Acts 2:1-21 – When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11 Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


Psalm 104:24-35

24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.  25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.  26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.  27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;  28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.  29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.  30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.  31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works–  32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.  33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.


1 Corinthians 12:3-13

[The apostle Paul writes]…no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.  4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;  6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,  9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.  12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.


Happy Pentecost everyone! As you know, today is Pentecost day, the fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection. This was the day, all those years ago, when the Holy Spirit Jesus promised was poured out on the disciples who were waiting in Jerusalem. When the Spirit was poured out, the disciples began to speak in different languages; and they began to prophesy; and they were overheard by a crowd of people from all over the known world at that time who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Pentecost. Over 3000 people heard the good news about Jesus and his resurrection in their own languages and they joined the ‘Jesus movement’ on Pentecost day.

filled with spirit

This day is remembered as the birthday of the Christian Church.

This year, we also have an unusual coming together of days: we have Pentecost, and we have Memorial Day, back-to-back. If ever there were a temptation to mix religion and politics, this is it! But the question needs to be asked: do these two special days have anything in common?

My first reaction to that thought was ‘no’. Pentecost is about birth – the birth of the church – and Memorial Day is about remembering with honor those who have died.

But then I came across an article that disagreed with me. And after thinking it over, I decided the author had a point. So I wanted to share part of that article with you today, because I think he expresses the thoughts better than I could.


The article was written by a pastor by the name of Richard Ritenbaugh, who pastors a church in North Carolina, but he was born in Pittsburgh. I’ve edited the article heavily for length and clarity – if you’d like to read the whole thing it can be found here: https://www.sabbath.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.CGGWeekly/ID/330/Pentecost-Memorial-Day.htm

Pastor Ritenbaugh writes this:


“Every now and then, the Feast of Pentecost and Memorial Day fall back-to-back on the calendar, as they do this year. At first glance they seem to have little in common: one is religious, and the other secular; one focuses on the harvest of firstfruits, the other on the patriotic sacrifices of loved ones; one has a farming background, the other has its roots in war… They seem to be… far removed from each other…

“But we should not be too hasty in saying they have nothing in common… they occur in the same season of the year, as spring is ending and summer is on the horizon. In this way, they both mark time: especially for children, [this time of year] represents the end of the school year…

“On a more serious note, Memorial Day brings a different kind of end and beginning to those who have lost loved ones in the nation’s wars. For these families, Memorial Day closes one year and begins another without that soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or guardsman or -woman who gave his or her life in the defense of American freedom. This day is for them not so much a holiday as a solemn day of remembrance and pride in the patriotism of their fallen service member.

“For its part, Pentecost, being celebrated in Jerusalem, was the end of the seven-week stretch from the Days of Unleavened Bread, when thoughts of overcoming sin and putting on righteousness were thick in the air. It is also the day of the Jewish Pentecost – fifty days after Passover, fifty days since the first planting. This is the time of harvesting the first fruits. It is a time of reaping or gathering – which tells us something of what Pentecost is about in God’s eyes.

“Pentecost marks a beginning also. Acts chapter 2 tells us that the Christian church began… fifty days after Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. On this day, God sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in those believers who were waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded, providing them with the understanding, power, and skills to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world.

“Because Pentecost focuses so much on the church and its work, it is not too much of a stretch to think of it as a day of remembrance of those who have gone before us spiritually. From that first Christian Day of Pentecost to our own time, thousands of men and women have given themselves in sacrifice – both in dying and in living – to carry the… gospel to us…

“The Day of Pentecost pictures the spiritual harvest of firstfruits, including all the Christian faithful down through the centuries. So we can take a few moments this weekend to remember their sacrifices and thank God that He has called such heroes of faith into His Family in the worldwide Church.”


So writes Pastor Ritenbaugh.


So you can see that Memorial Day and Pentecost are both in some sense about remembering those who have given their lives in service: some to the country, others to the faith.

Meanwhile, here at the South Hills Partnership today, all of us are being asked to spend some time focusing on the Holy Spirit. In fact we’ve been asked – immediately following the sermon, as we are willing – to come forward and kneel (or stand as you are able) and pray either to receive the Holy Spirit or receive more of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Before we do that, I wanted to talk a little bit about why and how we do this, and answer a few questions people may have when we talk about the Holy Spirit.

As for why we’re doing this: we are doing it because we want God’s blessings on our churches, and on our neighborhoods, and on God’s people. Whatever we ask for in faith, God will answer. The times we are living through right now are difficult days: confusing and troubling.

Just as an example, this past week our next-door neighbor was interviewed on TV because there was a shooting (I think it was) two doors down from where he works. The interviewer asked him a lot of the same questions that our pastor’s wife was asked after a shooting not long ago. You can’t help but ask, what kind of world is this, when your next door neighbor (or your pastor’s wife) witnesses a shooting? It happens way too often these days.

The gifts God gives to God’s people through the Holy Spirit are the best answer to the troubles in the world. The Holy Spirit brings us together, and molds us together into the Body of Christ for the good of our communities, and for the good of the world, and to the glory of God.

Holy Spirit

Here are some of the questions people sometimes ask about the Holy Spirit:

 Who is the Holy Spirit?

We know from the Apostles Creed that the Holy Spirit is the ‘third person of the Trinity’ and therefore is God. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. The Spirit is that part of God who lives with and in anyone who loves Jesus and has committed to being his disciple.

How does a person receive the Holy Spirit?

First off, there are some ways in which we do NOT receive the Spirit. We do not receive the Spirit by going to church. We do not receive the Spirit by reading Christian books or by watching Christian TV or even by going to Bible studies.

We receive the Spirit when we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again from the dead, and we accept his invitation to “change course and believe the good news”. As scripture says, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ apart from the Holy Spirit.” Because we trust Jesus with our lives, we live our lives in a way that reflects God’s justice and God’s love. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to be faithful to God and to be led by God as we live our lives.

If we have done this, and if we are following in Jesus’ footsteps to the best of our abilities – and after all that, we’re still not sure we’ve ever received the Holy Spirit – that’s not unusual in today’s world. I felt the same way for a long time because people around me never talked about the Spirit much and I’d never really thought about it much. I wondered sometimes if this was something important we need to do?

Two answers to this: (1) if you’ve been a Christian all your life, you do have the Holy Spirit… you just might not be fully aware of it; and (2) if you’re a new Christian you may not have been taught about the Spirit yet.

Either way, when you come forward today, if you’re not sure the Holy Spirit is in your life, ask God. Say something like: “Lord I’m not sure if I have the Holy Spirit in my life – if I’m missing something please show me.” And then wait for God to answer.

What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The first and greatest gift is membership in the Body of Christ. In the Holy Spirit, every believer is a member of God’s family.

In addition to this, without preaching another whole sermon, the apostle Paul frequently talks about spiritual gifts in his letters. Paul gives us lists of gifts which include but are not limited to: Word of Wisdom (or Word of Knowledge), Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Discernment of Spirits, Speaking in Tongues, Interpreting Tongues, Wisdom, Teaching, Giving, Encouraging, and many more.

Who is able to receive these gifts?

Anyone who has committed their life and their heart to Jesus. You don’t need to be a certain age, or have a certain level of education, or anything like that. One theologian writes: “The early Christian community [was] strikingly diverse, inclusive, and egalitarian. The Jews who Peter addresses [on Pentecost, and who become believers on that first Pentecost day] were Jewish immigrants from all over the known world… and the movement would also soon include… Gentiles as well (Acts 10) …” (quoting SALT)

So the spiritual gifts are available to everyone; and in the history of the church over the past 2000 years, some of the greatest gifts have been given to those most in need of them: children, minorities, foreigners, the poor, the sick and the injured.

Fifth and final question: Which spiritual gifts do *I* have?

I can’t tell you that. The spiritual gifts you’ve been given is between you and God.

But I can tell you how to find out, and how I went through the process of finding out:

  1. Pray and ask God what your gifts are.
  2. Read through and pray over the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible. There are a number of lists of gifts in scripture. Try starting with I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4. Which of these gifts touches your heart as you’re reading the lists?
  3. After you’ve done this, if you’re still not sure which spiritual gifts you have – and I will tell you I wasn’t sure at first – try taking a Spiritual Gifts Inventory. There are a number of Spiritual Gifts Inventories available online (just Google “spiritual gifts inventory”)

For today, as Pastor Dylan and I wrap up our sermons, we are asking all who are willing, to come forward, and kneel (or stand) as you are able – and we will have some background music – and while you are here, pray silently to God. Ask God to give you the Holy Spirit or to show you what your spiritual gifts are. Ask God to show you how God would like you to use them. Any answers you get are between you and God.

But today, on this Pentecost, invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to you, and help you use, the gifts God has created you to have. I will pray silently along with you… come on down…

Prayer Over Those Who Have Prayed

Holy God, Giver of every good and perfect gift
It is your great grace that offers us salvation
It is grace upon grace that gives us the chance to join you in your saving work

Reveal our spiritual gifts
Reveal our calling in this time and place
for the common good
so we may honor you and one another
Holy God, use us for your glory, now and forever. Amen.


Ascension Day 2023

Psalm 47  To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.  2 For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.  3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.  4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah  5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.  6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.  7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.  8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.  9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.


Ephesians 1:15-23  I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason  16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.  17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,  19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


Luke 24:44-53   44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,  46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,  47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;  53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.


Last week, on Mothers Day, I was talking to the churches about blessing – about how mothers bless their children, and about how children can bless their parents. I also mentioned the founder of Mothers Day – her name was Anna Jarvis, and she was a Methodist who lived in West Virginia, not awfully far from here. What she really meant to create when she created Mothers’ Day was a holiday that would honor women for the sacrifices they make for their children and families, in much the same way as Veterans Day honors the deeds and sacrifices of our service men and women. Anna Jarvis never meant to create the ‘Hallmark Holiday’ that Mothers Day so often becomes, and when she saw people making Mothers Day into a commercial thing she was horrified and she tried to put a stop to the holiday she had created!

The reason I mention this today is because Ascension Day, which we celebrate today, is also a time of remembrance and blessing; and like Mothers Day it’s much more meaningful if we honor Jesus by living its reality rather than simply celebrating a holiday.

But I’m kind of diving in the deep end; let me back up and start from the beginning.

Today’s scriptures begin with our psalm – and the first word that jumped out at me as I read today’s psalm was the word AWESOME.


I remember back in the 1980s the word ‘awesome’ was spoken so often it was practically worn out. Things that were ‘awesome’ back then included doing jazzercise in spandex outfits, watching Matthew Broderick movies, fighting over Cabbage Patch Kids at the mall, listening to big hair bands on our Boom Boxes, and watching Back To the Future. Totally awesome!

Speaking as a teacher and a lover of the English language – I think it’s a crime to wear out a good word like that! The word ‘awesome’ according to the Britannica dictionary means something along the lines of “feelings of fear, respect, and wonder”. I imagine the shepherds who saw and heard the angels on the night Jesus was born were filled with awe. The people who witnessed Jesus saying to a paralyzed man: “take up your mat and go home” – and then saw it happen – were filled with awe.

We know the feeling, but it’s hard to put into words: both the feeling and whatever it is that causes the feeling. Awesomeness so often leaves us at a loss for words, but in a good way.

And where it comes to talk about Jesus’ ascension, like awesomeness, it’s hard to find the words to describe it, an for the same reason. The events of that day are filled with awe.

On the day Jesus ascended, he basically led the disciples on the same path they traveled on Palm Sunday, only backwards. They walked away from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives, out to Bethany. If it hadn’t been made clear yet, it was certainly clear now, that Jesus was not going to take on the powers-that-be in Jerusalem. Jesus had not come to replace the current king of Israel. Jesus’ kingdom – as he said – is not of this world.

Instead, Jesus spent his last day on earth reviewing with the disciples all the teachings of the Old Testament, and the writings of Moses, and the writings of the prophets, that had to do with the Messiah – with himself. Jesus put it all together for the disciples, from beginning to end – probably the first time for many of them heard the entire story at once, from Genesis up until that day, all laid out in logical order.

Up till this point, Jesus had given the truth to the disciples in bits and pieces – bite-size chunks – which is what a good teacher does. Good teachers know that students can’t master a subject without starting at the beginning, and learning one lesson at a time, and practicing what they learn.

scrambled eggs

I remember for example when we were in Home Economics class in high school, learning how to cook. We didn’t start out baking wedding cakes! We started out with something very simple. I think the first lesson was how to make scrambled eggs – which, this being something my mother had taught me years before – astounded me that the teacher told us to actually measure the milk and the salt and the pepper. That’s not how Mom taught me. But the point of the class was to learn to be disciplined and consistent in our cooking. (Which I have to admit I still am not. But I digress.)

Teachers start at the beginning for good reason; and that’s what Jesus had done when he first started teaching the disciples. He had been with them for three years. The subject matter was the truth of God, and the love of God, and how to live a life that pleases God.

Jesus started with the basics, like any good teacher – with things like turning water into wine at weddings!  Or teaching fishermen how to fish for people. After three years, the disciples began to understand that miracles are a part of life, or at least they’re meant to be – which is a lesson that I think our culture today has largely forgotten. (That’s another sermon for another day.)

On this particular day, Jesus was about to go home to God the Father; so he did what any good teacher would do: he had a review. He reviewed Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, and how Jesus was the fulfillment of them all. How Jesus was the one who would provide forgiveness of sins, through his death and resurrection, for anyone who wanted to change the direction of their lives.

There was just one piece missing: the disciples needed God’s power to carry out Jesus’ mission when he was gone. They needed something Jesus had always had – something that Moses had, and David, and Elijah before him had had, but something most people did not have: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And that is the subject for Pentecost next week.

For now, for today, what is it we are seeing here on this mountain-top?

First off, a couple of photos. The first is the Chapel of the Ascension in Israel.


This was built, to the best of out knowledge, on or near the spot where the Ascension happened. If you then go to the door of the chapel and look out, the second photo is what you see:


the city of Jerusalem. To the best of our knowledge, this is where it happened. In this place, all that Jesus had taught began to come together in the minds and hearts of the disciples. Began to. The faith still needs some power.

One theologian makes this suggestion: Think about our cell phones. If we don’t charge the phone, it “dies”. Of course a cell phone really die, this is just what we say when the batteries have no more power. So we charge them, and charging is an ongoing process. Every battery has an optimum charge time, the amount of time it needs to charge to get the best use out of the device. For many smart phones that’s about three hours. We can’t just pull a phone out of the box and start using it – it doesn’t work that way. And if we use it frequently before it’s fully charged, eventually it will shorten the life-span of the battery. Optimal charging – fully charged – is the best way to start.


In a sense, the disciples need to be ‘charged’ – they need to be plugged in to a power source. They will be ‘fully charged’ when the Holy Spirit comes; so Jesus tells the disciples to go back to the city of Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.

In reality the Holy Spirit is far more than just a power source: the Spirit also is a source of memory and knowledge. The Spirit brings to our minds the things Jesus has said, and gives us insights deeper and more accurate than we could realize ourselves. The Holy Spirit picks up where Jesus left off in terms of teaching.

So Jesus says, “wait until you have received power from on high.” Jesus made sure that the disciples – both back then and now – were 100% taken care of before he went home. He also gave them (and us) a mission: to be witnesses to God’s truth and love “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This does not mean we all have to go out and do street-corner preaching. It also does not mean that all of us are sent to minister to the entire world. We are not, all of us, called to travel.  When Jesus talks about taking the faith to ‘the world’ he is speaking of taking our faith into: our personal lives, our homes, our families, our relationships with our friends, and the people we work with, and our neighbors… as well as the community we reach out to through the church’s ministries. ‘The world’ includes, for example, the people who come to dinner at Living Stones, and the people in our neighborhoods who are struggling to learn English, and the people in our communities who need food or medical care, or even just friendship. All of this – and more – is ‘the world’ we are called to.

