A sermon for Easter 4: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10


My studies this week lead me to a slightly different reading of the 23rd Psalm. It goes like this.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.

3 God “keeps me alive (LeMon) and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the darkest valley, (Mast; Harrelson) I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

6 Only goodness and mercy shall pursue me (Lewis; LeMon; J. Clinton McCann) all the days of my life and I will continually return to Yahweh’s presence, my whole life long. (LeMon)

We hear way too much about Jesus the Good Shepherd, LLC. Long ago they secured the 4th Sunday after Easter’s imagery. Then they laid siege to stain glass windows, and murals, and painting, and sketches and all thing images. And they are wonderfully transformative. However, today, Jesus does not say he is the good shepherd, Today, Jesus says he is the gate for the sheep (J. Clinton McCann). Jesus is the gate into the sheepfold for the safety of the flock. Jesus is also the gate out of the sheepfold so the flock can go out into the word as stewards of Jesus’ ministry (Hoezee). Jesus is the way the flock has abundant life (Lewis). The Jesus gate is not to exclude people (Johnson). The Jesus Gate is the way the flock goes into the world and shares the news of abundant life with all the world.

What is the abundance life Jesus offers us? There is a dangerous belief that wealth, health, riches are a divine blessing that comes from right belief (Lewis). This is nothing like John’s definition of abundance in his Gospel story. John defines abundance as

  • Jesus as life, and the life was the light of all people (John 1:4)
  • the divine gift through whom that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:1)
  • the resurrection through whom even those who die, will live” (John 11:25)
  • knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent (17:3)
  • hearing the Gospel stories “so that you may believe… and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Abundance is the interdependence of care, and it is driven by knowing God wants all the world, all of us, all of you to thrive (Epperly). Abundance is a divine gift for the whole community right here and right now; not sometime out in the future in some unknown place (J. Clinton McCann).

Part of understanding divine abundance is remembering today’s Gospel story is the continuation of the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. When we finished reading this story, a couple of weeks ago, the Jewish religious authorities have driven the man out of the village. Jesus pursues him, into the dark valley of rejection, and when he meets the man the man confirms his return to God in Jesus. The religious authorities are behaving like Old Testament Kings, who did not seek the common good for all of God people (Johnson; Harrelson; O’Day). The first three verses of this morning’s Gospel tell us who the shepherds are not (Harrelson). So maybe we can learn something about abundance by naming the things that it is not. For that, we can go back to the 23rd Psalm.

Verse 4

Though I walk through the darkest valley I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

reminds us that even though we face real threats, we should not fear them; because verse 5

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; * you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

reminds us the shepherd’s provisions are enough (J. Clinton McCann) They’re abundant. This reassures us that we do not fear anything. We don’t need to fear others; we don’t need to fear immigrants because all of us, all of them are part of the flock, part of the divine community. We should be wary of principalities and powers that seek to gain power over us, by dividing us, telling us resources are scarce. There is an abundance of resources. There is even an abundance of government resources; it is simply how they get divided up and used that creates the images of shortages.

Last year the State of Arkansas Legislature passed a $100 million tax cut. This year they passed a $50 million tax cut. After the general legislative session was over this year, it was announced there is a $70 million shortfall, and therefore this year’s budget will but cut. The cuts come from category B items, where are lesser important items. Here is what is in there: a Medicaid allocation of $88 million; $23.7 million for the Department of Education, $5.2 million for the merit adjustment fund; $4 million for the Department of Correction; $3.5 million for the Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Services Division; $2 million for the Department of Higher Education; and $1.5 million for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (Wickline). Mr. Governor, you can keep my $25 a month to heal the sick, pay the counties fees due for state prisoners, to improve care for the mentally ill, to improve teachers’ pay and benefits, to improve colleges and technical education and to continue to develop Arkansas economy so it can provide all our neighbors with full-time sustainable wage jobs.

I mentioned the $50 million tax cut passed this year. Again, just after the session closed it was announced there is a $43 million shortfall for next year’s budget, and there will be spending cuts there. To my knowledge, the special session, that is going on now has not and will not address these issues. What they have done is to pass legislation that requires officials to request a Federal waiver to reduce the income cap Medicaid eligibility. It will be lowered from 138% of the Federal poverty level to 100% of the poverty level. For a single person, Medicaid eligibility drops from $16,243 annual earnings to $11,777 or $981 a month. If you make more than $981 a month, you will no longer be eligible for Medicaid. The plan is for these people to be moved to the Insurance Market Place. Not a bad idea. They will be eligible for premium tax credits, and their premiums will be limited to 2% of their annual income, about $235 a year or $20 a month. Sounds kind of reasonable.

The average one bedroom apartment rent in Blytheville is $351.00; so now we have $630 a month; and out of that we have to pay utilities, car expenses (because if you are AR Work you have to be looking for a job, or have a job or be involved in some sort of state defined activity and that are, which is not a bad idea, but you have to have transportation to get there) and you have to buy groceries and all that other sort of stuff. (AverageRent). You can see how an additional $20 a month can lead to very difficult decisions; do I eat? do I buy my medicine? do I put gas in the car, do I pay the water or power bill? The plan descriptions I have read say nothing about copays or deductibles which insurance marketplace policies all have.

