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New Sermon: Alive in Christ

I was blessed with the opportunity to preach this week at Grace Avenue UMC. The text to the sermon is below!

Alive in Christ

1 Peter 3:13-18


The Story of Amy Biehl

Friends, I want to take you back, about 21 years ago, to one of the most dangerous places on the planet: South Africa.

South Africa in 1993 was a hopeful, yet terrifying place.

After suffering 45 years of some of the worst racial segregation the world has ever known in the system of Apartheid things seemed ready to change, if they didn’t explode first.

Mandela (put up Mandela image)


had just been released after 27 years of incarceration and the country was preparing for it’s first free elections, scheduled for April of 1994.

This was a hopeful and dangerous time, many people thought the elections, were a farce, that they would never happen and therefore were engaging in violent acts against their oppressors, the white Afrikaners. A hopeful, yet dangerous time.


Put up picture of Amy Biehl 





Friends, this is Amy Biehl. She was a remarkable person. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, she grew up in a very diverse community. After her graduation from high school, she moved to California where she earned a degree from Stanford.  

Amy was very passionate about human rights, empowering women from around the world and helping children achieve their dreams. Her passion to help people soon moved this Fulbright scholar in 1992 to Cape Town, to work in reforming the country and preparing it for a brighter future.

On August 25, 1993, Biehl was driving in her yellow Mazda three friends to their homes in Guguletu when a mob numbering about 80 spilled out of a PAC rally chanting the group's battle cry: "One settler, one bullet." In the group's way of speaking, settlers were white people, specifically the white Afrikaners who had settled in South Africa 350 years earlier and, in 1948, had imposed the system of racial separation known as apartheid. (put up mob picture here!)

Eight members of this group spotted Biehl driving in her yellow Mazda where they then started throwing rocks at her car, forced her to stop, pulled her out of the car, beat her and then stabbed her to death.

Witnesses later identified four members of the mob and they were charged and convicted of murder. The prosecution asked for the death penalty, but the judge sentenced them to 18 years in prison, saying he thought they had a chance to become useful citizens "despite the fact that they have shown no remorse.

Amy Biehls parents, Linda and Peter, thought the matter had been put to rest. But in 1997, four years after their daughter's murder, the killers applied for a pardon before the nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stating that their actions were politically motivated. The Biehl's, unsure of what to do, called Archbishop Desmond Tutu, (put picture of Tutu up here)



 head of the commission, what they should do. "Just come and speak from your heart and talk about Amy," he said.

At the hearing, the men admitted their role in the killing and said they believed they had to kill whites to make South Africa "ungovernable" and force the government to relinquish power.

The Biehl's read from their daughter's high-school valedictory address and spoke of her commitment to helping South Africa. But they extended an olive branch too. "We come to South Africa as Amy came, in a spirit of committed friendship," Peter Biehl said. "And make no mistake about it, extending a hand of friendship in a society which has been systematically polarized for decades is hard work at times."

After the hearing, in a hallway, the four men approached the Biehl's and shook their hands. "They asked our forgiveness," Linda Biehl recalls.

All four men won pardons in 1998, and a year later, the Biehl's went to see two of the men in South Africa.


Put Linda Biehl picture on screen



As the Biehl family continued to get to know two of the men who participated in killing their daughter they grew close and, over a truly beautiful series of events, the Biehl family opened the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust in Cape Town, where children and youth are provided with amazing after school opportunities to help them move into a positive future. For years Linda Biehl, Amys mother, worked at the Trust, side by side with two of the men who killed her daughter, both of who still work there to this day, creating a brighter future for South Africa.


What could lead these people to reconcile with one another, and then to work together for good in the world? I think our scripture for today speaks to the creative possibilities for good that God can make out of even the worst suffering.




Reread Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-18

What powerful words!

13: “Who will harm you if you are zealous for good?” Clearly, this is a rhetorical question, for Peter knew many people who were harmed for doing good, including his Lord Jesus, who suffered unto death for doing good.

14: Same “blessed” as used in the Beatitudes, this translation uses “happy” but it is the same word that Jesus uses in the Beatitudes, blessed are you who are hopeless, who grieve, who suffer. Those who suffer for Jesus are blessed.

The verse continues with the phrase “don't be terrified by them.” What Peter is speaking about here is about fear and idolatry.  During the time when this passage was written the church was undergoing tremendous persecution, it was a time of great fear. Peter is demanding of his audience, and, perhaps demanding of us this: DON’T fall into idolatry.

Fear can cause us to become idolaters. Idolatry is, of course, the first commandment that God gives us in the Ten Commandments, “thou shalt have no other God’s before me.”

There are many things to fear in the world but we must fear God ultimately. For to fear your bank account, your security, the government, corporations, the powers and principalities more than God is to give those things more power in your life than the One who made all things! That is a definition of idolatry. Don’t let the fear of anything cause you to stop following God’s call on your life! When we let fear paralyze us from doing the things we know in our hearts to be right, we’ve fallen into idolatry.

As followers of Christ, we know the rest of the story! God raises Jesus from the dead and will ultimately bring God’s ultimate will to fruition in the world.

