Faith Story: The Amazing Food Packing Event

Faith story shared at worship by Lori Strauss

Good Morning.  By now, almost everyone here probably knows that we hosted the Amazing Food Packing Event here at Good Shepherd.  And you might have heard me or Corinne or Pastor say we need  100 volunteers to pack 20,000 meals in 2hours—and a few more to help create our celebration picnic afterward with Ezher Mosque from Fairfax.

My faith story today is about the results of that plan.

We asked for 100 volunteers—174 showed up.

We asked for 20,000 meals in 2 hours- We packed them in 90 minutes.

We had more than 100 volunteers in our basement wearing hairnets and plastic gloves working in unison to create these little packages.

Those are the blessing that we can count.  I also want to share a few of the God moments that happened during those 3 hours.

The first blessing was that I work at AARP Foundation, and we put on giant meal packs every year that pack a million meals- so I was familiar with the process of a Meal Pack and how to set up the volunteer structure to make it happen.  I happen to church council and Pastor happened to talk to me AFTER she and Denise had come up it the amazing idea—which allowed me to bring my knowledge to the project to help it run smoothly.

Our church gave me a chance to contribute deeply to something I believe in.

The second blessing was that Kate from the Community College program that’s funded by the U.S. State Department found our event and brought 30 adults from countries around the world to volunteer.  They told me that the women in that group who were Muslim and work head scarves called them up before the event because they were very concerned about coming INSIDE a church for the volunteer event.  They were coming to volunteer but they were scared about what they would find here.  They walked up and saw the kind faces of our Welcome Team who were also welcoming our friends from Elzher Mosque and their fear turned to excitement.

Our church helped people from around the globe meet Christians and feel safe  while they contributed to the needs of our community.

The third blessing for me, was that I got to meet Karl Johnson, a Good Shepherd member who was married here in 1964.  He volunteered downstairs at a packing station and then joined the picnic.  We had a chance to talk. I learned about his family, and he learned about mine.

Our church gave us a chance to connect over a meal- for the first time.

I am looking forward to joining more opportunities for connection and service. More amazing events with more amazing people.


What’s Going On In Your Head?


Acts 2:1-4; John 20:19-23

With help from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Creed”


What’s going on in your head?

What voices do you hear over and over again?


All of us have them…

Sometimes the voices in our head are helpful, inspiring…

And sometimes they’re not.


About 20 years ago my friend Shannon was raising her daughter largely on her own.

She was taking her to dance and gymnastics;

And working two and sometimes three jobs in between.

She’d recently been divorced and moved from a large “McMansion”

To a two bedroom apartment.


One day I watched her reading a story to her daughter,

And I made what I thought was a simple comment: “You’re such a good mom!”


I wasn’t prepared for Shannon’s reaction…

She started to cry.


You see, the voices in her head were telling her something quite different.

They were telling her that she wasn’t good enough.

That she was failing her daughter.


Today we’re talking about the Holy Spirit,

And we can think of the Spirit of God as that voice from God which nudges us, comforts us, encourages, and sometimes challenges us.

The voice which says unequivocally that we are God’s children.

We belong just as we are.


What voice is going on in your head?


The Holy Spirit is tough to talk about.

It’s sometimes called the ‘neglected’ person of the Trinity.


We have a whole paragraph in the Apostles’ Creed about  Jesus,

And then just one line about the Spirit:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit.”


About once a month I see a ‘spiritual director.’

Now with that title, you’d think she’d be an expert on the spirit.

That she’d be able to tell me exactly what the spirit is doing in my life.

But it doesn’t seem to work that way…

Together we try to discern the Spirit, wonder about where the spirit is leading….

But it’s never absolutely clear.


The Spirit is mentioned a lot in the Bible.


In the Old Testament the Hebrew word, “ruach” is translated as ‘spirit.’

There are about 80-90 times in the OT where the spirit is mentioned.


The Spirit of God is said to be the source of life.

