February 17, 2019
Today’s gospel reading reminds me of the phrase “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I have often heard this phrase applied to good preaching, and the words we are about to hear from Jesus certainly qualify. But I was surprised to learn that this phrase was first used to describe not preaching, but newspapers.
In the early 1900’s, Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead, and roasts them afterward.”
Mr. Dunne was lampooning the power of the news media to shape events by the way those events get reported. Even in the early twentieth century, someone who worked for a newspaper could make fun of the way newspapers influenced the news.
After all, newspapers are supposed to keep opinions about how things should be on the editorial page, and report objective facts in the rest of the paper. Newspapers are supposed to just bring you the news.
And that is what Jesus was doing as the people gathered around to listen to him teach. He presented the objective facts about the Kingdom of God. But those facts, like a good newspaper, can have the affect of comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable. Continue reading
February 10, 2019
Let’s review what’s happened in Luke’s gospel so far. Luke spent the first chapter introducing us to John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. We met Mary and Joseph, and heard Mary and Zechariah sing praises to God for what God was about to do.
Luke 2 is all about the birth of Jesus, his presentation in the temple – where Anna and Simeon recognize him as Messiah – and what little we know about Jesus’ childhood. There’s that story of Jesus hanging out with the scribes and teachers while his parents head home to Nazareth, but that’s about all we know from Luke about the boy Jesus.
Then chapter three brings us back to John the Baptist, but now he and Jesus are grown men. John baptizes Jesus and moves into the background. He knows that it’s time for him to become less so Jesus can become more.
Chapter 4 has taken us into the wilderness of temptation, and back home to Nazareth to hear Jesus preach his first sermon in the synagogue there. It starts out well, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, but it ends up with the people of Nazareth trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. Jesus passes through their midst and gets away. He knows this isn’t the hill he’s supposed to die on. He still has work to do. Continue reading
February 3 2019
Last week, we heard Jesus begin his first sermon back in his hometown church of Nazareth. Local boy makes good, right? Everyone came to the synagogue that day, to see what this kid who’d grown up in their midst might have to say.
When they give him the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, he reads a few verses that most people would have associated with the year of Jubilee – the year of the Lord’ s favor. Captives will be released, the poor will get some good news for a change, the blind are going to see, and the oppressed will go free. This all sounds great – unless you’re the oppressor, the rich, or the captor, that is.
But Jesus hasn’t actually started preaching yet. He’s only read them the scripture passage he will use as his text. Today, we get to hear the actual sermon. Get ready. Jesus is about to flip the town of Nazareth on its ear. Continue reading
January 27, 2019
We like to remember that the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news.’ But the sad truth is that hearing good news doesn’t always mean receiving the gospel. Hearing is not necessarily accepting. Seeing doesn’t always mean believing.
Our scripture passage for this third Sunday after Epiphany comes from the gospel of Luke. The evangelist places the story immediately after Christ’s baptism and temptation in the desert, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has already been teaching and performing miracles in other towns nearby, and his reputation has returned to his hometown of Nazareth.
This was one of those “hometown kid makes good” stories. You know the kind. Continue reading
January 13, 2019
Do you know your purpose in life? Do you have a clear idea of why God made you, and what you are supposed to do with this one precious life you’ve been given?
Jesus did. He understood that his primary purpose was to bring us humans into right relationship with God. That was the whole reason he came into the world – God With Us, Emmanuel – not to condemn it (John 3:17), but to save it. In order to do that, he had to become one of us. Continue reading
January 6, 2019
Happy Epiphany! Epiphany always falls on January 6th, no matter what. This year, January 6th happens to be a Sunday, so we get to celebrate Christ’s Epiphany – a fancy word for unveiling or revealing – on this very first Sunday of the New Year.
The gospel lesson for Epiphany is always the same, year after year. We always get the story of the wise men seeking out the infant King. It only comes to us through one author so, no matter which gospel we are following in a given year, Epiphany always brings us to the second chapter of Matthew.
Since we hear it every year, we might be lulled into ignoring this story. It’s easy to let it drift in one ear and out the other, because it’s so familiar. As you hear it this time, I invite you to listen in a new way. I invite you to engage in something that schoolteachers like to call “compare and contrast.” Pay attention to what Herod does and says, and compare that to what the wise men do and say. There will be a short quiz after the reading. Continue reading
I have long thought it was pointless to write a sermon for Christmas Eve. I mean, how many Christmas Eve sermons have you actually remembered afterward? Hmm? Yeah, me too. Not one.
So I’ve always operated from the viewpoint that the gospel could speak for itself this one night of the year. The story of the incarnation is enough.
But lately, I’ve begun to realize that this is only true for people who already believe. For everyone else, it’s just a nice story. It makes us feel all fuzzy and warm, and for an hour or so, we can bask in the gentle glow of candlelight. We can pretend that the cute baby in the manger sleeps in heavenly peace, and won’t bother us too much with the reality of our human existence.
And that’s where we’d be wrong. Continue reading