Remember, I Am Always Here for You

Sermon for Easter 5A, May 7, 2023 based on John 14:1-14

My household has fallen in love with the children’s tv show Bluey. The show follows a family of anthropomorphic dogs, the Heelers, in Australia, Mum, Dad, and their two young children, Bluey, six, and Bingo, three.

The episodes are brief, but are just lovely tales of this family navigating life. The creators of the show have often talked about how they really made it for the parents—the show, after all, models some wonderful parenting styles—all while wrapped in the disguise of being meant for kids.

Anyway, one of my absolute favorite episodes is called “Sleepytime,” and has become the episode that Llama(my daughter) and I snuggle in together to watch just before falling asleep.

The episode opens with Mum reading a few books to the youngest, Bingo, before tucking her in to sleep. The books are about a chicken hatching and the solar system. Bingo tells Mum as she leaves that room that she wants to do a “big girl sleep tonight and wake up in [her] own bed.”

Mum responds by saying, “You just do your best, but remember, I’m always here if you need me.”

Bingo soon falls asleep, dreaming that she awakes with her stuffy in space, hatching out of planets like eggs. In her dream, they explore the planets, while Bingo sleepwalks through the house, at one point imagining herself leaping along Jupiter, which is actually Dad in the real world, who she is kicking in her sleep.

Eventually, the story plays out that Bingo ends up cold and alone back in her own bed. In her dream, she is cold and lonely, too. As she whimpers in her sleep, Mum hears her and moves toward her. In her dream, Bingo is rushed towards the warm glow of the sun, until she sits on a small planet next to its warmth. In her room, Mum has climbed into bed next to her to comfort her in her sleep.

Back in her dream, Bingo hears Mum’s voice from the sun say, “Remember I’ll always be here for you, even if you can’t see me. Because I love you.” In her room, Mum kisses Bingo, tucks Bingo back in under the blankets, and leaves Bingo to sleep, so she can wake in her own bed, now comforted in the knowledge that her mum is with her, even when she can’t see her.

I hear echoes of Jesus’ words to his disciples in that Bluey episode. Today’s gospel reading takes us back chronologically from Easter to Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.

John’s gospel doesn’t have Jesus institute communion—there is no blessing of the bread and wine as Jesus’ body and blood. Instead, in John’s gospel, Jesus kneels before the disciples and washes their feet, commanding them to do the same to one another—to follow in his teaching, to follow his way, and his love, to show the world that they follow him by show their love.

After, as they gather at the meal, Jesus’ offers his final discourse—of which this beloved passage is a part. We are likely most familiar with hearing this passage at funerals. It is used as a word of comfort offered to those who are bereft, grieving the death of a loved one, and seeking comfort in the promise of many rooms in God’s house. And while that is a fine interpretation of this passage, and one in which we seek meaning when our own lives are troubled, there is another level at which we can read this passage, too—one that we can approach today, in its own context, removed from that of a funeral for a loved one.

It is important, as we read this passage, to remember the context in which it was spoken and originally heard. These are part of Jesus’ farewell to his disciples. They are spoken to his closest followers to prepare them for what they are about to face—his impending arrest, execution, and burial. The disciples were confused, probably a bit frightened given that Jesus tells them that he would only be with them a little longer. Jesus offers these words as comfort, hope, reassurance that even though he is leaving them, they are not going to be left alone. He is not abandoning them to an entirely uncertain future.

This isn’t just words of hope offered for after the disciples die, though. That’s how we often think about this text, given how often it is used for funerals. This isn’t just about that. Instead, given that Jesus speaks of the many rooms in the context of preparing them to move and be in the world without him, what he is really talking about, is preparing them to live when they can no longer see him. He is preparing them to remember that he is always with them, even when he isn’t right there.

I think this teaching is a both-and moment. It is both about the ways in which Jesus prepares to welcome us into God’s kingdom. AND it is about the ways in which Jesus prepares us to live in God’s kingdom now, in this life.

When Thomas asks how they can follow him and know where he is going, Jesus tells them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” That next sentence has often been used as a statement of exclusion—“No one comes to the Father except through me.” But when read in the context of all that is happening, given how the gospel of Jesus shows an extraordinary expanding of the God’s welcome, and how frequently Jesus includes those who the world counts as outsiders, I have a hard time thinking that Jesus meant those words to be used to exclude someone, cutting anyone out. Rather, Jesus is declaring something more. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But what is the way, the truth, and the life? What does that look like?

It looks like doing as Jesus has been doing all along. It means loving beyond measure, humbling ourselves to kneel before others and to offer love and care. It means loving without exception or counting the cost or expecting something in return. It is about welcome, not exclusion. It is an invitation to a life transformed to follow in Jesus’ words.

It isn’t about excluding those who believe differently—the way, truth, and life of compassion, of love, of welcome, of hope, of reaching out to others, is not exclusive to one particular way of believing. It isn’t about believing a certain way—it is about how we live our lives in light of this Christ who has called us and leads us and promises to dwell with us. In another passage, the disciples come to Jesus indignant because someone who isn’t with them is casting out demons, and demanding that Jesus stop him. Jesus, though, does not stop him, but instead tells his disciples that the work that he is doing is good. He is following in Jesus’ way, even if it isn’t part of the “inside” crowd as one of Jesus’ disciples.

That is the way to the Father of which Jesus speaks–of acting and moving and being in the world in the ways in which Jesus models. Remember, Jesus is speaking these words to his beloved ones from whom he is about to depart. They won’t be able to see him any longer, but Jesus promises that they are not left alone, either. Jesus has been showing us the way that is abiding with him, abiding with God. Jesus promises to continue to abide with them, to dwell with them, as they live out God’s kingdom in the world.

That’s the promise in this passage, too, is that, as we are invited to follow in Christ, we are invited to realize that we know God through Christ. If we know and recognize Jesus, we know God. It is about abiding with God through Jesus. We continue to abide in Jesus’ presence, by living in Jesus’ way and truth, and being formed by God, for God, in the world. Jesus promises to be with us, as we love and care for one another, reminding the world of the ways that God is with us, whatever the future holds. It is the assurance that Jesus abides with us, always and forever.

Bingo, in that episode of Bluey, is growing and beginning to become a “big girl”—she is finding those little moments of independence and separation from her Mum and Dad as she becomes the bigger person she is growing into. Mum is preparing Bingo for those times when she won’t always be right there, right next to her. And Mum promises Bingo that no matter what, even when Bingo can’t see her, she is still there for her, because she loves her.

Jesus has to go, and soon the disciples won’t see him. But he promises that he is still there for them, even when they can’t see him, because he loves them. Jesus promises that he is with us, the way, truth, and life. He is with us, guiding us, treasuring us, calling us, even when we can’t see him because he loves us. We are never alone, in this life, or the life still to come.


The Stories that Matter

Sermon based on Luke 24:13-35 which can be read here: Before beginning the gospel reading, I introduced this Road to Emmaus story with the reminder that it takes place in the context of the first Easter evening, though we were hearing it several weeks after Easter Sunday.

There is a scene near the end of the second Lord of the Rings movies, The Two Towers. Sam and Frodo have been separated from the rest of the Fellowship who are off fighting their own battles against the forces of the dark lord, Sauron, and Frodo and Sam find themselves facing struggle after struggle as they carry the ring to Mordor to try to destroy it.

In this particular scene, the weight of bearing the ring and the grief, fear, and despair take over for Frodo and says to his friend, “I can’t do this, Sam.”

You can feel the despair, the hopelessness in Frodo’s words, when it feels to him to be impossible to carry on with their mission.

Sam then turns to him. “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.”

Cleopas and the other disciple names their own grief and hopelessness. They don’t recognize that Jesus is right there, in their midst, and Cleopas, when Jesus asks them what they are discussing, eventually says, “We had hoped…”

We. Had. Hoped.

Hope feels lost.

What was it they hoped for? A Messiah who would drive out the pagan Romans and restore Israel as an independent nation? A Messiah who would make Israel first and greatest among the nations?  

Certainly, not a Messiah who would die at the hands of the Roman occupiers and religious elites; a Messiah who appears to have failed at being a Messiah.

