A Sermon for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany; Exodus 34: 29-35, Psalm 99,
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

If you ever go to Rome, to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli to visit Pope Julius II tomb and take in Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, be ready. Michelangelo uses today’s reading from Exodus as a model for Moses. No, you will not be blinded by the light, but ~ you will see two horns protruding from either side of Moses’ head. No, Michelangelo did not make an error. In fact, there are several paintings of Moses from the Renaissance that show Moses with horns (Wikipedia). The Hebrew word actually means both horn and shine. Translations of the Old Testament made around 200 BCE use ‘horns’, which may imply some touch of divinity. In ancient languages of surrounding cultures, the kindred word is used to combine horn and light, so we get a phrase like horns of light. Imagine Moses’ head back-lit creating a halo-like effect, and the artist uses lines to represent the vision (Keener and Walton). It is also interesting to note the word also implies power (Epperly).

Chasing the point much further will just distract us from the lesson of the reading. Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God. Moses comes down the mountain changed, whether its horns, or a shining, or some other expression of divine power doesn’t matter, Moses is now different than he was before. God changed Moses, and that is what has the Israelites frightened (Epperly). Frightened enough to ask him to cover his face, who knows, this divine presence thing could be contagious. They whisper to each other “Do you to be changed by God like that?”

The Gospel story for today also involves a shining, Jesus’ transfiguration. His face is changed (notice we are not told how) and his clothes become dazzling white. We have another word note here. Jesus is with Moses and Elijah and they are speaking of his departure (Luke 9:31). A commentary points out they are literally speaking about his exodus (Lewis). ‘Exodus’ sounds so different in our ears. It just may remind us of Israel’s Exodus, a transformative event, the divine revelation that forges the Hebrew tribes into the nation of Israel (Carey). Moses and Elijah (the personification of the continuing divine revelation in the Law and the Prophets) know something of exodus journeys. We are not privy to their conversation; one commentator postulates Jesus may be just a bit apprehensive and they are providing him a little encouragement to continue down the path that leads to salvation for all creation (Hoezee). Broadly speaking we can see that: like Moses, Jesus is changed in the presence of God, like Moses, Jesus comes down the mountain, and like Moses Jesus immediately faces a challenge.

At the bottom of the mountain, there is a crowd, in the midst of whom is a father who begs him to look at his son. Immediately a demonic spirit takes hold of the boy and causes him to convulse. Quickly Jesus rebukes the spirit, heals the boy and returns him to his father. Everyone is astounded. This not the first time in Luke Jesus has faced a demon, nor the first time he has healed. However, when reading such a story with Jesus’ transfiguration, along with horned/shinning face Moses coming down the mountain fresh in our memories it is easier to notice how everything is being changed by the presence of God, just as Moses and Jesus were. Not only are Moses, Jesus, the boy physically changed, the way they interact with others changes; and, the way others interact with them changes. Everything changes.

The vastness of the change is seen when we notice that it is not just the boy’s father who is amazed, but everyone is amazed. In all the stories about Jesus, some are amazed, some are angered, some find hope, but one way or another everyone is forever changed (Woods).

There is one more phrase to look at. After rebuking the spirit, and healing the boy, Jesus gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:42). It is easy to overlook because it is such a natural next thing to do. However, it is not the next thing. Giving the boy back to his father is continuing the act of healing begun in rebuking the demon. The boy is not the only one harmed by the demon-spirit; the father is harmed, the family is harmed, their home village is harmed, everyone in that family’s social circle is harmed. Returning the boy to his father continues the healing, by extending healing to the father, and through the father the family, and through the family the village and through the village on until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.

Here at the end of Epiphany, a season of Light, with the horned shinning face of Moses, the brilliant transfiguration of Jesus, all this light reminds me of John 1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:3-4).

The brilliant light of Jesus is the fullest expression of the life-light God has given each and every one of you. That initial creation light immediately is in darkness, and it shines, and most significantly ~ the darkness does not overcome the light. Moses comes down the mountain to face darkness, Jesus comes down the mountains to face the darkness and the darkness did not overcome the light.

We live in troublesome times, in a time of darkness. Last Sunday the preacher said our society is tearing itself apart. He is correct enough I would not be surprised if more than one person does not attempt to cover that bit of enlightened divine truth with a vale. There are many stresses all around us. Some are international like Pakistan and India, both of whom have nuclear weapons, escalating towards direct armed conflict. The escalating war of intolerant words over abortion, Trump, Brexit, Palestine and Israel, race relations, gun control, medical care, drug prices, climate change, school lunches and so on creates such a well of darkness I wish all social media would fail in the hope that if we slowed down maybe we would calm down, and being a bit calmer, we might just hear the truth the other is sharing. In the fear-driven vitriol, the hate, in all these varied disagreements we are losing our ability to talk about those things we disagree about; even with our loved ones. Information that is crystal clear to one side is fake to the other; find another issue and it is the other way around. Take for example climate change and the southern border emergency. It is a dangerous time; a dark time, a time one might wonder if creation light may flicker from time to time. I am sure there were similar disagreements among the Hebrews in Exodus, for example, will God find water, and meat for us in the wilderness. I am sure there were similar disagreements among Jesus’ earlier followers, I don’t know, maybe the question of what is the right thing to do with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment. I am sure there were similar disagreements in the early church, we would not have any letters from Paul if there had not been such disagreements. That we are here at all is a testament to the eternal power of creation light.

We stand at the edge of Epiphany, and though this season is closing the time of light is not over. Yes, beginning next Wednesday we will follow Jesus on his exodus to Jerusalem, and those tragic events. It was a dark journey. No one took time to slow down or time to listen; it was them or us. Following the journey will be dark. It is a part of season’s function to be a time to raise the hiding-vale and take a look at our darkness, said, or unsaid, done, or undone. But it gives me some courage to begin that exodus remembrance journey to know there is light. There is the life-light of creation in each of us. There is the horned light of Moses in each of us. There is the transfigured light of Jesus in each of us. There is light in you. There is light in me. There is light in the other. And that light will go with you and with me as you and I, together and on our own, work the work God has given each to work (John 9:4), each lighting way for the other. That that light has not yet been overcome is a testament that it never will be overcome. By that light we are being healed and so and bring healing to the family, to the village, to the tribe, to the nation, to the world God made us to be a part of until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.



Carey, Greg. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 3 3 2019.

Epperly, Bruce. Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019, Exodus 34:29-35. 3 3 2019. <>.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel – Luke 9:28-36. 3 3 2019. <>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Liberating Glory. 3 3 2016. <>.

Wikipedia. Moses (Michelangelo). n.d. 3 3 2019. <;.

Woods, Joshua. “Forever Changed, Last Sunday in Epiphany (C).” 3 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <>.



