George Floyd & Ma’Khia Bryant in the Arms of Jesus

John 10:11-18

This Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’. Throughout the readings and prayers for this occasion, we encounter, time and again, Jesus defined as our shepherd and ourselves as the sheep of his flock.

I was going to preach today exclusively on Jesus as the good shepherd, but in light of recent events affecting our Black brothers and sisters, I feel compelled to speak to those events.

For more than two weeks, all the world waited with bated breath as we watched the trial of one of the policemen accused of murdering George Floyd. Most of us were astounded at the preponderance of prosecution evidence and disgusted at the defense Derek Chauvin’s attorneys presented. Most people were sure that there would be a conviction of Derek Chauvin, his executioner, but because of past experience with white cop/black victim incidents, many of us were afraid the ‘thin blue line’ of defense would prevail. However, this time the legal system returned a valid conviction on, not only one, but all three charges.

But before we could celebrate that justice was delivered in the George Floyd trial, just less than an hour before the verdict came in, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by a white Columbus policeman. This is the seventh death of Blacks by law enforcement in the last four months!

Then Friday, a deputy killed Andrew Brown Jr., in North Carolina while attempting an arrest.

Please say with me their names:

Miles Jackson . . .

Andre Hill . . .

Casey Goodson, Jr. . .

Adam Toledo . . .

Duante Wright . . .

Ma’Khia Bryant . . .

Andrew Brown, Jr.

This slaughter has got to stop!!

No matter whether George Floyd was a found sheep, or a lost sheep, he was still a child of God, and deserved to be treated as such. But Derek Chauvin saw him as a threat to himself, and maybe others, and mercilessly took his life by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes. He forgot God’s commandment:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Luke 6:31)

What he did was not subdue George so that he could not harm the police, but maliciously kept his knee on George’s neck until there was no breath or movement – and then kept it there for another three minutes. He was not lawfully carrying out his duties as a police officer sworn to uphold the law and protect the people of Minneapolis. If you see the video, there was only a blank detached stare in Chauvin’s eyes during that whole nine-plus minutes; with no sense that he realized that George Floyd was another human being.

And for once, in a nation of inequality, the brave jury of twelve people, as well as a number of police, determined that Derek Chauvin had committed a crime and should be punished for it. We all know that this one verdict is not going to correct the horrendous murders of black men and women, but it may be a start. Statistically, 98.3% of all police-involved shootings do not result in indictments, trials, or changes in policy and procedures.[1] We all need to work to bring awareness and remedy to police violence and brutality in our society, whether it comes from police or other people.

After the verdict came in, I imagined in my mind, that George Floyd was cradled in the arms of Jesus, being held in the love and comfort by the Savior of us all, protected from any further harm or grief or pain.

Still, as we breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday, our community felt the sting of another police shooting, resulting in a sixteen-year old black teenager dead from four gunshots.

Whether Ma’Khia was a troubled foster child, or this started as a spat with two other girls about a messy house and unmade bed, it came when Ma’Khia wielded a steak knife and was summarily shot by a Columbus police officer. The incident and actions of the police officer are still being investigated, so this is not the time to make presumptions. But nevertheless, another one of our Black sisters is dead at the hand of law enforcement.

It is time to mourn Ma’Khia, along with the others whose lives have been snuffed out by extreme use of lethal force by police, when it is likely that they would not have used such force if the victim had not been a person of color.

And so, I again imagine in my mind, that Ma’Khia Bryant is being cradled in the arms of Jesus, being held in the love and comfort of the Savior of us all, protected from any further harm or grief or pain.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;the good shepherd000 no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:25–28).

That is what a good shepherd does. And that is what Jesus does for each of us – and we are his sheep.

He is, for all of us, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us. He searches for us when we’re lost, to save us and to show us the way to eternal life (Luke 19:10).

The Shepherd knows each sheep by name, they know his voice, and they follow him. He protects them. The hardest thing the shepherd has to protect us from is ourselves and our own foolishness.

We tend to be like sheep, consumed with worry and fear, mindlessly following after one another. By not following or listening to the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), we can be easily led astray by others to our own destruction.

George Floyd and Ma’Khia Bryant, although they no longer live in this human plane, are Jesus’ sheep, and now live eternally with Him. No one can remove them from the arms of Jesus.

But just like sheep, we generally do not ‘get’ it – that is why Jesus repeats this passage of scripture so often. He says:

    • He is the Good Shepherd,
    • He laid down his life for his sheep,
    • And he knows the name of all his sheep,
    • His sheep follow him.

And still we do not always ‘get’ it!

If we are going to look at Jesus as the ‘Good’ Shepherd, we must remember that we are the sheep. We all have been lost, but

Jesus comes and gathers us all back into the safety of the flock.

He shows us how to follow him, listen to him, and come back to the safety of his arms. And he also provides an example of how we can be shepherds to those around us. Jesus challenges us to not only follow him, but be the voice and person to lead others to Him. We each can be the sheep that follow him, but also a member of the flock that lead others to Him.

We are all called to be his sheep.

I would like for you to set aside some quiet time this week pondering

“Who is a good shepherd for you and for whom are you a good shepherd?”

I invite you to take these questions with you –

When we listen to Jesus, as sheep listen to the shepherd, how do we respond?

If we do not respond, are we really listening?

Do we hear him when he speaks to us?

Do we listen when we hear him?

How do we respond to the voice of Jesus?


 Delivered to Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 25 April 2021


[1]      Carlos Watson, “A Verdict for America”, CNN, Washington Post; 24 April 2021

Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

You In Us, and We In You

John 14:15-21

Let us pray:

O God, you have prepared such good things for us than we can understand: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises. Amen.

Today is the sixth Sunday of the season of Eastertide; next week, we celebrate Pentecost, the fiftieth Sunday of Eastertide. Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. Up to this time, we have been learning about the Holy Spirit from the promises of Jesus:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever (Luke 14:16)

Luke 14:6 is not the only scripture where Jesus says he will give the disciples the Holy Spirit. This promise appears thirty-five times in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is a significant member of the Trinity and a presence of guidance for us.

Ahead of us lies Christ’s Ascension into heaven and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Ahead of the apostles and generations of Christians lie centuries of working and waiting -faithfully building the kingdom of God ‘til Christ calls us home. The wait has been long. It will be much longer. But it will not be lonely. Jesus tells us:

I will not leave you orphaned.

Help is here right now. Jesus promises:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.

Jesus has alluded to the Holy Spirit before. But this time, he gives the Holy Spirit a job description: the ‘Advocate’ who counsels and defends. The Father is the Creator. The Son is the Redeemer. They are familiar and easy roles to visualize. Think of all our images of Jesus, from the blessed babe to the miracle worker, from sacred victim to risen Savior. Then picture the Father. For me, the most graphic image will always be Michelangelo’s creator in the Sistine Chapel, reaching out his finger to give life to Adam.

But the Holy Spirit is another story. Our only picture of the Holy Spirit is a descending dove or a tongue of fire. It’s sketchy imagery, and because we are such visual learners, we often have difficulty understanding and appreciating the nature and role of the Holy Spirit.

And I think the Holy Spirit gets a bad rap.

•    He’s often referred to as ‘it.
•    He’s mistaken for the force from Star Wars.
•    He’s confused with a ghost in paranormal activity.
•    Frequently, he’s just ignored or forgotten.

Since he is an invisible spirit, it can be hard to relate to him and his work.

You may know him by name and hear him invoked during a baptism but have no idea who he is or how he is at work in your life.

Mee Spousler of the Mount Hope United Methodist Church in Aston, PA., tells how she was trying to put her three-year-old son to bed for a nap. When she was unsuccessful, she put him in her bed and laid down with him to encourage him to rest. She fell asleep, but he didn’t. When she woke up, she saw him sitting on a chair at the end of the bed and asked, “Luke, what are you doing?”

“I’m playing God,” he replied.
“Playing God?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m watching over you while you sleep.”[1]

Children understand more than we do sometimes. God IS watching over us. Jesus gave that promise through the Holy Spirit. Not only will God watch over us, but through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we will be reminded of what it means to

“Love Jesus and keep his commands.”

God will help us create the environment of love, grace, faith, and security we need today. Our challenge is to listen to the Holy Spirit and to trust Christ.

The Holy Spirit is amongst us – all the time and everywhere. Christians should never question His existence. It’s essential to thoroughly understand what the Spirit is doing in our day-to-day lives and how we can live a more dedicated life to all the blessings made possible through Him.

Here are nine ways he’s at work in our lives today.

He makes known the presence of Jesus
His primary work is to be the presence of Jesus in our life and the world today. The Holy Spirit redirects our pursuits from aiming at ourselves to glorifying Jesus. He will lead us away from loving ourselves to loving God and others. He gives us a new purpose in our lives.

He makes us more like Jesus
There’s one crucial point to make about the Holy Spirit: He’s holy, and the Holy Spirit produces holiness in us. As we walk with the Spirit he will strip away our love for sin and make us more like Jesus.

He helps us understand the Bible
The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible, its meaning, and how it changes our lives. The Holy Spirit will work through the gospel proclamation through our Bible reading, family, and friends.

He calls us to work
The Holy Spirit calls people to a specific vocation or task, guiding in the vocational decisions we make. Sometimes our life will appear to be a random assortment of loosely connected events, but this is not the case. God is directing our steps and guiding our lives.

He empowers us to service
The Holy Spirit also calls us to service, taking our natural abilities and improving upon them, using average, ordinary, and even rejected members of society.

He helps us pray
Sometimes we feel inadequate in our prayer life or don’t know what to pray. In these moments, the Holy Spirit will help us; remember to ask the Holy Spirit to help you when you find yourself in those moments.

He guides us
Though the Holy Spirit is at work guiding us on a deep, personal level, the Scriptures suggest that we cooperate in his guidance by

“walking according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16).

Don’t just pray and wait for a particular result. Pray and act.

He empowers us to build the church
The Holy Spirit helps us to witness, directs our evangelistic efforts, and empowers our efforts to build Jesus’s church.

He gives us spiritual gifts
The Holy Spirit also gives us spiritual gifts for the common good and the building up of the church so we may serve others. Sometimes God will reveal his glory to unbelievers through a supernatural display of spiritual gifts.

Is it possible to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? Jesus told His disciples,

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).

The Holy Spirit is available to those who have put their trust in Jesus. The Holy Spirit has been described as wind (John 3:8), a dove (Mark 1:10), and a gift (Acts 2:38). It is possible to hear the voice of the Spirit when believers humble themselves. He speaks to our hearts and leads us in the right direction when we learn to listen.

How do we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit?

Be Quiet
We are sometimes too busy to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. We must find a place to sit before God, uninterrupted by other distractions; being quiet before the Lord is more than just not talking. We must quiet our anxious thoughts and meditate on His word as we wait to hear from the Holy Spirit.

The voice of the Holy Spirit is gentle and quiet – almost impossible for us to hear when we don’t pay close attention.

Be Prepared
We must take the time to reflect on our words, actions, and thoughts if we want to hear from God. Our sins keep us from hearing the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. By confessing and repenting our sins—we allow the Spirit of God to come into our hearts. The more we grow in our relationship with God, the more sensitive we become to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Be Aware
It’s difficult to hear the Holy Spirit when we don’t know the Bible. We are most familiar with the word of God through the hearing and teaching of it. Also, through personal memorization, meditation, and individual study—believers can know the truths of God’s word. Everything the Holy Spirit says to our hearts will align perfectly with Scripture. Through reading and listening to the Bible, we will gain greater confidence in hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Be Open
Faith is the foundation of our walk with God. We believe in Him even though we can’t see or touch the Holy Spirit. We demonstrate our faith by trusting God to lead us in the right direction, even in unknown times. Faith encourages us to grow spiritually and become more acquainted with the voice of the Spirit. There needs to be openness coupled with the courage to step out in faith when following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Be Ready
The Holy Spirit is evident when we are ready to obey, even when inconvenient. The readiness to follow in obedience assures us that we are moving in the right direction. The Holy Spirit empowers the obedient with great strength and peace amid difficulty.

Be Patient
Hearing from the Holy Spirit requires us to be patient and wait. He knows the whole story from beginning to end and will move at the appointed time. We need to seek His peace and learn to wait on the Lord with an attitude of expectancy, not complacency.

Jesus tells his disciples that although he must leave them physically, the Father will send “another” Advocate to be with them. That “truth-telling advocate,” the one everyone needs and wants in their lives – that’s the Holy Spirit – the “Spirit of Truth,” as Jesus calls it. That Spirit of Truth will keep us on track, guide us, and be with us until the end of time, ensuring that we will always feel guided. No matter what comes our way, even when the going gets tough, even when times are hard, even when others disdain us, and even when bad things happen, the Holy Spirit makes us free:

  • Free from doubt.
  • Free from worry.
  • Free from anxiety.
  • Free from depression.
  • Free from fear.
  • Free from inhibitions.
  • Free from wrong thinking.
  • Free from anything that would threaten us.

Are you Listening?

The voice of the Holy Spirit is gentle and quiet – challenging for us to hear it when we don’t pay close attention. By choosing to humble ourselves, by being silent, prepared, aware, open, ready, and patient – we will hear His voice more clearly and trust Him more freely. The Holy Spirit is a gift of God’s grace to His people—open your gift wisely and be blessed in His presence.

In the Holy Spirit, we are assured:

as you, Christ, are in God
and God is in you,
so are you in us,
and we in you.

So are you in us and
we in you.[2]


Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 14 May 2023

[1]      Dynamic Preaching, Apr/May/Jun 1999 Vol XIV, No. 2. (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN) p. 41-42

[2]      Andrew King. Oakville, Ontario; Beatitude Society

S. T. A. R. T.

John 10:1-10

This Sunday is known as ‘The Good Shepherd’ Sunday – almost everyone knows some variation of this parable: the shepherd who knew all the sheep’s names, the one who left 99 sheep to rescue one, and gathered them into the sheepfold to be safe.

Here is another image of the shepherd – this time from astronomy. As you look up into the night sky, Saturn is the brightest celestial object after the moon, that mysterious planet with its rings. We learned from the first Voyager probe that Saturn has moons and that the ring is a collection of these moons. The astronomers who identified these moons and their function in the ring dubbed them “shepherd moons.”

The shepherd moons bring order from chaos, harmony and beauty from disorder. They ‘shepherd’ millions of particles – some as big as a bus and others as small as a speck – into the Saturn rings.

The shepherd moons are a metaphor for God. They bring together and hold different particles into relationships. Shepherding, in this sense, gathers us as persons and as communities. The shepherd moons represent God, who unites things we often see as unrelated in beautiful, symmetrical harmony. The rings of Saturn are an image of our varied, complex, pluralistic world, with many different perspectives, which form a unit by the shepherding care of God.

