Monthly Archives: February 2015

All are Loved Here!

Recently I heard a story about a house made out of a cardboard box for a stray cat. It has been extremely cold around many parts of the USA and one pre-teen girl couldn’t stand it any longer for the cat frequently found outside around her home. She got busy. After a day of the box being all snuggled with a cozy blanket, a sign was added: “Shadow is Loved Here!” Not only did the girl name the cat, she attempted to lure it to the warmth of the make-shift home with the depths of her generous heart. She wanted that stray to know that the warmth of the house she had created for it was a place where it was fully loved. Welcomed. Home.

True story.

I want such a sign, don’t you?

One for each of us. A sign over every home to remind us why it even is home for us. Because we are loved unconditionally there. Sheltered from the storms of the rest of life. Welcomed in the safety of such a place where we are cherished. Feed. Protected.

What sign do you have over the threshold of your home? What sign do you have over the threshold of your own heart?

May we be generous enough with ourselves, with those in our homes, with those needing home, and with all — not only to post, but also to enact the message: All are loved here!


Transfiguration: A Transformation Metaphor

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!

15 February 2015 – Transfiguration Sunday
Click here to read scripture first:

Even though I wasn’t good at the guessing last week: for those of you who attended our church history celebration last week and brought in your baby photos, wasn’t that fun? Seeing so many of us from just a few years back? . . . Being able to see the dimples that remain in some, the eyes that gave you away, the smiles that never change. It was so good to see each other at different stages in our lives. It got me thinking about how much each of us has changed over the years. I mean, think about it: since those baby photos were taken, how much have you grown, learned, done? Aspects of us might always stay the same so that we remain recognizable – at least to ourselves. But so much more of who we are has changed dramatically. We no longer are just those sweet lil faces in the photos. Each of us has grown and adapted on such unique journeys through the path that is called our, individual life.

For some reason, those photos from last week remind me of the other change we’re hearing about in the gospel reading for today. It’s Transfiguration Sunday so it’s not just any old change the gospel of Mark writes about. It’s Jesus. Pretty much at the half-way point of the story between his baptism and his death and resurrection, it’s almost as if Jesus deliberately wanted to transfigure for them. According to the gospel of Mark’s record of it, six days after Jesus first tells his disciples that the path he’s following will lead to his death, but not to worry because three days after that he will be raised again. Six days after Jesus first tells how this all is going to go down; he leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain.

Now, mountains are important for Jesus and his people. Those first disciples certainly knew that. Significant encounters with God took place on mountains. On the top of a mountain, Moses too ended up with a glowing face. On the top of a mountain, the great prophet Elijah came face to face with God. And on the top of this mountain Jesus and his friends are climbing, a voice is going to tell these three lead disciples to LISTEN to what Jesus had to say. And, it wasn’t some big pronouncement he was about to make – like the transfiguration and the voice were the trumpets pre-message to get everyone’s attention for the most important words that are about to be spoken. No: Jesus already had told them the most important words they needed to hear.

In Caesarea Philippi – the ancient place where folks retreated for restful restoration at Mount Hermon’s Banias Waterfalls, which happen to be the source of the north to south waters that make up the eastern border of the land of Israel. There at the geographic start of it all, Jesus asks them who they believe he is. After Peter correctly answers: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29), he and the others refuse to accept the definition of Messiah that Jesus gives. Because Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of the God who isn’t quite as some might expect. Jesus tells that he is going to suffer, be rejected, and killed, before he finally rises again (Mark 8:31). It’s a natural human response, I think, to want it not to be so. I mean, who among us wants to suffer. Rejection hurts – it can crush our egos all together. None of us actually want to be killed – literally or metaphorically. We know this or things like swallowing our pride, and starting over after a divorce, and saying goodbye to our loved ones on their deathbeds wouldn’t be as hard as they always seem to be. Though Jesus never attempts to tell why it must be this way, it just is. Resurrection comes only after death. And just to be sure those disciples actually LISTEN and ready themselves to live likewise, the appearance of Jesus changes dramatically as a voice calls: “This is my Son, the Beloved. LISTEN to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Jesus changes – transfigures with the light of God shining right on through his eyes because he needs his disciples to know that they will need to change too.  Step by step becoming a little bit more like him.

