Palm Sunday 2023

Matthew 21:8-19

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

 “Hosanna to the Son of David!

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

 Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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

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

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

  but you are making it a den of robbers.”

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

 ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies

  you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

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

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




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving Christ,

As we come to the end of Lenten journeys

And enter into Holy Week,

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

“Lord, save us!”

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

By your love.





Good morning, church! Great to see you.

Welcome to Holy Week.


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

Feeling good? Ready to tackle this week together?

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


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


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

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


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


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


Foolish, yes. And faithful.


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


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

Foolish. And faithful.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


But through death, this Messiah brings life.


Spoiler alert. 


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

And yet, this story is important.


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

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

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


…But you already knew that…


Still…do not miss this story.


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

Be foolishly faithful with me.

Attend to these mysteries.

Be present. Participate. Enter into the story.


A story of foolishness. A story of faithfulness.

The most wonderful story ever told.

The story of your salvation.


Welcome to Holy Week, church.


First Sunday in Lent 2023

Matthew 4:1-11

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

 ‘One does not live by bread alone,

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

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

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

 ‘God will give the angels charge over you,’

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

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

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

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

 ‘Worship the Lord your God;

  serve God alone.’”

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




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy God,

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

Oftentimes we struggle to hear your voice over

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

Which tell us lies and tempt us with untruths.

Speak clearly to us, this morning.

Come close and settle in our hearts today.





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


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


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


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

What do you hunger for, church?

What does your heart long for?

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


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


What does that hunger feel like for you?

Would you describe it as hunger?

Does your heart long to be close to God?


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

Listen for God, church.

Know that you are worthy.

Know that you are loved.


Ash Wednesday 2023

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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

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

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

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

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




Please pray with me this evening, church.

Holy One,

As we embark on our Lenten pilgrimage,

our hearts hunger to hear something true.

Something true about us.

Something true about who we are to you.

Remind us that we are dust, God.

Remind us that we are loved.

Remind us that we are yours.





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


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

Welcome to the beginning.

A beginning when we talk about the ending.

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

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

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

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

Something true about us. But also a promise.

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

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

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

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

This is who you are.

It’s a profound responsibility.

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

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

What is your name, child of God?

How do you call yourself?

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

What do you imagine God says about you?

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

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

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

The discipline of Lent. The practice of Lent.

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

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

Lent is that opportunity, church.

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

You are beloved. You are beautiful.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are redeemed. You are saved.

You are dust.

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

You are dust.

First Sunday of Christmas 2023

Matthew 2:13-23

13 Now after the magi had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,

  wailing and loud lamentation,

 Rachel weeping for her children;

  she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of the Galilee. 23 There Joseph made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of new beginnings,

As we begin a new year,

Nurture in us that which is good

And pleasing to you.

Seeds of compassion. Of understanding.

Of love.





Merry Christmas…and Happy New Year, church!

How are those resolutions coming? Anyone joined me in breaking some of your resolutions already? Don’t worry, it’s still early…


I wonder what your resolutions look like for you this year?


It’s not often that we get to start the year, right off the bat, with worship and praise.

Feels pretty good…


In addition to all the big feast and festival days that you all know well in the Church calendar, there are also other feast days, other festival days, other saint days, other commemorations, throughout the year that are less well known in the church, broadly. And the Church calendar has a series of 3 feast days that immediately follow the Nativity of our Lord, or Christmas, on December 25. They are the Feast of St. Stephen on December 26, the Feast of St. John on December 27, and the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents on December 28.


These three feast days, these days following Christmas are collectively known as the Comites Christi, which is Latin for the “Companions of Christ.” They are the ones whose lives and stories stand closest to Christ and are given special places of honor closest to Christ’s birth.


St. Stephen was a deacon in the early church and the first martyr of the faith, died within a year or two after the death of Jesus, stoned for speaking out against the religious authorities and professing Jesus as Lord and Savior. St. John was the only apostle said to have lived a full life and died of old age, commonly thought to be the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and the attributed author of the fourth gospel account.

A life cut drastically short. And a life lived in all its fullness.

And the Holy Innocents are the young children we hear about today in our Gospel reading. Lives taken before they’re even allowed to begin.


Tradition says that the Holy Innocents were the children of Bethlehem who were slaughtered by order of King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus – the one who it was said was born to be “King of the Judeans.” And the reason Herod the Great ordered the massacre of the children of Bethlehem was because Herod was the one put in the position of power by the Roman Empire as king of Judea. So when the wise persons who we’ll talk about next week came talking about a star and this child who was said to be born “King of the Judeans”…Herod goes full-on paranoid. Because once you’re made king, being king is not a position of power that’s often willingly given up.


So this feast day, remembers the ones that died because of Jesus’ birth—some numbers suggest as many as fourteen thousand.

There is no record of this event outside of the Gospel of Matthew, but given what we do know about the character of Herod the Great, it is certainly within the realm of possibilities. Herod drowned his sixteen-year-old brother-in-law, who was the high priest; he killed his uncle, his aunt, and his mother-in-law, along with several members of his brother-in-law’s family; he murdered his own two sons, and some three hundred other officials he accused of siding with his sons. Herod was maniacal, absolutely paranoid about losing power.


