Dunbar Presbyterian Churchscrolls - 1.24
Dunbar, Nebraska
Sunday, January 24, 2016

Scripture Lessons:
Nehemiah 8:1-10
Luke 4:14-21

A recording is available here.


Well-known mystery/law-based author John Grisham switched genres many years ago with his novel Skipping Christmas, the story of Luther and Nora Krank who decide to forget all of the normal trappings of the commercialized holiday season by takin a Caribbean for a Christmas cruise – just the two of them. Now, this wouldn’t be an issue if the Krank’s weren’t famous in town for over-the-top house decorations and a much-anticipated Christmas party, but given their legacy, the decision to skip Christmas was not well received. Things become even more troublesome for the couple when their daughter phones at the last minute to announce a surprise trip home. Needless to say, their plans to buck tradition didn’t go as they’d desired, but the Christmas they had became one of their best.

I resonate with this book as both a John Grisham fan, and because I struggle with tradition changes. As much as I enjoy adult freedoms and making my “new” family traditions, I appreciate the familiarity, comfort, and joy of older traditions. Much like Luther and Nora, though, we tend to grow used to things being the way that they’ve always been because we struggle to deviate from what’s known or the norm. Traditions are a tricky beast to navigate, and for those of us who enjoy them, sometimes it’s hard (and even painful) to recognize the grace and beauty in the freedom of creating new traditions as life evolves.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,
he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.”

Both of our scriptures today speak to the importance of religious customs for the hearing and understanding of God’s Word, and for worship. We begin with Ezra bringing for the book of the Law and reading from it to his congregation. We then move to Christ’s first teaching in the synagogue where he essentially stands up, reads, and “drops the mic”, so to speak, before sitting back down. Each of these scenarios is punctuated by the hearing and receiving of Scripture, as was the custom. Rev. Jill Duffield adds “I would argue for some key words that represent God’s movement toward us since creation: Spirit, Synagogues, Sabbath, Scroll/Scripture.”[1]

The Jewish Festival of Booths ends on the last day with the celebration of Simchat Torah, or Rejoicing in the Torah. “That day ends the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah in the synagogue, and the people read the opening of the book of Genesis to begin the process again.”[2] The Simchat Torah reflects the joy of the Israelites that God has revealed the law to Israel; a celebration that the law is a gift from God. Ezra proudly reestablishes the Torah to its prominence in Israel following exile, therefore reestablishing instructions for the people living as God’s covenant community. One pertinent thing that we’ll notice is the amount of time the congregation assembled for the revelation of the law: “He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” The people gathered in celebration of the scriptures for hours, and at the conclusion of the ceremony, “all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen.”

The law of the Torah, while not as relevant to us Christians as it should be, is as much a Spirit-filled, living and breathing testimony of God as our Gospel messages. We tend to believe that the Gospel supersedes the law, but such thinking then ignores the deep ritualistic importance and strong religious identity God bestowed through the reading and hearing of the law. The Law of Moses, and here the law being reestablished by Ezra, guides the Israelites in their identity as worshippers of God. Much like in the gospel message for us, the Spirit is present in the reading of the Law, and it requires interpretation, updating, and understanding in light of new situations for the readers. Torah reading, while adhering to orthodoxy of the past, also encourages readers to meet God anew in their present and ever-changing times.[3]

In the gospel of Luke, we encounter Jesus teaching in the synagogue for the first time. While we can assume to know this story from the other gospels since it appears in Matthew and Mark, Luke does a fantastic job of stopping the reader from assuming too much. Luke omits the “back story” of this event, jumping straight to the heart of the matter before sharing the aftermath (like the others Gospels). Referring to this text, Fred Craddock notes, “Luke places the Nazareth visit first because it is first, not chronologically, but programmatically. This is to say that this even announces who Jesus is, of what his ministry consists, what his church will be and do, and what will be the response to both Jesus and the church.”[4]

A mere forty or so days after his Baptism, including the time of his temptation, Jesus returns to Galilee and news of his teaching spreads quickly. Jesus is labeled didaskalos, teacher, as he visits various synagogues around Galilee. Luke is clear to label Jesus as both spirit-filled and a teacher in order to emphasize the primary purpose of his ministry. As Jesus moves onto Nazareth, a customary day worshipping in the synagogue becomes extraordinary. The congregation gathered with certain expectations of the worship service – according to custom and tradition – and Christ didn’t deliver. In fact, Christ kept the custom of worship, but ignored tradition altogether. Traditionally, the service contained all or most of the following: “(1) recitation of the shema; (2) praying while facing Jerusalem; (3) the “amen” response from the gathered congregation; (4) reading from sections of the scrolls of the Torah and of the Prophets; (5) a sermon; and (6) benediction.”[5] That’s not what they got from Jesus, however…

He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

The message Scripture itself is what Jesus wants us to hear and remember. Too often we bring our biases to each encounter with Gospel texts. Jesus, being the radical teacher that he is, realizes this about his congregation and ours, so he disturbs us by not delivering a sermon to interpret the Prophet. ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,’ he offers to a stunned congregation. Jesus has kept with the tradition of attending worship, especially in his hometown, and he’s kept with the tradition of reading from the scrolls when asked. But rather than sermonizing, Jesus maintains the important thing is that we relish in the hearing of the scriptures. A Spirit-filled preacher meets the congregation and preaches using only the words of the ancient texts.

Lectio Divina is a Latin term meaning “divine reading” that describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. Lectio Divina is what Christ offered to his congregation in Nazareth when he read the scriptures and sat down. Lectio Divina is similar to the Jewish tradition of reading through the Law of Moses in a year and repeating the process upon completion – in aeternum. In the twelth century a Carthusian monk named Guigo developed a list of steps that he considered important for the internalizing of Scripture through lectio divina. While the process is a fluid one, and a process that is ideally led by the Holy Spirit, the steps Guigo offers are a good guide for those new to the practice.

