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. < >.





Transformation – Listen to Him

A Sermon for Last after Epiphany Transfiguration; 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

You know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. You know the mountaintop, that boundary place between heaven and earth, is similar to one of Moses’ cloud covered mountain top excursions. You know how visually stunning Jesus’ clothes are; glowing so bright they outshine even White Brite® Laundry Whitener.

They glow so brightly it is easy to forget the visual reference to heavenly beings (Perkins). You know the word ‘transfiguration’ means change and its root is the same as the word ‘repentance’ to change one’s behavior. You know Moses and Elijah represent the twin pillars of Jewish life the law and the prophets (Sakenfeld). You heard this morning that Elijah is taken into heaven and did not die, and you may remember Moses’ burial place is a secret and that he did not really die but lives in heaven with God (Perkins). You remember that Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you think that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” just a before Jesus take him, James, and John up the mountain. You all have heard that Peter’s 3 booths is an effort to capture the moment or contain it, by making a reference to the Festival of Booths (Harrelson) or maybe to Moses’ Tent of meeting (Perkins). You connect that God’s announcement This is my Son, the Beloved (Mark 9:7 with You are my Son, the Beloved (Mark 1:11) at Jesus’ baptism. We might be so caught up with this connection that we miss the complete surprise that in the middle of a Super-Bowl size visual extravaganza (Hoezee; Butler) the most significant moment, literally the final act, is spoken as God says …listen to him! Jesus’ transfiguration has been so central to study and preaching of this story that we focus only on Jesus’ transfiguration and not the broader transformation swirling around Peter, James, and John.

There is no question of the significance of this story in Jesus’ ministry. One indication of that is that it is also in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts. And though it is not directly evident, there is also a lot going on in the discipleships of Peter, James, and John. I mentioned Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But, it is also important to mention that just after this Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, only to be rebuked by Jesus himself (Mark 8:31-33). It doesn’t take James and John long to make their request for positions in Jesus’, soon to be established, royal court (Mark 10:35-40). These, and the other similar signs, that the disciples do not truly understand Jesus’ calling, are steps in the wrong direction. However, they are also signs of their transformation, which by the way shares the same root as repent, and transfiguration.

That the disciples have trouble following Jesus should not surprise us. We heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. It includes a story of Elisha’s dedication, and his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The Living Church’s reflection notes that Elisha is formed under the direction of a human master, which is a slow learning process, it takes time (The Living Church). To get caught up in Jesus humanity versus his divinity is to miss the point that Peter, James, and John, indeed, all the disciples, including us, are all human. Their learning, our learning is a slow timely process.

Having witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration Peter, James, and John can never be same. The heavenly living presence of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, the brilliant light, associated with heavenly beings, the commanding voice of God, telling them, directing them to listen to him, is enough to change anyone’s life. True, it takes some time, and it takes some miss steps, nonetheless their presence at Jesus’ transfiguration is part of their transformation to the fullness of discipleship (Lewis).

By way of sacred story our witnessing the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration is a part of our story. This is not just another miracle story. This is not just another affirmation of baptism. This story intrudes into our lives. Though we may put into action our own version of three booths, we can no longer stay where we are. The transfiguration experience propels [us] to make manifest the Kingdom of God (Lewis). Inspired imagination redirects our attention from a glowing Jesus, up-there somewhere, to sharing the Kingdom that is right here, right here in River City, right now. Are we ready? Of course, not but, that is okay; we will go anyway, the disciples did, and Jesus will lead us just as he led them.

Today we stand at the very edge of Epiphany For the past 7 or 8 weeks we have been in the light of Jesus’ birth – the incarnation God coming among us, as one of us; we stand in the visionary light of the Wise men who follow the strange star and listen to urgent dreams to find the Christ child and to not unwittingly lead Herod’s fear-driven murderous action. Jesus was majestically transfigured revealing the light of his divine being. We have been mystically immersed in transforming light of divine presence. We stand at the boundary of that light and retrospection. The fruit of our next journey is born of the commitment ~ to listen.


Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018. <;.

Butterworth, Susan. “Behind the Veil, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).” 11 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 2 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.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018.

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

Lewis, Karoline. It Is Good To Be Here. 11 2 2018. <>.

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.

The Living Church. Ascending Flame and Descending Love. 5 2 20108. <>.

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





There he is!

