The Gnomic Aorist God. An Advent Sermon.

On Advent 4C -December 19, 2021

For St James Lutheran Church and Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Hanford, CA.

Preachers who listen to the Sermon Brainwave podcast have been more or less challenged this week by Dr. Matt Skinner, so today, I begin with describing gnomic aorist tense in Greek. Now Greek is not for wimps and I find it much easier to understand on cold medication, so it’s ok for this to be too much on a Sunday morning.

Aorist tense is past tense.  A completed thing.  Done.  But… as  we all know, people have habits, an M.O.. A manner in which we can expect them to continue behaving because… they do!   As such, a gnomic aorist verb indicates a completed thing, but one in which we can have reasonable expectation of continuing to happen because… it does.  

And speaking of M.O…..

Have you ever wondered who the first Christians were?  One could say we meet them today; we hear from them, and even more importantly, we hear their song and declaration.  

Meet Elisabeth– whose old womb had failed her for many years, leaving her in a position of high authority and also considered a shame to her community and her husband, Zecharaiah, the high priest. 

Elisabeth could be officially the first Christian, the first to claim out loud that Christ is her Lord.  She looks to this much younger cousin and rather than dismissing her, she proclaims joy and awe, respect and wonder at the gift of their relationship when she has been ostracized and shunned for years. And she names the child in Mary’s womb as Lord.

Meet John– the babe well on his way to entering the world.  Likely entering her last trimester, Elisabeth feels him leap within upon seeing Mary.  John, who would be ostracized himself in many ways, who was a loner and, well, even to the Jewish people, weird.  He would come to say that his cousin is far greater than himself.  Humble and yet ready and eager to call out the behaviour of many alongside his cousin, he jumps with joy at the nearness of Jesus. 

Meet Joseph -in the backstory, who we hear nothing from on the topic, but his actions speak louder than words.  And he supports Mary in all the ways that really matter.  She leaves their home, leaving him to tend to his own meals and care in order to go spend 3 months with her cousin. That says it all. His life was a living breathing example of service to the Lord. 

And Mary.  A woman of her time, full of youth, promise, and a baby who is not her husband’s.  A woman who was a troublemaker of the best degree- willing to offer up her entire life and reputation for this promise from God.  She does not dismiss her significantly older cousin, Elisabeth, but goes to her with joy.  And when they greet, she sings her song of resistance to the troubles and injustice of the world. 

It seems that God has a way of gathering the rag tag bunch of misfits as an M.O. Because here they are, the very first followers of this Christ, this messiah who is to come to save.  

It seems an odd way to declare salvation to the world, two pregnant women who sing.  As if that would change anything.

But it does; Mary’s declaration, her song of resistance is lifted up and recorded in writing, passed down and celebrated through the centuries to come.  Yet she is of no account.  She is nobody.  And still, for centuries, her song was the only allowed song for Vespers! 

The whole of it is odd.  The whole of it breaks the ways in which we expect to hear from God and how power will be overthrown.  And yet, it is just God’s way;  God’s M.O.  Mary’s song uses the gnomic aorist tense to share just how God has done all these wonderful things and WILL KEEP ON doing them. 

God has gathered the ones society shunned.  God will continue to gather the ones society will shun.  God has filled prophets like Elizabeth and Mary with the Spirit and God will continue to raise up prophets, filling them with the Spirit.  God has undone the power structures of humanity and God will continue to dismantle them.  And God will do it in the least expected of ways, and will keep doing it in unexpected ways.  

Advent is a time of preparation, a time of waiting. As followers of our Christ today, it is hard to prepare for something when we don’t know what we will need. How are we to prepare?

We respond as God’s people always have: we cry out to our God. And then we receive the gifts that God brings to us in order to be prepared:To be gathered into a rag tag bunch.  To welcome others when they come to us.  To open our hearts to the joyous filling of the Holy Spirit.  To leap with joy at the one who brings good news to us.  To sing of resistance and hold hope.  

That is all we need to prepare.  Because, as Mary sings with glee, God has done the rest, and God will keep doing the rest.  That is God’s way… 

An Advent Reflection

Today I saw an image of Mary, with a maternity line streaking down her belly and arms holding her aching back as she anticipated labor. (Credit image: Honest Advent by Scott Erickson, to see it, follow his instagram page: honest advent. Here is the image link from his IG:

Here are my thoughts:

I live on the spine of the world. And when she stretches, I know her groans; the sound she makes as she struggles to ease the growing pressure that causes her pain.

