I slipped up!

I should have paid closer attention to the sad state of my slip. But I had a lot going on and didn’t have time to evaluate whether it was going to serve me well or not. I knew the thin elastic at the waist was slack. It had survived a couple pregnancies. The fact that I was pregnant again meant that a saggy drawstring worked in my favor. It had stretched out before—it could do it one more time. Why spend my hard-earned money before I had to? I would push this piece of shabby lingerie to the limit and then consider replacing it with something both effectual and appealing after the baby was born.
For those of you 40 years or younger, here’s the definition of a slip! You can find it in the lingerie department:
Slip [slip] NOUN
1. a woman’s loose-fitting, dress- or skirt-length undergarment, suspended by shoulder straps (full slip) or by an elasticized waistband (half slip).
“a silk slip”
underskirt · petticoat · underslip · half-slip

sesquicentennial article

The morning of a grand church celebration I put it on under a long skirt and jumped in the car to face a demanding day. The congregation I had been called to serve just seven months earlier was marking its sesquicentennial. On that particular Sunday a reporter from the local paper was going to be part of our celebration so as to write a feature article on us. This was a big deal! We pulled out the stops that morning, including special music, a review of our congregational history, a recognition of long-time members and extra involvement of our children. As I led the worship I was awed by the fact that we were marking 150 years of history—and I was praying that my slip, which seemed less reliable than ever that morning, would behave. Not only was the elastic shot but I had noticed that the side seam was slowly unraveling. A simple rectangle of lightweight fabric, it was gathered at the waist and sewn up the one side. But, starting at the bottom of the garment, it was literally coming apart at the seam with slow determination. Again, I slipped up. I should have gone without it or splurged on a new one for $20. But I had faith that it would last through my pregnancy—and I was cheap! So my thoughts were divided between heavenly glory and earthly shame in that celebrative worship service!

me greeting

There’s a photograph of me in the newspaper article greeting folks at the back of the sanctuary. I’m wearing my clerical robe which I remember being reassuring to me. If my slip slipped down a bit, my long robe would hide that until I got into the privacy of my office after all the fanfare. I dodged embarrassment at the coffee hour, eating cake on colored paper plates with side servings of mints and nuts. I had good conversation with the reporter with no unintentional self-revelation. As the morning festivities wrapped up, my husband and I tore out of there with our three young children to our home 25 minutes away.
The first year I served the church, our home in Grand Rapids was on the market. We were trying to sell it by-owner so every morning I left the house in tip-top shape, in case a prospective buyer stopped by. I drove my children 25 minutes each morning to their school in our new hometown, dropping them off in front of their building then making my way to my office. To test the goodwill of the congregation who went out on a giant limb by entrusting the pastor position to a woman, I became pregnant in the first six months of my tenure with our fourth child! Things in our life were stretched thin—including, it turns out, the undergarments that guarded my modesty! That sesquicentennial Sunday we raced home to feed our kids something gourmet, like mac and cheese with hotdogs, and put out the sign for an open house. Since we were our own realtors, we broke common protocol in the house-selling business, and were in the home as the first people arrived.
I assure you that my mind was still partly attuned to the vulnerability of my slip. But I hadn’t had a moment to myself. So, as I washed the dishes and gave a final wipe to the lunch table, I noticed my slip hanging below my mid-calf skirt. Uh-oh. Resolving to disappear into my room to change before the anticipated throng of interested buyers appeared, I heard my husband greet people at the door. I yanked up the slip and said a prayer. Trying to look relaxed and give the message that life in this home fostered tranquility, I put items on the kitchen counter in final order.
The slip slipped further. A pleasant couple came into the kitchen so I tried to inconspicuously hold on to the side of my skirt, gripping through it to the slip below. After some pleasantries they drifted down the hallway so I let go of my grip of shame. Apparently my clutching did final damage as the garment dropped to the ground, a useless rectangle. The side seam was undone and the elastic kaput. As I surveyed the damage, I heard the couple coming back into the kitchen. I picked up the slip at my feet, as if I had dropped a kitchen towel. I wiped my hands on it while answering their questions. The moment they left the room I shoved it in the trash can under the sink with a final farewell.

me greeting people
Sometimes the high points in our lives are marked by humbling mishaps. When I see the picture of me greeting the faithful at the end of our worship celebration, I know that a part of my mind was on maintaining my dignity. I slipped up! I should have invested in a new slip before it literally fell off of me! But what kind of story would that make? It seemed to be a strangely fitting reminder of the humanity of hard-working folks for 150 years in our congregation. Our dignity does not stem from our physical traits or outward appearance. It is nothing we do that brings us glory. The good news we celebrate is that God chooses us, redeems our goofy moments and smooths things out when we slip up! Hallelujah!


Unreasonable Grace

If I say that I’m going to preach on forgiveness, what does that kick up inside of you? Does it bring to mind a relationship where there’s a painful history? Is there a raw place where you harbor a grudge because of something done to you? In our Gospel lesson Jesus urges us to love our enemies. I want you to think about who comes to mind when you hear the word “enemy.” Keep in mind these broken ties where forgiveness eludes you as we dig into two hard passages that should prompt some honest introspection.

In Deuteronomy the Jewish understanding of retaliation is clear and seemingly fair: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. So how did we move from that formula for justice to Jesus’ statement that the number of times we should be willing to forgive someone is 70 x 7?! The radical news in both lectionary stories is that our response to someone cannot be predicated on their behavior. Instead of revenge, we are exhorted to offer grace.

