Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Great Reversal

In the midst of these Holy-days, I haven't had time to upload a written version of my sermon from Advent 4. But no worries, you can always go to Messiah Lutheran Church's podcast site on iTunes. My sermon from Advent 4 is entitled "The Great Reversal".

As we continue in these days of Christmas, may you be graced by God's great reversal, Immanuel, God With Us!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Show Us What We’re Not Seeing

(The following sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on the First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 2012. The sermon arises from the Year C pericope for the day, specifically the gospel reading, Luke 21:25-36.) 

Most all of us have some sort of peculiar habit. Come on admit it. You know you do. We all, most everyone, have some little thing that we do - and yet don't realize we’re actually doing it - that after a while can really begin to annoy the people around us.  

Take my mom for example. [Shhh, don’t tell her I talked about her.] She has this peculiar habit, as she’s riding down the road, of reading signs...out loud!    
“Knoxville 120 miles”
“Cracker Barrel next exit”
“See Rock City”
And this doesn’t happen just on the interstates. US and State Highways work just fine too...
“Oh, look there, Turkey Creek Mall...”
“Hey there’s Messiah Lutheran Church...Did I ever tell you that time I went to that Lutheran Church in Alaska?”
On and on she goes, reading the signs.

In fairness to her though, and if I’m really honest with myself, I read signs too. Granted not out loud! But I do read them. Probably most of us do. Signs on the road can give us information, some of which, we actually need. That next gas station, when the tank is on empty. The next rest stop when the other tank is full. So I guess, in some ways, we are all people who look for signs. And, not just signs on the roadway. We watch for signs that give us information about our daily lives, about what we can expect to happen with the weather,...with the stock market, our health, our relationships or family life. There are all kinds of signs that give us information; give us assurance; give us hope.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can You Handle the Truth?

(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church on Sunday, October 21, 2012, on the occasion of the installation of the Reverend Pauline Pezzino as Associate Pastor. The sermon derives from the first reading for the occasion, Jeremiah 1:4-10.)

The theologian of rock music, Bono of the band U2, in the song, Magnificent, sings:

I was born, 
I was born 
to sing for you
I didn't have a choice 
but to lift you up
And sing whatever song 
you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
from the womb
My first cry, 
it was a joyful noise...1

I think you, Pauline, like U2’s Bono, were born to sing for God, to lift God up and sing the song God has called you to sing, to give back your voice, from the womb your first cry, a joyful noise. But this is no allusion to your gift for singing - as great as that gift is -but to your gift and calling for proclamation, the sharing of the gospel. 
Yes, preaching is a form of singing the song of the gospel. Most certainly Pauline, God has called you to be a joyful noise maker, a singer, preacher, proclaimer of his living word. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on Sunday, October 7, 2012, the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22B. The sermon derives from the RCL pericope for the day, predominantly the Gospel text, Mark 10:2-16)

M. Scott Peck begins his best selling book, The Road Less Traveled with three simple words. Three words that when put together feel like a punch to the gut. They take your breath away because in that moment you know they are true. What are the three words? Life…is…difficult. 1

The first time I picked up Peck’s book and saw those words, it was almost enough to make me set the book down again. I didn’t want to hear those words. Rather, I wanted to continue in my ignorant bliss. I wanted to naively trust that life was only and mostly joy, fun, adventure, and love. But...we all know the truth don’t we? With the joy of life - and there is most certainly joy - but, with that joy comes our share of trip-ups, poor choices, misjudgments, regrets, conflicts, pain, suffering, broken relationships, illness, injury, and death.

Some people believe the church, maybe most especially the sermon should only deal with the former, with the joy and happiness of life. “Give me a feel good sermon, pastor.” some people are want to say. But, to do so would mean we were not dealing with life. Life IS difficult. And what better place to be honest about that truth than here in the church. What better place to deal with the difficulties and complexities of life, than here. What better place to be honest about our brokenness and suffering, than here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Funny The Way It Is

(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on Sunday, September 2, 2012, The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17B. The sermon derives from the RCL pericope of the day, specifically James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

“Funny the way it is, if you think about it” 
sings Dave Matthews,
"Somebody’s going hungry and someone else is eating out.
Funny the way it is, not right or wrong
Somebody’s heart is broken and it becomes your favorite song.” 1

Of course, by funny, Dave Matthews does not mean humorous. He means something more like fascinating, interesting, perplexing, or maybe even ironic.  

