February 21, 2021; The First Sunday of Lent: Genesis 9:8–17

Put a bow on it.

That’s a phrase with a few different implications, depending on how we use it. It makes me think of the first US war I remember, the Gulf War. And there were these yellow ribbons and bows that had started popping up all around the neighborhood, on mailboxes and draped around tree trunks and slapped on bumper stickers. You probably know the phrase that accompanied it: Support the Troops.

As a kid, the yellow ribbons and bows were as unfamiliar as going to war at all…


another father’s day

one star.

that motel in mexico

where we had the family reunion

of four hundred introductions and bilingual tousles,

the “suite” with literal scorpions in the bed,

on the curtains,

and in your shoe,

and the cougar chained to the tree in front of the rental car

we decided to sleep in.

exotic before it was fashionable.

two stars.

that magical year when orlando

made it to the nba finals

with all-stars shaq (1) and penny (2),

when nick anderson stole the ball —

from jordan

and the crowd rivaled a shuttle launch’s

intensity

joy

potential.

three stars.

that…


If you could pinpoint your favorite pastor or preacher or Sunday School teacher, why would they be your favorite? What was it about them that drew your appreciation, your admiration, your openness and reflection?

Was it the way they dressed?

Or the accent they did or didn’t have?

Was it the candy they may or may not have offered?

Was it the tenor of their voice?

Was it their height or weight?

Was it because they wore glasses or had a nice smile?

Was it because they were a Kansas City sports fan?

Why were they your favorite?

I know…


Do you know our mission statement?

We are a community of believers who seek to grow: in our faith and understanding as we live the Way of Jesus Christ.

What about our four core values?

Inclusion

Freedom of Faith

Service

Spiritual Growth

I’ll admit that I don’t often start with our mission statement when it comes to my preaching, or when it comes to inspiring you or challenging you or comforting you. When I make hospital visits or grab coffee with you, I don’t open our time with, “Now let’s hold hands and recite our mission statement.”

I really like…


In a room, someplace,

wood creaks and cracks and crackles

under pressure

and heat,

smoking, flickering flames

warming, lighting, luring

you into imagination

as

the glockenspiel is pealing,

and angels echoing eerie,

echoing dreamy,

and that familiar baritone

comforts with his crooning:

Do you see what I see?

Louis Armstrong once said that voice was

“like gold being poured out of a cup.”[1]

His voice melts over the flames before you:

A star, a star

Dancing in the night

A log pops like a director yelling

“Action!”

Blink your eyes so you can see.

A desert, someplace,

Gold glitter poured out in the night…


I have this vivid memory of being in 9th grade. We lived in Mississippi, and one night I went outside with my dog.

We played for a bit, and then I let him run around, and I snuck over to the corner of the fence. I looked up at the darkest sky, littered with glimmering stars. In that moment I was overtaken, and a song welled up in me, and I began singing out loud:

O Lord my God,

when I in awesome wonder,

Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,

I see the stars,

I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee,

How great thou art,

How great thou art.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee,

How great thou art,

How great thou art

Since that moment in 9th grade, the stars at night have been my thin place, that space where the veil between heaven and earth thins, when that space between me and God and becomes…


This summer I sat atop a lighthouse, watching the waves come in and draw out, over and over again, a kind of dance to the sun that eventually woke up the sky with gentle hues of yellow and pink and orange. Somehow the waves drew me out with them, into the masterpiece of air molecules scattering light off the coast of Maine. Like most of the other stories I’ve shared during this series on Thin Places, I was mesmerized, Kelsey too, without much to really say; beauty had taken hold of us.

We left the island a couple hours later, headed to Acadia. We drove around, walked, and I’ll even say we “hiked” a little bit. As the day wrapped up, the darkness made us flip on our phones’ flashlights as we walked to the car. And as we came around the bend, the trees unzipped before us, exposing the softest orange sky I’ve ever seen. The sun had just missed us, gone behind the mountain or hill, and the water was in front of us in a kind of bay.

We’d gone from a sunrise on an island, to a sunset…


For most of my life, I’ve lived near a large body of water. That’s not counting Wachusett or the Quabbin, either.

You might not think of water when you think of Mississippi, but my house was 7 minutes from the Gulf. When I lived in Florida, our house was only two touchdowns away from Palma Sola Bay which fed into the Gulf.

I love the water. I have a number of meaningful memories involving the beach or a boat. I also have a few memories of powerfully moving experiences, too. Like the time I sat on a boat and took in the deep blues that my disposable camera couldn’t. Or the time I sat under the stars with two friends as we listened to the waves crashing in front of us. Or the time I stared off the side of a cruise ship into an abyss that was greater than my mind could even conceive. Or one of those memories I now…


Around the time of my birthday this year, I realized I was watching a number of mountain climbing or mountaineering documentaries.

Everest, K2, El Capitan. I was mesmerized, if not in part because the greatest climbing accomplishment I have to date is scaling this pulpit. Upon reflection, I came to recognize that perhaps my fixation on people conquering mountains had less to do with my own desire for the physicality of such a feat and more to do with the culturally-induced existential mountain I’m approaching with each passing birthday, that little hill we call “turning 40.”

There was a point though when awe took over. It was when I saw real footage of climbers on top of K2, the second tallest…


I believe in miracles.

I feel like I should tell you that up front. Maybe it’s because our text deals with a cure for leprosy or maybe it’s our post-enlightenment, postmodern worldview, but I feel like I should tell you that I believe in miracles.

By this, I mean to say that I believe miracles are those moments when God intervenes in supernatural ways or unexpected places.

I believe in miracles, because I believe God is at work in this world.

I believe in miracles,because I believe we all have wounds and maladies and circumstances in need of healing.

A story like today’s can often lean us to focus in one of two directions. Either we become distracted by the seeming impossibility of Jesus healing leprosy, or we dwell on the one person who returned to thank Jesus. …

Brent Newberry

I'm a writer, and I enjoy dabbling in photography. I'm also a progressive minister, enneagram 4w3, ramen enthusiast, and human to my best dog Zooey Deschanel

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