Sunday’s sermon: All Things New

Text used – Romans 6:1-11

  • Y’all … I think we may have finally made it to spring in Minnesota!!! (One week before Memorial Day weekend … what people tend to think of as the unofficial start to Sheesh.)
    • Kids had soccer yesterday – their last soccer game of the season – and it was the first game that wasn’t horrible to sit and watch because of the weather
      • Clarification: watching the games themselves has always been fun … the weather we had to endure while watching … not so much
      • Sporting the fruits of that finally-springtime weather in my lovely sunburn right here! → I’m one that’s usually pretty good about making sure I’ve slathered the sunscreen on – on my kids and myself – but clearly I’m out of the habit because it didn’t even cross my mind yesterday.
        • Out of the habit because it’s been SO LONG since we’ve really been able to be out enjoying the beautiful weather!! → Spring has been a long time coming this year. I mean, it felt like we were waiting … and waiting … and waiting for that renewal that comes with green leaves, longer days, and warmer temperatures, right? It felt like things stayed grey and brown and dormant for a long time this year. I felt like we were waiting a long time for that new life to spring forth.
    • And it was hard, wasn’t it? As the cold temperatures continued to drag on … as the snow continued to fall … and those steel-grey, wintery clouds that continued to block out the sun … it was hard. It was hard to wait. It was hard to hope. It was hard to remember that such a thing as “spring” even existed.
      • Started to feel a little bit like we were living in C.S. Lewis’ land of Narnia before the defeat of the White Witch – a land in which it is, by Lewis’ own description “always winter. Always winter and never Christmas.”[1]
      • And yet here we are … finally on the warmer … sunnier … greener side of things, surrounded by new life.
  • Feel the push-and-pull of living with the current reality as well as the desire for new life and what that means in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Paul’s explanation of the crucial nature and meaning of Christ’s resurrection to the Christian church in Rome → wraps life and death and resurrection, sin and grace and mission all together in one theological package → As is his norm, Paul packs a lot of theology into a few verses. So let’s unpack it a bit.
      • Question at the beginning of today’s passage feeds in from what comes before it at the end of ch. 5 (section titled “Grace now rules”): Many people were made righteous through the obedience of one person (Jesus Christ), just as many people were made sinners through the disobedience of one person (implication: Adam). The Law stepped in to amplify the failure, but where sin increased, grace multiplied even more. The result is that grace will rule through God’s righteousness, leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, just as sin ruled in death.[2] → So following this explanation about grace increasing in response to sin – that line about “where sin increased, grace multiplied even more” – Paul then begins our section today with this follow-up question: So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply?[3]
        • Makes sense, right? More grace must be good, so if we follow his logic from the previous section, that means more sinning … right? → Paul is not taking any chances with word choice here – makes his point abundantly clear
          • Gr. “continue” = active sort of word – word that carries connotations of persisting toward a goal → Paul isn’t just talking about the uninvolved ways that we wait for things to happen. This is the kind of continuing that is intentional. Should we intentionally continue to sin?
          • Gr. “multiply” = combination of two words, both of which mean many, much, more, etc. → Should we intentionally continue to sin so that there will be more and more and more grace?
      • But of course, Paul answers his own question – text: Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it?
        • Scholar: The main thrust of chapter 6 is to head off any misunderstandings about the relationship between sin and grace. … Just because the power of grace outstrips the power of sin is no reason to sin. When my son was in preschool, he accidentally spilled an entire cardon of milk on the floor. He was devastated by his mistake. So as I mopped up the floor, I reassured him that everything was going to be just fine. I said, “Look! Now the whole floor is nice and clean!” He turned to me and said brightly, “Hey! Maybe I should spill on the floor more often!” By no means! Just because God in Christ Jesus has the power to make things right is not an invitation to do wrong.[4]
      • So then what does that entail? → Paul continues dialogue about basic tenets of Christian belief
        • Baptized into Christ Jesus
        • Christ died, was buried, and “was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father”[5]
        • Because our baptism binds us to Christ, “we too can walk in newness of life”
          • Expands this idea of “newness of life” → Paul makes it clear that once faith has become a part of who we are, we are changed. – text: This is what we know: the person we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power.[6] → Whoooooo! That is powerful “The person we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin.” It’s a powerful reminder of where that path of following sin leads us: death. Period. Without Christ, this is a death that is The End. → especially powerful when we think about when this passage is most often read
            • Reminder: we’ve been following the Narrative Lectionary for the last 4 yrs. → schedule of Scripture passages that starts again every fall and walks us through the whole story of human salvation from creation in Sept. through the life of Israel, the prophets (Advent – leading up to Christmas), the gospels after the birth of Christ, and through some of the epistles following Easter and the resurrection → However, in the Revised Common Lectionary – a different schedule of texts for each Sunday that’s used widely throughout the Church – this passage from Romans 6 is always scheduled for Holy Saturday … for what’s called Easter Vigil … for that liminal space between the horrific death of Good Friday and the resurrection joy of Easter morning. It is into the uncertainty and desolation and darkness of that waiting that we read this text.
              • Text that brings a glimmer of light into the darkness
              • Text that reminds us why we must sit with those moments of death before moving on to the new life
              • Text that, although it never actually uses the word “hope,” is utterly brimming with hope
  • Hope = theme for the conference that I was at this past week – the Festival of Homiletics: Preaching Hope for a Weary World → And after the last few years that we’ve all had – with COVID and all of the social unrest – one of the threads that kept popping up again and again throughout the various sermons and lectures was the idea of hope anyway.
    • Hope … even though we’ve all been through some stuff
    • Hope … even though the way ahead is uncertain and unclear
    • Hope … even though we are bombarded on every side by negative headline after negative headline
    • Hope … even, and especially, when we don’t feel like there’s any hope left
    • One of the sermons was by Rev. Dr. Will Willimon (retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School, author of over 60 books) → Willimon spoke about the importance of divining false hope vs. true hope
      • Willimon: Hope can be the parent of idolatry because false hope is always easier to live with than true hope. False hope is self-constructed. True hope asks of us, requires of us, expects of us.[7]
    • Later that same day, this idea of true hope was expanded on and fleshed out a little more by another preacher – Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz (Associate Professor of Church and Society at Union Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Sunset Park in Brooklyn) → Cruz made a distinction btwn abstract hope and concrete hope[8]
      • Abstract hope = what Cruz called “hunky dory hope” → hope that has a far-reaching, sometimes nebulous, “pie in the sky” sort of aim
        • E.g. – world peace
      • Concrete hope = hope for things in the here and now → hope that calls us to act in the here and now
    • Both of these preachers – Will Willimon and Samuel Cruz – as well as just about every other preacher that I listened to last week talked about the importance of connecting hope and action. They talked about the way that hope changes us … the way that faith changes us … the way that interacting with Christ, that a relationship with Christ changes us. And that is exactly what Paul is talking about in our passage this morning. Paul makes it clear that through Christ’s death on the cross, a new life is available to us. – text: If we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.[9] → We cannot help but find hope in this words. We cannot help but find promise in these words. But we also cannot help but find a call to action in these words. Paul makes it clear that this baptism … this faith … this relationship with Christ changes us.
      • Just as we cannot go out into the sun and not be changed (as I so graciously have illustrated for you this morning), we cannot engage in a relationship with the risen Christ and not be changed → The question is how? How will you be changed? How will you let that relationship with Christ change you? How will you take that relationship with Christ and change the world?
        • Exploring the Word Together question this morning: How can we honor this new life we have in Christ? → So indeed, let us be the word of God for one another this morning. Amen.

[1] C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), 14.

[2] Rom 5:19-21 (insertions added).

[3] Rom 6:1.

[4] Shawnthea Monroe. “Romans 6:1b-11 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 160.

[5] Rom 6:4.

[6] Rom 6:6-7.

[7] Will Willimon. “We Had Hoped” from the Festival of Homiletics, preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN, 18 May 2023.

[8] Samuel Cruz. “Hope From the Margins” from the Festival of Homiletics, preached at Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN, 18 May 2023.

[9] Rom 6:8-11.

