Cowboy Jesus?

A Sermon for Proper 9; 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

(Listen to at

Cowboys ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold
They’d rather give you a song then diamonds or gold
Lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levi’s
and each night begins a new day
If you don’t understand him and he don’t die young
He’ll probably just ride away

Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love

Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornin’s
Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night
Them that don’t know him won’t like him
And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him
He ain’t wrong he’s just different
But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right

Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love
Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such

I have heard Willie Nelson sing Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys for almost as I can remember caring about music. But because I had a hard time hearing them, I never could understand many words other than the chorus line. So, it wasn’t a surprise when the divine muse whispered that song title when I read this morning’s gospel. But, when I looked up the lyrics it was a surprise how relevant they are. And no, I’m not saying Jesus was a cowboy, but still, there are few lines that are worthy of thought.

Our first line is

 ‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone Even with someone they love.

We don’t think much about children growing up, leaving home and making their way into the world. Of the five of us

  • one lives in the same county,
  • a second lives in metro Atlanta,
  • a third lives in the state,
  • I live 3 to 5 states away, depending on how you drive and
  • another lives half a country away.

We are not unusual. In Jesus day it was unusual to leave your village. It happened, there was a large Jewish population who lived across the world; however, the expectation was you stayed in the village where you were born. Jesus’ village is so convinced of his ordinariness that it is hard for them to believe in his amazing teaching (Harrelson). They know him as a carpenter, a local craftsman, not an educated person. For him to attempt to rise above his established social position creates resentment (Perkins). Like the cowboy, Jesus never stays home.

Jesus is also often alone, even with the people he loves, and who love him. He is alone in his hometown; his family and friends can still love him even when they are resentful. And how often is Jesus alone as his disciples, his twelve chosen followers, completely miss the point. How lonely is he when they fall asleep in the garden? How lonely is he when one by one all twelve desert him?

A second line that caught my eye is

Them that don’t know him won’t like him. And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him.

It is true that many who don’t know Jesus don’t like him. Almost all the Jewish leaders don’t like him. There are those people who approach him, but most of them have some need they believe he can help them with, I wonder how that translates to like? And as we hear this morning, even those that do know him don’t always know how to take him.

A final line to explore is

He ain’t wrong he’s just different. But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.

Jesus is different. Being sometimes known as The Son of God makes you different. Jesus’ deeds of power make him different in a visible way. However, it is his teachings that make him different in ways that disturb people. His teachings are counter to long-held values and they challenge values that give people some privilege. People don’t like to have their privileges challenged. So yes, Jesus is different.

We need to make a little adjustment with the next bit because it is not Jesus’ pride, but his dedication to God’s ministry that

 won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.

But I’m caught by the phrase “you think.” The cowboy’s family and friends want him to change. Jesus family and friends want him to change. I’m not at all sure we don’t want Jesus to change. However, we’ve all got it backward, it is us who need to change. I can’t speak to the cowboy’s ways, but I know for certain, that Jesus’ ways, as uncomfortable as they make us, are right.

As I am writing, or perhaps in the midst of a somewhat unusual listening to the muse session, I’m beginning to hear

Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be evangelist, disciples, or ministers

I’m not quite sure what to do with picking guitars, but at least around here old trucks still fit. I’m wondering why we value doctors and lawyers and such over cowboys, and prophets and such. I suspect it has to do with part 2 to this morning’s gospel story. Jesus and his crew leave Nazareth. He sends them out in groups of two. In part for safety, travel was dangerous in those days; but also, because it takes two to be a credible witness (Deut. 17:6; 19:15) (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus sends them out to heal, to testify to the truth of God’s love and to call out evil (Peters).

Now as mamas and papas, we would be proud of our babies who grow up to be doctors or other healing professional. As mommas and papas, we would be proud of our of babies who grow up to be lawyers or other professionals that value truth and justice. As mamas and papas, we might be proud of our babies who grow up to call out evil; but we would certainly be leery because we all know calling out evil is a dangerous business. We don’t understand it, in part because it is never done from a place of power (Peters). Naming evil is an act of faith. We cannot control God’s power, so calling out evil is ultimately an act of trust that God is present will protect (Epperly). It requires us, as Paul says, to accept God’s grace as sufficient, and that divine power is perfected in what everyone else sees as weakness.

Most of us might be willing to trust God, and grace with ourselves. But I’ll confess the hardest thing I have ever done is to trust God with my kids. I know grace is sufficient, but it is invisible, it is mystical, it is ultimately unknowable, and therefore unjudgable, by any human standards. To trust those we love the most to the internal and mystical runs absolutely counter to all we learn from our perceptible and visible world, it is just different, it is hard to accept, it brings us to the very edge of our relationship with God.

And now I find myself with another unexpected realization. I can’t recall any bible stories about smokies pool rooms or puppies, but Jesus does like clear mountain mornings, children, and ladies of the night. I’m wondering if there is more cowboy to Jesus than I at first expected. And that has me thinking that if we seek to raise our children to be like Jesus, perhaps we should let them grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls. They may not be understood, they may wander far from home, they may know lonely times, they may be different, their dedication may make them hard-headed. On the other hand, they may sing a new song; they may sing to the Lord, to all the earth, a song that: is a blessing the Lord’s name; tells of salvation, declares God’s his glory to the nations, and God’s marvelous works among all the peoples. (Psalms 96:1-3) as they heal the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those in prison (Matt 25:35), and proclaim the love of God revealed in the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Who knows they may even cast out demons, as with prophetic voices, speaking hard truth, they call out evil.

