Archive for November, 2012

'Station 5' photo (c) 2010, Sheona Beaumont - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Here is a sermon from the archives for Christ the King/Reign of Christ.  It calls the church to let the truth test us.  It mentions the Gulf of Tonkin incident that was part of the history of the Vietnam War, but I can’t help thinking about the runup to the War in Iraq and the question of whether there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  It’s interesting to reflect on what truth is now that we have survived yet another campaign season replete with lies and half-truths.

The King of Truth
A Sermon on John 18:28-19:16
Christ the King

“What am I looking at here?” Pilate wondered as he went back into his headquarters.  He had gone outside to meet with the religious authorities of Jerusalem because it made sense to respect their sensitivities when possible.  It was the day of preparation for the Passover, and if these leaders had gone inside Pilate’s office, they would have become ceremonially unclean, and unable to eat the Passover meal.

“What am I looking at here?” Pilate wondered as he went back into his office.  Is this Jesus a zealot, somebody like that terrorist Barabbas who would stop at nothing to try to get his way?  What a nuisance these people are!  We crucify them, but here come some more to take their places.  Or is Jesus one of those harmless kooks, thinks he’s the Messiah or something, but not the kind that’s going to raise an army and give us trouble.”  Us being the imperial government.

Well, whatever this Jesus turned out to be, Pilate’s agenda was to do what served the empire.  And what served the empire was what kept these hotheads in Jerusalem under control.

“So,” Pilate said as he strode into his office, “are you the quote-unquote ‘King of the Jews?’”

Notice how Jesus immediately began examining Pilate.  “Do you really want to know,” Jesus asked, “or are you just repeating what you heard?”

Pilate realized this Jesus was no lightweight.  “Do I look like a Jew?” he answered impatiently.  “It’s your people and your leaders that turned you over to me.  Tell me, what did you do?”

“We’re not talking a worldly kingdom here,” Jesus replied.  “My kingdom isn’t like yours.  If it were, my followers would be fighting to save me.  But I’m not that kind of king.”

“So, are you a king or not?” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You tell me.  I was born for this: to witness to the truth—to point to it, to illumine it, to illustrate it, you might say.  Everyone committed to the truth recognizes my voice, listens, heeds my voice.”

What makes Jesus king is that he is the truth, the way, the TRUTH, and the life.  He is the king of truth, the ultimate truth by which everything else is judged.  Jesus is the King of kings because he is the truth.  And he has the authority and the ability to examine every king, every regime, every person, every loyalty, every commitment, every agenda.

Those who claim to follow this king, Jesus, those who claim to serve the truth listen to his voice above all others.  The followers of the truth let the light shine into every corner of themselves and their world.  If the light exposes darkness, so be it.  If the truth calls something into question, so be it.  Jesus is the truth.  Everyone who cares for the truth listens to his voice.

“What is truth?” Pilate mused aloud.  Was Pilate really interested?  Did he care about the truth?  Maybe.  Maybe.

But Pilate cared about other things more.  (more…)


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'Hammer365: 055/310 KC's Gold Dome' photo (c) 2010, David Reber - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/God can raise a church to new life in many ways.  Here is a link to a story about the Gaston Oaks Baptist Church, a small congregation of older people (average age 83) in Dallas, Texas, who had a new vision of ministry.  They now share their building with four international congregations and a health ministry.  The four international congregations are people from Myanmar, Bhutan, Central Africa and various Spanish-speaking countries.  Occasionally all five congregations worship together, and you can view a slide show of one of their joint services when you read the article.  Here is an example of young and old seeing visions and dreaming dreams together so that others can come to know Jesus.

By the power of God, Resurrection can take many forms.  What will it look like in your congregation?

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'welcome' photo (c) 2011, Shirl - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Jan Edmiston, who serves on the presbytery (regional governing body) staff in the Chicago area, came up with this hospitality quiz based on situations she has observed:

A Church for Starving Artists: A Little Quiz

It starts like this:

“Churches tell me they want to grow and they can’t understand why they aren’t growing. They see themselves as “friendly.” They are “welcoming.” They specialize in “hospitality.”

Or do they? Do we? There are a lot of good church people out there who are sabotaging our ministry as people who model our lives after Jesus.”  Read on…

As always, Jan has quite a challenge for the church.  Being friendly is not the same thing as practicing radical hospitality.

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Stations of the Cross

Stations of the Cross (Photo credit: lincolnblues)

Here is a link to a thoughtful and challenging post on why the way of disciples and the way of the church must be the way of the cross, which is the way of dying and rising with Christ:

A Growing Church is a Dying Church,” by the Rev. J. Barrett Lee, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Boonville, NY.  His blog is called The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor.

