A Sermon: Unsettled


*Grandview Beach, an old bulkhead near the long-gone lighthouse, I photographed in 2009.

The Gospel of Mark 1:21-28 

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.



It was the Sabbath.  Naturally, the Jews of Capernaum went to synagogue.

Some of them entered sleepily, others with weariness after a busy week.  Others perhaps in a rather irritable mood for who knows why–maybe it had been no more than that they were out of cream cheese back at the house and the bagel at breakfast that morning just wasn’t as good without it.

It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, they went to synagogue.

They came from a variety of experiences in the week gone by, awash in differing emotions and mental states.  It was their habit to come there, for as long as many of them could remember.  You went to the synagogue, moved your way through the fairly predictable service, listened as the scribes read a portion of the Torah, sang a doxology, and then went home for the noon meal.

It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, they went to synagogue.

But on that particular morning, Jesus of Nazareth was there and stood up as some kind of guest pastor that day.  Few, if any, had ever heard of him before and when they looked at the bulletin and saw he was from Nazareth, perhaps a few groaned.  But then he started to teach and they sensed this man and the message about God’s kingdom he was talking about were one and the same thing.  A few folks were starting to whisper their amazement even as others scrawled a furtive “Wow!” on the bulletin, showing it to the person next to them.  Something extraordinary was happening

Suddenly and from the back pew a shriek went up.  “WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH US, Jesus of Nazareth?!  Have you come to wipe us out already!?  I know who you are, you are the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” Jesus commanded.  You know everyone was glad he said it because it was probably on the tip of their tongues, but then Jesus said something that no one else had had in mind: “Come out of him!”  No sooner were those words out of Jesus’ mouth than the man convulsed, shrieking one last time and collapsing into a heap.  But then he was better, the fire gone from his eyes and a look of calm in their place; probably the only calm-looking one in the whole place at that point!  This is the scene recounted in Mark.

It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, they went to the Synagogue.

But on that particular day, by the time they returned home from the Synagogue, the people had the overwhelming sense they had been in the very presence of God in a way that was anything but typical.  In a setting of prayer, teaching, worship, and community gathering – questions of Jesus’ authority had found their answer.


In this continuing season of Epiphany, dedicated to celebrating and considering the means by which Christ becomes visible and known to the world, we are challenged again to be amazed by Jesus’ authority, by his teachings and his deeds, and the upending of our assumptions about what’s possible.  Just as the words of Mark are written in the present active tense, it isn’t just about longing for and acknowledging past manifestations of Jesus’ greatness and the Gospel’s power, it’s about discovering what deserves our amazement today.


In the book A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, there is the story of  when “a number of rabbis had gathered at some festivity, each began to boast of his eminent rabbinical ancestors.  When it was Rabbi Yechiel’s turn, he noted, “In my family, I’m the first eminent ancestor.”  A bit shocked, his colleagues went on to each expound upon the Torah, holding forth on a text culled from the sayings of one of his distinguished rabbinical ancestors.  One after another they delivered their learned dissertations, when at last it came time again for Rabbi Yechiel to say something.  He arose and said, “My masters, my father was a baker.  He taught me that only fresh bread was appetizing and that I must avoid the stale.  This can also apply to learning.”  Then he sat down. [p. 51].

I think this points to the contrast in Mark, between Jesus’ teaching and that of the learned scribes, as Jesus’ teaching is described in two ways: it is “with authority” and it is a “new teaching.”  It is fresh.  It is authoritative.

Mark depicts Jesus as uniquely authorized, commissioned, or empowered to declare and institute the reign of God – this intrusive, boundary-breaking, liberating reign that breaks people from the powers that afflict them and which hinders his creation, both individually and in societies, from flourishing.  His presence, words, and deeds, however, will be contested.

“Jesus interprets the Scripture as one who has the right to say what it means, and his teaching is self-authenticating without need of external support, whether from Scriptures or elsewhere [Mark, Interpretation Commentaries, p. 50].  His words are meant to shake us up as a church, to not be so comfortable in the way it has been that we are unable to experience our vision being enlarged and our awe of God being rekindled through Jesus Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit.  Two words describe the people’s reactions, “astounded” and “amazed”.  The first is perhaps best translated as “blown out of their minds”, something so incomprehensible that the mind can’t fathom what has just been experienced – in his teaching, his authority, and yes the way he related to the man with the unclean spirit as he commands and the spirit obeys.

Someone such as Christ’s challenger would have been sent out as soon as he had identified himself, as his ritual uncleanliness would have been considered a contagion.  But the kingdom breaking forth challenges that in the very person of Jesus Christ.  Healing cannot take place through exclusion, only inclusion.  Healing cannot take place through the limited vision of what is present, but what is possible.  Jesus challenged the implicit holiness movement of his day, by accepting the presence of all into the house of God, regardless of what troubled them.  He trusted his own message of grace, and that was an element of his authority – one shared with us as Christ-bearers.

As to the man himself with the unclean spirit who initiates the exchange, his opening question is idiomatic and thus difficult to translate.  It conveys a sense of “Why are you picking this fight?” or “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?”

Jesus, by his sheer presence in this synagogue, has upset the order.  He has crossed an established boundary.  He has not left things as they were.

