Category: sermon remix

Sermon Remix: Elijah and the Prophets of Ba’al

Sermon Text: 1 Kings 18:20-39 

The Hebrew Scriptures of our Bible, what we call the “Old Testament” are full of what I like to call “flashy” stories. Sure, the New Testament has some pretty flashy stuff as well and Jesus being raised from the dead is the flashiest of them all, but when it comes to a nice dramatic story, this story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is just about the flashiest story of all.

The story starts out with Elijah, the prophet, asking his people a question: “How long will you go around limping between two options? If the LORD is God, than follow him, but if it’s Baal, then follow him.”

What a great question How long will you go around limping between two options? You can hear Elijah’s frustration as he asks the question. Baal is sort a false god who is contrasted with Yahweh, Elijah’s God, the God of Judaism and Christianity. In our story, Elijah is seriously outnumbered. There are 450 prophets of Baal, but only one of him. He proposes a test – the prophets of Baal will put a bull on an altar, and so will he. Then they will wait to see which God burns up the offering with fire. The prophets of Baal go first. They cut up their bull and wait for Baal to burn it up with fire. Nothing happens. The prophets of Baal start to get nervous, walking around and around. They even cut their arms with swards — highly dramatic. Elijah isn’t a very gracious competitor at this point. He starts taunting them “Maybe your god is on vacation” he says “Perhaps he’s snoozing and you need to wake him up?”  Now it’s Elijah’s turn to put Yahweh to the test. He’s not messing around. Instead of just asking Yahweh to rain fire down on the offering, he decides to be a bit more dramatic about it. Elijah asks the people to dig a ditch around the offering. Then they pour water all over the offering and fill the ditch with the water. Elijah wants to be very clear: Yahweh will not only send fire, the fire will burn up the offering and all of the water. So now it’s time for the big showdown. Elijah is very plain in his request to Yahewh, he says “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”  I find this part of the story really compelling as well because Elijah is proving, by his request to Yahweh that the whole point of this show is to bring glory and honor back to Yahweh. “Answer me so that this people may know you.” Not “answer me so I save face” not “answer me because all of these people are depending on me.” Answer me so that this people may know you are God.

God answers the prayer, loudly and clearly. God answers, clearly and unequivocally. The fire consumes the stone, the offering and the dust. It even licks up the water in the trench. 

I’d like to lift up a few things about this passage and what it might be saying to us about living a devoted and faithful life as we try to live our faith in the world.

First, Elijah, though he is outnumbered 450 to one believes that Yahweh is important enough to take a stand for  He starts with that important question “how long will you go around limping between two options?” Elijah knows something important: the prophets of Baal are worshipping a false God.  As I read this story, I’m not so interested in thinking about it in the sense of “my God is better than your God.” That is, I’m not convinced that the message for us, here, as we listen to this story is that we ought to prove to faithful adherents of other faiths that Yahweh will win some sort of contest. On the contrary, I believe Christians are called to interfaith dialog and understanding. I am interested, though, in speaking up against the false gods of our time. We might each define the false gods of our time in different ways. One way for me to identify them, I think is to look for the “ism” words: consumerism, materialism, narcissism,, sexism, racism, nationalism. These are the false gods that we’re asked to speak out against in our age and culture. When we’re asked to bow down to the god of the marketplace, the god of owning the most stuff, the god of “whatever I need and want must be best” the god that my gender, my race, my country are the best. These are the baals of our time. Sometimes we try to dabble in both worlds, just like the folks in our story. What would Elijah say? How long will you go around limping between two options.

The next thing I’d like to lift up about Elijah from this story is that he’s willing to do the work to bring people along. When Elijah first makes his proposal that the people are wavering between false gods and Yahweh, the text says that the people were silent. They didn’t even speak a word. When it’s time to put Yahweh to the test, though, Elijah has brought them along. He builds the altar, he cuts up the bull, he gets people to haul the water. It makes me think of the work that we do in our community and in the world to speak out against the false gods of our time. It’s hard work, and if we’re doing it right, we’re not doing it alone, we’re drawing others in to the story with us.

Finally, Elijah is letting God be God in this story. At the beginning of this chapter, in a part that we didn’t read this morning, we learn that this whole thing is taking place so that the drought can end. Why is this important? Well, two things: one it makes the water part all that much more impressive. Elijah is pouring water on the offering to show that it’s not spontaneously combusting. Second, Baal is supposed to be the god of storms, so if the drought ends without this “showcase of the gods” the people might take it to mean that Baal has gotten his power back. We already talked about the fact that Elijah is outnumbered here, but I didn’t mention yet that this whole showdown is taking place on Mt. Carmel. Guess where Baal is supposed to live? That’s right. Mt. Camel. So all of these prophets of Baal are actually allegedly on Baal’s home turf here. There is so much stacked up against Elijah in this story. So much. He knows that if he does “win” this encounter, it will be for one reason, and one reason only: Yahweh is truly God. It’s not that Elijah isn’t righteous (he is), it’s not that Elijah didn’t work hard (he did) but the offering is burned up for one reason alone and it’s this: The Lord, indeed is God. The Lord, indeed, is God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and sustainer of us all, Amen.

The Age of the Spirit

Happy Birthday, church! Today is Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to the early church. To me, it’s one of the most exciting days of the church year, right up there with Easter and Christmas. It’s a huge celebration, a party. There is much to be thankful for when we come to church on Pentecost. We come to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third person in our three person trinity. Christians believe in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Holy Spirit are distinct, but also the same. They are completely different and absolutely all the same. Christians believe in one God, not three.  If that’s hard for you to grasp, I have good news: nobody understands the trinity. Even theologians whose job it is to understand the trinity don’t understand the trinity. We try to explain it with symbols like the fleur de lis or a shamrock, but we always fall into some sort of heresy when we try to explain it.  This week, in preparation for Pentecost I’ve been reading a wonderful book about the Holy Spirit called The Age of the Spirit by theologian Phyllis Tickle. The book takes me back to seminary a little bit with all of the history of Christian theology it contains. The book traces the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit throughout Christianity in the East and West and talks about some of the questions Christians have had about the Spirit and how we have resolved them (or not, sometimes!)  It’s fascinating stuff, and I strongly recommend it for anyone who is looking for some theological brain food.

