Eighteenth Sunday in Pentecost 10.13.19

 If there was a scale where you could measure your level of gratitude on a scale of 1 to 10 – what number value would you give yourself? Are you an 8? Really grateful for God’s grace? Or are you maybe a three? Not so grateful. Keep the number to yourself.

Our gratitude keeps us buoyant during difficult times.

I would say that today’s story where Jesus heals a leper, that leper’s gratitude is off the charts!

He’s beyond a 10 PLUS PLUS. The former leper’s gratitude is not that of polite thank you notes. “Thank you for the lovely gift.” The former leper is so grateful that he’s a walking talking human container of THANKFULNESS. He THROWS himself at Jesus’ feet!

Can you remember the last time you were SUFFUSED with thankfulness? Maybe the biopsy came back negative, and you were so thankful you didn’t know what to do with yourself! Maybe you danced in your living room like you had never danced before! Or maybe the grandkids were in the car with you, you were driving, and you narrowly avoided a car accident. And you were FILLED with thankfulness and relief. In those moments you were a TEN PLUS PLUS on the gratitude spectrum.

We have no experience of leprosy. Now, it’s been mostly eradicated and given a dignified name, Hansen’s Disease. Back in Jesus’ time, it destroyed your body and it destroyed your life. It took away your name and your family. No one knew how it spread, so they were driven away to the fringes of the community. They had to ring a bell if they were going outside so people would stay away from them.

What a miserable life.


This former leper must have been filled with such profound gratitude from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Each cell of his body rejuvenated and made new. He must have been filled with such WONDER. On the way to showing himself to the priest, this former leper turned around.


Who else do we know TURNED around? We associate turning around with repentance.

The Prodigal Son turned around, turned away from his sins . . . and his father had already gone to meet him.

In today’s gospel, the least likely of the ten lepers, the Samaritan, TURNS BACK. He turns back – not out of repentance, but to GIVE THANKS. I’m going to guess that his THANKS and PRAISE were as heartfelt and significant as someone’s grace-filled repentance.

In today’s gospel, there are TEN lepers, and of the ten, one is a Samaritan. A “foreigner” as Jesus calls him. We know, Samaritans are shunned. They did things wrongs. They worshipped on the mountain, not at the temple. They still worshipped other gods beside Yahweh. Very bad. But with lepers, I’m sure they are in such a state of abject misery, I’ll bet the boundaries among themselves BLURRED. It’s no longer Israelite v Samaritan, now they share the common fate of SHAME and misery.

They lose their name and their standing in the community. They’re SHUNNED. Their community is OTHER LEPERS. This man may be a Samaritan, but he’s one of them. Until he isn’t. His healing stops him in his tracks. It turns him around. He is suffused with thankfulness. GRACE penetrates him. Mysterious grace turns him around. Grace opens his eyes so that he, “Prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”

There were ten lepers. Jesus wants to know what happened to the other nine, those sons of Abraham? Weren’t they taught how to say thank you? Where is their gratitude?


Now, this former leper has a second encounter with Jesus. Saying thank you is not boring if you’re having a second encounter with Christ. He is thankful to his core. GRACE lifts him up.


There’s a puzzle here. Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean?” Jesus may have been truly puzzled.

The “foreigner” gets the grace to return and give thanks, but not the chosen people.


We can’t control grace.

We can’t control God.

The other nine lepers may have been perceived as MORE deserving –They KNEW where to worship.

They didn’t have multiple gods on the side. Yet, we see in today’s gospel, grace goes where it will. We can’t control or TAME God! This former leper, a Samaritan and a foreigner, gets grace piled upon grace, gift upon gift. Jesus marvels – grace goes where it goes! We have no control of where God wants to send God’s grace.

Grace and mercy

In today’s gospel, the lepers beg “Lord have mercy!” but they knew they had to beg standing away from people and “keeping their distance.” They may keep their distance, but Jesus BRIDGES the space between them. Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. That is our joy and proclamation that Jesus is Lord! HE does have mercy on us! This is the good news for us, too. Jesus is the one who does the hard work of bridging the distance between us sinners and the HOLINESS and HEALING of God. And all we have to do is RECEIVE. Keep our hands open and ready to receive. RECEIVE the healing which is salvation. This healing of the ten lepers is a promise of MORE to come, that many more will be reconciled and brought into the kingdom.

This is a taste of the healing of the nations. Jesus heals an ENEMY of the Israelites. He restores his health, restores him to his family and community. He gets newness – a rebirth – this enemy!

Can you imagine him standing at the threshold of his house that he hadn’t dared to enter? Knocking, saying ‘It’s me! It’s me!’ The WONDER of the family members, of this FOREIGN tribe, pulling him in. Calling his name. TOUCHING his skin for the first time in a long time. ALL of them MARVELING that, “Jesus, MASTER” had mercy on him. His gratitude and thanks would have been off the charts. He is no longer isolated from his family.

More grace and mercy

There’s a problem with the gospel, not that there is a problem with the gospel, but the problem is – we love Samaritans! We love being called a good Samaritan. We’ve lost the sense of how strange they were, and that people of their time would never associate anything good with them. In Jesus’ time, I imagine people would wince when Jesus would bring up a Samaritan as being “GOOD.” These stories stung.

Foreigners and their gratitude

So, how can I get my sermon to sting a little, like the gospels originally did? Perhaps if I include a foreigner in my sermon, we get a better sense of this gospel story. Can we learn from someone outside our tribe? Can a foreigner teach us something about gratitude?

We know that recently, on the lower East Side, there were four tragic deaths of homeless men. A reporter noticed that there were four pizza boxes stacked in front of each of the four memorials for the men, so he investigated. The author calls this story “remarkable in a city built on ‘rags-to-riches’ tales.”[1]

The 16 pizzas were left by a man who himself used to be homeless and would feed these men out of gratitude for his success. The man who left the pizzas is, 39-year old, Hakki Akdeniz, who now owns about seven small Champion pizza shops, and describes himself as, “a former homeless man.”[2] Like the Samaritan, he’s way outside our tribe – he’s a Kurd from Turkey and came to this country with $240 in his pocket. The money was spent quickly and he slept rough outside while learning the pizza trade. He spent 96 days in the Bowery Mission on skid row. That’s a miserable place to sleep. He worked, he saved, and he didn’t forget his struggles. Now that he is a success, he gives out free pizza slices to the homeless.

Hakki’s gratitude for his phenomenal success caused him to reach out to the street people.

Next, “He started a weekly food and clothing handout.”[3] He got a barbershop to give free haircuts and a gym to use the showers, all paid out of his pocket. Now he leaves warm pizzas at the memorials for the four dead homeless men. Hakki doesn’t forget his struggles and we can almost measure his gratitude on the scale of 1 to 10. Whatever his gratitude number, it’s off the charts. A TEN Plus, Plus. He is permeated by thankfulness. He is walking and talking thankfulness and gratitude.


Gratitude propels us.

Gratitude catapults us.

Or does it?

Does gratitude shape our lives? I hope you are sitting in these seats because grace has shaped your lives. There are foreigners like Hakki, in our city and suburbs whose gratitude spills over to benefit others.

We don’t have to be homeless to have benefited from his gratitude. The world is a better place for people like him. Hakki, this ‘foreigner’ this stranger, is living in the kingdom.

I’m here in this pulpit out of gratitude for the graces God has given me. Grace and gratitude are an adventure. And Christ ALWAYS bridges the gap between us. Christ offers us MERCY and out of gratitude, and we are filled to overflowing.

Where are you on the gratitude scale? Where ever you are, know that Christ’s mercy goes before you, surrounds you, and is ready for you. Let gratitude turn you around and propel your steps closer to Christ. He draws us closer. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.



1 Michael Wilson. 11, 2019.

  1. 2. Ibid.


[3]  Ibid.


Seventeenth Sunday in Pentecost – 10.6.19

When I was young, there were days when I’d come home from school and – the furniture would be rearranged! The couch would be in a new spot. The armchair in the corner. The table and lamp somewhere else. It was a little disorienting, but in a good way. I enjoyed sitting on the couch and having a different perspective of the room. It would happen at the dinner table, too. We’d be assigned different seats, and I enjoyed that, too.

I bring this up because Jesus is talking about rearranging – not the furniture in someone’s living room – but the landscape. This is a metaphor when he says the mulberry tree will jump into the sea. He’s talking about rearranging our, interior landscape –which can lead to CHANGED LIVES – which is momentous.

And HOW exactly do we rearrange the mental or external furniture of our lives?

Well, right before the disciples exclaim, “Increase our faith!” is a text that sheds more light on what they are upset about. The text right BEFORE today’s gospel Jesus says, If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.  And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent,” you must forgive.’ And the disciples GASP!

They say “Increase our faith!” Increase our faith Lord, so we can forgive, and Jesus is saying they we don’t need a lot of faith to forgive. You need just a minuscule amount. Tiny. A barely-there faith is sufficient to forgive seven times.

