Sunday’s Sermon: Finding the Words

Texts: Psalm 85; Luke 11:1-13

  • Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians that we are to “pray without ceasing,” a short but vexing phrase, infinitely simple in structure and at the same time, infinitely complex in execution. Sure, it’s easy to pray at church or to pray before meals or bedtime. It’s easy to offer up a prayer when we hear the sirens from the fire engine or see the medevac helicopter overhead. But what about those times when life renders us unable to pray? What about those times when we cannot find the words?
    • Happy –> story of hearing from committee and finding out we were having twins
      • Truly at a loss for words
      • Table server at Applebee’s probably thought we were crazy!
    • More often, find ourselves at a loss for words when …
      • Angry  
      • Sad –> story of losing Grandma Joanne
      • How then are we supposed to pray when our words have been swallowed up by a stunned, painful silence?
  • The reality is that sometimes life just leaves us speechless … and that’s the issue addressed by both our Scripture readings for today: prayer when we have no words for prayer.
    • Gospel lesson for this morning begins with ever-familiar words given to us in NT passage cover “basics” of prayer – scholar’s description: [The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples] does not require of us that we become anything we are not already. It is a deeply human kind of prayer. It is a prayer for human beings, that is, for creatures in need.[1] –> Satisfies our creaturely need by giving us words for prayers of …
      • Praise: Father, hallowed be your name.[2] –> God, we love and honor you.
      • Purpose: Your kingdom come.[3] –> God, we want to do your will. Show us the way.
      • Protection: Do not bring us to the time of trial.[4] –> God, save us.
      • Provision: Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.[5]
        • Now, I know that we could spend all day talking about the different elements of this prayer, but I want to hone in on this one part for today: Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. –> about asking God to provide for us – welfare for our bodies and our souls
  • Jesus expanded on this in second part of today’s gospel lesson –> You see, in the rest of the New Testament reading for this morning, Jesus addresses how we can and should approach God when we know that we’re in need.
    • Jesus gives 2 illustrations of this: 1) story of neighbor asking for bread and 2) what I’m going to call the “would you give” questions.
      • Bread illustration: certain person entertaining guests – probably unexpectedly since person has no food appropriate to present to guests –> goes next door to ask neighbor for assistance –> neighbor is reluctant, but certain person is persistent –> pays off
        • It is in this passage that we hear what have become fairly infamous words of Scripture – Jesus: So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.[6] –> When it comes to this passage, we like to focus on what it says. It says God will give us whatever we ask for, whatever we seek, right? It says that if we keep on asking – if we’re just downright persistent enough – God will eventually give in like the neighbor, right? Hmmm. Instead of focusing on what we think the Scripture says, let’s take a minute to look for what it doesn’t say.
          • Doesn’t detail what will be given to us –> Ask, and it will be given you.
          • Doesn’t describe what we will find when we search –> Search, and you will find …
          • Doesn’t hint at what’s behind that door we’re supposed to knock on –> Knock, and the door will be opened for you.
          • This presents a very important Scriptural and theological point for us: the difference between what we want and what we need.
            • Distinction that’s gotten lost amidst trappings of today’s consumeristic culture –> If we want it, we go out and buy it. A short trip to Target or a few clicks on, and there’s very little we can’t have.
              • Extreme e.g. – eBay auction: place in heaven
              • There’s even a theology for that, misguided though it may be: “Prosperity gospel” – idea that atonement and “right” visualization and confession lead to personal empowerment, health, wealth[7] –> problem: far cry from life Jesus lived among those who had been rejected – those who were lacking power, health, wealth
              • This passage doesn’t guarantee that God will give us whatever we want if we beg hard enough or ask in the “right” words. Grace, salvation, and forgiveness don’t work like that. –> gifts given freely because God loves us … not necessarily because we know when or how to ask for them
      • I think this leads us to another very important point: More often than not, we can’t actually tell the difference between what we want and what we need. – Scholar: [The] community of disciples is responsible for considering, critically and faithfully, how it would actually look for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, rather than simply ascribing God’s favor to whatever it has seized upon as advantageous to its own preferences.[8] –> God’s will vs. what’s “advantageous to [our] own preferences” … what we need vs. what we want
        • Sometimes it’s easy – do we need the ice cream, or do we want the ice cream?
        • Sometimes it’s harder
          • Do we need to take that other job, or do we want to take that other job?
          • Do we need to make that aggressive statement, or do we want to make it?
      • This is what Jesus is getting at with the second illustration that we encounter in this passage – the “would you give” questions.
        • Jesus: Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will you give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him![9] –> Jesus makes the point that when we approach God in need of those things that are as necessary for our spiritual survival as food is for our physical survival, God will provide. Whether or not we know how to ask, whether or not we can find the words, God knows what we need – in our bodies, in our minds, and in our souls.
          • Also stated in Ps: The Lord will give what is good.[10] –> It doesn’t say, “The Lord will give whatever we desire.” It doesn’t say, “The Lord will give whatever the Lord feels like giving.” “The Lord will give what is good.” I don’t know about you, but I find that reassuring. Even when life has left me speechless – even when I don’t have a clue what it is that I need let alone how to ask for it – God knows what I need and will be there for me.
  • Find evidence of God’s response to prayer – spoken and unspoken – in the rest of the Psalm
    • Response – forgiveness and restoration: You forgave the [guilt] of your people; you pardoned all their sin. … Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.[11]
      • Heb. – “forgave” = lifted à connotations of clear action, not just passive decision so God is a hands-on God. God is active in the removal of our sins from us.
        • Often reticent or unable to pray for forgiveness because we’re too ashamed to name what it is we’ve done that needs forgiving –> God = active in knowing what we need – knowing the prayers of our hearts – before we do
          • Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. –> Emerging Church movement: Untie the knots of failure binding us as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
    • Responses – steadfast love and salvation: Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.[12]
      • These are the kinds of response that, when we are lost in the midst of whatever pain or confusion has rendered us speechless before God, we don’t dare to hope for or expect. But Psalm 85 reassures us that God hears us cry out even when we are silent, giving us what our dry and weary souls really need – steadfast love, salvation, faithfulness, righteousness.
  • You see, God is always listening not just to the spoken words of our prayers but also – and maybe more importantly – to the hearts behind them. God hears those words that we’re too scared, too sad, too ashamed to say. God hears those words that go unspoken but are clearly demonstrated in our actions.
    • Like listening to babies crying –> Is that the …
      • Hungry cry
      • Dirty diaper cry
      • Bored cry
      • “I need to be held” cry
      • In our house, the first question is, “Who’s crying?” –>Thankfully, God is much better at this guessing game than we are. God can tell who’s heart is crying out without even looking, and God can also come to our side and fill our need whether the words are there or not. Amen.


