Weather Forecast

boat.JPGI was bullied as a child, mercilessly and by many for years. I was teased for being tall, for appearing older than I was, and for the clothes I wore. I endured catcalls and lewd remarks from the time I was nine-years-old. I was harassed because I was smart, because I was always reading a book, because I wasn’t allowed to watch much tv, because I wore glasses, and because I befriended the “weird” kids. In truth I was a shy, sensitive child who came from a family that didn’t have much in the way of resources, physical or emotional. Needless to say, I have no patience for bullies today. I tend to side with victims without asking questions, even though I know that most bullies are pretty miserable people themselves.

Bullying seems normative in our society these days. Last week a mosque was bombed in the city where I work. This week the President is threatening North Korea with nuclear bombs. A couple of weeks ago someone died by suicide less than two miles from where I live and this week someone else engaged in similar suicidal behavior but did not die. Why are we in such a hurry to kill our global siblings, our neighbors, ourselves? More importantly, where are the Christian voices crying out for God, crying out against violence and the threat of more? Where are those who side with the victim and speak truth to power?

As I read the story of Joseph and his brothers, I am reminded that human nature has not changed much, if at all, in the intervening years. Joseph’s brothers debated between murder and slavery just because Joseph was their father’s favorite. Maybe he was a bit obnoxious and even flaunted his favorite son status. Did he deserve the degree of hatred his brothers had for him? They were going to kill him before one of them came up with the idea to sell him as a slave. We want to rush in and say that this wouldn’t happen today, not over a robe, multicolors or long sleeves notwithstanding. Yet, we can’t. People are killed over such things often enough. We can say that they aren’t usually literal siblings, but sometimes they are. And does it matter? If our Muslim neighbors are not safe in our neighborhood, neither are we. Bombs can’t tell the difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, or anyone else. If there is nuclear war in North Korea or anywhere else, the entire planet will pay the price. When one person dies by suicide, the community is affected. We may not share blood the way that Joseph and his brothers did, but do we not share more than that? Are we not one in Christ?

When we forget that we are God’s people, we tend to do regrettable, selfish things. Selling our siblings into slavery, bombing our neighbors, or completely losing hope that there is a way through the pain. Of course, a simple profession of faith is not going to end oppression, or hatred, or abject despair. Peter professed his faith right out loud and walked on water. Until he sank. And he sank because he mistook Jesus’ authority for his own. His flimsy words were no match for the Word. As he sank into the waves, Peter experienced a deeper need for God, a need to literally be saved.

If ever the world needed a Savior, it is now. I’m not talking about saving souls. God can do that without our help. I’m talking about saving lives. You know, pulling Joseph out of the pit, defusing the bombs, ending wars, and offering hope to those who have none. All this means doing more than asking Jesus to speak our names. It means stepping out of the boat, trusting Jesus to walk with us through the storms, holding us up in the moments of drowning doubt. It’s time to stand up against all the bullies, bullies who live small lives full of anger, pain, and fear and feel better about themselves by humiliating and harming vulnerable people around them.

Jesus didn’t sit quietly on the sidelines when someone was hurting. Jesus intervened and offered healing and hope. As church, are we not the embodiment of Christ? Then we should be doing the very same thing. We should bring healing, hope, and welcome into community wherever we go. Joseph is crying out for saving. Our Muslim neighbors are crying out for welcome and inclusion. Our siblings across the globe are crying out for end to meaningless war. People are around us are crying out for hope. We, as church, the Body of Christ, have the capacity to transform this culture of bullying into a culture of grace.

The time for silence and inaction has long passed if it ever existed. If you are a follower of Christ, then the time has come to save lives. Speak up against the bullies everywhere you encounter them, especially if it is in the Oval Office. Welcome our Muslim neighbors with more than words. Offer love and kindness to all those you meet; you never know when a small kindness will make a life-saving difference. We can choose to remain silent and safe and lend tacit power to those who are bullies. Or we can take the risk of doing something new and different by reaching out with a friendly hand. The storm is raging all around us. It’s time we give up our seats in the boat for those more vulnerable and learn how to embody the words that will finally bring an end to the raging winds and blinding rains.

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe</a

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One of the Crowd

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“You feed them,” said Jesus to his disciples. Right. Because that’s so easy. Crowds of tired, hungry people and no one packed much for the journey. The disciples heard their own stomachs rumbling. Feed them how? “Like this,” was Jesus’ response. “Gather what’s available, bless what you have, break it down, and give it to those gathered. You will have more than what you will need.” This is what Jesus said. This is what Jesus did. This is what we’re supposed to do. Yet, the questions of whom do we feed, what do we gather, what do we break, and what do we share is so much more complicated than loaves and fish. Or is it?

