December 20, 2020 “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”

Posted by on Dec 26, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” Let’s talk about music for Advent. Truth is, there isn’t a lot to choose from. When you consider the volumes of Christmas carols and songs and cantatas and even oratorios, the poor little season of Advent somehow just gets left behind. But here’s the thing: despite all the Christmas movies and Dolly Parton specials and Blue Christmas’s with Elvis, there is one song that has been with us for over 1200 years that is all about this period – this season – that we call Advent, and it has been with us that long for a reason. It was originally written in Latin (no surprise there) as a series of what are called Antiphons. Seven days before Christmas, the monasteries would sing the “O Antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve at which time the final Antiphon would be sang which honored the virgin Mary. This song has evolved over the years to the point where it was known around the world by the Latin title of “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” which you have probably figured out by now translates into “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Now, the reason I bring this up is because I had a bit of a revelation when it comes to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” this year. I’m always curious as to why certain melodies seem to capture our imaginations and others don’t. So, I found myself on YouTube listening to countless versions of this haunting and beautiful Advent hymn – everything from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Mrs. Smith’s Sunday School singers – when I chanced across an arrangement produced by a site called The Piano Guys and it almost brought me to tears. There was no singing, no lavish production; only a cello and a grand piano set on the porch of what looked to be the entrance to a castle or medieval cathedral of some sort. But it was stunning; it was stunning and because I couldn’t help myself, I scrolled down and began to read the comments that people had sent in. There was 5 years worth of commentary and most said just what I would have said: words like “Thank you, this was beautiful, it was touching” and that sort of thing. Others got more personal. An Aaron Deneau wrote, “This is the kind of thing we’ll be hearing in heaven.” Another wrote, “Thank you, Lord. You saved my life after 20 years on heroin. I am a Greek Christian,” followed by Robin Rubin saying, “When I listen to this song, I think of Jesus and how beautiful life can be with him in it.” What got my attention, however, was a comment from a dude who called himself Some Edgy Teenager, and he wrote, “As someone who usually listens to heavy metal, I’m not ashamed to say that this song is absolutely beautiful. I honestly don’t...

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December 13, 2020 “The Nature of Life As the People of God”

Posted by on Dec 26, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“The Nature of Life as the People of God”   “To celebrate the future as a memory, and to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do, is the nature of life as the people of God.”  Fred Craddock Welcome to this, the 3rd Sunday in the season of Advent, December 13, 2020. I’m not sure why, exactly, but for some reason I felt it important to put a time stamp on this particular day in this particular time. It happens every year, and this year is no exception: Advent begins in late November or early December; we bring out the Advent wreath, we start to light the candles; and sing the hymns about Emmanuel, God with us, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. It’s pleasant, it’s comforting, and it not only gets us in the spirit of Christmas, but it prolongs this season of light; this season that we have come to rely on for decades to get us through the dark days of winter. This year, we are having to do things different. I guess that’s overstating the obvious, but on this the 3rd Sunday of Advent, it’s especially painful. I mean, think about it: this is the Sunday known as Gaudete Sunday; Gaudete being the Latin word for “rejoice”, or simply, “Joy.” Lord knows, we could use some joy right now. So, all week long I’ve been wracking my brain how in the world to find, to create; to conjure up what it is to be joyful. Now I’m not talking about happy here. If we win the lottery, we are happy. When we are able to gaze upon our first grandchild – that is joy. When we are able to find the perfect gift for the perfect person and they even say those words: “O, it’s perfect!” we are happy. But later on when that perfect person comes up to us and tells us, once again, of the perfect love that they have for us, that is joy. That is joy. My search for joy in this season of conflict and uncertainty, surprisingly, led me to something that a preacher named Fred Craddock said some time ago. When I first read through it, I didn’t know what to think. But after a while, it started to make sense. Craddock tells us, ““To celebrate the future as a memory, and to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do, is the nature of life as the people of God.” (X 2) Now, we will come back to this later and when we do, hopefully, it will seem a lot less like some sort of word puzzle and more like a wonderful description of the source of our joy as followers of Jesus Christ. But first, a word about the writings of the Apostle Paul to the congregations of Thessalonica....