We are still in the season of Epiphany when we watch for a divine manifestation. Do we see God in the story about Joseph and his brothers found in Genesis 45:1-15? The plot to the Biblical drama is so thick and rich that it made it on to Broadway: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. His older brothers couldn’t stand how spoiled he was so they sold him into slavery and told their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph’s new life included prison, false accusations, and isolation. But, by God’s grace and Joseph’s tenacious faith, he ends up as the right-hand man to the most powerful leader, Pharaoh. In a time of famine his brothers come to Egypt for food to take back to their families. Joseph recognizes them and reveals himself to them. They are terrified because they have lived with the guilt of their cruelty for decades and now he has power over them. But in this tender reunion Joseph assures them that he forgives them. What they did to harm him, God used to advance a Divine agenda. This forgiveness means that God’s promise to Abraham can be kept.

What if Joseph had used his power for revenge? No one would have criticized him. Think of the upperclassmen fraternity brothers who are merciless in their hazing of freshmen recruits to exact revenge for their own first-year misery. Think about class reunions where social outcasts from high school can’t wait to show their success to popular sorts who haven’t fared so well. Family members dish out pay-backs like it’s the most natural thing to serve up at the family reunion. Joseph could have sentenced his brothers to death for their treachery and his political fan base would have cheered him on. But the spoiled, arrogant little brother has gained great wisdom from the literal pit of despair. He has witnessed how God took the malicious plot of his brothers and transformed it into a means of saving lives. If you back up several chapters and read the whole story you’ll see that his forgiveness begins and ends with tears. When he reveals himself to them, he has to leave the room because he is weeping uncontrollably. Those tears are the harbinger of healing—for him, his brothers, his family, and the Jewish nation.

trinity crucifix

Joseph extends unreasonable grace toward his brothers. He doesn’t ask if they’re sorry for what they did. The forgiveness that Jesus extols in Luke 6 does not stem from right behavior of others. It comes from a relationship with the God who sent Jesus to take on our burdens for us. This radical act goes against our human instincts so we are reminded that we can only let our enemy off the hook because of a heart condition. Knowing and loving God changes our hearts—and the rules by which we govern our own lives. It won’t necessarily change the people around us but that doesn’t matter. Through Christ we have the strength to drop our grievances and see the humanity of our enemies. This is not material that you’ll find in a self-help manual in the book section of WalMart. It is a radical offer from Jesus that restores peace to our lives and perhaps preaches a message of grace to those looking in on our actions.

When the older brothers encounter Joseph decades after selling him into slavery, Joseph is in a great position. His life has turned out well in spite of their jealous plotting. What if he had spent all those years in the dank prison where he first landed? Would he have been as likely to be magnanimous toward them? We don’t know. But it’s important to acknowledge that it can be seemingly impossible to extend grace when the suffering is ongoing, and, especially, if there’s no promise of the stress letting up.

Remember that years after Joseph and his brothers had died and their descendants lived in the best land of Egypt, the indigenous people questioned why these foreigners should possess the best real estate. So this clan of Jews who had initially been welcomed as kinfolk of the beloved Joseph, are enslaved and become the backbone to the work projects that made Egypt great. For 400 years they worked backbreaking labor as slaves! There would be 20 generations of Jews born into slavery before poor Moses put his life on the line to lead them to freedom through God’s gracious liberation.

Many people—some of you here today—live symbolically in those 20 generations for whom every day is a burdensome task and there is little promise of relief. If someone has put you in this position or worked to take away from you something that is rightfully yours, how can you forgive them? When your enemy has taken away the life of your choosing, isn’t it unreasonable to extend grace?

In his commentary on the Genesis 45 story, Allen Hilton raises some important questions: “The Joseph story has it that ‘the Lord was with [Joseph}, and…the Lord caused all that he did to prosper’ (Gen. 39:3), but that is certainly not the way all faithful or faith-seeking people experience their lives or their God. Discussions of why bad things happen to good people fill church parlors and classrooms, because in them we raise hard questions about how we can imagine God’s activity in a flawed world. If God is the divine bellhop, acknowledged only when the parking space comes open at the right time or when the marriage works, the suffering half of our lives and our congregation’s stands knocking outside the door. On the other hand, if we render God the absentee landlord who leaves humanity to fend fully for ourselves, we lock our whole congregation out of meeting Joseph’s living and active God.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, page 365.)

Cathedral in HOnfleur

Do we only acknowledge God when things are going well then curse God the minute our hopes are dashed? Or have we reconciled the junk in our world to a belief that there is no God so it’s anyone’s game? Or is there another way to address the hurt?

Alan Johnson names a crucial element to the life of faith: surrender. Again, this won’t sell books on an end rack near the check out at Sam’s Club. He writes, “Surrender is a painful, personal process in our relationships, our faith communities, and our country. To surrender humbly to a higher good does lead to new life, love, and a deeper joy. Moreover, joy is a sign of reconciliation….reconciliation is possible because in facing our own frailties, vulnerabilities, and even hostilities, we come to understand that divine purposes were at work.”

When we use human systems of law to determine forgiveness, it gets muddy. Do we forgive the 24-year old Alabama mother who admits that it was a mistake to join ISIS when she was 19. Do we open our national arms and allow her to come “home” to America to raise her 18-month old son? Can we forgive someone who has trained with terrorists? Or do we let our justice system mete out a fair response to her request?

The Roman Catholic Church is facing squarely the issue of Clerical sex abuse in the confines of the Vatican beginning this past Thursday. Victims are telling their stories and demanding accountability from the overarching structure of the Church. Should a convicted priest be supported by an ecclesial pension? Are they outside of the law? Should we forgive and move on, as some have suggested? Can the victims find a way to forgive an unrepentant priest and move forward with levity and joy? Or are they condemned to carry that horrific baggage with them the rest of their lives?

votive candles

Can we forgive a family member (a parent, spouse, grown child, relative) for the pain they caused us? Is your ex-spouse the enemy you have to face far too often and, if so, how might you love him or her as Jesus commands? Is it reasonable to extend grace to the boss who trumped up charges so that you could be fired? Or is it reasonable to fantasize about their own downfall and carry hatred in our hearts toward them?