We. Had. Hoped.

These feel like perhaps the saddest, most anguished words uttered in scripture; to be without hope, to drown in despair and fear and uncertainty and disappointment.

It is a statement filled with aching and longing—and also one that I think is incredibly relatable. Disappointment is a reality of our human existence.

We face disappointment in relationships, in work, in our dreams, in the futures we envision for ourselves. We regularly experience disappointments in little and big ways, sometimes so much that we despair.

We had hoped the doctor’s report would be better. We had hoped this relationship would work. We had hoped we would have this job for many years to come. We had hoped we could buy a house. We had hoped our loved one would recover. We had hoped our family would be loving. We had hoped…

Cleopas expresses the depths of human pain in those words—their hopes have been shattered. They are on the road, out of Jerusalem, leaving behind what had transpired, leaving behind their hopes.

They have heard the rumors that Jesus was resurrected, but—certainly it can’t be true. Every experience they have had, every fiber of their being is so enmeshed in their despair, that even though the risen Christ is right there, they can’t recognize him.

The good news is beyond their comprehension? How can there be good after such grief, such disappointment?

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr Frodo,” Sam continues. “The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?”

I love Jesus’ response to Cleopas. I hear some amusement in his voice, with a little empathy and sadness of his own and… maybe a little frustration or disappointment, too.

He had told them what would happen, after all! They have now heard accounts that he has been raised!

“Oh, how foolish you are.”  This was necessary! And he teaches them.

They still can’t fully recognize that it is none other than Jesus himself there with them, journeying along the road to Emmaus as he teaches about the scriptures.

It isn’t yet that they are able to recognize Jesus for who he is—it doesn’t really tell us why, just that they can’t see yet.

Maybe it’s their grief. Maybe it’s because in their experience, someone who dies doesn’t meet them three days later on a journey and talk with them. Maybe its something more.

They don’t recognize him, but they will come to acknowledge that something was happening as they were listening to him to each.

They later acknowledge that their hearts burned within them as Jesus taught, that it was as if their hearts were on fire in this encounter.

But it is only later, when they sit at the table and break the bread—not in the blessing of the bread, but specifically in the breaking of the bread to be shared—that they finally are able to see Jesus, to recognize him, and to realize that all of those accounts they had heard are true. He is, indeed, alive.

One of the truths that shows up in all of the gospel accounts of the resurrection, and the disbelief and doubts that happen after the resurrection. The disciples all doubt.

Luke’s version tells us that when the women return to the disciples from the empty tomb and tell them that they have seen the resurrected Christ, the disciples scoff and believe it to be an “idle” tale.

Thomas questions the account of the other disciples in John’s gospel. In Matthew, when Jesus appears to the disciples and gives the Great Commission, it tells us that they “believed, though some doubted.”

Here, Cleopas and the other disciple, and I imagine many others, also doubt the resurrection.

They have heard the good news, but it seems too good. The promises too incomprehensible.

It feels like those stories, where we aren’t sure we want to know the end, because how they can possibly be happy after so much has happened?

It is in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the other finally see that hope is not lost.

As Sam says about those great stories, “But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.

Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Jesus is alive. Hope is restored. We are welcomed into the goodness, to share in this meal, to proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead—because the Son is risen, and God’s love-light shines clearer into all of our broken and hurting places.

We are invited into this community of faith that continues telling these stories and to be nourished at the table where Jesus Christ himself is host and meal.

This encounter with the risen Christ changes Cleopas and the disciple. They return to Jerusalem, to share this good news and to declare the truth of their own encounter.

I think about all of the ways in which I—we—so often encounter Christ in our lives, but don’t fully recognize that Christ us with us.

Jesus keeps showing up to the disciples, reminding them that he is with them along the way, always offering hope and a future, calling us to be changed by this encounter, and to move forward into God’s will for us.

I think, this Road to Emmaus story is meant to reassure us of Christ’s presence in our lives—of our call to welcome others, to tell the story.

We are called to be the Church. The story tells us of these disciples who model what it looks like to be a part of the community of faith—to hear scripture read and interpreted, to nurture our faith in our stories, and to share in the breaking of bread at communion.

I think we are to hear in this story the promise of hope proclaimed, and to be nurtured at the table as we gather around Word and Meal.

This story of the disciples, that begins with profound grief: “We had hoped…” moves into hearts set on fire by the Word, the Word proclaimed, and the Word living and walking among them. What started as “we had hoped” moves to “we have hope.”

It moves to the disciples rushing back in faith and joy to tell others the good news. This is one of those stories that really matters, that stays with us, that means something.

We, too, are invited in our own lives that have our own stories of grief and hurt and disappointment, to gather along our journey, to share in the Meal, and to encounter Christ who changes our hearts, and calls us to this community to be rekindled and carried into God’s future.

We are changed for mission and life, assured that Christ does, and will, continue to meet us, creating a future out of hopelessness, and drawing us from despair and disappointment into the joy of the resurrection.

The Next Right Thing

Sermon from Easter Sunday, April 9th 2023. The scripture was Matthew 28:1-10, and can be found at the following link:

My daughter is a huge fan of the Frozen movies franchise. A couple weeks ago when she was home sick with strep throat, she wanted to watch the second movie again, so we settled in to enjoy it.

Now, if you haven’t seen it, here is your spoiler alert warning!

In the movie, the two sisters, Elsa (who has magical powers that allow her to control ice, snow, and water to her will, having even brought a snowman, Olaf, to life), and Anna (who has no magic) have become separated on their journey to save their kingdom.

Anna is in a cave with Olaf, and Elsa has made it to a magical river where she has gone dug too deep into the truth of past events and she becomes frozen.

In the cave, Olaf begins to flurry away, as Elsa’s magic is no longer holding him in existence, and Anna ends up holding him until he fades, knowing that it also means that something terrible has happened to her sister.

It takes a few moments as Anna sits in her grief, but eventually, pushes herself up, stands up, and carries on, singing how dark the grief is, but she knows she must take the next step, not looking too far ahead, but just the next breath, the next step, to “do the next right thing.”

In her song, Anna names the deep despair that overwhelms her, as in that moment, she is alone, knowing that two of her closest loved ones are gone, and yet, there is courage—that in taking just that next step, and then another, to do what is right and good, will lead out of the darkness into the glimmer of light and hope again.

As I read through Matthew’s account of that first morning after Jesus’ crucifixion, I pictured the women coming to Jesus’ tomb with a bit of a similar mindset. They had been there, watching by the cross when Jesus had died. They were there when his body was laid in the tomb.

But Matthew’s account of this morning is a bit different from the other gospels. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb, but they are not carrying spices for anointing—after all, that had already been done when the woman had anointed him the night before his last meal with his disciples.

They aren’t wondering how they will roll away the stone to care for Jesus’ body. Matthew says that they go to the tomb to see where his body had been laid. They come, just to see.

I sense in this telling that they, maybe believe what Jesus had been telling them so many times before—that he would be killed, buried, and be raised from the dead three days later. And even if they don’t fully believe it, they come clinging to the hope that maybe… maybe… it isn’t the end of the story.

They come to the tomb, heavy with grief, taking the next step to do the next right thing, and maybe, still, hoping in the face of hopelessness that there is still more, that it isn’t over. The Marys arrive at the tomb, being guarded by Roman soldiers, and as they approach, the angel appears.

I love this angel. This is an angel who knows how to make a dramatic entrance. This is an angel with attitude. This is an angel that I can’t help but picture a little like this (at this point I pulled out my sunglasses, put them on, and put my hands on my hips) as he lounges on the stone that had been closing the tomb just moments before they show up with the earthquake.

The guards swoon in fear and collapse, and I imagine, the angel gives a little eye roll, before turning to the women with the proclamation confirming their dared-for hope—that Jesus has been raised from the dead and they should go and tell his disciples that he will meet them in Galilee.

I love, too, that despite his proclamation to “not be afraid”, they still depart the tomb with “fear and great joy”. It’s a very human response to that last three days, and to this encounter with the angel. The wonderful joy of the Good News does not completely negate the fear and wonder and grief.  But it does call them forward, as they are then sent forth to proclaim the good news to the others.

