Cultivating Change

March 24, 2019

Luke 13:1-9

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”[1]

Quite often, when we hear the word change, we get that uneasy feeling in our bodies. We become tense, or possibly get butterflies wondering what that “change” may be. We get caught up in our stress and worries yet fear change and what that may mean. However, Jesus calls us to a life of change. He does not want us to be stagnant in our practices and wants us to encounter the triune God in new and exciting ways every day.

In the gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus calls us to change. Twice in the gospel lesson Jesus calls for those that are listening to him to repent. He is simply telling them to seek forgiveness and to return to God. He is well aware of the sins that they partake in every day and his call for them to repent is done with great love so that they will come to know the love of God which is greater than anything else. To repent though, means to change. Not only are they to return to God and seek the forgiveness that comes in repenting, they are also called to stop sinning. They are called to change their life and start following Jesus.

He follows this call to repentance with the parable of the barren fig tree. Its placement seems odd, yet let’s see how we can tie the call to change with the fig tree. There are many times in our lives that we attempt something new and it simply does not work. We try to change and then we wonder if it truly made a difference. Just maybe, we are not giving it enough time to germinate. To begin growing. Just maybe, God is still at work and we must be patient. Remember, God does not work on our timeframe.

I recall one such time in my first congregation when I got frustrated and did not let a new ministry germinate. I sensed God calling me to start a new cross-generational worship that seemed to be almost dead on arrival when it kicked off. Don’t get me wrong, there were people that showed up. However, I was disappointed, because my expectations were not met. I expected something grand and glorious. However, after three months in, I decided to pull the plug. I was not much different from the man that owned the fig tree and wanted to cut it down because it was not bearing any fruit.

How quick we are to cut off those things that we see no purpose or production coming out of. Isn’t this the practice in the business world today? It is all about the bottom line. In this season of Lent, we talk about letting go, but also, we must contemplate when is the proper timing to let go of something. We must discern it and ask ourselves, is it something that is pulling us further from God, or is it something that we can simply let be and see if life will come out of it?

When we are called to change, that does mean letting go. Letting go of the way that we used to be. Letting go of something that draws us away from God. Letting go of something that may be holding us back. It could be thoughts, fears, expectations, practices. The call to change brings us to a different point in our lives. It could be scary. It could come with anxiety. It could come with questions.

In the parable of the fig tree, the gardener tells the owner of the tree to give it some more time before coming and looking for fruit. Did you know that it could take up to six years for a fig tree to bear fruit? Perhaps it has not had the proper nutrients fed to it. Perhaps there have been other factors that have led to it not producing. Perhaps, it just needs time to germinate and to absorb everything around it.

Change is very much the same. It takes time. Yes, you may see some immediate results when you begin to change something. To fully live into the change takes time and living through some difficult times of transition. When we start a new ministry, we should not expect it to be perfect right away. It takes time to plant the seed and for it to germinate. We may have one image in our mind of what success may look like, and God may have another. Sure, we would love to have this sanctuary full every Sunday morning, but are we planting seeds with people and letting those seeds take root? Or do we just think someone else will do it or it will happen on its own and it will somehow all of a sudden be the way it used to be?

When we let go of the past and repent, we are telling God that we are willing to change. We are willing to be in a relationship with the very creator of life. We are willing to open our hearts and minds to the mystery that is unknown. Jesus bears this loving relationship for us through his life, from birth to baptism, to his life of ministry and ultimately his willingness to succumb to death on a cross so that we know the depths that God is willing to go, to redeem creation and share God’s love. The ultimate change that takes place is in the resurrection, and that is the promise we are walking towards this Lenten season.

Let us pray. Patient God, may we let go of things in the past that distract us from your very word. You call us to live a life following Jesus and in him may we cultivate a life of change where we begin to embody Christ. Amen.

[1] Story from

Entering Lent

March 10, 2019 Lent 1

Luke 4:1-13

The first spring following my families move to Richmond brought grandiose plans of a wonderful thriving garden in the backyard of the parsonage. Vern came over and tilled the ground for us and by the time he was completed, we probably had at least 200 square feet of space for a wonderful garden. We marked the garden all out and planted seeds. We put a fence all the way around the garden so that the many rabbits roaming around the yard would stay out. Since it was the first year, it required a lot of tender loving care to weed it and water it. The weeds seemed to like the water much more than the plants did. Then we went on vacation!

We came home to an enclosed jungle! Okay, maybe it was not quite that bad. I still manage to harvest some radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and even a bit of lettuce. The corn did not turn out. Neither did the watermelon or cantaloupe. We would try again the following year and scale it back a little. Last year we decided that it was just too much work! It takes a lot of patience to prepare and cultivate a garden. There are many challenges and temptations that come along the way.

On this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus enters the wilderness. He is tempted and holds fast in his faith. During this season of Lent, you are going to be asked to let go of the things that weigh you down and to cultivate those areas in your life that bring growth.

