Matthew 24:36-44

The Necessity for Watchfulness

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

This has been simply an amazing week.  I needed a week like this.  I’m not sure what your week has been like, but my hope and prayer that as you come into this time, this morning, that you are able to be thankful…and that you are wide awake to the possibilities that surround you.

Our Gospel lesson this morning is from Matthew.  Jesus is preparing his disciples, his followers, and those that are listening to him, that the time is coming, and maybe even already upon us, that the Son of Man, would be present with them.

During Jesus’ day, there was much anxiety.  Israel was an occupied land by the Roman Empire.  They were on edge from the whims of the most powerful force in the world at the time.  What’s more, the Roman Empire had enriched and empowered narcissistic rulers in Israel.  Things were on edge.  Yet, within that, persons were sensing that things were changing.  Their hope was for the Son of Man, the messiah to return soon and be a political ruler that would make things right.

What Jesus was saying is so much more.  The Greek phrase in this passage for the visitation or coming of the Son of Man, is “Parousia”.  It translates as the coming of the King, but it also translates as the Presence of God.  This is a theme throughout scripture, that the Kingdom of God is coming and we’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are phrases that tell us that God’s Presence is with us, coming to us, in our midst and even in us.  

Now, Jesus wasn’t a political ruler…no, Jesus wasn’t interested in simply seeking earthly power or making things great for a few folks or through some sense of cultural collective ego that was looking for an external savior to drop from the heavens.  Jesus was about something much more, much deeper…Jesus was about bringing all of humanity together.  Not making everyone the same, actually celebrating our human diversity, while also bringing unity and a deep sense of communal love and connection.  Jesus, in his humanity, showed us how to love and how to work towards reconciliation and inclusion in his life.  After his death and resurrection, Jesus continues on to represent all of humanity.  Our passage this morning gave our spiritual fathers and mothers a couple of hundred years later a sense of our understanding of God’s Trinitarian nature.  In the first verse it talks about the Father knowing the time that the son of Man will be with us, that phrase denotes relationship between the father, and the son, and bears witness to that relational dynamic of three creating, redeeming, and sustaining through relationship and that Relationship’s flow in and through our lives.  

It also goes on to say that we don’t know when calamities or hardship fall upon us, we do live in anxious times.  Every election cycle that we have had in the past six or seven years has been evidence of that anxiety.  Which, is really more about a shift in culture than an election.  People are fearful in times of change and we can all become susceptible to extremes.  Regardless of who you voted for, and we all know this, there has been a deep sense of change happening all around us for years.  Yet, the fear of the unknown is real.  

The way of dealing with change in a productive way is the path of awareness.  We are called to be awake, to be sober to the realities around us and to be interested or curious without judgment as things unfold.  Discernment yes, but not judgment.   To cultivate a sense that God is coming to us and that God has come to us…that the Kingdom of God is here and we celebrate Advent, the coming of God’s physical presence through Jesus and God’s commitment to us throughout history in Jesus’ representation of humanity.  

There can be moments in our lives, whether through life events in our families or neighborhoods, or even national elections that remind us of the divisiveness and walls between us…but, we have also have moments like today that remind us that we are called to be together.

In this mornings passage, Noah is referenced.  He goes into the ark, into the storm, and after 40 days, the waters receded and Noah was reborn.  Life wasn’t perfect for Noah after this “rebirth”, he was messy, read the story.  But faith held him and he took a risk and he lived into a new era with a deeper sense of Presence.  

In our baptism, which is more than a one time symbolic event, we also arise out of the waters, symbolizing our old lives being shed and being awakened to the deeper reality of God’s Presence, of God’s Kingdom in our midst and in us, to each other, and to the world through Jesus’ actions on our behalf and the relational flow from our 3 in 1 God.  

May we stay awake and aware to the realities of this world and in our lives, that we do face dark times in this world, as well as our own lives, we do experience anxiety and grief…we are not alone…we can overcome that which divides us and move towards real friendship with God and each other.  Yes, it is hard work, this work of awareness, of living in God’s Kingdom presence following the model of Jesus as we work out the practices of reconciliation and inclusion….of allowing ourselves to emerge and to grow towards an ever deepening maturity.  

