Archive for September, 2008

This is my last sermon delivered as Pastor of the Elmwood and Westminster churches in Syracuse, NY.  I begin service as the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Sidney, Ohio on Sunday, September 21, 2008.  Today’s sermon outline is more loose than usual, today was a day of farewells for pastor and congregation.


I. Way In and Text

A.     Philippians 1:3-11

1.      Gratitude and joy for your friendship

a)     Like Paul said, “because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now”

b)     “from the 1st day”

(1)   since Day 1

(2)   you have welcomed my family and me

(a)   treated us like … not just welcome guests, but family

(i)     been in some of your homes, you’ve been to ours

(ii)   shared with us in your most treasured celebrations – and in your times of most personal sadnesses

c)      for this, I am grateful, my heart is filled with joy

2.      Confident in you

a)     you understand the importance of pastoral leadership

(1)   you have honored me in that role

(a)   and for that I give thanks to God

(i)     it is truly one of the greatest joys of ministry

b)     YET I AM CONFIDENT that this congregation also has the ability and willingness to:

(1)   discern for yourselves where God is calling you to ministry

(a)   you-yourselves have listened to the urgings of God’s spirit

(i)     and responded to the needs of the community

(b)   this is where the Food Pantry came from

(c)   opened to other groups for worship and fellowship

(d)   and I have confidence you will keep on listening to the urging of God’s spirit and to the voices of the community

(2)   I pray that this congregation will continue to produce leaders from within

(a)   That members of the congregation will rise up and step forward

(i)     to take up responsibilities of leadership and of “followship”

(ii)   and God will continue to lift you up

(a)   with new leaders among you

(b)   and developing the potential for ministry and care that dwells within each of your hearts

(b)   always remember this

(i)     reminding them that the church is the people (do the hand thing)

(ii)   building and pastor are important, but it is the people that make up the Body of Christ, existing for his sake in the name of God

3.      Prayers for you

a)     as Paul moved on from Philippi, developing churches in the era of the new church..

(1)   he always prayed for the Philippians

(a)   giving thanks for their friendship

(b)   that love may overflow with knowledge an d insight to determine what is best and do it in the name of Jesus Christ

b)     and so I will always pray for you

(1)   giving thanks for your friendship and love

(2)   and that your love will not just be sufficient …

(a)   but will overflow

(i)     with knowledge and insight

(ii)   to figure out what is best for the church of Jesus Christ – on this corner, in this community, at this moment in time

(a)   and DO IT – in his name, for God’s sake

II. So What?

A.     In the last few weeks, I have been preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven

1.      reminding you of it’s foundation in Jesus Christ

2.      and of the way that preachers have always come and gone

3.      the constant thing is the church

a)     and I don’t mean the building

b)     the constant thing is the Body of Christ – the church

(1)   the expression of the good news of Jesus Christ

(2)   who teaches us to proclaim the gospel of forgiveness, discipleship, service, and building community in his name

B.     We have had a good run of this past year

1.      but never overestimate the role of your preacher

a)     I don’t say this to put her or him down, in fact I pray that your pastoral leadership will always be pastoral and prophetic,

(1)   he or she will guide you and encourage you, preach and teach, provide pastoral care and spiritual growth

b)     and I pray that your next pastor will be a living reminder to you of the ministry of Jesus Christ that we are all called to

2.      I say not to overestimate the role of your pastor to emphasize how I pray you will never underestimate your role

a)     you are the ones

(1)   officers stepping up to take on leadership and ministries of mercy

(2)   … carrying on the work of our Food Pantry

(3)   … carrying on with education and fellowship

(4)   … and you do this all in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord when you do it faithfully and joyfully

b)     you are the ones who may never know the lives you touch

(1)   maybe you’ve heard the stories

(a)   former Sunday School students, VBS, others

(2)   Maybe you haven’t’ heard the stories

(3)   Just remember that the ones of us who have decided to follow Jesus may never see the fruits of the seeds we planted

(a)   but we are called to keep on planting them anyway

C.    So here’s the thing I want to leave you with

1.      these texts I have preached on since July 15

2.      and this story

a)     just started to re-read a favorite book when I was a kid, Kon Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl – I hope you remember it, too

b)     the account of a Norwegian explorer  who, in 1947, undertook a project of sailing on a balsa wood raft across some 4,000 miles of open sea from Peru to Polynesia

(1)   to see whether it was possible that people could have survived such a journey in the 6th century…

(2)   people thought he was nuts – crazy

(3)   NAÏVE

(a)   “of course it can’t be done”

