Monday, February 17, 2020

Choose life.


February 16, 2020
6th Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable and suitable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Today’s gospel is a hard one to hear, right?  I mean it sounds like we are being hit over the head with the law.  And even with Jesus saying, you have heard that it was said, but I say to you, it seems that the laws being decreed are even stricter.  Not what I’m looking for when wanting to hear the words of Jesus. 

But what happens if we, or when we read these as laws of love?   As laws that call us into leading and living full lives that nurture relationships and community, that bring God to the forefront of all that we say and do? 
Isn’t that who God is calling us to be? 

Isn’t that Jesus command and call for each of us really, to live our best lives?
It’s like God created us and said, this isn’t just good, but this is really good, now go, live your best lives!  And what happened?  We messed up.  Time and time again.  Yet God comes back in with a word of love and the action of grace and sends us on our way again. 

And so here we are…claimed and called to live our best lives.  Yet when we think about living our best lives – it’s not just for ourselves, but for the whole world.  Let me say that again, it’s not about living our best lives for ourselves, but for the whole dang world.  These commands that Jesus declares are to help and guide us into living more fully into God’s love.  Which impacts more than our own little lives and homes…but the rest of the world as well.    

Our gospel lesson today is that not so gentle reminder that the thoughts we have, the words we speak and the actions we take can have deep and far reaching impacts on those around us not just in our own homes but in our schools, places of work, communities, nation and world. 

God wants us and Jesus calls us to live lives of integrity and lives that are not only life giving to others, but life giving to ourselves as well. 
Right?  God wants us and Jesus calls us to live lives of integrity.  Lives that are lived honestly and completely.  Lives that when lived are life giving not just to ourselves but to others as well.  That how we act and treat others deeply impacts the greater world around us.  That we are called to live lives that fulfill God’s call to love and serve, and when that happens, when we do that, not only are our lives, hearts and souls filled, but also the lives of those around us.  

And it seems to me that living the fullest, deepest life means completely surrendering to God’s call and law in our lives.  What I mean is that we are called to fully live into who God created us and calls us to be.  Doing things that do not cause others to stumble, but living and acting in a holy way by doing acts of love and service that truly let Christ’s light shine in all that we say and do. 

God’s call is clear.  The truth is that we can’t do it.  (Not on our own anyway…)  Try as we might, when given the opportunity to live our God’s word to choose life, we often fall short. 

Am I right?  We cut down those around us for having different opinions instead of listening and engaging in dialogue.  We don’t build up others around us because we are afraid that they will outshine us.  We don’t love others fully because we are afraid that a love that deep and that holy won’t be returned or even accepted.  We would rather live in the perceived safety of our own personal space bubbles surrounded by our own stuff so we don’t have to put ourselves in places where we might learn and grown through our interactions with others. 
It’s easier to stay comfortable.

And safe. 

But here’s the thing. God is still going to call us, wherever we might be, to draw us out of those safe spaces and into the places where we will learn and grow. 

God will still nudge us, some times gently and other times with the force of a mighty wind, into places and conversations where we will be given the space to listen, to speak, to learn and to be God’s presence all within the community of others. 

This call for us today is because of God’s great and amazing and unending love for each and every one of us. 

God as a loving parent in our lives, wants the best and only the best for us.  Right?  Wants us to live our best lives!  God, as a loving parent truly wants the best for each and every one of us, for each of God’s beloved children.

So, out of this unconditional love, God will continue to call us to live our best lives. 
Lives with hope and promise.
Lives that will give life to others.
Lives that will nurture, strengthen and build up community.
Lives that will transform the world as we know it through acts of service and love. 

As we heard from Moses in the reading from Deuteronomy, there are options for the future… “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 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; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

We have the opportunity friends, to choose life. 

What does that look like for you? 
Is it serving on a Wednesday evening by filling college care packages? 
Is it helping to provide food for a funeral meal?
Does it look like calling or visiting a friend you haven’t seen in a while? 
Is it joining the prayer chain so you can pray for the people of this place as part of your daily devotions? 
Is it volunteering at the food pantry? 
It will look different for each of us. 

But given the opportunity, choose life…
Choose life, friends, so that you and your descendants may live…
Choose life, friends, loving the Lord your God, living out God’s loving call in your lives…
Choose life, friends, so that all may know God’s abundant love, grace and peace in our world. 
And now, may the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Enough?


January 22, 2020
Well homily
Ephesians 3:14-21

Please read Ephesians 3:14-21 as a prayer for you…

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

After a great weekend at the Harrisburg Youth Quake, I thought I would share the theme verse from the weekend – ‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.’ It’s Ephesians 3:20-21 and as I looked it up, I realized these verses are part of a larger passage, I mean that happens with all the verses in the Bible, but as I read around these verses, I learned that these verses are part of a longer prayer.  That’s why when Jeff read it tonight, I encouraged you to listen to it as a prayer.   I hope when you hear it again, you can hear it as a prayer, for you…

I don’t know about you, but those verses, this prayer just wrapped itself around me as I read it and reread it this morning.  Like a warm bathrobe on a cool morning, or a cozy blanket on a cold night, this prayer wrapped me in not only warmth, but a feeling of comfort, holy presence, care and peace. 