The steps are as follows:

  1. lectio – reading the Word of God
  2. meditatio – ruminating on the text to ascertain what God is offering us
  3. oratio – response, laying aside our thoughts to let our hearts speak to God
  4. contemplatio – resting, letting go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations, but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God.

In lectio divina, we listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Hopefully, this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer as we take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives. Lectio divina’s natural movement is towards greater simplicity, with less and less talking and more listening. Gradually the words of Scripture begin to dissolve and the Word is revealed before the eyes of our heart.[6]

To honor today’s texts, where hearing the scrolls read aloud in worship lead to celebration, rejoicing, and the Spirit fulfilling the scripture in our hearing, I offer these next few minutes to us for lectio divina. Everyone is invited to take a scroll (and a crayon, if you’d like) from the basket. As I read the words aloud repeatedly for the next few moments, unroll your scroll and meditate on the words you hear. When you have your scroll in hand, begin reading the words aloud with me. When I stop reading, we will all enter into a time of silent reflection to allow the message of the text to speak to us today.

Christ deemed these words more important for us to hear than a sermon, so I encourage each of us to listen to them, ruminate on them, respond to them, and allow the Spirit to transform our hearts to a resting place with God over these words.

18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

How will you respond?

[2] Rick Nutt, “Theological Perspective on Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 266.
[3] Portions from Kathleen M. O’Connor, “Exegetical Perspective on Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 271.
[4] Fred Craddock, Luke (Lousiville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 61.
[5] E. Yamauchi, “Synagogue” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 782.

mommy q&a

Mommy Q&AI don’t normally share this sort of thing, but I thought it was too irresistible to keep to myself.

A trend is going around Facebook right now that parents are to ask their kids the following questions, post the answers, share the kid’s age – all of which is to be “unprompted” to get honest answers.

So, during supper tonight I interviewed my two individually. Below are their answers. Enjoy!


L1, age 4

What is something I always say? – “bye, bye”
What is something that makes Mommy happy? – “a big heart”
What is something that makes Mommy sad? – “blue is sadness” (reference to Inside Out)
How do I make you laugh? – “play with toys and unfreeze them when they are frozen”
What was I like as a kid? – “five”
How old is Mommy? – “three”
How tall am I? – “super tall than a giant!” (with standing & arm motions)
What is my favorite thing to do? – “play”
What do I do when you aren’t around? – “I don’t know!”
What am I good at? – “staying in the lines” (when coloring)
What am I not very good at? – “not sleeping”
What do I do for work? – “press buttons on your computer”
What is my favorite food? – “macaroni and cheese and broccoli”
What do you enjoy doing with me? – “GET COFFEE!”

 L2, age 2

What is something I always say? – “skirting play dress up”
What is something that makes Mommy happy? – “to play”
What is something that makes Mommy sad? – “I go to bed”
How do I make you laugh? – “laugh!”
What was I like as a kid? – “three”
How old is Mommy? – “two”
How tall am I? – “big, big, big” (with standing & arm motions)
What is my favorite thing to do? – “play at her house”
What do I do when you aren’t around? – “wear her jacket”
What am I good at? – “research”
What am I not very good at? – “names”
What do I do for work? – “her markers” then “work at church”
What is my favorite food? – “chocolate milk”
What do you enjoy doing with me? – “play with the stroller and read”


preparation (for the journey)

preparation (for the journey)This sermon was delivered at the First Presbyterian Churches in Dunbar and Nebraska City, Nebraska on Sunday, January 17, 2016. The scriptural reference is: Mark 4:1-34. A recording of the sermon is available here.

A common request in my car these days is this: “Three Lion Guards, and then a Happy. Please, Mommy.” To the outsider this might sound a bit odd, but to the Mommy with the special playlist on her iPhone, I know exactly what this means. Allow me to translate: “Mommy, could we please listen to the theme from the Lion Guard three times in a row, and then follow it with Happy from Despicable Me? And then maybe Lilly would like to hear a song from Elsa or Anna if time allows. Thank you, Mommy Disc Jockey.” Car trips can be treacherous without this particular playlist. I don’t leave home without it, y’all.

In reading through these verses for today’s sermon I was immediately struck by the repeated use of two words: “listen” and “hear.” Intrigued by their use, I embarked on a highly scientific study – I re-read the verses and counted them, carefully making a mark under the word on a piece of paper each time I ran across it in the readings. The results: “listen” is used 4 times and “hear” is used 7 times. There is very easily a +/-1 margin of error in this study. Maybe even +/-2. For a set of parables about seeds, growth, light, and more seeds, there is a lot of talk about listening and hearing.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t play around with the importance of the Word. The Good News makes its first appearance in Chapter 1, verse 1 and Mark doesn’t waste any time on the birth or childhood narratives of Christ. Mark jumps straight into the ministry and mission of Jesus from the very start. Which is precisely why it shouldn’t be surprising that a series of parables about seeds, growing, light and more seeds is not really a parable about seeds, growing, light and more seeds at all. Soil is soil, seeds are seeds – these stories are not about them at all. These parables are about the one who is preaching the story and proclaims the Kingdom. Christ offers these parables to his disciples and the gathered crowds to teach them about the character of God. The harvest will happen, as God is responsible for the harvest, but the seed planting will only take place where the soil is receptive. The farmer must prepare the soil and let God handle the harvest.

Thus far in the gospel, we’ve heard the teaching of John the Baptist, and seen Jesus manifesting himself the healing and calling stories, so today we arrive at the teaching stories. In these parables, Mark makes the Good News alive through Jesus Christ making the Word center in the world. As familiar as we think we are with the parables of the sower and the mustard seed, we must remember that they are about the character of God, so they probably don’t mean what we think they mean. These stories really only make sense in light of the cross and the resurrection. Mark’s stories have to be read in retrospect and through the lens of the resurrection of the Messiah. A much as Jesus explains the message of his ministry to his disciples, they are still confounded because they have yet to experience the resurrected Christ.