Sunday’s sermon: The Meaning of Grace

Text used – Romans 3:29-30; 5:1-11

  • As I was thinking about grace this week, I was thinking about a bunch of those childhood playground games.
    • First thought: Red Rover
      • 2 teams stand in lines facing teach other holding hands
      • Team A calls over one person from Team B → that person runs across the space btwn. the lines and tries to break through Team A’s line while Team A tries to keep their line from breaking
        • If person breaks through, they get to take someone from Team A back to their line
        • If person doesn’t break through, they join Team A
    • Also thought about Duck Duck Grey Duck (Yes, people … it’s Duck Duck GREY DUCK. None of this “goose” nonsense. Geese don’t play with ducks. That’s ridiculous!)
      • Kids sit in a circle facing inward
      • One kid walks around the outside of the circle tapping people
        • If you’re tapped and the person who’s it just says “duck,” you stay seated
        • If you’re tapped and the person who’s it says “grey duck,” you get up and try to catch them before they can run all the way around the outside of the circle and take your seat
          • If you catch them, they remain “it”
          • If they make it back to your seat, you’re “it”
    • Game that we played at Girl Scouts when I was little: Mr. Bear à from a “Girl Scout Games” PDF I found online: One person is Mr. Bear. He is trying to sleep in his den. The other players sneak up to Mr. Bear and whisper, “Mr. Bear, are you awake?” Mr. Bear pretends not to hear them. Then the players yell, “Mr. Bear, are you awake?” This makes Mr. Bear furious! He chases them and tries to catch them before they reach home, which is the safe place. Everyone tagged becomes one of Mr. Bears’ cubs. They go back to the den with Mr. Bear. When the remaining players come back to wake up Mr. Bear, the cubs help Mr. Bear catch them.[1]
    • All of these games involve someone being singled out and trying to catch others while those others try not to get caught. And when we really get down to it, I think that’s sometimes the way we end up feeling about grace.
      • One hand: feel like there are things we do that make it impossible for grace to catch us → things that put us beyond the reach of grace
      • Other hand: feel like the ones chasing grace → like if we were just better … faster … more righteous … more Christian, we’d be able to “catch grace”
  • Probably how some of the early Christians were feeling when it came to grace because of the many divides that had grown up in the early Church
    • Theological divides → When we read a passage like this one from Romans this morning, we have to remember that what seems relatively clear and straightforward to us was anything but clear and straightforward for the early Christians.
      • Justo González (acclaimed church historian): The many converts who joined the early church came from a wide variety of backgrounds. This variety enriched the church and gave witness to the universality of its message. But it also resulted in widely differing interpretations of that message, some of which threatened its integrity. The danger was increased by the syncretism of the time, which sought truth, not by adhering to a single system of doctrine, but by taking bits and pieces from various systems. The result was that, while many claimed the name of Christ, some interpreted that name in such a manner that the very core of his message seemed to be obscured or even denied.[2] → We who read this Scripture today have the benefit of 2000 years of theological thought and church doctrine that have laid and strengthened the foundation for our understanding. But in the time that Paul was writing this letter to the Roman church, there were all sorts of beliefs and teachings about who Jesus was and how Jesus was or wasn’t connected to God spreading throughout the ancient world.
        • Gnosticism: belief that a select few followers held a special, mystical knowledge, and that knowledge alone was the key to salvation → spiritual was crucial while the things of this world, especially the body and things related to the body, were to be denied and even reviled
        • Marcionism: god of the First Testament = Jehovah → not the same as the God Jesus spoke of → sought to excise all of the references Jesus made to Hebrew Scriptures from the teachings of the early church
        • Docetism: viewed all matter as inherently evil and so belief that Jesus was never actually incarnated into a physical body → that he was a spirit that only seemed human to us
      • With all of these competing ideologies and budding wayward beliefs spreading like wildfire through the ancient world, it’s no wonder some felt that grace was something they had to chase.
  • In the midst of this throng, we have the works of Paul who was trying to spread the good news of the gospel – a message of grace and salvation for all through the embodied life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    • Ideologies (or heresies, as they have been labeled by the Church for centuries now) that were beginning to develop as Paul was making his missionaries journeys through southeastern Europe and the Middle East → Paul’s frequent references to “false teachers,” esp. in Gal
    • Not just competing theologies but competing backgrounds
      • Last week: mentioned the divide btwn. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians → Many in the earliest days of the early church believed that, in order to follow Jesus, you also had to follow the Jewish Law as laid out in the book so Moses, including the law pertaining to circumcision.
        • View that Peter began to change with his interaction with Cornelius → vision about the sheet being lowered down full of what were considered unclean animals (unfit for human consumption) according to Jewish law → God to Peter: “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.”[3]
        • View that Paul was working hard to abolish – beginning of today’s text: No, not at all, but through the law of faith. We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith.[4] → Paul is trying to tear down some of those divides that others within the early church were still trying to keep up.
  • And once he’s made it clear just how open the gospel is to everyone – Jews and Gentiles alike – Paul gives us this exposition on grace and faith. Truly, these 11 verses are sort of a primer on grace and faith. They are the core of Paul’s belief laid out for us in black and white.
    • Central tenet of Christianity: This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.[5] → These verses are so crucial, and I want to dive into the Greek here a little bit.[6]
      • First and most important: “love” = agape love → This is that all-encompassing, benevolent, unconditional love that God gives to us … the “love that covers sin,” as the Christian band Casting Crowns puts it in their song “Your Love Is Extravagant”: Your love is extravagant / Spread wide in the arms of Christ is the love that covers sin / No greater love have I ever known You considered me a friend[7] → It is this indescribably incredible love that God has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.


      • Gr. “weak” = encompasses all the ways that we can feel weak – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually → Remember, Paul himself has experienced all of these things. He was an up-and-comer in the ranks of Jewish religious leaders … until he encountered God on the side of the road – an encounter that left him temporarily blind and spiritually flipped upside-down. Paul’s conversion experience was dramatic and wholly life-altering, and his work since then had him imprisoned, beaten, chased out of homes and towns. It had him weak in every way … and yet, in that weakness, Paul found not self-pity and bitterness but hope and love and grace.
      • Gr. “ungodly” = not quite the judgment/condemnation it sounds like → It’s not just about a lack belief but also about being irreverent – about not showing the appropriate respect or honor to the sacred. These are those moments when we feel like we’re the ones chasing grace … but we just can’t seem to keep up.
  • But if we return back to that schoolyard games idea for a moment, Paul is saying that grace is less like those single-you-out games and more like a game that my boys have been talking about lately – a game that they learned in gym class.
    • Game = blog tag → And yes, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like.
      • Starts with one person who’s “it” → But every time that person tags someone, they become part of the blog, and the blog works to tag other people … to bring other people in. And once someone is in, they get to help bring in more people.
      • Scholar: Having discovered through faith the love that God has for each of us, we have peace and we have hope. We are no longer divided internally with questions of worth or feelings of failure. We are able to accept ourselves as we are because we experience being accepted.[8] → And in turn, feeling that acceptance in ourselves, we are called by the gospel to extend it to others as well … to bring more people into the blob.
    • Today’s text: But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.[9] → Grace doesn’t single one person out over another. Grace doesn’t hold fast to hands in an attempt to keep others out – to only let in the selective few who are strong enough … fast enough … good enough to break through. Grace blobs everyone in. Grace grows and shifts and expands each time another one of us finds our way back to God. We don’t have to be strong enough … because God’s grace has already taken us in. We don’t have to be fast enough … because God’s grace has already taken us in. We don’t have to be good enough … because God’s grace has already taken us in. Again and again and again, God’s grace has taken, does take us, and will take us in. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Justo L. González. The Story of Christianity, vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 58.

[3] Acts 10:15.

[4] Rom 3:28-30.

[5] Rom 5:5-6.

[6] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel-Levy,

[7] Jared Anderson and Peter C. Kipley. “Your Love Is Extravagant” from Casting Crowns. (Brentwood: Capitol CMG Publishing), 2003.

[8] Ward B. Ewing. “Third Sunday in Lent: Romans 5:1-11 – Theological Perspective” from Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 90.

[9] Rom 5:8-11.

Sunday’s sermon: A Gospel Warm Call

  • Tell me if this sounds familiar this morning:

Hi [prospect’s name], this is [your name] from [your company name].

I’ve been doing some research on [prospect’s company name] and I’d love to learn more about [challenge you’ve discovered in your research].

At [your company name] we work with people like you to help with [value proposition 1, value proposition 2, and value proposition 3.]

Is this something you think could help with [common challenges/pain points]?

Option 1: Yes, tell me more.

Great! [This is where you’re going to ask them to attend a demo, or continue the conversation with an Account Executive, or take whatever next steps are part of your sales process.]

Option 2: Objection

I understand. Is it ok if I send you a follow-up email to review at your convenience? Then I can follow up with you tomorrow.

If yes, send the email and set a reminder to follow up. If not, thank them for their time and ask if there’s another point of contact they can connect you with. Make sure to include resources that clearly explain what your company does and ask to continue the conversation.[1]

