10/15/17 & 10/22/17 Two Sermons on Integrity Before God

Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14 and Isaiah 45:1-7 and Matthew 22:15-22

Treasures of Darkness     Cambria 2009

Treasures of Darkness     Cambria 2009

During the day it is hard to remember that all the stars in the sky are out there all the time, even when I am too blinded by the sun to see them....
— Barbara Brown Taylor

Upon Further Reflection...

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places....Isaiah 45:3 

This week, I noticed I haven’t been taking J to the park after dinner to run out the last of his wiggles because it is too dark.  The nights are getting longer. I can’t sense when it’s time to make meals. I find myself disoriented when the alarm sounds in the morning, unsure of the hour.  Thank goodness for the grain elevator greeting the dawn. 

If I were back in my childhood home in this late October, the darkness would be setting in for the long winter even more deeply than it does here.  And with the change, came the bare limbs of trees, no longer decorated with the vibrant blasts of autumn leaves.  Everything was stripped down: no more lush forest, no more scent of rich soil and blooming things, the land denuded. 

One year, when I was old enough to walk in the woods alone, I noticed something.  With all the trees stripped to pure bark, you could see across the hillside to far horizons; you could see the outlines of distant ridges that maybe I knew were there all along, but were hidden by the dense foliage of summer.  The setting of autumn into the winter meant vistas revealed, it meant landscapes emerging; it meant perspective. Longer nights brought new vision in the little daylight we had. 

Darkness also brought the cold. Sometimes by now in Maine, the driveway ruts were hard with frost in the early morning.  And it was not uncommon to navigate through snow on Halloween to trick-or-treat. And with the cold came the descent into our inner selves, another reorientation of our vision.  Even here in winter, some of us spend more time in reflection, more time inwardly watchful.  In a way, like the land we go dark and somewhat bare as we fall into stillness.  We find we have changed in a year; we find those around us have shifted.  We wonder at the passage of time. We perceive things we did not notice a year ago.

In church come the fall, we experience judgment in some of the harder scripture readings of the lectionary; we are confronted by what we would rather ignore about ourselves.  The Word is working on us, laying on a demand of truth…even if it hard. It too is cold and dark and revealing.

Are these then the treasures and riches of the darkness God intends for us: this honesty, this quiet drawing down, this gaze onto the far ridge lines of our lives? What is this pull toward the subtle, secret Presence of the Holy One? What are these emerging distant horizons if not the invitation to rest in the wideness of God’s mercy?

Sermon Notes for Judgment, Mercy, and the Indestructibility of Love

Quotes on sin come from Defense of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord, Article II (I): Of Original Sin.  Link to full text HERE.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - childhood classic and masterful depiction of anger an mercy.  (Public library and reference HERE.)

Sermon Notes for You Can't Have it Both Ways

"If one believes Caesar is due taxes, then pay; if one believes everything belongs to God, then do not pay" from The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  (Reference and public library HERE.)

Thank you, Bishop Gabriel Abdelaziz at The Revival Center in Templeton for your enlivening comments on transformation and touch!

9/24/17 The Sermon I Never Preach

Jonah 3:10-4:11, Psalm 145:1-8, Matthew 20:1-16

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of people: few are guilty, but all are responsible.
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in The Prophets
Thank you to all the Sunday School teachers around the world who make THIS happen.

Thank you to all the Sunday School teachers around the world who make THIS happen.

Sermon Notes

I rarely preach this kind of sermon.  I hardly ever spend my time in the pulpit telling everyone what a bunch of miserable, undeserving "maggots" we are. (Ah, quotable Luther! He thought that of himself at times.) I don't exactly do this here.  But I talk about who deserves what and I level the playing field as to our own notions of entitlement.  I resist this classical mold of preaching because I don't think it encourages a healthy approach to ourselves or to our work especially in my specific community. I don't think it encourages a right relationship to God either.  I am a law/gospel preacher, but it's a little more out of the box than tapping into the anxieties we already have about ourselves and reinforcing dangerous attitudes about our powerlessness and lack of worth.  So there you have it. 

But I did this Sunday. And it was largely successful....as in, people heard it.  It fascinates me that my congregation loves these kinds of convict and redeem (law/gospel) sermons.  Perhaps it's familiar terrain for these American protestants, a throwback to the piety and narratives of former times.  Or are we suckers for punishment?  I wondered about that until yesterday when it occurred to me, maybe there is something freeing about being told our needs aren't any more legitimate than anyone else's needs.  Maybe it's about wanting to be like everyone else in our helplessness and our sin-bearing.  Maybe it's a relief to know we aren't special, but that we are common before God.  Common and breathing together.  So I'm going with that -- I like the idea that we can be released by the Word into our shared human experience even when it's the shadows and undersides we'd rather not address.  Maybe we do need reminding how much we need God in just this kind of way more often than I've been willing to preach.