The temptations that are waved in front of Jesus’ face this week are very powerful. They are temptations that pull people into power that is hard to let go of. What if we could turn a stone into a loaf of bread, or simply anything to feed ourselves? Could this be a blessing to those in countries that have the constant threat of famine. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days! He had to be hungry. I am sure the thought of a loaf of bread would have made his mouth water.

Imagine standing on the highest peak wherever you were and being able to see off in the distance for miles and miles. What if someone promised to you that it could all be yours if you just turned away from God and turned your worship towards evil, idols, or even material possessions? Does not sound too far from the truth for some today, does it? How quick we are to turn away from God for something that is newer, brighter, or shinier.

The third temptation of Jesus is the promise of invincibility. This seems to come to us more often when we are young and stupid! Now, don’t try this at home, but one attempt at this for me was when I thought I could run across the pool cover on my parent’s pool in the middle of winter. I may have been trying to show off for the next-door neighbor, and fortunately, I got all the way to the other side before my foot just barely broke through the ice frozen on top.

It is these temptations that Jesus walks away from after fasting for 40 days. He lets go of them so that he can move forward into the ministry that God is calling him to. A ministry that had been established from the very beginning of time.

Many people have used Lent as a time to fast from something as a discipline. I encourage you this year to let go of something. Not just for Lent, but for good. It could be something that distracts you away from God. A great definition of to let go is to relinquish your grip on something. As we do so it provides us the opportunity to return to God.

While Jesus let go of the temptations after his 40 days in the wilderness, it was also a sign of growth. His time of fasting in the wilderness revealed his great faith in God the Father which prepared him for his ministry ahead. A ministry that would lead to growth in his disciple’s faith as well.

Unlike me trying to cultivate a garden, Jesus was much better in cultivating a faith that laid the foundation for all of us to follow. The term to cultivate usually is used in farming as I am sure many of you know. We can also use it to refer to our lives and today to our faith. To cultivate means to prepare and then foster growth. To cultivate also means to labor, care for, study, refine, or encourage. All of these can relate to our faith and its growth as we draw closer to God this Lenten season. It takes work and we must be intentional.

As you noticed, there is also room for you to write on the doors what you are going to cultivate over these next forty days. After his time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus let go of the temptations and cultivated his faith as he drew closer to God.

How are you going to draw closer to God this season?

Let us pray. Lord, we return to you, asking for forgiveness this season of Lent. In this time of preparation, may we be guided by the Holy Spirit to let go of those things that weigh us down and be drawn to those things that cultivate our commitment to you. Amen.

Create in Me a Clean Heart


February 14, 2018 Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. These words from Psalm 51 this evening should sound familiar. It is one of the songs we quite often use for our offering. We’ll have the opportunity to sing it in just a little while.

Lent is a time for us to return to God. A time for us to repent of our sins and to pray that God creates in us a clean heart. Ash Wednesday is our entrance into this sacred season of the church year. It is a chance for us to re-center our lives and hopefully create new habits that we will carry into the season of Easter. However, we are human, and often we fall short. It is a good thing that Lent comes around every year to keep reminding us of the love that comes to us from our grace-filled God.

The gospel text from Matthew is one that has been used quite regularly on Ash Wednesday since the Medieval Ages. It points towards the disciplines that we are called to during these next forty days. First, we are called to Almsgiving. How are we being charitable in our lives and giving to those that are not as fortunate as we are? One way that we have chosen to do so as a community this Lent is to give to the Backpack Blessings program that assists families with meals for the weekend. Our Wednesday offerings will go to support ELCA World Hunger.

Prayer is the next discipline that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. Living a life that is centered in prayer is one that will strengthen our relationship with God. It is here that Jesus teaches us how to pray, what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. There is no right way or wrong way to pray. God’s heart is already open to us, Jesus would like us to open our heart to God.

Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days right after he was baptized. Fasting is the third discipline. We too can fast. Lent has been known to be a time that many choose to give something up. A time to give up chocolate, sugar, pop, beer, or you fill in the blank. What if we were willing to go much deeper than that. Pope Francis made these suggestions this year for fasting:

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

These disciplines that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are ones that have the possibility to bring us into a much closer relationship with God.

It is through our faith that we encounter Jesus Christ and the saving grace that is bestowed freely. By almsgiving, prayer, and fasting we are given a way to relate to Jesus. It is here that we repent to God and ask that God create in us clean hearts. Hearts that reveal where our treasures lie. A treasure that is filled with love and compassion for God and our sisters and brothers in humanity.

Let us pray. Loving God, we repent this evening. We seek out clean hearts so that we may be your sign of love and compassion in this world. Be with us in these next forty days as we walk towards your cross and the promise of a resurrected life. Amen.


Repent and Return


March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

At one time or another in our lives, we will manage to screw up. We will make mistakes because we are human! We forget to love our neighbors as ourselves because we are human. We sin because we are human. While the gospel lesson is full of great nuggets, I am going to turn to the Psalm. In the Psalm, we encounter the mercy and grace of God.

