Sunday, April 14, 2024

Peace Be With You: A Sermon for 3B Easter

 I could have called this "Deja vu all over again" but I cut that line from the sermon figuring that those who missed last week's Gospel lesson from John, and those who were there, wouldn't know or remember what I was talking about last week. But I still wanted to say somethings differently, even if the basic message is the same. Such is life when you're the only one preaching and celebrating at a church. 


Text: Luke 24: 36b-48 


Jesus stands among the disciples and says, “Peace be with you.”

Before I get too far along in this sermon…I want to hear from you:

When you hear the word, “Peace”…what images…or thoughts pop into your head?

(Leave time for responses)

With those things in mind…can you imagine for a moment…what it must have been like for the disciples?

These were people who had pinned their hopes and dreams of freedom and liberation from oppression on the man Jesus only to see him ruthlessly killed by the Roman Empire.

They were far from those (fill in any image or phrase that might have come up).

Their hearts were troubled.

As we enter into this scene in our Gospel…we need to know that the two disciples whom Jesus had met on the road to Emmaus are in the room with the others.

They’d just had their encounter at the dinner table where Jesus breaks bread and opens their eyes to see that he is risen.

And then…he disappeared.

They’ve rushed back to Jerusalem to the tell their friends how their hearts had been “strangely warmed” by his words as they were walking and talking.

Now…here comes Jesus again…suddenly standing with them.

The group is startled.

They think he’s a ghost.

But instead of saying, “Boo!” he’s told them, “Peace…be with you.”

He shows them that it is truly him…wounded in his hands and feet and yet unbroken.

And then…to further make the point…Jesus asks for something to eat.

They offer him a piece of fish.

At Emmaus…Jesus eats bread. 

In Jerusalem…Jesus eats fish. 

The loaves and the fish again…a meal Jesus and the disciples once shared with the thousands.

A meal in which Jesus demonstrated the abundance of God’s love for the all the people.

Not only giving them what they needed in that moment…but providing many baskets of leftovers.

This is the peace that Jesus brings into the room…into the lives of these scared souls.

A peace that says, “All is NOT lost. Love IS alive…and well…and eating bread and fish.”

This is the love that he then traces back over time…back to the days of Moses and the deliverance from the oppression endured by the ancestors in Egypt.

This is the peace that comes at times of trouble and fear when the psalmist cries out for help.

This is the breath that brought to life those dry bones…the breath that commands the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy and give life to those skeletons.

Slowly…methodically…with caring and concern for the disciples…Jesus reminds them of all these things.

 All of which pointed to a future.

A coming time of peace.

A time when they could live into the commandment to love one another as Jesus had loved them.

Follow in his path.

Be a friend to the stranger and to the lonely.

Be an advocate for the person who in need of help.

Include those whom the authorities have pushed aside and relegated to the margins of society.

Most importantly…Jesus gives the instruction that anyone who speaks in his name…anyone who claims to be part of his tribe…has an obligation to turn away from those things that get in the way of living in love…and forgiveness.

This peace that Jesus brings to the disciples is the same peace that Jesus brings to us…right now.

Because like the disciples in this Gospel…we…too…are witnesses.

Think of a person or people who have shown up when you needed help.

When you have either been in a jam or have been having a particularly difficult day.

That person who sat with you…listened to you…walked along side you.

As a massage therapist…I do this all the time with my clients.

The body often carries hidden hurts and wounds that show up as that painful knot in a muscle…that chronically aching shoulder.

Once touched…and the connective tissue around the muscle releases…sometimes…so does the memory of whatever happened to the person.

It may come out in heavy sighs.

Sometimes it’s tears.

Maybe words.

Whatever and however a person needs to express what has troubled them…the release not only happens physically with the softening of the tissue…it’s happened in their mind and in their spirit as well.

These are holy moments…met with the peace that comes from therapeutic touch.

It’s why I tell people that massage therapy is a ministry of healing.

I have seen this same peace manifest in support groups.

For a while…about fifteen years ago…I led a local chapter of the group Parents…Families…and Friends of Lesbians and Gays…or PFLAG.

The meetings were a safe space for people to gather…most of them cisgender straight people…who had sons and daughters that had come out to them years ago.

Florida voters had just enshrined a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution…and these folks wanted a place to learn how to support their children who now felt unwelcomed in their home state.

People came in…sometimes with righteous anger…sometimes with tremendous guilt because they’d never had to think about discrimination before.

And because it wasn’t part of their lived experience…there would sometimes be a sense of helplessness.

They knew that there were things that just didn’t know.

People would share their moments of triumph in speaking up for their kids.

Others would confess when they messed up.

