Salsa Recipe. (Really!)


Now… for something COMPLETELY different.

[Sorry, but nothing remotely theological here.]

It’s been a heck of a week, so my husband Chuck and I took the evening off to relax. Over the past year, we’ve been experimenting with improving our cooking skills, stretching our comfort zone with recipes and experiments (some failed, some ah-may-zing). We’ve tried + modified many recipes…

and this, by far, is our favorite! We make it at least once each week!

So, tonight…
just for fun…
from the Kitchen of Hedy + Chuck…


You’ll need:

  • Two pounds regular plain ole tomatoes, nothing fancy (Chuck’s description) – about 4 tomatoes
  • Two jalapeño peppers
  • One red (or yellow or orange) pepper
  • One medium white onion
  • Three cloves garlic
  • Safflower oil
  • 1 cup of chicken broth (we use “Kitchen Accomplice” reduced sodium chicken broth concentrate with water) — Chuck says you get bonus points if you use homemade chicken broth … I don’t need the bonus points right now, so: concentrate!
  • Salt
  • Pot for boiling stuff
  • Large frying pan for cooking stuff

Boil tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic in pot with water. (How else to boil them other than in water? Don’t ask me. I’m still new at this!) Bring to boil, covered, but ajar, then reduce heat until just bubbling, about medium, for about 15-18 minutes.

Slice off about 1/4 cup of the onion, and put in blender. Do NOT slice off your finger, just the onion. (Not that I’ve done that. Just saying.) Chop in blender (setting 2 on our blender). Leave it in blender, waiting for the other stuff to be added.

While the other stuff is boiling away (bubbling away) on the stovetop, move to your cutting board. Dice the red pepper (or yellow or orange) and place in a bowl. Dice onion to be about the same amount as the diced pepper, and put in bowl.

By now, the stewed tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic should be ready. (I’m a slow chopper, so maybe you’ll have time to read a book, grab a glass of wine, whatever.) Use slotted spoon to put the tomatoes and garlic in blender with the 1/4 cup of now chopped onion. Put the jalapeños on the cutting board. Remove the stems from both. For one jalapeño, seed to your level of spicy-ness (Chuck likes all the seeds in, I’m wimpier, so we compromise with a half-seeded jalapeño). Place the jalapeño and seeds in the blender with the tomatoes, garlic, and onion. Add a a tablespoon of salt to the blender. (These are basically stewed tomatoes, so the salt cuts the super-acidity). Then… purée!

When you remove the boiling pot (at medium), don’t turn the heat off. Just put the frying pan right on it. Put in roughly 3 tablespoons of safflower oil. Let the oil get hot, then pour in the purée. Careful! It’ll splutter! Stir, cover ajar, cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Then, after 5-8 minutes, add the chicken broth. Stir, cover ajar, cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring from time to time.

While this is all bubbling away merrily on your stovetop, go back to your cutting board, where that last lonely jalapeño is pondering its fate. Seed the jalapeño (if you’re a glutton for punishment, leave the seeds in!), dice finely, and place in the bowl with the diced red pepper (or yellow or orange) and the diced onion.

The stuff in the frying pan has been cooking for 10 minutes now (or so). Add the pepper, onion, and jalapeño to the mix. Stir, cover ajar, cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, and breathing in deeply the absolutely fabulous smell emanating from your kitchen.

Chuck: “Now, c’mon, you KNOW what salsa looks like when it’s done. Apply that knowledge… and you’re done. Maybe test with a teaspoon, and add more salt if needed.”

Me: “Then… while it’s still piping hot, test with a chip. And another chip. And one more, because you need to be sure you’ve gotten it right.”



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Fear, Forgetfulness, & Faith

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
— Luke 17:11-19 (New Living Translation)

In the Holy Land, there are many biblically significant sites to visit. In Jerusalem alone, there are so many, including, but not limited to: St. Anne’s, the church next to the Pools of Bethesda. Dominus Flevit Church, on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, where Jesus wept before entering the Holy City. In that teardrop-shaped church, you can look through the Sanctuary window across the Kidron Valley, to see the old city of Jerusalem.

The Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed on the night he was arrested. St. Peter in Gallicantu, a church built over the prison where Jesus was held, and where his friend Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the rock of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified.

There are beautiful churches all around the land, such as: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; the Basilica of the Annunciation and St. Gabriel’s Church in Nazareth.

Off the beaten track, though, there is a seldom-visited church in the Palestinian town of Burqin in the West Bank.

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Burqin is not a thriving metropolis like Jerusalem. You can see it there, the red pointer. Almost directly south of it, at the very bottom of the frame, you can see Jerusalem. At the top, directly north of Burqin, is Nazareth in Galilee. There are under 6,000 people living there, the majority of them Muslim.

