We are continuing with Acts, isn’t that great? Such a wonderful book. If you haven’t been here in the weeks previous, Acts is the history of the beginnings of the early church. It follows on the heals of Jesus’ crucifixion, the discovery of the empty tomb, and the several post crucifixion sightings of Jesus. As a way into this story for today, I would like for us to go back to Easter. On Easter Sunday, here in this place, we read in Luke that some women had come to put spices on Jesus’ body. These women are (and I’m quoting here), “Mary Magdelene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and some other women.”
They find the stone rolled away from the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid. The tomb itself is empty and they meet some strange looking men in white (angels?) who say that Jesus has risen. They run and tell the others, and all of Jesus’ followers are astonished, happy. The followers sing their alleluias and eventually, with the high energy of the Holy Spirit leading them, inspiring them, they become something of a movement—people of the Way. Read More
We are in Acts yet again. We are picking up on last week’s text. Last week we talked about how Jesus had been crucified. The Holy Spirit descended and invigorated the disciples. Now these disciples are apostles, teaching and preaching in what was being referred to by them and by other Jews, as “The Way.”
Isn’t that a great name? That name points to the fact that they were on a journey. Forgive me for using a ho-hum cliché. But I’m going to use it anyway. They were, as are we all, on a journey. Life’s journey. The Way. Read More
There was a young man I knew at Immanuel Presbyterian, the first church I served. He told me what I am about to tell you. It was a Saturday, he and his two daughters had already planned to celebrate Mommy’s birthday that evening. As part of that, they are going to bake her a birthday cake. While mommy is out running errands, Daddy and the two girls gather in the kitchen. Dad had previously purchased and secretly stored the ingredients for the project. He brings those into the kitchen. He and the girls put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. Then it’s time for the mixer to do its thing.
The little girls want to watch. Dad doesn’t want them teetering on the stools at the kitchen counter. So, he puts the mixing bowl on the kitchen floor. You got that image? Read More
If you were here last week, you know we talked about hope as an emotion that moves us to persevere in times of calamity and stress. It moves us to take risks, too. After the service, someone commenting on the sermon, said, “These days I put more stock in faith than hope.” And that’s exactly right. When we can’t even count on hope to get us through, sometimes, not always, but sometimes, we move forward in faith. People sometimes call it blind faith—because it IS blind. We have faith even when we don’t have a smidgeon of a visible hint of a positive outcome. It’s kind of sort of like hope, but it’s hope raised to the nth degree. Hope on steroids, or what’s left, when you’ve run out of hope, and you’re still chugging along—on hope’s fumes. Faith fumes, maybe. It’s the assurance of things hoped for. It’s the conviction of things NOT seen, as we read in Hebrews. That’s it, isn’t it? Best definition of faith I’ve ever come across. Read More
Once in a lifetime, hope and history rhyme. Seamus Heaney
Last month I got a call from Terry McAuliffe. That sounds like the first line of a joke, but it’s not. The former governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and I have a mutual friend. That mutual friend knows that I was in downtown Charlottesville in 2017. You know, when the White Supremacists marched in the city, and when and where Heather Heyer was murdered? Terry wanted to get some some eye-witness stories he could thread into the narrative of a book he is writing on the debacle. Read More
At the first church I served, I devoted a lot of my time to youth ministry. Our church was crawling with young people—one year we actually confirmed 26 8th graders, isn’t that something?!
I’m not sure now how this came to pass, but under my direction, the senior high youth began presenting bi-annual youth dramas. These were either for our yearly youth Sunday service, or for fundraisers. We raised money to support our Habitat for Humanity summer mission trips. And that’s all you need to know about that. Read More
Katie Bowler had made it. Four years ago, she was teaching as an Associate Professor of religion at Duke Divinity School. It was her dream job. She was married—to her high school sweetheart. They had a 1-year-old little boy. Life was fine, glorious even, except that Katie had this niggling pain in her gut. Sadly, irritatingly, it grew worse. When the pain became too intense to ignore, she began making the rounds of doctors. “It’s all in your head,” said several. “Looks like your gall bladder might need to come out.” Said another. If she was walking on campus and she experienced that increasingly more common knife-stab in her belly, she’d have to sit on a bench, or lean against something. She guzzled down gallons of Pepto Bismal. Then one day the pain was so excruciating, she went to her doctor’s office and said, “I am not leaving here until you give me a diagnosis.” The doctor ordered a CAT scan. Finally, finally, he had it. That’s the good news; he had a diagnosis. The bad news? She had stage four colon cancer. Sound the alarm, send out the wailing women! Read More
Three weeks ago, I was in Nashville visiting my daughter and son-in-law. While I was there, they hosted a game night—a few of their friends came by and we played games—like Clue, remember that one? Colonel Mustard murdered Miss Scarlet with a knife in the Billiard Room. I came sooo close to winning at Clue, I tell you!