The shepherd in this image is the one who brings and holds together different parts of our world. Shepherding creates an identity, a person, and a community. It is to make clear that God brings together those things we often take apart. We live in a pluralistic reality, with many different groups, but they are all cared for by God.

God gathers the different particles – that’s us! – together. Diverse experiences make us who we are: our past, our families, our faith, and our self-reflection of ourselves. We create a new reality from those things we find around us. God attracts single units into one reality. In our liturgy and worship – our tradition – we carry the seeds of meaning that keep getting revised. Jesus sums up the past images and breaks open new ones.[1]

Jesus can be a shepherd for our life in the same way. He is guiding us out of confusion by sheltering us. We have nothing to fear; all we must do is answer His voice.

God’s love is always here, despite our waywardness. This love comes to us unmerited, there for the asking. It is unlimited love, confronting evil in love. Like Martin Luther King, the good shepherd, and his followers put themselves in the path of danger and are willing to pay the price.

The Good Shepherd challenges us to find the love of God in the world around us, to look for God in unexpected places, unanticipated events, and unconventional faces. It tells us to look for the grace of God where we least expect it. The bottom line is that God’s unlimited love is there for everyone.

How we feel and see this unlimited love grounding and directing us is the question. In the church, we learn the meaning of Jesus as our shepherd. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and He knows the individual needs of those within his care. There are real wolves and thieves out there – people who do not have the best interests of the common good in their hearts. The good shepherd will do everything needed to protect them.

The church’s job is to offer support and teach us. We are in webs of relationships; we choose the best of the gifts offered to us. We must imitate this unlimited love. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to make sense of our faith.

How many of you here would like a fresh start in your life?

How many would like to be in the fold of the Good Shepherd?

This morning I want to share a formula for starting over, regardless of failures in the past. The method is known as ‘S. T. A. R. T.

S. T. A. R. T.
S –       Stop making excuses.
If we want a fresh start, we must stop making excuses for our failures and blaming others. We’ve got to stop seeing ourselves as victims of our circumstances.

Other people can hurt us, other people can harm us, and other people can scar us. We have a choice – we can determine how we respond to those hurts. Nobody can destroy our life without our permission. The only person who can ruin our lives is ourselves.

T –       Take An Inventory Of Our Life
We must take an inventory of our lives. That means we must evaluate all our experiences and discard those failures. We must take stock of our life experiences and learn from them.

Failure can be our friend or foe – we determine which. We can choose to learn from failure or choose to repeat it. If we learn from it, then it can be our friend. However, it is our foe if we don’t learn from it. We must learn from our mistakes.

As we take inventory of our life, we must ask ourselves three questions.

  1. What have we learned? If we don’t sit down and think it through, we’ll repeat the same mistake because we didn’t learn from it the first time.
  2. What have we got going for us? Have we got our health? Have we got our freedom? Have we got some friends? Have we got a church family? What do we have that we can get a fresh start with?
  3. Who can help us? We need somebody by our side – a friend, a partner, a support person, or a support group. Find someone that can help you. We need somebody else to walk along with us, enabling us to get a fresh start in life. Jesus will be there; He will help us pull our lives back together and ensure we get started on the right foot.

A –       Act in faith
We have to go out into new territory. The Bible says that the key to changing anything is faith. If we want to change our circumstances, it takes dedication. If we change anything in our lives, we have to have faith.

To start acting in faith means we must stop having pity parties. We’ve got to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. The more time we spend regretting our past, the more we waste our future. We set ourselves up for more failure by focusing on past failures. Whatever we focus on, we tend to create in our present life.

R –       Refocus
If we want to change our lives, we must refocus and rethink our thoughts. How we think determines how we feel, and how we feel determines how we act.

Let me give you an example:

A beggar sat daily on a street corner across from an art studio. An artist had seen him for days and decided to paint his portrait. When the artist completed the picture, he invited the beggar into the studio. The artist said, “I’ve got something I want you to see.”

Inside the studio, the artist unveiled the portrait. At first, the beggar did not recognize himself. He kept saying, “Who is it?” The artist just smiled and said nothing. Then suddenly, the man saw himself in the portrait — not as he was in his dismal state, but as he could be. Then the beggar asked, “Is that me? Is that me?” The artist replied, “That’s who I see in you.” Then the beggar said, “If that’s who you see in me, then that’s who I’ll be.”

T –      Trust
We must trust God to help us succeed. Depend on Him; we don’t need to depend on ourselves. We’ve already proven that we can’t do it on our own. That’s why we’ve failed. They stumble and fall, then get up and say, “I’ll just try harder!” It’s like you go up to a wall and bang your head against it, and the wall doesn’t fall. You try it again, and Bang! Again. You keep doing it thinking, “Maybe it will fall over this time.” That’s the definition of insanity – doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. We will get the same result if we keep doing the same thing. We cannot change who we are; only God can do that. I am not speaking about the outward man but the inner man, the person of the heart. Success is not trying harder but living smarter and giving God control of our lives.

The good news this morning is in Isaiah 43:18. God says,

“I want you to have a fresh start in life; I want you to have a new beginning, I want to do something new in your life. ”

Aren’t you glad God wants to do something new in our lives? Doesn’t it excite you that God desires to give us a fresh start, a new beginning in life?

The Lord says, `Forget about what has happened before. Do not think about the past. Instead, look at the new things I’m going to do.

Listen to what God is saying in this verse. He says we mustn’t think about the past. Forget about what’s happened before. It’s over, done; we can’t change it.

We must understand that God is far more interested in our future than in our past. That’s where we are going to spend the rest of our lives. He says,

Forget about your past. Forget about the former things. Don’t think about it. Look at the new thing I’m going to do.” (Isaiah 43:19)

How can we have a fresh start?

We can have a fresh start by:

S. T. A. R. T.

  • Stop making excuses
  • Take an inventory of our lives
  • Act in faith
  • Refocus our thoughts
  • Trust in God[2]

Will you have a fresh start in life?

Will you have a new beginning?

It. Is. Your. Choice.

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 30 April 2023

[1]      Adapted from Rev Dr George Hermanson, United Church’s Five Oaks Retreat Centre, Ontario, Canada
[2]      Adapted from John O Mooney

Fear to Faith

John 20:19-31

Welcome to ‘Low Sunday,’ the first Sunday of the fifty days of Eastertide. After all the jubilation, misery, and rejoicing of last week, nothing can hold a candle to Holy Week. If you take a few seconds, you can figure out why it is called ‘Low Sunday.’

This Sunday is also called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’ By the end of this sermon, you can probably figure out why.

Today’s gospel reading is one of the best-known Eastertide gospels – that of ‘Doubting Thomas.’ No matter how nonreligious, most people have heard about ‘Doubting Thomas.’ We seldom hear the name of this disciple without the label of ‘Doubting.’

You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels, we are told nothing at all about Thomas. He is just a name in a list of the disciples (Mark 3:18, Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15), a faceless man among the twelve. In John’s Gospel, he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then, there are only 155 words about him. In his book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop John Shelby Spong states that the writer of John created Thomas as a metaphor with a unique personality of ‘doubting.’ His story has entered the world’s vocabulary and in everyday conversation. People who doubt or question the status quo are called ‘Doubting Thomases.’ 

Let’s set the stage.

Your best friend just got murdered – executed. You could have helped Him escape, but you ran away instead. You’re angry and disappointed, not only with yourself but with your friend. He said He could handle it and was big enough to avoid it. He said He was the Son of God. Or at least, that’s what you heard.

People know who you are. You were inseparable for years. You witnessed His “crimes,” and you know you were an accomplice. And you are scared. You are thinking, “How will I get out of this? How am I going to get out of town?” Dashed hopes and a once bright future are dark.

Can you picture the scene? The doors are locked; the room is dim. There is a low murmur of voices in the background as you sit in a corner and review the contradictions, injustices, and your role in the horrible death of your best friend.

My imagination has quite a lot to work with as I envision that room that evening. The disciples discovered that not only was their Master dead, but His body was gone. I am pretty confident we all have been in that spot, in that room, at some point in our life. We have all let ourselves down, failed our friends, and betrayed with much wickedness. We see our sins, know our hearts, and become very good at beating up on ourselves.

Here were the disciples of Jesus sitting in failure, betrayal, confusion, disappointment, shame, and guilt. The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ teachings, misinterpreted his miracles, and even were misdirected by their culture as they followed Jesus. No wonder they were afraid.

But I wonder, “What do you see in that room? What do you see after betrayal, disappointment, sin? What do you see “after”?

I’ll tell you what I see. I immediately see “Fear.” It is pronounced and natural – the disciples fear the temple authorities and lock the doors. After disappointment and betrayal, there is fear.

Where does FEAR come from? It is self-generated, based on our interpretations of what we see. A simple acrostic for fear is this:


Fear is something that we all have to deal with. It was Dave Barry, that great humorist, who said, “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears – of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words “Some Assembly Required.” 

When I was a child, my sisters and I thought it fun to scare each other. One of us would be screaming hysterically in fear, and the others would be howling in laughter.

But real fear is not at all funny. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,” said H.P. Lovecraft, and fear makes you do things you would typically not do.

Fear was understandable for the disciples, and it is fundamental for us. Most of the time, it comes because we do not understand what we see. The disciples were human; they did not understand. They were afraid of being locked up and crucified. They were fearful of the Jewish temple authorities.

The notion that a dead man was alive again was not exactly something you easily absorbed. Thomas speculated aloud what it might take for him to believe. As he talked, his rhetoric got more and more exaggerated.

“My friends, I’d have to see the nail holes in his hands with my own eyes.

No, tell you what, I’d need to touch those holes with my finger. 

Better yet, I’d want to stick my whole hand right into his side where the sword pierced him!” 

But when Thomas saw Jesus, he believed.

But not only do I see fear in that room, but after fear, I see forgiveness.

I see forgiveness demonstrated by the first words of Jesus when he entered the room.

“Peace be with you!” (John 20:21)

Not “Where were you guys?” Not “How could you have let me down?” But,

“Peace be with you” (John 20:21)

Forgiveness from the start. How often do we fail to ignore forgiveness by bringing up the past with someone? How often do we make sure the other party knows how little we think of them, how much it hurts?

I see forgiveness demonstrated by the assignment he immediately gave them.

“I am sending you as the Father sent me.” (John 20:21)

He immediately indicated his trust in them by giving them an assignment, a task, a command to carry on his work. I see forgiveness demonstrated by the gift Jesus gave them, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as an initial gift to enable them to accomplish the task He had just given them. These disciples finally believed in both the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And I also see forgiveness demonstrated by the authority He gave His disciples, the power to carry on the work that He had begun. Not only does He send them out and enable them, but He empowers them. He gives them His authority.

And finally, after the fear and forgiveness in that room, I see faith.

I see faith restored. Into that room walked someone they thought they would never see again. They witnessed in person the Living Lord and rejoiced. Seeing the resurrected Jesus restored their faith.

This Gospel of John shows us that there are different kinds of faith and that faith comes in different ways and intensities to people. People have differing needs and find various routes to faith. In John 20:8, the beloved disciple believes upon seeing the empty tomb. In John 20:16, Mary believes when the Lord called her name. The disciples here in John 20:20 have seen the risen Lord. And in John 20:25, Thomas says that he must touch the wounds —although that need seems to evaporate once he saw the Risen Christ. 

I see faith shared. The disciples, in turn, witnessed to Thomas and brought him back the following week. They immediately began to obey the “sending” assignment by going to Thomas, who had missed the first experience.

Poor old Thomas gets a bum rap if you ask me. He wasn’t the first ‘doubter.’ The church is full of doubters. All of the outstanding theologians of the church were doubters. Martin Luther himself was a doubter.

Doubt is not the opposite of belief; the opposite of belief is unbelief. Doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. My search for the unbelievable, unseen Jesus led me to seminary. My doubting nature has fueled my quest for the historical Jesus. My doubts and my questions haven’t hindered my faith. On the contrary, my doubts and questions have nourished my faith.

And I see faith invited by Jesus. Without condemning or scolding, Jesus invited Thomas to examine the truth. He didn’t call him a “Doubting Thomas.” That’s a name we’ve invented for this man. I think we’ve done so because we see in Thomas our own unbelief. We usually condemn those in which we see our own sins reflected.

Jesus invites faith with gentleness and kindness, recognizing our need for evidence and blessing us with greater conviction. He does not condemn, nor does he resort to name-calling. He invites us to examine him, to know him. . .  to have faith.

What, then, is this ‘faith’ we are supposed to have?

Faith is complete trust or confidence in someone or something. From a religious standpoint, it is a strong belief in God or certain doctrines based on spiritual experience rather than proof. Jesus went on to tell Thomas

“blessed are those who believe and have not seen”. (John 20:29)

We believe, yet have not seen.

Not only Christians, but all human beings live every day by faith.

  • We go to sleep, assuming by faith that we will wake up.
  • We kiss our loved ones goodbye, believing we will see them again.
  • We drive to the grocery store with the faith that we will return home safely with our groceries.
  • We plant our gardens in the fall with faith that they will blossom in the spring.

And most crucially, we live every day knowing at some point that we will die and somehow it will be alright. But we cannot prove that or understand what happens. These are all elements of ‘having faith.’

But does faith mean we do not doubt?

No, indeed, faith does not preclude doubt. If we are honest with ourselves, most people will admit that they are troubled from time to time with doubts about what they believe.

Even Saint Mother Teresa wrote of her doubts in her diaries, saying:

“[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,
– Listen and do not hear-
-the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak.”

Even this holy woman had doubts, yet her faith was strong.

Doubt is “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction; a hesitancy to believe; not being sure about something, especially how good or accurate it is.”

Doubt is one of God’s most effective tools for producing mighty men and women of faith. The writer, Frederick Buechner, said, “If you don’t have doubts, you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith; they keep faith alive and moving.”

I submit that being a ‘Doubting Thomas’ and questioning life, especially its significant events or problems, is not bad. We should do it. When we ask ourselves difficult questions, we get answers that can deepen our faith and provide us with the tools to move to a more purposeful life and a closer relationship with God.

Indeed, we can learn a valuable lesson from Thomas: We must doubt and then move beyond doubt to faith. It is all right to doubt, but we must move beyond doubt.

So, when we doubt, we examine our lives to determine what is true, right, and good for us. That is the human process – it leads to a better understanding of ourselves, our world, and our relationship with eternity. And we must travel that journey at our own pace and in our own time.

So, is there a real purpose for doubt in our Christian faith?


