Friday, March 31, 2017


Sermon Summary (3/19/17) Wrestling With the Bible Series: “Were There Dinosaurs on the Ark?”  Genesis 2:4-6; 1:1-8)

My family has a long line of scientists and engineers.  My Uncle Carroll left South Dakota in the 1920s to pursue Aeronautical Engineering at NYU.  He became at best a Unitarian because the interpretation of the Genesis story around him was incompatible with his understanding.

Then, 60 years later, our son, who had watched a lot of late night tele-evangelists who adhered to a Young Earth Creation theory, had his faith shattered for a while after taking a college Bible course.

How is it that this same Scripture can be inhospitable to both ends of the spectrum of understanding?  I know loving, caring people at both ends whose faith I would never want harm their faith.  Why do we set up a false dichotomy that forces us to choose or accuses the others of being false in their faith if they disagree?

Christianity and science have collided before.  Remember Galileo?  Our differences center around the first two chapters of the Bible.  How is it that we are to read them?  Are they to answer “what” like a science book or a history book or a sociology book?  Or are they to tell us “Who”?  I think we confuse “what” with “who.”  The story is intended to tell us “Who’ created us; “who” we are; and about our relationship with the “Who”  We confuse the “what” and the “who.”

“And the Lord God created man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.”  Wonderful narrative that everyone knows even if they have never been to church.  “In the beginning, God…” Soaring poetry.

What if I told you there were two creation stories, the narrative, from an older tradition, and the poetry from a younger tradition?  Would it bother you?  It didn’t bother the compiler who saw truth in both scrolls and placed them side by side.  What he saw was a “truth” story about “Who,” not a “what” story about science or history. 

Imagine men around a campfire telling stories over thousands of generations and the Spirit is there whispering among them.  The begin whispers stories of the One God and the storyteller is there to remember and tell the story to the next generations and the next.  Someone asks how we got here, and woman asks how she became, and they ask why is it that we disobey God?  And the story forms as the Spirit whispers.  The story is shaped over the generations and one night the wise-ones there say “Remember the story just like that,” and it is passed on to us.  It is a “truth” story about God, about us and our relationship to God.  It is a story we can all agree to.  So may it be with all of us.  Amen.


Sermon Summary (3/12/17) Wrestling with the Bible Series: "How Do We Hide the Bodies”  Joshua 6:20-21; Col 1:15-20

The Bible is a miracle.  It is first a miracle that it exists; then second, the impact it has had in shaping Western Civilization, shaping humanity, shaping us.  It is a wonderful book, but how do you handle the violence in  for example, Joshua?  “They devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword, all [of Jericho], both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, donkeys.” Were none worthy? How do we hide the bodies?

I personally knew Captain Ernie Medina, the commander at the My Lai Massacre, and Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson who landed his helicopter at risk to stop it.  My Lai and Jericho, genocide.  One was a national disgrace and the Bible portrays the other as a nation-defining moment. How do we hide the bodies?

In 1869, the circa 9th century bc Moabite Stone was discovered depicting King Mesha of Moab as devoting an Israelite city, Neba, to destruction for his Canaanite god, Chemosh.  Was it just the way things were?  In 2 Kings 11, the Bible describes the Spring of the year as the times the kings went out to battle, ravishing whole cities.  Was violence just the was it was and God was in on it, or did kings simply attribute violence to Chemosh and Yahweh?  How do we sort out the notional from the factual?  Does it matter?  If not, how can I give the Bible Authority in our lives?

My personal experience is that we come to faith in God; we then believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God who came to save us; and then we give Scripture the authority to guide our lives.  CS Lewis did the same and Scripture authority as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training and equipping for all good works.  For most it happened automatically.  After coming to faith, we give the Scripture authority to shape us.

But how do I hide the bodies?  I don’t.  Taking Jesus’ lead I deflect them.  In Luke 13, Jesus is challenged with violent deaths of his time.  Instead of dealing with the bodies, he goes straight to the moral teaching, “Repent, or you shall perish just as they did.” 

Don’t get bogged down with the violence, instead go straight to the moral teaching of the story.  I believe that Jesus would tell us that the Jericho story was included because the Israelites failed generation after generation by allowing the Canaanite gods to influence them rather than the Israelites influencing the culture around them.  And to us he would say, “Church, my presence on earth, you are not influencing the secular culture but instead allowing them to influence you.  Repent, or you will perish just as they did!”

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Sermon Summary (3/517) “Wrestling with the Bible”  2 Ti 3:16-17; Gen 3:1

Bibles were sacred in my Grandma’s house.  I have her Bible.  It is a treasure.  I have to admit that the one she game me for Christmas when I was eight was not that well read.  I came to love the Bible 40 years later as a lay speaker.  It nourished me, it filled me in ways that I cannot explain.  I loved the book of Genesis.  “In the beginning God…” Stories about God, about us, about our relationship with God.  It fits together.  And the whole of the Old Testament (OT) too , so much so that the first Christians say Jesus on nearly every page.  Remember the disciples on the way to Emmaus? (Luke 24: 13-35)  Jesus came along side them, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”  The Old Testament points to Jesus.

But today I read the stories differently than I heard them in Sunday School.  In the Noah story, instead of thinking of the animals in the ark, I think of the horror of those outside.  When Moses came down the mountain and say the golden calf, he not only broke the tablets but proclaimed, “Who is on the Lord’s side?... Put on your swords...kill your brother, your neighbor, your friend.”  And 3000 died.  It doesn’t sound like Jesus.  Then David, in a prideful act against the will of God, conducted a census, and it says that God sent, yes God sent a pestilence that killed 70,000 people.  Again, it doesn’t seem like the God of the rest of the Bible.