A sermon for Epiphany 2; Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

John has everyone’s attention; the Jewish leaders; and the people’s. He has a group of followers, disciples, people who are committed to his different teachings and expectations. We expect disciples to be dedicated and committed to their teacher or leader. We also expect the teacher or leader to expect their followers to, well, follow.

So, the other day, John is in a town near the Jordan river and has an encounter with Jewish leaders from Jerusalem, who want to know who he is. He says he is not who they think he is. His tell them someone else is coming.

The next day John is walking through town and shouts out “There he is! ‘The Lamb of God.’ The one who will take away the world’s sin!” He shares the story of Jesus’ baptism. It is a testimony to who Jesus is.

A day later John and a couple of his disciples are walking through town. John sees Jesus again and shouts out “There he is again.” The disciples may have made a curious face as John calls this unknown person the Lamb of God, which is a new title. Whatever their faces may have revealed, their action is unexpected. They give up their relationship with John and turn and follow Jesus. It’s almost like someone giving up their loyal following of the Hogs and becoming a fanatic Boll Weevil follower; it is unimaginable.

Jesus notices they are following him, and turns and asks them “What do you want?” They ask him “Where are you staying?” Jesus tells them “Come and see.” They followed Jesus till late in the day. Then Andrew went to find his brother, and tells him about their unusual day; and then claims to have found the Messiah, another new title for Jesus. Simon follows his brother to meet Jesus, who on first sight calls him by name and then renames him, Peter. It is such a simple story. But not really.

To begin with, ‘The Lamb of God’ is a completely new term, it has never heard anywhere before, and is not used anywhere else in the bible (Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a reference to multiple ways God is present to Israel:

  • their liberation from slavery in Egypt
  • the sacrifice of Isaac
  • the Temple cultic sacrificial system and
  • the suffering servants from Isaiah (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson; Boring).

John says Jesus will take away the sin – singular – the sin of the world. Jesus’ purpose in not individual, it is universal. It is not about our specific moral misconduct. It is about the consequences of any action that

  •  creates distance in our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  contributes to alienation and darkness or (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson;
  •  the world’s collective brokenness (Boring; Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

So, this is not about me, or you, or even us. This is about everyone, the entire world, all the cosmos.

Secondly, the conversation between Jesus and John’s two disciples is simple. And not so much so. Jesus asks “What are you looking for?” But, because this is a bible story and because Jesus is asking a question, we know Jesus does not think these two strangers have lost their keys or its 1st century like thing. Jesus is inviting them to share from the depths of their hearts

  •  what are they seeking (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  what they are longing for most hope for (Lose) and
  •  what motivates them (West).

The disciples’ answer is another question “Where are you staying?” Now, it is not unusual for a teacher to answer a student’s or follower’s question with a question. It is unusual the other way around. So, we know something is up which is that ‘staying’ is not reference to Jesus’ Inn number. What they want to know is where Jesus abides. (Clavier; Gaventa and Petersen). Later we will hear Jesus say:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15:4.)

and a little later

… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, … (John 15:5)

and just a bit further

and If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

All of which is about our relationship with Jesus, which reflects Jesus’ relationship with God. The disciples want to know about Jesus’ relationship with God (Boring). It also is their way of saying “We want to stay with you.” which really means “We want to follow you (Lose).” “We want to be your disciples.” There are also implications that they are also seeking some stability, some purpose in life (West; Boring).

Jesus’ answer “Come and see.” sounds equally ordinary, but as the question is more than it sounds so is Jesus reply. “Come and see” is an invitation, but an invitation to what (Clavier)? Well, invitations usually have some sort of relationship feature (Lose). Here it is an offer to come to know Jesus through the eyes of faith (Boring).

The structure of the story also teaches us something about Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see.” We know the disciples spend a good deal of the day with Jesus. The next thing that happens is? Well – what does Andrew do? That’s right, He goes and tells his brother, Simon, they have found the messiah. The invitation to come and see Jesus is evangelism (Lose).

And here the story links back to John. John’s witness leads to his disciples becoming Jesus’ disciples (Harrelson). Their story of hearing John’s witness, and moving into Jesus’ presence is not complete until they witness to someone else (Harrelson; Boring). We cannot see it in English, but the form of ‘see’ is a completed past action whose effect continues into the present (Boring). So, just as John’s witness of Jesus’ baptism is not complete until he witnesses to his disciples, and the disciples’ witness is not complete until they witness to someone our witness of their witness, which we experience by reading and hearing scripture, is not complete until we invite someone else to “Come and see.”

