Sunday’s sermon: Good Promises in Bad Times

Text used – Genesis 39:1-23

  • I recently finished listening to two really incredible books that shared a common theme.
    • One fiction, one non-fiction
    • Fiction: Woman 99 by Greer Macallister[1]
      • Story of Charlotte Smith and her sister, Phoebe
        • Phoebe is admitted to an insane asylum by their parents
        • Charlotte decides to basically bluff her way into the asylum to rescue her sister and bring her home
    • Non-fiction: The Woman They Could Not Silence: The Shocking Story of a Woman Who Dared to Fight Back by Kate Moore[2]
      • True story of Elizabeth Packard → committed to an insane asylum by her husband, Rev. Theophilus Packard (a Presbyterian minister, y’all) for thinking for herself and disagreeing with him
        • Discredited by her husband
        • Discredited by her husband’s congregation
        • Persecuted throughout the whole of her life by the doctor who was the supervisor of the asylum
        • Nevertheless spent her whole life fighting for legal rights for married women and for the rights of those in asylums
    • Both of these books took place around the same time period – the late 1800s. Both of them took place in America – one (the fiction) in California, the other (Elizabeth Packard’s story) in Illinois. Both of them explore two very powerful, very difficult themes.
      • Theme of how easy it was for women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to be shuttered away from everything they knew – their friends, their families, their children, and all of society – by the men in their lives (husbands, fathers, brothers) just for disagreeing with them or thinking for themselves or refusing to toe whatever arbitrary line was drawn in the sand
        • No kind of trial beforehand (at least, not until Elizabeth Packard had done much of her work after her eventual release)
        • No hope of release unless those who had them committed in the first place had a sudden and miraculous change of heart
      • Theme of the rampant abuse and horrific conditions found in asylums at that time
        • Physical actions by the staff that would certainly fall under the category of torture today
        • Forced, unpaid labor
        • Meals that were devoid of any nutritional value
        • Solitary confinement for the most minor infractions
        • Medical experimentation
    • And as I listened to the accounts of the horrors of imprisonment in these asylums – both fictional (though based on many historical sources and testimonies of the time) as well as the true story – I couldn’t help but think about today’s portion of Joseph’s story. → false imprisonment
  • Generalities of Joseph’s story
    • Full arc of Joseph’s story
      • 2nd youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons
      • Interprets a dream to his brothers one day → “Basically, guys, I dreamed you were bowing down to me.”
      • Brothers grow angry, both with implications of Joseph’s and with the way their father, Jacob, favors him → last straw = beautiful cloak that Jacob gives to Joseph (gift that should have gone to the first-born)
      • Brothers decide to get rid of Joseph → toss him down a well → sell him into slavery, then tell Jacob he’s been killed
      • Joseph ends up in Egypt
        • First as a servant in Potiphar’s house (today’s story)
        • Eventually in the palace of Pharaoh → soon rises to place of unprecedented power in the land
        • Helps the land of Egypt survive a devastating famine → eventually Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt seeking food à don’t recognize Joseph
        • Through some subterfuge and cunning maneuvering, brothers prove to Joseph that they’ve learned their lesson → Joseph reveals his identity to them and the family is restored
    • Like Abram/Abraham (that we read last week), Joseph’s story takes up a good chunk of Scripture in Gen → begins in ch. 37 and continues straight through the end of Gen (ch. 50)
    • Unlike Abram (and many of the other people who receive God’s covenant promises throughout Scripture), there are no instances when God speaks directly to Joseph → None at all. Not in any moment of his story.
      • Lots of times that God communicates with Joseph through his dreams
        • Dreams that get him in trouble
        • Dreams that get him out of trouble
      • Many times throughout the text when we’re told that God was with Joseph
      • But not once do we hear God speaking to Joseph like God spoke to Noah or Abram. And yet it’s clear that God’s presence and God’s promise remained with Joseph through it all. – makes Joseph a more relatable character in God’s Grand Story of Faith à I mean, we get to walk through a lot of Joseph’s story with him – the ups as well as the downs – and a lot of those ups and downs are things we can relate to: family dynamics, power dynamics in relationships, moments when we feel like the bottom has dropped out of our lives, times when we feel like we’ve had to claw our way back. And throughout all those times, even if we find ourselves in deepest prayer, like Joseph, most people will go throughout their whole lives without hearing the voice of God. But like Joseph, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t with us.
  • So let’s dig into today’s portion of Joseph’s story a little deeper.
    • Great description from Spill the Beans: This is a humdinger of a story. It is a tale of trust and lust and enticement and exploitation with a lot of integrity and revenge thrown in. It has echoes of a tale as old as time itself, of power being abused for a moment’s pleasure, of reputation being besmirched to cover tracks of deceit and lies. And, of course, there is the theme of God’s favor (really?) resting on the one wronged.[3]
