Taking Comfort Where We Can

Taking Comfort Where We Can

Sermon on Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark 1:1-8 for Advent 2B, December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40: 1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
 says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
 make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

Mark 1:1-8    

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
 ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

C. S. Lewis wrote that if you set out to look for truth, you may find comfort.  But if you set out looking for comfort, you will neither find comfort nor truth.  I think that is right.  But it is an easy mistake to make, and I see it being made all the time. 

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The Coming Catastrophe

The Coming Catastrophe

Sermon on Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37 for Advent 1B, December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
 so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil–
to make your name known to your adversaries,   

so that the nations might tremble at your presence
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
 and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity for ever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

Mark 13:24-37

[Jesus said:]
“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

They tell us that driverless cars are coming.  The are already testing them in several  cities.  Will they be reliable and safe?  They are still working out the kinks.  I heard recently about an incident in which there was a bit of a traffic jam caused by a popular food truck.  The driverless car just simply sat in place and would not move because of all the traffic.   

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Congested, confusing traffic may be a good metaphor for life.  There are so many things happening that are unprecedented and nearly unbelievable these days.  Are these more confounding days than ever before, as they feel to me?  Maybe; there are things we can all point to that make our times unlike the past – the cable news cycle, the internet, smart phones, social media; the list could go on. 

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The Community that Calls Christ King

The Community that Calls Christ King

Sermon on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46 for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I grew up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio – which is a small city, but large enough to have homeless people downtown. 

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Dayton was also large enough to have an area called the West Side, just across the river from downtown, which a few blocks west of the riverbank is quite poor.  It was where Dayton’s version of the race riots of the 1960’s happened. 

Most of my suburban friends had never been over to the West side, and the majority had never walked by homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks of the city.  But I had.  I happened to have a friend named John whose father owned rental housing on the West side. 

John and I started working for his dad on weekends and summers, all through high school.  So, I was on the West side a lot, and downtown too, where we often went to buy supplies.  I saw poverty up close.  I saw homeless people, prostitutes and pimps, drug dealers, and lots of poor people just trying to get by.   

Continue reading “The Community that Calls Christ King”

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.

Continue reading ““You are all students” he said.”

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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