Sermons


For what it’s worth, in my opinion, our reading from Luke’s gospel this morning is difficult.  It starts with a man asking Jesus for a legal ruling, and it ends with the story about the man who decided to build more storage to house a bumper crop.  Neither, on the face of it, would seem to be a bad thing.  But Jesus seems quite unsympathetic to both.  Why?

It’s not so much the case these days, but rabbis in Jesus’ day functioned, really, like judges.  They interpreted the law of Moses in legal disputes.  They also taught.  We translate the term “rabbi” as “teacher.”  But they not only taught the law, they issued judgements to settle disputes (like Moses did).  Back then, they really didn’t function the way Christian ministers do.  They really weren’t pastors, except in the sense that they settled legal disputes.  They might sort out problems between members of the community that way.

So it is not unreasonable that the man in the crowd asked Jesus, as a rabbi, to settle his legal dispute with his brother.  Presumably his older brother, since that’s where the power would have been.  It was not uncommon for some small portion of an estate to be shared with younger sons – sometimes even during the lifetime of the father (like in the story of the “prodigal” son) – even though the vast majority of the estate would go to the older brother.

Presumably the father had died, and the older brother wasn’t sharing.  The younger brother wanted a piece of the estate.  My first thought was that perhaps Jesus was reading his heart and finding it greedy.  But when I thought about it, he’s rejecting the whole idea that he should sit in judgement over other people – even though that was the accepted role of rabbis.  “… who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

I’m reminded that Jesus was not much of a rule-maker or lawgiver.  No, Jesus told stories to make his point.  And, at least in my mind, the point of his stories was usually about how to be in relationship with others.  And when I say others, I’m not just talking people.  I’m also talking God and creation in general.  That seems to be the case here.

Jesus introduces today’s story by telling his hearers:  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

In his story, a rich man’s land produced an abundant crop.  And this rich man seemingly confused this abundance with the life of his soul.  He makes plans to build a bigger barn and store up his goods to provide for many years in which he can simply eat, drink and be merry.  He seems to equate this with the well-being of his soul.

God does not seem to cross his mind.  The well-being of other people does not seem to cross his mind.  The idea that he might have been entrusted with this abundance for some useful purpose does not seem to cross his mind.  For him, the good life seems to mean enjoying life, coasting through life, without having to do any kind of work.  He has ample stuff, now, to make this possible.

I want to be careful here.  Because Jesus’ incarnation, God taking flesh in the person of Jesus, means that for us what happens in this world must be taken seriously.  And also because when people do not have enough, they often suffer and die without ever having an opportunity to become what God meant them to be.  We are not a religion, in spite of God’s care for the birds and flowers of the field, which ignores or minimalises the needs of this world.

But maybe the point of the story is that we can equally fail to become what God means us to be because we have so much “stuff” that we are isolated from need (and end up focused on the “stuff” and not on our relationship with all that surrounds us).  Maybe it’s a question of where our focus is.  Are we focused on earthly stuff or on the things that bring true life?  And I think that’s our relationships.

The rich man in Jesus’ story is going to die that very night, before he can enjoy the stuff he’s making plans to use for years.  Where is his soul then?  What good will what he treasures do him after he’s dead?  It does us no good, Jesus says, to store up treasures for ourselves if we are not rich towards God.

What do our practices with regard to things (which we usually think we own, but which ultimately we may just be stewards for) say about our relationship with God and God’s plans?  God calls us to live lives oriented towards building up our relationships with God and our neighbor (and I would add the things of God’s creation).  Does the way we use the stuff of our lives contribute towards living this kind of a life.  Or is our stuff our treasure and our focus in living?  Where your treasure is, Jesus tells us only a few verses later, is where your heart will be.  Where is your heart?  With God?  Or with stuff?

And, of course, this doesn’t mean that Jesus has laid down the law and said that we must live in poverty or that we cannot be wealthy if we want to follow God.  But it does mean that Jesus is challenging us to think about what it means to follow God and how our relationship with our stuff effects how well we follow God.

Jesus doesn’t say you can’t have stuff.

Jesus invites you to think about how your relationship with your stuff effects your relationship with God.

And he quite clearly warns us that our relationship with stuff can seriously undermine our relationship with our God.

Our lives, our true lives in God, do not consist in the abundance of our possessions …

Ok.  Here’s my sermon (draft, at least) for Sunday:

I think it’s hard for us to feel and understand the full impact of what we’ve come to know as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan today.  Today, because of the role this story has played in our cultural history, the term “samaritan” is synonymous with being a do-gooder.  In Jesus’ day, it would have been more like being a voodoo witch doctor:  someone who might still bear some of the outward trappings of our religion, but who’s rites and practices were clearly perversions of the real meaning of our faith.  In fact, I’m feeling that I’m overstating the case against someone who practices voodoo.  But I’m pretty sure jews in Jesus’ day would have felt I was understating the case against Samaritans.  It was so bad that jews from Galilee had to travel in large groups to pass safely through Samaria.

