A Line In the Sand

A Line in the Sand                                                       Matthew 15:21-28

Reverend Mike Johnston
August 20, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Prayer – Lord Jesus, recent weeks have seen violence and hatred in our land – all because of the color of one’s skin, the ethnicity of their family, the heritage they claim as both a right and privilege. Even in your time there was prejudice and bias based on the color of one’s skin as well as the land from which they come. Remind us once again, O Lord, that we are one human race. Remind us again, O Lord, that even in the midst of acts of violence and demonstrations for inclusivity and hatred – you are there too; angry with the hatred and oppressive acts, praying that love and peace may one day reign. Amen.

This time last week I started writing this sermon in my head. I hadn’t even revisited the passage; I only remembered that it was about Jesus drawing a line in the sand when it came to the Canaanite woman. I knew that lines had been distinctly drawn between white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK and counter-protesters speaking out against such blatant hatred and racism. Lines were drawn in the sand for a variety of reasons. Recent months have found that the racism we thought was behind us in our national narrative was just hiding under a cloak of respectability. With the ascension of Trump into the political landscape and now the Presidency, those hidden racists, nationalists, alt-right proselytizers have come literally out of the woodwork – and a Charlottesville, VA happens. And I was ready to preach hellfire and brimstone against racism and white privilege, against barbaric violence and hatred. I was ready to take my stand and draw my line in the sand.

Many in the Christian church have taken a public stand in recent days, drawing lines in the sand to say this is not reflective of the gospel while others in the Christian church have been eerily silent – their silence essentially condoning the sinful behavior of far too many folks who profess Christian beliefs. It seems that many people and leaders of the Christian faith either realize that this difference is about the soul of our country, or they seemingly don’t want to join that fight. The turmoil in Charlottesville captures the essence of a deeper set of questions that we must deal with as members of the human race. Are we a people of fear or a people of hope? A people of war or a people of peace? A people of hate or a people of love? We know that the US is built on a story that is a lie. The lie being that whites are superior to all other races, most especially to the Black people who descend from the Africans that were enslaved here in this country. We know that racism is a sin – it must be acknowledged, it must be dismantled once and for all and it is time for the church to draw a line and take a stand.

If I were Jesus’ public relations expert, I would not have included today’s NT text in the scriptures. Jesus doesn’t look very good in this passage. Jesus has just told the Pharisees and Scribes that what defiles a person is what comes out of his mouth. And what does he do? He says some pretty ethnocentric things to a woman looking for help? Because Jesus, full of Jewish male privilege dismissed this Canaanite woman simply because of her race, does that make it okay for us to practice the same kind of racism today? In fact, our initial image of the Christ in our gospel passage this morning is a little too close to the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right. With Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman ranging from ignoring her cries for help to calling her less than a dog, is that the kind of Jesus I want to follow? Is that the kind of Jesus you profess as love and grace? Is there a more unpleasant picture of the Christ in all of the NT?

I mean no disrespect to Jesus, he’s my guy. But it is pretty uncomfortable as a minister to stand up here and say to you, Jesus was just kidding, he was just pulling her leg. Imagining Jesus’ tone as playful, makes his words this morning a little easier to stomach. Those playful dismissive interpretations come from white privilege. They are the interpretations of we who are somewhat discomforted by Jesus, because we have learned a little about racism, and we can’t possibly have Jesus being a racist; so therefore we excuse him, perhaps because we wished to be excused as well. But I wonder, I wonder if this is one of those reminders to us that Jesus was just as human as those white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members. Did I really just say that?

You see Jesus grew up in a time that was just as ethnocentric and biased as it seems we are today. Anyone who wasn’t a child of Israel was seen as “defiled, unclean, less than.” Could this have been a teachable moment for the fully human Jesus? Could the fully human Jesus be the one who needed to be taught? Could it be that Jesus needed to learn that Canaanite lives matter? And could it be that we, the church, need to be reminded that until the lives of the least of the people matter, no life actually does?