    • Cold calls … everyone’s favorite thing, right? Don’t we just love making those calls? Don’t we just love getting those calls? No? If by chance you aren’t familiar with the concept of the “cold call,” let me give you a short description (from same website where I found the script): A cold call is when sales reps reach out to a potential buyer who’s never interacted with them or their company before, with the intent to sell a product or service. Cold calling typically makes use of a sales pitch script to ensure reps sell the product effectively. It’s a common practice in outbound sales. Cold calling is a way to engage prospects one-on-one to move them to the next step in the buying process. In the past, cold calling meant using a “spray and pray” method, spending time making intrusive calls with no prior qualification, hoping that your message would resonate with someone. But that’s no longer the way to do it. Not only does it waste time and energy, but you end up facing more rejections than you normally would, which can quickly lead to burnout. → Now, contrary to that last bit about the “spray and pray” method no longer being “the way we do it,” I think we’re all familiar with the distinctly 21st century, technology-driven spin that cold calls have taken on in the last 20 yrs. or so: the ever-present, ever-frustrating robo-calls.
      • Calls that are made by a computer → dials multiple numbers at once → often no one on the other end of the line → if you do happen to get “someone” on the other end, it’s more than likely a prerecorded message … something to do with the warranty on your vehicle, your cell phone carrier, or the way you did or didn’t vote in the last election.
    • So what is it about cold calls that we find so annoying? Why do they have such a persistent tendency to ratchet up our blood pressure and get under our skin? I think the answer comes most readily in the very beginning of that cold call script that I read: Hi [prospect’s name]. Do me a favor this morning: raise your hand if you’ve ever been the recipient of a cold call … and they pronounced your name incorrectly!
      • Growing up (pre-caller ID): always knew telemarketer was calling when they asked for Mr. or Mrs. PINE-Y (maiden name: Pinney … short i)
      • That greeting – especially when your name is mispronounced – is so There’s no real connecting in it, so it feels disingenuous. I mean, you can’t even pronounce my name correctly … how invested in my life and how your product/company can actually improve my life can you possibly be, right? You don’t know me. You don’t know my life. You’re only trying to sell me a product or a service.
        • Always felt equally annoyed and sorry for people working as telemarketers (anyone here?) → it’s a job, right? … a job that requires callers to make quotas, often a job in which your take-home pay is directly related to how effective you are a “closing the deal” … how effective your cold calls are → I’ll tell y’all right now … I certainly couldn’t do it.
    • Started looking into the whole phenomenon of cold calling because of the nature of our Scripture reading this morning → You see, we have lots of Paul’s letters to different churches in different towns and territories. In fact, other than the gospels, Paul’s letters – Paul’s epistles, as they’re often referred to in “church-y speak” – make up the next largest portion of the New Testament.
      • All of Paul’s other letters = to churches and faith communities that he himself had established throughout his extensive mission journeys
      • But the book of Romans is different. Paul himself didn’t establish the Christian community in Rome.
        • Paul = taken to Rome twice during his decades of ministry → both times = as a prisoner → spent 2+ yrs. under house arrest at one point → ended up writing 4 of his 14 epistles while in Rome (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon)[2] → But he was never a free man in Rome. The Christian community in Rome is one that grew up through the encouragement and organization of others.
    • And yet it’s abundantly clear from the very outset of this particular letter – from those very first verses that we just read – that Paul want to get to know these Roman Christians. → makes Paul’s letter less of a gospel cold call than what’s referred to in the business/marketing world as a “warm call”
      • Differences[3]:
        • Cold call: unexpected, early in the sales process, based on general research (if any) – demographics and patterns, interruptive, prioritizes “seller first”
        • Warm call: expected, comes later in the sales process → built on established prior introduction = therefore invited, based on more personalized research, prioritizes “buyer first”
        • In essence, a cold call is exactly as its named – cold because it’s impersonal – whereas a warm call is based on a relationship.
  • So Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning is a warm call for the good news of the gospel. → Paul makes it clear from the very outset that “relationship” is at the very heart of his correspondence
    • Two different kinds of relationships
      • FIRST, relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit → This is the paramount relationship for Paul – the genesis of all the rest of our relationships. He spends much of this introduction … much of this whole letter … much of many of his letters extoling the essential nature of a relationship with God and the blessing that such a relationship can be to us.
        • Today’s text starts by giving the basic rundown of the good news of the gospel (Paul’s “elevator speech,” if you will – the good news of who Jesus Christ was and is for us in 5 verses): God promised the good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets and in the holy scriptures. His Son was descended from David. He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received God’s grace and our appointment to be apostles. This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake. You who are called by Jesus Christ are also included among these Gentiles.[4]
        • Goes on to lift up the ways the truth of that gospel relationship is a blessing to us – scholar: The gospel is a living entity — a power. It is God’s power … and its purpose is salvation. The whole focus and purpose of the power of the gospel is saving, healing, making right. The gospel is not a power that seeks power for itself. Rather, God’s power (the gospel) is entirely directed towards salvation. The goal of the gospel (of God’s power) is salving humanity’s needs and hurts.[5] → It is for this very reason – this salvation, this healing, this making right, this salving of humanity’s needs and hurts – that God poured all of God’s love, all of God’s hope, all of God’s promise into this relationship with humanity through Jesus Christ. This relationship is quite literally The Point. To quote a beloved children’s book, it is all that we hope for and all that we seek.[6]
          • Nurturing that relationship with God = our ultimate “why”
            • Why we come to church
            • Why we read Scripture
            • Why we pray
            • “Why” that gets us through our day
      • Also the “why” that feeds into the 2nd type of relationships that Paul emphasizes: our relationships with one another
        • Much of the 2nd part of passage for this morning = devoted to interpersonal relationships → specifically interpersonal relationships … but even more pointedly interpersonal relationships that are based in and informed by faith.
          • Begins as Paul often does: by assuring the Roman Christians that Paul thanks God for them → I think that we often breeze through that when we’re reading Paul. Maybe it’s because Paul says it to every church in every letter, so we’re too used to seeing it. Maybe it’s because we read it too contextually – like Paul is saying that only to them without taking those words into our own faith lives. But stop and think about that for a minute. Paul is saying to these people who he’s never actually met that “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.”[7] How often do you tell the people who are a part of your everyday lives that you thank God for them? Let alone people you’ve never met? Imagine it!
            • Closest that I think we get nowadays = occasional letters we get at the church from another Session within the bounds of the presbytery → praying their way through the different congregations within the presbytery at each of their meetings → They don’t know who we are – not on a personal level, anyway. They don’t know what particular ministries we’re undertaking or challenges we’re facing. But as siblings in Christ, they took the time at the beginning of their own Session meeting to lift up our congregation in prayer.
            • Connection through faith in Christ = what makes Paul’s letter not a cold call for the gospel but a warm call → a call based on established commonalities, based on a shared faith, based on relationship
        • Paul also makes it clear in this portion of his letter that this relationship shouldn’t be hindered by all those barriers that we have a tendency to erect between ourselves and others → particular to Paul’s world = different btwn Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians … but his words can be just as applicable to bridging all those differences that separate us as well – text: We can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine. … I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, to both the wise and to the foolish.[8]
    • Finally, Paul grounds this portion of his letter in the power and purpose and source of faith: I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith.[9]
      • Scholar: The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is rooted in God’s astonishing and undeviating faithfulness to God’s creation, including fickle humanity. The righteousness of God is a profoundly loving and faithful revelation to us. The revelation in the gospel can be known only in the way in which it was offered — by faith. … Yet, even our faith is rooted in God’s faithfulness. Our faith is not ‘ours’. … Our faith is sourced in God’s faithfulness to us [“from faithfulness for faith,” as Paul puts it]. Our faith is part of the cosmic and wondrous revelation in the gospel. … Our faith makes us righteous, not because we have been good enough to believe in the gospel, but because the righteousness of God surrounds us as we exercise the faith that God gives us.[10] → And what better way to explore that faith … to experience that faith … to express that faith than to immerse ourselves in our relationship with God and to share it through our relationships with one another? Amen.


[1] Script pulled from


[3] Compiled from lists found on and

[4] Rom 1:2-6.

[5] L Ann Jervis. “Commentary on Romans 1:1-17” from Working Preacher,

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

[7] Rom 1:8.

[8] Rom 1:12, 14.

[9] Rom 1:16-17.

[10] Jervis.

Text used – Romans 1:1-17

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WITNESS

Text used – Matthew 28:1-10

It began with a whisper –
     the whisper of the dawn
          as the sky barely began to lighten
          with the first rays of morning;
     the whisper of sandals on gravel
          and cloth brushing softly against cloth 
          as the women made their way to his tomb;
     the whisper of a Holy Spirit
          that is always on the move …
          even then …
               even now.

It grew into a murmur –
     the murmur of the earth
          as the garden around them began to awaken:
          birds, insects, and flowers yawning their faces
               to the rising sun;
     the murmur of the guards
          set to guard the tomb,
          guards who grumbled about their ridiculous mission …
          I mean, he was already dead, after all;
     the murmur of a Holy Spirit
          that is always moving with purpose …
          even then …
               even now.

It swiftly became a cry –
     the cry of the earth
          as it quaked and shook
          when heaven and earth collided in the presence of an angel;
     the cry of the women
          come to care for the body of their teacher, mentor, friend,
          women who found only an empty tomb …
               an empty tomb and a staggering message:
     the cry of a Holy Spirit,
          that ever-present, ever-dynamic Divine Disturber …
          even then …
               even now.

It crescendoed into a shockwave –
     a tremor of fear that shook the guards,
          guards terrified by their encounter
          with the miraculous … with the impossible … with the holy;
     a tremor of action that spurred the women on,
          on to share their good news – THE good news –
          with their friends …
               and their friends’ friends …
               and the whole wide earth;
     a tremor like the movement and work of the Holy Spirit
          that cannot help but leave us completely changed …
          even then …
               even now.

With great fear and excitement,  
     they hurried away from the tomb
          and ran to tell his disciples.[1]


  • Friends, throughout Lent this year, we’ve been exploring a variety of ways that our faith calls us to willingness.
    • Lots of those calls to willingness were call to difficult actions
      • Willing to forgive
      • Willing to accept, especially when our idea of fairness doesn’t match God’s
      • Willing to respond to God’s invitation to us
      • Willing to prepare for the word to which God calls us
      • Willing to welcome, especially those who are unlike us in any way … in every way
      • Willing to give God the honor and faithfulness that God requires
    • All of those calls to willingness are calls to actions – to things that we can do to live into the faith that we claim. But today’s Easter call to willingness is different. Today’s Easter call to willingness is all about going and telling. → about putting a voice to our faith while we also put feet and hands and hearts to our faith
      • Important because while we’re doing all of those things that we spent all of Lent talking about – forgiving and accepting and welcoming and responding and so on … If we’re doing all those things but we’re not sharing with people around us that we’re doing them because of our faith, we are neglecting a critical and essential element of that faith: the element of witness.
        • Directive given to the women – to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (could be Lazarus’ sister Mary or another Mary traveling with them) … directive given to the women by the angel – text: Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’[2] → The directive is clear: “Now hurry, go and tell.” There are no nuances in the Greek here – no potential other translation, no connotations to these words, no cultural context that adds extra insight for us. Go. And. Tell. Plain and simple.
        • Directive echoed by the Risen Christ himself just a few moments later – text: With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[3] → Same directive. Same words. Same clarity. Go. And. Tell. But this time from the One – the One who had taught them and led them and eaten with them and loved them … the One who was supposed to be dead, the One whose lifeless body they had been going to anoint as per the Jewish burial customs … the One who was miraculously, inexplicably, gloriously before them now .. the One, the Savior … Jesus, the Christ.
        • Directive that eventually ends Mt’s gospel with what we’ve come to call the Great Commission: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.  Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”[4] → Go and do. Go and tell. They go hand-in-hand.
  • But why? I mean, isn’t it enough that we just be good people? It is really our jobs to broadcast our faith? In a word … yes. Because Jesus said so! But beyond that, let’s think back to something we started talking about last week when we read our Palm Sunday passage.
    • Last week’s text: And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[5] → You might remember that I pointed out last week that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was the only one that included the entire city in this reaction – “the whole city was stirred up.” And you might also remember what I said about the Greek here.
      • Gr. here is a little more severe than this particular translation lets on – Gr. = shake, agitate, tremble → Jesus has caused more than just a subtle buzz of whispered conversations with his entry into Jerusalem. He’s sent a tremor through the entire city.
      • Last week: pointed out that that Gr. “stirred up” – that word that described what happened to the whole city when Jesus entered it at the beginning of Holy Week – is the same word used to describe how the guards at the tomb “shook with fear” when the angel from the Lord came down to roll the stone away and reveal the empty tomb → So Matthew’s entire Holy Week narrative – from the very moment Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem until the moment the stone is rolled away – is bookended by the trembling of profound revelation.
    • But it isn’t just this particular narrative that’s affected by that trembling of profound revelation. That bookending isn’t just a pretty literary device meant to draw our attention for a moment before we focus anew on something else. That shockwave that Jesus’ appearance sent through the crowd when he came into Jerusalem … that shockwave that overtook the guards at the moment the stone was rolled back and the emptiness of the tomb was revealed … that same shockwave stretched down through the millennia into our very hearts, our very lives.
      • Shockwave of the movement and work of the Holy Spirit – the Divine Disturber, as my treasured Fun Nuns call Her
      • Shockwave of faith that cannot help but leave us changed
        • Change our actions in all the ways we’ve talked about throughout Lent → inspiring our willingness to live the life that Christ calls us to live
          • Life of compassion and mercy
          • Life of abundant grace and radical welcome
          • Life in which we consider the words and actions of Christ before we speak and act → story of my lanyard/WWJD
        • Scholar: The resurrection of Jesus is a total reordering of our world but is also an intimate promise of presence with us. The risen Christ comes alongside us and walks with us … as this encounter with Matthew conveys. The resurrection of Jesus not only signals the radical transformation of the world that the inbreaking reign of God brings, but also promises that the risen Christ can be with us in the everydayness of our ordinary lives.[6]
          • Reminds me of the blessing/prayer attributed to St. Patrick: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who things of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
    • Friends, the story of our faith is a story unlike any other. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Grand Story – the story of God working in and through God’s people throughout history, a story that finds its climax in a empty tomb and the simple, joy-filled greeting of a Risen Christ who brings overflowing grace to a world in need. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about our own stories of faith – the many and varied ways that God has indeed come alongside us in all the moments of our days, our mountaintop moments and our valley moments and also the everyday ordinary moments. The story of our faith is unlike any other, and it is a story that we are called to tell. If you have felt that shockwave – whether as a world-reordering tremor or even just a distant rumbling or a subtle hum – go and tell! If you have noticed the movings of the Holy Spirit in your life and in your world, go and tell! If you have felt the presence of Christ at all … if you have found Christ in any of the ways described by St. Patrick or any other ways he might have missed, go and tell! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Go and tell! Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:8.