But there is a small community of Christian families, about 75 people, who can trace their ancestors back before the time of Jesus. Each Sunday they gather to worship at their church, known as the Church of the Ten Lepers.

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If you were sitting in their Sanctuary on a Sunday morning, in the pews with the worshipping community of Burqin, this is what you would see in front of you.

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It’s a very small church, with just enough room for the congregation to sit closely together on the wooden benches. The wall of twelve hand-painted icons in frames above the priest’s doorways reflect different scenes from the life of Jesus.

The first known church on this site was built in the 4th century. Local Burqin tradition tells us that that early church was built at the direction of the Empress Helena.

Helena was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who legalized Christianity in 313AD with his Edict of Milan. His mother’s deep faith had a great deal to do with this world-changing decision.

Toward the end of her life, we know that Helena took a pilgrimage through the Holy Land, and she is responsible for the initial preservation of many holy sites. When she came to the town of Burqin, she commanded that a church be erected to remember Jesus’ healing the ten lepers who encountered there.

Again, if you were seated in that small Sanctuary on a Sunday morning like this, looking at the icon wall, as beautiful as they are, your eyes might actually be drawn to what you could see off to your right.

You would see there a roughly hewn space, with unfinished and rough stone walls. In the middle of that space is a baptismal font, covered with a red and gold cloth.


Because of its remote location, this church in Burqin escaped the large-scale destruction of churches by invaders over the centuries. Additional structures were built around Helena’s church, but the surviving original church, which included this room you see here, is one of the ten oldest churches in the world.

If you look closely toward the top of this picture, behind the hanging lantern, a large hole. This hole in the ceiling would have lead up to the surface of the hill above.

This room was once an old Roman cistern, a placing for storing water. In the years since it had been dug out, it had fallen into disuse, and was used instead as a living space, separated, away from the world, for ten lepers, cast off from society. One wall of the cistern was removed to open it up, and the sanctuary was built next to it.


Can you imagine living there? With your only source of light and air coming through that hole in the roof. A hole that would enable you to get in and out, but would also let in the rain, the cold.

Can you imagine what it would have been like? Ten people living there together, closely packed in that dark, damp, depressing place. This was the home for those ten people afflicted with a disease so terrifying, so disfiguring, that they were rejected by their family of faith, by their own families, by their community.

This terrible disease, caused by a bacterial infection, not only robbed them of their health; it disfigured them, made them objects of fear and ridicule. It stole from them their community and their ability to care for themselves.

It is no wonder that, when they hear that the miracle-worker Jesus is walking by, on his way to far-off Jerusalem, they cry out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!”

Have mercy on us.
Have compassion.
Look at us, see us, care for us.
Help us.

And Jesus does. He has mercy on them. He looks at them, seeing not their disease, but seeing children beloved of God.

These desperate people, rejected and scorned, living forgotten in their dark oubliette of a cistern, Jesus has compassion for them, and he offers them the mercy for which they are begging.

“Go,” he says. “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

The priests were the ones who would have declared them unclean at the beginning stages of their leprosy. The priests would have provided the diagnosis, would have cast them out of the faith community. And they are the ones who can proclaim them cured and welcome them back in. It makes complete sense that Jesus would command them to show themselves to the priests.

And it also makes sense that they, hearing Jesus say these words, would have understood exactly what he meant: they were going to be made whole again.

And they take off at a run.

We don’t know how far along their journey it is that the healing takes place. Did one of them turn to another, and see that the lesions had disappeared, that the skin was now smooth and unblemished? Did they then look down at their own hands, previously rotting-away stumps, now with fully extendable fingers. Did they feel the healing in their eyes, as their vision strengthened, and they could see the road in front of them clearly for the first time in years?

We don’t know when it happened, but we know it did happen. And, no doubt, there was joy and praise ringing from their throats and tears streaming down their faces as they ran to show the priests what had happened.

Then… one of those men stopped. He watched as his fellow sufferers ran on. And he turned back. He went back to the place of his shame, his alienation, now the place of his healing.

He went back to give thanks to the one who had healed him. He falls at Jesus’ feet, pressing his face to the ground, and cries out: “Praise God!”

Jesus looks down at this man, and asks a question of those around him: “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

And then he says to the man: “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

This story is often told as kind of a cautionary tale about remembering to give thanks. We’re reminded that 90% of those Jesus healed at Burqin that day ran off without even a “Hey, thanks!” to Jesus. We’re told that we should be more like that one, lone man who returned, as an afterthought, yes, but who returned to give thanks to the man whose power had healed him. We need to be more aware of the ways God is working in our lives, and to be grateful for it all.

And that is absolutely true. Living lives of profound gratitude to our God is a fundamental lesson of this story. No doubt about it.