I didn’t sleep well last night. My dreams were echoes of a day spent at the scene of an explosion that left several people injured and two people dead. As I stood with the crowd of those waiting to hear news of those missing, or connect with friends or family caught in the building when it collapsed, or to locate their children who’d been at the school when the gas leak exploded, there were tears and there were questions. How could God let this happen?  Why didn’t God stop this? Why did God let people die here? Each time I managed to fall asleep, someone would be shouting at me to do something to make it better as the smell of smoke hung heavy, like fog trapping everyone in helplessness. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find words to speak into the despair and anger. It was a long night.

Long ago, Jacob had a similar night. He wasn’t coming from the scene of a disaster so much as he was coming from the disastrous decisions he’d made in his own life. He was caught between the deceiving self-serving ways of his past and the future God was calling him into. If he was going to continue in God’s way, he had to face his brother. He was unable to sleep. He wrestled with God, perhaps because God knew he was capable of so much more than selfishness. Jacob must have had some idea because he would not let go until he was blessed. He held firmly, refusing to let who he had been determine who he would be.

Of course, Jacob paid a price. His hip was out of joint. He would limp from that day onward. Maybe he would slow down enough to pay attention to what God was asking of him. Maybe to remind all of us that becoming who God created us to be can be a painful, life-changing journey that might leave us out of step with the rest of the world.

About 30 years ago I set out on a path that has required me to learn what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to feed the crowds. The exhaustion of gathering resources has sometimes been overwhelming. The many blessings I have spoken over bread, babies, boats, bikes, and people, so many people, have touched me in unexpected ways. It’s the breaking that’s been hard. Breaking my own foolish notions of what God wants me to do. Breaking my own sense of inadequacy. Breaking through to those so vulnerable and so terrified. Breaking my heart, God’s heart, and holding the broken pieces of countless hearts. Then, day after day, getting up and giving fragile hope to those in despair when, sometimes, it seemed giving up would be easier.

“You feed them,” Jesus said to his disciples when confronted with a hungry crowd. Jesus says the same to us now. And we’re still asking how such a thing is possible. How do we gather what we need? What blessings do we offer? How do we break what needs to be broken? How do we give in ways that meet the needs? Endless questions. Yet, somewhere between the story of Jacob wrestling through the night and Jesus feeding the gathered crowd, the answers wait.

Maybe the way to feed the hungry is to keep wresting with the questions through the nights, holding so tightly to God that blessing is given and we move differently into the day. Maybe the gathering, blessing, breaking, and giving becomes easier when we face the disasters of our past and embrace who God created us to be. Maybe it’s just a question of holding on until we hear the blessing meant only for our ears and feel the pain of an old identity falling away.

However it works out, I’m willing to wrestle with God through the disasters in my life and in the world. I’m willing to continue the journey no matter what is out of joint. I’ll do what I can and endure the exhaustion, the joys, the pain, and the endless needs because Jesus asks all of us to feed the hungry. And you know what? Some days I’m as hungry as the crowd and as selfish as Jacob. Yet, God still calls my name and whispers of a day when all will eat and be satisfied.

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 20174
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

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Weak and/or Lovely

beach-1822598_1920.jpgHoly One
where we see weakness
you often see loveliness
In Jacob you saw a future unimagined
as he lied and deceived
ran and scrambled to eke out a living
You gave him dreams
and opened his heart to love
slowly transforming him
from selfish fool
to father of a nation
whose legacy yet lives

Gracious God
You would make us lovely
even in our weakness
When we fail to see value
in ourselves, in our neighbors,
in your creation, or in you
you claim us as your own
and wait for us to see as you see
You would open us to love
even as the world turns away
seemingly embracing hatred,
violence, deception, and despair
Transform us from fearful fools
into a people whose weakness
is lovely

Merciful God
We are weak
We give in to fear and hatred
We listen to powerful voices
whose only desire is to keep us silent
slaves to shame, ignorance, and division
Make us lovely
Teach us
extravagant love and radical hospitality
Empower us
to liberate, to learn, to heal
for your sake
and for ours

Amazing God
Our sight is limited
Our dreams are small
You offer us a kingdom without limits
and we hide from the liberation
your vision brings
Heaven and all its beauty
is here and now
ours for the asking
if only we let go of ourselves
step into your great love for us
and open our eyes
to see you all around us

Dear God
we are weak
and lovely
short-sighted and visionary
fearful and fierce
We would be as Jacob
human and holy
if you would but touch us
with Grace

 

For sermon help, try here.

