No Turning Back, No Turning Back

A sermon in three parts for June 26, 2022, Prepared and Preached for the beautiful people of Zion’s Lutheran Church in Trinidad, Colorado. Based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

I Kings 9:15-16, 19-21, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

Today is our last Sunday together before we welcome our new interim pastor, Kate.

During the next many months, she will help us transition from our beloved Pastor Andrea’s leadership to the care and leadership of our next called pastor. 

The scripture texts the Revised Common Lectionary has dished up for us for the season after Pentecost Sunday Three in Year C of the three-year cycle strike me as gifts from the Holy Spirit just for Zion’s today. 

Our reading from the Hebrew Bible and our Gospel reading from Luke are both stories about leadership transfers among the people of God. 

Our Psalm assures us of God’s abiding presence and protection of us, and the Epistle reading contains the wisdom of Paul, writing to the young church in Galatia, reminding us how we are to behave toward each other, all the time, not only in times of transition. 

The problem with the abundance of this gift is the abundance of this gift! 

I think I have three related sermons to preach today. 

I will try to keep each of them brief.

Sermon One: Allegiance to God Alone

Our Gospel story in Luke takes place as Jesus comes to the end of his ministry years. 

He is heading toward Jerusalem. 

He is heading toward the time and the place when he would stand face to face with the political power people of his day. 

Jerusalem is where Jesus would contrast the ways of God’s bottom-up, priority for the poor, jubilee and freedom for all, not by might and not by power but by the Spirit-of-God, kingdom with those of Caesar and all the underlings and leaders that greased the top-down authoritarian, militaristic wheels of empire. 

In this story, crowds of people are following Jesus and proclaiming their allegiance to his ways. 

Jesus calls to one man saying, 

follow me! 

The man responds he will, but, first, he must bury his father. 

Jesus calls to another, 

follow me!

and he says, 

Sure thing, but let me run home and tell the family where I am going.

Unimpressed by both answers, Jesus says,

you cannot follow me by going somewhere else first. 

When you follow me, there is no turning back. 

People are hurting and in need. 

We must change systems.

We must address the old ways that take advantage of the poor and keep the sick-sick. 

The grace of God is for everyone. 

The love of God is for everyone. 

The will of God for the world is wholeness and peace. 

That work and those people are waiting for us right now in Jerusalem. 

My work can not wait for you to attend to your other allegiances, said Jesus. 

You cannot bring the Kingdom of God into being on earth if you are still looking back at the way things have always been.

What Jesus said reminds me of the old camp song, 

I have decided to follow Jesus, 

I have decided to follow Jesus, 

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. (Maybe you want to sing it with me).

Do you remember when you first decided to follow Jesus? 

Most of us do not have a clue what will be asked of us when we first make that decision, do we? 

In my case, I fell in love with Jesus when I was three. 

E.J. Weeks read a story to us about Jesus while we ate our graham crackers like little squirrels. 

When I was ten, I insisted I was ready to be baptized. 

(In my tradition, we bless babies, and baptism comes as a personal decision later-kind of the reverse order of the ELCA where you baptize babies and youth later make a personal decision to confirm their earlier baptism). 

So, on Palm Sunday, 1970, I confessed my faith:

Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God, and I accepted him as Lord and Savior of the World.

On Easter Sunday the next week, Dr. Hurst immersed me, baptizing me in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. 

No turning back, no turning back.

Deciding to follow Jesus shapes our entire lives.

Following Jesus has changed my mind and opened my heart in ever-widening ways to the depth, breadth, width, and height of God’s love and mercy for all people. 

Following Jesus led me into ministry. 

It led me places across the globe and led me to encounter people very different from me who helped me to see God’s ways in a whole new light, ways that made me change my mind and grow. 

I had to abandon allegiances to old ideas and by-gone ways to follow where Jesus led me. 

Following Jesus has been the best decision of my life and the hardest. 

Continually studying the word and ways of Jesus has come around to bite me in the behind. It made me let go of fears and prejudices and it called me into a closer walk with God and my neighbors.

Following Jesus is like pledging allegiance to the Kingdom of God alone.

Remember when Jesus said we cannot serve both God and Mammon? 

To follow Jesus requires our allegiance. 

We have to do things his way–his non-violent, buck-the-system, tell-truth-to-power, raise-up-the-powerless, no weapons, turn-the-other-cheek, truth-telling, honest-dealing, borders-crashing, compassion-giving, all-serving, humble in the face of our own sins and our collective sins way. 

Following Jesus is not about pie in the sky by and by. 

It is not about an eternal life insurance policy where, by virtue of our baptisms, we carry get-out of hell-free cards. 

It is about going where Jesus calls us and serving those whom Jesus calls us to serve. 

By doing that, we bring a bit of the Kingdom of God into our midst. 

No turning back, no turning back.

Sermon Two: Leadership

In ancient Israel, the job of Elijah, the Prophet, was to speak the truth about politics to and about King Ahab. 

King Ahab was a corrupt and unworthy leader. 

When Elijah reached the age to pass the mantle of his prophetic leadership on to another, God made it clear to Elijah that it was to go to the young man, Elisha. 

When Elijah caught up with Elisha, Elisha was out plowing a field. 

Elijah threw the mantle of leadership over Elisha, and Elisha responded, 

I will be right with you, but first I must tell my parents where I am going. 

