Sunday, March 18, 2018

Christ's Priestly Work -- Sermon for Lent 5B

There were Greeks who came to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. They went up to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and they said to him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:20-21). As we continue our Lenten Journey, with Palm Sunday on the near horizon, is this not our request as well? Don’t we wish to see Jesus?

The author of Hebrews introduces us to Jesus in the form of the great high priest who sympathizes with us in every respect. Hebrews tells us that Jesus has been tested as we have in all things, but is without sin (Heb. 4:14-15). Priests serve as mediators between God and God’s people, bringing sacrifices, prayers, and supplications to God on our behalf. No one takes up this responsibility unless God issues a call, as God did with Aaron and Aaron’s descendants. 

God called Jesus to be our high priest, but he isn’t a descendant of Aaron, which makes him a different kind of high priest. According to Hebrews, he is a priest according to the “Order of Melchizedek,” who is  a priest forever. As our high priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, “he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:20-25). 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Created for Good Works - Sermon for Lent 4B

2017 Ramadan Iftar Dinner Program

Ephesians 2:1-10

Why do we do the things we do? Is it nature or is it nurture? St. Augustine didn’t know anything about genetics, but he stood on the nature side of the equation. John Locke might not have known about genetics either, but he believed we are blank slates on which society writes. To be honest, they’re probably both correct. Whichever side we choose, we all know that bad stuff happens. This is our world, but does this world define who we are? 

The word we hear in the Ephesian letter tells us that once we were subjects of the “ruler of the power of the air,” but now we are seated with Jesus in the heavenly places. Because we’re seated with Jesus, we are recipients of God’s “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Power of the Cross -- A Sermon for Lent 3B

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name.” We sang these words this morning as we began worship. “Lift High the Cross” is a powerful nineteenth century Anglican processional hymn. Apparently, it was inspired by Constantine’s vision that invited him to conquer his enemies under the banner of the cross. However, the version we sang is not as militaristic as some of the other hymns I grew up with. Maybe you remember singing on a regular basis: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” Or maybe you enjoyed singing: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. From victory unto victory His army shall He lead, Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.” These last two hymns are no longer in our hymnals, because they offer us more of Constantine than Jesus, even if we may remember them fondly. 

These hymns of my youth were popular because they supported a vision of Christian mission that set out to conquer the world in the name of Jesus. They were written during the height of European colonial expansion. Where empires spread, the cross went forth as a sign of Western civilization. Not only did the cross proclaim Jesus, it served as a sign of imperial conquest in the name of the Christian God.  

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Pathway of Faith - Sermon for Lent 2B

On the Way to Calvary - 15th century
Huntington Library

Romans 4:13-25

When we lived in Santa Barbara, we enjoyed hiking the canyons and hills behind the city. Some pathways were smooth and well-marked, while others cut across rock strewn creek beds. There were easy paths and more difficult ones. Such is the pathway of faith. It is often difficult to traverse, but the rewards are great.

Our pathway of faith begins on the day that God invited Abraham and Sarah to pack their things and travel to a new land. God promised to make them a great nation, through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham, who was still known as Abram, was a young man of seventy-five and his wife Sarai was just a few years younger when God’s call came. Why not set out on a new journey that will lead to descendants and blessings? (Gen. 12). A few chapters later, Abram had another conversation with God. He and Sarai are now a few years older, and they still didn’t see any signs of descendants to carry on the promise. The situation was dire, since Sarai was past the age of childbearing. God tells Abram not to worry and reaffirms the covenant promise. Now Sarai was a practical woman, so she came up with an idea. She told Abram to take her servant Hagar as a surrogate on her behalf. So Abram and Hagar had a baby, and they named him Ishmael. Now, Abram and Sarai had their heir (Gen. 15-16). 

When Abram was ninety-nine, and Sarai wasn’t much younger, God again appeared to Abram. God reaffirmed the covenant promises of descendants who would inhabit the land. But, this time God was more specific about how this would take place. God made it clear this time that Sarai would be the mother of nations despite the fact that she was beyond childbearing years (Gen. 17). To seal the deal, God changed their names to Abraham and Sarah and God commanded that all of the men in Abraham’s household should be circumcised to mark the covenant.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Making an Appeal to God - A Sermon for Lent 1B (1 Peter 3)

1 Peter 3:13-22

We began our Lenten journey on Wednesday by having our faces marked with ash as a sign of repentance and re-commitment to being Jesus’ disciples. This morning we hear a word from 1 Peter that invites us to share in Jesus’ life and ministry. The letter mentions baptism, making a defense of our faith, the suffering of the cross, and the resurrection. Each of these elements mark the life of Jesus’ followers.  

There is a lot going in this brief passage. It’s rich with theological content, which we can’t unpack in one sermon. So, I’m going to focus on the better story, which we have been given, and which Peter calls on us to share with the world. 

Before we move into Peter’s message, I would like to share the word from the Gospel of Mark that ushers in the season of Lent. As you’ll hear, Mark doesn’t waste time on details:
 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15 NRSV)