[1] Douglas John Hall. “Proper 12 (Sunday between July 24 and July 30 Inclusive): Luke 11:1-13 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 288.

[2] Lk 11:2a.

[3] Lk 11:2b.

[4] Lk 11:4b.

[5] Lk 11:3-4a.

[6] Lk 11:9-10.

[7] “Prosperity theology.”

[8] Mark D. W. Edington. “Proper 12 (Sunday between July 24 and July 30 Inclusive): Psalm 85 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 276.

[9] Lk 11:11-13.

[10] Ps 85:12a.

[11] Ps 85:2, 4 (emphasis added).

[12] Ps 85:7.

Sunday’s Sermon: Location, Location, Location!

  • Whenever you buy a house, whenever you open a business, whenever you go on vacation or plan an event, what’s the most important thing experts tell you to consider? Location, location, location!
    • E.g.s
      • House-hunting – right neighborhood, access to important things (church, library, roads/highways), having a view
      • Location for party or fundraiser meets our needs
        • Number of guests
        • Planned activities
        • Food distribution
    • We spent a lot of time and energy about the perfect location for all sorts of different things, but how often do we consider the location of our hearts?
      • Throughout background work, Amy Grant’s “Where Do You Hide Your Heart” running through my head –> song about sorts of things that hide our hearts from our faith
      • Ques. stuck with me because Scriptures for today deal with issue of hidden hearts as well
        • OT – God calls out some of the things that hide our hearts through prophet Amos
        • NT – Paul reminds us why we don’t need to hide our hearts
  • So let me ask you: Where do we hide our hearts?
    • STORY: Huebbert’s Hair Raising Adventure[1]
      • Huebbert = very proud of his beautiful mane –> mane catches fire and leaves him bald –> goes through trials and tribulations to get his hair back (traipsing through the jungle, tangling with a crocodile) –> makes himself and all his friends miserable in the process
    • Jesus tells a similar story in the gospels: instead of a lion and his mane it involves Pharisee and his piety (parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector)[2]
      • Pharisee and tax collector both went to the temple to pray –> Pharisee’s prayer: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector …” –> Pharisee brags about all that he does and all that he gives –> tax collector’s simple prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
    • These stories reveal the first place we hide our hearts: in pride – stories of misplaced confidence
      • Confidence in our abilities
      • Confidence in our power
      • Confidence in our own existence
      • Pride …
        • Elevates us above others
        • Distances us from God
        • Hides our hearts under inane self-flattery
        • Warned against this in OT – text: I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth to all loins, and baldness on every head[3] –> God has seen all the things in which the Israelites (and we ourselves) take such immense pride – our prosperity, our talents, our appearances – and God said, “You see this? This is a problem.”
  • So where else do we hide our hearts?
    • STORY: “hoarders” TV show à people who accumulate stuff upon stuff –> years, sometimes decades worth of stuff –> pathways through houses at best –> ruined homes, health, relationships
    • Jesus tells a similar story in the gospels: story of the widow’s offering
      • Well-to-do young man approaches Jesus –> asks “What must I do to attain eternal life?” –> Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, but he says, “I’ve already done that!” –> Jesus’ response: Go and sell everything you have … ‘cuz you’ve gotta lot of stuff! –> Matthew: “When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”[4]
    • These stories reveal another place we hide our hearts: in material possessions – stories of misplaced priorities –> finding worth in stuff instead of in a place of love
      • Love of self
      • Love of neighbor
      • Love of God
      • Material possessions …
        • Insulate us from others
        • Clutter our view of God
        • Hide our hearts underneath mountains of stuff
        • Amos warns against this, too – text describes people of Israel as putting material gain before faith: “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will … practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”[5] –> In this impatience, we hear the people’s disregard for their faith and for the care of their fellow human beings. They can’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they can get back to making money. Their sole focus has become accumulating and keeping material possession – a concept not-so-foreign in our society today, too.
  • Okay, so where else do we hide our hearts?
    • STORY: online trend of posting “anonymous” comments – internet “trolls”
