Decision-Week 2 // When Life Means Death // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  John 11:45-57

Dear Church,

In the gospel of John, Jesus’ fate was sealed after he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.  There were plenty of  people who saw it happen: their neighbor, who died four days ago, stumbled out of the tomb after Jesus came and cried and called out, Lazarus, come!

It was bringing Lazarus back to life that led to Jesus’ death.

Some of those first-hand witnesses saw the miracle and believed in him.  Others saw and told on him. 

They ran to the leaders of their temples and synagogues and reported what they’d seen.  And those religious leaders called an emergency meeting of the Presbytery Sanhedrin to figure out what to do about Jesus. Because whoever he was, he was clearly going to change everything. And they were going to have to decide whether they were for that or against it. They decided that whatever Jesus was doing, even though it included raising the dead, they were against it. 

And like all people of faith ever since, we too must decide if we are for or against the way Jesus is changing everything.  Will we yield to the power of the glory of God Jesus unleashes in our lives? Or will we decide that some things are more sacred to us and must be protected from Jesus?

I hope you’ll join me for worship this Sunday at 10am–in the sanctuary or on the live-stream. Because Lent is a time set apart for us to reconsider and recommit to the way of Jesus.  And as much as we prefer the stories of those who decided for Jesus, it is good for our souls to contemplate how very similar we are to those who encountered Jesus and decided against him.


Pastor Kate

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Decision-Week 1 // Jesus Predicts His Death // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)

Dear Church,

“Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me.  You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:23)

Jesus says a lot of shocking things, but this has to be one of the most jaw-dropping. And he doesn’t say it to the Pharisees or Sadducees or a hostile crowd.  He doesn’t even say it to actual Satan when the devil is tempting him in the desert.  He reserves these words for Peter, one of his closest followers.  And he says it to him immediately after Peter is the first disciple to recognize him as messiah and son of God.

These are harsh words.

But we have entered into the harsh and holy season of Lent.  For centuries, believers have set apart these 40(ish) days before Easter for prayer and contemplation and spiritual seeking.  Because the gospels show us clearly, it is hard to follow Jesus and easy to oppose him. Knowing who Jesus is, claiming him as Lord, even loving him is not enough. Jesus says, if we want to follow him we must–we must–deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him.

The road to the cross is the road to glory and salvation–but it doesn’t seem like it until we have our minds set on the things of God.  And it is dangerously and deceptively easy to follow Jesus with our minds fixed on human concerns.

Jesus wasn’t being mean to Peter, he was being truthful.  The devil offered Jesus a way to gain the whole world while avoiding the cross.  And that’s exactly what Peter was trying to talk Jesus into when Jesus called him Satan.  Peter was Sur the cross was a waste and a trap.  He was sure there was another, better way. But there is no salvation without the cross. Not for Jesus and not for us.  Lent is a time to figure out what it looks like, not to believe in the cross, but to pick it up and walk with it.

But there is good news (because the gospel is always good news). Jesus tells the Devil to get away from him, but that’s not what he says to Peter.  Jesus tells Peter to get behind him–and that’s exactly where a follower belongs.


Pastor Kate

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Ash Wednesday // We Choose the Kingdom // Pastor Kate Murphy

We choose the Kingdom

Scripture:  Matthew 2:13-18 (NIV) – The Escape to Egypt

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

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CORE-6 // Love // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Matthew 10:5-16

Dear Church,

What does it look like to walk in love?

We expect a life grounded in love will transform us so that we are universally respected and admired.  We expect a loving life will result in a favored, safe and comfortable existence. Find love, choose love and live happily ever after.  So say all the fairy tales and rom-coms.

But Jesus, who is the incarnation of God’s love, is honest with his disciples about the unexpected contours of a life of love.  When he sends them out in love to their communities, he tells them they will preach good news, heal the sick and raise the dead.  He insists they travel vulnerably, unarmed and empty-handed.  He warns them not to expect universal welcome and honor, he cautions them that they will sometimes be rejected and hated.  He prepares them to respond faithfully either way.

These are still our operating instructions.