Then there are passages about stoning your children, the four corners of the earth, the doors of heaven, an understanding of the cosmos that is foreign to us.  What are we to do?

We are meant to wrestle with the Bible.  Jesus wrestled with the Bible.  We are followers of Jesus.  When we wrestle we need to view the stories of the OT through the lens of Jesus.  When it says, “Stone adulterers,” we remember Jesus and the woman caught in Adultery.  (John 8)  He wrestled with Moses when he said, “But I say to you.” 

The OT was the Bible he knew.  He quoted from or referred to 23 of the 39 books there.  He took the Great Commandment (Loving the Lord your God…. And your neighbor as yourself) from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  The Great Commandment is not only our rule for conduct, but a great lens to use to view the teaching and acts in the OT. We are called to wrestle with it.

The Bible was God-breathed, but written by men, inspired men, good men and their personalities and cultures showed through.  Jesus wrestled with Moses.  With Jesus’ help, we can wrestle too.  Amen.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Sermon Summary (2/26/17, Transfiguration Sunday), “Listen to Him”  Matthew 17:1-9; 16:13-28

What did Jesus know and when did he know it?  Did Jesus come on automatic pilot from Bethlehem to the cross?  Or was there a time that Jesus chose the cross, chose to die for you and me?  Would we respond differently if we knew it was a choice? Would we “Listen to him”?

What did Jesus know?  You remember Paul (Phil 2:5-11) tells that Jesus emptied himself of his divinity; Jesus even tells us that only the Father knows the time or the day.  Jesus was not omniscient, did not know everything.  But he knew the stories of his birth, his mission was to be the Messiah, to reconcile the world to himself, to save the world.  His name was Jesus after all, “One who saves.”  But when did he choose?  When did know that his ministry was the cross? 

Did God say, “Jesus, it is your task to live with my people, experience what they experienced, be tempted as they are, then choose how you will draw them to yourself.  I’ll let you know what I think.”  Is that what happened at the Transfiguration?

Jesus has chosen.  He takes his disciples on a retreat to Caesarea-Philippi, high up in the mountains.  You remember.  He asks, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter says, you are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 

Then Jesus begins to teach them that “he must go to Jerusalem, be handed over to men, undergo great suffering, be killed and be raised on the third day.”  And what were the implications for the disciples, for us, if they, us, chose to be his followers?  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Wow! We have a ministry of denial and sacrifice, too.

God affirms the ministry of Jesus on the mountain, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  Listen to him.  Disciples, would be followers, listen to him.

I saw Mel West at the Rural Ministry Training last Saturday.  If I could, I’d like to be like Mel when I grow up.  Mel is a follower of Jesus, one who denies himself, takes up the cross and follows.  I’ve known Mel for 20 years.  When I first sat down with him, he asked if I’d ever read In His Steps?  He said when he read it, it changed his life.  He said, “Rick, you must read In His Steps.”  I listen to Mel.

The story centers around a comfortable church that is challenged to ask “What would Jesus Do in my circumstance” in everything they do for the following year.  Ask, answer and do regardless of consequences.  The biggest thing they wrestled with was determining just “What would Jesus do?”  We can only do that by “Listening to Him.”  Listen to Him.  That is our task for Lent.  Amen.


Sermon Summary (2/19/17), “Amazing”  Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14-18

We’re in a sermon series, “Say and Do,” what Jesus said and did to better know what we are to say and do.  Last week, we looked at the radical teachings of Jesus, really about the absolute will of God.  One thing was clear, the absolute will of God is that we live in harmony.  We need to be thoughtful about “Do no harm” (Wesley’s first rule); and intentional about “Do Good.” (Wesley’s second rule.)

But we fail. We fail by what we do and by what we don’t do.  Fortunately, we have a God of grace, a God who forgives, a God who came in the person of Jesus saying, “Repent, believe the Good News, the kingdom of God has come near.”  And he led John to tell us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  We have a God of new starts!  In today’s jargon, we could say, “Repeal and replace.”

In Romans 12, Paul tells us we are to “repay no one evil for evil” (Do no harm), “take thought of what is noble in the sight of all.” (Do good.)  How is it that we become that sort of person?

Jesus sets the conditions for becoming that person at the close of Matthew 5, “But I say to you, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your father in heaven.” (5:44-45)  “Children of your father” may be the centerpiece of the Scripture.  Children take on the attributes of the parent.  Our task is to become “Little Christs” as CS Lewis and Maxie Dunham put it.  “Little Christs” taking on the attributes of God in Jesus Christ.

Jesus closes by telling us “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  The Greek word means mature, whole.  Become mature in our faith.  CS Lewis tells us “The command to be perfect is not idealistic gas.  Nor is it a command to do the impossible.  He is going to make us into the creatures that can obey that command.”

Lent is coming, a time of instruction, preparation, devotion, placing ourselves within the grace of God so that he can begin turning us into the creatures that can become mature in Christ.  Wesley’s third rule is to “stay in love with God,” using practices, means of grace, that will bring us to maturity in Christ.  I suggest that each of you commit to attending worship each Sunday of Lent and Easter even if out of town; that you find a devotional time and structure (books are available); and that you fast your time, replacing old habits with time for God.  Place yourselves in grace and let God begin remaking you.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” was written be John Newton, a slave captain that was remade in Christ Jesus through grace.  So may we.  Amen.