Identity Crisis: Turning Point – Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

August 30, 2020  – Pentecost + 13A

Note: this is the final sermon in the “Identity Crisis” series. The previous two weeks were preached by others, while I spent time with my family at my mother’s deathbed.  Watch this sermon on Vimeo.

We’ve been exploring the idea of an identity crisis in Matthew’s gospel these past few weeks. We’ve learned that the crisis isn’t just about how we identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. The crisis also stems from how we identify Christ at work in our lives and in the world. Sometimes it isn’t so easy to recognize Jesus, even when he stands right in front of us. Sometimes we doubt who he is, as Peter did when he tried to walk on water. But when we can name Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God – also as Peter did – we find our own identity as well.

Today’s passage from Matthew marks a turning point in the story. Continue reading

Identity Crisis: Nothing But – Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21

August 2, 2020
Pentecost A+9
Watch on Vimeo.

Many people operate out of a scarcity mindset – we are all too aware of what we don’t have. During the early weeks of the COVID shutdown, it was difficult to find toilet paper in the stores. Some of that difficulty was simply because most of the toilet paper being manufactured is for institutional use – office buildings, schools, hotels, for example. Suddenly, office buildings, schools, and hotels were empty. Everyone was at home, and the demand for Quilted Northern and Charmin Strong outstripped the availability of those products.

But there was something else going on, too. People were ‘stocking up’ on basic essentials like toilet paper because they were afraid. They were operating out of a mindset of scarcity, hoarding resources instead of sharing them.

The crowds following Jesus around Galilee were used to living a life of scarcity. Continue reading

Stories that Read Us – Matthew 13 Parables

This three-part series has been updated from 2017.

July 12, 2020 – “It’s Not About the Dirt” covers the parable of the Sower and its explanation in Matthew 13:1-9, 16-23. Watch on Vimeo.

July 19, 2020 – “When Not To Pull Weeds” addresses the parable of the Wheat and Tares in  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Watch on Vimeo.

July 26, 2020 – “Training for the Kingdom” pulls together the final “short” parables from Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 to conclude the series. Watch on Vimeo.

Prisoners of Hope – Sermon on Zechariah 9:9-12

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 5, 2020
Watch on Vimeo.

It’s been good to visit with a few of you this week, to learn what is on your heart as we begin the work of interim ministry together. You may remember a video that appeared on the church website a few months ago, where I explained the developmental tasks this congregation will need to address during this season.

Over the next several weeks, I will be explaining each of these tasks in greater detail, so that we can begin this important and urgent work with full understanding. The first task is to come to terms with your past. This might be the most difficult task of all, but the other steps of the process depend on getting this one right, so it’s a good place to begin. Continue reading

A Prophet’s Welcome – Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42

June 28, 2020 (Pentecost A +4)
Watch on Vimeo.

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says to his disciples, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

We like to think we would welcome Jesus if he showed up on our doorstep, don’t we? We would recognize him immediately, and we’d usher him into our homes with joy. More than likely, we’d find some way to set out a meal for Jesus, knowing that good food usually makes for good conversation, and the gospels all tell us that Jesus liked to eat with people.

But what if Jesus showed up at your door when the larder was empty? What if the beds weren’t made and the place was a mess? What if there was no place for Jesus to sit, because every seat was piled high with newspapers, unfolded laundry – stuff… you get the idea. What if you hadn’t dusted or vacuumed in weeks, and there were dirty dishes in the sink? What would your welcome to the King of Kings look like then? Continue reading

A Sending Word – Sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8 for Pentecost A+2

June 14, 2020
My final Sunday with First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

How do disciples become apostles? When does following turn into being sent?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched those first disciples of Jesus gather in fear after the crucifixion, be amazed at Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, and receive the Great Commission to make disciples. We’ve seen them return to Jerusalem with joy, praising God, and we’ve looked on as they gathered once more in a room together, praying to receive what Jesus had promised them, power from on high. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows them out into the city to share the Good News, and the church is born.

Somewhere in there, they’ve been transformed from frightened followers to bold announcers of the gospel. Somewhere in there, they’ve changed from apprentice craftsmen to master builders in God’s kingdom here on earth. Continue reading

But Some Doubted – sermon for Trinity Sunday on Matthew 28:16-20

June 7, 2020

It’s Trinity Sunday, so that means we hear the only verse in the Bible where Jesus refers to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Maybe instead of getting caught up in trying to explain the Trinity, we should call this Great Commission Sunday! I mean, last week was Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit arrived with a whoosh and with fire, and gave birth to the church. It makes sense that a week later, the church would get its marching orders.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

We often do focus on the Great Commission instead of the inter-relational mystery of the Triune God on Trinity Sunday. These are Jesus’ last words on earth, after all. And these words form the mission statement of the church: Go into all the world. Make disciples of all the people. Baptize all of them, and teach them all the things I’ve taught you. It’s a pretty inclusive commandment. Just because the church has struggled for centuries to actually fulfill the all-encompassing nature of this mission doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

Sometimes we focus on the “Go” part of Christ’s words. Get off your duff, get moving, get out there and introduce people to Jesus! You might be surprised to learn that “Go” isn’t the main verb in the Great Commission. Make disciples is the imperative Jesus uses. The going, baptizing, and teaching are all elements of disciple-making, but making disciples is the primary task Christ gives the church.

