Saturday, November 2, 2019

MOSES: REMEMBER, PASS IT ON


Sermon Summary (10/20/19) “Moses: Remember, Pass It On”

Isaac Asimov (world renowned science-fiction writer) says that Deuteronomy may be the most important book not only in the Bible, but in the world!  Without it being found 30 years before the exile, the Jewish faith may have been lost and Western civilization completely reshaped.  The book is the final speeches of Moses, it is worth reading in a single sitting.

In Chapter 5, he retells the Ten Commandments and in Chapter 6 delivers the Shema “(Hear) O Israel the Lord your God is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  The prayer that will be said twice a day by the Jewish people through the ages.  Remember who your God is.  Then he says to pass it on!

“These words that I command you this day shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children.  You shall talk of them as you sit in your house and as you walk by the way, as you rise up and as you lie down.”

As importantly, we are to visualize the commands of God as we go through life: “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hands, put them as a frontlet between your eyes, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gate.”  With every act of your hands, everything you see with your eyes, as you go out into God’s world and return, remember!

The Israelites took this literally and made Tephellin, small boxes to place near their heats, bind to their hands, and place on their foreheads during prayer.  Again, a remembrance of God’s law; a demonstration to pass it on.

Moses was fearful that in times of prosperity, that the people of Israel would forget God.  In chapter 8 he says, “Take care lest you forget...and say in your heart “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”  There are consequences to forgetting.  John Wesley, 3000 years later, was fearful that we would forget and become a church with the form of religion without the power.  As attendance at Christian churches in America diminishes year after year, we can see that happening.

We need to remember and pass it on!

On of my gurus, Dallas Willard, prayed the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm each day in he bed before rising.  Then by the time his feet hit the floor, God was a part of his day.  With morning and evening prayer and table grace three times a day, we are remembering that God is part of the little things in life. 

Rosemary’s favorite show was “Blue Bloods,” primarily because of the Sunday dinner scene each week where grace was said and problems of life discussed.  Her youngest niece and her husband ask their children each evening at the table their highs and lows of the day.  They celebrate the highs with gratitude and pray for the lows.  They are remembering that God is part of the little things in life and passing it on.  So may it be with us. 


Monday, October 21, 2019

MOSES: TEN COMMANDMENTS


Sermon Summary (10/13/19) “Moses: Ten Commandments: (Ex 20:1-17)

I’ve often wondered which of the commandments made sense to kids growing up.  Probably not, “not kill,” because we played cops and robbers all day Saturday, went to the cowboys and Indian’s shoot ‘em up movies on Saturday night before being told “Thou shall not kill” on Sunday morning.  I learned “Thou shall not cuss” from my mother washing my mouth out with soap at age five, and thou shall not do anything humiliating when I took some chestnuts from the girls across the street and Mom made me not only return them but apologize!

What makes the Ten Commandments special?  They are the foundation for Western Civilization.  God gave them to Moses and then to us 1200 years before Christ, 600 years before democracy in Greece.  They became the foundation for Judaism before every other major religion except maybe Hinduism. 

We need rules to live together, by which to base our culture.  We learn rules at an early age from Mom.  Maybe we begin with toilet training.  By age two, we need rules to limit our expansive egos.  The world does not belong to us.  By age five we are learning in kindergarten: “Share everything, play fair, don’t’ take things that aren’t yours, warm cookies and milk are good for you, when you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” (Robert Fulghum) 

We need to teach our youngsters.  In fact, Moses (Deut 6:7) is emphatic about it, “Teach them diligently to your children.” 

Jesus came along and said (paraphrasing), “you know all those laws, if you have them on your heart, you only need two: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and your strength,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Then he said, “on these two hang all the law and the prophets., the big Ten and the other 603.”

“With all your heart.”  When Jesus went up on the mountain (to be the new law giver as he gave us the Sermon on the Mount), he told us it was not just “do not kill,” it was a matter of the heart, “whoever is angry with his brother or sister.”  And it was not just “do not commit adultery,” it was a matter of the heart, “whoever lusts after another.” 

The scribes and Pharisees were the ultimate rule keepers, but Jesus told them they needed to have a changed heart: 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.  (Mt 23:25)

If we are going to live together, we need to change our hearts, “our hearts need to be full of the love of God and one another, having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked.”  (John Wesley)  Amen.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

MOSES: THE EXODUS


Sermon Summary (10/5/19) “Moses: The Exodus: (Ex 5 thru 12 selected)

The Exodus is the defining story of the children of Israel.  For them it means salvation, freedom, emancipation.  It means the leadership of Moses and the Providence of God.  Nothing in the story happens without God.  Not the plagues, not the Passover, not their passage through the Red Sea.  Nothing happens without God.  It is their story of grace.

