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A Promising Beginning – Sermon for September 11th, 2016

September 13, 2016

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A sermon for year 3, week 1 of the Narrative Lectionary.

If someone asked you to sit down and tell them the story of God’s relationship to this world and the people in it, how would tell that story – making sure you hit all the highlights? The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to help us do just that. This morning we are beginning our second year using the Narrative Lectionary to guide our worship planning and scripture reading so we can better understand the story of God and God’s people as we find it told in Scripture.

And so each fall we will begin with Creation. This year the lectionary assigns parts of the second creation story and the story of what is known as the fall. Yes, there are two creation stories in the first chapters of Genesis. The first story, found in Genesis 1.1-2.4, is the great cosmic liturgy of the creation in seven days, where God speaks and creation happens, and God calls it good.

The second story is much different. If the first story shows us the power of an omnipotent God, commanding the world into being from the heavens, the second story gives us a different view of God. One where God is physically present, getting God’s hands dirty in the formation of earth and its inhabitants. Listen now to God’s story and our story:

Read Genesis 2.4b-7, 15-17; 3.1-8

The first three chapters of Genesis present creation to us in all its goodness and beauty – yet it also recognizes the many complexities and ambiguities of life within that good creation. God creates, calls it good, and puts us into the Garden of Eden. It is a promising beginning.

Our story this morning focus on the creation of humanity. I absolutely love the imagery the writer uses to describe what’s happening. How we are created in the image of God, out of the earth, and filled with God’s spirit – the breath of life.

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Adam out of Adamah. Human out of Hummus. God bent down and gathered up topsoil, the fertile dirt, and molded us with God’s own hands.

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After forming our being out of the soil, God breathed the breath of life into our nostrils. The Hebrew word for breath – ruach – is the same word for spirit. God breathed God’s spirit into us and brought us to life.

We are made in God’s image and filled with God’s spirit, yet we are also made from the dust of the ground. We are one with God and with the earth.

After God gave Adam life, God created the Garden and put him in it to take care of it. To till and keep it, as some translations put it. As I was looking at the Hebrew words used here, I was struck by the meanings of the words used. The Hebrew words are the same words used for Serve and Protect.

garden

God created the Garden of Eden for Adam and told him to serve and protect the garden. Serve and protect the earth. In essence, God is inviting us in to be co-creators with God in all of creation. Adam’s work in the garden is an extension of God’s work.

Humanity was created with the sole purpose to serve God and the earth. We were given paradise to live in, this fertile land, an oasis in the middle of the desert, with an endless supply of food. We were told we could eat from any tree we wanted, except for one. Read more…

Remarks from Candlelight Vigil 7/14/2016

July 15, 2016
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photo courtesy of the CT Post

I had the honor and privilege to have been invited to speak at a candlelight vigil last night on behalf of the Stratford Interfaith Clergy Association.  The vigil, organized by the First Baptist Church in Stratford and the First Church Congregational in Fairfield, was to remember the victims of violence in the last couple weeks, specifically for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five slain police officers in Dallas – Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens; and for all victims of the violence that plagues this nation.  It was a beautiful vigil, with powerful prayers, moving music, great speakers, and over 100 people in attendance.

We had some good press coverage too.  You can find a photo gallery here – http://www.ctpost.com/news/slideshow/Stratford-hosts-Candlelight-Vigil-132333.php

and a story on the local news here – http://connecticut.news12.com/news/ct-residents-hold-vigils-for-shooting-victims-in-la-mn-tx-1.12046313

Edit: Adding an article from the Stratford Star: http://www.stratfordstar.com/54501/vigil-promotes-unity-in-aftermath-of-killings/

 

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photo courtesy of the CT Post

Here are my remarks:

I bring you greetings on behalf of the Stratford Interfaith Clergy Association, of which I serve as the Vice-President, and the more than forty-five houses of worship located in our town. We represent clergy and religious leaders from many faiths, and we stand in solidarity with you in prayer and grief for the violence and divisiveness gripping our nation.

The plagues of violence and racism and divisiveness are not new to this world. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the struggles the Israelites had with these sins – he writes:

Shout out, do not hold back!

Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Announce to my people their rebellion,

to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet day after day they seek me

and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness

and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments,

they delight to draw near to God.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today

will not make your voice heard on high.

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

If you remove the yoke from among you,

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

and your gloom be like the noonday.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to live in. – Isaiah 58, selected verses

We gather tonight with prayer and prophetic voice to call for an end to this vicious cycle of violence. We are calling for people of faith to do the hard work of examining our own privileges and confront the sins of our nation. We are calling on our faith communities to lead the fight for justice.

There is just too much violence in this country. Violence against people of color, violence against police officers, violence against the LGBTQ community, violence against anyone who is deemed different. Where does it end?

This violence is only a symptom of the deeper issues we have as a nation, one of which is the sin of racism that has left a stain on this country.

Another is the pride we have in our individualism. As a whole we spend more time looking out for ourselves and our own self-interests, rather than for all of humanity. We pray, give me my daily bread rather than give us our daily bread. And so we create silos that we live in and anything or anyone that challenges our little bubbles becomes a threat. And then we return violence with violence. And violence begets violence begets violence begets violence begets violence begets violence begets violence…

Violence solves nothing. As Dr. King said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

As Isaiah reminds us, we cannot leave this vigil and consider our work done, having prayed for change. If we only do that we will be choosing the wrong kind of fast – we need to do the work necessary if we are to become Repairers of the Breach, Restorers of Livable Streets.

So when we leave this place today, it is my prayer that God will have softened our hearts, and we will take up the cause of justice and work to eradicate the sins of racism, violence, and divisiveness plaguing our nation.

Amen.

 

Your Kingdom Come – A Sermon for July 3, 2016

July 7, 2016

The Lord's Prayer_

How many of you remember when you learned the Lord’s Prayer?

I remember I was in probably second or third grade. My dad had typed up the prayer and given me a copy of it. For a month or so we prayed it along with our other bedtime prayers. In no time I had it memorized.

Now, I don’t recall why I was so old when I learned it. Maybe at that time the church didn’t say it in worship before I left for Sunday School, like we do here now. That’s partly why I like to pray it before the kids leave for Sunday school, so they can learn it. Charlotte cannot read, but she knows the prayer because we say it every week. And often, she wants to pray it at home too. Faith is contagious.

Most Sundays, the Lord’s Prayer can be heard echoing from churches around the world, as the faithful recite the well-known words in unison. Many of us feel comforted or peaceful when we recite the words to Jesus’ most famous prayer. But I wonder – do you ever feel challenged by the Lord’s Prayer? Read more…

Why Church? – A Sermon for June 19, 2016

June 19, 2016

WHY week 4

Today we are concluding our series on “Why?” A quick recap of where we have been. We began by asking the question, “why are you here?” and looked at the message that is communicated by the church as to why people should come. We saw that most churches and most organizations focus on the wrong questions, answering what they do not why they do it. Simon Sinek suggested that inspiring and inspired organizations and people think, act, and communicate by first answering the question “why?” and then talking about how and what they do. We then explored how this miscommunication created the image of a watered down and domesticated faith.

Next we explored the question, “why Jesus?” and took a look at the reason Jesus came. I suggested that it was much more than being a ticket to heaven that has become the message communicated by common Christianity. Jesus is about bringing the kingdom of God here and now. The kingdom of God Jesus describes is backwards and upside down from what we know. The first will be last and the last will be first. Whatever empire does, the kingdom does the opposite. And the Kingdom of God requires a twofold transformation – a transformation of ourselves and a transformation of this world.

Last week we asked, “Why does Christianity matter?” and looked way back in history to the Westminster Catechism to ask what the point of a Christian life was. According to the catechism it is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. We talked about how bringing God glory means that we do things that show how we honor God, that show our commitment to God. And it is more than words – we are called to glorify God with our whole lives. Not because God needs our glory. But because that is what we were made to do. Because that is point of Christianity.