Maybe they’d said some things out of thoughtlessness that were hurtful…or had stumbled in some other way.

We’d listen.

And just as it happens in any support group…there was always someone or a couple someone’s in the room…who’d been there…done that…got the T-shirt…and donated it already to Goodwill.

They could hear another person’s story and say…”Yeah…I did that. But now I know better.”

And as the late Maya Angelou once said, “Once you know better, do better.”

I watched as parents ministered out of their own experiences…their own mistakes…their own discoveries… to other struggling parents.

And by the end of the night…I would see a mom who’d been wracked with anxiety at the beginning of the meeting leave looking much lighter and brighter.

I could witness that dad realizing that he wasn’t alone.

While God’s holy name may never have been invoked…God’s peace was present…and a burden was lifted from a parent’s shoulders.

The passing of God’s peace is how we transition in our service from this time of hearing the scriptures…and praying for one another and for our world….to that moment where we break bread…the body of Christ…and share in a common meal of thanksgiving.

I started this sermon with asking you what images or thoughts come to your mind as you think about peace.

If what you imagined is something that brings peace to you…think of how you might pass that to your neighbor this morning.

Think of how that peace might help another as they approach this table to meet Christ in the bread and the cup.

As witnesses to Jesus’ love…we are now the apostles of that love to one another.

And that’s a transformative love worth sharing.

In the name of God…F/S/HS.






Saturday, April 13, 2024

Walk in Light: A Sermon for 2B Easter


As I read through the lessons for this Sunday, I couldn't help but think what a coincidence it was that we would be talking about light and darkness on the heels of remembering the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

And while I didn't see a whole lot of hoopla online or on the news about April 4th, I always remember that part thanks to the Irish rock band U2 and their song, "In the Name of Love." 

The more I listen to people around me...both in church and elsewhere...the more I am reminded that people could use a lot more light in their lives. We need to turn away from hatred and embrace love as the true ethos for life. 

Texts: 1John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31


 “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

This past Thursday…we remembered the 19-68 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King said many wise words as he led the movement to bring this country to a consciousness that all people…including those descendants of former slaves…deserved to be treated with respect and dignity and given full access to the freedoms promised to us.

But a particular sentiment expressed in one of his sermons has stood out to me.

It was included in a book titled “Strength to Love,” a collection of his writings and sermons.

Dr. King wrote, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This topic of love vs. hate, light vs. dark was one that King returned to again and again in his ministry of reconciliation.

As one leading a movement against systemic oppression…and constant “othering,” it was an important touchstone for him personally.

It was something he learned from his studying of the theologian Howard Thurman…who also wrote extensively on the nature of love and hate in his own book, “Jesus and the Disinherited.” King reportedly carried a well-worn copy of Thurman’s book with him everywhere he went.

For both men…their deep and abiding bonds to the life and teachings of Jesus are clear and are so well expressed in our Epistle from the First Letter of John.

People often think these John letters were written by the same evangelist who gave us the Fourth Gospel…which scholars believe was written in 100 C-E…about 70 years after Jesus’ death.

It’s more likely that these words were from someone in the Johnine Community.

John’s community were Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

They’d been intermingling with Gentiles.

This caused a lot of tension with the rest of the Jewish population…as the post-temple rabbinic Judaism was beginning to take shape.

It’s important for us to keep that in mind whenever we hear the lines about “fear of the Jews” in John’s Gospel. What we’re hearing is that there was an intra-religious struggle occurring as Judaism was splitting in two.

The theme of “light” and “darkness” is a hallmark of John and his community of believers.

And even though our Gospel doesn’t specifically speak of “light” and “dark”…we get a sense of that this idea of light and dark…love and hate… is at play.

Our Gospel reading today is about the events that happened on Easter evening.

We know that Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ in the morning.

She’s been enlightened.

Meanwhile…Peter and one of the other disciples…only know that the tomb is empty. They don’t know what’s happened to Jesus. Only that his body is gone.

A bunch of disciples are now huddled and frightened in a house…not knowing what’s going on or what’s in store for them.

The whole point of the Roman Empire using crucifixion was to terrorize Jews into submission.

Jesus suddenly appears in their midst…. whole body…holes in his hands and all.

He looks at this room of awe-struck believers and says, “Peace be with you.”

Note that he doesn’t say, “Pick up your swords and your spears! Let’s go get that Pontius Pilate! Let’s string up Herod! We’re gonna take Jerusalem by storm!”

Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Calm your fears.

Dry your eyes from weeping.

Do not seek revenge…

Receive the Holy Spirit…the breath.

The breath…which God has been blowing into Humankind since the second creation story in Genesis.

