Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to Peter, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
  23 “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When the king began the reckoning, one slave who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as the slave could not pay, the lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before the king, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, said, ‘Pay me what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But the slave refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned the slave and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So God will also do to every one of you if you do not forgive your sibling from your heart.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

Though undeserved,

We live in awe of your love and mercy.

We thank you for your

Inexhaustible well of forgiveness.

Make us bold,

To show that same forgiveness, mercy, and love

To our neighbors, and to a hurting world.



13 months into this whole child-raising thing, and we’re finding there are a lot more rules in our house than previously. And they’re things that, like, we wouldn’t have necessarily thought we needed a rule for 13 months ago, but now here we are. Things like, “Don’t eat the cat food.” We didn’t know we needed that rule, we just thought it was, like, an understood thing. The cat eats the cat food. Cat food is not for humans. But now we have a rule for it.

And the following of all these new rules is……*hmmm*…inconsistent, to say the least… Ok, so like, the new rules aren’t really followed and usually, our house is filled with a lot of: “No…” “Don’t do that…” “Don’t put that in your mouth…” “Seriously, don’t put that in your mouth…” “Get that out of your mouth!”

We’re still working on what the word “No” means.

But there’s a particular rule that’s been around for about 10 years now. It’s one of our oldest family rules…

The rule is No Scoreboarding.

And just to be upfront about it…I’m not very good at this rule.

And it’s my rule.

And it’s one of the big things I talk about when I do pre-marital counseling with folks.

And I still do it.

I still break this rule.

All the time.

The concept is simple. Scoreboarding is when you mentally try and keep track of who does what so you can figure out who does more work around the house. I washed the dishes, so you do the laundry. I mowed the lawn, so you clean the shower. Stuff like that.

Scoreboarding is one of the least helpful things for relationships because no matter how earnestly you try to keep score and keep track of who does what and for how long, you will always come up short. Guaranteed. Without fail.

Your partner will always have done more that you didn’t see and you’ll have been holding onto this grudge and you will have let it nag at you and eat at you, and it will have literally rotted you out from within and it will externalize itself in this really nasty encounter where you argue about who does what and everyone will get mad and it’s really unhealthy for relationships…

I told you…I break this rule all the time.

The thing about scoreboarding and why it’s so unhealthy is because you can’t do it. You can’t keep track of everything and who does what and for how long. Scoreboarding becomes the thing you obsess over, and you’re so worried about trying to take note of who’s doing what that you’ll miss all the opportunities to be a loving and caring partner because you won’t be looking for those opportunities.

It’s literally one of the biggest things I tell couples in our pre-marital counseling sessions…and I still do it…

It reminds me of Peter’s question in our gospel this morning: “How many times should I forgive someone, Lord?” Peter’s looking for something quantifiable here. Peter wants to know what the limits are on forgiveness.

“What if someone’s wronged me and I forgive them 7 times? Is that enough, Jesus? Surely by the 7th chance, I should be out of chances to give, right?”

“Not 7 times, Peter…but 70 times 7…” Or 77 times. The Greek is a little fuzzy.

The point is, it’s a lot. You wouldn’t be able to keep track.

You’d lose count.

You and I do this too, though, right?

You and I want to know the limits on things.

How much do I have to love my neighbor? What are the boundaries of God’s justice? How many chances do I give someone? How far does God’s grace extend? Is everyone really welcome? How many times do I have to be confronted with hearing about injustice?

You and I want to know the limits.

You and I want to be able to keep score so we know when we can start withholding from others.

You and I don’t want to recognize or acknowledge the grace, mercy, and love that we’ve been shown by God and by others so that we can fool ourselves into thinking that there are those who should be required to live outside of God’s grace, and mercy, and love…outside of the grace, and mercy, and love that should be shown by us…that God requires of us.

You and I want to fool ourselves into believing that God is just as vindictive and just as revenge-seeking as we are!

You and I want to know the score.

Or more accurately, you and I want to know the other person’s score…while failing to look at our own…

“Physician, cure thyself!” Jesus would say in Luke.

Or maybe more pointedly, from earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, “Why are you obsessed with a speck of dust in your sibling’s eye, without considering the plank in your own eye?”

In this way, you and I are much more like the unforgiving slave than we are the king in Jesus’ parable. We’ll gladly take God’s forgiveness and love freely given to us, but we expect others to earn it, don’t we? Like our Confession from the beginning of the service says, “We keep your gift of salvation for ourselves.”

We expect others to earn it.

Truly a double standard.

In response to Peter’s scoreboarding, Jesus tells the disciples a parable that begins, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” And ends with another example of why I’m so vehement that the gospel writers would have kept their own opinions out of Jesus’ words, but nonetheless, ends with, “So the king handed the servant over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So God will also do to every one of you if you do not forgive your sibling from your heart.” Which sounds nothing like the character of God we’ve come to know.

Because the truth is, if you’ve ever experienced the radical forgiveness of God…and all of you should be raising your hands now…if you’ve ever experienced the radical forgiveness of God, you’ll know that the weight of the debt is nothing compared to freedom felt by being forgiven of that debt.

Which is why we’re the ones then charged with extending that same mercy and forgiveness and love to a hurting world. “God’s work. Our hands.” As we celebrate today. We’re the ones through whom God does God’s work in the world. We’re the ones freed in Christ to love and serve our neighbor and to work for justice on their behalf.

Because you have been shown. You have been freed.

You have been shown mercy and love and forgiveness.

The truth is, you know that there always seems to be enough of God’s forgiveness to cover your mess-ups.

And thank God…because if it were only 7 times, Peter would have used almost half just a few short months later in the courtyard of the temple. “I told you…I’ve never met the guy…” 3 times.

To which, suddenly a rooster crows and instantly Peter remembers and maybe recalls this very conversation. Peter…whose response to this realization is to run out of the courtyard and weep bitterly.

Sometimes the forgiveness we truly need is the permission to forgive ourselves.

For all those times we keep messing up.
For all those times we hold others do a different standard than ourselves.

For all those times we want to place a limit on whom God’s love and grace and mercy is for.

Thank God we can’t keep track.

Thank God the number would be too high.

I think it would break the scoreboard.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 18:15-20

[Jesus said:] 15 “When another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 And if the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 “Very truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, very truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by God in heaven. 20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy God,

Repairer. Bridge-builder.

Help us in the midst of heightened passions,

Of enflamed tensions, and difficult conversations.

Draw us together. Bind us up.

In your love, bind us to one another.



I am not the most graceful individual.

In fact, I’m straight up clumsy.

I run into things, I step on toes, I trip over my own feet…

And it was in one of those less graceful moments that I broke my first bone. It was in undergrad and we were playing sand volleyball. Fun, minimal contact, not a lot of opportunity for injury, you might think…and generally, you’d be right…but this is me we’re talking about…

I got started backpedaling for a ball that was headed over my head, got my feet tangled up, started to fall, and **crack**…

Painful. Searing pain in my foot.

I had a friend drive me over to our med center, got x-rays, saw the doctor.

“So…what happened?” she asked.

“Well, I was backpedaling for a ball that was going over my head. I guess my feet got tangled up, and I jammed my left heel into my right toes.”

“Yep…that would do it,” she said. “I’m sorry to tell you that you have a not very macho injury. The good news is, it’s not broken. The bad news is, it’s fractured. The worse news is that there’s not a whole lot you can do about it except to let it heal.”

“You’ve fractured your right pinky toe. And the only thing you can really do for it is to tape your pinky toe to your ring toe, and over time, it’ll heal back together.”

I told you…not at all grisly or even a tough and cool story. It’s like, the lamest injury ever.

A fractured pinky toe…

So they did what’s called buddy taping, and taped my pinky toe to my ring toe, and I just had to endure through that discomfort for a couple of months. Which kinda sucks when you’re in marching band and having to march games every Saturday with a fractured pinky toe and two toes taped together.

In this case, the best treatment for this injury is to join the two digits together…even forcefully…and let time and persistence heal the injured digit by being joined to a healthy and strong digit.

Enter our Gospel. These verses from Matthew 18 often get lumped together and characterized as Guidelines for Church Discipline. They’re actually in our congregational and the ELCA Model Constitution under that heading: Church Discipline. Essentially saying that these are the steps that should be taken in the event of disagreement in the church, or when, as verse 15 says, when one member of the body of Christ sins against another member of the body of Christ.

Which, as we all know, never happens…right…?

Of course not. The community of faith is no different than our other communities and social spheres in that way. The community of faith is made up of people, the church is the people, and any time you have people involved, there are going to be disagreements, there are going to be strong feelings, and there will be some uncharitable thoughts…and some of those thoughts are certainly within the realm of what we would consider to be sinning against one another, right?

