Take Me to the Water

Posted on Jul 7, 2015 in Sermons

Take Me to the Water…

Baptism Sunday – June 28

On this Baptism Sunday, we celebrate God’s powerful and working presence in each of our lives.

We take joy in knowing that God came for all of us- Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, black and white….God reveals Godself to each and every one of us.

The Creator God revealed Godself through creation.  God took the waters and separated them, giving life to every plant and creature.   As we dip our hands in the water, we say thank you for the waters of creation.  They remind us of life, refreshment, new beginnings, and God’s mighty power.

God was revealed through the stories and history of the people of our faith.  As we dip our hands in the water, we remember the floods and faith of Noah, the river and resourcefulness of Moses’ mother, the escape and exodus of the Israelites through the red sea.  The stories of our people and the waters they have waded through give us hope, faith, and courage to trust in God to provide and guide us.

The fullest revelation of God is in the person of Jesus.  The waters of birth brought Jesus to our world.  Our forebearers witnessed the waters of his baptism, the water turned to wine, the healing at the pools of water, even the waters of saliva brining sight to the blind man.  As we dip our hands in the water, we join with the saints in celebration and belief in the life and ministry of Jesus; in his healing, in cleansing, in new birth, and in the miracles that God can do with even the simplest of things.

There are times when we walk through difficult waters and other times that we dive deeply into refreshing and exciting waters.  We wade through waters of grief and longing, we play in waters of joy and celebration.  We are baptized into waters of faith and renewal.  As we dip our hands in the water, we acknowledge that God is present with us in every moment and every hour.

May God’s  Spirit bless the water we use today, that it may be a fountain of deliverance and new creation.  May those who enter it be transformed.  May God’s Spirit pour out upon them that they may be agents of reconciling love.  Make them one with Christ, buried and raised in the power of his resurrection.


We’ll now ask Logan/ Haley/  Emma to come forward for baptism…

________, do you choose this day and every day forever more to follow in the ways of Jesus?

Like Christ, you are buried with him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.

_______, Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth.”

Jesus also said, “you are the light of the world.”

Go into all the world and let your light shine.


Let us Pray:

Merciful God, you call us by name and promise to each of us your constant love.  Watch over your servants, Logan, Haley, and Emma.  Deepen their understanding of the gospel, strengthen their commitment to follow the way of Christ, and keep them in the faith and communion of your church.  Increase their compassion for others, send them into the world in witness to your love, and bring them to the fullness of your peace and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Take me to the Water…. hymn #367

Here we have come to gather for worship.  What is worship?  Some may say it is a time for individuals to come together to honor God in prayer and Praise.  Some may say it is a moment to get away from everyday troubles and routine and to focus on God.  For you, worship may be an opportunity to reconnect with God and with neighbor.  Yes, Worship is this.

Worship is also a practice.  It is an opportunity for us to corporately put into action those things that we believe.  It is a chance for us to have a rehearsal, if you will, for a life’s performance of obedience, discipleship, and giving glory to God.

In corporate worship, when all are gathered together, we have the opportunity to proclaim –together- through our actions- what we believe.

And what do we believe?

Turn with me in your hymnals to page 355 and read with me the Faith confessions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

As members of the Christian Church,
We confess that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
In Christ’s name and by his grace
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people.
We rejoice in God,
maker of heaven and earth,
and in God’s covenant of love
which binds us to God and to one another.
Through baptism into Christ
we enter into newness of life
and are made one with the whole people of God.
In the communion of the Holy Spirit
we are joined together in discipleship
and in obedience to Christ.
At the Table of the Lord
we celebrate with thanksgiving
the saving acts and presence of Christ.
Within the universal church
we receive the gift of ministry
and the light of scripture.
In the bonds of Christian faith
we yield ourselves to God
that we may serve the One
whose kingdom has no end.
Blessing, glory, and honor
be to God forever. Amen.


Logan, Haley, Emma, this long statement of faith is used by many Disciples congregations in worship as an affirmation…a way of saying, together, “Yes!  I believe!  Yes!  We believe!”  Don’t worry, there is not a “test” to make sure you get it all right.  The statement simply helps us to clearly name our commitment to Christ and to the Church.