A final observation. In the other Gospels, the disciples give up a way of life to follow Jesus. This morning, John’s disciples give up their previous religious commitment as disciples of John to become disciples of Jesus (Boring). Together with the new title of “Lamb of God” this is a reminder for us not to limit God/Jesus/Sprit to our preconceived ideas, and to always be open to new images or metaphors for understanding and experiencing different relationships to the faith community (Boring).

God/Jesus/Spirit does not change; however, the world, the time and space we live in does change (Lewis). This means the nature of our relationships with each other and the universe changes, and so the way others encounter God/Jesus/Spirit will be different, and the way, the language others can receive our witness to our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit changes. Which mean to be open to new expressions of the presence of God is to be faithful to God’s presence right here, right now. It means that you are free to witness, share, your new experience of God/Jesus/Spirit as you dive deep into what in life you are looking for.


Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Clavier, Anthony. “There Goes a Lamb, Epiphany 2(A).” 15 1 2017. Sermons that Work.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <;.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 15 1 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. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:29-42. 15 1 2017.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.
Lewis, Karoline. Timely Matters. 15 1 2017. <>.
Lose, David. Epiphany 2 A: A Question, Invitation, and Promise. 15 1 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
West, Audrey. Commentary on John 1:2942. 15 1 2017. <;.

See and Hear Differently

A sermon for 1st Sunday of Epiphany 1, Jesus’ Baptism; Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

On Monday, our oldest was born. On Tuesday, our youngest was born. On Wednesday, they were driving. By Thursday they had graduated High School. And Friday both graduated College Today they are married with children! How did that happen?

Last week Jesus was circumcised and named. Today, a week later, the fully-grown Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, where John is baptizing folks, and Jesus says “Me too!” John hesitates, but Jesus persuades him, and it is done. But what is done?

We met John the Baptist at the beginning of chapter 3. He wears funny clothes, cries out “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2.) He baptizes people for repentance of their sins. He challenges Pharisees and Sadducees calling them a “sons of snakes” perhaps a reference to Genesis 3 and the snake in the garden (Boring) and John challenges them, and everyone, to bear fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).

John is not the first person to baptize. There are directions in Leviticus that tells the Israelites how to clean themselves up before entering the Temple. It is not about a bath; it is about washing away the impurities of:

  • moral failures
  • violations of rules like not touching anything dead
  • some natural occurrences, and
  • some illnesses.

This and other ritual cleanings are part of Jewish life. There were special pools for such cleansings; however, immersions in natural pools or flowing water were also used (Butterworth). John’s baptism does seem to have a different emphasis, he was calling on people to change how they were living, repentance, or change of course, and adopt a life that is a commitment to God, a new direction. (Carter) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). John’s practices are similar to the ascetic community of the Essenes who lived way out in the wilderness in Qumran as a protest to what they believed were the corrupt practices of leaders in Jerusalem and the Temple. Some scholars believe that John belonged to this community (Butterworth).

I am sure you notice that John hesitates to grant Jesus’ request to be baptized. Some people think this is because Jesus is sinless. He is, but that is not a concern when Matthew wrote his Gospel and is not the cause of John’s hesitation (Carter). John hesitates until he realizes that this baptism is Jesus’ commitment to God (Butterworth).

It is interesting to visualize Matthew’s scene carefully. John is Baptizing in the Jordan river. Nothing unusual about this, it happens all the time. There are many people there. Several have already been baptized. It is a day full of usual activity. No one expects anything unusual to happen (Hoezee). There is nothing out of the ordinary for a solitary man to approach John. John’s hesitation is not typical, but it is not dramatic either. There is nothing different about immersing Jesus. And none of the Gospels are very clear about what happens next. At least for the crowd, nothing is different. For us, Matthew’s readers, may before John, and certainly, for Jesus everything is different.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens open up, and the Spirit descends. These are signs of revelation and divine gifts that happened in biblical times (Old Testament times for us) but had not happened in a long time, but are expected to come again in the last days (Boring), and the arrival of the Messiah. The dove is frequently associated with the Spirit that hovers the chaotic waters of creation (Genesis 1:2). However, there is no reference to a dove-like form in Genesis. It is interesting to note that for the Romans birds are a sign of divine actions establishing the destinies of imperial officials (Carter). So, the image of the dove may be an indirect challenge to Roman oppression and a commitment to restoring justice (Ellingsen). The arrival of the spirit is a sign that God is equipping Jesus for his ministry, and links Jesus to Old Testament leaders of Judges (Judges 6:34), the Davidic Kings (Isaiah 11:1), and God’s suffering servant (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1) (Carter). Jesus, John, and we hear God’s voice “This is so awesome!” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). I wonder if Jesus and John react the way Mary and the Shepherds did when the Angel unexpectedly appeared to them. God “declares Jesus’ identity and destiny” (Butterworth) in a way, it is very similar to last week when Jesus becomes a member of Abraham’s descendants and is given his name, which implies his destiny. The pronouncement “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” combines Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, we heard this morning. You recognize Isaiah 42:1 as one of the suffering servant passages. Psalm 2 is one of the royal psalms; which is a bit curious because it has been 550 or more years since Israel had a King. That they still included these psalms is in their scripture a testament to Israel’s continuing belief that, God is faithful and the Davidic line of kings will be restored (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

