The Status Quo Is Killing Us

The Status Quo Is Killing Us

Sermon for Transfiguration of Our Lord – Mark 9:2-9

The Transfiguration is a weird little story. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John for a hike up a high mountain. Then suddenly Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. His clothes became dazzling white. They see Moses and Elijah having some kind of secret conversation with Jesus. I’m not sure exactly how they recognize Moses and Elijah versus anyone else from the Old Testament, but they do. Now, Mark makes clear this is a terrifying sight. The disciples fear for their lives. These supernatural visions are always terrifying. Think about every time an angel appears. What’s the first thing they say? Be not afraid. Like we could even do that on command. And Peter who’s always ready to speak right up has no idea what to say, so he starts babbling. “Rabbi, this is good. Let’s make tents for the three of you.” Does that really make sense? Then a cloud overshadows them and they hear, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Then suddenly it all vanishes and they just see plain old Jesus again. They go down the mountain and Jesus orders them to keep everything secret.

What do we do with this reading? Some folks suggest this is like a mountaintop experience, where Peter sees Jesus in shimmering robes, and Elijah and Moses the patriarchs we all know and love, so he wants to stay there forever. I get that. Awesome spiritual highs are great and we all hate going back to the same old grind. But, the disciples were terrified, so I’m not sure that fits….

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Astronauts, Isaiah, and the God of Creation – Getting the Big Picture

Astronauts, Isaiah, and the God of Creation – Getting the Big Picture

Sermon for 5th Sunday after Epiphany – Isaiah 40:21-31 & Mark 1:29-39

Are you a “big picture” kind of person, or do you obsess over details like me? At my job, I have to do a lot of strategic planning for the products we make. What’s important, what’s not important, how much can we get done this quarter without killing ourselves. But I also have this reputation for digging into a problem and trying to analyze every little thing in painful detail. My colleagues like to joke about it, but what I’ve probably done is train them to not read my e-mails. Except the problem is that then I don’t get much done, and I really lose track of what I’m doing. I get lost and discouraged. It’s a horrible feeling.

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Sometimes You Might Be a Prophet, and Sometimes You Might Just Be a Jerk

Sometimes You Might Be a Prophet, and Sometimes You Might Just Be a Jerk

Sermon for 4th Sunday after Epiphany – Deuteronomy 18:15-20 & Mark 1:21-28

I remember back when I was in seminary, one of my favorite Old Testament professors preached a sermon about Jeremiah. I don’t remember exactly what she was preaching, but I do remember her talking about how prophets don’t often seem like particularly friendly people. Usually angry. And I remember her saying, “Sometimes you might be a prophet, and sometimes you might just be a jerk.” That’s always stuck with me, because when I picture a prophet, I picture some weird guy with scraggly hair, standing on a street corner, with a megaphone and a sandwich board saying we’re all going to hell. Of course, they say you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but I guess they didn’t get that memo. But, it always reminds me of a question – how do you know whether someone’s really a prophet?

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Don’t Write Off Nineveh Yet….

Don’t Write Off Nineveh Yet….

Sermon for 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Jonah 3:1-5,10

So today we have the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet. God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and cry out against its wickedness.” What does Jonah do? He runs away. He hops a ship going to Tarsish so he can hide from God. Which is odd, because he knows you can’t hide from God. The creator of the universe can’t see me if I put my hands over my eyes? But we don’t make awesome decisions when we’re scared to death, so we shouldn’t really judge Jonah. Besides, God’s calling him to prophesy to Nineveh. How intimidating is that? Nineveh is huge! Do the math. Three days to walk across (3mph * 16h * 3d = 144 miles diameter). Want to walk to Cincinnati? That’s a lot of neighborhoods and a lot of fire and brimstone sermons that no one wants to hear. No wonder Jonah runs. Who wouldn’t?

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Unity without Repentance Is Just Denial

Unity without Repentance Is Just Denial

Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany – 1 Samuel 3:1-20

Have you ever God call you? What was it like? Some folks have pretty interesting stories, like angels singing and wild visions. Others feel like they’ve heard God call in totally ordinary, mundane things. I remember the first time I heard God call. I was at a theological conference of all things. I wasn’t in candidacy or anything yet. Just a casual churchgoer. I remember having a great time. At the end of the weekend, we were standing around a room doing a closing prayer, and it suddenly hit me – “Wait a minute! I’m not ready to leave! These are the folks I’m supposed to be working with! This is what I’m supposed to be doing!” And lo and behold, here I am….

Our Old Testament reading gives us another kind of call story. God calls the prophet Samuel. But to understand Samuel’s call, it’s important to remember where Samuel comes from. It starts with Elkanah and his two wives Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah bears children but Hannah is barren. “The Lord had closed her womb.” Now, Elkanah is a dutiful husband to Peninnah and father for their kids, but it’s no secret how much he loves Hannah, and Peninnah resents it. So Peninnah bullies Hannah upside and down. Torments her. Treats her like trash. What kind of woman can’t bear children? For years this goes on and what does that do to a person? All she can do is weep. Can’t eat, can’t sleep.

So Hannah goes to the temple and weeps bitterly as she prays in desperation. “If only you would look on the misery of your servant and remember me.” It’s a miracle she prays at all. She feels completely forgotten by God. “Give me a child, and I swear to give him to you as a Nazirite until the day of his death.” Now, that’s strong. That’s a holy order. She’d be giving him up to live his whole life in the temple. But whatever it takes.

Now while she’s weeping and praying her heart out to God, the temple priest Eli is watching. He thinks she’s drunk. So he yells out “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself?” But Hannah pulls herself together just enough to say “No, my lord, I’m not drunk. I’ve been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard me as a worthless woman.” Now, Eli is kind of a jerk, but he does one thing right. He bestows God’s blessing upon her. And indeed, she conceives and gives birth to her son Samuel. She even keeps her promise to God. Once Samuel is weaned, she takes him to the temple and leaves him there for the Lord.

Now, I know that’s not in our readings this morning, but we need to remember it in order to understand why God calls Samuel. We hear that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” God’s been pretty silent for a while. See, Israel is full of political and social chaos. Israelites brutalizing each other. It’s a bad scene. So maybe the prayer of this one righteous woman so surprises God that God sets something new in motion. Fast forward. Samuel’s living at the temple and serving Eli the priest. But it’s messed up. Our passage says, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Like going to church your whole life and never hearing about Jesus. What’s Eli been teaching him all this time? But Eli’s old and tired and growing blind, so maybe he’s been checked out for a while. We know what that’s like, right?

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The Epiphany of an Angry Mob, and the Power of the Holy Spirit

The Epiphany of an Angry Mob, and the Power of the Holy Spirit

Sermon for Epiphany – Baptism of Jesus – Mark 1:4-11

Today we kick off our celebration of the season of Epiphany. So, it’s a good idea to unpack what Epiphany actually means. Do any of you know? When we talk about having an epiphany we mean some kind of surprising revelation. If you didn’t know, I’m an engineer. On a good day that means I get to write awesome software that makes folks’ lives easier. That’s why we sign up. But most days I spend figuring out why things are broken, and it’s embarrassing how often it’s my things. It’s hard because the world’s always more complicated than I realize. So I spend a lot of time weeping and gnashing my teeth because I can’t figure out why it’s deleting all your files and crashing your laptop. Good times! But sometimes an epiphany hits me. Out of nowhere, suddenly I can see what I couldn’t see before. Suddenly everything’s different. That’s a good way to think about what epiphany means. It’s that surprise revelation that hits you out of nowhere. Never when you want it, but when you need it the most.

So the season of Epiphany is about two things. One is the surprising revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, because who would guess? The other is that Jesus comes to Jews AND gentiles. A star leads wise men from the east to bring gifts and pay homage to Jesus. God’s not just for the chosen few anymore. No more us versus them. Suddenly we’re all children of God. Surprise! Today we’ve got the story of Jesus’ baptism, and it surprises a lot of folks. Isn’t Jesus God? Why does he need to be baptized?

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Friends, Arise and Shine, for Your Light Has Come!

Friends, Arise and Shine, for Your Light Has Come!

Sermon for 2nd Week of Christmas – John 1:1-18

Welcome to 2021! We made it! What do we love to do on a new year? Make resolutions. New beginnings. Start new habits. Get our act together. Did you make a resolution? Me, I started walking. Though it’s not actually a resolution. I started a few weeks ago. But, for some reason, it’s really hard for me to just start something new. I have to make it a habit, where it becomes this automatic thing that just happens. So I don’t usually make resolutions because I’m such a creature of habit. Can you relate to that? Not that we want to believe it about ourselves.

New beginnings are the theme of our gospel reading for today. That’s really what Christmas is all about. God finally made good on all those promises that Isaiah prophesied. God sent a Messiah to make things right between us and God. But not the way we expected. We were expecting a real hard-charger to raise an army and wage some kind of holy war to depose the powerful and raise the lowly. But what we got was a baby born in a manger. Vulnerable and innocent. God really knows how to catch us by surprise. Talk about a new beginning! But it’s so new that we need someone to unpack it for us. So John obliges….

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Not the Merry Christmas We Want, but the Merry Christmas that We Desperately Need to Hear Right Now

Not the Merry Christmas We Want, but the Merry Christmas that We Desperately Need to Hear Right Now

Sermon for 1st Week of Christmas – Luke 2:22-40

Merry Christmas! Does it feel like Christmas, though? I have a friend caught up in nostalgia right now. On Facebook he’s been posting photos of these ugly plastic ornaments from his childhood. Bits and pieces missing. Tape holding barely holding together the pieces. It’s nothing beautiful, but they still give him a lot of comfort. It’s funny how these kinds of rituals give us comfort when nothing else wants to go right. Rituals are powerful stuff.

Today’s gospel reading is all about rituals. Joseph and Mary bring baby Jesus to the temple for the ritual of purification. Now remember, this little family has walked such a hard road. The unexplained pregnancy, the scandal of that, the moving from place to place, their poverty and uncertainty. Yet here they are. Presenting their baby to the Lord. Somehow they even managed to get the turtledoves for sacrifice. It’s not perfect. It’s a second-rate offering. But they can’t afford a lamb, so they do the best they can, and maybe things can be just normal enough for a minute. Do you think they’re sick to death of surprises? Maybe this will give them a little comfort, like how our rituals comfort us.

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Waiting for Some Good News

Waiting for Some Good News

Reflection for Advent 2 – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Are you waiting for some good news?

In this Advent season, we’ve been reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. In our first week, we heard Isaiah cry out to God to “tear open the heavens and come down,” and we reflected on those times when we reach the end of our rope, and cry out to God, “why won’t you do something?” Last week, we heard Isaiah tell of a voice crying out “prepare the way of the Lord,” and we reflected on what that means and who’s called to do it. This week, we hear Isaiah telling us about God calling him to “bring good news to the oppressed.” So, we might ask ourselves, “are we waiting for good news?”

A lot of folks I know are waiting for good news. Some friends have lost jobs that were cut because of Covid restrictions or companies going out of business, and they’re looking for new opportunities. I hear folks in the neighborhood asking for referrals to get food and bill assistance because they’ve never needed help before. Other friends have been sick with Covid and want to know when their symptoms are going to subside. Some folks are anxiously waiting to hear that their loved ones can finally be moved out of intensive care, and aren’t allowed to visit. Though our situations may be different, in one way or another, I think we’re all waiting for some kind of good news. What kind of good news are you waiting for?

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