Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When You Fast...

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The texts were Isaiah 58:1-9a and Mark 1:9-15:

Today we begin a new sermon series which will take us through the season of Lent in which we are going to be looking at spiritual disciplines.  We are only going to be looking at five of all of the spiritual disciplines, but all of these practices’ purposes are to help us strengthen our faith and to deepen our relationship with God.  But, a caution to always keep in mind is that many of them, or maybe even all of them, can be practiced without putting God first, of merely being an outward sign without signifying any inward change, which is why God is chastising the Israelites in the passage we just heard from Isaiah.  One of idea to keep in mind is about the word discipline.  Most of us don’t really like the word discipline, even if it has the word spiritual in front of it, or maybe especially if it has the word spiritual in front of it.  When we hear the word discipline what do we normally think of? (punishment…)   While that is certainly part of the meaning of the word, there is more to it than that.  There is an area of knowledge, especially in higher education, so I could say that theology is one of the oldest disciplines and then there is activities or exercises done, usually following a set of rules, that allow us to increase our skill in something, which is more the discipline we are thinking of here.  That’s what athletes do when they begin practicing.

If you want to become a world class athlete, you can’t just practice your craft for 20 minutes every other day or so.  It has to be something which you do for long periods of time every day, which means you have to choose what other things you are going to eliminate from your life and you take on the discipline in your life of doing what is necessary in order to reach your goal or to attain a certain level of mastery in what you are doing.  So what the spiritual disciplines do is very similar.  They are a set of practices to help us achieve our goal, and hopefully we have such a goal, of deepening our faith, of becoming better in what we do and what we know about our faith, and most importantly of coming into better communion with God.  And so today we begin with our first spiritual discipline and it is the one that most people think of for Lent and that is fasting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

We Are Mortal

Here is my sermon for Ash Wednesday:

They say that 19 year olds males make the best soldiers and the worst drivers for exactly the same reason.  They think they are invincible, that they are immortal, and so they do things that most of us who are older wouldn’t do because we think it’s stupid, although some of us might be willing to admit that we were prone to do exactly the same thing when we were 19.  But we don’t do it now because as we get older two things happened.  The first is that we got smarter and the second is that we became forced more and more to recognize the basic reality of death and realized that doing stupid things can put our life at risk.  And yet, even knowing that we mortal, for most of us death is still not something we necessarily focus on.  Sure there are times, like in middle age when it occurs to us that we are closer to 60 then we are to twenty, and so some people go out and get younger spouses, or they buy a sports car in order to feel younger, unless, like me, your wife won’t let you buy that car.  And I know that some of you are passed even 60, but bear with me.  Death is a present reality, something we know that’s there, but not necessarily something that changes what we do, our behavior, our actions, our thoughts, unless something happens that cause us to come face to face with our death.

Last year Bishop Bledsoe, who is the bishop for New Mexico, faced his own mortality after finding out that most of the arteries in his heart were clogged and his cardiologist said that he was lucky to be alive, and so he reports that he began to look at life different, to see each and every day as a gift, not to take anything for granted and to begin doing some of the things that he had always wanted to do.  In that, Bishop Bledsoe is not alone, because that is the response of many if not most people in a similar circumstance.  But I find that response a little strange, especially for us as Christians, because we should be facing or own mortality at the very least once a year, and that time is today.

Transfiguration: Light in the Darkness

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9:2-9:

One of the conversations that are routinely held amongst clergy, although not really shared amongst those outside, is the difficulty we encounter in talking about the same stories over and over again, especially for those stories that occur every year like Christmas and Easter, and we wonder how we are going to find something new to say about them.  And then there are others, like the story of the transfiguration, a story which we encounter every year on the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins, first with the party we know as Mardi Gras and then Ash Wednesday, that cause us the same anxiety, although as we can tell we don’t get the same turn out for this story as we do at Easter and Christmas, but that doesn’t make it easier to come up with something new to say.  And I know your hearts are breaking for me, complaining about the preparation I have to do when I only work one day a week.

