Friday, December 24, 2021

Sermon: "Let Us Build a House: Invited Home", Christmas Eve Message (December 24, 2021)

(This is the fifth sermon in our Advent and Christmas series, "Let Us Build a House", based on the Advent theme from A Sanctified Art. The others can be found herehere, and here - the third was given by a guest preacher.)


December is a month full of invitations. We receive them, of course, but we also extend them. In fact, around Christmas, we sometimes find ourselves inviting people to our home who otherwise wouldn’t “make the cut”. Normally, bringing your work home with you is stressful, but in December, some people find themselves inviting their coworkers to their annual Christmas party. The phenomenon of “Christmas Home Tours” inspires people to open up their homes to hundreds of complete strangers who want to admire their festive decorations. Several colleges have programs where locals can “adopt” a student who isn’t able to travel back to their own home for the holidays. In fact, someone from this very community (who shall remain nameless) admitted to me that his sister used to bring random people home for Christmas when she was in college, which he always hated. But for many people, that’s just what you do at Christmastime.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sermon: “Let Us Build a House: Seeking Sanctuary”, Exodus 15:1-4, 10-13, 17-21/Luke 1:46-55 (December 19, 2021 -Advent 4)

(This is the fourth sermon in our Advent and Christmas series, "Let Us Build a House", based on the Advent theme from A Sanctified Art. The others can be found here and here - the third was given by a guest preacher.)


Throughout Advent, we’ve been examining the process of building a house to help us better understand how we should be working towards God’s kindom: the sense of homesickness that inspires us to start building, the importance of a strong foundation that allows us to build something taller and sturdier than we otherwise could, and the understanding that, at least as far as God is concerned, our house needs to have enough room to include everyone. But in all the dreaming and planning and striving we’ve been doing over the past few weeks, there’s one fact about building that we haven’t yet addressed. The truth is, no matter how hard we work to build it, it doesn’t matter how big or tall or wonderful a house is if it isn’t SAFE.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sermon: “Let Us Build a House: Laying the Foundation”, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16/Luke 1:57-66 (December 5, 2021)

(This is the second sermon in our Advent and Christmas series, "Let Us Build a House", based on the Advent theme from A Sanctified Art. The first can be found here.)


More than 400 years ago, Shakespeare put pen to paper and asked, “What’s in a name?” His character, Juliet Capulet, was trying to convince herself that names really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things…but unfortunately, she didn’t actually have much support for her hypothesis. Not only did her family hold a dramatically different opinion on the matter, but pretty much everyone else in the world would disagree with her, too. Across time and cultures, names have always been central to human identity, and we’ve always put great care into choosing them. Even surnames, which had been passed along according to the same archaic customs for centuries, have recently been subject to more careful discernment than ever before. Because, contrary to what Juliet would have us believe, the fact is that our names DO matter.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sermon: "Let Us Build a House: Homesick", Genesis 12:1-9/Luke 21:25-36 (November 28, 2021--Advent I)

(This is the first sermon in our Advent and Christmas series, "Let Us Build a House", based on the Advent theme from A Sanctified Art.)


Think about the last time you moved. The searching, the haggling, the financing, the packing, the scheduling, the physical and emotional energy expended, and after all that, the unpacking and updating documents and settling in. All that work is multiplied tenfold if you’re building a house from the ground up. And if you’re moving across the country? Forget about it. No matter the circumstances, I think we can all agree that moving house is a monumental task.

And yet, we still do it. People move from one place to another all the time. These days, it’s rare for anyone to live their entire lives in the same house that they grew up in; in fact, the average USAmerican moves more than 11 times over the course of their life.[1] People move in good times and in hard times—many even moved during the worst parts of the pandemic last year. Even though finding a new place to live can literally be a full-time job, even though fitting everything you own into boxes can feel impossible, even though leaving an old home behind can be painful, moving is still a near-universal human experience.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sermon: “(God the) Father Knows Best”, 1 Samuel 8:4-14, 19-21/John 18.33-37 (November 21, 2021)


When I was a kid, my favorite time of the day was when I got home from school, and that was for one reason and one reason only—snack time. (I suspect that food has always given me an abnormally large dopamine rush, because I’ve *always* looked forward to meals as the highlight of my day.) Of course, I had my snacking preferences: candy was ideal, but cookies were also acceptable, as were chocolate-covered granola bars or potato chips (in a pinch). I would always try to steer my mom towards these items whenever I accompanied her to the grocery store.

Unfortunately, my mother and I fundamentally disagreed about what constituted a good snack. I would lobby for a new stash of my favorites, envisioning frosted animal crackers or Oreo cookies, but more often than not would wind up with string cheese, apples, or even (*shudder*) NON-chocolate-covered granola bars. Like, not even the kind with chocolate chips in them. JUST granola.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sermon: "Holy Provocation", Numbers 20:1-5, 9-13/Hebrews 10:19-25 (November 14, 2021)


Families fight. This is a universal truth. It doesn’t matter if yours is connected by genetics or by choice; it makes no difference how healthy the dynamics between its members are. All families fight.

