Sunday’s sermon: More Than Meets the Eye

more than meets the eye
artwork by Maurizio Nannucci

Texts used – 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and Ephesians 5:8-14

  • I have to remind you all of something before we start this morning. Once a year, I spend a couple of days holed up in my office, and I plan the sermons for the following 12-18 months.
    • Pick Scriptures
    • Plan various series
    • Jot down a main idea or two
    • Sometimes even get so far as a sermon title
    • For a whole year
    • I’m reminding you about this little yearly practice of mine because as you listen to the sermon this morning, I want you to keep in mind that these Scriptures and this basic theme were chosen months ago … way back in Nov. … funny God moment. Trust me.
  • Now, 1991 was a magical year for one reason and one reason only: Disney. That was the year that Disney released the animated version of Beauty and the Beast.[1]
    • Especially appropriate seeing as the live-action version[2] just came out
      • SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t gone to see that movie yet, you need to. Seriously. It’s amazing … whether you saw the animated version 26 years ago or not. 
    • When the animated Beauty and the Beast came out, I was 7 years old. I vividly remember going to see it in a theater in Lake Placid, New York with my mom and my grandma.
      • First movie I remember seeing in a movie theater
      • Magical theater
      • Magical movie → All of the characters are more than what they appear to be at first glance.
        • Belle à more than your stereotypical, helpless, daydreaming Disney princess
          • Smart
          • Spirited
          • Courageous
          • And she’s a HUGE reader!!! What’s not to love?!
        • Living inanimate objects (talking clock, candelabra, teapot and cup, etc.)
        • And, of course, there’s the Beast – a rude and arrogant prince turned into a horrible beast by an enchantress as a way to try to teach him a lesson about the power of kindness and love.
        • Idea of there being more below the surface than what meets the eye, of course, inspires Belle to get to know the Beast, to eventually fall in love with him, and to break the spell
    • Seeing that movie is one of my favorite childhood memories, and it’s a perfect illustration for what we’re talking about today: uncovering hidden potential, diamonds in the rough, having faith in there being more than meets the eye.
      • Lenten series about boot camp for the soul → time of challenging, intense personal work
        • On our relationship with God
        • On our relationships with one another
        • On our own journeys of faith
        • We’ve talked about how hard – how grueling and demanding and taxing boot camp experiences can be.
          • Tough on the body
          • Tough on the spirit
        • And most people who decide to put themselves through an experience like that do so believing that they can come out better on the other side – that there’s something inside them waiting to be unleashed, something that is stronger … greater … more valuable just waiting to break out of whatever shell its hiding in.
    • Faith has to have that element of belief, too
      • Belief in a strength greater than what we feel we have
      • Belief in a cause greater than ourselves
      • Belief in that we are more than we are capable of
        • That God can save us
        • That God can use us
        • That God can make us new
        • That by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, we are indeed more than meets the eye.
  • Paul’s essential message in Eph passage
    • CONTEXT FOR EPH:
      • Speaks powerfully and poetically of Paul’s vision for the church
        • Unity
        • Community
        • Reconciliation
        • New life in Christ
      • Intro from New Oxford Annotated Bible: “The church must recognize both Christ as its Lord and exemplar and its own exalted status as a spirit-filled community that brings the power and presence of God to the world.”[3] → hear this in first verse that we read today – text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.[4]
        • Call to action
        • Call to faith
        • (Maybe not necessarily in that order)
    • Throughout this Lenten season, as we’ve talked about boot camp for the soul and how we can grow in our faith, we’ve talked some about change – about how boot camp experiences are specifically meant to change us and about how sometimes that change is a hard, hard thing. And one of the hardest things about that change is the uncertainty.
      • Don’t know where exactly we’re going
      • Don’t know exactly what the end is going to look like
      • Don’t know what opportunities will arise out of our boot camp transformations
      • We know that something – something new and different – is coming, but we do not and cannot know what that is … and that scares us. [PAUSE] Hmmm … do you remember when I told you to keep in mind that these Scriptures and this basic theme were chosen months ago … way back in Nov. … and that this was a funny God moment. Hmmm … does this seem eerily appropriate to anyone else? “For such a time as this,” huh?
    • Eph text also addresses that tension between what used to be/what is and what can be – tension that motivates us to want to be more than meets the eye – text: Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.[5] → “Test everything” – what we do, what we cherish, what we say, what we believe – that is our call: to test everything about who we are and how we “do” faith, both as individuals and as a community, so that we can continue to live as children of light.
