July 2019 Sermons


Below, you will find the collection of texts from sermons shared in July by Reverend Lindsey Williams, our pastor.  We encourage you to read them and use them in your study of God's Word.  May they build you up and encrich your faith and your daily living.  

July 14, 2019 - Luke 10:25-38
July 21, 2019 - Luke 10:38-42
July 28, 2019 - Luke 11:1-13
Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 28And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Interpretation of the Word

This passage of the Good Samaritan, along with the parable of the Prodigal Son, may just be two of the most well known parables in the Bible. It is because we are so familiar with this passage that we often tend to gloss over it, presume we already understand it and casually move on the something else. But let's not rush past this just because it is so familiar, instead let's spend some time here and think about the implications of this passage on our lives today.

This week as I spent time in the scripture, two things surfaced that I hadn't really dug into. First, was the root question that Jesus is answering here in this passage: "who is my neighbor;" second, was the instruction that Jesus gave at the end of his parable for us to "go and do likewise". These two pieces seem to be at the heart of the message and key to our understanding of this passage.

"Who is my neighbor?" The lawyer wants to know who qualifies as his neighbor. It is the guy who built a nice fence but still occasionally lets his dog poop on my lawn? What about the noisy young couple who has a party every weekend with different cars taking up both sides of the street? Or is my neighbor the person I hold the door open for when they have their hands full; or the person who stops to help when we are on the side of the road with a flat tire? This parable comes to us as a response to the question of WHO is my neighbor. We all want to have neighbors who help us out when we are in distress, but do we want Samaritans as neighbors?

You see, too often when we consider just who is my neighbor, we miss the context that THIS passage is written in. At this time, there was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans. The weren't even frenemies. They had outright disdain for one another. They despised each other, and there was no way on earth that they wanted to be neighbors with one another, even if there had been a good fence in between. And yet, who is the hero of this parable? Who comes to the rescue of the person in distress, not you friendly neighborhood Spiderman, that's for sure. No, the one who comes to help the man who has been mugged and left for dead on the side of the road is a Samaritan. Jesus' inclusion of the Samaritan in this parable would have likely been both surprising and offensive to those listening, given their relationship.

Now we don't necessarily have such a terrible relationship with the Samaritans anymore, but there are likely people who we would rather not have to count as our neighbors. So we need to ask ourselves the hard question of who is my neighbor today? Who would I count as my enemy. Now you might be thinking, but I get along with everyone, I don't have any enemies. That may be true, on the surface level we might be friendly with everyone we encounter, but we are likely guilty of selecting certain communities that don't include certain people. Whom would you prefer didn't live in your neighborhood? Whom would you prefer didn't have live in our country? A Muslim family? A Hispanic family? A gay couple? A poor family? We are also guilty, albeit implicitly, of electing people who will protect our communities from certain people moving in. We do this beacsue deep down we want to know, "Who is NOT my neighbor? How much love are we talking here, Jesus? Can you be specific? Where can I draw the line? Outside my front door? At the edges of my neighborhood? Along the cultural and racial boundaries I was raised with? I mean, there are lines... aren't there?" Who can we get away with excluding and still be in good with God.

Far too often we define the "other" according to stereotypes we are familiar with, and deem them unworthy of being our neighbor. How could a stranger, someone so different from me, offer me anything of value? The two figures in the parable who stand out as poor examples of neighborliness—the priest and the Levite—are the kind of people that the lawyer would have considered good candidates for being a neighbor. After all, neighbors take care of neighbors, although that is increasingly difficult since we often don't know our neighbors, thanks to attached garages and those who only spend weekends on the lake.

The second thing that struck me about this passage is that we are instructed to "go and do likewise." Do this. Draw close. Show mercy. Extend kindness. Live out your theology in hands-on care for other people. Don't just think love. Do it. We are given the opportunity to see those completely unlike ourselves, those who might even be our enemy, as the missionary recipient of God's never failing love and grace. We are to be neighbors, not counting the cost, but risking everything; including the risk of being thrown out of our faith ghetto for fraternizing with the enemy. We are to get our hands dirty, and that might just mean doing something that is unpopular amongst friends and family and others who hold a similar point of view.

Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz speak to this question in their book Public Faith in Action. They speak of Jesus as "Christ the welcomer." They suggest that we should imitate him, for Jesus is the "incarnation of a welcoming God" (p. 126). Then they write something that applies to us here: "Embracing others is just what love of neighbor looks like when our neighbor is a "stranger." Such welcoming love is the first basic Christian commitment that should shape public engagement related to migration" (p. 127).

There is a great reminder here that we are to read the whole of scripture and that we are to see the fullness of God's mission. We are invited through our faith in Jesus to be tested and to do the work Jesus has given us to do. We are invited to speak up for ALL of the people who most desperately need us to speak up, like our children.  We have to stop taking children away from their families, instead we need to be working to keep families together, no matter how they came to be here, we need to protect families. We are to be like the Samaritan. We are invited to not just welcome the stranger, the ones who we don't want moving into our neighborhoods, and instead work towards peace, work towards healing broken relationships, be a part of God's mission of loving each and every one of our neighbors, those from South and Central America, those from Eastern Europe, those from the Middle East, those from Asia; those living just across our backyards.

Luke 10:38-42

8Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." 41But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Interpretation of the Word

Friends, how often have we been like Martha? We know that guests are coming, or maybe they are even here, at the house beginning to enjoy their time at the lake, and there are so many things to be done: the lawn needs to be mowed, the gardens need to be weeded, the deck power-washed; the carpets vacuumed, the menu needs to not only be planned, but also prepped, bathrooms need to be cleaned and fresh, clean sheets need to be put on beds, and on and on and on.

The list might seem never ending, and it can also be incredibly overwhelming, especially if we see our partner not pulling their weight. So we get mad, we maybe stop around the house, or huff with each breath we take, wishing, willing our partner to get the hint! Maybe we even say something veiled or not so veiled things about how they could stand to do a little more... We have all done it. There is time for listening, LATER, AFTER the chores have been done.

We have all, myself included, been like Martha. We have gotten wrapped up and even become overwhelmed by everything that there is to do, whether it be household tasks, church tasks or the tasks that work towards a more holistic vision of the Kingdom of God. There are times when ALL these things TO DO seem to be insurmountable and we want to ask Jesus for a little bit of help from our sisters and brothers. Hey Jesus, would you mind telling them to help out here?

How would Jesus respond? Well, today he responds to Martha with a reminder that doing is not all there is. That's right what if this isn't ALL about doing. Please don't hear me incorrectly here, doing IS important. But what if that DOING were a response to what we hear, a response to what we experienced RATHER than "doing" in the hopes that it would be the impetus behind our salvation. Friends, DOING does NOT bring us salvation. DOING does not get us into heaven. DOING does not bring us the peace that passes all understanding. Instead, this busy-ness or doing can actually be an easy way to hide for many of us. "Work" allows some of us avoid the tough things, like having a difficult conversation with a friend or loved one; avoid sitting in the pain with another; or even avoid hearing what Jesus is really saying to us and ultimately avoid being present in the moment for Jesus to really shape us.

This passage from Luke can be difficult to understand and seems to oppose what Jesus JUST said in the previous verse, "Go and do likewise." In the verses read today, Jesus seems to be saying the exact opposite of what he said in the last 13 verses! Instead, Jesus encourages Mary, who sits and listens to him, while seemingly rebukes Martha who has busied herself with doing, and being hospitable to the guests in her home. So maybe, what Jesus is telling us is that there needs to be balance and that discipleship needs to be somewhere in the middle between listening and service. It might seem that the text this morning is calling us to be present in the moment and to listen to what Jesus has to say.

Because we know that when we are present, when we listen and HEAR then our own faith develops and deepens in ways that lead to action that build up the Kingdom of God. So maybe this morning we are called to be fully present; called to listen AND then respond. This is discipleship and it is a balancing act. OR is it?

