Sermon: Walking on the Sea

Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 10 August 2014
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. David D. M. King

Matthew 14:22-33

9:00 Traditional Service Sermon

There certainly is a lot of power on display in the gospel lesson today. Jesus performs all sorts of impressive miracles. However, we are liable to miss quite a lot of the significance if we just focus on the power and the wonder and fail to understand all of the cultural messages that are infused in this story. Without some sort of guide to help us understand the symbolism and cultural references embedded in this story, it would be difficult to understand the underlying message. So this morning I’ll try to bring you some of the cultural scholarship that opens up some the hidden meanings in this familiar story. As we will see, this is not just a story about an impressive miracle, it is a story about the most important conflict in the ancient world: the conflict between chaos and order, and how Jesus conquers the forces of chaos in order to allow life to flourish.

And the first thing we need is a lesson in spiritual geography. In the beginning of the story, after dismissing everyone, Jesus goes up onto the mountain to pray. He’s not going up there just to be inspired by the beautiful scenery. He’s going up there because mountaintops are the dwelling-places of deities and demons. Like deserts, mountains are places where chaos reigns, places where the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds are thin. For Jesus to go up on the mountain alone, and to come down unharmed, is a sign of his prowess as a holy man. No ordinary man would try something like that. Jesus has faced the powers of chaos head on, and he has not been defeated.

While Jesus is up there, the disciples are headed across the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a freshwater lake, 13 miles across in one direction, 8 miles in the other. The Sea of Galilee was notorious for how quickly and unexpected it could go from calm to storm.

But for people in the ancient world, the sea was not just a collection of water, it was a living being, sometimes a god or goddess. In the Roman world it was associated with Poseidon or Neptune; for Semitic peoples it was Tiamat, perhaps the greatest symbol of chaos in the ancient world. When that storm comes up, it would be not just a natural phenomenon, but a supernatural one. It was the spirit of the sea rising up against them.

As Jesus faces the forces of chaos on the mountain, the disciples struggle against the forces of chaos on the sea. And when night is nearly over, in the fourth watch, Jesus comes out toward them, walking on the sea. He is literally trampling down the personified forces of chaos.

When the disciples see him coming, they are afraid. And it’s no wonder that they are. Even in the ancient world, no one expected to see someone walking on the sea. The disciples think that he is a phantasm, that is, an apparition or an illusion. They think they are seeing things. And they are extremely afraid.

But Jesus speaks to them. He says, “Take courage, don’t be afraid.” And he says one more thing. Your New Revised Standard Version, that I just read, says, “It is I.” What Jesus really says is, “I am.” That is, he uses the name of God, the great I AM. Don’t be afraid; I AM.

Peter, the most impetuous of the disciples, is ready to jump in for himself. We can imagine that the other disciples thought he was crazy. After all, if they are afraid they are seeing an illusion, jumping into a stormy sea is not exactly the way to prove that this Jesus is real. And yet, that is exactly what Peter does.

And surprisingly, Peter is able to walk on the water. He walks out toward Jesus. But then something happens. Peter sees the strong wind around him. He sees the chaos, becomes aware of the reality of the situation, and becomes afraid. And with that fear, he begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus, “Save me.” It’s a theological word. Save me, heal me. Jesus reaches out his hand, like he would for a healing or an exorcism, and he catches Peter. And then Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you hesitate? Why were you of two minds?”

When they get back in the boat, the wind dies down, the storm stops. Jesus conquers the chaos on the mountain, and he conquers the chaos of the sea. His disciples recognize this, and they worship him as the son of God, the one who does on earth God’s traditional role of holding the chaos at bay, of making a safe space for civilization to flourish.

One of the most interesting details of this story is the contrast between faith and fear. When Jesus comes out on the sea, the disciples are afraid. Then, Peter stirs up his faith and accomplishes the amazing feat of walking on the water. Then he looks around and becomes afraid. He starts to sink. Jesus saves him and points out his weakness of faith, that he hesitated, but otherwise could have continued.

Fear, we see, is the main enemy of faith. Fear is the thing that keeps Peter and the rest of the disciples from being everything they could be. Fear is what causes them to succumb to the powers of chaos.

And I find that to be true in our modern world as well. So often we are not the disciples that we could be because we are afraid. We are afraid of looking foolish in front of our friends. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid of the way our lives might change if we truly and fully gave them over to God.

And so we find ourselves most of the time as lukewarm disciples. Most of the time we stay cowering in the boat, stay cowering in the church, afraid to step into the swirling storm outside. The problems out there in the world are just too big, too intimidating for us to face. Every once in a while, we recklessly step out in faith, and shine for one brief moment, like Peter, before the reality of what we are doing frightens us again. We of little faith, why do we hesitate? Why are we of two minds when it comes to the work of the Kingdom of God? Why do we allow fear to pull us down?

