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1 Peter 2:1-10 You are invited to a holy priesthood.  You. Don’t feel like “priestly” material?  You’re not alone; it’s normal to feel a little below the standard.  Even we pastors have days when we feel more “ordinary” than “ordained.”  We are all human; we are all flawed; we are all sinful.  And yet… we are all invited into a holy priesthood. This open invitation started with an entire nation of people.  After God got Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God asked them to live differently for a purpose:  “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6).  Imagine:  a whole kingdom of priests, ministering to the world! But the Israelites weren’t perfect priests; they weren’t loyal to God’s covenant and laws.  If we had been in their shoes the end result would have been the same, because we aren’t perfect, either.  God didn’t give up, though.  Christ ushered in a “new covenant.”  Christ’s work created a holy people to minister to the world.  That’s why we’re called to be “like living stones… built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). You are invited to a holy priesthood.  You; all of you.  And it’s not because of how good you are (or aren’t).  It’s because of how good Jesus was and is. It works like this. Imagine a lineup of people, from “worst” to “best.”  You can imagine whoever you want; I’ll get us started with some extremes.  At the “worst” end you might have someone like Hitler. ...

How One Woman Was Changed

John 4:7-29 This is the story of how one woman was changed. It doesn’t start as you might think.  This woman hadn’t gone off looking to be changed.  She wasn’t on a soul-searching journey; she was right where she always was, going through the motions of her daily routine in her Samaritan town. And then came Jesus. Jesus was on his way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.  John tells us that he “had to” go through Samaria (John 4:4), and sure enough, a direct line on a map cuts straight through that territory.  But – there was another road that went around Samaria, a more popular route worn down by Jews who so disliked the people who lived there, they’d rather walk all the way around it. Boring and Craddock give us a little background to explain why: “Jews thought of Samaritans as the semipagan people of mixed blood who had been resettled by the Assyrians after the conquest and deportation of the northern kingdom… Samaritans thought of themselves as the true descendants of Israel, who had preserved the ancient ways and had their own temple on Mt. Gerazim” (The People’s New Testament Commentary, 217). In other words, the bad blood between Jews and Samaritans was racial and religious in nature.  It doesn’t get much badder than that. But Jesus “had” to go there.  He went right into Samaria… and into a town called Sychar… and to a well that was first owned by the man that God nicknamed “Israel.”  There he sat. Eventually, a woman came along who needed some water.  A Samaritan...

Grief and Joy

John 20:11-18 Mary Magdalene is standing just outside the tomb, crying.  Two angels are sitting in the tomb.  They look out, and see her, and ask a question that has often frustrated me: “Why are you crying?” I remember the first time I got asked that.  I wasn’t quite a teenager yet, but almost.  I was standing just outside my parents’ master bathroom, crying.  Uncontrollably.  My mom was rightfully mystified by the behavior of her oldest child.  “Mary Catherine, why are you crying?” she asked. I didn’t know.  I still don’t know.  I have no idea. As an adult I still haven’t gained a complete understanding of my tears.  When I cry at movies like Dead Poets Society or My Girl, that makes sense – any human being with half a stone-cold heart would have their tears jerked at those tear-jerkers.  But why did I cry at the end of Emoji Movie?  Why?? I don’t know.  Please don’t ask me. But sometimes… we do know.  Sometimes, the cry has been long in coming.  Mary Magdalene explains herself to the angels:  “They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”  That’s the presenting issue, at least.  Underneath that tip of the iceberg is this terrible fact:  Jesus is dead. I wonder if this is the first time Mary has cried over Jesus’ death.  When Mary arrives at the tomb in John 20:1, no tears are reported.  But now the tomb is empty, and maybe that is the last emotional straw.  Not only is Jesus dead – his body is desecrated.  He was...

Don’t Be Amazed?

