Summer League Season – SLS – is the name of a family-based basketball league created by my younger brothers in 1997. My brothers were teenagers, 15 and 17 years-old respectively, when they started SLS. Along with a couple friends in our very rural village of Earlton, New York, they began playing regularly scheduled games from spring into summer and early Fall. They kept records – wins and losses of course, as well as points, rebounds etc. They had playoffs and a championship series. They eventually began recording the games. 

SLS is still going 25 years later. My youngest brother, five of my nephews, and a few family friends continue the tradition. Through the summer, at the West Ghent Community Park, you will find two-on-two basketball games played, clocked, recorded, and even officiated.  

In 1997, I was 26 years-old, married some three years, and living in Raleigh, North Carolina, college basketball country. I was attending North Carolina State University, the Wolfpack of Jimmy V and the 1983 tourney champs fame. Michael Jordan, likely the most famous North Carolinian, was still in the prime of his career, winning his 5th championship that same year. My brothers were both huge Jordan fans. SLS was in many ways inspired by that love of #23 and the game he perfectly played.

Basketball was a big deal for me too. I was of the Magic-Bird, early MJ generation, and a huge fan of the NBA as well as Big East basketball. I played on school teams from the 5th grade through my senior year of high school. It was probably me who first taught my brothers how to shoot hoops. I certainly was among the first to play the game with them. I remember playing with and against the youngsters who would later make up the first generation of SLS players. 

The driveway to our mobile home had a free standing hoop. The Catskill Mountains loomed in the distance. When the leaves left, the peaks could be seen behind the lofted basketballs. 

From 2004 to 2006, after moving back to the upstate New York of my youth, I played in the SLS. Not to boast, but in the tiny domain of SLS, I am a living legend. I have video compilations, mixed-tapes as you'd call it now, to prove it! Yes, I am trying not to snicker.

But if there was an OG when it comes to the Erickson clan's love of basketball, it would not be me. The SLS OG is my father, Donald Francis Erickson.

My father taught me how to play. He encouraged me to be ambidextrous in my game, learning to shoot with my left and my dominant right hand. We'd play H-O-R-S-E and one of his left-hand shots would often be the one that beat me. He taught me a left and right-handed sky hook, which I still can shoot pretty well though it is a shot now extinct… inexplicably so.

He once shared a rather heartbreaking story, for a basketball lover anyway. When he was in the 10th grade, he tried out for the JV basketball team. He loved to play. He was 5’ 8”, 5’ 9” but was athletic and quick, and, yes, ambidextrous. 

He made the JV team and showed promise. He was good. More importantly, he loved to play and wanted to play.

Basketball helped him get through his mother's death when he was 11 years-old. Shooting hoops and practicing on his own helped him, if just for brief moments, to forget his grief. The camaraderie of playing the game with friends was a healthy distraction in more ways than one. It helped him deal with his father’s new marriage very soon after his mom’s death. He did not get along well with his step-mom who could be overbearing and harsh. He also wasn’t ready to move past the memory of his mother and accept a replacement.

Making Hudson High School’s JV team, it promised him a sense of purpose and fun, both of which he sorely needed. He was hopeful despite the sense of loss that remained.

But his hopes would be dashed. His step-mother and father forbid him to play on the team. He was 16, old enough to get a job, and help pay the bills. He didn’t have a car and would need them to pick him up after practice. They were unwilling to do even that.

He would not play on the basketball team that year or any subsequent years. He’d carry the hurt into his adulthood. When he told me the story, I could sense the pain.

I’d play basketball all four years of high school. He didn’t always attend my games. He got really nervous for me, and so it was hard for him to watch me compete. But he was supportive of my playing a game I absolutely loved, something he dreamed of doing but wasn’t able to.

In some ways, SLS is a fulfillment of his dream. We freely played and still play the beautiful game he was forbidden to play.



