Jesus said, “But I say to you that listen: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…” (Luke 6:27-28)

This weekend, we will continue through Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain.” It is remarkably similar to the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew, though with some key distinctions. However, our passage for this weekend is perhaps one of the strongest connections between the two. He speaks strong words that ring clearly through both gospels.

Living within a “Christian culture” down South, we often forget to think about how controversial Jesus’ preaching actually was. Either that, or we don’t want to remember. For the moment we do, then we start getting into the realm of social justice and nonviolent resistance (gasp).

Contrary to what some in the media and some individuals will tell us, we cannot divest Jesus’ gospel message from social justice or nonviolent resistance – because they are two of its most essential elements. And this passage from Luke 6 is case and point:

Most will tell you to not seek retribution, but go a step beyond that and love your enemies. Anyone can fight back with violence, but go a step further and turn your other cheek to your oppressor so that they will be thrown off balance. Everyone knows you should give alms, but go to the next level and let go of things that are stolen from you. Do not judge. Do not condemn. Forgive.

Anyone else feel like they’re ready to argue with these concepts? All of us have at some point. Because if we really listen to Jesus, he is presenting a method of living that does not seek fairness (something we desperately want). Instead this way of living goes head to head with a fallen world and shows tangible love where others seek only their own entitlement.


Not so everyone can be a doormat. That is not what it says.

Jesus calls for us to resist. To show the world what it should look like. And to meet violence with nonviolence, because it is only when we stand peacefully in the face of oppression that we can show others how truly ugly our world can be. Jesus knew it and lived it. Bonhoeffer knew it and lived it. King knew it and lived it.

We can too. When we begin to live into this controversial way of being, then the world will slowly but surely be knocked off-kilter and begin to change. We have to get out of the status quo to see what is wrong. We have to see what is wrong in order that we might mend it.

And God is in the business of mending it. Not just us as individuals. Not just the family of faith. The whole world. Re-creating it in the image of the God who is Love, who is Life, who is Community.

May we hear Christ’s words and feel the witness of so many who have gone before us as we approach this familiar text this weekend.

Blessings,     Janie



Jesus said, “Blessed are you…” (Luke 6:20)

This weekend we come upon the other set of “beatitudes.” We have spent a large amount of time covering the set in Matthew, which takes us through the ladder that is our walk of faith. But this weekend we will tackle the set that is presented by Jesus in the gospel of Luke.

These are not like the others. While Matthew offers hope to all who hear Jesus’ message, Luke offers deep and fearful warnings. The blessed in this passage are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated because they stand up for God’s purposes. Then Jesus keeps going: but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what they did to the false prophets.

If you, like me, are generally among the comfortable in this world – yikes.

Luke’s Jesus is very pointed in his assessment of how the world works. Far too often, the poor and hungry exist because others have more than enough and the mourning are just plain ignored. In fact, that is still the world we live in. Even more interesting, Jesus calls out fake piety for what it is – merely a show to gain favor.

So what do we do with this startling passage?

Realize that Jesus is critiquing the status quo – our status quo. We are being called out for the realities that we have inherited, allowed, and perpetuated. It is not enough to say Jesus is Lord when it does not effect anything about how we live our lives.

To put it another way, consider the recent reflection of Evangelist Beth Moore, “When the gospel has become bad news to the poor, to the oppressed, to the broken-hearted and imprisoned, and good news to the proud, self-righteous and privileged instead, it is no longer the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God does still act to change the world – through us. Christ calls us to start grappling with hard truths and stop feigning ignorance. And the Spirit empowers us to stand with all those who Jesus himself sought out in his life: the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the lost, the unwanted, and the forgotten.

May God give us the courage we need to answer Christ’s call.

Blessings,     Janie


Good luck with that…

And God said, “Go and say to this people: ‘keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ (Isaiah 6:9)

This weekend, thanks to the lectionary, we will return to a familiar “Trinity Sunday” passage that we usually do during the summer. It is one of the most fascinating call stories in all of the scriptures. Though we will not read all of it, it is important to take the passage in its full context.

In this case, when God calls Isaiah to preach, it is not happy news – at least, not yet. God in fact tells the prophet to basically do a combination of goading the people and praying that they will not repent. Happy stuff.

In this passage it is clear that God is quite frustrated with the chosen people, because no matter how many times God says stop or how many prophets are sent, the children of Israel continue to rebel against God’s purposes. Like any normal parent, it would appear that God, in this passage, is throwing God’s hands in the air.

These days there are many people convinced that God’s purposes are being ignored by this group or that group. Frankly, there is evidence all around us – by all groups. The prophet’s words seem to echo our own.

But something almost every prophet, including Isaiah, does is to move from this place of great frustration to a place of remarkable hope. We still have the history of God’s people to teach us what God truly intends – and what God wants us to do.

Remember that sin, in Jesus’ mind, was less about a list of do’s and don’ts and more about relationships. In other words, sin is breaking relationships. Which means that all of the complex issues surrounding us are just that – a grey area.

