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Restarting the Echoes of Christmas

(A Communion meditation based on Luke 2:22-40 for the 1st Sunday after Christmas Day 2014)

It was forty days after the birth of Jesus and the praise of the angels and of the shepherds was still echoing. In our text we hear it echoing in the words of two elderly people who had faithfully throughout their long lives waited and watched expectantly for God to act in the coming of the Messiah.

A few questions:

Are we looking for God to reveal the Messiah in whatever ways God chooses to reveal him?

Are we dedicating our lives to living in the light of his past, present, and future comings?

Are we proclaiming with our lives the presence of Christ in the world and in our lives?

Are the echoes of the Christmas event still echoing in our lives?

Mary and Joseph, in obedience to the teaching of their tradition, brought Jesus when he was forty days old to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord. There they encountered Simeon and Anna, both of whom were well up in years. Simeon took the baby…

Be Born In Us Today

(A sermon based on Luke 1:26-38 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2014)

Mary seems to have resolved in a few minutes a matter that some of us have been trying to resolve for a lifetime: can I receive Christ into my life?

I’m going to say that what happened in Mary can in a sense happen in us. But first, let’s note that there are at least two crucial differences between Mary and us (beyond the really crucial difference that she was the mother of the Christ child and we are not).

The first difference has to do with the state of our spirit.

We may have been trying to get Christ to come into our life; we may even have been doing so to a point that we have become anxious about it. Mary, on the other hand, made no effort and expended no energy; she was just going about the activities of her life when suddenly she learned that Christ had come to her. The coming of Christ into Mary’s life was, in other words, a gift of God’s grace and not a reward for some kind of super piety on her part. O…

Where is the Rebel Church?

(A sermon based on Luke 1:46b-55 for the 3rd Sunday of Advent 2014)

Something’s not right.

The rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer. Every three years the Federal Reserve conducts a Survey of Consumer Finances; the most recent survey in 2013 revealed that the average pre-tax income for those Americans in the top 10% in terms of wealth rose by 10% from 2010-2013 while the average pre-tax income for Americans in the bottom 40% declined. The study reveals that in America no one is getting richer except for the rich.

In the United States in 2013, 45.3 million people (14.5 percent) were in poverty while 14.7 million (19.9 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty. 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children; households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20 percent compared to 12 percent.

Here in 2014, 225 years after …

People Get Ready

(A sermon based on 2 Peter 3:8-15a for the 2nd Sunday of Advent 2014)

Given the myriad problems faced by those of us living here on Earth, it is only natural that we who are looking for the return of Jesus Christ wonder why God is taking so long to send him back. After all, it’s been 2000 years now since he was here the first time. Would it make you feel any better to know that people were already wondering about that just a few decades after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus? Well, they were. Why? I can think of at least three reasons.

First, the memory of the Church was that Jesus had seemed to imply that he would come back soon, maybe even within a generation. Second, people are by nature impatient. Third, people have a misconception of what time is and especially of how God relates to time.

The truth about time, according to the science of physics, is that it’s relative. Einstein theorized and all physicists now agree that time is relative to how fast or slo…

What Are We Waiting For?

(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 for the First Sunday of Advent 2014)

We live in the Church and in our Christian lives with a tension between idealism and realism.

After all, we are followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. During the Advent season we look forward to celebrating the birth of the Christ Child who was God incarnate, God in the flesh. In Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and when we open our hearts and lives up to him he comes into our lives and we are drawn into the very eternal life of God. God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, God the Father all come to be with us and in us and we come to be in them.

What amazing lives we should and could all be living! What an amazing body the Church should be!

Ideally, that is.

Here’s what we often tell ourselves, though: “We’re only human. We cannot really live in this world as the body of Christ; we have to settle for much less than that if we are going to get by. But it’s ok because when Jesus c…

The One and Only King

(A sermon based on Ephesians 1:15-23 for Reign of Christ Sunday preached on November 23)

We live in a society that is plagued by shortsightedness. We see that reality in how we live our personal lives and in how our leaders design and implement public policies. We tend to adopt the short-term fix rather than work toward the long-term solution. We think more about what’s good for us than we do about what’s good for the generations that will follow us.