Doubt is what enables our faith to grow. Today’s gospel passage tells us this. At the beginning of the text, Jesus appeared to the disciples, and they believed. They had to share it with others. Thomas was not in the room when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, and when he heard what happened, he did not believe what they were saying. Thomas had little faith in what the disciples said because it was unbelievable and needed more proof. Jesus was dead – he had seen him brutally tortured and murdered, and he saw his lifeless body buried in a tomb.

I leave you with this poem, ‘Thomas, Undone’

The unease you feel is not doubt.
It is hunger to go deeper.
You are not done yet.
Learn from Thomas,
who, when Jesus planned to go to

Bethany, where they had tried to stone him,
said, “Let us go die with him.”

You want to see the scar of your betrayal and how love bears it.
You want to touch the wounds and enter the heart of
The One Who Suffers for the World and lives.

Now, more than before, you are ready to come and die with him,
let love undo you and begin again.
Don’t belittle your restlessness.
Let it lead you.
Reach out.
Even now, he is saying your name. [1]

Let us pray:

Almighty and ever-living God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: grant us the faith to truly and deeply believe in Jesus Christ, that our faith may never be found doubting. Empower us to be carriers of that faith to others. Give us the ability to share it so others can know the grace of your salvation, your gracious gift of Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 16 April 2023

[1]     Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, ‘Thomas, Undone’, Unfolding Light

At The Foot of the Cross

John 18:1-19:42

This obituary appeared in the Jerusalem Post in the year 33 C.E.

“Jesus Christ, 33, of Nazareth, died Friday on Mount Calvary, also known as Golgotha, ‘the place of the skull.’ Betrayed by the apostle Judas and crucified by the order of ruler Pontius Pilate. The causes of death were asphyxiation by crucifixion, extreme exhaustion, severe torture, and blood loss.

“Jesus Christ, the descendant of Abraham, was a member of the house of David. He was the son of the late Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth, and Mary, his devoted mother. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, Judea, and survived by his mother, Mary, faithful Apostles, numerous disciples, and many followers.

“Jesus was self-educated and spent most of his adult life working as a teacher. Jesus occasionally worked as a medical doctor and healed many patients. Until his death, he shared the Good News by healing the sick, touching the lonely, feeding the hungry, and helping the poor.

“Jesus was most noted for recounting parables about his Father’s Kingdom, performing miracles, such as feeding more than five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish and healing a man born blind. The day before his death, he held a last supper celebrating the Passover feast at which he foretold his death.

Joseph of Arimathea, a family friend, buried His body in an unused grave. Pontius Pilate had a boulder rolled in front of the tomb, and Roman soldiers guarded the tomb.

“Instead of flowers, the family has requested that everyone live as Jesus did, donating to anyone in need.[1] 

I am an empath and I remember the gut-wrenching feeling I had every Friday morning at mass as I gazed up at the larger-than-life crucifix hanging from the ceiling:

Jesus with his head hung on his chest;

a crown of thorns on his head;

a prick of blood on his forehead from the crown;

arms extended and held on the cross with nails;

His feet on top of each other, secured by a nail.

What could I have done that was so bad that Jesus had to die for me. Religious education placed the blame on me.

What did I do?

What did He do to cause his crucifixion?


What did we do to put him there? Our selfish, fleshly desire to do the wrong things caused Him to suffer intolerably. Our shortcomings separated us from a relationship with God.

Why did it take this terrible sacrifice to ensure us a place in Heaven?

We have all sinned. We cannot ignore sin; we must atone for our shortcomings. A blood offering from a sacrificial lamb, an act of contrition acknowledging our errors and our desire to restore our relationship with God; was that the cost?

I recall a comment by someone who challenged calling the day of Jesus’ crucifixion a ‘good day.’ She told me there was enough betrayal, denial, violence, bloodshed, and death. Coming together in a church to hear of all this was too much for her. She could not hear it without crying or feeling a combination of outrage and depression.

But we do know that after the heinous events of Good Friday, ‘the light of the world’ is coming. Because of this ordeal, we are redeemed by Jesus’ blood and gain our rightful place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But we must wait through the torture of Good Friday – the long walk to Golgotha, the nailing of hands and feet, and the final breath.

We must wait.

We commemorate the hours of Jesus’ suffering, and for three hours, we wait:

3 hours, Lord,
Your disciples, the women who followed you, your mother,
They waited for 3 hours
3 hours waiting at the foot of the cross
3 hours waiting at a distance3 hours waiting for you to die
Helpless, powerless
Waiting for you to die.

Lord, this Good Friday we hold your world before you in prayer,
The world you created,
The world you care for,
The people you know by name,
The people you came to die for.

We wait, helpless and powerless, in shock and disbelief! We will wait, watching those close to us in pain and those who are dying. We remain distant from those we will never meet, dying because of lack of food, clean water, inadequate medical supplies and expertise, wars, and conflicts we can’t begin to understand.

We wait.

On this day, God of all tears,
you call us in the midst
of our busy lives
to look at the suffering and death
of the One who came to carry
the pain of the world into your heart.

Give us eyes to see your love
this day.
On this day
you would gather everyone
to your side,
Grace of Calvary,
but we leave you
to carry the cross alone.

You came simply as love incarnate,
but hate and bitterness
were the gifts we offered to you.
You poured out your love
so our emptiness might be filled.

Give us ears to hear your pain
this day.
On this day,
you would pray for us,
for we cannot find the words
in our own,
Shattered Spirit.

Hear the cries of those in need.
Listen to the lament of the lonely.
Cradle the whispered hopes of children.
Set free the dreams of prisoners and captives.

Give us hearts to pray with you
this day.
God in Community, Holy in One,
we lift our prayers to you in the name of the One
who suffered and died for us
this day.

God of love,
at the foot of the cross
we confess our violence,
our desire to make others
carry our suffering.
Forgive us.

We confess our fear,
our illusion of our unworthiness,
our anxiety to justify ourselves
rather than to love.
Forgive us.

We confess our self-centeredness:
that other people become
means or obstacles to our ends
instead of people,
sacred and beloved.

We hurt and judge,
we exploit and dehumanize.
We think that we or others
are unworthy.
We betray your love in us
and we crucify.
Forgive us.

At the foot of the cross
we behold this mystery:
that broken as we are,
we are sacred and beloved,
and you cherish us.

In our darkest violence
you forgive us.
In our deepest shame
you give yourself to us.
In our most adamant betrayals
you are one with us.

At the foot of the cross
give us the gift of sorrow,
the wisdom of an unflinching gaze.

Bless us, that we may know our brokenness,
that we may receive your presence,
that we may accept your forgiveness,
that we may be transformed by your love.

We pray for those whom we have hurt,
and bless those who have hurt us.
We ask and receive forgiveness of all.
We seek only to trust, only to love,
only to heal and to be healed.

At the foot of the cross,
may we die to our fear,
our self-centeredness,
our separation from others.

Take our old, mean lives
and give us new ones,
tender as new green shoots,
lives of grace,
lives of love, mercy and tenderness.

At the foot of the cross,
O gentle God,
may we die with Christ,
that you may raise us up in love. [2]


Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 7 April 2023

[1]      Ralph Barnett, Spiritual E-Soup: A Compilation of Inspirational Messages from the Internet (Kindle Edition

[2]      Rev Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light

Jesus Crashes Through Barriers

John 4:5-42

Today, many states have “Good Samaritan” laws that make it easier for citizens to help others without incurring unnecessary liability. The words “Good” and “Samaritan” are tied together for most of us. Anybody who goes out of their way to help another person is often called a “Good Samaritan.” The Bible contains a parable of a ‘good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37). The message is simple: care for one another.

But “Samaritan” has not always meant “Good.” In Jesus’ time, in first-century Judea, the word “Samaritan” did not dennote anyone good or well-regarded.

I have read this scripture section many times and generally focused on the words of Jesus introducing salvation to a Samaritan woman at a well. It is a beautiful story, but my previous casual reading of this text made me miss critical points in these ancient words.

To understand the text, we have to get a clearer picture of the historical context, specifically the racial realities of Biblical times. When Jesus was walking on this earth, there was already a centuries-old feud between Samaritans and Jews. This feud fueled racist attitudes.

The Jews and Samaritans were related. In 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded the Jewish territory and took the brightest and strongest back to Babylon; only the poor remained. Those taken to Babylon remained strict in Jewish practices; they only married each other. Those left behind intermarried with people of the surrounding nations and were later known as Samaritans.

A hundred years later, the observant Jews returned to Judea. This group of full-blooded Jews and their descendants came to despise the Samaritans. The Jews hated the Samaritans more than they even hated the gentiles. They resented that the Samaritans were now racially and religiously intermixed; Samaritans were mongrels in the eyes of Jews.

The hate ran deep. The most “religious” Jews hated Samaritans so much that if they needed to travel between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north, they would travel west into Perea, allowing them to bypass Samaria. Considering that travel time by foot was about two and a half days from Judea to Galilee, a detour of that magnitude was very taxing.

Another common belief by Jewish religious leaders at the time was that anything a Samaritan touched was ‘unclean.’ That meant drinking out of the same vessel would have been unthinkable. The prejudices against the Samaritans were good old-fashioned ‘racism.’ as in the American segregation era, African-Americans could not drink from the same water fountains as whites.

Racism is rampant in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. We often miss racism in the Scriptures because we do not see our modern words in the text. However, by taking a closer look at the historical context, we will see that this is indeed a story of racism and how Jesus broke through those racial barriers.

Racism is rooted in ideas of racial supremacy, purity, or systemic power, denying individuals or groups their inherent, God-given dignity to live in their customs. That Critical Race Theorists and Social Justice Warriors who seek dominance over those they regard as abusively dominant still qualifies as racism.

Enter Jesus and the Samaritan woman 700-plus years later. Jesus was a rabbi, and rabbinical standards of that time dictated that any “good” Jew would not go near a Samaritan.

But what does Jesus, the rabbi, do? He didn’t take the long route through Perea to get from Galilee to Judea.

he needed to go through Samaria (John 4:4)

He had a divine appointment, even if the Samaritan woman had no idea what awaited her.

Jesus broke the racism barrier when He engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation; he also broke the social norm about women.

In Jewish culture, Rabbis did not speak to women in public, not even their female relatives, including their wives, sisters, and daughters. They took this so seriously that they would close their eyes when a woman approached them. For a man to speak to a woman in public was unthinkable. Women belonged to their husbands like property; for another man to tamper with that property invited scorn and suspicion.

Jesus tore down the barriers against women by talking to the Samaritan woman. He was talking to her without anyone else being around! Jesus did these things throughout his ministry to free women from societal norms and expectations that did not fully allow them to serve God.

When he reached the Samaritan city of Sychar, he sat at the well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. With these simple words,

“Give me a drink” (John 4:7)

Jesus broke down centuries of cultural, social, and racial biases. Why? By asking the woman for a drink, He was saying,

“I am willing to drink out of the same vessel as you because you are not unclean but worthy.”

The Samaritan woman found it strange that Jesus, a Jew, asked her for something to drink when she came to draw water from Jacob’s well. He demanded a drink from her, another sign that she was a Samaritan and an even lower-class woman!

Jesus’ request of this poor woman could have endangered her life should she be accused of adultery. But it is not only the issue of gender that makes this scene scandalous.

During their conversation, Jesus told her past and foretold her future, offering her water that wouldn’t make her thirst again. Excitedly, she returned to her town and told the people about Jesus. Many believed in Him because of her testimony; although she was an outcast in the village. She was excited to share her good news with everyone, telling them:

“I know that Messiah is coming.”  (John 4:25)

For Jesus to be close to a Samaritan, to drink from her bucket, would have meant he would become ‘unclean.’ But that is not all; there is still more scandal to come.

Unlike the obvious cultural boundaries of gender and religion, Jesus creates a personal scandal. The woman had come to the well at noon, the hottest and least ideal time to fetch water. All the other women would have come to the well early in the morning and again late at night. But this woman had chosen to go in the middle of the day, probably to be alone. And it is scandalous for the woman that Jesus interrupts her quest for solitude.

The actions of Jesus are a good reminder to all of us that we must check our prejudices and biases at the door when interacting with others. There is no room for racism in Christianity. Christianity is about love, love for even those we consider our enemies.

Jesus says “No” to racism and sexism, homophobia, and transphobia;

Jesus says “No” to socialist oppression and capitalist exploitation;

Jesus says “No” to mass extinction; countries that build nuclear bombs when their schools can’t afford textbooks;

Jesus says “No” to men with power who take sexual advantage of women;

Jesus says “No” to unarmed black men gunned down by police officers;

Jesus says “No” to churches that tell their teenagers they are going to hell for being gay or trans;

Jesus says “No” to immigration systems that put children in cages;

Jesus says “No” to all of that.

We can learn several lessons from Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman.

When Jesus meets the woman and asks for a drink, all these social conventions prevent the woman from hearing what Jesus said. Like Nicodemus, this woman wasn’t hearing Jesus because of all the other noise, social status, and identities the world has given her.

We can learn two lessons from Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

LESSON #1: Interact with People That Are Different
This lesson stems from what the woman told Jesus when he asked her for a drink.

“you are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9).

She asked because Jews refused to have anything to do with Samaritans.

Jesus did what many of us avoid doing. He started a conversation with someone different. Not only was she a Samaritan, whom his people did not associate with, but she was also a woman. His disciples were surprised to find him talking to her (John 4:27).

At the end of the conversation, the woman returned to her town, telling people about Jesus. That conversion would not have happened if Jesus had avoided her because she was a Samaritan. Many of the Samaritans believed because of her testimony.

Learning from this, we should also interact with people different from us. Sometimes we judge based on how others look or what we hear about them, leading us to make false conclusions. Our prejudices judge people by outward appearance. We hear in 1 Samuel 16:7:

For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7).

We do not know what is in another’s heart.

Prejudice is just another word for ‘racism,’ which leads to overt or covert discrimination and segregation. Because Samaria was not a ‘Jewish’ state, no self-respecting Jew would travel into Samaria or deal with a Samaritan.

But Jesus broke that tradition, just as He did when he dined with tax collectors or forgave the thief on the cross.

Whenever judgmental thoughts arise, and we find ourselves avoiding people because of it, remember the woman at the well and how Jesus ignored that she was a Samaritan and started a conversation with her. Many people came to Jesus after hearing her.

LESSON #2: Our Words Have Power
We must remember that our words have power; they can be affirming and uplifting or denigrating and cruel. When the woman at the well told the people in her town about Jesus, the Bible states that:

‘Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, (John 4:39).

Notice it was what the woman said that led the people to believe. Similarly, what Jesus told throughout the encounter not only changed the woman’s life but

“because of his words, many more became believers” (John 4:41).