Herod did not care whose life would be taken. He did not care what would happen to the other lives of those caught up in this madness. Herod would sacrifice anyone’s life to make a political point. Herod was playing political games, and no price was too high to stay in power.


These Holy Children—these Innocents—were killed for the sake of Christ, and in one sense, in place of Christ.

The Comites Christi are a stark reminder for the church that it is into such a world as this that Jesus Christ is born.


Once again…these feast days, these saints, these holy ones—the Comites Christi—are a stark and painful reminder that it is into such a world as this that Jesus Christ is born.


As the author of John would write in that account: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through him.” It is because our world is as it is, that Christ is born…in order to save us, in order to save the world. Most especially from ourselves.


Because the world is still in need of saving…


I’m thinking of our siblings in Ukraine, who are caught up in a war they neither asked for nor invited, celebrating the holidays amidst air raid sirens and missile strikes, all because powerful people are playing political games with the lives of the powerless.

I’m thinking of the dozens who lost their lives last week, mostly in the northeast, amidst some of the fiercest cold we’ve experienced in decades, all because as a society we can’t be bothered to actually commit to doing anything substantive about our housing insecure neighbors, many of whom are veterans or experience mental unwellness. We don’t lack in ability or resources, we lack in will.

I’m thinking of the 139 people, mostly families and young children, from Nicaragua and Peru and Ecuador and Colombia, who were dropped in the middle of a freezing night in Washington D.C. on Christmas Eve, most without a jacket or even long pants, all because our legislators can’t be bothered to actually talk to one another and come up with solutions to a convoluted problem, so powerful people play political games with the lives of the powerless. Even the Holy Family fled from Judea, immigrated and became refugees in Egypt, and remained there until the tyrannical and maniacal reign of Herod the Great was finally over. Surely we can muster compassion for those whose story is a mirror to that of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Again, we don’t lack in ability or resources, we lack in will and a spirit of compassion.


We are still very much a world in need of saving.

Come, again, Immanuel. Save us.


But on this new year and Sunday of complicated readings, I’m also reminded of our Intergenerational Faith Formation time a few weeks ago, when we made Christmas cards and letters for those in immigration detention facilities, and we learned a little bit about immigration and our partners at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the holy and necessary work they do. I’m reminded of 7-year old Jimena, who didn’t look up from the picture she was coloring while the video was playing, but instead softly remarked, “They’re speaking Spanish…I speak Spanish… They’re talking about Venezuela…I know Venezuela…”


As we set out on this adventure of a new year, and many of us resolve to do things differently than maybe we have before, I urge you, church, to nurture and cultivate that spirit of compassion within you. Resist getting caught up in the demonizing of folks who view and experience the world differently than you. Resist getting pulled into the political games the powerful play with the lives of the powerless. Instead, nurture that seed of compassion. Ask how you can help, rather than further driving wedges between people.


Beginning next week and continuing throughout the season of Epiphany, we’ll be guided by our theme Heaven on Earth. What does heaven look like? What would that look like here in our place?

We’ll spend time together working this out, but today, I’d suggest it has something to do with compassion. Something to do with alleviating the suffering of our siblings.

And it’s always something to do with love.


Merry Christmas…and Happy New Year, church,


Fourth Sunday of Advent 2022

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to break off the engagement quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, Yeshua, which means “God saves.”, for the child will save God’s people from their sin.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the young woman shall conceive and bear a son,

  and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took Mary home as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God, our Joy,

There are a great many things that frighten us.

A great many things that unsettle us.

You promise to be with us in the midst of our fear.

As we await the arrival of Christ,

Continue to be with us, God.





There are more than a few moments in my childhood that I think back on, laugh at myself, and shake my head. “What the heck was I thinking?!” I never met a tree that didn’t look like it could be good for climbing. We would stack bricks up and put a piece of plywood down and try and ramp our bikes and catch some air. More than a few times did I think about climbing onto our roof and jumping down onto our trampoline to see how high I could bounce. Rollercoasters, I was all in.


These days I watch our 3-and-a-half year old jump on beds and climb all over couches and fling himself at me while we’re playing in the floor…and I haven’t the faintest idea of where he gets it.


Fear wasn’t a word that seemed to be part of my vocabulary for the majority of my growing up years.

And then at some point…I developed that knot you get in your stomach.


You know the one I’m talking about?

Rollercoasters seem less fun. Keeping the bike tires on the ground seems like a great idea. “But what if my 30-something year old body won’t let me climb trees or do the thing I think I should be able to?”

And then, I think, somewhere in there we start projecting that fear onto others. Don’t jump on that. Don’t climb there. Don’t do this. Probably don’t do that.

Maybe, like me, your list of things that there are to be fearful of has only grown in recent years. Viruses and germs and unstable situations and tensions between nations and political leaders whose idea of machismo is a measuring contest of the size of their nuclear arsenal…plus whatever the talking heads get paid to tell you is the next thing to be afraid of.


It’s as if fear has come to rule our lives.


