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Layman's Walk

The Struggle of Forgiveness

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This is a rough transcript of a sermon given on September 13, 2020, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois.  This sermon, like most I deliver, is given extemporaneously–that is, prepared in advance, but delivered without notes or text.  For me, this allows more room for the Holy Spirit’s influence during the delivery and helps the message to be more conversational and contemplative, though at the expense of the readability of a transcript.



Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Forgiveness.  One of the most significant tenants of our Christian faith, and probably one of the most difficult aspects of it to embrace and follow.  Jesus tells us today that we are not to forgive in a manner where we’re keeping track of how often we do it. Peter asked Jesus, “If a member of the church sins against me, how many times should I be willing to forgive that person? Should I be willing to forgive them the first time they do something against me? Or maybe two times? Or maybe even up to seven times?” Jesus answers him, “No.  Seventy times seven times you should forgive.”

In the Jewish faith, the phrase “seventy times seven” would have been understood in the way that we understand “infinity,” or we could understand it as “continuously.” Jesus says to Peter, “You’re not to forgive them just a certain number of times–you are to forgive one another continuously and infinitely!” The reason Jesus tells Peter that is because God forgives us continuously and infinitely!  

Now, this idea of forgiving one another continuously, freely, and infinitely goes beyond just a theological concept.  Think about a marriage–a good marriage, or a family that is close and cares for one another, or a community that loves and cares for one another.  Forgiveness is an integral part of that: continuous and never-ending forgiveness. I know this for a fact. My wife isn’t here but she would tell you that, yes, forgiveness is a constant thing in making a marriage work. Forgiveness is a constant thing when making a family stick together. Forgiveness is a constant thing in keeping a community together. 

My friends, our world is so fractured in part because of a lack of forgiveness. When it’s little things–somebody speaks or says something that comes across to you in the wrong way, somebody discards a gift that you had given them–those things sting, but those things are also small and they’re easy to forgive.  It’s really tempting to want to stop thinking about how we’re commanded to forgive one another at that level. But the forgiveness that God gives to us and the forgiveness that God calls us to share with one another goes way beyond that–to the things that are really challenging, to the things that we think are impossible.

We just commemorated the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack. For me, that was half a lifetime ago, but I remember where I was. I remember how I felt. And I remember how I wanted to react to that. I will tell you it was not with forgiveness–it was with anger! It was with aggression! It was with fury! But my friends, it’s those things where God still calls us to forgive!

Now, I expect that for a lot of you (and for me, too) hearing me say “God calls us to forgive those who do evil against us,” and that this extends to the people who perpetrated that atrocity probably does not sit well with you–and it shouldn’t. Forgiveness, my friends, is not easy. It’s not easy. It is easy to say, “Those people–how could we forgive them!?” But God calls us to do that anyway. 

Forgiveness, in its most perfect form, is what stops the never-ending cycle of human violence and revenge. When humanity seeks revenge and seeks to get even, all it does is continue to cause pain, and hatred, and death. Those things are the opposite of what God wants for us.

In our personal lives–not just these big societal things–there are times when people abused or treated very, very poorly.  The question there is, “How does someone forgive somebody who has treated them atrociously?”  We also have to think about forgiveness as not being equivalent to being a “doormat.”  If someone mistreats us, we have the capability to forgive but to also do what’s necessary to prevent that from happening again. 

When we forgive, we are letting something go from inside ourselves. We’re getting rid of resentment and hatred and saying, “that has happened and I am going to make sure that it doesn’t impact my future in a way that it’s in my heart and mind every day.” It’s good for us to forgive–not just for the person we are forgiving, but for ourselves

In that last part of the passage from the Gospel, Jesus says something that is kind of grating. He says, “Unless you can forgive one another, your God will not forgive you.” He talks about how that slave was handed over to be tortured until he can pay his debt and used that as a threat that this is what God would do to those who do not forgive their brothers and sisters from their hearts. Now that’s a really scary concept, but hear me out on this. When we hold grudges, when we refuse to forgive, when we grab ahold of that anger and rage we squeeze it and we live in it, is that not the torture Jesus is talking about? When we live in that, we torture ourselves.  Jesus is saying that by forgiving, we are able to let that go. We’re able to find the peace that we can’t find when we hang on to that anger.