If you didn’t know, the Psalms are prayers and songs lifted up to God through the various psalmists that they are contributed. In Psalm 51, rather than the author speaking from a point of righteousness, he speaks from a point of repentance. Many of you are familiar with the story of King David and Bathsheba. While we lift up King David as a great example of leadership, he commits adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband Uriah killed. There is at least a couple of commandments that King David has managed to break at this point. It is in this that Psalm 51 is attributed to David in the midst of his sinning.

We enter this season of Lent with much going on in our lives and in the world. We sin daily and the world around us is not any different. We are left wondering how we are to react to those that differ in opinion from us. We are left wondering if we should look beyond ourselves and care for our neighbors because our consumer culture gives us the message that we should focus on our own personal needs. We are still reeling from a contentious election cycle that does not seem to be getting better anytime soon. In the midst, we are left to wonder where God is in everything that is happening.

In the Psalm we pray for Gods presence with us. God is present to witness our sins, as well as the sins of the world. God is present when we fail to reach out to our neighbors with love and compassion. God is present in the midst of turmoil, death, and doubt. The thing is, we cannot fix any of it on our own. We cannot wave a magic wand and making everything better. We cannot say just the right thing to get everyone to be sociable to one another. In this knowledge, we turn to Psalm 51 and pray. It may even sound familiar, as we often sing it when our offerings for God come forward.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

These next forty days are not going to be much different than the last forty days. We will continue to sin. Death and destruction will continue to happen around the world. In the words of Psalm 51, we have a prayer asking for a fresh start. A prayer asking to be made new. A prayer seeking to be washed clean of all our sins. A prayer to remind us of the greatness of God and the glory of Christ to bring salvation to the world.

In the ashes, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. They represent our finiteness in this world. In the meal we share, we are reminded of the grace and love of God that comes to us, as sinners, seeking forgiveness and grace freely given.

While the world around us might not change much in the next forty days, may we be changed in the Word of God and the meal we share together. May we repent and return to the Lord, our God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love. Amen



A Call from the Wilderness!


Matthew 3:1-12

May the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, and the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord come to us in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is usually around this time of year when the weather starts turning cold that I find my mind fixating on the summer months. This is the time of year that my family enjoys going camping and we find ourselves in the wilderness. To be separated from our familiar surroundings of home bring about a peace that is hard to leave at the end of the week. I think of the wilderness as a place of renewal and an opportunity to get even closer to God. Amazing revelations can occur in the wilderness!

John the Baptist comes to us this morning in the wilderness. A place that the people of Israel are quite familiar with. Their ancestors were wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The wilderness can be untamed and wild. It can be foreign. In the wilderness, some are left feeling scared and perhaps have a heightened sense of anxiety. In the wilderness, we do not always know what is going to happen. John the Baptist comes to us in the wilderness disrupting our daily lives as he proclaims a gospel that is counter-cultural. It is in this disruption that we are called to repent! It is in John’s wilderness that we are awakened and promised a sign of hope!

The season of Advent breaks into our everyday lives with the reminder that Christ is coming and now we have a prophet speaking from the wilderness pointing to Christ. We could not have asked for a better time for this inbreaking. We are stirred to our senses in this season and reminded that through the prophet John the Baptist we live through judgement into hope! It is John the Baptist that calls us to repent and thus we feel a sense of judgement. It is in his calling the Pharisees and Sadducees nothing but sneaky slimy snakes that it echoes down to our generations as well. John the Baptist is speaking to the brokenness in our lives and the world, knowing that at times we can be far from Christ. If only we were to concentrate on bearing fruit worthy of repentance, then we would find and truly experience the Christ that comes to live within us.

Last week on the first Sunday of Advent we were asked, “Are you Ready?” Are you ready for the coming of Christ that John the Baptist points to? John the Baptist calls us to preparation this second Sunday of Advent as we are told to repent. As the kingdom of God comes near, we are to be prepared. In our repentance, we turn around and start anew. In our repentance, we act out of awe and reverence to a loving God, instead of being afraid.

As we come upon the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation, Martin Luther even had a thing or two to say about repentance. It is the beginning of the 95 Theses, which lays the groundwork for the Reformation. Thesis 1 reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be of one repentance.” In other words, when we are called to repent, it is not a one and done thing.

St. Francis starts his life anew seeking his own repentance. Where the sight of lepers had previously made him nauseous, he sought repentance and asked for forgiveness as he began caring for those very lepers. He brought to them the love of God.

St. Francis and Martin Luther both realized it was ongoing, and we are called to live a life of repentance in which we are constantly turning ourselves towards God. As we turn around, we are caught in the awe that God enters into our lives.

As we turn around, we find Christ in the most glorious of places, bringing us a reminder of the life that he gave for us so that we can experience the true grace of God.

We turn around to find life anew in the waters of baptism. We are washed cleaned and receive the promise of a new life in Christ.

We turn around and find Christ in the bread and wine of communion, which restores and renews us as we continue to be God’s hands and feet in the world.

As we turn around in the wilderness, God is with us, Emmanuel. The wilderness awakens our senses to a new and glorious thing that is about to take place. A call is placed upon our hearts to be prepared and ready for the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. And in this we experience good news.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.