    • Particularly interesting that Joseph is simultaneously in a position of power and position of vulnerability in Potiphar’s house – position summed up well by Joseph himself: [Joseph] refused and said to his master’s wife, “With me here, my master doesn’t pay attention to anything in his household; he’s put everything he has under my supervision. No one is greater than I am in this household, and he hasn’t denied me anything except you, since you are his wife. How could I do this terrible thing and sin against God?”[4]
      • Heb. “sin” = particular word for “sin” that implies forfeiting something, losing something, missing something – also a word that carries particular connotation of bearing the blame for something → Joseph is being both very candid and very intentional here. He’s making sure that Potiphar’s wife understands just how much weight this betrayal would put on his shoulders – on his heart and his soul.
    • Despite Joseph’s reasoning and his wishes, Potiphar’s wife uses her power to again try to seduce him, and, when he refuses, to punish him → takes the truth, twists it and manipulates it → plants the blame solely on the victim → And in this part of Joseph’s story, I can’t help but draw parallels between Joseph and so many others throughout history who have found their lives irreversibly changed by those in power.
      • Women whose stories I mentioned at the beginning – women in the 1800s and early 1900s who were falsely imprisoned in insane asylums simply because they didn’t fit into society’s “womanly ideal” of the day → women who were too smart, too outspoken, too independent … women who fought back against physical and emotional abuse … women who dared to believe that they deserved the same rights as the men who held such tight-fisted power over them
      • All the people who’s stories began to surface in the face of the Me, Too movement → stories of people who had the sanctity of their bodies violated and the truth of their experiences questioned just because of their gender
        • Certainly women who were victimized by men
        • Also pertains to men who were victimized by other men, especially when sexual orientation was a factor but also those victimized at a young age by older men
        • Also pertains to men victimized by women (like Joseph) → less common but no less traumatizing and significantly less reported
      • All the people who have been victimized, oppressed, falsely imprisoned, persecuted because of their culture and their race
        • African slaves stolen from their homes and forced into slavery here in America and across the world
        • Native American children ripped from their tribes and their families and forced into boarding schools specifically designed and run to obliterate every aspect of their native culture – language, dress, spirituality, stories, identity
        • Japanese people forced into internment camps during World War II just for looking like “the enemy”
        • African Americans beat down – both emotionally and physically – by the Jim Crow laws of the early to mid-20th
        • Immigrant children torn from the arms of their families at the border – families that still, years later, have not been reunited
        • And anyone and everyone who feels like they can’t walk safely down the street as themselves today … because of the way they express their gender identity; because of the color of their skin; because of the language that they speak; because of the headscarf they wear; because of the gender of the person they love; because of the clothes they wear; because of the prayers they say; because of any other factor that people in power deem “inferior.” There are so many ways that those in power have tried to subdue those without power, and a lot of those ways are still going on today … whether we choose to see them or not.
  • Still, Joseph’s = story bookended with God’s presence
    • Beginning of today’s text: The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and served in his Egyptian master’s household. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful.[5]
    • End of today’s text: While he was in jail, the Lord was with Joseph and remained loyal to him. … The jail’s commander paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s supervision, because the Lord was with him and made everything he did successful.[6]
    • This bookending drives home that point that God is an undeniable and unchanging player throughout Joseph’s story. God isn’t just there when Joseph is doing well. God doesn’t just make a fleeting appearance during Joseph’s darkest moments. God is a constant – always there with Joseph no matter what.
      • Important distinction: God was with Joseph in those difficult moments … but God didn’t cause those difficult moments → They were undeniably terrible things that happened to Joseph, and in the midst of those moments, God was there to hold Joseph up, to care for him and strengthen him. But God didn’t make the bad things happen like some cosmic test to see if Joseph was worthy of God’s presence and promises.
      • Powerful reminder that God’s promise is there with us as a constant as well → rejoicing with us in our best moment, holding us in our darkest moments
        • Promise of grace
        • Promise of compassion
        • Promise of hope
        • Most of all: promise that God is with us. No matter what. Amen.

