Archive for January, 2010

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Great Love

1. Way In

I Love:

Peanut butter, meat loaf

shrimp, crawfish, clams, crabs, lobster

cold beer, red wine, Coca Cola

reading The New York Times

crossword puzzles, NYT is 1st choice, others

books, reading, libraries

William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty

Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Band, Bob Dylan, REM, U2, Avett Brothers

bluegrass, classical, opera

I love these things, they make me happy

but this isn’t the kind of love we find in 1 Cor.



my wife, Kazy

my sons, Paul, jack, Miller

my parents, sisters

extended family

This is getting closer to what the Bible says

loving relationships, commitment

remember what Jesus says:

nobody has greater love

than the one who will lay down their life for a friend

Love one another as I have loved you

Bridge: listen for what Paul is telling us about loving relationships

2. Tell the Story

Without love I am (we are) nothing

if I speak, even with the voice of an angel

but do not have love – I’m just making noise

If I have great powers, knowledge and faith

but do not have love – I’m nothing, I make no difference

If I give up all that I have

but do not have love – I am nothing, I don’t get it

We must understand that love is

patient, kind

not envious, boastful, or arrogant

does not insist on its own way

not irritable or resentful

does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth

love bears all things; believes all things, hopes … , endures …

love never ends

prophecies will come to an end, so will tongues, even knowledge

When I was a child

I spoke and thought like a child

as an adult, I put an end to childish ways

Now we see in a mirror dimly

then we will see face to face

now I know in part

then I will know fully

faith, hope, and love abide

the greatest of these is love

3. So What?

I read this passage a lot at weddings

it’s a wonderful reminder of how we ought to be with each other

but there are times …

when I feel like I should stop

say, “OK , y’all. Will somebody please read this to me.”

I find myself standing in front of some loving couple

giddy, crazy in love

reminding them of what the Bible says about love

… and realizing the ways I’ve been missing it

patient, kind – well, most of the time

not arrogant, envious, boastful – oops

not irritable – well, a lot of the time

I put an end to childish ways

“Oh, like the silent treatment, or saying ’you’re not the boss of me.?” Yeah, I guess so

God surely doesn’t need me to explain 1 Cor. 13 to anybody

it’s God’s Word and it’s a reminder to us

besides this, the most helpful description of love I heard lately is:

from Elie Wiesel (Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner)

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

the opposite of love is indifference – “I don’t care”

hate is bad, no doubt

but indifference is even worse

to think somebody doesn’t even matter

the Bible says without love, we’re nothing

without love, life doesn’t matter

song from Rent, my favorite show, asks

how do you measure a year?

daylights, sunsets, midnights

cups of coffee, inches, miles

525,600 minutes

How about love? Measure in love

how will you measure your life? or how will others measure …or God?

what you’ve accomplished?

how much you worked?

how much stuff you had?

how well I spoke?

without love, it’s all just making noise

Paul starts by telling us what love is not

not boastful, arrogant, etc.

Free-style to end, e.g.

the opposite of love is indifference

nothing more hurtful/hateful as indifference

seeing somebody/child of God suffering and not care, not be moved

Utter devastation in Haiti that we witness in the media every day

what can we do? there is so much need

can you imagine not being moved?

we can’t save the world – can’t do it all today

but we care

that’s the first step

that’s love

so we reach out – do what we can


raise money, resources, supplies

imagine seeing some of the needs in our community and not caring

ministries started because somebody cared

Munch Bunch – food provided for 430 kids (Oct. 09 – Jan 10)

then he tells us what love us

recap list from 1 Cor. 13

descriptions of love besides Weisel

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.” Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

The only solution is love

that’s how we live in grateful response to God’s grace

Love, love, love

All you need is love

So let it be with us. Amen


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Nehemiah 8:1-12

“Preaching too long”

1.  Way In

“Preaching too long”

go through the bit where I take off my watch and place it carefully and visibly on the upper edge of the pulpit

“Do you know what it means when a preacher takes their watch of and carefully puts it on the pulpit where they can keep an eye on it?”

“Do you know what that means?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

2.  Tell the Story



Jews exiled to Babylon around 600 B.C..