[2] Mt 28:5-7.

[3] Mt 28:8-10.

[4] Mt 28:16-20.

[5] Mt 21:10.

[6] Ruthanna B. Hooke. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10” from Working Preacher,

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to HONOR

Text used – Matthew 21:1-17

  • I feel like this morning’s sermon is brought to you by one of the classic Sesame Street songs: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn’t belong …” You see, today is Palm Sunday, and while all four gospels include a Palm Sunday narrative – some version of what they call Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into the city of Jerusalem in the week leading up to his arrest and crucifixion – all four gospels also tell a slightly different story.
    • Interestingly enough, Mt’s version contains nearly all of what we assume they all contain
      • Disciples sent for a beast for Jesus to ride on → Mt’s particularity: only one to mention “a donkey tied up and a colt with it”[1]
      • Cloaks tossed on the back of Jesus’ humble mount as well as on the road
      • Palm branches also tossed on the road
      • Another element unique to Mt’s telling: And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[2] → Matthew is the only one to bring the whole of the city of Jerusalem into the scene on this one. All the other gospel version of this scene include the crowd, and a few of them include the Pharisees being “stirred up,” but only Matthew’s Jesus causes such a commotion.
        • Gr. here is a little more severe than this particular translation lets on – Gr. = shake, agitate, tremble → Jesus has caused more than just a subtle buzz of whispered conversations with his entry into Jerusalem. He’s sent a tremor through the entire city.
          • Depicted in such a powerful and unescapable way in classic 1970s film depiction of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Supertar”


            • Song “Hosanna” covers Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem à crowd’s responses begin adoringly (“Hey JC, JC won’t you smile at me? He JC, JC you’re alright by me!”) → responses soon shift in tone … a shift echoed as the song slips in and out of a minor key (“Hey JC, JC won’t you fight for me? Hey JC, JC won’t you die for me?”)
            • Cinematography in the moment of that final question = perfect portrayal of a tremor → camera zooms in on Jesus’ face and freezes just for a heartbeat
              • Children on either side of Jesus = suspended in joyful smiles
              • Palm branches around Jesus = frozen in a blur, mid-wave
              • Jesus’ own face = momentarily fixed in an expression of worry and concern
          • Reason for that is another one of those cultural context pieces that we lose being so far removed from 1st century Jerusalem → Do you remember last week when we talked about how the Jews expected the Messiah to come as a military conqueror – someone to vanquish the Roman occupiers and return the people of Israel to their independence and their national glory? This triumphal entry of Jesus’ that we read about today was the kind of entry – the kind of fanfare and parade and implied authority – that would have invoked and enforced just such expectations.
            • Scholar: Ancient literature narrates numerous scenes whereby ruling elite figures – emperors, governors, kings, military generals – ceremonially enter a city. This entry ritual comprised: a previous military victory, honoring an elevated figure, crowds who welcomed and acclaimed the figure’s greatness, a religious ceremony, [and] a speech of welcome. … Jesus’ entry imitates this elite practice.[3]
          • But it’s not just the simple fact that Jesus was imitating this custom that caused those shockwaves throughout the whole city. It’s how Jesus imitated the custom … how he mirrored it and, more importantly, how he altered
            • Same scholar continues: Yet there are significant differences. Jesus rides not a war horse but an everyday beast of burden. Crowds of common folks welcome him. There are no speeches of welcome from elite leaders. He is not an elite figure. He is not authorized by the dominant ruling power. He represents God’s purposes, not Rome’s. However, imitation coexists with resistance.[4] → By weaving an element of commonness and humblenss into this cherished Roman custom, Jesus is both mocking those in power who put such stock in this kind of fanfare and condemning those who find their worth in such worldly acclaim.
          • Another really interesting aspect of this particular Gr. word – this word that describes how Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem caused the whole city to “tremble” → same word used to describe how the guards at the tomb “shook with fear” when the angel from the Lord came down to roll the stone away and reveal the empty tomb → So at least in Matthew’s version, this whole Holy Week narrative – from the very moment Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem until the moment the stone is rolled away – is bookended by the trembling of profound revelation.
  • This whole discussion also opens the door to the wider theme for our reading this morning and how it fits in with our Lenten series about the places where faith and willingness collide: being willing to honor.
    • Honor = theme that ushers Jesus and his disciples into the city → scene drenched in honor of all kinds
      • Honor the disciples show Jesus
        • Following his directions
        • Disciples = first to toss down their cloaks on the donkey’s back and on the road
      • Honor the crowds show Jesus
        • Following the disciples’ example → tossing down their cloaks
        • Tossing down their palm branches
        • Crying out with the treasured and reverent words of their own worship – words from Psalm 118: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest![5]
      • Parody of a parade of Roman honor
    • Honor = also the theme that transitions us from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to Jesus’ explosive entry into the temple – text: Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.”[6]
      • Incidentally, this is actually one of my favorite pictures that we get of Jesus because he’s so undeniably human here → For so many centuries, the Church focused almost exclusively on the Jesus’ divinity – on Jesus as God. But in the scenes where we get to meet Jesus as a man – when Jesus weeps, when Jesus needs to stop and rest, when Jesus eats with others, when Jesus gets angry – we are reminded that it is just as important that through Jesus, God took on everything it meant to be human including the emotions that sometimes cause us to struggle. God is with us even in our frustration … even in our anger … even in our desperation … because through Jesus, God has been there, too.
        • Important caveat: it’s all about what we do with that anger → Notice that Jesus didn’t cause harm to any of the people in the temple. He turned over their tables. He drove them out. But even in his anger, he didn’t hurt them.
      • Time for some more cultural nuance → This whole idea of there being buying and selling happening in the temple courtyard was not an uncommon practice in the slightest. Remember, the Judaism that Jesus and his followers and everyone else practiced at the time included various sacrifices that had to be made in the temple.
        • Sacrifices dictated by the seasons/festivals throughout the year
        • Sacrifices dictated by phases of life
        • Sacrifices dictated by types of sins for which people sought atonement
        • Doves/pigeons were particularly important → they were the “affordable sacrifice” for those who couldn’t bring a whole lamb or other such larger, more expensive sacrifice
        • Within the Jewish tradition and according to the Laws of Moses laid out in the book of Deuteronomy, the only place such sacrifices could be performed and offered was in the Temple … which is why the practice doesn’t continue today.
          • Final destruction of the Temple came at the hands of the Romans in 70 C.E.
      • Often we view Jesus’ actions here as a judgment on that murky place where commerce and church meet, especially in this day and age when capital is king and the greatest emphasis of society seems to be on accumulating more and more and more – more stuff, more wealth, more prestige. But I want to present you with a slightly nuanced version of that idea this morning. → idea built on the words of two scholars
        • First scholar: [Jesus’ second act] highlights and protests the temple economy as sustaining the temple leadership’s vast socio-political reach that maintains an elite-benefitting society.[7]
        • Second scholar: Jesus is portrayed as a prophet outraged at the failure of the Jewish religious leadership, because they practice injustices in the temple rather than being responsible leaders of Israel.[8]
        • So when I read this text, I hear a Jesus who less concerned with the buying and selling happening than he is for what is being done with those funds. The buying and selling is what’s required for the people of Israel to practice their faith in the way they’ve always been taught. But it’s what’s being done with the funds garnered from the sale of those offerings that has Jesus so angry. Instead of honoring their faith and God’s call to care for those around them who needed a hand, the religious leaders busied themselves with nitpicking the law. And when they weren’t doing that, they were cowtowing to the Roman occupiers, paying them much of the money from those temple financial transactions instead of using it to benefit those who were poor, those who were widowed or orphaned, those who were immigrants, and those who were ill or disabled among them.
          • See this played out in the rest of today’s reading: People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and legal experts saw the amazing things he was doing and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were angry. They said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” he answered. “Haven’t you ever read, From the mouths of babies and infants you’ve arranged praise for yourself?”[9] → Instead of offering praise for these miracles of healing being performed right before their eyes – instead of offering God all praise and honor in such a profound moment – the chief priests and legal experts were angry.
            • Let their fear, their anger, their frustration, their doubt, and their disbelief distract them from the acts of God happening right in front of them → [MOVE STRAIGHT INTO “EXPLORING THE WORD TOGETHER” QUESTION: What distracts us from honoring God?]

[1] Mt 21:2.

[2] Mt 21:10 (emphasis added).

