Pentecost – Sermon on Acts 2:1-21

May 20, 2018

It’s been fifty days since Easter. Fifty days of praying. Fifty days of anticipation. Fifty days of wondering what comes next. During these past fifty days, we’ve been reading from the book of Acts instead of the Old Testament each Sunday. Last week I mentioned that instead of “Second Luke” or “The Acts of the Apostles,” it might be more appropriate to call this book “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” because the Holy Spirit has been on the move.

We’ve seen Jewish Christians become aware that Gentiles can be Christians, too. We’ve seen the established religious leaders of the day confounded by healing and preaching that they thought they’d gotten rid of when they crucified Jesus.
And we’ve seen thousands upon thousands of lives changed forever by believing that Jesus is the Christ and being baptized in his name.

Last week, we went back to the very beginning of Acts, to set the scene for
today’s passage. We heard Jesus say, “You will be my witnesses,” just before he was lifted into a cloud. The disciples who saw this happen headed back to Jerusalem and started praying. Whatever they were praying for, whatever we’ve been waiting for, this is it. We’ve arrived at Pentecost. Continue reading

Be My Witnesses – Sermon on Acts 1:1-11 for Ascension C

May 13, 2018 (Mother’s Day)

It’s time to go back to the beginning. Sometimes, we need a little refresher course in why we do what we do, who we are, and what our mission in life truly is. It’s easy to get off track. It’s easy to get lost in the details of day-to-day activities, and forget what our purpose was for doing those things in the first place.

The gospel writers knew this. As the church was forming and reforming in those early years, it was important to stay focused on the gospel, the Good News. It was important to know what to believe, and even more important to remember who to believe. The best way to keep things straight was to write down everything, from the beginning. Continue reading

Astounded by Grace – Sermon on Acts 10:44-48 for Easter 6B

May 6, 2018

Our readings from Acts during this season of Eastertide have given us a glimpse of the early church. We have seen a healing miracle provide a way for disciples of Jesus to tell others about their personal experience of Christ’s resurrection. The Holy Spirit has been on the move. Thousands have come to believe in Jesus.

Last week, you heard how the Holy Spirit nudged Philip to follow a chariot on its way to Gaza. Inside that chariot was an African eunuch – just about the last person on earth a good Jew would engage in conversation.

This African Gentile is a eunuch, or as my friend Pastor Shawna says, “a person of questionable sexuality.” Jewish law would have specifically forbidden coming into contact with such an unclean person. Yet Philip did, and the newly baptized Ethiopian eunuch becomes the very first missionary to the African continent.

In between last week’s story and this week’s reading are the conversion of Saul on his way to Damascus, and the raising of Tabitha from death in Joppa (ch 9). It’s been a busy week for the early church.

Peter has stayed in Joppa with Simon the Tanner, and one day, as he is praying around noon, he has a vision of a sheet full of animals being let down from heaven. A voice tells him to kill and eat – but there’s a problem. All the animals in the sheet are … unclean. Peter insists that he can’t do what the voice commands. He’s never eaten an unclean thing in his life. The voice tells him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (10:15) This happens three times. Peter can’t figure out what it means. Continue reading

Christ the Cornerstone – Sermon on Acts 4:5-12 Easter 4B

April 22, 2018

Here’s where we are in our Easter season readings from the book of Acts. It’s the day after Peter and John healed a man who had been crippled since birth. This man, who had never walked a day in his life, has danced and leaped around Solomon’s Porch, praising God. People came running to see what was happening, and Peter – filled with the Holy Spirit – has preached his second sermon.

The first was at Pentecost, where 3000 people believed and were baptized in the Name of Jesus. This time, even more are moved to repentance and they join the believers. This church is growing and it hasn’t even started calling itself a church yet! But it is making the priests and temple rulers nervous. Continue reading

Worship in a Blizzard

April 15, 2018

On Friday, this deck was clear. Then the hail came, followed by a couple inches of rain and sleet. When the snow started early Saturday morning, there was no way to know how much we would get, or how long it would last. By early afternoon, however, it was clear we needed to cancel worship. Highways and county roads had been closed, and the blizzard warnings had been extended into Sunday afternoon. By Sunday morning, we had more than a foot of snow, and it was still coming down.

So we tried something new. We broadcast the worship service from my living room on the church’s Facebook page.  With only a couple of small changes from what would have been the order of worship at First United Methodist Church, my husband played the piano for all the hymns. We even had an Offering! – inviting people to contribute via the church PayPal account.

Using my laptop to run the presentation slides for the service, and my phone to record the video, I preached from my tablet – a technological trifecta. Here is the order of worship, with the link to the Facebook Live video and a link back to the sermon text. Here’s the best part: about six times as many people have watched the video in the first few hours of its existence than would have participated in corporate worship on a normal Sunday at First Church. Here’s the Order of Worship we used: Continue reading

Why Do You Wonder? Sermon on Acts 3:12-19 for Easter 3B

April 15, 2018
Worship at First UMC New Ulm was cancelled because of a blizzard. So we improvised and broadcast the “service” on Facebook Live from my living room. You can view just the sermon here. 

I’ve never, ever cancelled a worship service before. I wasn’t expecting to cancel this Sunday either – I know that I can walk to church, even if the roads aren’t drivable. And I know there are those of you who will faithfully show up, even when it would be safer for you to stay at home. And there’s always the possibility that someone we don’t know yet will be looking for a place to worship on a Sunday morning. So cancelling worship is a big deal for me.

But sometimes our expectations don’t match up with reality. When April dumps a foot (or more) of snow on top of hail, sleet, and a couple of inches of rain, we go beyond amazed or surprised. We are utterly astonished. But maybe the reality of a foot of snow in April is God’s way of getting our attention, to get us to try a different way of ministering and worshiping than the way we normally do it.

For the first three Sundays after Easter, our readings in Acts depend on the story of the crippled man healed at the Beautiful Gate. Each reading refers back to this miraculous healing story, but never includes it. It’s a story full of amazement, astonishment, and wonder. And yet, amazing as it is, the healing isn’t what’s important here. Continue reading

Getting our ACTS together – sermon on Acts 4:12-19 Easter 2B

April 8, 2018

The New Testament is mostly letters – letters from Paul to various churches, letters from Peter, and from James, Jude, and John. It’s mostly letters, but not entirely letters. There’s the Revelation of John at the end of the New Testament, and the four gospels at the beginning. And sandwiched in between the gospels and the letters there’s a book called The Acts of the Apostles, or simply, “Acts.” Some Bible scholars like to call it “Second Luke” because it continues the story of Luke’s gospel beyond the resurrection of Jesus. So it’s appropriate that the assigned readings for the season of Eastertide include passages from Acts, or “Second Luke.” Because, as we learned last week, the story isn’t over when Jesus rises from death to life. It’s just beginning. Continue reading