Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Mark 9:30-37

30 [Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of humanity is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But the disciples did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
  33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when Jesus was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But the disciples were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking the young one in his arms, said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

Sometimes we can get so caught up

In our own ideas about greatness

That we fail to see the places and the people

You have called beloved and great.

Give us eyes to see, this morning.

Give us hands and arms and feet and hearts

For serving, and embracing, and loving.



In the Summer of 1996, the Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, Georgia. And prior to any Olympiad, there’s always a torch relay. The Olympic flame makes its way from Olympia in Greece to the host city where the Olympics will be held. In the summer of 1996, that relay made its way right through downtown Arlington, Texas where I grew up, and the school were my sister and I were attending summer daycare that year was just down the road from the route and our school took a field trip to see part of this incredible journey representing peace and the human spirit.

The streets were packed and we were able to get a front row spot and the image of that torch and everything it represented was so amazing and so wonderful to watch.

That’s one of the earliest memories I have of watching any kind of parade.

Pure spectacle. Wonder. Amazement.

Later through our years growing up, my family would go to our town’s 4th of July parade. Also a great time. Great to see the firefighters and police, the high school bands, Elvises riding tiny motorcycles.

In high school, I would end up marching in that 4th of July parade as a member of my high school band. The parade became less of a spectacle and more of a chore. (Teenagers never want to get up early, least of all in the summer, to spend the morning marching a couple of miles in the Texas heat…that’s just true.)

The wonder and amazement of parades ended up being replaced by a sense of annoyance and an attitude of “I’d much rather be doing literally anything else.” And even after having not marched in a parade in years, I don’t think I’ve ever fully recaptured that spirit of awe.

Celebrations, things like fireworks…even those seem like they don’t catch my attention like they used to.

But then 2 years ago, something incredible happened, and our family grew. And all of a sudden, there was someone who didn’t have all these experiences. There wasn’t all this baggage associated with these new things. They were just new. And small things like leaves falling or wind blowing or the snow from the past February, and oh, have y’all seen fireworks??!? Like explosions of rainbows in the sky. Everything is new!

And I’ve gotten a small glimpse into what it’s like to discover that wonder and amazement again.

I’ve been reflecting this week and wondering at what point are the spectacle and wonder in our lives replaced with cynicism and a sense of annoyance and obligation? Like, at what point do we lose, or forget, the ability to see the magic?

In our gospel today from Mark, Jesus and the disciples are walking along and Jesus is trying to tell them something important, teaching them that the Son of humanity is going to be betrayed, and be killed, and three days later will rise again. Like, this is what’s going to happen y’all. We know it by now, and this is the second time in the gospel of Mark that Jesus is trying to tell the disciples. And time and time again, I feel like we wonder why the disciples never seem to get it. But are we really all that surprised? Because as it turns out, when they get to Capernaum, and Jesus asks them what they were talking about as they walked along, it turns out that instead of listening, they were arguing with each other about who’s the greatest. But is it all that unbelievable that these barely-20-year olds, probably more like teenagers were arguing amongst themselves, not really paying attention to what Jesus is talking about, but having their own conversation instead?

If you’ve ever had a teenager, you know. If you’ve ever been a teenager, you know. And if you are a teenager…you know…

And Jesus says, “Let me tell you about being great.”

And he says, “Whoever wants to be great, if you want to be first…you’ve gotta serve.” Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Putting the needs of others ahead of your own. You wanna be great? Become least.

And then to drive the point home, Jesus picks up a random child and sets it in the middle of them and says, “Here is greatness. This is what it means to be great.” To welcome, to show hospitality to, to receive—the Greek is super-interesting here…dechetai…it’s like, to welcome as part of your own family. To welcome those who cannot welcome you. To show hospitality and kindness to those who can’t repay you. To treat a child—someone who was on the lowest levels of the ladder of society—to treat this young one who was considered lower than you, beneath you…as a member of your own family.

Are you watching what’s happening right now down at our Southern border? 14,000 immigrants, mostly Haitian, in Cuidad Acuña, right across the Río Grande from Del Rio.

Where is greatness found, church?

What does it mean to be great?

I feel like we have lots of ideas about what it means to be great, personally, and lots of thoughts about the times when we as a people, or even as a church, were great. But do we really remember those times accurately? When you examine what we largely believe makes us great, does that match up with what Jesus is talking about here?

We tend to measure greatness by accumulation—accumulation of stuff, of titles, of degrees, of dollars. But just before this Jesus talks about giving up your life, and here, says those who want to be first must be last, and then takes a young child and sets the child in the disciples’ midst. It seems that Jesus’ ideas of greatness don’t reflect our own.

Greatness is found in the least. In giving up.

The whole idea of the kingdom of God is found in this great inversion—this idea that it’s those on the underside, the outcast, the weak, the oppressed…it’s the ones who, by all earthly measures, are the least—Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

You want to know what greatness is? Look to a young child.

I think for Christians, and certainly, for Lutherans, we’ve turned the life of faith into a lifetime exercise of knowing. “If I just learn more, figure it out, if I just knew more stuff…then I would know God.” I think we Lutherans do ourselves, and God, a great disservice when we think we can fully understand God. Lutheran theologian Karl Barth has a way of saying, in effect, if you think you’ve got God figured out, it’s safe to say you’re no longer talking about God. Essentially, God is beyond our ability to fully comprehend, to fully understand.

Rather, Barth asserts, we experience God. We can say, we can testify to, certain things that are true about God because we’ve experienced God in a certain way.

I think that’s what Jesus is getting at here…at least, in this season, that’s what I think. Both Jesus and St. Paul use the language of a childlike faith a lot. The young person gets lifted up often as the model of a faithful life. And so often that’s been taken to mean a faith that takes things in without question, a faith that simply hears answers and automatically receives them as true.

And I don’t think that’s it at all.

If you know a young person, or you’ve ever known a young person, you know that unquestioning is one thing they are not.

I think the faith of young people is one that does ask a lot of questions. But one that doesn’t get caught up in the answers or trying to understand. The faith, and indeed, the life, of young people is one full of wonder. And experiences.

New, exciting, fantastic, awe-filled experiences.

On this Sunday when we’re starting up our Faith Formation programs and classes, and starting up Sunday School again, I want to encourage you, church, to not lean so hard into the idea of trying to grasp God, or know God, or understand God. I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to experience God.

Find places to serve.

Find ways to live out and embody your baptismal calling.

Go to the places where Jesus says God is to be found—in the least, the outcast, the downtrodden, the ones of no account—and treat them as members of your own family.

Go to the hurting places of the world with arms open and hands ready to serve and see what experience God has in store for you there.

See the world as God sees the world: with love and compassion, full of wonder and awe.

See yourself as God sees you.

See others as God sees them.

Experience true greatness in the wonder and awe and everyday amazement of being called and being given to one another to love and to serve.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Mark 8:27-38

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And the disciples answered Jesus, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
  31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of humanity must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  34 Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of humanity will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of God with the holy angels.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Living God,

Sometimes the enormity of the world’s grief

Feels like too much, and we struggle to know

Even where to begin.

Reassure us, this morning. Encourage us and
Walk with us in love.

