September Sermons

October 2017 Sermons

Want to read a sermon that you missed or was meaningful?  Check out the sermon texts below from October 2017.  October's sermons are listed below with reference to the dominate scripture used as inspiration.  Want to hear them, join us in worship, or check out a past sermons as a Podcast.

backtobasics

Back to Basics

October 29, 2017 - Hear how we respond to God's call to a life that focuses on the heart of the a more simplistic response to our understanding of the Gospel.

Matthew 22:34-46
 difference invitations

Do We Know the Difference

October 22, 2017 - Join us as we respond to the invitation that we've been sent by God.

Wedding Invitations

October 15, 2017 - Join us as we respond to the invitation that we've been sent by God.

Matthew 22:15-22 Matthew 22:1-14
cornerstone under-whose-authority

A New Kind of Building

October 8, 2017 - Pastor Lindsey shared with us a message that encourages us to think beyond the walls that we build up in order to reach out into the community around us.

Under Who's Authority

October 1, 2017 - Pastor Lindsey shared with us an inspiring sermon reminding us from whom we get our authority and under who's authority we proclaim new life.

Matthew 21:33-46 Matthew 21:23-32

 

 

 

 


Back To Basics


Matthew 22:34-46

 

34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

 

Interpretation of the Word 

 

Two brothers, aged 8 and 10, were always playing pranks and getting into mischief.

So one day, their parents decided to send the boys to talk with the pastor of their church.  The pastor was a Bible-thumping, God-fearing, pulpit-pounding preacher.  The 8-year-old had the first appointment. The pastor glowered at him. "Young man, Where is God?"

The little boy was terrified and did not answer. 

"Young, man,” he bellowed, “where is God?"

In terror the boy leaped from his chair, ran home, vaulted up the stairs to his bedroom, and hid.

The 10-year-old, hearing the noise, ran into his younger brother's bedroom and found him shivering in the closet.

"What happened?" he said, starting to get scared himself.

"Oh, man, we're in deep trouble," said the 8-year-old. "God's missing, and they’re trying to pin it on us."

Do you ever feel like God is missing?  That is seems like God is not present?  That we live in a society that has lost sight of God?  So did Jesus.  Yes, Jesus was being tested from all sides.  The left, right and even those without faith are trying to be catch him in a lie.  Even though Jesus was being tested, he is telling the people on all sides, that they have lost sight of God; they have lost sight of the promises God has made for all of Israel, and for all of God’s creation, as we see the depth and breadth of God’s all-encompassing love expand, beyond the House of Israel.   Jesus is bringing us back to the basics with his response and lesson.  He reminds us not only of the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, the prayer that any Jewish person of speaking age would have known, taught to us by Moses, but also of the law in Leviticus 19 to care for neighborJeremiah 31:31-34:  "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

Martin Luther also seemed to think that the church, especially the leadership, had lost sight of God.  This week, our Lutheran brothers and Sisters celebrate 500 years since Martin Luther was bold enough to speak out against the Roman Catholic Church, which was the only Christian church at the time.  God’s love and promise had gone missing, instead people were attempting to buy their salvation, rather than embracing the gift of grace given by God through Jesus Christ. 

Luther had been teaching Bible and studying, in the sleepy little college town of Wittenberg, and realized that something was amiss.  Something did not line up with what the Bible said and what was actually taking place.  So as any person seeking to make change, he wrote down his grievances, and posted them, as I mentioned last week, on the town bulletin board, the front doors of the Wittenberg church. 

Young Luther was not attempting or even planning to start a new church, rather he wanted the leadership, locally and in Rome, to make reforms, to look at the practice of selling salvation, and do away with them so that they reflected an honest biblical interpretation.  Instead of reformation in the Catholic Church, Luther got excommunication! 

While today’s passage in Matthew was not the central passage that spurred Luther to write his 95 Theses, we find that in Romans, it is a passage that seems to fit at the heart of the change that Luther was attempting to affect.  Luther realized that God was no longer at the center of confession in the practice of selling indulgences.  Luther realized that he, as a descendant of Adam, was sinful and that there was nothing that he could do to change that or buy his forgiveness.  No amount of money to the church would forgive him or any other person.  Of course the leadership didn’t want to hear that, for how would they fund new, lavish churches, without the sale of forgiveness?  Luther, in his study, realized that only God had the power to forgive.  Luther went on to say that the gift of forgiveness comes only by God’s grace, sola gratia, rather than by any good deed or payment we might make.

