Tag Archive: Grace

Holy Hands

Calloused hands
Soft hands
Gnarled hands
Scarred hands
Shaking and trembling hands
Injured hands
Distrusting hands
Humble hands
All reach toward the grace
You offer so freely.
Extensions of the people
You touch.


If you only knew…

This was Sunday’s sermon at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA, done in spoken word/slam poetry style from the perspective of the unnamed woman in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-8:3).

If you knew what kind of woman I was,
You would know
that you should run –
Take off,
Say “I’m done”
Flee from the very sight of me,
And never look back,
Not for lack of compassion,
But because the rules tell you so.

You would know
As soon as I barged into that place,
The look of fear,
Sweeping over that Pharisee’s face
is your cue –
Do what our culture says to do.
Walk away – forget what you’ve seen.
If you only knew.

Imagine – I’ve heard it all before.
The whispers, the stares, the shame that floods,
Do they think I don’t care?
Do they think I don’t see the glances?
Praying instead for second chances?
Do they think I don’t feel?
Like I don’t have any worth?
Day in and day out.
I carry it all.
If they knew what kind of woman I was.

But somehow in my heart I know,
You’re not like them.
And so I take the last remaining shred
Of street cred and dignity and go to buy
The alabaster jar.
Hope beyond hope
That you’ll forgive the sin that mars
My life
My future
My relationships.
If you only knew what kind of woman I was.

So I’ve come here among your ranks,
In sheer thanks,
For forgiveness you have yet to bestow.
Low I crouch,
And anoint your feet,
My heart thumps as tears flow freely,
Jesus, will you see me?
If you only knew what kind of woman I was.

I glance Simon in the corner of my eye,
He’s wondering why
I’m here,
Without an invitation
He dines with
The healer of the nations.
“She doesn’t deserve it,
What a waste.”
Waiting to put me in my place,
But unable to pull me
Away from this table,
Even as he burns up inside:
“If he knew what kind of woman she is.”

Every one of my tears
A prayer,
Crying out for all of my years:
“Don’t shove me aside.
Love –
let there be love.
I don’t want to hide.”

And you don’t.

You tell that Pharisee,
Although he thinks he can see,
Although he thinks he perceives,
And thinks he believes,
Rightly –
He’s wrong.
I’m forgiven and free –
Washes over me.
I’m seen and I can see –
You know who I was
And who I can be.

You send me on my way,
“You’ve been saved.”
And for the first time
I’m light,
The weight’s been lifted,
And I want run all around,
From town to town,
“If you only knew what kind of woman I was!
If you only knew what kind of God he is!”

You see,
Because that’s your game,
And forgiving,
A new way of living.
If you only knew what kind of God he is.

But people always misunderstand,
Land to land,
We’re all the same,
Stuck in our sin,
In – ward looking,
Pointing at others,
Blind to our own misdeeds.
On a campus where
Crime is seen as just a youthful fancy,
Or in Latvia –
Women preaching the Gospel
Have made men antsy.
If you only knew what kind of God he is.

Sins of scarlet
Far and near,
Mark our world,
Jar our lives.
Drowning in disappointment –
Is there a balm –
An ointment?
To soothe our weary souls?

So don’t ask me to simmer
When there are people who need
A glimmer
Of hope
A voice and a choice,
In a world gone bad
With people who are mad –
Trapped in their own mistakes,
Trying to break others
Cause they can’t deal
With their own stuff.
If they only knew what kind of people they were,
And could be.

We’ve been anointed,
Appointed to tell the story,
Of YOUR glory,
Of your cross,
Your rising
Your Spirit,
To all who will hear it.
To proclaim your kingdom,
Be heaven to earth
People of peace
Loving the lost and forgotten
If we only knew what kind of people they are.

Because up your sleeve there’s an ace.
Grace –
Yes, a table of grace,
A place
We can meet you face to face,
Touch you
Like a woman
At another table,
Who loved much.
If we only knew…

© 2016. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

(From: http://www.heqiart.com/2-the-life-of-jesus.html "Mary Magdalene" by He Qi - This woman is unnamed, but some have associated her with Mary Magdalene)

(From: http://www.heqiart.com/2-the-life-of-jesus.html “Mary Magdalene” by He Qi – This woman is unnamed, but some have associated her with Mary Magdalene)

Sermon #3 (September 27) in our sermon series “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus” at Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA.

Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from heading to the cross and got put in his place – told to set his mind not on human things, but divine things.  The disciples argued about who was the greatest and found themselves looking at a child and being told to welcome the least of these.  Now, the disciples run to tattle on someone who is performing deeds of power – driving out demons in Jesus’ name.

Out of breath, they run up to Jesus.  “Teacher! We just saw this guy and he was casting out demons.  In your name! We tried to stop him because he’s not one of us.  We did well, didn’t we?!”  And, much to their surprise, Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”  I can see the disciples stopping short and muttering, disappointedly, “Uh… ok.  I guess we’ll just keep walking to Jerusalem then.”

In order to understand what’s going on here, it’s helpful to go back earlier in chapter 9.  A man had brought his son to the disciples for healing. This boy was suffering from a demon that in modern terms seems to be epilepsy.  But the disciples couldn’t drive out the demon.  So Jesus casts it out and tells the disciples when they ask why they couldn’t cast it out, “‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’”

Now there is a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but he’s not even in Jesus’ group.  In light of this previous failure to do deeds of power like their Teacher, the disciples seem jealous of the other exorcist.  They are insecure, confused, struggling with their identity as followers of Jesus, and perhaps even afraid that Jesus will kick them out of the inner circle.  After all, they are the handpicked twelve and they can’t even cast out a demon!

The refrain that is repeated throughout last week’s text as well as today’s is, “in Jesus’ name” or “in the name of Christ.”  Children are to be welcomed in Jesus’ name.  Demons are cast out and wholeness restored in Jesus’ name.  People are to receive hospitality – a cup of water to drink – in Jesus’ name.  And woe be unto those who cause anyone who would believe in Jesus’ name to stumble.  In short, the name of Christ has tremendous power.

The disciples have heard Jesus predict his death twice already, and they’re trying to get a handle on what they are supposed to do and who they are supposed to be as followers.  In this search for clarity about their identity, the disciples are eager – super eager in fact – to point out the faults and shortcomings of this man operating outside of their little group.  Instead, Jesus uses this encounter to refocus their attention on themselves.  Because they have been called to follow Jesus and bear his name, they shouldn’t stop this man from doing good just because he’s an outsider.  Instead, they should be focused on the ways their actions are preventing healing and good news from flowing to people in Jesus’ name.  Because it’s not about the disciples’ names, but about whose name they carry and how they represent that name.  The actions of the outsider are welcomed while the insiders are warned to be mindful of their own actions.

In baptism, we are marked with the triune name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – often with a cross traced upon our foreheads.  It is this name we are to carry throughout our lives.  It is the name in which we are called to live, to love and to serve others.  It shapes and forms our identities.  But as the Gospel points out, because we bear this holy name, we also bear a great deal of responsibility.  Jesus’ words to his disciples ask us pointedly, “how are you getting in the way of the gospel? How are you a stumbling block to others?”

This week, we have been inundated by photos, videos, and news of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  While I’ve enjoyed it, and I think the Pope has wonderful things to say, he’s kind of a tough act to follow.  I mean, I can’t say that I’ve talked to Congress, washed the feet of prisoners, called for peace on a global scale, or even had a Fiat take me around DC! What on earth have I been doing with my life?! It is easy to look at his actions and feel like we cannot live up to them, but I really like how President Obama put it in his welcome speech to the Pope: “Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example.  And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.  All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right.  But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better.”

