Saturday, December 24, 2022

Sermon: "When Words Aren't Enough: A Song of Christmas", Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols (December 12, 2022)


Over the last four weeks at Boone, we’ve been exploring how effectively music can express deep emotions when words alone aren’t sufficient. We’ve been paying particular attention to how Biblical figures respond to profound emotion with song. In Revelation, we heard those on the shores of God’s kindom singing a song of hope for what’s to come. In Luke’s gospel, we heard Simeon singing a song of peace that he was only able to find once he encountered Christ for himself. In Song of Solomon, we heard a couple singing a song of love that reminded us how powerful and enduring this emotion, which comes from God, can be. And in 1 Samuel, we heard Hannah singing a song of Joy that endures even in the midst of life’s challenges. Then, we “wrote” our own song by listing what makes us want to sing about hope, peace, love, and joy on music staff banners (which you can find – and continue to contribute to – on the wall towards the back of the sanctuary).

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sermon: "When Words Aren't Enough: A Biblical Song of Joy", 1 Samuel 2:1-10/Luke 1:46-55 (December 18, 2022)


When we think about “songs of joy”, we usually think of examples like “Ode to Joy” or “Joy to the World” – up-tempo tunes in major keys with lyrics of celebration and triumph, projecting euphoria with every note, reeking of sunshine and flowers and rainbows. That’s the baseline assumption about what a good song of joy should be – music that makes you happy. Sometimes, we seek this kind of song out when we’re feeling especially low as an emotional “pick-me-up”. In our quest for joy, we try to drive out our grief, lament, or anxiety by inundating it with as much audible happiness as we can stand.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sermon: “When Words Aren’t Enough: A Biblical Song of Love”, Selections from Song of Solomon (December 11, 2022)


We couldn’t have a sermon series about biblical songs without an excerpt from the Song of Solomon, and what better week to explore it than the week of Advent that we focus on love? This book (also known as “Song of Songs”) describes a love so powerful that prose can’t adequately express its sentiments – music is required. It’s best known for its detailed, borderline scandalous, depictions of physical love between humans. It doesn’t shy away from specifics (which is part of the reason we’re reading “selections” in worship today). But that’s kind of the point: polite, chivalrous love isn’t an especially accurate representation of love’s true potential and power, is it? You couldn’t convincingly make the assertion that “love is as strong as death” at the conclusion of a poem written in the style of an Arthurian legend or a Jane Austin novel. So, instead of trying to censor or avoid this book (as many have done throughout its history), it’s better for us to accept it for what it is and try to discover what we can learn from it.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Sermon: “When Words Aren’t Enough: A Biblical Song of Peace”, Luke 2:25-32 (December 4, 2022)


As Idahoans, we all appreciate the beauty and grandeur of nature. Even someone like me, who doesn’t generally leave the house except under extreme duress, can’t help but being moved by a drive through the mountains or a beautiful sunset or the first snow in the foothills. But have you ever tried to take a picture of it? No matter what angle you take it from, no matter what the lighting is like, no matter how you compose the image, the photo never winds up doing justice to your experience of the view. There’s somehow something fundamentally different about KNOWING what something looks like and EXPERIENCING it for yourself. Otherwise, people would have stopped traveling to see the Grand Canyon or the Great Pyramids after the invention of photography. Even when we try to supplement a photo by describing the view’s personal effect on us, we usually wind up resignedly admitting, “I guess you just had to be there.” No matter how detailed a picture your words paint, it can never match the lived experience.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sermon: “When Words Aren’t Enough: A Biblical Song of Hope”, Revelation 15 (November 27, 2022)


Revelation may seem like a strange text for the first Sunday in Advent, but in many ways, it’s actually a perfect fit. As we stand here on the cusp of a new liturgical year, we exist in a sacred liminal space. This is where the fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies becomes imminent, where the ancient wisdom meets the new creation. We anticipate the coming of our long-awaited Messiah at the same time we acknowledge the fact that the wait isn’t quite over; we celebrate the redemption that we already know is ours while we wait for the one who’s given it to us to be born. And more than any other part of scripture, Revelation represents the “in-between-ness” that characterizes this time of year.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Liturgy: Swords Into Plowshares - Isaiah 1:10-20; 2:1-5 (November 20, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: A day will come when all nations will say,
People: “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s Mountain, so that he may teach us his ways.”

Sermon: “A War By Any Other Name”, Isaiah 1:10-20; 2:1-5 (November 20, 2022 - Reign of Christ Sunday)


I’m going start today’s sermon with a confession and a story. The confession is that the scripture readings we just heard were mostly not what the Narrative Lectionary assigned for today. The bulk of today’s assigned readings (which would have been from Isaiah 36 and 37, in case you want to look it up later) recount a wartime exchange between the kings of Assyria and Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel). But half of the words in these passages are difficult-to-pronounce names, and I found it challenging to keep all the characters, their locations, and the metaphors straight. So instead of forcing the liturgist to suffer through all of this, I’ll just summarize it for you myself instead. Storytime!

Monday, November 14, 2022

A Third Creation Account?

I just had a new theological thought while working on this week's sermon (wouldn't be surprised if some scholar had already written a book on this, but it's been an interesting process trying to put it into words).

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Liturgy: Micah - Micah 5:2-5, 6:6-8 (November 13, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: With what shall we approach the Lord?
People: Should we come before God with burnt offerings? Will the Lord be pleased with the fruit of our lives given for the sin of our spirit?

Sermon: “In the Meantime”, Micah 5:2-5, 6:6-8 (November 13, 2022)


Micah is one of what’s known as the “minor prophets” of the First Testament. This designation isn’t a judgement on the substance of his prophecy; rather, it’s a comment on its length as compared to the more substantial prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In spite of its brevity, however, the book of Micah still manages to pack quite a punch. For example, Christian theologians throughout history have considered the first part of today’s reading proof of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. It claims that a divine ruler would come out of the insignificant little town of Bethlehem. This would have been the equivalent of promising that Notus or Greenleaf would produce the next Abraham Lincoln or FDR – only, you know, God. So the fact that the Messiah is prophesied to – and ultimately did – come out of Bethlehem is exciting and offers a sense of real hope.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Liturgy: Elisha Heals Naaman - 2 Kings 5:1-15a (November 6, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: Come, all you saints!
People: We come to worship the Lord!

Sermon: "Speak Up!", 2 Kings 5:1-15a (November 6, 2022)

I haven’t heard it yet personally (I’ve been checking), but now that we’re past Halloween, I suspect that we’ll soon be hearing Christmas music on the radio. Although I firmly believe that the anticipatory aspect of Advent is a crucial part of our liturgical year and our faith, I don’t mind hearing these tunes outside the context of worship in November and December. It helps me to plan ahead and mentally prepare for the upcoming liturgical seasons, and of course, who can’t use a little extra joy these days?

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Liturgy: Solomon's Wisdom - 1 Kings 3:5-26 (October 30, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: A heart true to the Lord does not desire wealth or victory.
People: We come before God seeking the Wisdom of Solomon.

Sermon: "Better Together", 1 Kings 3:5-26 (October 30, 2022)


When I was very young – I don’t remember exactly how old, but the memory is fuzzy, so it must have been a long time ago – I learned an important lesson about paper currency. I think what had happened was that my mom had given me a one-dollar bill to take to the corner store so that my friend and I could get some candy (it’s hard to believe, but you could still get some types of candy for a few cents in those days). Now, I knew that the money was intended for us to share equally, and I didn’t want one of us to accidentally benefit from our resources unfairly. Although we were making the trip together, we’d be making our candy selections independently once we arrived, so I did what seemed to me to be the fairest solution: I ripped the bill in half.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Liturgy: David and Bathsheba - 1 Samuel 11:14-17, 26-27, 12:1-9 (October 23, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: Rejoice in the one who hears our cries!
People: Who offers forgiveness for our wrongdoing and answers our prayers!