Luther’s study lead others to study the scripture in new ways, others including John Calvin.  In Calvin’s study of this passage, he suggests that, “although we ought to love God far more than men, yet most properly does God, instead of worship or honor, require love from us, because in this way he declares that no other worship is pleasing to Him than what is voluntary, for no man will actually obey God but he who loves Him.  … Let us therefore learn, that the beginning of godliness is the love of God, because god disdains the forced services of men, and chooses to be worshipped freely and willingly; and let us also learn that under the love of God is included the reverence due to him.”

Confused?  Calvin is saying that we ought to love God more than anything else; that God should be at our center, God is to be the starting point of our every action, the center from which our every thought and deed springs from.  Yes we are to worship God, not out of obligation, social or ethical, but solely out of love for God, who loved us first.   God does not want our deeds to be done out of a sense of obligation or duty, but rather simply out of love of God. 

We love because God first loved us.  God claimed us first, as his very children.  Today marks a special day, not only for the reformed church as a whole, but in our very own lives, as we will be reminded that we are a part of a the holy Family, adopted through the waters of baptism into a life that is no longer our own, but one that has God at the center of it.   Courtney has a strong faith, one that has led her and her family to be in this place, to worship not out of obligation, but out of joy for the love that God has for us. 

If we are going to get back to the basics of what Jesus, and later Luther and then Calvin, is teaching us then we need to tune out all of that other junk that the world around us is throwing at us, telling us are vital to having faith, vital to our salvation.  At the very heart, mind and soul of the matter is God, God the creator, father and mother of us all, God the redeemer made known to us in Jesus Christ, and God the Sustainer, the Holy Spirit that dwells within each of us.

Last week, I asked you to envision what you’d like to see in the Kirk in the coming years, if you missed it, see me after worship, and what was resounding in that is that you all hope for this to be a place that shares God’s love with one another, members and those in the community who need a place to feel loved.

 



Do We Know the Difference 

 

Matthew 22:15-22

 

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

 

Interpretation of the Word 

 

Reading was incredibly important in my family while I was growing up.  We read every day.  We read before the bus came; we read after school after homework was finished, and we read before bed.  And everyone read.  My grandparents read to my sister and me, my parents read to us, we were encouraged to read on our own.  To this day, I love to read, anything, multiple books at once. 

We read picture books, chapter books, series books and even reference books.  I will admit that I had a fascination with Encyclopedias, especially the natural and man-made, both ancient and modern, Wonders of the World, as well as the medical illness encyclopedia.  I don’t know why, but I was fascinated by the strange illnesses people could contract.  Maybe that is part of the reason I enjoyed working in the hospital setting, you never knew what you were going to see.  Too bad I didn’t have my grandmother’s 1980’s encyclopedia to cross-reference.

Books were, and still are, a large part of our life as a family.  My uncle ran a bookstore at the State University of New York at Geneseo.  Each Christmas, I would be excited for the book my uncle would choose as a gift.  I have a beautiful collection of fairy-tales and stories that are hard-cover chapter books, with gorgeous illustrations by Greg Hildebrandt.

When my mother and I travel to new places, we always find a second-hand book store to go in and check out.  My favorite store to go in is a bookstore, new or used, doesn’t matter.  I have been to bookstores around the globe.  You never know what you are going to find.  When I applied for my first job, I applied to a book store, naturally. 

The thing is, it’s not just about the book itself, and the world that we can be transported to, but it is also about the book’s history.  Where did it come from?  Who owned it?  Who gave it?  Second hand books have a whole other story to tell besides the one written on the pages.

In the front of many of my grandmother’s books, there were nameplates.  “This book belongs to: Jane Smith Kuntz.”  Any time my great-aunt Anna gave us a book, you could be sure there was a name plate telling who the book belonged to and who gave the book and when, and at the very least, there was a hand-written inscription detailing this information.   The books belonged to someone, and they were given with purpose. 

Whenever I stop in a second –hand shop, or used book store, I enjoy picking up used books and seeing the name plates or inscriptions in them.  Who gave this book?  To whom did it belong, before it made it into a pile of books for sale?  I am sure that this interest comes from a childhood filled with books.

I say all of this because it seems that this morning we looking at a text that asks us an underlying question of: “To whom do we belong?”