Here’s an excerpt:

“What will growth look like?  Will all those old, inactive members suddenly return?  Will the pews be packed again? …You might see a few new faces in the crowd.  There won’t be many of them.  Some might stick around but most won’t.  Those who stay won’t fit in with the old guard.  They won’t know about how you’ve always done it.  They’ll want to make changes of their own.  Their new ideas will make you uncomfortable.  Your church won’t look or feel like it used to.  You’ll feel like you’re losing control of this place that you’ve worked so hard to preserve.  It will feel like your church is dying.

“And that’s just the thing.  A growing church is a dying church.  It has to be.  It cannot be otherwise.  The way to Easter Sunday goes through Good Friday.  The way to the empty tomb goes through Golgotha.  The way to resurrection goes through crucifixion.  When Jesus told you to take up your cross and follow, did you expect it to lead anywhere else?  What Jesus told us about himself is also true of churches: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears no fruit.
Whoa!  I find this absolutely bracing, scary, and right on!

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'Two Cents' photo (c) 2010, opensource.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Here is a sermon about the widow’s gift.  It questions the “what’s in it for me” mindset, and it asks whether the church is doing the right thing when we try to appeal to people primarily on the basis of “what’s in it for them.”

Givers and Takers
A Sermon on Mark 12:38-13:2 and Philippians 2:1-11

Jesus was a keen observer of people.  He could see deep down into people’s hearts and discern what really was going on there.  He saw the truth.  And the truth he saw in the hearts of many of the scribes was not pretty.  “Beware of the religious pros, the experts in God’s law” he warned.  “They like to stand out in their distinctive robes.  They want to be seen, admired, honored.  They like people to defer to them. They like to be seated at the head table.  They make a big show with their long prayers.”

And their self-serving attitudes and behavior didn’t stop there, Jesus pointed out.  Some used their position to take advantage of the weak and the helpless.  Widows were a case in point.  Women’s position in society was precarious.  They depended on their husband or a male relative for what they needed to survive.  If a woman’s husband died, ordinarily she couldn’t inherit and hold property.  If there was no male relative to administer the husband’s estate, a professional—one of the scribes—had to do it.  Too bad if he charged an exorbitant fee for the service.  The fee was usually part of the estate.  A victimized widow had no legal recourse.  She couldn’t sue because women were not allowed to testify in court.  In Luke there’s a story of a widow who nagged a judge to help her.

Here’s one way to describe the kind of folk that Jesus warned against.  They were takers.  They were greedy, self-serving takers.

It wasn’t long before Jesus saw a widow who might have been one of their victims.  He was watching people putting their offerings in the Temple collection containers, big boxes with trumpet shaped mouths.  Many wealthy people put in large sums.  You could hear the weighty coins clinking and clanking.  No doubt Jesus also could see what was in their hearts, too. Jesus could see who was being genuinely generous, and who hoped to be seen, and who was giving out of the leftovers, what they would never miss.

But then a poor widow came to make her gift.  From her dress it was obvious that she was a widow, and that she was poor.  In her hand she held two tiny coins, the smallest, lightest of all.  They were thinner than the coins we’re used to.  I imagine them feeling noticeably lighter in the way that my grandmother’s aluminum spoon felt so much lighter than the rest, which were stainless steel.

This widow quietly approached the collection containers, put in her two halfpennies, and slipped away.  Maybe some of the wealthier folk gave their gifts mostly to be seen.  But I think it’s safe to say that this widow made her gift for some other reason.  Perhaps she didn’t want to be seen making such a small gift.  If other onlookers even noticed, perhaps they laughed and poked each other in the ribs, or they shook their heads with pity.

But not Jesus.  He looked into the widow’s heart, and he saw something that touched him.  (more…)

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'Prayer is the language' photo (c) 2009, Leland Francisco - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The Wayne Oates Institute is a resource for reading and continuing education in the areas of pastoral care and healing ministry.  Here is its mission statement:

“The Wayne Oates Institute is a learning community advancing collaborative, compassionate, and integrative care. Our membership consists of professional and lay caregivers in the fields of religion, nursing, pastoral care and counseling, medicine, social work, and therapy. We accomplish our mission through education, publication, and research and make our resources available locally, nationally, and internationally on the Internet.”

Click here for a fact sheet about this organization.
The Oates Journal is a free online professional journal that addresses issues of spirituality, ethics and health for pastoral care givers and health professionals.  Here is a link to a recent article: “Bringing the Refugees Home: Ministry with the Dechurched”, and here is a link to an archived article “Introduction to Preaching and Pastoral Care.”  You can subscribe to their newsletter to receive notifications of new articles.

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'HPrayer3-Annointing' photo (c) 2010, NealeA - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Christ Jesus came to make us whole in every way, and he calls his church to the work of healing and wholeness.  Over the centuries, though, we have ceded much of this area of ministry to the medical community, and we fail to see that the call to heal is still ours.  Here’s a resource for all who want to answer that call.

