Provisions On the Pilgrimage of Lent

Sunday, March 1, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 4:1-11

Our spiritual pilgrimage of Lent began four days ago on Ash Wednesday, not just for we here at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, or churches all over the country, but for the Christian Church all over the world. The cross of ashes on our foreheads marked the beginning of our pilgrimage to the cross. It is a pilgrimage and not simply a journey from one place to another because we anticipate and expect transformation.

Jesus’ transformation began with his baptism when Matthew tells us that “Just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And then that same Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where he would be greatly tempted. Jesus’ own pilgrimage to the cross began in the wilderness.

He didn’t take anything with him. He carried no provisions. And Matthew tells us that he fasted for forty days and forty nights, and as you can imagine, he was famished. There alone in the wilderness, hungry and tired, he was at his weakest point. It was then that the devil seized the opportunity to temp him. When any of us are at our weakest point that is the opportunity for evil to try and take hold of us.

Since the very beginning of creation, the first humans were so focused on what they couldn’t have, so focused on the possibility of being what they weren’t – God – that they forgot who they were- people created in the image of God. And we humans continue to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. It’s what causes us to function from a mindset of scarcity rather than a mindset of abundance.

The temptations of life can pull us apart from our true selves. They can pull us apart from each other. And they can most definitely pull us apart from God. Yet, the pilgrimage of Lent can change that. It can re-connect us again with who we really are – beloved children of God made in God’s own image. Jesus’ own experience showed us the way.

The temptations Jesus faced were about provisions. When the devil or the deceiver tried to convince Jesus to turn stones to bread to satisfy his hunger it was a temptation for Jesus to provide for himself. He certainly could have, but Jesus’ response was that God was the ultimate provider. Jesus trusted that God’s word would be sufficient.

When the devil tried to convince Jesus to throw himself off the high cliff to prove he was the Son of God, it was a test to see if God would really provide and send angels to intervene. Yet Jesus didn’t succumb to proving himself to anyone. He trusted that his faith meant he didn’t have to test God.

And when the devil promised him everything if he would worship him, it was a temptation to let the devil provide. But Jesus said absolutely not; he was not willing to compromise his commitment to his faith. He trusted that God would provide for him. It wouldn’t be the last time the devil would try and tempt Jesus from completing his pilgrimage, his purpose from God, but this wilderness experience – as hard as it was – was exactly what Jesus needed to gain the strength for the rest of his life’s work.

And our pilgrimage through the wilderness of Lent to the cross is exactly what we need to gain spiritual strength as well. Pilgrimages are risky; they involve danger. We don’t know who or what we’ll meet on the way. We don’t know what temptations, or trials, or challenges we’ll face. And we’ll be tempted when exhausted to give in to the voices of deception – from others and ourselves – that God will not provide for whatever it is we need. That is the ultimate temptation in life – the lack of trust in God. Yet the truth is that God always provides. Jesus showed us that we may not see how God will provide at a certain time, but that we must trust that God will be true the promise made to be with us always.

There is a beautiful poem by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet, that speaks about this trust beautifully. It is called “A Small Green Island.”

“A Small Green Island”

There is a small green island

where one white cow lives alone, a meadow of an island.


The cow grazes till nightfull, full and fat,

but during the night she panics

and grows thin as a single hair.

What shall I eat tomorrow? There is nothing left.

By dawn the grass has grown up again, waist-high.

The cow starts eating and by dark

the meadow is clipped short.


She is full of strength and energy, but she panics

in the dark as before and grows abnormally thin overnight.

The cow does this over and over,

and this is all she does.


She never thinks, This meadow has never failed

to grow back. Why should I be afraid every night

that it won’t. The cow is the bodily soul.

The island field is this world where that grows

lean with fear and fat with blessing, lean and fat.


White cow, don’t make yourself miserable

with what’s to come, or not to come.


And so on our pilgrimage of Lent we too can bring with us a trust in God who will provide all we need. God will provide for us personally, and communally. Wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, we can say yes with a confident trust that God who never fails us, will provide all we need. Let us carry trust with us as we travel this pilgrimage of Lent. Amen.

The Holy Pilgrimage of Lent

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10 & Matthew 6:19-21


We gather together this Ash Wednesday evening to embark on a spiritual journey together. Yet, this is even more than a regular journey that involves traveling from one place to another. Lent is a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey that leads to a particular place – the cross. It anticipates and expects transformation. Throughout the centuries, seekers from all religions embark on pilgrimages to holy places all over the world. Catholic Christians flock to the Vatican City in Rome where the pope resides is an important pilgrimage. Lutheran Christians are eager to travel to Wittenburg, Germany where Martin Luther started the beginnings of the reformation in Germany. Buddhists travel to Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha. Jews travel to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. Muslims, following the way of Islam, travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia where the Prophet Muhammed was born. In fact, two very good friends of mine shared their experience of traveling to Mecca many years ago, and the life-changing impact it had on them.