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December 6, 2020 “This Is How It Begins”

Posted by on Dec 26, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“This Is How It Begins” Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8 Let’s talk about Mark- particularly the gospel of Mark. I was told long ago that if you were only allowed only one gospel to read and study to understand the life and death and teachings of Jesus Christ, then pick Mark. Mark’s Gospel is almost exactly half the length of Matthew and Luke which in the day when scrolls were quite expensive, made Mark’s gospel a real bargain and I’m sure there were quite a few of them floating around. Now, it’s safe to assume that the gospel was written by a John Mark, the same John Mark that had somewhat of a falling out with the Apostle Paul early in his ministry.(Acts 13:13) It’s the time he spent with Peter, however, that proved to be so valuable. The Lord smiled that Peter was able to tell so many of the stories of Christ’s ministry on earth and that Mark was able to record them. In fact, a goodly portion of the  gospel writings of Matthew and Luke came from – you guessed it – the writings of John Mark. Our Gospel lesson today is the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel. This is the opening salvo, the declaration of what’s to come – of what to expect. But here’s the thing: as we find ourselves approaching the middle of the Advent season and looking forward to decorating and doing whatever we can to make Christmas meaningful, is John the Baptist really what we need right now? I mean, in better times when the nation wasn’t ripped apart by our politics and the world wasn’t under siege by a devastating disease; in better times, we could get behind the whole idea of “A voice crying out in the wilderness; a voice telling us to prepare the way of the Lord – to make his paths straight.” In better times- in normal times – this would have been simply a part of the Advent liturgy that we are used to: on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, it’s always all about John the Baptist. We read the story and roll our eyes at this man who eats bugs and wild honey dressed in a camel hair shirt. It ain’t a pretty sight. I met a kid years ago who grew up in central California. He used to show up with his guitar and we played songs and just enjoyed ourselves that way. But I remember him telling me about an old guy he knew when he still lived in California: a sheepherder whose family came from the Basque region of Spain. John used to go visit him any chance he could get and this old guy was always glad for the company, being as he spent his days with no one except – – sheep. John said that he was wise beyond his...

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November 22, 2020 “What Kind of King”

Posted by on Dec 21, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“What Kind of King” Ezekiel 34 and Matthew 25:31-46 It seems that a large Texan school district has recently approved and received a new set of textbooks. But along the way, a group of concerned parents decided to conduct their own review of these textbooks because…that’s what parents do. In the process, they found 231 errors, including the following: Napoleon winning the battle of Waterloo, President Truman dropping the atom bomb on Korea, and General Douglas MacArthur leading the anti-communist campaign in the 1950’s (it was actually Senator Joe McCarthy). When called to account for these mistakes, the school Bureaucrats got to studying themselves and found even more mistakes than the parents found. The parents, not to be outdone, then found even more. The tally now stood at 5,200 mistakes in these brand new textbooks that the district was about to purchase for a sizeable amount of the tax payer’s money. So as you would expect, they reached out to the publisher. And here’s the good part, because how do you suppose the publisher reacted to this mess? The way the story goes, a spokesperson for this highly respected publisher of quality textbooks for schools today argued – yes, argued – that “except for the errors” everyone agreed that these were the finest textbooks they had ever seen. “Except for the errors? Except for the mistakes?” Except for the errors, he would never have had a criminal record. Except for the mistakes, she wouldn’t be a pregnant teenager contemplating abortion. “Except for the errors.” This cracks me up. Except for his drinking problem, he’s a pretty good guy. Except for her drug problem, she is a pretty good mother. Except for his sticky fingers, everyone agrees that he is one of the finest bankers they have ever seen. I’ve got to say, this story about the textbooks opened up a real can of worms for me. I mean, when it comes down to it, who are we kidding except ourselves? We make exceptions – all the time. We make excuses. We hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. We overlook when we need to be looking over, and when that happens we get kind of lost. After all, for those of you who know me well, you know that except for my flaws I’m pert near perfect. Which brings us to our gospel message for today, on this the Sunday we celebrate as Christ the King Sunday. This final passage from Matthew 25 is about judgement – there’s no other way to put it, really. This image of God separating the sheep from the goats has been burned into my brain since before I can remember. And my reaction has been the same since before I can remember: “O no, O darn, I’ve got to get busy. I’ve got to get out there...