But there is a detail here that makes it about even more than simple thanksgiving.

We’re told that this man is a Samaritan. In our translation of the passage, Jesus calls him a “foreigner.” Allogenés: a person from another nation. We can gather from this that the nine other men — still running full tilt toward the priests who can declare them healed — those men were all likely Jewish. But this man is not.

Sometimes you’ll hear this story used as a condemnation of those nine ungrateful men. They violated the rule our Mamas taught us:

Say thank you.
Be polite.
Show gratitude.

But remember: they are just doing what Jesus told them to do! Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests, and that is exactly what they’re doing. Showing their thanksgiving through their joyful obedience.

So, why does the Samaritan come back?

As a Samaritan, he was already outside the purview of the priests. He wouldn’t have worshipping in the Temple or the local synagogues. He wouldn’t have gone to the priests for admittance back into the Jewish community, because he wasn’t a part of the community to begin with. So although he starts out automatically with the others, following Jesus’ orders, he stops and comes back.

And seeing him lying at his feet, Jesus gives him something that he did not offer the others. In addition to that physical healing, he says, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Jesus uses a different word for healing here. And it’s a really important one: sózó. It means to be delivered from danger, to be rescued, to be taken to a place of safety. It’s the foundation of the word Savior.

This man, the only one who came back to thank Jesus, who shows his faith in his healer by throwing himself to the ground and crying out “Praise God!” … this man is offered salvation through his faith.

As I sat in that little sanctuary in the Church of the Ten Lepers, as I stood in the middle of that cistern, I thought about how easy it is for people of faith to lose track of what is ultimately important.

It is easy for us to be deeply thankful for what we have, but forget all about the One who has given it all to us. It is easy for us to sing out with joy for healing, but not lay our lives down at the foot of the Healer.

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to help us see the danger in that.

The Samaritan wasn’t looking for human recognition of his healing. He was looking to praise the one who had given him that healing.

Those nine men did nothing actually wrong in racing off to the synagogue to be declared healed and returned to membership in the community. It was, after all, exactly what Jesus told them to do.

The error was in seeking first the approval, the acceptance of human beings. In seeking first the human acknowledgement of this miraculous healing.

Those nine men were deeply grateful for the gift they had been given. They knew what it meant for their lives, and they could not wait for it all to begin.

And that is completely, totally, utterly understandable.

But in their hurry to run toward that future, they literally turned their backs on the one who made that future possible, taking off without even a glance in the rear-view mirror.

My prayer for us this day, this Lent, is that we would not make that same mistake in our lives.

Instead, may we, like the Samaritan man, see the ways God is powerfully at work in our lives — the ways God is drawing us closer to God’s love, the ways God is healing us and guiding us and calling us and saving us — and that we would, like that man, lay our entire lives in front of Jesus, with hearts full of gratitude, crying out with full-throated voices:

“Praise God!”

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Strengthened by Diversity

Revelation 7:9-12 (New Living Translation)
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

No matter how many times I watch the video of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have been to the mountaintop” speech, no matter how many times I read the text, I cry.

Every. Single. Time.

Because it breaks my heart to hear Dr. King talking about seeing the Promised Land, but knowing that he might not arrive there himself. Just hours after his final speech was filmed, he was shot while standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.

But, even knowing all that, I still find it such a powerful image: Dr. King, standing on the mountaintop like Moses, looking over into the Promised Land, seeing the potential and the beauty and the sheer loveliness of freedom and equality for all. I love that image, the mountaintop.

Have you ever been to the top of a mountain? There’s a mountain I love in Maine: Mount Agamenticus. That’s really hard to say, so the locals just call it “Mount A.” It’s not a long hike, and you can actually drive almost to the top of it, but from the peak, it is an amazing view. Green fields below, small towns dotting the landscape, the Atlantic Ocean a strip of blue-gray on the far eastern horizon.

Being up on a mountain gives you a very different perspective on the land around you than when you’re doing in the midst of it all. There is a feeling of peace that comes with that lofty perspective, looking so much farther into the distance than we usually do.

The last time I was up there, quite a while back now, I was standing on a rock outcropping amongst tall trees, looking down the mountainside, with a sense of awe at the beauty before me, and I thought, “How amazing it would be to be able to bottle this feeling, this perspective, and to take it with me when I head back down.”

Because, sadly, we can’t stay on the mountaintop forever.

I was talking with someone the other day about the deep sadness that so many people report feeling about the state of our world right now. We talked about what is basically the opposite of the “mountaintop” experience — the claustrophobic, frightening feeling of being down in a tight valley, hemmed in on all sides.

It happens on a personal level, with family dysfunction, challenges at work, disagreements with a spouse, addictions, illness (your own or someone you love), grief over a devastating loss.

