Here is the meditation I offered this morning in worship, based on the story of David & Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and the news this week. It is Music Sunday, so I wasn’t planning on preaching, but I after the racially motivated massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC I couldn’t not preach.
Now I know it isn’t usual for me to get up and preach on Music Sunday. Usually we let the music preach God’s word to us. But, I couldn’t resist saying a few words about the story of David and Goliath, especially as it relates to the news this week. It is such a rich story and has so much to say for us today as a church and as the body of Christ.
Indeed it is a wonderful story, one that makes its way into countless children’s books and TV shows – although sometimes I wonder why, given how violent a story it is. But still, what child doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath. The underdog defeats the bad guy, the bully gets what’s coming to him, the weak defeat the strong. And underneath all that is a deeper message. When we trust God, we can respond with courage and strength to the forces that threaten to defeat us. As UCC Pastor Bruce Epperly writes, “Power belongs to God, and our alignment with God’s vision, not with bullies, oppressors, and those who would plan evil. God makes a way when there is no way!”
And I think that is what speaks to me today. When it seems like there is just no way out of whatever predicament we find ourselves in, God makes a way when there is no way. No matter the size or scope of what we are up against, if we put our trust in God, rather than the ways of the world, the giant in front of us becomes infinitely smaller.
The news this week reminded me what I have been seeing for a while now. The sin of racism still stains the fabric of our nation. All the progress that has been made over the last 50 years is great, but it is going to take much more to erase 400 years of systematic oppression of people of color. And my heart is breaking.
the audio for this sermon can be found here.
Welcome to Lent.
When one hears that is the liturgical season of Lent, one does not typically associate it with a season of joy. Instead we think of sackcloth and ashes, of denying ourselves pleasure, of penance and confession. We think of the dark times leading up to Holy Week and Good Friday.
Even Wikipedia defines Lent as a “solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday.” Everywhere we turn, we are told that Lent should be a Debby downer of a season.
But, I don’t think we should be down in the dumps about lent. Lent can be a joyful time. Even the word Lent is a happy word – the word “Lent” comes from the “lengthening of days,” the hint of spring that is in the air and the promise of new growth in the realm of plants and animals. While growth requires pruning, the growing season that lies ahead should be reason for joy as well as repentance. The penitence of Lent is not an end unto itself; it is a preparation to celebrate resurrection, new and abundant life springing forth amid life’s greatest challenges and defeats.
As Jesus suggests in Matthew 6, Lent is not about long faces, but about an inner transformation that leads to transformed behaviors and commitments. The pruning of Lent is, as a farmer once told me, the way we let the sun shine in and the blossoms grow into fruit. The mortality we recognize during Lent is not intended to burden us with fear, but to invite us to see life as precious and focus on what’s truly important. It is a call to treasure each day, and not mess around with the unworthy or unimportant.
Lent is about bringing heavenly values to earth. If heaven is anything, it is a place of joyful abundance, where everyone experiences loving relationships and bounty enough to share. It is the place of peace in which sounds of laughter, love, and celebration characterize everyday life.
This Lent we are embarking on a series exploring the sheer joy that can be found in Christian discipleship. Lent does not have to be so deadly serious. It is not all about sackcloth, ashes, and spiritual shame. Lent can be a season of very deep joy – because what is better than following Christ?!? Read more…
Unfortunately, the sermon audio failed to record. So no podcast this week.
It is rumored that 20th Century theologian Karl Barth once said that preachers need to preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Barth suggests that a preacher’s job is to interpret current events through the eyes of scripture.
There has been a lot of news this past week, and indeed all summer, that has been troubling. From the events in Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas, the flood of child refugees fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America, to the murder of an unarmed teenager and an overzealous police department breaking up a prayer vigil with tear gas.
My heart has been breaking this week, and I have had a hard time finding any hope to cling to. Where can we find hope amidst the pain, the injustice, and the violence? It seems like we are destined to repeat history. Do we ever learn?
Did the disciples?