We enter in the text at a point where Jesus has just shared five parables that are not so favorable for the leadership of Israel, or for that matter, the people of Israel, God’s chosen people.  The Pharisees are fed up and they are attempting to catch Jesus slipping up, catch him teaching against the Law, either of God or of the Land.  They don’t really care which one, whichever will stop Jesus from being a thorn in their side.  They are done waiting for him to say the wrong thing, so they set a trap for him.  With the assistance of their disciples and the Herodians, the Pharisees attempt to pull one over on Jesus.  “Should we pay taxes or not?”  We can almost hear the Pharisees thinking “ah ha!  Gotcha now, Jesus!”  Answering this yes-no questions seems to be a lose-lose proposition.  Jesus will either telling people to not pay the state taxes, and then he will be charged with sedition or he will tell the people to pay the taxes, and then he sets aside the law of God.

Jesus can see this trap a mile away though, he is not going to be caught in their snare.  So Jesus answers with probably the best answer.  “Give unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to give to God that which belongs to God.”  Smart.  How like, Jesus to respond to a challenge with an even greater challenge.  Not unlike answering a question with another question!

It is this very answer though that Jesus gave, that spurred a certain monk teaching in Germany to reflect on the practice of purchasing indulgences for the forgiveness of sin.  It convinced this monk to write 95 different grievances he had with the church’s practice and post them to the local bulletin board; you know the front door of the church in the center of town.  Luther could not reconcile buying and selling salvation.  Because, really who can buy their way onto God’s good side?  No one!  Paul in the letter to the Romans reminds us, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that the only way that we get on God’s good side is through “God’s graces as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” (Romans 3:23-25)

It is only God that makes the provision for us to bridge the chasm between us and God.  There is nothing that we can do to bridge this gap on our own.  Not by the law.  Not by works of faith.  We are justified by faith, and faith alone.  By that which has been written upon our hearts, by who has etched their name upon our hearts?

So while the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus in a false teaching, Jesus is really looking at the heart of the matter, at the deeper inscription written up their hearts and upon all of our own hearts.  Jesus is asking us to consider a harder question: What belongs to god?  What kind of tribute do we owe God?  Jesus is asking us: What is the inscription that is on our hearts, “I belong to…”?   What is etched into our hearts? God or Caesar?

Genesis 1:27 tell us: we are created by God, in the image of God, we bear God’s image in the world.  And if we belong to God, then we owe everything to God – our whole and entire self.  It is God’s name inscribed in our front covers, and to whom we belong.

What does this mean though? What does this mean in the midst of these very difficult days, when families, communities, and yes, churches, are splintering over political and cultural differences that seem unbridgeable?  What does it mean when we are so driven by our ideologies, that we can no longer see one another as God’s image in the world?

If we are going to look to Jesus, as our faith would demand we do, to guide us how to practice our faith in the political realm, and really in the world as a whole, then there is no path that sidesteps humility, surrender and sacrificial love.  Jesus does not give us permission here to put our politics before our faith.  Instead, Jesus challenges us to put God first in all that we do and say.  Jesus is not giving permission to secure our own prosperity at the expense of another’s suffering.  Throughout the Gospels, and even these last few weeks in Matthew, there is no evidence that truth telling is optional.  The Kingdom Vision that Jesus is setting before us is not one that suggests favoring contempt over the brokenhearted or one where the Body of Christ thrives when it aligns itself with earthly powers instead of God’s Vision.

We know that we cannot serve two masters.  The lines however, have become very blurred as to which is which.  Which is God’s vision?  Which is the earthly demand that distract us?  Do we even know the difference anymore?  Do we know who we belong to?  We say we belong to God, but do our actions show that?  We are to live as image-bearers, spreading God’s love, forgiveness and grace with an abundance that we have experienced.  To live in such a way that our faith influences our politics not the other way around.  We are to seek justice where injustice pervades.  We are to live kindness towards all the people we meet, even the ones that cut us off in traffic.  We are to walk humbly with our God, with the knowledge that we have only death apart from God. 

The past few weeks, I have mentioned vision.  A vision for the Kirk.  The dream of where we want to see the church go.  I have also mentioned that I want you input.  I want your input, because the only way that we can get to making that dream happen is if you each are invested in it!  The presbytery, as ruling and teaching elders gathered, learned yesterday, the hard way, that unless everyone is bought into the vision, that it will not succeed.  We were attempting to adopt a proposal called Vision 2020.  What will the presbytery of the James look like in 2020?  How will it serve the churches within its bounds?  But because not everyone was bought into the process or even the vision, it failed.  The proposal was sent back to committee to be re-vised, to be re-Visioned.