It also happens in a culture, when it feels like the world is pressing in on us, holding us down with all of its distrust and fear and violence and anger.

This friend and I talked about how when you’re in those moments, it feels like you will never get out of the valley. You’ll never be freed of those fears and doubts and pain. This valley, it is all that there is. End of story.

But as Christ-followers we know that the valley never — never! — has the final word. Just as the story of Jesus did not conclude with his death on the cross, or his being placed in the tomb, so our story — as individuals, as a community, and as a world — does not end in a valley of confusion and chaos. It does not.

Coming out of the valley, standing on the mountaintop, we can see the Promised Land. We can see a vision of the world that Jesus came to save, full of people beloved by the God who created them.

But the “valleys,” the “downs” we experience are not necessarily evil. Because it is only when we’re in the valley that we can truly understand what needs to change.

In that final speech of his life, Dr. King said this: “… I’m happy to live in this period… We have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Standing on that metaphorical mountaintop, Dr. King saw a vision of a world where all people were loved and accepted, where differences did not cause fear.

One of the ways we can capture a vision of the future, is simply this: by taking a good, hard look around our world, and recognizing the places that are not in line with what we learn from the life, teaching, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus. We look at those places, we name them, and then we name their opposite.

Where we see hatred, the Promised Land is love.
Where we see corruption, the Promised Land is justice.
Where we see distrust, the Promised Land is reconciliation.
Where we see judgment, the Promised Land is compassion.
Where we see abuse, the Promised Land is freedom.

When you see something that makes your blood boil, your spirit cringe, name what it is that has made you so angry. And then name its opposite, as well. That is a part of the Promised Land.

And when we have been to the mountaintop, when we have scanned the horizon and have seen the Promised Land, we know the direction we need to head to reach that world of hope.

One of the “mountaintop experiences” of my life happens just about every Sunday at the church I serve at Plantation United Methodist Church. It happens in meetings and events and classes. It happens in the church office and in counseling sessions and on our schools’ playgrounds. In other words, it happens quite often.

That mountaintop for me,
where I can look into the future with hope,
comes from looking at the faces
that make up this family of faith.

You see, the people of Plantation UMC have been gathered in from across our world, from the Caribbean, Europe, South and North America, Africa, Australia, Asia. Native-born Americans and immigrants. Different accents and skin color and hair texture and customs.

Gathered in from across the political spectrum, republican and democrat, conservative and liberal, politically active and politically ambivalent.

Gathered in from across the theological spectrum, as well. Traditionalists and progressives, conservative and reformist. Life-long Methodists, brand new Christians, spiritual but not religious.

The scripture we used in our services this morning from the Book of Revelation this morning said this: “… I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.”

Every nation and tribe and people and language.
Standing on the particular mountaintop that is
the pulpit from which I am privileged to preach,
I can see a glimpse of the beauty
and joy of the Promised Land.

I love what the people of Plantation have built over the years, and I never want us to take it for granted. What happens in worship and in service, it is still the exception in our world, not the norm. Even in the community directly around us, it is not the norm. And so this beautiful community of believers — strong in unity because of our diversity — I believe we have something powerful to offer to the people around us.

From that last message of Dr. King again:

“It’s all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but, one day, God’s preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.”

God’s promise is not just for us, some day, by-and-by when we’re in heaven. God’s promise is meant to make a difference here and now. For the people right here, around us in Plantation. In Tamarac. In Sunrise and Lauderhill and Fort Lauderdale and Davie. Wherever you find yourself as you read these words… God’s promise is meant for that town or city.

We are called to be God’s workers
right in the community
in which God has placed us.

Yes, I have been to the mountaintop, many times, and have seen the Promised Land of God’s people coming together in unity, learning from our differences.

But… I have also been to the deep, dark valley where the vision of that Promised Land is occluded and where it seems so very, very far away.

We are in a valley time right now in our country. A time when diversity and differences are feared instead of celebrated. A time when instead of “us together” it is “us” against “them.”

Conservatives VS Liberals
Black VS White
Republican VS Democrats
Straight VS LGBTQ
Native-born Americans VS Immigrants
Rich VS Poor
President-Trump Supporters VS President-Trump Opponents

I could go on.
But you get my point.

I am not afraid of conflict. That is, I am not afraid of healthy conflict: disagreements of understanding which are worked out in respect and love and compassion for each other. Because of our diversity, because of the large number of deeply held convictions among us here, we will have conflict. It’s inevitable. And… you ready for this? It’s not just inevitable. It’s necessary.

Without conflict, without differences, without diversity, we will never be able to move from where we are now. Surrounded only by people who look like us, think like us, live like us, we become stagnant, proud, and self-satisfied.