Someone once told me to think of “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” this way: to think of Jerusalem as the neighborhood we live in; and Judea as the region we live in (Pittsburgh, maybe, or Western PA); and Samaria as our next-door nations, Canada and Mexico, and then to the ends of the earth. Each of us has a part to play in this calling.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, after Jesus ascended, after the Holy Spirit came, the disciples broke bread together, faced opposition from the authorities together, healed people together, prayed together, cast out evil spirits and restored the dead to life together, and learned to forgive together. All of these things and more in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, before he leaves this earth, Jesus blesses the disciples. They do not go forward alone – and neither do we.


Why does Jesus leave? Because he can do more in this world, through us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, than he can do alone as a single human being.

Jesus also gives us a glimpse of our future – because resurrection and ascension is where we are all headed. And while we wait, we pray “Thy kingdom come.” Why? Because that’s home. That’s where our loved ones are who have gone before us, and that’s where we are headed. This is, as the apostle Paul says, “the greatness of his power for us who believe”. We are headed where Jesus is. We will follow in his footsteps, even though we can’t see exactly where they lead right now.

In the meantime, we declare our God an awesome God, and we sing songs of joy and praise to Jesus, who is king over all the earth. Luke says Jesus’ followers are “always in the temple blessing God” – and this is a good thing for us to do too, while we’re waiting. We don’t just come to church because the building is open on Sundays. We come to this place to be in God’s presence, and in the presence of God’s Spirit, and to bless God as God has blessed us. We worship “with great joy” as the disciples did back then, and we look forward to blessing God, and being blessed by God, in that great and awesome reunion in God’s Kingdom. AMEN.

Back in 1776 when the United States became a nation, our founders wrote into law the separation of Church and State. That line of separation has held for over 200 years, and rightly so.

People of faith have the right to vote, and politicians have the right to attend worship where they choose.

But politicians don’t have the right to tell people what religion to believe in, or to tell people how to worship or follow God, or to imply to their supporters that people who don’t vote for their candidate are of the devil, or to set up a political candidate as a  messiah — just as pastors don’t have the right to tell people how to vote. Doing any of these things in America is both anti-American and a crime.

Today I received an email stating that Michael Flynn’s ReAwaken Rallies (in support of Trump in 2024) have crossed that line by BAPTIZING PEOPLE at political rallies. Much photographic evidence of this can be found through Google search, but here are a couple examples from PBS’s Frontline and from the New York Post.

The email I received came from someone who attended a Pastors for Trump event in Florida and who witnessed such a baptism first-hand. She described what she saw as “a political movement using religion for its authority, motivation, and permission structure” and described the baptisms she witnessed this way:

“Full-immersion baptism, which for some may seem odd, is not strange to me and other Baptists. But these were odd baptisms to me, because it was not at all clear to me what they were being baptized into. Each one took less than a minute, the person would step into a plastic kiddie pool, sit down and tell three people his or her name, and then be dunked. The officiants didn’t even say anything like a liturgy when doing it.”

She added: “it did seem like a genuinely spiritual experience, but of what, I don’t know. It wasn’t a recognizable Christian baptism…”

Speaking later at a local Episcopal church she commented:

“We are here to say to the millions of Christians across this country who are likewise horrified and angry… you are not alone.”


I am writing this post today to say simply: The ReAwaken movement IS NOT CHRISTIANITY – nor is it any other faith tradition.

It is a counterfeit of both sincere faith and honorable politics.

It’s time to stand up and say to this “no more”.

Commandment 1

Mother’s Day Meditation

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.  23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,  25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.  26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,  27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him– though indeed he is not far from each one of us.  28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.  30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:22-31   


8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,  9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.  10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.  11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;  12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.  13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,  14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.  15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah  16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.  17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.  18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.  19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.  20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me. – Psalm 66:8-20  


13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,  15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;  16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.  17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.  18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,  19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,  20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. – 1 Peter 3:13-22   


15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” – John 14:15-21


Good morning and welcome to the sixth week of Easter, which also happens to be Mothers’ Day – we are celebrating both today!

Mothers Day

I have to admit from a worship perspective Mother’s Day has always left me scratching my head a bit. Apart from the fact it has become a bit of a Hallmark holiday, we need to consider the feelings of people who don’t have mothers any more, or who never had kids, or who come from non-traditional families. I’m glad that in recent years churches have made an effort to celebrate women in general, even if they are not mothers.

I was doing some reading about how Mother’s Day got started, and I was surprised to learn that the woman who started it – Anna Jarvis – originally had in mind something more like a Veterans Day for mothers: a day to remember the sacrifices women make to bring children into this world, and to raise them, and to nurture them. It’s cool that Ms. Jarvis was a Methodist; and that she lived in Grafton WV, south of Morgantown; and that the first Mother’s Day was financed (at her request) by John Wanamaker of Philadelphia, the owner of the city’s largest department store.

Mothers Day history

Anna Jarvis’ own mother had lost seven children in childbirth or infancy. Her mother had also been a social activist during the Civil War. She was a hero. And when her mother passed away, Anna grieved very deeply, and wanted to find a way to honor her mother’s memory and the memories of other women of courage.

So in the early 1900s the first Mother’s Day was observed in West Virginia and in Wanamaker’s store in Philadelphia. On that day, Anna encouraged people to wear a white carnation in solidarity, to attend church, and if possible to visit their mother.

Anna herself was never a mother; she never married. But as she often said, many American holidays honored male achievements and she wanted to honor women for a change. She turned this cause into a letter-writing campaign to politicians and newspapers, and it eventually resulted in a national holiday being signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Sounds like a wonderful story with a happy ending, doesn’t it? Except for one thing: Anna really meant Mothers Day to be a way of honoring the service and gifts of women. She never envisioned a “Hallmark holiday”. In fact, a few years after the holiday’s passage, when Anna saw that Mother’s Day was being taken up by florists and greeting card companies and restaurants, Anna was horrified – and she began a campaign to remove Mother’s Day as a holiday! She passed away in 1948 without making any progress in reforming the holiday that she created.

I think she was right to want to change it. Not to get rid of it, but to change it. So today I would like to honor Anna Jarvis’ original intentions. I’d like us to take a moment and think about the sacrifices our mothers made – and other women in our lives who may not have been our birth-mothers but who brought great good into our lives as teachers, or aunts, or grandmothers, or stepmothers, or maybe even our friends’ mothers.

Julian Mother

Then I’d like to take it one step further, and honor God today as our heavenly Parent. The scripture talks about God as our Father, and I don’t want to question that. But God is in reality a spirit (as the good book says) and as a spirit, God’s nature includes (but is not limited to) all of what it means to be human, both male and female. God presents Godself to us in scripture as our Father; and Jesus as God’s son, who is also clearly male; but the Holy Spirit has many of what we might call ‘feminine’ characteristics; and human beings, both male and female, were made in God’s image.

So God has some mother-like qualities. The Bible talks about this: Deuteronomy describes God as “caring for us… as an eagle stirs up her nest and hovers over her young.” (Deut. 32:10-11) If you’ve been watching online as those eaglets are growing up out in Hays, you know what the Bible is talking about. Seeing a mother eagle take care of her babies is… something fierce!

The prophet Isaiah also says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these might forget, yet I will not forget you,” God says. “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Is. 49:15-16)

God looks at each one of us with the care and compassion of a mother.

So what can we make of this, in light of today’s scripture readings? To answer that question in depth would require a book or two; for today, just a few thoughts.

First, in our scripture readings today, the writers talk about God’s blessings. Blessings are good things: things associated with protection, and happiness, and well-being. God gives blessings to people, but people can also give blessings to God, and we can give blessings to each other.

For example the Bible says, “how sweet it is when children live together in unity.” Anyone here who is a parent can relate to this! Doesn’t it drive you crazy when the kids are fighting? But isn’t it wonderful when they’re all getting along? How our children treat each other has a great effect on the happiness and blessedness of their parents. And God feels the same way about us!


It’s also possible for children to bless their parents by saying “thank you” for what has been done for them. And it’s the same with us and God. We bless God when we say “thank you” to God for what God has done for us.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a style of prayer that I admire. They begin with the words, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who does…” and then they add whatever God has been doing that blessed them: “who brings sunshine and spring”… “who brings good food and good company”… “who creates and sustains this world”… you get the idea. “Blessed art thou… who has done these things…” and then, after they have blessed God, then they offer any requests. I recommend this form of prayer, especially if and when we find ourselves ‘stuck’ and not knowing how to pray. “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe…” and then take it from there.


In our reading from Acts, Paul says about God: “In him we live and move and have our being” and Paul quotes some of the poets of Athens who say, “We too are his offspring.” Paul agrees with this, and he urges the people of Athens to turn away from worshipping a pantheon of gods, or even, in this case, ‘an unknown god’. Paul says God is not unknown, or remote, or a stranger. God is present everywhere, and we are, so to speak, living ‘inside’ God’s creation, dependent on God for all of life.

In the book of I Peter, the apostle Peter talks about Jesus’ followers striving to “be of one mind” – to be a blessing to each other, to encourage rather than condemn. He encourages us to be able to explain the hope that is in us, because God is on the throne, and because Jesus Christ has suffered for us and been raised from the dead in order to bring us to God. Peter encourages everyone to be baptized into the family of God – again, seeing God as our heavenly Parent – as the head of our family of faith. All of this is made available to us through the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day.

And then finally in the gospel reading from John, Jesus is talking to the disciples about his upcoming departure. Next Sunday we will be talking about Jesus’ Ascension into heaven – but before he leaves us, Jesus’ most important message is, “I will not leave you orphaned.” This family relationship between God and Jesus, and Jesus and us, is absolutely essential. Jesus says, “I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:18). (This is one of those mystical passages of scripture that is far better understood through contemplation rather than trying to grasp it logically.)

This passage speaks of love, the cornerstone of all healthy family relationships. It talks about keeping God’s commandments, not in a sense of do-it-or-else, but in the sense of paying attention to a loving parent. We abide in Jesus, and Jesus abides in us; and we share love, and we are close, and so it follows that we would want to be united in mind and heart.

In addition, God sends the Holy Spirit to help us understand God and to be a ‘helper’ to us. God is – and always will be – both ‘out there’ and ‘in here’. In a very similar way our earthly ancestors are all both ‘out there’ (in heaven) and ‘in here’, in us… and we in them… to be reunited one day ‘in a place where no shadows fall’.

So how can we make this Mother’s Day today more the way its founder intended?

Mothers DAy Founder

First, it’s totally appropriate to talk about our family with God today, that is, to pray for our family members. It is totally appropriate to remember all the sacrifices the women in our lives have made for us, and the investments of time and talent these women have made. It’s totally appropriate to thank our mothers in God’s presence – free of commercialism and straight from our hearts.

Second, it’s totally appropriate to honor God today, as our heavenly parent. We can honor God by:

  • turning our hearts and lives in God’s direction;
  • seeing and knowing God for who he is, to the best of our ability;
  • saying ‘thank you’ to God, for those people God has put in our lives – especially our mothers;
  • speaking the truth about God
    • tell what God has done for us
    • tell how God has listened to us
    • tell how God has loved us through everything, like a parent
  • honoring God by being willing and ready to share our hope with anyone who asks
  • living and loving from the heart, in the Holy Spirit
  • treasuring Jesus’ words and living them as best we can (just like we do with our mothers’ words)

The very best ‘thanks’ we can give to our mothers – or to God – is to live the very best lives we can, loving others as they have loved us.

With thanks to God who has places us all in families… AMEN.

May 14, 2023 – Easter 6 – Mother’s Day


To the leader. A Psalm of David. In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.  2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.  3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,  4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.  5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. 15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.  16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. – Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16


2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation–  3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.  4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and  5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  6 For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”  7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”  8 and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.  9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.1 Peter 2:2-10   


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.  – John 14:1-14


King Charles

I’m sure I’m not the only person who was up at 5AM yesterday to watch the crowning of King Charles III. This coronation will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if the King lives as long as his mother did, which of course we all hope for.

Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth, was already on the throne when I was born, so she’s the only British monarch who has reigned during my lifetime until now. And even though we Americans aren’t British, the fact that she reigned for so long gave me – and a lot of other people – a sense of stability, a sense that somewhere in the world there is something that lasts. And that’s what the coronation ceremony is designed to communicate: that even though monarchs may live and die, the kingdom itself is something lasting, something permanent, something that will still be here when our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are our age.

One of the other things the newscasters have been talking about a lot this past week has been the Crown Jewels, and particularly that world-famous diamond known as the Cullinan diamond – the largest diamond ever found on Earth. The stone is absolutely priceless. It has been cut (very carefully) into nine famous stones plus some smaller jewels made out of the chips. The largest of the diamonds, which is in the King’s Sceptre, is over 3000 carats. The second largest piece is over 300 carats and is in the Imperial State Crown. The other seven stones belong to the King and are held in trust for the nation and for future monarchs.

cullinan diamond

These stones are usually kept – extremely well-guarded – in the Tower of London, where sight-seers can view them (for a price and from a distance). In a very real way, the stones represent the nation of the United Kingdom – much in the same way that our Capital building or our White House represent America – which are also made of stones.

Our Scripture readings for today talk a lot about stones: valuable stones. The readings say too much to cover in one sermon, so I’ll just touch on the highlights today.

There is actually a fourth reading assigned to this Sunday, which we did not hear this morning, because on the whole it doesn’t really fit in with the other three readings. I won’t read it now, but it also talks about stones. It’s the story in the book of Acts that tells about the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As he is dying, filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen prays for forgiveness for the people who are stoning him. And I mention this because he prays the same verse from Psalm 31 that we heard today, that Jesus prayed on the cross: “into your hands I commit my spirit”.

This prayer that Jesus prayed was first prayed by King David. In Psalm 31, King David talks a lot about stones. In this psalm, David has gotten himself into a tight spot – some kind of life-changing trouble. He doesn’t say exactly what’s going on, but he says things like “my life is spent with sorrow… my strength fails… I have become like a broken vessel…”

I think most of us can relate to these feelings in some way at some time. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, we can pray as David prayed: “O Lord in you I seek refuge”… “be to me a rock of refuge” and be to me “a strong fortress”.  David understood the power and the protection and the security of a fortress built out of stone.

rock of refuge

In our reading from the Gospel of John, we also come across buildings made with stones. Jesus says “in my Father’s house are many mansions” – which might well be built out of stones. Jesus speaks these words to comfort the disciples. Jesus has just told them he is about to die, and he has told them “where I am going you cannot come,” and the disciples are heartbroken. They don’t understand yet that Jesus must die; they don’t understand yet that he will come back in three days; they don’t understand yet that Jesus will ascend into heaven, where they can’t come just yet.

But Jesus’ resurrection makes the ascension necessary – both for Jesus, and for us. So Jesus encourages and reassures the disciples by describing a place, in the kingdom to come, that Jesus is making ready for us. This is not a fable – it’s a reality as indestructible as the Cullinan diamond.

When you and I get to God’s kingdom, each of us will have a place – not so much a ‘room’ as a role to fill, a purpose for being there. We arrive the same way David did: by trusting God, and by trusting in the Messiah. We live in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us, and we are being knitted together into God’s house. We are, as one theologian said, “a plurality of people with a single heart”. In fact Jesus says, “let not your heart be troubled” and the word heart is singular, not plural! We are being built together into one. Let our heart not be troubled.

The Holy-Spirit-directed Church becomes a living part of God’s work in the world. Whenever we pray or act “in Jesus’ name” we are declaring loyalty and allegiance to Jesus as our King, and to God’s Kingdom; and the church becomes “a fruitful community… alive with the Spirit.” (SALT)

The apostle Peter picks up on this idea in his letter, where he talks about “living stones”. I love that our Sunday night dinners at Fairhaven are called “Living Stones” because that’s exactly what we are: God’s people, living stones, being built together into a living house.