Each of us, washed in the waters of baptism and marked with Christ’s holy and precious name, has been given a beautiful gift.  The gift of forgiveness and discipleship in Jesus’ name.  We have been given the opportunity to serve God and the world in the name of Christ.  Jesus issues a challenge, calling us to stop judging others and forcing us to look instead at how we may be keeping others from encountering the good news, the living God in their own lives.  Are there things that we hold dear that might be stumbling blocks to others experiencing God’s grace? Maybe it’s as simple as not moving in our pews to make room for new folks.  Or maybe it’s prioritizing television watching over spending time in prayer or devotions.  Maybe it’s in the way we speak about others which cheapens our witness to Christ.  This is the discomfort we experience when contemplating the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true.  It’s the discomfort the disciples experienced that day with Jesus and it’s the discomfort that can provoke thoughtful prayer, contemplation and change in our own lives.  It’s the discomfort that can lead to asking for forgiveness and opening a space for the healing of our spirits.  Because Christ has begun a good work in us and will bring it to completion.

We are all tempted to look at those outside of ourselves or our little groups and think that others are doing it wrong or shouldn’t be allowed to do it at all.  Other denominations worshiping in the wrong style.  Neighbors tending their yards in the wrong way.  People praying differently than we do.  But Jesus warns us that our time would be better spent searching our hearts and allowing those who bring about good in his name to continue.  Instead of tearing down, how can we take the opportunity to build up and to point to God’s grace and love?

Recently, there was a story of a Turkish couple who took the money they could have spent on their wedding reception and instead spent it, and their wedding day, feeding thousands of Syrian refugees.  This couple, who are Muslims and not Christians, caused me to pause and to reflect on how I was welcoming others – offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless.  The “outsiders” helped this “insider” see and hear afresh the call of Christ.

Today you will have the opportunity to come forward to receive individual prayers for healing.  As James wrote, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.  Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Soon, I will invite you to come forward to receive prayers in the name of the Lord for healing, forgiveness, strength, or whatever you may need this day.  Come and be strengthened, remembering the name in which you live, move, and have your being.  Come, and give thanks for the healing and wholeness that comes through life lived in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.



This was last Sunday’s sermon at Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA

The resting human heart beats an average of 60 to 100 beats per minute.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  In addition to pumping our blood and keeping a steady supply of oxygen flowing throughout our bodies, the heart has long been seen as the center of thoughts, personality, actions, emotions, and wisdom.  So I’d venture to say it’s pretty important.

These texts we have for this morning are tough.  And they’re tough not because they have hard words or are particularly difficult to understand.  In fact, they’re fairly straightforward.  But they’re tough because we don’t like what we hear.  Deuteronomy tells us that the law was a gift given to help people to live out the covenant in the new land of Israel, and by living them out, help other nations see who God is.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that they’re elevating human rules to a divine status, while ignoring what is truly important – hearts that follow God.  And James gives instructions for the new Christian community, calling them to turn from the things of the world in order to live out of their faith.

Each of these texts calls us to a higher standard of living.  As Eugene Peterson translates James: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other.  Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”  Ouch.

These texts hold up the mirror and call us to take a long hard look at ourselves to see where we are missing the mark, falling short and not following God.  They remove the excuses we so artfully craft about our words and deeds and call us to account.  They strip everything down to some basics and challenge us to live out our faith in the world.  They call out, “when did you last say something unkind or hurtful about someone else?”  “How many times have you refused to help another in need because you were ‘too busy’ or wanted that extra money for something else?”  “When have you found yourself looking down upon someone else?”  “Have you been envying what your friends, family, or neighbors have?”  These questions make us squirm.  We don’t want to think about them or answer them.  We don’t want to think about how our speech and action might reflect our hearts.  We rush about, perhaps rarely taking time the think about the effect our words and deeds have on others.  But it is necessary to slow down and sit with them.  To ask God to reveal in us those places where we are not living out the life to which we’ve been called.

As some of you may know, I am a “Walking Dead” fan.  Last summer, Jeff and I began binge watching this show on Netflix.  I’m sure binge watching is another sin! For those of you who don’t watch, the walking dead or “walkers” are zombies who have begun wreaking havoc on society, bringing about an apocalyptic scenario.  The show follows a small band of very different people as they try to survive.  One would think that the zombies would be the scariest part of this show.  But the surprise is that the real threat – the real underlying danger – is not from the undead, but from the living.  The people who have survived the apocalypse are capable of far more hurt, pain, deceit, inhumanity and death than the zombies are.  That’s why the show is so interesting.  Zombies are fun, but the psychology and group dynamics are fascinating.  You watch an episode and think, “who would I be in this situation? And how would I respond?”