Listen! Christ brackets and frequently punctuates the parables with this command. In the midst of sharing stories, he’s doing the work of urging his disciples and the crowds to be prepared for what is to come. Jesus wants us to be reception vessels for the seed planting. We need to prepare the garden so that the word may take root, and in order to do so, we have to listen and give heed to the words we have ears to hear from Christ himself. Listen! Perhaps, when we listen, we may just hear Jesus’ insistence on auditory reception![1]

Steven Yamaguchi notes the popularity of our traditions to emphasize speaking and talking (or sharing) more than listening and hearing. Noting that a high value is placed on preaching and teaching, Yamaguchi says, “Speaking the Word is a primary instrument for God’s revelation to humanity. So we speak, and we labor to speak faithfully.”[2] Maybe this is precisely why Jesus insists that we listen before we preach the word. Genesis tells us that God spoke creation into being. John 1 reminds us that God spoke and the Word was present with God, and the Word was God. God reveals Gods-self, Christ, and the Holy Spirit to us through speaking. When will we stop to listen?

The aforementioned Lion Guard that my children demand is their generation’s version of The Lion King. If you remember the Lion King, then you’ll remember a particularly dark scene in which Scar, the evil uncle of Simba, and his evil hyena disciples sing their narrative, “Be Prepared.”[3] The song speaks to his planned assassination of King Mufasa, but I’m going out on a limb here and saying that it’s got a few loose parallels to the message that Christ is urging us to hear in these parables – something big is coming and you need to be ready for it. For a moment forget that an evil character speaks these words and imagine they are the words of a Messiah in light of his resurrection:

I know that your powers of retention
Are as wet as a warthog’s backside
But thick as you are, pay attention
My words are a matter of pride

It’s clear from your vacant expressions
The lights are not all on upstairs
But we’re talking kings and successions
Even you can’t be caught unawares

So prepare for a chance of a lifetime
Be prepared for sensational news
A shining new era is tiptoeing nearer

And where do we feature?

Just listen to teacher
I know it sounds sordid but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues!
And injustice deliciously squared
Be prepared!

So prepare for the coup of the century
Be prepared for the murkiest scam
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed, respected, saluted
And seen for the wonder I am
Be prepared!

As Lent approaches in a mere few weeks, we begin to look to the cross and eventually the resurrection. We start to think of the time when Christ was disrespected, ignored, abused, and sacrificed. In Lent we acknowledge our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Lent is a time when we turn our focus away from the celebration of life through the birth of Christ toward the penitent, self-examining, waiting for hope of life anew through the resurrected Christ. During these weeks we will have time to ruminate – to prayerfully and attentively listen to the Word. It’s a time for us to examine the thorns that might choke our wheat seedlings attempting to grow and prune the vines.

Let anyone with ears to hear listen! The four types of ground mentioned are the types of reception vessels. First the path with the bird, meaning that the vessel heard the Word but allows it to be snatched away immediately. The second is the rocky ground with the quick bud and no roots, meaning the vessel held onto the Word until trouble arose and the Word no longer held bearing. The third ground was the choking thorns, where the vessel allowed the lures of the world to choke out the permanence of the Word. Finally, the fourth ground was good soil that produced a plethora and increasing abundance of grain, meaning the vessel bore the fruit of the Word and spread it around for continued growth. Listen!

Life is a journey and if we’re not prepared, the Word will get lost among the baggage we carry with us. Seven times Christ told us to hear – the number of perfection. Hearing allows us to be prepared properly for what we must learn as a disciple of Christ. Hearing is more than listening (which he said only 4 times), for it involves allowing the Word to be planted and take root, rather than letting the seeds to blow past us and find good soil elsewhere. Really hearing requires enabling the Word to be made perfect in and through us for God’s glory.

After Jesus focuses on aural attention, he moves to visual attention. Yamaguchi notes, “Earlier, when Jesus introduced the parable of the Sower, he focused on auditory attention. The telling of the parable was opened and closed with the imperative ‘Listen!’ while the parable itself distinguished four types of hearing. That auditory focus is now joined by a visual focus. ‘See! Look! Pay attention!’ The disciples are given light to see everything clearly. It is a gift of illumination that comes from God.”[4] In verse 24, after lots of insisting, Jesus gives the big command: “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.” Yamaguchi translates this as “Look to what you hear!” Moving from hearing to seeing is important because of the emphasis on illumination – those without light cannot see, but those without light can hear. In order for the disciples to be fully prepared for what is to come, they must both hear and see what they are being told. They must look, watch, see, hear, listen, and pay attention – blepo – all of the above so that they can be witnesses to what God is doing.

I’ve heard rather frequently lately about youth groups, and even individuals at home, putting together blessing bags for homeless neighbors they may come across in daily encounters. In fact, Lincoln teenager Riley Ewing pledged to make 100 such bags on his own from his income at a local fast food restaurant. Blessing bags typically include packed with a bottle of water, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, Chap Stick, mittens, a granola bar, a $5 bill, feminine products, and a flashlight. Light is something we take for granted. In a power outage, we frantically search for our flashlights, or candles and matches. A flashlight means that a person without a permanent home will be able to see at night wherever he or she might be resting his or her head. Light means being able to see. Light means knowing where you’re going and being able to look at what’s around you. Light means comfort and peace of mind.

Illumination is a privilege that so many in our world don’t have – once the sun sets for the evening, or freedom to learn about Christ without persecution. Christ demands the oil lamp be placed on a lampstand for all to see and experience a bit of comfort in the light. “For there is nothing hidden except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.” To whom much is given, much is expected. With the light, the disciples must share it for all to partake. “With the deeper insight into God’s reign that Christ shared, a greater gift of opportunity and responsibility was also placed on the disciples: to work for the fruit of the harvest.”[5]

“To disciples who receive the gift of illumination, who pay attention well and receive the light, more will be given to them.” We are Christ’s disciples, journeying with him toward Gethsemane. The point of our journey is bearing fruit and multiplying light. God is in the multiplying business. What starts as a small group following Jesus, or a small mustard seed in the farmer’s hand, becomes something magnificent that only God can create and grow. Our role is to prepare ourselves – to open our ears and not just listen but hear that which Christ tells us, and uncover our eyes to watch what only God can do and what the Spirit is actively doing. Once we prepare, we multiply and illuminate for all to see. We have great responsibility. God’s work will be done – the gospel will thrive and the kingdom will flourish. Christ has already made himself known in healing and calling, and now he’s teaching so that all will know that the Word of God is central in the world.

