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Showing posts from 2015

Without Honor

(A sermon based on Mark 6:1-13 & 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; preached on July 5, 2015)

I've recently moved back to my home territory after forty years away. I have during those forty years functioned as a prophet, if by “prophet” you mean “preacher.” In the places where I have lived and served during those four decades I have been known as the pastor, as the preacher, or as the professor. I have been called “Rev. Ruffin” or “Dr. Ruffin” or “Pastor” or “Preacher.”

Now, though, when I am with my family or with my old friends, I am just “Mike.” I’m the cousin or the nephew or the schoolmate. Some of those folks are aware of who I have been and of what I’ve been doing, but some aren’t. Some of them think they know what it means for me to be a pastor and preacher, but their assumptions are wrong. Some of them know that I’ve changed over the years, that I’m not the same Mike who left all those years ago. Some of them will be disappointed when they find out who I have become.

I try to ima…

Jesus’ Touch

(A sermon based on Mark 5:21-43 and preached on June 28, 2015)

Is there anything in life more meaningful than touch? Does anything mean more to us than a compassionate touch when we are hurting, a reassuring touch when we are frightened, a welcoming touch when we are lonely, or a healing touch when we are sick?

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be touched by Jesus? Today’s Gospel lesson tells us of two women who were restored by his touch.

One was the twelve-year-old daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus. He came to Jesus seeking help for her because she was at the point of death. Many of us can empathize with Jairus. I will never forget how I felt when our twenty-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a massive blood clot in her leg a few years ago. I will especially never forget how it felt to hear the doctor explain to her how they were going to treat her and about the risk of a piece of the clot breaking off and going to her lung, heart, or brain. “That could be…

What I’ve Been Trying to Say: Practice Love!

(A sermon based on Philippians 2:1-18 for Sunday, April 26th, 2015--my last sermon as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, GA)

When all is said and done, it all comes down to love. So “love” is the word and the reality with which I want to leave you.

Well, actually it all comes down to worshipping God. But God is love—that is, God is most defined by God’s love and so to worship God is to worship the One who is perfect love. And actually it all comes down to following Jesus. But Jesus showed us what kind of love God’s love is so to follow Jesus is to practice God’s kind of love.

To worship God is to worship the One who is love.

To follow Jesus is to follow the One who showed us what love is.

So it all comes down to love.

I decided long ago that I would in living my life always try to come down on the side of love. I decided long ago that I would in carrying out my ministry always try to come down on the side of love. I decided long ago that I would in leading the chu…

What I’ve Been Trying to Say: Follow Jesus!

(A sermon based on Mark 8:27-38 for April 19, 2015. Second in a series of my final three sermons as Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, GA)

“I have decided to follow Jesus.” How many times have we sung it? Hopefully every time we sing it we make a recommitment to follow Jesus. In fact, that’s a recommitment we need to make every day.

For the last six years I’ve been steadily encouraging us to follow Jesus. I believe that most of us want to do so; the question is how do we do it?

We follow Jesus by following Jesus. And we have to see Jesus and to see where Jesus is going if we are going to follow him; we have to keep our eyes on Jesus. There are several ways we can keep our eyes on him.

One is to pray regularly. Remember: the crucified and resurrected Jesus is present in you and with you. You have a personal relationship with him and that relationship can and should be developed and deepened. Jesus is not an object to be admired; he is a person to be known and loved.


What I’ve Been Trying to Say: Worship God!

(A sermon based on Psalm 8 for Sunday, April 12, 2015. First in a series of my final three sermons as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, GA)

Psalm 8 addresses these words to God: “When I consider the works of your hands …”

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Roman Christians, “I appeal to you … brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

When you put those three biblical passages together you pretty much get what I’ve been trying to say about God during these last six years: (1) consider God, (2) love God, and (3) serve God.

All three passages presume, as the entire Bible presumes, that God is. We Christians presume that, too. But do we move beyond presuming to actually thinking about God? How much attentio…

Following Jesus: Out of the Tomb

(A sermon based on Mark 16:1-8 for Easter Sunday)

We have been following Jesus through all that he experienced during Holy Week. We followed him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we followed him into Simon’s house (where he was anointed by an anonymous woman) on Wednesday, we followed him to the table on Thursday, and we followed him to the cross and the tomb on Friday. Now, on this Easter Sunday morning, we are going to follow him out of the tomb.

Interestingly, we are told less about Jesus’s resurrection than we are any of the other events at which we have looked. While we are given some wonderful and helpful stories about his post-resurrection appearances, we are told nothing of what actually happened in the resurrection. Oh, we know that he rose from the dead—and that’s enough—but we are told nothing of the process and we are given none of the details. There are good reasons for those intentional omissions. For one, no one actually saw what happened. For another, if someone had see…

Following Jesus: All Along the Way

(An Easter sermon based on Luke 24:13-36)

It was the Sunday on which Jesus was raised from the dead and two disciples of Jesus—one was named Cleopas and the other remains anonymous—were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles. Some of the women who followed Jesus had already encountered the risen Christ outside the empty tomb that morning and had told the eleven remaining disciples and “all the rest” about it. Evidently Cleopas and his friend were among “all the rest” because they knew all about the report. But they didn’t know what to make of it so they went ahead and left town. They were just walking down the road, burdened with sadness and disappointment as they talked about the awful crucifixion of their beloved rabbi.