There’s a Bible story that illustrates what I’m talking about. Hezekiah was king of Judah in the eighth century BCE. He received some Babylonian envoys during the time that Babylon was rising in power; he tried to impress those envoys by showing them all of his treasure. When Isaiah the prophet found out about it, he told King Hezekiah that there would come a day when all of Judah’s treasure would be taken to Babylon and some of Hezekiah’s own sons would be taken into captivity. I find the king’s response to the prophet amazing: “The wo…

Counting to Twelve

(A Communion message based on John 13:21-38 and preached on November 16, 2014)

They’re not here. Did you notice? Somebody who should be here is not here. Some of those who are not here have legitimate reasons; some of them would give just about anything if they could only be here. But there are members of this church family who are not here because they have chosen not to be here; they are not here because they do not want to be here. They have chosen not to be here to worship God; they have chosen not to be here to celebrate the baptism of two of our children; they have chosen not to be here to observe the Lord’s Supper.

I wish we were all here. I don’t wish we were all here so that we could have a big crowd; I don’t wish we were all here so that we could talk next week about the large number of people that came to church. I wish we were all here because we are a family and whenever a family gets together we miss the absent ones. I wish we were all here because this is where we all…

Knowing God

(A sermon based on John 14:1-17 preached on November 9, 2014)

Let’s start with a question: Do we even want to know God?

Please note what I am not asking: I am not asking if we want to know about God. I am asking whether we want to know God. Do we want to be in a real relationship with God, by which I mean a relationship in which God is in us and we are in God? After all, such a relationship requires openness, it requires vulnerability, and it requires intimacy. It requires recognizing that while the basis of our relationship with God is God’s love for us, it is not a relationship between equals; God has the right to point out our sins and to expect us to repent of them, to point out our weaknesses and to expect us to strengthen them, and to point out our strengths and to expect us to build on them.

The question assumes that we believe that God in fact exists, that God is God and nothing less than God, and that God in God’s grace wants to be in relationship with us. It assumes that w…

The Tracks of Our Tears

(A sermon based on Psalm 126:5-6 a ndRevelation 21:1-4 preached for All Saints'/Souls' Sunday)

Mourning, crying, and tears will be part of our landscape for as long as we live in this world. That’s because, whether we are looking backward or looking forward, death is on the horizon. A time comes in everyone’s life when for the first time someone significant dies; from that time on, when we look back we will see that life and that death. From the moment we are born our own death is on the horizon; so are the deaths of other people that we know and love.

Something we ought to remember that we often forget is that we are all in it together. There are people who die with no one to mourn their passing and that is unspeakably sad. But 99% of the time, when someone dies someone else mourns. That is the case whether we are Americans, Iraqis, Canadians, Syrians, Israelis, or Liberians. It is the case whether we live in a capitalist or in a socialist society. It is the same whether we…

Knowing God in the Time of Ebola

(A sermon based on Job 42:1-6 and preached on October 19, 2014)

We have an Ebola situation.

One of the things that I keep hearing commentators and political figures say about that situation is, “People are afraid.” It seems to me that some of them want us to be afraid because they figure that our fear will help them get elected or reelected or will help their ratings improve.

We should not give in to fear, which is not to say that we should not be concerned.

There is a difference, though, between beings concerned and being afraid; as rational human beings we have good reason to be concerned about Ebola. We should pray for our public health officials, the doctors and nurses treating the sick, for the medical and military personnel who are in West Africa to try to help contain the spread of the disease, and for political leaders as they make decisions that hopefully will be for the good of everyone. Other than such praying, there’s really not a lot that we can do; chances that any of u…

Grace

(A sermon based on John 1:1-18. I wrote and first preached this sermon years ago; I shared it with our Vespers congregation tonight. It occurred to me that some folks might find it helpful ...)

I know what it is like to be driven. Some of you will have experienced that dynamic in your life, too. When I was in elementary school I was not blessed with attractiveness, charm, or talent. But I discovered early on that I was good at school work. I did not have to work particularly hard to get good grades. Frankly, it was a gift. I was gifted with a love for reading and a love for learning. Exercising the gift was no problem. So, I made good grades. It felt good to be good at something.

