Sermon preached on 7/14/2018

We tend to think of several different things when we hear the word “peace.” I’ll highlight a few. None of them are wrong or bad, but they aren’t necessarily the same “peace” Jesus declares in the midst of the storm or what Paul calls  “the peace that surpasses understanding.”

The first is to define “peace as an absence of conflict” (which is not always true in families given the personalities, perspectives and differing experiences.)

A second thought is our ongoing search for “peace and quiet” – or better yet; simply being left alone (I wonder if that is that what Jesus was looking for as he was fast asleep in the boat! We could all use a little rest once in a while, couldn’t we?)

A third definition of “peace is serenity” – calm waves, rolling meadows with flowers or a snow-capped mountains. We all have different visions of what tranquility or even heaven looks like, but when we each think of some place peaceful, but we probably share the feeling we seek in finding it.

I didn’t know George; but I wonder what he thought of peace having served in the U.S. Navy in both the 2nd World War and Korea. He intentionally entered harm’s way, and to be sure in both conflicts what he saw was not peaceful by any of our pre-conceived notions.

I wondered about the peace and stability he brought to making a home, providing for a family, leaving his own tradition for the goal anchoring them in a community of faith  (here at St. Paul for a while) and the sacrifices (willing sacrifices) that takes for families to keep moving in a similar direction.

“Peace” can often be found in the meaning making of helping – and George’s contributions were many. All of us, have gifts to give, insights to share, love to receive and reciprocate in the lives of others in the places we have been placed to serve. That vocation – to live out one’s calling – as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a friend, a neighbor and as a volunteer in so many organizations spread the peace that is a gift to share. We often pray, “make me an instrument of your peace” and it appears that George was such an instrument.

We have a phrase in our culture when someone dies – “rest in peace” – and we usually mean several things by that / an end of personal pain and suffering / an end of conflict between loved ones and other relationships / and tranquility not just to experience in our lifetime – but that our resting place would remain for lack of better terms: perpetually pleasant.

But “true peace” isn’t something we make for ourselves or find within or a place we go to – it is something that grabs a hold of us when we least expect it as storms rage and the world seems out of our control. This is what Paul calls “the peace that surpasses understanding” and it meets us at times in our deepest despair and darkest dread.

Take the disciples – they found themselves lost in the midst of a stormy sea – and were overcome by fear and hopelessness. (Which should tell us something about how dire they thought their situation was – after all, these were experienced fisherman who were no strangers to life on a boat). Jesus was fast asleep on the cushion and they had to plead with him, probably shouting to get his attention in the midst of crashing waves, wind, rain and chaos.

But when Jesus awoke he didn’t scold them.

He didn’t tell them they should just believe in God stronger if they wanted to survive

He didn’t tell them to figure out a solution themselves.

He just said “peace, be still” – which seems to me to be as directed at them and their sense of panic as it was at the storm. This tells us that his word of “peace” —  a peace we can’t fully understand but only experience as it comes to us from the outside word of Jesus himself – is what can overcome any obstacle, any threat, any worry, any sadness, any despair, any conflict, any upheaval or anything else we face – even death itself.

Mind you the threat might still be there – whether it’s going off to war twice, or managing expectations of family life or trying to make one’s way and contribute to the good in the world around you. But the power of fear is gone. One can look even death in the eye with its luminous clouds and frightening waves and know because of this word of peace that is not our own but given as a gift of God that death and all its empty promises holds no power over us – only Christ’s word of  “peace” does.

That’s why Paul can say –

Rejoice always.

Pray without ceasing.

Let your gentleness be known.

Don’t worry.

Give thanks.

Trust that your hearts and minds belong to the Lord.

Because the peace – the peace that surpasses understanding – the peace that vanquishes fear and its grip upon us – the peace that defeats death’s hold over us – the peace that meets us in the midst of life’s storm right when it looks like we are sinking and all is lost...has come.



The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
        and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
       and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,                  

       I shall fear no evil; for you are with me;                                           

      your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
      you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
      and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.    