Suddenly they were joined by a stranger who seemed oddly unaware of what had happened on the previous Friday. When he asked what they were talking about, they told him about the prophet Jesus of Nazareth and how they had hoped he might be …

Following Jesus: To the Tomb

(A Good Friday Meditation)

Today we follow Jesus all the way to his tomb.

We follow him as he is mocked and beaten and spit upon.

We follow him as he takes up his cross and begins the long walk through Jerusalem out to Golgotha.

We follow him as he stumbles under his burden until Simon of Cyrene is pulled out of the crowd to help him.

We follow him as he is nailed to the cross.

We follow him as he suffers and dies.

We follow him as he is taken down from the cross.

We follow him as he is carried to the garden tomb.

We follow him as the stone is rolled over the mouth of the tomb.

We follow him as he lies there in the silent darkness.

That’s what we do today: we follow him all along the way as he moves from his trial to his entombment.

And if we want to we can go to Jerusalem and walk along the Via Dolorosa, literally following in the footsteps of Jesus.

But are we following Jesus to the tomb in our real daily lives? Jesus called his disciples and Jesus calls us (we are als…

Following Jesus: To the Table

(A Maundy Thursday sermon based on John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

It’s Thursday night—let’s follow Jesus to the table.

There Jesus shared a meal with his disciples; he did so because he loved them—“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (v. 1b). When Jesus knew that his time to leave this world was at hand, he got together for a meal with his friends.
We who follow Jesus are his friends; we are also friends to one another. When we get together we get together as friends; as we live our lives we live them together as friends.

In a very real way, though, we are more than friends to each other because we are brothers and sisters in Christ. In a very real way, we are more than friends to Jesus and Jesus is certainly more than a friend to us—he is our Lord and we are his disciples.
So we want to pay very close attention to what Jesus teaches us by his words and through his actions. We want to see how he related to his followers so that we will know how we are t…

Following Jesus: To Simon's House

(A sermon based on Mark 14:1-11 for Wednesday of Holy Week)

What does it mean to follow Jesus? We learn a couple of things that it means from this anonymous woman who anointed Jesus on Wednesday of Holy Week, just two days before he would be crucified. From her we learn that following Jesus means to embrace who Jesus says he is. Another thing she teaches us that following Jesus means to participate in what he is doing.

This woman is an intriguing character about whom we know nothing other than that she performed this beautiful act of anointing Jesus. It stands to reason, though, that she had encountered Jesus previously and even that she was a follower of Jesus. Indeed, it just may be that Mark purposely contrasts her with other followers of Jesus in order to show through her what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Whereas others failed at following Jesus, she succeeded. Whereas others failed at understanding Jesus, she succeeded.

Think back, for example, to the conversation bet…

Following Jesus: Into Jerusalem

(A sermon based on Mark 11:1-11 for Palm Sunday 2015)

We are Christians; that means that we are followers of Jesus Christ. So during this Holy Week let’s follow Jesus through his last week on Earth and in so following let’s see what we can learn about what it means to follow him. To paraphrase the question he asked James and John when they asked to be seated at his right hand and his left in his kingdom, “Are we able to drink the cup that he drank?” Are we able—are we willing—to follow in his way?

There’s goes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Let’s follow him.

We should note right off that Jesus went to Jerusalem intentionally and purposefully. He was not dragged to that city in which he knew his life would be in danger; he went there on purpose. No one forced him to enter the place where the forces who wanted him gone were gathered; he went there voluntarily. He knew what going there would cost him and he went anyway.

Have we counted the cost of discipleship? Have we t…

Will We Be Strong People?

(A sermon based on Ephesians 3:14-17 for the Fifth Sunday in Lent preached on March 22, 2015)

As Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians while away from them, so I will be praying for you when I am away from you. I’ll be praying the same kind of prayers that I’ve been praying for you while I have been here with you.

I pray that you will know God. I pray that you will know God as fully as you possibly can know God. I pray that you will know God deeply and personally. I pray that you will experience all of the benefits that come from knowing God.

What can keep you from knowing God? Oh, lots of things can.

Failing to think about God can keep you from knowing God. Too many of us are “practical atheists”; we say we believe God exists but live as if we don’t really think that God exists—or at least as if we don’t remember that God exists. Such behavior can take many forms but I have in mind a failure to consider God in all of our attitudes, our motives, and our actions. We can’t really…

Listen to Jesus

(A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9 for Transfiguration Sunday 2015)

To whom do you listen?

