Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Light Shining in the Darkness -- Homily for Christmas Eve 2016


We all have our favorite Christmas shows. It might be the Christmas Carol or the Grinch – two of my favorites – or maybe White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life. As a preacher, I have a Christmas Eve tradition of drawing an image or two from these cultural icons as part of my Christmas Eve meditation. My family always asks whether it will be Scrooge, the Grinch, or Charlie Brown. This year, as you’‘ll see, I decided to go with a different Christmas story.

This year I’m looking to the reading from Isaiah for guidance, and the opening line of the passage caught my eye: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." So, can you guess which Christmas show features an image of light shining in the darkness? Let me give you a hint. There’s a red nose involved!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Behold the Sign -- Sermon for Advent 4A

Nativity with the Prophets Ezekiel & Isaiah

Isaiah 7:10-17

When I was younger, we would occasionally drive to Portland, which was a 300-mile drive from Klamath Falls. On a good day the trip took about five hours. Of course, if you’re a child that’s a long time, and you can get antsy. So my brother and I would pepper our parents with questions about when we would arrive. Over time, we learned to watch for certain signs that signaled that we were getting close. One sure sign was the big Farmers Insurance building that sat alongside Interstate 5. When we saw it, we knew that Portland was just around the corner!

The season of Advent offers signs that Christmas is close at hand. Each week we’ve lit candles that help us prepare to receive the promise of Christmas.  Since we lit the fourth candle this morning, which is the candle of love, we can be quite certain that the next candle we light will be the Christ Candle, marking the coming of Christmas. So, be on the alert, the time of celebration is at hand!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Day of Everlasting Joy - Sermon for Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

Advent is a season of expectation and anticipation. Signs of Christmas are all around us, but it hasn’t arrived. We’re still waiting to join together in celebrating the coming of the promised one, the one born in Bethlehem who will inaugurate the realm of God.  

On this third Sunday of Advent, we look forward with great anticipation to the coming of the day of everlasting joy. We recognize that this day hasn’t been revealed, but we find hope in the promise that a day will come when we “shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Walking in the Light of God - Homily for Advent 1A

Isaiah 2:1-5

We have lit the first candle of Advent, the candle of hope. 

Hope is what Advent is all about. It looks forward to the fulfillment of promises made by God, for as Paul declares in Romans:   
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  (Rom. 8:24-25). 
I know that some of us can’t wait for Advent to turn into Christmas, but while signs of Christmas are present, including the tree and the nativity scene, we still have to wait in patience for Advent’s hope to be fulfilled. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

In Christ, the Fullness of God - Sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday, Year C

Colossians 1:11-20

There are different kinds of calendars that we use to keep track of life. There’s the secular calendar that begins in January and ends on December 31. Along the way there are lots of different holidays and observances. In many ways, that’s the calendar that guides daily life. In the old days we turned to paper, now many use their phones to keep track of life. If you’re in business, you might make use of the fiscal calendar, which runs from July to June. There are also many different religious calendars. 

For us, as followers of Jesus, the liturgical calendar or the Christian year reminds us that we are citizens of the realm of God. It begins on the First Sunday of Advent, when we receive the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand. This liturgical calendar comes to a close this morning as we celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday. Today we celebrate the enthronement of the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Yes, we celebrate the full revelation of the one who is “the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.”  It is through the one we call the Christ that God has reconciled all things and brought peace through the blood of the cross. This is the promise that will sustain us. It is the promise that sustains me. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Transform the World -- Stewardship Sermon for Pentecost 26C

Luke 21:5-19

Tuesday brought  a divisive and often bitter election season to a close. There are some who are happy and others who are not. At this point the future is uncertain, making many Americans concerned and even fearful. We will need to listen to each other’s hopes and dreams and keep each other in prayer. Because I know this congregation, I know that we didn’t all vote the same. But, I also believe that despite our political and even theological differences, as followers of Jesus we are bound together by our common love of God and our neighbors. I pray that the message of the prophet Micah will be on our hearts and minds as we move forward into the future. That message is simply this: What God requires of us is that we “do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Change Your Direction - Stewardship Sermon

Luke 19:1-10

We’re in the midst of a conversation about the meaning of the Lord’s Table, but we’ve also been talking about stewardship. The question is what, if anything, do they have to do with each other? 
There are those who think it odd that we bring our offerings to the communion table. They might wonder if there is a fee that needs to be paid to receive this meal. Some ask why churches seem to talk so much about money? There are fiduciary reasons, but that’s not all. 

