when your pastor starts their sermon with ‘The Holy Trinity is like…’ because you’re about to hear a really good heresy.”


So often we come, like Nicodemus, seeking knowledge about God, and we get disappointed at our inability to understand. When what we need, and what Jesus offers Nicodemus, is a way to perceive God, an invitation to open our eyes, to look and see and be aware of what God is doing. And through perception, becoming aware of what God is already doing and where God is already active.

So often we end up trying to know about God, instead of striving to simply know God.


Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan brother who lives in New Mexico and he describes the relationships of the Trinity—between God the Creator, the Son, and Holy Spirit—as a dance. He describes a series of relationships that are grounded in trust and intimate love, that don’t overpower one another, but that move and work together, always for the purpose of advancing God’s vision and hope for the world. And of course, because Father Rohr is a Franciscan, this relationship, this give-and-take is full of fun and humor and is playful.


And Father Rohr frequently lifts up the oft-neglected fourth member of the Trinity—never mind that we don’t call it the Quadinity—but that we, humanity, are part of this dance and are invited into this dance, as well.

Paul lifts this up in Romans, “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” Through Christ, we have been invited to the dance floor. And the good news is, we don’t need to know how to dance, we don’t need to know the steps. God’s got the lead. Our role is to trust.

Through Christ, we have been joined to God and God’s work for the sake and the betterment of the world.

If we are children of God, then we are heirs of God. And if we are heirs of God, then we are joint-heirs with Christ…heirs of God’s promise of restoration and renewal…heirs of God’s promise of the resurrection of all things…and joined to Christ in that work of restoration and healing and renewal. Yours are the hands and feet and heart through which God accomplishes God’s work in the world.

It’s not just a tag line for our denomination, the ELCA, it’s a theological statement. “God’s work. Our hands.”


We are not mere spectators of this work of the Trinity, you are participants.


We’ve had to do a lot of deft dancing over these past 14 months. From trying to navigate the shut-down and stay-at-home orders, to working out how to adapt worship to virtual platforms, to begin the process of resuming in-person worship at our Lakeside Chapel, to now figuring out the logistics of worship in the Sanctuary…we’ve had to lean hard into these relationships of trust and well-being.

I believe we were called to care deeply for the well-being and health and safety of those around us and in our community. I mean, that’s just the Gospel message 101. And when we’re at our best, I think we do that well. But I’ve got to be honest with you, church, these past 14 months have me wondering how well we’ve been paying attention.


As I said last week, if I plug up my ears and am so hyper-focused on me and what I want and what’s right in front of me, I think we misunderstand the call of the Holy Spirit that urges us to turn our care and concern outward to our neighbor…even at the expense of ourselves. As Paul will say elsewhere in the New Testament, in Philippians, “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Regard others as better than yourselves.”


We have to trust this dance we find ourselves in with one another. We must be willing to make sacrifices for our neighbor’s well-being, whether it means serving them and loving them, or simply continuing to wear a mask for now until the most vulnerable among us are able to also be protected.

Maybe even more than ever—in what I’m calling these “in-between times”…when we’re bone-tired of the pandemic, but we have a little bit more ways to go until the most vulnerable are also safe—maybe more than ever, we have to lean hard in our trust of one another, willing to awkwardly dance while we try and get it right.


But as I said, the good news is, we don’t have to know the steps.

We just have to trust God’s lead.


Pentecost 2021

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

[Jesus said,] 26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from God, the Spirit of truth who comes from God, the Spirit will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to the One who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is for your benefit that I go away, because if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send the Spirit to you. 8 And having come, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because the world does not trust in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to God and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the rulers of this world have been condemned.
  12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak on the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 The Spirit will glorify me, taking what is mine and declaring it to you. 15 All that God has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Rushing Spirit,

Stir in us. Move in and among us.

Unstop our ears.

And help us to listen.

Help us pay attention to

The ways you are calling us.

And move us to respond.

Guide us. And sustain us.



Good morning, church. It’s so wonderful to be with you on this Pentecost Sunday.