One of the most famous pilgrimages is the Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James. This pilgrimage that begins in France and ends in northern Spain is traveled by over 200,000 people from all over the world. This pilgrimage’s final destination is the beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where St. James’ remains or ashes now were carried by boat from Jerusalem to the present site. Walking this 500 mile pilgrimage takes about 4 – 6 weeks to complete, yet many walk only part of the journey. If you walk at least 100 kilometers or about 63 miles and state that your motivation is primarily religious, you will receive a certificate of completion. A local pastor in this area just walked the Camino this year. Two of our members, Carol and Mike Gerrish, will be walking the Camino soon. My sister, before she died, also walked the Camino, and one day I hope to make this pilgrimage as well, where perhaps I will take and release some of her ashes.

Ashes are a part of pilgrimages. These sacred sites hold these remains, while at the same time helping the individual walking this pilgrimage to let go. Walking the Camino, or any pilgrimage, is not embarked on for a certificate; but for one specific purpose in mind – transformation. While the visible effects may be present, it’s what happens on the inside – within the soul – that is important. It may be felt right away or grow slowly after the return. A pilgrimage is always life changing because it is done with a willingness to let it affect you in whatever way that will unfold. However, they do require preparation.

Those who walk the Camino, for example, usually prepare by walking ahead of time. Walking 60, 100, 200 miles without getting your body accustomed to walking beforehand can lead to a lot of physical suffering like blisters. Essential items like a proper pack, shoes, clothing, and other helpful tools like trekking poles are gathered before starting. Pilgrimages require preparation because of the risks involved. During this season of Lent we will be talking a lot about risk- holy risk, the theme of our mid-week Lenten services.

And so tonight we embark on this risky pilgrimage called Lent. We are marked with ashes to symbolize the beginning of this pilgrimage we are setting out on. We do so in community with other Christians known from the earliest Christianity as Followers of The Way. We do so with a specific intention – to be transformed. We too- prepare for this journey carefully because it involves great risk. The journey to the cross is not easy. We know that it will lead us to the darkness and pain of the cross. We know that it will require letting go of the regular thoughts and actions that have become familiar to us that may be holding us back from God and one another in order to be re-born into the person God created us to be. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he says, “We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way:
through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” St. Paul is telling us that this spiritual pilgrimage is not an easy one, and we need to let go of those things within ourselves that keep us at a distance from God and one another, but the rewards are worth the effort because we know that it will ultimately lead to resurrection. Jesus, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life has promised this to us.

St. Paul continues to tell us that what we need to carry with us on this pilgrimage is “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.” We carry these things with us knowing that we have what we need for the journey. We are invited tonight to let go of anything that would detract from this pilgrimage to draw closer to God. We need to let go of anger, hatred, jealousy, a harsh or critical spirit, in order to make room for forgiveness, kindness, and compassion on the way. This pilgrimage is taken together knowing that our fellow travelers – those right next to us and far away – are images of God, and speak to us Divine wisdom. And so we embark on this spiritual journey with a sense of hopefulness, curiosity, and trust anticipating a transformation even if we don’t know exactly what that will look like. We know however, that we will be made better by it.

So as we begin the pilgrimage called Lent, we do so with open hearts and open minds. We have been marked for the journey with crosses of ash, a reminder that we have been marked with the cross of Christ forever. We are not alone on this journey; God is with us. The great saints and prophets of the ages are with us. The angels are with us. All our loved ones – those present and past- are with us. They are all here with and for us, and we are with and for each other. Let us begin this pilgrimage ready to be transformed as we seek to draw closer to God our truest treasure. Let us walk in kindness and speak with love as we journey together on this holy pilgrimage of Lent. Amen.

Opened Up by the Light

Sunday, February 23, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 17:1-9


Transfiguration Sunday is an unusual day that hovers between the present and the future. It lies between the end of the season of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. It moves from light to darkness and then eventually back to the light again of Easter. Transfiguration Sunday is a day that leaves us wondering what is really going on.

Sometimes in order to understand the present or the future, you have to take a look at the past. This is frequently the case in stories or movies, and this is the case for our gospel reading this morning. It begins with “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and let them up a high mountain, by themselves. Before we go any further, we need to understand what happened six days before this. What was so important that Matthew felt he had to point this out? So let’s flash back to previous chapter in Matthew’s gospel. Despite everything that Jesus was teaching and doing, the religious leaders were asking for a sign from Jesus. Despite the fact that the disciples witnessed Jesus feeding over 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, the disciples were anxious when they forgot their own lunch one day. And so Jesus finally asked the disciples to forget what everyone else was thinking, and tell him who they thought he was. Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Just when Peter thought he had the right answer to that question by saying Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus confused him and the other disciples more by saying, “If any want to become my followers, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” And then he said, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Game over.  They thought they knew the answer, but then all the questions left them confused again.

But they did follow Jesus, and that’s where our gospel story picks up today. Six days later after the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, they went with him up to a mountain – just like when Moses went up a mountain to spend time with God – and something amazing happened in both circumstances. When Moses had gone up a mountain, he had to veil his face because he couldn’t look directly at God. In our story today, Jesus was transfigured or changed right before the disciples and they didn’t have any warning at all. They hadn’t covered their faces. They were looking directly at Jesus glowing like the sun and it must have been blinding. On top of that, Moses and the prophet Elijah were there too. And then a cloud overshadowed them and they heard God’s voice! It’s no wonder they “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” They had a vision of God and God’s kingdom and were left speechless! The disciples could see God’s light pouring out from Jesus. Again, it’s no wonder they “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.”