And God has given each of us a part to play in this work. So how do we deal with this fear we all have while we are yet living and working?

15: Peter gives us an answer in verse 15 when he writes, “Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts.” The antidote to the fear of something other than God is the right worship of God! Worship matters, what you are doing right now is so important. Not only do you give God glory together, we also are strengthened and can strengthen one another in the work that God has called us to in this world! When we get out of the habit of worshipping in community on a regular basis, we lose the sense of right order in relationship that God so desperately wishes us to know.

Peter then goes on to say, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you.”

16: We are encouraged to let our lifestyle and our words speak to our hope in God.

Often, friends, we get confused, thinking that we need to bring Christ to people, when the truth is, and thank God this is the truth, that God through Jesus in the work of the Holy Spirit is out already going ahead of us in the world. Our task is to do our part and to point others to the places we see God at work in the world. Certainly, God was and is at work in the story of the Biehl family in South Africa. We can find many everyday “God moments” in our life if we but look for them.

17: Then, in verse 17, Peter gets real with us. “It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

Notice, Peter doesn’t say suffering is optional in life. Suffering is an inevitable part of the human experience. And so then the question for us becomes, for what will you suffer? Is suffering God’s will? Maybe the biggest question is this: since suffering is inevitable will you choose to let your suffering ennoble or embitter you? We all know bitter people and we see the effects their bitterness has on those around them. We all likewise know ennobled people and we see the good they bring to the world, the good that can affect hundreds, if not thousands of people, thereby changing the world.

Is suffering God’s will? The answer is no, at least not suffering for suffering's sake.

God’s will is that we are to love in all contexts, and we are to love all of God’s people and all of God’s creation. Sometimes that involves suffering.

 We must couple our service in the world with our worship, our action with our contemplation. When we can do this work, when we can, through worship, no longer be afraid of what will happen to us and can rest secure in God’s unending grace and mercy, we do the work God has given us to make God’s dream a reality on earth.

This is God's ultimate will, God’s dream is the reconciliation of all of God’s people and creation!

Will you allow your suffering to be redemptive in this cause? The one we follow did exactly that.

18: Peter lifts up Jesus to us as our example in verse 18. No where do we see suffering, even unto death, as redemptive as it continues to be in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus.

Christ’s innocent suffering led to resurrection and new life. He was put to death as a human, suffering in immeasurable ways, but was made alive by the Spirit.

And so are we likewise made alive in the spirit in both this life and the next.

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ALIVE,! To have something you believe in so strongly that you will suffer for it, that you would give your life for what you believe in.  When you've found that thing, that you would die for, you have found what it means to be ALIVE!

Jesus had that...and Jesus wants you to have it as well.

Doing good is always God’s will, even if it means suffering for what is good. In order for us to know what is good we must be in community and in prayer. Staying in an abusive relationship isn’t good. Injuring others through our thoughts, words and deeds isn’t good. But pouring ourselves out for the love of God and for the love of neighbor is good. Sacrificing ourselves in non-violence is good. Putting the needs of others ahead of our own is good. Ensuring that others have safe and secure future is good. Laying down one’s life for one’s friends is good.

Friends, the word for us today is this: never tire of doing good and pointing out where Jesus is at work in the world. For even our suffering, if we can allow ourselves to be ennobled by it, even our suffering can be used by God for good, just as God did something beautiful and redemptive with Jesus’ suffering.


Tell the Story of “Goodness is Stronger than Evil”

There is a song that came out of apartheid South Africa, a song sung in non-violent marches, and prayer services, in the churches and in the streets that continues to give us hope, while acknowledging the realities of suffering all around us. This text is, in some sense a summary of Christs death and resurrection and the true basis of our hope that good will ultimately triumph over evil.
d like to teach it to you so that it might be a gift for you in times of joy and in times of suffering.


Teach the song and sing out the sermon!

Put the text to Goodness is Stronger than Evil on the screen



Losing the Lone Genius Approach

Whew! You made it! Another wondrous Holy Week and Easter to give thanks for in your ministry. In the time between Easter and now I hope you have had a chance to catch up on the pieces of your personal life that might have been neglected during the craziness of the last few weeks and have had an opportunity for rest and reflection. In these past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on a theme in my ministry: the importance of collaboration.


In his classic book Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration business leader Warren Bennis writes about how leaders of creative teams have to lose the "lone genius approach." Bennis' maxim is vitally important in our contemporary context.





Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration 


Though there were many wonderful products of the enlightenment that we rightly celebrate, there were also some unfortunate by-products that we need to shed, as artists, in order for our art to have its fullest impact in our contemporary context.


For example, many of us were taught the myth that the Sistine Chapel was painted solely by Michelangelo. We have long celebrated the image of Michelangelo on his back, illuminated by candles, paint dripping onto his beard. This myth is exactly that: a myth.  Now, without diving into some Joseph Campbell on the power and importance of myth I think we need to lose the lone genius approach as soon as we can. Given what we know of the time line of the creation of the Sistine Chapel and the practice of the late Renaissance masters it is very clear that Michelangelo had between two and twelve assistants/apprentices (whom he had trained in his style, that note is very important!) assisting him in painting the Chapel. If you've never had the chance to stand underneath the masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel add it to your bucket list. For, to stand underneath the work, to experience its stunning nuance and subtleties, is to vow to give up the lone genius approach forever! The results are worth the ego check!


