Perfect Love – a sermon on Matthew 5:38-48

Matthew 5:38-48

I am going to break the rule of one of the most influential people in my life. Maria von Trapp, at least as played by Julie Andrews, sings, “Let’s start at the very beginning,” but the-sound-of-music-poster-julie-andrewstoday I am not. In fact, I’m going to start at the very end, because if you’re anything like me, when I heard the end, I couldn’t even go back to the beginning to think about what it said. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perfect. Riiiiiight. Perfection is impossible. Or at least perfection achieved by human beings is certainly impossible. If we know anything to be true, it is this, that we are imperfect creatures. From the very beginning of creation, in our relationships with God and with others, even in our relationships with ourselves, we experience on a daily basis our complete imperfection. So why does Jesus say this? Is he challenging us so that we’ll achieve some level of goodness, even if it’s not perfection? Or is he just setting us up for failure? Continue reading

Choose Life – a sermon on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the revolution in Egypt that ended the presidency of Hosni Mubarak. I was reminded of this revolution as I pondered our text from Deuteronomy – another story of people who were freed from an oppressive ruler in Egypt. I remember watching the revolution unfold on social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter were the major modes of communication and organization for those who were 11th_of_February_evening_-_Freedom_has_come!_(Females)trying to make their voices heard. From my own home I could read in real time the passion that was driving people to what turned out to be an unstoppable revolution.

Once the people of Egypt were free from an oppressive ruler they stood on the cusp, on the edge of a new day, a new life. After a few days of expressive celebrations the time came to move forward and begin the rocky process of building what would come next. One reporter for NPR related how the people she had interviewed were wondering now, not so much with fear, but with eager anticipation, just where this revolution had really taken them. Continue reading

The Next Level – A sermon on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12

refugee.jpg

Matthew 5:1-12
Micah 6:1-8
If you, like me, have some friends who are not church-goers and who lovingly push back on your spiritual lives and beliefs, or if, also like me, you sometimes ask yourself questions about your own faith and devotion, “Why do we read this old book today? How could it ever be relevant?” I hope today’s readings help answer those questions. A call to do justice, the counter-cultural declaration that God is with the poor in spirit, the one who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, these are the words that the church and the faithful have been given by God to speak into a nation where the president signed an executive order that “suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.” (from the New York Times, “Judge Blocks Trump Order on Refugees Amid Chaos and Outcry Worldwide,” By MICHAEL D. SHEAR, NICHOLAS KULISH and ALAN FEUER, JAN. 28, 2017) Continue reading

Discipleship Foolishness – A sermon on Matthew 4:12-23 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

I carry in one of my wallets a little 3×5 index card that has been folded in half and tucked away in every wallet I’ve had for almost 30 years. The crease is getting weak and the edges are tattered, so I don’t open it up too often anymore. But I know it’s there and many of the words written on it are seared in my memory. It’s a list I made in the 8th grade, a list of things to do before I die, a bucket list, written before the term bucket list existed.

It’s a strange mix of things I could actually accomplish by my own hard work, determination, and planning (achieve a certain score on the SAT, perform in the All-State32420341796_3c89318127 Orchestra, visit Africa, be a missionary) and things that are completely out of my control or are impossible to achieve (give birth to twins – out of my control; own a chimpanzee – impossible). One of the items has been staring at me this weekend from the list’s spot among a ridiculous collection of frequent flier membership cards. I know right where it appears on the card, “March for something important in Washington, DC.” Continue reading

Looking for Light – An Advent sermon on Matthew 1:18-25

Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 1:18-25

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/mhdvu-65329b?from=yiiadmin

A few years ago when I was updating my Advent and Christmas music collection I discovered a carol I had never heard before.  It struck me from the first hearing because it features Joseph prominently, and Joseph doesn’t get a lot of play time in Christmas carols.

“The Cherry Tree Carol” is a folk carol with a murky history, as it goes with folk carols.  28305397602_56d86b0a72Some date it back to the 15th century, but others claim it’s from the 18th. The roots of the story in the carol are actually more ancient than any of this, though, coming from the first few centuries of the church’s existence, from a gospel account that is not contained in our Scriptures. In the carol Mary and Joseph are traveling to Bethlehem where she will eventually deliver her child. Along the way the expectant mother Mary is hungry and asks Joseph to stop and get her a cherry from an orchard they are passing, for the baby. Joseph snaps back bitterly, telling her to let the child’s father get him a cherry to eat. Continue reading

Preparing Our Paths: A sermon on Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 3:-12

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/zzt96-64f736?from=yiiadmin

Isaiah 2:1-5
Matthew 3:1-12

When I ran into Brock and Ruth Ann last week as they were setting up the crèche in the fvpc-crechelower gathering space, I was thrilled to learn about this tradition here at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church. I have a collection of nativity scenes that some might say borders on an obsession.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the movers who will load their many boxes onto a moving truck in about 10 days will confirm that obsession.  I was excited in particular that the crèche tradition here in this church includes encouraging the children to touch the pieces and interact with them instead of constantly ushering them away lest the treasures get broken.  This is a lovely tradition, and I even brought my own kids in to see it midweek while they were visiting since they won’t be here until Christmas Eve. Continue reading

Ministry snapshot: Put the paper down

In the post of my first sermon in my new congregation, Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, I said I’d write soon about this transition.  I remember having a brilliant thought to share that I would get down just as soon as I could. Four weeks later, I have zero recollection of 15171257_10209751498398636_2282619785055001217_n-1what that brilliant thought might be.  That shows it’s brilliance, I believe.

This Sunday was my installation into this position.  One little girl in the church, after
hearing her mother try to explain what would happen, decided to call it my “inauguration.” The preacher for the worship services this morning, my dear friend, mentor, and church match-maker, the Rev. Carol McDonald, called it my naming day (which reminded me of my favorite baptism book, Water, Come Down, by Walter Wangerin, a book my new church gives to each child being baptized). Whatever we call it, it was a wonderful celebration, and I am still floating a bit on a cloud of gratitude.  Not a bad cloud to ride. Continue reading