It is through this book The Age of the Spirit that I became acquainted with a theologian named Joachim of Fiore (or, if you want to be fancy and use his Italian name it’s Gioacchino da Fiore). Joachim of Fiore lived from 1135 to 1202. Before I go any farther with this, can we pause to think about that fact for just a second? This person that I learned about this week died 814 years ago. Eight hundred and fourteen years ago. And yet, when you hear about his theory, it’s going to sound so modern to you… so unbelievable. His theory was this, that modern history could be thought of in three relative ages that correspond with the three persons of the Trinity, first the age of the Father, which he said characterized the Old Testament. Makes sense, right? The Old Testament is full of all of those wild stories about obedience to the law, and a strong sense of the majesty and holiness of a God who is wholly other. Second was the age of the Son, the age in which the New Testament was written and understood. The third age, the age of the Spirit, was the age in which was to come, an age in which Christians would relate to the Spirit most of all. Phyllis Tickle’s book references this and asks the question “What if we’re living in that age, right now?” What if the age of the spirit that Fiore was pointing to is the age in which the are living at this very moment. It makes sense, I think, that we would be living in the age of the Spirit. After all, as Tickle reminds us, there was a time when it was easy and normal for Christians to pray directly to Jesus Christ, but this doesn’t seem exactly right to us now. It seems as if the Holy Spirit is becoming the more relatable person of the Trinity these days. Does that make sense to you? It does to me, for sure. Of the three persons in the trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit, the Spirit feels the most accessible in this day and age. Even people who don’t easily recognize themselves as Christians identify with the Spirit and spirituality. Have you ever met someone who says they are “spiritual, but not religious?” A lot of times people who talk about being spiritual but not religious are actually invoking language and traditions about the Holy Spirit that go back thousands of years. Part of our job as Christians, I think, is to interpret the Holy Spirit and to remind people that that spirituality they claim is part of our tradition, that the Spirit they identify with is that same Spirit present all the way at the beginning of our story, literally. In the second verse of the bible, Genesis chapter 1 verse two we read that the “spirit was hovering over the waters.” The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ruach and it is the same word as breath.

What is it that this ruach has to say to us now, today? I think to understand our faith presently, we can gain a lot of insight by going all the way back to the early church and think about what life was like for those earliest Christians. At that time, Christians didn’t call themselves Christians, the believers were Jewish in every sense, sticking to Jewish laws and customs and also following Jesus, but it didn’t stay that way. Soon other believers, people who had nothing to do with Judaism and didn’t necessarily want to started following Jesus. Again I am quoting from the book the Age of the Spirit “It became apparent to all that the beloved community had a problem… Were these gentiles, these pagans, really Christians or merely lookalikes and wannabes? Every evidence of genuine belief was in their lives and in their conduct.” To decide if followers of Christ had to become Jewish before accepting Jesus, a conference called the Jerusalem Conference was held, the evidence of which shows up in the book of Galatians and the book of Acts. We know what the result is, or we wouldn’t be here today. The believers decided that no, one did not have to become Jewish to follow Christ. Thus is the beginning of what I see as a long, consistent history of Christianity’s tradition of welcome and inclusion and embracing outsiders. Yes, it is true that Christianity has spent a lot of time trying to decide who is “inside” and who is “outside” of the faith, but isn’t it also true that we have often discovered that this faith we proclaim is much broader and wider than we ever imagined? Christianity has spread and grown and thrived and lasted for thousands of years and has grown to include believers from all corners of the earth. This is certainly the work of the Spirit. On this Pentecost Sunday it might be good for us to meditate a little bit on what the Spirit has done over the past two thousand years and what the Spirit might be doing in this time and age. As I look at the world around us, I see the Spirit inviting us to continue to open our minds and our hearts and see how broad Christ’s message is. I believe the “spiritual but not religious” around us might just find that the Spirit they so know and love is not a new thing, but that same Spirit that was hovering over the deep in Genesis, and present at the baptism of Jesus, and like tongues of fire coming down on the people at Pentecost. People often talk about “new age” faith, but the Spirit is actually as old as the creation of the world.

Our scripture for today tells us “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” The Spirit delights and surprises. The Spirit shows up when we least expect it to. Our job is to listen for the Spirit and to not be surprised when it shows up in strange and unexpected places.

I have been surprised and delighted to see the Spirit showing up all over the place at Northwood  in ways that ring true to that verse “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”  I hear the sound of the Spirit as women gather, monthly, to work on Days for Girls kits to send all around the world. I don’t know where that is coming from or where it is going. I hear the Sound of the Spirit as I listen to our new Parish Associate, Krin, talk about his journey to ministry (it’s a great story that I hope you all get to hear sometime). I don’t know where our friendship with Krin has come from or where it is going. I hear the sound of the Spirit when I hear Owen talk about plans for a Choir Camp this summer or Jamie talk about what is happening with the youth. I don’t know where those things have come from or where they are going. Ministry to our community, ministry in Zambia. The Spirit is present. We hear its sound, but we can’t really control it, it blows where it pleases. Our job, then, is to be open to receiving it, to welcome it, and to follow where it leads. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all, Amen.

Sermon Remix: Spiritual Spring Cleaning II


We are finishing our two-part series on “Spiritual Spring Cleaning” this week.  Last week we talked about how our material possessions can weigh us down and we considered how “living lighter” might affect is spiritually.  This week we are going to continue with that, but instead of thinking about the possessions that weigh is down, we are going to consider some of the attitudes and beliefs that we carry that might be weighing is down. What beliefs do we carry around that cause us to get stuck?  As we think about how to answer this, we’ll look to our passage for this morning, Matthew 19. We’re looking at two passages: the passage where Jesus talks about letting the children come to him and the passage known as the “rich young ruler” passage. They come one right after the other in our chapter, and their contrast is good food for thought.

In the first passage, the passage about letting children come to Jesus, we read that children were coming to Jesus and that some of the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, were shooing the children away. Jesus tells the Pharisees no, “let the children come to me because such it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Immediately after that, Jesus runs into a person who asks him the pointed question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, but the young ruler persists. “Which ones?” he wants to know. Jesus lists off some of the commandments and also adds “also love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man assures Jesus that he’s kept all of these and wants to know what more he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him that he should sell all of his possessions, give his money to the poor and then come back and follow Jesus. This, the scripture tells us, is too much for the young man, and he goes away full of grief, because he cannot do what Jesus is asking here.

I read a sermon this week called “It begins with a child” that talks about the rich young ruler:”The rich young ruler has status. He’s obeyed the law since he was a child, but he hasn’t kept his child-like-ness. He wears his achievements and his riches like an honour. He comes with all the trappings of wealth and walks away sad because he cannot leave these things to come empty-handed to follow Jesus. He did not realize that the Kingdom begins where people are.”

I loved the way that writer put it, the rich young ruler has obeyed the law, but he lost his “child-like-ness.” It makes me wonder a little bit what it is about the faith of children that Jesus is lifting up when he says “It is such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” and, more specifically, what is it that Jesus is lifting up that is over and against what the rich young ruler highlights in his conversation with Jesus.