This story about baptism tells us more about Jesus than it does about the baptism. We hear Jesus’ identity and ministry, as God’s son, affirmed (Butterworth). We hear how Jesus is the agent of the new creation (Isaiah 42:9) because oppression and injustice are not God’s will (Harrelson). We see, in the sign of a descending dove, that Jesus’ mission is divinely empowered (Sakenfeld). We glean how Jesus’ commitment to God is bearing the fruit John is referring to in his rant against the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:8) (Butterworth). And we may just catch a glimpse of the inner life of God as Jesus is named twice in his circumcision and baptism, revealing both his fully human and fully divine nature (Scoopmire).

All that brings us to the “So what?” question. What do we learn about us in all this? I suspect the first thing is that this story reminds us to open our eyes and look at the world differently. John knew Jesus because he saw the world differently than the Romans and their collaborators. God’s tells us to “Look at him!” but also to “Look for him!” (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And it is important for us to look because there are those who proclaim another way.

In Jesus’ day, Roman Civil Religion threatened the world. Today an emerging American Civil Religion threatens the world. Its proponents disregard foundational doctrines like Trinity. Perhaps because belief in the Trinity requires belief in a fully human and fully divine Jesus that requires divinity and humanity to co-exist. In other words, Jesus has fully free human will within a divine framework (Mitchican). American Civil Religion rejects the Trinity because it cannot see how truly free enterprise can exist within any regulatory system. It teaches that Jesus went to the cross not to bring forgiveness of our sins but to get us out of financial debt, to give us the power to claim our prosperity, and to give us our best life right now. American Civil Religion teaches that Jesus is “not the only begotten Son of God,” just the first; and that we’re all divine and have the power to speak worlds into existence (Hughes). If that doesn’t evoke the memory of the original temptation to be like God Gen.3:5) then I don’t know what does.

And once we see the world differently, what are we to do? You know the answer: we follow the shepherds, we boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and savior, and we preach and teach and witnesses to Jesus’ presence in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Is it hard? no, all you do is share your stories. Is it scary? yes, but it gets easier with time. How do we know when to speak? Well, you have already learned to look differently, and now is the time to listen differently, and then we will encounter the unexpected opportunity to share. And oh yes, you can relax because just as God was there when Jesus started his ministry God is here for you when you start or continue yours.


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

Butterworth, Susan. “The Baptism of Our Lord, Epiphany 1(A).” 8 1 2017. Sermons that Work.

Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 3:1317. 8 1 2017. <;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 8 1 2016. <;.

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

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

Hughes, Rosalind. An evangelical warns of “mainstream heresy.” n.d. <;.

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

Lewis, Karoline. You Are All My Beloved. 8 1 2017. <>.

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

Scoopmire, Leslie. Speaking to the Soul: Named and claimed. 8 1 2017. <;.



What’s in a name

A sermon for Holy Name: Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:15-21

 What’s in a name? About what we think, and more. You all know my name is Scott. If you have ever seen my signature, well that doesn’t help because, even its long from it isn’t readable, but if you have seen the typed version you may know my full name is John Scott Trotter. Which might raise the question “Why don’t I go by my first name?” Simply put, it is to avoid confusion, because my dad’s name is John. At least it is until we went back to his family home where he was called “Jack” because he has an uncle named John, who was frequently there, and they wanted to avoid confusion. There are all sorts of traditions related to names. Our family lore claims that we are descended from a soldier named Peter who was William the conqueror’s (of 1066 fame) first assistant. He named his son William, who subsequently named his son Peter and so on, it went from generation to generation. You can tell I am rather far removed from the direct line; of the 14 different letters in my name, one of them is the same as the 9 in my ancestors naming scheme. Oh Well. Most namings are not so complex; our first daughter is named after both her grandmothers; and our second is named after a family friend and a derivative of Angie’s last name. I had a colleague, whose first child is named after the place he was conceived.

