Heavy Burdens – Sermon on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

When Jesus says his yoke is easy, the yoke he’s talking about is a very burdensome object, designed for a large, heavy beast. But it becomes easy when Jesus is leading the way.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 9 – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

“Heavy Burdens”.  Text is from  Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

(This portion of the sermon was unscripted)

Jesus starts off this conversation about how the children of Israel rejected both John and then Jesus in a seemingly contradictory terms; saying that John had a demon for being an a person who intentionally starved himself and that Jesus was a drunkard and glutton for eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus is uplifting the hypocritical nature of his critics, primarily at this time the Pharasees, in that it doesn’t matter how the person is living, as long as they say things contradictory to the way these followers of the old way practiced their faith, then they were subject to whatever creative invective was being hurled at them. All just names and words: Demon-possessed, drunkard and glutton. In a logical debate, these are called ad hominems, where one attacks the messenger rather than the message.

Evil OxenAnd I know it becomes easy to put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, because we’ve all probably experienced at some time that someone who disagreed with us decided to look for some character trait we had, something someone might perceive as a flaw, and use it to try to derail the conversation. But it might be more difficult to see ourselves in the role of those that Jesus was criticizing. People whose world was being turned upside down, people already suffering under a tyrannical empire and now someone has come and is challenging their old ways of thinking about God?

But think about this point in Jesus ministry, we have to remember that the context of what Jesus is saying, which is more evident in Matthew’s gospel than any of the others, are such that they he says them after he has done some pretty unsettling and remarkable feats.

Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus has healed a leper.  But in doing so he has put his hands on the unclean person before he is healed.  Jesus, a holy man, has made himself ritually unclean while at the same time healing him.  He then went and brought the servant of a centurion back from the brink of death. An incredible miracle, but done on behalf of not only a gentile but a member of the harsh Roman ruling class.

And then Jesus eats in the company of sinners, further angering those who would wish for a messiah of their own choosing, one who is Jewish through and through, who follows Jewish custom and law to the “T”. This Jesus of Nazareth, who is showing so much potential, is nevertheless not falling in line with their ideals. He is turning the world upside down.

So when the very people Jesus has come to save become embroiled in the politics of the day, making the decision to follow the prevailing thought rather than the obvious messiah there before them.

And yet Jesus loves all of those people anyway. That those things that should be revealed were hidden from the wise.  Even as he criticizes us, he invites us to him. Even as we struggle, those of us who have rejected the help that we may be given, he tells us flat out,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

And Jesus, who suffered more than anyone could suffer, who had the greatest burden of all, tells us in no uncertain terms, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” What is a yoke? He is not talking about the yellow part of an egg here. What Jesus means is the harness that goes around the neck of oxen in order to pull a plow. How can a yoke even be easy?

But this passage here, these wonderful verses at the end of Matthew, have been considered by some theologians and scholars to be the heart of the gospel message. When Jesus says to take up our cross and follow him, earlier in Matthew, it seems like it is a great struggle but in truth, given the great struggles life has to throw at us, taking up one’s cross is, in fact, the easy decision.

Being a friend to people behind bars is not the easiest thing in the world. I relish my freedom, my sisters and brothers, as I’m sure do you. But also, being a person in recovery, I can tell you that when you are in the grip of dependency on chemicals, you can find yourself justifying the most ridiculous behaviors, and many of the decisions that some people make are so absurd and contrary to what society would expect from us. I can also assure you that when I put a chemical in my body, the conscious contact I feel with God becomes dulled and my ability to rely on God for good decision making becomes diminished if not completely quashed altogether.

But you don’t have to have been addicted to any substance to know that as human beings acting in a willful nature, we can do some pretty messed up things. When the consequences involve some sort of crime, we wind up having our choices taken away from us by the government. And while I have never personally experienced being locked up, I know enough people who have, and believe me, life is absolutely not easy for those people. It’s one of the main reason many people turn to God in those places, to try to seek solace and comfort where so little is to be found.

When I am fighting God and not doing what God wants me to do, I have a hard time of it. When life is causing storms and there seems to be no way out, when stress and difficulties befall me and I don’t understand what to do or how to take the next step, I do not know if I could even continue if I didn’t have God in my life.

Take my yoke upon  you and learn from me, Jesus says. And like the ox, Jesus is pulling us, guiding us where we need to go. We are the plow that Jesus pulls, we are the burden that Jesus carries. When Jesus says my yoke is easy, he means that it become easy when we yoke ourselves to him. When Jesus says my burden is light, it is us, our burden that we give him that makes it that much more light for us.