Wait! Jesus wants us to be unbalanced? The bottom line is, it's ridiculous to champion contemplation over action. Word over deed. The mystic over the activist. Worship over service. Why? Because we need both. Our common life requires both. How would the Church ever survive without Marthas? Marthas who bake the Eucharistic bread. Marthas who tend the grounds. Marthas who arrange the flowers and restock the votive candles and sew the children's books and dust the pews and tend the gardens and make sure the walks are swept of acorns. After all, isn't it telling that Mary and Martha were sisters? Their differences couldn't erase the basic fact that they belonged together. They needed each other. They held each other in balance. Right?

Or... not right? The truth is, I have tried and tried this week to read Mary and Martha's story as a story about balance. But I don't think Jesus's ringing endorsement of Mary's "choosing the better part" will allow us to get away with that tepid reading. Because the story is not about balance. The story is about choosing the one thing, the best thing — and forsaking everything else for its sake.

The story is about single-mindedness. About a passionate and undistracted pursuit of a single, mind-blowing treasure. Think of Jesus's most evocative parables; they all point in this one direction. The pearl of great price.

The buried treasure in the field. The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. Christianity is not about balance; it's about extravagance. Like the Samaritan who pulled out ALL the stops for the one he cared for. It's not about being reasonable; it's about being wildly, madly, and deeply in love with Jesus.

As soon as Jesus entered Martha's house, he turned the place upside down. He messed with Martha's expectations, routines, and habits. He insisted on costly change. Perhaps Martha's mistake was that she assumed she could invite Jesus into her life, and then carry on with that life as usual, maintaining control, privileging her own priorities, and clinging to her long-cherished agenda and schedule. What was Jesus's response to that assumption? Nope. Absolutely not. That's not how discipleship works.

In contrast, Mary recognized that Jesus's presence in her house required a radical shift. A role change. A wholehearted surrender. Every action, every decision, every priority, would have to be filtered through this new love, this new devotion, this new passion. Why? Because Jesus was no ordinary guest. He was the Guest who would be Host. The Host who would provide the bread of life, the living water, and the wine that was his own blood, to anyone who would sit at his feet and receive his hospitality.

It's easy to lose sight of Mary. In our work-frenzied, performance-driven lives, it's easy to believe that pondering, listening, waiting, and resting have no value. In our age of snark and cynicism, it's easy to roll our eyes at spiritual earnestness. In a world that is profoundly broken and unjust, it's easy to argue that we should leave contemplation to the monastics, and throw all of our time and energy into social engagement. To be clear: we are called to work for justice. We are called to bring liberty to the oppressed and comfort to the afflicted. But every "work" we do must begin, Jesus insists, from "only one thing." It must begin with him. It must begin at his feet. May it be so today and always... Amen.

Luke 11:1-13 - Pray boldly

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial." 5And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Interpretation of the Word

We have all heard this text; heard sermons preached on this text, and have maybe even personally studied this text, at least the first half of it. We will note that this prayer is slightly different than the one we pray each week, it doesn't have all the same words. We can thank Matthew's Gospel and the didache, an early Christian teaching tool used for the instruction of new Christians, for the variations. So while this text is familiar, how have many of us dug into the second part of this Lukan text? The part that speaks to the very nature of God. Yes this passage is about prayer, but it is also about God; a God who loves us; a God who responds to us; a God who knows us deeply. It is about a God who answers the door, about a God who answers when we ask. The God who loves us as a parent loves.

When we are thinking about asking, we need to keep in mind this statement from Brian Stoffregen, "First of all, we need to admit that prayer is not "putting coins in a vending machine." It is not putting our prayer in the right slot, pushing the right button, and waiting for the vending machine God to spit out exactly what we want. God is not a vending machine. God is "Father" or "Daddy." Prayer is a relationship -- an intimate, loving, caring parent/child relationship.

I image that many of you parents can remember the first time your child uttered "da-da" or "ma-ma". It is happening all the time at our house these days, and it is the most amazing thing. It was the start of a new relationship. The child knew who you were and called you by name. What excitement! It brings tears to your eyes the first time that child looks at you and says YOUR name. At that stage, we care for our children, giving them what they need, even before they can ask.

As the child gets older, "Daddy" or "Mommy" may often be followed by "I want." Sometimes we answer, "Yes." Sometimes we answer, "No." But most often (as any child will attest) the answer is, "We'll see." Does God answer prayers with a "We'll see."? I think so.

