Sermon: Ancient Stories–Who Wrestles With Us, and is Okay with That

July 27, 2014 – Ancient Stories: Who Wrestles with Us and is Okay with That from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on July 27, 2014.

Matthew 14:13-21
and Genesis 32:22-31



I had some tears writing this sermon.

It conjures up many memories from a lifetime of faith.

These stories in Genesis are life giving for us, I think.

But perhaps not the way one might expect.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to want things to be simple,

to prefer the black-and-white description of a problem,

with a clear and robust solution.

My car won’t start. The diagnosis is a bad battery

(caused by a forgetful driver who didn’t close the door)

and the solution is a jump start,

or at worst a new battery.

Hopefully not a new car.

Or, that noise in the garage,

thankfully it stopped once the mousetrap went off the other day.

No more noise. That must be the end of it, right?

I hope so.

Who doesn’t prefer things to be simple, clear and unambiguous?

Cut and dried.

But so much in our life never works this way.

*The blood work wasn’t quite clear, and there need to be more tests

but the treatment options aren’t very good regardless.

*Our friends are fighting, and we can see both sides of the argument

and we don’t know how to help or how to be honest

without hurting one or the other, or both!

*There is SO MUCH TO DO—around the house, for work, for school,

cleaning and cooking and mending—

how can there be time for it all?

So much in life is complicated, complex, multi-faceted.

We’d have enough if it were just our lives and our struggles,

but then heap onto it the crazy world we live in:

What is the right thing to do about tens of thousands of children,

young kids, mind you,

flooding into the United States,

fleeing not just poverty, but unspeakable violence

and political strife and drug cartels

in Central America?

Just pack them up and send them back?

Keep them in make-shift detention centers on military bases?

Free them to be with family and loved ones who will care for them?

If we acknowledge the biblical call to care for children in our midst,

along with all the vulnerable, the hurting, the hungry,

the responsibility to treat well

the foreigner traveling in our land—

my bible uses the word “alien” alongside with

widows, and orphans, to describe those

most in harms way

If we acknowledge that, how do we respond to so many kids

in the middle of an already fractious, tentative, politically fraught

question about immigration policy and reform?

Not easy. Not clear at all.

And that’s just one headline story from this week’s papers. [Read more...]

Sermon: Ancient Stories–Who Does Not Follow Convention

July 13, 2104 ~ Ancient Stories – Who Does Not Follow Convention from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on July 13, 2014.

Matthew 13: 1-8, 19-23
and Genesis 25: 19-34


Today’s exploration of these ancient themes in Genesis is going to be a bit different.

 We’ve been walking with Abraham the last several weeks,

seeing God move in and among the creation

choosing a people to be God’s people

and then helping them SEE differently, ACT differently

and God shapes them, molds them, guides them.

These ancient stories are about who God is,

God’s persistent, challenging, sometimes inscrutable love

and how that goes head-to-head with human proclivities

to do things our way, following our convention.

But Abraham now has died, Ishmael even comes back from the wilderness

and helps Isaac bury him, in the very cave Abraham bought to bury Sarah

and the story moves on: with Isaac and Rebekah and their own follies.

Isaac and I will always have a close bond. We father’s of twins.

But If there is anything I’ve learned as a parent of twins, its that all twins are different.

These two: Esau and Jacob, seem to be completely different personalities:

One ruddy, athletic, a marksman

the other dark, contemplative, cunning.

My girls: much more alike, much less conflicted with each other. Thank goodness.

All twins are different.

And this story in Genesis is the beginning of another sordid affair

the first act in a multi-part production where Jacob wrestles

the birthright duly owed to Esau

first through this pot of lentil stew,

and then through tricking Isaac

for a blessing a bit later down the road.

It is part of Genesis’ explanation of how the lineage of the Hebrew people

passed not through the expected right of succession…

through the firstborn son (even in the case of twins)

but through Jacob, the one who later would wrestle with God

who would be renamed Israel

Israel—the name which literally means “wrestle with God”

Jacob, the one who would father 12 sons of his own, bless his heart

including Joseph,

and his Technicolor dream coat.

It continues the tradition of God being God, and not doing things the expected way.

God chooses the younger kid, the weaker kid,

even before they were born.

Esau would also be great, would also be the first of many nations

but the line of the Hebrews, of the covenant,

would go through Jacob.

Unexepected. Unpredicted. Unplanned.

What kind of God is this, exactly?

But we also have before us this terrific story of Jesus

that gets the same themes, the same rumblings, the same disruption.

Maybe today, rather than looking directly at Isaac and Jacob,

we could look at the parable of the sower… [Read more...]

Sermon: Ancient Stories–Who Binds us Together

July 6, 2014 ~ Who Binds Us Together from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on July 6, 2014.

Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
and Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-67


Was reminded this week how much we do is about strengthening our ties together.

The way we’re formed into families and friendships

Little pairs or triplets or gaggles of love.

Aristotle once described human beings as “social, rational animals”[i]

by which he meant

Thinking beings who are naturally inclined to be bound together

through love and society.

In this and in many other things, I think Aristotle was right on the money.

This week I celebrated our nation’s Independence Day holiday

with a group of closest friends

six adults, six kids

countless ooohs and aaaaahs over fireworks and bratwurst.

We also made some quick revisions to our wedding policy here at the Kirk

since someone wrote asking about a possible wedding here next year

and we needed to get those changes finished.