It’s the path of transformation to which he calls us. Of dying to self daily in order to follow behind this God revealed in-full in Jesus. And transfiguration, at least according to the gospel of Mark’s telling of it, shows some of the classic human responses to change. Did you notice that? As soon as Jesus is transfigured and a few other bodies appear along with him, Peter proposes they hold on to the moment. Settle in to things as they are and never let go. Resist all future change. He suggests they make three dwellings – perhaps reminiscent of the annual Jewish Feast of Booths which originally celebrated God’s provision through the 40 years of wilderness wanderings and eventually commemorated the magnificent harvests of the Promised Land. Perhaps Peter intended those dwellings as symbolic of the one Moses came down Mount Sinai the second time with instructions for. He had been told how to build the Tabernacle or the place for the Dwelling of God. Either way, Peter is missing the point. The glorious change of Jesus they are experiencing is not for the purpose of clinging to that exact spot. It’s for them to heed the warning that the life of discipleship will look like his: giving ourselves away, no matter the cost, in order to be raised again. It’s a new way of life they are to learn. Being transformed bit by bit.

As the story unfolds, fear sets in next. Of Jesus transfiguration, the gospels all record the human response of absolute terror. Fear. We know this stuff, right? . . . Fear so often is a part of any process of change. Transformation is tough. Opening ourselves to being changed is consenting to a process in which one thing is certain:  uncertainty.  Something most of us don’t really like. We never can know what it all will be like as we change. Those disciples never could have guessed they eventually would break away from their Jewish ways as they gathered and grew into a whole new way of being. They couldn’t have imagined traveling to far-away places or staying close to home to tell people they didn’t really know about the gracious love of God, which they experienced in Christ. The healing and helping and outpouring of the Holy Spirit they came to know as they followed after him. We know they were afraid – they scattered in the garden when Jesus was arrested. They hid while he was crucified. They were in shock at the message of his resurrection. . . . Do you know those wonderful words of Eleanor Roosevelt? Cuz it sorta seems like the first disciples needed her pep talk: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do” (Eleanor Roosevelt, fear quotes). This week I also came across these words regarding fear: “Fear is an idea-crippling, experience-crushing, success-stalling inhibitor inflicted only by yourself” (Stephanie Melish, Ibid.).

This process of transformation to which the transfigured Jesus calls us reminds me of the practice of courage I once heard about. It was an assignment for some class. To come up with one daily discipline and journal about it for 30 days prior to the start of the class. I guess one woman found her life incredibly settled – probably because she felt afraid of everything. So she created the practice of courage to see what might happen. Every day for her 30 day assignment, she had to shake it up. She had to do one thing she had never done before – especially if it was something she was afraid to do. She reported to the class that some days were little things like taking a new route home from work or eating at a restaurant she’d never been to before. Some days things were a bit tougher, like actually having the conversation with her boss about what had been bothering her for months at work. One thing she did, as a novice violinist who had never played in front of anybody but her teacher and her teacher’s other students, that woman practicing courage entered a talent show and played an introductory solo violin piece in front of 500 people. She reported to the class that her fingers nearly sweated off the strings and it might not have sounded like Yo Yo Ma, but she did it. She looked fear in the face and did something she never dreamed she could accomplish. During the practice of courage, every night she kept the journal required for the class. There she’d tell of what courageous new thing she did, what she noticed as she did it, and any other insights she was gaining from that intentional commitment to doing something new. She told how it was getting a bit easier to do new things and how fear was beginning to be less of a driving force in her life. . . . Upon reading the student’s final paper on the practice, the instructor of the class was so inspired by the process that she decided to give the practice of courage a try too and even encouraged others to do so as a way to grow deeper in discipleship of Christ.

