Sunday, December 17, 2017

Living Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And 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. (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.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

It’s epic, isn’t it. The minute that music starts and the prologue to the movie begins to scroll, we immediately know what this is the beginning to--even more so if you’ve been paying any attention to what new movies have been released this weekend. 

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” It is these words that begin the story of the mythical Star Wars universe. It is the epic story of the primal battle between good and evil. The Empire versus the Rebels. The Jedi versus the Sith. Characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader play out their personal struggles with temptation, fall, conflict, and redemption in the midst of the broader, universal battle. 

It’s the story of the Force. According to Obi-Wan Kenobi, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his (and her) power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” The “light side of the Force” serves as a metaphor for the invisible, powerful source of goodness, truth and life. According to the story, somehow an imbalance has happened in the universe with the intrusion of the dark side. The dark side, which is a metaphor for evil, falsehood, and death.

The Star Wars franchise uses these metaphors of light versus dark to frame the epic struggle to restore balance to the Force. Balance isn’t achieved by equalizing the dark side and the light side. Balance is gained by vanquishing--by eliminating--the dark side completely. Because evil has brought chaos. It is only the victory of the light that brings true order.

The first verse of our text this morning from John also meant to trigger our memory. Just like the beginning of each Star Wars movie, the opening words are intended to immediately connect us to another epic story. These opening words, the first verse of this poem we call the Prologue of John.

“In the beginning…” it opens. Where have we heard this before? Do these words trigger your memory? There’s no mistaking the connection to Genesis that John is making here. No mistaking the cosmic nature of the story that we are about to hear. 

“In the beginning was the Word…” Word. 

We’re going to study a little Greek here today. In the Greek, Word is written as Logos.

By divine speech, by divine Word, God created. Bringing light into darkness. Order out of chaos. God speaks and the world is created. God speaks and crowns this new creation with human beings--beings who are meant to be God’s personal agents of glory and goodness in the world. 

And, then, it all falls apart. Though human beings were meant to mediate God’s order in the world, evil plunged the universe into devastation and chaos. So God made a plan. A new thing.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” 

The Greek word that John uses here for the word “with” can be understood as being “face to face” with God, or having a close relationship with God. The same as the Creator, but distinct from the Creator. 

The Word. Present at the beginning of all time. With a creative role. In relationship with the Creator. Who now comes to earth in human form. The Word. Logos. Jesus.

At the heart of Jesus coming into the world. At the heart of Jesus’ presence in the world is a sign that God is about to do a new thing. In this fourth Gospel, Jesus is all about creation, new birth, and new life. The light in the darkness.

That new thing is explained in another Greek word, skenao. In verse 14, our translation reads, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Skenao. Another translation is “took up residence.” Or as The Message paraphrase reads, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”

This is the new thing that God is doing. God dwells with God’s people. The Gospel writer understands that God’s promise to be “with God’s people wherever they go” has now taken on a new meaning in Jesus. God dwells with us by taking on our own human form. By becoming who we are. God is not just close, but dwells beside us and in us. And is sharing everything God has because of God’s love for us.

There’s one more Greek word. Katalambano

In verse 5, this word is translated as “overcome.” “The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” Another translation is “to understand.” “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not understand it.” 

To be in the light in John’s gospel is to be in relationship with Jesus. Understanding. Believing. Abiding. Darkness represents a lack of relationship. Not understanding. Not believing. Apart.

Just as Jesus was in relationship with the Creator at the beginning of time, in coming to earth in human form, God seeks to be in relationship with us, just as God continuously sought to be in relationship with Israel. The presence of Jesus now in the world makes that fully possible. Through Jesus, we become children of God.

John the Baptist understood this. He knew that he was not the light, but that he was to point to the light. To point to Jesus--Jesus, who came into the world to scatter the darkness. To correct the imbalance. To restore goodness and truth and life. And to destroy evil and falsehood and death. The moment of glory would be the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. But none of this would be possible without first the glory of the incarnation. The light shining in the darkness.

John the Baptist was a witness to this light. To this Word made flesh. To Jesus.

We are, too. Witnesses to Jesus in the way in which we live in the world. To serve as forces of light and truth against the agents of darkness and deception. To be God’s own Jedi knights into the world. And especially to be in relationship with God. Intimately. With the Force who loves us deeply.

(after clip is concluded:) May the Force be with you. Amen.

Preached December 17, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
4th Sunday of Advent
Readings: Psalm 130:5-8, John 1:1-18

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Living Whole

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
    and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:1-11 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This morning, we have our last primary reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. Next week we will move into the New Testament. So, I thought it might be helpful for us to take a look back. To try to see the bigger story. After all, hindsight is 20/20. Right?