The power of our words to change lives for the better can also change them for the worst if we say the wrong things. Proverbs 18:21 states that

“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”

Considering how powerful words can be, we should observe the ‘10-Second Rule’ before we speak. If you aren’t familiar with that rule of life, here are the fundamentals:

  • Before responding, especially in a contentious conversation, take 10 seconds to gather your thoughts
  • This unexpected pause is disarming and stops the negativity
  • Refocus on the person you are talking to, not just the topic.

We must take every opportunity to tell people things that can change their lives for the better and avoid saying things that can bring people down.

Let’s accept this lesson Jesus teaches through his encounter with the woman at the well. Let’s collectively do God’s will for us and finish the work he assigned to us individually. We are most fulfilled when we are carrying out Jesus’ teachings. 

I want to look at the bigotry and discrimination today in the United States with the story of the Samaritan woman. We have not come far from our ancestors and their degradation of those who are not ‘true Jews’ or are ‘not like us.’ We all have ingrained prejudices and stereotypes, whether we like to admit it or not, but we are ignorant of the biases that many people deal with daily.

In his book, Living Faith, former President Jimmy Carter discusses the barriers that divide people and give them a false sense of identity. Having grown up in the South during the time of racial segregation, he had many African-American friends. When his parents were away, he would stay with his black neighbors, Jack and Rachel Clark. He played with black friends, went fishing, plowed with mules side by side, and played on the same baseball team. But when he carried water to people working the field, it was unthinkable that black and white workers would drink from the same dipper.

Those who don’t look like us are “randomly” picked for extra security checks at the airport; people of color have experienced personal invasions and affronts. Every day we hear about black men and boys killed by police; every parent had ‘the talk’ with their sons, hoping they would come home safe every time they leave the house.

As people of faith, we know just how powerful those social conventions and inherited identities can be. We live with the fruits of them every day. We long for our congregations and communities to be complete and vibrant as they once were, but we are wary of those who aren’t like us, those who don’t fit in before they arrive, those who don’t know how things work around here. We live with this tension of wanting our communities to grow again while clinging to the arbitrary identities and societal rules that give us reasons to stay divided.

As human beings, we are good at finding reasons to build walls, to categorize and judge one another. The arbitrary and abstract social conventions of religion, gender, or race keep us from hearing one another; they keep us divided and alienate us from the rest of the world.

We put up walls we think will protect us, walls that we hope will keep us safe, and we build them to keep the bad folks out. But our walls only end up hurting us. The borders and boundaries can become oppressive structures that always keep in the dark, alone, and wary of others. They isolate us; they turn us away from our neighbors and communities.

From Lutherans and Catholics to Christians and Muslims and Jews, to conservatives and liberals, men and women, indigenous and non-indigenous, there are arbitrary reasons why we hold back from each other.

So as we meditate on this account of the woman at the well, let’s take some time to reflect on the stereotypes, biases, and even racial attitudes that we may have. I suggest taking some time to pray and find answers to the following questions.

  1. How do these stereotypes, biases, and racist attitudes keep me from showing the love of Christ?
  2. Do I associate mostly with people of my same socio-economic class? Race? Culture?
  3. How can I expand my circle of friends to include people from other cultures, nations, and races?
  4. What can I do to learn more about the struggles of different groups of people within my town, city, state, or country?
  5. How can I use what I have learned about Jesus and the woman at the well on how I should interact with people different from me?

I leave you with one final note from Galatians 3:28.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, they hardly knew what to say when the disciples saw you talking with the Samaritan woman. And when she turned out to be such an effective witness for you, they must have been more astonished. They had gone to the town in search of food. She had returned to the town to tell everyone about you. We confess that we are often more like the disciples, hardly knowing what to say. In prayer, in personal interactions, with people we know and those who are strangers, make us eager to share. Revive our curiosity, and renew our energy to witness you faithfully. Be our living water welling up in us. Amen.


Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 12 March 2023


John 3:1-17

Today’s scripture from John contains probably one of the best-known lines of text in the Bible. You can find this reference on billboards and marquees, spray-painted as graffiti on walls in tenements and rocks and rooftops. You can’t watch a football game on television without seeing at least one sign saying: “John 3:16”. 

We, as Christians, know that God sent Jesus so

“that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This passage of scripture is probably also one of the most misunderstood or misapplied.

And, as Paul Harvey says, ‘this is the rest of the story.’ 

Here we have Nicodemus, a very educated Pharisee who acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. But he wants to know more, so he secretly goes to Jesus at night. 

Why did he go in the night?

At this point in his public ministry, the jury was still out concerning Jesus’ credentials, not to mention his agenda. But Nicodemus is intrigued enough to search him out, even if he chooses to do so at night. Is Jesus a true prophet or just a troublemaker? If he is a prophet, Nicodemus wanted to know him better. If he was a rabble-rouser, Nicodemus needed to know that, too, for he is a leader of the Jews, and an essential part of such leadership is determining what is true and what isn’t.

Jesus presented yet another new challenge for Nicodemus and his colleagues, so Nicodemus decided to check Jesus out. He showed a curious but reserved respect for Jesus. Something in him says Jesus doesn’t fit into the Jewish religious system, yet he has something about him that none of the other rabbis have.

Over the years, the Pharisees had developed a litmus test for all would-be messiahs based on signs. Do the right signs and do them for the right reasons – and of course, the Pharisees determine the right reasons. If you pass the test, you might – you might – gain their endorsement. Of course, it hadn’t happened yet, but you never know… given the right circumstances and person, it could happen. It could happen.

Nicodemus has come to Jesus at night to see if he, the young Nazarene, might be the right person. He does do signs; that’s true; he’s good at it. Nicodemus is intrigued by Jesus. He comes from God, but does that make him Messiah material?

In the Jewish tradition, studying the Torah was reserved for the nighttime – when things were less bustling, and one could concentrate on the word. Nicodemus was not sneaking to see Jesus so that his fellow Pharisees would not see him or set Jesus up for heresy. He truly wanted to learn more – he was seeking.

We might call Nicodemus the Patron Saint of the Seekers. . . he was seeking to find his spiritual soul. He was genuinely observant, but he found something lacking in himself. If you remember, Jesus’ response to Nicodemus was

No matter how stridently Nicodemus followed the Jewish law, no one could enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

Let’s look further at this text. 

We, as Episcopalians, become members of the fellowship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God when we are baptized. The original Greek word for this second birth is translated as ‘born from above’; not baptism of water, but the descending of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds.  

One who enters the kingdom of God by being born of the Spirit experiences God’s reign, but someone born of the flesh cannot share this. This ‘second birth’ involves a complete reorientation of one’s goals, desires, affections, values, and direction of life 

— in other words, a changing of our heart and spirit. . . 

and accepting the great love and supreme sacrifice when God sent His Son, Jesus, so that we may have everlasting life. 

The kingdom of God is the center of life. 

Nicodemus is like a butterfly; when he went in the night to see Jesus; he was much like a caterpillar in its cocoon. He was in the dark, seeking a way and wondering if Jesus was that light and truth.

When he met with Jesus and understood about ‘being born,’ he evolved into a beautiful butterfly full of color, vibrance, and knowledge. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it becomes a new creature; this is a perfect picture of the one truly ‘born again’ of the Spirit.

I believe we can learn much about the physical and spiritual life of all persons ‘born of the Spirit’ by looking at caterpillars and butterflies. There has never been a single baby butterfly born. Each butterfly must start as a caterpillar and undergo the transformation or rebirth process before becoming a butterfly. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, there is a complete change in its life, which is such a change that it is irreversible. No matter what happens in the butterfly’s life, it will never be a caterpillar again.

Nicodemus went through that metamorphosis when he met with Jesus. He was in the sunshine, no longer hiding with the rest of the Pharisees in the temple at night.

Nicodemus, this Pharisee, the patron saint of seekers and the curious, understood this and changed his life dramatically to follow Jesus in his daily religious observances and by accepting the Holy Spirit.

He had moved around in the darkness, seeking the Light of the Word in Jesus. He left his darkness of spirit by being ‘born from above’ into the light. And he did not stay in the dark.

During the trials of Jesus with the Sanhedrin found in John 7:45-52, Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus. He questions the other Pharisees: 

 “Doth our law judge [any] man, before it hears him, and know what he doeth?” 

As a Pharisee, his defense of Jesus was not without risk – after all, he was one of the respected establishments, and now he was following this heretical Jesus! 

He was willing to put his life on the line to defend his faith and Jesus. What a change from the man in the dark seeking to enter the Kingdom of God. What a transformation when he was ‘born from above.’

And we hear about Nicodemus again in John 19:38-42 — after Jesus’ death on the cross. Everyone ran away. . . afraid. But Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, came back to the cross. They went to the cross in the darkness of  Black Friday to remove the broken body of Jesus and lay Him in the tomb. Only these two were there to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial.

Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body in cloth and anointed it with precious myrrh, aloes, and spices. He and Joseph lovingly carried Jesus’ body to the tomb. They rolled the stone over the opening and left Jesus in the darkness.

The darkness of the soul and death would not ever overcome the world again; in three days, the Light of Jesus shone again and would shine forever more! By the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are all, once ‘born of the Spirit’, realize that our lives are eternal and we will live forever with Jesus. 

There is no more darkness!!!

Let us all be seekers like Nicodemus. . . may we be ‘born from above’ and live in the Light of the World. May we speak of what we know and witness what we have seen. When others reject or ignore Jesus, let us be Nicodemus and defend his words, works, and meaning for the world.

Let us pray:

Nicodemus, Patron Saint of Seekers: May you protect the seeker in each of us from condemnation and condescension. May you guide our steps in the way that leads us to eternal life? May you place us in the company of compassionate teachers whose love defines a new community of hope and grace. May you give us the courage to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. 


Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 5 March 2023

Transfigure Us

Matthew 17:1-9

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent; that makes this Sunday the last Sunday of Epiphany, the Sunday on which we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration marks the pivotal point in his story. Up to this moment, Jesus had gone about healing the sick, raising the dead, and teaching others about the Kingdom of God in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee. But after the transfiguration,

“he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51)

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is one of only a few that appears in all three gospels. This transfiguration takes place about three years into Jesus’ three-and-a-half-year ministry. The disciples had followed Jesus for months and years; they had seen his miracles; they had done miracles in His name. They knew something about the power and the reality of who Jesus was, yet, when He began to talk about dying, it was staggering to the disciples, and they began to wonder if He really was the Messiah.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain away from the others. Together with Peter’s brother, Andrew, these three disciples have been with Jesus the longest since Jesus called them away from their fishing nets alongside the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18).

“Transfiguration” is “a state change from one thing into something quite different while retaining one’s original nature.”

The purpose of the transfiguration of Jesus was so that the “inner circle” of His disciples could gain a greater understanding of who Jesus was. Jesus underwent a dramatic change in appearance so the disciples could behold Him in His glory. The disciples, who had only known Him in His human body, now had a greater realization of the deity of Jesus, although they could not fully comprehend it. Transfiguration would give them the reassurance they needed after hearing the shocking news of His coming death.

A face shining like a sun, clothes of dazzling white, a voice from a cloud: something powerful was occurring on that mountaintop, but it was difficult for the disciples to comprehend. They had known Jesus as a teacher, a healer, and even a prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah; each of these was a role that Jesus filled, but none alone captured his complete identity.

Matthew tells us:

“Just then, there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:3)

Remember that Peter, James, and John were just small-town fishermen, not educated scholars. But even they knew that Moses and Elijah were not only the two most influential figures in Jewish history but were the two people who would one day announce the arrival of the Messiah. Moses and Elijah had both been dead for a thousand years or so. Yet, there they were.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah symbolically represented the Law and the Prophets. But God’s voice from heaven said

“Listen to Him!”

– clearly showing that the Law and the Prophets must give way to Jesus. Jesus is the new and living way replacing the old, the fulfillment of the Law and the countless prophecies in the Old Testament. Also, in His glorified form, they saw a preview of His coming glorification and enthronement as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The voice from heaven instructed Peter, James, and John to do one thing:

“listen to Jesus.” 

Forget your thoughts and plans; listen to Him. As God had declared from the heavens,

“He is My Beloved Son.” (Matthew 17:5)

Above all else,

“Hear Him.” (Matthew 17:5)

And while they were lying there, quivering with fear, Jesus touched them and said,

“do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7)

The second thing they saw in the transfiguration was the promise of eternal life. In Jesus’ earthly life, he was a humble carpenter and rabbi. But when Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light, Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of his true identity as our resurrected Savior. Soon, they would see him arrested, put on trial, beaten, spit on, and nailed to a cross. They would witness him die an agonizing and shameful death. If only for a moment they needed to see the resurrected Jesus in his glory and majesty. They needed to know that God’s story would end in victory and everlasting life.

Peter was the one who noticed it first. He just always seemed to be the one that caught things more quickly. Matthew said that while they stood there:

“He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2)

They were trying to figure out what was happening; they needed some assurance of their future.

We all need that assurance.

I am sure we’ve all faced change that has caused us to stumble and fall, paralyzed us, or left us overwhelmed. We need to regain our balance and get our feet back under us, stepping into a new life when we aren’t sure what that looks like or if there is a new life awaiting us.

Jesus speaks a word to and for you and me. Are we listening to that word, to his voice?

“Get up.” (Matthew 17:7)

“Get up.”

But it’s more than “get up.”

A more literal translation would be something like “be raised up,” “be aroused from the sleep of death,” or maybe even “be resurrected.”

If that’s true, and I believe it is, then it means that every change – whether good or bad, wanted or unwanted, joyful or sorrowful – is illuminated with divine light and filled with God’s presence.

Listen to him. Be raised up. Do not be afraid.

What if those words are holy wisdom for times of change?

What if they are how we step into our own transfiguration?

Maybe it wasn’t Jesus who changed on the mountaintop; perhaps it was Peter, James, and John. The transfiguration opened their eyes, and their seeing changed so that everywhere they looked, they saw Jesus for the first time as he had always been.

What If?
What if the church lived out its life in such a way others could not help but see the transfiguration?

What if Christians were so different that society looked to see the working of the congregation?

What if Christians were the people, children and adults pointed their fingers at and said, “Hey, look at that!”?

What if we so lived the love, salvation, peace, and hope of God that we seemed out of place in the world around us?

What if we were truly transformed into the very people of God? Wouldn’t it be fun, exciting, and wonderful if people lined the sidewalks around our churches to see what makes us so odd?[1]

Transformed people – that is what is needed now!

Transfigured people who let their lights shine, have radiant smiles, and tell glowing reports of what God has done in Christ and continues to do in the Holy Spirit. Transformed Christians need to share with others the coming attraction of God’s reign.