The breath…that inspiration of life…which is analogous to the light…as opposed to the darkness which gets linked to death.

There is a gentleness and kindness in this moment.

A reminder again of that commandment: love one another as I have loved you.

Now Thomas wasn’t in the room when this happened.

He may have been hiding somewhere else…separated from the rest of the group as they ran for their lives at the time of Jesus’ arrest.

The church…I think…has been unkind to Thomas throughout the centuries.

We’ve made him seem like a “less than” believer just because he wasn’t there and expresses a need to see Jesus for himself.

But is he really any different than most of us?

Many of us are willing to identify with Peter.

We can see in ourselves that disciple who “gets it” sometimes, and other times seems thick as a brick.

I think that Thomas and his reaction to missing Jesus’s appearance is a pretty typical reaction that any one of us would’ve had.

It’s like when we’re out with a friend and they see something extraordinary flash across the sky.

But by the time we look, it’s already disappeared.

And it’s because Thomas wasn’t there…Jesus comes back again.

He is intent upon giving Thomas the experience of his lifetime that he’d missed the week before.

And…again…when Jesus appears…his first words are, “Peace be with you.”

Looking at Thomas…he invites him to touch him to know that he is for real.

He doesn’t say, “Hey…you faithless dumb dumb: where were you last week?”

Once more…the invitation is a sincere desire to reassure this one that Love has won.

Thomas doesn’t need to touch Jesus.

He just needed that confirmation.

I think we all need it.

In a world with wars and anger and division…we need to know that the path out of darkness and into light is through believing that Love is strong and will not be kept locked up in a tomb. We need to see others around us showing kindness and compassion.

That’s why someone in the Johnine community wrote this first missive, reminding them to seek God…and find the light in those who are committed to a path of love. And to remember that by trusting God…believing that there is a “perfect love casts out fear”… they can give and receive the courage to endure whatever hardships come their way.

Easter is our season to take those steps toward living our faith without fear…turning away from hatred and speaking peace to those around us.

May the light of Christ shine forth brightly from you wherever you go this week.

In the name of God…F/S/HS.




Saturday, April 6, 2024

Seeing with Easter Eyes: A Sermon for Easter Sunday


If my sermon for the Easter Vigil encountered a hiccup because of the shorter ending of Mark, at least my sermon for the 11am Easter service was the well-worn story from John's Gospel. Trying to figure out a different approach into the story...just like trying to preach a meaningful and not sappy sermon at Christmas always a challenge. This is the day churches are likely to have people other than their usual attendees present, some of whom might be coming to church out of a family obligation. It's not that I change my preaching style for these occasions; it's just that I feel a little extra need to be mindful that there are going to be people there who may only hear this one sermon. And so, I pray. Even more. Help me, God, to make this crazy tale accsessible even to the most skeptical and cynical person who might be out there this morning.

Text: John 20:1-18


About nine years ago…there was this huge controversy that erupted in popular culture.

It was all over social media…about the colors of a dress.

Some people saw this photograph of the dress worn by the mother of the bride at a wedding in Scotland and insisted that the color scheme was white and gold.

Others saw it and determined it was black and blue.

And very quickly…something as innocuous and

fairly trivial… became a raging argument.

As the New York Times said…it became the dress that melted the internet as people feuded over what color is this dress.

Fashion bloggers…celebrities…your next-door neighbor…everyone had an opinion about this dress.

And scientists became cool…noting that what people saw in the color of the dress said more about the neuro-receptors in their eyes than the fashion decision of some British dressmaker.

Apparently…we have certain cones in our eyes that read the color blue.

If a person saw the dress and thought, ‘that’s gold,’ it meant they had fewer of these blue receptor cones in their eyes.

Because the dress was…in fact and in truth…black and blue.

Fascinating…this thing about what we perceive and how we respond to the things that we see.

And living in our world where people can manipulate images…we all have to be careful with those random photos that get shared across the internet.

Back in the world of the First Century…in the days prior to all our super-connectedness through our phones and watches…this idea of “seeing is believing” was all they had.

And when things were more than just a little “off”…it must’ve caused quite a stir.

Nobody was there to take a photograph of that empty tomb, the wadded up linen wrappings.

And we can only imagine how freakish this must have been for Mary Magdalene to show up at the tomb…and find it unsealed and Jesus’ body gone.

She did what anyone of us might have done:

She ran.

She probably ran faster than she’d ever run before.

She had to tell somebody…someone who she trusted to see what she’d seen.

She finds Peter and one of the other disciples.

All her words come spilling out of her mouth…

And of course they ran!