Life, my sisters and brothers is about suffering. Some of us suffer a great deal more than others. But none of us is ever alone in our suffering. Part of being the body of Christ, part of being of service to each other is being able to give up our burdens to each other.

Because this is the easier way, my sisters and brothers. And knowing the good news that God gave a son to teach us and die in our behalf, taking all of the ills of the world, our sins upon him amidst his suffering so that we may live anew, and rising again that we may live under his kind and loving r

Words – Homily on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Words hurt when people hurl them at you, even when they hurt. But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
Wednesday’s homily was delivered without notes, so you may listen to the sermon rather than read it.  

Homily delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 5, 2017 – Fifth Wednesday after Pentecost

“Words”.  Text is from  Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

Sermon audio follows:


Radically hospitable – Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42

It’s easy to understand we’re called to do radical hospitality. As Christians, though, it can be much harder to accept radical hospitality ourselves.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

July 2 – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

“Radically hospitable”.  Text is from  Matthew 10:40-42

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

Every Sunday morning we read our very familiar welcome statement which leads us into worship with a sense of who it is we want to be as a community and how we want to live. And every Sunday morning with that declaration we are opening ourselves to becoming vulnerable to whomever might come in whatever condition or state of life they may be. The statement itself is often known as radical welcome, and yet having a statement alone does not define exactly how welcoming a congregation is.

Homeless people camping by Foto blog in ParisWe can hang a banner over the front door to the street that says “All Are Welcome In our Church” but if we don’t make visitors feel that indeed, we wish to have them here beside us and being a part of our family, they probably won’t want to come back. That means people of all varieties and backgrounds, creeds and colors, gender identity. It means it’s a job for the pastor and the regulars who sit in the pews as well. It means coming to Sunday worship is more than just sitting here and connecting with God on our own, it also means connecting with the outsiders and making our home, their home.

Because I think many of us have been to a new church a first time or visited one when we went to another area. And I know what it feels like to walk into a sanctuary before service and be completely ignored by the congregation members in a place that proclaims from the rafters that everyone is welcome. Radical hospitality demands a definitive action on the part of the hosts. Because signs in and of themselves only make statements and direct people, they don’t make truths.

And so make an effort to be the people we are meant to be, and we understand what it means to be wonderful hosts of others. What it means to bring people into our lives and be a part of our family, welcoming them into our homes: friends and strangers alike, welcoming them into our lives and giving them comfort and rest.

But how much does that translate into being the guests of good hosts? How are we to accept radical hospitality, particularly when it means that we have to be vulnerable to the people who are providing it?

So we are continuing from last week Jesus’s instructions to the twelve disciples as he is sending them out to proclaim the good news and to do deeds in his name, he has just warned them of the persecutions that they will face. And now he’s promising to give reward to any person who will help the disciples along the way and who will offer support to their ministry.

And he is couching it in some language the disciples would have been intimately familiar with. Welcoming a prophet and receiving a prophet’s reward? Well, in our reading we have Jeremiah and Hananiah with two competing prophecies for the people of Judea: and Jeremiah being openly hopeful that Hananiah’s prophecy of peace for the people to come true, but also questioning, because he himself had the word spoken in different ways to him and had advised that the kingdom submit to the vastly stronger King of Babylon lest war and hardship take them away. What was the prophet’s reward? For the people of Israel, having heeded the prophecy of the true prophet of God, Jeremiah, it meant safety and security.

And what of the reward of the righteous? We have evidence over and over again that Jesus means this to be the kingdom of God. In our second reading from Roman Paul talks about our having been slaves to sin while living under the law, and indeed, the rewards of that life is death. But by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we are freed from death and become slaves to righteousness. And the reward of this new state of being is that we become holy people, sanctification, with the end result being God’s kingdom and eternal life. The reward of the righteous is, in fact an abundance of life overflowing and sharing in the beloved kingdom of God.

The little ones Jesus speaks of are only children in the metaphorical sense. As he speaks of his disciples going out he speaks of them in the terms that they are his children in the world. And in the image of their being offered a drink of water to quell their thirst we are reminded of the welcome Jesus received by the woman at the well in Samaria, and living water that baptizes all the people of God and embodies the holy spirit present in the disciples as they go out and share the good news of God, the love of one another.

The lives of the early Christians were fraught with misadventure and ill. In the Acts of the Apostles we read about imprisonment and death, we read about mobs coming after Paul because of what he stood for. The Roman Catholics have documented innumerable martyrdoms of early Christians in gory detail. The gospel spread in those early years exponentially, but not without cost to those that the Holy Spirit sent out.