In the bible, naming is similar to current traditions. It is primarily about distinguishing people, places, and things from each other. At times a name reflects something distinctive about the person’s birth or character. At other times a person’s name is connected to a place. It is not uncommon for a name to be related to a memory. The act of naming can be significant. People can claim authority over another by naming or renaming them. Messengers speak “in the name of” of the person who sent them (Sakenfeld).

This morning we heard the story of, 8 day old, Jesus’ circumcision and naming. It demonstrates Mary’s and Joseph’s piety. First, they follow the Jewish tradition of circumcision which connects Jesus to the covenant between God and Abraham, the patriarch of all Israel, and marks his becoming a part of the community (Baters; Gaventa and Petersen; Culpepper). It also demonstrates their obedience and loyalty to God. They named their child as instructed; the name that was given to Mary by the angel when she is told she will bear the divine child and given to Joseph by an angel, in a dream when he is told to go on and marry Mary even though she is unexpectedly pregnant (Culpepper; Pankey). It is also another way in which Mary and Joseph are part of the salvation scheme because the naming itself is an act of divine fulfillment (Culpepper).

 Jesus’ name is relatively common. It is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous (“yeh-soos”), which is a form of the Hebrew Joshua which comes from Yeshua, meaning “to help” or “to save.” (Pankey; Baters; Sakenfeld). The name is full of significance. Linking the meaning of the name ‘Jesus’ “to save” to the idea of salvation leads to understanding that the name ‘Jesus’ is a sign of salvation, which leads to understanding the name as a verbal sacrament, an outward and perceptual sign of an inward and imperceptible grace (Hoffacker). The meaning of the name implies Jesus is the one who will accomplish the glory of God, by making salvation available to all (Moore). Joshua is the Old Testament hero who leads the wandering Hebrews to freedom in the promised land connecting Jesus to leading all that follow him to freedom in eternity (Hoffacker). That name connection also links Jesus to God’s salvific actions we know through Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Judges, Debra, the prophets, Huldah, and many others (Pankey). Understanding the name of ‘Jesus’ as “God saves,” reminds us

 There is never a point at which God is willing to give up on his hopes of restoring humanity to right relationship (Pankey).

Jesus’ name has significance beyond the person of Jesus. I mentioned that messengers speak “in the name of” the person who sent them. Well, in our baptism and our confirmation we are bound to Jesus. That includes us being a part of continuing Jesus’ ministry to proclaim “that the Kingdom of God has come near.” We hear this idea in the phrase “we minister in Jesus name” (Baters). And that notion is much older than Jesus’ name.

Our Old Testament reading this morning is from Numbers and is the blessing Aaron and all successive priests are to use. It may be very familiar.

The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace

What is not so familiar is the last verse, So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them. In the larger context of Numbers, we learn that pronouncing a blessing is not as a casual activity. It is so significant that the responsibility to bless is limited to priests. However, verse 27 makes it abundantly clear that “priests do not possess the power to bless independently of God” (Dozeman; Gaventa and Petersen). This understanding is somewhat masked because, in all of our bibles, the three phrases of the blessing begin “The Lord.” In the original Hebrew script ‘Lord’ is ‘Yahweh,’ God’s unspoken name (Dozeman). We have no way of knowing what Israel’s priests actually said when pronouncing this blessing. I do suspect that those who knew the book of Numbers knew that it was God’s blessing the priests were giving voice to. I do believe that those who heard the blessing heard God’s voice bestowing peace upon them. And more than peace, because shalom imputes not only peace, but also, security, inner harmony, wellness, material prosperity, friendship, justice, salvation, a long life, and a holiness of life, that brings about physical, emotion, social and spiritual health (Dozeman; Harrelson).

What is in a name? Well, in Jesus’ name the promise of salvation for all. So, whenever we hear it, whenever we speak it, whenever we act in it:

  • may it be a gift that makes all human life possible
  • may it shine broadly with warmth, brightness, and life-giving energy on all creation
  • may it be an active, direct acceptance and consecration of a specific person or community in a gesture of reconciliation (Harrelson)
  • may it bring everyone into God’s loving enteral presence


Baters, Barrie. The Name Given by an Angel, Feast of the Holy Name (A) –. 1 1 2017. <;.