It all began with God’s Word. With God’s living Word. In the midst of chaos and darkness, God spoke. And out of God’s living word, the darkness and chaos was ordered into a beautiful world. Water was created and formed into oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams. And land. Land was shaped into the form of mountains, hills, valleys, mesas, and plains. God simply spoke the Word and it was so. 

God loved God’s creation. Everything. And, in particular, God really loved this mysterious thing called life.

Life isn’t something we can really explain, is it? Scott and Sarah, as we prepare to baptize Reese, I'm wondering if, when she was born, her life didn't just take your breath away. That there were no words to fully describe this mysterious and beautiful new creation.

God created life in the plants and animals of earth. God created a special form of life to dwell on Earth--beings who would consciously enjoy the Creator and would help the Creator take care of earth. God called this special being “human.” Which means “earth creature” or “creature of the soil.”

These partners with God enjoyed God and they helped the Creator take care of the beautiful garden called Earth. They lived in friendship--with God, with each other, and with all creation. 

God smiled. This was working! What joy God had as God watched everything in balance--as each part fit the whole. Everyone had enough. And the partner humans loved God and helped God. It was good. It was really, really good!

And, then, it all fell apart. Humans decided that they could find joy in ways other than living as partners with God. Humans decided to find joy by becoming BIG DEALS.

How did humans know if they were BIG DEALS? They knew by bossing other humans around, by piling up stuff, by dominating nature, and by reaching glorious heights of health and beauty and knowledge. They also knew by competing with each other, by always trying to be more of a BIG DEAL than others. 

They gathered into groups--clans, tribes, and nations. Each group wanted to be better than the others. They invented oppression and war. Because, you know, to oppress and to defeat others makes you a really BIG DEAL.

God groaned. Earth groaned. All living things groaned. The whole universe wept. Sorrow filled the cosmos.

God thought about destroying everything. It would take one snap of the fingers. One word. But, this made God really sad because God loved what God had created.

So, God thought of another way. At first, God thought about acting like the real BIG DEAL. By terrorizing the humans into submission. But, the more that God thought about it, the more God realized that this would only be using their method. 

So God, in love, decided on another way. It’s a really long story--a story of friendship and passion, of promise and disappointment, of hope and of self-giving love. It is a story of God mending the universe.

It began with God making a promise to one man--Abraham. It was a promise that God would make Abraham into a large people--into God’s people. And that God would bless them so they could be a blessing to others.

For a while it was good. Everyone lived in harmony together. But, then, Egypt--another people, another nation--began to oppress Abraham’s descendants. They cried out to God. God heard them. God recruited Moses--who was a pretty reluctant guy--to help free God’s people from Egypt. 

It happened.

God’s plan was that Moses would take Israel--God’s people--to a new land. A place where they could live together as God intended. But, along the way, it began to fall apart. God’s people wanted to become BIG DEALS again.

So, God led them into the wilderness. The wilderness was God’s classroom. They learned alot there. It was also in the wilderness that God entered into a covenant with Moses. God promised to be Israel’s God and they, in gratitude, would live as God’s people. God spoke the Word in the form of the Ten Commandments. This was a covenant gift to show them how to live as God’s people on the land. How to be faithful to God and to each other.

It was also in the wilderness that God gave the gift of worship. Worship was a special time to remember, to retell, and to give thanks for God’s saving acts in history, especially the great liberation from Egypt.

Israel graduated from the wilderness school. They settled down in the land God had promised them. It was good. But, just as had happened so many times before, everything began to fall apart. They wanted to, once again, be BIG DEALS.

So God gave them a series of kings because they wanted to be like (and compete with) neighboring nations. One of these kings was David.

God loved David. And, even though he had his problems, David was faithful. God promised that David and his descendants would rule forever and ever. 

For awhile it was good. Then, it began to all fall apart. One of David’s descendants, began to oppress the people, just like the pharaoh in Egypt. This led to division. The people split in two, part in the north and part in the south. More and more, they turned from God and worshiped their own stuff and the gods of their neighbors. Except for a very few, nobody loved God with their heart and their soul and their strength.

There was catastrophe coming. God sent prophets to warn them. But, the people wouldn’t listen. First, the northern part was destroyed. Then, the Babylonians, destroyed the southern part and led the people back to Babylon in chains. They were exiles, torn from everything familiar. 

Back in the wilderness. Once again.

Since our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this past October, the first of the 95 theses that Martin Luther posted on the church door in Wittenberg has been stuck in my mind. I’ve shared it before. It reads, “When Jesus said, “repent, he meant that believers should live their entire lives in a state of repentance.”