Here is my question: Through our elected officials are we behaving like the Pharisees who chased the newly sighted blind man out of town? Are we behaving like Israel’s Kings of old who continually took advantage of the people, the flock, they were anointed to tend?

Abundance is not who’s first? It is not America first; it is not Blytheville or Osceola first; it’s not or Arkansas first; it’s not even Christians first. Abundance is about the mutually interconnected community that holds all our needs together in a loving balance. It is a balance, that is something like quantum physics; which teaches us, the basic building blocks of the universe are particles that only exist in relationship to each other. And if you break that relationship, which physicist can do, both particles disappear. At the most fundamental level of being, I need you, and you need me, and each of us needs everyone else. If any of these relationships are broken, we all are less for it.

There is an amazing abundance in the sheepfold, opens to us. It looks a lot like a tangle of relationship each with the other, each knowing that God lovingly created them from the dust of the earth, and loves them and desires for everyone to prosper. There is an amazing opportunity in the world outside the sheepfold Gateway-Jesus sends us into, to share the resurrection story of abundant life for all right here, right now. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to share directly. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to be actively involved in changing ill-directed trends in our community’s life. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to tell elected leaders what we believe, knowing they will not like it. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to vote. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to love the one next to us by letting them know they are beloved of God and welcome into the sheepfold. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to shout out:

Christ has died

Christ is risen

Christ will come again.



“average-rent-in-blytheville-ar.” n.d. 6 5 2017. <;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 7 5 2017. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 5 2017. <;.

Frank. “The One I Feed, Easter 4 (A).” 7 5 2017. Sermons that Work.

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. The Lectionary Gospel John 3:1-17. 7 5 2017.

  1. Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on John 10:110. 7 5 2017. <;.

LeMon, Joel. Commentary on Psalm 23. 7 5 2017. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Abundant Life.” 7 5 2017. Working preacher.

Mast, Stan. Easter 4 A Psalm 23. 7 5 2017. <;.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Wickline, Michael R. “State to cut budget 70m.” 29 04 2017. <;.




See the Presence of the Resurrection Promise

A Sermon for Easter 3: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17, 1 Peter 1:17 23, Luke 24:13-35

For 60 years, a mysterious unnamed monk has wandered around the world protecting an ancient scroll that holds the key to unlimited power. It is time for the Monk to find a new scroll keeper. The unnamed monk is inadvertently saved by Kar, a streetwise young man whose only interest is himself. They become reluctant partners as they and an equally hesitant Russian mob princess, known as Bad Girl, struggle to find, face, and fight the ultimate enemy, in a harrowing effort to save the world from the scroll’s most avid pursuer (IMDB). At the heart of the story is an ancient prophecy that the protector of the scroll is revealed as one fighting for justice while cranes circled overhead, fighting for love under a palace of jade, and rescuing friends he never met with family he never knew he had.

The Monk is looking for a situation that was the same as when he became the scroll’s guardian 60 years ago when his mentor is killed, by the evil man who pursues the scroll today. He realizes fulfilling the prophecy will be different when he recognizes that the Palace of Jade is Jade, otherwise known as Bad Girl; that the cranes overhead are the construction cranes above the site of the final battle for control of the scroll where Kar defeats the evil man seeking the scroll to use its power for selfish purposes, while Jade frees other monks who were imprisoned and left to die by the scroll’s ultimate enemy, thus rescuing friends with family she never knew. The Nameless Monk sees that the prophecy is being fulfilled, just in ways that he could never have imagined, and he passes along the scroll’s hidden secret and its guardianship to Kar and Jade (Wikipedia).

Jesus is dead; crucified by the Romans at the behest of Jewish officials. The same day that Mary discovers the empty tomb, two of Jesus’ disciples (or should we say former disciples) are walking to Emmaus. They walked through the valley of death. Their lives and hopes are in utter shambles (Hoch). Along the way, they meet a stranger. We will always wonder if they did not recognize him because they were so busy looking elsewhere, or if their eyes, like Pharaoh’s heart, were hardened (Ellingsen). Everything they had experienced or been taught made it almost impossible for them to imagine God’s work in Jesus crucified (Lose).

The stranger doesn’t know about Jesus’ death. Cleopas and his traveling partner wonder how was it possible that there is anyone who didn’t know what had happened to Jesus. That his followers, had not just lost the one they loved, but also the one who was going to restore David’s Kingdom, throw the Romans out and make life worth living (Whitley). To Jesus’ disciples, this was headline news. But to most of the people, it might have been casual news. It was really nothing more than another Roman crucifixion. And those happen all the time (Hoezee). Regardless of their questions, they share all of their story. A story that reveals that their expectations were that Jesus was the hoped for a prophet; Moses’ successor (Luke 24:19) (Harrelson). Their expectations show us their lack of awareness of who Jesus’ really was. When their story is over, Jesus shares with them a summary of the whole of Jewish history and religious thought. His teaching offered them a new lens for engaging Scripture, although they could not recognize it; at least not yet (Gaventa and Petersen).