CHARGE (from the end of the worship service):

          Award-winning American novelist Alice Walker said, “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” I came across this quote this week because it was posted by BlackLiturgies, an Instagram account that posts a lot of beautiful, powerful prayers and quotes and reflection questions about race and faith and listening to suppressed voices. With this quote, they also posted this: “You shouldn’t have to silence yourself to belong. Who will stay with you once they’ve heard the truth of you?” It’s a powerful question in and of itself when you start thinking about the people in your life, friends, but before you leave here today, let me reassure you of this: No matter what, no matter where, no matter how, God will stay with you. God already knows the truth of you, and God stays with you.



[1] Greer Macallister. Woman 99. (Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc.), 2019.

[2] Kate Moore. The Woman They Could Not Silence: The Shocking Story of a Woman Who Dared to Fight Back. (Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc.), 2022.

[3] “Pentecost 15, Sunday 21 September 2014 – Keep Calm and Carry On: Bible Notes” from Spill the Beans: Worship and Learning Resources for All Ages, iss. 13. (Scotland: Spill the Beans Resource Team, 2014), 23.

[4] Gen 39:8-9.

[5] Gen 39:2-3.

[6] Gen 39:20b-21a, 23.

Sunday’s sermon: God Calls … and Keeps Calling

Text used – Genesis 12:1-9

  • When I was a kid, I spent some time at Clearwater Forest – the Presbyterian camp up in Deerwood, MN.
    • First went up with a group of kids from my church and our pastor, Rev. Jamie Swanson → tent camping in the woods while the regular summer camp was going on
    • Also went as a regular camper for a few years in upper elementary school – 4th and 5th, I think
    • And one of my favorite things that we did one of those times (I don’t remember exactly which one) was orienteering.
      • Explanation for those not familiar: Orienteering (“O” for short) is a timed event across a mostly natural landscape, where participants navigate through a series of checkpoints along the way. The route from one checkpoint to the next isn’t marked: Each participant decides the best route on the run (or walk). Meets have courses of varying lengths and difficulty, from beginner to expert. An orienteer might be described as part trail runner and part map-and-compass geek. Because it requires you to find pre-placed control markers, you experience multiple geocache-esque “I found it!” moments in a single event, though a GPS is not required and not allowed. Orienteers are also like obstacle-course runners, though the obstacles are au naturale and often avoidable through savvy route choices.[1] → At camp, they paired us up, gave us rudimentary maps of the area surrounding the athletic field and a little compass, and sent us off to find the various checkpoints that had previously been laid out.
      • Don’t remember who I was paired with (though I can guess it was my friend, Stacy, because we came to camp together, and I was way too shy as a kid to voluntarily pair up with someone I didn’t know!)
      • Don’t remember how many checkpoints there were
      • Don’t remember how much time we spent on that particular activity
      • What I do remember – vividly! – is how much I enjoyed purposefully venturing through the woods: following the compass, figuring out where we should go next, and the thrill and joy of those “geocache-esque ‘I found it!’ moments whenever we managed to find one of the checkpoints.
        • (I also remember that my partner and I were some of the first kids back … just sayin’.)
  • And as I was thinking about our Scripture reading this morning – God’s call to Abram and his family to leave … to journey … to follow – I couldn’t help thinking about it as basically the opposite of orienteering.
    • God calls Abram and his family – his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot – to a whole new land, a place they’ve never been before
      • No map
      • No compass (won’t be invented for a few thousand more years)
      • No pre-determined checkpoints
      • No assurance of where and when and how the end of this divinely-inspired journey would be
    • And yet how did our Scripture reading this morning begin? – text: The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you.”[2] → Now, at this point, you may be asking yourself, “Who is this Abram? Why is God keyed in on him? Where did he come from?”
      • Text prior to today’s reading (end of Gen 11) gives us a brief genealogy and background for Abram
        • Descendant of Noah’s son, Shem → brings a bit of interesting but also disquieting First Testament history to bear on this story