More than any other time of year, Pentecost is when we explicitly focus on the Holy Spirit rushing in and drawing people together across lines of difference, and we explore what it means to live as people who are knit together across our differences and propelled out into the world to be the forces of loving change in a world that often gets hung up on these differences.

Different is certainly a perfect word to describe what we’ve collectively experienced over the past 14 months. You might have a few choice other words to describe them, maybe a few four-letter ones…but different is certainly what it’s felt like trying to be the church over these past months—different or whatever the opposite of the way we’ve done things before is.

This pandemic has thrust us, has thrust the church, light-years beyond the way we’ve done things before. We are different because of this pandemic.

I’m preaching this morning and coming to y’all from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I’ve been on vacation this past week, our first time away in 18 months, and while I probably could have preached from the pulpit for our prerecorded worship service, the backdrop just seemed too perfect to pass up. (I mean…are you kidding…?!?? Just try not to be too distracted for the rest of the sermon…)

But this sermon preached from Tennessee, to wherever you find yourself this morning, actually highlights something that I think is a really important takeaway for me from the past more than a year…the Holy Spirit has a way of working through seemingly impossible circumstances to continue to draw us together as God’s people, across space and time and distances, continues to speak a word for us to hear, and continues calling us out and beyond from where we are into who and where God is calling us.

The Spirit is moving and calling and guiding us…if we have ears to hear.

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

“Amazed and astonished, those gathered asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? So how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’…‘In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’”

“They were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

What incredible witness or testimony might we be missing or closing our ears to because we’re failing to recognize it as the movement and language of the Holy Spirit?

Whenever I want to particularly focus on something, whenever I’d like to be uninterrupted, and whenever I’d like to be free from outside distractions, I have this ritual I do. I go over to my bag and pull out my headphones. I connect them to my phone, and open up the third folder on the top row of the second page of my phone, and open the first app in that folder.

Many of you probably have a similar habit. I’m sure a lot of you like to listen to music when you’re trying to focus, whether it’s classical or pop or metal… I’m a weird one. I find when I listen to music, I’m much too tempted to sing along or pay too close attention to the lyrics…it’s more of a distraction than a help. I pump my ears with white noise. I know…weirdo…

One of the things I would sometimes do before the pandemic is go read or write at Starbucks. I like the smell of roasted beans and I happen to think their coffee’s pretty good. The thing about Starbucks, though, is that a lot of other people like Starbucks, too, so there’s usually a lot to be distracted by. So I’d find a place in a corner, pop in the headphones, pipe in the static noise, and get to work.

But this is not necessarily a helpful posture if I want to listen to what someone might be saying to me, or be more attentive to the world and the people around me.

I can’t be so hyper-focused on me and what’s in front of me and what I have to do if I want to be able to hear and pay attention to what the people around me, my literal neighbors, are saying to me as we’re engaging in conversation.

If I want to hear what’s being said, I can’t plug my ears and drown out those sounds. I have to listen, engage in conversation, cultivate relationships, hear what’s being said, understand what’s being expressed, and then find my place within that concern and formulate my posture within the response.

We can’t hear what’s being asked of us and respond in the ways we’re being called with our ears plugged, drowning out other voices, and hyper-focused on me and what’s in front of me.

In order to hear the urging of the Spirit and follow where we’re being called, we must listen with open ears and hearts turned outward toward the needs of others and their well-being.

For 14 months we’ve had to trust that the Holy Spirit is indeed active and moving and drawing us together across time and space, from the relative safety of our homes to slowly starting to dip our toes back into whatever this new normal is. And we must continue to trust in that same movement of the Spirit, maybe even more so now. Look, things are improving, things are getting better…but there are still many parts of the world being ravaged by this virus…even here at home, the most vulnerable among us don’t have a vaccine approved for them yet. We must continue to be the church that cares for the most vulnerable…and not only that cares for them, but we must be a church that centers their needs, that makes sacrifices for what we want, or how we wish things would be so that those that are most vulnerable can experience God’s goodness and the abundant life of the Spirit just as freely and safely and unhindered as the rest of us who are fortunate enough to have received our vaccine. And that might mean that things continue to look different for a time.