Do you have on your listening ears?
Are your eyes opened?

“We’re talking kings and successions
Even you can’t be caught unawares
So prepare for a chance of a lifetime
Be prepared for sensational news
A shining new era is tiptoeing nearer”

Be prepared!

In the name of God the Word Speaker, Christ the Word Lived, and the Holy Spirit the Word Breathed, Amen and Amen.

[1] Steven Toshio Yamaguchi, “Pastoral Perspective on Mark 4:1-9” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 112.
[2] Ibid, 112.
[3] LION KING – Be Prepared Lyrics | MetroLyrics
[4] Steven Toshio Yamaguchi, “Pastoral Perspective on Mark 4:21-25” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 122.
[5] Ibid, 126.

my first 5K race: or, ten things the church can learn from runDisney

photo credit

On Thursday, January 7, 2016 I completed my first ever 5K run: the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 5K. I’m not a runner (apparently I am now!), but I am a Disney lover and I decided a long time ago – back when I thought I could just jump out of bed and run a 5K without any running experience whatsoever – that my first race would be a Disney race. The people who advised me on the race also warned me that it’s addictive and I’d soon be hooked.

I had no idea what was in store for me. There is no way to prepare someone adequately for their first runDisney event. It’s not possible, no matter how hard one tries.

Being a Disney-fanatic and supposedly now a runner, when I began assessing the event and my emotional experience, I realized that runDisney has a lot to share with the world in terms of the way we execute and present. And then I dug a bit deeper, being a pastor and all, and thought of the ways that the church could learn from runDisney events. The educator in me thinks we are always learning. The PR major in me is in awe of the Disney brand and marketing anyway, and even more so in how it spills over into yet another area. The pastor in me thinks The Mouse has a lot to share with our congregations.

In absolutely no particular order, I offer you my thoughts on my first 5K race: or, ten things the church can learn from runDisney.

Energy & Excitement: Y’all, this race. The whole of Disney World with this race. There is so much energy and excitement. From the moment we arrived and started asking questions about where to go and whatnot, cast members wished us luck and told us to have fun. The expo was crazy nuts busy, but every volunteer we encountered was so excited for the runners and wished us luck. There was music EV.ERY.WHERE. Lights, energy, excitement…it was truly magical. (Sorry for the pun, but there’s no other way to describe it all.) On the morning of the race, there were celebrities (yes, I mean that I ran the same race as Uzo Aduba!), DJs, Disney Character appearances on stage and around the course – and people stopped for photo-ops – and FIREWORKS for the start of each corral’s race. The stage crew and DJs played a song that corresponded with the letter of the corral being called to the starting line to add to the energy. I was corral E, so we Electric Slide-d our way to the starting line. Corral C had the Cha-Cha Slide, while Corral D danced to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and everyone sang along.

Cast members showed up super early to work and stood along the back-lot route to cheer us as we ran. People bought special packages that allowed them to be members of the Cheer Squad, meaning they could be in the parks along the course to cheer for their runners, too. Y’all…the energy and excitement made for a truly electric experience. Translate that to church…energy is contagious. Even the most terrified of the participants (read: me)  were laughing and having such a great time that by the end of the day I was already planning my next race with Disney. Isn’t that what we want for our visitors and members? Don’t we want them just bursting at the seems to come back next Sunday and encourage others to come with them? I’m not suggesting we hire a DJ or change the style of our worship services to be dance parties on Sunday morning – although that’s a thought – but I’m suggesting we work to infuse a culture of energy, excitement, and pride in our congregations where we don’t exclude the newbie, but rather welcome her with open arms, excitedly, and eager to get to know her. What if we wished her greetings of welcome and when we saw her after the service, we told her thanks, and genuinely told her family that we were so glad they came and we hoped to see her again? Embrace a bit of the cast members who congratulated every.single.runner wearing his medal after the race with a hearty “Congratulations on your race!” or “Way to go!” Let’s get excited that people are worshipping God with us, and get to know their stories while they are with us. And, maybe send them off singing a bit of Journey or dancing an Electric Slide on they way to their car.

Signage: I was terrified that I’d not know what to do or how to get to where I needed to be in the time I needed to be there, but when we arrived at our resort to check-in, right there in the lobby was a huge sign with all the details about race weekend. And that was just the first of many. Each participant knew where to go because everything was clearly marked. Busses were marked and staff were present to help remind you of the proper signs to follow. The proper lines for registration check-in were clearly marked. Bag drop according to last name was so well marked I could see it clearly, from a distance, without my glasses, and in the dark of 5:00am. Corrals for runners were marked by lettered, lighted balloons floating high above the area. And we knew were the starting line and finish line were based on the fireworks at the start and the cheering family members and fans at the finish.

How well marked are our buildings? Can first-timers find the bathroom easily? Will parents be comfortable leaving their children in your nursery and where can they find the names of the volunteers or staff keeping watch over their children? Will someone absolutely terrified to walk into your building feel comfortable making their way around and knowing where to go without having to ask a lot of embarrassing questions of the regulars? As a first-timer amidst literally thousands who’d been there before, I was terrified to step off the bus alone, much less ask questions, but signage made my morning just a wee bit less anxiety-ridden.

Fellowship: These races are like cults…the good kind of cults. People sign up for them 6-8 months in advance and sign up for every single one that they can throughout the year. And I think there are a minimum of 8 runDisney race weekends a year. (Don’t quote me on that. Remember, I’m still a newbie.) Veterans reunite with runDisney friends and welcome openly new friends into their fold. When they learn it’s your first race, they cheer you on and encourage you and give you a hearty pat on the back as they pass you during the race. (And somehow, it’s not at all a demoralizing pat, but an encouraging one.) Disney does a wonderful job of working with individuals, groups, and charities alike to foster community building. And magically (there’s that Disney word again) individuals who join in don’t feel like outsiders. My family chose to participate in Pasta in the Park, which was a special meal at Epcot featuring character appearances, a pasta dinner, dessert, and reserved seating for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, the fireworks and lights show. There are “reunion areas” and the Expo and kids races. Racers wear shirts, race bibs and medals through the parks. Families get congratulatory high-fives, too. Fellowship isn’t just about eating and doing things internally.