These verses occur in the midst of a whole section of teaching focused on forgiveness. Jesus knows that any time there are people involved there will be disagreements, and strong feelings and emotions, and differing and opposing perspectives, and certainly some uncharitable thoughts. Jesus says, “When this occurs…go to that person 1-on-1. If they won’t listen to you, take another person with you. If they still won’t hear your grievance, take it to the church as a whole.” Run it up the flagpole, essentially.

But notice here that the point is not to expel that person or write them off or cut them out of your life. “If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” And even if they won’t listen to the whole church, let them be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…which sounds a lot like cutting them out of your life…until you remember how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors…

The goal, friends, is retention.

The goal is to live together in unity. Community. Amidst the divisions.

In this way, these verses aren’t about disciplining members of the body of Christ, but rather, what reconciliation looks like in the body of Christ. These verses aren’t a model for reproving one another, but rather how do we retain our relationships with one another amidst our disagreements and differing perspectives, and uncharitable thoughts.

Which is a really important thing in these times we’re in, church.

In the midst of a pandemic. In the midst of an election season. In the midst of so much stress and anxiety and pain…

Friends, you need to know…this is only going to get worse over the next 2 months. This division you’re feeling…that I’m feeling…it’s only going to ramp up. And become stronger. And more divisive.

And so we need to talk about reconciliation. About living together…well…amidst our differences.

Facebook introduced a new feature a few months ago. It’s called the snooze button. You can snooze anyone on your timeline for 30 days, and you don’t see their posts. You can also unfollow someone and you won’t see any of their posts ever. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve used this feature on some of my friends. It’s just good for my mental health. We can have our disagreements, but we need to be able to hold them well. We need to be able to talk about them.

My hope is still for a reconciled relationship, which really only comes through addressing the issues and having difficult conversations, but I’m just not so sure Facebook is the best venue for those. The church, on the other hand…a place where we all agree about a few central tenets…namely, God’s love for all of God’s creation, God’s grace given freely to you and me who are undeserving, and lastly, I firmly believe, we agree about our love for each other. At church, I don’t distrust your motivations or your feelings about me. I hope and I trust that you care for me and you love me and you want what’s best for me…just as I hope you trust those same things for yourself from me.

I believe that church is where we can have these difficult conversations because we trust that our relationships are built on love and care for one another.

We may not agree, but we can still live reconciled to one another amidst our divisions.

And especially in these times, we must always be reminding ourselves that God’s hope and God’s vision is for a reconciled world.

Which does not mean that everyone thinks the same way. But it does mean that God’s justice reigns and our love for one another remains the thing that draws us together amidst our differences.

And I think that’s really important to hear and to learn: The aim of the community of faith is reconciliation amidst differences.

And this is fundamentally different than what we experience in our world. And this makes what happens at church almost entirely opposed to our experiences elsewhere in the world. In every other aspect of our lives we experience division and vitriol and hatred…but the church—the community of faith—seeks to live well together amidst our differences.

The church doesn’t gloss over our differences…we aren’t the same. But the church should seek to find understanding within the myriad issues we’re confronted with.

That said, in some cases, agreeing to disagree is not the answer either. The community of faith is called to find understanding and find common ground. And as much as reconciliation is the goal, agreeing to disagree isn’t what we’re after. We’re seeking understanding.

There are times, particularly instances of injustice, where the church is called, and I believe where the church should, have an opinion and take a stance.

God is not without opinion in situations of injustice.

Check me on that. Read the Scriptures.

Every time, without question.

I want to say that again, and more clearly:

God is not without opinion in situations of injustice.

God is not without opinion on the oppression of God’s people.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God uses the prophets to tell God’s people the difficult truth. God tells Ezekiel this morning, “Your responsibility is to tell my people of their wickedness and unless they change, they will die in their sinfulness.

Imagine how Ezekiel felt. Imagine how many of the prophets felt.

“Prophets are never welcomed in their hometown…” Remember Jesus’ words? Telling the truth isn’t received well. Especially when the truth is difficult to hear.

The prophet’s words are challenging. They make you uncomfortable. You disagree with them. You shut them off and tune them out. You refuse to hear what they want to tell you.

And…as I remember and reflect on my Ordination 4 years ago this past Thursday, I remember that I was charged—as we all are in our baptism—to work and strive for God’s justice in the world. I was called to preach the Gospel and to feed God’s people with God’s word of truth and justice.

God is not without opinion in situations of injustice.

God takes sides.

In situations of injustice, God absolutely takes sides.

This is difficult to hear…I realize…but I want to suggest that following God, following Jesus, isn’t a one way or the other…right? It isn’t a left or a right. It isn’t this way against that way… I believe that following Jesus and following God is a third way…a way that stands apart from the dichotomies we’re so used to.

So often we think that those who don’t believe like us are against us… “If you’re not with me, you’re against me” right? We know that kind of “us” vs. “them” language. We know that kind of divisiveness.

But in Mark and Luke, Jesus says to the disciples, “Whoever isn’t against you is for you.” Jesus rejects this idea of “us” vs. “them” and says, “You have more in common than you seem to think.”

I think the church is a place where we can uncover that commonality.

We’ll have to dig for it…it will take tough work and difficult conversations, but I believe it will be worth it.

I believe the church is a place where our broken and fractured parts can be bound up together in love, and through persistence and difficult work, where healing can happen.

Whatever you bind upon earth is bound up in heaven.

And where 2 or 3—especially broken members—are gathered together in Christ’s name…Christ, the great healer and great physician, is there among us.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
  27 “For the Son of humanity is to come with his angels in the glory of God, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Very truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of humanity coming in God’s dominion.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:
Holy God,
We end where we began,
Grieving the unraveling,
Lamenting what’s lost,
And mourning the undone.
Open our eyes to the new life
You’re bringing forth.
Point our attention to the resurrection
Happening among and within us.


When we began our summer worship and education series Unraveled, we talked a lot about what unraveling entails.

When planning it, we thought that it’d be a good thread of conversation for our congregation, but I don’t think we realized it would feel so timely or so important to our shared life together.

The idea of plans falling apart feels much more descriptive of needing to reschedule a happy hour or a dinner date or revisit vacation plans…much more than we think to use it to describe how our lives and even our world comes unraveled. But what these scriptures and stories have broken open for me in a wildly new way this year, is just how holy unraveling can be.

Earlier in the summer, I compared the idea of unraveling to a knotted-up ball of string or yarn…or the Christmas lights you pull out every year…or the headphones I stuff into my bag… The thing is, there’s a lot in our lives and in our world that feels like it’s already come unraveled…but I think there’s so much more in our lives and in our world that is in need of being unraveled.

I wonder, how many of you find yourselves thinking about what life will be like once we get on the other side of this pandemic? How many of you imagine a return to the way things were, the way we used to do things?

I’ll be honest with you, the longer this goes on, the more I think a return to what was isn’t possible. I think COVID-19 and this pandemic have fundamentally altered our way of living and being once they’re gone. Sure, at some point we’ll get to take off our masks and we won’t be quite as paranoid about shaking hands or being in close proximity to someone else, but when I think about how much more often we facetime with our friends and family when I think about how much more I enjoy cooking and eating a meal together when I think about how much more time we spend as a family in the evenings and on the weekends…I mean, can you really imagine going back to the same breakneck speed of work that you were running before this pandemic?

We’ve had to change and adapt how we worship…we’re having to change and adapt how we do faith formation…can you really imagine going back to not using the tools we have available to us to reach more people with the good news of the love of God in Christ?

In the unraveling, something new is able to come up and flourish.

In our unlearning, something new is able to be taught and nurtured.

In the falling apart, something new is able to be built up.

I told you that I constructed our summer series in such a way that tried to pair the Unraveled readings with the Gospel lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary over these past 12 weeks. I also said that I tried to construct and convey an arc of movement for us—I wanted the series to feel like we were moving from a place of grieving and honoring what had been lost…to a place of hopefulness and looking beyond the future into what’s next.

We end our series today with a seminal story that we heard a few months ago of Thomas. Thomas…the disciple who, I think, gets a bad rap, but who really just wanted what all the other disciples got…to see Jesus.

I chose this story to end our series because it’s the only one that has an explicit connection to resurrection. The resurrected Jesus comes and stands among the disciples and pronounces peace. Do not doubt, but believe… Do not doubt…but trust…

Trust that resurrection is possible.

Trust that resurrection has happened.

Trust that resurrection is happening.

But also remember that Easter Sunday only comes by way of Good Friday. You don’t get to the empty tomb without the crucifixion. You don’t get resurrection, without first dying.

Dying to self-absorbed ways of living.

Dying to self-centered ideologies.

Dying to ways of being that center ourselves at the expense of others.

