Neighbors, Niceties, and a Nervy Messiah

The Good Samaritan - Luke 10:25-37; Jesus Mafa, Camaroon, 1973; Held at Vanderbilt Divinity Library
The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37; Jesus Mafa, Camaroon, 1973; Held at Vanderbilt Divinity Library

[My sermon disclaimer: The trouble with posting the text of a sermon is two-fold. First, sermons are intended to be heard rather than read and second, the Holy Spirit is at work in all aspects of the sermon–preparation, practice, and delivery and sometimes the text is changed or mystically transformed in the speaking of it with the gathered congregation. All that said, I suppose I can trust the Holy Spirit to work in the reading of the manuscript as well. Here’s my manuscript from this week’s sermon.]

“Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve, the neighbors we have from you.” The school year before this last one, we did a series of monthly intergenerational Sunday School lessons that used this song as a theme song. Monthly, we asked the question, “who is my neighbor?” The kids soon learned that the answer to this question is “everyone.” That’s the nice simple answer, but as we know, a more challenging answer is…well, more challenging.

“Jesu, Jesu fill us with your love, show us how to serve, the neighbors we have from you.” This is the chorus of a folk song from Ghana and a hymn in our hymnal that invites a similar question invited by our Scripture today. Who is my neighbor? Who are our neighbors? It was a question of great importance to the Jewish folks living in Israel/Palestine in the First Century and it is an important question for us living in the United States in 2016–maybe it’s more crucial than ever after a week like this one. Listen now for God’s word:

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Here is a parable that is so familiar, it is likely that for some of you, I could have even skipped the reading of it this morning. It is so familiar that it is a parable that has a place in our modern culture–we have “Good Samaritan Laws” and we understand “Good Samaritan” as a description of someone who stops to help someone in need. It is tempting for us to read this as a nice story about how Christians are supposed to be nice to others–but a nice story, it is not. This is a nervy parable about the radical compassion extended by someone who was perceived to be practically inhuman by his literal neighbors.

Jesus is approached by a Scribe” — an expert in the Law of Moses. The scribe’s aim is to “test” Jesus. It’s a common question, a question I’ve heard some of you in this room ask, a question I’ve asked: What must i do to gain eternal life?” Jesus puts the question back to the man–this expert in the law. “What does the law say?” Jesus asks.

Love the Lord your God with your heart and soul and mind and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself–the whole law is summed up in this, the man claims and Jesus affirms. Jesus had become, by this point, an expert in leaving well enough alone. He wasn’t looking for an argument with this scribe.

But the scribe cannot leave it alone. The scripture says he had to justify himself and so he pushes Jesus further by wanting to know who qualifies as his neighbor? Who is the one he is supposed to love as well as he loves himself?

Jesus replies with this too familiar parable. Jesus is a good storyteller. He starts with something familiar: a dangerous road and a Jewish man travelling alone. The road from Jerusalem, City of peace,  to Jericho, 20 mile away on the banks of the Dead Sea, was full of wilderness and trouble and most Jews would have learned to avoid such a troubling journey by going the long way and few would have traveled it alone. A predictable result–this man is attacked, beaten, and left for dead. Inexplicably, almost, a Jewish priest also happens to be travelling that road alone…but when he sees the man’s lifeless body, he crosses to the other side and moves along. The same thing happens with a Levite–another highly esteemed religious figure. Why don’t they help? Well, we don’t know, but it should seem shocking to us and to Jesus’ listeners that they do not. It’s possible the implication is that both religious leaders were reluctant to touch the man’s body, not knowing if he were dead or alive–touching a dead body would have made both ritually unclean, but truthfully, there is not actually anything that outrightly implies this, and even in Jesus’ day, it would have been a worse offense to not help a fellow Jewish person who was in need. Jesus may have made this a bit ambiguous on purpose because of what is coming next–something even more  unexpected.

A Samaritan. To the Jews, there was no such thing as a “good samaritan!” They despised their neighbors, would never have considered there to be anything worthy or redeeming about the Samaritans. But this fellow traveller on the road probably didn’t take much time to reflect on who he was helping or why he was helping–this particular Samaritan Jesus brings to life for the sake of his story would have likely stopped for anyone. This was not a political act–it was a moral one. A wounded man needed care. “Who wouldn’t stop to help?” the Samaritan might have replied to a reporter at a modern day press conference asking him why he had. Jesus’ point is clear: a Samaritan has compassion and mercy. A Samaritan cares for the wounded traveller extravagantly–wine and oil are prizes in the ancient world, and yet the Samaritan applies them generously. A Samaritan carries the wounded Jew to an inn and pays his fees and offers to come back later and settle any debt that the man might incur. A Samaritan is the one who is truly a neighbor and acted with mercy that mirrors God’s mercy.

A common misconception about Jesus is that he was nice–we may be tempted to envision him as a benign, charismatic speaker. The pastor that everyone likes. The kind-hearted healer improving lives one person at a time.

But here’s the truth we cannot ignore as we read the Scriptures: Jesus was not nice. He was challenging, confrontational, and counter-cultural…and he had a lot of nerve, really.

Jesus often used his words prophetically, not prophetically in sense of telling the future, but prophetically in the sense of speaking God’s truth. If we truly understand his words, we understand that he here and many other places was quick to speak God’s truth to power and truth about the brokenness of the religious structure of his day. This familiar parable we’ve heard over and over would have shocked the first hearers of it and angered the religious leaders of his day.

Shocking for us, I suppose, would be for us to consider Jesus’ words and find the place to put them into practice in our own contexts. There are two things that are important for Jesus’ crowd and for us today to reflect on as we consider this parable.

First, I want to lift from the text the failure on the part of the esteemed religious leaders to act justly. Whatever we or scholars of this text might determine to be the reason the Priest or the Levite acted in the manner they did, it was still a failure to seek justice and care for God’s creation–a fellow human being was in need and both went out of their way to pass him by. Who do we pass by? Who do we go out of our way to avoid? Where are we not acting justly? Whose voices are we excluding altogether? Where have we turned away?