Community (Involvement & Building): Piggy-backing on fellowship is community involvement and community building. I ran for charity: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Uzo Aduba ran with Cigna. Many people were running for Team in Training with the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. The New Balance booth in the expo featured 2016 runDisney character-based shoes available only at runDisney events. KT Tape’s booth offered free taping for runners, and I took advantage of it for my plantar fasciitis with bright pink tape. My kids loved the games at the Chiquita and Good Sense booths where they won prizes including bananas, apple slices, gel pain-relief packs, and cowbells. Organizations want to be a part of what runDisney is doing. What organizations want to be a part of what your congregation is doing?

Churches think of fellowship and community building as a pot-luck lunch or a Wednesday evening dinner followed by Bible study or choir rehearsals. How can we re-define fellowship? How can we expand our idea of community-building? What if we wore our shirts one Saturday a month and walked around the neighborhood picking up trash? My husband’s church created notes to share and encouraged members to do little random things for others around town and in the community. If your town hosts a marathon or big run event, sign up to be a host table for water and refreshments along the course. I’ve even heard of churches taking one Sunday a month off as a mission Sunday. The congregation worshipped “together” by going out and serving in the community and then gathering back together for dinner that evening to share stories and bring new friends they met during their day. Let’s work to create an electric and appreciative community outside our doors, too.

Merchandise: I bought a mug. And a car magnet shaped like Mickey Mouse that says  3.1. Then I went to the Christmas store at Disney Springs and bought an ornament, paid for extra designs to have 1.7.16, a Mickey medal, and 5K personalized on the ornament. And I’m considering buying outrageously overpriced marathon weekend photos, too. I’ve already worn my 5K shirt about 3 times in 10 days. I’m proud of my accomplishment and I’m proud to now be a part of this community. I want to re-live that weekend as often as I can until my next runDisney experience…and then I’ll re-live that one over and over again, too.

Do we have shirts, ornaments, magnets, coffee mugs…anything to help our community re-live their experience and share it with others? None of these are necessary to spread the word and life of our church communities, of course, but they can’t hurt. I was once a part of a church that gave away Bibles each Sunday. The pew Bibles were paperback with stickers inside with the church information. Before the scripture was read weekly, by a lay member, they made an announcement saying that if you came to church but didn’t have a Bible, you were encouraged to take that one with you after worship. People did it, y’all. And the ushers replenished the Bibles weekly after worship. What can our churches do to get “merchandise” in the hands of those who have life-changing experiences inside our doors to help them re-live those experiences regularly?

Discipleship: I met a new friend on your bus ride to the race on Thursday morning. Mike is a veteran. He’s done the marathon before. When I shared, shyly, that this was my first ever race, he smiled and stuck by my side until we had to part ways for our corrals. He walked me to my corral and as we parted, he said, “I’ll see you at the finish line.” “Okay!” I replied, thinking there’s no way I’d see him again amid the thousands of people. Especially since he’d finished the race before I even started in my corral…and it’d be another 45 minutes or so until I’d finish. However, when I made it through the maze of post-race blankets, drinks, medals, congratulatory photos, snacks, and gear check, Mike walked up and hugged me. He’d waited for me to finish. He congratulated me and we exchanged contact information. He rode the bus back to the resort with me and we texted with each other throughout the weekend. I followed him on his half and full marathon runs, and he encouraged me into my triathlon in Naples that Sunday. My experience with Mike is not unique. When I had questions about packing for the race, I reached out to other runDisney veteran friends and they were more than willing to offer advice and encouragement.

I told Mike I was glad we met. Mike said to me: “I’m glad we met also and it goes to show you randomly meet friends at the right time.”

Y’all. Why can’t the church be the place where we randomly meet new friends? Why do people feel isolated when they walk into and then out of our doors? We rely upon a select few families each month who sign up to be greeters who then pass the baton to their kids to hand out the bulletins while the parents talk to their friends or grab their coffee nearby. What would our church look like if discipleship and outreach meant finding that random person on the bus, walking them to their corral, and then waiting for them to finish no matter how inconvenient it may be for us, only to exchange contact information and check in with them randomly throughout the week or month? That’s radical hospitality, friends! Discipleship is learning a story and helping someone else grow into their ability to connect their story to God’s story.

Transportation: Do you offer transportation for shut-ins? Does your church offer guest parking? Are spaces clearly marked? Transportation is included in all runDisney race registrations. If one decides to drive on his or her own, he or she doesn’t pay for parking during the race events. Maps are clearly marked with where to park, traffic flows, and bus routes. They even have a website dedicated to runDisney race weekend transportation information, y’all. I see this as an extension of hospitality, community building, and possibly even discipleship.

Two years ago I visited Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA. At the conclusion of the service, the skies had split in half and I think we all were wishing we’d had an ark to get home. I had two small children with me, and two very protective grandparents who were discussing how we’d best get to the car. An usher walked up, offered umbrellas to us, and then walked with us to our cars, y’all, covering us with his umbrellas. He stood there in the deluge getting drenched and made sure we were all safely in our cars before departing. We offered a ride back and he refused, instead finding another couple to jog toward with his umbrellas.

On a smaller scale, do we have marked parking spots? If it’s cold outside with a potential for weather, make sure the parking areas are salted and scraped. Consider having the young adults offer valet parking for the elderly members of the church, if that’s a possibility. And don’t just offer pick-up/drop-off for Sunday worship – think about all church ministry gatherings and do what’s possible to include every member of the church body. If someone needs a ride, help them find one.