          • Odd little story from end of Gen 9: after all the animals and people have disembarked from the ark, Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk on his own wine → basically passes out naked in his tent → Noah’s son, Ham, and Ham’s son, Canaan, find Noah like this → instead of remedying the situation, Ham runs to report the situation to his brothers, Shem and Japheth → brothers are obviously appalled because they toss a robe over their own shoulders and walk backward into Noah’s tent to cover him without availing their eyes of his nakedness → Noah wakes up later, learns what happened, and not only blesses Shem and Japheth but curses Canaan (not Ham … not sure why) – Noah in text: “Cursed be Canaan: the lowest servant he will be for his brothers.” He also said, “Bless the Lord, the God of Shem; Canaan will be his servant. May God give space to Japheth; he will live in Shem’s tents, and Canaan will be his servant.”[3] → So here we are, a dozen or so generations later, and God is calling Abram, the descendant of Shem, to go and take possession of the land of Canaan. It adds a whole new layer to our story this morning, doesn’t it?
  • Covenant is pretty out-in-the-open in this morning’s reading – 2nd verse (God to Abram): I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.[4]
    • God’s promise: an abundance of greatness and blessing
      • Scholar breaks this down a bit further: God promises [Abram] three things: a place, a people, and a job. These are the basic necessities of every human. God seems here to be working with a stripped down version of the mid-twentieth century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, covering safety, belonging, and esteem/self-actulization.[5]
    • God’s ask: Leave everything that is familiar to you – country, family, home – and follow me
      • Not an edict that Abram actually follows → God says, “Leave everything and everyone.” Abram takes his wife, Lot, his nephew and heir, (since he and Sarai have no children … yet), and “all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran.”[6] And really, this is pretty indicative of how things will go between God and God’s people throughout all of time, right? God says, “Come.” And the people say, “But wait, God. I need this. Wait, God. I need that. God, you just need to wait while I gather up all my stuff – my physical stuff, my emotional stuff, my spiritual stuff. Just let me pack my bags … pack my truck … pack my 26-ft., 10,000-lbs-of-cargo moving van. But I promise, God … I’m coming. Really.”
        • Harkens to Jesus’ charge to the disciples when he sends them out in Lk 9: [Jesus] sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. He told them, “Take nothing for the journey – no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt.”[7] → You see, it’s all about reliance on God. It’s all about whether we trust God enough to follow the call. It’s all about whether we trust God to be there for us even (and especially?) in the face of a long, arduous, and uncertain journey.
          • Call of God doesn’t come with a compass
          • Call of God doesn’t come with a map
          • Call of God doesn’t come with pre-determined checkpoints
          • Call of God doesn’t require all the stuff we think we need because the call of God comes with the guarantee that God journeys with us no matter what
      • Still, even as he wrapped his uncertainty in layers of familiarity – the familiar people and belongings that Abram chose to bring with him – Abram still set out with God. God says, “Leave everything and everyone,” and Abram pack everything and brings everyone. But still, God calls, and Abram follows.
        • Can’t help but think of the quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (Bilbo to Frodo): It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

        • Indeed, friends, that is part of our fear, isn’t it? When we hear God calling us to go and do, we worry that we will lose track of our feet and might end up swept off to some unknown place, some uncomfortable situation, some unanticipated situation. And yet, we have God’s promise: “I call. You follow. And I will go with you.”
  • Proof is in the text and beyond this morning → Today’s short story is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Abram’s story in Scripture. The ins and outs, twists and turns of Abram’s story continue for another 13 chapters throughout the book of Genesis. In fact, fully ⅓ of the whole Genesis narrative involves Abram and his continued relationship with God and with the people.
    • Far from a perfect story → Abram makes plenty of mistakes!
    • And yet, God calls, and Abram follows. Time and time again, God calls, and Abram follows.
      • Follows with his feet
      • Follows with his family
      • Follows with his heart
      • Follows with his faith
      • Today’s text: Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants,” so Abram built an altar there to the Lord who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshipped in the Lord’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. → Abram’s travels continue, but as they continue, he worships. As Abram continues to follow God’s call, he builds altars to God – dedicating a portion of his time, his physical effort, and the quiet devotedness of his heart to the One who called him and kept calling him. One step … one stone … one prayer at a time. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Gen 12:1.

