Tag Archives: hope

God With Us: Endure with Hope – Sermon on Luke 21:25-36 Advent 1C


Happy New Year!

That’s right. Today marks the beginning of the new church year. For you liturgy geeks, this is Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary cycle, which means we will be hearing a lot from the gospel according to Luke over the next 12 months.

But the gospel passage assigned for the first Sunday in Advent, this first Sunday in the new church year, does not come from the beginning of Luke. It comes from near the end, as Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will no longer be with them in the flesh. Jesus has come to Jerusalem for one purpose only: to give his life for the redemption of us all. His earthly ministry is nearing its completion, and he knows it.

So see if this gospel reading sounds a little familiar, like something you’ve heard from Mark and John over the past couple of weeks:

Continue reading

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

Enduring in Faith – Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

November 10, 2019

There’s nothing quite like baptizing a baby to bring us hope. Thank you, Leah and Sean, for reminding us of the sure and certain hope we claim as followers of Jesus! But hope can be fleeting, and sometimes it seems like the tiniest challenge can shatter our hope.

The church in Thessolonica was facing a challenge like that. They had questions. When was Jesus going to come back? Had they missed it? Were they ‘left behind’ and putting their faith in something that wasn’t really true? Continue reading

Enduring in Hope – Sermon for All Saints on Ephesians 1:11-23

November 3, 2019

The year is winding down – before the Halloween candy was off the shelf, the Christmas décor was already out. The garden has been put to bed and the lawn mower has given up its place of honor in the garage to make room for the snow blower. Next Saturday is the Fall Bazaar, and today we will be packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. You have less than sixty days left to make good on those New Years resolutions from last January.

But the real sign that time is on the move happened at 2 o’clock this morning, when we switched back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time. I don’t know about you, but I seem to be more aware of the swift passing of time in the Fall than any other season. It’s a bit of a paradox for me: I get all nostalgic, thinking back over fond memories, even as I begin to anticipate the coming of another year’s opportunity. Continue reading

Dangerous Hope – Sermon on Romans 5:1-5


May 22, 2016 Trinity C

We viewed this clip from The Hunger Games to introduce the sermon.

Just to be clear, even though he may look sweet snipping roses, President Snow of The Hunger Games is a bad guy. He is evil personified. And while his reasoning may be based on false assumptions about what hope actually is, he does make a good point when he says, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” And a lot of hope – that’s a dangerous thing. President Snow likes his hope in small doses. He uses hope to get people to do exactly what he wants them to do. But he doesn’t really understand what hope is.

At least a dozen times in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, we find him talking about a particular kind of hope, and today’s passage gives us one of them.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5

The thing about Romans is that you have to hold the entire thesis in your head in order to examine a small chunk of it so it makes sense.[1] This passage is a perfect example. Paul starts off with the word, “Therefore,” and that’s a sure sign we’d better go back and read chapter four, so we’ll know what he’s referring to. Continue reading

Kindling Hope: For Such a Time as This – Sermon on Esther 4:6-17

February 21, 2016 (Lent 2C)

The story reads like a melodrama. For hundreds of years, there was lots of argument about this story. Did it belong in the Bible or not? Some Jewish scholars loved it, but Martin Luther hated it and wished it didn’t exist. The story has some unique literary and theological features that suggest Luther might have had a point:

  • The details of the plot seem exaggerated and the main characters aren’t developed very well, from a literary standpoint.
  • Historical accuracy is questionable, at best.
  • There’s enough sex and violence to make the story into a movie, but we tend to fast forward through those parts when we are in church.
  • The actions of the characters do not reflect their faith so much as struggles about their ethnic identity.
  • Most problematic of all, the story never mentions God by name.
  • Neither is prayer or worship mentioned, though we can make some assumptions that prayer, at least, plays an important part in the climax of the story.

With all this going against it, we have to wonder how the story of Esther made it into the Bible at all. Yet, there it is. Accepted as the Word of the Lord, even though the Lord is never mentioned.

Some scholars insist that the story of Esther was made up to justify celebrating the Feast of Purim – or the feast of dice. It’s a major Jewish celebration, but it is not one of the feasts named in the Law of Moses. During Purim, people dress up in costumes, put on silly plays, and enjoy lots of food.