      • People who think they can say whatever mean, hurtful, vicious things they want to because it’s online (don’t have to say it out loud = no accountability)
        • Social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
        • Comments section on various other media sites
          • News media stories (CNN, Huffington Post, etc.)
          • Blogs
          • Personal media (YouTube, Instagram, etc.)
    • Jesus voices a warning against this in the gospels: portion of Sermon on the Mount dealing with judgment
      • Warns against judging others and being judged in return –> words: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?[6]
    • They’re instances that describe another place we hide our hearts: in judgment – stories of misplaced scrutiny –> people criticizing and condemning others because they’re too embarrassed or afraid to look at themselves
      • Finding fault in everything around them
      • Finding fault in everyone around them
    • Judgment …
      • Puts us at odds with those around us
      • Clouds our view of God with superiority and condescension
      • Hide our hearts within a maze of poisonous thoughts and mean-spiritedness
      • Not surprisingly, Amos denounces this, too – text: Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.[7] –> You can hear Amos’ disdain for those who thought themselves above the poor and the needy, those who judged the poor and needy as less-than-important and thought they could use the poor and the needy for personal gain as they saw fit. Today, it seems as though our culture breeds judgment.
        • Magazine headings in grocery store line
        • Reality shows always prodding for the next drama-filled, judgment-fueled showdown
  • Yes, we hide our hearts. We hide our hearts under any number of struggles and sins, insecurities and pains.
    • One phrase in Col sums it all up – “you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds”[8] –> one particular word speaks uniquely to all hiding places: Gr. “evil” covers vast array of issues
      • In the case of hiding our hearts in our pride, one of the many meanings in this word can be arrogance. “You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing arrogant, prideful deeds …
      • Another meaning = spoiled –> And you were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing ‘spoiled’ deeds
        • Doing selfish deeds
        • Doing indulgent deeds
        • Doing narcissistic deeds
        • Speaks to hiding by amassing material possessions
      • Finally, Gr. for “evil” = envious – You see, judgment of others stems from our own insecurities, our own self-doubts and apprehensions –> cause us to be envious
        • Of what others have
        • Of what others do
        • Of who others love
  • But there is light in our passages for today, too. There is reassurance. There is joy. And there is peace. As vehemently as the Amos passage calls out the places where we hide our hearts, the passage from Colossians speaks just as strongly to the grace and redemption that we find in Christ. You see, when we …
    • Hide under pride and material things –> focus tuned on empty things … but Colossians reminds us that  God is complete – text: For in [God] all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.[9]
      • Gr. “hold together” = continue, connotations of enduring –> Through Scripture, God is reminding us that long after all that we take pride in and all that we have has faded away, God will still be there.
        • Grace doesn’t fade
        • Salvation doesn’t fade
        • God’s love for us will never fade
    • Hide under judgmentalism –> focus on our own greatness in light of others’ short-comings (real or perceived) … but this faith-in-life thing isn’t something we can do alone – text: Through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. … to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before [God][10]
      • These words declare unequivocally that it is Jesus who makes us holy and blameless. It is Jesus who reconciles us to God. The only greatness that matters is Jesus’ greatness, and the only short-coming are our own.
  • There’s a game that we used to play at camp and at lock-ins when I was a little kid. It’s called “Sardines,” and it’s kind of like backwards hide-and-go-seek. In Sardines, one person hides, and everyone else has to find that person. Once again, it’s all about location, location, location. But instead of running from the person that’s “it” once you’ve found them, in a game of Sardines, you hide with them. You hunker down in whatever corner they’ve gotten themselves into, and you do your best to inhabit that space with them. There may be a million different reasons why we hide our hearts and a million different places that we try to hide them, but God will always be ready to seek after us in the midst of those hiding places, hunker down, and remind us that we are not alone. Amen.

