One Family.

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[e] into a dwelling place for God.

Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.


These past few weeks have been very reflective as you could imagine.  Being back in Louisville and driving to the hospital, then to the rehab center, and then back to the hospital, I’ve been on roads and in parts of town that I have not been in a while.  In between long periods of simply sitting in my mom’s hospital room, working remotely, making calls, reading and studying, there were also times when lots of folks would come to visit, persons that were my parent’s friends.  Some of these families go back generations, as in my mom went to high school with them, and my grandparents went to the same high school with their grandparents…and some were generations!  Lots of memories…as well as growth.

I’ve often said that growing up in Louisville, in my family, and in my Southern Baptist church seems like several lifetimes ago.  There are some good similarities to that Rich Jones, but I’m really different than I was 35 years, heck, I’m different than I was 5 years ago, maybe even 5 days ago!  

Through it all, there’s a sense that I, along with many of us, are becoming more aware that we are moving towards being something more.  We are defying roles, labels, stereotypes, and becoming deeply connected in our humanity with one another.

This is why Jesus came.  Jesus embodied this sense of oneness.  He redefined “family” as more inclusive and closer than we could imagine.  He redefined religion to being more about relationship.  He redefined humanity as not belonging to different categories, clans, or whatever, but to abolish what divides and to bring us together.  

Our passage this morning in Ephesians says just that…what’s more, it reminds us of the universal nature of Christ.  That Christ brings us together with one another and with those who have gone before us and after us.

I was talking with a friend this week about death, what’s next, what does it resurrection look like.  There are no certainties, but Scripture tells us that we are somehow connected in this life and in the next.  

Jesus is calling us toward living life, real life, together.  He’s inviting us along on a journey, a lifelong journey.  A journey built on authenticity.

That’s why, in our gospel lesson, that so many folks wanted to be around Jesus.  He was vulnerable, honest, real.  More than words or the miracles, they believed in Jesus because Jesus believed in them.  He was a lover.  A lover of all people and things and lived it out.  Belief, love, trust, that can bring expansive growth where labels and dogma simply don’t matter anymore.  Where simply being around someone like Jesus can bring healing as people become more aware, more real, and more themselves.  

Even though growing up in the Baptist church had some things about it that were really hard and I’m still learning from it and growing past it, there were also some great relationships that helped me to become more aware…and, one constant, I have always been a follower of Jesus…and more than the religious control that was put on me at times, that relationship has shown me how to be human and to believe in others and to seek folks out who believe in me as Jesus did.  

I was active in my church growing up, and particularly close to our associate pastor and his wife.  They were our youth leaders.  We had a lot of great adventures together, mission trips, summer camp, youth group, hayrides, weekend retreats in the Smokies, and lots of late night conversations.  

When some things happened in our church though, they felt compelled to leave.  After they left, we went through some transition and I ended up on this internal quest to sort of find myself.

When I was 17, the fall of my senior year of high school, I was president of our FCA/Good News  club (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).  Our teacher sponsor introduced me to a friend of his, Ken Goss.  Ken was the Youth for Christ director in Louisville and they were starting this thing called Campus Life at my school.  It wasn’t long when they started meeting weekly at my best friend’s house, Jeff Hume.  I was invited to simply come and check it out, so I did.

When I went to Campus Life, I thought that there was no way that this could be a Christian or even religious deal.  They laughed a lot, played games, sang songs, and many of my friends who would never go to church showed up there.  Plus, the campus life leaders, Ken, and Andy Harshberger, were very genuine.  They weren’t afraid to be honest and to ask some tough questions in a loving way, never in a condemning way.

I loved it. 

It was like a breath of fresh air.  It also began within me a sense that God really is relational and desires for me to be in relationship, right and deep relationship with others and with God.  

I also began to see Jesus as a real human, someone who I can come to and believed in me, which enabled me to believe in him.  This Jesus who has a deep compassion for me and for others.  This Jesus who yearns for me and my community of friends and my high school.  This love compelled me to come to the call of being a pastor…to have a passion for others to know this Jesus and to know that they can be loved and have a sense of community, of relationship with others and with God.  

This same Jesus has been moving me towards this place of love my entire life, to places where roles, definitions, boundaries, are all wrapped up in this deep sense of love and connection to all people and things.  

Our scripture this morning shows a Jesus that ALL can come to, no matter where they are in life.  Just like me in many ways, the folks in Israel at the time this passage was written were steeped in a religious culture, they knew the stories.  Yet, they were stuck in a cultural system over that took precedence over authentic relationship, they didn’t know that God was calling them into an intimate relationship with God and into a community of intimate relationships with others.  Jesus appears on the scene, Jesus, like some folks in our lives, demonstrated a love, a deep and authentic desire for relationship with others.  He also shared good news that God’s love was extended to everyone, not just those who were in synagogue or the temple every week, but everyone.  

