Posts Tagged ‘worship’

[DISCLAIMER: Young energetic pastor is about to completely nerd out and invite you along.]
Over the course of the next six weeks we will be looking at, dissecting, and celebrating the Great Ends of the Church that are lined out in the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA). They can be found in the Book of Order, here they are:

F-1.0304 The Great Ends of the Church

The great ends of the Church are:

the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;

the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

the maintenance of divine worship;

the preservation of the truth;

the promotion of social righteousness; and

the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

We will be taking one end each Sunday, this Sunday, May 19 is also Pentecost we will be looking at “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”
Over this period of time, the Men’s Bible Study (Thursday, 6:30 AM at Janie’s Confections) will be diving head long into this subject. We will be following a book called Consultations on Common Texts engaging daily with the Bible. We also will (or those that would like) be journaling through these texts as we read them with the Great Ends of the Church in mind.
I invite you to join with us on this quest to look at the history of the PC(USA) and the calling to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. I will be posting the readings for the week each Monday morning so you follow along. I will also attempt to journal here through the texts. I will also be cross posting this on my blog (NebraskaBolt.wordpress.com) and would welcome any comments or thoughts as we travel this journey together.
The way the scriptures are set up, the selections for Monday-Wednesday reflect on the previous week and the selections from Thursday-Saturday are preparing for the upcoming Sunday. (I know it’s a little confusing, but you’ll get the hang of it.)
The scriptures for this week are:

Monday, May 13

Psalm 29,

Exodus 40:16-38

Acts 16:35-40

Tuesday, May 14 

Psalm 29

2 Chronicles 5:2-14

Acts 26:19-29

Wednesday, May 15

Psalm 29

Ezekiel 3:12-21

Luke 9:18-27

Thursday, May 16

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Isaiah 32:11-17

Galatians 5:16-25

Friday, May 17

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Isaiah 44:1-4

Galatians 6:7-10

Saturday, May 18

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

2 Kings 2:1-15a

Luke 1:5-17

Sunday, May 19 Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

My plan for Sunday, May 19 is to preach on Acts 2:1-21.

I think this could be a great opportunity for us, as a church body, to learn and study together.


Pastor Greg


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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 on February 24, 2013. The sermon text is Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. (I know there are lot of typos in this one, but it’s late.)

My daughter Sophia from time to time will pick out a large book at our house and start calling it her bible. “Daddy can you read my bible” “Have you seen my bible?” and on and on. It first was actually a bible, given that Heidi and I are both pastors it’s not unusual for there to be a couple of bibles laying around. She also has a couple of children’s bibles that have played this role, it has also been Shell Silverstein’s “Where The Sidewalk Ends” and most recently it is the First Presbyterian Church Nebraska City cookbook.

I was looking through that book when my wife and I realized this church has a pattern, a thread that has woven it’s way through the entire history of First Presbyterian Church since Henry Giltner arrived in 1855. There is an ebb and flow in this congregation that I think can help us understand where we are right now and where we are going in the future.

The thread is a thread of major change a couple of times a century.

Our first building was built in 1857, for 45 years we faithful worshipped and learned there, then we built a new building in 1902. From 1902 until 1962, 60 years, we lived and grew in our second building, then in 1962 we built and moved into our new building, the building that 50 years we’ve call home still, the building where many of you were married in, where you raised your kids, and now your kids are raising their own kids.

Now breathe, I’m not about to suggest we need a new building, but what I am suggesting is that God is calling us to our next big change that will hopefully will set our course for the next half century.

What if we re-purposed our building to provide a high quality but affordable daycare and preschool for working parents? What if we opened our doors to the middle school across the street as an evacuation location or partnered with them to educate the children providing them a safe place to ask questions? What if we had a contemplative place opened all the time that could be used for prayer, meditation, and spiritual development? What if we ripped up all the pews and turned faced them towards one another? What if we partnered with the city to create a recreational area for students? A place where they could strengthen their whole selves, a place where they could learn and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually the questions are endless and these aren’t my ideas they are ideas I have heard from you, in meetings, on you idea board, in conversations with you, as well as members of the surrounding community.

Now I know these are pretty wild ideas, they are fairly unbelievable honestly, and certainly we won’t do all of them, we might not do any of them, they may be too big for us, they may be too hard, they may be too impossible…but I don’t think so.