As Christians, our salvation comes through grace, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And nothing in that story happens without the Providence of God.  Grace, God’s involvement in human affairs through the power of the Holy Spirit even though it is unmerited and undeserved.

The Exodus: God implies through the story that he is going to build up his signs and wonders before Pharaoh so that Pharaoh not only lets the children of Israel go, he essentially throws them out of Egypt!

So here are the plagues: The river turned to blood; frogs everywhere; gnats; flies; death of livestock, boils; hail and fire; grasshoppers; darkness; and death of the first born.

They can be thought of in three ways or maybe a combination, all the Providence of God.  First, the Sunday School stories; God acted.  A second way of looking at them is that God directed natural causes such as red algae to turn the water red, killing the fish and driving out the frogs, etc.  A third way, also biblical is that the plagues were a battle between the Egyptian pantheon of gods and YHWH.  Hapi was the god of the nile.  Heket was depicted as a frog.  Hathor often depicted by a cow.  And maybe the plague of darkness the most telling of all.  Ra was the sun god, Rameses II the divine son of Ra.  Defeated by YHWH.

That brings us to Passover.  This story affects my sense of God.  How could he be responsible for the deaths of all the first born?  A different time, facing the most powerful man in the world.  Maybe it was the only way to get his attention.  But even today, the descendants of the Jews believe that God wept at his action.  Part of the Passover meal is a saltwater dip recognizing God’s tears.  In Dreamworks’ “Prince of Egypt,” they are unable to show a crying God, but Moses is depicted sobbing and going to his knees in heartache at the tragedy.

For Christians, we remember the Passover as the night Jesus gathered his disciples and transformed the meal into the institution of the Last Supper.  “Eat this bread, drink this wine in remembrance of me.”  In the meal, we meet Jesus and remember all he has done for us and the promises he has given us. 

Let us also create family traditions around Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, in which we can tell the stories, teaching them to our families, and remembering.  Amen.


Friday, October 11, 2019

MOSES: THE GREAT I AM AND THE RELUCTANT LEADER


Sermon Summary (9/29/19) “Moses: The Great I AM and the Reluctant Leader: (Ex 3 and 4 selected)

I can’t say I’ve had a Burning Bush experience, but I have had a turn in the road.  We had invited a pastor to our house in the evening to talk to us about church membership.  On the way home from work, I felt this incredible peace come over me.  I can tell you when it happened.  I can tell you the turn in the road.  I was placing myself in God’s hands.  I was going to do whatever he told me to do.  That night the pastor talked to me about Lay Speaking Ministries.  What if I had missed it?  What if I had missed the turn in the road?  What would Rosemary and I have missed?

Like Moses, I had been in the wilderness.  And like Moses, I had learned a whole new set of skills that would be important for me when I responded to the call.  At the right time God called me back.  If Moses had ignored the burning bush, God might had had to wait hundreds of years to bring his children out of slavery.  What might have I missed?

Moses said, “If they ask, who can I say has sent me?”  God said, “Tell them that I AM has sent you.  That is my name for all generations.”  I AM.  God’s name is a verb, the verb “to be.”  I” am , I always was, I always will be.”  “I am the essence of life itself.  “I am the essence of your life.”  As Jesus said, “Because I life, you shall live also.”  We have life, because of him.  We will have life because of him.

God says, “I have heard the cries of my people, and I am sending you.”  Whoa!  That’s what we fear, isn’t it?  If we answer God’s call instead of ignoring the burning bush or the turn in the road, he is going to send us to Pharaoh.  Probably not.  Most likely, if we ask, “what’s next Lord?”  God will prompt us to make a phone call, or visit someone who is sick, or to join the relief funds for hurricane victims.  Only a few are sent to Pharaoh. 

But that was Moses’ fear.  I turned aside to the burning bush and God is going to send me.  But God, what if Pharaoh says no?  I will be with you.  But God, I’m slow of tongue.  I will give you the words.  (Later he would give him his big brother, Aaron, who speaks well.)  What if he still says no?  I will give you signs and wonders, throw your staff on the ground (It turns into a snake).  God, can’t you just send someone else.

Think of all Moses would have missed had God found another.  Here we are talking about him 3500 years later.  Think of all we miss when we fail to listen, fail to heed, or just say no.  We miss life itself.  We simply need to say, “What’s next Lord?”  Who, what, when, where?  You are asking the One who is responsible for your very existence.  That’s a good place to be.

So may it be with all of us.