Yet, surely, they already have the faith of a mustard seed. They’re following him. They’re listening to him. There’s a relationship. That’s enough to change things, and alter the landscape, when they forgive.

Don’t be alarmed by the hyperbole, Jesus uses, this language, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea.’ This is exaggerated speech. Like many of you, I’ve puzzled that one over many times, saying to the Lord, “I THOUGHT I had faith, why isn’t that tree jumping into the water? Why isn’t that mountain moving for me?” Let’s remember Jesus uses exaggerated speech to make a point.

Elsewhere he says, “if a part of your body is offending, then cut it off!” Does he really mean for us to chop off a body part? No. If any of us have tried to move a mountain by concentrating HARD, well you were disappointed, too. Truly, a different kind of landscape that gets rearranged. When we forgive the landscape DOES get rearranged. EVERYTHING CHANGES. Things SHIFT. We are changed. This is Jesus, saying, ‘take a walk on the wild side’ and FORGIVE.


And WATCH. What. Happens.


We have seen on the news that Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother, of the man, Botham Jean, who was shot and killed in his apartment, made national news. What did he do? He forgave, Amber Guyger, the woman who killed his brother. This was completely unexpected. ASTONISHING. BECAUSE it was unexpected, FORGIVENESS made the evening and the morning news, around the WORLD. NO ONE expected this act of forgiveness. Yes, as Christians, we know we’re supposed to forgive, but like children it goes in one ear and out the other.

The district attorney said he has never seen anything like this. Lestor Holt of NBC called it “a moment of grace.” George Stephanopolous called it an act of mercy.

Someone does what Jesus says to do, FORGIVE, and it’s talked about throughout the country. It’s rare. WHY is it rare?

            Like Jesus says in the text just before today’s: if they say, “I repent’ you must forgive. She DOES repent. Amber Guyger is sorry to her core. The tears she shed in court were real. Hearts were touched in that courtroom. Even the judge was touched and gave Amber one of her own bibles to take into prison. The judge knows real repentance when she sees it.

Yet what we expected was something completely different, wasn’t it? We expected hearts to remain JUSTIFIABLY angry. We expected righteous anger. Forever. Wouldn’t our hearts stay stony?

What IS righteous anger anyway? Does Jesus even use the expression righteous anger? I think we Christians made up that term to stop ourselves from forgiving. Wouldn’t we have felt justified if his brother had hardened his heart against her, and had never forgiven her?


Yet, still in the courtroom, he asked the judge if he can hug the killer of his beloved brother. Then HUGGED her! Brandt explained: “This is what you have to do to set yourself free. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life hating this woman. There’s such a thing as peace of mind. That’s the type of stuff you have to do to have peace of mind.”[1]

Brandt has taken to heart what Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has said: FORGIVE. There is FREEDOM in forgiveness. And the attorney weighed in and it was like listening to a theologian. Attorney Lee Merritt said: “He wanted to forgive her in words, but wanted her to believe him. Just saying it she may not be convinced, he wanted her to get a physical display of that forgiveness, so she would be free. So that HE could authentically be free . . . They won’t be able to get past that hurt until they forgive his killer.”

It was a hug and a statement of forgiveness seen around the world. I would say the brother’s faith is larger than that of a mustard seed, wouldn’t you? Watching the brother hug the woman, I got a sense of what we had lost in the death of his brother, Botham Jean. I’m sure the two brothers were similar in having large hearts. What a loss to the world.


            Like the disciples in today’s text, we say WHAT! You want me to do what? Forgive a repentant sinner? I have to? Why, Jesus, why?


Being a disciple

            Jesus wants us to have real hearts. REAL hearts are hearts he can use. Jesus has expectations of us, his disciples. This is not doctrine here, but the Christian life itself. That’s why we get that statement from Jesus about the servant (slave) is only doing what he or she is supposed to be doing – plow the fields, cook the dinner and then serve it. As Christ’s disciples, we are expected to forgive, too. We all have enough faith to do it. We just need a speck. A speck of faith is enough to do the job.

            It’s obedience. Yes, obedience. A word we reserve for small children, yet we suspect we are LARGE children. Where Jesus’ words to us go in one ear and out the other, like children.

It shakes us to see real acts of forgiveness. It rearranges the world. We saw on the evening news that speaking in metaphors, the mulberry tree DID uproot itself and get planted in the sea. We look at the world differently now. The Holy Spirit blew through that courtroom of hatred, loss, and despair. Like when I was a child and would come home to a living room rearranged, and enjoy the different perspective, this is what Christianity looks like, world! We were looking at AMAZING GRACE on prime time.


The Christians sit up and we all claim Brandt. He’s ours! THAT’S what discipleship looks like.

Forgiveness, no bigger than a speck, can and does change things. This is the POWER we have been given as Christ’s disciples. USE your POWER! USE it! The forces of evil count on us NOT using it. Forgiveness is a difficult thing, but look at the GOOD it brings! If you use your speck of faith, the Holy Spirit will blow through YOU! We can rearrange the world.

Go out there and claim Brandt as one of ours. Start conversations about him. ‘Hey, how about that forgiveness we saw on TV. How about that!’ Let’s KEEP that conversation going, and let’s do forgiveness.

            I hope you don’t get tired of me telling you that when I forgave my parents, I received this call. Cause and effect. God, as we know, can be subtle. God was not subtle with that. The call was buried under grudges. The grudges were just a part of my mental furniture in my mind and heart. I was just used to having them in my psyche. Did I stumble over them? Sure. And I was a good Christian. It was a difficult process, but I am GLAD I did it. I didn’t do it alone. I had someone to help me and be a witness to each step I took. The Christian community helped me.

            TAKE the power that Jesus gives you! Mundane, ordinary, yet EXTRAORDINARY mustard seed-sized faith. It may be tiny, but it can do some heavy lifting. Forgiveness! Life-changing forgiveness. We are called to “Transform the world into the image of its Creator,”[2] using plain old, vanilla forgiveness.


              WHAT IF – here comes more gospel. WHAT IF – we forgive people who don’t repent? What if we forgive people who have no intention of repenting, are hardened in their sins, and think the whole thing laughable? Blessed are you if you forgive them. You forgive them to get your soul FREE of their hooks in you. YOU rearrange the furniture in your psyche and heart. Let’s keep the conversation going about forgiveness. Let’s have our mustard seed faith do the heavy lifting.

I thank you Lord for our mustard seed sized faith. Give us the community of believers to help us do the jobs of forgiveness we need to do. Help us to show the world what CHRISTIANS can do with the faith we’ve been given. Let us recreate the world in YOUR image.




[2] Ira Brent Driggers.


Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.29.19

Do you have a favorite book of the bible? Many people love the book of psalms. Or the Acts of the Apostles. Many people pick the book of Revelation. It has so many iconic scenes: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the woman giving birth, a dragon ready to devour her child, the triumphant Lamb, the new heaven and the new earth. The tree which has leaves for the healing of the nations.

In two of our readings, Michael is named as the champion who fights against evil, and we see a cosmic battle going on. Good and evil really slug it out. In Revelation, Michael is named as fighting alongside the angels.  In the book of Daniel, Michael is there to assist Daniel: and is “described as “the great prince, the protector of your people.” These are words of hope. As a great prince, this Michael has been fighting on their behalf. He is a guardian.

The title, “prince” in Daniel 10 and 12 refers to a superhuman, celestial being who represents and has responsibility to protect a particular people . . . and it suggests Michael has been their guardian from the very beginning of their existence.”[1]


Our texts today describe a world parallel to ours where the forces of good and evil are in combat.

Have you ever wondered about angels? Have you ever sensed one working on your behalf? Or the opposite? Sometimes there are incidents that feel as if angelic beings are at work among us. Perhaps some of you have had an experience that you point to as a sign of angelic intervention.

I had a student who told me he had once been waiting on a street corner for a friend. Something made him uneasy and restless, and he crossed the street to the other corner. The next moment, right after he crossed, a car came hurtling through the corner where he had been standing. If he hadn’t moved, he would have died in a car crash. He attributed his safety to an angel.

Another student at the same school, came up to me and told me he had sold his soul to the devil. He had prayed to Satan for money. The next moment, money was on his bed. Put there by human hands, I’m sure, still in his mind Satan had provided for him. I went to the chaplain who poo pooed my alarm. Because I taught religion, this boy would come up to me now and then to remind me he had sold his soul to Satan.

You think there is no cosmic battle going on?


We’re fascinated by angels and the struggle between cosmic good and evil, and angels show up in movies. Remember Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life? Or Michael, played by John Travolta. In the film, Wings of Desire, the director, Wim Wenders, shows angels among us, leaning over people in places like the library to give comfort.

In some ways, angels as we depict them, are easier to deal with than Christ. We make angels cute like Clarence or John Travolta, trying to domesticate and romanticize them. Real angels are messengers of God and they CANNOT be domesticated. If you’ve ever seen Angels in America, the angels are fearsome. Scary. Messengers from an AWESOME God. A REMINDER that we are to have a healthy fear of God. Remember the angel of death in Exodus that took the first-born, even the pharaoh’s first-born son? Angels are more like that.