They thought they knew who Jesus was, until that happened. It undoubtedly left them questioning their own sanity. Did they really see what they thought they saw? Things like this aren’t possible, are they? Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever experienced some amazing glimpse of God and wondered if perhaps you were imagining it? Maybe it was a vivid dream, or a sense of deep knowing after you prayed about something. Perhaps like Martin Luther, it was reading Scripture and finally understanding that it is God’s grace, not what we do, that has saved us. I’ll never forget an experience of a beautiful young woman in the former congregation I served who was 31 years of age and dying of a rare form of cancer. Her husband and parents and I were with her as she died. It didn’t seem possible. Earlier that day they thought she was going home, yet things suddenly changed and she took a turn for the worse. That last hour before she died, she sat up in the bed in the hospital and was looking into a vision so beautiful that we in the room could almost see it too. At one point she called out to God and smiled. She could see that light. She could see God. And she died with the most beautiful smile on her face. It was a holy moment of transfiguration that we will never forget.

I’ve experienced similar glorious God moments. God is revealed in many other places as well. God still speaks to us through dreams, visions, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We experience glimpses of God through music that touches us deeper than words. There are moments when God is revealed to us in unusual ways that we can’t explain, but we know it is a moment from God. If it is filled with love, kindness, compassion, and mercy we can be certain it is from God. And these glimpses from God not only break into our life, but break us open so that God’s light can be seen through us. They transfigure or change us just as Jesus was transfigured by God’s light, the light that was there all along.

This in-between time between Epiphany and Lent – Lent and Easter – is the time that hovers between life and death, darkness and light. There are some things we cannot understand or explain no matter how hard we try. They may leave us with more questions than answers. But one thing we can be certain of is that God’s love for us is unconditional and eternal. God is with us. It’s why Jesus told the disciples, “Get up and do not be afraid.” There is light even in the darkness, there is life even in the wilderness, there is light even in the deepest doubts and questions of our souls. It’s okay to look at or hear something that may shock us. In fact, it may just be the shock we need – to open us up and get our heart beating in sync with God again.

Let us pray, O God, break open our hearts with your Holy Spirit that your light may fill us to overflowing that we may reflect that healing light to others. Amen.


Choosing Life For All

Sunday, March 16, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Deut. 30:15-30 & Matthew 5:21-37


Some choices are easy aren’t they? What to choose for dinner or perhaps what movie to watch? But some aren’t so easy, like what to say to someone when they’ve just received the worst news of their life. In Moses’ farewell speech to the Israelites before they entered into the promised land he urged them to “choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Choosing life over death seems like that would be an easy enough choice to make, but that’s not always the case especially when taking into consideration the life of someone else. These types of choices are more than just about choosing something that would be good for us individually; it’s about what’s life-giving for others as well. Every choice we make has an impact on someone else. Every action causes ripples for generations to come. You might not think this is true, but I’ve seen it in action over and over again. Small choices make a big difference in either a positive or negative way.

We all know examples of a young child going to school without a lunch, and another child shares theirs in order for them not to go without even though they themselves may be hungry. There are many children right here in our area that go without every day, and the self-less ness of another makes all the difference in the world to them. We may not know the reason they don’t have the food they need, and sometimes the cause of food insecurity goes far beyond what we may realize. The choices between life and death are real for so many.

I knew of a young woman who came from a very abusive home. She was always criticized and made to feel like she was not good enough. This eventually eroded her self-esteem to the point she made destructive choices in her life. Yet years later the words of compassion and love that she received from certain friends helped her to see her worth in God’s eyes. She eventually went to college, had a family, and turned her life around. The choices of individuals both to criticize and to build up had lasting effects in her life. Some were choices that led to the death of her soul, and others led to life and re-birth. That’s the case for each and every one of us.

We make choices every day that we may not think have lasting effects, but they do. We may be angry or disappointed by something someone did or said, and want to react with harsh or critical words, but they can do more damage to another person than we realize. In the same way, choosing to listen and respond with curiosity and an open heart can lead us to understand each other more deeply and learn things we never anticipated. The choice between life and death is closer than we realize.

This is what Moses was talking about when he said to choose life. This is what Jesus was talking about in our gospel story today as well. There are 613 laws in the Jewish Torah. That’s a lot of laws and commandments to follow. And Christians find it hard to follow Ten Commandments! Jesus pointed out just how hard it is, and how it’s impossible to keep them all. He said the law says not to murder, but even anger in our heart makes us guilty. He pointed to adultery and said that even looking at someone with lustful desire makes us guilty. As he continued to go through the list, Jesus was trying to point out that trying to follow every law perfectly is not possible for anyone. The point is that God’s laws are gifts to help us live in harmony and peace together. They help us to know the heart of God better, and to reflect God’s heart. To know the heart of God is to choose to live in ways that are life-giving and life-affirming to others.