The Church likes to pretend that it’s exempt from this natural law—that because we have Jesus as our head, we meet conflict with a level of grace and humility that puts everyone else to shame. But come on; we all know that isn’t true. ALL. FAMILIES. FIGHT. And God’s family is no exception. From arguments about what color to paint the walls to full-blown denominational schisms, the Christian family has been fighting with each other since time immemorial. Our fights may not resemble the backset arguments of our childhood over who’s touching whom or the tension of a holiday dinner in an election year, but they’re just as inevitable.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Sermon: “Momentary Saints”, 1 Samuel 3:1-10/Revelation 21:1-6 (November 7, 2021)


In Christian circles, we talk about “God’s kindom” or “the kindom of heaven” all the time, but we tend to have a limited understanding of what it is, precisely, that we’re talking about. We know it’s really, really good, that it’s “already and not yet” here (whatever that means), and that it will mark Christ’s return. Other than that, we’re pretty clueless.

That’s where apocalyptic literature like Revelation comes in handy. Hopefully, you remember that, theologically speaking, an apocalypse isn’t actually defined as a catastrophic event. Our English word is derived from a Greek verb meaning “to uncover or reveal”. And in the context of scripture, apocalyptic literature refers to writings that uncover or reveal God’s kindom to us.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Guest Liturgy: Reformation Sunday 2022

 The following worship service was adapted from one written and graciously offered for free use by the Rev. Carol Holbrook Pritchett. I've copied and pasted the portions of our Confessions and the historical context for those who may not have caught it all during worship!


Today is Reformation Day, a day when we celebrate how the church has grown and changed as it seeks to be Christ's body on earth. This is only the 5th time that Reformation Day has fallen on a Sunday during my lifetime. So to honor this special occasion, I’ve adapted a worship service written by Rev. Carol Holbrook Prickett (who preached here for us this past August).

We stand on the shoulders of countless generations who have sought to love and serve God, interpret the scriptures, and work out their faith in their particular day and time. This service celebrates their legacy by taking a journey through the PC(USA) Book of Confessions. Some of you are very familiar with the confessions, and some of you may know nothing about them. The confessions are, simply, statements of faith; the efforts of various people at various times to make some kind of coherent summary of what Christianity calls us to say and do. These confessions are part of our constitution as Presbyterians, meaning they guide and shape our life together. Pastors and elders vow to be guided by them. They are not scripture, and we do not believe or follow every word they say; but they do witness to the journey our ancestors have taken in gifting us with the church we know today.

Sermon: "The Most Important Word", Deuteronomy 6:1-9/Mark 12:28-34 (Reformation Sunday--October 31, 2021

This sermon was preached to supplement a beautiful Reformation Sunday Worship service written by Rev. Carol Holbrook Prickett that we adapted for use in our congregation.


I frequently hear (and maybe you have, too) a criticism of religion that goes something like this: “Why should I live my life according to outdated documents written by people who lived thousands of years ago?” And I mean, it’s a fair question. Modern society faces issues that our forebearers could never have imagined—healthcare, gun violence, climate change, bodily autonomy, and many more. The world we live in today is very, very different from the world in which people first proclaimed that “the Lord our God is one”.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sermon: “Half Glass Theology”, Psalm 22:1-2, 6-8, 11-18/Psalm 22: 3-5, 9-10, 19-24 (October 10, 2021)


Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge the irony of the fact that the week after I announce that I don’t like preaching from the Psalms, I preach from the Psalms again. Don’t let anyone tell you that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Having said that, let’s hear what the Psalms have to teach us today.

Would you consider yourself a “glass half-empty” or a “glass half-full” type of person? I probably don’t need to explain what I mean; this proverbial phrase is pretty universally understood as shorthand to describe one’s outlook on life—a generally pessimistic person will describe a glass partially filled with liquid as “half empty”, while a more optimistic person will describe that same glass as “half full”. The idea, of course, is that our attitude colors the way we see our circumstances. A “glass half-empty” person will perceive everything around them with a tinge of gloom while a “glass half-full” person will see everything through rose-tinted glasses.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sermon: "THOSE PEOPLE", Psalm 26/Mark 2:13-17 (October 3, 2021)


Generally speaking, I don’t like to preach from the psalms. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like *them*; on the contrary, I think they’re a wonderful collection of writings that represent the human side of the divine/mortal relationship very well. But that’s exactly the problem: I love turning to the psalms for empathy and solidarity in my personal faith life, but when it comes to community worship, preaching from the psalms feels like centering the message on humanity instead of God. Preaching from the psalms feels self-indulgent.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sermon: "The Righteousness of Second Thoughts", Exodus 32:7-14/Mark 7:24-30 (September 12, 2021)


This week, Idaho made the national news. Unfortunately, it was for an incredibly bleak reason. On Wednesday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated “Crisis Standards of Care” for the Panhandle and North Central Health Districts. As far as I know, we were the first state to do so in any capacity. While this declaration hasn’t yet reached the southern part of the state, it is, quite frankly, terrifying that this is happening at all: that health care providers are being put in the position of having to determine who gets care and who doesn’t because our medical resources are stretched impossibly thin. While I maintain hope that this state of affairs will be short-lived and won’t reach our corner of the state, I have to admit that I’m not terribly optimistic.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Sermon: "'Being' Chosen", James 2:14-19, 26/Mark 7:31-37 (September 5, 2021)


