"TRUSTEES" - Deuteronomy 30:15-20; II Corinthians 9:6-12
"COMMUNITY" - Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Romans 12:3-8
The book of Joshua is the 6th book in the Bible. In Joshua 6, there is a story that many of you remember from childhood Sunday School. The Israelites, and Joshua were trying to overtake the city of Jericho. But it was shut up tight, like a castle. So the Lord told the people to march around the walls, to blow trumpets, and shout, and the walls of Jericho would come tumbling down. This is one of those most vivid stories of God’s presence, God’s power, and God’s action!
One Sunday morning, the preacher of a certain church was visiting various Sunday School classes just to see how they were doing, especially in learning the Bible.
"FEAR-OF-THE-LORD" - Isaiah 11:1-3a; Acts 4:32-5:12
In 1966 an 11-year-old black boy moved with his parents and family into a white neighborhood in Washington, DC. Sitting with his two brothers and two sisters on the front steps of the house, he waited to see how they would be greeted. They were not. Passers-by turned and looked at them but no one gave them a smile or even a glance of recognition. All the fearful stories he had heard about how whites treated blacks seemed to be coming true. Writing about those days many years later, he says, “I knew we were not welcome here. I knew we were not liked here. I knew we should not have moved here.. . .”
“SOUL” - Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Luke 10:25-38
In this wonderful church family, we have lots of very literate and literary people. We have lots of smart people who read books, talk about books, enjoy words, and even love word games.
I learned a new word this week – Syntagm – s-y-n-t-a-g-m.
Do you know that word? It is a linguistic unit consisting of words or phrases that are all bound together, in relationship to each other. The word goes back to the Greek, meaning “arranged together.” Syntagm is a bound phrase. And my Microsoft Word program does not even recognize the word – you know - puts a read underline under syntagm, every time I typed it.
"WHOLENESS" - Psalm 124; Mark 7:24 - 37
For many decades, almost 175 years, faithful Richmonders have been gathering in this sacred sanctuary. We come to pray and sing; we come to hear God’s word from sacred texts (Scripture); we come to open our hearts to God’s Spirit. We also come into these pews – some of us the SAME pews each week - to find comfort for our afflictions, which come to all of us in the unfolding of life; and we seek to afflict the comfortable because God needs us and keeps calling forth our love and commitments for spreading hope and light along these city streets and across the world.
"WISE" - Proverbs 3:7-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
Contemporary writer, speaker, and preacher, Rob Bell reminds us about the best question we should ask when reading the Bible. What is the best question to ask when reading the Bible? It is this: “Why did people find this important to write down and preserve?”
Think about that question as I read this story from Mark 7. This is probably not a lesson you remember from Sunday School:
"COMPASSION" - Psalm 103:1-13; Mark 6:30-44
“These are interesting times.”
I have used that phrase often lately. I’ve heard it from many of you as well.
In some ways, “interesting times” is a gentle way of saying what we really feel is quite harsh and maddening.
We keep talking about and thinking about Phil Hart and the changes he faces in his life without his dear Dot, whom we will all miss so much. What a great woman – strong and capable, gracious and kind, so devoted to so much good in this church and in the world. And she died – too young, too soon, too unexpectedly. This is perplexing, saddening, raising questions and uncertainty, forcing us to face life once again – striving to trust God and serve God.
"LOYALTIES" - Amos 7:7-17; Ephesians 1:3-14
Whenever the circumstances of life get to spinning, whenever we feel overwhelmed and anxious – like when shame and/or discouragement take center-stage in our hearts, or a recent diagnosis paralyzes us, or the decisions we face seem far too complex - it is good to think afresh about two things.
Whenever the unfolding events of the world feel so chaotic and complicated, whenever the uncertainties of these days feel overwhelming, it is good to think afresh about two questions.
“REILIENCY” - Psalm 121; Mark 6:1-13
Speaking truth to power has never been easy or risk free. Most of us know the names of Thomas More, who took on King Henry VIII of England and was beheaded, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who challenged the authority of Hitler, and of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. All of those names remind us of what can happen when people speak truth to power. Still, truth being what truth is – and power what power is – the work remains critically important. (see Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 3, p. 218)
One of the first and most memorable people in history who spoke truth to power was the prophet named Amos, from whom the first lesson comes. Amos lived in the 8th century BC. God took him, called him, and said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
"COWARDLY" - Psalm 107: 1 - 16; Mark 4: 35 - 41
The world can be a crazy and uncertain place. All of us can, today, name anxieties, concerns, heartaches, and fear. Those heartaches and fears, anxieties and concerns emerge from our personal lives, . . . and they can emerge from larger issues – like the boys in the cave in Thailand - or political, or worldly issues of these days.
But, whenever we gather here – in this sacred place – to sing and pray, to hear God’s word, to worship and build community - we are always striving for two greater purposes: 1) we are seeking to trust God more fully and 2) we are seeking to serve God more effectively and faithfully with our lives. These remain always our goals as God’s faithful disciples – to trust God and to serve God more and more.