[3] Gen 9:25-27.

[4] Gen 12:2-3.

[5] Rebecca Abts Wright. “Commentary on Genesis 12:1-9” from Working Preacher,

[6] Gen 12:5.

[7] Lk 9:2-3.

Sunday’s sermon: Spectrum of a Promise

Text used – Genesis 6:5-22; 9:8-17

  • I want you to think about light for a minute this morning.
    • All the different ways that we experience light
      • Sun (and sun’s reflected light from the moon)
      • Electric lights homes, businesses, vehicles, appliances
      • Candles or fireplaces
      • And of course, there’s the light we take in from the screens of our various devices, right?
    • All the different ways we describe light
      • List from[1]
    • All the different ways we use light in our day-to-day colloquialisms
      • Understanding
        • “… see the light”
        • “… a lightbulb moment”
      • Joyful, enjoyable presence of someone
        • “… they lit up a room”
        • “… light of my life”
      • Revelation
        • “… light at the end of the tunnel”
        • “… shed light on this” or “… see that in a new light”
    • Light is essential to our lives in so many different ways. And yet I find it fascinating the in the grand scheme of things, the amount of light that we can take in – the light that’s actually visible on the grand scheme of the electromagnetic spectrum – is miniscule compared to what’s out there. It’s smaller than miniscule. It’s infinitesimal. → time for a very brief, very simple science lesson[2]
      • Light = electromagnetic wave length of those waves determines frequency
        • Frequency related to the color of light that we’re seeing[3]
          • Red = longest wavelength
          • Violet = shortest wavelength
        • Frequency determines when something falls on the electromagnetic spectrum
          • Longer wavelength (lower frequency) = radio waves and microwaves
          • Shorter wavelengths (higher frequency) = xrays and gamma rays
        • Visible light falls toward lower end of this huge spectrum
          • Higher frequency than infrared light
          • Lower frequency than ultraviolet light
    • And of all the different frequencies that make up the whole of the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light – all of that amazing light that we see and that literally makes life on this planet and our daily ways of life possible – all of that light and the different ways that we experience it only makes up .0035% of the electromagnetic spectrum.[4] Not even a tenth of a percent! Not even a hundredth of a percent! There’s so much more to the electromagnetic spectrum than our eyes can perceive … but it’s still there.
  • Throughout the first part of the fall, we’re going to be journeying through some of God’s covenants – God’s promises – found in the First Testament.
    • Begin today with God’s covenant with the people through Noah in the aftermath of the flood
    • Continue with further promises God makes to the people through other figureheads
      • Some familiar
      • Some maybe less so
    • But here’s the thing. Often, when we talk about God’s covenant with the people, we talk only about the reassuring parts – the parts that make us feel good about ourselves and about God and about our relationship with God. We like reminding ourselves of the ways that we think we’re already living into God’s promises. And we’ll certainly talk about those elements of God’s covenants. But we’re also going to delve into the elements and aspects of the covenants that we don’t always see – the parts that we don’t always talk about. We’re going to tackle the full spectrum of the God’s covenants … and see where it leads us.
  • Good place to start = talking about covenant in general What exactly is a covenant? – turned to 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know by Rev. Dr. Matt Schlimm[5]
    • General = binding agreement between 2 parties
    • Heb. “covenant” appears almost 300 times throughout the Bible
      • Sometimes refers to agreements made btwn. people
      • Mostly refers to relationship btwn. God and God’s people – Schlimm: The fundamental idea here is that God and the covenant people are bound together in the closest imaginable ways.[6]
    • Heb. tradition covenant was not something to be taken lightly
      • Phrasing = “cutting a covenant”
        • Certainly harkens to sealing of God’s covenant with Abraham through circumcision
        • Also references another tradition – Schlimm: “cutting a [covenant]” meant cattle were killed and the animals’ bodies sliced in two. The halves of these carcasses would face each other. Next, those making the covenant would walk between the bleeding corpses. The idea was that those who would violate the covenant deserve to become like the corpses.[7]  There is definitely a weight to this idea of covenant that we seem to have lost in our modern culture with its constantly shifting allegiances, a culture in which we have whole cadres of lawyers whose specialty is finding ways around contractual obligations – finding ways to extricate us from the covenants we’ve made.
      • Less severe side of the Heb. tradition surrounding covenants = also often meal involved
        • Covenants btwn. people sealed by sharing meal together
        • Covenants btwn. people and God sealed by animal and/or grain sacrifice (essentially sharing meal with God)
        • Often involved the essential element of salt salt = preservative of the ancient world, so offering salt was a symbol of the lasting power of a covenant
  • So as we embark on this journey through the spectrum of God’s covenants, it’s rather appropriate that we begin with Noah.