The choices we make individually and collectively matter. Last week, I and clergy around the region met downtown for the Ecumenical Advocacy Day. We learned about the bills and proposals being presented to the house and senate and how we can advocate for bills and systems that are life-giving not just for some, but for all. Systems that are just and provide ways for people to improve their way of life, systems that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels so that we protect and heal the earth are critical choices we need to make now. We have been called by God to care for our brothers and sisters. Christ has modeled what it means to choose life for others. He has shown us how to love, how to forgive, and how to heal others through the choices we make. When we do that all people, all creation grows and flourishes. Last week Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are here to reflect God’s love and compassion to that others can be drawn into the kingdom of God. We are not here to control things to our desires, but to conform to the mind and heart of God. When we do this, life and growth will happen not just for ourselves, or one or two, but for all God’s children. Choose life so that all may live. Amen.

You Are the Light of the World

Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 5:13-20 & Isaiah 58:6-8


Have you ever felt defeated and not sure what to do next? No matter how hard you tried, it seemed like things were just not getting any better. Were there days when you wondered how a particular problem or crisis was going to be resolved? You might have looked at many different solutions and options, but there seemed no way out.  A resolution just wasn’t in sight. When thinking about all the ways humans treat one another so horribly have you wondered if there is any hope left? This kind of behavior has led many to even give up on organized religion as even Christians are guilty of saying one thing, and behaving differently. Conversations – whether in person or especially via email – can be shot off in anger, read in the wrong light, and these misunderstandings can lead to hurtful rhetoric. We hear a lot of that on the news, in the media, and in random conversations. Fear is usually the driving factor behind it all even if that’s not apparent. People are afraid of the unknown. It’s what fuels racism and prejudice. The fear is that the other person who looks and acts differently might in some way be a threat to our way of life. The fear is that they might take away from what we have. There is an underlying fear of scarcity and that there isn’t enough to go around. And so human sinfulness makes us cling tightly and claim everything as “mine.”

Fear is the driving force behind so many disagreements. Deep down when individuals argue over the right way to do something it’s because they have a stronger desire to be right than to be just. Fear prevents us from looking at all sides of a situation. It prevents us from seeing the lessons that can be learned. It prevents us from seeing the possibilities that are available. Fear leaves us trapped in a dark cloud where we can only see one side, one solution, one way. But is it God’s way? Our way says, “someone hurt me, so I’m going to hurt them back; I’m going to seek revenge.” God’s way says “love your enemies.” So how do we go about finding out God’s ways? Light. We need light to shine through the darkness, through the clouds.

I remember the first time I travelled by plane. It was a very dark and cloudy day with no sun visible at all. In fact, it was getting quite stormy and the plane was travelling right up into it. I wondered if that was such a good idea. But then as the plane ascended higher and higher, soon we were above the clouds. I was looking down on the dark clouds while we travelled into and through the light, and this new revelation was such a great epiphany. During the dark, cloudy, and stormy times of our life it’s not that the light isn’t there, we just can’t see it through the clouds. That’s what fear does; it prevents us from seeing the light, the light that’s always there around us, within us, within each person.

But faith allows us to see/feel that the light – the light of God – that is always there. And that makes all the difference in the world. It shines in and through the darkness and awakens us to see things the way they truly are. It allows us to see the evil of racism, prejudice, and hatred that exists in order to put an end to it. It allows us to acknowledge the storm of our own sinfulness, and….this is the exciting part – it allows us to see and feel and experience the forgiveness and grace that God’s light offers us as well. God’s light gives us the promise and hope that things can change for the better. God’s light gives us the courage to shine brightly our own unique selves even if that light may not be welcome to others. God’s light gives us the joy to know that God’s light of faithfulness is eternal. God’s light is in each of us, and collectively as the Church. When Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” he was talking about the disciples who make up the Church. And that means us today.

How do we shine that light rather than hide it under a basket? I’ve seen it in the many ministries carried out here at Good Shepherd: the Summer Lunch Program that provides food and other needs to homeless families, providing meals for the Men’s Shelter, sending out cards to show we care, donating flowers to the homebound, making quilts and hearts for those who need not only physical, but spiritual warmth and care, holding dinners that support various causes, visiting the sick and homebound, nurturing the spiritual growth of our children and adults, and countless other ways. That is how we collectively shine our light, and how we allow others to shine their light as well.

The prophet Isaiah said that we shine our light when we “loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. To share our bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”

Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. Both of these elements are necessary for life. Both of these elements are essential for healing. We are called not to hide these things or use them sparingly, but to share them in abundance with all so that all will see our good works and give glory to our Creator in heaven. Amen.