At the end of their journey, the disciples offer the traditional but not expected hospitality, and invite Jesus to stay. At dinner, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives to them. The disciples remember the taking, giving thanks, breaking and giving bread and fish when Jesus feed 5000 out in the country (Luke 9:16). They remember Jesus taking, giving thanks, breaking and giving the bread at the last Passover meal (Luke 22:17) (Hoezee). Jesus’ actions at the dinner table in at Emmaus provokes powerful memories. The guest becomes the host (Culpepper). Luke tells us that these words and gestures open their eyes and that they recognized Jesus (Gaventa and Petersen; Whitley). Allan Culpepper notes that Aristotle taught that recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge; it can lead to either to friendliness or to hostility; recognition determines the direction for good or ill the futures of those involved (Culpepper). For the disciples recognizing Jesus allows then to see a whole new future.

Immediately after this, Jesus disappears. Dinner is over. The inspired disciples head back to Jerusalem.

You know all about this Emmaus journey (Epperly). Every day, you walk some form a road that you are uncertain about. You wonder about your destinations or are perhaps you are concerned about your future, about our future. You know from the Emmaus story that every day Jesus meets you on your road, in the ordinary places and experiences of your lives, in the in-between moments of your lives, and in the places where you retreat to when life is just too much (Culpepper). The question is: Are our hearts, ears, and eyes open? Can we see the world not constrained by our presumptions? Will we be able to see beyond the limits of our betweenness (Lewis, Betweenness) Will we be able to find composure when we are distraught? Will we be able to be calm when we are frantic? Will we be able to recognize safety and hope when we are desperate? Will we be assured or re-assured when we are distracted, (Hoezee)? The deepest question is: Do we trust our faith stories enough to be really honest with ourselves and name our pains, our grief, our losses. Do we trust our faith stories enough, to know that naming our pains, our grief, and our losses allows God/Jesus/Spirit to empower us to transcend them so that they can no longer define us (Lose)?

The disciples knew their faith stories of Moses and the prophets. You know your faith story and the promise that you are heirs to Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples saw Jesus take, bless, break, and share when he feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (Luke 9:16). They saw Jesus take, bless, break and give at their last Passover supper (Luke 22:17). You share in taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing, in every Eucharist. You have everything going for you, that the disciples had going for them.

Actually, you have more, because our faith story is very clear that God is not static, not bound by yesterday’s revelations or the church’s creeds, scriptures and structures.
God is alive, on the move, doing new things and sharing new insights with people, with us all the time (Epperly).

The unnamed monk knew the possibilities of his guiding prophecy through ancient traditions. That knowledge shaped how he saw the world. Only when he is able to let go of what he thought, he is able to see that the prophecy is different in today’s world and then he is able to recognize cranes over the fight for justice, the house of Jade, and the one rescuing unknown friends with undiscovered family. Only when the disciples were able to let go of Moses, and the prophets are they were able to see that take, bless, break and give reveals the new hope. It is only when we are able to let go of what we were, or think we were, that we will be able to see the presence of the resurrection promise, in this moment, that offers new life and new hope.


Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 30 4 2017. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 4 2017. 12. <;.

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.

Hoch, Robert. Commentary on Luke 24:1335. 30 4 2017. <;.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 3A Luke 24:13-35 . 30 4 2017. <;.

IMDB. Bulletproof Monk. n.d. 28 4 2017. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Betweenness.” 23 4 2017. Working preacher.

—. Dear Working Preacher What Things? 30 4 2017. < 1/3>.

Lose, David. Easter 3 A: Dashed Hopes and Surprising Grace. 30 4 2017.

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

Whitley, Katerina. Seeing through Doubt, Easter 3(A). 30 4 2017. <;.

Wikipedia. Bulletproof Monk. n.d. 28 4 2017. <;.







Now I Believe

A Sermon for Easter 2: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

I should have known better. After more than 37 years, I just should have known better. Early last week, Angie told me about a nurse, who made a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night out of medicine bottle caps. I didn’t believe her. Aren’t all medicine bottle caps white? And don’t they come in just a few sizes. I just didn’t believe it. I should have known better. Later that day she brings me her I-phone, held it out for me to see, as she shared “Here it is!” Who knew there were so many different shades of blue and yellow bottle caps? Who knew someone could be so inspired to sort them all out and glue them so meticulously on canvas size board? Now I know better. Now I believe.

We read from the Bible every week. But we never read a book from beginning to end, and that is our loss. It is like reading bits and pieces of your favorite novel, you get the high points, but you miss the subtle interactions that fill in missing pieces and fill out the richness of the story. Last week I mentioned finding who you are as a character in a bible story as a study method; and that I had seen a character I’d never seen before. The same is true today; kind of, because it’s not a character, but a structure of John’s Gospel. I don’t recall if it was in seminary or college, but I had written a paper, and for whatever reason, I had to go by the professor’s office to pick it up. My professor congratulated me, because I had gotten an A; then said, because the way you structured your paper, I thought you were going in a very different direction (and the way said it let me know that was not a good choice) my professor went on to say he was surprised and glad I came to the conclusions that I did. It was the first time I ever realized that the structure of a paper or an argument could give meaning. The same is true in literature, and the same true of writers of the books of the Bible, and the same it is absolutely true of John the Evangelist.

