John 9:1-41

A Man Born Blind Receives Sight

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We[ must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10 But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11 He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12 They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16 Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20 His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesusto be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ 25 He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26 They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27 He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28 Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30 The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34 They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36 He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37 Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38 He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39 Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41 Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Last week we talked about “God Encounters”…I had a question for this week:  Are God encounters always notice?  Do we recognize them while they are unfolding?  

What do you think?

This week, we see a man born blind in front of Jesus on the Sabbath…He didn’t ask to be put in that situation…actually, the disciples presented him with a  question to Jesus on sin.  Folks at that time often believed that sin caused physical ailments.  If you were blind, or crippled somehow, it was because you or your family had somehow sinned.  Jesus responds that this man, nor his parents had sinned, but Jesus also saw him in his blindness and saw an opportunity for God’s power to be at work.

What was that blind man thinking though?  I wonder…he’s only known darkness in his life.  Yet, here he is, in front of Jesus and he’s hearing these words that it’s not his fault that he’s blind.  He’s probably heard all of his life that somehow God caused his blindness because of something he had done or his parents had done…his view of himself and of God was probably complicated at best, more likely bitter or disillusioned.  

And, yet, Jesus healed him.  It was a strange healing, wasn’t it.  Jesus put mud in his hands, then told the blind man to go to a pool and wash his eyes out…the man did, and he was healed!  No one asked Jesus, he just did it.  Why saliva?  That sounds gross, but given that some folks back in the day thought saliva had healing powers. 

Now, today, we know that’s not true!  So, don’t go around spitting on people to ward of the coronavirus!  That will give us a different outcome I believe!

The man goes and tell his neighbors and friends, and they were astonished and wanted to meet this Jesus.  

Of course, the pharisees and religious leaders had questions of their own…they were threatened by pride and wanted to keep the status quo.  So, they formed an inquisition…they did not want the status quo to be shaken.  

Yet, this man’s disruption of being healed did just that!  They were mad, they drove him out, brought in his parents, questioned them as well.  But, the parents did not try to rescue their son, they allowed him to have agency and put it back on the Pharisees!  Brilliant!  

The formerly blind man was brought back in, he gave witness to being blind and now being able to see, a second time!  He was kind of snarky…I liked his response…ultimately telling the pharisees that the they don’t see God when God is right in front of them…confronting them of their blindness!  

So, they excommunicate him.  At that point, I don’t think the guy cared.  Jesus found him after Jesus heard what had happened…and he found a true friend in Jesus.  He believed out of Jesus’ belief in him.  

Now, friends, we may be walking around blind these days.  With all that’s going on, a common theme with this pandemic, is that we know that we don’t know.  With the pandemic that still has a lingering effect, and so much in life, we are blind.  Maybe even a bit lost (or a lot) lost in our blindness.  If you feel that you are, I would encourage you…being lost means you are getting closer to finding God or God finding you.  It’s part of the process really, the process of growth, illumination, conversion, transformation. 

This season that we find ourselves can be a time of tremendous possibility for growth and becoming the people that we went to be!  

We are not alone, even as we stumble about.  

A good friend of mine, Rev. Nancy Ross-Zimmerman read this poem called “I Stand by the Door.” at the church we both served a few years ago.  The poem reminds me a lot of what we’re talking about today, so I wanted to share the first stanza:

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world-
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind people,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it …
So I stand by the door.

Friends, no matter where we find ourselves today, may we know that God is with us…that we stand by the door.  We may be lost, we may be blind, but God’s divine flow is at work. May we crave to know where the door is, may we not be satisfied with our blindness, or lostness, but may we also know that we are connected to a God who loves, a Jesus who shows us how to live, and the Spirit of God that guides us when we listen and connects us to God, to one another, and to ourselves.  


John 4:5-30

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)10 Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13 Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25 The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26 Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28 Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,can he?’ 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

Encounters…are we open to them in conversations?

I know that this past week has been full of encounters.  And in each one of them, there have been nuggets of beauty, some amazing connections, even if just small ones.  But, often those small encounters become so much bigger in time.

I had one conversation this week over coffee early in the morning.  Something was said that continued to grow within me throughout the morning.  I had to text my friend and share some of it with him.  It was a God encounter in the midst of our vulnerability together.  

God encounters are everywhere around us, the key is being able to be open to those encounters in the everyday…that takes a lot of curiosity and really, a sense of moving beyond ourselves.

Our gospel story this morning was a God encounter that surprised the Samaritan woman at the well, a good surprise that she was open to and changed her world.  It didn’t happen in a temple, a church, or even on top of a mountain…it happened at a common daily experience for this woman, getting water from a well.  

It caught her by surprise in so many ways…first of all, it’s the 1st century and she’s a woman.  Men didn’t approach women randomly like that, much less a Jewish rabbi initiating a conversation with a woman from a marginalized community with a potentially sketchy personal history.  But, didn’t matter to Jesus…Jesus saw humanity, all of humanity, in a different way.

I say “potentially sketchy personal history”, because the context of this text may yield a different story other than the one passed down through oral history.  Friend and author, Alexander Shaia says this about the well and the woman at the well”

…(Jacob’s)Well appears to be of like importance to the Samaritans as is the Jerusalem Temple to the Hebrews. And it appears that in the First Century, Jacob’s Well was connected to the worship of Baal and a select group of Samaritan women priestesses ministered The Well.

Yes – most likely – in the text Jesus the Christ is speaking with a Woman priest – her village’s spiritual elder. Also consider that a Samaritan priestess was considered the bride of Baal (their primary god – and a powerful fertility god.) Further, Baal was believed to have five faces – or five aspects.

If Alexander is correct, and I believe that he is, then this woman had a pretty good voice and understanding of her people and especially with women.  This story also comes after Jesus’ late night discussion with Nicodemus that we talked about last week.  Just like last week’s chat, where Nicodemus comes at unusual time and meets Jesus away from the temple, Jesus meets this woman in a common area away from the places where we may normally associate where one would have God encounters.  The writer of John seems to be sharing these stories to remind us that God surprises us with chance meetings, conversations, in the most ordinary of places.

Again, Alexander Shaia says this about the context of this text coming right after Jesus’ encounter with the woman:

In my mind, we should be outraged that many today will continue to portray this great and powerful woman in demeaning terms. In the Gospel, she is contrasted with Nicodemus who exhibits no growth by his meeting with The Christ. While she – an equal spiritual teacher and priestess – shows humility and transformation in receiving Jesus the Christ and his teaching about oneness.