Hope and rejoicing are given space because of the lament and grief of loss.

Things have to be unraveled before they can be brought back up together again.

And none of this means that there won’t be stumbles along the way. Remember last week when I said I like Peter because Peter is us…Peter is me. Peter, the great rock upon which the Church of Christ is to be built…Peter, the great cornerstone…has become Peter, the persistent stumbling block this week. Peter is us because we won’t always get it right. Sometimes we’ll get in the way of God’s work in the world. Sometimes, like Peter, we’ll deny ever knowing Jesus, whether through our words or our actions.

But also like Peter, I hope we’re persistent. I hope we persist in trying to be that disciple that follows closely to Jesus. I hope we persist in trying to be that disciple Jesus is proud of.

And even when we fail…I hope we’re persistent in trusting in the love and forgiveness of God despite our imperfections…despite our failed attempts…and despite our proclivity for putting ourselves before others.

 I wrote and I’m preaching this sermon just as Hurricane Laura sits just off the Gulf Coast, barreling toward the Texas-Louisiana border, projected to come onshore as a strong Category 4 hurricane.

This, just 3 years and 1 day after Hurricane Harvey made landfall down near Rockport.

There is no shortage of unraveling in our world.

Jacob Blake was shot 7 times in the back in front of his 3 kids by Kenosha police officers as he was getting in his car. Those that shot and killed Breonna Taylor while serving a no-knock warrant at the wrong house in Louisville have yet to be even investigated, much less disciplined.

There’s no shortage of unraveling in our world.

But what new thing will be able to spring up?

What resurrection will be allowed to take place?

I want you to watch as Houstonians do what we do in the coming days, as hundreds of us flock to Beaumont and Port Arthur and Lake Charles to help them clean up and begin to build back.

Watch as peaceful protestors slowly yet steadily begin to bend that arc of the moral universe back toward justice.

Watch as life and goodness and justice and love are borne out of the wounded hands and sides of Christ’s very self. 

I want you to hear what I just said there… It is out of the struggle, the pain, the strife…it is out of the hurt and worry and anxiety…it is out of the wounds and scars…that life is brought forth. This is the fundamental truth of the resurrection. It is out of the scarred and wounded body of Christ that eternal love and justice and life without end is brought into the world.

There is no more comforting promise in all of Scripture—God is with you in the midst of your pain because God has endured your pain.

Notice what’s unraveled…grieve what’s come undone…lament what’s lost…but keep your eyes peeled for the coming resurrection…

Pay attention for the new thing that God is doing.

Lean into the holiness of the unraveling.

And stick around for what’s on the way.


Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the son of humanity is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the dominion of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then Jesus sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Healing God,

In a world with so many voices

Competing for our attention,

Rise above the noise.

Help us to hear your voice.

Help us to find our own voice

And give us words of love to speak

To help bind up our hurting world.



Back in February, maybe some of y’all will remember, I had a cough that I couldn’t kick. It was some sort of illness, you’ll remember that I refrained from serving communion for a few weeks, I also stopped shaking hands and instead offered my elbow at the door, but the cough persisted.

Even after I got feeling better, the cough stayed around for a total of, like, 2 months. It was maddening.

Oliver enjoyed it, though. After a week or so of not being able to control my cough, he started coughing, too. And we were concerned at first until his cough never became productive. And he wasn’t fussy or anything, just coughing. And then Tiffany noticed that he would only cough after I would cough. “I think he thinks it’s a game,” she said, “I think he’s just copying you.”

“Hold on a second,” I said, “Are you telling me that my 6-month old is making fun of me?”

“Yeah,” Tiffany said.

And it was just then that I realized how big of jerks kids can be.

But the biggest frustration out of the whole ordeal was on Sunday mornings when I would preach. I would have to pause way more than normal to take a drink of water, I’d have to stop to cough occasionally, I even doubled up on the cups of water I had with me in the pulpit. My voice was raspy and hoarse…I didn’t like it at all. I felt like it detracted from the message.

As a preacher, my voice is a vital part of my ministry. It’s my money-maker.

What is a preacher without their voice?

Many of you who are vocalists can relate. For some of you who have been paid to do what you do, it’s also your money-maker. For all of us, it’s one way we express our praise and thanks to God…by singing. For those who participate in choir, your voice is not only how you yourself worship, but how you assist in worship, how you help others worship, how you help facilitate worship for the assembly.

So really, who are any of us…without our voices?

This morning, I want to talk about finding your voice…

I’ve talked to a number of you in recent weeks, and a good number of you let me know how much you miss being in worship. I hear you. I do, too. We will worship together again. I promise you. This is temporary…even if it’s a much longer temporary than any of us ever thought it would be.

I promise you this will pass.

And in all of this, that’s been the biggest loss that weighs on my heart. I long to gather back together with you for worship. Lively, bright, jubilant, face-to-face, sharing peace with a hug, no maks, full-throated singing, loud voices…worship…

And we will get there… I promise. It’s not now, but we will get there.

I long to hear the Sanctuary full of voices again.

But right now, it feels like we’ve lost our voice.

And I want you to hear me, that’s ok. We’re going through a season right now and dealing with some things, and have lost our voice in the process…that’s ok.

Sometimes we need to give our vocal cords a rest. Right, singers?

But how do you find your voice again when you’ve lost it?

Or…how do you find a new voice…when you’ve lost your old one?

Zacchaeus is a familiar story for us. Probably mostly due to a certain song many of you learned in Sunday School. We have this idea about Zacchaeus, I think…we believe he was probably small, he had heard about Jesus and was so drawn to Jesus’ message that he comes out to see about this Jesus, climbs a tree, and finds himself with a dinner guest. All of which is not untrue.

But Zacchaeus was also a tax collector—the chief tax collector, the story from Luke notes—a detail oddly left out of our cute Sunday School song. I suppose it’s difficult to find a word that rhymes with “tax collector.” And here’s what you need to know about taxation in 1st-century Palestine: the people—the common people…Jewish, Gentile, Samaritan, Syrophoenician, didn’t matter—all people who lived in that area at that time—the area forcibly occupied and governed under Roman imperial rule—those people all paid taxes to Rome. And Jericho, like Jerusalem, a Jewish city, you also paid taxes to the temple, because those temples were also taxed by Rome and so they passed that tax on to the people. And the tax collectors were in charge of keeping track of and accounting for who had paid what to whom and making sure everyone was up to date. And if that’s your job, you’re not just a pass-through, right? Because you and your family have gotta eat and you have to earn your own livelihood because you have to pay your own taxes… So the people in 1st-century Palestine paid triple taxes. Everyone in that taxation process was trying to get their cut and the taxes keep getting passed down to those who can’t do anything about it except pay it.

The people were literally having their lives taxed away from them.

So yeah, Zacchaeus wasn’t very well-liked. Like, at all.

Similar to Matthew, the apostle, and follower of Jesus, they were hated by their own people. And Rome certainly didn’t care for them. The temple, the religious institution, saw tax collectors simply as tools. So if you were a tax collector, you were an outsider in your own community. Brushed aside, marginalized, ostracized, pushed to the fringes of society. Which, you know, is precisely where Jesus locates himself and his ministry.

And Zacchaeus has this kind of epiphany in his encounter with Jesus. Jesus shows him extraordinary hospitality. “Zacchaeus, come down, you’re hosting me for dinner.” Jesus sees Zacchaeus. And in this exchange, Zacchaeus radically shifts from a cog in the system, simply doing his job, to finding a new voice…one that gives to the poor and pays back what is owed. Zacchaeus becomes a champion for reparations here. Zacchaeus discovers something new about himself.

I think of our parents of our young ones during these extraordinary days. I think of parents who are also teachers, not just trying to manage their own virtual classrooms, but also trying to help their own kids make the best and learn the most with these unusual methods. I think of our young ones who, in any other time, would be meeting and making new friends and running up and hugging their old friends…I think of how their sociability and psychology will be affected by this. I think of the young people who aren’t able to log on for learning, due to any number of issues…no reliable internet, no stable housing situation, no device to use, no understanding of the communication of what’s expected of them during this time…

I want to say something in particular to you this morning.

If you’re a young person…if you’re a parent…if you’re a grandparent helping out with virtual learning…if you’re a teacher…if you’re an administrator……hear me.

You’ve lost your voice.

You’ve lost your voice.

And that’s ok.

You’ve lost your voice because the voice you’re used to having isn’t the voice that’s needed during this time.

Stop feeling like you have to have all this together and be totally rocking it. You don’t.

If you are, great! Work it! Go on with yourself! And maybe let the rest of us know how you’re doing it.

But if you’re not…do not be down on yourself.

You just gotta find a new voice.

