Category Archives: Epiphany

Selfless in Extravagant Generosity – sermon on 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

January 21, 2018

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you —so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)

Here’s a Random Question: How many of you prefer the window seat on a plane? Aisle? How about the Middle – is there anyone who really loves to sit in the middle seat? Continue reading

Selfless: Bold in Witness – Acts 4

Message on Acts 4:8-13, 18-20, 29-30 for Epiphany 2B
January 14, 2018

We’ve made it a couple of weeks into the New Year, and maybe some of us are working on forming some new habits. Things like losing weight, or at least eating healthier food and exercising more; maybe getting out of debt or doing a better job of taking care of the house or the car… I know someone who has resolved to drink less diet soda this year. These are all good things, good habits to form.

When you think about it though, the New Year’s resolutions people make mostly focus our attention on ourselves. We might even ask God to help us keep our resolutions for self-improvement. Instead of surrendering to God’s will, we see him as a tool to get us what we want.

God, help me. Bless me. Protect me. Make my life better, make me happier, make me richer. And then when things don’t go our way, when God doesn’t perform according to our expectations, we reject God. “Yeah, I tried God, I tried church, but it just didn’t work. It didn’t help me.”

And the tragedy is that, when we focus on what we want God to do for us, we miss out on the real blessings God wants to pour into our lives. Continue reading

Selfless: Grateful In the Grind – sermon on Colossians 3:12-17

Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord B
January 7, 2018

We have a lot of threads to weave together this morning. We recognize the close of the season of Christmas …

… as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, that “aha!” moment when Jesus was revealed as a King to the Wise Ones traveling from the East, …

and the Baptism of our Lord, when Jesus submitted himself to John’s baptism in the River Jordan, …

… and it’s the first Sunday of the New Year, when Methodists traditionally renew their baptismal vows to shine Christ’s light into the world through prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

To top it off, this is Communion Sunday!
It looks a little busy up here on the platform – there’s a lot going on. Notice that all of our worship, busy as it may seem at first, has one focus: turning our attention toward God.

As we enter this new year, I’m inviting you to abandon all those New Year’s resolutions that have anything to do with self improvement. You see, ultimately, those resolutions focus our attention on ourselves. They are, to put it quite bluntly, self-ish. And that is not what Jesus calls us toward as Christians. Jesus asks us to center our lives on God, and then offer God’s love to others.

So over the next few weeks, we will explore what it means to be self-less followers of Jesus Christ. We’ll see how serving, generosity, and sharing our stories of faith help us get re-oriented away from working to get our own needs met, toward something much more satisfying, much more rewarding: knowing Christ and becoming more Christ-like.

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