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.
Three other visual aids made their way into this sermon:
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.
Here’s the sermon
Oh, did you catch the subtle reference to an ’80s cult movie classic? (It is, I admit, quite the reach.)
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This seems long enough; I’ll give the May 13th sermon it’s own post.
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.
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!
I am bad at posting the text of my sermons — mostly because I don’t usually write a manuscript from which to preach and then post. Plus, I’m convinced that sermons are best experienced when heard, rather than just read.
Here then, is the audio from yesterday’s sermon. My editing talents are limited so there is a little extra material at both the beginning and the end. Go to the four minute mark to hear the beginning of the sermon. Or start at the beginning to hear a bit of a song and the two scripture passages for the day, Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 7:17-23.
However, if reading is preferred over listening, I’ve also posted my notes below. The caveat being that I mostly use them as a guide, meaning what I actually said doesn’t completely match up with what I wrote. I doubt I’ve ever had a sermon completely match in that way. I suspect that’s true for most preachers.
We didn’t have time after the message for discussion in church, so I’d love for this to become a conversation here. So comment, question, and critique away.
”Names for the Messiah: Wonderful Counselor”
We are a country divided. From coast to coast, we have an issue that pits sister against brother; child against parent; even spouses against each other. I am of course talking about…
Properly using commas.
Why, what did you think I was talking about?
“To Oxford Comma, or not to Oxford comma, that is the question.”
I can’t and won’t solve this dilemma today, though if you know much of anything about me you can probably guess in which camp I fall. But for our purposes today, let’s at least acknowledge that comma placement affects the meaning of a sentence.
Here’s an example; notice the difference: “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain, and God.” OR “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain and God.”
Comma placement matters. Can we agree upon that?
Here’s why that’s important today:
The key passage for this sermon series, ‘Names for the Messiah”, is, as you might expect, the passage that, you know, names the Messiah: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
Thanks to Handel’s “Messiah”, we are probably most used to hearing that list as five names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, etc.
“The two terms are to be taken together. ‘Counselor” refers to the exercise of governance, the capacity to administer, to plan, to deliver policy.”
‘Wonderful’ may suggest the new king will have great wisdom. Or it may suggest that the plans and policies of the new king will be tremendous and surprising.
Here’s my next controversial statement that’s not actually controversial at all: The prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th century BCE. He was writing about the crowning of a new king of Israel. He was not predicting Jesus of Nazareth, some 800 years later.
The early church read those terrific titles and used them to bear witness to Jesus, connecting the reality of Jesus to the expectation for a Liberating King, a Messiah, to the Hebrew Testament.
So we inherit a tradition that sees these titles in Jesus. And ‘wonderful’ becomes the operative word.
His teaching is ‘wonderful’ because he tells us and shows us that things we think are impossible are actually possible for God. Scriptures tell us Jesus is wise beyond explanation. He open up new possibilities for us. Thus he is a threat to conventional wisdom and conventional power.
The passage from Luke shows just how surprising and unconventional Jesus is. Even his relative, John the Baptizer, the one called to make the way for Jesus, isn’t sure he really is the one! But because of Jesus, the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed and the poor have good news.
“The old limits of the possible are frauds designed to keep the powerless in their place.” Jesus exposed this desire of the power order of his day and invited the common people to see that another way was possible, and not just possible but what God actually wants for all people. No wonder the religious and political leaders of his day wanted Jesus dead — he was “teaching them out of their allegiance to the entrenched order!”
Jesus breaks down such conventional wisdom, such as that “wisdom” that says white men should be in authority in order for society to maintain “proper” order.
Make no mistake, conventional wisdom and power are resistant to change; resistant to new possibilities. We’ve seen that in the rise of white nationalism, white supremacy, trying to disguise itself in a new name, “alt-right”, but with the same goals: keep white men at the top of the power structure; at the top of society. These are people who, intentionally or not, feel empowered by this month’s election to come out of the shadows and speak overtly, publicly that all who aren’t straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christians don’t belong.
Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist racism in all its forms.
Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist demonizing and “othering” of all groups of people: no matter their race, no matter their religion, no matter whom they love.
One way we are living this out is through our new Hospitality Statement. What is that statement? Come to Church Conference Dec. 7 to be part of the group that hears, and hopefully, approves this historic document.
Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means another, better way, another better world is POSSIBLE. Not just possible, but is actually what God wants for the world.
We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of hope, especially for those desperately in need of good news.
We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of God’s better way that includes ALL people.
That, I am convinced, is our way forward, together. Amen?