I know this is challenging. But we have a model for this. We have a model in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who while on the cross, looked down on those people who had abused him, who had mocked him, who had called him every terrible name in the book, and who were now murdering him–and begged God the Father to forgive them.  That is the model for forgiveness that our God is calling us to. My friends, I know it is not something that is easy. It is something that leaves us conflicted because we know that this is what we’re being called to do as God’s people, but as human beings, we also know how much we want to have wrongs done against us righted.

I’ll leave you with this thought. God forgives us infinitely and calls us to do the same. As children of God, when we forgive others, not only do we release them from their binding, but we release ourselves from the anger and resentment that binds us–it’s good for us as people when we forgive. Knowing that we are made in the image of God, what does that tell us about God’s motivation for forgiveness? God forgives us because it’s part of the goodness of God’s nature. God calls us to do that same difficult work for ourselves, for our families, and for our neighbors. 

We have a lot of forgiving to do. I look at our world around us, and I look at the infighting between various groups of people, and to me, I see a world that is calling out, begging for people to forgive one another.  Will we ever truly be able to do that? Maybe not until God’s reign fully comes. In any case, forgiving is how we can do our part to experience God’s kingdom in the here and now.

Go in peace. And if you are carrying resentment or anger against your sister or your brother or your neighbor, make peace with them. Remove yourselves from the torture that we do to ourselves by refusing to forgive. Do so “seventy times seven times;” do so continuously and infinitely as God does for each and every one of you and for me. God grant it for His sake. 


Layman's Walk

Warning “Label”

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This is a rough transcript of a sermon given on August 23, 2020, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois.  This sermon, like most I deliver, is given extemporaneously–that is, prepared in advance, but delivered without notes or text.  For me, this allows more room for the Holy Spirit’s influence during the delivery and helps the message to be more conversational and contemplative, though at the expense of the readability of a transcript.



Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Who do they say I am?” That’s the question that Jesus asked his disciples in our Gospel lesson this morning. I’d like to turn that question around and ask, “Who are you?” “Who are we?” “Who am I?” 

We live in a world full of labels. Everything is labeled, including people. We’re labeled by our gender. We’re labeled by our race. We’re labeled by where we live. We’re labeled by our income. We’re labeled by our talents. We’re labeled by our strengths, and we’re labeled by our weaknesses. Sometimes, we’re even labeled by our sins. Those labels come from society at large and from the people that we are around, but they also come from within our own hearts. 

Today, Jesus asks, “What’s the label that they put on me?” And they said, “Some people think you’re John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other prophet.” Jesus then asks a much more important question, which isn’t, “Who do others say that I am?” but, “Who do you say I am?” 

I find it ironic that Peter is the one who answers this question, and he answers it so succinctly, and so strongly, and so correctly. It’s the “correctly” part is the part that impresses me the most because if you read through the Gospels and you read about the disciples’ interactions with Jesus, I think you can’t help but conclude that for twelve people that hung out with Jesus every day for three years and heard everything he said, they get the answer wrong–a lot. But not in today’s story. In today’s story, Peter hits the nail on the head! He says, “You are the Son of God.  You are the Messiah.” Think of all the things that Jesus was labeled in his time–whether it was people thinking he was the return of John the Baptist or Elijah, whether it was people who thought he was an amazing rabbi, or that he was a rabble-rouser, whether it was people who thought he was just a healer or a miracle worker, or the people, like the Pharisees, who entertained that he was of the devil–there were all kinds of labels put Upon Jesus. But there was only one that had any real importance: “You are the Son of the Living God. You are the Messiah, the Savior.” 

There’s a lot that we can learn about the labels that we apply to each other and to ourselves. I think that is of particular importance in our world today. We are in one of the most tumultuous times in recent history. We are in a time of health uncertainty, of economic uncertainty, of political uncertainty, educational uncertainty.  We’re not sure when the next shoe in 2020 is going to drop! We can be concerned about all those things and we can worry about the differences that we see in ourselves and in others, how we classify one another. The label that we should all be most concerned about is that we are each “a child of the Living God.” Not just that we as individuals are children of the Living God, but that every other person that you see here today is a child of the Living God–and they are every bit as good and, yes, as bad, as you are and as I am.  And not just the people here, but throughout the entire world! Humanity was created in God’s image and each and every human person has that same “child of God label.” So when we interact with each other, do we do so using a label that we or someone else has assigned that person?  Or do we interact with that person in the context of the most important label, that they are “a child of the Living God?”  Under that label, we are all equally condemned by God’s Law and we are all equally redeemed by God’s grace and forgiveness.