What is not a grey area is the heart of God’s witness throughout all of history: that love is the point. That means that to be against God’s purposes is to live into what 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us – impatience, unkindness, envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insisting on our own way, being irritable or resentful, rejoicing in wrongdoing, ignoring the truth, dropping people, forgetting God’s love, creating despair, or letting hatred endure.

Though this passage seemingly sows despair, the passages following it show that though the world may fall apart, God has never left the people. And to be for God’s purposes is to live into all the wonderful ways we can show love through our words, our actions, our seeking justice, our living hope, and our willingness to bear with one another.

May this be our hope as we seek to fulfill our own callings.

Blessings,     Janie



Cliff Diving

All spoke well of him… but after they heard [the rest of what he had to say], all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of town… so that they might hurt him off the cliff. (Luke 4:22, 28-29)

So a little irony here: I plan worship way in advance. I work a season at a time. And I clearly had not remembered my plans for these few weeks – which include preaching on that passage (that was from the lectionary last weekend and on which I wrote the article last week) this weekend. Oops.

To remedy this, we are going to take the full passage as a whole, which includes not only Jesus’ first sermon, but also the reaction of his home synagogue to his words.

Every preacher will tell you that all of us have felt the need, while visiting home from seminary, to preach that sermon. The one that our home church needs to hear. But that one that is very likely get us thrown off a cliff. It is an irresistible urge – that hopefully most of us do end up resisting.

It is one of those things about knowing a church so well. You know the good, the bad and the ugly. Part of you wants to fight the ugly. Rectify the bad. And probably throw the good baby out with the bathwater.

In this case, Jesus speaks to them of how God does not work the way the people expect. During the days of two of the great prophets – Elijah and Elisha – God only sent these prophets to individuals, foreigners in fact, and not to all the “seemingly” faithful people.

That is because it is not about doing the right things or knowing the correct concepts – it has always been about being in relationship with God. Understanding who God is. Becoming bound up with the One who made us. That connection will cause us to do rightly and think correctly – but according to God’s standards, not ours.

Church folk don’t always want to hear that. We humans love our in and out groups and we do not want to hear talk about the ways we might be falling short. We just want to focus on how we can keep the people who are not like us away.

Jesus tears all of that to shreds and asks us to let go of our legalistic ways. Instead, Christ invites us into deeper relationship with God through deeper relationship with one another. Including all those people we want to keep out. Why? Because God is love. And like candlelight, love only grows when it is truly shared.

It is just that simple and it is just that hard. Let’s get to work.

Blessings,    Janie

Love In Action

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing…” (Luke 4:21)

This weekend we will once again be exploring sections of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Meanwhile, the lectionary gospel passage includes this relatively famous scene depicting Jesus’ first formal sermon.

Like many of us, he gave this speech during a visit to his own childhood congregation. They have watched him grow into a man and they are astonished when he tells them that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy. They are so upset, in fact, that in the verses after this passage they attempt to drive him off a cliff (and now you know why pastors avoid ministering in their home churches).

The passage he reads is from Isaiah and it speaks to the very heart of his calling: 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Notice that there is a key word he does not use in this passage: love. Why? Because he is talking about love made tangibly manifest. He is speaking of justice and reconciliation – things that are love in action. Because God’s vision for the world is so much bigger than any one of us. We are looking at a systemic shift in how the world works when God’s kingdom fully comes. And Jesus is the one who inaugurates that kingdom’s work re-entering the world and beginning again.

Why is this passage so important? It teaches us our calling, too. Yes, we are called to love everyone – Jesus did say that, repeatedly. But the ways we do that include far grander pursuits than mere words or even simple hugs (important as they are). We are called to seek after God’s justice for the world, just like Jesus. We are called to walk in his footsteps.

Even if we end up making some people upset, it should always be because we are being too loving, too welcoming, too justice-seeking, too reconciling. May it be so among us, in Christ’s church and in the whole world.

Blessings,     Janie

Rolling Waters

… the mother of Jesus said to him, “they have no wine.” (John 2:3)

This weekend in worship we will begin a two-week series on important sections of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. That means that we will unfortunately not have a chance to dive deeper into the gospel lesson assigned in the lectionary. If there were ever a story that seemed apropos for the beginning of Mardi Gras season – this is it.

The gospel lection this weekend is the story of the wedding at Cana. You may remember the tale – Jesus, his mother, and disciples are at a wedding in Galilee when the wine runs out. Though the hosts panic, Mary convinces Jesus to help. And after following his instructions to fill six stone jars will water, the best wine anyone had ever tasted came back out.

It was Jesus’ first miracle. The story ends by stating that this revealed his glory. So yes, we follow the man who began his ministry by ensuring that the party didn’t stop. (Take that how you will.)

There is something to this concept, however, of water becoming something more than it seems. In the kingdom of God, all of creation will become more – re-created into what it was meant to be. In a sense, things will become “more real” and we will see them for what they truly are. That is what it means to live in the kingdom now: to gain even a small glimpse of the true vision that is God’s reign fulfilled.

