Friday, August 17, 2018

Why Trump's N-Word Tape Doesn't Matter

There is lots being made, again, about the possibility of a tape existing with Trump saying the N-word repeatedly. But, I believe the existence or non-existence of this tape doesn't actually matter, and here is why:

First, such language will not prove that Trump is a racist. If we don't already believe that from the numerous other things that he has said about minority groups, then what is finally going to prove the point? The use of the N-word is not the end all and be all of racist statements. It's truly attrocious, but so is everything else derogatory he has said.

Second, pay attention to his actions. He called for the death penatly, and took out an ad for such, against the Central Park Five, the attack on a white women, supposedly by five black teens. He still believes they are guilt, even though they have now been fully exonerated. (For a great accounting of this read The Central Park Five by Sarah Burns) Additionally, we was charged twice with housing discrimination by our government, and regardless of what he says, he did not win those cases. He simply paid the fines without having to admit guilt.

Finally, and most importantly, he is unlikely to lose any more support from his "base." First because those were borderline have already left. I do not believe this is going to be the straw that breaks the camels back. Secondly, it's because many of them already use this word. I have family members who are Trump supporters and they use the N-word: repeatedly and out-loud (and yes, they are racists). Hearing him say it will only reinforce for them that he is their man, and someone just like them. That is, rather than hurting him with his core supporters, which is the only group he truly cares about, it will only help him.

We have been talking about having a heart of peace in worship, and Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth is what defiles us because it reveals who we truly are. Hearing Trump on tape saying something that he shouldn't be saying, things that we don't want to hear the president saying, won't make him worse, because he has already revealed who he is by everything else he has said.

Monday, August 6, 2018

State of the Church

Here is my message from Sunday. The texts were Numbers 13:1-2, 17-21a, 25-28, 30-33 and Matthew 14:22-34:

I want to start with a story this morning. At our prayer breakfast in May, rather than sitting in a room talking and praying, we came out onto the property and prayed, with some of us walking circles around the property and praying, although only a few of us got all seven laps done, and the laps did get smaller and smaller as we progressed. But we were praying for big things, including the elimination of our mortgage debt. That was a Saturday. On Tuesday afternoon I received a call from Rev. Randall Partin, who is the provost for the conference, which is a fancy way of saying he is the bishop’s assistant and runs the conference office and staff. Now Randall had been in conversation with us about some of the things we have explored for doing with the eastside of the property, and he wanted to know if we were interested in having a conversation with a Methodist organization who was looking for some property. That led me into a conversation with Saranam, which runs a two-year residential program for homeless families. They were begun when Central UMC received a several million-dollar gift in someone’s will, which serves as a reminder that you too can make gifts to Mesa View in your estate planning, and one of the things we are beginning the work on is an endowment committee and policies and procedures for the reception and use of endowed gifts. So, I met with Saranam for an initial conversation, which then led to a meeting with some of their board members and some representatives from Mesa View, and this week the Trustees voted to approve conversations about the potential sale or lease of the back piece of the property to move forward. But, before I say any more, I’d want to show a shortened video about Saranam…

Now a few points. The first that is that Saranam is a Sanskrit word that means refuge. There’s actually a song in the hymnal entitled Saranam, Saranam. The second is that at this point we are only in conversation. We have not made any agreements, we have signed any documents, we haven’t even agreed on any terms. We are now waiting for their board to meet and approve moving forward in conversation with us on the possibilities. I believe we are still a few months away from that conversation, and even farther from a deal. If we do move forward, we will have presentations on who they are and as well as what it might mean to be working together, as well as listening sessions to get feedback. Right now, this is just so you are aware, and hopefully some, or most, or all, of you are as excited about this possibility as I am. Not only will this help us in our mission of serving our community and making good use of our property, but it will also greatly help us financially.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Richest Man In Town

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 10:35-45 and based on the movie It's a Wonderful Life:

Today we conclude our Christmas in July worship series by looking at what many people consider to be the best Christmas move of all time It’s a Wonderful Life.  But, if you may have noticed in all the films we covered up to this point, and this is true about most Christmas stories, none of them are actually about faith or religion or God. But, It’s a Wonderful Life is different, because it does actually involve all of these things as being a part of the story, and it’s also the darkest of all the movies we have seen.

