Sunday’s sermon: When the Perfect Comes

when the perfect comes

Text used – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13



  • [READ SONNET 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning]

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

  • Ahhhh … love. How much ink, throughout the centuries, has been spilled trying to capture and describe and do justice to love? How many poems? How many songs? How many plays? How many artists have tried to capture the illusiveness of love in paint … in sketch … in sculpture … in any and every artistic medium humankind has ever used? And yet, have you ever encountered something – any type of artform – that truly made you say with absolutely certainty, “Yes. That’s it. That captures everything I’ve ever known and felt and believed and hoped about love in its entirety. That says it all. That’s perfect”? No? Hmmmm.
    • Love = elusive topic throughout the centuries
    • Love = difficult topic → lots of challenges and complexities and gossamer hopes and broken dreams wrapped up in all our experiences of love
    • Just the different words that we use for love – in English and in all the different languages spoken in the world today – reveal just how complicated and varying and yet positively and inescapably central the act of loving and being loved is to the human experience.
      • Fascinating article (World Economic Forum) – “The world’s languages contain 14 different kinds of love, research has found”[1] → types of love span everything from romantic love to familial love, from love you have for a place to that first inkling of love when you meet someone new (“love at first sight,” if you will), from love of self to love of other to love of the divine → Clearly, we humans were created to love – to seek love, to give love, to receive love in many wide and varied forms. Created to love … and yet, after centuries – after millennia! – we’re still working on getting it right. On getting it perfect.
  • And into that fabulous and frenetic fray, we add today’s Scripture reading – The Love Passage, right? The passage you’ve probably heard at more weddings than you can count – Paul’s description of love.
    • Picture it being read at a wedding in your mind right now (maybe even remember it being read at your own wedding)
      • Couple standing across from one another
      • Maybe holding hands
      • Maybe gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes
      • Maybe sharing a sweet, intimate smile
      • Maybe stealing a glance at loved ones in attendance, taking a moment to appreciate all the people who’ve come to show the couple their own love that day
      • It’s a moment dripping with affection and adoration and possibility. And we have to admit that Paul has some pretty good advice for anyone entering into a loving relationship, right? – text: Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.[2] → I would say this advice is about as good as it gets, no matter what phase in the relationship you’re in or what kind of relationship you’re thinking about.
        • Good advice for romantic couples
        • Good advice for parents and children
        • Good advice for friends
        • Good advice for coworkers
        • Good advice for neighbors
  • BUT … I want us to take a step back from this dewy-eyed, romantic vision of love for a moment so we can dig into the realer, deeper meaning in Paul’s words this morning. → Paul’s understanding of love in this passage is much less sweet and sentimental and much more radical and revolutionary
    • First: context
      • Talked last week about the Christian community in Corinth to which Paul is writing
        • Community of extremes: very rich and very poor, higher-ups in society as well as lower classes, Jews and Gentiles, people from various cultures, citizens of the Roman empire (high prestige) and non-citizens alike
        • Because of those extremes → community that swiftly became divided – fractured into lots of smaller groups/factions within the church
        • So it’s into this tension and unease and in-fighting that Paul is speaking these words about how to love.
          • Important point: Gr. for “love” throughout this passage = agape → selfless, altruistic, lift-up-the-other, your-good-above-my-good kind of love
      • So Paul is imploring the people of Corinth to overcome whatever silly, insignificant boundaries have been put up between themselves and love each other. Paul is enveloping this bickering, divided community in his words and saying, “Whatever you’re doing – no matter what it is – doesn’t count for anything if honest love, selfless love is not a part of it. So get over it. Get along. And love one another.”
        • Hearkens back to Jesus’ directive in Mt’s gospel to love your enemies: You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.[3]
      • Lead to other important contextual element: Corinth was, indeed, a Roman city – a proud and dutiful part of the Roman empire → And being part of the Roman empire came with the expectation that you would put your loyalty – your community love – first and foremost in Rome. There should be nothing else. No other allegiance. No other devotion. And yet here’s Paul advocating for love to be the driving force – not loyalty, not duty, not nationalism or patriotism, certainly not allegiance to the Roman empire! – but a self-giving, barrier-shattering, other-recognizing kind of love. A Christ-like kind of love. Not a love for Rome, but a love for God and one another as fellow children of God. Devotion to Rome wasn’t even on Paul’s radar.
        • Makes this a radical idea
        • Makes this a revolutionary idea
        • Makes this a dangerous idea → going against the edicts and dominance of Rome never really worked out for anybody
  • Phrase that really caught my eye when I was reading this Scripture → really seems to drive home Paul’s view of love as radical, boundary-crossing, and all-in (probably my new favorite phrase in the whole Bible) – text: When the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end.[4]When the perfect comes.
    • Phrase appears after Paul has been expounding on the plethora of things that love does and how central love is and how steadfast and lasting love is – text: Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. [5] → When the perfect comes.
      • Gr. “perfect” = fabulous word – rich with meaning: brought to completion, fully developed/achieved, full grown, without shortcomings, having purpose, whole → This all-encompassing, all-surpassing, all-fulfilling kind of love is coming. A whole love. A complete love. A perfect love. A truly perfect love. And it’s not coming with the next changing of the Roman centurion guard. It’s not coming with the next visit Paul makes to Corinth. It’s not even coming in the reconciliation and relationship-building that Paul desires for the Corinthian church. This kind of whole and purposeful love can only come from one source: from God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
        • This is the kind of love that God has for us
        • This is the kind of love that Jesus embodied for us – the kind of love that ate with sinners and outcasts, went to the cross, shattered death, and left that finite tomb empty and irrelevant
        • This is the kind of love that the Holy Spirit kindles within us
        • A love that never fails
        • A love that remains
        • A love that eclipses even those pillars of the Church: faith and hope – text: Now faith, hope, and love remain – these three things – and the greatest of these is love.[6]
    • Radical nature of this love is that it’s already a part of the fabric of our being as children of God and yet it is coming still → When the perfect comes. When that love comes – that perfect, all-encompassing, whole love – we will know love like we have never known it before … like we’ve never even dreamed of it
      • Radical because no matter how hard we try, we know that “perfect” is not the way we love one another
      • Radical because knowing that that kind of love exists begs the question of us: What can I do to live into this love until the perfect comes?
    • Just like the Corinthian church, we sometimes need a bit of a wake-up call – a reminder to practice love for one another even (and especially) in the hard times. Love that is kind and hopeful, patient and trustworthy, humble and forgiving. And in the face of all that we are dealing with right now, couldn’t we use a little bit more of that? Couldn’t we use more love? Amen.