The transfiguration story says there is only one voice to listen to. The voice of God speaks from the bright cloud overshadowing Peter, James, and John,

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)

What if, during change, we sought to hear and listen to that one voice, the voice of Christ? What if we kept our ears open to what He is saying in our life and world today? We must let ourselves become aware of, and attentive to what He is saying and doing, let His concerns and desires become our concerns and desires, and let His way of engaging life and the world become our way of engaging life and the world.

It would mean that whatever changes come upon us do not have the final word. There is another voice. Jesus’ voice is always larger and more powerful than all the other voices. Amid change, Jesus speaks of a word of life, a word of hope, a word of forgiveness, a word of mercy, a word of beauty, a word of generosity, a word of courage, a word of love, a word of healing.

Jesus moved down from the Mount of Transfiguration and toward Jerusalem, where He would be lifted on another distant hill and die. And there, He would give forgiveness for this world’s sin, banishing death, and conquering the devil. So, we, too, move forward, bearing our crosses in faith, trusting not in our self or efforts but in the grace of God to see us through and to bring us at last into His glorious kingdom.

And that is enough. He has loved us enough to die for us.

Let us pray:

Lord, we thank you for all you’ve done for us. We pray that you would guide our hearts, and help us to grow into the persons you want us to be. Rather than following our own ways, please purify our hearts and make us more like you. Guide our paths and help us take steps that will guide us toward your plan for our lives and not our own whims.

In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen


Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 19 February 2023

[1]      Stephen E. Loftis, Transfigured,

Hey, You Have Dirt On Your Face!

Genesis 3:19

This Wednesday, we begin the church season of Lent, a time of reflection as we wait for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This forty days begin after Shrove Tuesday, a day when we stuff our faces and tummies with all the sweets and our favorite foods. Then during Lent we ‘give up’ something; we give our favorite food or drink up so that we can suffer as Jesus suffered prior to Easter.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season. Ash Wednesday is the day that we are marked with just a little ashes; we do this by choice. 

Just a little ashes – that’s all it is. 

And what are ashes? They are the product of burning something away. They are what is left over after fire passes over or through something. They are the waste after the heat and light are gone.

So why do we put This (for lack of a better word) dirt on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday? Where did This strange tradition come from and what does it mean? 

Well, these ashes are a symbol – like so much in our services. The Bible tells us that 

we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). 

We are told that God formed us from dust of the earth and breathed life into that dust. Without This breath or Spirit of God we would be just like these ashes: lifeless.

In Biblical times it was common for people who were mourning to dress in rough clothing and put ashes on their heads. Hence the expression, “Sack cloth and ashes.” However, instead of all over our heads, we put a cross of ashes on our foreheads. 


These ashes are also a symbol of repentance. They symbolizes the beginning of Lent – a time of reflecting on our shortcomings, our limitations, our failings. 

These ashes are also a symbol that we are sealed in Christ. When we are baptized, the priest seals us with the sign of the cross. This cross of ashes is also a reminder of that same baptismal mark of Christ. The Book of Revelation tells of an angel marking the faithful so that when the end of time comes they would be protected. The mark was a mark of ownership – of belonging to God.

The ashes are from burned palm branches – the palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday and a symbol again. The palms are a symbol of victory. We remember the victorious ride of Jesus on Palm Sunday leading quickly to his death. With these ashes we remember that our victories are but ashes before the glory of God. These may be just a few ashes, but as you see, they mean a lot.

These may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot. They may be seen as a symbol of our need for God. That without the teaching and examples of Jesus, without his resurrection, we would be nothing but dust and ashes. If they are a symbol of our repentance and mourning, they are also a way of showing on the outside world if we truly keep our Lent, what is happening on the inside. And that we are once again striving to be like our Savior.

Yet in the midst of our repentance we remember we are forgiven and marked as Christ’s own. The very burning away of our sin by the fire of God’s love makes us God’s own. And as His own we are children of God and will overcome death through the cross of Jesus.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. But Lent is not a merely forty days of deprivation and reflection. It is preparation for truly participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is about dying to an old identity defined by our culture, our traditions, our habits and even our families, and being born into a new identity centered in the spirit of God. It means dying to an old way and being born into a new way of being. . . being centered in God.

It is about dying to deadness, that daily routine of our lives that we trudge through, oblivious to the needs of other and the call of our Lord. It is a time of reminding ourselves of God’s love and God’s reality. It is a time to be lifted out of our confinement, removing those feelings burden and mortality, of fear and doubt. 

These ashes that will be placed on our foreheads remind us that we are mortal. These ashes remind us we have only one earthly life. 

How do we spend these forty days of Lent?

  • We have forty days to open ourselves to God who created and loves us. 
  • We have forty days to face ourselves, confident in the love and acceptance of God.
  • We have forty days to remember that we are dust and to dust our bodies will return, but with God’s grace our spirits can be transformed and we can learn to live THIS life more fully, allowing God’s love to transform us.

So as we come today to have the sign of the cross placed on our foreheads, may we open our hearts, admit our helpless to save ourselves, and accept the grace and forgiveness that marks us as a redeemed child of God. Let us rejoice in This simple symbol of our salvation.

So if you see people on the street with a ‘dirty cross’ on their foreheads, you will know not to say: “Hey, you have dirt on your face”

Let us pray:

Dear God, We know that the only true security we can ever have is in your love. Please give us the wisdom as we seek to use our time, our talents, and our treasure to honor you and bring others to you.

In Jesus name I pray. 


The Season of Lent

For those of us raised in the church (particularly the Roman Catholic Church), we never really talked about the Season of Lent. We just knew we had to be on our best behavior and give up something (the most common being chocolate). 

The name word is a German word for Spring (lencten) and the Anglo-Saxon name for March – lenct –because Lent usually occurs in March. The Lenten Season is another example of Christianity borrowing from other traditions through the ages to help make worship more familiar to the people.

The word “lent” also means “lengthen” and stands for that time in spring when the days grow longer.

During the time of Jesus and the early church, there was no observance of Lent. In 325 CE, the Council of Nicaea established the Lenten Season. The original period of Lent was 40 hours spent fasting to commemorate the suffering of Christ and the 40 hours He lay in the tomb. Lent was lengthened to 6 days and then expanded to 40 days in about 800 CE. The six Sundays in Lent are not included, so Lent is 40 days, corresponding to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.

‘Forty’ is a magic number, not only for Christians but also for a lot of other faiths: 

  • Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai when God gave him the Ten Commandments

  • The great flood lasted forty days

  • Moses and the Hebrew people wandered for forty years in the desert after leaving Egypt.

  • Jesus lay in the tomb for forty hours before His Resurrection

  • The forty days of Lent represent the time Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry. During those forty days, he faced temptation and doubt and purified Himself for His upcoming ministry.

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter when the faithful rededicate themselves, and converts are instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. Today, in liturgical churches, the Lenten Season is intentionally set aside for examination, instruction, repentance and prayer. This Season is one of preparation for all the people of God for the joyous Resurrection of Jesus.

During Johann Sebastian Bach’s day, the organ and choirs were often silent during Lent. The thought was that there should be no music or beauty as we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus.

We often hear that Lent is a time of self-denial, a time to give up something. But Jesus isn’t concerned with chocolate and CDs – he’s concerned with what’s going on in our hearts. Lent is a time to give up those sins in our lives.

  • Lent is a time to give up the sin of hypocrisy – acting like a Christian on the outside but being proud and self-centered on the inside.

  • Lent is a time to give up the sin of being two-faced – being a Christian on Sundays but being an unbeliever on Fridays.
  • Lent is a time to give up the sin of being lethargic – “someday, I’ll get my act together spiritually. Right now, though, I’m too busy focusing on everything except God.”

What is Lent? Lent is that tax collector who stood in the back of the temple looked down at the ground, and prayed to God,

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

Lent is a time for us to give up our sinful habits, and our sinful attitudes, to stand before God and to ask him to forgive us, to wash our sins away, and to empower us to turn away from our sinful past and to live new lives dedicated to God. And after we lay our sins before Christ, Lent is also a time to give up our guilty; when we know that we have been forgiven. We can say:

  • “I no longer have to feel guilty about my sins. I no longer have to beat myself up about how I’ve lived. I have been forgiven. My sins have been washed away by the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can start over. I can work hard to be someone who obeys God, who worships God every day with how I live my life.”
  • Lent is an attitude of honesty and humility as we confess our sins to God. But Lent is also an attitude of relief and joy, knowing that our sins have been forgiven and that our slate is wiped clean as we seek to serve God with our lives.

Many Christians no longer observe the Season of Lent; they feel they don’t need it. They think that since we are saved by grace, we don’t need to do repentance. But we do!

Lent is an invitation and not an imposition. It is a gift and not a burden if we enter it with our entire person; Lent can draw us into a more profound experience of the power of the Resurrection. Its focus on prayer, and practices of piety, all beckon us to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” When understood and entered into Lent can open us to a new experience of freedom. It is an ever-necessary reminder of our mortality –

Remember you are dust, and to dust, you will return (Genesis 2:7)

These next seven weeks are a time for us to look deep into our hearts, to think about our life and how we’ve been living it. What sin will we give up for Lent and the rest of our lives? Jesus will forgive that sin, and wash that sin away at the cross. And Jesus promises to empower us to live a new life that glorifies us.

If people want to temporarily give up certain things for Lent as a sign of love for their Savior, that’s fine. But what Christ is concerned about is what’s in your heart.

In earlier times, the church established days of fasting when one meal a day must be eaten without meat or dairy. And Fridays were specified as a non-meat day (I remember as a child that Friday was fish and macaroni and cheese day). These dietary restrictions have been, for the most part, lifted. In place of these are suggested donations to charity and social justice work. 

Many churches do not recognize the Lenten Season, primarily because it is seen as a distinctly Roman Catholic commemoration. But, over time, few other churches have adopted the Lenten observances. 

In many places around the world, the last day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent is celebrated as a final fling before the solemn days of Lent. Shrove Tuesday takes its name from “shriving” or forgiving sins. The French call it “Mardi Gras”; the Germans “Fausching”; “Pancake Tuesday” in England, or “Carnivale”, Latin for “farewell to meat.”. “Fat Tuesday” is common because people needed to use up household fats before the 40 days of Lenten fasting when no fat is allowed.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, the day when the ashes from the burned palms from last Palm Sunday are used to mark the cross on our foreheads. As it says in the Bible,

from dust we came, and to dust we shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

As we mark the last days of Jesus’ journey, let us use this Lenten Season to look at our own lives and move forward in new life to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

On Ash Wednesday, we begin that long walk to the cross, where we see just how severe and terrible our sins are. But we also see how wonderful and profound our Savior’s love is for us. The road doesn’t end there, but at the empty tomb, where Jesus rises from the dead to prove that your sins have been forgiven.

May God bless you as you begin your Lenten journey.


‘Miracle Grow’ for the World

Matthew 5:13-20

Unlike some scripture that strikes fear in preachers’ hearts, this scripture has way too many topics that someone could use. But I want to strike at the core of what Jesus tells us who we are.

But first, I must ask you a question:

Has anyone ever told you that you are a pile of manure?

Did it ever occur to you that, according to Jesus, they might be right?[1]

Jesus said,

You are the light of the WORLD (Matthew 5:14) –

something we should be flattered at because Jesus also refers to himself as the ‘Light of the World.’

But what about Jesus calling us the salt of the EARTH – not the salt of the world, but

You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)

Jesus isn’t saying,

“You should be the salt of the earth and light of the world.”


“You have to be….”

Let alone “You better be….”

Instead, he is saying we are

the salt of the earth. . .

As in already are. Even if we don’t know it; Even if we once knew it and forgot it; Even if we have a hard time believing it.

Too often, we take Jesus’ words as commands instead of descriptions.  We start beating up on ourselves because we are not salty enough or not shining our light.  We make it all about ourselves instead of about Jesus. Jesus promised his disciples their very being; he is not commanding or threatening them about what they should be doing; he is promising what they will be in the future. In this scripture, Jesus is making promises and giving out these gifts:

We are the salt of the earth.

We are the light of the world.

Take a few minutes to consider your life over the last couple of weeks and think about how God has used you to be salt and light.

  • Your words of encouragement to others
  • Your faithful work at your job
  • The volunteering you have done
  • The prayers offered for people you don’t even know
  • The promises you have made and kept.

The salt translation in this scripture is from the Greek words tes ges, meaning ‘of the earth,’ meaning soil. Jesus says we are ‘salt for the soil.’

What if what Jesus really meant was,

We are the ‘Miracle Grow’ for the earth.

But Miracle Grow has never improved the quality of a single ounce of soil without someone first opening the bag. The church is where ordinary fertilizer becomes Miracle Grow and where we go forth to love and serve the Lord by sharing our saltiness with others. The church just might be where the bag must get opened.

Does the rest of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God sound like a warning for us to go out and become the Sodium Benzoate of the earth? The Kingdom of God is most often described by metaphors of seeds sprouting, fig trees blooming, and leaven rising. Do we really feel called out into the world to help keep things as they are?

We need to go into this rising, sprouting, and blossoming the Kingdom of God, feed and nurture God’s people until they grow tall, bloom, and flourish, right where they stand. We can do that by sprinkling a little bit of the salt of the earth, simple gestures of love that help others believe in their worth and worthiness.[2]

Being salt and fertilizing the modern cultural barrenness means getting deep beneath the hard-baked surface and causing significant movement. We have to go out into the world and start fertilizing!

In Jesus’ day, salt was often connected with purity. The Romans believed that salt was the purest of all things. As followers of Jesus, we are committed to preserving Christian principles that keep ourselves and others from ‘going bad.’ As the salt of the earth, we can help prevent spoiling and corruption wherever we find it.

Do you feel called to go into the world and preserve things, or keep them as they are, and maintain the status quo? Jesus didn’t say we are the salt of the meatloaf; he said we are

the salt of the earth.

We are in good company. Being Miracle Grow for the Kingdom of God goes back a long way. In the Book of Genesis, we are told that God toiled in the soil to fashion us.

But are we ready to turn in our stained-glass image of the church for one that is more earthy? Are we prepared to consider that the church has been called to be on top of the compost pile?

Some years back, there was a sign that used to hang in a locker room that read,

Cause Something to Happen.

It even has its website, My prayer for each person is that they might have the courage to become

  • the salt of the Earth,
  • the Miracle Grow for others;
  • to know God is always in the garden with us;
  • to have the courage to spread thin and to sink in, and
  • to cause the Kingdom to rise, sprout, blossom, and grow.

WE are the salt of the earth!

