I Have Sinned Against the LORD! (2 Samuel 12:1-13)

Sermon for Ash Wednesday (2/18/15)

Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

Theme: I Have Sinned Against the LORD!

            It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

David sat in his throne room, righteously wrathful over the story Nathaniel had just shared with him, only to have Nathaniel look him in the eye and chill him to the bone with the words, “You are the man!”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

Ananias lays his offering at the apostles’ feet. He feels a little flutter of pride as he looks around the room and sees everyone else watching him make this “great sacrifice,” only to have Peter see right through him – to that heart so full of the devil’s pride and lies. “You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

I sat in my dad’s office at church. I heard him speaking quietly with my teacher just outside the door. I didn’t care to hear what they were saying – I knew what they were talking about. I had seen a movie at a friend’s house that I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch at home. I had proudly repeated a rather vulgar line from that movie to my other friends at school. The teacher found out – and now the pastor, my Dad, was finding out too.

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to – at least you shouldn’t.

It’s the feeling of guilt – that uniquely, universally, horrible, rock-in-the-gut feeling that comes when you know you’ve done something wrong and that you are about to pay for it. Continue reading

It Is Good For Us to Be Here! (Mark 9:2-9)

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (2/15/15)

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Theme: It Is Good For Us to Be Here!

Why did he do it?…

We just saw, with Peter, James and John, a fascinating but all too brief glimpse at Jesus in all of his glory. Mark describes Jesus’ clothes as “dazzling white, whiter than anyone could bleach them.” Matthew and Luke, in their records of this event, describe Jesus’ face as looking as bright as a flash of lightening.

For one brief afternoon, after years of following Jesus’ every move, these three disciples get this little glimpse at the real glory of Jesus. The other gospel writers explain that these guys did what every other human does when he sees true heavenly glory – they fell on their faces in fear, only to look up and see Jesus catting with Moses and Elijah (two men long since dead) like old friends.

And just when the awesomeness of what was going on started to sink in, a cloud settles in, the heavens open and they hear the voice of God the Father himself.

And it just begs the question: why?

Why now? He spent 30+ years on this earth and just in this brief moment, for one afternoon, does he fully reveal who he really is. Sure, throughout his ministry he gave hints as to who he really was with his amazing miracles, but even the prophets did miracles, even the disciples did miracles. This was on a whole different level. This was undeniable proof that Jesus was who he said he was – true God.

Why did he do it? Continue reading

Pursuing Desire

It was famous long before Pete Seeger put it to music and the Byrd’s took it to the top of the charts in the 60’s. Almost 3000 years before the song we know as “Turn, Turn, Turn” came on the radio King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 3.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.   – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It’s beautiful, right? It’s famous, it’s deep – this juxtaposition of the different seasons we go through in life…

But, if that’s all we take away from Ecclesiastes 3, we are missing the point. Continue reading

It Is Well With My Soul! (Romans 8:28-30)

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (2/8/15)

Text: Romans 8:28-30

Theme: It Is Well With My Soul!

            “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” – beautiful words in and of themselves… even more beautiful when you know a little bit of the background.

The hymn we just sang (When Peace Like a River) was written by Horatio Gates Spafford. Horatio was a successful businessman who lived with his wife and four daughters in Chicago in the mid-1800’s – successful in business that is, until the great Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed everything he had worked for.

But fire wasn’t the only tragedy to come Horatio’s way. Later he and has family bought tickets to sail to England – at the last minute Horatio was forced to stay behind. His wife and four daughters went on without him – but they never made it, at least not all of them. The ship collided with another vessel and sunk. Only Horatio’s wife survived. All four daughters drown in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

Horatio was inspired to write the hymn we just sang as he passed over the place where his daughters drown on his way to be with his heartbroken wife in England.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, though hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Our purpose this Sunday is to identify for whom Jesus came – his target audience. The hymns we’ve sung and the readings from the Bible have left us a trail of bread crumbs – let’s see where they lead…

The first lesson for today brought us face to face with a familiar person – Job. As you know, the life of Job made the life of Horatio seem like child’s play. On day one of Job’s whirlwind tour through hell on earth Job lost practically every cent he owned and seven sons and three daughters – in one day! On another day the only thing Job had left, his health, was taken away from him as painful soars covered his body – it’s no wonder the words we read from Job 7 ended like they did. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.”

