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Archive for September, 2013

The Burning Bush, by one of the Morton Church children

The Burning Bush, by one of the Morton Church children

God is beginning to bring children to Morton Church again, and recently a 3 1/2 year old noticed the lit candles on the communion table and asked, “Why is there fire up there?”  His question inspired this sermon for our Homecoming Service.

Why There’s Fire in the Church
A Sermon on Exodus 3:1-10 and Acts 2:1-21
Homecoming Sunday 2013

During worship two Sundays ago, the burning candles on our communion table caught a child’s eye. He asked, “Why is there fire up there?” What caught Moses’ eye was a burning bush. And whenever you see fire in the Bible, it means that God is around somewhere, and it means that God is up to something. Sometimes, like the church gathered in the upper room, Bible people are expectantly waiting for the fire. For others, like Moses, the fire comes to them as a complete surprise.

The day Moses first saw the fire started out just like any other work day. Moses was out in the fields of Midian, doing what he did every day: keeping track of a flock of sheep. Suddenly, there on the horizon that he had scanned countless times before, he noticed something different. “That’s odd,” Moses said to himself. “That bush is on fire, but it’s not getting burned up. Wow! I’ve got to go take a closer look!”

There! God had Moses’ attention, and the next thing you know, God was relighting an old passion in Moses. “Don’t come any closer,” God said when God had Moses’ attention. “Take off your shoes. You’re on holy ground here!”

God then proceeded to pour out what was in God’s heart. “I’ve seen the terrible suffering of my people in slavery in Egypt,” God said. “I’ve heard every one of their cries. I know how miserable they are.”
Moses knew it, too. He had seen it and heard it, too. Years ago Moses had killed an Egyptian that he saw beating an Israelite, and that’s what led him to run away from Egypt and immigrate to Midian. Doggone right Moses knew what God was talking about!

“I’m going to get them out of there and lead them to a new homeland,” God continued. “And so, I am sending YOU as my agent. You’re going down to Egypt, you’re going to tell Pharaoh to let my people go, and you’re going to get them out of there.”

Shocked, Moses proceeded to argue with God about why he was a poor choice for this job, and why God really ought to send somebody else. Eventually, though, Moses quit objecting and headed for Egypt. Despite himself, Moses found his heart on fire again, and soon he found himself face to face with the king of Egypt, right in the heart of the oppression and pain of the Hebrew people, calling for justice in the name of God.

The group gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem was a small church with a big task ahead of it. “You’re going to be my witnesses,” Jesus had told them, “starting here at home in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you are going to get the power to do it.” The fire was on the way.

As the church talked and prayed and waited, a fly on the wall might have heard something like this: “How are we going to manage this? I mean, look at us! Where do we start? What do we say? What about the people who don’t speak our language? And we know this is going to get us in trouble just like it got Jesus in trouble. What will we do then?” You can bet there was some big time praying going on in the upper room, along with Bible study and telling and retelling the stories of Jesus.

The Day of Pentecost found Jesus’ followers together. This time, God didn’t come quietly. God didn’t slip in on the horizon and wait for them to notice. This time the Spirit of God swooped in like a fierce wind, and fire appeared among them and rested on them. In pictures of this event, Jesus’ followers often look like human candles with flames above their heads. And no, they didn’t get burned, either!

Next thing you know, they’re outside of the upper room telling everybody about Jesus, telling everybody about the wonderful things God does. It happened to be homecoming time in Jerusalem then, too. Lots of people from all around the known world were there. They were amazed when they heard the members of the church telling God’s story in their native languages. The Spirit had given the church the ability to speak the languages of the people on the outside who didn’t know Jesus yet.

The whole city knew something was going on. (more…)

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'Rila Monastery' photo (c) 2009, Dvemp - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is a sermon on Luke 16:10-31.  The issue is especially poignant in the wake of the recent U.S. House vote to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps.”

The Five Brothers

A Sermon on Luke 16:10-31

A few of Jesus’ parables, like the ones we heard last week about the lost sheep and lost coin, seem relatively tame.  But not this one.  This parable is a tough one.  It deals with a sensitive subject: wealth.  And it has a big stinger.