I know this pain in aging, overused joints. I know the moans and groans as I desperately reach for relief; moving into poses of pigeons, and dogs, and sleeping babies.

I have lived on the fast of the earth, where her tears and ragged breath saturate and drown, swirling madly as she weeps out her anger and pain.

I know this overfull storm of emotions and wetness that must be released. The ones that start in one place and grow and spread as it moves to a new space to be released. I know the tear swollen eyes and throat as I weep and rage out in order to be balanced again.

I have lived in the barren dry spaces of mother earth’s body. The ones where she holds her bitter, dry, deathly hot and cold grief; where a drop brings a blossom. and a day later it is dust. Where the arid landscape has a bold, raw, unapologetic beauty, cracked and split by the sun. Like my aging skin, moist as long as I oil it, and withered parchment an hour later. I know this dry grief in my skin and most delicate spaces.

This creation- she is she.

She is me.

We are we.

Created and bound together for each other.

And my God entered this sacred, aching, slick, and dry being with me….

and then I knew my divine self… created in Their image,

is the fullness of love.

The Sermon I Didn’t Preach (content warning: rape)

9th Sunday after Pentecost- 2 Samuel 11:1-15

Today is a baptism. And also the readings where yet again people will hear the story of Bathsheba and David and will once more allow a victim to be blamed.

I am not afraid to preach a good and hard sermon. But there is also a time and place. And today, we celebrate new life, joy, hope, and there will be young people present with no nursery due to COVID. So instead… I place this here for you.

You see, that is our history. I love our scriptures- but they are the results of a specific time in history, of a particular lens of writers and even those who chose these books out of so many. Within that history is a habit as old as time to blame the victim.

Throughout time, we have made Bathsheba into a temptress for doing what normal women did (bath on the roof- it was private!!!!!). Just because she was not dragged by her hair to the king for him to abuse his power did not mean she was willing. In fact, it does not even mean she had a choice.

King David was a rapist and murderer. He abused his power and not only forced her into a sexual relationship (remember she had NO choice- context matters folks!) but afterward, he murdered her honorable husband to cover it up. The man was no saint. He was saturated with sin and power at this point in his life.

She had no choices in this situation. She did not have a single option available to her except to act with as much dignity as she could muster.

Every human who suffers sexual abuse and rape at the hands of another does the same, even today. We put on our best mask and try to make the world think we are strong. We don’t let them see just how cruel and destructive our abusers are. And we still fight the narrative that somehow the victim is to blame.

But Jesus gathers the pieces.

Just as the bread went out whole, it was not thrown away after others fed from it. Instead, the pieces were not even thrown to the ground. They were gatherd.

In Christ, we are gathered, cherished, and given hope and healing. Today, I want to give Bathsheba some healing. I want us to hear the victim and acknowledge her story. Because in the story being heard, the truth being told, our pieces can be gathered up in Christ and we can be set free.

The way they broke you did not make you worthless. It did not diminish you. It diminished them. Your beauty, strength, and resilience are not any less. They cannot steal that from you. And all the frayed and broken parts inside, they are held with sacred gentleness by our Lord, until you are ready to be whole, to be reformed in Christ.

There is healing. There is wholeness. There is truth. There is a different future ahead for us. And for Bathsheba. And it begins with the truth of our Lord, naming what IS and calling out the systems of oppression and harm. In his entire ministry, Christ values the victim and in doing so, the abuser is under the spotlight for accountability. It made those in power so angry they murdered him too. But he did not give up. And through his Spirit, he does not give up, even today.

He gathers the pieces.

Meet Me in the Desert… God is there.

It’s been awhile since I have written. With so many voices saying so much, I didn’t think I had much to offer. Imagine comparison of how the desert feels like a barren place compared to a forrest. Yet, the desert is full of life. I realized, just because I am not one of the trees, doesn’t mean there isn’t something to say. The text for the second Sunday of Advent helped me realize it was time to write again.