[1] Tim Lomas. “The world’s languages contain 14 different kinds of love, research has found” from World Economic Forum website: Posted Feb. 14, 2018, accessed May 16, 2020.

[2] 1 Cor 13:4-7.

[3] Mt 5:43-44.

[4] 1 Cor 13:10.

[5] 1 Cor 13:8-10.

[6] 1 Cor 13:13.

Sunday’s sermon: Pieces of the Puzzle

Where Oliver Fits

Text used – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18



  • So we have this book that we love to read at our house. It’s a fabulous children’s book called Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson.[1] → story about a little puzzle piece named Oliver who’s looking for his perfect place
    • Oliver has big dreams → can’t wait to be part of the bigger picture: “something exciting, something wild, something out of this world!”
    • But poor little Oliver is having trouble finding his fit.
      • Tries a bunch of different places → gets turned away every time (and turned away pretty harshly and roughly!) → Different groups of puzzle pieces who have already found their fit together waste no time telling Oliver all the ways he doesn’t fit: “Too much blue! Not enough red! … Too round! Not enough square! … Too tall. Too short. Too pointy. Too bulky. Not right. All wrong!”
      • Finally, Oliver gets fed up! → in an attempt to find his fit sooner rather than later, Oliver tries to change himself
        • Change his shape
        • Change his color
        • Eventually alters himself so much that he’s completely hidden behind everything → Not a bit of the real Oliver is visible. He changes everything about himself to fit into a space that looks nothing like his real self. But in this altered state, he fits … sort of.
      • Over time, Oliver realizes this fit he’s forced himself into isn’t right either → It isn’t as perfect as Oliver hoped it would be because even as he himself finally fits into a space (a space … not necessarily his space), he watches all the other pieces around him continue to turn away other pieces that are just trying to fit in, jeering and ridiculing them just like they teased Oliver himself.
    • And y’all, the church in Corinth – the congregation that Paul sent this letter to – was in a pretty similar situation. Paul wrote to Corinth because the church was splintering apart, putting up walls and setting troublesome and arbitrary distinctions between one subgroup in the congregation and another.
      • Finger pointing
      • Labeling
      • Nitpicking
      • Excluding
    • So Paul sent this letter, trying to bring unity … trying to bring togetherness into a fragmented church … trying to lift up the church as a whole and remind them, not of the things that separate them, but the ultimate thing that brings them together: their faith in God through Jesus Christ.
  • Now, before we dive into our Scripture reading itself, let’s talk about Corinth as a city.
    • Large city not too far from Athens
    • Diverse city
      • Lots of commerce
      • Lots of cultures
      • Lots of religions
      • Lots of artists
    • City of extremes
      • A few exceptionally rich citizens and lots of poor citizens
      • Transitory city → lots of people who were doing everything they could to climb the socioeconomic ladder → Corinth was a middle rung on that ladder
      • Ancient historians: known as “Sin City” of the ancient world
    • Corinthian church sort of reflected this city personality – see that in Paul’s words in our text this morning: Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. … Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other.[2] → Leave it to Paul to not beat around the bush. He sees a problem within the Corinthian church, and he calls it out. Plain and simple. “You’re fighting with each other.” Bam.
      • Goes on to detail some of the ways that they’re putting barriers up between one another → namely who they were baptized by/who they “belong to”
        • Even gets a little bit of a dig in – text: Thank God I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name![3]
        • Just like those groups of puzzle pieces in the story à all about enforcing the parameters of whatever little clique they’ve created … all about deciding who’s “good enough” and who’s not
  • And if we’re honest with ourselves, the church today is not really all the different from that ancient Corinthian church, is it?
    • Ways we create divisions amongst ourselves
      • Denominationally
      • Progressive vs. fundamental
      • Traditional vs. contemporary
      • Size delineation (I like to call this the “Grouchy Ladybug” delineation because churches either say to themselves or say to other churches, “You’re not big enough!” Not big enough for this program or that … not big enough for this mission or that … not big enough for whatever.)
    • There are a thousand different ways we draw lines and portion out the body of Christ today, aren’t there? But just because “that’s what we do” doesn’t mean that’s what we should do.
      • Scholar gets at the heart of this: It can happen that we become so accustomed to a divided church that we simply accept the situation. We have always known a divided church, and we are not shocked or dismayed because that is the way things are. Paul will not let the Corinthians or us be satisfied with the church in its divided condition. There may be no quick solution to the problem, but there can be no casual acceptance of it.[4]
  • So let’s revisit Oliver and the rest of his story
    • That new space that Oliver had found – you know, the one where he had to change everything about himself to “fit in” – still wasn’t right. → finally comes to the realization that if he can’t be himself, whatever fit he’s found isn’t the right fit for him → sheds his disguise (to the scorn and consternation of the pieces around him) and strikes out on his own again
      • Glad to be himself again BUT also finds himself alone again → returns to his worries that he’ll never find his fit: “How can I be part of something exciting, wild or out of this world if it’s just me?”
    • BUT as he’s wandering alone, Oliver finds a few other pieces who have also been trying their darnedest to fit in – even trying to alter their appearances (just like he did!) to fit into a place, any place. → with those pieces, Oliver finds his perfect fit → “Oliver discovered that you can’t rush or force your fit. All you can do is be yourself! Your fit will find you. And it will feel … PERFECT!”
  • Friends, this is what Paul is getting at here!
    • Promotes togetherness right off the bat: Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose.[5]
      • Very cyclical phrasing in Gr. – “don’t be divided into rival groups” = literally “no schisms/splits” and “be restored” = literally “be mended” → So Paul is both recognizing the tears in the fabric of the Corinthians’ church life and imploring them to stitch up those tears in the name of Christ.
    • Later puts the importance of that reconciliation into theological context – text: Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.[6] → Paul is reminding the church in Corinth about their “ultimate why” – their purpose for being the Church in the first place. It’s not about them. It’s not about who brought them to the faith. It’s not even about who started the church in which they are now squabbling (Paul himself!). It’s about God and what God did for them through Jesus Christ.
  • It is this message – all of the love and grace and openness and acceptance and wide-armed welcome that Christ rained down from the cross – that makes the church the Church. It’s this message that opens the doors and erases the lines. It’s this message the lets us all gather together to lift up the same prayers and share the same bread and cup and join our voices in praise and thanksgiving. It’s not about keeps us apart. It’s about what unites us: Grace. Unconditional love. Jesus Christ. And a God who was willing to give it all up for us on the cross. That’s why, every time we come to the table for communion, I say what I do: “No matter who you are … no matter where you come from … no matter what you bring with you … you are welcome at this table and in this community.” God has made a place for you – just for you – and that is what matters. And for that, we welcome you and we love you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Cale Atkinson. Where Oliver Fits. (New York, NY: Tundra Books), 2017.

