“The Renewal of Our Faith: That’s What Mountaintops Are For” March 3, 2019

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Sermon Archives

“The Renewal of Our Faith: That’s What Mountain Tops Are For” Exodus 34:29-35/ 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2/ Luke 9:28-36   Transfigure, transfigured, transfiguration: these are words we don’t use quite so much. Most dictionaries will tell us that to transfigure a thing means that we have transformed or changed that thing, but that’s not all. We also have transformed that thing into “something more beautiful or elevated.” If a frog turns into a prince, he is transfigured; but if a prince turns into a frog, he is, what…disfigured? I don’t know. Today, as you probably noticed, is the Sunday we set aside to celebrate the transfiguration of Christ. This mountaintop experience is recorded in all 3 of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, & Luke – and is important. When Jesus appeared to Peter, John, and James as this intense and bright and beautiful spirit, it wasn’t by accident. It was meant to impress, it was meant to inspire, it was designed to be remembered for all time. They needed that mountaintop experience to get them through some of the rough times ahead. They needed a vivid memory of what it is to see and to hear and to touch and to taste and to breathe in the power and the glory of God. They needed that because sooner or later, they were going to have to come down to the valley floor; and that’s when they will need to shine, that’s when they will need to be the light of Christ. So this is the story of Transfiguration Sunday: the last Sunday before the Lenten season begins. It’s all about power and majesty and ends with the voice of God telling the disciples, and all who have ears, “This is my son whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Every time I read through this text, I know it’s a little far-fetched but I can’t help but myself: I can feel the crackle in the air, I can see the bright light. It has always been the perfect uplifting and inspiring story to take us into the Lenten season. But not this time. Right about now, I’m having a hard time feeling elevated or beautiful or even spiritual, for that matter. Most of you are aware that our denomination held a special General Conference last week in St. Louis to settle once and for all the church’s position on homosexuality and same sex marriages. The debate is based on paragraph 304.3 in the United Methodist Book of Discipline which reads, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” This ruling was made in 1972, and a movement has been growing for the last 40 years or so to change this language, especially in the United States;...

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“The Glory of Our Faith: To Love As Jesus Loved” Feb. 24, 2019

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Sermon Archives

“The Glory of Our Faith: To Love as Jesus Loved” Genesis 45:3-11,15 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50 Luke 6:27-38   From the Jewish website Aish.com I found this little gem about forgiveness. Rabbi Epstein was giving his Yom Kippur sermon about forgiveness and during his speech he asked his congregation, “how many of you have forgiven your enemies?” About half held up their hands. He then rephrased his question, “how many of you want to forgive your enemies?” Slowly, every hand in the congregation went up, except for one. Little old Sadie Horowitz. “Mrs. Horowitz?” inquired the Rabbi, “are you not willing to forgive your enemies, especially on this Day of Atonement when God forgives us all?” “I don’t have any enemies” Mrs. Horowitz replied, smiling sweetly. “Mrs. Horowitz, that is most impressive. How old are you?” “Ninety-eight,” she replied “Oh Mrs. Horowitz, what a blessing and a lesson to us all you are. This is remarkable. Would you please stand up and in front of this congregation tell us all how a person can live ninety- eight years and not have an enemy in the world?” Little old Mrs. Horowitz got up slowly, smiled, faced the congregation, and said “I outlived all those old yentes, that’s how.” This will be our 7th week in the season of Epiphany – that is the time period between January 6th and Ash Wednesday. And during this time, we have read from the prophets Jeremiah & Isaiah, we have read from Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, have looked at the Psalms of David, and have visited again the early ministry of Christ as told in the gospel of Luke. This is normal stuff for this time of year, but this time around I have tried to preach these timeless scriptures with a different twist. I have looked at them as a way to explore our faith: our individual faith, our faith as a congregation, and our faith as United Methodists. And it’s been challenging – challenging because rethinking our faith will always require a certain level of honesty that, well…is not always that comfortable. For example, while reading the 2nd part of the well known “Sermon on the Plain” in the gospel of Luke, it occurred to me how easy it is for us to dismiss the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” – hmm. “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer them the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either.”  Wonderful sentiments, don’t you think? But honestly, it just ain’t going to happen; not for those of us who live in the real world. And so – let’s be honest – we dismiss them. We blow them off, and we do...

