Nov 12, 2017 “A Handful of Aces”

Posted by on Nov 23, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“A Hand Full of Aces” Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25/ 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18/ Matthew 25:1-13   In our excursion into the Book of Joshua today, we pick up the story at the end. Joshua, who has spent his life leading the nation of Israel into the promised land, is finally at the place in his life when he knows his days are numbered. It’s been a long slog. I mean, it’s not like this land that was promised to the multitudes of Jewish was just sitting there waiting for them. No, they basically had to go in and take it. With that being said, it’s safe to say that the bulk of the book of Joshua is all about war and treachery and plunder. Yet, the promise of Moses and of the Lord carried them through. It’s a fascinating read; it’s violent, it’s messy, and it is never boring. I often refer young folks to these early biblical writings when I hear complaints that the bible is too dry. Joshua is the 6th book in the OT scriptures. You might say it is the sequel to the Pentateuch, which are the first 5 books of the bible and the foundation of the Jewish faith. Joshua picks up the story, you could say, on the banks of the Jordan after Moses’s death. It’s a big moment. 400 + years of slavery in Egypt, 40 years of wandering through the desert, and now at last they’ve made it. The brass ring is hanging on the peg, the ripe fruit is hanging from the tree – now all we have to do is go in there and snatch it. And that is exactly what happens. It’s a big success, a happy ending at last. But throughout the book of Joshua, we are reminded that without God’s intervention- without God’s power – the nation of Israel would have been squashed like a bug. Now Joshua finds himself an old man whose day are numbered and with that special wisdom that comes to those who are at the end of their days, he calls the people together one last time. He calls them together on last time and tells them they must make a choice. (vs 14 MSG)  “So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship God.” Now this to me seems more like a commandment than a choice, which it is; but then he says, (vs 15) “If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living. As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.” “As...

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“WYSIWYG” Nov. 19, 2107

Posted by on Nov 23, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“WYSIWYG” Judges 4:1-7 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30   It’s funny; the things that stick with you in life. For example, when I was still in high school, one of the jobs I had was working in a service station. Now this was in the day when such places where called “service stations” because that’s what we did. Sure, we sold gas, but we also did oil changes and all sorts of minor auto repair as well. It was a great education for a young man straight off the farm. Now, I already had a handle on how to change oil and replace a starter, but my real education came in the form of dealing with the public. I learned how to be polite even when the customers weren’t, and I learned how to be nice when, well to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it. It was also my first experience with dealing with local law enforcement. The owner had a brother in the city police dept. and so it made perfect sense that our little service station was the go to place for the local boys in blue. They’d show up to get a tail light bulb replaced or some such thing, but more often than not, they’d hang around and tell stories. A lot of the things I heard were probably not suitable for a young 16 year old lad, but there was one little nugget of wisdom that has stayed with me to this day. We were talking about crime and punishment, or something along those lines, when one of the old timers spoke up and said, “The way I see it is that it don’t matter how much jail time you throw out there, these guys are still gonna try to pull it off if they think they can get away with it. It’s not the severity of the punishment that deters crime, it’s the surety of it. If these yahoos know they’re gonna get caught, they ain’t gonna do it. It’s that simple.” Words of wisdom from one who has lived it. So, yes, it’s the surety of the punishment that deters crime. Our gospel lesson today, however, takes this idea and flips it on its head. So let’s talk about this little gem that Matthew lays before us: the Parable of the Talents. It goes along just fine at first. The master is going away for a while and he leaves some cash with his servants telling them to use this money to go out and make more money. That’s the gist of it. He finally returns and asks how things went. The first two turned quite a profit and got a big pat on the back. “Well, done good and faithful servant.” Things are looking up. But then we get to the 3rd servant. This fellow, it seems, took the safe...