In honor of child-like-ness and, just for fun, I thought we’d all benefit a little from these sweet anecdotes of the ways that children understand faith sometimes:

One parent says

  • I had been teaching my three-year-old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer. For several evenings at bedtime, she would repeat after me the lines from the prayer. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us some E-mail. Amen.”
  •  And one particular four-year-old prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
  • A little boy was overheard praying: “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.
  • A [Sunday] school teacher asked her children, as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”
  • Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang, and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had had enough. “You’re not supposed to talk out loud in church.” “Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, “See those two men standing by the door? They’re hushers.”
  • A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.’ “Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
  • A [Sunday] school class was studying the Ten Commandments. They were ready to discuss the last one. The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what it was. Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, “Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor’s wife.”

Those are great, right? I love seeing the world through the eyes of children, and particularly faith. I’ve come up with three things that I think children have when it comes to faith that maybe the rich young ruler didn’t have anymore. Let’s think about these as we consider our own spiritual spring cleaning this week.

First, children have freedom from possessions. It’s not that children don’t have a favorite toy or get caught up in the trappings of materialism. I know they do. It’s that children don’t rely on them in the same way that the rich young ruler did or does. Children don’t necessarily even understand money and earning and where things come from in the same way that adults do. I remember my childhood view of a checkbook. To me, it was just a piece of paper on which someone could write down what they wanted and… poof! There it was. The ruler in our story, though, understands his possessions in a very different way than the children coming to Jesus to be blessed. For him, possessions are literally standing in the way of Jesus.  I wonder how that is for us, and if we can relate.

Second, children have freedom from the law. This ruler is so concerned with getting it right and doing it right. Even his initial question is flawed: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” As if there is something that he can do, as if grace is not freely given but rather earned by some acts of righteousness. In my experience children do not experience faith in this same way. They are aware of experience, and ritual, celebration and laughter, but they’re not trying to earn God’s favor. They’re just living their lives.

Finally, children have freedom from answers. For the young ruler, every question that Jesus answers is just the start of another question. When Jesus says “Obey the commandments” he wants to know which ones. When Jesus answers that, there are even more questions. It’s not that children don’t have questions… it’s that they are not bound to them in the same way. They seem to be content with not knowing. Sometimes the younger they are, the easier it is for them to live in a sea of not knowing. Before I went to seminary I taught Spanish to elementary aged children, Kindergarten through 5th grade. The philosophy we used was gradual immersion where students just had to start to pick up on what was being said as we spoke Spanish almost 100% of the time. The younger the child, the easier it was for that child to follow along. My theory was that, in kindergarten, you already have no idea what’s going on, so what’s a little Spanish going to hurt? The older the children got, though, the more frustrated they were when they didn’t understand. I think it’s not all that different with faith. The older we get, the less content we are with the world around us, the more we try to figure it out.

Children have a lot to teach us about faith and “living light.” Their views are often simple, uncomplicated. They don’t know everything, and they’re not afraid to admit that. What would it mean for us to put more “child-like-ness” into our daily experience of faith? What would we have to let go of or clean out? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of us all, Amen.






Sermon Remix: Spring Cleaning Part 1

If a flood came and washed away everything you owned, or a fire burned every single possession in your home to the ground, what would you miss the most?

I remember about 6 years ago Elias and I were on a short term Presbyterian Disaster Assistance work project to help some folks in Iowa who had experienced flooding up to the ceiling. The woman whose house we were helping to clean and gut told us the story, “It’s fine, because it’s only things,” she said. “There was just this one thing…”  she said, and her voice trailed off. She told us about this box of photos she had, and how they floated away. She saw them floating, down the street (I don’t remember the details of how) but she said the pain of that was too much to bear. I remember her saying that it was the only thing she wished she hadn’t lost. “The photos,” she said. “I wish I still had them. There was no item of clothing or jewelry or book that she would have liked to have had. No DVD or plastic tchotchke she really wished was still around. Those photos, though. What a loss.

What’s the one possession you value the most? What’s the thing you treasure the most?

When Elias moved to the United States he he took English classes at the International Institute in Detroit. It was a wonderful community of English language learners that helped him in so many ways. Not only were there folks from all over the world there, learning English together, but they talked about North American culture, in addition to learning English. A few weeks after moving here we were driving around and Elias shouted “Stop! Stop!” I slammed on the brakes, a little alarmed.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “What is it?”

“I think that’s a garage sale! I want to see it! I learned about it in my class! It’s a sale where when you have so many things, you sell them from your garage!”

I chuckled a little bit and agreed to stop so we could admire this North American cultural phenomenon.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” I said. “What do you do with all of your extra stuff in Colombia?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess we don’t have that much extra stuff. Or if we do, we just give it to our families.”

It makes you think, a little bit, doesn’t it? All the stuff. We have lots of stuff. Where does it come from? Plastic things. Extra clothes. Toys. Paperwork. We have a lot of stuff lying around, especially in our North American culture.

Consider these mind-blowing studies and statistics:

  • There are 300,000 items in the average North American home.
  • One British study found that the average 12 year old owns over 200 toys but plays with about 12 of them. I have to assume this is the same (or worse) in the U.S.
  • The size of the average North American home has tripled in the past 50 years

When Charles and Melissa Johnson left for Zambia, we helped them make a video that would interpret their call to mission service. I remember one of the things Melissa says on this video about what it was like to sell most of the things in their house. She says, “I just realized that I don’t need all of these things stacked around me. I don’t need all these cups. I don’t need these glasses.”

All of these things stacked around me. It sort of rings in my ear, sometimes.

There’s a website called “” It’s pretty simple. All you do is enter your net annual net income and it will tell you how wealthy you are compared to the rest of the world. If you earn $50,000 per year, you are in the top .31% of income earners in the world. If you make $12,000 per year, you’re in the top 14% of income earners in the world and if you were to earn just $2,000 per year, just $41 per week, you’d still be richer than 60% of the whole world.

Globally speaking, we are the richest of the rich, and we have a lot of stuff. Maybe too much stuff at times. We have broken things, plastic things. We have shoes we don’t wear, clothes we don’t need. We have stuff in storage units and our garage. It’s overwhelming sometimes, all of the stuff.

And what of all of these possessions? Do we find joy in them? Do they make us happy? Actor Jim Carrey says “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed so they can see it’s not the answer.” It’s so tempting, isn’t it, to think that a bigger house or better car or more space will make us happy and bring us joy, but we know it’s a lie. The stuff stacks around us, and it actually encumbers us, sometimes. We always think we’ll be happier with just 20% more than what we actually have, no matter how much it is that we have.

Jesus said these words “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Where is our treasure? Where is our heart?