You may be surprised to see “James” listed as one of our readings for today. In last week’s sermon, I noted that we have a tendency to avoid this part of scripture, and I offered two reasons for this: one, because we subconsciously prioritize Paul and the Gospels over other scripture, and two, because James encourages his readers to embrace Torah, which can be uncomfortable for us if we incorrectly understand Torah as a series of outdated laws. But in reading this week’s lectionary, I realized that I’d missed a THIRD reason that pastors often resist preaching on James. Now, this reason probably bothers the average congregant less than it does the clergy, but it strikes terror into our hearts. Well, maybe not terror, exactly, but certainly enough discomfort to trigger avoidance when it shows up in the lectionary.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sermon: “Laying Down the Law”, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9/James 1:19-27 (August 29, 2021)


We in the reformed tradition don’t generally seem to spend a lot of time with the book of James. As far as I can tell, there are two reasons for this, the first being that if something isn’t either written by Paul or a gospel, we tend to dismiss it as “less important scripture”. That line of thinking is problematic enough, but the second reason is arguably even more distressing: we tend to ignore James because he, more than any other New Testament writer, places a heavy emphasis on obedience to the Torah, God’s holy Law, within the Christian community.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Guest Sermon: "The Curious Case of the Descending Tricolon Crescendo", Isaiah 55:10-13/Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (August 15, 2021)

Preached by the Rev. Carol Holbrook Prickett:

I only had to participate in the school science fair once.

It was required of all sixth-graders, optional after that. I chose for my project what has to be one of the most common experiments out there, right alongside the standard baking soda volcano: I planted seeds in different kinds of soil to test how they grew.

One of my pots had regular soil in it. Into one I mixed the kind of things you put into compost—banana peels, mostly. The third I added trash to—bits of Styrofoam and candy wrappers. I was pretty sure that that the trash plants wouldn’t grow, and the regular soil ones would, and the compost ones would do the best.

Between Ms. Frizzle and Bill Nye, I thought I understood the basics of horticulture.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Sermon: “I’m Hungry, God!” 1 Kings 19:2-8 /John 6:26-27, 33-35, 41-51 (August 8, 2021)


Human beings have a pretty tentative grasp on knowing exactly what it is what we need. All too often, we assume we need one thing when we actually need something else entirely. How many times have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m hungry; I need a snack,” only to open up the (fully-stocked) fridge or pantry and decide that there’s “nothing to eat”? It turns out you weren’t hungry after all; maybe you were thirsty instead, or just bored. Some things are universal, and this is one of them: one of my favorite passages of scripture is in Numbers, where the people complain to Moses, “There’s no food or water [here in the desert], and also we detest this miserable bread!” Some things never change.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sermon: "Biblical Gymnastics", 2 Samuel 11:26-12:9/Ephesians 4:1-6, 12-16 (August 1, 2021)


I have to admit; I’ve never quite understood the appeal of watching sports. I guess I’m just not all that interested in who can make the ball go in the goal the most times. But even I get caught up in the excitement of the Olympic games. I’m not as interested in the superlative competitions regarding who can be “faster, stronger, closer, ” (the races, weightlifting, shooting events, and that sort of thing) as I am in the ones where competitors demonstrate the incredible ways that they can make their bodies move. As someone who considers herself fairly uncoordinated and is extremely out of touch with her own body, THESE are the sports that leave me in awe. The events like synchronized swimming, diving, and, of course, gymnastics.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sermon: "Star Words, Revisited", Christmas in July (July 25, 2021)


Today, we gather during the hottest part of the year, not long after a record-setting heatwave, to hear the stories that we associate with the coldest part of the year. We gather, sitting in folding chairs instead of pews, spread out with some of us in the open air, others in the AC, and still others miles away in their homes, to lift our voices as one in singing these sacred songs that, in spite of everything, still manage to transcend time and space. Things are different today than when we normally sing this music, and yet somehow, we cherish that which remains the same.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sermon: "Imagine the Kindom", Jeremiah 23:1-6/Mark 6:30-44 (July 18, 2021)

*NOTE: I use the word "kindom" instead of "kingdom" in order to emphasize the dynamic relational aspect of the world that we create with God more than the dominant/submissive relationship that "king"dom implies. The two words refer to the same idea.*


I have to admit that if you asked me my favorite story, it probably wouldn’t be one from the Bible. If I had to pick, I’d probably say Peter Pan. There’s just something so relatable and poignant about the stubborn desire to stay young and carefree forever. I’ve read the original novel, seen the musical adaptation (of course) and many versions of the movie; every single interpretation does a beautiful job playing with the tension between the gifts of childhood and the expectations of adulthood.

Arguably, few movies do this more creatively than Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film, “Hook”. This movie asks the question, “What would happen if Peter Pan actually DID grow up?” The answer, apparently, is “become a corporate lawyer.” Peter has grown up and completely forgotten about his former life. When his two children are kidnapped by Captain Hook, Wendy (whose family he married into) breaks her silence and reveals to Peter that he is, in fact, Peter Pan, and must go to Neverland to rescue the children. Peter, being a very reasonable sort of man, is unconvinced, but Tinkerbell drags him away to Neverland anyway.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Masks in Church

Are you wondering why your church is still requiring masks, physical distancing, or some other COVID precautions while the rest of the world seems almost back to normal? I can't speak for everyone, but I can share my own thinking that's informed the conversations I've had with my church leadership.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Sermon: "What's Mine Is Ours Is Plenty", Exodus 16:1-3, 11-18/2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (July 4, 2021)


Most of us recognize the widespread inequality in the world, but we don’t all agree on what to do about it. Some of us are fiercely individualistic, believing that every person is responsible for their own success or failure in life, and that charity of any kind upsets this natural order. Others believe that, as a society, we have a moral obligation to provide for every person’s basic needs without exception, even to the point of government involvement. And there are countless others who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. There’s certainly no shortage of opinions on the topic.

