Tempting the Truth

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

March 1, 2020


Sometimes it is hard to separate fact from fiction. I have heard that the coronavirus was created by people, or deliberately released by people.  According to John Hopkins, it most likely was a mutated virus present in an animal, such as birds or mice.  So while it’s true that all the Disney parks in Asia are temporarily closed, it is not true that the virus started with Mickey.  I’ve heard that a face mask will protect you from this virus, but it won’t.  If you already have the virus, it may help you keep from passing it on.  As of February 28 this year, 80 people in countries outside of China have died from the coronavirus.[1]

While some things are easy to verify, it’s very difficult to distinguish pure truth from partial truth.  With the ease of e-mail, Twitter and FaceBook, misinformation spreads globally within milliseconds. How tempting it is to believe things that support our point of view, whether they are true or not.  My sister-in-law posted an erroneous political statement on her FaceBook page, and my husband replied with a fact-check link, letting her know that what she had posted was false.  She replied that she did not care.

We are in a period of societal regression. In a regression, people act to relieve the anxiety of the moment rather than to act on principle. In a societal regression, people think in terms of “us versus them.” “One side of the division personifies all-goodness and the ‘other’ represents badness and all undesirable attributes.”[2] Group identity becomes more important that individual identity.

Regression also altars our morality. Groups work to protect their identity and power, which leads to a sense of entitlement to seek revenge. A prime example of this happened in Tennesee after the War Between the States.  In order to reassert white power, six Confederate veterans formed the Ku Klux Clan.

Evil has been around a long time.  It tested Jesus in the wilderness, speaking to him in partial truths.  At first the devil’s requests sounded reasonable.  To a man who had not eaten in forty days, he said, If you are the Son of God, command these stones to turn into bread.  Jesus resisted and remained true to his relationship of trust with God his father.  The irony of this is that Jesus would feed more than 5,000 people with bread.  In the blessing of holy communion, he himself becomes our bread.

Placing Jesus on top of the Temple, the tempter quoted scripture.  The angels will bear you up and you will not dash your foot against a stone, the evil one said. While the scripture quote was true, the devil was not speaking the truth.  The devil’s motive was to shift Jesus’ loyalty.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison for plotting against Adolf Hitler, he began an essay entitled, “What Does ‘Telling the Truth Mean?”[3]   In it, he examined the case of a teacher who, during class, asked his student, “Is it true that your father often comes home drunk?”  Though the young man had often witnessed his father’s drunkenness, he answered “no.”

Bonhoeffer asserts that the teacher is guilty of lying because he interfered in the life of the family, and used the boy’s shame to humiliate him in front of his peers. .  In exposing the truth of the father’s drunkenness, the teacher failed to recognize and consider the addicted man’s full humanity.  Because the teacher used the truth as a weapon that would destroy relationships, he was not speaking the truth.  There was no purity of heart, nor seeking the well-being of the student, in the teacher’s question.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer posits that someone who uses the principle of truth to deceive people is a liar. He writes:  A truthful word is not an entity constant in itself but is as lively as life itself.  Where this word detaches itself from life and from the relationship to the concrete other person, where ‘the truth is told’ without regard for the person to whom it is said, there it has only the appearance of truth but not its essence.[4]  If the teacher really wanted the truth, he would have suffered along with the boy his experience of living with the drunken father.

Now the serpent was the craftiest of the animals the Lord God had made.  He asked the woman, Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?  The woman answered yes, and that God told them that she and Adam would die if they touched it.  The crafty serpent told her, “’You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”  Bonhoeffer maintained that the serpent spoke untruthfully because he used the truth to violate God’s boundary.  Not concerned for the truth, but for his own control and power, the serpent exposed, pun intended, Adam and Eve’s doubts about God. There was only the appearance of truth but not its essence in the serpent’s words. God’s truth in response to Adam and Eve’s shame was to cover their nakedness.  So, whose truth do we hear, and whose truth do we listen to?  We grapple with this question every day.

Though Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they remained God’s beloved.  We, too, are God’s treasured children.  God created us for more than just tolerance and fear or indifference toward one another.  We are created in God’s image, to honor, and celebrate our gifts and differences.  This is God’s truth.  This is our truth.  In these turbulent times, this is the truth to hold above all others.


~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/2019-novel-coronavirus-myth-versus-factweb accessed 02/29/2020.

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-me-in-we/201806/7-signs-societal-regression web accessed 02/29/2020.

[3] Root, Michael.  Religion Online.  https://www.religion-online.org/article/if-the-truth-weree-told/ web accessed February 27, 2020.

[4] Ibid.



Matthew 17:1-8     Transfiguration Sunday


Scripture is full of stories that take place on the top of mountains.  Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  Mt. Carmel is where Elijah called down fire from heaven to ignite a rain-soaked sacrifice, proving that there is one true God. Jesus’ longest continuous discourse is the Sermon on the Mount.  Maybe this is why many mountains evoke a sense of wonder.

Being in Virginia gives us opportunity to experience the wonder of the mountains.  I remember driving up to our VA Synod office, which is located on the campus of Roanoke College.  It was a dreary, drizzly day.  It was a long drive by myself, and I was grateful to be within 30 miles or so of my destination.  As I crested one mountain, the clouds were starting to break, and light streamed through the heavens, leaving a holy glow right onto where I figure the Bishop’s office is.

