Connected to the Past, Open to the Future

Connected to the Past, Open to the Future

Sermon on Luke 2:22-40 for December 31, 2017, Christmas +1B

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

   “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
 and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

So, it is New Year’s Eve.   And you are in church. 

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You have a lot in common with the characters in the text we read from Luke.  Joseph and Mary, with the baby Jesus in tow, as well as Simeon and Anna, are at Israel’s place of worship, the temple in Jerusalem, being faithful Jewish people. 

You are here in church, which I take as an act of faithfulness.  You closing out the year by gathering with the community of faith where we worship. 

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“Let It Be”

“Let It Be”

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38 for Advent 4B, December 24, 2017

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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Back in 1969 the Beatle’s Paul McCartney had a dream.  In his dream, Mary, his mother, who had died ten years earlier, came to him.  She was aware of all the issues he was dealing with – Paul’s life was pretty crazy in those days – and said to him, “Let it be”  meaning something like, “It will all be okay; do not worry.”   He said that dream was the source of his song “Let it Be.” 

The song says,

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’”

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The Light In the Darkness Shines

The Light In the Darkness Shines

Sermon on John 1:6-8, 19-28 for 3rd Advent Year B, December 17, 2017

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,

  “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'”
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The Light In the Darkness Shines

One of the things that make living here so wonderful is all the sunny days we have.    On average, there are 223 sunny days per year in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  

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That contrasts with 77 sunny days in the city in Ohio where I grew up.   Nevertheless, this time of year, even the sunny days are short because of daylight savings time.  The sun sets by 5:00 p.m. these days. 

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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.   

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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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