This woman was going to get water, it was a task, she needed water.  She probably came here regularly.  Now, this was also an unusual part of the day more than likely, Jesus was hanging out there, and this woman probably didn’t want to come into contact with folks…not only because Jesus was male, Jewish and a rabbi, and she was a woman, Samaritan, and potentially had a history that was different from his…she wasn’t used to folks simply striking up conversations, much less men like Jesus.  Regardless of her being a priestess or even an outcast, the different genders had different ways of interacting and it was unusual for such a conversation to take place.  

Yet, Jesus asks her for a favor…a drink of water…he was thirsty and he was showing to her a humility of being able to ask for help.

The woman gives a response of why ask me, Jesus responds with this “if only you knew this gift…” and to talk about living water.  Now, living water was a common term back then…it meant flowing water…and they were probably at a spring.  But, Jesus gave this living water a deeper meaning…this water flowed from the very heart of God…and she would never be thirsty again.

Jesus was probably picking up that this woman seemed a bit lonely.  She was hungry for a deeper sense of connection…Jesus is saying that he was there to offer her friendship with himself, friendship with God, connection to others through God’s Spirit and the living water of God’s flowing relational love.  

She wasn’t understanding the theology of the moment, she may not have clued in to all that Jesus was saying, but she knew that she wanted this living water, that there was something there.

But, then Jesus has to make it a bit uncomfortable…go get your husband…come back.  She says she doesn’t have one and Jesus affirms that, but says she’s had 5 husbands…she doesn’t deny it…but, sensing that this Jesus isn’t judging her, she’s a bit uneven, that’s not what she’s used to…so, she try to change the subject, saying he must be a prophet…and tries to throw out some theology herself and making statements about where Jews and Samaritans worship…Jesus doesn’t jump into her argument, doesn’t own her anxiety…he knows who he is and states that…and then has a huge statement when she says that they are all waiting for the Messiah….Jesus says, well, the wait is over, the Messiah is here, in front of her.

Alexander Shaia says this about the “five husbands” as well:  

“(It)…is more likely a reference to her being a bride to the five aspects of Baal than to any form of a physical marriage.

I don’t know where you’d identify with this story, or what you think about the context, but this is rich with application.  Friends, know that God encounters happen all of the time, in the most ordinary of circumstances.  God wants you to have living water flowing from God, through Jesus and by the power of God’s Spirit into you…giving you life, life that is abundant and without end.  And, life that starts NOW!  It may make you uncomfortable, it may be risky, but the example of the Samaritan woman is good for us today.  We may feel like we have things to hide, or there may be things we don’t understand and we don’t want to risk being vulnerable in conversations, we may try to avoid God encounters as they can make us uncomfortable, we may argue with God or with others or have others argue with us, but when one takes risks, engages in active listening and conversations with a God who simply loves us…then we are transformed.

The Samaritan woman bears witness to this growth.  She goes and tell her friends and crowds came to meet Jesus.  The power of transformed life brings transformation to others.

When the disciples show up, they were surprised to see Jesus speaking to a woman, and a woman with a unique history…yet, Jesus breaks down walls that keep folks from being in relationship…that’s what God does…God came to save, not condemn, and God came to make sure all were included and loved.  

And, we, the body of Christ, are called to be open to God encounters with others and to even be looking for those God encounters.  You never know what may happen by simply walking down to the UDF, through the neighborhood, or right around the corner, or anywhere and being open to listening to others and engaging in authentic conversation.

My bet is that those God encounters with others will have a profound impact on you, they do on me when I’m open to them.  Now, we don’t go into those conversations thinking, hey I’ve got to meet x amount of people and get them into the church…no, do what Jesus does, simply engage folks in a loving way and let living water flow…and, when our lives are being transformed, we want to share it with others…and, others may also be looking for living water and want us to take them to this Jesus, this Immanuel, God with us, to hear about someone who knows all about us but doesn’t judge us, but loves us and gives us life brimming with living, cleansing, loving, water without end.  


John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesusby night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘Youmust be born from above.’ The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I’m going to ask you to do something a bit different this morning.  All of us, sit here for a moment, quietly with our eyes closed.  Just for a moment.  Now, as you sit, think about what’s going on in the air around you.  Atoms colliding, bouncing off of each other, air flowing.  Maybe you hear someone breathing.  Now, think about the space between you and the person sitting closest to you, or between you and me.  What’s filling that space, what makes space, space?  

Now, think of the activity going on around you.  God is present, God is moving, God is still, God is all around you.  Even inside of you.  Now, think of your body, your breath, your heart pounding.  God is moving deep inside of you, flowing through your blood, flowing through your heart…think of your breath, you are breathing God in and out, God is everywhere.  

Now, open your eyes.  This presence of God all around is happening every day, we catch glimpses of it, those are called moments of transcendency.  Yet, often we are in the dark, we can’t always see what’s happening around us.

Our new testament story happens in the dark.  It probably wasn’t pitch dark, but we think it was at night, or dusk. Nicodemus, a religious scholar who was interested in the words of Jesus came to Jesus at night time.  I’m not sure if there is much significance in the time of day that Nicodemus came, but he came and possibly the author had him come at night to symbolize Nicodemus was able to see some shadows, but he couldn’t see clearly, he was in the dark.

What Jesus shared with him was much like trying to explain what was happening with Isaiah.  There are things happening all around us, a deeper reality, that we only catch glimpses of…we are in the dark, yet, we have been given a light to see through Jesus and the inner and outer workings of God as being 3 in 1 persons, the Trinity.  

Jesus and Nicodemus had this conversation, and there were probably others around.  Jesus, as a rabbi and Nicodemus as a scholar, both had disciples, and those disciples were always around.  Jesus said everything out in the open, he was pretty transparent, yet, different folks maybe heard different things, even if they were around him.  One of the things that I’ve learned over the years as a leader and as a pastor, you can say things, a lot, even over-communicate, but folks are probably going to hear from their perspective.  I’m the same way.  We all are.  Jesus’ disciples were like that, they heard a lot, yet they had so many different ways of hearing what Jesus was saying.  It really is an amazing miracle, and a testimony to the power of God’s Presence that eventually led the disciples into a place of unity.

Nicodemus had some very good questions, he may have been timid in asking them, or afraid of what others thought, or simply curious and not sure how to ask them.  Yet, he came to Jesus and asked.  

He wanted to know how to enter the Kingdom of God, how to be in God’s Presence just as Isaiah was.  Jesus tells him that he has to be born again, or anew, or afresh.  That phrase “born again” used to get a lot of press, but really means a sense of seeing and experiencing things in a new way, with a new perspective or change of heart.  

The phrase “born again” literally translates into being “born from above”.  And Jesus goes on to say that this isn’t an action that humans can evoke, but that it’s a movement of God’s Spirit and Water.  Water in this case would be symbolic or a metaphor of a flow of love over us and through us, a cleansing, a making things new.  The Spirit is God’s action in our lives that gives us life and moves us towards a sense of God’s expansive love.  Nicodemus gets hung up on the idea of someone literally being born again, going back into the mother’s womb….but Jesus is using this phrase to literally say that there is a birthing, we have to go through a birth canal out of a protective mode of being and into the realities of life…and that God goes through the pains of childbirth along with humanity.