When the first of John the Baptist’s disciples follow Jesus, they ask him where he is going, and Jesus replies come and see. It is one of my favorite bits of scripture. A few verses later Philip tells Nathaniel we have found the messiah Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth (John 1:45). Nathaniel answers Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip replies Come and see. (John 1:46) A bit later Nathaniel meets Jesus and comes to believe he is the messiah (John 1:49).

A little bit later in chapter 4 after his disciples return, the Samaritan woman leaves Jesus at the well, and returns to her village and tells everyone about Jesus and wonders if he can be the messiah. They follow her back to the well. And after a brief conversation, they invite him to stay with them; and he does, and many came to believe in him (John 4:41).

In John 9 Jesus heals a man born blind from birth. When he returns from the well of Siloam, where Jesus sent him, his neighbors are conflicted, wondering if he really is the man that was born blind. Some of them tell the story to the Pharisees, and they are also divided, some reject the idea because it is the sabbath, some wondered, it has to be a man of God who can heal the blind. (John 9:16) At the end of the story, the man meets Jesus a second time and proclaims his belief in Jesus (John 9:38).

When Jesus goes to Bethany, because Lazarus has died, he meets Mary, who, along with her friends mourning with her, go to meet Jesus. Some of them wonder if he, who healed the blind man could not have kept Lazarus from dying (John 11:37). And after Jesus calls to Lazarus and he comes out of the tomb many of them come to believe (John 11:45).

There is a general pattern in all of these stories. Person A has an encounter with Jesus and at the least wonders if he is the messiah. That person shares their story with Person B, who is doubtful or does not believe. And later Person B meets Jesus and comes to believe (ClarkSoles).

We see this pattern in this morning’s gospel story twice. First, the disciples have been with Jesus for 3 years. They witnessed everything he said and did, well most of it. And some witnessed his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Mary meets the risen Jesus and runs to tell the disciples. A bit later most of them have locked themselves away in a secure, undisclosed location. Jesus shows up. They do not recognize him, they are terrified, and both of those little facts tell us they did not believe Mary. He shows them his hands and his side, at which time they recognize him and come to belief. Some of them tell Thomas, who was at another undisclosed location, but he doesn’t believe. A week after that Thomas and the disciples are gathered in the first undisclosed location, and Jesus shows up again and shows Thomas his hands and side, at which time Thomas come to believes (ClarkSoles).

You can see the encounter, share, doubt, invitation, encounter, and belief pattern we see throughout John’s Gospel in Thomas’ story. But, there is a significant language bit that expands the possibilities of this pattern. It begins by understanding that Jesus never says “doubt.” He says: do not be unbelieving, but believing, and this is important because John ends the chapter, and some think the original Gospel:

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

 But wait there is more! because some authorities translate the sentence

But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 Either “come to believe” or “continue to believe” are real possibilities (O’Day). The significance is that this story is about believing, about coming to belief, and about continuing to believe.

And yes, there is a powerful evangelism story here, which is why I have always been drawn to the phrase “come and see” which I believe is the quintessential evangelism tool, a simple invitation. But, this pattern, this character is even more complex.

Sometime this past week, I read the guest column titled The night I learned to take chances. It is about the two brothers who were sons of a minister who required them to memorize bible verses. Which they did, even if they did not understand the meanings. When the youngest was 17, their parents divorced, their mother went to live with her sister, and their dad just disappeared. They did their best to supported each other and eked out a meager existence. One Christmas they decided to hitchhike from Long Island to Dallas to go see their mom. On the way, they got stranded on a snowy interstate. As they were waiting for promised help to return, for the first time ever began to talk about their life. It the conversations gets tense when the author said to his brother we [are] basically disposable to the people who were supposed to love us. His brother retorts we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (NKJV Romans 8:28) which got them to sharing bible verses they had memorized all those years ago. The youngest shared Isaiah 43

 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you . . . Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.

 Years later, as president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he realizes

I don’t keep taking chances in offering leadership because I expect to succeed; I take them because I know I can handle it if I fail. What’s the worst that can happen? Will I be alone, broke, and abandoned? Been there. Will I make humiliating mistakes? I tried hitchhiking on a closed interstate. And at the bottom, I found the relentless love of God who was with me and always will be, no matter how deep the waters (Barnes).

What the story reveals is where most of us live most of our lives; which is somewhere between believing and coming to believe what Karen Lewis calls betweenness (Lewis). The story reveals that life is hard; that life is risky. And so is faith (Warren). If you stop and think about for just a minute, believing in resurrection makes no sense, it really never has, it is hard to believe in resurrection (Hoezee). And because our faith is grounded in the hard to believe in resurrection, is why we come together as church (Lose).

Each of us has a Jesus story to share. At one time or another, all of us are going to be between and need to hear somebody’s story. A story that will remind us, of the astounding truth in scripture that God … sent the Son into the world in order… that the world might be saved (John: 3:17), that we might be saved; it also reminds us that the bible is here so that we may come to, or come back to, or continue to believe. And also, John reminds us, that we who have never seen the risen Lord, and yet believe are blessed, every much as those who saw Jesus (John 20:29). So, today, you may need to hear my story. I know I have needed to, and have heard your story. 20 years’ experience has taught me that you never know how your story, how your invitation to come and see Jesus’ hands and feet and side, in all its many forms will impact a stranger’s life.