Today is Thorsday (aka Thursday) and, I’m told, it’s also #NationalSuperheroDay. I don’t know why that’s a thing, but I like it. Since I was just talking with a friend about a sermon I once did about Thor…seems like a good day for an archive post. Plus, I really do enjoy Marvel’s Thor books. The current run with [SPOILER ALERT – look away if you haven’t yet read the story arc revealing the identity of the new Thor]…Dr. Jane Foster as Thor has been particularly fun to read and is beautifully drawn. Here’s a small sample:
Pretty awesome, right? Anyway, here’s The Gospel According to Thor
Originally posted January 30, 2014
You might think that putting up a sermon is the easiest kind of post. I mean, really, the content is already created, how hard could it be? Yet, somehow, it never ends up being that easy for me. Once again, here it is Thursday and I’m just now posting my sermon from this past Sunday (January 26). Which still beats the many times I didn’t post my sermon at all.
I’m sure this pathetic pattern is largely due to me being an inept blogger. But my particular process of sermon preparation plays a role as well.* I think a sermon is, first and foremost, an oral/auditory event. So I hope to add the audio soon. In the meantime, here are the notes I used as I spoke. Below I mention some of Julie Clawson’s writing; additionally, her 7-21 talk at Christianity 21 also informed my thoughts here.
Let me know what you think.
“The Gospel According to Thor”
Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matt. 4:12-23
Realms collide as the only son of God comes to earth, offering displays of power, bringing his light into places of darkness, saving the world. I am, of course, talking about…Thor!
Why Thor? A quick search on Amazon of “Gospel according to,” yields 39,647 results. I am not making that up. Results include:
Pop culture icons: Dr. Seuss, Sopranos, Simpsons, JRR Tolkein, Peanuts, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Disney, Star Wars, Hunger Games
Other bible stories: Job, Daniel, Jonah, Isaiah, and, my favorite, The Other Mary.
Even some, er, really creative ones: Coco Chanel, The Beatles, Jazz, Waffle House, Hoyle, Elvis, Patti Labelle, and Starbucks – which I’m pretty sure is, treat others the way you want to be treated…unless they say ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘espresso.’ Then you are to mock them mercilessly.
So really, why not Thor??
Still, I’ll forgive you if you’re a little skeptical.
Heck, my own son – who has become a bit of a comic book geek himself (not sure how that happened) – even thinks it’s crazy.
“Hey Josh, look at this cool picture we’re using in church this week!”
“Whaddya mean ‘why’?? Isn’t that awesome?!?”
“You should’ve used Captain America; he’s cooler.”
“What! How do you figure?”
“His shield can stop Thor’s hammer.”
While Joshua hasn’t seen it yet, in The Avengers movie we have the video evidence that he is correct.
So why Thor? He’s become a fascinating and complex character. His stories are almost all about hope overcoming fear. And aren’t those the kinds of stories we need right now?
A recent story arc had him pondering the very nature of gods, had him questioning his own existence, had him flying all over the multiverse teaching people to pray.
When his not flying around the multiverse or smiting frost giants, what does Thor do? The answer might surprise you.
There’s this book, a filler of sorts, an issue between story arcs. But this stand alone issue continues a theme from the beginning of Thor: Thor always returns to Midgard. (That’s earth to the uninitiated.) If the tech will work, I’ll show you what Thor does on earth:
-Thor drinks with friends. Ok, maybe not too surprising; he is a Viking god after all. Though I seem to recall another story about a son of God who made sure a party he was at didn’t run out of good drink…
-Thor visits a friend on death row and brings him his last meal.
-Thor brings food to seemingly orphaned children.
-Thor entrusts nuns with the seeds of an extinct orchid.
-Thor sits and talks with the proverbial wise man at the top of a mountain.
-Thor drinks with wounded soldiers; brings rain to dry land; scatters a crowd that claims “God hates you”; and hangs out with some fishermen.
-like a good celebrity, Thor responds to video invitation to attend a ball
-Thor grieves with a former girlfriend who is dying of cancer.
-Finally, far ahead in the future, Thor returns to Midgard…no matter how much it pains him.
Thor learns from and is inspired by his interactions with people on earth. The son of the highest god belongs on earth.
So what is the gospel according to Thor? Seems like it is “bring light and life into dark and dying places.”
“I could use a good saving the world story,” said Jane Foster as she was dying of breast cancer.
We need stories that inspire us; stories that remind us that hope doesn’t die; stories that remind us that fear, intimidation, injustice, oppression, and even death – as ubiquitous and implacable as they may seem – do. Not. Have. The. Last. Word.
Julie also points us to this quote from author Gerard Jones:
For young people to develop selves that serve them well in life, they need modeling, mentoring, guidance, communication, and limitations. But they also need to fantasize, and play, and lose themselves in stories. That’s how they reorganize the world into forms they can manipulate. That’s how they explore and take some control over their own thoughts and emotions. That’s how they kill their monsters.
Or consider this from CS Lewis:
“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
Stories within stories within stories.
In Matthew, Jesus has gone through the water via his baptism, has been sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, and is about to, in chapter 5, go up on a mountain (of sorts) to offer his fresh take on God’s law.
Through the water –> into the wilderness —> up the mountain… remind you of anything??
Matthew references Isaiah. Isaiah references Judges and the story of Gideon. And really, what is the book of Judges if not tales of superheroes? Men and women who display immense courage, who overcome their fear and their people’s fear, to defeat an enemy.