And that’s ok.

One thing we’ve learned over the past more than a year is that we can be ok with different. We can learn from different. We can let different teach us. And maybe we learn that we are blessed by different.

And church, we must not lose sight of what we’ve learned over this past more than a year.

We’ve heard the word of God in new and unique ways. And we must continue to explore what that means for us as a community of faith going forward from here. How will we engage those who have found a welcoming and affirming virtual community during this time? How will we invite people to hear and experience God’s radically inclusive love from wherever they find themselves, whether here in Missouri City and Sugar Land, or in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, or across this country, or even across the globe?

We have an opportunity, church, to continue being moved and shaped and led by the Holy Spirit. We can continue inviting new voices among us, so that we would learn from them. We can continue working toward God’s magnificent vision of a beautiful diversity where differences aren’t treated suspiciously, but rather invited and welcomed and celebrated and affirmed and centered.

Unplug your ears, church.

Listen to the marvelous cacophony the Spirit is speaking.

Be blown about by the rushing movement of the Spirit.

And be stirred to lend your own voice to that chorus of voices.

Unable to contain your witness of where God’s mighty acts have changed and transformed your life.

It’s a witness our world needs to hear.

It’s a witness we need to hear.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] 9 “As God has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept God’s commandments and abide in God’s love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
  12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from God. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that God will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

You call us to abide—to dwell—in you.

Most days, rest is the furthest thing from our minds

Although we’d probably admit we’re weary.

Re-root us in your love.

Make us produce the good fruit of love

For the sake of our neighbor.



You are what you eat. Right?

Like many of you, I’d heard this before, growing up. And I think this statement, coupled with the urban legend that somehow things could take root in your stomach and actually grow inside you is why I had an irrational fear of watermelon-seed-spitting contests.

Like, what if I swallowed one?!

I don’t have space for a watermelon in there!

Still to this day there are certain things I won’t eat, because it’s true, our stomachs have an easier time digesting some things than others.

I’ve been paying much closer attention to what I eat over the last year, and there are absolutely things that add value to ourselves and our bodies, and things that don’t. The problem is, it’s usually the things that don’t add a lot of value that taste the best, right? They have to make up for their lack of value with other ways of making you want and crave and desire those things.

We’re talking about nutrition, right? Things that add value, and things that don’t, maybe even things that take value away.

But beyond just food, there are other parts of our lives—things we think, things we do, things we say, postures or attitudes we adopt—there are certain things or postures or habits that add value…and things that do not…and things that even subtract value.

These are things that might feel good, might taste good, initially…they give you that immediate sense of satisfaction or gratification…but they’re not sustaining, they don’t build up over the long term…in many ways, they’re detrimental to your overall self. Lutheran pastor and author, the Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber has a wonderful way of describing these things we say and do, if you can abide a little potty humor…these things, she says, “…feel good for a minute…but only in the way peeing in my pants feels warm for a minute. And now it’s cold and wet and it smells bad and I’m embarrassed.”

These are feelings and attitudes of self-righteousness, false piety, vindictiveness, jealousy, revenge, hatred and bigotry, moral superiority, these pervasive feelings that my individual liberties supersede the common good or what’s best for my neighbor… These things we say and do, church…these postures and attitudes that don’t add value to our lives, and even remove value, they may feel good for a moment, they may taste good for a moment…but that feeling is fleeting and they quickly begin to tear you down. They eat at you from the inside.

And this is what I think is helpful to understand about all this stuff to do with fruit from the Gospel of John, and especially from John 15 that we’ve been in for 2 weeks now. This is part of what I think it means to be attached to the vine and to bear good fruit. Because when you abide in the vine, you bear good fruit. You can’t help it, it’s just what you do. German mystic, theologian, and incredible preacher Meister Eckhart wrote that a plum brings forth plums not by an act of will, but because it is its nature to do so. So, too, will we, the body of Christ…gathered around Christ, sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection, and allowing Christ to flow into all our branches and the branches of this body…so, too, will we produce what we must because it is our nature to do so: Godly fruits of compassion, peace, mercy, justice, and love.

