February 2017

This is the fourth of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are the links to the other sermons:

Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 2: “…to be the feet of Jesus…”
Part 3: “…to be the voice of Jesus…”

A sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-18 and Matthew 26:26-30

Something happens to our bodies about the time we turn 30, I’ve discovered. Things stop working like they once could and illnesses take a greater toll and become much more difficult to get over – harder to lose weight. I know, I know…some of y’all are saying, “Just wait till you turn 40…or 50…or 60…” But for now, just allow me to be amazed at this discovery and don’t take away my pity party. The Avett Brothers recently released a song that says this:

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right.

–  The Avett Brothers, Smithsonian

Several weeks ago on the Sunday morning we began this sermon series on our new vision at Ellendale – “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ” – I woke up queasy and I knew it wasn’t just nervousness about preaching that sermon or anything. You see, my daughter had had a stomach virus a couple of days earlier that made her vomit. So when I woke up feeling unsettled on that Sunday, and then when my wife woke up a few minutes after me and she said she felt queasy, too, and threw up about 2 minutes later, I knew some rough hours were coming. I prayed right then and there – “God, if you can help me hold it together until 12:15 so that I can get this sermon preached in both services, after I get home you can let this hit me as hard as it has to.”

Well, God was faithful to God’s end of the deal. I kept my distance from the congregation that morning, and I made it to 12:15, put on my Green Bay Packers gear (that was the Sunday they played the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs) and then collapsed onto my bed, which I did not leave except to go to the bathroom for the next 36 hours. I couldn’t even get up and cheer when Mason Crosby kicked the winning field goal. Ugh…that was horrific…my body has never felt that badly in my whole life. I ached in places I didn’t know you could ache. My body was getting all out of sorts and I couldn’t get comfortable…just miserable.

Now after I recovered, I’ve had several weeks to ponder about this…not so much the getting older part, but the mystery of how a body processes and responds to an illness. The body is an amazing thing – sometimes extremely fragile, at other times remarkably resilient. It’s amazing how all the parts of the body are intertwined and interconnected…to such a degree that when one part, or shall we say, member, hurts, the whole body hurts with it. Yet at the same time, while the body might be wiped out, there are still some things that you have to do to sustain you through those rough times…even when you have the stomach flu, you have to keep eating and drinking – to stay hydrated, to get some nourishment, however small it is, to the body for the sake of its survival and recovery when the stuff finally goes away.

And then there’s that first meal you have after the virus is finally gone – is there anything quite like that satisfaction? I mean it’s not like you’re able to go after a filet mignon and lobster tail right away, but just the feeling of health and life and strength come back…it’s so refreshing to eat and you know it’s going to stay down.

To put it another way – during the sickness, at times it felt like I was getting dismembered – my body was being torn in pieces. And the last thing I felt I had the strength to do was to piece my body together and eat and drink. The other thing about it is that when my feet couldn’t get me to the kitchen, what had to happen? My wife or the kids had to bring me something.

So the point to consider: when our bodies are all out sorts and we feel dismembered, the way to get well again is through a process we might call re-membering, putting the members back together, and this is best done through nourishment of a meal – to practice and celebrate recovery from an ailment, to get healthy again, to gain strength so that the body, now made well, can go on about its mission…its purpose – vitality! Life!

There are times when the body, that is, the church, is all out of sorts too. Fractured relationships, broken trust, as Paul alludes to in his letter to the contentious Corinthians, jealousy over not getting to be the part of the body you want to be, pride – all of these and more that tends to dismember us, if not in actual people leaving the church, at least in a virtual distance even if we’re in the same space to worship or to learn in Sunday school or to break bread. There are times, probably, where you just don’t “feel like” it…like breaking bread with him or her or them. “Ugh! I have to share at the table with them?”

But Jesus has said that when we come together to break this bread and drink this cup, we are to remember him. Remember by recalling the mighty acts of redemption through Jesus Christ, but also by re-membering, that is putting the members of the body back together, through a meal of reconciliation – a meal to restore the fellowship, to practice the presence of God and be truly present to one other, to gain nourishment so that the body, being made well by the mystery of God’s grace, can go on as a body sent out into the world to share that grace with those who are broken and hurting, with those who for some reason or another can’t or haven’t made it to the table yet.


We come to the table and the words are spoken – make these elements Christ’s body and blood so that we…that is the church…might be the body of Christ for the world around us – the world outside these walls. This isn’t a private meal, but an open one so that we all can experience God’s healing grace and become more faithful and empowered to be, as we have envisioned – “…the hands, feet, and voice – yea, the whole body – of Jesus Christ.”

