Sermons from Redlands 1st UMC
By J T Greenleaf
Redlands 1st UMC aspires to be an Invitational, Nurturing and Inclusive faith community. We are committed to serving the world in the Spirit of Jesus.
God Loves You
Human experience reminds us regularly that adversity and trauma are inescapable. As much as we might like to escape or avoid this reality, the only healthy response is to work through it. Even if the work is more like a slog, we are still better off just dealing with it in the best way we can. This kind of trauma and pain doesn’t simply vanish from our lives if we deny or avoid it. The pain is held within our body and our spirit. Despite the cultural currents that encourage us to avoid dealing with pain and adversity, there is a history in our faith tradition that helps us to navigate this in a healthier way than avoidance. The hymnbook of Israel, the Book of Psalms, is filled with examples of people who had experienced a wide range of adversity and trauma. They were not meek about taking these concerns to God. They would take even their rawest feelings and emotions to God. Jesus’ lament on the cross is a prime example, from Psalm 22. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Even though some voices in our history would try to squelch this kind of honesty with God, it is a necessary part of faith, then and now. Lament is so much more than just yelling at God; lament also includes a moment when one takes a deep breath and remembers that even in that moment of pain, God’s promise is still the anchoring reality of their life. This week’s sermon unpacks this important part of our faith.
June 13, 2022
We Are Powerful
The power of Pentecost Sunday can often get lost in the celebration of the day. We know the story of speaking in tongues, which often seems inaccessible to us. It isn’t just that they spoke in tongues, it is what they spoke. They stood up, empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell God’s story as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is a powerful story of healing for all of creation. It was the power to stand up in a public square to speak powerfully and boldly, in a language that made sense to those from all over the world who heard them. This witness was counter-cultural. It didn’t end on Pentecost. The fledgling community of faith went forward from this day. They went forward into the broader world to stand up and speak God’s story of life and love the needs of the worlds they encountered. This is a particularly empowering witness for us today as we consider all the corrupting systems and experiences we deal with today. We are called to trust in all that God will be a part of and at work through us when we arise to speak this story. We don’t want to be a jerk in the ways that we share, civility does matter. But the call to engage in civility doesn’t absolve us of the need to speak God’s story of mercy and justice with boldness and resolve.
June 09, 2022
Speaking to the Storm
Among all the ways that we might characterize Scripture, it is a liberation story. God’s self-expression of love for all which God has created is liberating. The unfortunate reality of the human condition is that imprisonment is an all-too-common experience. Emotionally, spiritually, and physically, we know the need for liberation. Our text from the Book of Acts is a story of God’s liberating love at work through the ministry of Paul and Silas. In addition to showing the power of this liberation, it also spotlights the risk that is at play when corrupt forces seek to maintain their imprisoning ways. This text also shows, through Paul’s bold action, that we are not powerless in the face of the corrupting influences that would want us to feel disempowered. As we grieve and absorb the ongoing scourge of gun violence in the nation, and the feckless policy makers who refuse to do the things that will make us safer, the corrupting influence of power and profit would seek to keep us cynical about our ability to effect change. The good news is that God’s liberating love is still at work. Paul’s witness encourages us to stand up, speak that story, and participate in the work in our life and community.
May 31, 2022
The Colors of Peace
In a chaotic world, the striving for peace feels more critical now than at any other time in our lives. Peace, however, isn’t something that just happens, it is something we pursue. It comes from having God at the center of our being. It isn’t the absence of conflict no matter how much the world might want to describe it that way. Conflict will always have winners and losers, the way the world practices it; therefore, the world’s peace doesn’t get us where we need to be. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, as Jesus refers to her is the bringer of peace in our life…the peace of Christ, which stands in stark contrast to the peace the world claims to bring. With the pursuit of peace, we are looking for a center of relief and being centered, a calming of our spirit. The experience of peace is the unwavering assurance that God has made a home with us. As God makes a home with us, there is not only peace but there is power to move forward, faithfully, as followers of the risen Christ.
May 23, 2022
Understanding Takes Time
In the wake of yet another racially motivated mass shooting we are experiencing again what has become the familiar cycle of grief and recriminations. With the rising tide of white supremacist ideology that is sweeping the globe, the need to have difficult conversations about our history of racism is greater now than it has been in many years. However, meaningful conversation in the public square seems to have been fully overcome with what more resembles ideological cage matches. Old fears and wounds have been torn open and we seem more motivated to protect our interests than to build a world that makes space for all of humanity. One of the realities that we are reckoning with is the truth that the church has done more to perpetuate this cycle than to break it and be a catalyst for building the beloved community envisioned by Jesus. Our Scripture this week, from Acts 11, reflects the difficulty the church has had with breaking old cycles of division. As Peter stands before the Council in Jerusalem, to bear witness to how the Holy Spirit is at work beyond Judaism into the Gentile world, he is confronted by old racist tropes about Gentiles. Instead of arguing, Peter speaks of his firsthand experience of how God’s Spirit is being poured out, without partiality, even to Gentiles. His conclusion is that he is not willing to hinder the work of God as the Gentiles are receiving the Spirit in the same way that they had. With all that continues to plague the church and world, what walls could we break down if we fully embraced and committed to the reconciling love of God?
