Monthly Archives: June 2016

Intent Focus

A  Sermon for 26 June 2016 

A reading from the gospel of Luke 9:51-62. Listen for God’s word to us.

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Here we in the season after Pentecost – getting ready to settle into the long stretch of Ordinary Time before coming full-circle to return to the start of the church year with Advent sometime around Thanksgiving. And today the lectionary has turned us to the gospel of Luke and to an epistle texts too that teaches us about being church. Galatians is a wonderful example of the kind of living together that gives witness to the already-present kingdom of God: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The beautiful fruits of spirits attuned to the very Spirit of God. . . . And then we get our gospel text for today. Not so much beautiful fruits, but a knock-ya-off-your feet kinda text.

A turning takes place at this point of the gospel, at least the way it’s recorded in Luke. Jesus now intently has set his face on a journey to Jerusalem. He’s on the move – out of his home region of Galilee for the last time. He is ready to head to Jerusalem to take on all that awaits there. No sooner does he resolutely set off, than he encounters a couple of characters we might know something about. Like: have you ever met an overly eager beaver? “I will follow you wherever you go,” earnestly announces this enthusiast. Always ready to go. Always moved by the impassioned plea. The clip flashes across the television about children starving half way around the world and eager beaver’s all set – bags of canned goods in hand. Ready to pitch in, this eager beaver enthusiast suddenly learns: those children are on the other side of the earth. It’s gonna take a boat, or one expensive plane-ride to get where those children are who need his helping hands. . . . “Foxes have holes,” says Jesus, “and the birds of the air have nests. Me? I don’t know the comforts of a cozy home. Nonetheless, follow me and we’ll see where the journey leads – no matter the inconveniences that come.”

A few steps later another chap is met. “Follow me!” Jesus joyfully beckons. Obviously he cannot see that this son has his hands full. Dad’s been pretty sick lately. It’s been quite a burden. You know how that can be. Aging parents can be a handful. Obligations to fulfill. Oh not that we mind. Dad always was there when we were young. Doing what had to be done – frequently for our own benefit. Sticking with him now, tending through illness even onto death – well, certainly Jesus can understand that. . . . We’re not told in Luke whether this son’s father already has passed or not. According to the custom of the day, the man meeting Jesus may be concerned with one of two ancient commandments of Israel (Green, The Gospel of Luke, 1997, pp. 407-8). It’s possible that his dad’s still alive which, according to law, would bind the son to proper care of him until the end occurs. It’s not just that they didn’t have nursing homes. Rather, such farmed-out care was against Jewish law. The son was responsible to tend his aging parent. Jesus either expects the man to turn from that Jewish law – or possible another. If the father had died already, the law of their ancestors required that the son dutifully care from the time of death until as long as a year after. Burial was a two-step process for Jesus’ people. At the time of death, the body was wrapped to be laid in a tomb – tears were shed as the mourning began. But it wasn’t business as usual one mere week after the funeral – a widow with picked over casseroles the sole sign that something had happened here. A year after the initial burial, someone had to finish the job. Returning to the tomb, the body now decayed, a bone box was taken. A faithful son gathered the remains to be laid to final rest with other deceased ancestors (Green, The Gospel of Luke, 1997, pp. 407-8). Whatever point this son stood within that period of care before and beyond the grave, Jesus has one charge. “Let the dead bury their own dead. But as for you: go. Proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).

I don’t know about you, but I’m not so sure I wanna hear Jesus’ summons to a third. “I’ll follow you Lord. I will. But just give me a moment while I go on back to kiss the loved ones goodbye.” Now we gotta admit: on the journey to Jerusalem, this one might be a pretty decent prospect. This one’s got a lot of commitment. Ready to wave farewell to the folks at home, this person truly is set to sacrifice. Unfortunately, Jesus replies: “No looking back.” As one version of scripture I’ve heard puts it: “If you turn around once your hand is on the plow, we’ll end up with a crooked row of corn.” Leave it – whatever it is back there – that person, or thing, or possession, which keeps us captive in the past. We’re to let it go. With it we’re unfit for God’s kingdom.

