Comfort in Uncertainty

May 5, 2019

John 21:1-19

There came a time in seminary, somewhere during my second year, that I started to wonder what I was doing. I questioned if I was truly following God’s call to serve in the church with the hopes of becoming an ordained pastor. I doubted myself because I did not come from the same background as most of my classmates had, since they mostly all grew up in the church and it was an incremental part of their lives from birth to the present day.

I began to wonder if it would just be much easier to return to my previous career. At points as I was challenged by Greek and Hebrew, and deeply immersed in heavy theological papers, managing a store and stocking shelves seemed like a much better option than to submit myself to an overwhelming class load and subjects that just made me go, huh, at times.

Perhaps this is how the disciples felt after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus has turned the world of the disciple’s upside down! Amid their uncertainty they return to what they know, only to find Jesus there to greet them and bring them hope.

In his gospel, John shares with us that the disciples have finally moved out of their hiding place. It is about time! Last week, Jesus appeared to the eleven for a second time after his resurrection and Thomas is welcomed into the fold and has received the Holy Spirit from Jesus just as the other disciples had a week earlier. Finally, we find them venturing out into the open. The fear may be starting to abate a little and some of them return to the only place where they feel comfortable! In such an uncertain time they return to the sea so that they can do the one thing they know how to do well. The only problem, they have no such luck catching any fish in their nets overnight. As much as the disciples want to move forward, they seem to be stuck. Their nets are empty, and they are struggling.

Let’s admit it, we do not have perfect lives. We struggle. We are challenged with family issues. We are challenged with finances at times. We are challenged with relationships. We are even challenged in placing a sure and definite hope and faith in God. While I stayed in seminary, went on to internship, and returned to finish my senior year, it does not mean that it was easy and without its challenges. At times I would have just loved to leave it all behind and return to what I knew and what I was comfortable doing.

However, Jesus challenges us! Yes, you heard me right. Jesus challenges us to look within ourselves to listen and discern who we really are as a child of God. I am sure that you have heard it said that Peter answering Jesus’ questions about whether he loves him three times is a reversal of the three times Peter denies Jesus. What if, it was about Jesus getting Peter to remember who he is? Yes, Peter has denied Jesus three times. However, in these denials, he is denying himself. He has forgot whose he is and who he is as a child of God. Jesus’ questioning could just as easily be a call back to Peter to remember who he is and not that he is called to love Jesus, but that Jesus loves him just as he is. His flaws, mis-steps and all!

The wonder of it all, is that Jesus keeps showing up. He has now appeared three times to the disciples and they are starting to be drawn out of their seclusion and be fed. While they return to what they are comfortable doing, Jesus is present in the lack of catching fish to ensure that they are fed and fed abundantly. Jesus instructs them to throw the net to the other side of the boat and they can barely lift the net back into the boat because it is completely filled. We are told that there are 153 fish in all. According to a commentary by St. Jerome, it was believed back then there were 153 different types of fish in the sea.

As the disciples are sent out to fish for people, this is a sign for them not to exclude anyone. God welcomes all people in, and all are part of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. God will welcome and gather every single one into an embrace full of love and grace. And as we learn with Peter, Jesus looks beyond denials, mis-steps, and flaws. Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up to remind us whose we are and that we are called and sent out to a world in need of God’s hands and feet.

While we may not see Jesus face to face, or at least not in an impression that is reminiscent of famous paintings, Jesus still shows up. Jesus shows up in our friends and neighbors. Jesus shows up in the unexpected. Jesus shows up in the exact places where he needs to be. Places where his love flows over, and we experience a grace that is both mysterious and wonderful. Once again, I ask you, where have you seen Jesus this Easter season? Earlier this week, I was at the Institute of Liturgical Studies and on the closing day, I witnessed a Valpo student paying for the lunch of an older couple. He did not know them. He barely said anything to them. However, you could visibly see their appreciation and Jesus in this very simple action of the young man that generously touched two lives that will be remembered for some time to come.

This is Jesus at work in our world today. This morning, I invite you to come forward to receive Christ in the bread and wine. These are the visible signs of Christ with us this morning and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of a meal, we take Jesus into our very selves so that we can then go out into the world and be Christ for those that need a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.

Let us pray. Ever-present God, you come to us in the most unexpected places. May we welcome you to call us and send us out to do your very will in the world. May we bear the signs of hope that you bestowed to us in Jesus and carry out your love for all to see and feel. Amen.

