WORSHIP THIS WEEK: This Sunday, April 14, we hear another version of the risen Jesus appearing to his followers.  Jesus has to work hard to convince them that he is a flesh and blood savior and not a ghost.  So what does it mean for us to have a good news story, not a ghost story?  Join us in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGSQRmojaFM


June 25, 2023

There’s nothing like coming back from vacation, feeling refreshed and ready to dive back into preaching, only to realize what the assigned readings for the day have served up.

In the Hebrew scriptures we hear the prophet Jeremiah bemoan his plight.  God has called him into the holy work of proclaiming God’s word to the people, and Jeremiah is not getting the response he had hoped for.  He says: “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me…All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.”

It’s hard enough to be the focus of everyone’s mockery, but when your closest friends are waiting for you to fail?  That hurts.

The psalmist seems to be in a similar predicament, writing: “I have become a stranger to my own kindred, an alien to my mother’s children…Those who sit at the gate murmur against me, and the drunkards make songs about me.”  Whoever wrote this psalm was feeling estranged from family and taunted by the town drunks.  That doesn’t feel good either.

And then there’s Jesus, who says that conflict will abound among family members: mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law.  Jesus says: “One’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

I’m officiating a wedding tomorrow down in Wildwood Crest, and oddly enough, the bride and groom did not choose this gospel to read during their marriage service.

It’s a grim theme that runs through these texts.  When we answer God’s call, when we are sent out into the world to do God’s work, we will not be met with unicorns and rainbows at every turn.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that we go looking for fights.  Simply that we shouldn’t be surprised when they happen.

Last week’s gospel focused on Jesus sending his disciples out to teach and to heal and to carry his message of love and hope to many of their own kindred. Pastor Gladys reminded us that this message of love and hope is equally urgent in our own time, and that when Jesus sends us out, he gives us what we need.

We certainly need that provision.  In the part of Matthew’s gospel between last week’s reading and this morning’s, the part of Chapter 10 that we skipped over, Jesus works hard to prepare the disciples for the rejection that they will inevitably face.  He says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14).  Jesus goes on to say that he is sending them out like sheep into the midst of wolves.  “Beware,” he adds, “for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me…you will be hated by all because of my name” (verses 17-18, 22).  It’s really a miracle that the disciples didn’t just pack their bags and head in the opposite direction.  Who in the world would want to sign on for that mission after hearing what the risks would be?

And then we hear a word in the middle of today’s gospel that stops us in our tracks: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

How is it that Jesus, who elsewhere in scripture is known as the Prince of Peace, says that he doesn’t come to bring peace?  When the angels fill the sky on the night of his birth, they specifically say that Jesus brings peace.  So why all this talk of a sword now?

Scholars generally believe that this passage reflects the realities that were taking place within the community of Matthew’s gospel.  There were conflicts between those who followed Jesus and those who didn’t, and families were being torn apart by these differences in how people were choosing to live their faith.

But this reality is true in our own time as well.  We’ve talked about it before.  When we commit to living our faith – when we truly seek to include the marginalized and advocate for justice – there will be resistance.  Maybe from family, maybe from friends, maybe from neighbors or coworkers or complete strangers – but there will be times when other folks push back and want us to abandon those efforts.  When we challenge the powers of this world, those powers always fight back.

I suspect that when Jesus says he doesn’t come to bring peace, he means in part that he doesn’t come to bring a saccharine notion of peace.  We can toss around words like “peace” and “unity,” but what those words sometimes mean is that we want people who are oppressed simply to stay quiet so that no one else has to be bothered to do anything about it.  That version of unity comes at too great a cost when it means that some people are not treated as full members of the human family, with all the rights and dignity thereof.

Last week Pastor Gladys mentioned the observance of Juneteenth.  We celebrate Juneteenth as a reminder that just because a war is over, just because an Emancipation Proclamation has been issued, doesn’t mean that slaves are actually made free.  It took the Union Army showing up in Texas with a federal order to enforce that freedom. 