When the angel Gabriel appears in Luke’s gospel he says, “FEAR NOT,” to both Zechariah and Mary. Fear not, because the angel IS fearsome. Standing behind the angel is always GOD, so BE afraid AND try to fear not! AWE is a sign of GOD’s PRESENCE.

In Luke Jesus sends out 70 disciples to counterattack evil, and in today’s gospel, they return And marvel that even demons submitted to them when they spoke in the mighty name of Jesus. “Lord in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” SIN has its hooks in us and our world, and Jesus is predicting the END of evil, yet Jesus has to drink the cup of suffering as a way to ultimately DEFEAT evil for us.

On that terrible Good Friday, what did people see? As Jesus was dying on the cross, most people saw nothing but a criminal who dared to defy the religious authorities and the Romans. They did not see with the eyes of faith, so they saw someone foolish, who could have run but didn’t. His disciples had deserted him, the same ones that in today’s gospel rejoice at the power of his name to make the demons run. Yet, with Jesus dying on the cross, giving his life for us, he is doing important work on our behalf.

It was beyond the imagination of independent forces of evil which are committed to doing us harm, that God’s Son would give his life for us. Our short name for this destructive force that takes delight in our destruction we call, Satan. The forces of cosmic evil lack the imagination that God’s Son would choose to fight the evil that holds us humans bound. Evil by its nature is LIMITED and lacks the imagination to understand what LOVE will do. Evil can’t comprehend God LOVES us so much he would take on the SHAME and humiliation and torture and PAIN of crucifixion. EVIL cannot see what Love can and WILL do. Evil has no eyes to see with LOVE what Jesus will do for us. Without LOVE, we cannot SEE. God gives us GRACE to see as God sees.

            Jesus dying on the cross was winning the COSMIC BATTLE against evil.

At the end of the book of Revelation, we see the triumphant Lamb, Christ, leading OTHER lambs, people like us, who have WON, with God’s Holy Spirit, over the forces of evil. We are to take HOPE. This is a PROMISE for us, even when it seems evil is winning or has won.

What does that mean for US? How is that relevant NOW?

First, we recall that Jesus, our PRINCE, goes before us. He fights for us and works for our salvation in ways that we cannot see. In your prayer time, you might meditate on how we are surrounded by these holy angels. God sees us, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, as bold and strong and can confront violence, sin, and rebellion.[2]

We celebrate today the feast of Michael and All Angels who are the patrons of first responders: police officers and fire fighters, EMT workers and ER doctors and nurses. Sometimes when we are in need, we look at them as angels. Marion had an occasion this week to see Jeana as her angel who suddenly appeared to help her!

We depend on these brave people. These are people who are on the front lines to help us when we are in pain and suffering. They have responded to an inner call to serve. We’re grateful for people who are trained to help in emergency situations.

We also thank Michael Giordano, (this is his name day!), our new member, who is an ER nurse, who knows something about caregiving under stress.

9/11 recently passed, and as a country we mourned the lives of the heroes and martyrs who ran INTO collapsing and burning buildings, while the people streamed OUT.

They were God’s instruments bringing their courage, decency, and valor that day to a site of violence and hatred.

We know that in the aftermath, a cross made of steel girders was dug out of the pile. It’s a perfect cross shape, and in it we see the suffering Christ who stands with us.

He shares humanity with us. That cross was found at the epicenter where an evil deed was done to innocent life. It stands in my old neighborhood of Inwood, outside of the Good Shepherd Church, corner of W. 204th St. and Broadway. A reminder that we pass THROUGH Calvary before we reach Easter Sunday. It’s a reminder of God’s love during the most difficult times.

We often don’t have an inkling how we are supported by invisible angelic forces. Yet, we can be inspired by the first responders, the police and firefighters, the ER nurses and doctors who look at many grisly things in the course of their jobs. We can be inspired by them to not look away from violence, and the consequences of sin. Christ shows us a path of nonviolence surrounded as he was that Good Friday by violence.

How can WE offer nonviolence as the BETTER way? How can WE stand up for righteousness in the face of oppression and death?”[3]

 How can we be small angels in our world to offer HOPE in a world that insists violence is the way? The only way.

Lord, show us the path to non-violence. Give us your grace and courage to combat evil. Let us be inspired by the angels around us to work for a more just world.

We pray always in the name of your Son, Jesus Our Lord.



[1] Anathea Portier-Young.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.



Fifteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.22.19

There’s Plan A. And there’s Plan B.

We keep a Plan B at the back of our mind JUST IN CASE. When we’re young adults, we have Plan B in case things don’t work out. It may be, we’ll move back home if things don’t work out. Or Plan B may be to get a roommate. Or some’s plan B may be to sell something to make ends meet.

In today’s gospel, we see in the parable a curious example of PLAN B, with Jesus’ instructions to us, “children of the light.” “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into their eternal homes.”

Jesus’ world was just as corrupt AND complex as ours. So, it’s no wonder Jesus tells a parable where the anti-hero has a Plan B. Plan A didn’t work in which he stole from the boss with both hands.

If you steal from the boss, you better have a Plan B – and we see he does. What do people do if they are about to be fired? Management may send up a security guard to make sure a person doesn’t steal anything on their way out. Someone from management may hover near the computer to make sure files don’t get deleted out of revenge. Maybe someone who is getting fired will grab everything they can with both hands and run out the door.

THIS wily manager who is getting fired for “squandering” the master’s property, makes a golden parachute for himself. He goes into action so fast, you have to wonder if he had a Plan B all along. We all know what a golden parachute is – right? It’s a compensation package you get if your job is terminated. It’s a nice financial cushion. Not everyone gets one; you have to be high up in the corporate hierarchy to qualify for a golden parachute. So, this shrewd manager makes a golden parachute for himself by forgiving debts.

Maybe he knew there was no hope collecting on these outstanding debts, so he reduces the payment, AND we can assume he quickly gets the payments. Instead of the debtors putting off repayment for some day in the future, they quickly pay the olives or the wheat they owe.

The money goes to the rich man who commends him for his shrewdness. We can imagine him shaking his head in wonder, but all the same – the manager is still fired!

Once he’s out of the rich man’s employment, he knows that these former debtors will be grateful; because he reduced their debt, he’s counting on them remembering and giving him a job or helping him find a new one.

His golden parachute, his PLAN B is their gratitude.  Before this moment, his wealth had been in material goods. Now that he’s out of a job, the wily manager’s wealth is the GRATITUDE of others. NOW he measures wealth differently: he measures wealth by HOW much gratitude he can create. Now he’s a dealer in GRATITUDE and what it can get him in the next few steps. He can build another career based on this gratitude.

The debtors have paid off their debts, yet they remain in debt: their new debt is GRATITUDE to him. What he did for THEM, will be remembered and will no doubt spark new opportunities. The rich man commends him, and Jesus thinks he’s very clever and is someone for us to imitate.

How do WE think of wealth?

How do we use this parable for ourselves? How do we take hold of these lessons? Where are the glimmers of the kingdom? For one thing, we have a very different view of wealth and how to use it.

A pastor I know who used to live in Tanzania, said Africans know Americans have wealth, but they say Africans are wealthy in relationships. Compared to Africans, we are all hoarders of whatever money we have.

If someone comes up to an African and asks for some financial help, and he has money in his pocket, he HAS to give him money. Money is used to connect people, and everyone participating keep this safety web going. Their wellbeing is WITHIN these webs of relationships, funded by money. EVERYONE benefits through these webs of generosity and gratitude.

I once saw a program on TV where a young African man who had a desk job in an office; the job was nothing special. He was asked how many people did he support back home. He said 50. This young man, maybe 25-26 years old was supporting 50 people on his modest American wages. He was participating in this web of relationships based in money and gratitude. It was an eye-opener. There were 50 people back home who depended on him.

What if? (Here comes the gospel.)

What if – we worked as hard for the kingdom of God, as “the children of this age” work to get ahead? What if we created webs of relationships based in generosity and gratitude, rather than greed and hoarding? What if – we “children of the light” were wily and shrewd like the manager to make and create webs of relationships to bring the kingdom come? What if we used whatever money we have to invest in the kingdom. In people? What if – we children of the light poured EVERYTHING we have – into facing the crises and challenges of the day with maximum creativity, energy, resourcefulness, and courage? What would that look like? How would that turn things around? Could we combat climate change?

I know a man, Richard Nesbit, who works as a waiter in Manhattan, who’s a member of St. Luke’s Church on W. 46th Street. He once got a FaceBook message from a young man, John Deng Akuai, who was being held in a refugee camp in Uganda.

Could Richard help him?

The message haunted him and he couldn’t put it out of his mind, so he found a Franciscan priest who was in Uganda and asked him to check it out. Was it real or a scam? The Franciscan priest found the young man, and reported back, yes this was a real request for an education. Richard doesn’t make a lot of money, but he knows whatever he makes goes a lot further in Uganda, so he sent money.