Jesus talked a lot about money because he understood that how we view money has a lot to do who we are as children of God. On at least one occasion, he suggested that where our treasure lies, there our hearts will be. So perhaps bringing treasure to the Table is a sign of where we want our hearts to be. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dinner Invitation - A Communion Sermon

Revelation 19:6-10

Photo by Crystal Balogh

If you got invited to a big wedding banquet, would you get all excited? Would you see it as an opportunity to get all dressed up? Or would you wait to see if a better invitation came your way? I’ve been to a few wedding banquets in my time. Some were large and some small. Some were fancy and others were informal. Weddings are special events, and depending on your relationship with the couple, they might be can’t miss events.  

A few weeks back we heard Jesus tell a parable about a big banquet, which could have been a wedding banquet. In that story all the invited guests discovered that they had something better to do than attend the banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Our reading from Revelation 19 offers us another dinner invitation. This invitation is to the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” which takes place in the heavenly realm. The angel or messenger of God has declared that “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  Yes, simply to be invited to this marriage supper is a blessing!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Dining in God's Presence -- Sermon for Pentecost 21C

Exodus 24:9-11

Eating and drinking is a rather mundane activity. Most of us eat at least a couple of meals each day. We might even have a few snacks in between. In many ways eating and drinking are simply habits. We get up, have some breakfast, and maybe a cup of coffee.  Then sometime around noon, we probably eat another meal. Finally, sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, we have another meal. These meals can be elaborate or they can be simple. Eating alone is different than eating with others. So, do you ever think about how God might be present in such a normal activity as eating and drinking? 

Disciples gather at the Table at least weekly. At least in theory we believe that the Table stands at the center of our worship and our spiritual life. It’s from this Table that our mission in the world extends. The worship grant we received from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is focused on helping us better understand the relationship between the Table and our missional calling. In a few weeks time Ruth Duck will be here to help us further unpack this connection.  

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Eating Bread in God's Realm - Sermon for World Communion Sunday

Luke 14:15-24

Today is World Communion Sunday. It was established years ago as a reminder that God’s Table is a Table of unity, even though God’s church is fragmented. All across the globe Christians are gathering to share the Supper that Jesus established so that we might remember him and in doing so share his love with the world. Though this observance has Presbyterian origins, it began to spread across the globe after the Federal Council of Churches adopted it in the late 1930s. The person who made this happen was Jesse Bader, a Disciple mission leader and ecumenist. I found a quote from Jesse Bader that helps introduce what we’re doing today.

Worldwide Communion Sunday begins on the other side of the International Date Line, so that the observance starts first on Sunday morning in the churches of the Tonga Islands, Fiji Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and so on towards the West during the twenty-four hours of the day. This significant observance around the world on the first Sunday of each October has become a day of united witnessing . . .  In a time when there is so much disunity, here is an opportunity to witness in a broken world to an unbroken Christian fellowship. [quoted in Preaching God’s Transforming JusticeC, p. 417].

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Feed the Hungry -- Sermon for Pentecost 19C

Luke 16:19-31

There are two parables in Luke 16, and in both of them Jesus speaks to the proper valuing of money and material resources. He puts things into proper perspective, and that makes them good texts for stewardship sermons. Stewardship is about more than paying bills. Stewardship is a reflection of our covenant relationship with God and with one another. The picture painted in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a bit clearer than the parable of the dishonest steward, but together they remind us about what it means to be a faithful disciple and about our responsibilities to each other.  

There are several verses separating the two parables that the creators of the lectionary chose to omit. That is probably because passages like this can lead to anti-Jewish ideas. In this case Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being lovers of money. If we can steer clear of caricaturing the Pharisees as self-righteous money grubbers, perhaps we can hear in the omitted verses a reminder that the love of money can corrupt us and keep us from loving one another. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Choose Wisely -- A Stewardship Sermon

Luke 16:1-13

What do you think about the manager’s behavior in this parable we just heard? Do you think the manager would be a good model for Christian behavior? It is true that the Prodigal Son was forgiven for squandering his father’s estate, but what about this squanderer? Do you think he deserves forgiveness?  

This is a most unusual parable, which most scholars can’t seem to crack. Every time you read it, you’re left wondering why Jesus told a story like this! But Luke seemed to think that it merited inclusion in his Gospel. So, it must have something to say to us. But, is it the right passage to be used in a stewardship sermon? The answer to that is simple – the people at the Center for Faith and Giving, including Ron Allen, thought it would be a perfect stewardship text. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made - Sermon for Pentecost 16C

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Over the summer we visited the Psalms on several occasions. We heard in poetic fashion the call to pursue a life of faith with vigor and diligence. We heard messages of judgment and hope. This morning, even as we look forward to a busy fall, we return one more time to the Psalms. The word we’ve heard this morning is a most edifying one. It is a call to praise God “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 

These are powerful words that remind us that God is not only the creator of the universe, but God formed our inward parts and knit us together in our mother’s womb. Therefore, our lives matter to God. This reminder that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” isn’t an expression of the “power of positive thinking.” It is an expression of God’s declaration that all human life is sacred to God. That declaration is affirmed in the person of Jesus, who according to John’s prologue, is “the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Therefore, as David Gushee writes, because the Word became flesh, “no human life can be seen as worthless” (Kingdom Ethics, p. 157). This is a good word to hear as we enter the fall, especially with all the political rancor we are experiencing. While all lives do matter, it is important that we name those lives that too often are pushed to the margins.

