December 5, 2010, 2nd Sunday of Advent
We have a very negative view of those friends of ours that say they will meet
us in a certain place only to not show up for another half an hour or even longer. We
sit or stand and fume getting angrier with them by the minute. The longer
we wait the more upset we become. We all know deep down that being late
and making others wait is a form of selfishness. We know somehow that our friend
or friends values us less than we value them. But that negative
idea of being forced to wait is just the opposite for God. God wants us
to wait so that things can be the best for us. God makes us wait for very
positive and loving reasons, while our friend may be making us wait for just
the opposite reason that they do not value us at all.
David Masiter a noted psychologist has noted that: “occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.” Maister goes on to note that William James, the noted philosopher observed: “Boredom results from being attentive to the passage of time itself. A more colloquial version might be ‘A watched pot never boils’. The truth of this proposition has been discovered by many service organizations. In various restaurants, it is common practice to hand out menus for customers to peruse while waiting in line. Apart from shortening the perception of time, this practice has the added benefit of shortening the service time, since customers will be ready to order once they are seated, and will not tie up table space making up their minds). (http://davidmaister.com/articles/5/52/)
December 12, 2010, 3rd Sunday of Advent
Should a family business stay in the
family? The question is really academic, since families appear to be in business
to stay. But, when the management moves from one generation to the next, the
transition is often far from orderly. In addition, as the company develops, there
is a need for a management style that goes beyond survival thinking, and entrepreneurs
tend not to be successful operators. In fact, while a sometimes-bitter power
struggle is peaking, the fortunes of the company may be sliding downhill. In
other cases, power struggles are part of a healthy transition. The eternal problem
involves the older generation’s
making use of the flexibility and new ideas of the succeeding generation. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-6248.1994.00377.x/abstract)
John struggled to hand over the prophetic business to Jesus. John had difficulty
getting used to Jesus’ new ideas.
So, if we believe in high expectations, how can we set them appropriately so our children rise to the level of their expectations but don’t end up discouraged should they not quite reach that level? (http://fatherhood.about.com/od/succeedingasafather/a/high_expectations.htm) John’s great expectations for Jesus who was to follow was a good thing. But where John needed to be careful and so do we as mothers and fathers so as not to impose our limiting expectations on our children.
December 19, 2010, 4th Sunday of Advent
One image which may be useful in communicating
the searching merciful-but-dangerous nature of the Word turned Good Shepherd:
John Terrence Kelly who becomes “Mr.
Clark” in many of Tom Clancy’s novels. The sharp intake of breath
that you may hear in the congregation as you make such a suggestion is precisely
the effect the title of “Good Shepherd” and suggestion of “Word
became flesh” would have had in the culture of Jesus’ day. If you
are familiar with any of Clancy’s later novels, you’ll recognize
this fit; if not but you find this suggestion intriguing, you can access the
Wikipedia description of John Clark (Tom Clancy) or rent Clear and Present
“Prudence, is linked to shrewdness, to excellence in judgment, to the capacity to discern, to the ability to take in a situation and see it in its wholeness. Prudence is foresight and far-sightedness. It’s the ability to make immediate decisions on the basis of their longer-range effects.” Thus echoing the leadership of the Dishonest Steward, of whom Jesus counseled we should learn from (Luke 16:8). (Ortburg, J. Today’s Most Devalued Virtue. [Leadership: 4/26/2010] www.christianitytoday.com/le).
The title “Immanuel” given by the angel to the anticipated child of Mary signifies the power of God with us. The incarnation is all about the power of presence. When we are afraid, knowing a strong person is present gives us courage. When we are up against a challenge or a difficult decision, a calming, reassuring presence makes us able to be decisive and confident. Many years ago I heard the Rev. Charles L. Allen, author of the best-selling book God’s Psychiatry (1984, Fleming H. Revell). Speaking to a group of pastors, Allen spoke simply in his Texas drawl and wry wit. “Pastoral counseling,” he said, “is mostly listening. When someone comes to see you, just ask them ‘What’s your situation?’ Then listen. After about twenty minutes, ask them ‘Now what do you think you ought to do about it?’ You see, most people know exactly what they should do. They just need a little encouragement to do it.” This simple advice has helped immensely in my understanding of the power of presence. Often, we just need someone with us to encourage us to do what we are hesitant to venture.
In the U.S.A., names are chosen for the euphony of their sound, or to honor previous family members or friends. No thought was given to the meaning of my given name; I was named for a dear family friend. Not so in many other cultures, where a person’s name is fraught with great significance, and their purpose in life or their vocation is heralded by the meaning of their name. This was certainly true for Jesus, whose name and title is explained in today’s gospel lesson.
