Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Great Invitation: Shine! Sermon on Matthew 17:1-8

February 26, 2017
Transfiguration A
View a video of this sermon here

We are skipping ahead in today’s gospel reading. For the past few weeks we have been listening to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has finished his teaching on the slopes above the Sea of Galilee. He has gone on from there to heal and teach, to spread the good news that the Kingdom of heaven is near. He has fed the 5000, and another 4000. Peter has confessed that Jesus is indeed, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus has told his dearest friends that he will soon be betrayed and killed, but will rise again on the third day. They have a hard time accepting this news. But Jesus knows his mission. He won’t be stopped.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. – Matthew 17:1-8

 

Three disciples follow Jesus up a mountain. Peter, James, and John are the same ones who will go with him to the garden of Gethsemane on the night he is betrayed. Luke’s account (Luke 9) of this story says that they went up to pray, and that the disciples became sleepy, and this gives us another parallel to the Gethsemane story, where these same three disciples fall asleep while Jesus goes a little further into the garden to pray.

But in this story, the disciples do not fall asleep. What they see cannot be brushed off as a dream. This is real. Jesus is transformed right before their eyes. Continue reading

Do It Like Deborah – an Ordination Sermon on Judges 4:1-10

For Vicki

February 18, 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after
Ehud died. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan,
who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in
Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help,
for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly
for twenty years.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that
time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel
in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for
judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-
naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded
you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of
Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of
Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his
chariots and his troops,
and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I
will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely
go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to
your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then
Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called out Zebulun
and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah
went up with him. – Judges 4:1-10 

When I first met Vicki, she was serving as a youth pastor in a Methodist church.
Now I’m the one serving in a Methodist church, and I’m the one trying to get
teenagers hooked on reading the Bible. This is no easy task, especially when it
comes to the Old Testament. But I have learned that Judges is a great book for
Confirmation classes. There’s plenty of blood and gore! Who needs zombie
movies when you’ve got Judges? Continue reading

The Great Invitation: To What End? Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48

February 19, 2017 Epiphany 7A
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

What’s the point, exactly, of following Jesus? Why do we do it? Over the past several weeks, Jesus has been issuing The Great Invitation to us through his Sermon on the Mount. Christ has been inviting each of us into his life. He has told us that we are salt and light, seasoning the world with God’s love and shining into the world’s darkness.

Jesus has raised the barre for the way we behave toward one another, inviting us to live into the spirit of the law. He encourages us toward a higher quality of righteousness than following the letter of the Law can provide.

Today’s passage brings us to the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. Continue reading

The Great Invitation: This, Not That – Sermon on Matthew 5:21-37

February 12, 2017
Epiphany 6A
View a video of this sermon here.

Effective teachers know that good corrective instruction starts with an evaluation of what the student has already mastered. That’s just a fancy way of saying it’s easier to help a student fix what needs to be fixed if you start by affirming what’s already going well. Good teachers point out the positives before they get to what needs to be improved. So, Jesus has begun his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount with the good news: You are blessed, you are salt and light.

Jesus reminds us that God is at work, and we already are salt and light to the world, seasoning it with God’s love and shining God’s light into every dark corner. We also heard him insist that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

As Jesus digs deeper into what it means to live into the spirit of the Law, he makes it clear that being his follower requires more from us than obeying a few rules. In this week’s passage, Jesus is moving from the positives to what we, his students, need to improve, as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven. Continue reading

The Great Invitation: Salt and Light

February 5, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany A
View a video of this sermon here.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-20

Last week, we heard Jesus offer a radical view of blessing to his listeners. To them, wealth and power were strong indications of God’s blessing, while poverty and suffering were signs of being cursed. These people believed that you got what you deserved, so anyone who held wealth and power must have done something really good to deserve them. Likewise, anyone who suffered in poverty must have done something really bad.

But Jesus turned this around, and said, “You are blessed when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. You are blessed when your spirit is poor, when you hunger and thirst after righteousness, when you mourn. Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus packs a lot of new ideas into his Sermon on the Mount. We will only look at part of this sermon during the season after Epiphany, but I urge you, sometime before next Sunday, to go ahead and read the whole thing, Matthew 5-7, at one sitting. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the way Jesus tells us who we are, who he is, and how we can be part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s start with who we are. Continue reading

The Great Invitation: What Are You Looking For? – Sermon on John 1:29-42

January 15, 2017
Second Sunday after Epiphany A
Watch a video of this sermon here.

Today’s gospel lesson picks up the story right where we left off last week, after the baptism of Jesus by his cousin, John the Baptist. John and a few of his disciples are together as Jesus approaches.

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

Do you ever get discouraged at your own thick-headedness? I sure do. I’m pretty sure there is a groove in my skull where a 2×4 fits just perfectly, because I seem to constantly need that kind of a wake up call. So I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that John the Baptist’s disciples were just as thick in the head as I often am.

After all, John has to tell them two days in a row, “ Look, there goes the Lamb of God!” They have to hear it at least twice before they get it, and start following Jesus instead of John. But they follow him at a distance. Maybe they are just curious. Maybe they are uncertain what John’s story about baptizing Jesus really means. Whatever their reasons, these two disciples stay far enough behind Jesus that I’m sure they were surprised when he turned and faced them.

“What are you looking for?” he asks.

These are the first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel. Continue reading