Funny the way it is, if you think about it. Like, for example, this past week’s tropical storm turned hurricane, Isaac. As you know initially there were concerns the storm would hit Tampa and interrupt the Republican National Convention. But then, interestingly, it missed. A Florida pastor, the Rev. Jesten Peters of Keys of Authority Ministries told the Christian Broadcasting Network that her prayer group had beseeched God to spare the [convention] from harm. “We have had lots and lots of people praying around the clock that it would move,” she said, “and after you watch from the very beginning where they were saying it was coming and now where they say it is going, then it has really moved out of the way for us and we appreciate God doing that and moving it for us.”2 Funny the way it is. Of course, then the storm moved toward New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast. There, while people prayed to be spared, the storm became a Hurricane which caused the deaths of five people, knocked out power for nearly a million people, and resulted in upwards of two billion in damages. The hurricane’s remnants then moved northward into drought stricken areas like Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois. There people have been praying for rain to come and bring relief for the crops and livestock. 

Funny the way it is, if you think about it. How does God work then? And what about prayer? Hurricanes, droughts and conventions. Oh my! Is that the purpose of religion and religious tradition?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Psalm for Everyday

Deliver me, O giver of Breath and Life,
                  from the fears that beset me;
          help me confront the inner shadows
That hold me in bondage, like a prisoner
                  who knows not freedom.
They distract me from all that I yearn
                  to be,
           and hinder the awakening of
                  hidden gifts
           that I long to share with others.   
For I desire to be a channel of peace;
           to reflect the beauty of 
O, that I might manifest your love
                  to all whom I meet,
           and mirror your mercy
                  and justice!
Guide me, O Beloved, that I may
                  become spiritually mature;
           Love me into new life!  
                                             - Psalm 140, Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yes, I Will!

(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on Sunday, August 26, 2012, The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16B. The sermon derives from the RCL pericope of the day, specifically Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69)

Okay, so let me get this straight. Joshua, the great leader of the Israelites has gathered the people at Shechem, that holy, worship site where God first confirmed the covenant with their ancestor Abraham. Gathered in worship there at Shechem, Joshua gives the people his farewell instructions, calling them to renew the covenant partnership with God, saying “revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; [putting] away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” 
 And the people, the Israelite people respond “Yes!.,..we...will!...Yes,...we will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 1 No hesitation. No, we’ll try our best Joshua. No questions or conditional clauses. Just, "Yes, we will!"



Israelite people how’d that work out for you?

Is that really how your story plays out?

Because of the way the Revised Common Lectionary committee slices up today’s first reading, we are not privileged to hear what happens next. So let me, share with you how their story plays out in Joshua 24:19 and following, according to The Message translation: in response to the people’s “Yes, we will,” ...Joshua told the people: "You can't do it; you're not able to worship God. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won't put up with your fooling around and sinning. When you leave God and take up the worship of foreign gods, he'll turn right around and come down on you hard. He'll put an end to you—and after all the good he has done for you!" But the people told Joshua: "No! No! We worship God!" And so Joshua addressed the people: "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen God for yourselves—to worship him." And they said, "We are witnesses.” Joshua said, "Now get rid of all the foreign gods you have with you. Say an unqualified Yes to God, the God of Israel." The people answered Joshua, [Yes,]"We will worship God. What he says, we'll do." 2

Sunday, August 19, 2012

For Now the Feast is Spread

(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on Sunday, August 19, 2012, the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15B. The sermon derives from the RCL pericope for the day, specifically Proverbs 9:1-6 and John 6:51-58. The portions of the hymn "Come, Let Us Eat" from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #491, indicated by the bold and italicized print were sung by the preacher during the sermon.) 

One of my favorite of many favorite memories from my time at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary occurred at the beginning of my second year. A classmate of mine had been married the Memorial Day weekend previous. With everyone going their different directions over the summer, my group of friends didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate properly. So once we were all back on campus, we decided to hold a dinner party in the new couple’s honor. Jill, the hostess extraordinaire and one of the primary ring leaders of our group, volunteered to hold the party in her apartment. Unfortunately, her apartment wasn’t that big. So, we had to rearrange the furniture and borrow tables enough to seat us her living room. Then we all scrounged for our hand-me-down china and silver, crystal glasses, and serving dishes. Who cares that nothing really matched. Throw in the table cloths, including mismatched cloth napkins and napkin rings, some flowers in odd sized vases, and we had ourselves an exquisitely eclectic and elegant dinner party. The food, lovingly prepared by various members of the group was great and the conversation flowed as easily and prodigally as did the wine. Top it all off with coffee and dessert, and there was no doubt, we poor, and I do mean poor students had experienced ourselves a rich feast,...a banquet meal reminiscent of the Kingdom of God.

Come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread,
come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread.