It would be real easy for me to preach only about the sin of white supremacy, neo-Nazism, the KKK. It would be easy to just point our outraged fingers at the overtly racists groups like the ones who marched in Charlottesville last weekend. We could leave here this morning feeling good about ourselves because we see the evil that is inherent in such blatant racism. But if I don’t speak to the “thing under the thing”, well then I’m guilty of not believing in the radical call of the gospel. This gospel story opens an absolute can of worms as it questions our privilege, our assumptions, and our categorizing and judging of people, who are different than us.

Perhaps the lesson of our passage this morning in the context of the last week or so in our country is the fact that Jesus, the fully human Jesus, unconsciously, but completely, lived in a culture of racial privilege, not unlike any of us in the US today. He could see privilege and exclusion expressed toward his people by the empire of Rome. He could see privilege and exclusion expressed within his own cultural bounds, and for whatever reasons, Jesus couldn’t see that the whole of his culture, like ours, was based on exclusion.

Despite this, the human Jesus, was human enough and divine enough to have his Jewish male privilege will all its racism, pierced by the plight of a poor and desperate woman who came from an enemy people. Perhaps the hope in our passage today is that Jesus, despite his privilege, was still able to be merciful; able to choose the way of God – and that he did. Perhaps the hope in our passage this morning is that even the son of God can see things beyond preference and human judgment, and include the broken and scared, the other and the needy, the hopeless and the too-often-forgotten.

The truth of the matter is that there is no privilege in the kingdom of heaven. The privilege which exists in the world is privilege invented by us. The order of the world is of our making, not God’s. Our defining ourselves is, in reality, our defiling of ourselves. It is our making of rules – rules about who is in and who is out, about who is right and who is wrong, and who is loved by God, and who isn’t – it is the making of rules to protect the privileged rather than the vulnerable, which separates us from God.

The radical aspect of the gospel leaves me feeling even more turned upside down than imagining the human Jesus acted out of his own sense of privilege. If you are like me, then I suspect you wanted God to smite the protesters wrapped in Confederate flags, swastikas and raising an arm as if it was Germany in 1939. I suspect, like me, you wanted those who were speaking unspeakable racial slurs to be condemned to the burning pits of hell by God so they could pay for the evil of their ways. And the hardest thing for me to remember is that God loves those protesters and vile-speaking protesters just as much as God loves Heather Heyer, who had drawn a line in the sand when it comes to justice, and was killed in a barbaric act by a 20 year old white supremacist.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for me, and maybe even you, is to remember that God’s grace is so radical, so unbelievable, so unconditional that even those who espouse and live out of white privilege and white supremacy, those who utter slurs of hatred and violence, those who believe that somehow they deserve more or better simply because of their nationality or color of skin – even those are recipients of the same amount of grace as the clergy and laity who stood arm in arm to protest the hate being hurled into the air. The radical and troubling good news of the gospel is that God no longer draws lines in the sand to differentiate who gets grace and who doesn’t. The radical and troubling good news of the gospel is that God gives grace to the entire human race, even the bucketheads and skinheads, and that is our lesson for the day – thanks be to God – amen.

Posted in Sermons - 2017 | 1 Comment


Non-Sense                                                        Mathew 14:13-21

Reverend Mike Johnston
August 6, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Prayer – “I don’t know how it works,” the old, semi-retired Catholic priest was telling the newly ordained priest assigned to his parish.  The young priest, Father Michael, was a Jesuit, trained in typical Jesuit style: hard thinking, logical thought processes, and ready to win an argument at the drop of a hat.

