I Have Been Changed For Good

Lent 3A I Have Been Changed For Good

March 19, 2017

John 4:5-42


The poet Lord Byron once wrote,

“Till taught by pain,

Man really know not what good water’s worth.”


Mpeeling Feriase is in pain.

The farmer from the tiny country in the southern tip of Africa called Lesotho (li-soo-toe)

Is once again walking the 60 miles up the mountain

To find grass and water for his cattle.

The last time he went,

The water had run out,

and he ended up needing to kill two of his cows for food.


It’s surprising to Feraise,

because traditionally Lesotho has lots of water.

In fact, from his village, Feraise can see lots of water.

It’s behind a dam, which has a pipe, and which sends water

not to Lesotho but to South Africa.


Fifty years ago, there was a deal,

And poverty-stricken Lesotho sold its water to South Africa.


It was a good deal on both sides –

until the effects of climate change dried up the rivers and brought a drought.

Lesotho is still bound by its contract with South Africa.

The government still gets paid for the water,

but the farmers and the shepherds lose out.[i]


When asked what he thinks about all this,

Feraise says something which the reporter thought

must be a traditional African proverb,

but which turned out to be Lord Byron:

“’Till taught by pain,

Man really know not what good water’s worth.”

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Born Again

Lent 2A – Born Again

John 3:1-17

March 12, 2017


Beginning in the 1500’s, there was a name – a derogatory name –

given to people who were secret believers – the closeted faithful.


It started during the Reformation when Protestant Christians

lived in Roman Catholic countries

and escaped persecution by hiding the fact they were Protestants.

John Calvin called them out –

and he coined the term “Nicodemite.”


The “nicodemites”  were named after Nicodemus in our gospel text –

who by day was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin leadership council,

but who by night came to see Jesus.


Over the years, there were a number of notable people

given the label of Nicodemite.


As a Catholic with Protestant sympathies, Michelangelo was said to be a Nicodemite-

He went so far as to sculpt himself as the figure Nicodemus

in his statue of the Pieta in Florence, Italy –

the sculpture was a highly personal work,

thought to be intended for his own tomb.


In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton was called a Nicodemite,

for publicly practicing as an Anglican but privately holding unorthodox beliefs.


To be called a Nicodemite was meant to be derogatory..

To be branded cowardly or unable to commit.


Today I’d like to claim the word “Nicodemite” in a more positive way.

I don’t see Nicodemus as cowardly —

I see him as someone who is trying to figure something out.

Who’s in discernment.

Who is willing to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers.

Who actually has a more mature faith than someone who never questions,

Never expresses doubt or disbelief.

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“If” Is A Dangerous Word


Lent 1A “If” Is A Dangerous Word

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

March 5, 2017


In Genesis, the serpent says to Eve,

“If you eat the fruit you will be like God,”

and both she and Adam take the bait.

Suddenly it isn’t enough that they live in Paradise,

they want more.


“If” can be a dangerous word.

It can be a word which entices – tempts.


All of us struggle with our own ‘ifs’:

If I won the lottery.

If I had a different job.

If I were retired.

If I had a partner.

My favorite of late: If I lived on the beach….


If just that one thing would happen,

then I would be happy;

then I would be grateful;

then I would be satisfied;

then I promise I wouldn’t ask for anything more;

then life would be good.


Of course while we wait for any of those things to happen…

while we place conditions on whether or not we will be content,

we miss the fact that (as the tee shirt says) life IS good.

Very good.

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Living on the Border of the Holy


Transfiguration: Living on the Border of the Holy

Matthew 17:1-9

February 26, 2017


If this gospel story – the story of Jesus’ transfiguration –

seems weird or hard to connect to –

you’re not alone!


I’m told that our presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton,

finds this gospel so difficult to preach that when she was a pastor in the parish,

she made Transfiguration Sunday – Youth Sunday…

And gave it to the youth to preach!


But in truth, I think it’s something all of us can relate to.

We’ll just ponder a little deeper…with some questions to help                                                   draw out the more ‘mystical,’ the more ‘spiritual’ in us today.


You heard the story –

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John,

And they go up a mountain – all by themselves.


Then all of a sudden Jesus is changed – he’s transfigured –

His face shines, his clothes become dazzling white,

He’s speaking to Moses and Elijah.

And if that’s not enough, a heavenly voice comes from a cloud saying,

“This is my Son, the beloved;

Listen to him!”


This experience is so powerful to Peter, James, and John,

That it takes them to their knees.

They don’t know what has just happened,

But they do know they have been touched by the holy…


Jesus has been transfigured…

And Peter, James, and John have encountered God.


And here’s where I think we can relate…

There have been moments in each of our lives where we have been touched by the holy…

where we have encountered God.

If you’re not convinced that you’ve had such an experience,

let’s explore it further.


An example from my life:

My friend Rikki invited me to go on a mission trip to Peru.

If she hadn’t invited me, I’d never have gone.

One morning, I was in my sleeping bag in the Amazon jungle.

It was just before sunrise,

and in that hazy, surreal, early dawn moment,

I heard the sound of a guitar and a couple of voices singing.


At that very moment, I knew I was where I was meant to be.

It was an unexplainable touch of the holy.

The village around me was transfigured into something other-worldly,

It was a bit scary.

It was a bit lonely.

