Sermons

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January 2, 2022: Awake, Alive, Alert

Some years ago I read a seminal and for me life changing book. Despite growing up in a rural area I had become blind to the natural world in which I lived. Then I read Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Then, as if scales had fallen from my eyes and ears, I heard geese migrating overhead, and really saw individual trees as they changed color. I experienced the natural world around me even as I was living in a small city. Reading the book was like a series of epiphanies as I became more aware the natural world around me.

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December 25, 2021: Upside Down Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas carols is one that I heard for the first time just a few years ago. It is a New Zealand carol called “Carol our Christmas.” It is about having Christmas in the southern hemisphere where this time of year is not winter but summer. The problem with all of the snowy and wintry carols of Europe and North America is that they don’t resonate with a New Zealander. She writes:

“Carol our Christmas, an upside down Christmas;
The snow is not falling and trees are not bare.
Carol the summer, and welcome the Christ Child,
Warm in our sunshine and sweetness of air.”

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December 19, 2021: Mary Had a Baby

When this baby hears Mary’s voice he jumps in recognition that the mother of the Son of God is speaking. This baby, by the way, will grow up to be John the Baptist. The baby who has just started to form inside Mary is so special that all Mary has to do is walk into a room and say “hello” and something special happens.

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December 12, 2021: Again I Say Rejoice!

In the three readings we heard before the gospel today there was a call to joy, but it is important to realize that these calls to joy came in the midst of suffering, oppression, pain, and imprisonment. Our three writers were not naive pie-in-the-sky dopes. They knew the realities of life, but they also knew that the only way through suffering and injustice, and we must go through because we cannot avoid suffering and injustice, the only way through was to have hearts that are centered on God’s joy.

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December 5, 2021: The Power of Love

It was up to this man of frightening visage and angry preaching (in the next verses he calls his listeners a brood of vipers) to share the message of the coming of the Prince of Peace. I can assure you that this is not the way a public relations guru or ad man from Madison Avenue would work. John is as unattractive as a spokesperson can be. But that is the way God seems to always work. God comes from unexpected places and unexpected people.

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November 28, 2021: The Lamb Is My Shepherd

Happy New Year! Come on say it back to me... I think it is appropriate that the new year of the Church and the secular world are different. We do not let the celebrations of the secular New Year cloud the importance of the new year in the Church.

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November 25, 2021: Can It Long Endure

As we look at the current state of the nation it seems to me we should focus on what Mr. Lincoln wrote. Like people of his day we need to pray “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience... fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation...”

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November 21, 2021: King of Hearts

What is it that rules our hearts? Is it fox hunting, cars, art, literature, or hobbies? Is it work, meetings, money, and prestige from our vocation? Perhaps what rules our hearts are vices—that is good things misused? The world provides many distractions most of which are not bad in and of themselves. It is only when they become the ruler of our heart that they become a problem.

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October 31, 2021: All You Need Is Love

What Jesus and the scribe talk about today is not about a feeling or emotion. It is something even more profound than what we experience when singing that song. When they talk about love it is something almost unemotional... That part of love, like the love that Jesus and the scribe are discussing, is the love that is not about self and how I feel but about the other and what we would do for them and sacrifice for them.

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October 24, 2021: A Sight to Behold

I think that Mark wants us to see something more than just another miracle story. This is why he focuses on the blind beggar and gives him a name (recipients of miracles are not named in Mark). Naming him is a clue for us to focus on him. While he is just a beggar and no one of importance, he is audacious.

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October 17, 2021: The Joy of Becoming Insignificant

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark two of Jesus’ closest companions on the way, James and John, ask a favor of Jesus. They say, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” I suppose they think they are asking to become something like the Vice President, or Secretary of State, or head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking for.

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October 10, 2021: That's Just the Way It Is?

Living in poverty is not a preferential way of being. Indeed, while scriptures tell us that God has a preference for the poor; this preference is most often expressed in the command for those of us who are financially secure to help out those who are in dire straits. The command is not usually to become poor, but to share with the poor. The reading from Amos is a castigation of the wealthy who are taking advantage of the poor. Amos does not say go and be poor. He says stop using your power to hurt those who are poor.

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October 3, 2021: God's Dream

As we have discussed in recent weeks, Jesus often speaks in hyperbole, because it gets our attention. In this case he pushes back on the Pharisees’ literal reading of scripture with one that is more human and humane.

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September 26, 2021: Ooo Gross!

