Sunday’s sermon: Happy Light, Blessed Salt

Text used – Matthew 5:1-20

  • I actually want to do something a little bit different this morning (surprise, surprise … right?) I want to bookend this morning’s sermon with our hymn, so to start off with, we’re going to sing the hymn that’s listed after our “Exploring the Word Together” time – #401, “Here in This Place.”[1]

  • So I wanted to start the sermon with this hymn this morning for a few reasons.
    • FIRST, much of the language as well as the theme of the hymn come straight from our text this morning à doesn’t necessarily overtly quote direct passages from Mt 5, but the wording is there
    • ALSO, it basically preaches my sermon for me this morning! → So I wanted you to have the words in your ear and your head and your heart before we even got going this morning. You could even keep your hymnal open or your finger in the page, if you want to.
  • Disclaimer before we start: When we read Scripture on Sunday mornings, we use the Common English Bible.[2]
    • Copyright information listed alongside the passage in your bulletin every week
    • Translation that comes straight from the Hebrew and Greek texts (as opposed to an update of an already-existing English translation) by a committee of dozens of highly respected Biblical scholars
    • Collaboration of various denominations including the Disciples of Christ, the PC(USA), the Episcopal Church, the UCC, and the United Methodist Church
    • So it’s accurate. It’s collaborative. And above all, I think it’s a lot easier to read than even the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version. And 99% of the time, I agree with the translation choices that this committee makes for the text. However, today I don’t. Let me tell you why.
      • Gr. word at the beginning of each of the Beatitudes can certainly be translated as “happy” or even “fortunate” → So it’s an accurate translation. BUT in my opinion, translating that word as “happy” instead of “blessed” strays too easily into the territory of toxic positivity.
        • What is toxic positivity? – brief description from Psychology Today: Toxic positivity is the act of avoiding, suppressing, or rejecting negative emotions or experiences. … Although setting aside difficult emotions is sometimes necessary temporarily, denying negative feelings long term is harmful because it can prevent people from processing their emotions and overcoming their distress. … Positivity only becomes problematic when it functions to reject negative emotions—if someone responded to a disclosure of distress, for example, with “It’s all for the best, “Just try to be positive,” or “Good vibes only!”[3]
  • The situations that Jesus is describing in the Beatitudes aren’t necessarily ideal or easily situations – hopelessness, grief, humility, seeking after righteousness, showing mercy, being pure in heart, making peace, being harassed and insulted. Even the traits that we would think are positive traits – humility, mercy, pureness of heart, and peace – are not easy pursuits. They are traits that we need to cultivate and practice and continue to strive for. And I feel like couching these difficult situations in language as bright and sparkling and laden with expectations as the word “happy” can be might actually be damaging to our experience of faith.
    • Expecting happiness in the face of hopelessness?
    • Expecting happiness in the face of grief?
    • Expecting happiness in the face of insults and harassment and persecution?
    • I don’t think that’s real life. But finding blessing in those moments? That’s a whole other matter.
      • Basic definition of blessing: God’s favor and protection
      • Seeking out God’s favor and protection in the face of hopelessness?
      • Seeking out God’s favor and protection in the face of grief?
      • Seeking out God’s favor and protection in the face of insults and harassment and persecution?
      • Now, to me, that sounds like faith.
        • Brings to mind the writing of Martin Luther King, Jr., especially as we honored his birthday this past week → King’s writings hold nothing back about the injustice, violence, struggle, and oppression that African American faced then and still face today. King names the pain. He names the hatred and brokenness. He names the despair and fear. But at the same time, he holds space for hope and promise and blessing – God’s favor and protection – in the midst of those struggles. He strikes that balance between forcing happiness in the face of entirely unhappy circumstances and still finding blessedness in them.
          • From King’s last essay “A Testament of Hope” (1968 – published posthumously): People are often surprised to learn that I am an optimist. They know how often I have been jailed, how frequently the days and nights have been filled with frustration and sorrow, how bitter and dangerous are my adversaries. They expect these experiences to harden me into a grim and desperate man. … They have no comprehension of the strength that comes from faith in God and man. It is possible for me to falter, but I am profoundly secure in my knowledge that God loves me; he has not worked out a design for our failure. Man has the capacity to do right as well as wrong, and his history is a path upward, not downward.[4] → I don’t hear happiness in that … but I do hear blessedness overflowing!