I don’t say this to minimize the differences between one another here in this Beloved Community, or within the community at large, or throughout the world. Differences are what make the human tapestry so beautiful and so wonderful. As Paul talks about that in our reading from Romans today–he speaks of how each person has been gifted from the spirit with something unique, that each of us is a part of the body of Christ. And all the parts are important.  The part of the body that is the mouth or brain are not more important than the foot or the little toe. They are all needed.  Take a part of your body away and you will miss it no matter how minor you thought it was. Take away a person who is a part of the body of Christ in the whole body suffers there as well.  

There is no question that we live in challenging times collectively as a Community of Faith and individually. There’s plenty of stress, there are plenty of worries, and there is plenty of blame.  Ultimately, just as when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter said, “You’re the son of the Living God, the Messiah!” so we are called to see ourselves as children of that living God.  And regardless of our differences, regardless of the labels that we apply, we are to see others as beloved Children of the Living God. 

At the end of the Gospel, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “On this rock, I will build my church.” It’s often understood that when Peter is told this, Jesus is referring to Peter himself as “The Rock” on which he will build his church. It is not surprising that people understand it this way because Peter’s name literally means “rock.”  (If he were around today, we might call him “Rocky.”) But I often think that it is Peter’s confession upon which Christ builds his church.  It is the confession that Peter gave when he said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  It’s that same confession that we all repeat together each week that is the rock upon which Jesus builds his church–that confession that he is the Messiah. 

That, my friends, as it is every Sunday, is the Good News that we share. We could have had a god who looked down, saw a humanity that was wholly imperfect, and turned their back and walked away. Yet our God said, “No–they’re still worth loving. They’re still my children, and I will be their God.” When we have times of doubt, we can look to Isaiah who tells us to seek the rock from which we were hewn, where it is we come from.  We are followers of Christ. We were hewn from the same rock that the disciples were hewn from.  And that, my friends, is the label that we should care most about: Children of the Living God.”

May God’s peace that surpasses all understanding be on your hearts and minds.


Layman's Walk


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If you happen to be one of the two or three people who read this site regularly, you’ll notice that I have completely failed and at least one of the things I set out to do during this season of Lent: that is to post something everyday. Unfortunately, friends, the fact of the matter is that I don’t have anything that important or astounding to say. (And I’m also kind of lazy, and never fulfill my New year’s resolutions either, so no big surprise here.)

I also haven’t managed to do the exercising that I thought I was going to do, but I did make it almost 3 weeks if you count the week before Lent when I was experimenting without having anything alcoholic to drink. However there have been some life changes this month of relative significance that I thought necessitated a celebratory cocktail.

In any case, my failure to meet the goals I had hoped to during this season of Lent remind me of something even more important: that God’s grace is something that we do not earn. No matter how hard we try, no matter what goals we set, no matter what we do, we are incapable of doing what is required and being who we should be. But God is okay with that. And that, my friends, isn’t just good news–it’s fantastic news.

Jesus mission didn’t end with the cross because people were perfect. It went there because even though we were so imperfect God loved us anyway. Jesus even loved the people who had condemned and who were crucifying him so much to endure it that they too may receive the Love and forgiveness of God.

So when you and I screw up, when we fall short, it’s important that we remember that our failures are not the end. God has the end in God’s own hands.

Thank God it’s not on me to get it right. Because just like so many other things in my life, I’ve #NailedIt.


Layman's Walk

Mandelbrot and Mystery

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After my mentioning of Carl Sagan yesterday, I looked on YouTube for some videos of him.  I found a very interesting special that featured him, Stephen Hawking, and Arthur C. Clarke from the mid-1980s. 

