A Language and a Place in Lent

A Language and a Place in Lent

Sermon for Lent 1A, Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11, for March 5, 2017

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
 
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

 Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-5-59-09-pmWe are reading Diana Butler Bass’ book “Grounded: finding God in the World” this Lent.  We are discussing the book on Wednesday nights.  To get us started, last Wednesday, we watched a video of Diana being interviewed.  In the interview she discussed the Pew Trust’s survey about religions affiliation.

There has been a growing trend that has grabbed the headlines: the rapid rise of “the nones.”  The nones are not Catholic women, but NONES, mean those people who are asked, in surveys, “Which religious group do you identify with?” – given the standard options: Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. answer “None of the above.”  That makes the headlines and scares church leaders.

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“Get up and do not be afraid”

“Get up and do not be afraid”

Sermon on Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9 for Transfiguration Sunday, Year A, Feb. 26, 2017

Exodus 24:12-18

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-11-18-24-amIn nearby Foley they are making great progress on the Owa amusement park.  According to their promotional materials there is going to be a big roller-coaster with a 360 degree loop.  I love roller coasters.  So do most people.  Why?  Because there is something fun about being scared.  You get an adrenaline rush.  Actually , they say that the adrenaline starts even when you are waiting in line, anticipating the ride.

We like feeling afraid and facing our fears in a roller-coaster because although it is scary, we believe it will be safe.  Serious injuries are possible, but quite rare.

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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.”

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-1-23-40-pm
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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