When the first couple arrived, my son-in-law asked if they wanted something to drink. The female half of the couple said, “Well, yes, but no alcohol. We gave up alcohol for Lent.” Again, this was three weeks ago. You hate to correct someone, a stranger to me at least, first thing when they walk in the door, but it was so in your face. I said, “Well, you’re in luck! It’s not Lent yet.” And she answered back, “Yes it is.” And I said, “No, Ash Wednesday is next week. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.” And she said, “No, I am sure Ash Wednesday was this week.” And then my daughter chimed in. She said, “My Mom’s a pastor. She knows.” Isn’t it great, when you can be the definitive word on something? I may not have won at any of the other games we played, but at least I won THAT argument. So if you learn nothing else from today’s sermon, at least know this. Lent commenced a week and a half ago, on Ash Wednesday, March 6th. It stretches through the rest of March and into most of April, ending on Maundy Thursday, April 18th. Then comes Good Friday, and then on Sunday, Easter. Read More
Twenty years ago, our family traveled with another family to the Greek Island of Alonyssos. That other family owned a house there—not more than a couple of rooms carved into the stone hillside. Leslie, the other family’s mom, had done the difficult work-- lining up another stone dwelling for our own family. Yes, our two homes were small and rustic too, but who wanted to spend time inside anyway? We spent our days on the beach or hiking along the steep and narrow roads of the one town on the island—those roads even too narrow for one-way traffic. No cars allowed. Instead of a garbage truck, a lone man and his garbage donkey ambled over cobblestone paths. Read More
To set the stage here—Joseph was one of twelve sons of Jacob. As one of the youngest, and maybe also the most handsome, AND the son of Jacob’s favored wife, (Jacob had several wives) Joseph was also Jacob’s favored son. Right there you have all the makings of family dysfunction. Lots of tension in that family.
In fact, Jacob so loved Joseph above his other brothers, that Jacob gave him a robe with real sleeves (I guess robes with sleeves were hard to come by in those days). Read More
There was a custom in Merry Olde England, maybe in the early US, too. That is, when you passed a pauper, or a homeless person on the street, holding out his tin cup, you dropped a few coins in. As you did so you said, “Say a blessing for me.” Or, you might even go further. As you dropped your few coins in, you might say,“ My name is Gay Lee, my mother is sick. Please pray for her and our family.” Read More
I SO wish I had been a member of the lectionary committee that put together our church calendar of scripture readings. I’m guessing that those who served on the committee were scholars, not preachers. I’m just sayin’ someone should have been there to represent those of us on the firing line so to speak. Those scholars were looking for thematic texts across the wide spectrum of verses that comprise our Old and New Testaments. They do an admirable job of fiting together scripture readings, like a jigsaw puzzle. So for example, today, as last week AND the week before, the Old Testament scripture is about call, the Gospel narrative is about call. By week three, preachers, like me, are running out of stuff to say, truly. Read More
As you know, I visited Cuba just after Christmas. Learned a lot. I don’t mean for this sermon to be a travelogue, but I DO want to share with you, some of what I learned about religion in that country.
Some of what I learned was from our on-cruise professor. But I learned more from our personal tour guide. That’s right. Our group of eight, all related by either birth or marriage, had our own tour guide who showed us the sites of Havana. His name is Esteban. Esteban works for a private tour company. I hope you caught the word, private. In recent years, the Cuban government has allowed the establishment of some private enterprises—including tour companies. That’s something, don’t you think? Read More
I have a pastor friend. He was in Las Vegas on vacation with his wife and another couple. They were all at a table in a dinner theater, chatting and sipping their alcoholic beverages, waiting for a comedy show to begin. It must have been Hawaiian night. At any rate my pastor friend is wearing one of those colorful fake leis. The comedian comes on stage, and as a prelude to his routine, he’s warming up the audience. He asks where different people are from, why they are there, that sort of thing. Anyway, he eventually spies my friend. He’s wearing that lei and there’s one of those pastel colored drinks with a little umbrella sticking out the top? That drink is in front of him. The comedian says, “And you sir, what’s your name? “David.” And what do you do? My friend, his brain, racing through best ways to answer that question without causing a wave of guffaws or criticisms, says, “I’m in the cleaning business.” Saved! Read More
As you know, I do a fair amount of reading before I start preparing my sermon in earnest, as I should! This week, I’m reading through commentaries--- that is, research and comments by other theologians like us. Note, I say like us. That’s because everyone who has any concept of God whatsoever, is a theologian.
