Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Perfect Example: A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

I know this is the sort of thing Bob told you all a million times, but I think you need a quick refresher course on the gospels. For starters, it’s obvious to everybody that the Gospel According to John is very different from the other three. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on the other hand, share a similar viewpoint— that is, they describe more of the same events in the same order— and so we group them together using a Greek word for common viewpoint and call them the Synoptic Gospels. 

The symbols of the four evangelists are an eagle
(John), a winged lion (Mark), a winged man
(Matthew), and a winged ox (Luke)
Now, of these three, Matthew and Luke seem to have more in common with each other than they do with Mark. For one thing, they’re longer. But on top of that, the material they contain that’s not in Mark seems to come from the same source. But they were written nearly 2000 years ago, and so we have no idea what that source was. But we do have a name for it. And that name isn’t Greek, but German. It’s a two-syllable, six-letter word: Quelle, which just means source. But apparently that’s too long and too hard, so we usually call this lost source by its first letter: Q.

One of the biblical stories where we can see the differences among the gospels is

Pastoral Prayer after Another Mass Shooting

How good it feels to come to you in time of need, O God.
We thank you for assuring us that you are in control,
even in times of natural disaster.
When the wind blows and the earth shakes and the waters rise,
your power is on display,
the forces of nature are creating a new thing,
and even when all around is devastation,
yet our faith in you remains firm.

When sickness strikes, when disease ravages,
and when doctors are powerless, we know that you are there;
that the Suffering Servant suffers with us;
that your Spirit of healing is at work
even when all hope is lost.

But when the sickness is the sickness of a nation’s soul,
when the disaster is unnatural,
when the responsibility is ours,
to whom can we turn?
When our thoughts are of violence and our prayers are selfish,
dare we approach your throne with our entreaties for peace?
When we place our passion for weaponry
above our love for our children,
what can we say to you?

So speak to us, God.
Drown out all other voices but yours.
Let your creating word descend upon us,
and may it not return to you empty.
Convert us, O God,
from worship of the passing values of the world
to an affirmation that your ways are not our ways,
and that we need not fear vulnerability
when you are our refuge and our strength,
a very present help in trouble.

And we are in trouble, O God.
Help us, for we refuse to help ourselves.
Alone we are weak,
and together we feed off one another’s fear
and stoke the fires of anger.
Help us to move beyond feeling helpless in the face of fear and wrath.
Give us the words to speak,
help us to stand up to cowardly politics,
remind us that the power of money
cannot resist against your power.
Sweep through us and among us with fresh winds of your Spirit,
and help us create change
when the new thing that we know should be possible
still seems impossible.

All this we pray in the Name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns
as one God both now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Your Treasure Chest: An Ash Wednesday Call to Reëvaluation

"Where your treasure is…" In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us a way to picture our blessings and our values and priorities. He gave us the treasure chest. And I can’t think of a better way to begin Lent than to place that image before us right now. For it’s our treasure chests that’ll help guide us through our Lenten discipline.

Let’s begin by imagining ourselves with our treasure chest in front of us. Each of us probably has a different chest, but mine is one of those big old wooden ones— the kind that pirates always have in adventure stories. Whether yours is wood or metal or some other material, whether it’s big or small, new or old, think of it with the lid closed. Because I want us all to open our chests together.

Let’s do that right now. Does yours open silently or with a squeak, a creak, or a groan? The noise it makes in our minds might tell us how often we open our treasure chest. And however often we open it might indicate how often we share what’s in there, or whether it’s something that we openly admit we treasure, or something we idolize only in secret.

Now that it’s open,

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Plum Transfigured

Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
—Mark 9:5

Introduction: Prunes

If I were to ask you where you were on certain famous dates in history, chances are you’d be able to answer me without hesitation—it all depends on your age. Where were you, for example, November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy got shot? I was only 3½ years old back then, but the impact of that event was so huge, that either the news of what happened or the funeral itself is my first memory: I very vague remember coming down the stairs and it being on television.

Or what about September 11, 2001? That’s much more recent, and just about everybody remembers where they were when they heard the news of the terrorist attacks. My memories are especially vivid, because, as I shared with you a few months ago, I was actually on an airplane that was just about to enter U.S. airspace when my plane was diverted to Newfoundland where I spent the next week as a refugee. Everything not only about that moment, but about that whole week is indelibly etched in my memory.