When we walk the paths of justice to which God has called us, we will face conflict and resistance and struggle.  Jesus’ version of peace requires disruption: new ways of understanding, new ways of living.  That kind of peace asks us to risk something.

That version of peace isn’t a limited resource.  We tend to think in terms of winners and losers, so that when some people get peace or healing or love, others miss out.  But in God’s family everybody can have peace and healing and love. 

That sword that Jesus talks about?  The sword of Jesus cuts through our divisions among each other and our judgments of each other.  The sword of Jesus demolishes all of our isms and our phobias – racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia.  The sword of Jesus carves out new paths of hope that we can walk together toward a better, more inclusive world.

I was recently introduced to the work of a young comedian named Elyse Myers.[i]  She does most of her comedy on Instagram in a series of short videos.  She is bracingly honest about her own struggles – with pregnancy, with postpartum depression, with all kinds of things.  She said something in an interview that I found beautiful.  When she is putting together her comedy, she uses three criteria as the filter for what to include or leave out.  She wants her comedy to do these three things: to make people feel known, to make people feel loved, and to make people feel like they belong.

It occurs to me that those are pretty good criteria for the church.  As we share the love of Jesus, as we work to make the world reflect the boundary-breaking love of God, this can be our commitment: to make people feel known, to make people feel loved, to make people feel like they belong.

So when people are feeling estranged from the family of God and attacked by those around them, we can be the answer to their prayer, a prayer that often sounds like the one from our psalm today: “In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.”  Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

[i] Listen to the episode of Mike Birbiglia’s “Working it Out” podcast in which he and Elyse talk about her work: https://www.birbigs.com/


November 27, 2022

I spent Thanksgiving up at a camp in Highland Parks, NY.  It’s a beautiful spot with acres of woods all around, so it’s a lovely place to go hiking when the weather is good.  But right now it’s hunting season, so before you go wandering through the woods, you have to put on a bright orange vest so that no one with a hunting rifle mistakes you for a deer.  That part unsettles me.  It’s hard to wander peacefully among the trees when you feel like danger lies hidden all around.

We’ve all gotten used to being on high alert, though, haven’t we?  The world feels more and more dangerous, from the daily accounts of war and gun violence to the conflicts in families and communities that feel ready to break through to the surface at any moment.  It makes me wish there were a kind of emotional orange safety vest that we could wear out into the world to say, “Please don’t hurt me today.”

We hear a piece of Jesus’ final sermon in the Gospel of Matthew this morning.  It’s a strange place to begin a new church year and a new season, especially one where we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Today we find him near the end of his life, trying to prepare his friends for his death – and what will happen beyond his death.  He’s speaking to them about a kind of cosmic time, a time between his life on earth and a time in the future when he will return again.  A tumultuous in-between time.  A time that we know all too well because we are living it.

Jesus knows that this time is marked by fragility.  Danger and disaster can appear out of nowhere, and that reality fills us with anxiety about the unknown.  That’s why Jesus recalls the time of Noah.  The book of Genesis tells us that in Noah’s time the earth was corrupt and filled with violence.  But people just went about their lives, refusing to change and unaware of the floodwaters that would soon overwhelm them all.  Meanwhile, there was Noah, building that big boat in his backyard.  We imagine how his neighbors must have rolled their eyes, but he trusted in God and kept on building.

Jesus also gives us these vivid images – two workers in the field.  One will be taken.  One will be left.  And again: two women grinding meal together. One taken, one left.  There are far too many families in our own time who know the horror of having a loved one taken.  Ask the people in Colorado Springs, in Virginia, in Uvalde, in Buffalo, in Pittsburgh, in too many places to name.  So many people taken in an instant.