But there is one who can save us. There is one who can reach out and catch us when we are falling. There is one who can conquer the chaotic forces in our world, who can calm the storm and tread down the sea. His name is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. And he calls us continually, repeating the words he uttered on Galilee: “Take courage. Do not be afraid. I AM.” Step out again in faith. Risk everything in your reckless discipleship. I am here to catch you. I am here to save you. I am here to make you everything you can be. Do not be afraid. I AM.

10:30 Celebration Service Sermon

The story in Matthew today is about fear and faith. It is about what can happen when we summon the courage to take a risk and live out the gospel message. It is about how easy it is for us to shrink back from the things that God is calling us to.

The disciples are in the boat alone. They are trying to make it the few miles from one side of the Lake of Galilee to the other, but they aren’t making any progress. There is a storm, and it is blowing directly into them, through up a mist in their faces. There are great waves and swells tossing and turning the boat. This is the kind of storm that would keep even the heartiest wind surfers off the water. It is as if the sea were alive, as if it had a will to keep them from progressing.

And that is, in fact, how they would have understood the sea: as a living being. The sea was generally thought to be a divine or semi-divine being. For Greeks it was Poseidon; for the Semitic peoples it was the goddess Tiamat, often portrayed as a sea monster. If this storm was coming up on them, it wasn’t just some meteorological phenomenon: it was the forces of darkness and chaos seeking to destroy them.

And in the midst of this, they see what looks like Jesus walking out over the swells toward them. Even in the ancient world, even of Jesus, they would not have expected something like this would be possible. It must be a ghost. The Greek word is phantasm. It must be an apparition, a deception. Perhaps this is one of the tricks of the sea, trying to lure them out and under the waves, to be swallowed up.

But Jesus calls out to them. He says. “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.” Literally, he says, Don’t be afraid, I AM. That is, he uses the divine name, I AM, the unutterable name of God. Don’t be afraid. I AM. In the face of supernatural chaos, Jesus invokes the name of the God of Abraham, who in some bible passages is described as creating the world by slaying the sea monster.

But what Peter does next is truly remarkable. Remember, they think what they are seeing is a trick, a trap designed to lure them into the consuming sea. But Peter calls out the figure on the waves and says, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” If Jesus might be a phantasm, that is the last thing Peter should ask if he wants to prove otherwise. But he asks, and Jesus says, “Come.”

O what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this
boat I’m in onto the crashing waves,
To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown
where Jesus is and he’s holding out his hand.

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me,
reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.
The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again,
you’ll never win. You’ll never win.*

Sometimes we treat the church like a boat. Sometimes even the church building itself is like a boat. There might be storms outside, but we’re safe in here. The world can be a frightening place, and sometimes it seems like it’s out to get us. There are so many temptations, so many things that could destroy us. And there are other things that we are quite glad to stay away from. If we stay in the church, maybe we can forget that they’re out there. If we sing the hymns, maybe we can drown out the sound of the hunger, the pain, the violence, the suffering.

O what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this
boat I’m in onto the crashing waves,
To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown
where Jesus is and he’s holding out his hand.

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me,
reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.
The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again,
you’ll never win. You’ll never win.*

Peter manages to overcome that fear. He steps out of the boat and onto the churning waves. And he walks; one step, two steps, three steps. He keeps going…. eight steps, nine steps, ten steps. He has almost made it to Jesus when he looks around, and he feels the wind, and the waves lapping at his feet, and he comes to his senses. What is he doing out here on the water? He becomes afraid, and he starts to sink. And as he is being pulled under, he calls out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus reaches out a hand, lifts him up again.

Most of the time, we can’t summon the courage to get out of the boat. Every once in a while, we hear Jesus calling us to go into the world, and we take those first steps. We move ahead, with the chaos and the messiness and the imperfection swirling around us. And we make progress. And then we start to realize what we’ve gotten ourselves into. We realize how far away from the safety of the boat we have gotten ourselves. We begin to be afraid. And we start to sink. And we wish that we had never stepped out in the first place.

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me,
reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed.
The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again,
you’ll never win. You’ll never win.

But the voice of truth tells me a different story.
The voice of truth says Do not be afraid
The voice of truth says This is for my glory.
Of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.*

There is one who can save us. There is one who can reach out and catch us when we are falling. There is one who can conquer the chaotic forces in our world, who can calm the storm and tread down the sea. His name is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. And he calls us continually, pleading with us to get out of the safety of whatever boat we find ourselves in. He repeats the words that he uttered on Galilee: “Take courage. Do not be afraid. I AM.” Step out again in faith. Risk everything in your reckless discipleship. Start something that you never thought was possible, even if you don’t know how to finish it. I am here to catch you. I am here to save you. I am here to make you everything you can be. Do not be afraid. I AM.