[1] Bill Peet. Huebbert’s Hair Raising Adventure. (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company), 1959.

[2] Lk 18:9-14.

[3] Amos 8:10a-b.

[4] Mt 19:16-22.

[5] Amos 8:5-6.

[6] Mt 7:1-6.

[7] Amos 8:4.

[8] Col 1:21.

[9] Col 1:16-17.

[10] Col 1:20, 22.

Sunday’s Sermon: To Be or Not to Be a Follower

Texts: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Luke 9:51-62

  • Kids love playing “following” games – Simon Says, Follow the Leader, Red Light/Green Light – all those games in which one person is designated as the leader and everyone else has to do whatever the leader says.
    • Games appeal to our innate yearning for direction
    • Yearning morphs as we grow older –> from the simplicity of childhood games to the powerful impact of mentors that we find throughout our lives
      • People who help us find that direction
      • People who help us develop who we are
        • Develop personality
        • Build up strengths
        • Discover gifts
        • These are the people that lead us as we make decisions about who we are and who we’re going to be.
          • Describe Charlene –> balancing intellectual and nurturing, faith in the “real world”
    • Whether we’re talking about those fun-filled hours we spent as children or the meaningful moments we spend with mentors as we grow older, these interactions all have one thing in common: we make the choice to follow. –> not something that’s forced on us
      • Have you ever tried forcing a child to play a game that they don’t want to play?
      • Other side: imagine how ineffective a forced mentor relationship would be
      • Following = sometimes easy, sometimes not-so-easy
      • Faith = no different –> Even though it’s sometimes difficult, as Christians, we make the decision each and every day to follow Christ.
    • Today’s Scriptures give us a chance to explore what it means to follow and how it is that we follow. –> find 3 components in passages
      • Devotion
      • Determination
      • Decision
  • See devotion in …
    • Way James and John respond to the Samaritans’ reaction to Jesus in gospel reading
      • At this point … As Jesus and disciples travel to Jerusalem, they enter Samaritan village –> must’ve been either obvious or stated that Jesus and his disciples were headed to Jerusalem –> rejected because of theological hostilities between Jews and Samaritans
        • And this rejection really rubs James and John the wrong way. I mean, they’ve devoted every waking moment, every breath, every everything to this Jesus-man for the last few years of their lives, and here he is being rejected by mere Samaritans. It was offensive. It was hurtful. And it was something they weren’t about to tolerate.
        • Response: Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?[1] –> They’re so devoted that they jump to the most extreme defense of their Savior.
          • Power and commitment in that devotion, distorted and misapplied though it may have been
    • Turning to OT, also see fervent devotion in Elisha’s relationship with Elijah
      • Again and again, Elijah tried to get Elisha to leave him – God would send Elijah somewhere, and Elijah would encourage Elisha to stay behind
      • Elisha’s unwavering response: As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.[2] –> Elisha’s pledging to do more than just hang around Elijah.
        • Heb. “leave” (“I will not leave you”) = desert – emotional quality to this, steadfastness to this –> “Desert” is quite the loaded word. It’s powerful. It’s evocative. It doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Either you’re all-in or you’re not. By using this word in his response, Elisha represents that emotional connection that we feel with mentors – that adoration and that devotion.
  • Determination also key in what it means to follow
    • See it in Elijah/Elisha story
      • Text: When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” [Elijah] responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” –> Elijah said it straight-out: “You have asked a hard thing” … and yet despite that difficulty, Elisha still had the tenacity and the determination to ask.
        • Elisha had been with Elijah through a good portion of his prophetic ministry –> Elisha knew how Elijah operated/what “the job” entailed –> knew that his life as a prophet was going to be challenging … but he still had the determination to ask, to follow.
    • Determination = important because in truth, sometimes following is difficult
      • Trials
      • Doubts
      • Countercultural aspect –> Jesus’ challenge to be in the world but not of the world[3]