And yet, I was left with a feeling of deep gratitude.


Like Peter, I wanted it to last –

but the sun rose, the music stopped, and the day began.


The Celts used the term ‘thin places’ to describe these places

which temporarily disorient us;

where the distance between heaven and earth breaks down

and we catch a glimpse of the divine.


They used “thin place” to describe the wind-swept island of Iona off the coast of Scotland,

and the craggy peaks of Croagh Patrick in Ireland.

There’s a Celtic saying that “heaven and earth are only 3 feet apart,”

but in thin places that distance is even shorter.

They are places and times when the world is transfigured –

If only for a moment.


Peter, James, and John experienced a thin place on that mountain.

Thin places aren’t always on remote mountains or islands or jungles…


In his book “Living on the Border of the Holy,”

a book I first read in seminary and several times since,

William Countryman reminds us that we are always

In the midst of a thin place.

Our very existence is on “the border of the holy.”


If you’re still skeptical about your own experience,

think of it this way with some questions suggested by another bishop – Bishop Mike Rinehart:[i]


When have you been most powerfully aware of the incredible gift of life?


When have you been overcome with beauty? Compassion? Joy?


When have you encountered truth that has sent shivers down your spine?


When have you been overwhelmed by hidden, underlying realities that take you deeper than the superficialities of everyday life?


When have you sensed that there is more to life than meets the eye?

When have you had mountaintop experiences that gave you a new perspective on life and perhaps a new direction?


When have you been drawn out of yourself and out of your own self-preoccupation?


When have you had an experience that caused you to see with new eyes?


When have you been confronted with a cause for which you would give your life?


Have you sat under the stars and been struck by the immensity of the universe,

Or looked at a cell under a microscope and been struck by the complexity of life?


Maybe you experienced holiness in a time when you’ve felt on top of the world;

Or maybe you’ve recognized God’s presence most closely when you’ve felt the most broken.


It was a thin place for me standing at the bedside

of my dying father as my mother held his hand and talked to him about all the memories they shared.


For many, music or poetry or drama or dance takes us to a deeper place.

For others, relationships bring moments of ecstatic joy:

Laughter around the dinner table;

The touch of a partner.


Two weeks ago I was walking on Constitution Ave in DC

On my way to a synod meeting and a homeless man was lying in the middle of the sidewalk.

That encounter was somehow holy for me.

It suddenly brought me out of my schedule and my plans – it brought me out of myself.


Many people describe the birth of a child as a transcendent moment

as we experience the true miracle of life.


Others experience transcendence when speaking out for justice at a rally;

Or voting…

or speaking to a legislator.


As we prepare for the season of Lent…

A season of reflection..

Perhaps instead of giving up chocolate or soda…

Maybe take on a practice instead.


Maybe take on the practice of noticing the holy moments you’ve had at the end of each day.

You will be surprised at how small the boundary between heaven and earth really is:

We live on the border of the holy.

We live in the midst of transfiguration.


God – help us notice.



[i] https://bishopmike.com/2017/02/13/february-26-2017-is-the-transfiguration-of-our-lord/

Divorce, Anger, Lust, and Fake News

Epiphany 6A – Divorce, Anger, Lust, and Fake News

February 12, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37


This is what I want you to hear this morning:

We are God’s people because God says so.



This is a tough gospel reading because I think many of us

May hear some ‘trigger’ words in it:

Divorce, lust, anger, swearing


And then when Jesus talks about the ‘hell of fire;’

and tearing an eye out,

it gets rather uncomfortable.


So hear it again:

We are God’s people because God says so.



So how do we make sense of this passage

(and more of the same that we’ll hear next week)?

One of my pastor colleagues said this week

That in passages like this, he privately sometimes thinks that Matthew (the gospel writer) actually believed we are saved by works – by following the commandments – and not by grace.


So I’ll share a third time what another colleague shared:

We are God’s people because God says so.



Nothing will take away from that.

Not divorce, not lust, not anger, not swearing.


And yet…and yet…Jesus seems to know that there are certain ways of living,

that are more helpful than others;

that are more loving than others.

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Leave The Light On


Epiphany 5A Leave The Light On

Matthew 5:13-20

February 5, 2017


The image of ‘light’ is all over the Bible.


In the gospel of John,

Jesus is the light.


In the psalms,

The word of God is the light.


But here in the gospel of Matthew, it becomes personal.

You are the light.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus says,

“Let your light shine before others…”


What does it mean for the Christian community to be light?

And not just light for ourselves and our families,

but light for the world?


When we were baptized,

Most of us received a candle and these same words were said over us:

“Let your light so shine that they may see your good works,

And glorify your father in heaven.”


How’s that been going?

Has your light been shining recently?


Christians don’t have a monopoly on the image of light of course…


On Friday, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services asked Lutheran leaders

to visit mosques across the country.

We were asked to stand together

with our Muslim brothers and sisters who are particularly hurt and fearful right now.


After our meeting with leaders of the Muslim America Society here in Alexandria,

we attended afternoon prayer in the mosque.


The imam preached about hope when people stand together

using a parable from Mohammed.

(I never knew Mohammed spoke with parables!)


And he preached about how, in this time especially,  the Muslim community is called to be light.

He said, ‘We American Muslims have been given the honor

to remind America what it stands for…”

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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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