May 18, 2022
Making the Hard Choice
A very good friend of mine is fond of saying, “comparison is the thief of joy”. Simple, elegant and very much to point. How much of our life and joy is diminished when we start comparing ourselves to someone else? We start to see our self in terms of too much, or not enough, compared to people around us. This is a particularly harmful practice when we consider faith and discipleship. When we start to measure ourselves against the people, we perceive to be icons of the faith, we are often left wanting. Maybe we are too caught up in the rendering of their story, with its compressed for time quality, which makes everything seem fast and easy. In any case, it is easy to believe that too much relies upon our strength and our initiative. The one subplot in the Scripture stories that center this worship experience and sermon is that Paul’s call and Peter’s redemption are certainly not initiated by Paul or by Peter. It is the risen Christ, who is present and at work, who initiates contact and gets the redemptive work rolling. To be certain, we do have a role to play in faith and renewal, but it is not to initiate it. The Hard Choice of discipleship is letting go of our perception of self-reliance and our tendency for comparison. It is enough for us to trust and embrace the initiative that God is right now taking in our life.
May 02, 2022
Which Way Are You Going?
With everything we have endured in the last two years through pandemic, reckoning over systemic racism, broken politics, the effects of climate change, and now the war in Ukraine these changes can leave us clinging to what is known and familiar. Even if that familiar experience and understanding represents a broken past, it is often easier to hold on to it rather than venture into an unknown and uncertain future. The story from Luke’s Gospel about the disciple Cleopas and his unnamed friend returning home to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday is a window into the grace that can break the power of limiting assumptions about ourselves and the possibility of change and renewal that flows from Christ’s resurrection to us. They knew all the facts of Easter. They knew Jesus. They knew his teaching. They witnessed his miracles. They had even heard the witness of the women that he had risen. However, the perception that death was all there was had held them so tightly that they were unable to see beyond it, even with the risen Christ standing before them. This story is a reminder to us that the power of God’s next is always greater than the fear and pain of our last.
April 26, 2022
Seeing Beyond Our Assumptions
Having a solid sense of your own identity can be a powerful rudder as we navigate the storms of life. It shapes how we see ourselves relative to those around us, and the rest of the world. Identity and how we see the world are also instrumental in making the decisions that become expressions and reflections of how we see ourselves. We hope and pray that our sense of self will be all we need to withstand the human experiences that might otherwise shake our identity. The truth is that loss, illness, pain, poverty, broken relationships, and countless other experiences can often shake that sense of self and cause us to wobble. Sometimes, these are passing tremors. However, we also know them to be tectonic. When faced with this shaky ground, what resources can our faith provide to help us reclaim our sense of balance and identity? The resurrection story from Luke’s Gospel expresses an important call and reminder…Remember. Not just simply to recall something that you had forgotten. The spiritual meaning of remembering is to reclaim a truth and a reality that we had once known. In this sense, when the women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus for burial are encouraged to ‘remember’ they experience an open door to reclaim who they are, in relationship to the risen Christ, and what they had come to know, believe, and trust. This is the call to allow the transforming grace of God to help them put the pieces of their dis-membered life back together. This same call and grace echoes to us through the centuries…Remember who you are. Remember Whose you are.
April 26, 2022
The Messiah We Didn't Expect
Palm Sunday is such an interesting exercise in faith. Simultaneously it plays into our deepest expectations and confounds them. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It was woven into the story of the very first Palm Sunday. Jesus plays into the disciples’ most entrenched expectations as to who the Messiah was to be. Jesus also confounds these expectations. He assumes authority. He gives up power. This exercise isn’t about twisting the disciples into spiritual knots. Rather, it is Jesus’ effort to loosen their grip on the past, so that they might be prepared for what would come next for them. He is leading them into their next faithful step as his disciples, as his partners. Despite the generations of witness about the nature of God and the understanding of Jesus’ messiahship, the Holy Spirit reveals new dimension of this grace and work in each new generation. With every challenge to the human community, there are new things to learn about our faith response to the demands that emerge from it. The pandemic has certainly been such a challenge. On this Palm Sunday, a natural time to be open to how Christ will lead us, we have an opportunity to reflect on where we are as individuals and as a faith community. Through this reflection, we can discern new and deeper understanding of how and where we are being called to take our next faithful step.
April 26, 2022
What Have You Learned In the Last 15 Months?
Sometimes a major obstacle to learning new lessons is holding onto old lessons. Making room for new learning and seeing the world in a different way is often the gateway to new growth and understanding. It makes possible new discoveries, which will, in turn, open even more discoveries. Our history is filled with examples of how difficult it can be to make room for new learning. Remember that for centuries people thought the earth was flat. Remember the repression that was unleashed when scientists dared to contradict the church and say that the earth was not the center of the universe. Unfortunately, we are repeating so much of this history. In our Scripture for this week, the pharisee Nicodemus has the rudiments of faith. And yet, because he is not able to make space in his faith and understanding that Jesus is a different sort of Messiah than they expect, he struggles. He comes to Jesus under the cover of night. Jesus knows that Nicodemus is capable of so much more than he lets on in this encounter. He pushes Nicodemus to let go the things to which he would cling so closely. Today, we are challenged to let go of so many things that get in the way of a fuller expression of faith and community. The persistence of white supremacy still plagues us. The rise of absurd conspiracy theories creates distorted views of the world. The belief that the acquisition of power is victimless persists. If we are to live into the fullness of Christ’s messianic mission and what God is up to in it, we must first shed ourselves of the beliefs that get in the way.