I believe we are in a moment, a unique position, where like Abram, we can have an honest conversation with God and hopefully move forward in faith.

In our scripture lesson today we kind of enter in the middle of the story. We’re in the middle of the story of Abraham and Sarah, even before they get their new names. We get to listen to a conversation between Abram and God. It’s the type of conversation that you would only have with someone you had a close and trusted relationship with.

At this point in the story Abram has already packed up his things and moved to Canaan, then Egypt, been separated with his nephew, Lot, reunited with Lot, sold his wife into slavery…twice, and been blessed by the high priest Melchizedek, A LOT has happened since Abram and Sarai began their journey in the faith and trust that they would have a son and their descendents would number more than the stars. Yet, Sarai is not yet pregnant. So it seems understandable that Abram has some questions.

God’s words to Abram, “”Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.” Don’t seem to cut it. I picture Abram rolling his eyes, much like you would with your friend says trust me over and over again and they haven’t lied, but what they told you hasn’t quite worked out the way you planned.

God reassures Abram, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them. This is how many children you will have.” Abram presses, “”LORD God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”

It’s a great question.

It’s a question we ask, we probably should ask, and if we don’t at least think about we seem impetuous or rash or silly. I mean really, we are going through this transformation process. You all set out in the fall of 2010 and have talked and listened and prayed and I know been promised that there would be more members and more energy and more spirit. So far we are two years plus in, from what I can tell there is more energy, there is more spirit, there is ideas, but I’m willing to bet that isn’t what you were expecting. I’ll tell you this, in the fall of 2010 I sure wasn’t expecting to be living and serving in Nebraska, but I’m glad God had a plan and here we are.

You are probably getting tired of me talking about this but we really want your big hairy audacious goals or dreams for this church, what crazy idea has God spoken to you. I’m sure when Abram, was in his eighties at this point, got laughed at when he told people that he was following God who promised that he would have more descendents than stars.

God recommits to God’s covenant with Abram, they follow the ritual of the time of splitting a sacrificial animal, except God asks Abram to split all of the animals to prove how dedicated to this God was. A covenant was cut, literally, a contract was signed, by two parties, Abram and God and much like any contract you have ever signed there are commitments made by both parties. God promises to give Abram descendents and Abram promises to trust God and continue to follow God’s leading. Abram was not a passive participant in this covenant and we aren’t passive participants in this process of transformation that God is leading us on and has been leading us on since Rev. Giltner in 1855. I imagine he could have never imagined where we are now, I wonder if 50 or 100 or 150 years from now will those reading the history of First Presbyterian Church or the history of Nebraska City be able to look back on our journey and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

God has cut a convenant with us, God’s faithfulness has shown itself through the last 150 years, God’s faithfulness has shown itself through the stories that I have heard from you, the stories of heartache, the stories of triumph, the stories that are still being told. As our story of faith unfolds, I’m am certain that it will be different than we anticipated but when we look back we will be able to say, “Wow, what a ride, who would have ever guessed that First Presbyterian Church of Nebraska City could of started that…”

How did they know it would work?

The truth is we don’t, we try and fall down, we step out in faith, we get lost, we find our way back, we find our way forward, we fail, we triumph, but through it all we have faith that the God that sent Abram out of Haran and gave Abram his son, Isaac, who began our ancestry, is the same God that is sending us out to not only be transformed as a congregation but to transform the world around us.

Let us not be passive, let us hold up our end of the covenant with God, let us continue to dream and trust, knowing that God is, has been, and will be with us all along the way.

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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.” 


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.


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This is the text of the sermon I preached at First Presbyterian Church, Nebraska City on February 3. The sermon text is Jeremiah 1:4-10.

An old pastor was in his office one morning going through his normal routine. When a young man, who was considering the ministry came in and sat down in his office. After talking about their lives, the young man paused and said to the older pastor, “When did you know you were called to the ministry?”

The old, wise pastor sat back in his chair paused and said, “This morning.”

Every day we are called anew, some days hearing that call is harder than others, some day you might think that God has made a mistake. Not me Lord, I’m not smart enough, I don’t know enough, I don’t have enough energy, I’m too old, I’m too young, and on and on.