BTW, Who's Jesus, Part 2

 So just when I decide to go on vacation, what is being called the beginnings of another Great Awakening happens in Kentucky. And while I was supposed to be on vacation, I could not vacate my natural propensity to ponder church and religion matters.

Maybe you’ve noticed in my two plus years here that I often use the word “ponder.” Pondering is part of my nature.

The Asbury Revival is on the minds of a lot of church folks these days. It is in the news. It’s the subject of articles and discussions in American religion and church publications and websites.

Many have given their 2 cents in regards to Kentucky revival at Asbury University, which has spread to other Christian colleges, including to a university Holly and I attended for a time – Cedarville University in southern Ohio.

To be honest, my first reaction was that its just another viral Tik-Tok moment. But it has turned out to be much more than that.

As I mentioned in the sermon before I went on vacation, there is a real, deep interest in learning about Jesus when it comes this new generation, Gen-Z it is called. That Tik-Toks of a Jesus-themed revival went viral again and again and sparked a movement, it comes out of this interest, I believe.  

There has been criticism of the movement. It has come from the Mainline side of the faith mostly, which includes the Catholic tradition and even United Methodists which Asbury University is affiliated with.

This criticism is understandable to me. Faith based in mere emotions and feelings that are temporary by nature, that is not a long-term solution to the church’s or the world’s problems. Nor does it make up for the church’s historic and present-day exclusion and even harm of LGBTQ folks.

But to quote Stephen Stills, “Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” We can’t ignore it.

The best response to the Asbury Revival I’ve come across is from an essay shared by Rev. Tamara Moreland, the former area conference minister of our Farmington Valley Association. It was written by Rev. Tom Fuerst, a UMC pastor and scholar. The essay is titled, “Hopeful Discernment: The Asbury Revival and SacredConversation.”

Fuerst basically calls for a middle way between the general Evangelical way that receives God’s grace and responds with deep human emotion and the general Mainline way that ponders the Christian faith and seeks to intellectually understand how to practice that faith. Fuerst writes,

“The Evangelical, revivalist bent of American Christianity desperately needs the critical distance offered by the Mainline church. And the critical distance of the Mainline church desperately needs the revivalist urgency of the Evangelical movement… the weaknesses of both traditions suggests that, on their own, they lack something necessary in being the complete body of Christ. If anything, my argument is that both-sides-are-wrong without each other. The church needs urgency. The church needs discernment. The church needs warm hearts. And the church needs Oxford fellows.”

I will end this part of the conversation by expressing something else that I thought as I pondered. On the same day the Asbury Revival started, students at Michigan State University, after losing 3 of their classmates to gun violence gathered for prayer vigils. In their collective grief, they cried out for change.

The juxtaposition of Asbury University's joyous chapel revival and Michigan State University's campus wide grief struck me. The spiritual uplift of a revival is important and beautiful. Revival is a profound part of the Christian tradition. But beating swords into plowshares, turning weapons of war into structures for peace, resisting hate and cultivating love, ending forms of exclusion and conflict and creating space for acceptance and affirmation... that is the kind of revival I think God truly wants most – a revival that transforms a society stuck in its own egoism, groupism, and greed.

Such peacemaking and compassion-building is the point of spiritual revival. What is changed inside us through revival must result in collective change outside of us. Without this external change, revivals are, well, rather useless.


Anyway, let me move on as I come to a close and focus on the question of the Reflection – who is the Jesus? Who is the one whose name revivals since the beginning have invoked? Who do you say he is?

We are beginning the season of Lent. It feels not too long ago that we finished Advent and we celebrated Christmas and baby Jesus’ Manger. From the Manger, we now journey toward the Cross and the Empty Tomb. Yes, Jesus is the One whom the Cross will contain and the Tomb will not be able to contain.

But too often we highlight the Cross and the Empty Tomb at the expense of the Sandals. The Sandals, the sandals that Jesus walked in, worked in, shepherded in, taught in, lived in.

We must not forget the Sandals. If we do, we miss something essential to Jesus and about the faith of Jesus. We miss the life he lived. By the way, the life expectancy in Jesus’ day was 35. Jesus died around 33 or 34. In other words, he lived a full life.