‘the spirit hovered over the waters…’


The Spirit of God is said to be the source of creativity.

There’s a man named Bezalel in Exodus 31, around the time of Moses,

Who is said to have the Spirit gift of artisanry, of creativity –

And he’s asked to build the ornamentation for the tabernacle.


The Spirit of God is also said to be the source of wisdom.

Joshua is anointed as the leader of the Israelites

And he’s said to have been given the Spirit of wisdom.


The Spirit of God seems to be the source of superhuman strength…

Samson is strengthened by the Spirit to defeat the Philistines.


Throughout the OT, particular leaders are said to have received the Spirit of God

And they receive wisdom and strength to do their work.


But this changes in a significant way in the New Testament.

                In the New Testament the Spirit of God is given to everyone.


Everyone is able to hear the voice of God through the Spirit.


Whose voice is playing in your head?

Is it the Spirt of God? Or is it something else?


This week the sociologist Brene Brown has a new book out.

It’s called “Braving the Wilderness.”

This is her 3rd or 4th book,

And she typically writes about being human – being vulnerable – and accepting who we are.


I’ve only read the first couple of chapters,

But I love the title – ‘braving the wilderness.’

Last week we heard how Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness was a pivotal moment for him –

He was thrust into the wilderness by the Spirit,

And came out with a mission, a ministry.


All of us have wilderness experiences,

And Brown encourages us to use that time to be brave – to take risks –

To be willing to do something different – something authentic to who we are.

(Paul Tillich called that the ‘Courage to Be.’)


She says that human beings have a need to belong –

And sometimes our belonging takes the shape of inauthenticity –

We surround ourselves with people who agree with us, who have the same religious and political beliefs and we’re afraid that if we step out and challenge those beliefs, we won’t “belong” any more.


Brown says,  “brave the wilderness.’

See your value in your true self – not in the conformity to others.


Sometimes the voice of the Spirit is encouraging –

Telling us that ‘ you are a good mother’ when our inner voices are telling us otherwise.


Sometimes the voice of the Spirit challenges us to take risks;

To stand up for what we truly believe;

To brave the wilderness.


It’s interesting to hear the juxtaposition of two stories today about receiving the holy spirit.


In the version from Acts,

Jesus’ followers hear the sound like the rush of a mighty wind;

The spirit blows through them and their heads light on fire!

The Spirit is a powerful force to be reckoned with!


And those disciples who were once afraid,

Begin to preach boldly.

They learn the languages of strangers,

Braving the wilderness….


The gospel of John is different.

Here, the disciples are gathered behind a locked door

And they’re scared.

Jesus comes through the door and stands among them and says,

“Peace be with you.”

He shows them his wounded hands and side and says again,

“Peace be with you.”


And then this is how the Spirit comes….

He breathes on them.

Jesus simply exhales …. And that peace which was so elusive, falls upon them.


Sometimes the Spirit of God comes with the breath of peace.


I lived with my friend Brenda for about a year after seminary.

Every morning we’d have breakfast at her kitchen table.

It was a lovely setting – she had a set of French doors looking out to the backyard.


One day she told me why she sat in that spot every day.

She said she remembered sitting there on the day of her mother’s funeral.

And as she ate her breakfast, she looked out and saw a hummingbird.

Her mother loved hummingbirds.

She understood that hummingbird to be a sign of the Spirit – a sign of comfort – a sign of peace.


Sometimes the Spirit of God comes as the voice of encouragement –

“You are a good mother.”

Sometimes the Spirt of God comes as the voice of challenge –

“Brave the wilderness.”

And sometimes the Spirit of God comes as the voice of peace –

As a hummingbird.


What are the voices in your head?

How is the Spirit of God speaking to you?