And so it is with us.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that they’ve got things all backwards – it’s not all about the rituals that keep us clean on the outside or insure that we’re eating the right foods.  No, we should be more worried about the inner workings of our hearts and whether or not they are leading us down the wrong path or are following God.  The threat could be coming from the outside as with zombies, but most likely, it’s coming from within.  A truly scary thought indeed.

It is abundantly clear that the human heart is capable of evil things.  This week has brought reports that the Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing, that ISIS continues its reign of terror, of two journalists shot and killed in Roanoke, of the continuing struggle against racism, of infidelity on the Ashley Madison website, of migrants and refugees displaced by violence and searching for a place to lay their heads.  The list, unfortunately, could go on and on.  It is easy to hear this and to feel paralyzed by the evil within our own hearts and that we see taking place around the world.

So where is the good news? James uses this beautiful phrase that I love.  He calls us to “…welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”  Looking at our asphalt driveway, I’m always amazed at how weeds manage to push through asphalt and concrete, driveways and sidewalks.  These hearty little plants find a way to thrive in spite of their tough circumstances.  The Word of God, planted in our hearts, has the power to bust up our rocky and hard hearts – to burst through the hardness of our sins and selfishness – and bring about the beautiful flowers and fruits of the kingdom.  The word of God – the grace and promises of God – implanted in our hearts are slowly at work, calling us to account for our sin, bringing forgiveness, and inspiring us to live out God’s love in the world.

Because God loves us far too much and far too generously to leave us with hard and sinful hearts, God becomes human, even ripping apart the heavens at Jesus’ baptism to get through to us.  And at the end of Mark’s Gospel, at the crucifixion, God will once and for all rip apart the Temple curtain that separated God from humanity.  That says something about God’s heart for us.  God’s actions, retold throughout scripture and seen on the cross and in the resurrection, reflect God’s tremendous love for all creation.

Ok, it's not exactly a baptismal image, but Andy escaping Shawshank Prison is definitely being given new life, and the rain is a great reminder of baptism! (From: http://6f9e5b2993b2676fe5af-84a7d838f746c494b9783302a5a26cce.r46.cf5.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-Shawshank-Redemption.jpg)

Ok, it’s not exactly a baptismal image, but Andy escaping Shawshank Prison is definitely an image of being given new life, and the rain is a great reminder of baptism! (From: http://6f9e5b2993b2676fe5af-84a7d838f746c494b9783302a5a26cce.r46.cf5.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-Shawshank-Redemption.jpg)

That’s the love and the life we’ve been welcomed into in baptism.  When we were washed in that font, we were raised to new life in Christ.  That’s not just a nice phrase! It is an invitation into a new way of being, a new way of thinking, a new way of speaking, and a new way of living.  Each and every one of us has been freed from sin, death and the devil in order to live a new life – a life of Christ-like love and service to others.  As James puts it, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  We live out our faith and show others that our hearts love God when we care for orphans, widows, the marginalized, and all those in distress.  And we point to God’s action in our lives when we refuse to give in to the ways of the world – the ways that would tell us to use others for our own personal gain, to put personal riches and power above the poor and the voiceless, or to turn a blind eye to violence, hatred, and injustice.  Because, miraculously enough, the human heart is also a place where wonderful things can happen – transformation can occur, compassion can spring up, kindness and empathy, charity and generosity can flow forth.

We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Christ and to bear fruit in God’s kingdom.  It is not easy.  It is difficult and frustrating because we run smack dab up against our own selfish desires and the temptations and priorities of the world.  But we are not alone.  Christ has called and equipped us for this work and he will see it through.  Look around.  These are your sisters and brothers whom you have been called to support and with whom you have been called to worship God and serve in the world.  We will not live up to this godly life perfectly – no one can.  But we have been welcomed into this new life in baptism and these texts today call us to pause and think about what it looks like to live that life out.  To ask for forgiveness where we’ve fallen short.  To celebrate and give thanks for the way that God’s implanted word has begun to transform our hearts.  And to dream with hope, wonder, and awe about the amazing things the Holy Spirit might do in our lives and in this place to help others know God’s incredible love.

