Sunday, April 23, 2017

Breath of the Spirit -- Easter 2A


John 20:19-31

Seeing is believing. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus on Easter morning, and she believed, and then she told the rest of the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Later that evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples who had locked themselves in out of fear of the authorities. He came to them in the darkness of night, which in the Gospel John serves as a symbol for unbelief. At the beginning of his Gospel, John declares that the Word of God “was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1:4-5). Jesus came to them that evening as light shining into their darkness of unbelief. 

Mary prepared them for what came next, but I’m not sure they were completely ready when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room. He said to them: “Peace be with you,” and then he showed them the wounds in his hands and side. Then the disciples “rejoiced when they saw the Lord,” moving them from darkness into the light. But that’s not the end of the story, because Jesus gives them a commission. He told them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on the disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I Have Seen the Lord -- Sermon for Easter A


John 20:1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (Jn. 20:1). This morning as you come to the tomb, what do you see? Is it an empty tomb? What does an empty tomb say to you? As I read this passage, I noticed that the word “saw” kept appearing and wondered what this word says to us about the meaning of Easter morning?

When Mary came to the tomb, she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. That’s not what she expected. When Peter and the Beloved Disciple, heard Mary’s report, they ran to the tomb, and looked inside. They saw the linens that had wrapped the body of Jesus neatly folded and lying on the bench where his body should be, along with the cloth that had covered his face. While, the Beloved Disciple let Peter enter the tomb first, when he finally went into the tomb “he saw and believed.” While we know what he saw, we don’t know what he believed, because the disciples still didn’t “understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Eating on the Run -- Meditation for Maundy Thursday


Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14

We gather tonight around the Lord’s Table to remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. During that meal Jesus took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave the elements to his disciples. He told them to continue sharing this meal in remembrance of him until he returned (1 Cor. 11:23-26). The roots of this meal of remembrance are found in the Passover celebration. The reading from Exodus 12 describes the origins of that meal, which celebrated God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. 

According to Exodus 12, this meal featured three items—roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. It’s a fairly simple meal, which took some time to prepare, but once the meat was cooked and the bread baked, it could be eaten on the run.

There is another part of the story that needs to be mentioned. Not only did God direct the people to prepare a meal, but God told them to take some of the blood from the slaughtered lamb and put it on their doorposts. This blood would serve as a sign to God, so that God would pass over that house when the angel of death struck down the first born of Egypt, because of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.    

The Lord’s Supper is similar to the Passover meal, because both meals invite us to remember that God has redeemed us from bondage, whether that bondage is slavery in Egypt, or the bondage of sin. Both involve the shedding of blood as a promissary note, guaranteeing that God will fulfill God’s promises. Both meals are meant to unite the community in a common purpose. Both are intended to be celebrated as a perpetual ordinance. 

As I read this passage, something caught my eye. It has to do with the instructions given in Exodus for eating the meal:
This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry. (Ex. 12:11 CEB).
In other words, Passover isn’t a nice leisurely meal. It’s intended to be eaten on the run. It’s supposed to sustain a community that’s about to march toward Zion. There’s no time to waste, because Pharaoh might change his mind and chase after them. 

Jesus’ last meal has a sense of urgency as well. He knew that the days to come would be difficult, and that he needed to prepare them for what was to come. In preparing them for the future, he established a meal that would help them, and us, to remember God’s promise of redemption revealed in Jesus.

The meal we celebrate this evening speaks to the urgency and the danger involved in God’s mission. Walter Brueggemann put it this way: “leaving Egypt is a dangerous anxiety-ridden business” (NIB, 1:777). The same is true for us as Christians, as we head out into the world bearing the good news of Jesus. Brueggemann helps us understand the connection between the two meals and the urgency of these two missions. He writes: 
Christians like Jews are children of these marked doorposts, marked for safety in the midnight of chaos and crying. Christians like Jews, are Children of this hurried bread, postured to depart the empire, destined for freedom outside the norms and requirements of the empire. [NIB, p. 779] 

What does it mean to be “children of this hurried bread?” What does it mean to live outside the norms and requirements of the empire? Are we ready to take the journey to true freedom that God offers us and the world? Are we ready to eat on the run? 

By: Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
At: Northminster Presbyterian Church
Troy, Michigan
Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Humble and Triumphant King -- A Sermon for Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

This is probably the most confusing day in the church year. Some churches celebrate Palm Sunday by waving palm branches and shouting hosanna to the king of kings. Other churches observe Passion Sunday, with its emphasis on Jesus’ death on the cross. But maybe these two emphases belong together, because they reflect the tension that exists between how humans view power and how Jesus viewed it.  The reading from Matthew describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which suggests that we’ll be focusing on the triumphal part of the story. But, there is a catch, because Jesus’ vision of triumph is different from the way most humans understand it. 

The story begins with Jesus and his disciples drawing near to Jerusalem, which will soon be celebrating Passover. When the group arrived at Bethphage, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent out his advance team to locate a donkey and her colt, and then bring the animals to him. When the animals arrived, Jesus mounted them and headed into the city. As he rode that donkey and her colt into the city, a crowd began to gather. Some of them spread out their cloaks on the road in front of him, while others cut down branches and laid them in front of him. The crowd began to shout “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” It would seem that the crowd sensed that something special was afoot. Perhaps the promised Messiah had arrived to save them from their oppressors. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Dry Bones Live! -- Sermon for Lent 5A


Ezekiel 37:1-14 

God grabbed the prophet Ezekiel and dropped him into the middle of a valley filled with bones that had been bleached by the sun of any sign of life. They were so dry that even the marrow was gone. Then, as Ezekiel took in this sight, God posed this question: “Can these bones live?” How would you answer that question? 

I know that part of me would have answered with a tinge of sarcasm, “are you kidding?” But hopefully, I would follow Ezekiel’s example and simply say: “O Lord God, You  know.” That is a prayer of faith that allows for God to do what I may think is impossible. 

Each of the Lenten lectionary readings from the Old Testament, speak of acting in faith. Sometimes, the texts describe situations, like in the Garden, where the people  demonstrate a lack of faith in God, but there are other texts that tell a different story of faith, like the story of the call of Abram and Sarai to migrate to a strange land so that they and their descendants could be a blessing to all the families of the earth. This morning, scripture takes us into the exile so that we can hear a prophet bring a word of hope to these exiles.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Don't Judge By Appearances -- Sermon for Lent 4A

1 Samuel 16:1-13


You’ve heard it said: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There is great truth in this. I have first hand experience, because one of the reviewers of my first book, which was a revision of my dissertation, did just that. He made disparaging remarks about the book’s cover, and said next to nothing about its contents. Now, I will admit that the book’s cover is a bit odd, but I had nothing to do with the cover design. This lead me to think that he judged the book by the cover, and never read a page of what lay inside. 

It’s easy to judge people based on their appearance. We do it all the time. But when we judge by appearances, we often get things wrong. I once took a man whom I knew fairly well to the ER. He looked dirty and disheveled, and was dressed in the blue overalls a car mechanic might wear. The ER staff looked at him and asked if he was homeless. I told them no. In fact, he probably had more money than all of us in the room. That’s just the way he lived. On the  other hand, there was a homeless person who would come to the church for help, and he always wore a white shirt and a tie. Appearances can be deceiving.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Seeds of Blessings - Sermon for Lent (Genesis 12)


Genesis 12:1-4

The word “bless” is found in some form nearly 600 times in the New Revised Standard Version. When I looked up the words we translate bless, blessed, and blessing in my Bible dictionary, I discovered that the Hebrew words speak of health, longevity, and fertility. I also discovered that it can be translated as flourishing. So, if you say “I’m blessed,” or “what a blessing,” is this what you mean? 

When Bruce Barkhauer was with us, he spoke of a "thread of hope" running through Scripture, linking creation to new creation. I believe that there is also a "thread of blessing" running through scripture that connects the call of Abram to Jesus, and through Jesus we are connected to the realm of God. 

This morning we heard God call Abram to leave his homeland and migrate to a new land so that God could make him and his descendants a great nation so that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him or because of him. All he had to do was pack up his family, and head out toward a new and strange land. We might call this a true Lenten journey, because Abram had a lot to lose if he took up this vocation. He also had much to gain, but that would take a leap of faith. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Eating with Jesus Again in the Realm of God - A Sermon (Eating with Jesus)


Matthew 26:26-30

Since today is Transfiguration Sunday, we celebrate the glory of God revealed to the world through the ministry of Jesus. On this Transfiguration Sunday we also bring to a close my “Eating with Jesus” sermon series. Throughout this series we’ve been meditating on what it means to be a missional congregation that gathers for communion with Jesus at an open table.   

We began this conversation in Genesis, on the day the Lord met Abraham and Sarah in the persons of three strangers, whom Abraham and Sarah welcomed to their Table (Gen. 18:1-8). We were reminded that it’s possible to entertain angels without knowing it, which means that it’s important that we show hospitality to everyone (Hebrews 13:2), including sinners and tax-collectors. Yes, Jesus ate with “those kinds of people” as well. We’ve been to the wilderness, where Jesus fed the 5000. We’ve contemplated the meaning of Jesus’ words about his body and his blood. We’ve also considered what Paul meant when he wrote about eating the supper in a worthy manner. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Eating Worthily? -- Sermon (Eating with Jesus)


1 Corinthians 11:27-34

When we are young, we learn our table manners. They may be culturally defined, but there are some things that you do and some things you don’t do. That makes cross cultural dining an adventure, because when you go into a different culture you may not know the proper etiquette! 