These are some rough words rolling off the lips of our Lord. Its summer and it’s been so hot so you’d think he could cut us a little slack. . . . He can’t though. Remember: the gospel of Luke explained at the beginning of our reading for today. Thus far in the gospel, Jesus has been busy teaching, healing, taking in dinner parties, choosing and sending apostles, praying; feeding thousands, restoring life to dead ones, stilling storms – you know all that just another ole’day at the office kinda stuff. Certainly these were moments filled with great passion. But it’s not quite the same intensity as we now get here. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Serious focus begins at this point in Jesus’ life. Popularity may be swelling. Perhaps the phone is ringing off the hook with potential preaching engagements. No matter. He’s got no time for distractions now. It’s like with a champion athlete – absolutely intent on reaching the goal. Un-distractible focus is required. . . . As the days draw near for Jesus to be taken up, he sets his face. Soon the streets of Jerusalem will swarm with Passover pilgrims. The lamb must be slain. God’s deliverance re-enacted. . . . Intently focused – no time, nor concern for the fire of judgement to be rained down on Samaritans who won’t receive – Jesus knows his purpose: the road of suffering, rejection, death. He’s intent on it not because he necessarily wants to undergo such pain. Just because he knows such self-giving is the way – the only way that leads to true Life.

Would-be followers must have their Lord’s same self-giving focus. That’s his message to the church in this text today. According to Jesus, even the best of all priorities like physical need, fulfilled duty, family love. Right doctrine, pure standards, beloved traditions. We cannot be distracted – tossed to and fro; this way and that like a wave of the sea driven wherever by the wind (James 1:6). We cannot be distracted from Christ’s primary focus of giving of self for the benefit of others. In word and in deed, that’s how we ensure the kingdom is proclaimed! . . . When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face. Now, now is the time for his followers to do likewise.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)


. . . A Time to Heal

A Sermon for 19 June 2015 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Luke 8:26-39. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Amid all the disturbing news this week – not only the deaths that have occurred in this congregation, but also the tragic events in our nation and world; did you catch the clip about Phoebe? Phoebe is a dog from Fort Worth, Texas. In the past 18 months, Phoebe has logged 236 visitation hours at eight different hospitals in the Fort Worth area. Though it looks simple, her owner attests Phoebe received extensive training for a year and a half before being set loose in local hospitals. Phoebe is a golden retriever, known to be an extra sensitive dog bread. But she’s not entirely unique. It’s long been understood that dogs have incredible healing powers. Let one curl up near you for a little bit. As it settles in, possibly nudging your hand with its wet nose to ensure you will stroke its beautiful coat or pat its head right above those milky chocolate eyes, it’s likely your heart rate immediately will drop. Before you know it, any swirling anxieties within will calm. With such a beautiful creature relaxing at your side, most every human being will find their own cares melting away.

It’s the idea behind Phoebe and a dozen or so other dogs like her who are known across the country as the Comfort Dogs. A news clip shows Phoebe walking the halls of a hospital. Whether she chooses a patient to visit based on her intuitive senses, or if the nurses direct Phoebe and her owner to a particular room; before you know it the patient in the bed is smiling, laughing, and enjoying the consoling warmth of Phoebe who is surrounding the patient with her curative powers. Patient after patient attests: “You just forget about what’s wrong. It’s like your whole attention turns to them.” . . . Phoebe and others like her are trained by Lutheran Church Charities. The news clip went on to report that Phoebe and her owner were boarding a plane early the next morning to spend the week as a comfort in hospitals and counseling centers in Orlando, Florida. They’re heading to the very places that have been flooded with broken-bodied and broken-hearted people since last Sunday’s horrific mass shooting. The clip reported that Phoebe and the other Comfort Dogs have been present everywhere from Sandy Hook, to Boston after the marathon bombing, and now to Orlando. What they do is simple really, though so incredibly profound. In the midst of such intense, inexplicable pain; they show up. They calmly greet a grieving survivor. They sit as a loving presence at the person’s side for whatever pats and hugs the dogs may receive. What they offer is a calming, comforting presence in times where words will never be enough. Somehow they allow people who haven’t been able to breathe since the crisis, finally to exhale. It is as if the night terrors evaporate. The bottled-up emotions can flow. The pain – at least momentarily – disappears. Where humans have done the worst to one another, Comfort Dogs provide an oasis in the midst of heart wrenching despair. ( and WFAA-TV, Tuesday 14 June 2016). Comfort Dogs come alongside us to help us heal.