Repentence is a turning back to God. The realization that we can’t go it alone. That we are not enough of a BIG DEAL apart from God. Repentance is often the result of being in the wilderness. In exile. In a place that is torn from everything familiar. When it seems as if everything has fallen apart.

Yet, through the Spirit, it is in the wilderness that we are able to once again recognize our need for God. To turn to God, to cry out for God. Just like the Israelites did in Egypt. Just as they did in Babylon. Just as we do in our own lives.

When we repent. When we turn back to God, God promises to be there. Waiting. Faithful. With a plan to make everything whole again. This is both the message and invitation from God in our text today from Isaiah: 

I have a place for you.
Come to the waters of baptism. 
Come to the feast of the Eucharist. 
Eat and drink only the best. 
Fill yourself with only the finest. 

Pay attention. 
Come closer now. 
Listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.  
I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, 
the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love. 
I have a plan. 
I’m about to do a new thing. 
Because when my Word goes out
--when my life-giving, life-nourishing Word goes out
--he will not come back empty-handed. 
He will do the work I sent him to do. 
He will complete the assignment I gave him. 
This Word that became flesh. 

This Word made flesh. Giving so much life that it simply takes our breath away. 

May we live breathlessly, knowing that God is faithful and that God’s Word will do the work it has been sent to do. Amen.

Preached Sunday, December 10, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
Third Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isaiah 55:1-11, John 4:13-14

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Living in Exile

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV)

Last week we talked about how God is with us--with all of God’s people--even in our fiery furnaces. 

Our reading today is from the prophet Ezekiel. It’s the reading of the Valley of the Dry Bones. For many of us, I think, this is perhaps the only reading we know or that we’ve heard from Ezekiel. I would guess that we know it most likely because we are familiar with the song connected to the story. Do you know which song I mean?

Yes, the song “Dem Bones.” You know it, don’t you? It's a lot of fun. Yet, it doesn’t begin to capture how truly gruesome Ezekiel’s vision really is. 

The prophet Ezekiel had been a priest at the temple in Jerusalem. He had been part of the first group of exiles taken into captivity. Actually, he and the other exiles he was with had been forced to walk to Babylon. By the time of this vision in our story today, all of Israel was now exiled. They had experienced the destruction of city and nation, the downfall of their monarchy, the loss of their temple and, as a result, the center of their religious life, and, amidst the horror of all of this, they had been forced to walk to Babylon. To the land from where their earliest ancestor, Abraham, had come.

They thought that the end of the dynasty of King David and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem meant that their covenant with God had ended. That all hope of restoration for their country was lost. For just a moment, imagine that you are one of the Israelites in exile. God promised you that you would be God’s special people, a great multitude, as many as the stars in the sky, that you would be blessed so that you could be a blessing to others, and that God would always be with you. God promised you a king, a land of your own, and a special relationship that was developed through the rituals in the temple, in the one place where God dwelled on earth.

All of that is now gone. You live in another land. There is no Israelite nation. There is no Davidic king. There is no temple. Is there also no God? Or is this a sign that God is no longer with you? How would you feel in this situation?

The people were in deep despair. Without hope. It is no wonder then, that in Ezekiel’s metaphorical vision, they are pictured as dry bones. Bones after bones after bones in this valley. Dead. Without life. Formless and shapeless. 

But, then, God tells Ezekiel to speak to them. To prophesy. To speak to them the word of the Lord. 

Ezekiel hears it before he sees it. The bones begin to rattle. And then they begin to come together, bone to bone. And then the tendons and the muscles and flesh begin to cover the bones. Yet, as Ezekiel watches, he sees that even though the bones have been re-formed, re-created into bodies, there is no life in them. No breath.

Then God tells Ezekiel to, once again, prophesy. To tell the winds to blow and to breathe into these bodies. To breathe life into these bodies. Into this people. In the very same way that God breathed life into all humanity at creation. (Pause and unmute.)

This prophecy of Ezekiel’s is a vision of hope for Israel. It is a promise for them that, even though they now are exiled, that they have lost everything, that they are dead and lifeless, God will restore them. That God will breathe new life into them. That’s the promise. That God will return them back to their land. 

But, this vision of life does not picture a life that is exactly as it was before their exile. It is a promise of a re-created people. A transformed community. It is not just about restoration. But, it is about transformation. Because God is always creating. Always transforming.

 And yet, it is a resurrection that also has continuity. The people of God will still be the people of God. Israel will still be Israel.  But they will be a transformed people of God.

Transformation and continuity. This is also the story of the work of Father Greg Boyle. Father Greg, or “G” as the gang-bangers of east L.A. call him, is a Jesuit priest working in an area in Los Angeles that has the largest concentration of gang members in the world.