Persians conquered Babylon 538 BC

permitted Jewish exiles to return to Israel

also permission to rebuild the temple

released in 539 BC

began temple rebuilding in 520

temple completed in 515

Today’s scripture reading has some strong preaching

at least some long preaching

the people gathered at the Water Gate

on the east side of Jerusalem

Ezra brought the Torah/Law of Moses and read from it

from early morning until noon

Ezra was standing on platform with 13 others

then the people bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord

then Ezra and the other teachers moved through the crowd helping the people understand the law, and interpreting it

scriptures don’t tell us how long that took

but it says that the people stayed put while all of this took place

3.  So What

I guess I shouldn’t say Ezra preached too long

but he did read the scriptures from early a.m till midday

then they worshipped and prayed

then they took time to explain the scriptures

Neh. does say that the people stayed put

4 – 5 – 6 hours

I shouldn’t say Ezra preached too long

but I think that’s too long for us

I know it’s too long for me

and I’m pretty sure it’s too long for you

I don’t know what the customary worship time was in Ezra’s day

maybe this wasn’t that unusual

but some of the details seem to indicate it was …

several mentions that the people were paying attention

and sticking around

as if this was a long time, but the people were unfazed

but this was a voluntary gathering

and they asked Ezra to come and read the Torah

The people were hungry, eager to hear the word of God. Why?

their wills were crushed

Jerusalem, their Holy City, was in ruins

temple destroyed

lands were barren, untended

My seminary professor, OT scholar W. Brueggemann

describes Israel as becoming too comfortable

in years before the exile …

take gifts from God for granted

land, security, abundance, prosperity

“prosperity causes amnesia … people don’t know who they are, what they’re expected to do, or to whom they’re accountable”

perhaps the half-century in exile re-sensitized them

which is why the return to Jerusalem sparked their collective memory

time spent without what God had provided restored their appreciation and acknowledgement

having done better at one time of their history,

Israel was re-sensitized to:

damage done to them and their city

dryness of Babylonian exile

harsh and brutal treatment at the hand of these and other enemies

struggle and conflict within their own community

They called Ezra, the scribe and priest to come and bring the scroll

books of Moses – the Law – Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible)

What did they hear? (Gen., Exo., Lev., Num., Deut.)

You know what’s here

Creation, covenant, restoration, release – Exodus, law: statutes and ordinances so that you may live long in the land of promise

when Israel heard covenant and law

they heard again God’s warning

… not to forget who it was that

delivered them from the hands of their slave masters in Egypt

led them and provided for them in the wilderness

gave them the land of promise

flowing with milk and honey

Nehemiah says that the people wept when they heard this

if you read on from here, you will see that the following chapter describes the confession and atonement of the people

realizing how far they had wandered …

they repented and were hungry for restoration

they wept for what they had lost

and out of their deep desire to be restored

the leaders in the rebuilding and restoration were Ezra (scribe/priest) and Nehemiah (governor/administrator)

This isn’t the time for weeping

you have heard the Law: statues and ordinances

celebrate your restored memory – eat the fat, drink the sweet wine

remember the poor

this day is holy

the joy of the Lord is your strength

and the people did what they said

they ate and drank

sent portions to those in need

rejoiced – for they understood the words of God

What does Nehemiah say for us?

I don’t want to preach too long

y’all may not be ready for 4 or 5 more hours

AND you have not been in exile, we haven’t been in Babylon

But I have heard some stories from you

you’ve told me about how changes in leadership over the years has made you feel …

un-tethered, unsettled, anxious about the future

There was definitely no exile here but maybe you felt a little forgotten – a little unsure

maybe, as life goes on you’re wondering if it’s happening again

another pastor arrives, hits the ground running

but maybe things aren’t working out just like you hoped

didn’t that happen before?

Well, I have good news

it’s not me – I’m not your hope

I am your pastor

the one you called

teacher, preacher, administrator, developer

and you are remembering

God’s promise to be your God

and your promise to be God’s people

spreading the good news of the gospel

mission, fellowship, outreach, education

The joy of the Lord is your strength

Remainder of message: freestyle following these thoughts (mostly)

I’ve been with you for about 1.5 years

think I’ve learned a few things about people & culture of Sidney

… history of the community

… about history of our church as a place of:

worship, praise, and fellowship to the Lord our God

ministry and service in His name

community and world

learned about how the people have always helped each other out

Here’s what I think

This church is willing to trust in the ministry of the pastor God calls to this parish

follow and participate as you are able

accept responsibility of taking initiative when you feel God calling you to a particular ministry

willing to work to provide resources and “take care of business” as needed

When considering a new ministry or activity …

acknowledge that when there is uncertainty, it’s possible to proceed because


and when it’s this way

there’s no need to be ruled by fear and reluctance

Ezra brought a word of encouragement and remembrance from the scriptures to Israel – and he brings it to us

more here about creation, covenant, restoration, and redemption

as we proceed

with care

and prayer

it is not our fear and uncertainty that guides us, because:


that joy and strength never leaves us

so be bold

be courageous

don’t be afraid to even be a little pushy

God is doing something here – now

let us listen

let us follow

let us trust

and let us go where God is leading

the joy of the Lord is our strength

so let it be with us. Amen

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1.  Way In

Who regifts?

my exp.