No Ordinary Day

Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 2:22-40


What comes to mind when you think of Feb. 2nd?  Super Bowl Sunday?  Groundhog Day? Or maybe something more personal, like for me the day my father died? Or maybe it’s just Feb. 2nd, another ordinary day. In the life of the Church, Feb. 2nd is known as Candlemas or the Presentation of Our Lord, or the Purification of Mary. It has been known as Candlemas since Medieval time to celebrate Jesus as the Light of the world, and churches have blessed their candles on this day. It’s a special day in the life of the Church, and it doesn’t always fall on a Sunday. So today, we get to celebrate this important event 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

The number 40 is significant in the Bible.  It represents a time of trial, testing, and waiting. In the book of Genesis the great flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, Moses fasted on the mountain 40 days as he awaited the Ten Commandments, the Israelites wandered in the dessert for 40 days, and Jesus in his adult life fasted for 40 days. These and other accounts in Scripture represent times of trial, testing, and waiting. Waiting is important, but not easy.

In our gospel account today we read how Mary and Joseph went to the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth. This was significant because a woman was not allowed back into the temple until 40 days after giving birth where she would then participate in a purification ritual as well as a ritual to present the child to God. While Mary, the mother of God, certainly didn’t need any purification ritual – she and Joseph did not feel they were above the law. They would honor the law and the religious customs and go to the temple. There they brought Jesus to be pledged to God. They were also required to bring a sacrifice. Normally this was a lamb, but for those who were poor, birds were acceptable. So Mary and Joseph, brought birds, which indicated to everyone their financial status, and showed they were like every other normal person.  Yet, while it was an ordinary custom, what happened in the temple was no ordinary event.

Simeon, a devout and faithful man of God, was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. He and the prophet Anna waited in hope year after year for the fulfillment of this promise. Yet, I’m sure over time they grew weary wondering if and when God’s promise would be realized. Until Simeon saw the baby Jesus. He reached out and took him in his arms and said this famous prayer praising God, “Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The day Simeon had waited for his whole life had finally arrived. He saw the Messiah, the Savior of the world! This was no ordinary day; it was a life-changing moment!

Weariness takes a toll on a person when waiting for something that significant year after year. Simeon wasn’t the only one who was waiting. The Roman government at that time was causing much suffering on people, especially those who were poor. They were taxing them heavily, and people were growing weary of failed policies and programs. They were growing weary of the failure of leaders – both political and religious – to speak out against the injustices that were happening. They were growing weary of asking God, “How long O Lord, will we have to endure this?” And then Simeon saw Jesus, and the Light in the darkness was revealed.

Many people – even some here today – can’t understand the kind of relief and elation Simeon must have felt because most haven’t experienced the kind of oppression he witnessed. We live in houses with hot water, and warm beds. We have warm clothes to wear and nourishing food to eat. While perhaps expensive, we have the means to get medical care and medicine. And we have the freedom to worship in our churches, our temple, freely. But there are so many people who don’t. There are so many who lack the basic necessities of life. There are so many who are being hurt by policies that don’t take everyone’s well-being into account. There are so many who are growing weary of living in darkness.

While Simeon’s prayer was one of joy, it was also a word of harsh truth for Mary. He said, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Imagine how Mary must have felt when she heard those words. She heard that her child would save the world, but it would come at a great cost. People don’t always welcome the truth, especially when it promises to disrupt their life. Darkness does not always welcome the light. But if we allow our souls to be pierced with the truth, it will set us free.

The Holy Spirit’s promise to Simeon, is a promise for all people. The Light of Jesus will save the world. It will speak truth in the face of false promises. It will shatter the darkness. It will save the world. We – as the Church, followers of the Light of the World, – are called to reflect that light. We are called to shine that light in the darkness of racism and prejudice. We are called to shine that light in the face of hatred and greed. We are called to shine that light in the darkness and reveal the truth of God’s holy wisdom. It isn’t easy. It comes at a cost, but so does remaining silent.

In the words of pastor and theologian, Howard Thurman:

“After the prophets have spoken,
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

To celebrate Candlemas means to allow the Light of Christ to break open our souls so we in turn can shine that holy Divine Light out in to the world. We cannot wait. Amen.

One In Christ

Sunday, January 26, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 4:12-23 & 1 Cor. 10-18


Can you imagine just dropping whatever you were doing and totally change the direction of your life? I mean change the entire way you look at life, and wrap your mind around a completely new reality? Just quit your job, go on the road, and just follow someone blindly not even know where they were leading you? That’s exactly what the three men in our gospel reading today did. Someone just walked up to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And Matthew’s account says they immediately left what they were doing and followed him. Wow! Would you do that? I find it hard to believe most of us would do that.

Yet, reading this gospel account centuries after it was written we know a lot more about Jesus than these individuals did. We know through the people who lived when Jesus did,
and wrote down what he did and what he said. We believe that Jesus is God’s Son. We have a much bigger picture than these first disciples did, so maybe we’d say, Yes, absolutely, just like them.” In fact, isn’t that what happens when we are baptized? Our parents say yes, to Jesus’ call to follow him. And when we were confirmed we affirm that yes, we are still going to follow him. But what about these first disciples? They didn’t know all this. So why would they just follow someone blindly?