 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.          

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.                    

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

MARK 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, (Jesus) said to them,  “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him,  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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Sunday is coming! “The different kind of power at work in the kingdom of John & Jesus” Mark 6:14-29

So (The disciples) went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them. King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’” (Mark 6:12-14)

It seems the reason why Mark interrupts the story of Jesus with the death of John the Baptist isn’t to tell us about the death of John the Baptist; it is to tell us more about Jesus. In the verses prior to this passage, Jesus went home where his power was limited by the people’s unbelief (Mark 6:1-6). So he healed a few people and then sent his disciples to call people to call people to repentance, cast out demons and anoint them with oil for healing (Mark 6:7-13). This ministry’s different kind of power draws the comparison between Jesus and John. Even Herod believes Jesus is a resurrected John (Mark 6:16).

Herod both feared and respected John, but he was too weak politically to save him having been outmaneuvered by his wife who hated John. Herod has John killed rather than lose face, exposing his own frailty. Later on, Jesus’ enemies corner Pilate into having Jesus executed as well. This passage asks us – what is power, and who has it? Mark flips our expectations upside down.

From the beginning of the story, Jesus invites us into a promise that is yet to be fully realized.“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15). The kingdom that both Jesus and John proclaimed is hidden under apparent powerlessness in John’s beheading and ultimately in Jesus’ death on the cross. Yet, the surprise (and even terror) of the resurrection calls us into a new way of being as death is left powerless.

As we live in the meantime, the kingdom Jesus and John proclaimed continues to expose the fraudulent powers of death as it invites, welcomes, values, heals, restores and forgives all the wrong people by the world’s standards. And just as power attempts to bring its wrath upon all who oppose it, Jesus gives his life as “a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45). Sacrificial love is the center of what this kingdom is, does, and promises. The kingdom of God invites people to be and live for others whatever the personal cost; as Jesus calls his disciples of any age to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b).

-How is the power of sacrificial living calling you in a world of exposed weakness?



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“The looming cloud…(and a few grace-filled interactions)” a sermon on Mark 6:1-13


Sermon on Mark 6:1-13
“The looming cloud…
…(and a few grace-filled interactions)

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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This Changes Everything! Our group in Houston for the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering


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Thoughts on the 4th of July

As I wake up this morning on the 4th of July, I am not thinking of parades and fireworks. My mind has drifted to the humans I know personally that call this country home. Most were born here but some were not. Many are church folks but many are not. The people I know as actual people are for the most part kind, hardworking and family-centered (although, some are not). Most people I know enjoy a good laugh and a word of encouragement. Their heritage comes from all around the globe, and their backstories are fascinating. They vote for all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons and some don’t vote at all; but in general the people I know try to do the right thing by others if and when they can. They come from a variety of economic starting points, but tend to think for the most part that life is good and full of opportunity. At the same time they are heavily influenced by media outlets that make them timid, anxious and they do not take the risks they hope they would take. Most people I know are not intentionally racist or homophobic (we all know some folks that are) and try to treat people as people; but they are also blind to the systems they participate in that are dehumanizing to others. The people I know believe in the truth, courage, honor and friendship and struggle to live out their values in a world that is geared to consume them. I see the generations before me trying to hold on to a world that is slipping away from them while the generations after me are taking the world by storm. As a typical gen x’er I feel a responsibility to care for, balance and influence both. I know the sins of our nation’s past do not match our ideals of life, liberty, equality and justice but that our ideals are worth pursuing anyway – even when greed, fear and division seem to be running the place. So before my picnic this afternoon; before the lovely breakfast my family has prepared; before the first cup of coffee hits my lips – I am pausing to give thanks for the people I know that call America home. I also give a shout out to God for the millions of others I have never met and probably will never meet who live here. I pray we all strive to be the people we set out to be, and more importantly— who God calls each of us to be. I pray for the people who risk everything just to get here and I pray that when they do – we would welcome them as new friends and neighbors who can help make our communities stronger – even if they need our help now. I pray we would all have compassion to stand with those who need our help – because God tends to meet us there. I pray for my church and other communities like it that strive to make a positive difference not just to our people but the world we live in. I pray that we as a people and a nation would have the courage to admit that equality escapes us, and that all of us have work to do to make things right. I pray that we would realize until we do, none of us are really free. So God, bless our land. Forgive us for our negligence, our fear, our destructiveness, our carelessness and our harmful actions. Help us to see you in every person, and give us the vision to see how beautiful they are. Build us into a community of both empathy and responsibility as we pursue our greater ideals. Remind us of our humanity. Keep us humble. Grant us peace. Move us to act toward one another with your relentless love. Stir up within us unending hope. Amen.