But within the book of Acts is also those stories of the people who welcomed the early disciples of Christ in their homes, who did the bidding of God and helped the early believers as they acted out the good that the Holy Spirit sent them out to do. Names of people like Simon the Tanner, Cornelius, Lydia, Ananias (there is a good one), Prisca and Aquila, Sergius Paulus. People who helped carry the gospel by helping the people who were carrying it. People who opened their homes, provided resources, who gave of their time and energy in order that those who carried the message would be able to get it through.

God makes a way for the good news to travel. Even as we practice a hospitality that is more than simply welcoming, it actively invitational, we must also be prepared to envision where we are made welcome to do the work of God in the world, to see those means that we are able to share the good news in the world.

Where do you feel welcome? Where do you feel at home? Where are there people opening their hearts to you and allowing you a place to be vulnerable and speak the good news of Christ? The heart of the gospel is that the kingdom of God is close and that God loves the whole world, that we are called to love one another as Christ loves us and that we offer welcome to our neighbors even as we accept their welcome in the name of Christ.

This, my sisters and brothers, is living out God’s imminent kingdom in the world that we may prepare for God’s heavenly kingdom to come. Because let me tell you, if you think earthly radical hospitality and welcome is hard to come by, we have an incredibly open and hospitable host awaiting us in God’s great hereafter. And we can but model it in our homes and in our communities, as Jesus taught us to do and with the help of God’s Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us strength, that God’s good news be declared all throughout this world of God’s beloved people.


Justus et Peccador – Homily on Romans 6:12-23

We are all of us Saints and Sinners. And this is what it means when we’re talking about it.
Wednesday’s homily was delivered without notes, so you may listen to the sermon rather than read it.  

Homily delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 28 – Fourth Wednesday after Pentecost

“Justus et Peccador”.  Text is from  Romans 6:12-23

Sermon audio follows:


Hard Truths – Sermon on Matthew 10:24-39

Sometimes people just don’t want to hear hard truths. That doesn’t mean that the truths are frightening, they can simply shatter their worlds.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 25 – Third Sunday after Pentecost

“Hard truths”.  Text is from  Matthew 10:24-39

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus is telling his disciples some very tough things to hear, at least to the sensitivities of our 21st century ears. This message is a continuation of the Matthew commission in which he is sending out the 12 to the ends of the earth in order to bring the good news to the people. And it’s a stern warning that the word of God will not always fall on willing ears. That there will be many who will adamantly oppose what they have to say. But that what has before been secret. That the good news is about much, much more than how everyone previously understands it. It’s about bringing the truth to the light and a new comprehension of the relationship between God and humankind.

It is an upending of how we have come to know the Messiah. The Prince of Peace is telling the disciples that rather than peace be brought to the earth, he is going to upend the natural order with a sword. And this sword will be a truth that cuts through natural relationships. Children will turn against their parents. And if a parent cannot set their sons and daughters aside if it means following Christ, than they should not bother following Christ. The path to discipleship is sometimes hard and can sometimes be lonely. But the promises that Christ is telling his disciples, the sharing of this new kingdom and the opportunity to spread the news of it to others, is far greater than any family bond.

2017.03.07 -MuslimBan 2.0 Protest, Washington, DC USA 00784 (33279470586)On examination, the familial bonds that Christ is talking about echo the words from the prophet Micah in chapter 7, who we don’t often hear from:

5 Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace;
6 for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
your enemies are members of your own household.
7 But as for me, I will look to the Lord,
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.

However, It should also be noted that Jesus is not simply bringing words designed to destroy the traditional family. He’s telling the disciples the truth of the matter. That relationships among them will be relativized. The definition of family becomes something new.

Remember when Jesus’ own mother and brothers were troubling him about wanting to speak with him while he was busy teaching in Galilee? Jesus responded, “Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” What we have known as the natural bonds of the nuclear family has become occluded. Family is no longer who you share genetic material with but who acts like family. And in telling his disciples that these bonds no longer mattered so much in the longer scheme of things, Jesus is giving them freedom to act against the status quo, because not all of their parents will accept the truth of their decisions.  Not all of their siblings will drop everything and take up their own crosses to follow them.

In fact, this is the first time the gospel writer Matthew uses the word cross in his gospel. And while we read it with the understanding that the crucifixion of Christ always eventually follows, it is not meant to specifically reference Christ’s crucifixion but as a prerequisite to the life of discipleship. One must always be prepared to carry one’s own cross to share the good news, to be worthy of Christ. No matter what the cost.

