‘Temptation Wilderness’: a sermon on Matthew chapter 4

This is probably a bit odd, but despite the sermon title, I never did make a connection between the temptations Jesus faced in chapter 4 of Matthew’s* gospel and any of the recent TV shows that play on that theme. Boy howdy, did I make a slew of other references and winks, though. ‘Cause, you know, gotta be me.

My thesis was Jesus used his power to care for others and lift them up. We’re called to do the same. As always, I’m interested in knowing how what I intended to say compares to what you hear. All the visuals I used (plus a bonus one or two) are below, after the audio.

The many faces of the Devil/devil/tempter/tester…or could it be…Satan??

 

devil angel wings
devil with angel wings

 

devil bat wing
bat wing devil

 

devil shazam
Shazam! devil

 

devil ghost
ghost devil

 

devil sith lord
Sith Lord devil? Or is it tall Jawa devil?

 

devil dante lovitz
Dante-Lovitz devil

 

devil black lagoon
WTH??

 

Maps! We’ve got maps. I know I struggle to remember where to find all the places mentioned in the story, so these help me.

zebulun & naphtali map

 

galilee capernaum

 

 

Bonus image! I didn’t think of this in time, but I should have shown the congregation what Spider-Gwen looks like. (I couldn’t re-find the devil image that reminded me of her.)

spider gwen

 

Obviously didn’t show this during worship. But still. Seriously, see. this. movie. “It’s amazing. You could even say it is spectacular.”

 

*Fun aside…thanks to the absolutely fantastic Marvel/Neflix series, Daredevil and its tantalizing and fun companion, The Defenders, every time I say or write “Matthew,” I hear Elodie Yung’s Elektra Natchios distinctively intoning that name. Every. time. You can get a sense of it in this video. But, seriously, watch those shows. Luke Cage too. I’m really ticked they are all cancelled.

Featured Image photo by Andrew DesLauriers on Unsplash

‘We’re Related to…Them??’: a sermon on Matthew 1

Brevity. Not a quality for which many pastors are known. At least not when we’re in preaching mode. We tend to like to talk. A lot. The truth is (at least in my experience both listening to sermons and giving them), a short sermon that is also a good sermon is much more difficult to achieve than a longer sermon. The easiest, most natural path for a preacher to take is to just keep talking.

I don’t know if this sermon here on Matthew 1:1-17 from December 30th is good. But clocking in at about eight minutes, I say it qualifies as short. It is half as long as many of my sermons. (Even approaching one-third as long as when I am most verbose.)

At the very least, it should make the students in our Confirmation class happy. Earlier this year, analyzing and critiquing their worship experience, they determined what we really need is shorter sermons. Or, as they put it, “shorter long-talk talk time.” If that’s not the perfect description of how 13 year olds (or, honestly, most people regardless of age) consider sermons, I don’t know what is. Love it.

I attempted to communicate: Whatever skeletons are in your family’s closet, you’ve got nothing on Jesus. One parishioner told me that idea really helped them better accept the way their family sometimes fails them. That’s better feedback than I often get. Maybe I should aim for shorter more often? I’m always interested to know what you hear and how that compares to what I thought I said. What message (if any) comes through to you?

With help from the commentary embedded in the version of this scripture in The Voice translation and from Professor Gerald C. Liu at Working Preacher, here then is my shorter long-talk talk time*:

 

*Please forgive the nasally quality of my voice in this recording. I was fighting a bad cold that day.

‘Now for Something Completely Extra’: a Christmas Eve sermon

I know it’s New Year’s Eve, but let’s get in the WABAC Machine and set it for…one week ago. Way back when it was Christmas Eve. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Christmas Eve is kind of a big deal in (most) Christian churches. It certainly is in our congregation.

Christmas Eve at Woodridge United Methodist Church is full of candlelight and carols — even at our early worship gathering (this year at 5pm, so after dark). That service usually has plenty of children too. It feels like a momentous night: expectations of a good-sized crowd; a desire for everything to go just right — but trying to convince myself that no matter what happens, no matter what goes wrong, we will worship as faithfully as we are able. Plenty of potential too: for seeing people and families who have drifted away; for welcoming first-time guests; for surprises along the way. (All of which moved out of the realm of potential and into the actual!)

Even though I know better, some part of me thinks that if the evening can just be perfect enough, people will be impressed, will see that ours is a down-to-earth congregation doing our best to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the real world as it as even as we work to bring about the world as it should be where all people experience love and justice. If they can see and feel that, perhaps they will join us on this journey.

