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Where is the Love – A Sermon for May 1, 2016 – 1 Corinthians 12.31b-14.1a

May 4, 2016

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A sermon for Year 2, Week 35 of the Narrative Lectionary.

Today we continue to take a look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul is writing from Ephesus to this group of new believers in Corinth – a community made up for both Jews and Gentiles who were, for that reason, “breaking down like fractions,” as Lin-Manuel Miranda might say. Paul is hoping to help them understand how to live in community with one another, how to treat each other, how to embrace those with different theological, social, and political worldviews as fellow siblings in Christ.

The Corinthian community was divided over many issues – which leader to follow, how to act in worship, how to celebrate communion, what happens when we die, and which one of them had the best spiritual gifts.

Our passage today is part of Paul’s response to this conflict over spiritual gifts. He begins his argument for unity by talking about the body of Christ and how each part is important, and each gift is important. Then he tells them that there is an even better way to live, than to worry about who has the best gifts – Love.

One thing we need to understand before I read our text today is that, even though we hear it at countless weddings, this text is not a celebration of romantic, human love. It is not part of some ancient wedding celebration. These words are first written to a community that is having an extremely hard time just living together. And to help place it in this context, I am including the pieces just before and just after the 13th chapter.

(As a side note, chapter and verse numbers were added by monks well after the scriptures were canonized in the 4th century, and sometimes they seem arbitrary)

Read 1 Corinthians 12.31b – 14.1a

When I read this, I can imagine Paul being frustrated. “Come on guys! I taught you better than this. Do I need to spell it out for you?” Read more…

Resuscitation or Resurrection? A Sermon for April 10, 2016 – Acts 3.1-10

April 12, 2016

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A sermon for Year 2, Week 30 of the Narrative Lectionary.

Here we are on the other side of Easter, and our journey through the lectionary takes us to the stories of the early church in the years following Jesus’ resurrection. We will be spending the next several weeks taking a look at the book of Acts and the letters to the early church from Paul and other writers. These tell the story of how they lived into this new understanding of their faith.

Last week’s reading set up the theme for the whole Easter season – in Acts 1 we heard Jesus tell his disciples this:

“You will be will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem,
in Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.”

Everything in Acts and following letters are about how the disciples and new followers of Jesus witness to his resurrection.

Right in between last week’s reading and this week’s is the story of the first Pentecost – the gifting of the Holy Spirit – we’ll read this when we celebrate Pentecost in May. This week’s reading picks up immediately after that, in the afternoon, as some of the apostles made their way to the temple for afternoon prayers.

It strikes me how this story builds a clear line of succession from Jesus to Peter. Jesus healed, and now Peter heals. Jesus revealed the power of God in himself, Peter allows the power of God to flow in the name of Jesus through him. It is also interesting to note that the early church is not just about sermons and study groups. It is out there meeting the people where they are proclaiming the Good News of the risen Christ in word and deed.

Let’s listen to this story now.

Read Acts 3.1-10

On a one level, this story is a straight up healing story – the ill person and the healer meet, the illness is described as being difficult to heal, a healing action and words are narrated, the healing occurs, proof is described, and people are amazed. All throughout scripture, healing stories take this form. Typically, ancient healing stories demonstrate the power of the healer – and this story certainly does that.

But healing stories in the bible are usually about more than just the healing itself. They usually hide something much more under the surface – and this story exposes some theological gems in the middle of all the other details. Read more…

Finishing the Story – A Sermon for Easter; March 27, 2016 – Mark 16.1-8

April 12, 2016

A sermon for year 2, week 28 of the Narrative Lectionary – Easter Sunday.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the three women we will hear about in a moment.  You are going to the tomb to visit, much like when we go visit the graves of loved ones today.  This is the first chance you have had to go since Jesus was buried, because yesterday was the Sabbath day.  As dawn is breaking, you make your way to the tomb, wondering who you could get to roll the stone away from the entrance so you could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body.  And when you finally get there, you find the tomb already open.

If the website BuzzFeed were to write the headline for Mark’s 16th chapter, it might go something like this:

BuzzFeed Easter

Let’s go ahead and click on that article and see what happens:

Read Mark 16.1-8

“Don’t be alarmed!  You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen.  He isn’t here.”

Are you kidding me?  Don’t be alarmed?  I’d be freaking out! Read more…

A Prayer for the Town of Stratford

March 22, 2016

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Today I had the privilege of offering the prayer before the annual State of the Town address by the Mayor of Stratford.  Here is what I prayed:

Holy God,

We pause before this meal to confess, to give thanks, to share our burdens, and to pray for our town and those who serve as elected and appointed officials.

We confess the ways we have become weary and worn by a political process more often marked by venom than by grace. We confess our participation in furthering the divide between the left and the right, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the oppressed.  We choose to talk past each other hoping to get our talking points across and score cheap points with our sarcasm and insults.  We have forgotten how to listen, truly listen to other people.  We confess the ways we grow resigned to the way things are and systems that refuse to change.

We pray today that you will convict our hardened hearts and bring us together to work as one for the Town of Stratford.  Holy One, save us from weak resignation. Remind us of our power to seek the welfare of this town.

We pray for  Barak, our President; Dannel, our Governor; and John, our Mayor.  We pray for our Town Councilors, and all those who serve in the legislature of our state and nation.

We pray for the residents of this town we serve.

For all those seeking full, meaningful employment, we pray for work.
For all those seeking education, we pray for powerful teachers

For all those seeking peace, train us to work for justice.

And God, comfort the injured and grieving of Brussels.

Mold the human heart that we may turn away from rage and violence.

How many days, O Holy One, how many days will we wake to find news of a new terror, a new grief, a new sorrow?

