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Posts Tagged ‘Luke’

This is the third 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, Ezekiel 3:12-21, and Luke 9:18-27. Today we are reflecting on the scripture from Sunday (Acts 16:16-34)

Psalm 29

Verse 7 says, “the voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” In terms of the upcoming Pentecost Sunday I’m intrigued by Psalm 29’s varied expressions of the voice of the Lord and how that relates to proclamation of the gospel. St. Francis of Assisi has a famous quote, “preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.” As we are called to proclaim I wonder if we limit how we do that or what proclamation even means. Is a casserole delivery or a hug just as much proclamation as any sermon? I think it is, but in a different way. In our world that is ever changing and the lecture style of communication is waning, how do preachers and the church own and intentionally proclaim the gospel to the world?

Ezekiel 3:12-21

Wow! No pressure! God lifts Ezekiel and takes him to live with exiles to tell him that if he doesn’t proclaim God’s word to people they will die and so will he. Yikes! It makes me think of that Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It seems that God is telling Ezekiel if you here something from me, you MUST share it, even if it’s not going to be easy. That’s a challenge. How to tell people things without them thinking you’re a self-righteous jerk or crazy. I know that’s a little extreme, but as someone who stands in a pulpit and proclaims the gospel weekly it’s hard.

Luke 9:18-27

“Who do you say that I am?” That’s a tough question. If you look in the media it might appear that Jesus is judgmental, hateful, violent, and aggressive. There’s a saying, “You might be the only Jesus someone ever meets.” As we proclaim the gospel our actions do the talking, if we say one thing on Sunday morning and do something else on Monday that says something about we say Jesus is. Those that are able to be consistent every day of the week are the one’s Christ is talking about in verse 27, “But truly I tell you, there are standing here who will not tast death before they see the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is around us always and we can have glimpse of it, if we look and we can share that message with all we meet.

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ImageHere is the text of the sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church on Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013. The scripture is Luke 19:28-40.

“I tell you if they are silent even the stones will shout.”

Have you ever been in a situation, you know the kind I’m talking about where it’s quiet and there is an expectation of quiet. Whether it’s a worship service, a meeting, a bible study, a quiet room, a library, the list goes on and on and the person you are with won’t be quiet, won’t lower their voice. It’s embarrassing. Why won’t they be quiet? It’s uncouth, it’s uncivilized, it’s maddening.  

I know this because I have two young children, I know this because I like my family have loud voices that carry a long way, I know this because if you tell me to be quiet I’m either going to get really, REALLY loud or I’ll shut down completely, I know this because I am easily embarrassed.

That’s what the Pharisees were doing right? They were just asking Jesus to calm his disciples down, they were creating a scene, they were too loud, they were uncouth, they were embarrassing.

You see there was another parade going on that day. One that was very different than the one we celebrate on Palm Sunday.

The other parade was taking place across town, that parade was for Pontius Pilate. It was filled with large warhorses, weapons, banners, trumpets, and all the pomp and circumstance that could be mustered. This parade had a very different point, it was meant to intimidate, to remind the Israelites who was in charge, it was in it’s very nature the height of psychological warfare. It was as good or better than anything we saw from the USSR during the Cold War and still see by North Korea today.

As biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan put it, “From the west came Pilate draped in the gaudy glory of imperial power: horses, chariots, and gleaming armor. He moved in with the Roman army at the beginning of Passover week to make sure nothing got out of hand. Insurrection was in the air with the memory of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.”

From the east, a commoner’s procession, Jesus wearing an ordinary robe and riding a donkey; some of the Pharisees were scared, they were nervous that the procession of Jesus and the exuberance of his followers was going to upset the delicate partnership they had with Pilate. Everything would be all right as long as Jesus and his disciples didn’t upset anyone.

To their command to “scold your disciples, tell them to be quiet.” Jesus quotes the prophet Habakkuk “If they were to be silent, even the stones would shout.”