Listen again to our passage for today from Proverbs. This time from Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Derek Webb

Over the years I have greatly enjoyed the music, creativity and candor of Derek Webb. A singer, songwriter from Nashville, he was formerly a member of the band, Caedmon's Call. Webb's theology, authenticity and political commentary is..., well let's just say, to my liking. 

Here's two examples of his varied work. The first video is a bit grainy, but worth a view. 

"A New Law"

"What Matters More"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rainy Day Rumination

As I begin writing this blog post, Knoxville is experiencing a string of thunder storms and near flooding rains. It is very dark and gloomy.

When I was in middle school, I had a crush on a girl by the name of Senn Sorrow. I was quite naive back then and a bit of a pollyanna, so I didn’t get the significance of her name at first. (I was slow like that. Maybe I still am.) But, eventually it dawned on me. Senn Sorrow....Oh!...Right!...Seen sorrow! Unfortunately, I never did ask Senn what was behind her name. (If I had that one to do over again, I most certainly would.) What was it in her life or the life of her parents that led them to give her such a name? Frankly, I think it is a beautiful name. I’ve never forgotten it. From time to time, I think of her. I’ve wondered how her life has turned out? Has life gone well for her, living out that name? Did her name serve as a self fulfilling prophecy? Has she seen sorrow?

Of course, the truth is we all, every one of us, live to see sorrow. No one is immune. It is as inevitable as a rainy day or the dark of night. Oh, we work mightily to deny it, bury our heads in the sand, cover it up, and generally try to ignore its truth. Sorrow is just not something we like to admit or dwell upon. At this point you might even be tempted to stop reading, so as not to risk lingering with sorrow for long. But maybe it would do you, us well to linger and to admit the sorrow we have seen. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The God Who Shows Up

(This sermon, based on 1 Kings 19:4-8, was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on August 12, 2012, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14B)

The prophet Elijah’s voice thundered fierce and confident, calling down fire from heaven to consume the water and wood, the altar and the animal sacrifice. He would show these so-called prophets, followers of Ba’al, who the real God is. Their so-called god was a no show. Elijah’s God, the true God, the God of Israel, he would show up. He would send fire. He would consume the offering. And he did. Fire rained down from heaven, and in an instant, all of it, the water, the wood, the altar and the animal, consumed.

Now Elijah was even more confident, consumed with passion for his God and angered by Ba’al and his prophets. So, with a word, a thunderous, murderous word, he excited the congregation of Israel and they turned and slaughtered the Ba’al prophets, all 850 of them. 

But, Jezebel, Israel’s pagan queen, the one who brought Ba’al worship into vogue, fierce and confident in her own right, she could not let Elijah’s mockery and murder stand. So she sent him, by way of a messenger, a murderous word of her own. “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life [Elijah] like the life of one of [my prophets] by this time tomorrow.”1 In other words, I’m gonna kill you!

...So, that is the back story which brings us to today’s reading from 1st Kings. When we catch up with Elijah today, he is no longer so fierce and confident. No, he’s afraid and running for his life into the wilderness. Alone, confused, exhausted there in the wilderness, he collapses under a large desert bush and asks to die, telling God, “It is too much; now, Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

“It may be 
that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled 
is not employed.
The impeded stream 
is the one that sings.” 

-Wendell Berry

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Tonight, the youth of Messiah Lutheran will thank the congregation for supporting their trip to the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. As part of the program, we'll be showing this most excellent talk from Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. Check it out. 

Media Wednesday

For your mulling pleasure, Accelerate, the title track from R.E.M.'s 2008 release.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I was reminded today...

I’ve been away from this blog for some time now. Like, 14 months. So, it’s high time I put fingers to keys and take it up again. We’ll see what fruit my writing may bear. Maybe it will bear nothing for you, whoever you are, reading from wherever you exist out there beyond the blogosphere. But, for me...maybe writing again will provide that sounding board, that place of contemplation in this space between. 


I was reminded today of one of my favorite prayers. I first saw it while on retreat at the The Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. It was given to me by Fr. Anthony Delisi, OCSO, an earthy, irreverent, lovable old monk who has been at the monastery since 1948. The prayer comes to us from, like Father Anthony, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton.  

My Lord God, 
I have no idea where I am going. 
I do not see the road ahead of me. 
I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself, 
and the fact that I think I am following your will 
does not mean that I am actually doing so. 
But I believe that the desire to please you 
does in fact please you. 
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire. 
And I know that if I do this 
you will lead me by the right road, 
though I may know nothing about it. 
Therefore I will trust you always 
though I may seem to be lost 
and in the shadow of death. 
I will not fear, 
for you are ever with me, 
and you will never leave me 
to face my perils alone. 1