Gideon’s story is one of Israel’s deliverance from oppression – and all such stories of deliverance are references to the Exodus, when God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.
So we’ve come full circle once again, from Jesus back to the Exodus, God’s great deliverance of God’s people.
Stories within stories within stories.
There is a shadow side to superhero stories: apathy. If we are so wrapped up and addicted to the need for a super power to save us – whether religion, technology, or political platform – we might never live the courageous path the stories inspire us to take.
(paraphrased from Kester Brown: “We need also to let go of our hope that some other superpower—whether religion, technology or a political formulation—will bring eternal peace and equilibrium.” and Julie Clawson)
God continues to delivery us from oppression and misery. God does that by continually calling us to live lives of grace and peace and hope. God loves us and call us to live lives of love.
Do you know that? I mean really know that in the very center of your self? That at the core of your identity you are God’s beloved child? No matter who you are or who you aren’t; no matter who your parents are or who they aren’t; no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve left undone…you are God’s beloved child. Do you know that?
Well the story isn’t over. Because you are also called by God. You are called by God to be God’s agents in the world – this world, our world, God’s world.
One biblical commentator wrote, “God designates human agents whom God empowers and authorizes in the public process of history. Such human agents turn the public reality of politics and economics toward the will of God.”
You are called by God to be agents in the world fighting, what are our vows?, “fighting evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.”
Frankly, there’s plenty of evil to go around. Not to go all “We didn’t start the fire on you”, but we know the big evils:
-1 Billion w/o clean safe water
-800 million hungry
-27 million trapped in slavery
-1 in 5 women sexually assaulted
-climate already 50 parts per million above sustainability
There’s plenty of actual, real evil to go around. We can’t afford to waste time making up pretend evils, like fighting about which particular consenting adults are allowed to get married.
And we’re acting on those evils. Sometimes indirectly through our UM connectional system: clean water projects, rebuilding after the Haiti earthquake, UMW demonstrating in Chicago to fight the sex trafficking that accompanies every Super Bowl.
Sometimes very directly: your generosity in Nov & Dec resulted in over $1000 donated to West Suburban Community Pantry. That will allow the Pantry to buy 3 tons of food!
But if those evils I mentioned strike you as too universal, here are some closer to home:
-We have heroin deaths on the rise in DuPage & Will counties.
-we have drug addiction ravaging young people – though not just young people
-I learned this week that 52% of children in Woodridge schools receive free or reduced lunch.
-There are children in our schools in Woodridge who are homeless. Children whose only meals each day are the free breakfast and lunch provided by the school.
How will we address those? Maybe we start with just one. Maybe we need to partner with the Woodridge Resource Center, see how we can go to them with offers of help. Maybe we can help provide meals for children in the summer months when school meals aren’t available. I don’t know but I’m convinced you do know. God is at work in and with and through and even in spite of, you and me and us.
What story will your life write? What story will we write together, as the people of God called Woodridge UMC?
I say let’s make it a story of ordinary people who dared to respond to God’s call and do extraordinary things! I say we overcome fear and evil with stories and faithful actions of hope! Amen?
*I almost never write a manuscript (that’s preacher-ese for writing out each word of the sermon); instead I use a hybrid style. By which I mean I use a combination of outline, fully-written sections, and, er, inspiration. I always have a thesis so that I know where I’m going with the message. I usually write out the opening and the conclusion and just outline the middle. I find I think about the message all week long, almost constantly playing it in my head, revising it and playing it again. For whatever reasons, I ended up writing almost all of this one. Go figure.
My task this week is to tackle some of those most mysterious teachings of Jesus that we usually call parables. In particular, parables about what the author of Matthew’s gospel calls the Kingdom of God Heaven.
Why ‘Heaven’ instead of ‘God’? Most likely the author was Jewish or was writing for a Jewish audience or was otherwise strongly influenced by Jewish mores which preclude naming God. What’s more interesting (at least to me) are the implications of that language choice on us contemporary hearers…that’s some of what we’ll get into on Sunday with a sermon I call “Word Search.”
I also hope to get into what we might (perhaps arrogantly?) call new parables of this Kingdom of God Heaven thing. Various verses from Matthew 13, our text for this week, offer five different examples Jesus used to describe this Kingdom. I want to add a few more. But sermons are fluid (at least as I prepare and present them), influenced by, to name a few, news, events, timing, congregational responses (or lack thereof), and – hopefully – the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. I might not end up saying what I think I will say. Or I might screw up and forget something. Or I might only tell part of a story. Or I might tell it badly. Or…??
In hopes that this will enhance your experience of, and participation in, Sunday’s message, I offer these stories for your perusal. Stories I intend to reference on Sunday as ways God’s Spirit of Life is at work in, with, and among us. Stories that might inspire you to find out about even more. Stories that might inspire you to notice the Spirit at work. Stories that might encourage you to tell your own story…and maybe even to tell it this week.