Many imagine the desert as an empty and barren place. It is not flowing with water or green flora. The animals are not lush and beautiful with brilliant plumage or stunning hides. Yet the desert is full of life.

When my mother in law died, we ran to the desert. I needed the simple space to meet with God. The busy and chaotic life abundant spaces were no comfort to me. And so we went. As my heart struggled with God to come to terms with my faith and grief, I saw God present. EVERYWHERE. Earth that had been stripped of being hidden by foliage showed mineral rivers and the power of rain. There were flowers all around me. The wind had shaped the earth into tunnels that looked like something off of Tatooine from Star Wars. At night animals skittered through our campsite and at times had us wondering if a tent was enough protection!

The desert allowed me to take a moment and realize what I still had. I had lost mom, but I still had her love. I still had life within me, even if it seemed small or hard to see, like life in the desert. I saw God there, in that place where no one chooses to stay- the place that is hard life and where one really works just to stay alive. Once the distractions of the world were stripped away, I was clearly able to see the power and majesty of God- and to be comforted.

The sparse life is not the same as no life. Instead, it is abundance on a different scale. A scale where we are able to see each and every thing in clarity. And most importantly, where we can begin to appreciate the abundance of the future. The wilderness is not barren. God is there. And if you are in the wilderness, God is with you. It is the place we go when we need to meet with God and see God clearly. A place where God meets us, as we pare back the lush distraction and instead get to the essence of who we are.

It feels like we have been in the desert a long time, as we enter the 9th month of our pandemic. Do not rush to leave the desert. We are here for a while yet. And your choice is to sit in the tent and not notice the world, or to see and celebrate the evidence of God around us in the simplicity. I pray you will choose to Meet me in the desert. God is there.

Why Home Matters

We all want to know there is a landing or jumping off point in this chaos we call life.

Yesterday I lost my shit. I took my “Karen” to the internet and let loose, too. It was a sight to behold. All the while, but especially today, I have wondered, why am I acting like this? Why does having a home matter so much? I have a roof over my head right now, so why have I lost patience?

There are a lot of answers. I identify as an 8 on the enneagram- and at my innermost person, provision and stability of the basics is super important to me. I am motivated to provide that for others, but also, when my own is threatened, I become my most 8 self in anger and I will fight anyone in my path. *Did you hear my high pitched voice saying, “I will fight you!”???*

With well over 40 moves in my life of 47 years, while I am not a true Nomad, I relate deeply. When my partner’s mom died, a part of me died. Her home had been our permanent address (a military term) for over 20 years. With her death, I lost the only address I had ever had for years on end and any sense of a place to return to if things got really rough. But even with that, I have never felt like I really had a home, or at best, that I had a right to call a place home.

I have been homeless, too. I have slept in other people’s homes and even in a parked boat (yes, on wheels) for months on end. I have had “no forwarding address” and have lost contact with so many people over the years. I am pretty sure if previous life exists, I was seaweed or an airplant- no roots.

So when I ask myself, “Why does a house matter so much that I will lose my patience and go off on folks over yet another delay” I am asking from a perspective of not ever really having a home- not a real one that I can always say is there.

So if I can live this homeless in my heart and at times physically and still thrive, why does this matter? It comes down to this:

We all want a place we belong.

We all want to know there is a corner of this world where we can claim it and know it is ours and we belong to it too. We all want to know there is a landing or jumping off point in this chaos we call life. We want to know there is a touchstone- a place we can reset and reorient ourselves.

And here is what I have learned, too:

God is our touchstone.

When I lose focus on that (and yep, pastors do that, too!) I lose my sense of direction- as though my compass for life and the world is missing. And then I lose my shit and my patience. I can look past a lot of human failings and gaps until I lose focus on my touchstone- who reminds me I am more than this body.

And this is the story of the human condition; our need to know our place, yet limiting ourselves to our bodily needs denies our greatest one- to know we are claimed and can claim in return.

That is the meaning of home: A place where we are known, claimed and we know and claim in return. And this matters because we are created in love, for love, by the greatest Love.

So today, I am loving myself. I am reminding myself that God loves me and claims me and that is not undone by my very human moments of Karen-ness. Today I am forgiving myself and apologizing to those I was short with. I am remembering my place is all of this and none of it- and that is the best touchstone ever.

