Archive for October, 2012

'Day 23: Jesus the Ophthalmologist' photo (c) 2011, Cathy Stanley-Erickson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Here is a sermon from the archives for Ordinary Time 30 B (Proper 25B):

The Power to See
A Sermon on Mark 10:46-52

After he lost his sight, Bartimaeus was relegated to the sidelines.  He couldn’t see.  He couldn’t work.  He couldn’t go anywhere without help.  By day Bartimaeus sat by the side of the road with his cloak spread out to receive any coins that passersby might toss his way.  By night he slept wrapped in his cloak, the only valuable thing he owned.

Bartimaeus’ sights were limited socially as well as physically.  To most people’s way of thinking, his disability meant that God had rejected him, and that he must have done something to deserve it.  At best Bartimaeus was the object of pity, and often he was the object of scorn.

There was no denying Bartimaeus couldn’t see.  It was obvious to all.  But he wasn’t the only person in the crowd with vision problems that day.  The authorities—priests, scribes and Pharisees—were watching Jesus.  And what they saw was not a savior.  What they saw was a troublemaker.  In their eyes Jesus was a sinner who disregarded God’s laws, and in particular the Sabbath laws.  To make things even worse, Jesus claimed to forgive sins, something only God himself can do, and he spent too much time with the wrong people: the outcast, the unclean.  Early on the authorities had concluded that this lawbreaker had to be destroyed before he enticed more people away from the true religion.  Now they were looking for the opportunity to nab him.

Even Jesus’ own disciples had vision problems.  As we have seen on several Sundays recently, they were so focused on the prospect of winning and getting ahead that they couldn’t see it when Jesus showed them that the way of life was the road of humble, suffering service, and it led through the cross.  They didn’t get it when he showed them that the Kingdom of God is a pure gift to us from God, to be received simply and gratefully as a child.  It didn’t fit their expectations.  It wasn’t what they themselves wanted.  Places of honor were what they wanted.

There’s no question: what we expect to see and what we want to see shapes what we actually do see.  I read a poignant story illustrating this.  (more…)


Read Full Post »

The Vibrant Congregations Project of Luther Seminary has just published a free e-book that you can download in formats for your Kindle, iPad or Nook, or in pdf format to view and print from your computer.  It’s entitled Renew 52, and inside you’ll find over fifty short articles grouped under these headings:

  • Leadership
  • Community
  • Worship
  • Children, Youth, & Family
  • Preaching
  • Service & Mission
  • Discipleship & Spiritual Practices

Click on the image above or on the title to go to the web page.  The producers of the book want it to be shared freely.  You will find articles that you can share with people and groups in your congregation.  You could use them as discussion starters for your congregation’s board.

I scanned them all, and here are some that I found especially helpful:

  • “Change Your Self-Image from Performer to Coach”:   David Lose, who also edited this volume, writes, “[W]e need to stop executing religious skills for our people and train them to perform them for themselves.  Otherwise they will continue to be spectators, appreciating the faith but never really learning how to do it for themselves,” p. 19.
  • “Avoid McDonaldization and Advocate Distinctive Discipleship”: Ronnie McBrayer says that in their desire to do what “works,” churches imitate one another’s programs and marketing plans.  This leads to churches being like brands or chains, like McDonald’s–when you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.  Instead, each congregation is called to be a unique community of God where God has placed it.  He writes, “Churches should cease their efforts to build spiritual shopping malls and focus instead on helping people become committed followers of Jesus,” p. 26.
  • “Reinvigorate Youth Ministry by Learning from Eli and Samuel”: Kathy Wolf Reed and Nick Reed find inspiration for intergenerational youth ministry from the story of Eli and Samuel in 1 Samuel 3.  They maintain that the best youth ministry is intergenerational, authentic, and reciprocal, i.e. generations care for and learn from each other.  See p. 55.  This leads to deeper faithfulness for everybody.  (Small churches who can’t hire a “cool” youth director: are you listening?)
  • “Create Family-friendly Worship Spaces”: Theresa Cho offers creative ideas to help families with children be able to worship together in the sanctuary.  She writes, “Worshipping with children in our midst can be a vital asset to a faith community–not solely because they need to learn something from us, but because we need to learn something from them as well,” p. 58.

Many, many thanks to the Vibrant Congregations Project for this gift to the whole church!

Read Full Post »

'' photo (c) 2011, Ben - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Here is a sermon from the archives on Mark 10:28-45.  James and John wanted the places of honor next to Jesus.  I preached this during the 2000 U.S. Presidential campaign.  Coveting places of honor is a temptation for individual disciples, but it’s also a temptation for congregations.