Jesus didn’t say, don’t go to temple, don’t do the things that you have been taught to do, but BE someone better, love well, show justice, compassion and demonstrative action for the poor, for those on the margins of community, for those who have felt real persecution or oppression.  And, the way to experience that being was not to simply sit in church every week, but to know deeply the love that God showers upon you and to develop ways to understand that love just as you would invest in any friendship, spend time with God as you interact with your neighbors, family, friends.  

Our passage gives witness to people hungering for God, and feeling compelled to come to Jesus, to experience this love, and Jesus calls them into the desert, to slow down and contemplate what God has done for them.  I can also relate to that as God has called, and continue s to call me to places like the Springs in Indiana, or the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY…or even literally the desert when we lived in SoCal to get away with him.  And, quite frankly, if all goes well with my mom, I’m lookin forward to some time away with my own family and some friends I haven’t seen in a while in the Pacific Northwest this next week.  

Jesus calls us, his church to do the same, to take time outs in our days and sometimes longer to experience relationship with him.  As we do this, as we our allowing ourselves to be alone with God, we may find this God calling us to come to him.  In our scriptures, we see those following Jesus and that the crowds came because they were consumed by God’s love and that love was contagious.

The writer in Ephesians reminds us that we were once Gentiles, unbelievers, did not know God’s love.  Yet, God’s love came and was demonstrated to us through Jesus.  Up until Jesus, devout Jews did not believe that God’s love extended to everyone.  Yet, in Jesus, we are shown and told that we are one in our humanity.  Jesus abolished the felt need for the rules that were outside regulators of behavior, and gave us himself.  Jesus was and is the perfect humanist!  He wants us to be our truest selves.  

God’s story of redemptive love has power to change us, to inspire us, and like the disciples, to change the world.  Yet, no one can give us that power, that love, I can’t as your preacher, you can’t with each other.  It is given freely to us by God’s Spirit, and we are called to come and be joined together, all of us, with Christ as our example and cornerstone.  

Friends, we have much to be thankful for, and much work to do of self, others, and God awareness.  May we know that this God is calling us towards divine union with God’s self and everyone and everything, just as God is calling our neighbors, those who have been excluded by religious folk, all of humanity in Christ’s shared humanity with us. 


Mark 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some weresaying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.


Whenever I preach on this text, these song lyrics come to mind:

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

If you remember, or recognize this song, it’s a Rolling Stones song from the late 60’s.  It seems appropriate for this morning’s text because Herod finds himself in an awkward place.  A place where he feels cornered into making a dark decision.

King Herod was not well liked. He maintained power as a regional ruler under roman authority.  He was the Jewish king, but he had to make a lot of folks feel secure.  Israel was a religious culture based on a set of theological and cultural understandings.  There were Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders and legal scholars who had set up a system of daily living that kept society and culture in a particular order, there were on top, as was the political authority of the King.  Now, Herod and the religious leaders didn’t like each other much.  The religious leaders put up with him as long as he didn’t rock the status quo.  He kept certain things in line, kept the masses under control with his thugs and soldiers, and they were backed up by the roman army that occupied Israel.  

The religious authorities looked passed Herod’s morality because it was convenient.  However, they were starting to have some uncomfortable concerns, especially considering he had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Yet, because of their relative comfort at the top of the social food chain, they let him get away with it.

Herod knew that, he also had a lot of wants.  He desired his brother’s wife, and we can tell by this passage, that he liked big parties, and he lusted after his wife’s daughter as she danced for him.  We also know that his now wife was pretty crafty and knew how to work the relationship with Herod by pushing her daughter to dance for him.  Pretty scandalous stuff.

It’s easy to judge Herod with history on our side, but as I read this passage, I had to ask, was their an inkling of hope for conversion, for growth, for repentance and change within Herod?  

Herod was drawn to the teachings of Jesus and John the Baptist.  He put John in prison, but from the passage, we can see that John the Baptist had access to Herod.  Herod was drawn to John’s message.  What was John’s message?  In Matthew 3, we hear these words:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  John was saying first and foremost, Jesus is coming near, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  A new day was dawning, God in the flesh is here.  The truest human, Jesus was walking on earth, showing folks how to love well and preaching a message of hope and release.  John was saying that God is nearer than we realize, that God’s love is more real than even the temple in Jerusalem, more real than all of the rules of the religious leaders, and more meaningful than all of the systems that we have set up to maintain power, status quo…and that life, real life, meaning deeper than all of our lusts are found in a relationship with God and others.  

John also had hard words…because this love was so near, we need to repent, to change, to grow.  He shared those words with Herod.  But, Herod didn’t want to give up on his wants, he didn’t understand that there was a new day dawning.  He was drawn to John, but he also feared John.  Herod had a lot of anxiety as he held on to what he knew.  He also knew that John’s message had appeal to the masses.