Their hope, that Jesus’ promised resurrection, has been made true—and in very human fashion, they go off still a little fearful—I mean, really, who wouldn’t be?!—but also filled with joy. I think this is an incredibly powerful truth—that we can hold both of these things at the same time—that the assured-for-hope in the resurrection does not mean that we exist without fear. That resurrection does not mean that our grief now isn’t real and valid. That we are loved unconditionally for who we are, and there is still the desire for us to do better.

It is in the midst of all of this, their fear met and mixed with profound joy, that Jesus meets the women on the way.

Jesus appears to them as they are going to tell the good news to others. Jesus meets them as they are on their way, to do the next right thing.

Jesus again reassures them that they do not need to be afraid because he has been raised, he is alive, and because he is alive, we know that death is not the end of the story, there is still more to come, and the women are invited to be a part of that story. Through the women’s proclamation, the disciples are invited to continue the story.

Through the disciples, who will be met by Jesus, others will be invited into the story. Jesus will commission the disciples to “go out and baptize and make disciples of all nations.” Through those disciples, more will be invited into the story, and through them, still more. Through them, we are invited to declare these promises and these hopes that we know to be real and true, and to enter into the story that God has been promising and bringing about all along.

We live in the in-between reality where grief and fear and uncertainty still are a part of our lives. Each of us comes today with our own stories, our own truths and realities. And Jesus meets us, whether right now, today, we are overflowing with joy or still more weighted by grief, or find ourselves somewhere in between.

Jesus comes this morning, assuring us that, if we are hurting and grieving, we can do the next thing, because we are not alone, and that death does not get the final say in our story or in the wider story of creation. Jesus meets us, calls us, and sends us out to declare this good new to others, and surrounds us with the great cloud of witnesses past, present, and future, so that we can support one another in this life of faith and hope and love.

Jesus shows up, inviting us into the future that God is still creating and shaping and forming, and which God assures us, God will bring about to completion. The Good News of Jesus’ resurrection is that death has been defeated, and that God’s kingdom welcomes us with the sure and certain hope, the promise that Jesus continues to meet us on the way.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The Scent of Nard

Sermon from Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2023. The scripture was Matthew 26:6-16

Growing up, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. Every time we’d go to her house, I would walk in the door, and be met with the soft smell that was somewhat distinct to her house.

The smell of the cleaning solutions that she preferred combined with the smell of her perfume, mixed with other smells that were harder to name—remnants of scents from what she had made for dinner or cookies baking in the oven.

And while much of the memories of those smells have faded, I can still remember with great clarity the smell of her perfume when I would curl up next to her on the couch as she would read books to me.

I doubt they still make that perfume anymore, but for years after she had died, I could be out at a store and pass someone wearing it, and I would be flooded with memories so real that I would feel certain that if I just turned around, she would be standing there in front of me.

Our sense of smell is powerful. Much of our human ability to taste food is linked to our sense of smell. Our sense of smell tends to link closely with our memories, tying us back to a time, place, person, when we catch a whiff of it again.

Smell and scent are tied to our faith, to worship, to God.

We hear in scripture how burnt offerings were made in worship of God to carry the prayers of the people and to bring before God a “soothing aroma”.

Incense, too, connects worshipers to the divine through its fragrance and the visible smoke. The first two verses of Psalm 141 begins “I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you.

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” – a phrase we have sung each week during Lent during Holden Evening Prayer, and which we often use in worship.

Smell is powerful.

Smell can also be overwhelming—like when you walk past someone in the store who is wearing strong perfume, or too much perfume. The smell can be overpowering for the senses, and can hang in the air for some time after the one wearing it has walked away.

When the woman pours her perfumed ointment over Jesus’ head, it would have been this kind of overwhelming scent that would have permeated throughout the entire house where they were gathered. The smell would have likely been overpowering, maybe even a little nauseating.

It would have embedded itself in her clothes and hair, in Jesus’ clothes, in his hair, in his beard.

It would have clung to any textiles present—the clothes of the others in the house, any blankets or cloths to be found.

That scent—the smell of the perfume—would have not only physically embedded itself in the things around them, and on their persons, it would have embedded itself in their memories. That smell, like my grandmother’s perfume for me—would be inseparably linked in their memories to this sacred moment.

This unnamed woman pours out extravagant, costly love upon Jesus just the day or so before he would eat his last meal with his disciples. And the smell would be overpowering. Even in our day with good washing machines, it would be difficult to get out—in Jesus’ day, the smell would have hung around, unable to be washed out easily.

The disciples are angry and confused. “But what about the poor, Jesus?! I thought you were opposed to extravagance and wasteful spending. Think of how many people could have been helped!”

They miss the point. Yes, generosity and giving to those in need, in caring for the poor and feeding the hungry is an essential part of faith.

Jesus’ response about having the poor with them always, at first glance seems to contradict all the teaching he has offered thus far in his ministry. In truth, though, it hearkens back to Deuteronomy, and the law that calls for canceling of debts:

“7 “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor[b] might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”

Jesus is effectively reminding us that the existence of poverty is shameful, because it is evidence of a lack of generosity from those who have the ability to make a difference in their lives. Jesus is reminding his followers that there will always be those who are poor, because our sin, our brokenness binds us from being generous.

In truth, it is a further teaching, a further proclamation, and a further commandment to not be flippant about poverty, but indeed to better follow Jesus through extravagant generosity.

This particular moment, is different, though. This woman cares for Jesus in a way that offers worship, and acknowledges him as king. And, Jesus’ words about her also prove to be true—this moment, like the scent of the perfume, has embedded itself in Jesus’ story. She is unnamed, but she is remembered for her act of extravagance shown in her care to Jesus.

And that scent of her perfume will continue to pervade the story. She may not be there for what comes next, but her act will continue to be evidenced in the events that unfold. Scents, smells, after all, tend to cling to things and tie our memories to moments in our lives.

The amount of perfume used would have clung to Jesus’ hair and beard. It would have still been smelled as the Passover meal was shared, as the bread and wine were offered to his disciples, as Jesus instituted communion. The breeze in Gethsemane would have picked up the smell and swirled it around Jesus as he prayed in the garden. Judas would have caught a whiff of the perfume as he leaned in to betray Jesus with a kiss. The smell would have been carried in the air as the crowds came to arrest Jesus. Caiaphas and the high priests would have likely caught the smell as they questioned him, and Pilate, too.

The smell would have clung to Jesus—he may have still been able to smell the perfume in his hair and beard as he was crucified.

And the woman, too, would have likely still smelled the gift she had bestowed on Jesus on her hands, clinging to her clothes, her hair. Even if she was not at the cross, the scent would have connected her to Jesus and to the memory of the night she poured it on his head. In this act of service, I imagine the scent would have become inseparable from the memory of anointing Jesus, and from the events of the days that followed. Whenever she would catch a hint of it carried on the breeze, she would remember that night, and the man, his crucifixion, and the stories of his resurrection afterward.

We, too, are invited into extravagant service and care. We, too, are invited to pour out our generosity on those in need and to offer our anointing by meeting the needs of others.

And this evening, we remember this woman’s particular act of service, connected inextricably from Jesus’ own sacrifice to come, as we recommit to extending generosity, welcome, and hospital in radically extravagant ways to our neighbors.

I invite you to come forward as you would like, to be anointed with nard-perfumed oil.

To carry this moment with you over these next few days, to allow the memory of this woman’s profound, abundant love to set the tone, and to let this scent imbue your memory as we observe in our service the Lord’s Supper, instituted during that last meal with his disciples and friends, as we complete our walk through the Great Three Days of this year.  

At the conclusion of this sermon, those gathered were invited to come forward to receive an individual blessing, with an anointing of nard oil on their hands marked in the shape of the cross.


Sermon for Epiphany 5A on Matthew 5:13-20 (you can read the scripture at the following link:

I love the smell that fills my house when I have time to make fresh, homemade bread. I have tried making many different kinds of bread over the years, but the kids have finally settled on their favorite—challah bread.