  • Now, in terms of the way this Scripture reading is usually broken up, I think too often we stop there. We neatly finish up our reading of the Beatitudes, close our Bibles, and call it a day. But I like the way the Narrative Lectionary continues on through the next eight verses as well because these verses give us the “how” to the “what” of the Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes, we find Jesus reassuring people that even in the midst of the difficulties of being human, they can find blessing in faith. In the following verses, Jesus explains to them how and why that blessedness is so important.
    • Text: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.[5] → I saw a post from a fellow clergyperson on social media this week that was lamenting the prevalent slang usage of the term “salty” and how that was making it different for her to write her sermon in this passage.
      • (If you’re not familiar) – slang usage of “salty”[6]: annoyed or upset, especially when this is unreasonable → And while I know that that definition has a negative connotation, the term “salty” is most often used in a teasing manner. If I had a dollar for all the times moms in my circles have used the term “salty” to describe the way their toddler is acting in that moment, I’d be rich! But when those moms say it, they’re not saying it in a mean-spirited or angry way. They’re saying it in that endearing, exhausted, fully honest way that moms talk about their kids with one another.
        • Their “salty” kids are being brazenly independent → testing boundaries, testing their own abilities and limits, testing out different characteristics and elements of personality
        • Their “salty” kids are speaking up (a lot!) and speaking out (a lot!) and making sure their voices and their opinions and their desires are heard (a lot!)
        • Their “salty” kids are keeping them on their toes in all the ways: physically, mentally, emotionally
      • Feel like this definition of “salty” actually fits the passage and our purpose this morning pretty darn well → Jesus is exhorting the people to remember that their purpose is to affect the world around them – to enhance it, to enliven it, to change it.
        • Scholar: Salt, if added in the right amount at the right time in the right way, enlivens and enhances a meal’s other flavors. It brings them out. It makes them themselves, only more so – and the Christian community can and must do the same. We should bring our own flavor to the mix, of course, spicing things up here and there. Then, just as much, we should work to enhance other flavors, enliven other tastes, making the world more savory, more delicious, more beautiful. If we do not, what good are we?[7] → In order to do that – in order to bring about that more delicious and more beautiful world – we have to have the courage and the saltiness to cause some discomfort … to interrupt the status quo … to propose a new way of doing and seeing and being … the drive change.
    • Same with the “light” that Jesus mentions in this passage → Guided by God and our own faith, we have to be willing to shine a light, even on some of the most shadowy, neglected, cobweb-adorned corners of society.
      • Not always easy
      • Not always comfortable
      • Certainly not always a happy prospect … but still, a blessed one
      • Think of how your eyes feel when you turn a light on first thing in the morning. There’s that immediate shock. Sometimes, depending on how bright that light is, there’s even pain. We close our eyes. We shrink away. But we need the light to usher us into the day ahead – so we don’t stub our toes or stumble over an unseen obstacle. Jesus is exhorting the people to remember that a necessary, vital element of their faith is to reveal those parts of life that need to be seen: injustices, failings, misdirections.
    • Jesus’ call to be salt and light = Jesus’ reminder to the people why it’s important – why isn’t essential! – that they endure those challenging situations in which they will find blessedness AND his promise that there is blessedness to be found even in those situations
      • “You will be blessed even in your hopelessness because God will be with you. Others will see your faith enacted in hard times, and you will show them the way.”
      • “You will be blessed even in your grief because God will be with you. Others will see your faith even in the midst of heartbreak and loss, and you will show them the way.”
      • “You will be blessed even in your persecution because God will be with you. Others will see your faith in your determination and fortitude, and you will show them the way.”
      • Hear Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in that last part of our passage
        • Jesus speaks of fulfilling the Law and the Prophets à of bringing fullness and blessing and completeness to what has come before … bringing his own saltiness to the Law and the Prophets, shining a new light on the promises of old
        • Jesus speaks reaching out through our actions and words to live our faith and share it with those around us in ways that are authentic to our experiences but will also bring about change
  • With all that in mind, let’s sing through our hymn again this morning. Listen for the affirmation. Listen for the call. Listen for the blessing … the salt and the light.

[1] Marty Haugen. “Here in This Place” in Glory to God. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), #401.



[4] Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Testament of Hope” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 314.

[5] Mt 5:13-16.