In all of this, I find myself thinking back to a man I once knew.  He had been, well, a pretty terrible human being in life.  BUT! Something had awakened in this man and we were moving through a number of weeks toward reconciliation and a cautiously caressed change in his heart, when he became seriously ill.  Normal arrangements to baptize him were cast aside, as I instead poured water on him, baptizing him on the gurney as we hurriedly navigated the hallway toward emergency surgery.  He never regained consciousness and died a day or so later.  Absent since his teens, more than six decades had passed, as he was now welcomed back into the church on the day of his very funeral.  I have to say, not everyone was initially happy about the prodigal coming home:  particularly the church celebrating his life, knowing how he had once lived and not having witnessed his spiritual restoration.  The grace of Christ really is greater than our sometimes stunted imagination, his authority greater than brokenness, and his witness can come through those we would have dismissed and considered essentially already “buried.”  We were the ones amazed, for that day reminded us of the authentic promise and power of the Gospel.  It isn’t something that only happened in a synagogue two millennia ago.


In follow up to last week, I thus ask you to again ponder the call of God upon your life.  As a believer given authority in the name of Christ, you are expected to think about the lesson from Mark and how “the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that YOU most need to DO and (b) that the WORLD most needs to have ACCOMPLISHED.”

Again, the question remains: WHERE does “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?”  In remembering and celebrating our beloved Dot yesterday, I daresay that many of us in the service and the lovely fellowship time following it might have caught a piece of this concept ribboning through the stories and observations shared about her life.  By her joy-filled wonder at nature’s miracles, in her deep devotion to learning, through her acknowledgement of this world’s deep hungers in the way she raised up, guided, and unconditionally loved any and all whose need SHE recognized, we were privileged to witness the convergence of Dot’s deep gladness with the great need of this world.  LOVE.  LOVE, my friends, is at the core of both this question and it’s answer.     Let us continue this conversation in the weeks ahead.


Pastor’s Note:  Preached on 28 January 2018, at First Christian Church.  The “introduction” section was adapted from a paraphrase of the lessen, which I came across.  Marvelous way to remember that sometimes we come to church with not a dissimilar mindset, so the Gospel can reawaken us from the all-too-human tendency to sleep walk through life, a trap that even the followers of Christ can fall into.  In humility, sermon is offered for your further reflection.

A Sermon: Transcendence in a Skeptical Time

22406382_10210749480789380_4432297930704351342_nDelivered on Sunday, January 21st, 2018, at First Christian Church (Hampton VA), and posted without edit.  I made some minor modifications on the fly this morning.  [Above photo taken in a bathroom stall of a flea market in Kentucky, back in October.  First time I’ve ever seen Christian graffiti , of which there was much.  Remembered it when looking for a picture that fits the day!]


The Gospel of Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.



I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is to be called, of late.  My father heard the call to ministry amid the Billy Graham Crusade that was held in Miami back in April of 1961, just as I turned two years old.  Serving as a Spanish language translator for the boatloads of refugees our nation welcomed into southern Florida, following the Cuban Revolution, who were looking for a needed word of hope.  An elder of his church, he began to wrestle over a deep sense of call.  At age 35, with four kids in tow, Dad quit his job as the general manager of my grandfather’s business and within four months he moved our family all the way to Oklahoma starting seminary by September.  It was a pretty radical change, to say the least!

It may have been a bit prophetic that Dad bought a used zoo truck which even included a giraffe hatch, to serve as our moving van in those pre-U-Haul days.  Our situation was a bit of a circus!

Dad’s call was initially family-splitting.  Not only for putting states between us and Mom and Dad’s families, but also pulling us away from our only known home.  Grandfather Miller proved so angry it was almost a year before he finally again talked with Dad, and that was because there was just no way he was going to stay away from us grandkids as he and my grandmother drove out to see us the following year.

In reading from the Gospel of Mark, I would imagine there was also some churn as well.

When Simon, Andrew, James, and John walked away from all the life they had known to follow Jesus at his word, their friends and family must have been left scratching their heads, wondering at what had transpired and what their future now held.


As Mark described, in his extremely pithy writing style that would have made perfect sense to Roman sensibilities, God has a way of intruding into our lives, upending our predictable paths, and calling us to follow.  The only thing up for grabs is the form of that particular call made upon our lives, and the context of laity or ordained, as to where God is seen as leading us.


The audience to whom Mark wrote, the church in Rome, as members of the larger Roman culture would have certainly appreciated people of action.  It was a virtue to them.  They would have honored the idea of picking up and going straight away.  In fact, such a sense of immediacy permeates the Gospel of Mark, in the frequent use of an adverb (“Eutheos”) that’s translated as straight away and immediately.  Some 41 of the 59 times this word is used in the New Testament, are found in Mark; 11 in this first chapter alone.  There is no time to waste.  No tardiness about Christ’s service.  It’s something to be embarked upon “straight away.”  It has an intensity.  The kingdom is breaking out into the world!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this element of directness, transparent and unambiguous…

It actually reminds me a lot of where the younger generation is coming from, the ones that in our label-conscious society we loosely call Millennials.  My kids’ generation.

No nonsense.  Cut to the chase.  Natural at detecting lies.  Enjoy entertainment, but only where the meaningfulness comes through, as what matters most is being with those who are authentic and without guile.

Alas, as one pastor has written, in our society, “Millennials have a dim view of church and are highly skeptical of religion.”

There is an “ouch” in this, but the truth frees us.  Among them is a belief in God and desire for spirituality, but let’s face it, the larger institution has been tarnished in too many ways, even if the experience is different at a local church.  I saw this in the military with increasing numbers having agnostic or no preference on their dog tags, even those I knew to have a faith background.  They had walked away.  The culture wars of the past 30 years haven’t helped, for too often the image of Christ’s church has not been one of refuge and caring.  After all, if we aren’t a holy refuge and place of accepting love, what are we doing here?

