“A Thrill of Hope” Dec. 2, 2018

Posted by on Dec 3, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“A Thrill of Hope” Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36   O holy night! The stars are brightly shining, It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born;             I believe, whether we care to admit it or not, that every one of us has a favorite Christmas carol or hymn or song. “O Holy Night” has got to be mine. But you know, for the life of me, I can’t explain why. It has all the ingredients that I usually try to avoid. It’s drippy and schmaltzy with old world lyrics sang to a grandiose melody that can only be pulled off by the likes of Pavarotti or Josh Groban. But I can’t help it, it gets me every time. So I set out to understand why; what is it about “O Holy Night” that touches folks on such a deep and personal level? Come to find out, the carol we know as “O Holy Night” started out as a poem. You see, in the mid 1800’s, the church in the little town of Roquemaure, France had just renovated their organ and to celebrate this glorious event, the parish priest asked a local wine merchant and poet by the name of Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem. Evidently, that’s how things were done in those days – you tune the piano, you write a song. Now at this point, I was totally intrigued especially after learning that our local wine merchant and occasional poet had never shown any interest in religion at all, as far as anyone could tell. But he agreed to write this poem to celebrate the newly renovated organ and it wasn’t long before the poem “Minuit Chretiens” or Midnight Christians was set to music by a certain Adolphe Adam. It was premiered in little Roquemaure in 1847 by the opera singer Emily Laurey and the rest is, as they say, history. It was later in 1855 that the Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight translated the song into the English lyrics that we know today. How about that; and just think – it all started because the organ at the church broke down. Now ordinarily, if you want to tarnish something beautiful – take the shine off the apple, if you will – the best way to do that is to study it to death: to analyze and criticize and cauterize until the magic just disappears. And I thought that would be the case with the wine merchant and never religious poet from Roquemaure. I thought for sure that the more...

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“A King Changes Everything” Nov. 25, 2018

Posted by on Dec 3, 2018 in Sermon Archives

“A King Changes Everything” 2 Samuel 23:1-7 Revelations 1:4b-8 John 18:33-37   “Today is both the end and the climax of the Christian year. Today we indulge ourselves in a holy nonsense which is in fact the most beautiful truth: we celebrate the festival of Christ the King. He had no troops and built no palace, yet his rule is now boundless. He had no throne and wore no crown, yet as a king he is on his own. The truth, grace, and peace of Christ the King be with you all.” I wish that I could tell you who it was that wrote this introduction to this special day. I’d like to give credit where credit is due. Nonetheless, it seems like a great idea to “indulge ourselves in a holy nonsense which is in fact the most beautiful truth: a king changes everything. And furthermore, I believe we have permission to take this special day and use it however we see fit. After all, it is not a religious festival that has been handed down from the mouth of God to the ears of Moses. In fact, the Feast of Christ the King is fairly recent. It was first instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to a growing attitude that the church should have no influence on how a nation governs itself along with a resurgence of nationalism in the church. I’d like to think that it was meant to be a gut check: to dedicate a day in the Christian year to really, really take stock of who is in charge here. This festival was originally known as “The Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” Wow- now that’s a mouthful. It wasn’t until the Protestant churches adopted this holiday that things got real – at least that’s the way I’m seeing it. So let’s do it; let’s indulge ourselves in a little holy nonsense, which is in fact the most beautiful thing. As we approach the time of Advent, the time that we “await” the birth of the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace, let’s visit the fundamentals of our faith – the peace that has come into our hearts and the joy in our souls – because of all the rulers and leaders and heroes in this world, there is only one who we can call a King without feeling embarrassed or phony or ill-informed, and that is Jesus of Nazareth. Ralph Milton, who writes a religious blog called “Rumors” had an interesting piece on Pontius Pilate. He told the story leading up to our gospel text today from the perspective of Pilate’s wife. She starts out saying, “I wonder sometimes, if they might have been friends. If they had met in some other circumstances, I think my husband and Jesus might have liked each other....

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“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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