Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The Cross and Self-Denial

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Rally day at our church!  I love this!  And, being outside in a tent, reminds me of my identity in my southern baptist roots with tent revivals!  Maybe revival will break out this am!

Really, it’s great to be here with this tradition, even with some creative and adaptive twists and following all of the CDC guidelines to keep us safe.  Rally day is a part of our identity at Fleming Road UCC!  It’s good to be here, even in this time of somber reality in the world!

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus not celebrating his identity, but giving a somber declaration, a prophetic word, that he must suffer, that he will be betrayed, and that he will be killed.  Peter would have none of this!  He had put his identity and expectations in and on Jesus.  His sense of self, his image, was wrapped up in a triumphant Jesus, a victorious Messiah.  Yet, Jesus says that tragedy must come first, that suffering is a key part of our identity with Christ.

Friends, this is what Jesus is sharing with us this morning.  Life is filled with suffering.  We do all that we can to avoid it, but it’s there.  Look at folks struggling with their health during this pandemic, mental heath as well, job insecurity and an unknown future, look at the millions of refugees fleeing corruption and wrecked countries, look at the effects of human trafficking all over the world, look at the violence against people of color and the racism and sexism being spewed upon us in so many directions.  

Look at our own lives.  We experience depression, anxiety, physical loss in our lives, emotional ups and downs, job losses, transitions we feel we aren’t ready for, death.  

Jesus knows this and addresses it head on.  Peter rebukes Jesus for saying this, yet Jesus gives a strong response as a Rabbi should and would do to one of his disciples, “get behind me Satan”.  Don’t deny what I’m saying or will experience.  Jesus is frustrated, but Jesus loves Peter and wants Peter to understand that he cannot hide from suffering.  

Neither can we friends.  Jesus goes on to say in our text this morning that in order to be a follower of Jesus, we must deny ourselves and take up Jesus’ cross, the way of suffering.  We must be willing to enter into the darkness of our lives, the lives of others, and this world.  This is a hard word, but if we are to enter into life, true life where we grow and become all that God intended, if we want to experience true joy, we must be willing to suffer.  We must enter into tragedy.  

Richard Rohr says this:  “the genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve its only promised wholeness, which much of the point of this whole book.  Jesus is never upset at sinners, he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners!  Jesus was fully at home with this tragic sense of life.”

Jesus does go on to say that if we deny ourselves, if we take up our cross, if we are willing to look at our lives and become aware of who we are even in our suffering and darkness, then we will find Jesus with us.  Jesus will not give up on us.  

Jesus didn’t give up on Peter, and doesn’t give up us.  Peter is often called the rock.  Jesus said that he’d build his church on this same Peter that he rebuked.  He believed in Peter.

And, this same Jesus believes in Fleming Road UCC.  This church which is a part of the church universal that he anointed Peter to be a leader of.  Like Peter, we have to be vulnerable, and authentic, and also realize that we need healing and growth.  

I believe in this church.  This church’s best history is ahead of us, and that means embracing change, growth, and even the times we live in now.  We have to change, we have to think differently, we have to open the doors of our church to others, we have to move beyond the way we’ve done church and think differently in order to build community with those around us. 

Friends, yes, God’s story, and ours, is filled with suffering and tragedy, but the story doesn’t end there.  Yes, Jesus is betrayed, Jesus suffers, Jesus is killed.  We are betrayed, we suffer, and we die.  Yet, there is resurrection.  There is new life.  There is a Risen Christ.  WE will rise with the Christ, and, in fact, we are rising daily with this Christ, even as we experience suffering.  We are learning to trust as we hang in there with the story, living through the tragic as well as the triumphant, while staying committed to the authenticity that we’ve demonstrated for a long time.  The world around us is looking for that authenticity and a willingness to embrace the messy world we all live in, knowing that we aren’t alone in the messiness or the suffering.  God is with us, and Lord willing, a community of folks around us.  

This is good news that I want to declare.  