But the voice of truth tells me a different story.
The voice of truth says Do not be afraid
The voice of truth says This is for my glory.
Of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.*


* Mark Hall and Steven Curtis Chapman, “Voice of Truth,” track 3 from Casting Crowns, Casting Crowns, Beach Street Records: 2004. Adapted.

Installation Service


There will be an Installation Service for Pastor David King on Sunday, August 10th, at 2 pm in the sanctuary. Rev. Susan Kintner from the Oregon Synod (ELCA) and Rev. Steve Ross from the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference (UMC) will preside. Community members and local area clergy are invited to attend. Clergy may wear the vestments appropriate to their faith communities (with green stoles, if applicable). Following the service will be an Ice Cream Social.


The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?” –1 Kings 19:11-13


Imagine with me, if you will, two different Christians. One is a hermit. He lives in a cave in the desert. He spends nearly all of his time reading the bible and in meditation and prayer. Once a week, for an hour, he receives visitors at the mouth of his cave. Pilgrims come to ask him questions and to receive a prayer or blessing from him.

The other is a social worker. She gave up her lucrative job in the tech industry to work with the homeless in the inner city. She operates a center that coordinates services from all over the area, so that anyone in need can come to one location and find the best help available. She works individually with each client and tries to make sure that they are helped promptly and treated with dignity. She spends nearly every waking minute attending to the needs of others.

So which one is the authentic Christian? Which one is living the call of Jesus Christ?

And the answer probably is that they both are. We are called both to contemplation and to mission. In some cases, a person might be called almost exclusively to one of the other, as in the examples above. For most of us, though, we can’t effectively live out our faith without attending to both the quiet contemplation and to active service.

The story about Elijah is an example. He has gone up to the mountain at Horeb because he has given up on being a prophet. He has been doing God’s work, and it has brought him nothing but trouble. He is convinced that he is the last of God’s prophets and that he will soon be killed, putting an end to the worship of God on Earth. So, he has gone up to the mountain to wait for death. He is done.

But in the stillness, God appears to him. It’s not in any of the loud and calamitous signs: the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God’s voice comes only in the quiet, only in what the KJV calls the still small voice. If Elijah weren’t in quiet contemplation, he couldn’t hear the voice.

But the voice he hears in silence calls him to action. “Why are you here, Elijah?” That is, why are you here by yourself on a mountain and not out doing the work of a prophet? The voice calls him back out to his vocation, back out to his mission.

And we also need to find that balance between contemplation and action. If we never take the time to be in meditation and in prayer, then we are unlikely to hear the voice of God over the cacophony of our busy-ness. But if our faith is confined to a sanctuary or bounded between the covers of a bible, then we are not really living the faith, only understanding it. We need both—both listening and doing—in order to live our Christian faith. We need both in order to be the Church.

Your servant in Christ,

+Pastor David

++ Pastor David King’s Installation is this Sunday at 2:00pm.  Come and welcome Pastor David and his family. Steve Ross and Susan Kitner will be attending on this special day. An ice cream social will follow the service.

++ Special Giving-School Supplies
On August 31st, Faith in Action will be collecting school supplies for Parkdale Elementary School as our 5th Sunday special giving.  On August 17th, during both worship services, you will have an opportunity to commit to purchasing a specific item.  This will help ensure that we get some of everything which is needed.  If you will not be at worship on August 17th, please feel free to purchase anything from the list below, or place a donation in the offering plate designated “School Supplies”.  There will be a collection basket in the narthex of the church.

glue sticks
child safety scissors
Ticonderoga #2 pencils
boxes of tissues
hand sanitizer
rulers with both metric and US measurements
spiral notebooks (wide rule)
colored pencils
Band-aids (latex free)
plastic folders with pockets
back packs

++  August 18-20-22 are the days that Asbury Our Redeemer serve at FISH.

The hours are 3:30-5pm on Monday, 3:30-5:30 on Wednesday, and 3:30-5pm on Friday.  If you would like to volunteer, any or all days, or have questions, please contact Kathy Terry at

++ Yard sale is this Saturday from 8am to 1pm.  Friday is the last day to bring items for the sale.  You may drop off things by the front door of the church or between 9 and 11am Thurs and Fri. Thank you everyone who has brought items so far!

++  WELCA bible study will be Tues Aug 26th from 2-4pm.



Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager


Wrestling Jacob

Sermon given at Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 3 August 2014
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

by Rev. David D. M. King

Genesis 32:22-31

It’s called liminality, from the Latin word limen, meaning “threshold.” Liminality is defined as “a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the ‘threshold’ of or between two different existential planes.” Being on the threshold of or between two different existential planes. Being almost there, but not quite yet. Having already lost your previous identity, but not yet having a new identity. Like on the day of your wedding. You’re no longer really single—you’ve left that identity behind—but you are not yet married. Or that time between graduation and a first job. You’re no longer a student, but neither are you an independent, working adult. Or that time spent driving in the U-Haul between your old town and your new town. You’ve already left, but you’re not there yet. That is the state of liminality—a time of transition, loss of identity, excitement, expectation, fear, trepidation—liminal space.

And it is on that liminal plane that Jacob encounters God. After fleeing his homeland in secret, in fear for his life, having stolen not only his brother Esau’s birthright but also his father Isaac’s blessing, after spending 20 years working for his uncle Laban in Padam-aram, having married his cousins Leah and Rachel and sired eleven children, after fleeing from Laban, again in secret, to return to the land of Canaan, the land of his fathers, having acquiring numerous animals and slaves along the way, Jacob now must cross over. He must face the past he had fled. He must face his brother, whom he had cheated, who last they met had wanted to kill him. He must face his dishonor at running away from his family in the secrecy of night. He must face himself, the choices that he has made, the wrong steps he has taken, the person he was and person he has become.

But first he must cross the river. Jacob sends messengers, several of them in turn, each bearing gifts of animals for his brother, Esau. He separates all of his possessions into two groups, so that if Esau attacks one, the other will have a chance to escape. And he sends all of these across the river ahead of him. Last of all, he sends his wives, his concubines, and his children.

But Jacob himself stays behind. He remains there on the threshold, almost there, but not quite. Suspended between two realities, the past and the future. Just on the border of destiny.

“And a man came and wrestled with Jacob until daybreak.” It’s unclear just exactly who this man is. Jacob demands of him his name, but he refuses to give it, saying, “You must not ask my name!” Different translators and interpreters handle it differently. For some, it is God Himself who wrestles with Jacob. For some it is an angel or a divine being. The most literal translation of the Hebrew word is, “the gods.” And some later Christian thinkers have said that if Jacob wrestled a God-man, then it must have been Jesus.

However we interpret it, though, Jacob wrestles with this stranger all night. They are evenly matched, it seems, and since neither of them is willing to concede, they continue the struggle, on and on, with no clear winner.

On the one hand, this seems like a very strange story. After all, it seems to imply that God, the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe, appeared in bodily form to a man in ancient Canaan, and that the Almighty was not strong enough to overcome a simple human. And both of these ideas seem ridiculous to our faith. God is supposed to be the formless power beyond representation, beyond depiction, and would certainly not appear in bodily form to someone. And if God were to do so, wouldn’t God be able to defeat even the World Wrestling champion in a wrestling match, to say nothing for this pip-squeak shepherd? Maybe these sorts of things could happen, but they certainly couldn’t happen today.

And yet, on the other hand, this is a very familiar story. Because, who among us has not at some point in our lives struggled with God? Who among us has not spent time locked in combat with the lover of our souls? Who has not grappled with the questions of faith?

God, what am I doing? Do you have a plan for me? What is it? How do I know that you are real? How do I know that you actually care for someone like me? Why can’t I feel your presence now, when I’m in my greatest need? Why have you abandoned me? God, if you love me, if you love us, why do you let such horrible things happen? Why don’t you respond to the suffering of your people? Why did you let them die? What is left in this life for me? Why should I pray if I don’t ever seem to get what I pray for? God, where are you? Who are you? Who am I?

Sometimes we are told that good Christians shouldn’t ask these kinds of questions. You shouldn’t doubt God, God’s actions, or God’s motives. You shouldn’t put God to the test. All you need to do is have more faith. Questions cause the weak of faith to fall away. Just trust. Just believe. Hold on to your faith blindly, no matter what doubts or questions arise in your mind. That’s what a good Christian is supposed to do.

But this story begs us to challenge those beliefs. Look at how the story ends. Jacob has been struggling all night. Finally, as daylight approaches, the stranger, realizing that he can’t win, decides to cheat. He throws out Jacob’s hip. But even so, Jacob will not relent. He cries out defiantly, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And eventually the stranger is forced to concede, saying, “Jacob, you have struggled with God, and you have struggled with human beings, but you have prevailed. I am giving you a new name. You will no longer be known as Jacob, the supplanter. From now on you will be known as Struggles-with-God. You will be known as Israel.”

Israel, as you know, became the name for the whole of God’s faithful followers. The Israelites were God’s chosen people. And even in the church, we often call ourselves the New Israel.

And isn’t it interesting that the name we use for the faithful, the very model of our faith, is Israel: Struggles-with-God. We are reminded in this story that faith is not just about blindly following. No, faith is about struggling, struggling with the world, and even struggling with God. And we are promised that if we persevere, if we refuse to let go, then we will surely be granted a blessing.