      • Lent = all about that testing
      • Boot camp = all about that testing
      • Testing reveals undiscovered potential buried underneath all the fears, all the uncertainties, all the worries, all the doubts … But only if we have the courage to test it in the first place, and to refuse to “participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.” Only if, in learning how to say a stronger and more faithful ‘yes’ to God, we also learn how to say ‘no’ to the things that hold us back.
        • Presumptions
        • Prejudices
        • Pre-conceived notions
        • Last 7 words of the church: “That’s the way we’ve always done things”
  • That’s what our Old Testament story is all about this morning. → story of prophet Samuel finding a new king for the people of Israel
    • Story where we picked it up today sort of hits the ground running, so BACKGROUND:
      • Samuel = prophet
      • Time when people of Israel were demanding a human king instead of series of judges that had been governing people up to that point
      • Previously, God had directed Samuel to appoint first king: Saul
        • Saul started off as a good king → did what God wanted, listened to Samuel/took his advice, continued to worship God
        • But this blissful state of ruling the people and serving God faithfully didn’t last for Israel’s leader.
          • Began to ignore Samuel’s advice about engaging with other nations
          • Began to make rash, cruel decisions involving his army and war
            • Didn’t consult Samuel
            • Didn’t consult God
    • Today’s Scripture: God directs Samuel to find a new king for Israelites
      • Obviously a tricky deal → Saul hasn’t died. Saul hasn’t abdicated the throne of his own choosing. Saul is technically still the king. He still very much wants to be king and very much enjoys being king. And yet God is telling Samuel to go find and anoint a different
        • Hear Samuel’s hesitation in beginning of this morning’s Scripture story – both grief over Saul’s failure and fear that Saul, upon hearing about being replaced, will fly into a rage and kill him for this betrayal → So God – the Lord Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth – God actually comes up with a sneaky plan to help Samuel find a new king and keep Saul in the dark. – text: “Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”[6]
    • So Samuel takes the heifer and goes to find a new king.
      • Comes across a man named Jesse, just as God said he would
      • Meets what he thinks are all of Jesse’s sons – strong, handsome, grown men that over and over again make Samuel think, “Surely, that must be the guy!” “Surely, that must be the guy!” “C’mon God, surely, THAT must be the guy!” → God’s response: But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”[7]
        • (Nerds of the world, rejoice!!)
    • Samuel goes through all seven of Jesse’s oldest sons this way → Not to heap too many Disney references in one sermon, but this Bible scene always makes me think of the end of Cinderella when the prince is trying to find his mysterious princess and tries the glass slipper on one woman after another. “Is this the one?” “Nope.” “Could she be the one?” “Nope.”
    • Finally, Samuel asks Jesse if there could possibly be anyone else – someone that he might have overlooked. And Jesse remembers his youngest son, David, the scrawny little guy hanging out with the sheep. – text: Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?” “There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.” “Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.” So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The LORD said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The LORD’s spirit came over David from that point forward.[8]
      • David becomes one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history
      • God saw that in David before he even saw it in himself
      • Remember Paul’s words from Ephesians this morning? – text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. 9 Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. … But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. 14 Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. → Wake up to your own potential! Wake up to your own worth! Wake up to what incredible, powerful, beautiful, God-given gifts are inside you just waiting to be discovered! God knows you. God loves you. And God has a purpose for you – a purpose for which God has specially and specifically equipped you. You are more than meets the eye.
        • Goes along with what we say as part of every invitation to communion: No matter who you are … no matter where you come from this morning … no matter what you bring with you à All those external things that others judge don’t matter because God sees what’s in your heart. God sees the light in you, and that’s what matters.
  • One last thing for us and who we are here and now in this place: David had hidden potential. David was a diamond in the rough. As the Lord looked not at David’s appearance but at his heart, God saw that there was more to David than met the eye. More than his age. More than his size. More than his inexperience. More than his meager beginnings. God looked at his heart and saw that there were great things in him. … Friends, that is this church! There is hidden potential here – more than meets the eye. We are more than our age, more than our size, more than our meager beginnings. I truly believe that God has great things in store for this little white church on the hill.

