Monthly Archives: November 2014

Can Anything Good Come Out Of Nazareth/Ferguson?

fergusonJourney to Bethlehem: Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth Ferguson?

Luke 1:28-36

November  30, 2014

Where is your hometown?

Can you think of something your hometown is known for?

Now here’s a more difficult question…one to ponder later today…

how do you think your hometown has influenced who you are today?

Today, as we begin the season of Advent,

we begin a 4-week series of sermons based on the events, people, and places

leading up to the birth of Jesus.

Today we’re looking at Mary,

and her hometown of Nazareth.

As we begin, I’d like for you to pull out your bulletin insert for today.

It has a map of Israel-Palestine at the time of Jesus on it.

As you look at your map, you can find the region of Galilee near the top.

The body of water there isn’t labelled, but it is the Sea of Galilee.

There are a few towns which are named.

We’re going to look at two of them:

Sepphoris and Nazareth.

Here’s what we know about Sepphoris…

Sepphoris was a wealthy Roman city.

Ruins of the city are still visible.

The ruins show that at the time of Jesus’ birth,

the wealthy lived in villas,

with floors tiled with beautiful mosaics..

There were probably about 30,000 people living in Sepphoris when Jesus was born.

Now let’s contrast that with Nazareth, aka “Podunk, Galilee.”

Nazareth was a town which if it weren’t for Jesus, would never have been on a map.

There was a historian in first century Palestine

by the name of Josephus.

He knew the region well.

In his writings he names 45 towns in Galilee –

he doesn’t even mention Nazareth!

Remember in the gospel of John

when Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel says to his brother Philip,

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

It was highly doubtful that anything could come out of Nazareth…

let alone something good!

There were probably 400 people at the most living in Nazareth when Jesus was born.

Its residents were probably shepherds and farmers,

who would walk an hour to get to the bigger town of Sepphoris to sell their goods.

There is no evidence that there were any villas in Nazareth.

Instead, it’s most likely that the residents there lived in limestone caves hewn into the rock –

far more humble homes than in Sepphoris.

One thing that Nazareth did have was a spring.

Most new towns started around a water source,

and Nazareth grew up around its spring which is still visible today.

In Jesus’ day, springs were called “living water,”

(a phrase Jesus used to describe the living presence of God.)

There is now a Greek Orthodox church built on top of that spring,

called the ’Annunciation,’ and some say,

that it was here that Mary received the announcement from Gabriel –

at the spring of living water.

Of course if you’ve ever visited the Holy Land,

you know that there are often conflicting stories about exactly where events from the Bible took place.

According to Roman Catholic tradition,

the annunciation took place at a different place – just a few hundred yards away.

The Basilica of the Annunciation has been built over remains of a cave dwelling,

said to be the home of Mary.

Regardless – whether the annunciation happened at a cave or at a spring,

we know that it happened in Nazareth.

Why Nazareth?

Why Nazareth and not a city of commerce such as Sepphoris?

Why Nazareth and not a center of religion such as Jerusalem?

The choice of Nazareth seems to say that God

chooses people who live in the least likely places

to do the miraculous.

The choice of Nazareth seems to say that God

sees potential in the forgotten and faraway places.

The choice of Nazareth seems to say that God

can raise up leaders from anywhere,

even among places which are deeply hurting.

And so the choice of Nazareth gives me hope…especially in a week like this.

It gives me hope that God can do something with a town called Ferguson, MO.

It gives me hope that God can transform it from a place of shame,

to a place of resurrection life.

It gives me hope that God can raise up leaders

from among those who have been ignored and mistreated.

Nazareth gives me hope for Ferguson,

and all the places in our nation – large or small –

which now must begin the hard work of listening and remembering and responding,

so that the death of a young black man is not in vain.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Can anything good come out of Ferguson?

As Gabriel said to Mary,

“Nothing is impossible for God.”



Stay Woke

sunrise-190644_640Stay Woke

I’ve been noticing a curious hashtag appended to Twitter posts related to Ferguson, Missouri lately: #staywoke.

According to the Urban Dictionary, deriving from “stay awake,” to stay woke is to keep informed of the ****storm going on around you in time or turmoil and conflict, specifically on occasions when the media is being heavily filtered- such as the events in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014.[i]

As time goes by and the images of the events in Ferguson fade, it will not be easy to stay woke to the issues which were opened up there.  How will we keep informed about issues of racial justice? How will we ensure we hear diverse voices? How will we keep the conversation about institutional racism active? How will we learn about relevant legislation and advocate with legislators?  How will we stay woke?