Sermon: “Imperfect Confession”, 2 Samuel 11:14-17, 26-27, 12:1-9/Psalm 51 (October 23, 2022)


2 Timothy[1] tells us that “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” The idea is, of course, that all scripture has value, and we shouldn’t throw out any passages just because we don’t like them. But in certain contexts, a Bible story hits a little too close to home and becomes harmful to hear. Many people struggle with today’s reading because it elicits painful memories; hearing about David’s terrible choices retraumatizes them. I want to remind these people that just because a passage is useful for teaching doesn’t mean that we’re always in a position to receive its lesson. If this story is difficult for you to sit with, it’s okay to take care of yourself by stepping away from it. Its lesson will still be there if and when it’s not so painful for you to hear.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Liturgy: Joshua Renews the Covenant - Joshua 24:1-26 (October 16, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: Hayyom, today, we set aside the false gods that are among us.
People: Hayyom, today, the Lord is the one we will serve.
Leader: Hayyom, today, we choose to focus our hearts on the God of Israel.
People: Hayyom, today, we will serve the Lord our God and obey him.
Leader: The Lord be with you!
People: [Respond with indicated gesture:] And also with you!
Leader: Let us worship the Lord.

Sermon: “Hayyom”, Joshua 24:1-26 (October 16, 2022)


Today is a day I’ve been waiting almost 10 years for. Today, the lectionary has assigned the exact passage that I wrote my ordination exegesis exam on. (In case you didn’t know, ordination in the PCUSA requires prospective pastors to pass five different tests covering five different areas of ministry, including one on biblical interpretation – or “exegesis”.) Candidates for ministry have a full week to prepare and write the exam (much like when preparing for a sermon), and they can use whatever resources they have at their disposal as long as they’re cited properly. Back when I took the test in January of 2013, I still had access to the Theology library at Boston University, so I was able to do a ton of in-depth research and reflection on the 24th chapter of Joshua. I even put together a sermon outline as a requirement for the test. It was all solid work: I was in my final semester of seminary when I wrote it.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Liturgy: Covenant and Commandments - Exodus 19:3-7, 20:1-17 (October 9, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: Moses came down from Mount Sinai and set before the people all the words that the Lord commanded him.
People: May we have ears to hear them!
Leader: God has given us both covenant and commandments to bless our lives.
People: May we have the wisdom to receive them!
Leader: The Lord be with you!
People: [Respond with indicated gesture:] And also with you!
Leader: Let us worship the Lord.

Sermon: "Let Faithfulness Rain", Exodus 19:3-7, 20:1-17 (October 9, 2022)


By the time we get to this point in the story of God’s people, we’ve learned a lot about the many benefits that come with being chosen by God – we’ve read about God’s deliverance in the stories of Noah, Joseph, and the parting of the Red Sea, we’ve read about the promises that God has made to humanity in general and to Abram specifically – but this is the first time we’ve encountered the RULES of being a people set apart by God. As it turns out, being God’s most precious possession comes with some obligations, and this is the first time that they’re formally laid out in Scripture.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Liturgy: The Call of Abraham - Genesis 12:1-9 (September 18, 2022)

*You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

Call to Worship

Leader: God called Abram to leave behind his land, family, and home.
People: Where God calls, we will follow.
Leader: The Lord’s Word is good; the Lord’s promises are true.
People: Where God calls, we will follow.
Leader: The Lord be with you!
People: [Respond with indicated gesture:] And also with you!
Leader: Let us worship the Lord.

Sermon: "Father of Hope", Genesis 12:1-9 (September 18, 2022)


Most of you probably didn’t realize it, but last week, we made a shift in worship from using the Revised Common Lectionary to using the Narrative Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary, which has guided my preaching for most of the time I’ve been your pastor, is a three-year cycle of scripture readings based around the liturgical year (beginning with Advent). Its purpose is to ensure a more or less comprehensive survey of the Bible and to prevent repetitive preaching. The Narrative Lectionary, on the other hand, approaches scripture differently. It selects and orders biblical passages in such a way that it presents a cohesive narrative of God’s people. Over the course of each year in a four-year cycle (one for each of the gospels), the Narrative Lectionary moves from Genesis to the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith, through the Kingdom of Israel and the prophets, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, all the way to the history of the early Church, as if telling a single, continuous story.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Sermon: “Like Re-Formed Clay”, Psalm 139:13-18/Jeremiah 18:1-10 (September 4, 2022)

When you think about building God’s kindom, what sorts of metaphors come to mind? Paul uses gardening imagery: we plant the seeds and care for the plants, while God provides the growth.[1] Several of the prophets use a marriage metaphor to describe how God works together with the people,[2] and Jesus talks about the kindom of heaven in terms of a master entrusting his servants with his money.[3] In each of these images, the act of bringing God’s kindom to earth is depicted as the joint effort of partners. Now, granted, these partners have varying levels of responsibility and authority in each metaphor, but the general dynamic seems to be one of colleagues or teammates working together to accomplish something.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Sermon: “Make Another Choice”, Genesis 4:3-16/Matthew 5:21-24 (August 28, 2022)


I don’t know why I recall this so vividly, but when I was in first or second grade, I remember a poster that my teacher had hung front and center in the classroom. It read, “Make another choice,” and on the first day of class, we were told that if we disrupted the lesson or treated another student disrespectfully or anything like that, the teacher would point to the sign, and we’d have an opportunity to change our behavior. If we continued to misbehave after this warning, then there would be consequences. I’m not sure that my six- or seven-year-old self was able to fully grasp the lesson in personal responsibility that this sign represented, but I remember thinking how cool it was that we wouldn’t get in trouble right away. Instead, we’d get the chance to – well – make another choice.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Sermon: “What Sabbath Actually Is”, Isaiah 58:5-7, 13-14/Luke 13:10-17 (August 21, 2022)

Today, we’re getting not only a lesson in theology, but in internet culture, as well! This is a meme format that first emerged in 2012 but seems to have had a slight resurgence over the past couple of years.[1] The idea of the meme is to humorously portray a profession by visually depicting how different people or groups view it through six different images. The default categories are usually something along the lines of “What my friends think I do/what my parents think I do/what society thinks I do/what I think I do/and what clients or customers think I do”. It almost always ends with “What I actually do”, which often serves as a punchline of sorts. For example, in a version about teachers, the last frame might be a desk covered in paperwork; in one about a customer service specialist, a bottle of aspirin; in one about a nurse, a comically large mug of coffee. (I highly encourage you to google your own profession or hobby; odds are there’s already at least one version of this meme already in circulation.)

