sermon: hope springs eternal (expecting the unexpected)

I wrote this sermon at 4pm yesterday and shared its message this morning.  It was not my original sermon, but when the Holy Spirit moves, you know it’s not an option to ignore it–even if it is 4pm the day before your Sunday to preach.

As I was going to bed last night, I picked up my copy of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints:  Finding God in All the Wrong People.  It just seems like a good time to re-read it being Advent and all.

I turned to the back to review the notes I had taken when she spoke at Montreat College in February 2016.  The very last quote that I documented was this:

The pastor is not responsible for what the congregation believes; rather, the pastor is responsible for what they hear.

Today as people left all three services, I was humbled by this statement over and over, “I never would have  thought of it that way.  You really made me think.”

I could not have asked for a better gift as a storyteller and preacher.  A very unexpected and beautiful way to begin Advent.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL (Expecting the Unexpected)

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work:  you don’t give up.  ~Anne Lamott


This Sunday begins our first week of Advent, a week devoted to the idea of hope—not “wish,” not “faith,” but “hope,” a desire or expectation for change to occur or something to happen, even if it doesn’t seem possible in our current reality.

The week, we also begin our sermon series on the women of Advent.  And when Keith shared this with me, I was so excited.  You see, since we began the Sanctuary service a few years ago, I have preached a “Mary Sunday” each Advent season.  This year, I was honored to be invited to preach all three services, knowing that I would get to share with the church something insightful about Mary, a Biblical figure near and dear to my heart.

But the Holy Spirit moved differently and decided to stretch me a bit this year.  Keith and I agreed that it would be interesting if I could open this season with a creative approach to our series—choosing a secondary character who is not typically referenced in the Christmas story.

I will say that as this past week approached, I HOPED I could impart some wise words while creatively inspiring three very different congregations here at Skyland.

As I prayed and listened, I realized that to begin Advent, we should take a step back to before the New Testament.  Who are the women who brought us to this place—the mothers who carried the sons that would become the ancestors of Jesus?  What do they tell us about Advent?  How do their stories inspire us, as Anne Lamott would say, to wait and watch and work?

Today our first scripture reading comes from the version “The Voice.”  I chose this particular version bec/ of the paraphrasing that occurs.  If you would like to join with us in your pew Bible, we will be reading Matthew 1:1-6, 17.

This is the family history, the genealogy, of Jesus the Anointed, the coming King. You will see in this history that Jesus is descended from King David, and that He is also descended from Abraham.

It begins with Abraham, whom God called into a special, chosen, covenanted relationship, and who was the founding father of the nation of Israel.

Abraham was the father of Isaac; Isaac was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Judah and of Judah’s 11 brothers; Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (and Perez and Zerah’s mother was Tamar);

Tamar was Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law; she dressed up like a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, all so she could keep this very family line alive.

Perez was the father of Hezron; Hezron was the father of Ram; Ram was the father of Amminadab; Amminadab was the father of Nahshon; Nahshon was the father of Salmon; Salmon was the father of Boaz (and Boaz’s mother was Rahab);

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who heroically hid Israelite spies from hostile authorities who wanted to kill them.

Boaz was the father of Obed whose mother was Ruth.

Ruth was a Moabite woman who converted to the Hebrew faith.

Obed was the father of Jesse; and Jesse was the father of David, who was the king of the nation of Israel. David was the father of Solomon.

Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a soldier in David’s army. She was bathing in her courtyard one evening when David spied her and became interested in her. Later Bathsheba got pregnant during an adulterous liaison with David, so David had Uriah killed in battle and then married his widow. David and Bathsheba’s first baby died, but later Bathsheba got pregnant again and gave birth to Solomon.

And now verse 17: 17 Abraham and David were linked with 14 generations, 14 generations link David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 more take us from the exile to the birth of the Anointed.

The word of God for the people of the world, Thanks be to God.

So we have the history of the lineage of Jesus, mentioning 4 women:  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba..  Probably like me, you are wondering, where’s Sarah or Rebecca or Leah?  Where are the founding mothers that we studied in our Bible stories?  Why would Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathseba be noted rather than women who might be considered more “acceptable” of being in Jesus’ ancestry?