When you are connected to the vine, you produce and bear that which you are connected to.

And it really makes me wonder what the heck we’re connected to these days.

I mean, you read the news and headlines and your social media feeds and Twitter and Facebook…and…there’s a lot of stuff out there. There’s a lot of hurt, a lot of pain…a lot of anger…a lot of fear…coming out. It feels so divided. If you’re not with me, you’re against me…and not only are you against me, but you’re my enemy. And the ways that we talk to one another…hatred, and skepticism, and name-calling, and hurtful things, and meanness…

I mean, what the heck are we actually rooted in that’s producing all of this? What are we actually consuming that’s producing this fruit?

I have to wonder if we’re truly rooted in Christ. Or if we just say that we are.

The fruit we bear is a direct reflection of what we’re rooted in.

What are you abiding in? What do you dwell in?

Jesus says, “Abide in me, abide in my love.” Those that abide in Christ bear good fruit because it’s their nature to do so; those that aren’t, don’t.

Take stock of your fruit, church.

Are they Godly fruits…the fruits of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…? Or are they something else…some other kind of…bitter fruit?

But even if the fruit appears good, inspect it even more closely. If one of your fruits is love, how well does it compare to the kind of love Jesus is describing? Is it sacrificial love? Is it a love that would lay down your life for someone else?

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

“No greater love has someone than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Is this a tremendously difficult ask of those who follow Jesus? Yes.

Is Jesus speaking metaphorically here? Absolutely not.

We like to romanticize Jesus and talk about how laying down one’s life is giving some of yourself or what you have so that others would have, things like volunteering and maybe giving to a non-profit that rescues sea urchins, but Jesus really is talking about laying down your life for someone else.

It’s Jesus’ path.

It’s the way of the cross.

It’s the path that we are called to as followers of Christ.

Who would you die for?

Who would you give up your life for?

Church, until we truly recognize our neighbors as beloved image-bearers of God’s divine face and worthy of us laying down our life, I think we must be honest that we’re only practicing Christ’s teachings in part.

Those who want to keep their life will lose it. And those who give up their life for my sake and for the sake of Gospel will find it, right?

What does it mean to give up your life for the sake of the Gospel?

“Love one another, as I have loved you.”

It’s not difficult, it’s just demanding.

Loving means truly giving of yourself. Not just volunteering or giving your time and energy. And look, those are important, but love looks behind the needs of the person in front of you, the person you’re serving. Love is taking a vested interest in the well-being of your neighbor. Love asks why they’re standing in front of you, why are they in need at this particular time. Love is interested in the conditions that led to the need for you to give of your time and energy and resource. The Reverend Doctor Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Love is interested in justice.

Love seeks the best for the one being loved.

Even if that means giving up something of yourself.

That’s a lesson that I don’t think we’ve learned very well this year. I think we struggle greatly when the cost to me of loving my neighbor means that I have to give something up.

It hurts me to think how we’ve misunderstood Jesus. Or how we’ve heard Jesus and understood what Jesus was saying but decided that the cost of love, the cost to my own feelings or preferences or desires, outweigh the needs of my neighbor.

The good news, though, church, is that we’ve got an opportunity to re-root ourselves. We can take stock of the fruit we’re producing, hold it up to the kind of fruit we’re expected to produce being attached to the vine of Christ, and be re-attached to the vine that produces good and tasteful fruit.

I ended up preaching an unintentional series on evangelism in this season of Easter, and if I would have had that kind of forethought, I would have made a nice graphic and put some language around the theme, and really made it a series. Instead what I hope you’ve heard over the past 6 weeks is that we have an opportunity as we’re making our way through and, with God’s help, out of this pandemic. We have an opportunity to be resurrected and transformed and to reshape who we were into who we are being called to be. God is calling us into our neighborhoods, to truly invest ourselves in the lives of our neighbors, to invite them to join you in this work of making our world just a bit more reflective of God’s vision. As a community of faith, we have an opportunity to examine how we’re doing things, and to invite folks to be transformed by the same power of the Gospel.