It’s that reminder, that even though we are created in God’s divine image, there will be times when we fall short of who God created us and calls us to be.  But (big but here) but, when that happens, there are others praying for us…praying that we may be filled with the fullness of God, that Christ may live in our hearts and that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through the Spirit. 

Whenever we feel like we are not enough, we are reminded that God is more than enough for all that we need in our hearts, minds, lives and world. 

At Youth Quake during times of prayer, I became acutely aware of those around me.  My heartstrings were drawn to those on either side of me and the places/situations they left to be part of this weekend, and also the worries and cares that they still carried with them to the Quake. 

I became aware of the individual needs and worries that we all have (from youths to adults) that we carry with us each day no matter where we go.  These worries/cares/needs, may be related to our families, our school or work environment, our home life, our own sense of well-being or self-esteem, our financial status, our faith journeys, our futures…all of these things enter our hearts and our minds and our lives each and every day.  And when we look outward to TV, movies, social media, it can make us even more worried that we are not fitting in or getting it just right. 

So, I encourage you to look beyond the media, the hype, social media to seek God and God’s presence in your life.  And to not only see, but feel God’s support and compassion for you – just as you are. 

You are beautiful.
You are holy.
You are created in God’s divine image. 
You are created for a purpose in this world that no one else can do. 

Yet, when you are feeling that you are not up to par, that you are not enough, remember that God is more than enough for all that you need and may you be wrapped in the encouraging words and prayers of others. 

Because here’s the truth.  As we sat there praying at Quake, I wondered to myself if I was enough.  As we share highs and lows as a group and I hear the ups and downs faced by youth and adults alike in this congregation I wonder if I’m doing enough to help shine Christ’s light in this place.  I know I am called to serve in this place, but am I doing enough? 

And so I, too, need the reminder of this prayer.  So, if you would, open your hands, place them on your lap to receive God’s blessings and let go of your worries, close your eyes and hear this prayer for you: (I took a few liberties in adjusting the language to fit our gathering.)

Holy one,
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, the Holy One may grant that you all gathered in this place may be strengthened in their inner being with power through God’s Spirit, 
and that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, as they are being rooted and grounded in love. 
I pray that the folks hearing or reading these words may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.  And let all God’s people say, amen.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Baptism of our Lord


January 12, 2020
Baptism of our Lord


Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen. 

As we gather today, we remember Jesus’ baptism.  We began worship not with confession and forgiveness which we do almost 99.9% of the time we gather in worship, but rather with the Thanksgiving for Baptism.

It’s true, maybe you saw it in my eyes, I LOVE beginning with the Thanksgiving for Baptism, especially the sprinkling of the water part.  Billy says I really get into it.  He’s right. 

In preparation for today I got to thinking about my own baptism.  And you know what?  I don’t remember it.  I’ve seen pictures such as this one.  


I’ve heard stories, but I have no memory of it actually happening.  And yet I know, that on March 31, 1974 my mom and dad brought me to the font at Faith Lutheran Church in East Hartford and I was welcomed into the Lord’s family. 

This past year I visited Faith Lutheran while my mom was at her bell choir rehearsal, they may still have the same font, just with a new bowl.


Even though I cannot remember it, but for pictures and stories, I know it happened.  I know I’m baptized and it’s because of God’s gift of love in my life that it has happened.  It was nothing that I personally did or can do, it is entirely a gift of God’s grace.  Even though it was my baptism, it was not about me.  It was a gift to me and through that gift I have been named, claimed and called to be sent. 

I am God’s beloved child.
I am claimed by God with the mark of the cross on my forehead.
And I am sent into the world to proclaim this great love to all people. 

Today we hear about Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus heads out into the wilderness, to for a baptism of repentance.  It is done, as Jesus says to fulfill all righteousness.  As Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God comes down…and we/they hear a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  After this act of baptism, we hear that Jesus is named, claimed, and sent.  This baptism isn’t based on anything that Jesus had done up to that point or anything he hadn’t done.  This act was a gift of God. 

As we hear about this act we know that Jesus is God’s beloved child.
Jesus is claimed by God.
Jesus is sent into the world to proclaim this great love to all people. 

Kathleen Norris writes about Jesus baptism in this way, “that the incarnation (God becoming human) is not only about Jesus but about us: ….it demonstrates to us not only what God is like but also who God wishes us to be.”  (Kathleen Norris, The Word, Christian Century)

Let me say that again, “The incarnation is not only about Jesus but about us: … it demonstrates to us not only what God is like but also who God wishes us to be.” 