Maybe it’s a practice some of us might want to take up for the season of Lent that’s sneaking up on us. A great way to begin to gain a little more breathing room in the face of any fear. Try one new thing each day – especially something that terrifies us – and pay attention to what happens in us along the way. Bit by bit changing. Transforming into who God intends for us to be. Be it scary. Slow. Unwelcomed even. But what a glorious journey the transfigured Jesus calls his followers to undertake. May we open ourselves a little bit more to the amazing process!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2015


This post might sound a bit . . . overdone/expected/trite.

Nonetheless:  with great appreciation, affection, and respect; I write in honor of Alfred.  A man of amazing faith and love who has lived nearly 100 years.  Tonight I learned that he may be about to breathe his last and he wanted me to be the one to be there with him for his last rites — something I interpret as his last words to and from God.  If I was there tonight, I would hold up a mirror to his face and say:  “Love, Love, Love, Love.  From Love you came.  By Love you have lived all the days of your life.  To Love you return.  Know that you rest eternally in the amazing embrace of Love.”

The one of whom I write is a humble man who has made significant scientific contributions to this world, though the kinds of projects he has worked on for our government have haunted him many days of his life.   I had the pleasure of being his pastor for a brief part of his journey — the part in which he lost his younger sister and underwent several rounds of what we all expected would be his final days.  Last winter he declared he would live to another spring, to plant a garden and watch the fruits of his labors grow.  I have had the joy of getting to know one of his daughters, one who might just be the most faithfully, devoted, loving, fun-loving person in this world.  Her commitment to her family has been inspiring.  A smile comes to my lips every time I think of her and her dear, passing father.  It’s been over a year since last I saw them, but due to their loving generosity, I still sip tea each morning for which they are responsible!  (When Alfred found out I loved to drink a cup of tea in the morning, he made sure they got me a box or two every few weeks — even during the days he was hospitalized and during the time he was burying his younger sister!)  When I moved here a little over a year ago, I had a mid-size cardboard box full of boxes of tea!  Alfred always wanted to ensure I, as his pastor, had this little pleasure each day.  His heart is pure kindness.  Love.  Grace.

A box of my favorite Tea lovingly given to me by Alfred.

A box of my favorite Tea lovingly given to me by Alfred.

We never do know the kind of impact we have in this world.  Who we are can be given as such a gift.  In simple ways.  In ways that encourage along a fellow, struggling traveler.

In honor of an un-known man who gave not only of his brilliance, but also of his incredible generous spirit, be someone today that impacts this world forever for good!

So be it . . .


A Worship Anomaly

Something happened in worship Sunday morning that I NEVER have seen before.  Not in 20 years of professional ministry — or the 20-some prior years of worship service attendance.

I was behind the table when I noticed it.  (And I’m not talking about the time a few months ago when I spilled the juice all over!)  Ruling Elders (those elected from the congregation to lead the congregation) were out among worshippers passing out the symbolic cup of salvation for all to drink.  I looked up and there it was:  a pile of mud smeared into the carpet right at the foot of the chancel area. It wasn’t there when we started. It must have happened along the way.

I was taken aback!

I realize this may sound ridiculous.  After all, it has been a rainy winter in these parts.  Mud has been all around us.  Every time I take out my dog for his walk, I have to tip-toe through soggy grass and try to avoid coming back inside covered in mud — or worse yet, the remains from other dogs which not all neighbors are picking up (though the signs warn of fines for those who don’t!).

Mud.  I expect it outside.  I’ve NEVER seen it before on the carpet at the foot of the chancel area in a Christian sanctuary!

Before I got back to take the photo, someone already had cleaned up the mud.  Faint remnants remain -- and the cleaning person hasn't even been in yet!  Might it be a sign of our discomfort with mud in the sanctuary?

