Tuesday, February 25, 2020


Sermon Summary (2/23/20) “A New Way of Seeing” (Matthew 5:38:48)

When I was in Connecticut, I traveled a lot.  I would drive to LaGuardia, catch the 6:00 am shuttle, then the Metro and I’d be in Washington for a 7:00 am meeting.  Spend the day in meetings and return at night.  One day when the traffic was heavy, I found myself in the middle lane and needed to get over in plenty of time to take the airport exit.  As I slid into the right lane I watched the driving in the car behind me carefully.  He wasn’t paying attention.  When he looked up and saw me he went berserk.  He thought I had cut him off.  He got along side me, then tried to get in ahead of me.  I thought he was going to run me off the road.  I feared for my life.

Now I don’t know whether there was ever donkey rage on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, but I think Jesus would have said, “Check out my stories in Matthew 5.  You need a new way of seeing.”

Here’s my question of you.  Would you feel comfortable for any reason whatsoever running somebody off the road?  Would your default position be retaliation, or would you be kind?  If the answer is you would turn the other fender, then 2000 years of teaching has made progress in transforming you.  You have become the kind of person that wouldn’t do such a thing.  When Jesus said, “Turn the other check,” he not only wanted to transform you, but through you, to transform the other guy.

When Jesus said, “Be perfect,” he was saying that over the course of time with the work of the Holy Spirit and sanctifying grace that you would become the kind of person that would turn the other cheek, give the shirt of your back, go the extra mile and through you begin the transformation of others.  God wants you to be transformed, and he wants you in the transformation business.

God is in the transforming business.  We are called to be in the business of transforming others.  When we place ourselves in grace, when we say “Yes” to grace, God moves towards his perfection.  This coming week, begins Lent.  It is a good time to decide how we might let God shape our lives in the coming 40 days.  John Wesley suggested the following means of grace: 

Gathering in worship: Commit to gather in community.
The Ministry of the Word, read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and prayer
The Study of Scripture: meditating.  What if you asked each of the 40 days, What would it mean for me today to go the extra mile?
Fasting or abstinence.  Making way for God.

In 1942 a book was released about the Roman soldier that supervised the crucifixion of Jesus then won his Robe in a dice game.  It first drove him mad, then in search of healing he followed the footsteps of Jesus he was healed.  The stories of Jesus transformed him and in turn many he met.  The book was The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas.  So may the stories of Jesus change us.  Amen.

Monday, February 24, 2020


Sermon Summary (2/16/20) “Was Jesus a Pacifist?”  (Matthew 5:21-24; James 2:8)

For most of my professional life, I was a soldier.  I never used my personal weapon in anger although when I flew, I had five artillery batteries, 30 howitzers, at my command and I frequently directed their fire.  My actions in combat were responsible for taking the lives of others, maybe even innocents since howitzer shells do not discriminate.

As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into my faith, I ask myself was I wrong to have such a career?  We believed we were honorable men.  Was I right? Was Jesus a pacifist?  Is war ever just?  People of faith have been asking similar questions over the centuries and have come down on both sides.

There are always unintended consequences in war.  We only need to look at our recent past and current situation around the world where we see literally millions of people killed, wounded, maimed or displaced.

Yet, I would not consider myself a pacifist.  If there ever was a just war, WWII was it.  The greatest generation are my heroes.  Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  It would have been impossible to ignore the genocide of 10s of millions of people in Europe and China.  The greatest generation accomplished more good than we know.

Yet when I read a novel or watch a movie and hear someone say, “That person deserved to die,” it sets my teeth on edge (a biblical phrase, see Jeremiah).  I’ve often said, “You will never look into the eyes of someone that God does not love.”  I hope I’m never comfortable with the death of another.

Where do you stand on the intentionally taking of a life?  Certainly the Old Testament makes room for retaliation including the institution of capital punishment for certain offenses. 

But Jesus, God incarnate, is telling us God’s will behind the law: “You have heard it said, “Thou shalt not murder, but I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister….”  Anger, insult, contempt diminish us as well as the taking of a life.  The other person is important to God.  To paraphrase John Donne, God is in the business of mankind and he wants us to be in the business of mankind.  We are diminished by another’s death.  We are diminished when we treat another with contempt.

