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September 2017 Sermons

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



 money measure  measure

More than Wages

September 24, 2017 - Pastor LIndsey will share an message with us.  Join us at 11:00 to hear.

More than Our Measure

September 17, 2017 - Pastor Lindsey delivered a message that reminded us just how great a gift we have been given and that sharing that gift with others is our calling.

 Matthew 20:1-16  Matthew 20:21-35
bible at ground zero who am i

Enduring Forgiveness

September 10, 2017 - Join us as we recognize those who serve in our county as First Responders.

Asking Who Am I

September 3, 2017 - Pastor Lindsey delivered a thoughtful sermon that begs us each to ask the question of "Who Am I" and "where do I fit" these are questions that guide and build up our faith.

Matthew 5:1-12; 38-45



 More than Wages


Matthew 20:1-16


“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


Interpretation of the Word     

Yesterday, I observed three things.  First, yesterday was the 12th annual Braswell 5K even at Courtland High School.  This 5K run/walk was started 12 years ago to remember Baron “Deuce” P. Braswell II was murdered in a senseless act of teen violence in 2006.  This annual event seeks to bring the community, fellow runners, students, athletes, parents, teachers, administrator, coaches together to take a stand against teen violence and not accept is as a part of our daily lives.  Yesterday morning, over 700 people gathered to celebrate this young man’s life and to take a stand and say that violence has NO place in our community.  I walked alongside my German colleague in the midst of students (the Courtland Football team to be exact), other educators, parents, and community members, all of us joined together to see good prevail over evil.  It was a moving and powerful even to see all of these people gathered together, knowing that violence knows no gender, no race, no age and that it is NOT acceptable ever.

The second thing I observed, yesterday, but also throughout the week, was that we run the risk of becoming a society dominated by screens.  I will also be the first to admit that I fall into this temptation more often than I would like.  While I was having brunch with some colleagues, we had run/walked 3.1 miles afterward and earned a reward, I saw at the table next to ours two people eating their breakfast and totally engrossed not in conversation with one another (as our table was) but in their screens.  One was playing a game and the other was doing something else on their hand-held device.  They were literally shoveling their food in their mouths, while completely engrossed in their phones.  This is a phenomenon that has taken hold of society and lead to a silo-like kind of living.  When I looked at my colleagues, I was glad that not a single one of us had our phones out; instead we were talking about plans for the day, funny things we had seen throughout the week, and just enjoying the company of one another.  We were living into the community that brought our very varied pasts together to sit at one table and break biscuits together.

Sadly we have become a kind of silo-society.  We have come to rely on something else to entertain us, that human contact and conversation is NOT stimulating enough, that the world around us is not enough to hold our attention that we escape to virtual worlds.  People have become very self-focused, focused on our own personal enjoyment, often time to the exclusion of those around us.  In some way or another, we almost all fall into this trap, myself included. I am working on this, it’s a growing edge for sure, but I am human afterall.  I want to be more present with the people I am with, to be present in the moment I am in.  Sadly, in many ways we have lost real community for the sake of virtual community that while connecting us around the world, which is leading towards diminishing the ties we have with the people we sit right across from.

The final thing, I observed really builds off of the second thing, and that is that community, relationships, take work.  Roy and I have been both pretty busy lately.  Work has kept us more like two ships passing in the setting sun rather than two people living in relationship with one another.  So we went out on a date.  “Date day” instead of night, because well… I like to be in bed by 9…  We went to a movie together, and went to dinner together, just the two of us, we turned off our phones and had conversation together.  We shared joys in our weeks, we shared struggles and we lifted them up together.  We focused on being together.  All told it was just what we needed. Relationships take work.  When something or someone gets more of our time, that leaves some other aspect of our lives feeling gipped, cheated or left out.

Let’s be honest about this passage for a moment.  It leaves us feeling gipped.  It leaves us feeling like the landowner is no fairly paying those who worked all day.  Either they should have gotten more, or those who came later, at the eleventh hour, should have gotten a partial day’s wage.  That would have been fair, right?  Wrong, because folks let’s face it life isn’t fair. Disaster happens to the best people, cancer strikes the most innocent of lives, fire tears through the most living of people, bullying happens to the kindest of people, the hardest working person losses their job.  We all have instances in our very own lives where we have lived the reality of the statement “life isn’t fair.”

