“What Are You Looking For?” January 19, 2020

Posted by on Jan 24, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“What Are You Looking For?” Isaiah 49:1-7 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42   When we read from the Gospels in our time together, it’s pretty well understood what to expect: that we will be reading from the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And it’s also pretty well understood that these 4 books from the New Testament are the core of our faith in Christ; they are the main “go-to” documents when it comes to our understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. They are the “go-to” writings, mostly, because the gospels are the closest thing we have to real life, first hand reports of the life and death of the son of God. The folks who wrote these manuscripts were either there when Jesus was alive, or they spoke with those who were. The first 3 gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are referred to as the “synoptic” gospels because they include many of the same stories in, more or less, the same order. If we read the stories in the original Greek, we’ll sometimes even find the exact same wording is used from one gospel to the next. The word “synopsis” is defined as “seeing all things together,” or “seeing the big picture,” if you will. As it pertains to the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke we could call it more like “giving an account of events from the same point of view.” The writer of these 3 books shared the same resources, the same stories, and so, came from the same point of view. The gospel of John, however, is different. It’s safe to say that John definitely is coming from a different point of view. In today’s reading, for example, we find Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry. John the Baptist is introducing him to the people of the town with some strong language: (vs 29) Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, then later (vs. 34) I have seen and I testify that this is the chosen one of God. A couple of John the Baptist’s disciples are curious, however, and start to follow Jesus around, not really sure how to approach the situation. That all changes when Jesus turns around to ask a simple question: “What are you looking for?” Not “what’s going on?” or “what’s happening?” or even “what are you looking at?”  No, he only asks “What are you looking for?” and this led to a beautiful and holy conversation which led to one of the disciples, Andrew, to later tell his brother Simon (vs. 41) that We have found the Messiah. Simon, if you recall, later was named Peter and became the rock upon which the church was to be built. So there we have it: Jesus begins his ministry with the conversion of a man named Andrew and his...

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“To Fulfill All Righteousness” January 12, 2020

Posted by on Jan 24, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“To Fulfill All Righteousness” Isaiah 42:1-9 Acts 10:34-43 Matthew 3:13-17   The young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw, for the first time, baptism by full immersion. The ceremony fascinated him; so much so that the next morning he proceeded to baptize…wouldn’t you know it…his 3 cats in the bathtub. The youngest kitten tolerated the dunking pretty well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tom cat wasn’t going to have anything to do with this nonsense. He struggled, he spit, he snarled, and the boy finally dropped him when the tom cat opened a gash on his arm. Salvation, however, was not to be denied and so with considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the “ceremony.” But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting and scratching the boy’s face. Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with some water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be a Methodist if you want to!” Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew tells the story of a very special baptism: the baptism of Christ. It’s worth mentioning that this account is found in all four of the gospels. Now, that  doesn’t happen very often, which tells us one thing for certain – this is important; this is a big deal. Baptism is a serious business. Wars have been fought and congregations have been split over the what and the how and the why of this holy sacrament.  Like I said, baptism is serious business. So, today let’s celebrate this wonderful sacrament that we call baptism. The easiest definition I know is that “Baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith.” (X2) It’s not the fancy baptismal font or the silver chalices that make a baptism; it’s the decision made in our hearts that we are ready to come clean. It’s a decision to tell the world of a God of grace who welcomes us in no matter what; it is telling the world that we want, that we choose to be smack dab in the middle of that. “An outward expression of an inward faith.” (Matt 3:13)  Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” I’ve got to say that for as long as I live, I will always get a chuckle out of that one. “And do you come to me?” I mean, here is John the Baptist, who preached day and night that we must repent of our sins; here is John who called the religious leaders who came to him a “brood of vipers”; here is John being asked by the one who is without sin to wash him clean....

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It Suddenly Occurred to Me…. I’ve Never Had an Epiphany” January 5, 2020

Posted by on Jan 24, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“It Suddenly Occurred to Me… I’ve Never Had an Epiphany” Jeremiah 31:7-14 Ephesians 1:3-14 John 1:1-18 (TLB)   Welcome; welcome one and all. It occurred to me that this particular Sunday is pretty special. First of all, this Sunday marks the beginning of a new year, a new decade, and it’s hard to ignore all the hope and anticipation that comes from fresh starts and new beginnings. This Sunday is special because the Ducks squeaked out a win at the Rose Bowl, I have a new granddaughter, and I can’t help but feel a sense of urgency for the New Year that is coming upon us: an urgency in our denomination, and urgency in our nation, and an urgency on the world stage. It’s special, also, because this Sunday marks the end of the Christmas season. The feast of the Epiphany is officially tomorrow on January 6th, the 12th day after Christmas, so for those who are strict traditionalist, you are now permitted to take down the Christmas tree. We generally associate the Epiphany with the coming of the Wise Men – the Magi – to Bethlehem to visit the Christ child. The story that Matthew tells has fascinated us for years. I mean, who were these guys?  What inspired them, what motivated them, to travel all that distance? Was it a hunch or a calculated risk? Matthew writes (Mat 2:2) behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Now this doesn’t sound to me like the words of those who are unsure of themselves. No, these wise men were positive- they were convinced – that the Messiah had come, and they weren’t going to miss it for the world. And that’s the power of an epiphany. It’s not a gradual thing. It’s not a revelation that comes after careful consideration. No, an epiphany is “all of a sudden” and when it hits you, it hits you like a ton of bricks. My point is, when it comes to our faith journey – that is usually a good thing. For the next ten weeks, we will be in the time period known as (wouldn’t you know it) the season of Epiphany. During this time we will be reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the prophesies of Isaiah and Micah, as well as the letters of the Apostle Paul. Nothing unusual there. But I would like your help. In our time of worship together and even in our small groups, I would ask that we really put some thought into the epiphanies in our lives. To be more specific, I would ask that we think back to the moment when we came to realize how cool it is – how incredibly fantastic it...