This might mean a drastic change in the way we look at our faith. It means that the very core of the faith is in questioning, struggling, sparring with God. In the dark times of life, in the places of doubt, the times of change and upheaval, in those liminal spaces, we can wrestle with God. We can demand our answers, demand a blessing. We may not always get the answers that we expect. And we may, like Jacob, leave the encounter scarred, with a limp as a constant reminder of our bout with God. But we will not leave rebuked or scolded for our lack of faith. Struggle is at the heart of the faith, and rather than weakening us, as so many fear, it makes us stronger, more firm in our relationship with God. May we all be fortunate enough to be blessed with the insight, confidence, humility, and strength that comes only when we wrestle with God.



That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.” – Matthew 14:15-17

Don’t you get the impression that the disciples tell Jesus boldly, “We have nothing here!” and then continue, under their breath, “ . . . (except five loaves of bread and two fish)”? That’s how the story reads to me, anyway. It might be that they’re being a bit stingy. They packed their lunches, and it’s not their fault that no one else was responsible enough to do the same.

But I think it’s more likely that they are simply overwhelmed by the immensity of the need. We’ll find out in a few verses that the crowds number somewhere between 5,004 and, say, 25,000. That’s more than the entire population of Hood River, even on a weekend in the summer. We have some idea of the magnitude of resources it takes FISH Food Bank to help feed only those people in our area suffering food insecurity. If all it took was five loaves of bread and two fish, we wouldn’t be building a 5,600 square foot facility on our campus for food outreach. It seems completely reasonable that, in face of such great need, the disciples would feel that their meager resources wouldn’t do any good. Better to leave it to someone else.

That is often our natural response in face of overwhelming need. Whether it is hunger, violence, disease, climate, poverty, or something else, we often find ourselves feeling as if there is nothing we can do. We are too small, too insignificant. What difference could we possibly make, anyway?

Like those disciples, we often underestimate two things. First, we underestimate the resources that we actually have. We have an attitude of scarcity that leads us to hold onto what we have, thinking that it is far too little for us, and certainly not enough to share. But we do have resources, skills, time, energy, money, that can be used to confront the world’s greatest needs.

Second, we underestimate the power of God to multiply our efforts. Sometimes all it takes is one person to offer up themselves and what little they have, and then God is able to inspire others to join in, to open doors that were previously closed, to make a miracle.

No one thought four years ago that FISH would be able to raise over $1 million to build a new food bank. But a few people started anyway, with what little they had. And now look what God has brought to fruition! If God can do that, if God can feed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish, what other amazing things can God do through us and what little we have?

Yours in Christ,

+Pastor David



++        Women’s Spirituality meets this Saturday Aug 2nd at 9am in the church office.

++        Faith In Action meeting is Mon Aug 4th at 10:15 in the Fellowship Hall.

++        WELCA Yard Sale Saturday Aug 9th from 8am to 1pm. There is a sign-up sheet in the Narthex for volunteers to organize, price, and sell, etc. Items may be dropped off from 9 to 11 Mon 4th to Fri 8th at the church. Items may be left outside the church front door if those times don’t work for you. Call Kathy Terry 541-386-2308 or Marlene Lahti 541-386-1568 with any questions.

++        Pastor David King’s Installation will be Sunday August 10th at 2:00pm. There will be an ice cream social following.

++        The Celebration Service is looking for people who would be willing to share special music during the rest of summer. Also, if you have a green thumb and know how to graft, please contact Linda Boris.

++        SPRC committee meets Sunday August 24th at 11:30 with Pastor David attending.

++        Current choir members and anyone interested in joining choir, are invited to attend a potluck supper at Morning Song Acres on Thurs August 28th at 6pm.

++        FISH Food Bank duty is Monday Aug 18th; Wed 20th; and Fri 22nd.



Jennifer Fowler

Office Manager

Sermon: Who Will Separate Us?

Sermon given at Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 27 July 2014
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

by Rev. David D. M. King

Romans 8:26-39

This text from Romans today is a favorite of preachers. There’s a lot of good material in those few verses. I once heard the famed preacher Fred Craddock preach a forty-five minute sermon on just one sentence from this passage: we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes [for us] with sighs too deep for words. And I myself have preached a number of funeral sermons that relied on that famous sentiment that nothing can separate us from the love of God. There are plenty of themes and verses to choose from in this passage, all of which could yield a good sermon.

But the part of this passage that caught my attention this week is the legal language. It’s a little bit obscured in most English translations, but part of what Paul is envisioning here is a courtroom scene, a courtroom where humanity is on trial.

