Sunday, January 14, 2018

Body and Spirit - Sermon for Epiphany 2B

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

I find Paul’s Corinthian letters to be intriguing. There is so much going on in these letters. They address real life issues and concerns. So, when I was in seminary, I took two classes that focused on all or part of 1 Corinthians. In fact, a friend and I drove across LA from Pasadena to Westwood in my less than reliable Ford Maverick to study 1 Corinthians with Scott Bartchy. Going to class wasn’t a problem, but coming home around five o’clock on the 405 Freeway was an adventure. But it was worth the effort! When I sat down to plan my sermons for the season of Epiphany, and noticed that the epistle readings in the lectionary came from the Corinthian letters, I got excited. 

Paul wrote these letters to a congregation filled with new converts who came out of a very different cultural context than he did. So, when they heard Paul’s message of grace and freedom, they interpreted it in light of their former lives, and what they heard was an invitation to live with reckless abandon. They heard Paul saying that no rules applied. That’s not what he intended, and so he had to address the situation brewing in that community. One of the issues that emerged had to do with a topic that is rarely discussed in church, and that is sex. So, when I sat down to read the text again on Monday, I asked myself—why did I choose to preach on this passage? This can only get me in trouble. But here we are, with a word from Paul addressing a forbidden subject.    

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Baptized in the Spirit - A Sermon for Baptism of Jesus Sunday (Epiphany 1B)

Acts 19:1-7

Yesterday was the Day of Epiphany, which marked the end of the Christmas season for both east and west. Yesterday was the appropriate day to sing “We Three Kings” to remember the visit of the magi to the home of the Holy Family. Yes, if we still had our creche scene out, yesterday would have been the appropriate day to add the “three wise men.” Of course, if we follow scripture the Holy Family would have taken residence in a house, and the shepherds and the sheep would have gone back to their fields.  

That was yesterday. Today we gather on the First Sunday after Epiphany, which is a season of light and revelation. On this day we remember the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist, who declared that while he baptized with the water, someone would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:4-11). It’s appropriate on this first Sunday after Epiphany, as we remember the baptism of Jesus, to remember our own baptisms, and recommit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Glory Be To God -- Sermon for Advent 4B

Romans 16:25-27

According to Luke’s Gospel, angels appeared in the sky near Bethlehem on the day of Jesus’ birth. With only shepherds and their sheep in attendance, the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14). The angels sang this song of praise to God, because this child would be the messenger of peace and divine favor to all of creation. 

According to the church calendar, we must wait a little longer before we can hear the angelic chorus. Although we stand at the eve of Christmas, we gather this morning to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. This is one of those strange years, when we light the fourth candle of Advent and the Christ Candle on the same day. We have already lit the fourth candle, which symbolizes love, and soon we’ll light the last candle, which gives off the light of God’s glory revealed to us in Emmanuel, the one born in Bethlehem. The four Advent candles, which we have already lit, invite us to live as God’s people in hope, peace, joy, and love. These are the qualities that mark the Christian life at its best. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Give Thanks Continually -- Sermon for Advent 3B

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

We have reached the Third Sunday of Advent. We have lit the rose-colored candle, which symbolizes the message of joy. The Psalm for the day declares that “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” Then in the closing verses of the Psalm, the people sing: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves” (Psalm 126:5-6).

As we gather to celebrate this message of Joy, we hear the words of Paul to the church at Thessalonika. If you want to get a sense of what the church looked like in its earliest days, this letter to a Macedonian church is a good place to go, since this is believed to be the oldest part of the New Testament. What we have read are Paul’s final exhortations and benediction. There’s a flurry of information here that can overwhelm the reader and leave the preacher puzzled as to how to deal with it. Fortunately for this preacher, there are a couple of phrases that lend themselves to an old style of preaching. Preachers fondly refer to this style as “three points and a poem.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Divine Patience - Sermon for Advent 2B

2 Peter 3:8-15

If you’ve been out Christmas shopping, you may have found yourself standing in long lines. The same might be true at the Post Office. When it comes to calling customer service or tech support, time may slow down to a crawl. The occasional reminder that a representative will answer as soon as possible doesn’t make the wait any easier. So, what should you do while you wait? How do you keep yourself occupied, when half an hour seems like a day? Having a smart phone may prove helpful, at least while waiting in a line at the store or the post office. At least I can check Facebook and Twitter, and if the line is too long, I can open a book on my Kindle app.  But, what if you’re waiting for God to act?  

This season of Advent is by definition a season of waiting. We pray “O come, o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” Each year we sing these words of expectation, while waiting for Emmanuel to be fully revealed to us, not as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but as the returning king. We sing: “Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind” and “bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease.” Today, on Peace Sunday, we offer this prayer, longing for the time when the world will be filled with “heaven’s peace.”