The Medieval Jewish commentator Rashi expressed the message of verse 14 of this Psalm in this way:   “I shall thank You for in an awesome, wondrous way I was fashioned; Your works are wondrous, and my soul knows it very well.”  Indeed!

It is in the spirit of this Psalm that we hear God’s message to Israel delivered through Jeremiah: “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6b). While Jeremiah makes this point while delivering a word of judgment on Israel, the thread I want to pull from this passage is Jeremiah’s description as God as a potter.  There is in Jeremiah and in this Psalm a sense of intimacy and action on the part of God. God is the one whose hands get dirty in bringing life into existence.  

The Psalmist reveals a picture of the God who searches us and knows us, whether we’re sitting down or standing up. I know this idea that God can even discern our thoughts from far away can be a bit disconcerting, but it can also be reassuring to remember that God knows us better than we know ourselves. That’s because God formed our inward parts and knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs.

As I read this psalm this past week, and began to prepare to share this sermon, I was taken by the fact that this Psalm the lectionary offered fit this weekend like a glove. 

There is a word here for all who are preparing to go back to school.  Starting a new school year can be intimidating, especially if you’re not an extrovert. This might be especially true for those who go off to college for the first time. I was fortunate to go to a small college, accompanied by good friends, even so, moving into the dorm that first September of my freshman year was a bit intimidating! So the good news is this: God is there with you. God knows you and loves you. Don’t be afraid of what is coming! You are fearfully and wonderfully made! 

Of course this weekend not only marks the unofficial “end of summer,” but it also offers us the opportunity to honor all those who labor. Once again, the lectionary coincides nicely with this occasion. If you take a look at the verbs in this passage, you will discover that the Psalm celebrates the God who works. God searches and knows and protects. God forms us and knits us. God makes us and weaves us. Of course, as the first creation story reminds us – God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh. Labor Day may be a secular holiday and not a feast day of the church, but since almost all of us work at some point in our lives, it’s a good thing to honor all those who work even as we remember that God shares in our labor. 

It is fortuitous, I suppose, that I’ve been reading a newly published book about the relationship of faith and labor. The book is titled Unified We Are a Force: How Faith and Labor Can Overcome America’s Inequalities. One of the authors, Joerg Rieger is a theologian, and the other, Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger, is a labor organizer. According to the Riegers since we’re all laborers at least at some point in our lives, whether we’ve earned a wage or not, work and labor shape our lives. As the authors put it: “spending the bulk of our waking hours at work influences who we are as individuals and communities, shapes the images of our cultures and faiths, and defines us in more ways than we can count.” 

This is so true. Think for a moment about meeting someone new. What questions do you ask to get to know them? Isn’t one of our first questions: “What do you do for a living?”  If work and labor help define our lives, then, as the Riegers write just a few paragraphs later, “work is what allows people to use their abilities (as well as their disabilities!) in productive fashion for the common good, which increases the welfare of the community and of the planet as a whole” [Unified We Are a Force, pp. 16-17].

The authors also remind us that Scripture often speaks of God as one who works for a living. God is a craftsman, potter, garment-maker, gardener, farmer, shepherd, and tentmaker. Therefore, Judaism and Christianity don’t lack images that can help us value work and workers, “particularly the kinds of workers that are often discounted and belittled” (Unified, p. 117). 

Not only does Scripture speak of God as a worker, but the Gospels remind us that Jesus himself was a laborer. We read in the Gospel of Mark that the people of Nazareth derided him because he was simply a carpenter, and therefore they weren’t inclined to listen to his spiritual wisdom (Mark 6:3). Yes, Jesus was, apparently, a common laborer, a construction worker, which means that like God he got his hands dirty! 

Although I have what many call a white collar job, which doesn’t require me to get my hands too dirty, as I was thinking about God’s dirty hands, I thought about going down to Detroit and working with Rippling Hope. If you’ve worked with me, you know I tend to get my hands dirty. It might be paint or it might be simple dirt, but I get it on myself. So I might as well wear it as a reminder that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of the God with dirty hands!

