Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let the Word Go Forth

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 23:33-43:

I’m sure the passage we just heard from Luke was probably not what most of you expected to be hearing this morning.  It doesn’t exactly scream out Happy Thanksgiving, nor does it serve to move us into Advent and Christmas.  Instead, this is one of the passages we normally only think of hearing during Holy Week, in preparation for our Easter Celebration.  But we heard this passage today because today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year, and typically on Christ the King Sunday we will hear one of the eschatological passages from the gospels, of passages dealing with the end of times in preparation for Advent.  In some ways today’s passage does that because one of the criminals, given the name Dismas in the 4th century, the other criminals was named Gestas, asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, an eschatological claim.  We also have this passage because it is the moment on the cross, and then more importantly Easter morning which makes us who we are as Christians.  Even though Christmas appears to be a bigger and more important holiday, we are not a Christmas people, we are an Easter people. And so this text also serves as our jumping off point for today’s message which is about proclaiming Jesus to the world, because, as Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, we are to proclaim Christ, and him crucified.

In the United Methodist Church we vow to support this congregation with what?  Prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness.  We have been talking about each of those things to talk about the expectations that the church has for you, that we have for each other, and that we have for the church and its leaders as well. And we conclude by talking about the great commission to go make disciples, an emphasis found in all four of  the gospels, after all they are Matthew, Marketing, Luke and John.  Once we have become disciples of Christ ourselves, we are called to go out and make new disciples, to tell others about Christ.  And it is that issue that makes people nervous.  For many of us, evangelism is one of those scary words.  We don’t want to have anything to do with evangelism, and there are several reasons for this.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Laborer's In The Vineyards

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13:

In 1937 the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer published a book, titled in English, The Cost of Discipleship.  Written against the rise of the Nazis, and Bonhoeffer’s observations of the German church capitulating to the Nazis, the book is an exposition on what discipleship looks like.  One of the most talked about aspects of the work was Bonhoeffer’s distinction between cheap grace and costly grace.  “Cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer said, “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline.  Communion without confession.  Cheap grace is grace with discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”  Bonhoeffer said that it was not enough to ask and receive forgiveness but then to go on living your life exactly as you did before, that was cheap grace.  Instead, he said, “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and contrite heart.  It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden light.’”

As Methodists we understand this through John Wesley’s means of grace, which are prevenient grace, the grace that goes before, God’s grace which is extended to us before we even know of its presence or even of our need, followed by justifying grace, which is when we except Jesus grace and savings acts on our behalf, but then we are moving on to sanctifying grace, we are moving on to perfection.  It’s not enough to simply accept Christ’s actions, and ask for forgiveness, but then never seek to change anything in our lives, to never seek to pick up our cross, how often?  Daily, and move on to perfection.

For the past few weeks we’ve been talking about the membership vows of the United Methodist Church, and the expectations that we should have for each other.  We vow to support this congregation with what?  Our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  You’re getting pretty good at that, and if you get nothing else out of this at least you’ll be able to remember that.  We started with prayer, and the expectation that we will all be praying every day, and that will include praying for this church, for its leaders and for its mission.  Last week we talked about presence and I said that it is my expectation that we will be present for worship every week unless we are out of town, sick or are scheduled to work, and presence will also include attendance in Christian formation activities including small groups and education classes, which we will be working on and talking about in the spring.  We should also have expectations for worship.  We should expect that we will all be here, that we will be giving our best to God; we should expect that we will encounter God and we should expect that we will be transformed by our worship experience together.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Here I Am To Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Psalm 145:1-13, 21:

At the end of the book of Genesis we are told that after Joseph’s death, and Joseph of course looked amazingly just like Donny Osmond with his amazing Technicolor dream coat, after his death that the Pharaohs forgot about him and what he had done and as a result what did they do to the Israelites? They got made slaves, which then brings Moses onto the scene, who looks just like Charlton Heston. God then calls Moses and tells him that he is to go to Egypt and to petition the Pharaoh to set the people free. When Moses appears before Yul Brenner, as the Pharaoh, he asks a rather peculiar thing of him. Moses does not simply say, and is commonly thought, let my people go. Instead he asks Pharaoh to allow them to go out into the wilderness, to do a particular thing. What does Moses ask the Pharaoh to let them do? Worship. Let the people go into the wilderness so that they can worship. That is how the exodus story begins, and of course the Pharaoh refuses to allow them to go worship God. Why would the Pharaoh be so concerned about that? Of course there is the possibility that perhaps he thought that if he let them go out into the wilderness that they would never come back.

But I think an even better interpretation, and one presented by Lovett Weems, is that while they are in Egypt the people belong to him, but if they are to go out to worship God, they now belong to God, because that is who they are giving their allegiance to and who they will be listening to. For as it turns out we really belong to whatever it is that we worship. Last month we kept coming back to Jesus’ statement that you cannot serve both God and mammon because you will love one and hate the other, which is really to say that you will worship one and not the other, and you can only ultimately worship one thing, because everything else will subtract or interfere with that worship. The root meaning of the Hebrew word that we translate as worship means to bow down, or to prostrate oneself. When we worship something or someone we enter into a fundamentally different relationship, it’s about much more than just being a follower. In the story of Jesus’ temptation, the devil does not say come follow me and I will give you whatever you desire. Instead what does he say? “worship me.” Worship is important. Two of the Ten Commandments, that would be 20% for those not good at math, deal with worship issues.

