Born to Serve

Sermon text:  Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Matthew 16:21-28

Each of us was born for a purpose. “Before you were born I consecrated you and appointed you a prophet to the nations,” God tells Jeremiah in our lesson today. Thomas Merton writes, “Each one of us has some kind of vocation…Each one of us is called to a special place in (God’s) Kingdom. If we can find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it we can never be completely happy…You and I can’t individually save the whole world, but God calls us to make a difference where we can. That’s our vocation. We’re not all called to be prophets like Jeremiah, though we all share in the prophetic mission of the church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. But each of us was born to do something very important for God. In fact, most of us have multiple vocations in the world and in the church. Retirement, for example, brings new vocations, such as grand-parenting, which Sally and I are enjoying greatly. Read full sermon here (PDF)

God is Always in Charge

Sermon Text:  Genesis 45:1-5, Romans 8:18-25, 28-35, 37-39

At the beginning of our text today from Genesis, Joseph weeps uncontrollably. He has to send all his Egyptian servants out of the room, but they can still hear him from the next room weeping in the presence of his brothers.

His older brothers had sold him into slavery when he was a boy because he was favored by his father and they were jealous of him. Besides, he was an obnoxious kid. He had dreams that he told his father and brothers about, in which he was to rule over his brothers and his father. So his brothers hated him and got rid of him by selling him to some Midianite traders, who, in turn, sold him in Egypt as a slave. Then they lied to his father, saying a wild animal killed him...Read full sermon here (PDF)

Science and Religion

Scripture Text:  Psalm 8

I almost decided to preach a different sermon this morning, one dealing with the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that I am deeply disturbed by the racism, hatred and violence there, and the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups that seem to be growing in numbers and boldness. I may eventually have to deal with that in a sermon, but for now, let me encourage all of us to make our voices heard on this matter in whatever peaceful and appropriate ways we can, like the young people who held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night in Charlottesville for Heather Hoyer, the young woman killed at the protest. In Germany, the Nazi’s were helped by the silence of timid and complacent people, who didn’t speak out against them. Let’s not make the same mistake in our time...Read full sermon here. (PDF)

 

The Persecuted

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:10-12 & Matthew 10:16-25

As William Sloan Coffin observed, “Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies;’ he didn’t say, ‘Don’t make any.’  Rather, he said, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” There are lots of different kinds of human suffering: illness, loneliness, and natural disasters. But Jesus like the prophets before him, endured – in addition to all the other forms of suffering -- a special kind of suffering called prophetic suffering, which is the backlash of power against truth....Read full sermon here (PDF) 

The Peacemakers

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:9

Sixteen years after 9-11, with ISIS afoot and war raging in Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Afghanistan and threats from North Korea - what can we learn from this Beatitude about dealing with our enemies?

In the Aramaic language, which Jesus spoke, “the children of God” means “those who are like God.” The peacemakers are like God because God is peaceful. War is a human invention.

Peace means a couple of things in the Bible. One is reconciliation through forgiveness. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” who died for our sins, says Romans 5:1. Christ had no enemies in the sense that he refused to regard anyone as an enemy. Instead, he forgave his adversaries, and his love summons us to do the same. We can’t control how our enemies see us, but we can control how we see them. “If possible, so far as it depends upon you,” says Paul in Romans 12:18, “live peaceably with all people.” So: reconciliation through forgiveness...Read full sermon here (PDF). 

The Pure in Heart

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:8

Sally and I recently watched the old movie The Firm, based on the novel by John Grisham, about a creepy law firm in Memphis, Tennessee that works for the mafia. The protagonist is a young lawyer named Mitch, fresh out of Harvard Law School, played by Tom Cruise. The firm recruits him with a high salary and an emphasis on family values. It all seems too good to be true, which it is. While keeping up appearances of being an exceptionally wholesome operation that only hires clean-living young lawyers with stable marriages, the firm is actually handling all kinds of illegal transactions by organized crime. And, of course, before too long the young lawyer Mitch begins to peel away this innocent façade and discovers the evil that lurks underneath, thereby endangering his own life and that of his wife...Read full sermon here (PDF)

The Merciful

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:7, Matthew 5:21:26 and Matthew 18:21-35

“Blessed are the merciful,” says Jesus, “for they shall receive mercy.”

The Greek word for mercy is ELEOS, and it has a double meaning. On the one hand it means kindness .When I was a pastor in Nashville the church’s elderly nursery worker began having dementia and couldn’t work in the nursery or even look after herself any longer. She was so confused she couldn’t shop or cook or drive. She began wandering out of her apartment and getting lost. She had no family except the church. I tried in vain to get her admitted to a nursing home where she could be properly cared for, but none would take her without a doctor’s order. And I couldn’t find a doctor who wasn’t already booked up with appointments for weeks or months in advance. What would happen to her in the meantime? ...Read full sermon here (PDF)

Hungry Heart

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:6

I’m going to talk about music. Indulge me for a moment. The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen was back in the early ˊ80’s when a tune called Hungry Heart was played on the BBC Radio 1. Springsteen wasn’t a big deal in the UK back then, but I remember this song sticking for some reason. It was the first of his to get near the UK charts. It sounds like a very upbeat, happy pop song, but when you listen to the lyrics, they are quite dark and speak of a longing within us that we need fulfilled but somehow are not able to. I think it connected with many folk, who saw beyond the pop tune.

The Rolling Stones connected with an earlier generation with their song, Satisfaction, that had a very similar theme: “I try and I try and I try and I try; I can’t get no satisfaction.” I know some of you have that riff stuck in your head now. You are welcome. Read full sermon here (PDF)

Those Who Are Meek

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:5

Anyone who reads or hears today’s Beatitude has to deal first with the troublesome word “meek” in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and others, like the King James Version. Numbers 12:3 in the Revised Standard Version describes Moses as “very meek,” but the Hebrew there would be better translated as “very humble,” so that’s not going to help us today. Jesus’ use of the word means something different.

      I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word meek” I find it a little disgusting. In English, “meek” seems to mean timid. Webster says it means “deficient in spirit and courage.”  Other adjectives that seem to fit are docile, cowardly, compliant, weak and ineffectual, wimpy, timid, unadventurous, bland, soft, squishy, indecisive and submissive. Casper Milquetoast was a comic strip character created in 1927 by H.B. Webster for a cartoon series called “The Timid Soul.” Webster said of Milquetoast, he is “the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.” He appears on a Christmas card that says, “If you won’t think it presumptuous of me I’d like to – uh er - - wish you a merry – or at least as reasonably pleasant a Christmas as we are entitled to, things- um er – being what they are.”  I’m also reminded of Christopher Reeves’ portrayal of Clark Kent in the Superman movies. Is this what Jesus means when he says “the meek”?  Read full sermon here (PDF)

Those Who Mourn

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:4, Matthew 27:45-54 & Matthew 28:1-10

Who doesn’t want to be happy and have a good time? We all do! Yet according to Jesus that’s not the way to blessedness. “Blessed are those who mourn,” he says, “for they shall be comforted.” In Luke’s version of this Beatitude, Jesus excludes from blessedness those who are happy in the present world. “Woe to you who laugh now,” he says in Luke 6:25, “for you shall mourn and weep.” Everything we do, every career, every marriage, every hobby is aimed at happiness, and most advertising promises happiness in some form or another. Yet Jesus says the lucky ones are those who are sad. Why? What does he mean? Read full sermon here (PDF)