The second thing that reaches to us from this text is the idea of this unexpected person being the vehicle of God’s mercy. If Jesus were to tell this parable today, I wonder what he might have said rather than “Samaritan?” Would he have said “Muslim?” or “Sikh?” or “Jew?” Would he have said, “Gay man” or “Transgender person?” Would Jesus have used “Immigrant?” or “person of color?” Would Jesus have said “liberal?” or “conservative?” or “Donald Trump Supporter?” or “Hillary Clinton Supporter?” Who would Jesus name into this moment as the least expected neighbor for his particular crowd of listeners? I don’t know, but I know that some of those words would challenge me and my understanding of mercy and the Kingdom of God.

There is a theme common in Scripture as a whole, and in Jesus’ ministry specifically: the one who is acting as an agent of God is rarely the person you expect, and the one who seems to be an outsider is almost always actually an insider in God’s Kingdom. It is the Upside Down Kingdom of God, ruled by the King no one was expecting and home to the broken, the weak, and the lowly.

We cannot read this parable without asking the question “who *is* my neighbor?


It’s been a hard week. Honestly, I could probably stand up here any week and say, “It’s been a hard week.” We live among such brokenness always. But this week has been a hard week. People created in the image of God have been killed so violently and publicly–Specifically I’m thinking of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa. Each one created in the image of God. The temptation is to choose a side. Pick a hashtag to support and look for ways to further your viewpoints and denigrate the other side’s viewpoints.

Don’t give into that temptation. Lament not just for some, but for all. Lament and weep for all of God’s children who die in violence and leave parents and children and spouses and friends behind. Yes, it is exhausting and messy and difficult to lament for each one, but may our hearts alway be broken for the things that break God’s heart.

Let that sadness, the horror, the anger, the lament have voice in your prayers. Pray for the whole human family mourning loss and the particular families who are mourning loss, for a tiny child who was buckled into her booster seat while her daddy was shot dead just inches away, for police officers who protect and serve us bravely but cannot predict every danger, and for their wives, children, and loved ones who are afraid every time they leave for work, for mamas of children with brown skin who are scared for their safety, for mamas of children with pink skin who are scared for their children, too. Pray the prayer you know by heart–pray for God’s Kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done.

For that is the source of our hope. Our hope is not in the temporary, messy, broken things of this world–Our hope is in the name of our Lord Jesus and in the coming Kingdom of God. One day, God will set all of this right, one day we won’t have to lament anymore. Have hope in that day.

After you remember your source of hope, clothe yourself in love–love for your neighbor, even *that* neighbor or *those* neighbors. Teach your children and grandchildren to love, and remember they learn from your examples and your words. Practice hospitality and care for the greatest and the least. Guard your words and choose them carefully, making sure they are true and kind and necessary–and that goes for your words on social media, too. Remember that you, as recipients of God’s reconciliation, grace, and love, are the agents of that reconciliation, grace, and love. Share it extravagantly as you have received it extravagantly.

Who is my neighbor? Lord, have mercy. Amen.

(We ended the sermon by singing “Live in charity and steadfast love. Live in charity, God will dwell in you.”)

No Room For Fear

south dakota[My sermon disclaimer: The trouble with posting the text of a sermon is two-fold. First, sermons are intended to be heard rather than read and second, the Holy Spirit is at work in all aspects of the sermon–preparation, practice, and delivery and sometimes the text is changed or mystically transformed in the speaking of it with the gathered congregation. But I suppose I can trust the Holy Spirit to work in the reading of the manuscript as well. Here’s my manuscript from this week’s sermon.]

This summer I planned and participated in my 11th Summer of High School Mission Trips with our Presbytery, to the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The plans began as usual—once the students in our Presbytery had voted on the location, I secured 40 spots with the host company, Youthworks, and made fliers and registration forms so students and leaders could sign up by early January, a week ahead of the deadline to drop spots without any financial penalty. It is understood that deposits are non-refundable, and each church that takes spaces is responsible for paying for the spaces they claim. By the drop deadline, we had almost 40 spaces claimed by churches in our Presbytery and there was no turning back—we had to pay for all of our spaces.

Sometime in the middle of February, my phone rang. It was an elder at one of the churches in our Presbytery, a church that had claimed a number of spots for the trip. She told me about how she and the youth leader at their church had been doing some research on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and she wondered if I had realized what a dangerous place it was? She told me about the high incidence of poverty, and the high incidence of alcoholism on the reservation. I assured her I had done my research on that. “And did you know,” she further questioned me, “that they have the highest crime rate in South Dakota?” I had not stumbled upon that research, but it was not incredibly surprising to me, as high poverty and high crime are unfortunately often cousins in many communities…also, there is the factor of the size of South Dakota relative to its population. It is a big space with few concentrated areas of population to figure into her “highest crime rate” research. She grilled me about how many men were going and could I insure that their teenage girls would be safe. She wanted to know specific plans for travel and how secure the building that would house the students would be. She wondered why, if Youthworks has been serving on the reservation for almost 20 years, there hasn’t been enough improvement that they are no longer needed—a fair question, I suppose, but one that revealed that perhaps she wasn’t very familiar with the tumultuous history of the Native American and our nation’s reservations.

I answered her questions as best I could and put her in touch with our organizer at Youthworks, who also answered her questions about safety and tried to assure her as much as she could about safety concerns. Ultimately, she was not satisfied that her church’s team would be safe and they backed out of the trip, which cost the Presbytery a good chunk of money for spots that could not be refunded to us, even as this particular church demanded a full refund and threatened litigation otherwise. Another youth minister and I decided that we would just offer the refund and that it was probably good not to take adults and students who through research had learned to be afraid of the very people we were going to serve.

But the point of me telling you that story is not to point out what I consider to be less than ideal circumstances for planning the mission trip. My point in sharing is to tell you what happened next and to admit here for the first time publicly that her questions and concerns ate away at me for the rest of February. What if I was taking our high school students and our Presbytery’s high school students to an unsafe place? What if her concerns about the crime rate were wise and I was being foolish? What if this trip was that trip—the trip on which something went horribly wrong  and would turn out to be the worst decision I ever made as a leader?

As usual, Jesus has something to say to me about this. It is something he teaches to his disciples as he sent them out, two by two, to serve and preach. It is something he made clear through the ministry he himself was committed to doing. Listen now for God’s word in Luke:

Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Here we have a glimpse into the logistics of Jesus’ mission work. Seventy disciples were sent in pairs to go ahead of him into the towns and villages—a scouting mission of sorts. Perhaps Jesus was making decisions about where he went next based on this scouting…or perhaps he was counting on his missionaries to make a clear path for the Word of God to be preached and witnessed…or perhaps this was a way for him to prepare leadership for when he was gone. Any which way, 35 pairs of disciples carrying the good news could cover much more area than one Messiah and his closest students making their way around to the cities and towns.

