Conjuring Voice

A sermon based on Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8 preached on December 10th, 2017

Sermon audio

In order to find our way into these opening words from Mark’s gospel for this morning, I have to take you back to college—to the day when I walked into my Public Speaking classroom on the day of my first presentation in front of that class. When I walked in that morning, there was a classmate who took one look at me and told me I looked like I was about to vomit. I was in such a nervous stupor, I mindlessly replied by saying, “Thank you.”

This sort of nauseousness that came with public speaking occurred without fail.  Forget butterflies. These were Gremlins inside. If you had been able to tell me then that I’d be doing what I’m doing in front of you this morning, there’s no way I would have believed you.

Then, there was my English 050 class I had to take in my first semester of my Freshman year in college because I had failed my entrance essay. Somehow, I had graduated high school with no idea how to write a paper.

My English 050 class met twice a week in a trailer on the fringes of Old Dominion University. And the professor, through patient tutelage, taught me how to structure words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into college-worthy essays. She taught me the finer points—writing in such a way to get my readers somewhere, and she woke up something inside of me. By the time she was done, I had developed a love for it all—something that lied dormant until that 050 class came along. I didn’t know it was there, but that professor conjured it up in me—let something loose or free.

These sorts things, they come slowly. With patience and slow practice. Nothing like this comes easy. In order to wake up to what we’re good at, we must first fail and fall and then get back up again—find someone who can walk with us as we move from that place and teach us who we really are—who can tease out of us, or conjure up in us, who we shall be—that thing inside of us that lies dormant, but has been waiting to come alive. We all hope to one day find our voice.


The first written words about God’s coming in Jesus Christ come to us from Mark’s pen. These words from the earliest of the four gospels are not spoken to shepherds, angels, or wise men. They are spoken to us.

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

They are here for us this day in Advent, but they speak into every season of our lives—at least to those of us who have ears to hear a voice that cries out from the wilderness, addressing us with their stark and altogether confounding and compelling announcement:

Now hear this! Now, O you people of God, listen up!


John the Baptist’s father was a priest in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. We hear about him in Luke’s gospel. When he heard word from the angel Gabriel about how in their old age he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, he doubted—more than that, he was incredulous. Unbelieving. As punishment for Zechariah’s incredulity, God took away his voice.

John grew up not wanting anything to do with work or worship in the Jerusalem temple, even though he was next in line to do so. His call led him far from the Temple, out into the wilderness. John found his place on the far side of the Jordan River, where he set up camp and called all the people to come to him and be baptized, not cleansed with water as they did in the Temple, but this fresh meaning John had given to the same act. John’s baptism was a once-and-for-all sign of repentance. John’s ministry was an invitation to the people to forget about the repetitive religious rigamarole of offering unending sacrifices and being washed over and over again to be made right with God. John’s Baptism was meant to change people’s hearts and lives. In effect, John was saying that God doesn’t want any more empty ceremony. God’s not interested in that. God wants our lives. God is interested in having our hearts.

The people had been lulled to sleep through their repetitive religious movements, and John the Baptist shows up in the middle of their slumber like an alarm clock, rude and loud, and he would not stop crying out from the wilderness until the people of God wake up from the trance of their drowsy ceremonial religion, and wake up to the living God. The God who still speaks.

God does not show up to give His people the religion they want. God comes close to give us the truth that we need. And the truth might feel at first like a wrecking ball, here to destroy everything in its wake, but then after it tears down what is false and hollow inside of us, truth sticks around to build us back up again in an entirely new way—to build us back up into Jesus-shape. At last, the truth frees us to be who God wants us to be.


With John the Baptist here at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel, God is speaking into our Advent inviting us to start anew, to offer to us a new way to walk and speak and live. And we begin that process by leaving the old behind—shedding worn-out skin. We are like the crowds listening for the voice of the prophet John, seeking new direction for their future.

We, too, look for God’s definitive intervention to set things right in this world and in our own lives. And John points us to Jesus, who came so long ago but is still, this Advent approaching us, His people. As in the past, Jesus’s arrival among us may shock us. Now, just as then, He comes showing us who we really are before God, calling us back into right relationship. This is what repentance is—a conjuring. This is what the wilderness prophets, and the prophets among us, do: they come alongside us and invite us to wake up to who we really are before God. It is the prophet’s task to invite their people to come alive to the truth that God is present and working, calling us to turn around and see the God who creates us for relationship with Himself, who has been pursuing us since the foundation the the cosmos, and has been speaking compelling words to us ever since—words of peace and assurance, forgiveness and challenge, confrontation and mercy, all of which are spoken so that we might be transformed by the renewing of our hearts and minds.