This idea of ‘living stones’ is of course a metaphor – it’s a type of parable – but what does it refer to? What parallel do we have to help us understand what Peter is saying?

Here’s one possibility – something Peter probably knew about back in the day – that might have inspired the thought.


In Africa there is a plant that looks like stones. They’re called ‘lithops’ – which basically means ‘stones’. Before they bloom they look like this, and they could be mistaken for stones. But when they bloom…

Lithops blooming

They produce one beautiful flower per stone. These flowers have no stems, and the leaves are the part of the plant that look like stones.

One of these plants by itself probably wouldn’t be noticed. In fact one plant alone probably wouldn’t survive. But if you put a whole bunch together they’re beautiful. And – with the right foundational materials and an artist’s skill – they could be built into something resembling a building of living stones.

God is the ‘proper foundation’ that we as living stones need, to thrive and to be built together. God is also the artist who knows exactly how to place us in that building for maximum beauty and thriving. We are, taken together, one of the outcomes of God’s creativity. In a sense, resurrection can be thought of as ‘repurposing a building’ as we are built together into this spiritual house, into this living community.

One side note that’s worth mentioning: in Psalm 118, Jesus is referred to as “the chief cornerstone” – a stone that the builders rejected, but a stone that God chose and honored. I found out this past week that the word ‘cornerstone’ is not really the correct translation for this word in the Psalm. A ‘cornerstone’ is usually low a the building, in the corner of a building’s foundation. But the word in scripture should be translated either ‘capstone’ or ‘keystone’. It describes the one stone at the top of an arch that holds the structure together. The weight of this stone uses the force of gravity to push outward and downward, and prevents the arch from falling apart under its own weight.


Like this keystone, Jesus holds the building of living stones together. And he holds together that building of living stones which is made up of every person who believes in him, in every church, in every denomination, from every nation around the world.

Looking at the congregation in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of King Charles, we saw a little bit of a foretaste of what that will look like: people from all around the world, from every nation and language and tribe, coming together to celebrate the King.

We as Christians are honored to be among the Eternal King’s living stones: a royal priesthood in God’s eternal Kingdom.

In Jesus’ name and to his glory, AMEN.

The Good Shepherd

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  44 All who believed were together and had all things in common;  45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  46 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,  47 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. – Acts 2:42-47


Psalm 23:1-6  A Psalm of David

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


“For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.  20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.  21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.  22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.  24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:19-25


“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep – John 10:1-15


We are now heading full steam into Week Four of the Easter season. For the first three weeks of Easter our Scripture readings focused on Jesus’ resurrection: the actual events of that first Easter day. For the next few weeks, up until Pentecost, we will be focusing on the teachings of Jesus, and particularly about living a life close to God.

Good Shepherd

Today we begin that closeness with “Good Shepherd” Sunday. In the scriptures we heard today from the gospel of John, and from Psalm 23, God and/or Jesus are compared to shepherds. In John, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd” and in Psalm 23, King David writes, “the Lord is my shepherd”.

These two scripture passages, which were written almost 1000 years apart, have a great deal in common, and they mutually shed light on each other. The overwhelming message of both is that, in a world marked by chaos and violence and fear – like the world that we live in today – God’s people know joy and peace in this life, and assurance for the life to come.

Because these shepherd-related readings tend to remind us of the hereafter, these passages are often read at funerals; but they really are more for the living than for the dead. I think their popularity at funerals comes from the fact they are so comforting to those who survive.

We’ll start today with the reading from John.  In John chapter 10, Jesus describes himself as both “the shepherd who enters by the gate” and as “the gate for the sheep”. This is a little confusing at first because it’s sort of a mixed metaphor, but Jesus explains it further on.

In verse 11, which we didn’t hear this morning but which comes right after our passage, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And he also says in verse 14, “I know my own (my own sheep, that is) and my own know me.”

It is one of the truly remarkable things about sheep, that they really do know their shepherd, and will not follow anyone else. When the shepherd calls, the sheep follow. But if a stranger says or does the exact same things, the sheep won’t budge.

In John chapter 10, Jesus describes God as “the gatekeeper”, and the sheep pen is God’s kingdom. Jesus says God is the one who opens the gate to the sheep-pen. God is the one who invites us into the kingdom. God is the one who initiates the relationship. God may send that invitation through people, or pastors, or friends, or the Bible, or any number of things… but when we get to know Jesus it’s because God started it; God opened the door for our faith.

sheep n gate

Then Jesus says he himself is both the “gate” and the “shepherd” – so the metaphor is mixed. Jesus is the gate, because God’s sheep enter God’s kingdom through Jesus. The apostle Peter says in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Likewise Psalm 118 says, “This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous enter.” So God’s sheep enter God’s kingdom through the gate, which is Jesus.

But Jesus is also the shepherd, who guides the sheep through the gate. Jesus speaks to the sheep, and the sheep follow his voice because we know him. The sheep will run away from anyone else who tries to lead them.

If anyone else does try to lead the sheep, they are false shepherds. Jesus says they come to steal and to destroy. Jesus calls them “thieves and bandits” who exploit the flock, or who abandon the flock when the wolves come, or who would love to sit down to a dinner of lamb chops.

Jesus, on the other hand, being the true shepherd, cares for the sheep. During the day, he leads the sheep out through the gate, out into green pasture. At night, he leads the sheep back through the gate into the sheepfold – which in those days was an enclosed area with stone walls and a wooden gate. Jesus’ purpose for us is LIFE – and we, being sheep, we know the shepherd and we trust him.


This basically sums up Jesus’ teaching in John 10:1-5. But the disciples are puzzled at these words, so Jesus approaches the subject from another direction. He says he is the ‘gate’ into the Father’s lands. Whoever enters God’s kingdom through Jesus will not only be saved but will find food for life. Any other gate, any other doorway, leads to death and destruction. When Jesus says he is the “good shepherd” he means not just ‘opposite of bad’ (although he is that) but that he is the true shepherd, as in “the real McCoy”, who brings us both safety and abundant life.

1000 years before Jesus said this, King David wove similar ideas into Psalm 23. English theologian Matthew Henry, whose writings influenced John Wesley, says this about Psalm 23: “From three very [comforting thoughts] David, in this psalm, draws three very [comforting] conclusions… (1) we are saved by hope, and (2) that we will not be ashamed by this hope, because (3) this hope is well grounded.”

As most of us know, King David himself was a shepherd before he became king, so he knew from experience what it takes to care for sheep. Psalm 23 might have been written before David was crowned – after he was anointed by the prophet Samuel, but while King Saul was still on the throne. I have a feeling this was written by David while he was relatively young and still visiting the sheep now and then.

As a shepherd, David had a real heart for his sheep. He knew them and cared for them personally. He knew their names. He knew their ‘personalities’ (so to speak); he knew their weaknesses; he knew which ones were likely to wander off and get into trouble; and sometimes David risked his life to save the sheep. David tells the story of killing lions and bears with his slingshot. As a shepherd, David was there for his sheep 24/7.

So speaking as a shepherd, this is what David has to say about his shepherd and ours:

Verse 1 – David says “the Lord is my shepherd”. The word Lord here in Hebrew is YHWH, the name of God – the name that translates “I AM” – the God who created the world and who introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush. God is the God of all the living, who calls all of us into relationship with himself. This is the God David is writing about. This God does not allow his sheep to miss out on anything good. As God’s people we are not promised a life of wealth, but we will always have enough, and we will always have God’s love and God’s closeness.

Verse 2 – David says God leads us in “green pastures” and “beside still waters” – in other words, he sets our lives in pleasant places. The meadows of life that God leads us into are “never barren… always green.” (Henry)  And the waters are refreshing, and they’re safe to get into.  The water is not dangerous like rapids, but the water is also not stagnant. These streams of water come from the fountains of living water in the City of God.

Verse 3 – God restores us from the inside out. God leads us in doing right so that his name will be honored. Sheep have a tendency to wander off and get lost, or to get confused, or to get tangled up in things… and so do people. God not only leads us to repentance, not only offers forgiveness, but God leads us to a place of well-being and welcome.

Verse 4 – even when we are confronted with death – which, these days, is almost every day – we are not afraid because God is with us. The rod and staff are the tools of a shepherd to protect and defend.  The rod is for fighting off enemies, and the staff is to guide the sheep. God takes care of us, every step of the way. And when death does come – as it does to us all – God walks through it with us and does not abandon us.

Verse 5 – God is preparing a place for God’s people: which includes setting up a banquet in full view of anyone who hates us. Jewish rabbis teach that this is “a luxurious and royal banquet, hosted by the Lord”. And Charles Simeon, a preacher-friend of John Wesley, calls it “a feast of fat things” with our cups full of the Holy Spirit’s wine.

You Prepare a Table

God also “anoints our heads with oil.” This oil, this anointing, could mean a lot of different things. In Bible times, oil was used to welcome an honored guest (remember the stories of the women who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil at a couple of different banquets in the Gospels). Oil brings a feeling of gladness; old was used in the ancient world for health and healing – it was poured on wounds; it was used to anoint holy things; it symbolized the presence of the Holy Spirit; and it symbolized royalty. (We can watch for this, BTW, this coming Saturday when King Charles is crowned. Part of the ceremony includes anointing him with oil – both as King, and to impart the wisdom of the Holy Spirit so that he can govern well.)

Bottom line, with this oil, God provides for us more generously than we could ever ask or imagine, and our cups overflow.

Verse 6 – God shows us goodness and mercy all through our lives here on this earth, and promises a forever-home with him in the eternal kingdom.

So what does all of this mean for us here, today? Three things:

  1. We can be absolutely SURE of God’s care. Charles Simeon commented that if King David – who never met Jesus, and who lived before most of the prophets – if David was sure of God’s goodness and mercy, how much more sure can we be! We, who know Jesus, who know the prophecies, who have the teachings of the apostles. Even when it seems like troubles are following us, we know that God’s care follows even more closely. We can be sure that God’s mercy and goodness will be with us all our lives, and into the next life.
  2. Even in the toughest times we can be confident of God’s loving presence and care. God will supply our needs – and not just barely, but richly. God through Jesus offers us refreshment and strength for life’s journey.
  3. It is totally appropriate to trust God the way sheep trust shepherds – because our shepherd is the best, and he has laid down his life for us. Our shepherd will be with us always, even to the end and beyond.

With thanks and praise to our Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, AMEN.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,  14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.  21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,  23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.  24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”  25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

          28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.  30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

          33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. — Luke 24:13-35


Today begins Week Three of Easter, and even though we still have a few more weeks left in the Easter season, this is the last week that our scripture readings will actually be talking about the resurrection. Starting next week we get back into Jesus’ teachings, and we’ll continue with that up until Ascension and Pentecost.

Today I’d like to focus on our reading from Luke: the story of the disciples’ conversation on the road to Emmaus. And I particularly want to point out… and shine light on… what the disciples said about hearing Jesus talk about and explain the scriptures. They said, in verse 32, “our hearts were on fire.”

Our hearts were on fire.

Heart on fire

Further on in the book of Acts, we will hear that this feeling of being ‘on fire’ is related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is something about hearing God’s truth that lights a flame in the hearts of people who love God.

If we think about it: when have we had the feeling of our hearts being on fire? When I ask Google this question, I get a whole list of love songs. Maybe falling in love is the first experience most of us have with our hearts feeling like they’re on fire; but it’s not quite the same thing that we feel about the word of God.

I remember back in the late 1960s something that set peoples’ hearts on fire was watching the Moon Landing. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – those words touched millions of hearts. I knew a number of people, including my own brother, who chose careers in science because they were so moved by that moment.

When hearts are on fire, lives change. People get a sense of direction; a passion to live by. So where do we start with Jesus?

One contemporary theologian says, “the resurrection is more than just an event – it is a person.” Jesus himself said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Our future in the Kingdom of God will be with Jesus, not only because of what Jesus has done, but because of who Jesus is.

Therefore our response to Jesus needs to be in the form of a relationship, one that involves heart as well as mind. We need hearts full of praise. As we heard in Psalm 116 this morning: “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice…”; “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord!” (v. 13)

As we approach the events on the road to Emmaus – which is happening on Easter Day (we’re still on that first Easter!) – let this first Easter touch our hearts deeply.

Early Easter morning, Mary had gone to the tomb and found it empty, and she saw an angel, and then she spoke with Jesus briefly, and he sent her to tell the rest of the disciples that he was alive. Shortly afterward, two disciples – one named Cleopas and the other whose name we don’t know – who had been with the group that morning and had heard Mary’s story – decided to walk home to Emmaus (which was about seven miles, about a two hour walk). These two disciples were probably two of the 70 disciples Jesus had sent out to do ministry back in Luke chapter 10.

As they were walking along the road, they were talking about the events of the past three days. The road they were on was not heavily traveled, but they were overheard by another traveler, who came up and asked what they were talking about. The two disciples mistook this man for a visitor – in verse 18 the word “stranger” could also be translated “visitor”: somebody who was not from around there.

road to emmaus

They ask him: “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened?” And they go on to tell him all about Jesus – “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” who they had hoped was the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel, but the chief priests had had him crucified. And now, three days later, Mary had come back from his tomb early in the morning saying that he was alive!

The newcomer to the conversation replies with words that sound harsh: “how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe…”  On closer study, I think a better translation might be something along the lines of, “boy are you guys slow on the uptake!” It was meant to be more teasing than insulting.

And then Jesus – who was still unrecognized at this point – proceeded to explain to them all the things in the Old Testament that talk about himself – starting with Moses and moving through all the prophets. Wouldn’t you love to have listened in on that conversation?

—Side note

These two disciples had spent months with Jesus. So why did they not recognize him? It seems that Jesus’ resurrected body was somehow different from his original body.

In all of the resurrection events in the New Testament, Jesus is not immediately recognized even by the people who knew him best. Mary, in the garden on Easter morning, mistook him for the gardener. When the disciples met Jesus in Galilee they didn’t recognize him right away. Something about Jesus’ resurrected body was different.

His body still had the scars from the nails though; and the disciples recognized him because of those scars. Jesus’ resurrected body was also able to walk into locked rooms without opening the door. So his resurrection body was not the usual human body!

As a lifelong science fiction fan, my imagination is tempted to have a field day with this. Imagine the possibilities! But bringing it down to reality, there is definitely something different… something… not entirely of Earth… about Jesus’ resurrection body.

Jesus says in John 12:24 “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Those of us who are planting gardens right now understand that. But the seed that is planted doesn’t look like the plant that grows. The human bodies that we see and live in – in a lot of ways – are like seeds. And what Jesus has become is like the plant that grows from the seed. And we will share that future someday. But on the road to Emmaus, when the full-grown resurrected plant meets a couple of un-resurrected seeds (so to speak) it’s understandable that they did not recognize him.

—End of side note—

At the end of the journey to Emmaus, they went into the home of one of the disciples, and invited the visitor to stay because it was getting dark. (Middle Eastern hospitality would have insisted that a stranger not be left alone at night.) As everyone settles down to dinner, and they recline at table, Jesus takes bread and breaks it just as he did at Passover three nights before – and they recognized him!  And then Jesus vanished!

breaking of bread

They don’t know it yet, but a few moments later Jesus will show up in Jerusalem. (These resurrection bodies have some really cool features!)

Meanwhile the two disciples look at each other and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They immediately get up and walked back to Jerusalem, to the tell the disciples they have seen Jesus. The others reply “We know! Simon has seen him too!” ~And there was much rejoicing~

I want to go back to that moment when they said: “were not our hearts burning within us as he opened the scriptures?” If only they had written down what Jesus said! It would be wonderful to know how Jesus put it all together. But, taking what we have from the Old Testament, I’ll make an attempt to reconstruct at least a part of the conversation.

