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Posts Tagged ‘first presbyterian church’

This is the second post in a series where I will be journaling through the Consultations on the Common Texts while preaching a sermon series on the “Great Ends of the Church”. Here’s the plan.

Today’s scriptures are Psalm 29, 2 Chronicles 5:2-14, and Acts 26:19-29. Today we are reflecting on the scripture from Sunday (Acts 16:16-34)

Psalm 29

I’m sitting here in Southeastern Nebraska on the banks of the Missouri river. I’ve seen pictures and heard stories about the flood a couple of years ago and how (to the folks here) it was caused not by the rain but by mismanagement of flow by the Army Corps of Engineers. I don’t know enough to know what happened, but I do wonder how someone who lived through that would read verse 10, “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” Would they read that as comforting that even through the flood God is with them? Would they read it that God caused the flood to “teach” some kind of lesson? Did God cause the flood because God was mad or bored? Was God even around?

I do know that those floods caused the church I serve (First Presbyterian Church–Nebraska City) to begin feeding victims of the flood weekly which speaks to the great end of the church, “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” At least, I know that God was in the aftermath of the flood and I believe God was there all along.

2 Chronicles 5:2-14

Reading about how the Israelites brought the ark into the temple for the first time makes me thing about the great end, “the maintenance  of divine worship” and how that can be a stumbling block for us. The story of the relationship between Israelites and God goes back to Genesis and it began with walking with Adam, then speaking with Abraham and Noah, etc. Then after God used Moses to lead them out of Egypt the ten commandments on tablets were made, then those were put into an ark, now that ark is being put into a temple. We have build temples all over the place to place our arks and sometimes I think in our zeal to maintain divine worship with have, to quote Richard Rohr, anesthetized and weakened the actual transformative power of Christianity”

I wonder if we worried less about our relics and more about the call from Christ, where that would lead us? Not to say that tradition is bad, per se, but when does maintenance inhibit expansion?

Acts 26:19-29

This is an obvious case of “proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.” I thought the end of verse 20 was interesting, “that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.” (emphasis added) When we repent, or turn, or say we’re sorry, that should change our behavior and often when we change our behavior people notice. Whether that’s your friends and family complaining that you’ve changed or the world beginning to look at you differently. I believe when we truly proclaim the gospel to the world it changes us and the world. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right, plain and simple. If reading scripture and discussing the teaching of Christ doesn’t make you want to stand up and shout then I’m not sure we are reading the same gospel. I know that we will probably shout about different things, I’ll be shouting about systematic racism, I’ll be sharing about universal healthcare, I’ll be shouting about broken capitalist systems. I wonder what others will shout?

 

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Here is the text of the sermon I preached at First Presbyterian Church, Bend, OR on July 22, 2012. The scriptures for the sermon, Mark 2:1-12 and Ephesians 2:11-22.

I sat down to write this sermon about who we pray for, who we open our hearts too when we say, Please, God. Who is it that we ask God’s mercy upon? Who’s burdens do we carry? Who do we think about when we pray?

I was ready to talk about my time at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, our biennial meeting that took place in Pittsburgh earlier this month. I was ready to talk about the people that come in on all sides of issues, and they come in with a spirit of confrontation. I experienced them as combative, ready to fight, ready to build a wall around their group preparing ammunition to attack that “other side”.

I was ready to talk about my frustration with the utter meanness of the rhetoric that I hear from parents, from politicians, from church leaders, from the media, and then I woke up on Friday morning to the news that 12 people were killed and 58 injured in Aurora, CO. All in a theater excited to see the new Batman movie.

I want to try to make sense of it, I want to be able to explain it, I want to be able to fix it. But I can’t…I can’t…I can’t help Jessica Ghawi, who narrowly escaped a shooting in a Toronto mall in early June, only to die in a theater in Aurora. I am powerless, I am helpless, I am left to only pray, only to say Please…God, have mercy. Have mercy on the families of the 12 who died by the hands of one man. Have mercy on the individuals and the families of the increasing number of wounded now the count is 70+. Have mercy on James Holmes, the 24 year old, suspected perpetrator of this tragedy. Have mercy on those around the world for whom this kind of violence is a daily occurrence.

I sat at my computer and I just got angrier and angrier! I keep thinking, PLEASE GOD THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING AGAIN!!!!!

