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Jesus Was a Refugee

(A sermon based on Matthew 2:13-23 for the First Sunday after Christmas)

I have never been a refugee and you probably haven’t either. There have been times for many of us when we “had” to leave home but we did so because we chose to get an education or to take a job or because our parents told us it was time. Oh, there is a sense in which many of us feel a restlessness and rootlessness and feel like we are on a constant quest for home. But the facts remain that we have never been driven from our home or from our hometown or from our homeland because of warfare or famine. We have never been driven away because of our ethnicity or our politics or our religion; we have never been forced out or forced underground because we are a threat to those in power.

Millions of people are refugees, though. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there were at the end of 2012 15.4 million refugees—people who have fled their country for another because of war or persecution—in the world. In…

Heaven Knows

(A sermon based on Luke 2:1-20 for Christmas Eve 2013)

Imagine with me that we are standing outside in a wide open space, perhaps a prairie or a desert. As we look off in the distance, we see the horizon, the place where the sky seems to intersect with the earth. That is not in reality what is happening, of course, but the metaphor of the horizon might prove helpful to us tonight, a night when we talk, with great reverence and wonder, about a night when heaven came into contact with earth—the night when Christ was born.

Imagine with me that we are there that night when heaven comes down to earth. If we can assume that God knows more about reality than we do and that those in heaven know more about reality than those on earth do, what do the events and words of that night show us about the way things really are? Perhaps if we pay close attention we will come to know some of what heaven knows. And if we come to know what heaven knows, it just might change the ways we think about and …

Get Ready: Trust!

(A sermon based on Matthew 1:18-25 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent)

It may be that in reading these few short verses that describe events that occurred over just a few short days, we bear witness to Joseph making the kind of progress that it usually takes a lifetime to make—and that some of us, after many years of living, still have not made.

Joseph was engaged to Mary; engagement was in that day a legal and binding arrangement. While the couple would not consummate the marriage until the wedding took place, they were nonetheless considered legally joined during the engagement period. If the arrangement was to be ended, a divorce was required.

So when Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, he understandably assumed that she had been unfaithful to him. Joseph knew what the right thing to do was; his tradition that was derived from his Bible told him that Mary was to be publicly divorced and his Bible told him that she could under certain circumstances be stoned. Joseph was a righteo…

Get Ready: Accept!

(A sermon based on Matthew 11:2-6 for the 3rd Sunday of Advent)

Every year during Advent, during these weeks leading up to December 25, we hear a good bit of talk about the need to keep Christ in Christmas. For some, that means saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays”; for others, it means writing “Merry Christmas” rather than “Merry Xmas”; for still others, it means having Christian displays on government property; for a few radical folks, it means really focusing on Jesus and downplaying the commercial aspects of the season.

As for me, I’m comfortable saying both “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”; after all, I am a Christian who respects the fact that the holy days of other faiths occur at this time of year. As for me, I am more interested in protecting the rights of individuals and of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other institutions to be able to display the symbols of their particular faith than I am of placing such displays on property that belong…

Get Ready: Watch!

(A sermon based on Matthew 24:36-44 for the First Sunday in Advent)

We have arrived at the first Sunday of our new year—the first Sunday of Advent! Advent is about the arrival or coming of Jesus and, as such, it has at least three components. First, we anticipate the celebration of the coming of Jesus our world two millennia ago. Second, we anticipate his coming in power in the fullness of time. Third, we anticipate his coming to us right here and now in whatever new and unexpected ways he chooses to come.

Let’s get a few important things said right up front.

First, Advent is not about prediction; it is about preparation. People who predict when Jesus will return are false prophets and people who listen to them are fools. Date-setters are looking for a following and followers of date-setters are looking for a way out of this world; both are, at best, misguided.

Second, Advent is not about paranoia; it is about anticipation. We are not to look for reasons to feel persecuted;…

The Circle of Love, the Circle of Life

[A sermon based on James 2:14-26]

In Christ, we have the opportunity always to be moving toward who we are supposed to be; in Christ, we have the opportunity always to be developing greater and greater integrity; in Christ, we have the opportunity always to be becoming more whole and complete.

What does all of that mean?

Well, it means a lot.

It means, for one thing, that our spirit—the essence of who we are—is becoming more and more a trusting spirit, a loving spirit, a hopeful spirit, and a gracious spirit, because it is a spirit being formed in the image of God that we see most clearly in Christ, who was full of trust, love, hope, and grace. It means, for another thing, that our actions are coming more and more to reflect the trust, love, hope, and grace of our developing spirit. It means, for a third thing, that our spirits are growing in trust, love, hope, and grace as we carry out trusting, loving, hopeful, and graceful actions.

In Christ, then, we have the opportunity al…

Bless the Beasts and the Children

(A sermon based on Mark 9:30-37 for Sunday, October 27, 2013, following the presentation of a children's musical)

Sometimes I stop to think about who I would really like to use my resources—my time, my energy, my money, my love—to help. I can’t do everything for everybody, after all, and I find myself thinking that I would really like to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, that’s a broad category. Even we able-bodied adults with reasonable intelligence, average common sense, and a decent work ethic sometimes need someone to reach out to hold us up or to help us out. I myself would not be standing here today had some gracious people not helped me out along the way when I was at the end of my rope.

