Entering Lent

March 10, 2019 Lent 1

Luke 4:1-13

The first spring following my families move to Richmond brought grandiose plans of a wonderful thriving garden in the backyard of the parsonage. Vern came over and tilled the ground for us and by the time he was completed, we probably had at least 200 square feet of space for a wonderful garden. We marked the garden all out and planted seeds. We put a fence all the way around the garden so that the many rabbits roaming around the yard would stay out. Since it was the first year, it required a lot of tender loving care to weed it and water it. The weeds seemed to like the water much more than the plants did. Then we went on vacation!

We came home to an enclosed jungle! Okay, maybe it was not quite that bad. I still manage to harvest some radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and even a bit of lettuce. The corn did not turn out. Neither did the watermelon or cantaloupe. We would try again the following year and scale it back a little. Last year we decided that it was just too much work! It takes a lot of patience to prepare and cultivate a garden. There are many challenges and temptations that come along the way.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus enters the wilderness. He is tempted and holds fast in his faith. During this season of Lent, you are going to be asked to let go of the things that weigh you down and to cultivate those areas in your life that bring growth.

The temptations that are waved in front of Jesus’ face this week are very powerful. They are temptations that pull people into power that is hard to let go of. What if we could turn a stone into a loaf of bread, or simply anything to feed ourselves? Could this be a blessing to those in countries that have the constant threat of famine. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days! He had to be hungry. I am sure the thought of a loaf of bread would have made his mouth water.

Imagine standing on the highest peak wherever you were and being able to see off in the distance for miles and miles. What if someone promised to you that it could all be yours if you just turned away from God and turned your worship towards evil, idols, or even material possessions? Does not sound too far from the truth for some today, does it? How quick we are to turn away from God for something that is newer, brighter, or shinier.

The third temptation of Jesus is the promise of invincibility. This seems to come to us more often when we are young and stupid! Now, don’t try this at home, but one attempt at this for me was when I thought I could run across the pool cover on my parent’s pool in the middle of winter. I may have been trying to show off for the next-door neighbor, and fortunately, I got all the way to the other side before my foot just barely broke through the ice frozen on top.

It is these temptations that Jesus walks away from after fasting for 40 days. He lets go of them so that he can move forward into the ministry that God is calling him to. A ministry that had been established from the very beginning of time.

Many people have used Lent as a time to fast from something as a discipline. I encourage you this year to let go of something. Not just for Lent, but for good. It could be something that distracts you away from God. A great definition of to let go is to relinquish your grip on something. As we do so it provides us the opportunity to return to God.

While Jesus let go of the temptations after his 40 days in the wilderness, it was also a sign of growth. His time of fasting in the wilderness revealed his great faith in God the Father which prepared him for his ministry ahead. A ministry that would lead to growth in his disciple’s faith as well.

Unlike me trying to cultivate a garden, Jesus was much better in cultivating a faith that laid the foundation for all of us to follow. The term to cultivate usually is used in farming as I am sure many of you know. We can also use it to refer to our lives and today to our faith. To cultivate means to prepare and then foster growth. To cultivate also means to labor, care for, study, refine, or encourage. All of these can relate to our faith and its growth as we draw closer to God this Lenten season. It takes work and we must be intentional.

As you noticed, there is also room for you to write on the doors what you are going to cultivate over these next forty days. After his time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus let go of the temptations and cultivated his faith as he drew closer to God.

How are you going to draw closer to God this season?

Let us pray. Lord, we return to you, asking for forgiveness this season of Lent. In this time of preparation, may we be guided by the Holy Spirit to let go of those things that weigh us down and be drawn to those things that cultivate our commitment to you. Amen.

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Created in God’s Image

March 6, 2019 Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Isn’t it amazing the extremes that some people will go to get noticed?