Christ is Risen
[hand to ear]
The Lord is risen indeed!

There is no better story to invite a friend or stranger, struggling in the in-betweenness of life to come and see.



Barnes, Craig. “The night I learned to take chances.” 26 4 2017. < /article/night-i-learned-take-chances>.

ClarkSoles, Jaime. Commentary on John 20:1931. 23 4 2017. < 1/3>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 23 4 2017. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 4 2017. <;.

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. Easter 2A . 23 4 2017. <;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Betweenness. 23 4 2017. <>.

Lose, David. Easter 2 A: Thomas, John, and the Reason We Gather. 23 4 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Warren, Timothy G. “Doubt Strengthens Faith, Easter 2(A).” 23 4 2017. Sermons that Work.


Go and Be

A sermon for Easter Sunday: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10,

Many years ago, some decades ago, I joined a Christian formation class; I forget its exact name. but I will always remember the principle bible study method. You read a gospel story, and as you are reading it you listen for what character in the story is you? It does not have to be a character that is named in the story; it can be one you see, hear, for yourself, or you just imagine is there. The reflections are how are you this character in the gospel story? and how is this character you in your story? You share all this with your group. The group cannot challenge the character. They can ask for clarity. They are to share with you, their react to you and your character both in the gospel story and in your life. It takes some practice and some time; however, but it is an excellent way to study the bible; it is an even better way to learn about yourself.

Occasionally, I’ve used this method in sermon preparation. Occasionally, I have preached from that character’s perspective. Today is a new experience, because, I see a character I have never before seen, in the Gospel but, I know, has been in the Easter story from the beginning. This morning my character is the tomb, a place of death, darkness, and chaos. I do not see myself as the tomb. I hope you do not see me as the tomb. But the tomb is a very present in the world today; as it has been for all time.

The tomb is manifest in the many ways death, darkness and chaos are present in our world. There is chaotic political leadership here and abroad. There are threats from and toward N. Korea. There is the confusion and fear that brought on and are caused by Brexit. There are the threats emerging from Arkansas’ plan to execute 7 prisoners in 11 days, just because a drug is about to expire. It is supposed to be the initial anesthetic; however, the drug not designed to be an anesthetic. The State is forced to try to use it because no manufacturer of anesthetics will sell anesthetics to any state prison system that executes prisoners (Arkansas Online). All of this is on hold because Saturday morning, both a state and federal court injunction suspended all this and there was another injunction this morning. But the underlying concern of the State of Arkansas’ behavior is still a threat, still a source of confusion and fear. There is fear for our community; there is fear and concern for our schools, our churches, and maybe even for St Stephen’s. And I am sure all of us have individual concerns and fears as life goes on. The tomb is a very real, a very powerful presence in all our lives.

So, today, when we celebrate the empty tomb, does the continuing existence of the tomb, death, darkness and chaos. diminish Jesus’ resurrection or the promise God and Jesus make to us for eternal life? No, because the truth is that the empty tomb fuels the new-found Easter hope. Yes, the tomb, death, darkness, and chaos do continue; but they are not the end of the story. This morning I experience the empty tomb that provides us two little all-empowering verbs: do and be.

The first verb: ‘do’ is an inspiration from Martin Marty’s column about Reinhold Niebuhr and his theologian siblings. Marty explores the Niebuhrs as “public theologians,” and reflects on the growing number writers who are wondering Where are today’s Niebuhrs? He suggests we would learn much more if we were interested in what Reinhold did. Marty grounds his observation in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Borrowing from Martin Heinecken, he asks

Did the Samaritan take that poor victim, strapped to his ass like a captive audience, and hand him a tract or preach a sermon? No, he did what the situation demanded, and that was good (Marty).

Everyone is seeking to find their way through the midst of our current chaos and anarchy. Marty suggests that we should assess what the situation demands, and then address it by doing what the situation demands. He puts to very practical use Reinhold’s (Niebuhr) Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference

It is an awesomely powerful call to do (Marty).

The second verb is ‘be’ and it is an inspiration from Stephanie Paulsell’s article Life together as an empire collapses. Paulsell draws from David’s Brooks models of resisting the Trump administration. If this is an authoritarian threat, then we should follow Bonhoeffer and hit the streets. If this is an incompetence threat, then we should follow Gerald Ford and restore public norms. Paulsell thinks we are in the third possibility a corruption moment and that we should follow St. Benedict and create new forms of community (Paulsell).

Benedict lived as the Roman Empire was collapsing. One response to that collapse was the proliferation of monastic communities, walled enclaves that provided safety from the gathering storm and cultivate humility, mercy, and forgiveness. But a key factor in Benedict’s rule is the insistence on welcoming every guest that comes to the door with honor and respect. For Benedict, the monastery was not a refuge, but a community that bears witness to the sacredness of our common humanity.

Knowing that [w]hen your open space for people to encounter the mystery of their creation in the image of God, they become more finely attuned to the dignity of others.

The continuing threats of the tomb, death, and chaos are very real; they diminish the humanity dignity of all people. Benedict offers a path of resistance, to see and welcome the stranger as Christ (Paulsell).