There are some very good things to be afraid of. I’m not denying that. Snakes come to mind. And some others. But I’m wondering if we’ve given fear too much control over the steering wheel, and the map, and the Spotify playlist in the car. Are we giving fear more power than it deserves?


“Do not be afraid” or “Do not fear” is one of the most often repeated phrases throughout all of Scripture. Have you noticed every time an angel shows up in the Bible, the very first words the angel says are “Do not be afraid?” Now, to be fair, just kind of look at some the descriptions of angels in Bible to figure out why, right? Ezekiel’s got these figures that are like 4 wheels covered all over in eyes that are all spinning around each other like a gyroscope. Isaiah and Ezekiel both describe a figure that has 6 wings that cover their feet and faces and fly around holding burning fire and live coals. There are 4-headed figures, eyes of fire, figures that shine brighter than sunlight. I mean, I think fear is a totally valid reaction to something that looks like this.


And yet…into the midst of this very real, very valid, very rational fear, comes a word of peace: “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t give fear more power than it deserves.


Joseph had every valid reason to be fearful, the appearance of aforementioned angelic figure notwithstanding. Consider everything the angel had told him: “Turns out your fiancé’s pregnant, and I know it’s not yours, but don’t worry, it’s God’s child, conceived in her by a spirit. And it’s going to be a boy. And don’t worry about racking your brain trying to come up with a name, I’ve saved you the trouble. His name will be Jesus…Yeshua…Joshua…which means ‘God saves’ because your child will save God’s people from their sins.”

“Ok…cool…yeah…sounds good… Yep…no problem…” Right? Of course not. I don’t imagine that Joseph was just all of a sudden totally cool with all this. I don’t imagine Joseph just accepted everything the angel told him at face value. I’m certain Joseph had a few questions, wanted some clarification. I’m certain Joseph was fearful.

And yet…”Don’t be afraid.”


The Gospel according to St. Matthew is the only one that records this interaction with Joseph. Mary gets most of the airtime in Christmas pageants because Luke does such a good job writing the story and the Magnificat makes for really good drama. “Let it be with me according to your will”…lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty…all that stuff. It’s really pageant material.

But I think many of us are more like Joseph than we are like Mary, if we’re honest.


Joseph doesn’t say anything in these verses from Matthew, we’re not given an insight into what Joseph is thinking, but Joseph’s actions say a lot. In the midst of exciting, yet honestly, terrifying news, in the midst of an encounter in which Joseph would have very valid reasons to be fearful, Joseph displays extraordinary resolve. Against everything his Hebrew tradition told him was the way to deal with these things, Joseph was faithful to what he heard from God. Joseph is obedient, in spite of his religious tradition.

In the midst of great fear, Joseph shows tremendous faith.


That’s one of the things we’ve heard a lot over the past couple of years, right? Faith over fear.

I want to reframe that a little bit this morning. I don’t think it’s so much faith over fear…sometimes there are very valid reasons to be fearful. But how can we be faithful in the midst of fear? How can we be honest about our fears, the things that terrify us, the things that keep us up at night…how can be honest about the very real and valid fears we experience, while at the same time listening for God’s voice, doing our best to discern where God is calling us, and trying as best we can to be faithful to that call?

How can we be faithful in the midst of our fears?


Joseph doesn’t have any line of dialogue in this narrative. Joseph is emblematic of a kind of quiet steadfastness. Joseph is obedient, but Joseph listens. Joseph, in many ways, is any and all of us who have ever quietly done a job, not made too much of a fuss, gotten our work done, and not sought out recognition or accolades. I think of Joseph as most of us who have ever volunteered at church. It’s nice to be noticed and thanked, but mostly, all of us just kind of lean into our ministry areas and our passions and we do the work because there’s work to be done.


I think of what our life together will be like in January, when Danny’s away on J-term at seminary and I’m on parental leave, the week in and week out of this congregation will take all of you, joining together and getting done what needs to get done because there’s work to do. And it’s not work for the sake of busy-ness, I see it as a model of faithfulness. And obedience. And a consistency and commitment to doing what’s necessary for New Hope to thrive.


It’s a faithfulness that trusts that God will continue to walk alongside you despite who’s in the office or not. A faithfulness that trusts in the spirit of this community who, almost 50 years ago, did the work of the church together because there wasn’t anyone else to do it.

This is what I mean when I say that you are the ones who are called, church. You are the ones God is calling in this time and place to tend this particular garden.


And more than anything, this faithfulness trusts that God will keep working to bring forth signs of life, that springs will continue flowing forth in the desert, that fragrant and beautiful flowers will continue blossoming out in the wilderness, and shoots will continue sprouting up from stumps. Joyous baptisms, wonderful First Communions, the marvelous sounds of young voices and older voices singing together in our choirs. This is the kind of vibrant life God is bringing into your midst. This is what God has promised. God keeps God’s promises, and God has promised life and life abundant.

God has promised a Savior, a Messiah…not the powerful warrior-king that we’re expecting, but a vulnerable and naked baby whose cries ring out from a makeshift crib among farmers and their livestock and echo through the quiet night.


God with us.