Doing That Jesus Thing



Link to audio version of the sermon:

Doing That Jesus Thing

Part 2 of Worship Series: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters

With help from the book “Creed” by Adam Hamilton

John 1:1-14

September 10, 2017


A couple of weeks ago a few of us were talking out in the hallway;

Many of us have had the experience with people saying –

Your church does a lot of great things –

But I just don’t do that “Jesus thing.”


What is that “Jesus thing”?


A number of years ago I remember a huge sense of relief

When I discovered that Jesus was a historical figure –

He was someone I didn’t have to take ‘on faith’ –

That there were historians – historians who didn’t follow him – who wrote about him.


Flavius Josephus and Tacitus were historians of the time of Jesus

Who wrote about Jesus being crucified under Pontius Pilate.


Later, Seutonius wrote about the fact that Jews who followed Jesus and Jews who didn’t

Were creating disruption in Rome,

so Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49 AD.


Around the year 110, Pliny wrote a letter to his emperor asking for some advice.

He didn’t know what to do about these people in his province

who were worshipping Jesus as a god.


Contemporary agnostic Bart Ehrman remarked…

“Jesus really did exist…whether we like it or not!”


Who was this Jesus?

What is that “Jesus thing”?


Most of what we know about the life of Jesus comes from the gospels

Of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.


Jesus was born ~4BC – under the reign of Herod the Great.

Shortly after birth he and his parents lived in the village of Nazareth.

His father was a woodworker –

Which meant that his job was likely to make furniture, repair tools,

And perhaps do some stone masonry work for clients in the larger city of Sepphoris.


Many of the villagers in Nazareth would have been laborers

For the wealthier people living in Sepphoris.


Fast forward 30 years – because we don’t really know much about Jesus’ early life.


Jesus goes from Nazareth to the Jordan River.

There his cousin John is telling people to repent –

To turn away from their current way of living and turn toward God.

He is immersing people in the water of the Jordan as a sign of that repentence – of cleansing.


Jesus is baptized by his cousin

And then he goes into this time of wilderness for 40 days.

It’s described as a time of testing or temptation.


It’s a pivotal moment for Jesus because he comes out of that experience

Ready for ministry – his mission is set.


Jesus’ ministry lasts merely 3 years.


One of my favorite songs about Jesus’ ministry is John Bell’s “First Born of Mary”.


In the song Jesus is described as a

Provocative preacher;

Itinerant teacher; and

Choice of outsiders.


He’s provocative in his preaching.

The word ‘provocative’ means to call out – and he calls out everyone!


He calls out the religious leaders –

Particularly when they get so concerned for their rules and ways of doing things

That they neglect to show compassion.

There’s a story of Jesus in the synagogue,

And he sees a women who is bent over –

She has been bent over for 18 years –

And he heals her.

That gets him into all sort of trouble with the religious leaders because it’s the Sabbath–

But Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath was created for humans,

Not the other way around.

He calls out the religious when they try to make their rules

More important than compassion.


Jesus is a provocative preacher.

He calls out the religious leaders…and he also calls out the secular leaders.

He talks about a different kind of kingdom than the one Rome was living out.

He said that in the kingdom of God,

The people love God, love their neighbors…and love their enemies.

He said that in the kingdom of God,

Those who are hungry are fed;

Those who are naked are clothed;

And those who are sick or imprisoned are visited.


Jesus was a provocative preacher – he called out the religious leaders, he called out the secular leaders,

And he even had the audacity to call out the people who were sitting right in front of him –

He called them out as well.


He told this great story about a man who was traveling and was beaten up by robbers

And left in a ditch.

A religious leader walked by and saw the man in the ditch,

But crossed the road to the other side.

A priest walked by and saw the man, but hurried on without stopping.


A third man walked by on the road,

Saw the man in the ditch, and began to care for him.

He even put him on his own donkey,

Brought him to an inn, and told the innkeeper to continue to care for him,

And he would repay him for whatever he spent.


And then Jesus came out with the zinger…

This man – this 3rd man – was a Samaritan….

He was the one the people listening to him disliked because he was an outsider –

Ethnically and religiously different from them.