You each received a slip of paper.  During our time of prayer coming, I am going to ask you to pray over and share on the slip of paper what your dream for the Kirk is.  Where do you want to see us go?  I’m not talking about how, I’m talking about what.  What is your dream for the Kirk.  I hope you’ve been thinking about it over the last few weeks.  You’ve been praying about it.  I sure have.  You are going to slip that paper into the offering plate, when it comes around.  Because ultimately the vision is God’s and we are going to offer up our vision to God and ask a blessing over the vision for this Kirk. 

 

 

 

 


Wedding Invitations

 


Matthew 22:1-14

 

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

 

Interpretation of the Word 

 

Matthew brings us this morning the fifth parable in a series of parables that Jesus has been telling to disciples, but also to the Chief Priests and Pharisees who are listening to the things Jesus is saying.  These parables have been building, each one getting more and more difficult to stomach and even understand.  Preachers far and near have a special love for the parables, for sure.  We all cringe a little when parable season comes.  I’m going to be honest here, they are difficult to read, hard to understand and a little unnerving to put into our current context.  There is a very real, and dangerous, opportunity to spew guilt all around if we’re not careful with how we read it, interpret it and live it out. 

With that said… If you struggled with last week’s parable, then this week’s will likely not be much better.  I’m sorry, not sorry.  Upon first reading, Jesus makes the king, and by extension, God, into some kind of a monster, the invited guests are self-serving while the actual attendees are at risk of being thrown out into the darkness for not wearing the correct clothing.   All a little harsh for a joyful wedding celebration!  These are certainly not the actions of a gracious God, either!

Of course, we know this is an analogy.  As analogy goes we know that every one of the characters stand for something else, which I don’t have nearly enough time to get into.  So instead, we are going to do some creative wondering: Wondering whether we’re in or out of the banquet, and wondering about what kind of a spiritual robe we’re wearing.

So first, are you in or are you out?  Did you receive the initials invitation for the wedding?  Have you received your wedding invitation and RSVP’ed yes, but when the day comes, you’ll have ‘forgotten’ to write it on the calendar and have something else to do?  What is really important?  Do our behaviors follow our values?  For example, most parents say that family comes first; but often family and relationships come a distant second to our professional lives.  Moreover, though we speak of cultivating positive relationships with our children, we often spend more time on the I-pad or cell phone than playing with them at the local playground.  We want to protect innocent people but we balk at meaningful firearms regulations that would provide greater protection for those we hold dear.  To be whole, our values and behaviors need to be in sync.  Practically speaking, the word “god” answers the question, “What is really important to you?” and this can be a matter of life and death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  As we heard in the Exodus passage, our gods are not always our God in heaven who makes covenant with us. 

As John Calvin says, “the human mind is a factory of idol making” and whether our idols are gun ownership, the flag and anthem, prosperity, consumerism, they are all grounded in ideologies that put our interests ahead of God’s and the well-being of others.  Do we reject God’s invitation to celebration because we have better things to do, and different priorities from God’s realm of Shalom?

Were you invited in the second wave?  Some might feel slighted.  Why should I attend if I wasn’t good enough to be invited in the initial sending of invitations, I’m only going to fill a seat in order to make the wedding seem like a success? Be careful.  We should beware to not get bent out of shape by this late invitation to the wedding banquets.  At least we were invited!  THERE is a place at the table for us.  God’s grace is far-reaching, beyond the house of Israel, who rejected God’s son, who rejected God’s covenant, and in essence rejected God. 

You were invited!  This is what should be celebrated.  We have been included in the promises of God.  Divine hospitality is not limited to the “best people” and often times these “best people” have better things to do than follow God’s way.  God’s invitation is not just to the house of Israel, anymore, we know that the invitation has been extended to all who believe. 

The wedding day has come; it is time for the wedding celebration and feast.  Who doesn’t love a good feast?  And a wedding feast at that!  Weddings usually have some really great food or at least all the foods the couple getting married loves.  And there is cake, and seriously, who doesn’t love cake!?