According to John the Baptist and all the prophets of the one true God, Advent is no time for God’s people to be silent. There was a day when the Pastor of a church was paid by the people to be their voice in the presence of God. It used to be an unspoken assumption that all one needed to do at church was show up, sit up, shut up, and pay up. But those days are no more. Today’s pastors are called to something far more challenging: We do what we do to conjure up, tease out, encourage, and empower others to live and speak their faith—to find their God-given voice.


Friends, you know the day. This is no time to be silent. These are times for us to find our voice and raise it. I’m here to tell you that you have a voice and that God can speak through your voice. Jesus—the long-awaited One, the One we expect this Advent—can be known through you. Just as John the Baptist heralded Jesus with the power of his speech and presence, so God uses our voice, yours as well as mine, to speak Christ into this suffocated and voice-choked world.


This Advent, friends, there’s a conjuring, compelling voice—one that’s here to wake us up to our own lives, one that brings words of challenge and confrontation, assurance, hope, peace, joy, love, and mercy. One that conjures in us some new Word of God. One that has come close to compel us to speech—strong speech, confident and truth-telling.

Find your voice and speak of this coming Christ so that you may be transformed by the renewing of your hearts and minds. Let this be your life’s work so that others may know the Truth and the Life.

It is Advent, and it is no time to be silent.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.


Guiding Hands

A sermon based on Psalm 34:1-10, 22 and 1 John 2:24-3:3 preached on November 5th, 2107

This morning, we remember and celebrate the life of the beloved. We gather together this Sunday—in fact, every Sunday—to declare what is always true about each and every one of us: We are indeed God’s children. We are the Church, the people who first and foremost love one another—who have been called to go to uncommon lengths to show one another, to put on display for the sake of one another, God’s great love for each of us. Most of the time, we walk through a world that asks us—perhaps demands of us—that we prove our worth.

Most of the time, we feel like we must do something relevant, spectacular, remarkable, to earn our place, to garner the respect of others. But here, no such effort is required. Here in this place, here with each other, we remember together that our worth is not earned or garnered. Here we come to listen deeper to that voice that says,

From the beginning, I have called you by name. You are mine and I am yours. You are my beloved. My favor rests upon you. There is nothing you can do to ever gain my favor, nor is there anything you can do to ever lose it.


In order to gain some grasp of how big God’s love for us is, our writer, John, goes to great lengths to get to the heart of God’s heart. He says

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

I repeat these words whenever I baptize someone. I learned them from a mentor of mine, Charlie Berthoud, who was once one of my Pastors, and he learned those words from one of his mentors, another Pastor.

I say these words no matter whether I baptize an infant, a toddler, a teenager, or an adult, because they are always true. I have a feeling that whenever he first wrote these words down, John intended to startle us with their truth. To be called children of God is no superficial thing. It’s meant to take our breath away—to amaze us. And in response, we should be left asking ourselves, “What sort of love is this?”

This is a love that the world does not and cannot know. The Greek word John uses here really means “of what country does this love come?” This divine love that we encounter in the promises of Christ is something completely surprising, altogether foreign. This is a love that bewilders. It’s a love that we’re not used to because we’ve spent so much of our time trying to earn and keep to love that’s been given to us. This love we’re talking about—celebrating here, today—is unearthly and completely unconditional.


In our scripture passage from 1 John for this morning, there’s lots of talk about remaining. The word is mentioned four times in this short passage, so we should pay close attention to that word—what John means when he uses it. Some might use the word abide instead of remain, which invites into something even more meaningful. These words should remind us of one particular promise given to us from the lips of our Lord when He said,

I am the vine and you are the branches…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you, but apart from me, you can do nothing.

See that these things remain in you, and see that you remain in Him.


This morning we mark All Saints Day. We are all saints, by the way. Today we remember those who have got before us—who have shaped us into who we are, who have shaped our church into what it is—and we also hold each other up as God’s beloved, remember and celebrate the ones we love who are present here in our lives who continue shaping us into faithfulness. We remain and abide in one another in the same way we remain and abide in Christ. We gather with one another and we remember those who have gone before us, and give thanks for those who will come after us. We are all inextricably linked, grafted onto one another like branches, through our faith in the One who called Himself the Vine.

Who has guided you along the way? Who has reached out to you, grafting you into the life of Christ—this vine life?