I think that is the genius of The Welcome Table, far more than Sunday mornings – at least to them.  It certainly drew our attention.

Caring for others.  Waiting on them.  Serving them.  Getting to know them as people, first and foremost.  This IS the very vision of a loving and holy God, one that captures attention, energy, and hearts.

However, to be a place that is a worshiping, learning, experiencing community which is decidedly different from any other aspects of their lives, isn’t just a fad to appeal to a particular generation.  It is being in direct connection with the early church.  It is being a community which shares a unique and genuine experience of faith that cannot be found elsewhere in our society, and yes, to be challenged here, even by the difficult topics in life.  It is allowing God to intrude into life with a holy word balanced by a human deed.  THAT is church.

This is what it is to be called of God.  And I’m not just talking about pastors, and elders, and deacons, for it is an all-inclusive word that Paul shares in saying we are a “priesthood of all believers;” it is just a matter of what manner in which we serve God’s purposes.  It is a phrase we are called to own.  Each of us.  And just maybe, we’ll encounter the succinct description of calling that I came across:

“The thought of doing it has to exhilarate and terrify, more or less in equal measure.  It has to tap into existing (if unseen) spiritual gifts, and to do so while meeting a need which we, personally, see in the world.”

It might be easier, however, if God spoke to us as clearly as Jesus heard his voice upon his baptism.  Instead, it tends towards an awakening of subtle or perhaps not so subtle indications and events, certainly that was true for my father, just as it was true for me, but perhaps we need to more ably address how we keep our spirits open to such listening, or how we experience the discernment of the Spirit, or how we ably facilitate such spiritual wrestling amid this thing called church – that we might be terrified and exhilarated, tapping into who God created us to be and meeting an unmet need around us.

There is a lot of noise to filter out and – my gosh! – we do have the distractions as never before, making it a challenge at times to be still and quiet enough simply to hear God’s voice.  As the theologian Frederick Buechner points out in his book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC:

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest” [pg. 118].

So how do we sift out God’s call to us and what his mission  or latest mission  is for our lives?  How do we do it as easily as a child picks out a parent’s voice in a crowd, in this intersection in life Buechner speaks of as existing between one’s deepest joy and the world’s great need?

“By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” [pgs. 118-19].


So I ask you to ponder this question in coming weeks: Where do *your deep gladness* and the *world’s deep hunger* meet in your life?

And we’ll keep talking about that….


Pastor’s Note:  I found the following to be very useful amid preparation for this sermon, outside of various commentaries and word studies.

Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, by Frederick Buechner.

The Barna Institute has for decades done outstanding research, and 5 Things Millennials Wish The Church Would Be is no different.  https://exponential.org/5-things-millennials-wish-the-church-would-be/

An intriguing article in Leadership Journal, which caught my attention in Drew Dyck’s article Millennials Don’t Need a Hipper Pastor, They Need a Bigger God, in post “Millennials Don’t Need a Hipper Pastor, They Need a Bigger God”).

Come & See!

DSC_0314Delivered on Sunday, January 14th, 2018, at First Christian Church (Hampton VA), and posted without edit.  A bit longer than my usual sermon, so apologies for a service today that overran. [Above photo taken of my brother & me, back in the mid-1960s, in Oregon.]


The Gospel of John 1:43-51 (NRSV)

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”


For those who like stories and exploring their meaning, the Gospel of John is paradise.  He doesn’t worry about historical sequence like Matthew, brevity like Mark, or a methodical discussion like Luke.  The day after John the Baptist immerses Jesus in the muddy River Jordan, John doesn’t get into such details like the others – but how Jesus saw the Spirit baptize him, or that two of the Baptist’s disciples follow Jesus to figure out if he is who they think he is – one of whom is Andrew, who then finds his brother Peter and brings him to meet Jesus.  Or how Jesus meets and calls Philip the next day, and like Andrew, he runs off to tell someone else, in this case, Nathanael.  “We’ve found him,” says Philip, “we’ve found the one, the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, the Savior, and, are you ready for this, it’s Jesus, son of Joseph from . . . Nazareth.”


Nathaniel’s response is, shall we say, edgy with sarcasm, but Philip just takes it all in without defensiveness and says, “Come and see.”  As another has written of these simple, open, and inviting words summing up the heart of the Gospel of John and the whole Christian life, they are the “…only fit response among those who have witnessed the grace and mercy of God take shape among us, enfleshed in the babe of Bethlehem, crucified at Golgotha, raised on the third day, all for our sake.  Come and see.”


Nathaniel knew of Nazareth, a town of 500 to 2000 souls that was barely, if ever, mentioned in first century documents outside of Scripture.  Some miles off the nearest exit from a major East-West trade route running from Egypt to Asia, this agricultural and fishing community lay in the hill country of Galilee.  Known in Scripture for its distinctive regional accent, a large population of Gentiles, and its mix of immigrants, foreigners, and resident aliens, one can sense that all was not peaceful.  While it was the home of our Lord, even Mark notes Jesus could do few healings in Nazareth, because of the residents’ unbelief and lack of faith.  There is an undercurrent of unhappiness, perhaps resentment towards those not like themselves in an area that was just sorta getting by, not unlike the social discontent displayed in resentment and even racism that is manifesting in our own country these days towards immigrants and those of color.  If Matthew minimizes the lack of openness among the people of Nazareth as their still thinking of Jesus as a carpenter’s son, Luke is blunt in his 4th chapter, writing of when Jesus returned to the synagogue in Nazareth to preach.  At first they are all impressed with his words.

Then, Jesus makes it clear he isn’t there to hand out warm fuzzys saying “Doubtless you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, cure thyself,” referring to how they believe Jesus should heal his own people first, things turn south fast.  Seeking to open their eyes to their own racism and set them free from that captivity, Jesus speaks to the proverbial elephant in the room, reminding them of how God’s love extends beyond their people – to those like an immigrant widow and not even one living within Israel proper, to whom God sent Elijah, or how out of all of the lepers in Israel, Elisha only cleansed the foreigner Naaman.  Then and now, many do not react well they are seen for their hardened hearts which would limit God’s blessings to those like themselves.  The congregation offers to take Jesus cliff diving, with no water below.  So you can understand why Nathaniel may have already known enough about Nazareth’s challenges enough to ask with his tart, skeptical tongue: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

In response, Philip offers no emotionally manipulative plea, spiritual blackmail or fear tactics of any sort.  They don’t really work anyhow, especially with the generation that has now come of age in our time.  Instead, Philip simply says: “Come and see.”  I find this interesting, the absence of any hard push, just an invitation grounded in authentic friendship and what Philip sees in play with Jesus.  Exactly the kind of things looked for by the Millennials of today – authenticity and a non-exclusionary gospel which makes a pragmatic difference in people’s lives.

So now, imagine us using such words, “Come and see,” of the Christ we know and how he is manifested in the life of this congregation.  Of our Welcome Table’s ministry.  How we care for our ill members in visits, calls and more, and yes – the dying.  How we share meals and friendship, checking in on one another.  And how we have a shared friendship that quickly includes the stranger.

We’re just invited to say — not to push, just to say — “Come and see.”

It’s too good to not share, with friends, neighbors, and strangers alike – with people who look like us and who don’t, with people who think like us and who don’t.  The table is thrown open, because it is Christ who invites, not us.  And, if they aren’t interested?  Or they dismiss what we have to say?  Or they channel Nathaniel and make a wisecrack?  That’s OK.

We know folks have experienced reasons to make them distrustful.  Sometimes they have experienced followers of Christ who have made a mess of things and we know it and we hear of it.  Some are angry and/or resentment toward God for other reasons, wrapped up in painful events.

We also know most of us aren’t comfortable talking about sharing the Good News.  Maybe we’re just nervous about sharing our faith in a pretty charged up culture right now, but maybe we’ve just never practiced it, developing competence and confidence in what we have to say.

Think about it.  Have you ever contemplated what you would tell someone about who we are as a church, in a way of invitation?  What some call the 60-second elevator speech?  Well, some of us take a bit longer!  But the point is: do we know what we would say if we took word to a receptive Peter or to a skeptical Nathaniel, or someone whose name we may just barely know?  Maybe what it is that you like about this church, or of a time when it has been meaningful or helpful to you.  Maybe about when you have felt like you’ve seen God at work in your life or in the world.  Maybe when you learn someone is looking for a faith home or has just moved into the neighborhood, and you like what we have here.  There’s lots of maybes out there, because it is what we individually see, what we experience, and thus what we have to say with our words “Come and see.”

In my home office there is a military plaque dating to my Naval tour when I was the chaplain assigned to all of the East Coast SEAL teams, with a wry bit of humor on what “special really means.”  There were indeed some very special people there, SEALs and the support personnel alike – in an extremely busy tour that I absolutely loved.  Having already been done intensive surveying of personnel in order to shape my approach to ministry among them, I had become aware of the unusually high percentage of self-identified atheists and agnostics within the teams.  I had a reasonable suspicion this was linked to two factors:  being raised to believe everything that happened was God’s direct will, including tragic circumstances; and having had a very high exposure to some really awful scenarios and intense human suffering.  It was what we would now call moral injury, which had caused so many to turn their backs on God.  Kind of like “if that’s how God is gonna run things, I don’t want any part of Him.”

So it was that one SEAL in particular made a point the first time we met of poking fun at my Christian faith.  It wasn’t something I had ever experienced.  But, I kept talking with him and after 5 or 10 minutes I went along my way.  Next day, it happened again, and then a third day, at which point I realized that through the barbs he was telling me about his suffering and inviting me into relationship within a world of biting sarcasm.  He would tell me anti-Christ jokes, and so I would get him going by quickly telling him anti-atheist jokes.  Probably could not have gotten away with that in my later years as a chaplain, but we’d trade such jokes for up to 30 minutes and grin at each other until one of us would remember there was work to be done and call it a day, until the next round.  He started wishing me well at the end of each of these very weird sessions which generally drew an audience of well-entertained SEALs.  This went on for weeks, a couple days every week, until one day he said something to which I then said “Oh, you DO believe in God!”  “No, I don’t!” he responded, to which I replied “Yes you do,” as I quickly and logically went through what he had just said as proof of his belief in fact, concluding with “I win!” as I laughed and headed down the hall.  He yelled after me that I hadn’t won.

The next morning, he popped into my office, something he had never done, and started off by saying that I wasn’t like the other chaplains.  Curious, I asked him what that was about.  He said they all “got angry and stomped off” when he had told them the very jokes he first tried on me.  None had seen he was presenting his wound, seeking healing, but only saw him as judging them, and what was worse – God.  He began to tell me his own story, raised in the church, he had ceased to believe.  He spoke of what mattered to him most – the sorrows which had been transpiring among his kids.  At the end, he said he was going to start going back to Mass with his wife, and that she would like that.  Not that he believed, he said as he winked at me.  At least once a week he’d bring coffee and we’d chat about his family, and sometimes his faith.  Jokes no more.  With our new headquarters building almost finished, he noticed something in the plans and had the chaplain’s office relocated so it would allow SEALs to slip in and out to talk with me without being seen.  He made himself my advocate, this once self-identified atheist – who wasn’t.