Much of this variety in perspective stems from the different ways that we each parse the concept of “charity”. We could all look up the word’s definition in the same dictionary and still draw entirely different conclusions about it, depending on the who, what, when, where, and why that we read between the lines. For example, some differentiate between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. Others see charity as a matter concerning only the extremely wealthy and the exceptionally impoverished. Some only think about charity around holidays; others consider it a part of their day-to-day life. Some believe charity is a benevolent act of generosity, while others see it more as a personal obligation. With so much unspoken nuance, it’s little wonder that charity is such a divisive topic in our society.

There’s no one “right” answer. But as Christians, we have an obligation to factor scripture’s teachings into whatever conclusions we draw for ourselves. We need to figure out what scripture is trying to say, to compare our own conclusions to those drawn in the Bible. And no one in scripture shares more of their conclusions more boldly than Paul.

Paul’s entire ministry is defined by his uncompromising views about…well, everything. Shortly before writing his second letter to the Corinthians, he attended the Council of Jerusalem—the first major gathering of Christian Leaders—and proceeded to argue publicly with Peter. Because Jesus was Jewish and his movement grew out of Jewish tradition, the assumption up to that point had been that anyone wishing to follow Christ would need to adhere to all Jewish laws and customs. But Paul knew that, for the Gentiles to whom he’d been ministering, this was a major impediment to the gospel. So he demanded that conversion to Judaism (in particular, the associated rituals) no longer be a requirement to join the Church.

Eventually, the rest of the apostles acquiesced, but with a caveat: they did NOT want this development to lead to two separate classes or categories of Christ-followers. If the Gentiles were to join their community as non-Jews, it was imperative that they not consider themselves separate from or (heaven forbid) superior to their Jewish kindred. As a gesture of goodwill and unity, Paul agreed to collect an offering from each of his churches and send it back to help the Jews in Jerusalem—which brings us to today’s scripture reading.

The church in Corinth is initially enthusiastic about this offering—no doubt excited to be an official part of the new movement—but after some time, Paul observes that their enthusiasm seems to have waned. Conflict had arisen within their local community (as conflict tends to do whenever people attempt to live together) and their own concerns were distracting them from their charitable efforts. Paul writes to the Corinthians in response, concerned that they won’t follow through on their commitment to the larger Church.

This development is neither surprising nor, frankly, particularly irrational. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable way for the Corinthians to prioritize their energy. I remember a conversation I once had with someone sharing this same perspective, someone whom I greatly respect. They told me, “Ideally, everyone would share their resources, and everyone would get what they need. But life doesn’t always work that way, and if it comes down to me having enough or someone else having enough, I want to make sure *I’m* taken care of.” Much of life is about making difficult choices, and this is absolutely a valid way of prioritizing one’s resources when resources are hard to come by.

But while Paul doesn’t criticize the Corinthians for their dwindling enthusiasm or compel them to prioritize the offering for Jerusalem, neither does he absolve them of their attention to it. In contrast to his confrontational strategy in Jerusalem with Peter, this time he tries to convince the Corinthians by offering a new perspective. After laying the groundwork with flattery (“You’re so good at everything; I bet you can be the best at collecting this offering, too!”), guilt (“Jesus shared his riches with all of YOU!”), and a call to piety (“This is a great way for you to prove that you really do love God!”), Paul finally makes his point: the offering is in EVERYONE’S best interest. Although the Corinthians have different traditions, lifestyles, and perspectives than those in Jerusalem, he insists that they are, in fact, different members of the same body—and so the concerns of one community are appropriately the concerns of all.

When Paul first wrote in 1 Corinthians about the Church as one body, the community (like us) may have read it as an individualistic metaphor—I am a hand; my neighbor is an eye; each of us individually is vital within the body of our immediate context. According to this understanding, if a body outside of our context is suffering, we can choose either to help or to keep our distance for the sake of self-preservation, with minimal effect on OUR self-contained body either way. But in this passage, Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t consider different communities to be separate bodies. The body of Christ has many more members than just “me” and “you”. It’s made up of ALL of us together—all individuals and all families and all churches and all communities—and every single illness or injury to one member impacts the whole. Therefore, the wellbeing of those outside of our immediate context should naturally be of universal concern.

The Corinthians had been thinking about their charity towards Jerusalem as an afterthought, as something to consider only once their personal concerns were addressed. But Paul urges them to look beyond the impact on their immediate context and see how their voluntary generosity affects the larger system. Paul wants the communities he founded to stop thinking about their actions in terms of how it benefits “MY” community or “YOUR” community, and instead to work towards the good of “THE” community—a community that includes everyone beloved by God.

Once we understand “the body” as including more than just the immediate “us”, the goal of charity inevitably shifts. The goal becomes bigger than simply “the others” having more. Paul insists, “It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties…” It’s not a matter of shifting wealth away from ourselves and towards others. Giving to other members of our own body is a matter of equilibrium: “At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit.” The true goal of Christ’s body is that ALL have enough: you and me and them and us. Each person should give to the degree that they’re able so that the greater “we” can be whole. When we’re able to make this mental shift, there’s no longer “mine” or “yours”; there’s only “ours”.