This morning I’m excited to announce an event our church will be hosting on June 11th — that’s about six weeks from now. It’s called “NPC Spring Cleaning.” Here’s what’s going to happen. On that day a 24 foot long semi truck is going to show up in our parking lot. The list of all of the things that we can put on the truck is here. I mean, you can put almost anything on this truck — except furniture. If you have furniture you need to get rid of, talk to me, because we can maybe come up with a separate plan for furniture if enough people need to get rid of it.  But anything else we can put on the truck. Electronics. Sporting goods. Clothes. Appliances. The stuff doesn’t need to even be in good working order. It can be broken. The truck is not going to the dump, it’s going to be recycled, repurposed, reused and resold. If it looks like we (and our friends) are about to fill up the 24 foot long semi, there will be another one on deck ready for us to fill. We could potentially fill up two 24 foot long semis with all of the stuff that we and our friends don’t need. We might find extra space in our garages, in our living rooms, in our closets, and most importantly, in our lives. Here’s the best part: we get paid for everything we put on that truck, even if it’s broken. Even if it’s a hideous shirt from the early 80s.

In addition to getting paid for most of our stuff, we are also going to spend a little bit of money to get something else out of our lives: paper and documents. A secure shredding service is coming to help us get rid of old paper that is clogging up our church and homes. If you have a lot of paper waste that it’s time to shred in a secure way, bring it on June 11th! The service is secure, the boxes are locked, and when it’s shredded, we’ll get a certificate of destruction ensuring us that our documents have been properly shredded. Poof. All the excess, all the paper, all the clutter… let’s get it out.

Getting rid of excess and simplifying our lives isn’t so much about cleaning up our space, although that’s certainly nice, it’s a spiritual practice. I live what Thoreau says about this:

“Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”

Elevation of purpose. How can the process of taking a look at the things we own lead to a sense of elevated purpose? I think this might be the journey we can consider for the next six weeks or so as we do it together.

Here are some more details about this amazing and fun plan for June 11th:

  1. If you need boxes, we’ll have some next week so you can get started
  2. If you like to be on social media, there’s a Facebook Event page for you to post pictures of your progress if you want so that you can keep motivated. Use the hashtag #NPCSpringCleaning
  3. One of the things that I’m most excited about for this project (besides the fact that it will be a nice fundraiser for us, I think we can expect to earn several thousand dollars) is that we will be recycling and keeping things out of landfills, especially electronics. Interestingly, electronics are the things that are hardest for folks to get rid of (who wants to buy that old flip phone and mp3 player?) yet they’re the biggest money makers for this fundraiser. One of the things that you might consider doing is placing an electronics recycling drop off box in your neighborhood or workplace or friend’s church. Help the planet. Help Northwood.
  4. You can participate at whatever level you’d like. Maybe you’ll want to bring just one box of extra things. Maybe you’ll want to go through every room in your whole house.

We, my friends, are rich. Very rich. Rich in possessions, rich in Christ’s love and mercy. Let’s come to the table this morning remembering the first line of the Psalm we read this morning “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of us all. Amen.

Resources for further study:

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker

Sermon Remix: Sabbath as Relinquishing Control

How do people answer the question “How are you?”

“Fine”, or “good,” Am I right?

After that, what do you think the next most popular answer is?

I think it’s busy.

It’s almost like a reflex. How are you? Busy. The thing about busy as an answer (and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone) is that it doesn’t say very much at all. One can be busy and content, or busy and devastated. Busy tells others that we’re doing a lot, but it doesn’t tell them what we’re doing or why we’re doing it.

Today we’re talking about Sabbath as relinquishing control.

Have you ever met a busy person who seems to have all of the time in the world… just for you? Have you ever met someone for whom time seems to multiply? They seem to be manufacturing time, these people. Where do they find the time? How do they do everything they do? I think Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God has it right. He argues that there’s an irony to time, that the more we try to keep time and hang on to it, the less time we actually have. The more we give away, the more we have. He writes:

Hoarding is only wasting. Keeping turns into losing. And so the world of the stingy shrinks. Skinflints, locked into a mind of scarcity, find that the world dwindles down to meet their withered expectations. Because they are convinced there isn’t enough, there never is. This all relates to Sabbath-keeping. Generous people have more time. That’s the irony: those who sanctify time and who give time away — who treat time as a gift and not a possession — have time in abundance. Contrariwise, those who guard every minute, resent every interruption, ration every moment, never have enough. They’re always late, always behind, always scrambling, always driven. There is, of course, a place for wise management of our days and weeks and years. But management can quickly turn in to rigidity. We hold time so tight we crush it, like a flower closed in the fist. We thought we were protecting it, but all we did was destroy it.

Writer Annie Dillard says it much more succinctly when she says “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” When we spend our days savoring pancakes with our grandchildren or when we spend our days listening, really listening to our friends and neighbors, we practice sabbath. I love to tell the story of Bruce, a mentor from college who refused to pick up the ringing phone when we were having a conversation. When I asked if he needed to get it, he said “I’m talking to you.” Time multiplies when we give it away. When we let go of having to do every little thing, we find time we never knew we had.

We live in the age of “multi-tasking” — we think we can do more than one thing at the same time, like watch TV and knit a sweater, or talk on the phone and do the dishes, or listen to a sermon and send text messages. (I’m kidding on that last one. Clearly no one does that, right?) Research suggests that multitasking is a myth, though. Our brains can’t multitask, we can only switch our attention, sometimes very rapidly, from one thing to another. The irony of multitasking is that it takes us twice as long to get tasks done when we multitask and the time we thought we were saving we were actually losing.

To practice Sabbath as relinquishing control is to consider that maybe we can’t fix every problem we think we can. This is a challenging message for a lot of us, especially if we’re achievement driven and want to succeed in the world. We want to fix things, build things, make things better. We believe that if we work harder and put forth more effort more things will be fixed, the things we build will be stronger and taller and all that is wrong in the world will be resolved. Maybe, but the scripture reminds us this is not always so: For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under the sun. To practice Sabbath is to recognize that not all problems are fixable, not all things are under our control. Sometimes we must simply rest.

A writer friend recently quoted someone who said “Honoring Sabbath means letting go of our treasured illusions of being indispensable.”  (I think this person is the original source). We are important, certainly, but we have choices about how to spend our time, and the answer is not always send one more email or go to one more meeting.

I love Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” and I may have quoted it before from this pulpit, but it’s just so good, and so appropriate to this topic: 

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

When we practice sabbath we recognize that everything, including us, dies, and way too soon. The way we spend our time matters. If we’re not careful, we’ll blink and 100 years will be behind us.