Use our hands to love and serve your world.



I’ve told y’all before about how I have a terrible memory. Where I put my keys, when important dates are, what I had for lunch yesterday… It’s just best not to rely on me to remember. Anything.

But there are some things that will never leave me.

People, places, moments…that are seared into my consciousness. Things I couldn’t forget if I tried.

I’m not someone who’s overly nostalgic. I tend to be a very forward-looking and forward-acting person. I think history is useful, and we can certainly learn from it, but I try to generally stay more grounded in the present, and think and act toward the future.

I found myself mostly avoiding interviews and shows on the radio over the past week that were remembering 9/11, 20 years ago. Not that I don’t remember or didn’t want to remember certain parts of that day or the days after, but there are also memories associated with 9/11 that are painful—parts of the aftermath of that day that I don’t think we, as a nation, want to repeat…decisions that were made, blame that was placed, people that were treated a certain way…

But yesterday I listened to former President George W. Bush speak at a memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where United flight #93 was brought down in a field by 40 brave souls, doubtlessly preserving countless others, and former President Bush contrasted the spirit he felt in these United States in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 with the spirit across these United States he feels now 20 years later.

And it’s hard to disagree because when I think about then and I think about now, I really feel as if that spirit couldn’t be more different.

In the face of tragedy, he remarked, the people of the United States came together, stood shoulder to shoulder, and reached out hands and did what we could to help our neighbors in need. There was a deep sense of unity and togetherness, a sense that what was best for those most in need would truly be better for all of us. And I think about now, and I reflect on how divided everything feels—about how divided we feel—and it makes me incredibly sad. It’s a lot. And there are times when you just don’t want to continue doing it anymore. You wonder where you’ll find the will and energy to keep pushing through.

I thought about that spirit former President Bush talked about…that united spirit in the face of tragedy…and I’m reminded of just how close and how familiar we are, here, with tragedy, collective tragedy. Hurricanes, illnesses, deaths, climate change, discrimination, struggles with family and relationships…we’re a people who know tragedy. 4 years since Hurricane Harvey. 3 years since the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School. 1 year since Hurricanes Laura and Delta wreaked havoc over our neighbors in western Louisiana. Just 2 weeks since Hurricane Ida devastated the area just east of that. 18-19 months since we started feeling the effects of this global pandemic we’re still living through.

We know tragedy.

And we also know the spirit of people, not just our neighbors, but also people of faith, we know the spirit of people and that feeling of resolve and resilience in the face of such awful tragedy. We know what it feels like to be uplifted by someone reaching out with a helping hand. We know what it feels like to reach out your own hand to help someone up. At the end of the day, tragedy does not prevail.

We help. We do what we can to alleviate the immediate suffering and we resolve to do better next time, to ensure that tragedy doesn’t happen again.

This is what “God’s work. Our hands.” is about. It’s about recognizing the need in our community, in our country, and in our world, and living out our faith in such a way that seeks to do something about that need. “God’s work. Our hands.” is a simple recognition that no one person can do everything, but every single person can do something. And when we do that something together, the impacts of what we do are so much bigger and so much greater than we could ever do on our own.

You have the ability to make an incredible difference in this world.

In the face of tragedy, sometimes we can feel frozen, unsure of what to do or how we can help. “God’s work. Our hands” is about taking just one small step. Letting God use your hands to do something that may feel small or insignificant, but friends, I assure you, there’s nothing small or insignificant about the impact you’re making, about the real and tangible difference you’re making in the lives of real people.

That is not a small thing.

This is what it means to pick up and carry the cross and follow Jesus. The cross of Christ isn’t an easy thing to carry, but it isn’t a burden. Carrying the cross of Jesus is reaching out into your neighborhood and into the world with love. It’s doing small things with great love. Like Jesus.

Doing God’s work with your hands.


At this time we’re going to spend some time in service and we have lots of opportunities to serve. You’ll see stations set up around the Sanctuary and gathering space. You can visit all of them, you can visit one of them, you can visit none of them. But we encourage you to spend some time in love and service of people that you may never meet.

We have spaces to learn, spaces to advocate, spaces to reflect and pray…however you would like to serve today. We’ll spend about 15-20 minutes in service, and we’ll regather for Communion.

Pastor Janelle is going to tell you a little bit more about the stations we have set up.

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2021

Mark 7:24-37

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
  31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of hope,

There’s so much in or world that seeks

To drive us further apart.

We’re tempted by fear, security, anxiety,

And the desire to put our desires above our neighbors.

Help us be opened to your healing word this morning.

Help us be opened to your transforming love.





A little more than 9 years ago, when we pulled up to the building that would become our home while I was in seminary, a small thought entered the back of my mind.

“What have I done?” said the small and quiet voice.

What mess did I get myself into? What was I thinking? Is this just going to crash and burn like part of me expects it to?

What have I done…?


I tried to reassure myself. “Just…be opened to it.”

“Ok…” I thought, “Here we go.”


Just…be opened to it.


It was an intentional choice to attend seminary in Chicago. An intentional choice to move my family across the United States from Texas to Illinois. And intentional choice to go and to move and to study and to learn there. I wanted to attend the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, sure, but more than that, I needed to study and learn there.



Some of you know, I grew up in Arlington, Texas. Part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. A city with the dubious distinction that somehow I feel like they wear as a badge of honor as being the largest city without a public transportation system. Arlington, Texas is suburbia, through and through. Predominantly Anglo, although increasingly diverse, as many of our cities are, but still somewhat segregated, as many of our cities and suburbs are. We tend to congregate and coalesce around folks with similar experiences to us, who look like us and generally think like us.

So with that as my background, I knew that in order to grow beyond myself, in order to learn something new that I hadn’t been able to learn well before, I knew that I was going to have to push myself beyond what was comfortable for me.

Hard to get much different than the then-3rd largest city in the United States.


After we had moved in and settled into our apartment, the semester was quickly approaching, and the seminary hosted our Orientation Week. A whole week dedicated to learning more, not just about the seminary, but also about our neighborhood, where my colleagues and I would spend the next 3-4 years. One of the activities we did as part of our orientation was a neighborhood encounter. A time to walk around, ride the bus, ride the train, explore the neighborhood, and really start to begin to know where we had just moved.

The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago sits at the corner of 55th Street and University Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. Right across the street from the University of Chicago. Very much on the South Side of Chicago. And what my colleagues and I found as we walked, bussed, and rode around the neighborhood we had just moved to, was that while we were largely Anglo, the majority of our new neighbors were not. Culturally, we were about to immerse ourselves in an entirely new experience than most of us had ever experienced before.


Chicago. A highly urban place. So already starting to stretch this suburbanite from North Texas.

But as my experience in Orientation Week showed me, Chicago isn’t just highly urban. Maybe some of you already know this, I didn’t at the time, Chicago remains still a highly segregated city. North Side, predominantly Anglo; South Side, predominantly people of color, mostly folks of African descent.


We came back together after our neighborhood encounter experience. “What did you learn?” one of our professors asked. “What pushed you? What did you notice within yourself?”