Now, if you disagree with Paul’s way of thinking, I’m sure certain buzzwords, like “Socialism” and “Marxism”, are already bouncing around in your head. But here’s the thing: this isn’t something that Paul just made up himself. He diplomatically insists that this is merely his opinion and not an order, but then reminds us that this “mere opinion” is grounded directly in scripture: “As it is written, ‘The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little.’”

He is, of course, referring to God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness. God didn’t bestow manna and quail in a “survival of the fittest” free-for-all. No; God provided each person with EXACTLY what they needed: not just the bare minimum to survive, but enough to fill their bellies and leave them satisfied. Humans being humans, some still collected more than their share, and others wound up with less. But when the dust cleared and all was said and done, God made sure that everyone had the exact amount that had been allotted to them—and it was plenty.

Paul clearly thinks that this speaks unambiguously to God’s intentions for humanity. We know, from the stories of creation, the exodus, the feeding of the 5000, and countless more, that our God is a god of abundance. Not just “someday” abundance, but “RIGHT NOW” abundance. We don’t have to wait for there to be enough for everyone…there already is. God has planned it so that none of God’s creation should ever have to go without—as long as we can let go of our compulsion to stockpile our personal resources out of fear.

It’s incongruous to believe in a loving and generous God that would only provide enough for some of us to thrive. The fear of our charity leaving us without enough isn’t founded in scripture. In fact, doubting the sufficiency of God’s provision is, by definition, a distinctly unfaithful position to take. It’s not necessary for us to philanthropize ourselves into poverty, but neither do we need to fear that our generosity will lead to our downfall.

And so, we arrive at Paul’s bottom line for the Corinthians: what’s mine is ours is plenty. God has created and provided for all of humanity as one body, and it’s in our best interest to care for every part of this body so that we might achieve the balance and harmony that characterizes life in Christ (I mean, that’s the whole scriptural idea behind tithing). But while Paul is firm in his belief that this is God’s vision for the world, he’s also clear that no one is compelled to act or even think this way. Faith isn’t about doing or believing the “right” things; it’s about fully aligning our hearts and spirits with God’s. And you get to decide how—and if—to do that.

On this weekend that we in the United States celebrate our freedom, those of us who claim citizenship in God’s kindom need to ask what we do with our freedom. Do we prioritize our individual autonomy, separating ourselves out from others so that our personal concerns take center stage? Or do we celebrate our ability to take part in this divine vision, experiencing multiplied joys and divided burdens through the interconnectedness of Christ’s global body? The latter comes with certain obligations, of course, but it also comes with God’s promise of abundant provisions through our mutual care. The former can’t promise the same. It seems to me that considering Paul’s perspective is worth a shot. If we truly believe in a God of provision, we have very little to lose, and a whole new branch of family to gain. Let’s give it a try. Amen.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sermon: "Life On the High Seas", Psalm 107:23-32/Mark 4:35-41 (June 27, 2021)


Earlier this week, the Treasure Valley had an intense (albeit, relatively brief) windstorm. Some people reported retrieving their garbage cans amid unrelenting gusts of wind that blew dust in their mouths; others ran outside to move their cars to places of shelter for fear that they’d be damaged. Many southwestern Idahoans lost power.

The largest casualty at my house was an inflatable wading pool, recently purchased in anticipation of the 100+ degree days looming this week, that flew into the blackberry bushes and is now sadly no more. 

The pool in question

I sat in my living room on Tuesday night, watching the tree branches and hammock whipping around violently and wondering how much actual damage this storm would cause when all was said and done. I was grateful to be in the relative safety of my home, but even though I knew I’d probably be fine, it was scary to watch the storm wreak havoc outside. I could only imagine how it would feel to be somewhere that I couldn’t escape the storm’s wrath, where I couldn’t even rely on the ground beneath my feet to remain steady, like the disciples in the gospel reading.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sermon: “A Perfect Fit”, 1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37-40, 18:1-5/Ephesians 6:10-17 (June 20, 2021)


Have you ever gotten a gift that you just…didn’t like? For me, it’s coffee mugs. I have coffee mugs coming out of my ears, and while I DO love coffee, I don’t need a different mug for every day of the year. I struggle to find a place to put them all, and it’s not like they have an infinite number of uses (I only have so many pens that need holding). Every time I open a gift containing another mug, I inwardly groan. I know I’m not alone; I’m sure there are plenty of father-figures around the country this very minute opening hastily wrapped presents and wondering just what the heck they’re gonna do with whatever’s inside.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sermon: “God’s Co-Op”, Genesis 2:4-9a, 15, 18-22/Mark 4:26-32 (June 13, 2021)


God’s kingdom has been compared to a lot of things. According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, yeast, a fishing net, a landowner hiring day laborers, a wedding banquet, servants entrusted with talents, and so on and so on. All revealing something important about God’s kingdom, and yet all (to our modern ears, anyway) rather enigmatic. (What actually *is* a talent, anyway?) If even the disciples struggled to extract meaning from these parables in their context, what hope do we have today?

Monday, June 7, 2021

A Modest Proposal for a New Edition of the Bible

How I wish scripture had a sarcasm font.

I'm reading through Mark 4 to internalize the context for this week's scripture reading, when I come to v. 11-12:
"[Jesus] said to [the disciples], “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven."