Many years ago, I will admit, I was an addict of HGTV and the show I watched without fail was one that took a house and remodeled a few rooms with a limited budget while the family was gone.  My favorite part, however, was the last two-minute segment called “Expect the Unexpected.”  Without fail, the two designers would each come up with something they hadn’t planned out in advance (well, not to the viewers’ knowledge) but just happened to work out—perhaps it was an ugly retro lamp that gave the room a little flair or maybe it was that old loveseat in the throwback 1970s basement that will a little TLC became the center piece of a new den.  Either way, the magic WAS that they could take something completely unexpected and turn it into the best part of the remodel.

These women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, could be our version of expecting the unexpected.  I can only put my faith in the fact that the Holy Spirit was moving when the author of our scripture wrote down this lineage and happened to choose these particular women.  There’s a lesson to be learned in why these mothers were highlighted in the beginning verses of the Christmas Story in Matthew.

In Mary Lou Redding’s Book While We Wait:  Living the Question of Advent, she chooses Tamar and Rahab as her symbols of hope for the first week of the study.  She makes these comments about the all of the unexpected female figures in this passage from Matthew:

Hope acknowledges a higher reality, a reality beyond what we can see.

We do not have to understand the whole of what God is doing in order to be a part of it. These women demonstrate that in our daily acts of dealing with our own responsibilities, we are part of something beyond our small sphere of influence.

Their hope is not thin and vulnerable—it is hope that get its hands dirty.

They illustrate hope that is willing to risk, to take whatever action it can, and to trust God to do the rest.

And so, as I re-read the stories of these women, I wondered how their getting-their-hands-dirty type hope would perhaps inspire and comfort a teenage girl, suddenly pregnant, wondering about the future, and yet, hopeful, knowing that even in her reality, God would show up with a remarkable gift that would change the world.

Dear Mary, Sweet Mary,

We are your foremothers—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.  Women, like you, who were unexpected.  Women whose names are spoken with shame or bitterness rather than with awe and reverence. And yet, we were chosen to be remembered among those who carried the seed of life generation after generation so that it may bloom in you and fulfill God’s promise to the people.

You see, you are not alone.  People may assume they think they know you, but in your heart and in your spirit, you know that God is greater than any assumptions made by them.  God will carry you through this, just as God carried us through.

Let them talk, let the stories be told.  Let them single you out thinking that that they know you to be a girl of ill repute.  And yet, know this:

Hope is greater than any of those words, those stories, those assumptions.  You are a child of God, just as we are.  In God’s eyes, we are not temptresses, prostitutes, immigrants or adulterers.  We are women, we are mothers.  Women whose hope carried us through the unknown. Women whose hope was willing to take risk.  And women whose hope symbolized the promise that God always shows up.

Perhaps we are referenced in the scripture leading to your story because God wants others to know that hope springs, hope springs eternal.  That the son who will be born from you will be a man who will embody grace and peace and love and yes, hope. That even women, no, people, like us will be worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.  That this child soon to come will be the light of the world that symbolizes acceptance and understanding, and even, yes, the joy of expecting the unexpected.

Look to the prophet Isaiah.  Here is what he foretells of this God-child you carry within you:

But on this humbled ground, a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising,
will sprout from Jesse’s stump;
A branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment
He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength
He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
    He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
He will consider more than what meets the eye.

He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth;
the impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.

Then on that day, that root from Jesse’s line
will stand as a signal for the peoples of the world
Who will come to Him seeking guidance and direction;
and glory will be restored to the land where He resides.[a]

Know that you are a part of something bigger, Mary.  That hope springs forth from you too—because it is those of us that are the “unexpected” that will give the world hope—whose actions trusted in God even when we were uncertain of the reality of our daily existence.

We are connected, dear child, through our one Lord, our heavenly father, and we pray, sweet Mary, that our stories and that our trust in God will sustain you and comfort you as you prepare for this journey.

With much love and tenderness,

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba


Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world.  ~Mary Lou Redding



feb 2017, dear cameron. . .

February 2017

Dear Cameron,

I know you are busily approaching Spring 2017 with much excitement and anticipation of a full summer garden.  You are dreaming of expanding your homestead even bigger, maximizing sun space and growing plants vertically.  You are imagining arms full of zinnias and hydrangea, lustrife and coneflower.  As you empty the last of your sun-dried tomatoes in the Italian saute, I know you envision row after row of vines heavy with ripe red fruit, lush stalks of fragrant basil, and bulbous heads of white garlic.

Well, stop.