Or is it?  Maybe we are working with a broken definition of “fair” maybe we are working under the assumption that we know best for all things.  What is this is about more than “fair” and about more than wages?  I would like to challenge us today to think that this is maybe about something deeper, something more, a way of living together in community a way of building one another up, rather than clawing and fighting for the top position.

I would like for us today to think about this passage as being about more than just wages, I would like for us to think about this parable to illuminate out willingness to share and our willingness to receive and ultimately to be in community with one another.

Folks this parable comes between two pretty major events in a larger section.  One is at the end of Chapter 19 and the other is at the end of this chapter, 20.  In 19, we have the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to be saved, to which Jesus replies that he must sell everything and give his money to the poor and then he will be saved, to which the young rich man leaves grieving, for he had too many possessions to part with.  And then…, the disciples ask, How will they be saved?  Since they have already given up everything and have followed Jesus. Good questions, right?  Both, the rich young man and the disciples want to know what they have to DO in order to obtain positions of power from Jesus.  They are trying to plan out their reward on their own terms with Jesus.  When the disciples do not get a straight answer, we see at the end of chapter 20, they enlist the help of James and John’s mama.  Because who can resist a Jewish mother? Right?  She asks Jesus to place her two sons at his right and left side, as confidants of the king as well as having the ear of the king.

All of these people, the rich young man, the disciples and even James and John’s mom attempt to use their possessions or lack thereof to gain influence and position in the Kingdom of God.  They all misunderstood the three things Jesus was trying to get across to them – discipleship, possessions and authority – so what does Jesus do?  He tells them a parable. 

Jesus tells them about a landowner who hired a whole host of people throughout the whole working day, from sun up to just before sun down and pays each of them a full day’s wage, regardless of how much time was spent in the vineyard working.  We’ve already said this isn’t fair!  Why do some get the same for less work?  What about those who worked the WHOLE day? Why? Because that is grace.  Grace isn’t fair.  Grace is love, and love doesn’t always balance out at the end of the day.  It seems unfair, to our human sensibility.  It may even seem unjust to the one who worked hard the whole day. 

So what if, this parable isn’t all about fairness, but as I mentioned before, but instead is meant to illuminate our willingness to share and our willingness to receive and ultimately to be in community with one another.  We have been given a great gift, a gift of eternal life, a gift that not a single one of us can pay for, a gift that not a single one of us can earn, a gift that is given to us out of God’s love. 

It is also a gift that we are to share, a gift that we are not to hoard up, lock away and keep just for ourselves.  It is meant to be shared.  It is not going to run out.  We draw from a well that will never go dry.  We will never have to dig a new well, because the gift of love that God gives us it never-ending and it is to be shared, passed around, slathered on like warm butter on toast. 

It is a gift that speaks to community building.  Grace, as God gives it, I believe, is meant to build up community.  It is meant for us to take care of one another; to live together, to pray together, to study together, to encourage one another, to lift one another up, to be family, to be the body of Christ together, with each person having an important and vital role to play. 

It is not about who has worked longer, who has believed and been the most faithful, but instead building one another up in faith so that we share and continue to spread this love to others, welcoming others who have not experienced this kind of love before. 

I think God is calling us out of our average, silo-lived lives, and calling us to be in community WITH one another.  This is more than just Sunday morning living, while important, it is an everyday kind of living.  I would like to propose that the kind of life that Jesus is calling us to, is one of community one that invites everyone to the table, and that there is always enough to go around.   

I think this passage shows us that when God's grace moves among us, it not only frees us, but reveals what we are being freed from.  In this case: greed, envy, and jealousy.  "God's grace is the grace of truth refusing to hide from us the character of our envy of those who we think is undeserving of such grace. This parable shows God's justice—a justice that is disciplined by the truth."  This grace also allows us to live in community to go beyond measurements and beyond wages.  Beyond ALL MINE! And yours.

