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

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

Now What? – a sermon for the second Sunday of Easter on Matthew 28:16-20

As worship began at First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI two ruling elders who serve on the session, Sheldon and Attie Kay, reported to the congregation a decision that had been made a special meeting of the session the previous morning, April 11, 2015.  The action taken at that meeting approved the following statement.3160120344_6037d571c0

“Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family.  Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives[1]. At First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI requests for Session consideration of marriage will not be denied based upon sexual orientation.

[1] Language from PC(USA) General Assembly Amendment 14-F (approved by a majority of PC(USA) presbyteries for inclusion in the Book of Order as of March 17, 2015)

Matthew 28:16-20

I want to begin this morning by thanking Sheldon and Attie Kay for their careful sharing of the news that came out of the special session meeting yesterday. I imagine that decision, whether it is one you personally celebrate or question or maybe even mourn, has not moved far from the front of your mind as we have worshiped together this morning.  It hasn’t moved from mine nor, I imagine, the minds of the session members here this morning even though we have been sitting with the decision almost twenty-four hours longer than the rest of the congregation.

And I don’t think it necessarily should because it is a decision that carries great weight for many in our church and community.  It is a decision that came after months of intense session discussion and really two years of congregational study in a variety of different formats and venues.  It has been an emotional discussion for many, and yesterday it was an emotional decision, in some way or another, for every person
sitting around that meeting table.

As the meeting drew to a close, following almost three hours of discussion and prayer, sharing and wondering aloud, discernment, but very little, in fact absolutely none of what I would categorize as antagonistic debate, I knew my original thoughts on Jesus’ Great Commission would have to be set aside.  I knew what the Spirit was calling me to talk about instead was the decision we had just made.  The question that remained, however, was “*What* was the Spirit calling me to say?”  I guess in that sense the sermon title I had picked for entirely different reasons five or six days ago still fit.  Now what? Continue reading

Finding Joy – a sermon for Easter on Matthew 28:1-10

Matthew 28:1-10

Please don’t mock me if this is true, but I may be the last person in the United States still watching the ABC TV show Grey’s Anatomy.  Is there any chance I am not alone in this?  It’s OK if you don’t want to admit it. Many, many people believe the show has, as they say, jumped the shark, long ago lost any resemblance to a quality program, but it is one of my guilty pleasures.

In a recent episode* Dr. Meredith Grey, the show’s title character who began almost ten years ago as a surgical intern, was experiencing a streak of good luck.  She hadn’t lost a patient or had an unsuccessful outcome in surgery in about three or four months.  It seemed like impossibly good luck, and it did not go unnoticed among her peers and subordinates.  In fact, she developed a literal following among the surgical interns.  The student surgeons would flood her observation galleries as she practiced her craft.  Everyone wanted in on one of Dr. Grey’s surgeries or wanted Dr. Grey working on the case for their patients.  Defying the odds she seemed to almost miraculously be able to defy death.

When talking to a colleague about Dr. Grey’s new intern-disciples, fellow-surgeon Dr. Miranda Bailey tried to explain, “Don’tbailey you remember what it was like to be a resident and have all this death around you being new, terrifying? Why do you think they care so much about this stupid streak?  Death is scary. They just want to believe that there’s somebody out there who can defy it.”

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Speaking of Turmoil – a sermon on Matthew 21:1-17

4702067918_33f067ebe1_bMathew 21:1-17

His reputation certainly preceded him.  Adoring crowds accompanied Jesus and gathered ahead of him, while the anxious city awaited his arrival.  His supporters had been building around him for some time.  His ministry started of more like a small group than a megachurch, but after the word started to spread about the healings he provided, the miracles he performed, the blessings he procured, he wasn’t traveling alone much anymore. Coming down from the mountain of the transfiguration, a crowd was waiting for Jesus, out of which he cured a boy with demon.  Traveling to Judea beyond the Jordan where he was tested by the Pharisees on the intricacies of religious law, crowds gathered to hear and see Jesus, even to be healed by him.  Leaving Jericho and turning toward Jerusalem, having just predicted his punishment, death, and rising to new life, a crowd is determined to follow Jesus, even into the unknown.

It’s no wonder the city was stirred up in turmoil when this crowd of Jesus’ supporters was heading straight for Jerusalem.  They came marching toward the gates, waving branches, offering even the cloaks off their backs to honor this him, talked of prophecies being fulfilled and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  The city was expecting devout pilgrims for the Passover observance.  But now they had either a parade or a protest.  It may have been hard to tell the difference. The teachings of this Jesus were not the normal teachings. He di something with them.  He didn’t counter them, but someone reapplied them.  He took the law of Moses, kept the core, and expanded on it for a new day.  It was challenging to some, to say the least.

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