I want to tell you a story:

A teacher decided to make chocolate chip cookies with her class of 6-year-olds. They carefully measured the flour, creamed the butter, and mixed in the chocolate chips and nuts. The children all wanted to eat the batter and lick the spoons. But the teacher made them promise to wait.

She planned to have them all eat their first cookie together so they could share in the joy simultaneously. Twenty minutes later, the first batch came out. Oh, the students were excited! They could smell the cookies. These weren’t small, scrawny cookies from a package. No, these were great giant golden and beautiful chocolate chip cookies. Two cookies could make a meal. MMMM, delicious! Can you imagine the smell and the size of them right now?

Finally, the cookies were cooled and ready. Each child grabbed their own. On the count of three, they all took a huge bite. Yuck! Gross! The cookies tasted so bad that each student spat out their cookie! These were the worst-tasting cookies anyone had ever eaten! They tested each batch, and the outcome was the same.

Sadly, all the cookies were dumped. The poor staff couldn’t figure out what went wrong. They looked very carefully at the tried-and-true recipe. As they looked down the list, they suddenly realized they had forgotten the salt. Without salt, the cookies were not sweet. Chocolate didn’t taste like chocolate. What was to be delicious turns into a tasteless mess when no salt is added.[3]  

Our lives can easily be like those cookies.

It has been a little over five weeks since Christmas. Most of us focused on the manger and shared our warm memories of Christmas. Even though the days were shorter than they are now, didn’t life seem lighter? There was an air of hope and expectation. The Baby Jesus was about to enter our lives. Then a short time ago, we were focused on the Star in the East that signified “God with us.” Now it’s a month later, and winter is upon us. The children are back in school; bills are due, and some of us have overspent. It is cold; days are short and dreary for many of us. And where is spring? Isn’t it amazing how the whole focus of our lives and society has moved so far in such a short time?

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

What did Jesus mean by this metaphor of salt? In studying for this message, I found there are many references to salt in the Scriptures —

  • 43 references to Salt in my Bible Concordance
  • We know Lot’s wife was turned into a Pillar of Salt
  • The Bible also refers to the SALT SEA several times, better known today as the DEAD SEA. The Dead Sea has the highest concentration of salt of any body of water in the world; the concentration of salt in the Dead Sea is ten (10x) times greater than any sea or lake on earth. Every liter of its water contains an average of 30 Grams of salt and other minerals.

In the ancient biblical world, salt was a precious commodity.

  • It gave flavor and zest to food –
  • It served as an essential preservative

  • Salt also made people thirst for something more.

Jesus wanted his disciples to give flavor and zest to the world through His teaching

  • To preserve the truth as He proclaimed it to the world

  • To make the world thirst for more.

Jesus takes a simple image – no ambiguity – no hidden meanings – nothing out of the ordinary — just common, everyday salt. Jesus uses a simple, ordinary substance to teach the people a profound lesson about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus told us

we are the salt that is added to the world!

Jesus empowers us to purify, heal, nurture, thaw the frozen, preserve, and season the people of the earth. The power of God supports and sustains us and stands with us if we risk whatever it takes to become salt to the world. And when we fail in this effort, God will raise us up and renew us and give us strength to persevere again and again.

We are the salt of the earth.

We’re called to season the world with the flavor of grace. We’re called to help preserve the world from decay. We’re called to help bring healing. And we’re called to make people thirst for Jesus.


Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 5 February 2023

[1]      Rev. William Joseph Adams, Sunday Gospel Talk

[2]      Ibid.

[3]      “A Teacher Decided, Sermons that Work

Lay, Ordained, and Orders Called to Him

Matthew 4:12-23

Many stories within the Bible are known as ‘call stories.’ A call story tells how God invites someone to become something new and unexpected. God calls this person to begin and not only begin but persist so that this new thing can occur.

One day Andrew, Simon, James, and John got up before the sun came up, walked down to the sea, and hurled nets into the water, anticipating a catch of fish. It was a day like every other day – it was dark and probably cool, and the nets were smelly and heavy. They were, after all, fishermen. They were doing what they did every day.

Jesus comes down to the seaside amid the water and nets and fresh fish, roughly hewn boats of wood, the rhythm of the waves. He stands on the bank watching these men throw out the nets and then haul them back in, loaded with fish. He looks at these men and, in a very commanding voice, announces:

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people. (Matthew 4:19)

I imagine they looked at this man on shore as if he was a little crazy. He knew nothing about fishing – the idea that they could fish for humans!

Who is the crazy man, this itinerant preacher who calls them to ‘fish for people’? And where did he come from?

They were fishing near Bethsaida, an outpost of Palestine. This area was far removed from the country of Judea, part of Israel. What was this man doing there? And why had he come all this way from his home in Nazareth?

Jesus had come to the area around Capernaum, which is close to the Grand Trunk Road leading from Damascus to India, Afghanistan and China. Along the coast beside the Mediterranean Sea was the Via Mares, connecting Cairo to Asia Minor. This was the trade crossroads of the existing world. What better place for Jesus to escape to after the arrest of John the Baptist; here he could preach and teach to all sorts of people traveling through Galilee.

Jesus said to them:

Follow me and I will make you fish for people. (Matthew 4:19)

Why did he choose these men?

We know that Jesus did not read resumes before he calls people to be his disciples. He didn’t care what their history was. And as we now know, sometimes he didn’t always make the best decision on who he called. Simon, who became known as Peter, denied Jesus three times during his trials. James and John, often called the Sons of Thunder, think this calling will enthrone them in glory, quite the opposite of what Jesus taught. But Jesus called them, and despite their deficiencies, he still made them his partners. So, when he called, they left their old life, its security, and even their families; they may have been afraid, but not so afraid that their faith in Jesus does not lead them forward.

And why did they follow Jesus?

When Jesus called them, they must have felt the joy of the new world that Jesus was preaching. They were about to see miracles performed and illnesses cured. Jesus was going to show them a wonderful new world, touch everyone who heard him, and then make the ultimate sacrifice to bring about the new world.

If Jesus called this group of imperfect humans to be His fishers of men, why wouldn’t He call each of us to follow Him? Jesus comes to us and chooses us, and sends us out to do something new. Our discipleship means the same kind of new beginning; each of us are called to go to that edge of safety so we can bring people to Christ.

We Christians are called to be evangelists. . . to look for and bring people to Christ. We are called to say to others ‘Come and See’. But we can’t be fishers of people until Jesus has caught us. We need to ‘fish’ for others using our own personal experience as bait.

I remember giving a testimony at a church as part of the stewardship campaign about how the church and God had gotten me through a very rough time when my partner of 27 years was dying of cancer. After the service, a young man approached me and thanked me for my testimony. He seemed so depressed and sure that God hated him that he had been planning to go home and commit suicide.

Imagine how I felt at that moment. I certainly had not given the testimony with the intent of fishing for people. But with God’s help and direction, my little testimony was the bait that brought a young man back to God and salvation.

Religious Life Sunday

This is ‘Religious Life Sunday’ in the Episcopal Church. The General Convention in 2022, approved resolution, “Foundation of Religious Life Sunday,” to be held each year on the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany. This Sunday focuses efforts to tell all Episcopalians that residential monastic and dispersed Christian communities exist, who they are, and how to connect with them.

I remember the first time I saw some nuns at General Convention in 2003; I thought they were visiting Roman Catholics. By talking to them, I discovered that there are eighteen religious orders and eleven Christian communities in the Episcopal Church. They are the Episcopal Church’s ‘best-kept secret’. We have our Diocese’s Convent of the Transfiguration, located in Cincinnati and northern Ohio. Within the wider Anglican Communion, there are ninety orders.

What are the “religious” communities in The Episcopal Church?

Religious communities include monastic communities, whose members live together under a rule of life and under vows such as poverty, chastity, and obedience. “Religious Life” also includes dispersed Christian communities whose members are from all walks of life, have jobs, live in their own homes, some with families, and live under religious vows.

You or someone you know may have a vocation to religious life. Religious communities provide spiritual friendship and guidance, and our monastic communities offer retreats. You may want to establish a deeper relationship with one community by becoming an associate or oblate.

In addition, there are 92 missionaries from the Episcopal Church from 62 dioceses serving in 42 dioceses of the Anglican Communion throughout 36 countries. The Episcopal Church also supports 125 military chaplains worldwide, and The South American Missionary Society, Five Talents, African Palms, Anglican Frontiers, and the Daughters of the King.

These are people just like you and me, who have answered Jesus’ call to:

“Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19)

Looking deeper into today’s gospel, what does Jesus do besides announce the Good News? In this story set in Capernaum by the sea, what are all the things Jesus does to shine God’s light in the darkness?

We hear of his teaching, proclaiming the Good News, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. That is, Jesus does more than just talk about it. He rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. The Good News is Word joined with action.

And he invites others to join him.

And look who he calls: He gathers a community of common laborers, the sick, the halt, and the lame, those who are tired, broken, and divided. He does not ask them what they believe. He does not seek out the most competent or the most educated. Jesus says,

Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19)

And all kinds of people do.

He is calling you and me.

Jesus says by his actions, “here is what the kingdom of God looks like.”

We might feel some dis-ease at the notion of immediately leaving work, family, and neighbors as Peter and Andrew and all the rest did. It seems as if Jesus is disrupting family structures and disturbing work and living patterns. But he does so not to destroy but to renew and make new! He gives new meaning to family, work, and lives.

Peter and Andrew did not cease being brothers, but they are brothers who do the will of God. James and John are not only children of Zebedee but children of God. All four leave their nets but do not stop fishing; they begin to fish for people!

Following Jesus, they become beacons of light, shining light through the darkness.

The Good News is that we, the spiritual heirs of Saints Peter, Andrew, James, and John, bring this light to hundreds of people every day in many ways. The even better news is that there is much, much more we can do to be so transformed ourselves that we change the world about us. It is, after all, Jesus who promises we will do more wondrous works than he did.

The Season of Epiphany reminds us that we, too, are the light of the world. And we are to let our lights shine, shine, shine like the Sun, the Son of God, who is coming into the world!

But how do we do that?

Think of one person you have a relationship with: it could be someone you love or someone that irritates or frustrates you. Now, take a moment to pray for them; believe that God is using you to make a difference in their lives.

You are now a ‘fisher of people’ – you have joined the ranks of those that Jesus first called on the banks of Galilee! You are caring for those whom God loves!

Let us go forth and ‘fish’!

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 22 January 2023

Who Are You?

Matthew 11:2-11

In the past two weeks, our Advent lessons have taught us to prepare to celebrate both the past and the future – to celebrate both the birth of Jesus 2,020 years ago and to heighten our anticipation of his coming anew at a date and time no one knows for sure.

The lessons have stressed the importance of inner preparation – aligning our attitudes and behaviors with God’s desires for all and not just busying ourselves with tidying the house.

Today we enter the third week of Advent – with it, the anticipation of the Birth of Christ. In just a little over one week, we will be sitting in this sanctuary celebrating Jesus’ birth – the arrival of the Messiah. Today is Rose Sunday, or to the Anglican community, ‘Stir It Up’ Sunday. In the Collect, we ask God to ‘stir up his power’ in us.

This Kingdom of God is what we are waiting for as we continue this Advent Season. As we anticipate the birth of that baby in Bethlehem, let us keep our eyes fixed on the real prize:

The Kingdom of God!!

But today’s scripture is not foretelling the birth of Jesus. Today’s lesson cuts to the heart of the matter and asks THE question that every follower of Jesus in every age must want to ask:

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? (Matthew 11:2)

The question is rather oddly and interestingly put.

In today’s scripture, we find John the Baptist languishing away in prison, put there because he renounced Herod Antipas’ marriage to his brother’s wife. He has been there for over a year and probably getting very cranky – not that he wasn’t before. He hears rumors that the Jesus he had baptized and proclaimed to be the Messiah was traveling the countryside. His hopes were high, and he was sure that Jesus would ride in on a white horse and rescue him.

Matthew begins by reporting that the imprisoned John the Baptist had heard what Jesus was doing. Doesn’t that suggest that John – or others – had already concluded that Jesus WAS the Messiah?

And at the time of Jesus, Nazareth was a hillbilly, backwoods hamlet. And Jesus was the conceived-out-of-wedlock son of Mary, married to that weakling Joseph who didn’t do the honorable thing of publicly disgracing Mary when he found she was pregnant, who made his living as a peasant woodworker.

In other words, Jesus was at the bottom of the status ladder.

But on the other hand, Jesus was saying and doing things that got people talking about him. Gossip was spreading, even into the prison where John was. People were starting to wonder – Just who was this guy? Could someone like that possibly be the Messiah? What were they to make of him?

He heard that Jesus was performing miracles, preaching mercy, compassion, and love. This was not what he expected of the Messiah!!! Jesus was not proclaiming himself the Messiah King, bringing about the destruction of Rome and overthrowing Herod’s rule. He was not preaching revolution and smiting evildoers! He was proclaiming good news for the needy, the broken-hearted and downtrodden, the captives, and the oppressed. He was even saying people who believed in Him would be persecuted.

Even though they were cousins and had known each other since the womb, John was no longer sure that this Jesus was the Messiah.

He sent his disciples to speak with Jesus. After all, John had prophesied that the Messiah would come with fiery judgment, pitchfork in hand, and with an axe. This man was preaching and teaching hope and love and healing, not fomenting revolution. What was going on here?

Imagine you were John and had been extolling the virtues of this Messiah, only to find out that He was not a revolutionary – or at least not in the sense John expected. Jesus was preaching and healing, not riling up the citizens. There was no message of revolt in his stories. He stressed the compassion and inclusion of everyone in the Kingdom of God. The Jews had been waiting with expectation for the appearance of the Messiah that would save them from Roman oppression and restore them to their rightful kingdom. This Jesus was certainly not acting like that Messiah!

John wanted to know if their waiting was over or if there was another Messiah who would be coming.

Had he been wrong about Jesus?

Was he looking like a fool?

I don’t think so.

When asked

“are you the one”

 Jesus does NOT answer the question directly. Instead, he tells the followers of John to go back and report what they have seen and heard. In other words, John had to make up his own mind and decide who Jesus was.

The scripture goes on to say that Jesus affirms John and his prophecy. Jesus reminded John that he was “the voice crying in the wilderness”, in goat skins for clothes, eating locusts and honey. Jesus reminded him of his calling as a ‘preparer’ – baptizing many in the wilderness. He was more than a prophet; he was a forerunner, reformer, and way-preparer.

Those times for which John was baptizing people and foretelling had come to pass. Just as Elijah foretold of Jesus’ birth, John foretold Jesus’ life on earth. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus among them.