They weren’t just following a person; they were engaged with truth itself. They weren’t just following a charismatic leader; they were experiencing the Son of God. They weren’t just following a plan; they were witnessing the kingdom of God right in from of them. And they were invited to be part of something bigger than themselves, an integral movement. And they weren’t called because they were perfect; they were called because Jesus invited them just as they were. And they did. People don’t just blindly follow leaders; they get caught up in being part of a movement, a dream, a vision of a new reality. That is what Jesus was offering to those first disciples, and how can you say no to that? And those first disciples were full of energy and vitality in spreading that vision of God’s kingdom to as many people as would listen. And the early Christian Church – called Followers of The Way – grew and grew over the centuries. They didn’t grow in numbers from a detailed business plan. They didn’t spread this vision of God’s kingdom in order to increase their revenues. They didn’t even worry if they would still be a viable “Church” down the road. They were on fire with a message to tell everyone about the life-changing, soul-saving, grace-freeing, peace-filling joy of knowing God through Jesus Christ. That’s how the early Church grew.

It grew from all over the ancient cities of Rome, and Greece to places like Phillipi, Ephasus, and Corinth. Small groups that met in homes were so large they had to start building places of worship that everyone could gather in. The books of Acts 2:44-47 says, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” They were united in the same mind and the same purpose in Christ.

Yet over time the disciples lost sight of God’s vision, and started making their own plans. They started arguing over the right way to “do Church.” They argued over policies, purity laws, and doctrinal disputes. They argued over who was the best congregational leader. Some like Paul better. Others liked Apollos, others really preferred the way Cephas did things. They argued over so many little things. And St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth – from our second reading today – that if God’s kingdom was to continue to spread they had to get back to the basics. They had to wrap their minds around a completely different reality that focused on Christ again and not their own desires. He reminded them by asking them, “Who was crucified for you?” and “In whose name were you baptized?” He was trying to get them to remember that the leader of every congregation is Christ – no one else. Yes, every congregation has spiritual leaders, pastors such as myself, but we are here to point everyone to Christ who is the One we ultimately follow. St. Paul may not have been the most eloquent preacher. He may not have been everyone’s favorite. But he was called by God to spread the message of Jesus Christ to as many as would hear. People didn’t follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because of his dynamic personality, although he had a great one; they followed him because of his vision, his dream. The same vision and dream that God has for all the world – to be one – united in the same mind and the same purpose. To reveal God’s love, mercy, and compassion to all. To care for the poor, the widow, and the oppressed. To proclaim God’s kingdom of love has come near.

Here we are, the Church today, and God through Christ is calling us to be of the same mind and the same purpose. To follow and focus on the life-changing, soul-saving, grace-freeing, peace –filling joy of knowing God through Jesus Christ. People are drawn to that truth. People are eager and hungry to hear the stories of how people’s lives have been changed through Christ. People are willing to drop everything they are doing and be part of that movement, that vision. It changed my life. And that’s why I’m here as a pastor today to share that story, that vision with as many as will hear. Let’s focus on being united in the same mind and the same purpose to spread that vision of hope – that life-changing, soul-saving, grace-freeing, peace-filling joy of knowing God through Jesus Christ! That’s what Jesus asks of us when he says, “Follow me.” Amen!

What Are You Looking For?

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 1:29-42


“What are you looking for?” That’s not just the question Jesus asked the early disciples; he’s asking us today too. “What are you looking for?” It reminds me of the song by the group U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” So, what are you looking for? Is it love, success, security, or something more personal? Jesus’ question speaks to his deep understanding of the human soul. He knows better than we do that we are longing for something deeper. People are searching for meaning, purpose, and belonging, and sometimes we look in all the wrong places. Even congregations can get lost as they focus on bigger attendance, higher finances, and bigger and better improvements. While these things aren’t bad, if they’re our compass, they can lead us off-track to divisiveness and disharmony. The answer isn’t found in all those things. What we truly need is something deeper and lasting. And in our gospel reading today, John the Baptist points to what we need. John doesn’t point to himself, but to the source of our salvation – Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world. He points to Jesus who we heard in Matthew’s gospel last week was proclaimed Beloved Son by God at Jesus’ baptism. Through his baptism Jesus was anointed, and claimed by God and received the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the sacrament of baptism we too are anointed, claimed, and receive that same power.

John the Baptist’s voice wasn’t preaching for people to follow him, but for people to come to know God through Jesus. John was like a compass that always points to the true north that guides us home when we are lost on our journeys He was pointing to Jesus, the true Way, the true Compass, who will always guide us home when we are spiritually lost. And we get lost all the time. It’s easy to get side-tracked and head in the wrong direction by taking our focus off of Jesus and trust in some other compass to guide our way. We can get lost in worry and fear afraid that a change in direction will lead to total loss. We can focus so much on what we want that we can’t see or hear the Spirit’s guiding voice. So how do we tell the difference between a false compass and the one that always points to the true direction? The answer is to spend some time – as much as possible – in the presence of Christ. That means taking time to study God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures, engaging in prayer, meditation, quieting our minds and listening for God’s voice, opening our hearts to be more loving, more compassionate, and more empathetic. When we spend time with Christ we become like him.