I am beginning to wonder how to tell my mama I’m off to find my own inner cowboy. You are welcome to come along for the ride.


Bruce, Ed and Patsy Bruce. “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys lyrics ©.” Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, n.d.

David, W. Peters. “Hometown, Pentecost 7 (B).” 8 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 8 7 2018. <;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings. “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” By Ed and Patty Bruce. n.d. You Tube. 8 7 2018. < >.






Make the Difference 

A sermon for Proper 8 and Independence Day; 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

I have all kinds of 4th of July memories

  • family friends coming over to swim and eat abundant hamburgers and hot dogs
  • community picnics at the park pavilion going to parades on Peachtree St. my brother in a wheelchair, and  seeing the crowds part  giving us a front-row view, then after my brother was well  us kids wanting to keep the wheelchair  so we could keep getting the good places
  • at seminary the Sewanee 4th of July parade that always invited all kids to decorate their bikes and ride along.  One year our youngest wanted to ride so we helped her, then somewhere along the way one nut that held the back wheel tight got loose:  we struggled to tighten it, but I did not have enough hand strength:  suddenly the owner of the house we were in front of showed up with a wrench and in a minute, our daughter was back in the parade.

I think that is my favorite of all because it is a small, but such a powerful example of what freedom means. It is a simple but powerful example of how we are interrelated. I’m convinced it is not the big efforts that make the difference, but the rather the accumulation of the small efforts, beyond counting, that makes the difference in who we are.

You know my focus on faith and healthcare and I expect you expect me to say something about the two healing stories from Mark. They are good stories, with lots to share. But, the divine muse leads me to Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.

Corinth was a particularly prosperous city and so was the church there (Keener and Walton). Paul notes that they are rich in knowledge, giftedness, faith, earnestness, and love. He continues that it be a shame if the only area where they did not excel was in their charitable giving. He refers to God’s gift of manna where no one had too much, and no one had too little (Ex `6:18) (Hoezee). The phrase giving “according to what one has” is a reference to the making of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 35:21-29). In this effort, everyone brought from what they had. Some brought precious metals or gems, some yarn or linen, some wood, some spices or oils, and other skills:  weaving, metalworking, carpentry and so on (Gaventa and Petersen). Both are foundational stories for Jews and us, are similar to our country’s foundational stories, George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Paul Revere’s ride. These stories subtly define who we seek to be.

Paul is saying that our abundance is not solely personal and should be used with consideration to the needs of others (Epperly).  Grounding the call to generosity in Jesus making others rich …  by [being] a beggar, by being one of the disgusting have-nots, and by giving out of his nothingness (Fredrickson)  makes it clear that giving to help meet the needs of the poor is a theological, spiritual concern, not a mere economic calculation (Hoezee).

I was drawn to the verse

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (NRSV Luke 12:48).

 It sounds like Luke is saying the same thing Paul is. Close. It comes from the end of the parable of The Faithful and the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 12:41). It shines the Gospel light on our daily practices and our consideration of God and divine plans. The foolish steward did not consider God or divine plans (Harrelson). The parable reveals that God’s reign is opposite to our cultural values of allegiance and economics, that reject concerns for those on social or economic margins  (Gaventa and Petersen). While this parable is not concerned with charity it does enlighten Jesus teachings about making charitable decisions.

All this comes together with my 4th of July memories in how we relate to each other. In the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot in the news about international trade and tariffs. One thing I keep hearing is that the economy is deeply interrelated. Many US companies buy products from overseas to make products they sell here and overseas. In an article, I read this week, and I cannot remember the source, but the phrase won’t go away, the author wrote the world economy is no longer interrelated; it is interdependent. Both Paul and Luke speak to how we are more than related to each other we are dependent on each other. A principle in the Anglican world is the that of mutual respect (responsibility) and interdependence. Each national church within the communion respects all other national churches and each acknowledges that we are all interdependent on each other. It emerged after WWII as part of the effort to eliminate power down relationships between the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church with emerging third world national Churches. In the last few decades we have struggled, especially over issues of gender and sexuality, however, the processes are still in existence, and it has made, it is making a difference.

Both liberal and conservative thinking has wandered far away from the truth that we are interdependent on each other. Both overemphasize their preferred ideologies of individualism, sometimes on personal expression, sometimes on personal possessions. Both of those are important, but neither of them is a defining principle of who we are, as God’s children, or as the continuing presence of Christ’s ministry as the church.  We are made ’âḏâm, humankind, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27) and all other differences we perceive in the image of God.  We are not complete without each other.

And here I do come to a principle of faith and health care. In both the miracle stories we heard this morning Jesus does heal. He heals the woman and heals Jairus’ daughter. But there is much more than physical restoration. He calls the woman daughter.  Because of here bleeding she has been unclean, and therefore, forbidden to be in her community, she could not even go to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to bring about healing. Calling her daughter restores her to her community, her healing is complete. The woman does not seek to follow Jesus.  There are lots of possible implications here, one of which is her community needs her.