(b)   “you’ll never make it, your parents will be so sad to lose you at sea”

c)      well Heyerdahl and his crew of 5 did it

(1)   101 days; 3,770 nautical miles

d)     despite it’s not making sense to many in the scientific and nautical world

3.      Now, I’m not trying to talk you into a raft trip across the Atlantic Ocean – please, don’t do it

a)     but do remain true to the gospel of Jesus Christ – even if it seems naive

(1)   it’s not complicated, it’s like we’ve been saying

(a)   feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick

(b)   build up the community, for Christ’s sake

b)     call on others to come and join you

(1)   but don’t be discouraged when a few show up

(2)   don’t be afraid, little flock, Jesus himself couldn’t get but 12 to really hang with him – and he couldn’t even count on all of them all the time

c)      keep on asking each other where you see God

(1)   THESE are the ways in which you should go

(2)   even if it’s kind of a new way of doing it

(a)   God doesn’t’ want the church or her life and ministry to get stale –

(b)   Neil Young, “It’s better to burn out than to rust”

4.      So, as Paul closes his letter to a favorite church in Thessalonica

a)     You, beloved, are not in darkness

(1)   for you are all children of light

b)     Therefore encourage one another, and build up each other, as you are doing

c)      Be at peace among yourselves

(1)   admonish the idlers

(2)   encourage the fainthearted

(3)   help the weak

d)     see that none of you repays evil for evil

(1)   but always seek to do good to one another and to all

e)     Rejoice always, and pray without ceasing

f)        for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you

(1)   So may it be.  Amen.




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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Candidating at First Presbyterian Church of Sidney, Ohio

Acts 2:43-47 (not today’s lectionary text)

“Church, Steeple, People”


I.        Way In

A.      God’s greatest gift

1.      Aside from God’s only begotten son, Jesus Christ our Lord

a.      And the reconciliation and new life we have in Jesus…

2.      God’s greatest gift to humankind is the church – The Body of Christ

a.      The church, ecclesia, the people of God, gathered

B.      Do you remember this from Sunday School?

1.      “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors, there’re all the people”

2.      The church – the people – this is what today’s message is about

C.      The Book of Acts is the place in the scriptures to be at times of new beginnings

1.      The birth of the church

2.      Church, steeple, people

a.      It’s wonderful to have a beautiful building like this

i.        A building called the church, a place for the people of God to gather

ii.      A place for the life and ministry of the people

b.      The steeple reminds us that we, and the church, exist for the glory of God

i.        As we come to the church and notice the steeple

ii.      It’s the spire that directs our eyes up

·         Toward the cross of Jesus Christ at the top of the steeple

·         The one who has reconciled us with God and one another

c.       But the church is the people

D.     There’s a beautiful book of photographs of country churches called, Wooden Churches

1.      Introduction by Rick Bragg, from Alabama, Pulitzer Prize-winning NY Times reporter

a.      He writes in the book about the wooden country churches in the photographs – but he writes about churches everywhere, even brick ones, when he writes

“But mostly the church will have people, and they may be white and they may be black or they may be worshipping in Spanish or Korean, but they will be there, because if there is no faith, there is just everything else, just living, and living can be so hard.  On Monday they may have to visit their Momma in the county home, or go back to work at the chicken plant, or lace up their white shoes and flip hamburgers on the interstate, or maybe just stare into a mirror and accept the fact that so much of their life is gone and there is just a sliver left, and then what?

      On Sunday there is the promise of something else, a promise that seems to sound so much truer in churches, a reward for all that human suffering.  Even for the people who are not buying all that milk-and-honey business, there is a promise of peace, and peace is enough. “

      He continues to write about suffering and bad things happening to good people.

      “How could God let that happen?  Then I heard a preacher say that faith has nothing to reason.  Faith is what you have when there is no reason.  Faith is what you have when everything else is in pieces on the ground.”

E.      Bridge

1.      Consider this as we look again to the Book of Acts today

a.      … at the calling together of the people of God

i.        And making of them a worshipping community, a faith community, in the service of our Lord, Jesus Christ

b.      This church is blessed with a beautiful building

i.        Safe, useful, comfortable, shelter, security

ii.      But we must remember that the church does not depend on a church building

·         The church is where 2 or more are gathered in the name of Jesus

2.      Today’s reading from Acts 2 reminds us of the purpose and function of the church

a.      Look with me again at what Luke writes in Acts 2

II.      Tell the Story

A.      Context

1.      Today’s reading comes from the day of Pentecost

a.      When the crowds were gathered

b.      And the great sound from heaven like a might wind blew, and it filled the house

c.       And tongues of fire rested on the heads of the ones gathered

d.      And all were filled with the Holy Spirit

2.      Then Peter preached, proclaiming the good news of the gospel

a.      That everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved

b.      Preaches with such authority and such conviction …

i.        … that the people who heard were “cut to the heart”

ii.      … and came and asked the apostles, “What should we do?”