Our second lesson for today brought us face to face with another familiar person – Paul. Paul boldly says that God is working though all things for our good – what are those “things?” In Paul’s case, those “things” that God was using are listed off for us in 2 Corinthians: Imprisonments, beatings, exposure to extreme weather, stoning’s, shipwrecks, sleeplessness, hunger and so much more.

Add in the history of the hymn we just sang and the Gospel reading and Jesus’ target audience becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Jesus didn’t come to rub shoulders with the successful and wealthy. He didn’t come to give a pep talk to people who were trying really hard all on their own. He didn’t come to congratulate the people who thought they had it altogether, who thought they had life pretty well figured out by themselves.

Jesus came for the sick. He came for the destitute, diseased, and dying. He came for those shunned by society, the prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and addicts. He came for the brokenhearted – for those whose hearts had been ripped out of their chests and stomped on as they watched loved ones die and the things they held dear torn away.

This is a Sunday that hits close to home for people like us – people who have known, are knowing, and will know sickness, loneliness and broken hearts. This Sunday hits close to home for anyone with half a heart who has been watching the news in recent weeks, and years for that matter.

“This is why I have come,” Jesus said in Mark – because there are so many people in this world like Peter’s mother-in-law and those nameless people possessed by demons, so many Horatios and Jobs and Pauls, so many people who are hurt and need help – “This is why I have come.”

And this is where we might start to lose some people if this were an audience made up of believers and unbelievers. This (the teaching that Jesus came for the sick and suffering) is a big stumbling block for a lot of people – it’s what they call the Christian problem of suffering. We say that God is good and that he is capable of doing whatever he wants – so following that logic, why hasn’t God stopped all the suffering of this world? We say that Jesus came to fix the suffering of this world, but that was 2000 years ago and there are still a lot of people suffering. Logically, these people say, this means that either God isn’t good because he doesn’t care about the plight of people on this earth, or he isn’t capable of ending suffering, in which case he’s not much of a God…

You and I would never take that tone with God, would we?…

You see, we are not just here to set up a straw-man and tear down those people out there who have a problem with God and suffering. If you want to find someone who needs an attitude adjustment when it comes to the suffering in this world and God’s relationship to it, you don’t need to look any further than this room – you don’t have to look any further than the heart that’s beating in your chest.

We may not come right out and deny that God exists or that he’s good, but that doesn’t mean we are perfect at handling the problem of suffering.

Here’s the big problem that really hits home for us – if you were handling the idea of suffering the way God wants you to, you would never worry – never, about anything.

Think that through with me. Paul tells us (God tells us!) that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. In the words of John Newton (the author of the next hymn we are going to sing, Amazing Grace) that means “Everything is needful that [God] sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.” Think about that (think about it for the rest of your life, it will do you good).

That means that you can never rightfully worry about anything again because whatever happens, it’s all a part of God’s plan. It’s for your good. It’s something that he in is infinite wisdom decided you needed – Which means you have absolutely no reason or right to worry about it.

That means that if tomorrow you woke up and had a day like Job, the proper response would be to get down on your knees and thank God for giving you what you needed that day. That means that if today on your way home you got in a car accident, were completely paralyzed, and everyone you love died, the proper response at the end of the day would be to sing with Horatio, “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Friends, we get in a fender-bender and we get all bent out of shape.

It’s not just the world out there that displays a lack of trust that God will in fact work all things for our good – that when Jesus said he came for the suffering, he meant it.

So, what are we going to do, not just with the problem of suffering in this world, but also with the problem of our hearts? This is where our paths do split with the rest of the world.

They run away from God (even though that doesn’t solve their problem: they run away from God because they don’t trust that he can fix suffering but all that does is leave them to suffer in this world without God and without hope that things will get better).