There is even a tradition that encourages drinking wine in excess, just as King Xerxes and his guests did at their feasts. But the humor and silliness of the celebration highlight an underlying seriousness. The story is about escaping death, after all.

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker writes, “Indeed, the joke goes that Jewish holidays can be summed up in this way: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”[1]

So what does the story of Esther tell us about God and God’s plan to win his people back? The answer is found right in the middle of the story, in chapter four. Continue reading

Keep Awake – Sermon on Matthew 24:36-44 – Advent 1, 2013

When my older brother, David, first moved out of the house and was living on his own, we looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, in the hope that he would come home for a day or two, and our family would be together for the holiday. To understand how much this meant to us, you need to have a little background. My brother is the eldest child in our family. He is my only brother. We four girls have always adored him. As a young, single adult, David enjoyed driving the latest, fanciest car he could afford. I remember well his first Corvette, a white 1959 model with a removable hard top. Then he moved up to a midnight blue 1963 Stingray with the fiberglass body and the headlamps that rotated out of sight when not in use. By 1972, he was driving a Porsche. So, whenever David came home to visit, part of the excitement was discovering what he was driving, and arguing over who would get the first ride in his new car.

But the real excitement came with trying to figure out just when David would arrive. You see, David liked to play tricks on our mom. He would call a day or two before we expected him, and sadly explain that he just couldn’t come this year. He was really sorry, and he wished he could get away, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Then, he’d pull into the driveway the next day, and we’d run out to meet him with shrieks and squeals, our disappointment turned to instant joy.

One year, he called on Christmas Eve, and mom started the conversation with, “Don’t tell me you can’t come home for Christmas!” He assured her that he would be there, but he was still about an eight-hour drive away. Five minutes later, he was walking in the door. He had called from a gas station less than eight blocks away.

One of the reasons this ruse worked so many times, however, was that sometimes, David really didn’t show up. Some years, he didn’t even call. So we never knew. Is he coming this year, or not?  And if he comes, when will he arrive?  We just never knew.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard Luke’s take on a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, as they asked him “When will these things happen?  What will be the sign that the end is near?”  As we begin a new church year with this, the first Sunday in Advent, we move from Luke’s gospel to Matthew’s, and his version of the story asks the same question. How will we know, Lord?  What will be the sign?  When will your Kingdom arrive?  Jesus answers that we must stay alert, because we just never know when the Lord will return.

Hear the Word of the Lord, as given to us in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 36-44.

 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

In music, we call the form this passage takes a “rondo” – the main theme keeps coming around again. There may be other ideas tucked in between repetitions, but the main theme keeps coming back over and over. It becomes very familiar. You’ve probably figured out by now that the main theme in this passage is:

No one knows when the Son of Man will come again.

It must have been difficult for the disciples to understand that even Jesus didn’t know when the second coming would take place. They knew that Jesus was certainly the Messiah, the Christ that God had promised to redeem Israel. They had seen God’s power working through Jesus as he healed and performed miracles before their very eyes. They had just begun to grasp what it meant to be following the Son of God, and they believed with their whole hearts that Jesus could do absolutely anything. So, why couldn’t he tell them when the end would come?  How could he possibly not know?

Jesus tells them that the day and the hour cannot be known, but there will certainly be signs that point to the time as it draws near. For example:

Just as in Noah’s time, people were carrying on their daily business and were surprised by the flood, so the coming of the Son of Man will be a sudden surprise.

The reference to Noah hints at the work of God in the baptismal waters we have just witnessed today, as we baptized Savannah Leigh into the family of God. The same water that held up the ark, saving Noah and his family, also destroyed those who were unprepared for the disaster of the flood. Remember that Noah had been building that ark for many years when the flood finally came. Though he had been faithfully telling them to get ready for it, people ignored him. Then the floods came, and there was no time for the people of Noah’s day to change their minds, to repent and turn to God. As they went about their daily business, they failed to notice that the ark was getting finished, that the animals were gathering two by two, that dark rain clouds were forming in the sky. The signs were all there, but the people didn’t see them. They weren’t prepared.

No one can know the day or the hour, but there will certainly be signs that point to the time of Christ’s coming as it draws near. For example:

Whether working in the field or the kitchen, those who belong to Christ will be separated from those who do not, and there will be no time to change camps then.

Just as the people in Noah’s time carried out their daily routines, so people will be going about their regular tasks when the Son of Man comes. Jesus gives examples of men working in fields and women grinding grain, so we know there is no gender advantage at play here. We will all be about our daily work when the time comes.

A lot of attention in this passage has been given to “one taken and the other left” but we must be careful about how we interpret this example. I don’t think Jesus meant that exactly half of the world would be saved, and half of the people would perish. I also don’t think that the “Left Behind” series of books and movies, with their focus on a “rapture” of believers and a frightening portrayal of life on earth after that event, did much to help us understand the point Jesus is trying to make. We must recognize that Jesus is speaking, once again, in parables, to help his listeners understand a deeper truth about the coming of the Son of Man. The point is not to speculate about a final day of judgment some time in the future, “but to confront us with God’s radical claim on us here and now. Each day is a day of judgment, so I should always be asking myself, “Am I living in the way of Christ?  Am I trusting in him alone?”[1]

Whatever you are doing when the time comes, you won’t have a chance to change your mind about Jesus then. It will be sudden, and it will be final. Since we have no idea when it will occur, we need to start living our lives right now for the possibility of that moment. We need to make sure that the daily tasks we are performing when Christ comes again are the sort of tasks that will prepare us for that time. As we work our fields and grind our grain, we need to be doing it as faithful followers of Jesus who are eager for him to come again. As we go about our daily routines, those routines should reflect our hunger for God, and our desire for his Kingdom to come in its fullness.

Jesus warns us to be alert and faithful, so that we will be ready when it happens, because – here comes that main theme again – “you don’t know when that day will be.”

In case we still haven’t understood the message, Jesus gives one more example:

Just as a person’s constant vigilance protects his home from a break-in, you must be vigilant, for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected time.

While the homeowner’s vigilance may be born out of fear of being robbed, our vigilance is more like a young couple expecting their first child. They don’t know exactly when their lives are going to abruptly change, but they look forward with joy, watching with care as they prepare the nursery. Even when the house is ready to welcome the new baby, they wait in anticipation of those first labor pangs, the sign that birth is about to begin.

So, how do we get prepared?  How do we stay awake?  How do we watch for the Lord to come again?

We go about our daily work, filled with expectation. We do not live in anxiety, afraid of being left behind, but we live in a state of joyful preparation, as we anticipate Christ’s coming. We do not wait passively, but we are actively engaged in the work of the Kingdom, our hearts and lives reconciled to God, living out our faith in expectant hope. We trust in the future, not controlling or even knowing the details of what is yet to come, because all our hope is founded in God alone. Just as the lesson from Romans 13, which we heard earlier today, describes:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:11-14

We are expectant and hopeful – this first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of hope, after all. We live into the hope that God will keep his promise, just as God has always kept his promise. We develop the art of watchful living, as we faithfully pursue the purpose to which God has called us here and now. It is from this here and this now that we remember the history of God’s promises kept, even as we look ahead toward the time beyond time, when Christ will come again in glory and all things will be made new.

In the meantime, we are being made new. Hope is bubbling up here at 1st UMC. We are beginning to find a renewed hope that God has something in mind for us. We must live into that hope, as we look expectantly for what that something might be.

We need to stay alert, hoping and faithfully living into the future of God’s kingdom. We must be ready, prepared to meet Christ when he comes, because we don’t know when that will be. Jesus tells us three times in this passage that the burning question isn’t “when?” but rather, “are you ready?”

Are you ready to let him change you into a new person?  Are you ready to give up quarreling and jealousy, greed and anger, gratifying your own desires?  Are you ready to give up the habits that keep you from living a life that is rich and full of hope and promise?  Are you ready to give up everything that keeps you from giving your life to Jesus?  Are you ready to do that every day, and every hour of every day?  If not, if you aren’t ready to turn over your life to Christ, what’s keeping you from it?  I invite you to examine your heart, and to surrender to God anything that is causing you to live in fear instead of hope.

Because this is the good news, people! God loves us so much, he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes on him will not perish, but will have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Eternal life isn’t something you have to wait for. It doesn’t start the instant you die, or when Christ comes again, whatever day and hour that might be. Eternal, abundant life can begin right now, right here.

For “you know what time it is,” the Apostle Paul writes, “how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we [first believed]; the night is far gone, the day is near.”

No one knows when Christ will come again, but he’s coming. We can wait in fear. We can ignore the signs that tell us the time is near. Or we can wait, faithfully prepared and expectantly ready, living into the hope that God will, once again, keep his promise. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

[1] John P Burgess, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 24.

And so it begins

The reality finally hit me yesterday, as we drove away from the moving company’s warehouse with a carload of boxes and packing materials.

We are leaving.

It seems like we just got here. I walk through this house that it took me years to like, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It has finally become “home” to me, and now I’m getting ready to pack up everything and move away. I mourn the kitchen redo I never redid, and the sewing projects waiting in bins down in my sewing corner, projects that will never be completed now. Won’t have time. (Never did, apparently.)

I check the buds on the rosebush out front, the one my music teaching colleagues gave me last summer to celebrate my MDiv, the one called “Music Box” (get it?). Will we see any blooms before we leave it behind?

And everyone wants to get together with me for coffee, or dinner, or time to connect before we leave. But there simply isn’t time to see everyone we’d like to see, and time for coffee seems like a luxury I cannot afford. The panic starts to rise, as I add three things to my list, and only cross off one. How will we get it all done?

There are those other deadlines, too. The ones that have nothing to do with moving, but everything to do with ongoing responsibilities, with plans that were set in motion a couple of years ago, before we knew we had five short weeks to sell one house, buy another, move to a new town, get acquainted with new people, and start this thing called full time vocational ministry.

We are arriving.

Whatever happens, I know that God put us here, in this particular place at this particular time, to serve him and the people he calls his own. Every step that has brought us to this point has been a miracle, and I have full confidence in the God who saves me that he will get us through the next few weeks of craziness.

But I wouldn’t mind a bit if you kept us in your prayers.


What Waiting Is Not

Waiting may look like a passive activity, but I have news for you: waiting takes every fiber of my being. Waiting is not sitting around, lazily doing nothing. Waiting is the hard work of self-restraint. I may look serene to the casual observer who sees me motionless, apparently fixed in space and time, but I am no such thing. I am waiting on hyper-alert, expecting who-knows-what. That low-frequency hum you hear is me, waiting.

Waiting is not giving up control – how can I explain this? – it is not the abdication of responsibility that I always find so annoying in a “let go and let God” approach to life. Waiting is a conscious decision to trust God to keep his promises, even when there is no evidence to support that belief.

Waiting is faith.

Waiting is deciding to stop doing and start being.

Start being more aware.

Start being more compassionate.

Start being more humble.

Start being less anxious.

Start being less self-absorbed.

Start being less indifferent.

Waiting is knowing with certainty that what I offer to God will not come back empty.

Waiting is trusting God to let me know when it’s time to get out of the chair.

How do you wait for God? What keeps you from trusting him to do what he promises?

A week of hope – Advent I

The waiting begins.

This first week of Advent might be focusing on “Hope” in your church. Different churches use different themes throughout the season of Advent. My first encounter with an Advent wreath labeled the four weekly candles as Prophets, Angels, Mary, Shepherds, so I thought these were The Official Advent Themes Which May Not Be Altered. Boy, was I wrong.

When some Protestant churches switched from three purple candles and one pink to four blue, I protested that this was just one more way to make churches invest in new paraments (those lovely tapestries that drape the sanctuary in symbols and colors of the liturgical year), spending money they didn’t have. Spending money on decorations instead of ministry. Boy, was I wrong.

But, let’s get back to hope. And to waiting. Have you ever considered how long the nation of Israel waited in hope for a Messiah? By the time angels started appearing to Mary and the shepherds, there had been no prophetic word in Israel for over 400 years. Yet, they waited, and they hoped.

They waited through the silence. They hoped in a promise that had been spoken centuries – centuries – before, a promise that had faded to a faint whisper by the time of its fulfillment, but a promise nonetheless. They waited. They hoped. And when the fulfillment of that promise appeared in their midst, many of them didn’t even recognize him. They thought Jesus couldn’t possibly be Messiah. Boy, were they wrong.

What are you waiting for, this Advent? What hopes whisper in your heart? What is keeping you from seeing God’s promise fulfilled in your life?