Family Matters

Family Matters

Sermon on Mark 3:20-35 for June 10, 2018, Pentecost +3, B                               Adio Version

Mark 3:20-35

And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”–for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We all have an idealized concept of our potential selves.  We have an image of how we could be.  And we all know that we do not live up to that rather transcendent ideal.  That is part of why we often feel badly about ourselves – we know that we could be better.  We know that if we stopped believing our own excuses, if we broke some bad habits, if we exercised more self-control, if we would just think before we spoke, if we were not so conscious of trying to protect our egos, if we would learn to forgive, we could be better people. 

We all probably have at least one thing that we are doing now that if we would just stop doing it, we would be more like that idealized best self.   And, we all probably have something that we know, if we just started doing it, we would be more like our idealized best self. 

In that sense alone, if in no other sense, we all need healing.  We are all broken people.  Of course, there are other reasons we need healing too.  There are things that have happened to us, completely outside of our control, that have injured us.  As the saying goes, “everyone is carrying a heavy burden…”. 

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Provocation and Wellbeing

Provocation and Wellbeing

Sermon on Mark 2:23—3:6 for June 3, 2018, Pentecost +2B

Mark 2:23—3:6

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

We have to talk about conflicts today.  I do not like conflicts at all.  I do my best to avoid them.  But I remember having a conversation several years ago about the Christian values we are trying to teach our children.  The person I was talking with mentioned things like politeness and good manners.  Don’t misunderstand me, I believe strongly in politeness and civility.  In fact, the lack of civility in our current political climate is appalling!  But Christianity is not about manners for their own sake. 

There are some conflicts that we engage in, and some issue we take sides on, precisely because we are Christians.  We are civil in our disagreements, we do not use name calling or character assassination, but we do stand up for justice in the face of injustice.  We speak up when people are being oppressed.  We call attention to systems that privilege some, at the expense of others.   

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Our Omni-Relational God

Our Omni-Relational God

Sermon on  John 3:1-17 for May 27, 2018, Pentecost B       Audio Version here

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

How do you experience God?  I guess I am assuming that you do have experiences that you feel OK identifying as experiences of God, or of the Divine, or Transcendent. Nearly everyone does. 

Today is the day we think about our experience of God.  We are following in the footsteps of the early church that eventually came up with the word Trinity.  The Trinity is the word we use, to sum up the uncanny way in which our experience of God is not singular, or simple, but variegated, diverse. 

Trinity Sunday Bulletin Art

Most of us experience moments of awe and wonder, of amazement.  Experiences of vastness often set off those feelings – the sea, the vista from the top of a mountain.  Think of all the people who go to Mount Magazine or Petite Jean just to be at the top and look out as far as the eye can see. 

Some people get that same feeling from the amazing microscopic world, or from the Hubble spacecraft pictures of deep space.  When we think of the vastness and complexity, the beauty that sometimes strikes us so deeply it almost hurts, we think of God, the Source, the Creator, or we could say, God the Father.

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Being Spiritual

Being Spiritual

Sermon on Acts 2:1-9, 12-18 for May 20, 2018, Pentecost, Year B

Acts 2:1-9, 12-18

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.

In the gospel of John, which was called a “spiritual gospel” by early church leaders, we read that Jesus himself breaths on his disciples, saying to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But Luke tells the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit differently.  He sets the occasion later, at the feast of Pentecost, and makes it a miracle story with para-normal sights, and sounds.  We will look at Luke’s version of the story this time, and then ask, what does it mean for us today?

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Love, period.

Love, period.

Sermon on John 15:9-17 for May 6, 2018, Easter 6 B

John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

A man whom I have great respect for once told me that he thought all truth is paradoxical.  Whether or not you would agree, it seems to me that at least most truth is.  I see paradox everywhere.   Probably, being a limited, finite creature contributes to this.

One of the greatest paradoxes of all is how love is related to our faith.  The paradox is simple: Jesus taught us that love is the main thing, but we have treated belief as the main thing.   All the commandments are summed up, Jesus said, in the commands to love God and to love neighbor.  On the other hand, according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus had very little to say about what people believed. 

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The Transcendence of the Immanent and the Dance Party that Must Follow

The Transcendence of the Immanent and the Dance Party that Must Follow

Sermon on Genesis 9:1 -17 for April 22, 2018, Earth Day

Gen. 9:1 -17

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.  2 The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.  3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.  4 Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.  5 For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;

for in his own image
God made humankind.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,  9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,  10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.  11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

I can remember when I was a boy, our family visiting my uncle and aunt in Kansas in the summer.  They lived out in the open country where there was almost no light pollution.  My sister and I would lay out on the grass at night, looking up into the sky more full of stars than we had ever seen back home in Ohio. We would watch what they called heat lightening.  The sky would light up again and again, far off in the distance, too far away to hear the sound of thunder; we just saw the flashes appearing with amazing intensity.  It was all beautiful, literally awesome.  I had the feeling of both being very small and overwhelmed on one hand, and of complete peace, on the other.

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Jesus’ Mysteriously Real Presence

Jesus’ Mysteriously Real Presence

Sermon on Luke 24: 36b-48 for April 15, 2018, Easter 3 B

Jesus’ Mysteriously Real Presence

Luke 24: 36b-48

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do thought arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

One of the reasons we are here is that we care about the big questions of life.  The big three questions for me, and I think for almost all of us are: Who am I?  Why am I here?  and What am I supposed to do? 

The first thing that probably needs to be said is that now we know that most of what we mean when we say the word “I” is that “I am who I am” to a large extent because of “we.”  I am formed, significantly, by the culture and community I am in.  So really the three big questions involve us in other questions: Who are we? Why are we here? and What are we supposed to do?” 

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We humans have always been asking these questions.  The way we have been trying to answer them is by telling stories.  Our stories are the biblical stories.  So how are we supposed to take biblical stories?  This is a huge challenge for us who live on this side of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. 

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