If you have never made bread before, the reality is, to make a basic, delicious loaf, you really only need a few ingredients: flour, oil, yeast, water… and salt. Other ingredients can certainly be added, but you’ll get a wonderfully delightful bread from just those few ingredients.

During the early days of the pandemic, as so many seemed to, my son and I would make fresh bread every few days. After all, I was working from home and daycares were closed, so I was home throughout the day for the entire process of bread making–a time-consuming process, though most of the time is spent waiting for the bread to rise.

I’d get up early, measure out the ingredients, and sip my coffee until Monkey woke up. Then, with his help, we would mix up the dough and get it ready to rise, and then work and play while we waited. Monkey would then help me knead the dough after the first rise, and then we would work and play some more while we waited for the second rise.

Monkey then created a bit of a tradition for us as the bread would bake later. He would go out and watch the oven, then come into the living room grinning, take a long, low sniff of the air, and say, “Mommy! Our bread smells so good!”.

One day, things were a little more chaotic as we were mixing the ingredients. Llama woke up earlier than usual, and since she was still an infant at the time, she was a little less understanding of the phrase, “just give me a minute!”I was distracted, and somewhere in the process of putting the ingredients into the dough, I didn’t realize it, but I forgot the salt. We went through our whole ritual of baking the bread, and smelling the deliciousness we were anticipating, and Monkey’s, “It smells so good!” All the while, ignorant to the dreadful mistake that had taken place.

We eagerly waited for the bread to cool enough that we could pull it apart, put butter on to melt, and take a bite. But when we did, we were terribly disappointed. It turns out that forgetting to add salt results in a nearly inedible, unrecognizable-as-bread baked flour mixture. Salt is an essential ingredient.

In the Netflix documentary Fat Salt Acid Heat, the show’s host says this of salt: “It is fundamental to all good cooking. It enhances flavor, and it even makes food taste more like itself. In short, salt brings food to life.”

When salt is missing, when food is not seasoned enough with salt, food, even foods we don’t associate as being “salty”, like breads and desserts, taste dull and less vibrant. If you want to bring out the natural flavor of a food, you do so with salt. Salt is an essential ingredient, and it is an essential mineral for our bodies to survive.

That said, salt, alone, is not particularly tasty either. Salt is at its best when it is bringing out the delicious flavors of something else. Similarly, light alone, too, is most useful when helping us to better see what is already there.

After the beginning of Jesus’ sermon last week with the Beatitudes, where Jesus there declares the truths of who his hearers are—blessed and beloved—Jesus goes on to proclaim another already-truth. “You are salt. You are light.”

Jesus tells his disciples(?) the crowds(?)–it’s not actually clear here who Jesus is really talking to, though I don’t really think that matters. What matters is that he tells those who would follow him that they are salt and light.

By the very nature of who and whose they are, they are to bring out the God-flavor in the world. They are to season the world with God’s abundant love. They are to bring out God’s love already present in the world. They are to shine God’s truth, mercy, and grace, to illumine what is already present in the world that God created—an abundance of love and care for all things. They are to illuminate God’s abundant care for all of creation.

They can’t be not-salt. They can’t be not-light. It is what God has created us to be.

So when Jesus talks about salt losing its saltiness, there is something else going on here. As one commentator points out, salt can’t loose its saltiness. Salt is a natural preservative. It’s been used for millennia to preserve other foods, because salt, in and of itself, doesn’t go bad.

Light doesn’t become not-light unless it is hidden or snuffed out.

So when Jesus warns his hearers not to lose their saltiness or hide the light of God shining through them, I think that what he really means, is to remain distinctly different from worldly views and ways of being.

Salt loses its flavor when it is too watered down or overwhelmed by something else.

Because of the Beatitudes that immediately preceded these statements, Jesus, I think, is warning against this: being caught up in the ways of world, and not being distinctly different in how we move in the world. I think this, because the Beatitudes proclaims blessed those whom the world typically declares as unloved and unimportant.

Given that immediate context, Jesus then calling his followers salt and light and warning against losing their saltiness, is a warning about becoming too watered down by the world—about being too distracted by the worries and cares and values of the world, that our identity as followers of Christ loses its distinction. The Sermon on the Mount is among Jesus’ first teachings—it is the first sermon that we hear in Matthew. Jesus will frequently remind those who follow him or who would follow him, about what being a disciple looks like.

It will mean humbling oneself, washing the feet of his disciples. It will mean doing the “sheep-y” things in the “parable of the sheep and the goats” from Matthew 25 (, what is also named the “judgment of the nations”—feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, providing for the vulnerable and those looked down on by society, visiting the prisoners.

Being Christ-followers means doing the things that Isaiah ( declares as what God values: “Is not this the fast that I choose: declares God… to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them?” To not “serve our own interests”.  

Here, in this moment on the mountaintop in this first sermon in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus declares what is intrinsically true as God’s created beings: that we are meant to flavor the world with God’s love and illumine the world with God’s light. And Jesus will continue teaching and showing what it means to be disciples.

We do these things that show us to be disciples, because it is simply who and whose we are. We do the work of loving, of behaving differently in the world, because we are God’s, because we know we are God’s, and we live out of the truth.

The world, the things that are not of God’s, will tempt us in different ways, to behave in ways that do not align with God’s desires. The world that values wealth, power, military might, that tramples on the vulnerable to achieve its ends, the world that calls us to focus on ourselves and our desires, waters down the flavor of God-love that we are intended to bring. The world tries to hide, or convince us to hide, the light of God-love that we are intended to shine through us.

Jesus invites us to something different than the ways of the world. Jesus invites us to remember that we are God’s, formed, shaped in the community of Christ, in relationship with one another, and that we are light and salt, and we are to illuminate—to show the love of God—and to highlight the wondrous work of God in the world. Jesus reminds us that God’s way is different. Those who were declared blessed in our reading last week, those who would not have been valued by the world, are irrevocably, undeniably, treasured.

Today, the continuation of that declaration, is the reminder of who and whose we are—and how God intends for us to live and move in the world.  Jesus tells us the truth of who we are, and what that means: “You are imperfect, blessed, beloved child of God, called to love. You are forgiven and called to forgive. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

“Oh, That’s Nice, Isn’t It?”

Sermon for Epiphany 4A 2023. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 5:1-12. You can link to the passage here:

When I was in seminary, one of my professors frequently quoted from various Monty Python movies.

This, of course, meant that we students just had to become familiar with Monty Python movies, too. There were many weekends, then, where you could find us hanging out in common rooms or gathered in one another’s apartments watching some of these films.

This also inevitably meant that by the time we were close to graduating, we were often inserting Monty Python quotes into our everyday conversations; like the day that a friend showed up to check on me after a bout of the flu, and I managed to whimper out, “I’m not dead yet!”.

Or the time during the flag football tournament that we hosted on campus, when after taking a hard elbow to my nose and being encouraged to sit out the next play, I yelled, “’Tis but a flesh wound!” as I ran back onto the line.

And… the scene that was quoted every time that we would start talking about the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount was from a scene in Life of Brian.

In that scene, Jesus is up on the mountain teaching and the crowds are gathered around. But way at the back, a small group of characters are frustrated to find that they can’t really hear what Jesus is saying.

They are soon arguing with one another as they are struggle to hear Jesus, when suddenly one of the women catches a part of what is being said, and interjects: “Oh! It’s the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that’s nice isn’t it? I’m glad they’re getting something, ‘cause they have a heck of a time.”

It’s a hilarious little interjection into the scene, but also… so entirely true!

Today’s assigned gospel is this text, one of the most well-known passages in scripture, but also one that I think we struggle to really make sense of what Jesus intended us to hear.

We will continue reading from the first part of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks, but for now, we get just this prologue, these words of blessings. And I love that Jesus’ real ministry, the first thing we really hear him teaching and speaking in Matthew’s gospel are words of blessing.

And I also love that it forces us to really talk about this word, “Blessing,” because we have used this word so often and in ways that distort its real meaning. Most times when I hear someone speaking of blessings or being blessed, I tend to internally quote The Princess Bride – “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That’s because we’ve come to use the word “blessed” when what we really mean is something more like “lucky.” Or we use it when what has really happened is that a set of circumstances have led us to be more fortunate in ways that others are not.