[3] Warren Carter. “Commentary on Matthew 12:1-17” from Working Preacher,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mt 21:9.

[6] Mt 21:12-13.

[7] Carter, Working Preacher.

[8] Eunjoo Mary Kim. “Matthew 21:12-13 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 147.

[9] Mt 21:14-16.

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WELCOME

Text used – Matthew 25:31-46

  • To begin the sermon this morning, all, I want to share a little bit of a video clip with you.
    • Clip that comes from the Presbyterian Mission Agency website → portion of the “Introduction” video to the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 program

    • You see, back in 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Minnesota, our Session voted to become a Matthew 25 congregation.
      • Our presbytery – Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area – is also a Matthew 25 presbytery
      • Our synod – Synod of Lakes and Prairies – is also a Matthew 25 synod
      • And as Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett said in the video, the General Assembly – the national body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – has made a commitment to be a Matthew 25 Church.
      • All the denominational structures that surround us – from our local congregation here all the way up to the national level – have made the commitment to those 3 focus points[2]:
        • Building congregational vitality by challenging people and congregations to deepen their faith and get actively and joyfully engaged with their community and the world.
        • Dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
        • Eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor.
    • Now, throughout the season of Lent this year, we’ve been working through this idea of places where willingness and faith intersect, and with this parable from Matthew 25 this morning, we’re going to think about being willing to welcome. As we do that, I want to remind you what I said about willingness at the beginning of this series.
      • Element of willingness that requires sacrifice, especially in terms of making space for the experiences, wisdom, concerns, and needs of another
      • Can be an element of obligation to willingness
      • Willingness requires dedication
      • Willingness can also bear beautiful, unexpected fruit
      • I wanted to remind you of these things because they go hand-in-hand with one of the really important things that Dr. Moffett said in that clip: “When we engage in the work of proclaiming good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed, we may end up hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and in need of welcome. As we work to change systems that cause human suffering, we too are part of the least of these.”
  • You see, I know I can’t be the only one who loves this parable.
    • Maybe it’s the familiarity
    • Maybe it’s the orderliness
    • Maybe it’s the utter compassion and extravagant welcome it calls for
    • But at least for me, I think I love this parable because it’s one of the many times Jesus turns everything upside-down and forces those listening into a new perspective. → hear this perspective flip in the story itself
      • Begins with a description steeped in language of decadence and luxury, grandeur and power: Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him.[3] → tracks with the expectations that swirled around the idea of the Human One/Son of God/Messiah figure in Jewish tradition
        • Messiah figure was supposed to be a returning of the might and majesty and military muscle of King David → supposed to be a fierce and powerful warrior-king who would drive off the oppressors at the point of his sword and restore the people of Israel to their former independence and glory → And Jesus starts his story playing into that sort of imagery, speaking of majesty and angels and thrones and gathering “the nations” before him.
      • BUT that reference to “the nations” should have been Jesus’ listeners’ first hint that this wasn’t going where they thought it would. → Gr. “the nations” = intentionally expansive word that truly meant all the nations
        • Jews and Gentiles
        • From near and far
        • Those who have already heard and those who have yet to hear
        • Those who are “us” and those who are “other”
        • Jesus makes it clear from the very outset of this parable that it’s a parable for the masses. For all. For every. For each.
          • Not a message that the Pharisees and Sadducees would have appreciated – those who were tasked with keeping the people of Israel (the wider community) religiously upright and pure which, according to the Law, meant keeping them separate and apart
          • Not a message that jived with the traditional understanding of the Messiah → Human One was supposed to be one who came specifically for the people of Israel … not for everyone
          • Yet Jesus very purposefully says, “All the nations.”
      • Goes on to talk about the ultimate, final judgment of these nations → Human One sitting on his throne and separating the righteous sheep from the unrighteous goats
      • Continues with a wonderfully helpful, teachable description of what made the sheep sheep and the goats goats: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Then those who are righteous will reply to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” Then the king will reply to them, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”[4]
      • And when the goats ask the same thing – “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?” – Jesus answers likewise: “I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.”[5] And in that description, we hear Jesus flip the world upside-down because in that description, Jesus – the Human One, the Son of God, the Messiah, the king of kings, God Incarnate – equates himself not with the powerful … not with the wealthy … not with the religious leaders … not with those whose lives were pretty and perfect and all wrapped up. No, Jesus equates himself with the least of these.
        • Scholar echoes what Dr. Moffett expressed in that video clip: Matthew’s vision is an important reminder that what we do matters. God’s grace and love are given freely, and there is nothing that we do to earn them, but that does not mean that we can forget to care for the least. After all, the least too are members of Christ’s family. In fact, the story presses even further than that and insists that our care for the least is care for Christ himself. If we do not care for Christ, then how can we expect him to judge in our favor?[6]
          • Share stories from Matthew 25 entities
  • I want to turn something else a little bit on its head with this parable this morning, and that’s our You see, I think when we hear Jesus’ parables, we have a tendency to try to identify ourselves as someone in the story.
    • Not something particular to just Jesus’ stories → something that we do with all stories → That’s why we’re able to get so invested in the stories that we hear or read or see. When we identify with someone in the story, we experience it in a new way. We’re more engaged. We’re more affected. We get caught up in the ups and downs of the plotline as if they were our own ups and downs. That’s why we laugh and cry, cheer and fear along with the characters … because we can see ourselves in and amongst them.
    • With this particular parable, I would guess that many of us – most of us, even – first saw ourselves as either the sheep or the goats. Maybe we remembered moments when we played both parts – moments when we had offered some sort of help to relieve another’s suffering and moments when we failed to do so. But let me ask you this this morning: What if we put ourselves in the place of those Jesus designates as “the least of these”? What if we put ourselves in the place of those who needed someone else to reach out … to welcome and sustain us … to be by our side in a time of deep need?
      • Remember Dr. Moffett’s words: “When we engage in the work of proclaiming good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed, we may end up hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and in need of welcome. As we work to change systems that cause human suffering, we too are part of the least of these.” → This gospel-work … this work of compassion and hope and radical welcome and unconditional love … this Matthew 25 work is work that challenges and changes us in all the ways, and some of those ways (a lot of those ways!) have a maddening tendency to be uncomfortable. Ways that push us outside our comfort zones. Ways that challenge our long-held beliefs. Ways that make us look at the world and the people around us not through our own imperfect human eyes but through God’s eyes. Ways that teach us lessons we never knew we needed to learn. But no matter what part in this story we find ourselves playing, it is work that God calls us to do. Each of us. All of us.
        • Scholar: With discernment comes clarity about the simplicity of the tasks before us and the God-given ability faithfully to fulfill them. Food, water, clothing, hospitality, companionship: these are not only the most necessary elements for communal life; they are the most readily available gifts to give. The lesson of the sheep and goats is good news, because it asks each to share precisely what each has. That is the true center of this passage. Whether it is food or water, a compassionate ear or an open heart, everyone has something to share.[7] → And that, friends, is indeed good news. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] (up to 1:51).


[3] Mt 25:31-32a.

[4] Mt 25:35-40.

[5] Mt 25:44-45 (emphasis added).

[6] Daniel J. Ott. “Matthew 25:31-46 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 270.

[7] Robert M. McClellan. “Matthew 25:31-46 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 268.

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to PREPARE

Text used – Matthew 25:1-13

  • Peanut butter and jelly. Marshmallows and hot chocolate. Bread and butter. A pen and paper. A hand and a glove. Coffee and mornings … or really, coffee and life. Things that just go together! There are lots of things in the world that go together so well that hearing one basically implies the other at this point. As we continue with our Lenten series on willingness and faith this year, you can add last week’s Scripture reading and this week’s Scripture reading to that “go together” list, too.
    • Last week: talked about the importance of responding wholeheartedly to God’s call
    • This week: explore the importance of preparing for God’s call
    • Both two sides of the same coin → both essential parts of living our lives as followers of Jesus … living our lives as those who try to remain attuned to God’s call in our lives and all that that call brings
    • So since we talked about responding to God’s call last week with one of Mo Willems’ “Elephant and Piggie” books, and since last week and this week go hand-in-hand, let me share another Mo Willems “Elephant and Piggie” book with you this morning: Let’s Go for a Drive![1]