Called and Waiting

Being valued by what we do and provide to the world is a colonized and privileged concept. The truth of being valued- just plain valued- is a God-system.

I have done some difficult things since becoming a pastor. I told someone I could not be their pastor, I let some people go who could not support me being a pastor due to my gender, I buried people I cared deeply for, I spoke unpopular truths.

The hardest things have come recently. I said goodbye and then have had to wait to say hello. As I sit here, in a beautiful guesthouse, away from everything, I am grateful to my bones for the provision. And I am also anxious. My heart wanted nothing more than to be called to remain and settle. But God said, “not yet.” I would not have gone through the pain of another good-bye were I not called forward- and yet, I sit.

It feels hard to just sit. Recently, my dad, Ole, and I were sharing the feelings of being “do-ers” in a world where we our value is based on ability to “do.” Both of us have so many “projects” waiting for us. He is sidelined by chemo, I am sidelined by contracts waiting to be signed. Neither of us want to be sitting still when there is so much we could be accomplishing.

He brought up the pandemic and wondered about the Israelites being left to “sit” in the desert for a time (40 years) in order to learn something and he wondered what we might learn globally in this pandemic time. Together, we wondered what we are each to learn in our personal time of stillness.

I was reminded of when I was turning 9; I refused. I was angry and sullen for days. Finally, breaking down and crying, I told my mom why: “I have wasted my life and had nothing to show for it, how could I possibly turn 9 and not have done anything to make the world a better place yet?”

This last week a prophet in my life (@polyglotevangel on twitter) called out the need to soul search, to confess sin, and seek forgiveness and mercy from God. Francisco named the level of willingness of many white people to betray a person of color when it came down to it; a sin where we will sell out the “other” for our own security.

The same day, I began reading Mary Magdalene Revealed (about the lost gospel of Mary Magdalene). Author Meggan Watterson wrote this:

“Sin in Mary’s gospel is not about a long list of moral or religious laws, it’s not about wrong action. Sin is simply forgetting the truth and reality of the soul- and then acting from that forgetful state. The body then, the human body, isn’t innately sinful. “Sin” is when we believe we are only this body, these insatiable needs, these desires and fears the ego conjures.”

Suddenly, I felt my time of waiting had purpose. My memories of turning 9 and conversation with my dad all coalesced into understanding. Francisco’s truth and pain and Mary Magdalene’s grasp of sin as a cutting off of the soul all made sense.

I have time and space to look in my soul and see myself for who I am, to see my value, my belovedness and that is has nothing to do with what I “do” or how much I have done. My sin against my siblings begins with my inability to see myself as precious and worthy even when, or especially when I simply sit and take space.

My sin is in failing to see my own soul, and thus theirs.

My forgiveness begins with seeing and knowing the truth of humanity as beautiful, precious humans who need first to be seen. How can I see them if I am caught up in hiding from myself?

Remember the Israelites? They didn’t want to see themselves either. They just wanted to get where they were going so they could “do” and prove their worth again. Being valued by what we do and provide to the world is a colonized and privileged concept. The truth of being valued- just plain valued- is a God-system. When we free ourselves from worldly value systems, we might be able to finally overcome the greatest sins of our time.

It starts with undoing our corsets and bindings- to look at ourselves honestly and see our soul and the then remembering that first truth: We are God created. Then, choosing to see and value the same in others.

We will never do that when we are busy “doing.” We have to stop or be stopped to be still enough to let the bindings fall.

Seminary was a time of great undoing for me. I pray this time is another great un-doing for me- that I will see who my soul is, and know the truth of who I am created in the image of again. And I pray, that out of that, I will see you all the more clearly.

You are Enough. Epiphany 2A Sermon

Epiphany 2A         January 19, 2020     Hope Lutheran Church          Riverside, CA

We love to look for the savior, the one who is amazing and will fix it all.  

We want presidents, pastors, and team captains who can fix things and we glorify them or crucify them for what we do or do not do. No law put into place is more powerful than the people who choose to follow it.  No one person can save this church, that team, or this nation. And thank God, no one person can destroy these either. If a nation or church is destroyed, it is by the people, not the leader.  One person does not have that much power. 

Still we look for the savior. 