The short version of the story is that the young man got an education, and Richard went on to create a 501c3, called Let’s Send These Kids to School, doing fundraising and roping in his friends to start supporting other absolutely indigent young adults. Without this money and support, they would have had no future whatsoever.

Richard didn’t go on to quit his job and become a fat cat philanthropist. He still waits tables, and runs the non-profit and does fundraising. He’s changing the world in his spare time. Are these young adults grateful? Of course they are. Generosity and gratitude have created new webs of relationships. This is building God’s kingdom of peace. 

We can build webs of peace with our money. We can build webs of relationships with all of our resources and resourcefulness. The children of this world, shrewd though they may be, don’t have all the money and resources.

We know that during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s African Americans poured EVERYTHING they had, their bodies, minds, souls, spirits, songs, prayers, gave their homes, their churches, their youth, their beauty, their resources, their shrewdness, their intelligence, their courage, their stamina, their tenacity, their money – everything into building a better world. They created a better world – a more JUST world that reflected God’s righteousness.

Can we work with EVERYTHING we have? Can we work with every ounce of our creativity, our shrewdness? Can we HUSTLE for God and God’s kingdom?

Richard took that FaceBook message to a very personal level. It was a question what could HE do for this ONE specific person. He decided that the $1000 was doable. He hustled for the kingdom of God.

At the end of the gospel text, Jesus reminds us of the absolute DIRE consequences of money controlling us. “No slave can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus is concerned about our relationship to wealth.

Who is controlling whom? Does our money control US? Or Do WE control the dollars?

In this parable, Jesus does not set things up simplistically: wealth = bad; poverty = good. Jesus knows that good people can use wealth for bad aims, and bad people can use wealth for good.

Jesus tells stories in a world where people do not act according to a script.

WE live in a world where people don’t act according to scripts either. Christ has given us a NEW script and we can be generous and shrewd, too.

When we are alive in Christ, when Christ lives in us, everything looks different, including money. Christ’s great gift to us is FREEDOM, and we are invited to experience that freedom in relation to money as well. Nothing is exempt from God’s gaze.

Loving God thank you for the gift of living in this wealthy country. Open our eyes to how we can build webs of generosity and gratitude.

Show us ways we can hustle for the kingdom and bring about relationships based in gratitude and peace. Show us the Kingdom’s Plan B. We thank and praise you and always in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.



Fourteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.15.19

“We’re here! We’re here!”

The four seamen had been tapping and tapping, trapped inside the cargo ship that had turned over on its side along the Georgia coast. We read about it and saw it on the news. The fright! We can’t even imagine. The drilling to get them out! And then. To be FOUND! The oxygen BURSTING into their stuffy chamber and then to be lifted out into safety!

Saved. Saved. The gratitude of the seamen! That the rescuers kept up the search.

That the rescuers didn’t give up. That they listened for their taps. Lives are PRECIOUS!

We know the rescuers would have put all their efforts into if it was just ONE trapped seaman. To be saved like the seamen is intoxicating! PURE joy for both the seamen who were rescued AND those who rescued them.

It reminds us of the times when WE’VE been lost and the GOOD Shepherd found US.

Our shepherd doesn’t give up on us, but keeps calling, and calling and then delivering us into safety.

Today’s gospel has two interesting parables. Have you noticed that the shepherd has to trust the ninety-nine sheep to not wander off when he goes looking for the one lost lamb?

Teachers! Do you ever LEAVE YOUR CLASSROOM to go look for a child? Of course not!

Can you TRUST those children to behave while you turn your back on them and go look?

With no other teacher to ask to watch the room? When you do find the child do you celebrate with those good children in the classroom? Probably not.

Then there’s the woman who lost her gold coin. She’s so happy to find it what does she do? She throws a party, probably spending that gold coin to throw a party that she had found her gold coin . . . wait – isn’t this a little odd?

The point is that God is just over the top with JOY when a sinner returns to the fold.

So much so, that God’s bounteous LOVE overflows in crazy ways.

The woman SPENDS money on a party to celebrate finding her money. She doesn’t seem to be a hoarder or a saver. She’s a CELEBRATER! That’s God’s image of God’s self.

God CELEBRATES like a crazy woman when someone repents wholeheartedly.

We may become a little jealous, ‘hey, maybe I have to be LOST and then found.

You may wonder, ‘do I have to be really bad in order to get God’s attention?’

We all know about the child who acts out in order to get the parent’s attention.

‘What’s a good person to do?’ Should we be bad to get God’s attention?

Never fear! The point of the parables may not be about righteous vs unrighteous people. The point may be about lost-ness. How a good person may be good AND also lost.

There are DEGREES of repentance. We know about the complete turnaround of the 100% sinner, but repentance is also a turning around, a change of direction that is directed by God.[2] This change of perspective leads to a new perspective of life lived in God’s grace.

When we get a change of perspective, it’s like we’re that lost lamb, and we get to sit on God’s shoulders, with a different, intoxicating VIEW of the world.

So, there is repentance even for the GOOD people. There are different ways of being lost. Good people can be lost and often are. When I reflect on my life, I place myself among the good people at the table in this parable. Let’s give the Pharisees some credit.

They are TRYING to do the right thing. We are often like them, trying our hardest, but we can get tangled up like a lost lamb in a briar bush, despite our best efforts.

When I was a Catholic I.E. one of the truly, good people, I was nonetheless unhappy with my church. I thought that unremarkable since all my thoughtful, Catholic friends were also unhappy, and we would complain together. On one hand, I spent a LOT of TIME helping out at the church I loved, yet I had to be untangled from Catholicism.

Thank you, Holy Spirit! Christ lifted me up and put me on his shoulders like any lamb, and the view from the Good Shepherd’s shoulders is magnificent! Christ showed me the church is a lot bigger than I thought. I saw that there’s a WIDENESS to God’s mercy, NOT a narrowness.

There are other ways for good people to be lost.

Is it possible for good, Christian people to be among the lost when we are too controlling? Here’s another way to be lost. Can teens and young people, be over-scheduled, resulting in them feeling lost? They get the message they are only as good as their last achievement. They may feel they are never good enough, and the stakes get higher when they start college. Can we help untie them from the bramble bushes where they are stuck and let’s trust that Christ the Good Shepherd will lead them AND us?

Is it possible there are good people among us who feel lost because they work jobs they hate or have outgrown and only stay because they’ve bought into a certain identity?

Could they be among the lost?

My friend Caroline, who has since passed away, had quite a story to tell when I first met her. She told me she had first gone to medical school and became a doctor. She didn’t practice long before she realized she hated medicine. I think most people would have stuck it out. It takes courage to make a change, but she did. She left medicine and got accepted into law school. That should be the happy ending. Law school and working at a law firm.

It wasn’t a good fit. It didn’t satisfy her. It didn’t feel right. It took more courage to leave and find where she belonged. She applied to a doctoral program. No happy ending. It wasn’t a good fit either.

Caroline wasn’t going to accept a state of lost-ness for herself. She didn’t want to be another unhappy, stressed out lawyer. She didn’t want to be another bitter academic.

This was her one, precious life. By this point, she told me, she was VERY depressed.

She sat on the couch, not moving, close to being catatonic (her words). Her husband was frantic, and intuitively bought her paint and brushes and canvas. She picked them up and as she began to paint, she slowly came back to life. Caroline who had been lost was found.

She was an artist. Never had an art class. No interest in art until then.

She had been profoundly lost among the academic paths that she was very competent to follow, yet none of them satisfied her HUNGRY, hungry heart. She began a series of paintings, The Secret Lives of Animals, and she never stopped painting.

She said that some of her former colleagues would come up to her quietly and ask how she was doing. The subtext was – you left! They wanted to leave, but they didn’t dare.

There are so many ways good people may be lost.

Other ways to be lost: a good person may be convinced we don’t have to forgive some people in our lives. Could unforgiveness put us among the lost? I was convinced I didn’t need to forgive, which put me lost and among the brambles. I did forgive, and Christ found me. BIG TIME! It led me here to this pulpit. Literally!

Christ wants to give us more life on top of the life that he’s already given us. Jesus wants to give us MORE if we’re willing to sacrifice OUR perspective for the one from Jesus’ shoulders! If we are willing to be vulnerable and admit to our lost-ness, Christ will put us on his shoulders where the view is intoxicating! 

Believe it or not, repentance and forgiveness are GIFTS. Admitting we were wrong, stuck in the bramble bush – even SEEING there is a bramble bush – letting the Good Shepherd untangle us – ALL GIFTS.

Do you think it’s an accident that Jesus tells these stories around a BIG TABLE?

Food is only the BEGINNING of what we need. We HUNGER for more than food. And like humans everywhere we don’t necessarily know how to get ourselves out of the fixes we’re in.

Before we go on to glory, we, the good people, may have a couple of conversions, changes of perspective, turnings around, and repentances, under our belts before we meet Jesus.

Loving God. Thank you for wanting to FIND us, the good people.

We can easily get ourselves lost and stuck and need your help getting out.

We need your help because you want to CELEBRATE with us.

You have PURE joy to give us.