With the way that #blessed flies around the internet and social media, it’s no wonder that we have come to understand being blessed as saying that everything is going great, “Yay! Don’t worry, be happy!”

But it trivializes what “blessed” really means.

Jesus’ words here in this prologue to the (much longer) sermon on the Mount that spans chapters 5, 6, and 7, though, completely upend this idea that being blessed by God means that things are easy, and life is good. More likely, as Jesus warns here, and later as he calls his disciples, it’s going to mean exactly the opposite.

Being blessed is not bliss. Too long, the world has understood blessing as being about wealth, good fortune, an “easy” life, power; that blessing is evidenced by those who are the victors and the conquerors.

Jesus, though, offers a different view, a different reality.

Being blessed, as spoken of in scripture, is about being loved by God, regardless of our circumstances. Jesus declares blessed those who, all their lives, would have been told that they were not wanted, valued, or loved. Jesus is declaring an entirely new value system that is at odds with, specifically, the Roman empire, and more universally, worldly powers.

Jesus declares the hopeless poor, those crushed by society in their constant struggle just to survive, that the kingdom of heaven is theirs—for in God’s kingdom, all is set aright, and all have enough. Jesus declares hope and the promise of joy and comfort to those who grieve, who have experienced loss of loved ones, home, and land—to the crowds who were living under the thumb of the Roman empire. Jesus blesses the meek—those who are abused and exploited under worldly systems. Jesus blesses those who yearn for right relationships with God and with others, reimagining a world where all have enough to live.

Jesus, contrary to worldly values, blesses those who are merciful. Where Rome and the nations use violence and force, Jesus declares God’s kingdom to be different—to be a place of welcome and plenty. Jesus declares blessing to the peacemakers. Unlike Rome, who claimed to bring peace, though by force and coercion, Jesus brings a community where no one is subjugated, and being a part of this blessed community is voluntary. Jesus is declaring blessing, particular blessing, on those who are struggling.

It is a reminder for all people, that we aren’t just blessed and loved and favored by God when things are going well, but that God proclaims love and adoration for us, even when, maybe especially when, our circumstances lead us to question or doubt our blessedness, or when others declare that we are not lovable.

Jesus reminds us that we are loved beyond measure, no matter what is going on in our lives what we see in our world. Jesus declares people beloved, perhaps, especially, to quote Monty Python, when they are “having a heck of a time.”

Jesus also does not also does not deny blessings, but instead, reminds us that God draws particularly close to those who are vulnerable, disenfranchised, hurting, and broken.

To be clear, too, these blessings are not ethical or moral codes to strive to emulate. This isn’t Jesus telling the crowds to be poor in order to be blessed. Nor is this meant to lead us to question if we hunger enough for righteousness (we probably don’t) or make us doubt that we’re blessed if we’ve been in conflict recently.

This is a declaration of that which is already true: God. Blesses. You. No matter what the world might say or value, you are blessed. You are already blessed, and loved, and claimed by God.

AND. In hearing these blessings proclaimed, we are also reminded of the vocation that is present in them. Way back in the Old Testament, in the earlier parts of God’s broad, grand story of salvation, God called people to follow, to be blessed. God blessed Abraham. Isaac. Jacob.

God called Israel and blessed Israel, to be God’s chosen people. But God didn’t call them to be blessed in the eyes of the world—by holding worldly power and influence and status—but instead, God says over and over again in scripture, that they are “blessed to be a blessing.”

God chooses to call and bless people who are far from perfect. Who struggle. And hurt. Who are crushed, oppressed, enslaved, who make mistakes. Who, are unexpected, by worldly standards, to be blessed. And God still chooses to declare God’s love, that also comes with a call to proclaim God’s love in the world. Blessings are bestowed, and, the blessed are sent to be blessings for others.

And it is a call to the vocation of love, respect, and walking alongside those whom the world has beaten down. Jesus blesses, and also insists in his teaching and his call to those who would follow him as his disciples, that we must also serve those whom Jesus blesses.

It is a both/and declaration. Jesus blesses—and calls us to the work of making God’s kingdom a reality. It is about journeying with all people, and recognizing that we are all connected, and are called to play a part in creating the blessed community of God’s kingdom here, and now, in our lives, in our world.

There’s a quote attributed to Lilla Watson, a member of an Aboriginal rights activist group in Queensland, Australia. In talking about the ways in which the group saw the collaborative effort of working for justice for the aboriginal people, the quote was said: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.”

It strikes me that, though that statement was made with regards to a specific group of people, it is an image of what God envisions for the community of Christ. It is one where we are called to love and care and journey alongside one another, recognizing that our lives are bound together in Christ, by the One in whose image we have been made.

The beauty of the beatitudes, then, is that we are all reminded, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, of that which is already true—that God blesses and loves all people, desiring us to be bonded in love, and God especially draws near to those who are vulnerable and hurting, or having a heck of a time. As disciples, as followers of Jesus, we are invited into living out this truth, and joining with God in the work of realizing God’s kingdom.

Beautiful Dust: A sermon for Ash Wednesday 2023

Sermon for February 22, 2023, Ash Wednesday. Scriptures for the day were: Psalm 51; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; and Matthew 6:1-21.

There is something wonderfully sacred and holy about Ash Wednesday. Over the years, I can remember a distinct moment in almost every Ash Wednesday service that reminds me of just how holy this day is.

There was the first Ash Wednesday service where I was marking ash crosses on the foreheads of parishoners at the congregation where I was doing my internship.

The weeks leading up to that day had been hard and heavy. For several weeks in a row, we had had at least one funeral every week; beloved members who we and the congregation were still grieving. Just a week before Ash Wednesday, my internship supervisor, my mentor, had buried his long-time, dear friend—the wife of his internship supervisor when he was studying to become a pastor. Both he, and I, were still grieving, and deeply feeling the hurt of the people we had been called to serve.

Ash Wednesday felt like it was looming heavy ahead of us.

Then, came the call just days before—one of the members who had been expecting a child had delivered a healthy baby, and they wanted one of us to come and offer a prayer and a blessing. My supervisor sent me to the hospital, sensing that maybe I could use a good dose of joy that week. As I sat that afternoon, holding that tiny baby, just hours old, I felt refreshed, blessed to be a part of welcoming this new baby boy into the world as we prayed and gave thanks for this new life.

My heart leapt into my chest just a few days later, though, when the family came to the Ash Wednesday service, and brought the newborn to me, to place the ash cross on this new little one’s forehead, and to state to him, and before his new parents the reminder of his own mortality: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It was a profoundly holy moment.

I remember the power of my first Ash Wednesday after my son was born. I had only been back from maternity leave a few weeks, and I hadn’t fully anticipated how my throat would close, as one of the “church grandmas” brought him forward during the service. I fought back tears, marking that holy cross on his forehead, barely managing to whisper the words that were to be proclaimed along with that cross—one that would be followed a few months later, this time marked in oil at his baptism. (I have written a reflection about that day before, here:

I remember the year that I visited a member who was approaching the completion of their baptismal journey, marking the ashen cross spoken with words of hope amid the impending reality of their death; the peace that surrounded us who were gathered in that holy moment, and the way that ash cross seemed to bring comfort in her final hours—a cross that was still on her forehead when she joined the Church Triumphant a few hours later.

I remember feeling to sting at the Ash Wednesday services in 2020—as word of COVID-19 had begun to spread, and there was fear and doubt and uncertainty palpable at the start of the pandemic, and wondering what it would all mean for each of those who came to be marked with the cross that day.

I remember the faces of strangers who have stopped over the years when I have offered Ashes to Go. People with stories longing to hear God’s love and forgiveness proclaimed, and the assurance of the hope that we carry in the resurrection. I remember the tears that often accompany that moment and the sighs of healing and relief that escape them as the cross is made to remind them of God’s unbounded and abounding love for them, the holy moments and their needs met in ways that they might otherwise have missed.

I feel the flashes of each face, each moment, of life and death, joy and sorrow, fear and peace all intertwined in the holiness of Ash Wednesday.

Each of these moments were holding space in my heart and in my mind this past week. It feels as though there has been such pain, so much aching in the world in the last couple weeks especially.