I hear Benedict calling us to be a monastery, a walled safe community with an open door – welcoming everyone. I hear Niebuhr calling us to use the power of the empty tomb as courage to change the things that we can. Yes, I am suggesting it is time for you, time for us, to go into the darkness of this world in the face of the dehumanizing power of death and chaos, and be the open door welcoming all who are drawn to you, and who are drawn to us.

What better Easter surprise than the empty tomb being the power that defeats the tomb, death, darkness, and chaos in our lives.



Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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. Epiphany 1A Matthew 3:13-17 . 8 1 2017. <;.

Marty, Martin E. “Niebuhr and the situation.” 5 4 2017. /2017/04/05/niebuhr-and-the-situation/. < /2017/04/05/niebuhr-and-the-situation/>.

Paulsell, Stephanie. “Life together as an empire collapses.” 12 4 2017. < /article/life-together-empire-collapses>.

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



Defined by Fear or Trust?

A sermon for Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

There is so much fear in this Gospel story. Judas is afraid Jesus won’t act and everything they have done everything they have risked in the last three years will all be for nothing. So, he will force Jesus’ hand to call his followers to decisive action by betraying him. The police and soldiers in the garden are afraid. They know how popular Jesus is, just days ago, the whole city welcomed him with shouts of Hosanna as the King of Israel (John 12:13)! They also know what their leads think about Jesus; that he is a rebel rouser a trouble maker. Peter is afraid. In the garden, he is afraid Jesus is going to be arrested perhaps afraid he is going be arrested, so, he attacks the high priest’s servant. Actually –  come to think of it Peter was afraid enough to bring a sword to the Passover feast! They left the Passover and headed to the garden in the Kidron Valley. After Jesus’ arrest, he makes his way into the High Priest’s courtyard; still, he is so afraid of what may happen to him that he famously denies Jesus three times.

You know, I wonder what happened to that sword? Was it confiscated in the garden? Did Peter drop it in some secluded place? Did he keep it with him, carefully concealed? What tales could that sword tell? Where was I, oh yes.

Annas is afraid, like so many other Jewish leaders who have been chasing Jesus has caught him. Now what! He had been High Priest, and now his son in law is High Priest, so, he has some religious authority but little civil authority beyond persuasion. He does ask Jesus about his teachings. Jesus says he has spoken openly and challenges Annas to ask the people, which earns him a slap in the face. Annas apparently doesn’t know what to do so, he has Jesus tied up and sends him to Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Caiaphas, at a meeting of the council, following the raising of Lazarus, said it was better for one man to die than the whole nation, after which the council planned to put Jesus to death. However, this time Caiaphas is silent. To suggest is one thing, to act is another. So, Jesus is sent off to Pilate, the real civil authority.

Pilate is not at all pleased to see Jesus. As Jesus was entering Jerusalem from one end of the city Pilate was entering from the other side of the city, for his annual stay to make sure celebrations do not turn to insurrection. Jesus’ presence raises the possibility of insurrection, which, beyond collecting taxes, is the only thing Rome cares about. So, Pilate is cautious about Jesus. and He is also afraid of the crowd, that joyfully welcomed Jesus not long ago. He is also concerned about the Jewish leadership knowing full well how manipulative they can be. Pilate’s conversation with Jesus does not make things any easier for him. There is enough innuendo of kingship and kingdom to be of concern; the Emperor does not take implied threats to the throne any less lightly than real threats. When he tells the crowd now clamoring for Jesus crucifixion to crucify him themselves, they reply he claims to be the Son of God which frightens Pilate because “son of god” is one of the Emperor’s titles. Jesus is now in direct confrontation with the Emperor.

At Golgotha, the chief priest expresses some concern about Pilate’s sign naming Jesus king of the Jews, and asks for it to be changed, just a little, still, a change, that reveals some deep fear.

The disciples, the people, the chief priests, High Priest, the Pharisees, the police and soldiers, even Pilate want Jesus to behave as they think he should. He hasn’t; he did not, he will not. Everyone wants Jesus to take their fear, and turn it into some sort of justifying stance or action. If Jesus does not act as they want him to everyone will have to rethink who they are, who God is, and their connection (Thompson).

Not much has changed in 2000 years. There is lots of fear, and everyone is angry. Some people are angry at liberals; others are angry at conservatives. Many people are angry at Russian election interference. Gun safety advocates are angry at guns toting believers, and guns toting believers are angry at gun safety advocates. Urban folks are angry at rural folks, and rural folks are angry at urban folks. It seems as if everyone is angry with someone else; that everyone is afraid of someone maybe everyone else. That means everyone one wants Jesus or God to act as they think God/Jesus should act. And when we take the time and make the effort to calm down, we see very clearly that divine action does not align to our wishes, nor to the wishes of those whom we are so angry with, of whom we are so afraid. The divine ~ is not behaving according to our wills.

So, we are facing the daunting reality of having to rethink who we are, who God is, and what our relationship is, or more correctly ought to be.

Naw, let’s go dye Easter eggs, that is a lot easier.

