There Is Another Way

Epiphany 4A: There Is Another Way

Matthew 5:1-12

January 28, 2017


The message of the Beatitudes..

The message of these 9 blessings that Jesus declares

at the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount,”

is that there is another way.

There is a different way to live.


I imagine that if I asked you to name some ways in which you are blessed right now,

you might name some things that bring you joy or comfort:

Family and friends;

A job; food on the table; good health; a place to live.

Those are blessings.


But they’re not at all blessings Jesus talks about here.


Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn,

the meek, the pure in heart,

those who are persecuted on Christ’s behalf.


Jesus calls blessed not those who fit in with the world,

but those whom the world rejects;


He calls blessed not those who are loved by the world,

but those whom the world says we should fear.


Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

has resettled over a half million refugees and immigrants

since its founding in 1939.

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Called For A Purpose


Epiphany 3A – Called for a Purpose

Matthew 4:12-23

January 21, 2017


Jesus sees a couple of fishermen mending their nets,

calls them, and they follow him.


Last month I went on a ride along

with Alexandria Police Officer Lisa Kutz.


For the evening shift one Thursday night,

I sat in the passenger seat of her police car

as we responded to calls for domestic violence,


and individuals in distress…

In between times, we made traffic stops.


There are a lot of things that struck me that night,

But relevant to this morning was her story

About how she came to this job and what makes her stay.


She talked about the danger she experiences,

and the precautions she takes to protect herself and her fellow officers.


Then she said, “Despite the risk,

I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

It really is a calling.”


There are a number of ways to talk about calling…

Officer Kutz sees her calling in her work.

In her work she finds meaning and purpose and satisfaction.


But that’s not where most people find their calling.

In a Lily Endowment survey,

although many people have moments in their jobs

where they feel deep satisfaction,

the primary place in which they feel meaning and purpose

Is in relationships.[i]


Even those who said they had a sense of calling in their work

often said it was the relationships within their work

which gave them that sense of meaning.


I’ve mentioned before that for 3 years I worked at McDonald’s.

I didn’t get a lot of sense of meaning or purpose out of doing that job;

I wouldn’t have said it was a “calling” at the time.


But as I look back, perhaps it was.

Through that work I met people I never would have otherwise.


I got to know Rosie, the manager who opened the store every morning…

She had worked at that McDonald’s for over 20 years…

She was a single mother trying to raise a daughter on little over minimum wage.

Whenever I hear conversation about living wages for service workers,

I remember Rosie – perhaps it was my calling to meet her.


And then there were the customers.

There was the elderly man who came into the store who was remarkable to me

because he was wearing a three-piece suit.

He very precisely ordered “one hamburger,

one “senior” coffee,

…and a side of peas.”

After I gently let him down,

And told him we didn’t serve peas,

He reluctantly accepted my suggestion of a small order of French fries,

And took his tray to a corner table for dinner.


After that day, I’ve often wondered about that man and his story

He comes to mind when I hear about seniors living alone

and of the retirees from my hometown

trying to encourage the major employer – General Electric — to raise their pensions.


Perhaps the ‘meaning’ – the ‘calling’ part of the job

wasn’t in taking orders and working the cash register,

and it certainly wasn’t in cleaning out the fry vat….

the calling was in the people I encountered – the relationships.


In Dick, the store manager who sang tenor in the church choir on the weekends,

and Bert the custodian who never spoke

but somehow heard I was having car trouble and surprised me

by fixing it during my shift.


Not all those McDonald’s relationships were great.

It was while working there that I experienced sexual harassment for the first time;

where I heard racist jokes and demeaning comments about women that shocked me.


The job itself did not feel all that fulfilling or significant in the grand scope of things..

But the people I met  – the relationships –

were significant in forming who I am today as a pastor.

It was a calling.


It’s significant that when Jesus calls the disciples,

he says, “Follow me, and I will make you ‘fish for people.’”