In his instructions, Jesus acknowledges a few things:

  1. That he was sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
  2. That this mission was best carried out with few possessions to keep track of and limited small talk along the way.
  3. That they were to carry a message of peace, and if it was received in a particular household, they were to reside there and bless the house with peace.
  4. That they would be dependent on the hospitality of the residents of the homes they would visit.
  5. And that some towns would welcome them and some towns would not, and in the welcoming places they would do ministry and in the unwelcoming places, they would shake the dust from their feet and move along.

Nowhere, does Jesus promise any sort of safety. Nowhere does Jesus guarantee that they will experience welcome and joy and have a great time. In fact, Jesus seems to imply that this could be dangerous or trouble-filled—sending lambs to wolves hardly ever ends without bloodshed, after all. We may look back with romantic blinders on and think that perhaps the first century world was safer, but a study of church history in Jesus’ day and in the first three centuries of the Christian Church will tell another story—the disciples were taking their lives into their hands by following Jesus. Jesus was always in danger and eventually, as we know, that caught up with him. Jesus and his disciples knew that their mission was a dangerous one.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised that following Jesus or submitting to God or living a life filled with the Holy Spirit will be safe or even comfortable. But we are told 360 some odd times in Scripture that we need not be afraid.

But sisters and brothers, that is not easy is it? We live in a world full of fear and terror and terrorism. Our current presidential election cycle is overflowing with rhetoric from either side of the aisle intended to make you feel scared and register your vote from that fear. Your 24-hour news coverage will inform you about every single frightening thing that has happened, seems to have happened, or could happen one day. People prep for Doomsday, churches host active shooter drills in their SANCTUARIES of all places, our tiniest children learn lockdown procedures, and we have learned that there is nowhere safe enough or sacred enough to keep evil away.

It’s easy to see why people give into the fear. It is natural to want our families to be secure—bodily, financially, emotionally. It was easy for me to begin to succumb to fear once it was presented to me in February regarding our mission trip. I would never want anything to happen to our mission team. I work very hard in everything I plan and do to ensure safety for the kids we love.

But here is what I realized: In the Kingdom of God there is no room for fear.

Once I got my head on straight and had a long talk with the Youthworks organizer, I realized that I could look the prospect of fear in the eye and banish it with regards to our mission trip. And we had a great trip—and never once did Ginny or I sense that our team was in danger. The poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation is the worst I’ve ever seen. The children of the reservation carry such heavy burdens on their small shoulders, and our students did meaningful work loving them and encouraging them and listening to their stories and spending time teaching and playing with them. It would have been a tragic thing for us or for me to bow to the fear that might have stopped us from going. We were called to carry peace and hope, and for the six days we were there, it was received by the residents of Wanblee, SD.

This morning, we will share the words of the Confession of Belhar in the place where we normally recite the Apostle’s Creed. The reason we are using the Belhar confession today is because ten days ago, the GA of our church adopted this confession into our book of Confessions, after a four year process that involved two voting bodies at GA and a vote in each presbytery, all requiring a 2/3 majority. Belhar will be the 12th document in our book, and it will share space with the Apostle’s Creed, the Westminster Catechism, and the Barmen Declaration, which is a more recent document which came out of Germany in the 1930s as a group of Christ’s faithful refused to give into fear and participate in persecution of Jewish neighbors. Like the Barmen Declaration, Belhar comes out of a particular place and time, namely South Africa in 1982, during the days of Apartheid. The Christians who wrote this confession took a stand against what they saw as racial injustice and division in the Body of Christ and instead stood for unity, community, and reconciliation, and that Christ does not exclude Christians from the Table based on dividing factors that humanity has created. According to Belhar, God is the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged, and for this reason the church should stand by people in any form of suffering or oppression. It invites the Church to renounce injustice and separation in the Body of Christ. And the adoption of this confession by the Dutch Reformed Missionary Church in South Africa was not an easy or safe adoption. In the confession, they state this clearly: “We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.” Rather than fear, they trusted in God and they knew that God’s Kingdom is not one of fear.

Back in Luke, for the 70 disciples, it appears to have been a victorious mission. We are told they returned with joy and were amazed at how even the demons had submitted to them. Jesus celebrates with them, we read, but reminds them that it is not in these daily victories or struggles that they are to find their means of rejoicing, but in their status as God’s own children, beloved with their names written into eternal life.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on the world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless his people. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.”

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, we too have a mission—a mission to seek and offer God’s peace to those who are lost; a mission to feed and clothe and care for those who go without; a mission to be the Body of Christ here today. And some days, we’ll find a willing and ready field to joyfully harvest. At all times, however, we have the sweet peace of Christ as our constant companion. May you know this peace today and may you speak this peace and live this peace and share this peace everywhere you are called. Amen.

The Miracle Worker and the Generous Child

JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 25, 2016].
JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 25, 2016].
[My sermon disclaimer: The trouble with posting the text of a sermon is two-fold. First, sermons are intended to be heard rather than read and second, the Holy Spirit is at work in all aspects of the sermon–preparation, practice, and delivery and sometimes the text is changed or mystically transformed in the speaking of it with the gathered congregation. Nevertheless, here’s my manuscript from this week’s sermon.]

If you’re here on Wednesday nights, you know that there are usually several children here. Some of them are the children of our church families who you are also likely to see on Sunday mornings. But we also, on Wednesday nights, have several of our after school program kids who stay for dinner. They can do this because Mary Royalty, one of our children’s ministry assistants, and Dorothy Jourdan, a high student, agree to stay for the hour in between the time that after school club ends and Wednesday night dinners begin. For that night each week we can feed children dinner, and we can also include our after school kids in our children’s choir rehearsal and provide some Christian formation.

On a Wednesday night this past fall, Carolyn Dorsey was here at our church. She was sharing about the Sadie Sunshine chapter of Crochet for Cancer. She had brought with her a large sample of the items she and her team members around the world make and that she mails to hospitals and patients, and these sample hats and prayer shawls, and prayer squares were displayed creatively on a table near the lectern.