          They were eating lunch in the rectory following the final mass of the morning. “You sounded more like a Baptist than a Catholic today,” teased Michael to his elder. “Yes sir, that homily about tithing could get you right into a Southern Baptist church.”  Father James, the older priest, chuckled as he answered, “Aw, folks don’t care if I sound like a Baptist – they’re all good folks. But I’ve always believed in tithing – the more you give, the better off you are.”  “But you see, it doesn’t make sense,” Michael replied a bit impatiently. “The more you give away, the more you’ve got? I don’t get it.” “Of course it doesn’t make sense to you Jesuits,” James teased, shaking his head. “Everything’s got to be perfect logic to you guys before you’ll accept it. What about the miracles of Jesus?” “What about them?” Michael asked. “How many of them “make sense” as you put it?” Father James challenged. “Like the feeding of the 5000 in your homily today?” Michael asked. “Right, there’s no way you or I can explain the miracle of feeding more than 5000 – or any other miracle for that matter,” Father James answered.  “Oh, we came up with lots of possibilities in seminary,” Michael replied.  “Sure you did. So have lots of other people, because we can’t stand the thought of miracles taking place – miracles that can’t be explained by our logical minds,” Father James said. Michael shook his head, “Doesn’t make sense,” he mumbled.  Father James smiled, “I love to see you Jesuits squirm over things that don’t make sense. Especially things we’re supposed to believe.” He winked at Michael, who couldn’t quite suppress a smile.

          Each of the four Gospel writers records the life of Jesus in a different way.  Picking and choosing from all the stories they knew about what their Lord said and did, each of them came up with a different combination.  Only Matthew and Luke tell of Jesus’ birth while John is the only one with tells of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  The Sermon on the Mount is found only in Matthew, while Luke includes part of the same sermon but it took place on a plain. 

          But one thing all four writers included is this morning’s story about the miraculous feeding of five thousand, not including women and children.  It was too important a story to leave out – too important in the life of Jesus and in the life of the church.  It was a story about Jesus being able to provide for their needs, and not only their spiritual needs but for their human needs as well. 

          The feeding of the 5000 is a story that echoes of other stories, such as the OT story about how manna fell from heaven to feed the children of Israel in the wilderness.  In the book of 2 Kings you can read of another bread miracle when Elisha fed a hundred hungry men with twenty barley loaves.  His disciples insisted it wasn’t enough for the men, I surely wouldn’t try to feed the Clemson football team with only twenty loaves of bread, but Elisha insisted and the Lord provided, so that everyone walked away belching and rubbing their stomachs.

          This morning’s miracle story is one in a series of bread miracles in scripture, and an impressive one at that.  Jesus feeds a town the size of Clemson or Simpsonville with five loaves and two fish, a meal that multiplies until no one can eat another bite and then there were 12 baskets full of leftovers.  It is a miracle, and perhaps that should be the end of it, but miracles tend to bug those of us who haven’t experienced them very often.

          We tend to wonder things, like how did it happen exactly?  Did Jesus multiply the loaves all at once, so that the disciples had to recruit people to help them carry all that bread?  Or did it happen when people passed the loaves around the crowd?  When someone tore off a chunk of bread, did the loaf suddenly grow?  As you reached out to take the loaf, did it sort of jump in your hand and get bigger?  Or did new loaves appear while no one was looking?  Maybe you set yours down for a moment and when you shifted your child from one arm to the other, and when you reached back down to pick it up again, there were two loaves instead of one.  How did it happen?

          Our gospel writer Matthew doesn’t give us a clue.  What he does tell us is that the miracle happened at “a lonely place apart,” which was where Jesus had gone after hearing that John had lost his head to a dancing girl.  Having heard of his cousin’s death, Jesus wanted some alone time, so he got into a boat but when the crowds heard he was close by, they followed him on foot from the towns.  He may have needed some time for his own sadness and sorrow, but the folks who gathered had their own needs.  They were sick, they were sad, they were hungry and while anyone but the son of God might have ordered them to get lost, Jesus had compassion on them.  His heart went out to them, and he spent the afternoon walking among them, laying his hands on them and saying the things they needed to hear.

          About dinner time, the disciples found him and suggested that he send everyone away to buy their own supper in one of the nearby towns.  They meant no harm, they were simply being practical, like Valerie will tell you I am.  Night was falling, they were out in the middle of nowhere and their stomachs were beginning to growl.  It was time to call it a day, time to make their own camp and fix their own meal.  It was time to take care of themselves for a change, and to suggest that everyone else do the same.