Jesus called out his listeners and said,

In God’s kingdom, there is no room for prejudice.


Jesus was a provocative preacher;

And of course he was an itinerant teacher.


His home base was in Capernaum.

Scholars think that he traveled at most 100 miles from home in his lifetime!

He walked from village to village around the Sea of Galilee –

Really a misnomer because it’s actually an inland lake.


He taught on mountainsides, in valleys, and sometimes crowds got so large,

He’d get on a boat and teach from the water.


He taught things like God’s desire for forgiveness rather than revenge;

That to be truly ‘great’, one must be a servant;

That humility is a virtue.


He was a provocative preacher, itinerant teacher,

And he was the choice of outsiders.


There’s a story about a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years sees Jesus.

She’s been to doctor after doctor and none could help her.

She was thought to be ‘unclean’ because of her bleeding – unwelcome, untouchable.

She reaches out and touches just the edge of Jesus’ robe…

And she is healed.


Outsiders feel safe around Jesus.

He touches them and they are healed – people with all kinds of diseases.


Well about a week before Passover,

Jesus is headed to Jerusalem.


And he arrives on a donkey

(which is rather remarkable because no where else in the Bible does he ride on a donkey),

And the people are clamoring about him shouting, “Hosanna!”

They are convinced he’s the Messiach – which means the ‘anointed one.’

They are convinced he’s the one who will lead them out of oppression by the Romans;

Lead them to liberation.


The word “Christ” in Greek means ‘anointed one,’

And that name stuck to Jesus –

Such that when we hear “Jesus Christ” it’s easy to assume “Christ” was his last name.

But it’s not – it’s his title – Jesus, Anointed One – Jesus Christ.


Well the religious leaders and the secular leaders

Are threatened by this ‘messiah’ who talks about a new kingdom,

And Pontius Pilate does what he’s done before with other messiahs who had similar claims –

He sentences Jesus to death.


And he thinks this will be the end of it.


But this time, it doesn’t work.


First a couple of women say that they’ve seen Jesus alive.

And then some of Jesus’ followers – about a dozen of them – say that they’ve seen Jesus alive –

In different places and in different circumstances.

And then we’re told that 500 people at one time saw him alive.


And that thread – that Jesus was put to death but then was/is alive again,

Is a thread that carried on through his followers, through the other writings of the New Testament, and through 2000 years to today.


Jesus is living.


The gospel of John puts it this way:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.


Jesus is living among us still.


He is alive when we experience provocative preaching –

Which calls us out to love our enemies,

Feed those who are hungry;

Clothe those in need;

And visit the sick and imprisoned.


He is alive when we experience his teaching –

Forgiveness, Greatness in service, Humility.


He is alive when we welcome the outsider;

When those who have felt unsafe feel accepted by us.


This afternoon we will meet the living Jesus.

As we welcome over 130 people to our food packing event this afternoon,

We will be welcoming outsiders.

I have no idea how the word got around,

But over half of these volunteers are not from our church or from the mosque.

We will meet the living Jesus as we welcome them,

As we help them know they can feel safe with us;

And as we prepare these meals to feed people.


When we do this,

We are doing “that Jesus thing.”


Thanks be to God.




Feeding People Together

Faith story shared by Corinne Baker

God’s work, our hands. This simple, four-word phrase is powerful for me because it describes our faith in action in big and small ways, individually and collectively, over and over. When we gather next Sunday to again put our faith in action, we’ll combine our efforts with members of the Ezher Bloom Mosque and hopefully others from the community under the theme ‘Feeding People Together.’ To me, this is two opportunities to use our hands to do work God has called us to – one that meets an immediate need, providing food for people who are hungry right now, and another that’s toward a longer-term need.

To the immediate need, providing food for people who are hungry right now – think about the meal you last ate. Are you hungry right now?

