Tag Archives: grace

When I stopped teaching my daughter to fear

spider meme

I’ve killed my fair share of spiders.  I’ve never been one to consciously support stereotypical gender roles, but I fell easily into the role of family spider-getter.  There is a little kind of spider that seems to thrive in our bathroom.  They appear on a pretty regular basis.  With  legspan about the size of a nickel, they are harmless little creatures.  This week, something pretty amazing happened.

“Daddy!” my six-year-old daughter screamed.  “Come quick. There’s a spider.”

At hearing such a cry, most Dads would grab a magazine or tissue.  Instead, I wished I could remember where I had put my magnifying glass.

“It’s so cool,” she said, as she sat and watched it crawl along the wall and spin its web. Mesmerized by the work.

Not too long ago, this scenario would have played out much differently.  When my daughter was much littler, she had no particular fear of spiders, but by the time she was four or five, she was terrified.  Given where our spiders like to hang out, this posed a problem at some very inopportune times.

“Daddy!” She would scream. “I have to go to the bathroom!”  Long potty-trained, I wasn’t sure why she was screaming this at me with such ferocity.  “So?” I would ask.

“There’s a spider in here!”  So I would go in, armed with a tissue, and “take care” of the problem.  I would explain, “These spiders are harmless.  They won’t hurt you.  There’s no reason to be afraid,” as I squashed the little guy into oblivion.

Then I realized something.  My actions and my words were incongruous.  My words were saying, “Fear not.”  But my actions were saying, “This spider must die!”  She heard my actions much louder than my words.  By killing the spider every time I saw one, I was reinforcing the idea that the spider must be eradicated.  It must be feared.  So I did something strange.  I stopped killing them.

“Daddy!” she would scream, “There’s a spider.”  So I would go in, and explain to her that there was nothing to fear.  “That little guy is harmless, I would say.  He eats mosquitoes, which are annoying.  I’m not going hurt him, because he’s not hurting us.”  She was not happy with my decision, but eventually the power of nature’s call would overcome her fear.  As she did what she had to do, she wouldn’t take her eye off the little spider. 

This scenario repeated itself several times over the course of a few months.  Eventually the fear was gone, and it was replaced with curiosity.  Until one day she found herself excited to see a spider.  Well, maybe not excited, but at least intrigued.

Yes, this is a story about my daughter and spiders, but I feel like it is so much more.  Too often, when confronted with something different, our default reaction is fear.  What if, instead of fear, we respond with time, care, and compassion.  When curiosity or empathy replaces fear, maybe there is room for something more, like learning, relationship, and friendship.

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Let no prison hold you

let none hold you

Few of us ever plan on going to prison.  No one wants to spend time in a jail cell.  Yet many of us spend time in one every day.

We spend time in jails built around us.  Sometimes they are barely noticeable.  Like the fish that doesn’t know it is in a fish bowl, or the bird that doesn’t know the world outside the cage, we spend our time in prison.  These are the prisons of injustice.  They are the prisons of systems that keep us from fulfilling our dreams.  They are the walls that are built by those that want to keep others oppressed.  Hope and possibility are kept out, and all that remains is a cycle of despair.

Sometimes we are in prisons that we built ourselves.  We guard our pain and our torment and make sure nothing is able to penetrate the walls we build.  We have been hurt too many times, so we build walls.  We remain in the cell because the outside world is full of pain, and at least inside the cell we have the illusion of safety.  Intimacy and friendship are kept out, and all that remains is superficiality.

Sometimes we are in prisons that have been built for us.  These walls are built by sickness, or by those that hurt us.  Sometimes great wrongs are inflicted upon us.  Sometimes the tragedy is too much to take.  Some say, “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.”  I don’t believe it, because I don’t believe it is always God that is giving it.  Sometimes the pain is just too much, and the walls of the prison are too strong to break free.  Healing and joy are kept out, and all that remains is pain.

In Matthew 11:2-11, we find John the Baptist in prison.  He was imprisoned by a King that did not want to hear the truth.  John spoke the truth to power.  He called for repentance.  He called for a change of heart.  He called upon people to follow the path of righteousness, and he prepared the way for the one that would come.  But he was not imprisoned until he demanded too much of the King.  When he impeded the powerful from having his way, he had to be stopped.  He was kept alive, for awhile, by the will of the people.