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Sunday is coming! “Going and Staying-Put” Mark 6:1-13

And (Jesus) could do no deeds of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6a)

It might sound counter-intuitive, but I find that it is actually easier to ‘go’ than to ‘stay-put.’

I find many people feel the opposite to be true for them – they want to be someplace that feels familiar. They seek relationships that re-enforce commonly held norms among people they know well (even if they don’t along with them). People tend to respond to expectations that feel comfortable, safe and established. Church often reinforces those feelings for them.

There is a reason both the status quo and nostalgia have such a grip on people and are so often near impossible to overcome – change is not only difficult, it is viewed as the enemy of everything we value. Which is why it is better to ‘go’ than ‘stay-put.’ When we ‘stay-put‘ our human nature resists change, we forget the stakes to which we are called and we get easily distracted from doing the ‘going‘ to which Jesus calls us. A common result is very little gets done.

A reason local service opportunities, mission trips, going to camp, advocating for others, getting together for youth gatherings that bring 31,000 of your closest friends together, and so many other things that happen ‘outside’ our faith communities are so powerful: they disrupt our everyday experience with new possibilities.

The key, of course, is to bring those experiences back with us, so that neither we nor our churches get too settled. It is when we start feeling settled that we resist being engaged, challenged or pushed to do new things because we tend to focus on ourselves, our likes and predictable life patterns.

Not for lack of trying, I can see why Jesus felt like he had ‘no power’ at home while he was effective elsewhere. People already had a vision for who they were and what they hoped to be without him. I can also see why Jesus sent his followers out into the community without any resources rather than having them set-up a well-stocked religious spot in town. Jesus has a much bigger vision for us than we could ever realize without him.

So here’s the challenge:

– What if we saw our congregations not as the havens of stability to keep us safe from the world that we so often think they are, but rather as dynamic mission outposts in which God has called us to meet other people beyond our walls?

– What if instead of operating out of fear and anxiety for ourselves, we tried living in a way that declares ‘Jesus is Lord’…’every life is interesting and beautiful and beloved and full of struggle’…’God’s grace is sufficient for you’…’the Spirit is with us’…’love wins’…’and if we ‘go,’ whatever happens, happens?’

– What if we stopped playing it safe, stopped longing for a past that was probably not as glorious as we remember, and we stopped resisting change in order to embrace God’s call into the future by embracing this messy world right now; knowing the only thing we need to take with us is Christ’s blessing?

Maybe then, we’d know the full measure of his power.

Maybe then, we’d be healed to be agents of healing.

Maybe then, we’d stop ‘staying-put‘ and ‘go‘ so we never get settled.

We might just find the spot God has called us to be a beautiful place to explore together.


Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Camp / Outdoor Ministry, Church & Mission, Sunday is Coming!, Thinking About Church Differently | Leave a comment

Before it begins…

Taking a brief moment before the ELCA Youth Gathering begins to think about friends I’ve already reconnected with, others I will see soon, new ones to be made, those back home, the troubles of this world & this amazing city that is about it get its ‘Lutheran’ on. Help us see you among us Jesus & change everything…#ELCAYG2018

Posted in Church & Mission, Church by Perception, Discovery, Faith Everyday, Martin Luther & those strange Lutherans, Thinking About Church Differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,