    • Appropriate because God’s covenant with Noah is, in fact, God’s first covenant with the people
    • Appropriate because of the elements of the covenant that we don’t normally talk about namely what led up to it
    • Appropriate because it’s a covenant sealed with its own spectrum – the bow that God places in the clouds as the abiding, visual reminder of God’s own promise
  • Begin at the beginning (of our reading … which also happens to be the beginning of Noah’s story) And the beginning of this story serves as our reminder that Noah’s story is not exactly the happy, smiling, pastel-colored story often relayed in Sunday school lessons and coloring sheets.
    • Text (beginning): The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and he was heartbroken.[8] lots to unpack here[9]
      • Heb. “evil” = wide-ranging word basically anything that is not what it ought to be
        • Can mean wicked, bad, harm, mischief, evil
        • Can mean broken, spoiled, destroyed
        • Can mean afflicted or miserable
        • Can mean something that displeases, punishes, or vexes
        • Covers things that are physically, socially, or morally “bad”
        • Clearly, among the people, things had gone horribly, horribly wrong in all the ways.
          • Point driven home by that description “always completely evil” = literally “all day every day”
      • Heb. “regretted” = difficult little word that carries the implication of pity and the accompanying consolation but also encompasses the less righteous ways that we console ourselves in our minds basically avenging thoughts/fantasies This is a regret tinged with sadness and pity as well as frustration and anger. There’s a desperation to this regret – to God’s regret.
      • Heb. “heartbroken” = “grieved God to God’s heart” literally “to carve,” so God’s regret was so deep that it carved at God’s heart
      • This is definitely the element of the covenant that we don’t often talk about – the intentional invisible part of the spectrum. We like to sing about the animals boarding the ark in “twosies.” We like to skip to the end of the story so we can talk about the dove and the olive branch, so we can color the picture of happy Noah and happy Mrs. Noah and all the happy animals disembarking the ark under that beautiful rainbow. But leading up to that Sunday school scene is utter brokenness.
        • Brokenness on the part of the people
          • Brokenness among one another evil and violence done to one another
          • Brokenness in their relationship with God section from the book Old Turtle: But the people forgot. They forgot that they were a message of love, and a prayer from the earth. And they began to argue … about who knew God, and who did not; about where God was, and was not; about whether God was, or was not. And often the people misused their powers, and hurt one another. Or killed one another. And they hurt the earth. Until finally even the forests began to die … and the rivers and the oceans and the plants and the animals and the earth itself … Because the people could not remember who they were, or where God was.[10]
  • And yet, even in the midst of all that brokenness and struggle and human chaos, God found a bright light in Noah. In that vast spectrum of humanity, Noah was the infinitesimal spectrum of visible righteousness – the one with whom and through whom God could renew that relationship.
    • Should be said: Noah was far from perfect Nowhere in our text today (or in any of Noah’s story that’s not part of today’s text) does it ever call Noah “perfect.” – text: But as for Noah, the Lord approved of him.[11]
      • Other translation: But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.[12] Heb. “favor” = grace, kindness, preciousness  Nothing in our text gives us any indication exactly what it was about Noah that caught God’s favor – that found him washed in God’s grace instead of the rising flood waters – but whatever it was delivered Noah and Noah’s family through the devastation of the flood to the promise on the other side.
        • Text: God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, and with every living being with you … I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters.” … God said, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. I have put my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth.”[13]
          • Interesting because it’s the only covenant in which God includes humanity and the rest of creation (“every living thing with you” and “covenant between me and the earth”)
  • So what do we take from this introduction to covenant? This story of a broken world and Noah, the story of raging floodwaters and a rainbow promise in the sky?
    • God’s love is greater
      • Greater than our brokenness and mistakes
      • Greater than the chaos of the world around us
      • Greater even than God’s own frustration We know that as humans, we make mistakes. We mess up. We hurt other people – intentionally and unintentionally. We mislead. We act in ways that cause harm, and we cause harm by failing to act in the face of blatant injustice and deep need. As one of our Prayers of Confession says, “We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”[14] And yet even in the midst of that brokenness – our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us – the brilliant spectrum of God’s promise and grace shines through: ever-present, ever-holy, forever giving, forever reminding us that God loves us. Thanks be to God. Amen.