The word that most stands out to me in the statement of affirmation is the word, “We”

We confess, we rejoice, we are made one, we celebrate, we receive…we.

This word, “We” helps us to understand that we’re all connected, that we’re bound together.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul indicates that by baptism, all participate in one body with “no sense of division in the body, but that all its organs might feel the same concern for one another.  If one organ suffers, they all suffer together.  If one flourishes, they all rejoice together. “

We believe that we are together in this; that God chose to weave our lives together, that the way of the kingdom is a way of unity, of togetherness, connection, remembering, of embodiment.

Together, we embody the practice of resurrection.

As one body, we celebrate and utilize each person’s gifts.

As one body, we recognize our connectedness and work to strengthen healthy relationships with one another.

As one body, we become familiar with one another so that we might know each other’s needs and also their gifts.

As one body, we count on each other to participate in each other’s livelihood, to be interested in each one’s ability to flourish and thrive.


I’ve been thinking….if worship is the time for us to rehearse and put into practice that which we believe.  And if we believe that WE are the body of Christ and that WE must count on, celebrate, and lean on one another….perhaps we might enjoy and even thrive from hitting the refresh button on the way we do things during our worship gathering time on Sundays….

We already embody a “we” faith each week when we proclaim that all are welcome.  We already embody a “we” when we lean on each other to serve one another and to greet each other with joy.

And you know, we could probably even add to these practices…

Perhaps we put the idea of “WE” into action and each week we chose to sit next to a new person, in a new pew, sharing with them the elements of communion, reaching out to them as we passed the peace, sharing hymnals as we sang songs of praise?

What if we mixed things up, the young sitting with the older, families spreading out to engage with others?

Filled with the Spirit, we could put the idea of “we” into action and each one offered his or her gifts in the sharing of testimony, leading of prayer, singing of song, or reading of scripture.

And we could go even further.  We could turn the words of affirmation into action and agree to work diligently together to break down barriers so that our shared covenant of love would bind us to God and one another.

Inspired by one another’s faith journey, we might choose to join together in discipleship not only in this time of gathered worship but in many different places and times?

God’s abundance and the possibilities for us together are endless.

In choosing, today, to join in worship;  in choosing, today, to be baptized, you are proclaiming to God and to one another, “Yes!  We Believe!  Yes we want to live a life full Spirit, of obedience, discipleship, and giving glory to God. Yes!  We want to follow!  Yes!  We are one!  Yes!  We are the body of Christ. Yes!  We want to grow together.  Yes!  We want to be transformed together!”

together- through singing,

together -through sharing

together- by changing

together- through befriending

together- through loving

Together- by proclaiming with our lives….


Yes, Lord, Yes.  We are Yours.



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Something Inside?

Posted on Jun 22, 2015 in Sermons

On Thursday morning, 50 of us are jammed into a Sunday School room singing chants. Most of the “us” are scholars – elementary school students – for Freedom School. This is the first day of six weeks that will be filled with books. We will read and read and read, and most of the time it will be so much fun that the kids won’t even notice that they are learning. To get ready for all the excitment, we’re at the point of our morning liturgy where we are singing chants about reading. We are screaming at one another: “Hey, what’s your name, and where’s your book?” Delight fills the air.

We call the morning pep rally “Harambee,” which means “let’s pull together” in Kiswahili. There are few better ways to start a day than in the company of these saints for an early-morning revival meeting. This Thursday is the first day of this summer’s Freedom School session, and we’re falling right back into our beloved routine of pulling together.

But I note in myself something I have never noted before. I’m not fully engaged. I’m glancing over at the door. I feel a little unease creeping into my gut. I should be shouting for joy with these kids, but the previous night’s terror attack at Emanuel AME Churchin Charleston is roiling in my head. What is creeping into my gut is a feeling of vulnerability. Some of it is for myself, but it is also for the 40 children I am sharing this space with. One like them had survived the attack the night before only by playing dead. My illusion of safety is shattered.