Turkey and Syria are still reeling from the earthquakes, violence and war loom over many parts of the world, and much more locally, in more personal and intimate ways, the tragic violence at Michigan State University has touched our communities.

And, then, in our own lives, there are all of the many ways that we find ourselves hurting and struggling in broken relationships, job struggles, illness of ourselves and our loved ones.

But then, into those moments of aching and longing for healing and peace and reconciliation, even as we hold these truths, God speaks and proclaims the promise that this isn’t all there is to life and to God’s intention for creation.

Because, truth be told, the words that we proclaim on Ash Wednesday may not sound all that hope-filled. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

In reality, though, there is profound hope, a deep declaration of God’s future in those words, because God has an incredible history of working with dust.

God formed creation from the dust of the cosmos, speaking life from stardust.

God breathed life into humankind that God molded from the dust of the earth, the very world that God had made.

From the dust of the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision, God breathes new life where there had been none.

From the depths of the grave, the resurrected Jesus shook off the dust of death from his feet, and fulfilled the promise that God creates wonderful, beautiful things out of dust.

Some years ago, Gungor took up that theme of God’s creation from the dust, with a haunting tune, called “Beautiful Things.”(You can listen to the song here:

The first two verses ask the questions that wonder what God can do with the dust: “All this pain, I wonder if I’ll ever find my way? I wonder if my life could really change at all? All this earth, could all that is lost ever be found? Could a garden come up from this ground at all?”

To which the answer is given: “You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things out of us.”

The final verse proclaims the word of hope: “All around hope is springing up from this old ground. Out of chaos life is being found in You… You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things out of us.”

The solemnity, the sacredness, the holiness of this day, is deeply rooted in the reminder of our human reality: that we are mortal, made and created out of the dust to which we will, one day return.

We are in need of God’s incredible love. We are wonderfully, beautifully, imperfectly, and lovingly made.

We come from the dust—from that which, by all appearances should not be able to be formed, to have life breathed into it, and yet… God really does make beautiful things out of the dust.

God has been working with dust from the very beginning of time, and God continues to promise to work with the dust to bring forth life, hope, and promise.

This evening, this act of being marked with a cross made from dust and ashes is sacred and holy, because of this promise; that dust is not the end of God’s story, and that God will continue to work with us, to work with dust, to create life, love, and a future that leads to God’s intended vision for us and for all of God’s good creation.

Worries, worries, everywhere

This sermon was preached at the all-island ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve service, using Luke 12:22-34.

I have a confession to make: I’m a planner. A detailed planner. I make list after list after list in my head. When I am going away from home, I like to know where I am going, how long it will take, where I will stay, and what I will do or see when. I like itineraries.

Every school night, I go through my kids’ backpacks to make sure they have everything they need for the next day: School folder? Check. Water Bottle that is clean, full, and won’t leak? Check. Snack? Check. And now that we’re into winter: Hat? Gloves? Extra, dry socks? Sweatshirt? Check. Check. Check.

After the kids are in bed, then I start thinking about the other tasks ahead for the next day: mental grocery lists, household tasks, work schedules…

There was a movie that came out some years ago called “I Don’t Know How She Does It” about a successful business woman who is also raising a family, and seemingly “has it all”. Early in the movie, the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Reddy, relates how she keeps on top of things: every night when she lays down in bed, she makes a list of everything she needs to do the next day.

Y’all, I don’t think I’ve ever related to a movie character quite so much in my life as I do with her.

Planning, making mental checklists these are how I tend to structure my days. It gives me a sense of control….

Ok, so, honestly… maybe I’m less planner and more expert worrier.

And, I notice this more these days, too—as a mom of two very active little ones, I am “on alert” for possible dangers: cars, hot pots and pans, sharp scissors left within reach of little hands, stools or chairs that can be used to climb up onto a shelf to get something that was supposed to be left out of reach, like sharp scissors or leftover Halloween candy…

Then there’s the running dialogue of “good” parenting—what should I make for dinner that is both nutritious, and something the kids will agree to eat? Are they getting enough fruit? Vegetables? Do I need to stop at the store on my way home?

So yes, those mental checklists are often running somewhere in my peripheral brain activity, trying to mitigate or reduce those hiccups along the way.

But then Jesus shows up saying to his disciples, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life.”

I’m sorry. Jesus, have you met me?! I’m so good at worrying!

It’s part of who I am—this worrying, planning identity, I don’t know how to… stop.

Look! I’m even worrying about not worrying!


Sometimes, though, the worrying and the planning, becomes a bit all-consuming. It becomes distracting from what is going on. All of this mental energy goes into trying to stay on top of everything.

There’s this sense of being pulled in many different directions, particularly as we are living into this fast-paced world that drives us to be constantly moving and doing something.

But, as Kate starts to realize in “I Don’t Know How She Does It”—trying to keep it all together, means that we start to miss out on life that is happening around us.

Worrying can become almost a perpetual state of being for us.

And while I can laugh at myself for all of my worries over my worrying, Jesus’ words are an invitation to pause. We can look at our world and realize that this freedom not to worry about food or clothing or other needs is not the case for many.

We know that there are people who do not have enough, and when we see that truth, we often believe the narrative that there isn’t enough to go around, and so we need to worry—we need to scheme and plan and store up for ourselves a little cushion to make sure we have enough.

The trouble is, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not worry” about these things, after just having told the parable of the rich fool—you know, the one where the rich man plans with himself to tear down his barns in order to build bigger ones to store more goods for himself so he can “relax, eat, drink, and be merry?”

The one where God then speaks that all of this is for naught, because none of this can ensure the longevity of his life?

With this parable as background for this teaching, I think that Jesus is inviting us into a different narrative of the world.

Rather than living with this worldview of scarcity, where we believe that there isn’t enough to go around and so we must worry and store up for ourselves, Jesus is inviting us to see a world of abundance.

“Do not be afraid, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Jesus says. It is an invitation to trust in God’s desire for us to have all good things. Instead of being distracted from our worries, we are equipped to share from our own abundance, so that this truth, God’s truth can be realized in our world.

It is an invitation to be freed from our preoccupation with our sense of scarcity and our discontentment, to be freed from our hearts and minds being dominated by our worries and fears. It’s a freedom from the hungry beast that is never satiated, that always longs for more.

It is an invitation to replace the worries about what we are missing with gratitude.

It is an invitation to practice gratitude for what we have, and to work to bring God’s vision of the kingdom to reality where all have enough, here, in our world today.

It’s an invitation to let go of our worries and to extend our hands in welcome and generosity.

Because it turns out that medical research has shown that not only does worrying not add an hour to our life, but it actually decreases the length of our life.

Jesus isn’t telling us to stop caring about the things we need. This isn’t mean to tell us to shrug off having our needs met nor does it mean ignoring the needs of others. It is, after all, we cannot hear God’s love proclaimed if our bellies are grumbling in hunger.

Instead, Jesus tells us to stop focusing so much of our time and energy into worrying about if we will have enough, so that there is room for gratitude, trust, hope, and generosity in our lives.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, this day that we devote in particular, to remembering to give thanks, to show gratitude.

I think the kind of gratitude that we hunger for, is less about making lists of the things for which we are grateful, and more about living into what that gratitude means, the joy and love that gratitude opens to us.

Over this past weeked, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Governors Awards was held. Michael J Fox of Back to the Future fame was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award which is given “to an individual in the motion picture arts and sciences whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991 when he was 29 years old. In 2000, he launched his research foundation that has raised money and worked to further Parkinson’s research.

During his acceptance speech, he spoke with his usual charm and sense of humor, as he thanked those who have loved and supported him, and the work of the foundation.

He concluded his time by saying, “I am grateful to them and to you all, because my optimism is fueled by gratitude, and with gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”

Jesus invites us into this kind of gratitude—the gratitude that is life-changing, that alters our way of being, that sets aside our worries, and instead opens us to the wondrous gifts of relationships with others, to love, to mercy, grace, joy.

It’s a gratitude that counters the hurts of the world by proclaiming a message that speaks God’s truth: that we are all precious in God’s eyes, and drives us whenever we might err, to err on the side of love in all things at all times. 

