Something to Strive For

On any given week, during worship at Epiphany
The time of the children sermon is the most “live” element of the service,
which is to say anything can happen… and frequently does!

Two weeks ago, for Youth Sunday,
the youth of our congregation
blessed us with their faith,
and leadership,
their enthusiasm,
and authenticity.
And Sam and Eva gave the children’s sermon.

They did a masterful job
communicating the message.

To help the children think about Jesus’ promise that God’s house has many rooms prepared for us
They brought in a truly enormous 4 story Barbie house,
Which they then explored with the kids,
Looking at the various kinds of rooms.

They shared that although we are different in some regards –
like which neighborhood we live,
where we go to school,
or what activities we enjoy,
Jesus makes room for all of us in God’s house
and Jesus shelters us with protecting love in God’s family.

Oh, Yes! it was so good – but what I will always remember –
What made us laugh, and has made us laugh many times since,
Is the prayer that Sam led at the end of their children’s sermon.

Sam began: “Dear God…”
And the children all responded: “Dear God…”

Sam continued: “Thank you for making us all different and special…”
And the children repeated…“Thank you for making us all different and special…”

And Sam went on:
“and also for putting us on this earth
so that we can carry out your plans
and fulfill your will…”
And all the children looked up at Sam with awe and said…. “Amen!”

Sam gave us all something to strive for in his prayer, as we tried to keep up with him,
in much the same way Jesus
gives us something to strive for
in the prayer he offers in today’s text from the gospel of John.

Jesus prepares for the hour of the cross
By coming to his Father in prayer,

And so becomes our model for prayer,
Showing us how to strive toward God,
And giving witness that God can be trusted in every moment of our lives,
Especially the moments in which we are most in need.

It’s supremely comforting and assuring to know that just as we pray,
Bringing our concerns and hopes to God,
Jesus also prayed.

And yet, there is an obvious difference between Jesus’ prayer and our own.

We often bring questions and doubts to God;
We are often unsure of the path to take,
And we struggle to understand and gain clarity of what God’s plans for us might be.
Even guided by the Holy Spirit,
We often see, as Paul says, “through a mirror dimly.”

In his prayer, Jesus is not in a position of need like we are.

Jesus speaks to God as an equal,
Basking in shared glory with God,
Petitioning God, not for his own needs,
But for ours.

In this moment of passion and greatest darkness,
When Jesus prayed… he prayed for you and me,
Requesting God’s care on our behalf,
as he continues to pray for us even now.

Which means:
We never begin a prayer,
We never have to summon the strength to begin to hoe the row of prayer,
but instead get to join our prayers to the petitions of Jesus,
Who has already initiated the conversation with the Father for us.

Jesus has been lifting us up to God since before the world began.

And what glorious, good news is when this there is ever so much to pray for.

Gallup published a report this past Wednesday
that found the depression rate in the US has reached a new all-time high.

As someone with experience, I don’t share this with judgment
But it is alarming that the percentage of U.S. adults
who report having been diagnosed with depression
at some point in their lifetime has reached 29.0%,
nearly 10 percentage points higher than in 2015,
with rates among women, young adults, black and Hispanic adults rising fastest.

This week I also read that anxiety and depression are at all time highs for children.

Teens struggle how to manage screentime;
Most of us are swept up in the corrosive effects of social media,
We deal with higher levels of feelings of loneliness than ever before,
And live with the ever-present threat of violence at school
or the movies or the grocery store.

Nowhere do I see anyone connecting our struggles with mental health
And the quiet disappearance of faith from the public square,
But could there be a connection there?

And I don’t mean to suggest we would be healthier or better-off
If more people were confessing the Apostle’s Creed on the streetcorner
And manipulating others to do the same…
But it is clear the world needs love.

The world needs the love of Jesus.

Imagine if
more people were following the ethic and life of Jesus
By feeding the hungry,
Securing healthcare for the sick,
Comforting the dying,
Visiting those who are incarcerated,
suffering with those who suffer
Welcoming the stranger and
Attending the needs of neighbors
And taking on a disposition of humility
And what that would do for those who struggle to believe they are loved.

Jesus invites us to cast all our burdens on him,
To let go of them
And know we are embraced by God’s love.

Mental health is a complex and multifaceted part of any person’s life.
What I found so meaningful in the article I read
Was that doctors say
In order to help people who have mental health struggles
The thing to do is to surround them with healthy relationships,
And a loving and attentive community.

He prays, as he departs the world
through a death and resurrection for the life of the world,
this is the very thing he creates:
a loving and attentive community.

It really is interesting, that if you compare Jesus,
to other leaders in the history of the world,
political, spiritual, or otherwise,
he is unique in that he does not leave a temple,
he himself does not write a book for his followers,
he does not build monuments or buildings.

Instead he leaves a people
who are to simply to stay connected to God and one another in love.

He simply leaves a community of love
That’s sole purpose it to live in a way that shows
that God is real and God wants a relationship with us.

God shows himself through us —
through our serving and speaking and suffering with others
to be a God to whom we can bring all our worry.

A God who longs to hear our prayers and
To whom we can bring all our anxiety
To whom we can bring our frustration and our disappointment.

God shows himself through us to be the God of the cross,
who has carried all our grief and the grief of all the world.

Its humbling and perhaps surprising,
But the thing God entrusted Jesus to do,
God now entrusts to us:

To give witness to the One who made us,
the one who saves us,
and to display that God is here to give guidance and strength now
and will receive us at the end of this life
with open arms and welcome into a new home for eternal life.

We are witnesses of Jesus
When we serve food in the community,
When we stop to really listen to someone in need,
When we befriend the person who is different,
When we give of ourselves by serving as lay assistants, ushers, acolytes and crucifers,
When we serve on the altar guild,
When we give of ourselves to serve as Sunday school teachers to share the love of God
With coloring and songs and crafts and skits and games.

When we join together on what the rest of the world might think is a regular Thursday
To claim Jesus’ lordship over heaven and earth
with bible study and prayer
in restaurants and coffee shops all over the Richmond area.

Today in our very midst our confirmands
will take another step
in the journey of faith that God began in them in baptism,
and give their witness to the joy that they have experienced in God
and among God’s faithful people.

Today they will declare their intention to join in our public witness to Jesus,
To live together in and with this community,
To serve the poor
and comfort the distressed
and work for peace and justice in all the world.

Jesus has given them a life to strive for
As he gives us all a life to strive for.

He has given us a life and a place in a loving community:
Mother and fathers and grandparents, youth and children,
Stretching out though all the cities and towns
And with sisters and brothers around the world
And at the center of all of us
The blessed community of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Who have dwelt in love together since before the foundation of this world.

Jesus’ love draws us in and roots us to this life and community.
God’s love will be our anchor and our hope when all else has deserted us.

Here in the chancel
Sam prayed for us:
…Thank you, God, for putting us on this earth,
so that we can carry out your plans
and fulfill your will…”

With the children, and as children of God ourselves,
we look to God with awe and
trust him to make it so
and say, simply, with gratitude…. “Amen!”

Calculating Easter

Endless is the victory!

The cross stands empty to the sky and the stone is rolled away!

Jesus Christ who was crucified, lives
and through his sacrifice and love
God has conquered death
for you, for me,
for all nations and peoples,
for all creation,
and today is Easter Sunday…

Although, I will say, this past week there was a little confusion
about when Easter Sunday was actually supposed to be, and
specifically, whether we’d missed it by a week!

Last Saturday I was here with the group of special readers for Palm Sunday:
John Darnes, Justin Farren, Todd Domaleski, and Nanci Wilfong.

We were just finishing our rehearsal
for Walt Wangerin’s “Cry of the Whole Congregation,”
a special reading of the passion story,
which they would help bring to life the next day.

And as we were visiting after our run-through
Nanci mentioned to the rest of us that she’d seen a commercial on TV
Running throughout the previous week
Paid for by a local Christian congregation
Inviting people to church the next day,
(that is last Sunday)…

for what they were calling “Resurrection Sunday.”

“Wait! Isn’t ‘Resurrection Sunday’ Easter Sunday?” we all wondered together.

“We didn’t mix up our calendar and miss Easter did we?” we asked aloud.

It would be terrible, we all agreed, to get it wrong!

If you know Nanci,
you know she’s sharp,
Which is to say,
if she said that’s what the TV commercial said, that’s what it said,

Truthfully, I was only worried for a split second.

In fact, you may know Easter is a movable feast,
Which simply means
that it doesn’t fall on a particular and recurring date each year.

In other words, if you want to do more
than look at your year-at-a-glance calendar,
And trust it to be correct,
You need to know that the celebration of Easter Sunday falls
on the first Sunday
after the first full moon
that occurs on or after the vernal equinox.

Just so ya know!

Suffice it to say, discovering when Easter Sunday will be each year
can be a little confusing…

And it seems to me that it’s only fitting,
given the confusion of the first Easter morning
which was a quick flurry of jumbled events.

Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb in the dark
and sees the stone is rolled away,
and she doesn’t understand what’s happened,
but she immediately runs,
dashing through gardens and backstreets
to tell Peter and the disciple Jesus loved (who we assume is John).

It’s strange though: even as she takes the news of an empty tomb,
she doesn’t really understand what it means.

Perhaps it’s hearing the worry in Mary’s voice,
that make Peter and John so alarmed
that they run as fast as they can back to the tomb.

John pulls ahead, arrives first, but doesn’t go in for some reason.

Peter finally arrives and plunges immediately into the dark tomb
sees the graveclothes that had been around Jesus’ body
and the cloth that had covered his head,
and he staggers back out into the daylight confused.

Like so many of Jesus’ disciples,
Peter was told that Jesus must suffer, be crucified, and rise,
but the heady events of his triumphant Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem
had stoked fresh dreams
of the speedy arrival of a political kingdom set up in Jesus’ name
and the dreadful crucifixion had crushed all these hopes.

So with Peter standing there confused,
John goes into the tomb,
and he does see and understand and believe that Jesus is risen,
But then, strangely
he and Peter both just return home,
and Mary stands alone, weeping.

Grief can so often confuse us and disconnect us from one another.
We don’t know how to deal with our own sadness and also
support those around us
and so we’re robbed of the connections that would bring comfort,

And Mary finds herself alone.

She’s weeping,
But not because she thinks Jesus is dead,
But because she thinks his body has been stolen,
an added humiliation to all Jesus has endured
but a common crime in Palestine,

But she’s still discombobulated in her thought:
robbers wouldn’t have left
the extremely valuable graveclothes and spices in place in the tomb,
neatly kept as they are.

But grief clouds our ability to see clearly
And what’s happening to Mary
is too strange and wonderful and unpredictable
for her to have had any clarity yet.

Instead, she simply feels the presence of someone behind her.

She turns to speaks to him,
And is confused about who it is
-thinking it is the gardener –
She asks about the body so that she can take it and carry it away,
Again, never mind that it would have been much too heavy.

And in the midst of all her confusion and grief, she hears: “Mary!”

And she hears the voice she loves and has followed.
She hears the voice that loves her and has called her by name,
and she sees him.

Her heart is flooded with clarity!


Her heart throbs with Surprise!


Her heart explodes with Joy!


And she will go to tell the others “I have seen the Lord!”

The very first proclamation of Easter.

Yesterday many of us gathered for our Epiphany Eggstravaganza.

Ms Betsy was with us,
grandparents, parents, friends and children.

We were in Price Hall and in the Burger Commons
For all kind of games and activities and songs
But at the heart of it, of course,
And still the most fun part of all,
was the easter egg hunt.

Kids searching and finding…and shrieking with delight.

It occurs to me that we are all searching for something,
Not only these small children for plastic eggs and the goodies inside.

Older youth who hid the eggs yesterday and their friends
You’re searching for how to understand the gifts you’ve been given,
Where you’ll head after high school,
What type of school or vocational track will be right for you,
As you discover who you are and who God has made you to be.

Young adults – you are searching for the right work to do,
friends to share life with,
the right place to put down roots,
perhaps even a partner to share life with and start a family.

People in the middle of our lives are searching for
The slippery answer to what it means to discover your life is half over
And contemplating the things we haven’t done that we wanted to
And how to make the most of the time.

Those nearing retirement or having already retired
are searching for ways to savor the time,
How to connect with the ones closest to you and support them,
And at some point
you’ll search out how to go on without a parent
Without a spouse
or loved one.

And in the midst of all these stages
there are so many big questions
And there is so much to find.

Easter is not one of those things that we have to find.

There is no need to search Easter out.

Easter finds us.

Easter happens to us.

In the midst of the confusion and the questions all around us.
In the midst of our grief,
In the midst of our wondering,
In the midst of our searching and seeking.

Resurrection Sunday is every Sunday
And you can’t miss it because it comes to you as a free gift.

On a Friday, Christ died for your sins and mine.

On a Saturday, the last day of the week,
he rested in the tomb just as God rested on the 7th day of creation.

And on a Sunday, early on the first day of the week,
Christ was raised,
Beginning a new creation,

And he appeared to Mary and the others;
And spoke to them
and sent them out to share the news.

And as the Holy Spirit
gathered more and more people to be a part of God’s
suprising, clarifying, sustaining life,

Jesus’ disciples continued to gather on the first day of the week to mark and celebrate his resurrection and proclaim his victory over death,

And you have been drawn into his life.

Jesus calls you by name.

In your baptism,
You are named and claimed by God

At this table, Jesus comes to you again,

Week by week he guides us
And not only on every Sunday (every resurrection day),

But every single day,
Jesus comes to us to love and forgive us,
And will keep coming
until the day he comes again as
Victorious Lord of all.

We literally can’t mix this up.

We can’t miss it.

Easter is the new reality
in us
and all around us
and filling all creation.

Every day is a day Jesus is alive and walks with us,
Every day is a day he is searching for us,
and seeking us out
and finding us,
and keeping us in the treasury of God’s heart,

So that we can share the good news of his love with a world in need,
So that can be there for one another in our grief,
And so that we can proclaim together the wonderful,
world-transforming news:

Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Making the First Move

Christ’s passion is the lynchpin of all creation, all time, and of all history.

It is the most important event in the annals of humankind,
the most significant occurrence of your life and mine,
and if it was not for the proceedings of these three days, nothing else would matter.

Tonight, dear friends, we gather on Good Friday,
which is the dark and black Night of the Cross,
but the night which is also called “good,”
because Jesus Christ bears all our sin upon himself.

This Day of the Cross stands at the center of God’s story,
And it just so happens that this year
it also falls on National “Making the First Move Day.”

Today is “Making the First Move Day,” across the US
an all-inclusive holiday
held annually on April 7, which is aimed at,
recognizing, naming, and combating bullying.

The goal of the observance
is to stand in solidarity with those who are bullied,
And to make the first move to prevent bullying in all its forms
Including shaming, abuse, and assault –
and to assist victims in recovering from harassment
and all its negative effects.

Besides posting on social media for National Making the First Move Day
people gather today for forums and discussions,
and take a pledge not to ignore bullying, but to intervene,
and stop the scourge of victimization,
for our children and their families.

Interestingly enough,
Today, organizers and leaders of the “Making the First Move” movement,
Invite anyone and everyone to show solidarity and support for the movement,
by wearing the color red to symbolize passion.

Jesus’ passion looked at first glance a lot like he was on the receiving end of being bullied.

After all, he was flogged and beaten.

Soldiers roughed him up and twisted a crown of thorns for his brow,
Which was meant to pierce his face and his head, yes,
But, above all, was used as a way to humiliate and mock him.

The purple robe, too, was a way to make fun of Jesus,
And highlight what was, to their thinking, the sheer audacity
Of this poor and humble rabbi’s sham claim to be a king.

Bullying behavior, of course, is aimed at hurting someone,
But the most terrible thing about it for those who are harassed,
isn’t the physical hurt,
But the emotional injury – the embarrassment.

The aim of the crowds and the leaders
Was certainly to publicly shame and berate Jesus.

Jesus was mocked as the crowd publicly called him the name of a guilty criminal,
Even though Pilate, the disciples, and the crowd,
Knew that he’s actually innocent.

Jesus was humiliated on the cross
Made to hang naked as the soldiers gambled for his clothes
And as he had to watch as his own mother standing by witnessing the cruelty.

We see that Jesus in his passion is bullied
but he allows himself to be.

Jesus is totally in control of the situation.

Jesus has already said long ago to those who would listen:

“I am the good shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep.
For this reason, the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

Even in the midst of his passion
Jesus is in control of things.

He stands before Pilate cool and collected
And turns the questioning on the questioner.
Jesus then carries the cross under his own strength,
And Jesus decides when to give up his spirit.

So often we think we’re in control of our life,
We think we are basically good people
That make a few mistakes now and again
And that when we look to the cross,
We can be sure that we are not alone in our suffering
And God identifies with our pain.

And it is true
that the cross is our assurance that God is with us in our suffering,

But, make no mistake,
it is our sin that put Jesus on the cross
And Jesus’ death is firstly the downpayment on God’s promise
to save us from our sin.

We have been bullied for sure –
us or the people we love –
Perhaps both
by sad sick people in our schools or workplaces or homes –
Online, or in-person

And truly, the last few years have been hard,
We have been bullied by a pandemic and its aftereffects.

Our families and communities
Have been bruised at the hands of depression and sickness
and anxiety and fear and worry,

We are hurt by the world and the sin of others.

But we also are the bullies,

We have hurt others
By what we have said and done
And by what we have failed to say and failed to do,

We treat God’s creation as if it was here only for our enjoyment,
Rather than a sacred calling to tend to God’s creation with care.

We do not do as much as we could to help others
And have seen others in need and looked away.

