A Larger Story

The Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

One of the blessings of pastoral ministry is the chance to be a part of some of the most memorable moments in people’s lives. To stand with a couple on their wedding day or to gather with a family as they say goodbye to a loved one, to speak words of scripture and offer up prayers during these times—these can be powerful and significant opportunities to share in the lives of those we serve.

As many pastors would likely attest, these moments are special not just because of the ceremonies themselves, but because of the way they connect to something bigger. They allow us to look beyond the moment and see how that moment fits into a larger view of God’s work.

Of all these powerful and holy moments that we as ministers and as members of a Christian community get to share, perhaps none is as significant or as important as a baptism. To stand at a font or in a baptistery with a person who is just beginning his or her first steps in the life of faith, to speak words of encouragement and exhortation, to pray as a community for the continued growth and sustained faithfulness of the candidate for baptism – this is such a heavy and joyful and emotionally charged event that words can hardly do it justice.

We come to such moments, and we walk away from them, convinced that God has been at work in some mysterious way to bring new life, and that we have been blessed to participate in the fulfillment of God’s promises, with the knowledge that what has just happened connects us to something bigger than ourselves, a story of salvation that God has been telling for generations. Read more

It’s About Jesus


Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-36

This is a strange story; we don’t often know what to make of it. What does it mean? What does it do? Jesus on a mountain, a shining moment, a voice from on high? This is the final story we read in this season of Epiphany, the season of revelation, manifestation. In other words, this is the season when things of God should be revealed, uncovered, be brought into the light. This story is no different. So what does it reveal? Read more

The Kingdom Unleashed on the World

Baptism of the Lord
First Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Before there was an ekklesia, before there was a Messiah, before there were mangers or magi or shepherds or heavenly hosts, there was talk among the common folk in and around Jerusalem—furtive whispers and improbably hopeful snippets of conversation among a people long since accustomed to injustice and subjugation at the hands of series of imperial oppressors and collaborators from among their own leaders. The topic of conversation was not new in any absolute sense. Its roots were a thousand years old, and exchanges like it had emerged and reemerged over the years whenever things became grim and the people wondered whether the God of their ancestors had abandoned them altogether.

The conversation invariably revolved around hope, and the hope voiced was for deliverance, a liberation such as their ancestors had experienced under the leadership of Moses in the Exodus from Egypt. This time the liberation was expected to come through the leadership of a “new” Moses, a descendant of King David, under whose rule the people would be freed, their oppressors vanquished, and shalom — peace and prosperity — established, not simply among the people Israel, but throughout Creation; not simply for now, but for all time.

In the second century before the Common Era, when the Seleucids sought to destroy Judaism by completely assimilating it into Hellenistic culture, the authors of the book of Daniel and some of the apocryphal texts gave this hope a name. They called it the reign (or kingdom) of God, and they looked for its advent through God’s anointed one, the Messiah. Read more

Assumed and Healed

Baptism of the Lord

Genesis 1:1-5 OR Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 19:1-7 OR Acts 10:34-38
Mark 1:4-11

Mark’s characteristically spare account of Jesus’ baptism tells us little about the encounter between Jesus and John. We don’t learn if Jesus joined the riverside queue waiting to be dunked or suddenly presents himself to a wading John, but we get some sense that Jesus’ arrival is both anticipated and in need of explanation. Why does he undergo baptism of repentance?

Have we’ve heard the story too often to grasp its strangeness? Jesus, like us in all things but sin (see Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15), joins the sinners’ ritual of publicly displaying need of forgiveness. Read more

Saying “Yes” and Saying “No”

First Sunday in Lent

Luke 4: 1-13

I was ordained over 30 years ago by a small, rural Texas Baptist church who had called me as their new young pastor a couple of months before. I invited to preach my ordination service a retired preacher whom I knew from my college church. He was in his mid-80’s, gentle and kind, as attentive to others as anyone I’d ever known, had a deep prayer life, and rumor had it that he had memorized the entire King James Bible. He preached a fine sermon on loving God, loving the Bible, and loving God’s people. After the service, of course, we all joined in a country church dinner on the grounds of which legends are made. Soon thereafter, I escorted the old preacher to his car. He laid his Bible on the roof of the car as he opened the door and turned to me, “There are two more things you need to know about being a pastor. You’ll need to learn to say ‘No!’ and ‘Hell no!’” With that parting word he got in his car and drove away. Read more