We do not look to ourselves.  Even in the church, we lift up the Christian whose life is transformational for the world, whose resume of faith works is worthy of a book. Who lives like Mother Teresa and yet lives like the Osteens. We think if we are believers our lives have to be something amazing to be of value and power.  By this measure, we are not enough. 

Listen to the words of Paul again from our second reading, 

I give my thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in God, in speech and knowledge of every kind- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I read a blog this past week that sat heavy with me.  And these words accompany it perfectly.  In it, author Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui ponders the question:  

What if all I want is a Mediocre life?  

What if all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between? Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up—beyond mom and sister and wife? But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough? 

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship? What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough?

What if I am not cut out for the frantic pace of this society and cannot even begin to keep up? And see so many others with what appears to be boundless energy and stamina but know that I need tons of solitude and calm, an abundance of rest, and swaths of unscheduled time in order to be healthy. Body, spirit, soul healthy. Am I enough?

What if I am too religious for some and not spiritual enough for others? Non-evangelistic. Not bold enough. Yet willing to share in quiet ways, in genuine relationship, my deeply rooted faith. And my doubts and insecurities.

This will have to be enough.

She says so much more, and I will share the blog on our facebook and webpage, but I want you to hear the rest of Paul’s words this morning. 

God will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful. By God you were called into the fellowship of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

I know I am a young pastor. I know I have energy and more ideas than the world can make happen. I know I like to dream and do and create and I know for some folks, just watching me is exhausting.  Some of that is me trying to prove myself to the world. And some of it is just who I am. But that is me and it is not you. And I am not this church, we all are.   

And we are enough. You are enough.  Jesus Christ did not call you to be amazing, he called you to be faithful.  You became members here to be faithful community together, because one person cannot do amazing things, but a group can.  And together, we are doing an amazing thing. We are being faithful together in a world filled with anxiety and fear.  

Do not look to those who are not here; those who are now gone or those you wish would come.  The ones we need are already here. You. Us. We are enough right here and now because God is faithful and we are called into the fellowship of Christ by God.  The most faithful and amazing thing you do every day and every week is show up and be present. In your presence you bring Christ to the world. In bringing Christ you bring peace.  

I have failed you as your pastor.  I am fired up by the Spirit and in my eagerness, I want to see YOU fired up by the Spirit.  But that may not be your call. Maybe your call is to be calmed by the Spirit. Maybe your call is to be quieted by the Spirit.  Maybe your call is to be rejuvenated, enlivened, comforted, or more by the Spirit. Just because I dream of more, doesn’t mean you have to be more. That is my dream and my call. I failed you in not making that really clear. I want you to know, just as Paul did for the Church of Corinth that your faithfulness is enough. Whatever that looks like, you are enough because God has strengthened you.  

The only savior is THE savior.  He already died and did amazing life for us- now it is our turn to life faithfully in whatever way it is that we are each called individually.  Because we were, and are, and will be enough already in Christ Jesus. This week, do not go out trying to be what you are not. But in faithfulness, be the most you, that you can be and trust that the work of the Holy Spirit is being accomplished in even the simplest of things you do.  

Christ has already accomplished the most amazing thing: salvation of the world.  Our job is to join in the celebration and bring who we are to the table. And who you are is enough in Christ Jesus. 

Repent, Turn, Hope, Repeat- Sermon for Advent

Advent 2 A December 8, 2019 .       Hope Lutheran Church Riverside, CA

Is 11:1-10 Ps 72:1-7,18-19 Ro 15:4-13 Mt 3:1-12

If things are going well, we don’t really need hope.  Take that any way you want to, but at least consider, that Hope is a thing which depends on something not going as planned and instead holding  a desire for more, for better, for the possibility of a different ending. 

It is hard to have or hold onto hope though in times of crisis, if there is not something to cling to- a shoot out of the stump that we can hope turns into a mighty tree. There has to be something left for us to cling to. Without hope, though, there is not much reason to hang around unless it is to grieve the end of what was.  