The Advent season which begins on Sunday is about waiting and hoping for God’s promises to be fulfilled and God’s kingdom of peace and justice to reign. It’s about staying woke.

How will we stay woke until God’s promises are fulfilled for everyone?

In Christ,

Pastor Jen


It’s So Hard To See

hunger-games-katniss-everdeen-imagePentecost 24A – It’s So Hard to See

Luke 12:13-21

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

November 23, 2014

I think I’m probably the only person in the United States

who saw the new Hunger Games movie “Mockingjay” this weekend…completely by mistake.

I had intended to see a different movie which I had heard was lighthearted and fun.

But instead of walking into theater 10,

somehow I walked into theater 9,

and by the time the previews were over and I realized my mistake,

I was stuck!

So I watched “Mockingjay,”

a movie which is most definitely neither lighthearted nor fun.

And yet I recommend it.

It has some really good conversation material for over Thanksgiving dinner.

For those of you who don’t know the books or movies,

“Hunger Games” tells the story of Katniss Everdeen,

a young woman who lives in the fictional society called “Panem.”

Panem’s government, called the “Capitol,”

is a government in which the wealthy elite rule.

It maintains power by fear.

It subjugates children in the poorer areas of the nation

to take part in a battle – it’s a battle to the death, called the “hunger games.”

Katniss becomes a hero as she defies Panem’s government.

She goes on a quest to end the exploitation of the poor.

So “Mockingjay” becomes a movie about income inequality,

about what can happen when a government loses sight of the poor,

about class differences,

about violence,

and about the courage of a young woman as she takes a stand.

As with most good storylines,

“Mockingjay” touches truth.

It is not entirely a fairy tale from a land far far away,

but speaks to us who happen to live in a world

where the gap between rich and poor is becoming greater;

where it seems that sometimes our government does lose sight of the poor;

where children are the ones who suffer most when this happens;

where some have seen extraordinary abundance,

and have built bigger and bigger barns for themselves,

whereas others have been left far behind.

In our gospel reading today,

there is a man who has an unexpected windfall.

His harvest is far more than he’s ever had before.

He’s never had so much, so he just doesn’t know what to do with it all.

And here’s his mistake…he asks himself the wrong question.

Instead of asking the question,

“Why did this happen?”

“Why might God have given me such an abundance of crops?”

(which might have led him to at least consider

that he has been blessed to be a blessing to others…)

Instead of asking that question, he asks the question,

“Now what should I do with it?”

“Where should I store this abundance?”

The passage is full of I,myself, and me….did you notice?

“What should I do.

I have no place for my crops…

I will do this:

I will store all my grain and my goods.

I,my,me, mine….

What a lonely man!

His wealth has insulated him from others.

His only concern is for his own contentment.

He’s unaware of the needs of his neighbors.

He has no clue of how his blessing could be a blessing to others,

and how being a blessing to others could bring him joy, happiness, relationship.

He is without a sense of connection to anyone.

And so he is a fool, isolated in his own very small world.[i]

To eat, drink, and merry sounds like a good thing…

but when you think about it, how much fun could it be to eat, drink, and be merry all by yourself?

At one point in the film “Mockingjay,”

Katniss comes to the realization that in order for change to happen in her world,

those in the government, those in the Capitol,

need to see what it is like.

They need to see the people that are oppressed.

The rich man has not seen.

Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler once wrote that

to possess wealth is to be able to purchase distance from one another.[ii]

If we have the means we can live in a home in a neighborhood far away.

Box seats at ball games separate us from the masses in the bleachers.

We can purchase seats on an airplane which let us board first and sit apart from others.

He goes on “We have built an economic system in which prestige is marked by the comforts of diminishing proximity – and indeed, diminishing solidarity – with others.”

The rich man didn’t see.

He could afford not to see.

And frankly, sometimes we don’t see.

It’s so hard to see.

I saw my first bell ringer for the Salvation Army last week…

and it was hard.

I was in a pretty good mood;

I was going into the grocery store and I was planning a lovely dinner for myself;

and I was saying to myself,

Self, what will I eat?

