Sermons

  • Looking for Jesus

     

    The Resurrection of Jesus

     

     Revelation 21:1-5a

     

    Looking for Jesus

    If someone were to ask me today, “What is this book called The Bible about?”  I would say, “It is a long story about looking for Jesus.”  Many people, in many times, and for many reasons, are looking for Jesus. — or, to be more precise, are looking for a savior, a Messiah.  In the Old and New Testament — from Abraham through John the Baptist, our Israelite ancestors prayed for, hoped for, watched for, a deliverer, a messiah. And when He was born in a Bethlehem cave, only a handful of people knew that the one they had been looking for was born.

    Even those who recognized the Messiah spent a lot of time looking for him — because Jesus frequently turned up missing, or appeared in unlikely places.  Continue reading →

  • Fair-Weather Friends

    Fair-Weather Friends

    Matthew 21:1-11

    21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

    Matthew 27:15-23

    15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

    Fair-Weather Friends

    Good morning!  The sun is shining, the day promises to be warm, it is Palm Sunday, and it’s baseball season!! Major League baseball opened this week.  My Maryland brother and sister are diehard Orioles fans.  This week the team opened against Toronto and won both games, took on the Yankees and won X games.  You know, it is really easy and fun to be the fan of a winning team! Continue reading →

  • Ashes and Death

    From Dust to Dust

     

    From dust we come, and to dust we return.

    From dust to death.  

     

    I don’t really think about it – death.

    Or rather, I don’t think about it for me.  Not me.

    It is what happens to others, you know . . . when they become frail, when doctors can no long keep their hearts beating, when their time is up. When their lives become too heavy to bear.

    Continue reading →

  • Dem Bones, Dem Bones

    Ezekiel 37:1-14

    37The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

    Continue reading →

  • On a Need-to-Know-Basis – Fourth Sunday in Advent

     

    Psalm 23

    1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

    Continue reading →

  • How can these things be?

    John 3:1-17

    3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

    Continue reading →

  • Who do you say that I am for copies

     

    Matthew 16:13-20

    3Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

    Continue reading →

  • FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE

    Psalm 32
    1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

    Continue reading →

  • Speak Kindly

    Matthew 5:21-24

    21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

    Continue reading →

  • Wilderness Boot Camp: Recognizing the Enemy

    Matthew 4

    4Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

    Continue reading →

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

1 Corinthians 12:3-13

Trouble in River City

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that there is trouble!  Trouble right here in River City.   Trouble that starts with a T — which rhymes with P– and that stands for . . .  POOL.   I knew someone would know!  Who can name the musical?    In the 1957 musical, con man and traveling salesman Harold Hill, convinces the Iowa town folk to buy musical instruments, A boy’s band would keep their sons out of the pool hall with its cigarettes, ragtime music, and scarlet women.  There is “trouble in River City” he says, and a boys’ band is the solution.

Were it only so simple for the city of Corinth, Greece.  First century Corinth, a thriving, wealthy commercial city, that sat on a Corinth sat on a narrow little strip of land between the Saronic Gulf and the Corinthian Gulf.  So positioned, it was a thriving, wealthy commercial city that had trouble with a capital T.  

The trouble was more serious than a pool hall.  There was drunkenness and “debauchery.”  Filthy traders and sailors with filthy habits. Above the Acropolis stood the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, with her 1000 priestesses who were sacred prostitutes.  They plied their trade on the streets of Corinth at night.

In the middle of this culture was the new church that Paul had planted.  They were having trouble with what was going on around them; but they were also having troubles within.  Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written to address these internal troubles.  

Kellan, are you saying that the Christians in this church were not getting along?

Yes, as hard as that is to believe, sometimes church folk don’t exactly get along! And that is what was going on in Corinth!  And Paul –who had planted the church—wrote this letter to encourage them to “make up their differences” – to “mend themselves together.”

Actually, the word Paul chose to use for “mend” was a Greek word normally used as a medical term for the joining together of fractured bones.    Do, Paul says, “Heal your fractured relationships.  Make up your differences.”

So what was the fight about?  Well, the dissension was a couple of layers deep.  

On its surface, it was a matter of allegiance.  Some of the converts claimed Paul as their leader and spokesman, and others gave their allegiance to other preachers. In other words, there were factions!    

Some followed Apollos, for example.  Apollos was a well-spoken evangelist.  He, himself, was a Jew, and an intellectual.  He could draw out elaborate arguments and extended illustrations. His sermons were academic and philosophical and beautiful!  

   But there were others who followed Cephus (or Peter).  Cephus was also a Jew and a legalist, but he preached that Christian converts must practice the Jewish Law regardless of their baptized status.  You must be a keeper of the Old Law, said Cephus, as well as the New Law.  He attracted a good many followers because of his stern legal approach.

And, finally, another segment of the church –mostly the gentiles– claimed Paul as their leader.  In his preaching, they hear acceptance –Paul reached out to Gentiles.  But while Paul is away at Ephesus, planting other churches, they are exposed to other teachers and other doctrines.  They become confused and disenchanted.

