Luke 6:20-26; Blessed are the Poor; Delivered February 17, 2019

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.”

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Luke 5:1-11; Called by Jesus; Delivered February 10, 2019

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.

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Jeremiah 1:4-10; the Call of the Church, Delivered February 3, 2019

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?

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Luke 4:14-21; Your Faith can be Dangerous to your Health! Delivered January 27, 2019

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!

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Luke 3:15-22 Jesus' Baptism; Delivered January 20, 2019

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.   

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Matthew 2:1-12; Epiphany; Delivered January 6, 2019

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. 

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Luke 1:39-55; My Soul Magnifies the Lord, Delivered Dec. 23, 2018

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.

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Luke 1:67-79; The Lord Remembers, Delivered December 16, 2018

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. 

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Jeremiah 33:14-16; Looking to the Future; Delivered Dec. 1, 2018

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.

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John 18:33-37; What is Truth; Delivered November 25, 2018

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?” 

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Mark 13:1-8; The Apocalpse is Coming! Delivered Nov. 18, 2018

When I was an associate pastor with primary responsibility for youth, I worked with, taught, planned excursions for jr. Highs, sr. Highs and college youth. I didn’t do that alone.  I had help from our wonderful youth advisors. At a youth advisor meeting we were trying to come up with activities that would appeal to youth. One of our advisors—a young man in his 20’s, suggested to us,  “I read that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are performing in our area. Wouldn’t it be fun to take some of our kids to their concert?” “Who ARE the Red Hot Chili Peppers?”  I didn’t know, but the other youth advisors were game, our senior highs were ecstatic when we floated the idea with them. “Woho!  This is going to be great!”

 The concert was at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, if you are familiar with the DC area.  It was outside. We had to sit on the grass—or as it turned out, stand on the grass—because for most of the concert, people stood.  The church youth group kids held high their glow lights, sang along with the music, danced in place.  I was underwhelmed. I couldn’t see a thing, short person that I am. I was cold— it was a chilly summer’s night, and, I was in no mood for dancing.  The music was ear-drum breaking loud.  Most disturbing for me were the lyrics.  Couldn’t understand most of them. but those I could understand would not be appropriate in a worship setting. Why were we taking our church youth to THIS?!  Note to self—next time, if there was to be a next time, make sure you do a proper vetting of the music group.

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Mark 12:38-40; Wearing Long Robes; Delivered Nov. 11, 2018

This scripture reading makes me uncomfortable.  It condemns me, since almost always I wear a robe, sit at the front of the church, and in a seat, that looks more like a throne than a chair.  So yes, this scripture reading convicts me. It is for that reason that I feel uncomfortable. And it is for this reason that I’m not wearing a robe today.  By the end of this sermon, I hope you will be uncomfortable, too.  Misery loves company, or something like that. If you object to my making you feel uncomfortable, let me remind you it’s part of my job description. A preacher’s job is to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.  Now that we have new pew cushions especially, I suspect you are getting a little too comfortable.  Time to shake things up!   

l want to start by sharing with you an experience I had at a church I served maybe 10 years ago.  I have already touched on this before.  It concerns a woman I’ll call Suzie.  She and her two young children attended our church services irregularly, always without Suzie’s husband.

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Ruth 1:1-18; Hope; Delivered November 4, 2018

Today we are going to look at hope.  We do that because I needed to study, meditate on it this week. I am guessing you need to hear a word of it. So hope it is. 

The poet Emily Dickenson calls hope “The thing with feathers.”  Hope flutters above us, when we are in despair. When we hear cynicism from our country’s leaders; when we are privy to their angry insults; when blame is doeled out as glibly as Halloween candy; when we read about pipe bombings, a racist inspired shooting tragedy in Kentucky, and that other horrendous shooting at that synagogue in Pittsburgh, hope is still with us.  Pause long enough in our broodings, we can just make out hope’s tail feathers, above us, headed toward the future.  Hope is that thing with feathers.  It perches on the window sills of hospital waiting rooms.  It glides over hospital beds. it dares to enter even solemn operating rooms.  It hovers at nurses’ stations.   

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Revelations 21:1-6a; Community; Delivered All Saints Sunday, October 28, 2018

As you know if you were here last Sunday, or if you keep up with the happenings here in town, Howard Shifflett died two weeks ago. Some of you may have known him well. If so, my condolences, our condolences.  I myself though, only met Howard for the first time when he came to our church one Sunday.  He interrupted our church service, remember?  He had just learned of his granddaughter’s horrifically violent death.  He was in a state. He asked the church to pray for her and the family. We did.  Of course, we prayed for Howard, too. 