Downward Mobility

A Sermon on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Mark 10:28-45

Sometimes Jesus’ disciples seem dense.  What Jesus says doesn’t sink in with them, and our text today is a prime example.  For much of chapters 8, 9 and 10 in Mark Jesus has been emphasizing to them that things don’t work the same way in the kingdom of God as they do in the world.  Three times in these chapters Jesus stressed that unlike a triumphing worldly king, Jesus, the Son of Man, was going to suffer greatly, be rejected and killed by the authorities, and then rise again.

Now, we can understand the disciples not getting it the first time.  The first time Peter started to rebuke Jesus, saying, “No way, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”  And Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan, adversary of God, for you’re setting your mind not on divine things but on earthly things.”  Then Jesus added, “Whoever want to become my followers must deny self and take up their cross and follow me.  Those who save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

We can understand the disciples not getting it the first time.  It didn’t at all fit their expectations of a conquering hero Messiah. But they didn’t get it the second time, either.  Soon they were arguing among themselves over which of them was the greatest.  Jesus challenged them on that: “Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.”  Then, putting a child in their midst, he added, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and the one who sent me.”  And what did the disciples do?  When a group of children came to see Jesus, the disciples tried to chase them away.  Jesus was annoyed.  He stressed yet again, “You have to receive the kingdom of God as a gift like a helpless child.  You must become as a child or you’ll never enter it.”

The third time, in our lesson today, Jesus gave the grimmest description of all of what was going to happen to him: “Now look,” he said to the twelve, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the religious leaders, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

Did the disciples get it this time?  No!  The next thing you know, James and John were asking Jesus to give them the best seats in his royal cabinet.  They tried to maneuver their way to the top of the heap.  This made the other ten disciples angry.  They wanted the same reward, but to their consternation, James and John managed to speak to Jesus first.

What was with those disciples?  Jesus just got through describing the ordeal that lay ahead, and here his closest friends were focused on the special privileges they wanted—and that they felt they deserved.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

'Christmas Party - 2006' photo (c) 2006, Todd Nappen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Faith and Leadership from Duke Divinity School is one of the best sites on the web for Christian leaders.  Here is an article from UCC pastor Anthony Robinson with eight important pointers for reaching out to young adults.

These especially struck me:

  • Make it spiritual. The core business of religion is — surprise — religion; we’re not a social club, civic organization or political party.  Honestly ask, “Are we growing spiritually, in faith and discipleship?” “Are we  offering others opportunities to deepen faith?”
  • A corollary: Make it about God. People want to experience the holy, the
    divine, the sacred. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery — not for want of bylaws, committees or sign-up sheets. At least, they don’t want those things instead of God.
  • Value the power of cross-generational community and relationships. Increasingly, we live in mono-generational enclaves. Speak of the importance of friendship and contact across the generations and then live that out in the way you do church.
  • Make it work for busy lives. Time is the new currency; don’t ask people
    to waste it. This is particularly true in many young or single-parent families, where people are working full time plus. Offer more short-term ways to engage, such as one-day mission projects, two- or three-week study series. Offer activities for parents to do with their kids.

Read the whole article.  It’s brief, but you’ll find much food for thought.

Read Full Post »

'Class and teacher gatherd around laptop' photo (c) 2010, Saad Faruque - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Faith Lens is a free source of lesson plans aimed at youth and young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Faith Lens is published in a blog format, and lessons are posted early each week for every Sunday from September through May.  Each lesson begins with warm up questions that relate to a current or contemporary concern, lists the four texts for the day from the Revised Common Lectionary, and then presents a brief reflection on the Gospel reading for the day.  Discussion questions and suggested activities follow, along with a closing prayer.  If you look over in the right sidebar, you can view archived lessons that go back to September 2008.  You can also sign up to receive each week’s lesson via email subscription.

Read Full Post »

'Dollar Coins 'In God We Trust'' photo (c) 2009, cometstarmoon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is a sermon from my archives on the gospel text for Ordinary 28, Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary.  It couples Mark 10:17-31 with bracing words about wealth from James 4:11-5:6. 

A Dangerous Obsession

A Sermon on James 4:11-5:6 and Mark 10:17-31

James, you sound like the Old Testament prophets: weep and wail, rich people, your riches are rotted?  The cries of your workers have reached God’s ears?  James, you sound like Amos in Israel, seven hundred years before Jesus who thundered: “For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way (Amos 2:6-7a).  How terrible it will be for you who have such an easy life in Zion, and for those who feel secure in Samaria, you notables…how terrible for those who stretch out on your luxurious couches, feasting on veal and lamb!…You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest perfumes, but you do not mourn over the ruin of Israel.  You shall be the first to go into exile!  This party will be over!” (Amos 6:1-6).