For many of us here today, tho perhaps not all, if we are hungry right now, we know we’ll eat a meal soon. Most of us probably aren’t worried that the feeling of hunger will be long lasting – with us for hours, for a day, maybe more. But we know there are adults and children in our community who ARE hungry, who have to worry about how to get or provide regular meals.

ALIVE, the ecumenical organization Good Shepherd has worked with for years to help those in need in our community, has two specific food programs. One of them, the last Sat food program provides a five-day supply of fresh produce and staple foods, distributed by volunteers, to about 600 families each month.

Next Sunday afternoon, in two hours, combining efforts with members of the Ezher Bloom Mosque and volunteers from the community for the Amazing Food Packing Event, we’ll pack 20,000 (20,000!) staple meals.

Ezher Bloom will distribute half the meals and the other half, 10,000 meals, will go to ALIVE.

To get an idea of impact, consider this: If all 10,000 meals given to ALIVE are used in the last Saturday food distribution, we’ll provide the staple portion of the five-day food supply for 600 families for over three months. That’s powerful impact for an afternoon of service.

The Amazing Food Packing Event is also an opportunity to feed people together in a way that contributes to another long-term need. As members of a diverse society, we’re personally experiencing and/or observing situations where people are being sorted into us and them groups.

As Christians we know we are all children of God, each created in God’s image, while at the same time each different and unique.

So it seems to me that building relationships, really knowing folks different than us, is a key to all the hard work we have to do as God’s hands, as the church, as members of society and the larger human race.

And we know that relationships–real community–isn’t an overnight thing, rather it’s an ongoing process. Next Sunday is an opportunity to start or continue getting to know folks from the Ezher Bloom Mosque, and hopefully others from the community, work together to pack food for people in need and then share a meal. Hopefully it is one of more opportunities to come to work together, talk with one another, listen and learn in ways that build relationships and ties that weave us into the beloved community.

There are lots of ways to be involved in next Sunday’s Feeding People Together event whether you’re able to attend or not, or participate for part of it.

You can sign-up in the lobby or online (!/showSignUp/70a0f4eafa823a02-theamazing) for some or all of the food packing and/or the picnic after.

Whether or not you can attend, you can invite friends to participate.

There’s also a sign-up for potluck food and help setting up and tearing down after the picnic.

If you’re not able to attend but want to contribute to the food packing supplies and promotion, designate cash or checks to the food packing event.

If you’re not already planning to participate, I hope you’ll consider how you can be involved in God’s work, our hands – feeding people together.

Locking Out Hate

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Matthew 16:13-20

August 27, 2017


A man dies and arrives at the pearly gates where he sees St. Peter…

And I don’t know the punchline of the joke…


I actually googled “best pearly gates jokes” and they just weren’t very funny.

Some were sexist;

And some were about lawyers – which seemed unkind.


But all those ‘pearly gates’ jokes we’ve heard over the years

Stem from this passage in the gospel of Matthew

Where Jesus passes on the keys to the kingdom.


Today’s story begins as Jesus and his disciples are walking in the region of Caesarea Philippi.


It’s important to know something about this place.

Caesarea Philippi was the hub of Roman power and wealth.

It was a trading port and people came with money to spend.

Rome had started massive building projects there at the time of Jesus.


It wasn’t only a place where money and power were worshipped…

Other gods were worshipped there as well.

There were shrines to the god Ba’al and the god Pan.


Jesus goes to a place where rabbis say no good Jew would go.


And as he’s walking around he asks his disciples,

“who do people say that I am?”


They answer that some say, “John the Baptist.”

John the Baptist had been recently beheaded…

Jesus was his cousin – and perhaps they looked alike.


Others said that Jesus was Elijah.

Scripture said that the messiah would come after Elijah returned –

So perhaps Jesus was Elijah.


Still other said that Jesus was Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

He certainly sounded like a prophet –

Proclaiming words of warning and words of hope from God to the people.


But then Jesus turns directly to the disciples and asks them,

“But who do you say that I am?”

