when he saw their faith

There is a story in the Bible
of a man
whose friends remove a roof
to bring their friend to Jesus

they lower him on his mat
above the heads of the people
and drop him at the Healer’s feet.

Today in church
I watched a girl–
no more than 6 years old–
and return during a hymn
carrying a walker

took both hands
pulled up to her chin
legs clanging against the pews

but it got her grandma to
the communion rail

Some say the stories in Scripture
never happened

I say not true

How can they not have happened
when they are still happening?

The Least Favorite Parable

A sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 20:1-16 and Philippians 1:21-30 [Proper 20A]



The parables Jesus tells are often people’s most favorite parts of the New Testament, and I think that’s because so much of the time the parables give us characters and stories that we love. Just think, for example, of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. People love the Good Samaritan. That story challenges us, for sure, but it also leaves us with a nice, warm feeling at the end: the stranger that everyone is supposed to hate and have low expectations for ends up being the hero!

And people love the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That’s the one where the no-good, ne’er-do-well son asks for his inheritance early and goes off to squander every penny but when he comes home to grovel—surprise!—he’s graciously and joyfully welcomed back by his loving father. The son was lost, but now is found! Nice, warm feeling.

Even the parable we heard last Sunday, from the gospel of Matthew, which Jesus tells in response to his disciples’ questions about forgiveness is a popular one. People like it. It doesn’t really have a nice, warm feeling at the end, but it doesn’t need to. It makes sense and justice is served. This is the parable where the one guy is forgiven a huge debt by his master and then turns right around and rakes some other dude over the coals because he owes him a couple bucks. Nobody wants that guy to win. He was a jerk! And sure enough, when word gets back to the master, the guy gets thrown in prison for being so unforgiving!

Be all that as it may, I find not many people like today’s parable. No one says this is their favorite, and it definitely doesn’t impart a nice, warm feeling at the end. There are no characters that really win our heart, and there’s no sense of justice or fairness, that people get what they deserved. Perhaps more than just about any other parable that Jesus tells, the parable of the workers in the vineyard disrupts our sense of reality, of what’s right and fair and equal.


That’s especially so in America, where we appreciate a good work ethic, where we make fun of giving out trophies for participation, where any policy proposal that we think smacks of socialism—or, even worse, communism!—gets lambasted in public debate. Just look at how the discussion over health insurance is going. We’re having a difficult time figuring how to make that issue right and fair and equal—or even if it needs to be right and fair and equal—but we’re positive the other side’s ideas are wrong and will mess everything up.  As humans, we are all but programmed to think of accomplishment and achievement in terms of merit and worth. We don’t like the thought of people getting more than they deserve, especially in comparison to other people, and even though it’s not a lesson on how to run a nation’s economy, this parable about the kingdom of heaven messes us up. The first will be last and the last will be first.

It starts with a landowner who goes out to find people to work in his vineyard. I lived in Cairo, Egypt, for a while, and I remember there were certain street corners in the city where day laborers would wait with their tools for someone to come hire them. I was a kid from the suburbs, and that was a sight I had never seen before, all these guys quietly standing there together, waiting for someone to want them. I imagined it to be a fairly precarious way to support yourself, much less a family. So the landowner goes down to the street corner and asks as few of these guys to help him. They’re thankful to be selected, even though it will be backbreaking work, and he agrees to pay them whatever the going daily rate is.

Fine. Makes sense.

But then for whatever reason—maybe he misjudged the amount of work he had to get done, maybe they’re not working as quickly as he hoped—he goes out about three hours later and hires some more. He doesn’t give many details about what he will pay them. There’s no contract or anything, but he does say he’ll pay them “whatever’s right.” Again, they’re happy to be selected, and so off they go.


This goes on and on all day until it’s almost quitting time, when the landowner goes out one more time and finds a few guys who haven’t gotten any work. They’re still standing there, tools around their waist, faces looking long and realizing they’ll be going home to their kids without any food that night. The landowner asks them why they’re not working and their response is sad to me: “because no one has hired us.” It’s like the say, “No one wants us.  We feel unimportant, unvalued, worthless.”