But where were you on June 23, 2000? Do you remember? I know I’ll never forget that day. I was driving down Loiza Street in San Juan, PR, when a news report came over WOSO-AM radio informing me of the demise of the California prune. Yes, it was on that day that the Food & Drug Administration gave the California Prune Board permission to change the prune’s name to the dried plum.

The reason? Well, that’s pretty obvious. Prunes are boring. They’re eaten by people whose main concern is their digestion. You won’t see Justin Bieber or Beyoncé or Kanye or Lady Gaga snacking on prunes between songs at their concerts. Dried plums, on the other hand, sound exotic—maybe even sexy. They sound youthful and cool and upwardly mobile—something you might look for amongst the in crowd at Whole Foods.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sunday, February 4, 2018

'On Eagles Wings'

An Invitation to the Table 
based on Isaiah 40:31

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Dark Side of Christianity

This was my 9 AM sermon this morning.

If you peek into the sanctuary, you’ll see that the liturgical color right now is green. Not only that but, according to the Common Lectionary, the Old Testament reading appointed for Super Bowl Sunday promises us that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

So it would appear that God has already chosen our Super Bowl winner for us.

When I was planning 2018 worship, of course, I had no idea who’d be playing in today’s big game, but I gravitated toward preaching on Isaiah 40:31—the verse about the wings like eagles—because it’s such a beloved piece of scripture.

And it is a truly great verse—not least of which because of its actual context. Remember, Isaiah wrote those words to Israel while they were still in exile. So they must certainly have been weary and felt hopeless. So Isaiah reminds Israel how all-powerful God is, and that God is promising them a huge comeback—bigger even than the Tide in their last big game.

When you think about it, both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures are all about comebacks, and God’s power to bring them about.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Tell the World

Sunday, January 28, 2018

What in God's Name?

Apologies for my voice (or lack thereof)....

Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my Name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my Name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.
—Deuteronomy 18:19-20

Every once in a while, I’ll mess up and call Matt Youngkin Matthew. That’s always a mistake, because his name’s not Matthew, it’s just Matt. And I, of all people, should know that.

I shouldn’t know that because I’m the minister. I should know that because that’s exactly what people are always doing to me. You see, I am Sam. Now, I know this, because I have a print hanging in my office of a creature doffing a hat, standing on the back of some strange beast, carrying a sign which tells me that I am Sam.

I bought this print of the front page of a book by Dr. Seuss called Green Eggs and Ham for a reason; and that reason is that I am, in fact, Sam.

I know I shouldn’t have to remind myself of that. But I do. The world seems to conspire against me to tell me that I am not who I say I am. Everybody wants to call me Samuel. And when I was younger and less sure of who I was, I would sometimes let them. My diplomas all said that I was Samuel, and to this day the United Methodist Church’s pension board still thinks that I’m Samuel. But I am Sam. Just Sam.

Years ago, I might have given in.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Worship at His Footstool

PSALM OF THE DAY 1255.5.3.2
Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool.
—Psalm 132

Friday, January 26, 2018

Calmed & Quieted

PSALM 1255.5.3.1
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. 
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. 
—Psalm 131

Thursday, January 25, 2018

My Soul Waits

PSALM OF THE DAY 1255.5.2.37
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
—Psalm 130:5-6

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Out of the Depths

PSALM OF THE DAY 1255.5.2.36
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications
—Psalm 130:1-2

A Collect for This Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the prayers of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Sovereign. Amen. 
—adapted from the Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Cords of the Wicked

PSALM OF THE DAY 1255.5.2.35
The Lord is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.
—Psalm 129:4

Monday, January 22, 2018

Happy Is Everyone Who Fears the Lord

PSALM OF THE DAY 1255.5.2.34
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.
—Psalm 128:1

Pastoral Prayer for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

We thank you, O God, for your creation and our place in it.
We thank you that the cycles of the earth
provide not only for our sustenance, but also for our enjoyment.
And as we think about the cycles of life,
guide us to think about our own lives—
both the stability and the changes,
our victories and defeats, our hopes and our fears.

You bring our paths together on Sundays

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Unless the Lord Builds the House

PSALM OF THE DAY 1255.5.2.33
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
—Psalm 127:1