I think, if only there were stricter gun laws this type of thing wouldn’t happen! If only, the shooter would have talked to someone, if only…,if only…, they all come up short and shortsighted. They are simply band-aids on a wound so great that only God can heal, a wound that God has healed yet we continue to scratch, to pick, to reopen that wound.

Writer and theologian, Paul Raushenbush, tells us a the faithful response to this kind of tragedy is…

“if we are gentle, and if we are kind, and if we are wise — we pause there and do not answer too quickly. We stay with the pain and the tears and the terror and in response offer compassion, prayers, thoughts, and demonstrate a willingness to be supportive and loving in any way we can.

The faithful response is to hold a vigil.

The reason why it is so important stay silent and be still in the immediate aftermath of tragedy is that if we respond or answer too soon we do not honor those victims who have died, and those who continue to suffer. Instead, our reactions serve the idols of our own agendas and ideas. Our reactions become about us and our egos, and only serve to distract away from the real work of compassion.”

With that in mind, I cautiously, continue to try and make sense of the scriptures and the world today.

In the Ephesians passage today it says, “With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” Yet, every single day, I read, I hear, I see finger pointing I see division, I see barriers of hatred being built and rebuilt.

I’m scared…I’m scared for the youth that I work with every day, I’m scared for my children, I’m scared for this community, for this world. While we were in DC we asked the students what their dream was, invited to dream as big as they wanted. Some said, I want to be an actor, I want to be an athlete, but many said, “I want the world to be nicer.”

I think this is indicative, of what is wrong now, what leads to suicide bombs, what leads to people walking into public places and opening fire.

I’m not naïve enough to think that the world is going to be nice. It’s a mean world; people get chewed up and spit out every day. But what I’ve noticed in my life is that the rhetoric, the vitriol, the way we act towards one another is different that it was even when I was a kid.

I want to be able to protect my kids, to protect my family…and because definitions are important…you are my family. But I can’t, I can’t be there all the time. And in this case as the blogger Rebecca Cussey said,

“Real evil interjected itself in the theater. Batman would know how to respond. I’m not talking about cool weapons or fighting skills. I’m talking about recognizing evil, acknowledging that it needs to be stopped, and being willing to put yourself on the line to stop it.”

I know I can’t always stop it, I am only left to pray, pray for my kids, pray for your kids, pray for those with whom I agree with, and pray for those I don’t.

We have forgotten how to hold each other’s burdens; we have forgotten to pick up those around us who are paralyzed from fear, from grief, from whatever it is. We have forgotten how to lift them when they can’t lift themselves. Sure we are great about helping those who we know, who we like, who we agree with, but I’m not sure we are willing to help those on the other side of the aisle. Sure we pray for them, but we…well I pray, that they will come to their senses and be more like me. We’ve forgotten that we can disagree with civility. We have put up so many barriers of hatred, of apathy, of contempt, of ignorance that we have a hard time even liking ourselves.

We live in different places, we wear different clothes, we have different beliefs but there is not them only us! A few years ago, a young man named Matt was asked to dance in front of the camera as his friend filmed him. Four years later, he released his next video in within the first month it has 3.3 million views. I think that is encapsulates, what the scripture are saying to us, there is no barrier Christ has torn it down.

Friends we must remember, that we are ALL children of God. We are ALL more alike than we are different and we ALL deserve to give and receive respect. We have a call from God to lift up each other’s burdens, even when we don’t want to, or it’s inconvenient, we must remember that with out someone who is willing to carry us we will always be paralyzed. Be that someone for those who are paralyzed around you, allow that someone to lower you though the roof so that you may pick up your mat and walk out the door.

Blessings,

Greg

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Here is the text from the sermon I preached December 4, 2011 at First Presbyterian Church. The texts were Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8.

And here’s a link to the audio. How do I spend less?

This season of Advent we’ve invited you to join us in a conspiracy of sorts, an Advent Conspiracy. An opportunity to Enter the Story of waiting, the story of preparing, the story of hope, the story of joy that we find ina manger in Bethlehem; the story of God becoming incarnate in an infant, born in poverty; an infant that would show us a new way to live, a new way to interact, a new way to be.

