“The Better Part of Us” November 4, 2018

Posted by on Nov 6, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“The Better Part of Us” Ruth 1:1-18/ Hebrews 9:11-18 Mark 12:28-34/ Matthew 5:1-12 (The following is from the book “Let Me Tell You a Story” by Rob Parsons) Paul was a little boy whose parents owned one of the first telephones. They lived on the plains in America, and the wooden box with a handle was installed in their farmhouse kitchen. He thought it was a wonderful machine. His mother would wind it up and say, “Information please,” and a lady would reply, “This is information.” It was incredible. Information Please would get them a phone number, tell them the time and sometimes even inform them about the weather. One day when Paul was small and his parents were out, he banged his thumb with a hammer. There was no point in crying because there was nobody in. And then he remembered the telephone. Let Paul continue the story: “I got a stool, stood on it, and reached up to the handset: ‘Information Please.’ The lady replied in her standard way, ‘This is information. How can I help you?’ ‘I’ve banged my thumb,’ I sobbed. ‘Is your mummy in?’ Information Please asked. ‘No.’ ‘Is your daddy in?’ ‘No’ ‘Is it bleeding?’ ‘No.’ Information Please said, ‘Can you get to the ice box?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Hold some ice against it.’ It worked! After that I rang Information Please for everything. Information Please helped me with my geography homework – she told me where Philadelphia is. Information Please taught me how to spell disappear. And when my pet canary died and I cried down the phone and asked, ‘Why would God make something that can sing so beautifully and let it die?’ Information Please said, ‘Paul, you must always remember there are other worlds to sing in.’ And then my parents moved to New York and I was out of her area, and anyway, I didn’t believe that Information Please could live in the new plastic phone. I never rang her again…until I was 24 years old. I was making a trip one day and my plane put down in the airport near where we used to live. I had about half an hour to wait and was sitting in the airport lounge when I saw a telephone. I thought, ‘I wonder…’ I dialed and said, ‘Information Please’ and a familiar voice said, ‘This is Information.’ ‘Could you teach me to spell disappear?’ I said. There was a long pause and then she replied, ‘I expect that thumb is better by now!’  I said, ‘Do you have any idea what you meant to me?’ ‘She said, ‘Have you any idea what you meant to me?’ We couldn’t have children and I used to look forward to your calls. My name’s Sally. I’m not very well and I only work a few hours a week, but if you’re ever in the area, promise...

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“I Call Shotgun” October 21, 2018

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Sermon Archives

  “I Call Shotgun!” Job 38:1-7, (34-41) Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45   Margie and I were talking awhile back about going to church when we were kids: all the goofy stories, the missteps, and the embarrassing things that kids will do when forced to sit still for any length of time over – oh, say – ten minutes. And we agreed that it was a good experience for us both. We learned the fundamental of the Gospel, we learned the joy and sometimes the agony of singing in a congregational setting, and most of all, we learned how to be patient. It made me think of the story of a woman who took her 6 year old to a church conference. Now this is extra risky because unlike a church service, conferences can go on for hours. Anyway, she noticed her son was getting antsy so she handed him a pencil and paper and said, “Why don’t you keep count of how many times the speaker says the word ‘and?’ That might be fun.” And so he did – for about 20 minutes – when it became obvious that he was bored. “Would you like to listen for another word?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied. “I’d like to listen for ‘Amen.’” Now as much as I hate to admit it, I have found myself getting restless as well. We have been reading from the Gospel of Mark since before September and have touched on some wonderful lessons for a life in faith: the Syrophoenician woman, the covenant of salt, some interesting views on divorce, and some wise words from Christ about eternal life. But if you got the feeling after hearing today’s text that you’ve heard this story before, you would be right. In fact, it’s a well established pattern that happens 3 times in the Gospel of Mark and it goes something like this: Jesus tells the disciples of his imminent death One of more of the disciples says something or does something that’s kind of dumb Jesus tells them, as my mother used to say, to get off their high horse But here’s the thing: each time, Jesus uses these moments as teachable moments. (Mk 8:35) he tells his already confused disciples, “Whoever wishes to save his soul shall lose it,” followed by, “Whoever loses his soul shall save it.” I’m sure that really cleared things up. Then later (Mk 9:35) he tells them “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all,” just in case they didn’t get it figured out the first time. And then today, (Mk 10:43-44) after James and John are trying to get dibs on front row seats in heaven, Jesus says to them,  “Whoever wishes to be great…shall be your servant,” and “Whoever wishes to be first… shall be slave of all.” So see what I mean? Like...

