Sermon: Do Not Be Afraid, Stand Firm

Painting of Moses and Red Sea
“Moses and the Red Sea” – Mural at the Visionary Art Museum

Ex 14: 5 – 14, 19 – 25
John 14: 18 – 20, 25 – 27

When Moses leads the people of Israel out of captivity, they go out boldly, rejoicing in their liberation, confident in God and Moses. But then Pharaoh and his officials change their minds. I imagine it suddenly dawned on them that there were a lot of major building projects, and road construction, and gardening, and farming, and fruit picking, and laundry, and cooking, and cleaning, and childcare…

Basically, a lot of hard labor wasn’t going to get done without the convenience of an enslaved people under their control. So Pharaoh decides to re-nig on his deal, and he and his soldiers take off in hot pursuit.

When the people of Israel see the soldiers coming, their boldness dissolves like sugar in water, and they cry out to the Lord in fear. They turn on Moses and bitterly criticize him for leading them, not to freedom, but to death…their shouts of rejoicing turn to shouts of accusation and recrimination.

Moses says to them, “Be not afraid, stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”

“Be not afraid.”

We hear that a lot in the Bible. When angels appear, the first thing they say is, “Be not afraid.” Jesus is always telling the disciples and those who gather to see and hear him “fear not.”  In the face of seeming, certain death, Moses says to God’s people, “Be not afraid.”  It’s much easier said than done. Maybe that’s why we hear it so often in Scripture.

There are just so many things for us to be afraid of…afraid of losing your job…afraid of not finding a job. Afraid of not being able to pay your bills or put food on the table…afraid of losing your home…

…afraid of not getting into college… afraid of not getting into a GOOD college …afraid of not being able to pay for college…..

We are afraid of our physical failings…afraid of falling…breaking something…afraid of cancer…or the return of cancer…afraid of heart disease and diabetes…afraid of hospitals…

Our media feeds and inspires fear because it helps get good ratings. We are flooded with stories about threats from terrorists, ISIS, stagnant and divisive government, scary immigrants, and immigrant children who are coming to take over our schools and bring crime and disease into our midst…

And now this past week, we are once again afraid of random shootings, lone-wolf gunman, concealed carry laws, living with guns, and living without guns…

And then there is the weather to fear…rising temperatures, fearsome storms, increasing climate issues.  There are even the mundane close-to-home scares…local sightings of wild cats, coyotes, bears, infected ticks, rabid mosquitos…and on…and on….and on…and on. There is so much fear in our country, that the use of anti-anxiety meds continues to increase among adults, teenagers, and even children as young as three and four.

I am not in any way criticizing the use of medications when they are needed and can provide relief. I am lamenting, that as a society, we have allowed ourselves to become so scared and anxious, that we are making ourselves and our children sick with fear.

Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. Fear is helpful when we are in dangerous and risky situations. A healthy dose of fear when mountain climbing; or walking on unfamiliar, dark city streets; or being on a subway platform late at night; or getting lost in an unfamiliar place, keeps us alert and prepared.

Healthy fear, provides adrenaline that sharpens our responses, clears our minds, and wakes up our senses. Fear is not healthy when it begins to consume our lives and influence our ability to set goals, or accomplish tasks, or to find joy in our lives. Fear is not healthy when we become trapped and paralyzed, unable to move or grow. When fear becomes toxic … it is a tidal wave that washes over us and threatens to carry us away and drown our spirit.

Moses says to God’s people, “Be not afraid. Stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”  Being fearful is a part of being human. And it is difficult to just stop being afraid.  So what are we to do when we become entangled in our fears?  What are we to do to go boldly into the world?

I would revise Moses command and say, “Be courageous, be firm in your faith in God, and face what you fear.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a mystic and world advocate for peace, says, “Fear keeps us focused either on the past, or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”

He teaches us that one way to overcome fear is to “Be,” to be here and now, and to live mindfully, in the moment…or to break down what we fear into something that is manageable.

I hate shots. Who doesn’t? The way I have learned to manage shots is to ask the nurse to tell me “Now” and “Done”. That lets me be worry free until I hear “Now”, and I can always hold on through “Done.”  That small space between “Now” and “Done,” is completely manageable for me. That is a small example of living in the moment.

Let’s practice!! I invite you to close your eyes for a moment, and simply “Be” present in this moment. Take a deep breath in and slowly breath out. Relax your neck and shoulders. Sink into your seat.  What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you sense around you? What do you feel?

Embrace this moment, this moment, where you have shelter, warmth, the company and support of people who care about you and that you care about….Delicious smells that promise coffee and a lovely meal later…the sounds of birds chirping…the whisper of soft rain.  Here, in this place, and in this moment…be not afraid.  Rest in God. That is the peace beyond understanding that Jesus prays for us.

As a spiritual practice, I invite you to look for, and to create, these “not afraid” moments in your life, moments of safety and comfort, moments of love and joy, moments of peace and hope, in the presence of God.  Notice them.  Savor them.  Hold on to them.  Collect them in your heart like precious jewels. These moments are the divine antidote that will inoculate you against the power of fear.

Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. God will fight for you.” God is with you…face your fear, even though what you are facing seems impassable or impossible, step forward with faith and God will open a way…God will get you through.