“Why are you following me?”


(And perhaps that’s a question for us to consider this week as well –

Why do we follow Jesus?)


Simon Peter answers,

“You are the messiah;

The son of the living God.”


All the names the people were giving were dead –

Jesus is the son of a God who is alive!


And then Jesus turns and blesses Simon.

He says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah….”


You are Peter

(The Greek word for ‘rock’ is ‘petra’ – so it’s a play on words.)


“And on this rock I will build my church;

And the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”


On this rock I will build my church;

And the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.


Over the years there have been many interpretations what Jesus meant by this.


Roman Catholics generally believe that Jesus was talking directly to Peter…

And so when he said “on this rock,” he meant “on Peter I will build my church.”

This is why Peter is at the pearly gates in those jokes – and not Andrew or Bartholomew or Peter.


And it’s why the RC understanding is that the pope is the descendent of Peter,

The foundation of the church.


Protestants on the other hand generally have the understanding that

When Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church,”

He meant not Peter the person, but Peter’s confession:

“You are the messiah, the son of the living God,”

And that the church is built on Jesus as the son of the living God.


I’d like to introduce a third possibility for today..

And it has to do with the location of where this story takes place – in Casarea Philiipi.


Just outside of Ceasarea Phillipi there is a shrine to the god Pan.

It’s at the opening to a large cave.

And through the cave a tributary to the Jordan River passed through.

In Jesus’ day the opening to this cave was thought to be the opening to the underworld –

The opening to the power of evil.

And it was called, the “Gates of Hades.”


So perhaps, when Jesus said,

“On this rock I will build my church,

And the Gates of Hades shall not prevail upon it,”

He meant that his church was built here… at the Gates of Hades..

To directly confront the forces of evil, the forces of death, the forces of the underworld.


That the church wasn’t called to be away from the source of evil,

But directly in front of it.


Some of you probably saw an article in yesterday’s Washington Post.

It was an interview with Pastor William Lamar of Metropolitan AME church in DC.


The reporter said that in the 50’s and 60’s the church was at the forefront

Of the movement for civil rights.

But that seemed not to be the case anymore – the reporter asked Rev. Lamar why that was.


Pastor Lamar said that the church is called to confront evil and hatred and racism and bigotry.

It is still called to be at the forefront of the fight for civil rights…

And when it is not – it is committing “theological malpractice.”


Theological malpractice.


Tomorrow is the anniversary of the March on Washington.

There is a 1000 Ministers March walking from the MLK memorial to the DOJ.

(the Lutheran contingent is meeting up ahead of time – let me know if you’d like to meet us there.)


I suppose that Washington, DC isn’t much different from Caesarea Philippi –

A place that worships power and wealth.


Tomorrow we are committing ourselves to be a church that confronts evil;

A church built on this rock that will not be silent;

A church built  in front of the Gates of Hades –

And the Gates of Hades will not prevail.


So I have a new pearly gates joke that isn’t really funny…

It goes like this:


A man, or a woman, or a group of people find themselves at the Gates of Hades;

And they meet at those gates not just St. Peter, but the entire church.

The church that was built to be in that spot.


And the church stands together and says,

“We’re locking the door.

There is no room for hate here.”






Darkness is Temporary – Eclipses Don’t Last

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Audio of today’s sermon is here:

Darkness Is Temporary/Eclipses Don’t Last

Matthew 15:10-28

August 20, 2017


There’s an eclipse tomorrow….

If you didn’t already know that, it’s probably too late to get your special eclipse glasses.


Eclipses are fascinating.

One reason is that they’re rare –

The last total eclipse that could be see in the continental US was in 1979.

The sun and moon and earth have to be aligned just right.

And there can’t be cloud cover to obscure the event.


People have been fascinated about eclipses for as long as they have been looking at the heavens.

There’s a tortoise shell in China dated 3000 years ago

With the story of an eclipse drawn on it –

3 flames ate the sun and the stars came out.