Before I got back to take the photo, someone already had cleaned up the mud. Faint remnants remain — and the cleaning person hasn’t even been in yet! Might it be a sign of our discomfort with mud in the sanctuary?

A closer view of the remnants.

A closer view of the remnants.

It got me thinking of all the ways we seek to keep our mud out of worship.  According to the Genesis stories, we come from it.  And I’ve buried enough people to know that we return to it — whether in airtight vaults or strewn ashes of our remains.  But for the breath of the Divine, we’d be just that:  some earth, some water, in other words:  mud.

Why do we deny it?  Why do we try to keep the truth from ourselves and one another so that we can’t be really real about who we are — even in worship, when we gather seeking the presence of The Presence?  Why would we expect those who have been out in the world (trying their best to love the Holy, their neighbors, and themselves) not to have a little bit of mud on their shoes and in their souls?  What if that mud got there in the sanctuary because whoever put it there had been going an extra mile for someone else’s benefit last week?  What if that mud got there in the sanctuary because someone intentionally left it there to lay down the burden of where their feet had tread last week? What if that mud got there because someone, or The One, needed us to remember who we are, why we need each other, and what we are to be about in this world.

It really was a gift, that mud on the carpet at the foot of the chancel stairs this week.  I was preaching about us being as on the go as Christ was in his life like one of us on earth — heading out and about in the world to embody the love of God for all those who need to experience it.

Seems as if someone already had been at it.


Praises be!


“The On the Go Jesus”

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 1 February 2015 – 4th Sunday after Epiphany
Click here to read scripture first: Mark 1:21-39 (NRS)

I grew up in a pretty small town so I can imagine the talk about Jesus going on back home. As the ladies of Nazareth gathered each day to go fetch water from the local well, can’t you just hear them cackling away: “And what in the world has gotten into Joseph and Mary’s boy? Thirty years old and he still hasn’t settled down. Is that boy ever going to commit? Out at the Jordan River near Jerusalem. Did you hear he went missing for something like 40 days? Who knows what in the world he was off doing!” Another one pipes in: “I hear he’s been hanging around the sea. Over near Capernaum at the northeastern corner of the district.” And another: “Well, what’s he going to do there on the edge of nowhere – or to everywhere beyond Israel, if he dared venture out of our land. I knew Mary wouldn’t make a proper Jewish mother what with her being pregnant during their betrothal and all.” Another woman jumps in: “If he was my son there’d be none of this racing all over Galilee stirring up the people. We need him back home tending his daily chores.” And another: “Some say he’s busting into synagogues everywhere talking about some sort of good news he’s heard from God. And my cousin in Capernaum claims he’s been healing on the Sabbath – breaking all the rules just so some woman could get up and feed him and his friends. After that, so many sick folks were brought to him, he had to get out of town fast.” Then back to the one who brought up Jesus in the first place: “O poor Mary. She deserves a grandson from that firstborn of hers but with the way he’s parading from town to town, I’m afraid she’d never meet him anyway.”

At least that’s pretty much how I imagine it’d go – you may imagine it differently.

Things are changing, but for most of human history, a whole lot of people believed we were supposed to be born. Grow up in our parents’ home. Get a job and settle down somewhere next door to your family to perpetuate the cycle. It’s the safe route to take. The secure one. Until interstates in America, we didn’t need government welfare programs because families took care of one another. They had to – they couldn’t easily get anywhere else. . . . It was how it was supposed to be in Jesus day too. Typical for multiple generations to live together under one roof. It’s not that a son and his wife and kids had no private space to themselves. When a boy got married, they just could have another room tacked on the sprawling village home that typically had a common courtyard with various rooms off it for things like the family’s animals, a kitchen, and spots for daily tasks. There likely would be a large room for eating and separate sleeping quarters – one for each family within the larger, extended family. Pretty much, sons stayed with their parents and daughters went to live with their husband’s family. Each person pitched in to take care of daily things like patching clay roofs, raising crops, grinding wheat, weaving cloth, and tending children and animals. A household was much more independent as a unit than we, individualized Americans are today. Together they settled in to take care of the necessary tasks of life. (See details in Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, pp. 40-45.)