Facing our fears means taking that first step onto dry land where water was only a moment ago.  It means stepping out in faith, standing firm, acknowledging and carrying fear, but not letting fear carry you away.

One of my favorite books is a Sci-fi classic called Dune. The main character’s mantra that gets him through is this, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Let your fear wash over you and through you and then imagine it draining out of you, emptying like the Red Sea, until you find yourself standing on dry land, standing firmly on God, the rock of ages, the foundation of creation.  Letting fear pass over and through us and letting it drain out of us, allows us to remain intact, strong, and firm within ourselves and within our faith.

Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. See the Deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”

When you are afraid, Step out boldly, with faith in God. See the Deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you….today.  This day…this blessed, gift from God, day.  Not tomorrow. Not some day in the distant future.


Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see what the Lord will accomplish for you!

Sermon: Consider the Lilies

tiger lilies

Matt 6: 25 – 34

Like Advent, Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation.  We prepare ourselves to once again bear witness to Jesus Crucifixion, and we prepare our hearts for the joy of Easter resurrection.  One of our ways of preparing is with our most essential spiritual practice, praying.

That is why one of our themes for Lent is “Pray without Ceasing.”  Prayer is one of our most important faith practices and sometimes it’s also the hardest one for us to do.  So for Lent, we will be exploring many of the different ways we can pray and we will reflect on some of the things that get in the way of us praying.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life…”  And there is one of our great emotional obstructions.  Worry.  Too much worrying can inhibit our ability to live more in the moment, to live with appreciation, and to live with joy.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life….Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them…consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin…how much more will God care for you?”

It’s easy to say, “do not worry…” but it seems that there is just so much to worry about these days. We worry about our finances, our savings, our college and retirement funds.  We worry about looking for jobs and we worry about keeping our jobs. We worry about budget cuts in our towns, cities, and states.

We worry about the discord and chaos in our government especially with the animosity and chaos we are already seeing in this election year. We worry about who the next president will be and what it will mean for us as a people and as a country.

We worry about Isis, Syria, South Korea, the Saudis, Afghanistan…and our own backyard terrorists…

We worry about our health and well being.  We worry about our medical coverage.

We worry about snow and ice dams, flooding and rain, and drought and heat waves.  We worry about climate change. We worry about our kids, our parents, our families, our friends, and our neighbors.

We worry, worry, worry….

Pervasive worry can almost become a physical presence, entering and filling our whole body with darkness.  Science has proven that stress and anxiety take a physical toll on us, it strains our hearts, disrupts our sleep, causes us to eat more, drink more, and medicate more.  And worry just makes us worry more…..

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life.”

So, let us consider the lilies of the field for a moment.  Or better yet, a field full of lilies.  Tall, bright orange Tiger lilies.  Or, lemon yellow lilies glowing like splashes of sunlight strewn through the garden.  Or luscious, white lilies that will soon fill our Sanctuary with the fragrant scent of Easter Resurrection.

There is a stand of bright, orange, tiger lilies, in my neighbors front yard.  Those lilies spend their day straining to reach towards the sun.  Each bell-shaped blossom, sitting atop a long, stout stem, follows the sun as it travels through the sky.

On cloudy days, the lilies heads droop a bit, melancholy and morose, waiting for the clouds to clear so the sun’s bright light can and lift them up again.  I have seen lilies flattened by wind and rain, rise up again with the coming of the sun.So, consider the dedication of those tiger lilies in following God’s sun.

Consider the plucky urban flower that, against all odds, burrows a way through the minutest of cracks in the hardened concrete and pokes and pries its way out into the light of day.  Consider the tenacity of the alpine flower, clinging to an inhospitable mountain side, drawn from the darkness, into the light.

A few years ago, we cleaned out our front beds and hauled the dirt and mulch into the woods behind our house.  Apparently, I had missed a few of the tulip bulbs because out amongst the pines and skunk cabbage, there are several bright red tulips that each year herald the coming of spring. Consider the persistence of those tulips, displaced as they were, continuing to grow towards the light.

Jesus invites us to trust in God, to trust that God will provide for us.  Jesus invites us to find peace in giving tomorrow AND today into God’s loving hands.  Jesus invites us to let go and let God, to release what it is that would rob our lives of peace and joy.  Jesus urges us to give it all back to God who gives us all we have in the first place.

Let us not just consider the lilies of the field, let us try to emulate them by focus ourselves on always straining towards the light of God’s beloved SON, and turning our lives to follow where ever God’s light leads us…having the tenacity to persevere against great odds, and persisting even when we find ourselves tossed into unfamiliar circumstances.

And, like the lilies….

Do not worry about tomorrow!  

The gift of this day in God’s creation is treasure enough!




Sermon: While He Was Praying

Transfiguration 2 sunburst


Luke 9:28 – 43

Do you ever have a morning when you wake up and you just want to stay in bed?  Maybe a day like yesterday with that cozy, thick, thermal blanket of snow coating everything…a perfect day to stay and linger under the covers, warm and protected.  A day when it takes a great effort to step out of bed and into the work and challenges of the day.