There is no better metaphor for this reality than the message of Genesis 2. In the second creation story, God takes some dirt and fashions the first human being from that dirt. Yes, we are the product of God’s decision to get dirty with work. Therefore, as the people of God, let us celebrate this work of God by standing in solidarity with all who labor. 
In the words of the hymn “Those Who Love and Those Who Labour,” let us pray:
Those who love and those who labour, follow in the way of Christ;
Thus the first disciples found him, thus the gift of love sufficed.
Jesus says to those who seek him, I will never pass you by;
Raise the stone and you shall find me;
cleave the wood, and there am I.
In a moment we will honor all who labor, by sharing in a litany that allow us to stand in solidarity with all those who, like Jesus, are counted among those who labor.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Pentecost 16C
September 4, 2016

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Make Room -- A Sermon

Luke 14:1, 7-14

When I was a child, my mother tried to teach me proper etiquette. She taught me to wait before I began eating until everyone was not only seated at the table but served. She also told me to chew with my mouth closed and not talk with my mouth full. I know there were other rules, but these will suffice for now.  

Where you sit at the Table also can be a matter of proper etiquette. The host sits at the head of the table, and the guest of honor sits at the host’s right hand. The rest of the seating chart is defined by social status. The higher your status the closer you’re seated to the host and the guest of honor. So, if you go to a dinner party, and you think you’re someone special, you’ll want to be seated as close to the host as possible. But it’s not up to you! So you might as well wait to be seated before choosing a seat. You don’t want to make the mistake of choosing the wrong seat, and suffer the humiliation of being moved to the back of the room. So wait for the host to seat you.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

May God's Face Shine Upon Us -- Sermon for Pentecost 13C

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel . . . Stir up your might and come to save us!” In ages past, the Shepherd of Israel took a vine out of Egypt and planted it in a new land. This vine spread out covering the land from sea to river. It grew strong and powerful. Unfortunately, over time the vine lost its luster. For some reason the Shepherd had failed to properly care for the vine, or at least that’s the view of the Psalmist, who asks God to repent and look down upon God’s people and restore the vine to its former glory. Yes, Lord, make your face to shine upon us once again!

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Taking the Right Path - Sermon for Pentecost 12C

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23

This morning we again read responsively the Preamble to the DesignThe Preamble invites us to consider who we are as Disciples. What beliefs and practices bind us together as a covenant community? Since we’re not a creedal people, we don’t require anybody to sign off on a lengthy statement of faith. But, we are bound together in our common commitment to be followers of Jesus. That means we’re part of a much larger body of Christ, and the Preamble gives voice to some of the beliefs and practices we hold in common as a covenant people.  

I want to focus our attention on the third affirmation of the Preamble
We rejoice in God, maker of heaven and earth and in the covenant of love which binds us to God and one another. 
If you watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you heard the President of the IOC point to the Olympic ideal of unity in diversity. That is our calling as Disciples. We are, as part of the larger body of Christ, bound together as one people in all our diversity, so that we might live in eternal fellowship with God our creator, and with the rest of God’s creation.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Treasure What Matters -- Stewardship Sermon

Luke 12:13-21

Money makes the world go around. It’s true that in the world of Star Trek no one seems to need money, unless you’re a Ferengi, but it takes money to navigate through our world. The question is, how much is enough? And, how much is too little? Down through the ages we’ve heard warnings about the dangers of greed. One of the best examples is the story of King Midas, who was given the ability to turn whatever he touched into gold. Unfortunately, that meant his food, and ultimately his daughter. So be careful what you ask for!

 During this political season we’ve been hearing messages about taxes, income inequality, stagnant wages, the high cost of health insurance, and much more. Money plays a big role in our political debates, in part because it takes money to fund political campaigns.

In the reading from Luke 12, a person in the crowd listening to Jesus’ message asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute with his brother over the dispersal of the family estate. Jesus declines the request, but he does offer a warning: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Lk 12:15). 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Cry for Justice - Sermon for Pentecost 8C

Psalm 82

Who are we as a congregation? If we claim to be Disciples of Christ then what does that say about how we live in the world? That is the question that the Preamble to the Design, which we recited earlier in the service seeks to answer. It’s a covenant statement that binds us as a congregation with our brothers and sisters across the region, across the nation, and across the world. It binds us with others who call themselves Disciples, but it also binds us together with all Christians. Indeed, it defines our “mission of witness and service to all people.”  That statement was adopted in the 1960s as the Disciples entered a new phase of life together. There is a briefer statement that was adopted more recently and it goes like this:
“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”
In April we officially became an Open and Affirming Congregation. By doing this we committed ourselves to welcoming everyone to the Table, even as God has welcomed us. The Elders wrote an inclusion statement that seeks to answer the question posed to Jesus by a lawyer wanting to know the requirements for gaining eternal life. Jesus answered him with the two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor. The lawyer’s next question is an important one: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We answered it with a list of people who are our neighbors, some of whom might need some reassurance that they’re welcome at the Table. 