What words have come from lips of the saints among us and before us that have brought you into the life of Christ? Whose hands have reached out to you and shown you your way? Guided you along straight paths? Shown you God’s great love? And to who can you reach out with your own hands, you saints of the Lord?! Who are you being called to guide in a good and right and loving direction? Who can you be a saint to show forth the Way to?


We are surrounded by hands. Each one with a name of a beloved saint written upon them. If you haven’t had the chance to come up to write upon a hand, there’s plenty of opportunity left to do so.

Come up during the Morning Prayer or sometime during the closing hymn to commemorate the ones who have reached out a guiding hand to you. These hands are grafted onto strings to serve as reminders for us about how each one of us is connected together through our shared faith and our common life in the family of God.

We will take these strings of guiding hands downstairs for all to see this evening we gather together for our Annual Stewardship Dinner at 5:30. There we will celebrate the work of one another’s hands by doing our own Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church Art Crawl! The Fellowship Hall is decorated beautifully! You should come and see it! There and then you will have the opportunity to take the fruit of the work of your own hands—your talents, tithes, and offerings—and help shape the future of your church.

By making a pledge to your church, you join hands with all of those among and before us—a long line of saints—who have given of their time, talents, and treasures—even of their lives—to ensure that we, their children, would continue in Christ, that we too would know of God’s great love for us, His children. By giving to your church, you in turn, will give the same gift you have been given by your forebears.By pledging, you will reach out your hands to the next ones to come along—guiding them, grafting them as branches, onto the Vine that is Christ. See what great love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God! That is exactly what we are!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Joining In

A sermon based on Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21 preached on June 4th, 2017

Sermon audio

Today we celebrate the many ways that God gives us new being. How we are forever and constantly invited into a life that is not ours but something given to us.

Pentecost is when we the Church realize that our life, our vitality, our meaning and purpose aren’t something that comes from within us. It all comes from somewhere else. Beyond us. We are not who we are on our own.

On the morning of that first Pentecost, the disciples were held up in a tiny room. Their minds, hearts, lives—their very purpose was gone, shrunk down and withered away. Frozen in fear. They thought they were alone. Abandoned. Orphaned. Left to themselves to make life work from here on out. Then they heard a rumble that came from the heavens.


It is through Holy Spirit that we are given live, purpose, vitality. Holy Spirit represented by tongues of fire, tongues of speech, wind, and water.

Pentecost fire is not the sort that burns. It’s the sort that refines. Cleanses. Helps something made hard and rigid melt down into something pliable, shapeable, able to be remolded again.

Tongues of speech. Not the strange jibber-jabber heard in Holiness churches, but a new language that’s given to us so that we may understand one another and be understood by one another. We read the story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel where God confuses the languages of the people until they can no longer understand one another. What happens in Acts 2, on Pentecost, is the undoing of Babel.

Now, on this day, with the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, we have the ability to understand one another again. We borrow language that isn’t ours, and with it, we speak. We speak in the varied languages of our lives. We understand and are understood. And that’s a tremendous gift: to be understood. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit who speaks among us and between us.


Holy Spirit comes upon us as wind, reminding us that we are born from borrowed breath. It is God’s breath that inflated Adam’s empty lungs and gave him life. The same is true of us. Until God breathes Holy Spirit into us, we have no life.


And water. The waters of baptism are poured out upon us as a sign of this gift, the Holy Spirit. Water is another reminder that we are not our own. Without water, we wither away. It’s another life-giving gift. Something that we do not and cannot give ourselves; water is given to us. With the waters of baptism, we say that with God and with the people of God, we find ourselves. That being human is to belong. That to belong is to be human.


Each one of these—tongues of fire, tongues of speech, wind, and water. They are all things that invite us into bigger life. Holy Spirit life.

Andrew, Brennan, Leela, nothing magical has happened today. But you did do something wondrous just now: In a world that prizes individualism—do it yourself-ism—you have just proclaimed with your presence and your voice that you will no longer live your life alone. You have in a few different ways, declared that doing life together, joining in, is the only way for you to find your purpose, your life, your shape, your language, your breath, yourself.


The same is true for all of us. We all need to be reminded of the together-way. Life not only lived but formed and given meaning in and through the practice of Holy Spirit-community. And just like the disciples on that first Pentecost, this is just the beginning of our journey together.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Hello, My Name Is…

A sermon based on Luke 3:21-22 and Isaiah 43:1-7 preached on January 10th, 2016

Sermon audio

What’s in a name? Perhaps when I ask a question like that, your mind goes directly to Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.