Does anyone think that Jesus really wanted us to hurt ourselves? I don’t. I think Jesus is using exaggeration in order to help us understand how serious he is. Jesus wants us to know that he cares about each of us. He knows we are going to make mistakes that will hurt other people and will hurt ourselves. So he tells us that if something causes us to make mistakes over and over and over again we should get rid of it.

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September 19, 2021: Love Makes Us Jesus People

Does anyone think that Jesus really wanted us to hurt ourselves? I don’t. I think Jesus is using exaggeration in order to help us understand how serious he is. Jesus wants us to know that he cares about each of us. He knows we are going to make mistakes that will hurt other people and will hurt ourselves. So he tells us that if something causes us to make mistakes over and over and over again we should get rid of it.

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September 12, 2021: Who Is He? Who Am I?

Today’s Gospel asks two questions that resonate across the centuries. The first is the question Jesus asks of the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” The other question is, “Given my answer to the first question, who am I?”

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September 5, 2021: Border Folly

The gospel reading this week is deceptively simple. We have two stories about Jesus healing people—a daughter with a demon and a man with a speech impediment. Yet, despite the simplicity of the narrative, with a little close reading we can see that these stories are anything but simple.

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August 29, 2021: More than Lip Service

God always calls us to care for the poor, widowed and orphaned. The prophets reprimand us time and again for not following that commandment. Jesus affirms the necessity to live into God’s word, not just have it flow over us like some sort of justifying waterfall that requires nothing of us.

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August 22, 2021: Good Food

God always calls us to care for the poor, widowed and orphaned. The prophets reprimand us time and again for not following that commandment. Jesus affirms the necessity to live into God’s word, not just have it flow over us like some sort of justifying waterfall that requires nothing of us.

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August 15, 2021: Come to Wisdom's Feast

We have been talking about bread and other baked items for several weeks now. While Jesus being the bread of life is a powerful and indeed central tenant of our faith, I thought today might be a good time to talk about another life-giving concept, wisdom.

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August 8, 2021: Taste and See

Without this bread life is a pale imitation of life. It is a life of grasping hoping for something real, fulfilling, and healing. But that life always comes up short because possessions, money, power or anything else the secular world offers is hollow. It may sparkle for a moment but soon it loses its luster. Then our eyes start searching for something new with more sparkle which is also destined to fade.

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August 1, 2021: Eat and be Filled

No one can blame the people in the Temple or the woman at the well for hoping that their need for the essentials of life could be solved by something Jesus promised. But Jesus was not some internet huckster trying to sell them a “miracle” cure for poverty and hard work. Jesus, via metaphor, was trying to show them that God offers more than the basics of life.

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July 25, 2021: Make Me A Good Animal Today

So what does it mean to be human? I believe it means we are part of this world. I agree, as well, with scholars who say, God, having given us more, also expects a greater duty of care. We are responsible to serve as good stewards over God’s creations. To look after all other living things. To be good animals. Because

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July 11, 2021: Let Justice Roll

Those words ring out across more than two and three-quarters millennia. Anyone who says that the Bible is no longer relevant is not paying attention. Those words of God through Amos are as potent today as they were in 750 BC or 1963 AD. When a society chooses the rich over the poor, the powerful over the powerless, and greed over righteousness it is corrupt. It can no longer claim to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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July 4, 2021: Familiarity Breeds Community

In our case, familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather community. This is a community of love and care. It is a community that challenges itself and others to love and be loved. Time and again I hear from visitors how welcomed and respected they feel here. This is a house of Christian love. When someone like that guest shakes the dust of this place off of his sandals, he is dismissing the love of Christ for the judgments and partisanship of the world.

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June 27, 2021: Healing Words, Healing Touch

The world is full of need. It is often not as obvious as that, but the need still exists. I expect there is someone amongst us this morning or with whom you work or regularly meet who is in a need as desperate as the hemorrhaging woman or the little girl. They may feel that no one cares, or they may not have an advocate as strong and well-placed as Jairus. How do we let them know that they matter?

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June 13, 2021: Wonder of Wonder

Free floating wonder allows the questions to abound. It also allows that awe does not have to have an answer. Wonder is enough. We live into the questions and that is enough...

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June 6, 2021: We Are Family

There are numerous compelling questions in the Bible. Questions such as “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Who is my neighbor?” and today’s question, “Who are my mother and my brothers.” These questions are gripping because they hit so close to home. These are not questions about “Life, The Universe and Everything.” They are questions about how we live faithfully and genuinely as human beings. They come up in a religious context, but ultimately they go beyond the religious.