To be clear, God is not doing the taking.  A kind of rapture theology has gained a foothold in popular culture, which suggests that God is snatching up the people most worthy of saving and leaving the rest behind, but that’s not how it works.  As we remembered last week, God gives us freedom in this in-between time, a freedom that we often use to what is beautiful and loving.  A freedom we sometimes use to hurt each other in tragic ways.  None of us are entirely good or entirely bad.  We are a complicated mix of good and bad choices – and the consequences that those choices bring.

What the Gospel of Matthew is most interested in is how we live while we wait for what God ultimately has in mind for the world.  What does faithful discipleship look like in this strange and tumultuous time?

One hallmark of faithful discipleship is the ability to stay awake when it really counts.  To be awake to the needs of those around us and to be ready to help.  Later in Matthew’s gospel, on the night Jesus is crucified, we find an example of what keeping awake doesn’t look like.  Jesus goes to a garden to pray.  He says is deeply grieved, and he asks the disciples to stay awake with him there in the garden, to show that solidarity with him in his hour of agony.  After praying for a while, Jesus comes back to find them all asleep.  Every last one of them.  “Could you not stay awake with me one hour?” he asks.  This scene repeats itself three times.  Three times Jesus asks the disciples – those who are closest to him and know him best – to stay awake in what he knows are the final hours of his life.  Three times Jesus keeps praying, and three times the disciples fall asleep.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

We, too, can find all kinds of ways to fall asleep.  I don’t mean literally.  Sometimes actual sleep is the thing that eludes us the most.  But we have ways of closing our eyes to the worries of the world.  You know for yourself what numbs you to the pain of this life, what dulls your sense of compassion.

What will it take to keep us awake this season?  Where and how do we want to be fully present in our lives and in the lives of those around us?

That’s what God is urging us to do as we step into this Advent season.  Keep awake to the possibilities of this time.  Keep awake to all the ways to love each other, to serve people who are hungry and hopeless, to care for those who need some extra tenderness, to release control over what might happen.

Keep awake to the ways we can keep each other safe and well – especially the ways we can fight against the forces of hatred in this world, the death-dealing powers that leave only grief behind them.

God is breaking into the world.  That’s what we’re waiting for each day.  That’s why we’re keeping awake.  We don’t want to miss any of the ways that God is showing up and inviting us to take part in the healing that we long for in this season and every season.

Pastor Greg Paul is the founding pastor of the Sanctuary community in Toronto.[i]   He’s served there for the past thirty years, and much of their ministry at Sanctuary is focused on people who are poor, often unhoused.  They know that Sanctuary is a place where they will be treated with dignity, even when they are scorned in other places.  Many of the people who come to Sanctuary have experienced great trauma, and that trauma continues to threaten their safety and their peace.

Pastor Greg tells this story about one of the folks at Sanctuary, one who had trouble staying awake during worship.  He writes:

I remember a man named James, curled up around his backpack in a doorway in one corner of Sanctuary’s auditorium, snoring raggedly and loudly enough for all to hear him as we shared Communion, sang songs, prayed, and preached. It wasn’t an isolated occurrence by any means, but it almost always raised smiles and chuckles, depending how loud he got. And I remember him starting awake one night, frightened and disoriented, and crying out, “What I want to know is, can I be forgiven?” I remember the sigh that rippled through the congregation as we recognized this question echoing secretly in the chambers of our own hearts — even those of us who had the “right” theological answers. We knew, too, that for James it was no abstract query but a wrenching uncertainty rooted in crippling shame.

I wonder what our question would be, the one we would ask if we woke up suddenly in the middle of church.  Can I be forgiven?…Am I enough?…Does God really love me as I am?…Will things be OK?…Is reconciliation possible?

The answer to all these questions is yesYes.  The answers will sometimes come slowly, and we may not recognize them at first, but in response to all our worries and our fears, God says, “Yes…I am here.”

And so, dear friends, keep awake.  There’s so much possibility in the days ahead, and we don’t want to miss any of it.  Amen. S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

[i] https://mbird.com/the-magazine/sleeping-in-church/

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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!

Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm

Click here for registration form:

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