It Just May Be Your Song

A sermon for Advent 4; Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45, (46-55), Canticle 15 (or 3) or Psalm 80:1-7

A quick history of Israel from Samuel through 2nd Kings and the time between the Old and New Testament. In

 1043 BCE Saul becomes King (1 Samuel 8 – 10)
1010 BCE David is made King over Judah (2 Samuel 2)
931 BCE the Kingdom is divided (1 Kings 12, 13) by the wisest man in the world
722 BCE Israel is taken into captivity (2 Kings 17:6) never to return.
586 BCE is the Fall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25) and her people are taken into exile
537 BCE the exiles return (Ezra 2)
444 BCE the city wall rebuilt and not long after the Temple is sort of rebuilt
33 BCE  Judah is conquered by Alexander the Great along with all of Persia,                                 and in
63 BCE she conquered by Rome

Today’s story begins around 4 BCE. It was another bad year. Herod the Great died, and all the Jews rebelled. The Roman Syrian legions crushed the Jewish rebellions and burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee and reduced its inhabitants to slavery. Those who could not hide were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived lost everything. Jesus grew up in Nazareth about 4 miles from Sepphoris. As have all the others who occupied Judea, the Romans economically exploited the Jews (Johnson).

Mary’s family likely arranged for her to travel to her aunt and uncle’s home with others journeying in that direction because it was not safe for anyone to travel alone, never mind a young girl (Keener and Walton). The road she is traveling with God safe isn’t safe either.

When she sees Elizabeth, Mary greets her “shalom”, or peace, meaning may God cause all to be well with you (Keener and Walton). Elizabeth answers with a thanksgiving that she is blessed to be in presence of her Lord’s mother and offers Mary a blessing.

Mary responds with what we know as The Magnificat, we said it together this morning. It is built on (Samuel’s mother) Hannah’s prayer and sings about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and God’s commitment to reversing unjust power and status (Gaventa and Petersen; Culpepper). It echoes the social upheaval and economic exploitation, speaks of how the people are still anticipating deliverance from unjust rulers and unfair law, and their belief that God is at work (Harrelson). The use of the word ‘Savior’ is evidence that the people need strength that is greater than theirs; it expresses the people’s desperation; and confesses that the need for deliverance will be met by someone else (Harrelson). The Magnificat praises God’s activity and faithfulness as (1) the warrior, who engages in battle on behalf of God’s people and brings them deliverance, and (2) God the merciful, who remembers the lowly and cares for the needy (Harrelson). It proclaims that the overthrow of the powerful will not come through strong rebellion but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child (Culpepper). It speaks of how this dramatic reversal by which the proud are scattered and the powerful deposed is the signature of God’s mighty acts. It sings of how the lowly are exalted, and the hungry are fed, while the rich are sent away empty. Mary sings of God’s redeeming work not as some future expectation, but as already being fulfilled (Culpepper). The Magnificat’s jubilant hope for the future is dangerous political language, as it speaks of upending the current power structures. Mary is not just a pregnant teen, she is God’s messenger proclaiming the arrival of a new age; an age of justice in which unjust social and economic values are turned upside down (Epperly).

After the end of WWII, we lived and worked in a world believing we faced only one real enemy, the Russian Empire, formally known as the USSR. In 1991, or there about, that Empire fell along with the Berlin Wall. Then we believed the ideology of western democracy and capitalism would dominate.

For lots of entangled and complex reasons that vision has not born fruit. The economic strength of the American middle class has given way to technology changes, overseas manufacturing, and the commoditization of most all segments of social support systems, schools, healthcare, prisons, and so on. China has emerged as an economic competitor and a growing military threat. Middle East countries rich in oil have erupted into violent interregional religious and social conflict. Despots, whose rule we thought was limited to South America and Africa, have emerged in Europe. Italy is threating to pull out of the EU. England has announced it will but doesn’t seem to know how. The Arab spring was short lived. Syria has been engulfed in a brutal civil war for 7 years. Yemen’s 3-year-old civil war is even worse. We don’t hear much about Iraq, only because everything else is such a mess, at the same time some talk of security forces behavior that likely will lead to the reemergence of ISIS. Decades of negotiations have made little if any real progress to settle the Israel – Palestinian conflict. Nuclear Arms treaties are giving way to the emergence of threats from countries who are not participants. We thought we were making progress in reducing the health effect of smoking, when vaping appears on the scene; last year teen vaping rate doubled, and just last week a major tobacco company bought Juul, the company selling the favorite e-cigarette among teens. And our own political scene is a mess with politicians acting from loyalty to their party and or campaign funders, not the country or “we the people.” Congress hasn’t been able to pass a budget without some sort of shut down or kick it down the road maneuver for years. Large corporations are buying each other and everything else up at rates concerning some economist. We cannot even agree what science is, never mind decide if it is revealing rising global temperatures and the consequences that may come or are coming or are here.

It is a different set of causes, nonetheless it is how, in our age, justice, social and economic values are corrupt (Epperly).

We proclaim that we know how God works, but we might pretend we do not, so we avoid drawing attention to ourselves, because we know such knowledge is as dangerous for us as it is for Mary (TLC). Religion is inseparable from politics, just as it was in in Mary’s time. When we celebrate God’s concern in the past, we acknowledge God’s concern and we pray for God’s concern for the present, as we pronounce our confidence that God is at work now (Johnson). We don’t use the language any more, but we pray for the return of the King, the return of our Messiah.

But, ~  we forget that the overthrow of Rome did not come about through the strength of rebellion lead by a mighty king, but through the coming of God in the weakness of a child. We forget God’s messenger was a pregnant teenage girl, from a backwater town, of the smallest tribe, in a relatively insignificant province of the Roman Empire.

As we look to the celebration of our Savior’s birth, we are also looking at how we are called to be God’s messenger, in this age, when everything is turn upside down, in its own way. And though it is not safe, it may just be your song magnifying the Lord, rejoicing in the Savior who awakens in our hearts the presence of divine strength brings shalom
peace from war,
peace of mind,
soundness in welfare, safety, and health,
peace and quiet,
covenant relationship with God (Olivetree),
right here, and everywhere, right now.



Biasdell, Machrina. Song Hope – Advent 4. 23 12 2018. <;.

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 12 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. Advent 4 – Luke 1:39-45 (46-56). 17 12 2018. <;.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55). 23 12 2018. < 1/3>.

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

Olivetree. Olive Tree Enhanced Strong’s Dictionary. Olive Tree Bible Software, 2014.

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

The Living Church. “Work and Joy.” 23 12 2018. <>.





A Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent; Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15

Ash Wednesday, we explored the story of Esau selling his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of “red stuff” or lentil stew. We asked how lentil stew is present in our lives? We asked what have we sold our Christian birth-right for? We will continue exploring these questions throughout Lent, by looking at three things in each gospel reading: What is Jesus doing in the Gospel? How do the disciples, the people, and/or the authorities react? How do we ~ you react?

This morning we go back to the verses the follow Jesus baptism. We heard Mark’s version of Jesus being driven into the wilderness. There is none of the familiar back and forth between Satan and Jesus, there is just Jesus, 40 days of temptation, the wild animals, and the angels. After that Jesus comes to Galilee preaching ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ Mark 1:15 (Olive Tree).

Beyond his words, it doesn’t appear that Jesus has or is doing anything. However, Jesus’ ministry is closely connected to John’s ministry. And John was very good at his job of pointing to Jesus. People were coming from all over the place to hear him. And John is always clear he is not the messiah. And then Jesus shows up (Johnson). And anyone could see, everyone could see, that Jesus is different, Jesus ~ is the one John has been talking about.

John’s arrest is not caused by Jesus’ appearance. However, from a story telling standpoint, it is an effective way for John to leave the stage to Jesus.

There are also the details of Jesus’ language. The word for time is not clock time, it means the right time, i.e. now is the right time. It references the Hebrew prophecies of God’s kingdom. The word ‘kingdom’ means ‘reign’ (Keener and Walton). Jesus is announcing the arrival of God as the undisputed King over all people and all creation (Harrelson). Another clue is that the verbs indicate that his action is continuing in Mark’s time and into the present time (Harrelson). There is no doubt Jesus is intruding, bringing God’s judgement into the present both then and now (Black). To prepare for such judgement, people are called to make a radical turn and trust only in God, and no longer rely on worldly insurance policies of social, political or religious institutions (Perkins). All together it is a challenge to both existing ruling parties in Israel, the Jewish Temple, and religious authorities and the Roman Empire.

Now we have a glimpse of what Jesus is doing. What about the responses? Although the timing is before Jesus wilderness adventure and preaching, John’s arrest reveals the response of the authorities. If John is arrested simply for pointing out the messiah, we can imagine their response to the one who is the messiah. At least Herod Antipas, the local representative of Roman authorities, is a threat to Jesus.

So far, we have explored how Jesus preaching the Gospel of the presence of the Kingdom of God and we see how that attracts the active ire of the Roman authorities in John’s arrest. What about our response to the intrusive presence of God.

Last Monday David Brook’s column explored the world of the early 90s. Then it was all very good news. There was the reunification of Germany, the liberation of Central Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the Oslo peace process. It was a time of abundance. But, there was outlier event, the breakup of Yugoslavia along simmering nationalist loyalties. Brooks see this as an indicator of our times in which we experience the financial crisis, a shrinking middle class, the unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – spreading to Syria, Yemen, and beyond and how limited resources lead to conflict (Brooks). The shooting in Florida on Wednesday brings the violent nature of American society once again into the lime light. The Senate’s failure to pass any of the 4 immigration bills on Thursday indicates our political and social inability to make hard decisions. Both are a response of a culture of scarcity, whatever it is, there isn’t enough of it, so I/we will do whatever it takes to keep what is mine, and deny whoever, whatever is in the way.

And the lentil soup? Well, I am wondering if there are two bowls of lentil soup. In the 90s we came to believe we could overcome evil on our own (Lewis). Bruce Epperly wrote

Mysticism alone cannot guide our vocational path. Jesus needs to ground his mystical encounters in prayer, meditation, and fasting (Epperly).

Even though the world was moving in a direction we, the US, and the western world, favored, the powers at be still wanted to stay in the reality they knew and (believed they) controlled. The 90s form of lentil soup was the illusion of earthly power and control. We neglected the necessity of the Gospel of the reign of God. The current form of lentil soup is whatever the current the populist talisman against sacristy happens to be, nationalism, white power, gun control, universal healthcare, election maps, and the power of wealth. In all these movements, if you will, we continue to neglect the necessity for the Gospel of the reign of God.

Upon deeper reflection I began to see how these are simply different servings of the same bowl of lentil soup. We have a deep seeded fear of the wilderness, so we rely on the soup of avoidance, we just refuse to go there. And that is understandable, the fear is rational, the wilderness is a sign, if not a place of grave spiritual danger; and we avoid it because we do not trust anyone, not even God to be there with us.

We are wrong.

In Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation, Jesus is forced, ~ driven by the Spirit ~ into the wilderness. But she does not abandon him. The Spirit is present in the wild animals. She is present in the angels who serve Jesus, as Simon’s mother in law will serve Jesus. This is a story that calls us to trust that the Spirit will be there ~ no ~ already is, with us, as we dally around on the edge of the wilderness, that feels a whole lot like the shadowed valley of death. The story also shows us that where ever Jesus goes, even into the depths of places of spiritual danger and evil shalom, the divine wholeness of life, follows (Hoezee).

In our time of deep divisions driven by deceptions of scarcity I pray we turn to our birthright that divine love which endures all the approval driven, silly, wrongheaded, selfishness, hateful, violent, evil, that has ever resided in our hearts, or the hearts of others.

I pray we walk on by the illusion of lentil soup and trust the strength the peace of God that pass all understanding.



Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 1:9-15. 18 2 2018. < 1/3>.

Brooks, David. “The End of the Two-Party System.” 12 2 2018. <>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 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. Lent 1 B Mark 1:9-15 . 18 2 2018. <;.

Johnson, Deon. “Wilderness, Lent 1.” 18 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

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

Lewis, Karoline. A Tempting Silence. 18 2 2018. <>.

Lose, David. Lent 1 B: Lenten Courage. 18 2 2018.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

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.

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



A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-12, 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

 Like many Bible stories, this morning’s Gospel story has a central character, whose name we do not know. Reading the story isn’t often a problem, pronouns do just fine. However, preaching or teaching can be a challenge because pronouns don’t work as well, the distance between the pronoun and its associated noun phrase is too great. So, we are left with a long cumbersome descriptor; this morning it is “Simon’s mother-in-law.” That is a lot to say repeatedly. I wondered if it might be appropriate to imagine a name. I took the first letter of each word ‘s,’ ‘m,’ ‘i,’ and ‘l’ and googled it using a find a name web site. I got an answer ‘Smiljana’ (pronounced Smil’ ja na). Does the name fit the character? I googled the name and learned it is of Indo-European origins likely Serbian. It means dear or beloved; which is a good meaning for a biblical name; so, maybe it makes sense to use it. On the other hand, why did Mark not give her a name? To know someone’s name is to have power over them. I don’t think Mark is protecting her, nor do I think he is concerned about anyone having power over their mother-in-law. Power over is not the concern; but, a name does make a character specific, and I wonder if Mark isn’t providing us with a casting for everyone. Therefore, “Simon’s mother-in-law” it will be; and I’ll have to say it 85 times to have saved any words.