Elijah said something to the effect of,

now would be better.

So, Elisha took care of his oxen then and there.

And he followed Elijah for his orientation into the life of a prophet.

He learned how to do the demanding and dangerous job of telling the powerful how their ways departed from the ways of God. 

Following in Elijah’s footsteps was perilous. 

But, Elisha took up the mantle of a prophet and did not look back. 

God needed someone, to tell the truth to the King and about the King to the people. 

God needed someone to remind them who and whose they were. 

God needed someone to speak for justice and loving kindness and humility and righteousness–for care for the poor and hospitality for foreigners. 

The poor, the foreigners, and the prisoners needed a champion in their corner.

As we prepare for the mantle of leadership to be passed from Pastor Andrea to Pastor Kate and then beyond, we need to pay attention to the example set by Elijah and Elisha long ago. 

Pastors give up a lot to follow their call from God. 

They leave a lot behind to study the ways and will of God. 

The job they take on is full of pleasure, to be sure–sharing the good news of the love of God, but it is also full of peril—sometimes they have to speak unwelcome truth about what is wrong with the way the powers-that-be are doing things. 

And, sometimes, pastors have to tell unwelcome truths about the sinful ways we treat each other. 

Being both prophetic and pastoral is not all butterflies and flowers.

It has been said, of pastors, that their task is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

Pastors, by their calling, are to be both prophets and priests for the people. 

Pastors, called by God and ordained by the church, must tend to the wounded, teach the ways of God, and speak the truth of God into the politics and problems of each new day. 

Speaking that way and teaching like that can take preachers into treacherous territory.

I lived for seven months in the small village of Le Chambon sur Lignon in France, where I studied French before going to Zaire to teach in a Training Institute for Pastors. 

Outside of the protestant church in Le Chambon, there is a plaque identifying the congregation as Righteous Gentiles by the nation of Israel. 

You can read the story or watch a movie about Le Chambon called, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. 

In Le Chambon, a simple, small-town pastor found himself wearing the heavy mantle of leadership, following Jesus and leading his congregation to do the same in opposition to the government, at great peril to their own lives.

One night, after the fall of France to the Nazis, and the establishment of Vichy France, a knock at the parsonage door revealed a young Jewish mother with her young son, 

Take him, please. 

Hide him, please. 

Save him, I beg of you.

And the answer at the parsonage door that night, in the name of Jesus who welcomed the little children, who celebrated the Samaritan, who gave his life to save others, was, yes. (of course).  

Thus, began an operation by the congregation receiving, hiding, and escorting thousands of Jewish children to safety over the mountains to Switzerland.

I worshipped with many of those who had risked their lives to save their neighbors. 

I communed every Sunday for seven months with Christians who risked having their own bodies broken and having their own blood shed on behalf of strangers who were also children of God.  

Pastor Trocme was not popular in his congregation once these things started. 

Some of the people in the church believed they should all just go along to get along with the Nazis. 

Some were terrified of being found out and felt Pastor Trocme’s job was to keep them safe. 

Some did not support the Nazi cause but were not that keen on their Jewish neighbors, to begin with. 

But, Pastor Trocme wore and bore his mantle of leadership and followed Jesus. 

No turning back, no turning back.

In every congregation, some people say politics do not belong in the church. 

They want the church to be a nice safe place. 

They want the church to be free of conflict. 

The problem with that is it also renders the church free of consequence. 

They will not say it, but as Mike quotes his favorite old Lutheran pastor, they want the church to be, simply, their Sunday morning coffee drinking club.  

We do not want to hear that God’s ways are not always our ways. 

But, we need to hear it when that is true. 

People say politics do not belong in the church. That only Jesus belongs in the church. But, everything Jesus did and taught and said was political. 

Politics is how people treat each other and how we order our society. 

Jesus had a lot to say about how people were treated. 

He had a lot to say about how his society was ordered backward. 

So, following Jesus, our new pastor will follow her calling to speak God’s name into the way we treat each other and how we order our society. 

That is her job.  

She will also comfort and care for us. 

Pastor Kate will inspire and love us through and despite our heartaches and mistakes. 

No turning back, No turning back.

Sermon Three: Living Free

These are among the most contentious times through which I have ever lived. 

According to some, our nation is more divided now than it has been since the Civil War. 

Christian Nationalism which is unchristian at best, has infected churches across the theological spectrum, and we are not immune. 

The culture wars infect us right here. 

We say we welcome all because God welcomes all. Do we mean it? What do we mean, and who do we mean by that statement? 

Many a congregation prefers burying heads in the sand, seeing no evil, hearing no evil, speaking no evil–ignoring the issues that swirl around us. 

But that is dangerous. How can we reason together, understand each other, and help each other grow into greater faithfulness and a deeper love for God if we refuse to talk with each other about difficult things?

My college friend, Ray Person, who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and is now a renowned scholar, writer, and professor, wrote to me this week, 

As the chair of a conference-level ministerial committee, I have become so much more aware of how corrosive patriarchy, racism, and homophobia are in the church. When in the midst of some crisis, even the “best” congregations can too easily evince these problems. If a congregation is not actively talking about these issues on a regular basis, they are simply lying below the surface waiting to raise their heads for the kill when an opportune time comes. Any congregation (or other institution) that thinks it is immune from this is fooling itself and setting itself up failure, ending in abuse of some of those connected to it, most often leaders.