Conflict — our beliefs, our convictions being challenged and pushed in a new direction — conflict opens our spirits and minds to new ways of thinking. It helps us to see more clearly what the Promised Land might look like. A Promised Land with room not just for you or for me, but for all of God’s children.

Galatians, chapter 3, verses 26-29:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.”

Standing on the mountaintop, looking out into the future, we can see the Promised Land. From the view on the mountaintop, we can see a beautiful vision of the wild, wide diversity of God’s people, working together, challenging each other, unafraid of conflict, rejoicing in God’s guidance, supporting each other, embracing our differences in a bond of unity only possible in God’s love.

One last word from Dr. King:
“Let us rise up [this day] with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”

Thanks be to God.
And amen!

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Fisher Price Jesus

My niece Emma was born after I escaped the snowy northeast for the palm tree and stripmall-studded warmth of South Florida. But, through the miracle of the internet, I’ve been able to see her little face and hear her sweet voice just about every week as she’s grown.

I especially love FaceTiming with Emma on Christmas morning. Every year, as the days grow closer, she seems about ready to keel over from anticipation. The snow, the lights, the parties, the tree, and all those presents! From the first moment she learned to spell E‑M-M-A, new presents appearing under the tree became a source of unalloyed joy.

By that wonderful live computer video, I get to “play” with Emma in my mother’s living room. She shows me all her toys, and tells me stories about them. For Christmas many years ago I gave her a Fisher Price nativity set. The cutest little roly poly Mary and Joseph you’ve ever seen, with a little baby Jesus. I love the fact that she and her little brother William still play with the nativity set almost every day. If you look closely at the photo below, there’s Jesus, tucked away in his cradle in the second row.

Emma and Aunt Hedy

Baby Jesus, in his little straw-filled cradle, has been on the little Fisher Price yellow school bus. He has slid down the Hot Wheels race car track. (He doesn’t do too well on the turns.) Baby Jesus has been dunked in a glass of milk (“He’s swimming!” she said excitedly before her Grammie rescued him from the drink).

Over the years, Emma has asked me lots of questions about Baby Jesus:

“Baby Jesus was in his Mommy Mary’s tummy?”
Yes, that’s right. (Well, sort of, I didn’t think it was the right time to correct the biology of that question. She was three.)

“When was Baby Jesus’ birthday?”
We’re not really sure, but we celebrate his birthday on Christmas, December 25th.

“Did Baby Jesus cry a lot?”
We don’t know, but I would guess that he did.
(Her then newborn brother was apparently going through a screaming phase.)

“Did Baby Jesus’ Daddy have to go to work every day?”
Yep! He was a carpenter, which meant he worked with wood to make it into chairs and tables and beds and maybe even built houses. (I didn’t get into the possibility that he might actually have worked with stone instead of wood. Again: she was three.)

Not too long ago, though, she had me stumped. She said, with the sweetness that only a small, adorable, long-eyelashed child can muster:

“Aunt Hedy, this is baby Jesus. 
He’s a little baby. 
But he’s a grown-up, too, right? 
He’s a baby and a grown-up?”

Uh. Okay. … You see, it all happened a long time ago. So, yes. He’s both. And he’s neither.

And, there, in a nutshell, is the weirdness of the Christian calendar.

Poor Jesus. As we approach the end of every year, we wait in anticipation for him to be born. Mary and Joseph yet again make the trek to Bethlehem, even though we know what awaits them there: serious dearth of hospitality, the grudging offer of a backyard animal shelter, the pain of birth so very far from home, a child’s first entry into the world amidst the smell and dirt of a stall.

Then — hurrah! — the angelic choir breaks open the skies to the abject terror of the shepherds minding their own business below. Just a few days later, we celebrate Epiphany with those mysterious travellers from the east, the Magi, showing up with gifts generally considered by mothers everywhere to be fairly useless: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Celebrations ensue, too much eggnog is drunk, family fights break out over politics, Christmas wrapping paper is recycled, and, eventually, all the guests go home.

The next major church-going holiday isn’t until months later: Easter. For the ramp-up to that celebration, we remember how Jesus was betrayed, beaten, mocked, tortured, hung until he died on a cross, and his body respectfully stowed away in a temporary tomb.

Then, in the darkness of Easter morning, to the surprise of his despairing and grieving followers, Jesus is joyfully restored to the world, resurrected. He continues to teach and guide, then is taken up to heaven while his friends watch with gapingly dropped jaws.

A few more months go by, the weather turns cooler, and that resurrected Jesus is back in Mary’s womb, again awaiting birth in that stable in Bethlehem.

Birth … Death … Darkness … Resurrection … Darkness … Birth … and on.

“Aunt Hedy, this is baby Jesus. He’s a little baby. But he’s a grown-up, too, right? He’s a baby and a grown-up?”

