"COMPASSION" - Psalm 103:1-13; Mark 6:30-44
"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.
"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.
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.