Matthew 15:21-28

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

It’s so good to be back with you this week.  I have heard great things from Dean and from church members about the service!  And, I believe you have fulfilled a lifelong dream of Dean’s to be broadcast on the radio into the parking lot!

It was also good to be away for a week to spend time with my son.  Honestly, with Covid-19 and all of the states reacting to it differently and the fluctuating numbers, we didn’t know what to expect, but we did a lot of research, tried to minimize our stops in places where there weren’t stricter measures, and tried to stay away from crowds as much as possible.  In Colorado, they had a statewide mask mandate for all public places, so it was much easier once we were there…and, once there, we had some great adventures.  Even getting to the top of the Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado!  

Here we are after summitting, and right after my son had FaceTimed Debbie…which was fun because, not only had we just summitted, but she was at church and I got to say “hi” to Susan and Ron Alcoke live!  Of course, I was a bit exhausted!

Honestly, I’d have to say that I was exhausted before I climbed Mt. Elbert, exhausted in general and in need of, not only some adventure with my son, but also some healing for me, and I think for my son also who’s had to deal with so much in this season of his life and how Covid-19 has played out in our community and country and how it’s effected his plans.  

I can relate to the woman in our gospel passage this morning in need of healing for her daughter.  Actually, as I’m writing this, I came across this image online that best describes where I’ve been I believe!

Some covid humor…but, kind of accurate in some ways.  Some things have become less important, while others, more important.  

In the end, this time can be isolating and we are all looking for healing in all sorts of places.  In the midst of this season, we are finding that healing in different ways, but all of those ways, I believe, lead us into new practices and deeper relationships with ourselves, others, and, ultimately, with God as we navigate in new ways what it means to not only survive, but to even thrive, and to become the persons that God intends.

Jesus, as the healer in this story, is also going through changes and having to adapt.  The Canaanite woman is a foreigner, up to this time, Jesus saw his mission in life to bring reform to the Jewish community, yet, here he is confronted by a foreigner who’s got some moxie, and a deep love for her daughter.  She doesn’t let go of her pursuit of healing, and of God’s favor, and Jesus is moved, changed, and adapts his mission.  Now, this story may have been given interpretation by authors over the centuries to show its readers that the disciples were the ones who were focused only on their tribe, their people, and that Jesus was testing them.  Whatever you think, there is a shift, a change, and Jesus responds to this woman who’s asking for crumbs, and Jesus responds by giving her all that she had asked for.  Her daughter is healed and the mother’s faith is rewarded.

Her faith was remarkable, and it makes an impression on Jesus.  And, Jesus responds.

So, friends, we all need healing, we all need time with God in this highly polarized culture with so many voices, we all need to know that God is in this with us and will respond to honest faith filled with doubt as well as authenticity.  And, we need to remember that God does hear the cries of those who are foreigners, not of our faith or culture, and that we should hear their cries as well, as we are the body of Christ, and just as Christ is moved, we should be as well. 

May it be so.  


Matthew 14:13-21

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

I’m looking forward to a bit of vacation next week, taking my son to climb a couple of mountains!  Which, quite frankly, all of us need a break, don’t we?!  It seems like life has been so disruptive and full of change, and a fair bit of anxiety.  Whether going somewhere (while maintaining all of the covid guidelines), or staying at home and unplugging.  We need that time.  

Collegiate Peaks, CO

Jesus can relate.  

It seems like Jesus was wanting a vacation, some time to pull away, recharge, reconnect with ourselves, others, and God.  Jesus was trying to get away, yet the moment and the crowds kept on following him.  And, he had compassion on them and kept on loving them.  

Thinking of this story and reminded me of a vacation a few years when my kids were much younger.  