It has been evident that the United States of America is not a safe space for people of color since July 4, 1776. Before then, this land was not safe for them, it was just not yet called the United States of America. I have known this intellectually for most of my adult life. Figuring it out is no significant achievement. That it took me until age 35 for the reality to set deeply into my body merely means that I am a terrible learner. Every parent of every child at Harambee this morning has known this lesson from the moment of conception.

Being in a church building provides no exception to the rule. Our churches remain segregated by skin color, and those ministering to people of darker colors have always been subject to terrorism. That this clearly perverts the gospel of Jesus Christ has rarely been sufficient cause for ministers in white churches to speak about it. Even rarer has it been for white churches to act in such a way as to create systems of justice and to finally end the insanity of the lie known as “race.” Instead, our brothers and sisters of color learn to cope with fear and with “the silence of good people ringing in their ears.”

At Harambee, another portion of the daily morning liturgy is singing “Something Inside So Strong,” written about Apartheid-era South Africa. The rule at Harambee is that you have to belt it out, so every morning comes the full-throated cry, “You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away, no matter, because there’s something inside so strong, I know that I can make it.” Every morning I hope that the overt message is sinking in with our kids, especially the most difficult ones. To grow up in a society that is stacked against your thriving, and even your survival, means that you develop “something inside so strong” early on. The goal of our singing is only to reinforce that.

The kids are singing for themselves and to encourage one another. Whether the message is sinking in is an important question. But there is another important question for those of us – and by “us” I mean those of us who are white and claim to love our neighbors as ourselves – who want to to see those children flourish: is the message sinking in for us? Do we have something inside strong enough that we can face the demons of racism and root them out? Does the courage exist within us to face down this disease called race that infects our governments, schools, and financial systems, our pools and neighborhoods, our houses and hearts and minds?

 We avoid dealing with reality of the racist system we inhabit by jumping to the conclusion that Dylann Roof is “mentally ill.” That may very well be, but we’re not talking about it because we actually care. We incorporate words like “deranged” and “aberration” into the discussion to help us skirt around the issue of the poisonous context that produced and maintains our racial caste system. This allows us to locate ourselves at great remove from anything “racist.” Racism is always someone else’s problem. Here is the plainest thing I can say about that idea: We don’t have time for that.

The sin of racism will not go away easily. In white churches, we have gone for a cheap grace that avoids dealing with the thorny history of white Christianity in America. We have perpetuated racist ideologies by lacking the courage to address our complicity in systems of racial oppression. There is no way into God’s dream that “we all may be one” without doing the work of addressing the legacy of racism that still infects us. This cancer must be dug out from every place it exists, or we will never be healthy.

Every morning those kids keep singing about “something inside so strong.” They call us to find the strength to love. If anything will lead us home to live in peace with one another, it will be love. Not sentimental love, but active love. If you love strong enough, the courage to face the demons of racism won’t be a problem. You’ll relish the fight. If you love with all your heart, you’ll gladly take down a flag that stands for slavery and racial oppression. You’ll find its removal so gratifying that you’ll keep dismantling all the evidence of the plunder for which it stands.

With love, we’ll be patient with ourselves as we unlearn whiteness; we’ll be kinder to our brothers and sisters of every color; we’ll not insist on the old ways of the world, but instead will rejoice in the Truth of the gospel. With love we can bear the hard work to come, we can believe in the possibility of liberation, we can hope for God’s dream to be realized, we can endure the long road to freedom.

Love never ends. Now we love only in part, but the day is coming when we shall love fully, just as we shall be fully loved. With a love inside so strong, I know that we can make it.

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Romans 6 Sermon

Posted on May 19, 2015 in Sermons

Remember the message of Romans 5 that we dealt with last week?

Our faithful God has come through for us.  God has set us aright. Even when we were at our worst, we were made one with God by the acts of his Son, Jesus.  God is faithful.

Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!  We live out our praises in word and deed!  We practice this good news of faithful rescue and joyful resurrection.

With singing and shouting, with lighting a candle and praying, with serving and sharing, ..with as many ways as we know how, we may show all we meet that,

“Yes!  Our faith in God is justified.  God’s has acted, is acting, and will act in faith and love toward every one of us. Forevermore”


Romans 6 goes on to say….So what?  Now what?