June 06, 2021
What If Every Day Is Pentecost
What happens when Pentecost is over? In many faith traditions, Pentecost is like visiting a sculpture in a museum. You go. You ooh and ah about the day. Then what? Pentecost is one of those church holidays that has become a familiar and regular happening in the life of most congregations. In many cases, Pentecost is treated as remembering of the day that the Holy Spirit moved powerfully through the first disciples and not fully as a celebration of how the Holy Spirit continues to move powerfully in our lives, even on this very day. Pentecost is more than a recognition of how the Spirit once moved, on that specific day. It is an invitation to open our hearts and lives to how the Spirit moves brings specific gifts into our life each day. In the Korean tradition there is a Creed that defines the Holy Spirit succinctly. The Holy Spirit is God present with us for guidance, for comfort, and for strength. This is a fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made the disciples before he was crucified. Our individual collaboration with the Spirit is the foundation of faith and discipleship. Our ministry in the world is accomplished through more than the sheer force of our will. Our work always has been and will continue to be enlivened by the Spirit. The only question is, are we paying attention? Have we tuned our heart and life to the Spirit’s movement? Pentecost is a celebration and a reminder of this gift, to be sure, but more importantly, it is a moment to pause and reflect on our own life and experience. As we do this important work, we are better able to recognize the gifts of grace we have received…gifts brought to us by the Holy Spirit.
May 25, 2021
There Is a Way Through This
Life is a series of opportunities to choose. Do I go right or left? Do I go up or down? Do I do or do I not do? Having a compass to guide us through these choices makes it easier to navigate them. However, knowing how to navigate isn’t a guarantee that we will always have the outcome we desire. Each decision engages another set of variables to consider. Even if we make the absolute best/right decision we may not always end up where we would wish to be. As we labor together to emerge from pandemic restrictions and figure out what a new normal will look like, we are facing a whole new series of questions and choices. With so many competing claims and the high level of politization of COVID protocols and vaccines we find ourselves in a very unfamiliar place. Our faith story and the experience of the early church can be very instructive for us. Those who have gone before offer us a road map to follow as we figure out our next faithful step. The text reminds us that our next faithful step is more than emulating Jesus’ ethical path. It is important for us to know the whole context. We need to know what Jesus did, how Jesus did and, perhaps most importantly, why Jesus did something. Our faith reminds us that Jesus leads us through the difficult and unfamiliar choices we face. There is a way through even this strange time in which we find ourselves. Knowing this way forward is more clearly seen when walk the path of knowing the what, how and why of Jesus’ life, work and teaching.
May 18, 2021
A Message for All Time
Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is the very heart of Jesus’ teaching. It is the verbal representation, in one sentence of the totality of Jesus’ life. This sentence and the life that it represents is Jesus’ greatest sermon. Anyone who would seek to relate themselves with Jesus are called to preach this same sermon in both word and deed. To be faithful in this preaching requires that we resist the temptation of allowing the world to redefine the terms of this sermon. In every generation, the church has struggled with preaching this message with the inclusive spirit that Jesus embodies. Fighting, persecutions and struggles have created enemies that become easily carved out. Friends reflect more of the exclusive, parochial, sensibilities of our own communities. They look like us, shop like us, speak like us and vote like us. However, Jesus’ conception of friends makes space for the other, the outcast, the marginalized, the hated and even the enemy. If we are to abide in Christ as he abides in us, our commitment to Jesus’ vision must grow despite the cultural, societal, and political pressures to build fences and carve people out.
May 18, 2021
The Best Grapes
Most people I know want to make a positive contribution to the world. In whatever time they have on this earth, they want to know that their life mattered. It would seem that this instinct is woven into the very fabric of our heart and life. Or, to use a different image, it is organic to our life. Earthy, organic images of life, faith and relationships were a staple of Jesus’ teaching. This made sense, because the people that were the first recipients of his life and teaching were very close to the land. The images of grapes and sheep and fishing would have been supremely relatable. For most of us, however, we are far enough removed from the land that these earthy images that Jesus uses require some unpacking, some context. Jesus’ “I am the vine” imagery from John 15 is precisely one of those images. Unless you are familiar with viticulture there is much of this image that is lost on us. For instance, the concept of pruning that Jesus speaks of seems punitive and even judgmental. And yet, for the vine grower, pruning off branches that are either unproductive or have grown too far from the vine is essential to bearing the best fruit possible. That is another aspect of viticulture that it is important for us to consider. When it comes to a grape harvest it isn’t simply a matter of quantity of grape. Quality of the fruit that is grown is a vital consideration. This is the key to our text. The best fruit is grown closest to the vine. It is closest to the nutrients that make the fruit the tastiest and best. When Jesus teaches “I am the vine”, he is reminding the disciples that if we are to bear the best fruit, it can only be done as we are growing closer to Jesus.
