Foolish Questions – Sermon on John 12:20-33 for Lent 5B

By now, if you’ve been following this Foolishness series through Lent, you’ve probably figured out that being a fool for Christ isn’t really foolish at all. But it does require turning our expectations and assumptions around. It requires becoming vulnerable, having enough humility to accept ridicule, even. That can make us seem foolish to those who don’t know Christ.

But Jesus submitted himself to that kind of humiliation, and if we are to be his followers, we have to accept that it is only in dying we can experience resurrection. It is only in humility that we can be exalted with Christ, and it is only in asking the seemingly foolish question that we can find the answer that leads to eternal life. Continue reading

A Fool for Love – Sermon on John 3:14-21 for Lent 4B

March 11, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

Are you getting tired of Lent, yet? If this were the fourth Sunday of Advent, we’d be nearly done with the purple of penitence and preparation. We would be anticipating the celebration of Christ’s coming in less than a week – Christmas Eve would be just around the corner!

But this isn’t Advent. It’s Lent. We have a ways to go before the end of this 40-day journey into the wilderness. There are still two more weeks before we can wave palm branches at the entry into Holy Week. We have three more weeks to fast and pray and prepare our hearts for Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning.

Here in the middle of Lent, we could sure use some joy. I think that’s why, centuries ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to make the fourth Sunday of Lent be Laetare Sunday, a Sunday when we get to ‘rejoice in the Lord.’ It’s kind of like that third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we light a rose-colored candle instead of a dark purple one. And what better gospel passage to bring us joy, than the third chapter of John? This is where we find the famous verse that sums up the whole gospel message – “For God so loved the world…”

And this brings us to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a rabbi, who comes to Jesus under cover of darkness. Maybe Rabbi Nic comes to Jesus at night to keep his conversation a secret from the other Pharisees. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit publicly that he is in contact with Jesus. Continue reading

What Kind of Fool Are You?  Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 for Lent 3B

Watch a video of this sermon here. 

We are smack dab in the middle of Lent this week. We’ve been looking at what it means to be a fool for Christ, so that the way we live our lives might raise questions among the people we meet outside the church.
Questions like:

  • What makes Christians different from everyone else?
  • Why do Christians stand out in sharp contrast to the ways of the world around us?
  • How do they manage to give sacrificially, and still have enough to be satisfied?
  • How do they always seem to know exactly the right thing to say, or the kindest thing to do when someone is hurting?
  • How do they manage to show so much love to people they barely know?

When we are fools for Christ, these are the questions people ask about us. But in first century Corinth, people had stopped asking those questions. And the church was in deep trouble. Made up of several groups that met in homes, what we would call house churches today, this church was a mess. One of the church leaders, a woman named Chloe, had sent some of her people to ask Paul for help. So Paul writes a letter, not just to Chloe, but to the whole church at Corinth. Continue reading

Litany for Lent 3B 

The Old Testament lesson and responding Psalm for the third Sunday in Lent, Year B (RCL) work well when woven together as a responsive reading. First UMC New Ulm, MN will use this Litany, taken from Exodus 20 and Psalm 19, in worship on March 4, 2018. 

ONE:   God spoke from the mountain and said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

ALL:   The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol.”

The commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes.

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.”

The decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple.

“Honor your father and your mother.”

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.

“You shall not murder.”

The ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

“You shall not commit adultery.”

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

“You shall not steal.”

Moreover by your commands is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

“You shall not bear false witness.”

But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

“You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

A Foolish Faith – Sermon on Mark 8:31-38 Lent 2B

February 24, 2018

We’re in our second week of Lent. Throughout this season, we are considering what it means to be fools for Christ. We live in a world that values outsmarting the competition, and being on top of the game. But Jesus teaches a way of living that shines in sharp contrast to the world’s wisdom. Instead of always trying to get ahead, Jesus teaches the way of putting others first, of making ourselves vulnerable to suffering.

Jesus encourages us to be fools for the sake of the gospel. It will all come together on Easter morning, as Jesus gets the last laugh on Death and Sin. It’s no joke that Easter falls on April Fool’s Day this year. And in the meantime, we will see how God’s promises may seem foolish to people who don’t know him, but they are the source of life to all who believe. Continue reading

A Fool’s Errand – Sermon on Mark 1:9-15

February 18, 2018 Lent 1B
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

What kind of fool are you? Over the next several weeks, as we mark the season of Lent, we’re going to be looking at the foolishness of God that puts human wisdom to shame. We will examine what it means to be a fool for Christ, someone who is willing to put pride on the line for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. By the time we get to Easter on April Fool’s Day, we are going to see Jesus get the last laugh on Death and Sin.

Today, on this first Sunday of Lent, we start out by following Jesus on a fool’s errand. A fool’s errand is a journey that doesn’t make sense. At first glance, it looks like nothing good can come of this trip; there is nothing worthwhile to be gained.

In this case, it’s dangerous. Temptations will try to steer us off course. And it’s a long trip. We aren’t talking a three-day weekend here. This fool’s errand is a serious, six-week journey into the wilderness.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:9-15)

No matter which gospel we read, the first Sunday in Lent always brings us to the story of Christ’s temptation in the desert. Since we’ve heard about Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his ministry in recent weeks, let’s just focus today on the wilderness, where the Spirit drives Jesus out on a fool’s errand. In other words, the Spirit expels, or throws Jesus out to be tempted. Continue reading

Only Jesus – Sermon for Transfiguration B on Mark 9:2-9

February 11, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

How many of you watch “This Is Us”? In last week’s episode, “The Car,” Jack Pearson does the best job of casting a compelling vision I’ve seen in a long time.

He takes his family to a car dealership, in search of a family car. They can’t afford much, probably something used. But there on the dealership display floor is a brand new Jeep Wagoneer. The kids fall in love with it immediately. Their mother, Rebecca, steers Jack and the car salesman toward the used car lot, but Jack has a different vision.

Sitting across the desk from the salesman, Jack paints a picture of his family’s future. He describes in great detail how that car will get stains on the upholstery and scrapes on the paint job. He says, “That car is going to tell my family’s story just by looking at it. … I want my kids to be okay, I want my family to be okay…. I see my family ‘okay’ in that car.”

And Jack talks the car salesman into selling him the car at a price Jack and Rebecca can afford. Jack’s clear vision was something the car salesman could understand. It might have cost him to buy into it – a lower commission on the sale, maybe – but Jack’s vision was so compelling, the car salesman wanted to be part of it.

A good vision is like that. People want to get on board. They can see themselves in the picture. They want to be part of something that makes them feel good. It just makes sense.

A God vision, on the other hand, might not make sense at all. A God vision is so compelling it’s irresistible, but that doesn’t mean it feels good. In fact, a God vision is almost always terrifying. Continue reading