What I'm preaching on this Sunday

What I'm preaching on this Sunday 2-20-11

My text:

Matthew 5:38-48

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I have always had an issue with Black History Month. I don't think it has really served it's purpose. At most it is Black trivia month and it hasn't really reformed education to address the true diversity of our nation's history. I add to this discomfort the fact that for the three Februarys that I have been a pastor at predominantly white churches. So how does a black pastor talk to older white folks about black history?

Well, this week, I am using this text to highlight an element of the civil rights movement, namely nonviolent resistence. I'll be showing a clip from the History Channel's "King" documentary where they discuss King's philosohy on nonviolence adapted from Ghandi.

While I want to highlight this part of the history, we also need to highlight that the Gospel asks us to go further than to not return evil against those who would hurt us, which is already an extreme. It asks us to return evil with love. The Leviticus passage in the lectionary (ch. 19:9-18) asks the same thing. It asks that we fight the evils of poverty and greed with the love of generosity.

As we continue a look at the sermon on the mount, it is striking to see what the Kingdom of God demans of us. Jesus sets the bar so high. Vs. 48 has always puzzled me. Is it simply a reminder that we can't live up to the demands of the law, or is it again a reference to the beginning of Lev. 19? Should we replace "perfect" with "holy" or "set apart"? I think the first interpretation lets us off the hook. Instead, I think Jesus is challenging us to a uniqueness.

Thoughts? What are you preaching on this weekend?


What I'm preaching on this Sunday 2-6-11

So my texts are Isaiah 58:1-12;  Matt. 5:13-20

I'm actually starting with the Eugene Peterson paraphrase of the salt and light passage:

 13"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

I love that! We're the seasoning that brings out God-flavors, the light that brings out the God-colors. It made me think of Psalm 34 "Taste and see that the Lord is good". How do people taste and see God's goodness? Through our lives.

It also makes me think of something Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers) said to my mentor Saleem Ghubril (yes, that Saleem Ghubril) He told him that he made doing good attractive. What a huge complement from such a great man! When I think about my life, do I make doing good attractive? Not in a superficial way, but in a way that makes people want to be about the right things. What about the church? Have we made doing good attractive? I think at most, we've just made doing good look "clean" and sanitary. That's not attractive!

The goodness of our lives should point people to God. Our ritual won't draw people to God. But if we're loosing the bonodage of oppression, if we're feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, those things have a draw. That's where Isaiah 58 comes in. The authentic pursuit of justice and compassion is attractive. People see it and they see God.

That's me. What are you preaching on this weekend?


What I'm preaching on this Sunday 1-30-11

So the texts this week are Micah 6:1-8, and Matt. 5:1-12

Great texts! I'm beginning a series that will lead up to lent called "Keys to the Kingdom". Since the lectionary gives us the sermon on the Mount until Lent, and the Kingdom of Heaven is a big theme in Matthew, I figured I would string some thoughts together.

A seminary prof. referred to the OT law as a constitution for Israel. Moses descends the mountain and basically reads their new constitution. Then that constitution is read again in Ezra and Nehemiah's day when the temple is being built. It's a gesture saying this will be our rule of life. When Jesus climbs the mountain in Matt. 5 and the crowd follows, a new constitution for a new people is given, one less focused on ritual and formalities and more focused on people and motives. Micah gives an early indication that the first constitution wasn't sufficient. God asks the people if they are wearied by the law and then boils it down to justice, compassion and humility.

The beatitudes tell of what citizenry will look like in the new commonwealth of God: the poor in Spirit, the meek, the mourning, the peacemakers, the righteous persecuted, and those hungering and thirsting for justice. A mix of internal and external traits that comprise those who will get the message that Jesus has to bring. 

So the first part of our constitutional study will be citizenry requirements. You can't just be born a citizen. Nor can you earn it. You must be broken and look to God for wholeness. Then you must strive for others who are broken as well.

Thoughts? How about you? What are you preaching this Sunday?


What I'm preaching on this Sunday 1-2-11

The lectionary actually confuses me at the beginning of the year. Should I use Christmas 2 readings or epiphany readings?

I have decided to do both. I will be using the lectionary passage for the OT reading (Isaiah 60:1-9) and the Christmas 2 reading for the NT passage - John 1:1-18. Take that lectionary!

My sermon title is "Word and Light". Or Light and Word. Continuing the theme from my Christmas Eve reflection, the question becomes how do we respond to the light coming into world. I've been thinking of different ways that people respond to light: thieves hide from it, prisoners confess when interrogated under it, sleepers awake from it. Plants grow in it. (I know they're not people, but they are living). Light gives security or disruption depending on how we find ourselves in relation to the light. Isn't the same true of Christ? And ultimately, the story of epiphany is being guided by the light.

The word part comes from the thoughts of a seminary professor who did a lecture on John 1. He connected the beginning of John 1 with Gnesis 1 by saying that the word is God's creative activity in the world. I connect this to the idea of New Years resolutions and our desire to create or recreate something new in our lives.

Jesus comes into the world as both guiding light and life giving word. What will it look like for us to be both guided by that light and to have the things of the light birthed anew in our lives?

How 'bout you? What are you preaching on this Sunday?


What I'm preaching on this Sunday 12-12-10

I'm just about finished with my answering the call the series. This week I will focus on the parents of Jesus. When I first mapped out the series, I had planned on doing on e week on Joseph and one week on Mary, but seeing as how there were no good hymns for Joseph, I put them together and focused on John the Baptist last week.