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


This is the third of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are the links to the other sermons:
Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 2: “…to be the feet of Jesus…”
Part 4: “…to be the body of Christ…”

A sermon on Romans 10:17 & John 7:53-8:11

After a Sunday morning service one day there was a young boy named Philip who suddenly announced to his mother, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a pastor when I grow up.” She said, “Well, okay, I’m glad to hear this. But I’m curious, what made you decide that? Did you feel God calling you to do this?” “Well,” said Philip, “I’ll have to go to church on Sundays anyway, so I figure it will be more fun to stand up and talk than to sit down and listen.”

My mom always used to quote this Proverb to me that always sounded a little Mark Twain-like to me: “Better to keep silent and people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” It turns out there is a Proverb in the Bible that is remarkably similar to it. Listen to what Proverbs 17:28 says in the Message: “Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they’re smart.”

At some point or another, or perhaps throughout the lives of many of us, we have this tendency to put our foot in our mouth or to say something we shouldn’t say – something foolish, something hurtful, something irrelevant – just to fill the air. Let’s face it, the Scriptures are clear in multiple places about the power of our words – of our voices – of the significance of the content of what we say as well as the timing and the tone. James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship, expressing wonder about how the smallest muscle in the human body has the power to inflict the most damage but also to bring about the best blessing and build up someone else through encouragement.

The spoken word is so potent that it is by the act of God’s speaking, according to Genesis, that the creation comes about. God spoke, “Let there be…” and so it happened. John begins his gospel with a take on the creation that speaks to this in saying, “In the beginning was the Word…” And like when some superheroes come to terms with whatever their superpower is, they go through a phase in which they wrestle with this power and how to control it or use it for good, when we discover the power of our words to wound or heal, we struggle with keeping our tongue in check. Some of us, anyway. The alternative, of course, is to just say whatever we want, regardless of how it affects others, or just to say whatever pops up and not care what others think.

But when it comes to things pertaining to the gospel, I think more often than not, we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or of causing harm – to such a degree that we are reticent to say anything about God or Jesus or things pertaining to faith. One of the most beloved quotes we cite is attributed to St. Francis and it says, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” We love that because, honestly, we think it lets us off the hook from speaking any words of truth or grace or about Jesus.

To put it another way, there are two ways in which to share the gospel – through word and through deed. The reality, I think, is that it is so easy to do one and not the other. Some faith traditions are very, very good about sharing about the good news of Jesus Christ through their words, but are sorely lacking in following through with action and building relationships and being the “hands and feet of Christ.” But, conversely, there are other faith traditions, and I think that a lot of us Methodists fall in this other camp, that are very good about ministering through our deeds – by being the hands and feet of Christ, but are reluctant to say anything. Against these tendencies, we have Jesus, who married word and deed such that wherever his feet took him, he taught with his mouth while breaking bread with his hands…he touched and healed the ill and blind and issued the word of forgiveness and grace to set them free…he embraced the children and outsiders and taught about how they were first in the kingdom of heaven…with the miracles of his hands, he also preached with his lips. It’s all through the Gospels! Jesus wasn’t a mime! He didn’t just perform works with his hands, but also spoke grace with his voice. It’s in our liturgy: “Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.” Do you hear the marriage of word & deed?

It’s why, I think, it’s so important for us to include being Christ’s voice in our vision statement – to accompany the hands and feet. And this passage from the gospel is so revealing about what the voice of Jesus is all about – and what it’s not about. And that ought to make us give serious thought to the manner in which we use our voice for the sake of the gospel. For lessons about speaking abound in this story.

Jesus is teaching in the temple in the position of authority by sitting down. Jesus’ voice is found teaching and we as the church ought to find ourselves sitting as his feet as the one with authority by learning from Jesus and from one another about him. So that speaks to one dimension of what it means to be the voice of Jesus Christ as part of our vision.

But I’m particularly interested in how Jesus engages the situation that interrupts his teaching – when these scribes bring and expose a woman caught in the act of adultery. Now this raises all kinds of issues with me – where was the man that was committing adultery? It seems like these “scribes” were more PI’s trying to catch someone in an unholy act than to pursue justice, holiness, and peace. In any case, what becomes apparent is that for them, ultimately, this woman was just a pawn…to try to trick and trap Jesus. They demanded an answer – the Law says this; what say you, Jesus? If he says, “Yes, you have permission to stone her,” this would go against every sort of similar encounter where he had shown mercy directly to the offender and discredit what he had done and said elsewhere. But if he says, “Nah…don’t worry about it,” he gives them ammunition against him to accuse him as a teacher who was breaking ways with the Law of Moses. They thought he was predictable…that he would reply one way or the other, but they must not have imagined how he responded. How beautiful, his response. He stops talking…stoops down…scribbles something in the ground…what he was writing we don’t know…but interestingly this is the only time in the New Testament where it says Jesus was writing something with his finger, just as the only time when it says that God wrote with his finger was when he wrote the Law on the tablets of stone.