If you’re here early enough on Wednesday night, you also know there’s a bit of a procession when the kids can finally leave the gym and come to the fellowship hall. When there is a special guest with a table display set up, things get exciting pretty quickly. The children race to be the first one to look at the items on display. So on the night of Ms. Dorsey’s visit, at five minutes til six, her table was swarmed by elementary and preschool aged children wanting to look at the bright display of knitted and crocheted items.

One little girl, age nine, looked at the display before her. She’s smart and a good reader, so she began reading some of the descriptions out loud. I listened to her analyze the contents of various bags and read the tag on one of them. Suddenly, her jaw dropped and her smile disappeared. “Wait,” she said. “Kids get cancer?” I let the question hang in the air, until she directed it to me. “Ms. Becky, kids get cancer?” She asked me. So I put my hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eye and I told her some quick version of the answer that yes they do and yes that’s sad and yes we should pray for them and their families….and then in the mix of getting ready for dinner, I hurried to break up an argument about how many cookies constitute one dessert.

A couple of moments later, I looked down to see the nine year-old girl standing beside me, holding out a dollar bill. Confused, I asked her what it was for. “Kids get cancer,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen anymore. Give it to the lady so she can help them.” Now, without letting you into personal family matters I will just mention that to a lot nine year-olds, a dollar is only a fraction of what the tooth fairy brings or a small part of the week’s allowance or the amount they can make by taking out the trash at home…but to my young friend, it was a pretty big chunk of money and not something she would usually be carrying—in fact, she told me it was all the money she had with her. And I will tell you that we took that money to Carolyn and she was grateful for the child’s gift offered so honestly and purely to her work. And I have no doubt Carolyn used that dollar to send a fun hat to a child suffering from a dreadful disease and that our little friend was a partner in bringing some joy to the child who received it.

Today’s gospel reading starts in the middle of a tense moment in the life of Christ. Chapter six starts with the words: “After this…” After what? Well, in chapter five Jesus heals a man—restores health after 38 years of illness—38 years! that’s the length of my entire lifetime. And then, of course it was the Sabbath, so instead of celebrating the restoration of a man who had most likely, and understandably, given up by now that he would ever be healthy again, the religious leaders attacked with questions and accusations. It’s after this, John 5 tells us, that the leaders began to rally for Jesus’ death. Chapter 5 ends with Jesus making his case about his relationship with God and the ministry he was called to do…and then chapter 6 begins with an escape attempt—first across the sea and then up into the mountains.

But the crowd is persistent. They have seen Jesus heal—the sick man in chapter 5, others before him. They want to be with Jesus. And oh, compassionate Jesus realizes that no doubt this devoted, persistent crowd is hungry—they’ve walked around a sea, they’ve walked up into the mountains to be with him. With them, they carried children on their backs and in their arms, and I imagine some carried sick relatives they were hoping Jesus would touch.

Now Jesus is a teacher, and so he asks a question of his students: “Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?”

This is an interesting question. And in it, there is something implied that perhaps the disciples were not expecting. Jesus is implying that it is the disciple’s task—and his task, he says “we”—to provide food for the crowd.

Now notice—Jesus doesn’t ask HOW will we buy bread. He asks WHERE will we buy bread.

Philip however, responds as though Jesus asked HOW. “Jesus have you seen the crowd? We could catch and sell fish for six months and still not have enough money to feed this crowd well.”

Now obviously some conversations are missing here. I imagine that Jesus instructed his disciples to find something for the crowd to eat, as he does in other Gospel accounts of the feeding of the multitudes, sending the disciples on a mission to survey the crowd, perhaps.

Philip comes back with something—“I got a kid with a lunch box! Five barley loaves, two fish.”

And then he adds a sentence that tells us that rather than being just plain hopeful, he was feeling a bit skeptical—“but what are they among so many people?”

And then you know how the miracle goes—the people sit down (in other gospels we’re told that they were organized a bit), Jesus gives thanks, breaks the bread and the fish, and people ate as much as they wanted to eat with twelve baskets of leftovers to spare.

All because Jesus is the worker of miracles…and because a boy shared his lunch.

Now, I want to talk about this little boy. The other gospels do not mention him and I am not really sure why because it seems like an interesting part of the story, at least to me, but I might be biased since I tend to find most children to be mostly interesting most of the time.

This boy, mentioned here in John 6, helps us remember 3 really important things about offering our gifts in ministry as we are called to partner with Jesus.

First, the child present here was generous with what he had to offer. It had been a long day, he had taken a long walk, and he was no doubt as hungry as the rest of the crowd. Sure, you might believe that he was coerced into offering his food to the task at hand, but I know children and I know that they are often eager and trusting with their gifts, so I believe he offered his lunch with open hands and a willing heart, much like my little friend offered her dollar to Carolyn’s ministry.

In our human condition, especially as we get older and more cynical, we are much more likely to clench our fists and hold onto whatever good gifts we have—for fear of what? That there really isn’t enough to go around? That if we let it go, it might benefit the wrong person? That it might not be appreciated or valued in the hands of another?

But in the face of our fears and unwilling hearts, Scripture tells us a different story. In James, we read that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Psalm 24 reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it! In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul reminds us that we’ve been given a trust and the opportunity to be faithful with what we’ve been given. Nothing we have actually belongs to us—it all is God’s anyway. You can’t take it with you, you can’t even secure most of it completely—ask anyone whose home has burned down or who has lost money on a sure thing investment. Every good thing we have comes from God and we are entrusted with it. To take God’s generosity and hoard it for ourselves is not what we are called to do. Be shrewd and careful, yes; be good stewards, yes; but hold onto it for selfish gain? Never our calling as disciples.

Second, the child saw value in what he had to offer. Not only did he offer his lunch with generosity, but he offered it with childlike faith that it was a useful gift. There were, no doubt, some adults in the crowd who had pieces of food in their bags…but it’s a child who offers up his lunch. As adults, whether we are among the crowd or among the disciples, we tend to downplay our own gifts and potential offerings. Too little, too small, too tarnished, too mediocre, etc. We look at the size of the problem and we make the determination that what we have is not enough…or not good enough. Not this child! This child saw his lunch as a viable solution—otherwise, he wouldn’t have offered it. Where others saw scarcity, the boy saw the potential for abundance. The beautiful thing about children is that they believe that their dollar…or their lunch…or whatever gift they are holding out matters and is worthy.