Did you dress to impress?   Or did you show up wearing the wrong thing?  Yes, showing up is important, but it’s not just about that.  It’s also about what or rather who you are wearing.  Of course we’re not talking about famous designers here, like Chanel, or Lily Pulitzer or Marc Jacobs, or Yves St. Laurent, or Armani, or Louboutin.  Instead, the king wants to know if you are clothed in the “wedding robe”?

The “wedding robe” in verses 11-14, is quite possibly the “robe of righteousness.”  Are those in attendance wearing faith in Jesus as the Christ, that true Christians were to put on.  Calvin, in his commentary on this text, suggests that two Pauline references to help to explain the meaning of this text.  At Romans 13:14 we read that we must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and at Galatians 3:27 we read that because we are baptized into Christ, we are clothed with Christ.  By this reading, the wedding guest who is cast into outer darkness receives his judgement because he has refused to be clothed with Christ.  Do we come spiritually dressed for the party?    What values and behaviors would make us out of place at a divine banquet?

Andrew Purves, Professor of Reformed Theology at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, suggests, “ This parable carries us into a subtle relation between the graces of election  (all were invited) and the obligations of obedience (to be clothed in Christ, to live in Christ).  Grace is freely given, situating us in God’s company by an act of loving election.  As a consequence, we are obliged to live as God’s people, according to God’s will for our lives.  To do so it to give honor to the king, to God, and to live in terms of God’s claim upon us.” 

We can see what that looks like in the Philippians text, as Paul gives us a primer on spiritual formation and a pathway to worshipping the right God.  Paul gives us a set of spiritual practices that will transform our lives, and bring forth a “harvest of righteousness” in both out individual and communal lives.  Gratitude, intercession, praise and joy orient our lives to the Holy One.  They connect us with the larger enduring realities by which we live and move and have our beings.  Spiritual formation involves both a life-orientation and repetitive practice.  Our faith is nurtured and shaped by living affirmatively.   We continue to live in a world that is characterized by polarization, negativity, and scarcity thinking, Paul is advising his listeners then and NOW, to live affirmatively.

Are we preparing to meet God in unexpected as well as expected places?   Where others may look and see scarcity, with God, do we see abundance?  Where the world sees negativity, with God, do we see possibility?  Are we letting God be God?   Do we align ourselves with God’s vision for the Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven, so that we are enabled us to go beyond self-interest to promote the well-being of our communities and the world?  Do we see ourselves as working towards the building up of the Kingdom of God, or just filling a seat?  As we vision where we, as a church, as a faithful people, are going, how are we letting God guide us?  Are we so focused on what other people do, that we limit what we might be able to do?  You know, no idea is so outrageous that we can’t at least prayerfully consider it.  It might just be THE most outrageous idea that shines a bright light into the community and lets people know that they too are invited into the banquet.  Think big.  Think small. Think crazy or outrageous or never been done before.  Don’t be limited to the limitations of what the world around us says can or cannot be done.  Think God.

 

 

 

 


A New Kind of Building

 

 

Matthew 21:33-46

 

33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

 

Interpretation of the Word


It has been a difficult week.  Wait a minute; there have been a number of difficult weeks, week after week, recently.  This week doesn’t seem all that different from other weeks, because it seems lately that every week there is some terrible thing happening in the world around us.  A shooting of an unarmed person, protests for equal rights,  mass shooting in a church, protests about statues, a bombing as people have fun running, protests about healthcare, threat of war, hurricanes, flooding, children being traded and sold into slavery, mass shooting at a festival, another hurricane.  I could go on and on, it sure seems like the vineyard that was supposed to produce sweet wine has turned into nothing but sour grapes, leaving us with a bitter taste in our mouths.  ‘O Lord where are you?’ we lament.  ‘Lord, in your mercy, come now’ we cry out.  ‘Change you hearts, O God,’ we plead.  ‘Smite the wicked and save us,’ we ask for judgement and reckoning to cleanse this world.

Seem about right?

Or have you become numb, yet?  How much longer until it is just another news event, something that makes headlines, sells papers, keeps people from taking a deeper look?  It’s not happening here, so it doesn’t affect me.  It’s not my community.  It’s not my neighbor.  It’s wasn’t my loved one.  They aren’t my rights, they weren’t my ancestors, it wasn’t my house.  My children are safe. 

This week, Jesus continues share the vision that he has for a new community, and that within this community there is a desperate need to learn and practice repentance.  Jesus reminds points us towards God’s authority over not just our worship lives, but our whole life!  Jesus is calling us to a new kind of building. 