This day, tomorrow on Thanksgiving, and every day to come, may we live into this truth. May we seek to move with care, gentleness, love in the world. May our gratitude overcome our worries. May we be freed to practice generosity and love one another. May we have eyes to see as God sees—with deep, profound love.

And in all things, may we give never cease to give thanks.

Easter Sunday Monologue/Sermon

This is the shortened version of the monologue that I used for the opening of the sunrise service. For the other services, I used this version, which concludes with more of a traditional sermon piece. The monologue also included experiential elements (smells, sounds, actions, images, and videos (unfortunately the videos are not able to be shared here). The video of the full monologue, beginning at 12:30 in the following link (the first 12 minutes of the video are just the livestream beginning. The Paschal candle and this monologue was the opening for the service.)

The monologue includes elements from all for gospel accounts of the resurrection, linked here:


It is early, the first day of the week. The streets that had been filled with people for the festival are nearly empty and silent.

Darkness still drapes the earth. The sun not yet risen above the horizon to cut through the fog. Without the sun’s light, everything is dim, shadowed; blurry greys, deep, dark blues and indigos. Cold. Undefined.

She, and the other women silently step out into the dark streets, drawing as little attention as they can.

It seems weeks since they had gathered to celebrate a meal, and as though it was only breaths ago. How was it already three days, and only three days?

The smell of the spices, the myrrh and ointments, they had prepared still clings to their clothes and drifts in the breeze from the jars they now carry. She clutches hers tight against her chest.  

The sound of a dropped object down one of the other streets breaks the silence and rattles in their memories reminding them of the other day, startling them.

Tears stream down their cheeks—are they from the now-stirred dust swirling at their feet or from the grief that clenches itself around their hearts?

The mocking shouts of the crowds, flash in their minds as they walk this street—the same they had walked just days before, until the memory drives them into a side street where they can continue, at least a little ways, without being surrounded by memories.

His last words still sound in their ears: “Father, into your hands, I commend myself.”

She glances at her companions, as she pulls her shawl tighter against the memory, as if the warm, soft wool can hold back the pain.

Outside the walls of the city, the air isn’t quite so heavy, though the shadow of the hill feels menacing as they walk towards their destination.

The sun’s rays ever-so-slightly peak over the horizon as they approach, more of the details of their surroundings coming into focus.

Almost collectively, they pull their shawls up around their shoulders to fend off the chill in the air—or is it just the chill in their grief-weary bones?—as they begin to look at one another, wondering what would happen when they reached their destination.

They don’t ask the question aloud, but their anxious glances communicate the unspoken fear between them. They saw the stone rolled across the entrance, they couldn’t possibly move it without help.

And what of the guards? Would there be any? If so, would they help or prevent them from going into the body?

The breath catches in their throats, fearing they won’t be able to provide this one, last act of care.

They draw closer, footsteps slower, heavier, yearning for the journey to be done and at the same time, unsure they want it to come to an end, for the last few days to be even-more-final.

Something about the shadows stops her in her tracks, halting her steps. The others stop with her, as they, too, look up ahead.

She squints to look more intently at the sun’s rays on the large rock, it’s position not as she remembered it.

She holds her breath in anticipation and in that instant, she feels—they feel—the earth rattle and shake expectantly, as if the very earth were being moved from its hinges in anticipation. Was the quake real? Did they imagine it?

Their eyes widen as they glance at one another an unspoken word between them as they move in unison—their steps quick now as they rush toward the tomb.

She’s running now, and her shawl breaks free of her grip and floats off behind her—forgotten in her rush to reach the tomb.

Is it? Can it be?

Yes! The stone has indeed been moved—but why? For what purpose?

The sun has dawned, warming the cold rock and dust beneath their feet. Sunlight shines ever-more brightly; colors coming into sharper, detailed focus: the browns and reds and tans of the sand and stones; greens of branches of the trees that dot the landscape; brilliant blues of the sky, just a few specks of white clouds; deep, fiery reds and oranges cast by the sun.

Hope and horror, expectation and fear, intertwine, quickening the breath in her lungs. She gets there first, half a breath before her companions to peer inside.

It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness inside. It takes another moment to take in what she sees—the linen strips that had wrapped his body lying there, the cloth that had covered his head rolled up, lying at the place where his head should be.

A flood of emotions overwhelm them in that split second. Has someone stolen his body?

He said this would happen. He promised he would be raised from the dead. But… can it be? Can one who has died be restored to life? It happened with Lazarus. The centurion’s daughter.

She looks at her friends, all of them, eyes wide, uncertainty mixed with hope. Do they dare to hope?

A voice from the shadows speaks softly, “Do not be afraid.” They turn as the darkness is flooded with warm, bright light, brighter and warmer and somehow, softer, than the light of the sun, that pours into her heart comfort and peace, even with the shock.

“He is not here. He has been raised.”

Fear, wonder, and joy unite; entwined in a dance in their hearts—they run to tell what they have seen.

She stays behind, her mind still racing as the tears flow afresh. Does she dare to hope, while the pain is still so fresh in bones, her heart, her spirit?


Her name. Tender. Firm. Assuring. Through her tears, she can’t make out the voice’s source, but she knows to whom it belongs, even though she cannot yet see clearly.

In that one word, in hearing her name spoken by his voice, joy floods in. The grief and horror of the days prior are swept away with the tears she now wipes from her eyes. Joy in abundance pours out of her.

He     is     Alive.

Now she is running again. Her feet barely touching the ground as she rushes from the tomb, the warm glare of the sun beating down, the very earth seeming to dance in elation that today’s Sonrise has revealed.

She catches up to the others, shouting with joy as she rushes past, “He is risen! He is alive!” her footfalls quick and light, declaring with her every breath the good news as she runs.

He is alive.


There is a quote in the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke about how lovely it is to re-read a story that you have already read before.  She writes, “Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…” “Stories never really end… even if the books like to pretend they do. Stories always go on. They don’t end on the last page, any more than they begin on the first page.”

So it is with scripture, too. I noticed those sounds and smells of the resurrection stories in a new way these past couple of weeks—new and still the same, vibrant and vivid.

With scripture, even when we have the story of wonder over and over again, every time we come back to it, we find new feelings, thoughts, sounds and smells. The story never really ends, and we find ourselves invited into it to discover, and rediscover over and over again the ways in which scripture speaks into our lives and hearts today.

With Mary and the women, we come, catching glimpses, flashes of memories, pieces of the story both familiar and new, groping to make sense of the mysteries we cannot fully understand or explain. We see the story told to us in pieces and we sense the urgency and the confusion, the joy and the wonder.

Do we, too, dare to come to the tomb, carrying the weight of our griefs, fears, doubts, guilt and shame, and the joy ofour hopes and dreams?

Do we dare to stand at the threshold of the empty tomb, stunned and amazed, certain and questioning, our breath catching in our throats, doubts and wonderment, expectation and anticipation, flowing through us at once, knowing and still not yet fully understanding?

Today, we, too, have come to the tomb, carrying it all, our lives a complex web, of joy and sorrow, to hear God’s promises and assurances proclaimed.

We come with our hurt and pain heavy in our bones, our hearts, our spirits. We come with the burden of our sins, bearing our brokenness, laying them at the foot of the cross, and then invited leave, freed of it all by Jesus, the Christ.

We come and hear God’s messengers speak: “Do not be afraid. Do not seek the living among the dead. He is not here. He is alive! Go, share the good news that the one who had died is living—and that this promise is now made true for you!”

Today, we, like Mary, hear Jesus speak our name. We, too, step into this moment where the world is seemingly unchanged and in the same moment changed beyond our ability to comprehend.

We hear Jesus speak our name, assuring us that life and God and hope have won, that we are changed. All is made new; we, you, are made new to live in Christ’s abundance.

Like Peter and the disciples, we do not yet fully understand, or fully know what to do with this news, and yet the gift of Love’s work is done, and offered, unceasing, and certain.

Like them, like the women and Peter and the other disciples, we exist in the paradox of the finality of death and the certainty of the resurrection, filled with awe that both can be true at the same time.