After healing Jairus’ daughter, Jesus gives her back to her parents by telling them to give her something to eat. This is often interpreted as proof she is not a ghost. I think he is restoring the parent-child relationship by reestablishing the parent-child responsibility of care by having the parents feed her.  Jairus seeking out Jesus to heal his daughter, and remember in his culture daughters are not highly valued, shows how he is dependent on her to be complete.

In both stories, the continuing relationship will be challenging. The daughter is 12, and I don’t think teen – parent relationships are all that different today than they were in Jesus day. The woman has suffered much and been subject to social exclusion. It will be difficult for both her and the community to reestablish a normal relationship. However, both stories have already introduced the necessary ability. Jesus tells the woman her faith has made her well. Jesus tells Jairus “do not fear, only believe.” ‘Faith’ and ‘believe’ are the same word in Hebrew. Both indicate, relying on, trusting in the presence of God to provide what is necessary to know shalom, wholeness, in the challenges that the woman, that Jairus, that you that we face.

The world needs healing, we need shalom. Each person, every community, small or large, hamlet or nation, has an abundance of traits or possessions that another lack. Therefore, every person, every community has the opportunity to share “according to [their] means” (2 Cor 8:11). And that is not easy to do, because it requires everyone to know everyone one else as a child of God and therefore worthy of our shared abundance. It also requires everyone to acknowledge that we are lacking some vital means or another, often it is one that someone or some community deemed undesirable or worthy, has to share with us. Such mutual respect, such mutual interdependence requires faith, and belief. Mark shares with us stories of such faith and belief. Paul shares with us the truth of abundance and charity in our lives. The psalmist shares with us that “with the Lord there is mercy” (Ps.130:6). The need is here. The abundance is here. I’m convinced it is not the big efforts that make the defining difference, but rather it is the accumulation of the small efforts beyond counting that makes the difference in who we are, as individuals, and as a community.

Our challenge is  to believe that we can act,  within our means,  by faith,  trusting in the grace of God,  known in Jesus,  by the Spirit  often by the accumulation  of the small efforts,  beyond counting,  that makes the difference  so that all the people  of this and every land  may have liberties  in righteousness and peace  right here, right now  (The Episcopal Church 242).


Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 7 2018. <;.

Fredrickson, David E. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. 6 9 2015. <>.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Epistle – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. 1 7 2018. <;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Logue, Frank. “A Beloved Child of God, Pentecost 6 (B).” 1 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.




An acceptable time

A sermon for Proper 7; 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49, Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

These last three weeks have been ones of remembrances. This morning’s gospel story is Jesus and the disciples sailing across the sea to Galilee. It always reminds me of an early adventure with Angie. We went to a nearby lake with some friends. Someone brought a small 12-foot Sunfish sailboat. It was a good day to sail, with a good steady breeze, so, I asked her if she’d like to go sailing, and she said yes. We got on the Sunfish, Angie sitting amidship and me at the rudder. We enjoy a brisk ride across the mouth of the cove. Then it came time to turn around. I carefully told Angie to watch out for the boom as it would swing around pretty quickly. I pushed the rudder to the right, the Sunfish turned as expected, Angie gracefully duck as the boom swung when the wind changed directions. It was perfect, ~ until the boom clipped me on the shoulder and knocked me off the stern. After my lifejacket popped me back to the surface, and she could see I was safe, Angie broke out in righteous laughter. It really was funny.

Another remembrance of the last weeks, was our trip to the beach, with most of my entire extended family, let’s see 36 of the 44 of us were there. We have been going to the beach ever since I can remember. Until my siblings and I were in college we went every year. Now as our families include other families we go every even-numbered year. In 2010 we were ready to leave the Alabama Gulf coast when we learned Angie’s sister in law died, so we went to Williamsburg to her funeral, then to Litchfield Beach. On Thursday we learned her uncle had died, so we drove to Roanoke to his funeral, then back home. This year Angie’s aunt died. Only we had driven down with our daughter and her family, and we didn’t have proper clothes, so we drove home a day early, repacked and drove to Roanoke for her funeral. I am quite sure we will continue to go to the beach; however, I suspect we may feel leeriness in 2026.

The third remembrance is Jeff Session quoting Romans 13:1

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God (NSRV)

as a justification for the zero-tolerance enforcement of immigration law, resulting in the separation of children from their parents. There have been all sorts of articles, columns, Facebook postings, with all manner of opinion. One that caught my eye was Melissa Florer-Bixler’s reflection on her Sunday School class discussion.

[They are] Anabaptists, Mennonites who are descendants of an illegal breakaway from the Catholic Church. Early Anabaptists were hunted down, drowned, tortured, and burned for the anti-government action of baptizing one another upon confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This was a political act, one that defied the authorities of the day (Florer-Bixler).

They ponder how to respond to Session’s use of scripture. They note how Paul has experienced all sorts of hostility from government and religious officials. They explore how he may be saying God is control of everything, and all human institutions, including Caesars, King, and governments are divine puppets on a string. They consider how the verse may be a warning against religious zealotry, leading people to refuse to pay their taxes. They even venture into the idea that chapter 13 is a smuggling operation, saying … the correct words that would allow his letter to successfully make its way through the empire’s checkpoints (Florer-Bixler). Most powerful is her noting that in their circle are:

  • A woman who escaped religious persecution in Russia as an infant
  • A man who watched his daughter struggle through mental illness and addiction
  • A widow who nursed her husband through a slow death from cancer, and
  • Two doctors who have spent their careers working at clinics for indigent patients.

