‘Good Trouble around Asia Minor’: a sermon on Acts 18

Getting into good trouble by welcoming outsiders is the only faithful response to exclusion. That’s my argument in this sermon, continuing the theme of the previous sermon by using John Lewis’ beautiful phrase.

Writing about my Acts 17 sermon, which took place the week before this one, I admitted I wasn’t as bold as I should have been confronting the evils of our country’s current policy of separating families of immigrants and refugees, lying to those families about when they will be able to see each other, and putting the children in cages. I also vowed to do better.

Did I succeed in that goal? Ultimately, that is up to you, dear reader/listener, to discern. I think I so. In fact, I think this is pretty strong. One of my better sermons. But, as they say, your mileage may vary.

What do you think?

Chapter 18 features Paul doing a ton of traveling. So yet another map helps me visualize where all he different places the action takes us: Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia.

Paul's 2nd journey full map

 

Three other visual aids made their way into this sermon:

Apparently I say this with some frequency. 

 

The “Kind is cool” bracelet that could not carry the weight of our current presidential administration’s meanness.

Turns out this got thrown away so I can’t show you a picture of it. You’ll just have to imagine it as I toss it away into the first pew during that part of the sermon.

 

The comeback kid

 

Here’s the sermon

Oh, did you catch the subtle reference to an ’80s cult movie classic? (It is, I admit, quite the reach.)

Other sermons in this series on Acts: Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 17.

‘Good Trouble?’: a sermon on Acts 17

In June, 2008, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Representative John Lewis speak at a Sojourners conference in D.C. He is, it should go without saying, a real-life hero. A national treasure. An inspiration.

Except, I’m ashamed to admit, at the time I didn’t really know just how special he was, and thus I did not know just how special was the opportunity to hear him in person.

I was 36 years old at the time of that conference. I’ve lived my whole life in the United States. I was educated in good schools, both public and private, from elementary school through graduate school at seminary. I’ve been active in church my whole life. And yet, somehow, in the summer of 2008 I did not know who John Lewis was or why he is so important to the story of our country.

I have of course rectified that now. But, damn, it’s embarrassing it took me so long. Lewis recently published the story of his life in a three-part graphic novel called March. It is phenomenal. You should go read it now. Seriously. Right now. The sermon at the end of this post will still be right here waiting for you.

All of that John Lewis talk was set up for the next sermon in our ongoing series on Acts of the Apostles, the title for which I stole was inspired by Lewis’ oft-used phrase, “get into good trouble.

This time we’ve skipped ahead to Acts chapter 17 where we find those early followers of Jesus getting into good trouble. My thesis here is that we contemporary followers of Jesus need to get into some good trouble by speaking out about injustice — especially the horrifying injustice of the current president and his administration separating families seeking refuge in our country. I also spend some time refuting the “don’t be political” canard. Faith in the God of Moses, Esther, and Jesus (just to name a few) is inherently political.

Still, after the fact I was confronted with the reality that I wasn’t nearly as bold in this sermon as I intended to be. So I sought to correct that in the follow up sermon…check back here soon for that.

Listen to the sermon series a chapter at a time: Acts 9, Acts 10, Acts 11, Acts 12, Acts 13

Here are the maps I used during this sermon:

Paul's full 2nd journey map for July 15, 2018

Pauls 2nd journey map for July 15, 2018

Finally, here’s the sermon audio. What stands out for you?

 

 

 

‘The First Dream Team’: a sermon on Acts 13

According to (what we’ve designated as) the 13th chapter of Acts of the Apostles, the leaders of the Way were diverse from the very beginning. Apparently, I hadn’t previously read this part of Acts closely enough, because that revelation kind of shocked me.

Those leaders weren’t afraid to boldly confront evil, which can be inspiring. But there was also plenty of interpersonal drama, which can also be inspiring…though that sounds a bit strange, I admit. People gonna people, no matter the year or culture.  Clearly the early church, which we moderns too often romanticize or idolize, had plenty of problems — just like we do today. That’s been one of the lessons of this sermon series on Acts: most of the problems the church faces today are not new. They’ve been with us since the beginning, in one form or another.

Once again, I find Steve Thomason’s depiction of this section of Acts very compelling:

Acts 13 steve thomason art

 

I am not a geography genius. Throughout this sermon series, I’ve shared a number of maps in order to help me have a sense of where the action described takes place. I know it enriches my visualization of the story. Perhaps it does for you too. Here’s the one I used  in this sermon:

Map of Paul's First Journey

 

Check out other sermons in this series: Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12

Here’s the audio for “The First Dream Team,” originally delivered June 10, 2018:

 

 

 

 

‘Delightfully Stranger Things’: a sermon on Acts 12

Now that I have my sermons in a more easily-uploadable format (Thanks, Reid!), I figured they would become regular content here.