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Sermon: "Out of Our Minds", Mark 3 (June 6, 2021)


We throw the term “crazy” around pretty lightly these days. If someone does something risky or daring, we exclaim, “That’s crazy!” If someone makes an unusual or unexpected choice, we protest, “That’s crazy!” If someone tends to behave in ways that are flamboyant or bombastic, we explain it by saying, “They’re crazy!” We usually mean it benignly or even admiringly, using the term to describe something outside of the norm in one way or another. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, the primary function of this term is to disassociate the speaker from the subject; to say, “I’d NEVER do something like that!” “Crazy” is a word that has, intentionally or not, come to represent severed connections.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sermon: “Beyond Our Ken; Within Our ‘Can’”, Isaiah 6:1-8/John 1:1-5, 9-14 (May 30, 2021--Trinity Sunday)


Today is what’s affectionately known by many preachers as “Heresy Sunday”. Devoting a week’s worship to the Holy Trinity SEEMS like a great idea in principle, but if you’ve ever attempted to explain the Trinity to anyone unfamiliar with the doctrine, you can understand why this is actually one of the most challenging Sundays of the year to preach. The Trinity is such a strange concept—three equal and unified persons of the same substance contained within a single God—that humanity has yet to discover an analogy that doesn’t accidentally slip into heresy in one way or another.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Sermon: "Speaking in the Spirit", Acts 2:1-8, 12-13/Ezekiel 37:1-10 (May 23, 2021--Pentecost)

When we think of the story of Pentecost, we usually think of the dramatic visuals: the individual tongues of flame alighting on each person; the confusion of the crowd; the jeering of the unbelievers. When we think of Ezekiel and the “Valley of Dry Bones,” we likewise think of the incredible imagery: the deserted low place full of dry, sun-bleached skeletons; the spectacle of these bones suddenly becoming covered in sinews and flesh and skin; the great earthquake that accompanies this miracle. If you close your eyes, it’s easy to picture these events. They’re two of the most vivid scenes in all of scripture. No wonder we’re drawn to them.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sermon: "This Changes Everything!" Acts 1:4-9/Ephesians 1:15-19 (May 16, 2021)


When I first started telling people six years ago that I was moving to Idaho, I got all sorts of responses to the news. I remember one person joking that I was continuing my “I-90 ministry”—I’d begun with my theological education in Boston, continued back in my hometown of Rochester, and now was making the leap to Idaho (I-90 runs through the panhandle). According to this theory, I’ll have to retire in Washington to complete the journey.

I didn’t mind the joke at all. In fact, there was something comforting about knowing that I’d still be connected, however distantly, to the highway that I’d logged so many miles on over the years. Growing up, my family traveled I-90 to visit my grandparents in Buffalo; I made the trek between Boston and Rochester on a regular basis during the 5 years I lived in Massachusetts; I’d even occasionally hopped on I-90 for just a few miles if the traffic was bad on the other highways. Even though I was only really familiar with a relatively small stretch of the Interstate, it was still reassuring that, in the face of such a dramatic life change, I could still follow that same road to travel back home.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

...Given For You.

Over the past month, I've both donated whole blood for the first time in 17 years and donated platelets for the first time ever.

A little background:

The first time I gave blood was at a blood drive in High School. The donation itself was uneventful, but as I stood to make my way to the snack table, my vision began to narrow, and as soon as I sat down, I passed out. It was humiliating and scary, and while I didn't regret donating blood, I wasn't eager to repeat the entire experience.

But when the church I serve hosted a blood drive a month ago, I decided it was time to try again. I knew I'd be surrounded by people who knew me and loved me, and I'd be able to go right back to my office to lie down if necessary. While on the cot, I quickly became lightheaded and nauseated (per tradition), but I let the phlebotomists know and they immediately took measures to alleviate the symptoms. I didn't wind up passing out, and while I wouldn't call the experience comfortable, it was a triumphantly successful return to blood donations. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Sermon: “Permission to Be Bad: The Myth of the Growing Edge”, Exodus 4:10-16/Romans 12:3-9 (May 9, 2021)


We’re quickly approaching the end of the Easter season. Next week we’ll be celebrating the Ascension (when Jesus is taken up into heaven and the disciples are officially promoted to apostles) and the week after that, Pentecost. So today represents the final days of “training” for Jesus’ followers. Sounds like a good time for a performance review, don’t you think?

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Sermon: “The Prophet-Driven Market”, Acts 8:26-40 (May 2, 2021)


We’ve all been in this situation: you enter a store, minding your own business and focused on getting your shopping done, when it happens—a sales associate appears out of nowhere and swoops in to ask, “Can I help you find anything?” Sometimes, they persist even if you say no: “Well, let me tell you about our sales today,” or, “We’ve gotten some new styles in for spring; let me show you.” Ugh. It’s enough to make me want to turn around immediately, walk out the door, and never look back.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Sermon: "Don't Be the Antichrist", Selections from 1 John (April 25, 2021)


Although 1 John is often lumped in with the epistles, it’s an unusual one, in that it doesn’t follow the conventional patterns of a first-century letter. Actually, it’s composed more like a sermon than a letter. Instead of addressing the specific questions or issues arising within a particular Christian community, 1 John seems to be casting a wider net, offering guidance to the Church at large. Given that it was probably written around 90 CE (making it one of the latest epistles in the biblical canon), this makes sense—as the Church grew, it became more and more imperative to make sure that EVERYONE was on the same page, so that Jesus’ message wasn’t being distorted in the world’s largest game of “Telephone” ever.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Sermon: "A Corporeal Gospel", Luke 24:33-48 (April 18, 2021)


Many of you who are on Facebook have been following along with the adventures of “Office Dog”. Lately, I’ve been bringing my older dog, Murray, into the office with me on Mondays (and sometimes Tuesdays). I like to document all the silly and adorable things my pets do, and at some point, I decided to share Murray’s Monday adventures on Facebook for fun. It’s brought me joy, and if your comments are anything to judge by, you seem to enjoy these pictures, too.