Baby Jesus on the Laptop

The lectionary’s calendar of scripture readings for today (December 11th) include these opening verses of Psalm 126:

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,

    it was like a dream!

We were filled with laughter,

    and we sang for joy.

And the other nations said,

   “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!

   What joy!
Restore our fortunes, Lord,

    as streams renew the desert.

Those who plant in tears

    will harvest with shouts of joy.

They weep as they go to plant their seed,
   but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Like our Christian calendar, the psalm begins with joy — worshippers returning to the holy city — then quickly turns to weeping and a need for restoration. But even within that darkness, there is a promise that the weeping will not last, and singing will return.

Joy … Tears … Joy … Weeping … Joy … Tears … and on.

That’s kind of the way it works in life, isn’t it? Not just in the Christian calendar, or in the Psalms, but in our real, walking around, everyday life. In our country, in our world, in our families, in our spirits, we cycle through. We go through times of darkness, times of uncertainty and fear and doubt. We go through times of light, times of clarity and certainty and hope. And back and forth. And forth and back. And back and forth again.

Our cycle of remembrance in the Christian year helps us to acknowledge both the darkness that still swirls around us, but also to recognize that we live in a post-Christmas, post-Easter reality, where God is constantly making things new.

Joy from the tears.
Singing from the weeping.
Light from the darkness.

We remember that on that first Christmas morning, God became one of us, coming right down into our darkness, into our confused, messed-up world. In spite of the consequences of that decision, in spite of all that would happen to Jesus as he lived his too-short decades as a human being. In spite of all that — the birth, the joys, the tears, the weeping, the death — in spite of all that, on Christmas morning, God came down to earth.

This is baby Jesus.
He’s a little baby.
But he’s a grown-up, too.
He’s a baby and a grown-up.

Yes, he is.
Thanks be to God.

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It’s About Grace


[Week 1 in the GRATEFUL sermon series at Plantation United Methodist Church]

Psalm 100 (New Living Translation)
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

One of my first jobs after college was in the non-credit programming office at a local community college. On my first day there, my new boss called me into her office to pass on what she, no doubt, believed was sage, wise advice. She told me, her newly minted program assistant, that I should never, for any reason, in any circumstance, say “thank you” to someone.

In her office, thank you’s were forbidden, prohibited, banned. No verbal thank you’s, definitely none in writing.

“If you say thank you to someone,” she advised with a very serious expression, “you’ve admitted that you are obligated to them, that they’ve done something for you that you couldn’t do for yourself. Don’t ever put yourself in that position.”

(Needless to say, it wasn’t a super happy place to work.)

I’ve never forgotten her advice though, and have thought back to it many times over the years. Saying “thank you,” admitting gratitude, is putting yourself in someone else’s debt.

What she was so against was creating a “benefactor/beneficiary” relationship.

Benefactor BeneficiaryIn this, the benefactor gives something to, does something for a person, the beneficiary. When the beneficiary receives that something, he or she is now obligated to the benefactor. There is a difference in power here, you see. The more powerful benefactor, the one with superior resources, has condescended to use his/her power to assist little needy me. And now I have to — am required to — show gratitude for their kindness.

In this scenario, the benefactor, that powerful giver of gifts, gives expecting something back in return. It’s not a free gift. It’s a gift with some serious strings attached. I now owe the benefactor.

You may have heard this relationship referred to as quid pro quo, from Latin, meaning “something for something.”

I think one of the best examples of quid pro quo is the little plastic card I keep in my wallet. This card represents a contract between me and a credit card company. That company allows me to borrow money from them to buy stuff.

Do they make that money available to me
out of the goodness of their hearts?
Do they do it because they love me?

No, of course not.

They give because they expect something in return. And what they’re actually hoping is that I won’t be able to pay it all back right away, because then they get more out of the relationship — they get to charge me interest. For some cards, a really, really high interest.

The credit card company has the resources, the power. Entering into a contract puts me in that lower position of beneficiary.

I can see where it would be very, very easy to see our relationship with God in this way. After all, can you think of a situation where there is a bigger difference in power? God, the Creator of the universe, and… us?

For God to give to us, to care for us, to guide us, that is a pretty big deal. But this relationship? It’s exactly the kind of thing that would have terrified my old boss, that she would have deeply resented. This relationship puts us in serious debt. And it’s a debt we cannot possibly repay.

Our scripture today is from Psalm 100. In it, there are seven commands, seven orders or instructions:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! …
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.

I have spoken with many people over the years who view their relationship with God as an obligation, a duty, a solemn commitment to which they are bound. It is a serious deal, somber and sober.

What then do we do with a scripture like today’s?

