I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
On Maundy Thursday we think about the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The Gospel of John is the text for today alongside of this Exodus passage. According to John the last supper wasn’t exactly a Passover meal, but just before the festival of Passover. So let us look at what is happening before the Passover is instituted and what the time before Passover might indicate.
God was about to change the lives of the Israelites who’d been enslaved for hundreds of years. God was going to pass through the land, claiming the lives of the firstborn in Egypt. This would be the breakthrough to liberate God’s people, and they had to be ready to move. Loins girded, sandals strapped, staff in hand, eat and run. It’s a time of anticipation, preparation, obedience, action, and trust in God. A new day, a new life, a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.
In this time now, just before Passover, Jesus is gathering his friends and preparing them for his departure. Jesus girds himself with a towel. Instead of having the disciples have their sandals on, they are taken off so Jesus can wash their feet. They’re not on the run, but instead sit together with Jesus as he gives final thoughts and teachings. It’s a time of confusion, tension, and betrayal. A new day, a new life, and a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.
On Maundy Thursday when we celebrate community meals, foot washing, and communion, let’s lean into this sacred time before the big event, the big holiday. In this moment let us prepare for what God is about to do in our lives, in our communities, in our churches, and in the world. Let us be vigilant to the movement of the Holy Spirit who might ask us to do weird, unprecedented things like putting lamb’s blood on the doorpost, or bending to wash feet. What seems strange now may be made clear soon. Take a breath in this uncomfortable pause to take a leap of faith and trust that something new is around the corner.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I now live in a new city in a new state. In this state (unlike my previous one) Spring is happening, so there are blooms, pollen, little bunnies in my backyard, and signs of new life everywhere. These cutesy little “new” experiences are often what we associate with newness and Christ. But I believe Lent invites us to think about it differently.
While I’m celebrating the new around me, I’m also carrying deep seated pain and anger. My life has been a mess for 9 months, and I’m finally, finally, finally leaving behind the oppression that sucked the life out of me. I have a new beginning, but I’m going to have to wade through the pain that has attached itself to my soul. Becoming new means that I have to get my hands really dirty to rip away the resentment that crushes my spirit so that I can breathe new air and be alive again in Christ. I have to die to this old way that no longer benefits me; and that requires the hard work of taking a good, long look at my pain, feeling it, working through it, and healing from it.
This week let’s think about the old ways in our lives that we have to die to: bitterness, pain, rage, resentment, unforgiveness, and everything that stops the heart of our soul from beating. We are called to live abundantly. While we think of newness being sweet and cute, sometimes becoming a new creation means taking on difficult and ugly tasks to separate us from evil and save our souls. Enter into the hard work of addressing, feeling, working through, and healing from all that suffocates us so that we can be a new creation in Jesus Christ.
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
It’s interesting seeing lectionary texts this week that talk about refreshment, food, satisfaction, and being filled, considering that it is the third week of Lent and we should be in the middle of our disciplines, practices, fasting, and abstaining (see also Isaiah 55.) However these passages come from a Lenten space, a place of lack and desire. The Psalmist’s soul thirsts and his flesh faints for God and the rich, satisfying provision of God’s steadfast love. The Psalmist is reaching out from a place of scarcity to be filled with nourishment and praise.
Sometimes we go into Lent with ambitious intentions of taking on or giving up something, but we’re not always sure what our end goal will be. How are we hoping to grow? Where do we need healing? While we are in our Lenten season, let us learn from the Psalmist to identify where in our lives we find ourselves thirsting and fainting. Where are we aching, parched, and empty? If we take a moment to assess ourselves spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally, and mentally we can see where in our lives we can invite God to satisfy those places that lack the care we need.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
In the second week of lent as I consider where I am in my faith and how my soul is on a healing journey, I read this scripture and something important struck me: there is no place for humiliation in God’s glory. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
I don’t think we can be followers of Christ without a need and desire to uphold and honor human dignity. When we reduce people down to their housing and employment status, their immigration status, their skin color, how much weight they carry, their physical and mental abilities, their gender or sexuality, and their religion, we have already failed to live up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not love me more than you. It would be sinful of me to think so. It would put me in opposition to everything that Jesus taught.
All people deserve to be treated as valuable and precious. Because there is no room for humiliation, devaluation, and discrimination in the Kingdom of God. That means I have to work on my heart and what I hold against others. That’s hard to admit, but I have to wake up and remind myself everyday that God loves all the people I don’t like every bit as much as God loves me.
When we forget human dignity, we are turning away from God’s glory. Then we get events like the Christchurch, New Zealand shooting. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. It does not glorify God to hurt or kill or discriminate against or dislike or be suspicious of or give side-eye to Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, or people of any other faith. God loves them and cherishes them; we should hold them and all people in sacred regard for life. We should celebrate our diversity and rejoice in who God has made us to be.
God’s glory leaves no room for humiliation. Human dignity is a completely necessary tenant of our faith.
When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
I wonder what the Hebrews would have thought of Moses autographing the stone tablets of the law. This command in Deuteronomy was to trust and give all worship to God. It wasn’t Moses, Aaron, Miriam, or any other human leader who had liberated the Israelites from the suffocating grasp of Egypt. It was God who saved them from oppression, and it was God who they were commanded to bring their first fruits to. It wasn’t long before the Israelites put their trust into fallible people, looking to them for liberation and leadership, trusting God less and less. This led to invasion and exile. When I see how people defend our leaders who use religion as voting leverage but do not provide first fruits or exhibit fruits of the Spirit I wonder if we’re repeating the mistakes of history because we think we’re immune or because we’re not reading our Bibles.