[2] 1 Cor 1:10a, 11.

[3] 1 Cor 1:14-15.

[4] Harry B. Adams. “Third Sunday After the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Homiletical Perspecitve” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 280.

[5] 1 Cor 1:10.

[6] 1 Cor 1:17-18.

Sunday’s sermon: United in Every Time and Place

00-Communion Sunday

Text used – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10



  • Is anyone else getting weary?
    • Getting tired of working or schooling from home
    • Getting tired of the inside of your own house
    • Getting tired of the weightiness that comes with the latest headlines and the latest recommendations and the latest statistics that come out day after day
    • Getting tired of the disconnectedness and the isolation and the uncertainty
    • Yeah, friends. Me, too. The “long haul” nature of this is overwhelming, and I think we’re all really starting to feel it on a soul-deep level.
  • And yet, friends, we get to gather together today for at least a hint of normalcy when we come around this table – the communion table, Christ’s table. Yes, we’re all coming from different places and bringing different elements, but we are still here. We are still speaking the words we have spoken over and over again – words that are ancient and saturated with history and meaning. We are still renewing our souls and our faith and our commitment to God’s work in our world. And we are still together – in relationship, in community, in hope and in love. So today, all, we’re going to celebrate. We’re going to rejoice in our togetherness. We’re going to rejoice in the community that we experience both here and afar. We’re going to rejoice in bread and wine, in crackers and juice, in bagels and tortillas and water and tea and whatever else we bring to this table not because of what we bring but because of who calls us here: Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior, risen and sacred and whole.
    • Book of Order (in “Theology of the Lord’s Supper”): When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place. We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God. We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.[1] → We’re going to work our way through this description and our Scripture reading as we celebrate this morning.
  • Before we dive deeper into this description, let’s talk a little bit about our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Thessalonica as a place[2]
      • Still a city you can visit today → located in Greece on the northern tip of the Aegean Sea
      • Large commercial and cultic center within the Roman Empire = lots of people, lots of money changing hands, lots of different religions … all crashing together in one city
      • It was also a city that was staunchly loyal to the Roman Empire which meant that even though Paul visited and established his church sometime between 41-54 C.E., most of the inhabitants probably saw the new Christian’s loyalty to Jesus as weakening the city’s support for Rome. → almost certainly led to suffering and persecution for Christians in Thessalonica at the hands of neighbors, family, friends
    • 1 Thessalonians as Scripture[3]
      • Written by Paul
      • Certainly among the earliest of Paul’s letters (quite possibly the 1st “check-in” letter he wrote to one of his established churches) → probably written around 51 C.E. (just 20 yrs. after Jesus’ death/resurrection)
      • Purpose: after leaving Thessalonica, Paul worried that the congregation’s anxiety and troubles would cause them to default – to abandon faith – so Paul wrote this letter of encouragement
        • Scholar: This letter is one of the most intimate in the [New Testament], full of love, prayer, thanksgiving, and images of the Christian family. Clearly, Paul uses it to renew his relationship with them. Above all, he exhorts them to remain faithful to Christ and to the Christian community under trying circumstances. He encourages the community to continue in love for each other and in faithful labor. [4] → Sound familiar, friends? Is that circumstance ringing any bells? Is it speaking to where you feel we are today? Because it is for me. I think we can be fairly sure that Paul’s words spoke powerfully to those in Thessalonica who received them nearly 2000 years ago … but they also continue speak powerfully to us today, especially with what we are going through as a church … as a nation … as the human family today.
  • Back to Book of Order description – 1st sentence: “When we gather at the Lord’s Supper the Spirit draws us into Christ’s presence and unites with the Church in every time and place.” → That’s what we’ve been working so hard to do since we started worshiping virtually 6 weeks ago. That’s what Paul was trying to do by sending this letter and all his other letters to churches that he had established and then had to leave – unite with them in every time and place. Nurture those relationships. Continue to building that community. Encourage faith near and far.