You may not hear it again for awhile.  So soak it up while you can!  

And by the way, in former days, these two works were hugely influential on my young and pliable seeker mind - deeply influential writing on leading, sin, redemption, and responsibility:

Ask-the-Pastor: The Heavy Burden of Relationships

Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145:8-14, and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

Sermon Notes

The story I told about Thistle Farms comes from this easy to read and lovely meditation by Becca Stevens -- The Way of Tea and Justice.  Check it out and order here.  Also check out their full work in Nashville too:

Sermon for 2/19/17: The Other Stuff in Leviticus

Leviticus 19 1-2, 9-18, Psalm 119:33-40, Matthew 5:38-48

Israel 2000

Israel 2000

He proclaimed the Gospel by being the Gospel. “And greater things than I do shall you do,” he said. It is not enough to heal the sick. Heal the systems that make them sick. It is not enough to visit the prisoners. Question that structures that imprison people.
— Verna J. Dozier in The Authority of the Laity

Sermon Notes

This week after writing and delivering my sermon, I stumbled on Verna Dozier's pamphlet on the laity.  Turns out my words are but a mere echo of her words some number of years ago.  Her main concern is how church people have abdicated their authority to the professional pastors.  It's a great read.  Also by way of notes, I reference Shane Claiborne in my sermon. I'm not a proselyte of his by any stretch, mostly because he's gotten a lot of attention for saying stuff we mainliners have been saying for ages.  But you can't beat his way with words.  This quote came in a Krista Tippet forum on Christians and Government, all evangelicals by the way.  Fascinating stuff with multiple perspectives.  Listen here!

Sermon for 7/24/16: Ask the Pastor -- The Glorified Body

Psalm 126, Revelation 1:9-19; 19:11-16; 21:1-8; 22:16-21, Matthew 28:16-20

Naked Ladies of Cambria, 2016

Naked Ladies of Cambria, 2016

Suggested scripture readings are drawn from the alternative lectionary outlined in Brian McLaren's We Make the Road by Walking (reference and public library).  The Matthew text is an addition.

In the sermon, I land on the idea of "change of position" as a bodily discipline of justice and healthy disruption to our spiritual and public lives.  While that's the point of the incarnation, that phrase is rooted in the work of Rev. William Barbour. The following video is his sermon at Wild Goose, 2014 where I first encountered him and his amazing liberation theology.  Please watch...totally life changing experience.  Nothing I say even approaches his power:

Sermon for 6/5/16: Getting Ready to Vote

Acts 10:9-16 and Matthew 9:9-17

Sermon Notes

Suggested scripture readings are drawn from the alternative lectionary outlined in Brian McLaren's We Make the Road by Walking (reference and public library).  The Matthew text was my addition.

I attribute my main idea in the this sermon to Arthur Brooks who gave a TED Talk on rethinking how conservatives and liberals work together.  He works for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Wish I could claim these ideas myself for my sermon -- the idea of applying our family tendencies and needs to a broader spectrum are ALL his. I just put them into a Jesus context.  Totally worth listening to...Here is the link to his TED Talk as well as to the TED Radio Hour episode where I first heard his ideas.  His interview is the first segment. Please do not mistake this attribution of ideas as a political endorsement to a candidate or ideology.

Sermon for 3/13/16: You Have What You Need -- Lessons from the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 7:13-29

Scripture readings follow the alternative lectionary posed by Brian McLaren in his book, We Make the Road by Walking (reference and library).

African Daisies, Cambria 2016

African Daisies, Cambria 2016

Sermon Notes

I spent a whole lotta time thinking about this interview of Dr. Jerry Weichman by Dr. Drew Pinsky.  He covers many issues related to mental health in adolescence.  I found that much of what he says about life in those years still applies to adults and his vision of the healthy person seems to resonate with much of the words Jesus offers in the Sermon on the Mount albeit, a very different context. If you have a teenager in your life, this interview at the following link is worth listening to and learning more.

Questions of the Week

What verses do you struggle with in the Sermon on the Mount?  How do you make sense out of Jesus' no nonsense spiritual admonitions in these final verses? 

Sermon for 3/6/16: Anxiety Interrupted

Matthew 6:19-7:12

Suggested Scripture readings follow Brian McLaren's alternative lectionary in We Make the Road by walking (reference and library).

The Purple Challenge continues after the rain                             Cambria 2016

The Purple Challenge continues after the rain                             Cambria 2016

Sermon  Notes
This week we visit the issue of anxiety...not just a mental health thicket, but apparently a spiritual quandry Jesus deigns worth addressing.  I suppose any kind of thicket in our lives is a spiritual one.  