 

RCL – Year A – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 29:15–28 with Psalm 105:1–11, 45b or Psalm 128
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26–39
Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52

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Dreaming Desert Dreams

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I’m sitting in my office just six miles from where Justine Damond was shot and killed by police late Saturday night. Turmoil’s slick fingers have grabbed hold of the city. Some see clearly the issues of fear-based policing and inadequate training for officers. Others feel conflicted because the officer is a Somali Muslim and the victim a white Australian. Few want to admit that the system is corrupt and built on issues of power and control aimed at keeping white supremacy alive and well. It’s a mess. The angry, pain-filled cries for justice are met with angry, fear-filled assertions of terrorism or still more angry endorsement of  fear-based policing. There’s no easy, simple solution. I am desperately searching the texts for a word of hope.

If I had my way, Jacob’s ladder would encompass the whole of creation and everyone would see angels ascending and descending, going about holy business. We would also hear God’s promise that our descendants would inhabit this world for a long time to come and God will continue to be present everywhere we go. While I wholeheartedly believe these are messages God would like for us to hear and live by, the whole of creation isn’t likely to have this dream. This doesn’t negate the validity of the message, though. We are to be caretakers, stewards of the land (all of it) and trust that God is present everywhere we go. God is present even in the turmoil, the grief, and the fear. There are no depths deep enough to blot out the light of God.

In the meantime, there’s a whole lot of groaning going on. Paul speaks of creation’s groaning while waiting for redemption. Those of us who claim Christ, ought not to be groaning quite so much. Are we not the redeemed? Are we not the ones who have entered into a life in the Spirit so that we might live in loving relationship with God, self, neighbors, and creation? Then why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that we are not living into God’s dream for creation? Why are we unable to acknowledge how the United States is full of racist systems built by our white supremacist ancestors and maintained by the silence of so many citizens who fear change? People are dying and Christians silently or vocally continue to support murderous systems. Surely this is not the way of Christ any more than it is the redemption for which Paul hoped.

While I’m on the subject of redemption, let’s be careful with our interpretations of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds. We are often so sure who the weeds are, that we forget that it is not necessarily our job to judge. It is true that actual weeds in a field remain weeds throughout their growth cycle; they don’t miraculously change into grain. However, we need to remember that when it comes to human beings, God can transform the most stubborn, invasive weeds into bountiful harvest. Our job is to tend ourselves, to ensure that we are not weeds. In addition we are to care for the whole field – nurture it, water it, love and tend all that grows in it. Weed plucking is not our job because in the end it will be God who determines which are the causes of sin and which are doing evil. Justice means tending the field, the whole field, weeds and all.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of cries for justice going unheard. I’m tired of the excuses that come when a police officer shoots an unarmed person. I’m tired of POC victims being criminalized while white victims are canonized. Jesus was not a white blue-eyed, blond-haired, U.S. citizen and would be horrified by the conflation of nationalism and religion that allows white supremacy to thrive in this country. The truth is that Jesus was brown-skinned, brown-eyed, dark-haired Palestinian Jew who confronted the power-hungry, oppression-supporting people of his day. Jesus sought to empower people through the love of God, self, and neighbor. Isn’t it time we actually follow as Jesus taught and love as Jesus loved?

Jacob had a beautiful dream out there in the desert. God has the same dream for us and racism, fear, hatred, and violence have no place in it. We are those whom God has redeemed and we are the ones who are supposed to be engaging in the holy business of justice for the whole of creation. Let’s stop worrying about weeds vs. grain and start worrying about why the crops are failing and what we can do to change this. Creation is indeed groaning under the weight of our sins. Isn’t it time we put an end to these needless deaths? Too much blood flows in our streets and too many heads turn away. Paul had hope for things unseen. May we join together to be that hope.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2017
Genesis 28:10-19a with Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44:6-8 with Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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Worth More than Bread and Stew

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Jacob’s a jerk, Esau’s an idiot, and God is brilliant. If it were up to me, neither of these brothers would receive any kind of birthright. Jacob deceives and manipulates people to get what he wants. Esau foolishly sells his birthright for some bread and lentil stew. Who would do that? Clearly, God has a plan here. Perhaps the plan is to demonstrate a few things necessary for getting through life.