Like Mary….Peter and this nameless disciple… still processing their fear and disillusionment at knowing their friend and teacher Jesus had been killed by the state…are now full of adrenaline…sprinting to the tomb.

And when they get there…what do they see?

First…they see that Mary was right: the stone had been removed so they could go into the tomb.

There’s the linen wrapping that was on his body.

Over there…that’s the cloth that had been on his head…in that corner…

What in the world??

Oh, no…not in the world…no this is something other-wordly.

So…Peter and Disciple No-Name…their minds now blown wide open…decide they better go home….give this new information some thought.

Meanwhile…Mary is weeping outside the tomb.

Was it not enough that one of his twelve friends had betrayed Jesus?

Had the Roman Empire…and their fawning collaborators…had they not made their point by crucifying this innocent loving Jewish man?!

She dares to peak inside.

But unlike Peter and Ol’ No-name…Mary perceives something different.

Instead of noticing a discarded linen wrapping and such…she sees two angels.

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

“They’ve taken him!” she bawls, “I don’t know where they’ve taken him!”

She is beside herself with grief and fear and maybe even some rage.

From behind…she hears a kind voice.

That voice repeats…

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

Ah-hah! A human! A gardener.

Was this culprit who stole Jesus’ body?!

We can imagine that in her own adrenaline rush…in her own shock and fear and horror at the possibility that something terrible has happened to Jesus’ body, we can hear her desperate demand:

“Sir, if you have carried him away….tell me…tell me now…I want him back!”


A pause.

Another shift in her perspective.

Is this? Could this really be?

She gasps, “Rabbouni!”

How could she have not recognized him?

How did she not know this was Jesus?

And what about Peter and the other disciple?

Could it be that in their haste to get home…they ran right past Jesus and never noticed that he was there the whole time that they were looking around inside the tomb?

Could they only perceive the linen wrapping and the head covering and not get a sense that God could bend the rules of nature… and perhaps a new reality is taking a dramatic Godward shift…where Love claims victory over death?

She remembers what Jesus once said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

And now…here he is.

And her perception…through tears…and sense of reality has shifted.

As she processes this incredible event…Jesus tells her to go tell the others…let them know that he’s not ascended to heaven but is ready to meet them…and reassure them…that all those things he had done and all those words he had spoken…they’re for real.

We tell this wild and fantastic story every year.

And we tell it in the face of things in the world that feel not right…not loving…not life-giving or liberating.

Our lives are punctuated by things that hurt…and losses on the personal and the global level that can make us doubt the reality that God is love and desires for us to experience goodness and love every day.

We still face challenges from forces that seem determined to keep crucifying God’s creatures…both through destruction and degradation of the planet…and the people.

There are those who seem to wish to use power and privilege to keep others from being able to pursue their own happiness in this world.

And I think that’s why we need to keep hearing this Easter story every year.

Because this is a story of God bearing witness to the absolute worst of humanity…and with greater force and confidence…saying a big ol’ “Nope, not today Satan!”

This is a story of God showing us that we can overcome those obstacles thrown in our path…we can survive hardships…and we can…with love in our hearts…ascend to greater heights…and—yes—we can make a difference.

With Easter eyes…perhaps we can see each other as God’s beloved children…treat the people we meet with the dignity and respect they deserve.

However we take the message of Easter out of this building today…may our vision be clear…our hearts be full…and may we have the courage to live and pursue that Love revolution that God has been dreaming for us to experience.

In the name of God…F/S/HS.


Getting Comfortable with the Unknown: A Sermon for the Easter Vigil, Year B


Sometimes, it helps to double check the Gospel before you write your sermon. I was surprised as I listened to the Deacon telling us the story of the empty tomb in Mark to hear her continue past the ending of the women fleeing the tomb and saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid. This was the point on which I had planned this whole sermon. 

But the crafters of our Gospel book saw fit to add "The Shorter Ending of Mark," one which says that the women "told briefly" the news to Peter and the others and all lived happily ever after because Jesus sent them out to proclaim eternal salvation. The end. 

OK...that's some embellisment on my part. But that "shorter ending" which is at least a little better than the expanded "other" ending of Mark was something the church tacked on about the time of the 4th Century. Because.....they needed something better than where Mark left the story?? 

Anyway...I preached the sermon I had prepared. And I will continue to teach people to pay attention to a message of uncertainty...trepedation...and awe-struck fear that comes with those last words of Mark's Gospel. Because it helps to keep Mark's version a very real and relatable story of Jesus and those who were brave enough to follow his path. They had to go back to Galilee. They had to be reminded of Jesus' declaration that he made coming back from his time in the wilderness. They needed to change in order to move the story of Love forward.