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Thomas Was Framed!

April 28, 2019

John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As we enter this second Sunday of Easter, we are confronted with the same gospel story that we hear every year on this day. The story of Jesus first appearing to the disciples and then again to Thomas in John’s gospel which continues the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Many of our sisters and brothers also celebrate this Sunday as Holy Humor Sunday or Laughter Sunday. This celebration actually goes all the way back to our early Greek Christian sisters and brothers in the faith that used the days after Easter Sunday to have parties and rejoice with joy and laughter. Why? It is an ongoing celebration of the resurrection and “the custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.”

Now, there seems to be one person that is not laughing. That is Thomas.

Thomas is skeptical of what has happened. Really, can we blame him? All the other disciples were present when Jesus came into where they were hiding, and Thomas did not see Jesus for himself. He had to be upset with himself. What was he doing in the first place? Maybe he was going to pick up supplies. Maybe he was gauging the tension that hung in the air after Jesus crucifixion. That is totally left up to our imaginations.

Because of his questions, Thomas gets framed with the title “Doubting!” Imagine having to travel around with that moniker attached to your name. However, while Thomas does appear to doubt, the question could be raised, who is he doubting? Is he doubting that Jesus actually returned and appeared to the disciples? Or is he more in question of the disciples themselves?

So, let’s get this straight. The disciples were just hiding out in the house and Jesus appears to them. John tells us in his gospel that when Jesus spoke to the disciples, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now, a more accurate translation would be that he breathed into them. He gave them the Holy Spirit to reside within their very being. This could be what Thomas has an issue with! If Jesus has done what they say, then why are they still hiding out? Should they not be going out and proclaiming the good news as Jesus as told them to do. Thomas wants the same experience as those that were present. Thomas does not see anything different in the way they are acting to lead him to assume that Jesus was actually present. He does not doubt Jesus; he is in doubt of the actions of the disciples.

We can relate with the Thomas that wants to experience everything the way the disciples supposedly said they did. We want to be present when important things happen. We get jealous when we miss out and sometimes even question the authenticity of an event if we were not present to witness it. Events cannot be repeated just because we missed out on them the first time. Just because we were not present, does not mean that a particular event did not happen.

Fortunately for Thomas, Jesus does return a week later. He already senses what Thomas is about to say and offers the wound in his side for Thomas to touch. We assume that he touched the wound. All of the paintings show us that he touched the wound. Honestly, I do not think Thomas would have had to follow through. He is now experiencing Jesus as the disciples did a week earlier. In the peace that Jesus gave him may also be the breath of the Holy Spirit that he breathed into the disciples.

And how does Thomas respond? “My Lord and my God!” It is a proclamation of his faith. A proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord, and also God. Human and divine. Thomas now knows and believes in Jesus as the Messiah and is empowered with the Holy Spirit to move forward. The doubt that had arisen in the lack of action of the disciples has now vanished. Perhaps this is even enough now to get them to move out of the space they are hiding and begin to spread the good news that Jesus has instructed them to do.

The same Jesus that appears to his disciples and a week later to Thomas, with scars and all, is the same Jesus that comes to be with us. Jesus is with us in hunger, brokenness, hopelessness, disappointment, anger, despair, and much much more. Jesus is present when we least expect it and even in times when we would like to see him get lost. When we think that we know better, Jesus is present to remind us that there is something much greater. It is this same Jesus that comes to our side to be with us in darkness so that we can encounter the light. And what should our response be? “My Lord and my God!” God is visible all around us. For in the story of the resurrection we are reminded that all things are made new! During Easter you are encouraged to write on the back door where you have seen God this Easter season and where you can be God’s hands and feet in the world. For, we too are being sent to proclaim the risen Lord!

Let us pray. God of wonder, you appear before us at times we do not even recognize. May our laughter remind us of your saving grace and may our eyes be open by your light as it spreads to the darkness in our own lives. Amen.

Christ is Risen!

April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!  

Hell took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!
For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

-John Chrysostom   347-407
The Easter Homily

This Easter Homily from John Chrysostom is wonderful; however, I don’t quite think that is the first thoughts that the women that encountered the empty tomb were feeling. Honestly, they were more confused as to what was going on. The two men that show up in dazzling clothes, most likely angels, ask them “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They are looking because they were just at the tomb right before the Passover had begun! They had seen the body of Jesus laying in the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea had placed him. They were perplexed because things like this did not happen. Surely, someone must have stolen the body!