We talked about the shock of being in a new neighborhood, being an ethnic minority in our new neighborhood. We talked about feelings of uneasiness as if we were all highly aware that we were newcomers to this neighborhood, and that we wanted to take care to not disrupt or mess up or impose our way of thinking and being onto a neighborhood that wasn’t really asked if they wanted us to be there or not. We were all highly aware that we were outsiders—visitors—to this place.

“Good observations,” our professor noted. “You’ll be pushed beyond your comfortable boundaries here. Be open to that.”


Be opened.


There are a lot of times that I need reminding of these words from Jesus in our gospel from Mark this morning. Because so much of my default posture is a defensive one, especially when I feel challenged. When we’re met with experiences and stories that challenge our closely-held beliefs and certainties, our knee-jerk reaction is to get defensive. To double-down. To become even more resolute in our position of what we think we know.


And I think that’s also true of Jesus in this excerpt from Mark.

You need to know a few things about the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the earliest written gospel account, written about the year 72C.E., within a generation of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, and within a year or 2 of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, amidst incredible persecutions of Jewish people and Jewish Christ-believers. It was written to people in great fear for their lives and their livelihoods. The Gospel of Mark also depicts a very human Jesus. Throughout Mark’s narrative, you’ll hear about Jesus growing in his understanding about who he is as the Messiah and the Son of God, as well as growing in his understanding about the expansiveness of his call, of who exactly he is called to. In the early chapters of Mark, we read about a Jesus that understands his call very narrowly. Written to a very small group of Jewish Christ-followers, likely in Rome, Jesus, early in Mark’s gospel, understands his call and his mission as being sent to the Jewish faithful, the people of Israel. But as Mark’s gospel unfolds, we begin to see Jesus’ understanding grow and change as he has these encounters with people outside of the people of Israel.


Case in point, our reading this morning. This woman, who the author of Mark says is “a Gentile—a Greek—of Syrophoenician origin.” And in Greek, the word for Gentile encapsulates basically everyone who’s not Jewish. But Jesus’ encounter with this deaf man, was also likely a boundary-pushing encounter. Because it occurs as Jesus is on his way back from Tyre toward the Sea of Galilee, in this in-between place where there are not a lot of Jewish folks. So both of these interactions are with folks outside of the Jewish faith, culturally and ethnically and racially different from Jesus.

So if you’re hearing the gospel this morning and Jesus’ words toward this Syrophoenician woman make you uncomfortable, I think that feeling of uncomfortability is spot on. “Did Jesus just call this woman a…?” Yes. Jesus did just call this ethnically and religiously different woman a dog. And not in a nice way.


Remember how I said that the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus in perhaps the most human of ways, that we probably see Jesus’ humanity most clearly? This passage is one of the ones that illustrates this. We know from very early on in Jesus’ ministry, immediately after his baptism, that Jesus is tempted. Tempted in very human ways, as we are. Tempted by hunger, tempted by security, and tempted by the allure of power. One Latin American theologian says that here we see Jesus being tempted by another very human sin…perhaps the sin of racism…the sin of failing to see the image of God in someone else because they’re of a different ethnic or cultural or racial or religious background…the failure to see the image of God in someone else because of who they are.


So often when we’re met with experiences and stories that challenge our closely-held beliefs and certainties, our knee-jerk reaction is to get defensive. To double-down. To become even more resolute in our position of what we think we know.


You know that feeling of disappointment you get when someone you really look up to falls short of your expectations and fails to meet the sometimes lofty standards that you’ve placed on them?

I feel that way about Jesus in this story. I feel disappointment. Because I want Jesus to be better. I need Jesus to be better. I want Jesus to be better than my own fears and insecurities and the ways I mess up and the ways I get it so wrong. I want Jesus to be better than some of humanity’s basest knee-jerk reactions.


And yet…maybe in this, too, there is grace. Maybe there’s a grace and comfort in knowing that perhaps Jesus experienced these same fears and insecurities. Maybe there’s a grace and comfort in knowing that Jesus’ experience of humanity included some of humanity’s ugliest parts. Because if even that could be redeemed, perhaps there’s hope for even me. Perhaps there’s hope for all of us. Perhaps there’s hope for even our world.


This Syrophoenician woman challenges Jesus back after he calls her a dog. “Even the dogs eat the scraps that the children drop from the table.”

Be open to learning something different from an unexpected place, Jesus. Be open to being pushed beyond your boundaries of comfortability and what you thought you knew with such certainty.


What gifts do we miss out on because we fail to truly welcome and show hospitality to the stranger who’s right in our midst?


The author of James calls out this favoritism. “If a rich person and a poor person both come into your assembly, and if you take notice of the rich person and offer them a seat of honor while degrading the poor person, you have made distinctions among yourselves and judged with evil thoughts.” If an elder couple and a young family both come into your assembly, and you take notice of the young family and offer them a seat in the pew next to you while dismissing the elder couple, you make distinctions among yourselves and failed to see the image of God in someone else.

We show ungodly favoritism when we welcome rich folks or young folks or folks who we think can help our budgets or build up our programs or volunteer to keep our ministries going and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to those we think can’t do something for us. The kingdom of God isn’t utilitarian. The kingdom of God is one where everyone—long-timers and newcomers alike—are welcomed and appreciated and have hospitality lavished upon them. In other words, don’t welcome someone because they can do something for you, welcome them because they’re a beloved child of God.


Be open to something new, something different.


It’s one of the things we’re trying to do here at New Hope as we move into this next phase of our ministry together. We’re so thrilled to welcome Jessica to our Staff as our new Director of Worship and Music. So grateful to have Pastor Janelle here to help shepherd all of us and particularly our young people in helping us to ask deep, consequential questions about our faith. So thankful to have Aimee keeping all of our resources for ministry in line. And immeasurably blessed by Danny whose job description has undergone countless rewrites, but whose commitment is steadfast to helping this ministry thrive.

This question of welcome and hospitality is going to be the primary question for us in the coming months. We’re going to be asking discerning questions about our ministry: who’s here, who’s not here, who’s missing from this conversation, for whom do we exist, and how can we better reflect who we believe God is calling us to be in this time.

Some of it has to do with worship. Some of it has to do with service. Some of it has to do with faith formation. Some of it has to do with stewardship.

But all of it…has to do with you.


What gifts do you bring to this table?

What passions fuel your commitment to our shared ministry together?

What areas can you commit to help our ministry thrive?


It takes all of us…all of you.

All of your gifts and perspectives and passions and commitments.

I just have one request of you as we do this work together…

Be open to what’s to come.

Be open to something new.

Be open to change.

Be open to transformation.

Be open.


Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2021

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jewish people, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
  but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
  teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
  14 Then Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
  21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of life,

Our emotions seem closer and more accessible to us

Maybe than ever before.

Especially our emotions of frustration, anger, and disunity.

Remind us this morning that our words do matter.

Speak words of life to us today.

And help us speak those words of love and life into our world.





I’ve been engaged in a battle of wills with my toddler for about 10 months now. At first, when he started talking, the sounds were cute and everything you’d expect. Dada… Mama… All the usuals. But then, I think around late fall last year, he learned a new word. Despite all my best efforts to teach positive constructions and helpful affirmations, “yes” just wouldn’t take, but “no” sure did.