    • Text: Brothers and sisters, you are loved by God, and we know that he has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit with deep conviction.[5] → Notice, friends, that it isn’t Paul’s spirit … it isn’t Paul’s effort … it isn’t Paul’s faith that is lauded and praised here. It is God’s Spirit … it is God’s effort in love and power … it is God’s faith in choosing the people of Thessalonica. Paul makes it clear from the get-go that it is through the goodness and grace and love of God that Christian community is built and nurtured and sustained.
      • Same Spirit that draws us to the table to celebrate
      • Same Spirit that rejoices when we come back to God again and again
      • Same Spirit that unites us in every time and place, making all spaces where we worship – together or apart – holy spaces
  • 2nd sentence: “We join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth in offering thanksgiving to the triune God.” → WHY we come!
    • Paul praises both the faithfulness and the evangelism of the Thessalonians: You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread.[6] → Paul is singing the praises of the Thessalonians church! He is commending them for their faithfulness, giving his own thanks for their continued thanksgiving and praise that they’ve given to God through their worship, through their prayer, through their sharing the gospel message … even in hard times, even in lean times, even in times of suffering and fear. The gospel lived in them, and they joined their voices with all those who had declared the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection – “the message about the Lord rang out from them!”
      • Why we come to worship (even in this strange and compartmentalized way in which we come today)
      • Why we come to the table, bringing all the crazy bits of our days … the crazy bits of our hearts … the crazy bits of our own meals to this Grand Feast → to join with each other and everyone else around the world who is doing this exact thing today, to join in giving our thanks and praise to God – not alone and in isolation – but together
  • 3rd sentence: “We reaffirm the promises of our baptism and recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.”
    • Declared loud and clear at both the beginning and end of today’s reading – text: We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father. … People tell us about what sort of welcome we had from you and how you turned to God from idols. As a result, you are serving the living and true God.[7] → Paul is reaffirming their faith. Paul is praising their love and commitment and work for the Lord. Paul is acknowledging their hospitality and how that welcome – those actions of their hands and hearts – speaks the word of God just as clearly to one another and to their neighbors.
      • That was their call almost 2000 yrs. ago
      • This remains our call today → what we come to do every time we come to this table together
        • Reaffirm our faith
        • Recommit ourselves to God and God’s work in the world
        • Renew our bodies and our spirits for that work
        • Out of messiness … out of suffering … out of weariness … out of pain … out of frustration … out of discouragement … out of fear … out of hopelessness … out of anxiety … WE. COME. Every time. All times. Especially this time. And we don’t come to forget those things or to escape those things or to pretend for 10 minutes that those things don’t exist. We come to redeem those things – to bring them to God to be taken up in the arms of the Savior who carries them a whole lot better than we do, to be saturated in the overwhelming and abundant grace that renews us and makes us whole and frees us to live as people connected and loving once again. We come to this table of love because it was God that love us first and fiercest, and we depart from this table of love ready to share that love with the world. And there are no limits – geographical, virtual, immunological, or otherwise – to that love. Thanks be to God! Amen.


[1] “Theology of the Lord’s Supper” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Part II – Book of Order, 2019-2021. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly), W-3.0409.

[2] Abraham Smith. ”The First Letter to the Thessalonians – Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 673-685.

[3] Love L. Sechrest. “1 Thessalonians – Introduction” in The CEB Study Bible. (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2013), 388-390 NT.

[4] Love, 390 NT.

[5] 1 Thess 1:4-5a.

[6] 1 Thess 1:6-8a.

[7] 1 Thess 1:2-3, 9.