John was called the “greatest of all those born of a woman,” by Jesus.  And yet as he was in jail, he wondered.  It can be dangerous to inject too much of our own thoughts into figures in the Bible, but here it is almost impossible not to wonder what John was thinking when he sent a messenger to Jesus.

“Are you the one? Or are we to wait for another?” he asked.

John was in prison, so all he could do was wait.  And yet he wanted to know, “Are you the one?”  Sitting in jail, still alive at the whim of a tyrannical King, looking back at his work, his ministry, and looking forward to a future that was unlikely to have a happy ending, he asked, “Are we to wait for another?”

And likewise I wait.  I wait in my prison.  I wait in the prison of sin that I have built around me.  I wait in the prison of injustice that is all around.  I look to Newtown and Columbine.  I look to the Liberian Civil War and Apartheid South Africa.  I look to violence on the streets of our cities, and violence in the homes our children.  I look to hungry children at the school in my neighborhood, and to the cold families looking for coats at our Wardrobe ministry.  I look into my own heart at the choices I make, the hurts that I cause, and the prisons I build.  I wait and look back at my work, my ministry, and look forward to the future and wonder.  “Are we to wait for another?”

Is the question a sin unto itself?  Maybe.  But at least I know that I’m in good company.  I’ve never felt that doubt is the opposite of faith.  .

So, trapped in our prisons, what do we do?  What is Jesus’ answer?  Of course, Jesus doesn’t give us a straight answer (That is why I think doubt is not an obstacle to faith, but lines the pathway of faith.  If Jesus wanted us to never doubt or question, he would have given us more straight answers.).

Tell John what you have seen,” Jesus says.  Tell John to look beyond his prison walls.  Tell him to look beyond the pain and the heartache and the bleak outlook.  Tell John “that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

This Advent, we still wait.  We wait like John in prison.  Not held in by despair, but looking always outward.  Looking from within our own prisons at the world all around. Waiting and watching with God’s eyes to see the signs.  Waiting is never a fun activity.  We do everything in our power to avoid waiting… for anything.  We fill our time with noise.  We go to restaurants designed to limit waiting as much as possible.  We go to grocery stores where the lines are filled with things to read, and last-minute items to buy.  What are waiting rooms filled with? TVs, magazines, some even check out ipads.

Yet here we are waiting, but not idly.  We are purposefully waiting.  Waiting with eyes open to the love of God that is all around.  We hear one of the Newtown mothers declare “Love wins,” and are left in awe of the power of the human heart to heal. We hear stories like the one Peter Storey tells here, of a woman in South Africa who said to the man that killed her son, “You took my son.  So now you must be mine.”

Advent is a season to wait.  Wait and watch for Christ in our midst.  In a world addicted to instant gratification, the act of purposeful waiting is a revolutionary act.  It is a soul-cleansing act.  We wait with eyes wide open.  We wait with hearts open for Christ, seeking the answers to our questions in the stories of hope and grace.  We wait, seeking  forgiveness.  We do not rush into anything, because you cannot rush something as powerful and painful and precious as forgiveness.

This Advent, we wait like John in prison, who was called to notice the signs all around.  

This Advent, we wait like Mandela in prison, who refused to let the walls hold him.  We wait like Mandela, who transformed his prison into a crucible of learning, organization, and reconciliation.  Who practiced forgiveness even as he was tormented.  Mandela, who befriended white guards who were supposed to hate him, who used their friendship to secretly write his manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom.  Mandela, who wrote in prison, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death” (from A Long Walk to Freedom)

We are called to look beyond the walls of our prison.  Don’t ignore the walls, but do not let them defeat you.  Look beyond the walls, and do not let them contain you.  See the signs of mercy, justice, and love.  See Christ all around – not in holiday decorations or TV specials.  See Christ in the hearts of others.  The prisons made by sin and injustice can feel impenetrable, but there is freedom in Christ.  No prison held Mandela.  No prison held John.  Let none hold you.