Though I love dogs and can see how they would offer uniquely restorative powers, I find it kinda of disheartening that its dogs that end up in such places of mass destruction instead of us people. In the gospel of Luke especially, we learn of a Lord who went wherever he was needed to heal. In the story before us for today; it’s out of his homeland, Galilee. Beyond the set boundaries of his people. Off to the neighboring country of the Gerasenes he goes. There a man, hardly man-like anymore, has been left to live in the tombs. He’s out of his mind from all that has possessed him. Demons, the text reads. And we might understand such malevolent forces that can overtake us yet today. Commentators often translate ancient ideas of demonic powers as the kinds of maladies that leave us chronically ill today. Maybe the man has something akin to paranoid schizophrenia. Or could it be more like the turbulent inner turmoil in which many of us end up from living a lifetime wracked by incessant worry? Or self-hatred. Or debilitating fear. Maybe the demons that drive us today to live less human-like and more as shade-like dwellers in the land of the dead are arrogance or ignorance or greed. Whatever it is that takes us over so that we, in the language of the PCUSA’s “A Brief Statement of Faith,” “violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care” (PCUSA Book of Confessions, 2014, p. 303, line 35-38). . . . To one who has experienced this, our Lord goes.

It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus shows up in our greatest hour of need. But it’s even more important for us to realize that he went about such ministry so that we now will. It’s all over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament too. One of Jesus’ primary ministries was that of healing. And he passed that ministry right along to his first disciples. Luke chapter nine reads: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal . . . They departed,” verse six continues, “and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere” (Luke 9:1-2, 6). When they return a short time later, they fall all over each other telling Jesus about all they had done. Later in the New Testament, after Christ’s resurrection, we can read about the people they healed. Everywhere they went, they found a way to restore the bodies, minds, and spirits of those in need. To cure the dis-eases people experienced in the living of their days. That’s healing – making something whole once again. It’s a ministry entrusted to us too. As we look around the world today, we might just see it’s the primary ministry God is calling us to now – in the families and neighborhoods and nation in which we live. Even to those beyond our comfort zones – those outside the boundaries we tend to set.

I know, our rational minds might right away kick in, if not to question how Jesus and his friends so long ago actually healed all sorts of people, then perhaps to wonder how in the world we’re supposed to do the same kind of healing today. I wouldn’t dare advocate something other than the miracles we can experience due to modern medicine. Like, I’m not about to go home and stop taking the pills my doctor has prescribed me to take as I continue to heal after shoulder repair surgery. I’m still going to do the necessary exercises and follow the surgeon’s advice. And I suggest you all listen to your doctors as well. . . . But I just can’t get Phoebe out of my mind. The hugs she received in Orlando this week. The people whose physical, emotional, and spiritual pain was eased as the Comfort Dogs descended upon their hospital rooms and showed up at the trauma counseling center. Remember their simple, but o so profound gift? Presence. Calm. The comfort of just sitting with another when no words ever will be enough. We can do that. Every last one of us can get out of ourselves long enough to just be with another who feels like the whole world is falling apart. We can listen to the silence or the sobs that might arise. We can wait as an oasis until one who hasn’t been able to breathe since the crisis, finally finds themself able to exhale. We can help to heal, can’t we? Offering a powerful, curative peace wherever it is needed. After all, if Phoebe and her furry friends can do it, certainly we can too. Following the lead of our Lord as he goes outside his typical territory to heal the one who meets him there. . . . As Christ’s hands and feet in the world today – a world we know to be in such deep, deep need – it’s our turn to take up our Lord’s ministry of healing. May God’s Spirit guide us as we go to the side of whoever needs it!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)



“Words in our Heads & Hearts”

A Sermon for 12 June 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 7:36-8:3. Listen for God’s word to us.