And then the landowner asks them to go in, too, and at this point we like this landowner, and we are liking this parable. We’re getting the feeling that he is more concerned with pulling people into his vineyard than he is with anything else. Good feelings are starting.

But then the whistle blows. It’s the end of the day, and the landowner has his manager pay everyone in the most interesting way. Those who had just barely broken a sweat because they came into the vineyard one hour before sundown get the full daily wage. And then, as the payout goes down the line, everyone gets the same thing! If he had some confidential payroll practices things might go a little better. Hello, direct deposit! Understandably, this upsets the guys who got hired first because they naturally think that they’ll be paid, like the landowner said, “whatever’s right.” At the end, they’re the ones feeling undervalued, unappreciated…well, at least once they compare themselves to everyone else.


As it turns out, this landowner guy is not about equal pay for equal work. It’s like he considers working in the vineyard more of a reward than the paycheck he gives. The opportunity to be called and to serve is the most important part of it all. And his enterprise works on a system of surprise generosity that no one can see coming.

It reminds me a bit of my high school graduation, where there were no valedictorians or salutatorians and no student speeches at all. The principal of R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC, was a man by the name of Bob Deaton, who was actually a long-time member of my home congregation. He had served as principal at Reynolds for thirty years and apparently relatively early on in his tenure he had done away with any and all accolades at graduation. No one was allowed to wear any sashes for such-and-such honor society or any extra tassels or badges or anything else that might make them stand out above anyone else. We all wore identical white gowns so that if you were in the audience, you were looking at one big group of equal graduates. There was no way you could tell class rank or athletic prowess or how active anyone had been in extracurricular activities.

R.J. Reynolds High School class of 1992. I’m somewhere smack in the middle because my last name begins with “M-a.”

I thought all of this was normal but I found out that Mr. Deaton’s decision to do this was controversial at the time—and I think it would still be considered countercultural—but he was adamant that on graduation day, everyone look the same. Someone told me that it was the parents of the top achievers who initially didn’t like it. In the eyes of the world, thought Deaton, a diploma was a diploma. The achievement was graduation itself, no matter how you’d gotten there, and that’s what that principal wanted to communicate.

So it is with the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says. God’s gracious decision to include usin his kingdom does not operate on principles of capitalism or merit or any kind of do-goodery. Grace cannot be calculated or estimated and it definitely doesn’t work when we try to compare ourselves with others, if we start to think we or anyone else is more or less worthy of it. God is moved towards those who feel undervalued, who haven’t been chosen, who stand through life wondering if they’ve got any worth. God wants people in the vineyard, in the kingdom. There are no ribbons or tassels or sashes here, no signs that anyone is more special or treasured, just the life that Jesus offers on the cross. That is a generosity that no one can see coming.

And if that is what the kingdom of heaven is like, then the church bears the responsibility to proclaim and embody that as best as it can, with the resources it has been given. We take heed of the messages we’re sending, both intentionally and unintentionally, and ask if those messages communicate God’s grace in the same way as that vineyard. We look at the programs we run, our personal interactions and relationships here and in our daily lives, we assess the use of our building spaces and church grounds, and wonder, “Might certain people feel more valued here than others?” “Might there be ways to draw more people into the kingdom work?” “What message are we sending when we do things this particular way?”


People are telling us that there is an increasing number of people in our culture, in our daily life, for whom the gospel is new, for whom Christian community is not a given. How can congregations respond, especially congregations like ours that are made up to a large degree of people who are lifelong Lutherans or lifelong Christians?

Can we find ways to tell and show to all people, whether they’ve been in the vineyard since childhood or whether they just received Christ, that all gifts are welcome and valued?

Can we work to assure each person that there is a way for them to fit into the glorious work of the body of Christ..that here, as Paul says, “we strive side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel”?

