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If Jesus is the door, then the church is called to be the doorway to the door.
The Open Door
A Sermon on John 10:1-10, Acts 2:42-47, and Psalm 23
Thank goodness Jesus found him. In John 9, as soon as Jesus heard what had happened to the man he had healed, Jesus went to find him. Instead of rejoicing that he was healed, the religious authorities had kicked the man out of the fold. They slammed the door behind him. That’s like being kicked out of your home church. Where should he turn now? Jesus found him and answered that question. Jesus, the good shepherd, welcomed this sheep into his own fold.
Those who had appointed themselves to be God’s gatekeepers were more interested in keeping the wrong people out—namely the unworthy, the sinful, people who didn’t keep God’s law the way the Pharisees decreed they should be kept—these gatekeepers were more interested in keeping people out than they were in welcoming people into God’s fold.
The human heart longs for a sheepfold, a safe place. No wonder Psalm 23 is read at so many bedsides and gravesides. Images of rich green pastures and still water, images of a cup running over and a table piled high, promise safety and sustenance. The fearful long for safety. The hungry long for the table. Alone and isolated, people long for a community, a place to belong, where the people know your name, and they’re always glad you came. Thank goodness Jesus found the man wandering outside the synagogue, and welcomed him home.
Jesus says, “I am the door. I am the way. This way to life, and life abundant. This way into the sheepfold. This way to the table.”
But there is no shortage of other voices calling, “Come this way—this way to the good life. This way to fulfillment. This way out of loneliness.” (more…)
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Entrenching oneself in absolute certainty is a sure-fire way to fend off fresh encounters with the living God…Here’s a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A:
An Eye-Opening Experience
A Sermon on John 9
We are born into this world equipped with adjustable lenses in our eyes. Depending on what we look at, our lenses thin out or get thicker so that the eye can focus more clearly. What often happens, or even what usually happens is that as our eyes get some age on them, the lenses start losing their flexibility, and they can’t adjust as well any more. So folks start holding the newspaper out farther and farther trying to see it clearly, or they do what I’m doing which is adjust the position of their glasses according to the task at hand. No question about it: it’s time to go to the eye doctor.
That’s what was wrong with the synagogue leaders in our scripture today. That’s what was going on with their spiritual lenses. They had gotten so stuck on seeing God and God’s will one particular way that they resisted Jesus’ new message from God. Their spiritual lenses were hard and rigid. They either couldn’t adjust, or didn’t want to adjust, or maybe both. Jesus diagnosed the problem as blindness.
That diagnosis seems obvious to us. When Jesus gave the gift of physical sight to a man who had been born blind, you would think that the whole town would rejoice and give thanks to God. You’d think they’d be eager to know Jesus and listen to everything he had to say.
But no! Instead of erupting in joy and thanksgiving, the whole town erupted in arguments. The man’s neighbors doubted what they saw. This man must be an imposter, some said. He can’t be the same man who was born blind. As we heard in the lesson, the man had to insist again and again to people who had known him all his life, “Look! It is me! This man Jesus made mud packs, put them on my eyes, sent me to wash in the pool of Siloam, and I did. And now I can see!”
Instead of recognizing the presence and power of God, the religious leaders argued with the man about Jesus. “Jesus isn’t from God,” they insisted. “He can’t be! He broke the law! He worked on the Sabbath. That makes him a sinner. If he really were from God, he would keep the law. Now don’t you go following him. If you do, we are going to kick you out of the congregation.” (more…)
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The Common Cup
A Sermon on John 4 and Ephesians 2
Jesus’ disciples were shocked to see him conversing with a woman in public. It just wasn’t done. Jewish men did not speak to women in public, unless they were immediate family members. And even then they kept the conversation to a minimum. Jesus’ disciples would have been even more shocked if they had heard him ask to drink from the woman’s water jar.
It was challenge enough that he had taken them into Samaritan territory. Like people now wishing to avoid going through a bad neighborhood, most Jews were willing to detour way out of the way in order to avoid going through Samaria on the way to Galilee. But not Jesus. John says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. And any time scripture says Jesus had to do something, it really means he had to do it. He was determined to do it. He was determined to go through Samaria, even though Jews considered that enemy territory.
The hostility between Jews and Samaritans ran deep. It was both racial and religious. Jewish parents taught their children to see Samaritans as half-breeds, impure people that were descended from the remnants of the old northern kingdom of Israel and Assyrians and whatever other nationality the Assyrian empire dumped there way back in the 700s BC. What’s more, Jewish children learned that Samaritan religion was corrupt. Mt. Zion, another name for Jerusalem, is the mountain of God, and that’s where everybody ought to worship God. The Samaritans think Gerizim is God’s mountain. They’re wrong.
Meanwhile, Samaritan children were also learning. “Those Jews are heretics,” their elders taught them. “Their religion is corrupt. Only the five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—truly are sacred scripture. The Jews have added books that ought not to be there. God’s word is clear: Mt. Gerizim is the mountain of God. That’s where people ought to worship. Don’t you children ever forget what those Jews did to us in 128 BC when they destroyed our temple on Mt. Gerizim.”
The pain between Jew and Samaritan ran deep, like that between Israeli and Palestinian, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, Northern Irish Catholic and Northern Irish Protestant, native born citizens and immigrants. (more…)
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Thank heavens there’s no aptitude test you have to pass before you can follow Jesus. You simply start where you are and invite others to do the same. Here’s a sermon for Epiphany 3A.
COME AND SEE
A Sermon on John 1:29-51
With Allusions to Isaiah 42:1-4 and Acts 17:16-34
Time is going by so quickly that it’s not going to be long before some more of our youth will be going off to college. The admissions process will include taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test—the SAT–and Achievement Tests, submitting transcripts of their grades and recommendations from their teachers, and filling out applications with questions like the following: “Discuss some issue of personal, local, national or international concern and its importance to you,” and “Why this college?” Do this in less than one page.
Getting into the college of one’s choice is often a great concern. “Are my grades good enough?” students wonder. Some take special classes to help them do better on the SAT, and it is not unusual for people to retake the SAT several times hoping to improve their score.
Imagine if Jesus had given his prospective students an entrance exam. Today’s gospel lesson might read like this: Andrew, what does baptism mean? Peter, explain the term, “Lamb of God.” Philip and Nathanael, demonstrate your knowledge of Scripture—the law, the prophets and the writings. Bring me references from John the Baptist, the leader of your local synagogue or other teacher. Tell me what you can offer this company of disciples. I want evidence of loyalty and strength.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order has a section that describes what mature Christian discipleship looks like. It’s quite a long list and here is some of what it includes: proclaiming good news, taking part in the common life and worship of the church, praying and studying scripture, responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others, working in the world for peace, justice, freedom and human fulfillment. That’s just some of the list.
Imagine if a congregation turned that into an entrance exam that you have to ace before you can profess your faith, become a disciple, and join the church! Who could get in? Who could ace such a test even after many years of working at it? (more…)
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