 A contemporary example comes to us from the Chinese dissident artist, Ai Wei Wei. This past summer I took the opportunity to watch the documentary Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry that is a fascinating look at the activism, art and process of Ai Wei Wei. At one point in the film we are taken inside Ai Wei Wei’s studio where we find him teaching apprentices and assistants in his style. They then take his style and apply it to large-scale projects he is working on all over the world. This approach not only helps to train and empower others it also allows Ai Wei Wei’s work to be shown across the world.


History is replete with examples of teams accomplishing greater things together than any one person could accomplish on their own. I wonder as ritual artists (thanks Marcia McFee, for helping us see in ourselves what God has called us to become!) what part of the Lone Genius approach might we need to give up in order to multiply our efforts in worship arts ministries?


Three Rules for Living

Three Rules for Living



After a beautiful Last Supper Tableau at the church where I serve, I came home last night and watched the final three holes of The Masters on DVR, which was interesting enough. What really caught my attention, however, was the episode of 60 Minutes afterward tournament that was dedicated to Pope Francis.


While there are several key theological points that he and I will probably never see eye-to-eye on I continue to be incredibly inspired by his witness and leadership. The way in which he carries himself and lives out his faith inspire me to be a better follower of Christ. Francis’ life, deeply rooted in simplicity, reminds me of another amazing life, that of Brother Roger of Taizé. During the last few days of Lent and now Holy Week I’ve been reading as part of a daily devotional the small book 15 Days of Prayer with Brother Roger of Taizé.


After watching the piece on Pope Francis I read the words of Brother Roger, which were a challenge to find ways to root our life in the joyful good news of the Resurrection, even, and especially amidst our own darkness. What would our lives look like if they were rooted in the Resurrection? To borrow a phrase from Wendell Berry, what would our world look like if we were to “practice Resurrection”?


As my subconscious mind rolled these things around I woke up this morning wondering, in the tradition of John Wesley, what would be my own three rules for living? This is what I arrived at, at least for this week!


  1. 1.     Love and serve others as Jesus did.
  2. 2.     Make art that connects, is honest and transformative.
  3. 3.     Live a compassionate life that seeks justice, peace and reconciliation for all people.


This framework seems like a pretty decent way to experience this week, maybe even a decent way to live a life!


During this week of intense stress and demand, where we pour out our energy honoring Jesus’ sacrifice, it is tempting to be mindful of living just to survive the week, which is certainly understandable. What if we were able to give ourselves a bit of grace, perhaps even just ten minutes of silence, to ponder the framework of our lives and ministry?


What three rules would you create for yourself?







New Post from Guest Author Terry Heislen!


Let my blood be a seed...

“Let my blood be a seed of freedom”


“I have often been threatened with death. If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”

--Archbishop Oscar Romero

Today I am mindful of the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a hero and inspiration to millions of people around the world, myself included. I first became acquainted with the life, work, and death of Oscar Romero and the struggles of the Salvadoran people while in seminary. As I came to learn more about this incredible man and his conversion from a politically cautious defender of the status quo to a deeply impassioned prophetic voice for the poor and marginalized, I was so moved and inspired by the brilliance of his witness as he sought to follow Christ into one of the darkest situations in the world.  Indeed, here is a man who is on the same plane as Martin Luther King in the United States, as Desmond Tutu in South Africa, as Dietrich Bonheoffer in Germany, of countless other women and men who have given everything to accept Jesus’ invitation to live a life rooted in the dream of God.

All of these 20th century saints remind us, in the words of Bonheoffer, that there is a cost of discipleship.

Romero knew this truth well. And yet, his faith and daily spiritual discipline sustained him, nourished him, and encouraged him to live out fully the calling that God placed on his life. Romero, like Tutu, gives us a clear example of how contemplation and action must go hand-in-hand. Working for justice and reconciliation is too difficult and too slow to be sustained without a deep rootedness in contemplative practices.

Is your life similarly balanced, between action and contemplation? I invite you to take a few moments today and ponder this balance (or lack thereof) in your own life.

If you have never had the opportunity to become familiar with his work may I recommend to you reading a collection of his sermons and writings, called The Violence of Love. You can find it on Amazon by clicking the link below:

More immediately, I invite you to click through the link below to an incredible 4:55 film from The Project. This film is part of a project called Martyrs Prayers led by Duane W.H. Arnold and United Methodist Deacon Michael Glen Bell. They have recently released a full-length album based around the prayers of martyrs. The deluxe edition of the album comes with a wonderful information booklet that would be very helpful in learning (and hopefully teaching!) more about the examples of the martyrs. The link will connect you with their beautiful short film and song about Romero.

In their words:

Romero's message of social justice, non-violence and self-sacrifice are needed today as never before.  We're asking you to be partners in spreading that message.


I pray you will!



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