Listen to the sermon I preached based on this post

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The strangest of them all

ImagePhyllis Tickle calls it “The most difficult parable of them all.” David Lose calls it “The most confusing parable.”  The New International Version labels it “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.”  The New Revised Standard uses the word “Dishonest” instead of shrewd.  The Common English Bible goes it different direction with the subheading “Faithfulness with Money.”

All parables have an element of strangeness.  That is sort of the point of them.  Jesus uses parables to teach about the Kingdom of God, which is a strange concept.  Forgiveness, compassion, self-sacrifice, these are counter-cultural concepts that take strange stories to understand. Some parables are strange because we don’t understand the cultural weight of words like Levite or Samaritan.  Some parables are strange because of the actions people take (who would plant a weed – one that gets really big – in a garden?) Yet despite the general strangeness of Jesus’ parables, the one found in Luke 16:1-13 seems to be the three-dollar bill.

It is a story of an owner and a manager.  The owner discovers that his manager has been dishonest, fearing that he is going to be fired, the manager decides to do some dealing.  Facing impending unemployment, he decides to make some quick deals so that “people will welcome me in their houses.”  He goes to a few of the owner’s clients and settles their debt at much lower rates.  Collecting about half as much as they owe, the manager figures that the clients will be grateful to him, and treat him well in the future.  The owner finds out about the tactics, and this is where it gets strange.

The owner commends the man for acting “shrewdly” in the NIV and NRSV, “cleverly” in the CEB.  What?  The manager, who was already identified as dishonest, goes about being more dishonest, and the owner praises him?  This one is a tough one to figure out.  Why would the owner praise him?  In most parables, the owner or master is supposed to be God.  Here we seem to have God praising a man that screwed him.  There is only small consolation in remembering that the disciples rarely understood Jesus’ strange stories either.

So what are we left with?  What is the good news?  I think it comes down to the same place that most of Jesus’ strange stories come to: relationships.  At the beginning of the story, we have many strained relationships.  There is a strained employer-employee relationship.  There are debts and debtors.  What are we left with at the end of the story?  Reconciled relationship and cancelled debt.  It makes no sense for the owner to praise someone for cancelling the debts people owed him.  He did not get what was coming to him, and yet he celebrated.

Perhaps a quick scan around the rest of the Gospel of Luke will help lift the fog from this confusing story.  Remember when Jesus taught the disciples to pray? Back in chapter 11, he tells them “Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  What if Jesus actually meant that?  “But wait!” you might be saying, “He wasn’t talking about money.  He was talking about sin, and you know, trespasses (whatever that is supposed to mean).”  All I have to say is, really?  You don’t think Jesus was talking about money?  This is the Gospel of Luke we’re talking about, the one that says “Blessed you that are poor… Blessed are you who are hungry now…” not “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” like the Gospel of Matthew.   It is in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  Later he tells a man to “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me;” (Luke 18:22).  Then he says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God'” (Luke 18:24).

And don’t give me the line about the gate in Jerusalem that was called the “Needle’s Eye” or some such nonsense.  There is no archaeological evidence of this mythical gate.  There are, however, many non-canonical uses of a similar phrase to explain something that is really, really hard.

On Episode 29 of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Eric and I discuss this difficult parable, and the lament found in Jeremiah 8:18-19:1

On Episode 29 of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Eric and I discuss this difficult parable, and the lament found in Jeremiah 8:18-19:1

All of this is to say, maybe Jesus is trying to teach us something about the nature of relationships and money, and our relationships with money.  Perhaps the manager was praised because he put relationships ahead of money.  You could argue that his motivation was less than pure, but in the end, he valued his ability to “be invited into people’s homes” over his ability to please his boss.  And maybe the owner cared more about his manager’s heart than he did about his bottom line.  The Pharisees didn’t get it.  They valued money, and understood that having money was the same as having God’s favor.  Jesus is reminding them that there are things in this world more important than wealth.  Perhaps the level of confusion that this parable stirs is evidence of how remarkably important it really is.  This one blows our mind, because it seems to go against all of our common understanding of fairness.