She writes it is from these lives where biblical interpretation is to take place, how the words of the bible are meaningful in the questions and challenges of the day (Florer-Bixler).

When I heard Mr. Session’s comment I was first drawn to Leviticus 19, which is a reading from a recent Morning Prayer. It is part of the Holiness Code, a guide for life for Israel. A sort of extended Ten Commandments. Its instructions include

 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: (Leviticus 19:9-10).

which we rarely hear. My favorite ignored verse is:

you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials. (Leviticus 19:19).

 it goes against modern farming practices and makes it difficult to get dressed; most everything we wear is some sort of blended fabric. However, the relevant verse is

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34).


And here, we come back to my falling off the boat, and Jesus sailing with his disciples across to “the other side.” This is the first jolt to the disciples.

It is Jesus first venture into Galilee, a land of the gentiles, a hostile land of an undeserving people with no rights to the Messianic promises (Francois III).

We are comfortable thinking about divine justice. We’d just as soon avoid Jesus’ intrusive call to the other side, where stigmatized, marginalized, and demonized people live. [To] shores … populated by others (Francois III). The truth is that we learn to see and know God/Jesus/Spirit in the presence of the other, the people not like us, the alien.

The challenge in today’s reading is our response to the Trump Administration, whether we support its policies and actions, or detest them. All of us are called to sail to the other side with open hearts (2 Cor 6:13). Psalm 9 verse 16 reads The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the question is, are we?

The last remembrance for today is Paul’s letter to Philemon. It is only 25 verses. In it Paul tells Philemon he is returning his runaway slave Onesimus. Paul describes his relationship with Philemon; how he considered commanding Philemon to let Onesimus stay, but instead bases his appeal on Paul’s and Philemon’s mutual love. Paul asks that Philemon receive Onesimus back,

no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord (Philemon 1:16).

Paul’s argument goes to the farthest shore. In this morning’s reading from 2 Corinthians, he argues that the true basis for all our relationships includes everyone’s relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit in whose image all of us, Christian or Gentile, resident or alien are made. Drawing on Psalm 69 (vs 13) Paul quotes God

At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation, I have helped you (2 Corinthians 6:2).

 and goes on to say now is acceptable time, now is a time of salvation.

Now is an acceptable time to be the servants of God we are called to be. It is not simply about not tearing families apart; it is about how everyone treats everyone else. It is about who we elect as our representatives in God’s designated governance, which is to promote the presence of the kingdom not US values or America first, but divine values, and God’s is always first.

The vessels of our lives seem to be in a great storm and all sorts of waves are beating into that in which we place our lives. It is easy to perceive that Jesus is asleep, that God/Jesus/Spirit is indifferent to the threat that we are perishing. The calling ~ is to have faith to trust. The same Jesus who rebukes the wind and calms the sea, will still the storms of your lives and bring peace. The calling is to extend that divine calm and peace to those who live on or journeyed from other shores, in our prayers, in our words, in our actions, and in our governance.


Florer-Bixler, Melissa. “How Jeff Sessions reads Romans 13 and how my.” 15 6 2018. <>.

Francois III, Willie Dwayne. “June 24, Ordinary 12B (Mark 4:35-41).” 6 6 2018. <>.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.




Plentiful Words, Rare Truth

A Sermon for Proper 4; 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6

Just a week or so ago the NFL owners meeting ended. They adopted several rule changes. One involves kickoffs, during which 40% of concussions occur. Another is that it is now a penalty for a player to lead with their helmet when tackling. These are designed to improve the safety for players. Another change involves rule about players not standing during National Anthem. You may remember the controversy this has caused the last year or so. It is interesting how the actions of a few define all the players. We rarely hear about other kinds of actions by NFL players in regular news. On Facebook, I recently read of two. In one a player helped a lady who was having difficulty paying the $50 fee for her oversized bag. He stepped forward and paid it for her. She offered to repay him with the cash she had, he simply replied, “Use it to pay it forward for someone else.” Another player noticed an elderly woman having trouble getting her bag from the overhead compartment. He got it down for her and carried to the front of the plane. The flight attendant told her the wheelchair and escort would be waiting for her, to take her to lobby. They got to the terminal, there was the wheelchair, but no attendant. So, he pushed her in the wheelchair, to the lobby where her daughter met her. Both these stories were posted by others who saw the behavior. It is a combination of stories, some controversial, some in service to others, and other things as well, that paints the truer image of NFL players.

This morning’s reading from 1 Samuel is the same. The appointed verses are the story of Samuel hearing God’s call and with Eli’s help, answering “Speak Lord, for your servant is here.” It sounds like a prophetic call story, but it does not have the typical structure of a prophetic call. (Birch). However, the optional verses and the story in Chapter 2 (2:11-17 and 22 – 34) tell the rest of the story. Eli’s sons are moral and spiritual hooligans. (Bratt). They grossly abuse their priestly office for their self-interest. It is no surprise then that all Israel does as they see fit (Bratt). The prophecy, by a stranger, in chapter 2 is against Eli and his priestly lineage. The word God tells Samuel to tell Eli repeats that prophecy. These verses reveal the complete story of what is happening here (Birch).