My sermon title for the week is "Pardon the Interruption". It's possible that I came up with that title becaus eI watch too much ESPN, but that's a diffrent story for a differnt time. I've always imagined Joseph as a guy with a plan: First, I'll start my carpentry business, then I'll get married, after a couple of years we'll have some kids, i'll expand the buisness into gentile territory, I'll make a little money, I'll retire early and buy a house on the sea of Galilee... or something like that. For whatever reason, his plans get subordinated to God's plans.

For Joseph and Mary, I imagine an inconvenient call. A call that interrupts their plans, puts them on the outs with friends and family, maybe even has them despised by the religious establishment. They're stuck with this kid of dubious origin, believing that he's destined for greatness yet living like pariahs as they struggle to even make sure that he reaches maturity.

I wonder if we can even truly say we're following God's call on our lives without being inconvenienced in some ways. God's plans are never our plans. Following God's way tends to mean that I'm not going the way I had orginally intended. And yet the faith to believe that God's way is ultimately better is sustaining.

Isn't advent really about our plans getting interrupted by God's plans? Our world being invaded and disrupted by love and justice?


What I'm preaching on this Sunday - 12-5-10

Sorry I've gotten away from this. I really do want to share more of my sermon writing process and hear about yours as well. 

I love John the Baptist! I think he is one of the most compelling characters in the Bible. One of the things that is interesting though is that we tend to talk about John's message during advent. The lectionary passage for this week is Matthew 3:1-12. Nothing wrong with that. John's message is important. But as I finish my Answering the Call series during advent, I thought we could learn a lot about John by his origins, his call, so to speak. So I'm preaching on big sections of Luke 1

One of the striking things for me is how similar John's story is to Samuel's story in I Samuel 1 and 2 (which I reached on a couple of weeks ago): born to a previously barren woman, dedicated to God before his birth... it all felt very familiar. I'm thinking about John and Samuel in their similar "kingmaker" roles.

What fascinates me about John is his ability to be defined by his relationship to Christ. I see him saying "I'm not the guy, I'm the guy who points to 'the guy'". Even from the womb, John's joy is in pointing others to Christ. 

Hannah's song in the Samuel story gets replaced by Zechariah's song in Luke. Both are songs of joy, rejoicing in God's justice. They are thrilled that they get to be apart of God's story. I think that's where I'm going this week. Do we understand our call as a call to be a character in God's narrative? It's not our story. It's God's and we should be overjoyed to have a role, to discover that role, and to live into that role. I think especially in advent we have the unique opportunity to point towards the God who comes into the world to bring justice. 

That's what I've got so far. Thoughts? What are you preaching on this Sunday? 


What I'm preaching on this Sunday - 9-19-10

I am continuing my sermon series on answering God's call by looking at Sarah and Abraham. I will focus on Genesis 12, 17, and Hebrews 12. 

In thinking about Abraham, I can't help but focus on his age, which is mentioned several times in the above passages. Abraham did all of the things that he is known for (by all three major religions) when he was well in to the twilight of his life. The big struggle I'm having is how does a thirty year old convey to a church that is mostly comprised of senior citizens that God is not done with them and that their most significant days may be ahead of them. I'm curious about how others of you speak across the generational gap. Are you intentional about it? 

I guess that's why I threw in the Hebrews passage. It takes faith to make the steps that take you out of death and into productive living. When talking about Abraham and Sarah, I tend to remind people, often to their dismay, that Isaac was not immaculately conceived. There had to be some "action" on their part to live into the call that God made on their lives. 

One of my primary illustrations for this week is the recent fascination with Betty White. Why is she everywhere all of a sudden? I think it's because she hasn't stopped living. She doesn't take herself too seriously and continues to do what obviously makes her happy and to live into her gifts. Consequently, she might be making more money now than she did at any other point in her career. 

Any way, I preach on Sunday and these are my thoughts on Thursday. All thoughts are subject to change. 

How about you? What are you preaching on this weekend? 


What I'm preaching on this Sunday - 9-12-10

So, to all my preacher friends, I'd like to extend an invitation. That is to share what you will be sharing in the upcoming Sunday in worship. My hope is that we can encourage each other, challenge each other's thinking, and overall make each other better. Are you game? 

This Sunday I am beginning a sermon series entitled, "Answering the Call". From now until the end of the year, I'll be looking at various stories in the Bible of people being called to do something big for God and/or for people. 

I'm beginning this Sunday with the first disciples. The texts I'll be using are Luke 5: 1-11 and John 1: 35-51. I heard a great sermon by Rev. Dr. Joe Daniels of Emory UMC over the summer on the Luke 5 passage. One of the points he made that I really liked was that the disciples left the thing they considered a blessing, the huge catch of fish, to follow after something bigger. He made the point that God might have something bigger for us than that thing we think of as a blessing. I was worried when he started because he sounded like he might be going in a prosperity gospel direction, but then he challenged the congregation to give up their places of comfort (those things we think are blessings) to be of service to the world. It was very good. 

The thing I like about the John passage, other than that it is obviously a completely different origin story for Peter, is the intimate knowledge of the disciples that Jesus has before he calls them. We tend to think of calling as an active call to service. But there is also a passive call to let ourselves be known and to understand that despite the fact that we are fully known, we are fully loved. 

The thread I see tying these together is that something has to be dropped to follow. Whether it's our old activities or our old attitudes, something has to be left behind to follow God. 

That's not much, but that's where I'm starting. What do you think? What are you preaching on this Sunday?