Divine Persistence – A Sermon on Mark 6:1-29

Jesus left that place, Mark tells us, and came to his hometown. (Mark 6:1-29) “That place” was the region around the Sea of Galilee, most recently where he healed a woman who had been suffering for many years and also raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus, a leader in the synagogue. Before that he cast out a demon from a tortured man. Before that he calmed a storm that was battering the boat taking him and his disciples from one side to the other. Before that he was teaching about seeds – sowing seeds, growing seeds, seeds as small as a grain of sand. Before that he healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Before that, before that, before that…. Continue reading

Dare to Believe – A sermon on Mark 5:21-43

A couple of months ago I was at Willow River Elementary School where I was volunteering in my son’s classroom to teach an art appreciation lesson.  I stopped in the supply room near the office to pick up the things I needed before heading up to the room.  In addition to carrying 3 large mounted art posters, I had a couple of zip lock baggies of teaching props, two shopping bags holding 24 canvas boards for a painting project, a large tub filled with tubes of paint in every color from raging red to perfect purple, and a couple of tin cans of paint brushes in every size and shape.  Needless to say my hands were full.  As I came out of the supply room and began the trek across the school to the opposite corner and up a couple of flights of stairs to the 3rd grade classroom a young student spotted me, took one look, and graciously asked, “Do you need some help?”

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This One Thing – A confirmation sermon on Romans 8:18-39

Romans 8:18-39

Even though I don’t have my own yet, I have spent enough time with teenagers to know that the concept of fairness is pretty important to them.  Who am I kidding?  It isn’t because I spend time with teenagers that I know this; it’s because I was one.  And it’s because even just thinking about my years as a middle schooler brings my desire for fairness flooding back to mind.  I can remember the day of the huge algebra test that the fire alarm went off in third period.  The kids who had algebra third period got to delay their test after they already started it and had seen all the questions.  Only I had orchestra in third period not algebra.  Those of us who had algebra at any other time in the day still had to take the 3271430123_7380e85c9etest just like it was a normal day.  It wasn’t far at all!!!  Oh yeah, I remember that desire for fairness!

I also remember the typically adult answer the teacher gave.  The same answer my mom used to give when my sister and I would bicker over who had more chores to do, the same answer I give now when something stirs up that desire for fairness in my own children – – “Life’s not fair.”  Ugh.  Even though we know it’s true, both when we hear that answer and when we give it, it is just a hard statement to swallow

Life’s not fair.

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A Life and Death Decision – A sermon on Romans 6:1-14

Romans is Paul’s longest letter.  He has a LOT to tell the church in Rome.  Either they have a lot of questions or he has heard a lot of, shall we say, interesting versions of theology coming from the community.  Whatever it is he has a lot to say to them.

Some of the things he says are the basics, spelled out simply, but also beautifully.  We heard last week, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (5:8)  Other things, like the things we will hear today are teachings that take it to the next level.FPC fonts

I imagine this week’s reading as a sort of answer to an unspoken question – – only I imagine it spoken.  I have heard it spoken – in conversations with confirmation students year after year, in Bible studies with women around that library table back there, in coffee shops and airplane seats when someone with some bones to pick with the church finds out what it is I do.  The question is this, see if you’ve ever asked it, “So if Jesus goes to such great lengths to save us, if God loves us so much that God’s going to forgive any sin we have anyway, why not just keep on living the fun life?  Why bother to be good anyway?  We’ll get forgiveness for our sins anyway, won’t we?” Continue reading

Ungodly? Who? Me? – A sermon based on Romans 5:1-11

A friend of mine from college likes to tell the cautionary tale of her first video conference job interview.  It was several years ago when using Skype to talk to a potential new employer was still fairly new and some of the kinks in the system or best practices in general hadn’t quite been identified.  With all the technology tested once and then again, she got dressed for 4549892831_2bdbd6e5b7the interview.  It only being in front of a camera she decided to take advantage of the set-up putting on her best blouse and suit jacket and her comfiest pair of flannel pajama pants.  After all they would be out of sight.

Everything started out well.  It took an unfortunate turn however, when she excused herself momentarily to grab a resource from across the room.   Standing up in front of the camera it was only as she saw the image of her comfiest flannel pajama pants flash not-quickly-enough across the little box in the corner of her own screen that she remembered her chosen attire.

She was mortified when she heard, coming through the speakers, the compassionate snickers of the team of interviewers.  Coming back to the table after retrieving the book she needed, she apologized as best she could, which was met with gracious understanding.  Each of the interviewers on the other end of the call admitted to choosing the same sort of attire for their own interview, and the whole group had a nice laugh about it.

We’ve all gotten pretty adept at showing the world just the parts of ourselves that we want to be seen.  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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Ready or Not – a sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

Matthew 25:1-13

Hide and Seek was a favorite pastime in the neighborhood growing up.  When we first moved to Shore View Circle in Indialantic, Florida there were easily ten children between the ages of about seven and twelve in small cluster of homes whose side and back yards all met up together forming the greatest field of play in existence.  Large shrubs, a few fat squatty palms, tool sheds, some fenced yards, and back patios all provided stellar hiding spots.  In fact, sometimes the problem wasn’t finding a place to hide, but simply choosing which spot would be the right one this time.

3662330204_54e1404d62_qAt the start of each round we would gather pretty much at the center, the spot where the corners of three or four properties all met.  The counter would start counting – 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… – and the hiders would start hiding.  There was always a mad dash for some of the favorite spots and no end to strategizing.  Did you want a great spot far away from base or something that might be a little more exposed, but with a shorter run?  If you were indecisive, as I was, you might still be looking when the counter announced, “48… 49… 50!  Ready or not, here I come!”

“Ready or not!”  Those are the words that could strike terror in the hearts of the unprepared, those with no place to hide, no cover chosenfor this round of the game.  Continue reading