After that, I would occasionally see Howard around town.  When I passed him on the sidewalk, he was friendly. Every time, he reminded me that his own grandmother had been a pastor.  I’m not sure why he said that—maybe he was giving me his Howard Shifflett seal of approval?  Maybe he was trying to assure me of his own Christian roots?  Maybe, though, he was just trying to make small talk. Our hurried conversations were awkward. I certainly didn’t think it appropriate to bring up his granddaughter’s death.  What do you say? As it was, there was this unspoken sadness between us.  Because of course, I felt sorry for his loss.    

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Mark 10:35-45; Testimonies!; Delivered October 21, 2018

As you may already know, Katie McKown is the pastor at Scottsville Baptist.  We were at Baines last year discussing plans for our ecumenical Lenten services.  Katie said this: “I think this year we should make time in our services for personal testimonies.” Sound good?  Maybe you have no experience with testimonies—I don’t either really, although my guess is, a little more than you do.  A woman at one of the previous churches I served, yes, a Presbyterian Church, DID offer one, one Sunday.  Ignored the order of worship in the bulletin and everything!  Yep!  Some of the church members felt it was highly inappropriate. You know, exposing all those personal emotions. Disrupting a well-organized, carefully planned, church service!

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Mark 10:17-31; What's so bad about being rich? Delivered October 14, 2018

Whenever I read this story, I think of my days as an Associate Pastor with primary responsibility for youth.  I worked with a delightful group of high school kids.  As part of that effort, I created and ran a youth drama group.  Lots of fun! Some of the dramas we presented in worship—others we performed in the evening.  For those evening events, we sold tickets—the money we raised funded our Habitat for Humanity youth mission trips. 

Some of the youth had surprising talent.  One family, I’ll call them the Smiths—my goodness!  They were a wonder!  James was the older of the three in our group. Even in high school I had a lot of respect for that boy and not just for his talents- but more about that later. 

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Mark 10:2-26; The Ugliness of Divorce; Delivered October 7, 2018

I decided it was time to move back into the lectionary after a summer’s vacation away from it.  This past summer we studied texts that I have found especially compelling or bothersome. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to do that.  It is the reason I entered ministry—not the only reason, but one of them-to really dig down and study a text. Especially the scripture reading, “The kingdom of God is within you or among you,” will continue to have great relevance for me as I move forward in my personal journey of faith. 

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Matthew 7:7-11; Prayer; Delivered September 30, 2018

I work out at a gym.  That gym has a bin for discarded books.  I stick my nose in that bin every time I’m there. Occasionally I find, and when I do I always retrieve, discarded Bibles.  Can you believe people drop their BIBLES into a discarded book bin?  Don’t you think there should be a sacred burial ground or something for discarded Bibles?  At this point I have given away more retrieved Bibles than I have kept— I have given several to boys at the Discovery School, and one to a woman who came to the church a few times—a hurting soul, needing a space to reflect on her life for a few Sundays.  So, just so you know, I myself am doing my part to put Bibles to good use! 

One of the Bibles I rescued from that bin, is titled “The Life Recovery Bible.”  It is for recovering alcoholics.  I kept that one. No, I am not an alcoholic, thank goodness, but I so appreciate the footnotes that accompany that particular Bible’s text.  So for instance, this past week, after reading our scripture for today, my eyes dropped down to the footnotes.  This is what I read: “…We will persist in prayer and realistic hopes once we fully appreciate the kind of father who hears our prayers.  Many of us in recovery have suffered because of …abusive parents who gave us stones and snakes. ….we must …rethink our concept of God as a father who gives good gifts to his children…”

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Exodus 26:31-35; Mark 15:33-39; The Veil of the temple was torn in two...Delivered September 23, 2018

As you know, I have been working on the event coming up on October 14,  Seven pm here at the church  It features my friend and fellow colleague, David Garth. 

In fact, it has been so much on my mind, that I have decided to preach about it today.   

If you were here six weeks ago, you know that I preached on racism and David Garth’s talk then, too.  Please don’t think I am one of those preachers who gets stuck on a topic and then drones on and on about that one topic week after blessed week. I didn’t become a preacher remember, until my early 40’s.   I have been on your side of the pulpit for long enough.  I know what I personally like and don’t like. I don’t like single topic preaching. I also don’t like tongue lashings.  At the church I grew up in, the pastor gave regular tongue lashings from up here.  Nice man, but when he preached he made you feel so small and sinful, that you dropped to your knees, and then to all fours and crawled out of worship.

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Luke 17:20-37; The Kingdom of God, Delivered Sept. 16, 2018

If you have been here the past month of Sundays, and then some, you might have realized that we have strayed from the lectionary.  That is because I decided to give me and you both a break from the lectionary cycle.  Lately I have been preaching from scripture readings that either speak to current days’ events, or readings that have been particularly bothersome or compelling to me personally.  So for instance, not too long ago, I preached on the scripture passage “Be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect.”  Remember that one?  What a difficult text to fathom!

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