Monthly Archives: January 2015


DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A sermon for 25 January 2015 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Click here to read scripture first: Mark 1:14-20 (NRS)

So: the title for this sermon came to me on Monday morning when I first began planning our worship experience for today and the experience of urgency was fresh on my mind. Urgent. And we might even add an exclamation point! You know what I mean. Urgent! As in the time is ticking off the clock. And though you’ve been ahead the entire game, the defense dominating and effectively shutting them down. One lackadaisical play during their two-point conversion attempt. One bobbled on-side kick. And the next thing you know you’re about to blow your big, one-in-a-million chance. 60 or so seconds left on the clock, urgent! Except this time #12 decides the future of his left calf is more important than playing in one last game this season and instead of going for the first down. Well, you might know the rest of the story. There was an urgency – a very important urgency, if you ask me – needed last Sunday afternoon. And just a tip from my days as a team captain: you NEVER call tails – anytime and especially not for overtime in an NFL division championship game! Heads is heavier and somehow comes up something like 90% more times. (Sigh!) Enough said. It’s still a little too sore to talk about yet. . . . But I hope you understand what I mean about urgency.

We’re going to hear about it a lot in the gospel according to Mark. Here Jesus is doing this and going there and saying that immediately almost always. One commentator writes that “Mark begins like an alarm clock, persistently declaring the time and demanding some response” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1; Ted A. Smith, p. 285). We might understand why. Fresh from baptismal waters and his wrestling match in the wilderness, Jesus comes back to his home district in Galilee shouting to any who might be near to hear: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent. Believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Like when the ball drops in Time’s Square at new year’s, time is at its fullness. A new clock begins. This precious, precious moment. Urgent! Get on board because you do not want to miss out on this chance to turn to a whole new way of living.

It’s not like those billboards at the side of the road shouting: “Don’t make me come down there. Signed, God.” And “If you died today” – presumably in a car accident from taking your eyes off the road to read their sign – “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend eternity.” It’s not like that for Jesus, though much of the tradition has tried to scare us into some sort of better living. As if fear is ever going to make us become our best, made-in-the-image-and-likeness-of-God, selves. Jesus isn’t trying to frighten us into taking on the same consciousness as his own, which is a part of the process of repentance. He’s telling all who have ears to hear to get excited and get on board with the best news ever. Good news: now the ways of God are going to be clearly seen in him and can be replicated by following him. That’s God’s kingdom in our midst.

This is his invitation.

One scholar lifts up a more literal translation than our favored “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17) to remind us that he wasn’t asking people to add another thing to their to-do list. It wasn’t like: get up, brush your teeth, get more gas before heading out for your meals on wheels route, and don’t forget to fish for people today. We can tell, can’t we, when we’re in the presence of that? Rather, as commentator Ted Smith writes: “. . . ‘I will make you fish for people’ . . . sounds as if fishing for people were a task. The better translation receives fishing for people as a new identity.” Which I should say is probably why the gospel records that they immediately left their livelihoods, their homes, and their set daily patterns. They literally opened themselves to a whole new way of living. Smith continues: “A literal translation might read, ‘Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers for people.’ There is a world of difference between ‘I will make you fish’ and ‘I will make you to become fishers.’ ‘I will make you fish’ gives us one more activity to work into our datebooks . . . But ‘I will make you to become fishers’? That promises a whole new life” (Ibid., p. 289). It takes what we’re about out of the realm of just in here once a week and, like a blanket, lays it over our entire life – our entire being. Not to walk away from everything that has become of our own lives, but to be transformed to live as a reflection of Christ right there in the middle of them. . . . Follow me into this new way of living, Jesus immediately tells four fishers that he meets. And though they do not know just where they’ll be going or what exactly they’ll be doing as those who become fishers for people, immediately they follow. Talk about a master recruiter! He knows how to get folks onto his team and he doesn’t have to pay a bit of attention to the established salary caps.