It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by the marvelous Frank Capra, was released in December of 1946, to only tepid reviews and performance. Although it was nominated for five academy awards, it lost money, and the only award it won was a technical one for the creation of a new way to produce snow on a movie set, which was also done during shooting in what was then one of the warmest summers in California history. The release of the movie was pushed up so that it would qualify for the 46 awards cycle, but it was widely trounced by The Best Years of Our Lives, which went on to win nine academy awards. And since everyone if gung-ho to remake films these days rather than coming up with original ideas, The Best Years of Our Lives is probably a film that deserves to be remade in a modern telling about soldiers returning home from war who have a hard time readjusting to society, especially those who were injured physically and mentally. So, if any of you know some big Hollywood producers, you should mention that to them.

Monday, July 23, 2018

I Believe... I Believe... It's Silly But I Believe

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 9:14-24 and based on Miracle on 34th Street:

While the movies we have looked at so far in our Christmas in July series are on their way to becoming beloved Christmas classics, today’s film, Miracle on 34th Street, has long been there, and is probably only surpassed by just one other film, It’s a Wonderful Life, which we will cover next week. It’s also one of the oldest films we will cover, having come out in 1947, and again is only surpassed by It’s a Wonderful Life, which came out in 1946. Surprisingly, Miracle on 34th Street did not come out at Christmas, but instead was released in June of that year, and went on to receive five academy award nominations, including best picture, and winning three awards for writing and for best supporting actor for Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle and had been a principal actor for the playwright George Bernard Shaw. As most of you are probably aware, the movie takes place in New York City, and begins at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and seeing that in person should be added to your bucket list of things to do, as it’s a lot of fun, and New York at Christmas time is a magic place to be. But, anyways, the main character, Doris Walker, played by Maureen O’Hara, oversees the parade, when it is brought to her attention that the man playing Santa Claus is drunk, but fortunately for her, the man who tells her is Kris Kringle, believes himself to be the real Santa. After quickly firing the drunk Santa, she hires Kris not only to be Santa in the parade, but also in the store, another thing that you should add to your bucket list because you haven’t seen Santa until you’ve seen Santa at the original Macy’s in Herald Square.

Meanwhile, Doris Walker’s daughter, Suzie, played by a young Natalie Wood, is watching the parade in the apartment of their neighbor, Fred Gailey, who is an attorney, which becomes important as the movie progresses. And as they are watching the parade, Fred, and we the audience, begin to learn something important both about Suzie and her …  As we hear in that, Doris’ husband left her after Suzy was born, leaving her embittered and closed off to the world, wanting to be a realist because as she says about Suzy she wants a prince charming to come to her, but when he does, she’ll find out that’s not who he really is, which is, of course, not about Suzy at all, but about Doris. And so, both Fred, in trying to woo Doris, and Kris set out to try and change their outlooks on the world, to help them to again, or for the first time, to experience magic, and majesty and awe, let alone trust and love and kindness. Doris’ wants to keep everything to be about rationality and common sense, and yet, as she finds out, that’s not the way the world works. It also turns out that it’s not the way that Kris Kringle works either. He has told Doris that he is taking her and Suzie on as a test case, because if he can’t convince them that he is real, then he’s lost, he’s through. But it’s not just them that he must win over, to move away from just thinking about rationality, or themselves, it’s also changing the culture of Macy’s, as when Kris starts he’s given a list of toys that the store has overstocked, and so he’s supposed to push to kids who don’t know what they want. But, instead of doing that, he does something radically different…

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, June 25, 2018

Resurrection: Death and Grief

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 11:17-35:

So, let my start by saying that today’s message is going to be a hard one, or at least one that we all cry about, because as we conclude our sermon series on resurrection stories we deal with the issue for which we most want resurrection, loss. After all, the reason for the season in which we started this series, Easter, was because of the death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. As an Easter people, our faith is grounded in the reality of resurrection. We believe that hope is possible even in the worst of circumstances, in the darkest moments of our lives, that even in the valley of the shadow of death, that God is with us and that God is there not only to comfort us but to even bring about miracles.

Mary and Martha, who are sisters, send word to tell Jesus that their brother Lazarus is ill. We are also told that Jesus loves Lazarus, but Jesus does not immediately leave but instead stayed on the other side of the Jordan, where John had been baptizing people. Then Jesus tells the disciples they are going to head back to Judea, and he says that he is going to wake up Lazarus, which confuses the disciples as they think he is merely asleep, and so Jesus has to be more direct and tells them that Lazarus has died, and then Thomas makes a usual statement and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It’s not clear whom Thomas is speaking of, Lazarus or Jesus, but presumably he is saying that they know Jesus life is at risk, and so their lives are also at risk, and he is making a pledge that they will die with Christ. Which of course they don’t, but they go with Jesus and when they arrive they find that Lazarus has already been dead for four days. Now this little bit of information is significant because it was believed that the spirit, the soul, or someone who had died would stay around the body for three days, for the hope that they were only slightly dead, but by the fourth day the body has already begun to decay and to stink, and so the soul then goes away, and so what we are being told here is that everyone has given up, that there is no hope for a miracle, which is where today’s passage begins.