They looked past the promises that Jesus had made and what would happen once he arrived in Jerusalem. Perhaps they just thought that he was speaking metaphorically. They were not expecting to find Jesus outside of the tomb where he had been laid. They may have recalled his talking about a resurrection, but did he really mean a bodily resurrection?

It is easy for us today to look past where God is working in the world as well. Especially given the war and turmoil that we are witness to on the news. The violence that pervades the daily news stream can bring us down in a darkness. We get frustrated when church attendance declines and we are left with more questions than answers.

Some biblical scholars even argue about whether or not there was a physical resurrection. Does it matter whether Jesus was physically resurrected or not? YES! Paul shares this in 1 Corinthians right before the reading selected from there this morning: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

The women’s initial perplexity at what had happened to Jesus’ body flows over to the disciples when they proclaim to them that he was no longer there. While the women recalled what Jesus has proclaimed to them about being raised on the third day, the disciples are still perplexed, and Peter had to go and see for himself. His faith did not initially carry him, he had to see for himself! How often do we let stumbling blocks get in the way of our own faith?

Perplexity is an honest human reaction. The disciples had spent the last three years learning from Jesus and even began teaching themselves as they went out into the surrounding villages. Jesus had always been there to ask questions of and now they were perplexed in not only his body missing from the tomb, but who are they supposed to turn to now? It is at the empty tomb that the women and Peter began to encounter a new reality.

Jesus promised that he would bring new life and, in the resurrection, we find the promise that God has been sharing with humanity from the dawn of creation. This is not an “idle tale” as the disciples had feared. This is what propelled Peter to get up and see for himself. Once again, we would probably be found in the same place if not for our faith. Resurrection seems incomprehensible, yet God conceives it and comprehends it for us!

The disciples will never be the same! They have been transformed in that very moment when they come to believe in the resurrection and give thanks that Jesus Christ points to new life in creation. God gives us the gifts to help lead us to faith and hope in the new creation to come. We are gifted with sacraments that makes God present for us daily. In the waters of baptism, we become members of the body of Christ and die our own death to only be restored to a new and wonderful life in Christ. Every time we come in contact with water we are reminded of the grace and love of God that washes us clean.

Every time we come forward to the table for holy communion, Jesus Christ meets us. He meets us in the elements of bread and wine to let us know that he is very much a part of us. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, we welcome Christ into our lives and his very presence lets us know that he is alive and well. When it is hard to see God’s activity in the world, know that God is present always, and the physical reminders of the sacraments bring us face to face.

Coming face to face with Christ in the sacraments gives us a peace to go out into the world to proclaim the good news!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen, Indeed!

It helps us to find God in everything that we encounter, from the beauty of nature on a long hike, to the cats and dogs that curl up on our laps or couch next to us. God is present in our very breath and the winds that blow over this very creation. God is with those that are naked, hungry, thirsty, mourn, and grieve. God has never left us and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we are ushered into a new creation that unfolds in front of us.

Let us pray. Creator God, you bring us to new life through the death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice in this new creation and the light that vanished death so that we too will come to know life eternal. Amen.

A Reflection for Holy Week

April 10, 2019

I am stepping away from the typical sermon this week and giving you more of a short reflection as we enter one of the most sacred weeks of the church year. The gospel of Luke can speak for itself and appears full of desolation as we await what we know happens following Jesus’ death on the cross.

Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people as he entered Jerusalem one last time. Brian McLaren, in his book We Make the Road by Walking, imagines what that entry may look and sound like,

A reverent silence descends upon our parade. It’s a sight that has choked up many as a pilgrim. But Jesus doesn’t just get choked up. He begins to weep. The crowd clusters around him, and he begins to speak to Jerusalem. “If only you knew on this day of all days the things that lead to peace,” he says through tears. “But you can’t see. A time will come when your enemies will surround you, and you will be crushed and this whole city leveled …all because you didn’t recognize the meaning of this moment of God’s visitation.”[1]

You didn’t recognize the meaning of this moment of God’s visitation!

These are the words of Jesus speaking the harsh truth to the people of Jerusalem that have gathered to welcome him into the city with fanfare and celebration. He could just as easily be saying, “I’m sorry, I think you are a little too late for that.” When do we ourselves fail to see Jesus in our midst? Do we look beyond the visitor and not welcome them in? Do we turn up our nose to the gentleman that walks into our community seeking assistance? Do we jump to quick conclusions when encountering someone that is not like us, whether they are a different gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation? Do we disregard our migrant neighbors that are escaping crime, persecution, and even death? Jesus can and will be found in all of these circumstances.