[checks date on most recent post]

Oops. Clearly, it is sermon time again.

We’re in the midst of a series on Acts of the Apostles. We’re basically looking at one chapter per week. Below are my thoughts on Acts 12. Again, I don’t print my sermons here because I think they are auditory events and as such need to be heard if they are to be fully experienced after the fact. Also, I generally don’t have a full manuscript to post. So there’s that.

Follow the series on Acts: Chapter 9Chapter 10, Chapter 11

My thesis for Acts chapter 12 is that this story reminds us that the Kin-dom of God is a place where all, even and especially “Outsiders” belong. That needs to be true of the church too, if it is to be faithful to the Way of Jesus.

At least that is what I was trying to say. Let me know what you hear.

 

 

Busting Taboos, part 2: Sermons on Acts 10 & 11

I don’t always get to preach two weeks in a row, so when I do I try to connect them, to make them into a mini-series at least. This time however, we are doing a series on the book of The Acts of the Apostles. So the sermon I’m posting here from May 13th (Mother’s Day) on Acts chapter 11 follows naturally from this sermon on Acts 10. Or at least I intended for them to flow together naturally. Ultimately, whether or not I succeeded in that is up to, dear reader, to decide.

No added visuals this time. But this sermon is longer because it includes my conversion story (as promised in the previous sermon).

Here’s what I attempted to say: “Listening to God’s Spirit changed the church. Excluding LGBT is ruining UMC’s reputation. Listening to LGBT Christians changed me, and could our church too.” Let me know what you heard though.

 

Busting Taboos: Sermons on Acts 10 & 11

The sermon series on Acts of the Apostles (which I first wrote about here) continues. I preached on May 6th and May 13th on chapters 10 and 11, respectively. Many others have said this many times, but the story told in Acts 10 & 11 is the most significant story the church has. As I argued a few years ago, Acts 10:35 should be our “leadoff hitter, our first responder, our top go-to text”:

God has just shown me that I should no longer consider any human being unclean or profane… God accepts every person regardless of background or culture. God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.

How much better would Christianity be if that was our main mantra?

As I keep reiterating, sermons need to be heard not just read. So here’s “The Best Worst Buffet” on Acts 10 from May 6, 2018. Visuals I used are below the audio.

My intended thesis was, “God seeks to subvert our penchant for exclusivity.” Let me know what you hear though.

 

Acts as Tree image

 

Acts 10 map

 

This seems long enough; I’ll give the May 13th sermon it’s own post.

UPDATE: May 13th sermon on Acts 11 here.

“What’s Next?” April 15, 2018 sermon

While my job title is not Associate Pastor, that’s what it would be in most church settings. Someone else is the Lead Pastor (she’s awesome, by the way!). My responsibilities include  youth ministry as well as our justice and outreach ministries. As you might expect, I help lead our two Sunday worship services. But what is apparently a little odd about my situation (ok, one of the odd things) is that I get to preach regularly. Usually once per month, though occasionally more than that. I enjoy preaching. It is challenging and daunting and fun.

Yet, you won’t find many sermons here on my blog. I’ve written about this a few times before. I generally don’t preach from a manuscript, so I don’t have full text to post so that you could read my sermon. More importantly than that, however, is that I find sermons to be nearly exclusively auditory events. They need to be heard to be fully experienced. But most weeks, it is a CD that I have and the technical wherewithal to make a post with audio recording of the sermon that I lack. I can be kind of a dope.

However, recently, an incredible member of our congregation offered to take on the technological part of the task! (H/T to Reid and Kevin!) Thus, I intend to be much better at sharing that content here. Forewarned is fair-warned?

This past Sunday — April 15th — was week 2 of a series on the book of Acts. Our text was Acts 9:1-31. My thesis: The story of the early church has much to teach us. Acts continues the story of God calling and using unlikely people. People such as you and me and us.

At least that was the thesis in my head. I’d love to know what you heard.

I used some visual aids during the sermon. Seeing those will (should?) make the audio make more sense. Those are below.

Special thanks to pastor and illustrator Steve Thomason for sharing his amazing art with the Narrative Lectionary group and, you know, the world.

On to the sermon…

 

 

First, the book of Acts of the Apostles offered in the visual metaphor of a tree.

