“Sunday is coming! “Running out of wine and the abundant best yet to come.” John 2:1-11, Epiphany 2C

They have no wine” (John 2:3).

As churches, we spend a lot of time talking about, worrying about and complaining about perceived scarcity: the energy we think we have run out of; the time we think we don’t have; the people we wish were part of our congregations (or were still part of our congregations) but are not; the money we wish we had, the things we used to do, etc.

As people of faith, we constantly wonder if we can ever be enough, can be good enough, or can do enough. We give lip service to God’s unconditional love and mercy for us and for the world, but we have a difficult time truly believing that grace is true, real and palpable. So we try to (to no avail) to live by our works and self-righteousness.

As those who live in the real world, we clamor for protectionism – we are suspicious of others and distance ourselves from the things we don’t know or understand. We cower from the world’s problems. We believe that people are out to get us or take things from us. We try to hide from suffering around us or that we ourselves face. We distance ourselves from the challenges that seem to big or too difficult to change and believe maybe if we ignore them, they will go away. Deep down we know how fragile and feeble we are.

This story in John (2:1-11) offers an alternative.

Jesus is always one to show abundance. He says later in this gospel: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)  Whether it is changing water into wine in this story, multiplying the loaves and fishes in others, or his constant expression of compassion and mercy with people who do not deserve it throughout the gospel narratives; just when we think there is nothing left – Jesus surprises us with abundance.

It is fitting that this story takes place at a wedding. It is already a lavish feast. Since it takes place “on the third day” (John 2:1) this party serves as a sign of the heavenly feast that is to yet to come. As the story opens, the wine runs out, but there is neither blame nor shame directed at the hosts. There is no despair or lament over what once was or what could be. There is no retreat or a turning on each other.

What happens is remarkable.

There is a turning to Jesus for hope. There is a call to discipleship. His mother directs the servants to listen and, “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). There is a movement to action.

How many of us are willing to do to turn to Jesus, listen, follow and act when things get tough – rather than look inward on ourselves or turn on each other?

Jesus tells them to fill the large stone jars used for purification. These jars hold 20-30 gallons of water. That is 120-180 gallons. If a modern-day bottle of wine is .750 ml. (There are 3.79 Liters in a gallon), there was now between 600-900 additional bottles of wine for this wedding. That is a lot of wine! It is a ridiculous abundance we may find unbelievable to comprehend. John is telling us that ridiculous abundance is the sign that Jesus is among us.

Considering this party was well underway, the steward is also surprised by the quality of this new wine, “Everyone serves the good wine first…But you have kept the best wine until now” (John 2:10). Jesus not only brings abundance. He brings out the best.

-Do we believe Jesus to bring out abundance and the best in our own time and circumstances or do we believe the best days are behind us?

-What is keeps us from seeing him, and leaning into the abundance of love, mercy and grace Jesus gives us to us?

-Where do you need to look to Jesus, listen, follow and act?

-How might you encourage others to lean into Jesus’ ridiculous abundance and best?



Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Sunday is Coming! | Leave a comment

“Baptism Stories: the Details Matter” sermon on Luke 3:15-17 [18-20] 21-22

Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon on Luke 3:15-17 [18-20] 21-22

“Baptism Stories:
The Details Matter”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Posted in John the Baptist, on Gospel of Luke, Sermons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday is coming, “Jesus alongside us in the water” Luke 3:15-22, Baptism of our Lord C

“Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘this is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

All the people. All of them who came. They were all baptized. The soldiers. The tax collectors. The crowd. All the people who did not belong under the political structure or the religious culture. Who were they? The unclean. The brood of vipers. The unworthy. This is who was baptized with Jesus at the river Jordan: all the undesirables.

There were no VIPs. There were no political officials of note. There were no religious leaders of good standing. Nobody credentialed. There was only John, who by his self-declaration was “unworthy” to be there too. He was not the Messiah. He knew it. His job was to point the way and “prepare the way of the Lord.” He practiced ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 3:3). He preached sharing and taking care of people with our food and clothing, of acting fairly and honestly in our work, of protecting people without abusing them violently or taking advantage of them (Luke 3:10-14). John called out injustice and the distortion of relationships (Luke 3:18-19). It was the kind of good news that eventually tossed John in jail and it cost him his life (Luke 3:20).

But not yet.

