Monday, April 20, 2020


Sermon Summary (4/19/20) “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” (Job (selected); Ro 8:28; Mt 7:24-27) )

It’s not a good time to be a pastor.  It’s not a good time to be a lot of things. A mother for one; a spouse for another.  I know of those whose children or spouses and in hospice and they cannot be there to hold their hands or to tell them over and over again that they love them.  As a pastor, I have people whose hands I want to hold and assurance I was to give.  And everyday life goes on.  I need to be in living rooms or hospital rooms instead of preaching to a blank wall.

What do think?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Millions will be hurt by the coronavirus, if not by the disease, then economically, people we know and love.  And life goes on.  Cancer that steals life and joy.  Accidents that take life and limb.  Stroke, heart attack. 

And here’s what I bet: you know people who believe that if you are faithful, you will be immune from such pain.  You can just pray and the problems will go away.  And you know people who have chucked their faith because bad things happen to good people.  If God is not going to take care of all my concerns, what is religion for?  What’s in it for me?

Let’s make some things clear.  God is not our wind up toy.  He is not our genie in a bottle to give us untold wishes.  God is not our servant.  In fact, the opposite is true.  We are to serve God.  We are to do God’s will, not the other way around.

We’re beginning a new series.  Adam Hamilton believes every church needs to hear every year a sermon of series dealing with the problem of pain.  The issues of pain, of evil, of unanswered prayer, of discerning the will of God and following him are issues we continually deal with.  Today, “The problem of Pain: Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Where do we start with pain?  The book of Job.  At the same time the writers of Deuteronomy were telling us that God rewards good choices and punishes bad, the writers of Job were just as adamant that injustice exists in the world, that bad things do happen to good people.

The story of Job is a simple one even though it runs for 42 chapters.  Job is a good man and God has rewarded him with children, wealth, herds, houses.  He loves his family, cares for widows and orphans.  He even has made a covenant with his eyes that he will not look at women as objects.  Job is a good man.

But then Satan takes it all away.  His children are killed, his cattle stolen, his houses destroyed, his health ruined.  Even in the midst of this injustice, he remains faithful.

His friends come by.  “Job, you have sinned.  Admit it, repent, and God will restore your health.”  “Job, you may not know it, but you have sinned.  Repent.”  “Job, your children must have sinned.  Pray, repent for them.  God will restore you.” 

Job is adamant.  He has been unjustly accused.  If only he could find God and present his case, he would be acquitted. (23:1-7)  Finally, God answers Job out of the whirlwind, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell me if you have understanding.”  With great verbosity, God belittles Job but never answers the question.  “Job, you just don’t understand the responsibilities of the Creator of the universe.”  (38:1ff) 

Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance, in words spoken by Aaron Jastrow says God is at fault.  That the only hero of the Hebrew Bible is the poor Jew on the ash heap, Job, who remained faithful in suffering.  That there is a missing piece to the story of justice in the universe and that missing piece is with God.  God is at fault.

As Christians, we know the missing piece, and it did not show up for another 1500 years.  Justice would be restored through the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ.  Salvation for those who remain faithful in suffering is the missing piece.

We live in a world that is good.  Almost perfect. But floods and earthquakes happen and people are hurt.  Our bodies are wonderfully good.  Almost perfect.  But disease happens, and when we confront animals and machines we are harmed.  Why do bad things happen?  In part, that is the world we live in.

When we lost our son Jeff at the age of 18, Rosemary was angry with God for the next 10 years.  But that means that she believed in a God to be angry with.  Good people suffer.  But Jesus promises to walk through the suffering with us.  “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him.”  (Romans 8:28 NIV)  God does not cause evil, and Is anguished in the face of evil.  But God promises to walk through it with us.

God did not want or cause Jeff to be killed.  But he walked through the pain with us.  We are here today because of that walk.  In that walk we experienced mercy and blessing and grace.  He changed our lives completely.

God’s response is to walk with us and to use us.  Jesus healed, Jesus fed, Jesus faced down evil.  Today God’s response is us.  When floods and earthquakes occur, he sends us.  When people are hungry, he sends us.  When people are victims of cancer or disease, he sends doctors and scientists and asks us to support them.  We are God’s response to injustice in the world.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  God sends us.

Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with the story of the houses built on the rock and on the sand.  They are the stories of our spiritual houses.  God can best walk with us through the storms of life if we have built our spiritual houses on a rock.  So may it be with all of us.  Amen.