I learned this past week of several creatures who are expected to be extinct soon.  Orangutans, Gorillas, Rhinos, and Elephants are at the the top of the most endangered animals on earth.  Quickly behind them are polar bears, leopards, and leatherback turtles.   I was thinking about how many of them are dying off because of our intentional actions like hunting, and how many are dying because of unintentional actions, like habitat loss and climate change.  I feel like there is no way I can fix this- that only I can change the polar sea caps melting. So in many ways, I guess I am hopeless for the polar bear. It feels really empty to sit with this hopelessness.

That is where John is, crying out in the wilderness.  He is warning us of our endangered status- telling us there is a point where hope will run out and not be enough.  The people who are out there telling us lies and letting us believe there is more time are only vipers after our death in the first place. But for those who are willing to repent, hope remains.  

Repentance is not just saying, “I am sorry.”  It’s more. In fact, it is less about apology and more about changing our ways going forward.  Repentance is realizing we are more than going the wrong way on a path, or that we have done something wrong, but also likely on the wrong path altogether.  It isn’t a street corner shout that we are all going to hell because we don’t believe, it is also taking time to make way for Christ and change in our lives.  

Pastor David Lose reminds us that Advent is not a time to feel guilty about how we live before Christmas, but more about inviting ourselves to imagine that it doesn’t have to be this way and that we can take steps away from what is oppressing us and into God’s dream for our lives and creation. It is about making room for Christ. Repentance doesn’t have to be the final solution for polar bears, but instead one step toward a different path altogether.  While it may not change what is in motion now, it may be able to change the future. 

This year I learned about the impact of plastics on our water supply, so In our home, last year we stopped using plastic storage containers and this year I have been slowly buying reusable storage bags to replace ziplocs.  It isn’t the final solution, it doesn’t fix the plastics in our rain or water supplies, but it was one step in the right direction on the right path because we became aware that we had to change or we had to give up hope.  

I for one, was not willing to give up hope.  I want to keep it, to bask in the warmth of dreams, and life in it.  

John is reminding us, Christ is reminding us, we can hold onto hope, but we need to start somewhere to do so.  One small change at a time can make a big difference. I stopped using plastic straws about a year ago, too. I have saved somewhere around 50 straws in that time.  Now imagine if 50 of us did that. It would start to make a difference.  

Our lives are like that one small change. As community in Christ, our small changes have  cumulative effect and hope grows. We are called to repentance not just to say I am sorry, but to change the way we choose to be in the world.  As you move through advent, I encourage you to make one change personally and one change communally. Every day of our lives, we are given a chance to remember our baptismal promise and start anew in Christ- and that is where hope lies.  And each day, with each choice, hope can grow and thrive.  

This is the message of Christ, that we are born and renewed and each day, our choice is to thrive in this new life and cling to hope for more today and tomorrow.  And that is the message of Advent. Repent, Turn, Hope, Repeat.  


The hate that wasn’t there- A Pentecost Season Sermon

Pentecost 13C ~ Sept 8, 2019                         Hope Lutheran Church   ~ Riverside, CA

Luke 14:25-33

 If you ever want an example of the word of God needing translation and an argument against it as perfect, especially in English, this passage is it.  Because Jesus never said to hate your family. And he never told anyone they can’t follow. 

For those of you who love the Greek for the week- let’s take it a step further and add Hebrew context.  Our greek for the week is miseo. It can be translated as “hate, or to despise,” but it can also mean “to love less or have disregard for.”  How do we know which one Jesus meant? That is where context comes in. Because context matters- every time. And Hebrew context requires us to consider a shame-honor oriented use of the word that translates more like “have little regard for” rather than hate.  [1]

 Our other Greek is a phrase, ου δυναται ειναι: “Not able to be” rather than “can’t.”  This is the equivalent of today’s rules on “may I” and “can I.”  You may or may not based on what I say, but you can or cannot based on your ability.

 Let’s take that and look at the key text again.  If we translate it with context, Jesus is not telling us to hate our family or we can’t follow- he is telling us we have to be willing to have disregard for our family so that we may follow him. It doesn’t change the impact of hearing such a harsh passage dramatically, but it does change the living of it.  Because it is not about hate. It is about choosing which to love more. 

 Life is full of choices and while many are easy- which brand of oatmeal to buy, what shoes to wear today, many are not- like our choice to put our cat down yesterday rather than let him die a slow and painful death.  We chose to love him more than our need to keep him around longer because we didn’t want a world without him. For any of you who have ever had to make that hard choice, whether for a pet or a loved one in a hospital bed, you know it is about choosing love, not death or pain. 