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Sermon: “Runner’s Low”, Luke 12:51-56/Hebrews 11:32-12:2 (August 14, 2022)


When I was in high school, I fell in with the wrong crowd. Oh, I don’t mean the type of kids who ditched class and broke rules; not THAT kind of wrong crowd. A different kind. The kids I hung out with all got good grades and were on good terms with school administration, but on more than one occasion, I felt peer-pressured into something I didn’t want to do: joining the track team. They were all runners, and not being on the track team made me a bit of a black sheep within my friends group.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Sermon: “God’s Embassy on Earth”, Psalm 33:12-22/Hebrews 11:1-10, 13-16 (August 7, 2022)


Over the past several years, Christian nationalism has been on the rise. And we here in the United States aren’t the only participants in this trend: the Wikipedia page for “Christian nationalism” lists Canada, Russia, the United States, and Yugoslavia as modern examples of countries that have, to one degree or another, embraced this ideology. In some cases, Christian nationalism emerges out of the best of intentions – a belief that Christian policies and laws would improve life for everyone. In others, it’s a tactical strategy – if an individual controls both the state AND the Church, then there’s very little that can stand in the way of their political aspirations. Regardless of where on this spectrum a person’s motivations lie, the objective of Christian nationalism remains the same: a blurring, if not outright removal, of the line between Church and state.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Sermon: “A Colossian Copernicus”, Ecclesiastes 1:12-14, 2:18-23/Colossians 3:1-11 (July 31, 2022)


“The world doesn’t revolve around you, you know.” We all recognize the literal and figurative truth of this statement in theory, but our human nature struggles to accept it at times. Although we know that we’re no more important than anyone else and that there are factors beyond our own wants and needs that drive society, our personal experience is the most complete data set we have access to, so of course our own concerns are usually at the forefront of our minds.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sermon: “Invited Home”, Christmas in July (July 24, 2022)


Every Christmas Eve, I preach a brief message that ties our Advent theme together. But with so many people traveling to be with their families in December (especially after two years of extremely limited gatherings), I find that the people who receive my Christmas Eve message are often not the same people who have walked with me throughout Advent. Of course, I write the message with this in mind, but since the gospel we hear at Christmas is always worth repeating, we might as well revisit these words now, seven months later. So let’s listen again and take this opportunity to evaluate how well we’ve lived this Christmas message through the rest of the year so far. As a reminder, our theme for Advent was “Let us Build a House”, and we explored what it takes to build a home worthy of the long-awaited divine king.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Sermon: “The Chicken AND the Egg”, Amos 8:4-6, 9-12/Luke 10:38-42 (July 17, 2022)


It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all heard the riddle about which came first, the chicken or the egg. It’s an age-old paradox that asks, given the nature of bird reproduction, how did that cycle START? If you google the question, you’ll find all sorts of smarty-pants answers about how eggs predated chickens by millions of years in other species, or how the chicken came about when two “almost-chickens” laid an egg with just enough genetic mutation to make it a new species. So I suppose the “right” answer is that the egg came first. But to be honest, I don’t really like that answer. I feel like it ignores the intent of the riddle; that is, to point out how the two states of being rely upon one another to exist. In my mind, it’s not actually a question of “either/or”; it’s a question of “both/and”.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Sermon: “We Trained for This!”, Deuteronomy 30:9b-14/Luke 10:25-37 (July 10, 2022)


Now that summer is well underway and we seem to have moved into 90˚+ days for good, we’re collectively on the lookout for ways to keep cool until fall. Of course, most of us rely heavily on central air conditioning these days, but the best methods of beating the summer heat have always been the ones where efficacy and recreation intersect. Stocking up on popsicles, spending weekends boating, challenging friends to a water gun fight, and running through a sprinkler are all time-tested ways to stay cool while having fun. But perhaps the most popular and refreshing summer pastime of all is going for a swim.

This probably explains why so many teenagers wind up getting jobs as lifeguards during their time off from school. It can be an especially lucrative gig because not just anyone can fill the role; it requires special training to become certified as a lifeguard. In addition to strong swimming skills, a professional lifeguard needs to take written and practical tests to make sure they’re prepared for emergency situations AND they usually have to have CPR, First Aid, and AED certification as well. The job really entails much more than working on a tan and yelling at kids not to run.

Although none of us goes to the pool or beach with the expectation that we’ll wind up in danger, it’s nice to know that there’s a well-trained professional on duty just in case. But there’s also a certain amount of trust involved, that the lifeguard will, you know, use their training if it becomes necessary to save your life. Can you imagine if you found yourself drowning, and the lifeguard decided to go on break at that very moment? Or if they concluded that saving you wasn’t worth the personal risk? Your only hope would be if some altruistic soul happened to be walking by and was willing to jump in and try to save you, relying only on the meager swimming skills that they picked up at summer camp in the third grade – not the most reliable alternative.

Of course, none of us expects to ever wind up in this strange situation, but it’s essentially what happens in today’s reading from Luke – albeit in a landlocked Biblical setting. We can’t fully appreciate the parable of the so-called “Good Samaritan” without understanding the roles of its characters in context. The priest and the Levite who pass by the injured man aren’t just average Joes out for a morning stroll. These are Jewish religious authorities. You know, the ones who spend their entire lives studying Torah and the God of justice, compassion, and mercy that it describes. If anyone knows all the “right answers,” it’s them. As far as the legal expert is concerned, these men have the best training possible.

Samaritans, on the other hand, would be seen as polar opposites of Jewish religious authorities. Although the two groups have shared ancestry, the Biblical Jews and Samaritans despise each other. From the perspective of Jesus’ Jewish audience, Samaritans are WORSE that unbelievers and Gentiles – they’re blasphemers. They call themselves “Children of Israel,” but don’t consider themselves Jews. They only accept the first five books of the First Testament as scripture, rejecting the prophets and other Jewish traditions, and they intermarry freely with heathens. By Jesus’ time, the rift between the Israelites and the Samaritans had become so pronounced that they would each go to great lengths to avoid passing through one another’s territory. From a Jewish perspective, the Samaritans had access to the right “training”, but they got it entirely wrong, allowing it to be corrupted irreparably as their culture evolved.

Jesus doesn’t tell us WHY the priest and Levite pass by the man on the side of the road, but we can certainly speculate. Maybe, we assume that the religious authorities cross to the other side of the road for the same reason we might cross to the other side of the road today: to avoid whatever’s in our path, because we don’t want to make it our problem. Or maybe they do it for a different reason: to avoid risking the ritual impurity that comes with touching a dead body (never mind that they’re travelling AWAY from the temple). We just don’t know for sure. What we DO know is why the Samaritan stops: he is moved with compassion. He’s in enemy territory and by all accounts has no obligation to the man. As far as Jesus’ audience is concerned, his understanding of the Law is deeply flawed, to put it mildly. Yet HE’S the one who acts to fulfill the most important commandment contained in that Law: to love his neighbor.

The priest and Levite, as the religious “life-guards”, had all the right credentials and the right education. Just like the legal expert that was trying to test Jesus, they knew all the right answers. But when push came to shove, they chose not to USE their training; they chose not to act. It was the rank amateur, who could barely do a competent spiritual doggy-paddle, that chose to jump in and save the man. His official training in the Law was completely defective, and yet even the legal expert had to admit that he was the one person in the story who managed to fulfill it.

It's humbling to be reminded that our scriptural knowledge and religious understanding isn’t sufficient to make us righteous. A lifeguard can pass all the required certifications, but if they don’t jump in the water when someone’s in trouble, none of it matters. All the training in the world is meaningless if we don’t use it to guide our actions in faithful obedience to scripture’s command to love our neighbors – even those we loathe – as ourselves.

It’s even more humbling to realize that religious knowledge isn’t the only – or even necessarily the best – path to a life that is pleasing to the Lord. Sometimes, people with little to no understanding of God are the ones who do the best job at living righteously. It’s only when we’re able to recognize this and learn from them that we’re finally able to put our training to good use. The Hasidic Jewish community has a famous story that conveys this very idea. Upon learning that God created everything for a purpose, a cheeky student asks the Master why God created atheists. The Master sagely responds,

God created atheists to teach us the most important lesson of them all – the lesson of true compassion. You see, when an atheist performs an act of charity, visits someone who is sick, helps someone in need, and cares for the world, he is not doing so because of some religious teaching. He does not believe that God commanded him to perform this act. In fact, he does not believe in God at all, so his acts are based on an inner sense of morality. And look at the kindness he can bestow upon others simply because he feels it to be right. This means that when someone reaches out to you for help, you should never say “I pray that God will help you.” Instead, for the moment, you should become an atheist, imagine that there is no God who can help, and say “I will help you.” [1]

Compassion is obligatory for people of faith. This is not a complicated concept. In the words of Deuteronomy, “This commandment…is definitely not too difficult. It isn’t unreachable...[it’s] in your mouth and your heart, waiting for you to do it.” It’s what you’ve been training for since the first day you walked through the doors of a church. So why is there EVER a time that we’re less prepared to show compassion to our neighbors than those who don’t have that same training? Why do we hem and haw and dicker about logistics when our divine charge is clear? The point of being a people of God is not to keep ourselves happy, healthy, and safe, but to serve as a “lifeguard” to the world, jumping in to help whenever we’re needed. We shame God when we avoid our responsibility towards others for any reason.