[1] Beauty and the Beast (animated), released by Walt Disney Pictures November 22, 1991.

[2] Beauty and the Beast (live-action), released by Walt Disney Pictures March 17, 2017.

[3] “The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians: Introduction” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd edition: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 320.

[4] Eph 5:8.

[5] Eph 5:10-11.

[6] 1 Sam 16:2b-3.

[7] 1 Sam 16:7.

[8] 1 Sam 16:11-13.

Sunday’s sermon: A Persistent Hydration Station

living water

Texts used – Exodus 15:22-27 and John 4:4-15, 25-26, 39-42

  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • In 2005, I had a brilliant idea. I was sitting at my parents’ house over Christmas break. It was my senior year of college. My brand new husband of 6 months was spending Christmas in the Kuwaiti desert courtesy of the Wisconsin National Guard and wouldn’t be home for another 10 or 11 months. I knew that after graduating from college in the spring, I would be taking a year off before starting seminary while I waited for that husband to come home. Bottom line: I needed something to do! And then I saw this commercial: “60 miles. 3 days. A walk to end breast cancer.” And I thought, “Why not?”
    • Somehow convinced by mom to embark on this crazy journey with me
    • 11 yrs. later (last summer) – inspired to do it again and somehow convinced Jenny Rand to do it, too
      • [ADVERTISEMENT: Jenny liked walking 60 miles so much that she’s doing it again this summer – so be on the lookout for ways to support her and help her reach her $2500 goal!]
    • After having been through it twice, Susan G. Komen 3-Day = actually pretty similar to a boot camp experience
      • Challenging
      • Strenuous
      • Intense
      • Now, we’ve been talking about boot camp experiences during Lent this year – the challenge, the strenuousness, the intensity. And we’ve tied that into the self-examination and soul-work that we do as individuals and as a community during the season of Lent. Challenging. Strenuous. Intense.
    • One of the most crucial elements of an experience like the 3-Day and like boot camp = WATER
      • 3-Day: strongly encouraged to carry some form of hydration with you at all times (either water or Gatorade) → big hydration stations at each rest stop (every 3 miles or so)
      • Water = critical need for our bodies
        • Bodies = 60% water
        • Drinking enough water affects all aspects of our health
          • Joint health
          • Weight control
          • Skin health/elasticity
          • Flushes toxins out
          • Boosts immune system
          • Increases energy/relieves fatigue
          • There is not a single system in our entire bodies that is not positively affected by drinking water.
        • Need becomes even more crucial in the face of strenuous activity – things that make us sweat … Things like boot camp and experiences like the 3-Day. Those hydration stations were more than just a fun idea. They were essential to the health and success of our endeavor.
      • Today’s Scripture readings – all about water → hydration stations for the soul, necessary for the health and success of our journeys of faith
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • The Israelites had only been out of Egypt for a short time. They had been so excited when Moses came to them and told them that the Most Holy God had sent him to lead them out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to a land of freedom – a land that God was giving them. A land like that which God had promised to their ancestor Abraham – one flowing with milk and honey and all good things. That was what they had been longing for, dreaming for, desperate for for so long … and the time had finally come. Through the slave masters’ punishments, through the plagues, through the waters of the Red Sea, they had stuck with Moses. And now, they were expecting results. … But instead, they got desert. They got wilderness. Step … And they started to worry. Step … And they started to fear. Step … And they started to doubt.
    • Text: Then Moses had Israel leave the Red Sea and go out into the Shur desert. They traveled for three days in the desert and found no water. When they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink Marah’s water because it was bitter. That’s why it was called Marah. The people complained against Moses, “What will we drink?”[1]
      • “What will we drink?” = question motivated by fear and doubt
      • “What will we drink?” = question motivated by desperation and an attitude of scarcity
      • In that moment, the Israelites’ belief lay not in their God but in their deficiency. They trusted not in God’s abundance but in their own anxiety. Their thirst extended deeper than their physical bodies. They were thirsty in spirit. They were thirsty in heart.
        • Found themselves in a parched landscape
        • Found themselves full of parched landscapes deep within
        • And yet, even in those parched and doubt-filled, fear-filled, anxiety-filled places, God provided.
          • Moses cried out to God
          • God pointed a particular tree out to Moses
          • Moses threw the tree in the water
          • Water became sweet and potable
          • Further provision – text: The Lord said, “If you are careful to obey the Lord your God, do what God thinks is right, pay attention to his commandments, and keep all of his regulations, then I won’t bring on you any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord who heals you.” Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. They camped there by the water.[2] → In the face of utter scarcity, God’s plenty was literally overflowing.
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • Those parched places inside of us can be just as frightening and disconcerting as a vast, empty wilderness. Sometimes those weary, arduous miles come in minutes and days and weeks, not in distance. And sometimes the water that we need is more for our spirits than our bodies. Such is the story of the woman Jesus found at the well.
    • So much in this encounter, we could spend all of Lent talking about just this story