Esau had the privilege of birth on his side. As the eldest his position of power was secure. He’d inherit double that of his brother and assume his father’s role in the community when the time came. Perhaps he was overconfident. Did he not notice how feisty his twin was and had been even before birth? Did he realize that Rebekah favored Jacob and taught him some useful skills like making bread and lentil stew? Did he not see that his father was growing older and wouldn’t always be there to be his advocate? Did he think he was untouchable because he was the privileged firstborn?

Are we not Esau, those of us who sit in church and feel good about ourselves? We have clung to our privileged position for so long that we hold little more than dust. We have been so sure that church would continue forever that we have neglected to pay attention to those around us. We judge those who walk different paths and pride ourselves on having the best path, perhaps, according to some, the only blessed path. We haven’t heard the clamoring of those whose birth left them grasping at the heels of justice. Our birthright is an illusion. Our privilege means nothing when there are those who would give anything for a bit of bread and lentil stew. Privilege of birth does not mean that we are better than anyone else. If anything, it means we have an obligation to pay attention and care for those around us who are more vulnerable. Imagine how different things might have gone between Esau and Jacob if Esau had been paying attention.

On the other hand, Jacob let nothing slip by him. He was painfully aware that he had no claim on Esau’s birthright. He would not be walking in his father’s sandals any time soon. He would be living a quieter life as the second son. Jacob was having none of this, though. He waited for the perfect moment and then stole the birthright from his brother. Esau was fool enough to exchange his birthright for a simple meal. While Jacob wasn’t exactly a nice guy or playing by the rules, I have a hard time saying that he should have just accepted his place as second son. By breaking the social rules, Jacob changed the course of history. He went on to become something that his birth order would have prevented him from doing. Imagine our history without Jacob. Esau might have been able to father the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but he did not have the drive, the fierceness, of Jacob.

When we insist on following traditions and social rules, who are we denying? In fact, we may be actively going against what God has planned. If we continue to think about church as something that never changes and social norms as something to be maintained, what revolutionary leader or movement are we supressing? If Esau represents the old, steadfast ways of being and Jacob the unpredictable, unknown ways of the future, shouldn’t we be baking bread and stirring the lentils? Esau needs nourishment and Jacob has it. Yes, it means that Esau will have to give up what he thought was his and his alone, but isn’t that better than dying?

Now we come to God’s brilliance. God chose Jacob, not Esau the predictable choice. God chose to disrupt the order of things to create something entirely new. God chose fierce and feisty Jacob who would not willingly submit to God or anyone else. Jacob who had a tendency to think of himself first and worry about others later. This conniving man is the one whom God chose to father the nation promised to Abraham. How cool is that? Seriously! If God could choose Jacob, whose life was constantly filled with struggle and imperfection, to become Israel, then there is hope for all the rest of us. There is no promise of perfection and an idyllic life here. Follow God and you will still be you and God will transform you into something you could never have imagined. Passive perfection and docile obedience are not required. This is good news for the rebelious among us.

There’s a lot in this familiar story. Much could be made of the sibling rivalry, the strife between nations, and the human tendency to be self-focused. At this moment in history, I find it much more interesting to look at this passage in terms of tradition and privilege and God’s capacity to do the unexpected. It’s likely that church will go on being like Esau for quite some time as we are reluctant to let go of what we think is ours and ours alone. However, we ought not be surprised to find that Jacob has grabbed hold of our heels and will not let us go until he can look into our eyes and be acknowledged as an equal. God is not done with us yet. God will continue to use the fierce and feisty to challenge our thinking and prod us into embracing an uncontrollable, unknowable future. God’s got this. We just need to set the bread to rise and start soaking the lentils.

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 25:19-34 with Psalm 119:105-112 or
Isaiah 55:10-13 with Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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A Confession for Ordinary Time

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One: Holy God, you ask so little of us. You shower us with grace upon grace, flooding our hearts with love and forgiveness, and still we fail to notice you. We keep insisting that you come to us on our terms to comfort us and heal us. We want spectacular evidence of your love while we sit back and do so little. Hear our prayers as we confess our distance from you.

One: You show us a path that leads to justice, kindness, humility, and love.
All: Yet, we can hardly take a step without condemning our neighbor with fearful, hateful words or actions. We turn from those living without shelter and want someone else to fix the problem.
One: You lead us in ways of holiness and wholeness where all are welcome.
All: Yet, we refuse to follow justifying our inaction with traditions built on racism and white privilege. We reject immigrants and question refugees and grow angry at our own discomfort.
One: You invite us into relationships of trust like those you had with Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah.
All: Yet, we turn away, proud of our independence. We laugh at the ring in Rebekah’s nose and refuse to acknowledge our claim on us. We close our hearts to the most vulnerable among us because we are afraid of our own fragility and finitude.
One: You offer a life of abundance and freedom.
All: Yet, we cling to the ways of scarcity. We would rather keep what we have than risk losing any of it for the sake of a future we can’t believe will be full of good things. We simply do not trust that sharing our resources and expanding our communities will make us healthier and stronger.
One: You wait so patiently for us to follow where you lead.
All: Yet, we wait for you to mend what we have broken. We prefer to blame you for all the conflict, suffering, and destruction so we can remain on the sidelines while others sacrifice themselves for the sake of justice, peace, and healing.