Jesus would have begun at the beginning…

  • God promises Abram: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)
  • Years later, Abraham prophesies: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet….” (Genesis 49:10)
  • Years after that, a prophet named Balaam prophecies over Israel: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near – a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17)
  • In the book of psalms we find these words:
    • …the LORD… said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalm 2:7-8)
    • The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)
    • The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
  • Also in the Psalms can be found descriptions of crucifixion… written 1000 years before crucifixion was invented. For example:
    • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
    • “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
      my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast” (Psalm 22:14)
    • “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads…” (Psalm 22:7)
    • “…they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)
  • Years after that, the prophet Isaiah writes:
    • In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:1-2)
    • the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
    • For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
  • And Isaiah also foresees a violent death. He writes:
    • I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)
    • By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:8-9)
    • The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11b-12)
  • And finally the end result of his suffering, from the prophet Daniel, who writes:
    • As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Who can hear these words of God and not be moved?

In our reading from Acts earlier today, the apostle Peter preached a sermon based on these prophecies, and he ended with the words, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) The people who heard Peter believed and were baptized that same day, around 3000 of them.

Two thousand years later, this is still our message, and our calling: to carry these words to all who will listen. May God bless our hearts, our understanding, and our speaking. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven and Spencer United Methodist Churches, 4/23/23

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,  7 so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,  9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – I Peter 1:3-9


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

     24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

     26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:19-31



If I didn’t get the chance to wish you Happy Easter last week – “Happy Easter!”  I hope it was a good one!  I was noticing the other day on the church calendar: the Easter season is a week longer than the season of Lent, which I think is totally appropriate. Let the celebration continue!

Our scripture readings for today give us a lot that’s relatable and a lot to think about. To get a handle on all these things I’d like to propose three common threads – three categories in which to put our thoughts:

  1. Blessing – that is, God’s blessing – on all people, on everyone who believes in Jesus, no matter where we’re from and no matter what’s in our past. God gives us rich blessings through Jesus’ death and resurrection! Our reading from I Peter talks about these blessings.
  2. Rejoicing – God’s people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord we love is not dead. He’s alive! Jesus cannot be held by death. Death has done the very worst that it possibly can – and as far as Jesus is concerned death is dead! We celebrate this because we love Jesus… and because his victory over death also gives us victory over death.
  3. Faith – God’s blessings and Jesus’ victory over the grave, taken together, give our lives a foundation of faith, both in this life and the next.

Blessing, rejoicing, and faith – these three things are huge subjects, and I can really only touch on each briefly today, but listen for these three threads in our readings for today and as we continue through the Easter season.

I’ll start with Faith first and our reading from the gospel of John. This is a very familiar story of a man known as “doubting Thomas”. I think Thomas has gotten a bad rap BTW. Thomas wasn’t asking for anything more than the other disciples had already experienced. Thomas wasn’t with the others the first time Jesus showed up after his resurrection; all the other disciples had the chance to touch Jesus and look at the marks of the nails; so when Thomas says, “I’m not going to believe unless I see for myself” – it’s not that he’s doubting Jesus so much as he’d like to share in what the other disciples have already experienced.

~Side note~

There must be something very different about resurrected bodies. In all the resurrection events in the New Testament, Jesus is not immediately recognized even by the people who knew him best. Mary, in the garden on Easter morning, mistook him for the gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus until he broke the bread. When the disciples met Jesus in Galilee they didn’t recognize him right away. Something about Jesus’ resurrected body was different. His body still had the scars from the nails; but Jesus was also able to walk into locked rooms without opening the door. His resurrection body was not the typical human body!

Speaking as a lifelong science fiction fan, my imagination is tempted to have a field day with this. Imagine the possibilities! But bringing it down to reality, there is definitely something different… something… not entirely of Earth… about Jesus’ resurrection body: which is as it should be, since Jesus has passed through death and into eternal life.

Jesus says in John 12:24 “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Those of us who have been planting gardens in this beautiful spring weather understand that. The seed that is planted doesn’t look at all like the plant that grows. The human bodies that we see and live in – in a lot of ways – are like seeds; and what Jesus has become is the plant that grows from the seed. And we will share this future someday.

~end of side note~

Back to Thomas. The apostle Paul once said, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  It’s interesting that Paul does not say “faith comes by seeing.” (I’m told it’s much easier to deceive the eye than the ear.)


And yet, like Thomas, we would love to see with our own eyes. Is this wrong? I don’t think so. Where it comes to Jesus I think it helps to have as many of our senses involved as possible. On the other hand, Jesus says, “blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.” This is a word of comfort and encouragement to all of us who have never had the opportunity to see Jesus with our own eyes or touch him with our own hands. In this life we walk by faith, and not by sight.

We turn next to Blessing. In case any of us has any doubt: God wants to bless us. Psalm 115 verse 12 says, “The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us.” Verse 18 of the same Psalm says, “we will bless the Lord”. That’s a cool thought isn’t it, that we have the ability to bless God? The blessing goes back and forth: we bless God, God blesses us, in a relationship that goes on for eternity.

God blesses us in so many ways we’d be here all day (at least) if we tried to name them all; so just to name a few: God blesses us with peace. Jesus greets the disciples with the words “peace be with you”. God speaks calm and assurance into the hearts of disciples whose lives were shattered just a few days ago.

God also gives us new avenues of ministry. Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” What an incredible responsibility God has given us! And since this is true, how very much we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit as we forgive and as we live out our lives!


Jesus’ resurrection makes it possible for us to know Jesus personally even without having met face-to-face, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ll talk more about the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. For now, we remember that without Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit would never have been available to us. It is Jesus’ dying and rising again that allows the Spirit to be given to God’s people.

And last but not least there’s Rejoicing. At this point I turn our attention to the reading from First Peter. This passage has a special place in my heart. It’s a passage we don’t hear often, which is too bad. In this reading Peter explains exactly what salvation is, and why we sometimes pass through dangers and difficulties in this life. His words lead us to rejoicing.

In this letter, Peter is writing to the early Christian church, which has just begun to suffer persecution. The first few years of Christianity were fairly peaceful; but when the faith spread beyond Judea, and Roman citizens began converting in large numbers, Rome took notice… and since emperor-worship was the order of the day in Rome, they were not happy about this new religious movement. The persecutions began.

Peter is writing to encourage Christian believers who are being persecuted, and his thoughts are amazingly relevant for us where we live – not so much under persecution, but in dark and violent times.

Peter starts out by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”  Peter can praise God even in dark times because he believes in an Easter Savior – a Savior who cannot be defeated by evil, in this world or any other. Peter says:

“…God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection give us what Peter calls an “inheritance” – which is the right word to use for something we receive as a result of someone’s death. However this inheritance is not money or things, and it can’t be taxed (thank God). This inheritance is imperishable (it can’t be destroyed), it is undefiled (no dirt or rust on it) and unfading (it shines like the sun). All of this barely begins to describe our heavenly home in God’s kingdom. Imagine the celebration and rejoicing on that great day when we’re all home at last!


Peter says we are born again to a “living hope” – the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, and eternal life begins now and lasts forever. All this is being guarded and kept safe by God himself.

Peter says the rejoicing has starting already! Even though the world around us grows more difficult and dangerous, even though our beliefs may be ridiculed, even though we may be in danger sometimes, Peter says any trials we go through in life purify our faith the way that fire purifies metal.

We here in the Steel City, we understand about fire and metal. We know that it takes a very hot furnace to purify steel, to burn away its imperfections; but we also know how strong steel is once it’s been heat-treated. Peter says that’s what happens to our faith as we pass through tough times: our faith is being strengthened and tested in order to make us strong as steel, to bring us praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus is revealed.

There is a great day coming: a day when we will rejoice in Jesus’ return, and Jesus will rejoice in all that has been created in us.  Peter sums it up this way:

“We rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…  9 for we are receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.”

Without Easter, this rejoicing would never happen; but by the power of the resurrection, it’s a sure thing.

In the middle of all of life’s trials, we can trust Jesus and follow Him.  The joy the Holy Spirit gives, joy that is “filled with glory”, reassures us that we belong to God.  In this confidence we can face all of life’s trials.

On this second week of Easter, by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection: blessing, rejoicing, and faith are given to us, in Jesus’ name, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let the Easter celebrations continue! AMEN.

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 4/16/23

Easter for All

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,  35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ– he is Lord of all.  37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:  38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;  40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,  41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.  43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:34-43


Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,  7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;  9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;  12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”  18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. – John 20:1-18


Happy Easter! The Lord is Risen!

We have two scripture passages today, one from the gospel of John and the other from the book of Acts, both of which are full of powerful emotions and profound truths. Both of these readings tell us about things God has done that have changed the world we live in.

The two readings are related, if indirectly – but they’re both important for us on Easter Sunday. So we’ll look at both. We start with the Good News: Jesus, who was dead, is alive forever! Praise God!

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundation of our faith. All of Christianity rests on this foundation. The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 15: “if Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile; and [we] are still in [our] sins… ” (I Cor 15:17-18) BUT, he says a few verses later, “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor 15:57)

Jesus’ resurrection is a profound assurance that a new era has started, an eternal kingdom is at hand, and you and I are part of it. We are included among those who bear witness.


Two thousand years ago, on that first Easter, the day started very early for Mary Magdalene. She and the other women had stayed and watched on that horrible Friday and they had witnessed everything. They had also watched when the Pharisee Nicodemus and his friend Joseph of Arimathea claimed Jesus’ body and gently laid it in Joseph’s brand new tomb. So Mary knew where to find Jesus, and as soon as the Sabbath was over she came to the tomb to be near her Lord and friend. The darkness of those pre-dawn hours, and the silence of the garden and the tomb, matched the depth of her sorrow.

Mary at the tomb

But… Mary arrived at the tomb and found it open!

Back in those days, grave-robbers were not uncommon. It was a horrible crime – despicable – stealing mementos and spices people put in graves with their loved ones. That’s why wealthy people like Joseph of Arimathea put heavy stones in front of graves: to keep out robbers. But this stone was moved, and the body was gone!

Mary was understandably upset. She ran to tell Peter and the others that Jesus’ body was missing. Peter and John raced to the tomb, and they found it exactly as Mary said. The shelf cut which was into the stone wall of the brand new tomb, on which Jesus’ body had been laid, no longer held a body. They saw the linens that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body – the grave-cloths – one at the foot of the shelf, and the other rolled up at the head. Gruesome things.

Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

But where was Jesus? And who had set Jesus free of these cloths? Burial cloths could not be unwrapped from the inside for obvious reasons. So where was the body?

Peter and John saw that Mary’s words were true but they had no explanation. It hadn’t come back to them yet: what Jesus had said about rising from the dead after three days. The men shook their heads sadly and went home.

But Mary stayed, weeping.

Finally she got up the nerve to look inside the tomb herself, and she saw two angels! They were sitting, one at the head of the stone slab, the other at the foot. They asked her: “why are you weeping?”

Mary answered: “they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Dead or alive, wherever Jesus was, that’s where Mary wanted to be. Her words were not an accusation; she was just saying something wasn’t right. Something didn’t add up.

She turned away, still weeping, and became aware of a pair of feet in front of her. The owner of these feet asked her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

Mary, thinking he was the gardener, answered, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him.”

In the Garden

And then Jesus spoke her name: “Mary!”

Mary answered in Hebrew “Rabboni” which means ‘my teacher’.  She goes to give him a hug but Jesus says, “don’t hold on to me right now; I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go tell my brothers ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

What exactly Jesus means by these words we don’t know. There will be a time, later that day, when Jesus will invite the disciples to touch his resurrected body and touch the wounds in his hands and side. But not just yet.  Whatever the reason, Jesus needs to see his Father first and will be back in a short while.  In the meantime he tells Mary to go tell the disciples and share the good news: Jesus is alive!

It’s worth pointing out that Jesus is giving this job of witness to a woman. In those days, in ancient Israel, the testimony of a woman was not recognized by the courts or by Jewish law. A woman could not take the stand in a court case, or bear witness in any way. By asking Mary to be the first witness to his resurrection, Jesus set a new precedent for all the citizens of the kingdom of God.

And Mary does exactly what Jesus asks her to do: she runs and tells the disciples the good news:

“I have seen the Lord! He’s alive!”

For us, today, over 2000 years later, we ourselves have not seen the risen Jesus with our own eyes. Our faith rests on the testimony of many generations of faithful women and men before us: people who shared the story, and people who in some cases gave their lives for their testimony about Jesus.

If Jesus had not been raised – if all of this is not true – then for 2000 years people have been wasting time hanging out in churches. But because it is true – and the Holy Spirit bears witness to our minds and our hearts that Jesus is alive – we have a hope, and a calling, and a future.

Death is destroyed, and hope is restored: that’s the message of Easter.

There’s just one catch: all the events in this story are written about, and for, the people of Israel. Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the prophecies given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and Moses, and King David, and Isaiah, and all the writers in the Old Testament. Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. All the first disciples – both men and women – were Jewish.

But the Messiah, according to the prophets, was also supposed to be a light to the Gentiles – that is, those of us who are not born of Jewish lineage. And that part of prophecy wasn’t addressed on Easter Sunday. It came very soon after, in the book of Acts, which is our second reading today.  This is where you and I come in.

The apostle Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, tells us there was a man who lived in Caesarea: a Roman Centurion who was a God-fearer: that is, he believed in the Jewish God to the best of his ability. His name was Cornelius.  Cornelius had a vision one night of an angel who told him to send for a man named Peter staying in the city of Joppa. The angel said Peter had an important message for him to hear, so he sent a couple of his soldiers to go find Peter.


Meanwhile Peter, in Joppa, was on the roof of the house where he was staying, and he had a vision of a huge sheet full of animals. He heard a voice saying “rise, Peter, kill and eat.” But Peter looked at the animals, and saw that they were forbidden for Jewish people to eat, so he answered, “no, Lord, nothing unclean has ever passed my lips.” The voice replied, “what I have declared clean, you shall not declare unclean.” This vision happened three times.

Peters vision

Just as the third vision was vanishing there was a knock on the door. It was the soldiers sent by Cornelius, and they asked Peter to come with them to Caesarea.

In the Jewish tradition of the time, a faithful Jew would not enter the house of a Gentile. This was a very old tradition: it was not part of the Old Testament law. The law said (1) don’t make covenants with foreigners, and (2) don’t marry foreigners. Why? Because intimate association (particularly marriage) would tempt God’s people to abandon God and worship the false gods of foreigners. These commands can be found in the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ezra, and others, plus the rabbinic writings. In addition, because the Jewish people had a lot of dietary laws they had to follow, eating at the house of a Gentile was prohibited by tradition (not by law). It was just easier that way.

At this moment, however, Peter understood that God was bringing about some changes. An angel of God had visited Cornelius; and Peter had been asked to come and share the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When Peter got to Cornelius’ house, he found that all of Cornelius’ household – family, relatives, servants, and friends – had packed into the house to hear what Peter had to say.  Peter started by addressing the division between Jews and Gentiles. He said: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Peter then went on to share, with everyone gathered there, the story of Jesus. Peter included Jesus’ life and ministry, his miracles and healings; and his death and resurrection, and all the people who saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. Peter said that God had ordained Jesus to be the final judge of the living and the dead, and that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles in the house – all of them – and they started to speak in tongues and praise God, just like the apostles had on the first Pentecost.

Peter Cornelius Holy Spirit

Peter, seeing this, said to his companions: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) So Peter and the men who traveled with him baptized the whole household of Cornelius that day. The members of Cornelius’ household were the first non-Jewish, Gentile Christians.

When Peter and his companions got back to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers were not thrilled with what they had done.  They said: “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:3)

Peter shared the whole story with them from the beginning, and Luke says “When they heard this, [Peter’s critics] were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”” (Acts 11:18)

That’s us, folks. All of us here today, as far as I’m aware, are of Gentile background. If it were not for this event, you and I would not be Christians. You and I would never have known what Easter means – or at least would never have been included in the blessings of Easter.