Come and see, Philip says, the one foretold, Jesus of Nazareth.  The one who heals and calls us to love others, period.  This is the Good News, and it is just as relevant in our own age and especially in our richly diverse country.



Pastor’s note:  I am a student of people and few don’t make some kind of lasting impression upon me.   Often the ones who I find the most significant and whose sacred story I hold most close and lasting, are those who may be injured – but who nevertheless have remarkable integrity, even if what they may first present to me isn’t pleasant to see and/or hear.  When I share a story, I do edit it so as to protect their privacy and thus you will not hear the details as to their suffering.  Those will always remain something between myself, them, and God alone.   After all, the point is never the specifics, but that we each have something to teach one another about being a human being, made in God’s image, and called – each of us – to be God’s healing agents in a too-often messed up world.   In doing so, we may or not be rewarded with friendship or any other “feel good,” but we will honor God.   And just maybe, we may have an opportunity to invite another to the great feast, which is the Kingdom of God on earth, hidden and yet revealed.

The Lord’s Prayer: Part 3 (of 6) “Thy kingdom come”

3Snow Canx⇒ This is this the third in a 6-part series on The Lord’s Prayer, which I wrote many years ago.  This is part of the that original sermon series, with new material added.  Feel free to comment on this post, or message me if you want privacy.  My hope is that this might bring a freshness to the words we recite during morning worship, if not at other times.  Blessings! Vinson ⇐


Gospel of Matthew 6:1-18

In his second petition, Jesus said, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  However, sometimes we are like the person who prayed “thy kingdom come, but not now!”  Humor aside, what exactly does it mean when we echo those words of Jesus?

As we look to the deeper meaning of the words of the Lord’s Prayer [in Matthew 6:1-18], which we readily rattle off, I would suggest we also view them in the context of Mark 4:26-34.

While “kingdom” isn’t a word easily understood to we who live in a republic, for those who first heard Jesus’s words, king and kingdoms had not been a great experience.  Think about it.  King Herod learned wise men had come in search of the Christ and ordered all the infant sons born in Bethlehem to be killed, in hopes of destroying any threat to his throne.  His successor, King Herod Antipas, was so immoral that he gave his own step-daughter, the head of John the Baptist in payment for the lewd dance she had performed for the king.  And the third King Herod, named Agrippa?  He would later be responsible for Paul’s death.

Speaking to what they had not experienced before. many of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God refer to it as already being present in what scholars refer to as “the realized kingdom.”  The future aspect, the “eschatological kingdom,” would refer to the anticipated return of Christ.   So let’s look at this important distinction between present and future, and how it relates this prayer of our Lord in saying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Picking this petition apart, let’s start with the “second coming” of Jesus aspect and how it does or does not relate to this slice of the Lord’s Prayer…

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” [Matthew 24:36; cf. Mark 13:32].  He indicates here that the future day is already fixed and only God foreknows it.

When the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, “they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority’” [Acts 1:7].

Apostle Paul, when preaching on the Acropolis in Athens, declared God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man” – Jesus [Acts 17:31].

Taking together, praying then for that future kingdom might be considered something of a failure to recognize God has already determined when that will happen.  It doesn’t strike me, therefore, as a concern in Jesus’ prayer.  Even with the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom was here, but not fully here. Work remained, then and now, in this between time; a time that has experienced the person and ministry of Jesus, but not the final act in his return.

This is the “realized kingdom” of which scholars write – the very presence of God in our midst, one we know in our hearts, and witnessed by spirituality lived out daily in word and deed.  A different kingdom than Jesus’ disciples had experienced, governed by the Holy One “whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and whose ways are not our ways” [Isaiah 55:8].  This kingdom, said Jesus, “is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is (already) in your midst” [Luke 17:20-21].  This element of the presence of the kingdom was what Jesus announced, such as we hear in the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55]:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

For these words, there is still the reality that living as a Christian often proves itself to be no easy thing.  Sometimes we may feel quite confident in our hopes and the comfort of God.  Other times, we can feel quite alone, even experiencing what Christian mystics refer to as “the dark night of the soul.”  (That is for another rather lengthy discussion).

As we live in this between time, this time for which Jesus is clearly praying, there is the honesty of the words of Peter (who better to speak to this!), for us to share our anxieties and concerns with God.  Peter reminds of us God’s love and care for us, even while noting that living for God and for others, and not ourselves, will be hard at times [see I Peter 4-12-14 & 5:7-10].  This is especially true in a world where we do not need to look far to see or even experience injustice.

Praying for God’s kingdom then is to have a vision in the present.  If we long for God’s Kingdom to come on earth, and pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer – it starts with you and me – with God’s promised Spirit among us to guide and strengthen us.  By praying for God’s Kingdom to come, and surrendering to God’s will, we are also committing ourselves to work for it too as this is not a passive prayer.  It’s then we discover that prayer has a way of changing us – when we surrender ourselves to our Creator .  It’s then that we often become the very answer to our prayer… for “the God of all grace, who has called (us) to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish (us). To him be the power for ever and ever.”

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Pastor’s Note:  When I pulled my notes from long ago, I discovered that I had combined two of Jesus’ requests into one message.  I am mulling over the parts I pulled from this message and what I will do with the next, vice going directly on to the “daily bread” portion.  Will think about that a bit… so stand by!

