Synopsis: In one of the two most popular, beloved, and convicting stories Jesus tells (the Prodigal Son being the other), we hear Jesus’ response to a young lawyer wanting to clarify his question and justify himself: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This scandalous story’s hero is a representative of one of the most hated people groups to Jesus’ Jewish audience. Samaritans are the ancestors of the remnants in the land of Israel after the Assyrian conquest. Their religion, blood, and cultural was a mix of surrounding people groups which was abhorrent to the national purification project in Judea during Roman occupation. The challenge Jesus offers is not only to be a good neighbor to those we might dislike, distrust, or even hate, but the real twist is wondering what happens to the human heart when you have to count on the kindness of a stranger? As Paul says about God, becomes true of our neighbors, “kindness leads us to repentance,” and human hearts are transformed by love.
In a biographical look at the life of Saul-turned-Paul, we see a life of violence, hate, and bigotry transformed on the road to Damascus in an encounter with the Living, Risen Christ. After this, Paul’s hatred of the Jesus-follower’s inclusion of Gentiles into their community becomes his life calling. In a world where we label, divide, and polarize, Brother Paul is still preaching today that we are all not just citizens in the Kingdom of God, but kinfolk and siblings in the family of God.
Synopsis: On Trinity Sunday, we hear two distinct images from Proverbs and John bubbling up from the scriptures to spark our imaginations about the invisible, ineffable, eternal Trinitarian family. The image of the woman as the feminine “sophia” wisdom incarnate, begotten before Creation, and eternally dancing in communion with the Creator, sounds mysteriously like the masculine “logos” word in the Gospel of John. The biblical vocabulary describing the eternally mysterious Trinity is illuminated by these images of feminine wisdom and masculine word, to remind us that God is neither male nor female, but gender identity finds it’s genesis in God, who exists eternally in loving, familial-like relationships. The traditional Trinitarian formula of Father - Son - Holy Spirit is not about the gender of God (God is not male, and men are not more like God), but to the nature of the relationships which exist within the Trinity. We use the language of family to describe the Trinity because there is no more intimate, complex, and enmeshed relationship than the connect of the family system (for good or ill). As members of the “household of faith,” we are called to participant in the great family circle of the Holy Trinity by being church family to one another. The metaphors are not meant to hinder, but help us reframe family membership in God’s New Family where everyone is welcome regardless of status, identity, or lineage. This is why the biblical mandate is repeated so often to protect orphans (those without parents), widows (those without spouses or children), the poor (those without a support system), and immigrants (those without a homeland). We are call to be the new human family God is creating through Trinitarian love and Resurrection life.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrives in tongues of fire to set hearts and lives ablaze. The real miracle of Pentecost is that thousands of people were able to understand the Good News Story without miscommunication or mistrust. Peter stands to address the crowd, who would have most likely been the very same mob who just six weeks or so earlier would have cried, “Crucify!” Peter tells them that death could not hold Jesus anymore than violence would not solve their problems. They cried out for blood, because they wanted to blame somebody for their situation. Despite their rage, death was swallowed up by life and the Resurrection of Jesus proves that love and life will always find a way. In that miraculous moment, they ask Peter what they are supposed to do. Peter invites them to repent (think different) and be baptized (walk into a newness of life) through the miraculous power of God’s universal language of love. While rage and bitterness seem cathartic, the path of peace offered by Jesus is the path of grace, love, and forgiveness.
To hear the moving story of a father’s forgiveness referenced at the end of the sermon, click here.
Jesus gathers his disciples before ascending back into full, spiritual communion with the Trinity and before sending the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit arrives, they will become his witnesses of salt and light in Jerusalem, all throughout the countryside in Judea and Samaria (two regions segregated by ethnic and cultural tension), and to the ends of the earth. Although, we are not told exactly when Jesus was culminate this work and exact where we are to go. The Infinite God is not bound by time or space. In God’s infinity of time, we are called to live and love each day like it’s our last and lean into the eternal present in each moment. In God’s infinity of space, we are called to bear witness to God’s love and Christ’s Resurrected Life in lands far away from our hometowns or even in our own backyard as God’s agents of peace and reconciliation. Wherever God sends us, we have an opportunity to lay roots and bloom where we are planted.