If I’m being honest, though, I don’t bring Murray to the office with me just for amusement’s sake. I bring him as a survival tactic.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Abundance”, John 20:1-18 (April 4, 2021--Easter Sunday)

(This is the final sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance".
Previous sermons can be found hereherehereherehere, and here
and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Speaking of rising, let’s talk about bread (you can remind me to add “master of segues” to my resume later).

Throughout Lent, we’ve been talking about the specific ingredients that go into a recipe, and I’ve been particularly thinking about the ingredients of bread: yeast, flour, sugar, salt, water. It strikes me that none of these raw ingredients, on their own, are particularly appetizing. I mean, hot water isn’t very refreshing without tea or cocoa in it, and even sugar is pretty boring without any other flavoring, and I don’t know anyone who snacks on handfuls of flour, yeast, or salt. But when you combine them with intentionality, care, and patience, you suddenly find that you have before you a homemade loaf of bread. Fresh, warm, appetizing. Capable of nourishing a body, of satiating hunger, and of bringing gastronomical delight. This transformation, from unpalatable ingredients to delicious delicacy, is, frankly, unexpected, if not downright miraculous.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Empathy”, John 13:1-17, 33b-35 (April 1, 2021--Maundy Thursday)

(This is the Maundy Thursday sermon for our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance".
Previous sermons can be found herehereherehere, and here,
and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


I think I’ve mentioned it in the past, but it bears repeating that the word “Maundy” (which we see almost exclusively in the context of Holy Week) comes from the Latin word for “command”. While this holy day is most often associated with the Last Supper or the foot washing that we just read about, it’s named for the “new commandment” that Jesus gives the disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you.” As an aside, I always imagine Jesus smiling wryly as he calls this a “new” commandment, since it’s the exact same message he’s been trying to get across since day one of his ministry. But on Maundy Thursday, he elevates it from a suggestion or an instruction to a genuine commandment, on par with the Torah: Love one another as I have loved you.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Looking Forward”, Mark 11:1-11 (March 28, 2021--Palm Sunday)

(This is the sixth sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance". Previous sermons can be found hereherehere, and here, and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


It’s so good to be back worshiping with you again. I wasn’t in worship last Sunday because, as many of you know, I’d just gotten my second COVID vaccine on Saturday and, given all the horror stories I’d heard about side effects, Session and I decided that it made the most sense for me to stay home the next day. As it turned out, my side effects weren’t all that bad—a headache was the worst of it—so I took the opportunity to look ahead and work on our worship videos for Holy Week.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Reorientation”, John 3:14-21 (March 14, 2021)

(This is the fourth sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance". Previous sermons can be found herehere, and here, and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


I remember the first time I saw someone holding a “John 3:16” sign at a sporting event. I was probably in middle school or thereabouts. I asked my parents why, out of all the verses in the Bible, someone would choose to hold up that one, and they said something like, “Because that verse is a summary of the whole gospel message.” After I looked it up (I wasn’t yet the biblical prodigy you see standing before you today), I was puzzled. I mean, yes, John 3:16 by itself is technically a spoiler for the rest of the story, but as far as I could tell with my limited preteen theological prowess, it wasn’t really communicating anything new, insightful, or uniquely compelling. Why, I wondered, would someone attempting to evangelize to a (presumably) non-Christian audience choose THIS verse to represent the Good News?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Reflection”, Exodus 20:1-17 (March 7, 2021)

(This is the third sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance". Previous sermons can be found here and here, and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


“That’s it; you’re in time-out!” How many of us have heard these words and experienced the pure panic of a child knowing that they’re in big trouble? Although we usually thought of it as a punishment in the moment, a time-out should more accurately be considered a “behavior modification strategy”. Unlike grounding, in which privileges are revoked as a method of negative reinforcement, a time-out is intended to remove a person from their normal environment and give them the opportunity to reflect on their bad behavior. After all, you can’t express remorse or make it right if you don’t understand what you’ve done wrong. In the words of parents since time immemorial, you’re put into time-out in order to “think about what you’ve done.”

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sermon: "Recipe for Repentance: Trust”, Romans 4:13-25 (February 28, 2021)

(This is the second sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance". Last week's sermon can be found here, and the Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


Paul’s letters aren’t always what you might call “user-friendly.” Many of us avoid reading them because they’re so complex and dense. Even the most devout among us, those who’ve successfully endured Leviticus’ litany of laws and stayed awake through the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, find themselves thwarted by Paul’s rhetoric. His arguments are so sophisticated and his language so theologically technical that it really can’t just be read; it must be studied and absorbed in order to be truly appreciated. And who has time for that, right?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sermon: “Recipe for Repentance: Humility”, Mark 8:31-38 (February 21, 2021)

(This is the first sermon in our Lenten series, "Recipe for Repentance". The text of our Ash Wednesday message can be found here.)