We are calling into our midst a new leader. Our congregational lay leaders are weary after these hard COVID years combined with the weight of added worries and work during Pastor Andrea’s cancer Camino. We owe it to our leaders, both lay and clergy, not to let things simmer under the surface only to pop up like a game of church whack-a-mole. We owe it to ourselves and our neighbors (who need Zion’s to be a strong, healthy, giving congregation), to be wise, loving, and up-right in our dealings with each other. 

We need to speak the truth to each other in love. 

We need to work hard to listen and learn from each other.

And, we especially need to listen and learn from those who God calls to lead us. 

When we disagree with something the pastor says, talk with the pastor about it. Perhaps that is a topic we should explore in a Bible study or in a discernment process. When we disagree with the pastor, it is not an occasion for phoning allies or holding meetings after the meetings, circling the wagons, and starting up letter-writing campaigns to stifle or cancel conversations about important ideas. We who follow Jesus must be willing to consider seriously together what Jesus would have us do, especially when we disagree. 

Paul, the apostle, had some wise words for the people of Galatia years and years ago about how to live together in contentious times. His words are sage for us here at Zion’s today.

Galatians five (selected verses)NRSV:  

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 

Live by the Spirit, I say…

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

I have decided to follow Jesus, 

I have decided to follow Jesus, 

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.


Pastoral Prayer    June 26, 2022 

Breath of life, Inspiration of all that is, was and will be, fill us with your holy presence and restore to us our ability to breathe for this has been a breath-taking week.

Good, caring people, have good, caring reasons to feel very differently about rulings coming out of our nation’s Supreme Court. Help us not to vilify each other, but to seek to understand one another’s views.

Help us to use the fuel of this passionate moment to kindle embers of compassion into actions that insure all children are wanted, cherished, and cared for. Help us unite around a shared commitment to close the loopholes and cover the cavernous gaps that exist in our nation’s social safety net.

Protect women, who have been dealt a blow against their bodily autonomy.

Protect our GLBTQIA siblings who rightly worry their autonomy may be next.

Protect our siblings of color who rightly are concerned their voting rights may be next.

Protect each of us, all of us, from the danger and madness of the rampant proliferation of guns and violence in our culture.

Restore to us the ability to breathe deeply and feel ourselves safe in the company of our neighbors.

Guide our nation’s leaders to live with integrity, speak truthfully and act honorably.

Protect those leaders who bravely strive to tell the truth.

Hold to account those who have dealt in dishonesty.

Humble us, for ours, is far from a perfect nation. Forgive us our hubris and restore us to right relationships with each other and with you.

We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


May 22, 2022

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Zion’s Lutheran Church, Trinidad, Colorado

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Z. McNeil, supply preacher

Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5, John 14:23-29

I went to see Carla when I got home for the summer after my first year away at college. We were best friends from 4th through 8th grades. As kids, Carla and I were in and out of each other’s houses every day but at the end of 8th grade, Carla and our 8th-grade neighborhood friend, Nancy, made cheerleading, and I (much to my deep, deep disappointment), sure I would never be loved or liked or even have friends again, did not.

In High School, I found new friends and new interests in music, drama, and academics while Carla rose in the cheerleading and popularity ranks. She also fell deeply in love with a boy. He was handsome, he was older, and he was all she wanted out of life. We weren’t close friends anymore, not because we didn’t like each other or had a falling out, but just because we were busy in different ways with different things. When I was home from college that summer I became the youth minister at the church where Carla’s dad was the pastor. He suggested I give Carla a call or stop by her apartment to visit her, so, I did.

Carla had married the boy four weeks after we graduated from high school and gave birth to their baby that November. She took care of the baby and sold Tupperware for a living while the boy gambled most of their money away at the racetrack.

Something Carla told me in that crappy little apartment on that hot June day eons ago has stuck with me. She said, “I let my vision get all messed up. I spent all my time watching soap operas and got to where I believed the soaps were the way life is. It really twisted me. It made me feel like being treated badly is just the way things are.” She said, “I stopped watching soap operas a couple months ago and, I’m beginning to remember who I used to be and what I used to dream of. I’m re-evaluating how I want to live my life.”

Those were wise words from a nineteen-year-old.

Our vision of what it means to be alive and to live a good life shapes who and what we are. Our vision shapes how we live. It shapes how we spend our time, who we spend time with, how we earn our money, how we spend our money, how we vote, how we deal with heartaches and disappointments, what we do if and when we find success, and even what success means. Vision is an important and precious thing

Our scripture texts today are all about vision–visions from God about God’s vision for God’s world, God’s creatures, and God’s people.

Our reading from Acts begins, “During the night, Paul had a vision.” And what was that vision? That he and his team needed to cross the sea and go into Macedonia to take the good news of Jesus to Europe. It came to Paul in a vision, that the good news about God’s love was not geographically restrained, but was true without boundaries and limitations. The Gospel is for all the world.

