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.


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.

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.