 Christ is asking us to choose which to love more- a life loving the world the way God wants or a life loving our family the way we want. And it doesn’t always mean we will lose our family to choose more love.  And sometimes it does. You see, we are all dying. And at death there will be a separation- the question is, when will the separation happen? Sooner or later? With our cat, we chose sooner because we loved him more than we loved our need for him in our lives. He was already going.  We just chose to love him more to let him go sooner. But it is hard to let go.  

A little girl loved her play pearls.  She wore them everywhere as little children do; to church, school, the grocery store.  One day her father asked her if she loved him.  Of course she answered, “yes, daddy!”  Then he asked her to give him her pearls.  Of course with tears in her eyes, she begged him, “please don’t make me give you my pearls, Daddy.”  “Daughter, if you love me, please give me your pearls.” he said.  So, very sadly, she handed them over to him, tears streaming down her face.  He took them gently and put them in his pocket, but instead of coming out empty handed, he had a velvet box.  And he handed it to her.  Inside, she had her very own set of real pearls.


 Jesus isn’t asking us to forsake this love for family for no reason, but instead to choose to love others outside our family as much as we love them- in other words, to love the purpose of Christ in the world as much as our need to love the ones close to us.  Asking us to love the real thing more.  And sometimes, that means giving up a relationship sooner in order to have more love in the bigger picture. 

 He is asking us to love our homeless neighbor as much as we love our parents.  To love our undocumented immigrant neighbor as much as our citizen one. To love the child who is born to poverty and needs help with school supplies and lunches as much as the one who has everything packed up perfectly in their lunch bag.  To love the ones lost in the Bahamas as much as the ones lost in our own borders to hurricane Dorian. Christ is inviting us into an ethic of accountability, forgiveness and love in all our relationships. Not just the ones that matter to us the most. Because until we make that choice, we may not be able to follow. 

Our congregation did God’s Work Our Hands yesterday and Connie and I racked our brains for tasks that we could do for the world. Sometimes as churches, we get more focused on what we want rather than what others need.  We get more focused on our survival than on our mission as the people of God. In the end though, it came down to this- until we are willing as a congregation to truly mean our hospitality then what do we have to offer to anyone else?  It is more than a hug or handshake at the door and a kind smile. It means work on our spaces so that they are comfortable, attractive, and useable for others all week long, not just enough for us on Sunday morning. So we scoured our house of worship and gathering place.  We created a clean nursery that is ready for outside mommy and me groups to gather. A place that groups can use and feel truly welcome – because dirty toys don’t exactly scream “we value your presence.” We had to start at home. We had to choose to do all this work for folks who aren’t here yet.  We gave up a Saturday morning to make sure our welcome was a real and meaningful one. Because those unknown relationships matter more than a relaxed morning. It isn’t a great example, but it is our example of one step in choosing others over our own comfort. Just like giving up the organ and using a digital piano that everyone can hear now.  Or moving pews so folks with walkers can keep them with them during worship. These things are painful at times and require us to make a choice of others over a memory or a personal comfort. And that choice of one relationship over another is the point. 

Christ is not telling us to hate ourselves or our family, he is just inviting us into choosing the bigger more life giving love.  And sometimes that hurts. It means choosing what is better for all over what is better for one.  

That is what happened on the cross.  God chose more relationships- every one of us, over the one with the son.  And Christ chose death over losing us forever It was never about hate, it is always has been and always will be about choosing love.  Christ chose the bigger love and our choice is not about what we can or cannot do, but what we may or may not. 

We may choose the bigger love or not.  He is not taking that away from us. He is inviting us in, as always, to the bigger, eternal, redeeming love.  

Dear Jesus Etiquette- A Pentecost Season Sermon

Pentecost 12C ~September 1, 2019                   Hope Lutheran Church; Riverside, CA

Luke 14:1,7-14; Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13:1-8;15-16

Reading a blog recently, a mother described dinner at her house:  

“We have a pig. smack dab in the center of our dinner table.  I wanted a meal where my husband would ask grace and then my well-mannered children would pass around the plates of food as we chatted about our day. Yeah, NOT! As my sons repeatedly burped during the prayer and peas were thrown in protest to somebody chewing with their mouth open, I had had enough! In  my desperation for sanity, I grabbed a rubber pig from the top of the toy bin and began a rant about how they were behaving like 3 little pigs. Their mamma fear turned into belly laughter as I laid down the new law of dinner time.If you burp, toot, or make an inappropriate bodily noise, You get the Pig!