Sunday’s sermon: In Between Living

in between

Text used – Acts 1:1-14



  • Most of the time, “in between” isn’t really a very fun place to be, is it?
    • Inconvenience of being in between sizes in everything from shoes to pants to dresses to any other item of clothing
    • Discomfort of being in between two people who are arguing – getting caught in the middle of someone else’s fight (a fight that often doesn’t even pertain to you at all)
    • Fear and stress that comes with being in between jobs, uncertain about what the future holds
    • Remember the exasperation of being the kid in between two others in that most-frustrating of all childhood games: Pickle in the Middle? (Or Monkey in the Middle or Keep Away, depending on where you grew up)
    • Yeah … being “in between” can be a pain. It can be stressful. It can be aggravating. It can be uncomfortable. Or it can be, well, sort of boring. That time in between books or in between tasks or in between one big event and another can feel a little … blah. It can feel like it isn’t really “real time,” like it’s just saving space between one period of “real time” and another. I think it’s pretty safe to say that “in between” isn’t usually our favorite place to be.
  • And yet “in between” is exactly where we find the disciples in our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Set up
      • Reminder that gospel of Lk and Acts were written by the same author as a set → Acts = continuation of the story from Luke (gospel sequel, if you will)
      • With that in mind, the set-up for today’s Scripture reading is actually the end of Luke.
        • Jesus has been resurrected → encountered the women at the empty tomb (the myrrhbearers, from last week’s service!)[1]
        • Road to Emmaus story → Jesus encounters two (unnamed) disciples walking on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem → disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they stop and eat together (break bread together) → once they recognize Jesus, he disappears[2]
        • Jesus finally appears to all the disciples together[3] → eats with them → gives them some explanation (recalling words of OT prophets) and a commission: “A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”[4]
        • Final bit = short (4-verse) account of Jesus’ ascension → This is the part that clearly leads into our reading for this morning – a reading that’s a more fleshed out version of that same encounter.
    • A little bit of recap from Lk – text: After his suffering, [Jesus] showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. [5]
    • But then we get the fuller account of Jesus’ ascension … and it is quite the story! – text: After Jesus said these things, as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him to into heaven.”[6] → Okay … is it just me, or does this read just a little bit like a comedy sketch?? Jesus is just hanging out with the disciples, then suddenly a cloud comes down, whisks him up into heaven, and while the disciples are standing there, craning their necks and watching him go, a couple of strangers in white walk up and go, “Hey … whatchya lookin’ at?” I mean, it’s odd, right? It’s just … odd!
      • But then into that odd and awkward moment, messengers of God speak words of reassurance and promise: Jesus will → promise that comes with other promises attached
        • Promise of God’s steadfastness
        • Promise of God’s continued blessing
        • Promise of God’s hope
        • Think about it. Would Jesus bother coming back to a place that God had written off as a lost cause? Would Jesus bother coming back if God didn’t have confidence in the work that the disciples – all disciples throughout the ages – would do? Somehow I doubt it.
    • Taking heart in the words of these messengers, disciples return to Jerusalem – text: When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son – all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.[7] → And this all sounds well and good. It sounds peaceful. It sounds faithful. And it is! But still … all of a sudden, once again, the disciples are unexpected and unwittingly thrown into yet another “in between” time.
      • 1st in between time = time between Jesus’ death and resurrection – a time that they didn’t even know was an “in between” time → They thought that Jesus had been killed once and for all – that his life and ministry were over forever. They were mourning. They were afraid. They were uncertain about what their futures held. But then, just three days later (three days that probably felt like years to Jesus’ followers), they encountered the resurrected Jesus and their “in between” time was over. They had a Teacher again. They had a Savior again. They had a leader and a purpose and a plan again … until today. Then just like that …
        • Savior gone again
        • Plan-less again
        • Thrust back into “in between” time → And Jesus doesn’t give them much help with this. – remember Jesus’ words from Lk: “You are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.” → That’s pretty vague. Actually, that’s really That’s maddeningly vague. That’s as vague as it gets!
          • In today’s reading, the disciples even try to get some clarification on this whole “in between” time – text: Those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”[8] → Jesus’ response is – you guessed it! – vague: Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[9] → Vague vague vague vague vague.
    • So we find the disciples in this in between time. And yet what do they do? Do they complain? Do they pace and make contingency plans and start storing up provisions for whatever’s to come? No. They gather together. And they pray. They inhabit that in between time – that frustrating, nebulous time of uncertainty – with devotion and prayer.
  • And y’all, “in between” is exactly where we find ourselves this morning, too.
    • Uncertain about the path that this coronavirus will take
    • Uncertain about ways to combat and protect against this virus
    • Uncertain about how long we will be sheltering in place
    • Uncertain about when “life as usual” will resume again … or what that new “usual” will look like … or what waits for us on the other side of this global situation
    • And it’s hard. This “in between” space is hard. It’s lonely. It’s anxious. It’s so blasted uncertain. And we don’t like uncertainty. And we don’t like fear. And God knows we don’t like waiting … and yet, here we are. And yes, we could be filling the hours and days and weeks of this “in between” time with worry and complaints, with contingency plans and stockpiles of provisions. Or we could take this time and turn it over to God – it and all the difficult and overwhelming emotions that come with it. Because the good news is that God is still with us. God waits with us. God shelters us. God holds us close and gives us hope even in this in between time.
      • Tish Harrison Warren (from Liturgy of the Ordinary): Redemption is crashing into our little stretch of the universe, bit by bit, day by day, mile by coming mile. We have hope because our Lord has promised that [God] is preparing a place for us. We are waiting, but we will make it home.[10] → Indeed, friends. Like it or not, our world is currently an “in between” time world. But our faith is also an “in between” faith – a faith that hopes and trusts in a Savior who loves us and redeems us even while we wait. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Lk 24:1-12.

[2] Lk 24:13-35.

[3] Lk 24:36-49.

[4] Lk 24:47-49.

[5] Acts 1:3-4a.

[6] Acts 1:9-11.

[7] Acts 1:13-14.

[8] Acts 1:6.

[9] Acts 1:7-8.

[10] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 114.