Hear Romans 6 from the Message version:

  So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

3-5 That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.



Let me tell you the story of a little boy named David….no, not the Biblical David, another one..a story book David created by children’s book author David Shannon.

This David is a snaggled toothed 5 year old who is always getting into some kind of mischief.

When David Gets in Trouble, he always says “No!  It’s not my fault”

He’s the kind of kid that would ride his skateboard in the house and when he knocked over the table with the lamp, he’d say, “I didn’t mean to!”

He’d go outside to play and decide his idea of fun was batting practice too close to the house.  When inevitably the glass window would shatter, he’d cry, “It was an accident!”

His Dad would get up early to cook up a full breakfast for David and David would look at it with a grimace and say, “Do I have to?”, preferring cereal to eggs and toast.

In a rush to get out the door and to the bus stop, his mom would look up to realize that David was already walking down the sidewalk, but his britches were laying on the floor by his bed.  She’d go running down the street, flagging him down with pants in hand.  David would exclaim, “I forgot!”

He’d get settled into his desk at school and  his teacher would ask him about his homework.  He’d flap his hands high in the air and shout, “My dog ate my homework.”

The school picture came home and David’s parents opened it up to see everyone in the class smiling nicely at the camera.  That is, except for David who made a face like none other they’d seen before captured on film.  David looked at his parents with puppy dog eyes and said, “I couldn’t help it.”

“Where are you, David?,” Mom called out afterschool.  She opened the pantry door to find him crouched on the floor munching on the new treats she’d gotten for the puppy.  “I was hungry!” he’s say with a mouthful of dog biscuit.

The cat knew to run away from David.  Every time he got a chance, he’d pull on her tail and claim “But, she likes it!”

Just before bed, Dad found David creeping into his bedroom with arms full of snacks and treats.  The cup of grape juice didn’t make it all the way to David’s room, it was spilled all over the floor.  “It slipped!”

Mom’s eyes got huge the time that David said that ugly word…and in front of the grandparents too!  “But dad says it!”, he said.  She told him he’d have to wash his mouth out with soap.

On Dad’s birthday, Mom treated the whole family to an Italian Restaurant for dinner.  Mom looked in horror when David belched the biggest burp at dinner.  “Excuse me!”, David hollered.

It was the last straw when Mom got back from the powder room to find that someone had run their fingers through Dad’s birthday cake.  Mom looked and knew immediately from the icing on his face that David was the culprit.  “It wasn’t me!”  David claimed.

Mom and Dad had had it.  That night, they drove home in silence.  What were they going to do with their son?  They tucked him in and read him a story.  “Good night, David” Mom said.

David sat in the darkness of his room.  He tried to go to sleep, but he just couldn’t.  He tossed this way and that.  Something was wrong.  He just couldn’t sleep.

His eyes got big.  He knew what he had to do.  He yelled out, “Yes!  It was Me!”

His parents ran back into the room to see what was the matter.

David was standing by his bed when they got there.

“Mom, Dad, I’m Sorry” he said.

His Parents gave him a hug and tucked him back into bed.  Now, David was finally feeling a little sleepy.

Mom and Dad sang a song, Mom rubbed her son’s head.  Before David drifted off to sleep, he proclaimed, “I love you, Mom.”

The next morning, David woke up to eggs and toast and ate it with a smile.  He not only remembered his britches, he remembered to brush his teeth and hair too.  When he got to school, he helped his teacher prepare the classroom and said please and thank you in the lunch line.  When he got home from school, he asked for an apple and told his mom all about school while he chomped on his snack.  That night, at dinner, he brought in dandelions for the table and helped put away the dishes afterward.  When he went to bed that night, his parents hugged him, they sang a song and rubbed his head.  “Mom, it’s been a good day.”  Yes it has son, yes it has.


The good news of the resurrection is that our mistakes do not have a hold of us.  They do not keep us bound.  Jesus reigned victorious over death and over sin and with him, we are able to walk in newness of light.  Held in the Love of Christ, we are able to say we’re sorry, ask for forgiveness, and start again renewed and refreshed.