Come into worship “shouting with joy” we’re told. The underlying Hebrew word means to call out jubilantly at the top of one’s voice. Enter into the sanctuary yelling out a bold


“Worship the Lord with gladness,” we’re commanded, with joy and mirth! “Come before him with joyful singing,” the Hebrew meaning to come up to God’s face with our voices ringing aloud.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving,” the word for Thanksgiving, todah, meaning to throw, to cast, as an arm outstretched in praise.

“Give thanks to him, and praise his name.” Here the Hebrew, barak, means to kneel in reverence.

Come in to worship God,
we’re commanded,
with voices shouting out our joy,
arms thrown open in glee,
falling to our knees in gratitude.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound a whole lot like quid pro quo obligation or duty to me. It sounds like a whole big parcel of fun and rejoicing!

Because this relationship between us and God?
It’s about grace.

something given or done,
simply because of love,
a gift freely given with no strings.

That is how God gives to us.

“For the Lord is good,” our scripture reads. “His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

That word translated as “unfailing love” here is one of my favorite Hebrew words: hesed. It means steadfast love, kindness. But my favorite rendering of it is this: covenant loyalty. God’s consistent faithfulness to the promises made to God’s people.

Hesed is really important for us to truly understand what God has done for us, and what God desires our relationship to be!

God, infinitely more powerful than us, to whom we owe our very existence, came down to our level, right down into our messy world, our messy lives. God didn’t stay far above us, distant and cold and calculating. Jesus lived among us, teaching and healing and challenging and, with every breath, demonstrating God’s commitment to us.

And then Jesus
did the unthinkable,
the unimaginable.

Jesus, the Divine Son of God, went to the cross
to die for us.

On the night before he was arrested, Jesus met in a room in Jerusalem with his closest followers, and they shared a meal.

From Matthew 26:26-28: As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”

“This confirms the covenant between God and God’s people.” God’s hesed — covenant loyalty — so strong, so complete, so absolute, that God was willing to come to earth, to become human, and to die to fulfill the terms of that covenant.

For you.
For me.
For people all around this world.
For people stretching back into time
and forward into eternity.

That is grace. Beautiful grace. God’s love, freely given.

Although I do remember and sometimes think about the advice of my old boss to never say thank you, I am deeply grateful that other people came into my life to teach me the exact opposite.

People whose lives reflected God’s love, and through whom gratitude shown forth in their lives, their words and actions. I am grateful to the people who taught me, so patiently, about God’s love, about Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice, about God’s purpose for my life. It’s quite likely that without their witness and example, I wouldn’t be here today.

And so, on this All Saints Sunday, as we give thanks to God for God’s grace, as we remember and celebrate the lives of those who have passed, we also remember that we are here today because people — from generation to generation — have passed on the knowledge of God’s love, of God’s steadfastness and kindness.

We are here today because we were taught, shown, that God offers us freedom and forgiveness and peace and joy in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

And what God wants from us in return is simply this…

For us to accept that freedom and forgiveness and peace and joy, and to allow it to work within our lives.

God desires us
to accept God’s love,
not out of obligation or duty,
but as a freely given,

That acceptance is what leads to better, healthier choices in our daily lives, it leads to healing in our relationships, to peace in our spirits regardless of what the world throws at us. And that acceptance is what naturally leads to the kind of rejoicing gratefulness we see in our scripture:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! …
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.

And so, this morning, with the saints whose lives we celebrate, with our hearts full of joy and gratitude, we say…


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Tree of Life

Tree of LifeWoke up this morning thinking about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Another shooting. Another place of safety violated. Another community rocked to its core. More families in pain and grief.

Yesterday, before a funeral, a church member came up to ask if I had heard about the shooting. He asked me, “What is wrong with our world?”

What is wrong with our world?
I’ve thought about that
… a lot.

So here it is. In a nutshell, this is what is wrong with our world: us versus them. The belief that the “other” — ethnic group, nationality, religion, party affiliation, gender, whatever — the belief that “they” are somehow less than “us.”

There is no them.
Only us.

Because we are ALL messed up, broken people, just trying to live in this messed up, broken world. And, at the same time, we are ALL beloved children of God… the God who finds actions like this shooting appalling and heartbreaking.

Fight Hate. Live Love.
And don’t stop.

May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

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River of Life, Bread of Heaven


Message for World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2018
For a video of the sermon, click here:

Luke 22:14-23 (NIV)
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.


