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)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Practicing Piety -- Meditation for Ash Wednesday


Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

We have come here today to have our faces marked with ash, as a sign of our piety. We’re doing this, even though Jesus tells us not to practice our piety to be seen. After all, God can see our hearts and our actions, even when we don’t make a big display of our spirituality. Nevertheless, we have come today to mark our piety with ash.

Jesus takes up the question of practicing piety in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells the crowd that when you give offerings, pray, and fast, make sure no one is looking. If you’re going to fast, then wash your face. If you’re going to pray, do  it in your closet. If you’re going to give offerings, well, don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t wave your envelope so everyone can see and don’t ask for a plaque to mark your gift. Just give, because God sees and God rewards.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Light of God Unveiled -- Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

The Light of the World, William Holman Hunt
Keble College, Oxford

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

We began the service by singing:

Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father's glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light.


With this song we ushered in our celebration of Jesus’ transfiguration.  Transfiguration Sunday brings the season of Epiphany, the season of light and revelation to a close. The Gospel of Mark tells us how Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a hike up a mountain. When they reached the summit, the three disciples watched with amazement as Jesus’ whole being was transformed. His appearance radiated dazzling light, and his clothing was brighter than bright. But that’s not the end of the story. Before they knew it, Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet joined Jesus on the mountaintop. While these three figures—Moses, Elijah, and Jesus—converse, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from a cloud that envelopes the mountain. Then a voice from heaven proclaims: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him” (Mark 9:2-8).  

I don’t know whether the reading from 2 Corinthians is rooted in the transfiguration story, but it’s clear why it was chosen for the lectionary reading for Transfiguration Sunday. The Transfiguration story  speaks of divine revelation. It speaks of the light of God that shines into the darkness. Paul declares in verse 6: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6 CEB). When Jesus is transfigured, his countenance, his face, shines forth a brilliant light, revealing the glory of God within him. This is the light about which Paul speaks.  

Sunday, February 04, 2018

All Things to All People -- A Sermon for Epiphany 5B

Mr. Gray's Forest Service Truck

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

It’s not easy being “all things to all people,” but that’s what St. Paul wanted to be. He felt an obligation to preach the gospel in a way that would meet people where they’re at. Being all things to all people, isn’t easy, which might be why Paul was having problems with the Corinthian church! They were too many things, and he was only one person. 

This morning we’re taking a moment to give thanks for members of our community who have answered a call to serve. In many ways First Responders, whether police officers, fire fighters, or emergency medical technicians, have to be “all things to all people.” They might respond to help a person experiencing a heart attack in the middle of the night or maybe fetch a cat up a tree. They may sit with a person who is grieving or face a dangerous situation. Whatever the situation, they find themselves in a position of service to others.

Before I go any further with this sermon, I need to give a disclaimer. I’m going to do something I don’t normally do. That is, I’m going to use the reading from 1 Corinthians 9 as a pretext, as a jumping off point, to speak about something that isn’t even hinted at in this letter. So, while I don’t think Paul had First Responders in mind when he wrote this letter, I think there is a word of blessing here for First Responders. So, with this disclaimer, I will apply Paul’s declaration that he is “all things to all people” to our First Responders, who are called upon to serve and protect all the people in the community, whether residents or guests. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Liberty and the Neighbor - A Sermon for Epiphany 4B



1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Patrick Henry issued the rallying cry of the American Revolution: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” In the early days of the Republic, many citizens embraced the message of liberty by moving into the frontier, which is where our Disciples movement got its start. In true democratic fashion, we rebelled against hierarchy and tossed away the creeds. Disciples took up the cause of religious freedom, not only from government but also from religious authorities. Liberty is great, but as Paul reminded the Corinthians on several occasions, not everything is beneficial.  

This morning we again find Paul dealing with the dysfunctions that mark the Corinthian church. He takes up another issue that is dividing the congregation. While it might seem like the issue is food, the real issue is the socioeconomic differences that marked the congregation. These differences were expressed through a debate about whether it was permissible to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.