[7] Matthew Myer Boulton. “Matthew 5:13-16 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 82, 84.

Sunday’s sermon: Thirsty Roots

Text used – Matthew 3:1-17

  • As we mentioned in our prayer requests this morning, we’ve had a stark and forceful reminder this week of the power of water. The heavy storms that have brought record rainfall to California have done an incredible amount of damage.
    • Caused sinkholes that have swallowed up cars and destroyed roadways
    • Water level of the Salinas River in central CA has been above flood stage since Friday[1] → river has inundated homes, businesses, and farmlands
    • Flood warnings and evacuation orders issued in a dozen counties all along the coastline[2]
    • Mudslides in northern CA have consumed roads and devastated homes in the same area where, just 5 short yrs. ago, a catastrophic debris flow claimed the lives of 23 people in Montecito
    • More than 24,000 people left without power[3]
    • This intense, heavy rainfall has already claimed the lives of 17 people, and there’s more rain in the forecast this week. And yet, in the midst of all this water-caused devastation, it remains a fact that California is also in the midst of an extreme drought situation. It’s such a startling, compelling illustration of both how vital and how volatile water is in our world and in our lives.
      • Press release put out by the United Nations a little over a year ago (Oct. 2021): Water is increasingly being treated as a mere commodity and even as a financial asset, a UN human rights expert told the UN General Assembly today, undermining the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and the sustainability of the environment. Pedro Arrojo Agudo, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said in a report that trading of water use rights in markets has eroded the notion of water as a common good and the State as a guarantor of the general interest. The UN expert also pointed out that water trading tends to treat the environment as just another user, and not as the basis of life, forcing States to purchase flows for environmental needs, and failing to address the roots of unsustainability … The recent entry of water as a commodity derivative on Wall Street futures markets aggravates the situation by subjecting water to the forces of financial speculation and to risks of speculative bubbles, not taking into account the demands of human rights and the sustainability of ecosystems, he said.[4] → This is where we find ourselves today, friends: living in a world in which the most essential element on the planet – something necessary for all life to survive and thrive – is being used as a weaponized commodity.
        • Water scarcity is a real and imminent danger all around the world → quick Google search for “water as weaponized commodity” yields results listing actions in China, Iraq, the West Bank, Syria, and many other places in which access to clean water for drinking, for sanitation purposes, and for daily living has been restricted or outright denied as a means of punishment and oppression
    • Truly, friends, in our world today, water is power.
  • And today in our worship, we mark the baptism of Jesus – a day drenched in water and Spirit, a day in which we usually wash our own spirits and hearts in the cooling waters of reassurance as we hear John’s words of prophecy and praise … as we hear the equanimity of Jesus’ request to be baptized just like the rest – just like those who came before and just like those who would come after – just like us … as we hear the reverberating echo of God’s praise and acceptance and love: “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”[5] → find all of these things in our passage today, too
    • Begins with John’s call to the people – John’s challenge for the people → John’s words at the very beginning of this passage make clear something that I think in a lot of ways we’ve forgotten in the mainline church today: baptism is a call to and acceptance of a life, a way, a faith.
      • Text: In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” … People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.[6] → here reveals the requisite intent in John’s call
        • Gr. “change” = repent, feel remorse – written in the imperative form which is not a simple suggestion but a command → John is making it clear that baptism requires a response in our emotions, in our lives, and in our faith. You see, the action of repenting is not just a “one and done” sort of action. The intent of repenting implies expressing regret over our words, actions, and attitudes, yes – saying “sorry,” if you will – but also allowing that regret to shape our words, actions, and attitudes going forward. Someone who repents but then goes right back to saying and doing and being the way they were before has not truly repented.