There are two stories in this morning’s reading from Mark’s Gospel narrative. The first one is the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. The other is Jesus’ decision to leave Capernaum to proclaim the message in neighboring towns. Both have the common feature – the revealing power of ‘and.’

You know the story of Simon’s mother in law. They leave the synagogue, where Jesus taught and cast out a demon, and returned to Simon and Andrew’s house. They tell Jesus Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. He lifted her up, the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

The phrase lifted her up has been translated he raised her up (Hart; Kittredge) which is clear resurrection language. Here is the first occurrence of ‘and’ that caught my attention. This time connecting us to the phrase she began to serve them, which has an unfortunate history. The phrase has been improperly used to put women back in the kitchen or in their place. However, the verb diakonein is the verb used when the angels serve Jesus in the wilderness. It is used to define Jesus’ ministry who came to serve (Mark 10:45). Karen Lewis writes

She serves because this is what discipleship looks like. She serves, showing us what following Jesus will really means.

Lewis sees this as Simon’s mother in-law’s calling to discipleship (Kittredge; Lewis; Harrelson).

Illness is more than the physical issues. There are also emotional, social, and spiritual effects. When Jesus raises her up she is freed of her fever and she is no longer emotionally isolated (Perkins); she is restored to the honored social position of being a hostess, and her spiritual life grows as she serves Jesus as a disciple. Simon’s mother-in-law is healed, she is restored to wholeness of life; she knows shalom.

After dark, when Sabbath is over, all Capernaum, can bring their sick or possessed family to Jesus, and all of them do (Keener and Walton). He heals many and casts out many demons. Early the next morning, Jesus has gone off to a quiet place to pray. The disciples aggressively hunt him down (Harrelson), rudely telling him “Everyone is waiting on you!” Jesus did not come here to be a local healer or holy man. Jesus’ calling is to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near throughout the region (Perkins). So, he tells them Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come. (Mark 1:38, The Message) They follow Jesus and he proclaims the message and casts out demons. Here is that word ‘and’ again. This time it connects Jesus’ preaching with Jesus’ healing. In Mark’s Gospel story preaching and healing are connected; to do one, is to do the other (Perkins).

Today’s Gospel reading is full of connections. There is the connection between healing, serving, and calling; and the connection between healing, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near. Connections like these are and will be important for us.

Today is our first Sunday together when I am not your full-time vicar. As I have said and written I will continue to lead Sunday worship and as a pastoral presence. We will have to learn to go our separate ways together. For me not being a full-time vicar/rector/missioner will be a challenge. I don’t know how not to do what I have been trying to do for 23 or so years. You have some experience without a fulltime vicar or rector. It has been awhile and many, actually, most of those who were here then are no longer here. St. Stephen’s resources are not what they were, and it will be a challenge. You have a challenge, and I have a challenge. However, that we share this trait is not the ‘and’ I see that we share with this morning’s Gospel. Actually, I think we share the ‘and from both stories.

As you become a church without a full-time vicar or rector and as I become a priest who is not a vicar or rector we will continue to proclaim the message in how we become this particular reflection of the image of the Kingdom which is right here, right now. As Jesus’ healing and proclaiming the message are one so our living into our new callings is the same thing as our proclaiming the message. As Simon’s mother-in-law is healed she is restored to shalom fullness of life, physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually; in our living into our new callings we are being restored to shalom fullness of life physiologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. A lesson from these two stories in Mark’s Gospel narrative is that life with God is not a series of independent events that have to be carefully balanced by some secret knowledge in order to gain access to God’s Kingdom sometime in the future, someplace else. This morning we witness how life with God has many facets and all of them are interconnected to all the others, just as the lives of all people, are interconnected images of God. None of the facets and none of the images is complete on their own. Each of them is dependent on all the others, and all the others are dependent on you as the emerging lay lead St. Stephen’s and me as the emerging well I’m not even sure what I will call myself and that is okay, I’ve always wanted to be an enigma.

Even as I see darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) at this moment. I am sure of the future because even as we are less connected to each other in a formal way we remain interconnected, along with all of creation to God/Jesus/Spirit who makes us whole and who loves us forever.


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David, W. Peters. “Touch, Epiphany 5 (B).” 4 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

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

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Hart, David Brently. The New Testament: A Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. e-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018.

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

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:29-39. 4 2 2018. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Call Story. 4 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.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message. 2002. WORDsearch Database – 2008.

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

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.




Witnessing – Crossing the Line

A sermon for Advent 3: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8,19-28 (extended to 31).

Yes, I expanded this morning’s Gospel reading a few verses to include the phrase Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) In John’s Gospel story John the Baptist’s the main role is to witness to who Jesus is. He never misses an opportunity to announce, “Look” (Lewis; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a role he claims for himself through the words of Isaiah (Harrelson). a voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isa 40:3) Even telling the priests and Levites Among you stands one whom you do not know, (John 1:26) is a form of witnessing (Hoezee). The title “Lamb of God” connects Jesus with the rich symbolism of the Passover lamb; but at this point, we do not know what John means when he calls Jesus “Lamb of God.” (Gaventa and Petersen).

For Karen Lewis, being a witness is a central Advent task (Lewis). To be a witness involves wrestling with Isaiah’s question “Who am I?” His answer is to go out and bring healing (shalom) to our broken world. In Advent language I am – is one who leads people to Jesus, is one who witnesses to Jesus (Carvalho). Witnessing is not easy. It calls us to break the silence that allows abuse, oppression, and injustice to continue in the shadows. Lewis reminds us that our Advent texts tell us how expecting the birth of Jesus calls us to be witnesses (Lewis).

It may help lower our anxiety, just a bit, to revise ‘being a witness’, to ‘being a storyteller’. John shares the stories of his experiences. We are simply asked to share the stories of our experiences with Jesus. And we all have stories to share (Rippentrop).

Storytelling involves a certain amount of humility. We hear Jesus called the Lamb of God (John 1:29). It is the first in a long line of titles Jesus is given just in John’s Gospel. There are so many because every follower sees something different in Jesus, every follower responds to something different when they meet Jesus. No single title reveals all there is to know about Jesus. And there is no limit to the number of titles Jesus can be given, and there are new titles that might be bestowed at any time; we should keep our eyes, ears and our hearts open. And we should be self-aware so that we do not greet new titles with suspicion or hostility, as they often are (O’Day).