You are ready to give us new life and new perspectives.

Thank you for your great gifts, principally NEW LIFE right now!

We pray always in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.






Thirteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.8.19

We’ve all seen movies or TV shows where the family gathers in the lawyer’s office to find out what they will inherit. Sometimes the departed leaves money or property. Or NOT.  Sometimes the departed has some LAST WORDS, and speaks to the family through their lawyer and their last will and testament.

Today, in Deuteronomy, Moses is still alive, but he’s putting ALL his wisdom into this final speech. In this beautiful speech of 200 words he is putting in the most important things for the Israelites to know and do. He’s been shaping and forming them – including yelling at them, being enraged at them – all towards FORMING them into GOD’S CHILDREN.

 Moses has no money or an inheritance to leave the children of Israel, but his WORDS are PURE GOLD for their hearts. His words ARE their INHERITANCE. His words will keep them and their descendants ALIVE in the long run. He says: “CHOOSE LIFE, so that you and your children may LIVE.

Some of you may say – duh! Who wouldn’t CHOOSE life! Isn’t that a no-brainer? Remember Luther’s words that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. For example, remember when the internet first came, and we were all excited, that it would SPREAD democracy and all those good things!

Then to our horror, we realized some people would use it for sinister and twisted purposes. The DARK WEB! We all know people and we may include ourselves, who have NOT always chosen life. We’ve chosen things that can hurt us or others. We ALL have a contrary streak. We may call it human nature. Luther calls it being captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.

Moses is bidding the people of Israel farewell. He will not be going with them into the Promised Land. So, like a good parent, dropping off his son or daughter at college, Moses is trying to convey the urgency of EVERYTHING he had ever tried to accomplish with them in the desert and all the trials they had shared.

Forty years – wandering, one generation dying and another coming of age under his leadership. Learning TOGETHER through trials and tribulations: what is IMPORTANT.

The first day of school has come and gone. Did you prepare something to say when you said goodbye to your child? I’ll bet some of you did. What did you say when you dropped your child off for the first day of school? Some of you may remember. You wanted to IMPRESS upon them your LOVE and CARE.

Was it, be good and have fun? Was it, don’t be scared and eat all your lunch?

Was it make a new friend and I love you? I’m sure many of you thought about what you would say on that first day to help things get off on the right foot. That your son or your daughter would take those words with them into the new classroom, their new grade, the new experiences of the day.

One pastor said when he dropped off his daughter at college, he reminded her of where she came from. His, “Be good,” sounds simple, but it also means goodness is a family value. It means, remember the family you are still a part of when you are surrounded by the temptations of college life. Remember who you belong to.

At the end of Moses speech, he reminds the Israelites of who THEY belong to: their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are to remember their illustrious family members who LISTENED to God’s voice in their lives and how they were blessed.

Remember them as they face temptations. Moses tells the children of Israel are to do likewise. Remember the family they belong to. Moses wants them to know that the decisions they make are important and can lead to literal life or their decisions can kill them, whether in the short run or long run.

Stay away from the ancient equivalent of the DARK WEB.

Today, when Moses focuses on their ability to make good decisions; it’s an acknowledgment that they have grown. They have matured. The time they spent in the desert stretched them in ways they could never have imagined. Still, he emphasizes they will be surrounded by countries who have pagan gods and the consequences can be deadly.

He says, “But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,  I declare to you today that you shall perish;”

            It’s going to be hard for the Israelites to move out of the desert where they were isolated from other nations, and live near and be surrounded by countries that make images of their gods. The Israelites were not allowed to make images – their God was invisible.

Very tough when everyone else gets to portray their god in wood or stone or marble.

Yahweh was as deep and high as the ocean; Yahweh was as immense as the sky. They would discover that God was in the silence of their hearts, too. How can you possibly convey that in stone or marble? They would have to use their imagination. Their mission was to be a light to the nations. That’s a very tough challenge when temptation is everywhere.

It’s not just a challenge for them – it continues to be a challenge for us as well! How do WE stay faithful to God when we are surrounded by materialism and consumerism at every turn?  How do we stay faithful when we are surrounded by people who see Sundays as just another day of the week? Some may be tempted by the dark web.

Moses THUNDERS these words: “CHOOSE LIFE so that you and your descendants may LIVE!”

There are three things the Israelites want: a long life, descendants, and LAND. For former slaves, that is a BIG wish list – BEYOND their capabilities. Slaves typically have a short life.

A short life gets you fewer descendants, and how are slaves or former slaves supposed to get hold of land? Having land means they have a way to feed themselves. Yahweh is PROMISING them they will get these three things they want the most if they follow God’s precepts. If they obey God, they will get their hearts’ desire. They are to remember WHERE they came from and how far they had come. They are to “hold fast to God.” And they will get EVERYTHING. This is a BIG promise.

What we all want is MORE. We go to malls and shop to get MORE, but what’s in the malls is a poor substitute for what we really want. What we REALLY want is more LIFE – More life means freedom from fear. We want freedom from anger. Freedom from anger gets us more inner freedom and life. We want freedom from guilt. Freedom from guilt, letting Christ take our guilt on to himself gives us MORE LIFE. Believe it or not, forgiveness and repentance gets us MORE LIFE. 

How about us? Where are we in this?

Today, we read and ponder Moses’ words of wisdom. What are OUR wisdom words?

I want you to take this question seriously. In two hundred words, what is YOUR wisdom?

What are the most important things you’ve learned that you want to pass on? What are your words that are PURE GOLD, like Moses?

What have you learned in life that your loved ones MUST know? More than gifts of money or an inheritance, our words of wisdom live beyond us. What would you say? Think about it. Today’s psalm says that if we plant ourselves in God’s living water, we too will prosper, that even when trouble comes, we will produce green leaves like a tree whose roots are sunk deep, deep into the groundwater. This is another of God’s promises to us.

THAT’S wisdom we can pass on! 

Moses says, “Hold FAST!”

These are good words for us, too. How do WE hold fast to God? What do we need to let go in order to grasp hold of God’s good gifts to US?  Carrying the cross means making a real sacrifice, yet it is ultimately creative and life-giving. When we carry the cross, we sacrifice something we truly cherish.

So think like Moses: what are your two hundred words that sum up what you have learned in life to pass on to your loved ones?

Today the children begin Sunday School, where they will be having fun, but at the same time, LEARNING wisdom and receiving the love of Christ. They will receive faith formation, looking at life how GOD sees US, God’s beloved people. They will not just learn about Jesus, but Jesus will come CLOSER to them. Such a great gift! Thank you, parents for bringing your children to Sunday School, making good on the baptismal promises that you made for them years ago.

What they learn in the Sunday School rooms will stay with them for LIFE. The Sunday School teachers will be officially blessed next Sunday, are doing the important job of faith formation. For this we THANK them!

I thank you, Lord for your great blessings to us. Form us more and more into your people. Show us what is important in life. Help us to CHOOSE life, choose the good things, your promises of ETERNAL LIFE NOW.



Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.1.19

Happy Labor Day!

What do we make of Jesus’ words, “Friend, move up higher”?

Let’s try it out right now!

(I leave the altar and invite the Rollando family to the front seats.)


What is Jesus doing? Is he advocating  –  unruliness?

We think of religion as something decorous and quiet, but look how Jesus is stirring things up.


On one hand, people just like to sit where they want to sit.

But we know it’s more than that.

It sounds like Jesus wants people who don’t belong to be seated at the table.

He wants us to look at tables and eating differently.

To stop the social climbing while at the table. Not to use MEALS to pay back favors.

And he wants us to invite those who can never pay us back.

What’s going on here?

Is Jesus trying to create awkward social situations? Or is there more to it than that?


Underneath the telling of this parable, there’s a lot of hungering going on.

There’s HUNGERING for food, but also more than food.

There is a HUNGERING for righteousness.

There is a HUNGERING for connection and community. Feeling like we belong somewhere.


When Jesus corrects the Pharisees, to be more inclusive, he’s addressing the HUNGER of the world’s poor to be included. To be SEEN – to have a seat at the table..


Righteousness is a word that God uses to describe God’s self.

God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is God’s mercy towards us – freeing us when we can’t free ourselves.


It’s not just doing the right thing out of a sense of morality, but a new DESIRE that God puts in our hearts to do the right thing because Christ lives in us.

That makes us a new creation.

Because we are a new creation, we wish to extend ourselves to others.

There is a NEW relationship possible.

Relationship is always key to understanding God’s righteousness.


Because God GRACIOUSLY loves us and that love has freed us, out of gratitude we extend ourselves to others.

To notice those who are socially invisible.

To work to get the world to cooperate in ways that parallel what God’s WANTS for us.

Like a good parent, God wants us to be happy and God sees our happiness occurring in COMMUNITY with ALL kinds of people.

What stops us?



In today’s gospel, Jesus wants these outcasts and marginal people AT THE SAME TABLE at the SAME TIME as the good people.

Of course, there’s RESISTANCE. I’m sure there must have been a DEAD SILENCE when Jesus proposed including the poor and the lame.