In the Church and in our lives, we often doubt the goodness of the gifts we have to offer. We’re more like Andrew who wonders how the boy’s lunch could possibly be valuable to Jesus in the face of such a perceived shortage. The need is too great…I don’t have enough…what I have isn’t very good…these are all the things that we’ve learned to tell ourselves.

But what if we were to have faith like a child? What if we trusted that in Jesus’ hands, our gifts would be enough? Or that us + Jesus is always bigger than any problem faced?

Here’s a third thing to notice here: Jesus found a partner in the little boy. Because the little boy was generous to share, and because the boy believed he had something to offer Jesus and the crowd, Jesus called him into ministry. It strikes me that if we look in Scripture, we would be hard-pressed to find any instances of God not partnering with people. From Noah to Abraham to Moses to the judges and the prophets and even some of the kings…to Mary, John the Baptist…

And this little boy! If Jesus had wanted to, he could have called down bread from heaven—I believe that he could have. But not only did he invite the disciples into partnership in addressing the crowd’s hunger, but he used the gift of bread and fish, offered by small hands, to feed the multitude.

And Church—we are called into partnership with Jesus as well. Jesus is still asking “where are we going to get bread to feed these people?”or “from where will the resources come so clean water can become the norm in the developing world?”or “who will carry and share the gospel to the ends of the earth?” or even “who will love this one neighbor no one is loving?”

Well…I’m convinced that these resources are found among the Body of Christ. We each have God-given gifts. We are blessed to overflowing—so many resources and abilities and creative solutions and talents are present in this room…and in the Church worldwide.

May we open our hands in generosity, refusing to hoard the gifts of God…may we boldly offer what we have been given, refusing to believe that it’s not enough…and may we recognize the opportunities we have around us to share in ministry with Jesus, the one who can always make a way in hard or impossible situations thanks be to God!

Sermon: Mark 10:17-31

chinese depiction of Jesus and Rich Young Ruler
Chinese depiction of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler; Beijing, 1879 via Wikipedia

[My sermon disclaimer: The trouble with posting the text of a sermon is two-fold. First, sermons are intended to be heard rather than read and second, the Holy Spirit is at work in all aspects of the sermon–preparation, practice, and delivery and sometimes the text is changed or mystically transformed in the speaking of it with the gathered congregation. Nevertheless, here’s my manuscript from this week’s sermon.]

Have you ever had a reason to sell all of your possessions? About five years ago, shortly after my friend and church member Whitney Guthrie made all of the arrangements to move to Chile for a term of 3 years with Operation Mobilization, I helped her price items for her moving away yard sale. She was selling nearly everything she owned—every piece of furniture, all of her books, DVDs, CDs, knick-knacks, her dishes, small appliances, and at least half of her clothing. All of the money made would go toward her travel and living expenses in Chile while she made the transition to raising her own salary. The day of the sale, I sat with her in front yard and on her behalf haggled with neighbors who thought that $1 was too much to pay for a t-shirt. “She’s going to be a missionary,” I told one of them slowly. “Your $1 gets you a tshirt and you get to support a missionary.” “Would you take 50cents?” she asked in reply. I remember the anxiety I felt over Whitney selling nearly all of her earthly goods, so much that I even bought or offered to keep some of the items that I knew she particularly liked—a couple of t-shirts and DVDs and books—just so that I could give them back to her when she came back.

I remember watching Whitney let go of all of the things that had filled her life, as well as childhood bedrooms, dorm rooms, and apartments through the years. She was the embodiment of grace during that process, choosing to not focus on what she was losing, or how little money she was taking in for items that were much more expensive at their original purchase, but instead setting her eyes on the greater goal and her calling from Jesus.

Today we meet a man who was not ready to hear that calling from Jesus. Listen now for God’s word.

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

So here is one of those passages in Mark where it seems that Jesus is actively trying to keep Christianity weird. But this man does not just appear in Mark. Here, we see that he is very wealthy. In Luke, he is called a ruler. In Matthew, the fact that he is young is emphasized. Typically, this character is called “The Rich Young Ruler.” He does appear to be sincere, as he approaches Jesus, kneeling, calling him “good teacher.” Jesus, as he does sometimes in the gospels, seems to want to banter with the man a bit. We see him do it with the woman at the well in John 4, with the sycophoenecian woman who talks to him about dogs at the master’s table, with some of the people he heals throughout the gospels. I sometimes wonder which was more normal for Jesus—to simply do what was asked of him or to engage in some challenging conversation first.

The man’s concern is with his own soul and his own righteousness. Jesus establishes that the man does know about the commandments and has even kept them. Then Jesus says something confusing for man who had kept all of the commandments and probably considered his wealth a reward for good living: sell all you own, give money to the poor, be assured of your treasure in heaven, and follow me!

The man’s reaction is to go away grieving.

I think Jesus’ reaction is equally important. We are told that Jesus loved the man. And so when he goes away grieving, I can sense that Jesus grieved, too. I’ve been there. When I sit with a sixteen year old girl who once said “yes” to Jesus and determined to live into her baptismal covenant and follow God’s commandments, and I challenge her to stand in faith and not do the things her peers are pressuring her to do and she shrugs her shoulders and says, “I mean…everyone does it.” or “I just want to be popular.” and then she stops coming to youth group or church because she’s counted the cost and she doesn’t want to pay it, Jesus stands with me in this moment and I know a small bit of the sadness he must have felt.

We read that his immediate words are to his disciples, almost as though he’s sharing grief with them too—“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” It is here he compares that task with a camel going through the eye of a needle. I read with some interest this week that there have been various attempts throughout the years to soften this comparison by suggesting a mistranslation or mistake in copying the Greek in one manuscript or another along the way—maybe Jesus actually meant something  that is smaller than a camel, something a little more possible to fit through the eye of a needle. But friends, have you seen the eye of a needle? You can often barely get the thread that’s designed to pass through it to fit, much less anything else that is bigger. Jesus intends to be absurd here.

The disciples are as surprised as the man, we can assume. Who has any hope at completing that impossible task, they want to know.

Jesus tells us something we’ve heard before—in fact, you’ll find it on the front of your bulletin in our church vision statement: nothing is impossible for God.

I would like to suggest this morning that when faced by such a challenge by Jesus, when the cost of discipleship seems too great, we can make one of four choices.