It is. But, the cross still cast its long dark shadow. And even with Jesus freshly buried the morrow is a dreadful unknown. There is still lots to fear. All of chapters 18 and 19 of John’s gospel leave us in our fear and anger. Our concerns are not unfounded. However, the preacher of Hebrews wrote:

 we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, … Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:21-23).

The preacher challenges us will we allow the fear and anger, that arises from ebbs and flows life, define who we are; or; will we trust God/Jesus? as we live, in the shadow of the cross? in the darkness of the tomb?


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.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Thompson, Barkley. “If you really are the Son of God….” God in the Midst of the City. Houston, 9 4 2017. WordPress.


Not Seeing the Surprise

A sermon for Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12:14, (51-0), 11-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35


When you that hear Jesus and the disciples are at the Passover or the Last Supper what image pops into your head? I bet you it is Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. No question it is a magnificent painting. But I’ve read three articles this week, which started me wondering if Leonardo, and we, have the correct image. In the painting, things seem very formal. There is lots of conversation, but not much fellowship. In the Gospels, there are details about setting up for the Passover meal, but little about the meal itself. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the action takes place in the context of the meal. As we just heard, in John, everything happens before the meal begins. But what is the Passover meal? Yes, we know its origins are in God’s instructions to Moses for an everlasting ritual of remembrance as Israel is about to embark on their Exodus journey. But what Exodus describes, doesn’t fit da Vinci’s picture. So, what’s up?


It is likely da Vinci’s painting is of a Seder Supper, which is part of the 7 day Passover celebration. A Seder is a celebration, even if it is a very scripted meal. In the middle of the meal, the youngest able child asks four questions why do we only eat matzah bread tonight? why do we only eat bitter herbs tonight? why do we dip food in water twice? why do we eat reclining tonight? The answers connect the family to the Exodus story. we eat matzah because our ancestors could not wait for bread to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt we eat only bitter herbs, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery the first dipping symbolizes replacing our tears with gratitude, and the second symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering we recline because a person who reclined at a meal was a free person (Wikipedia). The Q & A gives us a sense of what God wants Israel to remember, but not a sense of the feeling to the meal. The three articles did.

The first was about Israel closing Jewish entry to Red Sea resorts because of a terrorist threat. It is a reasonable action. The learning is that people go to a resort to celebrate Passover; it is a holiday. The second article was about stories of the youngest child asking the 4 questions and family support and good times that the families enjoyed. The last article was about festive foods for the remaining of the 7 days of Passover; the pictures were tempting. It all sounds as if Passover and Seder are much closer to holiday and holiday meals. I was thinking about Christmas and Easter holidays and those fantastic feasts. I believe the disciples are expecting a festive, celebratory meal that celebrates Israel’s freedom from slavery. It is not what happens on this night.

All four gospels are something like an Agatha Christie murder mystery. A family is in middle of a festive grand meal when someone makes a surprise announcement. Sometimes it is an unexpected marriage or engagement; other times the announcement is of some business decision or an overseas adventure. In every case people leaving in an angry huff; and occasionally amidst threats, it is an Agatha Christie story. No matter the announcement, it is a real bummer that kills the festive mood.

In Matthew and Mark, during the meal, Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. That will break a festive spirit. Later he breaks bread, then blesses bread and wine to be his body and blood of the new covenant. We celebrate this as the institution the Eucharist. I don’t think the disciples are celebrating; they are more likely thinking What! Luke puts Judas’ decision to betray Jesus before the Passover meal, so, we don’t know what the disciples know. However, we do know Jesus includes a woe to the one who will betray him. That has got the disciples wondering about each other, and maybe about themselves. John has Jesus start washing the disciples’ feet before the meal ever gets started. Right time; wrong action. Then he goes on say: you should do for each other what I have done for you (John 13:15); and a little later this is how others will know that you are my disciples (John 13:34). None of these scenes are celebratory. Everyone is wondering who is going to betray Jesus? and hoping it is not them. Everyone is wondering about Jesus giving them his body and blood to eat and drink to give them new life. We get it, but we have had 2 thousand years to come to terms with it, and they were not all easy years. Think about hearing this for the first time, without any kind of preparation or notice, in the middle of a celebration dinner. Surprise!

Everyone is surprised. Jesus is dashing any dreams of grandeur or imperial station. Everyone is wondering how to be a servant and do I really want to wash my colleagues’ feet? Think about the hesitation you experienced when having your feet washed was first introduced.

I am beginning to wonder if 2000 years of tradition, with all its wonderful artwork, inspirational music, and ancient liturgy have taken an unintended toll. It was about 1500 years from Israel’s exodus to Jesus’ last Passover Seder. It is just short of 2000 years since then. Where is the surprise? Where is the shock? Where is Jesus turning it all upside down?

He is still here. We have just gotten good at not seeing. The Gospel stories are framed by the twin forces of internal and external oppression. Though in different forms the same is true for us. As blessed as my family and I are there are internal forces, some government, some social or community, some financial, some family, that from time to time are oppressive or at the least constraining. I’d shed them if I could. As blessed as we are as a country there are external forces, some economic, some violent, that have a restrictive feel. If your family is of recent foreign national origins, those forces may really be oppressive. We are enraged by babies killed by deadly gas. Some are enraged by action to stop that, as the same officials ignore babies from the same country that drown as their parents are trying to get them to safety. Just the passage of time, and the emergence of new generations’ coming to power with their own devices and desires that are not ours, sometimes pushes too hard. We are every bit as surprised, as the disciples were. Just not at the dinner table, and not as much by internal expectations as by external disruptions.