Like our story from Acts, we just might be surprised at where the Holy Spirit shows up.

In fact, I’m counting on it.

That’s good fruit that adds value to the body and builds the body up.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said:] 1 “I am the true vine, and God is the vinegrower. 2 God removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit God prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

8 God is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

Make us to bear good fruit.

Prune away in us that which

Prevents us from proclaiming your love.

Open our hearts and ears to receive

Your incredible Gospel message of

Compassion and love and belonging.

Help us to hear and internalize that

Good news from whomever it might come.



We’re not supposed to have favorites.

In seminary, they even tell us, “We know it’s hard…but you can’t have favorites. You just can’t, because your parishioners will probably resent you.”

Well, I heard the advice of my seminary professors…I did. But I do have to confess to you, my siblings in Christ, that I, your Pastor…I do have a favorite…

I do have a favorite sacrament…and it’s not the Eucharist…

I know……I’d ask your forgiveness, but the truth is, I’m not repentant…

Yes, my favorite of our 2 sacraments, as held by the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, is baptism. You probably could have guessed that by now, what with my splashing around and asperging and spraying water everywhere during non-pandemic times, but I do feel the need to be upfront with you again, and tell you again, that against the sage advice of my seminary professors, I do have a favorite sacrament, and it’s baptism.

And our story from Acts that we heard this morning is a huge reason why.

But first, a brief theology lesson, a little Lutheran catechism, for you this morning. A lot of you, most of you, maybe even all of you…were taught like I was, that baptism is necessary for salvation. I take issue with this interpretation. I would call it an incorrect interpretation.

Yes, it’s true that Luther, in the Lutheran Confessions lists salvation as an outcome of baptism, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to say that baptism is necessary for salvation. Because if our salvation is dependent on whether or not we’re baptized, then our salvation becomes dependent on us, and not on God. And this is at odds with what Lutherans believe about salvation. Salvation is God’s gift to us, given to us as grace, given to us in spite of our sinfulness and the ways we separate ourselves from God and from one another, grace given to you through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Salvation is God’s action, not ours. We’re saved because of what God did, and what God does, not because of what we do.

Baptism isn’t an insurance policy. Baptism is an invitation into consequential Christian community.

Baptism is an exchange of promises between us and God, and between the baptized person and the community that receives them. We make promises to draw near to God and strive to live closely to how God calls us to live and to strive to continue learning more about this Christian life of faith to which we are called. As a church, a community of faith, we make promises to the baptized person to walk alongside them and help them in keeping these promises. We make promises to the parents of young ones that we’ll support them as they shoulder the bulk of keeping these promises, and we promise to support them in this work.

Baptism is a series of promises made between members of a community of faith.

Baptism is belonging.

Back to our verses from Acts 8. It’s no wonder, then, that this person, when they hear from Philip about Jesus of Nazareth and the good news of the Gospel, it’s no wonder that their immediate response is, “Look! Here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?!?”

Nothing, dear one…absolutely nothing.

Oh that the Gospel would grab hold of all of us like that…

But I want to unpack what this story’s about and why it’s so mind-bendingly scandalous. Your bible says, “Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship.”

Ok, so, it’s important to know that this person is from Ethiopia…Africa…an ethnic outsider on their way to Jerusalem. This person had come to Jerusalem to worship. Ok…so, Jewish…? Maybe…? But maybe not… What is important is that this person was not yet a Christ-believer, so from the context of the first Christ-believing communities that we’ve been talking about in Acts, this person was a religious outsider. This person was also a court official, high ranking, in charge of the queen’s treasury. This person had power and influence and an enormous amount of responsibility.

Now the eunuch piece…so, you need to know that in the 1st century and for many centuries after, “eunuch” was a blanket term that didn’t just mean someone who had their sexual organs altered. “Eunuch” was a term, often pejorative, for someone whose physical outsides, particularly their sexual organs, fell outside of what was considered societal norms. But “eunuch” could have also referred to people of different gender identities or sexual orientations. A gender or sexual outsider.