You see the deal the Pharisees had struck with Romans, the deal that Jesus was coming dangerously close to upsetting by his teachings and his miraculous works was an unjust system. It was a system that benefited the Pharisees and those in power; it did not care for the poor, the widow, the children, the orphan. It had gotten to the point that the cries of injustice were so loud that even the stones would cry out for justice. Justice for those who were oppressed by the same Old Testament laws that had been created to lift them up, left to fall by the same covenant designed to catch them.  Jesus had come to do, what he had been called to do, he had come to speak truth to power regardless of the consequences to his own health and good name. Within a week it would see him betrayed by his own disciple, have the back of the people he came to lift up be turned, and he would be executed as a common criminal.

Every time I read this story, I get so mad, so mad because this story continues to be told over and over and over again. People, groups, organizations rise up to speak against injustice and then they become subsumed by the power or silenced by the power, through execution, inaction, or slander.

The Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, the list goes on and on. I want to focus on two people that you may never have heard of, these two I believe are the stones shouting for justice.

The first is Mary Harris Jones, in Appalachia she was known as Mother Jones. Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever and her workshop was destroyed in a fire in 1871, she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. From 1897, at around 60 years of age, she was known as Mother Jones. In 1902 she was called “the most dangerous woman in America” for her success in organizing mineworkers and their families against the mine owners. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children’s March from Philadelphia to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.[1]

Mother Jones worked tirelessly until her death in 1930. Her work saved countless children from working in the mines and helped many men fight for a decent wage. Her work continues to be seen in my home state of West Virginia, where she stood up to those in power even leading to her being beaten by security from the coal companies when she was in her 80s. Mary Jones refused to be silent; she refused to allow children and those whom she loved to be treated as chattel to line the pockets of big city coal barons.

Can you hear the stones shouting?

Another stone that shouts is a young woman by the name of Malala Yousafzai. Malala is a student in Pakistan. Malala has become known for her work for women’s rights and for the education of girls in the Middle East.

In early 2009, at the age of 11/12, she wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls. The following summer, a New York Times documentary was filmed about her life as the Pakistani military intervened in the region. Yousafzai began to rise in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television and taking a position as chairperson of the District Child Assembly Swat. She has since been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu and has won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. She was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is the youngest nominee in history.[2]

On October 9, 2012 a Taliban gunman shot Malala in the head and neck in an attempt to assassinate her while she was getting off her school bus. Malala was unconscious, in critical condition and was taken to the hospital.

After she was stabilized she was flown to England for treatment. After reconstruction of her skull and her hearing restored she was released in February of this year.

This week Malala returned to school, now in the United Kingdom. When asked about her first day she said, “I am excited that today I have achieved my dream of going back to school. I want all girls in the world to have this basic opportunity,”

Regardless of those in power telling her to be silent, regardless of the fear she felt, regardless of the attacks she has endured, Malala still fights for right for women and girls all over the world to get an education.

Can you hear the stones?

Who are the stones in our lives that are shouting? What are the things that are so necessary that they have to be said? What are you willing to shout, even when those around you tell you to be silent?

The Good News is even though they crucified him, they could not silence Jesus! Even though his disciples shuttered themselves in a room, the word got out! Friends, Jesus calls us to a better way, not an easier way. Jesus calls us to shout from the mountaintops and in the gutters and on the streets and in the hills. We will not be silent, we will shout with out loudest voice. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the one who comes to set the captive free. Blessed is the one who gives voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless, and never forgets that we are called to love….first.

Can you hear the stones?


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Harris_Jones

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malala_Yousafzai

Photo by Tmaurizia

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Here is the text of the sermon I preached at First Presbyterian Church Nebraska City on February 17, 2013. The scripture is Luke 4:1-13.

So here we are, we have begun the season of Lent, the season of penitence, of fasting, and prayer; the season of repentance. Last Wednesday we were reminded that we come from the earth and to the earth we will return. We took ashes on our foreheads to remind ourselves that there is work to do, that we are in need of grace, and cleansing so that we may be able to see God more clearly in our lives.

Growing up in the south, I often saw those preachers, heard those preachers, “REPENT, REPENT THE END IS NEAR!!! YOU BETTER GET RIGHT WITH GOD, BOY!!!! TURN FROM YOUR EVIL WAYS!!!! REPENT, REPENT!!!!!”