We pray for the dead, the dying and the wounded. Usher them into a place where there is not pain or grief, only love.
We pray for first responders: give them strength & courage in the hours ahead. May their hands be signs of love for the wounded.
We pray for families: all who watch and wait this day. Give them companionship in their waiting, consolation in their longing.
We pray for our enemies: for those who wish us harm. Guide their hearts to paths of righteousness and peace.

We grow weary because of our groaning. Our eyes are wasted with grief. Depart from us, all evil doers, for the Lord has heard the sound of our weeping. Hear our plea, O God, and accept our prayers.

Amen.

 

(this prayer was adapted from material from several sources, as well as original material.  Thank you to the Rev. Laura Everett for inspiration from prayers shared here and here.  And to the Rev. Eric Anderson for this tweet.)

Embodying our Faith – A Sermon for March 6, 2016 – Mark 12.28-34

March 8, 2016

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A sermon for year 2, week 26 of the Narrative Lectionary.

Our story this morning is part of a series of conversations between Jesus and various sectarian leaders in Jerusalem. This was the final discussion initiated by one of these leaders, because after this exchange, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

This is a unique encounter in that unlike all the other times one of the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus, this time the scribe’s question is sincere. The scribe is not looking to set a trap for Jesus, but to learn from him.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the scribes, Pharisees, and other religious leaders were always evaluating Jesus’ activities. They judged Jesus’s theology, charging him with blasphemy when he forgave someone’s sins. They judged who Jesus ate with, nicknamed him “Beelzebul” when he performed an exorcism, and criticized the ritual hygiene of his disciples. They questioned his authority, were threatened by his popularity, and eventually worked with Judas to capture Jesus.

But this one scribe was different. He decided to engage Jesus as a colleague, as a fellow rabbi. Let’s hear this story again.

Read Mark 12.28-34

So, Megan and I went up to Silver Lake Conference Center this weekend for the annual Dean’s retreat. It’s a weekend when all the leaders from all the summer conferences gather for fellowship, training, planning, and resources as we develop our programs for the summer. We are excited about going up again this summer to spend a week in God’s backyard where one of the goals of the week is to live out the message in today’s reading. Read more…

God’s Crazy Love Story – A Sermon for February 28, 2016 – Mark 12.1-12

March 2, 2016

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A sermon for year 2, week 25 of the Narrative Lectionary

Here we are on the almost halfway through Lent and continuing our journey through the Gospel of Mark. As I’ve mentioned before, Mark is written with a sense of urgency, as if the author was in a hurry to get his point out and draw the line straight from Jesus’ baptism to the cross. We have transitioned now into the second half, and the action slows down as we get closer to Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection.

In the timeline of Jesus’ life, today’s text comes during the last week of his life. Tuesday to be exact. Well, maybe not a Tuesday, but it is two days after Jesus and the disciples enter Jerusalem in the readings we read on Palm Sunday. Since coming into Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples have been hanging around the temple and teaching. It doesn’t take long for the temple leadership to get sick and tired of Jesus, and they confront Jesus and ask him where he gets his authority from. Jesus knows they are trying to trap him, so instead of answering, he tells them this parable.

Read Mark 12.1-12

The Gospel of Mark was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, which occurred during a crushing Roman oppression following an uprising by occupied Israel. It was a rough time to be a part of either the Jewish or the small fledgling Christian communities. As is the case in changing times – times when established ideas and patterns are being challenged – there was a fight for positions of authority, and this creates clearer divisions and even more separation. Traditions that are centuries old are being challenged and so there is the inevitable kickback reaction.

The vineyard, a traditional image of Israel, is now a symbol of dispute. A new group, known as Christians, are staking their claim on an inheritance from God. Those who first heard Mark’s gospel would have heard it within this context. They would have identified the religious authorities of the day as the tenants of the vineyard. And they would have understood that they were the new inheritors of the way of Jesus.

Today, while Christianity may not enjoy the same privileges as we once did, we are not a fledging group needing to establish our rights with God at the expense of others. Christianity is still the dominant religion in our society. This invites us to look at this parable in a new context, instead focusing on what this parable tells us about God’s kingdom – God’s dream for us. Read more…

The Power is in Serving- A Sermon for February 21, 2016 – Mark 10.35-45

February 24, 2016

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A sermon for year 2, week 24 of the Narrative Lectionary.

Have you ever noticed that the disciples seem to have trouble getting it?

Have you ever noticed that it seems that every time Jesus teaches them, the message they receive is completely the opposite of what Jesus meant?

Have you ever noticed that much of Jesus’ interactions with his disciples seem to be adventures in missing the point?

Especially in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark it can be said that at times the disciples are portrayed as bumbling idiots.

You know, I am kind of glad that the disciples aren’t portrayed as perfect followers of Jesus. It gives me hope. Hope that even when I screw up, there is still grace for me – because Jesus showed so much grace, so much patience, and so much love (even when he was visibly frustrated) towards the disciples when they just didn’t understand.

Take today’s reading. It is the third time in as many chapters that Jesus is telling his disciples what awaits him when they get to Jerusalem. And it is the third time that the disciples misunderstand what Jesus is saying. The first time, Peter refuses to believe it. The second time, they were too afraid to ask Jesus to clarify. And this time, James and John use the opportunity to try to get a leg up on the other disciples. Let’s hear again what happened.

Read Mark 10.35-45

From the very start, Jesus’ mission is to be understood as one of sacrifice and service. It is never about triumphalism. This is where the disciples, and all of Jesus’ followers, got confused. The popular idea of a messiah was one of a political revolutionary who would restore Israel to self-rule and renew the covenant between God and God’s people. When Jesus announces his impending death, what the disciples hear is that it is time for the revolution to begin.

And so James and John call shotgun. Read more…

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