2.  Tell the Story


Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth

talk what was going on there

the church learning about being in the world

… about faith and life

The text

Spiritual gifts?   a new idea

“I do not want you to be uninformed”

back before you knew the Lord, “when you were pagans”

you paid attention to mute idols

and those speaking by the Spirit of God do not curse God

… and it is only through the same Spirit that we claim Jesus as Lord

About these gifts:

there are varieties:

varieties of gifts – ways of serving – ways of living

but the same Spirit – the same Lord – it’s all God

all are for the same thing – objective

the common good

Examples – all are “by the Spirit” – all are from God

wisdom, the speaking of wisdom and of knowledge



working of miracles


discernment of spirits

speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues

all come from the same Spirit and are given as gifts

3.  So What

What’s your spiritual gift?

kind of a loaded question

what if you can’t think of anything?

I can’t do any miracles

except sometimes just getting up out of bed seems like one

or making myself look halfway presentable some days

I never healed anybody.  have you?

you never saw me on TV healing people

making somebody get up out of their wheelchair

… throw away their walker or cane

or curing somebody from a disease

although I heard John Geissler from Agape talk about healing

he actually HAS experienced God’s healing

in people he has prayed over

and seen illness go away, or deformities become correct

yet he is the first to tell you, “I am not a healer”

   he’s only acting on behalf of God

      the conduit for God’s Spirit

I don’t speak in tongues

in the “spiritual” sense

there have been times, esp. when I lived in New York

when my southern accent has seemed like another language

but you have heard about people speaking in tongues

ever actually heard it?

Me neither.  Only once, in a documentary about snake handling

another “curious” church activity

the same for prophecy

maybe I predicted something

foretold it …

but I’m talking about a biblical prophet

proclaiming back to God’s way

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel

not so much “telling the future/how things will be”

as telling how things need to be

kind of a loaded question

what if you can’t do any of those things?

are you bereft of spiritual gifts?

or if you can do one, is that all you can do?

are you spiritually pigeonholed

some denominations hold firm in these gifts

and a lot of what you can or can’t do in church are determined by what your gifts are

and there are certain ones in the church who can determine these

so you can imagine the power structure that emerges

around the exhibition of spiritual gifts

certain places where your status in church depends on

    your spiritual gifts

can you imagine how power and status would be incentives

… to have and use (rather “exhibit”) certain gifts

1 Corinthians isn’t the only source, you can find others listed

teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, mercy, pastoral

one gift that stands out in this list

not much said here about that one

seems kind of played down – especially when there is status around what your gifts are

i.e. when you don’t want everybody having gifts

everybody can’t have all the status or power

One gift we all have – FAITH

Hebrews, assurance of things hoped for

better world

kingdom of heaven


Faith – against evidence to the contrary

we still work for these things

we’re all the same

no hierarchy here

no evidence of stronger or better gifts

no struggle over who has more gifts

maybe some of us have specialized training

even specialized education, ordination

which gives us certain responsibilities

but under that we’re all the same

(takes off robe to reveal jeans, Sesame Street t-shirt, Converse hi-tops underneath – dressed this way for the rest of church)

regular people

doing the best we can – ‘til we all get better – ‘til we can’t

getting up every day

trying to make a difference

make things better in our corner of the world – and beyond

we’re regular people, but we can make a difference in Haiti

it’s because we follow God

with whom nothing is impossible

a way out of no way

free people out of slaves

people of faith out of pagans/heathens

something special out of you and me

a miracle-working and powerful God

who came among the people

to show us the way


the gift we all have to follow God

and to DO like Jesus teaches

and that’s the regifting part

because when we do like Jesus teaches

we build each other up

and we-together, we are the church – the Body of Christ

and this is how we work towards the common good

to bring about change in the world

peace where there is war

food where there is hunger

love where there is have – worse yet, apathy

the common good

that is where we re-gift our faith

so let it be with us.  Amen

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Luke 3:15-22

Remember Your Baptism

1.  Way In

I have been looking at a lot of my stuff lately

I have a room in our house


desk, table, desk chair, comfy reading/sleeping chair, bookcases

been going through my stuff – putting it around my room – scanning it to computer photo album