      • The whole focus of this story is preparing – what we need to do to prepare, how we prepare, what we’re preparing for, and how we prepare together.
        • Like I said, goes hand-in-hand with what we talked about last week[2]: what we need to respond to God’s call, how we respond, what we’re responding to, and how we respond together
  • So let’s look more closely at Jesus’ parable this morning – the “Parable of the ten young bridesmaids,” as my Bible subtitles it.
    • Jumped over quite a bit in Mt’s gospel btwn last week’s parable and this week’s parable → much of that “in between” involves that Pharisees conspiring to “trap Jesus in his words”[3] and scheming to get rid of this radical rabblerouser who keeps upsetting their religious status quo (thank God for radical religious rabblerousers, right?)
      • Includes some harsh words from Jesus for the Pharisees and Sadducees and some strong accusations from the Pharisees and Sadducees leveled at Jesus
    • Also jumped over “Greatest commandment” – Jesus: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”[4]
    • Bypassed Jesus’ veiled conversations with disciples about what is to come
    • Today’s passage = comes on the heels of two pointed teachings from Jesus on being prepared
      • Conversation with the disciples in which Jesus tells them to be prepared because they won’t know when the Human One comes[5]
      • Another parable about the faithful and unfaithful servants[6]
        • Faithful servant worked diligently while the master was away → found working when the master returned home
        • Unfaithful servant spent the master’s time away eating too much, drinking too much, and abusing their fellow servants
        • Another parable that ends in “weeping and gnashing of teeth”
  • Leads us into today’s parable about being prepared – text: At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish.
    • Gr. here is interesting[7]
      • Gr. “foolish” = word that indicates something lacking edges, something that is loosely defined or someone that has a loose grasp on things → today’s equivalent = someone who is flighty, impulsive, scatterbrained
      • Flipside: Gr. “wise” = someone who is rooted and thoughtful → based on word for heart/intellect/understanding
      • So right away, Jesus is making it clear that we have two diametrically opposed groups here. One group thinks about all the things, one group thinks about none (or at least very few) of the things. One group is definitive while the other is imprecise. One group prepares, the other reacts.
    • Abundantly clear which group Jesus is lifting up – text: When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’ But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.[8] → This feels a lot like Gerald and Piggie. Gerald had the end goal in mind – going for a drive – and while he prepared for a wide variety of eventualities (sun, rain, route planning, and packing), what he missed was the most glaringly obvious and essential piece of their plan to go for a drive: the car!
      • Even the foolish bridesmaids came prepared with lamps … but they didn’t think far enough ahead or cast their planning nets wide enough to encompass any possibility but the most immediate one – the prompt arrival of the groom
      • Also like Gerald, this shortsightedness doesn’t exactly work out for the foolish bridesmaids → find themselves distracted, even absent – having to go off to secure their last-minute necessities (more oil) when the groom finally arrives and takes the prepared bridesmaids into the wedding celebration, shutting out those who were missing in the moment
        • “Um … Do you have a car, Piggie?” “No. I am a pig. A pig with a car would be silly.”[9]
  • So it’s clear that we should be preparing for God in our lives, but what does that even mean?
    • Context for Mt’s initial audience: Jesus-followers who thought Jesus was coming back soon … like, within their lifetimes! → That’s why there was so much concern about the “when” of all their preparations.
    • Different for us who, roughly 2000 yrs. later, are still waiting
      • Scholar: “What are you waiting for?!” That is usually a critique posing as a question, because we live in a society uncomfortable with waiting. We are encouraged to act, to get moving, much like the bridesmaids who could spare no time to fill their lamps. Jesus too seems to live in a manner that wastes no time, privileging the present moment. … However, according to this parable Jesus also understands there is waiting to be done. Amid his many end-time predictions and declarations comes this timely parable about waiting. … To refuse to wait would be foolish, for it denies the possibility of a future outside one’s own design. To bring enough oil is to be wise, because the night might be longer or darker than expected. Still, the belief is that the morning will come. Waiting is an act of faith.[10]
    • But what are we waiting for? And how should we wait?
      • “What” is both simple and complex: Scripture tells us that we are waiting for God’s kingdom to be realized here on earth. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray. But what that might look like is something Christians have pondered and studied and debated and guessed at for centuries.
        • Mountains of theories on “the end times”
        • Mountains of theories about a 2nd coming of Christ
        • But here’s the thing: Anytime anyone asks Jesus about the particulars of all of that – the coming of the kingdom, the return of the Messiah, even just the future in general – Jesus’ response is deliberately vague. He tells us it is for God to know. In the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants just before today’s text, Jesus says, “Nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”[11] So I’m not the pastor who’s going to stand up here telling you Jesus is coming back some day in some recognizable way so y’all better be ready! Because the thing is, when Jesus does answer those ancient questions about when and what and how, he always answers them with a mandate that involves living out our faith.
          • Mandate to devote ourselves to God
          • Mandate to care for one another
          • “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”[12]
    • Friends, this is how we prepare ourselves for God’s calling in our lives: by putting hands and feet, a heart and a prayer to our faith. By living our faith out loud. Jesus makes it clear that preparedness isn’t about guessing at the end times based on wild Scriptural calculations or the “wisdom” of false prophets. It’s about action. It’s about keeping our hearts and faith focused on the inevitable arrival of the One for whom we wait, but, in the meantime, acting on our faith in ways that are meaningful – ways that bring about God’s kingdom here on earth one compassionate act at a time.
      • Scholar: If truth be told, we are living in what feels like an in-between time. The world is hurting, violence is a daily reality, illness and pandemic continue to haunt and hurt us, and it seems like the promise of peace, wholeness, or even hope seems far away. … We live in this in-between space where many are wondering where God might be amid all of this, even as we are waiting (perhaps more eagerly than we would like to admit) for God’s grace, peace, and love to infuse our lives, country, and world. … Perhaps the bridesmaids of this story might offer us some guidance. The ones who brought oil are labeled as “wise,” not because they had some kind of predictive powers to know how much oil to pack. Instead, their wisdom was in being ready for a timetable that might be different than the one they would have preferred. They are ready for the fact that things don’t always happen when and how they would like. But they sit (or sleep!) ready; they have what they need for the journey, even if it is long. … [W]e don’t know how long the journey to justice or peace or wholeness will be. But Matthew reminds us to “keep our lamps trimmed and burning” in order that we might not grow weary in the waiting. For, there is work to be done, even as we wait for the coming of the bridegroom who makes all things new.[13] → Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Mo Willems. Let’s Go for a Drive! (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2012.

[2] Mt 22:1-14.

[3] Mt 22:15.

[4] Mt 22:37-39.

[5] Mt 24:36-44.

[6] Mt 24:45-51.

[7] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy,

[8] Mt 25:5-13.

[9] Willems.

[10] Robert M. McClellan. “Matthew 25:1-13 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 254.

[11] Mt 24:36.

[12] Mt 22:37-39.

[13] Kimberly Wagner. “Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13” from Working Preacher,

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to RESPOND

Text used – Matthew 22:1-14

  • This morning, we’re continuing our Lenten series on exploring the ways our faith both calls and requires us to be willing.
    • First week: willing to forgive
    • Last week: willing to accept fairness (especially when it doesn’t look like what we think fairness should look like)
    • Today’s topic: willing to respond, specifically responding to God’s call – to that invitation that God extends to us to play our part in God’s work of compassion and mercy, love and justice
    • This morning’s Scripture reading = parable about invitation
      • Invitation received
      • Invitation ignored
      • Invitation extended
      • Invitation disparaged
  • BUT … before we start digging into the parable itself this morning, it’s really important to set this particular parable in context – both within the rest of Matthew’s gospel and within the cultural community for whom it was first written – because the context is critical for the way we read this today.
    • Context within the culture – scholar: Humming in the background is the situation in Matthew’s community [– a collection of largely Jewish Jesus-followers who had recently left, been kicked out of, or were alienated from their synagogue communities[1]]. This group of largely Jewish Jesus-followers, receiving these words of Jesus, were likely feeling the sting of separation and rejection by the Jewish authorities and their synagogue communities. They found themselves dislocated from all they knew and were trying to navigate who they were amid Jewish community pressures and Roman occupation.[2] → So the particular audience for whom Matthew wrote his gospel would have felt a lot like those on the outskirts of the city – those invited last who got to enjoy all the splendor and lavishness and joy of the feast, those initially rejected but ultimately the guests of honor.
    • Context within the gospel → Last week we read from Matthew 20. Today’s passage is from Matthew 22, and while you wouldn’t think that jumping over just a single chapter would miss that much, in this case, the contents of that chapter go a long way in informing our reading this morning. → Mt 21 = broken down into 6 subsections (“pericopes”)
      • First 2 – “Entry into Jerusalem” and “Cleansing the temple”[3] – we’ll read in a few weeks on Palm Sunday
      • Next = “Cursing the fig tree”[4]
      • Followed by most crucial pericope for helping us understand today’s text = “Jesus’ authority questioned”: When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?” They argued amongst themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” Then they replied, “We don’t know.” Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[5] → This interaction isn’t the first run-in that Jesus has had with the Jewish religious authorities, but it’s definitely a ramping up of the tensions between the two.
        • From this interaction, Jesus tells 3 parables, all ultimately about the kingdom of God and Jesus’ authority → in this morning’s parable, for example:
          • God = king preparing the wedding banquet for Jesus (the Son) → And if the whole point of the celebration is to give honor to the son (as a wedding celebration at the time would be), then the guest of honor himself – Jesus, the Son – holds the authority.
          • Servants = prophets (like John) sent to invite people to the banquet
            • Invitation is ignored by some (text: But they paid no attention and went away – some to their field, others to their businesses.[6]
            • Others (implication = religious authorities) take it a step further – text: The rest of them grabbed [the king’s] servants, abused them, and killed them.[7]
          • For the sake of the Son’s joy and the celebration and the prepared feast, the king sends more servants out to “invite everyone you find to the wedding party”[8] → servants (disciples) went out and gathered everyone they could find along the roads and in the city, and a grand party ensues
  • Now, interestingly enough, this is where Luke’s version of this parable ends.
    • Luke tells a similar version of this parable in ch 14 → But at the end of Luke’s version simply ends with an admonishment for those who rejected the initial invitation. – text: I tell you, not one of those who were invited with taste my dinner.[9]
    • Scholar: Matthew’s version seems to turn up the volume on the violence and tacks on the troubling addendum of the last-minute guest kicked out of the party for wearing the wrong outfit.[10]
      • Text: Now when the king came in and saw the guests, he spotted a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he was speechless. Then the king said to his servants, ‘Tie his hands and feet and throw him out into the farthest darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.’ Many people are invited, but few are chosen.[11] → And this ending – Matthew’s ending that is much starker and more dramatic, this ending that feels much harsher, much more intense and final – leaves us feeling uncomfortable.
        • Don’t like the idea of someone being tossed out
        • Certainly don’t like the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”
        • Don’t like Jesus’ last cautionary words: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
  • But this morning, I’m going to invite us to hear those words in a different way. As we hear Jesus’ end to this parable (according to Matthew, anyway), I’m going to encourage you to remember the final words of our Scripture reading from a month or so ago – from Matthew 6: Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.[12] → You see, I think we can hear the end of Jesus’ parable as a reminder that, if we’re going to respond to God’s invitation, we need to be ready to respond in a way that is wholehearted and genuine.
    • Let me frame it this way → introduce I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems[13]