Last week I quoted the Rev. Zan Holmes who said that churches are guilty of the sin of low expectations, mainly because we don’t have any expectations, and people will, I believe raise or lower themselves to what is expected. If expectations are high people will rise to meet them, and if there are low expectations people meet them as well. In studies of churches that are growing or are vibrant and healthy, there are lots of commonalities that are found, and one of those is that they have high expectations for their members. I have high expectations for this congregation, and hopefully you also have high expectations for me, and so that is what we are talking about for the month of November. As United Methodists we vow to support this congregation by what? Our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Last week we began by talking about prayer, which is first on the list for the simple reason that prayer creates the foundation upon which we build our faith lives, and it is my expectation that we will be praying every day, and praying for this church and its members every day, and today we talk about the second, which is presence.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Protecting Capitalism

I’m a little puzzled by one thing in the current kerfuffle with Paul Ryan about his using material without giving proper attribution, more commonly called plagiarism.  Isn’t Paul Ryan a capitalist?  Isn’t one of his common refrains about how great capitalism is and how it can solve all problems?  If so, why does it appear that he is opposed to intellectual property rights?

Shouldn’t he be strenuously defending intellectual property, which includes the written word, as one of the key tenants of capitalism?  Some people have even claimed that the creation and protection of intellectual property rights is what has made capitalism possible. Indeed, without intellectual property rights few of some of the major corporations could exist, from publishers, to software, to big-pharm, even the financial industry giants use proprietary algorithms, and all that is protected under intellectual property rights.

I just started reading Average is Over by economist Tyler Cowen, and he says that “In today’s global economy here is what is scarce: 1. Quality land and natural resources 2. Intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produced 3. Quality labor with unique skills” (Emphasis mine, p 19.)  What Cowen then argues is that people will chase after these things that are scarce, and that is where “most of the benefits will go.”

As a pastor, every week I work at delivering a message and sometimes in delivery I will slip up and not say who said something I am quoting, although it’s almost always in my manuscript, so I can understand the occasional slip of the tongue and will give him some leeway there.  But when you quote more than 1300 words in a book without noting it, that’s way past a slip-up.  That, in fact, is a violation of federal copy right law, which are set up to protect intellectual property rights. (That would also get you a failing grade in any school in the country)

According to a Washington Post article, Ryan wants to make a distinction between “sloppiness” and “dishonesty,” claiming that he is practicing the first and not the second.  There are two problems here.  The first is that his sloppiness is leading to dishonesty, intentional or not, although I think its the former.  And the second is that it doesn’t matter; one supports capitalism and intellectual property rights, and the second ignores them.

So rather than attacking the “haters” and “footnote police” shouldn’t Paul Ryan instead be apologizing and talking about how important protecting intellectual property rights are for capitalism?  If Paul Ryan is a capitalist, and wants to support capitalism, it would appear that he is on the wrong side of this argument, and I think it’s time that someone pointed that out to him.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Power of Prayer

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 18:9-14:

Rev. Zan Holmes once said that most churches are guilty of the sin of low expectations.  That we are happy to welcome people and to offer God’s grace, but we expect nothing in return.  We are guilty of the sin of low expectation he said.  So what are the expectations that we should have as members of any congregation, let alone this one?  I think they are found for us in the membership vows of the United Methodist Church, whether we are members or not, and that is that we pledge to support this congregation with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. I believe that these membership vows not only should mean something, but they do mean something, and so we are going to spend the month of November looking at and talking about these vows, what they mean, why we have them and what the expectations are for us as a congregation, and we begin today with the first item in the list, prayer.

I think prayer is first in the list for a very good reason, because of its importance.  We begin and end in prayer.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said that “God does nothing without prayer and everything with it.”  Wesley would begin his day with one hour of prayer before he began to do anything else.  Prayer is foundational, it gives us the roots of our faith.  Prayer is one of the primary ways that we engage and interact with God, and by which we come into deeper relationship with God.  To be able to say that we are in relationship with God means that we must be in conversation with God through prayer.  But what we also have to remember is that a conversation requires both parties to be participating, that is one person talks and the other listens, and then the other person talks and the first person listens.  So prayer is just as much about listening to God as it is talking to God.

Luke in particular emphasizes prayer.  His gospel talks about prayer more than any of the other gospels, and so just following the example of Jesus we know that would should be praying, and yet many of us don’t, and the reason I hear most often from people is that they don’t know how to pray, they feel uncomfortable doing it, they’re not sure they are doing it right, it doesn’t seem to do anything, that is they don’t see any results, and so they stop, or they see or hear others praying and feel inadequate, that their prayers don’t sound anything like that, reinforcing the idea that they must be doing it wrong.  Unfortunately, the church has not done much to assist in this problem.  I suspect that few of us have ever received any training, besides for watching others, in how to pray.  Even in seminary there was not a class offered on prayer.