Our God sees HEARTS not status. God, the creator of the COSMOS and the heavens the planets and smallest bacteria, is not impressed with our social hierarchy.

Jesus is not just an observer, or a philosopher; he puts his LIFE on the line and puts it into practice, taking him ultimately to the CROSS.


God looks at us, and a lot of what God sees, I’ll take a guess, looks like MEAN GIRLS to him.

You know the Broadway musical, Mean Girls, by Tina Fey, first a movie now on Broadway. Those high school girls were striving for empty status.

They worked very hard for empty lives, lives of illusion.

They hunger for status and acceptance.

We laugh when we watch the movie, it’s amusing, but too true. They make a twisted community where they are their own worst enemies and we know it’s played out at the adult level.

Can you remember back to junior high school, WHERE you sat at the table in the cafeteria.? It was of too much importance. Kids who made the mistake of sitting where they didn’t belong, would be embarrassed, and sent to the SIBERIA area of the cafeteria.

There was SHAME if you sat where you shouldn’t.

Have we outgrown that yet?

So here is Jesus at the table, and he is OBSERVING the hierarchy and he turns it upside down. Not only are we not to rush for the best seats, but we are to SHARE with those on the margins who would NEVER be invited: the poor, the homeless, the small and weak.


We may be tempted to judge the Pharisees – ‘thank you I’m not like them!” but then we become the kind of people who divide the world into categories – US vs THEM. Jesus says, ENOUGH!

Jesus wants us to have the heart of a small child, with an open heart who includes everyone.

It makes the news when people act like Christ. On the news on Tuesday, they ran a story about a little boy with autism and his first day at school. He was eager to begin, but once he got there, he was overwhelmed.

Too much stimulation! But then, another little boy saw him, and the photo was of him stretching out his arm to the boy with autism who had his head down.

The two boys were of different races, but the social hierarchy was irrelevant. One boy saw the other in need, and acted. He reached out. The two mothers were so touched. The mother of the boy who reached out, said she knows her son has a big heart and she’s so proud of him.


The boy’s mother was so anxious for her autistic son to be accepted and to have an easy time. She HUNGERED that her son would be seen by others as SHE sees him. That they see him as someone who is LOVEABLE.

We are not to just admire Jesus; we are to DO what he DOES.


Sarah Miles is a former journalist who calls herself the least likely person to be a Christian. She wrote a book, Take This Bread, and there’s a sense of unruliness that comes with responding to Christ’s call of inclusion.

She recalls that feeding people, feeding homeless people, finding TONS of food and giving it away, came DIRECTLY out of her receiving Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament.


When Christ fed HER with his body and blood, it created a NEW desire in her to feed hungry people. It opened her eyes to hungry people all around her, and somehow she was able to put her hands on tons of food to feed them.


Christ gave her a NEW heart, a willing heart to feed a hungry world. Jesus sees us sitting down to eat with ALL KINDS of people. How can WE reach out to the people right here on Centre Ave.? I’ll bet there are hungry hearts that live nearby.


When we SEE as Christ sees, our community of LOVE gets BIGGER. GRACE enlarges our world. Christ draws us closer to him.

If we SURRENDER our pride, God’s LIGHT can shine in our lives and the lives of others.

This parable of course points us to a larger, deeper, more COSTLY way of life.[1] A life where we give without the hope of receiving.


We can never repay Christ.

We know this.

And here we are seated at HIS banquet, where he is the host and the bread of life.

In our heart of hearts, we know we are beggars too.

We can’t give ourselves the bread of life.

Only Christ can give us the GIFT of HIMSELF.

We can only thank him with thankful and HUMBLE hearts.

Our hands are empty at the banquet, yet Christ FILLS our empty hands.

He ELEVATES us – to sit with him.

He CALLS us to him – to sit with GOD’S Son.


What an amazing God we have.

Because he is OUR bread of life, in turn, he would like us to reach out to others who are on the margins.

To GIVE as we have been given.

The ministry here at St. John, the INN reaches out to feed hungry people.


At the end of the gospel, Jesus says we will have eternal life, and invites us to TRUST the God who is FAITHFUL to the end. Who rewards acts of self-giving.

Our eternal life begins NOW in these grace-filled acts of mercy where we fill the hungry with good things.

Can we look anew at our tables and invite a different kind of guest to eat with us?

Because we are all HUNGERING.

Say, ‘Friend, move up.”


Lord, give us new hearts to include more people at our tables.

Give us new hearts we can even SEE them.

We pray this in the name of Jesus, our Lord.


Blessings of the Labor Day weekend to you all!



Eleventh Sunday in Pentecost – 8.25.19

How do we feel about keeping HOLY the Lord’s DAY?

Does it make us feel uneasy? We don’t keep it like we used to.

There used to be a time when as Richard Swanson writes:

“Sabbath, is welcomed into the house as a queen . . . Sabbath is a foretaste . . . a glimpse of God’s dominion, a little slice of the messianic age dropped into the midst of regular time. Sabbath offers a remembrance of God’s promise of peace and freedom for all of creation. It is . . . a gift from God. Sabbath is a day that lifts people’s eyes to God’s promise in the midst of the most unpromising circumstances” (Provoking the Gospel of Luke).


We do carve out peace in the midst of busy lives when we keep Sunday holy.

Let’s look at the Sabbath as a GIFT of time that God GIVES to US.

In today’s gospel, the religious authority is trying to tell JESUS about the BEST use of TIME.

No HEALING on the Sabbath!

Rule #1: Don’t EVER EVER try and tell Jesus what to do!

Rule #2 Don’t tell JESUS, the AUTHOR of TIME and SPACE the best way to USE time!

You will get JESUS healing on the SABBATH.


There are five instances in Scripture where he heals on the Sabbath and SPARS with religious leaders. Jesus’ point is that HEALING and the sabbath GO together.

To the religious authorities – healing looks like work.

But we know, they are going to oppose anything Jesus does. That’s just an excuse.

We can look at Jesus as a reformer who is bringing back the original meaning of the Sabbath or Sunday for us.

It’s NOT about restrictions, oh you can’t do this, you can’t do that, it’s the Sabbath, it’s Sunday.

The restrictions are about clearing away non-essential tasks so we can BENEFIT from God’s GOODNESS. All the things that keep us busy are like that invasive vine, kudzu. Kudzu grows everywhere, and chokes the life out of other vegetation. Our busy lives can endanger our relationship with God, like kudzu. Sunday is for clearing out the business and giving God, TIME.


SOMEHOW, as only humans can do – this lovely day instead of being ENJOYED – became a BURDEN.

The Sabbath’s meaning as a day of healing – got LOST.


Taking a rest to let the body recharge. Sabbath or Sunday is time to remember we belong to GOD.

In the old days, most people lived on farms and kept cows and sheep, people kept the Sabbath as a way to remind themselves – we are not beasts.

We are not animals, who have to keep going 7 days a week!


Now in the technological age, we have to remind ourselves – we are not robots.

We are not COGS in the machinery of the corporate world.

We are NOT energizer bunnies who have to keep going, and going and . . . until we drop.


For almost a hundred years, people have been lamenting how we have been turning into cogs in the machinery.

Charlie Chaplin in his film, Modern Times, from 1936 gets chewed up in the gears, the gears turning faster and faster and Charlie having to work faster and faster.


God, Yahweh, wants his beloved people to KNOW they are not beasts of burden, we are not COGS in the machinery.

We are the people God delights in.

God wants us to use the day to REFLECT on who we are and whose we are.


In the book of Deuteronomy, the Sabbath was to be extended even to the slaves of the Israelites. Even THEIR humanity was recognized. I would imagine everyone would want to be work for the Israelites knowing you could count on getting ONE day off every week.


Do you think the Assyrians or Hittites gave THEIR staff a day off?

Not likely!


Remember what is written in the gospel of Mark 2:27 “The sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath.”

The leader of the synagogue is about to see that JESUS, Son of Man is LORD of the sabbath.


TODAY Jesus’ heart is touched when he looks at this woman who has been bent over for 18 years.

In today’s gospel story the woman is silent until she ISN’T.

Jesus delivers the woman of an evil spirit, and she BURSTS into PRAISE like a bird set free from her cage.

We see she doesn’t have to prove her faith. It’s enough that she is a daughter of Abraham.

That alone makes her worthy.


This daughter of Abraham, bent over,




is SEEN by JESUS and with this healing, brought back into the community.


Jesus SEES her.

Touches her.



What is the proper response to healing? It’s PRAISE.


Jesus delivers the woman, heals her, and she stands erect praising God.

Jesus is showing us now THAT’S a real SABBATH!

A REAL Sabbath/ real Sunday is when we PRAISE God.

It’s when there’s HEALING.


Notice the synagogue ruler does not praise God anywhere in this gospel.

The proper use of the Sabbath is to PRAISE GOD; he wants to control Jesus’ movements, yet what kind of ruler of the synagogue NEGLECTS its central purpose?


We don’t see him having a change of heart – first he opposes Jesus’ use of the Sabbath, but then we would like to see him break down in praise when he sees the woman standing straight for the first time in 18 years.