Our scripture reading this morning from the Gospel of Matthew is a troubling one. At first glance it seems that Jesus is insulting the Canaanite woman. But maybe I have been reading it wrong all these years. Read more…
The audio version of this sermon can be found here.
This past Thursday was the day in the church calendar when we observe Ascension Day, the day 40 days after the resurrection when Jesus returns to heaven. Luke, who wrote both the gospel bearing his name and the book of Acts, explains to us the experience the disciples had on that day.
As the disciples are standing there watching, two angels come and stand there with him and speak one of my favorite lines in the New Testament. The Message version of the bible translates it as “You Galileans! Why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?” In other words, get to work! Jesus gave you a job to do, so don’t just stand here and look at the sky. Get to it!
Our gospel reading this morning from John offers up his understanding of Jesus’ hopes and prayer for his disciples – and us today – as he prepares to leave them. The reading comes at the end of the section of John known as the “farewell discourse,” where Jesus instructs his disciples on what is to come. As those words and actions, including the well known narratives of washing the disciples feet and the sharing of a last meal come to a close, Jesus turns his attention away from the disciples and begins to pray for his disciples – and for us.
Of the things he prays for, one thing stood out to me this week – the prayer for and explanation of eternal life. It’s not too often we get a straight forward definition of eternal life, but here it is in verse 3: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Eternal life is a major theme of the New Testament. Jesus says that he has come to offer eternal life and Paul reminds us that eternal life in Christ Jesus is a gift from God. But this all begs the question – is eternal life some sort of future blessing if we are “good” Christians, or is it something we have here and now, and what does that mean?
For generations, eternal life has been defined as a future blessing that we will receive when we die and go to heaven. While this is definitely scripturally based, I think it is a myopic view of eternal life. It discounts this very passage and Jesus’s prayer for us.
This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. Not just in some future moment, but here and now. What if it were that simple? How would this change how we see our lives? How could this change our perceptions of God?
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. Of course, what it means to know God is key.
There are two different words for “know” in Greek. The first is ‘oida,’ which suggests a cognitive knowledge, knowledge coming from observation and education.
The other Greek word is ‘ginosko,’ meaning a progression of knowledge implying an active relationship between two people. Sort of like when two people begin dating and get to know each other over the course of time.
Throughout John’s Gospel, knowing God is described in the second manner. Knowing God is synonymous with being in a relationship with God.
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. To be one with each other and with God in Christ. That is Jesus’ prayer for us, that we will be one just as God and Jesus are one. And knowing God will transform us and our lives to be more Christ-like. Are you ready for that? We may then find ourselves, laying down ourselves – and our own priorities, our own goals, our own desires for achievement, success and fame. We may even end up humbling ourselves just as Jesus did.
I read a story this week by Alan Paton, a South African author, who describes in his book “Ah, But Your Land Is So Beautiful” a concrete example living into to our relationship with God no less shocking than Jesus’ actions on Maundy Thursday when he embodied his commandment to love one another by washing the feet of his disciples. I found it to be a great example of what it might mean to believe we have eternal live here and now.
Paton described a situation in South Africa during apartheid. A prominent activist for human rights was killed and at his funeral, the minister refused to preside and sent everyone home because a black church had sent members to pay their respects. He would not allow blacks and whites to worship together, as it was against the law. It was a terrible insult.
The pastor of a black church, Isaiah Buti knew he must do something to try to heal this hurt and show a different way. He contacted a judge, Jan Christian Oliver, whom he believed would be sympathetic to this situation to ask him to participate in a Maundy Thursday service in which they would observe the practice of washing feet. He asked this justice to wash the feet of a church member, Martha Fortuin, who had been a servant in the judge’s home and cared for his children. The judge readily agreed, though he asked to participate in the service without any prior announcement. When the pastor called Judge Oliver’s name, there was an audible gasp in the congregation. The distinguished man came forward, bent down and carefully, lovingly, washed Martha’s feet and dried them with a towel. Before he rose to return to his seat, he gently leaned forward and kissed the feet of the woman who had bathed his own children’s feet. Some said that it cost the judge his career. He was, it was said, to be appointed as the Chief Judge of South Africa. But the judge was reputed to have said, ‘Being part of that service was worth more than any chief judgeship.’”