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

Dozeman, Thomas B. The Book of Numbers (NIBC) Leviticus 27:25. Vol. I. Abbington, 2015. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Fretheim, Terence E. Commentary on Numbers 6:22-27. 1 1 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.

Hoffacker, Charles. “The name of Jesus on our lips, Holy Name (A,B,C) – 2014.” 1 1 2014. Sermons that Work. 1 1 2017.

Moore, Joy J. Commentary on Luke 2:15-21. 1 1 2017. <;.

Pankey, Steve. Jesus’ other name. 13 12 2015. 1 1 2017.

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




Vulnerable Saints

A sermon for Proper 27 & All Saints
Proper 27: Haggai 1:1-5b – 2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22, Luke 20:27-38
All Saints: Ephesians 1:11-23


Tuesday is election day. The responsibility to vote is relatively new. In Samuel and Chronicles, the people do have a say in approving who is appointed to be anointed King, but not who the person is. But it is not so much the story of voting as it is the story of their turning away from God. Ancient Athens and Rome had something like voting, and the selection of popes and the Holy Roman Emperor included a type of vote. But what we think of as elections first appears in 17th century Europe in limited ways (Britannica). The responsibility to vote in the United States is a long ~ ever changing story. In 1776 only males who owned land could vote; just 6 percent of the people were eligible to vote for president when George Washington was elected. In 1856 all white males gained voting rights, in 1870 voting rights could no longer be denied because of race, in 1920 women gained voting rights, in 1947 all Native Americans gained voting rights, 1952 people of Asian Ancestry gained voting rights, legislation guaranteeing voting rights was passed in 1963, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66, and ‘67, in 1971 the age to vote was lowered to 18, and in 2000 residents of U.S. colonies become citizens, but cannot vote (KQED). If you have not already voted, I encourage you to exercise the relatively rare responsibility to vote.

There is also some biblical direction to vote. In Romans Paul writes:

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. Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed (NRSV, Romans 13:1-2).

Without getting caught up in the resisting authority bit, Paul implies God is at work in establishing governments, and we have a responsibility to follow the established rules, which includes voting. To thoughtfully and prayerfully exercise your responsibility to vote is following God’s way.

I do understand that this has not been an easy nor comfortable election season. Many people I know are not comfortable with either the Republican nor the Democratic candidate. I know several who voted for one of the many other choices; there are 8 presidential candidates on the Arkansas ballot and as many as 31 candidates on ballots scattered across all the states (Politics1). I know many people are feeling vulnerable because of the implications of threats from self-appointed poll watchers. There was an incident in Arkansas; a person was standing in the doorway telling at least one person to shut up and go home (Musa). I know folks who are uncomfortable with the thought that people will not accept the results if their candidate does not win. I know folks who are genuinely concerned about the sporadic talk of taking up arms. So yes, this is a season in which you might very well feel vulnerable. So, it just may be a good thing that our observation of All Saints Day and election day fall so close to each other. But before we get there, let’s remember that we are not the first people of God to feel vulnerable.

Haggai is a prophet in Jerusalem some 20 years after the return from exile. They have not yet rebuilt the Temple, as they were supposed to. It’s just not right. Some of the older folks remember the splendor of the Temple Solomon built, and they don’t have the money or material resources to rebuild it. Besides that, all the important things inside the Temple, like the Ark of the Covenant, the protecting Cherubim, the Tablets of the Law, the molten sea, and so much more are all gone (Wines). It is a bleak time; the people feel dejected; their homeland is still in ruins, and the Temple where the Lord’s glory had shone can never be rebuilt. It is a world that provides few reasons for hope (Lynch).

Haggai acknowledges all of this. He hears the people wonder “How will God ever be among us if this is God’s house? And then he reminds them that God chooses to be among us. Haggai assures the people God is establishing shalom; abundant life and peace for God’s people (Bratt). I know it sounds strange, but Jesus is following Haggai’s example in his encounter with the Sadducees.

The Sadducees follow the first five books of the Jewish Bible. There is nothing there about resurrection, so they do not believe in resurrection. Along comes this itinerate street preacher attracting all sorts of attention, in part by teaching about resurrection. He is making them feel vulnerable. While their ancestors got depressed when vulnerable, the Sadducees go on the attack. In fact, they form an alliance with their usual enemy the Pharisees. They present an absurd story, built on the Jewish tradition that a brother of a dead childless Jewish man marries his wife to continue the family name. Jesus counters their story by referring to Moses meeting God in the burning bush where God calls Gods’ self the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And as everyone knows God is the God of the living, so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be alive. The implication is, there is some sort of resurrection.

