"RE-BORN" - Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
"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.
"FOLLOW" - I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
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.
"TINGLE" - John 1:43-51; I Samuel 3:1-20
Way back almost 100 years ago (1925), a magazine called New York World celebrated the birthday of Abraham Lincoln with a cartoon. Obviously, Abraham Lincoln remains one of the greatest heroes of American culture; this was true in 1925 and it is true today. Our nation reveres Abe Lincoln. So this cartoon, celebrating his birthday, has become something of a classic.
Christmas Meditation - Luke 2:1-20
I want to begin today with an important Biblical question.
How is it that the people God - created and called, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, watched over for generations, led out of slavery from Egypt, through years of squabbles and challenges in the desert – how could these people actually become a unified people among other people in the region?
How is it that a “rag-tag” bunch could become . . . a holy nation?
"WAKE UP" - Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
It is so very wonderful to read and to hear this story again on this night. In the darkness of this hour, in the stillness of this evening, in the sacredness of this space, THIS STORY wants to convey to our hearts and minds and lives some very important truths about God.
"PAROUSIA" - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-27
Have you ever heard John preach?
There are lots of people named John in the Bible.
There is the Gospel of John. I find myself quoting him lots lately. In the first chapter of the gospel of John, he talks about the light, and the light shining in the darkness. Those are really important words to me, especially when the darkness seems to be growing in so many places in our hearts and world. John says something that I keep thinking about – “no darkness can overcome the light,” meaning Christ’s light. That word seems so important to many of us in these days. The words of that John preach really well to me.
"TOGETHER" - Psalm 24; Romans 12:3-12
The other day I was on MacArthur Ave in Lakeside, in the northside, meeting two minister colleagues for lunch. Just about to enter the restaurant, a woman walked up and spoke to us as we stood on the sidewalk. With a gentle smile on her face and all sincerity, she said, “Christ the Savior is coming. I really believe this. It’s going to be soon.”
She was clearly NOT talking about Christmas and the birth of Jesus in the manger. She was talking about the Second Coming – the return of Christ into the world.
"DEDICATION" - Deuteronomy 8:11-20 & Matthew 25:14-30
I suspect that many of us might be able to quote the opening line of the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 23 remains perhaps some of the most familiar and most beloved words in the whole Bible: “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Psalm 24 – which we heard a moment ago – may not be so well known. But, Psalm 24 may be equally profound and so important: “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.”
The earth is the Lord’s and ALL THAT IS IN IT. The world and all people BELONG TO GOD.
"REFORMATION" - Psalm 100 & Romans 3:21-27
Every now and then, a dramatic series on television gets our attention in our home. I wonder if you have seen the drama entitled “This Is Us,” which just started its second season and appears on Tuesday nights on NBC.
“This Is Us” gets our focused attention because all the characters are complex – like real people; none of the storylines are straight-forward, like real life; and this drama seems so willing to delve into the colorful dysfunction that often touches so many of our lives.
"BLESSINGS" - Genesis 27&32 Selections
The famous comedian George Burns once said that the real secret to a great sermon is to have a good beginning, . . . and a good ending, . . . and to have the two as close together as possible.
I will try to do that today.
But we have a big subject – REFORMATION.
Today is Reformation Sunday; it is always the last Sunday in October. This year, the Reformation deserves special attention because we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
"HALF-BROTHERS" - Genesis 21
If we play the “word association” game – you know – that game where one word almost automatically leads to another –
I say “smoke;” you say “fire” – and we’ve had, unfortunately, our share of that this week at the church. And we certainly keep in our prayers the man who was injured in the explosion in our boiler room.
I say “lock;” you say “key.”
I say “peanut butter;” you say “jelly.”
This is how we think . . . certain words go together.
If I say “SIBILING,” you might say, . . . “RIVALRY.”
"SIBLINGS" - Genesis 4:1-16
The first 11 Chapters of the Bible – in the book of Genesis - talk about cosmic things. God creates the world and calls it good. God creates all things in the world – day & night, sky & earth, and every living thing. God creates humankind – Adam and Eve – and gives them instructions in how to live. Two weeks ago, we looked carefully at one of those early stories in Genesis – the story of the first children born into the world, Cain and Abel - and the first murder: Cain killed his brother Abel.
Late last Saturday afternoon, Ginger and I took our regular walk in our neighborhood. . . . You might remember last Saturday.
Many of us gathered here in the Sanctuary for the memorial service for Linda Harrah. That was my primary focus for that day. But Saturday, you recall, was also the day that our city, and especially the neighborhood around Monument Ave, flowed with excessive anxiety and uncertainty and racial tensions.