Can we hold in fruitful tension the need for longevity and experience, for the gifts of elders and those who bear helpful institutional wisdom as well as the new energy brought by people who’ve only been in the community for a little while?

Can we remember, like Jonah in our first reading, that that this God is generous and forgiving in ways that sometimes may make us uncomfortable sometimes because it won’t make sense to us. It won’t seem fair. It won’t feel equal. But it will be right.

Only those who’ve ever gone into our sacristy have probably ever seen that our altar care team has put up a helpful little card to explain how much wine the communion assistants are to pour into each little glass. There’s even a little sample glass and someone has colored on it with magic marker up to a certain ideal fill line. I’m not sure where the need for this came from. Perhaps there were complaints that some people were getting too little. Maybe some were getting too much! However it came to be, I’m kind of proud of that little sign. It’s a good reminder that we’re all equal here in a really important way. At this rail, at this meal, at the foot of this cross, each person, regardless of who they are and how useless they feel—even if they think we sing too many old-timey hymns or not enough, even if they feel they don’t have the right clothes to be here or that we don’t make folks feel welcome—every one of us is graciously called forth and given purpose for God.

No, Itthis may not always be people’s favorite parable, but how can you really show preference when it comes to God’s grace? There are no sashes here, no special ribbons or accolades. Maybe from time to time a nice, warm feeling. But always:  a generosity you’ll never see coming.

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.



requiascat in pesto

There needs to be a ritual
for clipping the last basil
for the last batch of pesto
for inhaling that last ephemeral blast of slower days
as the blender grinds

like last rites for the summer
a funeral
here in mid-September

something to comfort us
amid this foreign rigid schedule
and the last ripe tomato
lingering on the windowsill

something to remind us
all this homework
will come to an end
and we will play once again in the sunshine
yes we will
just taste it

“Whenever two or three”

A sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 18:15-20    [Proper 18A]

Sala Chapel behold our light 2

“Jesus said, ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them… but sometimes it’s going to be really, really awkward.”

Of course, Jesus didn’t say that last part, but it’s always what we’re bound to feel whenever we show up for worship or for a church meeting and there is only one other person there. Or two others. You had expected more, in most cases, and you each glance around wondering and waiting if this, in fact, will be all there is. Awkward.

That’s what happened last Sunday, in fact, at our 5:30 pm service. The attendance at that service has been rather low through the course of the summer, which puzzles us, to be honest, but last Sunday only one person showed up. And so, together with Ben Droste, who was serving as the usher/communion assistant, and the musician, Kevin Barger, there was a total of four of us. Ben, who had already attended worship in the morning and therefore had heard the sermon, was sitting in the chair nearest to the door waiting on possible latecomers. Kevin was sitting back behind the piano, and he had already been to both morning services and had heard the sermon twice, poor guy. That left good ol’ Rob Hamlin to sit by himself on the front row, just two seats down from where I was, so when it came time to preach, I just basically ended up standing up, turning around, and talking right to Rob, like he was getting his own private sermon. I’ll be honest: it was a little awkward. I felt like I didn’t really know where to look. For a moment I thought about trying to make it a bit of a dialog where I asked questions and got him to respond, but I quickly felt like that would make it even worse. Like an interrogation.

Overall it went fine, I think, but I discovered I was comforting myself throughout the entire thing with these words of Jesus from Matthew 18, that even though everyone else was off doing Labor Day weekend things, Jesus was with us there because there were at least two or three.


That’s how this verse often gets used, I find. It’s become like a lowest-common-denominator for what constitutes a worship service. Are there two of us here? Check. OK, we’re good. Then we can count Jesus present too. In some respects, that is an accurate understanding or use of this passage. In this era of megachurches and arena-sized worship services, it is especially comforting to know that Jesus assured his presence with the small and seemingly insignificant. For years the comfort from these words sustained the small, demoralized congregations that were behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Germany as the Communist Party tried to strangle out communities of faith.