The Lord’s Prayer: Part 2 (of 6) “Hallowed be thy Name”

Snow Canx02⇒ This is this the second in a 6-part series on The Lord’s Prayer, which I wrote many years ago.  This is condensed and re-written from that original sermon series.  Feel free to comment on this post, or message me if you want privacy.  My hope is that this might bring a freshness to the words we recite during morning worship, if not at other times.  Blessings! Vinson ⇐


Gospel of Matthew 6:1-18

The late Rodney Dangerfield, a comedian whose schtick was his classic line: “I don’t get no respect.”  Always there was a new experience that confirmed this truth for himself, a truth he invited us to participate in, because we all at times experience the lack of respect.  It can be said that this has become a greater issue in our contemporary society and any of us could readily identify two or three examples, and likely much more, of institutions, people, and roles where respect has decline.  For instance, ask any teacher.  We can just as likely, identify some who are culprits in this decrease of respect.  Perhaps we should instead consider where respect originates, for as the late John Killinger asked:

“What is sacred when there is no sense of the holy?  The holiness of God, you see is like a tent pole holding up everything.  When it is no longer there, or when people no longer respect it, there is no reverence for anything.”

In the first of seven petitions that lie within what is known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus requested of God “hallowed be THY Name.”  I would suggest that a more accessible translation is “may (or let) your name be holy”.

When I think about the personal name for God, “Yahweh,” I cannot but remember how when it is said in Hebrew it sounds like the wind.  There is a quiet, clear power in it being said; a sense of awe.  While today a name is used pretty much like an identifying label with little or no thought about the meaning of a name, in the Biblical world it was well-understood that there was a much closer connection between one’s name and one’s core identity.  It even caused some to have their names changed to align meaning with name, such as when Jacob was renamed Israel.  So when we say the name of God, we are speaking of God in his self-revelation to us.  God as we know him.  God in self-revelation.  So the basic idea of the root “holy” is “separation, or apartness.”  More than apartness from evil or sin; apartness in God’s separation from the creation.  God the creator and everything else is created, God being separate, apart from that which he created.  Nothing can be added by us to the holiness of God.

What is being said here in this petition “hallowed be thy name” is the request to “set yourself apart as God before men.”  Reveal your power, show your righteousness, show your love and mercy, show yourself to be God.  In all of his works, God shows himself to be the holy one, the exalted one.  He sets himself apart as God. That is the fundamental idea in this petition “hallowed be thy name,” and then, in our recognition of this nature of God as holy and distinct from us, we can then walk more closely with our Creator.

Thus, the development of holiness within ourselves is how we mirror the very nature of the God.  So the starting point is that respect, given and received, is grounded in the reverence first given God.  This “hallowed” use of God’s name is the foundation for our relationship with God — and it becomes the basis for God’s blessing our lives.

Think for a moment about Exodus 20:2-3 wherein it is written: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”  Immediately following this statement are the “Ten Commandments.”  The point is — when we show reverence for God, the rest of the Commandants fall in rather naturally.  When we pray for God’s name to be called holy, we raise that “tent-pole” in the midst of our lives; the respect for God pouring out in every direction.

That is the nature of Jesus’ prayer.

It doesn’t just set forth what kind of relationship we need to have with God, but that through our relationship with God, we find reverence for all of life.  Yes, that includes ourselves.

As the Psalmist wrote long ago, it is enough “to be still and know (He) is God.”  It is enough to center our attention upon God.  In so doing, in calling his name “hallowed,” we place our lives in His care and discover what the Lord means when he said that you “shall be holy, because I am holy.” [Leviticus 20:16]

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Pastor’s Note:  In the Gospel of John 17:6, in a prayer to God, Jesus declares: “I have manifested your name unto the men which you gave me out of the world: they were yours, and you gave them to me; and they have kept your word.”  The presence of God in Christ involves the manifestation of God’s name.  The self-revelation of God himself is in Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer: Part 1 (of 6) “God”

Snow Canx⇒ This is this first in a 6-part series on The Lord’s Prayer, which I wrote many years ago.  I am posting this series, in condensed and re-written form from that original sermon series.  This is shared with the observation that one of the mistakes we make within the culture of “Church” is how we too often fail to provide adequate instruction on the “why” we do certain things.  After a while, it is easy to be too embarrassed to ask, which is itself a loss.  Perhaps it was once covered in a “pastor’s class” prior to our baptism or maybe it was touched upon in a Sunday School lesson years ago.  Today, however, I am opening this up as a conversation amid these snowy days.  Feel free to comment on this post, or message me if you want privacy.  My hope is that this might bring a freshness to the words we recite during morning worship, if not at other times.  Blessings! Vinson ⇐


Gospel of Matthew 6:1-18

The earliest known mention of the Lord’s prayer outside of the Gospels is found in the Didache, which was written in the mid to first century a generation or two after the last of the Apostles had entered into the eternity.  Perhaps the first catechism of the Church, it laid out the process of instructing converts to Christianity as well as the pragmatic mechanisms, stating as to this prayer:

“Neither pray as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors.  And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Yours is the power and the glory for ever.  Thrice in the day thus pray.”

It is clear to the author of the Didache that Christ commanded the Church to pray The Lord’s Prayer, something that Cyprian (born circa 200 AD), Bishop of Carthage alluded to, writing:  “Let us therefore, brethren beloved, pray as God our Teacher has taught us.  It is a loving and friendly prayer to beseech God with His own word, to come up to His ears in the prayer of Christ.”