It seems that these early converts had developed a first allegiance on a particular preacher or teacher –while their allegiance to Christ and the gospel message came second.  In their absorption with this preacher or that style of message or this detail of theology, they had lost sight of the gospel!  Can you imagine being so attached to a particular preacher? Of course we can!

So, when this news reaches Paul in Ephesus, he is ticked!! “You are behaving like children,” he wants to scream. “Didn’t I teach you the simple gospel message?  It was about Christ’s forgiving act and resurrection? It isn’t about fancy speech or following every single rule, it is about serving God and others.  You were baptized into Christ –you were not baptized into Paul, or Cephus, or Apollos!

But –fortunately– Paul is more diplomatic than that!  He writes them a letter, and begins by addressing them as “brothers.”  Calling them brothers is a not-so-subtle reminder that they belong to a family – Christ’s family.  Like a parent, Paul urges them to make up their differences, to be unified in spirit and purpose.  

When I was growing up, I had quite a few fights with my sister.  Who had to do more work? who was prettier? who was thinner? who borrowed what? who got to go where? etc.  etc.    “Girls, girls,” I can still hear my dad saying, “cut this out right now.  There are more important things to worry about than who last did the dishes.”  For the small arguments, that was usually all it took, but for bigger battles it took something more.

Paul’s letter doesn’t stop by urging the Corinthians to “kiss and make up.”  He carefully explains what it takes to live peacefully in community, and his approach is brilliant!

“Listen, all of you!  Stop forming cliques, demanding to be right, insisting on this rule or that style of worship. You are all equally important and needed – whether Greek or Jew, eloquent or tongue-tied.  God loves you and has a purpose for you.  Each of you has gifts and all those gifts are equally needed to accomplish God’s work.”  Paul goes on to list the gifts – sharing of wisdom, prophecy or preaching, the gift of faith, the ability to heal and perform miracles.  “All of these gifts –whether they are flashy or humble—are of the Spirit when they accomplish the common good.”

While Paul’s list of gifts is pretty extensive, now that I have been your interim pastor for almost two years, I can think of many, many more gifts.  Gifts that I so appreciate:  

They would include natural talents, acquired abilities, interests and capacity, and just plain willingness to show up!  Showing up is a huge gift!  And so is diplomacy, gracious speech, careful listening, creative imagination.  I appreciate this person’s  artistic eye, that child’s teachable spirit, that parishioner’s gift of self-control.   I would also add gifts of carpentry, plumbing, wiring, grant-writing and computer skills.  Add in cooking ability, love of baking, affinity for cleaning and dishwashing, a talent for nurturing children and ministering to the elderly.     

“All these –and more, says Paul– are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. “And lest any of you still think that your gift is better than your sister’s gift, or your gift is all the church really needs to go on functioning, then be reminded of the human body.  What if it were missing a leg, or an eye, says Paul. Would it still be complete?  Could the body function without a heart or a liver? Belonging to the body is to feel all its pains, share its hungers, know its limits, suffer in its illnesses, tingle with its passions, feed its growth, breathe its spirit, expect its healing, die its death, and hope for its resurrection. All these things the body’s members do together and with each other.

Likewise, what would the church body be without musicians, or without Sunday School teachers, or without elders or committee chairmen?  How could the church move forward without the creative thinkers, the organized planners, the money managers, and the artisans who build and wire and decorate? Really?  

Do you think God’s kingdom could succeed with just these gifts or those?  Really?

I like the picture on the front of your bulletin, but there is something wrong with it.  All the sunflowers look alike, but we do not look alike.  We are not all the same height, the same color, the same size.  We do not all face in the same direction, nod our heads in synchrony.  No — churches are composed of sunflowers and asters, zinnias and roses, exotic orchids and hard-working dandelions.  God wants it that way.  We want it that way.  Is it easy to grow up in an unkempt English garden? NO. We sometimes shoulder each other out for the good soil, the sunshine, the rain.  But when we realize that we don’t compete– that we complement one another– then we stop squabbling and start respecting.  Our gifts are all of God.

Our goal is not to tolerate each other.  Tolerance is to ask for too little.  Our goal is much more:  acceptance, appreciation, respect, even celebration of our differences, our peculiar and motley gifts. That is what Paul asks of his Corinthian family.

Is it easy?  Heck, no!  It is the hardest thing in the world to live compatibly, and lovingly with others.  It takes patience and self-control. It takes willingness to apologize, to forgive, to give folks a second chance, to stand in the wings and let someone else shine.  You have to be ever-mindful that it’s not about you.  You may be the protagonist in your own life, but for the person sitting beside you, you are only a supporting actor even a walk-on.   No, it’s not about you, it’s about all of us. The whole body.  We –together, not individually– are the body of Christ. Ultimately, it’s about God.  

Abraham LIncoln is mistakenly credited with coining, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” No.  Lincoln did know his Bible, particularly Mark 3:35.  The whispering, squabbling church in Corinth was a house divided.  They stand as a model of what not to do.  

We should strive to model what to do!  The Gospel isn’t difficult:  Love God and love your neighbor.  Everything else is just icing on the cake.  Loving God and neighbor is our purpose — together.  We’re family.  AMEN