December 26, 2010, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Holy Family
The plight of the people in the Darfur region of Sudan is related to the civil war that has raged between the Arab north and the black African south of Sudan for many decades. The irony is that most of those in the camps in Darfur are Muslims, not Christians as are most of the tribal peoples in the south. The Arab north was largely uninterested in the south for a long time, until oil was discovered there. There is a referendum coming in January of 2011 which will determine whether Southern Sudan will remain a part of Sudan, but this potential referendum is complicated by argument over whether the oil-rich Abjei region will be included in north or south. This referendum is part of the 2005 agreement between the Khartoum government and the South People’s Liberation Army, an agreement referred to as Naivasa Agreement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Sudanese_independence_referendum, _2011). In the time of Herod, when refugees fled to Egypt, there was no possibility for any of the affected people to vote about their fate. It remains to be seen whether the Khartoum government will make good on this agreement, allowing people to vote.
January 2, 2011, 2nd Sunday after Christmas
Listen again to Ronald Reagan’s words at Normandy on June 6, 1984. The
Boys of Ponte du Hoc became the Men to Took the Cliff. “Lives fought for
life and left the vivid air signed with your honor,” describe their valor
yet each parent, each teacher, each spouse waiting up on the darkest of nights,
and each child who wonders when a parent will grow up, is called at some point
in life to sign their own vivid air “with honor” just as Christ did
on that bloody hill called Golgotha. (Ronald Reagan. D-Day Speech: June
6, 1984). (Retrieved from ww.blackfive.net/.../dday-june-6-1944-the-boys-of-point-du-hoc.html)
If your sanctuary has video capabilities, one resource you may wish to use is to combine images from Hubble Space Telescope (www.hubblesite.org) in the opening of the Gospel lesson with images of intimacy from a site such as an image search for the phrase “mature affection” or “welcome home”. This will take some creativity and should probably be tasked to another worship leader or someone in the congregation who is adept at creating such a power point.
Keep in mind that this is the last Sunday of 2010. As congregants look forward to a new year, a story such as today’s gospel lesson with its international theme will motivate them to think about mission. You might encourage them to speak to your Mission Committee, or ask if there are situations or regions that interest them. Spur them to action as a result of hearing this sermon about God’s providence, and God’s sadness at the depth of human sin.
Many congregations have resettled refugees, and it might be interesting to feature in worship the testimony of a resettled family, either in person or by simply telling their story. There are Lost Boys and Lost Girls from Sudan who have settled all over the United States, and it may be possible to hear from some of them. The drama of escape and rescue can be made very contemporary through these stories.
An essay in Leadership on the virtue of prudence provides another surprising example of what is needed for leadership. As with many virtues, we first have to present what prudence is not. “Prudence is not the same thing as caution. Caution is a helpful strategy when you’re crossing a minefield; it’s a disaster when you’re in a gold rush. Prudence is not the same thing as avoiding mistakes. Churches are full of leaders who are afraid to make mistakes.” (Ortburg, J. Today’s Most Devalued Virtue. [Leadership: 4/26/2010.] www.christianitytoday.com/le).
January 9, 2011, Baptism of the Lord, 1st Sunday after Epiphany
We anticipate God in Christ to never give up on us! We expect the Servant
who bears God’s Spirit to not only ‘bring forth justice to the nations’ but
also to ‘not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice
in the earth.’ Along with the coastlands, we too await the teaching of
this Servant – this Servant whom we know to be Jesus the Christ of God.
The true expectation of our covenant with God is this: that Christ will keep
us amid unspeakable pain and sustain us through horrific devastation, even if
such distress leads us through the valley of the very shadow of death or to sit
at a table in the presence of our enemies.(Psalm 23:4-5).
John the Baptist’s values are the classic ones readily available in any list of core values. The fact that his preaching mirrors these classic values rather than being some other list of virtues does not diminish their authority for Christians. As Dr. Noebel of Summit Ministries notes, “Christians must constantly remind themselves that the ‘values’ imposed (by government) will be values of the secular left” rather than these classic virtues enshrined by our most ancient wisdom and repeated here by the Baptist. We have now had two full years of an administration whose secular values have taken control of critical industries, one-fifth of our economy through nationalized healthcare and is (at this writing) fast-tracking the rest of what can only be honestly described as a vision of America and faith vastly at odds with traditional Christian faith. (Noebel, D. The Journal. Vol. 9, #09, September, 2009).
Seed catalogs are one of the offerings that still arrive by regular mail sometime in early January. They are an early harbinger of spring and bring some measure of gladness and anticipation to the darker days of winter. For serious gardeners these catalogs are only the beginning. Laying out the garden plot on graph paper, estimating the number of hills of pumpkins and squash, the rows of green beans and the necessary poles for tomatoes and sweet peas are all part of the hard work of gardening. It is also part of the spirit of anticipation. The sustenance of a productive garden that lasts well into the fall is requires such thoughtful preparation and planning; it is never an outright gift that drops unbidden from the sky.