I slack in reading my Bible too. But we’re in critical times where ignoring the lessons of the past is to our own detriment.
As we enter the season of lent we have an opportunity to take a step back and truly consider where our allegiances and priorities lie, and if they are being held together with integrity or in conflict. We cannot afford to be swayed by cheap tricks like Bible signing, wrapping arms around American flags, and being prayed over by religious leaders. Are our leaders acting with compassion, being driven by equality and justice, guarding human dignity, and uplifting the least of these? Are they giving all that they have and all that they are to the service of others? When they profess faith are they giving of their first fruits?
And then we turn to ourselves. Are we active in our faith, or just once a week pew-sitters? Do we show up on Sundays for the sake of being comforted, or so that God will speak a new word to challenge us and help us grow? Are we people of faith so that our belief will serve our own interests, or so that we might be servants to God’s world?
I will be ruminating on these questions this lenten season, remembering the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the God of Eve, Hagar, Deborah, and Miriam. I am transitioning from my job into a time of uncertainty. I am moving. I am leaving a painful, terrible situation. I have a lot of grief and pain weighing me down. My faith has taken a beating. As I figure out where I am going from here, I am considering this scripture and these questions. I’ll be praying about the first fruits in my life and holding my leaders accountable for theirs. I share this in hopes that you will consider these questions too.
I am waiting on news. And decisions. And opportunities. And emails. And phone calls. And for this cough to go away.
In the mean time, my mind is tapped out. I’m struggling to journal, to read, to write, to create. I have projects in the works that have come to a stand still.
I can’t move forward. I am stuck.
I have had all these plans that I do not have the mental capacity to complete at the moment. I have a stack of books that I don’t have the energy to read.
To take a scripture out of context:
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
In Sunday school this past Sunday we talked about the word “hope” in scripture. Yakhal “to wait”, or Qavah “to wait with tension” in Hebrew. Waiting or tense expectations. Elpis in Greek. Hoping in scripture means waiting for God, sometimes expectation with tension and anticipation, and waiting with hope based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Often this means there’s nothing to indicate that things will get better, but choosing to wait for God to act and move anyway. We learned this from a great resource: The Bible Project “Hope”
Hope is waiting for God to act without any evidence that circumstances will improve. Now to put the scripture back into context:
Isaiah 40:1-2, 6-11, 21-23, 28-31
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
God’s people had been exiled by Babylon, and this is the first message of hope in what is known as Second Isaiah. This is the transitional portion of the book of Isaiah when the end of the exile is near and the prophetic message is one of a brighter future. After such misery and suffering in exile, the people of Israel felt defeated and perhaps forgotten. But the prophet’s job was to speak God’s words of judgement, followed by renewal, forgiveness and restoration. They had endured the judgment, but restoration was coming. There was a political shift occurring, and this created unease as it always does. There’s no way to know if things would get worse, or if things could possibly be worse than they were. But the prophet was bringing a message of hope, of waiting with tense expectation, that the everlasting God was moving and had not forgotten them. It didn’t look good right then in that moment, but the prophet was inviting them to just wait and see what God would do.
There are no revelations happening to me right now to help inspire me, move me forward, and break out of my slump. I keep looking, praying, and waiting.
Maybe you’re waiting for something, too. Maybe you need a word or a message, but there aren’t any prophets appearing in your wilderness. I’m right there with you.
I will choose to hope and to wait. There’s no evidence pointing toward a clear path to a brighter future. But I’ll lean into the expectation that God renews those that wait.
I published an article for Fidelia Magazine, run by Young Clergy Women International. It’s about being young, female, ordained, and married. I’m asked about my husband…a LOT. Here’s my theological reflection. Give it a read and a share!
Oh God, it’s you who is the magic, the splendor, and the wonder of Christmas. You have set forth the brilliance of the stars, the magnificence of the angels, the perplexity of the Christ child. You created the whole, wide world and everything in it. You have shown us your covenantal love and faithfulness from everlasting to everlasting. May we never cease to be amazed by the work of your hand. As we celebrate the birth of your Son, help us to have the faith of children who marvel at your divine mystery that enchants us to celebrate you year after year. Help us to delight in you and your people, as you delight in us.
Oh Jesus, it is you who became God-with-us, the word made flesh. You came in the grit of childbirth and the filth of a stable to show us that your love does not shy away from the pain and grime of the world. You are the Messiah who is humble, who gets his hands dirty, who doesn’t avoid suffering; you are the visible evidence of the invisible, unfathomable love of God. Help us to always lean in and embrace people with the same courageous love that you modeled for us. Help us to fully commit to being your disciples, continuing the mission that you began by entering into a broken world.
Oh Holy Spirit, when our own souls are worn within us, when we lose our faith, our hope, our peace, and our joy, it’s your still small voice that reminds us of who we are and whose we are. It is you who sparks our hearts with light and life each year at Christmas, reminding us that the first coming of Christ was not a one-time event. You sustain our spirits as we wait for when Jesus comes again. When it seems like the celebration of the season is out of our reach, and when hope in a peaceful kingdom of reconciled people seems like a dream withered and deferred, it is your breath of life that comes blowing by reviving us in your fire.
Holy Trinity, three in one, we give praise to you on this glorious Christmas Eve. We have practiced hope, peace, joy, and love all of Advent doing our best to honor the kingdom that is already here. We hold dear to our hearts the birth of Christ as a promise of your kingdom come, when your goodness will prevail and all the virtues we have practiced will be the abiding law in all the world. When the celebration dies down, help us not to abandon this work and help us not to grow weary in our waiting. You have come, and you will come; and that is the fierce hope of Christmas. Alleluia, amen.