Let’s take a moment and recognize that this passage is also difficult to hear, difficult to understand, difficult to interpret without condemnation of a single group of people, especially that Jews, as they have historically been referenced as the vineyard planted by God, or the Jewish leadership of the time.  We must also be careful to not condemn church leadership or even ourselves or those who have seemingly “rejected the cornerstone” for something else in our lives. 

I want to encourage you to not go there.  Instead, hear this passage form Matthew as a continuation of last week and a call to recognize God’s authority in our lives and see the vision of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is setting forth.  It is a vision of Kingdom that produces good fruit. It is a vision that is shaped by the Beatitudes, the attitude of being wholly God’s.  This attitude of being shaped by the plan that God has set forth for us.  God’s plan for our, it includes not having any other gods, not misusing God’s name, not worshipping idols, keeping the Sabbath, not killing, not stealing, not committing adultery, taking care of the elderly, not using words to hurt one another and not coveting what our neighbors have.

It is within this plan, that Jesus is visioning a new kind of community: a kind of community that is freed by God’s love and grace; a kind of community that lives into the call to love neighbor and God.  This is a community that produces fruit, rather than sour wine.  This vision of the Kingdom of God is a place where God’s plan comes into fruition and frees us from a life of slavery to sin.  Think about it.  What if the Ten Commandments were what shaped our lives, that we lived into them as the plan for how we build community?  A community that loves God above all else.  A community that cares for neighbor by not killing or stealing from or coveting what someone else has, instead sharing the very lives that we have been given with one another.  Sharing our lives in such a way that it builds up community, it unites us together. 

In the midst of all the horrible things that happened in the last 2 weeks, here are aa few ways in which God’s plan is breaking in and the Kingdom vision that Jesus has is making some really wonderful fruit.

While I was in Seminary, I had the incredible opportunity to go to Lake Tahoe, and spend a long weekend with other Racial-Ethnic Seminary students listening to God’s call.  We gathered at Zephyr Point, a Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center, on Lake Tahoe[1]. This was a moving experience and wonderful opportunity to connect with other racial and ethnic Presbyterian people of faith, to learn and worship and build relationships with one another in a place that might be one of the most beautiful specimens of God’s creation. 

The last week of September, in what is believed to be a first for any camp and conference center in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Zephyr Point, with the partnership of Sweaty Sheep Santa Cruz[2], held a five-night healing and learning retreat for a group of homeless people, physically and developmentally disabled people, and “at risk” young adults[3].

Sweaty Sheep’s Ryan Althaus said, “The retreat was our way of saying ‘thank you,’ to homeless members in our community who cleaned up downtown streets.”  Not only was it a ‘thank you,’ but it was also a way for Zephyr Point, a wonderful place for those of privilege, to serve underserved groups who otherwise might not have been able to afford a lakefront experience. 

Althaus also realized that this time of reprieve and recreation offered an opportunity for everyone involved, from both sides, to see the very face of God.  Participants were able to unlock the part of their souls that longed for connection, and choose healing, connection and freedom, choosing to love through their many differences.  While at the same time, staff was able to see the joy in the eyes as participants slept in beds with clean linens, and the sheer wonder on people’s faces as they reacted to being out of Santa Cruz for the first time in decades, maybe even ever. 

Talk about living into the vision of the Kingdom of God. 

Each week, I get emails about recent Presbyterian News.  This week, I received one from the Presbyterian Mission Office about a church in rural Northern Virginia that is living into the vision that Jesus is sharing of community.  In Lucketts, VA there are no corner stores or coffee shops, there is only one restaurant in the town, and it is closed on Mondays.  This situation gave Gary Mears an idea.  This summer, a group of Presbyterians, with Mears as its guide, started “Food Truck Mondays” in the parking lot of the old church, which had closed two years ago[4].  Tables are set up in the front yard of the unused church lawn and the manse, chairs set out on the Porch and the feast was began.  Mears says, “People began to come for food, or because they wanted to meet the “new guy.” They stayed because they didn’t know each other.”  As Mears developed relationships around the table, The Porch started a Bible Study Thursday. A group of about ten people sit around the living room or on Mears’ front porch at the manse, across from the closed church.

