Douglass Blvd Christian Church

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Filtering by Category: Jesus

Creeping around the Edges (Mark 5:21-43)

Rev. Derek Penwell's sermon for 7/1/2012



In the recent debate over healthcare reform one focus of the argument centers on whether the government or the private sector can better provide healthcare service at a manageable cost. Distilled to its essence, the debate seems to me to focus on which bureaucracy is less bureaucratic.

Private insurance providers claim that the free market is more efficient, because competition drives prices down—which, given the metastatic growth in healthcare costs, is a dubious claim at best. Public healthcare advocates say that the profit incentive in private healthcare makes the job of insurance companies center around figuring out how to deny coverage. Whatever your position, though, the main argument revolves around how to get more healthcare for less money.

Our society spends a great deal of time doing cost-benefit analysis. That is to say, we're socialized to ask, “Does the benefit I derive from a thing exceed the cost I lay out?”

I love cherries, for instance. But whereas I will pay $2.99 a pound for them, $4.99 a pound strikes me as unreasonably high.

Advertising is the practice of convincing you that the prices we're charging for toilet brushes are worth the investment. This makes a certain amount of sense in a market based economy. The problem, though, is that we don't just apply cost/benefit analysis to stuff—we also apply it to one another.

John Stuart Mill wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century that ethics is a matter of “maximizing utility.” Maximizing utility means doing that which leads to the greatest happiness.

According to Mill, if I have to make a choice about whether to save one person or to save ten, I make that choice based on the greatest benefit I can achieve by my action. The sacrifice of one person to save ten is good utilitarian math—though it may not necessarily be good Christian math.

But utilitarianism in Western calculations concerns not only thorny ethical dilemmas, but also the investment of energy. Does it make more sense to teach one special needs child to read or ten average kids? We only have so many resources. We need to get the biggest bang for our buck, right? You see the problem.

But it's one thing to have to figure out how to divide up food for six among seven people on a life boat; it's an entirely different thing to apply utilitarian calculations to our everyday social arrangements. Under this kind of cost/benefit analysis, people can be judged to “cost” more than they're “worth.”

How do we deal with the mentally handicapped, with alzheimer's patients, with people in a persistent vegetative state? What do we do with people who've gotten in over their heads with mortgages they can't afford, or who've had to buy groceries with credit cards? What kind of return on our investment can we expect from them? These are tough questions.

We much prefer to deal with the easy ones: should Jr. go to Harvard or Yale? Can we really afford private Zamboni lessons for our sweet little girl? Do we want our child to date the doctor or the lawyer? Does it make more sense to be a Cubs or Yankees fan?

By and large, people want their kids to be voted “most likely to succeed,” not “best body piercing.” That's the way our society operates. The pressure is to move forward and upward—and to associate ourselves with those who do.

If you have any experience on Facebook, you know that one of the moments of pleasure it can bring is when someone you've sent a friend request to responds by accepting you as a Facebook friend. On the other hand, it can be a little unnerving to send out a friend request to somebody, and never have them respond.

You start thinking, “Did he get it? Is he ignoring me? Did I do something to insult him at some point? Does he think his other friends will think less of him if they see I'm also his friend? Am I

goofier than I thought? That can't be right, because I hung out with way cooler people in school than he did?”

It becomes a sort of endless social calculation of worth—who's more important? Who's worth my time? Do other people think I'm not worth their time?

Of course, these endless calculations of worth aren't unique to us. People throughout history have been doing these sorts of things. Even Jesus isn't completely removed from the social pressures of figuring out who's worth his time and energy.

In our Gospel, Jesus has just calmed the storm and exorcised the demons from the Gerasene demoniac. He crosses back over the sea he's just calmed, where he is approached by an important man, a leader of the synagogue named, Jairus. Up to this point in Mark, Jesus is getting a bad reputation for hanging out with the wrong sort of folks. He's paying attention to all the wrong people. Healing lepers and paralytics and the demon possessed.

Back in chapter two he does some leadership recruitment—not at the finest business schools—but at a “tax booth,” where he calls Levi. Then, he adds insult to injury by going to Levi's house to eat with a bunch of “tax collectors and sinners.” People are starting to talk. You have to be a bit more discerning about the company you keep. Jesus is getting a bad reputation.