And you have, right? You’ve waded into these new waters, with all kinds of uncertainty. You’re doing your best and that’s good enough. Be ok with good.

And celebrate the other ways you’ve found a new voice in this time.

How many of you picked up a new hobby during this pandemic? Any new sourdough fanatics?

How many of you read something new about a topic that made you uncomfortable?

How many of you learned a new perspective that you didn’t see before?

Church, at the beginning of this series, I told you that when we start unraveling things, it can get messy and uncomfortable. I told you that if you stuck with me, I promised that I would show you what transformation looks like. I implored you to lean into your discomfort, and hang in there with me because I promised you that if you endured through the discomfort, that you would experience transformation yourself.

I told you to hang in there. I said, “We are going to talk about this.” This conversation is too important to sweep aside or ignore.

What new voice have you found within yourself that you didn’t know you had before?

What new thing have you found the strength within you to say that you couldn’t before?

Peter’s declaration about Jesus was a new thing he didn’t know he had within him.

I like Peter in the Gospel narratives because Peter is us. Peter is me. Peter wants so badly to be the favorite. “Of course, Jesus…you’re the Messiah, the son of the living God!” Peter probably didn’t even know what those words put together in that way even meant. I think he probably picked up bits and pieces of it from things he heard Jesus say and just repeated it, trying to be right, trying to be the favorite. And then Jesus lavishes the praise on him… ”Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah…this was revealed to you by God…and I’m going to build my church with you as the base.”

Peter found his new voice.

But also remember that Peter’s new voice didn’t last all that long. In just a few short chapters, when things get tough and the temperature gets turned up, Peter’s tune will quickly change from “You are the Messiah.” to “I told you I’ve never met the guy.”

I told you…Peter is us.

Peter is me.

And still, when Peter denies Jesus…Jesus never denies Peter.

Jesus never takes back the bit about being the base of solid rock for the church.

Maybe there’s something to be said for the base of solid rock of the church to have a few rough edges or even a few cracks.

And this is the promise for you, too, beloved children.

You might be unsure about your new voice. If might feel strange to you. It might even change again in a few weeks when all these circumstances change. But that, too, will be an incredibly important voice.

We do find new voices.

I dare say, we aren’t meant to have the same voice our whole lives through.

Our voices are meant to change.

We are meant to grow. We are meant to change.

We are meant to be transformed, by God.

What does your new voice sound like?

The world needs to hear it.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 15:10-28

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 Jesus answered, “Every plant that God has not planted will be uprooted.

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to Jesus, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
21 Then Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But Jesus did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 Jesus answered her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 Jesus answered her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 The woman said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Healing God,

We are needy people.

Above all, we need measures of your love and care.

Give to us, even the crumbs…

All that you have promised.

That we might share even that with a starving world.



You’ve heard me mention before from this pulpit that the first time I ever wore my clerical collar was at a rally for marriage equality in downtown Chicago in 2013. It was a strange feeling, putting on a piece of clothing that held such importance for me for the first time while getting ready to put myself as an ally into a place and during a time that had such importance for so many people that I love so much. The whole moment had a heightened feeling of consequence. It was as if I understood in a much deeper way the weight and the heaviness and the significance my words and my actions have when I wear this collar.

I put my shirt on carefully and purposefully that morning.

I still take a little bit extra time and a little extra care every time I button up my clerical and put my collar on. I do so even prayerfully.

I’ve also mentioned before from this pulpit how I grew to really dislike parades. We grew up watching the big Thanksgiving Day parades in New York, but as a Texas band kid who had to march 4th of July parades in 100° heat and bowl game parades in college, I find very little redeeming about parades as a participant. Don’t get me wrong, parades are still nice to watch, I just don’t love marching in them. Although, I will admit that my experiences are fairly singular, so please don’t let my dislike of them sour you on parades if they’re your cup of tea. They’re just not mine.

So it’s a bit of surprise, then, that I would wear that same shirt with the same collar a few months later, the first weekend of June, at Chicago’s annual Pride Parade. Placing myself in a position to march alongside my colleagues and beloved friends, to do the thing that I had grown to greatly dislike. But also again putting my self and my body in a position of ally-ship with those friends and colleagues of mine that I love so very much and care for so deeply.

Ultimately, my love of my people, I hold dear far outweighed whatever residual disdain I may have still been carrying with me about parades.

Ultimately…it was love that won out.

It was important to me to demonstrate that I know and recognize that the church has done a tremendous amount of harm to the LGBTQIA2+ community, and showing up to march in Chicago’s Pride Parade as a person who, at that time was studying and learning to be a pastor, I was committing myself to apologize for the harm done by people and institutions that this collar represents, and I was demonstrating I would not be that kind of leader, nor would I lead that kind of church.

It was another holy moment for me. One filled with the same kind of gravitas and consequence I feel every time I wear my collar.

But then something else happened…

We started marching. The parade started.

And all of a sudden, I was swept up in pure joy and unashamed and unmeasured happiness and light and beauty and whimsy.

The energy was pulsing and the music was blaring, and everyone was caught up in this giant, magnificent, jubilant celebration.

It was completely beyond my ability to describe.

Pure joy.

And folks will tell you, and I can confirm in my own experiences, that every. single. Pride Parade everywhere is that same expression of exuberant and beautiful joy.

And what folks who know will also tell you…is that the first Pride didn’t have all the blaring music and bubbles and streamers and jubilation.

The first Pride was, quite literally, a riot.

On June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a violent clash erupted between an excessively aggressive police force and LGBTQIA2+ individuals after an unannounced police raid went badly wrong and violence escalated between the police and the bar patrons.

And the very next year, 1970, the first Pride Parades took place in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Out of something so painful…out of so much hurt and grief…something beautiful was able to grow and flourish.

That’s a long lead-in, but our 2 readings from Genesis and Matthew both highlight what can happen when space is made for beauty to grow, especially from places of hurt and pain and ugliness and grief.

Sarah and Abraham were old, y’all. Like, much older than anyone in our congregation. Maybe you personally know someone who’s passed the century-mark. The point is, they were way past what would be considered to be child-bearing age.  And we know that Sarah herself, at least up until this point, hasn’t been able to have children. That’s why we have Abraham and Hagar, and Hagar gives birth to Ishmael.

So Sarah’s gone her whole life up to this point, carrying around this grief and this pain of not being able to have children. And you need to know that’s a deeply hurtful thing to weigh on your soul, especially for women. 1 in 8 couples in the US struggle with infertility. And that number is growing rapidly in recent years. It’s not uncommon at all. I know it’s a hurtful thing, because we, too, struggled with getting pregnant. (But we talked to our doctors, got a referral and some tests done, tried a few different things, and now we have a beautiful 1-year-old who’s…mostly…a joy to be around…he’s much more pleasant when he sleeps as long as he should…truthfully we’re all more pleasant when we get the sleep we need…) And look, I don’t want to gloss over it either. We sought help and we were lucky and we were very fortunate that it worked for us. There are some for whom it doesn’t work.

But what I found is that certainly in our joy, but most especially and most poignantly in our struggle, that God was there.

That’s probably the greatest gift of Lutheran understanding to our human condition—that God is most especially present in our times of struggle and hurt and pain—because God, in Christ, was crucified on a Roman cross. God died…so that we would be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that God knows…God has felt…God has experienced…the deepest and the most painful parts of us humans.

So, it’s into the midst of this hurt and grief that Sarah’s carried around, and honestly, probably mostly reconciled with at this stage in her life…here comes God into the midst of this, bringing up old wounds and deep hurts, promising children. And so it’s no wonder Sarah chuckles to herself, honestly, it was probably more of a…*ppfffttt*…a dismissal of the whole thing. And honestly, if it were me, it’d probably be mixed with a little bit of anger at God for digging around in a wound that very well may have been scarred over at that point.

But the promise is made nonetheless. And later Sarah does give birth to Isaac.

Out of something so painful…out of so much hurt and grief…something beautiful was able to grow and flourish.

In our gospel reading, maybe you struggled with the words you heard come out of Jesus’ mouth. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…it is not good or fair to take food from the children and give it to the dogs.” Did…did Jesus just call this woman a dog…?

Well…yes…truthfully… At least that what’s recorded as having been said, and the original Greek bears this out, so we’re not even saved there by a textual interpretation.

It’s important to know that, particularly in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus very explicitly understands his ministry as singularly for the Jewish people. The gospel of Matthew was written to a predominantly Jewish community, so this was seen as good news. Jesus was a Rabbi, he never stopped being Jewish. “Christianity” wasn’t even a thing until 70 years after Jesus was crucified and raised. The Jesus movement was a reform movement within Judaism. Even Paul’s version of being a Christ-follower was understood as being within the constructs of Judaism. And it wasn’t until about the year 100, that Christ-believers in Antioch started calling themselves “Christians.”

