Sunday, November 22, 2015

He's Coming Back -- A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Revelation 1:4b-8

Over the next few days we’ll have an opportunity to consider the blessings that have been poured out upon us by God. It really doesn’t matter where we gather. The important thing is to stop and offer words of praise to God, “from whom all blessings flow.” We’ll have at least two community opportunities to share in words of Thanksgiving before Thursday. Tonight the Troy-area Interfaith Group is hosting a service at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit in Rochester Hills. Then on Tuesday evening the Troy Clergy Group is sponsoring a service at Northminster Presbyterian. We also have the opportunity this morning to offer up symbols of gratitude to God through signs of our commitment to the life and ministry of this congregation.

These celebrations occur under the shadow of the recent terrorist attacks in Mali, Beirut, Nigeria, and Paris, that have raised our anxiety levels. Fear seems to be taking hold of many in our midst, and there are people and groups who are making use of this fear for political ends. Even as people flee the violence in the Middle East, political leaders from across the country, including close at home, are shutting the door of welcome to those fleeing this violence. The good news is that other voices are being raised within the faith community reminding us of our calling by God to welcome the stranger.  Disciples and United Church of Christ leaders have issued a statement calling on the nation to live up to its better nature and welcome those who flee violence. Week of Compassion and Church World Service are providing support for refugees that reflect the vision cast in the closing words of this statement by our leaders:
We are called to be a merciful and caring community; to seek justice and to honor every person; and to stand up and shout out when such a vision is challenged or violated. We urge caution and caring in our discourse and in our actions, so that we all may hold ourselves to a higher standard and ideal.
We’re hearing similar statements from across the religious spectrum – conservative, liberal and in between. The president of the National Association of Evangelicals made this statement:  “We are horrified and heartbroken by the terrorist atrocities in Paris, but we must not forget that there are thousands more victims of these same terrorists who are fleeing Syria with their families and desperately need some place to go.” 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What Matters Most: Provision -- A Stewardship Sermon

1 Kings 17:8-16

What matters most? And how do you measure that? These are the questions that our stewardship theme raises. We’ve heard a word about generosity. We’ve heard a word about money. Now we hear a word about provision. 

When Jesus told the man to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, the man walked away because he had too many possessions. He wanted to enjoy the presence of God, but apparently his possessions stood in the way (Mark 10:17-31). Like many of us, he was a hoarder who found it difficult to walk by faith.

This morning we have heard part of the story of the prophet Elijah, who had gotten himself into trouble with the king of Israel. Even if you’re a messenger of God, getting in trouble with a king is dangerous. Elijah got in trouble because he told King Ahab and his wife Jezebel that since the king had set up altars to the Phoenician storm god Baal, God was going to stop the rain from falling. When a drought fell upon the land, Elijah had to leave. What is interesting and maybe even ironic, is that Elijah headed toward the Phoenician city of Sidon. Here was a prophet of Yahweh seeking refuge in the land of Baal. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

What Matters Most: Money -- Stewardship Sermon

Mark 10:17-31

Van Gogh - Wheat Fields with Reapers (Toledo Museum of Art)
How do you measure what matters most? That is, how do you determine the  value of something, especially if you’re going to make an investment? If you’ve ever watched Antique Road Show or American Pickers, you know that everything has a price.

Go to an art museum like Cheryl and I did last weekend, and you’ll see pieces of art that are all considered valuable. But what makes art valuable? Is it not what a person is willing to spend? What goes for art goes for baseball cards. Consider the 1910 Honus Wagner card. It recently sold for more than two million dollars. That’s a lot of money for a piece of cardboard with a picture on it. I have a baseball card collection, but none of my cards are worth that much. Apparently age, rarity, and condition, along with personal interest can give a piece of cardboard with a picture on it a premium value. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Who Is God . . . Really? A Sermon for Pentecost 22B

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

We’re only exploring a few passages from the book of Job, but even so you may be feeling a bit unsettled by what we’ve heard so far. The God we’ve met appears to control everything, and that means God is responsible not only for the good things but the bad things. Though it does appear that God uses a hired hand, The Adversary, to do the dirty work. At the same time, we’ve been hearing from Job, who has been suffering greatly despite his claims to be innocent and righteous before God. The question we’ve been hearing all along is: “why me?” And that question leads to another: Who is God?

 The Bible is a sacred text, but it is also a very complex book. At times it seems to argue with itself. In many ways the message of Job offers a counter weight to the message of Proverbs. The message of Proverbs is quite simple. If you do the right thing, good things should happen. If you do bad things, then you will reap what you sow. When we read Job, we hear him crying out: “But what about me?” I try to do the right thing, but bad things have happened. His friends have been telling him all along that he must have done something wrong or he wouldn’t be in this predicament. Even God seems to be against him on this topic.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Questions From God -- Sermon for Pentecost 21B

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

For thirty-seven chapters Job and his friends have been debating the question: “why me?” That’s a question that many of us ask at one point or another. Bad things happen and we want an explanation. Sometimes, as is the case with the answers provided by Job’s friends, the answers don’t make sense. Sometimes we even want to take up the conversation with God, but we’re not sure we’re up to the task. 

Last Sunday we listened to Job as he challenged God to appear in court and answer his questions. He believed he was innocent, but he was also terrified of the possibility that God might actually show up. One of Job’s friends assures Job that he needn’t worry about God showing up. God was too busy to bother with his futile questioning. 

Elihu is the fourth “friend” to enter the debate with Job. In many ways these four friends, demonstrate the principle that with friends like this, who needs enemies! Elihu feels the need to defend God’s honor. He tells Job to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” Just look around at creation, and take in the wonder that is creation. When you take in the grandeur of creation, you’ll know that God’s concerns are much larger than your complaints (Job 37:14, 23).