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.””

“Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


If you ever did, or maybe still do, read cartoons: remember how there would be those bubble clouds over the heads of figures so that we might know what’s going on inside of them? Often such bubble clouds are used as the true punch of the cartoon – the funniest part for cartoons that are trying to make us laugh. Or the true satire for cartoons that are trying to make a statement. I wish we had such bubble clouds over the heads of the three main characters of this story presented in the gospel of Luke. Then we could get a peek into the true insides of each of them – and maybe even discover the truth inside the bubble clouds of our own lives. If in fact the gospel writer had used such bubble clouds, I wonder if they would read something like this.

First, the Pharisee. . . . It’s so good to be hosting this dinner. I can’t believe he actually said yes to being here when I asked him. We’ve had a few run ins already, this Jesus and my fellow Pharisees. It seems he’s going all over the countryside doing the kind of things righteous ones of God never would! Like that day he told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven. “Stand up and walk!” We all know God alone is the one to forgive sins. Who does he think he is?! (Luke 5:17-26). . . . He’s got a reputation for hanging with known sinners. He even welcomes tax collectors who clearly violate God’s ways among us as puppets of our oppressors. Robbing from our own to ensure Rome takes what it wants. . . . He says he’s committed to those who are sick – whatever that means. Is he talking about the sinners who won’t live God’s righteous ways? How can that be? (Luke 5:31-32). . . . The buzz is he just might be our long-awaited Messiah. But I don’t know. He seems to trample all over every Sabbath. First harvesting grain for a meal – a clear violation of God’s command to stop. Rest. Rely upon the LORD (Luke 6:1-5). . . . Then he healed that man with the withered hand. And told us doing good for another is more important than keeping to ancient Sabbath commands. Something in my heart is stirred when he speaks, but then my mind gets all confused trying to reconcile it all with how we’ve always known it to be. (Luke 6:6-11) . . . He claims to be the longed-for Son of Man; yet how can this be? We all know “the righteousness of God means that God cannot endure sinners, and a follower of God gains salvation by upholding the purity code, with its separation of the elect from the sinners of the world” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3, Gregory Anderson Love, p. 142). That’s what we read in the Torah in Leviticus (5:2-3, 6:18, 27, 7:20, 22:4-9). . . . I’m glad he’s here, though, because I want to understand. But he’s such a challenge to everything we know. I’m just not sure where he’s getting all his ideas. What he says isn’t what I read in our Holy Scripts. He can’t be right. That cannot be God’s way. . . . And if it is, everything I’ve built my faith upon – all the ways I’ve practiced. What I’ve always known of God? . . . If he’s right, that God’s favor is just for us – not dependent upon our holiness codes, then . . . then my whole world must be turned upside down. I just don’t know.