 It is Advent; a time when we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth. It is also a time when we look forward to Jesus’ return. Of all titles that Jesus may carry, the one associated with his return most often is King. It makes sense in all sorts of ways. He is a descendent of the house of David, the model King of Israel. Jesus is also known as the great shepherd; and you know that shepherd is an Old Testament metaphor for Israel’s Kings. It may have been a moment of inspiration that hearing Jesus called “the Lamb of God” sounded very different to me this past week, I mentioned this title fits nicely with the Exodus Passover sacrificial lamb, but, we cannot what it implies. The inspiration I had was a kind of reversal. If ‘shepherd’ is a metaphor for king, could ‘lamb’ be a metaphor for ‘the people’? Can the incarnate Jesus be the perfection of humanity as the image of God?

This has a couple of implications. One is that when we witness does our story point people to see Jesus towards the regents of our day? To the modern equivalent of the kings / bishop s/ priests and prophets? Or do our stories point people to see Jesus in the everyday ordinary working people? In spite of all the regal imagery we associate with Jesus all the Gospel stories place Jesus in everyday places, among everyday people, struggling to get through life on an everyday basis. Even the story of his birth, we are so eagerly waiting to celebrate, is in a very merger setting. From our stories what does our audience expect Jesus to look like: a king a bishop, a priest, a prophet, a faithful lay servant, a wealthy philanthropist, or the one sitting next to you in traffic delayed by the construction on 18 near Big Lake? Where does our audience expect Jesus be: in a palace, a cathedral, or among poor huddled masses, with the Cratchit family, or among the Muslim Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?

A second implication defines our relationship with those we share our stories with, those we witness to. There is an element of being a prophet when we are a witness to Jesus. Both involve radical truth telling. And as Isaiah shows us a prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. A prophet becomes a voice for the voiceless … a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God here on earth (Whitley). The implication is that being a witness to Jesus means to stand with the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, to be a voice for the silenced, to be a voice for God here on earth (Whitley).

In today’s world standing in solidarity with the invisible and giving voice to the silenced requires us to cross the line. In his opinion piece, published Friday, Spencer Platt writes: Americans are a generous people — so it is always said. But our generosity comes with moral judgments: There’s a thin line, in the minds of many, between the poor who deserve help and those who should get off their butts (Platt). He goes on to note that these are old arguments, dating to Dickens’s heartless Ebenezer Scrooge and the noble Cratchit family. The line our story sharing prophecy crosses is the one of judgement.

In a few chapters Jesus will answer his disciples question about a man born blind, who could have just as easily have been a man born poor,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him (John 9:3).

It can be translated

Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind. Now we must work the works God has given us to work.

The point is for Jesus there is no judgement, there is only restoring all god’s people to shalom or wholeness of life. The story John witnessed to is the story of the presence of one you do not see who is restoring all people to shalom. We all have our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit’s restoring shalom that we are called to share those stories.

Stir up your power, O Lord, that we may witness, without ceasing, and in all circumstances, to the one who is not known, yet is the Lamb of God who restores

  • good news,
  • liberty,
  • divine favor,
  • provision,
  • gladness,
  • righteousness, and
  • who brings shalom to the world.




Bratt, Doug. Advent 3B Isaiah 61:1-4, . 17 12 2017. <>.

Carvalho, Corrine. “Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.” 17 12 2017. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 12 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 3:1-17 . 12 3 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Witnessing. 17 12 2017. <>.

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

Platt, Spencer. The Deserving Rich and the Deserving Poor. 12 12 20107. <>.

Rippentrop, Jan Schnell. Commentary on John 1:6-8, 19-28. 17 12 2017.

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

Whitley, Katerina. “Do Not Despise the Words of Prophets.” 17 12 2017. Sermons that Work.


Prayer, Giving, and Confession

A sermon for Proper 24: Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22

This story begins in verse 1 when God tells Moses it time to leave this place and go to the promised land. However, because Israel is a “stiff-necked people” God will not go with them, but God will send an Angel to guide them. Israel is aghast, and no one put on any rings, earrings, or other ornaments of any kind. Moses isn’t so sure about this angel leader either. He knows he cannot lead Israel without God and like any good leader he wants certainty before setting out to complete this wild wilderness journey (Bratt; Brueggemann). God answers okay, “I will send my presence with you and I will give you rest.” which implies God’s blessing. Only “with you” is not in the Hebrew, and “you rest” is singular not plural (Olson; Brueggemann). It sounds like God is speaking to Moses, not to all of Israel.

So, Moses presses on for more. He knows Israel will not survive on her own (Brueggemann). He knows that only God’s presence will make him favored and Israel distinct. And being distinct is important it points back to the plagues. Israel escape the flies, the deadly pestilence on livestock, the hail that destroyed crops, the dense darkness that none could see in, and death of all first born because they were distinct (Exodus 8:22; 9:4, 26; 10:23; 11:7; 12:23)  (Gaventa and Petersen). Knowing that the plagues are part of the divine plan to free Israel Moses knows all Israel must be included (Olson).

So ~ Moses presses for even more as he asks for a glimpse of God’s glory. God agrees, sort of. The divine goodness, which can be used understood as shalom, or the blessing of the material wholeness of creation, will pass before Moses (Brueggemann). God also reveals more of the divine name;

  • which if you remember begins way back in Exodus 3:6 with “I am the God of your ancestors” (Exodus) 3:6,
  • and progressed to: “I Am Who I Am” and/or “I Will Be Who I Will Be” or somehow both (Exodus 3:14)
  • and then moves on to “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2)
  • and then “I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt in order that I might live among them” (Exodus 29:46) (Olson)
  • and now includes
  • “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,”
    which reveals God’s completely unfettered capacity to be unconditionally generous
  • and “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy,”

which reveals God’s capacity to act positively as God chooses (Brueggemann).

However, God continues to stand’s firm about revealing the divine face; that is not going to happen. As we heard Moses does see God’s goodness, that is revealed on God’s backside.

There are lots of curious tidbits is these verses. However, there are two gleanings I’d like to focus on this morning. I want to give credit to Walter Brueggemann who brings both of them to our attention. Brueggemann sees in Moses behavior a model for Prayer. Moses requests are daring, and insistent; which are good qualities for prayer. Moses asks to know God’s ways, which is another good quality for prayer. He insists that God go with not only him, but all of Israel as they make their way through the final wilderness stretch to long hoped for promised land. Moses continually asks to see God’s glory, which refers to God’s awesome, shrouded, magisterial presence; after all it is God’s presence that makes all the difference, not just some brilliant shining light, or some awesome thunder and lightning. Above all that we might seek in our prayer life, nothing ~ nothing is more significant or life changing than God’s presence.