And yet Jesus Christ on the cross makes the first move toward all of us:

The bullied and the bullies alike.

On the cross, Jesus dresses in passion to call our attention to the urgency of our
Sin and brokenness and to show us what it does and will always do,
Which is that it leads to death.

Jesus takes on the punishment of our sin and the power of death
And he hangs there
to declare that God is love,
And that God will always be making the first move toward us
so that we can have life.

God makes the first move toward us,
Coming to us again today in goodness and righteousness and purity
With compassion and consolation for the griefs we bear.

God makes the first move toward us to bind up our broken hearts,
wash away our sin,
and give us a new beginning.

God makes the first move toward us
Creating a community where all are valued and loved and included
And protected.

And because God makes the first move,
Coming to us each day in forgiveness and mercy and love,

We can respond by
looking to one another without judgement,
and letting gratitude for all God has done for us fill our hearts
And reaching out to one another with love
and service and forgiveness in the way of Jesus.

Like Jesus, we can respond to God by trusting
that God has made the first move toward us for our salvation
And God will continue to make all the right moves needed to keep us in his care.

As Jesus breathes his last and his bruised body is taken down from the cross
It looks like the end of the story,
But the world had never seen
The next move up God’s sleeve.

All Y’all Are Salt & Light

Last weekend a fantastic group of high school youth from Epiphany met up with peers from all over Virginia for our first Winter Celebration retreat in 3 years.

A lot of us, honestly, didn’t know what to expect after so long away from it and many of the youth from around the Synod had never been to Camp Eagle Eyrie, which is a retreat center situated high on a mountain overlooking Lynchburg.

We all arrived late on Friday night after dark, but we found our cottage, moved in, and joined everyone in the big hall for worship and singing. Then we went to our first small group session and I got to meet the 11th graders who would be in my group.

As part of the curriculum, my group, like every group had a get-to-know-you exercise where we were invited to tell our names and a number of things about ourselves, one of which was: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you like to go?

As we went around introducing ourselves one young girl from Norfolk said: If I could go anywhere in the world, I would like to go to the Blue Ridge Mountains!

You can imagine how delighted we were to tell her that in fact, her dreams had come true! She was in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

She had a good laugh with us and the next morning after breakfast, when the sun had come up, we asked her what she thought of the Blue Ridge and she said, “it’s even more beautiful than I thought it would be!”

In God’s created order, light reveals the truth, shows us the world as it really is, and helps us see where we are and how to navigate going forward.

In the dark of night, we can make guesses about how things are, but in the light of day, we see reality for what it really is, and the brightest light in all creation shines in the face of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus preaches from the mountainside, he says to the disciples he has gathered:

You are the light of the world because you’re mine and as you follow me your presence among the nations will reveal God to people who have been in the dark about who God is.

I’m sending you to a world that is groping about for meaning and purpose so they can come to see in your life and actions that humankind is called to a life of working for justice for the oppressed, freedom for the captive, and compassion to the hungry and homeless and poor.

Just think of how startling and exciting this news must have been to these first disciples!

Remember these people gathered around Jesus were fisherman, tax collectors, day laborers, simple peasants, simple people, women who would have been overlooked as insignificant and expendable in every other community group of the day. And yet Jesus chose the least in society and said, “You are the light of the world! You are the salt of the earth!”

He gathered people who didn’t have any kind of honor, notoriety, or esteem and gave them an identity of the greatest value and significance of all because in their communal life they would have the opportunity to point to God.

Jesus calls us to this same mission of illuminating God’s mercy and spicing up the world with the flavor of God’s love as we live and work together when he says to us: YOU are the light of the world, and YOU are the salt of the earth.

And it’s interesting that Jesus says, “you,” but that it’s not in a singular noun.

It’s plural. In other words:

He really says “y’all… together,” or as we might say in the South, “All y’all!”

As in: “All y’all are the light of the world!”

“All y’all are the salt of the earth.”

God has planted all y’all here to work together, to be witnesses to the good news of a crucified and risen savior, and to teach others what you know as the truth. And in fact, we are a teaching congregation, raising children in the faith. And in fact, we are already starting now with prayer and planning to prepare a week of Vacation Bible School where kids from the neighborhood will come for a week to experience Jesus.

God has planted all y’all here to work for justice and compassion, and in fact we are preparing to partner with the Red Cross later this month to collect blood donations for those in critical need and are continuing to make quilts for Lutheran World Relief to be donated to the poorest of the poor around the world.

All y’all… are light, not put under a bushel basket, but shining!

All y’all… are salt, not losing its taste but bringing people the pizazz which comes from the Prince of Peace.

All y’all are salt and light, but not because of the good work you do (although we did more service work and helped more people this last year in terms of every measurable metric there is… from thanksgiving baskets, to amount of food collected for LAMBs basket to Christmas giving tree gifts) but you are salt and light because Jesus is present in our life together and in our serving.

And truly it is Jesus’ presence which makes all the difference.

In and of ourselves, our love is limited. Our ability to forgive is limited. My ability to have compassion for others is limited.

When we try to care for the difficult people in our life and the trying people in the world by imagining that we give people what they deserve or we treat them as they have treated us, we end up with the disintegration of our will to do what it right.

But Jesus supplies us with his power and has invited us to follow him in loving with God’s love which comes from an eternal storehouse of mercy.

Jesus invites us to make this world better, yes, like the light that helps you find your keys or like salt that spices up a recipe, but this life of discipleship is one in which we give ourselves away, just like him.

Light and salt give themselves away and Jesus invites us to live in such a way where people don’t see us but see God.

After all you can’t see light itself, but by its power you see the things it illuminates.

When salt is used in cooking to prepare something savory, you can no longer see the salt, but you experience how it’s made the dish better in every way.

In this way, ours is almost like a secret life — in the same way, Paul tells us, that God’s wisdom is a secret wisdom hidden in the cross.

The cross looks like weakness, but it is where God’s power is most clearly seen.
The cross looks like foolishness but it is God’s wisdom.
The cross looks like defeat but it is the hour when victory is won for all sinners
because God shoulders our sin, and even death, so that we are free and forgiven.

This life of ours – this salt and light life – isn’t an award earned, or a puzzle to put together, or a dream to seek out, but a gift given by God.

It’s like wanting to go to the Blue Ridge Mountains and finding out you’re already there.

Another words, it is all grace.

Jesus says, you are salt and light, because of me. It’s a done deal.

So we don’t have to long for God’s grace and favor because we’re there.
Jesus Christ is present here in our midst, in the Word, at the table of mercy, in the gathered Body of Christ.

All y’all are already present in the kingdom of Heaven, baptized and claimed by God.

In baptism we’re made a part of God’s all y’all and are given a life where we’re not in it alone. We’re in it together…

Not only with each other and not only with Christ the King over across the river and First Baptist downtown, and not only with Christians around the world who worship today, but with all the saints in light, all the martyrs and apostles, the angels, the archangels, the cherubim and seraphim, all those who worship God with us throughout space and time.

As you leave today to go out into the world to be salt and light, you might go through the Trinity doors and if you do you’ll pass by a picture made of the first disciples here at Epiphany. They’re all lined up in black and white.

Barry Westin has been helping us understand them and their motivations and calling over the last few weeks in his Sunday school class which finishes up today.

I think there were 6 sessions of the class although Barry has been working on the presentation for the last 5 years; sitting most every Wednesday in the narthex outside the commons pouring over old photos and newsletters with devotion to God’s story lived out through the people of Epiphany in in love and service.

(Thankfully, even if you missed the class in in person it is on YouTube so you can go back and watch).

In his presentation Barry showed picture after picture, black and white up to color, capturing moments of fun and fellowship and faith.

All through the years, you have been God’s salt and light, and you still are today.

Then and now, we are surrounded by forces in the world that would have us lose our saltiness and trade in the gospel of a crucified and risen savior who asks us to suffer with and for those most at need just as he does, for a watered down message of nebulous, general kind of kindness and love.

All through the years and still today we live in tension with the world that would have us trade our ultimate allegiance to the specific person of Jesus Christ whose concrete action in the cross alone is the hope of the world, for an idea of a moral therapeutic deism.

But all y’all are light and salt called to be in the world but not of the world and not the same as the world.

All y’all will be necessarily at odds with your surroundings as we refrain from power, wealth, and status to get what we want, and instead submit humbly to one another, and those in need, in service and love in the way of Jesus.

As salt and light may all y’all continue to give yourselves away.

May all y’all go on seasoning for the good,
and enlightening the dark places,
because God is Jesus Christ is with all y’all and always will be.

Thanks be to God.

A New Kind of Seeing, A New Way of Being

Not too long ago my family and I
were invited to a birthday party
for a friend of one of our children.

One of the activities at the party was a pinata
and, in fact, the brightly colored, paper mâché horse filled with goodies
was already hanging from a tree in the yard when we arrived.

After eating cake and ice cream
it came time for the children to gather around the pinata,
and the parents blindfolded the first child, the birthday boy,
and spun him around.