Friday, October 4, 2019

MOSES: THE HIDDEN HEROES


Sermon Summary (9/22/19) “Life of Moses: The Hidden Heroes” (Exodus 1:8 to 2:7)

You may be wondering why a sermon series on Moses.  Last Sunday at the door, Forrest asked, “Do you hear about Moses?” Playing straight man I said, “No.”  Forrest said, “He was a basket case.”  So I wondered if the rest of you knew as much about Moses and Forrest.  Thus the series.

When Spielberg formed his knew production studio, Dreamworks, the very first movie was “Prince of Egypt.”  I thought, what an awesome way to teach a new generation about one of the most important characters in all of history.  For us, even how we look at the stories of Jesus is filtered through the life of Moses.  The Sermon on the Mount was the retelling of the Law.  Even the birth narrative relates: “Out of Egypt, I have called my son.”  Moses was with Jesus at the Transfiguration.  The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, given by God through Moses.  The story of the Exodus, of God’s presence with his people is our story too.

The backdrop of the story is that of Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt by his brother, but through his integrity and God’s gifts and Providence, is elevated to Viceroy of Egypt and saves Egypt from famine through his wisdom.  His father, Jacob, and his brothers and their families come to Egypt and there become plentiful over four or five centuries.

One myth, the Israelites did not build the Pyramids, which were completed a 1000 years before the Israelites entered Egypt, but they did build Temples in the Valley of the Kings and cities in the Nile delta region, and there were oppressed.  Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. (Ex 1:8-9)  Thus the fear of the other began the oppression.

Fear of the other is part of the human condition.  We see it at the beginning of the biblical narrative and through history to our times.  We must ask ourselves what is about us that fears the other?  What is it about our culture that fears the other?  What can we do about it?

Enter the heroes.  Note that the story does not tell us the name of the Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world.  It does not tell us the name of the Princess, the daughter of the most powerful man in the world.  We won’t even find out the names of Moses’ mother and sister until much later.  But it does tell us the names of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.  They must be important.  They choose morality over safety.  They saved the lives of the Hebrew males infants.  In the face of death, they justified it (little white lie) to Pharaoh. 

We need to realize that rules don’t cover most of what is needed for life.  We need to develop character and wisdom, God based, to navigate the moral and ethical dilemmas we will face.  Shiphrah and Puah are our first models of that, he hidden heroes of the story.  So may it be with us.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

LIFE TOGETHER


Sermon Summary (9/15/19) “Living Our Beliefs: Life Together” (Acts 2:41-42; 46-47)

I realized how far I had to go in my Christian walk when I opened a Maxie Dunnam workbook and it said our goal was to  become “Little Christs.”  It seemed like a road too far.  It would have been one of those things that Jesus would have said, “It is impossible for humankind, by nothing is impossible with God.”  Of course, he said too, “Enter by the narrow gate...for the gate is narrow and the road is hard that  leads to life, and there are few that take it.”  It seems that few in our society even find the gate!

Yet in centuries past, our Methodist forefathers “renewed the nations, particularly the church, and spread scriptural holiness across the land.  What was the “method in Methodism”? Scholars agree that it was small groups, “Societies, Classes, and bands,” groups that followed the General Rules of “First, do no harm; then Do good; and then Follow the ordinances of God.  The later were means of grace, Private devotions, prayers and fasting; Public worship and the sacraments; and People, ie. Community and service. 

It was community where  people learned, were mentored, and held themselves accountable, all essential elements of transformation.  Grace moves us from where we are to where God wants us to be.  It is God through grace that moves us toward becoming “Little Christs.”  What is impossible for us is possible with God.  Wesley found that without Societies, that all the preaching like apostles did little.  He chose never to strike a stroke without being able follow the blow with small groups. 

It is “Life together” that forms us.  Wesleyan small groups were mandatory in England and later in America.  Attending small groups in America gave participants a ticket to attend Sunday worship.  In 1850, the church chose to no longer make them mandatory.  The acceleration of church building slowed and then began a slow decline.  The blow was no longer being struck. 

Yet others will say that the most successful churches in America are employing Wesleyan small groups while Methodists have abandoned them.  Saddleback in California, Willow Creek in Chicago, North Point in Atlanta all emphasize Wesleyan small groups.  I sat with a pastor from Las Vegas this past week., a church that attends 7000 weekly.  He was responsible for training and sustaining 350 small groups of about 4500 participants.  Their “Life Groups” are the heart of the church, the families of the participants.  As their name implies, they give life to the church. 