The first response we might have is the one that the man in Mark 10 chose—to go away grieving. Jesus said something hard and the man decided it was not worth the great cost to do what Jesus said, so he simply went away. His life spent following the commandments, but this was too much to ask.

The second option we have is to brush off Jesus’ words. We may choose to simply ignore them or read them without taking them into consideration, or we can just write them off as a weird thing Jesus said or did not really mean or we can choose to hang our hope on the “with God all things are possible” part and move along. I thought this week that it would seem that there are lots of people who insist that we must interpret the Bible absolutely literally who have never even considered taking this section literally. If you’re the preacher this morning, perhaps you’d preach the Hebrews passage also into today’s lectionary instead and leave this camel and needle business alone. There are plenty who do that with this passage and I was certainly tempted to do so. Although I think that it should be said that if we read Scripture or hear the words of the Jesus and decide not to consider them because it disrupts the lives we are living, that is idolatry.

The third response would be to take this passage and all other passages completely literally and live this out—sell your stuff and follow Jesus without hesitation. And some have done that, which certainly takes much faith and resolve.

The fourth response is where I want to spend some time this morning, however. I think the fourth response is to stick around, not brush the words aside, and let the Holy Spirit work in our hearts. You see, if the man in our passage is to be blamed, it’s not because he was rich and it’s not because Jesus’ words caused him to struggle. It’s because he walked away. I wish he would have stuck around for a few minutes and asked Jesus some questions about this and allowed himself some space to consider the possibility present in what Jesus was asking him.

I come to you, Jesus’ Church, and I ask you, what are we to do with this passage this morning? Let’s take a moment to think about what that would mean if we understand that Jesus is asking us to do these hard things. What would it mean for you or I to sell everything we have and follow Jesus? What does that look like in your household? We know that a good many of the first followers of Jesus and members of the early church did just that—sell all their possessions and have everything in common. How does it feel to consider this? Honestly in your heart, ponder how you would have responded to hearing Jesus say this to you—“sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, be assured of your treasure in heaven, and follow me.”

Rather than mounting a moral high horse, I empathize with the rich young man. I could have just as easily made the same decision. These words of Jesus are difficult for me. Mark never gets back to this man, but I do wonder if maybe later on, after he had some time to think about it, if he made a different decision and decided to follow Jesus.

Having wrestled with this passage all week, I do have a few concluding thoughts.

It is very easy, when one has gathered money or things, to put trust in money or things. A truth about wealth is that often once we are on the course to acquire it, it’s possible to never get off of that course. We can always want more money or better things, and it is possible to never be content with what we have.

Jesus is speaking against this mindset, and against the natural human inclination to put our trust in things that are not God and have no place in God’s Kingdom. If wealth is our reason for being and our priority, we are not seeking the values of Jesus’ Upside Down Kingdom. Again, Jesus reminds us: the first will be last and the last will be first. The things the world values are not the values of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus’ words are hard this morning. If you are looking for the exits, it’s hard to blame you. But my hope today is that rather than going away grieving, we stay with Jesus and let the words here challenge our hearts. What is God calling us to do concerning our things? Where are our priorities and what motivates us? What are we doing to serve the Kingdom of God? How are we following Jesus rather than our own human desires?

The good news is this: what you may not be able to imagine happening by your own human power and ability suddenly becomes possible when submitted and entrusted to God, to whom all things are possible. Alleluia, Amen.

Sermon: Mark 9:30-37

jesus mafa welcomes the children
artwork from

The trouble with posting the text of a sermon is two-fold. First, sermons are intended to be heard rather than read and second, the Holy Spirit is at work in all aspects of the sermon–preparation, practice, and delivery and sometimes the text is changed or mystically transformed in the speaking of it with the gathered congregation. Nevertheless, here’s my manuscript from this week’s sermon!

I’ve blogged about the incident I use as an illustration at the beginning. Here it is.


About six months ago, we celebrated Maundy Thursday here in this sanctuary, remembering the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples, and ending our Lenten celebration together. That night, Rich was leading worship and he and I were serving communion together. I sat right *there* (the front pew) so that I would be near the front to assist when it was time to serve the holy meal. A small child from our after school ministry sat with me. From the moment she entered the sanctuary and took her seat, she aware of the communion table. “Bread!” she exclaimed when she sat down. She kept her eye on it nearly the whole time. As the first hymn was sung, she leaned forward and studied it. As the Scripture for the night was read, she pointed to the table as it was mentioned. Occasionally she would look at me, then look at the table with an inquisitive look on her face, and I would take my finger and indicate to her where we were and then slide my finger down to the word “Communion” so she could see how much longer it would be. When Rich preached and spoke about the Bread and the Cup, she waved her arms grandly toward the table. In response to my own questioning look, she whispered, “I just want to make sure everyone knows what he is talking about.” My favorite part, though, came when Rich moved to the table and stood behind it. My little friend knew that it was showtime. She stood to her feet, even though the entire congregation remained seated, and all but took a starter’s position. When Rich finally said those long awaited words, “Come to the table, all is ready,” she was standing toe to toe with him before he could even finish the sentence, looking up at him through glasses perched on her nose and anxiously holding out her hands.

This child, small for her age, the youngest of a large number of children in her family, a member of the backpack club (at her school, this means that she gets to take a special backpack full of meal and snack food home on weekends), is “least” in a lot of ways, at least by how we would qualify it. And I imagine it was exactly a child like her that Jesus holds onto in our Scripture passage for today:

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

Mark does not usually provide us with a very kind snapshot of Jesus’ disciples. Here, he features their failure to understand his teaching once again, and a petty argument that happens between them as they traveled together through the Galilean countryside. Truly, the disciples are just like us. They are our heroes because they left all that they knew and followed Jesus, and after Jesus’ resurrection, they helped people become disciples, they baptized thousands, and most of them were martyred for their faith. But here in the middle, they seem kind of…well, they don’t seem to be all that great at being disciples.

Jesus asks the disciples about their argument, and they are ashamed for they know that what they had been talking about has no place in the Kingdom of God. They’ve been with Jesus long enough to know how his whole disciple thing works, but probably they couldn’t help themselves. The weeks and months of walking with Jesus, watching him heal the blind, the infirm, the demon-possessed…sitting in the boat while he walked to them on water…the lunchbox of loaves and fish that became a feast for 5000—they are following the real deal. Here is the Messiah, and they are ones who comprise his closest circle. I think they just couldn’t stop themselves from speculating about what Jesus will appoint each of them to do when he comes to power.