So, when Jairus prevails upon Jesus to come see about Jairus's sick little girl, everyone’s relieved. Jairus is the kind of ally Jesus is supposed to cultivate. He's head of the Men's Morning Breakfast down at the synagogue, president of the local Lion's club; he's got contacts. He can help Jesus network.

The disciples must have been thinking, “Finally. Now, we're getting somewhere.” Do a favor for this guy, and no telling the kind of political capital Jesus can start building.

On the way to Jairus's house, though, something happens. It shouldn't have been a big thing. Jesus probably should have just kept going. When you've got a big one on the hook like Jairus, you don't

want to lose your concentration, don't want to get distracted. But Jesus stops anyway. Somebody's yanking on his shirttail. “Who touched my clothes?” he wants to know.

The disciples look at each other, their eyebrows knitted. “What do you mean, 'who touched my clothes?' You're in a crowd, for Pete’s sake.”

A woman approaches. She's owns up to grabbing onto his cloak.

If Jesus is going to turn over a new social leaf, quit hanging out with the wrong crowd, this is the perfect time to start. Women weren't supposed to touch men who were not their husbands. Jesus could make a real statement about how he's willing to play ball in the current political environment by giving this woman what-for.

Moreover, not only is she a woman, she's an unclean woman. She has, what the King James called, an issue of blood. She's been bleeding for 12 years, which is a nice way of saying she's had female problems—not just monthly, but daily . . . for 12 years.

A menstruating woman was considered unclean—which is to say, untouchable. She wasn't supposed to touch anyone, let alone a strange man.

Jesus could really signal his willingness to play by the rules by doing the right thing, the thing that would grease the social gears, the thing that would maximize utility, making the largest number of people happy. He could humiliate her, should humiliate her. But he doesn't.

He tells her that her faith has healed her. “So what?” you ask.

The outrage is that he gives tacit approval to the woman's actions. She’s a drain on society. You can’t encourage that kind of behavior. We know how people are, they’ll take advantage of you every time if they think they can get something for free—especially healthcare.

But rather than do the socially and politically expedient thing, Jesus walks the margins again in search of those folks who are creeping around the edges.

Soon, he and Jairus make it to where the sick little girl is. But by the time they get there, she's already died.

Oh well, nice try, Jesus. Thanks for coming. We appreciate you taking the time, but all that's left to us now is to start preparing her body for burial.

Jesus says, “I'd like to see her anyway. She's really only sleeping.”

Mark says that everybody laughed at Jesus for saying this. They've seen dead people before. They know what dead people look like.

Jesus persists, though. As far as Jairus is concerned, Jesus has done all that could be asked of him. Now that she's dead, Jesus will only make himself unclean by going to see her to hold her lifeless hand.

He never learns, this Jesus. What's the public relations upside here? You've got to think about how this stuff is going to play on cable news.

Not Jesus. Ignoring the cost/benefit analysis, Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, and tells her to get up, and together they walked the margins hand in hand.

What I find interesting about these two intertwined stories is the issue of how short-sighted they make Jesus appear on the front end. In both cases, Jesus participates in activity guaranteed to marginalize him in everyone’s eyes. In both cases, he risks the social and political costs of being unclean by touching those who are unclean. A true test of your convictions is what you’re prepared to look like a complete idiot for.

But the great shock of the story, however, is that once Jesus touches them, they are healed, made alive—and not only is Jesus not unclean as a result of the this encounter, neither any longer are they.

In touching these two in an unclean state, Jesus has not only healed them physically, he’s restored them to the social world in which purity is boss. In other words, he’s given them back their lives . . . in more ways than one.

When Jesus walks the margins looking for those who creep around the edges, he redefines the edges, so that the margins are set in the center; and it's the folks who usually occupy the center who risk finding themselves on the margins.

Once again, Jesus turns the world on its head. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The one who wants to find life, must first lose it. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The one who wants to gain the world, must forfeit everything.

But Jesus, that doesn't make sense; it's just not good math. You need to put your money on a winner, get a good return on your investment, ride the middle of the road. And Jesus says, “Life's much more interesting out here with those folks on the edges.”

