There was a show that was on a few years ago starring Tim Allen called Home Improvement. If you haven’t seen it, Tim Allen played as Tim Taylor, who had a DIY show and gave tips and tricks to people doing home improvement projects. And, of course, it was a sitcom so the show included his family life and all their hijinks. There was this one particular part of his home life that I remember, and that was his neighbor, Wilson. They would often have chats peppered with the one-liners you expect from a 90s sitcom, but the thing that stuck out was that you only ever saw the neighbor from his eyes up—the rest of him was hidden behind a privacy fence. Whatever the extent of their conversations, Tim never interacted with Wilson except at eye level behind a fence.
Sometimes, neighborliness is exactly like that. We may be cordial and friendly, looking out for each other and sharing news, but a lot of the time—not always, but a lot of the time—our interactions with our neighbors end there. It’s like Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall when the neighbor tells him that “good fences make good neighbors”—essentially that it’s the separation that makes us get along with those who live next to us. So it’s with this idea of neighborliness in our cultural minds that we hear this story of the Good Samaritan and its focus on loving your “neighbor” as yourself.
June 26, 2022
I heard a story on the radio recently about a man named Kenny Butler. He grew up without a lot of options, hemmed in by poverty and community violence, and ended up joining the ranks of the Crips gang. Well, as time went on he ended up in and out of jail, until he landed in federal prison on a plea deal. That should have been the end of the story—one more man caught up in the crackdown of law and order—except that Kenny had a realization in prison, that he didn’t want to be this way. He started studying, and by some miracle it just happened that he was able to earn his Bachelor’s degree. One thing led to another, and he reached the point where he was organizing a community program to reconcile former gang members for the good of their communities.
Deep down, we all want to be good people. We want to do the right thing, even when we sometimes don’t know exactly what the right thing is. In the case of Kenny Butler, he was given the opportunity—you might say the grace—to grow into a person who could do the right thing. We all need the grace to try to do the right thing, and become the kind of people that God is calling us to be.
June 19, 2022
Way back in the 1860s, there were two sites in Hawaii on the island of Molokai that were designated as leper colonies. In those days, leprosy didn’t really have any kind of cure. It was a frightening looking disease—people would be disfigured by it in ways that made them look like monsters. And since people didn’t really understand how it spread, the solution for millennia had been to isolate lepers in a colony, off by themselves. Those two leper colonies in Hawaii wouldn’t close until 1969.
But isolating people we don’t want to deal with isn’t just something we did back decades or centuries ago. Even though we know from studies that the best way to deal with most kinds of criminals is to get them integrated into and invested in their communities, the United States instead has the biggest prison population in the world—bigger than the height of the Soviet Gulags or even (by percentage) the North Korean prison camp system, in fact. Criminals are undesirable so we hide them away—out of sight, out of mind.
June 12, 2022
Today is such a joyful day! One of those things that all pastors love to do is preside at a baptism, and here I got to preside at five all at once! We got to welcome these five people into the body of Christ today, and that is really something. So much, in fact, that we made sure even the very space where we are worshipping reflected what a big deal it is that we have these five baptisms today. And the reason it’s such a joyful day, the reason I as a pastor am so excited that we got to do this incredible thing, is that baptism is the start of a wholly new kind of life for everyone who is baptized. Y’all get to be part of this incredible journey! This congregation got to bear witness to God saving you in these waters! And I got the honor of being God’s hands that washed you! How cool is that?
June 5, 2022
When I was attending seminary, one of the dividing lines among the students was what you did before you came to seminary. There were people like me, who had come straight from college. But just as many—more, really—were coming from another career. The call to ministry was one that took them longer to finally answer, but they really did answer it. In fact, they answered the call and brought with them all the skills they had learned in their previous career. Because that’s something that will happen when you change what you’re doing—those skills you’ve acquired don’t go away, they just get repurposed. Today, as we celebrate Pentecost, we heard about how the disciples’ skills got repurposed in a big way.
May 29, 2022
These past few weeks have been difficult for anyone who tries to be aware of what’s happening in the world. In the span of just a couple of weeks, acts of violence have grabbed the nation’s attention. Buffalo, New York saw a horrific vision of the racism that still captivates too many people in this country. Irvine, California was shocked by an assailant trying to murder churchgoers. And this week, the worst kind of tragedy happened in Uvalde, Texas.
I have been exhausted by it, to tell y’all the truth. This kind of thing keeps happening, and it feels like nothing will ever be done to fix it. After nothing was done after Sandy Hook, I think something in me broke. And that pain was put into even sharper relief this time because this time I have children. I could not focus on this sermon this week. I couldn’t dig into the texts like I usually do, listening to your stories to see how what’s said could be relevant to our lives. And that’s not a good place for a pastor to be.
May 22, 2022
Today we are celebrating some pretty big changes. Nine of our young people are about to make the momentous step from high school to the adult world. That’s a big deal, twelve years in the making! Y’all have worked hard, studied, done service hours, projects, sports and band and all kinds of extracurriculars, and now you’re at this moment when you are about to graduate. Life is full of transitions, but this is one of the most important in your lives so far. You’re about to step into a whole new world as young adults.
But graduation isn’t the only big transition happening today. Just a few minutes ago, we welcomed Oliver into the kingdom through the waters of baptism. He might not know it yet, but it is probably the most important transition he’s ever going to experience—one from captivity to sin and death, into the freedom of life in Christ. These two big changes—graduation and baptism—mark today as an important day to hear what God has to say about the transitions in our lives.
May 8, 2022
I’ve read that if the best-paid people were the people that worked the hardest, then the women of West Africa would be the richest people on earth. In fact, women around the world have a capacity for hard work. And it shows in the way that programs that provide microloans—small loans for small businesses in the developing world—show time and again how readily women can multiply the gifts that they have when they’re given the opportunity. So it’s little wonder that we should take the time to honor the women who move the world—mothers, mothers in spirit, and mother figures.
May 1, 2022 (Confirmation Sunday)
Confirmands: y’all have come a long way. We’ve had a disruptive past two years, with the whole world getting thrown into a tailspin by the pandemic and y’all having to adapt to new ways of doing school, being church, and, of course, coming to confirmation. But today has been years in the making. It started back when y’all were in Sunday school, learning the big stories of the Bible. It kept going while your parents and grandparents brought you to church—maybe some Sundays a little more willingly than others. And you had four years of confirmation, writing worship notes, coming to church on Wednesdays, going on mission trips—but the day is finally here.
April 24, 2022
My sister and I are not allowed to sit next to each other in church. We were officially banned from doing so by our parents after one Sunday service. See, what had happened was I was home from college, and we decided to switch things up by sitting in a different place in the church, but it was just the two of us. The thing is, my sister and I love to be the peanut gallery—and unfortunately, we kept up that habit during the pastor’s sermon. But that wasn’t what got us banned, oh no. What got us banned was that Katherine said something that really tickled my funny bone, and I simply couldn’t stop laughing. And since I couldn’t stop laughing, she couldn’t stop laughing either. Well, cue some dagger eyes from my mom and five minutes of calming down and we ended up banned from ever sitting next to each other in church again.