Or, Have you ever lingered in the theatre at the end of a really good movie?  Every Christmas for three years, I went with two of Bob’s brothers to see the newest episode of Lord of the Rings.  The music and visuals were so captivating that I was transported for 3 hours.  The three of us would sit there all the way through the credits until the very last note of the music stopped playing.  And even then, we would sigh, and sit a little longer….in silence.  We didn’t want to leave that world.  We weren’t ready to move on.

When I used to ski, the best part for me was the view from the top of the mountain.  I would get off the lift and ski over to some little flat place and drink in the beauty of the cold, crisp air, the majesty of the mountains, the endurance of the old gnarled pines, all pointing towards the infinitely deep blue sky.

I was never in a hurry to descend back down the mountain into the frothing flow of humanity lining up for the lifts, packing the cafeteria, clomping and bumping, boisterous, noisy and demanding, and sometimes, simply overwhelming.

Is that how Jesus felt?

In this moment of blazing light and revealed glory?  Do you think he wanted to linger awhile in God’s cloud, clinging to God’s presence, and be warm and protected?  For just a few more moments?  Does Peter tempt Jesus to linger in this sacred moment with his offer to build 3 booths and with his exuberant exclamation of awe-filled delight…”it is GOOD for us to be HERE!”

It’s not always easy coming back to the real world – sticky underfoot, trash strewn about, people shoving and jostling, noisy and demanding.  How much better to be like Puss and Boots and just magically skip from mountain top to mountain top and have all the glory with none of the hard work to be found down in the valleys, down among disgruntled, desperate, needy, complicated, and annoying people.

Poor Jesus.

He “went up on the mountain to pray, and while he was praying, the appearance of his face changes”...was it Exultant? Ecstatic?  Joyful?  Was he laughing?  How often do you imagine Jesus laughing?  His clothes become dazzling white…and in the midst of this blazing glory, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus about what lies ahead for him.  They talk with him about ‘his departure which he was to soon accomplish in Jerusalem’.

Talk about a buzzkill…talk about having to wake-up to harsh reality…

Poor Jesus.

Maybe Moses and Elijah are offering words of encouragement to get him through what is coming; just as Jesus has given Peter, John, and James this glimpse of glory, to give them encouragement for what lies ahead for them.

Jesus went up the mountain to pray, he brings Peter, John and James.  And while he is praying, he is transformed.  While he is praying, Jesus is transfigured, and the disciples can SEE the light of his Spirit pouring out of him.  I don’t think the light stops flowing when the disciples stop seeing it.  I think that light of Spirit is always flowing from Jesus…It is just that “since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.” 

In a moment of spiritual wakefulness…there is a clarity of seeing what must always be there…that light of Spirit shining out into the world, a light that is revealed to them and transforms how they see Jesus…for a moment, transforms how they SEE.

 All this, while Jesus is praying….

Jesus is equipping the disciples for what lays ahead the best way he knows how…by demonstrating for them the power of praying….

So caught up in the moment, Peter is overcome by the impulse to “do,” to do something to capture this moment…it is so hard for Peter to simply “be” in that moment.  It’s the Martha/Mary challenge, learning to pause in those sacred moments when you catch a glimpse of glory…a hint of the holy…It’s important to stop and savor those moments because they don’t last for long.  Like Manna, you can’t put them in a box and keep them for later.  You have trust in God that there will be more of those moments along life’s journey.

Peter is inspired and moved to “do”…Jesus teaches us that sometimes it’s ok, more than ok, that it’s necessary and awesome to just “be” in a moment…We cling to our moments of glory because we don’t want to hurry back down the mountain into the frothing flow of humanity, bumping and grating against each other in the struggles of every day.

Even Jesus, when he comes down the mountain, vents his frustration at the inability of those he left behind to take care of people while he was gone.  Jesus knows that all too soon, they will have to carry on without him…

He comes down from sacred ground into the muddy, murky reality of every day life and he can see how hard it will be for his disciples to build God’s kingdom…how hard it will be to change how we think and act, and feel towards one another and towards God.

Just like the boy who Jesus heals, Life sometimes mauls our spirits and dashes our hopes and dreams into pieces on the ground..  Our negative emotions and disparaging thoughts and ideas can seize hold of us, poison us, drain our spirits, overwhelm us, cast us down, and break us.

Jesus knows life is hard.  Jesus knew the difficult road the disciples would follow after he was gone…and to bolster and sustain them, he taught them that when they gather together, to pray.  He taught them to withdraw alone from time to time, and pray.

He taught them when you are afraid of the path ahead, to kneel in God’s garden and pray.  Jesus showed them that transformation comes through the power of praying.

Prayer prepares us for what lies ahead of us.  Prayer grounds us, connects us, opens us, molds and shapes us…prayer prepares for us all that lies ahead of us each and every day.

People are complicated and challenging.  But Jesus comes back down the mountain because he love us.  Jesus comes back down the mountain because we are God’s beautiful and beloved children.  Jesus comes back down into the complicated mess that is humanity, because he knows how much we need him and how much we need what he has to offer us.  Jesus knows how much we need to see the light of the Spirit and experience the joy of God’s glory.

In the midst of Peter’s building plans, God covers them with a cloud, cocoons them, and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him!”  “Listen.”

