August 5, 2018 – “Surprises”

Today’s text is from Matthew 8:5-13. You can listen to the sermon here.

What does it take to surprise you? I know it doesn’t take much to surprise me – or at least, it doesn’t take much to startle me. Just the other day I opened a door in my basement to be greeted by a little mouse. Now, that’s surprising because A) I have a cat – who apparently is too busy sleeping on the job – and B) I never invited this mouse to live with me. I’m surprised – but I suppose more or less startled – because it has no business being there 

Now, I’m sure the answer to, “What does it take to surprise you?” changes across our lifetimes – as we move from being innocent and ignorant to perhaps simply less innocent and less ignorant – but surprises still happen. 

The refrigerator stops working. A job goes away. You bought cabbage instead of lettuce. Loved ones die. A noise scares you. A corporation commits fraud. You find a mouse in the basement. A house is taken away. 

There’s plenty of ways we can be surprised – because there are plenty of things that we don’t expect to happen – both large and small. And that’s basically all a surprise is. They’re simply things that either we never saw coming or didn’t think we’d ever see. 

And perhaps that’s the key. We didn’t expect it to happen. We never even gave it a thought or a chance or a possibility. The surprise happens because we had taken reality and thrown it into a box of possibilities. We took reality and said that only certainly things could happen – or at least in our mind pretended that only certainly things had a good chance of happening – and everything else was simply left outside of our box – hidden away from view – sometimes even forgotten. 

And that’s when we’re surprised. Because suddenly something that wasn’t even a possibility not only shows up in our lives – but shows up as the present reality! 

Well, this morning we’re in good company with being surprised and amazed because it turns out Jesus could be surprised, too. Surprised by the faith of a Roman official. Now, we’re told next to nothing about this centurion. We’re told nothing about how he’s lived his life leading up to this moment. We’re told nothing about any good or bad deeds he’s done, whether or not he has any belief in God – whether he has any belief that Jesus might be the promised Messiah. 

And when the story ends we’re left wondering all these same questions: Does the centurion – this Roman official – believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior once his servant is healed? Does he convert to Judaism? Does he become a follower of Jesus? Or did he simply hear that this Jesus of Nazareth had supposedly been performing miracles – and his servant was in need of one of those – so he figured he might as well ask and see what happened? 

That’s my surprise in this text from Matthew. My amazement happens before most of the story even begins. Again, starting from verse 5: “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’” 

Shall I come and heal him? For Jesus there isn’t a shred or fragment of a doubt that he’s going to perform this healing. Now, the text tells us that the centurion asked Jesus for help – but that’s not what we actually hear. We simply hear the centurion state his situation to Jesus. He finds Jesus and simply says, “Lord – I have a paralyzed servant at home.” Jesus simply stares back and says, “Okay. Let’s go heal him.” 

Really? It’s that easy? He hadn’t even asked for anything yet and here Jesus is already offering an answer – honestly, he’s recklessly offering grace and mercy and healing and love for nothing at this point. The centurion will get to his confession of faith – and maybe Jesus could see that coming – but with the text that we have in front of us we’re not told that so for the moment I want to dwell in this amazing statement from Jesus. 

Your servant is suffering? Let’s heal them. They’re paralyzed? I can fix that. Let’s go. It’s almost as if Jesus is throwing up his hands to stop the centurion from going ahead with his speech about authority and systems of power and how an organizational chart works to interrupt and say – “Wait, you said someone was suffering? I’ll heal them. Don’t worry about the rest.” 

That’s surprising. And I think the surprise comes when we dig deeper. So, let’s unpack that statement more from Jesus. Again – erase the rest of the text from your mind this morning – it’s important, but for now erase everything except the beginning. Just let it be the first three verses in your head. “The centurion says, ‘My servant is suffering.’ Jesus says, ‘Want me to heal them?’” 

There was no faith check from Jesus at this point to make sure this centurion and their servant were worthy of such a healing. No requirement that certain confessions of faith be confessed. No system of beliefs held by the centurion that gave him the credentials to receive such a favor from Jesus. 

And yet, Jesus heals. Jesus does what Jesus always does: Loves and serves the world with reckless abandon. Loves and serves the world without regard for societal or cultural norms or expectations. Love and serves the world because that’s what Jesus does. 

Jesus takes this surprising encounter and simply carries on with the task at hand: Serve. Love. Repeat. No exceptions. 

This isn’t easy. I’m still surprised all the time at where I see God show up in the people, places, events, and things around me. And perhaps you experience the same thing from time to time. That God will show up in the most surprising of situations, the most unexpected of people, the most ordinary places, the strangest events. 

And yet, that’s God. It’s a God who encourages us to shatter our expectations. A God who empowers us to bring all the people, places, events – every possibility into the set of expectations we have in front of us – into the box of possibilities we’ve assigned to our lives and the life of the world around us. 