He calls them into relationship  – relationship with him,

with each other,

and with the people they will meet over the years.

He calls them into community…

And it is that community which will sustain them in their calling.


Every week in our basement and in thousands of church basements across the country

12 step groups meet.

They usually gather in a circle around bad coffee

to do the work of recovery.


It’s not the coffee that sustains them…it’s not the coffee that makes AA work.

It’s the circle – the community.


When we are called to do something extraordinary—

Whether it’s to become a disciple or a police officer,

to stop a lifetime of drinking,

or to be part of a Confirmation class,

it takes community.

We aren’t called alone.


Today 14 of our youth will make a commitment

To begin a time of preparation for Confirmation.

They aren’t called to this alone…

Their families and this congregation are called together.


The youth will receive study Bibles as they begin.

Their leaders and I highlighted a verse in these Bibles.


This year I highlighted Esther 4:14…

Esther is Jewish and her husband the king does not know it.

The king has been convinced to kill the Jews,

And Esther’s uncle Mordecai says the words in this verse to encourage her

to ‘out herself’ as a Jew and thereby save her people.


Mordecai says, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’

“Who knows? Perhaps you are here for just such a time as this.”


This is Esther’s call.

Perhaps this is our call too.

Perhaps our Confirmands are learning more about their faith for just such a time as this.

Perhaps our congregation is here outside of our national’s capital for just such a time as this.

Perhaps you are sitting in this pew listening to God’s word about ‘call’ for just such a time as this.



Each one of us is called.

You are called.


May you find God’s call for meaning, purpose, and satisfaction in your work and relationships.

May you be sustained in that call by this community.

And may you exercise that call in such a time as this.





Faith Reflection: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Written and shared in worship by Corinne Baker, chair of Good Shepherd’s anti-racism team

Faith Reflection: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Corinne Baker, 15 January 2017

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

This is one of my favorite quotes by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though there are many. What I love about it is it acknowledges the reality of the struggle while affirming the hope and faith in the resolution.

As we reflect on the progress down the path of justice and rededicate ourselves to the work still to do, Martin Luther King inspires me because he used and developed every gift he was given, in particular:

  • Faith, hope, calling and prayer
  • Commitment to non-violence that did not mean inaction
  • Use of words and actions toward justice and equality
  • Strategy, marketing and oratory skills
  • Patience coupled with a continuous and urgent focus on the now

King also suited up, despite what he or history may have credited to foolishness or flaws. And aren’t these things we can see in ourselves, things that impede our determination to suit up today? King didn’t let age—in his case, youth—or experience deter him. He made his massive impact as a very young man, beginning with leading the Montgomery bus boycott when he was 25. Thirteen short years later, his personal efforts were ended by an assassin’s bullet when he was 39. And King wasn’t a perfect man, but he acted and persisted anyway.

As we consider these things—using and developing our gifts and getting past our perceived or otherwise limitations and flaws/inadequacies—Martin Luther King Jr’s words and actions still inspire. There’s such a wealth to choose from but I think it’s particularly fitting today, in this worship setting, to point to his letter from the Birmingham Jail (1), written to faith leaders in 1963. I’d like to read portions that exemplify, for me, these gifts, and instruct us still in this moment, at this time.

Faith, hope, calling and prayer

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…

You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.


Strategy, marketing and oratory skills

IN ANY nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action…

So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community.

We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” and “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?”

We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that, with exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes.

… Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth…

Patience coupled with a continuous and urgent focus on the now

I MUST make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Use of words and actions toward justice and equality

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

King’s words still have bearing. Many things have changed for the better. We no longer see ‘white’ and ‘colored’ signs, outside of museums. Segregation in communities and businesses is not enforced in clearly worded policies. African Americans are a larger part of the professional, home-owning, middle and upper classes, and hold more political offices, including the highest in our land.