Making disciples does not mean coercing people or forcing them into ‘right belief’. It means engaging in God’s creative work, and that’s one of the reasons hearing the creation story makes sense for Trinity Sunday. Did you hear how the spirit – or the winds of God – hovered over the waters at creation? Did you notice how God says, “Let’s make humankind in our image?” God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.

This is what Jesus means when he says, “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer are one and the same being. He holds heavenly authority. But he also holds earthly authority.

See, authority has two aspects – we hear about this in an encounter Jesus has with a centurion in Matthew 8. Maybe you remember the story. The centurion comes to Jesus asking for help. His servant is sick, and he asks Jesus to heal him. Jesus offers to come to the centurion’s house, but the centurion says, “I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof, but just say the word and I know he will be well.”

And then the centurion explains why he thinks Jesus can heal the servant by simply speaking. he says, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:9)

The centurion understood that authority is handed down from a higher authority, but it is also ‘handed up’ from below. We give authority to those we choose to have over us. So when Jesus says, “all authority has been given to me in heaven and earth,” he’s talking about the authority that comes from his heavenly Father, but also the authority vested in him by us, his followers.

And I think heavenly and earthly authority is the key to the Great Commission’s power. Because it answers a question all of us ask, maybe every day: Whom can you trust?
Who will tell you the truth without spinning it?
Who will lead you in a way that is just and merciful at the same time?
Who will have your best interests at heart?
Who will stand for you when no one else will?
Who will keep you safe from harm, do you good; who will love you?
Whom can you trust?

If we go back to the beginning of this passage, Matthew gives us a really important piece of information we might have missed as we hurried over familiar words on our way to going, making, baptizing, and teaching new disciples. In verse 17, Matthew tells us, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Some doubted, or maybe all doubted to some extent. The Greek isn’t really clear. Either way, worship and doubt are inextricably linked here. They worshiped. And at least some of them doubted. They weren’t sure if they could trust the one they were worshipping, but they worshiped anyway. And they doubted.

Why do you think Matthew puts that in there? Maybe he mentions the doubt as a way to encourage us when our own faith is too small to live out the gospel. We aren’t alone when it comes to doubt, when it comes to wondering whom we can trust. Even the closest followers of Jesus had their moments when they just weren’t sure.

But I also think Matthew is reminding us that doubt is an integral part of faith. Someone once said that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt or fear; it’s certainty. You see, when we are certain of something, we don’t really need faith. When we are sure in our own minds, we don’t really need to trust anyone else.

Doubt makes us vulnerable to grace. Doubt opens us up to the possibility that there is someone we can trust, and trusting in the face of our doubt is what faith really means. Trusting in the face of our doubt is what following Jesus really means. Helping others learn to trust Jesus in the face of their own doubt – that’s making disciples.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything that I have commanded you,”
Jesus says.

Then he makes a promise, and it’s a promise reminding us how none of this is possible if we try to do it in our own strength. “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus is with you. Making disciples of Jesus Christ is not something you do under your own authority; you do it under his. And he promises to be with you in every circumstance. Even in your doubt. When you aren’t sure where to place your trust, you can trust in Christ, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, will be with you.

Death Stinks – Sermon on John 11:1-45 for Lent 5A

March 29, 2020

Death really stinks, doesn’t it? I can remember the first time I smelled that smell. A mouse – or some animal – had died in the wall of the apartment where I was living. After a few days the stench was unbearable. I called the landlord, and he just laughed at me. “It’ll go away in a while,” he said. “Just live with it.” Continue reading

God With Us – Sermon on Psalm 23 for Lent 4Ai

March 22, 2020
Psalm 23

Good sermons are supposed to start out by identifying a problem or a fear we face, then show us how scripture helps us deal with that problem or fear.
This week, that’s a no-brainer. Continue reading

Feeling Our Way in the Dark – Sermon on John 3:1-17 for Lent 2A

March 8, 2020

Who invented the light bulb? If Thomas Edison was the first name that popped into your head, you aren’t alone. He usually gets all the credit for this invention. But Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. The first actual electric incandescent bulb existed years before Edison made it marketable. He improved on others’ ideas to create a longer-lasting incandescent bulb, and he was the one who filed all the patents necessary to manufacture the light bulb. But he didn’t invent it.

We think of the invention of the light bulb as the moment in history when everything changed – electricity became the standard, instead of mechanical power. Technology took off, and the world was never the same. But the light bulb wasn’t what Edison was after as he and his team worked together at Menlo Park. Their goal was something much bigger. Continue reading