I’m rather a fan of crime dramas on television. Law & Order was one of my favorites. Ever since they cancelled the original series, though, I haven’t enjoyed it as well. The spinoffs all seem to focus too much on the order and not enough on the law. They’re all about police work and not about lawyering. When I watch a crime show, I want to see some good courtroom arguing, but there seems to be trend in the last several years to focus on the police or the crime scene investigators. If I want to get my fix of courtroom drama, I have to watch one of the older shows in reruns.

One of those that I catch from time to time is JAG. Yes, before NCIS became the most popular show in America, and before it spun-off NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans, it was itself a spin-off of a of a show called JAG. JAG portrayed the lives and work of officers of US Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office. This is a corp of military lawyers who investigate and argue cases involving US Navy and Marine Corp personnel. Now, what I find most interesting about this show is that each JAG officer might find themselves presenting the prosecution, or arguing the defense, or even acting as judge, depending on the case and the circumstances. When you see Matlock, you know that he’s going to be defending someone accused of murder. When you watch Law & Order, you know that Jack McCoy is going to be trying to put someone away. But on JAG, you never know who’s going to be arguing which part of the case, and some of the most interesting drama comes when someone gets assigned to the part of the case that they really don’t agree with. But as professionals, they need to be ready, on behalf of their nation, to act fairly as prosecutor, defender, or judge, depending on what they are called upon to do. All three roles are the responsibility of the government.

It’s not the same in civilian courts. In civilian courts, the judges work for the government. Judges are either elected or appointed, and they are held accountable by the government. Prosecutors also work for the government. They work in the name of The People of New York, or the State of Oregon, or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the British system, prosecutors work in the name of the crown, in the name of the ruling monarch.

But defense attorneys are different. They don’t work for the government. They are hired by the clients whom they defend, and they work solely on their behalf. Judging and prosecuting are the responsibility of the government, but defense is usually a private matter.

Which brings us back to Romans. You see, Paul is also talking about a court case, and Paul is also interested in who ends up getting assigned to each role. Who will be the judge, who will be the prosecutor, and who will be the defense.

Under normal circumstances, this is how Paul figures it would go down. Humanity is on trial. Obviously, God is going to be the judge. God is the government, God is the ruler, God is the monarch. As such, God is the chief judge. Remember that in the ancient world, there were no professional judges; the rulers served as judges. Jesus was judged by Pilate, who was the local Roman governor. Paul, when he was put on trial, appealed all the way to the highest authority, the Roman Emperor himself. So there is no doubt that in this trial, God is the final authority, and God will be the judge.

But who will be the prosecutor? Well, as we noted above, that is also the responsibility of the government, that is also the responsibility of the crown. So, we would assume that God would take care of that too. Humanity is accused of breaking God’s laws, so God will have to state the case against them. Perhaps God will assign some angel to the task, but it will be God’s ultimate responsibility nonetheless.

Finally, who will present the defense? Well, that will be up to us, won’t it? We, humanity will have to present our own defense. We will have to justify our own lives.

Now, under these circumstances, there is no doubt what the outcome will be. God is the judge. God is presenting the prosecution. We have to defend ourselves. And we are clearly guilty of breaking God’s laws. There is no question about it. Case closed. We are guilty. And the sentence for our crime is death.

Under normal circumstances, that is the end of the story. But, Paul says, these are not normal circumstances. God has decided to change the rules. God knows that humanity, and especially gentiles, could never be found innocent of breaking God’s laws. There is simply too much accrued guilt and sin.

But God doesn’t want to condemn all gentiles to death, so God comes up with a new plan. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God changes the rules. God changes the way this case is going to be handled.

Just like in JAG, the question is about who is going to sit in which chair. In one particular episode, a suspected terrorist was on trial. In order to ensure that he got the best defense possible, the admiral in charge of the JAG Corp decided to defend the case himself. He never argued cases himself, but this one he did. And he assigned one of his chief deputies to sit second chair, to assist him in the defense.

Something similar has happened in the divine trial of humanity. God is still serving as the judge. No one else could do that. But God is also going to serve as the defense attorney. “It is God who justifies,” Paul says. In this context, it might be translated, God is the defense attorney. God is the one who is going to make things right. God is the one who is going to make humanity righteous, the one who is going to argue that humanity is in fact righteous enough to receive the reward. God thinks that this case is so important, that God is going to present the defense Godself.

And that is not all. God has also chosen a very able deputy to sit second chair. To assist in the defense, God has chosen Jesus. Paul says, “Christ Jesus, the one who died, rather, the one who was raised, who also is at the right hand of God is also the one who appeals for us.” God the Father is heading up the defense team. Jesus the Son is backing him up. We’ve got ourselves some good advocates on this case.

So God is judging. God is also presenting the defense, along with Jesus. But who is going to argue for the prosecution? Who is going to present the case against us? And this is the truly interesting part. As I translate it, Paul says, “If God is for us, who is against us?… Who will bring charges against God’s chosen ones? God is the defense attorney. Who will (dare) be the prosecutor?”