High Expectations: Runners sign up for these races a minimum of 6-8 months in advance. The financial cost is high. Running these events requires a certain amount of training commitment. Race registrations are non-transferable. Race packets must be picked up at the Expo at least the night before your event. Start times are unbearably early in the morning. Racers are encouraged to wear costumes, but must follow instructions or they would be disqualified from the run. No matter the expectations, the runners volunteer to participate and therefore live up to what’s required of them for participation.

I remember Bruce Reyes-Chow once spoke about the requirements for membership at his new worshipping community. He spoke about a church with high expectations for members, but a church that doesn’t push membership because the requirements are intense. I recently joined a committee of my presbytery and attended my first meeting where I was utterly unprepared (which I hate to be!) because the persons who asked me to join didn’t spell out the requirements for my involvement. I now know, but I had a lot of unnecessary mud on my face over what was expected of me that I wasn’t told. Too often we seek to rush adults through the membership process, but we require so much more of our teenagers going through the confirmation process to membership.

I think we need to set the bar high. I think we need to model discipleship in Christ for our congregations by requiring a lot of their membership. I love this definition of Who We Are from Mission Bay Community Church: “We cannot be Christians in isolation. The intrinsic nature of Christ’s teaching is all about our lives as part of and in relationship to a community. Being in community forces us to understand and confront complex issues of compassion, justice, morality, behavior, faith, and love together. Community is a fundamental part of being Christian, and without a commitment to it, we are not being faithful to God’s claim on us as created children of God.” Retired education professor Roger Schank notes that the more work a story requires of the listeners, the more effective the story. This transfers well into congregations – the more work (involvement) we require of members, the more effective members of the body of Christ we all become.

God created us for more – let’s start expecting it of our membership. Let’s make a commitment to one another and ask the same of those in our midst. Let’s be faithful to the claim God has made on us as the created children of God. If God can commit to us, I think it’s fair to say that we can expect our congregations to at least attempt a similar commitment to God. I say we aim high in our congregations and ask them to participate fully in relationship with Jesus Christ through the Spirit in our churches.

Communication: I mentioned my friend Mike. I followed him during his longer runs for the rest of the weekend. I’d text him based on the texts I got from runDisney. I’d offer words of encouragement, silly messages, and cheer him on after completion. And crazy guy that he is, he texted me back while he was running, too.

runDisney is amazing at communication. There are blogs to follow. Emails come regularly to prepare you for the race, encourage you during the weekend, entice you to buy the pictures of you running, and congratulate you after you’ve finished. Dates for future events are published more than a year in advance. Weather alerts arrive by text. Buses are clearly marked. Announcements are made constantly and in multiple languages. Attendants know what’s going on and are available nearly everywhere one turns to answer his questions. runDisney is a master at social media and sharing pictures.

How well do we communicate? Do we update our social media? Do we encourage our members to utilize it too? What about during worship? Have you ever live-tweeted a sermon with a custom hashtag? I love the idea that one congregation uses of an up-close weekly Instagram picture of something random from the sanctuary for members to guess the item and then post a full-size picture of it when they’ve solved the mystery. Are we educating our welcome committees with the most up-to-date information about our activities? When we make announcements, we must be sure to share every detail and not expect people to know about what we’re talking. When it comes to disseminating information, you can never overshare, in my opinion.

Early Start Time:  Setting my alarm for 3:35am was not ideal for vacation, but it meant I’d run a race, finish, shower, eat, travel to and attend (and run) my kids’ two races, finish them, and head back to my resort all before lunchtime. Let’s think about that for a moment. On Thursday morning I had done all of the following before 8:30am: wake up, dress for the day, board two forms of public transportation, travel to my event, meet new friends and spend some quality time with them, danced three line dances, run a 5K, had several photo-ops, gathered my stuff and my family, boarded two more public buses, returned to my resort, showered, and dressed the kids for their races. Oh, and I’d already hit my 10,000 steps Fitbit goal. Yes, by the time lunch rolled around I was exhausted, but I’d accomplished so much so early in the day. Nap time was amazing, and then we had a great family afternoon and evening, including all of us going to bed at a decent hour, too.

How can this translate to our church? Is it fair to ask our Pastors and volunteers to be at church early in the morning on a Sunday? What will this mean for attendance? Participation? Involvement? I don’t know the answers to all of these, but if one of the biggest reasons people say they “can’t attend church” on Sunday mornings is because of service times and other obligations – kids sports leagues, etc. – then I think an incredibly, ridiculously early start time on Sunday morning just might be an answer. Pastors will arrive even earlier, and then really enjoy their afternoons off. This would mean that we’d have to be thoughtful about other events we schedule for Sunday afternoons – maybe we do away with them altogether and just focus on worship as our main/only event for Sunday – but it just might make for better attended service with more present and focused worshippers. And what Pastor doesn’t want more engaged worshippers?

As you see there are more questions than answers. I do feel, however, that they are vital questions we need to be thinking and addressing in our congregations.

We are always learning. After all we are made in the image of an incredibly creative God and therefore have the capacity to always be creating and thinking and learning ourselves. runDisney is a huge enterprise that’s an off-shoot of one of the largest media/entertainment conglomerates in the world. I’m not proposing that we turn the church into entertainment conglomerates or large businesses, but I am proposing that we take the opportunity to learn from others who are doing things well so that we may also do things well. As I mentioned before, the pastor in me thinks Mickey Mouse has a lot to teach our churches. The biggest question: Are our congregations willing to examine introspectively so that we may live outwardly?

this, this is Christ the king


This sermon was delivered at Dunbar and Hickman Presbyterian Churches on
Sunday, January 3, 2016.

Scriptural references are:
Isaiah 60:1-6  &  Matthew 2:1-12.

A recording of the sermon is available here.

I married a recovering Episcopalian, and that’s where I learned that Christmas extends into the New Year. In dating my now-husband, I learned that those weird Episcopalians really do celebrate Christmas all they way until Epiphany. They have 12th Night pageants at church on January 6th, they have parties celebrating the arrival of the magi, and they even hold worship on January 6th, no matter what day of the week it falls. They take the Christmas stuff quite seriously.