As for me, when I was a child I learned that I shouldn’t talk with my mouth full of food. I also learned a proper way of holding the fork and the knife. And, I was taught to wait until everyone was served before I began eating. Whether we obey the rules or not, they have a purpose!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Eating the Bread of Life - Eucharist Sermon (Eating with Jesus)


John 6:25-40

After his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights. By the time the fast ended, Jesus was famished. Then the tempter came and said to him: “If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Though Jesus was very hungry, he told the tempter that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:1-4). 

In the Gospel of John we find Jesus facing another temptation. On the morning after he fed the multitude, the crowd followed him across the lake, hoping that he would feed them once again. Jesus left the crowd behind the day before because he realized that they wanted to take him by force and make him their king (Jn. 6:15). Clearly his withdrawal didn’t deter them, because they hoped he would be a new Moses who would provide manna from heaven. Jesus responded to their requests by telling them that he was the bread of life. He was the bread from heaven that God desires to provide.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Eating in the Wilderness - A Sermon (Eating With Jesus)


Matthew 14:13-21

After Israel crossed the sea to freedom, they began to complain that Moses had led them into the desert to die of starvation. Slavery was bad, but starvation was worse. God had compassion on the people, and promised to give them bread from heaven (Exodus 16:1-4). Then, the morning after God made this promise, the people looked out and found a white substance covering the ground. They gathered it up and made bread from it. They called it manna. This manna sustained the people of Israel during their journey across the desert (Exodus 16:13ff). 

As we continue with our “Eating with Jesus” sermon series, we hear Matthew’s report that Jesus has retreated to a deserted place after Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded. Most likely he went into the wilderness to pray about his future. Would his fate be the same as John’s? It was there, in the wilderness, that Jesus shared bread from heaven with hungry people caught in a deserted place. According to Tradition, Jesus retreated to a spot near the town of Tabgha, just north of the Sea of Galilee. There’s a reconstructed stone church there that dates back to the fifth century. Much of the church is relatively new, but laying before the altar is an ancient mosaic that reminds us that it was here that Jesus fed the five thousand. The mosaic is brown and white and “depicts two fish flanking a wicker basket filled with a few loaves.” [Martin, Jesus, p. 256]. Whether or not this is the spot where Jesus fed the multitude, the shrine reminds us that Jesus made an impact on the lives of everyone he encountered. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Eating with Sinners -- A Sermon


Matthew 9:9-13

With whom did Jesus eat? That’s one of the questions we’re exploring in this sermon series. We started with Abraham and Sarah, who welcomed God to their table by showing hospitality to three strangers. Strangers are one thing, but what about sinners? What are the rules and regulations? By the second century, it’s clear that only the baptized could come to the Table. Later on, Alexander Campbell had to get a token from church elders before he could take communion. Apparently he passed their test, because he got the token, but then he decided not to use it. Like his father, he realized that having too many rules kept people from experiencing Christ’s Table. It seems that the rules were designed to make sure that only the righteous could gather with Jesus at the Table, but is this what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned the disciples to break bread in remembrance of him? 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Eating With Strangers - A Sermon


Genesis 18:1-8

Today we begin a conversation I call “Eating with Jesus.” It’s my contribution to our emphasis on the relationship of an Open Table to our call to Mission, which is being underwritten by a Vital Worship grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. While most of the sermons in this series will draw from the New Testament, I thought it might be good to start with a story from Genesis about the day that Abraham and Sarah welcomed God to their Table. To give a bit of New Testament support to my thesis, consider this word from Hebrews 13: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:1, CEB).

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Don't Withhold the Water - Sermon for Baptism of Jesus Sunday


Acts 10:34-48


Today is Baptism of Jesus Sunday. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus journeyed from his home in Nazareth to the Jordan, where John was baptizing. Jesus got in line, and when he got to the front of the line, John asked Jesus to baptize him. But, Jesus insisted on being baptized, so John buried him in the waters of the Jordan. When Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and a voice from heaven declared: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17). 

In receiving this baptism, Jesus not only set an example, but his experience reminds us that when we are baptized we should expect to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the message that Peter delivered on the Day of Pentecost, and it’s the message we see revealed in the experience of Cornelius and his household.