My friend and colleague Pastor Ashley Dellagiacoma, Pastor of Kindred+ in Montrose and who’s preached in this pulpit before said it this way, and I think it’s perfect: “The reason these folks were especially common in royal courts and given positions of such power was that all of that access and power and influence could be a substantial threat in a royal court system, especially if that person was also male, and especially if they were to be entrusted with access to powerful women. So powerful households would employ people that they perceived to be incapable of exerting sexual power…incapable of producing heirs to challenge the status quo.

The word “eunuch” can refer to a castrated man, but it also had a broader definition in ancient times that could include homosexual men or intersex folks. A eunuch can be someone whose genitalia does not match the societal expectations or is altered in some way, either because they were born that way or because they were subjected to sexual violence by the empire. It can also be someone whose gender expression does not match societal expectations, what we might identity as trans, or non-binary, or queer.

Biblical eunuchs can represent a number of sexual and/or gender identities that were foolishly thought to be dismissible. I say foolishly because the Bible has several stories of eunuchs who turn that assumption into opportunities for the glory of God.”

This is where we find this person today. The story of an outsider, in every sense of the word, using their story as an opportunity to glorify God.

The Bible is full of archetypes. Distressed heroes, rescued travelers, redeemed souls, sinful and broken yet restored humans… What the author of Acts calls this eunuch from Ethiopia is the archetype for the marginalized and outsider. This is someone who existed on the very edges of every societal class.

And it’s this person who receives the Gospel with such joy that nothing will prevent them from being baptized.

Would your witness or testimony have that effect, church? Would your story about where God has shown up in your life compel someone to throw off all abandon and run toward the nearest body of water asking to be baptized?

This is someone who had every reason to be distrustful, skeptical, resentful, even fearful of anyone coming in the name of someone in power, whether religious or imperial power, but especially the church…this is someone who could be killed for simply existing…and yet, their experience of the good news of God’s incredible love for them is so overwhelming, they leap to the nearest water they can find.

In the Gospel, they heard something about their worth. They heard something true about their belonging.

In recent weeks, in the latest rounds of culture wars, lawmakers from numerous states have taken aim at trans folks, particularly trans youth, over their decisions about their identity and their access to healthcare. I want to be exceptionally clear, any attempt to deny someone their humanity—their personhood—is an affront, is blasphemy, is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Full stop.

One more time.

Any attempt to deny someone their humanity—their personhood—is an affront, is blasphemy, is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This conversation is especially important for churches and for those who call themselves Christian. The church has historically been and in many ways, continues to be openly hostile and even hateful toward the LGBTQIA2+ community. Folks in this community have zero reason to trust the church or give any attention to what Christians have to say. And you may wonder what is the point of being clear and explicit, and it may feel cumbersome to you, and maybe it feels like a lot, and you might not think it’s important, and you might wonder why I go to such great lengths to be clear and explicit in continuing to lift up and name the folks who identify with this acronym—LGBTQIA2+……church, it is because these are people. These are identities. This is about belonging, and a place to feel welcome and to belong. Being clear and explicit in order to specifically name their identity…that matters. And if you’re wondering whether or not it matters, ask them. And it is literally the absolute least I could do as someone who stands in a position of power in an institution that has historically and to this day, in many ways, still oppresses and marginalizes those who identify as part of this community.

A disciple is known by their fruit.

What fruit are you bearing, church?

The fruit you bear is demonstrative of the vine you’re attached to. Are you bearing the fruit of love and inclusion and compassion and mercy and repentance and gentleness and peace…? Or is your fruitless than reflective of the God of scripture? Hatred and vitriol and divisiveness and self-righteousness and hurtfulness…?

If you abide…if you dwell…in Christ…you will bear good and tasteful fruit. Any branch that doesn’t will be pruned. So let’s be clear, we’re not the ones doing the pruning, church. We’re not the ones determining whether the fruit is good or not. God is the vine-grower.  Your job, Christian, is to bear fruit. So bear good fruit, disciple.