pictures, books, HS yearbook

arrowheads and pottery shards I found by the TN River

great-great grandfather’s dresser is in the next room

his snuff box

grandfather’s shaving brush and straight razor

grandfathers monk statues

he wasn’t a monk, obviously

but he had 2 little statues – one at home, one here in my office

Kazy has been going through a lot of photos, too

putting a lot of them on line


this has been an exercise in remembering

… or trying to remember

who was that in that photo?

what’s that kids name?

whose house is that?
where did I get those pants?


this is a certain kind of remembering

not like remembering to take out the trash

remembering to get some coffee or bread

not like the computer app – Remember the milk.com


re-join, re-connect

get back together with that which you have been apart

Bible some 300x

God said to Noah, “I will remember my covenant”

Moses told the Israelites, “Remember this day when you

came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy

Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age


Remember your baptism

I don’t mean try to recall the date, or who was there, or who the preacher was

On the day we remember the baptism of Jesus …

John’s announcement of the Messiah

and God’s powerful announcement and claim,

“You are my son, I am proud of you.”

re-connect with your baptism

re-join with the day the Lord marked you

… with power in living water

… marking you as his own

2.  Tell the Story

John the Baptist

Herod threw John in prison

John named Herod’s evil and wickedness

not simply a ‘religious leader’

prophet reminding the people of God’s kingdom

a threat to Herod’s power

specifically, here

his marriage

evil deeds

John wouldn’t stop John from prophesying and speaking out

so Herod “shut him up” in prison

John wasn’t afraid of Herod

not afraid of Herod’s power

nor afraid of his tendency to behead the opposition

John never wavered from pointing away from himself

and pointing to Jesus – announcing him

Herod could shut John up in prison

but he could never take away the hope for the people when John spoke truth to power

John’s ministry was to proclaim the Kingdom of God

announcing the coming Messiah

baptizing the people

marking them as made in the image of God

and with the hope of new life

In the waters of baptism

John baptized the people

the ones who heard his message of truth and hope

in the face of the evil and tyranny of Herod’s rule

and Rome’s occupation

for these were not the final words

heaven has opened up

even as evil tries to take away the good news

lock it up – lock it away

shut it up

God brings new life

heaven opens up

God has come among us

bringing hope

renewing power in the world

The ones who were baptized that day were marked

as God’s own, made in God’s image

beloved, even as God’s son is

God has made us for himself

and marked us as his own, and beloved

3.  So What?

It’s no different for us

we bear the same Good News

Jesus has come among us

and the kingdom of heaven is …

greater than any effort to shut it up

(moved to the baptismal font at this point, delivered comments from there about grace and God’s claim upon us.  Dipping hands into the water and letting the water fall back in loudly, and messy)

Recalled Luke’s text and connecting us with God calling us by name, too.  Making eye contact with people in the congregation as God says “(their name), I am proud of you”

(freestyle delivery, still at font, following these thoughts)

Power of God – we’re marked with it in baptism

An ancient Christian catechism describes baptism as a “visible sign of invisible grace.” By the grace of God, we are surrounded and upheld every day.  The great Protestant Martin Luther was plagued at times by a sense of unworthiness and despair.  To drive back those demons, he kept an inscription over his desk that read, “Remember, you have been baptized.”  Often, he would touch his forehead and remind himself, “Martin, you have been baptized.”

Before I prepared this message for you, I had told Luther’s story any number of times, but I had never touched my own forehead.  I had never reminded myself in a physical way that I too have been baptized–cleansed and forgiven, claimed and sanctified, sealed by God’s own Spirit and given my new, everlasting identity in Christ.  I recommend that you take a moment, touch your own forehead, and remind yourself that you are a child of God. Baptized or not yet baptized, you are a beloved child of God.

(Back to the pulpit for the conclusion)

We use ordinary water for baptism.  But what power it has when God uses it.


· Where do you find the power to keep going every day?

· Where do you find the power to even get out of bed some days?

· Where do you find the power to continue to believe in love in a world that is filled with hate?

· Where do you find the power to continue to believe in, to even work for peace in a world that is addicted to violence?

· Where do you find the power to continue to believe in good as unimaginable horror and wickedness comes with each page we turn in the newspaper?