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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Into Your Hands

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 23:44-49:

Today we conclude our series on the 7 last sayings of Christ. We have extinguished the flames, as is tradition, of six candles representing six of Jesus’ words, and just the last word we hear from Luke remains. Matthew and Mark show the anguish and suffering of the cross in Jesus’ cry from the 22nd Psalm of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is the only phrase that they have Jesus say from the cross, and represents the only saying found in more than one gospel. John has Jesus showing the ironic exultation of the cross and the completion of God’s plan for why Jesus was sent, the lamb who came to remove the sins of the world. It begins first with the creation of a new community in Jesus entrusting his mother and the beloved disciple to each other, and then uttering I am thirsty, reminding us to be careful of what we thirst, and then saying “it is finished,” as a celebration of the end of his journey on earth, but the beginning of a new chapter that also invites us to be involved. And then there is Luke. We began by looking at Jesus’ proclamation of forgiveness from the cross for those who were killing him, as well as saying to one of the other men being crucified that he would join Jesus in paradise. This call to forgiveness and compassion also matches Luke’s gospel and his conclusion with Jesus saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

We should notice here that, like Matthew and Mark, Jesus doesn’t say this phrase softly but instead utters it with a loud cry. But these are two different cries. In Matthew and Mark, after he cries out in despair, Jesus then lets out another loud cry and breathes his last. Now it might appear that Luke is giving actual words to what this cry is, and there are some arguments that are made for that fact. But, as I have said before, the better way to see this is to simply let each of the gospel writers tell their story and not try and mash them together, because it can’t be done. Just as another illustration, in Matthew and Mark, the curtain of the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom, after Jesus dies. In Luke, as we just heard, the curtain is torn in two before Jesus dies. let each gospel writer speak for themselves in what they want to emphasize, because Luke has a lot to say to us in the story he tells, especially in stories that are unique to his gospel.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Am Thirsty... It Is Finished

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 19:28-34:

I’ve always thought that living in the desert gives us a different perspective on scripture from those who live in areas where water is not as big of a concern. When you have seen a completely dry river bed turn to a flowing river several feet deep in just a few hours, then when we hear the prophet Isaiah say that God will make a new thing, that there will be rivers in the desert and pools of water, we understand the significance of that reality and what it means for survival. When you are used to having plenty of rain and everything is green all the time, that passage just doesn’t have the same significance for those of who have known parched lands, parched skin and parched tongues. And so perhaps we can also understand Jesus’ cry from the cross here in John that he is thirsty. After all, he’s hanging on a cross, in the afternoon sun, in the desert, so of course he’s thirsty, and except for the hanging on the cross part, I’m guessing that most of us have been there as well, and have probably even said something like, “Man, I’m thirsty.” Hopefully we also received some release, either through our getting something, or through the assistance of someone else, which is what happens here as Jesus is given some sour wine.

Now the passage says “they” gave him wine, and it’s not clear who the they are. It could be his mother and the other women along with the beloved disciple, who are standing at the foot of the cross as we talked about two weeks ago. This is possible because there is not any mocking with the offer of one as there is the synoptic gospels when the soldiers try and give him wine. But, tradition has held that it’s still the soldiers who give him the wine, and we might notice that since there isn’t any mocking perhaps this is a gesture of mercy on behalf of the soldiers. One of the things that indicate that this might be the soldiers is the fact that the wine that was mentioned, which is translated as sour, was a special type of wine used by soldiers, that was cheaper than regular wine and also more potent in relieving thirst. Of course, it was also used by peasants, so that clue is still not definitive. But several points here. The first is that while there is reason to spiritualize this statement about his thirst, and we’ll come back to that, we should also just see this as real thirst which highlights the violence and brutality of the cross. One of the things that John does is to heavily emphasize the divinity of Christ, and so when we see the human side we should recognize that. Similarly, when the synoptic gospels show the divine side, we too should recognize that, because Christian belief is that Jesus is both human and divine. It’s not half and half, but fully human and fully divine. We all tend to have a side of that that we prefer, which leads us into heresies, and so we need to keep the human and divine elements both present.