I’ve been focusing most of this message on the need to slow down and relinquish control when we feel like there is too much to do and not enough time, but I want to shift our attention a little bit to the opposite struggle: what to do when we have too much time, but not enough purpose. There are stages in life and people connected to us who are feeling this. People who are being crushed under the weight of too much time: stay at home parents who are trying to find meaning and purpose while staying at home with small babies and children who can’t engage in meaningful conversation, people whose illnesses require them to sit in chairs, or even lie down in bed for hours, days, weeks, months at a time, people who are in the last years of life and have no children, or parents, or relatives or friends. For some, time is an ocean, and they’re drowning. I’ve got some specific people in my mind who fit this description. They’re people who are connected to this congregation, but they are, somehow, on the very margins. I visit them from time to time, but not nearly as much as I wish I could. One of the things I love about Northwood is how well we take care of one another. I talked about this last week: If someone is in need, there’s often a whole crowd of people to help fill that need. I’ve felt a growing, gnawing sense that I should simply bring this need to you, then, in the hopes that we might be able to help these folks who are drowning under an ocean of time. I’ve worried about it, though, because everyone I know in our congregation is already so busy. Yet, as I think about this idea that time multiplies when we give it away, I feel compelled to throw it out there and see what happens. I’m thinking of five or six people on the borders of our community who could use a regular visitor, maybe an hour or two every other week. It’s not something that everyone has a calling to do, so please, don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel a calling to this. (I mean it! It would be an utter sermon fail if someone came away from a sermon about Sabbath feeling like he or she needed to do more!) But I do trust that there are a few of us out here who do feel a calling to give some time away to someone. If you think this might be you, please pray about it and we can have coffee and talk about who the people are and what their specific needs might be. We could go on our first visit together. 

In the same spirit, if you’re drowning in time and feeling overwhelmed by it and lonely, please let someone know so you aren’t suffering in silence. Being lonely is nothing to be ashamed of, and our church can (and will) help.

Time. It’s not ours. It never was. It belongs to God. Yesterday Samuel wanted some pecans and I was opening them with a nutcracker. It was a huge mess. I happened to be talking to a friend on Skype while this whole scene was unfolding and she said “Yeah, pecans are tricky, it’s almost like you have to crack them just enough to open them, but not so much that you crush them.” Sort of like time, I think. We want to save it and give it away, but the balance is so hard to come by, so we let it go and we ask God for wisdom and help. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all. Amen.

Sermon Remix: The Hailstorm & Wartburg College


Today Northwood was incredibly fortunate to have the Wartburg Choir visit us. The number of choir members was approximately equivalent to the number of other worshippers. The choir was full of energy, grace, and (most importantly) voices that moved us all to tears. The recording of Give Me Jesus, is currently playing on repeat in my ears. Incredible. This was to be week two of a sermon series on Sabbath, but I was feeling like it was important to tell the story of some of the lessons of this week, so I preached this sermon instead.

This week’s hailstorm, and the subsequent lessons that we’ve experienced as a church led me to abandon the “regularly scheduled programming” for this week and to, instead, talk for a few minutes about what spiritual lessons and gems I saw for us in this past week. There are way too many  be included in this message, but I’m going to take you through a few of the most poignant. One of the lessons that is a rather long story involves plastic flamingos. In the next couple of weeks, as you stop by my office, ask me the flamingo story, I love to tell it.

The first lesson is, not surprisingly, gratitude. We talk about this all the time, do we not?  When we have plenty: gratitude. When we are in want: gratitude. I’d say gratitude is one of the top three, if not the very number one thing I preach about. I have to confess, though, that I felt some very conflicting thoughts on gratitude this week. It’s not that we weren’t grateful. It was so very easy to be grateful this week. As we looked around at broken glass and soggy ceilings and dented window frames and shattered windshields, we knew that the force of ice that could do that type of damage could do damage to human beings and, mercifully, it did not. All week we were saying to each other “We are so thankful. It is just material possessions.” At the same time, ours was not the only natural disaster this week. There were earthquakes this week in Japan, Myanmar, Ecuador and Tonga. The earthquake in Ecuador that happened last night was particularly troubling and upsetting to our sense of gratitude, though, because, as we look at the photos, and read about the deaths, it becomes clear that at least part of reason the destruction is so devastating there is the lack of solid infrastructure. Do you notice that when you read about mudslides and floods in other parts of the world? The devastation is sometimes felt on a scale that is much larger than we experience here. Sometimes we think “Why doesn’t that happen here?” Well, it doesn’t happen because our houses aren’t built out of flimsy material on the side of a hill, they’re carefully designed and placed where they are by city planners with codes and regulations. Even in the most impoverished parts of our nation, we rarely see the kind of devastation with natural disaster that we see in developing nations.
I’m reminded that if our church were not made with a metal roof and brick and fancy noise abatement windows, but instead with a grass roof or a tin roof, or no roof at all, it would have been flattened. If our homes were not built on concrete foundations, or if we lived in refugee camps, that hail storm would have caused deaths. So the gratitude of which I speak so frequently becomes a real challenge sometimes. It gives us questions that aren’t easy to answer. Why us and not them? Yes, we are grateful for our safety and the relative inconvenience of this storm, but there’s something deeper there. I don’t think we can simply say “Phew, we’re thankful we don’t have to experience that kind of trauma.” I think we’re called to do something about that, to take the seed of “that could have been us” and let it bury deep into the soil of our hearts. What fruit will it yield?
The second lesson, is the idea that helpers and the recipients of help are constantly trading places. After word got out about Northwood to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, I received no less than three emails from volunteers and staff of that organization who began to advise us on the process for utilizing their services. Our Presbytery has requested an emergency grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance that would cover some of our immediate costs. Should we need further assistance, there are other long term grants available. One of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance volunteers, Alan Ford, sent me a photo of Northwood women with shovels and dust masks and wide brimmed hats, cleaning up from the floods in Bastrop in 2012. He said that he uses that photo in powerpoint presentations about the great work that PDA does.  Sometimes we’re the helpers. Sometimes we need the help. PDA’s motto is “Out of Chaos: Hope.” What a wonderful motto. What a beautiful image of what we do for one another in times of disaster.
This week there were so, so many examples of church members and staff providing order to the chaos. Some of the helpfulness created just a little bit more chaos, but in a glorious way. For example, since our staff knew full well what I needed, I had no less than three extra large store bought coffees with extra cream, just how I like it. Which coffee should I drink first? Ah, the glorious hope that coffee brings to chaos. In addition to coffee we had breakfast tacos, muffins and danishes brought by staff and church members who knew we would need them. The muffins turned out to be extremely valuable at 6:30 p.m. when Clayton and Samuel were still here and it was getting well past their dinner time. Our building and grounds person got here before I did and helped direct first steps. All day, people dropped in and said “How can I help?” I got many voicemails and texts and emails asking the same question. I couldn’t even respond to all of them. Please know that if you reached out this week and I didn’t respond, your calls and emails and texts were heard and received and so appreciated.  It’s this kind of coming togetherness that defines Northwood and has since our formation in the 1950s. Its one of our trademarks, and it makes me so unbelievably proud that God would give me the tremendous privilege of being your pastor. I deliberately didn’t name names of all the people who helped because I didn’t want to embarrass anyone or forget anyone. There are a few people to name, though. Besides our incredible staff (Libby, Owen, Rogers and Rebecca), I do want to mention one person who went above and beyond this week, someone who doesn’t get enough credit for everything he does for us, and that’s Elias.
When I was on the phone with the lead insurance adjustor in Des Moines, Iowa at 8:00 on Tuesday morning, I got slightly ruffled when he told me I should send my husband up on the roof to report back about its status. First of all, that’s assuming that I have a husband and not a boyfriend or girlfriend or wife or no partner at all. Second of all, I can climb ladders just fine, thank you very much. The truth is, though, I didn’t have to “ask my husband” to go on the roof, because, well, my husband already was on the roof. Because he volunteered. Elias spent a lot of the week helping out, heroically. Not because he cares for me, which he obviously does, but because when we were called to San Antonio, he also felt a deep sense of love and calling for this church community. Another beautiful lesson of the week.
The final story I want to tell is a reminder that we have a chance to minister in absolutely every profession we are in. No matter what vocation or job you have, there are ministry opportunities for you. This lesson was brought home when two contractors ministered to me. First of all, they arrived sort of like modern day angels, with a text message containing our address.
“Who sent you?” I asked them. They shrugged and said “We just go where the text messages say. We were just told to go here to board up your windows. “Well, I said, that is our address, and we do need some windows boarded up, so let’s make it happen!” (The mystery was cleared up a little later when our insurance company called and said “Hey, did any subcontractors arrive to board up the windows?” Ah, yes, yes they did.) These contractors were a father and son duo, and it was evident from the moment they started working that they were serious, excellent at their job, and kindhearted people. As I was taking them on a little tour of what needed to be done, I got to the choir room windows, the original stained glass doors of the congregation. A lot of history is in those windows, and it had been a long day. “I don’t know how you’re going to tape those up,” I said, and then I started to cry a little. “These windows are important to our history.” I said. “No te procupes, mija” the contractor said, and he patted my arm, “We’ll take care of your church.” A little later I noticed that their truck was gone and the windows were not fixed. I shouldn’t have lost faith. A few minutes later, they came back. They had gone to purchase a special tape, and I watched them lovingly tape together each pane that was cracked, preventing further damage, and protecting our historic windows.
Gratitude. Solidarity for those who are in similar or worse situations. Help from those we once helped. Chaos out of hope. Muffins. Coffee. Special tape. What a week. How many spiritual lessons for our congregation this week. Let us give thanks to God and keep our eyes open for what might be next. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all, Amen.