Maybe the enemy for you has been God? Maybe the child you lost, the husband who never materialized, the terminal disease or the financial destitution cloud your ability to embrace a loving God. In fact, you’ve been mad at God for a long time and don’t want to let go of the grudge. Who is the enemy and how can we let go of the hurt by surrendering to God?

colorful crucifix

In The Man Who Wrestled with God, John Sanford suggests a three step process that was foundational to noteworthy reconciliation agencies like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The first step is painful self-confrontation. Whether we were the victim or the perpetrator, we are called to examine our hearts to confess what ill feelings we have harbored toward others. Have we nursed the grudge? Have we done the math more than a thousand times to confirm that someone is seriously in our debt and held that against them? Are we pained by memories of how we betrayed a loved one, took advantage of a friend, derailed a stranger? As we do the hard work of self-examination, we move into the second step: making a reckoning with the past. We face our demons so that we can let them go. We confess to God and anyone we have hurt. This is liberating so that the past will no longer dictate our future. The dark cloud that has enshrouded each day for ages is pushed aside through prayer, counseling, church involvement, and encouraging relationships. Finally, Sanford suggests that the third step in experiencing liberating forgiveness is giving up our egocentrism in order to serve God. As we seek to please God, the injustices of our human world matter less and less. We join with God in creating a new world with rules that lead to a new and abundant way of life.

The stakes are high. Hilton states, “God’s reconciling movement in the world still and always hinges on forgiveness.” The unreasonable grace we extend to someone who may be completely unrepentant; who may have moved on with their life years ago and doesn’t even know the destruction they wrought in us; this radical act of forgiveness impacts our world in ways we will never fully comprehend. Joseph’s forgiveness keeps the family of Jacob’s 12 sons intact. God’s promise to their great grandfather, Abraham, can be fulfilled. They become a blessing not just to their families but to the world—because their brother’s heart was so filled with a love for God that there was no room for hatred. Even when we resist reconciliation (and let’s admit it, we do!), unreasonable grace transforms us along the way. By the power of the Holy Spirit—never on our own inclinations—we can forgive another and, in the process, find that we ourselves have been liberated! The fog lifts. Joy returns. God is praised!

monet flower



On the Road Again

Matthew 4:12-23        Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

He had been trained to respond physically when trouble loomed. A former all-state tackle from his high school in Ashtabula, Ohio, his protective instincts were severely challenged on February 27, 2012. He worked on the football coaching staff at Chardon High. During the school day he presided over study halls and lunch hours in the cafeteria until the final bell sent students to workouts and football practice. But he didn’t view his work as simply a job. He was an encourager. He noticed all the students and greeted them by name. He knew about their home life and their academic challenges. He gave kids the opportunity to open up to him and they did. His home life reflected his deep love for children. He and his wife, Ashley, adopted four sons, some of whom have significant health challenges which they tend to willingly. A burly man at 6’1” tall and 350 pounds, he was known to be a giant teddy bear.
On a snowy February morning, as the kids were settling into their places at the beginning of the first period, a student named T.J. opened fire in the cafeteria. Frank thought, at first, it was fire crackers but saw a couple of students slumped and bleeding. He saw a young man standing there with a gun, ready to shoot again. Frank was facing the dreaded question of every teacher: What would I do if someone opened fire in my classroom? This football tackle responded as he had been trained: he charged at aggressor. The boy headed for the door and the coach chased him down the hall, scattering terrified students and faculty. Running just ahead of the coach, the gunman saw another student near the back door of the school. Frank knew this young man. He had already been hit a couple of times by bullets. Frank yelled for T.J. to stop but he fired again and the young man went down. He would survive but be relegated to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. T.J. ran out of the building into the sound of sirens and screams.
Frank was raised in the Ashtabula Pentecostal Church. He spent 1 ½ hours each Wednesday night and 2 hours every Sunday being trained in spiritual discipline. His daily life included prayer. His relationship with God fueled his protective care for the kids entrusted to him. Wondering whether to follow the gunman or return to the students who had been shot, Frank felt God pushing him back into the building. He found three boys left in the cafeteria, each gravely injured from gunshot wounds. Frank held them, prayed with them and stayed with them until paramedics could arrive. Tragically these three young men did not survive.
Frank became a hero after the attack. His courageous pursuit spared countless lives. T.J. was apprehended 45 minutes later, walking alone on a road and shivering in the cold. When asked why he ran away he stated, “Because Coach Hall was chasing me.” T.J. was dealing with depression and migraines. He sometimes heard voices urging him to do harmful things, a form of mental illness that had not been detected. As he was locked away and town members retreated to their homes, Frank’s heroism became the talk of the town. Frank was invited to talk with Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper and other major news networks who wanted to hear of his bravery.
But Frank turned them all down. His mind became his enemy and he began an endless loop of questions that boiled down to why he hadn’t been able to do more? Why hadn’t he better protected the three boys who died and the one who was now paralyzed? He apologized to wife, recognizing that he put her in the position of almost becoming a widow to four boys who had already lost their fathers once. Even when 700 parents and students lined up to hug him the morning that the school reopened, he felt unworthy. A Fans of Frank Hall FB page was opened. But Frank was his own greatest enemy. He began a downward spiral into depression that would take months to address. Despite his personal struggle, he hugged the students who came to him, a sort of father figure in the very unsettled school body.
It wasn’t until Frank Hall felt called to change schools that his healing really began. He learned that the football coach at his hometown had given up on the team. He was quitting and the team would be disbanded. These were kids who were being abandoned, their gifts spurned. Frank understood what it was to be broken and decided that those students needed him more than those at Chardon. The kids in Ashtabula-which was often called “Trashtabula by outsiders—had little support from the staff. So he walked into the office and told the principal of his sense of calling to come home. Of course, Frank’s reputation preceded him and his love for his hometown was well-known. Word spread quickly and one eighth-grade boy prayed to God every night that Frank would “come home”. He showed videos to his classmates of the impact Frank had had at Chardon. In spite of a pay cut and taking over a disheartened team, Frank invested his love into players who responded eagerly to his guidance. Record numbers showed up for the football team and the booster club. In addition to being the new coach, Frank served as a counselor for kids with academic and personal problems. He walked the halls giving fist pumps, pats on the back and words of encouragement. He praised the football players for sitting next to kids who were often left to eat alone.
Years earlier he had prayed to be able to use his gifts in a place where God, family, and football were foundational. In following his sense of calling to serve in Ashtabula, as he protected, encouraged and loved this new set of kids, Frank finally began to find peace.
A question that rises from the gospel story today is “What does it takes to be a disciple?” Looking at two pairs of brothers, we understand: a willingness to follow Jesus immediately. Two brothers leave their dad in the family boat, crushing his dreams of his boys one day taking over the family business. The invitation to hit the road is one of radical obedience. The disciples leave behind family, jobs and a sense of belonging, no questions asked. And Jesus promises to teach them to fish for believers.
When has your faith led you into a situation that you never would have chosen on your own? When have you been blessed by saying yes to Jesus, even though the cost was great? What spiritual seeds have you planted and are watching for them to sprout? To what adventures are you being called while clinging to the familiar? Too often we go easy on ourselves when asking what Jesus is calling us to do. Are we exercising our faith so that we have an instinctual response of obedience? Are we looking out for the well-being of others or are we sitting on the sidelines letting others take the lead?

Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah and uses the ancient names for the area of Galilee where He lived out His ministry: Zebulun and Naphtali. Galilee was looked down upon as a place that gave rise to rebels and rednecks. It was denigrated a bit like “Trashtabula.” In Jesus’ day, it was viewed as preposterous that anything good would come out of Nazareth! Yet this is where Jesus invested His ministry!
In Isaiah the wording is, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” But Jesus rephrases it as “the people who sit in darkness…” This verb speaks of a sort of sluggish solitude. Some people go through life in almost catatonic isolation, waiting for others to fix their problems. The people of Jesus’ day had plenty of reasons to be discouraged. Violence at the hands of the Roman Empire was a daily threat. Frequent crucifixions reminded the people that they were only as safe as their unquestioning obedience to the government.
But Jesus is ready to show them a new way. God had not forgotten them and sharing the love of God would bring them great pleasure. They could join hands to build up their community. That solidarity would equip them to deal with whatever came their way. The cost is high: they had to drop everything to follow Him. It would be an ongoing course of study to learn the way of life He modeled. Jesus teaches them the power of words. They are not just informative. They are performative. They effect change! Just once, at the last supper with His disciples, He said, “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” However we still speak those words today and they change us and our world!
The nature of Jesus’ call is not to personal salvation but to a common ministry. Our willing sacrifice for the well-being of our community makes the Realm of God evident. Like Coach Frank Hall, our reflexes must be continually tested so that, in a crunch moment, we are ready to drop everything and act in the power of Jesus. We come here weekly to be reminded that we carry Him into every part of our week. When we hit the road with Christ, He leads us to new destinations and teaches us to fish for people—to inspire followers to leave the sidelines and jump into the action. It requires our repentance. It requires our obedience. It requires our all.
To what adventure is Christ calling you? Are you ready to step up to whatever task is sent your way? He’s still calling, inviting us to bringing blessing into wastelands. Shall we head out and see what lies ahead?


Slip-Sliding Away

Repressing all strains of country music that want to occupy my head, I have to admit that there are days when I am all the more aware that Jesus is my co-pilot and I invite him to take the wheel! Today is one such a day. Traveling on the highway there are four separate spots where cars are in ditches and emergency vehicles are flashing their lights to warn us to keep our distance. On top of that, my car is behaving badly. It doesn’t want to accelerate when I push on the gas pedal. It was doing this a couple of weeks ago and I had an appointment with the mechanic. But then the polar vortex swept in and hung over us like a bad dream and I didn’t want to be without my vehicle. Besides that, the symptoms subsided so I decided that it must not be that urgent. Just like an ailment that prompts a call to a doctor, we cancel as soon as the symptoms disappear, wanting to believe that all is well. But my car malfunction has acted up again and I realize I’m heading out on a mission of mercy with a crippled automobile. In moments like these I have an active conversation with Jesus. In the privacy of my car, I talk out loud to him. I remind Him that I am working on his behalf as I head down to the hospital to pray with someone heading in for a delicate procedure. They deserve a pastoral presence even if it is a blustery day in Michigan. I’m not above bargaining with God, trying to curry favor for the ministry I offer in exchange for safety!


On the highway traffic slows down to a crawl. Dodging one accident after another, we make sure that we are not the next ones to end up in a ditch. Mercifully I recognize that this could be God’s answer to my prayer. I am in a vehicle that does not reliably accelerate and I’m traveling on roads where no one is going more than 25 miles an hour! Perfect!