Mark 16:1-8 It’s Easter Sunday! He is risen!  The tomb is empty!  Jesus is alive! There was a special energy in our sanctuary this morning.  I could see it in the maximum capacity crowd, dressed to the nine’s in their Easter best.  I could hear it when we sang “Christ the Lord is risen today!” and it was so loud, it overtook the thunderous organ.  I could feel it in the love in the room, I could smell it in the Easter lilies…  I could even taste it in the candy I ate before breakfast!  (Did I mention that I fasted from sweets during Lent?) It’s Easter Sunday!  He is risen!  This is amazing! And here is how today’s gospel tells us we should feel on this very special day: “Do not be amazed.”   Mark tells us that Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome are first to the tomb.  They go intending to anoint Jesus’ dead body, a sad but important job.  It would have been done on Friday, when Jesus died, except for the Sabbath laws that came into effect at sunset.  So here they are, faced with the task of opening the tomb and dealing with the dead body of their son, their friend, their Messiah.   Opening the tomb is most definitely a task.  They aren’t even quite sure how they’ll manage it – the stone is really big.  But – lo and behold – when they get there, they find the stone rolled aside.  The tomb is already open and waiting for them.  How strange. The women look in.  Instead of a dead body...

Footwashing and Forgiveness

John 13:1-17 Every year on the Thursday before Easter, the lectionary text is the same:  John 13.  Every year we hear about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  Every year I have to write a sermon about footwashing. Excuse me:  Every year I get to write a sermon about footwashing.  And I mean that.     I worked for fifteen years for a backpacking camp where footwashing is part of the weekly program.  After spending five days in the wilderness in a small group, the week closes with the leaders washing the participants’ dirty, smelly, blistered feet.  When I started hiking there as a kid, this act of servanthood gave me my first, best understanding of the depth of God’s love for me.  Now, as a pastor, I get to participate in this footwashing tradition with groups from my community… and every time I learn more about God’s love and call to servanthood. Because of this, footwashing is a big part of my Christian faith.  I could keep us up all night telling footwashing stories. But I won’t.  There’s just one story I want to tell tonight. It happened after I had been leading hikes with Wilderness Trail for some years.  Footwashing never became “normal” – it always makes me kind of nervous.  But anything we do repeatedly becomes more comfortable, and by this point I had washed many, many groups’ feet.  I thought I knew what to expect. Thought. At our last campfire together the leaders and I re-told the footwashing story.  We then prepared the teenagers that we’d be following Jesus’ command – we would be washing their...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Sacrifice

Mark 11:1-11  |  Philippians 2:5-11 Today we remember that Jesus went to Jerusalem – and that’s a detail I don’t want us to overlook. It seems obvious, right?  It’s why we’re waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna.”  It’s why we call this “Palm Sunday.”  Jesus came to Jerusalem and the crowds threw him an impromptu parade, fit for a king! But see – in that previous sentence, everything that followed the word “Jerusalem” can distract us.  Look beyond the crowd and the parade for a minute.  Just see this one, simple fact: Jesus went willingly to Jerusalem. He went because he knew what was going to happen there.  He knew what would come after the palm branches and parade:  a lonely and painful self-sacrifice.  Not long before today’s Scripture he named it point-blank: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34). Jesus didn’t run away from Jerusalem – he walked (paraded!) straight in.  And he didn’t go in fighting, either; when his disciples reached his swords, he told them to put them away.  Out of obedience to God and love for us, Jesus went to his own sacrificial death. In other words, Jesus showed us the third way. When we see sacrifice coming – when we feel vulnerable or threatened – we humans respond in...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Service