In reality, in many parts of the world, and even to some families you may know, Epiphany is a bigger celebration than Christmas. Barbara Brown Taylor shares stories “with rituals of gift-giving tied to treasure-bearing wise men instead of a jolly fat man in a red suit. In some places, children leave shoes filled with hay outside their homes. The hay is for the camels of the wise men, who leave gifts for the children in the shoes as thanks before resuming their journey to Bethlehem.”[1]

Not to be outdone, and since I love the look and feel of my home at Christmas – so warm, inviting, peaceful – I have nearly-fully embraced the season of Christmas as much as my husband’s former denomination. Our tree stays up until at least January 6th, as do all of the Christmas decorations, and we continue to eat off of my Christmas china well into the New Year. We celebrate the 12 days of Christ’s Birthday and the 11 days of Katie’s Birthday, since Jesus and I were born less than 24 hours apart from one another. And, I’ve adopted my Mama’s philosophy that Christmas is more than just a season, so you’ll probably spy me drinking coffee out of my new travel Christmas tree mug well into June or July. I’m currently lamenting the impending removal of my front door decorations, but I’m also afraid that the neighbors might start to think us odd if we keep them up too much longer. Conversely, there’s something, about the shimmer of the lights on the tree or front door in the dark night or dark early morning hours that brings peace and joy.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.”

The prophet Isaiah tells us of the light that has come in the midst of darkness. Obscurity exists. It’s present and it’s pervasive. It was for Israel during the Babylonian exile and still today. Pick up a newspaper or read headlines on Twitter, or listen to the nightly news – you’ll see that darkness is real, pervasive, and thick. Look at our gospel lesson for today – right there in the story of our savior’s birth – a King so threatened to order the slaughter of all the male infants. There is no escaping the dark in our world, but while it’s dense and looming, a light has come which shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overtake it.

Last year my family did some housesitting for another family for two weeks in February. I loved that when I would walk into their front hallway at night, I would see colored Christmas lights still wrapped around the staircase banister. I found myself standing in the hallway in the darkness on more than one occasion. For even though it was February, our friends’ laxness in removing Christmas decorations allowed me to relish a bit longer in the season of light.

The magi are first Gentiles to recognize the coming of the messiah. They have traversed the lands to find “the child who has been born king of the Jews” and at laying eyes upon this child, they are transfixed. Matthew’s story, which is written for Jews, fulfills the prophecy Micah about a messiah who will open the doors of the kingdom for Jew and Gentile alike. The magi, the wise ones from the east, are the first Gentiles to enter the salvation story. They meet the messiah and “foreshadow the comprehensiveness of the coming kingdom he will one day proclaim.”[2]

Micah’s prophecy in chapter five, verse two, as shared from Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase, is this:

“But you, Bethlehem, David’s country,
the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule Israel.
He’ll be no upstart, no pretender.
His family tree is ancient and distinguished.
Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster homes
until the birth pangs are over and the child is born,
And the scattered brothers come back
home to the family of Israel.
He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God’s strength,
centered in the majesty of God-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
for the whole world will hold him in respect—
Peacemaker of the world!”

“He’ll be no upstart, no pretender.” This, this is Christ the king, friends. He’s no upstart. He’s no pretender. He may have been born in less-than-desirable circumstances, but he’s no nonentity. Christ our king is the son of the highest god. He’s the light that shines in the darkness. He’s the infant that changes the course of destiny. Christ the king is worthy of admiration, for he’s the peacemaker of the world.

“…they set out;
and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,
until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother;
and they knelt down and paid him homage.”

If we continue reading Matthew’s story, we come to verse 16 which informs us that Herod sought the death of “every little boy tow years old and under.” This becomes important to us because it lets us know that the scholars, the magi, traversed the land for nearly two years in order to find the king. They followed a star for two years. Two years. We’ve all heard the joke that if it’d been wise women, they’d have stopped and asked for directions and arrived sooner…and then cleaned the manger, washed the swaddling clothes, and provided Mary with a week’s worth of meals. True or not, these magi followed what they had been told for a while in order to catch a glimpse of the Christ child. They saw the star and they followed – the brightness shining in the dark world. They trusted that this journey would lead them to see promises fulfilled. They were spiritual seekers – they sought something transcendent through stargazing and found what they were looking for – probably more than they’d ever expected to find – in the birth of a child to an unwed teenage girl.[3]

These gazers practiced an alternative method of spirituality. It’s important for us to acknowledge that while their spirituality was different, as they were the first to see our Lord. They were welcomed although they believed and practiced their spirituality differently. God’s grace, born to us, is not for one, but for all. “Everyone has been invited to God’s natal part, even those who have been traveling radically different paths on their search for their true home.”[4]

A common phrase in my house as I grew was “It’s not what you said, but how you said it.” Twisting this a bit, I offer,

“It’s not how you journey, it’s how you respond when you arrive.”

The star stopped over the spot where the child was to be found, and the gazers “were overwhelmed with joy.” Or, as the ESV translates, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” My favorite just might be The Message: “They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place!” These faithful who set out long before they arrived, and followed light in the darkness, delighted in what they found. They were transfixed. Life would never be the same for them, and they made decisions accordingly. Rather than returning home by way of passing news along to King Herod, they knew that they must protect this child, so they found another route home. The wise ones were “crafty as snakes…[they knew] when to be silent, when and how to speak, and when to take another road.”[5]

Recording artist Danny Gokey lives a “light in the darkness” story. “His wife Sophia encouraged his dreams and urged him to audition for American Idol. Just a month before his audition, Sophia died unexpectedly after what should have been a routine heart surgery. The couple had been high school sweethearts and Danny was devastated. Yet in the midst of his sorrow, he honored Sophia’s wish and auditioned for American Idol a month after she passed. He advanced through the competition,”[6] eventually placing third in Season Eight. Aside from being a national recoding artist, new dad, and on tour this year, he runs the ministry Sophia’s Heart in Nashville, which provides housing for homeless families in transition. This year he released a Christmas album and his newest chart-topping song Lift Up Your Eyes calls us to follow the star, like the magi, and respond appropriately with our offerings. What do you have to offer? How do you plan to respond when you arrive?