When Rosemary and I moved to Connecticut, there was one historic  building, the Methodist Meeting House (1811), not a church, a meeting house.  It was meeting as a society, a community, that was the heart of the church.  If we want to once again spread scriptural holiness, the method will be Wesleyan small groups once again.  So may it be with us.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

LIVING IN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TRIUNE GOD


Sermon Summary (8/25/19) “Living in Relationship With the Triune God” (Luke 2:41-51; 3:21-23a)

Last week we said there are some that say “You can believe anything and be a Methodist.”  Not so, but we do an inadequate job of teach what we do believe.  My very first  theological conversation was with my Grandpa.  I was five.  I can see myself standing next to the kitchen counter.  I asked, “And who made God?”  He relied, “Nobody made God.  God had not beginning and he will have no end.”  I just found out this week that he was quoting the catechism of the church, what the church taught.  We don’t’ do that anymore.  My Mother’s baptismal booklet had a catechism in it that parents were to teach.  Guess you else learns when you teach?

Last week we talked about the First Commandment, “You shall have no other God’s before Me.” (Ex 20:3)  This week, the practical divinity of the Triune God.  What does it matter?  What does a Triune God do for us?

It is the Triune God with whom we have relationship.  When we say “Our Father,” we are not talking about God’s gender, but of a being with whom we have a relationship. 

When we say, “God the Son,” we acknowledge a God who became like us, to share life with us, to suffer with us and for us., a God who loves us so much that he gave his life for us.  At the baptism of Jesus, God said, “This is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”  God was quoting from Isaiah and the listeners knew that it was a passage we call the “Servant Song.” God is telling us that his incarnate Son would be a suffering servant.

A Holocaust survivor tells of a death camp hanging  that all were forced to witness.  One of those hanged was just child.  A man asked, “Where is God?”  He answered, “There on the gallows.”  Jesus, the Son, suffered for that child and for us.  Jesus is God, the Savior.  He is also God of the promise, the “first borne of the dead.”  “Because he lives, we can live also.”

When we say, “God the Holy Spirit,” we mean God present with us, to teach us all things, to prod us, to bring us into the right relationship with God, to move us from who we are to who God wants us to be.  The Holy Spirit is the means of grace, God’s love for us.  And he links us to Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit links our lives to the life span of Jesus!

It is the Triune God with whom we have relationship!  Who is God?  He is the Triune Being who has a relationship with us.  Where is God?  He is there on the gallows.  Wherever there is suffering, God is in the midst, What is God doing?  He is working to overcome the suffering, to bring good out of evil, working for reconciliation and wholeness to all of creation.  “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” 

John Wesley on his deathbed said, “Best of all, God is with us.”  Be grateful that that is so.  Amen.


Friday, August 30, 2019

WHO WE BELIEVE IN MATTERS


Sermon Summary (8/18/19) “Who we believe in Matters” (Exodus 20:2-3; Luke 14:26)

My all-time favorite novel, James Michener’s The Source, tells a story of a man mesmerized by the Canaanite fertility goddess, Astarte.  He kills a man because of his worship.  His loving wife, a follower of El, says, “If Urbaal had had different god, he would have been a different man.” 

What we believe about God, who we believe in as god, matters!  The very first of the Ten Commandments, some would say the commandment from which all others flow, is “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Who or what are your gods?  We all have them.  We are all slaves to something.  Good things.  But we error when we make our good things our ultimate things.  Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and abides in you are your gods.”  And depending on our gods, we will be either Christ-centered or self-centered.  The greatest contest in our society is not between religion and atheism, but between our competing gods.

What we believe matters.  What we believe in shapes us, forms us, determines our behavior, establishes our relationships.  What we believe in, really believe in, shapes our very lives.

What good things have you made ultimate things?  Your family?  Approval?  Romance or attraction of the opposite sex? Or here’s the tough one, your grandchildren.  There is no doubt that Rosemary’s children and grandchildren were paramount.  That’s just the way it was.

What then do we do?  Step one is this.  Give thanks to the God of the Universe for the good gifts, the ultimate gifts that he has given you.  That is the first step in lifting God into his rightful place.  Then take to heart the earliest creed of the church: “Jesus is Lord.”  That is the beginning of putting no other gods before God.