 

Next, two maps of the areas mentioned in the text for the week. An overview of the Roman Empire, allowing us to see Saul’s hometown of Tarsus. Then a closer look at the sections of Israel: Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and the road to Damascus.

Roman Empire of New Testament

 

 

Jerusalem to damascus map

 

 

Finally, my favorite: Thomason’s visual of the story of Acts chapters 8-9, that is also set up (loosely) as a map. So many intriguing stories here!

Acts Chap 8-9 illustration

 

The best note

UPDATE: Here’s the audio of the sermon that elicited this response that moved me so.

I was trying to say: Resurrection confirms God’s dream for this world. Resurrection invites us to bring God’s dream to life. What did you hear though?

 

I talk. A lot. It’s kinda my gig as a pastor. There are plenty of days when I wonder if all the words I say — all the prayers, all the songs, all the sermons — matter to anyone at all. Am I, are we as a church, making a difference in anyone’s life with all our unending words?

It seems that, for this week at least, the answer is yes. I hope you’ll forgive me as this is insanely self-serving, but this week we received this note regarding worship Easter morning:

As a first time visitor, I was struck by the all-inclusive atmosphere – on so many levels, including having children actively participating. This was in clear reflection of Pastor Dave’s sermon about not only being all-inclusive and welcoming, but to listening to people. his mention of what was and was not factual or reported in the Gospels struck a chord as well. This sermon and visit has given me rebirth in the belief that there are still many Christians who really reflect on what it means to be a Christian and to act thusly. Thank you.

Affirmation is so powerful. And humbling. And inspiring.

I hope we can continue to live up to what this person saw in us. I know it is that for which we are striving.

Celebrating Students

I am so incredibly impressed with the Parkland, Florida students’ response to last week’s horrific gun violence at their school.

Check that. It is not the response that is incredibly impressive; it is the students. They are immensely impressive. Their responses to the murders around them are a manifestation — a demonstration — of the impressiveness of their character.

Here’s hoping and praying those students continue to speak, march, organize, and vote until all our schools are safe. Until all assault rifles are banned. Until all politicians who put guns ahead of students — ahead of people — lose their seats. Because hopes and prayers are necessary, but they are also insufficient. Action is needed too.

At the church I serve, our Youth Ministry leaders and I will of course do everything we can to encourage and support the ways our students choose to engage in these actions. Such as the March for Our Lives on March 24th. Or the National School Walkout on March 14th and April 20th.

As our General Board of Church & Society (the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church) reminds us:

The United Methodist Church urges “congregations to advocate at the local and national level for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence.”

However, I don’t want to just lift up our students’ possible future actions. I want to celebrate who our students are right now, today. Recently we asked them to anonymously write down something they are good at. (We then used their responses as part of a game wherein each person had to either act out or draw that written response for the rest of the group to guess. Because of course we did.)

I’m sharing their answers with you because I think it provides yet another glimpse into our students lives. Our congregation claims to highly value our children, and we actively strive to bring that value to life. Knowing our students helps us do that.

More generally, it seems to me that hearing directly from some students could curb the impulse some have to automatically assume middle school and high school students are vapid, phone-obsessed, and dismissible. I beg to differ. Vociferously.

What are you good at?

Science
Watching TV 🙂
Talking to friends
Baking
Drawing
Gaming
Listening
Math [Note: x2]
Playing my flute
Eating food and playing piano [Note: probably not at the same time]
Sports
Doing Yoda impressions
Finding synonyms
Video games
Speaking for a group
Being lazy

 

Finally, let me celebrate student insight. At this week’s youth group gathering, engaging with the Lenten Study book, Embracing the Uncertain, our students offered this understanding of the material:

Faith is to doubt as bravery is to fear. 

Yep, they named their takeaway in the form of a standardized ELA comparisons test.

Translated: Bravery isn’t the absence of fear; bravery is action in the midst of fear, in spite of the fear. Similarly, faith isn’t the absence of doubt; faith is action in the midst of doubt, in spite of all the doubts we feel.

Hey, our kids are pretty great…wouldn’t you say?

 

 

 

 

It is 2016, going on 2017…

[Note: This is an end-of-the-year letter I wrote for our congregation, Woodridge United Methodist Church. I’ve adapted it here for, hopefully, appealing to a wider audience.]

I am often asked about that weird word in my title. Koinonia is a Greek word used in the New Testament. I’m not a Greek language scholar, but those that are write that koinonia means community. The way the term is used in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 2:42-47) suggests community that is formed through worship, fellowship, and living together justly. It seems to fit as my title, as my main areas of responsibility are youth ministry, outreach and justice projects, and worship.