“Light of lights eternal hope has come
By and by to lead us back to love
Come behold a manger for a bed
Where the King of Kings has laid his head
Light of lights eternal hope has come
Hear the angel’s song break the silent night
Lift up your eyes
See the saving One born that none may die
Lift up your eyes
Glory to God let the praises rise
Lift up your eyes
Glory to God let the earth reply
Lift up your eyes
Come and lay your offering at his feet
Where the sons of earth and heaven meet
Let the joy awaken every heart
Born into the night the morning star
Come and lay your offering at his feet”[7]

We all have our own story to tell about our pathway to the manger. Some people have no idea the importance of the child who lies there. Some have other opinions of the swaddled infant. No matter, we are all here today and heading there because of God’s nudging. A star has appeared and we can’t help but follow its brightness. Sons will come from far away; daughters will be carried by their nurses. A multitude of camels will travel, too. Nations are gathering together to come to God’s light, and even kings are attracted to (or appropriately intimidated by) the brightness of God’s dawning birth.

“They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”

The Light of the World has arrived. It’s shining through our darkness. It’s peeking through the clouds, beckoning us come and follow. No matter the density of the clouds or the deepness of the dark, stars are perpetually shining that we always know the direction toward the place where Christ will be found.

The light, Christ our Lord, the King, the babe of Mary…it’s a guiding light that will show us who we are and who we can become. Will we meet the light? Will you hide? Will we step into the light that stands for what is right? Will you delight in the hope that lives in the light? Will we travel by the light of the newborn babe king? In a few moments we will sing a song about the infant child that bid us “haste, haste to bring Him laud,” and “hail, hail the Word made flesh,” and “raise the song on high – joy, joy!”

This, this is Christ the King. The king of kings, salvation brings.
Enthrone him, all you loving hearts.
And even when the darkness pervades too deeply, follow the stars.
Follow the light of Christ in the world.

God, the source of all wisdom, introduced us to spiritual leaders of other faiths so that their belief in the influence of stars will be an example to us. These wise people who practiced their spirituality differently taught us to embrace the journey of seeking the presence of Christ the King. When we arrive, will we share our treasures, too?

In the name of God, the creator of light, and Christ our bearer.
May the heavenly stars shine on us this day and everyday, that we shall twinkle forth their brilliance, also?


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective on Matthew 2:1-12” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 215.
[2] Ibid, 217.
[3] Stephan Bauman, “Pastoral Perspective on Matthew 2:1-12” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 212.
[4] Ibid, 214.
[5] Brian Wren, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship, (Lousiville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).
[7] Publishing: BMG Platinum Songs/Creative Heart Publishing (BMI)/Sony/ATV/Tree Publishing/Upside Down Under (BMI)/Sony/ATV Timber Publishing/Not Just Another Song Publishing (SESAC). P/C: 2015 Danny Gokey under exclusive license to BMG Rights Management (US) LLC. Writer(s) Danny Gokey, Mia Fieldes, Jonathan Smith.

the story: epilogue

christmas eve 2015

This message was delivered on Christmas Eve at Dunbar and Auburn Presbyterian Churches in Dunbar and Auburn, NE.
A recording is available here.

We have heard the prophecies foretold. Tonight we celebrate their coming to fruition. Christ is born into our world, yet again. Our lives are forever changed by the celebration this night, but have we stopped to realize it?

Have we taken the time to realize what the birth of our Messiah means?

For Israel it means the royal line of kings is restored. For Judah it means security and justice prevail. For Mary it means motherhood, cradling the light of the world in her harms, nursing him at her chest, and simultaneously nurturing the infant while being nurtured by her Savior.

For us, it means an invitation into the incarnation of Christ.

We have heard of a “war on Christmas” where secular greetings have overtaken the words Merry and Christmas in the world. But what would a Merry Christmas look like as the speakers and hearers live into the incarnation of Christ in our world.

It would look like:
Feed the Hungry
Shelter the Homeless
Welcome Immigrants
Forgive Others
Embrace Outsiders
Share with those in Need
Advocate for the Marginalized
Confront the Abusing Power
Value the Religions of Others
Love. Hard.

As we depart from this place, we’ll go quietly into a world that’s loud and noisy. We’ll head home where we are warm and we’ll be surrounded by family, food, gifts, decorations…abundance. We’ll quickly forget those without and those who don’t celebrate the way or the things that we do. We’ll become entranced by the commercialism of Christmas and forget the Redemption we’ve been given because we need it – desperately – to save our lives.

I commend this thought to you from Parker Palmer, the Founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal in Seattle, Washington:

“I am called to share in the risk of Incarnation. Amid the world’s dangers, I’m asked to embody my beliefs, my identity and integrity. Asked to allow good words to take flesh in me…
Christmas is a reminder that I’m invited to be born, time and again, in the shape of my God-given self, which means embracing the vulnerability of the Christmas Story.”[1]

So, Go.
Leave this place.

Be vulnerable as God was and is vulnerable for us.
Be born as Christ was born this night.
Grow in peace and share it with the world.
Live in love and allow it to invade your heart, just as it invaded Bethlehem on a night many years ago.
Risk the incarnation, for Emmanuel risked life and death for you.
Allow God’s word to take flesh in you, this day, and every day.

Thanks be to God, Emmanuel!
Wonderful Counselor.
Almighty God.
Everlasting Lord.
Lord of Life.
God of Hope.
Prince of Peace.
Lord of Love.
Bearer of Joy.
God with us.



Merry Christmas!

 Over lunch at Boston Market, we got to talking with the kids about the importance of the word “Y’all” to their Southern heritage. We discussed the nuances of you, y’all, and all y’all. You know, the important things.

Somehow the conversation returned to Christmas, and one of the kids mentioned Jesus saying “Hey” when he was born.

Then it hit.


Merry Christmas…from all of us to all y’all!