          • Scholar sheds an interesting light on this: In most church contexts, repentance is associated with guilt. People repent because they want to absolve themselves of the guilt incurred by sins they know they have committed. John’s repentance has little to do with the guilt that causes us to wallow in despair. Repentance for John is an action. John Howard Yoder understand clearly what this repentance looks like: “To repent is not to feel bad, but to think differently.”[7] → It is that call to live differently in the act of baptism that I think we’ve too often forgotten in the mainline church. When we baptize – whether we’re baptizing an infant, an adult, or any age in between – we’re making the promise to live differently and to help the one being baptized live differently. We shouldn’t baptize because Grandma expects it. We shouldn’t baptize because “it’s what we do.” We should baptize because we feel the pull of faith and the overwhelming abundance of grace in our own lives and want to see that lived out.
            • As parents who baptize their kids, we make that promise in regards to how we will raise them
              • Talking about God
              • Making space for God
              • Helping to foster their relationship with God
              • We don’t promise that we’ll have all the answers to the myriad of impossible questions that kids have about God (heck … even I don’t have a lot of those answers!), but we do promise to let those questions deepen our children’s relationship with God as well as our own.
          • Portion of “Theology of Baptism” from the Book of Order: [read from W-3.0402] → The waters of baptism flow abundant and pure, free and refreshing. The waters of baptism engulf us in the grace of God and immerse us in the movement and work of the Holy Spirit. Truly, friends, remember your baptism and be thankful, and know that the Holy Spirit is at work within you.
  • But at the same time, there’s another part of our passage this morning that we don’t normally hear on this Sunday – a part of the passage that brings contention to those reaffirming and holy waters, a part of the passage that reminds us that water and challenge have gone hand-in-hand for as long as humans have sought out the water.
    • Text: Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”[8] → It’s certainly not the only time that Matthew calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees in this gospel account, but it is the first time. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time that it feels so harsh, or maybe it’s because John’s judgment in this passage is juxtaposed with the beauty and acceptance and joy of Jesus’ own baptism just a few lines later. But in actuality, it’s because of that beauty and acceptance and joy that this part of the passage is so important.
      • As we said, John’s call to baptism = call to change our hearts and minds, to truly repent not just in word but in deed and in dedication → It’s a called to a renewed and authentic relationship with God.
      • But we know that throughout Matthew’s gospel narrative, this is a change that the Pharisees and Sadducees refuse to make. They are the quintessential lived example of those who refused to see Christ for who he was and to receive the grace of God when it was literally walking and teaching and loving and breathing in their midst.
        • Important to point out – this is not just about the Pharisees and Sadducees à scholar: The message is not some distorted rejection of Israel, in the form of the Pharisees and Sadducees, as the divine judgment of the gospel. We are included among any who hold the divine call for repentance and new life in disdain or contempt.[9] → John uses the Pharisees and Sadducees as his illustration in that moment because they were there. They were the material he had to work with. And he knew – because he was a prophet, because the Holy Spirit was speaking through him, because he was already being hassled by the Pharisees and Sadducees for his own ministry – that they would not accept the coming Messiah. He knew that their baptisms would just be lip service, not a true and genuine change that seeped into their very souls.
          • John’s imagery = that of an ax and a tree that bears no fruit → And what’s one of the main reasons a plant – be it tree, tomato, or tulip – bears no fruit? Because it’s lacking the basic necessity of life: water. The roots can’t access the required moisture the plant needs to survive, so first it stops producing the fruit it needs to make more plants. Then, it begins to wither. Eventually, it dies. Though it may be a stark image, friends, our faith is no different. If we can’t let the waters of baptism seep into our very souls – into the core of who we are … if we can’t let those promises and that grace and that call from God effect real and lasting change in our saying and doing and being, then our faith will stop producing fruit and wither.
  • This morning, during worship, we’re going to be remembering our baptisms. As we do so, I invite you to immerse yourself once again in those promises, in that grace, in that call from God. As you feel the coolness of the water on your skin, feel also the wholeness and restoration that God’s grace brings. Feel also God’s pull on your heart, your soul, your life. “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” Alleluia. Amen.