May 18, 2021
Love Sets Us Free
Our history is full of extraordinary stories of women and men who sacrifice on behalf of others. We draw inspiration from these stories. They are stories of courage that warm our heart. In many cases we put these people and stories on pedestals, which has the effect of putting them out of reach. What if stories of self-giving on behalf of another weren’t rare? What if these examples were ordinary, everyday events? In fact, this is precisely what the Apostle John envisions for those who would seek to be disciples of Christ. To love another and give our self on behalf of another is the heart of discipleship. There is one more element to this call, and it can’t be overlooked. When we give ourselves for the sake of our neighbors, we’re called to give the best of ourselves. This includes being willing to give up that which we deeply treasure if it means the liberation of others. Sometimes, the most valuable thing we have is time itself. To share our time, especially as many still feel lonely and isolated due to COVID, is a gift that can bring life. To share our privilege, power and position, especially when it comes at the expense of others can forge solidarity and unexpected relationships. As the early church writers knew, the gateway to experience the Kindom of God, the Beloved Community, is through self-less acts of love, mercy and compassion on behalf of those around us who are in need.
May 18, 2021
A World Renewed
The notion that we have been sanctioned by God to do with creation as we see fit is one of the most dangerous ideas we face today. It is often married with a view of God’s omnipotence that suggests that no matter what we do God will make it right. Neither of these ideas represent a good translation of the creation text, but together, they represent a critical impediment to addressing the deadly effects of global climate change. The creation story holds for humanity a very different vocation in relation to the environment than the one we currently practice. Though we are part of creation, we are created in the image and likeness of God. While all creation bears the imprint of God’s creative love, humanity is imbued with the essence of God and the attributes that enable us to reflect and embody the image of God. To live this with integrity, especially as it relates to the rest of creation, means that we would live in ways that are consistent with God’s own creation story. This is the foundation of our vocation, a vocation that is woven into the creation story itself. We are to be stewards, caretakers, of this incredible gift we call creation. We harness the creative power of God and the functionality of all creation to care for one another and the totality of the created order. Using the gifts that come with being created in the image and likeness of God, with God’s help we can reverse the effects of global warming and blunt the devastating consequences of climate change. However, it isn’t the knowledge that prevents us from acting. It is that we lack the will to make the touch choices. As followers of the risen Christ, this is a spiritual decision for us. Because it is spiritual, God’s grace and the movement of the Holy Spirit, God continues to empower us to make the hard choices.
April 22, 2021
One and Done?
Fear can lead us to some pretty dark places. Fear can prevent us from trying new things. Fear of the unknown can prevent us from learning and growing. Fear doesn’t come with a switch. We can’t always control what and when we fear. We certainly can’t turn it off at will. Fear is something we overcome, work through and live beyond. Like it or not, we pretty much know this in our life (although some of us try our best to deny it). Understanding this dimension of fear is integral to a deeper understanding of the resurrection appearances of Jesus at the end of the Gospel of John. On Easter Sunday the disciples are more than afraid…they are terrified. Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed. It wasn’t unreasonable for them to think that they would be next. As a measure of protection, they lock themselves in a room. This, even after the woman had born witness to what they experienced at the tomb and what Peter and John had experienced. They receive from Jesus peace and the Holy Spirit. Yet the next week, when Thomas has his encounter with the risen Christ, they are still closed up in a room. The door is no longer locked, but they are cloistered away. This important story reminds us that Jesus shows up again and again to teach, guide and encourage his friends. Resurrection and Easter isn’t a One and Done affair. This is good news for us. It is a reminder that what Jesus did for the disciples, he does for us. The risen Christ shows up again and again in our lives, into all of our locked rooms and cloisters, to help us learn, grow and make sense of our Easter faith.
April 13, 2021
We're Only Just Getting Started
When dawn broke on Easter Sunday, and light flooded into the tomb, the secret that the darkened tomb had held was revealed. On this day, a new reality dawned as that secret was revealed: Christ had risen. This new reality was more than vindication of Jesus’ teaching, a sort of cosmic “I told you so.” On that day resurrection ushered in new life…not just for Jesus, but also for us. The old rules about life, about power, about human relationships and faith relationships were broken apart and a new possibility emerged. The pathway to this new life and possibility was to follow the way of Jesus…self-giving love. Once we experience this gift of grace and are transformed by it, there is no going back. We know the truth; the old rules bring only death. This is an important reminder as we begin to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic. We know that we can’t simply turn back the page and go back to the way life was. However, we may not yet know what the next steps will hold. We stand on the threshold of the empty tomb, looking out on a new world. May the risen Christ lead as we take our next steps.
April 07, 2021
Do We Really Understand What We're Celebrating
In this Palm Sunday worship, we explore the tension between the Messianic image that Jesus presents and the reality that his actual ministry disappointed the messianic expectations of his time. Jesus enters the City of Jerusalem as a bringer of peace, even though the crowds expected conflict. In his entry into the City, he paves for us a new path. He has given us a choice about how we respond to the injustices, corruption and divisions within the world. If we follow Jesus' path, we will choose love over hate, community over division and self-giving love over self-seeking.