Text: Mark 16:1-8


I don’t watch a lot of T-V…or Netflix…or Hulu.

But one show that is my “junk food” of television is “The Equalizer” starring the hip hop artist and actress Queen Latifah.

Like every good cop show ever put on American T-V…the plots are pretty simple to follow:

Something bad has happened to someone.

The criminal is not readily apparent.

The injured party turns to the good guy…or gal in this case…Queen Latifah….to get to the bottom of the case and right the wrong done.

And after some plot twists and turns…a few commercial breaks to help pay the bills…the bad actors are caught…the victim has received justice…and everything is made right in the world…all in 52 minutes time.

No loose threads…unless they intend for you to come back next week for a part two.

We like things tidy…and unambiguous.

Which is why the ending of Mark’s Gospel…his story of the resurrection…is so unsettling.

Because there is NO resurrection:

We don’t see Jesus.

He’s gone.

Some young man…an angel we suppose…tells Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome…that Jesus has been raised. Go tell the others, especially Peter…Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee… the fulfillment of a promise he’d made right before all the chaos and trouble began at that critical hour of his arrest and crucifixion.

They hear this news.

But instead of rejoicing and running off to tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead…they flee the tomb.

They’re in awe. They’re terrified.

And they said nothing because they were afraid.

Not exactly the ending we want to hear.

No! This isn’t how it’s supposed to end!

These women are brave.

They go tell the men…

“He’s risen! Hallelujah!”

Isn’t that the end we prefer?

But Mark’s a realist.

And we need a dose of reality, too.

Because if this were us…wouldn’t we be terrified and amazed too?

They saw the death of Jesus.

These women watched Joseph put his dead body in the tomb.

They hadn’t been there to see the unnamed woman show up before the Last Supper to wash Jesus’ body with expensive nard from her alabaster jar…so they assumed somebody needed to bring spices and do the proper burial procedure.

Now something beyond their ability to understand has happened.

Jesus has been raised from the dead.

Say what?!

Lots of Biblical scholars have put their minds to why Mark ends his Gospel in this way…so abruptly and without the nice tight happy ending we want.

Some speculate that this is reflective of the mood in Mark’s community…the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus.

This… the earliest of the Gospels…is from the time when the Roman Empire destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem for a second time…leaving us today with only the remnant of the Western wall.

Perhaps these women represent the trauma of that period.

A time of trembling and fear of the Roman Empire.

Others think the purpose of this ending is to get us to remember that command to go back to Galilee.

Go back to the beginning of the story…to that first chapter of Mark’s Gospel…where it all began, and finally take in that one sentence sermon of Jesus’:

“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe in the Good News.” (1:15)

Suddenly…that line…in light of a missing and reportedly resurrected Jesus…might make a little more sense.

Repent is such a loaded word… especially for anyone whose been told the lie that they aren’t good enough for God.

But what “repent” really means here is to change your focus.

Because love has won, has beaten death.

See the world through new eyes…with a new heart.

Earlier…we heard the history of God’s people…and the many ways in which God has always been there from the start.

God was there…through escaping oppression in Egypt…all the way to escaping a tomb in the outskirts of Jerusalem…God has shown up over and over.

Look and see.

Even crazier? God is there often when we least expect it.

And maybe that’s the message of this peculiar…not-made-for-TV ending to this story.

While we go about doing those things…making those preparations…carefully putting together those plans for how to finish the multiple storylines flowing through our lives…God is working God’s purpose out in ways that are completely unseen…unknown… unexpected and will blow us away…when we finally pay attention.

God’s work is happening in ways and through people that we can’t comprehend.

Because…honestly…we don’t always see God’s incredible handiwork and can’t know how God has been molding and shaping someone until it smacks us in the face.

And then…once we’re done saying, “Ow!”…we have to just smile, and think, “Wow!”

This is why the words that are in the Letter to the Hebrews are so important to remember.

 “We must keep mutual love flowing and to show hospitality to strangers because we may be entertaining angels without knowing it.”

And angels come in all shapes, sizes, genders—binary or non-binary, immigrants, and natives.

Now we know that the women didn’t stay silent forever.

The story of the resurrection did get shared…when they were ready to share it.

Once that initial shock of the moment wore off and they were able to accept this profound change to their reality: they could say…Jesus had fulfilled the mission…and Love has burst out in technicolor.

And now…through these women…through us who believe…we can live and love freely in full color, too.

We have the ending we need…the one which brings us back to that beginning:

Open the eyes….see and treat those whom you meet with loving-kindness…and know and believe….

Hallelujah! Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

In the name of God…F/S/HS.