Maria Popova on her amazing website Brainpickings.org wrote a reflection on Sarah Manguso's work Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (reference and library).  It was there, she posted a thoughtful quote on the root of anxiety --  the entry into my sermon. Subscribe to her weekly newsletter.  Totally worth it.  Follow this link to her article and so much more:

Yet again, another interview by Krista Tippett to feed the spiritual imagination.  I found Brother David Steindl-Rast's words on anxiety thought provoking.  Have a listen:

Questions to Ponder this Week

When you find yourself worrying, what do you do to soothe yourself? Healthy habits? Unhealthy? Are you aware when you feel anxious or do you notice later...after the house is clean, after the punishing exercise routine, after the lost sleep, after you run out of antacids, etc.,etc.etc?



Sermon for 2/21/16: In the Beatitude Place

Matthew 5:1-16

Scriptures follow the suggested weekly readings of Brian McLaren in We Make the Road by Walking (click here for reference and library).  We are one week behind his course in reading through the Sermon on the Mount during Lent.  Next week, we will combine chapters to be on schedule for Easter.

Petals in Lent  Photo Credit: Autumn Beveridge                                    Cambria, 2016

Petals in Lent  Photo Credit: Autumn Beveridge                                    Cambria, 2016

Sermon Notes
This week, we grounded our reflection on the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount in the the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.  Click the link to see the video we watched as a congregation.  Explore the LIRS website for more video testimonials and opportunities to advocate for refugees and immigrants.  Our congregation designated this agency to receive a portion of our Christmas Eve offering.

Brian McLaren, like many a scholar and preacher before him, interprets these words of Jesus as proclamation rather than prescription.  I do to.  The emphasis is squarely on the identity of God's people, not on a program of redemption.  That's not to take a way from the call to stand in a particular place.  Refer to his chapter, A New Identity, for a closer read of the quote I offer in the sermon.  It's a helpful paraphrase of the Beatitudes in contemporary language.

This Week's Sermon: The Virgin Mary in the Trunk of my Car

Psalm 34:1-18 and Matthew 1:1-17

Suggested Scripture Readings from Brian McLaren's We Make the Road by Walking

Breaking Dawn, Boston 1999

Breaking Dawn, Boston 1999

Sermon Notes

Lots of interference in this sound recording, but this is our last week in the fellowship hall now that the heater installation in the sanctuary is underway.  I won't be posting again until after Sunday, January 10th, so look for me then!  A blessed Christmas to you all!

This sliver of a quote from our online worship planning resource, Sundays and Seasons by Augsburg Fortress was the inspiration for a portion of my sermon...you'll know which bit when you hear it and will continue to weave through Christmas Eve preaching: "Cradle and Cross are inextricably connected..."

Oh, and a link to a beautiful Advent poem by Madeleine L'Engle.  And lots of other great poems too...

This Week's Sermon: Defeating King Herod

Micah 5:2-5a and Matthew 1:18-2:15

Scripture readings follow Brian's McLaren's alternative lectionary in his book We Make the Road by Walking.

Night Waters                            Finger Painting at the Wild Goose Festival 2014

Night Waters                            Finger Painting at the Wild Goose Festival 2014

Sermon Notes

Here's a link to a poem of Gary Snyder's -- For the Children -- an appropriate selection for the stories about King Herod in Matthew this Third Sunday in Advent.


Check out Carry the Future on Facebook.  Here is their spot on the Today show:

This Week's Sermon: Strawberry Picking and Religious Violence

Deuteronomy 7:1-11, Psalm 149:1-9, and Matthew 15:21-29

These suggested Bible passages are taken from We Make the Road by Walkng by Brian McLaren as we follow his weekly cycle.  They are abbreviated from his original list.

Brooding over the Deep                                                Wild Goose Festival 2014

Brooding over the Deep                                                Wild Goose Festival 2014

Sermon Notes
      The following resources are just the beginning of the many amazing possibilities for studying the intersections between economics, power, and religion.  My sermon this week is just a small grazing on this vast, vast field.  I've listed some of my favorites.  Some I've investigated deeply; some less so.  I commend them to you for further study: 

1) Krista Tippett has conducted the following interviews and posted links on her website, OnBeing. org.  Click these links for more: Scott Atran on understanding the roots of terrorism, Jonathan Sacks on The Dignity of Difference, and Jon Paul Lederach on The Art of Peace.
2) Not in God's Name -- Film and more resources (Haven't watched it yet...)
3) For a bit of history, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career by James M. Kittleson

The Spaces In-Between

Genesis 32:22-33:11 and 50:15-21, Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 25:31-40

Suggested Scriputure Readings from We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McLaren.

Recycled Robot Rendition                                             Bethel Sunday School, 2015

Recycled Robot Rendition                                             Bethel Sunday School, 2015

Bible Quotes come from two sources in this sermon: Matthew 18:20 - "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (KJV).  Genesis quotes come from the NRSV.  Click on the initials for a link.