The scripture says it this way:

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

Thanks be to God.  Yes, Thanks be to God.

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Against All Hope

Posted on May 15, 2015 in Sermons

May 10, 2015

Romans 5:1-11

Sermon by Helms Jarrell


Trapped in darkness and captivity, she sat in the silence of despair.  It was practically impossible for her to find a way out.  All hope was lost.  She tried to cheer herself up, but she just couldn’t.  Her fate had been revealed and the agony was too difficult to withstand.  She wailed at the top of her lungs…

How could things have come to this?  Why was all this happening to her?  How would she get out of this torment?  Who would save her?  What could she do?

It didn’t help that she’d cut off from her friends lately.  Gosh!  She wished she could take it all back.  All the mean words.  All the times she ignored other people who needed her…the times she avoided the phone call of a high maintenance friend.

Last time she even saw her very best friend, they’d gotten into a big argument.  She’d basically told him that she didn’t ever want to see him again.  Would he even notice she wasn’t around?

A spark of hope rose out of her core.  She knew she could count on him to notice.  Even a big argument wouldn’t keep him away from caring for her.

Quietly, she waited.

Hours went by.  She thought of her life, of what she’d done and who’d she’d been.  She cried for her mistakes and reveled in the memories of good times.

A sound broke loose in the distance. A light gleamed from the underside of the door.

Tears of hope welled up in her eyes.  Could this be him?

The door crashed open and her cage was broken free.

Tinkerbell was reunited with her best friend, Peter Pan, and they would go off to save the day together!


Peter Pan came through for Tinkerbell.  She believed in him.  She had faith, that even in the midst of their disagreement, he would come to her rescue.

And he did.

Her faith in him was justified by his acts of faith and love toward her.

Relating scripture to a fairy tale may seem a bit silly and childish, but it is such a well-known story.  We can relate.

Abraham and Sarah lived in a time when almost all of a person’s  joy, self- worth, sense of purpose, power, and social status correlated to how many children one had.  Imagine if you were Abraham or Sarah, who had been praying all of their lives for children.  At 75 years old, God made a promise with Abram that he and Sarai would have children saying, “  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever cruses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  25 years went by and Abraham and Sarah had no children.  I can imagine, as I guess you could too, that perhaps they’d gotten a little concerned a time or two over those 25 years of waiting.  Maybe God was just kidding.  Maybe the joy of the promise wasn’t really theirs to behold.  I bet on their worst days, they cried with worry, thinking the promise of God had been lost.

Even in the midst of uncertainty, they remained faithful to God.  They held fast to the promise that God would keep God’s promise.  They made it to 100 years old when messengers sent word to Abraham and Sarah that it was time. She would become pregnant.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope, believed and so became the father of many nations…just like God had told him he would.

Scripture says, “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-  since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what God had promised.

Abraham’s faith in God was justified by God’s acts of faith and love toward Abraham.

In our darkest moments, when all seems lost….when we are constantly reminded of injustice and the brokenness of our world…when all we see is despair, when because of situations around us, we are forced to reckon with the darkness of our own sin and faults….when we feel trapped in the mistakes we can’t seem to undo… We may feel no sense of peace…no inkling of joy…no beam of hope.  And we may cry out:  “How could things have come to this?  Why is all this happening?  How can I get out of this torment?  What can we do? Who will save us?”

In these, our most hopeless moments, we must remember God’s faithfulness.  We must plunge into the promise of God and come up strong, ready for God, sure that God will make good on what God had said.

We must embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless.

As the message version of scripture says,

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!


Our faithful God has come through for us.  God has set us aright. Even when we were at our worst, we were made one with God by the acts of his Son, Jesus.  God is faithful.

Now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!  We live out our praises in word and deed!  We practice this good news of faithful rescue and joyful resurrection.

With singing and shouting, with lighting a candle and praying, with serving and sharing, ..with as many ways as we know how, we may show all we meet that,

“Yes!  Our faith in God is justified.  God’s has acted, is acting, and will act in faith and love toward every one of us. Forevermore”


Amen.  May it be so.