We are not much different than the crowd that has gathered around Jesus, full of excitement. As a community we are welcomed into something much greater than us over this next week. We are together because God has called us all to be a part of this community. Some of you have never known any other place. Some of you had significant life events that brought you here. Some of you have only been here a short time. It does not matter. We are all called into community to love and support one another. We are called to love and support each other in times of joy as well as times of sorrow. You are called to support those that are leading the congregation. You are called to care for this space like it is your own home. Why? Because we are in relationship with one another and we are community. In this community we welcome Jesus Christ in any and all forms.

We worship together as a community. This week as a community we are invited to walk in the steps of Jesus’ last days. Thursday we will gather to lay down our sins at the foot of the cross, be reminded of Jesus’ love and service for all through the washing of feet, and finally we will break bread with one another as we receive Holy Communion. Friday, we come together as we recognize those last breaths of Jesus on the cross. Breaths that are held until we gather for the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. These three days seamlessly flow together, and as a community we live out these days with the anticipation of what is to come. You are invited to come, and be fully present, and live into community this week as we embrace Jesus’ last days and anticipate the new life to come.


[1] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pg. 149.

Cultivating Forgiveness

March 31, 2019

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

You have probably heard this parable countless times over the years. I am sure there are just as many interpretations of this parable as there are preachers. Ok, that may be taking it a little far, but you get the point. Is this a story of greed, sloth, wastefulness, envy, anger? Yes! We can find all of that within the parable. Looking beyond that, the parable of the prodigal son can call us into ourselves to explore and discover where we may find ourselves in the story.

Do you see yourself as the prodigal that has all of a sudden came into a great fortune and are now looking for ways to go out and spend it? Or, do you see yourself as the older brother that appears to have come to the point where he despises his brother and is angry at his return? Maybe you see yourself as the father that welcomes the prodigal home with a loving embrace, the finest clothes, and a feast fit for royalty.

The father looks past the fact that in his culture his son shamed him when asking for his inheritance, already writing his father off as dead. The older son is disregarded by his father and feels that he has never had the same attention paid to him. When we encounter them upon the prodigal son’s return home, they are both outside of the house. They are both left searching for something and one of them finds it. Through it all, we are reminded of the grace that God is there to welcome us home.

It is possible, that you do not feel anything when hearing this parable. Maybe it does not resonate with you. What if we were to hear a modern version of this parable? Scott Higgins shares this modern day version:

Jenny grew up near Portland, Maine. In her early teenage years, she fell into a pattern of long running battles with her parents. They didn’t react too well when she came home with a nose ring. They were furious when she stayed out all night without so much as a phone call to tell them where she was. Her friends weren’t exactly her parent’s first choice.

One night Jenny and her folks have a huge fight. “I hate you!” she screams at her father as she slams the door to her bedroom. That night she acts on a plan that’s been forming for some time. Once everyone has gone to sleep, she gets dressed, packs a bag and goes into the kitchen. Opening the kitchen drawer, she rifles through her parent’s wallets. She takes the credit cards, the cash, and their bank book. She hops on a bus and heads for New York City. When she gets there, she waits on the doorstep of the Bank so she can be the first through the door. She forges her mother’s signature and withdraws $12500 her parents had in their investment account. She grabs a cab to the airport and uses the money to buy a ticket to Los Angeles, the last place she figures her parents will look for her.

She arrives in Los Angeles, and pretty soon she’s enjoying the high life – a new group of friends, plenty of booze, late nights, sleep all day, no school, no parent’s hassling her about a nose ring, let alone her experiments with sex and drugs. It doesn’t take long until the $12500’s gone and the credit cards have been cancelled.

Back home her parents are frantic. Her mom had to start stocking shelves at night to pay off the credit card debt, and the $12500 set aside for her sister’s university tuition is gone. The police are notified, the streets are searched – first Portland, and then the greater New England area. Her parents don’t know what’s happened. They fear the worst.

Meanwhile down on the streets of LA things aren’t going too well. Jenny’s soon addicted to heroin and the money she stole doesn’t go too far. She moves into a tiny apartment and starts selling herself for sex.