          But Jesus had a different notion.  “They need not go away,” he said, seeming to know that the crowd needed more than a hot meal, seeming to know that there was more nourishment for them in each other’s company than in some neighboring farmer’s goat cheese or boiled rice.  Some times after getting bad news, it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you eat with someone.  “You give them something to eat.”  I wish I had been there to see the looks on their collective faces.  Give them something to eat? Us? You are Jesus, what do you mean, we should give them something to eat?  All we have is five loaves and a couple of small perch, which is hardly enough for the 12 of us.  There are a ship load of people out there, no disrespect but this is non-sense.

          It may have been non-sense, but then again it may have been that Jesus had a better sense of the situation that was beyond the disciple’s common sense.  The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 may have been non-sense, but it happened just the same, otherwise why would have the diverse four Gospels have included this story above all others.  Wouldn’t raising a dead person, bringing vision to the blind, casting some demons into a bunch of pigs grazing have been better stories of miracles?  What if the crowd decided to throw their loaves and fishes into the baskets rather than just taking from the plate?  That is not a miracle – that is just a whole crowd of folks overcoming their fear of going hungry, giving up their need to protect themselves.  That is just a bunch of people refusing to play the what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours game.  That is not a miracle.  Or is it?

          The problem with miracles is that we tend to get mesmerized by them, focusing on God’s responsibility and forgetting our own.  Miracles let us off the hook.  They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, heal the cancer, do it all.  We don’t have what it takes, after all.  What we have to offer is not enough to make a difference in the world, so we hold back and wait for the miracle, looking after our own needs and looking for God to help those who can’t help themselves.

          Sitting in the crowd, waiting for God to act, we can hang on to our own little loaves of bread.  They aren’t much; they wouldn’t go far.  Besides if Jesus is in charge of the bread, doesn’t that excuse us from sharing our own?  God will provide, let God provide.  “Send the crowds to the villages and buy food for themselves,” said the disciples.  “They need not go away,” Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”  Not me, but you; not my bread but yours; not sometime or somewhere else but right here and now.  Stop looking for someone else to solve the problems and solve it yourselves.  Stop waiting for food to fall from the sky and share what you have.  Stop waiting for the miracle and participate in one instead.

          Jesus says, “Bring what you have here to me.”  That is where to begin.  Remember that there is no such thing as ‘your’ bread or ‘my’ bread; there is only ‘our’ bread, as in give us this day our daily bread.  However much you have, just bring it to me and believe that it is enough to begin with, enough to get the ball rolling, enough to start a trend.  Be the first in the crowd to turn your pockets inside out; be the first on your block to start a miracle. 

          You may think it is non-sense, but it may just be a miracle.  It was a single Facebook post sent the day after the election that drew over a million women, a few men and children to Washington and across the world last January to stand up for not only women’s rights but human rights as well.  A bunch of folks thought that a Women’s March on Washington was non-sense, that only a couple of thousand folks may show up, but maybe it was a miracle more than anything else as nearly a half million people showed up in DC that third Saturday in January.

          I frequently hear families at the hospital beg for a miracle and I hate to admit it but I think to myself “what non-sense.”  But then again I have seen a few miracles in my 20+ years of hospital ministry.  Doing what we can do is not non-sense; doing what we do may just be miraculous in and of itself.  Jesus said to his disciples and the crowd gathered outside of town one evening 2000 years ago, “Give what you can, maybe even what you can’t afford to give, but if you do, there will be plenty for all.”  Makes sense to me – what about you – thanks be to a non-sensical God who gives grace recklessly and extravagantly – amen.



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Testing Who?

Testing Who?                                       Genesis 22:1-14

Reverend Mike Johnston
July 2, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son please, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, Continue reading

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Outside the Box

Outside the Box                               Matthew 9:35-10:8

Reverend Mike Johnston
June 18, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Continue reading

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All Tied Together 2

All Tied Together 2                                                      Corinthians 13:11-13

Reverend Mike Johnston
June 11, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

God for us, we call you Father.
God alongside us, we call you Jesus.
God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.
You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me.
Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing— As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.