But God promised Israel from the very beginning, from Genesis onward, that the people of Israel would be a blessing to ALL the nations and all the peoples of the earth. God fulfilled that promise through Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that everyone who believes in Jesus, receives forgiveness of sins in his name, and is filled with the Holy Spirit, is a member of the household of God. No exceptions.

I go into all this detail because we live today in an age that is full of divisions. Voices against voices, people groups against people groups, and too often people are looking for ways to doubt others and exclude others. But God created this rich variety of people, and God has called all people to Himself – without exception – through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Hear the words that Peter speaks: “Can we withhold the water of baptism from people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) (Keeping in mind that back then baptism was for adult converts, not babies.) So anyone who receives Jesus by faith, and has been sealed by baptism and the Holy Spirit, is our brother or sister in Christ. No exceptions.

This is good news: the very best of news. In the resurrection of Jesus we find life. By the power of Jesus’ resurrection we are accepted into God’s kingdom: all of us Gentiles who come in faith.

Therefore Easter Sunday brings us a triple blessing. It brings us: (1) Forgiveness for anything we’ve done wrong or anything we’ve failed to do; (2) entrance into new life in God’s kingdom – where the Cross has become for us the Tree of Life; and (3) inclusion in the great cloud of witnesses, bearing witness to what Jesus has done for us.

Cross Tree of Live

I’d like to close today with some beautiful words from a group of creative Christian authors and artists called The SALT Project – those of you attended our Advent services will remember the name. Rejoice with me in these words:

“What’s the meaning of Easter today? FEAR NOT. For those who despair that death-dealing powers have the upper hand: fear not. Easter means God ultimately is… victorious over the powers of death. For those who feel isolated and lonely: fear not. Easter means we are all together in the risen Body of Christ, even if we’re physically unable to gather. For those who despair that our guilt is too great for God to forgive: fear not. Easter means God has cleared all accounts, liberating [each one of us] from shame, reconciling us to God and each other as God’s children. For those who despair in the midst of pain and anguish: take heart. You are not alone: Jesus suffers with you in solidarity and companionship, and Easter means you will rise with him. For those who despair over a world filled with hate and violence…: be encouraged. In Christ’s passion, God has taken the place of the scapegoat in order to highlight and transform humanity’s violent ways — and Easter means God one day will overcome violence… Easter means that God has taken one of the worst things in the world (the Roman cross) and remade it into one of the best (the Tree of Life)… [and so we say] Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”  AMEN.


Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, Easter Sunday 2023

Palm Sunday 2023

Psalm 118

1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;
16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.


Matthew 21:1-11  

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,  2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. ”  4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,  5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;  7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Palm Sunday

Welcome to Palm Sunday and the first day of Holy Week! Given the events of this past week – how very much we need to bring our tears and our fears and our grief to God during this Holy Week. I pray that this week will be for each one of us a time of reflection and prayer and drawing near to God as God draws near to us.

I spent some time this past week asking Google about Palm Sunday, and in the process I discovered Palm Sunday is celebrated literally around the world. I’ve always known that Christmas and Easter are celebrated worldwide, but I never really thought about Palm Sunday, and about the fact that, for example, in some places in Germany they use pussy willow branches instead of palm branches – because that’s what’s available this early in the year. If you have a moment this week go out to Wikipedia and look up “Palm Sunday”. Their list of traditions and the customs in every nation are almost as colorful as those at Christmas!

And of course in Israel, on this day, thousands of pilgrims will re-trace the steps of Jesus and the disciples: from the top of the Mount of Olives, down the winding path into the Kidron Valley, and then back up into the city of Jerusalem.


On that first Palm Sunday Jesus looked out over the city from the top of the Mount of Olives, and as the people around him were celebrating Jesus was weeping and saying, “oh Jerusalem if only you knew… the things that lead to peace. But they are hidden from your eyes.” Today there is a church near that spot called Dominus Flevit which means “God wept”.


On that first Palm Sunday, the disciples found a donkey for Jesus to ride, and they and the people spread their cloaks on the ground in front of him, and palm branches too. Both of these things very symbolic, with meanings that varied depending on where you were from:

  • If you were from Israel and surrounding areas, it was a custom to cover the road ahead of someone who you felt was worthy of the very highest honor. The cloaks and the palm branches were truly an expression of love from the people to Jesus.
  • If you were specifically Jewish, palm branches would have brought to mind the Feast of Tabernacles, where palm branches symbolized rejoicing.
  • If you were from Greece or Rome, palm branches were a sign of triumph and victory, often associated with the goddess Nike (the inspiration for today’s sneakers).
  • If you were from Egypt, palm branches were used in funeral processions and they were a sign of eternal life.
  • And not too far into the future palm branches would become associated with Christian martyrs.

All of this symbolism came together in the same time and place. It’s easy to see how the people of Israel might have meant one thing by it – namely the arrival of a saviour – while the Roman authorities might take it another way: maybe even thinking a revolution was starting.

Against this backdrop, I’d like to focus today on two things: (1) how these events fulfilled Old Testament prophecy; and (2) how this all leads up to Holy Week.

Where it comes to Old Testament prophecy, maybe the most clear and distinct prophecy is found in the book of Zechariah. The prophet writes:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)

How clearly this describes the first Palm Sunday! And at the same time, any chief priest or Pharisee who heard this passage would also remember the references to battle and would be asking what Jesus was about to do. Does Jesus come in peace or not?

The second prophecy to look at today is found in Psalm 118 which we read earlier. If you would like to follow along with me, grab a Bible so you can see what the psalmist is talking about.

  • In the opening verses we hear the words “God’s steadfast love endures forever” – four times! This is good news for God’s people.
  • In verse 5 the psalmist says, “out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.” This is a promise for anyone who loves God. It’s a promise I’m sure Jesus held onto during those dark days leading up to his crucifixion.
  • In verse 7 we hear a similar promise: “The Lord is on my side to help me…” These words apply to Jesus very deeply. Jesus did not want to be crucified – he prayed that the cup might pass him by; but he was willing to trust God the Father to give him the victory no matter what – and God did so on Easter Sunday.
  • In verse 13, the Psalmist says “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me”. This could apply to Jesus on the cross, as he cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Before Jesus dies he says with confidence, “into your hands I commend my spirit.” So God had indeed helped him.
  • Verse 14 says “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Jesus could say this about God; and we can say this about Jesus.
  • Verse 15 says: “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous” – and today, we sing songs of victory – of a victory that will be won, in completeness, this time next week.
  • Verse 17 says: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” – This describes Jesus’ future, and ours too. It’s a song of victory for all of God’s people.
  • Verses 19-20 say “Open to me the gates of righteousness… that I may enter through…” This is one of the songs of Palm Sunday, something the crowd may have sung on that day. The “gates” are the entrances into Jerusalem; the city is surrounded by a wall and it has wide doors called ‘gates’ to get into the city.
  • Verse 21: “you have become my salvation” basically means “save now!” which means “Hosanna”.
  • Verse 22-23: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Jesus quoted this verse to the chief priests and the Pharisees in Matt 21:42. When Jesus said this, it made the Pharisees angry enough to want to arrest him right then and there, but they didn’t – because they were afraid of the crowd, because all the people believed Jesus was a prophet.
  • Then we hear in v. 24: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is exactly what the people were doing on that Palm Sunday: rejoicing and being excited to see Jesus coming into Jerusalem. (Some churches even today use this verse as a call to worship, to gather the people to praise God.)
  • Verse 25: The psalmist says “Save us we beseech you O Lord!” – which is exactly what the word “Hosanna!” means.
  • Verse 26: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” – again, the psalmist is giving the people a song to sing as they go down the road.
  • Verse 27: “Bind the festal procession with branches” – exactly what they’re doing.

The overall feeling of both the psalm and the event is one of joy and celebration – that God’s blessing has finally come to God’s people!

Jesus is the focus of it all – the cornerstone – the promise that has been fulfilled. Jesus comes in humility, riding on a donkey, which spoke to the people of peace. A conquering hero would have ridden in on a horse: the bigger the better. But Jesus comes in gentleness, not to exercise power, but to share God’s peace and salvation. And set within the larger context of Passover – which was about to be celebrated – Jesus’ actions remind the people of liberation from slavery, and from Pharoah, and from all who swagger in their power; he reminded them of the freedom to follow God and be God’s people.

silhouette hand with chain is absent and blurred sky in sunrise background

You can imagine the powers that be in Jerusalem were none too thrilled about the events of Palm Sunday, especially when Jesus followed up the procession by going into the Temple and turning over the tables of all the money-changers. He had ridden into Jerusalem like a king; he had gotten the peoples’ hopes up; he was defying authority; and the great fear of the religious leaders was that the Romans would see this as an act of rebellion and would take control of the city – which would mean the Jewish leadership would lose their places, because they only ruled with Rome’s permission.

The High Priest Caiaphas himself said: “Do you not understand that it is better… that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish?” And the apostle John, in his gospel, comments: “Caiaphas did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation.”

And some of Pharisees, some of whom may have been Jesus’ friends, were worried about the fallout from this demonstration. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop!” But Jesus answered, “if the people are silent, the stones themselves will cry out.”

Rocks Cry

All these events, taken together, place Jesus on the unavoidable road to Calvary. For those who were thinking this day would be ‘the day of the Lord’ when God would set all things right – they would go home disappointed. This, by the way, is a word of caution to us all: the end times, and the second coming of Christ, will never be what we expect it to be, and it will not come when we expect it to come.

But on this day, as one author puts it, Jesus had his eye on a tree: the Tree of the Cross. And Jesus would redeem that Cross, for all of us who love him, turning it into the Tree of Life.

To be continued on Thursday…

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, April 2, 2023

Jesus Heals

“As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,  7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”  9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”  10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”  12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.  14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”  16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.  17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight  19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”  20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;  21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”  22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.  23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”  25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”  27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”  28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”  30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.  32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”  37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.  39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”  41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” – John 9:1-41



Our reading from the gospel of John today is rich in detail, and is both a sad story and a very joyful story, and even though it happened 2000 years ago, we can relate to what’s going on here.

The story is relate-able in part because we all know what it’s like to suffer at the hands of bureaucrats. (Some things never change!) The Pharisees completely miss the point of the man being healed of blindness – and Jesus, as usual, goes straight to the heart of the matter. We also see in this story a huge difference between God’s will and human attempts at God’s will… between God’s mercy and human beliefs about right and wrong.

In this story, the man’s physical blindness in a way represents spiritual blindness. Every person on this planet is a sinner; every person on this planet is imperfect and stands in need of Jesus’ mercy and healing. And for each one of us, Jesus has come to offer healing.

But before we dig into the story, I want to back up and share some of the things the apostle John assumes we know about the Jewish religious scene. Throughout the gospels we hear about Pharisees, Sadducees, Jews, high priests, scribes, and the Sanhedrin – but who were all these people, and why were they interested in Jesus?

  • The Sanhedrin met in Jerusalem and was a group of 70 judges directly reporting to the High Priest. Some were Sadducees, some were Pharisees and others were priests and clergy of various kinds.
  • The Scribes started out as copyists, copying the scriptures by hand back in the days before the printing press. But over time they came to know God’s law really well and they became lawyers and also teachers.
  • “The Jews” is a general term John uses in his gospel to refer to the leaders of the nation. He does not mean all Jewish people everywhere, and I want to be clear about that because he sometimes comes off sounding anti-Semitic – which he wasn’t. John was Jewish, and he loved his nation.
  • The Pharisees and Sadducees were the two main parties of priestly teachers who sparred with each other constantly. (Splits within faith groups are nothing new, sadly.)
  • The Sadducees roughly parallel the ‘progressives’ of the day. They rejected holy writings and prophecies except for the books of Moses (the first five books of the Bible). The Sadducees came from aristocracy; they were elite and well-educated, usually taught in Greece by Greek philosophers (who looked down on Judaism as a simple, rustic faith); they were secular in many ways even though they held power in the temple; and they did not believe in resurrection or the afterlife. (The Sadducees disappeared after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70AD – they did not survive the overthrow of the nation of Israel.)
  • The Pharisees, on the other hand, became the foundation for the system of temples and rabbis the Jewish people still have today. The Pharisees roughly parallel our modern-day evangelical movement before it became politically radicalized. (The radicals back in those days were called “Zealots”.) Pharisees usually came from working-class families, they were held in high esteem by the people because they were devoted to the faith, they believed in the Oral Law given by Moses – the Talmud – not just the written law. They believed in resurrection, and the afterlife, and in the coming Messiah, and in prayer, and in regular worship in synagogue. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And some of the Pharisees liked Jesus: Nicodemus, and Gamaliel (the great teacher we meet in Acts chapter 5) whose star student became the apostle Paul (who was also a Pharisee).

So the Pharisees got a lot right. But if they got so much right, why were they always having arguments with Jesus? There were basically two issues, two sticking points – which then branched out into many other debates – but when you boil it down, basically two issues: the first was the Pharisees had an extremely literal and detailed interpretation of the Law of Moses; and the second was they had an unhealthy need to define and assert authority. Jesus once commented that the Pharisees “strained out gnats and swallowed camels” – that, for example, they would tithe 10% of everything they owned to the temple, right down to the spices in their kitchens, but overlooked important things like mercy and compassion.

Camels n Gnats

And on the authority question, the Pharisees once asked Jesus where he got his authority, and Jesus replied by asking them: “where did John the Baptist get his authority?” The Pharisees then talked among themselves and said, if we say ‘from God’ he will ask ‘why didn’t you believe him?’ but if we say ‘from men’ the people will stone us because they believe John is from God.’ So they said to Jesus “we don’t know.” (Which was a totally bogus answer.)  And Jesus said “I won’t tell you where I get my authority either.”

Jesus would not play the Pharisees’ games or honor their rules. In fact Jesus taught that faith was about having a relationship with God, not memorizing a rule-book, and the Pharisees couldn’t handle that.

Which brings us to our story for today.

As John begins, we meet a man who was born blind. We don’t know his name (I wish we did). But Jesus and the disciples see this man by the side of the road as they’re walking, and Jesus points out that the man has been blind since birth – which is a miracle in itself: how did Jesus know this?

The disciples ask Jesus whose fault it is that this man was born blind? It was assumed in ancient Israel that birth defects like blindness were the result of sin. But Jesus said: no one sinned; this blindness happened so God could work through this man and show glory in the life of this man. The man was no worse a sinner than anyone else.

Jesus warns the disciples that we must work while we have the light of day, because there’s a darkness coming when no one will be able to work. This is both a metaphorical darkness, like a spiritual darkness; and it’s also quite literal darkness. We only have so many years on this planet, and when those years are gone, our work is over whether we’re done or not.  But Jesus adds, “as long as I’m here, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus then turns to the blind man, makes mud out of dirt and spit, and puts this mixture on the man’s eyes. The Greek word for what Jesus did is epicrisen which means ‘to christen’ – as in baptism. Jesus then sends him to a pool to wash off the mud, just as baptism washes the dirt off our souls.

While the blind man is washing, Jesus and the disciples continue on their way. Meanwhile the blind man’s friends have taken his hands and guided him to the pool, helped him get in, and watched as he washed the mud off.


Imagine what it would be like to be this man: having always depended on other people to guide you to places, and to help you find the things you need every day. Now he’s standing in the pool, washing his face, and as he does, he begins to see: first the water, and his hands, then maybe some trees nearby… and then he turns, and for the first time in his life, he looks into the faces of his friends. Imagine the joy and the tears and the celebration! Guys are pounding each other on the back and whooping and jumping up and down and crying out to everybody who passes by.

They go back to the place where the blind man used to sit – to pick up his stuff? – and the people passing by say “Hey! Isn’t that the blind man who used to sit here and beg?” And they start arguing among each other: “Yeah, it’s him!” “No, that’s impossible!” “It sure looks like him.” “No really it’s the guy!”