Community isn’t earned.  It is nurtured, it is constantly growing, it is constantly inviting people to live with us in a new way.  It is remembering what the landowner says in verse 15. "Don't I have a right to do what I want with what belongs to me?" Usually when people say "I'm going to do what I want,” you predict a selfish behavior. You predict an action that places themselves first.  But when God says, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me?"  What does God do? God is generous, giving, and abundant in kindness. This is a reflection of God’s heart to the core. When God expresses the right to do what God wants, it results in generosity. It results in a new community of all people, Jew, Gentile, Cradle Christian to Deathbed believer all loved and welcomed by God.

May we prayerfully consider how we can become this kind of community.  How we can grow, setting aside our desire for “fair” in our human eyes and see this bigger vision of community that God sets forth.  How can we as the Kirk be a community that builds one another up?  



More Than Our Measure

Matthew 18:21-35


21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


Intrepretation of the Word


Forgiveness is a funny thing.  Not funny haha, but more like funny complicated.  It is funny complicated because at first glance this looks like it’s about some simple math equations: forgive 7 times, no more than that: so forgive 7 + 70 times for 77 times no more than that;  7 x 70 times for 490 times.  That sure is a lot of forgiveness.  But remember just a minute ago, I said this was some funny math, so maybe this is not an actual math equation but this morning, but a word equation like this: Debt #1 + inability to repay + asking for loan relief = debt forgiveness OR  Debt #2 + inability to repay + asking for loan relief = debt collection.  If debt collection of debt #2, then punishment and debt collection of debt #1.  Now this is all a little bit of funny math, really complicated math, because it doesn’t necessarily make sense. I’d like to propose that this funny math, as complicated as it is, is all for the purpose showing us that when it comes to the Kingdom vision that God has and is revealing through Jesus Christ is one that mathematically doesn’t’ make sense, but is truly grace beyond measure.


Let’s take a look at what I mean by this.  We’ll look at Hebrew law that brings about Peter’s suggestion of the number 7; at the value of money that we are talking about and how unrealistic payment actually is for either man; and finally we’ll take a look at the vision that Jesus is setting before us when it comes to grace and love, because at the end of the day, this IS a message of Good News. 


So first, the Hebrew law surrounding forgiveness. Peter asks if he should forgive someone in the church 7 times.  Where does he come up with this number?!!  Did he pull it out of a hat?  Maybe.  He was familiar with the Jewish Law that require one to ask forgiveness from anyone who they have harmed whether the harm physical, financial, emotional or social.  It also requires that the one being asked be gracious in granting forgiveness.  In the Laws of Repentance (2.10) is says, “It is forbidden to be cruel and difficult to appease, rather, a person must be quick to forgive and difficult to anger and when the sinner asks for forgiveness he should forgive him willingly and wholeheartedly...”  So where did Peter get seven?  Jewish tradition limited forgiveness to three times, likely based on Amos 1:3, 6, 9 and Job 33:29-30.  Peter, then, bring generous doubled it AND added one more time, thus surpassing Jewish tradition and surpassing the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Surely seven times is more than our measure even by Jewish Law and tradition!


Jesus says to Peter and the disciples, no, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.  This “Seventy-seven times” echoes Lev. 25:8 and the establishment of the jubilee year.  Every 50th year was a jubilee year.  The year when every debt was forgiven, all loans were forgiven, when all real property automatically reverted to the original owner, and those who compelled by poverty, had sold themselves as slaves to their brothers, would regain their liberty.  It was also a year then the grounds were allowed to rest as well. 

To demonstrate and quantify what this kind of forgiveness of debt looks like Jesus gives the disciples a parable about a two men who owe two debts.  The first owes a debt of 10,000 talents.  Sounds like a lot right? $10,000 that is more than our monthly operating costs at the Kirk.  It isn’t just a lot. It’s an impossibly ginormous astronomically absurd lot! A single talent was the equivalent of 15 years’ wage in first-century Palestine! Jesus tells us that, the amount this servant owes is the equivalent of 150,000 years’ worth of income!  The folks hearing this would have laughed right out loud!  Big old belly laughs at the amount of money this guy owed the king!  Want to think about it in today’s money?  If today’s average income in America is $59,039, that means that 1 talent equals $885,585 and the 10,000 talents this man owes equals $8,855,850,000 (trillion), that is 1/3 of America’s national debt, owed by 1 man!  The sheer thought that this man could EVER in his lifetime pay this debt is more than laughable, it is side-splitting.  Of course the servant can’t pay it back, so he asks for forgiveness of his debt from the king and this insane amount of debt is forgiven.  A forgiveness that is truly beyond measure.


