Tagged with Sermon Summary

What Time Is It?

If you were enjoying a pleasant, well-fed stupor in the hours and days after Thanksgiving, the season of Advent has arrived to throw cold water in your face.  The scriptures we read this past Sunday (Romans 13:-14 and Matthew 3:1-12) don’t feature angels, babies, or stars. Instead, we hear “Wake up! Do not revel in debauchery, quarreling and jealousy!” and “Repent, you brood of vipers!”

It’s not nice to be yelled at. The urgency of these texts can feel exhausting, because photo(5)most of us have enough urgency in our lives already. We have a long list of unfulfilled responsibilities that grows even longer at this time of year. We’re busy caring for those we love and trying to care for ourselves.We’re busy sending cards, welcoming guests, observing traditions, and acting cheerful, even if we’re really stressed-out or sad. We’re busy — and if we’re not, something tell us that we should be, just to keep up appearances.

But the wake-up call we get this week, this cold Advent faceful of water, isn’t about our photo(4)normal responsibilities, or our holiday to-do list. Instead we hear from a foul-smelling, fly-ridden, crazy-eyed prophet. He doesn’t care if we meet our deadlines. No one who wears camel’s hair and eats insects is very concerned about other people’s expectations. Instead, he’s asking us to put all that other stuff aside to wake up to the immanent, magnificent, life-changing presence of God.

John’s words are harsh. But all of us need a bracing pep talk now and then to keep our priorities straight. We need a voice that’s strange and powerful enough to break through our everyday. It’s only then that we can fight against the nagging voice that asks us to do, or be, the wrong kind of more. It’s only then that we can defy expectations that lead us to anxiety and despair. It’s only then that we can wake up to the kingdom of heaven all around us.

So whenever you take a look at your watch or your clock, try to see John’s face instead. When you’re writing down your list of tasks, add in a reminder: “The Kingdom of Heaven is Near!” May we all receive this gift of God, this strange and smelly prophet, and wake up to the presence of God all around us.


zaccheusZacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”     Luke 19:2-5

Why can’t we all be like Zacchaeus? It only takes ten verses for this guy to make a dramatic spiritual transformation.

Zacchaeus starts out as the baddest of the Jericho bad. He’s is a tax collector, which means that he is a traitor, a Jew who collaborates with Roman colonial rulers. He’s a chief tax collector, which means he’s one of the most important traitors around. And he’s a rich chief tax collector, which means he’s great at extortion.

Zacchaeus is the baddest of the Jericho bad. But, for some reason, he is interested in Jesus. He can’t see Jesus over the crowd, and he can’t get through the crowd —  so he runs ahead of the crowd and he hoists himself up into a tree.

Earlier in the gospel of Luke, there are plenty of stories of rich men getting a hard time from Jesus.  We have every reason to suspect that Zacchaeus is next. But instead, Jesus asks him to come down from the tree, and invites himself over for dinner. And that’s all it takes. The next moment, Zacchaeus promises to give half of what he owns to the poor, and pay four times what he owes to anyone he has defrauded.

Why can’t we all be like Zacchaeus? Well, most of us don’t start out as the baddest of the bad. SBut it’s not only our unexceptional back stories that create a stumbling block. Living a faithful life is a project that just keeps going, even if we have big revelations and life-changing reversals. We keep facing new and complex decisions. Remembering to love God and neighbor every day is a challenge.

Some people even wonder about Zacchaeus. Does he really follow through on his promises?  And even if he does, what happens next? Does he resign his post as a tax collector? Does he develop a new relationship to his people, his faith, his God?

Whether we take Zaccheus as a role model or a warning, I hope we can embrace some of the enthusiasm of his interaction with Jesus. As we make our everyday choices, may we discover our own thirst for divine encounter, and be refreshed by God’s extravagant response.

God, you come to our hometown and walk right down the street. Help us to run ahead and climb a tree, or do whatever it takes to see who you are and learn how to follow you. Amen.


world communionImagine the last really marvelous meal that you ate. Can you think of one? What was the occasion? Where were you? Who were you with? What did you eat? How did it taste? And what was so special about that meal?

At least once a month, we eat together at church during the worship service. Admittedly, these communion “meals” rarely include spectacular food, and the portions are embarrassingly small. So why do we eat during church at all? What kind of strange snack is this, compared to the much more delicious and bountiful meals we eat elsewhere?

At church, we eat to remember. We remember Jesus, gathering with his friends and beloved disciples, on the eve of his death. We remember what he did, and what he said, as he tried to explain to this beloved group that although he was leaving them, he would always be present when they ate together in his name.

At church, we eat to imagine the future that God invites us to help bring about. We come together, people of all classes and nations and languages, gathering around one table. We begin to resemble the realm of God where all people are united, without injustice or suffering. We teach ourselves about God’s dream of unity and fuel ourselves for the work we must do to get there.

The food may be unremarkable. The helpings may be tiny. But when we eat at church, it’s a feast. It’s a grand occasion, gathering in the name of Jesus. We have an incredible host, and there’s an expansive guest list. As we eat and drink, we are connected: to long ago, and yet to come; to far away, and right here; to Jesus, and all of God’s creation.  Whenever we eat this feast, may we be filled and satisfied.

On Fire

Jesus! What are you saying? I come to bring fire to the earth? I come not to bring peace, but division?

Multicolour-candles-2If we read Luke 12:49-56, we have to wonder. Did Jesus wake up on the wrong side of his sleeping mat? Did he have a bad fight with his favorite disciple? Where is the one who will lead us on paths of peace?

Although Jesus is a messenger of peace, he is also someone who knows that human life – and God’s call – can lead to conflict. In fact, our fear of conflict sometimes gets in the way of life, of growth, of God. Is there a place in your life where division and conflict could be the path towards a deep, true, holy peace?