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Hospitality at it’s Finest

Posted on May 13, 2015 in Sermons

All my life, I have been good at hospitality and welcoming others. I have this gift; it’s what us church folk like to call a “spiritual” gift. Somehow, I’ve been blessed with the ability to relate to all sorts of people, to see things their way, and be able to empathize with their experiences.


All my life, I’ve been good at hospitality, GREAT even! I know how to make people feel comfortable, help them relax, give them something to eat or drink. (“You need a pillow? A blanket? Are you hot or cold?…I can handle that!)


All my life, I’ve been good at hospitality…I welcome people in, let people use whatever they need, listen to their stories, and allow them to stay for awhile.


All my life, I’ve been ….…Or so I thought.



About mid-September of last year, I moved into a house off Tuckaseegee Rd. and into an intentional community of people who shared life together. My life had shifted. God was calling me in a new direction. One that I had not expected, but one that made sense. I’m a good sharer, I thought, this will be noooo problem. I’m great at hospitality, remember?


Here I was moving from a house that I lived in for 8 years – a house I lived in with many different people over the span of time, and one that held multiple memories. I was moving from this house into a new space among people that I considered family. I knew the transition would take some time. I thought the move would be easy, much easier than it actually was.


I don’t have that much stuff, I said. We can figure this out. So the big move began. With the help of some friends, I loaded up a full-size bed, two dressers, one tall bookcase, one wide and tall bookcase, one small bookcase, a large desk, a full length mirror, and all the laundry in the world- along with a few other essentials- and brought it over to my new (and smaller, much smaller, than my old) room. It took a bit of creativity and the thinking cap of a couple friends, but somehow, we got it all in there. – Now, if you could just make sure Helms doesn’t find out that I’ve taken over the other 2 rooms in our 5 bedroom house, and don’t go look in the trunk of my car, you and I will get along just fine.

I began settling in, trying to figure out how to live in this new space with these people, my new house-mates, my new life-mates. It is now April of the following year since that move, it’s only been 7 months – I’m still not sure how to accommodate all my things and I’ve found out a few hard truths about myself. One of them is – I… am possessive. This is a quality about myself I was completely unaware of. I’ve been sharing since I was three. They taught me this in kindergarten. I am used to letting people borrow things or use whatever they need. Since I moved out of my parents home I have lived with approximately 14 different people. I know how to be a pretty stellar room-mate. What I didn’t realize is that I had yet to figure out how to allow people to be room-mates with me.


You see, it’s pretty easy being the one who extends hospitality all the time. It’s easy for me to welcome others in and make them feel comfortable, feed them, give them something to drink, listen to them, and let them use my things – as long as I know about it beforehand…as long as they’ve asked or we already have some sort of pre-arranged agreement.


However, it’s not so easy for me when my things go missing, even if all it was is a carton of juice. I find that it puts me a little on edge.


The story we read today is from the book of Acts… I’d like to read it again from The Message version

Peter’s Vision

10 1-3 There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer. One day about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next-door neighbor, came in and said, “Cornelius.”

4-6 Cornelius stared hard, wondering if he was seeing things. Then he said, “What do you want, sir?”

The angel said, “Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention. Here’s what you are to do. Send men to Joppa to get Simon, the one everyone calls Peter. He is staying with Simon the Tanner, whose house is down by the sea.”

7-8 As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two servants and one particularly devout soldier from the guard. He went over with them in great detail everything that had just happened, and then sent them off to Joppa.

9-13 The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. (I can definitely relate.) While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: “Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.”

14 Peter said, “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”

15 The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

16 This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.

17-20 As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon’s front door. They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought, didn’t hear them, so the Spirit whispered to him, “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.”

21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I think I’m the man you’re looking for. What’s up?”

22-23 They said, “Captain Cornelius, a God-fearing man well-known for his fair play—ask any Jew in this part of the country—was commanded by a holy angel to get you and bring you to his house so he could hear what you had to say.” Peter invited them in and made them feel at home.

God Plays No Favorites

23-26 The next morning he got up and went with them. Some of his friends from Joppa went along. A day later they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had his relatives and close friends waiting with him. The minute Peter came through the door, Cornelius was up on his feet greeting him—and then down on his face worshiping him! Peter pulled him up and said, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”

27-29 Talking things over, they went on into the house, where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come. Peter addressed them, “You know, I’m sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this—visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other. So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. But now I’d like to know why you sent for me.”

30-32 Cornelius said, “Four days ago at about this time, midafternoon, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man right in front of me, flooding the room with light. He said, ‘Cornelius, your daily prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention. I want you to send to Joppa to get Simon, the one they call Peter. He’s staying with Simon the Tanner down by the sea.’

33 “So I did it—I sent for you. And you’ve been good enough to come. And now we’re all here in God’s presence, ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us.”

34-36 Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.



May it be so…


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things said and unsaid

Posted on Apr 6, 2015 in Sermons

April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10


things said and unsaid


The admonition that some things are better left unsaid comes to us most memorably from the great 20th century philosopher Thumper, the rabbit, whose most famous line is “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

This is an assertion with a religious parallel. The Book of Common Prayer reminds us that our sins are comprised not only of what we have said, but also what we left unsaid; of what we have done, but also of what we did not do. The prayer of confession there states, “We confess that we have sinned [against God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”

This being the end of basketball season, it seems fair to use an analogy from sport. There is the oft-told coach’s tale of the player on the court who complains that he is open, but that the point guard is not getting him the ball. “There is a reason the defense is leaving you open, son,” the coach replies. Their defense of the player is left undone because he can’t hit a shot.

We understand that what we don’t say can be just as important as what we do say. Imagine, if you will, the young couple reaching a point of emotional intensity in their relationship. The critical moment arrives, and the young fellow, obviously smitten with the vixen across from him, leans in. He is taking in her big blue eyes, the curls bouncing from her head, the glow of her face. Mustering all the courage he has, he says, “I love you.” Her eyes dart downward, glance across the room. She stammers back, “I like spending time with you, too.” The poor guy can’t crawl into the nearest hole fast enough.


What goes unsaid matters.


In the Gospel reading today, a most remarkable speech is recorded. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus have gone to the tomb to prepare the body when an angel of the Lord appears. There is an earthquake, because the whole foundation of creation is being shaken to its core. The stone in front of the tomb is rolled back. The guards, put there to ensure the safety and security of the body, stand shaking with fear. The messenger speaks, according to our passage, to the women. He says, “Do not be afraid.” These are the most important words that can possibly be spoken. In the midst of the most terrifying episode of their lives, the first thing God’s messenger says is “Do not be afraid.”

He continues, “I know why you are here. You are looking for Jesus who was hung up on the lynching tree. He is not here. Just as he told you, he would be lynched by the powers and principalities, but death would not be able to contain him. Come and see: He is not here!”

It is true. Jesus is not there. He has been raised from the dead and has gone on to the next town – Gastonia or one of those other places where you’d be surprised to find him.


The messenger’s speech summarizes the whole Gospel.  Do not be afraid. He is not here, he is risen indeed. He has gone on ahead of you. Go and tell the Good News. As you go, you will see him. This is the story for every disciple, in every place and time.

The Gospel is very specific about this speech, especially as it regards who it is delivered to. The messenger brings this message to the women. There are others gathered, namely the soldiers guarding the tomb. But the message “Do not be afraid” is not for them. This is not to say it is a secret. One must imagine that they can hear the messenger’s speech. But when it comes to the Roman guards, what is unsaid is “Do not be afraid.”

Indeed, if you are the guardian of the order that God through Jesus’s resurrection has just obliterated, be very afraid. The order you have given your life to is passing away. Caesar is demanding your allegiance. Caesar wants you to put a “window in your head,”[1] wants you to live life in strict obedience to your screens and your mortgage and getting ahead and being sure that you have a nice nest egg to retire on so you won’t have to trust your children to take care of you. The way of Caesar wants to keep things as they are without upsetting any apple carts or turning over any tables, without challenging the systems that keep us living in scarcity and fear instead of in abundance and love. What is unsaid in the Gospel this morning- but is no less present for being unsaid – is that if you are content with that order of things, then you should be very afraid.