This morning we hear another heavenly story that takes place on a mountain. Six days later, we are told.  Six days after Jesus told his disciples that he would lose his life on the cross, and that if they wanted to find their life, they must lose it, too.  Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. The sun came streaming down through the clouds, and Jesus’  face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah showed up.

Peter, God love him, blurted out how good it was to be there together, and how he could build three houses for them.  But in the middle of his talking, a cloud appears.  Out of the cloud comes God’s voice, interrupting Peter.  This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.  Isn’t that just like God to interrupt us when we are making plans for Jesus?

Peter had wanted to stay in that moment, and in that place, but we cannot contain that which is holy.  God’s voice and presence were unmistakable and overwhelming, so much so that the disciples fell to the ground, and were afraid. Seeing the disciples afraid, Jesus put his hands on them.  It’s okay. Get up. Be raised[1].  Don’t be afraid. I am with you. You are safe with me.  Then they went down the mountain together.

Our Virginia Synod youth retreats all take place on the mountains of either Roanoke or Lynchburg. They all involve going up and down only small portions of the steep slopes. Peter, James and John must have been in better shape than I am. (We here in Williamsburg are laughingly referred to as “flatlanders.”)

The world the kids leave behind to come to a retreat is full of blessings and curses.  Some of the kids are incredibly talented with musical gifts of playing and instrument or singing.  There are those blessed with artistic creativity, and others who are wicked smart.  Then there are athletes who can leap up the mountain in a single bound.

Being a super star doesn’t save these kids from parents who tell them they are not good enough, and from kids who try to lure them to the dark side of drugs and alcohol.  Some come to these events still grieving the death of a friend who committed suicide, or a parent who has been suffering from cancer.  These curses also happen to youth whose God-given gifts have not yet been discovered. Sometimes in the middle of other challenges, kids are harassed by bullies.  Then, too, are those who are struggling with their sexuality and gender identity.

At the top of the mountain, God shines light through Jesus, transfiguring him from a person we read about into a real presence,– humanity and divinity melding together, bringing love so bright that curses transform into blessings. When 150 or so of us stand together singing that we are baptized into the death of Christ and raised again to new life, the Holy Spirit starts swaying with us.  When someone in our small group feels safe enough to share deep pain, we encounter the living God in the person of Jesus Christ. When we drop to our knees in fear, we feel Jesus’ touch.  We listen to each other.  We  listen without judgment, which requires the presence of God’s love, and love begets love.

Perhaps the biggest curse is at the foot of the mountain where the world’s light shines, not on Jesus, but on achievement, appearance, popularity, and having stuff.  Most kids don’t want to go back home.  They beg to linger on the mountaintop in the presence and light of Christ.  Like Peter, they want cabins in which the Holy One can stay.  Just as God transfigured Jesus for the sake of the disciples, on top of the mountain, Jesus is transfigured for these young people.  And for us old ones, too.  I hope you can find yourself in these experiences.  After all, adults are just kids who are taller.  Well, some adults are taller.

We head back down the mountain to the flatland. God’s voice becomes quiet, and Jesus’ light seems hidden.  But having seen Jesus transfigured, we are transformed.  We cannot experience the risen Christ and not be changed. Amid earning a living, taking care of ourselves, struggling through days of missing a loved one, how easy it is to forget the top of the mountain.

The season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday, when we will receive the cross in the form of ashes on our foreheads.  The forty days of Lent are a time for us to do what God told us to do,– listen to his Son.  Our spiritual Lenten disciplines help us find ways to focus not on the chatter of the world, but on Christ. We start the journey once more to find our way back to being God’s Beloved, discovering that Jesus walks down the mountain with us.

~ Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] “Be raised” is a more accurate translation.  It brings to mind Jesus’ coming resurrection.

Y’all Are

Matthew 5:13-20     Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Who are you?  How would you describe yourself?  Patient?  Caring?  A force to be reckoned with?  How would Jesus describe you? Who are we together as church? Are the words Jesus said only applicable to the particular people with whom he was speaking?

You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world, Jesus told those who were gathered.  You are salt and light.  You are of the earth, and of the world, together in community. Jesus was not speaking to the leaders, or movers and shakers of his day.  Jesus wasn’t in the Temple.  He was on the mountain speaking to ordinary folks, people who were hungry and poor, the wounded and forgotten, and those who cheated on their taxes. Jesus spoke to people who were looked down upon, and people who were persecuted.  They were people who longed for freedom from so many things.

You are, he told them.  Not you might become salt and light, one day, but you are. It is an unconditional declaration that should sound ludicrous to us.  As outrageous as telling the grieving, the poor, and the meek that they are blessed. What is more outrageous is that Jesus is speaking to us, too.  The “you” in “you are” is plural.  All y’all, we all, are salt and light, each and every one of you, both individually and collectively.

