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

November 26, 2017 – “Exiled”

Today’s text is from Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14.

Jeremiah is up against fake news. His people, the people of Israel, are in trouble. They’ve been exiled – banished, deported – from their home country to a strange and foreign land.

They find themselves in the city of Babylon. Their culture, their religion, their way of life – all of it – gone. They’re devastated, in pain, and looking for any sign that God will reverse their fortunes.

This is where the fake news enters the equation. False prophets are spreading false hope to the people. They’re telling the Israelites that in no time at all they’ll be back home in Jerusalem. That there’s no reason to worry, no need to fear, no need to put down roots in this foreign city because God is going to rescue them soon.

And this is where Jeremiah enters the equation. See, Jeremiah knows something about this exile that no one else does. Jeremiah knows that the people weren’t banished from their homeland by an enemy, or army, or hostile people. The people of Israel were sent into exile by God.

The hope of leaving anytime soon is simply untrue  – because God is requiring 70 years worth of exile in this foreign land.

70 years. That’s multiple generations. There’s no hope of leaving tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or in the next decade, or even in a lifetime.

The false prophets bringing the false hope are a dangerous virus in the midst of a weary people. It’s a deadly bug that strikes the exiled people of Israel, and us, right in the heart. It hits our memories of what used to be – for the people of Israel it was life in their own country, in their own city, with their own customs and rituals and norms. False hope was a pair of rose colored glasses that looked at the present in front of them and only dreamt of the past and not visioned for the future.

False hope would prevent them from addressing their current reality, false hope would reject the future because it was filled with unknowns and anxiety and fear, false hope longed for the past, for the what had been, for the glory days.

God hears their cries, it’s just not the answer they want. And so Jeremiah tells the people what they need to hear; the truth. That there’s no going back, there’s only going forward. That this is the hand the people have been dealt. So now what. Now what are they going to do about it?

This, so often, is life. That no matter how much we pray, cry, dream, wish, or hope – that often the disease remains, the pain won’t go away, the diagnosis won’t change, a loved one can’t come back, friends let us down, job doesn’t pay enough, can’t catch a break, the meds don’t help, the anxiety won’t go away.

In times like these it’s easy to think back to a better time, to dream of the past and wish it were the present. But Jeremiah warns the people – and us – against such false hope.

Jeremiah says this is the hand you’ve been dealt – now what? Wish for better cards or play the hand you’ve got? Hope and dream for the past to become the present? Or hope and dream for the present to become a new future?

So often we as a people look to the past and dream it were our present. But as Jeremiah asks the people of Israel, and us, what was so great about the past? The people of Israel were sent into exile because their past was less than stellar.

And we, as a people, when we hear about being made new, being made great, is it in reference to the past or the future? Is it a hope that lies in what has been or what could be?

See, hope is a powerful thing. Hope of newness, beginnings, hope built in the reality of the present. Because sometimes our present reality is bleak. Sometimes we might wish that God would snap a finger and make everything better. Sometimes a new chance, a new family, a new job, a new city, a new home seems like it would make all the difference.

But this isn’t the purpose of our faith, this isn’t the mission of our Savior. In Jesus Christ we have each been called to live in the midst of the world around us. We’ve each been called to spread the hope of new life through every aspect of our lives.

We’re each been called to create a new and hopeful future, not simply dream of what could have been, but what could still be.

We might not always like the answer. The people of Israel knew that God was with them, knew that one day they would be in a better place.

But for 70 years they had to wait. And for 70 years God called them to make this foreign land, this strange city, this place that felt desolate and void of anything meaningful – God called them to love the creation around them just the same. God called them to love their neighbors as themselves. God called them to be hopeful for a new future instead of dreaming only of the past.

Because no matter where we are in life we have the ability to be Christ to the world through our words and actions. No matter what hand life has dealt us, we can look to the future with hope: because in and through Jesus Christ we have already received peace, joy, love, and salvation.

And so, we wait. We wait together as one people of God. We wait together in peace and love. We wait together through joy and sorrow. We wait because this is not the end, it’s only the beginning. And while we wait, we hope, we love, we sing, we pray, we dance, we cry, we forgive, we continue to bring about the future we wait for by doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. 

By loving one another, whether they are stranger or friend, native or foreigner, in the same way Jesus Christ first loved us: Abundantly and unending.