He disappears from the text as this woman stands straight and PRAISES GOD!





This is a reason to SING!

This daughter of Abraham breaks out into PRAISE like a bird that had been shut up in a cage and at last released into PURE FREEDOM.


She breaks out into PRAISE like a bee that remembers at last it should BUZZ!

She breaks out into PRAISE like a cricket that can at last CHIRP!

We are made to praise God. When GOD RESTORES us – we PRAISE God.

We PRAISE God, as the LIBERATOR in our lives.


When God delivers us from the power of Satan, we PRAISE God. We CHEER God!

GOD CLEARLY is in charge!

Praising God should be the first thing that comes to our minds but it doesn’t.

Birds that sing are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Imagine birds that don’t sing. We’d be very disturbed.

Bees that buzz are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Imagine bees that don’t buzz. We’d be troubled.

Crickets that sing are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Imagine crickets that don’t chirp. We’d be consulting the scientists.

It would upset the natural order of things.

The birds, the bees, the crickets all praise God when they sing, buzz and chirp.


But us – do WE praise God like the birds, bees and crickets like it’s the most natural thing?

We know we don’t.

Something is wrong – and we don’t consult anyone – we just go our merry way as if everything is fine.


Jesus is showing us THIS, THIS woman standing erect for the first time in 18 years and praising God – this is what a Sabbath looks like.

This was a woman of deep faith despite her disability, despite Satan having a GRIP on her.

Satan hasn’t affected her faith. Evil has her body, but it doesn’t have her soul.

Evil has her outer shell, but can’t touch her inside.


Now imagine if WE use the Sabbath for rest. NOT for more errands, more tasks.

Imagine if we use it to praise God by giving the LORD some room, inviting the LORD in


It’s harder than it looks. Why is it easier to keep going?

Why not give over our lives to God and let GOD restore us?


Back in the 90s the city of New Rochelle could see that families were overscheduled.

Kids were playing or practicing soccer 7 days a week.

Families had no time to sit down for a meal together, not ONCE during the week.

So, the city decided they would not schedule any games or practices for the students on Sundays.

Let it be a day when families can sit down, catch up, eat, play board games. Relax.

The families were grateful not to be constantly running.

It was so humane.

These families didn’t see this day of restrictions.

They knew it was a day of FREEDOM. Freedom from running around

Why can’t we do MORE of that?

Imagine if WE could. How PROFOUND a change that would be for all of us.


THAT’S what God has been trying to tell us for millennia: we are more than our schedules

Sunday is a day to REMEMBER to taste and see how good God is. The GOD who GIVES us our freedom.

That ALL freedom comes from GOD.


I thank you, Lord for the gift of the Sabbath/for Sunday.

Let us receive it as the gift that it is.

Let us remember to PRAISE you as we ought.

Let us think how we can make Sunday a true day of rest, giving God the gift of our time.

Lord, you have so many gifts to GIVE us, give us NEW HEARTS to receive them.

In Jesus name we pray.



Ninth Sunday in Pentecost – 8.13.19

Which word do you prefer – TRUST or PROMISES?

Trusting can be hard.

Sometimes we have to wonder, who can we trust?


  • We may have feelings and memories about promises.

People let us down . . .


Promises made. Promises broken.


Today we have the promise God made to Abram that he would not just have a child, but “Look toward heaven and count the stars . . . so shall your descendants be.” God promises.

A God PROMISE is different from a human promise.

God’s promises are SOLID and LOVING.


Abram would get not just ONE child, but descendants in the millions and billions.


Such an EXTRAVAGANT promise!



All Abram has to do is – TRUST.


Imagine you are Abram looking up at the night sky. The stars are uncountable. They POP out at you and God is letting you know your descendants will outnumber them. What an amazing promise!

Abram was the FIRST

As wonderful as this promise is, Abram has it hard.

He’s the very FIRST person who’s responded to God like this.


He doesn’t have 5000 years of tradition and scripture to fall back on. He can’t look something up in scripture to give himself courage. There are no psalms to comfort him.


He’s going it ALONE TRUSTING this God who makes a PROMISE of his HEART’s DESIRE.

Here in Genesis we have the BEGINNINGS of TRUST in a GOOD God.

A God who you could have a conversation with.


A God you could have a relationship with. That was NEW!



Here we SEE FAITH springing out of Abram. To EXPECT an HEIR when some translations say “HE was nearly DEAD.”

Abram was so old! God had him wait and wait, just so God could do something really spectacular. God gave the promise to Abram when he was 75 years old and had him WAIT.

Two old people producing a baby boy. Only a SUPREME Being could do that!


TRUST is the word of the day. Abraham and Sarah were to TRUST in God’s promises.



Abram had an heir, a kinsman Eliezer. But that was not acceptable. Abram had a SLAVE boy, Ismael as an heir, but that was NOT acceptable.

God RESPONDS that Abram should trust some more.

Sara doesn’t immediately become pregnant.

In time, these two old people will get what they want.


Abram WANTED what he wanted from the BOTTOM of his HEART.

NOTHING could satisfy this itch of his. Only a son of his flesh from his WIFE would do.


All Abram had to do was TRUST God.


And so it says in GENESIS, “He believed the Lord, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.”


St. Paul goes on to credit Abram as the BEGINNING. A figure BIGGER than Moses.

Because Abram was the FIRST. The FIRST of anything can be hard. You’re the ground breaker.

The pioneer.


St. Paul says, “By FAITH, Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going.”

Ancient sources also give SARAH credit for believing and having faith too. The CEV translation say: “ Even when Sarah was too old to have children, she had faith that God would do what he had promised, and she had a son.” 

A life of faith is demanding but also SATISFYING.

And we are WISE when we FOLLOW the leadings of our faith to TAKE us to places we wouldn’t choose.


Abram and Sara were wealthy in herds and animals.

Abraham was RICH in flocks and possessions, but by GRACE he understood YAHWEH is the SOURCE of ALL GOODNESS.

Maybe Abram and Sarah wondered, “Is that all there is? . . . We’ve got wealth.

What ELSE could there be in life? There MUST be something MORE.”

And perhaps that’s was when they heard God speaking to their hearts.


When I was in seminary, I met a man around my age.

He said he should be dead, because he’d gotten AIDS back before there was AZT.

And he said, “he made millions of dollars, and lost millions and got millions back.”

The whole thing with the AIDS and the millions of dollars made him wonder.


He wondered WHAT ELSE God might want from him.

So he just threw himself on God’s mercy.

He threw himself OPEN  

to really LISTENING to a response from God. It took TRUST on his part.

And he got a response from God was, enter seminary. So he did.

While in school he was a chaplain to the fire dep’t.

His story touched me so much, that I just wept to hear it.

This is the BEST kind of prayer you can make – God what do you want from me?

And then TRUST God and DO it.


Abram heard God’s call.

This seminary student heard God’s call.

Have YOU heard God’s CALL in your life? To take a different path?

To ALLOW God to lead you? To REALLY LISTEN and let your life be CHANGED by this listening.


PRAYER is a lot of listening. Prayer is not just us saying this is what I want, God.

It’s LISTENING to hear what God wants from US.

It’s saying to God, not MY way, but YOUR way, Lord.


The apostles heard Jesus’ call to them and it was irresistible!

They couldn’t turn away.

They heard the CALL of something bigger than themselves in Jesus’ call to FOLLOW ME.

They heard echoes of a KINGDOM.

He asked once, ‘Will you go away too?’ They said, Where can we go?  “You have the words of eternal life.”

Abram heard in God’s PROMISE ETERNAL life for himself.

Eternal life would be his baby boy, and God was promising MORE than just flesh.

Abram’s posterity would be endless.

I would tell this to my high school students and say, YOU! YOU! Are God’s promise to Abram. You, a student sitting at a desk, learning your faith. You are Abram’s descendants.

Look around at your neighbors in the pews. Count them.

Think how many people are in church today and in the past.

We are Abraham’s descendants, and YES, we outnumber the STARS in the heavens.



St. Paul says that “By faith Abraham OBEYED.” We don’t like that word OBEY.

We save that word for children. Yet, in God’s eyes we are all large children.

WE ALL need to continue to listen and OBEY God. NOT that God wants onerous things for us, but that OBEYING GOD gives us GOOD things.


WAITING, TRUSTING, having FAITH. LOOK at what obedience got Abraham.


Putting aside his own ideas to follow GOD’S got him EXACTLY what he wanted.

Abram put his feet on a path was unpredictable, that was NOT SAFE, or SECURE.


Remember last week’s story of the RICH FOOL.

The parable’s lesson was that if we put GOD FIRST, we will receive EVERYTHING else.

EVERYTHING that can fit into your heart.


That was what Abram and Sara did. They had an imagination that God could give them BIGGER LIVES. Bigger than anything they could imagine. God made a mind-boggling PROMISE



Jesus says in the gospel today, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good PLEASURE to give you the kingdom.”