Over the course of their work this past month, General Assembly has discussed and debated and discerned and prayed over many, many things. The path to agreement on anything in a denomination of well over a million members is often a circuitous one, but I’m grateful that in many cases this time around, our delegates chose to use their training instead of getting caught up in the concerns of the priest and the Levite. We voted to become a sanctuary and accompaniment denomination, making the commitment to assist and support immigrants to our country, regardless of legal status. We voted to approve up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to support clergy as they seek to balance care for their congregations and care for their family (which will now go to the Presbyteries for a vote). And, in recognition that the church has badly failed our human kindred in the past, we voted to create the Center for the Repair of Historical Harm. (If these acts of compassion make you uncomfortable for any reason, I encourage you to think about how the priest, the Levite, and the “Good Samaritan” would have voted, and what the Jesus of this parable would think about it.) I, for one, am proud of and grateful for the hard work undertaken by our denomination, although there is still so much left to be done.

The Priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable knew their responsibility to others according to the Law, but they stopped short of living it out. Let us not make that same mistake. When we find ourselves shying away from compassion, whether out of fear or self-centeredness or apathy, stop. Hear the words of the Law that lie waiting on your heart: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Remember the lesson of the Neighborly Samaritan – the “blasphemer” who managed to live this commandment better than even the teachers of that same Law. Challenge yourself to learn from the compassion of righteous atheists and “heretics” and choose the good of others at every possible opportunity.

The next time you find yourself by a body of water this summer, give thanks for the lifeguards whose training teaches them the best ways to rescue someone in danger (because it’s truly not safe to execute a water rescue without it). But also take a moment to give thanks for those whose desire to help others isn’t based in skills or knowledge, but in nothing more than the compassion in their heart. Pray that we might learn from their example, because compassion for our fellow human beings is the greatest calling that God has placed on our lives. We trained for this, friends. All that’s left is for us to do is jump in. Amen.


[1] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, vol. 2.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Sermon: "A Good Worth Boasting About", 2 Kings 5:1-14/Galatians 6:7-16 (July 3, 2022)


What would you say is the highest good? What is the principle that’s most worth standing up for, whose pursuit leads to the best possible existence? Is it beauty? Wisdom? Maybe on this Independence Day weekend, you’d say “Freedom”. Actually, our founding fathers couldn’t decide on just one; they gave “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” all equal standing as far as the values upon which our budding nation would be built. Today, of course, there are plenty of different opinions in our country about which is truly the GREATEST good. Different groups have created entire identities around their consensus in this matter. For example, in American Christianity today, it seems that we’ve collectively agreed to “life” as being the good that we value the highest.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sermon: “Superman-tle”, 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21/2 Kings 2:1-6, 11-14 (June 26, 2022)


In the scant free time that Nick and I have in common these days, we’ve been working our way through all of the CW superhero shows on Netflix. We’ve finished “Green Arrow” and caught up on “The Flash”. Now we’re on the second season of “Supergirl”. I thought I knew the basics of most of the main superheroes, but it turns out that I didn’t really know much about Supergirl. Apparently, the premise of the original comics was slightly different from the TV series, but the basic idea is the same: Supergirl is Superman’s cousin, whose parents also sent her to Earth because of Krypton’s imminent destruction.

Friday, June 24, 2022

A Personal Plea Following the 6/24 SCOTUS Decision

Have you ever felt like your body was an enemy? Like it was working against you and you had no control over it? 

I have.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Sermon: "Ring, Ring", Psalm 139:1-10/Romans 8:28-30, 35-39 (June 19, 2022 - Rev. TJ Remaley's Installation)


I’m going to take this opportunity to admit something that many of you may have already noticed by now: I am willing to go to great lengths in order to avoid preaching at Presbytery events. I’m not entirely sure why; it started because I hate having to come up with multiple sermons in one week, but at this point it’s as much about keeping my streak going as it is about anything else. However, when my good friend TJ asked me to preach on this important day, I said, “UGGGGGH, FINE!!” (which, you should know, truly is the highest form of praise coming from someone who hasn’t preached at a Presbytery event in 7 years.)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sermon: "Standing in the Ravine", Psalm 42/Luke 8:26-33 (June 19, 2022)


I feel like I say this a lot, but today’s gospel reading truly is one of the strangest stories we have in the Bible. Jesus encounters a man possessed not just by one demon, but by many. So many, in fact, that the demons refer to themselves as “Legion”, which is the term for a Roman military unit consisting of anywhere from three- to six-thousand soldiers. This man was not just possessed; he was absolutely overtaken by demons. And it only gets weirder from there: the demons essentially barter with Jesus and wind up in a herd of pigs, at which point the pigs rush off a cliff and into a lake, whereupon they drown.

At first glance, this is also one of the least relatable stories in the New Testament. Demon possession isn’t something that we believe in so much these days – in our tradition, we’re generally suspicious of anything that ventures too far into the spiritual realm. But what if we change the way we read this passage, from a literal description of demons and possession to a metaphorical description of trauma and its impact? If we can reimagine this man’s demons as the personification of depression, or addiction, or PTSD, or abuse, or profound grief, suddenly it becomes a lot easier to empathize with him. If you’ve ever known depression, then you can relate to the man’s inability to take care of himself. If you’ve ever known addiction, then you can relate to his struggle to fulfill his responsibilities. If you’ve ever known any kind of abuse, then you can relate to his withdrawing from society.

This man and his legion of demons are a surprisingly accurate reflection of how trauma can affect human beings. So it’s comforting to know that, even when beset by whatever demons may haunt us, we’re never too far gone for Jesus to pull us up out of the depths of our despair and set us free. No burden is too powerful, no shame too deep, no pain too great for Jesus to relieve. Luke assures us that no matter what struggles we face, we never face them alone.

But there is a catch. The demons’ exorcism into the herd of pigs is probably not quite the final, resounding victory that it seems to be. This isn’t the first time that this man has struggled with these demons. When “Legion” sees Jesus, they react with terror because they already knew him – he had driven them out of this man before. Verse 29 says, “Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times, it had taken possession of him…” but every time, it had returned with a vengeance to torture him again. This was not an isolated incident. I can only imagine how the man must have felt watching the pigs hurling themselves over the cliff: a mixture of relief and uncertainty, all the while wondering how long he had before the demons would return to torment him again.

This interpretation of the passage may be a bit unsettling…but it makes it even more relatable than ever. Few of our “demons” can be exorcised for good, either. Anyone who has grieved a major loss knows that you don’t “get over it”, you learn to live with it. Anyone who’s suffered from a mental illness knows that you don’t cure it, you manage it. Anyone recovering from addiction knows that sobriety isn’t an accomplishment, it’s a journey. The demons that haunt us can’t be vanquished once and for all by sheer force of will or perfect faith. They’re unwanted companions that we often must learn to live with.

But the demons’ persistence doesn’t mean that they’re ultimately victorious, either. Psalm 42 reflects the tension between the ongoing struggle with our demons and the recognition of God’s faithful salvation. The psalmist weeps, “My tears have been my food both day and night…My whole being is depressed; my bones are crushed.” But these laments are only part of the psalm. They’re balanced with reminders of the joy that the psalmist feels in God’s presence, the joy of God’s faithful salvation and the hope that God brings. The grief does not negate these statements of hope, and vice versa. They aren’t mutually exclusive. The certainty that God will help co-exists with the struggle to get through the next moment. In a life of faith, hope and despair are not opposites, but neighbors.