My next mission after the hospital is to check and see if our church still has power. Riding into town lifeless stop lights turn into all-way stops. Whether it’s politeness or an instinct for self-preservation, I don’t know. People make certain that they don’t move into intersections without some assurance of safety. I pass by Consumers Energy trucks with bundled up workers checking circuits for electricity. My weekend retreat at a Dominican Center has been canceled because they have no power. Ironic for a place of Godly reverence! Some people have been without electricity for two full days with no assurance that it’s coming back on any time soon. I have been singing God‘s praises for the generator my husband had installed two years ago. It’s keeping our whole house functioning normally. The only thing we lack is Wi-Fi which is irritating but hardly essential. We have two houseguests for the weekend who were struck, driving in last night, that our neighborhood was eerily dark. The sound of motors can be heard from different directions as generators provide a bare minimum of protection against the ice and the snow. There have been nine snow days in the last 10 school days. I don’t remember anything like this before.


The church has heat even though businesses two blocks down are dark. So we put out an all-points bulletin inviting people who can no longer stand the smell of their own bodies to come on down and step into our seldom-used shower at church! We assure folks whose homes have dipped into the 40’s that they can stay the night in the church facility until the power surges back into their homes. A key is placed in a super-secret spot to be revealed to those who call asking for our hospitality. Then I make my way back to my car that has been covered with snow in a very brief period of time.

As I climb in and strap on my seat belt, my phone chimes to indicate a new voicemail. I listen to it before sliding out of our parking lot. One of the blessed octogenarians in our congregation is slipping away from this world into the next. The hope is that I can make it over to her home in spite of the bad weather to offer the Protestant version of last rites. I text the woman’s son back to say that I’m leaving the church and will be there shortly. I pray aloud in my car again but this time it’s not for my own safety. I’m not talking to Jesus about my crippled automobile. I’m praying for a woman who is between two worlds and will soon pass from our frosty landscape into promised paradise. No Spirit Airline ticket required, she will travel on the wings of a God who claims her as a beloved daughter. When I arrive the family ushers me in to the room where our church member is struggling in her last earthly hours. Her family and I intone the Lord’s Prayer and assure her that she can relinquish her grasp on this side of heaven. With tears and hugs, I leave the intimacy of that setting for home.

snowy backyard
The power is back on! The generator has served its purpose. Life can get back to normal. But what is normal? Is it only lived in the privacy of the homes that shelter us from the cold? Or do we find it in hospital bays where prayer calms nerves before surgery? Do we carve out a new normal in our churches when we use our building for revised purposes that serve Christ’s people? Is it normal to be in the presence of a loved one as they slip from this world into the next? We breathe more easily when it seems like we can resume our usual routine. But it is perhaps the ongoing conversation we have with Jesus that keeps us anchored and equipped for whatever comes our way. Whether it’s a plea for safety on a dangerous trek or offering the prayer that Jesus taught us for one who is truly on their way Home, it is the conversation of faith that weaves the pieces of each day together. Amen?