I greatly enjoyed their hour-long discussion which attempted to allow regular folks like me to begin to understand the magnitude of the universe.  During the show, Dr. Clarke demonstrated the Mandelbrot on what would now be considered an ancient computer.

Today, we can find not only images, but many videos illustrating the Mandelbrot Set, such as this one:

I’ve always felt a connection between mathematics and the divine.  The Mandelbrot Set is, to me, a prime example of this connection.  No matter which way you zoom on the set–inwards or outwards–it continues forever in a repeating and recursive pattern.

That’s really all I have to say; I’m just intrigued by the mystery of both.



Layman's Walk

“You are star stuff, and to star stuff you will return.”

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One of my favorite quotes is by astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan.  At the end of one of the episodes of his iconic series, Cosmos, he looks directly into the camera and tells the viewer, “We’re made of star stuff.”

I find this concept particularly poignant on Ash Wednesday, when churchgoers are reminded that “[they] are dust; and to dust [they] shall return” as the mark of the cross is made on their forehead in palm ashes.

Each year I find this ritual quite moving.  It reminds me that my imperfect and sinful life on earth is finite and that I, too, will ultimately die and my body break back down into the simple elements. (We, too, are physically just atoms after all.)  More so, it reminds me that everyone will experience  death.  Regardless of how we die, we will all still die.

Seeing the black cross on the heads of all these people really stops a person in one’s tracks.  Not only will I die, the person I don’t know that well will die too.  So will my dearest friends.  So will my parents and relatives.  So will my wife.  So will my children.  I couldn’t help but stare at the forehead of my youngest son who, after a long day, fell asleep in the pew during tonight’s church service with the same black cross on his forehead.  I was reminded that he, too, will some day die.

Of course, this ritual is not meant only to remind us of each of our own worldly deaths to come, but to remind us and refocus us on the importance of Jesus Christ’s own death and resurrection–the promise that when we each die, that death does not have the final say.  To the Christian, this reminder of our own demise becomes not a sign of destitution but a sign of comfort and hope.

I like being able to find parallels between elements of my faith and the general world around me, thus my Sagan-ean twist on the words I heard said to so many people tonight.  I am a person of faith who also reveres science.  I firmly believe that the human capacity for critical thought and reason are gifts from God and that we should and must use them to discover all we can about God’s creation–our cosmos.  As such, when I have the opportunity to draw a connection between science and faith–or even the broader secular world and faith–I love to do it.

As we pulled out of the church parking lot tonight, I was pondering how all people who have ever existed and all things that have ever existed in the universe are all composed of what is essentially “recycled atoms” that have originated from distant stars and how everyone and everything I have ever known will ultimately return to that state same state of “dust” or “star stuff.”  As I turned on the radio, I heard the 2019 cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” by Whitney Houston and Norweigan DJ Kygo.  Yes, the 2019 cover of a 1986 song featuring an artist who died in 2012 using vocals recorded in 1990 and a backing track created nearly 30 years later.

Again, in my appreciating seeking the holy in the secular, I was reminded that while our earthly deaths are certainly permanent, they are not final.  We have a hope in Jesus Christ who preached and demonstrated the higher love that God has for our entire cosmos. 

Walk in the higher love of Jesus Christ and be at peace with your star-stuffiness.


Layman's Walk

Fat Tuesday! (Or Mardi Gras!)

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While I certainly cannot compare my low-key antics with those in the Big Easy or Carnivale, I am enjoying my Fat Tuesday before the Lenten season begins tomorrow.

While I’ve never been much for “giving up” something for Lent, this year, I am intentionally making a point of focusing on making concerted changes in a variety of areas on my life for specific reasons.

#1 – No Alcohol

With the exception of the wine served at Holy Communion, I am abstaining from alcohol for the entirety of Lent.  People who know me well know I enjoy good beer (and even not-so-good beer).  However, I recognize that it is unhealthy, it makes me sluggish, and that I don’t need it.  So, I’m going to experiment with having no alcohol for forty days and see how I feel at the end.  Maybe I’ll go back to having a beer or two or a couple glasses of wine with a good meal or with friends at a gathering.  But maybe I won’t.  I am also quite aware of the calorie count associated with most alcoholic drinks.  Considering I weigh the most I have in my life, I could certainly stand to shed a few pounds.  Abstaining from my malty beverages should help with that as well.