In Judaism, salt was a symbol of covenant.  Being the salt of the earth means we belong to each other.  Being the salt of the earth means we belong to God, who made the heaven and earth, and us.  While we might think we are not equipped to make a difference, God tells us otherwise. In Jesus’ time, salt was a priceless and precious commodity. One commentator reminds us that calling someone salt in Jesus’ day carried a different connotation than it does now.  He suggests a way to hear this as those listening to Jesus would have is to say, “’You are red hot pepper for the whole earth!’ In this way, we are reminded that the statement refers not to status, as if it said ‘You are the world’s ethical elite,’ but to function:  ‘You must add zest to the life of the whole world.’”[1]

In the time of Jesus, light came from small candles or lamps, yet could illumine all the space in the one-room houses.  Most of us are afraid of the dark and yet we are all called to be light.  It’s easier to shine together.

First God blesses us, and only then comes God’s command.  We are lifted up and supported before God challenges us.  God doesn’t call us to be anything we are not, but rather to live into the fullness of what we already are.  We are loved before God tells us to give it away. We are salt and light, not for ourselves, but each other, and for the world.

Jesus talks of salt that loses its taste, and hiding a lamp under a bushel. This may be Jesus’ humor, as salt may dissolve, but it doesn’t lose its taste.  And who would put a lit lamp under something that could catch fire?  But there are times when we feel as if the flavor is gone, and our light has been blown out.  Sometimes, we feel as if we have nothing to give.

I love this quote that is attributed to C.S. Lewis: “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”  That’s what we do as people and community centered in Christ.  We are created to carry each other.  But know that even when we feel that we are not salt and light, God says we are.  Facts and feelings do not always align.

We are called, individually and together, to be different than the world. Our secular world places value on money, looks, and position.  Our calling is distinctive.  God calls us to value justice, mercy, and kindness.  We are to love our enemies and be generous to the poor. Our proclamation of Christ as Lord comes through what we do, and who we serve.

We have been looking at our church’s mission, and our activities as we work our way through our Mission Site Profile.  Many of you are engaged with our Preschool Winter carnival today.  We’ve experienced renewed passion for this ministry to our community families.  We are strong in mission in many other ways, too.  We have approved our financial plan for ministry, otherwise known as the budget.  It includes plans for helping those without a home, and people who are food insufficient.  There is more to be done, and God calls us to do it.

What an exciting time for us!  God has blessed us with resources to use to bring God’s love to those outside our walls.  God has given us a passion for others, especially for those who are in need.  Our opportunities to live God’s mission for us in this time and place are boundless.

Jesus continues to encourage us, saying, For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribe and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  To flesh this out, (pun intended), Jesus tells us to follow the law, but also that we need to do more. Jesus himself was the living justice, mercy and faith of God.  He did not interpret the law; he lived it.  He fulfilled the law in his flesh.[2] The heart of the Gospel is loving our neighbors, even our enemies.  Our world is having trouble doing that.  In order to fulfill God’s mission, which is our mission, we need to remember we are red hot peppers, not for ourselves, but for each other and for the whole world.  We have parts to play in a story that is so much bigger and better than anything story that Disney can produce.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] Hare, Douglas.  Interpretation:  Matthew.  Louisville:  John Knox Press, 1993.  44.

[2]Paraphrased and adapted from Taylor, Barbara Brown.  The Seeds of Heaven, “Exceeding Righteousness.” 6. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 6.

The Refiner and Purifier

Malachi 3:1-4    Luke 2:22-40

     Presentation of Our Lord

Today is the 40th day after Christmas.  We have traveled a long way on Sunday mornings since the baby Jesus was born.  The Wise Men came to visit this holy child.  Jesus grew up, and was baptized by John.  He called his disciples to follow him.

Today we go back in time to when Jesus was an infant. Forty days after this baby’s birth, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him, to offer him, to the Lord.  In accordance with Jewish law, Mary was required to present herself as well.  She needed to be declared clean 40 days after giving birth.  It was also necessary that the family present a sacrifice.  Which animal was given to sacrifice depended upon the wealth of the family.  According to the law, a “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” was what this poor family was to offer.  This was a far cry from a spotless lamb that someone of stature would bring.

No matter when you might have gone to this temple, you would have found Anna. Anna spent years, every day, and every night, praying and waiting for her savior to come.  Simeon, too, was praying expectantly.   The Holy Spirit had assured him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah, and it was the Holy Spirit who guided Simeon to the temple that day.  When Jesus’ parents brought him into the temple, Anna and Simeon were there, waiting.

Listen again to what Simeon told Jesus’ mother Mary:

This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Mary’s soul would be pierced when the nails pierced her son’s hand and feet.  The core of her being would crumble as she stood at the foot of the cross, unable to stop his lungs from filling with fluid.  I wonder how long Mary pondered in her heart what Simeon told her.

Today, February 2, is the feast day of the Presentation of Our Lord.  When we celebrate this day, we remember Jesus and his family’s obedience to the law.  The law was an important part of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

When Jesus got older, he entered the temple again to find the money changers, and those selling sacrificial animals.  These were dishonest people exploiting the law for their own gain.  Jesus poured their coins out onto the floor, grabbed tables and turned them upside down. With a whip of cords, Jesus drove them out. He said, “’Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up’” [John 2:19].

Jesus was speaking of the destruction of his body. His actions in the temple drew him closer to death.  He would soon be arrested, and hung on a cross to die.  Treason, or political insurrection were the charges.  His accusers taunted him, putting a crown of thorns on his head and a purple robe hung across his shoulders.  Some of the religious leaders said, “’We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God’” (John 19:7].