Monday, March 5, 2018

My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 15:33-39:

have to admit that today’s last word from the cross is one of my favorite passages of scripture. That might sound strange to some of you, but I love it because I can puzzle and struggle with it, but it also brings me a great deal of comfort and solace. Of the 7 last sayings of Christ, it is also the only one in which it is contained in more than one gospel. All of the other sayings are unique to the gospel in which they are found, but Jesus’ cry of despair is found in both Mark and in Matthew, and this is the only thing that either of them have Jesus say from the cross. In fact, their crucifixion stories are remarkably similar, with a few more details being added by Matthew over the sparsity of Mark. But, what 50% of the gospels say is that while hanging on the cross that Jesus cries out, he doesn’t mutter, he doesn’t mumble, he doesn’t say it under his breath, he cries out in a loud voice, to make it very clear, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” That is a phrase that could never comes from the lips of the Jesus in the Gospel of John, a thought we’ll return to next week, and while Luke has him cry out in a loud voice, what he cries is something entirely different.

Now in some ways, just like Jesus giving forgiveness on the cross in Luke, having Jesus’ cry of despair, or his lament, matches perfectly with what we say about the major themes of Mark, which Matthew continues over in part into his own gospel. Additionally, it matches with the story of Jesus in the garden the night before. Just before he is arrested, he is in the garden of gethsemane with Peter, James and John and he tells the disciples to remain and to pray and to stay awake while he goes off to be by himself. And what do the disciples then do? They fall asleep, again a sign that they don’t truly understand the call to discipleship. But Jesus goes off to pray to God and he says “Abba, Father, for you, all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Now, last week I said that there is no punctuation in ancient Greek and so when translators are putting the manuscripts into English they have to guess where the punctuation should be. And there has been an argument made that in Jesus’ prayer here that it should actually include an ellipses here so that there is a long pause between Jesus asking God to remove the cup from him and then saying, not what I want, but what God wants. I think there is a lot to be said for that argument, first because this prayer has to be longer to allow the disciples to fall asleep, and second because it seems that Jesus needs to give some time for an answer to be given, of which he doesn’t seem to receive an answer. But to key points that also go along with this prayer.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Woman, Here Is Your Son

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 19:16b-27:

One of the mistakes we often make when reading scripture, especially when it comes to the gospels, is that we think they tell exactly the same story, but they don’t. Most of you have heard me say this before, but each of the gospel writers has a particular story, a particular view point, a particular emphasis that they want to talk about in telling the story of Jesus, and so we have to pay attention to those particulars in order to get at the heart of their message. Remembering they are writing theology, not biography. This is particularly true with the Gospel of John, which is just radically different from what are known as the synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke, which basically have the same synopses, even if they might have different details. But in John, while we see some overlap with the tradition about Jesus contained within the synoptic gospels, we also see a tradition that seems to be independent from the synoptics. While this will become clearer in the next few weeks, just one illustration from the passage we heard today can show the large differences we can see.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, does Jesus carry the cross out to the execution site by himself? No, Simon of Cyrene is pulled off the street and forced to carry it for him. But, today’s passage says that Jesus carried the cross by himself as he went to the place of the skull. I can make an argument for why I think John does that, but that’s perhaps for another day. Now, in reality, John is not the only one to have differences at the cross, as, again, all of the them have differences, and if you want a nice little Lent or Easter practice, I would encourage you to go through each gospel and mark out the details each tell of the crucifixion and resurrection in four different columns, one for each gospel, and then note the similarities, but also the wide differences. I think most of you will be surprised. But, it’s really the differences that also mark the heart of this Lenten series, because we are talking about the 7 last statements Jesus makes from the cross, which, for the most part, also tend to be unique to the gospel in which they are found, and today it’s Jesus statement to his mother and to the beloved disciple.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Forgive Them... Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 23:32-43:

As Jesus is hanging on the cross, he says different things depending upon which gospel account you are reading. These saying are commonly referred to as the 7 last words of Christ, although they aren’t words, but sayings, and so I am calling them the 7 last sayings of Christ, and we are going to be spending the Sundays of Lent looking at each of these sayings. Now there are seven sayings, but only 5 Sundays to cover them, so twice, like today, we are going to look at two at a time. There is some argument that takes place in which order did Jesus say them, which is really unanswerable since, again, they are recounted in different gospels, and you will sometimes find them in different orders, but for simplicities sake for me, we are going to go in the order in which they are traditionally found, with today looking at Jesus’ statement of forgiveness and to one of the other men being crucified that today he will be in paradise.