Listen, because it is in the silence, not the fire, or the earthquake, or the whirlwind…that we discover God’s presence.  Praying has the power to transform us and to reveal the light of Spirit that flows from all of us.

God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him.”

Listen to Jesus.

The only way we can listen….

…is by being silent.

Let us pray…..

Sermon: An Opportune Time

cartoon angel and devil

Luke 4: 1 – 15:  Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness

When I think about temptation, I think back to when I was watching cartoons as a kid.  There was one cartoon where Sylvester the Puddy tat, was eyeing Tweetie Bird in his cage, and suddenly a red devil Sylvester with horns appears on one shoulder and says, “do it.”

Immediately, an angel Sylvester, dressed in a long white robe, complete with harp and halo appears and says, “don’t do it.”  Sylvester is clearly torn until finally the devil Sylvester jumps across to the other shoulder and kicks the angel Sylvester out of the picture. Sylvester grins, Free at last, and attempts, as always, to gobble up poor Tweetie Bird.

As a child, I would often imagine those two figures, devil and angel, balancing on my shoulders whispering “do it”/”don’t do it” with great enthusiasm, when I found myself internally debating the wisdom of one of my Mom’s rules regarding sharing with my little brother; or the practicality of my teacher’s admonitions against peeking at my neighbor’s test when I didn’t know the answer; or even debating the reasonableness of the great commandment about loving everyone, because the boys that lived next door to us could be so annoying!

I would like to say the angel always won out…but that is far from true, apparently I was quite a handful.  But I can look back at those childhood times of wrestling with temptation, and see the beginning of my development of a conscience, and a heart, and a sense of justice, and a consideration for others, all within a child’s idea of what it means to try to tag along behind Jesus.

I wish I could say that as an adult it’s easier to wrestle with temptation but the dilemmas we face get more challenging and the choices are not as simple and clear cut as when we are children.

Wouldn’t it be great if temptation really did appear to us as a red devil with horns and cloven hooves, and a long pointy tail?  It would be so much easier to resist because the right choice would be so obvious and temptation would be so scary that we would run away screaming in fear and terror instead of giving in.

Unfortunately, temptation comes to us with a pleasant smile and an outstretched hand of friendship.  Temptation speaks to us with a soft spoken voice that makes solid and logical arguments, or a vibrant and commanding voice that seems to make complete sense.

Temptation comes to us covered with chocolate frosting, or wearing our favorite color, or offering us our heart’s desire for nothing more than the cost of shipping and handling, or our mere signature on a deal that’s too good to be true.  That is because our greatest tempter dwells within our own hearts and therefore, intimately knows our wants and our desires.

Today, when we join Jesus, he has already been in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, eating nothing at all, tempted by the devil.  His 40 days are over and he is famished, starving to the point of death.”

During this time of testing, Jesus is his most human, his most vulnerable… What is more fleshly than starving?  What is more human than being near death?  And his time of depletion and suffering is exactly when Satan, the tempter, the adversary, raises his most insidious and compelling arguments.

The adversary makes very reasonable and practical suggestions to Jesus, after all, why shouldn’t Jesus satisfy his hunger with a little bread – it’s only a stone after all – no harm, no foul; and wouldn’t it be GREAT if Jesus ruled the world instead of all the corrupt and oppressive rulers, like Rome for example; think of all the good Jesus could do if he took their place…what a better world it would be with Jesus in charge of everything…

…and how impressive would it be if Jesus flung himself from the temple roof and a thousand angels came to rescue him?  That would show the Sadducees and Pharisees who was boss!  That would be all the proof anyone would ever need!  That would end all debate and convert every non-believer in one grand, heavenly gesture, Wouldn’t it?  Huh?  Wouldn’t it??

Wouldn’t it be worth it Jesus…to just bend your knee…to me?

Seems like a fair trade-off, but Jesus reminds us with each of his replies that what is at stake, is his trust and faith in God.

-“One does not live by bread alone…but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

 -“Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

 -“Do not put the Lord your God to the test…you must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God…do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord…”

The greatest temptation going on here is that Jesus has the power to change the whole world for the better, but it would change Jesus…it would change who Jesus is…it would change Jesus relationship with God, and he won’t do that….not for anything.

Jesus prevails because he rejects power as defined in human terms illustrating most clearly that he is a Messiah unlike any other.  Jesus’ time of testing increases his reliance on God and makes it clear that his ministry is going to be about saving, not enslaving,

…that his power will only be used for others, never for himself…not even when he is starving to the point of death, or taken prisoner in Gethsemane, or hanging from a cross.

Temptation hits us at the most opportune time…when we are weak and vulnerable…when we are hungry or hurting.  When we are feeling frail and fearful….that is when we are most vulnerable to doubt…

…in the midst of our suffering when we most need God, we most often distrust God’s ability to help us, to lead us, to comfort us, to heal us…to save us.

No one ever said that following Jesus would be easy….and yet here we are…doing our best to resist the daily temptations in our lives that can separate us from God and God’s word…that can isolate us from one another, that can trip us up as we try to tag along after Jesus.

