Archive for the 'Sermons & Studies' Category

12
Oct
09

Yes, but who do you say Christ is?

In Matt 16:13-20, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” There followed a series of answers – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or any number of other prophets. The common denominator in the answers may or may not be obvious.

They were all people who proclaimed God’s message. Many times that message was difficult to hear, and probably equally as difficult to proclaim. The messages compelled some people to believe and to act, and it turned others away. The messages were harsh, and the responses of those who rejected them even more harsh. But they proclaimed the message of God as best they understood it even in the face of rejection and death.

That’s what they did – each of them proclaimed a message of God. These answers to Jesus’ question, however, were not good enough. Jesus followed with a much more pronounced and difficult question – one which showed that the answers about Jesus simply being a prophet of God’s message were not accurate. Jesus asked, “But, who do YOU say that I am?” Continue reading ‘Yes, but who do you say Christ is?’

03
Oct
09

Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18

In order to be faithful to the gospel of Christ, we must have boundaries, right? There are things that are normal and proper – limits to what we do and believe. And yet to be faithful to the gospel, there is this nudging, this incessant prodding, as the Holy Spirit pushes us out beyond our limits. There is this nagging voice always whispering in our ear, “Are these limits God’s – or are they ours?”

Peter believed in limits. We learn that in the reading. We could easily think that Peter’s limits are simply the dietary laws of Leviticus. But, there is a much larger issue going on here.

Peter believed in the validity of all the Levitical laws. Those laws not only said what you could eat, but what you could wear, which nation you should belong to, how you should worship and who you should love. You see, for Peter and some other church leaders, you had to be a Jew in good standing to be considered a follower of Christ. To be in good standing you had to be “pure” and live up to all the laws – end of discussion.

Well, actually not the end of discussion. To be a Jew in good standing, you had to live up to those Levitical laws that the hierarchy decided were still binding. Just as in current times, some were and some weren’t. The Levitical laws have been used selectively ever since they were formalized. It just depended on who was calling the shots at the time. Continue reading ‘Buffet or Banquet – Acts 11:1-18’

29
Sep
09

It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46

Readings: 1 Thess 2 & Matt 22:34-46.

In the first century Roman world, status was critical. By someone’s place in the social order, he or she would be allocated value or worth. The emperor stood at the top of Roman culture. Everyone else like politicians, soldiers, business people, general citizens and slaves had their places in relation to those above and below them.

Like Rome, every outlying city had its own social stratification. People attempted to maintain or raise their position in many ways. Making major gifts to the city was a way of gaining public honor. Funding a building, education or some other public facility like a bath or gymnasium, which were very important in Roman culture, were all ways to gain status. So was supporting an artist or artisan, guiding a young person or helping people find work.

These were all very good things, but the reasons for doing them were self-serving. It was called patronage and it was essential to the social system. Beneficiaries gave respect and status to their patron – flattery that had currency because it elevated the patron’s power, prestige and position.

In return, the beneficiaries expected more favors, assistance and general support. Conferring honor to those higher up in the social order was an economic transaction that had material benefit for those lower on the scale. It was a system designed to keep people in place in the social order by making each dependent on the patronage of those above them. Continue reading ‘It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46′

27
Sep
09

Generosity in the Belly of the Whale – Jonah 3:10-4:11

Jonah 3:10 – 4:11  &  Matthew 20:1-16

We hear two parables in today’s readings. The last one is the Parable of laborers in the Vineyard from the Gospel of Matthew. The first was the Parable of the Jealous Prophet.

Now, there are a range of thoughts about the original intent of Book of Jonah. Some understand it to be a narrative of both historic and natural fact. Others laugh and say that it is purely fantasy. There have been arguments about the Book of Jonah for millennia – from the time of the first Rabbinic interpretations all the way through to the present.

Arguments still go on about whether it was a marine dinosaur, a whale or a big fish that swallowed Jonah – that, of course depends on what you believe about creation and evolution. And arguments about whether it would be possible for a human to be swallowed whole by any of them and survive – which, of course, depends on whether you believe miracles happen. And then there are arguments about … Well, never mind. You get the idea.

Suffice to say that, as with so many things, the Book of Jonah presents yet one more reason for people of faith to fight with each other. And what is at stake in these arguments? Why the right to claim to be right, of course. It seems like, if any party can convince enough people that it’s right, their truth will somehow become God’s truth – that somehow God will be and act the way they think God should based on a majority vote.

And into this fight I am going to step and say, “I don’t care.” Continue reading ‘Generosity in the Belly of the Whale – Jonah 3:10-4:11’

18
Sep
09

Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9

Reading: Luke 13:1-9.

“If the fig tree bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Well, that could generate a little stress for the fig tree, couldn’t it? It really does sound kind of harsh.

Since it is a continuation, to grasp the meaning we need to briefly revisit chapter 12. Luke 12, leading up to this reading, can be a little disconcerting. Jesus made a comment of the sort we don’t usually associate with him; Jesus said he had come to bring to the earth not peace, but division. Family member will be set against family member. This challenges our image of Jesus as the “prince of Peace”, doesn’t it?

Still, as God’s own Messenger in the midst of this world, there is no avoiding a certain degree of conflict. Jesus’ insertion into this world as a truly holy person was like putting a white hot piece of iron into a bucket of cold water—a boiling reaction was inevitable. Continue reading ‘Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9’

17
Sep
09

What Does Dominion over Creation Mean?

Whether you believe in Creation as a 6-day or an evolving process, we generally seem to have no doubt we, as humans, were the ultimate goal in God’s Creation. In either case we have assumed dominion over the earth, ruling over all its inhabitants and resources. Is this really what God had in mind? We obviously have no way of knowing absolutely, but we certainly can gain clues from Scripture. The point of this message is not to determine the answer to those questions, but simply to offer other, possibly more controversial, views of God’s position. Continue reading ‘What Does Dominion over Creation Mean?’

30
Aug
09

God’s Promise – Gen 15:1-12, 17-18

In 2004, while studying at Cambridge, I had the privilege of leading the Community Day worship hosted by my college. This was part of the curriculum for the sermon class, and I was just lucky enough to pull that date. I decided to take a chance – to push the envelope somewhat of what worship and sermon was like. The British church is a little famous for it’s staid and traditional approach to worship, so I didn’t want to blow them out of the water. The biggest complaint that I got was that I left the sermon with questions to which I did not provide the answers, which is the classic English preaching style. Follwing is the liturgy and sermon for that day. I hope it is meaningful in some way.

Continue reading ‘God’s Promise – Gen 15:1-12, 17-18′

25
Aug
09

Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes

Special Service Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote

 Service of Word and Sacrament                                                                                  August 26, 2009

Continue reading ‘Women’s Equality Day – Liturgy and Sermon notes’

19
Aug
09

What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39

In this chapter of the Gospel of Matthew I hear Jesus saying to the disciples, “So, you want to be a follower of Christ?”

The chapter begins with Jesus giving the disciples’ ministry and mission, “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” Then, Jesus tells them what might happen to them on the way, culminating in the instructions to flee to another town when they are persecuted. Jesus tells the disciples that because the culture opposes Jesus, it will also oppose them – they are not above the same treatment that their teacher encounters.

But, Jesus says, do not be afraid – bring what you have seen and learned in secret into the light and proclaim it from the rooftops. And God will know and value you for doing so. Not only that, but knowing what they are doing as followers of Christ, Jesus promises to testify on their behalf before God.

And, lastly, Jesus tells the disciples what they will witness in families and communities as they deliver the good news. The reaction to the good news of the gospel may not be good news. Continue reading ‘What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39’

18
Aug
09

The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11

Read the passage here.

Being a numbers geek, I am always tempted to craft an artful sermon about the significance of forty – you know, going over the theological, cultural and political significance of forty as it appears so many times in scripture. I am tempted, but I know that I would probably be the only one who got anything out of it – and, as I so often need to be reminded, it’s not about me.

I am still tempted, though. If I did it well, it would be a sign that I was pretty gifted when it comes to theological study – it could make me look good. But, then again, looking good – making a big impression – is that what ministry is really about?

Then again, if I did it REALLY well and used a lot of theological language that was tough to understand – and I made sure that the right people got a copy of it – I could get some real mileage out of it in the presbytery. I could gain some power and prestige out of that, couldn’t I?

Okay – probably not. Continue reading ‘The Power and the Glory – Matthew 4:1-11’

09
Aug
09

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20

One of my former ministers once told me that if I ever get a chance to preach on the Ten Commandments – don’t. He told me that whenever he had preached about them in the past, someone got very upset. Some people, he said, think they are the cornerstone of righteousness – the sign of a faithful nation that should be displayed prominently on every government building. And some, he said, think they are pie-in-the sky ideals that are impossible to live up to, and have no place in public discourse.

So I well imagine Thom shaking his finger at me right now and saying, “I warned you.”

The Ten Commandments or Decalogue – literally “Ten Words” – are foundational in both Judaism and Christianity, and for good reason. Scripture tells us they were given to Moses directly from God. The scripture that tells us this is our reading that follows, but also Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.

The Ten Commandments are clear, concise, memorable and unambiguous, and form the basis for ethical behavior of two of the world’s prominent religions. That, at least, is what we learn in Sunday School or catechism. Reality, as usual, says something different. Continue reading ‘The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20’

07
Aug
09

Times that try our souls – Micah 3:5-12

The first part of the Micah reading is the alternate lectionary OT reading for the Sunday after All Saints Day. The second part from Micah I included to remind us of the prophets consistent theme. Rarely are the prophets the primary reading, except for some parts of Isaiah and Ezekiel, because they can sound harsh to our ears.

The function of the Biblical prophets was to call the Israelite leadership back into right relations with God, and they did this by speaking to those in power using very clear and stark words. They preached at times of chaos and social unrest – when there was dis-ease and oppression of the many by the dominant few.

Contrary to the way we tend to understand prophecy in our times, the Biblical prophets weren’t fortune-tellers predicting a future event. Their purpose – their call – was to describe to the Jewish leadership the current state of affairs – the way in which God saw current situations and events – and to communicate the consequences of continuing to ignore God’s law and staying this same course. Continue reading ‘Times that try our souls – Micah 3:5-12’

03
Aug
09

The Shalom of El Shaddai

Shalom! Psalm 34 says to us “Bekhesh shalom v’radphehu” – seek shalom and pursue it. Shalom means variously peace, happiness, prosperity, health, wellness, safety, welfare, and recovery – in short, wholeness. Jesus based most of what he taught about the nature of God on Jewish scripture, in which shalom is the overwhelming characteristic of God.

Contrast this with El Shaddai – God Almighty. The word translated into English as “almighty” or “all-powerful” assumes, incorrectly, that Shaddai is based on the word shadad, which means “destroyer”. Shaddai, however, actually derives from the word shad, which means breast.  El Shaddai, therefore, means “God with breasts.” Rabbis generally translate this as “God who is enough.”  If you’ll forgive me, I’d like to delve briefly into why “God with breasts” could mean “God who is enough.” There are multiple references in scripture to God’s breast or bosom. And I’d like to explore the relationship between “breasts” and the Rabbinic concept of “enough.” Continue reading ‘The Shalom of El Shaddai’

31
Jul
09

Comparative exegesis – Romans 1:14 – 2:3

When doing exegesis, I do not rely on one translation exclusively, because each have taken certain liberties in syntax or word choice, and even added the occasional word where it did not exist in the original language. Experience has taught me that no version can made a claim to be “the right” translation or interpretation of the scriptures, and to rely solely on one version is to elevate or even idolize a work of human endeavor. Translating and interpreting are human exercises to bring ancient texts to more modern readers who speak different languages, after all. The question, then, is not one of inerrancy of the texts in the original languages, but the inaccuracies of translated and interpreted versions.

I will also be making an argument that, to separate that chapter 1 of this epistle from the beginning of chapter 2, abuses the scripture and robs Paul’s argument of its greatest import. It must be remembered that chapter and verse were added well after the fact.

While the scriptures were divided into paragraphs by time of the Council of Nicea (325 AD), these are not the same as those in our modern translations. The New Testament was divided into chapters by Archbishop Steven Langdon around 1230 AD, and verses were introduced in 1551 by Robert Estienne. The first English Bible to make use of both chapter and verse was the translation of the Geneva Bible in 1560.

The decision to separate 1:14 through 2:16 remains a quandary but has substantially altered what may be one of Paul’s most remarkable arguments.
Continue reading ‘Comparative exegesis – Romans 1:14 – 2:3’

30
Jul
09

The Bread of Life II

The text for this section is John 6: 22-36. If you have not read the section on John 6:1-21, click here.

After Jesus fed the five thousand, the people misunderstood who Jesus was – or, maybe more correctly, misunderstood his purpose. Read verses 14 and 15 from John chapter 6:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet returning to the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Jesus had previously explained that actually doing God’s will was the bread of life – the nourishment that strengthened Jesus and the same food that he offered to his followers. Jesus offered discipleship – active engagement in bringing God’s love to the world as the source of spiritual sustenance. The crowd had misunderstood Jesus’ message and the miracle. While they had shared in a common meal, they believed Jesus had been the source of the bread that satisfied their physical hunger.

This, then, led them to believe that Jesus was the messiah. Actually, they were okay to that point. Their problem was that they believed Jesus was the prophet of old returning to be their king. Continue reading ‘The Bread of Life II’




... or, preaching from both ends

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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