All the other children were gathered around and inching closer, and closer, and closer,
ready to pounce for their candy,
but the boy with the stick was even more eager,
and he came out swinging like a madman!

All the parents anxiously murmured with concern,
and I just knew someone was going to have their front teeth knocked out!

The parents of the boy stepped in and took the blindfold off –
and it was still a challenge to crack open the horse
and shower candy on everyone.

Imagine the challenge it must be to be blind
and for your whole life to be lived
as if you have a blindfold over your eyes that you can’t take off.

Imagine how difficult ordinary tasks like navigating a new place would be.
Imagine the frustration you’d feel if the freedom of driving a car was impossible for you.
Imagine the challenges connected to not being able
to read signs and papers and bulletins
or all the things those of us who can see take for granted.

As Jesus walked along in Jerusalem,
he saw a man with this kind of blindfold;
a man who couldn’t see at all and therefore suffered a fate worse than the loss of sight,
because he was invisible to everyone else.

You see, the people around him were also blind
because they could not imagine the possibility
of seeing him as a whole person.

This fact is clear by virtue of the man having been reduced to begging,
because no one has seen fit to help him find a job that he could do
to take part in the daily economy of the city.

And the blindness continues to abound,
when the disciples prove themselves unable to see God’s ways
in the question they ask so matter-of-factly
as to whether the man was blind
because he sinned or his parents did.

Jesus let’s them know
that God doesn’t punish us or cause suffering or hardships for us.

This man, he’s says, did not do anything to cause this
nor did his parents… and yet….
nevertheless, this man’s challenge will be an opportunity for God’s mighty acts to be seen in him.”

And yet, all the while, there’s still more blindness.

The Pharisees, of course, are also blind
to the miracle Jesus performed with mud to the eyes
and a prescription for one bath in the pool of Siloam,
and it doesn’t seem to matter to them
how many times they ask
or what they’re told about the incident,
they are resolute in their unbelief.

They don’t want to see the truth.

In fact, the only person here in Jerusalem who’s able to see clearly is Jesus.

“As Jesus walked along,” Johns’ Gospel tells us,
“He SAW this man blind from birth.”

Everyone else had ignored him and pretended he wasn’t there at all,
But Jesus SAW HIM
and he not only gave the man his sight,
but helped many members of his community
to see this man as a whole person for the very first time in his life.

Jesus’ miracle in John 9 isn’t just to give sight to one blind man by the road,
but to also give new sight to the disciples, and this man’s parents, and the crowds,
who are given the opportunity to see this man’s
value and worth and importance through Jesus’ eyes.

With this miracle
Jesus shows that God doesn’t overlook people
because they’re disadvantaged or disabled or different.

God doesn’t overlook us
because of the mistakes we’ve made,
or because of the hurt we’ve experienced or caused.

God doesn’t overlook us, even if others do.

God sees us all
and sees all of us,
with all our secrets and struggles and imperfections
and God loves us
and calls us into a community of people who see as Jesus sees.

Jesus says, “I came into this world so that those who do not see… may see.”

And the same Jesus who gave sight to this community in Jerusalem
works in us so that the radical and surprising love he gives to us
will ripple out into the world.

We are the new community Jesus creates.

He has given us new sight and new eyes to see those who are overlooked and
To take the initiative to reach out to them
and envelop them in the community of God’s beloved.

If you look –
you may see, participants from Hanover Adult Center who are differently-abled
cooking in the Epiphany kitchen with Rob Hamlin on a Tuesday morning.

If you look –
You may see members of Epiphany making a literal mountain of sandwiches
For Moments of Hope
To be distributed to people often overlooked and marginalized
Because they’re experiencing hunger and homelessness.

I don’t know where it started
but as we’re in the month of March,
which is Developmental Disabilities Month,
I have been seeing a quote on social media and online,
Which, to me, seems to be helpful for parents and loving adults
As we teach children how to interact with people who are different.

Rather than saying “Don’t stare.” Say instead, “Why don’t you go say hello.”

The idea is to call all of us into a different kind of seeing
and to move even beyond a to new kind of seeing, to a new kind of being.

You see, we can all say hello to anyone.

People who are different are mostly the same
And are absolutely the same in that
They thing they want the most of all
Is to be included.

God calls us into relationship with him and also with each other.

In other words,
Jesus isn’t a personal guru or counselor
or one-to-one life coach
as much as he is the Christ, made king of a people,
the shepherd of the flock,
a general leading the troops,
a vine with many branches,
and the head of a body with many members.

He calls us together, where side-by-side
He shows us how to see one another through his eyes,
and how to see beyond ourselves to the need in the world God loves.

There’s a Tyler Childer’s song that’s popular right now.

I hear it at least once a day on WNRN,
and it speaks of God’s promise to give us new sight,
with, I think,
the witness of a hopeful faith,
that acknowledges both
our perennial failings to see one another as children of God,
and yet also the God’s promise
to finally bring peace and healing and God’s way of seeing to us all.

Tyler Childers sings soulfully:

“Hallelujah, jubilee
I can hear the angel band”
I was blind but now I see
And I’ll jump right in amongst them
When I reach the glory land”

And then Tyler describes the heavenly banquet
With a vision of an expansive grace only God could bring about:

“There’s Hindus, Jews, and Muslims
And Baptists of all kinds
Catholic girls and Amish boys
Who’ve left their plows behind
Up there in the choir
Singing side by side
Wondering why exactly
They been fussing the whole time.

Friends, happily, we don’t have to wait
until some sweet by and by to see as Jesus sees.

Here, today, Jesus brings down the banquet of heaven,
In his own body and blood
So that we may taste and see the goodness of God.

God has come among us,
Seen us, loved us, and laid down his life so that we
Will see him face to face for eternity.

And even now, with the light of his resurrection shining on us,
He is Illuminating us with faith,
And making us a community of inclusion and welcome and service for all.

So let us give thanks for Christ among us now
And sing along in faith:

Hallelujah, jubilee
We’re singing with the angel band
We were blind but now we see
And we’ll jump right in amongst them
When we reach the glory land.”

Thanks be to God.


Casting and Mending

There’s a great community park near our house called Crump, which has a little pond with a fountain in the center.

When our kids were young, they used to ask to go fishing and I would take out my old tacklebox with the floaters
(or maybe you call them bobbers) and go to the store, and buy some bait, and we’d go to Crump Park and sit on the bank by the water and cast our lines, but we literally never caught anything.

I would say that it was because we always got there too late in the morning and that fish like to be out when it’s still cool, but the kids were still disappointed.

Somehow, one day, much later on, not too long ago I guess, I got to talking with Will Burger, who is to my astonishment now a junior in high school.

Will and I were talking about the pond at Crump Park because we live near one another, and I was sort of lamenting that we had never caught anything and I was speculating that maybe there just weren’t any fish in the pond.

He said that he had caught fish in there and that he would send me a picture.

So, a little later that afternoon Will sends me a picture of himself standing in front of the pond at Crump Park and Will is holding this COLOSSAL fish!

It was at least 3 feet long!

I texted back: you have got to be kidding!

There is no way you caught that fish there!

How did you do it?

He said that he used weights to send the hook down to the bottom of the pond because he had figured out that’s where all the fish are!

Will clearly had a deep knowledge of fishing, which made all the difference.

In his public ministry, it comes time for Jesus to gather followers, as all rabbis of his day would have done, and he selects four fishermen.

And I think we could guess that they were skilled at fishing (as opposed to yours truly) since we’re told that it was their family business.

After a lifetime of growing up in the trade, these fisherman knew, as all fisherman did, how to make their own nets, and after each outing how to mend, wash, dry and fold them.

They knew how to use small hand nets as well as the larger dragnets and how to fish from the boat as well as along the shoreline depending on what the occasion called for.

But for all they knew, Jesus had a deeper knowledge of fishing even than they did, because he would transform their knowledge of simple fishing
into an as-yet-uncharted course to change not only their lives, but the life of the world and all humankind.

Jesus’ idea of fishing is his metaphor
for bringing other people along in the adventure of following in the life-giving way of God which he himself reveals.

Just as these fishermen gathered fish, Jesus, in word and deed, gathers a community who prepares a way for the Kingdom of God, bringing God’s merciful and peaceful rule to each person and place who will respond and receive it.

On the pond bank in Galilee, Jesus’ words to these fishermen were very simple. Nothing very complicated, Jesus simply said, “Come, and Follow me.”

But these words were significant, because while in some ways, Jesus was much like an ordinary Jewish rabbi, in that many rabbis traveled the same ground, took on followers, and used their own life as the primary teaching tool, the expectation and practice of the day was for disciples to have to take the initiative to apply to follow a rabbi.

It was unknown – even extraordinary – for the master to invite the follower.

But with the simple words, “Come and follow me,” this Master shows that something brand new is underway.