In the most unexpected of ways.

In the most human of experiences…that of a newborn.


As we make space for Jesus this Advent and Christmas, our expectation starts to take on a more persistent posture. Beginning yesterday, and for the week leading up to Christmas, the church has used 7 names for God in their vespers and prayers, known as the ‘O Antiphons’, to mirror this persistent posture in pleading for God to finally make God’s self known among us. Titles such as O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of the nations, O Emmanuel.

Pleading for God to finally break into our world…to stand in the midst of all our fears…those things that trouble us, the things that unsettle our hearts, the things that keep us up at night…that God would come stand among them…not to fix them…but to be with us in them. That you would know, dear child, that God does not abandon you. That in the midst of fear, even when your own faith is tattered and wearing thin, that God is faithful.


That God is with you.

God with us.

Come, Emmanuel.


Ash Wednesday 2022

Matthew 6:1-6, 12-21

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

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

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

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

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




Please pray with me this evening, church:

Holy and immortal God,

You have formed us from the dust of the earth,

and at the end of all things, we will return to that same dust.

Draw near to us as we wrestle with these truths.

Breathe life into this dust once again.





It’s certainly no Johnson Space Center…but Chicago has a pretty neat Planetarium, the Adler, and back when I lived and was serving my Internship in Chicago, the Adler hosted a Clergy Day, an entire day dedicated to the conversations between science and religion. Sidenote: I’m not sure why it ends up this way, but I took a look back at my sermons over the years, and it turns out I talk about this experience at the Adler Planetarium like every couple of years or so and it’s always on Ash Wednesday…not sure why that is, but there you go… Anyway, so at the Planetarium and one exhibit in particular captured my attention that day—this one describing what scientists know and are learning about the origins of the universe…the Big Bang. There were pictures from as far back as we could see in the universe, pictures and descriptions of some of the oldest materials found on earth…it was all really cool.

But this idea that stuck out to me was one of interconnectedness…relationship…that everything that is, everything that ever has been, and everything that ever will be has a single point of origin.


Every single one of us, every single living thing—people, plants, animals, bacteria, viruses—everything comes from a single something.


For me, it’s the clearest description I can think of to illustrate that we all are, in fact, interconnected…interwoven…”an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together in a single garment of destiny,” as the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. would say.


Last week, our own Dr. Sandra Moore, a literal rocket scientist, shared a picture on her social media of Earth as viewed through the rings of Saturn…she works at NASA so she gets all the coolest pictures, but still… That “tiny, pale blue dot”… That singular point and place on which we all live together, on which everything that has ever lived has lived on together, and on which everything that ever will live will live on together.


There is so much contained on that tiny speck. It’s completely unfathomable and so wildly beyond our ability to grasp and comprehend…everything that ever was, that is, or ever will be…all contained within that dot.

And you are not the center of it.


I guess I figure as long as we’re hearing difficult truths about our mortality on Ash Wednesday, we might as well just dispense with all the difficult truths in our lives…but it’s true…you are not the center of the universe. You aren’t called to be the center of your own universe.

But child, you are the center of God’s universe.


Lent is a season of adjusting our focus.

We tend to start off our calendar year with talk of resolutions and all of our self-improvement projects, and while I am certainly not saying that working on yourself and taking care of yourself aren’t good things—they absolutely are—Lent is a corrective lens over a hyper-focus on ourselves.

You are not the center of your own universe.


Lent refocuses our attention to God—the source of our life, the object of our worship and praise, the author of our tomorrows, and co-traveler with us throughout our life’s journey.

“Return to the Lord your God…God is gracious. And merciful. Slow—not quick—to anger. And abounding in unfailing love that you can cling to.”


One of the ways of adjusting our focus is through spiritual practices. There’s a fairly long history of faithful disciples “giving something up” for Lent. In recent years there have been movements to “take something on” or “add something to” your current habits. Whatever your personal piety and preference is, my hope is that it is something that adds something to your faith and to your life. In the litany of practices laid out by Jesus in our gospel from Matthew, Jesus’ point is not that the practices in and of themselves are bad, but rather, Jesus is encouraging you to examine your motivations, examine why you’re doing what you’re doing. When you give alms, do so without show. When you pray, keep that between you and God. When you fast, let your outward appearance reflect your inward devotion.

Spiritual practices focus our attention outside of ourselves. Use the practices of Lent as means to draw yourself deeper, not just in your own relationship with God, but in your relationship with others.

You are not the center of your own universe.


Our theme for this season of Lent is Unburden. We’re talking about the heaviness we carry around with us and how for so many in recent years it feels like we’ve drifted further and further apart from one another. It feels like we’re shouting at one another across canyons of difference and we view our neighbors as arguments to be won rather than as beloved children and siblings. We approach our relationships with clenched fists, some of us even carrying stones to be hurled at one another across these chasms.

My invitation to you the Lent is to unburden yourself, dear church.


Set down the heaviness, the weight, the stones you’re carrying around. Let your Lenten discipline draw you closer to the heart of God, and there find that the heart of God is near to your neighbor, the stranger, the dispossessed, the poor, and the marginalized.