One day she’s walking down the street and sees a poster on the electrical pole. It’s headed “Have you seen this girl?” Below the heading is a photo of her – at least as she used to look. The poster’s got her parent’s phone number on it and asks for anyone with information to call. Jenny rips the poster down, folds it up and puts it into her pocket.

The months pass, then the years. Jenny’s been careless one time too many. At first, she writes off her sickness as just another bout of flu. But the illness persists. She goes to the free clinic to discover she’s contracted Hepatitis C and HIV. Nobody wants her now!

As she sits lonely, tired and hungry in the tiny apartment, she looks at the poster she’d rescued from that electrical pole and saved for the last few years. She thinks back to her previous life – as a typical schoolgirl in a middle-class suburban Portland family. It triggers memories of the famous family water fight one steaming summer day when she was 12; and of crazy moments dancing together; of her sister’s comforting arms when she broke up with David. “God, why did I leave?” she says to herself. “Even the family mutt lives a better life than I do.” She’s sobbing now and knows that more than anything she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Mom, dad, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a flight to Portland. I’ll be at the airport about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well I guess I’ll just stay in the airport until morning and then find some place to crash.”

The next day on the flight Jenny thinks about all the flaws in her plan. What if mom and dad were out and miss the message? And what are they going to do if they heard it anyway – after all, it’s been 10 years and they haven’t heard a word from me in all that time. How are they going to react when they discover I’m a junkie with AIDS? If they do show up what on earth am I going to say?…”

The flight lands at ten minutes past midnight. She hears the cabin pressure release as the door to the plane opens and she exits and heads toward the gate. “This is it. Oh well, get ready for nothing.”

Jenny steps out on to the concourse not knowing what to expect. She looks to her right and sees no one, but before she can look to her left, she hears someone call her name. Her head whips around and there’s her mom and dad and her sister and her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother. They’re holding a banner that reads “Welcome home”, and everyone’s wearing goofy party hats and throwing streamers and popping party poppers, and there’s her mom and dad running towards her, tears streaming down their face, arms held wide. Jenny can’t move. Her parent’s grab her with such force it almost knocks her over.

“Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”

“Hush child. Forget the apologies. All we care about is that you are home. I just want to hold you. Come on, everyone’s waiting – we’ve got a big party organized at home.” And Jenny finds herself awash in a sea of family and love that she has not known for over 10 years.[1]

Today we find ourselves in the fourth Sunday of Lent. This season of Lent, we have been talking about those things in our lives that we want to let go of so that we can begin to foster a deeper relationship with God. By letting go, we begin to cultivate areas in our lives that essentially lead to new life. A new life in Jesus Christ.

The answers for what are you going to let go and what are you going to cultivate are not a one size fits all answer. We are each on a different part of our faith journey. Some of us may even feel like we are on a different path completely. Don’t lose hope in this. No matter where we are at in our faith journey, God is present. God is present when we are greedy and want to walk off into the distance. God is present when we are wasteful and find ourselves wallowing in the mud. God is present in our anger and envy and even when we go as far to seek vengeance.

More importantly, God is present to welcome us home. This Lenten season is all about repentance, or letting go, and returning to God. May you feel the warming embrace of Christ these next few weeks as we walk towards the cross with Jesus and be prepared to encounter his suffering. For in his suffering, death is conquered, resurrection triumphs and we all will find new life.

Let us pray. Welcoming God, we are so quick at times to turn others away and not give them the time of day. May we learn from you what it means to open our hearts to all and proclaim your gospel message. Amen.  


[1] Source: A fictional story by Scott Higgins modelled on a similar story in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace and paralleling the story of the prodigal son

Here is Real Magic by Nate Staniforth: A Review

I first heard about this book on Rob Bell’s podcast, the Robcast. He interviewed the author and I was compelled to read it.

What is it about wonder and mystery that draws us in? What is it that curates our desire for something that moves us to a point of seeking more and wanting to explore the unknown?

Nate Staniforth has lost himself. His life as a magician has left him exhausted, and yet it is all he has ever known and he cannot imagine doing anything else. While reading many books on magic, he recalls hearing of the stories of magicians in India that truly went to the depths of wonder and left people wanting more. This is what he desired for his own magic. Not just simple illusions that he has mastered, like card and coin tricks, but true magic that leaves all in awe.

I’ll have to admit that while reading his memoir, I was left wondering where God was present. While God is never named, mystery and wonder is. Can God be found in the mystery and wonder of magic tricks or illusions? To simply say no to this, would leave us discounting a God that is present in and among everything.