However, to use this statement only as some kind of quorum for attendance at worship or other church events is not doing it justice. As you can see, Jesus doesn’t say this during some long passage about building a church. This doesn’t come in the context of a discussion about going out and spreading the good news. He says it in a discussion about church discipline. He says this in the midst of a very long and detailed passage about forgiveness and resolving conflict in the church.

As if that’s ever going to happen, right? Conflict? In the church?? Why, yes. In fact, we could just as easily re-word this reassuring statement to say “For whenever two or three are gathered, there’s eventually going to be an argument about something.”

The truth is that nowhere in the gospels does Jesus get as detailed about a specific subject as he does when he’s talking about forgiveness in the community of believers. Nowhere else in the gospels does Jesus issue such precise instructions about something. As we know, most of the time Jesus gives very open-ended commands, allowing us to dream and imagine how we might fulfill them and embody his love out in the world. But when it comes to sin and how it can break and harm his community, Jesus lays things out very nicely: first, try this. Then, if that doesn’t work, try this. It’s like the process of carefully gluing back together the pieces of some valuable heirloom or, better yet, watching people put their lives back together after the destruction from a hurricane.

And, in many ways, it is just that. The church is God’s prized possession. It is the body of his own Son, the men and women and the children God has redeemed through Jesus’ suffering and death. Brothers and sisters, we are precious to God, and it makes sense, then, that God would want to protect us against the harm that comes from conflict and to ensure that our community can be healed when it is hurt by the wrongful things we can still do and say to one another.

The process for repairing these relationships may be very methodical, but notice how in each step the word “listen” is central. Jesus knows the way to healing hinges on people taking time to hear one another out. Repentance, that change of mind and heart which allows reconciliation to take place, is most likely to happen when people stop and have dialogue. Communication consultant Nate Regier, who is an expert at guiding different groups through conflict, says that resolving conflict is most successful when people who are at odds temporarily suspend their own agenda and listen to the other’s agenda. “You’d be amazed,” he says, “how flexible another person can become when they feel heard.”[1] Besides that, how many times do we find out that a conflict is actually due to a simple miscommunication between people, and not because of real intended hurtfulness?

In the end, if all the listening in the world doesn’t solve the problem and repentance does not come, then Jesus says to handle the person involved like you would a tax collector or a Gentile. At first blush, that sounds very demeaning and distancing, until you realize how Jesus himself deals with tax collectors and Gentiles. He extends mercy to them. He eats with them and reaches out to them in lovingkindness, not heavy-handed judgment or condescension. Even in the midst of harm, Jesus’ call is one of suffering for the sake the other, of seeking to pull someone in rather than push them farther away. Jesus himself dies on the cross in order to extend God’s love to us, even, as the apostle Paul says in Romans, while we were still sinners.

forgivenessYes, Jesus is very specific about these instructions in dealing with sin because we are precious to him but there’s another reason. In the church, how we conduct our human resources is our best P.R. Our most effective form of evangelism—that is, telling others the good news about Jesus and receiving them into his body—is being able to model repentance and forgiveness with one another. By the same token, one of the top ways the church drives people away is by being a terrible laboratory for handling interpersonal conflict. The world already does a pretty terrible job of equipping people in the face of conflict. If Jesus’ followers can’t offer a loving, practical way of healing relationships, then why bother being here? If the members of the church are content with just letting unresolved grievances slowly corrode the quality of our community, why be a part of it?

Forgiveness, the often painstaking path of reconciliation binding people into repentance and loosing them in grace, is the crux of Jesus’ whole life. And so whenever that kind of life-giving work is going on—even when’s just among two or three people who are patching things up—Jesus promises us he’s going to be there. Therefore, to say that “Christ is here with us”’ is not a remark about some warm fuzzy feeling of the presence of God in the room that we’re supposed to get. It is a comment about the character of life among the people of that community. It is that notion that forgiveness is valued, that mercy to the sinner is treasured.