Now, Luke has Jesus being mocked three different time while Jesus is on the cross. The  religious leaders scoff at him. The soldiers mock him, and one of the other men being crucified also taunts him. This is important as we think about who it is that Jesus might be intending his forgiveness for and why.If you were paying attention to the text as the passage from Luke was just read, you will have noticed that this passage about forgiveness is found inside double brackets. So a test of remembrance for those who were here last week when we talked about the ending of Mark’s gospel, or perhaps the lack of ending, what did brackets in scripture indicate?

That’s right, it means scholars have questions about its authenticity to the original manuscript. There is a divide in the manuscript evidence in whether this passage is included or not, and the evidence just on that will favor seeing this as a later addition to the text. Now that does not mean this statement is not original to Jesus, right, but maybe not original to the text. When scholars are looking at this and trying to make decisions, they usually use Occam’s Razor, which basically says that the easiest answer is usually the best answer. That is in looking at whether it was added or removed, being added is the easier answer because we have to come up with reasons why later editors would have taken this passage out. Now, there are some good arguments about why it could have been removed, such as later Christians not wanting to have a passage that would seem to give forgiveness to Jewish leaders. Additionally, this certainly seems to match what else occurs in Luke, as Luke talks more about forgiveness and in particular about God’s forgiveness, than any other gospel, and so the literary evidence clearly matches it as being original, but the manuscript evidence is unclear.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Mark: The Gospel Without An Ending

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 16:1-8:

Have you ever been watching a movie and you get to the end, and then it just ends, there is not any conclusion, or there are loose strings left hanging out, and you’re like, wait, what? It can’t end like that. I need more, tell me what happens. That’s how some people have felt about the ending of the Gospel of Mark, because the gospel ends just as we heard it here. There is no resurrection appearance, there are no further stories as there are in Matthew, Luke and John. Our earliest and best manuscripts of Mark have the story ending with the line “and they ran away and told no one because they were scared.” That is the reason I have called Mark the gospel without a beginning, because it doesn’t give us a birth narrative of any form, and the gospel without an end, because it doesn’t end the way we think it should. Now, that led other later editors to add post-resurrection stories to Mark, as if it was incomplete, and it certainly seemed that way after the other gospels had been written. And so, if you are reading the Bible, at the end of verse 8 you will first come to a selection which is sub headed “the shorter ending of Mark” which is then followed immediately passages sub headed “The Longer ending of Mark.”

Those passages should also be found in brackets, with an accompanying footnote, which indicates that they are not considered original to the text, but that the translators are not removing them, simply letting us know of scriptural integrity issues. And in fact, we know from the writings of the church fathers back to the second century, that this was an issue, and some of our manuscripts even indicate that these passages originality are doubtful. But, the reason that they were added was because, in my opinion, they didn’t understand, the very nature of Mark’s gospel and so they thought it was lacking something. But when we understand what Mark is doing, and understand the story he tells, his ending is as brilliant as the rest of his gospel. But before we jump into that, we again need to take a step back to the other gospel passage we heard for today, which is the story of the transfiguration which is the traditional reading for this Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Lent. But more importantly for our purposes, it matches perfectly with the story I have been telling about Mark’s call to discipleship which concludes so well with Mark’s ending.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Mark: Little Apocalypse

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 13:1-10, 12-13, 24-26, 32, 35-37:

If you are to email NASA with a scientific question, it is likely to be answered by Dr. David Morrison, who holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard, and that’s only important because I don’t think that Harvard gets enough attention for being a good school. But, according to Dr. Morrison, he spends a minimum of one hour every day answering people’s questions about the end of times, or at least the end of the world as we know it. We seem to be obsessed with this idea, but it’s not really anything new. We find similar things in the Hebrew scriptures, and the New Testament is full of discussion, as well as speculation within writings about when such things were going to happen. Clement, an early bishop of Rome, said the end would happen in the year 90. Hilary of Potiers said it would be in 365. His more famous student Martin of Tours said the year 400. The German emperor Otis III thought that an eclipse in 968 would be the harbinger, and Pope Innocent III said 1284. The Shakers said 1792, and Charles Wesley, the co-founder of Methodism preferred 1794, although he was already dead 6 years by that time. For Jehovah’s witnesses it was 1914, also1918, 1941 and 1975, to name just a few and for Hal Lindsey and Pat Robertson the end was coming in 1980, or 1982, 1985, 1988 and then 2007, and of course there have been many more failed predictions since then. And what do they all have in common? First, they were wrong, and second, according to Jesus, they never should have been making predictions at all, and in doing so were only serving as false prophet’s intent on leading people astray, and so we need to stop listening to such end of time mongers telling us they have insider knowledge, because Jesus says they are all wrong, and we’ll get back to that.