The disciples had no idea what they were getting into when they left their nets in their boats and followed after Jesus.  Neither do we when we gather together to try to discern God’s will.  That’s where the trust part comes in.  That’s where the faith part comes in.

That’s when we brush the little devil off our shoulder or at least put a finger in our ear…and try to listen for where the voice of God is calling us…we to try to reach out and grab hold of the hem of Jesus robe so that we can follow blindly, faithfully, where he is leading us.

Jesus resisted using his power to save the whole world.  He left the whole world in God’s hands and instead, he used his power to save people, one at a time, face to face, heart to heart, renewing their faith and trust in God with a smile, a touch, a look, a loaf of bread, and water jugs filled with wine at a wedding.

Jesus didn’t use his power to save the whole world, he used it to build God’s kingdom…he was God’s kingdom. Everywhere we go is God’s kingdom.  Like Jesus, we carry the power of God’s kingdom within us.

And so each week we gather and we pray as Jesus taught us to pray saying, …lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil..

Each of us has our own demons that we wrestle with…those things that cut us off from God, or interfere with us being our own best self, or isolate us from others.  And Our trials and temptations are many….There are all manner of things that lead us into wilderness places where we can wander lost, feeling abandon and alone, but,

“John Stendahl, a local pastor and blogger, says, “the desert is not God-forsaken nor does it belong to the devil.  It is God’s home.  The Holy Spirit is there, within us and beside us.  And if we cannot feel that spirit inside of us or at our side, perhaps we can at least imagine Jesus there, not too far away, with enough in him to sustain us, enough to make us brave.”

So next time you feel lost and alone in the wilderness being tempted with doubt and hopelessness, Imagine Jesus on both your shoulders, patting you on the back, pointing out the way to go.  Imagine Jesus at your side, his gentle voice cheering you on.  Imagine Jesus, opening you to the presence of the Spirit and strengthening your trust in God.

Imagine Jesus leading you through the wilderness and bringing you safely home to God.

Sermon: A Wedding, A Beginning

champagne toast

John 2: 1 – 11

When Bob and I got married, we made a weekend out of it because people were coming from all over the country to attend.  Family that hadn’t seen each other, some of them for years, were coming and we wanted time to visit and reminisce.  Our wedding and reception were on a Friday night.  We had an all day and late into the night open house on Saturday, and then a send-off brunch on Sunday.

Because, after all, a wedding is about a lot more than just the two people at the center of the celebrations.  A wedding is also about champagne toasts, open bar, tossing the bouquet, drinking, eating, and chicken dancing late into the evening.  A wedding is about reunions, family catching up, fawning over the kids and telling them how big, how beautiful, how grown up they have gotten.  A wedding is about remembering weddings past, remembering those who have passed on, telling stories, sharing memories…..and making more memories.

At the heart of all of the celebration there is the excitement of witnessing and participating in something new being created, a new beginning between two people joining their lives together, entering into covenant together, entering into a lifelong journey of sharing and partnership.

At the heart of a wedding celebration, there is a new beginning that speaks to us of hope for the future, passion, joy, continuation of traditions, a sharing of values, and an expansion of family.  I’m sure my Dad told Bob that he wasn’t losing a daughter, but that he was gaining a son.

Beginning his gospel with a wedding celebration seems a fitting way for John to illuminate Jesus’ ministry which is about bringing a new way of thinking about God and a new way of being together into the world.  What better place for beginning his ministry about God’s new creation, God’s new day, than at a wedding, a joyous celebration of new beginnings and a new life together.

Notice that John doesn’t include any details about the wedding…when we join the party, we are already three days into the celebrating.  In those days, a typical wedding feast might last for 7 days.  When our story begins, they are only 3 days in and the wine has run out.

Running out of wine would be a shameful event.  A family’s reputation and standing in the community would be at stake.  Humiliation, shame, and ridicule could be the consequence.  Guests were also expected to help provide provisions for a wedding so shame could fall on the guests as well.  The whole occasion is at risk of becoming an epic fail.  So, when Jesus mother comes to him and says, “They have no wine,” it’s a big deal.  There is an implied, “Do something” in her statement of the problem.

She might be reminding him of his obligation as a guest and as head of their household to contribute something to the party.  We don’t know what she things he will do, but she clearly has an expectation for Jesus to act.  If we imagine Jesus smiling when he responds to her and says, “What concern is that for you and me?  My hour has not yet come.”  We could hear that as, “No need for you to worry while I am still here with you.  Problem solved!”

Seeming satisfied, his mother tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do.  She leaves no other instructions, confident that having given her problem into Jesus’ hands, he will take care of everything…that he will provide the best possible solution…something better than what she can even imagine.

The Gospel of John is often called the Book of Signs.  This wedding miracle is the first of 7 signs in John’s Gospel.  Just before this, Jesus has been baptized and he has called his disciples.  And then they are all invited to this wedding in Cana where Jesus gives his first sign.

An important thing to know, is that for John, the miracles – the signs- that Jesus performs, are not, in and of themselves, as important as what the miracles are revealing about Jesus and what they are revealing about the kingdom of God.  When we are reading John, we need to be looking for what the signs are pointing to for us to see.

So what does this story reveal to us?