Really, what they’ve misunderstood, though, is what kind of Kingdom Jesus is going to rule. Why do they not understand Jesus when he talks about suffering and death and resurrection? Because it does not fit into their understanding of Kingdom. Why would a promised King—a Messiah, the anointed one of God—suffer and die? Why wouldn’t the advent of his Kingdom usher in a time of victory for a people who were waiting in dark oppression under the Roman government…or at least for the nobodies that had left their lives and livelihoods to follow him?

Yet, Jesus took a child in his arms, the Scriptures say. This is not a cute, warm fuzzy story about Jesus and children. In this passage, Jesus is making a statement about power. In Jesus’ day, a child was important for the sake of the future—parents needed to have children so that they would be cared for in old age, for the sake of their family name, and because they needed someone to inherit any wealth or property. But while a child was a still a child, he or she was a liability, prone to illness, helpless, weak, and not a big contributor to the family economy. A small child is about as powerless as a human being can be. With small children, it is easy to actually overlook them.

Jesus is making a stark statement about the values of his Kingdom—his upside down, turn anything conventional on its head, Kingdom. “When you welcome this child, you welcome me,” Jesus suggests. I can almost see the disciples squirming—no, Lord, you are powerful. You’re the Messiah. You do great things. You’re so much more than a child! Oh, but in this Kingdom, greatness is not measured in power or import. Greatness is measured in humility, hospitality, and servanthood. If the greatness we seek is measured in power, money, success, or the goods we own, we are not walking the same path as the Lord we claim with our lips.

Think about any of the many overwhelming or terrible or heartbreaking situations in our nation or in world right now—there are so many to choose from.

I’m not here to debate or affirm or even to inform your politics this morning—I don’t have a degree in politics. But I can tell you about Jesus and I can tell you this: Jesus holds close, stands with, and elevates the ones who are least. The single mom working two or three jobs and still not making enough money to make all the ends meet to put food on the table, pay the rent, keep the lights on, and provide extracurricular opportunities for her children? She matters to Jesus and she should matter to Jesus’ Church. The tiny child tossed around in the sea until the waves overwhelm him and his lifeless body is washed up on the shore of the country his family was desperately trying to reach? Jesus welcomes and embraces him, his family, and his fellow travelers, and the Church should be on the front line of welcoming and resourcing that situation. The fourteen year old girl kidnapped and sold into the sex trade, abused, used, forgotten? Jesus has not forgotten her and neither should Jesus’ Church. Christian pastors, missionaries, and believers imprisoned, executed publicly—martyred for their faith? Jesus has been there too and the Church cannot turn her back to the horror of that situation. Insert whatever overwhelming or terrible situation you have thought about in the past moment and think about who in that situation is weak, terrorized, powerless, disregarded, rejected, scared, small, or abandoned. That’s where you’ll find Jesus’ heart and that’s where ours should be too.

In many ways, this teaching provides the easy yoke of Jesus. His words are hard, but being last is not hard. Everyone else is clamoring to be first, elbowing and pushing to be at the head of the line or seated in a prominent place at the table. There’s a lot less competition to be at the end of the line. Welcoming others is a lot easier than passing judgment to determine worth and assessing whether or not someone matters. There’s a freedom that comes when one stops working so hard to convince others that one is good enough or talented enough or pretty enough and simply accepts the favor of God and allows the Holy Spirit to be at work.

Jesus’ words in Mark 9 caused a bit of a stir among the disciples, no doubt, as they continued on a journey of misunderstanding. They certainly stir up my heart as I think about the values of the Kingdom of God and consider what it means for my own human pursuits. Jesus’ words are a challenge to consider the things and the people we value. We can simply dismiss them today because they are hard to understand and live into, or we can accept the challenge of the Holy Spirit to consider the ways we welcome those who have no power or no status—whether they come to us in the form of tired refugees seeking safety across our borders or a small, hungry girl eager for the communion part of the service to start.

Lord, may the things that break your heart break ours too, and may we never fail to welcome and serve the least and the last.

I’m a CRE and You Probably Don’t Know What That Is*

This has been an exciting week.

I completed my first year of seminary, which I cannot believe since it seems like I just began. Someone asked me last night if it was harder than I thought it would be, and honestly it was not. The work was rigorous and challenging, but I decided to tackle one thing at a time and do the work when I could and it turned out that when I needed to do something, I had enough of whatever resource I needed to get it done. There were stressful moments and weeks that required a lot more time at my desk than others, but thanks be to God, it all came together. This year, I took classes in Old and New Testaments, Presbyterian History, Confessions, and Polity, Missions and Evangelism, Worship, and Spiritual Formation. The coming year holds new challenges, as I will tackle Greek, Church History, Christian Education, and learn a little bit more about what it means to be a Pastor.

On Friday, May 15, I celebrated (very quietly) fifteen years in my current career and my current job. I honestly cannot believe fifteen years have come and gone.

On Tuesday, May 12, I became a CRE. According to the Book of Order, here are the functions of a Commissioned Ruling Elder:

“…the presbytery may authorize a ruling elder to be commissioned to limited pastoral service as assigned by the presbytery…Presbytery, in its commission, may authorize the ruling elder to moderate the session of the congregation to which he or she is commissioned, to administer the sacraments, and to officiate at marriages where permitted by state law (G-2.1001).”

So that’s completely clear to you non-Presbyterians, right? Ha–probably not even 100% clear to most Presbyterians.

Photo Credit: David Muffett

Basically, here’s the timeline. In 1995, I was ordained as a ruling elder (one who is ordained to service and leadership) in the Presbyterian Church (USA), filling a 1 year youth term on the session (or church board) of the First Presbyterian Church of Merrillville, Indiana.  in 2006, I completed a course of training for what we then called our Certified Lay Pastor program. Last week, I met with our Presbytery’s (Regional council of Presbyterian Churches) Committee on Ministry (the committee that oversees the work of pastors and pastors-to-be at our Presbytery’s 30 churches). They examined me at the meeting and determined I was ready to be examined by the Presbytery at the quarterly meeting on May 12. On Tuesday, I went to Presbytery for examination. In the packet received by all participants was a copy of my Statement of Faith. Teaching Elders (Pastors) and Elder Commissioners (ruling elders representing churches in the Presbytery) could ask me questions on the topics of polity, worship, and theology. At some point, the very first pastor I served with at the Presbyterian Church of Henderson, Doug Blair, moved to sustain the examination and the vote was called. The “ayes” had it, and now I am a CRE for the Presbyterian Church of Henderson, Kentucky.