What will be on my table?

And by the grace of God, just then, interrupting my thoughts,

there was the sound of the bell.

There was a ringer whom try as I might, I couldn’t ignore.

She was smiling, looking right at me, and saying, “Good afternoon.”

And so I looked…and I saw…just for a moment…I saw.

And I thought to myself, “You fool!”

The celebration of thanksgiving described in Deuteronomy,

the ritual bringing of the first fruits to God,

is a celebration of a God who has seen his people who have struggled.

As we celebrate our Thanksgiving,

may we recommit ourselves to be people who see

those who struggle around us.

(It will make our eating, drinking and merrymaking a whole less lonely.)




Remembering CS Lewis

aslanRemembering C.S. Lewis

The writer, professor, and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis died on this date in 1963.

Some of us recall him best for his Chronicles of Narnia series of books in which Aslan the lion serves as an allegory for Christ. The books are often found in the children’s section in libraries, but as Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Others of us might recall the movie “Shadowlands” starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, based on Lewis’ life. It depicts his book, A Grief Observed, telling the poignant story of his relationship with Joy Gresham with whom he is engaged when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Still others may have found our way to Lewis’ more overtly theological works such as Mere Christianity  or The Problem of Pain at a time in which we were questioning what we really believed.

During the holiday seasons, I am often drawn to his work, Surprised by Joy. Here Lewis uses the word “joy’” to translate the German concept of, Sehnsucht or “longing.” He speaks of the inexplicable, surprising moments of joy in his life which he came to experience as God.

As we enter the seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, may we allow ourselves opportunities to be “surprised by joy”!

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

God Likes You

likePentecost 23A: God Likes You

Matthew 25:14-30


There is a special space in your bulletins today.

It’s for a drawing…

Here’s the space…I’ve entitled it:

“What does God look like?”

Some of you may take this time and draw something there.

(I’d love to see what you come up with!)

But even if you don’t actually make a drawing,

I’d like you to think for a moment for yourself…

“What do you imagine God looks like?”

When you pray,

What picture (if any) do you have of God?

Is there an image of God that comes to mind when you read the Bible,

or speak about God to other people?

It’s an extremely important question.

Our image of God, how we picture God,

reflects our beliefs about God,

and  it also influences how we live our faith. Continue reading

Every Day Is Sacred

celtic crossSome days it’s not very difficult to witness the holy. Yesterday we rejoiced in the birth of a very special baby. When the news came that Campbell Robb was born to Carly and Corry Robb (and big sister Ellie), we were reminded once again of the gift and miracle of new birth. It was a sacred celebration!

But not every day is like that. On most days nothing very special seems to happen. And yet every day is given to us for a purpose. Every day is sacred.

A favorite writer of mine is the Irish poet John O’Donohue. In his book, To Bless The Space Between Us, he suggests some questions we might ask ourselves at the end of the day (or at the beginning) to open our awareness to the sacredness of the most ordinary of days.

Consider some of these as you end your day today. I expect that they will change your perception of this day. No day is ordinary.

What dreams did I create last night?

Where did my eyes linger today?

Where was I blind?

Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?

What did I learn today?

What did I read?

What new thoughts visited me?

What differences did I notice in those closest to me?

Whom did I neglect?

Where did I neglect myself?

What did I begin today that might endure?

How were my conversations?

What did I do today for the poor and excluded?

Did I remember the dead today?

Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?

Where did I allow myself to receive love?

With whom did I feel most myself?

What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?

Who saw me today?

What visitations had I from the past and from the future?

What did I avoid today?

From the evidence – why was I given this day?


In Christ,

Pastor Jen

Look For The Saints

louis armstrongAll Saints A – Look For The Saints

November 2, 2014

Matthew 5:1-12

Revelation 7:9-17

His name was Roger and for his entire life he’d lived in the same house.

He was born in that farmhouse.

When his parents died, he and sister Sarah lived in the house together.

It was just the two of them…for all those years.

But then his sister fell.

And then she fell again.

Roger couldn’t take care of Sarah by himself,

and so she went into a nursing home.

It was then that I started visiting Roger at home.

The visits were at home, but I never actually went into his home.

On occasion I’d drive him to get groceries,

and when I carried the packages for him,

I got only as far as the front porch.

“Just leave them there,” he’d say.

“I’ll bring them in later.”

Continue reading