Jesus doesn’t fill wine containers which certainly would have been small jugs or jars.  Instead, he has the tall water jars filled to the BRIM, and he provides gallons, and gallons, and gallons of wine…certainly enough wine to provide for the rest of the celebration…and then some!

Just as with the loaves and fishes, Jesus provides enough, and more than enough…enough for all to have their fill and still have leftovers.  This extravagant sign reveals God’s abundance and generous nature.  In God’s kingdom, there is more than enough for everyone.

What else is this story pointing us to see?

Notice that it isn’t the actual transformation of the water into wine that is the surprise.  It is the quality of the wine and the timing of when it is served that surprises the Steward.  The steward says to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”

This is the sign…the surprise, the unexpectedness, the twist.  This is a hallmark of Jesus ministry – he goes against convention, against the rules and customs that encourage a mentality of scarcity and hoarding.  He turns things topsy turvey.  He never does what is expected.

He is always God’s Word made flesh, bringing God’s Word to life, showing us what it means to participate in God’s kingdom here on earth.  Jesus always goes beyond our imagining for what is possible.  And he shows us that what is possible is the best of the best, and plenty and more than plenty to share among everyone.

Who is it that gets to see the sign?  Who sees and witnesses?

The servants.  The servants get to be in on the miracle.  They draw the water and fill the jars to the brim.  They get to draw the wine out and serve it.  They get to carry the surprise in to the waiting guests and see their faces when they taste its goodness.

They get to be filled with wonder and amazement.  One mark of Jesus ministry is that most often it is those who are not invited to participate in the feast, those who are invisible, those on the outside looking in…who are most often the ones who get to see Jesus in action and be witness to the miraculous.

And in the end, who is it who believes?

Our scripture says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”  A first and most important step in their shared journey and ministry together.  It is a question for us to carry awhile as we prepare for Lent.

What do we believe?

Who can we turn to when we are running on empty, when we have spiritually run dry?  What can we do when we feel inadequate…when the obstacles and challenges before us seem insurmountable?

That is when we are to turn to Jesus and say, “There is nothing left.”

That is when we are to give our lives to Jesus, confident that having given ourselves into Jesus hands, he will take care of everything…that he will provide the best possible solution…something better than what we can even imagine.

Our human resources are limited.  We run out of energy, out of strength, out of hope, out of determination, out of inspiration, and we run out of ideas.  But fueled by the spirit and held by Jesus, we too can accomplish miracles.  We too can do our part to proclaim and reveal God’s kingdom through our love and our action as Jesus disciples, as doers of God’s Word.  This story encourages us to celebrate with excitement as we are called to participate in something new being created here and now.

We are vessels waiting to be filled, filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with grace, filled with love, filled with peace…filled to the brim, filled until our cups runneth over….Jesus has shown us that we can depend on God’s grace; gallons, and gallons, and gallons of grace!  We can depend on God’s abundant love that never runs out.

We are the servants who get to be in on the miracle.  We get to carry the surprise and Good News of God’s abundant love to the waiting guests and see their faces when they taste its goodness.  We all get to be filled with wonder and amazement as witnesses and as disciples.

Let us together, give everything into Jesus hands, and trust that he will take care of everything…that he will provide the best possible solutions…that Jesus will lead us to something better and more glorious than we can even imagine!




Sermon: Star Light in Dark Times

hubble sky pix

Matt 2: 1- 18

Like thousands of other families this holiday season, my family and I went to the see the latest Star Wars movie. It was great!  Everything you would expect…exciting chase scenes, tearful reunions, snappy repartee, a dangerous journey, and a seemingly impossible quest.

The lead characters have the choice of whether to use their powers and abilities for good, or to succumb to the dark side and use their power for personal gain and control over others – …wiping out all who stand in their way…wiping out those who threaten or question their power and authority.

Most of all, at the heart of every Stars Wars movie is an epic battle of good vs. evil.  The light of resistance fighting against the darkness of tyranny.  And of course, there are casualties along the way.  Don’t worry, I promise, no spoilers!  But we all know that in the battles between good and evil, it is impossible for even the greatest hero, to emerge unscathed, unbroken, or untouched.

Our scripture this morning could easily be a Star Wars episode.  Wise men are traveling on a dangerous journey on a seemingly impossible quest.  They come seeking a young hero who has been prophesied to be “the chosen one”, the one who will save the world. These wise men come seeking a newborn king, so naturally they stop at the palace in Jerusalem to inquire, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”

When the current king, Herod, hears this, “he is frightened…and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod is frightened because, as a puppet king, his main purpose is to placate and serve Rome, the evil empire.  Herod is a tyrant who enslaves his own people to complete his huge building projects, including the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the years before Jesus birth, “there had been a lot of resistance, unrest and revolt in Jerusalem, so Rome wasn’t in a tolerant frame of mind. [Herod] knew any [hint] of rebellion would bring crushing retaliation against the city.  History tells us that Herod would stop at nothing to assure his position and authority – “assassinating anyone he considered a threat – including his own wife and two of his own sons.” For some time, he has been hearing “rumors that the long awaited liberator, prophesied by Isaiah and others, has been or will soon be born.”[1]

And now these foreign dignitaries appear and confirm all his worst fears…that a real threat to his throne, his position, and his power, has been born.  He calls together all the chief priests and scribes and asks them where the Messiah, God’s anointed one, was prophesied to be born.  They tell him……in Bethlehem.  While a pious man might have greeted this news with hope and joy, Herod only saw it as a threat – a threat to political stability and to his own status as king. “[2]

And so Herod tries to eradicate that threat by ordering all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, to be killed.  “And a voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Why is this horrific massacre a part of our Christmas story?