The formerly blind man says to them all: “a man named Jesus made mud, and put it on my eyes, and told me to wash, and I washed, and I received my sight.” And the crowd asks: “where is this Jesus?” but the man doesn’t know. (Keep in mind as this story moves forward this man has never seen Jesus. He has heard Jesus’ voice, but he doesn’t know what Jesus looks like.)

The crowd takes this man to the Pharisees – which was not an unusual thing to do. The Law of Moses said that people who were cured of certain incurable diseases (like leprosy for example) were supposed to show themselves to the priests to be declared healed, and as a testimony to them. Of course healing someone from blindness was not something anyone had ever done before! But they brought him to the priests anyway.

At this point we discover that the miracle took place on the Sabbath. The people hadn’t thought anything of it, but the Pharisees had a problem with this. First off, it was not the first time Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath. In fact he was starting to do it with alarming frequency. On a previous Sabbath, Jesus had confronted some Pharisees in a synagogue about healing on the Sabbath. On that day there had been a man present with a withered hand. Jesus asked the Pharisees: “What is permitted on the Sabbath, to do evil or to do good, to harm or to heal?” And Jesus healed the man right in front of them. The Pharisees then went out and talked amongst themselves about how to kill Jesus (they had this conversation on the Sabbath!)

One of these days I would like to do a sermon series on the Sabbath because it really is important in the life of faith. The whole point of Sabbath is to rest: to escape the rat race, to get off the treadmill of life, and enjoy God and God’s creation and our families and friends. Sabbath is the day we are free to say “no” to the demands of the world – all the demands of the world. It’s a day God gave us for our benefit, to remind us of what freedom feels like.


But the way the Pharisees practiced it, Sabbath didn’t feel like freedom. It felt like one more demand from the world that the people had to obey. Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath” but the Pharisees missed the point. They made the day that was supposed to be about freedom, into the most oppressive day of the week.

Jesus also taught it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. In this particular case the only thing Jesus did was make mud – but that qualified as work and was therefore forbidden in the eyes of the Pharisees. They decided to investigate and make an example of Jesus. (Notice the Pharisees didn’t stop to ask themselves “is it lawful to hold an investigation on the Sabbath?” But I digress…)

The Pharisees took this incredibly joyful occasion and made it into a day of pain and fear for the man and his family. They gathered together almost like a court of law and began to question the man. And at first the Pharisees are divided: some felt Jesus had broken the Sabbath; others felt no-one who is a sinner could do such a miracle.

They asked this man to repeat his story yet again: and we notice the story has gotten shorter this time. The man says: “he put clay on my eyes and I washed and I saw.” The shorter version eliminates the making of mud, so it no longer sounds like Jesus was working.

The Pharisees still don’t believe it, so they call in the man’s parents to question them: “Is this your son? Was he really born blind? How is it that he can see?”

And they answer yes, yes, and you’ll have to ask him.

They’re afraid to answer the questions because the Pharisees have said that anyone who believes in Jesus will be thrown out of the synagogue – and back then this was worse than being tossed out of church; it was essentially being banished from the community.

So they bring in the man again and say “give glory to God” (which was the ancient way of saying “put your hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”) They said, “we know this man is a sinner.”

The formerly blind man, who was now beyond exasperated, said, “I don’t know! All I know is that I was blind and now I see.”

~Side Note~

These words – “I was blind but now I see” – inspired the writing of the hymn Amazing Grace. This hymn was written because of a different kind of healing: a spiritual healing. The man who wrote it, John Newton, was an Englishman, and as a young man he was the captain of a slave ship that carried human cargo across the Atlantic. One day in 1748 he was on board ship off the coast of Ireland when the ship was caught in a storm and was about to sink. He prayed for God’s mercy, and the storm passed, and soon after he was converted to Christianity and became an abolitionist. He knew John Wesley personally, and he worked with John and other friends like William Wilberforce to fight against slavery. He lived just long enough to see slavery made illegal in England. Amazing Grace was written to tell the story of a man whose heart was completely changed by Jesus: “I once was lost, but now am found… was blind but now I see.”

~end of side note~

So our formerly blind man, who can now see, stands before the religious leaders and the Pharisees and speaks the truth: and it’s a truth they don’t want to hear. The Pharisees want to condemn Jesus. This man says, “He opened my eyes… and never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing.”

Which is still true today. With all of our medical advancements and technology, giving sight to someone who was born blind is something we still can’t do. But Jesus can.

The Pharisees accused this man of great sin and threw him out.

Jesus, meanwhile, has heard what happened, and Jesus goes and looks for the man and finds him. He asks: “do you believe in the son of man?”

The man answers, “Who is he, sir?” And Jesus says: “the person speaking to you now is the one.”

The man’s next word in Greek is “kyrie”– like in kyrie eleison – which means “Lord” – Lord, I believe. And he worships.

Jesus shares with him good news: “for judgement I have come into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Some Pharisees overhear this and they say, “you talkin’ about us?”  And Jesus answers, “if you were blind you would be without sin, but since you say that you can see, your sin remains.”

And there the story ends.

So what does this story hold for us today?

First, doing God’s will isn’t always as clear-cut as we think. People today still quote Scripture to try to tell others what should and shouldn’t be done, and how people should and shouldn’t live. Yes, it’s important to know God’s word, and it’s important to do it – but we also need to have God’s heart of compassion: because without kindness, truth is a cold blade.

Secondly, today, as it was back then, we have the progressives and the conservatives battling things out in public, in politics, in the news; and both sides miss the mark where Jesus is concerned. Jesus does not violate Sabbath law; Jesus says “the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  God’s word is given for our benefit: not for harm, not to cause difficulty, not to lord over other people, not to decide who belongs and who doesn’t.

God’s law boils down to this: we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love others as ourselves. When we look at the issues, when we go to vote: are we loving others as we love ourselves? Are we loving the homeless as we love ourselves? Are we loving veterans as we love ourselves? Are we loving refugees as we love ourselves? God loves everyone, not just the people we feel comfortable with.

Faith in God is not, and never has been, about keeping rules. Faith in God makes us generous, caring, and compassionate. The Christian faith is about a relationship with the living God, through the Holy Spirit. With the presence of the Holy Spirit we are able to share in the joy of the man born blind.

And if and when we find ourselves in a jam like the one this young man was in, his story comforts us with the knowledge that Jesus knows where we are, and what’s going on in our lives; and Jesus cares; and Jesus will come looking for us; and Jesus will bring us to a place of worship – a place of peace and joy and fulfillment and rest, which is the true definition of Sabbath.

May God bless each of us here today with heavenly sight and heavenly healing. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 3/27/23

Meet Nicodemus

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. – Genesis 12:1-4


A Song of Ascents

I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?  2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.  3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.  4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.  6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. – Psalm 121:1-8


Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’  8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?  11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 “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.  17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:1-17


Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew chapter 13: ‘…every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ (Matthew 13:52)

I never noticed that verse before this week. It was part of the daily readings for the second week of Lent. It put me in mind of a rich man who collects fine wines: when guests come to his house, he goes down into the wine cellar and chooses from his collection the perfect wine for the occasion. Jesus says every scribe (and we might add ‘every believer’) is like a master of the house who brings out of his collection of learning and wisdom wonderful things, both new and old.

choosing wine

Of course Jesus is talking about spiritual riches; but the disciple who learns from Jesus is able to take that learning and apply it both wisely and appropriately.

In our reading from Matthew today, we meet a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for the truth, and Jesus meets Nicodemus where he is, and offers him some of the riches from God’s spiritual wine cellar. Today we’re going to listen in on their conversation, but before we do, a little background:

First, there’s a very important verse in this passage: John 3:16.  Even people who don’t know the Bible have seen “John 3:16” signs at sporting events. Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, called John 3:16 “the gospel in miniature”. John 3:16 tells us that God loves us enough to send his only son, so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.


As important as this verse is, it’s not really the focus of the passage; it’s more like a summary. The focus is on the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, and on the prophecies that are about to come true.

Second, a little background on Nicodemus: Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin – the ruling council of the Jews headed up by the High Priest. In those days the Romans (with their pantheon of gods) were both the official religion and the official state; but the Romans allowed the people they conquered to keep their own gods so long as that didn’t interfere with the Romans running things. So the religious leaders of the Jews were allowed to maintain the temple and regular worship, but they were not allowed to do things like hold a court of law for deciding disputes.

So Nicodemus was a leader of the Jewish people and a Pharisee. And as a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have been extremely well trained in the scriptures, in the Law of Moses, and the writings of the prophets.

The Pharisees were also famous for being at odds with the Sadducees. It seems like in every generation there is one huge debate people of faith argue over. Protestant or Catholic? Religious statues or no religious statues? Predestination or no predestination? Pro life or pro choice? You name it – there’s always been something in every generation that divided the church. In Jesus’ day, the big issue was Resurrection: the Pharisees believed in it, and the Sadducees didn’t. (Jesus came down publicly on the side of the Pharisees in this debate – for reasons which would soon become obvious!)

The Pharisees were also, on the whole, popular with the people. The Pharisees’ weak spot was they were sticklers for the details of the law, and Jesus often teased them about “straining out gnats and swallowing camels”. The Pharisees also set themselves up as the official weeders-out of false teachers and false prophets (which there were many of back then, just as there are today).


For the most part what Jesus taught and what the Pharisees taught was similar. The main difference between Jesus and the Pharisees was that Jesus knew God’s heart better. Jesus stood by the teachings of Moses but he also reflected God’s love and forgiveness to everyone he met. Many of the debates he had with the Pharisees boiled down to: “do we follow the rules, or do we do what is loving?” And Jesus taught that the Law and Love are two sides of the same coin: they are inseparable.

The Pharisees just couldn’t stretch their rules that far, so they fell back on (and got stuck on) one question, which was: where does Jesus get his authority? They asked each other this. They asked Jesus this. Jesus answered: “where did John the Baptist get his authority?” And the Pharisees talked amongst themselves and said: “if we say ‘from humans’ the people will stone us because they believe John is from God; but if we say ‘from God’ Jesus will ask us ‘why didn’t you believe him then?’”  So they answered, “we don’t know” which was a totally bogus answer. And Jesus said, “I won’t tell you either.”

With all this as backdrop, Nicodemus – who has been listening all this time, and turning all these events over in his mind – decides he can’t remain on the sidelines any longer, and he goes to have a quiet conversation with Jesus.

Matthew tells us Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night. Did he do this to hide his movements? Maybe. The Sanhedrin had said they would kick anybody out of the temple who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Or maybe Nicodemus didn’t want anyone to interrupt their conversation. Maybe he knew the crowds would be gone by then and he’d be able to have a quiet word with Jesus? Maybe all of the above.

Whatever the reason, Nicodemus’ first words to Jesus are amazingly courageous:

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do the signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

He calls Jesus Rabbi which means teacher. Nicodemus has come willing to learn. He says, “We know” – that is, all the Pharisees – “We know you are… from God” because no one can do what you do apart from God. The other Pharisees won’t admit it, but Nicodemus dares to speak the truth. All the miracles and healings and raising people from the dead – only someone who has a direct connection to God can do these things.

Has Nicodemus come here tonight to tell Jesus that the Pharisees know the truth but won’t admit it? Has he come to warn Jesus that his life is in danger? (Nicodemus had likely overheard the whispered plans to arrest Jesus and kill him.) Or did Nicodemus come to ask Jesus, “as a Pharisee, how can I follow you? How can I become one of yours?”

Jesus n Nic

We don’t know what Nicodemus would have said next, because Jesus took over the conversation and steered it in a whole new direction. Jesus says to Nicodemus: “you must be born from above in order to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus is surprised by this and he asks, “how can this be? How can a person be born a second time?” Jesus describes two kinds of birth: birth from water (that is, human birth) and birth from the Holy Spirit. Jesus says: “What’s born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of Spirit is spirit.” And the Spirit blows where it wills, like the wind. People who are born of the Spirit are the same way: you never know where they’re going or what they’re up to because they are controlled and directed by the Spirit.

Speaking of which, has anyone here ever noticed, with our Christian friends, it seems like so many people never stay in one place for very long? I remember getting frustrated with this when I was in my twenties, and expressing a wish that all my Christian friends would just “get together in one place and stay there!” to which a friend answered “that’s called heaven.” Anyway…

Nicodemus realizes he’s out of his league and he asks, “how can these things be?” He does not ask “are these things true?” but “how is this true?”

Jesus then brings together a number of Old Testament events and prophecies that you and I would probably never group together but that Nicodemus, as a member of the Sanhedrin, might have known and recognized. I’m indebted to a colleague who specializes in Jewish studies for putting these concepts together for me:

  1. The prophet Ezekiel prophesied that God would save the people “through water and the spirit”. God says through Ezekiel in chapter 36 (vss 25-28) “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…” Water and the Spirit, both in the same place.
  2. Moses showed us what to look for, back in the days when the people were in the wilderness after being set free from Egypt. When they had been traveling in the wilderness for a while and seemingly going nowhere, the people became discouraged and started to complain, and they rebelled against God. They even accused God of “bringing us out into the wilderness to die”. God was angry at this, and he sent poisonous snakes among the people, and some of the people were bitten and died. Then God told Moses, “make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, and anyone who has been bitten, if they look at it, they will be healed.”
    1. Notice the only thing required is faithful obedience: God says it, the people believe it, they look at the snake, and they are healed.
    2. Jesus makes a parallel between the serpent on a pole and himself on the cross – why? “Because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but may have eternal life”

It all ties together. Jesus explains to Nicodemus that all these things that happened in the Old Testament point to the Messiah, and they apply to himself. Water and the spirit are part of the new birth. And Jesus will be lifted up on the cross just like the snake was lifted up on the pole. And in both cases the things that brought death – the bronze snakes and the Roman crosses – will become symbols of God’s forgiveness and new life.

In the Jewish faith, there is also a belief that “the unjust death of an innocent person will not go unnoticed by God”.  Jesus adds that “those who don’t believe are condemned already” because they stay hidden in the shadows. Jesus knows these things are true because he came from God and is going back to God; but the Pharisees refuse to accept this.

Then Jesus says to Nicodemus, “are you a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things?”

That’s as far as Matthew records the conversation. Matthew doesn’t tell us if Nicodemus had any follow-up questions that night; but there is a postscript to the story.

Nicodemus shows up two more times in scripture. The first time, the Pharisees had ordered the temple police to arrest Jesus, but when Jesus came into the temple and started to teach, the temple police were captivated by Jesus’ words. They came back without arresting Jesus. The Pharisees said to them, “why didn’t you arrest him?!?” and they answered, “never has anyone spoken like this!” So the Pharisees started to ridicule and verbally abuse the guards. Overhearing this, Nicodemus speaks up to defend them. He says:

“Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”

And the Pharisees verbally abuse Nicodemus too.

Nicodemus understands from this conversation that Jesus will never be given fair treatment by the religious leaders – and neither will anyone who says anything good about Jesus. The minds of the Sanhedrin are closed.

A few days later, when Jesus finally is arrested, tried, and crucified, Nicodemus takes a public stand for Jesus. He walks away from the Sanhedrin, and he joins Joseph of Arimathea in giving Jesus a decent burial. Nicodemus donates over 100 pounds of spices for the burial process – something that was 1) very expensive, and 2) would have been impossible to do in secret. The two men retrieve Jesus’ body and give him a proper burial according to the laws of Moses.

That’s all that we know for certain about Nicodemus. Other people have guessed at what he did next but we have no solid historical evidence. No doubt his actions got him kicked out of the Sanhedrin. Personally, I’d bet money he was one of the founders of the church in Jerusalem, and one of the people who spread the good news of Jesus. And I’ll bet he was one of the disciples in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came on that first Pentecost. Nicodemus would have learned first-hand what it means to be born of water and the Spirit.