If we want to truly understand the Cross and the Empty Tomb, we must ponder the Sandals and what Jesus did in those Sandals. When we do, when we spiritually ponder Jesus’ whole life, we’ll see that the Manger, the Sandals, the Cross, and the Empty Tomb are all of one singular, indivisible piece. If you want to know what the Manger, the Cross and Empty Tomb means, look at Jesus’ life, his teaching, and his life as a teaching.

He taught that from small things, humble things, close to the earth things, big things arise. Jesus’ life mirrored this teaching. He was one of what we’d now call “the little people.” Born in the small-town of Bethlehem. Raised in the backwoods, nothing town of Nazareth. His father was a builder, a tradesman, a carpenter. His mother was deemed morally suspect, having conceived and birthed a son out of wedlock. Jesus himself would have been deemed morally suspect as well, born from sin. In other words, Jesus would have been seen as the littlest of the little people.

And his death followed suit. The rejected and despised man of Nazareth was executed as a criminal.

From this littlest, humblest, earthiest human life and death, a big thing, the biggest thing, arose – our refuge, our rescue, our renewal in God.

And here is the application piece. Here’s what it means for us. We no longer have to carry the guilt and the shame that keeps our spirits down. We no longer need to carry the debilitating thought that we are not good enough. The nobody from Nazareth, despised and rejected by men, but beloved by God and epitomizing God who is Love, has taken the guilt and the shame on our behalf, making us good in God’s eyes. And it is only God’s eyes that matter in the scheme of things.

“Everyone loves an underdog,” it has been said. Well, Jesus epitomized the underdog. And we have salvation to thank for it. Our faith is in the underdog of underdogs from Nazareth. I for one would have it no other way! How about you?


BTW, Who's Jesus?

 A recent large survey done by the Barna Group asked Gen-Zers, young people 13 to 17 years-old, what they thought of Jesus. The results were somewhat encouraging for pastors like me. Gen-Z-ers show a real curiosity about the figure of Jesus. In fact, 77% said they were motivated to learn more about Jesus.

Teenagers might not care about the rest of church, but they do want to know about Jesus, it seems. That’s a great place to start.

Thinking about this, I began writing things down. And what I wrote down led to this week’s Reflection, titled “By the way, who’s Jesus?” So, we’ll ponder who Jesus is this morning.

But first, let us pray:

O God, show us your truth in these moments. Let us learn of your way, and take that way into our hearts, and live that way out in the wake of our worship this morning. As for me, O God, may your spirit move my lips and my words. May the reflections of my heart be pleasing to you, loving God, and may your light working through me in turn enlighten your people. Amen.


Who is Jesus?

That is a huge question that could take forever to answer. I might take a couple Reflections for this question. But for this one, let me get down to the basics.

Jesus of Nazareth lived and taught some 2,000 years ago in Ancient Palestine. He was a wisdom teacher based in the Jewish tradition and based in the Torah, Judaism’s holy scripture.

But there were many others that fit that description. What made Jesus unique? Well, there’s his death and what it meant. There’s the circumstances surrounding his birth. Both are for another day. What about his life and his teaching was unique?

That’s what I’d like to discuss for the next few Reflections as we make our way into Lent.

First of all, Jesus offered a unique approach to the Torah, Judaism's holy scripture, highlighting the concept of godly love.

We find this focus on Love in just the name Jesus prefers for God, the name of Father. Now, "Father" is a name used for God in the Torah, but it is not frequently used. Its uncommon, in fact.

So, why does Jesus prefer Father as a name for God? 

Well, for Jesus, a parent-like, unconditional love defines God. God is pictured as an all-loving parent

And for Jesus, unconditional love, embodied in the love of a parent, is the point of godly wisdom.

As for us, we are called to Love like God loves. Matthew 22 says,

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In other words, seek to Love God in the way the God loves you.

