Category Archives: Sermons

Embracing Surprise (Matthew 24: 35-44)

Flickr Photo by Herr Olson
Flickr Photo by Herr Olson
# Embracing Surprise

This is the Gospel reading for Advent 1 and the text my sermon was based on for yesterday:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
(Matthew 24:36–44 NRSV)

Let’s Get Out of Here!

This passage has been the root of many a children’s sleepless nights and nightmares. Children laying in bed, terrified from what they learned in Sunday School, or a story they heard.

But is that really the intention of this passage? No, I don’t think so.
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Participatory Church and the Trials of Falling Asleep (Luke 22:39-46)

Flickr Image by Brandon King

“He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.] When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (Luke 22:39–46 NRSV)

Participation as Production

The word participation is an important word for our church. We talk about being a participatory church but what do we mean by that? I want to unpack that a little here.

Participation means to partake, to partner.

We live in a participatory culture. Back 50 or 60 years ago when you listened to a story around a radio, it was one way. TV in its earliest stages was one way. There was someone who wrote a story, produced a show that he or she thought consumers would like. But nowadays things are very different. Reality shows like Survivor, So You Think You Can Dance (my favorite), American Idol and many others build on the content that the audience gives. It could be through voting. It could be through suggestive story lines. Producers are constantly looking for interest of fans and which characters they like most, which ones they connect with, which story lines are most popular. There are shows like Arrested Development, Veronica Mars or Joss Wheadon’s Firefly where when they go off the air the Fans rally and actually get the producers to make more of their favorite show, even in helping raise money for the show to get it back on the air.

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Zacchaeus in the Present Tense

Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NRSV)

Zacchaeus Breaks The Mold

Zacchaeus is a pretty well-known story from the bible. There is a song written about him. He has some colorful traits that make him somewhat easy to identify, like being short and climbing a tree.

But the familiarity with his story in this instance might actually work against us.

The way that Luke tells the story we are supposed to pick up on certain characteristics that Zacchaeus represents.

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Prayer: Identifying Our Blind spots (pt. 3)

eyes covered (2)

This is the third of four short meditations on prayer based on Luke 18:9-14:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 NRSV)

Another thing this parable teaches us that prayer can help us to see ourselves more clearly.

We all know what a blind spot is. We have blind spots when there is “an obstruction in our visual field.” We talk about blind spots when we are driving. We talk about blind spots in all kinds of life. Continue reading

Prayer: Don’t Trust the Labels! (pt. 2)

Flickr image: Thomas Hawk

This is the second of four short meditations on prayer based on Luke 18:9-14:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 NRSV)

A second thing we might learn from this parable is by considering how the pharisee and the tax collector are worlds apart socially. The distance between these to characters is like saying the Wall-Street Exec. and a person living on welfare went into a church together to pray. Continue reading

Prayers of Offense and Defense (pt. 1)

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This week I have four short meditations on prayer based on Luke 18:9-14:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 NRSV)

This parable is in many ways about prayer, but it isn’t trying to teach us what to say, so much as the kind of attitude, or posture we are to have when we pray.

Story

The Catholic football team was on its way to an important game. A reporter boarded the train and asked for the football coach.

“I understand,” said the reporter, “that you carry a chaplain to pray for the success of the team. Would you mind introducing me to him?”

“That would be a pleasure,” said the coach. “Which one do you want to meet, the offensive or the defensive chaplain?”

From Anthony de Mello’s Song of the Bird (p.150)

Many of us are probably familiar with at least the idea of the great lengths that sport fans will go to make sure their team is on the winning side. But there’s another way to hear this second parable and it is about the attitude in which we pray. Continue reading