On May 24 at 8:30 a.m. at the church I serve, I will be installed at a service in which I will answer these questions:

(a) Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledging him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

(b) Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church Universal, and God’s Word to you?

(c) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

(d) Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

(e) Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?

(f) Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?

(g) Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

(h) Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

(the questions above are all the standard ordination questions asked of every ordained office in the PCUSA. I’ve answered them before, in 1995, and I will answer them again, God willing, when I am ordained as a Teaching Elder. The last question is specific to the office I’m being installed to.)

(i) Will you be a faithful ruling elder in this commission, serving the people by proclaiming the good news, teaching faith and caring for the people, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

I am so very grateful for the love, support, and accountability provided by my family, my church and all of the churches I have been a part of, my colleagues in ministry of all denominations, my presbytery, and my incredible circle of friends–all of whom have helped me become a person who can joyfully and hope-fully answer all of the questions above.

It has been an exciting week. Now the journey continues!

*or maybe you do know what that is, but I’ve had to explain it about 732 times this week, so I feel like if you know, you’re in a minority and also you should give yourself a high five.

Why I Support The Ministry of Young Life in Henderson, KY and Think You Should Too

This photo (from four years ago) features the very first year Young Lives girls. We threw an art party that gave girls and leaders the opportunity to experiment with their creative sides!
This photo (from four years ago) features the very first year Young Lives girls. We threw an art party that gave girls and leaders the opportunity to experiment with their creative sides!

When I moved to Henderson, KY fifteen years ago, the first person also in youth ministry to contact me to take me to lunch was one of the Young Life leaders here in town. She and I went to the high school together, spent an hour or so in the cafeteria, took a brief tour of the high school, and then went and ate lunch at Arbys. There was a church connection who suggested she contact me, and I was grateful because I was having a hard time figuring out my new job, and the prospect of ever talking to anyone outside of the church seemed kind of remote at that point. I appreciated the effort she made and that she took me to the high school for the first time (ice I was having trouble breaking on my own).

When she and her husband moved away, the new YL leader was a friend from college, someone I already admired and liked, and someone who valued the network of youth ministers that by this time I was meeting with on a monthly basis. Before his tenure was over, he was someone who regularly stopped by my office, someone who was not afraid to question my motives or ask hard questions of me, and someone who prayed for and with me on a weekly basis as we gathered with other Youth Ministers in town each Tuesday.

Currently, Henderson Young Life is being directed by another friend of mine, someone who is humble and kind and who cares deeply about middle and high school kids. When I met Steve, he regularly hosted cookouts at our local skate park, feeding students who spent their afternoons there, skateboarding or hanging out. He’s recently accepted this new position directing Henderson’s Young Life programming, but his commitment to kids that others might forget about or write off has not wavered since I met him. He now oversees the ministries of Young Life (high school), Wyldlife (Middle School) and Young Lives (see below), and Henderson Young Life is poised for greatness under his leadership.

Our church is the site for the monthly Young Lives meetings. Young Lives is a ministry to teenage moms and moms-to-be. Monthly, leaders (many women who have children themselves) gather with a group of young ladies for a meal, games, and worship, all while their babies are cared for by additional volunteers in our church nursery. Every summer, these young ladies and their babies have an opportunity to go to Young Lives camp for a week. Here’s a brave video that tells the story of one of our Young Lives participants:

Pregnant teenagers and teenage moms will always be welcome to come to the youth group activities I lead for the Presbyterian Church…but I understand why they usually do not. Whether it’s that they feel uncomfortable being in such a different place than the other students who attend regularly, or because they feel ashamed or are scared that they will be rejected, or simply because they do not have time to attend or childcare available, I understand.

I’m so grateful that the ministry of Young Lives exists for this reason. I’m glad that young moms have this resource and this community available.

I am a regular supporter of Young Life ministries in our community. Young Life is not a competitor of the church I serve, but rather, Young Life makes our community stronger. I hope you’ll consider supporting the work of this organization in Henderson! To give a one time gift or become a regular supporter, click here!

Holy Hunger

IMG_3986Today is Maundy Thursday. In my congregation, we worship together on this night and read the passage from John 13 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. We sing hymns and share the Lord’s Supper.

Tonight, I sat in the front row of the sanctuary because I was the liturgist for the worship service. A little girl who comes to our after school program and often shares meals and worships with us sat next to me.

There was something about sitting next to her in a communion service that may forever alter the way I take communion.

She walked into the sanctuary and was constantly aware that there was bread on the table. She gestured at it with exclamation when she sat down.

During the first hymn, she leaned forward and studied it.

While the pastor read from the Bible, she followed along with me in my Bible, pointing at the table as the table was mentioned in Scripture.

Throughout the service she would look at me pointedly and then indicate the bread on the table, with a questioning look on her face. I would show her where we currently were in the bulletin and then point to the word “communion.”

As the pastor preached, he talked about the Bread and the Cup and she made a fanfare gesture with her arms. It was my turn to look at her inquisitively. “I just want to make sure everyone knows what he’s talking about,” she assured me.

As the pastor moved to the table, she stood to her feet and all but took a starter’s position, ready to race to the table as soon as she got the go ahead. She shifted anxiously on her feet as Rich read and prayed and broke and elevated the elements.

When he invited people forward, she was standing toe to toe with him before he even finished the sentence, looking up at him, waiting for him to share the bread with her.

Some in the sanctuary tonight might think that my young friend does not have the proper regard or understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

I think she might understand it better than the rest of us do.

Photo-a-Day: #Celebrate


I have no idea where these maracas came from, but they sure livened up the afternoon!

It’s Holy Week. I never really know what my attitude should be during Holy Week.

I suppose you could make a good case for somber solemnity, but I can’t help it that I’m one of the Easter people who knows how this week ends! Easter is coming and I’m grateful, once again, that its coming is not dependent on my faithfulness throughout Lent.