Jesus came to the wilderness. He didn’t begin his ministry in the Temple, or in a palace among the important people run by the powers of this world. He stood at the river Jordan, the crossing point into the Holy Land with outsiders and misfits and everyone else who did not belong. And he was baptized along with them. It almost sounds like an afterthought. They were all baptized. Jesus was too. Unlike the Gospel of Matthew and Mark where the voice of heaven seems to be directed solely at Jesus, as Luke describes this scene all who were baptized heard and could see it for themselves. The Spirit came. The voice called out the beloved. All the undesirables were part of it. You and I are too.

We often ask, ‘Why would Jesus seek baptism?’ After all, Christians tend to assert that Jesus was sinless. In that regard, ‘a baptism of repentance’ would be not only unnecessary but also problematic. Yet all four gospels claim Jesus’ baptism – and his ministry begins to take shape after this event. Perhaps what Luke is trying to reveal is not so much that Jesus is God’s beloved (which in the text he clearly is), but that God is up to something far greater in baptism than self-revelation. Jesus is with them in the water; crossing all who join him in baptism them over from left out to the included, from the unworthy to the beloved, from forgotten about to the remembered, from the unclean to the clean.

Repentance separates the fruitless branches. Jesus does clear the chaff from the wheat. The fire of the Spirit continues to purify us just as the water continues to clean us up and make us whole. We are not left as we were – forgotten on the outside or unworthy on the fringe but are made anew by the Jesus who joins us in the water – loved as we always were but that love is announced in public with the same blessing from the heavens for all to see and hear. The kingdoms of this world never like competition.

Like Jesus, as we emerge from those waters our ministry begins to take shape. Following this Jesus and living in his kingdom is dangerous to the powers that be, and we should expect nothing less than for them to reject us as we live a life of inclusion, generosity, care and integrity. It may make us outliers, push us to fringe, and leave us in the wilderness. Like John (and Jesus), it may even cost us our life.

Fear not. Jesus is alongside us in the water, waiting to lead us to cross over to the other side of the river and find our new community where we are welcomed and loved forever.

Take a look around for the other misfits and vagabonds who join you.

Who do you see there?



Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Sunday is Coming! | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Welcome to the Wise Guys” an Epiphany sermon on Matt 2:1-12

Day of Epiphany

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
“Welcome to the Wise Guys”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Advent/Christmas Sermons, on Gospel of Matthew, Sermons | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Jesus lifts you up and pulls you out of the water” a funeral sermon for John Bentley 1/05/2019

John Harry Bentley 4/03/1937 – 11/30/2018

I learned something recently about John I did not know about before. He was a sailing instructor! Wow!  I knew he loved the water. I knew he loved his view out the back of his house. I knew he was in the Army but loved the Navy Hymn (which is why Amy and Dave are singing it later in the service).  I knew he loved the family cottage. I knew that he loved boating and sailing and was part of the Sailing Club. I just didn’t know he taught sailing too. That is so cool.

Sailing a boat requires knowledge, skill and patience; just like driving a truck in the city or a bus full of children requires knowledge, skill and patience.  John did both of those, and it says much about the knowledge, skill and patience he had and needed to have in a variety of places in his life.

But teaching something also requires passion – and not just passion for the thing itself. We all have those things in our life that are “our” things that refresh and renew and revitalize us. It is important to have and nurture those. What makes passion different, is that it becomes insistent that others share the experience that same love and devotion of the thing as we do. That way people can develop not only the knowledge, skill and patience that leads to competence, but experience the life-giving nature of the thing we love that makes us breathe deep and live more fully because of it.  John possessed the wisdom to understood that and integrated it into his life and relationships.

How about you? Are you tending to the things that give your life? Are you developing the passion to share it?

I wonder about Peter in our story from our Gospel reading from Matthew. To be a fisherman (which Peter was), he had knowledge and skill and patience.  You need knowledge and skill and patience not just to operate the nets to have a successful catch, but you also need to know where the good spots are; when the best times are to go out on the water, what kind of crew to enlist, and how to train them. Peter’s livelihood and survival depended on it.

Peter would have been no stranger to a boat – navigating one is no easy feat (as John knew) – but with the right know-how, the right finesse, the right instincts and time – one could do it well. Peter probably did.

Peter would have been no stranger to swimming either; (another thing requires knowledge, skill and patience).

In John’s Gospel when Peter saw the risen Jesus on the beach cooking breakfast on the fire, he dove off the boat and swam into shore to greet him and be with him. I kind of think we all would jump in and swim to see Jesus if we had the opportunity – no matter how expert or novice a swimmer each of us are. But Peter dove in and swam quickly to Jesus – showing us he was a pretty good swimmer.