Jesus, by the way, is in a very adversarial situation when he tells this story.  He’s being questioned by his enemies, who are looking for something they can use against him.  A debate between presidential candidates might be friendlier! (more…)

So here’s a draft of my sermon (presumably) for Yuba City this Sunday:

What are we to make of the story of the tower of babel – a sort of anti pentecost – as our first reading today on the day of Pentecost?  And really, what’s going on in this story?  Is our God a God who wants to hold people back from becoming all they can be?  Is our God a God who wants us to be unable to communicate and cooperate with each other?  Or is this really more of a description of the human condition? (more…)

So, once more, here is a draft of tomorrow’s sermon for Yuba City:

Easter 6 C

I’m going to throw you a curve this morning, and use the alternate gospel reading for this Sunday.  Not only that, as allowed by canon, I’m going to preach on a slightly longer text than is specified.  We are always allowed to expand the reading, and I’m doing it so that you hear the whole story.  Don’t worry, it’s not that long!

When the story starts, Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem, to attend a religious festival.  When he arrives, near the Sheep Gate, which may have been how he entered the city, he passes a pool of water, around which are gathered all kinds of invalids.

Why are they gathered there?  If you look at the copy of the gospel I passed out at the beginning of the service, you will see a bold footnote, number 1, just before verse 5.  — Did you notice that our reading had no verse 4?  What the footnote tells us is that the best and earliest sources did not have a verse 4.  But other sources had, wholly or in part, an explanation:  they were waiting for the stirring of the water, because when an angel stirred the water, the first one in would be healed.

One man had been waiting by the side of the pool, receiving charity from the faithful for his livelihood, for thirty-eight years.  I’m thinking he had become comfortable and complacent in his disability.  And I’m thinking Jesus thought so too.

Recognizing that the sick man had been there a long time, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

You would think the obvious answer to this question is, “Yes!  Yes!  Please God heal me.” (more…)

Once again, I doubt that anyone from Ft. Bragg is going to see the sermon I intend to preach this Sunday before I give it.  (If I’m wrong, and you plan to be there Sunday, probably you should skip reading this for now.)  Also, I apologize to any followers who read “Thrift Shop Resurrection” – most of which is given again here.  So here it is:

Easter 4 C

 

I have problems with this morning’s reading from Acts!

Is that allowed – to have issues with scripture? (more…)

Well, since it’s ready, and since I don’t think anyone from the congregation in Sutter Creek follows my blog, here’s what I expect I will preach for the Second Sunday in Easter:

Imagine what it must have been like.  A week ago, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Thursday they all gathered for a special meal with Jesus.  Later that night, Jesus was arrested.  Friday morning he was tried and brutally executed while they all hid (and some of the women, braver than the rest of them, watched from a distance).  Today they were hiding, barricaded behind locked doors, waiting for the sound of footsteps which might mean that they too were being arrested …  Fear was in the air.  And that evening, suddenly, something unrecognized appeared in the room with them!

“Peace be with you,” they heard.  But they did not experience shalom.  There was no wholeness or completeness or being in harmony in their hearts. They might well have thought they were seeing a ghost. They must have been scared witless!

But Jesus, it was Jesus, showed them his wounds.  They recognized him by his wounds, (more…)

This morning’s sermon in Elk Grove:

 

In this morning’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we read about Jeremiah’s call.  The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.  “Before I formed you in the womb,”  he is told, “I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

But Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”  It’s actually not clear how literally true this might have been.  There are Jewish traditions (seemingly based on how little he said in the first thirteen years of his career before King Josiah died) that he may have been commissioned at birth!  And the word “boy” in Jeremiah’s response could mean any male between an infant and a young man!  His career really seems to take off when Jehoiakim takes over as king.  All told, he spends forty years prophesying before the temple is destroyed. (more…)

My back has been killing me all month and I have posted almost nothing.  But I did preach last week in Yuba City, and this is what I said:

Many of you may know already who Ruby Bridges is.  I have to confess I only learned this in this last decade.  Sometimes I’m slow.

For those of you who might not know, Ruby was the six-year-old African-American girl who, after the federal desegregation order, walked past 40 to 50 angry white adults each day, to attend elementary school in New Orleans.  She was accompanied by federal marshals, but otherwise alone.  She was the only African-American student.  And all the white students had been withdrawn because she was there.

Many of the adults who greeted her each morning, if that’s the word for what they did, were saying they were going to kill her.  And Ruby had to know they just might do it.  Yet she kept coming.

She not only kept coming, but she smiled at the mobs as they vilified her.  And she told her teacher that she felt sorry for them, and was praying for them.  It’s hard to imagine.  What kept her going? (more…)

We tend to blame people for what happens to them.  We really seem to like to think that people get what they deserve.  It’s a lot like the Eastern idea of “karma.”

We aren’t always blatant about it.  But we tend to think that a smoker with cancer (more…)

Except for our gospel this morning, all of our readings have to do with wisdom.  Solomon, invited to ask God for anything at all, asks for wisdom.  And God thinks this was the right thing to ask for.  Our psalm suggests that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom — again, seen as a good thing.  And in Ephesians we are exhorted to live as wise people.

Wisdom seems to be important.

And although our gospel doesn’t talk about wisdom, it is a reading from John’s gospel, which seems to develop the first creation story from Genesis — you remember that story, don’t you?  In the beginning God created.  And how did God create?  God created by speaking things into being.

And how does John’s prologue, John’s creation story start?  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being …”

The Greek word which we translate as “word” is “logos.”  And the logos is much more than just a spoken word. (more…)

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