Because we cannot simply be prepared for every situation, every circumstance, every person that we meet. And so, in the midst of our amazement and surprise – in the midst of the people and world barging into our set of expectations for how life is supposed to go – in the midst of it all – Serve. Love. And repeat. 

Serve. Love. Repeat. Because you never know when or where Jesus will show up next. But, it’ll probably be where you least expect it. Because we follow a truly radical God. A God who hears the cries for justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and love and simply shows up – no questions asked. 

A God in Jesus Christ who serves and loves you.


July 22, 2018 – “Trust”

Today’s text is from Luke 16:1-13. You can listen to today’s sermon here.

1) “The Message Translation”

2) “Reversals of Wealth”

3) “Wealth belongs to God”

4) “What if our relationship to wealth?”

5) “In God We Trust”

– Where are our loyalties? What relationships are we trying to develop?

6) “Stewards of God’s creation – not our “own” stuff”

  • What is our responsibility to those with less?
  • How might we use the money we have to build relationships?
  • What might our community of faith look like if it became a place where we could help each other think more clearly about our economic lives in light of our faith, and how do we help each other use money well without ultimately serving it?

Reversals of Status/Wealth:

Mary: “God has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” – Luke 1:51-53

 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24

 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.’” – Luke 16:25

 “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:25

Love of Money Verse:

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” – 1 Timothy 6:10

April 15, 2018 – “Belief”

Today’s text is from John 20:24-31.

We’re up against a familiar text today. But let’s take a couple steps back and try and shed some new light on our friend Thomas.

We’re still working through the Gospel of John – and in John, like the three other Gospels, each writer has their own purpose for writing, who their audiences are, and they each have their own theological understandings of words that might seem concrete and defined in our minds – like faith, light and darkness, doubt, belief, and sin.

For John, each of these words have very specific meanings that add to the narrative the writer is attempting to convey. So, when we get to our text today – a text that most of us are probably familiar with calling “Doubting Thomas”, we find that perhaps doubt and belief mean something different for us than it does for the Gospel writer.

Let’s first look at where we are in this Gospel. The beginning of our text today is only six verses removed from Mary at the tomb on Easter morning – but we’re also told that it’s now been one week since that first Easter morning happened. In other words, this whole Easter thing – this whole Jesus is not dead, but alive concept is still fresh and new and wholly difficult to understand and accept for the first disciples.

So, it’s no surprise that Thomas comes along in our reading for today – Thomas, who wasn’t present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples in our reading last week – that Thomas comes along and seeks reassurance that Jesus is not dead, but alive. Thomas needs to see for himself that Jesus is actually alive.

This is important. It’s a small detail, but one that the Gospel writer doesn’t want us to miss. If we rewind and remember what has transpired over the past two weeks we’ll see a similar theme that doesn’t make Thomas’ request seem so unique.

On Easter morning – at the beginning of this 20th chapter – we heard that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. And upon seeing that Jesus’ body wasn’t there, she pleaded with who she thought was a gardener to tell her where Jesus’ body was so she could bring it back. So, Mary’s first thought on seeing that the tomb is empty – that Jesus’ body isn’t there – isn’t that he has risen from the dead, but that someone has taken his lifeless body away.

Even upon seeing Jesus she still doesn’t recognize him or believe that he’s risen from the dead. Only when Jesus enters into relationship with her by calling her by name does she finally make her profession of faith by calling Jesus, “teacher”. For Mary, seeing was believing. Relationship could only happen with an actual individual present.

And then last week the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus for the very first time as they hid behind lock and key. But before we’re told that they are overjoyed at actually seeing Jesus, we’re first told that Jesus shows them his hands and his side.

And then, only after they’ve seen that this isn’t just a ghost standing in front of them, that this person’s hands and side have been pierced, are we told that they are overjoyed for seeing Jesus. For the disciples, seeing was believing. Relationship could only happen with an actual individual present.

And so, we then come to Thomas in our reading for today. Thomas, the only person left in the inner circle who has yet to actually see Jesus. Thomas, a person who needs what Mary and the other disciples have already received in order to believe: Relationship.

To believe in the Gospel of John is to be in relationship with Jesus; it is to witness the very presence of Jesus Christ in the people and world around us. Believing in the resurrected Jesus, according to the writer of John, isn’t about professing certain attributes about who Jesus is; it’s not about believing in some thing, but instead some one.

Believing, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is alive and not dead, is about entering into the same abundant and life-giving relationships with friends and enemies alike in the same manner that Jesus first entered into relationship with us.

Believing is truly about proclaiming that we have seen our risen Lord and Savior. Every day we have the opportunity to proclaim this good news. Every day we have the chance to move out into the world around us and truly see Jesus Christ in our neighbors.

Every day, every hour, every second we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue living out the daily reality of the resurrection by seeing Jesus in all of God’s children and entering into relationships that proclaim the abundance of new life, forgiveness, and love that we first received from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – a Savior and friend we see each and every day in every corner of creation and in every person we meet.