God, free us from politeness, fear, and submission. May we be baptized with your fire, refined and renewed and inspired. May we be brave enough for division if it is the way towards your peace, which passes all understanding. Amen.

Learning to Do Good

Isaiah“Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:16-17

The prophet Isaiah is probably best known for the beautiful words we hear in the seasons of Advent and Christmas: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; a child has been born, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. But Isaiah, like all prophets, also has words of judgment and warning for us. In the very first chapter of his book, Isaiah rebukes the people of Judah harshly. They are, he says, evil and corrupt: utterly estranged from God.

How have the Judeans earned this scathing indictment? They spend too much money on churchy things: burnt offerings and incense. They require the local farmers to attend too many festivals, a hardship, because time away from the fields meant a loss of preciously needed income. They have an excess of food, and enjoy prosperous ease, while forgetting the poor and needy.

The people of Judah have gotten extravagant.  They’re failing to look after those who are most vulnerable among them. The prophet counsels them: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good: seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

We have all too much in common with the Judean people, and it’s hard to enjoy this scriptural lecture when we realize it’s directed at us, as well. But dare I say that this kind of lecture is often good for us? Our encounters with the Living God should be powerful and challenging enough to slowly free us from all of the lies we have been taught, from all of the injustices we are complicit in, and from all of the habits that are harmful to us. Our encounters should liberate us to love God and our neighbor with all our hearts, and minds, and strength; and our neighbors as ourselves.

Wherever we are on our journey, God invites us to try again, to take one more step towards humility, towards simplicity, towards compassion, towards justice. What step could you take?  What freedom could you embrace?

God, embolden us to understand where we have gone wrong. Awaken our trust in your mercy. Through your grace, may we slowly become who you created us to be, ceasing to do evil, and learning to do good. Amen.


Who is my neighbor?

A lawyer asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Together they agree that the answer is found in Jewish law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” But the lawyer is still unsatisfied. He asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus proceeds to tlawyers-question-tendingell this lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). A man who is traveling is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. Three people pass him on the road: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. It is the Samaritan, the outsider, who shows mercy, providing lavish care and kindness. Jesus concludes, “Go, and do likewise.”

Just as the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?”, those of us who hear this story often ask who the characters are. Who, in our lives, is the robbed man, the person whom we have passed by on the road? Who, in our lives, is the Samaritan, the compassionate person whom we have misjudged?

The wisdom of the Samaritan is abundance in the face of need, mercy in the face of prejudice. If we love God with all that we are, God will help us to have compassion for others, no matter what stands between us. In this way, we will find healing, and the courage to serve and be served.

Holy Comforter, there is so much need inside and around us.  Teach us to love you, and to receive your love, so that we might put your teachings into action, showing mercy for one another. Amen.

Go, Wash in the Jordan Seven Times

Namaan, the commander of the army of the King of Aram, had a problem. Jordan_River_entering_Sea_of_Galilee_aerialHe had a skin disease that caused serious discomfort and social shame. But Namaan was a man of means, and so he looked for the very best specialist he could find. When he hear about the prophet serving the King of Israel, he thought: this might just be it.

But when Namaan arrives at the great prophet’s house with luxurious gifts and a royal letter of recommendation, he is disappointed. He doesn’t get a long consultation and a complex prescription. He doesn’t get to see the prophet at all. Instead, a messenger comes out and says: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored.” Namaan storms away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord, and wave his hand over the spot, and cure me!”

People who are sick or grieving often get infuriated pieces of simple advice for their complex problems. Everyone has a solution: Give up dairy; take up meditation; have a positive attitude. But in our times of greatest need, this advice is the last thing we need. We need people who will listen to us. We need people who will join us in our anger, our grief, or the mindless movies and indulgent desserts that we sometimes use to escape it all.

The bible doesn’t offer much advice for those who are hurting, except for this: God is a good companion. God may not fix our problems (though Namaan was cured when he finally followed through on his prescription). But God’s been around the block a few times. She knows how to rage.  She knows how to grieve. She can walk with us in whatever we’re in, if only we can figure out how to let her.

God, when it’s me with the problem, help me to let you in. God, when it’s someone else with the problem, help me to swallow my advice and open my heart, and bring something great from the bakery. Amen.

A Double Share

Elijah Cloak over Elisha Westminster SynagogueElisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  2 Kings 2:9

This past Sunday, we talked about all that has been happening in the news. The Voting Rights act was challenged; the Defense of Marriage act was struck down; NSA monitoring was revealed; a Senate race was held; President Obama spoke on the environment… I could go on. A lot has been happening; history is being made all around us.

When we think about how change happens in our country, we often think in terms of great leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Gloria Steinem; Alice Walker; Rachel Carson; Harvey Milk; Edward Roberts. The dedication and selflessness of these leaders has changed our country forever. But great leaders can’t accomplish everything. Despite new laws and shifts in public opinion, pervasive bias still exists.  And some issues have barely begun to be addressed by our society. How will it all get done?

In the book of Kings, the great prophet Elijah is nearing death. His protege, Elisha, hopes to carry on the work that Elijah began. Elisha begs Elijah: “Please, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” But Elijah can’t promise this. Soon he is gone, taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. As it turns out, Elisha is never quite as great a prophet as Elijah. Most of us are unlikely to become great leaders, either. Still, it’s important that we find the courage to move forward with the tasks that others have begun.  Whose work could you continue?

God, we come to you in celebration and consternation, witnessing all that leaders and movements have achieved, witnessing all that still needs to be done. Empower us to further the cause of your justice. Embolden us to speak and serve. Amen.