Which is to say, that this Gentile woman from Canaan would have been outside the promises of God anyway. And if you remember your biblical history, you’ll remember that God gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites, and allowed the Israelites to conquer the Canaanites, and frankly, to murder them. And so the Israelites justified their horrible actions by saying it was God who approved of their plan, so how could it be wrong…but if you were a Canaanite, I bet you’d be pretty skeptical…

So when this Canaanite woman hears Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi, calling her a dog, you can bet it ticked her off. But then she counters with this beautifully back-handed line… ”Yes, Lord…but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table…”

Give me a crumb, Jesus. Just a morsel.

My daughter is tormented…give us just a measure of what we’ve heard you can do.

And in this moment, Jesus is changed.

God changes God’s mind.

God, in Jesus, is human, after all…and as humans, we change. The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney says, “To be human is to learn and grow and change, to open up our hearts and minds, expand our beliefs and relinquish our biases.” Jesus shares this with us.

Give me a crumb, Jesus. Just a morsel.

We’re not celebrating communion every Sunday during this pandemic, but we remember what a crumb, what a morsel, feels like in our hands. We know how sustaining, how healing, a crumb can be.

Jesus proves his own words in this gospel story, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of one’s mouth that defiles.” We would do well, I think, to watch what we say more carefully. Our tongues and our ways of speaking to one another get us in a lot of trouble.

And through her persistence, this woman’s daughter is released from her torment.

Out of something so painful…out of so much hurt and grief…something beautiful was able to grow and flourish.

In our Council Meeting this week, for our Devotional Time, I asked our Council to talk about when they encountered moments of joy or surprise or blessing during this time of pandemic, in recent months and weeks. What was interesting is that everyone was able to name where they had seen beauty springing up in the midst of so much uncertainty and loss.

There’s no shortage of grief and pain, hurt and loss, during this pandemic.

But I wonder where you’ve experienced joy and beauty.

Can you point to a time? Can you point to maybe a handful of instances?

We don’t always have eyes to see beauty and joy in the moment.

But what if we could learn how to be more attentive to it?

What if we could strive to see the world through those eyes of blessing, noticing even the crumbs and morsels of joy and happiness?

As we heard a couple of weeks ago, it may not seem like much more than a few crumbs of bread or some tiny little morsels of fish…but we heard what God can do with those…

Where have you seen beauty, church?

Where have you experienced joy in this struggle?

It’s there…even if it’s just the crumbs…

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, here I am; do not be afraid.”
  28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.

30 But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Healing God,

When storms rage and our doubts rise up,

Reach out and save us.

Call our names

And remind us we are yours.



At camp, every week, they would host a ruthless battle of grit, fortitude, grace, and nerves. This epic show of strength happened across the country, I’m sure, but for me, it happened at both church and Confirmation camp and at Boy Scout Summer Camp.

I have to say, the fierce competition was a bit more palatable at our church camp, Briarwood, in North Texas, than it was at Scout Summer Camp in a more northern clime, but it was tough nonetheless. And I, not because I have a single competitive bone in my body, but because I have a penchant for being goofy and certainly when I was younger, I’d do almost anything to draw attention to myself, I’d always sign up for this contest of sheer will and courage.

I’m talking about, of course, the Polar Bear Plunge…or the Polar Plunge, as you might know it.

The idea is really quite simple. Everyone wakes up ungodly early, before the sun; dresses for this fierce battle in their swimsuits; gathers around the pool or pond or lake; and jumps in the chilly water after it has cooled overnight and the sun hasn’t had a chance to warm it.

There aren’t really winners, per se, in this competition, unless you count the ones with more brain cells, smartly remaining dry around the perimeter of the body of water, laughing hysterically at those of us stupid enough to think that this was in any way, shape, or form a good idea.

Chicago has it’s own Polar Bear Plunge, by the way. I’m not sure at what point in my years I started developing more brain cells, but in our 4 years there, I never did take Chicago up on her offer to go running out into Lake Michigan pre-dawn on a morning at the beginning of March.

It was probably when I watched them preparing the spot for the Plunge on North Avenue Beach by driving an excavator out on the beach…to break up the ice along the shore.

Yeah…that was probably the moment I decided I didn’t really need to sign up for Chicago’s Plunge…

We have a tendency…a smart one…mostly…I think…to carefully assess the risk before engaging in any given activity.

Sure, I could run out into an iced-over Lake Michigan in my swimsuit, but why do that when I can watch others do it on my TV from my 75° apartment?

Sure, I could jump out of this airplane with this piece of nylon strapped to my back, but why do that when this ground I’m standing on feels so firm and steady?

Sure, I could speak up and say something when I see harassment or bullying happening…but why insert myself or get involved in something that doesn’t directly concern me…?

Right? Right…?

(I did say it’s mostly a smart tendency…not always… There are many good reasons to speak up when you see harassment or bullying happening…and I think we would all do well to muster up a bit more courage when we do see it.)

A well-known quote, with which I bet a good number of you are familiar, from author and professor John Augustus Shedd, notes that “A ship in harbor is safe…but that is not what ships are built for.”

The thing is, we are mostly safe on the shore, or in the boat, or in the basket, in Moses’ case, but that isn’t always where we’re called to stay.

Moses’ basket was his safety, but it’s in being given up that his life was saved and he would then grow up to be the great liberator of God’s people. Had Moses’ mother not set her child adrift, he would certainly have been murdered under Pharaoh’s orders. And it’s Moses that would learn to stand up to Pharoah and lead God’s people out of slavery and oppression and into God’s new vision of freedom and abundance.

Jesus calls Peter out of the boat. Now, it’s worth noting that Peter asks for it, right? “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” But still, Jesus obliges. Jesus beckons Peter out of the boat, into the waves.

We’re told not to make waves, not to rock the boat…but when has change happened without a little waving and rocking?

The connection statement between our reading from Exodus and Moses’ story to our Unraveled theme is When our plans for our children unravel.

Certainly, Moses’ mother could not have imagined that she’d set her son adrift in the river. But neither could she have imagined that he’d be rescued and taken in by Pharoah’s daughter. Or that her own daughter, Miriam, would find a way to reunite mother and son, at least for a time, by orchestrating that Moses’ mother would be his caretaker for Pharoah’s daughter. She certainly could not have imagined that her boy would grow up to be the great liberator of God’s people from the yoke of slavery in Egypt.

Or maybe she could have imagined…

After a year of being constantly surprised, I’m learning how to not underestimate my son, Oliver. He will always prove me wrong.

I am also learning that no imagination is too big when it comes to the dreams we have for our young ones. I deeply hope they learn from us that they truly can do and be anything. And I hope we truly learn that ourselves about our young people. I hope we learn to trust that ourselves.

When I think of our young people starting a school year in just over a week…my honest reaction is one of trepidation. I’ve been praying constantly for our young people, and you, their parents, and our educators and administrators… This is a tough nut, y’all. And there aren’t many good answers at all.

By the way, if you’ve been praying about ways that you can help out and serve our community during this time, see the latest announcement in our Thursday afternoon eBlast for how you can help out at Armstrong Elementary. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s an opportunity if you’re available and interested.

There aren’t good answers, but I really do think most of us are doing the best we can. And so I also think about what our young people are learning during this time. This generation is going to be the most resilient group of people our world has ever seen. They’re learning adaptation, and problem-solving, and flexibility…they’re going to blow us away.

Young people now are seeing their parents get energized around an issue…whether it’s racial justice, or senior care, or healthcare accessibility…some of our Gen Z and younger are learning how to be activists…and they’re really good at it. I’m being challenged in ways I’ve never thought about by folks younger than me.

Some young people are learning new technology at a ridiculous pace. Rarely does a Sunday go by that our screen-sharing during our intergenerational faith formation time doesn’t get a few annotated comments from our young people.

It can be risky to step out of the boat…but church, remember who calls you out in the first place. The storms are raging all around us, but still, in the midst of all that tumult, Jesus is there.

And not only is Jesus there in the midst of the wind and the waves…but when we falter…and we will falter, church…we will find our faith shaken and we’ll quickly start to question whether or not this was truly a good idea…when we falter…Jesus will be the one reaching out to save us.

This life is a risky business.

It isn’t for the faint of heart.

But we do not do it alone.

“A ship in harbor is safe…but that is not what ships are built for.”

Dare to risk.

Make waves. Rock the boat.

Wade into the waves sometime…

The water’s…mostly…fine…

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard this, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of abundance,

In an abundance of things in our lives to grieve,

In the midst of an abundance of broken plans,

Overturned realities, and uncertain futures,

Remind us that you are enough.

Give us living water. Give us food to sustain us.

