Vision and Longing

Vision and Longing

Sermon on Amos 5:14-15, 24 and Matthew 6:24-33 for Pentecost +23A, November 12, 2017

Amos 5:14-15, 24

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;

and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;

it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Matthew 6:24-33

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?   Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’   For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.   But strive first for the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Vision and Longing

Last week in my Sunday school class we watched a video clip of a professor doing a   lecture that really could be called a rant.  He spoke with passion and strong language.  I sent the link to the video to someone who replied that his delivery was so powerful it was almost off-putting, but he spoke with such intelligence that his rant was compelling. 

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We only read a snippet of the prophet Amos, but Amos reads like a rant.  He feels passionately about issues so he uses intense language.  And because he is a prophet, and prophets speak for God, he makes it sound like God is ranting too. 

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“You are all students” he said.

“You are all students” he said.

Sermon on Matthew 23:1-12 for Pentecost +22A, Nov. 5, 2017

“You are all students” he said.

Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Wednesday was All Saints Day, which we celebrated last Sunday in church by remembering those who were dear to us, who are no longer with us in this life.  

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Every Wednesday we have our pot luck supper and adult discussion, so, this past Wednesday, since it was All Saints Day, and since it is the beginning of November and therefore the time we approach Thanksgiving, we started our discussion by going around and naming a person who was no longer with us, whom we were especially thankful for. 

The sharing was deep and personal, often emotional.  As we explained our reasons for being grateful for the people who had been important to us, we could all sense this state of appreciation and gratitude that seemed to fill the room.

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Reformed DNA: Always Reforming

Reformed DNA: Always Reforming

Sermon on Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 and Matthew 22:34-4, October 29, 2017, All Saints

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

There is a company called “23 And Me” that will test your DNA for a fee, so that you can see where your ancestors really came from.  Their TV commercials show a number of people expressing pleasant surprise, or even shocked reactions to learning their heritage.   Our DNA forms our identity.  It gives us our eye and hair color, our features and characteristics, even, to a large extent, our diseases.

And for that reason, we have used DNA as a metaphor for something which is so characteristic that it is essential to identity.  We can say that a company has a DNA, or an organization has a DNA.  For example, it is in the DNA of the Christian Service Center to want to give people a hand up, so the Center will find ways to do that, from the food pantry to bicycles.  Continue reading “Reformed DNA: Always Reforming”

All God’s Money

All God’s Money

Sermon on Matthew 22:15-22 for Pentecost +20A, October 22, 2017

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

A song I like, by the band Wilco, has a line in it that says, “Our love is all of God’s money.”  When I first heard it, I was struck by how odd the thought was that God had money.  Why would God have money?   Of course, I get it, that it is a metaphor – but such an odd one that I never would have thought it up. 

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But, when you think about it, maybe it is apt.  We use money to measure value.  We humans have been using money since at least 3,000 BCE, as evidence from ancient Mesopotamia indicates.  In the bible, we read of Abraham buying the cave of Machpelah from the Hittites as a tomb for his wife Sarah. That story is set around the year 2,000 BCE. 

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The Vision that Compels Us

The Vision that Compels Us

Sermon on Matthew 21:28-32 for Pentecost +17 A World Communion Sunday, October 1, 2017

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

Matthew 21:28-32

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

The Vision that Compels Us

I just heard that there is a new book out, in the horror fiction category, co-written by Stephen King and his son, Owen, called Sleeping Beauties.  In the book, for some reason, that they did not explain in the interview, all of the women in the world go to sleep.  So it is, for all practical purposes, a world without any women.  Maybe I have seen too many films set in wars or prisons, but that seems to me like a real horror to imagine.  All male environments can get pretty brutal. 

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Anyway, hearing about that book’s plot made me think about imagining our world differently than it is.  What would the world be like without any Christians in it?  What would the world be like if Jesus never existed?

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Feelings and Faithfulness

Feelings and Faithfulness

Sermon on Jonah 3:10-4:11 for Pentecost +16 A, September 24, 2017

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Even though there are many signs of decline in Christianity in America and Europe, I have hope for the future.  My basis for my hope, besides theological reasons, is this: Christianity has been able to subject itself to intense, rigorous critique, again and again, and to survive.  It has not remained unchanged; the critiques have produced changes, but our faith has endured those changes time after time, and still invites more sustained criticism.

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Dark Red Letters

Dark Red Letters

Sermon on Genesis 50:15-21 and Matthew 18:21-35 for September 17, 2017, Pentecost +15A

Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

They say that the kind of music you love the most is the kind you listened to in adolescence.  Well, that is true for me.  So sometimes, even in these days, a Joni Mitchell song will play in my head.  She wrote the song “Woodstock” that was covered and made a hit by Crosby Stills & Nash.  I was thinking of the line in that song that says, “life is for learning.  That has been so true for me, and I do not want to ever stop learning. 

Neuroplasticity: Brains Can Change

There are a number of crucially important things I have learned in my life.  I would like to share some important learnings I have discovered, and then look at our biblical texts, and see how together, they can be life-transforming.

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Continue reading “Dark Red Letters”