Over the past 30 years, he has witnessed the transformation of many homeboys through the ministry of his parish. Transformation. Transformation and continuity. For once a homeboy, always a homeboy. One such story is that of Bandit, a gang banger from the Aliso Village Housing Project in Los Angeles. Let’s listen as Father Greg tells his story

And the soul feels its worth. Isn’t this the story of Israel? Exiled. Yet, still loved by God and finding its worth in that love. Still given hope. Promised restoration, transformation.

Isn’t this our story, especially in our world today? Often feeling hopeless, despairing of difficulties in our lives or in our country. Feeling separated from each other, or from loved ones who may live far away or who are, perhaps, no longer alive. Like those dry, dry bones in the valley. 

And yet, we, like Israel, hold fast to the hope given to us. A hope that comes to us through the new life we have in Christ. A hope that is renewed this Advent as we are reminded of God coming into our world. In Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. 

God kept God’s promise to Israel. May we continue to hold fast to hope and to that which God has promised to us--that God’s kingdom will be restored in all its fullness here on earth with justice and with mercy. And that we will be a part of it.

May God grant it. Amen.

Preached December 10, 2017 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
2nd Sunday of Advent
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:25-26

Sunday, November 26, 2017

God With Us

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:1, 8-20 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our story today is one of the stories about God’s people when they were in exile—after the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and the remaining people had been removed from their country and forced to live in Babylon, a foreign country.

Last week, we heard from the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah told God’s people that they should invest in the welfare of their new land. That, even though they were exiles in Babylon, they should “move into the neighborhood” and become part of it. That their new country’s welfare would become their welfare.

Today, we turn to the book of Daniel. This is a little bit later in time than Jeremiah. The book of Daniel is a collection of stories that was intended to tell people how they should live while they were in exile. 

It’s what we call “resistance literature.” These are stories that meant to help God’s people resist a culture that was going in a place or in a direction that they didn’t want it to go.
Our story today is about three young men. Does anyone remember their names? (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)

So, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had followed Jeremiah’s instructions. They had “moved into the neighborhood” and had become leaders in the government. 

We heard the story earlier. But, let’s watch a short video that gives us a quick summary of their story.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is the story of what to do when someone says you can’t keep the first commandment. (Do you remember what the first commandment is?)  

One of the things we hear in the story is that Daniel uses humor as a weapon. Daniel recognizes that humor and satire can be one of the most important tools we have that can bring life out a situation that feels desperate. When it feels like there’s no hope.

We see this in our story today.

First, there’s the goofy orchestra. 

Then, there’s the statue, which is 90 feet high and only 9 feet wide, like a 90 foot tall toothpick. Also ridiculous.

And, then, there’s King Nebuchadnezzar. (Can you say that three times fast?)

Now King Nebuchadnezzar is kind of a buffoon. He’s really full of himself. He insists that the people bow down and worship his statue. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego don’t, well he gets really angry. So angry, in fact that he has the fire increased 7 times. 
Even with this, he’s still not able to be effective against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

When we look at Nebuchadnezzar and how ridiculous he is, we start to roll our eyes. As soon as this begins with someone who is a weighty figure the tide has already begun to turn. We—like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—might feel threatened, but as soon as we can roll our eyes, we realize that we’re not really held captive. That we can have a different point of view. This is what Daniel does so well. He uses humor and satire to show the people of Israel that they aren’t really held captive. He uses it to give them hope. It is then that the people begin to resist.

This is what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do. They are prisoners of conscience. Their refusal to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue is an act of civil disobedience.
They refuse to renege on their basic faith commitments. They are not willing to sell out their most basic convictions. 

Do you hear what they say? In verse 17, they say to the king that if God is able to rescue them, then let God rescue them. And, then, in verse 18, they say that if God doesn’t, they still will not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or worship the ridiculous statue he has set up.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego don’t know where this will lead, but, they know they must not let go of their most basic commitment—and that is to worship the one true God.
This is important for us to hear. God does not spare us from the fire. But, God is with us in the fire. And God’s life-giving purposes can be accomplished in and with and through the fire. God is faithful even in the midst of trouble. 

How is God’s presence with you in times of trouble? 

When have you been in your own “fiery furnace”? 

When have you been in a tough situation when things were not going very well?

Have you ever gotten in trouble?

Turn to your neighbor for a few minutes to share your response or responses to any or all of these questions. Be sure to give your neighbor a chance to share, too. And, if you prefer not to share, you should feel free to think for a few minutes about how you might answer these questions.