    • Today = focus on the woman, Jesus, and the living water
    • Woman = often described as “a woman of the city”
      • Woman of questionable background
      • Woman of dubious reputation
      • Down throughout history, she has been put down and called out based solely on a tiny bit of information that Jesus revealed about her – during part of the story that we didn’t read today: Jesus said to her, “Go, get your husband, and come back here.” The woman replied, “I don’t have a husband.” “You are right to say, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus answered. “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are with now isn’t your husband. You’ve spoken the truth.”[3]
        • Makes me think of a country song from the early 90s: “Alibis and lying eyes and all the best lines / Lord knows she’s heard them all / She’s been cheated on and pushed around and left alone”[4]
        • This is why the woman is at the well in the middle of the day – the hottest, most sun-baked, least popular time of the day. In this part of the country, no doubt the rest of the women of the village had done the challenging, strenuous, intense work of going to the well and drawing up the water they needed early in the day – when the air was still cool and the sand had not yet reached blistering. But this woman, this woman whom Jesus encountered, waited until the middle of the day when it was hotter than hot … because only at this insufferable time could she be alone at the well.
          • Away from the prying eyes
          • Away from the judgmental stares
          • Away from the whispers and veiled comments
      • In truth, we know almost nothing about this woman’s life, but by her timing and her actions, we do know that she had been ostracized to the point of venturing out in the boiling heat of midday to draw water from the well. She was so parched in heart and soul that she had purposefully isolated herself.
    • Makes Jesus’ encounter with her all the more disturbing → She was looking to avoid anyone and everyone, and instead she came face-to-face with a man … a Jewish man … alone at the well … who had the audacity and the gall to ask her for water.
      • Persistent Jesus
      • Pesky Jesus
      • Jesus that just won’t leave well enough alone
      • As a single Jewish man, he had no business talking to a single Samaritan woman, let alone asking her for a drink of water.
        • Hear it in the woman’s response – text: Jesus responded, “If you recognized God’s gift and who is saying to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would be asking him and he would give you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have a bucket and the well is deep. Where would you get this living water? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave this well to us, and he drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”[5]
          • Read skepticism
          • Read irritation
          • Read disbelief
          • “Really, man? Really? You’ve got no bucket, and this well is deep. Where do you think this ‘living water’ is going to come from? Who do you think you are? This is Jacob’s well. It was good enough for him. It was good enough for his sons and his livestock. It’s been good enough for our ancestors. You think you’re better than all that?”
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water.
  • This woman at the well was parched, parched, parched. She had been mistreated. She had been marginalized by her people. She had been isolated. … But even in the face of all her desolation, all her insecurities, all her fears and doubts and every wall she tried to put up, Jesus persisted. Jesus knew she needed more than just plain old well water. She needed living water – something to quench her parched spirit and renew her weary soul.
    • Text: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will become in those who drink it a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty and will never need to come here to draw water! … I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” And Jesus said to her, “I AM – the one who speaks with you.”[6]
      • Jesus brings reassurance to wash away all her uncertainty
      • Jesus brings affirmation to wash away all her self-doubt
      • Jesus bring hope to wash away all her pain and grief
      • And she was so moved by her interaction with Jesus that she ran back to the village – to the people from whom she had so carefully and deliberately isolated herself – and she told them not only about this man but about herself. – text: Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” → This is where we see her parched places overflowing with living water! Before her encounter with Jesus, do you really think she would have said anything to her neighbors, let alone anything pertaining to whatever past they may have assumed she had?! Of course not! The woman was venturing out in the scorching heat of midday for water just to avoid all the gossip and comments and stares and cold shoulders! And yet, after her encounter with Jesus, she went directly to those same people whom she had so painstakingly tried to avoid and admitted to them, “He told me everything I’ve ever done” … and all that that statement implies. Think about what that would mean for you for a minute: “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” Mmm hmmm. The part of that that we don’t hear her say: “He told me everything I’ve ever done … and he still talked to me. He told me everything I’ve ever done … and he still accepted me. He told me everything I’ve ever done … and he still loved me.” A spring of water … a spring of hope … a spring of everlasting love bubbling up into eternal life.
  • Step … step … step … One foot in front of the other. Step … step … step … One weary, arduous mile after another. Step … step … step … just as the feeling of being parched and depleted are about to become too much to bear, there it is: water. Whatever miles you’ve traveled … however parched you may be … whatever doubts and despair linger within … leave your bucket and come to the well, because Jesus is waiting. “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.” And Jesus said to her, “I Am – the one who speaks with you.” Amen.