So there we sit with this message. The truth, which is meant to set us free, in fact seems to be engendered to cause strife. The Prince of Peace seems to destroy peace. Families uprooted, and all we have to show for it is a costly grace that we have earned for it. And it may appear, if one sees this in the cynical manner than one sometimes gets when woken up on the wrong side of the bed after a particularly emotional stressful day, that the good news really hard to find amidst this message.

But Jesus is sincerely not trying to frighten them, he’s not trying to test their mettle to see which ones actually have the chutzpah to stand with him when push comes to shove. He’s underscoring the reality of what being his discipleship really means. And we’ve been talking a lot about discipleship since Pentecost, and for myself I think it’s quite a good focus on what it means to be sharing the truth of ourselves. What it means to be in this covenant we have with God.  When Jesus is talking about his not bringing peace to the world, we can always look on it with the context of the world he was living in. Indeed, do you know what the Pax Romana was? This was a period of time where there were no wars abroad, because the Romans, at least in their serious influence, held the Mediterranean in thrall with iron chains. When Jesus talks about disrupting peace, many people immediately think about the overthrow of their oppressors.

But it is more than that, because the truth of our lives may disrupt more than that. In those days, the choice to follow Jesus was a hard one to take, particularly for people who had family steeped in the old law, the Hebrew law. The way of Jesus ran counter to centuries of tradition and understanding of a person’s relationship with God. And if his followers’ parents, siblings and children were not ready to follow him, or worse, stood against all that Jesus stood for, then it was best for Jesus’ followers to essentially shake the dust off of those places. Genetics does not hold a candle to the word of God.

And speaking our truth in our households can often be disruptive. There is a parade going on today in San Francisco that was first organized at a time when most of the people involved had been rejected by their families wholesale for proclaiming the truth in their lives. And while the world has come a long way for LGBTQ people since the 1970s not all families or communities, particularly those from certain more fundamentalist faith traditions, are inclined to be open to the natural condition of their children without trying to force compliance to sexualities or gender identities that are unnatural to them.

And other truths can be just as disruptive to our relationships with our families of origin. When many people, and particularly white people hear someone proclaim the words “Black Lives Matter”, they seem to go to this place inside of them that tells them that this means that their lives don’t matter. And so, this fragility so often experienced by people of privilege, who don’t usually see their privilege prevents them from moving toward an understanding the frustration of people always having to explain, by virtue of the color of their skin to police why they’re carrying a licensed firearm, why they’re driving their own nice car, why they are walking through a neighborhood in which they live, why they have to go through hoops to do things the rest of us take for granted because they’re afraid of being shot by cops. And nothing you can say to them will help those who don’t get that from opening their hearts for people who have different experiences than them, because those who don’t get that hear their own frustrations echoed, intentionally and pointedly sometimes, in the language of pundits on television with million dollar mansions who have no moral compunction against disavowing the state of the minorities among us.

And so, what can you say to people who don’t realize that they don’t need to hear that “white lives matter” because there has never been a time that society has not subconsciously provided that message? And truth-telling these members of our families, our community, becomes a source of contention. And divisions prevail, even when the gospel message calls us to uplift the persecuted and welcome the stranger among us.

But God calls us into a new family paradigm. And while we may in fact, be in a place where we have great relationships with our families of blood, but remember that many of us are not. We live with our families of choice. And at the end of Matthew’s gospel, which we read two weeks ago, the disciples were called on the great commission to bring people into this new family of choice, and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Peace is a beautiful goal and it is one that we long for, but the message of truth and salvation, the heralding of God’s heavenly kingdom is one that disrupts complacency and destroys the old ways of doing thing. The Good news cries out in new and wonderful places, and we are God’s

Because the good news needs to be proclaimed, and we are God’s tools to do it.


Hospitable places – Sermon on Matthew 9:35–10:23

We don’t necessarily need comfort when we share the good news. But hospitality helps us establish intimacy. We need to know who we’re proclaiming to.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.

June 18 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

“Hospitable places”.  Text is from  Matthew 9:35–10:23

Sermon audio follows:

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.

I am going to describe something to you and I want you to nod your head if you have seen it.

Image of tea setting, two cups, crackers, tea kettle, books and pensA man is standing on a box in the middle of a public square. He may be holding a megaphone or may simply have a loud enough voice that to those who hear him don’t need the amplification. He probably has some signs in front of his box declaring how and in what manner God is going to send down his wrath and what people must do to be saved, and he may be with other people. The words coming out of his mouth are a combination of bible verses picked all across scripture and his interpretation of what those verses mean to those who may be listening. He might point at one or two people walking by, almost in a carnival barker style, declaring that this woman is dressed like a harlot or this young man should change his gangster lifestyle.