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“Impossible” October 14, 2018

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“Impossible” Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31   (Heb 4:12 Comm Eng Bible) “..because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.” God’s word is living, active, and able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions – and as the old comedy line goes, “Yeah, I hate it when that happens.” The story of the rich man who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” is, to me, a shining example of how the word of God cuts the joints from the marrow. It is able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions; and quite frankly, it makes us a little uncomfortable. Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem and so to his death; and I can’t help but feel that this changes things a bit. There is a sense of urgency in almost everything he says and does. After this man has ran up and knelt on the ground asking the $64000 question to the “Good Teacher,” Christ says to him (vs 18) “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” And right off the bat, we can sense that this isn’t going to go well. Jesus then proceeds to recite the commandments to him and he was ready for that. You could tell he had done his homework when he answered (vs 20) “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” Now before we go any further, I have a thought. Who is this guy? We know by reading the rest of the text that he is well off, and we know that in those times, the Jewish folks believed that if you were right with God, you would be rewarded – and not just with the blessings of the spirit, but with cash, property, and with prestige. Being wealthy was the sign of a good man, and if you were rich and prosperous, Jewish belief held that God honored and blessed you. So what gives here? Don’t you suppose that this man who had been overly blessed by God and had faithfully kept the commandments “from his youth” – don’t you suppose that he figured he was a shoe-in when it comes to this eternal life thing? So my thought is did he really want an answer to a very important question here, or was he simply looking for an endorsement; a seal of approval from Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God? Some kind of certification that says, “Yeah, you’re in, pal. Don’t worry.” I...

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“The Good News in a Tough Gospel” October 7, 2018

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“The Good News in a Tough Gospel” Job 1:1; 2:1-10 Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 Mark 10:2-16   A baker was asked to print 1 John 4:18 on a wedding cake. He forgot, and instead printed John 4:18. Now 1st John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;’ a wonderful sentiment for a wedding cake. John 4:18, on the other hand, reads, “For you have had five husbands and the one you now have is not your husband.” Now that would be awkward. And speaking of awkward, let’s face it, our Gospel text today was kind of tough to take. You know, every Sunday I have the honor and privilege to read from one of the 4 Gospels. And every Sunday when I have finished reading that Gospel text I offer up a call to the congregation: “The word of God for the people of God,” to which you hopefully will reply, “Thanks be to God.” But today after reading from the 10th chapter of Mark, I have to say that was kind of tough. We have talked in the past about preaching from the lectionary. The lectionary, otherwise known as the Revised Common Lectionary, is simply a collection of scripture suggestions for every Sunday of the year with suggestions for special days as well. Think of Good Friday, Ash Wednesday…that sort of thing. Now like I said, they are suggestions, but I have committed to taking these suggestions seriously for a few reasons. For one, they were compiled by a large group of priests and pastors and scholars with the intent that the whole bible will be preached and not just the parts that are…well, not so tough. There are some that choose to ignore the lectionary completely and some that will read the scripture presented and then proceed to preach on something completely different. Which brings us again to the 10th chapter of Mark with the understanding that all around the world on this day there are hundreds of thousands of worship leaders who are struggling with the question, “What do we do with this?”  Let’s revisit it again: (vs 2) Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Keep in mind that the operative word here is “tested.” They weren’t asking his opinion, they weren’t seeking advice – no they were looking to trip him up. Keep it in mind that John the Baptist didn’t hesitate to tell Herod that it was wrong, bad, and icky to be marrying his brother’s wife and look what happened to him. So that’s how it all begins. But Jesus replies, as he often does, with a question saying (vs 3) What did Moses command you? The Pharisees said, Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away. As best...