We went to spend time with my brother-in-law who was living in Philly at the time.  One of the beaches that we spent time at was Brigatine Beach.  It’s a great area and they have a deli that we heard so many good things about, called Earnest & Son’s Meat Market.  After an amazing day of building sand castles, a nap on the beach, and jumping in the waves with my family and Paul, we went to check out this deli.  Come to find out, it was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” show recently.  We ordered some hoagies and they had us pick out some bread for the hoagies.  Sure enough, these were great sandwiches, so much so that my son and his Uncle Paul bought more and made the statement that these were the best sandwiches they had ever had!  

One of the elements of the sandwich was the bread.  It was just right.  It filled us, but it didn’t overwhelm the sandwich.  It was simply perfect!  

In today’s Gospel lesson, the focus seems to be on bread.  Jesus performs this miracle where he fed the 5,000 from a few loaves of bread and fishes.  There was so much food that they had leftovers.  The Gospel narrative implies that folks had their fill, they were well fed.

But, it started with the disciples seeing a need, and not knowing where to start.  

It reminds me of how we, in the church, and in the non-profit world in general, often ask, what are our needs or even the needs of those around us?  Sometimes those are good to identify, but there is a deeper question to ask, what are we aiming for?  Who are we?  What do we have already?  I think those questions are exemplified in the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus knows that folks need to be fed, but instead of asking how do we get to a place, he simply says, what do we have?  Jesus sees the assets, then he uses those assets to bless the people gathered.

Which, is what Jesus is driving his listeners towards.  In a different gospel, the disciples keep on asking questions and go to the place of trying to connect Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to Moses providing Manna from heaven.  Moses’ Manna lasted for 40 years and helped the Jewish population stay alive physically, but the point of that is that it came from heaven.  God provided through Moses.  Jesus says this, says this is truth telling, God has given them, and us, the true bread from heaven, that gives life to the world, everyone.

Friends, this world needs this kind of bread.  When I coached cross country, I would tell my runners all of the time that there are good carbs and bad carbs.  Bad carbs can fill you up but have no nutritional value other than making you a larger person, but good carbs give you energy and are building blocks for getting stronger, healthier.  

Jesus is coming to us with the promise of Presence, of relationship.  A promise that he will be with us, even in the darkness of our lives.  He doesn’t promise some self-help technique, he simply gives us relationship.  He knows that he, like us, need time to ourselves, but that we can’t forget that we are connected to the world, and that we are the body of Christ, bread for the world.

Jesus is the bread of life, and that bread starts with yeast rising.  That yeast has been planted in this world through Jesus’ coming to us, entering humanity, being one with us, while also being one with the Father and with the Spirit.  

God’s Spirit is also moving in and through us like yeast in dough.  We’re being molded and moved around, it’s sometimes a bit awkward, but that yeast is working its way through the dough and Christ is rising up within us and around us.

Friends, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, let’s remember that God’s yeast is working in us, God’s very self, God’s Presence, is working it’s way through every part of our lives, giving us ideas and new life, and is moving us towards being the body of Christ to the world around us and to each other.


Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

The Lord be with you.

and also with you.

People of God, lift up your hearts.

We lift them to the One who invites us to rest in the heart of the Trinity.

People of God, give thanks to the One who offers you rest.

We bring our thanksgiving to God, who sings to us of peace.

With those who have found their rest in you,

with those who long for their burdens to be lifted,

we thank you.

Watching our restless striving

for more and more,

Jesus modeled the life

of self-denial and service;

seeing us weighed down

with the burdens of sin and death,

he picked up his cross,

carried it to Calvary,

where he died to give us life.

Pour out your Spirit of rest and shalom

upon this bread and this cup,

that these gifts might nourish us.

As we find our rest in you,

may we become restless

in service to your children;

as we engage with you

in solitude,

may we build a community

of justice and righteousness;

as we listen to your silence,

may we speak out

for all whose voices

are ignored by the world.


We leave with the presence of the Holy,

so we may show others the way to grace and hope.

We leave with Jesus, who draws living water for us,

so we can share it in the heat of summer,

and in the bitterness of winter.

We leave with the Spirit, who teaches us how to listen,

so we may hear the cries of the lonely

and the voices of all who are ignored.