[1] Ex 15:22-24.

[2] Ex 15:26-27.

[3] Jn 4:16-18

[4] “Alibis” by Tracy Lawrence from Alibis album, 1993.

[5] Jn 4:10-12.

[6] Jn 4:13-15, 25-26.

Sunday’s sermon: Stepping Up in a Big Way

stepping up

Texts used – Psalm 130 and Hebrews 10:19-25

  • Started talking last week about Lent being a boot camp for our souls
    • Time of testing and brutal honesty – can’t hide anything in a boot camp situation (military boot camp, fitness boot camp, corporate boot camp, or otherwise)
    • Time of intense and intentional work – enter boot camp experience looking to be changed and change takes work → Boot camp experiences may be a lot of things but they are NOT passive!
      • Intense work on and within ourselves
      • Intense work on our relationship with other people
      • Intense work on our relationship with God
    • We also talked about how challenging that can be. It can be scary. It can be daunting. It can be intimidating. There’s no doubt that any boot camp experience – whether we’re talking about military boot camp, fitness boot camp, or some other boot camp context – requires those going through it to step up … to set aside all their fears, worries, and intimidations and just go all-in. And faith is no different. God has claimed us. Now it’s our turn to respond – to go all-in, to step up in a big way, to invest in this faith this with all that we have and all that we are.
  • One of the ways we can respond in faith is to put our absolute trust in God because no matter what – whether we’re feeling isolated or overwhelmed, boxed in or stretched too thin, under-appreciated or inexperienced – God remains our hope. → both passages for today talk about having hope in the Lord
    • Ps – we find hope in the Scriptures: I hope, LORD. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise.[1]
      • “I wait for God’s promise.” I bet that if I polled everyone sitting here this morning, you could probably tell me about a passage – some portion of God’s promise in Scripture – that makes your whole being hope in tough times.
        • Psalm 23 – Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.[2]
        • John 3:16 – God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
        • James – My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.[3]
        • Jesus in the Gospels – Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.[4]
        • Maybe one of these is the Scripture you use as a source of strength and hope. Or maybe you look to a different passage. The point is that our hope is alive in the Word and promises of God, and it’s just waiting for us to encounter it, waiting for us to be open to its light.
    • Our passage from Hebrews touches on another place we find hope, and that is in God’s forgiveness. – text: Let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water. Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.[5]
      • “Our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.” There’s no mincing of words here. Clean and pure … we have been made clean and pure by the forgiveness provided through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Our sins – no matter how big or dark they are – have been obliterated by God’s forgiveness. And before even knowing what those sins would be, Jesus stepped up and took our punishment on himself.
        • We are able to find our hope in God’s forgiveness because of Christ. – Heb. text: We have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body … Therefore, let’s draw near.[6]
        • Scholar: No place or circumstance is beyond the reach of God’s forgiving, loving, redeeming presence and power.[7]
    • Also see forgiveness in Ps: I cry out to you from the depths, LORD— … If you kept track of sins, LORD— my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you— that’s why you are honored.[8]
      • If you kept track of my sins, Lord, who would stand a chance? If you, O Lord, were tallying up my every stumble, my every mistake, my every sin, Lord, who would stand a chance? This part is actually kind of opposite of what often ends up happening in a boot camp scenario.
        • Boot camps: tendency to draw attention to mistakes as an extreme way to correct them → part of that whole break-you-down-to-build-you-up-better mentality
        • And when we’re being honest with ourselves, God has every right to do that … to point out all of our missteps – all of the ways that we have turned away, fallen away, been led away. But that’s not the way it works with God. The psalmist says, “IF you kept track of my sins, Lord, who would stand a chance?” → means that, contrary to many of those ideas and off-center theologies that have St. Peter waiting with a grand “in or out” list at the pearly gates, there is no grand list of our sins in some massive book in the sky