April 01, 2021
Finding an Enduring Peace
Finding peace in the age of COVID, political upheaval, climate change and the ongoing conflicts around racial reconciliation is a tall order. As fragmented as we feel in this Advent season, there is a word of hope for us. Scripture reminds us that when we seek God’s presence in our life we are opened to the experience of “the peace that passes all understanding.” The witness to this reminds us that even in the most chaotic and bleak moments of our life and history, God is present, and peace is possible. The path toward this peace encourages us to rethink how we approach prayer. We can engage in a contemplative form of prayer that brings our greatest need into the full light of God’s grace. Rather than an escape, forms of contemplative and meditative prayer help us to become immersed in God’s life-giving presence in our life here and now. As we grow in our ability to practice this rhythm in our life, we begin to see that peace is not some ethereal, other worldly escape from reality. In fact, what we can experience is best described in line with the Hebrew concept of Shalom. We can experience wholeness in all of our relationships with God, others and our self, even when conflict, uncertainty and fear are present. This is a powerful gift that will enable us to not only get through this season of grief, but it will bring us into a new day of hope, healing and life.
December 10, 2020
Waiting for Jesus to Show Up
As we move deeper into our life of discipleship, we learn that there are different ways to wait. As a culture, I believe that we struggle with waiting because we view waiting as passive. We equate waiting with inactivity which runs counter to a deeply engrained Protestant Work Ethic which prizes productivity. And yet, as people of faith we are reminded that there are times when we must ‘wait upon the Lord’. The activities associated with waiting, chief among them prayer, are too often diminished because they are not seen as kinetic enough. For those who know the power of prayer to connect us to God and one another, we know that prayer is anything but passive. These are challenges that make Advent more difficult for us. Advent is a season of waiting and expectation, but to this as passive is an adventure in missing the point. Advent is not about waiting around for God to show up with a big splash. Nor is it sitting around waiting for Jesus to come at the end of all things. Christmas and the experience of God’s incarnation in Jesus remind us of what Scripture witnesses…the risen Christ is always showing up, especially in bleak times. This is meaningful to us in this Advent season. As we have been shaken by so many of the experiences of this year, one thing is clear. We need Advent. We need a season where we seek out the gifts and grace that God has for us for this time. We need to engage with the power and the hope that will guide us into a new year and whatever will come next.
December 10, 2020
Redrawing the Boundaries
Do the right thing. This is an admonition we have heard all our life. We have heard it from parents, pastors, teachers and mentors. If we all did the right thing all the time, we have this hope that the world would be much different. However, reality teaches us that it isn’t always that straightforward. Different perspectives and different motives about what constitute the “right” thing can lead to vastly different results. As a consequence, the conflicts and divisions continue, and the battle lines are reinforced. To make easier to digest, even the church can resort to platitudes about simply performing right actions instead of doing the deeper work that is called for by the Gospel. As Matthew concludes Jesus’ teaching with the third parable of Matthew 25, The Judgment of the Nations, he is emphasizing more than doing the right thing. Jesus reveals that to be aligned with God requires more of us than right action. He is calling for a redrawing of relationships. Jesus’ ministry was a lab school in drawing into the Beloved Community those who had been marginalized. In a bold stroke to make sure we move beyond a charity model he regards these persons as members of his own family. If we would claim to be part of Jesus’ family and of his inheritance, relationship with the marginalized is inescapable. In a fractured world, we are being called to redraw the boundaries by drawing in those who have been pushed to the margins.
November 24, 2020
If Not Us, Who? Investing Ourself in God's Work
The one thing that we have absolute control over is how we frame our experiences and sense of the world. Some might say that this isn’t as big a deal as it sounds. And yet, when we face adversity the ability to look beyond any particular moment can make all the difference between being mired in it and rising up above it. Can we see the bigger picture of the moment, or do we only see it in terms of how it affects us? Can we step back from the pain of the moment and discern what there is to learn to carry us forward? This is the key and the power we have to frame what we experience. To turn this into “little orphan Annie” theology doesn’t do it justice. It is not the bright faced, pie in the sky Pollyanna…The sun will come out tomorrow. Rather, this transcendence is made possible when we see God as a generous giver, who gives because God’s deepest desire for us is to know the healing, wholeness and transformation that is possible when we see ourselves in relation to God. When we see God’s gracious giving in every aspect of our life, then even in our adversity, we see that we are not alone. Sometimes, that is all we need to take the step out of swamp and into God’s bright light.
November 24, 2020
Oil for Our Lamps
No matter how confident we are in our preparation, life will always throw us curves. One measure of our life and faithfulness is not the avoidance of the unexpected, but how we navigate these twists and turns. There will never be a guarantee that we are fully prepared to solve the problems that arise in an uncertain world. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that. The parables of Matthew 25 are designed to shine a light on how we live as disciples of the risen Christ in uncertain and challenging times. Unfortunately, these parables are often misunderstood and interpreted in ways that don’t keep faith with their original intent. The first of these parables, the Bridesmaids, often leads to value judgments in favor of those Bridesmaids who brought an extra flask of oil, like somehow the others were lazy. The ones who didn’t bring extra oil simply didn’t factor in the unexpected. If we start making value judgments about not being prepared for the unexpected, pretty soon we will all be judged. The parable has a deeper point: Based on the example of Jesus what choices do we make, what view of the world, what spiritual disciplines will best enable us to weather the unexpected? This becomes a matter of how we live every day. Are we learning and growing every day? Or, do we think it will be sufficient to cram at the very end of the semester? Are we seeking to engage or just know enough to get by? The call of this text is especially important at this period in our history. We are at an inflection point. The change we would hope for is in our hands. Will we engage in the sort of spiritually disciplined life in which we can learn what it will take to live into a new day?