I will be honest this week’s question: How do we spend less? is a hard one for me. It’s hard because one of the main ways my family shows love is through the giving of gifts. All my life, whether at the holidays or just because the way that my family says, “I love you” is through buying each other gifts.

A few years ago a book came out to help married couples communicate more effectively and help them to understand their partner. This book was called the 5 Love Language. Dr. Gary Chapman explains that these love languages are ways that people show and interpret love.

My family shows and interprets love through little gifts, it doesn’t have to be grandiose or expensive it’s just something. “Hey, I thought of you today and I bought you your favorite candy bar.” “I saw this book on the half off table and I thought you’d like it.” You know stuff like that.

So when I tell my family, we are going to spend less this year and we would like you to as well, it’s like telling them not to show us that they love us. It’s really hurtful, I can hear it over the phone. Even though my parents and sister are flying all the way across country to spend time with us this Christmas (which as you know if pretty expensive and a wonderful gift in and of itself) it is necessary for them to give us and our children something, some token of their love.

Who am I to tell my family that they can’t speak in the only language they know?

My hope is that while we think about spending less, we will hear spend differently. Whether that’s a gift from the Alternative Christmas Market or a donation in honor of your loved one to a worthy cause, or a check to them in the amount you were going to spend to them inviting them to give it away to the something they feel passionate about and tell you why.  There are a million different ways to spend, that can not only show how much you love but also can do good for someone else.

Sometimes I think that we spend because that is the only language we think is out there, we don’t know or have never heard of a different way. There are tons of ways you can give or receive a gift that doesn’t cost you any money.

Let’s look at some of the ways that a gift that didn’t cost anything has touched the lives of our community.

In the passage from Mark this morning we hear about John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, standing in the wilderness saying, “Hey everybody, something’s got to change and I know that soon someone will come and show you. I can point to him. And he’s going to change everything.”

That’s what we are doing, we are waiting, we are preparing for something fantastic, the birth of the savior, Jesus, who came as an infant, not a mighty king, who broke bread with his enemies, not decimate them, who at every turn did something unexpected.

Even the one who was proclaiming his coming was unexpected. He was in the wilderness wearing camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. He wasn’t in the halls of power, he never intended to go there, John the Baptist was setting the table for the banquet to come.

He said wake up, there’s something wrong here and I know who’s going to show us how to fix it.

I think right now in our world, in our society, in our economy we are at a crisis point. We are at a point where mere tinkering isn’t going to fix it, we need to completely overhaul the systems we live in, that we have become a part of, that we have fed into. I believe God is doing something new.

Now you might be saying, “You’re crazy!” You’d probably be right. Crazy enough to think that a system that is reliant on spending more and more is unsustainable, crazy enough to believe that an economy based on speculation can’t hold, crazy enough to think that there are people in this world that are willing to stand up and say I’m tired of living the same ole, same ole.

People willing to say enough!

People willing to say that for living in a “Christian” nation we don’t live very Gospel lives.

I’m not an economist, I’m not a businessperson, but I know that some of you are. I may be too young, too naïve, too Pollyanna. But I’m willing to bet some of you are too.

I heard on the news this week that Black Friday was a success for retailers. Consumers spent millions of dollars, that they out-shined projections and that Cyber Monday was the biggest day of online shopping ever. The stock market was up; people said there might be light at the end of this dark tunnel that we’re in.

From what little I understand about the economy and job creation, we need people to spend money in order for more jobs to be created. More cashiers and stockers, more manufacturers, more everything…but we also need people to have jobs in order to make money to buy more things to create more jobs. This is wholly unsustainable to me.

I know that maybe an oversimplification or a complete misunderstanding. If so, please help me understand. I’m willing to sit down with anyone who is willing to help me understand this. Because it seems to me that we need a change. We are begging for a change, we aren’t going to make it if we don’t change.

I don’t have all the answers, really all I have at this point are questions, but I know that Christ came into this world in an unexpected way and I trust that Christ will continue to come into our lives in unexpected ways. I pray that a gift will unexpectedly relieve the suffering of some of the world’s poorest, I pray that God will call those blessed with knowledge of how economic systems work to sit down with those that understand how just systems work and try and figure out how we can have a more just economic system.

The time is now, Christmas is coming, the savior of the world is coming to shock us, to challenge us, to call us to a new way of loving the lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Remember Christmas can STILL change the world!

May it be so!

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