All of that combines to make for an exciting and nerve-wracking night. Not unlike when company comes over or taking a final exam. I’m nervous and excited because I know it is important and a lot can be riding on the result. I feel it as the college student bores holes into me with his stare. I feel it when the 11 year old pays no attention whatsoever. I feel it when the grandmother laughs. I feel it when the long-time member gives me the slightest nod or smirk. I feel it when a different long-time member drops his gaze into his lap. What does that all mean? Am I simply projecting import and reaction? I can’t say for certain.

How does one approach preparing a sermon for such a night? It’s a bit of a conceit for me to post that question in that way. As if there is a universal answer. All I can tell you is how it went for me.

Our texts for the evening were the usual ones for Christmas Eve: portions of Isaiah 9 and Luke 2.

During my preparations, my wife requested, “Teach us something.” Our kids implored me, “Don’t be boring!” Me, being me, desired to be funny, to get a reaction or five. As with all sermons, I want the hearer to learn something, to feel something, and to have a way to respond, to carry the message on into their life. The hard truth is that not all sermons live up to that. But I think this one was pretty good. Of course, it is ultimately not up to me to say to what degree I was successful.

I can tell you without doubt or reservation that I had fun writing and giving this sermon. I hope that comes through. Let me know what you hear* and what you think.

 

Singing and praying and working until all people are treated like the image-bearers of God that they are? That’s good news. God calls us to start with those our society shoves to the bottom. That’s the extra good news. That’s the extra love God births into the world through you and through me and through us. That’s what Christmas is all about, friends. 

*If you want to play Dave’s Sermon Bingo, here are a few things for which you can listen:

References/homages to (or at least slight nods toward):

  1. Monty Python (as one parishioner suggested, what I really needed was a giant animated foot to drop)
  2. Peanuts
  3. Doctor Who
  4. Dodgeball
  5. Old School
  6. Home Alone (actually this is a sight gag, so you might not be able to catch it in the audio)

Plus one swipe each at:

  1. Trump
  2. Michael Madigan
  3. Climate change deniers

How many did you notice?

 

 

 

‘Everybody Move’: a sermon on Luke 2 & ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’

The fourth and final Sunday of Advent happened the day before Christmas Eve.* So it was already a challenge to separate Sunday’s message from one to give the next day. Add on the bonus level challenge of the same scripture reading as Christmas Eve (Luke 2:8-20)…and the result is one confused preacher. Fortunately, I had the African-American spiritual, “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” to pull me out of my own mucked up mind.

As previously noted, our church used Mary Had a Baby by Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Marilyn E. Thornton for both our Advent study and the focus of our Advent worship.

Mary Had a Baby

Eventually I figured my best course of action was to simply admit it and lean into my confusion about both what day it was and how to differentiate that day from Christmas Eve. Baptizing a baby named Brandon during worship that day helped. You’ll hear him referenced. There’s also a slight nod toward Lord of the Rings.

I think I was trying to say that as tempting as it is to want to keep things the same, we don’t grow that way. God calls us into the present and future to increase justice in the world. Top moments, as I see them:

Today is full to the brim with potential energy. Just waiting to burst forth. But that’s also the problem. Too often we’re content with the potential. Too often we convince ourselves that staying put is for the best.

And, quoting Mary Had a Baby:

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” reminds us to tell the story about a child who faced homelessness, poverty, lack of documentation, injustice, possible imprisonment, and death.

What do you hear? How should we go and tell this gospel story?

 

*The day my kids would call “Christmas Eve Eve.” Because they, like so many others I’ve encountered, think “Eve” means “the day before.” I disabuse them of this notion in my Christmas Eve sermon. Ok, I had to disabuse myself of that notion too.

 

‘Time to Go!’: a sermon on Mary’s song, Joseph’s census, & ‘Children, Go’

If that title suggests to you that this sermon might be trying to do too much…well, I probably can’t argue with you. It’s probably not my best. Still, though, I thought the conclusion was actually pretty good. Poignant, even. I’m not sure my congregation agreed. Maybe it was too on the nose? (If so, just wait until you hear my Christmas Eve sermon!)

For Advent this year, our study groups read Mary Had a Baby by Cheryl Kirk-Duggan & Marilyn E. Thornton (photo above). So we based our Advent worship gatherings on the book too. That’s why our readings didn’t follow a lectionary (neither Narrative nor Revised Common) — we used the scripture and the spiritual referenced in each chapter. This week those were Luke 2:1-7 and “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” But I also wanted to talk about the original Advent song: Luke 1:46-55.*

My intended thesis (quoting author Arundhati Roy),

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

came as a result of reading Fred Clark’s Advent series.

Info on the route Mary and Joseph might have taken came largely from Adam Hamilton’s book, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem.

Here’s the audio:

What did you think, was the conclusion over the top?

We can hear this new world breathing every time we become aware of those movements into freedom and justice too.

This new world, she takes a breath every time a parolee puts on a new suit.** 

This new world, she takes a breath every time a person experiencing a mental illness receives support and treatment. 

