Category Archives: Time after Pentecost

Getting Closer to the Kingdom – sermon on Mark 12:28-34

Confirmation Sunday, October 31, 2021
Video

It’s Confirmation Sunday! Over the past several months, three young women have been exploring their faith to determine what they believe, and why they believe it. We’ve had some interesting conversations! If they’ve learned anything at all, they’ve learned that easy answers are never enough, and sometimes finding answers to our questions just raises more questions.

We joke sometimes that Confirmation is too often like graduating from church – once teenagers get confirmed, we never see them or their families again. But that isn’t the way it’s supposed to work.

These confirmands are just beginning a journey of faith that will carry them into adulthood. This isn’t the end of the road – it’s the starting line. This is where we equip young people with the basic tools of faith, and teach them how to use those tools, to continue to grow into Christ-likeness. As they move into the next stage of faith development, we the church come alongside them, helping them get closer to the Kingdom of God.

We just heard a couple of scripture passages that highlight the way the Law of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Our gospel reading for today connects the dots between these two ideas – Law and Grace. It’s perfect for Confirmation Sunday! As these confirmands have wrestled with what they believe over the past few months, they have had to consider how the Law and Grace intersect at the point of personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark introduces us to a scribe – one of those legal experts who have been trying, along with the Pharisees, to trap Jesus. Only this particular scribe has been paying attention. He sees something in Jesus the others don’t see. And Jesus sees something in him we might not expect. Jesus can tell this particular scribe – just like our confirmands – is getting closer to the kingdom of God.

One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
– Mark 12:28-34

What’s the most important commandment of all?

613 rules define what was known as The Law. But the first rule, the first commandment in the Ten Commandments, is known as the Shema: “Hear, O Israel!” The Lord our God, the Lord is One!” Or, as our modern translations put it: Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! This acclamation of who God is doesn’t even sound like a Commandment. It’s more of an affirmation of faith. Our God is the One, the Only One. Not a bunch of little statues made out of wood or stone, but a living, all-powerful being who made us to reflect that one-ness. Pretty powerful stuff, when you think about it.

But the second most important commandment of all does sound like a true command. Or does it? “You will…” (or ‘Thou shalt’) could mean “do this.” It could also mean “this is what will happen” – not so much a command, as a prediction.

Because when we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, doesn’t it just naturally follow that we will love our neighbor as ourselves? When loving God is at the very core of who we are, won’t we naturally want to include others in that vast love?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? And yet, throughout history, we know that has never really been the case for God’s people. Maybe it’s because we don’t love God as deeply as we say we do. Maybe it’s because we get distracted by satisfying our own needs and desires, and forget to look out for the needs of others.

Whatever the reason, the simple truth is we don’t do a very good job of loving God or loving our neighbors. Left to our own devices, we would never even get close to the Kingdom of God. We might talk the talk, but we don’t do a very good job of walking the walk. No wonder people outside the church call us hypocrites.

Come to think of it, that’s what Jesus often called the scribes and Pharisees. Scribes just like this one, who notices Jesus is teaching real truth. This legal expert, who would normally be on the opposite side of any argument with Jesus, finds himself in complete agreement. Perhaps no one is more surprised about this than the scribe. “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom,” Jesus tells him. And I can’t help but imagine these two men locking eyes in mutual recognition, nodding to one another with a little smile that says, “You get me. Cool.”

But the best part of this story, in my opinion, is the last line. “After that, no one dared ask him any more questions.” It’s the first century Palestinian version of the mic drop. Boom.

But here’s the good news. You can ask Jesus anything. The ones who wouldn’t dare ask him any more questions were only trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him.

But when we recognize Jesus for who he is, when we see that the most important rule is the rule of love, and we start to live according to that rule, Jesus locks eyes with us and smiles. You’re getting closer to God’s kingdom, he tells us. Or, as John Wesley would say, “you’re going on toward perfection.”

In a moment, you will see a short video of a Zoom call among our candidates for confirmation. They will tell you what they can confirm about their faith right now. This is not the end of their story. It’s the beginning. I hope, as you listen, your own faith is kindled anew. I hope you find yourself coming maybe just another step closer to the kingdom of God.

Faith Works: Pray for One Another – Sermon on James 5:13-20

September 26, 2021
Video

We’ve made it to the final chapter of James, and the final message in this series called Faith Works. James has urged us to avoid showing favoritism to the rich, he’s admonished us to be slow to speak, but quick to listen, and he’s given us further instruction on taming our tongues. Last week, James compared heavenly wisdom to earthly wisdom, encouraging us to lean into wisdom that comes from God. We can recognize that kind of wisdom as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17), and the result of cultivating this kind of wisdom is “a harvest of righteousness.” (3:18)

When James compares heavenly wisdom to earthly wisdom, something else becomes clear, and it’s the underlying lesson James has been trying to teach us throughout this letter: wisdom from God focuses our attention on the needs of others, while earthly wisdom focuses our attention on ourselves. This whole letter is about how to behave toward one another, so our lives will reflect faith at work in us. Because when we work our faith, we develop a faith that really works. One place we can really see our faith growing is in the practice of prayer. You might think James is going to focus on how prayer connects us to God, but James knows the way prayer really helps our faith grow is in our prayers for each other.

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Bread for All: Bread of Life – Sermon on John 6:(22-23) 24-35

August 1, 2021
Video

Children’s Message
Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with bread and fish that kept multiplying until everyone had enough, and there was some left over. I talked about how, in Communion, we break the bread just as Jesus did, and ask God to make us be the Body of Christ for the whole world, as we eat it together.
Today we will hear Jesus talk about himself as the Bread of Life, and I want to help you understand how we see Jesus giving himself to us when we receive Communion.
Who knows what a symbol is? It’s usually a picture or an object that stands for something else. For example, we have a steeple on our church building, and that’s a symbol for our purpose as a church. The church is supposed to point people to God. Some churches believe that the bread and the juice we use for Communion are just symbols of Jesus to remind us that he gave himself for us. In the Methodist Church, we say the bread and cup become Christ’s real presence among us when we take them. They are more than just a symbol.
So let’s go back to the steeple on our church. Did you ever play “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people?” Let’s do it together. See, the steeple is just a symbol of what the church does – it points people to Jesus. But when you open the door and see all the people, they are the real presence of Christ in the world. It’s the people in the church who point others to God. Let’s pray.
Jesus, help us point others to you for real, not just be a symbol of you. We love you, Jesus. Amen.

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Why Are You Afraid? – Sermon on Mark 4:35-41

Pentecost B+4 Video

There’s a lot going on today – it’s Father’s Day, another one of those Hallmark Holidays that doesn’t necessarily get celebrated outside the United States. We have also just honored our high school graduates and prayed a blessing over them as they set out on the next stage of their education.

In the middle of all that, we are still keeping track of the Corona virus, working to keep everyone healthy and safe as the pandemic seems to be winding down. We continue to mourn the losses we have experienced over the past 15 months, and while some of us yearn to party like its 2019, others are wary of falling into the patterns of the past, noting that sometimes the “good old days” weren’t so good for everyone.

We are in that in-between, liminal season of change, but we can’t quite see what that change is bringing. Some of us face this uncertainty with dread, while others see possibilities the future promises. In fact, we aren’t so different from the disciples who followed Jesus through Galilee as he taught and healed and shared the good news of God’s kingdom coming into the world

Those disciples knew they were on the cusp of change, but they couldn’t imagine what lay ahead. Some of them were convinced Jesus would soon lead them in a military takeover. Others were confused by the way he turned upside down everything they had known to be true.

But there was one thing they could all agree on: Jesus was worth following. Staying close to Jesus was worth risking everything, even their lives. In today’s gospel reading, they get to do just that.

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Identity Crisis: Turning Point – Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

August 30, 2020  – Pentecost + 13A

Note: this is the final sermon in the “Identity Crisis” series. The previous two weeks were preached by others, while I spent time with my family at my mother’s deathbed.  Watch this sermon on Vimeo.

We’ve been exploring the idea of an identity crisis in Matthew’s gospel these past few weeks. We’ve learned that the crisis isn’t just about how we identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. The crisis also stems from how we identify Christ at work in our lives and in the world. Sometimes it isn’t so easy to recognize Jesus, even when he stands right in front of us. Sometimes we doubt who he is, as Peter did when he tried to walk on water. But when we can name Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God – also as Peter did – we find our own identity as well.

Today’s passage from Matthew marks a turning point in the story. Continue reading

Identity Crisis: Nothing But – Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21

August 2, 2020
Pentecost A+9
Watch on Vimeo.

Many people operate out of a scarcity mindset – we are all too aware of what we don’t have. During the early weeks of the COVID shutdown, it was difficult to find toilet paper in the stores. Some of that difficulty was simply because most of the toilet paper being manufactured is for institutional use – office buildings, schools, hotels, for example. Suddenly, office buildings, schools, and hotels were empty. Everyone was at home, and the demand for Quilted Northern and Charmin Strong outstripped the availability of those products.

But there was something else going on, too. People were ‘stocking up’ on basic essentials like toilet paper because they were afraid. They were operating out of a mindset of scarcity, hoarding resources instead of sharing them.

The crowds following Jesus around Galilee were used to living a life of scarcity. Continue reading

Stories that Read Us – Matthew 13 Parables

This three-part series has been updated from 2017.

July 12, 2020 – “It’s Not About the Dirt” covers the parable of the Sower and its explanation in Matthew 13:1-9, 16-23. Watch on Vimeo.

July 19, 2020 – “When Not To Pull Weeds” addresses the parable of the Wheat and Tares in  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Watch on Vimeo.

July 26, 2020 – “Training for the Kingdom” pulls together the final “short” parables from Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 to conclude the series. Watch on Vimeo.

Prisoners of Hope – Sermon on Zechariah 9:9-12

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 5, 2020
Watch on Vimeo.

It’s been good to visit with a few of you this week, to learn what is on your heart as we begin the work of interim ministry together. You may remember a video that appeared on the church website a few months ago, where I explained the developmental tasks this congregation will need to address during this season.

Over the next several weeks, I will be explaining each of these tasks in greater detail, so that we can begin this important and urgent work with full understanding. The first task is to come to terms with your past. This might be the most difficult task of all, but the other steps of the process depend on getting this one right, so it’s a good place to begin. Continue reading

A Prophet’s Welcome – Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42

June 28, 2020 (Pentecost A +4)
Watch on Vimeo.

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says to his disciples, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

We like to think we would welcome Jesus if he showed up on our doorstep, don’t we? We would recognize him immediately, and we’d usher him into our homes with joy. More than likely, we’d find some way to set out a meal for Jesus, knowing that good food usually makes for good conversation, and the gospels all tell us that Jesus liked to eat with people.

But what if Jesus showed up at your door when the larder was empty? What if the beds weren’t made and the place was a mess? What if there was no place for Jesus to sit, because every seat was piled high with newspapers, unfolded laundry – stuff… you get the idea. What if you hadn’t dusted or vacuumed in weeks, and there were dirty dishes in the sink? What would your welcome to the King of Kings look like then? Continue reading

A Sending Word – Sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8 for Pentecost A+2

June 14, 2020
My final Sunday with First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

How do disciples become apostles? When does following turn into being sent?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched those first disciples of Jesus gather in fear after the crucifixion, be amazed at Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, and receive the Great Commission to make disciples. We’ve seen them return to Jerusalem with joy, praising God, and we’ve looked on as they gathered once more in a room together, praying to receive what Jesus had promised them, power from on high. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows them out into the city to share the Good News, and the church is born.

Somewhere in there, they’ve been transformed from frightened followers to bold announcers of the gospel. Somewhere in there, they’ve changed from apprentice craftsmen to master builders in God’s kingdom here on earth. Continue reading