I’ve gotten into an online debate with a stranger exactly once. It was about a year and a half ago, back when the Democratic primary debates were the top news story in the United States. Everyone from every point along the political spectrum had an opinion on the candidates—and there were plenty of candidates to have opinions about. I generally tried to steer clear of online arguments during the political cycle, largely because I believe that listening is more important than speaking in situations like this. On this occasion, though, I made an exception and decided to offer my two cents.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sermon: "Recipe for Repentance: Ashes and Crumbs", Psalm 51 (selected verses) (February 17, 2021--Ash Wednesday)

(This is the Ash Wednesday sermon for our Lenten Series, "Recipe for Repentance". The full worship service can be found here.)


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. Yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.” (Psalm 51:1-3, 6) 

On Ash Wednesday, Christians all over the world take ashes onto our bodies in remembrance of our mortality and need for repentance. It’s a reminder that, no matter how clean we feel, no matter how much we think we’ve “got it all together,” we are always at God’s mercy. We’re always subject to the death and decay of our sin. While we can easily wipe away the ashes on our foreheads, our sin is far more difficult to remove. We need to repent before we can be at one with the Lord.

When Ash Wednesday Meets Epiphany


You may or may not be aware of the Epiphany tradition of "Chalking the Door", but it's been something I've done for the past two years here at Boone Memorial Presbyterian Church. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sermon: “Jesus’ Deciphers”, Mark 9:2-9 (February 14, 2021--Transfiguration Sunday)


Every year, on the last Sunday before Lent, we read this story. Every year we hear the account of the disciples’ encounter with a transfigured Jesus. Every year, the disciples try to convince Jesus to stay up on the mountain with them for a while. And every year, we struggle to figure out what to make of this supernatural story.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Sermon: "Delighting in the Caretaker", Psalm 147:1-11 (February 7, 2021)


Normally, I avoid preaching on the psalms. Not that I have anything against them; they’re beautifully expressive poetry that, over the course of 150 chapters, conveys the full range of human emotion. They’re incredibly useful for personal devotion. Not to mention that the psalmists wrote in such a liturgical style that the psalms are a wonderful resource for worship planning. It’s just that to me, the psalms often feel…well, repetitive. I mean, how many ways can you say, “God is awesome,” or “Everything is terrible, God,” or “Save me, God”? They’re obviously important texts, but psalm sermons can get bland if you’re not careful. So, in what’s perhaps a personal pastoral shortcoming, I generally avoid them for preaching purposes.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sermon: “Love’s Prerogative”, 1 Corinthians 8 (January 31, 2021)


Whether you realize it or not, you’re already quite familiar with Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians—at least one particular part of it. “Love is patient; love is kind; Love never ends…Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is Love.” These words are from 1 Corinthians 13 (five chapters after today’s reading). Odds are that you’ve heard this passage preached at a wedding or seen it on inspirational wall art. Many Christians embrace it as their favorite passages because, like John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13 seems to encompass the essence of our faith succinctly, memorably, and poetically.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sermon: “The Fellowship of the King”, Mark 1:14-20 (January 24, 2021)


We all know our job as Christians, right? The resurrected Jesus told his disciples what they were supposed to do in one of his final messages to them; we call it “The Great Commission.” All four gospels include some version of it. In Mark’s gospel, from which we take today’s reading, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News.” Huh. Not very instructive, is it? For a job so important that it makes the cut in all four gospels, Jesus’ very last words to his disciples, we really don’t have a lot information to get us started. Where should we begin?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sermon: "Your Servant Is Listening", 1 Samuel 3:10-20 (January 17, 2021)


Today’s reading could be considered the final chapter in a three-part subplot that kicks off Samuel’s career as a prophet. Part two, which immediately precedes this passage, is probably the best known of the three: the boy Samuel hears God’s voice calling to him in the middle of the night, but thinks it’s the voice of his mentor, Eli. It takes the two of them three times before they figure out what’s going on, but once they do, Eli instructs Samuel to respond, “Speak, Lord; your servant is listening”. You’ve probably heard this part of the story before; this is the go-to passage for ordinations and commissioning services.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sermon: "No, And...", Genesis 1:1-5/Mark 1:9-11 (January 10, 2021)

The first creation account is one of the strangest yet most beautiful passages of scripture that we’ve inherited through our tradition. Although we often talk about God having “a divine plan”, creation is presented here almost as a spontaneous act, one where God, whether out of boredom or sudden inspiration, starts speaking the universe we know into existence. It’s like God’s decided to take up improv, and just starts throwing things out there: “Let there be light! And a dome to separate the waters! Oh, and dry land! Ooo, seasons, too! This is good stuff. Let’s add some living things…”

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sermon: "2020 Star Words", Matthew 2:1-12 (January 3, 2021)


Merry Tenth Day of Christmas! Personally, I have yet to see a single lord a-leaping, but the day is still young. Although we technically have two days of Christmas left before Epiphany this year, we generally observe the celebration of the Magi on the Sunday preceding January 6, since midweek worship isn’t too common these days. However, as Epiphany represents the “revealing” of Christ to the larger world beyond the Jewish people, it’s fitting that we use this transitional Sunday, the first one of the new calendar year, to reflect on what’s been revealed to us since the last time we celebrated Epiphany.