You know though, that’s a hard concept for us.  Birth is beautiful and filled with expectation and possibility.  But, we don’t want to leave the friendly confines of the womb.  We want to stay comfortable and in control, yet God moves us towards birth, towards maturity, towards a new way of living.

Jesus doesn’t mess around with Nicodemus, doesn’t play games, he goes straight to a hard saying…and then says that God’s Spirit is also like the wind.  The Hebrew word for spirit is the same for wind, Ruach…it’s also Pneuma in Greek.  It blows where it pleases.  The question for the readers of this passage, do we have our hearts, our bodies, our lives towards God’s Spirit?  Do we try to bundle ourselves up in scarves or jackets of anxiety, control, identity in something, even church to shield us from the wind, or are willing to turn into the wind and let it carry us where God’s Spirit intends?

Nicodemus doesn’t quite get it though, and begins to think linear, or binary.  He can’t see that there’s a metaphor being used of being born anew.  But, he stayed in the conversation.

Jesus goes on to say that entering the Kingdom, or recognizing that existence of a deeper reality of God’s presence required water and spirit.  That God is like a seed being planted in this world and that the Spirit is like water causing it to grow.  It’s also symbolic of an old life being buried in water and rising again to being something more than it was before.  

This is an ongoing process also.  I’ve been born “from above” or anew often…even in the 5+ years that I’ve been here as your pastor.  I’ve asked a lot of questions, I’ve been curious, I’ve shared fully who I am as best as I can.  I’m amazed of so many of these discussions have shaped me and us together.  Our hopes and dreams here at Fleming Road UCC are starting to come into view by many of us, it’s still a bit fuzzy, but we all seem to be asking similar questions.  Yes, we’ve had to figure out some things and we are still in that process, but as we share and have conversations…sometimes even in the dark, many of us are experiencing what it means to be born anew, to have new life, new beginnings, and to dare to dream some awfully big dreams together as we work on relationships.

That’s the essence of what John is sharing in the third chapter.  God’s nature is relationship.  God’s desire and character is relationship.  The trinity is a relationship.  God the father honors the Son the Son honors the Spirit and vice versa…no particular order, they mutually indwell in each other.  Out of that relational force, the beautiful relational physics of it all, we, and the earth were created, we were saved, and we are sustained.  

This 3 in 1 God is one with us, we are not God, but God brings us up into the communion or relationship of the trinity through the Son.  Jesus is both divine and the one true human.  We related to Jesus, he is our brother…our redeemer kinsman who brings the full force of the relationship of the creation, death and resurrection, and rebirth and sustainment into our lives, into humanity.  

Then we come to the last two verses…we know John 3:16, we see it on the TV almost every time we watch a major sports event…someone is holding up a sign with those words on it.  That’s great, but I wonder if that person realizes the world that is unseen that’s at play.  We are called to  believe in something unseen, yet experienced deeply.  

It’s also a message of Jesus not coming to condemn as it says in vs. 17, but to save!  The world!  All of us!  And it gives us the message of life, real life.  When the bible talks about eternal life, it’s talking more about the quality of life, not the quantity.  

Here’s what I know, I’m willing and I’m experiencing that same willingness in this church with you…and in this community.  It’s happening, we are all being born from above.  God’s Spirit is moving, drawing us into the relational and loving character of God, while reshaping us and the world around us.  Let’s live into that eternal reality…which, in Christ, is not only quality, but it truly is forever.


Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

What do you think of when you hear the word “temptation?”

What do you think are some temptations that our culture struggles with?

What are some of the temptations of the church?

What about us personally?

I know that we all struggle with some temptations.  There are certainly temptations such as eating too much chocolate or going into excess on something.  But, what’s the root of temptation?

Our gospel passage this morning presents us with three temptations that Jesus faced.  

  1. Turning stones to bread
  2. Protection from being thrown off the temple roof
  3. Being given the world

Now, on the surface, there are some appealing things to these temptations I’d imagine for Jesus.  Honestly, they all sound good to me!  There are lots of stones in the world, and lots of starving people.  Wouldn’t it be great to solve the world’s hunger issues by turning stone into bread?  And, with Jesus, you know it would be good bread!

Being able to be protected physically from falling off the temple roof!  Well, we all want to be safe don’t we?  Wouldn’t we like to know that if we jumped off the roof of this building that we’d land safely?  That a bunch of angels would come to our rescue if we are being physically threatened?

How about being given dominion over the world?  Wouldn’t that be great!   We could make everything great and good!  People seem to like to remind us that this world is a mess, that no one is in control.  Well, we are good people, if we had control, then we could make the world safe, we could put our vision into play and make the world a better place…because we know better. 

I shared this a while ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to share again…noted author, speaker, theologian and philosopher, Henri Nouwen talks about the temptations of Jesus in his book on Christian Leadership, In the Name of Jesus.  He says that Jesus, like all leaders are tempted in three ways and that we can practice certain disciplines that will help us move towards a better sense of wholeness and health:

  1. The first temptation of turning stones to bread is the temptation to be relevant.  We want to do something that is related to our experiences or others.  Yet, that’s a trap, it’s like me winning the lottery so I can fund the world’s great projects…you can spend so much time on that, that you lose sight of yourself.  Yet, Jesus wants us to know that we are loved and that we can return that love…as we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, we don’t have to be relevant, yet, we can become confident.  Nouwen goes on to say that the key work or practice for us to move towards a deeper sense of awareness and confidence, is contemplative prayer.  Spending time listening to God’s love for us.  
  1. The second temptation of jumping of the roof only to be caught is the temptation to be spectacular.  Can we impress others with something.  Yet, God calls us to practice the simple work of serving others, of being with people, listening to their stories, encouraging one another, and living authentically.  Our discipline that leads us away from the temptation of wanting to do something spectacular is to be able to confess to others and ask forgiveness.  That’s hard to do, to yield to others, yet that gives us the humility to grow and to mature.
  1. The third temptation of being given the world is the desire to be powerful, to get others to do what we tell them!  To get at others before they get you…really, to have others bow before your wishes, to get your way.  Yet, Jesus tells us that, in order to lead, one has to follow.  And you have to trust others to take you where you may not want to go.  We aren’t given the world, but we are given each other.  Our discipline or practice is to think about God’s actions, God’s word to us, to look at Jesus, to have theological reflection.  That allows us to look at our motives and to be shaped inwardly which moves towards outward actions. 