Those guys always terrified me; I mean really, I was scared they were going to physically assault me, they seemed so angry, so sure, so convinced that I was evil. I didn’t think I was evil, I still don’t. Sure, I’m not perfect, but evil no way. I think there is a long way between “snotty kid” to “evil”. So because I related that term “REPENT” to fear and anger I rejected it out of hand. I don’t need to repent I’m fine.

I know that for many the idea of giving up something is important to them during Lent. A lot of people give up chocolate, or sweets, or soda, or alcohol, etc. etc. That was not part of my tradition growing up. I never saw the point, the people I knew that gave up stuff weren’t changed, they couldn’t wait for Easter Sunday so they could have candy or a chocolate bar or a soda or a glass of wine or whatever it was. A pastor friend of mine talks about a man who smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day. Every Ash Wednesday, he would give up cold turkey and Easter Sunday, he would pick it up again. I’ve done it, given up something on Ash Wednesday only to have it reappear on Easter Sunday!

There has been a push recently for adding something to your life, adding community service or volunteer work, adding a devotional reading or prayer time. I’ve done that too, added something on Ash Wednesday and put it back down again on Easter Sunday, if I made it that far. These are nice gestures, they come from a good place, but I’m not sure they ultimately get us closer to God or empower us to do the work of God.

I told you that I completely shunned the word or even the idea of repentance or the need for it growing up. When I went to seminary I changed my opinion, I was enlightened you might say. The word that we translate as repentance in the Bible is a Hebrew word, shuv, it literally means “to turn”. IT LITERALLY MEANS TURN.

It doesn’t mean give up all that you’ve known or throw away all your loved ones. When we get out of whack it is because we have turned away from God, to repent means to turn towards God. It may require a 180° turn, it may only be a light twist. In this season of Lent we are called to turn from the thing that tempts us away from God and do our best to turn towards God, to prepare for the coming of the Lord. If eating chocolate, or candy, or drinking a soda keeps you from focusing on God, then by all means turn from it and turn towards God. I pray that turning lasts longer than six weeks.

We normally think of this need for repentance, the need to turn from our temptations, to master them before we start our journey with God. I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I need to get my life right, and then I can get back into church.” Or “I just need to get some things figured out then I can start praying” These are nice sentiments but they just aren’t biblically accurate.

In our scripture lesson today, we find Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Do you know what happens in the life of Jesus, right before this passage? He is baptized! That’s right, he got baptized, THEN, went into the wilderness and was tempted. In our churches, in our society, we often get it backwards, we think we need to face the temptation first, then we can be good enough, or holy enough, or righteous enough to be baptized or to do God’s work. The truth is YOU ARE ENOUGH, God has made you that way, God who knitted you in your mother’s womb, God who rejoiced at your birth, God who smiles upon you everyday has been, is, and will always be with you and until you recognize that you are a child of God, wholly, completely, warts and all you won’t have the strength to turn from those temptations and turn to God.

It was only because Christ had the sure and certain knowledge of the love God felt for him that he was able to turn away from the temptations of the Devil and keep his eyes focused on God.

When we embrace the fact that God loves us, just as we are no strings attached, AND God loves us enough not to let us stay that way that we will embrace the need for turning to God.

Often times at the beginning of Lent we start strong, we have resolve to keep up or discipline but as the weeks move on, our will power erodes we find it easier to give in, then before Easter we give up, or we’re so focused on eating that chocolate bunny on Easter Sunday that we forget why we started the process in the first place. We forget that the goal, at the beginning, was to take something away, or add something so that we may be more centered on God, instead we become centered on the thing that we’ve given up or taken on and not God. It has the opposite of its intended affect.

Often in our lives, our temptations are larger than chocolate and candy; they are less obvious than need to abstain from alcohol. Our temptations are subtle behaviors, they are not always bad, and they always are something that we want.

Let’s look again at the temptations of Jesus. Jesus was first tempted by bread. Jesus was fasting, I’m sure he was hungry; if he can turn a stone into a loaf of bread he could feed all the hungry. Eating bread, in and of itself is not a bad thing, but for Christ in this instance it is not sufficient to define his ministry.

The second temptation is to rule the world. It would seem that Jesus desired power, if Jesus ruled the world; he could do it more justly, more lovingly, certainly more compassionately than the Romans that ruled the known world at that time if he just worshipped the Devil. Jesus reminds the Devil that we are called to worship God alone.