So, we come to the party.  It’s a family party, but this family has some interesting dynamics!   Herod’s wife is feeling insecure and makes a dark move.  Have her daughter dance and ask for John’s head.  Again, it’s easy to judge her, but she wanted to keep what she knew going.  She felt threatened and saw an opportunity to get rid of John.  She also had anxieties…she didn’t understand why Herod kept John around, especially knowing that John was telling Herod that their relationship was wrong.  

The daughter dances, Herod is drunk with lust and literally drunk.  He tells the daughter that he’s pleased and she can have anything she wants.  She follows through and asks for John’s head.  Herod tries to sober up, he’s caught in a hard place.  But, rather than making a stand for what is right, rather than staying curious and in relationship with John, in order to save face with the immediate crowd, he gives into the system that he’s a part of and gives the girl John’s head.  

It’s a tragic story, yet it gets played out in our lives daily.  We may not be dancing for the king, or beheading anyone literally, and we may not be in a literal prison.  Yet, we are all being called to see that God loves us and is near to us.  We are all prisoners to a system inside and outside of us that imprisons us, that keeps us thinking and acting in ways that we are used to.  Yet, John’s message rings true to us, God is near, we have a moment to change to and to grow and to be the persons that you have always wanted to be.  You have an opportunity to repent.  

It makes us uncomfortable and react to this message in many ways.  

The question is do we want to do the hard work of recognition, of sobering up to a new reality, of living life together in community and not as individuals.  Herod thought John was drawn to John because of John’s closeness to God, he wanted some of that, but he also wanted to live life on his own terms, or so he thought.  He was actually enslaved to a way of living and thinking that prevented him from truly knowing himself, God, or others.  John couldn’t give him that automatically, John couldn’t give God to Herod.  God was, and is, already there and here.  Herod simply needed to want to see it and to make a stand for once in his life that went against what he thought he knew.  Herod didn’t understand or love himself, didn’t understand or love his own community in Israel as he only wanted to maintain power, and didn’t have a desire to see the greater world around him changed through the love of God.  

Friends, if Herod were here today, I would hope that I would have the courage to tell him three things.  Since he’s not here, but we’re here, I would propose that these three things will help us to break free from whatever enslaves us in order to make better decisions that lead to life, real life.

  1. Be willing to understand and truly love yourself.  That’s possibly the hardest thing to do.  But, I believe through relationships and community with each other, we can begin to see ourselves in deeper and more helpful ways.  I would suggest taking advantage of the weekly Bible study that we have, looking for a spiritual director, starting a Bible study on your own with others.  I have some other tools and resources that I’d love to share with you as well.  
  2. Loving your community.  That’s the neighborhood in which this church resides, and your neighborhood in which you live.  The two can’t be separated.  Love well and live well with others.  That means honoring and not labeling or putting others in boxes.  You don’t want to be in a box, so why put others?  Stay curious and stay open to possibilities that emerge within this church and within your neighborhood.
  3. Having a concern for the world.  Jesus came for the whole world, God is not small.  God wants all of us to live in a way that not only honors those closest to us, but those around the world.  Also, having an understanding that being spiritual encompasses everything in this world.  God is present everywhere, our UCC theology says that God takes the ordinary and gives everything meaning.  There is meaning and spiritual meaning all around us.  

I used to love coaching my XC kids, telling them that they all have a moment of truth in a race.  Will they push in that 3rd mile to win or to reach a goal, or will they give in a settle for 2nd place.  I can’t guarantee the outcome, but I can tell kids and to each of us, that pushing through to the other side, a willingness to meet the moment of truth and decide to push through to a better way of running or living life will cause growth.  

Herod was given a moment of truth, and he decided to save face and succumb to the systems or surroundings that he found himself.  He is truly the victim in this story.  We don’t have to be the victims, we can meet our moment of truth, whenever we recognize it, and experience the full life of God’s Presence.  


Mark 6:1-13

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The Mission of the Twelve

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

What a week.  Writing this sermon in the midst of this past week has some interesting pondering within me.  

As many of you know, my mom was taken to the hospital last week.  In the course of her being in the hospital, we found that she has cancer in different parts of her body.  It’s been a wild week of wrapping our minds and hearts around it.  And, as I mentioned earlier, we so appreciate your prayers and your support this past week!  It’s an amazing testimony to the love and care of this particular church community!

Being in Louisville, in my hometown has given me some perspective, as it often does, of how I grew up.  People know me in a certain way, and, it’s fascinating, it’s me, but it’s also several lifetimes ago.  Even my mom has a vision of me that’s not the full picture of who I’m becoming.  Now, there is lots of love and and oftentimes folks see a version of ourselves that we need to see as well, or be reminded of.  But, all of us have a sense of being in different places of understanding ourselves over the years, don’t we?