And the “no” word is pervasive.

What do you want for lunch? Do you want this? No. What about this? No.

Well, what about toys? Do you want to play blocks? No. Read books? No.


Eventually, we learned yes, and eventually, I learned to stop giving him so many choices.

Words are funny that way.

And I think we learn very early on about the power of words. See if you recall…


“I’m rubber, and you’re glue; whatever you say……bounces off of me and sticks to you.”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but……words will never hurt me.”


What a crock…


I suppose that kind of self-assured confidence is helpful for us when we’re in elementary school, but as we get older, I suspect we start to see the massive cracks in the logic of these aphorisms.

Because the truth is, church, words do have an impact. Words can and do hurt.


Your words have the power to wound and tear down and the power to build up, and so often these days, we seem to be exceptionally adept at the one, and woefully deficient at the other.


We’ve left the repetitive themes of feeding and nourishing in our Bread of Life series that we were in for the past 6 weeks or so, and launched back into the teachings of Jesus from the gospel of Mark, and are hearing them paired with readings from the book of James. We’ve left behind all the talk of unity and building up and being reconciled to one another from Ephesians, and we’ll hear a lot more pointed words from James, but I think the underlying message is constant throughout here: God’s interested in how you’re using your faith—to build up one another, to build up and strengthen the body of Christ, to serve and love others.


There was a video I saw recently of a young mother teaching her daughter about the importance of words. She had a plate and a tube of toothpaste. “What’s something mean you’ve heard your friends say before?” the mother asks her daughter. “That their clothes are dirty,” the daughter replies. The mother squirts out toothpaste onto the plate. “What else?” she asks. “That their hair’s messed up.” Another squirt of toothpaste onto the plate. “What else? Keep ‘em coming.” “Their shoes are raggedy. They’ve got no friends. Their house is a mess. Their toys are broken. They’re ugly. Their backpack’s worn out.” All more squirts of toothpaste out onto the plate.

“Ok,” the mom says, handing her daughter the plate and the squeezed tube of toothpaste, “Put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

The daughter looks at the plate, at the toothpaste, and at the tube, back at the plate a couple of times. “I can’t, Mama,” the daughter tells her, “I can’t get this toothpaste back in there.”

“And you can’t take those words back either,” her mother says. “Once they’re out of your mouth, they’re gone. You can’t take those things back. So if they’re hurtful, the damage is already done. So be careful what you say to people. Now give me a hug.”


A powerful message. About being cautious about what we say.


The author of James says it this way, “Be quick to listen. And slow to speak. Slow to anger.”

Jesus says, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but it is what comes out of a person that defiles.”


Guard your words.

Quick to listen. Slow to speak.


Both the author of James and Jesus are couching this teaching in terms of faithfulness. Jesus is countering the arguments of the religious leaders that the disciples eat with unwashed hands. The religious leaders were putting up barriers between people and God, barriers between people and the practicing of their faith. The religious leaders were more interested in the purity and the adherence to these human-constructed statutes and ordinances, rules that were crafted by humans, not commanded by God, and using them to separate people from the practice of their faith, using them to separate people from God.

And the author of James here is warning against a practice of faith that may say all the right things on Sunday morning, but turns around the other 6½ days of the week and speaks with anger and vitriol and sordidness and wickedness—saying one thing on Sunday morning and something quite the opposite the rest of the week.

Know anyone like that? Know anyone that you look at their behavior and what they say and think, “There’s no way that’s the same person I sit next to in the pew next to on Sunday mornings.”

I’ll go first. I do. I know someone like that.

And spoiler alert: it’s me.

Some weeks are better than others, but I’ll be the first to confess to you, my siblings in Christ, that the number of times my words and actions throughout the week match up with what I hear from Jesus and preach about on Sunday mornings are far fewer than I’d like to admit.


Words of anger. Discontent. Thinking the worst of people. Speaking ill of folks, often in hushed words where they can’t hear. Being far less gracious toward others than I myself am in need of.


This is why we need God’s grace, of course. Because my how we’ve fallen short.

Every week we fail to live up to the Gospel ideals we hear from Jesus on Sunday mornings. Every week it’s like we forget how to be the people God calls us to be. And so every week we need reminding that the death and resurrection of Christ is God’s final word of love and life spoken into our world that continually seeks further division, further oppression, further anger, and further death.

Thank God that God always speaks words of healing.


“Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness,” the author of James writes.

I love that line. It’s an incredibly helpful reminder.

Because there are a great many things that we can be angry about, right?


Whether related to the pandemic that seems to never end or back to school stressors or that jerk that cut you off on the freeway…anger’s an easy emotion for us to tap into.

But your anger does not produce God’s righteousness, dear child.

Anger is ok, even holy sometimes, but anger is not to be weaponized. Be cautious of how your anger manifests. Be aware of the anger that seeks to escape from your lips.

What if, instead, we channeled our anger and frustration in a different way?


Jesus and the author of James are critiquing inauthentic religion. Jesus critiquing a ritual and purity system that constructs barriers between people and God, and the author of James critiquing a spirituality where the words and the actions don’t match up…a spirituality that speaks harsh and angry words instead of embodying care and concern for “the orphans and widows.”


“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Pure and undefiled and true religion is one that is focused outside of oneself, focused on the orphans and widows, those to whom God’s people are historically commanded to show deference. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are commanded to show particular care and concern to orphans, widows, and strangers.“Orphans and widows” that the author uses here are code words, as they are throughout the Bible, for the oppressed, marginalized, and vulnerable communities regardless of which century we’re talking about. Whether it’s 1st century Palestine or 21st century Houston, TX—our mandate, our commandment is to live and act with particular care and concern for vulnerable populations.

Whether we’re talking about how we live together in a global pandemic, what rules and restrictions should be in place in order to keep the most vulnerable safe…or we’re talking about housing justice, or economic justice, or racial justice, food justice, LGBTQIA2+ justice…your commandment is to live and act with deference, with particular care and concern for oppressed, marginalized, and vulnerable groups.

This is authentic religion.

This is worship, a belief system, a spirituality, a religion that is commanded by God and that is pleasing to God.


What if instead of anger and hostility, what if we were vocal, actually vocal and outspoken, about the matters of faith Jesus and the author of James lift up?

What if we were loudly vocal and outspoken about the “orphans and widows”? Loud and outspoken about matters of justice.

Not simply being hearers of the word, but actually putting our faith into action and practice.

Become doers of the word.

Advocates for the oppressed and the marginalized. Caretakers for those in need. Outposts of compassion for the immigrant and the refugee. Fortresses of comfort the students and the faculty and staff at Armstrong and all across the schools in this area…mentors and reading buddies for those kids who just need someone to care about them and love them.


By living and doing, and not just hearing the Gospel, you become active agents of God’s change in the world. Do you catch what I’m saying?

Let’s talk about things that matter. New Hope has an opportunity to make a difference, and church, we’re seizing it…and I want nothing more than for you to join me on this journey.

We’re speaking words of life here.


As we reemerge and resurrect from this pandemic, we’re having important conversations about the kind of community that we will be.

I want you to join in these conversations.

Words matter.