Of course each of those areas also have a full committee working on them. Instead of telling each of their individual stories, I focus on an event that brought all three areas together in a vital, beautiful, inspiring, Spirit-filled way — creating community. Or, if I may dare to say it, creating koinonia.

With input from Youth Council and our youth themselves, we decided to go to Birmingham, Alabama for our summer youth mission trip. Immediately, our leadership team knew we needed to spend as much time as we could learning about the civil rights movement before our trip and as much time as we could visiting the movement’s special sites once we were in Alabama. Studying The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was a key component of our preparations.

But first we read the letter to Dr. King which prompted his now-famous epistle. Most of our group was surprised and disappointed to learn that two Methodist bishops were among the eight signatories of the letter accusing Dr. King of being an outside agitator who had no business being in Birmingham. With the context set, we dove into the letter itself.

I am fond of quoting the portion of King’s letter that reads,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

While that first sentence is oft-quoted, the final two sentences seem to me even more vital. For they remind us that no matter how independent we think we may become, each of us is dependent upon others. We need each other and so we need to look out for each other, help each other, speak up for each other. Reading through Dr. King’s letter together transported us back those 60 years, evoked questions and concerns, and helped us consider our present time: In what ways is our society better? How can we better live into the ideals of the letter? What is the role of the Christian community in this? What is WUMC’s role?

The letter and all it provoked made us uncomfortable. Which is probably why it is so powerful and still relevant.

One of our members provided another milestone in our preparations. Thanks to her connections, the mission trip group was blessed with an evening with two leaders in the civil rights movement: the Rev. Dr. Stanley L. Davis, Jr. and the Rev. Dr. B. Herbert Martin, Sr. The duo shared stories of their experiences, suggested some sites to be sure to visit in Birmingham, and encouraged us to be faithful witnesses of God’s love for all people. Then Dr. Martin offered a closing thought that transfixed us and became our prayer for our time in Alabama:

Hate no one no matter how they have wronged you.

Live humbly no matter how wealthy and privileged you become.

Think positively no matter how hard life gets.

Give much even if you have been given little.

Forgive all, especially yourself.

Never stop praying for the best for everyone.

Always forgive. Forgiveness upsets, interrupts, and distorts the plan of Satan to defeat you. Always be forgiving.

Love is of God and God is love. Love is bigger than the past, our pain, our anger, fear, our scars, and yes, bigger than this whole world with devils filled.

There is somebody bigger than you and I. Behold the universe — the only thing bigger than you — walk there, live there in.

Do not worry about thinking outside the box — there is no box!!! There is no fence! There is no border!

Live free in God.

Thanks to one of the families on the trip, each member of the mission trip had those beautiful words laminated on a card along with Dr. King’s words that I quoted above. Our trip included meaningful work with community organizations, fun conversations on the road, vehicle mishaps, moving worship, laughs, tears, and lots of pictures. The attending youth were fantastic. They are why we do this.

I can never say this too much: our mission trips would literally be impossible without the dedication of and sacrifices made by our volunteer adult leaders. THANK YOU Lorie, Alma, Glenn, and Kevin.

As amazing as all that was, our time at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was, at least for me, the most moving experience of any of my 20 mission trips. God’s Holy Spirit is in that place. God’s Spirit is at work in the people who are continuing the story of Exodus, the prophets, and Jesus by working tirelessly for all people to be truly free. I want to be part of that story.

So that is on my mind as I consider plans taking shape and ways we might show better hospitality in our church and our community in 2017. For some time now, our lighted sign reads, “We stand with Standing Rock.” I hope we will further our lines in God’s ongoing story of freedom by renewing and increasing our connection to the Standing Rock reservation, and finding ways to support their efforts to protect their water supply against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Our young people return to South Dakota in June 2017 for mission in Martin, South Dakota.

We look forward to confirming into full membership 15 young people in May, should the whole Confirmation class choose that path. Regardless of the final outcome, the families in that class are already deepening their connections with each other, with the congregation, and with the community — and, ultimately, that is why we have the program.

One way I hope we will expand koinonia in 2017 is through fuller participation with Northern Illinois Justice For Our Neighbors. If even some of the president-elect’s campaign promises are fulfilled, our neighbors who are recent immigrants could be extremely vulnerable. We can help JFON care for them. That is a way to love our neighbors we have left largely unexplored. I hope we begin to correct that in 2017.

To paraphrase the great Maya Angelou: As we work for justice for all God’s children, whatever challenges and roadblocks 2017 brings, I know that with God’s Spirit, like a song, still WUMC will rise.