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November 15, 2020 “Save It for Now”

Posted by on Dec 21, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“Save It For Now” Matthew 25:14-30 First of all, is anyone aware that two weeks from today – Nov. 29 – is the first Sunday of Advent? I don’t mention this to push you all into a tailspin of depression because Advent…well, just ain’t going to be the same this year. We all know that, and it’s going to up to us to honor our time-honored traditions as best we can. No, I mention this because with Advent comes the end of the Christian year, at least the Liturgical year. For the last few weeks we have been reading from the Apocalyptic parables from the Gospel of Matthew – apocalyptic meaning the end of the world as we know it, to put it bluntly. Starting in the 24th chapter and all through the 25th, Matthew has recorded a series of parables that Jesus spoke to his disciples, and by and large they don’t make the best bedtime stories for youngsters and adults alike. The theme of a final judgement seems to hang in the air throughout this period, with many of the parables ending with Matthew’s signature closing of “And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But take heart, Advent is just around the corner. The parable we read today is commonly called “The Parable of the Talents.” In the Living Bible Translation that I read from, the landowner invests through his servants in the form of cash: $10,000 to one, $5,000 to the second, and finally $1,000 to the third “according to their abilities” it is written. Older translations refer to these chunks of cash as “talents:” 5 for one, 2 for the other, and then only one talent for the last guy. But at this point, I think it’s important to understand something about how much money is involved here. We know that a Denarius was the coin used to pay a day’s wage for a laborer. Well, a talent was the equivalent of about 6000 Denarii, or what a worker would make in 20 years or so. My point is that this is a lot of money – a crazy amount of money to entrust to some guys that you have been paying peanuts for years. But you’ve heard how this ends up: two of the servants make good on their investments while the 3rd is afraid and buries his talent in a hole in the ground. The master comes back, congratulates the two and chews out the 3rd. Then he rubs it in by giving his money to the one with the most. It’s a little unnerving to realize how much 1st century banking in Palestine wasn’t much different than out own. The comedian Louis C. K. is known for his foul language, but his comedy has shed a light on the human condition that is worth noticing. He says, “You ever get...

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November 8, 2020 “There’s Gonna Be a Wedding….Eventually”

Posted by on Dec 21, 2020 in Sermon Archives

“There’s Gonna Be a Wedding….Eventually” Matthew 25: 1-13 Joshua 24:1-31, 14-25 The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. I have one word for this somewhat perplexing parable. Actually, I have quite a few words: befuddled, bewildered, bamboozled; and I’ll just stop right there. Is it just me, or does anyone else have “issues” with this story? I mean, I get it that it was the custom of the time for all the guests to gather at the house of the groom’s father. And I get it that as soon as the groom arrived there would be a big party followed by the actual wedding. And I also get it that it was tradition for the bridesmaids to wait outside for the groom to arrive and then to escort him into the house for this glorious event. I get that. But what I don’t get is how all the goofy details of this parable are supposed to enlighten me when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. First of all, what’s the big idea of showing up at midnight for your own wedding? How is that OK? Second, it’s bad enough that the bridesmaids had to supply their own lamps and oil, but how does it serve my understanding of God’s kingdom that the wise bridesmaids were the ones that were stingy in this parable? You can’t tell me they couldn’t have spared a little extra fuel for the lamps of those who were running short. So many questions; so few the solutions. But you know, I have found that in the study of scripture, as in life, sometimes it is best when we are befuddled and bewildered, to step back; to step away from the confusing details and the questions and take a long hard look at the big picture. Sometimes that works. But I’ve got to say, that as I tried to do just that, all I could think about was Joshua. When Joshua gave the nation of Israel the choice of who to serve, it was done honestly and openly. (Josh 24: 14… and I’m paraphrasing here)  Joshua addressed the people saying, “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served…But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve…As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Now your first reaction to this is going to be, “But of course we do! We are believers; we serve the Lord.” But Joshua is not asking us to choose to believe or not, he’s asking us to choose our gods. I was advised once that if you ever want to honestly preach on this text from Joshua, it might be a good idea to spread out all your credit cards on the desk with your favorite on the top....

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