      • Let’s be honest. Even though we get an incredible amount of purpose and fulfillment and peace from following Christ, sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes it takes that degree of determination to challenge so many things that our culture claims are important: power, notoriety, material possessions.
        • Jesus warns us of this time and again
          • Just a few verses ahead of today’s text – first foretells his own death [4]
          • Warns against self-righteousness
          • Warns against rigid interpretation & legalism of Pharisees[5]
        • Scholar: Partnership with Jesus in his mission will require rugged commitment. … To be a Christ-follower is to walk the way of Jesus regardless of the outcome.[6]
          • “Rugged commitment”
            • Not “easy journey”
            • Not “carefree journey”
            • Not “painless journey”
            • This is the kind of journey that requires determination if you’re going to travel it to the end.
  • Final key to following = decision –> Bottom line: You can be extraordinarily devoted and at determined as possible, but if you don’t make the actual decision to follow, what’s the point?
    • What Jesus is trying to get across to those who approach him –> got to fully commit to the decision
      • Sem. professor: Faith can be expressed and experienced in a variety of ways, but there comes a time in each one’s journey when it is necessary to clearly and unequivocally declare the depth of that commitment. God’s place in our lives is neither a matter of convenience nor something that can be taken for granted or assumed.[7] –> Those who approached Jesus as the end of today’s New Testament passage had reached that point – that time in their journeys when they needed to declare the depth of their commitment.
        • Some of them thought that they were ready, but Jesus wasn’t so sure. –> see this in his responses to their declarations
          • Those who wish to follow: “Jesus, Jesus … I’m gonna follow!”
          • Jesus: That’s great … but what about this hang-up that I know you have?
          • Now, I know his responses come across as harsh in this section: “Let the dead bury the dead” … “You can’t even go say goodbye to your family.” But we have to look between the lines here. Jesus isn’t telling us that in order to follow, we have to completely abandon those we love. Jesus is simply making sure that when we say we’ve made the decision to follow, that following truly is our priority.
            • Is there something distracting us?
            • Are our hearts divided?
            • Sem. Professor: Adopting a life of discipleship cannot be a part-time or momentary commitment. It is a life-changing shift in direction and priorities, in which our human needs and wants become subservient to the call of our Lord.[8]
    • OT passage: Elisha’s decision – this life-changing shift –  = palpable
      • Text: [Elisha] picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.[9] –> It doesn’t get much more decisive than that! Elisha picked up Elijah’s fallen cloak, rolled it up, and struck the river just as Elijah had done. By literally taking up that mantle and mirroring Elijah’s earlier actions, Elisha is assuming his role as God’s prophet. Once he’s struck the river and parted the water, there’s no going back.
  • So you may be sitting there saying, “I am devoted. I am determined. And I’ve made the decision to follow. I understand what it means to follow … so what’s the next step?”
    • Next step: reflecting “following” in our attitudes and actions
      • And I can’t tell you what that looks like because it’s going to look different in everyone’s life
        • Interact with different people
        • Encounter different situations
        • Experience different environments
        • WWJD movement –> lanyard
      • And sometimes we’re not even going to know what it looks like before it happens. Think about it. On the morning that Elijah and Elisha set out, do you think Elisha knew that his day was going to include watching his mentor ride up to heaven in a chariot of fire? Somehow I doubt it! On the morning that Jesus and the disciples headed toward Jerusalem via Samaria, do you think the disciples had any idea what lessons were in store for them that day … let alone that the journey they were on would end at the foot of a cross? Of course not. But when Elisha woke up, and when the disciples woke up, they made a conscious decision to follow – whatever that was going to look like! – because they were devoted and determined to serve the Lord their God. Amen.