As we close this morning, there is a great quote from a Hispanic theologian, Miguel Diaz, “As beloved triune community, God ‘dances’ to birth human communities torn by suffering, hatred, and division.”

As we celebrate many of the things of this past week, and all the weeks that preceded it and will come after this moment, may we know that life is filled with paradox, but life is also amazing and wonderful and filled with possibility and imagination.  That anxiety and fear are no match for love and grace.  And, may we enter into the dance of God, and be awake even in the face of things we may not understand or predict.  

Friends, keep your eyes and ears open, stay awake, be aware, and live in faith even as the night comes..and dance in God’s Presence that has come, is coming, and is here now.  


Luke 23:33-43 

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesusthere with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiahof God, his chosen 

one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him“This is the King of the Jews.” 

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deridinghim and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come intoyour kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise

What does it mean to be saved? Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve wanted to be saved? Maybe a social situation that you wanted to get out of? 

You’ve heard me say before, in my tradition growing up, I think I was saved at least 42 times!  Every time there was what we called an “altar call”, I would get caught up in the emotion of the moment and go forward.  I was so afraid of not being saved!  From what, at almost 55, I’m not exactly sure anymore.  Probably some sense of guilt, of loneliness, of whatever.  And, always looking for something to save that was distant, an external savior to take my problems away.  

Yet, over time, through so much of life, living into even the shadow sides of life…times of despair and even humiliation, something unexpected happened.  I began to see, and still seeing…although sometimes dimly, that God is bigger than some euphoric moment…a bigger God that doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you…a God so intimate that this God is already in and and around you in all things and all people….and a God who does not need to be appeased by a blood sacrifice.  That this Jesus does the unexpected, like forgiving someone on the cross while they are both dying…this guy did not earn forgiveness…it was given.

Our passage this morning from the gospel of Luke depicts humiliation as well as something unexpected. Only on a scale that I could never imagine. Crucifixion by the Romans was meant to be more about humiliation than pain even. The place of the Skulls in Jerusalem was picked by the Romans for crucifixion because it was visible for all to see. It is also referred to as Gahenna, a garbage dump that is outside of the city…Gahenna is often used as a reference to what we call “hell”.  To be nailed to a tree, lifted up, often for days, while folks walked by either throwing scorn and insults, or shielding their eyes away from the cruelty. 

Luke reminds us that the Romans and the Jewish authorities formed an alliance of convenience in order to maintain the system status quo. They viewed Jesus as a threat to their hold on power and to the way things have been that kept them on the top. They wanted to send a message. Even giving Jesus cheap wine with vinegar in it…not good wine fit for a king, but sour wine. It says that the Romans mocked Jesus. The term for mock in this passage denotes that the Romans thought of Jesus as less than human. 

Its been an interesting week, one full of unexpected conversations.  Bob Frey and I met and had a great conversation on what it means to be a church member at Fleming Road UCC and ways that we can enhance membership health.  How do we grow in unexpected ways, what imagination do we have, and what is a way that we can lay the groundwork to see what it means to us, and the culture around us, what it means to be member of this particular congregation.

Later in the week, at our weekly Bible study, in our opening devotion we talked about the story of Ezekiel calling forth dry bones to life.  It was an unexpected turn of events for Ezekiel, yet God reminded him that, with God, all things are possible.  Dave Kleinschmidt immediately thought of the song that the community choir sang the night before, an African spiritual about bones coming to life.  When all seems lost, there is a deeper faith at work un unexpected ways.  

It’s important to note that’s why the black church has been a powerful voice in unexpected ways. In our recent history, like Jesus, Black folks were often considered less than human.  They have understood humiliation, and they have persevered. In many unexpected ways, I feel like the Black church is the salvation of the American church. It is through their suffering and example of love in so many ways, that we, as a church universal, can have an avenue of understanding what it means in many ways to live in faith of a God with us.  And, in unexpected ways, the Black church continues to be a much needed prophetic voice to the Church Universal…as well as a source of friendship even in the midst of persecution and racism.  