What’s Montague? It is nor hand, or foot, nor arm, nor face…O! be some other name: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

That’s Juliet struggling with her identity as a Capulet and Romeo a Montague, and the very real significance of those two names. What is it about names?

I remember coming home from school—my brother and I were latchkey kids—before ever stepping into the house, I would run to the mailbox and sort through each piece of mail. Rare were the days there was a piece of mail for me, but everyday I hoped there was. On those rare days, though! It was so exciting to flip through all the junk and find an envelope with my name on it! What kid doesn’t like to see their name spelled out in big huge letters?! It means that someone out there, whether they had any idea who you were or not, took a moment to type or write your very own name out onto a piece of paper. “Someone out there knows I exist! That I’m a person with an identity all my own.”  It’s a rite of passage, and it is like magic, too!

What is it about our names?

The Bible is full of stories about people who are called by their names—chosen out of a crowd for some special reason. People like Abram and Sarai in Genesis who were wandering the desert as nomads—two unknowns who kept to themselves, more or less, anonymous—then that moment when all of that changed. A voice rose up from somewhere—who knows where, really—and spoke their names.  “Abram, Sarai.” And from that moment on, their lives changed. No longer anonymous desert wanderers, God said that Abram and Sarai would now be called Abraham and Sara, the Father and Mother of nations.

We only have to flip a few more pages to Gen 32 where Jacob wrestles with a strange presence who feels a whole lot like God to him. And God asks Jacob his name, and Jacob grunts it out while he’s still wrestling with this presence, and God says,

No more. Now you will be called Israel…he who wrestles with God.”

There are many more stories like this in between, but perhaps the most notable name change in the New Testament comes when Saul, the Pharisee and Christian-killer, powerful and noteworthy among the leadership of his day is blinded by light along the Damascus Road. The book of Acts tells the story. His eyes were so damaged by this light that scales developed over them, and it took 3 days for them to fall away, but when they did, he was a brand new man, a different person. He was immediately baptized, and God gives him a new name. “Paul,” which means small or humble. When you meet Jesus, you’re no longer the same. Your name may or may not change, but your entire identity does.


In all these cases and more, when we are called by our name, it affirms that we are known, and all of us want to be known. More than anything else in the world, we want to be known.

And then we have the story of Jesus’ baptism, where once Jesus is lifted out of the water, there’s that voice again, from who-knows-where exactly. And this time it says: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in You I find happiness.” Beautiful, affirming words! Words of validation and blessing. Which one of us doesn’t need to hear these words, or ones like them, spoken to us by others?

And then the words for today from Isaiah, from that voice again:

Don’t fear; I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine…You are precious in my eyes, honored, and I love you.

With words like that, God gives us identity and value, gives us a place to belong, affirms us as His own.


Luke doesn’t take long to tell us the story of Jesus’ baptism. Just these two short verses. But in them is something that all the other Gospels don’t have. We have this little, wondrous sentence right at the beginning:

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus was also baptized.

John the Baptist was a popular guy, people stood in line for hours to be baptized by him. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he didn’t move Him to the front of the line. There’s no VIP passes for Jesus here. Jesus is just one of many in and among the masses that day. He stood in line and waited for His turn just like everyone else did. The browbeaten and the sick, the forgotten and the disenfranchised, they formed lines in the hopes of being restored through the waters of baptism, hoping there could be a new beginning for them, and Jesus joined them. The line was long and it moved slowly because John the Baptist took his time with each and every one of them. I imagine he asked them their names and then he repeated each name, lifting it up so God would hear it and affirm it. Then he immersed them.


Hello, my name is Patrick. I have tough days and I have good days. On the tough days, my legs don’t work for me. And on those days, walking from here to there might as well be a trek through the Himalayas. I walk around with a funny gate, a bit slouchy. Sometimes, I have curled wrists and fingers that get stuck. I have no control over the toes on my left foot, and most of the time my muscles are tenser then an angry German army sergeant. I have to hold onto something or lean against something in order to stand at all, and because that hasn’t always been the case for me, I get really frustrated by that. But I am loved, and I am confident in this love even in my awkward movements and all those times I wished my body worked better for me. I am made in God’s image, and this body I have, although complicated and cranky, tells a beautiful story of suffering and difficulty, challenge and determination, defeat and victory—it tells a story of a tough road walked. And I am still walking.


And all of us, we are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters; coupled, single, divorced, widows and widowers, both whole and broken at the same time, each one of us with a story not so different than mine, perhaps. Full of both victories and defeats, triumphs and regrets, happy times and sad ones, too.