“Hello, Jesus! Give us an answer! Can we go ahead and stone her?” And then Jesus says what is one of the most quoted statements of Jesus – “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” This statement seems so powerful to us…such a burn on the accusing mob. But we also know the end of the story. Suppose we didn’t know the rest of the story…that’s a risky challenge. It would take just one hot-headed self-righteous guy to say, “Psh…I haven’t sinned like her…” someone like what I have heard (or maybe I’ve tended to think)… “They needs Jesus more than I do…” and then the stoning could’ve commenced. What must that woman have thought or feared?

“If they were so scheming as to try to catch me in the act and not ashamed of dragging me out, what’s to stop them from following through?”

But Jesus’ words, Jesus’ voice does something else…in this case as he spoke and then stopped, returned to his scribbling…his voice disarmed the stones of condemnation and judgment. One by one, they dropped their stones and left. Left her alone with the one who was without sin. I love what St. Augustine, one who struggled with lust and sexual sin, said about this – He wrote:

They left the woman with her great sin in the keeping of him who was without sin. And because she had heard, ‘He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her,’ she most likely expected to be punished by one in whom no sin could be found. But he who had repelled her adversaries with the voice of justice lifted on her the eyes [and I would add the voice] of mercy.

To be the voice of Christ in this world, like in this story, is to speak mercy where others speak judgment, to disarm the condemnation that even the most rigorous and well-known scholar of the Bible spews to belittle others, to know when to not speak as much as when to speak and when (not if) the right time comes, to speak grace and truth though it may cause others to scratch their heads or drop their stones and move forward in pursuit of a holy love.

When the opportunity came along for Jesus to give a word of judgment, of condemnation, of ridicule, of putting her in her place, he bent down to the ground – called out the judgmental hypocrisy of the scribes – and practiced mercy all the way through. And in mercy, he also isn’t afraid to challenge this woman either – go and don’t sin anymore. “He proclaimed release to the captives.” You’re free – you don’t have to do that anymore. That mercy, that antidote to condemnation, is what inspired Charles Wesley to pen what is my absolute favorite hymn, And Can It Be, the last verses of which say this:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread, Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own.

Preach the gospel at all times – with your hands, with your feet, and also with your voice – for the times will come when it’s needed. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the second of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are links to the other sermons in the series:
Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 3: “…to be the voice of Jesus…”
Part 4: “…to be the body of Christ…”

A sermon on Mark 5:21-43 and Ephesians 6:15


Confession: There are a handful of movies that, while conjuring up lovely memories in the minds of many people my age and older, give me nightmares and I envision them not as fantasy and wonder but horror. I include among these: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and The Wizard of Oz. I mean for real…those flying monkeys with their zombie-like expressions and movement… *shudders*. I’m no fan of horror movies, and neither is my wife, Carrie, but she loves all things Oz – the books, the movies, she has a collection of Christmas tree ornaments from the movie, and on and on. (I only knew of one Wizard of Oz growing up and his last name was Smith and he played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. But I digress…) Now there’s this new TV series called The Emerald City, which is putting a new twist on the story. And I have to admit, I’ve gotten into this last one…intriguing. No flying monkeys yet, but I am drawn in by the story telling. It’s been pretty suspenseful so far.

Now the thing about suspense is that it makes us want to get to the resolution. It is symptomatic of our way of living in the Western world that we long for closure. While we hate to see our favorite TV shows or series come to an end, we do, nonetheless, long for that closure. And so relative to that baneful movie from 1939, to avoid all the mess and heartache that Dorothy experienced along the road, I would like to tell her as soon as she got to Oz, “Hey, Dorothy, click those red ruby shoes together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home!’!” You can avoid all the nonsense and the horror along the yellow brick road. To be immediately brought to the resolution. What must that experience be like? Or to speak to more recent cultural expressions than the old Wizard, what it would be like to be “Beamed up, Scotty!’? But isn’t this what we’re obsessed with – getting where we need to go…and quickly…no delay…no detours…minimal pit-stops or layovers… are… we… there… yet?

C. S. Lewis once said that “The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space.’ It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.”