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“The Monsters of Love” Nov. 5, 2017

Posted by on Nov 10, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“Monsters of Love” Revelations 7:9-17/ 1 John 3:1-3/ Matthew 5:1-12   (Luke 10:25-28) 25 Then an expert in the law stood up to test him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the law?” he asked him. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.” 28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.” Our bishop, Elaine Stanovsky, established this particular scripture to be not only the theme for Annual Conference last June, but for the entire conference for the entire year. “Do this and you will live.” Luke follows this conversation with the well-known story of the Good Samaritan and we still hold this parable in high regard to this day. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the great commandment. We know it well, we know it by heart; and we come to understand that it is the mantra – the driving power and force – that saints are made of. Today, we celebrate All Saint’s Day. So what is a saint? The best explanation I found, surprisingly, came from the author and song writer Leonard Cohen who wrote, “A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love.” And there you have it – “the energy of love.” I need to hold onto that; we need to hold onto that. We need to hold onto that because speaking for myself, the Feast of All Saint’s Day has always inspired in me a slight sense of dread. I can’t help it. It is a time when we remember and honor those who have come before us: the saints in our lives. But out of habit, my mind tells my heart that it is a time to grieve; a time for loss and pain. I grieve the loss of them that I can no longer lean on them in times of trouble; that I can no longer feel rest assured that these, my saints, are no longer around to hold me up when the rest of the world is pushing me down. And I dread the pain: the pain of knowing that I wasn’t there for them as much as I could have been; that I wasn’t a loving, supportive son or friend or brother. I was selfish, just as grieving their loss is selfish as well. I can moan and groan and beat my head against the wall, but in the end, it’s all about me – what I have lost, what I can have no more. And once...

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“The Two-Headed Coin” October 22, 2017

Posted by on Oct 25, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“The Two-Headed Coin” Isaiah 45:1-7/ 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10/ Matthew 22:15-22   One of the rites of passage into adulthood has to be learning how to flip coins. The coin toss was always the great equalizer; it was the one thing that we came to believe could not be manipulated. And with that being said, us kids used to spend hours trying to figure out a way to predict how the coin would land while it was still in the air – to gain some kind of an edge; some sort of an advantage. We’d flip for anything: who goes first, who goes last, who gets the last piece of pie….you know the drill. And I recall always making a big deal out of looking at both sides of the coin being tossed if it wasn’t mine, because everybody knew that there were those unscrupulous types out there who carried around two-headed quarters just for such an occasion. But, they weren’t going to pull that on me. I was too smart for that. Funny thing is, I never did run across one of these infamous “double headers.” Just my luck. Truth be told, I’m kind of glad I never had the chance to own one. It probably would have gotten me in trouble. The coin in today’s gospel text is a bit more conventional- the denarius. Now, the denarius was the standard payment for a days work of labor. It was the minimum wage of the time, you might say. And you have to admit, it did take the guess work out of what you will get paid whether it be a day working in the vineyard or digging ditches; sweeping the streets or hoeing corn. The almighty denarius was the great equalizer and it was also the monetary standard used for paying your taxes to the Roman empire. So, let’s read the story of this encounter once more: (Matt 22:15) 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to trap him by what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You don’t care what anyone thinks nor do you show partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” First of all, I find it interesting that the Pharisees sent their disciples, their students, to lay this little trap. I suspect they were hoping to catch Jesus with his guard down. Also, we should understand who the Herodians were. They were not necessarily a part of the Jewish religious leadership. They were basically Jewish citizens who, for whatever reasons, thought that life under Herod’s rule was not such a bad deal. So, these are the players: the students of the Pharisees and Jewish folks who professed that Herod was a great guy...