November 12, 2020
Each year, as we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the space between us and the eternal community becomes very thin. We remember an often-forgotten truth about the Body of CEach year, as we celebrate All Saints Sunday, the space between us and the eternal community becomes very thin. We remember an often-forgotten truth about the Body of Christ. So often we think about the Church as the people we see and interact with each week. Yet, Scripture reminds us that we are part of an eternal community. Each time we gather for worship, we worship with all those who have gone before us. Each time we serve in the spirit of the risen Christ, we serve alongside all those who have trodden that path before. Each time we come to Christ’s table, we feast with all those who have feasted before us. I admit, these important remembrances only consciously cross my mind a few times a year, most especially on All Saints. I remember my mother and my grandparents. I remember colleagues who now rest from their labors. I remember church members whom I love and miss. It is a day when history collapses into a moment and it is a profound blessing. This is no mere recollection; some rose colored nostalgia. All those we remember have become part of what the writer of Hebrews refers to as the “Great Cloud of Witnesses”. For this writer, we are strengthened by the continued role they play in our life. Their faith and their witness continue to provide strength, instruction and encouragement as we face the difficulties of life and faith. The love that we share with them doesn’t die with them. The eternal nature of God’s love for each of us brings the of our dear ones to us in concrete ways every day. In these difficult days, we can find peace in the knowledge that we are not alone.
November 07, 2020
We Are Still the Church
As we consider all that we have lost during the pandemic, it is a natural impulse to hold accountable the people who are responsible for the failures that have led us to this point. When the history of this time is written we will no doubt find a number of failures, misjudgments, mistaken perceptions, bad choices and corruption. While this is a natural and important process of evaluating our past, not every motive for it his helpful or healthy. For instance, if the assignment of blame is a step toward some sort of political power grab, it is likely to be neither helpful nor healthy. However, if a thorough review of the process, choices and responsibility is part of a larger learning that helps us avoid future pandemics, then it can be both helpful and healthy. The choice is ours. As we consider this exercise from a faith perspective, we can easily see a spiritual dimension that guides our approach. As we consider the story of the prophets and Israel’s exile, we gain important insight into how we can move forward. Israel found themselves beaten and exiled by the Babylonian Empire after a series of political, social, economic and spiritual choices that didn’t serve them well. This was a cataclysmic upheaval for them. Even though they had turned their back on God and were thoroughly broken, God did not turn God’s back on them. Exile was not the last word. Restoration, Renewal and New Life was God’s next chapter in the Israelite story. The prophets sought to find powerful images to communicate this hope to the people. Because exile is never God’s end game, we are liberated to see our present and our future differently. We can claim our identity with strength and confidence. Even in COVID separation, We Are Still the Church. We learn from where we have been. We see the grace in what God continues to teach us and the new dreams that God inspires. In faith, the ways that we approach our work going forward can be sign acts of hope for all those around us who feel the pain of this time.
October 27, 2020
Who Do We Serve
Joanna Oxendine Laity Sunday October 18, 2020
October 27, 2020
Scott MacDonald Laity Sunday October 18, 2020
October 27, 2020
We're Going to Get Through This
In times like this, when our next steps are less sure, it is sometimes hard to muster the courage/strength to step out. Even though, in the midst of COVID time, we are not where we want to be, for many of us it still safer to stay put (both physically and metaphorically). In moments like this passivity, even paralysis can set in. We can easily find ourselves sitting back and waiting for the next thing to come. For many, sitting around and waiting is one of the worst experiences of life. As he closes his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul encourages his friends in that community to persevere in their faith. He reminds them that their perseverance is to be purposeful. They are not powerless as they face the challenges that are before them. There is nothing about their internal conflicts or the persecution from outside their community that leaves them without power and without alternatives to act. For Paul it begins where their hearts are. Whatever is true, honorable, just and pure, he says, focus on these things. When they do, they will know and experience the peace of God in their life. These are not Pollyanna words to help them avoid conflict, rather they are meant to help the Philippians stay grounded in grace so that they can face what lies ahead. These are important words for disciples of Christ today. To follow Christ into the world, bearing witness to his life and love, calls us to continue this work with a heart of peace. In the throes of turmoil from without, it is vital to have peace from within.
October 26, 2020
Seeing the World Through the Cross
At this particular moment in our history, we are overwhelmed. For many of us, this feeling is deeper and broader than we have previously experienced. It leaves us with anxiety, anger, fear and uncertainty. Many of the people, positions and institutions that we had previously leaned for relief, clarity and hope have been coopted and compromised. In some respects, it feels like being a kite in the midst of a hurricane. When pushed as we are, sometimes the most important thing we can do is breathe. It may seem overly simplistic, but it matters. The act of stopping, pausing, taking control over your response to the maelstrom has great value. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Pause. Settle. Reorient yourself. Many centuries ago, the desert mothers and fathers, who separated themselves from the rat race in order to connect more deeply with God have shown us the way. Breathing is more than a biological function; it is also a spiritual function. Breathing, meditation, reflection, centering, and mindfulness are sibling practices that enable us to pause and reconnect to the ground and source of our being. Freed, if even for a brief time, from the chaos that plagues us we become better able to see the world as God sees it. We are better able to orient ourselves to a direction and course that leads us more deeply into life giving relationship with God and with one another. We are better able to see what it means to see the cross of Christ as a gateway to a life that can become a means of the grace which will restore the world.