The selection of passages we heard from Mark today come from the 13th chapter which is known as Mark’s Little Apocalypse. Now typically, when we hear the word apocalypse, we think it means talk about the end of the world, and so we talk about apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic movies, like Mad Max as an example. But the word itself has nothing to do with the end of times. instead it simply means an unveiling or revealing, so that some divine knowledge is being revealed. The apocalypse with which most of us are familiar, is of course the apocalypse of John, which is also known as Revelation, and is the only full-blown apocalypse we have in scripture. But we have other types of apocalyptic pieces found in the book of Daniel, which is the other best scriptural example, but also to be found in Joel and Isaiah and Amos and Zephaniah, who all talk about the end of time.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mark: Pick Up Your Cross

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 8:27-38:

Today marks the half way point in our series on the Gospel of Mark, and appropriately enough, today’s passage is also seen to represent the ½ way point in the gospel itself, and not just because Mark has 16 chapters, but more importantly because Peter’s confession, and what comes after marks a shift in emphasis for the entire story. The chapters leading up to this have been about the call to discipleship to prepare for what is to come, and then it shifts to be about the passion story, with the first passion prediction coming in the passage we just heard. It’s been said that Mark’s gospel is really a passion story, with a longer introduction, and if we look at the amount of time comprising the story, that is true because the three years of Jesus’ ministry are covered in ten chapters in Mark, and then the last week of Jesus’ life comprise the final eight chapters. So, the first chapters set up the passion story, just as the first three weeks have, hopefully established some groundwork for what is yet to come and the focus in Mark’s gospel on discipleship. And I know I keep saying that it’s about discipleship, and the cost of discipleship, and the fact that the disciples are set up as foils for what discipleship doesn’t look like, and yet I really haven’t proven that point yet, but today begins the start what where we will build on this theme over the next few weeks. But before we dig into that, we need to take a step back to what has happened immediately before Peter’s confession, because once again Mark has set us up for what to expect and how to interpret these stories by the stories that have come immediately before this passage.

The disciples have seen Jesus heal people, sometimes by casting out demons, and they have even seen him feed first five thousand and then four thousand people with only a few loaves and fish, and they have even received private instruction from Jesus, but they don’t get it. Immediately after the last feeding of the multitudes, Jesus warns the disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is it only takes a little bit to corrupt the whole batch, but the disciples think he is talking to them about literal bread, and say they don’t have any bread, and Jesus does a palm plant and says “why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand?... Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear?... Do you not yet understand?” Then immediately after they encounter a blind man, and this is an unusual healing, first because we are not told that the man is made well because of his faith, or even the faith of those who brought him to Jesus, and secondly because this is a two-part healing. Jesus lays hands on him and then says, “Can you see anything?” and then man says, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” That is his seeing is not yet complete. Then Jesus lays hands on him again, and then we are told that the man sees everything clearly. They then made their way to Caesarea Philippi, an important change, which we’ll get to in a moment, and then Jesus asks the disciples the questions that will change the direction of the story. But how many questions does Jesus ask them? Two. First, he says, who do people say that I am? And they give him an answer. They don’t quite see clearly yet; their eyesight is not yet good. Then Jesus says, “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter says, presumably answering for all of them, “You are the messiah.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mark: Bearing and Giving Fruit

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 12:1-12:

In 1st century Palestine, everyone was connected to the soil in some way. While they might not be farmers themselves, more than likely they had family or friends who worked the soil, or perhaps they were the owners of the land. That is certainly not the case anymore, and so perhaps we might miss some of the understanding of the agricultural metaphors that are found throughout Jesus’ teachings, especially in the parables, but that are also found throughout scripture. Going all the way back to the second chapter of Genesis, in the second creation story, and yes there are two very different stories, we are told that “the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East… out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” That is God is a gardener. Later, the prophet Isaiah says that God, and this becomes important for today’s passage from Mark, had a vineyard on a very fertile hill, and God dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines and built a watchtower in the midst of it. Now metaphorically we are supposed to know in Isaiah that the watchtower represents the Temple, and that the vineyard is Israel, and in this telling in Isaiah, this song of the vineyard is a judgment on Israel. Then, of course, we have a reworking of that story here in the Gospel of Mark, which is also told in Matthew and Luke, which has become known as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, even though the word wicked is not every actually used in the parable.