        • We all make mistakes. We all hurt people in ways that are intentional and unintentional. Paul reminds us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And so we all cry out to God for forgiveness, and God responds with grace upon grace. Maybe that’s exactly why the psalmist follows such a difficult, sobering question – Who would stand a chance? – by a reassurance of God’s forgiveness … because we all need to hear it. We all need hope.
  • And there are plenty of other places that we encounter hope in this world. Unexpected places. → “God Moments” board in the hallway at LS Pres
    • Hope in unexpected places seems to be something that Jesus counted on – something that fed and supported his earthly ministry.
      • Pastor Barb Lindgren: “Jesus has a knack for transforming lives as he’s passing through to somewhere else.” → Many of Jesus’ most profound encounters happened “while he was on the way” to this place or that place.
        • E.g.s. – Zacchaeus[9], the woman healed by simply touching the fringe of Jesus’ clothing[10] → people who encountered hope when they least expected it
    • Do you want to hear something truly mind-blowing? Every day we have the chance to be someone else’s “unexpected place” to encounter hope. This is why we need to step up and claim our faith – to swallow our fears, our hesitations, our pride and have the courage and the strength to step up. The world is full of darkness, but as Christians – as those who find our hope in God’s word and forgiveness – we carry a special light that we need to have the courage to bear. You never know whose day you’re going to touch … whose life you’re going to change.
      • Play Newsboys song[11] → Doesn’t this song sound a lot like our psalm for today? It begins with a cry to God from the depths, a cry from someone who feels like he or she may have been forgotten by God – one who desperately wants to return to God’s presence. “Will you take me back again?” This is someone looking for hope but in all the wrong places.
        • The song drives home the point that hope is always available. God will never stop waiting for us – 24 hours a day … 7 days a week … while the TV screen flashes and the night becomes history. Even when we feel cut off from God, God remains our hope. We just have to recognize it … and that’s the hard part.
        • Now, I don’t know about you, but I hear a sense of regret in this song. It’s talking about life passing us by. But there’s also hope because in the next breath, it encourages us to figure out how to step up and shine Christ’s light in the dark and difficult corners of our lives before it’s too late.
    • Heb. passages encourages this, too
      • “Let us draw near with a genuine heart” = Gr. “let us draw near with a true heart, a dependable heart, a real heart” → These are the hearts that have been overwhelmed by anxiety and doubt. These are the same hearts that have been broken by pain and betrayal. These are the same hearts that flutter in fear at the thought of sharing our faith with someone new. But these are also the same hearts that we’re told have been sprinkled clean by God. These are the same hearts that experience the relief, comfort, joy, and reassurance of eternal hope. And these are the same hearts that should be bursting to express and share that hope with those around us.
        • Spelled out pretty clearly toward the end of the passage: And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.[12] → Spark one another to love and good deeds. Encourage one another to live into Christ’s example of transforming lives. Remind one another to express and share the hope that banishes all darkness.
  • With all the dark and difficult corners that we encounter today – in our own lives and in the live of those we know and love – how can we not step up? How can we not let the light of Christ shine in us and through us? How can we not share the source of our hope?
    • Think of how immobilizing it can be to be afraid of the dark.
      • People young and old alike = afraid of the dark because everything – even the tamest and most familiar things – look scarier and more menacing when bathed in shadows
    • We don’t want to struggle among the shadows, and because of the hope we find in God’s Word and forgiveness, we don’t have to. We do have the responsibility to share that hope with those who desperately need it. So step up. Don’t let the moment pass you by. Don’t let the night become history. Amen.