Today we come to receive the gifts of water, wine, and bread, offered for us in incredible abundance with the assurance and the declaration that in Christ, life and love, forgiveness and mercy are ours.

Today, we, too, come to the empty tomb, with all that we are lain bear before the risen Christ who calls us by name and invites us to go out and proclaim in the world, with all our doubts and questions, with all our hopes and joys, with all our wonder and amazement, with all that we are, “I have seen the risen Lord! He is alive!”

Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It is Good for Us to be Here: A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

Sermon from February 27, 2022 Transfiguration Sunday. Scripture reading:

While I was in seminary studying to become a pastor, I took a class about pastoral piety and spirituality. In one of the sessions, we were discussing the importance of having a well-grounded prayer life.

We talked about the ways that prayer builds relationship and communication with God the Divine, and how prayer is transformational.

During that class, someone shared a story that buried itself in my heart and that has become a part of my own understanding of prayer. The story was about a friend who had gotten sick. When the community learned of the friend’s illness, all came together to surround their friend in prayer.

Each person prayed fervently for their friend to be made well and for his wife and family to have the help and support they needed with meals, to get to doctor’s appointments, and to have emotional support in their difficult journey.

Time and again, they would lift their friend in prayer, hoping that help would come, and it seemed over and over again as if God wasn’t helping their friend and they could not understand why. Finally, the one who was sharing this story with us said that it was as if God whispered into his ear, “Have you considered that maybe you are my answer to your prayers?”

He said it was as if the fog was lifted from his vision, and he realized that the prayers he had been praying for his friend… well, some of them were prayers to which God was calling him to be the answer. He could help with meals. He could help drive his friend to the doctor, he could sit with his friend’s wife and be a loving presence and shoulder to lean on.

A professor of mine articulated it as prayer transforming us, prayer changing our hearts, prayer opening our eyes to God’s invitation to help “give daily bread” to the hungry; to be courageous enough as we pray to know that God might be calling upon us to be the answer to those prayers; that God might whisper into our ears, “Have you considered that maybe you are my answer to your prayers?”

The ways in which prayer can shape us and transform us stood out to me this week as I was reading the gospel passage from Luke. Transfiguration Sunday, admittedly, isn’t often my favorite Sundays to preach, but I noticed in a new way a small detail that Luke includes in his telling of the Transfiguration. In Luke, Jesus is transfigured while the disciples are heavy with sleep, and while he is praying.

Jesus specifically goes up the mountain to pray, and as he is praying, he is transformed and God’s glory shines in and through him. It is in prayer that Jesus is transfigured, and God’s glory shines through.

Peter, John, and James witness this transformation in their presence and are awed. They are given a front-row seat in an encounter with the divine. They see the glory of God emanating from Jesus, and Peter declares that “It is good for us to be here!”

We have a tendency to laugh at Peter for sticking his foot in his mouth. He tends to do that a lot. And often, I think we laugh at Peter’s propensity to say foolish things because it makes it easier when we do it. We often get wrapped up in the excitement and speak too quickly, making Peter feel so relatable.

And I admit, even at our Bible study at Luther Haus a few days ago, I was, again, laughing at Peter. “Silly Peter. You can’t stay on the mountaintop!”

But for all of our laughter at Peter, and for all of the times that he really does get it wrong, reading this story again and again these last few days, I’m not sure Peter is wrong here. I’m not really sure this is Peter speaking thoughtlessly and sticking his foot in his mouth, because in those other instances, Jesus rebukes him… but not here.

I think that’s because in this case, Peter is right. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” Yes, Peter! It is! It is good to be in God’s presence, to see God’s glory radiating on this mountain.

We know that it can’t be like this all the time. We know that we cannot stay on the mountaintop. We know that as good as it is for us to be gathered here in worship, that God is always calling us back out into the world to love and care for a world that is aching and broken and longing to be made whole. We know, that back down off that mountain, there is a boy who needs to be healed and work to be done.

We know this. Peter is right, it is good for us to be here.

It’s ok that we, like Peter don’t always get it right. For that matter, it’s ok that like Peter we don’t even often get it right. But Peter’s words are true: it is good to be in Jesus’ presence, in God’s radiant glory, to see God’s overflowing over-abounding love and grace.

Yes friends, it is good to be here. But, it is also true that we cannot stay here, that we are invited to be transformed by our encounter, to be transformed by our prayers, to be transformed by our experience with Jesus to go out into our world to heal and touch and carry that experience, that good news of God’s love, to others.

Jesus comes back down the mountain and the next day, a desperate father comes to him to have his son healed. It may seem that this story is unconnected to Jesus’ transfiguration the day before, but I think, maybe, that isn’t true.

Jesus has just been, again, proclaimed God’s Son, God’s chosen, and his disciples told to “listen to him!”, echoing that same declaration that came at his baptism in the Jordan. He has been transfigured and transformed while he has been praying. The disciples, though amazed, though Peter declares this moment as good and holy, don’t get it.

They are not yet transformed by this experience.

They are unable to heal the boy, and they still aren’t ready to listen, to really listen and hear. In the passage that follows where we stopped today, Jesus will again speak of his coming death, and still “They did not understand this saying” (Luke 9:45), and rather than trying to understand, “An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest.”

Even those who had seen God’s glory, who had witnessed that moment on the mountaintop whose beginning happened with Jesus’ prayer, don’t yet understand.

God’s glory is revealed in that moment on the mountaintop, but they have yet to be transformed by the encounter. And still we see ourselves, our human brokenness, in them. We, too, have encountered the divine, and hardened our hearts and not really been transformed.

We have not been transformed for kindness and compassion. We continue to act with hubris and self-importance, putting ourselves before others.

We continue, as the disciples did, to argue over who among us is the greatest. We have not learned to love our enemies. We continue to judge. We have not listened to Jesus.

And so we come here to pray and worship. And God continues to work in our hearts to transform us. To make us kinder. Gentler. More-loving. To help us listen a little more to Jesus.

Yes, it is good to be here, to come to this place, this particular mountaintop at the corner of Jackman and Sterns, to see God’s glory shining through Jesus just a little more clearly, to be reminded of who God is and of God’s transformative power.

It is good to be here, to pray as Jesus did; to pray fervently, ardently, for God’s creation that God, from its very foundations, proclaimed “good”, too.

It is good to be here, and to be reminded over and over again that God loves us and is with us and is constantly at work transforming and healing and bringing hope.

It is good to be here, to pray. It is good to be here, to be reminded that God invites us into the story, invites us to be transformed by Jesus’ grace. It is good to be here, to have God whisper into our hearts and minds, “Hey! My beloved! Have you considered that maybe you are my answer to your prayers?”

Beloved, it is true that it is good to be here. It is also true that we cannot stay here. But we are invited back week after week, to be fed and nourished at Christ’s table, to be surrounded by others to help us hear and witness to God’s love, to be welcomed with grace and reminded that even if we are not yet ready to be, God is here working on our hearts to transform us, with all that we are, our doubts, our fears, our cares.

We are invited to hear God’s Word proclaimed to help us listen to Jesus just a little more closely, to have the Spirit work in our hearts to help us understand, if even in tiny glimpses.

We come to this place, broken, hurting, longing to hear God’s love proclaimed “for you!”.

In the waters of our baptisms, we are claimed and loved, and told that God’s love is given “for you.” At the table we hear that this is Christ’s body broken and given “for you”, this is Christ’s blood, shed and offered “for you”. We are reminded that God’s love is “for you”, for me, for all.

We see God’s glory shine through the cracks of our own brokenness here, not so that we can stay in this place, but so that we can carry that light out into a broken and hurting world.

No matter how far we stray, God invites us back to the places where we see Christ’s glory most fully revealed, so that we might be transformed by our encounter with Christ. Our world is filled with brokenness and hurt.

It is filled with broken and hurting people, and still we are invited to be touched and changed by God’s grace, to see God’s love shining through the cracks of the broken places, to recognize God at work around us and in us, and to let God’s love shine through us, too.

We are invited to hear God whisper, “Have you considered that maybe I am inviting you to be the answer to prayer?”

It is good for us to be here. Amen.