Sunday’s worship service: Sunday of the Myrrhbearers

myrrhbearers 2

This past Sunday, we did something a little different. Instead of a regular service, we explored something from the Eastern Orthodox tradition: the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers. I spent the week putting together a video with Scripture readings, reflections, and a hymn, and thankfully, help with readings and speaking parts from clergy and other church friends around the country. Here’s the result:

The Sunday of the Myrrhbearers is a tradition that comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church and is celebrated on the second Sunday after Easter and for the entire week following that Sunday in the Divine Liturgy. All of the gospels describe a number of people who were directly involved in preparing Jesus’ crucified body for burial and/or discovering the empty tomb on Easter morning. And all of the gospels are in agreement that the majority of these people were, in fact, women. Some name these women. Some just call them “the women.” There are a couple of men among the myrrhbearers as well, namely Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Very often, the texts that speaks of the myrrh-bearers are read on Easter Sunday, but here’s the thing: on Easter Sunday, we are focused on the empty tomb and the good news of a risen Savior and all that that means for our lives and our world. As we should be, seeing as that’s the basis for all of Christianity as a whole! But the texts – all of the gospel crucifixion and resurrections stories – have more to say. So today, we’re going to celebrate the myrrh-bearers and what they bring to the story. We’re going to take the time to focus on an element of that text that can often get overlooked in the face of folded graveclothes and hallelujahs: those who returned … and those who went out.

1st set of readings:

Who will roll the stone away for us?

1st Reflection:

So what’s the first powerful lesson we can learn from the Myrrhbearers? When things got dark and difficult, their devotion to Christ – their faith – remained. There were 12 disciples to had followed Jesus, traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus for years. But where were they? Judas had betrayed Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times, then run away. All the other disciples had fled as they hung Christ on that cross.

But the myrrhbearers stayed. They stayed in the face of the suffering and pain. They stayed in the face of humiliation and shame. They stayed in the midst of utter grief – stayed long enough to water the foot of the cross with their tears, stayed long enough to see Jesus’ broken body taken down from that cross, stayed long enough to begin the ritual preparations before the beginning of the Sabbath.

And not only did they stay, but after the Sabbath, they came back. They returned to that place of grief, of hopelessness, of trauma, thinking not of themselves and their own discomfort and agony, but of what they could still do for their beloved Teacher: give him the ritual preparations and burial that they thought he deserved.

Friends, things in our world are seldom as perfect and rosy and easy as we would like them to be. Our world is broken and flawed because humans are broken and flawed, and sometimes that makes it so incredibly hard to do what needs to be done. We are afraid. We are weary. We are wrung out in body, mind, and soul … just as those myrrhbearers surely were. But their love for Jesus led them to the next step … and the next step … and the next step.

So how do you feel God calling out for your devotion today?

2nd set of readings:

2nd Reflection:

Well, what’s the second powerful lesson we can learn from the Myrrhbearers? They took the good news of the gospel out! They proclaimed a resurrected Christ! They ministered! They didn’t let anything get in their way: fear of repercussions from the Romans who had just crucified their beloved Teacher; the disbelief of others (even some as powerful and influential as Peter); even societal expectations related to their gender and their abilities. Never forget, friends, that the very first people to preach the gospel were women.

There are a lot of things in the world that try to get in the way of us living and sharing our faith. There are a lot of things inside us that try to get in the way of living and sharing our faith. Sometimes we’re afraid. Sometimes we’re uncertain. Sometimes we’re intimidated or we think that we won’t find the right words … the perfect words … the “holy enough” words.

But the women had the words that morning – perfectly right and perfectly simple and perfectly faithful: “Christ is risen!” Sounds like a pretty good place to begin, don’t you think?

Christ is risen!


