Monday, April 25, 2016

Sin Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 5:38-48:

In the 8th chapter of the gospel of John, we find the story with which most of us are familiar.  Jesus is teaching in the Temple when the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman who has been caught in adultery, the punishment for which is to be stoned to death. Of course the first question to ask might be, how did they exactly catch her, and the second is where is the man, because he is just as guilty and just as subject to the law and penalty. But neither of those two questions are asked, or answered, instead they ask Jesus what they should do with her.  It’s Jesus’ response that is the most famous, and one we might remember for next week’s message when we look at judgment, which is “let anyone who is among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Now it’s important to remember the setting of this scene, which is that it takes place at the Temple, and one of the things that happened at the Temple is that people would go there to make offerings to help atone for their sins. It was the place that you could hear doves cry. And so it’s not just a mental reminder that they have sinned, but there is also the visual reminder there of all the sacrifices that are being made at that time, and all the times the scribes and Pharisees have come to that same place to make their offerings for sin, and so with that statement, that reminder, they all walk away, leaving the woman behind.  Jesus then tells her that, just as those who have left have not condemned her, neither will he condemn her, and then says “Go your way, and, from now on, do not sin again.”

Today we continue in our series on the nots of Jesus, looking at Jesus’ injunction not to sin. You might have thought that would have been the passage I would have chosen for this, except I want to do something a little differently with this message then the way we have looked at Jesus’ injunctions not to fear or doubt, and it will also be very different from how other preachers would like at it, most especially non-Methodists, and that is because I’m not just going to talk about not sinning but to give you what is a uniquely Methodist take on this injunction, which is why we heard from Matthew this morning from the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ statement to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect.

When looking at fear and doubt, I said that it I did not think Jesus was saying we should have no fear or doubt, but instead it was about facing them and working through those things so that we can use them to deepen our faith.  Now a fundamentalist might argue that I am totally wrong, that we are to truly seek to live a life without doubt or fear, that we should read these injunctions from Jesus literally.  But, they would then argue that we are not to seek to live without sin because such a thing is possible, largely because of their conception of human nature and original sin.  Mainly that we are, in theological language, totally depraved and that there is nothing redeeming within us. This is a Calvinist perspective of the world.  But I, as a Methodist, and an Arminian in theology, am going to argue the opposite and take the Methodist position that we are indeed to move onto perfection, or what’s sometimes called Christian Perfection, or the full technical term is entire sanctification.  When you have heard me say that we are moving onto perfection, this is what I am referring to.  It is a uniquely Wesleyan, or Methodist idea, and in fact, 6 months before his death in 1792, John Wesley said this idea was “the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists and for the sake of propagating this chiefly he appeared to have raised them up.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Doubt Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 20:19-31:

Sports stars often end up with some great nicknames, especially those who are the best of their craft. There is Walter Payton, known as Sweetness, and Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, and Jack Nicholas, the Golden Bear.  But of course the best nicknames come from the sport of baseball.  There is Stan the Man Musial, and Cool Papa Bell, and Double Duty Radcliff. Some nicknames become so famous, like Babe Ruth, Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean that we forget their real first names.  But for every great nickname like Mr. October or Hammerin’ Hank there are also those nicknames that are a little less glorious, a little more likely that people probably wish they would have gone away, like Luke Old Aches and Pains Appling, or Ernie the Schnozz Lombardi, but perhaps the worst belongs to Hugh Mulcahy who was known as Losing Pitcher Mulcahy.  I am sure that if you were to have met Mr. Mulcahy he would not have appreciated you calling him by his nickname and just wished it would all go away.  But just like those nicknames are a little unfair, so too is the nickname that has been forever appended to Thomas, who, for some reason, for 2000 years has been the poster boy for doubt, an idea that is not really fair either to Thomas or to the concept of doubt.

Today we are continuing in our series on the nots of Jesus, the things that Jesus told us we should not be doing.  Last week we looked at Jesus’ statement to fear not, and that Jesus was not really saying that we shouldn’t fear, but that instead we need to overcome our fear, to work through it so that it doesn’t limit us. Today we look at doubt, which has some ties to the idea of fear, and we tackle the idea of doubt by trying to understand the story of Doubting. But I’d like to start with a defense of Thomas, and to do that we need to go back just one verse from where we started today.

Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb on the first day of the week, the first Easter Sunday, and found the tomb empty, and so she tells Peter and the beloved disciple that the body is missing, and they go, but they don’t understand what is taking place. Then Jesus appears to Mary and tells her to go tell the disciples that he’s back, that’s a paraphrase, and that he is going to ascend to his father, and so she goes to see the disciples to tell them what she has seen. But do they believe Mary? In the synoptic gospels, which are Matthew, Mark and Luke, the answer is clearly no. Now in John she says to the disciples “I have seen the Lord,” and while it doesn’t say they don’t believe her, there is certainly every indication that they don’t believe her because where do we find them on the first night of Easter? They are not hunting eggs or hung over on chocolate, instead they are locked up in a room. Why? Because they are afraid. That, to me, is the key indicator that they did not believe what Mary had told them, because if they had believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, that what Jesus had said and promised would happen would happen, why would they be afraid? Why would they be locked up in some room?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fear Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 14:22-33:

In the third chapter, all the way back at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis, after Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which was not actually an apple nor where they deceived by Satan, but after they eat, they hear God walking in the garden calling for them, and they run and hide from God. After God finds them he asks what they are hiding and for the first time in scripture we hear about fear. “We were afraid and so we hid from you,” they tell God, and the relationship between God and humanity is forever changed.  Something else important happens when fear gets introduced, and that is that blame and scapegoating also get introduced as a direct result. When God asks why they are afraid, Adam says don’t blame me, the woman made me do it, and Eve says don’t blame me, the snake made me do it, and the snake just shrugs his shoulders, which is probably the real reason that God removes its appendages and makes it crawl on its belly. Fear and blame and refusal to do something all come together at exactly the same time.

Today we embark on a new sermon series looking at what I am calling the nots of Jesus, fear not, doubt not, sin not, judge not, worry not.  These are the nots not only because Jesus says don’t do them, but also because they are issues that might cause us to tie ourselves in knots.  Andy Stanley has called these instructions the N Commandments because he said that Jesus considered them so important.  While I am not going to argue their importance, which is the reason I am talking about them, I am going to argue his use of the term commandments, because when Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength,” and that the second in just like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And then on his last night, according to the gospel of John, he said “I give you a new commandment that you are to love one another as I have loved you.” So unlike the commandments, which are lists of things you shouldn’t do, Jesus normally talks about what you should do, how you should be living your life, like the golden rule, which says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s a positive statement of behavior, rather than a similar statement given by Rabbi Hillel who said “Do not do to others what is hateful to do.” So rather than being about what we should do, instead it’s about what we shouldn’t do.  And that certainly seems to be much more what we hear about from the church, or from Christians today, is a series of thou shalt not, or I cannot, so I thought it might be appropriate to look at some of the do nots that Jesus taught, which seem very different from what we might normally hear, and how they lead us to fulfilling what Jesus says are the greatest commandments.