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“….You Might Be a Pharisee” October 15, 2017

Posted by on Oct 16, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“….You Might Be a Pharisee” Isaiah 25:1-10/ Philippians 4:1-4/ Matthew 22:1-14   I’m hoping that most all of us here are familiar with the comedian Jeff Foxworthy. He’s the one that made “you might be a redneck” about the most famous punchline ever. You know them: “If you made up your own social security number, you might be a redneck.” Or “if your financial planner advised you to buy lottery tickets, you might be a redneck. If you’ve ever made change in the offering plate, then you might be a redneck.” And then there is “if you were baptized on a boat ramp, you might be a redneck.” The list, obviously, goes on and on. What always gets me about Foxworthy’s humor is that even though these little digs are directed at the blue collar crowd that he loves, nobody seems to take offense. It is satire at its best. “If you’ve ever been fired from a construction site because of your appearance, you might be….” Somebody stop me. I find it heartwarming that Foxworthy emphasizes the Bible as a guide for his everyday life. In a 2012 interview, he said, “Rather than going and sitting in a service for an hour every Sunday and that being the extent of my faith, it’s more important that I live it out. I lead a Bible study with homeless guys on Tuesday mornings here in Atlanta; been doing it for years. That’s the guys I’d rather go talk to. I’d rather take my act outside the church.”   He lives from a compassionate heart, he loves those who the world has mocked, and he makes us all smile in the process. So, I got to thinking – isn’t this what Jesus is doing to the Pharisees and church leaders in a way? For the last few weeks, we have been reading of a religious ruling class desperate to trip this troublemaker – the one they call Jesus of Nazareth – but Jesus wasn’t falling for it. Instead, he has answered their questions and accusation with parables, or stories, that seem to have nothing at all to do with the subject at hand. But in reality, they do, and in the end it becomes apparent that it is the church leaders who have some answering to do. So I got to thinking, what would Jeff Foxworthy do with these guys? I can just imagine he might speak to the crowd on the streets of Jerusalem saying something like, “If you’ve ever shouted ‘Amen’ more than 50 times during a sermon about somebody else’s sin, then you might be a Pharisee.” Or how about, “If you think the world would be a better place if everyone were just like you, then you might be a Pharisee.”  Or, in the case of today’s gospel lesson, “If you leave your party clothes at home and, instead,...

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“That Kind of Mad” October 8, 2017

Posted by on Oct 16, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“That Kind of Mad” Isaiah 5:1-7/ Philippians 3:4b-14/ Matthew 21:33-46   (Matt 21:33) 33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. So, OK. Jesus has come to Jerusalem for the last time. He made a grand entrance on the back of a donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna! Hosanna to the son of David.” It was the moment everyone had been waiting for, because this was the moment when the true Messiah was going to show up send the Romans packing. The nation of Israel would once again be free from oppression, free from foreign rulers, and free to going back to whatever they had been doing before. But Jesus didn’t attack the Romans. Instead, he marched into the temple courtyard and saw a lot of money being made. He saw money being squeezed from people who could scarcely afford to even be there.  On top of that, they had to exchange their money for the local currency (for a commission, I’m sure.) And then with this money, they were required to purchase some kind of animal to hand over to the priests to be slaughtered and thrown into the fire. O, and did I mention, they weren’t allowed to keep the meat. That would be a terrible sin. But the people willingly went along  because the law of Moses instructed them to do this. The law, that is, as it was taught to them by the Pharisees and elders of the church. Yes, there was a lot of money being made, and you can bet that the dudes in the long flowing robes and fancy hats were making a killing. So what happens? Jesus, the son of David, the man many were calling a Prophet; this messiah that was going to trample Rome into the dirt; he does the last thing a law abiding Jew might do. He storms into the temple andturns over the tables of the money changers and pretty much makes a shambles of the whole thing. The goose that laid the golden egg was dead and the Pharisees and chief priests wanted someone to pay. In last weeks gospel text from Matthew, we found the chief priest asking Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?” This begins a long and remarkable conversation between Christ and the leaders of the temple, with Jesus doing most of the talking. And true to form, Jesus makes his point with these men through parables; through stories. It is plain to see that he is not too happy with the way that these men entrusted with God’s work are doing their job. Jesus is not happy. In fact, he is downright mad. You know the kind of mad you...

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