Sunday, July 03, 2016

God Is Our Helper -- Sermon for Pentecost 7C

Psalm 30

This is a weekend filled with celebrations. Tomorrow we will celebrate 240 years of independence. I know this because I graduated from high school in the bicentennial year and my high school is holding its 40-year reunion in a few weeks. There are also several people celebrating birthdays this weekend, with Gloria celebrating her 90th. I told Gloria that if I live to be 90, I want to be as active and healthy as she is! Yes, this is a day of thanksgiving!

We’re worshiping outdoors under the shade of trees and in the shadow of the cross and peace pole, with a large rock standing in the center. People ask why there’s a rock in the middle of the drive way. I’ve heard a number of answers to that question, but here’s a theological one that I’ve come up with. This rock is a symbol of our own confession of faith in Jesus. When Simon gave the good confession – that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God – Jesus called him Peter, which means rock. Then Jesus declared that upon this rock, or confession, he would build his church. In other words, this rock symbolizes the foundation of our community.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Seek God in Times of Trouble -- Sermon for Pentecost 6C

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

In the words of Isaac Watts’ hymn, which we sang earlier this morning, we capture the message
of Psalm 77:
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home. 
When times of trouble strike, and they will strike, where do you turn? To whom do you look for guidance and protection? Do you turn to God, who is “our help in ages past, our hope for years to come?”

As we have been moving through the Psalms, we’ve discovered that they invite us to cry out in laments. They give us permission to rage and complain. It’s okay that our souls refuse to be comforted. It’s not a sin to have doubts. Here in Psalm 77 the Psalmist cries out to God demanding to be heard. After issuing a torrent of complaints, the Psalmist then remembers that God has been our help in ages past. Recognizing the prospect that life can be challenging, Martin Luther wrote a hymn that picked up on another Psalm, Psalm 46, where he also affirmed God’s strong presence in the face of difficulty. This hymn is a favorite of many, who sing boldly: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our present help amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Go and Do the Same: Give Thanks -- A Sermon for Pentecost 4C

Luke 7:36-8:3

This morning we’re taking a short break from our summer trek through the Psalms to focus our attention on the call to stewardship. The Stewardship committee has already decided to accept the stewardship theme offered by the Disciples’ Center on Faith and Giving. That theme is  “Go and Do the Same.” The Center also encouraged churches to expand the stewardship conversation beyond the usual stewardship campaign, which we conduct in the fall. That campaign is centered on putting together a budget for the coming year, and convincing you to support it by making a pledge. We took up the suggestion to use some time this summer to think about stewardship as a spiritual discipline and not simply as a means of fund-raising. This is the first of three sermons, one each month, that will draw from the Gospel of Luke and touch upon stewardship. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Reign of God is Forever - Sermon for Pentecost 3C

Psalm 146

We’ve come to the third stop on our summer journey through the Psalms. So far the Psalmist has reminded us that God is our creator and our judge. In Psalm 146, the Psalmist declares that Yahweh is the ruler of all creation. Indeed, the Psalmist invites us to “sing praises to [our] God for as long as we live,” because God will reign forever. 

We come to this place to give praise and thanksgiving to the one who “made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them.” It is God, who “executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Great is the Lord, and Greatly to be Praised -- Sermon for Pentecost 2C

Last Sunday when I preached the first in a series of sermons from the Psalms, we heard the Psalmist declare: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name” (Ps. 8:1). This morning the Psalmist invites us to sing a new song, for “great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” 

The Book of Psalms is a prayer book and a hymnal that is designed to help us be in relationship with the living God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “the Psalms have been given to us precisely so that we can learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ” [DBW, 5:157].

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Majestic Is Your Name -- Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Psalm 8

Homiletical theory suggests that the genre of a text should determine how it is preached. When it comes to the Psalms that bit of advice poses a problem for me.  Since I’m not a poet, trying to write a poetic sermon might not work all that well. But, even if you’re not a poet, it is good to regularly visit the Psalms. That’s because they speak powerfully about God and God’s creation. So, in the coming weeks most of my sermons will draw from the Psalms. However, I do want to put your minds at ease. I won’t be writing any bad poetry to share with you!  

The Sunday after Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday. It’s on this day in the church year that we focus our attention on the nature of God. From a theological point of view, the doctrine of the Trinity is a good reminder that God transcends our attempts to define God’s nature. When we look to the Psalms for guidance on such matters there is a Latin phrase that captures the essence of this: Lex orandi, lex credendi. This translates in English to “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” 

The hymns and prayers that we find in the Book of Psalms can lift up our hearts to God in praise and thanksgiving. They also give us the words to share our laments and our complaints. Anyone who says that you can’t argue with God has never read the Psalms! 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Spirit Is On the Move - Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Year C

Acts 2:1-21

The reading from Acts 2 should be familiar, especially since it defines the meaning of Pentecost Sunday. Since it is so familiar, the worship committee decided to present it in a more dramatic fashion. In this reading we’ve heard about fire and wind and movement. We’ve also been invited to envision the work of God’s Spirit in the world. It is a work that involves God’s people.   