"TRUST" - Proverbs 3:3-8; Mark 4:26-34
Across the last two weeks, our second readings from Scripture have come from the 4th chapter of Mark. Last week we had a short and poignant story – a parable about the mustard seed and trusting God and what that looks like as we live our lives. This week, the action in the story picks up significantly. After lots of Jesus teaching in parables, listen to this from Mark 4:35-41:
35On that day, when evening had come, (Jesus) said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
"RE-BORN" - Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
Listen now to the Second Reading from Holy Scripture. The lesson comes from the gospel of Mark 4:26-34:
26He (Jesus) also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
"NOT ORPHANED" - Psalm 121; John 14: 1-3, 15 - 21
The great Swiss theologian of the last century, Karl Barth, said that faithful Christians should always do theology and live life “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
Here are just some of the items from the newspaper this past week that raise so many questions for my theology and our life together, especially on Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day weekend is when we honor and remember the many who have given their lives for the freedoms and values that we hold dear.
This past week, the hopeful summit with North Korea was cancelled. Deep complexities abound in these negotiations with rogue nations, but this feels like a setback that moves us toward more danger in the world.
"LONELINESS" - 1 John 4:7-16; John 15:1-8, 12
Listen now for the Word of God – our second lesson - as it comes this day from John’s gospel. I am reading from chapter 14:1-3, 15-21:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
"WITNESSES" - Psalm 27; Luke 24:36-48
In recent days, I have been thinking increasingly about the word that serves as the sermon title today: LONELINESS.
LONELINESS seems to be a growing subject, not just in the field of psychology and pastoral care, but a prominent topic in the medical field; and the current situation has been described as an “epidemic of loneliness.” It has even been noted that LONELINESS is a crisis as serious as opioid addiction or veteran suicides. Over the past decade, a body of data has emerged linking LONELINESS to heart disease, stroke, cancer, type-2 diabetes and almost every illness studied.
"TRUTH" - Isaiah 25:6-9; Mark 16:1-8
Is it possible to imagine Christianity without Christ?
The novelist, Flannery O’Connor thought so. As many of you know, Flannery O’Connor wrote so many engaging pieces, with great insight and subtle humor. O’Connor loved to poke fun at life and culture using deceptively backward Southern characters. Her writing made the strong point that all life – even the most awkward and grotesque - is infused with grace and with God.
"SAVIOR" - Mark 11:1-11, Mark 14 & 15 Selections
It is an interesting twist of the calendar that Easter, this year, falls on April 1, a day more known for pranks and attempts to catch us off guard and take advantage of our naiveté.
I did a quick search of best April Fools jokes. One of them was to take black construction paper and make cut-outs of spiders and bugs and tape them to the inside of lamp shades. Your favorite people would think the house has been taken over by bugs. Another April Fools prank was to hang Kim Jung Un’s picture on the staff photo wall at the office. Another one was to affix an air-horn to your co-worker’s seat.
"ETERNAL LIFE" - Ephesians 2: 1-10; John 3:14 - 21
We are thinking today about marches. Yesterday, inspired by the amazing students from Parkland, FL, a million people showed up in Washington to say “#enough is enough” – on gun violence. There was a major march in RVA, and many cities across the world. Perhaps we are moving to a new place to talk about guns and safety and life in the USA.
We are also thinking about Jesus today – as he marches into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
And, we are marching into Holy week – when Jesus confronts the established leaders, says goodbye to his friends, predicts that they will desert him; he is arrested and mocked and hung on a cross.
So, it seems like a good week to think about this word - SAVIOR. We keep trying to sort out these questions – who is Jesus . . . and how does he really save us?
"WORTHY" - Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Ephesians 4:1-6
Joseph Gallagher is a member of this church – son of Jeff and Cathy. Joseph is also a Seminary student at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. In an assignment for one of his classes, he had to interview some children about God, including young children. Joseph knows that Ginger and I have a grandson in Atlanta, so he got connected with our four year-old grandson for the interview. It went like this:
Joseph: “why do you think you go to church?”
Our grandson: “for the snacks, after church.”
Joseph: “Is Jesus God?”
"SAVOR" - Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
“Everything happens for a reason.”
We have all heard THAT before. We have all probably said it too, and maybe more than a few times: “everything happens for a reason.”
But is that true? . . . Is that Biblical and faithful?
“Everything happens for a reason” is the title of a new book by Duke Divinity School Professor, Kate Bowler. Except that the title goes beyond that familiar line: “Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved.” Yes. Lies. Lies she has loved. She is being facetious.
Do you sometimes feel like your life is a total BLUR?
What were you doing Friday morning? How about Tuesday afternoon? How about Wednesday evening? Oh, okay . . . if you are in the bell choir, or the choir, that one was easy – practice, . . at the church.
But what was a major highlight of the past week? For me and Ginger, that’s pretty easy – we had a new grandson – beautiful and amazing. But most weeks are not like that.
And what about last month? What would be the highlight there? Maybe you had something significant – like a special trip, or a birthday, . . . or maybe a new diagnosis, or a new emerging challenge that sets a difficult course ahead.