When Simeon beheld the baby Jesus, his eyes saw not only the sword that would pierce Mary’s soul, he also saw salvation. Simeon could only speak so honestly about death while he was standing in the light of the promised Messiah.  Holding the Word made flesh, Simeon praised God, My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. Simeon could die in peace, knowing that in and through this child, God fulfilled God’s promises.  Jesus will bring salvation.  No longer will people need to go to the Temple to be purified.

The prophet Malachi described the Messiah as one like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. Christ’s presence with us changes us.  God comes to us, washing us clean in the waters of baptism.  Our being made clean and pure and holy is God’s doing, not ours.

Today is Groundhog Day, and I have to admit, the movie of the same name is one of my favorites. Without giving too much away, because I know that now you all want to see this movie, let me share some of the story with you. The main character, Phil, a self-centered and rude reporter, was sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the groundhog’s weather prediction.  Supposedly, his ex-girlfriend put a curse on him, and he relived Groundhog Day over and over.  He woke up every morning remembering what had happened.  Although the same things would happen again, he was able to change his behavior.  Eventually, he became a generous and selfless person and lived happily-ever-after.

I love this movie partly because it is so antithetical to Lutheran theology.  We are not capable of perfection.  We are neither 100 % saint, nor 100% sinner. We are both. Luther said that our faith deepens the more we understand this.

We cannot even keep our New Year’s resolutions!  Despite all the self-help books and web sites, we fall short.  We miss the mark.  Maybe we don’t need to relive every day trying to make ourselves better.  We need to place ourselves and our faith in the one who refines and purifies us, the one who loves us, apart from what we do or do not do.  For God so loved the world.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

Finding Jesus

John 1:29-42    

Second Sunday after Epiphany

It’s not often that I get out into stores, but a friend and I made plans to have lunch together at a restaurant that was part of a large shop.  I arrived five minutes early, and suspected that my friend would arrive five minutes late. The facilities were design such that in order to get to the restaurant, you must walk through sections of things available for purchase.  I’ve heard that IKEA is designed this way, too.  In this store, you must walk through the displays of seasonal items, quite attractively arranged. Then comes the Miele purses and extra covers.  Along the way are smell good lotions and stuff.  Continuing to the café, you will find a case of homemade fudge.  Chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate with nuts, vanilla, chocolate with marshmallows…  If you make it past the chocolate, you find ceramics and dishtowels, followed by cards.  Finally, you will encounter someone who will seat you.

Figuring that I had at least ten minutes until my friend arrived, I began looking at all of the unusual items that they have for sale.  I stood in front of a large section of various and sundry items.  I suppose having stood there for quite a long time, taking in all the goodies for sale, my eyes were kind of glazed over when one of the salespeople approached me.  “Can I help you?” she said.  “What are you looking for?”

It was a great question.  “What are you looking for?”  Thousands of answers flashed through my head.  More time in my day.  An exercise routine that I won’t abandon.  A retirement fund with a high rate of return.  A good friend.  Affirmation. Peace.  “Are you looking for anything in particular?” she asked, bringing me back to reality.  “No, thank you,” I answered.  But I wondered, what is the one thing that I would like to find. If you were looking for one thing in particular, what would it be? Maybe, like me, your first thought wasn’t a savior.

John the Baptizer had been standing with two of his disciples.  One was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  We don’t know the other one’s name.  It could have been Bob, or Nancy, or Sue.  As Jesus strolled by, John shouted, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  And the two, who had been following John, began to follow Jesus.  Jesus turned around.  Was it because he heard John, or did he turn because he sensed someone was following him? Whichever it was, when Jesus turns around, someone’s life is about to change.  It is in the turn, in the changing direction, that new possibilities open up.  Anyway, when Jesus saw the two people walking behind him, he asked them, “What are you looking for?”

It is interesting that Jesus did not ask them, “Whom are you looking for,” but rather he asked them “What are you looking for?”  Sometimes, what you are look for determines what and whom you find.  The two disciples never answered the question. Whatever they were looking for, even if they didn’t know what that was, they knew that they could find it in the one who found them.  They called Jesus, “Teacher,” voicing their recognition that this was a person who could show them something they needed to know.  “Where are you staying?” they asked, hoping that he would ask them to come to his hotel room, maybe hang around the pool, and talk late into the night.  Maybe if they went with him, they could find out what it was they were searching for.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asked with more understanding than they had themselves.  Jesus invited them to  “Come and see.”  He invited them, as he invites us, to come, to sit at his feet, to see for ourselves the new life that comes from following him. Jesus’ invitation is not to be a fan, but to be a follower.  Jesus bids us to follow him, “The Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world.”  Of the world!  As St. Paul said, he came for Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.  Jesus came for you, and for me, Jesus came for the world, and invites us to follow.  “Come and see.” What if we did just that?  If we were followers, and not just fans;  If we lived that out, what would that look like? Come and see.  Be a witness.  Let my light shine through you.