Jesus asks the question, “What are you looking for?” because he wants us to look deep inside and name it. He wants us to name what it is we most care about. Deep down all people long for security, safety, healing, wholeness, relationship, community, love, belonging, and peace. Those are the things we truly hunger and long for. And when we abide with Jesus, we find all these and more.

Jesus invites us today to “Come and see” and experience in his presence the gift of God’s grace. We can praise and worship and commune with God outside these sanctuary walls, but when we worship together as a community of believers we experience God in a dynamic way. We experience the power of a community of faith letting go of the distractions that try and pull us away and for an hour or so focus on God, and prayer, and healing not just individually, but communally. The Church has a unique command from Jesus to “go and baptize all” so that all will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That voice speaks with wisdom, love, and compassion. That’s what we experience when we “come and see” each week. God’s grace pouring out into each of us, and drawing out the best in us so we can reveal the best in others. It’s here together that we are called to practice what Martin Luther explained is the essence of the 8th Commandment – “to interpret everything they do in the best possible light” and in doing so we reveal the Divine among us. That is the spirit of Epiphany.

Jesus is asking, “What are you looking for?” The truth is that we are all looking to find our way home – home to the Source of our very being – God, our Creator; home to our true selves found only in God, and home to a place of peace lived out in the Church through pointing all people to Christ, our true Compass. He is the one who will keep us from staying lost, and will always guide us home. In Christ we will finally find what we’re looking for. Amen.


God’s Beloved

Sunday, January 12, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 3:13-17


How did we get from baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas to the celebration of the baptism of Jesus today in a matter of only a couple of weeks? Jesus sure grew up fast! It’s as if someone hit the fast forward button on the remote in the life of Jesus. We’ve fast forwarded our scripture readings as if we wanted to get to the next best part. What we’ve done is fast forwarded to another great epiphany or revealing of God. The first appearance happened at Christmas when God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Angel voices announced the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Today, we celebrate the next great appearance -Jesus’ baptism- when God’s voice proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God, and God’s beloved. In both of these instances, God is revealed to us through Jesus. God has come close to us through Jesus. God has become one with us through Jesus. It’s almost shocking when you stop to think about it.

Imagine John the Baptist’s shock when Jesus waded into the Jordan river asking for John to baptize him. Once again, God came close in an unexpected, surprising, and shocking way. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He didn’t need his sins forgiven. But Jesus honored the calling of John the Baptist by God by allowing him to baptize him. Jesus needed to go deep into the murky, muddy Jordan river with everyone else. Jesus wasn’t afraid to get dirty. In fact, he deliberately sought the Jordan out, the same river that the Israelites traveled through to escape the slavery of Egypt. He knew that would be the place where the people were going to John to repent of their sins. John no doubt chose that river because of that history. He knew that would be the place where a person had to go all the way in the murky water in order to come out changed. He knew this would be the beginning of something very different in his life. Jesus went into the water without everyone knowing who he was – perhaps a great prophet – and came out with God’s voice echoing through the ripples in the water “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” And the ripples from Jesus’ baptism continue to affect us today in our own baptisms. Through our baptism we are joined through the Holy Spirit with Jesus who is joined with the Creator. In baptism, Jesus was born again only not just as an infant in a manger, but as the anointed Son of God. It was a new beginning for Jesus. His mission was now proclaimed to everyone; Jesus was on a mission to save the world. The Jordan water may have been murky, but God’s voice was clear. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

We’ve all been in deep murky waters at one time in our lives or another. There have been instances where we have been in situations that seem way over our heads. We’ve found ourselves wading in the dark waters of suffering, grief, or sin wondering if we will ever find our way out. And if we do, how will we be changed? Will we let the challenges we’ve faced break us and turn us into cynical or judgmental individuals? Will we let these difficulties harden our hearts? Or will we let these trials transform us into images of God’s redeeming light? The waters of baptism have the power to deliver us through our trials and bring us into the kingdom of God.

Jesus experienced this before any of us, and led the way for us. Immediately after he was baptized the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. Yet, Jesus was able to overcome these temptations because of the anointing of grace he received at his baptism. Jesus was given the strength to overcome evil by the life giving waters of baptism. It was the promise of God’s voice that Jesus held close to him when he faced any kind of adversity. He carried that promise all the way to the cross. He carried it all the way from death into resurrection and new life. It is that same baptismal promise that we carry with us when we are faced with any kind of trial. Our baptismal promise of eternal life and eternal union with God is what we carry with us each and every day.

When we are looking to find God, we don’t have far to look. God is revealed in Jesus, and Jesus is revealed in unexpected places. Just as John the Baptist was shocked when Jesus came to him to ask for his help in carrying out God’s mission, we too are often shocked when Jesus comes to us asking for our help in carrying out God’s mission. But God works through ordinary people and ordinary things. John the Baptist’s hands carried out God’s mission in anointing Jesus. Jesus hands carried out God’s mission in healing and saving the world. God needs our hands too in carrying out God’s mission for the world. It may not always be easy, but we too have been anointed and sealed by the Holy Spirit. We have been anointed to serve. We have been anointed to love. We have been anointed to do God’s holy work. And there’s a lot of work for us to do in spreading God’s love and peace in a world that desperately needs it now more than ever.