The last time this passage came up in the lectionary, it was in December of 2012….right after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT.  I couldn’t even read this passage, much less preach about it.  I put it away, and here we are three years later, and there are still children being slaughtered in the streets of our cities, in our schools, and even in our churches, here in our country and around the world.

It’s becoming a common occurrence.  Such a common occurrence that we want to turn away and just mentally walk on by. It’s natural to want to turn away from the evil we see in the world, to shut it out, especially when we think there is nothing we can do to stop it.  And that is when evil wins.  When good people give up hope and surrender to despair.

Why IS this horrific massacre a part of our Christmas story?

It’s so that we can see that this is a story of hope.  This story of atrocities against children is showing us what Jesus was sent to fight against, to preach and teach against.  Jesus, bringer of light, was sent to fight the darkness within human hearts that creates evil in the world.

Jesus was sent to shine God’s light and lead us away from the fear, greed, selfishness, indifference, hatred, and the misuse of power and authority, that gives birth to evil.  Jesus being born is the hope in the midst of the horror in this story.  Jesus, light of the world, teaches us that we must start with our own hearts in order to defeat the darkness.

Like our Star Wars heroes, we get to choose how we use our skills and talents, and our power and influence.  Will we harm or heal?  Will we conquer or surrender?  Will we hate?  Or will we love.

Jesus preaches empowerment, he teaches us that we all have authority and power over our own hearts – no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in we get to choose our response.  And change in the world begins by nurturing love and hope in our hearts.

 John Pavlovitz, posted a reflection over Christmas titled, “Just a Trite, Silly, Trivial Reminder about Love,” and in it he writes,

           “I am moved to step into the dense fog of grief and fear that seems to have settled upon these days and upon our collective hearts, to remind you that all is not lost.  I wanted to lift your weary eyes, which have been so fixed on all that hurts and all that is wrong and ask you to see beyond it, to the place where Love is.

 Love is, you know?  Love still is.

 Despite all the things around that would have you believe otherwise, despite so much evidence to the contrary, it is still doing its sacred work in this place.  Love is moving in these very moments. As you breathe so [love] breathes. As you live so [love] lives. [Love] is still out there discovering hidden goodness and noticing beauty in the ordinary and  finding reason to dance in suffering.

 [Love] is still sacrificing itself and embracing hurt and mending wounds.

[Love] is still there, firmly planted in the center of your chest.

Right now…two people are unknowingly beginning a beautiful lifetime together. … a reassuring hand is being gently placed upon another’s shaking shoulders. … new life is silently being formed within a hopeful mother’s belly. … exhausted parents are pouring themselves out yet again for their children. … songs are being written and memories are being made and laughter is bubbling up. … strangers are exchanging smiles and holding doors open and stopping along the roadside.

           In these very moments, people are being encouraged, relationships are being rebuilt, forgiveness is being granted, faith is being found, sobriety is being claimed, friendships are being forged, kindness is being exchanged. Scraped knees are being kissed, disappointed losers are being consoled, nervous proposals are being accepted, second chances are being given, simple victories are being celebrated.”[3]

My one comment to Mr. Pavlovitz would be that there is nothing trite, silly, or trivial about love.

Herod, in spite of all his scheming, eventually died.  The Roman Empire eventually fell.  Other empires have come and gone.  Despots, Dictators, and tyrants, gain and lose power.  Eras begin and end.  And even in these days when church as we know it may be ending, remember one thing….

Jesus’ light…still shines.

Jesus’ light continues to grow and spread.  Jesus’ message of love for one another is needed now more than ever.  Love is the greatest weapon we have in the battle against evil.  Love is what we offer to one another and love is what we cling to.  Love is God’s light in our hearts and in our world.

          So, we journey on, on our seemingly impossible quest against great odds.  Like the wise men, we look for a sign, we look for God’s sign, we look for God’s star shining in the dark night…

…and we follow…

 …faithfully, full of hope in God’s promise…

 And may the force be with us! May God’s force be with us all!


[1] Brian D. McLaren, “Keep Herod in Christmas”; The Christian Citizen, vol. 2, 2015 pg. 12

[2] Ibid

[3] John Pavlovitz, “Just a Trite, Silly, Trivial Reminder about Love”:, 12/2015


Sermon: The Way of Peace

Zechariah sings

Zechariah Sings!

Luke 1: 57 – 60, 67 – 80

Like their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth are blessed with a son in their old age.  Zechariah is a priest, serving in the Temple when an angel of the Lord appears to him and says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.”

Zechariah can’t believe it and he says to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  The angel replies, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God…because you did not believe my words…you will become mute…until these things occur.”