I am sure that within the last twenty years the desire to get noticed and make a name for oneself has probably increased. Due to the growth of the internet and social media outlets, anyone can put themselves out there with the hopes of being seen or followed by others. You can flaunt your life all over Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and many others too numerous to name. You can put your profile out there in the hopes of finding a date! You can post videos of almost anything to YouTube with the hope that it becomes viral.

Viral is a good word, because viruses infect and can cause damage to something that is healthy. An unmonitored use of social media can lead to a false misrepresentation of self and misguided actions. It is easy to get caught up in an alternate reality and forget that we can be seen by others! The impression we give others reflects our priorities. Most importantly, God sees us no matter the impression we are giving people. Are we acting with ourselves in mind, or are we living out the call of Jesus Christ?

This passage we hear from our gospel lesson this evening may make you squirm in your seat a little. Especially given the fact that we will soon get up and be marked with the sign of a cross on our foreheads. So much, for not letting our piety be seen by anyone else! You better be careful when you are fasting to not look dismal either. That could be hard too, if you decided to give up coffee or chocolate for Lent!

This teaching from Jesus on Ash Wednesday is part of the Sermon on the Mount where he has a prolonged oration on how to conduct yourself as a believer of God. I think that the tension that he creates is intentional so that people will start truly thinking about their actions and will begin to contemplate on his Word. We do not get to hear of the crowd’s reactions to his preaching, but I am sure that there are some slack-jawed faces out in that crowd finding it hard to believe what he is saying. Perhaps some of them even decided to get up and walk back home.  

Those same words strike us hard today! It is easy to be easily distracted from what matters the most when we have so many other voices begging for our attention. We in turn get pulled in and start begging for attention from others by trying to get the most friends, likes, or views through our various online accounts. For those that do not post, video record, or tweet, there are other ways to get noticed as well. I am sure that you know people that have a comment for anything and everything. All they must do, is walk into a gathering of people and be loud. Unfortunately, that is multiplied when they are online.

While we may go way beyond what is necessary to get noticed, we must remember that we are already noticed! Three times in our gospel lesson Jesus reminds the disciples, “The Father sees. . .” We do not have to go out of our way to get noticed for our piety. Yet, living a pious life can draw us closer to God. Alas, that is the only reason that we should be doing so. We should not be going about and showing off how righteous and pious we are to others through our prayers, fasting, or even receiving ashes.

We do these things because we know that they draw us closer to the mercy of God. A God that created us in God’s very own image! A God that desires for us to repent and turn our lives back to the one whose image we are created.

We do not have to worry about the image that we project to the world, either in real life or on social media, because God truly knows who we are. For some, that may be a scary realization. For others, it may be a relief. This time of Lent is meant to be an intentional time to draw closer to God and it begins this evening as we remember that we were created from dust and to dust we shall return. No image is greater than the love that is seen in Christ that we can then carry out into our community.

Let us pray. God of mercy, we return to you this evening and ask for forgiveness for those times we have projected false or incorrect images that do not reflect your Son, Jesus Christ. We welcome in these next forty days as a time of possibilities to be drawn closer to you. Amen.

Listen to Him!

March 3, 2018 Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-43a

I have a confession to make, I am an introvert!

When I am with my peers, I quite often will sit back and listen to everything that is going on and the conversations that are occurring. Now, I am not saying this to lift myself up, because I could still do a better job at listening; just ask my wife!

When I get frustrated, and I am sure you could all agree, is when people do not listen to what I am saying. So, we can all relate to this, yet when it comes to listening, we quite often fall short of truly pausing to listen to what is being said. Listening is just one of our five senses, yet it is a very important sense. For those that are hearing impaired, they learn to listen through their other senses by what they see and even feel.

We can listen with not only our ears, but also with our eyes and hands. Of course, to use the other senses takes practice and the majority of us will never come to a full ability of using all of our senses to listen.

I believe that one of the important things that Luke shares with us in our gospel is when the disciples are called to Listen to Jesus. In the call to listen to Jesus, we are changed. That change welcomes us into the wonderful mystery of God.