The prophecy foretold in Isaiah was fulfilled in the person of Jesus:

A Jesus that was a man of words and compassionate actions, not one of authority and military might.

Jesus tells John’s disciples to look around and see what was happening. God is on the move. People are being reached, and their lives are being changed. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them. Even though John is imprisoned and disappointed, God is moving. Jesus is doing what God called him to do.

Jesus sends John’s disciples back, telling them to tell John what they have seen. Tell John about the

Healing the sick

Casting out demons

Raising the dead

Forgiving sins

Preaching to the poor.

We can only hope that when the disciples returned and told John what they had seen and heard, he remembered the prophecies of Isaiah about the marvels that would take place in the wilderness. And he remembered his faith in that man he baptized so long ago.

But wouldn’t it have been natural for John to have been a little upset that he was sitting in prison for an itinerant preacher who gave mercy to anyone who asked (even Romans) and would lead his followers to a brutal death? John possibly sent his disciples to Jesus to try and prod him into the action he expected from the Messiah.

But Jesus, the Messiah, was not what John the Baptist expected. He was here to establish the Kingdom of God. He was not coming to destroy Rome; the Romans could and did that without his help.

Jesus was here to establish the Kingdom of God, where everyone is welcome and loved, and mercy and compassion flow like waters.

We are waiting for this event as we continue this Advent Season.

Are we preparing for the coming of the Kingdom of God?

Though we have attempted to live righteously, we find ourselves imprisoned by our failures. Sometimes we feel more like John sitting in a prison; we are shackled and imprisoned, and we can’t see any escape.

  • We have sensed God’s call upon us and tried to follow the path that God has called us to walk, but things didn’t go the way we expected.
  • We feel we are failures at work, in our families, and in other areas of our lives.
  • Our fears imprison us. We fear failure, so we don’t try.
  • Our sins shackle us.
  • We can’t turn away from our selfishness and self-centeredness.
  • We can’t seem to break loose of the habits, compulsions, addictions, and desires that keep us from leading righteous, obedient lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Like John, we struggle with disappointments and despair.

Like John, sometimes we are disappointed that Jesus doesn’t do what we expected or wanted him to do. John was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t more judgmental and that he didn’t preach more hell, fire, and brimstone. Disappointed that he didn’t charge in and take control and establish the awaited kingdom.

We sometimes act like football players who occasionally run off the field and tell the coach what plays he should call and what he should do. The coach nods, and we think he understands and agrees with us, but when we run back onto the field, the coach doesn’t call the play we thought he should. We are disappointed because we forget it is God’s plan.

We struggle to understand that our life of faith is not so that God does what we want him to do—instead, a life of faith is to boldly and obediently follow God’s guidance and direction in our lives—to do what God wants us to do.

This Advent season may find us less than celebratory. We may be struggling in many ways, and we may not be living out the freedom and power that is ours as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Amid our imprisonments and disappointments, God assures us he is establishing his kingdom. God also invites us to participate in his kingdom by taking up the ministry of Jesus—serving others and sharing the good news.

The world around us needs us, and God is with us.

We need to be prodded and poked to strive for a sinless life. We need to be pushed forward to who is coming. We need to be reminded in this Advent Season that Jesus comes not only as a human child but promises to return to triumph over death and make that possible for us. Jesus comes twice to bring eternal life and peace in an everlasting Kingdom.

Can we throw off the shackles that imprison us?

Can we rid ourselves of our disappointments?

Are we ready for that Kingdom?


Delivered to Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 11 December 2022



Matthew 24:36-44

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season for Christendom. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Jesus is coming – his arrival is just around the corner – and that is what we focus on during the Advent season.

The Advent season is four Sundays long, so we have the four Advent candles – we light each candle as we progress through the Advent season until we reach Christmas when we celebrate Jesus’ first arrival as a baby in Bethlehem. We light candles on the Advent wreath, sing Advent hymns, wait, and prepare.

The first purple candle in the Advent wreath is known as the ‘prophet’s candle’ and represents the hope of the arrival of the Baby Jesus as told by the Prophet Isaiah. The second purple candle represents faith – faith that Jesus will be born. The third candle is rose-colored, expressing joy: this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, which symbolizes the nearness of Christ’s coming. The fourth purple candle represents peace and reminds us of the importance of peace as the Prince of Peace is coming.

Advent is a four-week season designed to deflate the bumper sticker that says, “tomorrow has been canceled due to lack of interest.” Advent seeks to take us back to simpler times when we were not so frantic.

We celebrate how Jesus comes to us in three ways: the first coming at His birth more than 2020 years ago and re-enact the birth in pageants and carols.

We celebrate his coming amongst us now through the Word and Eucharist. We observe how Jesus comes among us in one another, in the least of our brothers and sisters.

We celebrate Jesus’ Second coming when he will come again, bringing in a time of peace and joy that we heard in the reading from Isaiah today.

The end is coming, and of that, we can be sure.

But when?

Martin Luther is supposed to have said that if he knew the end of the world was coming tomorrow, he would plant an apple tree this afternoon. Luther did not speculate on when the end times were. He focused instead on the purpose of the world, what God intends for the present time. What may happen in the future does not excuse us from doing what God requires of us here and now.

If we know the end is near, the temptation is to hole up in a bomb shelter or armed fortress in the mountains and wait. We would create a fortress mentality of ‘us against them.’ Instead, we are to live with that uncertainty. Uncertainty of what will happen but with a certainty that Jesus is always with us.

When we stop trying to figure out when the Second Coming is, we have the energy to listen to what God calls us to do today. Advent preparation is about removing the noise from our lives so that we can hear and see the coming of Jesus among us today. In Matthew 25, those condemned say to Jesus,

“If we had only known that it was you in the poor and the hungry, of course, we would have fed you!”  (Matthew 25:37-39)

Jesus comes to us today in the least of our sisters and brothers. We will not be prepared if we ignore and demean the least of these today in our eagerness to welcome Jesus.

We are to live in constant readiness. If this were your last day on earth, how would you spend it? Paul tells us not to neglect to be together. We prepare each time we come together for the promises and the hopes that will carry us through difficult times.

Are you preparing for this day?

Or are you procrastinating?

A procrastinator is someone who’s not ready. Someone who says,

“Eventually, I’ll get my act together. But not right now. I have too much going on.”

Is our world ready for Jesus’ Second Coming?

A fable is told about three apprentice devils talking with Satan about their plans to destroy humanity. The first apprentice suggested they would succeed if they told people that there was no God. Satan rejected that suggestion because he realized that most people know there is a God and would not be convinced otherwise. The second apprentice suggested they could succeed by telling people there is no hell. But Satan rejected that idea because too many people knew there was a hell. Then the third apprentice devil spoke up: “Let’s destroy all humanity by telling them there is no hurry!” The fable concludes that Satan loved that suggestion because he knew that people would procrastinate getting ready and be destroyed.

Many Christians today don’t believe that Jesus will come during their lifetime. But in these verses, Jesus tells us to live as though he will come tomorrow. A Christian must always be preparing, always watchful, and ready for the moment He comes. That doesn’t mean that we stop doing the things we do. Those religious cults telling people to quit their jobs and sit up on a mountain and wait for the end of the world are misleading people. That’s not what Jesus means when he says

to prepare, to be ready.”

What about you? We struggle with this, too, don’t we? “I will grow in my spiritual life,” we say, “but I will grow later. I will pray but figure out how to do that later. I will live like a child of God later in my life. I have plenty of time. It’s OK for me now to not grow, pray, or live like my unbelieving friends”.

There is a false theology that uses these verses

Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. (Matthew 24:40-41)

False prophets use these phrases to justify the exclusion of some people at the Second Coming.

Many people embrace the ‘left behind’ prophecy, believing that the Bible supports this. There have been over 200 prophecies of the rapture at the end of the world. Prophet Harold Camping last predicted the end of the world in 1994; then changed it to May 21, 2011, and then changed it to October 21, 2011. In March 2012, he finally admitted he had been wrong. A devotee of Camping continued the prophecy, saying October 7, 2015, would be the end of the world. Many people lost their houses, jobs, and money following this man’s predictions.

There are many reasons this ‘end time’ theology is false and destructive:

1.  Rapture teaching is new. Rapture teaching originated in the 1800s with John Nelson Darby, a Plymouth Brethren preacher. He, in turn, influenced Cyrus Scofield, who edited an infamous, early study Bible named after himself. It spread across the Atlantic through folks like Dwight L. Moody and institutions like Dallas Theological Seminary. Later popularizations included Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and the best-selling novels-ever-written-for-adults-at-a-third-grade-reading-level, known as the Left Behind series. Until the 19th century, there was no mass of Christians anywhere who taught that Jesus would return to a select group and give those chosen jetpacks to heaven while the ‘left behinds’ and the world went to hell.

2.  The rapture is exclusively Protestant and almost exclusively American. Catholics and Orthodox don’t remotely take these prophecies seriously, and certainly not the rapture. Add to that what NT Wright and others have pointed out –only Americans care about rapture teaching.

3.  The rapture requires a two-stage return of Jesus. The return of Jesus and “day of the Lord” traditions in the Bible are always singular events. Passages like,

“Watch ye, therefore, for you know not when the master approaches” (Mark 13:35)

This never suggests a multi-stage return. The Nicene Creed, the most authoritative of the ancient summaries of Christian doctrine, says simply of Jesus,

“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”

He does not return, take a few with him, and return later. He comes in glory to judge all and establish his Kingdom.

4. The rapture is not remotely biblical. Not even remotely. The main passages used to defend a teaching of the rapture, Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4, can only do so if taken out of context and misinterpreted. In Matthew 24, the language about

“one being left behind”

is a reference to Noah and the flood – that one should want to be “left behind” as Noah and his family were. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the word translated as “caught up” (harpazo in Greek) appears elsewhere in the New Testament. It speaks to the dead in Christ rising first, a fact most versions of the rapture overlook entirely.

5.  The logic of the rapture is Gnostic, not Christian. Fleeing an imperfect and decaying physical world for the purity and joy of a spiritual realm sounds much like Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that secret knowledge was revealed to them (“gnosis” means “knowledge). Everything physical was evil and corrupt, while the spirit was pure and noble. Many heretical forms of ancient Christianity were gnostic and gnostic-influenced. The church rejects these pseudo-Christianities.

Fredrick Dale Bruner points out that in Jesus’ example of the end, the “rapture” does not take special people to unique places. In Matthew 24:40-41, people are at their ordinary work in the fields and on the threshing floor. This fact honors our secular vocations and Christians being faithful to them. So, seriously taking the Lord’s coming does not mean taking this world or our work any less seriously.

A kind of world-hating sentiment can come with all the end-time frenzy. Many years ago, Jerry Falwell, Sr., reflected on this kind of end-times fatalism when a TV commentator asked him if he was concerned about the environment. He said, in effect, that he was not worried about the environment because Jesus was coming back, so we had better use it before losing it. There is something strange about eagerly looking for God to destroy creation because we’re going to heaven anyway.

God sent his Son to this world because He loves the creation. The goal of Christ’s saving death and resurrection is not to destroy God’s creation but to renew it. When the Lord returned, Luther was asked what he would like to do. “Planting peach trees” was his biblically correct response.

May the Advent season be a joyful, hopeful time for us—when we recommit ourselves to being watchful Christians. We rejoice now that Jesus came on Christmas, but we also look forward to rejoicing when Jesus comes unexpectantly on Judgment Day. We pray:

O Lord, give me the heart of Noah, a heart that is watchful and ready for the day you come.

To be ready, we must live every day with this overwhelming expectation of Christ’s coming.

Being ready is not constantly scanning the sky, jumping out of your skin with every loud noise, or trying to penetrate the mysteries of the book of Revelation. It’s living in faithfulness and love every day; it’s nurturing ourselves and our children in the faith; it’s loving and helping our neighbor in need. It’s using our skills and talents not for ourselves and our enrichment but for God and his Kingdom; it’s sharing the gospel.

Let us pray:

Creator of us all, we want to be prepared and waiting when you come. Please quicken our heart with your Spirit so that we can be alert and ready. Use us to help prepare others with the same eagerness and excitement we have. May we, the Church of this generation, be ready; may we be found faithful and righteous when Jesus comes. Amen.

             Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; November 27, 2022

The Election . . . and Then THIS!

Luke 21:5-19

“Joy to the world! No more election news coverage and political ads!” (Well, almost)

Maybe that isn’t the good news you were expecting to hear this morning, but isn’t it a relief to have a break from all the tv ads, telephone calls, texts, and emails? I don’t know about you, but the election process has left me feeling worn down and beaten. If nothing else, it has shown us that there is more division in this country than we might have realized and that we need to get better at listening to one another instead of talking at each other. I think we saw the results of something growing in our country for at least 15-20 years, maybe even longer.

Watching the reaction of people on Wednesday morning, I saw people who felt like the outcome of this election was ‘the end,’ or at least the beginning of the end, and people who were confident that all their greatest hopes and dreams were suddenly and magically realized.

This week, I’ve struggled with how we, as a community of faith, can come together and heal. Some of us are very excited; the candidate of their choice won, and are happy – we want to celebrate. Others are disappointed that their candidate lost; they want to mourn, are afraid, and aren’t feeling very celebratory.

Then, we come to this reading from Luke:

“Wars and revolutions, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines, and pestilence … betrayal, hatred…” (Luke 21:10-11).

This is such a doggy downer! I want to throw my hands in the air. But when I stop worrying about how to navigate the post-election emotions with you, I realize that this passage in Luke comes just when we need it.

Luke 21:5-19 is a passage we’d all rather not hear. We want Jesus to say something else; a different set of predictions and promises. We want Jesus to say,

“Don’t worry about trials and persecutions, for I shall deliver you from them before they happen.”

We want Jesus to say,

“The world will be so impressed by the church, its accomplishments, and proclamations that they won’t dare harm you.”

We want the ecclesiastical equivalent of “Homeland Security” that will protect our borders from evildoers and offer us protection in the future. Instead, Jesus tells us we will suffer from the world’s hatred of us because of Him. But He will remain with us when it does.

As a deacon, I am challenged to try to help us all navigate through these experiences, and to recognize that God is active in everything that is going on today. God is present in the midst of fear and disappointment, as well as exuberance and joy. How can we all find hope together?

For those who preach, it isn’t hard to imagine a more challenging message. Deep down, we worry that if we preach this bluntly and boldly, some folks will leave our congregations to join up with those clappy-happy folks up the street who promise the theology of prosperity. Christians like “possibility thinking,” and by “possibility,” they most assuredly do not mean the possibility of getting persecuted to death!

This passage is an example of apocalyptic literature at its best: descriptions of wars, natural disasters, persecution, imprisonment, and even death.