Practicing Sabbath for One, Three or Five Minutes — 30 Ideas


One of the most helpful things anyone ever said to me about Sabbath keeping is that Sabbath keeping should be thought of in terms of smaller parts of a larger whole. Just as we strive to take a Sabbath day out of our week, perhaps we can take a Sabbath week out of our year. Maybe a Sabbath year out of our decade, or even a Sabbath decade (or two) out of our lives.

We can take this the other way, too. Throughout the course of our weeks, we can take a Sabbath hour out of our day, or maybe a Sabbath minute, or minutes out of an hour.

It’s these “mini Sabbaths” that I’m interested in during this season of life. Though I strive to take a Sabbath day out of the week, sometimes I’m not able to do it. When I can’t, I strive even harder to take mini-Sabbaths throughout the other days of the week. I take mini breaks throughout the day to center myself and refocus. Sometime I’ll post about Sabbath practices that last 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes, but for now, I want us to start really easy. Here are Sabbath ideas that take only one, three, and five minutes. I hope you find something you can use!

One Minute Sabbath

  1. Sit in a comfortable position and breathe deeply in and out. As you breathe in say to yourself “I am breathing in God’s love” as you breathe out say “I am breathing out worry and fear.”
  2. Do the “teacup prayer.”
  3. Get some wonderful and luxurious hand lotion or scrub and nurture your hands with meaning and purpose. Enjoy the way the water feels on your hands and the smell.
  4. Go outside at night and look up at the sky. Notice if there are stars or if it’s cloudy. Take a deep breath.
  5. Read a Psalm
  6. Massage your tired eyes.
  7. Do one minute of alternate nostril breathing. (It will take more than one minute to learn, but once you learn, you can practice for one minute.)
  8. Write down 3 things you are grateful for
  9. Set your timer for one minute and close your eyes. Count how many sounds you hear.
  10. Rub an ice cube on your wrists or behind your ears. Notice how you feel

Three Minute Sabbath 

  1. Laugh for a couple of minutes
  2. Doodle for three minutes or color
  3. Memorize a Bible verse. Like this one or this one  
  4. Light a candle and sit in its light for three minutes. Spend one minute thinking about (or writing) prayers of joy, one minute thinking about (or writing) concerns and one minute thinking about (or writing) prayers of gratitude. Blow out the candle and feel your requests being lifted up to God.
  5. Watch the time run out of an egg timer
  6. Blow bubbles. Seriously. Get a bottle of bubbles and watch them fall to the ground.
  7. Make a paper butterfly
  8.  Try a body prayer
  9. Set the timer for two minutes and thirty seconds and write down every single worry that you have. Put it in a box or bury it. Come back to it in a week and see what’s still there.
  10. Listen to the Prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1

Five Minute Sabbath 

  1. Read a short poem. I find Mary Oliver, Ann Weems, and Madeleine L’Engle particularly inspiring.
  2. Close your eyes and listen to this instrumental version of the doxology  or this musical version of Psalm 46 (or any other five minute piece of music that inspires you!)
  3. Sit in silence and drink a small glass of ice water. Don’t do anything else.
  4. Do five minutes of yoga 
  5. Write someone a thank you note or email
  6. Try a finger labyrinth like this one or this one
  7. Put some essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser and sit in silence, noticing the smell
  8. Take a five minute walk
  9. Prepare the dough for artisan bread (to be baked later)
  10. Look out the window at birds or look at a fish tank



Sermon Remix, Retreat Edition: Join the Dance

I just got back from a weekend retreat at Mo Ranch where I spoke to the Presbyterian Women of Mission Presbytery. It was such an honor to be the keynote speaker, and I had a great time doing it. Given that it was the week after Holy Week, I’m pretty sure my body didn’t think that it was such a great idea, and it rebelled in the worst way. I’ve just downed the first double dose of the Z-Pack, and I’m hoping that this bronchitis clears up ASAP!