snowy backyard 2


The Power of the Word

Nehemiah 8:1-10
8 1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4 The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Luke 4:14-30
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The passage from Nehemiah takes place when some of the Jews have returned to Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. The beloved city of Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586BC and the residents were marched off to Babylon where they served as slaves for about 50 years. When there was a change in power, the Jews were granted permission to return to their homeland where they could rebuild the temple. King Cyrus of Persia provided safe passage by way of soldiers who escorted them back for the 900 mile journey. The crowd of emigrants would have included children and the elderly. Take a minute to consider how this offer of a return to Jerusalem must have felt. You’ve lived in the same place for 50 years now. Even though you’re of the slave or servant class, there is a predictability to each day. Your family is near. If you are among those who were marched out of Jerusalem 50 years earlier, you remember how hard that journey was. You remember how people died along the way. Many were brutalized by soldiers whose only task was to complete the trip, not to guarantee that every captive survived. Your memories of your homeland have grown dim but your heart still burns for a return to those “good ‘ol days” in Israel. Could you make the trip back? Would you try? For most of us here, if we add 50 years to our present age, we wouldn’t be alive to make the choice! And, if we were, it would be unimaginable to take on a 900 mile journey that required more than four months of walking. Most of the Jewish captives remained in Babylon. But several waves of the faithful made the pilgrimage, beginning the task of setting up new lives.
This passage takes place after they have completed much of the re-building. There has been disagreement along the way and enemies who worked against them. But, on this day, everyone is invited to gather to hear the Word of the Lord read aloud. The Book of the Law had been lost with their displacement so this was a moment of reclaiming their heritage. For the Jews, the Law is a gift. It constrains evil and establishes order. It isn’t meant to be burdensome. Rather it is a compassionate guide that points to a holy way of living. We are given a beautiful insight into the way that worship happened with our ancestors in the faith. The place where the reading takes place is significant. It is by the Water Gate. The gates were public places where open deliberation happened and judgment was meted out by appointed judges. Anyone could be at the gate, even the ritually unclean. So, by choosing this site, this revival was wildly inclusive. Notice how often the word “all” is used in this passage. Everyone is given the opportunity to hear and respond to the Word of God. Their worship—and ours—is necessarily communal. It is not a solo sport!
Ezra is elevated above the crowd, much as we have raised pulpits. As he opens the book the people stand. We do this to show honor to people, don’t we. Did you notice how long he read? Can you imagine us paying attention to anything that long? Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a reading of scripture in Lent that took place over several hours, with people invited to come for whatever part of it they could. Would we care? Would that be more important than swim practice or piano lessons? But these people have been deprived of the scriptures for a couple of generations. Their elders recited what they remembered of the Law while in captivity. But now they had the book, the very source of their religious tradition. We observe from this story that they are famished for the Word.
In the reading that follows, the people meet their God. This is not an example of learning some new facts about God that they find interesting. They experience God’s nearness, lower their faces to the ground, and weep. William Willimon states, “At the heart of preaching is either a God who speaks, and who speaks now…or preaching is silly.” God speaks at the Water Gate through the power of the Word, and the people are transformed. Why do they weep? Are they crying because they recognize how far they have strayed from God’s holy way of life? Are they remembering these words that their grandparents taught them in Babylon but are moved by hearing them now in the setting of their beloved homeland? Do they feel regret for the loss of the Law during the decades of their captivity? Or are they overcome with joy to be back in God’s presence? Maybe some of all of that!
It’s interesting to note that there are people there who interpret the Law as it is read. Like us, the masses need help understanding how it relates to their own lives. If it isn’t applicable, it is of no use. At the end of the worship, the leaders proclaim that the ceremony is holy. It is a special day and they are to celebrate the return of the Law into their community by eating good food, drinking wine and making sure that no one goes away hungry. Imagine an old fashioned church picnic where people put out their covered dishes after the service, and people sit on their red checked blankets enjoying each other’s hospitality. Joy is the proper response to God’s Word, not sadness. This sets the tone for their new life back in the Promised Land.
We see the power of the Word in this story. It welcomes all people and unifies the congregation. It is meant to be heard in community with interpreters available to help people apply it to their daily lives. It leads to repentance and offers forgiveness. This transforms the believer who then responds with joy. Everyone shares in the celebration so that no one is excluded. Does that sound like Church today? I hope so!
About 500 years later, Jesus steps into His home synagogue, having already begun a successful ministry in other parts of Galilee. It states that being in worship on the Sabbath was His custom. He returns to His hometown where He is known as Joseph’s boy and is invited to read from the scripture in worship. This would have been a common way to honor an upstanding man in the Jewish worshiping community. He chooses His passage from Isaiah and it is one that points ahead to the Messiah. It gives the job description of the long-awaited Savior. Jesus reads it in such a way that everyone is amazed at His words. When He is done, He goes back to where His family is proudly seated, sits on the floor with them and says quietly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is Jesus’ coming out moment. He is telling these people—and us—what the plumb line to His ministry will be. It is mercy toward the poor, release for those held captive and new vision for those who have been unable to see. If you’ve ever wondered who is a worthy recipient of our compassion, this reading from Isaiah makes that clear. It took tremendous courage for Jesus to read this in front of His hometown crowd and state that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy. It took the presence and power of the Holy Spirit which has filled Jesus. The Spirit that was poured out on Jesus at His baptism is now guiding His actions and continues to be the necessary source of power for the Church. Rev. Joan Gray commented on this text: “When you really think about it, this dunamis of the Spirit is the only thing the early church had going for it. It had no buildings, not budget, no paid staff, and very few members.” So what do we have? We have a budget, paid staff, lovely facility and 300 members. But none of this matters if we haven’t submitted to the Holy Spirit. The power of the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ, comes from the Spirit and our well-being as a congregation hinges on our invitation to the Spirit to dwell within us—as individuals and as a church family.
Jesus could have moved on with the adulation of His proud homies. He didn’t have to say anything else and they might have had a parade for Him every time He returned home. Mary, Joseph and their kids could have walked around Nazareth with their heads held high that they were Jesus’ family. But Jesus knows that the pride of Nazareth is not based in a love for God. They’re excited about the fame that comes from being attached to Jesus. They look at Him with greed and wonder, “What’s in it for me?!” So Jesus makes it clear that He’s not there to jump through any hoop they set for Him. He reminds them that most hometowns don’t allow their sons and daughters to stretch beyond their pre-conceived notions and He wasn’t about to constrain the power of God’s Word to keep them calm and complacent.
So the mood shifts dramatically. A riot breaks out and a mob scene drives Jesus to the edge of a hill upon which their town is located. With murderous intent they shove the man who had so enamored them moments before. Imagine the terror this scene brought to Mary and Joseph! Not too much earlier, the Devil had tempted Jesus in the wilderness by urging Him to throw Himself off the highest point of the temple since He was so sure God would never allow Him any harm. Jesus had refused, saying it was not right to put God to the test. But here He is, being pushed to the precipice of a perilous ledge by the people who had patted Him on the head as a boy. And God does save Him! Somehow He mysteriously escapes harm and gets away from them—and never comes back!
Jesus knew there was power in the Word of God and they had rejected it. They weren’t open to new interpretations of the Word. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that TODAY was the fruition of that prophecy and that their Jewish Law called forth mercy for the stranger and freedom for the oppressed. They weren’t ready for action. They wanted to sit complacently in their worship space and go home for another week-as-usual. But Jesus gave them a charge to seize the day and extend forgiveness in radical ways. This so angered them that they almost killed off the Messiah right then and there. The power of the Word was too great for Nazorean neighbors on that day. Jesus set up His ministry headquarters 20 miles away in Capernaum where He found a more receptive audience.
It’s instructive to us that the lectionary planners put these two passages together for the same Sunday. This is a treasure for us since it gives us an insight into what worship looked like for our ancestors in the faith. If we come to worship, ho-hum, expecting nothing new and wishing only to have our usual prejudices blessed, we join those who sat in Jesus’ home sanctuary. We sit with our arms crossed, resistant to change and renewed vision. If we keep asking what God has done for us lately, we neglect the charge to live in the power of the Spirit. We fail to bring Christ to the least of these who may never enter through our red doors. Over the weekend I headed to the dedication of the new community center for City Impact, an outreach to residents of Cedar Springs Mobile Estates. I was looking forward to the worship service where we would praise God for the provision of a renovated building that is right on the periphery of the neighborhood our congregation feels called to serve. As I approached it I was struck that there weren’t too many cars. Since virtually everything was cancelled this week due to wintry weather, I wondered if the dedication had been postponed as well. I parked in the nearby Dollar Store lot and headed toward the building. Even though there weren’t many cars, there was a lot of activity in and around the facility. As I walked in it was a full house, with lots of residents from the nearby Mobile Home Estates. There’s a service counter to the right as you enter and it was loaded with food and drinks graciously offered to the guests. A woman warmly greeted me and, seeing no sign of any planned ceremony, I asked if there was going to be the dedicatory worship at 4:30. She said they had to postpone it until next week because so many of our neighbors still didn’t have electricity in their mobile homes. Some even had pipes that burst. So, out of necessity, they had become a shelter, offering food and lodging to the very people for whom they had renovated the building. She invited me to look around, which I did. It’s attractive and has a great layout for meeting a variety of needs. The sanctuary end of the building was filled with cots and people sitting on their beds talking or resting. A small dog in a plaid sweater was getting lots of attention. Three teenaged girls were clustered together around their phones with some cups of grapes that were being handed out. There were smiles on the faces of the busy volunteers, which brought smiles to many of those whose dire needs were being serviced. I was struck that this really was the perfect dedication of this building. The congregation was gathered—for the first time in this community center that was built for them! It began with a vision that emerged from area Christians who meet God in worship every week. The Word of God went deep. It called them to leave the comfort of life and worship as usual and trade it in for a ministry that has grown tremendously in the past few years. We have felt called to join in on this outreach and have helped in a variety of ways. We’ve delivered food, given gifts at Christmas, distributed backpacks in September and offered Vacation Bible School in their neighborhood. But opening the brand new facility for these neighbors for the very first time as an emergency shelter could not be a more perfect way to spread the news that Jesus is near.
When we invite the Word of God to dwell within us, we are transformed. The hungry are fed. The least of these are served with dignity. The captives are released. Despair is replaced with hope and cold bodies warm up together in a freshly painted space. There’s power in the Word of God and our response is worship—joyful worship! It might not always look the same. It might deviate from what we have carefully planned. But when we meet God and share that joy, we follow in the footsteps of that crowd that met at the Water Gate and listened attentively. Worship was happening at the City Impact center yesterday even if it was a different kind of service than anticipated. As servants of the living Christ we understand that THIS is the day that the Lord has made. Our pre-planned agendas are put aside. We will rejoice and be glad in it! We will come into God’s presence with thanksgiving and praise! Amen? Amen.