She takes a breath every time a lonely child is welcomed at a lunch table.

She takes a breath every time a grieving person is comforted. 

She takes a breath every time a woman is believed when she reports abuse. 

This new world, she takes a breath every time a hungry child gets a free meal at school.

This new world, she takes a breath every time a person experiencing homelessness receives not just a meal and shelter but a kind word.

She takes a breath every time a refugee or asylum seeker finds a safe place to stay like Mary & Joseph & Jesus did.

She takes a breath every time a law or an accepted practice meant to keep an African American “in their place” is repealed or dismantled.

She takes a breath every time one of us sees the humanity in someone who is different from them.

She takes a breath every time one of us recognizes that those we oppose are struggling too.

She takes a breath every time we break down a barrier or reach across an aisle of divide.

 

*Yes, we read that one from The Message. I really liked the way it rendered verse 52: “knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.” Seemed the best way to reckon with Trump’s America.

**That’s a thing, I’m proud to say, Woodridge UMC is helping to make happen.

An arresting thought

“Some things are worth losing for.”

I was driving, listening to a podcast (my current preferred in-car entertainment) when I heard that statement. It was arresting. Almost literally. I was so struck by that thought that I had to pull over to process it for a moment.

“Some things are worth losing for.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite authors, said that in a conversation with Chris Hayes. With the 2019 Special General Conference just two months away, those words loom ever larger. As ridiculous as it is that this still needs to be said; as ridiculous as it is that this is a “controversial” thing to say in church, let me be clear:

I and we (meaning our congregation at Woodridge UMC) believe LGBTQ+ people should have all the rights available to heterosexual, cisgender people both in civil life and in the United Methodist Church.

That should just be a given: as followers of Jesus, advocating for the humanity of all people and treating people the way we want to be treated should be first and foremost how we define ourselves. And yet, especially in the UMC right now, that is anything but a given*. In fact, no matter how well the Special General Conference goes, we are unlikely to achieve equality in 2019. Worse, we may even lose some of the gains we’ve achieved toward inclusion. But if we do, it will be worth it to stand with marginalized people for justice. “Some things are worth losing for.”

Last week the Reconciling Ministries Network offered an inspiring statement, “Called, Committed, and Faithful.” I recommend you read the whole thing. Here’s a taste:

We tirelessly dedicate ourselves to living the reality of our baptismal vows: resisting evil, injustice, and oppression. We do this by seeking justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities….

We witness the lives of many of our friends who have not felt welcome inside the doors of United Methodist churches. Their calling, their ministry, and even their baptism have been questioned. But we still believe in the best of what The United Methodist Church can be: a movement where social and personal holiness blossom in a wide variety of contexts including in communities outside of the United States.

We have much to learn together.

 

*Truthfully, supporting full LGBTQ+ inclusion was certainly not always a given for me either. I had a conversion experience — in seminary of all places! — after leaving the white evangelical subculture. I most recently shared that story as part of a sermon called, “Ruining Our Good Name.” You can listen to it here.

‘Infinite War or Excelsior!?’ a sermon on Isaiah 36

To paraphrase one of our great musician-philosophers, “Infinite war, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

But in the whole of human history, what has been more constant than war? Further, many of us were taught history, both of our country and of the world, through a series of wars. War seems to define us.

On the other hand, to paraphrase one of our great warrior-philosophers, “My faith’s in people, I guess…And I’m happy to say that, for the most part, they haven’t let me down. Which is why I can’t let them down either.” Maybe war doesn’t have to define us.

Can Stan Lee and a bunch of his Marvel creations help us understand the battle of words happening in Isaiah 36 & 37? Yes! Of course I’m biased toward the power of comics, so your milage may vary. 

The Narrative Lectionary was weird this week: parts of Isaiah chapters 36 & 37 (36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7, which is what we read) and then Isaiah 2:1-4

Here’s the photo of my comic book collection that I showed:

Highlighting the Siege story line seemed appropriate, given the Isaiah text

Here’s the sermon audio: 

If you need some help with those Marvel characters I reference:

Black Panther

Thanos

Ebony Maw

Some of the quotes I used:

[Marvel’s] stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender or color of their skin,” he said. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry. — Stan Lee

I’m going to make an effort to chose the battles that matter. Battles against injustice, against cynicism, against intolerance. — Captain America

Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are…Although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion…We must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that [humanity] was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His [sic] children. — Stan Lee

Let’s live the way of Excelsior! 

Photo by Matteo Kutufa on Unsplash

Wise Words?: a sermon on 1Kings 3

Yesterday, a white supremacist, neo-Nazi walked into Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people as they worshipped. This terrible, tragic, heart-breaking, hateful, and hate-filled act must be renounced — especially by Christians. Our faith has for too long and too often been used to justify violent anti-Semitism. I hope resistance to such horrible ideas comes through in this sermon.