Temptations lure us in to something innocently enough and with seemingly good intentions.  This season of Lent is meant to be a time of recognizing and resisting temptations, and to take on practices or disciplines to help us to have perspective and grow.  The idea is to befriend temptations, know they are there and recognize them when they come around…and when temptations come around, find ways to go deeper, to lean into them, and to use those times as a reminder that God is with you and calling you towards deeper places in life.  I believe we all recognize that when we give into temptations, they become habits of thinking or acting, then they reform us in destructive ways or can reinforce bad habits.  

Author and speaker, Dr. Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says that our brains get stuck in particular patterns that are hard to break.  The only way to move out of those patterns is by creating a new practice, a healthier practice.   Oftentimes those new practices require courage.  It’s easy to give into the temptations around us, but moving towards a new practice can lead to our thinking patterns being changed and a new way of being as we move towards a deeper understanding of those temptations.

The early church understood this.  They didn’t have a lot of the dogma that we have today.  For a few hundred years before Christianity became sanctioned by the Roman government, practice was more important than doctrine.  Folks knew that they needed community and that they wanted meaning in life and a new way of being.  Christians practiced welcome, grace, hospitality, a sense of equality was practiced between ethnicities and gender, all were one, and there was deep commitment.  When someone joined the church, it was a huge commitment; it could cost you your life.  Yet, the rule of love was so compelling that folks were drawn in…the early church folks didn’t ask new members of the faith a lot of questions about belief, but they took time to be in the practice of loving one another.  It created new patterns of being and doing.  

They also understood that God was committed to them and that Jesus’ actions on their behalf gave them the grace to start over, daily.  They had an understanding of God’s relational nature, which gave birth to the concept of God as trinity, and that Jesus entered into this world, and became sin for us, for all of humanity.  Know that Jesus’ response to temptation is our response, we may fail and lose often, often, but ultimately, we win because of Jesus’ work for us and in us….actually, it’s deeper than just winning, it’s growing and maturing…and as we practice loving in the way of Jesus, we begin to fall deeper in love with God, even as our overwhelmed with God’s love for and of us.


Old Testament Readings

Psalm 2:6-12 

I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling 12 kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him. 

New Testament Reading  

Matthew 17:1-9 

The Transfiguration 

17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, Iwill make three dwellings where, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

What is the definition of “transfigure”? I found this last week: 



transform into something more beautiful or elevated. “the world is made luminous and is transfigured” 

syn- transform, transmute, change, alter, metamorphose; 

“the glow of the sunrise transfigured the whole landscape” 

It’s interesting to note that the transfiguration in today’s passage happened on a mountain top…I guess that’s where we get the phrase “mountain top experience”. 

I can point to many “literal” mountain top experiences…I love to climb mountains! Some of those experiences can even be described as “transfiguring”…they are also often described as “thin places”.  While writing a grant request recently, along with several folks in our congregation contributing, Bob Nottingham found this definition of “thin places”:

“Thin places”, a Celtic Christian term for “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses” – Eric Weiner .  

“Thin places” can be found in every place, yet there are some where thousands have gone for centuries for rest, renewal, and as markers of new growth.

The transfiguration story in our gospel lesson takes up 6 days after a series of events where Jesus is going around sharing the good news of God’s Presence, a message that was about bringing about much anticipated change.  They come to a thin place on a mountain top.  

At one point in previous stories, Jesus is asking what others were saying about him. Some said that he was Elijah, John the Baptist. Peter said that He was the Messiah though…he had also healed some folks, one story right before this was a healing from blindness. He’s also beginning to share some hard things about his own suffering that was soon to come, that he would experience deep pain, and that he would die and rise again. Crowds were following him, I’m sure it was hard for them to understand, and even harder for Jesus to convey this message. 

Then we come to today’s passage where Jesus is getting away from the crowds, as he of- ten did. He went up to a mountain with three of his friends. These were good guys I’m sure, but not always on top of things, and they had some serious issues. Peter was anxi- ety ridden and prone to making big statements, only to not be able to back them up. He denied even knowing Jesus during his darkest hour a short time later. James and John were concerned with greatness and arguing about who would sit where in eternity. They seemed to be way more concerned by another life other than the one they were living. They seemed consumed with theological discussions and fantasies on power rather than helping those around them. Jesus had a few words for the how the disciples were to be servants at their expense a while later as well. Yet, through it all, through their anxieties, image issues, and failures, Jesus counted them as friends and believed in them. He invit- ed them into events and life experiences with him that were transformative and meaning- ful. 

This event, this mountain top “thin place” experience had a profound impact on the Peter, James, and John. They saw before them Jesus, their friend, changed, transfigured, beautiful. How did they react? Well, they were overwhelmed, but they were glad to be there, they knew they wanted to be there. Peter was so caught up in the moment, that he wanted to create three dwellings or set up tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Somehow he wanted to contain that moment. He was terrified, as they all were. They didn’t know where to go or what to do, yet, they knew that things had changed. 

Then, the clouds came. Maybe that’s to say that things aren’t always clear. Yet, God says, this is my son, part of me, I love him, LISTEN to him. 

Then, they left the mountain. But, notice that Jesus is with them. He’s not distant. Jesus told them not to tell anyone, they don’t have to validate themselves, just wait, there’s more to the story. Jesus would die, but he’d rise again. 

I think that this story has a lot to say about us as persons and as a church. We are being changed, all of us. We experience change throughout our lives. It’s inevitable. Some- times that change can be terrifying. It can be confusing and also exciting. We know we want change and need it. When it comes, we’re not sure how to respond or the way for us may not be clear. But God says that we are not alone, that he’s with us, going through change with us, and to listen to his son. This Jesus is also rising up within us. He is alive and is working in and through us, calling us to have confidence in ourselves as his friends. We are invited to see thin places all around us, and even in us…sometimes to go to other places, yes, but to cultivate an understanding that we live in a liminal, thin space all of the time…and transfiguration is a constant flow in our lives.  

That Son lives in us and his Spirit is moving all around us. I sense that in this church and community. And, we have to pray for eyes and ears to see and hear God’s flow, God’s Spirit, God’s presence…and that takes patience. I know we all want to see certain kinds of change that we think we want. For me, I often feel like I want to see change happen yesterday, I can be impatient, yet God has been whispering into my ear a lot lately to not follow the example of Martha and work excessively for things that are fleeting, but to be like Mary and sit and Jesus’ feet and hear words of love, invitation to deeper life, and re- lationship….words that are so encouraging…words that lead to my hearing God say that I’m beloved…and words that ultimately lead to a personal and corporate transfiguration. 

Friends, I believe that Fleming Road is going through a transfiguration. We are being changed into something beautiful. We are inviting in conversation partners to help us see through the clouds of what that change will bring, we are practicing listening skills to each other, our community, and the word of God. I know I’m listening. 