This Monday, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived, and died, as God’s witness.  An advocate of non-violence,  Dr. King led the civil rights movement.  He believed the Word that said that God created all of us in God’s image. But he did not simply believe it, he was claimed by it.   Dr. King was so much so that he proclaimed it, he led others to enact it, he made a difference.  He lit the way for healing, reconciliation and restoration. At age 35, he was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  He bid others to come and see, to see Christ in action, to be more than a fan, to be a follower.

Dr. King kept asking, and, through the living Christ, answering the question, “What are you looking for?”  This is the question that Jesus asks us.  It is the question that we must repeatedly ask ourselves, and keep listening to God for the answer.

This encounter isn’t only about what we are looking for; it’s also about what Jesus sees.  When Jesus looks at Simon, he sees Peter the Rock.  Instead of seeing the person who never seems to understand, he sees the one who will one day lead the church.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who sees who we are beyond our sin.  As John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” The message is clear.  However deep the hole we have dug for ourselves is, God is right there, ready to break the chains of sin and set us free. This is the reality God calls us to live into and to bear witness to. What has God’s freedom and love looked like for you?  What stories do you have?  These are the stories we are called to share.  This is the gift that we have to give to those who don’t know the power of God to give us new life through Christ.

“Come and see,” Jesus says.  And when we do, when we are not just a fan, but a follower. We are God’s light in the darkness.  We live in a world that needs to know it is loved. We need the hope of the Gospel, of forgiveness and salvation.  In this time, how can we do anything but go and tell of God’s love in our lives?

“What are you looking for?”  Jesus asks.  Good question.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin



Word Made Flesh


John 1:1-20    

Second Sunday of Christmas

Our reading of the birth narrative this morning doesn’t tell of a compassionate innkeeper or smelly sheep and shepherds.  In fact, you can hunt John’s gospel for the Virgin Mother Mary or a carpenter named Joseph, and you won’t find them.  Instead, on this second Sunday of the Christmas season, we hear:  In the beginning was the Word, Do you hear the echo of those first words in the book of Genesis?  In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

Our words take on flesh, too. Every day our words take on flesh and live among us.  Look at the words “hatred” and “anti-Semitic.”  In 2019, there was a significant rise in expressions of hatred toward Jewish people.  “’There’s an ideological pattern that is common,’ said Günther Jikeli, an expert on European anti-Semitism at Indiana University. ’The world is seen as in a bad shape, and what hinders it becoming a better place are the Jews.’  It is unsurprising to find a resurgence of anti-Semitism at a time of prolonged political and economic instability, historians and analysts say, when citizens from many different political and cultural traditions are grasping for easy explanations for sudden and complex injustices.”[1]

Because of advances in technology, lies and venom spread with unprecedented speed. The ways in which we embody words are innumerable–words such as discrimination and prejudice.  Words can kill our self-esteem, fuel the fires of hate, and more.

On the seventh day of Hanukkah, a man entered a rabbi’s home where more than 100 people were gathered. He began stabbing people.  Five were injured.  This marks the latest in a string of incidents that have targeted the Jewish community in New York.  This is the word “anti-Semitism” made flesh.

The ELCA confessed our own sinfulness with regard to the Jewish people, apologizing in our 1994 “Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community.”  While this 26 year-old statement is a start, we are by no means finished when our Jewish brothers and sisters continue to be harmed.  We are nowhere near God’s desire for us as long as our black neighbors, our gay neighbors, our homeless and our poor neighbors suffer injustices.  Stating our complicity in these sins is only one step on the road to the wholeness God desires for humanity.  There is more that God calls us to do, and more words for us to embody.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, told us how God wants us to use our bodies.  I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.  [Matthew 25:35-38, 40]. Words of understanding, forgiveness and love give life.  The embodiment of them was expressed by the prophet Micah. What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8b].

When the Word became flesh, Jesus showed us how God wants us to use our bodies by how he used his.  He gave living water to the woman from Samaria. He put human well-being above the law by healing someone on a sabbath day. He brought wholeness to the bodies of those who were blind and to the lame. His hands caressed his disciples’ feet and washed them. Tears streamed down his face when his friend Lazarus died. Jesus taught thousands of people about God’s love for them, and then he fed them all of them without asking for their credentials. He fed them because they were hungry. I am the bread of life, Jesus said.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and lived among us.  God’s son lived among us in the flesh until we nailed him on a cross and left him there until his lungs filled with fluid, and his heart stopped beating.  God’s love shown to us through Jesus can never die.  Jesus promised to be with us, his flesh and blood in bread and wine.  In the mystery of Holy Communion, we invite God’s presence in and through and under this meal with this prayer, Come among us.  Bless this meal.  May your Word take flesh in us. 


~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/world/europe/antisemitism-europe-united-states.html  Accessed 1/1/2020.

Christmas Gifts

Luke 2:1-20    

Christmas Eve


Are you ready for Christmas?  Amazon and FedX have been doing their best to help!  You can have this year’s hottest Christmas gifts delivered to your door within 24 hours. (Those of you who haven’t gotten presents yet – see what gas stations are open.) This year, the best-selling presents for children include a Baby Shark Song Puppet with Tempo Control, a “Frozen 2” Elsa doll, and the gaming system Nintendo Switch Lite.