This begins a sermon series, “Living Our Beliefs.”  Some have said, “You can be a Methodist and believe anything.”  That is not true.  We are first part of the Universal Communion of Jesus Christ.  We are baptized into the Universal Church and then received into the United Methodist Church.  We hold in common the universal beliefs of all Christians: The Triune God, Salvation by grace through faith in the acts of Jesus Christ, the reign of God is both a present and future reality, the authority of Scripture in matters of faith, the doctrinal statements set forth and bounded by the ancient creeds.  So may it be for us.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

PETER: THE REST OF THE STORY


Sermon Summary (8/11/19) “Peter: The Rest of the Story” (Acts (selected verses))

Peter traveled with Jesus for three years, but his ministry continued for 34 more!  Half a lifetime.  He became the Rock that Jesus predicted; he performed miracles; he raised the dead; he built up the church in Rome; and he was part of the hinge-point of the Christian faith as we will see today.

Last week, we saw Peter forgiven on the Lakeshore.  This week he receives the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church’s birthday with the other disciples.  But more than that, Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit and acted on that power.  Standing on the day of Pentecost, Peter says, “Men of Judea...let this be known to you, and listen to what I have to say….36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

What Power!  And with that power, Peter and John go up to the Temple to pray and meet a lame man on the way.  “Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.”  When thrown in prison and then told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, they say, “ “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Being told not to speak in the name of Jesus is like a grandmother being told she can’t show pictures of her grandchild. She cannot keep from doing it!

After telling the church what had happened to them, the church not only prayed “grant your servants to speak your word with boldness.”  When was the last time we prayed for boldness?

As the result of boldness, Peter travels towards the Mediterranean, to first Lydda, where he heals a paralyzed man, then with his reputation preceding him, he is called to Joppa where he revives Tabatha.

While in Joppa, begins the story that would be the hinge-point of Christianity.  An angel appears to a gentile, a Roman Centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, telling him to send messengers to the house of Simon, a tanner, in Joppa where Peter is staying.  At the same time, Peter has a vision of a sheet lowered to him filled with unclean animals and a voice saying, “Peter, get up, kill and eat.”  Peter says, “No, Lord, you know I have never eaten anything unclean.”  The voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not profane.” 

Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, tells them the good news and the Holy Spirt comes upon the gentiles in Cornelius’ house.  Peter realizes that the voice saying “What God has made clean, you must not profane” was not about animals but people.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is intended not just for the Jews, but for the whole world!


Saturday, August 17, 2019

PETER: FROM COWARDICE TO COURAGE


Sermon Summary (8/4/19) “Peter: From Cowardice to Courage” (John 21:1-3; 15-17)

When we last saw Peter, he was having the worst night of his life.  His Lord and Master had been arrested and he had denied knowing him three times, then went out a wept bitterly.  Fast forward, and we find only John and the women at the cross.  The other disciples are in hiding.  Our story culminates with one of the greatest acts of forgiveness and reconciliation, ever.

Let’s look at the disciples.  They have had supper with Jesus, have experienced his body and blood.  They call him Messiah, yet without understanding.  He tells them he is going away, and Thomas asks, “Where are you going?”  On the way to the Garden, Jesus tells them they will scatter because of him.  Peter says, “Even if I die with you, I will never deny you.”  So say they all. 

Jesus is arrested in the Garden.  The disciples scatter.  Peter follows to the home of the High Priest, watches Jesus convicted and sentenced and while warming himself around a charcoal fire, denies him three times. He weeps.  Jesus is taken to Pilate.  By 9:00 am he is on the cross to die.

The first disciple on the scene is Judas, even before he gets to Pilate, returning the 30 pieces of silver.  “I have betrayed innocent blood.”  He goes out and hangs himself.  A mini-lesson: Had he only waited 48 hours, had he encountered the Risen Lord, he would have been forgiven!  Can you imagine the Evangelist he might have been?  Maybe Judas was God’s Plan A, and when he took his own life, Paul became Plan B.  With Jesus, the worst thing is never the last thing. 

Weeks later, Peter and some of the disciples are in Galilee.  I think that Jesus is in danger of losing his Church.  Peter is returning to his old life: “I’m going fishing.”  They fish all night and catch nothing.  Jesus intercedes, meets them on the shore.  “Put down your nets on the right side.”  They catch so many fish their nets are in danger of breaking.

The come ashore.  Jesus is preparing breakfast around a charcoal fire.  Jesus breaks bread and gives it to him.  We are supposed to see the Lord’s Supper in the breaking of bread and be reminded of Peter’s denial of Jesus by the charcoal fire.

After supper and around the charcoal fire, Jesus asks, “Simon Peter, do you love me.”  Peter replies, “Lord, you know I love you.”  “Feed my lambs.”  A second time Jesus asks, and a third time, Jesus replying, “Tend my sheep.”  “Feed my Sheep.”

Forgiving Peter and recharging him to be the Shepherd, calling him and us to love him by tending the most vulnerable among us.  We love God by loving others.  So may it be with all of us.  Amen.