And so it is, as Jesus takes the reigns of this new movement of the Spirit,
he carries on John the Baptist’s message to ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near,’ But it’s clear that he is taking the mission public.

That is to say that by God’s prerogative this mission isn’t just for those who apply, or for the brightest or most well-respected, not just for the educated, not just for the middle class or better, but for everyone.

It’s for this reason Jesus moves the operation from the boondocks of Nazareth to the city center of Capernum – by the interstate and near the airport – to where all the people are!

Jesus wants to be where he can reach each person and everyone – fisherman and tax-collectors, yes, but also the scribes and CEOs, blue collar and white collar, old and young, male and female, insiders and outsiders, religious and anti-religious.

Jesus has come as God’s light and love made manifest making repentance and a new life of healing and forgiveness possible… for everyone!

So Jesus says, join me and spread the word: tweet it, put it on a billboard, and the 5 o’clock news, Facebook and TikTok, and tell the people you know and the ones you don’t.

Because to be a disciple of Jesus means to follow him and also, to tell about him by the way we live.

And to me it’s interesting that when Jesus arrives on the wet sands beside the boats of these fisherman we’re told that they were in the middle of undertaking two specific actions.

The first pair of brothers were casting their nets.

It seems to me that the first thing that disciples of Jesus do in our ministry
is cast our nets.

We cast our nets anytime we invite someone to “come and see” what God is up to the community of faith –
be it the Epiphany Quilters, Guy’s Night, “Gen E,” which is Epiphany’s young adult group.

We cast our nets when we serve as an usher or a ministry team leader, anytime we are gathering people for God.

God has blessed our nets with new members to welcome today, women and men and children who have already blessed us by their presence
and will continue to bring blessings with their gifts and talents.

And then, we do that casting… according to God’s grace… for a purpose.

Because the second specific task the first disciples were undertaking
when Jesus came to them was mending their nets.

It seems to me that the casting of the nets to bring people into God’s Beloved Community leads, by God’s design, to mending.

God mends and heals and restores and strengthens us by the Word which encounters us in worship and Bible Study, in our Epiphany Youth Groups, and our community service team.

We do no less that mend lives through LAMBs basket, and Liberation Veteran Services Meals and Stephen’s Ministry.

God is the one who reaches down into the depth of us and into the dark places of our lives through these ministries (and many more like them) to shine his light.

God’s casting and God’s mending overlap and work together in harmony,
always drawing us through the Word of God to learn how to be Christ to the world.

But just know:

there is danger in the way of following Jesus which is truly no less than a re-routing of the plans that world and humankind has for itself.

The empires and aristocracies of the world love their power too much to let go of it so easily or to be swept aside so easily by this new vision of God,
and to them the way of the cross and humility and self-giving are foolishness

and so the same powers that beheaded John,
and crucified Jesus,
and killed or exiled all of these disciples
will at the very least frustrate,
and may well do worse
to those who seek to be the change agent God has sent into a world…

…but God’s plan is for us to simply invite, invite, invite until eyes are opened and hearts see

that it is emptied of ourselves we are filled with God’s mercy;

in sacrificing our life to and with Jesus we gain everything;

and that in Jesus Christ, God has shown us that to submit our own will to God’s will is the way to peace.

I think it was two Sundays ago. I didn’t hear it myself. I was only told the story, but two Sundays ago during worship,
in the very middle of the sermon,
one young girl in the congregation who, I believe is in the 3rd grade,
looked over to her mother and said in a voice loud enough for many to hear:

“Is Jesus real?”

And what a wonderful question for a third grader to ask! Or a person of any age!

Perhaps especially a question a person who has a loved one with cancer might ask, or a person who has been laid off, or someone who has lost their child, or has come to the end of a marriage, or battles depression and anxiety and loneliness.

“Is Jesus real?” the little girl asked, sincerely.

She could just as well be asking, as we may sometimes ask: Can Jesus’ way of power made perfect in weakness really be true?

“Yes,” the mother said.

And Jesus says to us, “Yes, I am real” in the waters of baptism and I take the initiative with you each day to make you my own again.

“Yes, I am real,” Jesus says in the bread and wine that are his body and blood, given so that you may taste and believe the goodness of God who will be with you in your suffering.

“Yes, I am real,” Jesus says, and I will live among you, so that you become my body in the world, given away to those in need, so that when others see you they will see me, and the cross will be made manifest in your shared life of forgiveness and service.

By God’s grace, in our genuine love for one another, which is drawn from the depths of the well of the one who first loved us, may we be a witness that God is real and the cross is the power of God which sustains us today and will sustain us until the end of time, when we will see Jesus face to face, and hear him say again, pointing to life everlasting, “Come and follow me.”

Clothed and Ready

This is the time of the year when it gets especially hard to get our kids up in the morning.

But recently, Samuel, our 7-year-old, has devised a plan for these cold, dark mornings.

A few weeks ago, he decided to start picking out his clothes the night before, so after his nighttime shower, he gets dressed in his clothes for the next day, gets the covers and goes to sleep and when his alarm clock goes off at 6:30AM, he hops out of bed, fully dressed from head-to-toe, ready for the day.

Jesus calls us to be ready for the day when he will return and all the earth will see him coming on the clouds with power and great glory, and with a loud trumpet call, when he will gather his elect.

Jesus promises he will return to earth with peace and with power and tells us that we should be ready for him.

But unlike with the alarm clock on our bedside tables, no one knows when the hour or the day will be. Not the angels in heaven or even, interestingly enough, the Son, but only the Father.

And since we don’t know when he will arrive the only thing to do is to remain ready, dressed for the day to come.

Advent comes as a wakeup call, inviting us to consider whether we are spiritually ready for the day of the Son of Man, which Jesus promises.

The title “Son of Man,” is interesting because it’s Jesus’ preferred way to refer to himself.

We often gravitate towards names for him like Messiah, Savior, or Lord, but Jesus almost always uses this enigmatic moniker, which Biblical scholars themselves acknowledge is a mysterious one.

In fact, Jesus uses the title “Son of Man” for himself about 72 times in the synoptic gospels, (that’s Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and every time, he’s doing one of two things:

Either speaking explicitly about his mission to suffer, die and rise again, or to point out his role as the risen and exalted figure appointed to set all things right at the end of time.

And scholars still debate about why he used this title rather than another one.

Certainly, the book of Daniel speaks of one like a son of man (or one like a human being) who was to come at a future date whom God would give glory and kingship and everlasting dominion that would never pass away.

And, too, Caesar, the roman king spoke of himself as the ‘Son of God’ as a way to claim divinity and power, and so perhaps it was for this reason Jesus invoked a title of contrast with worldly power.

But its also true that the name was very commonly used in the 1st century in Aramaic, Jesus’ native tongue, to simply mean, “a human being” or as a pronoun that could stand in for “I.”

Whatever the reasons may have been, ultimately the title “Son of Man”
doesn’t tell us who Jesus is as much as Jesus tells us who the Son of Man is, and one thing is for sure — it absolutely has to do with God’s incarnation.

It means that God was truly born into time and became human like you and like me.

It means that God in Christ really took up flesh in this world.

God was born into THIS world with its political unrest and turmoil, with its earthquakes and natural disasters and war, with its shootings at its colleges, nightclubs, and Wal-marts; with its disappointment and fraud and sickness,

God came to be with us in THIS world because this world is not as it should be,
and in order to declare that this world, as it is now, will not always be the way that it is.

One day, God promises, the mountain of the Lord shall be established as the highest mountain, and all the people and nations of earth will come and say,
Let us go up to this mountain
And enroll in the school of God
So that we can learn
to make our pistols into plyers
And our rifles into rachet sets
And our guns into garden tools,
And then, on God’s Mountain,
every hurt will be healed
War will give way to peace
And enemies will become friends.

Jesus’ death and resurrection made God’s vision of peace a cosmic reality and when Jesus returns this vision of peace and justice will become reality for everyone, everywhere, and God will reign
in every hemisphere
every home
and every heart.

On that day to come when the Son of Man – God in the flesh – returns, God’s reality will be our reality, completely and fully.

God gives us this promise, and God is trustworthy, so we are to remain ready for that day.

And we might wonder how to remain ready.

Perhaps worshipping God is the place to start.

And perhaps we should also carve out time to read scripture and devotional writings and pray.

And perhaps we should we also meet with one another and talk about our faith.

We can serve on ministry teams and supporting the ministry of the church.

And you probably have even better ideas.

But the thing is: and let’s be honest,
it takes an awful lot of energy to do these things and after all, we’ve been waiting for Jesus’ return for a very, very long time.

We think most of his first disciples expected him to return in their lifetimes and they were disappointed and so what makes us think this is the time he will return?

Even Paul, writing to the Roman church seems to sense they feel like the day may never come, and so, he is encouraging the believers not to give up and not to get frustrated and sleepy and go back to a lifestyle born from a belief that this world as it is, is all there is.