Not only does this story have some entertaining applications with our current social season in Southern Louisiana, but the idea of God’s glory being revealed is also perfect for another holiday we will celebrate this week – remembering the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many other great saints who have gone before us, Dr. King showed us a glimmer of the dream, the hope of a world set right. In this vision, it is justice, not wine, that will roll down like waters. Because justice is love made tangibly present in society.

And ensuring that everyone has their needs and dreams fulfilled – that was not just Dr. King’s dream. That was the ambition of the one who could walk on water, as well as turn the element into a tasty beverage. Jesus lived his life seeking justice for all who needed it and standing against every power that perpetuated domination, alienation, and subjugation. He fought to see the world become what it was meant to be. So did Dr. King. So do all of those who would truly follow him.

As we enjoy the party of Mardi Gras and give thanks for the life of one great leader, let us also remember that God calls each and every one of us to work miracles in our midst, too. Maybe it’s not turning water into wine, but there is still much work to be done. Let’s get to it.

Blessings,     Janie

A New Beginning…

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah… (Luke 3:15)

This weekend we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord – the day when we remember Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. Some years we end up combining this remembrance with Epiphany. But while Epiphany is the end of the Nativity story, the Baptism of Jesus is where his story really takes off.

In our passage, we come into contact with John, Jesus’ older cousin, who is the forerunner to the Messiah. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way. He is the one calling for repentance, with remarkably strong language. If he is the Messiah, we are all in a heap of trouble, because not many will make the cut.

But there is something about this prophet that the people can sense. They know that he is somehow related to Messiah. They can tell the dawn of God’s salvation is hovering just below the horizon. And they are filled with great expectation of what that new day will bring.

Every new year we enter into a similar kind of expectation. As one familiar story draws to a close, another story begins. With it comes our hopes and dreams, our anxieties and our fears – for we do not know what our future holds. We wonder if we will see God’s promises come to life in our midst.

The truth for us is the same as it was for the people standing at the Jordan two thousand years ago: God’s promises are already coming alive all around us. Even when things seem beyond the pale, God is still there working wonders. God has never left. We just have to pay attention and we will see the marvels of God.

As my grandmother once told me, “it always seems the darkest just before the dawn. Lift up your eyes.” Though it may not look the way we think it should, God is here, working all things for good – because God loves us more than we can imagine. Though we cannot know precisely what the future will hold, we can trust that there are wonder-filled days ahead.

Blessings,     Janie

The Work of Christmas

As we enter into the twelve days of Christmas, let us remember the season’s true meaning:

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart. (Howard Thurman)

Blessings to your family this joyful Christmastide.

– Janie

Part of the Story

“See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7)

So we have come nearly to the end – Advent is about to give way to Christmastide in just under a week. (Quick reminder here that the twelve days of Christmas do not actually begin until Christmas Day, so please keep the partridges and pear trees under wraps).

The final Sunday in Advent could easily be nicknamed “Magnificat” Sunday because every year we have the opportunity to reflect upon Mary’s beautiful song celebrating her coming child. Her song offers us the chance to do two things: to appreciate her role in God’s unfolding salvation story and to ponder our own.

It is true that Christ came to live as God with us – to do God’s will and show us how we should, too. Mary is perhaps the best first follower of Jesus, for she willingly gives of her body to bring this miracle into the world. Her agency is key and yet she knows, from the very beginning, that she is but one thread in a much bigger garment of destiny. She sees the bigger picture and knows that while God will always seek our willing participation, the broader tale of redemption encompasses so much more than any one of us.

So let us take a lesson from our unlikely heroine: keep your eyes open to how God may be calling you to participate in the the coming kingdom, and keep your heart open to the much bigger tapestry of which you are a part.

Blessings,    Janie



Telling the Story

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

This weekend we will undertake the grand work of retelling God’s salvation story through a service of Lessons and Carols. We will begin with Genesis and finish with the early narratives of the gospels. It is a labor of love – an opportunity to share with God our thanksgiving for the work of Christ in our world.

The tradition of sharing the story this way dates back to the early twentieth century in England where they were trying to bring creativity to bear upon an age-old tale. Though the carols may change and even some of the passages shift from year to year, the narrative is much the same as it has always been.

But there is a key part of the story that we do not tell on Lessons and Carols day. The crimson thread that runs through scripture – the true story of salvation – is not just about the Christ-child. It is about how God has always been the champion of the last and the least among the children of God. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, the truth of who God is, however God has always been present among God’s people. The story is so much bigger than one night (or even thirty-three years) two-thousand years ago.

What is more, the story of God’s salvation continues now – in you and in me. God’s love is still set loose within the world, stirring things up, working as a ferment, and ensuring that the reign of God will win in the end.

The beauty of the Christmas story is it’s ability to help us to see how God still breaks into our world. It is a miracle that teaches us what to look for and how to live.

So come and listen again this weekend. Sing with the angels in praise. And leave to tell the story by finding the crimson thread in our midst and serving God’s purposes in our lives.

Blessings,     Janie