[3] Ibid.


[5] Mt 3:17.

[6] Mt 3:1, 5-6.

[7] Laura C. Sweat. “Matthew 3:1-6 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 34.

[8] Mt 3:7-10.

[9] Dale P. Andrews. “Matthew 3:7-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 41.

Sunday’s sermon: Faith on the Run

Text used – Matthew 2:1-23

  • More than 100 million. Think for a minute. 100 million is a pretty big number for us to try to comprehend.
    • 100 million seconds = 3 years, 2 months, 2 days, 9 hours, 46 minutes and 40 seconds
    • 100 million miles = roughly the distance between Earth and Mars[1]
    • 100 million heartbeats = about 2 yrs. and 4 mos. worth of heartbeats (average heart beats 115,200 times/day)[2]
    • Roughly ⅓ the population of the whole United States[3] and greater than the entire population of most countries including Germany, England, France, and Italy (individually, not collectively)[4]
    • Yeah, it’s hard to wrap our heads around 100 million. But according to the United Nations, as of May 2022, more than 100 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human right violations – what the UN calls “the highest levels of displacement on record.”[5]And according to SOS Children’s Villages, an international organization founded after World War II to provide care and support for children orphaned by war and conflict, children account for more than half of those displaced persons.[6]
      • Devastating not just for the most obvious reason – that these are young, vulnerable, frightened children who have been torn away from everything they know and thrust into a world of uncertainty and the bureaucratic whims of whatever countries they land in à also devastating because (again, according to SOS Children’s Villages) child refugees face incredible risks and dangers including disease, malnutrition, violence, labor exploitation and trafficking
    • And while I know the topic of displaced persons and immigration are a hot topic in America right now – especially with some of the political dealings that have dominated the headlines over the last few days – the vast majority of those 100 million displaced persons around the globe are being hosted by less developed nations – struggling countries in Africa, South America, and Asia[7] taking on the needs and care of their neighbors who have had to flee their homes for fear of their lives and their families lives … lives that have been unalterably turned upside-down, family histories and family paths that have taken a sudden and unexpected turn in a direction they never could have imagined and maybe never would have chosen for themselves had they been given the freedom to do so.
      • Hairpin life-turns that are necessary but no less daunting, dangerous, or desperate because of that necessity
      • A lot like the situations of nearly all of the players in our Scripture reading this morning → Scripture reading that can be separated into 2 parts
        • Story of the Magi visiting the Christ child
        • Story of Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt with the baby Jesus to escape King Herod’s horrific edict
  • Let’s start with the 1st half of the story: Magi visiting the newborn Messiah → Technically within the church calendar, Epiphany – the day we celebrate the coming of the Magi to see this newborn king who was foretold to them in the movements of the stars … technically, Epiphany was Friday (Jan. 6). BUT we’re including it this morning for two reasons.
    • FIRST, most of our nativity scenes having included the Magi in them since we set them out at the beginning of December (or whenever it was that you did your Christmas decorating), so Scripturally speaking, we might as well bring them into the story!
    • SECOND, and certainly more importantly, the Magi play a powerful part in the early part of Jesus’ story.
      • Text itself doesn’t tell us much about the identity of these Magi except that there were more than one of them and that they came “from the East” → traditional interpretation tells us …
        • Magi were learned scholars who studied a mystical, spiritual combination of astronomy and astrology → hence their notice of the star and their deep interest in getting to the bottom of its significance
          • Means they were scholars, not kings (despite the hymn we’re going to sing in a bit)
        • Probably came from the region of Persia and beyond
        • Scholar: The word [magi] … designates a priestly class of Persian or Babylonian experts in the occult, such as astrology and the interpretation of dreams.[8]
    • What the text does tell us = major highlights of their journey
      • First stop on their journey: King Herod’s court → And it’s here that the Magi make their fatal mistake – text: They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”[9] → So to understand why this phrasing creates such a tidal wave of horror and violence, we need to understand more about Herod.
        • Scholar: The historical Herod the Great was an Idumean (one from the land of Edom, historically the region south of Judea[10]) who, backed by Rome, had established himself as king by military conquest of his “own” people. The populace, who wanted a king with Jewish blood who was not beholden to the Romans, resented his rule.[11] → So Herod was a king who himself cowtowed to the Roman occupiers – a man of the region but not actually one of the people of Israel. He was a non-Jew ruling over a nation of Jews in a position that was tenuous at best. And here come these magi asking about “the king of the Jews” – a phrase that would surely have set Herod’s political heart racing with fear and frustration.
      • Herod extracts information from the magi about what they’ve seen, how they’ve interpreted it, and where they’re going next, then requests that they report back to him “so [he] too may go and honor [the child]”[12] → Of course, Herod’s true horrific and evil intentions are revealed in the second part of our reading.