[1] Ps 130:5a-b.

[2] Ps 23:4.

[3] Jas 1:2-3.

[4] Matt 11:28 (NRSV).

[5] Heb 10:22-23.

[6] Heb 10:19-20, 22.

[7] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1207.

[8] Ps 130:1, 3-4.

[9] Lk 19:5.

[10] Mt 9:20.

[11] Newsboys. “Entertaining Angels” from Step Up to the Microphone album, 1998.

[12] Heb 10:24-25.

Sunday’s sermon: The Need for Change

change is hard

Texts used – Psalm 32 and Matthew 4:1-11

  • To be tested. To challenge the relative comfort and ease of the day-to-day. To find out what’s really underneath – underneath the heart and the skin, underneath the excuses and expectations, underneath the conveniences and the cover-ups. To be pushed to the limit … over … and beyond.
    • Boot camp
      • Earliest known use: (~)1916 → Marine training in WWI → used pretty exclusively by the military for a long time
      • Term that has become much more widespread over the last few decades → It seems as though everyone and everything has a “boot camp” nowadays. The term “boot camp” has permeated …
        • Fitness world = “a class focused on intense and difficult training”
        • Corporate world = a crash course in management, orientation, leadership, etc.
        • Self-help world = retreats strictly focused on bettering some facet of your life (marriage, organizational skills, etc.)
        • All cases = boot camp is deep, dedicated, demanding process meant to build you up in ways you may never have even thought possible à And if that means tearing you down a bit in the process to facilitate that rebuilding, all the better.
  • Lent = time of self-reflection, pure/unabashed truth in our innermost places, personal investigation, and contrition – “the intentional work of seeking a change of heart or actions”[1]
    • Call from Ps 51 on Ash Wed.: A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God. You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.[2]
    • Lent = time of repentance → Heb.: literally “re-turning to God” (physical connotation to Heb. word – movement/reorientation)
    • Like boot camp, the work of Lent can be hard and demanding. Indeed, Lent can be like a boot camp for the soul – a chance to turn and return to God, a chance to put some intense and intentional work into some specific area in our lives … an area that we feel could use a bit of a restart.
      • Not all going to have the same need → need for change in …
        • Habits
        • Actions
        • Thoughts
        • Attitudes
        • Relationships
        • But we all have need for change somewhere, and we are all walking this Lenten journey toward change together.
      • Winnie Varghese (Episcopal priest for Justice and Reconciliation at Trinity Church in New York City, author, speaker, blogger, contributor to Huffington Post, all-around crazy-amazing YCW): We walk this season together, demanding the best of ourselves, ready to support one another, and prepared to see truths that shatter our self-understanding.[3] → “Prepared to see truths that shatter our self-understanding” … that’s hard work! But as we go through this, it’s important to remember that we don’t do this for the purpose of shaming ourselves or each other. We don’t do this to feel bad just for the sake of feeling bad. We do it so that we can approach God with openness and sincerity – honest with ourselves and honest with God.
        • Paul in Rom: All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.[4]
        • Today is about taking the first tiny, baby step of this journey, and sometimes, that first step is a doozy.
  • NT reading – Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness
    • CONTEXT:
      • Comes straight off the heels of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River
        • Jesus comes upon John baptizing people in the river
        • Jesus requests to be baptized
        • John is taken aback – text: John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”[5]
        • But Jesus was insistent – text: Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” So John agreed to baptize Jesus.[6]
        • Jesus came up out of the water à heavens opened → voice of God emanated from the cloud: “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”[7]
    • And then just after this great, glorious, uplifting, affirming, literally-heavens-opening moment … Jesus takes off into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights specifically to be tempted by the devil. – text: Then the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him.[8]
      • No food
      • No water
      • No company (no physical ones, anyway)
      • Seemingly no defense
      • And yet this is the path that Jesus chose. True, he was led into the wilderness by God’s Holy Spirit. You probably missed it unless you were reading along, but that Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness is a capital-S Spirit – a Holy-Spirit-of-the-Most-High-God Spirit – not just some open-to-interpretation twinge in Jesus’ gut saying, “Yeah … maybe. We could possibly almost sorta go. Maybe.” True, the Holy Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness … but Jesus made the conscious decision to follow. à chose to take that first doozy of a step
    • Read this text at the beginning of Lent because Jesus’ 40 days/nights IS Lent → Lent = period of 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) → chose 40 because of Jesus’ time of fasting and temptation in the desert
      • Time of removal
      • Time of confronting
      • Time of trial
    • Brutal ordeal awaited Jesus
      • Step 1: depravation – fasting … for 40 days and 40 nights → Let me ask you this: Have you ever fasted? Maybe for medical reasons or personal reasons or even spiritual reasons? It is difficult.
        • My attempt in seminary (part of a spiritual formation group) → became more about how I was doing it than why I was doing it: “Water? Okay. Nutrients? Better choke down an electrolyte drink (Gatorade, etc.) or a V8. Gum as a distraction? Sort of looked at as ‘cheating.’” And so on.