The kingdom Jesus wants to give you is about getting you a BIGGER HEART, a BIGGER FAITH.

The kingdom Jesus wants to give you is to give you a bigger LOVE to SEE how God sees.


We have “faith as the assurance of things HOPED for, the conviction of things NOT SEEN.”

There are times when we are like pilots being directed through fog and clouds by the air traffic controller.

We can’t SEE where we are, but the air traffic controller is trustworthy so we FOLLOW the directions.

It takes a lot of TRUST for the pilots, to put their lives into a VOICE directing them.


“In trust Abraham traveled, lived in a foreign land, and bore a son.” St. Paul repeats the phrase by faith, by faith, by faith by faith. Faith gets us bigger lives than we could dream for ourselves.

FAITH got Abraham the son he desired.


Faith is not an intellectual thing. It’s a GUT thing. It’s a thinking from the gut that is divinely inspired.

Faith is trusting an unseen, invisible being who communicates with us with Scripture and the bread and wine, and with the community of believers.


Faith, hope and love combat our INERTIA that wants us to keep things the way they are.

Keep things FAMILIAR, even if the familiar things are destructive.

INERTIA wants us to look away, don’t LOOK at the road the NEW PATH that Christ unfurls before us, and invites us to walk with him.


And WHY do all this TRUSTING?

GOD’s WORK is to bring NEWNESS into our lives.[1] We can’t do this kind of work, only a SUPREME BEING who LOVES us PASSIONATELY can bring newness.




Trusting in God sets our feet on a new path like Abraham and Sarah.

Some of you left one church and found your way here.

TRUSTING God led you to a better place, RENEWED your faith as you found a place of welcome here. Following the Holy Spirit.


GOD’S LOVE never deserts us.

We follow a path, into a DEEPER relationship with God, where God loves and forgives us into NEWNESS. A new hope. A renewed FAITH.


And for that we are ALL grateful.

Loving God, we do not trust in our own righteousness, but in your abundant mercy as you lead and guide us. Thank you for all that has been, and thank you for all that will be.

We pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who loves us into NEW LIFE, our paths FIRMLY leading to YOU.




Eighth Sunday in Pentecost – 8.4.19

August 4, 2019 Sermon cycle C Eighth Sunday in Pentecost


What is IMPORTANT in life?

We come together on Sunday mornings to be reminded of LIFE’S PRIORITIES from the perspective of Jesus.


A man says, “Jesus tell my brother to give me my fair share of the inheritance.”


What you get from JESUS is a parable.


The man in the parable would APPEAR to be blessed by God.

He has a bountiful harvest.

He has barns galore to store the harvest.

Life is GREAT! He plans to eat and drink!

And then he dies. In a blink of an eye, he’s GONE.


This rich man forgot something important!


He forgot he was MORTAL. 


Jesus walked the earth, in the dust and heat, missing meals if he had to, to remind us that we are mortal, we are FINITE. He comes to remind us to take care – of what is IMPORTANT.

Our LIVES are important. They are enormous gifts.

What is NOT important is the material goods. Our wealth.

What IS important? Wealth would appear to be a blessing. Isn’t it?

NOTE: People of Jesus’ time were not accustomed to calling rich people FOOLS.

Wealth was seen as a favor and blessing from God.

Poverty was seen as a LACK of God’s favor.


But let’s reread what this rich fool says:

“And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 

18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 

19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”


Can you hear it?

It ALMOST sounds reasonable. What’s wrong is that what he says is all I,I,I,I.

Me me me me.

It’s not so much that he is wealthy, it’s that he is totally focused on himself.


Isn’t there SOMEONE with whom he could share his wealth? Where are his loved ones?

And the irony is that he talks to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods.”

The soul is not concerned about eating and drinking. The soul belongs to GOD.

In this story, Jesus wants us to know that appearances are deceiving.

What APPEARS to be SOLID is actually very ephemeral.

And what is EPHEMERAL is solid.

The man’s harvest, his crops and barns, just disappear at his death. They are not important.


What he takes with him is whatever he’s packed in his soul.

At death, he COULD have had a soul PACKED with charity, or a soul full of hope.

Or he could take with him a soul that is FULL of LOVE.


We don’t see any of that in the parable. His soul is EMPTY of charity. His soul is FULL of greed.


Jesus says today, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”


It’s so easy to be greedy.

From childhood we’re primed and brainwashed to DESIRE all kinds of pink and purple plastic toys that quickly break. Then we want more and more of them.


You know what KUDZU is? Kudzu is that invasive vine from the South that grows everywhere and CHOKES the life out of other green plants and trees.

You get it growing and it just takes over.


GREED is like kudzu, it CHOKES the LIFE out of everything else.

FEEDING that greed becomes the MOST important thing.


A couple of weeks ago, there was a reading from Acts that described the community that is HEARTBROKEN because DORCAS had died.

Dorcas had reached out to the widows of her community and clothed them.

The community summoned Peter to DO SOMETHING! They showed him the tunics she had made for them.

It doesn’t say it in the text, but I have a feeling that she may have been teaching these widows to weave cloth and become self-supporting. That would have made her invaluable to the community of women.


YET, Dorcas could have thought, to only take care of herself.

She could EASILY have become selfish and said ‘I have to look out for myself, me, me me. There’s only enough for me. Me. Me.”


Unlike the man in the parable, she used her time and wealth to reach out those who were in distress. She RECEIVED a bounty of SPIRIT from the COMMUNITY of widows, as she reached out to help THEM. Dorcas had put her wealth to work to assist the community.


When Dorcas died, it was a TRAGEDY, where she was MOURNED.

She had used her money the right way and it became about SHARING and LOVE.

There was a RICHNESS of SPIRIT in the SHARING among the widows. So they told Peter, to COME QUICKLY!


Peter prayed, and Dorcas came back to life. The larger story is that the whole community – all those widows who she had helped, I’ll bet they were praying their too, and that it was the entire PRAYER of the COMMUNITY that brought her back.


In this parable, we don’t see the rich fool as part of a community. No one is crying that he died that night. No one mourns him. No one demands of God to BRING HIM BACK.

No, he lived isolated in his wealth, and died truly alone. And there is a RECKONING for him. There is JUDGMENT.


“But God said to him, ‘You Fool!’ This very night your soul is being demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’         

            I very recently moved. Before I moved I threw things out and took bags and bags to the Goodwill, and still I look around and think why did I bring so much with me? I look in some of the boxes and wonder, why did I pack this? Why was this stuff so important?


What if – and I don’t have enough courage to live this – what if I threw everything away and just took FOUR things. Take just ONE box of things.

So much stuff collects sentimental meaning. Why not just go without? What would be the FOUR things I would take with me?

            Could you look around your homes and find FOUR things you couldn’t live without and toss everything else out?


Some of you may be familiar with Marie Kondo, and her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her focus is on only keeping those material objects that give us joy. When people hire her to help them throw out things, very often, they end up with only one fifth of the possessions they started out with.


She doesn’t use the word ephemeral, but her focus on JOY over material goods, refocuses people on what is important. A LOT of what they own is ephemeral; it does nothing for them. When they have less, they have more serenity, more joy. Then they are able to make changes in their lives and make decisions that enhance their lives. Couples become closer when they start throwing out together. They share what has meaning and what is valueless.


            I’ve seen a film called Happy – and the film goes around the world asking people what makes them happy.

The first story is a man in India. To me, it looks like he’s living in abject poverty. No, he’s happy. He points to his neighbors. They wave and smile to the camera. He says he has wonderful neighbors. He has a son. He HUGS his grown son. He gestures to his house, which looks like a shack. He loves his house. The monsoon goes through one door and out the other.

He is happy with VERY LITTLE. He knows what is important.


When Mother Theresa came to this country, she was struck by the SPIRITUAL unhappiness.

The SPIRITUAL poverty of this wealthy nation.


In that film, Happy, there’s another story from Denmark.

Denmark has a tradition of communal living where people, in order to live much more happily CHOOSE a community, and not the nuclear setting which is what we have mostly in this country. In the film we watch as a single woman moves in with her three young daughters.

They don’t have much space. She tells her daughters that their pet guinea pig has more space in its cage than they do. They have traded space for a richness of community life.

For example, everyone signs up to take a monthly turn to cook for about fifty people.


Once the children turn 14, the 14-year-olds get together to cook for the community.

You see them chopping and sautéing the vegetables; they are in charge, and you KNOW these teens are getting very valuable life experience in what is important in life. This family has exchanged a larger space and alienation for a smaller living space, and a RICHER community life.

            Just like the rich fool of the parable, there is a RECKONING for US as well. God will ask US at the end of our life HOW did we use the wealth we have? Did we use it to SHARE like DORCAS – and build a rich community life? Or were we like the RICH FOOL and say mine, me, I,I,I,I – ?

Jesus ends this parable with the words, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not RICH toward God.”

Lord, I thank you for the BOUNTY you have given us. Help us to see what is important in our precious lives. Let us not waste time on being greedy. Let us be able to SHARE what you have given us to share. We depend on your mercy, and pray in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, your Son.