Monday, April 13, 2020


Sermon Summary (4/12/20) “What We Believe About Easter Matters” (Is 25:6-10; 1 Th 4:13-17; John 20:1-18)

I’ve picked out the best day ever, a day of heaven on earth.  I believe Rosemary would have said, or would say, it was the best day of her life.  I believe she was there.  You see, I believe in the communion of saints.  It was last year, it was a great feast, as Isaiah would have put it or Jesus when he spoke of the heavenly banquet, it was the day of Toni and Jackson’s wedding.  It was perfect.  It would have been her idea of heaven.  I’m sure she was there.  I believe in the communion of saints.

It may be that Holy Communion is the best picture of the communion of saints with Christ as the host and all of his followers at the heavenly banquet and all, past, present and future, connected through the body of Christ at the heavenly banquet.  I believe in the communion of saints.

It’s Easter and we are in the final sermon of our series on the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in the communion of saints, in the resurrection of the body, and in the life everlasting.  Those are the promises of Easter, and what you believe about Easter matters. 

What you believe about Easter will shape who you are, how you will behave, how you treat others, who and how you love.  All that is important to you is formed by what you believe about Easter.  I matters because your everlasting life matters, your resurrection matters, your communion with those you will love for all of everlasting life matters.

And the resurrection of your body matters.  The very first letter that Paul wrote, the earliest text we have in the bible, even before the gospels, Paul wrote to a group that believed they had missed the resurrection.  Paul wrote to assure them “so that you may not grieve as others do that have no hope.”  And then he ends with “encourage one another with these words.”  (See 1 Thess 4:13-17)

What made people believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  Two things: the empty tomb and the appearances of the Risen Lord.  Each were necessary but not sufficient.  Together with the personal appearances made the first witnesses so resolute in their beliefs that they were willing to give their lives to tell the world of Jesus and his love.

When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, he called her by name, “Mary.” She replied, “Rabbouni!” a term of endearment for a teacher.  For her, the encounter with the Risen Lord was personal.  There could be no mistake.

Later in this chapter, doubting Thomas will encounter the Jesus that he insisted he would not believe had risen until he could put his fingers in the nail marks and his hand in his side.  Jesus spoke directly to him, inviting him to do so.  Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.”  It was personal.  There could be no mistake. 

Peter, who had denied Jesus, encounters him on the shore of the Seal of Galilee.  Jesus calls him by name: “Simon do you love me more than these?”  Yes, Lord.  Yes, Lord.  Even a third time Jesus asks and Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.”  It was personal.  There could be no mistake.

We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we believe in the resurrection of the body? Which body? In First Corinthians, Paul tells us “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body…?  What is sown is perishable.  What is raised in imperishable….It is sown with a physical body; it is raised with a spiritual body.”  Jesus resurrection body could be seen, could walk through walls, could disappear in a blink of an eye, most importantly could be recognized.  We will know one another.

And we believe in the life everlasting.  Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  (Jn 3:16 KJV) One of Rosemary’s favorite childhood hymns was “Whosoever surely meaneth me.”  “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Easter is about the promises of God.  I believe in the communion of saints.  I believe in the resurrection of the body.  I believe in the life everlasting.   These are the promises of God, and they all come true at Easter.  What you believe about Easter matters.  Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2020


Sermon Summary (4/5/20) “What We Believe About Forgiveness Matters” (Lk 23:32-34; Ro 5:7-8)

What you believe about forgiveness matters. When I started thinking about this topic, I couldn’t get a Gaither’s tune out of my head: “Shackled by a heavy burden,’neath a load of guilt and pain.  Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and I am no longer the same.”  And I listened to the radio program, “Unshackled,” for years.  Stories of sin, forgiveness, redemption, and new beginnings.  But they always start with forgiveness.

What do you believe about forgiveness? Does it matter to you? Do you understand that it is free, yet is beyond price? Another hymn: “O Love divine, what hast thou done! The immortal God hath died for me.” For me.  For me.  Paul tells us in Romans, “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:7-8)

We miss the mark.  We need forgiveness.  But “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  We are in a series on the Apostle’s Creed; this week, The forgiveness of sins. 

And today is Palm Sunday.  This week is the week of forgiveness.  Holy Week.  Jesus enters Jerusalem on the way to the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  On Thursday night he gathers with his disciples for the traditional Passover meal.  But his year it is different.  He takes the bread, breaks it, blesses it and says, “This is my body, broken for you.”  After supper he takes the cup, “This is my blood of the New Covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  The forgiveness of sins.