Did you know that the average person can speak 150 words per minute? However, the average person can listen to 1000 words per minute. So, what do you do with that extra time that you have while listening to people? Are you gazing off into the distance wondering what is on your schedule next? I will admit that I catch myself doing this when I have a lot going on and I must intentionally pull myself back into a conversation at times. To intentionally focus on a conversation takes practice. With that in mind, I want to try something. I would like you to all take a moment to relax and prepare to really listen, more intently then you are right now. I am going to read you a paragraph and I would like you to listen and take notes if you would like.

You are a bus driver. At your first stop, you pick up 29 people. On your second stop, 18 of those 29 people get off, and at the same time 10 new passengers arrive. At your next stop, 3 of those 10 passengers get off, and 13 new passengers come on. On your fourth stop 4 of the remaining 10 passengers get off, 6 of those new 13 passengers get off as well, then 17 new passengers get on. What is the age of the bus driver?

To truly listen, we must block all distractions and focus on the thing right in front of us. We can listen with our ears, but we can also listen with our eyes through watching body language and movement. Perhaps we can even feel the vibrations of what is happening around us. Today we get in trouble when we allow ourselves to become distracted with our phones, the task that we are in the middle of trying to accomplish, or the thoughts of what needs to be done next.

The disciples were nearly caught in their sleep, yet they stayed awake to see what was about to happen on that mountain top. They are amazed by everything that takes place. The sights and sounds that they see and hear are so overwhelming that they kept silent when they came down from the mountain. The appearance of Moses and Elijah had to be overwhelming, and then Jesus’ appearance transformed right in front of them. They are overwhelmed by the mystery that they are welcomed into. Not, only that, they hear a voice from the heavens, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

Peter had been so impressed, he wanted to stay there forever. Yet, they follow Jesus back down the mountainside. The call to listen to Jesus comes as a challenge. Nearly everything that Jesus preaches and every healing that he does, appears to bring out trouble for him and the disciples. His words and actions are resistance to what is currently being practiced by the leaders in the temple. Where they have become accustom to complacency and not disrupting the good thing they have going, Jesus begins to change all of that with every word he speaks and every step he takes.

The story of the transfiguration comes to us every Sunday before the beginning of Lent. It is a sign for the disciples that points to the glory of Jesus. It prepares them for the rest of Jesus’ ministry and as Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, it is a sign for Jesus’ own exodus, when he will leave this earthly life through crucifixion. It is on the cross that Jesus will encounter release from this world and realize the freedom that comes in faith. It is a sign of God’s promise for us.

The words that are spoken to the disciples on the mountain are similar to the words that Jesus hears when he is baptized. The difference on the mountain top, is that the words are for all to hear. Those words are not just for the disciples. Those words come to us today in scripture and we are called to listen as well.

The listening is not a one-time thing. We do not just listen to God once and discern what we are to do with our lives or careers. To listen to Jesus Christ, is always to listen to what may be happening in and around us.  It is a two-way conversation. As we pray and listen for His response, something begins to happen within our very own beings. We too are transformed. We are transformed in our listening to Jesus and in that we are called to go out and share that same message of love, grace, and freedom that is shared with us when we find ourselves in Christ.

Let us pray. God of change, may we be transformed in your love as we listen to your calling in our life. Amen.

Love Your Enemies?

February 24, 2019

Luke 6:27-38

As I was preparing for today’s sermon, I was introduced to a short story by Flannery O’Connor. For those of you that do not know who Flannery O’Connor is, she grew up in Savanah, Georgia and was shaped by the thoughts of the south in the early twentieth century.