But some things have not changed enough and some changes are not only counter-productive, but regressive. In some cases, our outward actions have changed but our hearts have not. In many ways, we continue to self-segregate, whether knowingly or not. As our technology, work and activity-driven lives have become busier, we have new reasons and ways to not see or act on the challenges outside our own in our communities. Racism still exists on a systemic level in education, housing, the availability of equal credit, and access to economic and political power. White people still really don’t (have to) think about the color of their skin where people of color are confronted with it daily.

We still have work to do. So let these words influence our hearts, minds, words and actions today (and particulalry to this end, note my slight deletions and additions, between slashes):

Commitment to non-violence that did not mean inaction

I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the /Negro/ community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodyness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, on the other hand, of /a few Negroes some/ in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses.

The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various /black/ nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, … This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the /white man elite/ is an incurable devil.

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the do-nothingism of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the /black/ nationalist. There is a more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest…

So I have not said to /my/ people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.

Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized. But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.

Was not Jesus an extremist in love? “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” …

So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?

…I am thankful, however, that some of our /white sisters and/ brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some … have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic, and understanding terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They sat in with us at lunch counters and rode in with us on the freedom rides. They have languished in filthy roach-infested jails…” They, unlike many of their moderate brothers/and sisters/, have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of /segregation ongoing inequality/.

King’s words and actions influence and inform us still today. So let us consider:

What is the urgency of the moment today? Where do we sense the need for powerful action as antidotes to combat the disease of ongoing inequality? What will we say? What will we do?

What Martin Luther King Jr Means To Me As a Person of Faith

Faith story shared by Meredith Hurt, church council president and member of the anti-racism team

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Just saying his name can stir up feelings in people. People speak of him in his role as civil right leader, a religious leader, a gifted writer and unparalleled orator. It is difficult to reflect upon his words and actions, the terrible things he had to endure and live through and not be inspired by them and him.

However, those are not the things I think about when I think of Dr. King. I think, mainly, about him being a human man and all the flaws that go with being a human being of faith.

I know that there have been times when I have doubted the good in the world around me. I’m not sure I always hold my faith in my fellow man as strongly as I should.

But then again…Dr. King had his doubts at times too.  About how he had to hold on to his faith both tightly and loosely in order to survive the world he lived in. Sometimes, especially in his earlier years, he wasn’t sure he was on the right path or even what was the right path.  So instead, he put his faith into the ideas that he would plant in others would grow—and these new believers would show him and us all the way. He had to have faith that the the community he was growing would come together and achieve things no one had imagined were possible.

He had to have faith that some of things he believed in wouldn’t be achievable in his lifetime but that one day, they would come true. He had to believe as Jesus believed that the words said today may fall on fallow ground at times, but also fall on fertile soil and grow into the trees that eagles make their nests in.

That is some strong faith.

I get angry about the injustices I see, the willful ignorance of others, the causal spreading of misinformation to benefit the powerful at the expense of others.

But, then again…Dr. King was angry too. He spoke often of his anger– at the world he found himself surrounded by. Anger that others were not helping those who couldn’t help themselves. Human anger—because anger can remind us that faith is not passive; it is not always quiet. It can move us, burn us up and be very powerful.

I have to think Dr. King knew that even Jesus himself, several times, demonstrated his anger. Marching into the synagogue and flipping over tables. This was no subtle walk and gently tipping it over. This was a full on power march and NJ Real Housewife full table flip—coins flying the air, disrupting the usual order of things. That power, in knowing that what was happening was wrong, gave strength to Jesus’ and Dr. King’s message: What is happening here is wrong. We can do better—Let’s do it together.

I make mistakes—a lot of them—in times when I could have said something or done something to help another. And in doing so may have hurt another person.

But, then again…Dr. King made mistakes at times. He didn’t always treat everyone with kindness and calmness. He couldn’t be all things to all people, and some people were disappointed when he couldn’t be what they wanted him to be at the time. Making mistakes helps reminds us that no one person can be all things to all people – it is impossible and beating ourselves up when we fail does not help the next person in need.