Hospitality Starts Small

Luke 4:31-44
“Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He used to teach them every Sabbath. They were astonished at his teaching, because his message was powerful and authoritative.
There was a man in the synagogue who had the spirit of an unclean demon. ‘Hey, you!’ he yelled out at the top of his voice. ‘What’s going on with you and me, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—you’re God’s Holy One!’
‘Shut up!’ Jesus rebuked him. “Come out of him!’
The demon threw the man down right there in front of them, and came out without harming him. Fear came over them all. ‘What’s all this?’ they started to say to one another. ‘He’s got power! He’s got authority! He tells the unclean spirits what to do, and they come out!’ Word about him went out to the whole surrounding region.
He left the synagogue and went into Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever, and they asked him about her. He stood in front of her, rebuked the fever, and it left her. And straight away she got up and waited on them.
When the sun went down, everyone who had sick people—all kinds of sicknesses—brought them to him. He laid his hands on each one in turn, and healed them. Demons came out of many people, shouting out ‘You are the son of God!’ He sternly forbade them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.
When day dawned he left the town and went off to a deserted place. The crowds hunted for him, and when they caught up with him they begged him not to leave them.
‘I must tell the good news of God’s kingdom to the other towns,’ he said. ‘That’s what I was sent for.’ And he was announcing the message to the synagogues of Judaea.”                        (A translation provided by Tom Wright in his commentary, Luke for Everyone)

On my trip to the Holy Lands in 2017 one of my favorite places was Capernaum. Scholars trace Jesus’ presence in this town with a great deal of authenticity. In Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus entering Capernaum where He brings healing to many of the residents beginning in chapter eight. He then travels by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, calming a storm along the way and healing a crazed demoniac before being kicked out of that area. He crosses back and Matthew 9:1 states, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.”
Capernaum is Jesus’ “own town.” He was raised in Nazareth, which is 20 miles away and not on the Sea of Galilee. But His ministry headquarters become this town that sits on the north-western shore of the sea, which stretches 13 miles from north to south. It would take hours to walk between these two Galilean towns so Jesus didn’t go back home much after He began His ministry. Of course, the fact that the folks with whom He grew up tried to throw Him off a cliff after he led worship in their synagogue sent a pretty strong message that they weren’t ready to accept Him as anything but Joseph’s boy. So Capernaum and the lakeshore became home to Him.

I loved this part of our trip because I felt like I was truly walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Our story takes place in several locations of Capernaum. Verse 31 places Him at the local synagogue where He performed an exorcism on a demon-possessed man. In Capernaum the synagogue stands above the excavated homes. The present structure dates back to the fourth or fifth century. But it is built upon the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus interacted with this troubled man. I had a chance to walk through it and sit on the stone bench that lines one of the walls, soaking in the meaning of the place. Jesus’ power was unleashed here and it brought no small amount of attention from the community members.

capernaum synagogue
From there Jesus heads to Peter’s home, where his mother-in-law is languishing. The place has been a site of Christian pilgrimage for nearly 2000 years. Excavated signs and markings proclaim that this part of the development is where Peter lived with his family. Does it surprise you to know that Peter, who was eventually martyred for his faith, had a wife and undoubtedly children? Jesus offers the hospitality of healing through spoken words. It says that He rebuked the fever and it came out of her. We laugh in our Bible Study classes because no sooner is the poor woman healed from her fever and she’s whipping up a casserole for this group of men who have shown up at her small home! But I think we need to recognize that she did this voluntarily. You know how good it feels to reclaim your normal routine after a sickness or other disruption to your schedule? This woman was grateful to Jesus for His healing and joyfully reciprocated with her own hospitality—food to nourish the body.