This can be a hard reality to accept. Those without faith often see it as evidence of divine abandonment, proof that God doesn’t exist or at least isn’t as powerful as we claim. Like the people in Psalm 42, they ask, “Where is your God now?” and it can be difficult to come up with a compelling response. One of the best explanations I’ve found actually comes from a song on one of my favorite ‘90s albums. In it, the singer compares herself to a frail flower in a ravine. The weeds and trees have grown wild around her, shielding her from the sun and the rain – all the things that she needs to thrive. She compares her experience of trauma to someone ripping the flower up by its roots and leaving it tossed aside in the ravine, cut off from its source of life both above and below. Although the words are very different, the content of this song sounds very much like what we find in Psalm 42.

As in the psalm, the singer also encounters skepticism from those who don’t understand her perspective. But while the psalmist doesn’t answer them directly, the singer does. She says, “Why do you ask/why I’m not blaming my God?/I’ll tell you what:/He was the only one there.” Having sprouted deep in the inhospitable ravine, this was not the first time that the flower had faced challenging circumstances. But every time before, the sun had been a source of life and healing. So even though the flower knew that it would probably continue to struggle in the ravine, it looked for a “piece of the sky” to give it the strength it needed to get through the moment. No matter how many times the flower found itself tangled in the weeds and overshadowed by the trees, the sun still found a way to provide help when it was needed most.

It can be difficult to summon faith in God’s unfailing mercy when we find ourselves standing at the bottom of the ravine over and over again, ripped up by our roots, and unable to see the open sky. And when our personal traumas are compounded by the demons of institutionalized bigotry, social injustice, or systematic oppression, it can feel like no matter how much progress we make towards wholeness, we always wind up back where we started. It can feel pointless to keep looking for a piece of the sky when there’s so much standing in the way.

But the good news that we hear in the story of the man possessed by Legion is the same as the psalmist’s refrain: “Hope in God’s saving presence!” Faith is not a one-time fix for all that ails you, nor is it assurance of an easy life. It’s a promise that our pain will not have the final word, that our trauma does not get to define us, no matter how often it returns. And, importantly, it reminds us that our momentary healing isn’t the end of the story, either. If it were, then nothing could ever get better than it already is, and we wouldn’t need Jesus. The promise of God’s kindom is that, no matter how many setbacks we encounter, a better world is not only possible; it’s inevitable.

So, whenever you find yourself in that familiar ravine struggling to see even the smallest piece of the sky, remember how God has saved you in the past and lean on your faith in that promise. Keep going, keep hoping, keep looking for God. Because I promise you that God has been there and is there and will be there, whether you see them or not. Jesus never tires of banishing your demons, no matter how often they take hold of you. The Spirit never tires of sending waves of comfort, no matter how deep the ocean of your tears. God never tires of pointing out the small piece of the sky that you might have missed, no matter how many trees obstruct your vision. Keep taking that next step, fighting the demons, enduring the taunts of doubters, and searching for the sky, because no matter how many times you’ve returned to that ravine, it will never be for good. Hope in God! Our comfort and our help forever. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sermon: "The Holy They", Matthew 28.16-20/2 Peter 1.16-21 (June 12, 2022)


Today is Trinity Sunday; the day that the Church sets aside specifically to celebrate and explore the beautiful mystery of God’s nature. I say “mystery” because, while we all pretend that the notion of one God in three persons is a completely logical idea, the truth is that it doesn’t actually make any sense at all. (If you think I’m wrong on this point, then congratulations; YOU get to do the children’s sermon next year.) The doctrine of the Trinity is an idea that many of us have been parroting our whole lives without really understanding it. Sure, we all have our favorite analogy to describe it (water, the sun, a three-leaf clover, an egg) but at the end of the day, there’s something heretical about every single one, leaving us exactly where we started.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Sermon: “The Voices That Matter”, Genesis 11:1-9/Acts 2:1-8, 12 (June 5, 2022)


Ever since the first time I realized the parallels between the stories of Babel and Pentecost, I’ve struggled to make sense out of it. In Genesis, it kind of seems like God’s just creating trouble where there isn’t any. After all, the Holy Spirit would never have had to do that translation trick at Pentecost if God had just let the people keep their unified language in the first place. Things seemed to be working just fine; the people were on track to build the first skyscraper millennia ahead of schedule and, more importantly, they all seemed to be getting along and cooperating. It’s difficult to imagine why God would want to put a stop to any of that, especially in light of God’s contradictory actions at Pentecost.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sermon: “A Time to…”, Luke 24:44-53/Acts 16:23-34 (May 29, 2022)


We all intuitively recognize the wisdom in this famous passage from Ecclesiastes [3:1-8, CEB]: “There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens: a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted, a time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up, a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing, a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces, a time for searching and a time for losing, a time for keeping and a time for throwing away, a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking, a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace.” The writer of Ecclesiastes probably didn’t need to include 14 separate examples to make his case, but because he did, his point is inescapable: the righteousness of every action must be considered in its context. There is a time that it is right to do one thing, and there is another time that it is right to do its exact opposite – and God is the one who can always tell us which is which.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sermon: “The Literal Kindom – Metaphorically Speaking”, Acts 16:9-10, 13-15/Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 (May 22, 2022)


Visions are relatively common in scripture. Usually, they’re described as if the person experiencing them were watching a movie play out in their mind. As a result, we tend to equate divine visions with literal instructions from God. It seems unfair that people like Paul and John of Patmos receive such clear direction, while we’re stuck praying and discerning. But biblical visions aren’t necessarily what they seem – and they aren’t necessarily just for those who receive them.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sermon: "Big Burger Thinking", Acts 11:1-18 (May 15, 2022)


Did you know that in this country, the standard size of a commercial cheeseburger is the result of our collective inability to understand a basic mathematical concept?

It’s true. A decade after McDonald’s first introduced the Quarter Pounder, A&W decided to introduce the “Third-of-a-Pound Burger”. They figured by offering more meat at the same price, they could successfully take on the golden arches. Their version even performed better in taste tests. But the Third-of-a-Pound Burger failed commercially for a simple and absolutely ridiculous reason: it turns out that the general public doesn’t understand how fractions work. Even though the A&W burger was technically a better deal, people thought that they were being asked to pay more for less burger. They thought that 1/3 was smaller than 1/4.[1]

Let that sink in for a minute. As a society, we’re stuck with smaller burgers because of our own mathematical ignorance.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sermon: “The Path of Greater Resistance”, Joshua 5:13-15/Acts 5:17-32 (April 24, 2022)


“Obedience” is such a loaded term. While there are certainly times and places that obedience is seen as a positive quality, being told to obey something or someone usually offends our modern, freedom-loving sensibilities. For many of us, “obedience” implies an unquestioning deference to authority. As heirs to the legacies of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, obedience just doesn’t feel like a natural part of our communal identity.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent: Easter Sunday (April 17, 2022)


(This is the tenth liturgy in a series of Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here; Lent 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 can be found hereherehereherehere, and here; the Maundy Thursday & Good Friday liturgies can be found here and here . I am excluding parts of the worship that were not directly connected to the series as well as parts that I give extemporaneously.)

I'm happy for anyone to use any part(s) of this series in their own worship contexts with proper attribution, but I would request that you let me know in the comments that you're doing so.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent: Good Friday (April 15, 2022)

 *You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

(This is the ninth liturgy in a series of Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here; Lent 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 can be found hereherehereherehere, and here; the Maundy Thursday Liturgy can be found here. I am excluding parts of the worship that were not directly connected to the series as well as parts that I give extemporaneously.)