And yes, it is a trap. And yes, Jesus best them. However, Jesus is not out to defeat them. Jesus is seeking to calm their vulnerability by giving them the opportunity to expand their imagination and accept God who is far bigger than they have imagined before (Lewis, Resurrection).It is like Jesus’ sermon off the mount way back in chapter six.

In Luke’s version of the story, Jesus comes off the mountain to the people gathered on the plain. They are vulnerable; there is lots of illnesses, troubles with unclean spirits, and just plain ole hard living (Luke 6:17). Jesus comes to the saints of the day. Then, like now saints are not perfect, nor pious, nor zealous; saints are people who know they are vulnerable. They know they need help, they know they are dependent on someone else, divine or otherwise (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). As Haggai does for the people in Jerusalem, and as Jesus does for the Sadducees, Jesus brings the presence of God to them.

All this is part of the foundation the Letter to the Ephesians stands on in its argument for our inheritance of new life in Christ where no one is vulnerable (Alfaro).

I suppose the question this morning is what do we do with our feelings of vulnerability? The first step is to admit that we are vulnerable. And all of us, one way or another are vulnerable. We can try to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable or pose a risk, or that make us sad; but, in doing this, we also dull our ability to be satisfied, or feel happy or to be joyful (Lose, Saintly Vulnerability). We can try to remake resurrection life like we want it, and risk missing the promises Jesus offers for our lives not only in the future but also for today. We can spend all kinds of energy trying to imagine the unimaginable, or [pause] we can use that energy to join with all the vulnerable saints of ages past by choosing to live in the presence of the Kingdom that is right here right now (Lewis, Resurrection). And who knows, our efforts just may appear as a saintly inspiration to another vulnerable child of God.


Alfaro, Sammy. Working preacher Commentary on Ephesians 1:1123. 6 11 2016. < 1/3>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 27 Haggai 1:15b-2:9. 6 11 2016. <>.

Britannica. election-political-science. n.d. 4 11 2016. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 11 2016. <;.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 27 | Luke 20:27-38. 6 11 2016. <;.

KQED. us-voting-rights-timeline. n.d. 4 11 2016. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Singing on All Saints Sunday. 6 11 2016. <>.

—. Dear Working Preacher Who Says There’s No Resurrection? 6 11 2016. < 1/3>.

Lose, David. All Saints Sunday: The Sermon I Need to Hear. 6 11 2016.

—. All Saints’ Sunday B: Look Twice. 6 11 2016. <;.

—. All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability. 6 11 2016.

—. Commentary on Luke 20:2738. 6 11 2016.

Lynch, John J. “Study of the “Last Things” – Proper 27(C).” 6 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

Musa, Aziza. Election commissioner in Pine Bluff accused of voter intimidation. 3 11 2016. <>.

Politics1. p2016. n.d. 4 111 2016. <;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Haggai 1:15b2:. 6 11 2016. <;.




So you think you are a god

A sermon for Proper 4: 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24), Psalm 146, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

If you watch any TV at all, you know about reality TV. There seems to be a contest for almost everything. There is a “So you think you are a …” contest for singers dancers, cooks, stage and movie makeup artists, and home makeovers. This morning we seem to have a “So you think you are a god” contest.

Elijah is in the northern Kingdom Israel. Israel’s’ kings have gotten progressively more sinful and Ahab worst of the worst. He is married to Jezebel and actively worships Baal; he builds an altar to Baal. God tells Elijah to announce there will be a drought. This is a direct challenge to Baal, who is the Canaanite god of rain and fertility (Hoezee, Harrelson, Sakenfeld). By a roundabout way, Elijah ends up at the gates of Zarephath, a Phoenician city and center of Baal worship (Harrelson). And although Baal must periodically submit to Mot, the Canaanite god death, which causes drought, it is clear the God of Israel is the cause of this drought in the very heartland of Baal home territory (Gaventa and Petersen).

Remember last week we heard the story of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal in which Elijah’s sacrifice is accepted in the blazing all-consuming fire after Baal’s prophets were unable to get a response to their appeals. I don’t think we got to the verses that immediately follow where God brings the drought to an end. The “So you think you are a god” contest is leaning in God’s favor. However, there is more to the story than drought.