We run to God. We run to God not because we are so much smarter than the people out there. We run to God because he has called us, and shown us, and taught us the real cause of suffering (sins committed by people like us) and just what he has done and is doing about it.

Here again we have a trail of breadcrumbs to follow and see what God has done and is doing about suffering in this world.

Horatio, Job, Paul – they suffered an incredible amount, even the people that Jesus healed when he was on this earth would continue to suffer from different things in their lives, but do you know what else they have in common beyond the suffering? Right now, every single one of them is sitting in heaven – the heaven that God himself describes as the place where he will wipe every tear from our eyes!

God promised through Paul that he would work all things out for the good of whom? Those who have been called according to his purpose, and what is that purpose? Paul tells us.

Before this world was even created, God foreknew you. He knew your name, how many hairs would be on your head, where you would live, what you would do, all the ways you would suffer. Before this world was even created he knew that one day you would be with him in heaven, forever.

And so, from before the creation of the world, God’s purpose (in everything he has done) was to get you from point A to point  B – from this world of suffering to his side in heaven.

Think about that for the rest of your life! That’s what it means when Paul says God foreknew you. That’s what it means when Paul says you were predestined. God thought of you before he did anything else, and he loved you enough to make sure you would be in heaven with him forever and ever.

And those God foreknew, those he predestined, he also called. When, in time, his thought became a reality and you were born, he guided this entire world so that you could come into contact with him – who he really is, what his love is really like. He guided all of human history so that when the water ran down your head and his name was spoken at your baptism, your heart would hear the calling and believe.

And those God foreknew, predestined, and called, he also justified. In time, he sent his Son, Jesus, to live in this world of suffering, to carry on his shoulders suffering that we can’t even imagine. He sent his Son to die so that you, a dirty sinner who has done more than your fair share to cause more suffering in this world, could be declared “not guilty,” cleansed, forgiven, set free.

And those God foreknew, those he predestined, those he called and justified, he will also glorify. You do not have to be afraid of tomorrow, you don’t have to have a problem with suffering in this world because you know that one day you will be standing in the glories of heaven – it’s a fact that no one and nothing can take away from you.

Friends, let’s do something today that we don’t usually do. Let’s re-sing the hymn we just sang. This time I want you think about everything I’ve just said, think about all the things that have gone wrong in your life, everything that is going wrong, and everything that could go wrong, and boldly sing of the peace that God has called you to have – come what may, it is well with my soul.

Amen.

An All-In Kind of Faith (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (1/25/2015)

Text: 1 Kings 19:19-21

Theme: An All-In Kind of Faith

            Alea iacta est. How many of are familiar with that Latin phrase?

On January 10, 49 BC, then General Julius Caesar reportedly uttered this phrase as he crossed the Rubicon River. Alea iacta est, “the die is cast.” You see, it was against Roman law for a general to cross over the Rubicon River into Italy with an army – it was an act of war, it was treason. General Julius Caesar was making a bid to be the emperor of Rome.  As his army crossed the Rubicon he had reached a point of no return: either he would win and become emperor, or he would loose and be executed. The die was cast – one of those two outcomes was destined. There was no turning back. Things could never again be as they once were for Julius Caesar and Rome.

And so, to this day in Italy (and all around the world) people use the phrase “the die is cast” to signify that there is no coming back from what just happened. Things can never again be the way they were before.

Today in 1 Kings 19 we see one of these life defining, no-turning-back moments.

Elijah, the renowned prophet of God who stood up to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who had defeated the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, came up to Elisha, the seemingly wealthy farmer, and threw his cloak over his shoulders. This was no ordinary cloak. What Elijah was doing here was clear to Elisha. This was the garment that signified that Elijah was a prophet of God (which, interestingly enough, is the historical and biblical background for this stole I wear over my shoulders – the cloak or yoke of responsibility as an ordained, public servant of God). Elisha was being called by God through Elijah to be a public minister – a prophet.

