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.