I want to see this church filled with people of all sorts of ages, color, economic back- grounds, thoughts, beliefs. Folks all being called to live life together in the way of Jesus and folks seeking out a Jesus who is pursuing them. I hope to see all of us living into Je- sus, a Jesus who was changed before the eyes of his disciples where they could see him in even deeper ways. It will take time, hard work, and some suffering, but it will also be dazzling, encouraging, and wonderful. We will be changed, and we will be glad to be on the mountaintop as that change happens. We won’t change overnight more than likely, and we will grow over time together. It is good to be with you as we go to the mountain- top together and hear God’s voice telling us, I love you, I’m with you, I am present. 


Old Testament Readings

Psalm 119:1-8

The Glories of God’s Law

Happy are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous ordinances.
I will observe your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me.

New Testament Reading

Matthew 5:21-37

Concerning Anger

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult[ a brother or sister,you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Concerning Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna). 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell (Gehenna).

Concerning Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Concerning Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

The past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the ethos, or the characteristics that we may have that lead us towards blessing.  This morning, our gospel and psalm text continues that theme of blessing, or even happiness in some passages.

When we read the gospel passage, we may think, “wow, this is hard, how can anyone not sin?”.  The point is that Jesus is using rabbinic tradition to drive home a point.  “You’ve heard it said long ago…”  In other words, this is what you’ve always been told, but let’s get to the heart of the issue.  You can make technical changes, try not to do outward actions that are wrong or wicked, but where’s your heart?

Jesus is telling us that the principles or ethos of being an active participant in the Kingdom of God is more about who we are at our core.  There are some strong statements, it’s not just an act of going to your friends or enemies and asking them for forgiveness before the sun goes down, but it’s an action of vulnerability that is necessary for your growth as a human being.  If you don’t, you become bitter, you build up walls within yourself.  You separate yourself from the blessing of potential relationship.  

Plus, it’s more than just the action.  It’s a statement about being.  How many times has someone come to you to “clear the air”, but inevitably as they “confront” you or ask for forgiveness, it seems to be more about a sense of them not giving up control, not being vulnerable, but trying to prove a point or somehow save face?  Jesus says that when our hearts towards out brothers and sister are not right, or we put them down, or hold something against them, then that will tear at us.  Thinking ourselves as superior to others leads us towards a kind of death.  As I understand scripture, those kinds of actions can lead us to a hellish existence…yet, we have opportunity to look deep within and to allow God’s love to dig deeper in our lives bringing growth, change, and maturity.

Essentially, this whole passage about treating your brother and sister in a wrong way, adultery, murder, divorce, or swearing or really symptoms of how we’ve lived fragmented lives.  Jesus is calling us towards living a better way, that we have grace to move to some better places of “being”.  This. “being” is meant to be our whole selves…whatever we have done or not done, is not as important as who we are becoming.  Who we are is deeper than life circumstances.  Are we willing to listen and see God’s grace deep within our lives and in the lives of those around us?

In scripture, the motif of having ears to hear and eyes to see are actions that God does for us.  In Psalm 40:6, it says that God has opened up our ears.  In Hebrew, the translation is literally “digging out our ear”.  God digs deep within us, into our very core being to speak to us God’s love.  In that passage, it says that God does not desire sacrifice or offerings, we cannot earn God’s love, but there is still work on our part…we have to have our ears dug out…and that can be painful.  We have to risk being vulnerable, letting go of the way we’ve done things or found our being, we have to go to others and ask for their forgiveness, yield to one another, and pray for ears to be dug deep within our souls.

When I was at the Abbey a few years ago, I had this phrase of “digging deeper” running through my head and heart.  Really, it’s been in my thinking for quite a while.  There is so much anxiety around me and in me at times.  Things in my family, some things here at church, personal events the past few years, and then the anxiety in the world and our country.  Even though I often don’t show anxiety outwardly, it can affect me internally and take away some of the blessing.  Having said that, anxiety can also be used as a gift for all of us to “dig deeper” and to have God dig out our ears to hear words of encouragement.

Encouraging words such as “you are loved”, “you are not alone, I am with you”, “you are in the midst of amazing growth”, “love your friends…and your enemies”, “stand, sit, walk in the flow of love that moves into the deeper parts of who you are and those around you”.  As we dig deeper into God’s belief in us, we find that the anxiety is turned into resolve and growth

Pslam 42 says that “deep calls into deep”, the depth of God calling into the depths of who we are and vice versa.  God calls us into deeper consciousness and awareness of God’s relational flow…God is digging deeper into us.  God demonstrates to us that God’s creative imagination gave us life, that our identity is not what others may say, but our identity is wrapped up in the Christ who has identified with us in humanity in Jesus.  The flow of God’s love and presence through God’s Spirit binds us to Jesus and to each other…gives us awareness of the blessing and happiness of walking with God as it says in our Psalm 119 passage this morning…and to live deeper lives of honoring and loving…we can’t do that on our own, we need each other…and, even deeper, we need to cultivate an understanding and awareness of Jesus’ carrying us and forgiving us and simply loving us towards being the people we’ve always wanted to be.  


Matthew 5:13-20

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Law and the Prophets

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaksone of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

So, what’s the purpose of salt?  Anyone?  It’s a preservative when you put it on something…it keeps things like meat from rotting away.  The ancients used it because they didn’t have refrigeration and it kept their meat from spoiling.  It also gives off flavor.  

I grew up on country ham in KY.  I still love it.  So, I was excited when I was in the UK a couple of years ago, I found a sandwich that changed my life.  A simple “toastie” which is British farm bread toasted, splattered with melted butter and what the Brits call “bacon”, which is really just country ham.  The saltiness of the butter and ham is fantastic.  It’s simple, but rich with flavor.  

Now, salt on it’s own, not on anything is simply a mineral…doesn’t do anything.  But, when applied to meat or something else, it preserves it and gives it flavor.  Here’s the kicker though, eventually, if that salty food isn’t consumed or used for something good…it can eventually lose it’s saltiness.  And, salt without flavor or no longer useful as a preservative, it’s no good…throw it out.  

Our passage this morning comes on the heals of the sermon on the mount.  If you remember last week’s message, we talked about the beatitudes meaning blessing and that if you had an ethos, or a characteristic, that points towards inclusive and welcoming love of self, others, and God…then you are blessed.  That inclusive and welcoming love flows from the dynamic of God’s being into us, and through us.  The characteristics or ethos are like the flavors that we give off as we are transformed, converted, changed through our awareness and relationship with God.  