Because Jesus was human, too. He became man to live as we do with mistakes and fears and doubts. And he gathered around himself a community of people so that no one person had to take his place, so there were many to continue to build upon the foundation of his love for all of us.

So you see, when I think of Dr. King of think of the flawed human being—or to be more accurate, a human being who even flawed held his faith up for others to see. That is what influences me in own life of faith. For no matter how flawed I may be, God’s faith in me is not.

Who’s In Your Family Tree?

Advent 4: Who’s In Your Family Tree?

December 18, 2016

Matthew 1:1-25


There are a couple of things to notice about Jesus’ family tree…


The first thing to notice is that (like all of us),

Jesus had some embarrassing relatives!


There were some horrible kings in his family:


When he was king, Manasseh of Judah,

executed any of God’s prophets who dared disagree with him.

Those who sympathized with the prophets – those who sympathized with God then–

were in constant danger.


Manasseh was such a terrible king

That when he died he wasn’t buried with the other kings in

the city of David – Bethlehem.


Ahaz, whom we also heard about in our Isaiah reading,

was another brutal king.

He made secret alliances with Israel’s enemies

and brought back pagan idolatry and astrology.


It was said Ahaz was so wicked that he even offered to sacrifice his son.


Even the ‘good’ kings in Jesus’ background had their issues.

As we heard, Jesus was related to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah,

David and Solomon.

The Old Testament is filled with stories about

very human these ‘heroes’ of the Bible were:

At times they were arrogant, cowardly, deceptive,

jealous, vengeful, and adulterous.

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God Interrupts


Advent 3A  – God interrupts

Isaiah 35:1-10

Some say this passage from Isaiah is out of place.

The reason?

It’s too hopeful…


This section of the book of Isaiah is about destruction…

War after war.

Conflict after conflict.


Syria attacks Judah.

Israel attacks Judah.

Assyria comes to help Judah and together

They go back and attack Syria and then Israel again.

Israel is completely destroyed.


And then without a pause,

we have a poem – this poem we just heard:


The wilderness and the dry

land shall be glad.

the desert shall rejoice and


like the crocus it shall blossom


and rejoice with joy and



Joy, rejoicing, singing.

They seem out of place.

Just as out of place today as they were then…

Today as we pray in the aftermath of violence in Cairo and Istanbul;

and loss of life in a truck explosion in Kenya

and the collapse of a church in Nigeria.


Joy, rejoicing, and singing

seem out of place.

Or maybe not.

Maybe they’re here because this is what God does…


God interrupts  – and brings a word which is out place:

Joy from destruction;

Singing in  the desert.


And we are in the midst of waiting for

the most miraculous interruption of them all…

A baby in a manger.

God as a human being.


God actually becomes a Word out of place.

God interrupts the darkest of times.


Last Sunday I went to the Metropolitan AME church in DC

for their performance of Handel’s Messiah.


There is of course a certain etiquette when you go to a concert…

One rule is that when you are listening to a piece like “The Messiah,”

where are many different movements –

arias and choruses and recitatives…

the audience doesn’t applaud until the end.


No matter how spectacular, how moving, how much you enjoy the piece,

You’re supposed to wait until the end to clap.


Something different happened on Sunday

at Handel’s Messiah at the Metropolitan AME church.


About midway through the piece,

comes the Christmas chorus,

“For Unto Us A Child is Born.”


And it was spectacular, and it was moving,

It was probably the best performance of that chorus I’ve ever heard.

But I know the rule – you don’t clap! Not yet!


But on Sunday as the conductor paused between movements,

still with his arms raised,

one little old lady, dressed in her Sunday best,

complete with a wide-brimmed black hat

just couldn’t contain herself.


Before the next downbeat,

She shouted out (with joy!): “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”

And over and over again: “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”


Since she had broken the ice,

The rest of us broke with convention too – and we all burst into applause.

I don’t think anyone regretted it.