capernaum home excavations

capernaum plastic floor in church

They lived in small spaces. There is now a church on stilts that is built over the excavated section that is believed to hold Peter’s house. Inside the church there are railings around a center floor that is clear plastic and looks down on this sacred space. Over the years Peter’s house was shaped into an octagonal church which attracted pilgrims for centuries. It is protected now so we can get a view of it from above through a rather milky plastic floor. Or we can get a side view underneath from a fenced-off area that skirts the excavation. There is a cross marking the place believed to be the entry to the compound where the folks crowded in line with their own ailing loved ones who needed to be cured.

capernaum hexagonal church

You can see that the spaces are small where people lived. Folks lived 3-4 generations in one place, extended family members residing nearby. They shared a common courtyard where food preparation happened and laundered clothing hung out to dry. Animals would have been held in the courtyard and the private areas were used primarily for sleeping. I was struck with how closely the community co-existed, the ancient housing development resembling a confusing labyrinth. The men went out to fish each morning, putting their lives on the line as storms swept over the water with little warning. The women supported each other in the daily tasks and probably helped with tilling the land to provide food for their families. They were interdependent and had to work out their differences given the proximity of their daily routines. Everyone’s gifts were needed and they were of service to each other in order to survive.

sea of galilee vista

capernaum view out synagogue window

Sea of Galilee Bible Study

sea of Galilee church

What would have been memorable about growing up there is life around the lake. Through one of the synagogue windows you capture a view of the lake. Jesus taught crowds along the lakeshore, pushing out on a boat and using the natural acoustics of the water to be heard. I had the great opportunity to do a Bible study in the part of the beach that is believed to be where Jesus surprised the disciples with a post-resurrection fish-fry! My sister and I collected some water there and used a small portion of that in our baptisms two weeks ago. Jesus summoned two pairs of brothers who were fishing in that area to follow Him—and they did! Matthew, the tax-collector, worked in the area of Capernaum and he also left his vocation to follow Jesus. Just as we treasure the memories of summers spent on a lake, in a boat, at a cottage, or hunting in the fall with our dad, Jesus selected disciples who felt most at ease in the country. In John’s gospel the disciples leave Jerusalem after the crucifixion and head to the place where they felt like they belonged—to the shores of the Sea of Galilee where they had family, vocation and safety. Their lakeside lifestyle was both demanding and satisfying and this is where Jesus chose to grow His ministry.

Sea of Galilee Lisa and Laurie

Sea of Galilee.JPG

sea of Galilee laurie and lisa

As we were leaving Galilee in our spacious air-conditioned bus, I felt sad. I realized that we were leaving the land that was home to Jesus. We left the lakeshore with its sprinkling of small towns in beautiful settings: think Sparta, Kent City, and Ravenna, each with its own identity yet clustered near enough to depend on each other. Approximately 125 miles later (two and one half hours for us to drive but imagine how long it took them to walk!) we found ourselves in a crowded city that would be like a Kent City farmer showing up on One Magnificent Mile in Chicago. For these country bumpkins from Galilee I suspect a trip to Jerusalem was both exciting and overwhelming. People eke out a living in the walls of the city. Merchants cry out for you to buy their wares. Beggars plead for your mercy. Armed soldiers casually wield their guns, reminding you that order will be kept no matter the cost. There’s a visible mix of people who knew to segregate. In Jesus’ day they had several lines of demarcation into different parts of the temple. There were and still are different vocational roles in each of the religions represented in that area. Amidst the hustle and bustle of an exciting city, social boundaries were closely observed! After a few days in the big city I suspect Galileans began to yearn for the natural beauty of home!
Remember how good it felt to get home after your first semester at college? The food never tasted better. Access to free laundry services is no longer taken for granted. Back in your own room, you collapse into your own bed surrounded by mementos of your past. Saying grace around the table with loved ones and getting caught up with each other’s news nourishes body and soul! I think it’s impossible to have had a favorite meal in an unfriendly environment. Companionship is a central element of good hospitality.
Hospitality starts small. We don’t need to serve a Thanksgiving meal with countless side dishes and a buffet table full of dessert options to be gracious hosts. On a cold night at the end of a snow day, a bowl of soup and piece of bread can taste best of all! Sharing wine and cheese with dear friends in the intimacy of a home can be a highlight for us. Good hospitality happens in a small setting like a bar named Cheers, where everybody knows your name! It starts, perhaps, with small zip-lock baggies of chopped up veggies from the little hands of our children today. What wonderful soup we enjoyed together for our coffee hour thanks to their contributions! In the recent power outage that affected tens of thousands in our community, I heard stories of candlelit dinners shared with friends who came together to serve up a warm meal in a cold home. People’s caring comes in the form of flowers, cards, hugs and meals after the death of a loved one. Our family was gratefully on the receiving end of so much kindness in the recent death of Garrett’s dad. We are changed by a meal we share in our worship service each month: bread and juice in Jesus’ name! In Capernaum, 2000 years ago, Jesus offered compassionate hospitality to a woman with a rebuke against her fever. She reciprocated by providing a meal for a band of men who had dedicated their time and energy for holy purposes. Good hospitality starts small but grows like yeast to influence a whole community for good and for God.

FCC Communion Table
Our story ends today with Jesus traveling away from Capernaum in spite of their desire to hold on to Him as a local celebrity. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus knew that He needed to move on to offer others the kind of spiritual nourishment He had given Peter’s mother-in-law. Like her and the son-in-law on whom Christ established His Church, we move on from the times of our great nourishment. The meal we share around this table brings us into Jesus’ presence. It links us to Christians across the world who set their sights on Him to determine their course for each day. We have good news to tell! We have good food to share. Hospitality starts small—it begins with Jesus and a gathering of believers, like us!