The book of Acts focuses on the movement of the Holy Spirit. This movement begins with the commission Jesus gives the disciples in Acts 1:8: 
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  
The rest of the Book of Acts flows out of this commissioning. That movement of the Spirit gets underway in Acts 2 and it continues to this day. That means we’re part of this movement of the Spirit.  Our story begins in an Upper Room, where the disciples are waiting for the Spirit to come in power. As the followers of Jesus pray for the Spirit to move, the “rush of a violent wind” fills the house. Imagine for a moment the power of a violent windstorm blowing open the windows and filling your house. You would conclude that this wind is quite powerful.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

God Is Our Light -- Sermon for Easter 6C

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

On the first day of creation, God said: “‘let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:3-4a). Every day when the sun rises the darkness flees, and we rejoice in the goodness that the light of the sun brings to our lives. As the Psalmist declares:
  15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;
16 they exult in your name all day long, 
and extol your righteousness. (Ps. 89:15-16).
When I chose to preach on this reading from the Book of Revelation, I didn’t know that this would be the week that our new lighting system would be installed. I call it providential that we’re celebrating God’s light on the day that this room, which has been rather dark in recent years, gets bathed in new light. As we contemplate the new brightness of the room, we can imagine for a moment walking in the light of God’s countenance. 

Last Sunday we watched as the New Jerusalem descended from heaven to the New Earth. We heard the message that God had chosen to dwell among us. This morning, we hear that the Spirit has taken John to the top of a great mountain. From this perch, he can watch as the holy city of Jerusalem descends to earth. John invites us to use our spiritual imaginations to envision the breadth and length of the city, as well as the glory that radiates from it. If you take a look at the verses we skipped, you will get a good sense of the magnificence of this holy city of God.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

God's Home Is With Us - Sermon for Easter 5C

Revelation 21:1-6

One of the consistent messages of the Book of Revelation is that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. To borrow from Aristotle, God is the first cause. Or, as the Prologue to the Gospel of John puts it:  “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And, everything that exists was created through and by this  Word. Finally, a few verses later we learn that this “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:1-18). Not only is God the beginning of all things, but according to the Book of Revelation God is also the completion of all things.   

If God is the beginning and the end of all things, should we not also say that God is also present in all things at all times? As Rick Lowery reminded us yesterday in his sermon at the Festival of Faith, in a moment of theological crisis, the people of Israel learned that God is not limited to a piece of land, but that God is the God of all places and all peoples. No matter where you go, God is there with you. You may not always fell like God is with you, but that doesn’t mean that God is not there.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Drinking from the Water of Life -- Sermon for Easter 4C

Revelation 7:9-17

On this fourth Sunday of Easter we continue our journey through the Book of Revelation. When we last gathered, we found ourselves standing before the throne of God. We were singing praises to God and to the Lamb who was slain. This morning, we again find ourselves standing before the throne of God. We look around and we see a great multitude that is drawn from every nation and tribe and people and language. Together we declare that “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 

There is a company of people robed in white garments standing in the midst of this multitude. One of the twenty-four elders asks John: “who are these, robed in white, and where do they come from?” While John didn’t know the answer, he learned that they are the faithful witnesses who stood firm in the midst of persecution at the cost of their own lives. These martyrs stand before the throne of God waiting to receive their reward. This is their reward: they will hunger and thirst no more, because the Lamb will be their guide. The Lamb of God will become the shepherd who leads them to the springs of the water of life. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Time for Worship -- Sermon for Easter 3C

Revelation 5:11-14

The Book of Revelation is in many ways a book of worship! In fact, I think it is a call to engage our holy imaginations in the worship of God. 

If you’ve read any of the Chronicles of Narnia books, you know that the imagination can have a powerful effect on the way we see spiritual realities. In the best known of these books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy, who is the youngest of four siblings, discovers a pathway into the magical land of Narnia. When Lucy returns from her visit to Narnia, she shares her discovery with her older brother and sister. They dismiss her report as a mere tall tale. When she shows them the wardrobe, all they find is a wardrobe filled with old coats. There is no pathway, no portal, just the wooden back wall of the wardrobe. 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

To God Be the Glory -- Sermon for Easter 2C

Revelation 1:4-8

Easter Sunday was once again glorious! How can you beat trumpet and timpani accompanying the organ as we sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today?” It’s hard to move on from the glories of Easter Sunday, but the journey of faith must continue. As we go forward, the spirit of Easter remains with us as we worship the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Yes, to this God be glory and dominion forever!