The texts used were Ruth 1:8, 14-18 and Acts 8:26-40 

The image I showed in this talk is THIS one from THIS series.

Ruth says, “Your people will be my people. Where you go, I will go, where you lodge I will lodge.”

“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I?” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Both of these stories speak to the power of solidarity, companionship, and loyalty. When I think of the wording in the Ruth passage “Your people will be my people,” and the question the Ethiopian asks “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me,”  I think a little bit of the show Grey’s Anatomy. If you don’t watch it, don’t worry, I’m going to catch you up by telling you a little story:

One day my husband, Elias, said “What’s the name of that telenovela you’re always watching?”

I said “It’s not a telenovela, it’s a show about surgeons.”

“um, ok” he said, and rolled his eyes “Every time I come into the room when you’re watching it, someone is either in bed with someone else, they are crying, or they are yelling at someone. It’s totally a telenovela.”

Telenovela is the spanish word for soap opera, and Elias is absolutely correct, Grey’s Anatomy is an evening soap opera. It is about surgeons, though. Kinda.

Anyway, in the show Grey’s Anatomy, the central character (named Meredith) has a lot of friends, but she has one friend Christina, who she calls “her person.” The way that Christina got to be called her “person” is from an episode when Meredith is trying to explain Christina to someone else. “She’s my person,” she says, “If I murdered someone, she’s the one I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the floor.”

Anyone have a friend like that?

This weekend at Mo Ranch I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the women in my congregation in ways that I’ve not known them before, and I’ve gotten to see the power of their friendships as well. My two house buddies over at pilot house, J and S have been friends for over 40 years. Their children were babies together, and they’re now, well, not babies anymore. J and S have a very, very long history. I don’t imagine J will be murdering anyone anytime soon, but I do imagine if there are metaphorical bodies to be dragged across the floor, S would be high on the list of people to help. I imagine the reverse is also true, that if S is in need, J will step up, and not in a small way, but in a big way.  J and S have made me laugh so much this weekend. Last night, as I was sitting in the couch of pilot house, looking over the texts for this morning I heard them getting ready for the movie night (side bar: was that not amazing??) I overheard J say to S “Hang on, I have to take care of my bling here.”  I ask you, ladies: what good is a friend if she will not wait for you while she takes care of her bling?

I want to talk a little bit about a person that I often refer to as “my person.” I don’t want to highlight her as much as I want to highlight what she represents which, to me, is loyalty and commitment and walking along side someone, just as Philip did for the Ethiopian. Just as Ruth did for Naomi.

You may remember that on Friday night I was talking about Peter refusing to have his feet washed. We talked about how hard it is to let people near our stinky feet, but how, when we do, we find that people don’t run for the hills, but instead, they find their joy in washing the dust off our weary feet and refreshing our spirits, and we find our joy in being known and loved by someone else.  You may also recall that I briefly showed this photo and alluded to my struggle with anxiety. I was going to tell the story on Friday night that I’m about to tell right now, but I decided not to.  The reason I didn’t (couldn’t) tell it on Friday night is that “my person” was here, and I thought it would be too much for me with her sitting right there. She’s not here this morning, though, so I think it’ll be a little easier to tell the story.                                                              

Several months ago, I was, for a brief time, that girl lying on the floor with the black sheet over me. The reason was a combination of things: there was a lot of stress in my life.  I was sad over the loss of a church member who left this world too soon, and sad about the sweet young children he left behind. I had a busy week and a lot on my mind. My husband, who is an anchor and a safe place for me, and the primary caregiver of our children, was out of town. Perhaps worst of all (though I didn’t know it at the time) my body was also reacting to a change in medication which was causing my muscles to tense up and for my jaw to slowly start to lock shut.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, and, because I’m prone to anxiety in situations like this, my mind started racing “What is going on?  What will happen if my jaw permanently locks itself shut, or if my back spasms to the point that I can’t move? What if I can’t take care of Clayton and Samuel?” The more I thought about it, the more my brain betrayed me “You’re not going to be able to fix it,” my brain was telling me. I couldn’t keep up with the worries in my own mind. I was her — that woman on the floor with black draped all around.  When I woke up in the morning, I was a complete wreck. Not only was my jaw almost completely locked shut, I had an awful headache, and I was throwing up. I needed help. I texted my person and said “Can you come over here right now?”

You know what she texted back? One word.


Not “why?” Not, “How long are you going to need me to stay, because I have a meeting in an hour?”  not “What am I going to have to do when I get there?”

Just yes.

Anne Lamott says something about this in her book “Grace Unexpected” and I tried to find the reference, but I couldn’t. Something about an the type of yes that doesn’t ask questions, it just does what it needs to do.

Yes. I can come over right now.

Yes. Your people will be my people.

Yes, I will explain this text to you.

I told you earlier that my person was here on Friday night and is not here now, and a funny thing happened just last night, related to that very situation. When she was here, she was helping me get from here to there, because I have absolutely no sense of direction. I’m serious. Think of the person you know with the worst sense of direction. I’m about ten levels worse than that person.

After the Hollywood night (in which J said that she was getting her bling adjusted, and in which we had an amazing night of enjoying our friends entertaining us) I started to follow two church members (who are not staying in Pilot house, by the way) out of the building. After awhile I said “Wait a minute, am I just blindly following you?”

“Um, where are you trying to go?” they asked

“Pilot house,” I replied.

“Yeah, you’re going completely the wrong way.”  

Our friends, our spouses, our partners, our fellow church members, our people: they show us the way. Without them, we blindly follow, and we go the wrong way, every single time.

The theme for this morning is “join in the dance.”

I’d like to suggest that the dance we’re joining in this morning has to do with what is going to happen in a few minutes when we join together in the celebration of the Lord’s supper. When we do this, we acknowledge that we are not alone. We come to the table with other human beings who are just as broken and needy as we are. We come to the table as lonely hearts looking for our matches, and suffering servants who have the capability to link arms and change the world. We come to the table with women we’ve known for 40 years and women we’ll never see again in this life. We come to the table as women who both have stinky feet but also have the great honor of being the first, the first to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection for all the world to hear.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.





Sermon Remix: Maundy Thursday and Easter


This Thursday, inspired by this post “Be a Poet, not a Preacher During Holy Week,” I read three poems during the Maundy Thursday service

For the Dying by John O’Donohue from his book To Bless the Space Between Us 

Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye from her book Words Under the Words


Fair is Fair by Ann Weems from her book Kneeling in Jerusalem 

The words spoke for themselves! Each poem had something unique to offer, I thought. Enjoy!

On Good Friday we did two Bible Art Journaling Classes that were very well received. We will do more!