Macedonia had been a cultural backwater, a no-where kind of place during the hey-days of Greek literature, art, and culture until Alexander the Great brought them into the wars that carried Greek culture all the way to Afghanistan and Egypt. Paul, instead of being a foreigner bringing warfare, was a foreigner who brought to the Macedonians the good news of the Prince of Peace. [1]The vision Paul brought them was a vision of a different way of life so compelling that one of the wealthy women of the town of Philipi, Lydia, heard Paul’s description of the world through Jesus and caught the vision herself. She, Lydia, was the first European to take as her own vision, God’s vision made known in Jesus and told to her by Paul. A vision of peace, a vision of wide welcome that knows no national boundaries, that knows no sexism. A vision she in turn understood to shape hers into a life of hospitality, beginning by welcoming the strangers–Paul and his cohort into her home.

Our reading from the Psalms reminds us that God’s vision from the beginning of creation is one of love and cosmic involvement. God is not a God far off, but a God whose work and being brings health, wholeness, joy, and blessings to all without differentiating between nations and peoples and species. God’s vision is for a healthy, whole creation and, healthy, whole peoples.

Our reading from Revelation is a recounting of a vision given to John of Patmos in which God’s city needs no light because God is all light. God’s city is inhabited by the people of all nations because God’s love knows no limits. In the middle of the city, a river flows full of goodness to quench all thirst, and next to the river grows a tree whose very leaves are medicine for the healing of all people.

And finally, in the Gospel of John, we read of Jesus’ vision that he shared with his disciples before his death. Jesus promised them that when he was no longer with them, the Holy Spirit would take his place. And with the Holy Spirit in their midst, they would have the power to live their lives unafraid of all the things the world teaches people to fear. With the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through them, people can live in peace beyond all imagining.

Now, those are some visions, aren’t they?

And they weren’t then and aren’t now visions of something by and by like pie in the sky, they are visions intended to guide and shape us as beloved children of God in the very here and now. We, Jesus’ followers are called to see the world as God does. We are called to live ourselves into these holy visions.

When we choose to follow Jesus, like Lydia in Philipi chose to follow Jesus, when we are baptized or confirm our baptism our vision changes.

So, here’s what I’m wondering today.

If God’s vision for the world welcomes, loves, and cherishes all people, why is it that so many who claim to follow Jesus today believe our one nation is more loved, more honored, and more important to God than all others? Why is it that so many who claim to follow Jesus today believe that God who created the world with such vibrant diversity, God who is the giver of the gift of intimacy discriminates against his beloved children on the basis of who they love and share tenderness? Or that God discriminates against the color of their skin? Is not love, is not intimacy a gift given by God for human well-being? Is not a rainbow of skin colors a promise just as much as an iridescent bow in the sky?

If God’s vision for the world is that the earth will produce in abundance all that is needed for life to flourish, why is it that so many who claim to follow God’s beloved son, treat creation with disrespect, pillaging for their own short-term profit resources that are meant to sustain life for all beings in perpetuity?

If God’s vision for the world is that all people be healthy and whole, why is it that so many who claim to love God refuse to love their neighbors enough to be sure their neighbors have health care and housing and education and bodily autonomy and basic nutrition? Did Jesus not spend his years of ministry healing the sick, welcoming the outcasts, feeding the hungry, and honoring the voices of the vulnerable?

If God’s vision for the world means none of us need to live in fear, why is it so many, many people who claim to follow Jesus, cling to their cash, and build up actual arsenals of weapons? If God is generous with us, is not our cash a gift by which we too can live generously? If our Jesus bore no arms and refused to return violence for violence, not even in self-defense, raising his arms instead in defiantly loving surrender, are our arms not also to be free of weapons and open in vulnerable love to all our neighbors?

I had an “aha!” moment a couple of years ago when I got to the little country church where I was the pastor. I had been puzzling over how the loving, giving people in my two rural congregations could cling to truly bad and harmful theology even though they had been baptized and confirmed in the United Church of Christ, a denomination like the ELCA in which head and heart and spirit are engaged together in our theology. Their theology cast a vision of God as petty and vengeful, interested more in purity than in grace. Their theology divided people into the saved and the unsaved, good and bad, and it was all wrapped up in patriotism that worshipped military might and whatever makes the stock market and agricultural markets boom. It was a theology of fear that cast refugees as a threat and insisted that the poor must be poor because of their own bad choices. Their theology looked almost nothing like the vision described in all four of our scripture texts today. And then came my big “Aha!”

Louise, not her real name, said to the others in the pew, “Did you catch Pastor So and So’s sermon on tv this morning?” Nine out of the ten others in the sanctuary said they had. In their before church banter, they proclaimed their love for him and for his ministry. They wouldn’t miss listening to him. “Did you know he does a show at noon on weekdays on the radio?” Several said they donated heavily to his church off in Texas or Florida or wherever. They talked about all the preachers and shows they follow on the “Christian” radio station and on tv. One of them said it’s all her husband listens to in the cab of his tractor or combine. (He was one of our members who came to church only on Christmas Eve and Easter if she made him).

Aha! These folks have a horribly warped image of God’s vision for God’s world and for us as Christians because they are feeding themselves a media diet of soap-operaesque pseudo-Christianity. I got twenty minutes a week in their pulpit and a few of them came to Bible study once a week, but for the day in and day out of their lives they were feeding their souls, not on the riches of God’s grace but on theology that holds little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus. Theology that enriches and excuses the excesses and advantages of the majority and denigrates those who fall in the cracks and the margins. Theology matters.