And that’s just it.  The Kingdom of God has little to do with fairness.  It has little to do with keeping proper ledgers and making sure that everyone gets what is their due.  The Kingdom of God is about relationships.  It is about reconciliation.  It is about forgiving our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  It is not an easy story to hear.  It is sometimes an even harder story to live.  It doesn’t make good economic sense.  Jesus had a funny way of not making  sense.

It doesn’t make sense to plant a weed in a garden.  It doesn’t make sense to ruin a whole vat of flour with some leaven.  It doesn’t make sense to turn your other cheek, throw a party for people that can’t invite you to theirs, leave behind a flock because one sheep strayed, or throw a party for your good-for-nothing son who finally came back home with his tail between his legs.

It doesn’t make sense that God would come to earth and take on flesh.  It doesn’t make sense that God would claim me as his own, or invite me to the Table of Grace.  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would do all he could for a people that responded by nailing him to a cross.  It doesn’t make sense that tomb was empty, or that disciples have been able to experience Christ in the breaking of bread for centuries since he was said to be dead.

This strange parable is a doozie.  It is a challenge.  It is a challenge to look at what cancelling debt really looks like.  It is a challenge to take a close look at how I serve wealth over God.  It is a challenge to look at how I spend money, how I save money, and how I treat others.  It is a strange one, all right.  Maybe that’s how God intended it.

Listen to the Pulpit Fiction Podcast about this parable

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Sermon: Jesus saved a seat

This was my Maundy Thursday sermon this year.  It was largely inspired by an insight I received while watching Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World DVD study.  In it, he asserts that Jesus and Judas must have been sitting next to each other at the last supper.  As the story is told, it was Judas that was seated at a position of honor, even as he was the one that was to betray Jesus.  Knowing Judas’s heart, what did Jesus do? He broke bread with him.  This was an incredible act of grace, and forms the heart of this sermon.

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You are the light of the world.

Part Two of my story of Godspell. Read part one here.

Click here to go to the full sermon, where I talk about our experience with Godspell, called “You are the Light of the World.”  From 11:30-20:00, I talk more extensively about the salt and the light as found in Matthew 5:13-14.

Our Riverside UMC "Godspell" cast

Our Riverside UMC “Godspell” cast

“You are the light of the world,” I sang. And then I went home and reflected on the amazing thing we had just done. Godspell had forever changed me, but in the hours after the show I don’t think I had any idea just how much.

“You are the light of the world,” we all sang. Dino Hayz, director of the Center for Living Arts and our Jesus, went out into the audience. He grabbed someone and had them stand up so we could all sing to that one particular person, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then quickly to another man he dashed. He got him to stand up so we could point to him and sing, “You are the city of God.” Finally, he found one last woman. She was sitting near the back, and we sang one more time, “You are the light of the world.”

It was the last song before intermission. We left the sanctuary rocking. We were half way home, and we all sensed that things were going well. None of our rehearsals suggested that the show would go as smoothly as it had been. At the end of the show, after singing the beautiful refrain “We can build a beautiful city, yes we can. Yes we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels, but finally a city of man,” I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After the show a woman approached me. She told me that she had a great time. She loved the music, and she was so glad she could come. For years, she told me, she had a Playbill from the original Broadway production. She also had an album she had never played. For years she had kind of wondered what Godspell was, and when she saw us in the paper, she decided on a whim to come check it out. I told her how happy I was that she was there, and invited her to come again to worship with us.

The next day I was talking to our head usher about what a great experience the show was. We were marveling at the amount of people that came, and how many people came that were not a part of our church. I told him about the woman I talked to after the show, and he quickly realized that he knew who I was talking about.

“Yeah, I was talking to her at intermission. She seemed like she was looking for something, and I wanted to help her. I saw her and said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ she was one of the people that you guys sang to when Dino got her to stand up.'”
She kind of laughed when I said that,” Tom told me. “And then she said, ‘No one has ever called me that before.'”