c.       “Repent and be baptized,” said Peter

i.        And on that day, about 3,000 people were added

ii.      As they “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

B.      Today’s reading follows:

1.      The people were amazed, “awe came upon everyone”

a.      Because of the signs and wonders of the apostles

2.      All of the believers …

a.      Were together

i.        Had all things in common

ii.      Sold their possessions and goods,

iii.    Distributed the proceeds as any had need

b.      Day by day they spent time together

i.        In the temple

ii.      And they broke bread at home

·         Ate with glad and generous hearts

·         Praising God and having the goodwill of all the people

c.       Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved

III.    So What?

A.      For this to be a sermon that encourages …

1.      In this church, the sign says you re celebrating new beginnings next week

a.      Sunday School and outreach programs beginning a new season

b.      You are calling a new pastor

2.      And you are continuing traditions in the life and ministry of the church

a.      That are making a difference in the community …

i.        That is the church community, the wider community you live in, and beyond

3.      These are faithful expressions of the good news of Jesus for the world

B.      The reading from the Book of Acts reminds us today …

1.      That the church was created by God and exists today for God

a.      God’s people are called together to be the church

b.      We are called into the community of the Body of Christ, where…

i.        Barriers that separate people are broken down

ii.      To be open to receiving the power of God’s spirit, and the gifts of faith, hope, and love

c.       We are not called to new life in Christ just for assurance of going to heaven when we die

i.        … in Christ we are new creations

ii.      In a new relationship with God and with the world around us

iii.    We are called to live as witnesses to and agents of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ

d.      The church does not exist only to help us find meaning for our lives

i.        And to be assured that God is with us always

ii.      And to enjoy the fellowship and companionship of others on the journey

iii.    To do only this would be serving ourselves

e.      The church is the Body of Christ,

i.        The one who gave himself in the love of God and for others

·         Without asking what was in it for him

2.      This is the message Peter delivered in his sermon just before today’s reading

a.      That through all of this, Jesus was raised up, and we are his witnesses

i.        Poured out for all to see and hear …

ii.      So that everyone will know that Jesus is Lord

3.      The people that heard Peter’s sermon were amazed

a.      And they came together in the Body of Christ

i.        They shared the things they had with others

ii.      They enjoyed fellowship and breaking bread together

·         With glad and generous hearts

iii.    Through it all they praised God

iv.    And they had the goodwill of all people

·         And day by day the Lord added to their number

C.      So God has called the church ever since

1.      Set aside for praise and worship

2.      Calling women and men to the service if Christ

a.      As his witnesses to and for the world

b.      In his name and for his sake

3.      So we are faithful to the life and ministry of Christ’s church

a.      Not to serve our purposes, but to serve God

4.      And as we serve him faithfully

a.      We praise God’s name by the way we live our lives

b.      Now, we need not expect that 3,000 will be baptized and join the church like after Peter’s sermon

i.        Yet, as the church is faithful …

ii.      The church will make a difference in Jesus’ name

iii.    People will know, they will taste and see that the Lord is good

·         People will know that the ministry of God is being done not for our sake but for his

·         And the Lord will add to the numbers

D.     So I come today as a preacher of encouragement

1.      As you continue to discern ways of being a relevant expression and witness for God  – and I want to encourage you in the ways you are reaching out

i.        In the community

·         Central Zone

·         Alpha Center

·         Jackson Towers

·         Dorothy Love

·         Boy Scouts

·         VBS

ii.      In the larger church

·         Kirkmont

·         Involvement in the work of the presbytery

iii.    Even national and world missions

·         Latino community here and abroad (Colombia connection)

2.      I want to encourage your fellowship activities – where you share together with glad and generous hearts

a.      Picnic in the park

b.      Canoe trip

c.       Coffee Hour

d.      Chili Cook-off

e.      Turkey Trot

f.        Other meals and outings I have read about and seen

3.      For it is in the life and ministry of the church that God’s name is lifted up and the Body of Christ is built up

a.      And I pray that through the sharing, giving, the pouring out of yourselves

i.        …in fellowship and service, and breaking of bread in his name

ii.      That God’s name will be served and praised

iii.    And that the life and ministry of this church will be encouraged and affirmed

b.      It is through all of this, that the goodwill of the people will also increase

i.        And that God will add to the number of the Body of Christ

·         Not as a the end of our ministry together

·         But the response of a grateful community, being built up in the name of Jesus Christ and for his sake

·          And so may it be with us.  Amen

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