The royal law is “love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is quoted by Jesus even more often than the commandment to love God with all our hearts.  And he sums up the Sermon on the Mount with the Golden Rule, “Therefore, do to others as you would have them to do you, for this is the law and the prophets.” 

In choosing, we need to use all of Scripture,  the Golden Rule as well as “An eye for an eye.”  We need to look at the traditions of the church.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit.  We need to reason, using the mind that God gave us.  Life is about choices.  Almost all of our decisions effect others.  That is life.  Jesus tells us that the overriding principle we should apply is love.  What is the loving thing to do?  Love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Sermon Summary (2/09/20) “Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees”  (Matthew 5:13-20; 7:21,24)

For the past two weeks or so, we’ve said that everyone has a god, whether God Almighty or a small g god.  Whatever is primary in our lives, whatever drives our behavior is our god.  Here’s another shocker.  Everyone is someone’s disciple.  We all mimic someone.  We pattern our lives after someone.  We adopt their values.  And it starts young.  How is it that we can make our children think, “When I grow up, I want to be like Jesus.”  How?  I’d suggest you search youtube for Patrick Mahomes and faith.  Good start.

But who do you want to be like when you grow up?  Whose disciple do you want to be?  Or, who wants you as a role model?  What do others see in you?  Do they see you “let your light so shine” that they want to give glory to God?  To do so Jesus challenges to have a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees.  He then tells how he is going to help us do that.

Here’s the answer.  It is all about changing our hearts, taking on the heart of Jesus, changing from the inside out.  Later, Jesus challenges Pharisees to “clean the inside of the cup so that the outside will be clean as well.” (Mt 23:25-26) 

The target of the Sermon on the Mount is to create in us a new heart such that we will “enter by the narrow gate.”  That we will “bear good fruit.”  Think about it.  You will never get apples from a tree unless it has apple sap flowing through its veins.  The motivation of the whole Sermon on the Mount is to change who we are from the inside out. 

Let me be clear.  We are not doing this to save ourselves.  Only grace can do that.  In fact, we cannot change ourselves from the inside out.  Again, only grace can do that.  When we place ourselves in the hands of grace, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, will change who we are.  When we want to be his disciple, when he becomes our role model, when we follow him, we will be changed from the inside out.  Remember, he is with us always, even to the end of the age. (Mt 28:20)

Jesus has another plan.  He intends for us to be light and salt in a world of darkness and a world without zest.  He intends for the changed us to transform the world.  His intention is for us to have “Sparkle” when we enter a room.  That’s what the Holy Spirit wants to do in you.

Remember the gift of the Spirit? (Gal 5:22-23) “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”

I love that last line.  There can never be too much love or too much kindness or how would you like a world filled with self-control?  You see what sparkle is?  How? We place ourselves in grace; we drink in the words and life of Jesus, we “ingest it, inscribe it on our hearts and minds, we fuse it to the very depths of our being.” (Karen Armstrong, Recovering the Sacred Text.)  We clean the inside of the cup.  We follow Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


Sermon Summary (2/02/20) “Who Are the Truly Blessed?”
 (Matthew 5:1-12; Ephesians 2:8-9)

Blesses are the meek.  We are a manly country, rugged individualists.  Remember the Marlboro man?  “The one, the proud, the Marine.”  But blessed are the meek  I’ve always had interpreting the Beatitudes.  Who are the blessed?  Actually, I think Matthew had problems, too.  Luke recalls Jesus’ saying as “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  Matthew must have had some rich friends, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of Heaven.”  I think Matthew had difficulty interpreting who was blessed.

Maybe here’s the bigger question?  Who has access to the kingdom of God?  What does it take to get into heaven?

Here’s another question.  I’ve always wondered, did Paul get it right?  Are we saved by grace through faith? (Eph 2:8)  Do you know word, “grace,” does not show up in Matthew, Mark and Luke?  Where does Jesus say we are saved by grace?  What does Jesus require of us?  Poverty?  Meekness?  Do we need to be persecuted?  Must we be in a continual state of mourning?  Here’s what Jesus says in Luke, “Woe to you that are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”  Would joy keep us from the kingdom of God?