What is meant by "We'll see"? Sometimes it is just a sophisticated way of saying, "No". You don't want to hurt the child's feelings right now, and maybe later he or she will have forgotten all about the request.

Sometimes, however, it can really mean, "We'll see." Maybe daddy doesn't know right now if he can afford what you want -- although that logic wouldn't apply to God. Perhaps mommy and daddy don't know if you are able to correctly handle or understand all the implications about what you ask for -- be it a new rifle or bicycle or make-up kit or motorcycle or paint-by-number picture or a pet dog or cat or bird or $1000. Often God's answer of "we'll see" is precisely this. God knows that we can't really handle whatever it is we are asking for.

If you think about it, even Jesus' request in the garden was answered with a "We'll see." It may have been possible for Jesus to avoid the suffering and death if all the leaders suddenly converted, repented of sins and believed in him. But, as we know, that didn't happen. We pray for healing. The answer is often, "We'll see." Sometimes our prayers may result in healing, perhaps miraculously or through the human knowledge and skills of the doctor, nurses, and medicines. Sometimes the best efforts of the medical team and our prayers aren't enough and the "we'll see" becomes a "no".

You see, this is MORE than just a formula of how to pray. This is more than an instruction manual of the steps to pray in order to get what we need and want. This is a passage about relationship; like a child and a parent; two friends talking with each other. What we see here really in the whole of this passage, but highlighted in the second half is a relationship between God and us.

And prayer, prayer is a means of communication. It is the way that we speak with God. It doesn't have to be pretty, or worded correctly, or even always make sense to anyone else. God understands. God hears us and loves us. God always answers the door. He might be saying "we'll see" at some of our requests, he might just sit with us in our pain, but God is always present. God always shows up.

So while a good friend might open up at midnight after some persistence and might be able to help us with our need, God always opens the door when we ask. Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

BUT we have to ASK! Yes, God knows what we need, and even what we want, but we have to ask.

I appreciate what Frederick Buechner wrote in his sermon 'The Power of God and the Power of Man' from The Magnificent Defeat:

"Maybe some say, "I know human love, and I know something of its power to heal, to set free, to give meaning and peace, but God's love I know only as a phrase." Maybe others also say this, "For all the power that human love has to heal, there is something deep within me and within the people I know best that is not healed but aches with longing still. So if God's love is powerful enough to reach that deep, how do I find it? How?"

If that is really the question, if we are really seeking this power, then I have one thing to say--perhaps it is not the only thing, but it is enormously important: ask for it. There is something in me that recoils a little at speaking so directly and childishly, but I speak this way anyway because it is the most important thing I have in me to say. Ask, and you will receive. And there is the other side to it too: if you have never known the power of God's love, then maybe it is because you have never asked to know it-I mean really asked, expecting an answer.

I am saying just this: go to him the way the father of the sick boy did and ask him. Pray to him, is what I am saying. In whatever words you have. And if the little voice that is inside all of us as the inheritance of generations of unfaith, if this little voice inside says, "But I don't believe. I don't believe," don't worry too much. Just keep on anyway. "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" is the best any of us can do really, but thank God it is enough."

Our prayer needs to not be gentle or bashful or "if you get a moment, maybe" but instead our conversations, our prayers need to audacious. Our sense of etiquette and proper behavior need to be thrown out the window when we pray, instead we need to pray boldly, pray without ceasing, have courage to pray for things that we think we don't need to bother God with. Because what good parent would truly not listen.

How often are we guilty of praying "Nice" prayers. Prayers that we think are pretty, in hopes that God will not only hear them but head them. My grandfather used to always say that he would speak in dulcet tones when making an off the wall request. But God doesn't need our dulcet tones. Our relationship with God is so much more than asking pretty. Our God, our father, our mother, knows what we need, knows what we can handle, and provides for us. And if that isn't a beautiful relationship then i don't know what is. May your trust in our good God grow each day, and may you feel that love poured over you each time you ask. Really ask for it! Amen.

January 20, 2020


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