My goodness, if it was easy for the early church, just a generation removed from Jesus’ own earthly ministry, to get discouraged or lazy or to lose hope, how easy is it for us to lose the fervor of remaining ready.

Part of being ready for God, I think, is being awake to the very moment we are living.

It can be so easy to overlook the present moment for the sacred gift it is, to become disconnected from the holy all around us, and to numb ourselves in all sorts of ways;

To spend our time in the nostalgia of the past or to put all our hopes in an idealized future we perceive to be greater in personal happiness, in order to, escape from the crashing sacredness of this moment in time.

I think God wants us to be discontented with the world as it is!

After all, we have been given a vision of a better world where God reigns in love, but rather than escaping from the brokenness of the world, by looking back or forward, we are called in the way of Jesus to engage with the brokenness of the world, face to face, and to be present in the world, now, and just like Jesus, to bring our full humanity to bear in our love and service to our neighbor, believing God not only promises to come at the end of time, but comes into this day and into this moment, wherever and whenever we keep our heart open to God.

God truly comes to us in the grand small moments of human community:

Singing happy birthday around the candle-glow of human life celebrated, in a boy scout troop working on a merit badge together, in a date where two people risk vulnerability to start a new relationship,

God comes to us in the careful planning of the details of a funeral service for a sacred human life, in preparing and serving a meal together as a way to gather our gratitude,

God truly comes to us, in helping a child with homework, in the creative endeavor of writing a poem, thank you card or letter to the editor, in cleaning the house and folding the laundry and bringing order into the world,

God truly comes to us in speaking to the person at the checkout counter or the person in line to celebrate your common humanity, in giving baskets of food to members of the community for their Thanksgiving Day meals or giving presents from our Christmas Giving Tree to children in the community, in standing up for those who are persecuted for their lifestyle or for who they love, or for their nationality, race, or ability level.

God truly comes to us
in bread and wine,
in the promise of baptism
and the word of forgiveness.

In baptism, Paul tells us we get to ‘put on Christ’
That is that we are clothed with Christ, which is a memorable way of saying
that by God’s grace we have put on his righteousness, so that we are already dressed for that day to come.

Our youth group is ordering our new T-shirt for 2022-23, which may be my all-time favorite EYG t-shirt design.

The design was created by William edwards, Clare Martin and Addie Perryman.

Our theme is “One in Christ” and each shirt will have a large number one on the back made up of lots of Bible verses that speak to how we are diverse people
but in Christ we are united into one family and community.

The idea is that it’s like a team jersey but unlike the World Cup or any other team sport – we’re not only clothed the same, we even have the same number.

In our baptism, all of us as God’s church, are all ONE in Christ.

So that there is no need to stress about what we’ll wear on the day Christ returns. God has already picked out our clothes and dressed us in mercy and love and forgiveness.

So my friends, may we know ourselves to be clothed with Christ, rising in the morning to get out of the bed already dressed when our feet hit the floor.

May we know we are clothed in the humanity God has given us as a gift and we are ready for the day when all will be made well and all people will join us on the mountain of the Lord,

So, on that day to come,
And in each day until that day,
let us walk with joy in the light of the Lord!

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, 2022
Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

But Not a Hair of Your Head will Perish

During my time as a student at Southern Seminary, in Columbia, SC,
I had the opportunity to do field work
at a small country parish called Pomaria Lutheran Church
not too far up the road from the seminary.

For two years I had a chance to learn from this congregation
and from one of my professors, Dr. Mary Havens,
who was also the interim pastor at the church.

The forty or fifty members of the congregation were truly wonderful people.
They were mostly older and from a rural background.
And they taught me so much about faith,
the importance of relationship,
and what it looks like for the church to be involved in the loNOtcal community.

One night during my time there,
the congregation had a healing service
and as part of our worship, we invited people to come up to the altar rail
where Dr. Havens and I planned to lay hands on their heads and offer a prayer.

As we began, I looked out at the people in the pews,
and I noticed something I hadn’t before:
that the women literally all had the same hairstyle.

It was a very beautiful hairstyle,
but one you don’t see too much any longer.
It looked like a style from the 1960s.
I think you might call it a beehive.
It was a big, sweeping, stacked type of hairstyle
which seemed to need a great deal of hairspray to execute.

The first woman came forward
and I was supposed to lay my hands on her head,
but with her hair stacked out so far I sort of stopped with her hair,
afraid to go further.

Dr Havens was standing right beside me
holding the book with my prayer,
and as I prayed over this woman
Mary kept pushing my elbow in to make my hands go deeper into her hair.

I fought against her nudge, but Dr. Havens persisted.

She whispered, “you can’t just stop with her hair – keep going!”

And ultimately, because I was supposed to be learning from my professor,
I consented to allow her to guide my hands all the way to the woman’s head,
effectively crushing her beautiful beehive.

After everyone had come forward to receive prayers for healing
and returned to their seats
I looked out at the congregation and the women sitting in the pews
I saw a great number of beautiful beehives,
all in the same way,
with two big dents on both sides.

Jesus reassures us
That even though we know challenges and suffering intimately,
Even though all this world is passing away,
And although we may experience betrayal, disaster, and even persecution,
God’s blessing for us is a sure thing,
and not a hair of our heads will perish.

God will protect the hairs of our head, Jesus promises,
But, of course, what he means is that God doesn’t just stop with our hair
or give a superficial blessing,
But God reaches deep into our whole life
And blesses our whole body and soul.
God blesses and promises to protect our community and, indeed, all of creation.

And because God blesses and protects us,
we are able to reach deeply in love toward one another
and to reach out far and wide to the world around us in need;
the world which God has so graciously and lovingly given us to care for.

I don’t know about you, but for me,
Jesus’ promise of God’s protection
right down to the very hairs on our heads
is so powerful because of all the ways in which
our experience of life often seems to signal the opposite.

That is, we can feel as though we live unprotected, in a dangerous world.

For those who don’t know the good news
of God’s love for humankind in Jesus Christ
it can seem that we are on a lonely planet
devoid of significance and meaning
left to fend for ourselves and to suffer alone,
surrounded by catastrophes and cataclysms.

And of course, even as followers of Jesus,
We are also aware of the danger and the difficulties of the world.

We would find it very easy
to update his description of the turbulence in the world
based on our own experience:

It would be so easy to add to Jesus words:

As for these things that you see,
the days will come when not one stone will be left on another,
all will be thrown down

and beware that you are not led astray…

When unhinged terrorists crash planes into buildings out of hatred,

and when communist empires test nuclear bombs
in a blatant attempt to intimidate bastions of democracy ,

and when dictators invade neighboring countries
without regard for civilians, hospitals or schools,

and when climate change threatens an end to the sheets of polar ice,
causing more devastating storms to destroy people and property.

The truth is, Jesus himself acknowledged the dangers of this world.

As he stood with his disciples outside the temple in Jerusalem
he spoke of disasters we can expect to experience in this life
before the day when God comes to heal all that hurts
and to bring justice to the oppressed
and to overturn the tyranny of the wicked.

Jesus was clear-eyed about the dangers of the world
And as he continued on toward the cross
He would become even more well acquainted with them.

In his passion Jesus experienced first-hand and up-close
the human experience of struggling against sin and suffering and evil and death.

All the struggle and suffering and dread we experience – Jesus has known it too!

Jesus experienced everything it means to be human.

Jesus also had hairs on his own head, after all,
But his were soaked with blood from the bruises and abrasions
from a twisted crown of condescension.

He was crucified for us and suffers with us,
taking our shame on himself, taking our place.
His resurrection is God promise that truly and ultimately
not a hair of our head will perish.

The Living Jesus is God’s assurance of his eternal presence
and activity
and dependability
and protection for us.

And God has made us witnesses of this good news.

God has called us together by the Spirit,
to be baptized children of God.

Along with John Walker,
We are claimed forever for God’s own
and filled with hope in God’s promise,
no matter what we hear on the news
and no matter what challenges come to us,
no matter what disaster we must endure.

We know how this story ends.
We know God’s love prevails over all who oppose it.

And it is for this reason we don’t grow weary of working and witnessing.

Just because we know God ultimately wins that battle.
We don’t become bored or idle of telling the good news,
But instead continue to serve our neighbor.

Just because God’s victory is a sure thing,
We don’t stop growing and forging new pathways in discipleship.

We don’t ever give up.

Later this morning Sophie Wilson,
who I believe is the oldest member of Epiphany,
will be attending the 11am service.

Many of you know she had a fall late August
and broke her sternum and two ribs
which prevented her from walking or getting out of bed or going anywhere.

I visited with her when she confined to her room at the rehab facility
and she told me that she had three goals.

Her first goal was to walk again.

Her second goal was to come to church and worship God and receive Holy Communion.

And her third goal was to do it by her 100th birthday,
which will be this Tuesday, November the 15th.

So today, Sophie can be happy and grateful for these goals God has accomplished

And we can give thanks for her witness among us.

Our witness is that no matter what happens,
through all our days,
God protects and cares for us.