Then the forgiven man runs into someone who owes him some money.  Does the forgiven servant extend the same grace and forgive the one who owes him?  No we hear that he asks for the money back, not nearly the sum that he was forgiven, but still a pretty large sum of money for a servant.  A single denarius was the equivalent to one day’s wage.  Figuring that in today’s minimum wage, at $8.50 an hour for 8 hours, ok we’ll be generous and say someone was able to work 10 hours of each day, that is $85.00 a day.  The man owes 100 denarii, which is over 3 months’ worth of work, and adds up to a sum of $8,500.  A drop in the bucket to what the forgiven man owed (past tense because his debt was forgiven). We know from our parable, that the forgiven man’s grace does not transfer over to the one who owes him though, and he demands the other servant pay him back!  He wants his measure of what is owed to him. 


The forgiven servant seems to forget just how gracious the king was to him.  Maybe he didn’t even realize what a giant gift the king had given him.  The hearers of the parable gathered around Jesus sure knew what a relief it would have been to have been forgiven that kind of debt.  I can imagine that any of us who pay on or have paid on mortgages, car notes, student loan debt, and the occasional credit card know what a relief it would be to no longer own any of those folks not a single cent more.  To be free and clear of what we owe, to live in a financial freedom is like having an oppressive weight lifted from our shoulders.  We can also appreciate freedom from such an astronomical debt!


The weight that is lifted, that Jesus is ultimately referring to is not one of financial freedom, but one of soul debt!  Jesus appears to use financial debt so that we can identify just what it means for our lives to live in the freedom from sin that God offers us in the grace of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God.  A freedom from paying back the $8.8 trillion of soul debt that we owe, and any additional debt we might incur during our lifetime. We are forgiven 100%, forgiven WAY more than our measure. 


THIS, friends, IS GOOD NEWS!  Heck, it is GREAT news.  Jesus is turning the basic structures of how we negotiate relationships upside-down.  We have been forgiven.  Jesus is showing us that our forgiveness extends beyond the debt that we owe to someone else, to God, but also the debt that is owed to us.  Forgiveness is not just one directional, instead forgiveness is something we live, something we embody, every moment of every day.  Jesus is showing us something that is beyond our measurement.     


Grace that we are to share with others.  We are not to be like the first man and hoarding for ourselves alone the freedom of being debt-free, but offer that same forgiveness to others.  According to the funny math at the beginning it is forgiving not just 3 times, or 7 times or 77 times or even 490 times, but forgiving because someone, God, forgave us first.  We might take modern day portrayal of this lesson from the recently released (and AMAZING!) Wonder Woman film.  As she battles Ares, the god of war, who tells her humanity does not deserve her protection, Diana of Themyscira tells him, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love!” God doesn’t measure forgiveness in what we deserve but in love. Why can’t we?!

Now here’s where it gets difficult.  Here’s the rub.  Forgiveness is not simple.  It is not easy. Some of us have been truly harmed, broken and forgiving our transgressor might leave us feeling even more broken than before, and forgiving does not always seem to fix the deeper, underlying issue.  Forgiving is difficult, because we don’t feel vindication or the satisfaction that justice has been done.  But not forgiving is nearly as detrimental is not more.  There has been actual medical and scientific studies that show the importance of forgiveness for health and well-being.  It’s now widely known that unforgiveness, or holding onto past hurts and resentments, deeply affects our emotional and physical health, and that left to fester, unforgiveness can manifest into true illness that kills us.