This story is more than Samuel coming of age and taking his first step in service to God. This is a story of a time when the Word of God was rare, and visions were uncommon (Birch). It is significant that Samuel has no basis on which to recognize the Lord’s summons (Birch). His failure to recognize God’s call mirrors the Israelites’ continually ignoring God’s voice (Bratt).

I do not believe God’s word or divine visions are rare these days. Quite the opposite. Doug Bratt puts it this way It’s increasingly hard to actually hear God speaking. It’s hard to untangle so much of the noise that our culture makes from God’s Word of Life. So many people claim to speak for God that we need some kind of good theological filter. The cacophony, the noise of so many competing voices is a sign that there is more at stake in our public, political, religious, and civic institutional decision making, that what the arguments are about. What is at stake is

  • who we are,
  • how we talk to one another,
  • what we model to the world, and
  • how we respect our foundational institutions and values (Friedman).

In describing the fall of one more respected public figure, connected to handling an exploitive sexual relationship, Ross Douthat writes

the big story … is a high-stakes showdown between two generations. Both generations are theologically conservative, but the figures raising their voices … have been —associated with a vision of their church that’s more countercultural, less wedded to the institutional [alliances], more likely to see racial reconciliation as essential …

[T]he temptation to dismiss discomfiting revelations as fake news, to retreat back into ignorance and self-justification, is at least as powerful as the impulse to really reckon with the truth.

[T]he question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge? (Douthart).

It may well be, that as in Samuel’s day, like Israel, many in our world simply do as they seem fit (Bratt).

I do not think it matters if you use an Ignatian concept of the Spiritual Examen (Ashley). or Lectio Divina, or African Bible Study, or some other form of discipline to discern God’s calling or vision. I do believe an indicator of whose voice you are hearing is how it leads you to lead others to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

The story of Samuel coming to know the Lord is a stark reminder that there are no guarantees that our call will be easy. Every time has its own peculiarities and God-filled silences and cacophonies. Each of us is called to be a prophet, in our own way. That call includes continually listening for the Voice, and then to speak what we hear (Bridgeman). To faithfully hear and speak takes a willingness to get out of the way, to hear without editing, to act, and then take responsibility for our response to what we have heard (Epperly). To be a prophet involves an openness to the advice and wisdom of others who might help us in discerning God’s call. (Birch). But whether we are prophetic or not our words, our actions, or lack of words or action, plays a part in others coming to recognize the voice of the Lord and divine visions.

None of this is easy. And as strange as it may seem, it is Eli who models this kind of self-awareness, and openness to God’s word. The judgment against him and his sons is harsh. It can never be expiated, can never be atoned for, never be corrected by sacrifice, or offering (1 Samuel 3:14. And though Eli is neither corrupt nor unfaithful, he accepts divine judgement, rather than seeking self-interest, when he says, “It is the Lord.”

It is hard to accept and harder to speak truths that challenge what we like and what benefits us. I think this is the source of all the turmoil in response to black ballplayers kneeling rather than standing as the National Anthem is sung. I expect we try to define the prophetic role as predicting the future and not speaking hard truths, because speaking the hard truth is lots harder, and personally costly. Today’s Psalm is clear

It is a fearful thing and a loving thing to know that God has searched me and known me, sits with me, rises with me, sees my path, and knows all my ways, is behind me and before me, lays a hand upon me (The Living Church).

The psalmist provides us a powerful, source of strength and hope wherever we go, we are in God’s care: no emotional, spiritual, or geographical state can take us beyond God’s presence (Epperly).

 A final observation. In all the prophets’ words about harsh truth and oncoming disaster, there is always a word of hope and a path to God’s presence. The same is true here. The reading ends

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:19-20).

You know I am fond of saying “The Kingdom of God is right here right now.” I know this is especially true as we accept our prophetic voice and name the evils where we are, such that all God’s people may know and show justice, mercy, and humility, to each other and before God.


Ashley, Danáe. “Bread, Law, and Spirit, Pentecost 2 (B).” 3 6 2018. Sermons that Work.

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 4B 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20). 3 6 2018. <;.

Bridgeman, Valerie. “Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20].” 3 6 2018. <;.

Douthart, Ross. “The Baptist Apocalypse.” 30 5 2018. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 6 2018. <;.

Friedman, Thomas L. “Sounding Code Red: Electing.” 29 5 2018. New York Times. <;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Nelson, Thomas. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. Righteousness and Mercy. 3 6 2018. <>.



A Move, DNA, and Moral Heroes: Toward an understanding of Trinity

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday; Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

You may know that Angie and I have sold our house on W Pecan and are moving to Westminster Village. The grand adventure started Monday a week ago with a project to reconfigure and expanded the fenced in area of our new backyard. Even with a late start, Monday was a good day. Marcel, our nephew who is helping us, and I

  • took down two sections of existing fence,
  • dug 5 new post holes, and
  • planted 5 new posts.

