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

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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

In It Together: a sermon on Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Luke 18:15-17

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Luke 18:15-17

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/52efh-64860b

At the playground once with my children, I saw a dad waiting with his son for some space to clear up on the jungle gym. The only parent in that area, while helping his son wait 10341608475_6d6a865355_mpatiently, he also helped some other children make their way safely to the top. Even after his little boy had reached the high platform he kept helping the others, spotting them so a potential fall wouldn’t be so dangerous, giving a hand to steady them if they got a little wobbly. Another dad came jogging up when he saw his daughter getting some assistance. He thanked the first dad and apologized for not being there, but the first dad simply smiled and shrugged, “Hey, we’re all in this together!” Continue reading

Training the Saints, a sermon on Luke 6:17-30

Luke 6:17-30

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/crhbt-644b9a

Download this sermon audio (right click and save)

All fall I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new television series on Netflix called The Crown.  It’s a historical drama depicting the rise and reign of Queen Elizabeth II and it was finally released this Friday. Please don’t ask me how many episodes I’ve crown0007watched already; it’s an embarrassing number.

That said, there was a touching scene toward the end of the first episode that I’d like to
share.  Princess Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, is becoming more and more aware of his own mortality even as he is kept in the dark about the deterioration of his health. Consciously or not he understands that he needs to begin to prepare his daughter for the role she will one day play as sovereign.  One day during their Christmas holiday he invites her into his office to talk to her about his daily routine.  Pointing a stack of papers in the royal in box he explains, “Everything they want me to know, they stick on top. Everything they’d rather I didn’t know… they tuck away at the bottom. Which is why… the first thing I do when no one is looking, is this,” as he flips the stack upside down and lets it slam down on the desk.  A very practical moment of education for the future queen, I’m sure. Continue reading