Notice the words in our passage from Isaiah this morning.

When you pass through the waters…when you walk through the rivers…when you walk through fire.

Not “if, “ “when.”

God doesn’t give us free passes. There will be raging fire and troublesome waters. Hills and valleys. Darkness and light. They will happen over and again throughout our lives. God’s presence doesn’t assure us escape from any of these things. God only promises to endure them with us.


One of the scariest words in the English language is “perfect.” I think we should vote perfect out of office. I wonder if you’re with me on this?

Perfect has been in charge for way too long apefectnd has spent its time in office ceaselessly and easily convincing us of way too many lies. Lies about this world and how it works. Lies about ourselves. What we need to be and have and do. Perfect has kept us scrambling. Perfect has kept our terror alert on high for years. We have bowed down to Perfect before. We have let Perfect into our homes. It has sat along side of us on our couches. Perfect has spoken into the little ears of our children, way too young to hear what it has to say.

Perfect has been on billboards and on the covers of magazines. In movies and on TV. Perfect is everywhere. What Perfect says, we repeat. What Perfect wears, we wear. What Perfect eats, we eat. Perfect intimidates us. Perfect has us between its fingers. And we may even be addicted to Perfect. But Perfect has been oppressing us for way too long. It’s time for a new administration. It’s time we said goodbye to Perfect. The idea of Perfect is one of our culture’s most dangerous traits. We chase after it, but it’s always two steps ahead of us. There’s no catching Perfect. But still we chase.

It’s time to do Perfect in. Let’s put something more realistic in its place.  How about Acceptance?  Wouldn’t it be nice to stop chasing Perfect, to stop where we are to catch our breath, finally, and turn around to see that Acceptance was standing by our side all along, smiling with its arms out, eager to embrace us, saying to each of us, “I like you, just the way you are!”


In the gospel according to Matthew, we hear Jesus use the word “perfect.”

Be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

But back when Jesus used the word, it meant something entirely different than what it means to us now. When Jesus urges us to be perfect, he’s asking us to be whole, entire; be complete; be mature and full-grown. God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible.  God encourages us to become fuller versions of ourselves. That’s God’s definition of perfect.

And we find God’s sort of perfect as we are raised up out of the waters of baptism, as we hear that voice that says to each us, “You are my daughters and sons. You are dearly loved—more than you could ever know; and in You, I find happiness.” Friends, we are loved, and we are—each and every one of us—children of God.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Part of a People

A sermon based on Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 preached on January 11th, 2015.

Sermon audio

Today, we’re taking the moment together in worship to renew and reclaim our baptismal vows.

It doesn’t matter if your parents brought you to the waters as an infant and had you baptized before you knew it or if you came to the water as an adult and proclaimed with your own voice your faith in Jesus Christ, we are all invited today to proclaim once again our identity as daughters and sons of God, and to reaffirm our intentions to live our lives as faithful and willing and active disciples of Jesus.

It is through these waters that God has invited us to become a part of a greater whole.

The waters of baptism are adoption waters. They are a sign and a symbol that God has claimed as God’s own.



There’s a few things that baptism is not.

Baptism isn’t a ticket to the afterlife, it’s more like an envelope handed to us by a travel agent—a letter sent to you in the mail from God. We are the ones who have to open that envelope, and we are the ones who embark upon the journey.

Baptism isn’t an end in itself, it’s more like the very start of new relationship.

And thirdly, baptism doesn’t enhance sacredness, it acknowledges it. We are already blessed as God’s sons and daughters. But it is through our baptism that we seek to find out what that blessing is for.

It is because of the call of our baptism that we take the time to participate in the life of the Church—faithfully gathering, knowing that as we gather regularly as a faith community, God will shape us into who God wants us to be.

There’s one word we can use to sum all of that up: “belong”.

We are not just baptized. We are baptized into something. Through these waters, we become a part of something bigger than ourselves. With the waters of baptism we claim that we belong to God and to community.

And it is here we gather today on Baptism of our Lord Sunday, around these waters to bless each other as daughters and sons of the living God, and to pledge to one another our intentions to be a part of a people–to embark together on a journey—faithfully gathering together along the way, supporting one another in the life of faith, and to recommit ourselves, body, mind, heart, and soul, and presence, to the faithful pursuit of discipleship.

Come, and be a part. Let us come to the waters.

 Reaffirming Our Baptism

Litany of Scripture

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 17

Just as one body has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Deuteronomy 7:9

Know that the Lord your God is God,

the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love God and keep God’s commandments.