You weren’t supposed to go off on your own – not just to one other village but to them all, as Jesus proposes to Peter after his first few days in Capernaum. No sooner does he call his first disciples, than he shows up in the synagogue of Capernaum on the Sabbath. A man with an unclean spirit – we’re not really sure what medical diagnosis. Perhaps something like a modern-day paranoid schizophrenic, he’s shouting at Jesus to stay away. Jesus is going to catch a lot of flack for it, because he ends up doing it so often; nonetheless, Jesus heals the man. Going about twenty paces from the synagogue into Peter’s large home, Jesus finds the bedroom of Peter’s mother-in-law to lift her up out of her fever. Again on the Sabbath. Even if some think he’s breaking rules, Jesus knows that Sabbath was made for restoration. And so he’s doing exactly that. One author writes: “Jesus’ favorite day to heal and restore was the Sabbath. He deemed that day most appropriate. . . . He’s liberating. . . . What Jesus does has nothing to do with work as it’s commonly conceived” (The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan, IBooks, pp. 188-189). He explains: “These are men and women, real people, with stories and histories, with hopes and sorrows. Jesus sees them, and in that moment of seeing, the other issues at hand dissolve. Jesus becomes single-minded in his purpose: he means to restore” (Ibid., p. 182).

It’s why he won’t stay in one place. Though the ladies back home might want him to settle down, though Peter and Andrew, and James and John too, might want to remain in their comfy homes; Jesus intends to be on the go. “Let us go on,” he says after a time of discernment in a few stolen moments alone in prayer. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:38). The word he has, the healing in his touch, is much bigger than one village can contain. All over the world, hurting people need him. In every corner of every town, he knows there are others who long too to hear the good news of God’s love for all. Before it’s said and done, his instructions will be to go and do likewise. From Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, Acts of the Apostles records (Acts 1:8). He expects his followers not to settle in in one place for one exclusive group of people. It’s out he sends us. To be as on the go as he was.

Somewhere along the way, we as the church in America overlooked that message. Remember the good ole’ days when we could just give money to brave souls who would travel to exotic lands to be disciples of Christ as those who told the good news to people there who we assumed had never heard? Well, today in the United States of America, it’s entirely possible that your neighbor across the street has never heard of the unconditional love of God – even if they call themselves Christians. Never experienced the good gift of community that supports you when you’re down, and lovingly challenges you when you’re stuck in your own ways, and spurs you on to be as kind and gracious to everyone else you meet as God has been to us. All the statistics say that they out there are longing to belong, but they’re not about to come in here. They’ve heard too many horror stories, or have experienced them themselves, of finding something other than grace among the church of Jesus Christ. We’ve got too much of a history of sticking to ourselves and tending to our own – settling in with each other in our predictable daily routines. Not that there’s anything wrong with sticking together and taking care of one another. That’s pretty much the kind of covenantal love God’s always been about. It’s just that Jesus knows too many beyond our little circles are dying inside. They’re trapped in lives stuck on themselves instead of finding the deep meaning of life that comes when freely, like Christ, we give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Like a little child tugging on your arm when they’re ready to move on, Jesus persistently tugs us along to be as on the go as him. To look for those out there who need the words of life: that to God, they are precious and chosen and created for great thanksgiving! Forgiven and freed to jump out of their misery as fast as Peter’s mother-in-law does to serve the One who came to serve.

The on the go Christ is calling us all to be as on the go as him. Wherever we are, whoever crosses our path, to be God’s gracious gift to them that gives witness to the new life already begun in Christ.

May it be so . . . each of us always for Christ, on the go.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)