Meanwhile, inside the bubble cloud of character number two, I wonder if her thoughts went something like this. . . . I know I don’t belong here. I wasn’t invited. I would never be welcome. . . . Don’t belong – ha! That’s such an under-statement. I don’t belong anywhere. Anywhere near this house of a righteous Pharisee. Anywhere near this kind of table of such prominent men. Anywhere near this one – if he really is the one they say he is, the Messiah of our God. . . . Who I am doesn’t even matter. I’m an unknown. A nobody. A no-name. A woman pushed to the margins in our city. . . . I know the sneers – the whispers behind my back. What all the people think of me: some sort of dirty degenerate who doesn’t deserve one thing. . . . I know what they believe when they look at me because I believe them too. I’ve spent my life listening to what they say. Despised for how I live. Dejected for who I am. The shame is overwhelming. I’d do anything to escape this pain. I hate myself as much as I know the LORD our God hates me too. . . . I only wish . . . I wonder actually: could his words be true? I’ve heard this Jesus welcomes ones like me. They say at his birth his mother sang in great joy over him. That he would be the salvation of us all (Luke 1:46-55). The mercy of God – maybe even for ones as despicably sinful as me. . . . I don’t get it, though. How can it be what he claims, that the Spirit of the LORD is upon him to show God’s unmerited favor to the lowest of the low in this world (Luke 4:18-19)? None of our holy men ever cohort with the likes of me – unless in secret they’re paying for my presence. Yet this Jesus has been known to eat at table with us – not to shame us further with lectures of our unworthiness. But to laugh and heal and give us hope. . . . He says he’s here for ones just like us (Luke 5:31-32). And . . . and, I’m starting to believe him. . . . I so want to believe him. . . . I’ve heard he’s said: “Blessed are ones like you. Ones hated, excluded, reviled, defamed” (Luke 6:20-22). . . . He’s healed those who aren’t even of our own people and I can’t believe the man of God would touch one who is dead – having compassion on his widowed mother. Restoring her to life too with the protection of her revived only son. . . . If he’s indeed the One of God; if who he is really is who is our God; then I can’t wait a moment longer. Despite the cost – even if I risk further humiliation, or worse, if I barge right in – I must fall in worship at his feet. I must show him the hope I hope he’ll give. The love growing in me for a God who would accept one such as me!

And then, of course, the bubble cloud of character number three: Jesus. . . . Love, love, love, love. I’m all about love, love, love, love. Because God is all about love, love, love, love. . . . When are these people ever going to get that? Sinner and saint alike. . . . I’ve no time for those who think they’re all right all on their own. Because, after all, they think they have no need of me. Of God. Of us. . . . They walk around bopping others on the head with some intricate set of ways they think everyone has to follow. They tie themselves up in it all. In their moments of great honesty, they realize they’re doing the same to themselves – piling up requirements on themselves and others that they think will earn God’s love. Most of the time they don’t even see it and I’m certain they have no idea how to stop. Nonsense! . . . We are the LORD God Almighty, Maker and Sustainer of the Universe! Nothing these little mortals do can make us love them! Because we already do! It’s who we are – eternally. From before it all began until way after it all here ends. We just love. Because we are love. . . . It breaks my heart – our heart – to see them all so locked in their little boxes. Judging themselves. Judging others. Wondering if they do this will that make it right. Thinking if they do that – hide this about themselves, deny that – maybe then they’ll be good enough for our favor. Nonsense! . . . We made them – just as they are. We love them – everyone of them – just as they are. We want them to see themselves and each other – all others – as we see. Precious. Treasured. Valuable to us – every one – because we’re the most just Creators. Parents who have no favorites. Parents who delight in their cherished children each and every day. . . . It grieves me – and God, and the Holy Spirit too – it grieves us deeply when they can’t see it. It breaks our heart when they violate it in themselves and in others too. . . . Why can’t they just accept our gift? Why can’t they fall down in gratitude? Why can’t they just live in joy over the kind of freedom we want to give them all? . . . When – when will they see the beauty of our unearned love for every one? . . . And when, o when, will they enact our merciful love toward themselves and all others?

Likely, those would be the bubble clouds of three main characters of this story as told in the gospel of Luke. Three people with three distinct patterns of thought and three different ways of being because of it. . . . We might just live with the same bubble clouds over us that reflect the content of our own heads and hearts. . . . In the end, may the sentiments of our bubble clouds transform into that of character number three’s. . . . Love, love, love, love. In great thanksgiving, in word and in deed, everyday; may we enact God’s gracious favor to ourselves, to each other, and to all the world forever.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)