Ephesians 4:1-3

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Statement about Baptism

Profession of Faith

Do you renounce evil and the powers in the world which defy God’s righteousness and love?

I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?

I renounce them.

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?

I do.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, following his Word and showing his love, to your life’s end?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you rededicate yourself to the mission and ministry of this church, faithfully and regularly attending worship and actively pursuing opportunities for service, mission, and discipleship here at Kuhn Memorial?

I will.                                                                                                                        

Confession of Faith Using the Words of the Apostles’ Creed 

With the whole Church, let us confess our faith. Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving for Baptism

Invitation to the Waters

Coming to the Waters

You’re invited to:

  • Dip Your Hand in the Waters

As music is played, you will be invited to walk up to the table at the front of the sanctuary to dip your hand in the waters to remember your baptism and to renew your commitment to discipleship. 

  • Take a River Stone

You are invited to take a stone from either the bottom of the bowl or from the cup of stones next to it. This stone signifies for you that you are God’s own and you have been called through your baptism to be a part of God’s church here at Kuhn Memorial and in and for the world.

  • Light a Tea Light

You are invited to light a tea light to signify the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus and upon you at your baptism. It still burns within us who have been baptized. 

As we process, we will sing Down to the River to Pray – Insert

Created, Known, and Loved

A sermon based on Psalm 139 preached on July 6th, 2014.

Sermon audio

“He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

No, those are not words from scripture. They are words of a song many of us sing every year around Christmas about Santa Claus. And even though we are here at the beginning of July—with no hint of Christmas in the air, let’s spend a minute thinking about these words from this Christmas song, because, believe it or not, I think doing so will help us understand Psalm 139 better.

The words of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” are an exciting way for kids to learn a lesson about the rewards of good behavior. This song is a friend of many parents whose children behave better because they know a jolly old man in red is looking upon them, adding and subtracting toys from their Christmas stash based upon their behavior.

According to this Christmas carol, Santa Claus is all-knowing, and his ever-present eyes see everything kids do, and the size of his generosity depends on each child’s behavior.

Santa is a stressed-out parent’s best friend. He takes away harshly as much as he gives generously, and that giving or that taking away—bestowing on children enough gifts to fill a swimming pool or harshly leaving them with nothing but a lump of coal on Christmas morning—depends not upon his goodness but upon the goodness of each child.

There is no aspect of our lives that is concealed from this man who lives at the North Pole, so as the song urges, “We better watch out!”


The words of Psalm 139 are some of the most beautiful words of scripture. There really is no better poetry than this.

The psalmist writes about a God who knows him intimately—who knows us all intimately. The Psalmist declares that God has examined him and knows him better than he knows himself. God knows of us even before we were born. God knitted us together in the womb. God knows our inmost thoughts. For some, that might be a threatening idea—God knows our thoughts, but notice the Psalmist doesn’t seem to feel threatened by that.

Some have this idea that God is like Santa Claus—sitting somewhere up North keeping a list of good and bad behavior—records on each of us—lists of who’s naughty and who’s nice. And haven’t we been taught that one day we will all be judged according to those standards—that God will open the big book of life—which by now, we have to imagine, must be converted into a searchable database—and God will tabulate all of that information—all of those naughty things and all of those nice things and reward or punish us based upon the results. If we think of God like this—a God who judges much like Santa Claus does, being known can feel more like a threat of vengeance than a promise of love. Every kid who’s ever received a lump of coal as their only Christmas gift knows something about that.

Notice that even though the psalmist declares that God knows his inmost thoughts and desires—all the beautiful and all the ugly—he doesn’t seem concerned about any sort of punishment. In fact this Psalmist seems comforted by the idea that God knows everything about him. God knows us intimately, but that doesn’t mean we are under God’s thorough judgment. God knows of our brokenness and failures but there’s no thought here that God keeps tabs on any of it. God knows us in a way that shouldn’t make us fearful or threatened because God’s knowledge of us is not a judging knowledge.

Here the Psalmist hands over every part of himself to be known by God because he understands that God doesn’t keep score. God does not keep a naughty or nice list. God is not in the record-keeping business.

The psalmist spills it all to God not in confession but as a way of handing over every bit of himself so that he can be in full relationship with God. That’s what God desires. That’s what kind of business God is into—the relationship business. God knows us not in order to judge us but to draw us into closer relationship with God.