Give us your very self.

And remind us that we, too, are enough.



What have you missed most from the time B.C.Before COVID-19…?

Is it date nights? Movie theaters? Playgroups? Eating out? (I’ll tall ya, I really miss going out to eat…I think our dishwasher’s getting tired of us…) Is it Happy Hour with friends? Worship? Haircuts?

What do you miss most?

The thing I miss the absolute most in all of this…is travel.

We love going places and seeing new things and we’re anxious for a time when we get to do that again.

Throughout our summer series, as we’ve been exploring the theme of Unraveled, we’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on and even grieving what’s been lost during this time. And appropriately so, right? When we undergo significant losses like all those I just mentioned, we need to acknowledge that loss and we need to grieve that loss so that we can then move forward from that place.

But as we set out planning this series, I wanted the whole arc of the summer to have a sort-of movement to it. As I was reading through the Unraveled materials and looking through the Revised Common Lectionary gospel readings for the summer, I not only tried to pair stories that made sense together, but I tried to give the series a thematic movement—I wanted us to move from a place of the acknowledgment of the loss that’s occurred, the grieving of that loss, and then moving us forward from that place of loss, toward a place of hopefulness, toward a place of reimagining a new future and maybe even recapturing some what’s been lost, if even in a new and different way…if even as part of a new normal.

Because the thing is, church, it may still yet be some time before we’re able to do many of those things again. There’s so much we don’t know yet about what our new normal will look like.

But that doesn’t mean that we should live without hope. That doesn’t mean that we should live without recognizing the blessings and the positives and the good within this time of loss.

What I’m suggesting is that the 2 aren’t necessarily at odds with one another. It’s not a time of loss or a time of goodness…but while this is certainly a time of loss, goodness is present within that. We hold these 2 things in tension…keeping our eyes open for the good within the disappointment and loss.

The Samaritan woman that came to Jesus in the heat of the middle of the day had certainly experienced a great amount of loss. “I have no husband,” she tells Jesus. To which he replies, “Correct…you’ve had 5 husbands and this one you’re with now is not your husband.” A lot of aspersions have been cast on this Samaritan woman from the gospel of John from people throughout history. A lot of folks have taken Jesus’ words to mean that she’s some sort of immoral individual, they’ve made her out to be some sort of prostitute or adulterer…but modern scholarship says that reads too much into these words. That nothing in this story indicates that this woman of Samaria is any of those things. Reputable biblical scholars attribute her lack of a husband to being a widow, being divorced, being unable to bear children, or maybe a confluence of all three…all of which would have made her among the most vulnerable in ancient society.

Whatever the situation, certainly this Samaritan woman has experienced a great deal of loss in her life…a great deal of pain…she’s trudging through a great deal of grief.

And it’s into this that Jesus engages her in conversation. And not just pleasantries and small talk, but Jesus and this woman get into some high-brow, heady theological discourse—worship practices, the nature of God, salvation—Jesus gets down into it with this woman.

And by so doing, Jesus elevates her status.

See not only was Jesus, a man, engaging this woman in conversation…which would have been frowned upon…but Jesus, a Jewish teacher, converses with this Samaritan woman…the author notes for us, “Jewish people do not share things in common with Samaritans…Jesus and this woman are crossing all kinds of boundaries here: gender boundaries, religious, cultural, social, ethnic, and political boundaries.

And it’s in the midst of all this boundary-crossing and this time of loss, that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman something…a gift in the midst of loss, a blessing in the midst of grief.

“Those who drink the water that I give them will never be thirsty…it will be in them a great spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Jesus…give me this water…

There are blessings to be found in the midst of this loss. We can discover new ways of enjoying the things we’re used to.

But what about being given something you didn’t know you needed?

What does it feel like for someone to see you so clearly, and for them to give you something that doesn’t just satisfy you thirst…but that quenches your soul?

What is it like to be given something that goes beyond material wants and gets at the very heart of what you need…even something you didn’t even know you needed…?

This is that water.

This is the meal that Jesus shared with those 5,000.

It goes beyond mere hunger and thirst…it gets at the heart of our needs as humans.

Jesus is offering refreshment for your soul.

It’s healing. It’s wellness. It’s compassion, and mercy, and forgiveness, and love.

It’s an unraveling of shame.

The shame of the Samaritan woman who was ostracized from her community. “Come and see! Someone who told me everything I have ever done!” Come and see! Someone who sees me! Who sees past my shame. Who can see who I truly am!

The shame of having nothing more to offer a multitude than 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. The shame associated with scarcity, of feeling that there’s not enough…the shame of feeling as if you’re not enough… “All ate…and were filled. And they took up what was left over…from the broken pieces…”

There’s plenty in our world to grieve.

There’s plenty in our lives to cause us despair.

But there’s also incredible beauty. And incredible opportunity.

And in-breaking of the reign and dominion of God.

Where have you seen blessing during this time, church?

I don’t know when I’ll get to travel extensively again…I hope sometime soon. But I do know that while I’ve been spending more time at home, I’ve been able to watch first steps being taken. I’ve been able to sing new songs, and try new foods, and learn new sounds.

Hope abounds.

Hope endures.

Hope does not disappoint.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

24 Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The dominion of heaven may be compared to householder, a lord, who sowed good seed in the field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said, ‘Lord, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 The householder answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But the householder replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
  36 Then Jesus left the crowds and went into the house there. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 Jesus answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son-of-humanity; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of God’s dominion; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son-of-humanity will send the angels, and they will collect out of God’s dominion all causes of sin and all evildoers,

42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous shall shine like the sun in the dominion of God. Let anyone with ears listen!”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Nurturing God,

In the midst of the unraveling happening all around us,

We long to be planted in your field,

And nourished with the refreshing rains you send.

In the midst of the struggles within ourselves

Between wheat and weeds,

Keep us mindful that, above all, we are yours.



Have you taken time out to sit with your thoughts over the past 4 months?

Whether early in the morning with your coffee, or late at night after the kids are finally asleep, or some other time, have you taken time to just stop, breathe, and sit with your thoughts?

How’d that go for you?

What was it like? Did you like it?

Or is your mind, like mine, a pretty scary place to be right now?

New case numbers, hospitalizations, “What was that meeting I had today?”, checking in with this friend or that loved one, “I’m sorry, we’re doing what for school this next year?!”, safety precautions, how to stay healthy, “I really need some time off, but I can’t go anywhere!”……

It’s a lot. A tremendous amount, actually.

How do we keep it together in the midst of all of this?

How do we sort through what is needful and what is helpful, and how do we manage well all the other stuff that if it builds up and comes out sideways, it ends up manifesting itself as frustration, anger, grief, anxiety, hurtful words, and other painful things?

When I think of untangling, I think of a ball of yarn or string or twine. I think of the strands of Christmas lights that you just throw in the box at the end of each season and so you have to unknot them all and lay them all out before you can put them up again. I think of my headphones, that no matter how hard I try, no matter how carefully I wind them around my hand and place them gently in my bag, it’s always a 10-minute ordeal to pull them out and untangle them so that they’re usable again.

Part of unraveling is that it allows us to disentangle.

Like separating the wheat from weeds, the disentangling—the unraveling—allows us to sort through what is needful and helpful and set aside that which is not.

I mentioned last week that sometimes it’s not so helpful when the gospel writers insert their explanations of Jesus’ parables into the gospel narratives. This is one of those times. See because the writer of the gospel of Matthew’s explanation is so…simplistic. You read the 2nd half of the gospel lesson and everything is so neatly packaged, everything’s explained, so like, what’s the use of preaching, right?

Jesus hardly ever explained the parables he told, and that’s exactly the nature of parables. Parables are mysterious. They invite us into their story and ask us to consider what God might be saying to us. And it’s never the same each time. And it’s certainly not the same for every person. So how do we hold together this idea that parables have many different facets, and many different entry points, and many different exits, and many different interpretations; while at the same time holding on to this rare occurrence of Jesus’ explanation of a parable? It can tie us up in knots trying to figure it out.

On the one hand, we’d love to take Jesus at his word; that the children of the kingdom are the wheat, and the children of the evil one are the weeds, and at the end of the age the evil ones get burned up and the good ones are collected by the caretaker.

That the world is simply wheat and weeds, you’re either one or the other, and that’s that.

Like, that’s pretty cut and dry, and it fits nicely with my ideas about how the world should work. It fits nicely with my ideas about justice. How great it would be if all of Jesus’ teachings came with such a handy interpretive key and instruction manual, right? How wonderful it would be if all of life came with such a cut-and-dry instruction manual… Life would be so much…simpler…

We like to think that the world is simply weeds and wheat; that which is bad gets plucked up and burned, and that which is good is harvested and used to feed the world. But that’s not the nature of parables…nor is it the nature of the world we live in; it’s so much more complicated than that.

