Monthly Archives: April 2016

Fish and Sheep – Sermon on John 21:1-19

Easter 3C
April 10, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here.
An updated version of this sermon can be found here.

Many psychologists will tell you that there are two things all human beings need in order to live happy, productive lives: we need a sense of belonging, and we need a sense of purpose (David Lose). By “belonging” I don’t mean “fitting in.” In fact, fitting in might be the exact opposite of belonging. When you try to fit in, you adapt yourself to a group’s expectations. When you belong, you don’t have to change a thing. You are accepted the way you are. Being accepted as we are by a larger group gives us a stable view of ourselves, and helps us shape our individual identity, according to the psychologists.

And a sense of purpose gives us a reason to get up in the morning. We need to believe that what we do matters, that we make a difference in the world. Our sense of purpose drives our decisions about the way we spend our time and energy and financial resources. Believing that your life has meaning and value can motivate you to face challenging circumstances with courage and perseverance, even joy.

We need to feel like we belong, and we need to feel like we have a purpose in life. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus offers us both. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Sermon on Acts 2:37-47

April 3, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here.

When my older son was in third grade, he decided to change his name. The name he had been given at birth was no longer an option. A girl in his class had the same name. It was spelled differently, but it sounded the same. They were both Gail. And that would not do. So for several months, he tried out different options. The one that lasted the longest was “Spike.” Over the summer, the name thing seemed to be less of an issue, but when school began in the fall, I wondered what he would want to call himself. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. On the afternoon of the first day of fourth grade, I got a phone call from my son’s teacher.

It seems she had distributed index cards to each of her students at the beginning of the day, and had asked them to write across the top of the card their full names, as those names appeared in her official records. Then she said, “Underneath your full name, write the name you want me to call you. For example, if your name is Robert but you want me to call you Bobby, write it down so I’ll know.” My son had written “Gail Young II” across the top, and underneath that, he’d written, “Kevin.” The teacher wanted to know where this name had come from. I had to think a minute. It did sound familiar. Then it struck me. Kevin is Bruce’s middle name. My son, Gail, had decided to name himself after his step-dad, Bruce. That name has stuck, more or less, for more than 25 years.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s Romeo once asked Juliet. While a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, in the Bible, a name has great significance. A name carries with it the essence of a person’s character. Your name defines what kind of person you are. But what happens when your name changes? As we move from the shock of Easter morning into the beginning of the Christian era, we find a group of Jesus’ followers who struggle to define their identity. Like my son, who had to try on several names before he found one that fit the way he saw himself and wanted others to see him, these early followers of Jesus didn’t know quite what to call themselves. Continue reading

Resurrection Hope – Sermon on Luke 24:1-12 EasterC

March 27 2016

Watch a video of this sermon here.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. – Luke 24:1-12

You’ve heard this story before, right? It has either changed your life, or you have let it wash over you every year without having any measurable effect on you. It’s an all or nothing story. Either it makes no difference to you at all, or it makes all the difference in the world to you. Why is that? Why do some of us listen to this story year after year, but never see why it matters?

My guess is that some of us aren’t very different from those first disciples who heard the news from the women – this message doesn’t make any logical sense, and so we dismiss it as an “idle tale.” Or maybe we accept the story as fact, but it happened so long ago, we can’t imagine how it matters to us now, in our current situation. You might believe it, but it hasn’t changed the way you act or think. Your life has not yet been transformed by the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

I could give you a verse-by-verse explanation of the important details Luke puts into his version of the resurrection story, and we could compare and contrast Luke’s version to the other gospels. I might even be able to share some bit of knowledge from biblical scholars with you that you didn’t know before, and if you could remember it past coffee time, you could discuss it with others over Easter dinner. But it would not change your life. And Jesus died and rose again to change your life. Continue reading

Hope Aflame: Even the Rocks – Sermon on Luke 19:39-48

Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Watch a video of this sermon here.

At the beginning of the service, we heard Luke’s account of the Palm Sunday parade. Only Luke doesn’t mention palms, and he doesn’t tell us that the crowds were crying out ‘Hosanna!’ either. Instead, Luke tells us that the “whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

The crowds are shouting the same refrain the angels sang at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14). Just as the angels announced the birth of Jesus, now the disciples announce the coming of Messiah into his kingdom. But, even though they claim to know that Jesus is the Messiah, they still don’t quite understand what that really means.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it,  saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written,

‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.”

 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. – Luke 19:39-48


Last January, I walked with our tour group down the pathway from the Mount of Olives, following Palm Way in a pilgrims’ procession. We had started out early in the morning, and even though most of the trip had been cold and rainy, this day was filled with sunshine. Continue reading

Burning Hope: The Kingdom of God is Near – Sermon on Luke 10:1-12


March 13, 2016

Note: The congregation of First United Methodist Church received a report from its Healthy Church Initiative consulting team earlier in the service. That report identified five strengths and five concerns for this congregation’s future growth. Five recommendations were also part of this report, but these recommendations were shared at a potluck dinner following worship. You can learn more about the report and the process at the church’s website.

You’ve just heard the first two thirds of our Healthy Church Initiative Report. Reports like this always try to give you the good news first. I think that’s so you’ll be nice and comfortable, feeling good about yourself and relaxed before they sucker punch you with the bad news. But did any of these concerns sound insurmountable to you? Did any of them knock the wind out of you?

In our reading today from Isaiah, the prophet tells us that God is about to do a new thing. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” says the Lord. God is about to do a new thing for his people, the ones he claims as his own. God says these are “the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” That’s our purpose in life: to declare God’s praise.

We do that through our strengths of hospitality, commitment to love and serve, spiritual leadership, things like Wednesday Night and NUMAS Haus that demonstrate our capacity to expand ministry, and even through this well-placed and well-maintained building.

But fulfilling our purpose to declare God’s praise takes more than identifying our strengths. In fact, relying on our own strength alone won’t get us where we need to be at all. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Philippians when he writes that he has more reason than anyone to be confident in the flesh, that is, confident in his own strength. Continue reading

Kindled Hope: Following Jesus – Sermon on John 1:29-42 (and 6:56-69)


March 6, 2016

Welcome to the New Testament! We managed to condense those four hundred years of prophetic silence between the last writings of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ into a single week! And since we heard the story of Jesus’ birth back in December, we’re skipping ahead about thirty years to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This week, our story takes us to the day after Jesus is baptized. The hope that was kindling at the end of the last chapter in God’s story has caught flame in this new chapter. The kingdom of God is breaking into our world.

Here’s the scene: John the Baptist notices Jesus walking down the street, and points out the Lamb of God to a handful of his own disciples. John tells them about his own experiences of baptizing Jesus the day before, and his disciples take off after Jesus.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). – John 1:29-42

This story gives us three simple actions that point people to Jesus. Continue reading

Kindling Hope: Building with Courage – Sermon on Nehemiah 8:1-12

February 28, 2016

How is your Lenten journey going? Or, as Wesley would put it, “How is it with your soul?” However you ask it, the question holds us each accountable for the hard work of being a disciple.

Following Jesus isn’t always easy, but these days in the middle of Lent always seem to require more of me. The novelty of my commitment at the beginning of Lent has worn off, and the anticipation of Resurrection glory is still too far in the future. Here in the middle, I need someone walking the journey with me, to ask after my soul and keep me walking the discipline I promised to follow at the beginning of Lent. That’s why I hold myself accountable to you!

You might remember that Bruce inspired me to give up sugar this year. So far, I’ve managed to stay away from sweets and desserts, but Bruce even gave up peanut butter, because he noticed that sugar is the second ingredient listed on the label.

I decided not to be that picky, and there was about enough peanut butter left in the jar for one sandwich, so I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch on Friday. No jelly, just peanut butter. And I was surprised to realize I could taste the sugar. Commercial peanut butter is really sweet. Peanut butter is part of my standard diet. I love peanut butter. But I didn’t notice the sugar in it until I’d gone without sugar for three weeks.

Remembering just how much hidden sugar there is in processed food also reminds me of just how much hidden sin there is in my life. Isn’t it just like the devil to make us think we aren’t sinning when we really are? We get accustomed to our patterns of sin, and soon they don’t seem quite so sinful. We don’t recognize the sugar in our peanut butter. We get used to it.

That’s what had happened to the Jews who returned from exile. They had lived away from God’s law for so long, they’d gotten used to it. They had forgotten what it meant to be faithful to God, to worship God in the temple, and submit themselves to God. Continue reading