And these words have the power to build up and bring forth life.


Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
  53 When Jesus and the disciples had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized Jesus, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Sustaining God,

We often have a difficult time admitting when we’re tired.

Help us recognize our need for rest.

Shepherd us into holy rest.

Nourish and energize us for the work of ministry

To which you have called us.





There have been a handful of times in my life when I’ve been just truly overwhelmed…when I’ve felt completely underwater and like I’d not ever be able to get my head back up to the surface.

Not quite breakdowns, but times when everything feels like it’s too much, you can’t really see a way out of all the stuff that’s piling on, and you’re really not sure what your next step is.


And what these times look like for me is that I need some time to be some combination of angry and sad, sometimes I’ll need a scream, other times a cry, other times a hard workout and a place to put the frustration, and I just need some time to release those feelings, collect myself, make a plan for going forward, and then get on with the next steps and following that plan.


The majority of those times probably came in seminary. Once or twice toward the end of the semester, finals rush and all that. Trying to crank out papers. Another once or twice while serving as a chaplain intern at the hospital in downtown Chicago. You’ll certainly see some stuff on your overnight on-calls there…


But another was fairly recently…a couple of weeks ago when we were trying to figure out our response to the COVID-19 pandemic that just seems to keep going on and on and on and on…trying to figure out how to best take care of everyone involved in our community of faith, especially our young ones and immuno-suppressed and immuno-compromised folks who are the most vulnerable among us, trying to make sense out of numbers and data that I am not trained to make sense out of, and feeling like no matter what decision we make, it’s going to feel like the wrong decision to some folks.

I hate no-win situations. I’m a consensus builder, who tries to make everyone happy, who tries to find a way for everyone to get at least some of what they want.


But the pandemic has really been an extremely difficult situation from the beginning, and a couple of weeks ago was one of those build-up points when things were about to come spilling over the surface. So I came into the office on a day when no one was here, I lit a candle and some incense, and spent some time in meditation and prayer. Meditation to examine, observe, and release my thoughts. Prayer to ask God for a measure of wisdom and guidance and strength as we move forward.

I realized after I finished praying that it had been quite a long time since I had spent that much significant time in prayer. Turns out even pastors can get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget to pray.


But friends, that time was really helpful for me.

And I bet I’m not the only one here who has these moments of feeling overwhelmed. And I bet I’m not the only one here who gets so caught up in the day-to-day that I forget how to pray.

These past 18 months have been some of the most trying in our lives, haven’t they? How many times have you felt overwhelmed, at your wit’s end, or just barely hanging on? How many times have you felt beyond exhausted?


As we heard in our gospel reading from Mark this morning, the disciples experienced these moments, too. Even Jesus has these moments of exhaustion. “The disciples told Jesus about all they had done and taught. And Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let’s go away to a place by ourselves away from everyone, and rest for a while.’ Because many people were coming and going and they didn’t even have time to eat.”

Have you ever felt like you have so much to do, that you don’t know even when you’ll eat?

Martin Luther once famously remarked, “I have so much to do today, I shall need to spend at least the first three hours of the day in prayer.”

I aspire to Luther. I am not Martin Luther, but I aspire to it.


Last week, we started our worship series for the second half of the summer that we’re calling Bread of Life. And we’re hearing these stories about feeding and nourishing from the Gospels of Mark and John, and throughout this series, we’re asking these questions about what feeds and nourishes us.

Today, our reading from Mark begs the question, what can you do when you feel empty?

How can you possibly hope to feed and fill others, when you yourself are empty, are hungry, are starving?


Whether physically feeding someone and tending to their material needs or tending to their other needs through your time and resources, the thing about filling others up is that if you’re constantly pouring yourself out into others, your cup will eventually run dry. You can’t pour into others from an empty vessel.

So what do you need to refill yourself?

What fills you up? Where do you go and what do you do when even the reserves are running low?


Just like we’ve talked about for a couple of weeks now, Mark chapter 6 is an interesting one. It starts with Jesus the hometown kid being rejected by those in Nazareth who couldn’t understand what he was doing. “A prophet isn’t without honor except in the prophet’s hometown,” remember? Then last week, Herod throws a birthday party and John the baptizer loses his head. Then this week, we have the intro to Mark’s version of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, but we don’t actually hear Mark’s version of this story. we’ll pick that up next week from the Gospel of John. But the way Mark tells it, like we heard this morning, the disciples were sent out by Jesus, to teach and heal and cure. And they’ve been out doing this work, the same kind of work that can get someone beheaded if they get crossways with the powers that be, the powers of the empire. But they’ve been doing this work and people keep coming to them, so the disciples keep teaching and healing and curing. And more and more people keep showing up. And the disciples are exhausted, and they haven’t even had time to eat. So Jesus says, “Come away with me for a while.” But the people and the needs are unrelenting. And there are 5,000 people here, and they all need something to eat. And “Couldn’t they just go somewhere else, Jesus?” “Well, you give them something to eat.”

And even in the midst of their exhaustion, ministry—the work of teaching and healing and feeding and restoring people to wholeness—all still continues.

The work is never done. Have you heard this?


I have to tell you, I was pretty torn up when I heard this for the first time.

What do you mean the work is never done?! How do I know when I’m finished or not?

The work is never done.


This is a challenge for a task-driven, to-do list checker like myself. I’m motivated by a sense of completion, so if the work is never done, that’s going to be a problem for me. That’s how we end up overworking ourselves, and doing more than is reasonable, and not taking care of ourselves at the expense of our relationships to others.


“Jesus saw the crowds and he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Literally, Jesus was viscerally moved from his deepest inmost parts. He was physically moved from emotion to action because of his care and love for the people in need.

Jesus and the disciples are exhausted, and yet, the need is persistent, so they take whatever rest they could manage in that one verse and then went right back to it. Friends, sometimes we need to take whatever rest we can in the moment, however fleeting so that we can continue tending to the needs in front of us.


Sometimes the rest needed is a little more substantial, and so we take the time that we need. But sometimes, it’s about finding small moments of rest in the midst of ministry. Sometimes it’s about taking just 30 minutes to meditate and pray. Sometimes it’s taking a few hours out of your morning to pray. Sometimes it’s about remembering and being intentional about prayer, about having a conversation with God.


What fills you up? Is it worship? Prayer? 5 minutes of silence? Guided meditation? An audiobook on your commute? Interacting with others? Dinner and drinks with friends? Serving? Volunteering?

You are sent as disciples of Jesus to join in the work of ministry, to join in the work of healing a broken world, of restoring people to wholeness, of taking up the causes of justice, of loving and serving the world God so loves.

You are the body of Christ, sent to be the nourishing and sustaining meal for a weary world.

Don’t try and pour into others from an empty cup. It won’t work.

Make sure you yourself are full, or at least not empty.

Make sure you take moments to fill yourself up as you do this work.


As we’ll say in our communion liturgy in just a few minutes, Christ is here.

Eat. Drink. Be strengthened. Be nourished. Be sustained.


Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Mark 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of [the disciples’ preaching, teaching, and healing,] for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, the one whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
  17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to marry your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against John, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that John was a righteous and holy man, and Herod protected him. When Herod heard John, he was greatly perplexed; and yet Herod liked to listen to John. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When Herod’s daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And Herod solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 The girl went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”

25 Immediately Herodias rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. The soldier went and beheaded John in the prison, 28 brought John’s head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Life-giving God,

Our stomachs ache. We hunger.

We fill ourselves with that which does not satisfy.

Fill us again this morning.

Make us to be that which we receive,

Your very self—the body of Christ—

Given for the life of the world.





Well that’s one way to throw a party, right?

I can’t recall a time I went to a soirée and the favors the hosts handed out was someone’s head on a platter. It’s a bit too…Game of Thrones for me.


But different from Westeros, where gratuitous violence is rampant, this story does have a function in the Gospel of Mark. More on that in a minute.


Today we’re beginning the 2nd half of our summer with a new worship and sermon series called Bread of Life. Catchy and original…I know. Beginning this Sunday, we’re entering a stretch where the Gospel readings focus a lot on eating and feeding and nourishing, and at the end of July and throughout August we’ll have 5 weeks in a row from the Gospel of John that all have Jesus saying “I am the bread of life.” So, yeah…super-original series title. And, just a fair warning to those of you who have gluten intolerances or suffer from celiac disease…you’re going to be hearing a lot about bread…but there’s nothing to suggest that Jesus wasn’t referring to himself as a rustic loaf made from tapioca flour…I mean, there’s nothing to suggest that he was, either…but, you know, just…use whatever imagery is helpful for you.


In this series, we’re going to be talking about nourishment. What is it that nourishes you? What truly fills you up and sustains you? What’s missing from your diet…spiritually, I mean? What gifts do you have that can then be used to fill up and sustain others? How can we combine and use our individual gifts more effectively for the sake of each other and the world? What does it look like and how much more filling and sustaining is it if we try and create a whole recipe from our individual gifts and ingredients, rather than withholding the ingredients to stand on their own?

This is some of what we’ll be talking about during this second half of the summer.


But today, we have a banquet. And this is not Jesus’ banquet. Obviously, the author of Mark tells us this was Herod’s party, but even if we didn’t have that, if we look at what happened at this party…this doesn’t sound like Jesus, right? This doesn’t fit with what we know and what we believe to be true about the kind of person Jesus is, the kind of party Jesus would host.

I invite you to go ahead and grab your Bible if you brought it, or open the Bible app on your phone, or even pull out one of those handy pew Bibles if you’re here in the Sanctuary with us. Go ahead and open them up to Mark chapter 6. We’re going to be rummaging around in these verses. Our Gospel reading begins in Mark chapter 6 verse 14.

New Testament…2nd half of the Bible…Matthew, Mark…2nd book……got it…? Great.

So this is a story that takes place out of time. In verse 16 we read, “When Herod heard about all the things Jesus and the disciples were doing…right, the teaching and preaching and healing and curing…all that stuff…Herod said, probably frightened, or paranoid, ‘John, the one I beheaded, has been raised.’” And then verses 17 and after are all a flashback of what happened when Herod threw a party and John lost his head. But it’s function here, in this place in the Gospel of Mark, is important. Just before this, you’ll recall, at the beginning of chapter 6, you can see in your Bibles there, was our Gospel reading from last week, when Jesus, the hometown hero, finds out that not everyone in Nazareth is thrilled with what he’s doing, and Jesus finds that it’s those who know you best that might be most reticent to hear what you have to say, especially when what you have to say is at odds with the very comfortable way of living that they’ve carved out for themselves. Hmm…that cuts a little deep, doesn’t it…? And then Jesus sends the disciples out to carry on the mission of healing and teaching and curing, and the disciples start healing and anointing and curing. And today, Herod hears about what Jesus and the disciples are doing and gets frightened. But then after our Gospel reading for today, something we’ll pick up a little bit next week is Mark’s version of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. You can see it there in Mark chapter 6 verses 30-44.

So this story we have this morning is really meant to draw a stark contrast. A contrast between Herod and Jesus, and contrast between the powers of the Empire and the kingdom, or the reign, of God.


Herod throws a party…the powers of the empire throw a party…and death is served up as the main course.

Jesus hosts a get-together…and people are fed…their bellies are filled and they are given assurances and promises that not only does God supply their material needs, but their spiritual hunger is satisfied, as well.

The ways of God are life, and life abundant. The ways of empire and the powers of this world are death…they take away life and take it violently.


What do we truly hunger for?

What does your stomach truly ache for?

Are those hunger pangs of the reign of God? Or are they actually something else?


We get told that we should hunger after all sorts of things…a promotion, a different job, more money, security, a bigger house, more friends… I heard it on the radio on the way in this morning, we here in the U.S. are caught in this unwinnable game, this neverending pursuit of one-upmanship. We’re rarely ever just satisfied. We’re always working feverishly after more. Even if “more” isn’t realistically within our reach. Even if us having “more” means someone else goes without. We’ll pursue more at the expense of others, even at the expense of our own well-being.


But what if the ways of the world are incompatible with the ways of God?

What if hungering after the reign of God puts you at odds with the kinds of hunger the world tells you to desire?


God’s vision—the reign of God—preferences those on the underside, those without, those deemed not as worthy, the vulnerable. “Those who want to save their life will lose it…those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will save it.”


The good news is that this message persists. Herod cut off John’s head, but John’s voice echoed in the ministry of Jesus. The empire—the powers of this world—lynched Jesus, strung Jesus up on a tree…they could not silence Jesus’ voice.

You can try and kill the prophet…but the prophet’s voice, the good news of God’s liberation for the oppressed and the marginalized, you’ll never be able to silence that message.


How can you lose your life for the sake of the Gospel?


We’re connected to a lot of feeding ministries here at New Hope—feeding in lots of different senses of the word. Coming up next week is our turn to host Family Promise. While still operating under pandemic protocols, churches are asked to provide meals for the families in the program. Every. single. time. the signup goes out, the slots to prepare and bring food are filled within a few days. But more volunteers are always helpful…many hands make light work. Family Promise could certainly use your hands.

We have a handful of faithful volunteers who make time every week to serve at East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry and the Food Pantry over there. But they could certainly use more. They could certainly use your time and energy.

The past couple of years have seen us nurture a relationship with Armstrong Elementary across the way. Helping to feed young people with the nourishing gifts of relationships through Reading Buddies, Mentors, and even ESL classes for their parents. We could use more…we could use your gifts.

Our sister congregation, El Buen Pastor, in El Salvador is spiritually and physically feeding the people in their incredibly impoverished communities every single week. And we’re walking alongside them as partners in ministry as they do. Your interest and input into this relationship is needed…we could use your help.


The thing about hunger is…that it’s not a one-and-done kind of thing. Hunger happens regularly. We need to eat. And we need to continue eating.

These ministries we partner with…one need gets filled, but then there’s more to come. All these wonderful ministries try to address some of the root causes of these needs, but that’s tough and long work. In the meantime, there are still needs to be met.


How can you find a way to get plugged in, either with one of these ministries or in another way? As we begin to emerge from the fog of a pandemic and start re-engaging with opportunities to serve, what ministries are speaking to your heart this morning? What opportunity do you find yourself hungering for?