What an example of what could happen when we live into the gift of eternal life. When we seek to be in relationship with God and each other. Because of his relationship with God, this Judge became more Christ-like and set aside his own ambitions to live the Gospel.
But we don’t need to go to South Africa – we can see the effects of a relationship with God everywhere. Just as we see steams of grace flowing through Jesus in the gospel of John we can find it now as believers seek to follow his path. Who knows if you dare to want Jesus to pray for you, you may find yourself participating in eternal life and:
- Getting caught up in the overflowing love and abundant life Jesus exhibited at that wedding in Cana
- Giving way to the need for control and living into that new birth from above
- Daring to engage in conversation with the most unlikely people and marveling at their acceptance of the good news
- Discovering that there is “enough” to share with all
- Finding the words to heal the blindness of heart of those who cannot “see”
- And even, believing in the power of new life that Jesus can bring.
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. To know God in Jesus is to have a living relationship. When we have a living relationship with God we are open to God’s calling and the Spirit’s moving in our lives. We are listening for God’s still speaking voice as we seek to follow Jesus. We question, wrestle, and argue with the scriptures. We question, wrestle, and argue in prayer. We seek to live Jesus’ commandments – to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
In Jesus’ prayer he did not offer a road map, but he did offer us a way to eternal life: by allowing his life to more and more become our life of faith and practice. He offered us a meal to share together and to share with him. In that meal we remember all that he has done for us; we gain strength for our own journey of faith because we are nourished by him; we receive hope that one day Jesus’ prayer for us will be seen in its fullness and as we lift up our hearts to God we receive a foretaste of the joyful time when all God’s people will sit at the table together and be one. – even as the God our Creator and the Son are One.
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
We know about loss. Each of us and all of us have experienced some form of loss, personally and deeply. We know this experience.
And yet, we don’t talk about it very much.
Even in the church, a place that should be welcoming to us when we are in the deepest pits of despair, we rarely talk about our hurts and our pains, instead focusing on the happy-clappy good news of Jesus. In deference to being perceived as “nice Christians” who have it all together, we tend to gloss over the pain we are in and pretend that we are ok.
But when we are hurting, we can’t hear the good news without acknowledging the pain of loss.
One of the reasons given in surveys when asked why people are staying away from the church is that Christians are seen as fake and ignore the bad things happening. And I would have to agree with this on one level. Especially if your experience of Christianity is what you see on TV.
But the church should be different. We should not be afraid to talk about the difficult realities of life. And when we do, we realize we are not alone in our struggles. Read more…
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
If you take this passage from John out of context and read it just on its own like we just did, it can be very confusing. Even when you do place it in the larger narrative it is a part of it can still be confusing – heck, even Jesus’ hearers thought so as we see in verse 6. Shepherds, sheep, thieves, outlaws & strangers. So many things to keep track of. Then, Jesus says, “I am the gate.”
Before we get it to what I see as the meat of this passage, I need to explain the context of this passage. These ten verses are part of a larger story that begins with chapter 9, and continues to the 21st verse of the 10th chapter. You may remember about six weeks ago we looked at the 9th chapter and the story of Jesus healing the blind man from birth. This is a continuation of that story, following the pattern of story telling familiar to the Gospel of John of miracle -> dialogue -> teaching. First Jesus performs a miracle, then people talk about it trying to figure out what it means, and then Jesus teaches them about it.
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes we just associate people with what they do? Take Larry the Cable Guy. His real name is Larry Whitney. But to me, his last name is Cable Guy, middle name the. Larry the Cable Guy. There is also Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, and Smokey the Bear. Remember the TV show Friends? Gunther the Coffee Shop guy. And when I worked as a hospital chaplain, I introduced myself as “Jeff the Chaplain.”
Then there’s Thomas. He’s not known as Thomas the Apostle. Or Thomas the servant of God. He is forever known as Doubting Thomas. And people say it like it’s a bad thing. Read more…