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“Praise the Lord and Pass the Salt” September 30, 2018

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“Praise the Lord and Pass the Salt” Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 James 5:13-20/ Mark 9:38-50   Some years ago, I was asked to help out with the music for a wedding in Florence, MT. My job consisted of working with two young ladies who were related to the bride and groom to perform a duet – of sorts. They were both extremely nervous about the whole affair; they had it in their heads that this had to be perfect. I gave them the usual spiel that things always go wrong at weddings and that’s what makes the wedding memorable, but they wouldn’t buy it. So after transposing the sheet music that I was given from the horrendous key of G#, we started rehearsals in earnest. Just one song, right? How hard could this be? Well, I soon found out when it became apparent that one of the singers had no sense of timing while the other had a pretty shaky sense of pitch. But they were determined. There were tears, there were moments of total frustration but after 6 hours of reworking and rehearsing this one song it was time. And believe it or not, they pulled it off. The wedding itself was interesting. I don’t know what denomination these folks were a part of, but it was different than most any wedding I have ever been to. The highlight (or low point) of the service was something called the “Salt Covenant.” Now traditionally, salt ceremonies at weddings are like sand ceremonies: the bride and groom mix two different jars of salt together and this signifies, like the individual grains of salt, that these two can never be separated ever again. It’s nice, it’s pleasant, and it’s touching in its own way. This wedding, however, was different. It was different because the salt covenant was nothing like any salt ceremony I had ever witnessed. No, this covenant of salt was very old and very biblical dating back to references in 2 Chronicles, Numbers, and Leviticus. And it was very serious stuff. I don’t recall many of the details, but I vaguely remember that it was a covenant of loyalty and fidelity between the bride and the groom. I distinctly remember, however, that this covenant ended with a promise; a promise of death if the covenant were to be broken. That was the part that kind of creeped me out. And then all of this was sealed with salt. Because of this salt, I found myself drawn to our text from the gospel of Mark today. It begins with John the disciple telling Jesus that (vs 38) “We saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” Wow, now that one speaks volumes. Jesus promptly tells him to back off saying “No one who does powerful acts in my name...

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“Whoever Accepts a Child Like This” September 23, 2018

Posted by on Oct 29, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“Whoever Accepts a Child Like This” Proverbs 31:10-31/ James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a/ Mark 9:30-37   One of my favorite authors of all time is a man named Leon Uris. He wrote mostly historical fiction, a lot of his books were about the Jewish struggles in the mid 1900’s. His book “Exodus” is a remarkable telling of the founding of the nation of Israel in the 1940’s. Mr. Uris didn’t limit himself to stories of modern day Jewish people, however. The book that came to mind while reading our Gospel text today was one called “The Haj.” It was a fascinating inside look at the life of a typical Muslim family at about this same time, and it didn’t paint a very pretty picture. One thing that stuck in my head was Uris’s description of the somewhat loveless way that Muslim children were raised. It was almost as if they were expected to raise themselves. Sure, there was a very strict code of ethics that was drilled into their heads from birth, but as long as you didn’t dishonor the family name, a child of Islam was on their own. I got the impression that children were considered lesser and not worthy of  time or consideration. Unfortunately, the same held true for society in the time of Christ. With that in mind, let’s hear the words of Mark again (vs 36) 36 Then Jesus took a small child and had him stand among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said, 37 “Whoever accepts a child like this in my name accepts me. And whoever accepts me accepts the One who sent me.” Our first thought is that Jesus was trying to teach them that everyone has equal value in the eyes of God. It’s a theme he taught over and over. And some folks like to get all sentimental about this connection between God-likeness and childlikeness; that Jesus likens children to God because children are so purely good, or unselfish, or accepting, or meek. Now, if I had never raised kids of my own I can see how I might get swept up into this sort of “Kumbaya” attitude, but to be honest, I don’t know any kids like that. The kids I know are feisty, clever, quick, fierce, generous, selfish, naughty, obedient, curious, bored, quiet, loud, challenging, funny, surprising, solemn, and exhausting. So why would Jesus say such a thing? Whoever accepts a child like this in my name accepts me. What’s the connection? In our gospel text today, Jesus tells his disciples that he must die and then in 3 days be raised from the dead, and I dare say they didn’t get it any better than the first time. (vs 32)  But the followers did not understand what Jesus meant, and they were afraid to ask him. Instead, they ended up arguing about who among them was the greatest,...

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