In Scandinavian folklore, eclipses were bad omens.

They meant that the deity was angry at the king,

And so ate the sun.

Kings in Scandinavia and other cultures were so nervous about eclipses,

That the field of astronomy was born –

They wanted people close at hand who could study the skies.


Not all people have been frightened by eclipses, however.

Some have taken advantage of the events and birthed new learnings.

A Turkish mathematician in 130 BCE viewed an eclipse

And using trigonometry – sins and cosins – was able to calculate the distance between the earth and the moon.


Later, others plotted the orbits of the planets

Using eclipses.

And Einstein’s theory of relativity was proven

Using an eclipse.


New discoveries have been made from eclipses.

Out of the darkness, something new has been learned.


This year, University of Missouri researchers are studying animals and plants.

The path of totality is a 70 mile swath of land from the northwest down to S Carolina

Where the full eclipse will be visible.

This covers much of America’s farmland.


During an eclipse, not only is the sky darkened,

But the temperature will drop by 10 degrees;

Winds will shift;

Birds will stop chirping;

And the stars will come out.


University of Missouri researchers are studying what happens to corn and soybeans;

And they are looking at chickens – apparently it is expected that chickens may freeze in their steps.


Something new can be discovered during this temporary darkness. Continue reading

Move On Over. He’s Getting In.

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Matthew 14:22-33

August 13, 2017

Link to audio of sermon:


I was in Charlottesville on Friday.

A group of clergy in Charlottesville invited clergy across the nation to join in an alternative event than the rally planned by White Supremacy groups on Saturday.

I knew I couldn’t be there on Saturday, but I drove down for the mass prayer service on Friday. Night.


Knowing how the traffic is, I got there early.

I arrived around 4pm and my dog and I walked around the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia. It was a cloudy day, but students were outside and some looked like they were moving into their dorm rooms for the fall.

I had no idea what would happen on that same campus, among those same buildings a few hours later.

About an hour before the service was to start, I went into the church which was on the edge of the campus. It was a good thing I went in when I did because the sanctuary was packed. People were lined up on all sides of the worship space – there wasn’t even any more standing room.


It was a powerful service.

A Muslim woman read a verse from the Q’uran which she translated as, “I created you different so that you need one another.”

I’d never heard that verse from the Q’uran before: I created you different so that you need one another.


A couple of rabbis led us in a song: Chesed Olam Yibeneh – “we build a world of love together.”


There were readings from the Psalms.


And then Rev Traci Blackmon, a pastor from the United Church of Christ preached. And did she preach! She used the text of David and Goliath as she gave courage and hope to those who had gathered to protest the evil of White Supremacy.


By this time in the service, I felt powerful; I felt confident; I felt strong.


But just before the closing benediction, one of the organizers of the event came to the microphone. He said, “We need to tell you that across the street there is a group of klan members who are holding torches and shouting slogans.”


We sang a couple of more songs.


Then the organizer spoke again: “The group with torches is on the left side of the building. If you are parked there, stay inside. Others may go out in small groups the back door and down the alley to your cars.”


I didn’t feel confident and powerful and strong any longer. I was frightened.


But I also had the strong sense that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Sometimes I think Jesus sends us into the storms;

Sometimes God places us in frightening circumstances;

Sometimes the faithful thing to do is not to avoid the storm,

But enter into it.


Listen again to the gospel story…

And listen to where the disciples become afraid…


As the story begins, the disciples have just seen Jesus do the miraculous –

Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 3 fish.

They are feeling confident; they are feeling strong and powerful with a leader

Who could do such things.


It gets to be evening,

And Jesus tells his disciples to get into a boat…

Our text says he ‘makes’ them get into the boat – he compels them, he forces them.


Meanwhile he dismisses the crowd and goes up a mountain to pray by himself.