Tuesday was another late start, with a supply problem, it is hard to install what isn’t there. Still, we relocated the existing sections of the fence we took down Monday. The supplies arrived, ~ and it rained. Wednesday, we continued, only my inability to measure 8 feet caused a problem; it is hard to install an 8-foot fence section in a 9-foot span between posts. Again, with some ingenuity from Angie, we were successful; however, it rained again. Thursday, Marcel, and I were back at it, and it rained again. We finished up Friday, except for the gate. Saturday was gate day, I never thought the easy part would be figuring out how big the gate should be in an angled fence line. No rain and perseverance paid off. The fence is installed, the gate is installed, it even opens and closes.

Sunday, with help from a friend with a trailer, we moved our bedroom and stayed the night. Monday, with the help from the Mississippi County Union Mission, we moved all the furniture. Tuesday, with continuing help from the Mississippi County Union Mission we moved some items to controlled climate storage near our daughter. We also moved all the boxes. Wednesday, we moved all the little stuff, flowers, backyard furniture, stuff in the garage, and backyard shed; would you believe it took all day. Thursday, after Rotary, I

  • picked up the last of the little stuff, and the trash can,
  • swept the garage, and
  • said goodbye to the lady who spent most of two days cleaning the empty house.

When I got home, I joined the earnest and continuing effort to unbox everything we had spent weeks packing.

You may wonder what our moving adventure has to do with celebrating the Trinity. Well, what they have in common is that the more I think about both the more I realize what I still don’t know about either.

You may recall the church spent nearly a thousand years, and at least four major councils producing 3 creeds, all trying to explain our understanding of one God, as Father, Jesus, and Spirit. You know one of these creeds, we say the Nicene Creed every time we celebrate communion. You are at least familiar with a second creed, the Apostles’ Creed, we say in Morning Prayer, and with Baptisms. You are probably not familiar with the Athanasian Creed, which is not used, primarily because of its length. It is in the historical documents included in the prayer book. All of them try to explain how three equals one; or one equals three, which any elementary student will tell you isn’t true. So, where can we turn for inspiration?

You know I believe cosmology gives us the language of science to talk about the how of the world as we can see and measure it. The language of science informs the language of philosophy, we use to talk about the why of the world, especially relationships between individuals and groups of people. The language of philosophy informs the language of theology we use to talk about the meaning of the world, and of course God. Last Monday the New York Times published an article titled Every Cell in Your Body Has the Same DNA. Except It Doesn’t (Zimmer). We all know our DNA, is the stuff the defines what we look like, and all sorts of our physical being. The DNA in every cell has all the information necessary to recreate us. This is why cloning works. Only now medical scientists, seeking explanation for unusual illnesses, are learning this is not true. Sometimes genes vary from cell to cell, not unlike the way they vary from person to person. It is not an entirely new thing, medieval Europeans knew about terrifying trees, that were one kind, but were also all scrambled up. Darwin was intrigued by similar observations. If you eat pink grapefruit, you know about this.

 A Florida farmer noticed an odd branch on a Walters grapefruit tree. These normally bear white fruit, but this branch was weighed down with grapefruits that had pink flesh. Those seeds have produced pink grapefruit trees ever since.

What we now have is a scientific observation of how one thing, us, is made up of millions of identical cells, and that sometimes can be us, made up of mostly identical cells, but some that are different. This is not an explanation for our belief in our understanding of God as Trinity, but it at least introduces the idea of a complexity of being we have not previously known.

That same day David Brooks, one of the columnists I read closely, wrote What Moral Heroes Are Made Of (Brooks). Brooks writes about

  • their unhesitating will to act,
  • a simplicity of moral response – “This is just what I do.”

Moral heroes’ identities are tightly woven into their moral ideals. Typically, they are a part of a group sharing similar values, and aspirations, who share the core tasks, and support each other when an individual cannot carry the load by themselves. They have a profound belief they can make a difference when others say it cannot be done. Moral heroes understand that no matter the diversity of their individual passions they are all part of one big struggle to make a difference in the world. Brooks understands that a core attribute of moral heroes is community; the community they are in, the community that needs change, and the Omni-community that is all communities woven together. Brooks’ moral heroes know none of us are complete without our community, and our community is not complete without all its individual members. Blend this with the understanding, of identical DNA that is different, a same but different understanding of Trinity begins to emerge.

Our understanding is no longer one an understanding, it is becoming one of relationship. Neither God, nor Jesus, nor the Spirit can be without the other two, and the whole cannot be without all three. You know from Genesis that we are made in the image of God. A biblical idea that supports Brooks’ understanding of moral heroes. It also connects us to Trinity. As Trinity is important to us, so are we important to Trinity. We cannot be without each other, including Trinity, and Trinity is not the same without us. This is not an argument that we are like God. It is a proclamation that for us to be whole, to know shalom, our relationship with each other, in all those complex possibilities, we will mirror the perfect relationship of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, that is at times, spoken of, as love.

So now I see the circle. Understanding moving is not about understanding all the details of

  • what happens when and
  • how long, and
  • the required materials.

No, understanding moving is being aware of all the relationships between all the people involved. And all those relationships are grounded in our relationship with Trinity, which is perfect love revealed and shared with us, and thus blesses us, every one of us.

Glory to our Trinity – God/Jesus/ Spirit, that brings blessings to you;
and blessing to you, that gives glory to our Trinity – God/Jesus/Spirit.