Two years ago
standing on the bank of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Looking out at the water rushing by

I wondered
Could this be where
it all began

Hundreds of miles of shoreline
so the likelihood wasn’t high
somewhere along those shores
somewhere along that river
Jesus had stood
looking out at the water
rushing by

And so
I wondered

Could this be where Jesus stood
Could his feet have rested where mine
now made an impression in the muddy bank
Could this be where he walked
down the slope
his feet entering the cold water
wading out to where his cousin John waited
Could this be where it all began
Could this be where Jesus was baptized

Standing on the bank of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Looking out at water rushing by
and thinking

This beautiful world
populated by beautiful people
made in the image of God

Daily I am amazed by the
beauty I see
in the world around me
in the kindness of strangers
in the laugh of a child
in a smile set amongst deep wrinkles

That beauty, though,
that image of God
all too often
seems overlaid
with a sharp patina
tainted sullied

This beautiful world
created by God
filled with beautiful people
created by God

and yet
we see
and experience
callousness and care-less-ness

where human beings
become less than we are
less than we could be
less than we should be
where the image of God
is covered over
with something
quite else entirely

While this spirit inside me
longs for something pure
and holy and spotless
and joy-filled
while it longs for what is
clean and good and true

All around us the world
seems to clamor loudly for
clear-cut divisions
analyzed and judged
and neatly wrapped up into
unambiguous categories
of “us” and “them”

Nevermind the damage done
to the people placed
so firmly
on one side of the dividing line
or the other

Nevermind the damage done
to relationships
to communities
to countries
to the world

The lines are drawn
The sides are taken

The image of God
in each other
no longer recognized
no longer looked for
no longer seen

Standing on the bank of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Looking out at the water rushing by
I pondered

Jesus came willingly
into that ancient, 2000-years-ago world
a world that was deeply divided

divided by politics
divided by religion
divided by financial status
by ethnicity
by race
by language
by gender
by ability
by age

And I wondered
would Jesus
born into that ancient world
in a distant land
would he
recognize his world
in ours

We who are
so deeply divided

divided by politics
divided by religion
divided by financial status
by ethnicity
by race
by language
by gender
by ability
by age

Jesus’ world
in many ways
not so different from ours

Jesus came willingly into that world
to show a different way
an alternative way
a better
life-sustaining way

He came to challenge
the self-sufficiency of the time
He came to disrupt the complacency
to confront the cruelty
to oppose the callousness
to expose the injustice

He poked and prodded and provoked
He risked scandal and censure

Without a thought
for his own comfort
for his own preferences
his own safety

In Christ’s family
In this family
There is no one in
No one out
No insider no outsider

In Christ’s family
In this family
There are only
children of God

In the deepest place in me
in the truest part of who I am
I long for this
I long for a place

where the divisions of the world
are put aside

where each person
is known and valued and loved

where flaws are seen
and challenged
but never judged

where cruelty is replaced
with compassion

where judgment is replaced
with understanding

where corruption is replaced
with justice

where difficult truths are told
in deeply embedded love

perfection is never expected
but always sought

which is only
only possible
through Christ

In Christ’s family
In this family
we are a church for all people

I long for this
I long for this place
this water
this table
this forgiveness
this joy
this peace

Standing somewhere
along the banks of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet

As Jesus walked down to the river
As his feet entered the cold water
As he prepared to be baptized
As he began his public ministry

In that moment
Did Jesus pause
Did he look out at the water rushing by
and think

about all that lay ahead
about all that that moment
would set in motion
Moving as inexorably forward
as the water
in that never pausing
Jordan River?

Did he think about
his life
which would be given
for us

and healing
and challenging
and forgiving

Jesus would spend his life
for us

leading up to a meal
shared with his friends
on the last night
of his life

This meal
which we celebrate
this day

This meal
which we share
with Christ-followers
across the world
on this
World Communion Sunday

A meal
which took simple bread
and declared it to be holy
“My body,”
he cried,
“Broken for you.”

A meal
which took simple wine
and declared it to be holy
“My blood,”
he declared,
“poured out for you.”

Why would Jesus do this
for us
Why would he give so much
for us
Why would he give
it all

for us
for you
for me

Why would Jesus do this

Jesus saw
a people
not defined by politics
not defined by religion
not defined by financial status
by ethnicity
by race
by language
not defined by gender
by ability
by age

Jesus saw
the image of God
in you
in me
somewhat sullied
not quite luminous

But Jesus saw
that image of God


It cannot be taken away
from you
It cannot be put aside
I cannot be lost

And for that
Jesus was willing

to give it

My body, he said, broken for you
My blood, poured out for you

And so
we come here this morning
recognizing the brokenness
of our lives
our families
our community
our church
our world

We come here knowing
that we have a God
who meets us here

at this water
at this table

along the banks of the Jordan River
on a path worn down
by the passage of centuries of feet
Jesus walked down to the river
for a baptism meant to
cleanse from sin
not his sin
not his mistakes
not his

Jesus walked down to the river
for a baptism meant to
our sin


Standing here
coming forward
on a spiritual path worn
by the passage of centuries of feet

Together we come
with the children of God
stretched across this globe

Together we come
to surrender to God’s care
to accept God’s forgiveness
to rejoice in God’s love

Thanks be to God!

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