On Friday, he goes to the cross.  From Luke: When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:33-34)

The very basis of our forgiveness is the forgiveness of Jesus.  Let me ask you, what did those who crucified Jesus do to merit forgiveness? Those who convicted him? Those scourged him?  Those who drove the nails? Those you mocked him?  What did they do to merit forgiveness?  The answer is absolutely nothing.  So, for us to judge others, to withhold forgiveness from others, know that Jesus has already forgiven them.

The source of our forgiveness is the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ. In turn, God calls us to forgive others: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  It is so important to our relationships with one another that we forgive one another, that God makes it conditional.  In the verses following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:14-15) 

Forgiveness and forgiving others are essential to our wellbeing, to our relationships with one another and with God.

And do you know what? God did not wait for our perfection to forgive us.  He did not even wait for us to be good.  “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proved his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:7-8)

Tim Keller tells us that there are three things we must learn to be in relationship with others: To forgive, to ask for forgiveness, and to receive forgiveness.  In Colossians 3:13 Paul says, “Bear with one another and if any has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Must forgive.  We have no choice.

Then we must learn to ask, we must learn to receive forgiveness.  The hardest person to forgive may be ourselves, and if we don’t do that, we will never learn to receive forgiveness.  We must learn to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, to receive forgiveness.

What we believe about forgiveness matters.  It’s Palm Sunday, and Jesus in on the way to the cross to forgive us our sins.  “And while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2020


Sermon Summary (3/29/20) “What We Believe About the holy catholic Church Matters” (Mt  11:4-5; 16:18; Lk 4:18-21; 1 Ptr 2:9)

In this season of the corona virus, we have become a virtual church. As a pastor, what am I to do with that? We ask the critical question: Whose church is the virtual church? The answer, of course, its Jesus’ church. But of instead of being the hands, heart and feet of Jesus, in a virtual world, we’ve become the Holy Ghost.  What do we do now?

What we believe about the church matters. Unfortunately, some believe the church is outmoded, an anachronism, a club without purpose.  A reminder, when Jesus said, “And upon this rock I will build my church,” he wasn’t talking about a building, not our building, not St. Peter’s Basilica.  He was talking about the holy catholic Church, the universal Church of Jesus Christ.  Church with a capital “C.”

When you were baptized, you were initiated into the universal church.  You are part of the royal priesthood of all believers (1 Ptr 2:9) 

We are in a series on the Apostle’s Creed.  Today, “I believe in the holy catholic church.’  What we believe about the church matters. Holy catholic church.  Looking at each of these words in turn:

Holy.  Not perfect, not without flaw.  The OT term means set apart for God’s purposes.  The church is God’s and for a purpose.  As part of God’s holy church you have purpose.

Catholic, with a small “c.”  Universal.  Not Roman Catholic, but the universal, the universal church of Jesus Christ.  You are part of all believers.

Church.  Not a building, but the Greek word is ekklesia which means assembly, gathering.  You are part of the universal gathering of all believers set aside for God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.

And the Church gives your life purpose, to be the continuing presence of Christ on earth.  Another reason you cannot be a solitary Christian.  You need the gathering of believers to have purpose.

As we examine Scripture to seek out the purpose of Jesus’ ministry, we find over and over again, Jesus’ affinity for the poor, the lost, the vulnerable. (Lk 4:18f; Mt 25:31f; Lk 15:3f) and in Mt 11: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  The blind, the lame, the lepers (certainly physical and religious outcasts of the day), the deaf, and the dead are raised.

“Once you (plural) were no people, now you (plural) are God’s people.”  You are the universal church, set aside for Jesus’ purpose.  You could say, “once you had no purpose, now you have purpose.”  You (plural) are the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

What are we to do in this time of virtual church.  We find where God is working and join in both near and far; UMCOR, Catholic Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army.  The world needs our help.  And near, the Food Bank (most efficient purchaser of food), food pantries if we are to donate food.  Services that help the poorest of the poor in a time when the poor get poorer and the vulnerable become more vulnerable.  If we are not sure, write and check and mail to Jean with missions and half will go to UMCOR and half to the Food Bank.  But be the church.  We can’t do it all, but we can do our part knowing that other hands and feet and purses from the universal church will be doing theirs.

Then there is the ministry we are avoiding, “and the dead are raised.” How do we join in the ministry of Jesus of raising the dead? How? Here’s the answer: We do those things that give life.  In this time of social separation, cards and calls give life.  Cards and calls to the isolated in our church and beyond.  A card and a call every day.  Every day.  Give life.

When the holy catholic church, the set aside, universal assembly acts like Jesus, Christ will be raised up and people will be drawn to him.  What you believe about the Church matters.  Amen.