St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2023

Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. We will celebrate the life of a man who dedicated himself to sharing the Gospel with people who had enslaved him and for the contributions of the Irish to American culture.  As we do so we also watch the news unfold of the wars around the world and the destruction affecting generations from environmental disasters.  It seems like each day we are faced with the decision to forgive those who offend us or to seek revenge.  The Lenten journey is important!

         St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is believed to have died on March 17, 461.  Since the 10th century the Roman Catholic Church has celebrated this saint who was actually not Irish but born a Roman Britain then captured and sold into slavery on a pig farm in Ireland.  He escaped but returned to evangelize Ireland.  He is credited for explaining the Trinity, the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by using a shamrock with three leaves that was native to Ireland.  He is also credited with ridding Ireland of snakes but it is doubtful snakes ever lived in Ireland.

         The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was not held in Ireland but in St. Augustine, Florida, March 17, 1601, by a Spanish vicar!  In 1772 English military marched in a parade in New York City to honor the saint.  The tradition has grown since.  How very multicultural the story grows.  According to the Internet the parade is “the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, with over 150,000 participants.”  Wow!

            Today we are challenged to absorb new traditions, foods, and language into our daily lives as our world becomes more international.  Travel abroad is no longer unique and cruises to exotic places are constant.  And so that thought challenges me to ask ourselves if we are “cultural Christians” or do the traditions and expressions of faith by people different from ourselves encourage us to expand our understanding of the greatness of God?  Lent is a time when we reflect on Jesus as more than a healer and teacher, which indeed he was, but we also look at him starting to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven that calls us to allegiance to a God who loves all cultures and created all people.  Even as St. Patrick returned to Ireland to tell his former owners about Christianity, we too today tell others about a kingdom that does not spread by bombing and destruction leaving ruined museums, rubble and death in its path.  Let’s think today of a Christian tradition that means a lot to us and helps us focus on a hopeful future.  And when you see green, thank God for the life he gives to all his creation. Blessings.

First Things First

March 16, 2023

Matthew 21: 10, 12-14

         The news on TV tonight showed clips of different “potential presidential candidates” for the election in November 2024.  Their stance on the issues is not as important as the fact that we are already placing our bets on who is running and what their platform will be and how it is affecting their given party.  In contrast, we have been walking with Jesus, an itinerant preacher who has turned his journey toward Jerusalem.  Like us people are wondering if he is the promised Messiah, a great prophet, or a new king.  Will Jerusalem be returned to its former glory and the Romans kicked out?

“10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

12-14 Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.”

“Jesus went straight to the Temple,” not to a public space for a speech and not to government offices to confront the powers of Rome.  He started by clarifying that God’s Temple was a place where people should be able to connect with God, with the Holy.  It would seem reform starts with the heart and integrity.  God is not always a lovey-dovey nice guy just wanting to forgive us.  He cares about some things intensely.

         So if we had an opportunity to lead a reform, where would we start?  Can we take time to think of an issue that would be core to our sense of justice and integrity?  Can we think of issues that are important enough for us to risk the wrath of others?  Identifying prayer as a key characteristic of the Temple, not the youth programs, not the fantastic worship services, and not the women’s meetings and Bible studies was where Jesus started.

         If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, let us take time right now to tell God about any issues that are heavy on our heart.  May we be brave today to be honest about what is on our hearts?  Blessings.

“The Lord has need of them.”

March 15, 2023

         By Matthew 21, Jesus has reached Jerusalem.  In preparation for his arrival that we will celebrate on Palm Sunday in two weeks, Jesus sends two disciples ahead to look for a donkey tied with her colt and the disciples are to bring them.  If anyone questions them, they are to say, “The Lord needs them.”  Scripture is in the process of being fulfilled given in a prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9.

         A popular commercial a few years back was built on this Wikipedia article,

         “Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. As a result, a chain of “friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It is also known as the six handshakes rule.

We joke about being the friend of a friend who knew someone we know or is related to someone else whom we know.  We laugh when we meet people who know someone we know.  But we do not particularly apply this rule in the spiritual realm.  We are more prone to think an accident is directly related to a shortcoming in our life or something we’ve done wrong. 

         Jesus borrows the donkey and colt, not because he needs a beast to ride.  He can walk.  He borrows them to fulfill prophecy.  The beast is secondary to the goal he is working on, entering Jerusalem.  The question we might ask ourselves today is to ponder our willingness to be an instrument for Jesus to accomplish his desires for our world today?  Are we willing to play second fiddle?

Humility is the fear of the Lord;
    its wages are riches and honor and life.

Proverbs 22:4″

“Lord, have mercy!”

March 14, 2023

 “Lord, have mercy!”

Matthew 20: 29-34

     Sunday our text will come from the Gospel of John where John shares about Jesus reaching out to heal a man born blind.  This incident and Sunday’s are different in major ways.  Unlike Sunday, these two men are yelling out against the pressure of the crowd to attract Jesus’ attention.  They have obviously heard stories about Jesus and the healings he had been doing and obviously they heard from the crowd that Jesus was near.  Interestingly they approach Jesus crying out to him for mercy. 