[5] Matthew Richard Schlimm. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 100-104.

[6] Schlimm, 101.

[7] Schlimm, 101.

[8] Gen 6:5-6.

[9] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy:

[10] Douglas Wood. Old Turtle. (New York: Scholastic Press), 1992.

[11] Gen 6:8.

[12] Gen 6:8 (NRSV).

[13] Gen 9:8-10a, 11a, 12-13.

[14] “Prayer of Confession” in Book of Common Worship. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 20.

Sunday’s sermon: Voyageurs National Park – Teamwork

Text used – Ephesians 4:1-16

  • It’s not often that I wish we had screens in this sanctuary, all, but today is definitely one of those days because as I’ve been thinking about this theme of teamwork this week, there are two iconic sitcom scenes that keep replaying through my head. – one more contemporary, one more classic
    • Contemporary = scene from the 90s hit show “Friends” → scene where Ross, Rachel, and Chandler are trying to move Ross’ new couch up a tight staircase

  • Side note: if you ever have a chance to watch the blooper reel for this scene, I highly recommend it → The scene alone is hilarious enough, but watching the actors cracking up while they’re trying to film it is even better!
      • Classic = scene from 1950s favorite show “I Love Lucy” → scene where Lucy and Ethel are trying to wrap chocolates for Kramer’s Kandy Kitchen