        • BUT lots of people incorporate a fast of some sort into their spiritual practice during Lent – very powerful spiritual practice for some à idea (Guidepost article): “Fasting is less about what we’re giving up and much more about what we’re making room for. When we fast, we exchange what we need to survive for what we need to live—more of God.”[9]
      • Step 2: Satan’s temptation → And these temptations were no joke.
        • Tempted with food as his own stomach surely roared with hunger – Satan: “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”[10]
        • Tempted with danger/allure of safety atop the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem – Satan: “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”[11]
        • Tempted with infinite power and prestige with the whole world laid out at his feet – Satan: “I’ll give you all these [kingdoms of the world and their glory] if you bow down and worship me.”[12]
        • Jesus’ continually response = turning and returning to God → quotes Scripture (OT – God’s instruction to Moses in Deut) at Satan again and again
    • Central theme in all 3 temptations: turn from God … follow me … put yourself – your needs, your desires, your ambitions – before anything and everything else → And when we boil it down like that, it doesn’t sound all that different from the temptations that we face today, does it?
      • Temptations to fill our own cupboards to bursting with giant Costco/Sam’s Club multi-packs of this or that … But do we know whether our own neighbors have enough to eat? Do we know how stocked the shelves are at our local food shelf? Are there children walking past our house on their way to school with full book bags but empty stomachs?
      • Temptation to attempt to ensure our own safety not only above the safety of others but at the expense of others (as individuals and as a body – as a church, as a society, as a nation) … We talk about building walls and closing borders, turning away people literally fleeing for their lives – from persecution, from war, from famine … people who have waited years, paid thousands of dollars (for many, literally a lifetime’s worth of wages!), endangered their own lives, left their families behind, and endured an insanely complicated process just be turned away at the last minute because of prejudice and fear.
      • Temptation to grab hold of whatever modicum of power flashes before us and exercise that power whatever the cost – Sir Joh Dalberg-Acton (British Catholic historian, politician, and writer: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” → What ways do we as individuals need to repent of our use/abuse of authority? What ways to we as a society need to repent of the same? As a nation? As the human race? When it comes to power and authority, how have we turned away and chosen to serve not God but ourselves instead?
        • Jesus’ words just a few chapters later in Mt: Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[13] → And so, during Lent, we examine where indeed our hearts are and turn them back to God.
  • Friends, anyone that’s endured a boot camp, planned a boot camp, led a boot camp, or even watched a little bit of one on TV can tell you that they aren’t supposed to be easy. That’s kind of the point: to take you down to such a level of discomfort that you’re able to be built up again – stronger, better, more knowledgeable, more capable. No one goes into boot camp – military, fitness, corporate, or otherwise – looking to come out exactly the same on the other side. But in order to start that journey toward becoming a better version of ourselves, we have to first acknowledge that something needs to change.
    • Often the most challenging, uncomfortable part of boot camp – 1st step
    • Change = hard
    • Change = unpleasant
    • Change = awkward
    • Change = scary
    • But change is the first step in a beautiful journey.
      • Crucial change for Jesus → after being baptized and enduring those wilderness temptations = ministry began
        • Teaching
        • Healing
        • Introducing people to the Kingdom of God – in all its grace and glory and beauty and compassionate embrace.
        • Ultimately dying on a cross and being resurrected to bring us salvation and God’s everlasting grace
      • Assurance also comes from the psalm we read → 1st-hand acct. of someone who made a change – someone who was at first separated from God but then, after returning and repenting – after not only recognizing but also acting upon that need for change – psalmist = someone who felt the blessing of God’s grace
        • Text: When I kept quiet, my bones wore out; I was groaning all day long – every day, every night! – because your hand was heavy upon me. My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought. Selah. So I admitted my sin to you; I didn’t conceal my guilt. “I’ll confess my sins to the Lord,” is what I said. Then you removed the guilt of my sin. Selah. … You who are righteous, rejoice in the Lord and be glad! All you whose hearts are right, sing out in joy![14]
      • So as we begin our own Lenten boot camp for the soul, let us first take a moment within ourselves and before God to acknowledge that we do, in fact, need and desire change within our inmost being. Let’s take that first doozy of a step together. [PAUSE] Amen.

[1] Winnie Varghese. “Lenten Series: Boot Camp for the Soul – Series Overview” from A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. Compiled by Jessica Miller Kelley. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 21.

[2] Ps 51:17.

[3] Varghese, 21.

[4] Rom 3:23-24.

[5] Mt 3:14.

[6] Mt 3:15.

[7] Mt 3:17.

[8] Mt 4:1 (emphasis added).

[9] Brooke Obie. “5 Spiritual Benefits of Fasting” from Guideposts, https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/health-and-wellness/5-spiritual-benefits-of-fasting?nopaging=1. Accessed Mar. 3, 2017.

[10] Mt 4:3.

[11] Mt 4:6,

[12] Mt 4:9.

[13] Mt 6:19-21.

[14] Ps 32:3-5, 11.