Throughout the Bible, God is revealed on mountains…

Think of Mt Horeb from our first reading;

The sermon on the mount;


The Mt of Olives


Throughout the night, the disciples in the boat are being battered by the waves.

But the text doesn’t say that they are afraid of the storm…not yet.


Early in the morning – during the 4th watch – about 3-6am,

They look toward shore and they see Jesus walking towards them on the water.


Now they’re terrified!

They cry out – It is a ghost!


Jesus responds, “Take Heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”


And then there is the part of Peter and Jesus.

Peter says, “If it is you, command me to come toward you.”

Jesus says, “Come.”


Peter climbs out of the boat but then he notices the waves

And he falters, crying out, “Lord save me!”


Jesus reaches out and catches him.

Together they get back in the boat.

And Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”


Now many people preach this text as I have before as Jesus chiding Peter for looking down at the waves –that he should have kept going, keeping his eyes on Jesus.


But on closer look, that’s not necessarily what Jesus chides him for.

Jesus is the one who sent them on the boat.

He had a purpose for them on the other side of the sea (when they arrive there are crowds of sick people Jesus heals).


Perhaps what Jesus is chiding Peter for, is getting out of the boat in the first place.

Instead Jesus is saying – stay in the boat, keep going – but move over and let me in. I’m going with you.


When we’re frightened there are some very human responses we have.


One response is to fight –

We’ve heard some of that rhetoric this week with our interactions with North Korea.


Another response to fear is to flee –

Some of you probably saw the video of the hikers at Sequoia National Forest this week.

They were hiking along the trail when they looked up to see a mountain lion watching them.

They have this conversation with each other which is exactly the kind of conversation I’d have: “Now what are you supposed to do when you see a mountain lion? I don’t think you’re supposed to run. Are you supposed to make a lot of noise?”

They decide to look for their whistle – but can’t find it in their packs, so they slowly back away.

After the video was released a park ranger was asked what you are supposed to do if you meet a mountain lion on a trail – he said – ‘the key is not to look like you’re prey.’

Don’t run – don’t flee.


If we don’t fight or flee in the face of fear, another human reaction is to freeze – it’s the deer in the headlights phenomenon.


Now scientists say that those responses are okay in the face of true fear – for about 45 seconds. After 45 seconds, it’s best if our rational brain kicks in and we respond more appropriately.


Jesus says – there’s a different way.

Instead of fight/flight/freeze – move over, and let me in. Let me go with you.


In Charlottesville after we heard the announcements about the klan with torches, I knew I needed to get to my car. My dog was there, the doors and windows were open and she had water, but I needed to know she was okay.


Laura and Jerry, two residents of Charlottesville were sitting next to me. I told them that I needed to leave. They immediately said – we’re going with you.


When we’re afraid, Jesus says, move over, and let me in. I’m going with you.


We left through the back door, down the alley and to my car. Carly was safe and I drove Laura and Jerry to their car.


Now many of us have choices we could make to avoid fear.

I didn’t have to go to Charlottesville.

The disciples could have stayed on shore….but Jesus compelled them to go out into the sea.


Sometimes Jesus compels us to get away from the shore,

And get into the boat, among the waves and the storm.

When he does, he promises not to leave us alone – move over, I’m getting in.


An interesting thing happens to the disciples as a result of being out on the sea;

As a result of being afraid.


We’re told that when Jesus arrives, they worship him.

This is the first time in the gospel where they recognize him –

Not after the great miracle of the feeding of the 5000,

But here in the midst of their fear, as he comes toward them.

It took chaos and fear for them to truly see God.

They fall to their knees and say, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”


I know many of you are dealing with different fears at the moment:

  • Upcoming surgery;
  • Family or marital distress;
  • Fears about international crises with the US and N Korea;
  • Wondering how to respond to the evils of white supremacy.


Jesus pushes us out in our boats into the midst of these waters;

But he doesn’t send us out alone;

He says – Move over, I’m getting in too.


Thanks be to God.