But in addition to today’s story, today is also the one year anniversary of the death of my 9-year-old nephew Wyatt.  In some ways it seems like so much longer than a year and in some ways it seems so much shorter than a year.  Some of you remember that time, and we thank you for your help getting us through it, and for those who weren’t here yet, Wyatt went into the emergency room with a severe headache and, according to his doctors, in a perfect storm of problems, died a week later when a blood clot in his brain caused swelling in his brain that couldn’t be controlled, taking his life.  Yet, there is a link to that tragedy and the story of Jesus’ transfiguration as well as Paul’s statement which today comes from his second letter to the Corinthians.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Evangelism: Preach It

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The texts were Mark 1:29-39  and 1 Corinthians 9:16-23:

Normally when we think of someone spreading the gospel message, of doing the dreaded word evangelism, there are several images that pop into our heads, or at least pop into my head.  The first is of someone, nearly always a stranger, who walks up to us carrying their Bible and saying something like, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”  And the second is either of Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormon’s coming to know on your door.  Recently, Linda and I were in our front yard and two Mormon’s came by, and I told them that I was a minister, and so they said something along the lines that I was clearly devoted to my faith and they just like to talk theology with people, to which I responded, “No, you really don’t.”  These are people that most of us don’t want to have to talk to or with which we want to deal.  We want them to go their way and leave us alone, and we definitely don’t want to be the people that others think of doing the same thing.
Even though on its face it the passage we just heard doesn’t seem like it is related to the passage from last week in which Paul was talking about the incredibly fascinating subject of meat that was sacrificed to idols and the idea of community, but it is a continuation of that idea, because of what Paul says that he is willing to do in order not only to be a part of a community of believers, but also what he believes that it means to be a follower of Christ.  One of the crucial things that is happening in this passage, and was also the case in the passage we heard last week, which are the verses before these, is that while Paul is certainly telling the Corinthians what they should do, it is not as orders, but instead by instruction because it is what Paul himself is either doing or would be willing to do or not do.  Because what we heard last week was that if eat meat sacrificed to idols would cause someone else to fall, then Paul himself would not eat that meat.  And then today he says that in order to reach others, that he is willing to become like a Jew for the Jews, like one outside the law for those outside the law, which would be gentiles, and to become like the weak, which is how he describes those who don’t eat meat because it has been sacrificed to idols, so that he might win the weak.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Naming It

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The passages were 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1:21-28:

Several weeks ago as I was looking at the upcoming scripture readings, I was a little surprised to see today’s gospel passage; because I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t remember this story.  I certainly remember different times in which Jesus cast a demon outside of someone, although we shouldn’t think of this like the exorcist, this is not Linda Blair with her head spinning around, but I didn’t remember Jesus ever casting out a demon in a synagogue.  There is a duplicate of this story in the gospel of Luke, but as far as I can tell in my research this is the only time in the gospels that something like this happens within the walls of the synagogue, or for our purposes within the walls of the church.  And, I think there is something significant about this because it means that there is evil even inside the church, or at the very least there are disruptions and behaviors inappropriate enough that Jesus feels that he needs to call them out, and that is not something we are really good at addressing or talking about.  Some of it is because we are not good at naming evil, or at least naming it appropriately.

We could probably all agree that Hitler and Stalin were evil, but then that attribute gets applied to others.  It wouldn’t take much to find people comparing President Obama to Hitler or Speaker of the House John Boehner to Stalin, well maybe not so much for Speaker Boehner.  But we’ve sort of come to believe that if we disagree with someone that first of all that must make them wrong, and second it must make them evil.  How did we get to that point?  I use those two names because over the past two weeks I have been called both of those things by someone who is disgruntled with me, although since I started out as Hitler and then became Staling I’m not sure if I’m moving up or down the scale of evilness.  But how do we deal with things like this is the church?  How do we deal with people who disagree with us? How do we deal with things with which we disagree in the church?  Can we name them? Can we call out wolves in sheep’s clothing?  And how do we make such decisions and distinctions? Can we make those distinctions?  And if we do, how do we know that we are right and not just overreacting?  And do we respond to with hatred and loathing or do we respond to it with love and compassion?  What role do individual desires, beliefs and opinions have in and against those of the community?