Someday, The Porch, as the Monday Food Truck Nights and Bible Study are now called, may worship in the old church building, maybe Easter of 2018.  But for now, Mears is focused on continuing to develop relationships at the dinner table on Monday nights, at the Bible Study and with people in the community who have lived on family farms for generations and with those newly arriving in Lucketts.

There is plenty of room around these tables and the Table of God, where we meet to celebrate the love of God.

Yes, these two examples do not look like the old Temple, or even how we have done “church” for the last 500 years.  Instead this is a new kind of building with Christ still as the cornerstone.  We might even say that this vision is a building without a building.  It is a ministry that is producing good fruit, thinking outside of four walls that no longer hold the same meaning they used to. 

If we want to see growth in the vision that Jesus is setting forth, we are more than likely going to have to set aside some of the things we held onto.  We are going to have to continue to get outside of these walls, and tap into the life of the community.  I have asked the Session to envision and to pray with me about the vision for the Kirk.  As we think about the upcoming year, the upcoming budget for 2018, the upcoming plans, where are we going?  Every so often, we all need to come back to the Vision Statement and Mission Statements, in order to make an action plan.  Make a Make a plan for HOW we are going to live into the Vision that we have for the role we seek the Kirk having in the community.  Yes it’s a welcoming place, once you get here, but how do you get here?  How do other people even learn that?  What do we have to offer to the community around us that not only shows them that we are welcoming, but that we are living into God’s plan and the Kingdom Vision that Jesus has set forth? 

I would like to invite YOU all into this visioning and planning as well.  What good does it do for the Session and me to be setting an Action Plan, if you all aren’t on board?  If you are not invested in what we’re doing, then the plan will fail.  Everyone has to be on board, and before we can all get on board, we have to set the goal.  Where are we going?  What does Kirk look like in 2018? In 5 years?  In 10 years? 

I know I want to hear your thoughts.  I imagine that the session wants to hear them too.  I am hoping that over the next two and a half months, the outgoing and incoming session members can all prayerfully, sit down together and envision, with Jesus at our center, where we see the Kirk over the next year, set a reasonable budget to get us there, and get everyone here on board with where we’re going. 

We can only do all this if we are all praying about it.  If we are all seeking the heart of God to shape us into community that Jesus envisions, the very Kingdom of God where God’s plan for our lives shapes us and gives us life!  I ask you to pray with me:….  Amen.



[2] http://sweatysheep.com/ (A recreation group united through Re-Creation)

[3] Seebeck, Paul. “Zephyr Point hosts inaugural retreat for homeless persons.” Presbyterian News Service. 10/3/2017. https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/zephyr-point-hosts-inaugural-retreat-homeless-persons/

[4] Seebeck, Paul. “1001 New Worshiping Community launches in rural Virginia.” Presbyterian News Service. 10/4/2017. https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/1001-new-worshiping-community-launches-rural-virginia/




Under Who's Authority


Matthew 21:23-32

 

23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

 

An Interpretation of the Word                    

 

In just a few weeks, at the end of this month, I can’t believe on the first day of the month I am already thinking about the end of it, but that’s just the way things go these days.  Anyways at the end of this month, we are going to celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation, and this is not just any anniversary, but 500 years since a young monk named Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther pointed out not one, not two ways, but 95 ways the church, the Roman Catholic Church, needed to change in order to be authentic to the call and teachings of Jesus Christ. 

We celebrate that reformation.  We celebrate being re-formed into the people of God.  We celebrate that there are those who are bold enough to speak up, to say ‘look’ and to point us back to our center.  Celebrating the Protestant Reformation is not too far of a deviation from celebrating the reformation that Jesus is pointing us to in the gospel text this morning.  We celebrate reformation because someone was bold enough to refocus on God, and to speak out against the powers that be. 

Jesus has just arrived in Jerusalem the day before, and this morning he is in the Temple teaching.  He reshaping the ideas of what it means to follow God, and as we are well aware, this makes the leadership angry.  It not only upsets the status quo, but it upsets the power-imbalance.  It takes the power away from the powerful, and that is the LAST thing the powerful want, to lose their power.  So those in power, the Pharisees, ask Jesus, JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!  BY WHAT AUTHORITY DO YOU DO and SAY these things!?!?

Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s questioning of his authority with a question of his own.  Don’t you hate that, when you ask someone a question and they answer with another question, not really giving a clear answer and yet the answer is there, woven into the question that was asked in response?  Yup, Jesus is one of those guys, he answers a question with a question.  He poses a question that seems to stump the Pharisees.  Who gave John his authority, because if you know that then you know who gave me my authority?  And then he clears it up with a parable.