Maybe too many churches, too many Christians, too many leaders, and too many followers have gone close to blind. Maybe too many of us have cataracts and spiritual degeneration we’ve left untreated for far too long. Maybe a whole big slice of Christendom today has lost God’s vision for the world. Maybe too many folks are letting fear and greed and “holier than thou” teaching be the lens through which they view the world and live their lives.

There are plenty of preachers and teachers and churches and denominations and Christian pundits and Christian politicians and Christian radio hosts and Christian pod-casters who make a lot of money dressing up fears and prejudices and self-righteousness in Christian branded clothing that in actuality bears little resemblance to Jesus.

Here’s the thing. I think it is time we do what my friend Carla did. Turn off the soap operas and all the other voices and influencers and take some time today, this week, this month, to pay no attention to all those folks “behind the curtain” and focus instead on God’s vision for us and for the world found in today’s texts, found in the Gospels about Jesus. Found in good, scholarly, responsible theology.

We need clear vision to see that the Good News Jesus brings literally and right now frees prisoners, stewards and preserves creation, provides more than enough in abundance to feed all people, welcomes strangers, heals the sick, breaks down barriers, celebrates human love, recognizes the image of God in all people, in all creation, ushers in true social justice, ends violence and brings peace that passes our deepest understanding.

Our lives, our congregation, and our world will be transformed as we see more clearly God’s vision for us and for God’s world.


  [1] Texts for Preaching-Year C, Cousar, Gaventa, McCann, and Newsome Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 1994, pp.341-315.

God, Re-member us

A Litany/Prayer for 9/11

Oh God,

It was the clearest, crisp-blue September sky

split wide open

rent like temple curtains

torn by grief in the aftermath of violence.

We remember.  

We remember.

It was an ordinary, go about one’s business day

divided into the time before

and what came after:

swords into plowshares

or plowshares into swords?

We remember.

We remember.

It was a nation bewildered

“why are we so we hated?”

so many gone like vapor

so many others who emptied themselves of fear

saving strangers—all were neighbors.

We remember.

We remember.

It was extremism,

like that of extremists of any stripe.

We remember.

We remember.

It was radical fundamentalism

like that of radical fundamentalists of every hue.

We remember.

We remember.

It was bellies full of frustration

It was bellicose bullies

It was explosive anger

It was a thirst to make others hurt, to be heard,

to be seen to be powerful.

We remember.

We remember.

It was hubris.

It was hideous.

We remember.

We remember.

Oh God,

on this clear, crisp September morning

cauterize our long-broken hearts

take what has been dismembered

and put us together again.

God, re-member us.

God, re-member us.

Mend our grief,

forgive our violence,

help us to go on our way

determined that after this

peace will be our solace

and shalom will be our way.

God, re-member us.

God, re-member us.

Guide us as a nation

to lead in the ways of justice

and the rights of all.

Forgive us all the lives lost

in twenty years of war.

Remind us that every single death-civilian or soldier,

our side or “the other”

was someone created and loved by You.

God, re-member us.

God, re-member us.

Let us be extremists only on the side of love.

Let our fundamentalism be grace alone.

Fill our bellies with gratitude.

Help us pour heaping bowls of kindness upon

those who oppose us.

Use our weakness as a strength.

Give us humility

that we might reflect your artistry.

Make us hunger and thirst to be like Jesus

who turned the other cheek,

God, re-member us

God, re-member us.

To be like Jesus who walked the second mile,

God, re-member us

God, re-member us.

To be like Jesus who gave his cloak and his coat as well,

God, re-member us

God, re-member us.

To be like Jesus who bore no arms,

but whose arms bore the weight of our sin.

God, re-member us

God, re-member us.

As we remember Jesus in whose name we pray.




My column for The Antelope County News 4.14.2021

I wrote this column in response to the recent column by a ministerial colleague from the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in town. In his column he warned our county of the evil of “transgenderism.” I gave him a call and let him know I was submitting a counter-point. He was gracious. Here’s my column:

It was a Holy Spirit moving; God is in this place, make me an instrument of your peace, bona fide miracle. God worked all things together for good and, I was one of the ones who needed some work before God could get it done.

Years ago, my administrative assistant and I chatted about how our minds have changed over time about different issues. Homosexuality was one. I’d come to see that God’s love is so much wider and deeper than mine. Before I knew Gay Christians, I didn’t think one could be both. Over time I learned how wrong I was. I said, “One thing I still can’t wrap my head around is transgender. I just don’t get it.”

“I have a terrific autobiography by a trans man you can read. It’ll give you some perspective.” She said.

Reading the book opened my eyes. It was a gut-wrenching, brave story of a man, born with a woman’s anatomy, who knew, just as surely as I know I’m left-handed, that he was a man. Reading one book didn’t clear up all my questions about transgender, but it was a start.

Five weeks later, the book was still on the backseat of my car as I went into a local therapist’s office. The therapist made the appointment with me, saying one of my parishioners was her patient and they would like to talk with me together. “Can you tell me what this is about?” I asked. “Let’s talk about it then.” She said.

“Lori has something she wants you to know about her, but she’s concerned once you do, you won’t let her stay in your church. She loves God and your church. She hopes she can stay. But she needs you to know who she is.”  

I looked at Lori. Her eyes were downcast, her shoulders rolled. She was sad-looking, vulnerable. My mind raced. Is she a sex offender? Has she murdered someone? Has she been in jail for some horrendous crime?