Now, God doesn’t give up on us, God doesn’t discard us…that’s not God’s character.  God’s characteristic or ethos is intense fidelity, commitment, loyalty and faith to us.  But, God does want us to be the salt of the earth, and if we aren’t willing to be salt, then God will simply work in other ways.  For us to be salt, we have to be willing to practice love and giving ourselves away in order to be the salt that the world hopes for the church, or the body of Christ, to be…and needs it to be.

We have to apply the salt, the spice of God deep into our lives, into the recesses and pores of very being.  That requires first a recognition that we cannot live this life on our own, we need God and we need community with one another.  We cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make changes…we have to recognize our need for conversion and that we can’t foster conversation or change on our own.

A few weeks ago, while on retreat at the Abby of Gethsemani, I spent time reading some more from a Franciscan priest, and from a Celtic scholar that I’ve enjoyed getting to know, and from Carl Jung, the great philosopher.  Reading about our small ego not being able towards growth.  But, so often we try to solve our ego problems with our ego.  It’s the old adage about doing the same thing and getting the same results.  We get stuck in our practices and addictions.  

How do we move towards being salt in the world, experiencing conversion and growth and live abundantly in a world that seems to focus more on fear and scarcity?  By letting go of our ego.  Who we are, our true selves as the monk Thomas Merton, who’s monastery was the Abbey of Gethsemani, would say, is not our small “e” ego, but a deeply aware person who is committed to letting go and unlearning the practices that have led us towards a static way of life, and by taking on the salt that God gives us through interdependence on each other, and letting God’s flow expose the deepest parts of who we are into the light of God’s love.

Jesus reminds us also in this passage that God’s light is shining in and through us, let it flow through us and be a light into the world!!!  Don’t hide it, let light do it’s thing, expose the darkness.

Being a light, means having the light enter into our lives, exposing what we need to work on out in the open.  Being vulnerable is hard…letting go isn’t easy, but it’s a crucial step towards growth.  We have to be willing to be accountable to one another through vulnerable and authentic relationships built on grace and mutual growth.  Accountability in the way of Christ doesn’t mean punishing someone, it means being able to live into grace filled lives filled with mutual encouragement towards living abundantly as God intended.

In a small way, I’ve seen so many have an honest approach at trying do this in the church.  Personally, over the years, I know that I’ve had to let go of many of the ways that I have done “church” and practiced ministry.  I’ve had to let go of my vision of the church, and I think many of you are as well.  In that space, we become a bit vulnerable and trust and relationship become the fruit of that work of letting go.  This is an important part of our journey together, in letting go and listening intently, we can hear God’s unique vision for this church.

When we begin that process of letting go…and starting out is the hardest part, we begin to see God’s expansive love work it’s way into our lives, like salt into meat.  It preserves us and it gives us a good taste in lives.  We begin to practice being salt by loving each other…as well as our neighbors.  We find ourselves being peacemakers, practicing justice, standing up for those on the margins, being merciful and graceful, as we live into the commitment and bonds of friendship within community and with God. 

Jesus goes on to say in this morning’s scripture that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Jesus didn’t have a problem with rules or laws or church polity, but Jesus also said that being so focused on those rules than the bigger picture of God’s love, can lead us being more about the process than the relationship, and we lose our saltiness, we put our light under a bushel.  Those rules, the commandments, were given to us to show us how to be in relationship, and to remind us that we fall short and need grace to truly live life as it was meant to be lived.

Jesus fulfills the law by being the embodiment of the law as a person…the characteristics/ethos of the law in right relationship is Jesus.  And our relationship with Jesus, which brings out our true selves, means that we are also called to apply Jesus righteousness, which we possess, in our relationships with others…which leads to being light in a dark world, speaking up for the oppressed, the marginalized, the refugee…for justice and mercy or any opposing principles or ethos of this world which are often based on small ego.

More than just following Christ, we are able to live in Christ, which means moving towards a higher level of consciousness, of awareness….going beyond a literal observance of laws and rituals to a radical openness to relationship with God and others that is very much fluid and  requires faithfulness, trust, and even risk and marked by radical love and becoming salt that permeates into the lives others, preserving life, and giving it some spice!  So, friends, let’s keep on being salt and light!!!  


Matthew 5:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Beatitudes

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Ethos is an interesting word.  It simply means the characteristic of a culture, a person, or an organization.  What are the things that guide us?  


  • What is a guiding characteristic of our culture?
  • What is a personal guiding characteristic that you try to live by?
  • What about an organization that you belong to?
  • What about Fleming Road UCC?

These are all interesting characteristics.  I would also say that we can present an ethos or character statements in our lives or in our church that can help guide us and give us meaning and purpose.  

For example, my friends at Oasis have five ethos statements that define what they value and how they operate: 

  • a passion to include everyone
  • a desire to treat everyone equally, respecting differences
  • a commitment to healthy and open relationships
  • a deep sense of hope that things can change and be transformed
  • a sense of perseverance to keep going for the long haul 

In our church’s Elemental Vision, Values, and Goals work, you can say they are also a part of an ethos that is developing…we still have work to do as we all know on this…but, it is coming together more clearly as we sit with it and chew on it and develop it more.

  • Our vision:  engaging neighborhood, partners, churches.
  • Our values:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership.
  • Our goals:
    • Create opportunities for authentic engagement and welcome through new and existing events.
    • By 2024, Fleming Road UCC is a recognized community presence.
    • Increase community outreach through the use of the building facilities.
    • Creating congregational affinity.

Again this is a work in progress and it can be summed up in an ethos of awareness I believe that will evolve and continue to lead us towards more clarity of who we are as persons and a congregation…and even encourage deeper faith and trust. 

Our gospel lesson this morning also gives us the ethos of what it means to live in Christ, practices that we should live into.  We call them the beatitudes.  The word beatitude means blessing.  One of the things about reading the beatitudes is to understand that these are not commandments.  They are an ethos or a characteristic of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, the Presence or reality that this is God’s world and we are God’s and we are called to follow God.

So, if you are a peacemaker, you are blessed.  If you show mercy, you are blessed, if you are meek, you are blessed and will inherit the earth.  If you mourn, you are blessed and you will find comfort.  If you are persecuted, you are blessed because of righteousness…in other words, because you have lived in right relationships with others, worked on making those relationships good, then when persecution comes, when the bullies do their thing, you are blessed and your right relationships always works towards kingdom values and kingdom awareness…and, bullies or the unrighteous actions of others eventually simply waste away to nothing…like chafe in the wind.  They don’t have lasting meaning.

Now, what the beatitudes aren’t asking for is moral perfection.  When scripture says to be perfect as God is perfect, we tend to put our cultural ethos of doing things right or being right into this statement…we think as the Greeks did or in a dualistic way.  But, in Hebrew and Aramaic, it is odd to speak of God as morally perfect.  Dr. Glen Stassen and Dr. David Gushee in their book, Kingdom Ethics, state that the word perfect in biblical sense means to be complete or all-inclusive in your love…especially in your love for enemies.  

