“You Can’t Go Back Home Again” July 8, 2018

Posted by on Jul 14, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“You Can’t Go Back Home Again” 2 Samuel 5:1-5,9-10 or Ezekiel 2:1-7 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13   First of all, let me say it is good to be back – back home – and I have to confess that nothing gives you new perspective on the place you now call home more than by going back to a place that you used to call home, only to find out that it is no more. Different time, different place. Now right off the bat, I have to give Mark credit for writing about Jesus’ homecoming the way it was. I mean, if we are to totally believe in the ultimate powers of Christ, how are we to understand the statement, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them;” a statement which was followed by, “and he marveled at their unbelief.” And so today I’d like to talk about homecomings. They’re complicated, they’re confusing, and they rarely turn out to be a heartwarming as we had hoped. I’d like to start this conversation by reading you a letter, but first you will need a little background to get the full understanding of why it is that I say you can’t go back home again. Last week I was in south western So. Dakota where Margie was born and raised. Her two sisters also showed up and besides celebrating the fourth together, which was a family tradition, they had also committed to sorting through the last of their mother’s things that were locked in a storage unit. When I walked in the house I was surrounded by boxes and boxes of paper. There were magazines, old sheet music for band and piano and who knows what else, and then there were letters. I swear her mother kept every letter and note that had ever been written to her and here they all were. It was a nightmare. There was the obvious tension over who gets to keep what and all that, but the revelation that made me chuckle was learning that grandma Grace, who everyone simply adored, had a bit of a mean streak. Now, I know this is private family stuff but I did get their permission to speak on this today. So OK, 3 things: (1) all the grandkids loved grandma Grace. She was quirky, she spoke her mind, and she let you do whatever you wanted.  (2) Grandma Grace was a bit on the bossy side, especially to her own children, and (3) Mary Two Eagle was a local native American woman who made her living by dressing in traditional beads and buckskins and posing for pictures with the tourist crowd that showed up by the thousands in Custer, S Dakota every summer. So there’s the set up. Grandma Grace is writing her daughter...

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“Going Against the Grain” June 3, 2018

Posted by on Jun 7, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“Going Against the Grain” 1 Samuel 3:1-20/ 2 Corinthians 4:5-12/ Mark 2:23-3:6 You know, I’ve said it before: “If you want the bare bones of the gospel, if you’re looking to learn about the life of Christ and his ministry on this earth, and what it means to you, and you are pressed for time, then the gospel of Mark is for you.” David Lose calls it a narrative whirlwind. For example, in the first chapter alone, Jesus is baptized, tempted in the desert, announces his ministry, calls his disciples, casts out an unclean spirit, heals a bunch of people gathered at Simon Peter’s home, goes on a preaching tour, and cleanses a leper. All in a mere 45 verses! And by the end of all this, his fame has spread so far and wide he finds it hard to even go out for bite to eat without getting mobbed by a crowd. So you get the idea; a narrative whirlwind. Now, I’m telling you this because for the next 8 weeks we will be reading from the gospel of Mark, and so a little back story would be a good idea. Folks thought for years that Mark was written by John Mark who had traveled with the Apostle Paul for a short time, but scholars pretty much agree that’s not the case. We’re not really sure who wrote it, but we do know that Luke and Matthew both borrowed from it. The gospel of Mark, then – at least to me – has a certain air of authority to it, if for no other reason than it was written first. But there is more to it than that. Our study today takes us late into the 2nd chapter, and Jesus’ new found celebrity has put him crossways with – wouldn’t you know it – the authorities. And not just your regular run of the mill authorities; no, and this is the crux of our lesson today. I find it incredibly interesting that Jesus’ first confrontations aren’t with the Romans, or with the local politicians, or with those living on the fringes of society; but with those who are the most religious. And it goes without saying that these confrontations only gets worse until finally the Pharisees and Sadducees have the ultimate satisfaction of seeing Christ on a cross. Today’s brouhaha starts out innocent enough: it’s a fight over the Sabbath; a fight over who enforces the rules. I have un-fond memories of working on Forest Service timber sales. The rules were hard and fast and woe to anyone who thinks they can ignore them. The date for the beginning of fire season, if I remember, was May 20th. After this date, all equipment had to have the proper fire safety tools or you were simply shut down. There were times when we considered putting anti-freeze in the water...

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“No Guts, No Glory” May 27, 2018

Posted by on Jun 2, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“No Guts, No Glory” Isaiah 6:1-8/ Romans 8:12-17/ John 3:1-17 There was a party going on in this particular cruise ship. Yes, I understand that every day on a cruise is supposed to be a party, but this was special. The grand ballroom was packed and the ship’s purser had been given the miserable task of counting heads; miserable because no one would sit still. It seemed that every passenger on the ship was there and they were all milling around, talking, and laughing and everyone was in high spirits. It was one heck of a party, especially for 1:00 in the afternoon on a Monday. At the front of the ballroom was a long table with a blazing white tablecloth and seated at this table was the caption, the first mate, and pretty near the entire staff of the cruise ship. Every one of them was beaming as they laughed and joked with passengers and fellow staff members alike. Like I said, it was a special gathering and spirits were high. Now, at the center of the table, between the caption and the 1st mate, sat an elderly man. He stood out by the obvious fact that he was the guest of honor. He also stood out by the obvious fact that he was not having a good time. In fact, he looked downright miserable. He squirmed in his chair and kept looking off to the side doors as if he was planning his escape. But he was the guest of honor and all eyes were upon him. You see, the day before, the unthinkable had happened on this pleasure cruise: someone had fallen overboard. The alarm had sounded, but by the time the crew arrived to toss in the life buoys to save this poor woman, it looked like she was about to go under for the last time. That’s when everyone noticed the guest of honor flying through the air and into the water below. He immediately swam to the drowning woman and was able to cling to her long enough that a life raft could be deployed and soon everyone was back on deck, safe and sound. So, yes there was reason for celebration and the time had finally come for the fidgety, uncomfortable guest of honor to stand up and address the crowd. A hush fell upon the room as every single man, woman, and child held their breath to hear the words that this wonderful, brave man might have to say. “This is a moment we will never forget,” they thought to themselves. And they were right, because as the old man cleared his throat and scowled across the room, every man, woman, and child heard him say the words, “All I want to know is which one of you pushed me in!” Now my point is: this is not bravery. I mean,...

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“Where’s The Fire?” May 20, 2018

Posted by on Jun 2, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“Where’s The Fire?” Psalm 104:24-34, 35b Acts 2:1-22/ Romans 8:22-27 John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15   Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the Sunday that we celebrate that moment in history when Jesus made good on his promise that he would send to his disciples a helper- an advocate, a companion, a comforter – through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Did he dream this up; did he create this power out of thin air just for the occasion? No, he did not. The scriptures are full of references to God’s spirit from the Psalms and the prophets all the way through the gospels and writings of Paul. So I have to ask, what if someone from off the street walked up to you and said, “So tell me, what’s the skivvy on this Pentecost thing? There has to be more to it than a bunch of guys with their hair on fire talking a bunch of gibberish.” What would you say? Well, you might start by saying that the Jewish day of Pentecost celebrates the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai; that is, when Moses was given the laws by God that were to rule the nation of Israel. That’s the technical definition. Then you could explain that our fascination with Pentecost comes from the event we read from today in the book of Acts – an event that has been called many things: the awakening of the Spirit, the coming of the Spirit, and the birth of the church. You might say all these things and chances are you will be met with an awkward grin and something like, “O, I see,” when in fact, they don’t see at all. And so, we go on to explain what it all means: that the tongues of fire are a reference to John the Baptist who told the crowds (Matt 3:11) “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” So, OK, that makes sense. But why did the disciples start talking in different languages to the point where some folks thought they were drunk? To this you can reply that it signifies that the Good News of the Kingdom should be and will be told throughout all the earth. That’s why this event is often called “The birth of the church.” And there you have, but that’s about as far as you’re going to get. That’s as far as you’re going to get if you wrap up the Pentecost experience and then tie it with a big red bow. Maybe this person on the street or at the diner or on the airplane is satisfied with this perfectly concise explanation and you can part ways the best...

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“A Love Letter From God” May 6, 2018

Posted by on May 12, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“A Love Letter From God” Psalm 98 Acts 10:44-48/ 1 John 5:1-6 John 15:9-17   I think we all might agree that one of the most brilliant minds that ever was belonged to one Albert Einstein. Although he was best known for being a theoretical physicist and winning the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics, Einstein had a human side that was not only blessed by his intelligence but was also colored by his understanding of humanity and of God. It was while reading through our gospel text today from John that I chanced across Einstein’s last letter to his daughter, Lieserl, that somehow makes God’s command to love a whole lot easier to swallow. I would like to share this with you now: “There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love. This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will. To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits. After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer. Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet. However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released. When we learn to give...

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“Ain’t That Good News?” April 29, 2018

Posted by on May 12, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“Ain’t That Good News?” Psalm 22:25-31 Acts 8:26-40/ 1 John 4:7-21 John 15:1-8 He was 92 years old. And he was invited to preach an anniversary service. People in the pews were restless, wondering what the hoary old clergyman might do. Would he drop dead in the middle of the sermon? Would he go on and on and on? Slowly he made his way forward. He had no notes in his hand. He steadied himself on the pulpit and said, “When I was asked to come here today and talk to you, your pastor asked me to tell you about the greatest lesson ever learned in my 50 odd years of preaching. I thought about it for a few days and boiled it down to just one thing that made the most difference in my life and sustained me through all my trials – the one thing that I could always rely on when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear and sorrow paralyzed me. That one thing is: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, we are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me…the Bible tells me so.” This little story is usually credited to the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth which I find slightly hilarious; hilarious because this is the same Karl Barth whose volumes and volumes of writings on the book of Romans alone have caused many of his students to pull their hair out wishing he would simply get to the point. But that’s the thing about scripture: it can be both simple and drive-you-crazy complicated all at the same time. Today, I think we’ll stick with the simple. In our text from the book of Acts, Luke tells us of an encounter – an encounter between Phillip and an Ethiopian who had been to Jerusalem to visit the temple. Now, right off the bat you have to wonder what this guy was doing so far from home. He was obviously a man of means – he had a driver and carriage – but what gives here? He was also a black man and a gentile, and so was surely denied entrance into the temple itself. Yet, he came. He had heard of the God of Israel, had heard of the healings and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and he came. We can only imagine the suffering this man had known, and even though he was now in charge of the queen’s treasure and lived a comfortable life, the words he read from the scroll of Isaiah had to have touched a nerve. (Is 53:32) Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. These were powerful words; powerful words for a...

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