Jesus is not different from us, his hometown knew him as Mary and Joseph’s son.  He was a carpenter.  Galilee, during this season was apparently fairly prosperous, so he wasn’t a wandering carpenter, but had fairly stable employment.  We know from a few readings ago that some in his family wanted him to have some stability and not get out ahead of himself or others.  So, heading back to his hometown had Jesus thinking a lot I bet!

As we’ve read the past few Sundays and discussed, Jesus had been busy!  Calming storms, healing folks, performing miracles, raising people from the dead.  Starting a movement that was getting a lot of attention, both good and bad.  Showing radically inclusive love and inviting folks to think differently within the systems that they have lived in.  You know, just the ordinary Son of God kinds of things…

Yet, his hometown didn’t throw him a parade, didn’t welcome him with open arms, they were amazed…but, in the kind of incredulous kind of way.  Saying things like, “who does he think he is?”, “Where does his wisdom come from?”.  And, as if to say, we “know” him, “isn’t he the daughter of Mary, brother of of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon?”  Which is interesting, because later in scriptures, we know Mary stands with her son, and that at least two of his brothers become early church leaders.  

There’s also this theme of faith that we’ve talked about in the past.  It seems like Jesus is telling us that faith is shared, it is something we have and that we have to exercise it, practice it, for it to grow or be useful.  

But, the people in Jesus’ hometown did not want to do that.  They wanted to stay comfortable and keep folk “in their place”.  He’s Mary’s son they say, not even mentioning his earthly dad.  The crowd may have been suggesting that Jesus was different, and maybe he really wasn’t Joseph’s kid…of course, if only they knew…or were willing to risk getting to know Jesus now.

For 30 years, Jesus had been someone, now he was growing into a very public, deeper version of himself, his “true self” as the monk Thomas Merton would say.

He tries to do some miracles there, but could only lay hands on a few sick people…and realized that the familiarity of who he had been was would not let folks see him, or his power of love.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Again, could it be that his hometown was looking for a heroic, triumphant, local kid makes good kind of story?  I think so.

But, Jesus was in the process of re-ordering so many things.  How we view one another, how we love, how we connect, and who’s included (everyone), and that God does not show favoritism but wants all of us to be in communion with one another, and with God.  That there is one allegiance in this world that matters, and that is to God.  

God has been telling God’s people forever to be a witness to God’s love to the world, to the nations.  Instead, they became just like the other other nations.  God’s power was shown as God giving God’s self to us, and that we are to follow in God’s example.  And, specifically, to follow in God’s example through Jesus.  Yet, we too, just like Israel, often forget and simply become just like others, living in a system and a culture without thinking much about how to make our lives and the lives of others more connected, more human as in the image of God that we were created.  

I love this quote from Richard Rohr on power:

“God has communicated in a million ways that “I am your power,” but we do not believe and trust what we cannot see or prove. Instead, we bow down to lesser kings (like institutions, nations, wars, ideologies, etc.) that we can see, even when they serve us quite poorly.” – Richard Rohr

Jesus has a message, this message that God’s presence, God’s kingdom, God’s reign, is with us and it supersedes all other earthly kingdoms, systems, governments, etc.  

He calls his disciples, his closest disciples around him and sends them out to share this with others.

He tells them to go in twos, because we are relational and need each other.  None of us are superman or wonder woman on our own.  To only take a staff…not a bag, don’t take bread, and wear sandals, but don’t take an extra tunic.  To lean in on the first house that shows hospitality, don’t go to another house if it’s nicer, but stick with the first.  

Again, this past week was a good reminder of so much, that relationships are important more than anything.  I did pack a small bag, but only one change of boxers as I thought, at first, that I will only be in Louisville for a day and night…but, when the severity of mom’s condition was presented, I knew I needed to stay a bit longer.  

Hospitals are supposed to be places of welcome, rest, relief, and healing.  Hospital comes from the word “hospitality”.  And, mom’s hospital was pretty good at that.  

As Jesus followers, we are also places and people of welcome, of rest from a weary world, of grace and relief, and of healing.  Healing of ourselves, others, and living into the promises of God.  As we do that, we change, people don’t understand us, we are even not welcome at times.

Yet, Jesus says to shake the dust off of our feet and move on if we are not welcomed.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we give up on those who don’t welcome us.  I’ve heard it said that this actually a phrase that means to dust off the criticism that we receive and keep on walking the path that we have been given within a community of faith called to love the neighborhood in which we live.  

Friends, may we live into the faith that God has in us as God sends us out, together.  May we receive and give hospitality and share the good news that God is with us and loves us.  May we be the alternative, loving, authentic community within a world so desperately in need of people and places like that.  

And may we remember along the way that we are in communion with ourselves, others, and God as demonstrated in through Jesus.