Seek to Love others as you love yourself and as God loves you

These commandments summarize the wisdom of the Torah, Jesus makes clear.


Here’s another unique thing about what Jesus taught: Jesus’ vision of God’s Kingdom.

There were many Jewish teachers preaching God’s kingdom. But what separated Jesus was how he envisioned the kingdom.

The Lord’s Prayer reveals Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The kingdom of God is a realm, a reality where God’s ways in heaven are realized on earth. Heaven will be brought down to earth and all will equally experience perfect joy and contentment.    

Here’s something else: The Kingdom of God for Jesus is not just a future reality. It is a past, present, and future reality all at the same time. Jesus states in Matthew 8 that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are present in the kingdom, so it is a reality found in the past.

In Luke 17, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you,” or among you in other translations. So, it is a present reality.

Then Jesus tells us to pray for the kingdom to come, meaning the kingdom is yet to come, a future reality.

The kingdom is not about time, or about space. It is a condition, a way of being that transcends time and space.

If we are living the way of God, living in a Christ-like way, we are making the kingdom a reality in a way that transcends time and space. Indeed, compassion, love, grace, godly ways of being, transcends time and space.

The kingdom is indeed here and now for us. It is there for us to realize and actualize. It is akin to the sun. Even behind the clouds, the sun is there, its just covered over by the clouds.

Well, the kingdom of God, heaven brought to earth, is here and now, just behind the clouds of our humanness and wrong choices. Clearing the clouds of sin away, that is what Christ does in us if we let it happen.

The last uniqueness I’ll mention about Jesus as a teacher is what we might called the Jesus paradigm. A short parable that Jesus tells points to this paradigm. It is the Parable of the Mustard Seed. It goes like this:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

In other words, from small things big things come… That’s the paradigm Jesus teaches again and again.

Jesus points to the forgotten in society, those deemed the losers, the vulnerable ones, the last, the lost, the least, and he claims these, the least, will be lifted up, exalted, and made foundational to the kingdom.

The last will be first.

The lost are those I most seek

The least of these is the true measure of faith.

As for the first, the winners, the highest, they will be humbled and brought low.


This paradigm of the least giving way to highest heaven, we find it in Jesus’ resilient, inconquerable life itself.

It is Jesus of Nothing-town Nazareth, one discarded by his own people, criminalized by his oppressors, crucified as the lowest of men, it is this Jesus who rises, exalted, and anointed as the savior of humankind.

From small things big things come.

To close this Reflection and rather swiftly, this paradigm applies to us. No matter how small you see yourself, no matter how useless you worry you are, no matter how vulnerable or weak you feel, no matter how lost you fear you are, God is looking for you, to love you into being, to build the beloved community that transforms the world.


Imperfect Worship, Perfect Grace

"Imperfect Worship" is the title of this sermon.

I begin by asking, how is your imperfect worship going this morning? And how are you, imperfect worshipper?

Have you ever considered this fact: on this side of Christ, no one has ever engaged in perfect worship? No one. Not one.

Why? Because we are all imperfect, and so our worship will always be imperfect too. “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”

Imagine if you had to go through a Perfection Scan to get into this sanctuary for worship this morning, sort of like you got through to get on an airplane?

You wouldn’t have a preacher, that’s for sure. I’m overweight. I’m an imperfect speaker, prone to flub words. I’m not the most eloquent of pray-ers. I’m what they call, neurodivergent. I’m forgetful and often disorganized. When I was a chaplain years ago, I once forgot a graveside service I was supposed to officiate. Almost had a nervous breakdown. I found out that funeral directors, thankfully, are prepared for things like that. Still, I was horrified. Still am.

But I’d dare say, you all are beautiful people, but you wouldn’t get through that Perfection Scan either! Not even the choir would. There’d be an empty sanctuary every Sunday.

This sanctuary is a powerful place, but we don’t suddenly all become perfect once we enter it. Worship is a powerful practice, but we don’t suddenly all become perfect once engage in it.