It’s a lifestyle into which Jesus calls us. One that is quite counter-cultural. A way of living wherever we are each day. Catching people with God’s wide net of love. And it demands our attention now. Today. In this present moment. Jesus is so adamant about it because, like him embodied in our flesh, he knows that from the time we enter this world, drawing in for the very first time, until the time we exhale at our last, we have a limited number of breaths in-between. He doesn’t want us experiencing the joy, peace, mercy, and healing of God’s kingdom just one day a week for one hour. Jesus invites us to live it daily. Almost like you’d soak a good piece of meat in a delicious marinade, he wants us to be steeped in his kind of living. In every little way embodying God’s desire for wholeness. God’s love for every creature made in the Divine image and likeness. God’s generous Spirit and always-bringing-new-life power. Like urgently calling your beloved dog when he runs from you towards a busy street; Jesus wants us to hear, turn, and come back sprinting for the most amazing treat. That’s repentance. That’s: come live the ways of the kingdom of God each day!

More than ever the time is urgent. We know as Christians we’ve lost the grip of defining the culture of the United States of America. . . . We may not all agree with President O’Bama’s leadership, but I really appreciated what he said to his comrades in D.C. towards the end of his State of the Union address Tuesday night. He reminded them of something I think their mommas should have sat them down and told them a long time ago: that they are there to serve our needs best – not their own, nor the multi-billion dollar corporations. To stop giving the American people demonizing discourse. And dig-up-whatever-you-can-on-them to win. To rise to the level worthy of their office. . . . His words reflect what has become so prevalent in our world – perhaps, in part, because we’re not seeing any better examples. So that vicious words turn to fatal bullets turn to human massacres we need to be tired of seeing. . . . We Christians know a better way – we learned it right from Jesus. We know a way that isn’t about winners and losers but about one family living together for the good of all. Treating our neighbors as we’d like to be treated, and going the miles further that Jesus commanded by even loving our enemies. It doesn’t mean we have no rights as human beings. God has placed in us all that Divine Spark that we responsibly must protect. We deserve our basic needs. And so does the other. That’s the good news Jesus invites us to live. The way we’ll be fashioned as we follow faithfully behind him. Rising to the level worthy of our names for the sake of every last person needing yet to be caught in God’s great net of love. Not doing one more thing because we have to add the task of being Christian to our calendars. But living 24/7 in a way that gives witness to God’s presence among us.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. And immediately we adopt his lifestyle to live . . . here and now and forevermore.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)

Looking to Follow

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A sermon for 18 January 2015 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Click here to read scripture first:   John 1:29-51 (NRS)

Recently I heard a spiritual teacher (Richard Rohr) tell about the two different kinds of people that exist in this world. Type number one are those of certitude. Those with whom you never want to lock horns. You know what I mean. Type one people ALWAYS are right. They know for SURE what they believe they know for sure. Like concrete that solidifies fast in the mold, type one folks cling ferociously to what they believe to be the truth. It’s even worse when they think they know everything for sure! We’re not bad people as type ones. But we’re probably driving most everyone around us a little mad. Because type oners are convinced they know what’s right – and they usually think only one way can be right. There’s no need to hear any other perspective when you’re a type one. No need to do a little self-reflection to admit our own biases. We’re absolutely certain we’re right – no shred of doubt. But, if we did enough digging, we’d probably discover that type oners really are filled with doubt. It’s why they have to keep such a red-knuckled grip on it all. Rock bottom, type one people of certitude are drowning in a sea of fear. Their certainty acts like the life-saver that keeps them afloat and out of the realm of deep consciousness where all sorts of scary things lie lurking in the shadows. That’s type one people of certitude.

The opposite type, type two, are those open to the mystery of life. Those who know they do not know. They look at the world in such a different way. Unlike type one that has to be certain, type two tends to live a little and let that living influence their perspectives on it all. They greet the world with a warm embrace – ready to experience whatever unfolds on the journey. They’re open to meeting new people, hearing new thoughts, wondering about everything instead of quickly coming to decisive conclusions. They tend to be a bit more on the adventurous side and when the petals are peeled away, two fragrances generally are released: that of love and that of trust. At rock bottom they’re not as concerned about being right because they know they are held. Loved in this great big cosmos by something that always eventually bends toward the good. It’s true type twos sometimes can find themselves lost in a forest of confusion. So it might actually be good to have a little bit of type one’s assurance woven into the fabric of being so open to the mystery of living. A bit more balance might be needed between both. . . . The fascinating thing is that too much of Christian history has teetered over to the side of type ones, when what Jesus really seems to be about is bringing into community a whole lot more type twos.