     My sister and I were talking about mercy.  Mercy is when we do not receive that which we know we deserve.  Grace is when we receive that which we know we do not deserve.  The two men plead for mercy implying they are not fighting their diagnosis.  Jesus asks the men what they want.  They respond, “We want our sight.”  Jesus touches their eyes and they see. 

      During Lent we focus on the journey to the cross, a journey of mercy.  We confess we have not loved God with our whole heart, mind and strength and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are broken people and we need mercy.  Perhaps our issue is not blindness.  Perhaps there is a secret resentment we struggle with or a sense of inferiority.  Perhaps it is very difficult to say we love God given our circumstances that hurt so much.  We all struggle in some way with our brokenness.

                       If Jesus were to ask you today, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would you reply?  Let us spend a few moments confessing our brokenness and need for help.  Perhaps the crowd in your ears is telling you to be quiet and get your act together but Jesus calls you into conversation this day.  “What do you want me to do for you?”

A P.S. from the Narrator

March 13, 2023

Matthew 20: 24-26

         During Lent we turn our hearts toward Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross.  He has told his followers that he is going to be crucified and resurrect but they don’t understand.  They are anticipating that the Kingdom of Heaven is going to be ushered in and the Romans ushered out.  Many today are in hopes that these are “end times” and that Jesus is going to return and make life right.  In any case, faith should make life easier, right?  The mother of sons of Zebedee, James and John, asks if her sons cannot have seats at the right and left of Jesus when he starts to reign.  The other ten disciples learn about the request and are furious.  Even we get upset when we think someone has tried to pull strings or use “connections” to get honor.  It feels unfair.  Errr, life is unfair!

         Jesus calls his crew together and sets them straight.  The issue of who is first and who is last in the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for leadership talents but is given to those who are humble and who have a servant’s heart. “…” whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…”  We don’t like that word, “slave.”  The history of slavery in the United States and around the world is ugly.  We avoid hints that we are slaves.  We are “household engineers.”  We are “partners” with our husband and may not even take his name.  We want our personhood to be recognized and valued.  The kingdom of this world does not work like the kingdom of heaven!

         As we reflect today on our lives and on the journey to the cross, let us ask the Holy Spirit to shed light on any areas in our life where we feel we are being victimized, being treated like slaves and where we feel we are not being properly respected.  Perhaps we need to repent of our self-centeredness and we need to ask God to help us see it through his eyes.  Abuse is sin but humility is godly.  Blessings as you ponder this.

“His Eye is on the Sparrow”

March 11, 2023

         Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof” while talking to God about his dilemmas, pauses and comments that while he realizes that God is busy with wars and famines and all those things that bring people together, could God, while he is the neighborhood, help his lame horse.  I love it.  Often I am tempted to think of God as being “in the neighborhood” but busy with world events that draw people to him.  Behind the reports in Matthew this week that highlight issues of who is first and who is last when his kingdom comes, is that niggling question, “Does God see me and my life?”  Jesus affirms that God sees each of us and rewards 100 fold.  It is a core truth that is hard to hold on to when we are struggling.  So I turned to this favorite hymn sung by Ethel Waters that affirms that a God who watches sparrows, sees even me!  Please enjoy this affirmation this morning.


March 10, 2023

Matthew 20: 20-23

         Matthew returns to the discussion of who is first and who is last.  Wealth does not make you first or necessarily shows God’s favor.  God will reward us ultimately, 100 fold, but we live in the kingdom of this world.  Eternal rewards are not earned but given as gifts.  Matthew now shares another scenario with a slightly different twist.  The mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, pleads that her sons might sit at his right and left hand as Jesus establishes his kingdom.  We, the readers, realize the mounting excitement as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Surely the kingdom of heaven is about to be ushered in and life will be set right.

         From my life in Kenya, I would not be surprised that a third party speaks for the two disciples.  That a woman approached Jesus expecting to be heard is probably worth a sermon.  But what struck me is the question, the request, she made.  A mother’s heart wants her sons honored.  My mother’s heart wants the best for my children.  I want the best for my children and do not wish for any of them trials.  Jesus seems to be answering in two ways.  We don’t understand what we are asking for and we do not understand all the extenuating circumstance.

         Mrs. Zebedee does not know the implications of the honor of sitting at the right and left hand.  She sees the honor but does not see the price to be paid.  Could it be that God does not give us what we ask for because he knows the repercussions of the granting is more than we could bear?  I think so.  Sometimes his “no’s” are a way of protecting us from our misplaced desires and ourselves.  Secondly he seems to be saying that what we are asking for is not the right fit because that specific honor is prepared for someone else.  If he granted our prayer, we would not be happy or fulfilled. My desires for those around me, though, often lack perspective and understanding of their character and extenuating circumstances.

         As we pray today for others, may we present our requests to God “with open hands.”  That means that I look to the giver to know what is best and open my heart with gratitude for what I am about to receive.  James: 5-8 reminds us:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

May we pray with humility today recognizing our shortsightedness.