Psalm 67 speaks of word of blessing over the audience borrowing the rich, priestly blessing of Numbers 6. A benediction is, literally, “speaking good” over the life of another. We call this in the normal rhythm of our lives words of affirmation or blessing. In our own stories, the power of a well-placed word of blessing can change everything. The Psalms reminds us the power of our words to bless or curse, and we are called to bless others with our words of kindness and affirmation just like we have been blessed by those who have gone on before us.
The sermon begins with one from our church family, Nora Gardner-Sinclair, telling her story of blessing through the words and courage of her colleagues at her trauma-focused social work agency, Safe Horizon, in New York.
Psalm 23 is arguably the most familiar passage of scripture next to John 3:16. The pastoral, rural imagery of God as shepherd evokes emotions of comfort and safety, even though the life of a shepherd was hardly safe or comfortable. Traditionally attributed to David, the Psalm speaks of God’s parental care for God’s children (particularly poignant on Mother’s Day) which provides and protects us all the days of our life. Although, God does not promise to fix all of our problems, but promises to be present, responsive, and always pursing us with goodness and mercy. This promise is not made exclusively to the initiated, but the Good Shepherd even makes a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, God continues make all things new and fulfill the old, familiar promise to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah to make one family out of all Creation. The promise of the Good Shepherd is we are not alone, and there is no far away with the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
Psalms offers surprising twists and turns and a picture of the world where circumstance is constantly moving through seasonal transitions. Today will not look like tomorrow. Psalm 30 sings a song which moves from darkness to light, as the Psalmist is surprised by joy as God fulfills promises of faithfulness. If we hold our circumstance up to the light of God’s love, our sorrow creates the space for deep joy in the midst of struggle.
As Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet, “Then a woman said, ‘Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.’ And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”
The first of a four part series on the Psalms. According to Walter Brueggemann, the Psalms come to us in three primary, genres (Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation) which lay bare the emotional arc of the human heart and remind us that our emotions are, to quote Mr. Rogers, “mentionable and manageable.” Psalm 150 is a Psalm of Orientation, singing praises and giving thanks for God’s goodness and trustworthiness to fulfill promises. We are called to praise because we are created to praise. We express love, honor, joy, and devotion when we talk about the people and things we love. We become what we praise, and when we praise God we reprioritize our lives and point ourselves towards the life and love of the Crucified, Risen Jesus.
Keywords: Easter, Resurrection, Jesus, Christ, praise, joy, gratitude, emotions, music
The women, who go to grieve and tend the corpse of Jesus, become the first preachers in the Christian faith. Their news is too good to be true, so the disciples ignore and silence them, but Peter has to see for himself. When he gets to the tomb to see whether or not their news was too good to be true, he sees an empty tomb and old burial linens and his hope springs eternal. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead inaugurates God’s Kingdom reality of all things becoming new. Even though we see crucifixion all around us, “Despite appearances, it is an Easter world.”
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, poking fun at earthly powers like Herod and Caesar who ride on great, white steeds in glorious parades to celebrate themselves and assert their power. The broader way of Lent liberates us to fearlessly laugh and find joy in the freedom our King Jesus brings. In the light of God’s love we are invited to not take ourselves and our faults so seriously, but rather experience grace by embracing laughter, joy, and our shared humanity.
Mary pours a ridiculously expensive perfume on Jesus as an act of love, devotion, and preparation for his imminent death. Judas, who John does not give any grace, grumbles about how she should have sold it and given the proceeds away to the poor (with the possibility that Judas wanted to take a cut). Jesus speaks the cringe-worthy words which have justified so many careless, callous Christians to ignore the God-given social contract of care for the poor. Jesus, who reads the Isaiah scroll declaring himself to be a champion for the marginalized, honors Mary’s gift and shames Judas, because there will always be more work to do, more care to give, more needs to meet, and more justice to seek. Life is not just about doing or accomplishing or fixing, but also about resting in the lavish love and peace of God. Sabbath means we work six days and then we rest, and Judas tried to embarrass Mary by taking the seventh day to celebrate that Jesus was still with them, even if only for a little while longer. The broader way of Lent is not just about suffering and self-denials but also taking the opportunity to soak in Christ’s love and presence in extravagant ways.