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“The Strength of Our Faith: God’s Gift to a Parched World” Feb. 17, 2019

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019 in Sermon Archives

“The Strength of Our Faith: God’s Gift to a Parched World” Psalm 1:1-6/ Jeremiah 17: 5-10 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Luke 6:17-26   I would venture to guess that everyone here who has owned a television is familiar with the long running series called “Hee Haw.” It was a music and comic variety show starring Roy Clark and Buck Owens, full of one liners, country music, and short skits that entertained in spite of the fact that the show took the concept of cornball to a level no one had ever dared to go in the past. But people loved it and it lasted some 23 years; the final episode was aired on June 19, 1992. Now I bring this up because for some reason while studying our Gospel text from Luke today, I got to thinking about ‘’Oh, that’s good. No, that’s bad.” Do you remember that skit? Once a week, Roy Clark would walk into the barber shop to get a haircut, and the barber, played by Archie Campbell, would pretend to cut his hair and engage in some kind of goofy conversation. The ones I remember best were the “Oh, that’s good. No, that’s bad,” skits. “Say Roy, I suppose you heard I won the lottery. $50,000!” “Oh, that’s good.” “No, that’s bad, because the IRS came along and took half of it.”  “Oh, that’s bad.” “No, that’s good, because with that $25,000 I went and bought myself an airplane and took me some lessons to learn how to fly it. I got pretty good at it, too.” “Oh, that’s good.” “No, that’s bad. See, I got showing off and while I was flying upside down I fell out of the plane and was falling to the ground.” “Oh, that’s bad.” “No, that’s good, because I looked below me and saw that I was heading for the biggest haystack you’ve ever seen.” “Oh, that’s good.” “No, that’s bad, because in that haystack was a pitchfork sticking up pointing right at me.” “Oh, that’s bad.” “No. that’s good because I missed the pitchfork.” “Oh, that’s good.” “No, that’s bad because I missed the haystack, too.” Oh, that’s good; no, that’s bad. Like so much of our humor, the funniest stuff is the material that rings the truest. Today’s reading from Luke probably sounds familiar. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blesses are you who weep now, for you will laugh…” These words that Jesus spoke to his disciples in what is called the “Sermon on the Plain” sound a lot like the words he spoke to the crowds in Matthew’s record of the “Sermon on the Mount.” Now we could argue all day about whether these are just two different versions of the same thing or what have you, but...

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“The Joy of Our Faith and Other Great Fishing Stories” February 10, 2019

Posted by on Feb 11, 2019 in Sermon Archives

“The Joy of Our Faith, and Other Great Fishing Stories” Isaiah 6:1-8 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Luke 5:1-11   One of the most memorable fishing trips I have known didn’t start out as a fishing trip at all. I’m not really sure what it was we were doing in the dead of winter that day many years ago out in the brush outside of Keystone, So. Dakota but I do remember I was with a rather disreputable fellow named Jim Green and had my long haired Irish setter named Scarlet with us. We were probably looking to shoot some grouse for supper. I also remember lots of snow. Eventually, we came up to a creek called Battle Creek and I must have made some remark that it’s not very often that the shelf ice can get so thick along the edges like this. It has to get pretty doggone cold to freeze up a mountain stream like this. That’s when Jim had this dandy of an idea. “I bet there’s fish in there,” he said. “Fish in where?” “In the creek, you dufus!” “Yea, makes sense to me. So what’s the plan? D’you want Scarlet to flush them out or do you happen to have a rod and reel in your back pocket?” I said. “Naw, we don’t need a pole,” he snorted, “we’ll hand fish ‘em.” Now, like I said young Jim Green was a little on the unconventional side. He had grown up in the remote areas of rural Alaska and let’s just say, they do things a bit different up there. One of those things, evidently, was hand fishing. “When it gets like this,” he said, “the fish will lay up underneath the ice and just hang out. The secret is not to spook them.”  And as he’s telling me this, he’s handing me his goose down coat and he’s rolling up his sleeve and I’m thinking that he’s going to a lot of trouble to pull off some kind of a joke on me; I just couldn’t figure out what it might be. But when he layed down on the ice and stuck his bare arm in that icy water, I knew he was dead serious. “A little cold, ain’t it?” I asked. “It only stings for a little bit,” he chattered, “then you go numb. But now listen, when you find ‘em under the ice – if you find them – you need to rub their bellies real easy until they calm down and then slide your fingers up to their gills and then…WHAMMO.” And as he said this, a 10 inch trout came flying out of the water and landed on the opposite bank. Scarlet, ever the bird dog and retriever ran over to make sure it didn’t flop back into the water. I couldn’t believe it. “I told you there was fish in...

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“The Courage of Our Faith” February 3, 2019

Posted by on Feb 11, 2019 in Sermon Archives

“The Courage of Our Faith, (Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You)” Jeremiah 1:4-10 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4:21-30   I’m remembering a large church in my old hometown that I had no desire to ever attend, yet I would go out of my way to drive by this place. You see, they had a large reader board out by the highway and I swear they must have hired a staff whose only job was to find newer and more ridiculous one-liners to place on this board for everyone to see. And as much as they made me cringe or sometimes even moan out loud, I couldn’t resist. It’s like a train wreck: you want to look away but–you-just-can’t. They covered all the oldies but goodies: “God accepts knee mail” is a standard. Some were actually quite clever. “Forgive your enemies; it messes with their heads,” comes to mind. I could go on and on, but let’s just say that we as Christians are quite fond of our one liners. They become part of our everyday, but let’s face it, they are not always as helpful as we might think. The first time someone told me that “God will not give you more than you can handle,” it wasn’t quite as comforting as they had intended. If anything, it made my bad situation even worse. Everything is falling apart and now you’re telling me that it is God who is throwing all this misery at me…but don’t worry, he knows your breaking point. He won’t cross that line. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not helpful. When Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, there wasn’t much chance he could wriggle out of it. This was a true call from God in every sense of the word. (Jer 1:4)  The word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Young Jeremiah was probably about 14 or 15 at the time so it’s no surprise that he answered, Alas, my Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am too young. (vs 7) But the Lord said to me, “Do not say I am too young. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I will rescue you,” says the Lord. And at that point, Jeremiah began a long and unusual career as a spokesman for God almighty; he was appointed (vs 10) over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. But you know, he was just wild and crazy enough that he pulled it off. Ralph Milton says, “I’ve always liked Jeremiah because he’s wild and crazy and not...

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“Whatever He Tells You, Do It” January 20, 2019

Posted by on Jan 22, 2019 in Sermon Archives

“Whatever He Tells You, Do It” Isaiah 62:1-5 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 John 2:1-11   I don’t like being told what to do; never have and probably never will. But in my defense, I would venture a guess that there isn’t a soul in this room who doesn’t have at least a little of that 2 year old mentality that loves to tell the world, “I don’t wanna – you can’t make me.” If you tell me, “Be careful, that’s hot,” I’m going to step up and get as close as I can to see just how hot that really is. Or if you say, “That paint is still wet,” why is it that my right index finger immediately reaches out to make a big old beautiful smudge on your freshly painted wall? Why? Because I don’t like being told what to do; never have and probably never will. For the next few weeks, I would like to explore….well, our faith. Now I certainly don’t have the authority to lecture on all the dos and don’ts of Christian faith. It’s way too personal and changes constantly. But I am broken enough and I am curious enough that I can hopefully ask the right questions and maybe come up with a few observations. Because let’s face it, faith is a curious thing. Without it, we can get along OK in this world. We can get up in the morning, do the work we need to do so that we are able to feed ourselves and furnish some kind of shelter to sleep in so that we can get up the next day and do it again. And I’m not saying this a bad thing. It happens all the time. Along the way, we can have relationships, we can fall in love, we can rob banks, we can build empires, we can coach little league baseball – heck, we can do it all! We can do it all…without…faith. And then we’re done. And along the way we will hopefully learn from our mistakes and be able to take real joy in our successes; not a bad deal, all in all. But like I said, faith is a curious thing. Those who live by faith – who live in faith – they aren’t a whole lot different. They can do it all, they can have it all. They collect stamps, knick knacks, old cars,  and some, I imagine, even collect traffic tickets. But folks who live in Christian faith do it all a bit different. There seems to be real purpose to how they start their day. Words like “redemption” and “salvation” don’t make them uncomfortable. If anything, it gives them a sense of peace, a sense of joy. And speaking of joy – these people of faith take joy in the weirdest things: things like food banks and soup kitchens. They’re always...

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