The simple answer is, no one. This is the image we are left with. God is sitting behind the bench as judge. God is also sitting at the defense table, along with Jesus. But the prosecutor’s chair is empty. With God on the side of the defense, there is no one who will argue for the prosecution. And without a prosecutor, there is no case at all. Charges must be dropped. The accused must be set free. We, humanity, must be released from the eternal punishment of death.

“Who will separate us from Christ’s love?” Paul asks. “Oppression or calamity or persecution or famine or want of clothing or danger or dagger?… No, in all these things we are overwhelmingly victorious through the one who has loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither heavenly messengers nor earthly rulers, neither things that are beginning nor things that are lingering, nor armies, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from God’s love, which is in Christ Jesus, our master.”

If God is for us, who can be against us? No one. Who can separate us from the love of God? No one. God loves us with a love that is beyond our comprehension. God changes the rules on our account. God defends us even though our sins are indefensible. Nothing, nothing at all, can ever separate from God’s love for us that is displayed in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


Good Day! We’re blessed to have this rain to help keep any forest fires away, but hope you are all warm and dry.

++           Attention all you master gardeners, orchardists, or anyone with a green thumb:  the Celebration worship service is looking for someone who knows how to graft. If this describes you, please contact Linda Boris.

++           Our August Women’s Spiritual Group will be on August 2 (Saturday) at 9:00am in the church office building. We have also received our 2015 Mt. Angel Retreat dates. The retreat will be the weekend of March 6 (2015). Beth and Pamela have volunteered to lead the retreat! (Thank you Beth and Pamela!!) More details to come.       –Carol Kyger

++           From Billie Stevens of the FISH Food Bank –  Concert in the Park  The Oregon Good Sam Club is inviting everyone to enjoy a fun afternoon and all it costs is a non-perishable food item.  The food they are collecting will all go to FISH. Free Watermelon; Alcohol-free Event.

Kerry Williams & The Huckleberry Pickers Singing Group

When: August 2, 2014      Time: 2:00 to 4:00 PM
Where:  Hood River County Fairgrounds (park area by front entry area)
Admission: Donation of Non-perishable Food Items
Bring: Lawn Chairs

++        Sign-ups for the Aug 9th annual church yard sale will be in the Narthex.

++        THANK YOU Michael Hustman for sanding down the raised/warped boards on the office deck. Now we don’t have to worry as much about where we are stepping!


Jennifer Fowler
Office Manager

Sermon: I Did Not Know It

Sermon given at 9:00 Traditional Service
Asbury Our Redeemer Partnership
Hood River, Oregon
Sunday 20 July 2014
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

by Rev. David D. M. King

Genesis 28:10-19a & Matthew 13:24-30

We have two texts this morning. The first is a rather familiar story known as Jacob’s Ladder. Well, maybe the story isn’t all that familiar, but the song is familiar. And the second, is a very unfamiliar parable (although it is one of my personal favorites): the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Two texts, seemingly not related, but one message all the same.

Let’s start with the story of Jacob’s ladder: Jacob is in bad shape. Do you remember the story? He has managed to cheat his brother Esau out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. But Esau, rightful upset at this unfortunate turn of events, is plotting to kill Jacob. When their mother, Rebekah, overhears Esau’s plan, she warns Jacob to flee for his life and to find a wife among the daughters of her brother, Laban, back in her hometown of Haran.

So off Jacob runs. He doesn’t take the main roads. No, he runs up into the hill country, either because he’s only concerned with running or because he is trying to avoid detection by his murderous brother. And he finds himself up in the hills in a place called Luz. He is homeless—alone. He’s left everything that he knows—on his way to seek refuge from relatives that he’s never met. Mind is racing. What good was it to trick his brother if he can never return home again? He has instructions to go off and marry one of his cousins, which I guess might not be that weird when your own parents are cousins and your grandparents are siblings, but still seems a bit frightening to our modern ears. So he’s there, exhausted from running, up in the mountains, alone, and the only pillow he can find is a big rock on the ground. It’s there that he falls asleep.

And it is there that he dreams a magnificent dream. He sees a ladder ascending to heaven, with angels going up and down. God appears before him and assures him that he will be blessed, that God is with him, and that he will return to his homeland someday. God reveals Godself to be with Jacob always and in every place, even when he is in a strange land—God is with him everywhere.

And how does Jacob respond? He gets it all wrong. Rather than recognizing that God is present everywhere, Jacob assumes that he must have stumbled into some special place, the Gate of Heaven, where God’s presence is especially strong. He names the place Bethel, which means House of God, and says, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.

Verse 1: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

But, you know, Jacob didn’t need to be in that special place in order to be in God’s presence. God’s promise was to be with Jacob all of the time, wherever he might be.