    • What I love about both of these scenes – and what got me thinking about them in terms of teamwork and our Scripture reading this morning and the life of the Church in general – is that in both scenes, the characters are actually in pretty difficult, stressful situations. Anyone who’s moved a couch knows just how hateful a task that can be, especially if there are stairs and tight corners involved! And just the idea of falling behind on an assembly line makes my blood pressure go up! But the characters in these scenes take those stressful situations and not only live through them but live through them with camaraderie and joy. And, in essence, isn’t that what we do together – here in this place, and in our relationship with God? We live through all the situations of life – the good ones and the challenging ones – with as much tenacity and joy as we can muster because we’re doing it together.
  • [READ “Voyageurs National Park”][1] → I gotta say, friends, I love that we’re wrapping up this summer series of visiting various national parks around the country by returning to Minnesota. It’s our “coming home” part of the journey … which also makes it even better that the theme that we’re wrapping up with is the theme of teamwork. And I have to say that of the 61 different themes that Lyons and Barkhauer tackle throughout this book, this is definitely the one I would have chosen for this congregation in this time and place.
    • Speaks to the essence of the identity that we claim as a congregation
      • Vision statement: We are a small church with a big mission.
      • Mission statement: We are a community of believers whose mission is to share God’s Word, show God’s Love, serve God’s World, and strive for God’s Peace.
      • Identity underlined by Paul’s words in our passage from Eph this morning – text: Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. … His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. … By speaking the truth in love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head.[2]
        • Scholar: To bear one another’s burdens is to sacrifice for the other. It is to help carry one another’s burdens. Love is not an emotion; love is an act of the will. Paul is not calling for the early Christians to feel warmly toward one another, but to act accordingly to their calling. They are to do love by serving one another. The church is called to be a new community based not on the divisions inherent in the existing social order but on the new humanity in Christ. … In this new order, all members are essential, and all members are connected. Love, therefore, is neither theoretical nor abstract but is the glue of community; it is what knits the body together.[3] → This is that teamwork that Lyons was talking about among the voyageurs in the reflection: “Instead of a lonely explorer, the voyageur was part of a team, a pack of siblings in the wilderness who sang, ate, and worked together.” Truly, friends, we are in the wilderness.
          • Wilderness of figuring out what life and relationships and Church look like in this COVID-altered world
          • Wilderness of figuring out what life and relationships and Church look like in the midst of a society so assaulted and divided by the rampant hate that we see in our social media feeds, our news feeds, our headlines, and even displayed so blatantly on the street or up our neighbors’ flag poles
          • Wilderness of figuring out what life and relationships and faith look like in the aftermath of our own personal life-altering circumstances and griefs
            • Losses we’ve suffered
            • Life changes we’ve had to make (like it or not)
            • Transitions and upheavals and experiences that we go over and over in our minds long after we’ve lived through them trying to figure out if there was some other way – some better way – we could’ve handled them
            • Change and challenge have a nasty tendency to go hand-in-hand like a one-sided version of Red Rover, calling us over into the unknown.
      • But in the midst of that wilderness, we have one another – this body of Christ, this community of love and faith and grace and welcome and sacred belonging – to sing and eat and do God’s work together.
        • Sometimes that work is out there – helping the community, building up the community, reaching out to the community and the world: to share God’s Word, show God’s Love, serve God’s World, and strive for God’s Peace
        • But sometimes that work is in here with and among one another – reminding one another of the power and presence of God’s love and hope in the midst of whatever storms we’re facing. Sometimes that work is in here, reminding each other that we’re not alone.
        • Scholar: The fractious church’s need to hear grace notes and exhortations on the themes of unity and diversity is acute, as is its hunger for doxology and direction. The human community is in desperate need of communities of faith where belief and practice are congruous. [This text] lies at the heart of an expansive vision for Christian community.[4]
  • Important point to make in this discussion of teamwork and Christian community → unite ≠ uniformity
    • It’s clear in our text that Paul is not advocating for sameness within the body of Christ. He’s not calling for assimilation. Paul makes it abundantly clear that there is room for all sorts in this beautiful, mixed-up, wacky body of Christ. – text: Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. … He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.[5]
      • Gr. “unity” = not a word that means homogeny but harmony, implies the mixing and uplifting and cherishing of many different contributions to one cohesive whole[6]
        • Harmony in a song = all the beautiful notes that make up a chord → lots of different notes, lots of different chords and variations on chords, but the beauty simply wouldn’t be without the variety … without the differences
        • Harmony in a dish = all the different flavors and textures that make something delicious → Think of a taco! The best tacos have the spiciness of the meat, the coolness of an avocado or sour cream or crema of some sort, the crunch of the shell or the lettuce, the smoothness of some black beans, the sweetness and sourness of a squirt of lime. A taco with one single flavor or one single texture would just be … blah! You need all those different elements to make it amazing.
        • Imagine harmony within the teams of voyageurs that made their way through the wilderness
          • Someone to act as the navigator/guide
          • A few of them hunted for various pelts as well as the food they’d need while they were out in the wilderness together
          • A few of them to clean the skins and prepare them for transport
          • Someone to cook the food that sustained them throughout their journey
          • Someone to communicate and trade with the First Nations and Native American people they encountered
          • For each endeavor into the wilderness to be successful, they needed to include a lot of individuals with many different gifts and skills. But when it came down to the work of the voyage itself, they all needed to portage and paddle the canoes together. – from Lyons’ reflection: Paddling a [twenty-six-foot-long North Canoe] alone would be difficult, if not impossible, but teaming up proves that working together makes the job easier and more rewarding. → Friends, traveling this path of faith in this day in age is difficult if not impossible alone. But when we team up as the body of Christ together, we can make the job easier and more rewarding. And as the future stretches out before this congregation, the idea of teamwork makes me wonder: What can we do together? Where is God calling us together? What amazing things does God have in store for us together? Amen.


[1] Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer. America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2019), 216.

[2] Eph 4:2-4, 12-13a, 15-16a.

[3] G. Porter Taylor. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Ephesians 4:1-16 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 306.

[4] Richard F. Ward. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Ephesians 4:1-16 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 303.

[5] Eph 4:2b-3, 11.

[6] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: