Second Sunday in Lent 2023

John 3:1-17

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jewish people.

2 Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3 Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the dominion of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of humanity. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of humanity be lifted up, 15 that whoever trusts in the Son may have eternal life.

16 For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who trusts in God’s son may not perish but may have everlasting life.

17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of abundant love,

In the midst of our doubts and fears, worries and hurts,

You come to us and call us beloved.

When we’d prefer to stay hidden,

You lift up our head and shine on our face.

Love us back to life again this morning.

Move your Spirit in our lives and in our world.





When I would get in trouble, the instinctual reaction of my much younger self was to run away from the troubling that was happening and hide in my room until I thought enough time had passed that I was no longer in trouble. Spoiler alert: it was never enough time. As it turns out, there’s not an expiration date on the consequences for one’s own actions.

And then later, at some point in my less younger years, for some reason I thought it a better strategy to stay and try and meet the troubling head on and try and reason or shout my way out of trouble. This, too, turns out, is a fool’s errand.


So whether running away and hiding, or staying and trying to argue my case through yelling, trouble was there to meet me regardless.


And now, in these later years, I know that my default position has become to stubbornly remain in the midst of the frustration and try and wrestle it into submission, but I am trying to relearn how to remove myself from the frustrating situation and to let enough time pass that we all can just take a deep breath, myself included, and address what’s bothering us.


Ollie, for his part, has mastered the art of running away from trouble and hiding until he thinks enough time has passed. His favorite spots are behind the dresser, under the desk, or behind the rocking chair.


There is something perceived as safety with a large, solid object between you and the trouble or frustration you’re hiding from. Sometimes the cover of obscurity makes us feel safe, protected even.


My sister, when she was younger, would go into her closet and sit on the floor behind all the hanging clothes and eat chocolate and candy by the fistful. Neither my sister or I have lived at our parents’ house for going on 20 years now, but our parents swear they’re still finding Hershey Kisses wrappers to this day.


Sometimes the cover of obscurity makes us feel safe, or even protected.


Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, visits Jesus “under the cover of night” to ask some questions. Nicodemus will make another appearance at the end of John’s gospel, tending the body of the crucified Jesus along with Joseph of Arimithea. It’s fair to call Nicodemus a disciple of Jesus, although, as a Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus would have had to keep this tidbit secret for fear of reprisal. Nicodemus comes to Jesus, seeking something from Jesus, about Jesus. Nicodemus has heard about Jesus, word is starting to get around. People are talking, and the religious establishment is feeling threatened. John, chapter 3 picks up right after John’s account of Jesus cleansing the temple—“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”—so at this point, very early on in John’s narrative, Jesus is threatening both the religious and the economic establishment. Very early on Jesus is setting himself, and God, overagainst the powers that be. So Nicodemus wants to hear it from Jesus…”Are you who people say you are? Surely someone can’t do the things you’re doing apart from the presence of God…”


It’s a honest questioning, but one that is concealing a whole host of doubts. Because if Jesus is, in fact, the son of God and the dominion of God is about to be inaugurated, things are going to get really dicey for Nicodemus. The advent of the reign of God means an end to the way things are. The way the author of Luke tells it, the powerful are brought low and the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty handed. The breaking-in of the kingdom of God means a great reversal is underfoot.


So Nicodemus brings honest doubts, but kind of shamefully so, using the shadows of nighttime to obscure these fears and doubts.


How do you feel about your doubts, church? Are you honest about them? Do you maybe feel shame about them?

How often do we feel like faith and doubt exist opposite one another?

Lutheran pastor and theologian Paul Tillich dismisses this dichotomy and says that faith and doubt are actually simply two sides of the same coin. That is, you can’t have faith without doubt. They hold hands. Faith can’t exist without doubt. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.


How do you handle your doubts, church? Do you push them down, suppress them, or try and will them away? Do you embrace them, hold them close, or maybe even befriend them?


We’re spending this season of Lent talking about hunger, mostly of the spiritual type. Last week with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness we talked about our hunger to be close to God.

This morning, Nicodemus is coming to Jesus with a deep hunger. A hunger to be known and to be loved. And Nicodemus’ hunger is any of ours, to be honest. A deep desire to be known and to feel loved.


Have y’all heard or read about the revival at Asbury University in Kentucky? It started a few weeks ago and it quickly gained steam and news as it went on for a few days. I don’t actually know if it’s still going on or not, but it was making headlines both because of how long it was going on, days and then weeks, and because of who was at the center of this revival. College students. Gen-Z. Young people described by many as maybe some of the least spiritual or religious among all the generations.

What was going on at Asbury? Was it truly the movement of the Holy Spirit or was it something else?


I confess to you, my siblings, that my first reaction was more apprehensive than anything else. See, I’ve been to a couple of revivals, I’ve participated in more charismatic worship. There’s a good deal of emotional manipulation that often occurs. And when you couple that tendency for emotional manipulation with a large group of college students—late teens and early-20 year olds—who are in some their more formative years in figuring out who they are and what they’re about…it’s true that you have a situation that is ripe for manipulation.


And maybe you can relate. Maybe we come by our apprehension naturally. Look, I get it, Lutherans are not widely known for being super-in-touch with our Holy Spirit-ness. Being moved by the Spirit in Lutheran worship is more like a “Hmmm…” and a nod when I make a profound point in my sermon, less like weeks-long prayer and healing services.


But when I take a step back…when I try and become more curious and less judgmental, well why can’t the Spirit move mightily among a small religious college in the middle of Kentucky? What if something was started there that extended out to other places, other states, other churches, even those who have never heard of the Holy Spirit?


When I’m more curious than judgmental, I pray that the Spirit does something amazing. I pray that new people become curious about Jesus and want to know more. I pray that these young people who are in such formative years of their lives hear words of acceptance and belonging and grace and love. I pray they hear nothing less than God’s incredible love for them, regardless of who they are, how they identify, how they love, or anything else.


Because if I’m honest, church…I want a revival. I want the Holy Spirit to show up and do a new thing. I want the Spirit’s wind to gust powerfully among us and drive us to do amazing things in our community.


Because God is doing a new thing in our midst. God is actively at work saving and redeeming the world. And not by anything we have or have not done, but through God’s action alone.


Nicodemus asks Jesus about being born a second time, “How can one be born again after having grown old?” Jesus’ words are about being born from above, being born of water and the spirit. It’s not about being born again, it’s about being born differently.


If the wind blows where it chooses and you can’t see where it comes from or goes, and so it is with those who wish to see the dominion of God, then being born from above isn’t something we do for ourselves. This isn’t about us making a choice for God, it’s an awareness of the movement of the Spirit and an openness and willingness to being moved by that Spirit.


This isn’t decision theology, it’s incarnational theology. It’s not about choosing God, it’s about God choosing you, dear child. “For God so loved the whole cosmos, the entire world, even and especially you, that God sent God’s son…God came to earth, walked and lived among us…so that…everyone who trusts in the saving work of God’s son would have life everlasting…life in all it’s fullness, abundant life, life that overflows with an embarrassment of riches, an embarrassment of loving and supportive relationships, life everlasting… Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world…but in order that the whole cosmos, the whole world, would be saved through him.”


This is not about you choosing God, this is about God coming to earth, descending into our mess, coming among our hurt and pain and worry and fear and doubt—“God moving into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson so wonderfully said—God living, breathing, walking, working, healing among us…God living and breathing within humanity…in order to redeem humanity, in order that all of humanity would be saved.


And nothing…no barrier we try and put between us…no obstacle we try and put between us and God will stop that from happening.

Your doubts are not shameful, dear one.

Your fears, your worries, your hurts and pains…they are holy, and they are held by God.

Your hunger to be known and to be loved by God…God sees it, God sees you, and God delights in you.


You are known and you are loved by God.

God so loved the whole world—even and especially you—that God sent God’s son…not to condemn to world, but to save it.


First Sunday in Lent 2023

Matthew 4:1-11

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

 ‘One does not live by bread alone,

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

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

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

 ‘God will give the angels charge over you,’

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

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

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

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

 ‘Worship the Lord your God;

  serve God alone.’”

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




Please pray with me this morning, church:

Holy God,

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

Oftentimes we struggle to hear your voice over

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

Which tell us lies and tempt us with untruths.

Speak clearly to us, this morning.

Come close and settle in our hearts today.





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


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


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


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

What do you hunger for, church?

What does your heart long for?

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


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


What does that hunger feel like for you?

Would you describe it as hunger?

Does your heart long to be close to God?


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

Listen for God, church.

Know that you are worthy.

Know that you are loved.


Ash Wednesday 2023

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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

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

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

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

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




Please pray with me this evening, church.

Holy One,

As we embark on our Lenten pilgrimage,

our hearts hunger to hear something true.

Something true about us.

Something true about who we are to you.

Remind us that we are dust, God.

Remind us that we are loved.

Remind us that we are yours.





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


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

Welcome to the beginning.

A beginning when we talk about the ending.

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

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

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

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

Something true about us. But also a promise.

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

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

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

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

This is who you are.

It’s a profound responsibility.

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

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

What is your name, child of God?

How do you call yourself?

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

What do you imagine God says about you?

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

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

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

The discipline of Lent. The practice of Lent.

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

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

Lent is that opportunity, church.

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

You are beloved. You are beautiful.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

You are redeemed. You are saved.

You are dust.

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

You are dust.

First Sunday of Christmas 2023

Matthew 2:13-23

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

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

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,

  wailing and loud lamentation,

 Rachel weeping for her children;

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

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




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of new beginnings,

As we begin a new year,

Nurture in us that which is good

And pleasing to you.

Seeds of compassion. Of understanding.

Of love.





Merry Christmas…and Happy New Year, church!

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


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


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

Feels pretty good…


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


Because the world is still in need of saving…


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

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

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


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

Come, again, Immanuel. Save us.


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


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


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

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

And it’s always something to do with love.


Merry Christmas…and Happy New Year, church,


Christmas Day 2022

Please pray with me this morning, church:

Loving God,

Through the birth of a child,

You show us what love looks like.

You become humanity in order to redeem humanity.

Give us hearts that beat with the same fervent love

For the world that you have for us.





Merry Christmas, church!


You sure are committed.

I feel like it was just yesterday I saw some of you…


How was your Christmas morning? Anyone get any good gifts? Was Santa generous this year?

Who got coal? Be honest…


I pray that this Christmas has been for you what it’s been for me. Last night was wonderful. A marvelous worship that took many hands, but was beautiful and meaningful. I’m grateful for all of you who helped make it possible, all of you who came to worship Christ, and especially our Staff and volunteers who work so tirelessly to make Christmas as magical as it is.


Over the next couple of weeks, some of those folks who darkened your doors as visitors last night, might drop by again to see if you’re the same congregation in the middle of January as you are on Christmas Eve. I encourage you to be mindful and to keep your eyes open for them. Welcome them warmly and let them know what and who we’re about. Show them all the love and care you yourselves experience every week.


I mentioned last night that my heart has longed for these worship services. My soul has ached to gather together like we did last night, mostly out from under the threat of pandemic, gathered to worship and praise God’s gift of love given to and for the world. Last night was a gift for which I’m thankful.


This morning is about the story. In Scripture and in song, we are being reminded of God’s love for us, come to us as an infant, born among us in order to save us.

Truly the most wonderful gift ever given.


Especially on Christmas Day, I’m fond of reading a wonderfully short poem by African-American pastor, poet, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman, and letting it speak as it is for the sermon. He says it, in my opinion, much better than I ever could. It’s a lovely piece that reflects on God’s incredible gift given to the world and how we might receive such a gift, what such a gift might mean for us. From his book, The Mood of Christmas, and Other Celebrations, it’s called The Work of Christmas, again by Howard Thurman.


When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among [siblings],

To make music in the heart.


Merry Christmas, church.

Now the work of Christmas begins.


Christmas Eve 2022 Festival Service

Luke 2:1-20

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.




Please pray with me tonight, church:

Holy God,

Through the birth of a child,

You show us what Love looks like.

Let that Love be born in us again tonight,

So that we might be Love for the world.





Merry Christmas, church!


Oh goodness… How my heart has longed to hear you say that back.

Can we do it again, just for good measure?


Merry Christmas, church!


It is a merry Christmas. It even actually feels a little bit like Christmas outside. What a joy to be gathered here, with you, rejoicing, celebrating, praying, singing…

This feels like Christmas to me.


And it’s something I don’t think I’ve really felt…fully…in 3 years or so. It’s been a long time since you’ve made me feel like I just felt. We’ve come a long way. And we still have some ways to go. But we’re on our way.


Christmas is one of the big ones for the church, right? Christmas and Easter. They’re the big wonderful worship services that we get to go all out. Special music, soaring choirs, big pomp, all the circumstance… It’s a worship that makes our heart sing.


But aside from being one of the big ones for the church, Christmas is special to me because it’s one of the few times where I actually feel worshipful, too. Christmas, in particular…it’s like my soul knows its way around this liturgy, I can just rest back in this worship service and marvel at its beauty.


Truly my heart has longed for this Christmas worship.


As soon as we hit that first note of O Come, All Ye Faithful my heart soared and my spirit relaxed. We’ve arrived. Thank you…for doing what you’ve done, for being part of this extraordinary and marvelous worship this evening.


My heart has longed for this worship, and my heart has longed to see you here tonight, church.

Welcome. And thank you.


In the season of Advent, over the 4 weeks leading up to tonight, we gathered under the theme Making Space. Making space for Advent, making space in our hearts and our homes to welcome Christ once again, as we do every year, into the world anew. We talked about making space for the possible, making space for new voices, making space for the unexpected, and finally, making space for Jesus. This Advent we’ve talked about our hopes and our expectations, our dreams, our anxieties, the longings of our hearts…and our fears.

And we talked about making space for all of that.


But once you’ve got all that, once you’ve gathered all that together…then what do you do with it?


If you tried to carry all that around, you’d stumble. No way it all fits in a backpack or a bag. No way your head can hold all onto of that, plus all the other gajillion things you’ve got on your to-do list…presents to wrap, turkeys and hams to roast, cookies to bake, potatoes to mash, family to welcome…plus, in just a couple of weeks, we’ll all be back at it again with school schedules, work schedules, sports and activity schedules, volunteer opportunities, service organizations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H, FFA, whatever else…plus all those brand new resolutions you just made…

How do you make space for it all?


Church, I want to invite you to do something with me tonight. Maybe something radical for you. I want to invite you to set it down. If only for a moment…just set it down and let go of it. Be here tonight. Lighten your load and let your heart soar. Set your worries, your cares, your concerns…your fears…here. Lay them in the manger.


The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight…


Whatever you’re carrying tonight, I invite you to set it down. Set it aside and just rest back into the wonder and beauty of this evening. Of this incredible gift of love. God’s gift of love. Given for you.


Because this familiar story is our story. It’s a story of wonder and beauty, messiness and imperfection, hopes and fears.

It’s a story about God who was born as a child into a very human family…about God loving this family so much, that God chose to be born into our human family.

It’s a story about God who came into the world through the very human and very messy act of a young woman giving birth, born among the dirt and grit of feeding troughs, animals, shepherds, sheep, angels, and everything else…about God who enters into our mess, in order to redeem our mess.

The Christmas story is a story about rough years and difficult seasons and the times we feel like giving up. It’s a story about God who chooses to enter into our human experience at its deepest…about God who would go through full expansiveness of the human condition to let you know that you are never alone in any of your circumstances.


It is into such a world as this that God chooses to be born.

God chooses to be part of it, so that you would know, beyond all doubt, that wherever you are, whatever you’re carrying, that God is there with you.

This is the wonderful good news of Christmas, church: Immanuel—that God is with you.


So what does your heart long for, church? What makes your heart soar?

As we rejoice in and celebrate God’s incredible gift of love, given to and for the world, I invite you to bring your fears and worries…and your hopes and dreams. Bring all of it. Let God hold all of it.

And know that whatever you’re holding onto, whatever your carrying, this gift of love is for you.


Your dreams…your longings…your hopes…your fears…it matters to God.

You matter to God.

You make God’s heart soar.


Merry Christmas, church.


Fourth Sunday of Advent 2022

Matthew 1:18-25

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

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

  and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

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




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God, our Joy,

There are a great many things that frighten us.

A great many things that unsettle us.

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

As we await the arrival of Christ,

Continue to be with us, God.





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


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


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

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


You know the one I’m talking about?

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

And yet…”Don’t be afraid.”


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


God with us.

In the most unexpected of ways.

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


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

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


That God is with you.

God with us.

Come, Emmanuel.