This is also more than just forgiving someone else, but also about forgiving ourselves.  Forgiving how we look at ourselves, talk about ourselves, think about our own self-worth, forgiving the things we’ve done or NOT done that we keep silently shaming ourselves for.  I ask you today, to forgive that person you have been holding judgement against, even if it is yourself.  I ask you to make a conscious choice to release that person, release yourself from the sentence of judgement you have placed on them or yourself, however justified that judgement may be.  Leave behind your resentment and desire for retribution, however fair of a punishment that may seem…


Let us move away from an outdated and false paradigm of quantification and the question that Peter asks of whether a person deserves so much forgiveness.  If we are truly in relationship with God, a relationship built on love, then we will forgive as God forgives, not as humans forgive; which is to say, with conditions and a calculator.  Love doesn’t work that way!

Each week we pray that God and our neighbors will forgive us for where we have fallen short, where we still owe a debt to building up God’s kingdom.  And each week we are reminded that by God’s grace, through the blood of the Lamb, through the resurrection we are forgiven and assured of the new life we have in Jesus Christ!  The new life that is full of grace.  As C.S. Lewis put it: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” May our forgiveness be grounded in the love and forgiveness God has shown us.



Enduring Forgiveness

Matthew 5:1-12; 38-45


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 


 Interpretation of the Word


Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name used by the U.S. government for the Global War on Terrorism between 2001 and 2014.  During this period U.S. and NATO troops sought to avenge the attacks made on September 11, 2001.  Hundreds of thousands of men and women went off to make the world a more secure, a safer, place to live in. 

Presbyterian pastor, Reverend Fred Rogers, better known as our friendly neighbor Mr. Rogers,  in response to the War on Terror, said to scared children and their parents,  "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."  Since then, this video clip attracts hundreds of thousands of views any time there is a violent crisis in the United States.  We are reminded to look for “the helpers” among us.

While men and women signed up to serve their country abroad, others signed up to serve their country right here at home.  They are our “helpers,” our First Responders.  These folks are those who run towards the danger when others are running away.  Police. Firefighters. EMTs. Dispatchers who answer terrified phone calls.  So many people signed up to make a difference.  Some went to ground zero for months of search and rescue missions.  Others served in their communities, making them safe for people to live and work and play without fear.   There are hundreds of thousands of stories of men and women who felt it their calling to serve and protect our community in millions of different ways, some of you are here today!  To each and every one of you, we say “thank you.”  We recognize you are  “the helpers” right here in our community. 

I have a pretty amazing story.  While I was preparing for this, I read a whole host of stories about September 11, 2001, and those who helped in the minutes, and days afterward.  One story that struck me, was this: In March 2002, under the Tully Road, a temporary truck route that covered the last remnants of the south tower, a firefighter found a fragment of the Bible exposed in the rubble.  He called out to a photographer, who happened to be nearby and they captured an image that moved me (I’ll post it on the website so you can see it).  The passage exposed read:


“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

So many chapters.  So many verses.  But THESE were the words — from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew — found permanently exposed at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11th attacks. The pages of the Bible in which they were printed had fused to a chunk of steel as the World Trade Center collapsed, to be found only months later.

Of all the pages, of all the chapters, of all the passages to survive, to be open to when the firefighter was clearing away the remnant of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, was one that reminds us that the Bible’s message of enduring forgiveness outlasts the hate, outlasts the fire, outlasts the collapse, outlasts the destruction and survives for us all to remember.  Verses that remind us to forgive when it is hardest. 

This is a message of enduring forgiveness that begins with Jesus teaching on the side of a mountain, and it invites us to a new way of thinking and living in a world that then, and even now, seemed rather confused and distorted.  These are verses that remind us to “be prefect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  We might understand these words this way, “Be the person and community God created you to be, just as God is the One God is supposed to be.”

You see, God sees more in you than you do. God has plans and a purpose for you. God intends to use you to achieve something spectacular. That something spectacular is precisely to be who you were created to be and, in so doing, to help create a different kind of world. Jesus calls this new world the kingdom of God – where violence doesn’t always breed more violence and hate doesn’t always kindle more hate.  Martin Luther King, Jr. captured the logic of Jesus’ kingdom well when he stated, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

This first part of the Matthew reading this morning is often used for the Festival of All Saints and for at funerals as a way of bringing comfort to those who grieve.  While bringing comfort to the grieved is an important function of this passage, there is much more than mere comfort offered here.  There is an invitation as well; an invitation to life; an invitation to drive out hate; an invitation to enduring forgiveness.