But it’s not about the end of the world.

The word “apocalyptic” doesn’t refer to “end times” as we often think it does. It means revelation, specifically, God revealing himself to us directly and personally.

This scripture is not a passage about the end of the world. But we would like to know the ending. We want a timetable. And the disciples were like us; they wanted answers. So it isn’t surprising that when Jesus starts talking about the way things will be “at the end of the Age,” his disciples, and we, want to know

“When? How will we know? What will be the sign that these things are about to take place?”

So, on this Sunday after Tuesday, where do we go from here? I don’t think there are any easy answers. But as Christians, we have one calling above all others, to follow Jesus, so that’s where we begin. Look at how Jesus conducted himself throughout his ministry. He was building relationships with people. He was lifting the marginalized, eating with the tax collector, healing the sick, and forgiving the sinner. He was teaching great crowds of people, feeding the hungry, and sitting at dinner with the outcast. He was building relationships with people, and those people were building relationships with God. So what remains when it seems that our security has been stripped away? –


relationships –

with God

and one another.

And it is these relationships that we, too, must strive for today and every day. Using the magnificent Temple of Solomon as an example, Jesus foretold its destruction – an indication that things would radically change – just as they did after His crucifixion.

We are told we will suffer as a follower of Jesus.

Your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends will even betray you. They will kill some of you. Everyone will hate you because of my name (Luke 21:16-18)

there is no ‘land of milk and honey’ here.

The times were so terrible that even within families, the unity of the family broke down. It seems especially cruel, but parents will be betraying children, or children betraying parents, brothers, and sisters. This was a time of terrible turmoil in the community; it was a time when they needed to be uplifted, encouraged, and reminded that, yes, Jesus had been with them.

Jesus said to them and us,

“Do not be afraid.”

Jesus tells us not to be afraid 365 times in his teachings. He wanted us to believe this, and in Him.

Jesus is with us, we can have confidence and, in fact, remind ourselves

“I will be with you all days, even until the end of the world.”

In this time of division and divisiveness, our relationship with God must be our highest priority, and we must love others and build relationships with our fellow humans. When we put our highest allegiance to our idols of policy, party, or President, relationships break down.

God will always protect us; but there will be terrible suffering. Each of us has a choice to either stand firm and follow Jesus or turn away. But there is a consolation:

not a hair of your head will be lost. By your endurance, you gain eternal life. (Luke 21:19)

God is with us and will bring us through to a new life. That’s the promise.

Through our endurance, we will gain our lives. We need to renew our sense of being witnesses, being in the presence of, and achieving the peace and fullness of life that is the promise of Jesus.

So, we are faced with what may seem to be an impossible decision:

  • Follow Jesus and suffer, maybe even lose our lives
  • Go about our daily routine and possibly never get to the Kingdom

But Jesus says in the gospel,

“No one knows,”

when the end times come. We’re not to act as though it is imminent. We must go on living, following the teachings of Jesus, and feel assured that God will protect us.

Let us pray:

Dear God, remind us that in the challenges and struggles of the day, there are always opportunities to speak good words and do good things and thereby witness to our faith. Help me to ground my life in what endures: faith, hope, and love. Heal us with the warmth of your Love. Grant me compassion for all those struggling to live through catastrophic times, and remind us that you will be with us to help us to do just that. Amen

      Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 13 November 2022

I’m Glad I’m Not . . .


God, I thank you that I am not like those conservative Episcopalians who walked away refusing to acknowledge gospel hospitality, love, and inclusiveness.

God, I thank you that I am not like the agenda-driven liberal Episcopalians who neither understand nor respect the holy scriptures.

God, I thank you that I am not like the democrats who are driving this country into another failure of socialism.

God, I thank you that I am not like the republicans who only care about themselves and war.

God, I thank you that I study and work hard to have a good life and that I am not like those who leech off of welfare.

God, I thank you that I am a Christian and not like those godless Muslims.

God, I thank you that I am not like….

Now fill in the blank with whatever it might be for you. You may not pray like the Pharisee, but have you ever expressed those opinions in conversation? Have you ever kept those thoughts to yourself in silent self-righteousness?[1]

The one thing we cannot say is,

“God, I thank you that I am not like the Pharisee.”

And if we do say that, then our own words become evidence that that is who we are. But that is not who we want to be. We want to be the justified tax collector because we have come to believe that Pharisees are narrow, legalistic hypocrites. To hold that belief sort of sounds like a Pharisee, doesn’t it?

Jesus’ parable sets a trap for us. It is not a trap to catch and condemn us; it is not a trap to separate tax collectors and Pharisees. Rather, it is a trap that stops us and brings us face-to-face with the reality of our life and relationship with God.

We know from historical records that when a Pharisee went into the temple, he would often separate himself from the others there, who he considered to be “unclean”. He was trying to impress God with his personal righteousness by separating himself from the “sinners”. It also seems that the Pharisee was praying to himself. It’s unclear whether his prayer was actually heard by others in the temple or not. But there is little doubt that he was putting on a demonstration for others that He thinks will also impress God.

On the other hand, the tax collector came to be impressed by God. He stood far off, not because he didn’t want to defile himself, but because he feared he might defile others. He understood that he was unworthy to even be in God’s presence. He came, not to impress God or others with his righteousness, but to beg for God’s mercy.

This parable is quite straightforward and simple; it seems to me that we could make a few observations for us to consider, and then spend the rest of our time following the example of the tax collector and taking some time to be impressed by God.

Another important question to ask ourselves is:

Why did we come to church this morning?

There are two reasons people come to church:

  1. To impress God
  2. To be impressed by God

It’s not too hard to figure out which of the two came for each of those reasons. Obviously the Pharisee came to impress God.

Look at this prayer that the Pharisee prayed; he’s not praying to God, he’s praying to himself. The Pharisees considered themselves worthy of God’s grace based on their religious performance. They thought they earned the right to demean others and make demands. And this prayer shows this self-righteous attitude.

In Luke 18:11 the Pharisee is demeaning others so that he can elevate himself. Even going so far as to point out a particular person around him, the tax collector. He thinks he’s better than him. In his prayer, he reports all the wonderful things he has done:

 fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets.

He’s showing off, bragging.

The Old Testament Law only required a fast once a year. But the Pharisee fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. But really, this is just a ploy to attract attention to himself. These were the days the market convened and many people came to town. He was just showing off. And the Pharisee is proud of his religious piousness. His entire prayer centers around how great he is and how terrible everyone else is, especially the tax collector.

These kinds of people have an “I” problem. Five times this Pharisee uses the pronoun “I”. He suffered from two problems: inflation and deflation. He had an inflated view of who he was and a deflated view of who God was. C.S. Lewis wisely said,

“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; but as long as you are looking down you can’t see anything that is above you.”[2]

Ironically, both men got what they prayed for. The tax collector humbly asked for mercy, and he received it. The Pharisee asked for nothing because he thought that he already had it all, and he received nothing.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector shows us whose prayers God respects. It’s not those who appear righteous and exalt themselves, but rather those who humble themselves.

We like to point the finger at the Pharisee, but the reality is we probably have a little of his attitude in our hearts as well. This parable should cause us to pause and reflect,

who are we more like?

We have a tendency to think higher of ourselves than we ought. We see ourselves through rose-colored glasses. But the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector forces us to take off those glasses and see who we really are.

So, who are you more like? The Pharisee and his pride or the tax collector and his humility?

The Pharisee’s prayer is all about himself. His pride oozes out of his prayer. It’s plain to see that the only one he cares about is himself.

And he gets exactly what he asks for. NOTHING.

Look at your prayers.

Who are they about?

Who are they to?

Maybe they aren’t as obviously prideful as the Pharisee’s obnoxious prayer, but what are they centered around?

I find that my prayers drift towards myself if I’m not careful. I naturally head towards pride.

How about for you? Is there pride seeping into your prayers?

The Tax Collector’s Humility

The tax collector understood his unworthiness. He understood that on his own he had no hope.

The irony of the story is the Pharisee was just like the tax collector. While he might look good on the outside, he needed mercy too. But he couldn’t get past his pride to see his need.

We all need God’s mercy and grace. But unless we humble ourselves, we will never see it OR receive it.

Rather than justifying our actions and comparing ourselves to others, we need to come to God with humility. And when we do that, God will not just forgive us, he will justify us.

So, who do you relate to? The meaning of Luke 18:9-14 asks us this question. We are told

“God justifies the humble.”

Spend some time this week thinking about how you can take the tax collector’s posture and rid yourself of the Pharisee’s pride.

If we wish to be right before God, we must be humble.

But, how do we become humble?

Remember who you are.

You are only a small dot in the universe.

If we are humble, God will justify us.

The Pharisee left the temple the same as when he entered. In fact, I think we could even make the case that he was worse off than when he arrived. He had once again missed out on God’s offer of mercy and grace because he didn’t think he needed it. He was so wrapped up in his own self-righteousness that he couldn’t understand the need for humility that would actually bring him closer to God.

The tax collector, on the other hand, went away a changed man. Even though he wasn’t particularly religious and certainly not as well-educated in the Scriptures as the Pharisee, he knew enough about God to recognize his unworthiness compared to God. And that led him to mourn and have great sorrow, a fact that is demonstrated not only by the words of his prayer, but also by the action of beating his chest. And that sorrow resulted in him leaving the temple a changed man, one who Jesus said was “justified.”

So let me ask you again the same question I asked earlier:

Why did you come to church today?

Did you come here as an act of religiosity in which you are trying to impress God and earn His approval and favor?

Or are you here today because you want to be impressed by God and allow Him to send you away changed?

If we’re completely honest, I think most of us would admit that we probably have some mixed motives. I think most of us are here today do want to focus on God and let Him reveal Himself to us and let us see ourselves as we really are, and remember just how much we need Him.

But at the same time, I can’t help but think that all of us have some Pharisaic tendencies as well. And so we can be tempted to look around at others and congratulate ourselves on just how righteous we are compared to others. But when we do that, the problem is this holds God at a distance and we leave there the same as when we arrived. But I’m convinced that God never wants that to happen when we come to church.

We need to take some time to be impressed by God. Take some time to consider who God is and what he has done for us. Take some time to pray to God as you reflect on Him. And as you do, pray like the tax collector, keeping your focus on Him and begging for His mercy and asking Him to change you.

Hopefully that’s why you came to church today.

The way we approach God, even in what may appear to be the simplest way, was a point made by Pastor D. L. Moody when he shared the touching story about a young boy brought up in an English almshouse many years ago.

This child did not know how to read or write, except he had learned the A, B, C’s. One day a man of God came to the almshouse and told the little children that if they prayed to God in their trouble, God would help them.

 One day, out in the field looking after the sheep, this boy had a hard time. Then he remembered what the preacher had said and decided to ask God to help him. Several years later, the young lad found work as an apprentice to a farmer.

 Someone walking by the hedge surrounding the field heard a voice. As they peered over the hedge to see who it was, they saw the little boy on his knees, saying, “A, B, C, D,” and so on. The man asked, “My boy, what are you doing?” The young child looked up and said, “I’m praying.”

“Why, that is not praying — it is only saying the alphabet,” the man told the child.

 The little lad looked up at the man and replied that he did not know just how to pray the right words. Then he said a man once came to his almshouse and told the children that if they would call upon God, He would help them. So he continued, “If I name over the letters of the alphabet, God will take them and put them together into a prayer and give me what I need.” As Pastor Moody stated: “The little fellow was really praying.”[3]

It’s really just a matter of how we position ourselves before God. Do we stand on our doings, our works? Or on His mercy, His righteousness? The people who know how they stand before God and the Pharisee might look a lot alike in worship. Both are smiling, both are generous. But if you sneak close enough, you can hear the difference in the prayers they mutter. There is

“Thank you God for not making me like them!”

and then there is

“Thank you God for enabling me to do what I couldn’t have done on my own!”

The Apostle Peter thought he was so strong, so smart, so full of faith in God, that he would never fall into sin. But Jesus told him that he would deny him three times. Peter is a great example of the passage from Proverbs that says,

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

Do you have pride inside of you? It takes different forms. For some of you, the pride inside of you says,

“I am too smart, too strong, to do something bad, like that person over there. I would never fall into sin like that. Never.”

And then you end up doing something really dumb, like the Apostle Peter. Do we have any prideful people walking around the building today? I think we do.

For others of us, pride looks a little different. Someone gets into trouble, and you say to yourself,

“I’m glad I’m not like that person. That person is bad and needs to be punished. But I’m good. God is way happier with me than he is with that person.”

Do we have any Pharisees walking around the building today? I think we do.

“I don’t need to go to church. I already have a strong faith.”

That’s pride.

Do you know who has pride? The teachers. The students. The parents. The musicians. Everybody in this room. If you don’t think you have pride, that’s a sign that you have pride.

Jesus said,”

You hypocrites!  (Matthew 23:27)

Isaiah was right when he prophesied this about us. I like what the Message Translation of this verse says:

“First pride—then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” (Isaiah 2:11)

None of us measures up to God’s righteousness. Yet, if we confess our unworthiness, he is willing to forgive. Are we willing to admit it?

How do we pray: like the minister of a wealthy congregation:

“Dear God, I am so grateful for who I am and what I have. I am so grateful that I get to work at a great church and that I don’t have problems other people have. I am so grateful that, like so many people, I have never had a drink. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never used profanity. I have been faithful to my wife and a good father to my children. I always go to church and faithfully pay my tithes. I am just thankful I am not like so many people living such terrible lifestyles. I am so grateful I have never been like them and never will be.”

Or on the other side of town, in a rough urban neighborhood where half the homes were empty, dilapidated, and boarded up. The area was very unsafe. The house was dark because there was no electricity, and it smelled of sweat, urine, and vomit. Used syringes were scattered across the floor. In the upstairs room, a lone chair sits against the wall, and a man sits in front of the coffee table where a line of cocaine has been sprinkled and scraped. He can feel the addiction gripping his heart as he drops to his knees to begin another ritual of snorting that line of cocaine into his nostrils when all of a sudden, a flood of conviction breaks through the dam of his heart. Instead of reaching for the syringe, he looks up to heaven and says,

“Oh God, no other person on this planet is more worthless and less worthy to talk to you than I am. I have made terrible choices, and I am suffering the consequences of them. I am getting what I deserve. God, I am asking you now, ‘Would you please have mercy on me?’”

Which is your prayer?

In the last verse of this parable, Jesus tells us:

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)


                                                   Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 23 October 2022

[1]      Michael K. Marsh. Interrupting the Silence

[2]      C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, “The Great Sin”, 1952

[3]      Dorothy Valcárcel, Transformation Garden