So what does all this mean for us today?  First and most important we can share the good news that Jesus shared in John 3:16. Tell people about God’s extravagant love. Tell people it’s available for anyone, anywhere, no matter who they are, no exceptions.

Secondly, we can live with the honesty and integrity of Nicodemus – who put it all on the line to stand up for what he knew was true, and to stand up for who he knew was true.

May God grant all of us the faith of Nicodemus. AMEN.

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, March 5, 2023

Lent 1 – Temptations

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;  3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”  4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;  5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. – Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:1-7  


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”  5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,  6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”  7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”  8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;  9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”  11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. – Matthew 4:1-11


Welcome to the first Sunday of Lent!


Lent is traditionally a time for self-examination – what we might call “spring cleaning for the soul.”  Some people believe in ‘giving things up for Lent’ – and while I don’t think that’s a requirement I don’t discourage it. Lent is more like a time for drawing closer to God.

I discovered something the other day: the word ‘Lent’ is an Old English word meaning ‘lengthen’ – as in, this is the time of year when the days get longer. I think that fits, because even though Lent tends to be a dark season, spiritually and emotionally, at the same time it is leading to the light.

The season of Lent was created hundreds of years ago. Forty days were chosen to reflect a connection to other important Biblical “forties” such as:

  • Moses was on the top of Mt. Sinai for 40 days receiving the Ten Commandments
  • Elijah was 40 days on the top of Mt. Horeb
  • Israel was 40 years in the wilderness
  • Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness being tempted

Lent was also a time, for many hundreds of years, when people who had come to faith were taught what it means to live the Christian life – basically a six-week-long new members’ class, which culminated with people joining the church on Easter Day.

Lent is also a time of repentance – a time when God deals with evil and sin. God hates sin (not the sinner!) – but God hates sin because it damages God’s good creation. It destroys the people God loves.

We tend to think of sin as a generalized evil – in culture, in politics, in evil actions like mass murder. But sin as it’s defined in Scripture is not systemic – except when sinners get together and create systems with foundations in wrongdoing (which does happen far too often).

When I think about what sin does in peoples’ lives, I often think of that guy back in 1972 who took a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Vatican. The immediate visceral reaction was “WHY???” Why would anyone do something like that to such a masterpiece? There’s only one of those in the whole world and it’s so beautiful and it’s irreplaceable. Why???


[photo:Reuters: The Pieta: damage done, and the repair work completed]

Every human being on the face of the earth is a masterpiece greater than the Pieta: beautiful and irreplaceable and there’s only one of each of us. God made us unique and priceless. And sin damages God’s masterpieces – the works of art that God made when God made you and me and every other person on the planet.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once famously said:

“the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.” So Lent is a time to tend to our hearts, to tend to our relationship with God, and to restore the work of art that God has made in each one of us.

I heard something this past week that made a lot of sense to me. The quote was: “Repentance is not groveling – repentance is insight.” The author went on to say that we change course in our lives when we have become convinced of something new.

There are a lot of things in this world that we don’t know. All of us are still learning, and there are a lot of things we haven’t experienced yet. When God’s truth comes into our lives in some new way, it changes us – and we change course because of it. That’s what repentance means: to change course.

King David once prayed: “cleanse me from my secret faults O God.” David understood that people are complex creatures, and there are things we don’t even know about ourselves. So David asks God and trusts God to teach him what he needs to know, and to restore the parts of the masterpiece that David can’t reach.

Our scripture readings for today talk about how sin got started, and how Jesus confronts temptation.

The first reading, from Genesis, gives us the story of Adam and Eve – a very familiar story. Adam and Eve – the first human beings – were created perfect: without sin, and in perfect relationship with God. God’s creation was, as God said, “very good”.

God gave his new humans the ability to care for other living things, including the animals and including each other. God walked with them in the garden, and they probably talked and ate and laughed together, unselfconscious and unafraid. In the beginning all was peace and all was good.

And then the snake showed up. He started asking the people nebby questions about “what did God tell you?” and “oh no, God got that wrong…”.


God’s word had been: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

I’m not sure Adam and Eve fully understood the meanings of some of these words. They certainly understood the ‘do not eat’ part, but at that point they had no experience of ‘evil’ or of ‘death’. These were new concepts. Did they have working definitions of these words? We don’t know.

Meanwhile the serpent is suggesting that God is being less than truthful. The serpent says: “You will not die” – calling God a liar – and he also says, “God knows when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil” – in other words, God’s holding back on you. God’s afraid you might become too powerful, might even compete with him…

Yes, this forbidden fruit will give Adam and Eve knowledge they don’t have. Yes, they will know good and they will know evil. They will also learn that they are naked – which was never a problem until now: not for God, and not for them.

But God has not been lying… and God has not been holding back… and God is not afraid that people might compete with him if they gain too much wisdom. God is not insecure. God is a loving parent who wants good things for the children.

The tragedy is Adam and Eve did die that day. Not physically, not right away. But the people they had been before they ate – innocent and walking in the garden with God – those people ceased to exist, and would never be back. They were changed. They now had a terminal illness that could not be healed on this earth. There was no ‘undo’ button on that apple. Once it was eaten, the damage was done.

What kind of madman would take a hammer to such masterpieces?


In our reading from Matthew, the same madman tries to use his hammer on Jesus – and fails.

As we pick up the story in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has just been baptized, and God has said “behold my son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is now led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested before he starts his public ministry. This is the time when Jesus learns what it will mean to be the Messiah and the Savior of the world.

Jesus in wilderness

It’s also where Jesus redeems the mistake Adam and Eve made. He faces the tempter and remains faithful. Jesus proves himself trustworthy in every way.

As we look at these temptations, we see that Jesus disarms temptation with Scripture, particularly the Law of Moses. The whole point of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness was to learn to trust God for their everyday needs. There was manna provided every day. There would be water; there was enough to eat.

Jesus doesn’t enter into any arguments with the devil. Jesus doesn’t debate. He just says “this is the word of God and I stand by it.” Jesus disarms temptation by trusting God even when no one is watching.

Here’s the scene that Matthew describes:

Matthew tells us Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days without food – which is about the max a human body can withstand. So for Temptation #1 the tempter hits him where it really hurts. He says: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”

Bread is what Jesus desperately needs right now; and as the Son of God, Jesus is capable of doing miracles. So would it have harmed anything if he had made a few loaves of bread?

Well… yes. It would have: because as a human being, and as our savior, Jesus needed to deal with life the way human beings do. We human beings can’t conjure up bread. We have to trust God for everything we need. Jesus needed to trust God as we do: for care, for guidance, and for food. Jesus has learned the lesson of the manna in the wilderness: God knows our needs and God will provide.

Jesus knew what God was calling him to do. This moment has a direct connection to the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prays “please take this cup from me; but not my will but thine be done.” Jesus was human in every way, but he trusted God’s love. Given the choice between trusting his Father God or looking out for #1, Jesus chose God. Therefore he answers the tempter in the words of Moses – words that are available to all of us:

“God fed you daily with manna ‘in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’.”

Temptation #1 defeated.

For Temptation #2, the tempter tries something that might strike us as a bit weird. He takes Jesus to the very top of the Temple building, “to the pinnacle”, and he says: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  7 Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The nature of this temptation is subtle. God’s word, in the mouth of the tempter, becomes a litmus test for faith. In my experience, making litmus tests for faith is one of the clearest indications that a Christian organization has lost its way. For example some churches make speaking in tongues the litmus test: if you can’t speak in tongues you’re not a true Christian. Other churches use politics: if you don’t vote for this cause or this person you’re not a true Christian.

The underlying message in each of these scenarios is: “scripture says you need to do [whatever it is] to prove your faithfulness… or to prove God’s word. As God’s children we are called to believe that God loves us, and to trust that love. As Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Don’t ask your Father, ‘How much do you love me?’

We are loved, deeply loved, by God. We can trust God’s love; there is no need to test it. Temptation #2 defeated.

Side note: the scripture passage that the tempter tosses at Jesus in this temptation is familiar to many of us. The line “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” was quoted in a song that many of us know, called “On Eagles Wings”. The man who wrote this song uses the quote correctly, in an appropriate context.

“Eagles Wings” was written as a funeral song. The priest who wrote it, Fr. Michael Joncas, went out to lunch with a good friend one day, and when they returned home they received word that his friend’s father had passed away suddenly. Joncas wrote this song for his friend’s father’s funeral. The song is amazingly moving when heard in the context of a funeral. (It’s a good song just for church too, and many people have come to love it that way):

“…and he will raise you up on eagles wings

Bear you on the breath of dawn

Make you to shine like the sun

And hold you in the palm of his hand…”

It’s a hymn that really brings hope and comfort, especially in times of grief. Fr. Joncas gave us, by his example, the right use of this scripture passage: hope in the darkness, when times are difficult… not an invitation to tempt people to test God. [end of side note]

Temptation #3 – The devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world throughout history if he will only bow down and worship the devil.

What a terrible moment this is for us mere mortals! These two superhuman beings talking about our fate and the fate of our world like they’re just chatting over coffee. We sit by almost like spectators hoping that Jesus won’t let us down.

Was the devil actually able to offer Jesus these things? I mean, was this a legit offer?

To some extent, yes. The devil has the upper hand in this world for now – which is why we have so much suffering and violence and war and hunger and inequality and pain in the world. The devil is offering Jesus what looks like a shortcut around the Cross, offering Jesus the world in exchange for worship. The catch is this: the devil is offering the world the way it is now – unredeemed, broken. And that’s not what Jesus is after.

Jesus has something better in mind: the kingdom of God, which is described for us in the book of Revelation, that glorious vision. Bringing us into God’s kingdom will cost Jesus dearly – but Jesus wants us in that kingdom where there is no more pain or suffering or sorrow. And he says so. Temptation #3 defeated.

So what does all of this mean for us today?

During Lent we start by looking at temptation. All of us are tempted, in some way, at some time. And the temptation is usually to try to find an alternative to the discipline of living God’s way.

Temptation for us becomes twice as powerful if we are suffering. We may be tempted, if we are ill, to try unproven or unhealthy remedies. We may be tempted to relieve suffering by doing things God has said ‘no’ to. We may be tempted to discouragement, or to despair that anything will ever change. We may be tempted to just give up and settle for this broken world, not even try for anything better. We may be tempted sometimes to wonder if God really loves us – and God really does love us.

Bottom line, we all have choices to make. Many of our choices boil down to: will we do things God’s way? Or will we try to take a shortcut?

Our enemy wants to drive a wedge between us and God. Our enemy tempts us to trust in our own strength and cleverness rather than trusting in a God we can’t see.

I find it helpful sometimes to pray the prayer David prayed: “cleanse me from my secret faults oh God.” I also find it helpful to remember that Jesus’ answers to the tempter don’t just expose the lies; they also declare the gospel – the good news – that God loves us, that God loves all people, even the lost; that God will provide for our needs; that God is with us.

During this Lent, as we are encouraged to fast and to give and do good things – that’s only a small part of the season. Our focus is not so much on us, as on what Jesus is doing.

Jesus is stepping into the ultimate battle between good and evil, which will be fought, literally, in his own body. Jesus will win the victory for us.

Let’s use this time of Lent to draw closer to him and learn to know and trust him even better. Because as the apostle Paul has said:

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-21)

This is the promise of our God and Savior. May we be blessed with a holy Lent. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven UMC and Spencer UMC, 2/26/23


The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”  13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God.  14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.  16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud.  17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.  18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. – Exodus 24:12-18


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

[9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  10 And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”  11 He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things;  12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.”  13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.] – Matthew 17:1-8, [9-13]


We are heading into Lent this week – already! It seems like we just put the Christmas stuff away.


But before we head full steam into Lent and Easter we have one more special day to observe: Transfiguration, which is today.

So far this year we have been in the season of Epiphany, that time in the church year when the Messiah is ‘revealed’ to the world and to us. In the season of Epiphany we get to know Jesus: first as a child, and then as a young man at his baptism; we see his first miracles; we hear his first teachings.  We’ve seen how the crowds have taken to Jesus and follow him everywhere. Meanwhile Jesus is teaching his disciples so that they will be able to share what they’ve learned with others.

Now, as our calendar turns to Lent, in Jesus’ life there’s a darkness looming on the horizon. The disciples are still living in the spirit of Epiphany: Jesus is still being revealed to them, and they are still learning; but Jesus’ message has taken a darker turn. The focus now turns to sin and evil in the world, and how God is going to deal with it.  Jesus has just told his disciples that he is going to die and then rise again. But the disciples seem to have missed the ‘rise again’ part, and they are troubled and confused about what Jesus means when he says he’s going to die. After all, how can the Messiah die? But they’re afraid to ask, especially after Jesus chews Peter out for saying “no way Lord!”

It’s exactly at this point in time – this juncture of events – that the mysterious event called Transfiguration takes place.

Before we dig into the reading from Matthew, I’d like to share some background from our other scripture reading. The events of the Transfiguration parallel another mountain top event, which we read about in Exodus.

moses on mts

The Exodus story took place about 1500 years before Jesus was born. I’d like to look at these two mountaintop events side by side so we can see the similarities and differences:

  1. In both cases God chooses specific people and invites them to the top of a mountain:
    • In Exodus, God invites Moses and Joshua – Joshua, who will become Moses’ successor at the end of Deuteronomy.
    • In Matthew, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John – all three of whom will be leaders in the early Christian church
  2. On both mountains God is represented visually by the presence of a cloud at the top of the mountain.
  3. In both cases, when a human being goes inside the cloud, that person is transformed; they glow or shine.
    • In Exodus, Moses had to wear a veil over his face from that time onward to keep from frightening the Israelites.
    • In Matthew, the glow comes onto Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – but only for the time they were on top of the mountain.
    • Side note: in New Testament times, Christians believed that the righteous would receive new, glorified bodies in heaven; so this transformation of Moses and of Jesus is considered a foretaste of heaven.
  4. On both mountains, God has a message to give to the people.
    • In Exodus, the message is the Ten Commandments along with the rest of the Jewish Law.
    • In Matthew, the message is a confirmation that Jesus is God’s beloved son, the Messiah, and the disciples need to listen to him.
  5. On both mountains, God’s message includes law and prophecy, commandments and teaching.
  6. On both mountains “heaven and earth are overlapping on the mountaintop”. The Hebrew word for what’s happening in the cloud is mishkan, which can also be translated “the Lord’s dwelling place”.

In addition to all this, in Matthew, the disciples are met by Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets. They are there to talk to Jesus “about his departure” – that is, about Jesus’ death – which will happen just a few days later in Jerusalem.

Jesus was in a unique position: he was God in the flesh, and at the same time completely human, so he had to learn (the way we all learn) by reading and by talking to people and by praying. Jesus was not born knowing everything. So at this point in his life, he has direction about the next steps of his mission from scripture and from prayer; but with the cross in sight, certainty becomes crucial. And the people who know the Law and the Prophets best would be Moses and Elijah. It must have been quite a comfort to Jesus to talk to these two men who knew God and walked with God, and to hear them confirm that he was indeed on the right path.

That path would lead Jesus down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow, to torture and to death on the cross. So today, as we come to the mountain of Transfiguration, we turn away from the joy of Christmas and the light of Epiphany into the darkness of Lent.

But we’re not in total darkness yet. Today, on this day, we see a brilliant light – a light so bright that it is actually a foretaste of what is to come after Calvary.  The way we see Jesus at the Transfiguration, in this overwhelming light, is a dazzling glimpse of the new world to come.




So what exactly happened on this mountain top?  Jesus starts the day by inviting three disciples to come with him – the three men who, after his resurrection and ascension, would become the leaders of the first Christian churches. These three men needed to know beyond any doubt what Jesus is called to do and what his mission is.