When love is the core value of our lives, we will become conduits of God’s grace and healing.  When God’s love is the foundation of our lives, we live trusting God to provide for us, no longer anxiously striving to provide for ourselves.  When Love guides us, we go out vulnerably, knowing we will experience rejection and accusation, soberly prepared not to respond in kind. 

In other words, when we walk in Love, our lives will be cruciform, our story will echo the story of Christ. The love of Christ will always compel us to hold onto peace, even when we are attacked, to always have a reason for the hope that is within us, to always seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. 

I hope you will join me this Sunday before Valentine’s Day, for worship at 10am in the sanctuary or on the live-stream. We will let the gospel once again teach us what love looks like.  Together, we will ask the Holy Spirit to fix us and fill us with the love of Christ.


Pastor Kate

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CORE-5 // Diversity // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Matthew 12:46-50

Dear Church,

This Sunday we focus on the core value that is most visible and costly in our congregation: Diversity.

Many of us travel past dozens of congregations on our way to worship each Sunday. All of us could choose to belong to a more familiar and comfortable Christian community.  It is a longing for healthy and holy multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Christian community that has drawn almost every one of us to the Grove.

Our shared life together is miraculous.  We are the church that should have died, but didn’t.  We are the church that shouldn’t be, but is.  We are a ‘but God’ congregation and our demographics are a foretaste and a sign of the triumphant church. 

But no one is saying that it’s easy.  Or comfortable. 

Our life together is beautiful and it is also messy and imperfect and painful at times. Our life together requires great humility and sacrifice.  If we desire more than the appearance of diversity, but a living authentic community where each person is accepted as they are and supported with truth and grace as they are made new in Christ–then we have to have right expectations of ourselves and our brothers and sisters and the cost of a commitment to a deep and rich life-giving diversity.

It’s going to be a real talk Sunday.  Because I know that God is growing a vibrant healthy diverse church here and it’s easy to celebrate the new life that comes with that growth.  But we have to be mature disciples who understand that growth cannot happen without change, and change is inherently uncomfortable and unsettling.  We have to be wise enough to understand there is no new life without the pain and risk of birth.  And we have to be shrewd enough to know that everything valuable comes at a cost.

We cannot stay just the same and also become new in Christ.  We have renew our minds in Christ and let Jesus radically reshape our understanding, even and especially of what is most sacred and precious to us.  In gospel of Matthew, Jesus shocks everyone when he radically redefines family.  As we consider our commitment to diversity, we are going to start there.


Pastor Kate

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CORE-4 // Opportunity // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Matthews 19:16-26

Dear Church,

The invitation to follow Jesus is the greatest gift that we ever receive.  Life with Jesus is abundant beyond our wildest imagination and transformative beyond our innate capabilities. 

That’s why opportunity is a core value of our culture at the Grove.  In Christ, we become new creation–both wholly changed and also more authentically ourselves.  A healthy and holy church provides space and grace and opportunity for folks to become who they will be in Christ.


Opportunity has costs.  Any investment banker could tell you that.  Taking advantage of any kind of opportunity–financial, relational, educational, physical or spiritual–requires commitment, investment, energy and sacrifice.

We aren’t able to become new and also stay the same.  Growth requires change. Saying yes to something new also requires saying no to the status quo.  Sometimes the opportunities we find in Christ require saying ‘no’ over and over again in ways that seem foolish and even destructive to the culture. That’s certainly what this young man found out. (Matthew 19:16-26)

But maybe it didn’t end the way everyone assumes it did.

Maybe there’s another way to read this story that will give us healthier and holier expectations of ourselves and the opportunity costs of following Jesus.

I hope you’ll join me to worship the Lord this Sunday at 10am, in the sanctuary or on the live-stream. 

And I hope you’ll keep scrolling.  This week’s e-news is a little more wordy than usual, but we have several significant–ahem–opportunities to share with you.


Pastor Kate

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CORE-3 // Risk // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Matthew 21:12-17

Dear Church,

Jesus entered into Jerusalem riding a donkey, fulfilling the vision of the prophets–the Son of David, long-awaited Shepherd King who has come to set his people free.  And once he passes through the gates, he heads immediately to the temple.  His first stop is not the palace to challenge King Herod’s corrupt violent regime and confront Roman political brutality (though that comes later).  He goes to the temple.  But he doesn’t go there to pray.