This is part of my story, when I was a junior in high school; I gave my first sermon in church. After my senior year, after another sermon someone came to me after the sermon and said, “You should be a minister.” I scoffed at that, a minister? Me? You can’t be serious, pastors were good people, who got good grades, who knew the Bible, I was not a pastor, nor would I ever be. I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say, I haven’t always been a pastor and my actions reflected that.

As a got older, I kept finding myself in pastoral roles. My summer job in graduate school was as the Trip Director at the Presbyterian camp in West Virginia. Then when I got out of school, I couldn’t find any jobs in my field. I have a master’s in physical education and planned to be a college baseball coach, no options there. I also worked for the university during school. I was in charge of the officials for intramural activities for West Virginia University. I sent out about 100 resumes, not even one call back. I think God was trying to tell me something. The job I got was as a youth director at a large church in Denver. I was definitely not ready for that.

I came home to West Virginia and found myself back at the camp, now as the Assistant Director, leading worship, being the pastor to the staff. I started seminary with the express desire to never be the pastor of a church. They say, if you ever doubt that God has a sense of humor, just tell God your plans.

For most of that time, I believed that I was answering a call but God had the wrong number.

Now after years of fighting, giving in, resisting, embracing, being planted, being uprooted, shifting, and standing still I have the honor of serving with you as your pastor.

In our scripture reading today from the book of Jeremiah we hear a piece of his call story. God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

That’s fairly intimidating, don’t you think. “Prophet to the nations”? Yikes, I didn’t sign up for that, says Jeremiah, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

This response is normal, right. Moses said it, Isaiah said it, Ezekiel said it. I mean really who says, sign me up when you hear a voice from God say, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

I have a hard enough time deciding what I want to eat for dinner much less deciding what to pluck up or pull down, what to destroy and overthrow, or what to build and plant. I can barely get my children to listen to me much less prophesy to nations.

I believe that through God we can do more than we could ever ask or imagine, but I wonder if our call is often to pluck up or pull down things in our own lives, in our own communities, we are to build and plant in our own lives, in our own houses.

Maybe Christian calling is not just reserved for those asked to do mighty things. It is the invitation to every Christian to witness to the gospel by investing with radical grace whatever worldly roles God opens to us.

A phrase that my wife have held on to recently is, bloom where you are planted. I wonder if that is what God is calling us to do. Can we at First Presbyterian fix all the problems in the world? Maybe. Can we have a positive influence in Nebraska? Probably. Can we begin to address the needs in Nebraska City? Certainly. Can we respond to God’s call in our own homes? Definitely.

Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

What is your deepest gladness? What is the world’s deepest hunger?

For us to answer these questions we might need to pluck up those weeds that cloud our vision, pull down the barriers we have built up over years of security, maybe we need to destroy some assumptions that we’ve always held, maybe we need to overthrow the perception that God’s grace and mercy are only available to a few. It will lead to build up each other and our community, to plant new seeds bearing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

I said last week, that I don’t know anything about farming, which is true, but I do know that in order to harvest fruit this season we need to pull up the weeds, we need to pluck up last year’s crops, we need to overturn the soil to prepare the land so we can plant our new crop. We often need to plant new seeds, we can’t continue to grow the same fruit in the same soil.

The soil here at First Presbyterian is fresh, it is nutritious, it is prepared for us to plant new seeds, to tend them and to watch them grow into the harvest that will sustain this city, this state, this world, and us.

We have an opportunity to experiment; we can plant whatever we want. It might be something that no one has ever tried here. It might whither and fade, it might flourish and expand our thoughts about what type of things can be planted.

Over the last year or two, you have been in a transformation process. The transformation has worked hard and now you have appointed a Vision Team. That team will be working over the next few months trying to form a vision for this church. We will be dreaming about what our crops will look like, what type of seeds will we plant. I want to challenge you to dream with us. I want to challenge you to think of the most bold, audacious, inventive goal you have for this church. The sky’s the limit; there are no limitations, dream big. In time I want you to share that goal with us, I want to pray for that goal, I want you to name your deepest gladness, and I want you to seek it’s meeting with the world’s greatest need.