I have many least favorite activities when it comes to yard work, but one of my least least favorite is pulling weeds. It’s a pain, I don’t like it, and it seems like such a great amount of effort for so little reward.

But when I was young, one of my chores was to pull weeds in the flower bed at our house. True confession, I’m a terrible weed puller and an even worse gardener.

My dad would say, “Just grab at the base of the weed and pull straight up.”

“Ok. What does a weed look like?” I’d reply.

  • “You’ll know it when you see it.”
  • “Ok, is this a weed?”
  • “Nope.”
  • “Oh, what about this one over here?”
  • “Yep, that’s a weed.”
  • “Oh ok. Well, this one looks the same as that last one; is this a weed?”
  • “Nope.”

Seriously?!? Surely you can understand my frustration.

Weeds are supposed to look a certain way. Except when they don’t…

And grass and plants and flowers all look a certain way. Except when they’re weeds…

Wheat or weeds? Weeds or wheat? It can tie us up in knots trying to figure it out.

But what if we’re not meant to?

What if we’re not meant to be the ones figuring it out?

I think the writer of Matthew gets at least one thing correct in their explanation of Jesus’ parable here…I think we—we, the people of God—we are definitely not the ones doing the harvesting and the sorting. We are definitely not the ones deciding who’s a weed and who’s wheat.

Because the truth is…we are.

We are…wheat. And…we are weeds.

We are both. At the same time. In the very same breath.

We have such tremendous capacity for being able to be used to feed the world…and…we also have such tremendous capacity for choking out that which is being used to give life to the world.

Like the man possessed by demons, all of this capacity resides together within us…within the very same person. Capacity for tremendous blessing… Capacity for tremendous harm…

Part of our own unraveling is to let God do the harvesting and trust that God will do what God does. Trust that God will show us completely unmerited grace and compassion and mercy…love and forgiveness that we did nothing to earn, but that God lavishes on us anyway.

And here’s the scandalous part……if God shows you grace and mercy and compassion and forgiveness and love…you are most assured that God’s showing that same grace and forgiveness and love to that person or those people who you don’t think are deserving of such. “God makes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous,” as the author says earlier in Matthew in chapter 5.

It’s a scandal. It’s completely unfair. It flies in the face of what we think justice should look like.

But God’s ideas of justice are not our ideas of justice.

It’s completely offensive. But it is the way God works.

Let God do the unraveling, church.

Trust God to do the harvesting and the sorting.

You work on your wheatiness.

Let’s work on growing that capacity within us for feeding and caring for the world.

Those are thoughts I can sit with for a while.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And in the sowing, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.

7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!
  18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the dominion of heaven and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Nurturing God,

Comfort your people.

Shower us with your goodness and mercy

And let your Gospel take root in our lives.

Make us fragrant reminders of your love for the world.



I’ve told the story before about serving as a chaplain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago. About how I was assigned to the Medical ICU floor and how I was there to be with the sickest of the sick and their families during some of the worst times in their lives.

I’ve talked about praying with people who weren’t even particularly religious but praying together nonetheless because…hey, if there’s a chance that something could alleviate some of their suffering…they’ll try anything. I’ve talked about sitting with a man for 5 hours in the lobby of the hospital after he watched his wife of 47 years die on the stretcher in the ER…about how sometimes suffering looks like someone who’s just lost their beloved staring blankly at a cell phone, trying to remember who they were about to call, or even what they were going to say.

I’ve talked about, still to this day, the most honest prayer I’ve ever heard. About one family whose mother…the matriarch of the family…was dying and when the time came, the whole family crammed into her ICU room with machines and pumps whirring and hissing. And about holding their hands and praying with them and hearing them remember their mom…and then…for just a moment…the room was completely still. Everyone was holding their breath and the machines just fell silent…only for a moment…

And then…the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. Screams and cries of anguish and sorrow…ones that come up from the very depths of your guts, out of your soul.

Painfully honest lament. Tears and sobbing. Visceral and embodied.

Grief and pain that captures you and won’t let you walk away.

When was your last good cry, church?

Have you allowed yourself to grieve all this unraveling that’s happening?

Don’t push it aside or away. As someone whose habit is to bottle those things up, I can tell you from my own experiences, it’s not a good thing. Grief is something that already comes out sideways under normal circumstances, much more sideways when it’s been under pressure from being bottled up.

We have an aversion to pain and suffering. We don’t like it or how it makes us feel. But if pain and suffering are a given part of our lives, isn’t it much better to deal with them in healthy ways? That is to say, if we recognize that part of what it means to be human is that we experience grief and pain, if those things are a given part of our lives, it does us no good to try and avoid them.

Because we can’t avoid them. We won’t be able to escape them in our lives.

But we can learn how to hold them well.

We can learn how to manage them and deal with them in our own lives, while also learning how to help alleviate and tend to the grief and pain of others.

Because that’s part of what it means to be part of a community of faith…not just to rejoice with those who are rejoicing…but to weep with those who are weeping…to suffer with those who are suffering.

To bear one another’s burdens.

This is your call, people of God.

There’s a lot of unraveling happening in our first story this morning. Initially, King David had these 7 boys put to death to right a wrong in a relationship that had come unraveled with the Gibeonites. And not giving much thought to who these boys might be to those who loved them, David had them summarily executed and strung up on a mountain for all who passed by to see. Then Rizpah, mother to 2 of the boys, goes up the mountain in her sackcloth and sits vigil with her grief…this pain that has unraveled her whole life. And finally, after a while, King David’s own heart becomes unraveled and untangled and he returns bones to their graves in an attempt to atone for this other wrong.

But it wasn’t just that David had a change of heart, or even that God changed David’s heart, but something certainly did.

See, I don’t think David would have given those 7 boys a 2nd thought had it not been for Rizpah. But Rizpah went up on that mountain in her grief and kept vigil there. And you need to know that this wasn’t a short-lived thing.

2 Samuel notes that these boys were murdered in the first days of the barley harvest and that Rizpah went up on the mountain from then until the rains from heaven fell on the bodies. Barley is the first crop harvested in Palestine in the harvest season. And the beginning of the harvesting season in Palestine is in late March or early April. The rainy season doesn’t begin until September or October. So for those of you who are counting on your fingers, Rizpah kept vigil over these boys’ bodies…driving away birds and wild animals and sitting with her grief…for 6 months

For 6 months…this woman bore witness to this injustice. For 6 months…she tended to these bodies.

There is no timeline for grief.

If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know this is true.

There’s no pre-determined point at which suddenly your sadness is over and you no longer feel any hurt. You learn to live with your grief, but that’s different than the grief going away.

What I’m saying is, we would never think of asking someone who’s grieving when they’ll be getting over their grief.

But how many people passed by Rizpah as she was grieving and keeping vigil over the bodies and keeping away the birds of the air and the wild animals? How many people tolerated her way of grieving at first, but as it went on and on and on, how many of those same people started saying things like, “Shouldn’t she be over it by now?” and “Why hasn’t she moved on?” and “I know she’s sad, but really…why do I have to keep hearing about it all the time?”

Who among you, church, has ever questioned someone for how their grief comes out…maybe not to their face, but privately…behind closed doors and in hushed voices?

Who among you has had those thoughts of “Shouldn’t they be over it by now?”

Who among you has said, “I know they’re sad…but why do I have to keep hearing about it…?”

And so when it comes to the pain and grief expressed by our siblings of African descent, and communities of color, and our LGBTQIA2+ siblings, and any other marginalized group…why all of a sudden do we ask those same questions? Why do you feel like we tire of hearing and bearing witness to their pain?

Perhaps by being reminded of their hurt and grief, we might be driven to actually do something about it…to repair relationships and begin the long and difficult work of repairing our communities.

From cultivating new friendships with congregations of color in our neighborhood…to finding new ways to support organizations in our community that are participating in this restoration…to asking how our campus can be used as a resource for our community……these are all excellent ideas that you have reached out to me with over the past month as we grapple with what we’re increasingly coming to understand are deeply systemic and structural discrepancies in our shared life together.

David’s heart became unraveled when he wrestled honestly with Rizpah’s grief. David was driven to act because of Rizpah and her persistence. Like the widow and the unjust judge in the gospel of Luke, persistence can wear down hearts that have been hardened.

But notice here, too, that it’s only when David rights this injustice that God breaks the famine. Consistently throughout the Scriptures, God is deeply concerned in the righting of injustice. God consistently shows up on the side of those who have been wronged.

Maybe by keeping these realities of injustice and inequality at the forefront of our hearts and minds, maybe we, too, will have our hearts worn down by persistence.