Nate’s journey toward self-discovery leads down some interesting roads where he meets some very interesting people and encounters an India he never would have imagined in the poverty and trash, and yet many of the people seemed very happy. There is a poem that is given to him by someone he has met which he shares. Perhaps it could begin to give a glimpse into what magic truly is.

Bless the magician for knowing something I don’t. The appearance and disappearance of the artifacts of this material world give me an island moment of unknowing, A mystery that gives me relief from the consuming need to question everything, and then to answer it.

Cultivating Change

March 24, 2019

Luke 13:1-9

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”[1]

Quite often, when we hear the word change, we get that uneasy feeling in our bodies. We become tense, or possibly get butterflies wondering what that “change” may be. We get caught up in our stress and worries yet fear change and what that may mean. However, Jesus calls us to a life of change. He does not want us to be stagnant in our practices and wants us to encounter the triune God in new and exciting ways every day.

In the gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus calls us to change. Twice in the gospel lesson Jesus calls for those that are listening to him to repent. He is simply telling them to seek forgiveness and to return to God. He is well aware of the sins that they partake in every day and his call for them to repent is done with great love so that they will come to know the love of God which is greater than anything else. To repent though, means to change. Not only are they to return to God and seek the forgiveness that comes in repenting, they are also called to stop sinning. They are called to change their life and start following Jesus.

He follows this call to repentance with the parable of the barren fig tree. Its placement seems odd, yet let’s see how we can tie the call to change with the fig tree. There are many times in our lives that we attempt something new and it simply does not work. We try to change and then we wonder if it truly made a difference. Just maybe, we are not giving it enough time to germinate. To begin growing. Just maybe, God is still at work and we must be patient. Remember, God does not work on our timeframe.

I recall one such time in my first congregation when I got frustrated and did not let a new ministry germinate. I sensed God calling me to start a new cross-generational worship that seemed to be almost dead on arrival when it kicked off. Don’t get me wrong, there were people that showed up. However, I was disappointed, because my expectations were not met. I expected something grand and glorious. However, after three months in, I decided to pull the plug. I was not much different from the man that owned the fig tree and wanted to cut it down because it was not bearing any fruit.

How quick we are to cut off those things that we see no purpose or production coming out of. Isn’t this the practice in the business world today? It is all about the bottom line. In this season of Lent, we talk about letting go, but also, we must contemplate when is the proper timing to let go of something. We must discern it and ask ourselves, is it something that is pulling us further from God, or is it something that we can simply let be and see if life will come out of it?

When we are called to change, that does mean letting go. Letting go of the way that we used to be. Letting go of something that draws us away from God. Letting go of something that may be holding us back. It could be thoughts, fears, expectations, practices. The call to change brings us to a different point in our lives. It could be scary. It could come with anxiety. It could come with questions.

In the parable of the fig tree, the gardener tells the owner of the tree to give it some more time before coming and looking for fruit. Did you know that it could take up to six years for a fig tree to bear fruit? Perhaps it has not had the proper nutrients fed to it. Perhaps there have been other factors that have led to it not producing. Perhaps, it just needs time to germinate and to absorb everything around it.

Change is very much the same. It takes time. Yes, you may see some immediate results when you begin to change something. To fully live into the change takes time and living through some difficult times of transition. When we start a new ministry, we should not expect it to be perfect right away. It takes time to plant the seed and for it to germinate. We may have one image in our mind of what success may look like, and God may have another. Sure, we would love to have this sanctuary full every Sunday morning, but are we planting seeds with people and letting those seeds take root? Or do we just think someone else will do it or it will happen on its own and it will somehow all of a sudden be the way it used to be?

When we let go of the past and repent, we are telling God that we are willing to change. We are willing to be in a relationship with the very creator of life. We are willing to open our hearts and minds to the mystery that is unknown. Jesus bears this loving relationship for us through his life, from birth to baptism, to his life of ministry and ultimately his willingness to succumb to death on a cross so that we know the depths that God is willing to go, to redeem creation and share God’s love. The ultimate change that takes place is in the resurrection, and that is the promise we are walking towards this Lenten season.

Let us pray. Patient God, may we let go of things in the past that distract us from your very word. You call us to live a life following Jesus and in him may we cultivate a life of change where we begin to embody Christ. Amen.


[1] Story from http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/05/21/4-short-stories-change-the-way-you-think/