Afraid not because God is full of wrath and abounding in anger, but afraid because abundant life is passing you by. Afraid because the order of the world established by Caesars and presidents and Pharaohs is crumbling. Afraid because you can gain the riches of the whole world, but they are no good when by gaining them you lose your soul. Afraid because although the gift of God is eternal life, you can just let the gift sit with unwrapping it.


Even the guardians of death can hear the invitation. It may not be spoken to them, but they could rush on to Galilee also, if they choose. The way is clear enough. The evidence of the empty tomb is plainly visible to them, which makes their paralyzing fear all the more interesting. Their world is falling away, never to return. The earthquake of the resurrection has broken the foundations of Caesar’s rule. Why live in fear instead of freedom? Why hold so tight to death? Why choose your chains when the Liberator of humanity is just down the road?



About a decade ago, I sat in the office of my friend Paul at the Urban Ministry Center. This was the first time we had ever met Paul. Helms and I had set up a meeting to tell him about our crazy plan. We had this dream, and we thought he might listen to it. We also thought he might help, though we couldn’t know for sure. We were just hoping for something, anything really. After we told him all about our plan, which I’m sure today would sound as crazy to me as it sounded to him then, he said to us, “That’s nice. But I know why you’re really here.”


The messenger says the same thing to Mary and Mary this morning. “I know that you are looking for Jesus,” he tells them. In other words, “I know why you are here.” And thus he reports his surprise for them. These two women are the first to discover that the world has changed, irrevocably and forever. They become our first vocational evangelists. Their job is to preach the Good News.


If I may be so bold, I suspect that I know why you are here. Whether you are here fifty Sundays a year, or whether you had to search long and hard to remember where you put your Sunday clothes after last Easter, I suspect that we gather today united in our quest. I don’t think we have arrived looking for the Lord merely out of convention or just looking for something to do until dinnertime.


I think that you, like me, are a bit discontent. Our backs are all bowed under the weight of Caesar’s dominance of our lives. We have spent most of our days trying to get ahead, running the rat race without recognizing that even the winner of the rat race is still a rat. Pharaoh keeps making demands –“Bricks, more bricks, bricks without straw” – and we keep digging deeper. But all the while we can hear the whispers of the world that is to come that has indeed arrived this morning.


I think that you, like me, sense that there is an earthquake trying to roll away the hardness of our hearts. We long to respond to the Good News of the messenger that there is an abundance of life available to us. God’s abundance is so full that even death cannot keep it down. Yet the temptation of fear is also so strong. How easy it is to stand paralyzed, to just follow orders, to stay in our lane, to ghost our way through a world that needs us instead to run in awe from death into life. Yet however long we choose death, the quake keeps quaking, the light keeps lighting a sliver of the new way, the voice keeps whispering. And we keep listening, not quite sure, always ready to run to the feet of the Beloved one who has conquered death, yet never totally ready to lay down our sword and shield because fear is so strong.


Mary and Mary stand at the crisis moment of the entirety of history. There is no more important decision that has ever been made before theirs, or that will be made after it. Two Palestinian peasant ladies stand at the precipice of eternity. They choose joy. They run for life in ecstasy and in awe. And sure enough, there is Jesus, going before them and coming to meet them. Here is what he says: “Do not be afraid.”


  • In the empire you will have trouble, he says, but do not be afraid! I have overcome the domination system.
  • The way will seem costly and difficult, he says, but do not be afraid! Abundance awaits you.
  • The next steps may be unclear, he says, but do not be afraid! I am going before you.
  • Following me may put you at odds with friends and family, he says, but do not be afraid! I have called you friend; you are my beloved child.
  • You may lose your identity when you part ways with Pharaoh. Do not be afraid! You will find your self in me.


My sisters, my brothers, what must not go unsaid on this glorious Easter morning is that the choice is always ours, too. Death or life? Fear or joy? Caesar or Jesus? Chains or freedom? The old news is that we won’t always choose well. The world is so enticing. The Good News is that there is one who comes to us along the way, bidding us too to come and die. And in Him alone will we know life abundant. Choose life, choose life, choose life. May it be so.



[1] See Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

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