I recently came across an article about a robot that has been designed to perform funeral ceremonies in Japan. As it turns out, they were funeral ceremonies of another faith tradition, but I took it as just one more example of how computers and what they call “artificial intelligence” are slowly pushing aside the role of humans in the world. I always thought my job as a pastor would be safe against the coming robot onslaught. I guess I need to think again! I suppose I’m just as replaceable as any other function out there, and having a robot lead worship on Labor Day weekend when attendance is down might actually have its benefits for everyone. (Robotic voice: “The Lord be with you.”) I mean, people get daily devotions through email, which is essentially a computer, right?

And yet, the ability to be hurt, to have a relationship broken, to have emotions wounded—those are things unique to human beings. The brain can’t simply be re-programmed when things like that go wrong. The work of truly listening and responding in kindness and understanding will never be something we can outsource to anyone or anything.

17-03-19-ReconciliationSt. Francis of Assisi, the author of our Gathering Hymn this morning, words it so well. He was a renowned lover of nature, and his hymn reflects that, including all the different aspects of creation and how they praise their Creator. Animals with their voices, clouds and rain as they grow things, fire and water, earth and even death. But notice when we get to the verse about humans how they are to praise the God Most High. It’s not by how they create things or display their ingenuity and innovation. It is not as they celebrate their diversity. Rather, St. Francis writes, “All who for love of God forgive, all who in pain or sorrow grieve. Christ bears your burdens and your fears. Still make your song amid the tears. Alleluia! Alleluia! Allelu-u-uia!” I especially liked the translation of this hymn in the old green book: “O, everyone with tender heart, forgiving others, take your part.” The chief way that humans can take part in returning praise to their Maker by reflecting Christ in their forgiveness and mercy.

For he has borne our burdens and our fears…and all the mean things we can do and say to one another, and all the ways we’ve tried to embody compassion and kindness for one another and had it go unrequited. He has borne all the ways the cross of suffering is shared between you and me. He is there. Even with just two or three, he is there. He lives for that stuff, repairing that which has been broken because he loves us and he wants us together.

As it turns out, there is really nothing awkward about that at all. Alleluia! Alleluia! Allelu-u-ia!


Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

[1] Christian Century. August 30, 2017 pg 9

What A Morning

“Good morning, dad,” she said
as she landed on the ottoman
in front of me
before even checking out
the hot plate of French Toast
her hair not yet dry
fresh faced
and dressed for school
in her favorite shirt
the solar system
its planets, labelled, swirling in orbit
upon a heathered black universe
around her torso

“When will Jesus come down
to judge the living and the dead?”

I know
I’m an easy target
before my first cup of coffee
but to this one
I can easily say
I don’t know

apprenticed at St. Mary’s

I had never thought of my
home communion kit
as “equipment” before

until the man
who had retired
from a career
as a factory maintenance worker
asked for that
when I came to his bedside.

“Well, sure, if you brought the equipment”
he whispered
as if it were a toolbox
or something that
repaired things
and prepared them to serve again

these untarnished wares
may look sacred
may hold precious treasure
may shine when polished
like the sunbeams of heaven

but he asked well:
only when they hold
certain grace
do they ever get to be


communion kit

Discipleship School: Day 1

a sermon for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 16:21-28 and Romans 12:9-21

IMG_5551 (2)

My Facebook feed over the past couple of weeks has been littered with kids of every age standing on front porches or in entry hallways with shoulders squared and posing in new, fresh clothes, holding a sign with their new grade level on it. On Tuesday this week, most children in Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover Counties will join the fun. It’s the beginning of another school year. Behind each of those perfect, first-day photos will be the stories and experiences we don’t see: figuring out a new morning routine…the nervousness of stepping onto the first school bus…the crushing reality of that first homework assignment the tiredness as the kids come home the first day, hungry and exhausted, with rumpled clothes.