When we return to God, we focus ourselves and place ourselves in proximity to God, and therefore in proximity to those for whom God has particular concern.


You are not the center of your own universe — in a moment we’ll confess that deep, yet difficult, truth.


But you are the center of God’s universe, dear child — let us also hear, once again, the healing balm of those beautifully truthful words, as well.


You are dust, dear mortal one, and to dust you will return.

But do not forget what God can do with dust.


Epiphany Sunday 2021

Matthew 2:1-12

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
 for from you shall come a ruler
  who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
  7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Brilliant God,

Your glory breaks into our weary world

And fills the places in our hearts

That feel distant from you.

Help us to share the gift that we’ve been given,

The immeasurable gift of your care, your love

And your grace in our world.



I’m not really a very spectacular gift giver.

I tend to be more utilitarian in the types of gifts I give. When considering which gifts to buy, I tend to ask myself the question “What does this person need?” rather than “What would this person want?” And even then, I’ve found that I’m usually a pretty poor judge of what my friend needs. And I imagine I’d be an even worse judge of what my friend wants.

So all in all, I’d say I’m not a very good gift giver.

I feel a lot like the magi in our gospel this morning. Seriously, what use does a toddler have for gold, incense, and a burial spice?

But, as you’ve heard me say before, the gifts in this story are less about their utility and more about what the gifts represent. Gold indicated riches fit for a king. Frankincense was an incense representing wisdom. And myrrh was a spice representing long life and healing, but it was also a burial spice, some say as a way of foreshadowing just how Jesus was to rule in his kingdom…by dying himself, and calling us to a sacrificial way of living, to die to our selves also.

Not necessarily gifts a child wants, but maybe the gifts this child needs.

One of my favorite Epiphany traditions that we’ve kept here at New Hope for a few years now is the house blessing of our spiritual home and the chalking above the doors of our Sanctuary. It’s a reminder for me every time I walk through those doors that this place is surrounded by blessing. We prayed for our church, and with our voices, we collectively asked for God’s blessing on this house.

But what a strange year it’s been since we did that… Less than 3 months after we prayed for God’s blessing and marked the occasion in chalk last year, we were forced from our spiritual house by an invisible virus whose most effective course of treatment is to maintain distance and keep physically separate from one another, rather than be drawn together, which is so much of many of our own experiences with church. It’s particularly insidious that the absolute best way to beat COVID-19 is to keep physically apart from one another, especially when so much of our identity and who we are as a people of faith is as a people of connection…and when so much of that connection is fostered through physical interaction.

I’ve been lamenting this pretty much throughout this pandemic, but most especially throughout the month of December, and even more so as we got closer to Christmas. Christmas is such a special time in the life of the church, similar to Easter or really any of the feast days, but then we got to Christmas Eve… We got to Christmas Eve, and after the staff spending all month trying to figure out how to approximate some version of “being” together…we got to Christmas Eve and we had these 3 opportunities to gather together virtually. And we saw each others’ faces, and we greeted each other, and we shared some laughs, and we prayed together, and we sang together, and we lit candles together, and we wished each other Merry Christmas and best wishes for a new year…and I was powerfully reminded that even though it’s not very safe for us to be all together under the same roof right now…church has never been canceled…

The building might be closed right now…but the church is still very much alive…

We may not be able to gather at this house right now…but our spiritual home has never been shut down…

I’m reminded of the invitation we extend to y’all every year—to grab a piece of chalk and a copy of the traditional Epiphany house blessing and to bless your own homes each year. To pray for God’s blessing as a family and mark the occasion over the door. If you did that in 2020, I wonder if you felt a deeper connection between the building here at 1424 FM 1092 and the Sanctuary of your address. In such a time as this, aren’t our homes in fact an extension of our church building? With faith formation and worship and serving your neighbors happening primarily in your homes right now, isn’t it simply that the church has been scattered and deployed?

Which, turns out, is even more true in this age of streaming worship. Church, do you know that we have folks joining us from all over the US? Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Nebraska…even former members are able to re-connect, even from what I’ve started calling New Hope West, out in the Hill Country of Texas… The church is scattered and deployed.

And quite honestly, I think that’s where we do some of our best work anyway…sent out, deployed into the world…to do the work God calls you to…in, with, and among the world God so loves.

Arise! Shine! Your light has come!

Go, therefore, and be that light. Be the healing brightness in a weighed-down and weary world.

As I’ve called folks and checked in with you and talked with you over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the thought that although I don’t consider myself a very good gift-giver…I do have presence to offer…p-r-e-s-e-n—c—e… The gift I’m really good at giving is…my self…my time, my energy, my attention. Even mediated through the phone or a text or an email or a Zoom call, there’s still a deep connection.

I wonder what connections you might foster this new year. I wonder if you would re-up your commitment to check in with your friends and neighbors and family. We still need connection, church…deeply. Even after we get through the worst parts of this pandemic, that will still be true. We’re created for connection and we can use the tools we have at our disposal to foster that connection in profoundly meaningful ways.

Your presence can be a blessing.

Your presence is a blessing.

And you don’t have to be physically present to be a presence of blessing.