Serving, loving others, meeting their needs…it doesn’t just fill them up. I’m certain you’ll find that your own hunger is filled, as well.

That nagging in your belly? That may just be a nudge from God, an invitation to try filling your own hunger by filling the needs of others.


The way of discipleship is a hard one.

It asks a lot of you. Just ask John the baptizer.

But it is in losing, in giving up, that you gain your life.

It is in filling up others, that you yourself are filled.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Mark 6:1-13

1 Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath Jesus began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did he get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they were scandalized by him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.
  Then Jesus went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 Jesus ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 Jesus said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So the disciples went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

We are only free because you have made us free.

Free to live for others.

Free to serve others.

Free to love others.

Remind us this morning, and help us recognize

That we are interdependent upon one another.





This is not how you imagined your Senior year would go. Am I right?


And truthfully this is not how any of us imagined this past year would go, but even more so for y’all. And even before that…this has been an 18-month ordeal. It’s been a tough slog. No doubt.

I mean, Friday night lights, friends, parties, concerts, prom, graduation……this has been a very different year than what you imagined.

And I’m sorry for that. You deserve a little bit more “normal” in your lives. And, I think we’re all trying to get there.

And we will get there. Eventually. Hopefully soon.


In the meantime, we took what would typically be a late-May event, and pushed it back a couple of months. Tried to plan it when things could be somewhat normal and everyone could be here.

That’s really my hope for today, that this could be some small touchstone of “normal” for you in the midst of a very abnormal world.


I have a lot of words for our graduating Seniors today, but I hope there’s some good news and some challenge in here for all of us. Because the truth is, none of us imagined that this is how these past months would have gone. And certainly, none of us imagined that we’d still be here where we are now. And I imagine more than a few of us are frustrated by that. And I don’t have to imagine all that hard, some of you have told me as much, so I feel pretty confident in saying, more than a few of us are frustrated by where we are.


This week is the last Sunday in our worship series called Together. We’ve been in this series for the first half of the summer, this series that focuses on 2nd Corinthians. We’ve been talking about how we live together in the midst of such challenging times. We’ve been trying to wrestle with how to live well together amidst so many differing viewpoints. What does it mean for us to make decisions and live our lives in service of and in the interest of others, maybe instead of or in spite of my own preferences and desires and what I want.

That’s a difficult question, right? What if what’s best for someone else requires me to give up something of myself or my own desires or preferences…what do I do with that?

How seriously are we to take Jesus’ call to discipleship?


In short, it’s interesting to me that on a weekend and a day when so many are focused on independence, that what we’re talking about is interdependence.


The ways in which we are interdependent on one another. The ways in which our lives are intricately bound up together. How what I want may not be what’s best for you, and so what do I do with that, do I live my life differently so that it serves to benefit my neighbor?


These are the difficult questions of togetherness. These are the questions of interdependence.


Seniors, you’re about to discover a whole new world of independence. Some of you will physically move away from the home, from the people you’ve known your entire life…for 18 years. What will you do with all this freedom? Some of you are going to hang around, but you’ll be no less enjoying some newfound independence. What will you do with it?


Sugar Land/Missouri City/Houston/this place…will be different when you come back. I mean, just ask Jesus. For one thing, places change. But so do people. So do you. You’ll be different people when you come back. And that’s a good thing.

But it won’t always be appreciated. Just ask Jesus.


Jesus comes back to Nazareth, maybe Capernaum…the hometown boy, the hero, of sorts…and to his friends and relatives and those that knew him, he wasn’t what they expected…he was different.

Dear friends, change is inevitable.


Change is something that this group of Seniors is intimately familiar with.

I have a bit of a soft spot for this particular group. (Don’t worry…all of our young people are my favorites…**but y’all are my favorite favorites**…) There’s a particular spot in my heart for this group of 4 because they were my first Confirmation class at New Hope. I came in right at the beginning of their 8th-grade year. I was their 4th Confirmation teacher in 2 years. Y’all had seen a lot of change happen. And Miranda joined us the next year, and that next year, we went to the ELCA Youth Gathering just down the road in Houston, and 2 years after that everything changed…and now here we are. Change is kind of built-in to your systems.


You’ve done really well through all this change, y’all.

I am so, so proud of you. I can’t wait to see what passions you discover and the ways you change and shape the world.


Just know that you won’t do it on your own.


This life…in its entirety…all of it…is a collaborative effort. It’s not a me or I thing…it’s an us and we thing. Our lives are “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together in a single garment of destiny” as the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. said. “Whatever affects one…affects all.”

Don’t forget that. You don’t do this alone.

We do this…together…


We need help along the way, right? When Jesus sends the disciples at the end of our gospel reading today, he says don’t take anything with you. Leave your bag, your food, money…leave it all.

Travel lightly. Don’t get weighed down with all your stuff. Because if you’re weighed down with all your own stuff, how do you have space to help carry someone else’s, or hold their story, or their hurt?

When we are burdened with the baggage of everything we have carried before, we aren’t free to hold the gifts of the present.


Rely on the hospitality and generosity of others. If they welcome you, great; stay there until you move on. If they don’t, turn around and leave, go somewhere else.


There’s no greater find in a college student’s life than free food.

It’s true. You and your friends will seek out who’s throwing what sort of event or get-together, you’ll figure out who’s serving hot dogs or hamburgers or whatever, which student organization is sponsoring which thing…it’s like a competition. How many days a week can I find something free to eat, versus paying for my own lunch or dinner.

You rely on the hospitality of others. Interdependence.


And when you come home at whatever breaks in the semester, you’ll bring all your laundry with you. Because the only thing better than free food is free laundry.

Rely on the hospitality of others. Interdependence.


The thing that I’ve been trying to communicate, certainly today, but over these past 6 weeks with this series from 2nd Corinthians is that we absolutely are dependent upon one another. As much as we try and tell ourselves and try and live otherwise.

We hear that, and we nod our heads, and we think we agree…but dang, we sure don’t live like it.

Because if we did, I have to think that we’d be less focused on me and what I want, and more in-tune with the needs and cares and concerns and safety of our neighbors, and the outcast, and the marginalized, and the other, and the vulnerable. Because God’s power is made perfect—made complete—in weakness. In weakness, we are made strong. God is strong in weakness.


We won’t always get it right. Even Mark says that Jesus couldn’t do any deeds of power in Nazareth among the hometown crowd. Except… Except…well, he did lay his hands on a few people and healed them.

Even at our weakest…God still finds a way to work through that.


We’re very proud of you.

Don’t forget all the people who helped you along the way to get to where you are today. Don’t forget all the help you received, and don’t neglect to help others.

This is an interdependent thing. We need each other.

Call your parents. Regularly.

Tell them you love them. Regularly.


Go be awesome.

You already are.

Just be who you are.

Be who God has created you to be.


Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Mark 4:35-41

35 When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and the disciples woke him up and said to him, “Rabbi, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 Jesus said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And the disciples were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Sustaining God,

Storms rage around and within us.

It’s hard to find a place to hold on.

Draw near to us again this morning.

Remind us that you are in these storms with us.