In order to make that first day go a little easier for our 17-month-old son, we brought our him to the nursery school this past week for a dry-run. To my surprise, he was a bit apprehensive at first, but he quickly caught sight of a ball on the floor unlatched himself from my leg and began to play.

All of this reminded me of a time I was serving back in Pittsburgh when I had to do a first day of school dry-run for a group of Burmese refugees our congregation had helped resettle to an area near downtown. I had received a panicked call from one of the parents two nights before school was supposed to start. No one had given the seven refugee high school students their list of bus transfers. In the Pittsburgh city school system, students often rode public transportation to get to school. These students barely knew any English, and they certainly didn’t know which bus lines to take to get to their assigned high school, which was on the other side of the city. So I was recruited to help chart that course for them. I got online and figured out which route they needed to take and reported the next morning—the day before school started—to practice it with them.

Ah Pi family
one of the Karen (Burmese) families we helped resettle to Troy Hill in 2007 (ignore the date)

I was embarrassed to admit it at the time, but I had actually never ridden public transportation in the city. I had my own car and could go wherever I wanted. That morning I was foolish enough to think I could lead a group of non-English speakers through what turned out to be a very convoluted route. We walked 4 city blocks to the nearest bus stop in their neighborhood, which we rode to the main station downtown. There we got off the bus, walked another 2-3 blocks to the subway station. I accidentally herded them onto the wrong subway at first, but we figured it out and rode that 3 or 4 stops to another terminal where we got out, climbed the stairs, and waited for a shuttle bus to take us the quarter mile to the school. Of course, that morning was not a school morning, so there was no shuttle bus. We had to walk all the way to the school and have faith that the shuttle would actually be there for them the next morning.

That morning I was taught again a lesson about the bravery and resilience and resourcefulness of refugee families. Prior to going, I had a lot of reservations about the trip: how much would it cost? How would we get back? What happens if I mislead them? As the twists and turns of the trek unfolded, I kept thinking that I myself would never stand to take such a long and complicated route to school every morning. Those immigrant teenagers, on the other hand, signed on for the journey without hesitation and, more astoundingly, without complaining.

Samson_MapWouldn’t it be nice if the path of following Jesus were to come with a nice list of bus transfers? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the life of discipleship was accompanied with its own detailed and escorted route telling us exactly what to do in each situation, lining up all the steps in advance, as if to say, “If you claim to be Christian, you’d make a left here, or a right on that stance over there?”

There is little doubt in my mind that is what Peter and the other disciples are thinking this morning on their first day of discipleship school. Granted, they’ve been with Jesus for a while now, venturing through the towns and villages of Galilee and the Gentile territory around it, but we get the sense that the lessons and the homework have really begun ever since they left Caesarea Philippi and Peter declared Jesus was the Messiah. It’s like for a moment there we saw Peter standing there on the front porch, in fresh, new clothes, grinning and clutching a sign with his new grade level on it: “Discipleship: Day 1.” Now he is lost, his clothes are all rumpled, and he’s failing his first homework assignment on the first step. That is because what Jesus shows them about how he is Messiah is difficult to follow mentally.

way of crossJesus is Messiah, the one God himself has anointed to set the world to rights, but he is going to accomplish that by undergoing suffering himself. Jesus is the Son of the Living God, the one to whom all honor and glory is due, but he is going to display that honor and glory by being handed over to his enemies. Jesus is going to demonstrate what it means to be divine and offer that divine life to all, but he is going to do it in the utmost of human ways: he’s going to die. This is not a path we might expect from the Messiah, the Son of the very God who brought life into existence and has almighty power at his disposal, who could do divine things in a very divine way. Our human brokenness prevents us from grasping this.

In Jesus, God is saying the world doesn’t have to attain my love—the world doesn’t have to come up to God’s high level or make the all the right decisions in life or have all the right beliefs. In Jesus, God is saying my love is coming to you, where you are, and suffering in the world as you often do. This is what we come to know in Jesus, and that act of love and grace is going to meet a rough road to get the job done. It’s going to have to suffer and eventually die.