Continuing with our theme over the past few weeks, what an opportunity to say something true and beautiful and meaningful about the Gospel truth of God’s incredible love for all people…especially the ones considered to be outsiders and on the margins…especially those marginalized for their sexual or gender identity.

As we begin to make our way out of this pandemic, church, I’ve noted before and I’ll note it again, things are going to look very different. We’ll be presented with an opportunity to explore something new about ourselves, to learn something new about ourselves. In many ways, we’re being given an opportunity to restart, to be resurrected. It’s an opportunity to take a good, hard look at who we are, and what we’re about. To take a good look around our community of faith, to take a good, hard look around our neighborhood, and to ask the kinds of questions that seek to discover how our community of faith might be more reflective of our neighborhood.

What an opportunity to say something true and beautiful and meaningful about the Gospel truth of God’s incredible love for all people…especially the ones considered to be outsiders and on the margins.

What will your witness be, church?

What gifts and passions and energies might they bring to enrich our community?

Or to change up the context a little bit…so often we characterize ourselves as the saviors, right? We’re Philip climbing into the chariot and opening the scriptures, we’re the ones bringing the good news, we’re the ones doing the baptizing……but what if we’re more like this eunuch…? What if we’re the ones eagerly awaiting to hear something true and beautiful and meaningful about God’s incredible love from those that have been historically and continuously oppressed and marginalized?

What Gospel might they tell us?

What witness will they give?

What gifts and passions and energies might we learn from them?

It’s all about belonging.

It’s all about a place where people can be fully who they are, and hear that who they are is deeply loved and cared for and affirmed and celebrated by God. And not just by God, but is also deeply loved and cared for and affirmed and celebrated by those of us who call ourselves Christian.

Look, communion’s important, I get it. And I do love the Eucharist.

But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find something more consequential, more meaningful…than belonging.

Belonging to a vine that bears good fruit.

Sustaining, nourishing, delicious…good fruit.

That’s a vineyard I’d like to belong to.

That’s a vineyard I could invite others to.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:11-18

[Jesus said:] 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

You know us. And you shepherd us.

You care for us. And you give us life.

Help us to be caretakers.

Of our world. And of each other.

Help us enfold one another in your love.



What’s your witness?

What is your testimony?

When you think about it, what would you say, when someone asked you about your faith? What would you tell them about your relationship with God?

These past couple of weeks, I’ve spent the bulk of my sermons talking about witnessing, or testifying, or evangelizing. This is one of the things we’re called to do as disciples and followers of the crucified and risen Christ…not only to carry that faith for ourselves but to carry it “to all nations,” as we heard last week, “to the ends of the earth,” as we’ll hear in a few weeks.

Your words matter. So what will you say? And how will you say it?

I had a really nice beginning of a sermon started where I was going to tell you a little bit about how to start thinking about doing this, and what this kind of sharing and testimony sounds like…but then I was leaving the church office and going to lunch, and as I was pulling out of our parking lot and driving past our outdoor chapel as anyone has to do when they’re leaving our campus, I looked out, as I always do, and saw someone sitting in our chapel, facing the altar and the cross, looking out toward the lake.

And it was so striking to me.

But this is not an unusual occurrence. In fact, I think you should know that our chapel probably sees visitors almost every week, maybe as many as 5-10 folks a week given I’m not up here much in the evenings or on the weekends. This space, in and of itself, is a witness.

I think our chapel is a testimony to a need we see in our neighborhood…and truthfully, I think it’s a need we would probably easily identify in our world as a whole.

We need a quiet place. We need a place that focuses our attention…that focuses us…on the cross, on God, on God’s gift to a world groaning in pain from destruction. We need places to be reminded of God’s creative beauty. We need places that draw us along still waters and set us down in lush verdant meadows. We need places that remind us that the shepherd deeply cares for us, the sheep.

I was struck because this person had taken time out of the middle of their day to sit quietly and focus themselves.

And that’s not something we do often. And especially in a time like this when things feel so out of control or beyond control, a reminder to sit and breathe and be…is a welcome balm for a weary soul.