Ask them. Ask those folks who, because society’s told them repeatedly that they’re not worth the effort, what it means for Jesus to go out of his way to reach out a hand, to risk the bad opinion of those bigwigs who occupy center. Ask them whether somebody finally willing to go looking for them means anything.

Walk the margins with Jesus, go looking for those folks creeping around the edges, and sooner or later your cost/benefit analysis is going to get really goofed up.

I promise you.


Sermon Podcast: Wanting What You've Got (Matthew 20:1–6)

This sermon begins with Louis C.K. and ends with the promise that "in the reign of God, we’re valuable not based on our production, not based on how much we’re worth.  We’re valuable because, by the grace of God, God says we’re valuable."

Here's the video Rev. Penwell references of Louis C.K.:

Remember, you can subscribe to our weekly podcast in iTunes and download all of the sermons automatically to your computer, as well as to your iPhone, iPad, or other mobile device.


Click the link below for the sermon audio or just subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and you won't miss a single sermon…

"Wanting What You've Got" by Rev. Derek Penwell

Sermon Podcast: "The Trouble with Forgiveness" (Matthew 18:21–35)

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01, Rev. Penwell preaches a gospel of forgiveness.

There are no easy answers.

Maybe that's the good news.

Click the link below for the sermon audio or just subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and you won't miss a single sermon…

"The Trouble with Forgiveness" by Rev. Derek Penwell

Sermon Podcast: "The Gates of Hell"

Rev. Derek Penwell preaches on Matthew 16 13–21, in which Simon Peter first articulates the disciples' belief that Jesus is "the Messiah, Son of the Living God."

In this passage, it's clear that Jesus sees a church playing offense--marching on the gates of Hell. After establishing that he's uncomfortable with martial metaphors for the reign of God, Rev. Penwell asks what weapons are we to use? The answer is in the passage following today's gospel, Matthew 16:21: "From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

Suffering, sacrifice, and death are the weapons of Christians. That is, as Christians we must be prepared to stand beside the oppressed and marginalized and receive the same blows they do.

It's all we've got. It's enough.

Click the link below for the sermon audio or just subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and you won't miss a single sermon…  

"The Gates of Hell" by Rev. Penwell

True Nonconformity

“Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).

“The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed.  It is about the character of the consumers of products.  Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country–these tell nothing about the product being sold.  But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them.  What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer” (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 128).

Advertising, at this point in our cultural development, is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink.  We know that.  Instinctively, somehow, it makes sense.  If consumption is the gas that drives the capitalist machine, we understand that somehow or another we must be motivated to go to the pump and do our part to keep the whole thing humming along.  Of course, advertisers do not want us to think of it in such vulgar terms.  Otherwise, the magic would be gone.  Rather, advertising is designed to keep us from thinking much at all, except insofar as it can get us to think about ourselves.  And in that sense, advertising is less concerned with selling us a new product as it is with selling us a new vision of ourselves as the sort of people who might benefit from buying a product.

In other words, commercials are inherently preachy.  Only the moralizing is so subtle that we hardly even notice it.  Later Postman says, “The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales, which is to say, it isn’t.  Which is to say further, it is about how one ought to live one’s life” (p. 131).  The seduction happens so effortlessly that we hardly even feel it.

Why, though?  Why does it work so well?  I think commercials have the power to shape us because we are so preoccupied with ourselves.  It seems as though we care less about being good people, for example, than about being perceived as good people.  Why?  Because while actually being good takes a great deal of hard work, looking like a good person takes very little effort at all–just the right kind of aftershave and life insurance.  Nowadays, one doesn’t actually have to put in the grueling hours it used to take to be smart; one need merely stay in the right hotel.

Paul, however, suggests a way to release us from the relentless grip of commercial culture.  He tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.”  If what we are primarily concerned about happens not to be our own image, but that of the one who gives us a self with which to be concerned in the first place, then psychodramas about acne and sports utility vehicles will have lost their power over us.  By understanding that what we truly need is not the tweaking provided by the right brand of toothpaste or the coolest brand of beer, we begin to see ourselves the way Christ sees us, rather than the way Madison Avenue needs for us to see ourselves.