I’m wondering if, as you were sharing or thinking of your story, how many of you mentioned others—perhaps friends or family—who helped you get through your own times of trouble? Or your own “fiery furnace”? Or the people who helped you through a tough situation when things weren’t going so well? Or, even when you were in trouble?

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is the season when we remember God with us. It’s the time when we hear how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. It’s the story of the incarnation.

God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in even the most forsaken corners of the earth, even in the midst of a fiery furnace.

Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering. To move out of neighborhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who aren’t like us or who don’t look like us. To move away from people who we perceive, perhaps, as weaker or not as smart or good looking or wealthy or whatever other reason we come up with to keep us apart from them or afraid to be in relationship with them.

But the gospel calls us to something altogether different. Throughout the history of the church, there have been movements of believers who have gone to the desert, to the slums, to the most difficult places on earth to follow Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves to the stranger. To be the presence of Christ for those who need help or for those who are in trouble.

For some, like Staff Sergeant Cory Hinkle, it may mean an incredibly heroic gesture. 

Staff Sgt. Hinkle, who is an Iraq combat veteran, was on his way home from the National Guard base in Charlotte, NC, when he witnessed a head-on collision right in front of him.

When he saw one of the cars begin to smoke, while others might have run in the opposite direction, Sgt. Hinkle ran toward it. The driver of the vehicle, 28-year-old Brandy Guin, was having trouble getting out because of a broken ankle she had sustained in the collision.

Sgt. Hinkle charged ahead. And, even when the shocks started to explode and hot debris was flying everywhere, he shielded her with his body and said, “It’s going to have to go through me to get to you.”

And although he was hit in the ankle by a piece of debris, he saved this mother of two. 

He said that he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

But, being Christ-like in our world, doesn’t always mean engaging in life-threatening heroic gestures.

Like the story of this young college student. According to his roommate, who posted this picture online, this young man calls home every week to help his younger sister with her high school algebra homework.

Or perhaps it's the story of this cashier in a Walmart in Mississippi that was posted on Facebook by a woman named Spring Bowlin.

When the cashier gave the elderly man in front of Miss Bowlin in the checkout line, he looked back at her apologetically and started to take handfuls of change out of his pockets. According to Bowlin, he miscounted and started to get flustered, saying, “I’m so sorry.” She noticed that his hands and his voice were shaking.

Then, the cashier offered to help. Bowlin wrote, “This beautiful cashier takes his hands and dumps all the change on the counter and says, ‘This is not a problem, honey. We will do this together.’”

Once the transaction was finished, Bowlin thanked the cashier for patiently helping this elderly man. The cashier shook her head and replied, “You shouldn’t have to thank me, baby. What’s wrong with our world is we’ve forgotten how to love one another.” 

And, then there’s the story of Deputy Matt Holman and Robert Morris. Let’s watch their story.

God came to earth to be with us. God does not promise that our lives will be free from hardship. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the statue, they made a stand for God, knowing that the punishment for such actions was death. They faced the possibility of dying together not knowing whether God would deliver them. What they did know, though, is that, no matter what happened, God would be with them. 

In the same way, no matter the circumstance, we, too, know that God will be with us. Often we experience this through other people. God sends many helpers to help us in times of need. When family or friends or, sometimes, even complete strangers walk with us through hardship or difficulty, they help to share our load. And we are comforted by their presence. 

We, too, can provide this same ministry of presence to others who are facing their own challenges. To be with them. In the same way that God came to earth to be with us.

We do this because God loved us so much that God entered into our world to be with us, even though it meant experiencing betrayal, hunger, pain, and death.

God knows hardship. God knows our hardship. And God promises to be with us. 


In this Advent season as we begin this first Sunday in the fire, may all of us know that God is present with us in the fires of our lives. That God is faithful to us in the midst of trouble. May we help others to know this in our Christ-like presence for them. And may this story of hope be encouragement for us in the midst of difficult times. 


Preached November 26, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY
1st Sunday in Advent
Readings: Daniel 3:1, 8-30; John 18:36-37

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hope in Exile

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has died, who has risen, and who will come again. Amen.

We begin today with a video

What does it feel like to be a refugee? To be a traumatized community that has lost everything? Loved ones. Homes. Beloved city and country. Language. Culture. The familiarity of ways to express one’s own religion, along with places of worship. Everything. Lost. 

Like the Syrians in this film who have been forced to flee their countries due to unsafe circumstances. Or those from Afghanistan or Pakistan. Or Lebanon or Iran. Or from Central America or Mexico. Or Ethiopia or South Sudan. Or, more recently, the Rohingya people from Myanmar. The UN estimates that 65.6 million people are displaced worldwide. 65.6 million. Every minute, 20 more are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. By the time I finish my sermon today, some 200 more people will be displaced. Losing everything. Refugees in foreign lands. People in exile. Exiled in a foreign land.