After months of being unable to utter a word, when John is born, Zechariah sings!  In her book, “Through the Advent Door”, Jan Richardson says, “Zechariah sings! Full of wild hope, he sings!  Knowing the state of the world, he sings.”

Zechariah’s son is born and he sings a song of praise to God…he sings a song of hope for the future – the future day when the light of God’s dawn shall break upon us…and in breaking upon us…the dawning light will finally, fully, break us open to God, Alpha and Omega…beginning and ending and beginning again!   Advent is our time between ending and beginning…Advent is where we stand in a place of already been and not yet come…God’s light has come AND, God’s light is coming.

His son John is born, and “Zechariah sings! Full of wild hope, he sings!  Knowing the state of the world, he sings.”

One of the things we love about Advent is that it’s our time to sing our favorite seasonal songs….just as there are special foods we only make for the holidays,…there is special music woven deep inside us that heralds Jesus coming again into the world…Songs that fill us with the promise of new beginnings, a better world, peace on earth, and hope for humanity.  We sing and we remember God’s ancient and eternal promise of salvation and redemption.

God wraps his promise of salvation in the most beloved of gifts,  A baby.  All the hope for the world, wrapped in the Word made flesh.  We gather at this table and remember God’s gift of Jesus in a manger, given to us again and again every Christmas…the gift that God never tires of giving us…

We gather at this table, and our hearts join in singing, “For unto us a child is born, unto us, a child is given…”  What more blessed song is there than a baby’s borning cry that rewards a mother’s labor…and erases her cries of pain.

There is such promise in a new born…all things are possible.  We look at a baby and we are inspired to dream dreams of a bright and happy future. We wish better for them than what we had, no matter how successful we have been or, all the more, if we have struggled and suffered, we wish a better world for our children…for ALL children.  A baby reminds us that life continues. Babies bring joy in the present, and hope for the future.

Zechariah sings for his son a song of hope for a better world. Rejoicing he sings, “You will go before the Lord to prepare his way: to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of sins; the dawn from on high will break upon us…to give light to those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.”  We are always living in the shadow of death.  Our own mortality is always a present reality.  The creations of humankind are fleeting, an inhalation and exhalation of breath, a mere blink in the eye of eternal eons.

The increasing acts of human violence and the severity of recent natural events are casting fear and darkness all over the world.  The days grow shorter, the nights get longer, and we sit in Advent darkness feeling the cold, shadow of death stealing over us…feeling despair and hopelessness, discouragement, and dismay nipping at our hearts…and in this creeping darkness…John’s task is to “go before the Lord to prepare his way” and to “guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Hope starts us on our Advent journey.  Hope lets us take that hardest, first fearful step in the darkness.  And Peace is the path we must follow in order to see God’s light.

Our first step in darkening days, is to step forward in Hope even when we can’t see God’s road ahead.  To step forward and to watch, eyes and hearts straining to glimpse the dawn…straining to see first light, God’s light dawning – dawning anew on Christmas Day.  Dawning to lead us out of the cold darkness and into God’s warm and peace filled light…

The way of Peace can’t be negotiated.  “Truce” isn’t “Peace.”  God’s Peace isn’t treaties negotiated between ambassadors and politicians seeking concessions and gains.  God’s peace doesn’t flourish from embargos and sanctions.  God’s Peace doesn’t come from “tolerating” others.  God’s peace doesn’t come from walling “them” out and walling us in…

God’s Peace comes from love and acceptance.  Lasting Peace comes from seeing how you are the same as your neighbor…not how you are different.  Lasting Peace in our world, can only flow from loving your neighbors, and even your enemies, as you love yourself.

Do you hear in that commandment that peace can only begin when you love and accept yourself, first and foremost?

Peace can only begin when you love yourself as God loves you, Warts, faults, bad habits, and all.  Peace begins when you can forgive yourself for your mistakes, missed opportunities, the blind fumbling, the stumbles, and the falls. That is why when we gather at Christ’s table we celebrate and remember that we are understood, we are known inside and out, for better and for worse.

We gather and remember we are forgiven, and loved…and that prepares the way for us to understand, and to forgive, and to love others…for better and for worse…to love, first and foremost.  We gather at this table and we feast upon God’s love and God’s grace and mercy, and we drink our fill of God’s forgiveness.

We gather ’round this table and we listen for the old, familiar songs.  This table sings to us of God’s promises fulfilled, and God’s promises yet to come.  This table sings to us of what was, what is, and what will be!  This table sings to us of God’s glory and God’s grace.

This table fills us with songs of peace on earth, good will toward all people; fills us with Glad Tidings of Comfort and Joy;  and sends us out to sing from the mountaintops, our ancient Christmas song of hope and peace and God’s love for all people who on earth do dwell!

His son is born….and Zechariah sings. Full of wild hope, he sings. Knowing the state of the world, he sings.

Can we sing this Advent season?

With the sounds of bombs and gunshots echoing in our hearts?

Can we stand up and sing?

Can we sing Songs of praise…songs of thanksgiving…songs of joy?

Even knowing the state of the world we live in….

Can we sing songs of Hope? and Peace?

The child being born again in the manger says, we must sing.

We must sing of God’s promised new day…

We, good Christians All, must sing the Good News!

If not us, then who?