And how did Elisha respond? He crossed the Rubicon. He cast the die. He made this a point of no return. As those ox steaks sizzled over a fire fueled by what used to be his plowing equipment it was clear that things would never be the same for Elisha – they couldn’t be. Life as he knew it, his career, his way of putting food on the table was going up in smoke in front of him. There was no turning back. He was no longer Elisha the farmer, he was Elisha the prophet. Continue reading

Come and See My Jesus (John 1:43-51)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (1/18/15)

Text: John 1:43-51

Theme: Come and See My Jesus

            It made children anxious – so anxious that even on the hottest summer days the public pools would be empty. It terrified parents – made some want to lock their kids inside all summer long. Apart from the Red Scare (fear of nuclear war with Russia), it was the number one fear for Americans in the early 1950’s. Every summer it came – year in and year out – this relentless terror. It was particularly appalling because it targeted young children. Every summer it came, and left in its wake thousands of dead children, and thousands more permanently paralyzed.

It was the disease called polio.

This fear that gripped the nation was well founded. In 1952 alone almost 60,000 children were infected with the virus. Thousands died, thousands more were left paralyzed.

Then in 1955, an amazing announcement was issued. Jonas Salk, a virologist working at the University of Pittsburg, had developed and tested a vaccine that worked – a vaccine that would completely eradicate polio from the US in just over 20 years.

And with the announcement a country collectively breathed a sigh of relief, because the end of polio’s reign of terror was in sight. It was one of those moments in American history that brought the country to a standstill. From coast to coast, in small towns and large cities, people crowded around fuzzy TV’s in living rooms, and crackling radios at the workplace or local diner. It was one of those moments that moved people all across this country to say to friends, relatives, and complete strangers, “Come here, you have to see this.”

Imagine what that must have been like. I imagine most of you have felt that before. You know, that feeling when something amazing happens – something so momentous, and life-changing – and you realize that this is something everyone needs to know about – it makes you want to stop complete strangers in the street saying, “Did you hear what happened, you’ve got to see this!”

“You’ve got to see this,” was undoubtedly what Philip was thinking as he rushed up to Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree – bursting with THE good news.

Philip had been called to follow the one and only Jesus Christ, “The one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Continue reading

The Anointed One Reigns! (Psalm 2)

Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday (1/11/15)

Text: Psalm 2

Theme: The Anointed One Reigns

1) Resistance is Vain

2)  Take Refuge in Him

           February 2nd 1989 is a day my parents will never forget. My dad, a young pastor in Helena, Montana, shot out of bed to the sound of an explosion. He looked out the window and saw transformers exploding down the power line behind the house. His first two thoughts were: either the world was ending or Helena was under attack. It turned out to be neither of those.

In the wee hours of the morning a train engine detached from a train up in the mountains and careened out of control back into Helena where it slammed into a parked 48 car freight train – a train which happened to be holding isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. The crash caused an explosion that threw debris for blocks and shattered windows up to three miles away. Electricity was instantly cut for much of the city. A short time after the explosion, a police officer knocked on our door in Helena telling my parents they had to leave because they didn’t yet know what chemicals had been released in the explosion. The temperature at the time of the accident was about 28 degrees below zero with a gusting winter wind making it feel like minus 75… When firefighters tried to put out the fire, the water froze in their hoses.

A train running out of control created a memory that those who lived in Helena at that time will never forget. A train running out of control is a scary and dangerous thing.

Trains were created to carry out a specific purpose. Trains were made to carry massive cargo along a specific route at a specific time and speed. When a train deviates from what its owner and operator planned, chaos ensues. Just try to imagine that night in Helena. Picture what happens when a train leaves its tracks. Trains were created to work in a certain way and when they stray from the plan, wrecks happen…

Contrary to what is becoming more and more popular opinion, human existence is not a random cosmic mistake. Much like trains, we were created for a specific purpose. Our daily activities are not independent choices that have no objective guidance or effect on the world around us. We were made for a purpose. We were created to fulfill certain roles. We were fashioned to follow certain tracks or guidelines, and much like a train out of control, when we deviate from the blueprint our Creator gave us, wrecks happen. Continue reading

God’s Greatest Gift For You (Luke 2:1-20)

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2014

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Theme: God’s Greatest Gift For You!