March 9, 2023

Matthew 21:17-19

         During Lent we walk with Jesus to the cross through the eyes of Matthew this year.  We reflect on our humanity with all its blessings and foibles, … ok, sins.  We live in the tension of having a foot in the kingdom of this world and a foot in the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew has related encounters that remind us that we often misperceive who is first and who is last because the two kingdoms work by different value systems. 

         As we walk with Matthew, he now does an aside and shares that for the third time Jesus tells the disciples he is headed to Jerusalem to die and resurrect.

18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

         This is not narrative.  This is not parable.  This is not preaching.  Jesus is trying to prepare the people he loves for the trauma they are all going to walk through.  Now that I live in Florida, when the weatherman said hurricane Ian is coming, people prepared.  My daughter who had lived here told me to get cash because electronic machines might not work.  I laughed.  I did store some water.  I did bed down with a friend.  But indeed, many Wal-Mart shelves were bare and not fruit!  Indeed gas pumps did not work for several days.  Indeed winds blew.  But until I went through it I was a bit clueless like the disciples.  I hear but I don’t hear. 

         Right now I am living in the reality of a terminal diagnosis with my husband.  I know but I don’t know.  I have never walked through death with a beloved before.  Yesterday the lawyer said to make clear financial streams of what is his and what is mine.  Now?? I thought.

         Jesus has given the disciples the diagnosis for the hurricane, for the terminal situation, for the pattern of life – death and resurrection – but we don’t quite understand.  Lent is a time when we ponder that mystery.  We hurt and terminate relationships with others and God by the sins, the evil, and the shortcomings we do.  Our mouth gets away from us.  We make bad choices.  We know we are not perfect but getting our hearts around resurrection is a lot harder truth to believe.   We see it in the cycles of nature as a glimpse.

         Today let us ponder.  If we prepare for the hurricane and if we prepare for medical eventualities, how are we preparing for the truth of death and resurrection?  Do we laugh at the warnings to keep our faith current and active or perhaps not even believe we need faith?  We need to prepare for the reality of the kingdom of heaven as we prepare for the kingdom of this world.  Blessings as you ponder this!

First and Last, Part 3

March 8, 2023

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus answers a rich young man who asks what he must do to inherit eternal life that he must sell his wealth, give to the poor, and follow Jesus.  His wealth that many supposed was a sign of God’s approval of his life style was not necessarily a good indicator of salvation.  Wealth can be deceptive.  The disciples ask.  If riches do not indicate salvation, what does that mean for ordinary people?   What is the disciples’ reward for their faithfulness?  Jesus responds that God sees and responds 100 fold.  They will be surprised who is last and who is first in the kingdom of heaven.

         Jesus tells a parable.  A landowner goes to the town square and hires day laborers at a certain rate.  The man goes back to the square every three hours and hires those unemployed.  No reason or justification is given.  At the end of the day, those who worked a little were paid the same as those who worked all day.  The workers object to the unfairness.  We live in a tit for tat world and should be paid more than those that worked a little.  Life is unfair!!!  The kingdom of this world is unfair.

         Not only is this world unfair but also all of us need the mercy shown by the landowner.  God decides how to reward us for our labors.  God sees what man does not see.  He knows what factors impact our lives and drive us.  Secondly God is generous reiterating that rewards are 100 fold.  We do not need to worry about who is last and who is first.  We need to focus on our relationship with God, the giver of good gifts.

         As we sit today and ponder, let us ask ourselves where we are patting ourselves on the back.  What kind of results do we think we deserve?  God might see is it differently.  Next can we think of places where we might come in last.  Is that how you think God sees you?  Thank him for his mercy and patience and love.  Blessings.

 “First and Last, part 2”

March 7, 2023

Matthew 19: 23-30

         “What then will there be for us?” ask Jesus’ disciples when they are told wealth is not indeed a measure of who is first in the kingdom of heaven, or who is last.  Wealth is not a good indicator of God’s pleasure in us.  For poor fishermen and ordinary people, what is? So if wealth is not the reward for faithfulness, what is, “What’s in it for me?”

         Jesus seems to be saying that our wealth, our talents, and our power bring us acclaim in this world but those are not rewards in eternity.  God handles the impossible, “eternity.”  God sees all that we have left to follow Jesus and we will be rewarded 100 fold. The disciples are baffled and don’t understand any more than we do.  I guess that is why we talk about faith.  Our minds cannot get around eternity and we ask, where am I in this picture of impossibility.

         So the question that comes to mind for today is to ask ourselves if we do what is right because of the immediate reward we will receive or are we willing to look to eternity, the investments that pay off in the long run.  Few of us have lots of money to lock up in a bank for a period of time knowing we will earn interest in our investment, but we do have love that we invest in children who are not appreciative now.  We can store up for rainy days like building relationships that will stand by us in our old age.  We store our treasures in heaven where moths and rust do not eat them up.

         Can you think of a couple long-term spiritual investments that may not have given immediate rewards but which paid off in the long run?  Blessings as you ponder eternal blessings.