When Jesus began his ministry in ancient Israel, a devout Jewish male was expected to pray some 18 times each day, between dawn and dusk.  Imagine trying to find the time for all those prayers.  Being forgetful human beings, I can well imagine this challenge! The disciples whom Jesus called to follow him truly hungered for a deeper prayer life like Jesus, not driven by thoughts of a low word count, but a reflection of the what they saw in Jesus’ own relationship with God.  This is the context for the short and sweet prayer Jesus taught them after which to pattern their own; a prayer we speak of as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  The only prayer specifically taught to the disciples, but not the only prayer of Jesus in the Gospels (for instance, there is John 14), it conveys a perspective of  “quality over quantity” both in the manner and spirit of the prayer.

Jesus began by expressing our fundamental relationship with God, saying “Our Father…”

Because He is Our Father:

The first attribute of effective prayer is the realization that we are part of a community of faith.  If God is “our” Father, that bears witness to how we are brothers and sisters in the spirit, part of a family alongside fellow disciples.  This is the sense of Acts 1:14, for said Jesus:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…  By this everyone will know you are my disciples” [John 13:34.  Without such a bond, our prayer would be a lie [per I John 4:20] after all.

The second attribute of an effective prayer is that through Christ we are at peace with ourselves.  In the ancient Church, given the context of the Didache, it is believed by many scholars that The Lord’s Prayer was only taught to believers who had already been baptized; those considered worthy of its use when ready to live it out in practice.  In this sense, the prayer was not to be profaned by vague use, but to seek healing and guidance by the one who loves our souls.

The third attribute of Jesus’s model for prayer is how it confirms our relationship with God.   “When we cry ‘Abba, Father!’ it is God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” is the sense of this prayer.  In the Biblical age, the father was the one through whom the “blessing” was passed to the next generation, and so through Christ, that blessing is poured out upon us – inviting us in to be God’s children and sharing in His good gifts [see Romans 8:14-17].

So what are we to make of all of this?  If we believe that God is our Father, that settles our relationship with our brothers and sisters.  If we believe that God is our Father, that settles our relationship with ourselves.  If we believe that God is our Father, that settles our relationship between us and God.  Keep in mind, when Jesus first spoke this prayer, he wasn’t trying to find one “do it all” kind of prayer, but to ask God to help us so that we can:  accept others, accept ourselves, and be accepted by God.

Said Jesus, during what we know as the Sermon on the Mount:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Pastor’s Note:  When reading Matthew 6, also read Luke 18:9-14 as it .  In the latter, Jesus mocks one summary prayer with its 29 words (in the original Greek of the New Testament) as the man verbosely thanks God for making him better than anyone else [18:11-12], vice the six-word prayer of another man who simply asks God to forgive him [18:13].


A Sermon: “Let Us Begin”

Preached on Sunday, December 31, 2017, at First Christian Church, in Hampton.


Timing is everything, isn’t it?

In the reading from the Gospel of Luke there is an indelible image of timing that at first glance seems to have been all wrong.  It isn’t like the mere string of green lights or red lights on the way somewhere that leaves us happy for one or muttering for another, about this thing called “timing.”  It’s a lot more intense.

There is the young woman who is engaged that’s found to be with child, and Joseph wasn’t the father.  In spite of being noticeably holy or perhaps because of it, one can only imagine the looks Mary received or under the breath comments she heard.  People being who they so often are, unfortunately.

There is this couple who found themselves displaced by a mandated governmental census wholly designed to ensure robust taxes by the far off city of Rome.  An experience which only served to make the hard life of the working poor harder, by forcing them to bear the costs of travel and lodging amid this massive movement of people.

There is that dusty journey itself that required traveling in the very window of the mother’s due date, to a place her husband did not call home except by ancestry, where it’s likely she had no relatives and no support system, upon their arrival and certainly there was no room for them.  Just the chaos of a village already swollen by others forced to travel for the census.

There is their temporary home being a stable, little more than rough cave cut into the rock, now filling in as a birthing room.  And unspoken by Luke, having myself watched a mother die in childbirth leaving a newborn behind, I would think there would have also been the thought of the “what if” during an age of high infant mortality and first time mothers who did not always survive.

Let’s face it, these are the only circumstances Luke addresses or that we can reasonably speculate upon.  I would imagine there were others.  It is in the midst of crisis or major decisions, that we invariably wonder how God operates amid such circumstances.


While God is doing “a new thing” for humanity, or as Paul puts it in his letter to the Galatians “in the fullness of time Christ appeared,” it seems to me that God’s plan itself is more often than not carried out by the unassuming, like Mary, and the initially reluctant, like Joseph, and in ways not understood at first.  In a lesser way, I suspect it is the same for us.  Perhaps, more than we realize.


When we consider the Lukan portrayals of Mary and Joseph, a seemingly unlikely two finding themselves with each other at the very center of the God’s greatest gift to humanity, we see a very Jewish family intent on keeping all the Jewish laws blamelessly.  As we might say, they colored inside the lines, as they acted to ensure completion of the three rituals that would be expected of them: Circumcision, performed on the eighth day, for all male children; Purification from childbirth for Mary, 40 days after her son’s birth, and Consecration of the firstborn, in recognition that the firstborn son belongs to the Lord.  But things had changed.  God was now coloring outside the familiar lines, in an act of liberation, for as the Apostle Paul observed: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law…” [Galatians 4:4-5].