Brooks, David. What Moral Heroes Are Made Of. 21 5 2018. <>.

Zimmer, Carl. “Every Cell in Your Body Has the Same DNA. Except It.” New York Times (2018). <>.


Dare we risk the ride?

A sermon for Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 37, Romans 8:22-27, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

Preface: This was preached last week, immediately which we started our move. Boxes are just now unpacked enough to blog my thoughts.

A long time ago I saw a movie, I don’t remember the title, I don’t remember the characters’ names or who stars in it, I do vividly recall the parts about the challenges in a small country church. [1] James is the pastor. David is the … well, we would say sexton. James takes care of the people. David takes care f the building. David’s job is challenging, the building is old and in need of some significant maintenance. James’s job isn’t any easier; no, the people are not that old, it is just that there are two wealthy families in the community, who are always trying to outdo each other, so much so that their impulse to help, a mildly disguised effort to impress, mostly results in ~ not much. Each family has developed a cadre of supporting families. And there are a couple of independent cadres determined to not have a thing to do with either family, but they tend to split into fractions of their own. This complex web of cadres of families in the county makes James’s job even harder.

David’s job is also made harder by the still he is secretly running in the basement. One day, when David has fallen asleep at the fishing hole, the still explodes, setting the church on fire. The fire brigade is slow arriving; the alert system donated by one family cadre doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter, when the hoses, donated by the rival family, are connected they leak so bad no water gets to the nozzles. The smaller rivals start blaming the two big family cadres, those two, start blaming each other. The arguments grow at the same rate as the intensity of the fire. James had enough; he shouts: “Oh, please just everybody shut up, and let this church die in peace!” then he turns and walks down the road. Everybody else stands in stunned silence.

The next day David is trying to apologize to James. It is an awkward conversation at best. David really does love the church, her people, and building. James can see that, and he wants to help David discern what to do but is so overwhelmed by his own grief that he can’t respond. All he sees is a bitterly divided community, and a church literally splintered. There may be a county left, at least the lines on the map; there is certainly no community left, that went up with the smoke of the church fire. Once again James turns to walk down that country road.

2000 years ago, the Jews, God’s people were scattered all over the world. There were ten or fifteen different forms of Judaism (Bratt). Many believed God has withdrawn the presence of the Spirit (Nelson). Most of the diaspora Jews, from 17 countries within the Roman Empire, spoke Greek (Keener and Walton), meaning they could speak with each other. So, each hearing the disciples speak of the gospel and Peter speak of prophecy in their own language is not simply a miracle of language. It is reminiscent of the theophany at Mount Sinai, and Israel receiving the 10 commandments and the making of a community (Gaventa and Petersen; Wall). Pentecost was about the miracle of the remaking of a community, re-forged across many differences that was made possible through the transforming work of the Spirit (Day). The outpouring of the purifying, empowering Spirit is not a unique event from a time long ago. God’s presence continues to be among those who seek God/Jesus/Spirit (Wall). We have witnessed the power of God’s presence. In 1906, on Azusa Street, a revival forged a community across all kinds of community boundaries, black men laid hands on white women and black women laid hands on white men to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Hearts were transformed, lives tuned to the eternal presence of divine love of all (Day). Those lives continue today in the many Pentecostal churches across the nation and the world.

Just as the destruction of that country church signified the mess that community was in, the incivility, disregard for life, and the destruction of God’s people of all origins and faiths signify the mess we are in. We know our communities, our international, national, state, county, city, school, business, civic, church, and social communities are in a host of messes a long time in the making. This political moment is enabled by the complete loss of mutual understanding, and civility, it is powered by a total loss of community (Day). We know we need a transformation. We know we need the power of the Spirit.

James knew the power of the Spirit. He always had. The difference is at this moment he is so overwhelmed he is vulnerable enough to sense the Spirit’s presence. Before he gets around the first bend he is met by a long procession of trucks loaded with supplies and cars loaded with people. The real surprise is that the families are all intermingled. All signs of the previous cadres are gone. The church family, in fact, the whole county family is gathering to rebuild the church. Well, the church building. The Spirit started rebuilding the Church in the searing fire that exposed divisions that needed spiritual cauterizing. As David directs the caravan into the church parking lot, you can see James watch in amazement, and you can see his insight; David was wrong, the still was not the cause of the fire, oh it exploded, but there was a little Spiritual help. James watches the Spirit continue to work as once divided families begin working as a single divine community.

Like James, we know the power of the Spirit. The question is will we be willing to be vulnerable, are we willing to experience holy disorientation, as the disciples, and gathered Jews from all over did those millennia ago, as white and black worshipers at Azusa Street did some 112 years ago, as James’ community did (Day). Will we risk the disorientation of the Spirit, will we risk shaking everything up and breaking down all the barriers we use to separate humankind, will we dare ride the unpredictable winds of the Spirit (Epperly). and follow her to a reorientation and the presence of divine love for all. The Spirit is right here, right now. Dare we risk the ride?


Bratt, Doug. Pentecost B Acts 2:2-21. 20 5 2018. <>.

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Acts 2:1-21. 20 5 2018. <;.

Charles, Hoffacker. “This Sacred Discontinuity, Day of Pentecost (B).” 20 5 2018. Sermons that Work.