So, I am reading through commentaries from various theologians. It is obvious there is a sticking point for many of them. It regards Jesus’ baptism: They want to know, “Why did Jesus submit to being baptized?! Jesus is the Son of Man, as he referred to himself—he is God’s chosen one, the Messiah. Why would he come to the Jordan River to be cleansed of his sins?” That’s what some of them are wondering. Now here I will admit that Jesus’ baptism really never bothered me, personally, but maybe you find it a sticking point, too. You are in good company. Read More
Today we are celebrating epiphany—Epiphany is a special day on our Christian calendars. It’s when we celebrate the coming of the wise men to visit the baby Jesus. Now right away, I want to disabuse you of the notion that these are three kings. I know, that’s the way the hymn goes—a hymn, by the way we will be singing after this sermon because, hey, it’s epiphany. It might be three men traveling to see the baby Jesus. Might not. We don’t know because scripture doesn’t give us a number. More than two, probably, but there could have been dozens or even hundreds, all going to the same place—which of course, is Bethlehem. Read More
This summer, as you know, I went to Italy to celebrate my daughter and son-in-law’s marriage. Sitting at dinner one evening, with a large, festive, Italian/American crowd, a woman came up behind me. She was one of the partiers. She tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. She had her English-speaking son in tow. His name is Marco, which I relay here, only because it adds Italian flavor to the story. Anyway, through Marco she relayed to me, “I used to attend mass twice a week, but I don’t anymore. I have stopped going to church, because I don’t believe in the virgin birth.” OK? Really, out of nowhere. How odd. Read More
Last week we we were all here together for worship, we discussed stewardship—t’is THAT season as well as Advent season. Then last week, we had a snowstorm and had to cancel worship. This week, finally, we are setting our sights on Advent in earnest. Our lectionary picks up a new gospel every Advent season. Last year we studied the gospel of Mark. We began that study in December, 2017, and followed Mark all the way through to November, 2018. The lectionary cycle we are not in, runs from Advent 2018 to the beginning Advent, 2019. We will be studying the gospel of Luke. Read More
Last week, Pepper and I made the 4 ½ hour should-have-been 2 ½ hour drive to Bethesda for Thanksgiving! AGH! The radio kept us company. One of the stories we listened to was about ploggers—have you heard of ploggers? According to NPR they are joggers who pick up plastic as they jog—plastic bottles, plastic bags. Plogging is the new thing. I want you to know that I myself , though, am a five-year veteran. That’s how long I have owned Pepper and that’s how long I have been taking her on morning and evening walks. I am not a plogger, but I AM a plog walker. Or maybe it’s a dog plalker? However, I also pick up beer cans, which makes me a beercog walker; and bottles, which makes me a dottle walker. I even pick up the occasional large-size pizza box—which makes me a pizzog walker. Or maybe it’s a pizza bog walker?
I think I do what I do, because I am future-oriented. Long time ago I read a study of pastors. The study indicates that pastors are future oriented. So, I pick up plastic, beer cans and all the rest, because I want to make my community less trashy. I think about how much tidier Jefferson Park Avenue will be when I do my part. Read More
Before I came to you, I was preaching every Sunday at a church in Kenbridge, Virginia—that church, Ebenezer Presbyterian, is just miles from the North Carolina border. Most of the members in that congregation were right-leaning politically speaking. The only member who was not, I think, anyway, was the church pianist.
One Sunday in October, 2012, the national election was in full swing,
The congregation is sitting in the pews, talking politics from their right leaning perspectives. I am in my robe at the pulpit, the hour is at hand. The church pianist, gets up from the piano and strides over to me. No, she is not telling me she can’t find the hymn selection, or anything pertaining to worship. In her delightful, southern drawl, she whispers to me, “Don’t you think Mitt Romney is the DEVIL?” Read More