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May 30, 2021: A Trinity of Love

The Trinity like so much about Christianity is a mystery. This is not the Agatha Christie kind of mystery where the purpose is to figure out whodunit. Not having an answer may make us uncomfortable, but the mystery can be the answer in itself. The mystery may be a call into engagement.

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May 23, 2021: Good Trouble in the Water

This Day of Pentecost we are reminded that where we find wholeness is in God’s love. It is also where we find our commission to do God’s work in the world. Wade in the water because God is going to trouble it and heal you and strengthen you. When we step out of those troubled waters we will not be able to stop sharing the message. But first we have to step in.

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May 16, 2021: Help My Unbelief

I wonder why we ignore this feast day unlike others in calendar. It could be that to the modern mind, the Ascension seems like something out of a fantasy movie. Somebody getting lifted up in the air and floating or zipping away to heaven seems silly. The world does not function in that way. We are left thinking that this is another one of those weird things that only happens in the Bible like seas parting, donkeys talking, flying chariots and people who live for nine hundred years. But there is so much more to the Ascension than the whisking off of Jesus into heaven.

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May 9, 2021: For Lovin' Me

Love is like a holy infection: the more we love God the more loving we become towards others. Our hearts are filled with love, pushing out fear and anxiety. As those negative emotions find less space within us, we are less able to feel them. God’s love wins.​

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May 2, 2021: Better Together

We are to abide in Jesus just as he abides in us. That is, we are to stay within him as he is within us. I think that is why he chose this metaphor of a vine. The level of connection with Jesus is cellular. We don’t just abide as we abide in our home or in Middleburg. We are so connected with Jesus that we cannot go anywhere without him and he cannot go anywhere without us.

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April 25, 2021: Sheepish

As it says in Psalm 95, “For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. / Oh, that today you would harken to his voice.” This is a relationship of truth and trust. We are God’s flock not because we are stupid like sheep, but because we are smart like sheep. Like sheep we follow the shepherd, we are not prodded along like cattle which must be driven from behind. We know the voice of the one who leads us. We can discern that voice from the many others that cry out for our attention.

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April 18, 2021: Knowing Beyond Knowing

When I hear these post-resurrection stories I often respond skeptically. While I listen attentively, my brain is talking back to the Gospel saying something like, “Yea, sure, he just popped into a room with closed doors and windows.” Or “Yep, he broke the bread with the disciples at Emmaus and then he disappeared.” It is as if Jesus flipped open his transponder and said, “Beam me up Scottie” so that he could flit around ancient Palestine. But to a brain educated in post-Enlightenment, post-scientific revolution thought this just doesn’t make sense. This is the stuff of fantasy, sci-fi, or ghost stories.

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April 11, 2021: Forgiven and Forgiving

There we have it. Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples turned apostles is not to tell the world what is right and wrong. Their job is not to tell nice tidy moral stories like Aesop’s Fables. That sentence makes it clear that besides sharing the Good News of Jesus they have the very important duty to forgive. Their job and ours is the work of forgiveness.

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April 4, 2021: Rise up in Love (Easter)

We are in the midst of so much uncertainty and upheaval. There is the Covid pandemic that has changed the way we live, and left so many dead in the US and around the world. There is the American epidemic of gun violence that continues to take tens of thousands of lives every year. There is the epidemic of racial injustice that has plagued the US for over 400 years. Just as we think we have made significant steps forward it rears its ugly head again as black, brown and Asian persons are targeted. Then there is the epidemic of conspiracy which is another cancerous ill fed by the dark web and other malevolent serpents.

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April 2, 2021: You Think This Happened Only Once and Long Ago? (Good Friday)

Christ is crucified every time someone utters a racial slur, or when a child is terrorized by schoolmates for the color of his skin. We do not seem to learn. The Crucifixion should have happened only once and long ago. Even if no one else learned the lesson of summary judgment and the brutality of capital punishment we who call ourselves Christians should have. We who know that our Lord and Savior was murdered by the religious and political powers of his day should know better, but we don’t. We just keep on keepin’ on with the same blind and brutal ways of our ancestors.

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April 1, 2021: Humility, Love, and a Towel (Maundy Thursday)

Suppose for a moment that by the time the disciples get to this fateful night they finally accept what Jesus has been telling them all along about his impending death. They may not understand the resurrection part, but having seen what has been going on in Jerusalem in the past week they realize that things are not going to end well. What’s more it has become clear that his death is imminent, that he will probably be put to death the next day. What do you think they would have wanted to happen during what we call the Last Supper?

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March 28, 2021: Let Us Not Pass Over the Passion

As we all know, when passions run high there is often a price to pay. Either those passions lead to some confrontation between the passionate and their opponents, or the passion turns on itself. In this case we see that the passionate crowd that welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem becomes the crowd passionate for his death.

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March 21, 2021: Close to You

Jesus wants us to have our best lives too, but he challenges us way beyond any motivational speaker. He challenges us to see the world through the eyes of God. He challenges us to see the world and all of its people as beloved of God. We in the church feel all snuggly with Jesus, like he belongs to us; we often act as if he shares our opinions and biases. We forget that he angered the religious establishment of his time, and that we are part of the religious establishment of our time. I do not believe he would be any easier on us just because we believe in him. I expect his first question of me would be why I do not live the Good News more fully. I expect he would want to know why we are so unforgiving of others.

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March 14, 2021: Light of the World, Shine on Me

Nicodemus, concerned that his fellow elders will look unfavorably on his meeting Jesus, seeks an audience with him at night. Darkness is also a great foil for the darkness that surrounds humanity; a darkness that Jesus says “people loved” more than the light.

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March 7, 2021: Takin' Care of Business

This is not the Jesus of the movies who is slender with flowing hair like a peacenik from the 60s with a sophisticated English accent. It is not the soft focus Jesus of greeting cards. This is not the Jesus of Sunday School stories who calls children to his side. Nor is this the Jesus of miraculous healings, compelling parables, and captivating sermons. This Jesus is tough and angry.

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February 28, 2021: What's My Line?

“Who do people say that I am?” It is a cleverly posed question, because the disciples could disguise their own response as if it were the words of someone else. Despite the cover they are given and the many hints through Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and miracles they respond that people say he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. It is only when Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?” that Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah.”

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February 21, 2021: Post it on Your Heart

Mark specializes in economy of words. While the other two give us more detail of Jesus’ experience, Mark’s description can serve another purpose. Mark’s few verses offer a believer the straightforward route to living the gospel. I think of these few verses as the refrigerator door or mirror reminder of living in Christ. It is like when we start a new exercise routine or diet. We create a list of what it is we need to do in the simplest terms. We take that list and tape it to the fridge or bathroom mirror.

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February 14, 2021: A Doorway to Heaven

Liminal. L-I-M-I-N-A-L. Liminal is not a word that I expect most of us use in daily conversation, but it is common in spiritual and religious circles. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin root, limen, which means “threshold.” It is often seen in the phrase “liminal space” which is a place of transition. It is a place where one “crosses over” having left something behind, but not yet having fully moved in something else.

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February 7, 2021: Transcendent and Immanent, High and Low, Near and Far

 

When I was a young man I became disillusioned with the church of my upbringing. That disillusionment did not lead to atheism or agnosticism. Rather I embraced the favored religious notion of many Enlightenment era intellectuals; men such as Thomas Jefferson and John Locke–Deism. For me it helped to explain creation outside of a scientific theory, but it also helped explain the evil, injustice, and randomness of life.

 

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January 31, 2021: Maybe I'm Amazed

 

I have a question that I wish I could ask of you and get responses from lots of you. The question is what do you expect to experience or hope to experience when you come to church? I imagine you might say quiet, peace, comfort, good music, friends, communion, community, a sermon, or a lesson to help me in my life to name a few. Looking back at the Gospel reading I think a synagogue goer in Jesus’ time might have had similar expectations. Yet the adjectives used in Mark’s Gospel to describe their experience are anything but what we have named.

 

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January 24, 2021: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

 

Time is very important to our lives. We want to save time. Indeed, one of the aspects of the modern era was the invention and manufacture of time-saving devices such as kitchen and laundry appliances. These were intended to free up time for leisure activities. The typewriter, then word processor and then computer made the writing and editing of documents, articles, books, speeches, and sermons more efficient. Search engines put information, whether a recipe for tonight’s supper or a citation for a scholarly article, at our fingertips.

 

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January 17, 2021: Seeing Rightly

 

Mirrors are common accoutrement of our bathrooms and closets. We use them to adjust a tie, make sure the makeup is flattering, or that the various parts of our outfit are complementary. Yet, how many times do we really look at our self? Not in a cursory way, but a studied way. Likewise, we see others on the street, in church at work. How often do we really see them for the child of God that they are?

 

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January 10, 2021: Only God Saves Me

 

When I was a kid, about 5th or 6th grade, I took several road trips with my dad. In many ways they are the highlights of my youth. I had my dad to myself for a week at a time. He was nearly deaf at that point so we did not talk much as we drove, but just being invited to be with him was great.

 

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