#2 – Practice a Lenten Devotional

Just because someone is preparing for ministry doesn’t mean their spiritual life is just as it should be.  I often find that I am too quick to jump into the business of the day and neglect setting aside time with God.  As such, I am  making a point of leveraging a daily Lenten devotional to re-instill my daily morning ritual of prayer and thanksgiving.  I will be using a devotional created by Luther Seminary, which can be found here if you’d like to use it. It’s relatively brief, so there’s no excuse for not using it daily.  I plan to use this devotional with my family at the end of each day before bed in addition to my morning routine.

#3 – Attending to My Writing

I started this blog a few years back with the intention of chronicling my journey to ordained ministry and beyond.  Frankly, I’ve done a pretty poor job doing that.  Writing is a good practice for anyone, especially if you need to be able to communicate to others in a meaningful and clear way.  In addition to being somewhat therapuedic, writing this blog helps me to hone this skill.  (And hopefully others might find some value in it as well.)  As such, I will post something every day during Lent.  I hope it will be particularly insightful, but no guarantees.  In any case, I will post something–maybe brief and frank, maybe long and insightful–but something.

#4 – Move This! (Shake that Body!)

No, I’m not part the 90’s electronic group Technotronic but I will be taking their advice over the next forty days:  I’m gonna “move  this.”  I am not one who likes to exercise.  I hate the idea of “working out” or doing physical activity only for the sake of doing physical activity.  However, I have found enjoyment in activities as simple as taking the dog for a walk.  So, I will be implementing a practice of walking Shortie (our Carin Terrier) when the weather permits, and doing some other upper  lower-body focus work.  This is because, today is not only Fat Tuesday, it’s lose-some-fat Tuesday.


Whether or not you choose to do anything during the Lenten season, do me a solid favor and help keep me accountable.  While none of this seems too hard, it will definitely be a challenge for me.  But if Jesus could do forty days in the wilderness, I think I can do forty days of  this.  If not, I have some serious #FirstWorldProblems.




Layman's Walk

“Zombie Blog!” — or– “Ahhh! Failed Again!”

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Just when you thought it was dead….BAM! The blog that hasn’t had a new post in, uh, well, an awfully long time has one!

Sure–I could list plenty of reasons I haven’t posted in so long. I’m busy–so is everyone else. Work had been intense–as is the nature of work. I already have to do so much writing for seminary assignments and preparing for sermons when I preach (which are most Sundays)–but so do a lot of other people in situations similar to mine.

The fact of the matter is–I just didn’t make it a priority.

Along the lines of why I’m not physically fit, why I procrastinate, and any other aspect of my life where I feel I fail to “live up to expectations,” it’s just because I haven’t made it a priority.

This strikes me as ironic. How does someone who talks about how we need to purposefully seek to be God’s hands and feet in the world fail to be purposeful about so many other important aspects of his life? How does a person who teaches leadership courses to groups of professionals–part of which is emphasizing the criticality of living “intentionally”–not follow his own teachings?

Simply put–because I ain’t perfect.

(And I say “ain’t” to emphasize the imperfection–and because my wife, Kari, hates it when I use that word, but I think it’s great!)

As a human being, I will never be perfect so I may as well get over the disappointment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I should stop trying to improve myself–but it does mean I should “give myself a little grace,” as some good friends have told me a number of times.

When I recognize my shortcomings and forgive myself, a great weight is lifted from me. When I remind myself of the areas in life where I actually do well instead of where I lack, I find confidence, strength, and hope for tomorrow.

It also reminds me I need to show that same grace to other people–especially those who are closest to me, and those who I love the most.

Unfortunately, when most people are frustrated, the ones who bear the brunt of that frustration are the people they care about that most. It certainly is the case for me.

So when I remind myself that it’s ok that I’m not perfect–I remember that it’s ok that others aren’t perfect as well.

Perfection only comes in the love and forgiveness of God. And just as God forgives me, I must forgive myself–and others, too.

“It ain’t easy.” But it’s worth remembering. Because it’s only in forgiveness that we become whole–as individuals and as humanity.