Luther upset the power-imbalance too.  Luther pointed out that the powerful in the church were not using their power for the good of god’s people, but for their own good.  When power-imbalances are exposed, it really upsets those who are subject to lose their power.  And when powerful people get upset, they call into question the one who shines the light in their dark places.  The Roman Catholic Church asked Luther, “by what authority” do you call into question what the church has been doing for hundreds of years?  Who do you think you are to question? Who do you think you are to point out what we have been doing, what the leadership has said gives glory to God?  They wanted to know: ‘by what authority?’

Jesus pointed back to God when asked this question and so did Luther. ‘It’s not about who I am, but about who I serve.’  These two men, a young, rogue, homeless rabbi and a young, German Monk, turned the religious world upside down.  Both answered the questions posed to them with another question.  Who do we get our authority from? 

 

Well there is a great question.  Authority appears to be the question of the day, or is it the question of the past?   Authority is surely a question for Luther and a question for Jesus as they both looked at the practices of the day and asked us to reform, to refocus where we put our intentions.  Both were calling for repentance.  Both were calling for reform.  Both were directing us to a new way of living.

Jesus calls us to repent.  Just as John called out in the wilderness, to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near, Jesus is calling for there to be change, to turn away from ways that do not bring us closer to God.

Luther outlined this very same sentiment in his first thesis, "When our Lord and master Jesus Christ said 'Repent,' he intended the entire life of believers to be repentance."  Luther points us towards the gospel of Mark, and the first words spoken by Jesus are a call to us to repentance.  Repentance was the “focal point” of all ninety-five theses.  One might even call Luther “obsessed” with repentance, focused on the biblical claim that one is ‘made right with God,’ not through  any human effort, but ENTIRELY by  the divine grace of God ‘through faith.’  Luther wanted to put authority back into the God’s hands.  He believed that the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church had run away with authority and become corrupt.

Both of these young men are challenging us to life a new life, to life a life that not only talks the talk but walks the walk.  Not just in the Temple but every single day.  To live lives worthy of our calling.  To claim the authority that GOD has over our lives.  It is one things to say that we believe this, that God ahs authority over our lives, but is it a WHOLE other thing to LIVE it. 

Jesus, as we just heard, calls us not only in the gospel of Mark, but throughout his ministry, even in the passage we heard today, to a life of repentance.  A life of repentance is lived in community.  We do not live these lives of repentance alone.  Jesus calls us to live in community and to reform how we have been living, to be reshaped into a new creation.  We live them in community, we live this reformed life with one another. 

The way to live it is to dig in.  To try it on, to try it out.  We have to see what works for us.  WE have to read the Word, interpret it and trust that your experiences of God matter and make a difference.  I don’t have all the answers.  I have said this before.  But I do have experiences.  I have real life, hand-holding experience with the God that I believe in.  I know that he is re-shaping my thoughts each day, each moment.  Every time I come to the scripture, I am reformed, I grow.  How does this happen? 

It is God;  God who not only created but redeemed and renewed that broken creation so that we could be in relationship again.  It is God’s authority.  Not the Pharisee’s, or the Sadducee’s, or the synod’s, or the presbytery’s, or really even the local church’s authority.  It’s is solely God’s authority to grow us, to shape us, to mold us like play-doh into the community and people that God has called us to be.  God has a vision and he is molding us into that, so that it is not just a one day a week kind of thing, but an every single day, every moment of every minute kind of life. 

We have to trust what God is revealing to us and how we are being shaped into a community that welcomes, a community that is shaped, reformed and renewed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

As we approach the table today, we are reminded of the authority that we have given over to God.  That it is solely by God’s loving power that we are transformed.  By the power of God to give us new life, we come to this table.  It shapes us not only in this moment, but in all of our moments.  Partaking in this table unites us with those around the world who claim that GOD has power over their lives, making God the center, the life and breathe of this living temple, our bodies.  We have been called to love God and one another and it that call that we answer.  We live in community living out this call not just inside these walls but outside of them too.  

December 16, 2017

 

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SUNDAY WORSHIP

 

Worship Service 11:00AM

Adult Bible Study   9:45AM

Children's Class  11:00AM 


 

   

SERMON ON SUNDAY: December 10th, 2017

 

 

 

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December 10th2017 


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