This service was originally created as a video and uploaded to the church's Youtube channel. I specifically recruited friends of mine that I knew would be able to deliver a dramatic reading of the monologues. These are not meant to be read dryly; they are meant to tap into the emotions of the characters as I imagined them.

I'm happy for anyone to use any part(s) of this series in their own worship contexts with proper attribution, but I would request that you let me know in the comments that you're doing so.


Good Friday Reflection (Monologues written by Rev. Katey Schwind Williams)


Good evening, and welcome to the continuation of our Holy Week service. Throughout Lent, the community of Boone Memorial Presbyterian Church has been reading through Luke’s gospel and thinking about testimony. Giving a testimony may sound intimidating, but at its core, a testimony is nothing more or less than the story of your own experience. Each of the canonical gospels is a testimony – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John may be passing along stories that have been handed down to them, but each of them does so by offering their own unique perspective, their own emphases, their own understanding: in other words, their own experience of Jesus the Christ.

As we approach the end of Luke’s gospel, notice how many people were there with Jesus in the final moments of his earthly life. Notice how many of those present had a role, however small, in Luke’s account of Christ’s death. As we imagine the testimony that these people might offer, imagine, too, all the voices of those who were there but are now forgotten to us, all of the testimonies lost to time. Imagine all of the testimonies silenced by oppression or fear through the ensuing days and years and centuries. And let us reflect on how we can share our own testimony of Jesus Christ, here and now, so that we might honor those voices that were denied the opportunity.

FIRST READING (Luke 23:1-7)

The whole assembly got up and led Jesus to Pilate and began to accuse him. They said, “We have found this man misleading our people, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he is the Christ, a king.”

Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.”

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no legal basis for action against this man.”

But they objected strenuously, saying, “He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea—starting from Galilee all the way here.”

Hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was from Herod’s district, Pilate sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.


“I’m a busy man. My time is valuable. So when the chief priests brought this Jesus before me, accompanied by a crowd ready to riot, the only thing I could think of was, ‘How do I get these people to leave me alone?’ The Jews aren’t my problem, anyway. As long as they pay their taxes, follow the law, and honor Caesar, what do I care about their petty little squabbles? And all their yelling was giving me a headache.

“I tried to use reason: ‘This man has done nothing to offend the emperor,’ I protested, ‘so how can I punish him?’ But the crowd didn’t care about logic. For whatever reason, they had it out for this man. To be fair, he annoyed me, too. He answered my questions with…well, he didn’t actually answer them at all. He neither affirmed nor denied the charges against him. What am I supposed to do with that? He stayed irritatingly calm throughout the whole thing, even with the crowd shouting abuse in his ears. It seemed unnatural, inhuman. But that’s no reason to kill a man…is it?

“When I learned that he was Galilean, I seized the opportunity to rid myself of this annoyance. Make him Herod’s problem, I thought to myself, I have more important things I could be doing. Besides, Herod deserves to have some of his time wasted; that man thinks far too highly of himself and could stand to be brought down a few pegs.

“As the chief priests dragged Jesus out of the room, he looked back at me. The look he gave me made my blood run cold. Not because I was afraid of him – as if some nobody from Galilee could scare me! No, when he looked at me, I felt like he saw deep inside my heart, past my clothes and adornments, past my practiced expression of indifference, and searched all of my thoughts and feelings. Needless to say, I’m not accustomed to being looked at that way; it made me profoundly uncomfortable. I hoped I wouldn’t see this so-called ‘king of the Jews’ again…but something told me that he wasn’t a problem that was going to be solved easily.”

SECOND READING (Luke 23:8-12)

Herod was very glad to see Jesus, for he had heard about Jesus and had wanted to see him for quite some time. He was hoping to see Jesus perform some sign. Herod questioned Jesus at length, but Jesus didn’t respond to him. The chief priests and the legal experts were there, fiercely accusing Jesus. Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt. Herod mocked him by dressing Jesus in elegant clothes and sent him back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod became friends with each other that day. Before this, they had been enemies.


“I’d been wanting to meet this Jesus for a long time now. Word of his exploits had been swirling around Galilee for a few years now, and while I had my doubts about his alleged abilities, I have to admit that I was curious. They were saying that he could heal any illness with nothing more than a touch, or a word. They even said that he brought people back from the dead. The rumor was that he was sent by God. That he was the one the people have been waiting for. But the pharisees assured me that that couldn’t be true, the way he flaunted Gods own laws—eating with sinners, touching the unclean, working on the Sabbath—imagine! He couldn’t possibly be anything worth worrying about. When Pilate sent him to me, I figured at the very least, he’d be good for some entertainment. An astounding magician if he really was all that they said he was; an asinine clown if he wasn’t. Either way, an amusing way to spend a few hours.

“But still, if I’m being entirely honest…I was a little nervous, too. Some had been saying that he was Elijah reincarnated, and that would be bad enough. But others were saying that he was John come back from the dead, and that…well, that idea made my skin crawl. I’d taken care of John, made sure that he could never spread slander about me ever again. (That’s one of the benefits of working with the Romans, you know…lots of leeway to take care of things as I see fit.) He COULDN’T be John. And yet…but I’m an agent of the Roman government! A powerful, important man! Even if he was somehow John reincarnated, he couldn’t possibly be a threat to me.

“When Jesus walked into the room, and I was astounded by how…AVERAGE he looked. He didn’t look especially strong, or confident, or impressive. He didn’t look like the sort of man who could cause the kind of trouble he was accused of. Anyway, he certainly couldn’t be John—THAT man had an indisputable presence about him! So, with my anxiety eased, I ordered him to perform a miracle, some sort of sign that he was who they said he was. I reminded him what I could do to him, what Pilate could do to him, what Caesar could do to him. But get this: he never said a word. Not a single word. I could understand him not responding to the chief priests and legal experts, but ME?? The unmitigated gall! I simply couldn’t believe it. I had to show this fool who he was dealing with.

“The strange thing was that it didn’t seem like he was TRYING to irritate me. As angry as I was, it didn’t seem to me like that was his objective at all. His attitude wasn’t defiant or arrogant; it was more…tired. Weary, actually. And sad. So, so sad. I’d never seen such grief in anyone’s eyes before. Even as those in the room took turns spitting insults and abuse at him, he barely even seemed to notice us. His grief went far deeper and farther than that moment. And that…that scared me. What did he know that could distract from the punishment he was enduring, the punishment that was inevitably yet to come? What kind of man WAS this?”

THIRD READING (Luke 23:13-25)

Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people. He said to them, “You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him. Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death. Therefore, I’ll have him whipped, then let him go.”

But with one voice they shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison because of a riot that had occurred in the city, and for murder.)

Pilate addressed them again because he wanted to release Jesus.

They kept shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time, Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I’ve found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case. Therefore, I will have him whipped, then let him go.”

But they were adamant, shouting their demand that Jesus be crucified. Their voices won out. Pilate issued his decision to grant their request. He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown into prison because of a riot and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.


“I never thought I’d see the sun again. I mean, I knew the Romans customarily released a prisoner at Passover (not as a genuine display of mercy, mind you; simply a way to mollify the crowd and keep them quiet). I just never in a thousand years imagined that it would be me. MY crime was political; *I* was a threat: I took part in a violent protest against the Romans. Even if I HADN’T killed someone during the chaos, my public opposition to the empire had already sealed my fate. I was a traitor and a murderer. I regret nothing, but according to the law, I deserved to be put to death.