Today on Easter, inspired by our resurrection garden, I talked about gardening as a metaphor for resurrection. I repeated the refrain: “They thought they were burying Jesus, but really, they were planting him.” Thank you to The Salt Collective for this language.

I quoted, also, from this amazing, and beautiful article The Challenge of Easter.

For Northwood Members and friends, we were excited to think about how the same shovel that was used to break ground for our church building in 1955 was used to shovel dirt into the garden. Amazing!

Happy Easter to All!






Sermon Remix: Palm Sunday 2016

Awhile ago I was keeping up with the “sermon remix” and posting the thoughts from the Sermon on Sunday afternoons so that they could be used in a different way. I don’t know if I’ll be able to remix the sermon for a blog post every week, but I’d like to bring back the idea, because often there are links that go with the sermon, and often it’s helpful to see in a different way. Enjoy!


You may have heard of the enneagram before, if not, here’s a brief description: The Enneagram comes from two greek words ennea meaning nine and gramma meaning drawn (like gram, like a picto gram)

The enneagram is a model of human personality types that all link together to form one complete whole. Each type is very complex. Some ministers like to study the enneagram to understand ourselves and other people, and businesses leaders also use it to study human interaction. 

In the enneagram, each number is given a name. It’s different, depending on the writer, but here is the general idea: 

1 is the reformer

2 is the helper

3 is the achiever

4 is the individualist

5 is the investigator

6 is the loyalist

7 is the enthusiast

8 is the challenger and

9 is the peacemaker

We have to be careful not to label people as only these things, but often peoples’ number does seem to be their great strength. Of course our great strengths also often exhibit a shadow side or weakness associated with that very strength.

In the enneagram, I’m a 7… the “enthusiast.” This may not come as a surprise to you. “Sevens”  get excited about many things. We like to be happy and see others happy. We like parties. I fit the typology of a seven in many many ways, but the reason i’m bringing it up here is because one of the hallmarks of the type seven personality is that last part — we like parties and celebrations. Palm Sunday is a party… Easter is also a party.

We started the service today with a party. The celebration of loud hosannas and the waving of the palm branches. Next week we’ll say “He is Risen!” There’s so much that happens in between: Jesus is betrayed by his best friends. He’s beaten. Stripped. Nailed. It’s too much. We just heard a wonderful dramatic reading where we remember that there is an entire crowd of people shouting and demanding Jesus’s crucifixion. “Crucify him” we shouted. Weren’t we just shouting Hosanna a few moments before? 

So, you see: we can’t go from party to party. We might want to go from party to party, but if we do that to the Christian story, if we go from the shouts of loud “Hosanna!” to the shouts of “He is Risen!” without taking time to hear the shouts of “crucify him.”

I started by telling you about my personality type because I think that that when it comes to this part of the story, we are all sevens, we all would much prefer to skip over this dark part of the story because it’s so difficult. 

For us to consider, I’ve laid out three challenges to focusing on what happens between Palm Sunday and Easter and then three solutions. Let’s take them one at a time. 

Problem: We feel helpless in the face of violence: I think this is a good reason to want to avoid this story. We should be uneasy with violence and torture. In fact, isn’t it true that sometimes we’ve become so accustomed to violence that we’re desensitized to it? The story should make us feel queasy and sick. The problem is that sometimes we feel helpless in the face of violence. We feel that there’s nothing we can do about it. We become passive.

Solution: Non-violent action.  We can’t and we shouldn’t fight violence with more violence. It never works. We know that. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, all of them fought violence with non-violent action. They were hardly passive, but they refused to fight violence with more violence. When we’re confronted with violence, it should make us uncomfortable, but not helpless. I saw a snippet this week that said, somewhat provocatively, that the last place Christians should be on Palm Sunday is Church. Instead, we should be out in the world, spreading the message of nonviolent action and peace. Cesar Chavez said “the first principle of nonviolent action is that of non cooperation with everything humiliating.” Who is humiliated in our world, and why? What action is God calling us to take?

Something to think about.

Problem: We focus too much on our own guiltiness when we think about the cross, and it leads to more inaction  So much of the discussion about this part of the story focuses on our guiltiness. We are not perfect. We fall short. Many of us have heard angry sermons about how we are the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!”  We’ve heard that Jesus’s death is our fault. To that, I say “yes and no.” Yes, it is true, that we all fall short of perfection. It’s a good and healthy thing to ask for forgiveness when we make mistakes. But it’s also true that we are made in God’s image. A Rabbi colleague in San Antonio taught me about the story of the two pockets. The teaching comes from Rabbi Simcha Bunem. It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.” He would take out one slip of paper or the other as necessary, as a reminder to himself.  When we focus on the passion we remember the “I am but dust and ashes” part, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else: 

Solution: Remember what’s in your other pocket. For your sake the world was created.  

Problem: We don’t understand what happened on the cross.  When we think about it, our conclusions don’t square with our intuition. Many of us have heard some version of the story that goes like this: because humanity is so awful and sinful, God had to send Jesus, his only perfect son to die as a punishment for all of humanity, so that we didn’t have to be punished. God punished Jesus on our behalf, as sort of a substitution. In fact, one of the theories of atonement is called the substitutionary theory. The difficult thing to accept about this substitutionary theory of atonement, at least for me, is that it is extremely violent and it makes God violent and blood thirsty. Do we really think that God is like that? The idea that Jesus Christ is a bridge between human beings and God is central to Christian belief.  I believe, though, that understanding the exact means by which Jesus saves us is beyond the scope of what we need to bear as Christ followers. The church, for over two thousand years has been wrestling with it. How could we know for sure exactly how it works? The fact that the question “How does God save us?” is not necessarily for us to answer should not give us permission to skip over the cross, tempting as it is. 

Solution: Don’t demand answers. Be content with mystery. Our intuition and the holy spirit help us here.  We don’t need to know exactly how it all works. We can surrender to the truth that we’re not clear on exactly how the atonement works. If we have a need to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, we can do that with study and conversation. At a faith level, we trust in many things that sometimes are difficult to hold together as one complete whole. God loves us. Christ points the way to God. Christ’s painful death and torture is awful and painful. God is grieved by the crucifixion of Christ. I love the way our PCUSA brief statement of faith puts it:

Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,  Jesus was crucified,  suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world.  God raised this Jesus from the dead,  vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil,  delivering us from death to life eternal. Amen.

Question for reflection: What is the most challenging part of moving from party to party for you? What is the solution? 

Links of Interest: 

Palm Sunday Sermon, Nadia Bolz-Weber  I am indebted to this sermon for helping me with the outline and format of mine.

The Enneagram Basics 

Methods of Non-Violent Resistance (check out #20!)