As this Psalmist sings his song, it dawns on him how intimately God has always known him. Over and over again, scripture tells us that God gives everything that God has to be in relationship with each of us, and over and over again it turns out that what matters most is not how big we screw up but how big God loves us even when we do. That is the story of the bible. It’s the Psalmist’s story, and that’s the story of our faith.

That is God’s story, too. God spends time carefully creating us, knowing us deeply, loving us completely, and pursuing us relentlessly. This loving and stubborn and patient God searches for us all the days of our life.


Whenever we baptize someone into the family of faith, we celebrate God’s story. Shannon and Michelle, Wesley’s baptism is just a marker on the long road that you will help Wesley walk as he grows into the person God has created him to be.

In essence, baptism is a sign that points both backward and forward. Baptism is a backwards-pointing sign because it is a symbol of something that has already been declared—God has called Wesley his beloved child before you even knew him. Baptism is also a forward-pointing sign because in baptizing Wesley, you have made a big promise to raise him in the ways of Jesus, to teach him to love others more than he loves himself, to teach him to live his life not for himself but for his neighbors, and to do your part to shape him into a person who seeks to do God’s will rather than his own.

The good news is that you don’t have to teach Wesley all that by yourself. Just as Emily was and now Wesley is baptized in the community of the faithful, it is important that they also be raised by a community of the faithful. We come to know God only when we extend ourselves outward and fellowship and worship with other Christians.

It’s hard to find genuine relationship these days—especially in our individualistic culture.

A community of faith is one of the only places left in our culture that offers true relationship—the right church is one of those safe places where we are loved not because of what we can do—not appreciated only if we bring added value to the situation—a good community of faith is one where people are loved and valued simply because we are seen for what we are: children of God.

Church is one of those rare places where we can teach our kids, and learn for ourselves, what our culture has stopped learning: that being in community matters—that we belong. We belong in community and we belong to God, and in faithful community, we are loved just as we are—no strings attached. No naughty or nice lists kept.


So perhaps this Independence weekend, we should take some time to celebrate our interdependence. We might be the only ones doing such a crazy thing!

In a society where rugged individualism is celebrated as the ideal, we who call each other children of God gather together to celebrate that we belong to one another. We gather to celebrate that we are each called God’s sons and daughters. We gather to celebrate that we are bound together into one body—the body of Christ, the One who came to say with his life that we are created, known, and loved by God far more than we will ever be able to fathom.

In a country full of do-it-yourselfers, and self-starters, we gather around that baptismal font to declare that we cannot make it on our own. Wesley cannot make it on his own. I cannot make it on my own. None of us can live this life independently. In the waters of baptism, we proclaim and celebrate that we belong to one another and to a God who has created us, knows us, and loves us just as we are. That our lives our not our own.

So, happy Interdependence Day!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

Alleluia! Amen.

Becoming Human

A sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 preached on January 12, 2014.

Sermon audio

Where can I find a bottle of water in this town?

The chemical leak into the water supply in Charlestown has affected a surprising amount of counties throughout West Virginia. It has come close enough to affecting us that on Friday morning, I listened closely to the radio to find our whether or not the shower I just took may have been the end of me.

It is in these situations when we’re forced to stop using something as important as water that we realize how much need it, how essential it is for us, how we rely upon it for most of everything we do.

Water is life, and when a resource usually given to us in abundance is suddenly taken away from us—from hundreds of 1,000’s of people throughout the state, we are reminded again of how necessary and vital a resource like water is.

It takes a situation as pressing as this one to remind us all how we are creatures who rely upon so many natural resources. In almost every aspect of life, we are sustained and regenerated by water.


The waters of the Jordan ran strong and deep through the northern parts of the Judean territories. This is the river in which John was baptizing 1,000’s of people. Jews and gentiles alike were coming to him to be cleansed, washing away old things and starting a new journey with God.

In some places, the rushing waters of the Jordan River knocked you off of your feet. In other places, the river ran slower. It was in those slower places that people bathed, washed their clothes by beating them against the smooth, wet rocks just at the surface of the water. People walked miles with their empty pails to gather water for their families. Water to drink and cook with.

The waters of the Jordan River gave life to the Judean people in many ways. And it was in this river that John was baptizing people to new life. Water used by God to cleanse and renew us.


Jesus had not yet begun his ministry. He traveled the 50 miles from Nazareth to the Jordan River. Curiously, Jesus uses John’s baptism to kick off his earthly ministry.

Why chose baptism? It’s water and a few words. It’s surprisingly ordinary. Baptism seems all too human a thing for the Son of God.