      • By the end of the story, Piggie and Gerald are decked out way beyond anything that Piggie could have imagined would have been necessary for the party … but when they get there, they have put in exactly the right amount of effort and preparation for this particular fancy pool costume party. → one person’s “over-the-top” is another person’s “just right”
    • So when we read this parable through the lens of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount about where we locate our treasures and our hearts, we hear a particular call in this parable: a call to be willing to respond to God’s invitation with our whole selves – our whole hearts, our whole spirits, our whole lives.
      • Respond with the way we prepare
      • Respond with the way we live
      • Scholar: What we do as people of faith It is so easy these days to compartmentalize all the pieces of our life, particularly our faith life. We check “going to church” off the to-do list and may view our faith as one small aspect among many of our lives. The intensity of this parable and harsh consequences of refused invitations reminds us that living out our faith is a matter of urgency and importance. … There is an expectation that being a Christian, a Jesus-follower, will make a difference and be obvious in the way we live our lives. This parable, through metaphors and life-and-death consequences, insists that we, like Matthew’s community, need to live lives that do not just prioritize our faith, but reflect our faith to those around us.[14]
    • Truly, friends, this is not a parable about what we do or don’t wear to church on a Sunday morning. What got the wedding guest at the end of Jesus’ story in trouble had less to do with his attire itself than it had to do with the effort he put into responding to the king’s generous invitation. He responded, to be sure, but only to the point that it didn’t inconvenience him.
      • Didn’t put any extra effort or energy into his response
      • Didn’t prepare himself to honor the one extending the invitation
      • Didn’t attempt to change
      • I mean, by attending the wedding without any kind of preparation, the man is effectively thumbing his nose at the king’s abundant generosity. The king has put in the effort to invite people from the whole surrounding area, but this man didn’t put in the effort to respond in a way that honored the spirit of the invitation.
      • Scholar: The message of Matthew is that God’s intervention in Jesus is at once broadly inclusive and utterly decisive. The wedding invitation has gone out. The question is not whether you can manage to fit this party into your schedule. This is the invitation that changes your schedule – and your life. This is an invitation to give oneself up to God’s future in Jesus Christ, which rushes toward us with unstoppable power, overtaking our present with a costly summons.[15]  So will we give ourselves over to the purpose and intention of God’s invitation? Will we come to feast with our most over-the-top dedication and willingness? Will we let God’s invitation change us through and through – change our schedules, change our hearts, change our very lives? Amen.

[1] Kimberly Wagner. “Commentary on Matthew 18:15-35” for Working Preacher,

[2] Kimberly Wagner. “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14” from Working Preacher,

[3] Mt 21:1-17.

[4] Mt 21:18-22.

[5] Mt 21:23-27.

[6] Mt 22:5.

[7] Mt 22:6.

[8] Mt 22:9.

[9] Lk 14:24.

[10] Wagner, “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14.”

[11] Mt 22:11-14.

[12] Mt 6:21.

[13] Mo Willems. I Am Invited to a Party! (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2007.

[14] Wagner, “Commentary on Matthew 22:1-14.”

[15] Sally A. Brown. “Matthew 22:1-14 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 187.

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to ACCEPT

Text used – Matthew 20:1-16

  • So last week we introduced this year’s Lenten theme of willingness. Throughout the next few weeks we’re going to be walking through some of Jesus’ parables and teachings from the gospel of Matthew, each of which has something particular to say to us about the interplay between willingness in our faith.
    • Last week: being willing to forgive
    • Up next week: willing to respond to God’s call
    • Today: being willing to accept, particularly when it comes to fairness → And as with so many other topics, we’re going to come at this one through the lens of … a children’s book. (Once a children’s librarian’s daughter, always a children’s librarian’s daughter!) → book called Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev[1]
      • Story of a little boy who has a pet elephant
      • Boy and his elephant are very excited to be going to pet club → But when they get there, they find a sign on the door: “Strictly no elephants.”
      • Sadly, little boy and elephant turn away and start to slowly walk away (in the rain, of course, because in books, it always rains when the characters are sad … it adds gravitas)
      • Sitting on a bench watching people go by when a little girl comes up to them with her pet … skunk → boy and girl have a conversation about how, even though their pets are unique, there’s nothing wrong with them
      • Boy and girl decide to start their own pet club at the local park → as they’re walking there, they’re joined by kids with all sorts of different pets
        • Bat
        • Hedgehog
        • Giraffe
        • Armadillo
        • Penguin
        • Even a narwhal (in a fishbowl in the bed of a little red wagon)
      • Create their own pet club open to everyone … including, on the very last page, the kids who turned them away from the original pet club in the first place → “So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” You know, the tenderhearted side of us want to go, “Awww. Of course they invited the other kids to their club.” But maybe there’s another part of us that says, “But was that fair of them?”
        • Just like forgiveness last week, fairness is a sticky subject
  • So … let’s just dive right in.
    • Definition of fairness: impartial and just treatment or behavior without favoritism or discrimination → Ideally, there’s a certain level of neutrality expected in fairness.
      • Impartial
      • Without favoritism or discrimination
      • And while we want and hope for and even expect other people to treat us without any impartialities or favoritism or discrimination, we know how hard it can be to actually turn around and grant that kind of neutral, fair treatment to others in turn, don’t we? We cannot deny that as human beings, we are made up of all our experiences – things we have learned, people we have known, ways that we have been treated, and so on. Even in those moments when we say we want to act fairly, it’s really hard to intentionally set aside all that baggage that we bring with us to actually act impartially without favoritism or discrimination.
        • Certainly not the version of “fairness” that kids complain about whenever their parents require something of them that they don’t like → For kids, “That’s not fair!” generally means, “I don’t like that” or “I don’t want to do that.” But is it just kids that use the term “fair” in this way? I kinda don’t think so.
  • This is what makes Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard such a challenging parable this morning
    • Story of a landowner who is in need of workers to harvest his crop in his vineyard → text tells us he hires workers at 5 separate times throughout the day
      • “early in the morning”
      • 9:00 a.m.
      • Noon
      • 3:00 p.m.
      • Finally 5:00 p.m.
      • What’s interesting is that, as far as we can tell, the only time this particular landowner was actually looking for workers was the first time he went out. – text: The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.[2]
        • Other times, text just says “he went out” and found all the other workers “standing around in the marketplace” → Now, we know that this guy was a farmer because he’s got a vineyard. And I have to think he must have hailed from the Midwest because his response to seeing all these people standing around in the marketplace throughout the day is, “Let’s go to work!”
    • Also interesting that the only time he actually discusses pay are with the first two groups
      • Group that he found “early in the morning” – text: After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.[3] → denarion = roughly equivalent to a full days wage
      • Group that he found at 9:00 a.m. – text: He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.[4] → “I’ll pay you whatever is right.” I mean … that could be really nebulous, couldn’t it? Well, maybe in English, but in the Greek, it’s a little more precise.
        • Gr. “whatever is right” = incl. word that means honest, good, just, righteous, upright, even innocent → When applied to a person, this word means someone who is a model citizen. There’s even an element of duty and honor in this word. In fact, it’s the same word from which we get our modern-day term “deacon.” So in using this particular word to describe the wages that these workers will be receiving, Jesus is leaving no room for doubt. It will be utterly and completely fair.
    • Or will it? – text: When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’[5] → “Now wait just a darn minute!” we think. “That’s not fair.” We can feel the burning indignation of that “early morning” worker, can’t we? Even though we weren’t in on any of the negotiations with the other groups of worker (if there even were any), we don’t like the way this sits. In our society, it’s work more = paid more.
      • Don’t normally do this, but I’m going to read a fairly large chunk of one of my commentaries[6] for you this morning because I just feel like it addresses this whole messy business of fairness so well → commentary written by Patrick J. Willson, HR PC(USA) minister currently living in New Mexico *FOR COPYRIGHT PURPOSES, I UNFORTUNATELY CANNOT INCLUDE THIS IN MY BLOG POST*
        • This brings in an interesting element of the idea of fairness: I … me … mine. Very often, when we’re concerned about fairness, we’re concerned about what’s fair for us. It’s a very self-focused issue. When we perceive something as “not fair for me,” it’s insulting. It’s embarrassing. And if in that perception we decide that it’s not fair for us because someone else got it first … got it better … got it more … then we’re even more incensed.
    • But let me ask you this:
      • Is it fair that in our society – in our wider community of Rochester, even! – that a single-parent household can work three jobs and still not make enough money to afford decent housing?
      • Is it fair that in our society, a new mother is too often forced to choose between going back to work before her body is even healed or getting paid so she can feed her family?
      • Is it fair that so many of our older adults on fixed incomes have to choose which one thing they’re going to be able to afford this month: their housing, their food, or their necessary medication?
      • Is it fair that until very recently, something as essential as insulin was marked up more than 600% from manufacturer’s costs to consumer’s costs?
      • Truly, friends, we have a problem with “what’s fair.” I’ve been working for Paid Family Medical Leave within the PC(USA) for a number of years now, both on the presbytery level and the wider denominational level. I was blessed by this congregation in that, when I needed that leave when my kids were born, no one batted an eye. Y’all said, “Yes. Of course you need time.” But I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from colleagues who have been told other things.
        • “You haven’t earned that kind of leave yet.”
        • “Why would you need so much time?”
        • And from male colleagues, both currently serving AND honorably retired: “Well, my wife never needed leave like that.” 
    • And yet even though we can feel the burn of indignation that those “early morning” workers felt, listen again to the words of the landowner – text: [The landowner] replied …, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”[7]
      • Especially pointed when we realize that this parable comes on the heels of a very particular moment in Mt’s gospel
        • Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler who asks how to obtain eternal life à Jesus’ response: “Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”[8] → Rich young ruler “went away saddened, because he had many possessions”[9]
        • In the wake of that encounter, we hear Simon Peter speak up: “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?”[10] → Surely, Peter is thinking that it’s only fair for he and the disciples to receive the best that eternity has to offer them – the best place at the heavenly table, the best honors, and so on. And indeed, Jesus assures Peter that there will be good things waiting for those who follow Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven … but there will be good things for others as well. And then he tells this parable.
    • Continue with Patrick Willson’s commentary[11] *AGAIN, I CAN’T INCLUDE THIS ENTIRE TEXT FOR COPYRIGHT PURPOSES, BUT I WILL INCLUDE  SMALL PORTION OF IT*: If we wait and watch long enough, we come to see that the only way we come to know the goodness of God, the only way we can see the goodness of God, is as it is given to others. We can see the goodness of God more clearly in the lives of others, quite simply because they are other than us. The back of the line offers perspective. … Thus when we see God’s goodness to others – to people we love, to friends, to colleagues, but most especially to those people we do not think deserve such generosity – then we can see the goodness of God for the wondrous miracle that it is. → Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Lisa Mantchev. Strictly No Elephants. (New York: Simon & Schuster), 2015.