The Book of Revelation is one of those books of the Bible that many find to be strange and even off-putting. Because the imagery and the language are so difficult to decipher, there have been many both ancient and modern who would like to evict it from the canon. Luther declared “It is just the same as if we had it not, and there are many far better books for us to keep.” Since the lectionary rarely offers the book, preachers rarely visit it. Despite the preachers mixed feelings, there is good news to be found in this book, and the creators of the lectionary set out a series of readings for this Easter season, which we will be exploring over the next few weeks!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Announcing the Good News -- Sermon for Easter

Acts 10:34-43

“I know that my Redeemer liveth.” These words from an old Gospel song define the meaning of Easter. They serve to remind us why we gather here this morning. In fact, this is why we gather every Sunday morning. We come to celebrate the Good News that Christ our Lord is risen from the Dead. So, with joyful hearts we can sing our alleluias! 

This Easter message is not without its challenges. It appears that the idea of resurrection has gone out of style, even among Christians. It doesn’t seem to fit our modern mind set. In fact, the whole idea of the afterlife is under close scrutiny. Nonetheless, the Resurrection continues to stand at the center of the Christian faith.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Open the Gates of Righteousness -- Palm Sunday Sermon

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  Indeed, as Paul declared, this “is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).  Therefore, “open the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” 

We love parades, especially parades that celebrate a hero’s return or a championship team. Today is Palm Sunday, which we mark with a parade of palms.  The children and choir enter the sanctuary waving palm branches, even as we sing to Jesus, declaring him to be “King of Kings, Lord of Lords.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

It's a New Day, New Pathway -- Sermon for Lent 5C

Isaiah 43:16-21

Eight years ago this month Cheryl, Brett, and I came out to meet and greet the congregation. It was a most interesting trip that included picking out the home we now live in. Just so we would know what we were getting into, it snowed while we were here. Then on Sunday morning, in her sermon, Shirley suggested that it was time to let go of the ghost of Edgar Dewitt Jones. That name might not mean much to some, but for others it represents the heart of Central Woodward. Even long after his passing, this founding pastor has been revered. While I enjoy reading his sermons and letters, I would say that his ghost is haunting other places these days. Shirley’s point, of course, was that a new day was coming and it was time to let go of some of the past. 

Lent is a season of letting go. The stories we’ve been exploring as we’ve moved through Lent have spoken about wandering in the wilderness. We’ve heard stories about moving from one place to another. Last week we even heard a word about arrival. But now we’re back on the move. It seems as if that’s the way it is with the people of God. After all, our spiritual ancestor was a “wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5). When you’re a wanderer, you had better travel light. That means letting go of things. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Arrival in the Land -- Sermon for Lent 4C

Last stop in Wyoming - Journey East 2008

Joshua 5:9-12

If you’ve ever moved across the country, you know what it’s like to finally arrive at your new home. Even if your furniture and housewares are a few days behind you, it feels good to enter the new house and begin to settle in.  

We’ve made a few long distance moves as a family over the years, with the longest being the last one that brought us from Santa Barbara to Troy. It took a few days of travel to get here. We stayed in a few motels and of course ate at a variety of restaurants, including a few fast-food joints. We crossed deserts, rivers, mountains, and plains. When we arrived in Troy, we were welcomed with a good meal and a house that had been cleaned and prepared with food staples and paper goods. Yes, it was good to enter the house we would call our own.   

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Covenant Promise - Sermon for Lent 2 C

Genesis 15:1-11, 17-18

We worship a covenant-making God, and as Disciples of Christ we speak of the covenant relationship that binds congregations, regions, and the General Church to each other. Ronald Osborn was one of the leading figures in creating a restructured Disciples church, and he wrote: 
In religion, in marriage, and in the life of a nation, a covenant is a sacred bond sealed with an oath or vow of allegiance. In the community of Christians the pledge is called a sacrament. A Christian swears faithfulness to God. God promises faithfulness to the church. This two-way pledge is seen most clearly in the Christian covenant sacraments of baptism and communion. [Faith We Affirmp. 59]
When God called on Abram and Sarai to leave their homeland and head toward a strange land, God promised to make them to be a great nation that would bless the rest of creation (Genesis 12:1-3). Three chapters later, Abram is beginning to wonder whether God intends to fulfill that promise. He and Sarai are getting older, and they still don’t have that promised heir, which means that one of the employees is going to inherit.  

It’s clear that Abram is getting impatient with God, and is willing to argue with God if necessary! Isn’t it good news to know that it’s okay to argue with God? 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ancestral Immigrants -- Sermon for Lent 1C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Lent is a season of reflection that begins on Ash Wednesday with words of confession, marked by ashes, and accompanied by a word of forgiveness. The journey continues with a word about how the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted and prayed and was tested for forty days (Luke 4:1-12). These forty days of Lent mirror the forty years that Israel wandered in the wilderness having their faith tested.