I said last week that we are all in this together, but I didn’t say we were all the same. We can be unified without being uniform. Let us work together, let our passions combine, let our ideas grow, let us build up the body of Christ, let us plant the seeds that open our eyes up to the mystery of what we can do when we allow God to put the words in our mouths.

May it be so.

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Here is the sermon I preached at First Presbyterian Church, Nebraska City on January 27. My first Sunday with them.

I was watching the inauguration festivities this week and I was struck by something. I was struck by the diversity of the people in the crowd, I was struck by the men, women, young, old, that stretched from the Capitol steps to past the Smithsonian. If you haven’t been to Washington, DC, that’s a long way. I was struck by my twitter feed and facebook wall. (If you haven’t heard yet, I like social media and am on it A LOT!) My feed and my wall which often are filled with disagreement and not always civil discourse was filled with a pause to reflect on the pageantry and the realization that we are, in fact, in this together. I was struck that Paul Ryan, not exactly the President’s biggest fan, tweeted “I congratulate President Obama on his inauguration, and I join the country in celebrating this American tradition.”

I’ll be honest with you, I’m kind of nervous talking about the inauguration on Sunday morning, mostly because I know that there are some deeply held beliefs and positions that can cause conflict or friction. I also believe with all of my being that if we don’t acknowledge that we have different views and that that is a GOOD thing, then we, as a country, will continue to be stagnant and the conversations will continue to be filled with vitriol and we will never get anywhere. If we don’t accept that a wide spectrum of voices is better than a narrow one and that more voices are better than less, then we will continue to be polarized and feel uncomfortable talking about “those topics.”

It is precisely “those topics” that will get us to moving forward to a more civil, a more kingdom-like society. Now what does that have to do with Sunday morning or First Presbyterian Church or our reading from 1 Corinthians this morning?

It means that, Paul was right. “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.” To put it in more contemporary words, quoting High School Musical, We are all in this together. Young and old, new members and long time members, friends, children.

If we are going to truly be transformed, transformed by the Word, transformed by the Spirit, if we believe, like the Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”, then we will need everyone, I need everyone. All of you! I know that some of you don’t feel like you have a lot to give right now and that’s ok. I know that some of you do.

Some of you love planning events and some of you don’t. Some of you like me, love meetings. I know it’s hard to believe, but we can be honest here. Some of us would rather have a root canal than go to a meeting. Some of us love young people, some don’t, some love older people, some don’t, some are doers, some are idea people. It’s going to take all of us, because we are the Body of Christ! It’s going to take all of us, I need all of you, to join with me to be the hands and feet of Christ in Nebraska City, Southeastern Nebraska, the Midwest, the country, and the world.

When I visited in November, my family and I had the pleasure of staying at the Lied Lodge. As soon as you walk in, there in the stairwell, is one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only that that ever has.”

What I have learned so far about First Presbyterian Church is that you are thoughtful and committed and you are changing the face of Nebraska City. Through the respite care program, through the Best Flood Friends program, through the Friends of Faith Thrift Shop, and on and on. We, together, as the Body of Christ, will continue to learn and grow from those experiences and they will shape our vision for the future.

Some will be called to be apostles, some as prophets, some as teachers, some will speak in tongues, some will intrepert tongues, the scripture says. For us, right now, that means that some will be sent out with a specific calling, whether that is serving on Session or Deacons, some will be called to vision for the future, guiding us through the sometimes treacherous and often tricky path of change. Some will be called to teach, both young and old, both in the church and in the community, some will be blessed with the ability to speak to those outside our walls spreading the Gospel of Christ in a language that can be understood by those who have never heard the powerful message of grace that God offers.

We will need to listen to our youngest and our oldest, our most active and most inactive, but most of all we must listen to the Spirit that has lead us to this point. The Spirit that led Jan Marion to make a phone call to a youth pastor, who was standing at a bus stop in Washington, DC. The Spirit that led that youth pastor to pray and listen, the spirit that led the search committee to pray and discern and ask tough questions, the spirit that led my family to fly out here, the spirit that was unmistakeable as we got to know you, the Spirit that has led me here, the spirit that has led us here, the spirit that will lead us forward as we seek to be the very reflection of Christ to our neighbors.

You are the Body of Christ, we are the Body of Christ, let us use our gifts, our knowledge, our ambition, our prayers, and God will show us an even better way.

May it be so.

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