I’ll leave you with an Irish prayer from the 15th century that is a wonderful reminder and a promise of God at work: “O Son of God, do a miracle for us and change our hearts.  Thy having taken flesh to redeem us is more difficult than to transform our wickedness.”  If God can take on flesh to redeem all of creation, think about how God is at work in our hearts.  Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.


This was Sunday’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA on the Parable of the Talents.

The parable Jesus tells of the talents is all about risk. It’s not really about the amount of money involved, but rather what each of these servants or slaves does with what the Master gives him. In the Greek, it says the first two servants “worked with” the insane amounts of money they were given – 5 talents is about 75 years’ worth of wages and 2 talents is 30 years’ worth of wages. Even the servant who was given 1 talent was given a lot – that’s 15 years’ wages! That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money.

So the Master gives extravagantly of his money to his servants – he hands it over to them to do with it as they will. And when he returns, the only one he is angry with is the one who didn’t do anything – the one who played it safe and buried the talent in the ground. It’s not because he didn’t make more money or didn’t make enough money, it’s because he acted from a place of fear: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

While the other two servants were given huge amounts, they acted out of abundance and decided to invest it and see what would happen. Their reward was being able to enter into the joy of their Master. But the third servant acted out of fear, real or perceived, did nothing with what he was graciously given, and, in the end, his fears became reality.

We have been entrusted with the greatest treasure – the Gospel. Each of us has been given the lavish gifts of God’s forgiveness and grace. But the trick is that we weren’t given these gifts to keep them to ourselves – we have received them to share. We have good news to share with those who ache to hear a kind word. We have been given forgiveness and hope for those who despair and feel they can’t go on. We have seen a way of peace and reconciliation that we can proclaim and live out in a broken and violent world. We have the love of Christ to share in our actions and our words.

In seminary, we were talking about taking risks for the sake of the Gospel and sharing the good news. In that conversation, one of my favorite professors said, “a glorious failure is better than a tepid success.” Hmmm. That really stuck with me.  Success is good, but I would rather try something different or off-the-wall in the hopes that it might better communicate or show God’s incredible love, than just play it safe. The Gospel is worth too much not to take those risks.

Yesterday, I heard of NFL player Jason Brown, who at the height of his career was one of the best centers in the league and had a $37 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Rams. But in October of 2012, he walked away from it all, even as his agent told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. He left in order to become a farmer in Louisburg, North Carolina. He had never farmed a day in his life. He learned by watching YouTube videos. Yes, you can do anything by watching YouTube! His plan? To begin “FirstFruits Farm” a farm that would donate the first fruits of every harvest to those in need, as well as providing other opportunities for people in the community. He describes it as the most rewarding thing, the most successful thing, he’s ever done.   As he says, “Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.”

A common phrase to hear nowadays is YOLO – Y O L O – or, “you only live once.”

Even though this phrase can be used to encourage wild or irresponsible behavior, it’s true that we only live once. So how are we going to use our lives? God has given us an abundance of gifts, and as the parable shows, even one talent, is more than enough. So how are we going to use what we’ve been given – the love of God, our lives, gifts, and finances – so that we bear fruit in the kingdom of God? We may not be called to walk away from the NFL or start a farm, but how is God calling you and this community to take risks for the Gospel? Will you work out of the abundance God has given you, or are you caught up in fear about falling short, failing, or not using what you’ve been given well? God knows that we will fall short or fail, and that’s ok. But are we willing to step out in faith and take risks to serve God?

Let us pray… you have given us amazing gifts out of your generosity and your abundance. You have given us the gift of salvation and forgiveness, the wonderful news of your love and grace. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Free us from our fears and anxieties to take risks for the sake of your Gospel. Help us not to bury the gifts you have given us, but to work with and use them to bring hope and the joy of Christ to all people. Amen.
For more information on Jason Brown, check out these articles:

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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