Church Health Reader is a quarterly journal that also has a website with lots of articles and resources that you can click on.  Here’s a sample article entitled “The Church’s Call to Health Ministry.”     Print subscriptions cost $20 for one year, $30 for two years, and $40 for three years.

On the site there are free downloadable flyers with health information, and even healthy recipes for cooking in large quantity for church suppers.  You can click on book reviews, and helps for starting health ministries of various kinds in your congregation.  There is a list of must-reads before you begin a health ministry, and articles on living with diseases and conditions like cancer and depression.  Resources can also be accessed according to interest, such as worship, food, walking and running for health, clergy health, parenting, parish nursing, and recovery from addiction.

Church Health Reader also offers curriculum resources.  Walk & Talk is a Bible study and devotional that is specifically designed to be used while you walk with a friend, with a member of your congregation, or by yourself.

May the Holy Spirit move afresh among us and show us how to exercise the gift of healing in our time and place!

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'IMG_1419' photo (c) 2010, Steve Rainwater - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Here is a sermon on Mark 12:28-34, the gospel text for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Year B (Proper 26 B, Ordinary 31B).  It includes an illustration from the movie Toy Story 2, showing how Woody the cowboy chose the way of love over the way of self-preservation.

The Heart of Life

A Sermon on Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; Romans 12: 1-2, 9-21; and Mark 12:28-34

It was almost a sport.  The legal experts of Jesus’ day hardly enjoyed anything more than debating the interpretation and application of God’s law.  For most of those who tried to draw Jesus into debate, it turned into a blood sport, for they were interested in getting the best of him.  Indeed, they ultimately wanted to knock him out.  “Let’s see how he handles this one,” first one group and then another would say as they attempted to trip Jesus up.  In chapter 12 of Mark, for instance, the Pharisees tried to trap him with a question about whether or not it was lawful for God’s people to pay taxes to the Roman emperor.  Jesus’ answer?  Pay to the emperor the things that belong to the emperor, and pay to God the things that belong to God.  They were amazed.  Chalk one up for Jesus.

Then some Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, hoped to make Jesus stumble with a question about the law of levirate marriage.  This law said that if a man died and left a wife but no children, his brother must marry the widow. Then they could have children that would be considered the dead man’s children.  Now if there were seven brothers, proposed the Sadducees, and this happened again and again down through all seven brothers with no resulting children, whose wife would the woman be in the resurrection?  Jesus replied that there is no marriage in heaven.  He then cited one of the Sadducees own favorite scriptures to show that there is a resurrection.  Chalk another one up for Jesus!

One scribe, a legal specialist, listened to all this debating with great interest.  In contrast to most, this one was rather sympathetic with Jesus.  He especially enjoyed it when Jesus got the best of the Sadducees.  There was no love lost between scribes and Sadducees.  Now this scribe zeroed in on the heart of the matter.  Which commandment is the most important, he wanted to know.  To live a faithful life, what was the most important thing?  An answer to this question would show what Jesus was really about.

We don’t know for sure what this scribe’s motive was.  He didn’t seem hostile.  Maybe he was genuinely interested in Jesus’ response.  Maybe he posed the question just for fun.

But the question of what’s most important is not just for fun when you have big decisions to make, when you’re asking questions like: What are my life’s goals going to be?  What job or career should I pursue? Who and when should I marry?

The question of what’s most important is not just for fun when you’re at midlife and reassessing the track you are on.  It’s not even a question you ask for fun at the end of life when you look back.  With all seriousness you ponder whether you have done what is most important, and are you doing what’s most important now.  The question of what’s most important is critical wherever you are on the journey of life.

That question was raised in a touching way in the movie Toy Story 2.  Woody, a toy cowboy belonging to a little boy named Andy was kidnapped by a greedy toy collector.  Woody had just rescued another toy from being sold at Andy’s mom’s yard sale, and before Woody could get back in the house, this man pounced on him.  When Andy’s mom refused to sell Woody, the man stole him.

The thief’s goal was to collect a complete set of all the toys and memorabilia from an old TV series called Woody’s Roundup.  Woody, of course, had been the star character.  Now that he had Woody, the man planned to sell his collection at a fantastic profit to a toy museum in Japan.

A toy doctor refurbished Woody and made him look brand new.  The other toys from the TV show attempted to convince him that it would be a wonderful thing to be together in the toy museum.  They would look good forever and live forever—no more wear and tear from children’s play.  No more disappointment when the children grew up and forgot you.

When Buzz Lightyear and several of Andy’s other toys arrived to rescue Woody, he wasn’t sure he wanted to go home with them.  Buzz and the others exclaimed, “You’re a toy!  You are supposed to be loved and enjoyed by children.  Sure you’ll be handled roughly and wear out.  Sure Andy is going to grow up.  But he loves you.”

Now what was most important?  Looking good, safe forever in a museum case?  Or serving a child who loved him?

Which commandment is most important of all? (more…)

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