I got goosebumps when he told me that, and I thanked Tom for telling me about their exchange. Then I went back into my office and was overwhelmed. Something washed over me that I can only describe as the Holy Spirit as I prayed “Thank you God.” Tears started to flow, and my efforts at standing became feeble. I literally fell to my knees in tears as I was struck at once with an overwhelming sense of awe, wonder, sadness, joy, and purpose. “No one has ever called me that before,” she said.

There were so many moments that made Godspell a memorable experience. If it were not for Tom’s story, I would have counted it as a great memory. I would have remembered the impromptu rehearsals in the kitchen with my wife and daughter as we sang and danced together. I would have remembered Molly gently nudging me into the right place so I was ready to be one of the priests in the Good Samaritan parable. I would have remembered the prayer we shared before the show. I would have remembered hugging Dino during the farewell song, and whispering to him. “Thank you, brother.” With or without that conversation with Tom I would have relished in the glow of accomplishing something as a team.

After hearing the story of the woman that had never been told that she was the light of the world though, I had something more.

“You are the light of the world,” is not just a catchy line in a pretty song in an upbeat musical.
“You are the light of the world,” are Jesus’ words to his followers. They are words from what we call The Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-6. It is a small part of Jesus’ dissertation about what it means to live in this world.

“You are the light of the world.” It is a claim on those that had gathered. It is an assurance of what Jesus’ followers are, and what they shall be.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said so long ago.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus declares today. You.

So let your light so shine. There is a light that is within you that is good. There is a light within you that is of God. There is a light within you that needs to be seen. I think for a moment of the children in this world that have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world, and it breaks my heart. I think for a moment of people stuck in abusive relationships, allowing their light to be crushed, and I want to scream. I think for a moment of youth that want only to hide and be as invisible as possible so as not to draw anyone’s attention, and it kills me to know that they have never been told, “You were created in the very image of God. The light that God created at the very moment of creation. That is in you. Hear Jesus crying to you, ‘You are the light of the world.'”

That little musical gave me a lot of things. It gave me memories. It gave me friendships. It gave me knowledge about myself. And it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. It gave me a way to think about my mission as a follower of Christ.
I will strive to never allow another man, woman, or child pass me by without letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are the light of the world.

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I’ve lost 70 pounds, but I’m still The Fat Pastor

I high-fived my doctor today.  I had my annual physical.  It was a year and a day after stepping on the scale at that same doctor’s office and reading that I weighed 329 pounds.  Today my doctor looked back at what I weighed last year.  When he saw that I today I weighed 259, he gave me a high-five.

I have gone through a transformation in the last year.  I have transformed my habits.  I have transformed my priorities.  In so doing, I have transformed my body.  More than this, I have experienced spiritual transformation.  I pray more.  I study the Bible more.  I have discovered that when I am more disciplined in my eating and exercising, I am also more disciplined as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I am still transforming.  I am striving every day to Love God, Live Well, and Do Good.

I have lost 70 pounds in 366 days, but let me be clear – I am still The Fat Pastor.  For one thing, I am still overweight.  One year ago I was 34% body fat.  Today I am 25% body fat.  That is a great improvement, but it is still too high.  I literally have too much fat on my body.

Yet even if I lose another 70 pounds, have 7% body fat, and can run a marathon in under 3:00:00, there will always be fat that I can trim from my life.  I am, like John Wesley said, moving onward to perfection.  Until I am there, I will be laden with fat.

The difference between fat and fit is choices.  I make fat choices when I choose a mindless television show instead of time in study.  I choose fat when I spend too much time on facebook instead of cultivating relationships.  I choose fat when I refuse to help a neighbor.  I am fat when I objectify a woman.  I am fat when I contribute to an unjust society. I am fat when I forget the needs of the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed.  I am fat when I am blind to racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other way that humans try to divide and separate and subjugate.

I’m trying not to be fat any more.  I’m trying real hard.  I draw strength from the love and support of family and friends.  I draw strength from the encouragement of a remarkable facebook “following.”  I draw strength from the words of the prophets that remind me that God’s love and God’s promise of a new day is something for which we can all strive.  I draw strength from the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.  Above all, I draw strength from the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I draw strength from knowing that it is not my strength on which I must rely.