When I get to thinking that way, my thoughts always come back around to children and animals (particularly dogs and cats). I guess I think along the lines of that Carpenters’ song from the early 1970s that prayed, “Bless the beasts and the children for in this world they ha…

To Our Health!

(A Communion Meditation based on 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 for Sunday, October 20, 2013)

We have come together today to eat the Lord’s Supper. But, to use Paul’s phrase, have we come together “really to eat the Lord’s supper”? Put the emphasis where it belongs: Have we come together to eat the Lord’s supper? Paul said that it was not the Lord’s supper that the Corinthians had gathered to eat; it was something else, namely, it was their own supper.

Now, to be fair, it was the practice in the early church to observe the Lord’s Supper—the memorial of bread and cup in which we still share today—in the context of a regular fellowship meal, as was the case on the Thursday night when Jesus established the practice for his followers. The members of the church would bring their own food and eat together; the Lord’s Supper would be observed as a part of the larger meal. So the problem was not that the people were enjoying a meal together—it was rather than they were not really enjoying it to…

Eureka!

[A sermon based on Matthew 13:44-46 for July 21, 2013)

Are we aware enough of what we have found and are finding in Christ? Are we aware enough of what we have in him?

While it is most likely a legend, it is a legend that has endured for over two thousand years, so it is at least an enduring legend. The story goes that the third century BCE mathematician Archimedes was challenged by his king to solve a problem. It seems that an artisan who made golden wreaths for the gods was suspected of diluting the gold with silver but the suspicions could not be confirmed; Archimedes was commissioned to figure out a way to determine the truth.

While struggling with the problem, Archimedes went to the public baths. Noticing that the deeper he went in the tub the more water was displaced, he realized that the amount of water he displaced was equal to the volume of his body. It occurred to him that, since gold weighs more than silver, it would take more silver to give the wreath the desire…

Going Under

(A Baptism Sermon for Sunday, July 14, 2013)

Romans 6:1-11


Do you ever feel like you’re going under? Do you ever feel like your mistakes and your missteps are about to catch up with you? Do you ever feel like the temptations you face are going to overwhelm you?

Well, welcome to life in the real world.

Recently, a woman was commenting on how she had been helped by joining the adult choir of her church when she was only thirteen. She spoke of how it taught her discipline; she learned, she said, that if she wanted to be treated like an adult she had to act like an adult (Lorienne Schwenk, Letter to the Editor, Christian Century, July 10, 2013, p. 6.) I hear that.

It’s funny, though; we talk a lot about how growing up and being an adult means learning to take care of yourself—and there’s a lot of truth to that—but growing up as a child of God means learning to let someone else take care of you and taking advantage of the ways that someone else provides for your care and well…

The Fall and the Call

(A Deacon Ordination sermon based on John 21:15-19 for Sunday, June 23, 2013)

“Fall and call go together” [Christopher Bamford, “The Gift of the Call,” Parabola, Fall 2004, in Philip Zaleski, ed., The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005), p. 4].

That’s why we don’t expect you to be perfect.

That’s why we do expect you to be you.

So what do we get in getting you? We get sinners, that’s what we get.

There’s no point in denying it or dancing around it; we’re ordaining sinners and installing sinners as deacons today.

The rest of us are sinners, too, so what we really have here are sinners ordaining sinners.

And that’s good news.

It’s good news because it means that we are all in this together; we are a bunch of sinners who have stumbled into the grace of God and who are by that grace trying to follow Jesus and trying to serve a broken world.

Simon Peter can serve as a role model for us. I can’t help but wonder if, as happy as he must have been…

The Family with Two Fathers

(A sermon based on Luke 2:41-52 for Father's Day 2013)

I recently, on two separate occasions, gave our children the opportunity to express their opinion, now that they are adults, of what kind of father I have been to them. I did so with fear and trembling. Our son Joshua said, “Well, Sara and I are both reasonably well-adjusted and are doing what we think we are supposed to do. I’d say you did fine.” Our daughter Sara said, “You're the best. The absolute best. And I'll stick to that as long as you keep making your chicken wings.”

I took their insights to heart and I felt fine.

What I always wanted was what all decent parents want: for my children to discover who God made them to be and to spend their lives being that. I am grateful that they are doing that and that they recognize the truly finer things in life, too. And that they have a sense of humor.

After all, we parents believe that our children are a gift from God, that they are blessed by God with unique g…

Open Doors, Open Lives

(A Communion meditation based on Genesis 18:1-14 for Sunday, June 9, 2013)

So far as Abraham could tell, they were just three men who happened by, but he still fell all over himself being hospitable to them. He asked them in, encouraged them to put their feet up, and, along with Sarah, fed them a great meal. He welcomed them into his home, to his table, and into his life. As a result, Abraham was included in a conversation that made quite a difference in his life for in that conversation Abraham was told that at that same time the next year Sarah would give birth to a son. After much waiting and hoping, there would be a son of Sarah and Abraham; his name would be Isaac. So Abraham gave to his guests but he also received from them.