It is hard for me to believe that it has been ten years since the book, The Shack, was published. William Paul Young’s book which asks the deep theological and existential question of “where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” became a sensation in the literary world while leaving many people of Christian faith wrestling with questions many assumed were answered. Religious people either loved the book or thought it was heretical. If you were able to read it with an attitude of seeking, then it could be a life-enhancing work of fiction. Continue reading

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Panentheism                                             Acts 17:22-31

Reverend Mike Johnston
May 14, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with. “The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Continue reading

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The Way???

The Way???                                                                     John 14:1-14

Reverend Mike Johnston
May 7, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Continue reading

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Showing Up

Showing Up                                                                        Luke 24:13-35

Reverend Mike Johnston
April 30, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them,“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other,“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Continue reading

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Rocking Our World – The Myth of Redemptive Violence

Rocking Our World – The Myth of Redemptive Violence           Matthew 28:1-10

Reverend Mike Johnston
Easter Sunday Sunrise Service (Not really Sunrise!)– April 16, 2017 – 8:30 A.M.

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Continue reading

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Lies We Believe

Lies We Believe                                                              Matthew 21:1-11

Reverend Mike Johnston
Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. Continue reading

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Coming Out

Coming Out                                                                           John 11:1-45

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – April 2, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Continue reading

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Blind as a Bat

Blind as a Bat                                                                               John 9:1-41

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – March 26, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

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Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha                                                                      Genesis 12:1-9

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – March 12, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. Continue reading

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Original Blessing

Original Blessing                                                        Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-8

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – March 5, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Prayer – God of all blessings – as we gather to hear your word this day may we hear truly of blessing.  For too long the church has focused on sin, cursedness and depravity yet your Word reflects no sense of fallen-ness, simply being human.  Help us to once again know that our true self, our deepest humanity is not only good but very good, blessed beyond measure and holy in your sight – amen. Continue reading

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Thin Places

Thin Places                                                                            Matthew 17:1-9

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – February  26, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Prayer – God of enlightening grace, may the bright light of your love shine through the cosmic cracks so that we may experience you in all of your glory. Help us to see and feel and trust that when we come to those thin places in life, we know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are with us, always – amen. Continue reading

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Powerful Choices

Powerful Choices                                              Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – February 12, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Prayer – Lord of promise and grace – we hear your words of assurance and in some ways we recognize that much of our life, much of our journey is filled with crossroads where the choices we make will determine outcomes. We wish that faith was a matter of a mathematical equation but that leaves no room for questions and mystery and hope and doubt. Fill us this day with the grace to feel secure that the powerful choices we make each day are grounded in giving life rather than limiting life – amen. Continue reading

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Light of the World

Light of the World                                                             Matthew 5:13-20

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – February 5, 2017 – 10:15 A.M.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Continue reading

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How to Say “Climate Change” Without Saying “IT”.

New York Times Article: https://nyti.ms/2jHpu3Y
In America’s Heartland, Discussing Climate Change Without Saying ‘Climate Change’
JAN. 28, 2017

To read the entire article, click the link – Great “Climate Change” article.


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Words to Live By

Words to Live By                                  Micah 6:1-8 – The Message

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – January 29, 2016 – 10:15 A.M.

Listen now, listen to God: “Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains; make your case to the hills. And now, Mountains, hear God’s case; listen, Jury Earth— For I am bringing charges against my people. I am building a case against Israel. “Dear people, how have I done you wrong? Have I burdened you, worn you out? Answer! I delivered you from a bad life in Egypt; I paid a good price to get you out of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you—and Aaron and Miriam to boot! Remember what Balak king of Moab tried to pull, and how Balaam son of Beor turned the tables on him. Remember all those stories about Shittim and Gilgal. Keep all God’s salvation stories fresh and present.” How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. Continue reading

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Follow Me

Follow Me                                                                                Matthew 4:12-23

Reverend Mike Johnston
Sunday – January 22, 2016 – 10:15 A.M.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 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. Continue reading

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