[2] Mt 20:1.

[3] Mt 20:2.

[4] Mt 20:4 (emphasis added).

[5] Mt 20:8-12.

[6] Patrick J. Willson. “Matthew 20:1-16 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 123, 125.

[7] Mt 20:13-16.

[8] Mt 19:21.

[9] Mt 19:22.

[10] Mt 19:27.

[11] Willson, 125, 127.

Sunday’s sermon: Willing to FORGIVE

Text used – Matthew 18:15-35

  • This year, throughout the season of Lent, we’re going to be exploring different facets of willingness. But willingness can be a complex thing.
    • Element of willingness that requires sacrifice – often a willingness to lay one thing aside or forgo one thing in order to shoulder another
      • Sometimes means a setting aside of self → making space for another
        • For the wisdom & experiences of another
        • For the concerns and challenges of another
        • For the needs of another
    • Can be an element of obligation to willingness → being willing to do something even though it may feel dull, compulsory, or rote
    • Willingness requires dedication → Even if whatever you’re willing to do is something obligatory, you have to be dedicated to something in order to keep doing it.
      • Dedicated to the person that asked you to do it
      • Dedicated to the cause/purpose behind it
      • Dedicated to an outcome or at least a potential outcome
      • This is sort of the way I view laundry. I’m willing to do it even though I find it the most dull and obligatory of household chores because I’m dedicated to the outcome: clean clothes! → a silly example, to be sure, but you get the picture
    • Willingness can also bear beautiful, unexpected fruit
      • So throughout Lent, we’re going to be walking through some of Jesus’ parables and teachings from the gospel of Matthew, each of which has something particular to say to us about the inextricable role of willingness in our faith.
        • Today: forgiveness
        • Next week: fairness
        • Also:
          • Responding to God’s call
          • Preparing to do God’s work
          • Generous welcome/hospitality
          • Reverence/honoring God
          • Going out and sharing our faith
  • Before we dive too deep into this morning’s passage, let’s situate ourselves in Mt’s gospel a little → made a pretty big jump from last week’s text out of Mt 7 to this morning’s text in Mt 18
    • Passage from Mt 7 last week was toward the end of Sermon on the Mount
    • Btwn then and today’s text
      • Lots of healing/casting out demons
      • Jesus calls his disciples
      • Lots of teachings, incl. other well-known parables
        • Parable of the sower/seeds[1]
        • Parable of the mustard seed[2]
        • Parable of the lost sheep[3]
      • Miracles like feeding the 5000[4] and Jesus walking on water[5]
      • Death of John the Baptist at the hands and whim of the Romans[6]
      • Even Jesus predicting his own death and resurrection not once but twice![7]
    • Suffice it to say that a significant portion of Jesus’ ministry has taken place. He’s built up quite the reputation between last week and this week!
  • Turning to this week’s text
    • Two separate sections of Scripture that don’t usually get stitched together in lectionary readings
      • Subtitles from my Common English Bible: “Sinning brother or sister” (vv. 15-20) and “Parable of the unforgiving servant” (vv. 21-35)
      • But the thread that does that stitching is clear: these passages are held together by forgiveness.
  • First section involves community in forgiveness
    • Beginning of passage talks about how to approach someone you’re having an issue with (or who has an issue with you)
      • First, approach them alone → Note: Jesus doesn’t say, “Blast them in a public forum like a community Facebook group or on Twitter.” I don’t know when our society made the turn from actually talking out differences/misunderstandings with one another in person to simply spouting all your frustrations on social media, but I don’t think it’s a turn that’s done us any favors.
        • Interesting to note here – text: If your brother or sister sins against you” → Gr. “sins” = word that carries implications of both intentional and unintentional harm → It’s a term used of archers not hitting their targets – of missing the mark. Jesus is reminding us that even when the harm done us unintended harm, we still need to make amends. We still need to be willing to seek and give forgiveness.
      • If one-on-one conversations don’t resolve conflict, bring others with you → Not as enforcers. Not as people to argue your point with you or for you. Jesus specifically calls them “witnesses” – people who can give an honest, first-hand account of further conversations if need be.
        • Neutral parties, not collaborators waiting to be tagged into the fight
      • If small group mediation doesn’t work, then bring in the rest of the body of faith → This isn’t an element of the church that we like to think about – the idea that we’re all called to keep one another accountable in our journeys of faith. But that’s what Jesus is saying. We’re here to help one another in many ways, and one of those ways is, in fact, conflict resolution. We’re here to help each other work things out with one another.
        • Scholar: Matthew is not prone to sugar-coating much of anything and he gives this subject the same treatment. He assumes the community will experience pain, conflict, struggle, and disagreement as they figure out what it means to be Christ-followers amid conflict, Roman occupation, and competing allegiances. While Matthew doesn’t shy away from his particular brand of intense and hyperbolic declarations, this text feels refreshingly honest about the struggles of living in community. In a time when so many in our churches are asking “Can’t we all just get along?,” Matthew answers “No. But we have a plan for that.”[8]
      • Another interesting thing to note here – text (Jesus): If they don’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector.[9] → Now, that may sound like a dismissive statement. After all, according to the Law, the Jews were supposed to keep themselves separate from the Gentiles. And in first-century Jewish society, tax collectors were detested and generally shunned. They were Jewish citizens who worked for the Roman empire – the occupiers. And yet, Jesus spent his days and his ministry with such as these.
        • Disciple Matthew = tax collector
        • Very often throughout the gospels, the first people (sometimes the only people!) to see Jesus for the Messiah that he is are not Jews but Gentile
        • Scholar: The call to treat [the offender] as a Gentile or a tax collector is not a call to exclude him permanently; after all, Jesus ate with Gentiles and tax collectors and sinners. So considering the offender to be like one them is not a call to shun him, but a call to reach out to him. The community must continue in its effort to make reconciliation a reality.[10] → This emphasizes the most important role that the community plays in forgiveness: the willingness to reach out, to seek reconciliation even when it’s hard. Because somehow it’s always easier to do hard things together.
        • Central context of a verse that we often quote in a totally different context: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.[11] → So often, we cite this verse tenderly, reassuring one another that God is with us when we pray together, even if there are just a few of us gathered. And yet the context of this verse is not gathering for worship but gathering for conflict resolution.
          • Working to smooth out our rough edges that are scraping up against one another
          • Working to heal wounds, old and new
          • Working to bring peace to tension and frustration and misunderstanding
    • Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be an easy process, but it is a process that, if we’re willing, can bear the essential fruit of forgiveness.
      • Scholar: When taken seriously, it is a laborious process. To follow these many steps resists our very human inclination to cut people off who have hurt us or simply let people who have “made their bed, lie in it.” Instead, this is a procedure that insists that the spiritual and relational wellbeing of each person is something worth fighting for and restoration to community is worth our time and energy. In a time when political and social divisions seem to be driving us to opposite corners or, perhaps, separate Bible or book studies; when social media allows us to “unfriend” or “unfollow” those with whom we disagree; when we are invited into echo chambers where we are told those who are different are an adversary or even an enemy that threatens our capacity for success, this text invites us to remember our call as a community. This seemingly pedantic set of rules and regulations for communal living invites us to take seriously both the way our sin impacts others as well as our summons to restore kinship with one another.[12]
        • Heart of our worship practice of confession, assurance, and passing the peace
  • Idea of restoring kinship leads us into the 2nd portion of our passage this morning – “the parable of the unforgiving servant” → sort of plays out the steps that Jesus talks about in the first passage AND drives home the importance of forgiveness
    • First servant owe the king more money than he could ever earn in many lifetimes – “ten thousand bags of gold”[13] → servant begs the king to allow him to repay his astronomical debt instead of throwing him in prison → king goes a step above and forgives his entire debt
    • First servant turns around and seeks out another servant who owes him a paltry debt in comparison to the one that was just forgiven him – just “one hundred coins”[14] → first servant manhandles the second servant, ignoring the second servant’s pleas for time to repay the debt and instead having him thrown in prison
    • All witnessed by yet another servant who takes the matter to the king → king calls the first servant before him, reprimands him for his lack of compassion and reciprocal forgiveness → king has the first servant thrown in prison
    • Jesus’ final words: My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.[15] → Anyone who’s tried to forgive someone for something – which is basically anyone who’s been human for more than a minute! – knows that this is a hard ask. Forgiveness isn’t easy because hurts don’t fade quickly. Our bodies take time to heal when we’ve been injured – sometimes a long time – but even that healing time is miniscule when compared to how long it takes our souls to heal.
      • According to research, it takes 5 positive comments to offset 1 negative comment → And that’s just in terms of general feedback – constructive criticism. That doesn’t pertain to all the barbs and insults and brokenness that we verbally hurl at one another.
        • We taunt “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” … but we only toss out that patently false verse when we’ve already been hurt, right?
      • And yet Jesus implores us to forgive. Because we have all already been forgiven. Forever. Dang. It’s hard.
        • Scholar: Like the debt numbers in this parable, we have been recipients of grace in amounts that we can hardly count. If we do not forgive the transgressions of our human experience in light of the outrageous abundance of the way we have been forgiven, we are at risk of being convicted alongside the servant. We are being called to liberal forgiveness.[16] → Jesus implores us to forgive. So … are we willing? Amen.

[1] Mt 13:3-9, 18-23.

[2] Mt 13:31-32.

[3] Mt 18:10-14.

[4] Mt 14:13-21.

[5] Mt 14:22-33.

[6] Mt 14:1-12.

[7] Mt 16:21-23; 17:22-23.

[8] Kimberly Wagner, “Commentary on Matthew 18:15-35” from Working Preacher,

[9] Mt 18:17b.

[10] Ada María Isasi-Díaz. “Matthew 18:12-22 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 92, 94.

[11] Mt 18:20.

[12] Wagner.

[13] Mt 18:24.

[14] Mt 18:28.

[15] Mt 18:35.

[16] Dock Hollingsworth. “Matthew 18:21-35 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 102.