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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What We Mean by “Faith”

Sermon on John 20:19-31 for April 8, 2018, Easter 2B

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I was watching the videos of The Science Network’s Symposium called “Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival”.  Several of the “new atheists” gave thoughtful lectures, quite critical of religion.  One of them said that he thought religions were problematic in general because all of them asked people to believe things based on faith, and not on facts and reason.  Often religions ask people to believe unreasonable things, to deny facts, and to be unreasonable about it. 

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In my opinion, that is at least partly true.  I think it is part of the situation we Christians wound up in when, in the fourth century, the Roman government forced all the bishops to agree on one single creed.  Christians had a variety of ways of understanding their faith before that. 

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Practice Resurrection

Practice Resurrection

Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for April 1, 2018, Easter B

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

My parents moved out of their home awhile back, into a retirement community.  That meant downsizing, which included packing things in boxes to be dealt with later.  So, it fell to my brother, the only sibling still living in the area, to take the boxes to his place.  He has been going through them, as time allows, and figuring out what to do with everything. 

This week I received, an envelope he sent with things from those boxes.  They were pictures of me.  There were baby pictures, pictures of me in high school, doing gymnastics, pictures of me with my son who is getting married this month, from when he was a toddler.  Opening that envelope was like opening a door of memories.   I was not expecting them.  The emotions I felt surprised me. 


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God Save Us

God Save Us

Sermon on Mark 11:1-11, for Palm Sunday B, March 25, 2018

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday is the perfect time to talk about what it means for us to call ourselves Christians, or Followers of Jesus. 

By the way, there are a growing number of people who are uncomfortable with the word “Christian” to describe us, but more comfortable with the term “followers of Jesus.  The reason they give is that “Christian” carries a lot of baggage that they do not want to be associated with. 

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