“Lori has been told not to come back to several other churches and was evicted from senior housing. It is difficult for her to tell you. That’s why she wanted us to meet together–so I can help her in the aftermath of our conversation today if need be.”

I looked at Lori again. “Whatever it is, you can tell me,” I said.

“I’m transgender, well, I’m intersex,” Lori said. “I was born with indeterminate genitalia. My parents wanted a boy, so the doctor and my parents decided I was a boy. That’s how they raised me but, that’s not who I am. I am a woman. May I please keep coming to church?”

Do you see what God did? Do you remember that book on the backseat of my car? I had chills up and down my spine. Surely, surely, God was in that place! God prepared me for this moment. (Six weeks earlier, I would have hesitated and stammered and hemmed and hawed). Without hesitation, I said, “Oh, Lori! You are a precious child of God. You are loved. Of course, you are still welcome in the church.”

What business of mine was the “equipment” under Lori’s skirts? My business was helping Lori know how broad and how deep God’s love is for all of us.

Nothing grieves me more deeply than when it is Christ’s church that wounds God’s beautifully unique, mysteriously made, created in love, children. If you are gay, straight, bi, intersex, trans, non-binary, green, purple, or blue, make no mistake, any church that says you don’t belong is wrong. God loves you.

It is time to Repent

My Column for The Elgin Review was rejected this week by the paper. In fact, the opportunity to continue writing a column for The Elgin Review has been revoked. The editor wrote today saying,

“Rebecca, First, let me say thank you for your past column submissions. We have made a decision this week to go in a different direction. As a result, we will no longer be publishing your column.


Dennis Morgan, Owner/Publisher”

I am publishing my column for this week here on my blog. I invite you to follow my blog, and share it widely as my voice is being silenced locally.

There was nothing of Jesus in what took place at the US Capitol on Epiphany. In amongst the “don’t tread on me” banners and Confederate and Trump flags, there were also crosses and banners and signs carrying Jesus’ name, but he was not there. Not with the zealots who stormed our Citadel of Democracy equipped with zip ties for restraining our elected representatives, not with the hooligans who smeared feces and peed in its historic hallways, not with the mob chanting to hang the Vice President and not with the deluded dopes who have been so brain-washed by years of Breitbart and Fox and church leaders who long ago climbed into bed with crooked politicians, that they mistakenly and naively believed they were being “patriots” promoting a righteous cause that day.

There is nothing of Jesus in the frenzied waving of flags bearing one man’s name. There is nothing of Jesus and nothing pro-life about a politician and his minions who whip-up a crowd in a rally and then point them in the direction of the Capitol where five people lost their lives in the violence, including a police officer. Do not be deceived, Jesus was not any part of that. His name has been desecrated just as clearly as our nation’s Capitol has been desecrated. Those who participated in Wednesday’s despicable debacle were called “special people” by our President who has curried the favor of racists and bigots and extremists throughout the four years of his term in office. He was wrong. He has been wrong all along. They are not special. They are wrong. They are certainly loved by God, but they are wrong, and what they did was sin. Those who continue to support President Trump after this are not special, either. They too, are wrong, they too—though loved by God, are sinning.  

The majority of voters in our state voted in November in support of President Trump. It is time for the scales to fall from the eyes of any among us who sincerely seek to follow Jesus. The direction in which the President and his people are going does not point the way to the reign of God. It misses the mark. Like the wise men from the east who turned their backs against Herod and went home by a different way after paying homage to the baby Jesus, it is past time for those who love Jesus to turn away from this madness and seek a more excellent way. It is past time for those who love God and have supported this president to repent. To repent means to make a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. There is nothing of Jesus in what has become of this man’s presidency. Turn away.

“Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts”—Zechariah 4:6 (NRSV). Jesus was not part of the mob last Wednesday. Jesus’ law is love. Jesus’ gospel is peace.


I am the Pastor of Park Congregational United Church of Christ west of Elgin and First Congregational Church in Neligh. What I write in my columns, and what I preach from those pulpits may be views that are not fully shared by all the members of those congregations. I appreciate that they grant me freedom of the pulpit to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I, through years of study and faithful service, understand it. 

Truth as a Guiding Light

Column The Elgin Review


January 6th on the church calendar is the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s the day that brings the season of Christmas to a close. It’s a day that celebrates the visit by Wise Men to the Holy Family. It’s a day for enlightenment, a day for remembering the wisdom of following a star—for staying true to our guiding light.  It’s a day to be reminded that Herod’s words were not to be trusted. Though he was King, the Wise Men did not acquiesce to his request to return to him with news of the newborn-King Jesus’ whereabouts. Herod falsely proclaimed that he too wished to pay tribute to the baby, but the Magi, with the help of angels who visited them in their dreams understood clearly Herod’s motives and went home by a different way.

This January 6th is not only Epiphany, it is the day the Congress of the United States of America gathers to ratify the election of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th President of the United States. Since the election in November sixty-one lawsuits have been filed on behalf of President Trump challenging the results in different states. Sixty of the suits have failed in courts of law presided over by justices appointed by both Republicans and Democrats. There have been no instances, verified by evidence in any court of law, of voter fraud on a level that would change the results of November’s election. In recent days our President has called for protests in the streets of Washington D.C. and has cajoled and pressured and leaned on Republican leaders across the country to do something to overturn the results of the election.