· Where do you find the power to continue to believe that ultimately God’s kingdom will come and God’s will, as revealed in Jesus, will be done in all of the creation?

· Where do you find the power to be a disciple of Jesus in this world?

But you see, these things are not the last word.  That’s why Jesus teaches us a new way of living.  We don’t have to believe that violence and evil are the last words, because God in Christ shows a new way to live in the face of all that.  Let the fanatics who rave about these things on radio and TV have these wicked things, let the paranoid editorial writers rail on new world orders and whine about their moral dogma.

We have been empowered by the powerful Spirit of God.  We may not change the whole world in our lifetime, we may not even change anybody else, but when we remember the power of God and the mark of our baptism, we remember that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to:

think more clearly,

feel more deeply,

love more generously,

speak more truthfully,

serve more faithfully,

give more lavishly,

live more fully.

That is the power of God, marked in the water of our baptism.  Maybe you will notice the baptism font as you leave, there’s water in it, feel the water on your way out and remember your baptism.  Put a little bit on your forehead if you like.  Remember the power of God in your baptism.  Common water, but what power it has when God uses it.

So may it be with us.  Amen.

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Read Jeremiah, as listed in bulletin

Read Matthew when I get to it in the sermon (sect. II.)


Way In


Two readings today

2nd Sunday after Christmas (today)


Epiphany (1/6/10)


don’t think I’ll see y’all on Wednesday (Jan. 6)

so, today – spend a little time with both readings

Tell the Story

Epiphany reading – Matthew 2:1-12

ἐπιφάνεια   epiphaneia


visitation of magi to Jesus

arrived after Jesus’ birth

The “Magi” from the east

educated, scientists, wealthy

also called kings, “we three kings of orient are”

well-respected by Gentiles

how many of them?

3 gifts = 3 magi/kings

some traditions say  12 (12 tribes)

Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar

names not from Bible, but tradition

from about 8th century

some traditions give them names that sound more Persian (eastern)

not religious, not Jewish, spiritual

knew prophecy from education

followed the star known by prophecy and knowledge of astronomy

King Herod, reign 37BC-4BC

not a Jew, appointed as king by Rome

known to have killed family

wife, 3 sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle

builder of temples, amphitheaters, monuments, forts

best known for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem

20BC, project began (completed 64AD)

destroyed by Rome 70AD

tyrant, not pleased to hear talk about a “new king”

Magi’s journey brought them through Jerusalem

their arrival would have been noticed by Herod

Herod also head of the king they were seeking


Herod: saw the king as a threat

seeking to build up himself. his reign

Magi: seeking truth – meaning of the star

brought gifts – the best

worshipped the new king – bowed down

 before the new king

Magi warned by Spirit about Herod

Herod wanted to get rid of new king

“death of the innocents”

they returned “home by another way”

Jeremiah – Sunday reading

prophet well before the time of Christ (6th century BC)

calling the people back to faithful worship of God (Yahweh)

Egypt and Babylon had overshadowed their worship

this Jeremiah reading

affirmation of God’s action to save Israel

grace and steadfast love

hope to the exiles (Babylon)

in the midst of despair and hopelessness


exhorts the people to praise God

listen for God’s promises

images of God as shepherd and father

So What?

We have seen the Lord

Christ the newborn king

born in a barn/manger

true king; shepherd, father

feared by Herod, worshipped by Magi


The anointed one – Messiah, “God with us”

born of truth and light

God promise from the start to redeem his people

in the Messiah

We are seeking – like the Magi/Wise Men

truth, meaning in our lives

we know the source is something greater than ourselves

led to truth like the Magi

We are conflicted

Herod kept from true worship of Jesus

pride and greed

unwilling to give up any of himself

we’re not anywhere near as bad as Herod

but what holds us back from fully submitting to God in Christ

any of this there?

any ego?  desire for control?


as we celebrate the birth of Jesus: love, grace, truth

we reflect on the community we are called to by the prophet

spend the rest of this church year

reflecting on being people of God

strengthening relationships: God, each other, neighbors


called by God to come and see

to worship Christ, the king, the Messiah

to proclaim his rule in our lives

let us follow faithfully, like the Magi

seeking truth

following God

gathered in order to be sent out

as witnesses to and agents of the love of Jesus Christ

in worship of God

in fellowship with each other

in mission – reaching out to a world in need

of God’s healing, wholeness, and community

So may it be with us.  Amen

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