According to Paul, maybe being your own person isn’t such a great deal after all.  Living the life Jesus calls you to live . . . now, that would be true nonconformity.

What's in It for Me?

An elderly woman walked into a J.C. Penney department store.  Three young salesclerks were standing there (that was in the days there were people around to wait on you), but since the woman’s clothes were a tattered and worn, they figured that it was a waste of time to wait on such an unlikely prospect.  But there was a fourth young man standing nearby, a devoted Christian for whom kindness was second nature.  He approached the elderly woman, helped her make her purchases and then as she checked out, he learned that she was Mrs. J.C. Penney.

Dan G. Johnson, Neglected Treasure: Rediscovering the Old Testament


I find stories like this strangely distressing.  So much of what we do as a society is predicated on the idea that if you do something well enough and in front of the right people, you will receive some kind of reward.  Which is to enter every situation asking, not “How can I be of service?” but “What’s in it for me?”  If we’re honest, this story isn’t about helping someone else as much as it is about helping the right person—and, ultimately, ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve heard so many people say when asked why they stopped coming to church, “I wasn’t getting anything out of it”--as if the primary purpose for gathering for worship was somehow only to get something.  This attitude goes something like, “By Sunday morning I’m usually on Spiritual empty, and I come to church to get a fill-up on God.”  But when that attitude emerges, the church becomes merely another consumer proposition, “I’ll go where I get the most for the lowest cost to me.”

Worship is our corporate prayer to God every Sunday.  The church’s life—the way the church is administrated, the education programs, the fellowship opportunities, the acts of service—is itself a corporate prayer.  In that sense, then, our mindset ceases to be, “What will I miss if I’m not there?” but, rather “What will be missing if I’m not there?”  Each member and friend of the church plays a unique role in the prayer of faithfulness we lift to God.  Consequently, everyone is an equally vital part of the body, even if someone’s role is not always noticed by the rest.

My vision for the Church is that we begin to see ourselves as a family who, when sitting down to the table together, genuinely perceives the family as a whole, not just the sum of its constituent parts.  Indeed, when I begin to understand our connectedness, I’m freed to realize that I’m not in this just for me at all—I’m in this for you as well (and maybe even Mrs. J.C. Penney, too).


Japan and What It Means to Follow Jesus

Looking at the pictures of the devastation coming out of Japan as I sit in my overstuffed chair brings into stark relief the vast chasm that separates me from most of the rest of the world.  Reading back over the previous sentence, I can hear my mind consolidating its defenses against the guilt that the fact of that vast chasm raises.  The recognition that I have an overstuffed chair in which to indulge guilty feelings leaves me ambivalent, because in reality what’s going on in Japan right now has nothing to do with me or my fat chair.  All of this has me thinking about how I continue to be amazed at the extent to which I am able to bend the arc of history inward—as though what happens in the world must ultimately have some relationship to me.  I am struck by the thought that pushing past self-absorption is, if not the point of Christian discipleship in the reign of God, then at least one of its most desirable outcomes.

In thinking about Japan (indeed, in thinking about thinking about Japan) the whole issue of discipleship keeps popping up: Where is Jesus in all of this, and what does being one of his follower’s require in the face of it?  Luke tells us in chapter six that just prior to calling the twelve apostles, he “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (6:12).  All night is a fairly long time to spend in prayer, which suggests that he had something weighing heavily on him.  After enduring this all-night prayer-a-thon, the first thing Jesus did was call all his disciples together and choose twelve from among them to be apostles, that is, those who were to be sent out on his behalf.  The twelve Jesus chose would eventually serve as the foundation upon which the church would be built—which makes it understandable why Jesus would have struggled all night over whom to call.

Consequently, when in Luke’s version of the story Jesus finally addresses the twelve who’ve been chosen, we have high expectations about the significance of what he will say.  This is what, in our culture driven as it is by organizational business models, we would call the vision speech, the one where Jesus sets down what’s at the heart of the ministry he has in mind (the ministry to which the twelve have just been called).  Luke tells us that while all of his followers are still gathered around him, Jesus begins to clarify the principles of this new endeavor, which is obviously highlighted by this latest major personnel move.  So, what will it be?  What does Jesus indicate will animate the new ministry upon which he and his friends are about to embark?   The first words Luke has Jesus say after calling the twelve?