Luke 10:38-42 This season of Lent is marked by a special emphasis on spiritual disciplines; things like fasting, prayer, and reading Scripture.  I, personally, find these activities important because they provide me space to be with God.  When I fast or pray or read Scripture, I get a chance to sit myself in front of God and listen. Which makes me think that these are things Mary would do. Not me Mary, but Mary-and-Martha Mary.  Jesus comes to visit this pair of sisters, and they respond to his arrival in two very different ways.  Martha does what needs to be done when an unexpected visitor comes to your home:  she runs around cleaning the bathrooms and setting the table and cooking a meal.  Mary does not; while her sister is in a frenzy, Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him.  Jesus praises Mary for her choice:  “one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). So the moral of the story is:  don’t serve like Martha; instead, sit and listen to Jesus like Mary. Wait a minute… The moral of the story is to not serve?  That can’t be right.  There are *SO MANY* verses that encourage us to serve!  For starters, how about Jesus’ own words later in Luke: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.  For who is greater, the...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Scripture

Psalm 19 I want to tell you a love story. I can’t remember the exact moment it started.  I heard this book read out loud during worship before I could even understand what its words meant.  In Sunday School I started to learn its stories through felt cut outs of rainbows and pyramids and big fish. When I was fifteen my youth director suggested I read a chapter of this book a day, starting with the New Testament.  I slowly worked my way through four gospels, and a book of Acts, and a bunch of letters, and a Revelation. Day by day, I fell in love with this book. But as I read, I also came across some material that was hard to love.  The sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7) was frighteningly strict about anger and lust and divorce.  1 Timothy said women should sit in silence in church (2:8-15).  When I turned to the Old Testament I found laws and slavery and war and murder. By the time I finished college, I was sure of two things.  One:  that God was calling me into ministry.  And two:  if I was to teach this book to others… I’d need a lot of help. So off to seminary I went. I learned Greek and Hebrew.  I studied commentaries.  I listened to lectures.  I was trained to “exegete” the text.  This was still the book I loved… but reading it had become a lot of work.  It felt like the honeymoon was over. I graduated seminary.  I was mentally exhausted. A few years passed. Then I got to teach “Disciple...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Prayer

Luke 11:1-4 Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). I can so easily imagine myself in this anonymous disciple’s shoes.  Jesus has asked for some quiet time to pray; we observe him from a distance, seeing him in deep conversation with God.  Jesus goes on and on, as absorbed as someone caught up in a good book.  Contrast that with my own prayer life:  a struggle to still my wandering mind enough to focus on God for even a few minutes.  What is Jesus saying to God?  How is he doing this? So when he returns to our group, a natural question comes to my lips:  “Jesus, teach us how to pray!”  And Jesus answers! “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial’” (Luke 11:2-4). And my inward reaction to that simple answer would have been:  “C’mon Jesus – you’ve been off praying for an hour.  There’s got to be more to it than that!” But maybe there’s not.  Maybe Jesus’ prayer life really is this simple. In these six lines, Jesus covers a lot of bases. “Father, hallowed be your name.” (Praise God for who God is:  our holy, one-and-only Creator God.) “Your kingdom come.” (Pray for the big stuff, like God’s will for this world.  Listen for how you...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Worship

Luke 4:1-13 Satan:  “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world – and the glory and authority that comes with it.  All you have to do is… worship me.” Jesus:  “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus is so good at these one-liners, knowing which Scripture to pull out to shut down temptation.  This is a good one for us to put in our pockets; we are seldom tempted with “all the kingdoms of the world,” but frequently tempted to worship something other that God.  In those moments, we can say, “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’” But… where does it say that? Most likely Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 6:13.  But Deut 6:13 doesn’t go exactly how Jesus says it:  “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name.” Um… the word “worship” isn’t in there at all. It sounds like Jesus is mis-quoting Scripture, especially if we think of “worship” in a limited way.  For many of us worship is what we attend when we come to church.  But Jesus is working with a broader definition, a Biblical definition that thinks of worship as something we do.  Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, explains that expanded understanding of worship: The Bible describes worship in physical terms.  The root meaning for the Hebrew word we translate worship is “to prostrate.”  The word bless literally means “to kneel.”  Thanksgiving refers to “an extension of the hand.”  Throughout Scripture we find a variety...