Making the two to three hour walk from nearby Bethlehem, and passing through the western gate of the Temple Mount, I expect, the glory of the Temple stood before them as the crowd pressed past them.  Not destitute, but decidedly low on funds, they purchased the minimum offering set forth in Leviticus 5:7 for those of tight economic means.  Then the steps of Mary and Joseph are interrupted by a man who scooped up Jesus and spoke of how he could now die in peace, for “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

Imagine how you would react if confronted by someone saying he is ready to die having seen your son; going on to say that your son’s life destines some to rise and others to fall to the extent that the negative inference hangs over his words “the inner thoughts of many will be revealed” and finally, (3) the unhappy thought that  “a sword will pierce your own soul” as well.  Only then for the aged Anna, interrupting the moment on a more positive note, praising God and speaking to the deeper meaning of the Messiah’s true role and the new thing God was doing through Jesus.  There must have been a swirl in their minds, as these words rained on Mary and Joseph, this on the heels of the preceding months that took them from when Mary first encountered an angel of the Lord to the more recent experience of having angels and shepherds intruding into their lowly “no room in the inn” stable.  I think most folk would be looking for a chair to sit down on, while trying to process this now unexpected carol.

Buried in my copy of the classic devotional book “My Utmost for His Highest,” which while not a commentary on this event in Luke, it nevertheless offers this keen insight.  Oswald Chambers writes:

“We are not taken into a conscious agreement with God’s purpose — we are taken into God’s purpose with no awareness of it at all.  We have no idea what God’s goal may be; as we continue, His purpose becomes even more and more vague.  God’s aim appears to have missed the mark, because we are too nearsighted to see the target at which He is aiming.”

As a social worker and friend of mine, once said to me in an offhand comment: “I don’t believe in accidents.”  Thirty years later, it continues to turn over in my mind, and while I have long lost track of Mark, I think he was onto something as to the invisible means of our unique roles within the larger plan of God.  Events and personalities shape us and guide us, and yet so much seems largely hidden.  Most of the time, I would submit, we at best glimpse the interconnections of the kingdom of God.

In the reading from Galatians, Paul suggests a dynamic is in play, one in which God is at work through the events of history and circumstances of our lives.  And yet, so easily we can miss the point.   Chambers adds:

“We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not.  The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way.  What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.”

In the paradoxical way that the Kingdom of God operates, let me repeat, “What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.”  For, as Chambers puts it plainly:

“At the beginning of the Christian life, we have our own ideas as to what God’s purpose is.  We say, ‘God means for me to go over there,’ and, ‘God has called me to do this special work.’  We do what we think is right, and yet the compelling purpose of God remains upon us.  The work we do is of no account when compared with the compelling purpose of God.  It is simply the scaffolding surrounding His work and His plan.”

The Psalmist declares, “when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” [Psalm 8:2-3]  It is within that very dimension of humility that I see Mary and Joseph willingly operating, as that “compelling purpose of God” operated within their lives.


So the question that remains before us, is what do we make of this day, when the “fullness of time” touches our own lives?  That we, who as another has put it, “live in a world that seduces people’s best intentions,” what do we choose this day to do with God’s timing in our lives?  On this first Sunday in Christmas, appropriately enough New Year’s Eve, I think of the words of Mother Teresa: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us begin.”  Amen.


Credit where credit is due.  It is always a delight to visit the classic devotional book by Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.  I am blessed with a treasured copy, a gift from a very dear friend and first spiritual mentor, Ella Mae Felton.  An amazingly spiritual woman, the postmaster of a village I lived in from age 9 to 11, church member of my Dad’s congregation, my friend and sage counsel from 1968 until her death in 1987.  She told me I would be in ministry when I was but ten and I thought was ridiculous.   Ella Mae was insightful, fearless, and loving.  She modeled for me, how to speak with people in a way that transcends boundaries.

No Quit. An Observation of Love

Simon is a gentle giant of a dog, like “Clifford” but not quite that big and a different color. 140 or so pounds, he desperately wants to be a person but looks more like a black bear. He’s a Newfoundland-Labrador mix who rests his chin on the table and throws his legs around your waist if you are sitting down.  We finally broke him of jumping up and putting his paws over our shoulders when we walk through the door.

This bear of a dog loves everyone and every creature, and he is convinced that should be reciprocated.  Even our cats are the focus of his love–not that they’re thrilled about it.

The older one, Sprite, walks around him, although he has successfully planted a kiss on her shocked face (her eyes seemed to double in size).  As for Tawny, the relatively younger cat?  Well, Simon has two strikes against him.  He is male and, except for our son, Tawny generally hates ALL males of any species.  And then there is the historic cat-dog communication breakdown as Tawny hisses, spits, curls her tail. If Simon (or any dog for that matter) is within range, she slaps the dog hard with a sound that can be heard in the next room.  I kid you not, Simon had better be grateful Tawny has no claws.  For his part, Simon just closes his eyes and gets closer, mouth open wide and tail wagging thinking a smile will win her over because, for all the cat commotion, Simon seems to think he is finally connecting with her.  Eventually, Simon realizes that Tawny really is mad at him, and he steps back.  Until the next time.

You see, Simon believes that his power of friendship will conquer that cat.

Simon lives friendship whether or not it gets the hoped-for response.  He may yet convince Tawny. The realistic side of me doubts that will ever happen, but here’s the thing:

Simon defines himself.  He never lets the cat change his disposition or his spirit.

My daughter, A.J. tells me that the Hebrew word for dog–kelev–means “heart-like.”  Simon just can’t help being who he is: love.  And love doesn’t quit.

Would that we all had such spirit in us, but sometimes dogs can teach us something about what it means to be most fully human and thus more true to the image of God and God’s hope for us.Presentation1

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”   I Corinthians 13:4-7