Once again, a man, who we assign the role of God to, prepares a vineyard and does all the work to prepare it to make sure it brings about a bountiful harvest, then he leases out the land to tenants to work the fields. Some translations use the term vinedressers, instead of just tenants, indicating that this vineyard is not just being entrusted to anyone, but to people who are specialized in their fields. As we think about whom the judgment is made against, that, I think, can play an important role. But we have to remember that the tenants are not the ones who do all the work, much of the work, and the hardest work, has already been done for them. They are recipients of others work. Then the owner goes away. Now, one of the problems we sometimes have when looking at parables, or more probably allegories, and an allegory is where the characters in the story compare to people in reality, is to try and make them very literalistic. Jesus is not saying that God has left humanity to our own desires. Instead, Jesus is very deliberately setting this story up for the priests, scribes and elders whom Jesus is telling this story to, many of whom we know were absentee landlords. That is, they owned land that they did not toil on, but which produced money for them. They are the ones who send servants to collect their share of the harvest, and so in the way Jesus tells this story, the way he structures, it, Jesus flips the story around on them. They want to identify with the absentee landlord, and yet they also know that they are the tenants that Jesus is talking about.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mark: Sowing the Seeds

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 4:1-20:

Today we continue in our series in the Gospel of Mark by looking at what has become known as the Parable of the Sower, and what it says to us about us and about discipleship and the cost of discipleship. The parable is one of 8 parables that are found in all three of the synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke, which compares to around 33 total parables found in those three. And I say around 33 because there are some arguments about whether some of the stories that some include as parables are actually parables or not. But, this is a significant parable, first because it is one that Jesus explains, or at least seeks to explain, and secondly because of the role it plays in telling the story of Jesus’ ministry. According to New Testament scholar Mary Ann Tolbert in her book Sowing the Gospels, which many consider one of the best books on the gospel of Mark, says of the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, which we will look at next week, that they “present in concise, summary form the Gospel’s view of Jesus: He is the sower of the word and the heir of the vineyard. The first emphasizes his task and the second his identity; together they make up the gospel’s basic narrative.” (122) That is to say that these two parables, although she argues that the Parable of the Sower is the more important of the two, orient us to not only what the gospel is about, and what Jesus’ message is about, but about how to identify the characters in the story and what is to be expected if we truly understand and follow Jesus’ message.

Now, what Jesus’ interpretation of this parable would seem to say is that he intentionally teaches in parables so that some people won’t understand anything about the teachings, but those who are in the know will know, and that as verse 34 later will tell us that Jesus explained everything in private to the disciples. Some of you, in having read some of the parables may agree with that in that you don’t understand what they are saying, although what I always say is that as soon as you think you have the parables figured out you need to go back and read them again because you’ve probably missed something. But that doesn’t match what we see in the actual teachings, because one of the things that we hear about in Mark about the disciples is that they didn’t understand either Jesus’ teachings or what they had just witnessed, because they just don’t get it, and as I said last week the disciples as used as foils for what true discipleship looks like, and so it turns out, counter to what we might expect as we think about the soil in this parable, the disciples, at least right now, are not the ones who yield an abundant harvest. But, although this translation says it’s a secret of the Kingdom that Jesus given to the disciples, an idea we’ll return too, a better translation is probably mystery, and can we ever truly ever understand a mystery? No, that’s why it’s a mystery. Additionally, where is the seed spread? Is it only spread on the good soil? No, it’s spread everywhere, and it doesn’t say that it’s different seed spread in different places. It’s all the same seed, so the efficacy of the growth has nothing to do with the sower or the seed, but with the soil, which is why some suggest that this shouldn’t be called the parable of the sower at all, but instead the parable of the soil.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mark: The Baptism

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 1:1-11:

Today we begin a new sermon series on the gospel Mark that will take us through the next six weeks, which is when Lent begins. We are doing this series for several reasons. The first is because in the lectionary, which are the recommended scripture readings for each Sunday of the year, it’s broken into 3 years, and the second year, which is what we are in now, uses Mark predominantly for the gospel reading. The second reason is that of the four gospels, Mark is my favorite, and we’ll get into the reasons for that, but I actually rarely preach from Mark. In the 4 ½ years here at Mesa View, I’ve had 9 messages from Mark, versus 49 and 44 messages from Matthew and Luke, respectively. I’ve preached a lot more from John than from Mark, and I’m not particularly a fan of John, and so for the next six weeks I, at least, get to indulge my interest in this gospel. But, I can add that Mark not being covered as much has historically been the tradition of the church, because it is much sparser than the other gospels, especially when compared to the other two synoptic gospels, which are Matthew and Luke, and these three are called synoptics because they have roughly the same synopses as each other, whereas John is just totally different in most ways. Additionally, Matthew and Luke have additional stories, such as the sermon on the mount, and others that have been popular within the tradition, and where they have the same stories Matthew and Luke tend to have fuller accounts than Mark does as well. That has led some to make a claim about Mark being too simple, and that he does not have the literary capabilities that the other gospel writers have, but that totally misses the absolute artistry that Mark displays when we pay attention to what he’s doing and let Mark tell his own story, rather than asking him to be like Matthew and Luke.

