August 12, 2018 – “Pigs”

Today’s text is from Matthew 8:26-34.

So, this is certainly an odd miracle story from Matthew this morning. And you might be familiar with it – although it’s probably not the first example of a miracle of Jesus that comes to mind. 

And, perhaps, it’s odd because of what happens after these two demon possessed men are healed: A herd of pigs rush to their unfortunate death. Now, I grew up in rural Wisconsin – but again, I grew up in the city – a “city”, if you will, of 2,000 people – but, a city-boy nonetheless. And, we also have the final day of the State Fair happening just up the road – where I sure there are plenty of not only just pigs being shown, but countless numbers of farm animals. 

Animals that are raised, cared for, and loved by the farmers, families, and kids that see these animals as their livelihood. So, it’s a bit strange in our reading today to hear that a herd of pigs is killed. I mean, the owners of those pigs couldn’t have been too happy. Couldn’t have Jesus bargained a little more with these demons and sent them somewhere else? 

But, the more I thought about this – the more I thought about why I was so focused on these pigs – I mean every time I read this text all I can see is this image of pigs running haplessly over the edge of a cliff and just plummeting to their deaths – for seemingly no good reason. This has always been my first takeaway from this text. 

But, as I said, the more I thought about that image the stranger I found it. I mean, who cares about the pigs? Seriously, if you too have the same takeaway image from this text being that herd of pigs running over the cliff I’d invite you down the same rabbit hole I traversed and ask yourself: Who cares about the pigs? 

Now, we all do, of course – this story isn’t about being cruel to animals – and that’s the point. That’s where I have tripped up all these years – and perhaps, you too, with this text. Because it’s not about the pigs. Seriously, who cares about the pigs? This story is about two men – two men who have now been healed.  

This story is about Jesus crossing a lake – and not just any lake. This lake is a lake that divides. It is a lake that separates. It’s a lake that defines two regions: A region, on one side, where the people of Israel live. And a region, on the other side, where everyone else lives: Gentiles. People who aren’t Jewish. People who – at least at this point in Matthew’s gospel – couldn’t possibly be included in this whole Jesus movement. 

This story is about crossing boundaries – literally Jesus crossing a lake to do one thing: This healing. After this he’s already headed back home. This strange man showed up on the shores of a foreign town and before he could stay too long an entire herd of pigs was killed. 

But, buried beneath the border crossing and demons talking and pigs dying is the activity of God doing what God does best: Brings about connection, healing, and reconciliation. A God, who in Jesus Christ, connects each and every one of us to God. A God, who in Jesus Christ, breaks into our worlds in the most unexpected ways. A God who doesn’t ask to be invited into our lives, but instead simply lands on the shores of our families, friends, communities – lands on your shore – and brings about new life. 

It won’t always be in the ways we expect it. We might get distracted along the way. We might wonder what God is up to. We might get angry and scared and – like the people in our reading today – tell Jesus to simply go away. 

But, since Jesus has entered our lives there’s no turning back. There’s no disconnecting this relationship that you now have with the God of all creation. For Jesus Christ has entered into the life of creation – Jesus has come into your life – in new and unexpected ways, but in ways that empower you to be in relationship with the people and world around you. 

For our God is a God of relationship. A God who will cross any lake, any boundary, any thing to find you. For there is no where you can go in this life where Jesus hasn’t already been. There is no where you can go in this life without your Lord and Savior by your side. 

Because this story isn’t about the pigs. It’s about a Savior who saves you. A Savior who heals you. A Savior who connects you to God. A Savior who holds you close and loves you this day and always with a love that knows no boundaries. A love that heals and a love that binds your heart to God’s. 


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