Then we talked about how that we need to become disciples to be able to accomplish this. And we cannot be disciples alone. Read more…

Why Christian? – A Sermon for June 12, 2016

June 14, 2016

WHY week 3

 

We are halfway through our sermon series on Why? today. A quick recap of where we have been. Two weeks ago we began by asking the question, “why are you here?” and looked at the message that is communicated by the church as to why people should come. We saw that most churches and most organizations focus on the wrong questions, answering what they do not why they do it. Simon Sinek suggested that inspiring and inspired organizations and people think, act, and communicate by first answering the question “why?” and then talking about how and what they do. We then explored how this miscommunication created the image of a watered down and domesticated faith.

Golden Circle

Last week we explored the question, “why Jesus?” and took a look at the reason Jesus came. I suggested that it was much more than being a ticket to heaven that has become the message communicated by common Christianity. Jesus is about bringing the kingdom of God here and now. The kingdom of God Jesus describes is backwards and upside down from what we know. The first will be last and the last will be first. Whatever empire does, the kingdom does the opposite. It’s good news for the poor. It’s freedom for the prisoners. It’s healing for the sick. Liberation for the enslaved. And the year of Jubilee – a Jewish tradition found in the Torah that calls for the forgiveness of all debts and returning land to the original owners. And the Kingdom of God requires a twofold transformation – a transformation of ourselves and a transformation of this world.

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Which brings us to this week – “Why Christian?”

So, why do you call yourself a Christian? Read more…

Why Jesus? – A Sermon for June 5, 2016

June 8, 2016

WHY week 2

Today we continue our sermon series on “Why?” And before we get to this week’s installment, let me share a quick 2 minute recap of where we are.

Last week we began by asking “why are we here?” and took a look at why we need to ask the question and “know our why.” The inspiration for this series came from Simon Sinek’s theory of the Golden Circle. He suggests that most organizations focus on the wrong questions when talking about their mission and their organization. As a result, most people and organizations think, act, and communicate from the outside in – addressing the what and how first, and maybe answering why. Sinek goes on to say that inspired and inspiring people and organizations think, act, and communicate from the inside out, starting with the “why.”

Golden Circle

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And as a whole, the church universal is pretty bad about communicating why we choose to be a part of it. The message that gets communicated by American Christianity has been domesticated and made so bland over the last century so that it looks like what Princeton Professor, Kenda Creasy Dean, calls Moral Therapeutic Deism:

 

MTD slide

Moral Therapeutic Deism is a way of thinking that fits well into a therapeutic, individualistic consumer culture popular in America, but shoving Christianity into that mold is like forcing your foot into a glass slipper six sizes too small. It just doesn’t fit.

Thankfully, there is so much more to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read more…

Why Are We Here? – A Sermon for May 29, 2016

May 31, 2016

WHY week 1

This weekend we started a 4-week series on “Why?” in hopes that we can begin to answer for ourselves why we follow Jesus, why we are Christians, and why we go to church.

We have been following the Narrative Lectionary since September. The Narrative Lectionary takes us through the whole arc of the biblical story from creation through the early church each year, and over the course of the 4 year cycle we will hit almost all the major stories in the bible, as well as spending time in each of the gospels. Each summer, the lectionary takes a break, which allows churches to get creative and preach some sermon series. This year, we are going to take a look at two sermon series – in July we will spend some time looking at the Lord’s prayer, and beginning today we will be looking at the question “Why?”

The inspiration for this series came out of a session with my leadership coaching cohort. One of our assignments was to watch a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek. Sinek suggests that most organizations focus on the wrong questions when talking about their mission and their organization. Usually organizations, including churches, talk about *what* they do and *how* they do it. But, Sinek says that we should focus on *why* we do what we do. Let me summarize his theory for you.[1]

Sinek starts with this simple chart he calls the “Golden Circle.” The outer ring is the “what.” Every organization knows what it is they do. In the middle is the “how,” and some organizations know this, it’s the how they do things, what differentiates them from others. And the inner ring is the “why,” and very few organizations can answer this – this is an organization’s purpose, their belief, the why they do what they do.

Golden CircleAs a result, most people and organizations think, act, and communicate from the outside in. Sinek explains this through the lens of Apple computer. For example, if Apple were to communicate this way they might say, “we make great computers, they’re easy to use, beautifully designed, and user friendly. Wanna buy one?” Read more…