Elijah meets a widow at the gates of Zarephath and offers her a source of unending bread and oil, an amazing abundance in the face of dire scarcity (Chan). She shares with him the last of her and her son’s food, and sure enough, there is grain and oil to last. We don’t know how long it takes, but the widow’s son gets sick and dies. She blames Elijah because he brought her, and her sins, to God’s attention. Elijah takes the child to his room, enacts some ritual, and asks God to restore his life. In the heart of Baal’s territory; in the heart of Mot’s territory, once again God brings life from despair and death revealing that God is sovereign (Harrelson).

The widow’s son is brought to life. The widow professes belief in Elijah as a man of God, and in that belief, faith in God. At this point, the contest is over, neither Baal nor Mot prevails; the Lord, the God of Israel, is God of all (Gaventa and Petersen).

Widow Zarephath’s story is not new; she is in the same crisis Naomi is in in the Book of Ruth. Despite the many laws and statutes designed to give widows extra consideration, in reality, widows continued to be an exploited group, invisible to most (Hoezee).

As Jesus approaches the Gate of Nain, he sees a funeral procession of a widow’s only son. The mother’s grief is deep and bitter. It’s less than a day since his death, and she has no idea what the evening will bring, never mind what will become of her from here on. She is shrouded in despair (Hogan). Uninvited, Jesus goes to the bier and stops the procession and just tells the man to get up. No ritual, no touching the body, just simply “I say to you rise.” And he does. Jesus brings life from despair and death.

A couple of observations about these stories’ context. Elijah could not be in a more hostile place, yet it is here, in the heart of hostile territory, in the heart of another belief system, that God calls him to bear witness to the presence and power of God. I’ll acknowledge a bit of cultural projection; however, uninvited, Jesus intercedes in a profoundly personal time and acts. One commentator asks:

What would be your reaction if a stranger walked in during the funeral of one of your [family] and stopped the proceedings (Hogan)?

The opportunity to be Jesus’ witness “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) is more often than not in unexpected, inhospitable, intrusive circumstances (Chan).

Widow Zarephath and the Widow Nain have been cut off from their communities by the deaths of their husbands and their sons. They have no prospects of providing for themselves. And yes, God and Jesus restore life to the dead sons; but they also restore life to the mothers (Hoezee). It is a common feature of healing miracles, that not only is life restored to the object of the miracle, but also to others, as community connections are also restored to life. A sign that our service in Jesus’ ministry is bearing fruit is that all sorts of things adjacent to the focus of our work begin showing signs of renewed hope, and budding life (Hoezee).

Bible stories like Widow Zarephath and Widow Nain are at one level comforting. At the same time, they can leave us uneasy, because we continue to live in a world that knows all sorts of death; from the death of loved ones, the loss of an opportunity, a job, a dream, or whatever. We are left not knowing how to respond, afraid of creeping doubt, fretful about the lack of our own faith. So how are we to respond? I have just read a book for my upcoming D.Min. class titled Leading Causes of Life. One observation is how much time and energy we tend to put into those things that cause death in an effort to stop death. These efforts are not wrong; however, the author observes how little resources we put into causes of life (Gunderson and Page). Perhaps ministry lies in nurturing life not simply fighting death. What Elijah’s and Jesus’ actions did that we can do is to nurture life. What we can do that is similar to their action is to sustain and nurture the potential that is right next to what is suffering, as the professional healers minister to the suffering. In both stories, it is the widowed grieving mothers who are at risk. In both stories, the act of ministry is not directed at them but at specifically their sons, or more generally some portion of life that is tangential to them which when nourished to flourishing will spill life all over them.

We all know Reality TV is not what it seems. Nonetheless, the reality is that the opportunity for service to Jesus ministry is not right in front of us, but perhaps in one of the surrounding communal relations. The reality is that with a touch of brazen uninvited interruption, or seemingly unrelated action, we can witness to the life-giving presence of God in Jesus by the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth.


Bratt, Doug. Proper 5CCenter for Excellence in Preaching. 5 6 2016. <>.

Chan, Michael J. “Commentary on 1 Kings 17:816.” 6 9 2015. Working Preacher.

Ferguson, Shannon. “Green and Growing, Proper 5 (C) – 2016.” 5 6 2016. Sermons that Work.

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

Gunderson, Gary and Larry Page. Leading Causes of Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 7:11-17. 5 6 2016.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on Luke 7:11-17. 5 6 2016. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. When Jesus Shows Up. 5 6 2016. <>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <;.

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