God has reached deep into our life
to make us a people with a tenacity of faith and deep hope,
even as we live in a time when we can’t see an end
to the sufferings and disasters of the world.

Ultimately, in the word of God we are given a vision to see as God sees —
Without fear or despondency over the brokenness we experience
But with a view into eternity,
And the promise that because Jesus lives
All will be made well, all will be healed, and all will be restored.

Until that day to come,
we give witness to hope.

And I see your witness to God’s protection
in the work of our Sunday Shepherds and greeters and ushers
who stand at the ready this morning.

We give witness to God’s shield of care
in the faith formation teams work of screening and running background checks
on any adult who works with youth in any capacity,
be it staff, Sunday school teachers,
Confirmation mentors or Timothy Ministers.

We give witness to God’s mercy in the community service team
who has gathered more supplies than ever before
for our Thanksgiving baskets ministry given to local communities
that will protect local families from hunger over out Thanksgiving holiday.

In these ways, and in many more,
We give witness and tell the story of what God has done for us.

Jesus may be right:

We may be persecuted or made fun of or excluded because we follow him,
We may be reviled because we have the audacity
To follow his way of combating the evil of the world,
Which is speaking truth to power,
and walking the way of peace,
and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation,
and suffering with the most vulnerable.

But may we also know that Jesus’ resurrection
Confirms God’s promise that not a hair of our heads will perish.

And may we trust in this promise
day by day together, so fully
that people would see our complete confidence in God,
and be wowed by the way we live without fear and in service to one another
Looking always to God’s mercy in our Lord Jesus Christ,
and anxiously awaiting his return,
when we will sing a new song to the Lord,
who does marvelous things
and whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.

More Faith

For about a week and a half
our three-year-old daughter Anna has had an ear infection
and so every day, twice a day
she’s had to take liquid antibiotics through an oral syringe.

I didn’t taste her medicine myself
but it looked chalky, acrid, and not-too-tasty.

For the first couple days we were giving her the medicine
Sarah and I were having holding Anna down because didn’t want it.
We would plunge the liquid-filled syringe into the back of her throat,
as she wailed, her face red, as she spit out as much as she could.
And in retrospect, I wonder how I hadn’t learned to do this better.
After all, Anna is our third child!

But then Sarah figured it out.
She bought a huge bag of M&Ms,
and after one dose of medicine
followed closely by a handful of brightly colored chocolate candies,
medicine-time became Anna’s favorite part of every day.

Anna communicates a lot with sign language
and she knows the sign for “more,”
and let me tell you how she used that sign this past week!

After she would take her medicine,
she would clap, because she knew what came next,
and after her M&Ms she would insistently sign: “more, more, more!”

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty much the same way.

If something is good, I want more of it.

The culture in which we live is also keenly aware of the power of “more.”

Walk down the aisles at the grocery store
and see how many products advertise “now with 30% more.”

Retailers attempt to get our attention
by claiming they have “more ways to save.”

The newest iPhone is rolled out,
with the intention of wowing us with “more must-have features.”

So the disciples are completely relatable to us
when they come to Jesus asking for more faith.

They’ve seen the wonders Jesus has performed through his faith
and they want to see more.

They have also started to understand the cost of discipleship,
including the trials that are a part of following Jesus,
the expectation of forgiving those who wrong us,
and the responsibility we have to the weakest among us, and so they cry out:

“this is demanding Jesus! Increase our trust in you!
Give us more faith to do these hard things!”

And Jesus, so full of goodness and kindness,
replies that faith with God doesn’t fit into our human obsession
with quantifying things;
with accounting and comparing ourselves with one another.

Like the disciples, we tend to calculate,
and to keep score, and to assess who has more and less.

And yet Jesus emphasizes the quality of faith
over quantity and tells us what faith is really like.

He takes a mustard seed – the tiniest and most humble seed –
and holding it up for them to squint at,
small as it is,
almost imperceptible to the eye,
Jesus says faith of even this size has miraculous potential
and the power to do the seemingly impossible because faith comes from God.

Or as Dr. Martin Luther said so helpfully:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith – in the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

What these disciples don’t need,
what we don’t need,
is more faith,
even though sometimes we might think that way
in a world of natural disasters and storms,
blustering strongmen,
and political unrest.

What we all need and what we have
is a relationship with God which God initiated
and continues to maintain through the gift of baptism into Jesus Christ.

And so to look for more faith is like
scouring the house for the car keys
you’ve been carrying around in your hand all along.

God’s grace and the gift of faith have been given to you
not according to your works
but as a gift before the ages of this world began
and has been revealed, now, in Christ’s presence with us here.

In the wake of Hurricane Ian,
as our prayers have been with people in Florida and across the South,
I saw pictures of tall trees – they could have been mulberry trees, I don’t know –
sticking out from under the water of the rising flood,
and they looked like they had been thrown into the sea.

But Jesus hyperbolic image is meant to say
God can do the seemingly impossible with the smallest of resources.

God has a history of taking that which is small and doing the greatest of deeds.

In the beginning, God spoke the small word: “let there be light”
And began the cosmos and the galaxies too big for us to ever understand completely.

God took the small and stuttering voice of Moses,
And led an enslaved people to freedom.

God took the small barren womb of Sarah,
And made it the locus for the birth of a nation to be a light to the world.

God guided one small stone from the slingshot of David,
And toppled a giant and began a kingdom and lineage
that would bring an heir to shepherd all God’s children.

God was present this week in the people in small boats this week
which rescued people from the flooding water,

God was present this week in the small gestures of kindness from churches, camps, and individuals all over the country who extended invitations on social media saying
rooms were available to those running from the storm who had no place to go.

God is present in this community gathered for worship,
At this table of mercy,
In our collection food for the hungry,
as we offer our prayers to God.

Like the smallest stone dropped into the placid waters of this world, again and again,
God has a habit of taking the smallest of people,
the smallest of acts,
the smallest faith,
and radiating ripples of mercy and love
out and out and out into the world
bringing God’s purposes to our human life
which God holds so beloved, in every time and place.

I admit to you that in some ways, personally, in my own mind,
I have moved on from the covid -19 pandemic.
I hear news of what is happening in Ukraine
and the devastation of Hurricane Ian
and the pandemic seems like old news,
even when I have friends who have been sick with covid this past week
and know that many people continue to be concerned.

But whether we are through it or not, it is, I think,
so very important to remember together how God has brought us through.

For me, I remember during the worst of the Pandemic, the darkest days,
When there were no songs on our lips
And in-person worship might include as few as a dozen people,
getting together in the yard out here with our Epiphany Youth Group.

I remember we were masked and seated far apart,
and we were remembering these words of Jesus,
that faith the size of a mustard seed
can and does bring us through times that seem impossible to live through,
because God is great and God’s promises are true
and God can do the seemingly impossible.

And as we remembered these words,
we had a large ceramic pot with real dirt and seeds
and we passed the pot around the circle,
and as the pot came to each one of us,
we planted a seed and shared our hopes
and what we wanted to ask God for.

And I remember the kids with dirt under their nails
Each speaking in turn…
Will, Kevin, Amelie, Nathan, Cole, Addie, Ryan, Justin, Krista and many more,
telling the group about their hopes for how God would act.

And as these young women and men prayed, I was astonished,
Because, they did pray for themselves, but most of their prayers were for other people:
they were praying for their friends at school,
for their families,
for our congregation,
for teachers,
for administrators,
for communities seeking justice,
for doctors and healthcare workers,
and for the world.

These young men and women
Didn’t think it was silly to plant a small seed and trust God could do something great.

They knew that our prayers and indeed our lives
are filled with a promise
and filled with enormous potential to proclaim the gospel.

And I am reminded as I think of those seeds and those prayers
That we are all given power especially to effect the lives
of those friends and family whom God has given us.

Like Paul writing to his friend Timothy
as he remembers Timothy’s beloved mother Eunice and Grandmother Lois,
it is really in the relationships God has given us
that we receive our faith.

Faith in caught more than its taught
from our mothers and fathers,
grandparents, godparents,
from friends who prayed for us, mentored us,
who were role-models for us;
who spoke the name Jesus to us
and loved us with a love from God.

Because God is not a philosophy to be read about in a book.
God is not a right answer on a quiz.

God is a relationship of persons who encounters us
through the sisters and brothers God surrounds us with –

In fact, the scriptures themselves, which contain the word of God,
are simply letters written to us by friends from the past
who had their own relationship with the living God,
who also struggled and suffered
and knew the gift it is to be loved by our God.

God is more than we could ever ask or imagine,
And it the power behind and under and through and surrounding us,
and so its so strange we often think it terms of scarcity
rather than abundance.

We may wish there were more hours in a day.
Would hope for more money in our bank accounts.
Would like more people to come to the church’s programs.
We want more and more and more, and we often see deficiencies and problems.