January 16, 2011 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
The day the Lutheran Minister came through town…No Lutheran Church
in town, would his daughter and son-in-law be welcome at our church? Sure!....They
had met at the university of Kansas where he was a football player and she a
cheerleader….as he rose to leave my office, “Would it matter if
I told you my son-in-law is black?” No. Would anybody be upset? Yeah!!! But
they are welcome here.
They came and joined…Her daddy came back the day they joined and baptized his youngest grandchild….Some of my older men tried to leave the church and go to the Baptist church. My friend, the preacher, called me and I told him I would not send their letter since they were not in good standing with the church! They got mad at me and stayed! Within a year the young man was promoted to be warden of his own prison in Maryland, and just as fast as they had come they were gone…
A few months later a widow in our church (June) came and told me her daughter and three grandchildren were coming to live with her. Her husband had died young. I had been her minister for four years and thought she had only sons! She told me about her daughter, a former Miss FSU, and how she had married a black football player. She was put out of the family and never mentioned again. Since she had been gone her daddy had died. She said to me, “I am so glad the couple from Kansas came our way and that my three granddaughters will not be the first to break the color barrier. I know they will be welcome, since I have seen how we treat interracial children.
Now I knew the reason that Lutheran Minister had stopped in my office that afternoon: God knew her children would be coming back to a home she was once banished from, to a hometown that had prejudice, and to an insulated home church, so God had to prepare us to receive our own, who were already on their way home, hoping against hope that they would be received and loved upon arrival. God had moved a lot of stones to prepare for their homecoming to be wonderful and He did.
Don’t let your story end like this: “(your name) today sank like a rock, beat up, burned out, angry and depressed no good to him (herself); no good to the people he (she) loved.” (Dr. William Self, Baptist minister at the time at Wiuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta in a speech)
January 23, 2011 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
“The movie ‘Amazing Grace’ introduced to America not only
William Wilberforce, but also a notorious captain of a slave ship named John
Newton. He was gloriously converted and fought slavery for the rest of
his life. He wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Shortly
before his death he declared, “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember
two things—I am a great sinner and Christ Jesus is a great Savior!”
Charles H. Gabriel’s hymn expresses this feeling quite well:
“I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me,
A sinner condemned unclean.
How marvelous! How Wonderful! And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me.”
The Illinois Historical Society was told of a family that had an axe that Abe Lincoln had used when he split rails for them. They got excited and set up a visit. “Yes,” the farmer said, “It’s true. Abe lived around here as a young man and split rails for my great-grandfather. Happened he’d bought a new axe from a peddler the day before Lincoln came to work here, and he gave it to him to use. We’ve used it ever since.”
“That is really an historical treasure. It should be in the museum in Springfield. Could I see it?” He walked over to the barn where the axe was leaning. Horrified the curator said, “You leave it out!” “No, we use it most every week.”
He looked over it carefully and said, “I must say, your family has certainly taken good care if it.” “Sure we do. We know we’re protecting history. Why, we’ve replaced the handle three times and the head twice. But mister, this is the axe used by Lincoln134 years ago. God buries His workmen and carries on His work. There has only been one Church since Jesus established it. Heads and handles come and go, but it is the Body of Christ.
When you do for another
What you would want done for yourself in similar circumstances,
When you do not have to do it,
When no one expects it to be done,
But you know it ought to be done and do it,
An ancient kingdom is revealed
Those in the Kingdom of God do for others what we would want done for ourselves. (Paraphrase of Jesus’ Golden Rule, Mt. 7:12)
January 30, 2011, 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 4th Sunday after Epiphany
The Sermon on the Mount is not only made up of sayings or blessings, it is
also full of parables. Why did Jesus teach in parables? There were several reasons: “It
was the style of teaching of the day. Parables
make teachings easier to remember and apply. If
the situation changes, telling it like it was becomes irrelevant, but the parable
lives on. Parables allow you to make statements
that would otherwise get you in trouble.” (http://www.kencollins.com/jesus-14.htm)
In old England, political commentary was dangerous, so newspapers printed transparent rhymes. All those nursery rhymes like Humpty Dumpty, which may have referred to Richard the Third of England, and Little Jack Horner, which may have referred to Henry VIII are political satires that have lasted over time. Parables and rhymes have always been a form of political or social commentary in societies where either custom or the law does not permit such things to be said in plain words. Many of Jesus’ parables made the Pharisees angry, because they taught things that weren’t to their liking. Jesus stated them in such a way that they knew they should be offended but did not know quite why. There was another significant advantage to the parables of Jesus as they stuck in your mind and stayed there. They made us think not once but to reflect again and again.
