Foreigners, Dogs, and Humans

Foreigners, Dogs, and Humans

Sermon on Matthew 15:10-28, for Pentecost +11, August 20, 2017

Matthew 15:10-28

understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

I heard a story on the radio by a reporter who went back to her high school twenty-five years after graduation.  They had planned a party, but it never finally got organized.  Nevertheless, she went back to her hometown and interviewed some of her old classmates.  She also interviewed a teacher, Mrs. Murphy.  As it turns out, Mrs. Murphy was the only black teacher in that all-white school. 

Mrs. Murphy told the story of the Avon lady that would come to her house to sell her cosmetics (in the days before Mary K, I think).  The Avon lady would look around at her living room and comment that it was always clean. 

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Finding God in Storm Stories

Finding God in Storm Stories

Sermon on 1 Kings 19:9-12 and Matthew 14:22-33 for Pentecost +10 A, August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-12

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are God’s Son.”

Finding God in Storm Stories

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We just read two of the most well known stories in the bible.  Most people have heard of God speaking to Elijah in the “still small voice” as it says in the King James Version.  And, most people know the story of Jesus walking on the water, and of Peter trying to join him, and of the calming of the storm. 

You are free to take these stories anyway you like.  For me, they both function on the level of myth.  That is, they are stories that tell us things that are deeply true, in a metaphorical or non-literal way.    Continue reading “Finding God in Storm Stories”

Being Grasped to Struggle

Being Grasped to Struggle

Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31 for Pentecost +9, August 6, 2017

Genesis 32:22-31
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

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I was listening to a podcast in which the speaker was discussing the ancient stories in Genesis. He was so impressed with their brevity. For example the whole story of Cain and Able takes only 15 verses to tell. These stories, he suggested, had been compressed over time, so that only the essential elements remained.

Why do people tell stories? Why do families and communities tell stories, and remember them and hand them down the generations? Well, stories tell us who we are. We especially value stories that tell us how we came to be who we are.

Continue reading “Being Grasped to Struggle”

The Ship in the Ocean and the Ocean in the Ship

The Ship in the Ocean and the Ocean in the Ship

Sermon on Genesis 28:10-19a for Pentecost +7 A, July 23, 2017

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel;

I heard a scientist talking about how important sleep is for us, specifically for the brain.  Apparently all kinds of important organization and clutter control takes place while we sleep.  He mentioned that our large brains that gave us the ability to out-think, and therefore, out-survive other primate groups, came at a high cost.  They consume an enormous amount of energy.  And the fact that they require so much sleep leaves us vulnerable for hours at a time. 

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It is interesting that Jacob’s first encounter with God takes place when he is vulnerably sleeping.  When you sleep, your defenses are down, you cannot play games.  Jacob had a lot of defenses, and played a lot of games. 

Continue reading “The Ship in the Ocean and the Ocean in the Ship”

The Best Invitation You Will Ever Receive

The Best Invitation You Will Ever Receive

Sermon on Song of Solomon 2:8-13 and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 for Pentecost +5, July 9, 2017

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
 Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
 bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
 the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
 is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
 they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
 and come away.”

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 

[Jesus said:] “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is indicated by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

There is a love story in the Hebrew bible which does not get much attention.  It is called the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs, or Canticles.  It is about a Hebrew boy and girl who are desperately in love with each other.  They go back and forth singing each others’ praises in poetry.  If it were read on the radio today, it would come with a disclaimer that the language may not be appropriate for “younger or more sensitive audiences.”   

Continue reading “The Best Invitation You Will Ever Receive”

The Way Christians Look at the World

The Way Christians Look at the World

Sermon on Genesis 18:1-14 and Matthew 10:40-42 for Pentecost +4A, July 2, 2017

Genesis 18:1-14

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”  And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”  Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”  Then he said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”  The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’  Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Matthew 10:40-42

[Jesus said:] “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

When I lived in outside of this country, I often had experiences that I did not expect to have.  I expected to have to learn new words for things, but I did not expect the meanings to be different.  In Croatian, I learned how to say, “Good morning”, and for over a year I would greet people at the college when I arrived with “good morning.”  Finally a Croatian told me that I should be saying “Good day” because “good morning” was only used when people just got up.  All that time I had been, in effect, telling the people whom I greeted that I had just rolled out of bed.

Continue reading “The Way Christians Look at the World”

The Counter of of Uncountable Nouns

The Counter of of Uncountable Nouns

Sermon on Psalm 86 and Matthew 10:29-31 for Pentecost +3, June 25, 2015

Psalm 86 

Matthew 10:29-31

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

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When I was overseas they asked me to teach some courses in English as a Second Language.  I got a book, and learned some things about English I never knew before.  For example, I learned that we treat countable nouns differently from uncountable nouns. 

Countable nouns are objects big enough or few enough to be able to count, like sheep or shepherds.   

Continue reading “The Counter of of Uncountable Nouns”