Sunday’s sermon: Life Interrupted

Women empty tomb

Text used – Mark 16:1-8

  • What a truly perfect gospel text for this topsy turvy Easter, friends. Today’s Scripture reading is a topsy turvy gospel story. It’s a topsy turvy resurrection retelling. No matter how you turn it and twist it around, no matter what angle you approach Mark’s empty tomb from, it doesn’t fit. It feels out of place. It feels raw and vulnerable. It feels abrupt and fragmented. … Sort of like the world right now, right? Truly, friends, this is the perfect Scripture for this day.
  • To start off with = historical context of when Mark’s gospel was written
    • First of the 4 gospels to be written – somewhere around 70 C.E.
      • Consequently used as a source for both Matthew and Luke which were written later
    • Time in which Mk’s gospel was written was a dark and difficult and dangerous time for Christians
      • Falls under the rule of Roman Emperor Nero à time of great persecution for Christians
        • Both Peter and Paul martyred during this period
      • Time that saw Christians meeting for church in their homes for the purpose of safety and security
    • And as I stand here in this empty sanctuary this morning surrounded not by smiling faces and a vibrant Easter memorial garden but by cords and a computer screen and streaming equipment while everyone shelters in at home – for our own safety, for our own security, and to protect those we love and those among us in society who are the most vulnerable in this time of pandemic – I cannot help but feel the fear, the uncertainty, and the isolation that those 1st century Christians must have felt deep down in my bones and my very soul. Because of the disconcerting parallels between our situation and the situation that those early Christians faced, truly, friends, this is the perfect Scripture for this day.
  • Probably the most startling element of Mk’s gospel story is actually what’s missing from this story = JESUS. → In all of the other gospels, we get an encounter with the risen Christ. We get Jesus and Mary in the garden. We get sunrise and light and a vision of hope. We get Jesus’ own words of reassurance and peace: “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[1] We get further interactions with the risen Christ: along the road to Emmaus, on the beach for breakfast, in the upper room, and so on. But Mark is appallingly and frustratingly silent about any such appearances.
    • Only word of good news and resurrection that we get from Mk = from the one waiting for the women in the tomb: “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”[2] → That’s it. Two simple, understated lines. Two short sentences … that changed the entire trajectory of the world. “He has been raised. He isn’t here.”
      • Feels subdued to us
      • Feels anticlimactic
      • Leaves us wanting more – more fanfare, more pomp and circumstance, more razzle dazzle → Frankly, it feels unfinished.
  • So let’s talk about this abrupt, unsatisfying ending to Mark’s Easter story. Let’s wrestle with it a bit. Really, when we compare it to the other 3 gospels in which Jesus appears and speaks with at least one person and interacts with the disciples again and all is well and beautiful, Mark’s swift and sudden full-stop ending – “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”[3] – almost feels like a non-ending … like the ultimate and most aggravating cliffhanger.
    • Quick overview of the multiple endings of Mk
      • As far as scholars can tell, that ending is the original ending → ending that shows up in the oldest (and therefore most authentic) versions we have of the Greek text
      • 2 other endings that tend to be included in Bibles with some heavy footnotes/caveats included
        • Shorter ending = single additional verse in which we get a brief statement about the women sharing the news after all and Jesus sending the disciples out to declare “the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation”[4] → agreed that this is a later addition because the writing style doesn’t match the rest of the gospel
        • Longer ending = 12 whole verses that include multiple appearances by the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene sharing the good news, a much-truncated (single-verse) version of the road to Emmaus story (in which the resurrected Jesus travels with a few unnamed disciples), a commission to take the gospel out into the world, and even a brief ascension scene in which we see Jesus lifted up to heaven → Phew! As you can imagine, scholars aren’t really buying that much longer ending either. They believe it was probably written a good 100 yrs. after the original portion of Mark was because despite being the first gospel written, the stories and experiences in those last 12 verses actually draw on elements from the some of the other gospels. (Which is, of course, historically impossible.)
      • Difficult way to deal with an ending, to be sure → There’s a part of us that doesn’t like the ending of Mark’s gospel, from the young man’s muted pronouncement of the resurrection to the lack of a Jesus appearance to the women fleeing. It makes us cringe and shudder when we read it. It makes us squirm with discomfort. And I think that’s because it hits a little close to home. These women approach the tomb expecting one reality, having one plan … but when they get there, that plan is shattered and they’re confronted with a wholly different and frankly unbelievable reality of an empty tomb and a random stranger and a missing-but-supposedly-risen Savior. And they are terrified. And in their terror, the only reaction that we see is … silence. But really, is that a terrible thing … or is it exactly what we need?
        • Rev. Barbara Kay Lundblad (author, preaching professor, and ordained ELCA minister): Of all the Easter Gospels, Mark’s story invites us to stand where those first trembling witnesses stood. Those three women didn’t see Jesus. Neither do we. They didn’t hear Jesus call their names. Neither do we. They weren’t invited to touch his wounded hands. We haven’t touched Jesus hands either. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are our silent sisters. The narrative is left for us, the readers, to complete.[5]
        • Rev. Serene Jones (theologian, Christian feminist, ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City): God is present not only in the loud hallelujahs and glorious proclamations of a grand, churchly Easter morning … God persists as well in the midst of speechlessness, in death, in the outer regions of our own experiences and of our social lives, where life unfolds underfoot, as it were. Mark gives us a powerful account of God’s good news by giving us these traumatized, determined women as witnesses to God’s truth – it is not just pride or falsehood or arrogance or violent boasting that God redeems. It is also the nether regions of life where we are broken by violence and by love and by the sheer exhaustion of the labor it takes to go on. Here, where we expect to find him dead, the tomb does not hold him, as well. And with often unspoken force, grace abounds.[6] → Truly, friends, this is the perfect Scripture for this day. It is a gospel for an uncertain time. It is a gospel for a worry-strewn moment. It is a gospel for a life interrupted.
  • And friends, here we are. Here we are worshipping in our homes instead of together in community on this Easter morning – the most holy day in the entire church year. Here we are missing one another … missing family … missing friends … missing human interaction … missing normalcy. Here we are anxious and restless and afraid because the world we live in has been turned topsy turvy by the unexpected. Just like those women on that first Easter morning. They fled, yes. They harbored and lived into their fear for a time because that’s what they needed to do. But eventually … eventually … they emerged from that fear. They spoke. They shared their story. They shared their faith. They shared the good news of the gospel – that Christ has died and is risen! They must have … because here we are. That’s the unwritten end to their Mark narrative. What will yours be? Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:10.

[2] Mk 16:6-7.

[3] Mk 16:8b.

[4] Mk 16:9 [shorter ending].

[5] Barbara Kay Lundblad. “Mark 16:1-8: Beyond Fear and Silence” from HuffPost, Posted Apr. 4, 2012, accessed Apr. 10, 2020.

[6] Serene Jones. “Easter Vigil – Mark 16:1-8, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 356.