Happy New Year, church.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2020

Matthew 21:33-46

[Jesus said:] 33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 “Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to Jesus, “The owner will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
  42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
 ‘The stone that the builders rejected
  has become the cornerstone;
 this was the Lord’s doing,
  and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the dominion of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of it. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds because the people regarded him as a prophet.


Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of Love,

Open our hearts this morning.

Break them open and begin to heal us.

Make us instruments of your peace.

Instruments of your love.

Instruments of your justice.

Make us bold to begin helping

To heal and repair our fractured world.



I know we have a good number of folks not on Facebook…and quite honestly, good for you…I’m…close to being done with it…I think…but it’s one way that we as a faith community connect, so I hang around…

Anyway, I know a number of you aren’t on Facebook, so if you’ll just indulge me for a minute. Facebook does this thing, where they show you a digest of every status you posted and, like, your interactions with folks each day, going back, like, however long you’ve been on Facebook. It’s a really interesting snapshot into who you are…the type of person you were…it’s interesting to be able to visibly trace your progression from who you used to be to who you are now…

Anyway, this past week I was reminded that it was 4 years ago that I began my call here at New Hope.


4 years…


In some ways, it feels like it was barely 4 weeks ago…

In a lot of other ways, it feels 14…or 40 years…

We’ve been through a lot in 4 years…as a church, as a people, as a country, as a city… Just to remind you, as if you could forget…elections, wildfires, hurricanes, World Series championships (although as a Rangers fan, can I just offer my own little asterisk on that so-called “Championship”)…a global pandemic, economic and racial inequality, struggles and fights for justice…

It’s been a lot…

When I talk with my friends and mentors who are older than me, who have been serving in the parish for longer than I have, and a number of whom are retired…the refrain always comes up, “Man…it’s a tough time to be a pastor. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more difficult time to be the pastor of a congregation.” Most of the retired pastors say something like, “Well, I’m just glad I’m retired… I wouldn’t want to be a pastor in a time like this…”

And what they mean is that, between everything I just mentioned, amid everything that’s going on, somehow we’ve drifted farther apart from one another, rather than being drawn in closer together. Even in the moments that naturally serve to unite us and draw us together—sports victories, disasters, and crises, opportunities to help—even those, seem to be more fleeting than usual. And it isn’t long before we’ve gone back to our various camps. Shouting at one another from across a canyon that we can’t even see the other side of.

Somehow it’s become more preferable for us to cut one another out from relationships, rather than seeking to engage in meaningful dialogue over our disagreements.

Somehow it’s become more preferable to us to shout down, beat up, and kill the ones who are sent to us, even the vineyard owner’s own son, rather than tend the vineyard God has given us to take care of…rather than do the difficult work needed.

Back to Isaiah: God expected justice, but saw bloodshed. God expected righteousness, but heard a cry.

Today, October 4, is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi.

And we’re commemorating this in a few different ways this morning.

Francis was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone to wealthy parents. And he lived a very wealthy lifestyle. Francis wanted for nothing. His parents lavished love and gifts on him and his siblings. Francis’ life was charmed. But Francis grew disillusioned with this lifestyle and with wealthy people in general, including his parents. He started doing odd things like giving poor beggars every bit of gold in his pockets, begging for alms to give to the sick, selling all of his father’s cloth to give the proceeds to churches in need of repair.

Francis eventually renounced his father and his family and his inheritance, and became a penitent, living the life of a beggar, giving whatever money he was given to the sick, to the lepers, and to the restoration of churches.

It’s said that one of Francis’ conversions came in a small chapel in San Damiano where he heard the crucified Christ plead with him, “Francis…go and repair my house.”

At the time, Francis interpreted this to mean the chapel in which he was standing, but as his life would bear out, Francis was being called to a deeper kind of reparation…a more holistic and encompassing view of the repairs needed. As the prophet Isaiah calls it, “A repairer of the breach.”

A bridge across a canyon.

If you haven’t been to my office, you wouldn’t know this, but across the room from my desk, on the opposite wall, I have a bunch of icons hanging. They’re arranged around a cross and they’re a helpful focal point for me in my workspace. There are a couple of icons of Christ, one of the Trinity, one of Wisdom and her daughters, Mary and Child…and one of the icons on my wall is of St. Francis. It was given to me by a very good friend and mentor at my ordination. He said it seemed like the icon fit me.

The icon shows St. Francis, with a dilapidated fresco of Christ in the background, with the words, “Francis…go and repair my house.”

I love this icon.

I don’t consider myself to be Francis. By any stretch.

But in my best ideas about myself…I do hear echoes of Christ’s call to Francis…as my own—“Repair my house.”

Repair my church.

Repair what has been ripped down.

Build up what has been torn asunder.

Repair the breach.

Heal what has been tattered.

Build bridges amidst these canyons.

It’s what I try and do. Every day.

Every moment.

Every bit of my ministry.

We’ve never been more divided. It’s an incredibly big ask.

And yet, this is our call, church.

This is what following Jesus means. This is what it is to call oneself a Christian.