Just look at the story we encounter in the gospel of John today. “Come and see, come and see, come and see,” we keep hearing. Those aren’t words for ones, but for twos. Actually, I’ve been wondering this week about how many people of absolute certitude Jesus might have called from the start of his ministry. Maybe there were others but because their minds already were 100% certain about everything in this world, we never have heard their names or learned their stories. Instead from the start they responded: “No thank you, Jesus, I’ve no need to see what you might be up to. I already have this thing with God all figured out!” . . . Not so with the men first named in John’s gospel. Andrew. Simon, his brother, who Jesus quickly named Cephas, Peter: the Rock. Philip. And Nathanael too. Come and see! Come and see! Come and see! . . . According to the gospel of John, the first words out of the mouth of the Messiah, the eternal Word embodied in this one from Nazareth called Jesus. The first words the eternal, embodied Word speaks according to the gospel of John are a question. “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). It’s an interesting word to first speak as one of us in this world; for it almost sounds as if our search has become of utmost importance to the Holy One.

What are you looking for? How might we answer that question. . . . I spent the better part of the past 2 and a half days at a Circle of Trust retreat. It’s the Courage Work Parker Palmer created to bring strangers together to listen one another deeper into the Spirit’s desire for our whole-hearted living. It’s the first of 4 seasonal retreats to be held throughout 2015 and it all began Thursday night with the question: What question is rising up in your life now? But I heard it as: what are you looking for now?  . . .  Peace from the hectic life we’re living these days? Security in a world where those dead-set in their certitude keep trying to destroy others? Restoration from the aches and pains of aging bodies? Hope where it all seems hopeless? Connection with One that has been Life for us all along our journey? . . . The first two disciples respond to Jesus’ question by saying: “Teacher, where are you staying?” There’s that whole play here in this story on staying and remaining and coming along to see (John 1:38-39). . . . What were they looking for? Someone who might turn their lives around – even if they really could NOT imagine the ride they were in for. They’re going to see amazing things – stupendous works, life-altering words, jaw-dropping love if only they will leave their current comfort zones to follow where – who – they cannot yet know. Come and see. Come and see. Come and see.

You’re aware, I hope, that here in this congregation we’re doing this thing called The Vital Church. The other night after what I’d like to think was a thought-provoking presentation, a few folks were antsy about doing more. You know that since the days you all undertook New Beginnings in 2010, this church has been in a time of seeking to clarify your vision for future ministry. I think it’s getting a lot clearer than it was a few years ago. You have begun ministries in the community like assistance to those in need through snack bags to the local elementary school and dollars that you give face to face to those coming here in need of help with utilities or medicines or rent. You’ve been earning a name in the community with the annual Craft Fair and the music ministries to the senior living facility next door and beyond. I’m probably missing something that has been a new focus for you all in the past few years, but all these are the ways you all have been following Jesus anew into the world. It’s wonderful! . . . And now a few of you are telling me you want to do more. Part of the shift in 21st Century Christianity is go out to meet the neighbors and there’s rumor that some of you have decided you are heading next door to the senior living facility this week to get to know the neighbors there. To see if they might desire the kind of loving, caring family so many of the rest of you treasure among one another. Come and see Jesus is saying to us . . . see what stupendous works, life-altering words, jaw-dropping love we might experience with those living right across the street if only we would leave our current comfort zones to meet up with Jesus over there. I hope you will make an effort to join in. Every member and friend is invited to be a part of this endeavor. And if you don’t have time to give to this attempt to get out there, then I hope you at least will be ready to greet any new people if in fact they show up here, across their street. . . . We cannot know how it all will turn out or where it all might take this church. We only can trust the One who is hoping and praying we’re type number twos: open to the mystery of how the journey will unfold. Even if a bit timid or filled with swirling doubts, willing to greet the world of our neighbors with a warm embrace. Ready to enjoy an unimaginable ride! You’re all invited: come and see!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

How Many Ways to Get Home?