Day, Keri L. “We need a Pentecost.” 9 5 2018. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 5 2015. <;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Nelson, Thomas. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

The Living Church. Entirely Yours. 20 5 2018. <>.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.


[1] A parishioner knew the movie, “An Angel in My Pocket” starring Andy Griffith and Jerry Van Dyke, 1969


A sermon for Easter 7; Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19


In my trolling. around trying to find better ways to organize all the organizing tools I use I have come across a website named IFTTT, which means “if this then that.” Examples of what it allows you to automatically do are upload attachments from emails to google driver; or if it going to rain tomorrow add a reminder to your calendar. Today’s reading from Acts is another example that there is nothing in the world because it is an IFTTT story.

The “If this” is if the number of Jesus’ chosen followers is not twelve, and the “then that” is to choose a replacement. But why 12, why not 11, or 13? In ancient times numbers had meaning beyond count; 12, like 7, is a number for completeness. 12 has from her earliest days been a part of Israel’s history. In Genesis, Jacob has 12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel (Keener and Walton).

Part of Jesus’ teaching is the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, so there must be 12 leaders for the 12 tribes of the new Israel (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen). In his opening lines Peter says the scriptures must be fulfilled, in verses we did not read (18-20), Peter cites the psalms (109) as reason to fill the empty apostle’s place (Wall). So far, we see the need for the 12th man is the symbolic restoration of Israel, and so that Israel will be whole (Allen). Restoring the Twelve also addresses any question of divine faithfulness. God’s fidelity is involved in the presence of the Twelve (Wall). There also the implication that as the Twelve are complete Jesus followers are ready for whatever is ahead of them (Keener and Walton).

The next sentence (2 verses) lays out the requirements. He must be male, and here the word is male (Bratt). He must be with them from the beginning (John’s baptism) until the Ascension and have been an eye witness to everything (Harrelson). He must become, with the remaining 11, a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Wall).

An aside; this is not the only description of an apostle in the New Testament. Paul uses the apostle, which means “one sent” to refer to many followers, not just the Twelve. Both the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene are depicted as apostles to the apostles (Harrelson). It is worth noting all the people sent with the first word of Jesus’ resurrection are women. An Apostle can be anyone sent as a witness of God/Jesus/Spirit.

Back to the story from Acts. The next step is nominations. Nothing is said about how this happens, only that 2, Joseph called Justus and Matthias, are proposed.

The third step is that the group prays. In Luke prayer surrounds all significant moments. Here the story touches on the reading from the Gospel according to John which recounts Jesus praying for all the disciples. Jesus asks the Father to protect them as he sends them into the world, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world (John 17:15-19) (Lewis). Prayer encircles the entire community, who follow Jesus, as they prepare to make this decision. It reminds them they are always encircled by divine love. And it connects them to divine wisdom, power, and insight (Epperly).

The final step in filling the Twelfth Apostle is to choose. Following common practices of the day they cast lots. They are not engaging in magic, which is forbidden. They are continuing the trust they place in God in their prayers. Saul casts lots, the Urim and Thummim, in 1st Samuel to a question (1Samuel 14:36-44) (Harrelson). Lots are used in Joshua (19: 1-40) and Jonah (1:7-8) (Wall). Urim and Thummin are typically restricted to priest, so the disciples are likely using a lot marked for each that are placed in a jar that is shaken until one falls out, or something similar (Wall). As we heard Mathias is chosen.

It is curious to note this is the last time we read about Mathias in scripture. After a dozen or so chapters Peter is no longer heard from. In fact, all twelve chosen apostles fade into the background (Harrelson; Wall). With this realization suddenly “If This Then That” doesn’t seem to carry the meaning of this story. Perhaps the message is “Not That, This.”

There other succession stories in scripture, there is nothing particularly significant about this process (Wall). And while it does remind us to trust God’s quiet voice far more than our carefully constructed processes, the story is not about process, or us, the story is about the continually “in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth” (Allen). While it is true that God works through Peter, and Matthias, and the other chosen apostles, and disciples, and the whole host of those who believe, and doubt, the story is that God’s kingdom continues to make its way into the world right here, and there, and everywhere, right now, and tomorrow, and forever. The story is that even in the in between times (and remember the Spirit has not yet arrived) the Kingdom is present, God is present in the in between times.

There are lots of people living in between times. I am living between having retired and being retired; between living at 1121 and living at 6651 or is it 15. Some of you have kids who are between one grade and the next. There are kids between parents. There are parents and loved ones between this type of care at home and another type of care perhaps not at home. There are people between this job and the next. We are approaching election season, so we are between our current representatives and the next. There are all kinds of betweens, and God is present in all of them. When our trusted symbols are no longer available; God/Jesus/Spirit is available to you. Today’s story from Acts isn’t “If This”, nor “Not This” but “YG-RH-RN” Yes, God is right here, right now.


Allen, Amy Lindeman. Commentary on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <>.
Bratt, Doug. Easter 7 Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 4 2018. <;.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lewis, Karoline. “Prayers Needed.” 13 5 2018. Working preacher.
McCormack, Jerrod. “In the Space In-Between, Easter 7 (B).” 13 5 2018. Sermons that Work.
Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.
Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.