  1. Every time you have a sharp tone or rude words, you get the Pig!
  2. If you chew with your mouth open, or…try to throw food into somebody else’s mouth while it’s open, you get the PIG!
  3. Napkin in your lap, not on top of your sister’s head or else, PIG!
  4. Rocking in your chair, getting out of your chair, falling out of your chair, PIG!
  5. The pig will move from person to person as laws are broken.
  6. Whoever ends up with the pig at the end of dinner does everybody’s dishes.

I felt better and they were roaring in laughter. This was our new dinner standard. Still is. The dinner table is no longer a place of constant correction, we just pass the pig. The behavior that used to bring dissension to our meal, now has brought laughter… and with that,  joy…and a table I want to sit at.”

As a mom myself, I had to laugh at this story.I could relate so well.  And it reflects so much of the bigger goal- which is joy when we eat together.  It isn’t really about manners as much as it is about diminishing the things which distract from our joy.  And I think that is what Christ is trying to get across to us today. Because our joy should be God’s joy- and God’s joy, is for all to be welcome and loved. 

The dinner etiquette story from Luke is not as much about how to act, as it is about how to be in relationship and not get caught up in the distractions from caring for one another.  Of course it is helpful not to be embarrassed at an event by assuming you are more important than you are. Yet, as usual, Christ is making a bigger point: 

Our status is not determined by the world, but by our sacred origin as God’s own.  And everyone has the same sacred origin in Jesus Christ- everyone. But we lose that when we start to think we may have more priority at the table than someone else.  

Christ is calling us into humility at the table and in the kingdom and the way to get there is to recognize humility is counter-cultural.  He is reminding us that we are not as important as we think we are and those special guests of honor aren’t necessarily either. You and I are NOT any better than the homeless person in front of Target this morning. Your job, my ordination, her Manolo Blahnik stilettos, his Gucci briefcase, their million dollar home, car, job, title…  None of it gives us more or less value when it really matters. Humanity values on a sliding scale. God simply values.  

This weekend has been a horrific one on the news and the next week will likely be worse.  We will hear of the details around the Texas shootings, and the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.  And in those details, we will inevitably lift up the 17 month old or young parent over the older postal worker or unnamed average joe who was shot, too.  We will hear more about our president’s Mar-Lago retreat damage which is insured and easily repaired and less about the 90 year old couple whose only possession is the 600 square foot home they own and became uninsured when they chose to pay for prescriptions instead.  We will hear damage based on dollars, not on human spirit. And the stories will be told based on which ones catch our attention- because a 17 month old is far more marketable news than a 60 year old grandma.  

Humanity values on a sliding scale.  God simply values.  And that, my friends, is the point of today’s gospel.  The kingdom of God doesn’t have special seats for those who feed more hungry or who preach the gospel. It is a kingdom where love is given with nothing expected in return.  Where you can’t buy or earn your way in. It is simply given. Where the beggar has as much status as the millionaire. Where our role as followers is not about denying our own power or ability or prestige, but acknowledging that others have equal power, ability and prestige, too. 

Because humanity values on a sliding scale, but God simply values. And God loved us into this family, granting us social standing- every one of us- as precious, beloved, forgiven children of the most high. 

God isn’t asking anything in return because we can’t even begin to offer anything in return.  And God loves us anyway. Loves us, values us, even treasures us and it has nothing to do with the work you have done, your skin color, your age, your inexperience, your checkered past or your perfect one, your savings balance or your Christmas card list.  It has everything to do with being created in love, for love, out of love, to love. That is the commodity we should seek. The litmus we should hold all actions and events against. Love. Freely given.  

So use whatever manners you like- sit at the wrong seat.  Burp and use the wrong fork at dinner. But start with love- in everything, for everyone.  And end with it. And invite others into it.  That is the best etiquette lesson ever.  

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