Sunday’s sermon: Paved with Good Intentions

Palm Sunday 2

Text used – Mark 11:1-11



  • As I was thinking about our Scripture reading this week, the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” kept running through my head, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into that phrase.[1]
    • English proverb with obscure origins → possibly English … possibly French → variations and “first” references spanning from 1640-1855 (I told you the origins were obscure!)
    • Meanings:
      • Importance of not just meaning well but doing well – a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action.
      • Trying to do something good often having unintended consequences which make things worse
    • And here we sit with this week’s Scripture reading – the story of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the cross … a road that’s truly paved with good intentions but a road that leads to darkness and death, humiliation and pain nonetheless. “The importance of not just meaning well but doing well … trying to do good with unintended consequences that make it worse.” Hmmm. Let’s dive into our Scripture reading this morning.
  • Today’s reading = Mark’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem → this is The Palm Sunday text
    • Basics
      • Jesus and the disciples are finally approaching the city of Jerusalem → come to a place called Bethphage at the Mount of Olives (just a couple miles outside of Jerusalem’s walls)
      • Jesus instructs disciples to enter a village to retrieve a colt tied up (which they do) → bring it back to Jesus → toss their cloaks over its back so Jesus can sit on it → start riding this pint-sized donkey into Jerusalem
      • Crowd’s reaction is magnificent: cloaks tossed on the road for the colt to walk on → palm branches hastily cut from the surrounding trees → palm branches tossed on the ground along with the cloaks and waved in the air in celebration and triumph → people all around shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”[2]
      • Can imagine …
        • Throngs of people lining both sides of the road from Bethany into Jerusalem
        • People laughing and clapping
        • Children running around, playing games and laughing and reveling in the festival-like atmosphere – dodging through the crowd and zig-zagging in front of and behind the donkey
      • Procession that makes its way slowly but purposefully all the way up to the Temple → And everything about this procession is significant – what the crowd is doing, what the people are saying, and even the direction that Jesus and the disciples are coming from. There’s a layer of cultural significance here that we don’t really understand today.
        • Scholar: [Jesus] begins at the Mount of Olives, the traditional location from which people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation would begin. … When Jesus does finally enter the city, he enjoys all the trappings of a great military procession for a triumphant national hero. The people participating in the event do everything a victorious military leader would expect. In actions that would have been considered treasonous by the empire, the crowd spreads branches and cloaks before Jesus as a symbol of honor.[3] → The crowds that were surrounding Jesus were expecting a triumphant savior (“savior” with a small “s”) – one who would help them overthrow the oppression of the Roman conquerors and help the people of Israel find freedom again as a nation. For them, that’s what a Messiah was supposed to do and be! And so they greeted Jesus and ushered him into the city as a mighty conquering hero. They were excited about the freedom and deliverance that they were expecting Jesus, the Movement Leader, to bring.
          • Hear it in the crowd’s words: “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”
  • “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
    • Intentions were good
    • Intentions were just
    • Intentions were to honor and celebrate this coming Messiah à just not the Messiah they were expecting
    • But still, their intentions, good though they were, were misplaced. That’s not the kind of Messiah that Jesus came to be. That’s not the kind of freedom that Jesus came to bring. That’s not the kind of deliverance that would come in the wake of this triumphal entry. And so as the week would progress … as the people would realize that Jesus wasn’t raising an army of resistance and calling for armed rebellion … as they began to hear whispers and rumors of the false accusations that the Pharisees were trying to spread about Jesus … their hopes and dreams for political and national freedom began to crumble. And as those hopes and dreams crumbled, so did their intentions.
      • Remember meanings of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”
        • Importance of not just meaning well but doing well – a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action. → The good intentions of this crowd who today are revering and celebrating this coming Messiah will soon deteriorate into cries of, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Their well-intended meaning long since forgotten, and their follow-up actions far from good.
        • Trying to do something good often having unintended consequences which make things worse → The good intentions of this crowd who today is gathering to adore and praise this coming Messiah will soon be turned against them and against Jesus by the Pharisees who will twist this triumphal entry into accusations of Jesus posing as a rebel king and thereby threatening the rule of the Roman Empire – unforeseeable, unintended consequences of the actions of this crowd.
  • Unforeseeable for the crowd … unforeseeable for the disciples … but not unforeseeable for Jesus → Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus knew exactly what was coming. Yes, Jesus knew. So I can’t help but wonder on Palm Sunday morning what Jesus must have been thinking.
    • Thinking about these seemingly-good intentions from the crowd
    • Thinking about all the pomp and circumstance
    • Thinking about what the disciples were doing and saying and thinking in the midst of all of this
    • Seeing through the joy and exuberance of the day
    • Seeing the darkness hovering around the edges of the bright and colorful celebration, just waiting to seep in and steal it all away
    • Seeing the hill looming behind the city and knowing exactly what that hill would hold in just a few short days
    • I imagine that for Jesus, it may have felt like living in a bubble – like everything around you is both hyper-real and completely unreal at the same time … like the world has turned upside-down, but you’re the only one to notice … like you’re holding your breath, not sure when the next breath will come, while everyone around you is gulping in great lung-fulls of air … like “normal” for everyone else will never be “normal” for you again.
  • So here we are. On Palm Sunday morning. Sheltering in place in our homes. Trying to worship together. Trying to find community in the midst of this pandemic. Trying to find light in this darkness. Trying to maintain whatever shred of “normal” we can in the chaos around us – a chaos that is more internal than anything; a chaos that, at least on the outside (in the streets, in the stores, in the “outside” world) is eerily silent. And like Jesus, we’re holding our breath. We’re waiting. We’re anxious. There is darkness around the edges, and we’re just trying to hold it together. Know that you are not alone. Know that Jesus is hunkered down there with you. Be assured in God’s familiarity with confusion and chaos (especially the kind that lives inside us), and be assured that God’s grace and peace are bigger than any fear we may be facing. Because that’s why Jesus came. That’s why Jesus rode that little donkey into Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus started this whole journey toward the cross. To bring us God’s grace and embody God’s love for us in a way that cannot be overcome by darkness and fear no matter how strong … no matter how prevalent … no matter how many of our good intentions crumble into ashes and dust. Jesus came. Jesus comes. Jesus will come again. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Mk 11:9-10.

[3] Charles L. Campbell. “Sixth Sunday in Lent (Liturgy of the Palms) – Mark 11:1-11, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 155.