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“All I Really Want for Christmas” December 22, 2019

Posted by on Jan 24, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“All I Really Want for Christmas” Isaiah 7:10-16/ Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25   Of all the Christmas songs that have ever been written, few are as popular as the one we know of as “The Christmas Song,” also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or “Merry Christmas to You.” It was written in 1945 by the singer Mel Torme, who is well known, and a man named Bob Wells, who is not so well known. Now, it may seem a little weird to even bring this up – here, in a church service, and only a few days before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior; the day that we acknowledge Emmanuel, God with us; the day that we rejoice in the birth of a child that changed the world. But I do mention it because I’m betting there isn’t a soul here that doesn’t know the song fairly well – most you know it by heart. Even though there is no mention of Joseph and Mary or shepherds, angels, or wise men, there’s something about it that captures the spirit of this season that we call Christmas. And I mention it because my somewhat warped sense of irony wants you to know that “The Christmas Song” was never meant to be a song about Christmas at all. In fact, it was never meant to be a song in the first place. Mel Torme tells it this way: “I saw a spiral pad on (Wells’) piano with four lines written in pencil. They started ‘Chestnuts roasting…, Jack Frost nipping…, Yuletide carols…, and folks dressed up like Eskimos.” That was it. Now it was a hot, scorching day and air conditioning did not exist, and so it was that when Torme asked Mr. Wells what these scribblings were all about, he told him that he was trying to “stay cool by thinking cool.” He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off.” And that was it. They weren’t meant to be song lyrics at all, but Mr. Torme had other ideas and 40 minutes later the song was written. The rest is, as they say, history. I love stories like this. But here’s the kicker: the ultimate irony – at least for me – lies in the fact that “The Christmas Song,” one of the greatest of them all, was, in fact, written by two Jewish men: Melvin Howard Torme and Bob Wells, whose real name was Robert Levinson. Now, if you’re wondering what this has to do with anything on this, the last Sunday before Christmas day, it has everything to do with it. It has to do with the way that God inspires us in the most unlikely of ways. He softens our hearts and opens our eyes to see things that we normally would never give a...

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“When We Sing, We Sing for Joy” December 15, 2019

Posted by on Jan 7, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“When We Sing, We Sing for Joy” Isaiah 35:1-10/ James 5:7-10 Matthew 11:2-11   Quite a few years ago, I worked running equipment for a guy named Oly – Oly Ostrom. Now Oly was one of those people that could have done well in any line of work: he was athletic, he was smart, and he could get along with just about anyone. But Oly was kind of a wild man, and so a career of working in the woods was right up his alley. Now Oly was about everything you would expect from a logger. He was loud and could be crude at times; he drank hard, worked hard, and lived hard. And he loved every minute of it. But you know, the moment you think you might have someone figured out, they’ll surprise you every time. We took a private sale on a ranch 100+ miles from home, and that meant we had to stay in a local motel during the week and wouldn’t you know, but I got elected to share a room with the boss. I didn’t really know the guy that well, so I assumed that this was going to be awkward – it was just a question of how. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. On the first day getting things set up, he asked me out of the blue, “Do you like musicals?” I wasn’t ready for that, but I figured maybe honesty might be the best plan this early in the game and so I answered, “Yes. Actually, I do. In fact, I have even sang in a few at our local theater.” “Good,” he said, and the next Monday he showed up with a VCR player and a stack of VHS tapes of every musical known to man. And that’s how it went: after a day of wrestling big ugly yellow pine amidst the cactus and rattlesnakes, we sometimes spent our leisure hours watching everything from “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” to “The Music Man.” And Oly knew all the songs by heart. I could tell because he sang along at the top of his voice. I had to ask him later, what was it that he liked about musicals? Most folks thought it kind of silly to be watching a movie when all of a sudden someone breaks out in song. “That’s it!” he said. “That’s the best part. I wish that real life was that way.” Like I said, people will surprise you every time. We finally finished that sale. It was a rough one, and I don’t believe a whole lot of money was made, but I did walk away with a simple truth. I could sum it up by saying that when you’re happy, you sing and when you’re singing, you’re happy. Which brings us, in a round-about way, to our readings for...

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