Meanwhile, I sat with someone who is quite content in her singleness,

thank you very much

as she told me about the friends and nephews in her life

who give her such joy that she teared up talking about them.

And I also helped a few families say goodbye to loved ones for a final time,

as we prepare to do this again this coming week too.

These are all holy moments, the joyous and the difficult alike.

Our families are all different. Our friendships are not the same.

There are people who give our lives such meaning and joy that we gush over them,

and family members who have done such harm to us

that our fists clench when the thought of them enters our mind.

The life of faith is, at least partially,

about strengthening the good and healing the hurt in our relationships,

our families, our church, our community, our world.

We might be rational, social animals,

but the work of nurturing healthy relationships:

father, mother, daughter, son, sibling, lover, neighbor, friend

is constantly challenging, consistently nuanced and contextual.

It can be exhausting and maddening and frustrating. [Read more...]

A Kirk Nine Month Check-in, Membership and the Future


As I begin to think about a new member class at the Kirk, I’m reminded about how some struggle with the idea of “membership.” Joining a church, what’s that about? To me, its the notion that, for this season, I want to explore with these people my place in God’s story, and how that story is moving and changing and alive at a particular place. Its not that you have to agree with everything, or even have everything figured out. Its that this is a place that is giving you something–some life, some meaning, some purpose, some inspiration, some rest, some swift-kick-in-the-butt–that you are willing to commit to for a time.

So, we’re pulling together a new member class for the end of the month. It might be small, it might be mighty. Not sure yet. But its exciting to me to dream about the future with these folk. When I look at our children’s time and see kids from Cameroon, Korea, El Salvador, and around the block, its exciting to dream about our future together, where we are community minded; loving & serving. (Incidently, that’s our new church tagline!) Our heart on strengthening the community around us, through loving and serving others. Finding where exactly that will lead us to serve and to love in the months ahead. Trusting God who transforms us in Christ and inspires us to transform the world for good.

I’m thrilled. Its been an exhilarating 9 months as pastor here. Let’s keep moving….

(PS: want to talk about membership at the Kirk? Send me a message and lets talk)

Image: a stylized picture of the Kirk’s new sculpture “Path of the Spirit” by member Karen Lyman. Its part of our new outdoor space I hope will become a gift to the neighborhood, a peaceful place for reflection and inspiration…

Sermon: Ancient Stories–Who Stays Our Hand

June 29, 2014 ~ Ancient Stories – Who Stays Our Hand from John Knox Kirk on Vimeo.

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on June 29, 2014.

Matthew 10:40-42
and Genesis 22:1-14




Our daughters are spending the summer at several camps, a week or two at a time.

Sports Camp

Outdoor Camp

A wonderful group camp at the Jewish Community Center

And, this past week, they joined many other Kirk kids up at

Heartland Center at their Day Camp.

Church Camp has been great for them.

They’ve come home with tales from the swimming pool

Showing off silly moves from group games they’ve learned

Singing church camp songs in the car:

You’re a peach of a Savior, you’re the apple of my eye…

                  That’s why I’m bananas for the Lord, yee-haw.

They’re having a great time at all of these camps.

And I spent a bit of time de-briefing them this week

talking about their experiences, them getting more and more about mine

and my work and the life of the church.

And we were talking about the bible stories they were exploring

and about the life of faith, and what it means to grow up

as people of faith in a world where one week you’re at church camp

and another week you’re at the Jewish Community Center.

It opened up all sorts of good, meaningful things for us.

But there was a jolt in the conversation,

as there often is with kids who cut to the chase,

when one of them was noting how their daddy worked at a church

and talked about God…all the time, as they put it.

Daddy, the question came,

                  Do you love God more than you love me? [Read more...]

Sermon: Ancient Stories–Who Comes in Times of Trouble

sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on June 22, 2014.

Romans 6:1-11
and Genesis 21:8-21



Not that long ago, Greg Garrett spent a weekend lecturing and preaching

in Cody, Wyoming.

His hosts built in time so he could take

a long hike in Yellowstone National Park.

Greg Garrett is a novelist, a professor of English at Baylor University,

and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.

But knowing that he was going hiking ALONE on a bear-laden trail,

they warned Garrett about the Swiss hiker

who had been eaten, on that very trail.

Only prudent, you know.

But that warning affected his whole Yellowstone experience.

On his hike, he saw bears everywhere:

this stump,

that clump of grass,

those shadows deep in the forest.


                          Bears everywhere. He was so jumpy thinking he was seeing all those bears,

it was hard for him to enjoy the amazing views around him.

In fact, he didn’t notice the views at all—

–just lots and lots and lots of things that looked like bears.

Garrett reflects:

“From the news we consume,

to the opinions we hold,

to the pain we feel,

and the preoccupations we share—

–in today’s world:

if you’re looking for bears,

                                                      you will most certainly see bears.    

                                                            …But, bears may be ALL you see.”

Garrett was speaking about his last six years studying the

emotional, spiritual, and theological responses

to the events of the past decade, beginning with 9/11.

Among the many conclusions he draws from his research is that

our culture has spent a decade plus warning us about BEARS.

As a result, people of faith come to God’s promises,

but DON’T experience those promises—

–INSTEAD “we see bears everywhere”

                                    because we expect to find them there.[i]

[Read more...]