The short story that I encountered is called Revelation, and it details the visit of Ruby Turpin and her husband Claud to the local doctor’s office. The conversation that ensues among those waiting to see the doctor are ones that you may expect to hear in the south in the middle of the twentieth century. There is also much self-talk as Ruby looks around the room and nearly rejoices that she is better than almost everyone else that is waiting. For this she is thankful, and she could not decide if she had to choose, whether she would be better off being born as white trash or from African descent. I will admit, reading this story in 2019 made me a little squeamish, yet I also remembered when it was written. The scene in the doctor’s office concludes with Ruby being attacked and called a “wart hog from hell.”

As I read this short story, I was feeling almost as confused as reading our gospel lesson from Luke. Jesus challenges his listeners by telling them the very thing that they least likely want to do. I am sure that we could agree with this. You want us to love our enemy? Offer to let someone to strike the other cheek after they have assaulted us? Give to everyone who begs? These commands seem nearly impossible.

However, the grace and love of God tips the world upside down as we are challenged to do the very things that do not appear to come naturally.

In spite of this, we are still challenged. The news as of late has been rampant with things that we should not approve of, however, we are still supposed to love those people. Those that appear racist and benefit from their own perceived superiority? How about those that sexually assault others; are they supposed to get a free ride? We can review history and point out all the ill-fit leaders that killed millions and ruled with iron fists, and yet are these are still the people that Jesus wants us to love?

It is easy for certain pastors to fill stadiums to preach sermons that are easy to listen to and sound more like self-help lectures. If Jesus were to preach like this, the course of Christianity as we know it would have been drastically changed. Jesus does not sugar coat it though. He addresses what we need, not what we want to hear. The trouble arises, when we think we are all good. Like Ruby, praise be to God that we are who we are, and we are not that person over there.

Jesus’ words should wake us up. “These words cut across the grain of the natural response to perceived enemies of those who may curse what we value. ‘Do to others as they do to us’ may not be golden, but in reality it is the rule by which life should be lived.”[1] Jesus has set the bar too high! How can we expect to reach the commands that he has preached?

Jesus calls us to love! What if we did not look at this sermon from Jesus as commands, but rather as a promise? A promise of what is being done in this world. A promise of the kingdom of God coming and residing in our very world. A promise that we do not have to hold grudges or keep score of who did what to wrong us. 

When we cannot live up to the expectations of a command, we quite often find ourselves living in fear of not being able to follow the command. Fear of what may happen to us. However, with a promise, we encounter grace and love that is unbounding. It is that same grace and love that Jesus wants us to share with others. We are to forgive. David Lose shared in his commentary this week, “each time we forgive each other, are we not interrupting the cause and effect laws of this world. I mean love deserves love, hate deserves hate, deeds both good and bad should be repaid in kind, force must be returned with force, violence begets violence, and so on and so on. And yet when you forgive, you interrupt this endless cycle and create something new.”[2] Within that forgiveness lies the love of Christ.

The love that Jesus speaks of here does not mean a romantic love, liking, or even friendship. This love, agape, is a whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other. In this love we do not hesitate. We do not worry about what it is going to cost us, and we do not worry about being paid in return. In agape love, our desire is purely in the well-being of the other. While we may dislike our enemies, because after all they are our enemies, Jesus challenges us to still desire their well being and in that, maybe a true relationship will be planted.

Ruby frets over the pronouncement by a random stranger, a perceived enemy, that she is a “warthog from hell.” A church going woman, how can someone call her such a thing. She then has a vision. A vision of a parade marching to heaven with those that she assumed were lower in importance than her getting into heaven first! She was in line as well, but at the end. How could those she looked down upon get into heaven first? It is here that Ruby found what it truly meant to love and experience the grace of God. For that, all she could hear were the shouts of Hallelujah.

Let us pray. God of grace, you call us to love our enemies and at this we often grit our teeth. May we immerse ourselves in your Son, Jesus Christ, to truly learn what this means and be changed through your endless grace. Amen.


[1] Charles Bugg. Feasting on the Word, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Volume 1. (pg 382).

[2] David Lose, Command or Promise, In the Meantime blog. http://www.davidlose.net