So, our baptism isn’t about us.
And Jesus’ baptism isn’t about him.

Both of these amazing acts of God’s love are not about the individual being baptized, but about a God of love and how God shows and shares that love in the world around us. 

Both baptisms are all about God and God’s gift to us as individuals and as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ. 

And so today is a day that invites us to remember the gift of baptism and how it has changed us and how it changes us for life in the world around us. 

What do you remember about your baptism? 
Do you have pictures that you’ve seen? 
What stories have you heard or do you tell about that day? 
I’m sure this has the potential to be a walk down memory lane with your families later and I encourage you to do so.  Bring out the photo albums, or look through memories on social media, and talk about that day with your kids, grandkids, parents or grandparents. 

As we remember our baptisms, we remember them right now, together as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ, proclaiming together that we are daughters and sons, children of God. 
We, as the body of Christ, are named.  We are claimed. 

And we are sent. 
We are sent to live among God’s faithful people,
We are sent to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
We are sent to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
We are sent to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
And we are sent to strive for justice and peace in all the earth! 

Yup, we are sent, to do all of the above…and then some. 

We don’t just hang out here after worship until worship rolls around next week, although there is often wonderful times of conversation and visitation after worship.  We leave here. 

Because, again, it’s not about us! 

I know, you are awesome. 
You are created in God’s image. 
You are loved more than you could possibly know. 
But the truth is, it’s not about you.   (womp womp)

It’s all about this great gift from God. 
It’s all about God’s love for you!
It’s all about God knowing you and who God created you be and who God continues to call you to be. 

It’s all about how this great gift of God calls us as individuals together to tell stories of God’s love as have experienced it in our own lives and how we know this love can transform the world through our words and actions. 

So, go from this place, (Well, not just yet, church isn’t over yet…)
But when you do, go…washed in these waters to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in all that you say, go serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and go…strive for justice and peace in all the earth! 

You got this! 

And now may the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Sugar Free January? Yup!

Happy New Year!  

Instead of kicking the year off with a New Year's Resolution that I will probably break by February, for the past several years I have been choosing one word to guide and shape my year.  Last year's word was growth (which I'll relfect upon in a later post).  
This year's word is: Intentional.  
I will be intentional in my focus in my faith life - through daily devotions and reflection time. 
I will be intentional about my relationships - marriage, family friends and my family of faith at Trinity.  
I will be intentional about my presence on social media - both the people and groups I follow as well as the posts and comments I share.
I will be intentional in working toward long term goals.  Some of these include finishing projects begun years ago while also giving time to learn new skills and spend more time writing (journaling/blogging).
I will be intentional about the care of my body.  I've been working with a coach for the past year and have seen growth in my fitness and running.  I would like to see that improve, so my diet (what I eat/how I fuel my body) will be an intentional focus this year.  
That last one being said, I'm part of a group that will be partaking in Sugar Free January.  
Yup, sugar free January.  
What that means for me is eliminating any added sugars from my diet for the next 30 days.  (I successfully made it through day one!)  
I will be avoiding baked goods, candy, hot chocolate, adding sugar to my coffee, and honey to my tea to name a few.  
I will be reading labels to see what products contain hidden sugars.  The one that almost stopped me in my tracks: bacon!  
Did you know that most bacon out there is processed with sugar?  I mean, I get it, when we make barbecue we often include sugar in the rub.  I guess I didn't put much thought into it after that.  Needless to say, there are a few brands that do not include sugar - it took an internet search (thanks, Billy) and a second grocery store to take care of it.  - Crisis averted! 
I'm sure there are challenges that will arise as the month progresses that will surprise me.  I do know that eating out and going to people's homes for meals will be the hardest.  But I will do my best to eat as sugar free as I can in those situations - no desserts, passing on processed salad dressing, and staying away from ketchups and barbecue sauces.  
Why share this publicly?  
A few reasons:  
One, to let family and friends know that I am making this change for this month.  I'm not doing it for attention or to draw others in (although Billy is along for the ride) but so people are aware of why I'm eating or not eating certain foods.  
Two, to let you all know that I am doing this with the guidance of a coach and a group of folks who are doing this as well.  
Three, to say that I am doing this because I know this is good for my body.  To be the best person, wife, friend, pastor and athlete I need to take care of this body I've been given.  Fueling it in a healthy way will help me care for my body and give it the good energy it needs.  
No doubt there will be some days when this challenge isn't perfect.  But overall, I'm committed to making a big change this month.  
Thankfully, 3 months ago I stopped putting sugar in my coffee.  That has become a daily practice that I don't even think about anymore.  (phew) Some other changes may prove to be more difficult, but I'm ready for them.  
Questions?  Let me know.  
Support?  Bring it on, I'll take it.  
Thanks for reading.
Blessings to you in the new year.  
+peace