However, Jesus still teaches us to be servants and to love despicable aliens, and the threatening ‘thems’; if in no other way than by loving each other as examples.

And we can love each other in how we live into humanity’s first calling to till and keep the garden/ the earth (Gen 2:15) which today is caring for all creation not consuming it out of the desires of our hearts or the profits we seek.

We can love each other by walking humbly, loving kindness and doing justice, (Micha 6:8). We can love each other by leaving vengeance to God (Deut. 32:35, Romans 12:19) not to powers of the State that continually seeks favor (think votes) by proclaiming it is protecting lives by threatening lives, directly in executions, or indirectly through biased social – economic structures that oppress the poor, the widows, orphans and the aliens (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3, Zech 7:10, Interpreters’ Dict) We can love each other by learning to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defending the orphans, and pleading for the widow (Isaiah 1:17)

We can love each other in rendering true judgments, showing kindness to those of different persuasions than we are; in showing mercy to those we judge to be undeserving; by not oppressing those who live at the edge of existence, the alien, or the poor; whose work we often unknowingly depend on, (have you eaten this week?) and by not devising evil against one another (Zechariah 7:9-10).

We can love each other as we let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). We can love each other by trusting the peace of God that is beyond our understanding yet leaves us mysteriously whole within ourselves and with one another both friend and stranger.


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

Olivetree. Olivetree Cross Reference. n.d.

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

Wikipedia. “” n.d. Passover Seder. 11 4 2017. <;.




A Grand Affair To That Uncomfortable Feeling

A sermon for Palm Sunday

Of the Psalms:  Matthew 21:1-11
Of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11,
Of the Passion: Matthew 26:14- 27:66

It is our tradition to read the Passion Gospel at the end of the service. The sermon is preached after the Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word.


You may recall that way back in the first week in February we went to celebrate my Dad’s 90th Birthday party. Everyone was there. All 5 children and spouses; 20 grandchildren and spouses and 10 + great grandkids; and an additional four cousins who live nearby and a some very close long – long time friends were there. There were so many folks there we actually had three different parties; one for friends where Dad lives, one for the rest of us who have birthdays in February, and there are a host of them, and finally the grand affair on Saturday night. And we all had a marvelous time.

That meant we were traveling on home Sunday the 5th. So, we were on the road for the 1st half of super bowl 51; no big deal, except that I follow the Falcons. We got home got unpacked found the game about halftime and the Falcons had this glorious 21 to 3 lead. And then I saw Julio Jones catch a stupendous touchdown pass, wonderful; we had a 28 to 3 lead. And then I made a mistake. I looked at the stats; and the Patriots led in every single category, except for the score. I instantly recalled the last three games; the Falcons had huge leads and had to hold on for dear life to win. I had this bad feeling; we had been here before especially in the last couple of years. And I had witnessed the Patriots’ propensity, for the inexplicable victory. You know the end of the story the Falcons lose 31 – 28; it was the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history.

This morning we started with a grand affair. It was not a re-enactment of Jesus Triumphal entry; it was more than that. It was an active remembrance of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem and our role in that story. We felt all the glory, and the laud, and the honor. We are caught up in all the hope and promise. We are certain that the Son of Man is on the ascendency, and soon he will throw out corrupt Jewish officials, he will drive out the oppressive Roman Empire. We will be free.

After his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ first stop is the Temple. This makes sense; the Temple is God’s home on earth. When he gets there, he turns over all the bankers’ tables who are exchanging foreign coins for Jewish coins, so that Jewish pilgrims can buy sacrificial animals. And then he drives out everyone who is selling sacrificial animals, likely setting all the animals free.

We are used to hearing this called Jesus cleansing the Temple. But this is not so accurate because he doesn’t quote scripture about ritual defilement and cleansing. He cites Jeremiah (7:11) who is criticizing the people who after committing egregious acts of injustice run go hide in Temple, behind its rituals and sacrifices. Jesus does this as the Son of David, heir to the long-lost throne of Israel. It is interesting to note the officials do not express concerned with the disruption, of the banking and animal businesses. They don’t say anything at all. But on his way, out, Jesus heals the blind and the lame, who are usually prohibited from the Temple grounds just as they are excluded from Jewish society as a whole. But what gets the officials’ attention is the children shouting Hosanna to the Son of David (Matthew 21:15). Actually, this makes them angry. I actually suspect, it makes them very much afraid. Matthew writes Jesus abandons them … [and] spends the night in Bethany (Boring, Harrelson)

We have been here before; we have had that uncomfortable feeling, many years ago. [dark voice] We know prophecies of destruction, [darker voice] and we know what happened. [pause] [lighter voice] There are no such prophecies today, and shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (NRSV Matthew 21:9) still, resonate in our ears. And yet … [long pause] that uneasiness hangs in the air. One wonders ~ what collapse ~ is about to befall us?


Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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.

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