We have four gospels for a reason, and they all tell a different story, they have a different purpose for being. These days it’s harder to know that because we most often hear the gospels only in short sections, and rarely told against each other, and since they can sound the same, we think they are they same. So, let me just give one example to illustrate the point. Both Matthew and Luke give us the beatitudes, although Mark does not. In Luke we are told, “blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the Kingdom of God,” and Jesus preaches that message from a flat area, whereas in Matthew, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of God.” What is the difference between those? Matthew has spiritualized the message. It’s not about economic poverty, as it is for Luke, as well as being directly focused on the poor who are hearing the message, whereas Matthew is speaking about a generic group that’s out there. So, listen to what each gospel writer is telling and pay attention to their story, and for Mark, at the heart of his message is about the example and the cost of being a disciple. As we’ll see, in Mark’s gospel the disciples continually fail, they are sort of bumbling fools at times who never seem to get it, because they are being set up as foils against others, but more importantly against Christ as the ultimate example of discipleship and the cost of discipleship.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Consolation of Israel

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 2:22-40:

Today’s passage from Luke, although little known or covered, is actually the conclusion to Luke’s birth narrative, but I am pretty sure that you cannot find figures of Simeon and Anna anywhere to add to your nativity display. If you were here throughout Advent you will remember Luke’s gospel begins, and the nativity story starts, in the Temple in Jerusalem with the announcement to Zechariah, a priest, that he and his wife Elizabeth are to have a son, who is John the Baptist, even though they are both advanced in years. The angel tells Zechariah that this child is in answer to his prayers, although it is not clear how long he, and presumably his wife, have been praying for a child. But, Zechariah does not believe the pronouncement made by the angel, and so he is struck mute until after John’s birth when he is filled with the spirit and given a prophecy in the form of a song, typically referred to as the Benedictus.The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is then sort of mirrored and interspersed with the announcement to Mary, including Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, with a significant difference being that Mary believes what the angel tells her. Then, of course we have the birth story, the announcement to the shepherds, which is also similar in construction to what has already taken place, and then today’s passage, which begins by telling us that on the 8th day, according to Jewish law, the baby was circumcised and named Jesus, which means God’s saves, as the angel had decreed. I remind us all of this so that we can understand in greater detail what is going on in today’s passage, because not only is this the closing of Luke’s birth narrative, but it forms a book end with how the story begins. We again find ourselves in the Temple, encountering an old man, who like Zechariah we are told is righteous and devout. Luke only applies the term righteous to four people in his Gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Joseph of Arimathea, who provides the tomb for Jesus.

In the second century a tradition arises that Simeon is 112 years old at the time he encounters Jesus.  There is no basis to this in scripture, and in fact, even though I just said otherwise, the passage doesn’t even tell us that he is advanced in age, but I think the purpose behind the tradition is to help illustrate his age.  We are told that he has been looking forward to and praying for the consolation of Israel, that is has been looking forward to the coming of the promised messiah. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that he is not in fact 112, but that instead he’s only 80. The best guess is that Jesus is born somewhere between 6 and 4 BCE. I know that our calendars are supposed to start at year 1 with Jesus’ birth, but they don’t, and we don’t know how the monk who did the dating in the year 525 came up with year 1. But most scholars date the death of Herod the Great to the year 4 BCE, and so if Jesus was born during the reign of Herod, then the latest he could have been born was around 4, but most scholars believe it was earlier than that. But for argument and simplicities sake, let’s say that today’s passage takes place in the year 5 BCE. 58 years earlier, in 63 BCE, a 22-year-old Simeon would have witnessed the end of the last Israelite independence when the Romans took Palestine from the Hasmoneans, the last Jewish ruling family, which began the prayers for the consolation of Israel, to return Israel to Jewish rule, to throw off the foreign oppressors, which is what the messiah was supposed to do.<