When I start to think about beginning the process of crawling our way out of this pandemic…I get anxious. I get anxious because I’m a planner, I like to know or be able to project what something’s going to look like. And at least if I can’t project, I like to be able to give my best guess. The thing is, I don’t know what is coming out of the past 13 months is going to look like for us, church.

I think it’ll be slow. I think it’ll be a process, maybe even an arduous one.

I think we’ll need to be consistent practitioners of the same patience and grace we’re shown consistently by God.

I meant what I said a couple of weeks ago, whatever we’ll be on the other side of this won’t be what we were before. I told a member earlier this week, “If we don’t come out of this having made some significant changes or trying some way out there new things, I think we’ll have missed an incredible opportunity.” We need to allow ourselves to be transformed, we need to be open to the new thing God is trying to do…we need resurrection, church.

And I need your help to do it.

I need your ideas. I need your way-out-of-left-field, might-just-be-a-little-too-far-fetched, might-go-well-might-completely-fall-apart ideas for what our ministry here in this place, here at New Hope looks like, sounds like, looks like, feels like going forward.

What new ministry do we need to partner with? Tell me.

What community organization needs our time and energy? Tell me.

What sheep are yearning to hear how much the shepherd cares for them? What sheep are missing from the fold but are needing to hear about the self-sacrificial love of the shepherd? What sheep are longing to hear the shepherd’s voice?

What neighbors need to hear the Gospel message of God’s overwhelming and incredible love for them?

Don’t tell me, tell them!

I’m serious, people—your neighbors—are starving for good news. Feed them!

Evangelism is hard, I get it. But go with me for a minute…think about your favorite restaurant.

What do you love about that place? What’s your favorite thing to order? What’s the atmosphere like? When’s the best time to go? Who’s the best server? Is it the food, is it the location, is it the ambiance…? I bet it’s all of that…and more.

We give our friends restaurant recommendations all the time…what about your church, what about your community of faith…what about your family here…?

What do you love about it? What makes New Hope special? What have you found at New Hope that you haven’t been able to find anywhere else? What are the people like? What about the atmosphere? What do you love about where people spend their time and energy? What’s your favorite ministry to support?

These really aren’t rhetorical questions, I’d really be curious to know. If you want to pause this service and grab a pencil and paper and write down what you think, I think that’d be a great idea.

Because I think your answers to these questions matter.

When someone’s having a rough time…when they’re going through some things…when they’re feeling exhausted…when they ask you where you find the energy to keep volunteering or giving of yourself while we’re still going through a pandemic…when they ask you about your heart and care and concern for others and for your neighbors and for people you’ve never even met…when people ask you about your causes of justice, and how can you possibly continue to stay hopeful in the midst of so much hurt and pain and things going wrong in the world…what are you going to say?

What will you tell them?

What will your witness be?

What will your testimony be?

Evangelism doesn’t have to be overbearing, it just has to be honest. What do you love? Where do you find comfort? What gives your spirit peace?

“I have other sheep that don’t yet belong to this fold, I must bring them in also.”

Jesus is the shepherd, but the shepherd doesn’t make more sheep, the sheep lead other sheep.

But this shepherd is different, y’all. This shepherd cares for the sheep. This shepherd protects the sheep, doesn’t run away at the first sign of danger. This shepherd gives his life—the Greek word is psuche—better translated as “breath”…this shepherd gives his breath to those that are breathless, those that are having their breath taken from them, or taken away.

This shepherd lays down his life, in order that the sheep would experience expansive and full and abundant life.

We won’t be what we were before on the other side of this pandemic. With God’s help, we’ll be something different, something new. With God’s help, we’ll be something resurrected.

And I can’t stop thinking about those sheep that aren’t yet here. What wisdom might they bring? What fullness, what passions and energy might they bring?

And who will invite them?

Evangelism doesn’t have to be hard. It just has to be honest.

Sometimes it’s something as simple as noticing someone experiencing God’s presence…and asking them how they’re doing.

Maybe that will spark a conversation that will be a balm for your own soul, too.