His first priority is not to overthrow Herod or Caesar, but to turn over tables in the temple courts and throw hands with the money changers.  And as he riots he screams scripture, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’

Once the religious entrepreneurs have fled the scene, in the empty space Jesus welcomes the blind and the lame and heals them with the power of God.  Children stream in and begin to sing praises. And the Holy Ones are…indignant.

Before he offended anyone else, Jesus enraged the ones who believed they knew his Father best.  He centered truth so holy that it appeared disruptive and profane, especially to the religious folks who thought they were sacred experts.

In this story you can’t overlook the thing that is hidden in plain sight in every Jesus story: Risk.  Jesus took risks.  He risked offending people. He risked alienating people. He risked being misunderstood.  He risked being disliked, hated, betrayed and killed. Jesus risked everything because he knew the power of the truth of God’s revolutionary, radically transformational love.

Risk is one of our core values at the Grove, and this Sunday we’re going to be talking about the holy necessary risks Jesus took in his life and the holy necessary risks Jesus calls us to take in our lives.

Warning: it’s going to be. more than just talk.


Pastor Kate

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CORE-2 // Welcoming // Stephanie Ann Vander Lugt

Scripture:  Matthew 25:1-13, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Dear Church,

You are wildly welcome here. We hear these words spoken regularly at the Grove, and for good reason. Being welcoming is one of our core values and one that we share with all followers of Jesus across space and time. But welcome is one of those things that is often so much easier said than done. What about when you are faced with welcoming someone who asks a lot of you, or someone who has complex needs, or someone who offended you? On the flip side, maybe you struggle to believe that you can truly come as you are with all of your baggage and be received with welcome.

This Sunday we will look at our core value of welcome through Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins. If you are curious about what a story about ten virgins has to do with welcome and hospitality, then you will just have to come and see. My sincere hope is that through this text we will grow together in wisdom that leads to readiness to welcome each other and our neighbors radically and faithfully, which starts with being ready for the arrival of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in our midst.

In community,
Stephanie Ann Vander Lugt

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CORE-1 // Reconciliation // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Luke 14:12-24

Dear Church,

Years ago, a neighbor in the Hickory Grove community told me that her kids had a special name for our church.  They called the Grove ‘the eat church,’ because they had been fed here so many times–at community meals, at vacation bible schools, at Freedom School and community festivals.  She told me they were always excited when she told them they could come to ‘the eat church.’

I love it.

Because lots of holy people would say that church is about more than eating, I don’t think Jesus would be one of them.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus told a story at a dinner party about how the Kingdom of God was like a banquet where the invited guests didn’t show up and the host filled every empty seat with the poor, the lame, the maimed and the strangers. This Sunday, before we find our places at Jesus’ table, we’ll think about that story and what it means to believe Jesus’ words and to believe that we find salvation and union with God at the communion table.  In other words, those kids had it right.  We are, nothing more and nothing less than ‘the eat church.’

It’s the beginning of a new year of being church together, and I’ll share with you the word the Lord has laid on my heart for us as a community and how the Spirit might use it to guide and form us in 2024.


Pastor Kate

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AWAKE-Week 5 // Epiphany // Pastor Kate Murphy

Scripture:  Matthew 2:1-12

Dear Church,

Christmas is not over.  We still have more of the nativity story to remember, celebrate and ponder in our hearts.

This Sunday we gather to tell the next part, when a strange star rises in the East and Magi see it as a sign and come seeking the new-born King of Israel.  They travel to Jerusalem, assuming this great new King would be found in the palace in the heart of the holy city.

He wasn’t.

It won’t be the last time people don’t find Jesus where they expect him to be.

Christians call this part of the nativity story Epiphany, but it holds more than one unexpected insight into the Kingdom of God: the star in the heavens reveals the birth of the savior to the whole earth; the so-called ‘pagan’ outsiders perceive the sign and travel across the known world to worship, while the wise experts in the sacred scripture are unwilling to make a six mile journey, King Herod and all of Jerusalem hear the news and respond with fear, not joy.

If you listen for it, you can hear the whole gospel in these 12 verses.


Pastor Kate

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