I grew up at an address that literally had only one way in and one way out by car.  The only way to go each day was by the same private drive that led to the one road away from the lake to anywhere else in the world you might want to go.  The physical location of my childhood home may be part of the reason I forget today that I can go to and from my current home by a variety of roads.

I was reminded of that tonight as I was making my way home from an amazing lecture by Dr. Amy Jill Levine at The Temple on the other side of town.  (To be inspired and perhaps learn a bunch, check out her latest book:  Short Stories by Jesus.)  For the third week in a row after incredible insights from Dr. Levine, I took a different route.  And to shake things up even more, I decided tonight was the night I would try to figure out what probably is the quickest and most direct shortcut.  When I got to a particular road, I didn’t go the way I typically would from that point.  I kept going forward to discover another way that road A connects with road B.  I did okay, until I got to Hill Road and went left instead of right.  Around the neighborhood I was sent; when if I would have turned right, the route would have been a bit more direct.  “Make a mental note,” I told myself.  “When you get to that point on the road, turn the opposite direction from home (something that seemed counter-intuitive) and you’ll be going the more direct way.”

How often do we get caught in the trap that only one way exists to get home?  And I don’t just mean the path we take to and from work each day.  Nor am I referring to home only as a destination (e.g. like where I live, or our final union with the Divine that some call heaven).  Home is a set of relationships too.  The people who hold safe space for us to be most fully ourselves and cherish exactly who we are no matter what.  How many different ways are there in this world for us all to get to those kinds of homes?  I’m guessing there’s as many ways home as there is of us.

I needed the tangible reminder tonight.

Some routes might be the tried and true ones.

Some routes allow one to keep away from all the congestion.

Some routes can be quicker.  Others more direct.

Some are already fully known; while others have to be figured out all along the way.

Some are just to enjoy the ride — to make life a little bit better in the living of it.

However you need to get there, may we all safely arrive HOME.

Peace, Love, and Joy on our journeys!


Christmas Story #3

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A Sermon for 4 January 2015 – 2nd Sunday of Christmas

John 1:1-18 (Scripture is included below – NRSV.)

Throughout the season of Advent, we’ve been exploring how various gospels tell the story of Christmas – the way God was birthed into the world in Jesus, the Christ. I realize many of us already might have taken down the trees and trimmings of Christmas. We’ve gotten our homes back in order after the weeks of anticipation. We’re ready to get on to our typical routines tomorrow as Christmas and the holiday celebrations are over. Except, Christmas isn’t quite over – not yet. We weren’t just lazy around here and forgot to coordinate the sanctuary clean up!  Today is day 11 of the 12 day season of Christmas. But hopefully your true love didn’t send you 11 pipers piping. January 6th each year is the celebration of Epiphany – the beginning of the season when the Light of the world starts to spread as wise ones who knelt in homage at the Christ child went back to their homes a different way. Most probably by another route, but I like to think they also returned to their lives after that first Christmas with a different sense of joy in their hearts and minds. Inner peace over God’s good will towards the world. Hope from meeting the Light for which they had searched. . . .  We have a whole plan in place for worship and study together during the season of Epiphany called The Vital Church.  We’ll begin with worship a bit differently in the Fellowship Hall next Sunday – which also will be when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord and each of our baptisms into discipleship behind him. It’s a way we hope to keep the spirit of the season alive as the Light spreads and spreads and spreads!

Christmas Story #3 seems the perfect lead-in. We’re in the gospel according to John today. Now I realize many don’t count the beautiful opening of the gospel of John as a story about Christmas – the coming of God in the flesh of humankind in the babe of Bethlehem. But it is! It’s the latest gospel writer’s telling of the story. When Christ became Christ – God both human and divine. I’ve heard it said that the Apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer, claims Jesus becomes the Christ in his death and resurrection. The next chronological record, the gospel of Mark, claims it’s the baptism. Matthew and Luke, being next in the order, claim it’s at the miraculous birth in the flesh of Jesus when Christ comes among us. And for the latest written gospel, the gospel of John, it’s from the beginning of time that Christ exists. . . . Listen for the word of God in a reading of the gospel of John.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” . . . Then in the middle of the beautiful poetry about the pre-existent Word of God creating and finally coming into the world, we get the story of the forerunner – the one to point out the Light to others. Listen:

6“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” . . . And now back to the pre-existent Word: 10”He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humankind, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” And one more moment back to John: 15”(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”

Christmas Story #3. The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Many of us love the stories from Matthew and Luke – with their fret-filled father finally turned faithful from dreams that sort it all out. And their young girl willing to open her life to the impossible work made possible only by God. The sweet little baby with those lil bitty toes swaddled all up and laying in the hay of a manger while lowly shepherds witness the glorious miracle and messengers from God light up the midnight sky singing: “Gloria! Peace is to all the earth!” We love all that of the story. But something too is quite remarkable about the gospel of John’s unique telling. It takes us all the way back to Genesis 1:1 where “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” it all was a formless void with thick darkness everywhere. Until the Word of God proclaims: “Light!” Suddenly all life is possible (Gen. 1:1-3).

We literally would not be without light. The plants wouldn’t grow. The ground wouldn’t produce. We would not survive the harsh, cold darkness if it weren’t for light. Now I realize we can handle a whole lot of darkness in our lives, metaphorically speaking. We weren’t made to deny that life contains many dark nights. I’m pretty sure the first hearers of the gospel of John needed that reminder as life grew tougher around the turn of that First Century. Like them, we must remember as we fumble around in some of the most difficult spaces and places of the journey of life that Light does shine. We might have to search high and low for it – kinda like the wise ones from the East did – but as scripture attests: there always will be Light. The darkness cannot overcome it. It’s the gift of Christmas Story #3. Because more than any of the others, we’re reminded from the start, of that time when the Light seemingly went out, on Good Friday. But even then, God again speaks: “Light! Shine!” . . . We become children of God through this impossible act, only possible by God. Grace will be the truth the pre-existent Word of God will come to embody in Jesus, the Christ, the Word made flesh. Through him, all will be given the chance to see the very face of God. . . .

One commentator writes of the gospel of John’s story of Christmas: “This soaring symphony tries to express the inexpressible. God’s inner self, God’s loving heart, God’s eternal fellowship, spilling over and making a world, knowing full well that world would miss the point and be downright recalcitrant in reply. But Love loves anyway” (Feasting of the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1; James C. Howell, p. 188). Light shines as it takes on our flesh to show us – to let our eyes see. To form us too into the love that loves anyway.

It is the good news of Christmas – stories number 1, 2, and 3. May we perceive it – may we live it – all throughout the year!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

1 January 2015

Eighth Day

Supposedly today is the eighth day.  For the whole world, we’re really all focused on the beginning.  A new year.  A fresh start as at the stroke of midnight a whole new calendar of 365 days stretched out before us.

What will come to pass in 2015?  None of us know.  Some of us will lose loved ones this year.  Some will bring new life into the world through babies or big dreams or giving that transcends self.  Some will wake up each day grateful for the gift of another.  Some will pull the covers further over their head unable to face what seems inevitable.  No matter the best laid plans, none of us know how 2015 will unfold — who we will become, who will enter our lives, what new things we will experience this year, what the world will be like as the clock again strikes midnight and rings in 2016.  A wonderful adventure lies ahead on the empty calendar of 2015!  A whole new beginning is about to unfold!

Which is what makes it extra incredible that today is the eighth day.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got that math right.  Born on 25 December (at least according to tradition), that makes 1 January the eighth day.  The day on which he was named He Saves:  Jesus.  It happened in the ancient Jewish rite of circumcision.  The gospel of Luke alone records it (Luke 2:21).  Many have little idea what the celebration would have been like — who all gathered for the big day, who did the actual act as Mary and Joseph looked on with pride at their firstborn son.  This act on this day definitely claimed him as one of the stars father Abraham most certainly saw on that night of promise so long ago.  Of course, many of us claim he’s not just one more star, but THE star:  the Bright Morning Star, the Light in the darkness, the Hope of the world.


Day eight.

Blessed be all the days of this and every year!  Enjoy the grand adventure of it all!



Me and Mom on my 8th Day.

Me and Mom on my 8th Day.