[1] Lk 9:54.

[2] 2 Kgs 2:2, 4.

[3] 1 Cor 1:28.

[4] Lk 9:42-45.

[5] Lk 11:37-12:12.

[6] Elaine A. Heath. “Proper 8 (Sunday between June 26 and July 2 Inclusive): Luke 9:51-62 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 190.

[7] Richard J. Shaffer, Jr. “Proper 8 (Sunday between June 26 and July 2 Inclusive): Luke 9:51-62 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 190.

[8] Shaffer, 190.

[9] 2 Kgs 2:13-14.

Sunday’s sermon: Avoiding Baggage Fees


  • Story of anniversary trip to North Carolina
    • Long trip –> (describe different places we stayed) –> We brought clothes, books, our laptop, various food items, camping equipment, things to pass the time both in the car and during our stops. –> never know what you’re going to need –>difference between size of my bag and size of Peter’s bag
      • Traveling not-so-light
    • We schlepped all that stuff 1200 miles there and 1200 miles home again. Did I wear everything that I packed into that bag? Did we use everything we brought along? Of course not! The only purpose a lot of that stuff ended up serving was to make our lives more difficult.
      • Made packing and unpacking the car at every stop more complicated than it needed to be
      • Made finding things mid-trip more complicated than it needed to be
      • Made unpacking when we got home monstrously difficult
      • You know, it’s a good thing we weren’t flying! Nowadays, when you fly, you generally pay for a bag one way or the other. But adding all that extra, unnecessary stuff to your baggage – like we (mostly I) did for North Carolina – only ends up costing you a ridiculous amount of money in baggage fees.
        • One of those situations where we have no one but ourselves to blame
    • And I think it’s safe to say that our luggage isn’t the only place in our lives where we cultivate unnecessary complications.
      • Relationships
      • Projects at work and at home
      • Faith – Sometimes, we have this tendency to make faith so much more complicated than it needs to be.
  • Scripture passages today = stories of people making things complicated and stories that illustrate the simplicity of God’s message
    • In NT passage, Jesus instructs followers not to “load up” before they headed out –> We can imagine what made them want to “load up” in the first place:
      • Worry
      • Fear
      • Mistrust
      • Does that sound familiar? How often do we catch ourselves hung up on these same issues? We “load up” – over-complicate things – just in case God doesn’t come through for us. –> Scholar calls this “trust without reservation”: With a more robust understanding of God’s gracious providence, we are better able to discern how to make the most of God’s providential action in our lives, regardless of what external pressures we encounter.[1]
        • External pressures like …
          • Worry and fear
          • Other people’s opinions
          • Our own doubt
      • In Scripture, we are told time and again that God will provide for us. “Leap, and the net will appear” as the saying goes. But like the followers being sent out, we are reluctant.
        • See reluctance in Gr. “sent” = connotations of unwillingness or hesitancy on the part of those being sent à like followers being sent out, our response: “It can’t be that simple. We don’t feel ready.” But what if it really is that simple?
    • OT story = also a story full of over-complication due to mistrust and reservations
      • See first in king of Israel – reaction to Syrian king’s request for Elisha’s help: When the kind of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”[2] –> The king of Israel’s brain jumps straight to the catastrophic – the assumption that the king of Syria has devised this elaborate plot to topple the nation of Israel based on their king’s inability to perform this miraculous healing himself. I know, right … sounds crazy, right? Sounds convoluted?
        • Proverbial mountain out of a molehill à go from simple request – BAM! – to perceived national disaster