I remember when my children so desperately wanted Cabbage Patch Dolls.  They were sold out everywhere, and I struggled with every ounce of my being to find a good connection. I ended up owing a co-worker my life.  As a single mother, I was so excited to be able to give them the one gift they wanted more than anything. I even woke up early on Christmas morning, even before they did.  Once the box was unwrapped, they simply tossed them to the side.  By Christmas morning, Cabbage Patch dolls were no longer on their wish list.

What to get the ones closest to our hearts is often a struggle.  It must be perfect for them because it will show how much we love them.  The opposite is just as true; we believe that if they are disappointed in our gift, maybe they will be disappointed in us.  All our Christmas gifts have one thing in common. Giving gifts is our way of expressing that we value someone, and our relationship with them. Whether the recipient is a teacher, your hairdresser, or your child, we struggle with the search, taking delight in the giving, and agonizing over little things.   No matter how perfect we try to make our gifts, our parties, our dinners, our cookies, we wonder if they will ever express what we would like them to. Will they be enough? Could we have done more? It’s exhausting!

Here we are, taking a break from the craziness—both ours and the world’s! Tonight, into the world’s imperfection, God’s perfect gift is born.  Tonight we hear the borning cry of Jesus.  With Mary, we ask, How can this be?  God’s answered, not in words, but in living, breathing flesh.

On this night, a young girl and her husband, both with unanswered questions, could not find an even moderately comfortable and clean place to stay.  In a small town, far away from the center of power, an innkeeper took pity on this very pregnant girl and offered them all that he had left, a place to sleep among donkeys and cows and sheep and all that went with it –their animal noises and earthy smells.  It would be anything but a quiet night.  Straw and hay making their beds anything but comfortable. The birth of our hope takes place in a barn.  I don’t know the life that Mary had hoped for, but most likely it did not look or smell like this.  (When concerns about your Christmas popup, remember Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ first Christmas!)

God’s angels first announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds, who were not much cleaner or smelled much better than the animals that surrounded Jesus.  The glory of the Lord shone around them, we are told.  Then the angels said, Do not be afraid!  This is always the first thing that the angels say. The shepherds went to Bethlehem as the angel had instructed them.  There, among the sheep and cows, they found the baby Jesus, wrapped up in a blanket, and lying in a feed trough.

We long for Jesus, our Savior, to be born, envisioning still nights with bright stars and angels singing who sound just like our choirs! It’s as if we dream of being transported up to the heavens with God.  There’s no traffic jams, or people shouting, or pecan pies that come out of the oven too hard.  But these are the  very things God dreamed of when he sent his son to us.  Jesus was born in a barn, not in a castle, he was among goats and shepherds, not presidents or kings.  There were no satin sheets on a memory foam mattress.

While we come here to find Jesus, God sends him to us where we are. God comes for us and to us, as a baby in and among ordinary human settings. Heaven and earth are joined together this night, and the heavenly hosts respond with joy, singing, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.  Our response is a human one. God’s glory resounds in our singing, and the light of God’s presence is the flames of our candles.

In the search for the perfect gift, and the in the middle of the chaos of our lives, it is so easy to forget how much we are loved. God loves us just as we are. It’s exactly into our worries and struggles, our noisiness and forgetfulness, into our fleshy mess that our inexplicable hope is born for us.  We come tonight to find the sacred and holy, and discover that in the birth of Jesus, God makes us holy, too.  Perfect love–this is God’s perfect gift.


~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

What Did You Expect?

Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11    

Third Sunday of Advent

John leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard Jesus’ mother’s voice.  He called people to a life of repentance.  John the Baptizer is the one who announced Jesus’ coming from the vastness of the wilderness. John was a truth-teller.  He told the king a truth he did not want to face. John condemned King Herod’s divorce from his wife to marry Herodias, his brother’s wife.  John confronted King Herod about his illicit marriage. John, confined and captive, now had questions.  He needed to know.  From his jail cell, he sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  In his voice is the loud crash of hope, and the breaking of his heart.  John would never make it out of prison.  The next we hear is that John was beheaded to satisfy Herodias’ desire for revenge.

In the season of waiting for the Messiah to be born, and for Christ to come again, John’s story interrupts our singing and our joy.  Who among the powers that be chose this story for our Advent season of hope?  At first glance, it seems a poor choice.  But my recent honest conversations with people convinces me otherwise.  This season is a time when old wounds seem overwhelming, and loneliness intensifies.  The disparity between the life we hope for and the life we have plunges us into darkness.  John’s story reflects the harshness and injustice  of life.

John the Baptizer was confined by the bars of his jail cell.  Some of us are just as bound by those things that have torn us apart.  Our wounds remain, and our bodies remember trauma. We carry it around with us. Our woundedness manifests itself in thousands of ways.  John the Baptizer’s response to his trauma was to tell its truth and express his disappointment and doubt.  In addition to speaking the truth, trauma researchers also emphasize the importance of tending to our wounds, and assert that there is healing power in giving “witness to suffering.”[1]

Often the church intensifies suffering by explicitly or implicitly saying the injured must have done something to deserve God’s wrath. Feelings of shame and guilt compound the problem.  Social and systemic injustice keeps some populations vulnerable.

The United States has the largest rate of incarceration in the world.  Over half a million people in the United States are homeless.  About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans, and 45% of them are African American or Hispanic. Women military veterans are more than twice as likely as non-female vets to commit suicide.  1 in every 6 women, and 1 in every 33 men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.  Kids who are bullied have increased incidents of illness and problems in school.  Jesus, are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?

