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Archive for September, 2015

Stories don’t always have to be big to be good.  They don’t have to be exciting to be powerful.  Here is a sermon inviting disciples and congregations of disciples to point to Jesus by telling the simple, beautiful stories that are ours.  It follows up on the sermon Be Opened, and it celebrates my home congregation’s heritage.

 

Have We Got a Story to Tell!
A Sermon on Exodus 3:7-12, 4:10-13; Romans 10:14-15, with allusions to Mark 7:31-37
Homecoming at Morton Church

At first Moses liked what God was saying. God was saying, “My people are crying out in pain in Egypt, and I’m going to do something about it!” Even though Moses had been living in Midian for decades, he remembered well the horrible abuse the Hebrew people were experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians: unjust working conditions, physical and emotional violence and more. Doggone right something needed to be done! High time! Past time!

“I’ve seen my people’s misery in Egypt,” God was saying, “and I’m going to get them out of there and take them to a good new place.” “Wow!” Moses was thinking.

“ And so…and so,” God continued. I am sending you to Egypt to speak up for me. Tell the people that I know very well what is going on with them. I see how they are suffering. Tell them the good plans I have for them. And tell Pharaoh that I say, ‘Let my people go!’” Then you lead the people to their new home.

Moses was utterly gotten away with. “Who, me?” he exclaimed. What made God think anybody would listen to him? Nobody was going to listen to him. So Moses gave God all sorts of reasons why this was not a good idea. Moses raised a series of objections, ending with one that really was serious. “But I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” Moses objected.

Perhaps Moses simply felt that he wasn’t particularly good at putting words together. But the original Hebrew text there uses a pretty strong word for what ailed Moses. It reads “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,” like there really is some physical difficulty.

Moses probably had a physical problem—perhaps a cleft palate—that meant he had to work really hard to make himself understood. And the reality is, if you have speech related difficulties, people often wonder if your intelligence is intact, and if you really have anything to say. Is it worth the effort to listen.

With substandard speech, who was Moses to be speaking publicly, and in the name of God? No! Just no!

“Lord, please send someone else!”

But when God’s got a job to be done, somebody has to go. Somebody’s got to speak up. Just like Paul said in our epistle lesson today, “How are people going to trust Jesus unless they hear about him? And how are they going to hear unless somebody tells them the good news? Somebody’s got to tell the story.”

Often people think that telling the story of Jesus is a job for someone else, and for reasons a lot like Moses’ reasons. They feel inadequate. Surely somebody else can do a much better job. What about a trained professional?

Maybe it’s partly a hearing problem, as we were talking about last Sunday. Last week we noted that you have to hear and repeat words in order to be able to speak them. Hearing and speaking go together. To speak the word of Christ’s love to others, we must first hear it—hear it deep down in our souls, and let it heal us.

Or maybe it’s that we aren’t sure we have a story to tell, not an interesting story, anyway. Not a powerful, riveting story like Paul’s story, where the light of God literally knocked him down and turned him completely around. How can we be effective witnesses unless we have something big and exciting to share? Who’s going to listen to us? (more…)

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Be Opened!

Here is a sermon about Jesus’ power to open the innermost ears of our souls to hear the good news of God’s love, and then to open our mouths–and lives–to share that good news.

Be Opened
A Sermon on Mark 7:31-37 with allusions to Psalm 51
We don’t know what had gone wrong. We don’t know what caused the man’s hearing loss. It could have been a problem from birth. It might have been the result of ear infections or injury. One overly loud noise is all it takes to cause permanent damage. My father-in-law traces his hearing loss to machine gun practice during basic training after he got drafted. Dad served in the Philippines during the Korean War.

People can experience hearing loss as a blanket of silence, or as the loss of some sounds. Many people that are hard of hearing experience tinnitus—ringing in the ears, phantom sounds ranging from high pitched whistles and hissing to wailing sirens or blaring musical notes. These unreal noises drown out the real sounds that they want to hear. The ringing in my ears sounds so much like the sounds on the hearing test that I often can’t tell if the sound I’m hearing is real or not.

The man in the gospel story had hearing loss, and he also had difficulty speaking. Hearing and speaking go hand in hand. Most people learn to speak by hearing and repeating what they hear. It really is a miracle. When they come into the world infants already recognize and respond to their parents’ voices. When our daughter Laura was a year old, we saw very clearly that she was well on her way to learning how to talk. One night she came downstairs after my mother had given her a bath, and I said in a sing-songy voice, “Hi, clean girl!” And Laura imitated my exact intonation: aye een irl! It was only missing some of the consonants.

Ordinarily children are born able to hear and imitate the sounds of all languages. The sounds they hear and repeat get reinforced, and the ability to make the sounds they don’t hear falls away. After a while it gets so that what you don’t hear, you can’t hear. That is why it is much harder to learn to hear and speak another language later in life.

Children learn to hear and reproduce music in the same way. And that is why we encourage babies and toddlers and their caregivers to participate in Music for Little Friends, our children’s music classes. It develops their musical ears and their ability to make music.

What children hear—or don’t hear—matters. And what they hear from the adults in their lives is incredibly powerful. I recently read a story about a little girl who was born very prematurely, and the medical personnel were pretty sure she would die within minutes of birth. The parents wouldn’t let them take her away. The parents insisted on holding their daughter and talking to her for however long she was alive. The nurses left them alone, and they held their baby. They looked her in the face, and the mother softly crooned over and over, “We’re so glad you are in the world. We’re so glad you’re here. We are so glad God gave you to us.” Immediately the child’s heart rate improved, and after a while it became apparent that she was not going to die

When I read that, I thought about how every child needs to hear that message, and about what happens when children don’t hear those words in some form. They might get so they can’t hear those words, or can only hear them after a major breakthrough.

Because we don’t just hear with our ears. We hear with our hearts and our souls, too. (more…)

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