I think sometimes even in the church we get caught up in this seeming light speed pace of the world and we get impatient when things don’t move fast enough to get done what we know needs to be done. It may help us to remember that Jesus didn’t save the world traveling at the speed of a NASCAR, but at a simple walking pace. Jesus saved the world at a pace of about 3 miles per hour. Even in emergency situations, Jesus remained calm – he was deliberative, yes – but he was never in a hurry as far as we can tell.

And this is what brought me to the Gospel passage this morning. Perhaps there could have been better or more detailed stories or examples of Jesus’ feet and what we see them doing elsewhere in the gospels. Like we learned last week about Jesus’ hands, his feet can be found in many other modes – in some passages, they are found to be on the receiving end of being anointed and/or kissed by a woman, they can be found walking upon the water in a shocking miracle displaying his authority over the created order, there are the instructions Jesus gives to the seventy disciples he sent out with preparations for their feet, the way in which he washes the feet of his disciples, and of course, the fact that his feet, like his hands, were pierced by nails, shedding his blood. This last one in particular is potent just as we saw the hands of Jesus at the cross display the vast, immeasurable expanse of God’s love. So also the feet, shedding blood, are the means by which Jesus makes peace through the blood of the cross.

But there is something more vital about Jesus’ feet that is subtler and can be seen underneath the surface in what takes place in this passage from Mark. And I believe it is this quality that speaks to what is central to our new vision at Ellendale – to be the hands, feet, and voice of Christ – and that is this: about Jesus’ pace, or the way he moves his feet, and how this speaks to the manner in which Jesus carries out his mission. That is, Jesus’ feet are the vehicle of carrying his grace to the hurting world. Whenever you see a reference to Jesus going or coming, always think this – his feet got him there – and its always on purpose. Jesus walks with resolve to do his Father’s will…and that means, like what we see in our text today, that he takes unexpected (and undesired) detours even when they’re puzzling to his followers.

A synagogue leader asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter. And Jesus responds by going…not by asking, “Hey, you need to bring her to the synagogue” or “to the church”…no. Jesus goes. Now it doesn’t say that Jesus was walking with a particularly slow pace, but I imagine if I’m the synagogue leader and Jesus is walking with me to heal my daughter who is on the brink of death and I don’t have an ambulance, yes, I’m probably doing my best to rush him. Perhaps he was walking briskly, but this was stifled at least to some degree by the crowd pressing in on him, when all of a sudden, Jesus pauses…and takes a detour.

“Who touched me?” His followers said, “Who touched you? More like, who didn’t touch you? Ugh. Somebody needs to go to Sam’s to get some Lysol and hand sanitizer.”

But there’s more to what Jesus is saying…he felt healing power going out from him when a particular person touched him. And he goes…off the path…off the script…his feet veer away, momentarily, off of the way we think he should go. But instead Jesus goes aside, he kneels, he speaks, he makes whole. Jesus took the time to walk to this woman and make her whole before he resumed his course to the young girl. By then it seemed too late for her. But allow this One to be fully present with her, too, and she will be made well – and that is what happened. The feet of Jesus walked to enable him to be fully present and minister wherever he went. And here’s the kicker—no pun intended—his feet took him outside the walls of the worshiping community because the world outside the walls was where the hurt was.

And that’s why this vision of being the body of Christ, including being his feet, is not ultimately about what we want to take place inside the walls of this building, but more importantly about what we desire to take place in the community – in the lives of the people who come here and the people with whom we come in contact as we walk, and run, and jog, and drive, and fly, through life. It’s taking each step on purpose and being fully present in every circumstance. Only we should let God’s grace shine with us wherever we are. It’s not about mere engagement here on Sunday morning. It’s about taking the mission out there, about sharing God and grace as we go.

This is why we also heard from Ephesians 6:15 earlier – feet fitted with readiness to share the gospel of peace. John Wesley commented about this passage:

Let this be always ready to direct and confirm you in every step. This part of the armor, for the feet, is needful, considering what a journey we have to go; what a race to run. Our feet must be so shod, that our footsteps slip not. To order our life and conversation aright, we are prepared by the gospel blessing, the peace and love of God ruling in the heart. By this only can we tread the rough ways, surmount our difficulties, and hold out to the end.

Feet then, in Wesleyan terms, serve as prevenient grace – that which goes before and enables us to share the gospel of peace – of God’s reconciling love through deed (expressed with the hands) and word (expressed through our voice). When we are serving as the feet of Christ, we are expressing that God’s grace comes to us on its way to another and we are invited to hop on board and follow – not clicking our heels together, not getting beamed up, but walking in step with the Spirit at the pace of Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah speaks about the feet of the messenger – how beautiful they are in bringing the good news that God is King and our good God reigns!

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of them
Who bring good news, good news,
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness,
Our God reigns, our God reigns…

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.