As our Jeremiah text opens today, this is the same experience that is happening to the people who are Abraham’s descendants. We are in the thick of the drama. Amos, who we heard last week, is one of several prophets to predict the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria. Their predictions have come true. The northern kingdom has fallen and been destroyed.

In the southern kingdom, the remaining remnant in Judah watch as the Babylonians make massive inroads into their country. Closer and closer they get to Jerusalem. Although the city is still functioning, it is operating under duress. The enemy has already taken the king and some of the people off into exile. Within another few years, Jerusalem will fall.

It is to these people already in exile that the prophet Jeremiah sends the letter that is our text this morning. It is a surprising letter. After all this time that God has insisted that the people of Israel stay apart from other peoples, that they not intermarry, or take on surrounding cultures or worship other gods, one would expect to hear the same in Jeremiah’s letter. One would expect a word that is reassuring. An encouraging word. Be faithful. God will bring you back. Resist the culture where you have been exiled.

Instead, this is God’s word given to them through Jeremiah: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord on its behalf. For in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” 

It’s not an instruction to rebel. But an instruction to keep the faith and live deeply into the place where you’ve been sent. To be good citizens in exile. Because you will be there for a long, long time.

As we hear this story. As we watch the video and hear of refugees across the world in exile. As we sit here in relative safety and comfort, it’s perhaps hard for us to imagine or fully understand what it means to be in exile. To have lost everything. To be fully dispossessed of all we own. Of country. Of culture. Of lifestyle.

Yet, I wonder, if we think hard enough or look deep enough into our own context, we whether we can see or think of many in our own place--our own “city” if you will--who are in exile. 

Let me share with you my experience this week of what exile might look like here in northern Kentucky. 

On Tuesday afternoon, I received a call here at the church from a young man. I will call him David. Please know that I have his permission to use parts of his story this morning.

The call was like many calls we receive here at the church. He was calling because his water had been turned off. He had been unable to pay his bill this month. He had called Eastern Area Ministries and, because they had already provided assistance to him a few months ago, they could not help him this time. Their rule, like many agencies in our area, only allows assistance once in a 12-month period.

I asked how much he would need to get it reconnected. He told me. Four hundred two dollars and 90 cents.

Now, normally, if we know this person, we will try to figure out a way to help them. We have a Good Samaritan fund here at church. Sometimes, if it's a small amount, we can help. But this fund has a total of $600 in it. Four hundred dollars would nearly deplete it. There was no way we could help him, at least not fully. And, besides, we didn’t know him.

I asked David to tell me more about himself, particularly, about how his financial situation had become so dire. He told me this incredible story. About how, 2 years ago, out of the blue he had received a call from a old friend of his, begging him to take in and care for her son. (We’ll call her son Noah.) How she had found out that her husband, Noah’s stepfather, had been physically abusing him while she had been away at work. That this abuse had been reported to the authorities. And that they were now threatening to take Noah into the foster care system and would David please take him in so that he wouldn’t end up in this dead-end system.

Now David and his partner had no plans for a family. They were living a pretty good life. Able to go on good vacations, to live well, to even buy a used Mercedes. 

Yet, after hearing his friend’s story and talking it over, they finally agreed. Within a week, Noah was living with them. And within a few more weeks, they found out that this 4-year-old little boy had not only been physically abused, but that he had been sexually molested, as well.

David told me that, because of all of this abuse, Noah was traumatized. He required extensive medical and psychological treatment, which required endless visits to doctors’ offices. Parenting this deeply traumatized little boy David required him to leave a good-paying, full-time job, to reduce his hours to part-time and to take a hourly job where he made much less money. It was this loss of income that had eventually brought him to this place. To this place of exile.

It was an extraordinary story. In some ways unbelievable. It’s hard sometimes, especially when we story after story like this, not to become cynical. To not believe this story. To wonder how a mother could possibly miss the signs of abuse. To wonder how someone driving up to our food pantry in a Mercedes could possibly need our services.

It’s hard not to judge, isn’t it? 

Over these past few weeks surrounding the celebration of the Reformation anniversary, I’ve had the opportunity to hear the Bishop speak a few times. Each time he has mentioned how he used to ask candidates for ordination what the first of Luther’s 95 theses was. (I have to say I’m very glad he had stopped asking that question by the time I was ordained.) He has been surprised at how few have known the answer.

Thesis No. 1: “In saying, ‘Repent,’ our Lord and Master Jesus Christ wanted the entire life of the faithful to be one of repentance.” 