In Jesus’ day people loved to hear stories of people getting what they deserve in the hereafter.  Jesus took one of these popular tales that was circulating at the time, changed some of the details, and aimed it straight at the religious authorities of Judea.

Jesus was tough on them.  He made no attempt to handle them with kid gloves. Jesus had just gotten through pointing out that you can’t serve both God and wealth, only one can be the most important to you, and that the things humans value are an abomination in God’s sight.

The religious leaders scoffed at Jesus.  Why?  They refused to see the serious spiritual problems that money and affluence pose.  They insisted that possessions were a sign that God was pleased with you, that God was blessing you.  Poverty was a sign that God was cursing you. They came by this view honestly.  They drew it from scripture.    Check out Deuteronomy 28.  That’s just one example.  There Moses says that “if you obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the LORD your God.”  Then there’s a long list of blessings of every kind, from victory in battle to strong, healthy livestock, to highly productive fields, to many healthy children, to rain just when you need it. If you obey, you’ll be blessed.  If you don’t, you won’t.

But Jesus saw the flaws in their too-neat system of rewards and punishments.  For all their intense study of scripture, these particular leaders, anyway, had skipped over the deep and powerful message of Moses and the prophets giving the people of God solemn responsibilities towards all people in need.

There were two men, Jesus said.  One was the richest of the rich.  He ate gourmet meals every day.  He dressed in the finest clothes right down to his linen underwear.  His clothes were purple, the color of royalty, power, and authority.  He had it all.

Just outside the rich man’s gate lay a man who was the poorest of the poor.  He had nothing.  No food, no home, inadequate clothing.  Like Job, he was clothed in sores.  He was sick.  He couldn’t walk any more.  How he longed for the rich man’s table scraps.

Now note: Jesus makes no moral judgments here.  There’s no explanation of how the rich man got his wealth, no hint of any dirty doings.  Plus, there’s no explanation of how Lazarus got in the fix he was in either, and no hint that he was particularly righteous.

Scene 2: Both men died.  Now everything is exactly reversed.  Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The picture here is of the way people reclined at banquets in Jesus’ day.  Lazarus reclined next to Abraham at the heavenly banquet.

Far, far away the rich man found himself in Hades with nothing but pain.  If only he could just get one drop of water.  He begged Abraham to send Lazarus over with just one drop of water.

“Sorry, my child.  Not possible,” Abraham replied.  The rich man and Lazarus never connected in life.  Now they can’t connect in death.

Now why did things turn out this way?  (more…)

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Storypath logo

Union Presbyterian Seminary’s fine children’s literature resource has been renamed Storypath: Connecting children’s Literature With Our Faith Story, and it has a new web address: http://storypath.upsem.edu/.   Here you can find book reviews, lists of recommended books, and lesson plans.  You can search for a book by title, by age group, by scripture passage, and by theme.  Click on “lectionary links” and you will find books that correlate with upcoming scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Storypath began in October 2009.  It grew out of a seminary class entitled Using Children’s and Adolescents’ Literature in the Church.   Many of the reviews are by students in the class, which is offered periodically, and the contributors also include professors Pamela Mitchell-Legg, and Rebecca Davis, and graduates and friends of Union Seminary.  The site continues to grow.  Click here for a sample list of books.  This one is on the topic of adoption.

Good children’s books are good for God’s people of all ages.  Many thanks to Union and to all the contributors for Storypath.  It is a treasure.

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Child's First Book of PrayersA Child’s First Book of Prayers by Lois Rock and illustrated by Alison Jay, is a collection of 150 prayers that is a rich resource for people of all ages.  It includes classics, such as “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” and the prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.”  It also includes original prayers by Lois Rock that touch me deeply.  Here is an example:

“Lord Jesus, who died upon the cross:

You know this world’s suffering,

You know this world’s sorrowing,

You know this world’s dying.

In your name, Lord Jesus, who rose again:

I will work for this world’s healing,

I will work for this world’s rejoicing,

I will work for this world’s living.”

Many of the prayers in this book could be used liturgically with little, if any, adaptation.

Here is another of my favorites:

“God does not neglect the poor

and neither will I;

God does not ignore their suffering

and neither will I;

God does not turn away from them

and neither will I;

God answers them when they call for help

and so will I.”

I commend this beautiful, thoughtfully illustrated book to you.

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