Art by Julia Stankova of Bulgaria
Leaving the mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration, Jesus is faced with reality down in the valley. His disciples, who he commissioned at the beginning of Luke 9, cannot heal a lonely boy suffering from a spirit of sabotage and self-harm–the only son of a father who brings his boy to Jesus. Jesus comes to set humans free from the destructive cycles of self-destruction and oppression. The broader way we travel this Lent invites us to not be shackled by our past pain but discover hope and healing in God’s light.
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, healing, loneliness, unclean spirits, miracles, family systems theory, power, courage, trust, love, advocacy
Jesus is lured into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the satan, the prosecutorial powers and principalities of darkness, who tempts Jesus in three ways: to abuse his power for his own self-satisfaction (stones into bread); to abuse his power for his own self-promotion and popularity (dazzle the crowds by diving off the Temple); and to abused his own power to bring his Kingdom with immediacy and force (to kneel to the Powers and rule the nations). The earthly Jesus remains faithful to his heavenly Father by trusting the promises of God through scripture and the Spirit. As we travel the broader way in Lent, we learn that even in times of trial God is worthy of our trust.
Jesus is transfigured before his inner circle disciples’ eyes and is met by Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, the story and witness of scripture. In Jesus’ preparation for his darkest hour, he chose to surround himself with the great story of God’s Promises in Scripture and with his closest friends. Even in our moments of fear or vulnerability, Jesus models the importance of surrounding yourself with Good News and good friends to support you, instead of going it alone. We are the stories we tell ourselves and we become the people with whom we surround ourselves.
Simeon blesses the baby who blesses them with his very presence. For Simeon, he has waited his entire life for this moment, and offers us the peaceful compline prayer which concludes the day for countless Christians across the globe. This intergenerational blessing of Jesus becomes a powerful reminder to us today that there is a blessing in our friendships across the generational divide if we but only offer our patient presence and encouraging words.
Jesus comes to bring joy and honor to humanity. In the wedding feast, not only does he allow the celebration to continue, he covers the potential shame of the host who has run out of wine. A flourishing faith life is not about obligation or regulation, but rather is about learning to lean into God’s goodness by living with radical hospitality in all of our relationships across cultural, identity, and gender divisions.
Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Synopsis: Like all symbols, baptism bears a surplus of meaning for followers of Jesus who follow him through the waters. Baptism is a past, present, and future act. Baptism gives us a tangible act to teach us the failures of our past do not define our belonging to Christ in the present, or our opportunity to walk into a new, hopeful future filled with possibilities.
Keywords: Epiphany, baptism, Baptist, ordinance, sacrament, Kingdom of God, citizenship, peace, justice, love, life abundant.
Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Synopsis: Epiphany is a season of discover and illumination. In Epiphany people begin to realize who Jesus is and God became flesh. These strangers from the East arrive with even stranger gifts for the newborn king. The gifts perhaps symbolize the trifold calling of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. Gold fit for a king; frankincense offered by priests; myrrh to embalm the body of a slain prophet; strange, but illuminating gifts for the little king offered by strangers from a strange land.
Keywords: Epiphany, calling, vocation, ministry, grace, surprises, strangers.
Text: Micah 2:2-5a
Synopsis: The sermon preached by the prophet Micah, which we hear in Handel’s Messiah and understand retroactively as a Messianic prophesy about Jesus, is a hopeful word to the Hebrew people in their darkest hour. As the armies of Assyria beat on the doors of Zion, Micah reminds the people of God’s past promises and future plans to bring restoration, peace, and justice to the whole human family through the little town of Bethlehem. Even in the most chaotic of times, the God of Promise invites us to continue to carol and sing songs of love and liberation as we work to build the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. So, don’t let anyone steal your song as you carol through the chaos of life.
Keywords: Advent, Christmas, love, chaos, stress, peace, prophetic, Messiah, songs, singing, hope, Kingdom of God