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh . . . But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:20b-21, 24-25).

Now, I want to say right off that I’m not particularly happy about Jesus’ newly identified Platinum Club members.  By just about any accounting done on a macro level, I’m sure to be lumped in with the latter rather than the former.  When the truth is told, though I sometimes struggle to make ends meet, the ends I have to make meet are quite a bit nicer than most of the rest of the world; and the means I have at my disposal to meet those ends would surely evoke envy among all but those in the highest percentiles when it comes to the world’s wealth.  So, my ox is being gored too as Jesus trots out the core values for the new business model.  Unlike most successful ventures, though, Jesus has the powerful in his sights as the problem, rather than the solution.  This makes things difficult for me, because as an individual, I’d much rather be part of Jesus’ target audience than the targeted audience; and it is as an individual that I am most likely to experience Jesus’ call to discipleship.

The locus of popular American piety, it seems difficult to dispute, resides in the individual.  Most strains of American Christianity set up shop in the heart, falling back on what Charles Taylor has called radical reflexivity.  According to Taylor, radical reflexivity is not only an awareness of the self, but is an awareness of awareness; it is the illumination of “that space where I am present to myself (Sources of the Self, 131).”  It is in this space where I think not only about myself, but about myself thinking about myself that much Christian discipleship gets done—or fails to get done.  I say, “fails to get done,” because, unfortunately, much of the emphasis in popular Christianity rests on getting one’s individual soul “right with God,” on having a “personal relationship with Jesus,” that is, on intensifying radical reflexivity.  Not much gets done when my preoccupied gaze extends only so far as my own navel.  I want to be clear that I’m not rejecting intimacy with God, but rather a view of intimacy that is so self-absorbed that the life of the rest of the world is the camel that must first pass through the eye of my personal needle; which, it seems, is precisely backward from the discipleship Jesus offers.

Unlike the way much of Christianity is presently practiced, following Jesus, if Luke has it anything like right, appears to consist in a radical outward orientation—an orientation, not coincidentally, that is much more difficult for the rich and the powerful, who have more than sufficient resources to maintain insularity.  Of course, even if Luke is right, it’s not immediately obvious just how being poor, hungry, and aggrieved constitute a state of blessedness.  Leaving aside for a moment how Jesus thinks that blessedness will be achieved, I want to suggest that those who follow Jesus ought to be orienting their commitments to him in ways that first involve an outward identification with the poor and the powerless.

All of which brings me back to Japan.  If our discipleship is shaped by Luke, the question of the reign of God has less to do with first renovating our interior lives than with figuring out how to embody the gospel to people up to their knees in mud, terrified of radiation in the air.  Maybe the blessing indicated by Jesus that the poor, the hungry, and the grieving experience is to come through us—whose primary concern is not for ourselves and the state of our own souls, but for the powerless and the state of a world in which the powerless must rely on the good will of the powerful. If picking up our crosses and dying to ourselves means anything, surely it means figuring out some way to be Jesus for people in Japan, for the thousands of Japanese struggling just to hang on, for all the poor, hungry, and grieving—halfway round the world, or halfway down the block.  It is giving our lives first for them and not for our own spiritual enrichment that Jesus identifies as the heart of what it means to be a Christian.


Talking the Talk

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:6-10).

I admit that this passage from Isaiah sounds a bit fanciful given the current state of our world. We’re much more apt more apt to take sides as the wolf and the lamb face off. We’re more comfortable with policy decisions that help us avoid the terrible truth that the leopard and the kid lie down together only when one feasts on the bones of the other. Our world is situated such that only dewy-eyed romantics and ungrounded idealists ever really believe that a little child will actually lead this unlikely menagerie—especially when we see the cold, hard facts.

And the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the wolf and the lamb actually living together, we main-line Protestants are often the least likely to share the same space in peace. Speaking about the relative lack of mixed-race congregations, Nancy T. Ammerman said, “Mainline folks, for all their talk about diversity, lag significantly behind.” The charge, of course, is that we who are the putative gatekeepers of the “true faith” are much better at talking the talk, than walking the walk.