October 06, 2020
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ”. This simple call from the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi is perhaps one of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture. On the one hand, it appears to be pretty simple and straightforward. Love God and Love neighbor. Check. Got that. And yet, as Paul goes on from the basic call, we realize that it runs much deeper. What seems, at first, to be one of the simplest calls in Scripture becomes one of the most difficult. Paul asserts that Jesus’ life and ministry represents something so much more. He explains that Jesus, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God has something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Though he had the power of God at his fingertips, he didn’t abuse that power, instead he gave it to others. He empowered others through radical acts of self-giving love. If we are to faithfully follow Paul’s call to let the same mind be in us that was in Christ, it will require us to approach life and each other with the same love and the same humility. Rather than exploiting power and privilege for our own purpose we must retask it and express it in the ways that we love and serve our neighbors. As we are becoming increasingly aware of the role that privilege plays in inequality and the exploitation of others, this becomes a powerful call. If we are truly to forge the beloved community that Jesus calls us to reflect, it will mean shedding every bit of power, privilege and entitlement that would separate us one from another.
October 03, 2020
The Road Less Travelled
So much of our life is defined by the choices we make. Our ability to build bridges or destroy community lies at the basic level of how we choose to face what lies before us. This is, at once, both the great possibility and the great pitfall of the human experience. If we see beyond ourselves and embrace what matters to ‘we’ rather than ‘me’, there is nothing that we won’t be able to accomplish…largely because we accomplish it together. However, if a person is not able to get beyond the ‘me’ and everything is seen through the prism of what benefits ‘me’ without regard to ‘we’…that is a recipe for what we have right now: division, suspicion, tribalism, fear and even violence. In recent years we have seen evidence in our culture that there is a stranglehold of self that plagues our relationships, our churches, our institutions and especially our politics. People make choices based solely on what is best for their narrow interest, unaware or uninterested in the damage and even violence that they cause to others. Our call in Christ requires us to make different choices. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul, while in jail, walks through the calculus of making faithful choices. Paul has been beaten, imprisoned and at this point, likely facing execution. He could easily tell the Philippians that it is time for them to fend for themselves. With this hanging over our heads, who among us wouldn’t. Paul himself sees the gain that could come by succumbing to his circumstances. Yet, he comes to recognize that, though it will be harder, it is more important for him to struggle on so that he can continue to be of help and assistance to the Philippian church. This is a supremely unselfish choice. It sets the stage for the understanding that true spirituality is realized when the consuming love for others displaces the stranglehold of self.
September 25, 2020
Dimensions of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is hard. It requires something of us. It is more than words. It is even more than actions. Forgiveness is a change in our heart. We can utter the words and even take cursory action to forgive someone who has harmed us, but if our heart isn’t in it, we don’t actually accomplish anything. A grudge or hurt that is held on to in our heart can easily become toxic. The unresolved pain has a corrosive effect on our entire life. Forgiveness is more than just smoothing over a bump. In its fullest flower, forgiveness is about restoration and reconciliation. Brings new life and restored relationship to people separated by acts that bring brokenness. Forgiveness is most fully modelled in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Forgiveness is a tall order, not because it is somehow superhuman. Each of us is capable of forgiveness. What makes it hard is that or capacity to hold grudges is so often great than our capacity to show mercy. Until we can tip the balance, forgiveness will always be hard.
September 19, 2020
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
In Scripture we see that some of the largest and most striking examples of God’s life-giving work are done with great fanfare. God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush. God saved the Israelites through the parting of the sea. Jesus came to the disciples in the midst of a storm, walking on the water. There is a tendency, I think, when we are in the midst of difficult situations, with no clear way to turn, to wait for the next burning bush. It certainly does make life and faith choices much easier when God shows up in such obvious ways. Sometimes, when we get caught in that paradigm, we forget that God didn’t only show up in the thunder and lightning of a moment. When the prophet Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the king and queen wanted to kill him, he had an unusual epiphany. He experienced the usual things where God was known to show up, thunder, lightning, storm, earthquake and wind. The marvelous thing about the story is that Elijah didn’t hear God in these obvious ways. Instead, he heard God in the silence that followed. When we wait for the big displays, we likely will miss the below the radar, every day experiences of grace. When we wait around for the next burning bush, we miss the opportunity to be a means of God’s grace in people’s lives in smaller, yet no less vital ways. It is important to remember that God does give us the freedom and power to reflect the Kindom of God, the beloved community, every single day. Each day we have the freedom and power to stand against all that would break community and human dignity.