“This Jesus, on the other hand…he just seemed to have gotten on the wrong side of some powerful people. I didn’t know him, but I’d heard of him. I knew that he had butted heads with some of the leaders in his own community, but he seemed strangely unwilling to act against them. They saw him as an enemy, but his opposition never seemed to go much farther than words. Honestly, I don’t get it. I can’t see how he would be able to change anything if he wasn’t willing to FIGHT for it.

“Anyway, I thought for sure Pilate would release Jesus. I was – I still am – a direct threat to his rule. Jesus was just a little man with a big mouth. The choice seemed obvious. But for some reason, the people…the people were out for blood. They were SO angry – whether at Jesus, or because of what he represented, or just as a scapegoat, I’ll never know. Maybe they couldn’t understand him, either.

“I’m not complaining. I have a second chance, and I’m not going to waste it. As soon as I get out of here, I’m going to jump right back into the resistance against these Roman bullies. I’m going to find my sword and pick up right where I left off. It’ll probably just land me right back in prison, but how can I not fight for what I believe in? I feel bad for this Jesus, though. It seems like he wanted to make a difference. He just didn’t fight hard enough. I wonder how people will remember him when he’s gone.”

FOURTH READING (Luke 23:26-31)

As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed Jesus, including women, who were mourning and wailing for him. Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. The time will come when they will say, ‘Happy are those who are unable to become pregnant, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed a child.’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”


“As a woman, you get used to not being noticed. You get used to being written off as ‘hysterical’, ‘irrational’, ‘crazy’, ‘simple’. You get used to being taken for granted. I joined my friends to see these events with my own eyes in spite of my husband’s objections, not to make any kind of statement or to make waves, but simply because I felt that I couldn’t not go. I didn’t expect anyone to notice our grief, or to take it seriously.

“But HE did. Of all people, Jesus noticed. Every step taking him closer to his last breath, the instrument of his own death following him like a shadow, and he stopped and SAW us. Out of the hundreds of people in the crowd, he saw US. He saw our anguish, and instead of silencing or dismissing us, he validated it. He honored it. He recognized our wailing for the elegy that it was.

“Not only that, but he mourned for US. Can you imagine? A man walking to his own crucifixion saw a group of women weeping for him, and HE wept for US. He knew, as we did, that our hope was dying. That we could see no happy ending ahead of us. That we feared the world that we would be leaving our children, a world where faith was rewarded with violence and dreams of salvation were nailed to a cross. He saw all of these things through our eyes, and he mourned with us.

“The grief was overwhelming, almost too heavy to bear…but in that moment, I didn’t feel like I was carrying it alone. The sense of hopelessness persisted, but it no longer felt like a path that I was being forced to navigate alone. For however much longer he lived, I knew that Jesus was with me. That he saw me. That he loved me.

“That…that was almost MORE unbearable. But somehow, it gave me strength to know that. To be seen, and understood, and loved. No matter what the future held, I knew that I would somehow face it, just as Jesus faced his own death. By putting one foot in front of the other. No matter what. May God have mercy on us all.”

FIFTH READING (Luke 23:32-43)

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”


“I’ve never had much faith. Faith won’t put food on the table or clothes on your back; faith won’t protect you from the thieves and murderers on the street or in the government. I’ve only ever trusted myself. That’s how I survived as long as I did. I suppose that’s also what got me here, dying in the hot sun with nails in my wrists and ankles: when you’re the only one looking out for you, the world is bound to catch up eventually.

“Looking down from the cross, I certainly had no regrets about how I’d lived my life. When I looked to the right, I saw people sneering at the condemned, caring more about the clothes that they left behind than about the fate of our souls, just barely clinging to life. When I looked to the left, I saw soldiers jeering at us from their positions of comfort and power. Humankind is cruel and merciless, and I was not sorry to be leaving it behind.

“But when I looked next to me, I saw something, someONE, different. Jesus was the target of the most vitriolic and insulting of the ridicule thrown up at us, and yet unlike the rest of us, the words he spoke from his cross were not in defense or retaliation. ‘Forgive them, Abba; they don’t know what they’re doing,’ he prayed. ‘Forgive them.’

“Here was a man who should have no faith left, in humanity OR the divine. He’d been betrayed, falsely accused, mocked, tortured, and finally left to die, all for a crime he didn’t even commit. If I’d been him, I WOULD have saved myself, had it been within my power to do it, if only to spite the authorities that condemned, the soldiers that mocked, and the god that had abandoned me. But he didn’t. He just kept praying that his god would forgive these people who had wronged him so unforgivably.

“I couldn’t take it anymore. I mustered up what little strength I had left and spat back at Jesus’ tormentors, ‘How dare you! This man is better than any of us! He doesn’t deserve this!’ As I collapsed with the effort of defending this person I didn’t even know, he turned and spoke to me. I don’t know if I believe what he said. I don’t see how it could be true. But maybe…maybe, I’ll try to trust…just this once. What do I have to lose?

SIXTH READING (Luke 23:44-49)

It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.

When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things.


“As a centurion, I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen great cowardice and great courage, great selfishness and great humility, great evil and great goodness. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve seen men hung on crosses for questionable offences, but I’ve never seen one who accepted his fate so…graciously. That’s the only word to describe it. Gracious. I’ve never seen a man using one of his final breaths to comfort a criminal. I’ve never seen the sun itself seem to mourn for a casualty of the Roman Empire’s version of justice.

“I’ve borne witness to many men’s final moments. Some embrace death with stoicism; others with anger; still others with regret. I’ve seen men laugh, cry, and remain silent at the moment their spirit leaves their body. But rarely have I ever seen someone embrace death – especially one as violent as crucifixion – with the sort of faith that this man showed.

“I’m a good soldier; I follow orders and do what I’m told. I respect authority and I toe the line. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t think for myself. I have eyes and a brain. I saw how nature itself reacted to this man’s death. I heard the weeping of his followers. I felt the breath go out of him, forcibly, but without any malice or anger, as if my own heart were the one that was stopping. For a moment, I thought it DID stop. Then, I felt it beat again, just as it always had. But I wasn’t the same.

“Somehow, I knew that this man was not only innocent of the crime for which he was killed, but truly blameless. Righteous. Holy. I’m not usually a praying man, but in that moment, I couldn’t stop myself from lifting up words of praise to the god that this man was willing to entrust his life to. It was a truly horrible death, but somehow, there was also something unsettlingly beautiful about it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a beautiful crucifixion before. I doubt I ever will again.

“I have no regrets about doing my duty, but I don’t think I’ll ever quite be at peace after seeing this. I pray that whatever gods there may be forgive me for my part in this man’s death.”

SEVENTH READING (Luke 23:50-56)

Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council. He was a good and righteous man. He hadn’t agreed with the plan and actions of the council. He was from the Jewish city of Arimathea and eagerly anticipated God’s kingdom. This man went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb carved out of the rock, in which no one had ever been buried. It was the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was quickly approaching. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment.


“I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. I was so sure that all this confusion would get straightened out somehow. I was certain that God wouldn’t let an innocent man die, that the council would come to their senses in the end. But they didn’t. They wouldn’t listen to me. They were too afraid of this man, this Jesus. I’ll never understand why. No one deserves to die like that.

“I figured that whoever he was, whether messiah or madman, he didn’t deserve to have his body desecrated by wild animals. He was a man of God, someone trying to bring about God’s kingdom. He deserved to be honored for that, at least. I may not have been able to prevent his death, but I wanted to offer him what little dignity I could afterwards.

“The council didn’t care. As long as Jesus was out of their way, it didn’t matter to them what happened next. Pilate didn’t care. He seemed kind of bemused by everything that had happened; I think he was just glad it was over. Honestly, I can’t blame him – although his indifference cost a man his life. Anyway, no one tried to stop me when I took Jesus down from the cross. I’ll never forget the look on his face – it didn’t seem like it belonged with his battered and broken body. This face, a face that had been lined with exhaustion and grief for so long, seemed to have found peace in death. No one could threaten or hurt him anymore. I wept, not just for him, but for those who loved him, for those of us left behind. WE were still subject to this broken world, to humanity’s unimaginable cruelty.