Whenever we find ourselves in a situation that seems overwhelming, fast forward to that baptismal moment when at our baptism- like Jesus’ – God spoke those words of promise and love: “This is my son, this is my daughter, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Take these words wherever you go and there is no day, no moment that will seem hopeless for you are God’s beloved. Amen.

In the Beginning

Sunday, January 5, 2020
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 1:1-18


“On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me……” You know the song. Well today really is the 12th day of Christmas, and many people have already taken their Christmas trees down, put away the decorations, started paying the bills, and getting their lives back to normal. But in the Christian Church we are still celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas that do not officially end until tomorrow, January 6th, or the Feast of Epiphany, when Christ was made manifest to the Gentile world when the Magi saw the baby Jesus. They saw what John in our text today was talking about; they saw that the Word of God became flesh and lived among us. And that event changed their lives because when you encounter God in the flesh, nothing is the same.

“The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory…” It’s an interesting way that John tells the Christmas story and it’s a hard one to visualize for many people. We’re used to the combined Nativity accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that are so easy to visualize. Matthew tells us about the Angel Gabriel, Bethlehem, the star and the wise men, and how the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt from Herod. Luke tells us about the census, how there was no room in the inn, the manger that Jesus was born in, shepherds abiding in the fields, and angels singing songs of praise. These are images of Christmas, the images of the birth of Jesus that we love. John’s account of the birth of Christ leaves us without these beautiful images. His choice of words leave us wondering how to visualize this event.

It reminds me of the game charades, where we try to guess the word a person is acting out. If we stick to Christmas words, some aren’t too difficult to act out like Christmas tree, or angels, or even shepherds, but it’s difficult to act out words like grace, glory, truth, or God. These abstract words are hard to visualize and translate into physical reality. We wonder, “what does grace look like? How do you show glory? Is there a way to show truth? And how does one begin to portray God?” To act them out is a real challenge. In order to explain these words we have to try to use other words, and often that’s where we can get into trouble.

Words can be so easily misunderstood. What means one thing to one person can mean something totally different for someone else. Take for example, the word fine. For one person it may mean that everything is okay and things are going great. For another person, the word fine may mean anything but fine. It may mean they are really feeling terrible. They say that’s what makes the English language so hard to learn, because one word can have so many different meanings. Words are wonderful things. They hold a lot of power and can build people, but they can also tear them down, twist the truth, and hurt. Even words like truth and grace can leave us feeling uneasy. We might be afraid to speak the truth for fear others may not want to hear it. We may be afraid of grace feeling that we somehow have to earn it and it can’t possibly be for us. When John says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us” they are comforting words to some- Good News – and a source of anxiety for others. If God really has become flesh and lives among us, will God embrace us or treat us as harsh as we often treat each other? Many wonder, “Does God still live among us?” especially with the darkness that surrounds us – a climate crisis, unprecedented fires in Australia, increased acts of violence against the Jewish community, and war looming in Iran to name only a few.

The answer is yes, God is still living among us. God is still speaking to us and through us. And this is most assuredly good news of great joy! John chooses not to describe the birth of Jesus with the normal words we think of around that first Christmas because John wants to get at the heart of what the birth of Jesus really means and it is anything but normal. It is an extraordinary, life-changing event. John takes us back to the beginning. He takes us back not just to the beginning of Christmas, but to the very beginning, the very beginning of the world. His words echo those from the first book in Genesis…… “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness…..”  This light that we hear about in Genesis is the same light that John is telling us exists in Jesus. John is telling us that the same God who took the formless void of the earth and created all living things – came to earth on Christmas day and became flesh. God – the Word – became flesh. Wow! How do we even begin to comprehend that?

Why would Almighty God do such a thing? Because later in John 3:16 we hear “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This is the Christmas story that John wants us to remember. More than angels, or shepherds, or magi, John wants us to remember why Jesus was born. He wants us to remember always how much God loves us that God would leave the glories of heaven and become human – one of us –so we would never be alone. God loves us that much. When you feel alone or defeated remember that.

So how do we describe words like grace, glory, truth, or God? We describe them by revealing Jesus who is grace, who is the glory of God, who is truth, and who is God, the Word made flesh. We reveal Jesus when we speak words of compassion and love and forgiveness to one another. We reveal Jesus when we live lives of peace and justice, when we pray to see people as God sees us – not with judgement, but through the eyes of love. We reveal Jesus when we accept the gift of grace that is given to us in Jesus for “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” God doesn’t require us to be perfect, he only asks us to be faithful. For God’s grace is sufficient.

In the beginning of this New Year, this new decade, as we think about resolutions and make plans, John compels us to always begin at the beginning, with Christ, the Word made flesh. If every breath, every decision, every action we take begins with Christ we will have a year filled with grace upon grace. We will feel the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. We will speak words of truth and grace. We will allow God’s light to shine through us and illuminate others. For the Word has become flesh and dwells among us still, and his light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Amen!