I’m usually not a fan when the gospel writers explain the parables they’ve recorded. It’s like explaining the joke after you just told it. Plus, I think it implies that some parables are meant to be understood a certain way, and I just don’t think that’s true. As I’ve said many times before, parables have many entrances and many exits and there are many different ways of understanding them.

But in this case, I think the writer of Matthew is pretty close. Except what if we ourselves are the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the good soil? What if we have the capacity for all those different conditions?

And what if Jesus is the gardener, extravagantly spreading innumerable seeds of Gospel good news over us, in hopes that just some of this good news will find a place to take root in our souls?

And here it is, beloved children…here’s the part I desperately want you to hear……it only takes one.

It only takes one, single, solitary seed…just one tiny mustard seed of Gospel…to transform your life.

You’ll have to help tend it and nurture it. You’ll have to help care for it.

But oh goodness, will it ever grow.

Because the good news of the love of God given to you through Jesus Christ is too wonderful to stay small. It will grow and it will grow exponentially and it will take over and transform your life and you will be so filled up that you can’t help but reach out and do what you can with what you have to help alleviate suffering for those who are in pain and grieving.

This is both the Gospel and the call that was placed on you in your baptism.

You are the embodiment of God’s love in the world.

You are the vessels through which God acts in our world to alleviate suffering.

You are the ones called to bear one another’s burdens.

Let this good news unravel your hearts.

Allow your hearts to be broken open that the seed of God’s extravagant love would be planted there and allowed to take root.

Let your life be good soil.

Let your feet and hands be the branches that carry you and reach out to embrace a hurting and grieving world.

And let your acts of love bear the sweet fragrance of beautiful flowers.

Unraveling is arduous and difficult work.

But the transformation is so beautiful.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

[Jesus said:] 16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
  we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son-of-humanity came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by wise deeds.”
  25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, God, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, God, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by God; and no one knows the Son except God, and no one knows God except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal God.
  28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy God,

Your people are weary.

Their souls are longing for rest.

Lead us to abide in your restful grace today.

Help us to rest,

That we might be energized for the work to which you have called us.



For my very first Father’s Day this year, Tiffany and Oliver got me this wonderful contraption that straps up on my shoulders and lets Oliver sit up on top of them, which he really likes to do. It’s a carrier, but rather than strapped to my back or in front, this one puts him up, kind of up above everything where he can easily look around and see everything that’s going on.

We used it for the first time last Sunday when we went on a short hike over by our house. It works well, it turns out. It’s nice. It’s good. As I said, he likes to be up on my shoulders anyway, so this is a great thing for that.

But here’s the thing, once you’re all strapped up and in, there’s really no shifting around. You can take it off and on, take the kid out or put them back in, but it doesn’t really shift that well. So you’re pretty much stuck that way until you’re done. And we all know well that we’ve got a big kid, right…he’s growing, which is great and wonderful. But he’s like, close to 25 lbs now…so like, not the easiest thing to have strapped on top of your shoulders while you walk around for an hour.

That yoke is neither easy nor is that burden particularly light.

My shoulders really are just now starting to stop being so sore.

And it makes me wonder, church…what are you carrying around?

What burdens are you shouldering?

What aches and pains and soreness are weighing you down?

Maybe even what wounds are you bearing these days?

As we work our way through our summer series Unraveled, we’re exploring themes of the places in our lives and in our world where things have come unraveled, where things are in the process of unraveling, and where things are in need of becoming unraveled.

And this morning, we encounter Saul in this well-known story of his experience on his way to Damascus. And a little back story for you: Saul was from Tarsus, which is in modern south-central Turkey. He was Jewish—a Pharisee, actually—and from a devout Pharisaic family. He was in Jerusalem and he asks for letters from the high priest so that he could go to Damascus and bind and bring back any Christ-believers he finds on his way. Saul was a persecutor of the early Christ-believing communities and a somewhat vicious one at that.

See, Saul was present for the stoning of Stephen, the first murder of a Christ-believer…what, in the church, we call the first martyr of the faith. After that, Saul would also go into the houses of Christ-believers and take them away to prison. It seems that Saul derived some particular form of satisfaction from oppressing early Christ-believers.

Also, it’s important to note here that I’m using the term “Christ-believers” purposefully. Christians didn’t exist yet. The early Christ-believing communities were Hebrew and Greek people who had come to believe that Jesus was, in fact, the Christ…the Messiah. They were either Jewish Christ-believers or Greek Christ-believers. The earliest Christ-believing communities never really stopped being Jewish or Greek, they still maintained many of their customs. It wasn’t until later in Antioch that Christ-believers started being called Christians.

So, Saul’s on his way to Damascus to arrest some more Christ-believers, and he has this otherworldly encounter with the risen Christ. “Saul…why do you persecute me?” This encounter literally knocks Saul down—he fell to the ground…and it literally changed him—it blinded him and he wasn’t able to see.

Saul has a transformation—spiritual, physical, emotional—Saul is completely transformed and changed.

This transformation is a lived experience. Contrary to how we approach our faith most of the time, this transformation is something physical and embodied. So often, we think exercises of our faith as having to do with our minds. Church, you can’t intellectualize a transformation, it’s something you feel, something you experience.

And this transformation, I think we could say it saved Saul. It certainly took him from this one road that he was on and picked him up and set him on an entirely new path. Saul would later be known as the apostle, Paul, one of the most prolific writers and ardent defenders of the Christian faith. I think we could say this transformation saved Saul. And as is true with us, church, you can’t intellectualize salvation, it’s something you feel and experience, something that happens to you.

Which is why I talk so much about liberation being about action. We can talk about issues and problems and discuss ways to address them, but until we lace up our shoes, get out, and actually do something about injustice, nothing will change.

It took an encounter with the risen Christ for Saul to do a complete about-face and transform from a zealous persecutor of Christ-followers to one of the most zealous proclaimers of Jesus the Christ as Savior and Lord. I think there’s a good argument to be made here for Paul’s zeal in proclaiming Christ as Messiah as being an attempt to make up for how brutally he treated the Christ-believing community before his encounter with Christ on the way to Damascus. I think Paul is trying to outdo himself for the years he spent viciously persecuting those who professed the name, Christ.

So, what’s been a turning point for you, in your life, church?

What has it taken for you to undergo this same kind of radical transformation?

How can we allow that transformation to move us from a place of intellectual understanding to an embodied faith? How can we be transformed from a passive discipleship to an active discipleship?

For me, it was moving to Chicago. It was leaving the North Texas suburb that I had grown up in and in many ways was all I knew and moving to a place where I could see injustice. It took people pointing certain things out to me, being patient with me, and explaining them to me. They didn’t have to do that, but I’m so incredibly grateful they did.

And ultimately, it took my willingness to change. Ultimately, people of God, transformation happens because you’re open to it…if you’re willing to have your hearts broken open and changed.

So, what does it take for you to be moved from a place of agreeing that an injustice has occurred to a place of actively working to right that injustice?

I would argue that’s what needed in this time we find ourselves in. We need to not only recognize the injustices present, but those who are being affected by these injustices need us who have been made uncomfortable to get to a place of joining in the work to correct these injustices.

This is the work of discipleship. It’s the work you were called to in your baptism.

It’s not easy work. taking on systems and structures and people in power…you will need every bit of energy you can muster for this work.

And that’s why the rest for your souls is important.

How can you pour into and fill others up, when you yourself are empty?

Rest is a holy and good thing. We need to be well-rested for this work. But we cannot remain at rest.

The yoke is easy and the burden is light—working to right injustice is the easiest…and the hardest thing you will ever do.

Easy, because it only requires you to recognize the image of God in someone else and their worthiness as a beloved child of God…

Difficult, because it requires you to give up something of yourself. Maybe it requires some unlearning on your part, maybe it requires some growth in understanding in some areas that you were previously so sure of, maybe it requires examining what you thought you knew and being willing to admit that you have been wrong…

Difficult, because it requires you to show up—a movement from passive to active discipleship.

The yoke is easy and the burden is light.

But it is a yoke, nonetheless. There is still some measure of burden to being a disciple of Jesus.

There is something required of you as a disciple.

Being a disciple of Jesus demands your life—that you lose your life in order to find it, that you give up your life for the sake of the other. The call to Christian discipleship is one of giving up…of letting go…of relinquishing. It’s a call to servanthood. A race to the bottom. There is certainly a cost associated with this discipleship.

There is a yoke. There is a burden.

But they are easy and light.

Find some time to rest this weekend, Church.

Find some time in your lives for rest and renewal.

God knows, your souls need it.

Rest up, because you’re needed.

Your voice. Your actions. Your very self.

You are needed in this moment.

Get some rest.

Then put that easy yoke back on your shoulders.