We should remind ourselves what worship is. At basis, worship is the practice of being present for and with God, and looking to God and God’s grace with gratitude in our hearts. When I enter worship, I leave behind any focus on myself alone. Narcissists have a hard time worshiping God because of this! I leave behind any focus on another human. Lovebirds or haters have a hard time worshipping God, too, focused too much on the one they love or hate. Instead of focusing on myself alone or another alone, the focus becomes on God and our relationship to God and on God’s relationship to us. I leave the world of me and mine behind and turn my eyes toward Jesus and on our connection to Jesus, the Perfect One.

Together, we, the imperfect, worship God, look toward God’s Perfect Grace which excepts us just the way we are. That is what Sunday mornings are all about! That is why we are here!


But a question arises – what do we do with our imperfections amid worship? What do we do with the fact that I flub words when I preach? What do we do when I unknowingly say the wrong thing? What do we do when the hymn singing is not going perfectly well? What do we do when there is peripheral noise around us and we have trouble hearing the sermon? What do we do with our internal distractions that get in the way of us focusing solely on God? What do we do when Sunday service just feels off?

Well, the answer is pretty straightforward. We remember why we are here! In fact, we might see those distractions as a reminder to remember why we are. We, imperfect as we are, are here to humbly worship. We’ll always worship imperfectly, and that is okay.

The point is not us. The aim is God.

We turn toward God, mind, body, and spirit. We turn toward God, wading in the wonders of God’s perfect grace and in the wondrous light of God’s perfect compassion.


Leonard Cohen once wrote, “there’s cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” 

I’d paraphrase it this way - There’s cracks in everything; that’s how the grace gets in.

The reality of imperfection, the reality of cracks in everything, opens us up to the absolute need for God’s grace to flood into us.

Every Sunday, my mom would get all four of us kids ready for church. We’d pile in our land boat, a pine-green 1978 Ford LTD station wagon, and we’d float to church.

Almost weekly, my two younger brothers would beat each other up in the back seat. Remember that silly game, Punch-Buggy? It involved those VW Beatles, dubbed Bugs. The game basically amounted to, see a VW Bug, punch your brother. This game was usually reserved for long trips. That’s probably when my brothers learned it. But they took away any limits to it, playing it on short rides too. Fights would ensue even on the way to church.

Here's the thing. When you’re looking for those ugly, imperfect Bugs, you’ll begin seeing them everywhere. Seek a bug, and you shall find a bug. VW Beatles weren’t any rarer than, say, Dodge Darts. But my brothers saw them a lot more. Why? Because they were always in wait for one, so they could punch their brother.

You see the connection, I think. The more you look and search and give in to the imperfect bug’s hold, the more prominent those imperfections will become. It’s the proverbial snowball effect. Imperfections accumulate and gather steam as they roll through your mind.


I come to a close with a couple related questions – How to stop this vicious cycle? How to halt the pain and power of the imperfect bug?

Try this – Obverse the graceful landscape instead. Notice the sun-drenched blue heavens. Look to the beautiful hills from whence comes our help. Look to the swaying of trees and the gentle wind. Look to God and God’s gifts instead of looking for the imperfect bug.

And when you find yourself moved and inspired by the worshipful moment, internally say to your brother, I love you.

When your mind’s eye begins noticing and latching on to those imperfect bugs that certainly will arise, do the same. Internally say to your sibling, brother or sister, I love you.

I end with this undeniable truth – I will flub words. I won’t think something through adequately. My prayers will include “ums” and pauses.

The musicians will miss notes, sing out of tune, enter at the wrong time.

You in the pews will lose attention. Your mind will wander away from here to work tomorrow or lunch later. You will get distracted by activity around us or imperfections you notice. You might even take a nap.

There’s cracks in everything.

But God’s grace is a tender light meant to seep through those cracks in us and enlighten our spirits. That’s why those cracks are there. To help us move past ourselves. To help us let go of our attachment to what’s wrong around us. To let the light come in.