And in some mysterious way, the Lord God was present in the meal outside Abraham and Sarah’s tent.

Many years later there lived in the town of Jericho another “son of Abraham” whose name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a reject, a small man made even …

Waging Peace

(A sermon baseed on Matthew 5:9 for the Sunday before Memorial Day)

Neil Young’s recent biography is entitled Waging Heavy Peace. Young has been trying to develop a digital music delivery system that is of superior quality to that which is presently available. Someone asked him if he was going to wage war against iTunes to which he replied, “No, I’m waging heavy peace.”

Waging heavy peace would be a good thing for the Church to do.

Famed World War II leader Gen. George Patton said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so.” With all due respect to the General, if he really did love it so, he needed God’s help. When you think, though, of the kind of focused energy, commitment, and sacrifice that a nation can muster during a time of war, you can see his point.

What if a nation were to mobilize to wage peace with the same kind of commitment with which we wage war? What if we counted as heroes those who give themse…

Inherit the Wind

(A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21 for Pentecost 2013)


What happened on Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus who had assembled in Jerusalem following his ascension. He had told them to wait there until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and, ten days after he ascended, they were still waiting.

And then, suddenly, the Spirit came; all at once the followers of Jesus received their inheritance from their Lord.

The coming of the Holy Spirit to those first believers was, to understate it terribly, a major event. And the Holy Spirit has remained in and with the Church ever since which is also, to understate it terribly, a big deal.

There is no point in seeking a scientific explanation for events like this one; what happened was an act of divine grace and God, being God, can offer God’s gifts in any way that God pleases. I could not resist, though, delving into a little science as I thought about the events of Pentecost, particularly as I tried to imagine…

Jesus Lives—In Our Unity!

(A sermon based on John 17:20-26 for the Seventh Sunday of Easter)

When a family manages, through all the turmoil and calm, through all the bad and good, through all the change and the sameness, to hang in there and still be a family, what is it that holds that family together? On Mother’s Day, we naturally expect the answer to be “Mother” or “Mom” or “Mama”—or whatever your family’s preferred title is. And that would be an accurate answer for many of our families, although for some it would be “Father” or “Grandparent” or “Big Sister or Brother” or “Foster Parent” or someone else. There often is a person who functions as the family’s “glue.”

The real answer to the question, though—and it’s an answer for which those other answers can and do stand—is “love.” The glue that holds a family together is love, and such love is selfless love, self-giving love, and self-sacrificing love. And such love leads the one who has it to offer a lot of prayer for the family.

The Church is a fam…

Above, Beyond, and Beside

(A sermon based on Luke 24:44-53 & Ephesians 1:15-23 for Ascension Day 2013)

Following his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples and then, on that fortieth day, he ascended to take his place at the right hand of his Father. From there he rules over all that is and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

This, then, is an awe-inspiring day. It is a day to celebrate the power of God and the lordship of Christ.

It is a day to celebrate the fact that Jesus is beyond us. After his resurrection he came back to his disciples but then forty days later he left them. Jesus Christ is the Son of God who left his place with the Father to come here as a human being who lived, died, and rose again. Then he ascended—he went back to be with his Father and in so doing he went somewhere that they could not go, at least not yet. So this is a good day to remember and to celebrate that Jesus Christ is beyond us. He is God and he is to be worshiped.

When Jesu…

Jesus Lives—In Our Love!

(A sermon based on John 13:31-35 for the Fifth Sunday of Easter)

The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (6th century BCE) said,

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

It is, like most pithy sayings, an oversimplification—some depression and some anxiety can have a biological and chemical basis, for example; but it is also, like many such sayings, packed with truth.

It is also a saying that a Christian can affirm, although probably not without some elaboration.

Here is one necessary elaboration: “If you are at peace you are living in the present because you are living in love.” That is a necessary elaboration because living in love is the necessity if a Christian is going to live a life of peace.

The Apostle Paul famously said, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). For as long as I can remember I have…

Jesus Lives—In Our Service!

(A sermon based on John 21:1-19 for the Third Sunday of Easter 2013)

You have likely heard the quote “Failure is not an option.” It’s a nice thought and it would be a good motivator in a time of crisis when all energies need to be focused on finding solutions that will help a person or group work toward a positive outcome.

If you really think about it, though, you have to admit that it doesn’t hold up. Failure is always an option; sometimes it comes despite our best efforts while sometimes it comes because we choose it by our failure to give our best effort.

I like this Chinese proverb better: “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” Sometimes we will not succeed but we don’t truly fail unless we don’t get up and try again. I remember reading about a monk describing life in the monastery to a writer: “We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again.”

When it comes to talking about who we are as it compares wi…