But don’t we make the same mistake that Jacob made? Don’t we seek to confine God to the places where we think God should be, places where God belongs? And don’t we work very hard to separate what is sacred from what is secular? When we do, we are missing the point.

Now, sometimes it can be good to separate out special places for God. We set aside this building for God. We set aside this hour in our week for God. We set aside a certain amount of our money for God. We set aside special prayer and devotional times just for God.

But, we should not be fooled into thinking that God ends at the border of what we call sacred. If we think that God will leave us alone once we spend an hour in church each week, then we are sorely mistaken. If we think that God’s territory ends at the door of this building, we will be disappointed. If we think that once we give our share to the church and charity that God doesn’t care how we use the rest of our money, then we will be surprised. God has a knack for showing up in the places where we least expect. Over and over God shows us that if there is any place where we think that God does not exist, that is precisely where God can be found. God will be in that place, even if we do not know it.

Verse 2: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

Two thousand years after Jacob, a man from Galilee whose name is Jesus tells a story. It’s a rather interesting tale about a farmer and his field. He has his servants plant the field with good seed. But, in the night, while no one is watching, one of his enemies comes and plants the whole field with weed seeds. That is quite a dirty trick, isn’t it? Imagine you had spent all this time on your garden, planting each seed in its proper place, and in the night your neighbor jumped the fence and blew dandelions and thistles and all sorts of other nasty things all over your freshly tilled soil. Not very nice.

So, when the field started to sprout, the whole thing was an awful tangle of brambles and briers throughout the crop of wheat. The wheat and the weeds were all mixed up together—and there was no way to pull the weeds without destroying the whole crop. So, confounding his servants, the farmer let the weeds grow right along with the wheat. The farmer knew that there was still good in that field—a good that could not be quashed by the mere presence of a few weeds.

Verse 3: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

When we look at the world, do we fail to see the wheat through the weeds? Do we see only the evil, only the pain, only the trouble, and assume that no good could be there? Do we think that God could not possibly exist in a place so filled with turmoil?

Sometimes we do. We look out at the world and call it Godless. We see acts of terrorism and violence around the world and we call it Godless. We look at the state of political polarization and contention and we call it Godless. We see conflict in the church, even, and we call it Godless. We get discouraged because no matter where we look, we can’t find anything that is wholly pure, completely good. We can’t find anything that is unblemished. When we look for the fruit of God’s kingdom, all we see is a field full of weeds. And we wonder what that means. Some of us are so concerned that we think the end of all things must be coming soon, because we can’t tolerate the imperfection that we see around us. We can’t find God in the broken and Godless world around us.

Jesus invites us to look more closely. Jesus invites us to look out on the world with new eyes. God is doing a new thing… do you not perceive it?

Jacob did not expect to find God in the godforsaken hill country of Canaan. And the servants did not expect to find good fruit in a field full of weeds. In just the same way, we don’t expect to find God in our broken world.

But God is there to be found. In the peace of silence, or in the raucous shouts of praise; in the green fields, or the rugged mountains, or the parched deserts, or the city streets: God is there. In the patience of a teacher, or the diligence of an accountant, or the toil of a laborer, or the passion of an advocate; in sighs of the aging, in the questions of the middle-aged, or in the cries of the newborn: God is there. In the wide eyes of the innocent, the might of the powerful, or the struggle of the oppressed; in singing, speaking, listening, or screaming out in pain: God is there. In learning, welcoming, smiling, or suffering; in waking, working, or resting: God is there. In friends or enemies, loved ones or strangers; in the strong, the weak, or the disabled; the beautiful or the ugly: God is there. In Genesis, in The Origin of Species, or even in Harry Potter: God is there. In black, brown, and white; in English, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, or in Arabic; in straight or gay, old or young, woman or man, rich or poor: God is most certainly there. All we need do is open our eyes and ears and mouths and noses and hands in order to find God.

All we need do is open our hearts, our minds, and our doors. For when we truly seek God, and when we are not afraid to see God in the most unexpected places, we will certainly not fail to find God. Right here, right now, and all around us, the kingdom of God is at work, sprouting forth in all its glory, in new and amazing ways, if we only have the eyes to see it. And perhaps we will be brought like Jacob to say, “Surely God is in this place… and I did not know it.”

Verse 4: UMH 563 Father, We Thank You

FISH Food Bank Groundbreaking

We will be breaking ground for the long-planned-for FISH Food Bank, Monday, July 21st, at 4:30 pm. The FISH program was started by Gorge Ecumenical Ministries (GEM). The new building will be right here on the campus of Asbury Our Redeemer and will help to serve needy persons throughout Hood River County. Thank you to all those who donated their time, energy, and money to make this project a reality!

Future FISH Food Bank