        • In the Bible, we read about the things God wants us to do – love your neighbor, pray for one another, and care for those less fortunate – and for whatever reason, we feel like we’ve been set up for failure, like we can’t do those things. Our own short-comings loom large before our eyes, so when God presents us with a simple opportunity to serve, our initial response is negative:
          • Can’t be that easy to help my neighbor
          • Can’t be that easy to spread God’s message
          • Can’t be that easy to live in that love
          • It can’t be that simple. I’m not equipped … But what if it really is just that simple?
      • OT – Also see faith becoming over-complicated in Naaman’s reaction to Elisha’s response – text: Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and sure the leprosy!” –> Naaman expected some sort of elaborate healing ritual. He was an important man back in Syria, so of course this prophet in Israel was supposed to make a spectacle of him. If his leprosy was going to be healed, it had to be a grand and theatrical endeavor because he was kind of a big deal, you know?
        • Not at all the response Naaman expects
          • Doesn’t even get Elisha himself to come out –> speaks to one of Elisha’s servants
          • Simply told to go wash in the Jordan seven times
            • Not grand
            • Not theatrical
            • Far from pomp and circumstance Naaman is used to
            • In fact, he’s actually insulted by how easy this solution is. Not only is the gesture underwhelming – just wash? – but the river Elisha instructs him to wash in is deemed inferior as well. The Jordan is a mere Israelite river which obviously doesn’t compare to the rivers that run through Syria. So Naaman stalks off in a huff. –> Naaman’s basic response: “It can’t be that simple. I’m too important.”
            • And how often do we respond to God that way? “No way, God. I can’t do that. I’m too good. I’m too smart. I’ve worked too hard. What you’re asking just can’t be that simple.” We get caught up in our own ideas of grandeur. And when we hear God’s simple words – love, peace, wash and be clean – we cannot believe it’s that simple. But what if it is? What if it’s just that simple?
  • Fortunately, Naaman had his servants, and the followers in the New Testament had Jesus to introduce an essential element of simplicity: humility.
    • Naaman
      • Young servant-girl directed him to Elisha in the first place
      • Another servant convinced Naaman to follow Elisha’s direction – text: But his servant approached him and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”[3] –> And these words are able to stop Naaman in his tracks – to open his eyes and his heart to the work that God wanted to do in him and through him. Only when he was able to simply trust without reservation was Naaman humble enough to be healed.
        • Scholar: This is the way God cleanses people of their afflictions, it seems – not through the dramatic performance of a human healer, but through a simple act of obedience. Salvation comes mysteriously when we submit to God’s script and not our own.[4]
        • Continuation of Naaman’s story = his conversion
    • NT – find simple humility in Jesus’ advice: Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”[5] –> Jesus is encouraging his followers to focus on the task at hand, to keep their mission simple. It’s all about the message. Don’t get caught up in the small details of the day – who you’re staying with or the food that is being served to you. Simply do the task that’s been given to you – cure the sick and deliver the message of God’s coming kingdom. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  • So why do we make it so complicated? Why do we insist on over-packing, over-extending, and overwhelming our lives and our faith? Let me ask you this way: Isn’t life complicated enough? With all of our obligations that we have to different people, different organizations, and different roles that we have in our day-to-day lives, aren’t we desperate for something simple? This is what God gives us in our faith.
    • Wash, and be clean.
    • Peace to this house.
    • Love one another as I have loved you.
    • I think we’ve proven that we can make these messages more complicated – more than proven it! But what if it truly is just that simple? Amen.