When we judge others without fully understanding their situation or having lived it, we sin. When we become cynical and refuse to believe their story, we sin. Over and over we look at others who are not like us and we fail to see God’s image in them, to see their dignity and their worth. And, we sin. Over and over, we sin. And over and over we are called to repentance. To turn away from these judgments and these thoughts and to begin to see in the eyes of people like David, or Noah’s mother, the image of God. A person, just like us, created in God’s image, who is just as deserving of and needing of God’s grace and forgiveness as we are. A person, just like us, for whom Christ died on the cross.

It is then, after we have repented that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can begin to change. To move from a surface relationship into a deeper place. To believe their story, to walk beside them, to experience what their life is like, to accompany them in exile. To be Christ-like. Even if we can’t do this with refugees from Syria or Afghanistan or Sudan or any of the other countries around the world, we can do it here. We can seek the welfare of our city. Because it is in our city’s welfare, that we, just like the exiled Israelites, will find our own welfare. 

Who is the refugee in our neighborhood? Who around us is in a place or time of exile? Who in our community is experiencing displacement? How are you seeking their welfare?

It took us four days. Four days to find the $400, to push back against the water company bureaucracy that has developed to protect them from a few dishonest people and which, in return, punishes the vast majority of those who are honest. Four days to develop a plan together to improve the financial condition of David and his family and, finally, on Friday evening, to get the water turned back on. By the end of that four days, we were friends. By the end of that four days, in David’s welfare I found my own welfare. And, together, we found hope. 

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,” writes Jeremiah. “Plans for your welfare and not for harm. To give you a future with hope.” This was God’s promise for the exiles of Jeremiah’s day. It is God’s promise for the exiles of our day.

From this point forward, may we open our eyes, see them among us, believe their stories and walk beside them, and together, in Christ, find a future with hope.


Preached November 19, 2017 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church.
Christ the King Sunday
Readings: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14; John 14:27

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Wilderness Living

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:1-18 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God, our creator; Jesus Christ, our redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, who calls us and continues to renew and sustain us each and every day. Amen. 

How many of you are baseball fans? If you are a baseball fan--and even if you’re not--it was hard to miss the World Series this year, wasn’t it? What a great series it was--setting records for the most number of home runs, for one of the longest games (maybe even the longest!), plus that fact that the Dodgers and Astros went the full seven games. 

You probably know which team I was rooting for, don’t you? Yeah, having lived in So. California, I’m a diehard Dodgers fan. In that last game, as they were behind 5-0, I kept thinking that once the 6th inning came, they’d get back into the game as they had so many times before.

But, it wasn’t to happen this year, was it? Instead, the Astros won that last game 5-1 and, with it, the series.

I couldn’t really begrudge the Astros for winning it, though. After all that Houston has been through this year, it kind of felt right, didn’t it? That their team would win the Series and bring home the trophy for the first time ever--a win that gave them something to celebrate, even in the midst of all of the difficulty the people of Houston have experienced over these past few months.

It’s been quite a past few months, hasn’t it? Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires. In reading the text for today, and, particularly, when I read vs. 11-12 in The Message, I was struck by the similarity of these past few months with the experience of the prophet Elijah as he stood at Mt. Horeb, or Sinai, as we also know it, waiting to see God. “A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire.”

As the hurricanes ripped through Texas and Louisiana, and Florida and Puerto Rico, and the rest of the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean, where was God? As the earthquake shook Mexico, was God to be found? As the fire tore through No. California, destroying thousands of homes, had God abandoned everyone? In the midst of the hurricanes, and earthquakes, and fires, where was God to be found?

Elijah wondered the same thing. Where was God to be found? Had God abandoned him?

Elijah. Just who was Elijah? To understand his story, we have to back up a bit to our lesson from last week, when we heard the story of King Solomon, son of David. Solomon—renowned for his wisdom, his great wealth, his penchant for marrying foreign women, and, particularly last week, his building of the temple--a project that took him 7 years.

What we didn’t hear about Solomon, though, was that he also built a palace for himself. An extravagant project that took 14 years. Hmmm….7 years. Fourteen years. Seven years for the temple for God. Fourteen years for the palace for Solomon. 

Do you begin to see the problem? With all of his wealth. With all of his marriages to foreign women--women who came from different cultures and who worshipped different gods. With all of these distractions, Solomon began to lose sight of God. 

And everything began to fall apart. 

If you remember the story from last week, Solomon used forced labor to build the temple.  In addition, for him to maintain his lavish lifestyle, Solomon taxed the people excessively. There was growing discontent. 