In the midst of this, we would do well to follow the lead of the Magi who made their way to visit baby Jesus; the one whom scriptures affirm is the way and the truth and the life. Truth matters. When they could tell that King Herod was not truthful with them, the Magi found a better way. It’s time for us, as a nation, no matter our political affiliations, no matter how we’ve voted in recent elections, to reclaim truthfulness as a guiding light. It’s time for us to find a better way. For those of us who are Christian, it’s time for us to reclaim what the eighth of our Ten Commandments teaches us, “Do not Bear False Witness.” It’s time for us to refuse to support the machinations of those whose methods and motives play loose with the truth.

Politicians and pundits lie freely on all sides of the political aisle in the press and in the media where there is no cost to them for misleading the public. Lies uttered to save one’s hide and to further one’s causes carry little cost in our culture. So, how do we know what’s true and what isn’t?

In our country one way to gauge the truth is in our courts of law. Lawyers and witnesses certainly lie in court, but if it is proven they have lied, they are held accountable—sentenced to prison, or stiff fines, or both. Lawyers proven to have lied in court lose their licenses to practice law in the future. And in sixty out of sixty-one cases, lawyers representing the President have failed to make their case, because there have been no cases to be made without perjuring themselves.

My prayer is that on January 6th our nation will not descend into violence because some of us have been misled by politicians who put their self-interest above the best interests of our nation. My prayer is that people from across the political spectrum will choose to follow the way of our Savior, which is the way of truth and that by doing so we might have life.

Inhospitality is the new Hospitality

My column for The Antelope County News November 18,2020.

Five years ago, Mike and I bought a new table. Moving to Neligh, we were concerned if the table would fit in the parsonage. Without its leaves it seats eight but with leaves it expands and expands again to seat twenty. We love being hospitable. We love having our whole big family, our six brilliant, funny kids and their significant others and friends gathered around the table eating delicious food. We love having guests. Our guest book, currently sitting unused and lonely in the entryway after all these COVID-19 months, is filled with the names of exchange students, refugees, friends passing through town, church members and neighbors who’ve given us the great gift of their time and good company around our table over the years.

When I think of Jesus, I think of all the meals he shared. He ate with his friends, with tax collectors and “sinners,” he oversaw the feeding of 5,000 people and 4,000 people in the first-ever church “pot-luck” suppers. Jesus cooked breakfast on the lakeshore for his friends and gathered them together around the table in a meal we still remember in worship when we take communion.

Gathering for meals is holy. Gathering for meals is important. Hospitality is part of living life to its fullest.

This year, Mike’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving. Any other year, we would be gathering the whole crew, in-laws and out-laws and stragglers without somewhere else to be and we’d be hosting a whole house-full for a feast around our big table. Instead, because of how much we love all those we’d ordinarily invite to join us and all their co-workers and neighbors with whom they’ll be in contact in the days and weeks after Thanksgiving, we won’t be hosting anyone at the parsonage for dinner.  COVID-19 is running amok in Nebraska. So, Mike and I will be sitting across from each other, just the two of us at our big table, feasting on the goodness of God’s love and giving thanks for faith and friends and family far away.

Gathering for meals is holy. So is not gathering in order to preserve each other’s health. Gathering for meals is important. So is knowing it is not the season to gather. Hospitality is part of living life to its fullest. So is foregoing the parties this year so those we love are alive to be with us next year.

Jesus, out of love, gave his life for us. Sad as it will be, we too, can give, really just a little, we can give up our Thanksgiving traditions this year. This one time, the most hospitable thing we can do is to be inhospitable, limiting who sits at our feast tables even as we celebrate the unlimited goodness of God.

Another Way to Look at It

Willie Green was driving as we headed toward the truck-stop for dinner after church. It was my first Sunday back at my Student Pastorate in rural Kentucky after being away for my wedding and honeymoon in 1983. Seeing a political poster stapled to a telephone pole, I asked Willie,

“who won the election for Governor while I was away?”

In her tobacco-thickened bluegrass drawl she grumbled, “Oh, that Martha Layne Collins, did.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.” I replied.

“I just don’t think it’s right, her being a woman and all.”

It was quiet in the car for a little while. Then Willie said,

“But then, I didn’t think it was right having you be our pastor, either.”

A little nervous, I asked, “So how’s that working out?” She laughed and said,

“It’s working out great! I guess maybe that Martha Layne won’t be too bad a Governor after all.” 

Five years or so later, I was sitting at the kitchen table back home in Omaha visiting my parents. My Dad, who had always been my champion, encouraging me every step along the way in my education and preparation for ministry was reading the World Herald and said something about “that’s the problem with the economy these days, all these women going to work.”

“Um. Dad,” I ventured. “I thought you are really proud of me and the work I do.”

Dad put down the paper. I could see the cogs turning in his brain.

“Maybe the problem,” I said, “isn’t that women are working, maybe the problem is that the economy isn’t.”

“Well, that is another way to look at it.” Said Dad.