Things changed, though, when doing well at what I was good at doing became too important to me. Before long, my self-esteem got all tied up in how good my grades were. If I made good grades, I was a good person; if I made bad grades, I was a bad person. What had been joy because it was a gift …

Never Alone

(A sermon based on Genesis 2:18-25 and preached on October 12, 2014)

We sometimes refer to ourselves as “people of the Book.” That is a misleading term; it is misleading because it is often taken as a description of our primary allegiance. Our primary allegiance is not to a book; our primary allegiance is to a person, to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the one to whom Scripture points; Jesus is the one by whose light Scripture is read. We are Christians, not Biblians. We follow Jesus; the Bible helps us find our way. Jesus is Lord; the Bible is a help to us in following our Lord.

It matters how we come to the Bible; it matters what we are looking for when we come to it. If we come to it looking for proof texts to undergird our preconceived notions, we will find them—but someone of a differing perspective will find proof texts to undergird theirs, too. If we come to it looking for rules to guide our every action, we will find them—but we will soon be hopelessly confused since …

In Your Beginning

(A sermon based on Genesis 1:26-28 and preached on September 21, 2014)

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the Bible. The phrase can be translated “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth” (Fox, 5) so that we could read it as “To start with …” In any case, creation had a beginning and God was up to something with it. Later in Genesis we read about God’s creation of humanity. Regardless of how we literally came to be, which it is the business of science to figure out, God was up to something in the creation and existence of our kind. It stands to reason, then, that God was up to something in the making of you and me and in our placement in this world.

Given how great the odds are that we shouldn’t be here, we really should be amazed that we are. In the summer of 2011 Dr. Ali Binazir posed the question, “What are your chances of coming into being?” He considered such factors as (1) the odds of your parents meeting, which he estimat…

This Is the Day that the Lord Has Made

(A sermon based on Psalm 118 preached on Sunday, September 7, 2014)

Sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot. We find ourselves confined; we find ourselves shut in with little room to move. Figuratively (and perhaps literally) speaking, we find it hard to breathe.

We find ourselves wondering how we got there. We need to take a good hard look at our situation so that we can acknowledge what we need to acknowledge and confess what we need to confess and face what we need to face.

After all, it is just possible that we put ourselves in the tight spot that we are in. Oh, I know—believe me, I know—that family background and social circumstances and other people’s actions and other factors play into the choices and decisions we make. Still, when you get right down to it, our choices and decisions are our own. “The Lord has punished me severely,” the speaker in our psalm says (v. 18a). So sometimes we find ourselves in a tight spot because we have put ourselves there; sin does have co…

Communion This Morning, Church Conference Tonight

(A sermon based on Romans 12:1-21 preached on Sunday, August 18, 2014)

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.”

And so I thought life was all about getting what I needed with little to no effort being expended by me. A roof was kept over my head, food appeared on my plate, and clothes were placed in my closet.

“When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

It’s not like I had much choice.

I found that if I was to keep on having a roof over my head, food on my plate, and clothes in my closet, I was going to have to do what adults do: become a grown human being who met my obligations and met my responsibilities.

And so with the blessings of family come the responsibilities of family. With the family dinners come the cooking and the cleaning. With making love comes making the bed. With the ball games and the competitions come all of the practices. With the house comes the mortgage. With the fun comes the commitment.

This morni…

Elbow Grace

(A sermon based on 1 Peter 4:7-11 preached on August 10, 2014)

Most of us are familiar with the term elbow grease; it’s used in a phrase like “That pan was hard to clean—I really had to put some elbow grease into it!” It’s a way of saying that you had to put a lot of effort into a task.

My title is a play on that term. There are two ways I’d like you to think about it. First, let the phrase “elbow grace” help you think about the effort that we need to be making as Christians; Christ deserves our all because Christ is our all. Second, let the phrase “elbow grace” help you think about the fact that grace is our “elbow grease”; it is the grace of God that fuels and drives all that we are and all that we do.

In the opening words of our passage, Peter tells his readers, “The end of all things is near” (v. 1a). Now, it is likely that Peter anticipated that Jesus would return very soon. We must remember, though, that God’s time is not our time and God’s schedule is not our schedule; Jesus mi…