The third temptation, to cast himself from the top of the temple, because God would protect the righteous and Jesus was certainly righteous. I’m sure Jesus would have loved some help, to be taken up by angels and carried off. Don’t we all. But Jesus reminds us that God is not to be tested.

Food, control, comfort these aren’t bad things. Much like our own desires to control others, or situations it’s not a bad thing to want things to go well but when the need for that control turns us away from God, it’s a bad thing.

If you’re like me, I am tempted to respond every time someone misspeaks or says something I don’t agree with, this happens a lot on social media and sometimes in coffee shops. It was causing me to no longer see good in people that I have known and loved for years. It was deteriorating our relationship and we weren’t going anywhere. There was no need for me to respond and I told myself that I wouldn’t but every time one of my friend would post something, I couldn’t help myself I responded. Because I was unable to resist the temptation to correct these people, I simply hid their posts from my wall. It helped me get past my temptation.

Often times, we try so hard to resist temptation, we pray about it, we stop cold turkey, we think we have it licked and then slowly it creeps back into our life and we’re back to square one.

I read a comic strip online called Coffee with Jesus. It’s great, 3 or 4 frames that get right to the point. This week’s comic entitled “Get Past It” Kevin asks Jesus, “You know that thing I struggle with?” and Jesus responds, “I do.” Kevin says, “I keep asking you to help me get past it, but it’s still there always a temptation.” Jesus sips his coffee and replies, “It’s still there because you flirt with it endlessly, love it so much, and actively pursue it Kevin. Put it behind you, not in front of you.” 

Image

Do you do that? Do you flirt with, love, and pursue the things that we know are not good for us, that keep us from seeing and hearing God in our lives? I encourage you to put your temptations behind you. If that means not eating chocolate, or candy, or praying daily, or taking pictures, or whatever you need to do to turn away from your temptation and towards God then do it.

I know that’s easier said that done, but with the sure knowledge that you are loved by God regardless of what tempts you. I know without a shadow of a doubt that you will be able to move, ever so slightly, one step at a time, little by little, to a closer walk with God.

May it be so.

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This is the text of the sermon I preached on February 10, 2013 at First Presbyterian Church, Nebraska City. The sermon text is Luke 9:29-43.

Have you ever had one of those moments you wanted to remember forever, you wanted something to remind you of that moment?

I have these rocks that I carry around in my briefcase, now they are little rocks, pebbles really. I got them from my trip to the Middle East in 2006. I had the pleasure of joining other seminarians on a trip that took us to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine. The two rocks that I carry come from Mt. Sinai, or The Sea of Galilee or maybe the Pyramids. When I picked them up and put them in bag. I knew I would remember where they came from. The sad fact is they are just rocks, rocks that I carry around in my bag. When I look at them, I don’t remember all the amazing things I saw walking in the shoes of our biblical ancestors, I just get frustrated because I can’t remember where they came from. I should probably just put them in the yard or something; maybe really confuse some archeologists hundreds of years from now. How did this rock from the Middle East get in Nebraska? For some reason I can’t let them go, I’m stuck. I want to get back to that literal mountaintop experience but I can’t seem to find it again. So for the time being I carry around a couple of random rocks in my briefcase.

We do it all the time. We try to hold on to those moments, instead of holding onto the meaning of the moment, the lesson that we learn from experiencing that mountaintop.

In the 1730s, in the American Colonies we experienced what scholars call “The Great Awakening.” “It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of deep personal revelation of their need of salvation by Jesus Christ. Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made Christianity intensely personal to the average person by fostering a deep sense of spiritual conviction and redemption, and by encouraging introspection and a commitment to a new standard of personal morality.”[1]

Some of the most famous preachers of this time in American Protestantism were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. You may have heard or heard of Jonathan Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of and Angry God.” Edwards was not known, as a great orator but still was able to attract a huge following. George Whitfield on the other hand was a known for his skills in preaching, so much so his reputation would precede him, the crowds would be huge, bigger than any church could hold. He would preach in parks and squares and wherever they could find enough room to fit the people. He was like the Colonies’ first rock star. He was like Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Justin Bieber all wrapped into one. One of his most famous fans was Benjamin Franklin; he devoted 45 editions of his Gazette for Whitfield’s writings.[2]

The sermons those men were credited with, the religious fervor they were able to conjure up, the people they were able to reach from all accounts had mountaintop moments hearing them preach. They would preach then they would leave, on to the next town, and inevitably the religious fervor would fade, life would take over, that special feeling that you get when you know you are in the presences of God is harder and harder to recall and then what. If you come down from the mountaintop are you somehow less faithful? 