Illness, divorce, abuse, unemployment all leave wounds. It was seven years and one day ago, December 14, 2012, the children and adults heard loud crashing over the intercom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 20 children ages 6 and 7, along with 6 adults had been murdered. The lives of the ones who survived, and on everyone in the community, changed forever.  Some cuts are deep than others, but we cannot get through this life without being wounded.  Jesus, are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?

John had gone from certainty to doubt.  Jesus answered John’s messengers, Go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  Jesus might have said, John, I know that as the Messiah, I am not doing those things that you expected me to do.  But look around for signs of God in the world.

The reality of who Jesus is comes to light in the lives of those who are wounded. When our expectations of what are lives should be are shattered, when we confess that we are part of a broken world, it is then that God invites us into the truth of who God is.  God invites us to be honest about our woundedness, and to honor our despair and our doubt.

Whether we recognize it or not, Christ bears our wounds. Jesus takes on our grief, our injuries, and our hurts.  Through his life, death and resurrection, we are set free.  No longer are we in bondage to that which would kill us.  After his death, Jesus rose from the dead still bearing the wounds in his hands, and the wound in his side.  He made no attempt to hide them, but instead showed them to his disciples.  In his wounded hands, Jesus holds ours.  He takes on our sin, our suffering, our disappointment and our doubts, and holds them. This is our redemption.  Christ holds it all. Jesus Christ is our salvation.

God’s promise to us is that the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  God’s promise to us is that when Christ comes again, there will be no more tears.

In the name of the one who was, and who is, and will come again, amen.


~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin






[1] Rambo, Shelly. “Theology after Trauma.”  The Christian Century, November 20, 2019: 22-27 print

John, Judgment and Jesus


Matthew 3:1-12    

Second Sunday of Advent


We are busy this time of year! Has your credit card melted yet? Buying presents,  then wrapping them, making our plans to travel, or getting ready to host house guests, parties and baking butter cookies and cookies with chocolate and nuts—there is a lot we try to accomplish before December 25!  What’s on your to-do list? What things do you push yourself to get finished before Christmas?  We do all this hoping for a picture-perfect Christmas. What would make this a memorable Christmas for you?

Interrupting our own ideas and visions of celebrating the birth of Jesus is John the Baptizer.  We know that Christmas is near when we hear “You brood of vipers!” come out of his mouth.  While sugar plum fairies dance in our heads, along comes this very strange man dressed camel’s hair and setting new trends in diets.  We cannot get to sweet baby Jesus without listening to John first.

Chances are that our preparations, our Christmas to-do list has a different focus than John’s.  John’s list begins with repentance, which literally translates “turn around.”   Turning around means that we see things differently.  It’s a reorientation.  “Bear fruits worthy of repentance,” John commands.  Is this on your to-do list?  John reminds us that we cannot get a pass because we are children of Abraham.  We cannot avoid God’s judgment because of our birth certificate, or because we come to church.

There is one more powerful than I coming after me, John warns, …his winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.  The consequences of our sin are dire, a matter of life and death.

Lutherans don’t speak much of God’s judgment and its consequences.  Our Lutheran Confessions say more about justification, being set right with God, than they do about judgement. Exactly what God’s judgement will look like is not clear, but make no mistake,  we have been judged.  We are guilty.  We are sinners.  God loves us enough to expect something of us.  We are responsible for what we do.  John the Baptizer sounds the alarm.

God expects us to work to bring about justice, and to have respect for both ourselves and for our neighbor.  Move from works of the flesh, anger, greed, jealousy to works of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control [Galatians 5:22].  It comes from loving God.  One theologian explains, It is the nature of faith to do good works just as it is of the nature of love to love and care to care, of the parent to pick up and comfort that hurt child.  To say that is not naïve; it is the expression of confidence and hope.[1]

What we do matters.  I have a story.

            One December afternoon…a group of parents stood in the lobby of a nursery school waiting to claim their children after the last pre-Christmas class session. As the youngsters ran from their lockers, each one carried in his hands the “surprise,” the brightly wrapped package on which he had been working diligently for weeks.  One small boy, trying to run, put on his coat, and wave to his parents, all at the same time, slipped and fell.  The “surprise” flew from his grasp, landed on the floor and broke with an obvious ceramic crash.

            The child…began to cry inconsolably.  His father, trying to minimize the incident and comfort the boy, patted his head and murmured, “Now that’s all right son.  It doesn’t matter.  It really doesn’t matter at all.”

            But the child’s mother, somewhat wiser in such situations, swept the boy into her arms and said, “Oh, but it does matter.  It matters a great deal.” And she wept with her son.[2]

“Repent,” John tells us. God through Christ weeps with us as we confront our sins.  We are awaiting the birth of the one God sent to sit with us as we weep, as we confront our sense of privilege and entitlement, as we face head on systemic injustice in which we participate, as we bring to the forefront the harm we cause by justifying ourselves.  God has judged us guilty.  Through the water and the Word of baptism, God forgives us our sin.