The reading from Deuteronomy 26 invites Israel to bring in an offering of Thanksgiving to celebrate the completion of the exodus from Egypt and the arrival in the Land of Promise. In words attributed to Moses, the people of God are directed to lay down their offerings and recite a confessional statement that begins with the words: “A wandering Aramean was my Ancestor.”   

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Chosen One -- Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (Year C)

Mt McLoughlin
Luke 9:28-36

As the season of Epiphany comes to a close, we find ourselves standing on the Mount of Transfiguration, listening as God reaffirms the commission given to Jesus at his baptism. We go up the mountain to pray with Jesus and three of his disciples. With Peter, John, and James, we watch as Jesus prays. As he prays his face begins to radiate light, and his clothing becomes a dazzling white. In that moment the glory of God that is present within him is revealed. It is a blessing to be in this place at this moment, so that we can witness this revealing of God’s presence. Then, as we stand there in awe of what is happening, two figures from the past appear – Moses and Elijah. This is a moment to behold. It is the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

No Hometown Hero -- Sermon for Epiphany 4C

Luke 4:21-30 

Don’t you love cliff hangers? If you’re old enough, you might remember that for an entire summer the nation’s attention was arrested by the question of “Who shot J.R.?” The lectionary left us in a somewhat similar position last week. When last we gathered, Jesus was making a few comments about the reading from Isaiah 61, which spoke of the Year of Jubilee. When he sat down, he told the congregation: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s where we pick up the story this morning. Jesus is telling the people that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61. He is the one anointed with the Spirit who will institute the Year of Jubilee, and with it freedom from poverty, imprisonment, and captivity. 

The people are still amazed at his words, after all this is Joseph’s son. We know this man. We watched him grow up. So how did he become such a great preacher? Well that’s as good as it gets, because Jesus quickly moves from hometown hero to persona non grata! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Anointed Mission -- Sermon for Epiphany 4C

Luke 4:14-21

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and I attended the Troy community celebration of Dr. King’s life. Our speaker reminded us that Dr. King’s message was quite revolutionary. Not only did he want to end segregation, he wanted to tackle two other related issues of his day: poverty and militarism. He recognized that poverty and militarism were related and that they disproportionately affected people of color. In taking up these causes he made enemies. At the time of his assassination he was trying to create a coalition of poor people whom he was going to lead in a March on Washington to make sure that Washington understood the plight of the nation’s poor and marginalized. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Party Time - Sermon for Epiphany 2C

John 2:1-11

Everybody loves a wedding!  Well, almost everybody! Weddings are usually joyous occasions. Not only do
two people get joined together, but so do two families and all that goes with that. 

I’m not an expert on weddings, but I do have a bit of experience with them. First of all, I should mention my own wedding to Cheryl. It’s been awhile, but I do remember it. I’ve also been in a few weddings as a groomsman or an usher. I’ve also been a guest at weddings. Then, there are the weddings at which I’ve officiated, and I could tell a few stories about these weddings. 

I often tell a story at rehearsals about the bride who almost went up in flames. It was my third wedding, so I was still getting my bearings as an officiant. We had this free standing candelabra that we used for the unity candle. After the couple lit the candle, which was off to my right, they returned to the center of the chancel. The only problem was that the bride’s train got caught on the base of the candelabra. As she moved toward the center, the candelabra began to tip over, with all three candles ablaze. Fortunately the maid of honor and I both saw what was happening and we reached out and caught the flaming candelabra before it could light up the lace-covered-dress.  That would have been quite the disaster, but it has become for me an interesting wedding story.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

When Jesus Was Baptized -- Sermon for Epiphany 1C

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

In the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, three convicts break free from the chain gang and head off on a journey to the home of the threesome’s leader. Everett, Pete, and Delmar have many interesting encounters and adventures along the way, just like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. In one of these encounters, they come upon a group lining up to be baptized in the river. This gathering multitude sings  Down to the River to Pray as they make their way toward the river and the preacher. 

Delmar seems to hear a  call to go down to the river to be immersed. He doesn’t go to the end of the line. No, he runs right up to the front and immediately gets baptized.  When he comes up out of the water, he claims to be a changed man. 
Well that's it boys, I been redeemed! The preacher warshed away all my sins and transgressions. It's the straight-and-narrow from here on out and heaven everlasting's my reward!
Not only that but the preacher told him all his sins were washed away, even the Piggly Wiggly he’d robbed. And when Everett pointed out that he had denied robbing the Piggly Wiggly, Delmar told him that the preacher told him that God forgave that sin as well. Living this new redeemed life wasn’t going to be easy, and Delmar fell short of his promise, but he tried the best he could to live as one of the saints of God.