The Beatitudes were spiritual torpedoes that burst on the scene. In today’s environment where we seem to believe that the sign of God’s blessings can be seen in material prosperity in every shape and form. But along comes Jesus and blows such thinking out of the water. These sayings “exploded like spiritual mines” in the minds of the hearers of the time. These blessings do not set out to make us moral prigs, but instead try to put us immediate touch with God. This is the first step in a complete spiritual revolution. (Oswald Chambers Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids, 1960] p15-16)
Anyone approaching the Sermon on the Mount is wise to remember a saying from Mark Twain, who was more honest about his troubles than most of us are about ours. He had heard people complain that the Bible is hard to understand. But he said he was bothered more by the parts of the Bible that he could understand than by the parts he could not. So occasionally, as we study the Sermon on the Mount we find ourselves understanding the clear words of Jesus. But “then the real trouble comes, because we know what a change they call for in our lives, and we hesitate to make that change. We feel uneasy when we face a description of ourselves as God would have us be.” (Roger L. Shinn the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=1113&C=1180)
There are certain general lessons that can be drawn from the Beatitudes. “First, all Christians are to be like this. Read the Beatitudes, and there you have a description of what every Christian is meant to be. It is not merely the description of some exceptional Christians.” This is not Jesus painting a picture of how select outstanding followers must be like. This is Jesus description of what every single Christian is to be like. (D Martyn Llloyd-Jones Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids, 1959] p25)
February 6, 2011—5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 5th Sun after EpiphanyNo Extra Material
February 13, 2011—6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 6th Sun after Epiphany
No Extra Material
February 20, 2011, 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 7th Sunday after Epiphany
Dr. King contrasts love and hatred in the following quotation. “Hatred
and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred
paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred
darkens life; love illuminates it. (p. 90, ibid.) This could well be used in
conjunction with the passage from 1 John 4:18a, “There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear…” Indeed this little epistle is
so permeated with love that it stands as a Midrash for Jesus’ command
to love our enemies. (The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. [New York,
n.d.] p 37)
This contrast of hatred with love or forgiveness is strongly depicted in the film about two parents, Matt and Ruth Fowler, grieving over the murder of their only son Frank in the film In the Bedroom. To their dismay, the unrepentant killer, Richard Stout, is out on bail until the trial, so they often run across him in their small community. Their son had been in love with Richard’s estranged-wife Natalie. Richard was not willing to give her up, so in a confrontation with Frank, the husband shot and killed him. Natalie feels terrible that she is inadvertently the cause of Frank’s death. She goes to Ruth seeking forgiveness, but instead the older woman slaps her in the face. There follows many scenes of argument and recrimination between Matt and Ruth, many of them in their bedroom. The legal system to Ruth seems to be more on the killer’s side than theirs. Matt would like to move on, but Ruth is relentless in her fury and grief, refusing to let them go. In the privacy of their bedroom they constantly and bitterly quarrel. Slowly she draws her husband into her dark scheme of vengeance, one that will ruin both of their souls as the story moves on to its grim conclusion.
February 27, 2011, 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 8th Sunday after Epiphany
Ever wonder what Christ would say about the Food Channel? Whoever thought,
prior to Julia Child, that people would watch someone else prepare food for half
an hour at a time? Or that chefs would become celebrities, launching their own
food and cooking utensil brands? Jesus sought to draw Martha out of the kitchen
to sit at his feet with her sister Mary, but can you imagine Martha Stewart sitting
there and listening to him teach? Would she be distracted by the crudeness of
his robe or want to take him to a 5th Avenue shoe store to buy him a pair of
The Quotegarden.com is a web site that has some delightful quotes when you search for “Money”. The below are just a small sample of the dozens collected there. This would be a good site to bookmark for reference when preaching about money and/or stewardship.
The founder of Methodism puts in a good argument for being a spendthrift: “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart.” ~John Wesley Tom Sawyer’s author understands the danger of possessing large sums of money. ”I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position. “~Mark Twain, who is wiser than Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof—remember his song “If I Were a Wealthy Man”? The somewhat cynical but perceptive Ambrose Bierce makes an interesting observation about the worship of wealth. I suspect that this is from his enjoyable The Devil’s Dictionary. “Mammon, n.: The god of the world’s leading religion.” ~Ambrose Bierce
Mr. Smith’s comment below is a good companion to Mark Twain’s observation, or to use after quoting from the lyrics of the song in which Tevye the Milkman converses with God, pouring out his desire to be a wealthy man. From what he says that he would do if he were rich, we can conclude that morally he is better off delivering milk.” To suppose as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave as the rich behave is like supposing that we could drink all day and stay sober.” ~Logan Pearsall Smith