Implied in that indictment against main-liners, however, is the notion that somehow talking the talk isn’t that important. But I would like to suggest that it is impossible finally to walk the walk, if nobody has told us where to go. Somebody has to hold forth a bold vision of what we believe life will look like under the reign of God when it is fully revealed. Somebody has to talk bigger than we are, or we’ll have nowhere to reach. Somebody has to dream about wolves and lambs and leopards and kids, or the world will begin to think that its animosity is normal, natural. Somebody has to talk about how God doesn’t think that the hostility that exists between the strong and the weak, between the haves and have-nots, between the powerful and powerless is either normal or natural.

And just because we haven’t gotten it right yet, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up and talk about what right is. Just because it sounds simple or naive to announce a rapprochement with between the lion and the ox, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold that in front of us as God’s view of reality. Just because bears still kill cows when they inhabit the same space, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t press on toward a vision in which they graze the same fields in peace.

We can, of course, never be excused from trying to get it right. Living with a vision requires no less. What we can be excused from is thinking that it’s somehow our responsibility to get it right. Because when the reign of God is finally realized, it won’t be because we made it happen. It will be because we left ourselves open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and to a vision of what God believes life is really like. Lord knows, somebody better keep talking that talk.

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the people; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10).

Pain Isn't All Bad

“Holy and beneficial is the time of preparation in which the Almighty Judge is moved to show us mercy, to show repentance to the sinner, and to offer peace to the just. All things (this week) are now prepared for pardon, the sinner for confession, and the tongue to plead for mercy” (Maximos the Confessor).

Here we stand. Lent is about to culminate in the tragic passion of Holy Week. Our study, prayer and devotion have all worked together to bring us to this point. Lent has shown us the overpowering reality of the power of darkness in our lives; it has allowed us to see the grave consequences of our sin as they reach their natural conclusion on Good Friday. But more than that, Lent has taught us that the life we thought we were living apart from Christ was really death. All the pretensions to importance and busyness have been shown to be masks attempting to cover our confusion and lostness. Lent lays bare before us that which we had hoped to avoid--namely, the fact that apart from Christ we are dead.

Growing up, I thought Lent was something that Catholics did, which had something vaguely to do with giving up candy. Now, I see the whole matter differently. Giving up something dear to us for Lent is not a way to polish our halos, not a way to reestablish a righteousness based on our own efforts. Rather, the spiritual disciplines of Lent allow us an opportunity to say to a world bent on avoiding pain at all costs, that we are a people who identify with a Savior who endured great pain to save us from the sin that beset us, that we are a people for whom sacrifice and service is a part of life. If one of the main images of our faith is a man hanging on a tree, how could it be otherwise?

Lent provides a context in which to understand the state of our hopelessness, and makes provision for our reconciliation to the Christ we had a hand in crucifying. In the final analysis, Lent has shown us, both that we are sinners in need of repentance and that God refuses to hold our sin against us.

Even after our complicity in the grave iniquity committed during Holy Week, a way to God has been provided through Jesus. And that, my friends, is why we have the audacity to call any week as gruesome as this one . . . holy—and any day as awful as Friday . . . good, because we know that the path to new life leads through “the valley of the shadow of death.” And we have a Savior who walked through it before us.

Lent may at times be painful, but you will never fully understand Easter apart from the pain it took Jesus to get there. “All things are now prepared for pardon, the sinner for confession, and the tongue to plead for mercy.” Maximos knew. It couldn’t be otherwise.

The Beggar's Bowl

One of my favorite things to do in worship is breaking bread with others. It reminds me of my youth. I grew up in a house full of children and adults. In fact there were 14 folks that called my home, home as well. My grandmother and aunts never meet a stranger and never turned a hungry or lost soul away form our table.

This is one of the passions I bring with me to Douglass Blvd Christian Church. I love gathering folks together around the table in fellowship. We, as Disciples, are not strangers to a weekly table celebration. We gather at the Lord’s Table every week. We are renewed and transformed in mind, body, and spirit as we welcome all to the table.

The table along with the font are the primary sacraments we hold in our faith to be representative of the call of the Christ. We hold that we are unworthy of coming to the table. Yet, we come to the table with grace on our lips and forgiveness in our hearts as we seek to draw nearer to the one we call Christ.