By the end of Solomon’s reign, there was a kind of Tea Party revolt in the 10 northern tribes. “If you lower our taxes and ease our burden, we’ll stay with you and in your kingdom,” they told Solomon. It was his own son, his successor, who said, “No! In fact, I’m going to make it even worse for you,” and then he both increased their workload and their taxes. So, the northern tribes revolted. The kingdom of Israel split in two. The rebels formed a northern kingdom and the remaining tribe formed a southern one. Both continued to be ruled by kings--just different ones.

The prophet Elijah appears in the northern kingdom at the time of King Ahab. We know from archaeology that Ahab was one of the most powerful and successful kings for the northern kingdom. But, we also know from scripture, that he was also one of the most unfaithful.

We know little about Elijah. He first bursts onto the scene when he shows up after Ahab becomes king and predicts a drought. Knowing that the king won’t be happy with his prediction, Elijah flees and goes into hiding. 

God calls him to return. 

And, in what would be the equivalent of a World Wrestling Smackdown, Elijah triumphs over 450 false prophets of Baal, the god who is worshipped by Queen Jezebel, one of Ahab’s wives. At the end of this triumph, although it is not part of God’s command, Elijah slays all of the Baal prophets. Queen Jezebel is furious and sends Elijah a message. That within 24 hours he will be just as dead as the Baal prophets. 

Once again, Elijah is on the run. He flees for dear life to Beersheba, which is far south, near the border between Egypt and the Promised Land. He ends up in the same wilderness that Israel wandered in for 40 years. The same place where Israel cried out to God, “It would have been better if the Lord had killed us in the land of Egypt.” It is in this place—this same wilderness—that Elijah, centuries later, cries out, “Enough of this, God! Take my life--I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!”

How often do we, like Elijah and Israel, say these same words when we are in our own wilderness moments? Or when we witness the wilderness of our world. Where are you, God? How much more must I endure of this life? I have served you and now I am all alone. Take me from this life. Reunite me with those I have loved who are no longer here. How much longer, O God?

As we so often do, Elijah also felt completely alone. And afraid.

Yet, in  the next verses we read that God fed Elijah in the wilderness. That God sustained him for the journey he would take to Mt. Horeb--Mt. Sinai. It was there on the mountain that Elijah would learn that God is not always to be found in the glory and power and majesty we might imagine, or even desire. Sometimes, God is present in the sound of sheer silence. In the smallest of voices.

This week, a friend of mine shared some of her thoughts about All Saints Day in a Facebook post. She wrote about “thin places.” That some people think “thin places” refer to physical locations. But, for her, “thin places” are places of synchronicity of time and place accompanied by heightened awareness and emotional connection. God moments. Moments that are fleeting experiences that can’t be predicted or recreated, but that they stay in the memory as a touchstone, as something for us to hold onto. 

Then she, shared this quote by Mindie Burgoyne: “Thin places are ports in the storm of life, where the pilgrims can move closer to the God they seek, where one leaves that which is familiar and journeys into the Divine Presence. They are stopping places where men and women are given pause to wonder about what lies beyond the mundane rituals, the grief, the trials and the boredom of our day-to-day life. They probe to the core of the human heart and open the pathway that leads to satisfying the familiar hungers and yearnings common to all people on earth--the hunger to be connected, to be a part of something greater, to be loved, to find peace.” Thin places.

In my former church in Pasadena, we had a communion rail that ran in front of the altar from one side of the sanctuary to the other. On one All Saints Sunday, my pastor explained the tradition that these communion rails represented. That they didn’t stop at the walls, but that they continued to extend into infinity, into all time. So that, even in death, we are all connected together. That, when we come to the communion table, we are participating in the meal not only with those here present today, but with all the saints--past, present, and future. With our loved ones who have died. With our loved ones who are here with us. And with our loved ones who are yet to come. 

All of us. Together. At the Eucharistic feast--at this “thin place.” This “thin place,” where we come together in the midst of our wildernesses. Where we come in the midst of our mundane lives. Where we come in the midst of our grief and our trials.  Where, sometimes along the journey, we come like Elijah and Israel and look back and long for the past, simply because we don’t know what the next day will bring. 

It is here, in this “thin place,” where we come and where we experience the Divine Presence. Not in power and glory and majesty so much. But, like Elijah, in a quiet and gentle whisper. In the words we hear. In the water we touch. In the bread and wine we eat. Together, with 
the communion of the saints.

Then, like Elijah, we are reminded once again that God provides sustenance. That God provides strength for the journey and renews our call. And, mostly, mostly, that we are never, ever alone. 

May we cling to these touchstone moments as we travel through the wilderness. 


Preached November 5, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
All Saints Sunday
Readings: 1 Kings 19:1-18, John 12:27-19