So why did Peter panic when he got in the water with Jesus in our story here?

Jesus invited him out on the water with him, and the first thing Peter did was forget his knowledge, skill and patience. He was invited into something knew and his fear overtook him. He forgot his love and passion for the water – and for Jesus – and began to sink, and panic, and drown. Which is something that happens when things are unknown; when we feel threatened; when our knowledge and skill and patience we have doesn’t seem to translate.  We forget who we are. We lose confidence. We trust our doubts over our experience and relationships. We start to lose hope.

It happens to all of us. I think John started to feel this way the less stable he got on his feet. I think John felt this way the more his heart failed him, and he needed more and more oxygen to breathe. I think John felt this way when he could no longer drive and could no longer get out on his own. When his sailing days were over. When his knowledge, skill and patience failed him; it must have felt like drowning; like panic; like a wave of uncertainty rushing around him.

John didn’t want to bother anybody.  Maybe he thought his knowledge, skill and patience were enough. But like all of us he needed assurance. He needed that passion rekindled he once shared so generously. Things like companionship, prayer, the scriptures, the sacrament came through the connections of people who shared them with him.

Yet like Peter, Jesus lifts us up and pulls us out of the water. Jesus lifted up John and pulled him out of the water too.  When our lives cease to be about our knowledge, skill and patience – and center instead on Christ’s passion for us that lifts us up and pulls us out – we become people of trust and relationship no matter how rough the waters get.

In these trying, uncertain and unfamiliar days – when the wind picks up and we forget what to do; when we lose sight of who we are; when we are not sure who to rely on or where to turn, when doubts overwhelm us and it feels like drowning and panic and separation as the storm threatens to devour us.

REMEMBER: Jesus in there to lift us up and pull us out. He lifts us up and out of the water. He lifts us up and out of our fear.  He lifts us up and pulls out of our uncertainty. He even lifts us up and pulls us out of death.

He sets our feet on solid ground. Embraces us. Reassures us that we are his, and that is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how uncertain we are; how skilled we are; or how badly we’ve forgotten who we are. All that matters – is that when Jesus pulls you up and pulls you out – you are his. And all he asks of us is that we use that love we don’t deserve but he freely gives, to lift up others up in love and pull them out of what threatens them too.

When Jesus called Peter to follow him. He said, “Come follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” If you read the gospel stories, Peter fell in the water more than once. He forgot who he was often. He forgot who Jesus was too. He forgot his knowledge and skill and patience and passion. Jesus pulled him out of the water again and again.

Remember that story I told you when Peter dove out of his boat and swam to see Jesus?

The last time he saw Jesus, he denied him three times. And there on the shore Jesus asked, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”

“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”

“Feed my sheep.” Or better yet, “Be that fisher of people I called you to be.”

“Use your knowledge and skill and patience. Trust me. Help others.”

“Find your passion again – not just for yourself, but to share – so others can live and breathe and enjoy it too.”

 That’s the same call we have. That is the gift John had. To share Christ’s love we have been given. To find that passion. To share it so others can experience it too.

When you feel like you are drowning, the storm is coming, or that you will sink and you begin to forget what is important…

Remember that is Jesus, who again and again and again lifts you up, pulls you out, and keeps you close: In life. In Death. In a new life yet to come.

I imagine John sailing in the boat right now. It is not a cold, dreary and rainy day like today is in January, but it is warm, and sunny and summer. The breeze is perfect. He’s tacking back and forth across the Long Island Sound. He’s gaining speed with a huge smile on his face. But he’s not alone. Peter’s there too. John tells him which ropes to grab, when, and why, and then has Peter take command of the small vessel as he keeps instructing him how to do it, with ease and confidence and enjoyment. When they stop in a bit – don’t worry. Peter has brought along all the gear so the two of them can go fishing. It’s a beautiful day for that too. And if the weather changes, or they go for a dip, or if they find themselves in trouble… Don’t worry about that either. Jesus is in the boat too. He’ll lift them up. He’ll pull them out. Then they will laugh and tell stories.

He’ll do the same for you too, so don’t lose heart.

Use your knowledge and skill and patience with others and you’ll see Jesus there; lifting you up and pulling you out of the water…every time.


Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Posted in funerals, Sermons | Tagged , , ,

Sunday is coming! “The Wisdom of the Magi” – Festival of the Epiphany, Matt 2:1-12

In the Time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1)

The coming of the Magi from the East spurs the imagination but also draws us into hard realities. The focus of attention and query often gets placed in the star: What was it? Where did come from? How did they know to follow it? Or, their “Eastern-ness”: Are they from Persia? Arabia? India? China? Their role: King? Wise Man? Sage? Magician? Astrologer? And their gifts: We know what gold is, but what is frankincense and myrrh? These are all interesting questions, but ultimately not Matthew’s point in telling this story.

Matthew 2:1-12 should be read within the context of the wider narrative of Matthew chapters 1-2. In this bigger story Matthew is telling about Jesus’ origins, several things come to light:

  1. Matthew tells Jesus’ lineage to connect him to the wider story of Israel in the Bible (Matthew 1:1-17). It is important to read through this list of names – it connects him to both Abraham and David, but also to Tamar, Ruth and Rahab.
  2. Joseph is reluctant to go through with the wedding with Mary since she is already pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). It takes an angel within a dream (remember Joseph and his dreams from Genesis?) to open him to the idea that the child who will be born will “save the people form their sins” (Matthew 1:22), looking back not just to individual misdeeds, but the national wandering from God what led to centuries of exile and foreign occupation. Joseph does marry her, and is present for the rest of Matthew’s infancy narrative.
  3. The Magi are foreigners. We know nothing about them other than this short story. We do not know their names (Tradition gives them the names Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazaar); how they dressed (a legend tells of Persian invaders in 614 sparing the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem from destruction because of the art portraying the Wise Men were wearing Persian garb, so they left the building alone); or where they came from when they saw the star. Most of the things we think we know about them (including the camel in many of our Nativity sets inferred from Isaiah 60:6, or that there are three wise men) is added conjecture.
  4. King Herod is the power-center of the story. He is threatened by the presence of the Magi and what they represent: a rival who has come to usurp him. Gold, frankincense and myrrh are gifts to give a royal. Herod’s family made a deal with the Romans securing his power. One could see his rule as illegitimate. A child king and potential Messiah was a huge threat. After the Magi went home, Herod sent his henchman to eliminate that threat by slaughtering all the children in the area.
  5. Mary and Joseph (along with the child Jesus) escape to Egypt. Egypt was the place of slavery from which the Exodus narrative – the centering story in the Hebrew Bible is set. When Jesus returns to the Holy Land, it signals (from Matthew’s storytelling) a new Exodus is about to take place, and Jesus (like a new Moses) has arrived to lead the people from slavery to freedom. Matthew was most likely writing his gospel to a Jewish-Christian audience who would have understood the parallels.

What might we make of the Wise Men in a North American 21st century context?

Three ideas:

  1. People are still seeking. In our information heavy, technology-driven, digital age we are inundated by easy answers and often neglect challenging questions. Now is a time to reclaim not only what draws us to the Christ, but what also may be motivating others to seek meaning and purpose in their lives. Many people seem stuck longing, seeking, wondering and hurting. What signs can you point to (and what might others be grasping for) that could draw people together rather than wedge them apart? Is there something in the Jesus story that might speak? Listen? Include? Epiphany means “aha!” Seek the “aha” moment with those around you.
  2. God often uses the outsider to proclaim good news. If the church is to have any future, it is essential that the faith communities many of us have both come from and inherited learn this essential truth: God is neither irrelevant or in decline. But our systems and institutions are. To “tune-in” to where God is leading anew we need to “tune-in” to our neighbors outside of what we may think is normative.
  3. Power does what power does. We should not be surprised or disappointed by this reality or naïve enough to overlook it. Power will often do what it needs to do to maintain its position – often at any cost – unless it is shown that it is in its own self-interest not to do so. History shows that the church (whoever is governing society) often does its best work when it is centered in a message of peace, hope and love (not force, power and control); acts as a voice of the voiceless, and cares for those in need and on the margins. We should expect pushback when we will not be dismissed, coerced or pushed-around or allow it to happen to others. There is a deeper and truer power at work among us than worldly influence rooted in joy, compassion and generosity. Look for it – and join in.

Blessings to you this Epiphany.



Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Advent/Christmas, Advent/Christmas Posts, Sunday is Coming! | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

“Origin Stories: Where Else Would I Be?” Sermon on Luke 2:41-52


Sermon on Luke 2:41-52
“Origin Stories:
Where Else Would I Be?”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Advent/Christmas Sermons, on Gospel of Luke, Sermons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,