Jesus said “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

I try to love God.  I worship, and I pray, and I read and listen to God’s Word.  I come to Table of Grace.  I fall down in confession, and I rise up with the Holy Spirit.  I try to live well, because I take seriously the oft-forgotten command to love yourself.  I try to do good, because it is through doing good for others that we best express our love of neighbor.

I am The Fat Pastor.  I’m trying not to be. With God as my strength and my salvation, I will be The Fit Pastor someday.  Until then, I’ll keep on my journey of transformation.  Thank you for going on this journey with me.

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Left: December, 2011.  Middle: June 2012, immediately after first 5K. Right: January 2013.

Left: December, 2011. Middle: June 2012, immediately after first 5K. Right: January 2013.

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Sermon: The prayer we live

The Ancient Celts spoke of "Thin Places," where the distance between the Spiritual world and the material world was thin.  This is an interesting idea, and one I touch upon in this sermon.

The Ancient Celts spoke of “Thin Places,” where the distance between the spiritual world and the material world was thin. This is an interesting idea, and one I touch upon in this sermon.

Full audio of the sermon: The Prayer We Live

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the first things that children are taught in Sunday school.  It has been prayed by the congregation in nearly every worship service I have been a part of.  For many Christians, the words “Our Father” trigger the rest of the prayer to flow easily.  There is power in having the words of Jesus so readily available.  There is also a danger.  The danger is that the power of the words in the Lord’s Prayer can lose their edge.  They can become something that we recite without thought.  That is partly why I love the Common English Bible’s translation of the prayer.  It is different from the prayer that I memorized as a child, and the difference points to something that is important that is sometimes lost.  I’m lucky to have studied with a great pastor who opened up the Lord’s Prayer to me in a powerful way.  The translation of the Common English Bible picks up on this:

When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:7-13, Common English Bible)

“The Lord’s Prayer can’t be just words that we recite.  It is a prayer that we live.  It is one thing to say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but it is an entirely different thing to live the Lord’s Prayer… When you live the Lord’s Prayer, it becomes more than words that you say.  It is the choices you make, the grace you show, the forgiveness you give, and the bread you share.”

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Sermon: Declare that the dawn is coming

Click here for a podcast of the sermon, “Declare that the dawn is coming,” which was preached on December 23, 2012.

Click here for the blog-version of this sermon.

“God has called you to your life.  Let it speak.  Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are.  Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.”  We need no longer fear.  We need no longer hide from God or from each other.  We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes.  We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace.  We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds.  We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible.  We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love.  We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.”

Scripture:

Luke 1:65-79

Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

 

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I only have one sermon.

As you may know, I have started posting sermons on this blog.  It has been a great source of excitement for me because I consider myself a preacher.  I don’t consider myself a great preacher – I just believe that preaching is a deeply-seeded part of who I am.

As I’ve been slowly posting sermons, I have been reflecting on how I can be better.  In this process, I’ve started to get a little worried.  I’m fearful that I’ve been preaching the same thing over and over.  I wonder if I’ve been as creative as possible.  I wonder if I’ve gotten into a rut.  In the midst of this, I was given a gift.

Grace comes in the most amazing of places, from the most amazing of sources.  Today I was given the amazing gift of grace by an 11-year-old girl at a church camp.  A group of five people – three junior high girls, an adult volunteer, and myself – have come to a weekend retreat.  This morning we were gathered for our small group time and we were reflecting on the fact that God not only loves us, but that God likes us.

In the discussion, I directed each of them to say one thing about everyone else that they like.  “I like this about…”  Each person had to simply listen as the four people said one thing they like about that person.  When it was my turn, I was a little reluctant.  Then I received my gift.

“Pastor Robb,” one of the girls said, “I like that when you talk at church – during your what do you call it? sermon?  I like that when you do those you always talk about how God loves us.  You always seem to work it in.  You always make sure we know that God loves us no matter what.”

OK, so maybe I have been a little redundant.  And maybe that’s okay.

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Sermon: And it was still hot

Click here to listen to the sermon: And It Was Still Hot

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First Reading: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Date: Mother’s Day, 2012

Scripture passage:  Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him.  The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “ This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. ”

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.

“ Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life. ”

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