“….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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“Papers, Please” October 1, 2017

Posted by on Oct 16, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“Papers, Please” Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32   A minister told his congregation, “Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17.” The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Mark 17. Several went up. The minister smiled and said, “Mark has only sixteen chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying.” In commenting on our Gospel text for today, the retired minister Fred Craddock writes, “The parable says that responses to God are of two kinds: that of the person who has said no but who repents and whose life says yes; and that of the person who says yes but whose life says no.” Now, even though I can agree with this statement in general, I have a hard time believing our response to God can be boiled down as simply a “two kinds” type of thing. It’s like saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.” But it does get us to thinking. It gets us to thinking of how many times we have said no only to turn around later on and say yes. And it really gets us to thinking of how many we have said yes when our life has said no. Steve Garness-Holmes put it right when he quoted Matt.21:28 saying, The first son said, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The second said, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? —Matthew 21.28-31 And the kicker came to me when Rev. Holmes finished by saying, “They are not two, of course. I am both.” I am both, and boy, I thought, ain’t that the truth. How many times have we said yes, only to find ourselves living the no? In his book, “The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion,” Methodist minister Martin Thielen says he recently saw a letter a neighboring pastor received from a family that had become inactive in the church. After listing a series of familiar reasons for their absence, (summer time at the lake, busy weekends with soccer and basketball and vacation trips at Christmas, etc,) they close their letter with these words, “But one of these days, don’t be surprised when you look up and see us out there in the congregation, because we just love you, and we just love our church.” “We just love our church;” we just can’t be bothered with showing up and participating in any noticeable way. That is a pretty clear example of saying yes while living no. There...

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“The God Job” Sept. 24, 2017

Posted by on Sep 28, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“The God Job” Exodus 16:2-15/ Philippians 1:21-30/ Matthew 20:1-16   Some years ago, Margie and I had the opportunity to leave the snow and cold of Montana to fly to Phoenix for Thanksgiving. Allegiant Airlines was offering an $89 round trip ticket, so we went to visit her oldest son who was going to school there at the time. Needless to say, it was delightful. The wool coats and insulated boots were safely tucked away back home where they belonged and for the first time we truly understood the concept of becoming a “snowbird.” But being a northerner in the desert Southwest is not without a bit of culture shock. One of my lasting impressions was the day workers. In Phoenix, there seemed to be certain areas where men stood in the morning hoping to get hired for the day. They were a sad looking lot – mostly Hispanic – that showed up every morning looking for work. Evidently, those looking to hire people for temporary labor for the day would drive up, explain the job required and the pay, and ask who wanted to go. I didn’t know the details- how they got paid, what kind of work, that sort of thing – but it left an impression on me. It left an impression because it brought back memories of the times when I found myself swamping out chicken coops and hoeing vegetable patches through temp labor agencies. And though I didn’t mind it at the time, it was clear I wasn’t about to do this forever. For now, it was just a job: something to do to buy a few groceries and maybe put a roof over my head. I was grateful to have the work. It was enough. And so it is that I can identify with the parable of the vineyard workers in today’s gospel text. They were out there bright and early and agreed to do the work for the going rate. Everything is above board and everyone knows where they stand. But then things get weird. The owner of the vineyard finds himself back at the employment office a couple hours later and hires a few more workers promising to make it right. But he’s not done yet. Evidently, he is hoping to harvest the entire vineyard in one day which is usually the way it goes – when the grapes are ready to press, you need to get busy. And so he keeps at it –hiring a 3rd crew at noon, a 4th crew around 3:00, and then finally a 5th crew about an hour before quitting time. Now that’s a busy day! But it’s also the nature of the wine business. Anyone who has ever worked a crush knows what I mean. The kicker comes when it’s time to get paid. (vs 8) “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard...

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“A Stretch of the Imagination” Sept. 17, 2017

Posted by on Sep 28, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“A Stretch of the Imagination” Exodus 14:19-31 Romans 14:1-12 Matthew 18:21-35   I’m not sure where this story came from, but it is the set up for a tale of how some young ranch kids figured out how to build fence in frozen ground. Anyhow, it starts out like this: “This adventure took place about 1939. I was about eight years old. It was so cold that winter that we had to put stockings on all the bare table legs and two coats of paint on our house. Back then, we always planted and raised a small cash crop of knobby sticks for walking canes. Just before harvest time, out in the field, you have to heat and bend the handles over. But before the knobby canes were ripe, we were caught by an early freeze and the crop was too brittle, so we lost it. We knew we were in for a hard winter when the grasshoppers’ skins began to grow good-looking fur coats. The weather was so cold the chickens went off their feed and got as thin as split splinters. They began laying thin eggs that looked like silver dollars. When they finally stopped laying eggs altogether, dad sold the hens to the hardware store for weather vanes.” And on and on it goes. Like I said, this is the set up for an even larger and taller tale about building fence in 100 below weather. And like most tall tales, there is nothing that is too extreme to be off limits. That’s what makes them fun. But one thing I’ve noticed with these tall tales is that amidst all the nonsense and buffoonery, there’s usually a message of some sort; a lesson that we can take with us that just might make the world a better place. For years, I used to think that the spinning of tall tales was unique to American folklore – the stories of Paul Bunyan come to mind – but we don’t have the sole rights to exaggeration. Think about it. How many of the parables of Jesus stretched our imagination to the point of snapping in two? A lot of them. That’s what parables do: they stretch out our thinking. They can pull us into those delightful “aha” moments and they can pull us into places where we might not be so comfortable. But when the story is over we can usually say that it was always to make a greater point. It was always to make a point. (Matt18:21) Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but 70 times 7.” What would we do without Peter? He’s like the one kid in class that is always asking the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask. “How many times,...

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“The Only Love You Need” Sept. 10, 2017

Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in Sermon Archives

“The Only Law You Need” Exodus 12:1-14 Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20   You know, I always marvel at how you can raise the stress level in a room or a congregation just by saying the word – theology. So there, I said it. For the record, theology can be defined as “a study of the nature of God and religious beliefs.” No wonder it makes us nervous. It sounds complicated and we have done a great job of making it as complicated as possible. There’s mimetic theology and systemic theology, liberation and Augustinian and a whole raft somewhere in between. But like it or not, those of us who proclaim a life of faith have all become theologians to some extent. It comes with the territory. And it’s common knowledge that our study of “the nature of God” has taken us down some windy roads over the years. Whether it be from a formal seminary type education or from discussions in bible studies or around the dinner table, our study of the nature of God and religion will bring us, sooner or later, to certain conclusions. And that’s where things can get sticky, because how we come to understand the nature of God and what he requires from us will determine, more or less, who we become; how we behave. As Christians, our understanding of God plays a major role in the way we treat and the way we understand the 7.5 billion children of God that live on this planet. A God of love and compassion inspires us to lives of…well, of love and compassion. On the other hand, a God of wrath and retribution can have an entirely different effect. So, our study of the nature of God is important. It’s important because sooner or later we’re going to come up with some conclusions. And sooner or later, we’re going to carry those conclusions out into the world. It was a guy named Emo Philips who jokingly wrote, “When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.” Now that’s bad theology. The “aha” moment came when Mr. Philips realized the Lord doesn’t work that way. The “oops” moment came when he didn’t take the time to figure out just how the Lord does work. Which brings us to the timeless message from Exodus 12: the story of the Passover. It is to this day the most important celebration for those of the Jewish faith and anyone here who has attended a Seder Meal has gotten a taste of the solemn importance of the Passover meal. But let’s face it – the whole thing was a bit bizarre. The nation of Israel had lived in slavery for generations but through it all,...

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