To reject divisiveness. To condemn ideologies that drive us apart. To speak out against all the evil, the demonic, and the anti-Christ messages and rhetoric that drive us even further apart.

It’s not to bury our heads in the sand and pretend as if these things don’t exist. They do exist, and it is our call as disciples of Jesus Christ to do everything we can to work to overcome them.

We typically honor St. Francis in our churches with pet blessings and things like that because Francis has come to be associated with his care for nature and the natural world. But in his life, Francis was much more demonstrative in his work with the poor. The outcast, the sick, those with leprosy, the ones who couldn’t put food on the table…the ostracized and the marginalized.

I suppose those folks don’t make for very cute Sunday School lessons……but what if they did…?

What if, like, Francis, we gathered around us the poor, the hurting, the food and housing insecure, the ones who have been told there isn’t a place for them in church because of who they are or who they love? What if we sought to bind up the broken, bring together those who have been cast aside, and the ones who the world doesn’t think very much of?

Might we just start to build those bridges across these canyons?

I think…I think, we just might find…that as we do the work of drawing those together…that we might also be drawn together ourselves.

We know how to do this. Actually, here at New Hope, there are times where we can be really good at it. Our week to host Family Promise starts today. A sign up went out earlier this week to sign up to bring hot meals to the Day Center. It was full in less than 4 hours.

We heard that Armstrong Elementary needed headphones for their students who were learning on campus. In one afternoon, we had a plan together for how we were going to supply the headphones they needed and ask you to help us offset the cost.

We didn’t do these things. The staff didn’t do them.

You did, church. You did.

You know what to do.

This past Wednesday, in Confirmation, we started talking about Lutheran history and we started in on the Reformation. And we talked about things we saw that needed changing or fixing, like Luther saw with the church. And friends, if you think our young people aren’t seeing what’s going on…if you think our young ones don’t see and hear the division and vitriol and ugliness…you’re dead wrong.

They do.

We talked about what needs to be fixed and reformed. And we talked about their ideas about how to do that. And I think they’re pretty spot on.

“How would you go about solving this problem of deep divisions?” I asked.

*awkward silence*

“No really…if it were you, what would you tell people as you tried to solve this problem?”

“Like…just be nice,” someone said.

“Actually act like Jesus tells us,” said another.

“Don’t be an idiot,” someone else said.

Don’t be an idiot, church.

Live like Jesus is calling you to live.

Reject these ways of division.

Don’t lean into them…actively work against them.

Bridge these canyons.

Repair God’s world.

I want to leave you with a traditional Franciscan Benediction. We’ve actually used this Benediction before in worship, but…

Receive this Benediction:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,

half-truths, and superficial relationships

so that you may seek truth and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice,

oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that you may tirelessly hope and work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with enough foolishness

to believe that you can make a difference in this world,

so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:23-32

23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And chief priests and elders argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
  28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 The son answered, ‘I will not’; but later changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and the second son answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the dominion of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy One,

In a world rife with dichotomies,

We beg you,

Heal our divisions.

Make us one.

As you are one.



I’m someone who always strives to do what I say I’m going to do.

I like to think that I’m a person of my word.

Especially when I’m asked to do something, and I say I’m going to do it, I aim to be the type of person who does the thing I said I was going to do.

Now…we can get into the particulars about when I do the thing I said I was going to do…but it’s still true that I try to always be someone who does what they said they would do. Tiffany would certainly point to the timing aspect of this scenario. “Sure, you say you’re going to do it, but it’d be a heck of a lot nicer if you would do the thing, like, you know, when I ask you.”

It’s an often-repeated phrase at our house: “I said I’d do it!” after she’s already doing the thing she asked me to do that I said I would do.

I suppose my inadequate defense in these matters is that I tend to operate on a more divine timeline…

Whatever, but we ain’t waiting until Jesus comes again for you to do the dishes.

Fair enough.

You’re right. I’m often wrong in these cases. I’m sorry.

See, there it is for posterity.

Being a person of your word is important.

Doing the thing you said you said you were going to do is important.

It’s about you being a person of integrity.

Aligning your words and your actions.

I want very much to try and make this Gospel reading about aligning one’s words and one’s actions because I feel strongly that that’s a convicting and powerful word for our time—that what you do and what you say…matter…deeply.

And aligning what you do and what you say…matters…deeply.

And doing what you say you’re going to do…matters…deeply.

But I’m just not sure that’s this Gospel reading.

I do think Jesus does have something to say about that alignment elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’ be ‘No’. Anything else besides comes from the devil.”—but I just don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus is saying here.

A father had 2 sons and asked the first to go out and work in the vineyard. Initially, the son refused but later went out to work. The father asked the second son the same, to go out and work in the vineyard. The second son said that he would go out and work but did not. Which one of these did the will of his father?

I think Jesus is talking about words and actions here, but it seems to be more like, “Both words and actions are important, but if you’re going to fault in one, better for your actions to align with the kingdom of God, rather than just your words but not your actions.” In other words, don’t just talk about God’s justice and righteousness…don’t just talk about building up God’s kingdom where all are treated as beloved…actually do the work of building up and bringing about the kingdom.