We come to the table on instruction of Jesus. In the same manner to which Jesus served his disciples on that night he was betrayed. We to “take and eat” remembering that Jesus will come again.

It was in this spirit that I hoped to create a space where we as a faith community may draw nearer to each other in Christ and break bread together in a weekly fashion. Doing so I hoped we would strengthen the bonds of family and invite our family and friends into this peaceful storm of togetherness.

The first week of June we set out on a grand experiment called, The Beggar’s Bowl. We booked Monday nights for our adventure in faithful being. We purchased a share of local produce from Grasshopper’s Distribution and set out to cook a creative, organic, locally grown meal for under $3.00 a person.

On that first night we hit a few snags. Meredith bailed me out because I had no idea how to cook kale. We had 8-10 people on that first night. We invited folks to be guest chefs and share with us their culinary daring. The next week we got a little better at cooking and a few more folks came.

By the end of July we had an average of 25 people attending on Monday nights. We made a banner and invited the community. We had homeless fellas stop on by to share a meal with us. Folks from the local community would stop on by and share a meal with us. Every week a new chef blessed us with a delicious local meal. We had exotic meals from Africa, Germany, the Pacific Islands, Thailand, and even Mexico!

In a matter of a few weeks we were averaging 30 people every Monday night. People brought their children and all of the kids played in the Robsion Center as the adults shared stories of their days and enjoyed the company of others.

It was a wonderful event. I looked forward to Monday’s and the joy they brought with them. Rain or shine we would gather together and break bread. The table we shared together there was most defiantly transforming those present.

Sadly, we celebrated our last night together this past Monday night. As we shared this final meal I was struck at how intertwined we had become over the course of these few months. I began to mourn the loss of these Monday nights.

I could not be more pleased at the success of this adventure. It began with an idea and the hope of gathering together at a common table and it became an extended family for me an those that shared n those moments. I am thankful for all that came and all that served. I pray we can do it again in the spring. I invite you all to bring a bowl and gather at the table with all of us beggar’s at the Beggar’s Bowl.

Peace be with you all.

Here is the recipe from the last meal at Beggar's Bowl this year.

Curried Sweet Potato Stew


3 medium sweet potatoes

4 Tbsp of olive oil

1 brown onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 Tbsp of garam masala*

1 tsp of curry powder

1 tsp sea salt

5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup of coconut milk

1/2 cup of water

Curried sweet potato soup with coconut milk is a staple during the cooler months. The creamy, aromatic soup has a subtle sweetness from the roasted sweet potatoes. When making a sweet potato soup I always insist on first roasting the sweet potatoes to enhance their caramel flavor.

*The spices used in this recipe are curry powder and garam masala. Garam masala is simply a blend of warm spices commonly used in Indian cuisine. If you’re unable to find it at your local store, simply substitute it with extra curry powder.


Pre-heat the oven to 350F (180C). Slice the sweet potatoes into 2 inch rounds. Place potatoes in a baking tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with a little salt. Bake for 1 hour or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery and fry, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Add garam masala and curry powder. Fry, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 30 seconds. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Scoop flesh out of sweet potatoes and discard the skins. Place potatoes into the saucepan and stir well to coat in spices. Add stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover. Simmer soup for 15 minutes. Remove soup from heat and cool. Ladle soup into a blender or food processor and blend in batches until smooth and creamy. Place soup back into saucepan on a medium heat. Add coconut milk and water and stir well to combine. Simmer soup over a medium heat for 5 minutes.

Divide soup into bowls and serve with a slice of crusty bread for dipping.

Sweatin' to Jesus

I was at the YMCA the other day working out. The Y has televisions on most of the exercise machines that you may watch when exercising. I love this feature as it lets me watch baseball as I workout. During one commercial break I noticed that every commercial was telling me that I was not complete without purchasing this latest new diet pill or exercise machine that was guaranteed to make my slimmer and trimmer in just a few short weeks.

They promised that with minimal effort and minimal exposure to sweat that the pounds would just melt off. Having fallen for these fad diets and products for the last 15 years I am leery of them. I have discovered there is no substitute for hard work and healthy eating. It is simple math, if you eat less calories than you burn off then you lose weight.