“I did strangely find some solace in being left behind, though. Up until now, the women who loved Jesus had seen me as the enemy, a member of the council determined to murder their rabbi. But when they saw the care with which I lowered his body from the cross, the tenderness with which I wrapped it in linen, and the solemnity with which I laid it in the tomb, they realized that I was mourning, too. Maybe I didn’t have the right to share their sorrow; I don’t know. All I know is that they allowed space for my grief to exist alongside theirs. And for that, I was grateful.

“They say God can use all things for good, but I don’t know about that. I can’t see how anything good can come from this man being gone from the world. I suppose I just have to have faith in God’s plan. Even though I can’t imagine what it is. Someday, perhaps, I will know.”

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent: Maundy Thursday (April 14, 2022)

(This is the eighth liturgy in a series of Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here; Lent 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 can be found herehereherehere, here, and here. I am excluding parts of the worship that were not directly connected to the series as well as parts that I give extemporaneously.)

I will post the liturgies for ensuing weeks as I write them. I'm happy for anyone to use any part(s) of this series in their own worship contexts with proper attribution, but I would request that you let me know in the comments that you're doing so.


Maundy Thursday Worship Service (Liturgy by Rev. Katey Schwind Williams)

Opening Words:

“Many people have already applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed down to us. Now, after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, I have also decided to write a carefully ordered account for you, most honorable Theophilus. I want you to have confidence in the soundness of the instruction you have received.” [Luke 1:1-4, CEB]

We read these words six weeks ago, almost to the day, as we began the undertaking of walking with Luke through his testimony to Jesus’ life. Since then, we have experienced many familiar stories anew through Luke’s words: stories of prophecy, of miracles, of healing, of revelation, of conflict, and of forgiveness. We have seen ourselves in these stories, learning along with the disciples, the Pharisees, and the Romans.

Yet today marks a turning point in the narrative. We have seen misunderstandings and confusion among the people throughout Luke’s gospel, but today, misunderstandings turn to betrayal. Today, friends become enemies and allegiance becomes denial. Today, we hear about the shadow side of humanity – and we see the most sinister parts of ourselves exposed.

So listen once again, Theophilus – “Lover of God”. Listen to Luke’s testimony as he recounts the hardest parts of this story. Do not turn away. Do not deny the part that we play in it. This is our story, too.

Let us call ourselves to worship using the words printed in your bulletin.

Call to Worship: Luke 22:1-6 (CEB)
Leader: "The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called Passover, was approaching. The chief priests and the legal experts were looking for a way to kill Jesus, because they were afraid of the people."
People: Let those with ears to hear listen!
Leader: "Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve. He went out and discussed with the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard how he could hand Jesus over to them."
People: Let us face what was and what is unflinchingly.
Leader: "They were delighted and arranged payment for him. He agreed and began looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them—a time when the crowds would be absent."
People: Grant us ears to hear, O Lord.

First Reading: Luke 22:7-18 (ICB)

Communion: Luke 22:19-20 (ICB)

Invitation to the Lord’s Table
This meal, one that we know as a feast of joy, is tonight tinged with sadness. Tonight, as we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we anticipate with Jesus the abandonment and betrayal of his closest friends in his most difficult hour. And yet, even with full knowledge of what is to come, Jesus turns no one away from the table. He breaks bread with the one who will betray him. He shares the cup with the one who will deny him. He offers his very body and blood to those who will not even stay awake with him in his final hours. None of us *deserves* to be fed in this way, but *all* of us are welcomed to the feast in spite of our sin. Let us gather now, in full awareness of our own shortcomings and equal awareness of Christ’s deep desire to share this meal with you.
Great Thanksgiving
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Lift up your hearts!
All: We lift them to the Lord.
Leader: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
Leader: Let us pray.

Faithful God, we come before you in gratitude for all you have done for us. No matter how many times we disobey you, turn from you, ignore you, hide from you, or forget you, your devotion never wavers. You are more constant than the seasons, more steadfast than the mountains, more devoted than we could ever hope to be. You call us back time and time again to be in relationship with you, because your love is beyond measure.

Therefore, we praise you, joining our voices with choirs of angels and archangels who forever sing to the glory of your name: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name off the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Blessed indeed is the one who comes in your name, true God from true God. Jesus taught us what love looks, sounds, and acts like in everything that he did. His life is a testament to your grace, unchanged by human frailty and error, poured out abundantly on those you have chosen to call your own. Even as he faced a violent end at the hands of those who would make themselves his enemies, he demonstrated a love that is powerful and unconditional.

Luke tells us that on the night he was betrayed by his closest friends, “After taking the bread and giving thanks, [Jesus] broke it and gave it to [his disciples], saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.’”

Therefore, we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us and upon these your gifts of bread and drink, that the bread we break and the cup we bless may be for us the body and blood of a Christ who would give all of himself for even those who reject him. May we, too, offer all of ourselves to you, Lord, serving as Christ’s true body in the world, united in his ministry for all the lost and the lonely, the hurting and the hopeless: all sinners, all beloved. Through your son, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit and in the unity of the entire Church in heaven and on earth, we pray this in your name, using the ancient words handed down to us from generation to generation, saying “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Communion Hymn (GTG #521, “In Remembrance of Me”)

Prayer of Dedication
Let us pray: Holy God, the story ahead of us is a difficult one. Yet even as we face the failings of humanity, we give you thanks that you have fed us, body and spirit, and fortified us for the work that you call us to do. You have graciously accepted us, sins and all, to be your people, and you have promised that evil will never have the final word. Let us therefore tell the full story of your love, the terrible parts and the wonderful parts alike, without shame and without fear. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Second Reading: Luke 22:21-46 (ICB)

Special Music

Third Reading: Luke 22:47-62 (ICB)
(As each one of Peter's denials is read, hang a banner with his words printed on them)

Ritual: “Our Betrayal”
Leader: Peter didn’t realize what he was doing until the rooster crowed. Until that point, he didn’t understand that the cost of his personal safety was his relationship with Christ. He didn’t even know that he had it within himself to betray his Lord and best friend until the very moment it happened.

If even Peter, who learned directly from the master and saw miracles with his own eyes, was able to betray Jesus, we mustn’t believe that we’re somehow above doing the same. Sometimes, we deny Christ with our words. Other times, we deny him with our actions. Most often, however, we deny him with our silence.

Listen to the rooster crowing. Take some time reflect on how and when you’ve betrayed the Lord. Lift up your prayers of repentance. Then, when you’re ready, write your name on each of the [3] post it notes in your bulletin. Bring them up front and hang each one on one of Peter’s betrayals as a confession of your own denials of Christ—the times you’ve denied knowing him, the times you’ve denied belonging to him, and the times you’ve denied understanding what he asks of you. If you feel moved, you can also write a prayer of confession or repentance on the banners. We are not passive observers of this story; Christ’s betrayal continues even today, through all of us. Let us face our betrayals, confess, and repent. [Meditative music is played]

Fourth Reading: Luke 22:63-71 (ICB)

Stripping of the Sanctuary
(As the liturgists strip the worship space, symbolizing the humiliation of the cross and the disciples’ abandonment, the congregation sings Hymn #204:)

People (singing): Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray. Watch and pray.
(Repeat until music stops)

[Before the pastor leaves, she may choose to move the banners with Peter's denials on them to a more prominent place, such as the communion table.]

(All depart in silence. There is no benediction, because we are keeping vigil with Christ as his disciples were unable to. We will re-gather to worship together on Easter Sunday.)