Just stop.

This isn’t like having a baby–forgetting the labor pains long enough to procreate another little one to love.

Creation in the garden never stops multiplying, and that’s the truth.

Remember last summer how you could barely keep up with the snake grass choking out the blueberry bushes and hydrangea.  What about the zinnias that kept popping up everywhere because you couldn’t bear to take the life of another living creature?

Oh, and then there’s the okra and corn and beans that all tickled your fancy as you perused the seed catalog, but ended up as the least, lost, and forgotten when the rains didn’t come.

Girl, don’t get me started on the tomatoes.  Whoever said you couldn’t grow healthy plants from seed directly sewn in the garden–well, I hold you responsible.  Who can possibly eat, dry, and sauce 22 plants of 6 different varieties when they hit their peak?

Not the girl who started a new job last summer.

And by the way, when did your daughter who ate grape tomatoes every day for lunch in middle school decide she no longer ate them off the vine in high school?

Please, please, please–do not consider planting anything in the squash family.  Clearly, the squash vine borer and lady beetle larvae have learned that Growing Grace Farm is a veritable feast of delicacies.  Face it, you’ll never grow organic squash again.

And remember, between post-cancer menopause and climate change, summer will never be the same–you’ll be dreaming of winter in spite of any vegetable that you have time to harvest.

So let’s do this. . .

Minimize planting space. Simplify how much you need to take care of.  That will support sustainability, not just of the environment but of your mental health as well.

Grow what you know.  It’s fun to experiment, but really, let’s leave the creative veggies to the organic farmers who do this for a living.  Let’s focus on a few items we know will do just fine here on the homestead.

Don’t plant so much.  You’re not feeding a family of 10, nor do you have the freezer or cabinet space to put away food for the second coming.  Plant enough to enjoy the taste of summer without sacrificing your sanity.

And most importantly, remember you have a life outside of this little farm.  You have friends and family, art projects and new recipes, hikes with your daughter and walks with the dogs.  Keep it all in perspective.  Your garden should be a “want to” not a “have to.”

Ok, that’s all I got.  Now, step away from the seed catalog and go enjoy the last snowstorm of the year–goodness knows, you’ll be praying for it a few months from now.

Take care~



lessons learned: hummingbirds and hope

In the past couple of weeks, I have found myself taking refuge on my screened-in porch during times of day when the birds feed.  Whenever I begin to question humanity or grieve for this world, I find that sitting among nature roots me in the simple, good things that our Creator has to offer.  It centers me in the hope and peace I need to nurture my spirit amidst the chaos.

One cloudy afternoon, I sat on the blue glider rocking myself as warm tears ran down my cheeks–so many global and local events to mourn, so little understanding why they happened.  As I watched the chickadees at the feeder to my right, I heard a whirring buzz quickly approaching my left.  There, darting and diving among the leaves of the dogwood tree, were two female hummingbirds.

Because the front of our little homestead is filled with colorful flowers, most of our feathered friends spent summer hanging out there.  I had not noticed the hummers return this year.  As the gardens faded, however, the little creatures came to the back of the house seeking the feeder they had enjoyed the summer before.  This year, I had forgotten to hang it on the hook, but both birds flew to it in its resting place on the baker’s shelf.

I am not sure if my giddiness came from the delight of knowing they were back or the sense of hope it brought me in the midst of my lament.

I filled the feeder, removed the wind chimes, and hung the bulb full of their sweet elixir just in time for their return to the tree.


As I nestled into the glider, I noticed one of the gals perched on a slim branch above the feeder while the other buzzed delightfully from opening to opening, filling her beak.  Most days since, I have been able to catch them in the early morning hours or just prior to twilight as they hover, chatter, and sip.


I’ve named them Mary and Martha because of their personalities and feeding style.  Martha busily dances around the feeder filling her tiny belly while Mary patiently waits for an opening to pause on the edge and take her time enjoying the sweet treat.


In these recent weeks as Violence, Hatred, and Bigotry continue to divide communities through word and action, I find respite in these two little friends.  The invite me to pause and remember the covenant of love our Creator made with us.

Regardless of those things that seem to overwhelm our world with darkness, even they cannot overshadow the smallest acts of hope that appear unexpectedly.

My prayer is that in times like these, we will not become paralyzed or grow weary–that even in our lament, we will remember the promise of hope and healing available to us all.