A few resources to help bring the message to life:

The Narrative Lectionary text for today is 1 Kings chapter 3. I used The Message version today in honor of the late Eugene Peterson.

The video by The Bible Project on the book of Kings (we showed the first 4 minutes)

Quotes from Professor Cameron B. R. Howard’s commentary.

My intended thesis: True wisdom is always rooted in love. What theme did you hear?

Likely the best part of the sermon (though such a designation is ultimately up to you, dear reader/listener) :

Prof. Howard again: “This story  is a startling reminder of the depths of human despair and our continual yearning for God’s presence among us.”

We don’t lack for stories of human despair, nor do we feel so satiated by God’s presence that we no longer yearn for more.

We need wise words rooted in love because hateful, violent words foment hateful, violent actions. 11 people are dead in Pittsburgh because the shooter lived into the “wisdom” of white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazis. We must ask ourselves: What role does a distorted, hateful version of Christianity play in this? Let’s be like the author of Kings and be honest about our violent past. For centuries, from the beginning really, some Christians have read the gospels as if God hates Jews. That hateful, violent language fomented many tragic hateful violent actions against Jews.

Together, let’s tell better, wiser stories. Stories rooted in love for all people.

Sermon audio:  

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

‘Exit Stage Left’: a sermon on Exodus 14

For most weeks this fall, we’re following the Narrative Lectionary. Because the best narratives — the best stories — are powerful, moving, inspiring, and endlessly fascinating. (More on that in upcoming, non-sermon posts.)

I usually chaff when the assigned readings skip over the difficult parts, so instead we read almost all of Exodus chapter 14. (We do have some time constraints, as much as I might wish it were not so.)

This sermon is a bit shorter than recent ones. You’re welcome. 😉

My intended thesis: God is still working to save people from oppression. God calls us to be agents of that liberation. But, as always, I would very much like to know what you hear as the main point.

Here’s the story from Heidi Stevens that I reference.

If you really want to go deep in the reeds, here’s the full Academy of Pediatricians report.

Money quote from Stevens/AAP report:

Studies indicate roughly 50% of teens who identify as transgender have attempted suicide. BUT… Research shows that if a transgender teen has even just one supportive person in their life they can go to, it greatly reduces their risk of suicide.

 

Too often the church has not only not been a place of support for LGBTQ youth, but instead it has — tragically and much to its everlasting shame — led the charge to make all places unsafe for LGBTQ youth…and adults. We must repent of that and change immediately.

Money quote from me (if I may say so):

Imagine that. In an era where belligerence and bellicosity are rewarded with…the presidency or a seat on the Supreme Court, the Academy of Pediatricians breaks through with a simple truth and we too often seem to forget: to those whom society excludes and oppresses, we need to offer understanding, respect, and unconditional love.

As I always say, sermons are not just academic papers to be submitted. Inflection, tone, audience reaction, etc. all matter. Sermons are meant to be heard. (Heard and seen would be even better, but audio is what I’m able to share.)

 

 

 

Ruth: The New Order, a sermon on Ruth 3&4

Our Ruth trilogy comes to an end this week as we look at the last two chapters of this fantastic and, as it turns out, fantastically relevant story. I feel like there is still so much to be said about the book of Ruth. Which, I suppose, is part of what makes it so great — you can’t possibly find all this story can teach us in three weeks.

In part 3 here, I reference a terrific one-off graphic novel called, Nightwing: The New Order which has this to say about present day USA fictional Gotham 30ish years from now (emphasis mine):

We grow up getting glimpses of who our parents were before we knew them. We look at photographs, we watch videos, we listen to stories. We try to learn about them so we can learn more about ourselves. In 2028 my dad saved the world, but…it was complicated.

Eventually I learned how even good people can come to believe in really terrible things.

IMG_2344
Public Libraries are the best thing ever

I think the book of Ruth tries to answer the same question from the post-exilic era. Ezra and Nehemiah came to believe really terrible things about Moabites. The book of Ruth serves as a polemic against the violent, hateful, exclusionary policies of Ezra and Nehemiah.

In the spirit of Ruth (The Good Moabite) — and contra the Trump administration — let’s tell a different story this week. Let’s tell a better story than one that calls for separating families and sending women and children out into the wilderness to die. A story that echoes the saving work of God, one that echoes Ruth and Naomi and Boaz, one that echoes Jesus — tell a story that demands all people be treated as neighbors.

Full series: Ruth Chapter 1, Ruth Chapter 2

[Note: I had a cold last week and I was at my nadir with it on Sunday. So apologies for my annoyingly nasally voice in this recording.]