Why Do You Wonder? Sermon on Acts 3:12-19 for Easter 3B

April 15, 2018
Worship at First UMC New Ulm was cancelled because of a blizzard. So we improvised and broadcast the “service” on Facebook Live from my living room. You can view just the sermon here. 

I’ve never, ever cancelled a worship service before. I wasn’t expecting to cancel this Sunday either – I know that I can walk to church, even if the roads aren’t drivable. And I know there are those of you who will faithfully show up, even when it would be safer for you to stay at home. And there’s always the possibility that someone we don’t know yet will be looking for a place to worship on a Sunday morning. So cancelling worship is a big deal for me.

But sometimes our expectations don’t match up with reality. When April dumps a foot (or more) of snow on top of hail, sleet, and a couple of inches of rain, we go beyond amazed or surprised. We are utterly astonished. But maybe the reality of a foot of snow in April is God’s way of getting our attention, to get us to try a different way of ministering and worshiping than the way we normally do it.

For the first three Sundays after Easter, our readings in Acts depend on the story of the crippled man healed at the Beautiful Gate. Each reading refers back to this miraculous healing story, but never includes it. It’s a story full of amazement, astonishment, and wonder. And yet, amazing as it is, the healing isn’t what’s important here. Continue reading

Getting our ACTS together – sermon on Acts 4:12-19 Easter 2B

April 8, 2018

The New Testament is mostly letters – letters from Paul to various churches, letters from Peter, and from James, Jude, and John. It’s mostly letters, but not entirely letters. There’s the Revelation of John at the end of the New Testament, and the four gospels at the beginning. And sandwiched in between the gospels and the letters there’s a book called The Acts of the Apostles, or simply, “Acts.” Some Bible scholars like to call it “Second Luke” because it continues the story of Luke’s gospel beyond the resurrection of Jesus. So it’s appropriate that the assigned readings for the season of Eastertide include passages from Acts, or “Second Luke.” Because, as we learned last week, the story isn’t over when Jesus rises from death to life. It’s just beginning. Continue reading

The Last Laugh – Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 Easter B

April 1, 2018

A good “April Fool” joke is some false claim that is presented so convincingly, you think it’s true. And just when you surrender to the claim, the joker yells “April Fool!” If you came here this morning expecting me to tell a bunch of jokes, “April Fool!” – I’m not going to do that. The Good News I have to share with you this morning might have felt like a practical joke to the disciples who first heard it, but they quickly realized the truth, and the truth was way more amazing than they could have imagined. Continue reading

  Fools Rush In – Sermon on Mark 11:11-33, 14:1-11

Entrance to Holy Week
March 25, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

The line “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” first appeared in Alexander Pope’s poem An Essay on Criticism, in 1711. The phrase usually refers to inexperienced people diving into things that people with more experience would probably avoid. A few other lines from this poem are also well known – such as “to err is human, to forgive divine;” and
“a little learning is a dangerous thing.”[1] But Pope’s “fools rush in” has become an idiom in its own right.

Throughout Mark’s story of this final week, fools are rushing in everywhere: Continue reading

Foolish Questions – Sermon on John 12:20-33 for Lent 5B

By now, if you’ve been following this Foolishness series through Lent, you’ve probably figured out that being a fool for Christ isn’t really foolish at all. But it does require turning our expectations and assumptions around. It requires becoming vulnerable, having enough humility to accept ridicule, even. That can make us seem foolish to those who don’t know Christ.

But Jesus submitted himself to that kind of humiliation, and if we are to be his followers, we have to accept that it is only in dying we can experience resurrection. It is only in humility that we can be exalted with Christ, and it is only in asking the seemingly foolish question that we can find the answer that leads to eternal life. Continue reading

A Fool for Love – Sermon on John 3:14-21 for Lent 4B

March 11, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

Are you getting tired of Lent, yet? If this were the fourth Sunday of Advent, we’d be nearly done with the purple of penitence and preparation. We would be anticipating the celebration of Christ’s coming in less than a week – Christmas Eve would be just around the corner!

But this isn’t Advent. It’s Lent. We have a ways to go before the end of this 40-day journey into the wilderness. There are still two more weeks before we can wave palm branches at the entry into Holy Week. We have three more weeks to fast and pray and prepare our hearts for Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning.

Here in the middle of Lent, we could sure use some joy. I think that’s why, centuries ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to make the fourth Sunday of Lent be Laetare Sunday, a Sunday when we get to ‘rejoice in the Lord.’ It’s kind of like that third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we light a rose-colored candle instead of a dark purple one. And what better gospel passage to bring us joy, than the third chapter of John? This is where we find the famous verse that sums up the whole gospel message – “For God so loved the world…”

And this brings us to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a rabbi, who comes to Jesus under cover of darkness. Maybe Rabbi Nic comes to Jesus at night to keep his conversation a secret from the other Pharisees. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit publicly that he is in contact with Jesus. Continue reading

What Kind of Fool Are You?  Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 for Lent 3B

3/4/2018
Watch a video of this sermon here. 

We are smack dab in the middle of Lent this week. We’ve been looking at what it means to be a fool for Christ, so that the way we live our lives might raise questions among the people we meet outside the church.
Questions like:

  • What makes Christians different from everyone else?
  • Why do Christians stand out in sharp contrast to the ways of the world around us?
  • How do they manage to give sacrificially, and still have enough to be satisfied?
  • How do they always seem to know exactly the right thing to say, or the kindest thing to do when someone is hurting?
  • How do they manage to show so much love to people they barely know?

When we are fools for Christ, these are the questions people ask about us. But in first century Corinth, people had stopped asking those questions. And the church was in deep trouble. Made up of several groups that met in homes, what we would call house churches today, this church was a mess. One of the church leaders, a woman named Chloe, had sent some of her people to ask Paul for help. So Paul writes a letter, not just to Chloe, but to the whole church at Corinth. Continue reading