           How do you decide which present to open up first? – It’s a relevant question this time of year. You have a stack of presents sitting in front of you, which one do you open first?

How you answer partially depends on how patient you are – do you save the best for last, or do you open the best first? Either way, one of the fun parts about opening up presents is trying to judge a gift by its wrapping – to try and guess what’s inside.

In my family, my siblings and I had to take turns on Christmas. We couldn’t just tear into our presents willy-nilly – we got to open one present and then we had to wait for everyone else to open a present before we could go again, so the order mattered. For me that meant deciding which presents looked boring from the outside and which looked like they had potential – I’d open the boring ones first so my present opening could end with a bang.

One of the first things I’d look at is the size. If it’s a really big present, there’s some natural intrigue. What could be hiding behind all that wrapping paper? Sometimes the really small presents are the interesting ones – bigger doesn’t always mean better in the world of presents. If it was about 18”x12”x3” (in my present opening experience), it almost always means clothes – as a kid what I considered a pretty boring gift.

Sometimes the gift giver influenced the decision.

If it was from Mom and Dad, it was probably new socks or a new church outfit. But if that gift was from Grandma Eva, or from Santa, it stood a better chance of being one of those big ticket presents – the ones that made me bounce off the walls in anticipation – because you expect fun, big, exciting presents from people like Grandparents and Santa.

What if this year you found a present under the tree address “From: God?” What kind of size, wrapping, and content would you want in a present from God? Continue reading

John the Baptist, a Witness to the Light (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (12/14/14)

Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Theme: John the Baptist, a Witness to the Light

As a pastor and missionary my mind is always coming up with some harebrained scheme or another to introduce people to Jesus. One idea came to me this last week that I’m really excited about.

Next week instead of meeting here in this building for worship, we are going to meet down at Algonkian Park, right down by the Potomac. That way we can worship in a place that really just exemplifies the wisdom and power of our God who created this beautiful world we live in. You may need to bundle up a little bit, but I think, in general, this will be a great outreach move. We’ll get out of the stuffy confines of this formal church and out in the real world, in the beauty and freedom of God’s creation.

And oh yeah, just a heads up, I’m gonna look a little different when you show up next week. Instead of a suit or robe like you usually see me wearing on a Sunday morning, I plan on getting my hands on some camel hide this next week, to make myself a new outfit. And if I look a little green in the face, or my breath smells a little funky, don’t worry. I’m just starting a new diet – one that will take some getting used to. I’ll be living off a diet bugs and honey for the foreseeable future.

So what do you think? I have to imagine that if your pastor started eating bugs, preaching his sermons wearing camel skins down by the Potomac, we’d stand a pretty good chance of making some headlines. I have to imagine we’d bring in a few interested spectators to see just what all this fuss is about down by the river. Seems like a pretty good outreach plan to me (kind of a “shock and awe” outreach plan, draw them in with something crazy and, hopefully, they’ll stick around for the message) – after all, it worked for John the Baptist, right? Continue reading

The Greatest Sermon You’ve Ever Heard (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (12/7/14)

Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

 Theme: The Greatest Sermon You’ve Ever Heard

           “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863.

“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” – JFK, Inaugural Address, 1961.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.

There are some speeches that will live on in the minds of Americans for as long as America endures – speeches given at critical moments in our nation’s history by some of the greatest leaders this country has seen. These speeches were immediately recognized as life-changing, they inspired the hearts and minds of those who heard them. They continue to inspire the hearts and minds of those who read them, as they are memorialized, memorized, and reread in cities, schools, and homes all across our country. I’m confident that most of you could have joined me in reciting those famous lines from those legendary speeches I just quoted.

Well boy do I have a treat for you! Today you get to hear just such a speech. Today you are going to hear the greatest sermon you will ever hear – one that you will never forget, one that you will brag to your children and grandchildren that you got to witness firsthand, one that spoke to you in a time of need, one that will be memorialized, memorized, and reread in cities and homes across this country for generations to come.

Are you ready? Are you excited to be a part of history? Are you set for the best sermon you have ever heard?…

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Continue reading