Quiet the storms. Send us peace.



There’s a story that I’ve told very few people about the time when I heard what I think was God’s voice the clearest in my life. I’ll save the story for another time, but what I will say is that it was, like, almost the middle of the night, and I was by myself, and everything was perfectly quiet.

It was in that absolute stillness that I believe I came the closest so far in my life to hearing God most clearly. Which tracks with Elijah’s experience on Mt. Horeb, you’ll recall…when God is not in the wind or the earthquake or in the fire, but rather in the sound of sheer silence.

But it doesn’t track, in some other ways we say God is revealed…in the way we say that God is revealed in the midst of devastation and hurting, right? That if you want to see God, go to the places of suffering. Look for God in the faces of the outcast and the downtrodden and the tossed aside. And that’s also true, too, I find, right? I do find God in those places and in those people…but rarely are those places quiet places…holy, absolutely…but rarely quiet.

So which is it? Is God revealed in the midst of hurt and anger and suffering and devastation—rarely quiet places? Or is God felt clearly in the stillness and silence…once everything else has fallen away?


Both, I think.

I think we truly experience God in the clamor of disaster and tragedy. And I think we also need to cultivate quiet spaces in our lives where we can truly listen for God. And I don’t think these 2 things are mutually exclusive. I think we need both. Sometimes I think we need to be able to find the one within the other.

If you’ve been keeping score at home, this past week marked 15 months since a pandemic brought our world to a grinding halt. And if the shutdown was jarringly abrupt, the restart has been anything but. Resuming life, we’re finding out, comes in fits, and starts. Different people are in different places with regards to just how comfortable they are with this idea of re-entry and getting back on with it. We didn’t really have a choice when things shut down. There are a lot of different feelings about just how quickly people are ready to move forward in the midst of this pandemic.

We’re not necessarily all on the same page about how and how quickly we go forward from here.

Different speeds. Different comfortabilities.

We need to be willing to give one another a lot of grace in this.

Patience…which is not our strong suit…is the order of the day. Certainly patience with each other.

It’s been a stormy 15 months.

“Rabbi…Teacher…don’t you even care that we are perishing…?!?”

How many times have you said that over the past more than a year?

When we’re the ones in the midst of those storms, and nothing seems to be working, and there seems to be nothing we can do about it, it can feel as if the one we say can do something about it doesn’t care. At best, is unaware. At worst, is apathetic.

But in Jesus’ defense, I mean, have you ever tried to sleep on a cushion in the cabin of a boat?

I mean, it’s not really that difficult. Especially if you’ve been out on the water all day. I’m thinking about a time last summer when we were out on the lake with my family, and Ollie and his cousins passed out in the cabin and the wind was hawking so the water was extremely choppy and we’re just bouncing up and down and up and down on the water, seemingly hitting every. single. wave., and the kids are in the cabin and catching like 2-feet of air each time, but they stayed dead asleep.

I guess if you’re worn out enough…

Funny enough, I can’t say the same thing about myself trying to fall asleep on a cruise ship in rough waters. Talk about sea-sick…

“Rabbi, don’t you even care that we’re perishing??”

“Well honestly, I might not have even known…but now that you mention it…”

And then Jesus does what we expect Jesus to do. Jesus rebukes the storm. Which even that is a little too kind of a construction. The Greek is much more emphatic. Jesus curses the storm. He tells the wind to go kick sand. “Peace! Be still!” your translation says. More accurately, Jesus says, “Be muzzled.” “Sit down. And shut up.” Jesus tells the storm.

It’s the language of exorcism. The same sort of forcefulness of language Jesus uses with demons and spirits in the Gospel of Mark.

What we’d expect Jesus to do.

Because of course, Jesus cares that the disciples are terrified. Of course, Jesus cares that they feel like they’re going to die. Of course, Jesus cares that we’re perishing.

Do we?

Do we care that there are some among our neighbors who are caught up in some pretty vicious storms of their own right now? Do we care that there are some among our neighbors who feel like they might not make it through the particular storm they’re battling? Do we care that, in some cases, we have the ability to help calm some of those storms that our neighbors and siblings are experiencing…or at least to help them navigate the waters a little better?

We’re all in the same boat.

You’ve heard this said, I’m sure, by more than a handful of well-meaning people, particularly in distressing or challenging situations. I think it’s meant to kind of drum up a sense of togetherness in the midst of life’s storms, to point out how, in some ways, we’re all going through some of the same challenges.

I think it’s well-meaning, and I think the intent to prompt a response of togetherness is a good one, but I’m just not sure it’s true.

I heard a good take on this well-meaning phrase recently, particularly in the context of a collective trauma or challenge, like a pandemic.

“We’re not all in the same boat,” it goes. “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re in very different boats.” Wow. True, I think. Some of us have yachts or 25-footers or even fishing boats. Others are trying to make it in a rescue life raft or a couple of pieces of cardboard and some duct tape.

We’re all in the same storm.

But we’re in very different boats.

And it has been a stormy 15 months.

As we’ve been working our way through 2nd Corinthians the past few weeks, and using St. Paul’s letter to talk about how togetherness and living and loving and serving for the sake of our neighbors really is our only way out of our collective struggles, our reading from this morning from chapter 6 feels a little bit like a form letter. It feels somewhat disconnected from the overarching theme.

But I think Paul is still speaking to this sense of togetherness here. ““We aren’t putting any obstacles in anyone’s way…As God’s servants, we have commended ourselves to you…We have spoken plainly to you; our heart is wide open to you.” All the hardships and troubles Paul and his companions endured—the beatings, imprisonments, hunger, sleepless nights—all they did, they endured for the sake of the Corinthian community. Living and serving in the interest of others…enduring difficulty and hardship for the sake of others…is a central Christian tenet. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, to shoulder on another’s loads, even when they’re heavy.

Together…really is our only way out of this.

There have been some intense storms over the past 15 months. Not just a global pandemic…but an ongoing struggle for racial justice and equity, deep political divisions, vehement disagreements among family members, medical struggles… It’s June and Pride month, and the fight for LGBTQIA2+ justice continues… These are some choppy seas.

We need one another.

We are given to rescue one another.

Literally, to save one another.

To hold one another through these storms.

It may feel as if these storms will never stop.

I don’t think that’s true. I think storms do end. But I also think storms persist. As soon as one is gone, another one starts churning. Think of hurricane season, right? Another one is likely on its way.

Which is why it’s important to cultivate and lean into those moments of stillness when they come.

Those are the sustaining moments.

Jesus does calm storms. Or rather, Jesus is with us in our boat, and weathers these storms with us.

It’s a hard thing to trust, but it’s true.


Being without a musician is tough as we’re trying to regather, and as I said, we’re working on it. But there’s a hymn in our new hymnal, All Creation Sings, that has a Taize-like feel to it and comes from the Holden Prayer around the Cross resource. It’s called Peace, Be Still and it’s really quite simple, and I wonder if you’d sing quietly with me, with your masks on, please.

I’ll sing it through once, and you can join in if you feel comfortable, and we’ll just sing it through a few times.

It goes like this:

Peace, be still.

Peace, be still.

The storm rages.

Peace, be still.


Be still.