The Beatitudes are an invitation offered here, one that we might understand as an invitation to an “Attitude of being,” a Be- Attitude.  This chapter as a whole is an invitation to each who hears it to live into the kingdom vision that Jesus is sharing with those gathered on the hillside.  Friends, this is an invitation to be peacemakers; to hunger and thirst for righteousness; to endure persecution on behalf of the kingdom of God.  We are each invited into this attitude of being; an attitude that rejoices and is glad, for our reward is not an earthly reward, but one that is in heaven.  This means for every single one of us, putting aside our earthly desires.   Jesus calls us to a life of living with a new attitude, an attitude that seeks forgiveness rather than retaliation, life rather than death.  Jesus is calling us to follow him, and to give up what is rightfully ours, revenge and retaliation is given up and freely forgiven. 

These words are a call to action to each of us, to be church, to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries so desperately to silence those who speak truth, to live the way God has called us to live together.  They are a call to action for the sake of creating the world that God imagines. As First Responders, you have answered the call to take action.  You have answered the call to protect your communities.  You have answered the call to make the world a better place, a safer place, for all of us to live in.  You have answered the call for the sake of creation the very world that God imagines in this passage.  Where the meek, the poor, those who mourn are not left out in the cold, but instead are brought in to a place of shelter and healing.  Through your answering of the call to service you offer each of us the chance of enduring forgiveness, a chance to live a life with an attitude of being. 

The call to action for us, as the church, is to be church, the body of Christ in the world.  This means that we cannot seek out the quick fix to revitalize our churches; instead we need to see the people right outside of our doors that Christ has called us to reach.  We need to recommit ourselves to the focus on being IN relationship with those around us, and create a very intentional system to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Rev. Junius Dotson suggests that “When churches create an intentional discipleship system, they move from tinkering and fixing to relationship and discipleship. We do this not to just fill our pews, but to boldly show Christ’s love to those around us.”

The Beatitudes are a call to action for the sake of creating the world God imagines, for us to see all the people.  And these days, we need this reminder -- when our imagination may be limited. When our hope for the future might have been dimmed. When we think what we do and what we say and what we believe does not matter.

Asking Who I Am


Matthew 16:21-28


21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”


24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”




Interpretation of the Word           


Who am I?  Who are you?  Last week I asked you that very same question.  Don’t worry, this is a new sermon, but it does build off of last week.  Last week, we heard that who we are and how we identify ourselves is important and that it translates over to how we identify and understand just who Jesus is, and that when we know how Jesus is we have a foundation to build a life of faith on.  Last week, earlier in this chapter, Peter responded to the question Jesus posed, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and for that he was rewarded with the keys to the kingdom.

This week, we continue of this conversation, with an explanation of just what that might look like for Jesus and for his disciples, in any age.  Jesus tells the disciples, You’ve answered the question correctly, but do you know what that really means?  While they can answer the question of “who is Jesus?” Peter and the other disciples do not seem to be able to fully comprehend what that entails for Jesus or for them, for that matter.  The question becomes not only “who am I” but also, “Do you know what it means to follow Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God?”  So as Jesus continues the conversation that he began last week, he fleshes out what that looks like, a list that is headed towards Jerusalem and the cross.  Jesus tells them that he is living a life of counter-cultural living and that there is suffering and death that accompany following Jesus.

In the world that Jesus lived in, crucifixion was not a metaphor.  People were ACTUALLY crucified, and all of the hearers of these words this morning, KNEW that.  Jesus’ words are not advocating a religious athleticism.  His words establish a connection with a world that suffers, a world that IS tortured.  Tortured by the ruling powers; tortured by the strict interpretation of the Law; tortured by the hierarchy that forces people into poverty and debt.

Is it difficult to understand what taking up our cross today looks like?  Is this one of those passages that just doesn’t make sense anymore?  If you answered yes to either of these, then maybe we need to re-translate and re-hear what Jesus is talking about in 2017.  What would Jesus sound like today?  Maybe this: 

No one can be my follower unless you are beaten on the street.