One theologian elaborates:

In repenting, therefore, we ask the God who has turned towards us, buried us in baptism and raised us to new life, to continue his work of putting us to death.  Repentance is an “I can’t experience.  To repent is to volunteer for death.  Repentance asks that the “death of self” which God began to work in us in baptism continue to this day.  The repentant person comes before God saying, “I can’t do it myself, God.  Kill me and give me new life.  You buried me in baptism.  Bury me again today.  Raise me to a new life.”  That is the language of repentance.  Repentance is a daily experience that renews our baptism.[3]

“Repent.  Prepare the way of the Lord.” says John.  “Get ready for something new because the One who will change everything is coming.”  When Christ comes again, the wolf will live with the lamb, calves and lions, cows and bears, blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, the poor and the rich, cat people and dog people, all feasting together—these are God’s hopes and promises to come.

In the name of Christ, who was, who is, and who will come again.


~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin






[1] Forde, Gerhard O.  Justification by Faith:  A Matter of Life and Death.  Mifflintown, PA:  Sigler Press, 1990.  56.

[2] Quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4.  Bartlett, David and Taylor, Barbara Brown, eds.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.  46.

[3] Reverend Doctor Richard Jensen, as quoted by Brian P. Stoffregen http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt3x1.htm

Sleeping at Night

Sleeping at Night

Matthew 24:36-44    First Sunday of Advent

It is tradition in many homes on Thanksgiving Day for each person around the dinner table to name the blessings for which they are most grateful. What did you give thanks for this past Thanksgiving Day?  Perhaps this Thanksgiving Day interrupted your Christmas shopping; Black Friday sales are now taking place every day for weeks.  Our culture says this is the Christmas season, but in the church, it is Advent.  Our society paints this as a joyful time of year. Our church readings are ominous.

Society’s portrayal of our lives is askew.  While we may be looking forward to parties and dinners and gift-giving, our lives are more complicated than that. How have you been sleeping lately? Chances are that if we are awake when we should be sleeping it is because we are distracted by the many things we have to do.  Sometimes it is out of grief and longing for someone we love who has died.  Worry certainly tops the list, –worry about our health or the fragility of a loved one.

Many things rob us of restorative rest–money, loneliness, children, Aunt Karin making the gravy for Christmas dinner. In case we need more reasons to be sleep disturbed, Matthew gives us more. Leading up to our reading, he tells of nation against nation, torture, and a darkening sun.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.  TheLeft Behind book series stems from this passage.

It reminds me of a story that I cannot resist telling. On a trip to a preaching conference, my friend and I were driving through rural Georgia.  Looking for a place for lunch, we stumbled upon Cousin Cooter’s Country Cooking.  Our waitress was very friendly, and inquired about where we were headed. We told her about the conference and engaged in chit chat.  As we stood up to leave, the waitress smiled, put her hands up in the air and said, “See you at the Rapture!”  She obviously thought she would be one of the ones taken!

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, a time when we anticipate Jesus’ birth, and look to the day when Christ will come again.  Contrary to our image of Jesus as a baby in the manger, who will grow up to heal the sick and feed the hungry, we hear of Christ as a robber.  When Christ comes again, it will be like a thief who breaks into our house, an intruder who has no regard for boundaries, and will invade our personal space.  What will this thief take from us? Maybe we need a thief to come and take from us all those things to which we cling so tightly, those things that prevent us from being open to God’s presence and desires for us.

The two people in the field, and two grinding meal were doing what they always did.  The day had begun as it always did, a cup of coffee while they read the paper, and then off to work.  But then the unexpected happens.  Half are taken, and half are left.  The waitress at Cousin Cooter’s envisioned that those who are worthy are taken, and those God judges to be unfaithful are left.  Using the story of the Great Flood, Matthew reverses that image.  Noah wasn’t taken, he was left.  In the time of forty days and nights of rain, it was Noah and his family, those who were faithful, who remained on earth.  Just as Noah was before the flood, so now are we, here among those who are faithful and those who are not.

We are in the now, but not-yet time of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  While we are waiting, we are not to simply rest in God’s grace.  Even as we pray for our Father to give us our daily bread, we pray for God’s kingdom to come.  God invites us to participate in its coming.  We are not called to predict when that will be, we are called to be prepared for it.

In the face of uncertainties, how do we prepare?  How do we get ready in the face of those fears that creep through our brain, keeping us awake at night?  What will the medical test results be?  Will I have enough money?  What happens to children separated from their parents? Will the world have clean water for the next generations?

We prepare by entrusting ourselves to God, by surrendering our fear, and opening our hearts. We need to admit that, if Jesus can come as a thief, we need to open our eyes a bit more.  We remember that Jesus said when we feed the hungry and visit those in prison, we are doing it to him.  It can be hard work to see Jesus, especially in dark places, with eyes closed.  To see the Christ who is and who will come again, remember the Christ you have already encountered.

Recently, I read a story that has stuck with me:

During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve.  The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care.  But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night.  They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food.  Nothing seemed to reassure them.  Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime.  Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace.  All through the night the bread reminded them, “Yesterday I ate, and today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.[1]

Christ has died.  Christ is Risen.  Christ will come again.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] Linn, Dennis, Linn Sheila Fabricant, Linn, Matthew.  Sleeping with Bread:  Holding What Gives You Life.  Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press, 1994.