[1] Carrie N. Mitchell. “Proper 9 (Sunday between July 3 and July 9 Inclusive): 2 Kings 5:1-14 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 200.

[2] 2 Kgs 5:7.

[3] 2 Kgs 5:13.

[4] Choon-Leong Seow. “The First and Second Book of Kings: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 3. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 198.

[5] Lk 10:8-9.

Welcome to my life …

July 3, 2013 …

This seemed like an apt day to launch this blog. It’s a blog about what it’s like being a pastor … and a mom … in this crazy-blessed, crazy-broken, just-plain-crazy world that we live in.

But why is today such an apt day? Well, within the pastoral sphere of my life, it’s my first week back at work after an 8 weeks of being gone. And within the mother sphere, today our twin boys are 2 months old. Yup … an apt day to begin talking about life as a pastor, life as a mom, and that in-between space where both those roles overlap.

So allow me to introduce myself …

Pastor Lisa: I’m currently serving as the solo pastor for 2 churches in rural Minnesota. One is a United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation. The other is a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation. Both are small but mighty with smiling faces, welcoming arms, and great hearts. These churches are my first call as a pastor. I was ordained on Dec. 9, 2012 in the middle of the first real snowstorm of the season (literally … welcome to Minnesota). Between education (both undergrad and seminary), searching for a call, and winding my way through the PC(USA) ordination process, the journey to get me to this point has been about 10 years in the making, and while it was certainly full of it’s own ups and downs, it’s been one heck of a ride. And it’s brought me here to these wonderful congregations. Who could ask for more???

Granted, I’m already ~7 months into my ministry with these congregations, but between Advent, Lent, and preparing for my maternity leave (as well as all the little fires that pop up on a regular basis in churches), I feel like I’m just now coming into a time when I can actually start that ministry. I’m still playing catch-up with a few things, but this feels like a good jumping-off point.

Mom: As I said, our boys are 2 months old today. 🙂 They were born on May 3 (just in case you opted out of doing the math) at the tail end of what turned out to be the last snowstorm of the season. (See … I told you these spheres overlapped!) Ian and Luke are our first children, so we’re jumping in with both feet and figuring things out as we go along. Our current learning curve involves cloth diapers … woo hoo! 😛 More specifically, our current learning curve involves figuring out how to keep these adorable, trash-reducing, money-saving contraptions from leaking all over our adorable twins … and us. Hmmmm. There’s gotta be a sermon illustration in there somewhere, right?

So why blog in the first place? A couple of reasons, I guess:

1) This blog will be a place where I can post my Sunday sermons … at least in print form, but hopefully in audio form as well (depending on whether I can become tech savvy enough to figure that out).

2) There are so many pastoral ideas floating around out there from worship to education to programming and fundraisers to you-name-it. I can use this blog to corral some of those ideas … and maybe even contribute to them.

3) We have all sorts of friends and family spread out all over the U.S. (and even, sparsely, the world) who love us and would love to keep up with various aspects of our lives. In a digital age, what better way to do that than a blog?

4) Sometimes you just gotta brain-dump somewhere, right??

And so the journey begins … with one sleeping baby to my left, another screaming baby in my arms, and a commentary open beside me to this Sunday’s lectionary passages (2 Kings 5:1-14 and Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 … if you were wondering). Do I have any idea where this journey will lead me as a pastor and us as a family? Not a clue. Does that make me nervous? Sometimes, yeah. Hence the title of this blog: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. It’s from Psalm 139, a psalm sometimes entitled “The Inescapable God.” Verse 14a says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God is a part of our lives – our every movement, our every thought, our every breath. God is inescapable … and thank God for that! I know we have times ahead of us that are full of confusion, fear, anxiety, and unknowing. But I also know we have times ahead that are full of wonder, joy, praise, and thanksgiving. And no matter what, God was and is and always will be a part of it.

Forever and ever.


Now … off to deal with a very unhappy Luke ………………………….