So many voices vie for our attention and for our allegiance.

The voices of our past may call us to live in guilt or regret. The voices of our family and friends may call us to live our life the way they think we should live it. The voices of commentators may call us to view the world the way they see it. The voices of our fellow church members and of our preachers may call us to think about things from a point of view that calls itself “Christian” but may not have much to do with the actual way of Christ. The voice of our ego may call us to focus our energies on self-interest and self-protection.

The voice of God, though, calls us to listen to Jesus.

And we should.

Jesus is, after all, the One who is the culmination and the apex of God’s way in the world. He is, after all, the fulfillment of the promises of God. He is, after all, the beloved Son of God. He is, after all, the resurrected and glo…

Wait. Move. Stay. Go.

(A sermon based on Isaiah 40:21-31 & Mark 1:29-39 for Sunday, February 8)

What has you stuck? What has you stuck in a rut, stuck in a mess, stuck in a quandary, or stuck in your life?

Maybe it’s the state of the world that has you stuck. You look around you at all that is happening in the world and you wonder if anybody can do anything about it and if anybody even cares about it. You may even wonder if God cares.

That’s the way it was for many of the people addressed by the prophet whose words are found in Isaiah 40-55. They were in exile in Babylon, having been ripped from their homeland in Judah a few decades before the prophet spoke these words. Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple within it had been levelled; the faith of many people was destroyed along with the buildings. Their thinking went something like this: Babylon had conquered Judah so Babylon was stronger than Judah; Babylon’s gods had defeated Judah’s God so those gods must be stronger than the Lord.

You c…

The Church is an Expectant Body

(A sermon based on Mark 1:14-20 & 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 for February 1, 2015)

“Blessed are those who don’t expect much for they shall not be disappointed.” So goes a saying I picked up somewhere along the road. It’s also a saying that I have decided to throw down on the ground and stomp to smithereens because it is, from a Christian perspective, an abysmally inappropriate attitude. We should be the most expectant people on the planet; we should be always on the lookout for what God is doing and for how God is calling us to help out.

We are looking for what is going to happen. We are looking expectantly for the coming of the Lord and for God’s bringing about of a new heaven and a new earth; we are looking for God’s fulfilling of all of God’s purposes and for God making all things like God intends for them to be. So Paul advised the Corinthians—and he is careful in 1 Corinthians 7 to say that he is offering his opinion and not a word from the Lord—to “deal with the world as though…

The Church is a Known Body

(A sermon based on Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 & John 1:43-51 for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany and preached on January 18, 2015)

Big Brother is watching you.

We live in an age of ever-increasing surveillance. Security cameras are becoming more and more prevalent; Facebook and Google know more about you than your mother does; the debate will continue over how much access to your personal information the government is entitled to as it monitors cell phone records in order to try to prevent terrorist attacks. It’s a complicated situation as we try to walk the line between fostering security and protecting privacy. We want to be safe but we don’t want people to know our business.

Would it make you nervous to know that there is someone who knows everything about you—who knows everything you have ever done, every thought you have ever had, every motive you have ever followed—from whom absolutely nothing about you can or will be hidden? Well, God does in fact know everything about yo…

The Church is a Baptized Body

(A sermon based on Mark 1:4-11 & Acts 19:1-7 for Baptism of the Lord Sunday)

When we think about baptism the first thing we think about is water. We Baptists are known for the extravagant employment of water in our baptisms; we put you in a big pool and we get you wet all over. Regardless of the baptismal mode and of the amount of water employed, though, when we are baptized we are baptized in much more than water—we are baptized in the Holy Spirit of God. We get water on our bodies but we get the Holy Spirit in our spirits.

The presence of the Spirit in us is absolutely vital to our identity as the Church, to our life as the Church, and to our witness as the Church. Without the Spirit we are not the Church; with the Spirit we are much more the Church than we have ever imagined or have ever shown.

John the Baptist preached that while he baptized people with water, when the One who was to come arrived he would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus came to be baptized by John; …

Good News for Everybody!

(A sermon based on Ephesians 3:1-12 for Epiphany Sunday 2015)

It was 1969 and Timothy Leary was running for Governor of California. He asked John Lennon if he would write a song for his campaign, the theme of which was “Come Together.” Lennon dashed off a song that got played a few times in ads on California radio stations. Lennon and the Beatles then worked on it some more and recorded the version that became track #1 on the Abbey Road album. Leary was a bit irritated that Lennon had made such use of the song that was written for him; Lennon’s response was that he was like a tailor and that if someone orders a suit and never comes back for it you give it to someone else. Some of you will know that the opening line to that song is “Here come old flattop”; what you might not know is that it was lifted (perhaps unintentionally) from a Chuck Berry song so Berry’s publisher sued Lennon for plagiarism. Lennon agreed to record three of the publisher’s songs to settle the lawsuit [Steve Turn…