Those who follow Jesus should therefore expect a similar road from time to time. And if there is a particular list of directions to take as one of his disciples, if there is a set of instructions about how to go about this, it simply involves this: die to yourself. Jesus dies to himself, and therefore we must, also, if we’re joined to him in baptism.

Jesus Carry Cross

And this ends up being a particularly challenging thing to do  in a culture that is all about self-assertion. If it was difficult for Peter and the others to deny themselves, to lose their life, it is certainly going to be hard in our day and age when we’re told at every twist and turn to claim your own identity, to make a name for ourselves, to get our fair share. We live in times that glorify the individual, that seduce us with the false claim that we can be our own god and set all our own rules. We live in times where it is so easy to place ourselves in positions of supposed moral authority relative to other, criticizing them for their mistakes, confessing other people’s sins (doing it publicly is even better), pointing out how we would have done very differently.

The life of baptism into Christ, by contrast, is a repeated shedding of the self. It is a life of self-denial, of pointing that finger inward—a life, for example, that teaches us to weep when others weep and rejoice when others rejoice. It is a way of associating with the lowly, as the apostle Paul says to the Romans, and not claiming to be wiser than we are. It is a road that always surprises us with the opportunities to forgive those who’ve wronged us, to think first of others’ needs and to respond to evil with good.

There are a lot of tough but important conversations happening these days in our culture along the lines of race and class and it seems to me that the most productive and healing conversations occur when people essentially present themselves in these conversations in a posture of self-denial. That is, when they approach the discussions in a willingness to really hear what the other side is saying and imagine themselves there rather than simply waiting for their turn to speak and get their point across. This is especially true for those who find themselves in positions of power or majority.

This road is hard, I won’t lie. It is grueling at times, but Jesus is always there to help us through it, to lift us up and to remind us that we gain our true life as we do it because he is risen. He lives—and has lived—through it all already for us.

The other images that have floated through our news media and social media feeds this week have been of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in Texas. I’ve found it hard to wrap my brain around the level of flooding that has occurred. But I’ve also found it hard to wrap my brain around the level of heroism and community spirit that has occurred. There was the story of the woman whose 29-year-old son went off to a coastal community in the Houston area 3 months ago to help his dad, who had cancer. When the Hurricane hit, she became worried because, with cellphone towers down and whatnot, she wasn’t able to contact him. As a last-ditch effort she googled his name and found out he had become a hero, stepping up to steer efforts in an impromptu storm shelter that had no power and no water and that was filled with medically fragile adults. There was the tragic but heroic story of the 3-year-old who was pulled from the water still clinging to the body of his drowned mother who did literally everything she could to keep him safe as they got swept away by the current.

170727-rogers-harvey-01_suygoxIt seems that every case where there’s a hero, in Texas as in life, it involves someone who has denied him or herself. And by contrast, every case where there’s a villain it involves someone who has asserted him or herself in inappropriate and harmful ways.

There are no list of specific bus transfers in the life as one of Jesus’ followers, the life of self-denial and taking up the cross to suffer. The way forward is more a mindset that Jesus gives us, one where we learn to let go of ourselves and listen to the world. At some point we do have move forward, however. We have to step off that front porch and get on the bus. Jesus calls us to, and our baptism compels us to it. 20th century Lutheran theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote once, “Faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”[1]   That is to say, Jesus loves all and has died for all, regardless of who and where we are.

But it is in the act of following, in the act of losing our life over and over again for the sake of Jesus’ vision of a world restored…it is in the act of unlatching ourselves from the leg of what we think is safety and instead taking up the cross in the world where we will find the strength to walk the journey, and to get up and walk it again, and walk it again, and walk it some more, wherever it leads.


Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. Touchstone Book, 1995, SCM Press 1959 p64