“Well, ok, Pastor Chris…I can get on board with that. But what does this kingdom of God look like?”

That’s a great question, church, and I’m glad you asked.

If you flip with me in your Bibles forward just a few chapters to Matthew 25, verses 31-46, but really beginning with verse 35…the dominion of God looks like the hungry being given food, the thirsty given something to drink, the stranger and foreigner being welcomed, the naked being clothed, the sick being cared for, the imprisoned visited…

Or if Luke is more your speed, flip forward a little more to Luke 4, verses16-30, where Jesus says “The Spirit of Lord is upon me and the Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and imprisoned, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In other words, the reign of God doesn’t look much like what we’ve got going on down here right now save for some small examples happening intermittently. We catch glimpses and brief moments of this vision, but I think you’d agree, on a large scale, we’re really quite far off the mark.

But the good news, church, is that we don’t have to stay there. You and I are not limited to our present realities. We can participate, we can join our work and our voice to the work already being done to make our world look more like God’s dream. We have the option to help bring God’s justice and God’s righteousness more to bear on our present. That’s work we can do. That’s work we can help with.

But it does take some resetting of our values. It does take some realignment on our part. We have to get to a place where we believe that those things Jesus talks about, those conditions and indicators of God’s kingdom, can actually be made real and tangible right here and right now in our midst. We have to believe that those things are possible. And not be resigned to these present realities.

I’m talking about aligning our values with Gospel values.

Rather than trying to make the Gospel fit our worldview…why don’t we shape our world to look more like the Gospel?

God’s vision of justice and peace is often at odds with the way things are in our world. That’s just true.

We’ve just spent the past month hearing about God’s forgiveness, and God’s abundance, and God’s extravagant generosity…words like “the first will be last and the last will be first”…hearing how God’s ways are not our ways…and how it sometimes feels like God’s ways are an inverse of our ways…and “It’s not fair!” we protest, like the Israelites to Ezekiel…

No……it’s not fair.

The kingdom of God is not fair.

The kingdom of God is just.

The kingdom of God is righteous.

“Very truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Very truly I tell you, the swindlers and the sex workers are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Do you see how offensive this is?

Very truly I tell you, the beat down and the cast aside are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Very truly I tell you, the marginalized and the oppressed are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Very truly I tell you, the conservatives and the pro-lifers are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Very truly I tell you, the liberals and the socialists are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Very truly I tell you, the Boomers and the elders are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Very truly I tell you, the Millennials and the Gen Z-ers are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Those that listened…and repented…and changed their ways…they’re entering into God’s dominion before you.

Do you see…how offensive this is?

The kingdom of God is not fair.

The kingdom of God is just.

The kingdom of God is righteous.

The good news, however, church, is that just because they’re going into God’s kingdom ahead of you, doesn’t mean they’re taking your place. They’re just ahead of you in line.

This is the great scandal that I think we sometimes fail to grasp. We take Jesus at his word when it benefits us or confirms our opinions and beliefs, but we set it aside or dismiss it when it doesn’t serve our interests.

Like the religious leaders in the gospel, we question where Jesus is coming from. “By what authority are you doing these things?” Where do you get off telling me what to do?

Jesus is confronted and challenged by the religious establishment. And you and I have our own beliefs and opinions confronted day in and day out. And usually, where we come down when we’re confronted depends on whether or not the message confirms or denies our beliefs and opinions.

Does this person or authority confirm my belief or opinion? Great, I’ll accept their views as confirmation that I’m right. Does this person or authority challenge or pose a perspective different from or countervailing to my own beliefs and opinions? Pfftttt……write ‘em off…fake news…


You and I struggle with hearing perspectives that are different than the ones we’ve already formed. In general, you and I are not good at changing our thoughts or beliefs, or changing our mind or our habits…which is what John the baptizer was calling out for people to do when he was out in the wilderness. Remember? “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Repent—metanoia—literally “change your mind”, move from the direction you were headed over here into a new direction, follow a new way.

Repentance isn’t about words. Repentance is about your actions.

But when challenged with our beliefs and opinions, you and I likely sound much more like the religious establishment in this story, “By what authority…by whose authority…do you get to tell me how to think and how to act?” With all the false piety and bloated righteous indignation we can muster, “Who made you the boss of me?! Where do you get off telling me what to do?”

Another great question I’m glad you asked, Church. Because I think Jesus has something to say here, too. I think Jesus cares very much about our thoughts and our beliefs and our words and our actions.

It’s why I chose to also bring in Paul’s word to the community at Philippi to our readings this morning. The great Christ Hymn from Philippians 2:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Again, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, although being in the form of God,
  did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited,
 but relinquished it all,
  taking the form of a slave,
  being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
  Christ humbled himself
  and became obedient to the point of death—
  even death on a cross.

 Therefore God also highly exalted Christ
  and gave Christ the name
  that is above every name…

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Regard others…as better…than yourselves.

Don’t look to your own interests…look to the interests of others.

Be humble.


Be obedient to God’s will.

Die to those selfish ways that draw you away from your neighbor and from God.

And therefore also be highly exalted.