We see that in the gospel lesson. Jesus is humiliated with the scandal of the cross. Yet, Jesus asks for God to forgive them, which is unexpected.  Usually, you’d think that a response would be one of anger or a desire for revenge, but Jesus greats violence with non-violence. They are telling Jesus, jeering at Jesus, to save himself. Yet, Jesus has incredible agency and resolve to absorb and to suffer…to take on death in a scandalous way in order to show us a better and deeper way of living. The people that killed Jesus were telling him to look for salvation like any other king would, by force or violence. Jesus is responding to violence with an inner strength of love and non-violence. Which, ultimately brings salvation to them, and to all of us, as we live into becoming people of love, resolve, and our truest selves. 

Jesus responds to persons as they begin to move towards humility in unexpected ways. It seems like we often look for a savior to simply come in and swoop us out of a situation, but, more often than not, we experience growth, humility, and salvation even in the midst of a tragedy by simply recognizing God’s Presence and embracing the moments we are in…and seeking a deeper undestanding… 

Jesus is crucified in between two thieves. One, wanting to be saved, but cannot recognize himself or his humiliation….the other, recognizes where he is, knows his humiliation, names it, and sees in Jesus a Presence, the presence of God. And, Jesus follows up on God’s promise of being with us by reassuring him that they would be together in paradise that day. 

Friends, Jesus remembers us, all of us. Jesus is with us in all of life’s ups and downs. May we own where we are, we may be looking around for someone or something else to save us…but, may we follow the example of this gospel lesson and look deep inside, as well as deep inside of others as we build genuine friendships, and recognize that God is with us and God knows what we are going through…God does not give up on us, God brings us forgiveness, brings us salvation, God brings us God’s self. 

Today is the Reign of Christ Sunday.  This is not simply a king, the Christ encompasses all people, things, creation…it is the universal presence filled with promise and relationship.  This Christ, in all things, shows up in the most unexpected ways.  May we live in these times looking for the unexpected.  


Luke 21:5-19

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Signs and Persecutions

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and, ‘The time is near!’[b] Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, 15 for I will give you words[c] and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Foretelling…what’s going to happen…we live in a world that is constantly searching for answers in the future, aren’t we?   We want to know what the future is.

We find Jesus in this morning’s text foretelling the future.  Now, he’s obviously giving a metaphor…the temple’s stones aren’t being taken down literally.  Although, a few years after Jesus’ death they were taken down by the Romans.

Jesus is saying that they system of the Temple, the way things have been, is going to change.  Something else is going to take its place.  Instead of a place to worship like the temple, Jesus is calling his followers back to what God intended, for all to live in relationship.  

Yet, the listeners are fixated on the temple imagery and wonder when it will happen.  “What are the signs of when this will happen?” 

The setting is right before Jesus and the disciples have their last supper.  Jesus is teaching in the temple and telling folks that they should recognize the signs all around them.  That there is distress in the nations, a foreboding of what is to come and to be on the look-out for the Son of Man, the Messiah.

It’s interesting that not much has changed since Jesus gave those words.  In Jesus’ time there were protests, Roman oppression and rule, unjust systems and folks rising up to challenge them, and wars, always wars.  

Today, if you only watch the news for 5 minutes, you hear about the same things.  Different actors, but still the same.

Not only are their signs of the times that tell us that something isn’t right in the world, but we see signs in our own lives:   conflicts with others, a deep sense of distrust, a desire to win rather than work together towards good goals, a deep sense of anxiety and fear within culture and within ourselves.  We not only see signs of distress in culture, but in our lives.  I often talk with folks that are dealing with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and situational as well as chronic depression.  

These are all signs that can lead one towards despair and even confusion.  What’s going on here?  We may wonder.  But, Jesus has other words for us, that when we sense some of the things I just mentioned, there is a deeper promise that God has made to us.  We are not alone and that God has come, is here, and will come for us.  

When we read this passage of Luke, we can respond in several ways:  one is fear, the other is faith.  Do we trust that God will keep God’s promises and that we can life expectantly and with joy, hope, peace, and love in the midst of uncertainty?  

Rather than looking at the events around us with fear and anxiety, we can live with confidence and courage.  A Greek word that is used often to describe God’s Presence is Parousia.  It means literally presence, arrival, or visit.  God’s Kingdom is upon us, God’s Presence.  As we said last week, that “kingdom” presence is within us, and in our midst.  The question for us is do we see the signs of God’s Presence in our lives?  Or better yet, those signs are there and all around us, are we “willing” to see those signs?  Do we really want to?

Do we sense that something new is emerging within our lives and do we live in expectation of this newness being made known?  Do we get wrapped up in the anxiety and emotion of external issues that arise around us or are we able to take a deep breath and sense that something good may arise out of whatever situation that we are facing eventually?  Or, better yet, we may not see anything good come out of some situations, but do we have a sense that we can sit with whatever is happening and know that we are not alone and that we can share whatever is happening with others and with God?

I believe that cultivating this sense of Presence is key for our lives.  We can see signs that strengthen our faith in God and in others if we can live our lives acknowledging the Presence of God around us.  As we listen to ourselves, others, and attempt to look at even familiar things with a sense of God’s presence in everything, we can catch those glimpses of God that can move us towards growth.

The church universal is facing some hard realities.  Rev. Carl Robinson, in a blog from last week said that we are living in apocalyptic times.  The institution of church as we have known it is changing, dying, ending.  We see that all around us.  Yet, the good news is that we can have encouragement.  We have a resurrection faith.  Something new is emerging.  That’s why I am curious about what we are about at Fleming Road UCC.  When I took this call almost 5 years ago, Carl gave me some great advice, “keep your eye on the ball”.  What he meant is that with so much change happening, our way forward has to be to find ways to engage the places in which our church is placed.  We are making adjustments, we are changing, slowly, but it’s happening.  Imagination and energy are emerging as we live in these uncertain times.  And, our faith is becoming alive. 

Luke is calling us out to have faith that we may never understand, but we can live into or apprehend, we can’t prove it.  But, it is a faith that keeps us alert, keeps us living expectantly.  We are called to be open to God’s breaking into our lives in the most unexpected ways.  God is giving us signs all of the time.  We can be stubborn or attempt to control what signs God may be giving us, we can be resistant to God’s Presence out of fear and a desire to cling to what we know.  Or, we can see, that, just like the seasons give us clues that change is upon us, that God’s Presence in our lives has arrived, is arriving, and will arrive.  We can see that as we stay alert and practice listening or noticing the signs of God’s activity, that we can have lives filled with meaning, purpose, and even gratitude in the midst of all of the craziness that we experience within us and around us.  

Friends, we don’t need a fortune teller, and we don’t have to live into anxiety about the future.  What we need is trust, faith…faith that hold us and carry us into the future.  In the meantime, let’s be good stewards of this congregation, together, loving and honoring one another as we commit and re-commit to the call of what it means to be together as a community of faith.  


John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

59 He said these things while he was teaching in a synagogue at Capernaum.

Our passage this morning says that Jesus is the bread of life.   Jesus’ bread, his life given to us, helps us to move us deep within ourselves and outside of ourselves to see the abundance of God’s connection with us, and all of humanity and creation.  

Yet, even after this declaration, even after all of the actions of God’s love through Jesus, people still grumble don’t they?  Even in Jesus’ time, like today, they started to feel a bit insecure, and made statements posed as questions, isn’t this Joseph’s son?  Who is this Jesus to say that his bread has come from heaven, that his life comes from the very presence of God and that he is in God’s presence even now?  

What these folks were trying to do was to put Jesus in a box, to take away the possibility of change and growth in their own lives.  They were afraid and acting out of a deep lack of self-awareness or others awareness.  They wanted to be independent, they didn’t get that Jesus was saying that they were wired for connection with others.  

Jesus gives us a promise this morning though, the manna that the Jewish folks ate in the desert gave them nourishment for a time, but Jesus’ bread, his living and breathing bread, his life, will be intertwined with ours.  This bread, this life, is Jesus’ flesh.  The greek in verse 51 for flesh is sarx.  It’s not another greek word sometimes used for body or life called soma.  This is Jesus’ flesh, it’s as if to say to us, I am making the sacrifice for you, I’m giving you my very flesh…not only for you, but for the world, all of it.  Friends, if we are going to grow, we have to be drawn out of ourselves by God.  We also have to be connected to others around us in a deep way, not just folks sitting with us in these pews, but the folks outside these walls, the folks in our neighborhood, the folks down on Vine, the students up the hill, everyone.  

“To be or not to be”…isn’t that the great Shakespearean question?  What does it mean to be?  “Be” is the English languages most irregular verb…it’s a word of action…to be something or someone.  It is a verb of existence or reality.  I am in a car, I am in church, I will be grilling hamburgers tomorrow.  It is also a verb that points to relationship.  I am friends with…I am a member of this community…

My friend John McKnight once remarked that he has been blessed his entire life.  Why?  Because of friends that he’s had throughout his life.  He would go on to say that his entire life has been touched by the Divine because of that.  

That makes sense, you see, we were all created to be in loving friendships or relationships with each other.  We were even created by a relational God.  It says in Genesis 1:27, that God created us in his image.  God’s image is one of relationship.  God exists in perfect unity as a three-in-one God…God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three distinct persons, but of one essence…God’s essence is relational and that relationship demonstrates perfect love.  Out of that essence, that loving essence, God, the uncreated created us.  And, we are of the same essence.  

If that wasn’t enough, creating us…God gave us the gift of himself.  God desires to simply be in relationship with us.  Throughout history God has demonstrated his pursuit of us, rescuing humanity from itself.  Humanity has sought to know God, yet we have often forgotten that God knows us and loves us.  

When Moses was being called by God out of a burning bush to go and preach release to the Jews who were being held as slaves in Egypt, Moses sought to know God’s name, because in those days, to know someone’s name was to know who they were, to have them define, to be in relationship and to know them.  Yet, when asked, God gave a peculiar answer:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exo 3:14-15 TNIV)

I am who I am.  The verb used here in Hebrew is “to be”. God is.  God is saying that he is wholly other and cannot be comprehended.  Yet, he goes on to say something more.  He is the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses knew that God interacted with all of those people.  God is saying, in effect, I am a God of relationship.  I cannot be comprehended, but I can be apprehended.  

God with us.  God with us in relationship.  Ultimately that is displayed in God becoming one of us through Jesus.  Jesus is completely God and is the exact representation of who God is, a God of relationship.  

Our passage this morning is one of deep relationship.  We are continuing the food theme of Jesus being the bread of life.  Jesus goes on to say that in order to have eternal life, or abundant life filled with meaning and purpose, a forever life, then we must consume Jesus’ body.  Again, the word flesh is used, it’s very graphic.  When some folks in the first or second century heard this reading from John after Jesus’ death, they actually thought Christ followers were espousing cannibalism!

Of course, that’s not true.  It’s a metaphor that’s implying that we must consume Jesus, we must take Jesus in to the deepest parts of who we are, even the parts that are messy, our very bowels.  We cannot change, grow, become self/others/or God aware without help.  We need Jesus’ life to rise up within and outside of us, to take Jesus in.  In other words, we are not merely called to be Christ followers, but to live in Christ.  

Jesus goes on to say that we must remain in him, as he is remaining in us.  This is a phrase that is referenced in others parts of John.  

John 15:4 says this, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  Remain, or abide, live…Live in Christ.  How do we do that?  We are in Christ, he sustains all things.  We simply have the pleasure of saying thank you by living in the imperative of remaining in him.  Just like any relationship, we need to be with God and with each other in order to grow.  Jay, my friend, spent time with me, he knew me.  As a friend of mine here at Immanuel reminded me this week, we are on a journey at Immanuel together.  

Friends, we cannot truly live as we were meant to live separated from him or from each other…to attempt to do so makes us less than human.  We may not understand that completely, but our being our “I am” is found in the life of Christ that also is our lives.  We are the body of Christ!  Jesus is the exact representation of God to us and he is our truly human representative in the presence of God as God in the flesh.  

So friends, BE!  Be in and with Christ, consume Christ!  He is your identity…you are not defined ultimately by the color of your skin, how much (or how little) is in your bank account, what political party you identify with, or what you have done or not done…YOU are defined by Christ’s actions on your behalf!  Your wealth in this life is defined by the relationships you have which is defined by your relationship with Christ!  My friendship with Jay is great still, but my truest friend has always been Jesus.  He is really different, yet I find my identity in him because of his pursuit of me.  Friends, as you live and find you identity in Christ, know that He wants to be with you and will not let you go!