I have also discovered this to be true about my spiritual life. For years I have suffered through the latest Christian fad of prayers for Jabez sort of faith, a purpose driven faith, the name it and claim it kind of faith, and the spirit guided tongue freeing faith only to discover the same thing applies to working out and my spiritual growth, I will only get out of it what I put into it.

I am discovering now in this season of my life that I must orientate my life around healthy eating and an active lifestyle in order to combat and repair the destructive unhealthy eating habit and the sedentary lifestyle that has plagued my life thus far. The same is true for my spiritual life. My life must revolve around spiritual practice and devotion to God in order for me to enter into the active healing process of the sin and depravity that mires the profane places of my heart and mind. I will only get out of my spiritual practice that which I invest into it. There is no easy way out of a deep meaningful relationship with Jesus the Christ.

There is no fad practice that will end the complacency of soul and self like that decision to sellout for Christ and get all Jesus on the world. As I am discovering with my new lifestyle changes, as I replace the old habits of sloth and idleness with the new habits of dedication and sacrifice I am renewed and my life gets better. I promise you that the same it true with entering into renewed spiritual practice. That as you commit and sacrifice your life to spiritual discipline you will discover a new way, a new life that exceeds the beauty of your old ways.

It is my hope that as we move towards fall and the beginning of Advent that we dedicate our lives to being with each other as we all endeavor to deepen our discipleship with hard work sacrifice and commitment to the divine presence in all of our lives.

Please contact Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan for information on small groups & spiritual formation classes for the fall.

My Stonewall Remarks: 40 Years Ago

40 years ago the silent voice of a community was heard in a riotous action proclaiming that they would no longer be silent.  40 years ago a few hundred gathered to give voice to the marginalization and systemic oppression forced upon them.  40 years ago a movement was born that we celebrate here today.

The most important thing to remember about movements is that they are comprised of people.  People with hopes, dreams, and vision.  People with love in their hearts looking for a place to store that love.  People with the right to be.  PEOPLE! Movements being and end with the people.  Movements cannot sustain the movement when it is boiled down to an idea.

I stand here today a leader in the Christian church.  I stand here today as a white, straight male. I am a part of this movement.

The Christian faith has been utilized in the disenfranchising action of the GLBTQ community.  We have demanded that you must give up your faith if you insist on keeping your love.  We have demanded that you remain silent in order to nourish your soul.  We have demanded that you have a place in the Kindom of God only if you conform to the narrow standards of dubious origins.  For this I am terribly sorry.

It is my hope that we as a church may offer reconciliation and love to our sisters and brothers for the atrocities perpetrated upon them in the name of God.  It is my hope that the beautiful voice of faith embraced by the GLBTQ Community may enrich the faith on communities across Kentucky.  The faith of a few transforms the faith of us all.  This is a lesson we may draw from the actions of those brave people that would not be silent 40 years ago.

I recently read a lecture from Kentucky’s proud son, Bishop V. Gene Robinson, titledWhy Religion Matters in the Quest for Gay Civil Rights. He speaks, “I believe that it will take religious people and religious voices to undo the harm that has been done by religious institutions…It’s time that progressive religious people stop being ashamed of their faith and fearful that they will be identified with the Religious Right, and start preaching the Good News of the liberating Christ, which includes ALL God’s Children.”

It seems that the harm, the damage that is being done is by us, the religious community, by us being in the shadows.  It is time for us to step out of the shadows.  I offer that as this movement progresses and the fires of the Spirit burn in the hearts of the many that we the religious community owe the Gay community love for the silence we offer and the isolation that we perpetrate upon you.  We the religious community owe you that scared space to be fearfully & wonderfully made.  We the religious community owe it to you to emerge from the silence and join our voice with yours and demand that WE shall not be denied the justice imbued within our hearts and souls because we celebrate the diversity of Gods creation.

40 years ago a rebellion began that we are honored to celebrate tonight and participate in today.  40 years ago people came together and would not be silent.  Tonight let us commit ourselves to not remaining silent.  Let us join our voice as we demand that Liberty & justice truly be for ALL.