Last week I was at the county jail where I meet with some of the women for Bible study and discussion a couple times each week. “Any results yet on the election?” someone asked. It was Friday afternoon. I told them it was still not called for either candidate, but it looked like Biden and Harris were pulling ahead. The reaction among the women was mixed. What surprised me was two of the women, one young, one older, both said they didn’t want Biden and Harris because Harris is a woman, and “women shouldn’t be doing jobs like that.” I checked my watch, hoping it would tell me what year it is.  When it didn’t, I told the women the story of me and Willie Green and the election of Martha Layne Collins in Kentucky thirty-five years ago.

It turns out the women had discussed it with a man who did some other ministry in the jail, and decided they agreed with him that women aren’t fit for leadership, that women need to know their place and stay in it. Why? Maybe because they, like so many of the women I meet at the jail, have known nothing but abuse from men for most of their lives. Instead of having the gift of parents, teachers, pastors and professors, male and female alike, who cheered them on and encouraged them to aim higher, these women have been put down and pushed around and told they don’t count. But they do. I told them they do. I told them being a woman in no way makes them less than a man, and, in my opinion, Senator Harris being a woman in no way disqualifies her from office.

Women, like men, can and should do all that God has given them the gifts to do. God created all of us in God’s image, and God said, “that’s good.”

The day after I was at the jail, on Saturday, the election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I wasn’t particularly a Harris fan through the primaries, but when she spoke on Saturday as the Vice-President elect of our nation I broke down and sobbed great big, racking unexpected sobs. I think it’s right. I think it’s just right, her being a woman and all. And I suspect on Saturday afternoon God said something like, “it’s about time!” before saying, “now that’s really, really good.”

Doing Old Good Things New Good Ways

My column for The Elgin Review November 4, 2020

The smell of turkey roasting wafted up from the basement as I ran from there up the three flights of stairs to the top floor on the far end of my sprawling dorm, Clay Hall. My room was the only place I had access to a telephone in those dark ages before limitless long distance and phones that weren’t wired into the walls. It was on three south. Breathlessly, I dialed the number I’d memorized before heading to kindergarten, (402) 453-2384. Mother answered and when I said, “Mom,” she called out, “Marshall, it’s Becky again, get on the extension.” (In the dark ages there were no speaker phones). Daddy picked up the phone in their bedroom. They both laughed when I gasped and then asked my question, gave me a quick answer, told me they loved me and I flew back down the stairs.

When I learned I was the Resident Assistant with dorm duty for the Thanksgiving weekend, I was sad. I’d never missed a Thanksgiving Dinner with my family. The tv tuned to football, grandpa breaking dried bread into pieces in the big stainless bowl that only came out for stuffing, Mother sautéing celery and onion, perfect pumpkin pies baking in the oven upstairs, while the turkey roasted in Grandma’s old apartment downstairs, and me preparing a relish tray and setting the table with a pretty lace cloth, the once-a-year china and silverware I’d polished the week before.

Here I was, twenty-one years old, in Oklahoma, far away from Omaha preparing Thanksgiving Dinner in the little apartment of the Dorm Mother who’d gotten to go home. The guests would be the stragglers; foreign students and those who had no way to get home or no friends to go home with for the holiday. And I, whose prior culinary skills were mostly mac-n-cheese, beanie-weenies and chocolate chip cookies was cooking the kind of dinner my mother, an exquisite cook, always prepared for Thanksgiving. Two weeks earlier her letter arrived along with recipe cards for dressing, cranberry ice and pumpkin pie. In it she detailed, “Becky dear, for the dressing you will want to start two days ahead by setting the bread out to dry…”

My father laughed so hard he cried when on one of my forty-eleven breathless phone calls home I asked what to do with that weird little bag of stuff I pulled out of the turkey along with the dressing. “What? Mother asked, giggling. “You were supposed to take that out before you stuffed and roasted the turkey!” “What do I do with it?” I insisted. They told me to throw it out and promised never to tell anyone what I’d done.

My parents and I laughed through that day. Though I wasn’t home, it is one of my all-time favorite holiday memories. I still have the letter my mother wrote to me, the recipe cards she sent, and my notes from those phone calls home scrawled on little lime-green squares of paper from a note cube that sat on my dormitory desk. I’ll be pulling out the recipes and age-stained instructions in Mother’s beautiful script three weeks from now as I prepare a meal this year for Mike and me.

This year loving our families and our neighbors at Thanksgiving means not getting together unless we can all quarantine for two full weeks before and then for another two weeks after Thanksgiving. It feels terrible thinking about it.

We’re not traveling to share the holiday in Minneapolis with cousins and our Minnesota kids. Our Lincoln, NYC and Pittsburgh offspring aren’t heading here, either. Instead, we’ll be calling each other on the phone or “Zooming,” comparing cooking notes, laughing and giving thanks for the technology that allows us to be together even as this pandemic keeps us apart. We’ll share cooking tips, and laugh at cooking disasters, rejoice in our good fortune, and look forward to being together next year when COVID-19 has run its course and scientists have had time to develop a vaccine. If it’s warm enough to eat outside, who knows? Maybe local friends can safely join us for a feast on our patio.

I hope you are beginning to make your plans for how you will keep each other and our community safe this Thanksgiving. God will certainly be happy to receive our gratitude whether we’re together or apart. Who knows? Years from now, our memories of the year the pandemic upended our holiday traditions may be among our fondest.


You are always welcome to join us for worship at Park Congregational United Church of Christ, ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. Worship is at 9:15 am and available on Zoom. I love to hear from you.