A Perfectly Executed Life

A Perfectly Executed Life

Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48 for Epiphany +7 A, February 19, 2017

Matthew 5:38-48
[Jesus said:]  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-4-23-20-pmOnce, when I was young, I was riding a horse at camp. There was a garden hose laying across the area I was riding through. The horse balked at the hose in obvious fear. I wondered if it might rear up or buck me off.

The horse was acting out of what they call a fixed action pattern response – the hose resembled a snake. Horses evolved to fear snakes. It is a survival mechanism. It is an automatic, instinctive response.

And so is the instant urge to strike back, when someone slaps us on the cheek.

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Living A Christian “Namaste”

Living A Christian “Namaste”

Sermon on Matthew 5:21-37 for Epiphany +6 A, February 12, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37

[Jesus said:] “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-4-06-44-pmone.”

On Sunday evenings here there is a yoga class.  It is not a flow yoga workout, but a stretching, meditative yoga.  At the end, we are invited to return to a seated position, place our hands together and bring them to our chests in prayer position.  The final word the leader says to us us “Namaste” which we all return, “Namaste.”

Namaste is the common greeting in India and Nepal.  It comes from ancient Sanskrit.  It means “I bow to the divine in you.”  Literally it means that I recognize in you, not just the person I see on the outside, but that you are much more.

On the outside, I see you as a man or a woman.  I see your race.  I see how you dress, I can guess your age and your social status.  But you are more than that.  You are a precious, unique person, never before, never again to be made exactly as you are.  In Jewish and Christian terms, you are “made in the image and likeness of God.”
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We Are, Indeed!

We Are, Indeed!

Sermon on Matthew 5:13-16 for Epiphany +5A, February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:13-16
[Jesus said:] “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-8-32-01-amCormac McCarthy wrote a novel called The Road.  It is a dystopia; we are never told what happened, but the world is nearly totally destroyed.  A surviving man and his son have to make their way down the road headed south, knowing they will not survive another winter.

Nothing grows, most people are long gone.  Survivors compete with each other for the final scavegings of a lost civilization.  Some become bands of predators, literally feeding on anything they can find.  The man and his son are almost killed by some of them.

They eventually make it to the southern coast, but then the father’s health breaks, and he knows he is dying.  What will his son become, as he tries to survive?  Will he loose his humanity, as some have, or will he maintain a moral compass in spite of everything?  His last exchange with his son is this:

The Father: “You have to carry the fire.”

His son:  I don’t know how to.”

Yes, you do.”

Is the fire real? The fire?”

Yes it is.”

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

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Our High Calling

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, Jan. 29, 2017, on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12

Audio: click here

Micah 6:1-8

Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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Once, when I was in middle school I was at a table in the cafeteria where someone, an older boy, had brought some playing cards, so we were playing Rummy or something. Then he suggested we play Black Jack, which we did.  Then he suggested we play for money – which is called gambling, and at that moment, doing something transgressive seemed oddly appealing.  So, I was in.

It was small stakes.  All the money I had was my lunch money.  We played several hands.  The older boy dealt, and kept winning.  I kept loosing.  Once I actually looked up from my cards to observe him sneaking a peak at the next card coming up – which is cheating.  So I caught him.  It mad me so mad.  I had already lost enough that I was not going to be able to buy lunch.  I was going to be hungry all afternoon.  It wasn’t fair.  I felt taken advantage of.  But what could I do? He was older, much larger than me.  He had the power, and he was abusing his power.  Recalling that, I can still feel the feelings I had.

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“Follow Me”

“Follow Me”

Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23, for Epiphany +3, Jan. 22, 2017.  Audio: click here

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-4-23-14-pm

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
  “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
     on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,
     Galilee of the Gentiles—
  the people who sat in darkness
     have seen a great light,
  and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
     light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake–for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In days like these, what kind of people should we be?  It is simple; and it is complicated.  Simply put, we are to follow Jesus.  I remember us singing that song back in youth group, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”  It sounded simple.  It is not.
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Come and See

Come and See

Sermon on John 1:29-42 for Epiphany +2, Jan 15, 2017, MLK Weekend

John 1:29-42

The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

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Sometimes the most important thing that can be said is not a statement, but a question.  On a Rob Bell podcast I heard a story about a famous Rabbi who arrived at a castle as night fell, seeking entrance.  A guard on the wall shouted down to him, “Who are you?  Why are you here?”  The Rabbi hesitated for a moment, then asked the guard, “How much are they paying you?”  After the guard answered, the rabbi said, “I will double that amount if you will come to my house every day and asks me those two questions.”

“Who are you?  Why are you here?”  Sometimes the most important thing that can be said is not a statement, but a question.

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Getting Into the Water

Getting Into the Water

Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 for the Baptism of Jesus Sunday, Year A, January 8, 2017

Matthew 3:13-17

 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

I watched a short animated video that my cousin posted on Facebook which was amazing.  screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-4-02-23-pmFirst we see our earth from the vantage of space.  We see that familiar blue and white, bowling ball-looking circle against the blackness.  Then the view zooms back to show the size of our earth in relation to the other planets in our solar system.  If Saturn were a basketball, earth would be the size of a pingpong ball.  (video here, titled “O Man”)

Then we see the earth next to the sun.  If the sun is the basketball, the earth is the size of a BB.  Looking a the earth from Mars, we appear no larger than a little white speck, like a distant star.  If earth the size of a BB compared to the basketball sun, our sun is the size of a BB compared to other stars.

The video animation keeps zooming out and out, further and further, until our whole galaxy is just a speck among galaxies.  The Hubble space telescope took a picture of one little patch of sky in which there are thousands of galaxies, with billions of stars in them, each star with its own circling planets.

At first, when you watch this, you feel small.  Then as it continues, you feel insignificant.  Finally you feel minuscule at an unimaginable scale.

One way to tell the human story is to say we do not matter.  We could blow up our entire world in nuclear war and the universe would take no more notice than we do of  battling ant colonies beneath our lawns.
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