I don’t think even the orchestra regretted it.

It was a holy moment.


God brings a Word out of place…

God interrupts with joy!

For Unto Us A Child is Born!

Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!


The last couple of days I’ve been at a conference in New York City.

I love the city this time of year

With the Christmas decorations and lights

And I walked up to Herald Square

To see how Macy’s had decorated their windows.


Well it seems that other people had the same idea –

Lots of other people,

trudging from window to window.


Outside of the store there was a Salvation Army bucket

And a couple of women ringing bells.


They weren’t just ringing though…

They had a speaker playing Christmas music with a beat

And they were dancing with their bells!


God brings a word out of place!

Dancing in the middle of a crowd trudging along..


Sometimes God interrupts with a word of hope when there is no hope

As when Isaiah speaks of flowers blooming.


Sometimes God interrupts with a word of joy when it’s breaking the rules.

As when a woman says “Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus!”


Sometimes God interrupts with dancing when we’re trudging along

As when a couple of women ring bells to the beat.


Sometimes God interrupts with a word of peace when there is no peace.

That what Edmund Hamilton Sears discovered.


Sears wrote the lyrics for the Christmas carol

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”

It was in the mid 1800’s and Sears was a pastor in Massachusetts.

He was concerned with the social injustices in the world,

and that particular Christmas,

he was having a hard time figuring out what to preach.


What could the birth of the Christ child mean

for the “weary world” he lived in?


As he kept re-reading the Bible text about the birth of Jesus,

Something struck him in a new way that year.

It was the message of the angels who broke through the cloven skies

And appeared to some shepherds saying,

“Peace on earth and goodwill to all!”


It was a word just as out of place to those shepherds…

As it was a word out of place for Edmund Sears.


Peace was not to be found.

And yet God breaks through with a word of peace

when there is no peace.


God breaks through and interrupts life

Bringing hope, joy, dancing and yes, peace

When we don’t expect it.


I love that image by the way of the ‘cloven skies.’

It comes from the 2nd verse of the carol,

“Still through the cloven skies they come

With peaceful wings unfurled.”


I used to wonder what ‘cloven skies’ were,

But now… if I’m watching for them, I see them quite frequently.


The clouds part and it’s as if there’s a pathway in the sky

from the heavens to the earth.


That’s what happened on Christmas Eve 2000 years ago.

God broke through the cloven skies and came to earth.

God came close.


During Advent we wait for that time when God came close…

As we watch for God coming close every day.


Still through the cloven skies he comes –

God breaks through and interrupts our lives –

coming close.


God comes bringing hope when there is no hope;

Joy when there is no joy;

Dancing when we are just trudging along;

And peace when there is no peace.


God interrupts.

Wait for it…

And when it comes, break all the rules

And shout out, “Halleljuah! Thank you Jesus!”





A Shoot Will Grow


Advent 2A – Hope – A Shoot Will Grow

Isaiah 11:1-10


Isaiah promises “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse.”

But there’s a problem.

The stump is dead…

Jesse is dead.

His son King David is dead.

And now Jerusalem has been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar

And David’s descendent on the throne, King Zedekiah is dead too.

The people have been taken into exile in Babylon.


But then the prophet offers a word of hope.

“A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,” he says.


From this stump (indicate stump in worship space)…

A shoot will grow.


Isaiah promises growth in unexpected places.


The biologists here may not have been surprised,

But I was surprised to read in the Washington Post this week

that a fence has just been built in Hawaii

around Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world.[i]


The reason the fence has been built

Is to keep out cats…

who in turn have been preying on the Petrel,

an endangered seabird which nests on Mauna Loa.


To protect the petrels, the National Park Service and other organizations

spent nearly four years flying in people and materials to build the cat-proof barrier.

It’s six feet high and is thought to be the

longest cat fence in the world!


The fence isn’t what surprises me though…

It’s the birds who breed in the midst of a volcano. Continue reading