One: Let us pray together…
All: Holy God, you have always responded to your people with steadfast love and faithfulness. Forgive us for our inability to follow you. We know that you yearn for the day when we set aside our fearful, self-protective ways. Open our hearts to all the ways in which we benefit from racist systems and discriminatory world-views. You would have us live in peace with all our neighbors. You would have us care for Creation with gentle, grateful hands. You would have us love and serve you by loving and serving all humankind. Forgive us. Mend what we have broken inside ourselves that we may be the mending that the world needs. May we let go of our self-serving sin to truly become your body here and now.

Silent prayer

One: Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All: We come and take on this yoke of forgiveness and love. May God’s love for us be made visible in all our words and deeds. In Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2017
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or
Zechariah 9:9-12 with Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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A Different God

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When will we stop sacrificing our children to appease unresponsive gods? Our children die on the altars of hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed on a daily basis. And the funny thing is the spilling of their blood changes nothing. We continue to blame addicts for their “weakness” and tell ourselves that they are not worth saving. We justify police shooting unarmed black men by telling ourselves that “the system works.” We sit back and let war continue because it is “over there.” We let children go to schools with inadequate resources and wonder why they don’t do well. We restrict access to mental health care, safe housing, and health care and shake our heads when the numbers of homeless individuals continues to rise. How many of our children need to be consumed by these greedy, societal gods before we recognize that there is another way?

We have spent so much time criticizing Abraham’s parenting skills and his “blind faith” that we have failed to learn the lesson of this story. God did not require the sacrifice of Isaac. Other gods of the time demanded child sacrifice to be appeased, but the God of Abraham did not. It’s possible that Abraham believed God needed the sacrifice of Isaac because all the other gods of the time required child sacrifice. Abraham knew it was in the realm of what a god could ask. Yet, God, the one who led Abraham to a new land and promised a glories future, would never require someone to do such a thing. God requires only love and grateful service. Why is it that we think sacrificing our children will change anything? Thousands of years have gone by since God told Abraham that the blood of children was not required. This was not the way of the God of Abraham. And it never would be.

I know some of you are thinking that God sacrificed God’s own child to cleanse the world which would negate the idea that God does not ask for the sacrifice of children. We must then ask ourselves how it is that Jesus ended up being crucified. God didn’t do it. Human beings did. The Temple Authorities and the Roman Authorities colluded to put an end to a treasonous revolutionary before the peasants actually rose up in revolt. Jesus, like so many children before and since, was sacrificed on the altar of hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed. Unlike with Isaac, God didn’t intervene to provide another sacrifice. Instead, God transformed death to life to show, once again, that violence and death are not stronger than Love.

We worship a God like no other. We worship a God who wants only goodness for us. Saving Isaac was a display of God’s difference from other gods. This is not a God who wants torment and torture for the people of God. This is a God who yearns for us to discover our value, our innate holiness, and for us to live in the abundance of grace God provides. Yet, somehow, sparing Isaac was not enough. Resurrecting Jesus was not enough. What will it take for us to turn away from these lesser gods who are destroying us, consuming our children without hindrance?

In Romans, Paul so eloquently reminds us that we are not to be slaves of sin and death. We belong to Christ whose ways lead to eternal life. When Christ’s ways become our ways, the bloodthirsty gods of our day diminish in power and appeal. Yes, they will always be around to tempt us with quick fixes, fragile safety, and fleeting power. However, Christ’s ways bring transformation that truly heals, sanctuary that lovingly protects, and strength that builds rather than destroys.

It’s easier than we think. Jesus tells us, in Matthew’s gospel, that it’s about unwavering, extravagant hospitality. We are to go out of our way to welcome all those we meet. We are to go out of our way to save our children from the dangers of this world. That cold cup of water might be inconvenient to provide in the desert heat, but it’s possible and it is life-saving. Hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed will tell us that it’s okay to continue as we are, but they are known liars. We worship a God like no other, a God of life and love. Is it not time to stop sacrificing our children and start welcoming all one cup of cold water at a time?

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

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