Regardless of his words, and usually it involves condemnation of just about everything, yes these are the type of Christians we mainliners just want to roll our eyes at an shake our heads to, because their hellfire and brimstoney speeches are clearly giving the rest of us a bad name. But the words are almost always falling on deaf ears. How can you call something good news that does very little but frightens people listening to it? And besides all that, what kind of message is shared when the messenger is so far removed from the object of the message? With such a lack of connection, is it any wonder that these street hawkers of biblical condemnation meet with very little success?

Yes, the gospel message is offensive to those who are afraid to embrace the gift of faith that Jesus Christ has bought for us. That Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Yes, some people shirk at the mere mention of his name, because of what they think people are saying versus what the good news is all about. But that doesn’t mean that the gospel message is one that should be offensive! Christ calls us into community, and the grace of Christ is meant to be shared between people who are connected, people who are able to look each other in the eye and speak to one another by name. We break bread when we are gathered. The message that Jesus Christ is Lord is a message to be shared among all peoples, but one that is shared with kindness and love and understanding.

Today is the first Sunday in that long season after Pentecost known as “ordinary time”.  And each year, we follow along with Jesus and his disciples as they travel throughout the appointed Gospel for that year, with miracles, parables and words of wisdom.

Jesus is traveling throughout Galilee and doing miracle, healing every person that asks, and feeling for the growing crowds that gather around him, knowing that they are facing things in life that make it difficult for them. Is it oppression from their rulers? Is it that the people who are gathering are homeless, jobless, kicked out of their communities? For whatever reason, Jesus sees them and has compassion, telling his disciples that the people need direction, that this harvest is plentiful, and that it’s time.

Jesus gathered all of his disciples together to give them instruction as to what they should do in his name. Matthew recites the name of all twelve of them for us, and this is telling for he names them alongside of the instruction and authority that Jesus gives them: Curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting out demons. Last week we were talking about people who are unworthy doing deeds in Jesus’ name. And yet it is clear what Matthew intends here, that all twelve of the disciples, including the one who was to eventually betray Jesus, are given the power and authority to perform miracles even as they proclaim the good news.  As if the power of God is greater than any weakness of humankind.

And the additional instructions, included here give us a decent idea of what is entailed with the sharing of the gospel. That the disciples, even those of them who were men of means, such as Matthew, take only the clothes on their back, no money, none of the comforts of life. That they should expect hospitality where they go, and if they do not receive it, those places are definitely not ready to hear the good news. Jesus’ message seems to become more prophetic toward the end of the instructions, because the details seem to be more about the time after the resurrection than they do the current commission.

But one thing is clear in the instructions that Jesus is giving out. He is not telling them to go to the town square and shout at passersby warning them of the impending apocalypse. He is telling his disciples to accept the hospitality of strangers and to become vulnerable to those people and therein lies the good news.

What does it mean to be vulnerable to people we are bringing the gospel to? It may seem easy at some times. People like to host guests, show that they can spend time over a carefully prepared meal and provide a welcome respite for a weary traveler. Accepting hospitality of strangers is no great chore.  But while the message is the same, the world has changed greatly. We don’t travel from town to town spreading the good news. Our proclamation happens right in our own back yard.  Perhaps that is in part some reason why some people find it simply easier to get on a soap box and shout at passing strangers with whom they share no real connection.

So what is it like to accept hospitality and become intimate with the people that Jesus calls us to witness to in this day and age.  How do you accept the hospitality of prisoners, for instance, when you’re in an environment where there is no possibility of the exchange of food, of comfort? How do you establish the kind of intimacy required to share the good news?

What about on the street with a person who is living in a doorway. Who has nothing real to offer to you except what they have managed to collect in their day to day. Where the kind of comfort one expects from living indoors does not exist. Sometimes hospitality may mean bringing your own cup of coffee and one to share as well.

How about in a nursing home? Where the resident may have a cache of candy but receives only the food that comes with their daily meals? Their home is possibly one half of a two-person unit.  Like with the others, hospitality is being invited into a space. Establishing intimacy is being able to look the other person in the eye and naming them. Being able to see the Christ in them as they see the Christ in you. Opening yourself up to the Holy Spirit to guide you as you open your heart to the person in front of you.

Because in a world where people are often mean to each other, hospitality is a unique thing. How many of us know the names of our neighbors on both sides of us? How about across the street or hallway? And how many of them know that we are Christians called upon to proclaim the good news as his disciples? In the world today, we must sometimes be uncomfortable to become intimate, we must sometimes brave strange places to go where Jesus calls us. Because the good news needs to be proclaimed, and we are God’s tools to do it.