      • Magi continue on their journey → find the child with Mary and Joseph → fall to their knees to pay homage to this newborn king → give him their gifts
        • Scholar: The order of actions, homage first and gifts second, is significant. Gift giving can be a way of controlling others. If the first thing the magi do is present their gifts, then it might seem that they are in command of the situation. … That is not the case with the magi. They express their relationship to Christ by kneeling and [paying] homage to him. First, homage. First, worship. First, giving themselves utterly and completely to Christ. Then, offering their regal gifts. It turns out the magi’s fourth gift, paying homage to Christ, is in fact their first gift.[13]
      • Following this action (wrapping up the magi’s part in the story) – text: Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.[14] → Despite their instructions … despite their own previous expectations … despite the possibility that the road that led them back to Herod’s court might have been easier and would have certainly involved a lavish place to rest and refresh themselves before they continued on their return journey home, the Magi followed a different path – God’s path. After their encounter with this “newborn king of the Jews,” their path was forever altered. The change was sudden and unexpected, and it surely took them through lands and lives they weren’t anticipating. But still, they followed.
  • 2nd half of the story = Herod’s reaction → section that many Bibles subtitle “The Escape to Egypt” and “The Massacre of the Infants” or “The Slaughter of the Innocents” or “The Murder of the Bethlehem Children” … not exactly a reaffirming passage → This is where we hear the rest of Herod’s story – horrific, evil intentions and all.
    • God appears to Joseph in a dream (again) and warns him to flee with his family to Egypt “for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.”[15] → Joseph and Mary get up in the middle of the night and leave for Egypt with Jesus where they stayed “until Herod died”[16]
    • Meanwhile, Herod learns that the magi have circumvented him and he is furious → sends soldiers to kill all the children under the age of 2 living in Bethlehem and the surrounding territory
      • Scripture: This fulfilled the words spoken through Jeremiah the prophet: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and much grieving. Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were no more.[17] → referencing Jer 31:15, though the fact that this horror had been foretold is of little comfort in the face of such blatant and mighty evil
        • Scholar speaks to the harshness and abruptness of this passage, especially now: Immediately following Christmas, this text comes as a severe jolt. The peace and joy of Christmas give way almost immediately to fear, impending danger, and horrific violence. … Juxtaposing this text with the nativity jerks us out of the coziness and merriment of the season, and brings us face to face with the reality of evil and with the danger and violence of this world in which we live and which the Son of God has entered.[18] → This is the danger and violent reality encountered by so many families and so many children around the world today as they are forcibly displaced from their homes. We can feel our hearts tug and our eyes well up as we hear this passage read – as we take in the abject injustice of Herod’s atrocity – but until we open our eyes and recognize that the same atrocities (and even worse!) are happening all around the world today – to individuals and families and children who are just trying to live their lives in the same way that Joseph and Mary and Jesus were … until our hearts break over that injustice as it happens in our midst today, we cannot in good faith be so outraged by Herod’s actions in our text today.
          • Horrible actions? Yes.
          • Actions that unalterably changed the lives and paths of thousands? Yes.
          • Did the Messiah overcome these horrific actions to bring about the love and kingdom of God anyway? Yes. → And friends, that is the good news. But it is good news that comes with a call – an immediate, insistent call that compels us not to hunker down in our faith, not to wrap it around us like a blanket fort to shield us from the outside world, not to close our eyes and our ears and our hearts to the suffering of others, but to boldly and purposefully follow the unexpected road that God lays out in front of us – the road that leads to change. Because our faith is a faith that moves, friends, not a faith that stands still. And we must move with it.
            • Close with the reverse Prayer of St. Francis[19] (author unknown):

Lord, make me a channel of disturbance.

Where there is apathy, let me provoke;

Where there is compliance, let me bring questioning;

Where there is silence, may I be a voice.

Where there is too much comfort and too little action, grant disruption;

Where there are doors closed and hearts locked,

Grant the willingness to listen.

When laws dictate and pain is overlooked…

When tradition speaks louder than need…

Grant that I may seek rather to do justice than to talk about it;

Disturb us, O Lord.

To be with, as well as for, the alienated;

To love the unlovable as well as the lovely;

Lord, make me a channel of disturbance. Amen.








[8] M. Eugene Boring. ”The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 140, 142.

[9] Mt 2:2 (emphasis added).


[11] Boring, 142 (with inserted reference, see FN 10).

[12] Mt 2:8.

[13] Thomas H. Troeger. “Epiphany of the Lord – Matthew 2:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 217.

[14] Mt 2:12.

[15] Mt 2:13.

[16] Mt 2:15.

[17] Mt 2:17-18.

[18] Ruthanna B. Hooke. “First Sunday after Christmas – Matthew 2:13-23” in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 36-37.