Yes, James joins a long line of prophets who speak harshly to the rich and the comfortable.  Imagine how he might deliver that critique now, in the twenty-first century: Woe to you big businesses that don’t pay your workers a living wage.  Woe, you CEOs that pull in hundreds, thousands of times what you pay your workers.  Woe, you wealthy that buy influence in Washington, and woe to you officials that coddle the wealthy and leave the poor and the sick out in the cold.  Woe to you affluent who luxuriate in homes of many thousands of square feet while some have to work long hours at multiple jobs in order to rent a basic one bedroom apartment, and while others call the streets home.  Woe to you who live to buy and consume and accumulate and throw things away.

Now imagine the “amens!”  Amens from people like the former workers at Enron and other companies who lost their retirements due to the shenanigans of the higher ups.  Amens from people who live paycheck to paycheck.  Amens from workers stuck in sweatshops producing cheap goods.  Yes, James’ tough preaching does draw Amens from the oppressed.

But it won’t win him too many friends elsewhere.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

Slow Evangelism

'Sharing is Caring' photo (c) 2008, włodi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Evangelism–sharing Jesus–is slow, painstaking work, like gardening and farming.  It takes time to make friends and cultivate relationships.

I came across this quote from Michael Frost, author of The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church:

“When we understand what it is to be truly missional – incarnated deeply within a local host community – we will find that evangelism is best done slowly, deliberately, in the context of a loving community. It takes time and multiple engagements.”

Frost notes that one thing that makes us shy away from evangelism is that we think we have to share the whole gospel with people in one encounter.  Sharing the gospel slowly, gradually over time in a relationship allows the deep beauty and breadth of the good news to be expressed.

Frost adds that people who don’t know Jesus yet need to experience hospitality and see how we embody the gospel in the life of our community.  They need to see how we practice love in our communal setting.

One thing that  Frost is getting at is that evangelism includes all the small, thoughtful things that we faithfully do over a long period of time.  May Christ open our eyes to the opportunities that come our way to do these small things in his name.  May Christ help us build new friendships even as we cherish the old.  And may Christ’s love fill us all!

You can read more here on the Sustainable Traditions blogsite.

Read Full Post »

Art by Cezero Barredo.
Click the picture to go to his site.

Here is a sermon from my archives about Jesus and the children.  It links Jesus’ call to become as children with his invitation in John 3 to Nicodemus to become a newborn.

A Second Childhood

A Sermon on Mark 9:33-37, 10:13-16 and John 3:1-10


Jesus’ disciples had a hard time letting go of wanting to be big men in the Kingdom of God.  Today’s scripture is only one example. Read on in the gospels.  There are more.   But focusing on today’s lessons, in Mark 10, when little people—children—came seeking Jesus, the disciples had already forgotten what Jesus had just said in Mark 9!  There, when Jesus saw that his disciples were arguing about which one of them was the most important in God’s kingdom, Jesus could not have been more clear:  “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” he declared.  And then Jesus himself had sought out a little child, taken it in his arms, and added, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and welcomes the one who sent me.”


The disciples had already forgotten this when some parents came bringing little children to Jesus.  They were eager for Jesus to touch the children and give them a blessing.  Instead of welcoming them, the disciples shooed them away.


I’m sure the disciples meant well.  Jesus was under a great strain.  As he made his way to the site of his death, Jerusalem, crowds of needy people pressed in upon him.  And all along the way Jesus’ opponents kept trying to catch him making a mistake on some point of God’s law.  Even as the parents and children approached, Jesus was fresh from yet another dispute, this time with the Pharisees over the laws pertaining to marriage and divorce.


The disciples probably thought they were protecting Jesus by screening the people that came to him.  “Jesus is tired,” they thought, “and his time is too important.  These parents ought to know better than to interrupt!  Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with such small matters.  After all, he’s in the process of launching a great kingdom.”


And so the disciples exercised their authority and sternly sent the children and their caregivers away.  “Jesus doesn’t have time to see you today. We’re sorry.”


The visitors’ faces fell.  The parents turned, hitched up their babies in slings, hiked up the toddlers on their hips, and took others by the hand.  In their hands the children clutched all the little things they had brought to show Jesus.  Together they set off the way they had come.


Perhaps it was the sound of the children crying that caught Jesus’ attention.  He turned from the theological discussion, and when he saw what the disciples had done, he was angry.  This wasn’t a small matter at all.


“Let the children come to me!” Jesus exclaimed.  “Do not stop them, for God’s kingdom belongs to them and to those like them.”


Christ Jesus was indeed launching a kingdom, but it was not a kingdom of the powerful, wealthy, and highly regarded.  The greatest subjects in Jesus’ kingdom are the least ones: the small, the weak, the lowly.  The poor and the meek, those who hunger and those who mourn are the blessed ones.


And here came these least ones, the weakest and the youngest, and the disciples had turned them away.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: