Monday, July 16, 2018

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:19-21 and based on the movie A Christmas Story:

Today we continue looking at what some of the great films of Christmas can teach us about our faith tackling the ideas that come to us from one of my favorite Christmas moves, A Christmas Story. Now, last week I said that this was one of my favorite movies, and after worship my daughter Abigail said, “how can this be one of your favorite movies if you never watch it.” To which I had to replay, “well it’s one of my favorites, but mommy doesn’t like it at all, and so I don’t get to watch it.” And that’s true even though every year TBS shows this film for twenty-four hours straight, which I don’t think can be said for any other Christmas movie. Now, one thing in Linda’s defense, and that is that she does allow me to watch Hallmark Christmas movies, even way outside of the Christmas season, and for that I am grateful.

A Christmas Story for those poor unfortunate souls who have never seen the film, tells the story of Ralphie who is obsessed with wanting to receive a bb gun for Christmas, but not just any bb gun, but the holy grail of Christmas gifts, a Red Rider Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model with compass in the stock and a thing that tells time. The film takes place in 1940 in Indiana, and is narrated by Ralphie’s much older self, looking back on the events of this particular Christmas. It’s based upon a novel by Jean Sheppard, who actually is the narrator of the film, and Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley who many of you also know as Messy Marvin from the old Hershey Syrup commercials, which really begins to date us. As an aside, Billingsley is an alum of Phoenix College, as am I, so we have something in common, and he also escaped the curse of childhood actors and is now an Emmy nominated producer and director, including producing the Iron Man films which were directed by Jon Favreau, who directed the movie Elf, which we talked about last week, and so there’s another connection too.

But Ralphie goes to extraordinary lengths to try and convince others to try and get him his red rider gun, but before we delve into that, there is one other key place to start with A Christmas Story. We all like to think that we know a lot, and that can often get us into some tough spots, and so one of the rules of faith and life, is to know when to back down when you in fact don’t know what you’re talking about, take a look… Now that really doesn’t have anything to do with my message for today, but the triple dog dare ya scene is so famous, and so funny, that I just had to include it. So, learn your lesson that before you go spouting off about something for which you don’t know anything about, remember it can get you into a situation you would rather not be in, like with your tongue stuck to a pole.

Monday, July 9, 2018

I Love You. I Love You! I LOVE YOU!

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 15:1-10 and based on the movie Elf:

Today we begin a new worship series entitled Christmas in July, looking at some of the great Christmas films and what they can teach us about faith, and we begin today with the movie Elf. This is the newest film we will see, coming out in 2003, and it has already become a Christmas classic for many people, largely because of the goofy portrayal of buddy the elf, played by Will Ferrell. Now if you haven’t seen the film before, I do want to warn you that it does have some sophomoric humor in it, and just as an aside, why do we call it sophomoric humor? Why not freshman humor or senior humor? And if it’s sophomoric because it’s juvenile, that perhaps kindergartenmoric would be better. But I digress.

Although Buddy is raised as an elf, at the north pole, he actually isn’t an elf. When Santa, played by Ed Asner, comes to the orphanage where he goes after his mother dies, Buddy climbs into Santa’s bag and is taken to the north pole, but they aren’t sure what to do with him, and so papa elf, played by Bob Newhart, adopts him as his own and raises him up to be an elf. Except, Buddy doesn’t belong. Not only does he not fit in because of his size, but more importantly he’s just not good at doing any of the things that elves do, like make toys. Buddy tries he best and he puts his heart into it, but he just can’t seem to find his place amongst the other eleves. And so, Papa Elf decides to tell Buddy the truth that he is not really an elf, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to him, and yet in his naiveté, which is one of his redeeming characteristics, it does. Buddy is then told that his real father lives in “the magical land called New York City,” and that his father never even knew he was born. But even worse is that his father is on the naughty list, and so Buddy sets out and travels through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, then through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel and he enters New York, the city so nice they named it twice. But if he thought he didn’t belong at the north pole, it’s even worse in New York where his kindness and generosity and joy contrast with the gritty reality of the adults around him, especially his father. But he loves his father, and he wants to redeem him and be in relationship with him, but his father keeps rejecting him, until he is called on to save Buddy and to save Christmas after Santa’ sleigh crashes because of a lack of Christmas spirit. But for our purposes today, I want to explore the three rules of Christmas that the elves have and what they teach us about how to live as disciples of Christ.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Here I Am To Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Revelation 7:9-17 and John 4:19-26:

There is a Baptist church on Louisiana, and their sign says, “Church like it used to be,” and I’ve always wondered by what they really mean by that.One of the 12 different churches that I attended over the past month was the Greek Orthodox Church here in Albuquerque. As we were listening to what is known as the Divine Liturgy, which, other than now being sung in English, although there was also some Greek, that liturgy has been used nearly every week for the past 1500 years or so. But, I don’t really think that is what that Baptist church is referring to when they talk about the way church the way it used to But, even within the Orthodox church, let alone the western tradition, one of the constants about worship is change. The chair arrangement this morning is one of the oldest ways we know that people gathered for worship. Pews as we think of them didn’t arrive in churches until the 14th and 15th centuries. But seeing people across from you is very different, and creates a different worship experience, then everyone facing forward.

In the 12 churches I saw, there were a large range of worship styles and patterns, although some of them were remarkably similar, I think there must be some magazine that gets published that says what to do, especially when it comes to the sound of the band. I don’t know what I was expecting or maybe even hoping to find in other churches, besides just seeing what others were doing. The only thing I was disappointed about was that I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a walk-up song for when I come up to do the sermon, like baseball players do, and if another church was doing it then I could start it here. But, you can all be relieved that no one was doing that, and so I’ll continue to live without walk-up music. The better news is that in seeing what other people are doing, I came away with an even better feeling about the worship services we do every week, especially when compared against the churches immediately around us. But, I also came away with some ways that I think we can make worship better and connect it better to who we are and what we do, and much of that has to do with the very nature of worship itself.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Resurrection of the Church

Here is my sermon for Pentecost Sunday. The text was Acts 2:1-21:

I want to start this morning telling you the story of a church that I know of, that some of you have probably heard about as well. It was founded by a fairly charismatic minister, who was known to preach good sermons. They didn’t have a permanent home where they met, but instead met where they could, and while they would get higher than normal attendance on the big holidays, sometimes more than a hundred, their normal attendance was in the twenties, although there were only around a dozen who could be counted on to be there all the time. Just as soon as it seemed like they were moving in the right direction, that they were about to see some huge growth, people would decide that this wasn’t the right church for them because it challenged what they had been taught as children, or it just wasn’t big enough, or stable enough, or it was too challenging, or they couldn’t be anonymous, or too much was required, or whatever the reason was, they just decided it wasn’t for them. But they did all the right things, although some of them were a little unusual, but it just didn’t seem like they were ever going to be bigger than they were. And then their pastor suddenly died, and no one knew what was going to happen, because one of the things that happens when charismatic leaders die is that their movements tend to quickly dissipate, unless another leader steps into the void, and it wasn’t clear that any of the members of this church had the skills or graces or ability to fill that hole. And so the members of the church gathered together, and they worshipped and prayed, but they didn’t know what their future held, and they were a little scared and a little nervous and a little anxious and timid, they hoped something might happen with their little church, they loved it after all, and while the people weren’t perfect, and there was some conflict, over all it was a good place to be, and they didn’t want to find another place to go, and so they gathered together into a room to discuss what they should do, to hold the dreaded all church meeting, and then something miraculous happened.

Does anyone want to take a guess as to what church this was, or where this took place? It was the original church with Jesus as its head, although traditionally we would say that there was not, in fact, a church yet, because today, Pentecost, is seen as the birth of the church. But we forget what the group of was like just 51 days before when they had no idea what was going to happen, and then they encounter the risen Christ, but that still didn’t mean that anything was going to become of this group, and so as we have been talking about resurrection stories, I think it’s important to recognize the resurrection story of the disciples to become the church. According to the author of Luke, who also writes Acts, and we should see them as a complete whole, Jesus has spent the time after the resurrection, until his ascension into heaven, which we recognized on Thursday. I know all of you had ascension parties, right? He has spent that time instructing the disciples, and one of the things he has said to them was that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and when they received the Holy Spirit they would receive what? Power.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Resurrection: Adoption

Here is my sermon from Mother's Day. The texts were Galatians 3:25-4:7 and Exodus 1:22-2:10. If you would like to see the testimonies given, please view the video on our Youtube page.

This past week I was at a conference center located right on the shore of Lake Tahoe. The lake, which is beautiful, played a significant role in human populations from the time of native Americans coming to the area on to the present, which is not really surprising, because water is obviously important to us as humans for survival. So perhaps it’s not surprising that according to the national institute of health, that 50% of the population on the earth live within 3 kilometers of freshwater, and only 10% of the worlds population lives more than 10 kilometers away. That’s true even with the increasing urbanization of the population, because the majority of large cities are also close to water. That was just as true in Egypt, and the Nile River played a crucial role in the life and activities of the people. While water can bring destruction and death, as see in storms and flooding, water is seen as a giver and protector of life, and so the Pharaoh’s instruction at the beginning of the book of Exodus to have male Hebrew children thrown into the Nile to drown stands in strong contrast to how the Nile was seen. Rather than being a source of life, he wants to make it, to turn it into, a source of death, but his actions are thwarted by four women.

Now perhaps that is not surprising that it is women who choose to protect life, and to even keep the water as a symbol and source of life. Even more striking, or important, is that other than the instruction from the Pharaoh handed down that all Hebrew male children are to be killed, there are no adult males in this story of Moses, and the fact that women play such a prominent role is not because this is a birth story. In fact, the story of Moses’ birth is just half a verse, half a sentence. It’s the role the women play in saving a life, in direct contradiction to the edict laid down the by the pharaoh himself. They are counteracting the rule which would distort the purpose of the Nile, the meaning of the Nile, to bring about death, rather than life. And so, Moses’ mother, who is not named, although Moses is not actually named yet either, makes a basket that is covered in bitumen and pitch, so that it will be waterproof. The Hebrew word translated here as basket, is the same word used to refer to Noah’s ark, and so we are called to see that this is a new form of salvation taking place here. Then the mother takes the basket, the ark, and places it amongst the reeds in the Nile. Now later when Moses will lead the Egyptians out of slavery, contrary to popular opinion, and some translations, he leads them not across the Red Sea, but across the Reed Sea. Again, we are called to see the story of the Israelites, of salvation, of freedom, of life, being played out here in this initial story of Moses.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Resurrection: Homelessness

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 14:23-27. To see the testimony given, please visit our Youtube page and watch the message.

One of the great things about baseball, and one of the reasons it’s a far superior sport, is that involves home. On offense, you start out at home plate, and it even looks like a house, but then you make your way out onto the bases, if you’re lucky, or good, but it’s dangerous out on the bases as there are people trying to get you out, and the original rules of baseball had the defense throwing the ball at the batter, soaking them was the term, in order to get them out. But, it’s dangerous out there, and your goal is to get back home, and to be safe, to be safe at home, and isn’t that much more like life? It’s certainly the story we also see witnessed throughout scripture, from beginning to end. It’s the expulsion from the garden of Eden, and even the angel guards to keep Adam and Eve from going back to what had been their home. It’s Abraham leaving what was his home, to go to the promised land. It’s the escape from Egypt, seeking to return home. It’s the exile into Babylon and the desire to return home. It’s the prodigal son leaving home and then seeking to return, and that’s to name just a few of the stories in scripture that surround the loss of home, or the search for home, and then there is even Jesus himself saying that the son of man has no place to lay his head.

Now we know that there were times that Jesus was living without a roof over his head, but there were other times when he was sleeping inside, including when he makes this comment about not having a place to lay his head as they had just been in Peter’s house. But there is a difference between having a place to stay and having a home. You can be homeless and still have a place to stay. I was hoping to get the testimony of a member of the congregation who lost their job and was homeless for a while, even though they always had a place to stay, but it was not their place. They were couch surfing, as its sometimes called, and were technically homeless, but our schedules couldn’t match up to make it happen. But it happens a lot. Many of the people we see on street corners are homeless, even if they might have a place to sleep that night.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Resurrection: Imprisonment

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Acts 16:25-34. To see the testimony given, please visit our Youtube page and view the video.

There was a post on Facebook this week, which is the modern source for all good wisdom, but woman posted that she was driving behind someone who had a sign in their back window that said they were learning to drive a stick, and asked for patience in allowing them to make mistakes. For those who have driven a stick, you might remember how difficult it was to get right when you started. So, she said she was very patient in being stuck behind them, but them wondered if she would have been as patient if they sign hadn’t been there. The answer was for her, as it probably is for most of us, no. But, it reminded her that if everyone wore a sign saying what we are dealing with and asking for patience, that we would probably be more patient with everyone around us, and they with us as well. I have thought that same thing as I have been working through this series on resurrection stories as I hear, and you hear, the stories people have to tell, and remember that other people in the congregation, and in our lives are dealing with exactly the same thing, we just don’t know that’s happening. We all need to be a little more patient with each other.

But what we didn’t hear is that just before today’s passage, and what leads to Paul and Silas ending up in prison is actually a lack of patience on Paul’s part. As they enter the city of Philippi, a slave girl runs up and announces them as slaves of the most high God who proclaim the way of salvation. Now this slave girl is also a fortune teller, and apparently a pretty good one because we are told that she makes her owners lots of money. After following Paul and Silas around for a few days continuing to cry out who they were, we are told that Paul was very much annoyed, and turned to her and cast out the spirit that gave her the ability to tell fortunes. Now we might wonder why Paul was more concerned that she was possessed than that she was a possession, but that’s an issue for another day. But the girl’s owners get upset that she is now no longer able to make them money, and so bring Paul and Silas to the magistrates for disturbing the peace and trying to overturn Roman customs. The magistrates them have them flogged and thrown into prison, and the prison guard is ordered to keep them securely. Now I need three volunteers to help me for a moment. Two of you are going to be prison guards, and your job is to keep them secured, not to let them get out of prison… now who is imprisoned in this story? It turns out that you don’t need to be behind bars to be imprisoned, that we can live in prisons of our own creation, or creations that others would like to put us in. And so that is part of our story for today as we hear the stories of some being caught in prison….

Monday, April 16, 2018

Resurrection: Mental Illness

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 5:1-20. To see the testimony given, please visit our Youtube page.

Last week in the parable of the prodigal son, the son goes off to a gentile area where he does his dissolute living, which means it’s a land of impurity, and just to emphasize this fact, we are told that he ends up tending to pigs, which is one of the ultimate humiliations for any Jew because it means that they will remain ceremonially or religiously unclean all the time. That plays an important role then in the son’s restoration into the father’s house. Today’s passage is also about ritual impurity, but more importantly about Jesus’ reaction to it. Jesus has crossed the sea of Galilee into gentile territory. On the way there, a storm strikes the sea and the disciples are terrified, but Jesus is sleeping through it, until they wake him up and Jesus calms the storm, which amazes everyone because not only is Jesus able to overcome the forces of nature, but more importantly water was seen as a sign of chaos, and so Jesus’ calming the storm is the first sign of what he is able to overcome. Just as the miracles of healing the woman with the issue of blood and raising Jairus’ daughter immediately after today’s miracle are also crucial for showing his power and dealing with things that were said to be unclean.

So, he goes to the area around the town of Gerasene where he immediately encounters the man known as the Gerasene demoniac. But, Mark also wants us to be very clear about this man in relation to rules of Judaism. So, he is in a gentile land, unclean, he lives among the tombs, which is pointed out three different times, unclean, and he lives near pigs, unclean. But, the man is not only surrounded by uncleanness, he is also said to be possessed by demons, which means he is “utterly and completely alienated by God.” Everything tells us that this is not the person anyone who is religious is going to come near, nor can he approach God. He is as far from God as you can possibly get. He is also separated from society itself, which is why he lives not in the town, but in the graveyard outside of town. The best modern analogy is that the man is like a homeless man we might encounter who is walking down the street ranting and raving, perhaps not even saying words that make any sense, the man who makes us want to cross the street, or maybe even go to another street because we’re not sure what to do and we’re not sure what he will do. And neither did the people because they had tried to contain him with chains, which was to keep him from hurting himself, as we are told that he is hurting himself, and so finally it seems they had just given up. There was nothing they could do to contain or control him. He is the one that no one wants to talk about, that we wish would just go away, and is clearly separated from God.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Resurrection: Adiction

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 15:11-24. To hear the testimony, please go to our Youtube page to see the video.

Today we begin a new sermon series entitled resurrections stories, looking for times in scripture in which people have been changed, but also hearing stories of resurrection from within our own congregation when possible, and so I thought it perhaps appropriate to begin with a story of resurrection of the son who was died but is now alive. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most famous parables that Jesus told, and is one, like the Good Samaritan, that has even crossed over into the secular world as people talk about prodigal sons, or daughters. But the first thing we might look at is whether that is even an appropriate title as it seems to make the story about the younger son, rather than also being about the father or the older brother, whose side of the story we left out in our reading this morning. Not something we are going to answer today, but I invite you to think about that and what changing the title might mean as we interpret this story. But, what we do need to know is the context of what is happening when Jesus tells this parable. At the beginning of chapter 15, we are told “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (15:1-2) so that tells us about whom Jesus is focusing on, and who the parables that follow are told to and about.  And then begins with the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep, where the owners go out and seek to find the lost item and then celebrate for having recovered the one who was lost but is now found, and Jesus says so too is it for those in heaven who rejoice at the one who repents.

And then he begins the parable of the prodigal son, and we know something is wrong right from the start because of the demand made by the younger son, which is to receive his part of his inheritance. What he is basically saying to his father with this request is “I wish you were dead.” It’s clear that this request is not only unusual, but also disrespectful. In fact, a literal translation is of the father’s response is that he divided his life between them. This is the first of many broken relationships that are represented in this story. But for whatever reason, the father gives into his son’s demands, and the son takes what he receives, cashes it all in and then goes off to another land, a gentile land as it turns out, and squanders his money in dissolute living. It’s not clear what this means here, and perhaps it’s intentionally vague. Later, we will hear from the older brother who objects to his father treating his brother so well, that he has squandered the money on prostitutes, although its not clear how the brother would know this information. But the Greek word used here for dissolute living, is used three other times in the New Testament. One time it is related to drunkenness, the second is to rebelliousness and the third is to debauchery, which is a great word because it sounds dirty but you’re not really sure what’s going on. But whatever it is the son is doing, it’s not good, and he wastes all his money at it, and then a famine strikes the land, which only makes his situation worse. To try and survive, the son then finds himself having to work with pigs, which, according to Jewish laws, is an abomination in the eyes of God, although for some reason when Christians talk about abominations this one is left off the list. He is so hungry that he finds himself wanting to eat what the pigs are eating, and unlike his request to his father, no one will give him any assistance, but it reminds us that in dissolute living, we end up doing things that we never imagined we would do.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Greatest Joke God Ever Told

Here is my sermon for Easter. The text was Mark 16:1-8a:

Three men died and are at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first man, "What is Easter?" He replies, "Oh, that's easy! It's the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and are thankful..." St. Peter shakes his head, and proceeds to ask the second man the same question, "What is Easter?"  The second one replies, "Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, texchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus." St. Peter looks at the second man, again shakes his head in disgust, and then peers over his glasses at the third man and asks, "What is Easter?" The third man smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, "I know what Easter is. Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was crucified on a cross and then buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder." St. Peter smiles broadly with delight.  Then the man continues, "Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out...and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter."

The account of Easter that we get in the gospel of Mark is rather brief. When we get to the end, we might think that someone is playing a trick, an April Fool’s joke on us, because we know there is supposed to be more, and we might even ask, “Hey what happened to the ending?” If you look in your Bibles, you will find two different endings after the passages we just heard, with a heading of either the shorter or longer ending. But our earliest and best manuscripts don’t actually have those endings. Instead they end with the women fleeing from the tomb in fear and not telling anyone. Those endings were added later because editors thought that there needed to be more, just as there is in the other gospels. I mean after all, the women did eventually tell someone, and we know that because we are sitting here this morning, and for the first time since 1956 celebrating Easter on April Fool’s Day.