It’s easy to love your friends, but to go out of your way to bless and love your enemies.  That’s truly counter cultural.  Yet, that’s the message of Jesus throughout the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus isn’t teaching impossible moral ideals, Jesus is teaching an ethos of all inclusive and committed love that perseveres through all circumstances.  That’s a hard teaching for many, but when you can move towards that, things shift in your life in the lives of others.

Ghandi understood that, Martin Luther King understood that…the great changes in history happened as folks followed the way of Jesus.  Even Ghandi modeled his non-violent protests in many ways on the life of Jesus.  Living in the way of Jesus does come at a cost, you have to move from comfort to courage in life, but it gives you the peace you long for in your own life, and it can bring peace to others…it can even usher an awareness of the Kingdom of God.

David Gushee and Glen Stassen also go on to say that there is a threefold pattern in Jesus’ teachings on the Mount.  There is a teaching on what it means to be in right relationship, a vicious cycle meant to tell the listeners that one can’t settle for the way they’ve always lived, and a transforming initiative that says if you live in a characteristic or ethos of authentic love, you’ll be aware of God’s presence and that will change you and give you the growth you desire.

People in this world are craving for this kind of teaching, because it not only cultivates a relationship with God, but also action and an ethos that is worth living into.  We can see that in Jesus’ time, crowds came to hear this teaching.  The early disciples experienced amazing growth that changed the course of history through this teaching.  Folks today are leaving the church in droves because we’ve gone away from this ethos, but my bet is that if we taught this and lived this, people would want to embrace again the teachings of Jesus and want to see real change in all aspects of our personal lives and in the lives we live together in our church, community, our city, and our country.  In many ways, many of us here at Immanuel are already are already living into this Kingdom ethos as a church, it’s simply a matter of naming it and living into it.  As our church goes through some strategic visioning this year, defining our ‘ethos’ and how we live into that will be a central part of our discussions.  

God has been pleading with us to live this way throughout history, our old testament lesson today in Micah says that God has a “controversy with” God’s people…God simply requires us to live good by honoring God and others by doing justice, and loving kindness, and to walking humbly with your God.  And our passage in Psalms tells us that those who practice this will abide in God’s big and expansive tent!    

God has made God’s tent with us and walks with us, all of us.  May we recognize God’s walking with us, beside us, before us, behind us, and walk in humility with God and God’s loving ethos for us, all of us.   We cannot turn our backs on the refugee, on persons of different skin color, sexual orientation, economic status, or whether they are new or old to our country or our church.  What’s amazing is that Fleming Road UCC strives to do this, it’s been a part of the ethos of this congregation in many ways.  We can live into the ethos that God has given us with the opportunities right at our doorstep.  We can be a blessing and be blessed, or we can live drifting from one distraction to another, and miss out on the goodness that God has created within us and around us.  But, I believe that’s not us at our core, we want to move boldly and with courage to the future God has for us! 


Old Testament Reading

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Triumphant Song of Confidence

Of David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strongholdof my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
    you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
    O God of my salvation.

New Testament Reading

Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesuswent throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Our passage from Matthew this morning finds Jesus hearing that his cousin, John has been arrested so he retreats to Galilee.   Jesus, like all of us, needs time to retreat, regroup, process what he’s just learned.  So, he goes…along the way, it says that there is a prophecy fulfilled, the people in the lands that Jesus walked through, saw a great light.  Something has changed…there is light in the midst of darkness.  

The darkness at that time is probably much like it is today, folks are disconnected from one another, there are powers both inwardly and outwardly at work that keep people from living freely as they were created.  Powers inside of us that leave us that leave us enslaved to self-doubt, immobility, loneliness…powers that manifest themselves through consumption, selfishness, and a lack of self and others awareness.  We are isolated.  Those powers on the outside of us are similar as well, in our text, they are demonstrated in civic and religious power holders who want to maintain a sense of control and project power and relevance through fear and anxiety.

We are all in this darkness, enslaved.  And yet, darkness is sometimes necessary to walk through.  It’s only when we are in darkness like the people of Israel were in our gospel text, like they were in the old testament often, and how we are in our own lives now, can we grow and lean towards the light when we see it.  

There is a certain sense of passing in this passage, Jesus and John are relatives, there is continuity in their ministry as well as a discontinuity as John hands off his ministry to Jesus.  John knows it’s time to let go….that Jesus’ love and presence is being made known to folks and that there is a need for a new story, a new narrative to emerge.

Jesus steps through these areas mentioned carrying with a message of release, of freedom, and of being empowered through connection and inclusion with others and with a God who loves us and moves in, through, and around us bringing his an expansive view of the world filled with empathy, meaning, purpose, love.  

Jesus also continues John’s message of repentance…it is a reoccurring theme in Scripture.  When someone encounters this God that wants to free us, and encounter that is both deep within us and outside of us, drawing us closer to to our truest self as as well as a deep connection to others, it can create within us a change of heart and mind, we can experience a conversion, a transformation.  But, we have to come through darkness and want to move towards the light….and we can’t settle for divided lives but to live in awareness of embracing all that we are, which is being made in God’s image, and to be committed to one another and to God as God calls us to live in Christ and to follow the example of Jesus.

The next few verses give witness to folks responding to Jesus’ call to them and giving up everything, right at that moment to follow him.  Now, it’s unusual in those days for a rabbi as Jesus was to call his followers to follow him.  They usually sought him out, but Jesus seeks out Andrew and his brother Simon.  He sees them fishing and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men.  He doesn’t tell them to form a study, a committee, or go to seminary, he tells them to simply do something they understand.  Fish.  But, to go after others, to pursue friendships with others and include them into community.

Now, every Jewish boy wants to have a rabbi, Andrew and Simon may have felt like their time had passed them by, they were fishing with their father, we don’t know how old they were…but, it’s safe to say that they probably weren’t the first choices…but, they recognized something in Jesus, something good and beautiful, and said yes with their actions.  

Someone I’ve enjoyed getting to know over the years in the few conversations we’ve had is Jill Rowe, she talks about saying “yes”.  Several years ago, her London church said yes when the British government called them on a Wednesday to see if they’d take in 500 teenage refugees on a Friday, two days away.  Her pastor said yes…then they worked out to find homes for those kids…and they did!  A few months later, they have a thriving ministry to refugee children.  

It kind of reminds me of when our church said yes very quickly to the request from our Ukrainian friends last year to host a food festival.

Jill has a church that is incredibly diverse and filled with folks of all ages.  Jill talks about how so many folks are turned off by the church in general, we focus so much on minor things and people just get tired.  They want to simply “get on with it” Jill says, get on with loving others, working on awareness, and serving others…saying Yes to God’s call.

My friend Dr. Walter Brueggemann shared with me a new phrase a few years ago…people today want to move towards a post-critical scriptural adrenaline.  We can poke all sorts of holes in scripture, that’s fine, but we are still left with the stories that have power in them…they are stories of God’s YES to us and a call for us to say YES to God and each other.  

Many times, when Jesus approaches us, we can try to close him off…or we can say Yes to what he’s asking of us…and change the world, starting with ourselves and the neighborhood in which we live!  Yes, to refugees in London, or here at home, yes to Ukrainians, Nepalis, to Arts Connect, and to so many others, even for starting the church as Andrew and Simon did…and certainly saying yes to yourself.  You are not a sinner in the hands of an angry or displeased God, you are beautiful and loved by a God who constantly says YES to your being human and divine…a God who resides within you and all around you…

Saying Yes, to Jesus can be crazy, adventurous, and overwhelming…sometimes the following may take us into dark places…but, we are not alone.  Our identity as Christians is simply to live in Christ….to be Christ’s matter, Christ’s body in a world so fragmented.  Friends, this world is crying out for those of us who claim to live in Christ, to be be Jesus followers to get on with it, and live into transformational relationships.  


Old Testament Readings 

Psalm 40:1-11 

Thanksgiving for Deliverance and Prayer for Help 

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm. 

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.

2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
 out of the miry bog,
 and set my feet upon a rock,
 making my steps secure.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
 a song of praise to our God.
 Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD. 

4 Happy are those who make
 the LORD their trust,
 who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.

5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
 Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
 they would be more than can be counted. 

6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
 but you have given me an open ear.
 Burnt offering and sin offering
 you have not required.

 7 Then I said, “Here I am;
 in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

 8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”

9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
 in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
 as you know, O LORD.

10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
 I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
 from the great congregation. 

11 Do not, O LORD, withhold
 your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
 keep me safe forever. 

New Testament Reading 

John 1:29-42 

The Lamb of God 

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

 The First Disciples of Jesus 

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simonto Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 

Such a great psalm reading, one of my favorites. It’s also a psalm that the rock band U-2 plays at the end of most of their concerts. It’s a longing of the heart, how long must we sing this song? We long for life to somehow come together in some way, or even deeper, for life to be lived where we know others and are known by others…as well as knowing 

God and God knowing us. 

It’s amazing to be in an area or a stadium when Bono sings this song “40”, which is basically Psalm 40. 100,000 people fill these stadiums and sing this song at the top of their lungs. When I look around I see folks with tears in their eyes. Now, U2 is not a christian band, they are simply a popular rock band who happen to have a deep sense of God’s presence in their lives. 

I often think, wow, why can’t the church be like those stadium experiences? Not the production, but the feeling of deep connection. Now, church happens all of the time, it’s happening in those concerts, it happens down the street, and it happens in here. I see folks all of the time that want church, they want to connect to the deeper longings of their lives. They want to see God and to know that God sees them. 

However, those of us in the church often get caught up in so much other things, that we forget that church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be a community of authentic friends going after this longing for God. There are important things like buildings, programs, meetings, etc. Often, we also are not able to let go of certain destructive things in relationships, it’s hard being in community together, isn’t it? We have so many different thoughts, emotions, opinions…we sometimes seemingly can’t get on the same page or even the same chapter. The church as we know it can become a place where we can’t see God because of our focus on our stuff…it leads us towards a blindness. Yet, we still long for something more…we still long for relationships within ourselves, others, and God to be made well. 

What amazes me about Fleming Road UCC, is that this church has the same issues as most churches, yet there is a core of us that stay with this, we are committed to one another and to working through things and you include others. Most folks in society give up, move on, become church refugees. That’s not a judgment on them or us, it’s understandable. Yet, here, I know we have issues, but we are willing to have the patience to stick with it, to stick with each other I believe. 

So, the psalmist goes on to say that as we wait, we should wait patiently, and God hears our cry, God sets us up on a rock. 

Our gospel passage this morning finds John, the cousin of Jesus, proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the messiah, the promised one. This passage has a lot of verbs like, “look”, “see”, “behold”, all coming from the same greek root word. Have eyes opened to the reality of God in the flesh before us. 

John goes on to say that this Jesus is the lamb of God. The lamb who sacrifices every- thing for us out of love. There is a motif in scripture that humanity is always looking for a scapegoat….someone or something that we can blame our issues on rather than dealing with them ourselves and doing the hard work of self awareness and risking vulnerability. 

In Jewish custom, lambs or goats were offered as sacrifices, that’s where we get the term scapegoating. They believed that they could place their sins, their shortcomings on a sacrificial animal and release it in the wild to wander away with their sins or selfishness and give them a fresh start…or kill that animal. 

Jesus comes on to the scene. Jesus loves well and looks into the lives of others with grace and inclusion. Jesus is scapegoated because the religious leaders of that time and others were exposed in their shortcomings and put on to Jesus their issues…which led him to the cross where he became the scapegoat for us all. Jesus took it on and overcome being a scapegoat…Jesus love even overcame death and led to resurrection. 

This is key for us in our understanding of the way of Jesus. Jesus took on our stuff, didn’t let it define him, absorbed it, and then nailed it with him to a tree…he let it die and then resurrected to new life that he shares with us. 

Our passage also shares that others saw Jesus’ belief in them, Jesus’ willingness to love and brought folks to them. Andrew, a disciple of Jesus, always seems to be introducing others to Jesus…which makes sense, when we are excited about our relationship with someone, we want to connect them to others. It’s good to pause here and ask ourselves, do we sense Jesus’ love for us so much that we want to introduce Jesus to others like Andrew? 

When Andrew is introduced, Jesus asks, what is that you want? That’s also a good question for us. We are the church, the body of Christ, what do we want in meeting Jesus? And, are we ok with playing church or do we really want to experience relationship with Jesus? 

If we do want relationship, that changes everything. First century Judaism understood that names meant something, they had meaning. We get that on some level today. But, devout Jews knew that if you knew someone’s name, if you had their name, that brought a sense of knowing and of submitting to someone else. It was vulnerable to someone else to know one’s name. 

Jesus was introduced to others, he was given their names, and then he did something remarkable, when he met Simon, he gave him a new name, Peter, which means rock. Later he would say that Peter, would be the rock that the church would stand. 

Friends, may we also know that Jesus has given us that same name, we are the rock. We wait patiently for the Lord, he hears our plea, then he sets us upon a rock…a rock that isn’t a building or a system, but a relationship that is a sure foundation in a world that can often be shifting underneath us. And, we have friends that we love…and as we fall in love with Jesus, we want to love them as Jesus loved them and help them, as well as ourselves, find the new name that God is giving to us.