In the movie City of Angels, Nicklaus Cage is an angel named Seth who comes to earth to help a woman who has lost her way. Maggie, Meg Ryan’s character, is lonely and stuck in her career.

After making several visits to patients at the hospital she works in, the angel Seth begins falling in love with Maggie. And as he falls in love with her, his eyes open up to the beauty of the world too.

Maggie explains to Seth that beauty is so much wrapped up with the small things like the tastes of certain foods, good books, a gentle touch from a loved one. Seth begins to wonder what a piece of cake tastes like, what it’s like to breathe in oxygen, to feel a feeling, or to hold somebody close. These are things that angels know nothing about.

After talking to many of his fellow celestial beings, Seth decides to become a fallen angel, which in the imagination of this movie means ending his life as an angel so that he can become a human being.

As a new human being, Seth is fascinated by all the basic human things we all take for granted. He notices the crunch of ground beneath his feet with every step he takes. He cuts his finger with a knife while slicing peppers for dinner and he loves that his finger begins to bleed. Being human, he thinks, is perfect! Even with its struggles and ambiguity (or maybe because of them) life as a human being is wonderful.


To be human is to be physical. To have senses and to be sensed by others.  We are substance and body—flesh, bone and sinew. Fully embodied creatures that God has created in God’s perfect image. And although none of us are perfect, and although our bodies do fail us, we are exactly who God has created us to be.

Through Jesus, God knows what it feels like to breathe in oxygen, to know the struggles as well as the glories of the human body. To chew food, to bleed when cut. To cry out in pain when we’re hurting. Through Jesus, God experienced the ordinariness of our lives and came to share in it with us.

In order to understand baptism, we first have to understand that God was gracious enough to become one of us. God had to know what it was like to feel water against skin.

It is through the incarnation—God taking on flesh and coming to us—that we understand what baptism really is about. It’s about God becoming human.


There are some who believe that we’re all just souls temporarily housed in these bodies. That it’s the soul that is Godly and our body that is sinful and must one day be discarded. We’ve all heard this idea before. Like we’re really made of two parts—that one part of us is from the earth and the other part is from heaven. That we’re souls trapped in cages made of flesh and bone. And one day the real us, the part of us that’s important to God, will be released from this earthly prison that is our body. In Jesus Christ, God says none of that is the right way to see ourselves. In Jesus Christ, God says that by being completely human, we are completely God’s. We are made just like we’re supposed to be. That we are made to be whole creations blessed by the One who came to be one of us.


John the Baptist almost refused to baptize Jesus. John thought there wasn’t any need to. John was right in a way. Jesus had no sin that needed to be cleansed. There was no separation between he and God that need to be reconciled through the waters of baptism. But Jesus insisted to John that he needed to be baptized.

It was through his baptism that Jesus showed the world that God’s Word was now living among us. Jesus’ baptism shows us that God’s Word was now tangible, touchable. That God’s Word now had skin that was able to get wet. God’s Word now had breath to hold inside of his lungs. Eyes that close as John dunked him under the waters of the Jordan. Jesus’ baptism showed us that God had indeed become one of us. Jesus was God’s big “Yes” to how good it is to be human—to have an existence even within the limitations of our bodies.


I think becoming human is a process. We’re not all that humane, after all. There is brokenness and hurt throughout the world, and most of it we inflict upon each other. I don’t think we have to look far to see where most of the evil in the world comes from. We human beings fall short of God’s desires for us, and whenever we hurt or minimize another, we’re basically saying to that person that we refuse to see what we have in common. The most evil acts in history have occurred when someone was able to overlook the humanity of another, and whenever one of us is able to do that, violence happens. Sometimes we shake our heads at how inhumane we humans can be towards one another. How inhumane we can be towards all of creation.

Really, I think that we are a people who, with God’s help, are becoming human. It is through acts of compassion and kindness that we see glimpses, just glimpses, of our humanity.

In this world, so bent towards hatred and separation and violence, it takes some effort to find how we are human.

I think God asks each of us to become fully human, to step forward on a journey to becoming human beings.

Perhaps that’s God’s image for us.

Perhaps that is what incarnation is—to one day be fully human beings and be the creatures our Creator intends for us to be.


It is through the waters of baptism that Christ shares in our humanity.

Washed in the waters, God declares Jesus fully human—a son dearly loved—one of us.

It is through the waters of baptism that God joins us with Christ and incorporates us into the family of God, calling each of us a dearly loved child of God. It is through the waters of baptism that God claimed Jesus as His own. And it is through the same waters that God has adopted us and challenges us to be a truly human family of God.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful. Amen.