This was one of the unintended consequences for the emotional nature of the sermons, many would be raised to heavenly heights but would come crashing down and lose faith when their world returned to “normal”. Many had no one to answer the hard questions of faith, many lost faith as quickly as they had found it. They knew how to stop; listen and they wanted to hold on to that moment forever but they did not know how to move on down the path of faith.

That’s not to say that we should not be emotionally connected to our faith, that we shouldn’t seek those mountaintop experiences. I know for my own faith journey, it is those mountaintop experiences that feed me for the journey that continues when we come down from the mountain. Whether those moments where at a retreat, summer camp, a worship service, or conference or whether those moments came in a hospital room, sitting around a table, or working in your yard those mountaintop experiences help to guide us on the long road of faith.

In our scripture lesson today, we read from the Gospel of Luke in a story often called “The Transfiguration.” In our passage, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to the mountain to pray. Jesus’ face is transfigured and his clothes shine bright white and he was talking to Moses and Elijah. The scripture reminds us that the disciples were “weighed down with sleep”. Seems like they always are. They just can’t seem to stay awake can they? Peter realizes what is going on and he offers to build dwellings for you and your friends. Before he can even finish his offer a cloud engulfs them and they heard the voice of God and were terrified. Wouldn’t you be? The voice of God says, “This is my Son, Listen to him!” 

Peter, James, and John see Jesus talking with the spirits of Moses and Elijah and instead of being told to build an alter or to create a temple, or even pick up a rock to remember the experience they are told, by God to Listen to Jesus.

I’m sure Peter, James, and John were dumbfounded by the whole experience, they wanted more, they wanted to talk to Moses and Elijah, pick their brains, figure out how it was going to all play out. All they got was listen to him! They were so dumbfounded they did tell anyone.

Isn’t that how it happens, we have an experience, I have a few stories, times when you were so astounded at what happened that you couldn’t explain it to anyone? Everything clicks, everything works out and things are perfect. We say things like, “If I could bottle that, I’d be rich.” “This is what church should feel like.” “I wish this would last forever.”

The sad fact, the reality is you can’t bottle it, church does feel like that sometimes, and nothing last forever.

Even for Jesus and the disciples as soon as the day after they come down the mountain, Jesus casts a demon out of a young boy. A boy they disciples couldn’t heal by themselves. Jesus says, “You’re not listening.”

Often we don’t listen.

We get swept up in the euphoria of God that we don’t do the work of God. Sometimes it happens that we get excited about a new calling we dive right in, then something happens, our call loses its luster then we think about quitting, then we quit. There are stories of you starting things, stories of you doing great work, stories of you sticking with it.

From all that I have heard the Best Flood Friends ministry is a time where the euphoria and the work met and this church was enlivened by the idea that you were worthwhile, that you were needed, and you not only had the ideas but the ability to implement those ideas. You were able to cast out demons of loneliness and grief, of hunger and abandonment. All were astounded by the greatness of God.

Our challenge is not to build dwellings to that moment in the life of this church. Our challenge is to learn from that moment as it leads us down the path of ministry. We learned that we are committed, we are equipped, we are capable.

Our next step is to put that knowledge to work. I asked you last night to think of the most audacious goal you have for the church. We will begin asking you to share those with us throughout the season of Lent. What is the next demon we can cast out? What is Jesus saying to us? Are we listening?

Those mountaintop experiences provide us with food for the journey. Let this meal we are about to partake in feed us, nourish us, and embolden us to take that next step out in faith.

Let us pray.

Dear God, we are full of questions, we are full of doubts, there are so many needs, so many ways to help, so many we can become paralyzed wanting to make a monument to past glory. Give us the strength to press on, to listen to your call on our congregation, to learn from the moments when we have seen your face. Dear God, we are listening, open our ears so that we may hear.

Amen.

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