God is a God of abundance,
who in Jesus offers us infinite love and infinite faith,
and entrusts this good treasure to us,
so every prayer we pray, though small, is significant.
Every act of service, even if it is tiny, is significant,
because it comes from God and is done in the power of God.

We do not need to increase our faith
in order to have more for ourselves,
but thanks be to God,
God brings more faith into the world through our witness, as the church grows,
Counting more people as members in her family tree,
and so God makes us seeds of faith.

You and I are seeds of faith, like Jesus,
dying to ourselves and rising in God,
scattered out far and wide, in schools and workplaces,
community groups and advisory boards,
homes and neighborhoods,

watered and tended by the Spirit,
growing in grace,
spreading the gift of faith,
amplifying the love entrusted to us,
delighting in the goodness of God,
Living in abundance that comes from God.

Mercy Matters More

Today Jesus tells us a truly curious story.

There are parts of it that we can relate to easily:
we all have to make decisions about how to use our money every day.
Most of us manage projects or people at least some of the time.
We all understand that our decisions have consequences beyond ourselves.

But it seems to me, Jesus’ story is so strange
as to challenge our notion of what it means to be a Christian
and perhaps challenges our understanding of Jesus himself.

Here’s the story:

There was a RICH MAN, Jesus says,
who outsourced the daily management of his money.

Maybe he’s too busy chillaxin’ by the pool
or working on his golf game to attend to his own assets,
but for whatever reason,
he has entrusted a manager to attend to his portfolio.
And he gives his manager complete control of
and complete responsibility for his money and property,
including the power to buy and sell,
and the authority to make contracts in his name.
He clearly trusts his manager.

But someone comes to report to the RICH MAN
that his manager has been wasting his assets
and has scattered them to the wind,
and so the RICH MAN calls the manager in and says, you’re under audit.
Bring me proof that these accusations aren’t true, or you’re fired.

The manager is given time to go get the documentation:
receipts, spreadsheets, and contracts,
but he seems to know that the paper trial will only incriminate him.

The manager understands he’s in deep, and living paycheck to paycheck as he does,
he’s going to be in real trouble when the inevitable happens,
so he knows he needs to think fast.

He knows his reputation will soon be ruined and doesn’t want to end up on the street.
He looks up other job listings online but he’s not qualified for anything else.
And then, in a moment of clarity he looks back at his spreadsheets
and the names of people who are indebted to his boss,
and he has an idea that’s just crazy enough to work.

He calls the RICH MAN’s clients into his office
and like an exiting president handing out pardons,
he uses his last moments of power, before his name is stripped off the door
to RE-negotiate these clients’ contracts to their favor,
reducing what they owe by half in one case,
by 20% in another case, and doing this over and over,
one by one, until he reaches the end of the list.

It seems haphazard,
but by the time the manager has to pack up his office
under watch of the security guard and is escorted to the parking lot,
the rich man has half his assets cleaned out,
the clients have received a huge windfall,
and the manager has secured a future in which he will not be destitute
because in this Greco-Roman culture there was a reciprocity ethic
under which those who received a favor
were literally bound to take care of the one to whom they were now indebted.

But the strangeness of the story comes when, to our surprise,
the RICH MAN praises the manager
who has just unjustly swindled him out of his assets,
because, he says, the manager acted wisely, with shrewdness,
displaying a sharp power of judgment.

And JESUS says, see how the children of this age
are more shrewd that the children of light, so
Make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth.

Excuse me?


But how can this be?

Isn’t this strange?

Don’t we expect Jesus to tell a story about an honest manager
rather than a dishonest manager?

Wouldn’t this story be more in keeping with a Christian ethic
if the manager had been virtuous from the beginning
and never gotten himself in a tight spot?

Are we right in understanding that Jesus is lifting up this manager
as an example for what our lives should look like?

If this story has implications for our lives,
how are we to reconcile the fact that as disciples of Jesus
we’re called to be moral people?

Here’s the thing.
From the perspective of the clients, the amounts owed were enormous.

Biblical commentators say that the amount of oil owed by the first client
would equal a years’ worth of wages.

Similarly, the wheat debt of the second
would represent a share of almost 100 acres,
which would be 20 times larger than the average family’s holdings.

So the depth of the mercy these people received when their debt was cancelled
is just hard to put a value on.

If someone told you, for example,
to sit down and cut your mortgage in half, I
believe you’d see it as an amazing act of mercy, no matter why the person did it.

If someone said they would cancel a big chunk of your debt,
you might not care whether it was to save their own skin or not,
you’d just be thinking about the weight lifted off your shoulders.

The heart of this story is mercy

And the heart of Jesus is mercy.

Everything Jesus does is for the benefit of others –
his healing, his teaching, his dying, his rising, his ascending to rule in love and kindness,
and Jesus invites us to learn his way of mercy.

And so Jesus’ story centers on a manager
whose initial priority was only in taking care of himself –
not the rich man’s wealth and not other people,
but in the moment when it all comes crashing down
and he has to look truthfully at himself
and comes face to face with his weakness, his failure, and his need,
he realizes FINALLY that taking care of other people will actually,
truly be good for him.

And so he acts in mercy toward the clients of the rich man,
and that mercy matters more than how he felt about it or what was behind his motivation.

Our very best acts of mercy and kindness that we as a church ever perform –
feeding the hungry, supplying school children with supplies,
sending our handmade quilts around the world to provide heat in the cold,
assembling personal care kits for Moments of Hope –
none of these acts have their genesis in our motivation.

All the acts of mercy that flow through us
begin with God who called us into being and has blessed us with every blessing we receive,
chiefly the gift of Jesus,
who gave his life as a ransom for all,
that we might live in the peace and health of God in this life and the next.

God is rich in mercy, and we could try to waste it,
and I know that I do, my guess is you do too,
but there is no bottom.

God’s mercy is endless.

God doesn’t become less rich because his mercy is squandered.
His mercy can’t be wasted so that there is less of it to go around.

His mercy came to the world in the face of Jesus Christ
and was wasted, ignored, hated, shunned, combated and crucified and buried in a grave,
but we can’t deplete God’s mercy
and Jesus Christ returned to continue to bring God’s mercy
that is now resurrected, perfected, and everlasting, and will come again.

Our merciful and loving God, in Jesus Christ keeps coming to us,
empowering us to follow him in being merciful
and in showing love toward one another.

We mistakenly think that if we take care of ourselves and our wants
we will be the happiest we can be,
but Jesus shows us that it is in the mercy of caring for our neighbors,
near and far,
and especially those in need –
that the fabric of the human community is tighter, stronger, and healthier
and we all are better off.


This is the way in which the Lord takes the weak up out of the dust
and lifts the poor from the ashes,
enthroning them with the rulers of the people.

In Jesus’ story, the RICH MAN praises the manager
because he finally acts for the benefit of others
and comes to see the value of doing something good for his neighbors
rather than just for himself,
and Jesus lifts up the manager in the story for being shrewd –
that is wise and crafty,
encouraging us to be more like this.

It could be that there are many ways the world outside the church
is more shrewd than the church.
More capable of taking care of others but also preserving itself.
It seems to me that one way the world is shrewder that we are is in simply acknowledging value.

How good are we at naming the value of participating in the life of the church?

The world is very good at this.

When I see an ad for shoes,
it usually tells me why the shoes are worth buying.
The company has become expert at making a case
for why they would be valuable to me.

When I see an add for a degree program,
the school is not shy to explain that if I were to enroll
I could expect to acquire advanced tools,
learn from innovative research,
and develop skills through proven frameworks for success.

I think we sometimes assume that people will attend worship
and participate in our programs
without us having to explain the value –
that because we know the value it should be understood by everyone.

Or perhaps we think that obligation
should bring people together under the umbrella of the church,
but obligation in the church – and maybe in pretty much every facet of life – is dead,
and maybe that’s not even a bad thing,
and so I think it is not wrong to be wise,
thoughtful, determined, and even shrewd in laying out a case for people
as to the value of life in the beloved community.

How should we articulate the value of worshipping God
and growing in friendship with God and one another?

Would we say that the church is a place to belong?

Would we say that the church is a place to discover your gifts and use them?

Would we say that the church is a place
to be included even if the world tells you you’re different?

Would we say the church is a people of peace
in the midst of a world of violence?

Would we say that the scriptures of God
are how we make sense of being
and learn where humankind comes from
and where we are headed
and what to do with the gift of our life in the meantime?

Would we say the church
is the way we experience God’s mercy
that will sustain our service to the neighbor who is poor,
and the refugee who is alone,
and the person who is sick?

Would you say that the church
is God’s invitation to learn forgiveness in community?

Would we say the church is the community
that follows Jesus in the way
that will ultimately end in the death of our individual dreams of self-grandeur
and where we are born into God’s dream for humanity?

How will we articulate the good news of this strange and curious God
who elevates our relationships with one another
over everything else?

Will we be bold enough to share the good news of this strange and curious
And beautiful God
Or will we keep it for ourselves?