No one can follow me unless you are shot while walking home from the corner store.

No one can follow me until you have been forced out of your home because even though you work two jobs, it’s not enough to pay the bills and when you seek help you are turned away and told you are lazy and worthless.

To believe that the Messiah is turning the world right-side up, you have to be charged with resisting arrest without actually resisting, or be pulled over for because of the color of your skin, or be arrested for protecting the rights of your unconscious patient.

No one can claim to the name of Christian unless you have been snatched from your family while taking a break at a rest stop on the interstate and been shipped half-way across the world into slavery. 

No one can claim to believe in social justice until you have been driven out of business by a corporation that has zero interest in your or your community. 

This list can go on and on.  Have I left a sour taste in your mouth about discipleship and taking up your cross?  Yes?  Then this passage is STILL relevant today.  Because that is the same sour taste that the disciples had in the first century.  The same awful, uncomfortable feeling and NO wonder Peter told Jesus to STOP!  STOP TALKING like that! We don’t want to hear that.  “This must never happen to you.”  That is NOT what we signed up for.  This is likely not what you signed up for either when you pledged to live a life following Christ.  And I am telling you to go out and put yourself in dangerous situations, BUT as disciples, followers, of Jesus, we have to be aware that suffering and death, crucifixion, still takes place today, and we have to be willing to step into these chilly waters.   THESE are torturous situations that are taking place today, and that they are allowed to happen by the empire to keep the kingdom of God from becoming reality everywhere.

The cross is not only a representation of suffering and death, but it also represents the power of empire and what empire does to destroy people who work to work against it to bring a different kind of kingdom here on earth.  Taking up our cross has a certain ethos about it that says that I am not going to fall to the empire; I am not going to give into the power of the empire that tortures people.

The cross, and our ability to let our everyday life be shaped by that cross, is what creates the difference.  But that means that the thing that even hell itself cannot touch is not something powerful the way the world reckons such things, but something weak.  It is weakness that hell cannot attack.  It is vulnerability and the gospel way of suffering servanthood and gentle love that the devil cannot exploit.  It is not just understanding, but walking with, standing up for, advocating for those without a voice.

If the cross, and faithfulness to Jesus who died upon the cross, is going to shape our everyday lives, then conflict with the prevailing culture should be expected.  There are going to be certain events we should not promote or attend, certain businesses we should not frequent, certain opportunities we should decline, certain things we should not go along with, say or do.  The empire, the prevailing culture, is NOT going to like what we have to say, they are going to try and silence us, try to hang us high on a cross. 

To that I say let them.  We have to say let them try.  Because we know, that death does not have the power.  That is the good news!  Death does not have the final say.  Jesus spoke out, lived out against the empire and even though they put him on a cross, Death could not contain him.  He rose from the grave.  We, too, rise from the grave when we pick up a life of living counter-cultural, a life that is filled with love for one another rather than hate. 

If you want to follow Jesus you have to take up your cross.  Jesus tells us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus’ words reveal that our dream of comfort and easy equity is a dangerous temptation to which we gladly give in to.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, discipleship means "adherence" to this One who is going to the Cross.  It is our decision every day as to how we will live out this call.  Let us not be tempted to live an easy kind of life. 

You want to follow Jesus?  Then we are going to have to look at the burning bush and behold the God who calls us.  Moses never once felt that he was fully equipped for what God told him to do.  The disciples were less than thrilled about their prospect of heading to Jerusalem.  We might even want to ask God, “Who am I that you would call on me?”  The better question to ask might just be “who is calling me?”  The I AM is calling.  The EGO EIMI.  The aeie ashr aeie.  THE I AM.  The one who “was, and is and will be” is calling us to join; to wade into the waters of suffering and death, the waters of unknown, the waters where death becomes life.

Pick up your cross, I AM is calling.  God is calling us to be and live and do the thing that will turn this world up-side-down which might just be right-side-up.  

May 26, 2018


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 SUNDAY April 8, 2018:

"Called to Bear Witness" 





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