Where is the message of grace in the Gospels?   Actually, right here in the Beatitudes.  I want you to picture the setting of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus on the mountain surrounded by his disciples,; then the whole mountainside filled with the “sat upon, spat upon, ratted upon,” to use the phase of Simon and Garfunkel.  It was show and tell time.  I can see Jesus walking through the crowd, placing his hands on the ragged, “Blessed are the poor”; on the downtrodden, “Blessed are the meek”; on the crying, “Blessed are those that mourn.” 

These people do not gain entry because of their status, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ and the great faith they are displaying by being on the mountain with him.  This is a story of grace.  There is no payment they can make to get into heaven.  There is no joy they can display.  Not even their righteousness would do.  They were devoid of religion, unable to read the scrolls if they even knew what the scrolls were.  They were “saved by grace through faith, it was not of your own doing so that no one could boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)

Jesus has just turned the worldly standard upside down.  The Beatitudes are the Gospel’s statement of grace.  Jesus is saying, “Hear the good news, there is nothing you can do save yourselves, it has already been done.”

We then need to do everything we can to protect our faith.  We need to remember our baptismal vows: “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace?”  We need to say “Yes” continually.  We need to “Repent” continually.  Place our lives before the Holy Spirit to examine our motives, “Did I trust Christ today, or did I depend on myself as my only guide?”  We are followers of Jesus Christ.  Let our lives so demonstrate that faith.  Do everything you can to protect your faith.

Saturday, February 8, 2020


Sermon Summary (1/26/20/) “It Begins” (Matthew 4:12-23)

It’s the last Sunday in January, last chance for resolutions. My hunch is that any you made on Jan 1 have already been discarded.  Never too late, today is a day for new beginnings!  Every day is a day for new beginnings.

In fact, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, lead you in the hymn of response before the introduction to the sermon is over: “This is a Day of New Beginnings” (UMH 383 or http://tiny.cc/AllThingsNew). Verse 4: “Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do.  This is a day of new beginnings; our God is making all things new.”  Look it up, drink it in.

By the way, the sermon title, “It Begins,” refers to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but as you will see, there are many other beginnings we will refer to today. 

Here’s your question: What do you need to start over?  What is holding you back?  In our Scripture today, Jesus announces his ministry by saying, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Is what is stopping you your inability to repent, examine your life, change, turnaround?  Ben Franklin allotted time each evening to examine his day with on of 13 virtues. (One being humility, but he said that once he had conquered humility, he became proud of his humility, thus losing on the virtue of pride.)  Your prayer life, that included repentance or confession may be stopping your new beginning. Begin again.

Or might it be your discipleship?  Three years ago we had a sermon series on discipleship.  It may be time to repeat it.  Is it an element of discipleship that is holding you back?  Worship, Hospitality, Opening to Jesus, Obeying Jesus, the Service of Jesus, Generosity?  Is one of these stopping you.  Yet, everything single one of them is an opportunity to begin again. 

Our Scripture for today, “It begins,” is a call for repentance.  So also in Mark, and then Luke begins the ministry of the church in Acts with Peter saying, “Repent, everyone of you and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus so that your sins may be forgiven”  Make new start.  John begins Jesus ministry with Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night and Jesus telling him, “You must be born anew.”  Jesus begins his ministry by calling for new beginnings.  Everyday is a day for new beginnings.

How are we to begin? I would suggest by beginning everything with prayer.  A model we’ve used is ACTS: Adoration (“I will praise the Lord with my whole heart” (Ps 9:1-2)), Confession (“Search me and know my heart,” Ps 139:23-34)), Thanks giving (Ps 9:1 again)), and Supplication (“But in everything with prayer and supplication” (Phil 4:6))  If we memorize these verses, take them to heart, we can flash them to God in everything we do.  We can make everything we do a new beginning.

Or I would recommend that you journal.  We know of the spiritual life of the heroes of our faith because they made new starts and journaled about it. David, after his terrible acts with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 11&12), journaled his confession in Ps 51, God gave him a new beginning. So with us.  Amen.