Moses prayer is also deeply theological. Moses is singularly, we could say relentlessly concerned with the person and presence of God. He just keeps insisting that God be there, not only with him, but also with Israel. But, Moses also knows how to stop, when to stop. He while acknowledges his own considerable freedom in prayer, at the same time he honors the unique supreme sovereignty of God (Brueggemann). What would our prayer life be like if it sounded like a determined respectful insistence to know God’s life changing presence for ourselves and our community that is strong enough to reveal our trust in God’s graciousness and mercy, and respectful enough to honor God’s unknowable divine-self?

Brueggemann also sees a model for giving in this story. Moses is relentless in his request, his demand, that God be present with Israel as they make the final leg of the trip to the promised land. God is equally relentless in keeping to God’s self the unknowable, mystic person of God. God is at the same time inconceivably generous in revealing God’s self to both Moses and Israel. It is not like Israel, from Abraham on down, including Moses, have been a paragon of virtue, a model of righteous honesty. It is this non-negotiable and unending tension that makes giving possible. This constrained versus liberal model of giving is a worthy addition to a rule of life, our rule of prayer. If we are too constrained or too liberal in our giving to others, we risk destroying the relationship between ourselves and others we wish to help (Brueggemann).

A closing thought. I know I have, and I expect all of us have a prayer we fervently offered. It may be one of those that didn’t really get answered; and perhaps we hang our heads a bit at the memory of such prayer. Maybe we question God’s presence. Maybe we question our worth. But I’ve been thinking, that in such times, or with such memories we just might be a bit like Moses. We did not get to see God’s face, we only got to see God’s back, God’s going; God’s disappearing around the corner, if you will; and it is only after that, that we realize how God has just acted for us (Bratt). Perhaps the shadow of disappointment, or despair is really the shadow of God protecting hand. As the shadow recedes dare we be like Moses, dare we raise our heads, and witness the presence of shalom, the blessing of the wholeness of life? I do not think it is a risk. It is an outward and visible expression of your steadfast faith in the confession of your gracious and merciful God.


Bratt, Doug. Proper 24 A Exodus 33:12-23. 22 10 2017. <>.

Brueggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 10 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.

Lewis, Karoline. Loyalties. 22 10 2017. <>.

Liggett, James. “Whose Image?” 22 10 2017. Sermons that Work.

Olson, Dennis. Commentary on Exodus 33:12-23. 22 10 2017. <;.

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




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.




A New Story and an Old Story

A sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29


As a prolog, I’d like to thank you for your prayers and expressions of condolences as Angie, and I traveled to and from Phoenix for her brother Gene’s funeral. 3,000 miles is a long way to travel, and after the initial two-hour delay at Lonoke, the trip went well. The 6,000-foot altitude difference in our travels was almost the only other unexpected adventure. In Holbrook AZ, when I took Nugget out for his early morning walk it was 38 degrees. We’d packed for the 90-degree weather in Phoenix.

The other unexpected realization was that, on Angie’s side of our family, we are now matriarch and patriarch. This is new, and we don’t quite know how to be the elder generation when your nieces’ and nephews’ parents are dead. We cannot be their parents, and we are still discovering how to be the cradles of the older generation’s wisdom and experience.

All by itself this is no big deal. But it is not all by itself.

  • There are pending generational changes in my family; my mom has been dead many years, and my dad is 87; who knows when a change will come about.
  • There are also local changes: the population seems to be decreasing,
  • we are suffering from low oil prices with hundreds of layoffs from pipe manufacturers,
  • city and county sales taxes are down, and
  • though local schools are innovative and are doing remarkably well improving in many areas, there is still a struggle with student learning as expected.

Nationally, the stock market continues to be strong; but I heard the other day, that only a few, less than 10, companies now have a AAA credit rating. International business continues to be sluggish. We continue to have issues with violence; and there are the continuing wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemeni, all of which are contributing to the refugee crisis. And the latest unexpected concern is the Zika virus, and we live in a drained swamp. Of course, there is our presidential campaign where everyone wants to shout and insult the other, and no one wants to debate looking for new visions.

David Brooks wrote in his column last Friday about the betrayal of our current political discourse. He writes how so many Americans are falling through the cracks;

feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST.

Social statistics reveal a 30 year high in suicide rates, historic lows in social trust and the persuasive belief that the American dream is out of reach (Brooks). Brook’s concludes we may need a new story.

But this is not the first time things have not gone as planned. Paul and Timothy are headed to Asia to preach; only the Spirit won’t let them get there. The go on to Mysia, Bithynia but the Spirit constrains them. They end up in Troas where Paul has a vision about going to Macedonia, and they end up in Philippi (Acts 16:6-8). On the Sabbath, they go outside the city, the usual local place for prayer, but not exactly mainstream. There they run into a woman, which is not exactly what you would expect. It turns out Lydia is a wealthy merchant, also unexpected. By now it may not be surprising that she is a worshipper of God, perhaps a God-fearer, or a Gentile follower. She may not actively be practicing, and might have been hedging her bets by worshipping another god or so. The central happening in the story is that Paul’s words convert her, and she and her household are baptized, and they get it, because immediately on being baptized Lydia invites them to stay with her, extending to them the oldest of our Judeo-Christian traditions of hospitality.

Sometimes a learning from a story is what is not there. There is no indication Paul or his companions are trouble or frightened by their plans’ failures. They do not seem to be troubled. They do not seem to be afraid. Actually, they seem to be at peace; and not just lack of conflict or trouble, they know shalom, they have that sense of wholeness, a feeling of rightness that they are in harmony with the people and things around them. They are basking in God’s pleasure. Paul and his companions know that no matter what happens, God will not abandon them (Lose).

Shalom is not something you can seek or grasp; you can only receive it. And we can only do that as we let go of the many things we are trying to hold onto so we discover open hands that can receive God’s gift of shalom (Lose).

So when Paul and company come to an unexpected place, Philippi; they go to worship at an unexpected location, outside the city walls, down by the riverside, they meet an unexpected seeker. We don’t know if Lydia knows she is seeking or not. However, her behavior leads us to this understanding. Paul and company are able to share with her the agape, the love of God, through their actions (Leggett). They are able to share the presence of God, the pleasure of basking in God’s presence. Following the Spirit leads them into the unexpected that results in the impossible dream of taking the Gospel to the farthest reaches of the world coming true. They experience how the impossible is not only possible; they experience the impossible becoming reality (Epperly).

We all have expectations of life. Some of us may have plans, and some of those may be formalized. I don’t know anyone who has not experienced the unexpected, perhaps constrained by the Spirit, perhaps by the arbitrariness of life. Brook’s would agree that the US is in an unexpected place. He suggests that we need a new story:

maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today (Brooks).


St. Stephen’s is not all that different. We have expectations, some formal, some unspoken, some new, some long-standing, some may have been unknowingly expected. And now we are in an unexpected place. Perhaps it’s time for a new story. Brook’s observes that a new story is already emerging in some communities; lead by local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that are meeting previously unmet needs and expectations (Brooks). The same is true for St. Stephens; I think Friday Families is a prime example, but there may be others. Paul and his companions were constrained by the Spirit several times and even thought the story reads as if they instantly knew it, that is not necessarily so. For instance, how do they know the man in Paul’s vision is from Macedonia, which is way at the edge of their world (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner)? So it may take some time for St. Stephen’s new story to emerge and mature. However, a new story is not the only story St. Stephen’s or our country needs.

As Christians, we have a very old story. We proclaim it to be THE Story of all the cosmos. Meaning, that even as we seek to discern how we are being called anew, let us remember that we continue to live in THE Story, basking the presence of God, revealing God’s love to each other and others in how we act, trusting that as we let go of one vision, that just a Paul did, we will discover an impossible dream leading us beyond the probable right into the continuing ever growing presence of God, right here, right now.



Bratt, Doug. Easter 6 C. 1 5 2016. <>.

Brooks, David. “If Not Trump, What?” The New York Times (2016).

Ellingsen, Mark. 1 5 2016. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 5 2016. <;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 6 John 14. 1 5 2016. <;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 1 5 2016.

Jones, Judith. Commentary on John 14:2329. 1 5 2016. <;.

Leggett, James. “Look to the Lord, Easter 6 (C) – 2016.” 1 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection is Companionship. 1 5 2016. <>.

Lose, David. Easter 6 C: Peace the World Cannot Give. 27 4 2016.

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

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Acts 16:915. 1 5 2016. <>.




Continuing Resurrection

A sermon for Easter 3

Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

Today is the third Sunday of Easter, one of my favorite. I recount a bit of the Gospel story in every invitation to communion “… to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.”

I always look forward to the Emmaus story. I guess I’ll have to wait ~ let’s see 2 more years. But, today’s Gospel reading is from Luke; and this is the Emmaus story; it’s just the part after Cleopas and his traveling buddy, with their hearts afire, get back to Jerusalem. It’s just after their initial shocking opening gambit to the disciples, that they have seen Jesus, and his self-revelation in the breaking of the bread.

You know what happens next, Jesus appears, offers them shalom or peace, and they react with fear and doubt. When we look at all the resurrection and appearance stories there are all kinds of witnesses, from Mary, and Mary, Salome, and Joanna, to Peter plus 1, and Cleopas plus 1, who all witness some sign of Jesus’ resurrection. They have two common elements, well okay three if you count Jesus; first there is doubt, and secondly there is fear. I asked last week, I still wonder why are the disciples are afraid?

Have you ever thought that maybe they should be? Maybe we should be? David Lose writes “If you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention.” (Lose, 2015) At the least you’ve got to ask “What does it mean to your world view, when the dead don’t stay dead?” Perhaps the most disturbing answer is, as Jacob Myers notes, is that “Jesus’ resurrection means that what he said was true. (Mayers, 2015) Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, all that stuff about how we treat each other, especially the people we don’t like or think are somehow inferior, or unrighteous, or unworthy, all that … Jesus actually means it! I know we participate a little. But Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about a little, his resurrection is about a complete change in how we live our lives. He bears the marks of crucifixion on his resurrected body. (Mayers, 2015) We bear the marks, or should, in how we live our lives, (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) every hour of every day.

We shout “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and go about life, with a satisfied smile on our face. There is so much more to resurrection. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)

Let’s stay just within this morning’s text. Jesus unexpectedly shows up, offers the disciples peace, or shalom. You’ve heard me expound on this before, and know shalom is so much more than peace, how it’s really much closer to the perfection of all human interconnections; actually all human and creation interconnections. They exchange a few words, and Jesus asks them for something to eat, and they give him a piece of fish. Many expound on this as a sign that Jesus is real, and not a ghost. However, the very next thing Jesus does is to open the disciples’ minds to understand the scriptures, about the depths of Moses and the Law, and the Prophets, revealing how repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed in his name, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. He then tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.” If Jesus were really worried about the disciples believing he was real, he would have made the observation that he ate the fish.

He doesn’t. So perhaps everything that follows his request for something to eat, reveals what Jesus is really hungry for. (Kubicek, 2015) Perhaps Jesus is really: hungry for change, hungry for freedom, shalom and justice for all people, not just some, not just the priest, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, or the Roman occupiers, but shalom for all.

C.B. Baker, in Becoming Messiah, builds the intriguing case that Jesus’ and John’s time with Essenes revealed just how corrupt Jewish life was and triggered an intense a compelling drive to change it all. (Baker) Step one in Jesus mission to change the world, is his ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem. Step two is the resurrection. Step three is the disciples bearing witness, ~ and our bearing witness. So these fifty days of Easter, is not some long grand celebration that Jesus lives, nope, it’s really the time in which the disciples come to grips with being witnesses. Today these fifty days are a time for us to do the same thing. And it begins with our confessing our tendency to reduce the Christian faith …  to slogans, bumper stickers, four spiritual laws, forty days of purpose, or seven basic principles of this or that. (Kubicek, 2015) It begins with how we allow ourselves to be distracted with the easier matters of doctrine, and how we create crises around issues like sexuality.  (Epperly, 2015) All of this which distracts us are so much easier than risking self for justice for all; which looks like fair wages, realistic immigration policy, really family friendly policy and law, a critical review of traffic tickets for profit schemes. All of that which distracts us is so much easier than demanding that lives matter, white lives, black lives, male lives, female lives, adult lives, child lives, Christian lives, Jewish lives, Muslim lives, Hindu live, Buddhist lives, all lives, all life, matters. All that distracts us is so much easier than risking our possessions for righteousness for all because everyone is a child of God. And all this raises questions:

  • is shalom a greeting or a command?
  • what are you hungry for?
  • will you be satisfied with a piece of fish or will you be witnesses to the full glory of our Lord’s resurrection? (Kubicek, 2015)

I am glad there are fifty days, or how ever many days are left, of Easter. I am thankful, for the many – many unexpected witnesses to the resurrection. I sing praises for all the astonishing marks of resurrection. And whenever I see them, whenever I hear “Christ is risen!” my heart and soul echo in reply “Alleluia!” Amen ~ let’s make it so.


Baker, C. B. (n.d.). Becoming Messiah.

Epperly, B. (2015, 4 19). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos:

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 4 19). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from

Kubicek, K. A. (2015, 4 19). Sermons that Work. Retrieved from The Episcopal Church.

Lose, D. (2015, 4 19). Easter 3 B: Resurrection Doubts. Retrieved from David Lose:

Mayers, J. (2015, 4 19). Commentary on Luke 24:36b-48. Retrieved from Working Preacher:

Live Sabbath, bring shalom, and know shekinah

A sermon for Lent 3: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

Knowing the philosophical and/ or religious beliefs of those you are negotiating with is central to the negotiating process. Beforehand no one thought world leaders would let zealot nationalists drag Europe into a world war. Not to many years later, no one really believed Hitler would actually start another European inferno that would once again put the world at war. The United States was surprised when Iraq did not run to democratic capitalism after we vanquished Hussein; we never thought Sunnis and Shiites would ever let their sectarian feud turn into a cataclysmic conflagration. Our negotiations with Iran challenge our understanding of Iran’s social and religious context, which will determine not only the negotiation’s outcome, but its fruits. (Brooks, 2015) The context of the other has always been central to negotiating, to getting your story understood. It’s true in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Most folks focus on Jesus’ rampage through the Temple, or his prediction of his resurrection. We hear them as unique events. But there is so much more. The Hebrew term ‘she-ki-nah’ refers to the present of God. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)  (Orr, 2004) In the Old testament shekinah is always on the move; from walking in the garden in Eden, to in a whispering voice calling Noah and Abraham into covenant, in Exodus as fire and cloud on a mountain top, and in covenant in the Ten commandments, then in a tent, then to Shiloh, then to Jerusalem and the Temple, to Babylon and back – twice, and in the New Testament shekinah move back towards earlier an Old Testament loci of individuals in community. Jesus’ tirade in the Temple is all about shekinah, all about the presence of God. He is one in a long tradition of challenging the Temple as the only place to be in God’s presence. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)

Jesus is challenging not only where God is, but the entire notion of the Jewish establishment’s relationship with God. Regardless of their outward appearance, Jesus is challenging whether or not the Jewish establishment, centered at the Temple, keeps Sabbath. This is more critical than our religious – legal perspective leads us to believe. We think, they are breaking the law. But, the Ten Commandments are not a foundation for case law; they are the description of living a free life in covenant community. A key way of knowing you are in covenant community is keeping Sabbath. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) And one way of knowing this is if you are at shalom (Hoezee, 2015) if you bring shalom, to all your life touches.

Shalom is often translated peace. And that is a good beginning; however, beyond the absence of external or internal disturbance shalom is a completeness of health and soundness in your relationship with God and your neighbors. (Orr, 2004)

Keeping Sabbath that brings shalom is in the details of the longest of the commandments. Note who is to keep Sabbath: you, your sons and daughters, male and female slaves, which includes servants, your domestic animals, and any guest, foreigner, or alien in your home. In short everyone, all flesh, of every status, is to keep Sabbath, everyone, all flesh, of every status, is to live in shalom. So now we know who and what, but why? How do we get to this understanding?

It turns out there are two sets of why; one comes from today’s version of the Ten Commandments, and the other from Deuteronomy’s version. (Deut. 5:6- 21) Exodus calls us to observe Sabbath, as a day of service to God given to worshipping the Lord. It is grounded in the creation story; God created in six days and rested the seventh, making it Holy, therefore we keep it holy, in keeping Sabbath. However, Deuteronomy, which represents a different theological perspective rather than a point in time, is based in Israel’s salvation from slavery; Israel rest, we rest, to remember salvation. (Orr, 2004) We, everyone, also rest to ensure those in any form of indenture, just as the Hebrews were in Egypt, get a break. Six days of work, is not a command to work six days, it’s a restriction, and no one should work any more than six days. (Sakenfeld, 2009)

Let’s review; Jesus throws a fit in the Temple to draw attention to the fact that the Temple does not bring shalom to the people, therefore is not keeping Sabbath, and therefore cannot be shekinah, a place where God dwells. But it looks like they do keep Sabbath, what is going on?

Let’s go back to the beginning: I am the LORD your God … you shall have no other gods before me. A little vocabulary; I expect you hear ‘the Lord’ as a title, and the word big g ‘God’ as God’s name. It’s the other way ‘round. (Strong’s) The use of the word ‘God’ not as a name affirms The Lord is not saying that there are no other gods; just that Israel, and now we, are not to be in a godly relationship with any other except The Lord. (Petersen & Beverly, 2010) And so yes, this is all about idolatry. And “other gods” may be any person, place, thing, or ideal believed to be more or as important as The Lord; it could be money, property, fame, power, or whatever may be the primary shaper of the Jewish establishment’s daily life. (Fretheim, 2015) And it’s revealed in their relationships, how they treat, their neighbors, even to the least of them. Jesus throws a fit, because something other than The Lord is shaping the day in day out life of the Jewish establishment. He is challenging them: “Where is shekinah?” He chastising them for keeping others away from shekinah. The gleaning I take away this morning is that the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment in particular, is in fact a biblical foundation for economic policy and practice.

Sabbath, the time of work and the time of rest is to bring shalom to all so all know shekinah, the presence of God. Work and rest that bring peace and wholeness to all flesh bringing all to shekinah is the Lord’s economic polity.

Today is Sunday, a Christian Sabbath. We gather here to worship The Lord our God, to know shalom, to be shekinah. But it is not our destination, so much as it is “a place we’re sent from in order to meet, and partner with, God in everyday life.”  (Lose, 2015) It happens to be Lent, a time to repent, to begin changing our relationships with God and our neighbors, all of them. It’s time to see when was the last time you thought about how your beliefs, priorities, and actions kept Sabbath, brought shalom, and lived in shekinah? It’s an all-consuming change, that it involves all aspects of our lives especially economic, and political. It challenges us to give up fixations, like our political obsession with sex, and seek the far more complex ideal of biblically based policy and practice of economic justice. And it’s not just our personal lives, we seek to transform, we seek to reform the day in and day out lives of our society, of our nation.

Jesus knew well the philosophical and religious beliefs of the Jewish establishment. His negotiating style, pitching a fit in the Temple, worked for him. As for us, what the Lord requires:  (Deut. 10:12, Micah 6:8) is to live Sabbath, bring shalom, and know shekinah.


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Fretheim, T. E. (2015, 3 1). Commentary on Exodus 20:117. Retrieved from Working Preacher:

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 3 1). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 20:1-17. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching:

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 3 1). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from

Lewis, K. (2015, 3 1). Dear Working Preacher An Embodied Lent. Retrieved from Working Preacher:

Lose, D. (2015, 3 1). Lent 3 B: Igniting Centrifugal Force. Retrieved from David Lose:

METZ, T. R. (2014, 12 7). Sermons that Work – Finding comfort vs. being comfortable. Retrieved from The Episcopal Church:

Nave, O. (n.d.). Nave’s Topics. 2008: WORDsearch Corp.

Orr, J. (Ed.). (2004). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch.

Petersen, D., & Beverly, R. G. (2010). New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.

Sakenfeld, K. D. (2009). New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. (n.d.). WORDsearch.