The four of them walk up the mountain to the very top, which was not an easy hike; and suddenly Jesus’ appearance is changed: his face shines like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white – “bright as a flash of lightning” is how Luke describes it in his gospel. And then they were joined by Moses and Elijah, who are also shining brightly, and they are having a conversation with Jesus about Jesus’ departure.

Then just as the conversation was winding down, Peter offers to build shelters (or dwellings or booths, depending on your translation) for Jesus and his guests. But while Peter is still speaking, a cloud covers the top of the mountain and God’s voice is heard saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  Hearing this, the disciples fall facedown on the ground in fear; but Jesus touches them and says “get up; don’t be afraid” – and they get up and look around, and everything looks normal. Just like that. Jesus is back to his everyday self.

That’s where our reading ends today, but there is a little bit more to the story in Matthew. On the way down the mountain, Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone what they’ve just seen until after his resurrection. Hearing this, the disciples ask him, “Why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?”

To our ears this sounds like an odd question – but the disciples are referring to ancient prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, and the prophecies of the coming of God’s Kingdom. From their point of view in time, the disciples can’t see what we see today, namely that God’s Kingdom arrives over a period of time and not all at once. From their point of view, when Jesus rises from the dead, history should stop right there and the reckoning should begin. But God chose to let history continue, until all of us (including you and me) were present and accounted for. So we now live in a world where Jesus’ Kingdom is both now and not yet. Jesus is king but has not yet been crowned. It’s kind of like King Charles over in England in that sense – he is legally king but his coronation hasn’t happened yet.

At any rate, Jesus answers their question by saying: “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that Jesus was speaking to them about John the Baptist.” (Matt 17:11-13)

So John the Baptist came before Jesus; and when Jesus returns again, someone like Elijah, someone like John the Baptist, will come before him. This is something we can be watching for.



So what does the Transfiguration mean for us today?

  1. We can be confident that Jesus is the Messiah. The apostle Peter, in his second letter to the churches, says:

“…we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father… saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” (II Peter 1:16-18)

What Peter and the other disciples saw was just a glimpse of the glory to come at the end of time. Peter says that this “was not a mystical experience but a flesh and blood reality in the presence of witnesses” – in other words, there were enough eyewitnesses to the Transfiguration and to Jesus’ glory that it would stand up legally in court.

We can be confident that what we read here is true and is guaranteed by witnesses.

  1. Focus on Jesus. That day on the mountain Peter raised a lot of eyebrows for his suggestion about building booths for Jesus and his guests. Many writers and theologians have poked fun at Peter for this, or criticized him, and I think this criticism is unfair. There are many good reasons why Peter might have suggested building booths. For starters this heavenly vision would have reminded any Jewish person of the “feast of Tabernacles” which was a holiday that looked forward to life in heaven. It might also have been a way to honor Jesus’ guests – and in that culture it would have been rude not to offer hospitality.

God does not scold Peter for his words. God basically just shifts the focus: God says, “this is my beloved son, listen to him” which puts the focus back on Jesus. So that’s #2 – focus on Jesus.

3. We can carry the glory of the Transfiguration into the season of Lent. The Transfiguration holds a promise for the future for all of us – the glory of the Kingdom of God to come. Carry this light into the darkness.

4. Find hope in our Lord Jesus and in his glory. We can find hope in the knowledge that God and Jesus do not avoid suffering or sorrow, and they are not ashamed of it as they enter into our world and our lives. In our sorrows and in our struggles, from day to day, God and Jesus are on our side. We can find hope in this

5. Remember that this is the beginning of the victory over sin and death. Jesus’ death was horrific, but it’s the beginning of the final victory. As Paul sings in I Corinthians: “Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? For death is swallowed up in victory…”

6. Finally, and always, God says: “Listen to him”. Listen to Jesus.

    • God is faithful
    • God is working out his plans through us
    • God’s kingdom is surely coming – so we keep our ears open.

Let’s pray together: “Lord, During this upcoming Lent, grant that we, seeing by faith the light of Jesus’ face, may be strengthened to bear our own cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory… Amen.” – Fleming Rutledge

Preached at Carnegie UMC and Hill Top UMC, 2/19/23

Decisions, Decisions

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,  18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-20  


“Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.  2 Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,  3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.  4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.  5 O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!  6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.  7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.  8 I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.  9 How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” – Psalm 119:1-9  


“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.  23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. – Matthew 5:21-37



Decisions, decisions. Life is full of choices we are constantly being called on to make.  What’s for dinner? How are we going to get there? What should I wear? There are so many possibilities, so many options.

Just out of curiosity I googled the phrase “decisions decisions” just to see what the computer would come up with. The results presented me with all kinds of advice on things like choosing who to marry, what career to choose (those ships have sailed), what car to buy, how to decide on getting help making decisions… all in all, 3.3 billion websites offering advice on how to make decisions.

Our scripture readings today address the issue of making decisions. Each passage puts us in the position of having to make a choice. In Deuteronomy, the choice is between life or death; in the Psalm it’s a choice between blessings or shame; and in Matthew it’s a choice between peace and integrity on one hand, or violence and brokenness on the other.

I think for me, the real bottom line of all these questions comes down to: who or what do we love best? Who or what are we most committed to in our heart of hearts? Which is an interesting question on the weekend before Valentine’s Day! What I would suggest today is: If we haven’t already done so, it’s time to fall head over heels in love with Jesus!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at the scripture readings for today:

In our reading from the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, the choice is clear: life or death – which do you prefer?

Life death

In the book of Deuteronomy – whose name literally means “the second book of the law” (as opposed to the first book, which is Leviticus) God starts out by saying very clearly, “I have set before you today life and prosperity vs. death and adversity” – or as a more modern translation puts it, “life and what’s good, vs. death and what’s wrong”.

God is asking every person to make a choice: no matter if we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or old, everyone is being asked to make a choice. Back when this scripture was written, God was speaking to the Israelites; but God also included the Gentiles: God said “…and any foreigner who lives among you.” So God is speaking to everyone and putting this question to everyone. Which would you rather have: “life and what’s good, or death and what’s wrong”?

This is not a ‘to be or not to be’ question in the way that Hamlet meant it. It’s a question of covenant. Being in a relationship with God is, in a sense, like being married: as God’s people we made promises – or in some cases our parents made promises for us – in baptism and/or in confirmation; and the people of ancient Israel did the same thing by having their male babies circumcised. So as God’s people we live in covenant with God.

This isn’t a covenant we’re forced into. We have the right to choose – which is a really important point that’s easily overlooked. I found a quote from a British rabbi that I wanted to share with you, because I think it really makes clear the difference between a life with God and a life without God. Rabbi Sacks, retired member of the House of Lords, writes:

“No religion, no civilisation, has insisted so strenuously and consistently that we can choose… [Ancient civilizations] – with their belief in fate, fortune… the influence of the stars or the arbitrariness of nature – did not fully believe in human freedom. For them true freedom meant… accepting fate… [In today’s world] Choice is [often considered] an illusion of the conscious mind. It is the fiction we tell ourselves. [But] Judaism says no… We are not an inconsequential life-form lost in the vastness of the universe. [Since we are given] the freedom to choose [we have] the great responsibility to walk in God’s ways…”

Does that make sense? So there’s God’s way of thinking – which gives freedom to choose – and the world’s wisdom, which ultimately boils down to fatalism and the belief that any choices we make are ultimately irrelevant. Rabbi Sachs, in that quote, was speaking to fellow Jewish believers; but what he says applies to Christians as well. We do not believe in fate or fortune – we believe in a living God, who is active in our lives, and therefore we respond to God and we allow God to lead us.

Of course, since we have free will, we also have the ability to say ‘no’ to God. The thing is: saying ‘no’ to God leads ultimately to death, because God is the source of life. Scripture says in God is life. Or to put it another way: Scripture says “God is light” and “in him there is no darkness at all”. If God is light, then anything that is not from God – anything that is not light – by definition will cease to exist when the light is turned on.

So if there is anything in us that is not of God, that is not of the light, when the light comes, anything not-light will vanish; it will be no more, simply because of the nature of light. This is the meaning of the teaching that sin is incompatible with God, and that we must be without sin in order to be with God: because when God is present, sin vanishes – it is no more.

Of course the problem is that no human being is perfect. This is why Jesus came to earth, to live a perfect life on our behalf, to die a perfect death in our place, and to rise again to open the door to the restoration of the human race – so that we could live.

This the Gospel Message in a nutshell. So right here in the Old Testament we are hearing the ‘good news’ of the kingdom of God. (Anyone who says the Old Testament is passe has missed its message.)

Deuteronomy tells us like it is: we can choose to love God and obey his commands, and live – or we can choose to turn away from God, do our own thing, and perish. Life and blessings vs death and curses.

Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Why would anyone choose anything other than life, or anything other than God?


But many people do choose against God. Some are deceived into thinking we could do better on our own without God’s help. Some would rather have everything they want in this life and don’t want to think about the next life. Some people hear God say “don’t do that” about something they really want to do, and they think God is some kind of celestial killjoy.

What many people don’t catch on to – until it’s too late – is that everything good in this life comes from God. God created this world. God created sunsets and oceans and trees and cats (and dogs) and food, and children, and our families… all good things come from God. So when God gives us this rule in Deuteronomy, God is not trying to make things hard for us; God is telling us how things work in the universe that God created. We can almost read the Bible like a users’ manual for life. Do what the manual says, and the engine of life works perfectly. Ignore what the manual says, and the engine seizes up and we need repairs.

So this first reading leaves us with a choice between life and death, and asks us: Will we choose life?

In Psalm 119 we are presented with a similar choice: in this case, between happiness and blessing on one hand, or shame and lack of blessing on the other.

Again, this seems like a no-brainer. How many of us would choose shame over happiness? Or give up blessings for nothing at all?

I don’t want to imply God is sitting up there in heaven threatening to hold back blessings from us.  That sounds like the old “soup nazi” from Seinfeld:  He had the best soup in town, but if you came in to the shop the wrong way, or didn’t line up right, or didn’t ask politely, he would yell “no soup for you!!”

No Soup

God is not a “blessing nazi”. God is not up there, waiting for someone to make a mistake so he can shout “no blessings for you!” God wants to bless us! God wants the very best for each one of us.

Again what we’re looking at in Psalm 119 is simply the way God’s creation works. Those who keep God’s commands are blessed, not because “the rules are the rules and we must follow the rules” but because God’s commands are good and they lead to good things. In verse 103 of the same Psalm, the writer says to God: “How sweet are your words to my taste! Sweeter than honey in my mouth.” Doing what God commands, results in blessing and happiness and satisfaction.

Finally we come to our reading in Matthew. We are still in the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been reading for the past few weeks.

Jesus also presents us with a choice, thought it’s not immediately obvious. In Matthew, we hear a series of teachings in which Jesus says “you have heard it said…” followed by “but I tell you…”. What Jesus tells us is more like an amplification of the law, not a replacement of the law.

So the choice we have here is: will we, or will we not, love and trust Jesus?

The law says “you shall not kill/murder” but anger can lead to murder, so Jesus tells us not to be angry with each other. The law says “you shall not commit adultery” but lust can lead to adultery, so Jesus tells us not to look at each other lustfully; and so on.

This just makes common sense: If Jesus is going to form a community of God-loving people – which is what he’s doing – he cannot form a community in which it is OK to hate each other, insult each other, bad-mouth each other, slander each other, but stop short of murdering each other. He cannot form a community of people in which it is OK to treat other people as sex objects, to let our fantasy lives run away with us, to involve ourselves in pornography, or play touchy-feely games with children, but stop short of committing adultery. Jesus frames the conversations by pointing out how some people want to use other people – and that is what the law of God stands against. You and I, and everybody else in the world, we all belong to God. And anyone who wants to use us is essentially playing god in our lives, and that’s off-limits in God’s kingdom.

You have heard

Side-note: A word on Jesus’ teaching about divorce. This particular passage in Matthew has been used and misused to keep people married who should not be together. I have personally known more than one couple who have been told by their pastors that even though there was physical abuse going on in the marriage, or financial abuse, or threats being made, they were told by their pastor “you were married in the eyes of God so you need to stay together and get into counseling and try to work things out.” NO. If there is physical violence, if there is verbal abuse and belittling, if there is forced sex, if one partner is refusing to share money or property – anything of a violent or dehumanizing nature – the two need to be physically separated first, and then maybe start looking for counseling for each individual.

Jesus never said people need to stay stuck in dangerous or unhealthy relationships. What Jesus is addressing is that the law of Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife in the case of unfaithfulness; but by the time Jesus walked the earth, the law had been expanded to the point that a man could divorce his wife for any reason just by handing her a certificate of divorce.

The thing was, the law of Moses was meant to protect women and children in a society where the men ran everything. It meant that a man could not just walk away from his responsibilities… which was exactly what was happening in Jesus’ day. To interpret Jesus’ teaching to mean that divorce is always un-Christian unless someone has been cheating, is to turn a law that was meant for liberty and protection into something that binds victims in helpless situations. End of side note.

Finally, lastly, Jesus says, if we come to church and we are making our gifts – either giving money or receiving communion – and we remember that someone has something against us – we are to leave our gifts where they are and go and be reconciled to that person, and then come back and make our gifts. If we come to church holding a grudge against someone, we need to make peace right away.

I should add to this: sometimes it’s not possible to reconcile with another person. Sometimes it’s not in our hands. Sometimes the other person has been violent toward us, and it’s not safe. Sometimes the other person isn’t ready to forgive, in which case we shouldn’t try to force it. Bottom line is, we do our best to live at peace with others, apologize if and when we need to, and in every case bring the situation to God in prayer. And then we can bring our gifts to God with a clear conscience.

The bottom line of Jesus’ teaching is not that he’s ‘raising the bar’ and making entry into heaven more difficult, but rather that the Law is tougher to keep than we thought – which is why we need Jesus. We need Jesus’ help to do better; we need Jesus’ help to learn and grow in healthy, life-giving ways; and above all we need Jesus’ help to be forgiven.

Lastly, and most importantly, we need to know Jesus better. With that in mind let me leave us with two things we can do:

(1) Choose life!  God puts this choice in front of us, every minute of every day. To choose to do things God’s way, and bring life into the world, or to do things our way and bring death into the world. To choose life means:

  • We will live our “best life” as God wants us to
  • We will listen to God’s word and to God’s Holy Spirit for guidance
  • We will, as commandment #1 says, “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength”
  • We will never go back to Egypt, metaphorically speaking – we will never go back to a life of captivity to sin or anything that causes harm
  • We will choose friendship, kindness, and humility; respect, responsibility, and integrity

(2) Fall in love with Jesus! Think about it for a moment:

  • Jesus is God
  • Jesus took part in creation when God created all we see around us
  • Jesus had a hand in all the major events of the Old Testament
  • Jesus is the Messiah the Old Testament promised – there is no other
  • Jesus set all of that aside to come here to earth and be born just like one of us
  • Jesus – lived here on earth with all the smells and dirt and lousy politics – and the joys and friendships – he shared it all
  • Jesus gave his life so that we could live
  • Jesus came back to life to demonstrate that God and love cannot be killed – and to open the door to eternity for us

How can we not love someone like this?

Something else to consider: when we fall in love with Jesus, people notice. You can’t be in love without people noticing. For those of us who have fallen in love at some point in your life: when you met your special someone, didn’t people notice? Didn’t they say “you are just glowing.” Or “What’s going on in your life?” They started asking all kinds of nebby questions, right?

And when we’re in love, we drive our friends and family crazy talking about the person we’re in love with. We just cannot shut up about this wonderful person!

Why is it, then, we so rarely talk about Jesus?

Falling in love with Jesus brings a touch of heaven into this world. And the more we love Jesus, the more we will be able to love others.

Jesus said:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”

How can we not fall in love with someone who says things like this and makes them happen?

So we have choices to make. Choose life. Choose love. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven UMC and Spencer UMC, February 12, 2023