September 19, 2020
It Shouldn't Be That Hard
When the world sees so much as transactional, conditional and malleable in the face of compromising pressures it is important that we stay rooted in the values, attitudes and actions that define who we are. Both as individuals and has communities drawn together for common purpose our Core Values will define us. Core Values will not just define when life is easy, and conflict is absent. Core Values will guide our course and establish our foundation for action especially when our life is difficult and tossed by the seas of conflict, discontent and uncertainty. The covenant communities that have formed around the Scriptural witness of Jesus have expressed these Core Values in various places. In the Hebrew Scripture, the 10 Commandments, the Sinai covenant with the people of Israel is one such expression. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Beatitudes, which come at the beginning of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, are another expression of Core Values. In Romans 12:9-21, the Apostle Paul expressed the Core Values of the Christian Community in a language that would be accessible to the church in Roman. Genuine Love (unhypocritical love), being repulsed by evil, mutual affection, hope, patience, prayer and living in harmony form the basis of Paul’s expression. Unhypocritical love is the key. Following the pattern of Jesus’ self-giving love, for us to express this love genuinely in thought, word and deed leaves no room for any of the ways that we might seek to divide ourselves…especially by ethnicity. In an era in which people would claim the mantle of Christ and yet trade in, magnify and stoke the fears of White Supremacy, it is vital that those who would follow Christ repudiate such claims.
September 03, 2020
We Are Supposed to Be Different
There is great pressure in our culture today to conform to certain images. The widespread use of social media has increased the pressure on all of us. While there is not any one image that is the goal of conformity, when it comes to the affirmation of a community to which we might aspire to join, the pressure to be like them can be intense. The tension in this conversation exists because conforming to a certain set of norms and practices is how we maintain an orderly, functioning community. There is a social contract that makes it all work. The problem comes when the ideas and practices that demand conformity break rather than build community. We also see this in certain communities that are built on exclusivist mindset. The expectations to conform to the norms of those communities are often strong and they are particularly toxic. When communities, particularly the more toxic ones, demand adherence to a narrow set of beliefs, any attempt to step outside or leave the community is met with swift retribution. It is in these situations that the need for liberation is strongest. Jesus’s disciples faced precisely this kind of pressure. The demand to conform to a narrow set of expectations around Temple worship and the emerging synagogue culture was strong. Because Jesus threatened those power structures, he was ostracized by many and any who would dare to follow likewise risked much. Even when it came to Messianic expectations, there was a narrow range of belief. In his confession at Caesarea Philippi, Peter steps outside of those norms to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. This would have been heretical. However, his statement of faith provided the foundation for Paul to encourage the church in Rome to “not be conformed to this world.” In the barrier breaking confession of Jesus as the Messiah, a new community is created. The ‘ekklesia’ is called into being. While ekklesia is commonly referred to as the church, it is so much more. Ekklesia is a called-out community; called out of the confines of a world out of alignment with God’s purpose into relationships where the self-giving love of Christ is at its center. We are the heirs of that community.
August 27, 2020
Voices from the Edge
Sometimes the strongest prison we could ever know is our own opinion. There is a well-worn path in the human community to take one’s own experience and normalize it for everyone. To say, in the midst of conflict or controversy, that our experience should be the way it is for everyone else is a dangerous and divisive mindset. In addition to being, on its face, untrue; it denies the reality that other people can have a claim on the “Truth”. In fact, there is no one person, or community, or cadre, or tribe that can lay claim to the fullest truth of the human experience. When it comes to faith and spirituality the same can be said. The totality of God’s being cannot be understood, explained or exemplified in one person, one life or even in one generation. I could not possibly hope to know and understand the fullness of God by looking at my own life and experience with God. However, if I’m willing to see God in the lives of other people, the boundaries of faith and theology begin to expand. Especially if I am willing to see and embrace how other people (particularly people who experience the world differently than I) experience the grace of God in their lives, I can always learn new things about God. The text about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 is an example of this truth. Jesus takes the disciples outside of their cultural comfort zone. He confronts their parochial biases by seeming to play into them and opens the door for a “non-person” to express a faith and understanding that they themselves have not, as of that moment, demonstrated for themselves. We have a lot to learn.
August 20, 2020
Faith Is Meant to Be Stretched
If you want to walk on water, you first have to get out of the boat. An obvious fact, to be sure, but no less daunting a task. To accomplish something exceptional often requires us to stretch our self beyond what is known, what is comfortable, and what is easy. We may begin such an endeavor with the best focus and best intention, but life is what happens when you make plans. It is exceptionally easy to lose our focus. When pressed by the circumstances of life that swirl around us distraction goes with the territory. When pressed with adversity, what is it that keeps us grounded? The apostle Peter has a reputation for being bold and brash. Sometimes he speaks and/or acts impulsively. That may very well be, but bold action that is open to the presence of Christ also helped him learn more, grow in understanding and deepen his confidence and trust in who Jesus is. Through all of our encounters with Peter, each one of these moments as the next step into a ministry that changed the world. We can learn a lot from Peter’s example. The days we live in provide us with new challenges to our ministry. With all that might make us fearful, when we hold on to the trust and confidence in who Jesus is (the bringer of grace, healing, life and hope), we realize that we have all we need to be faithful, even in a time such as this.
August 11, 2020
Origin Stories: Endgame
Seeking out a face to face encounter with our own shortcomings, mistakes and choices is not the easiest thing to do. Even though there are some of us who seem better disposed to do this hard work, I don’t know anyone who actually looks forward to the experience. And yet, if we are to become the people that God has created us to be, it is absolutely necessary. Faithful discipleship requires us to look at motives, biases, blind spots and outright prejudices that get in the way of grace. These things, some of which we don’t even realize that we have, often are tremendous obstacles to experiencing God more fully in our life. They close us off from one another, creating distance ourselves and the world around us. At their worst, they can lead us to acts that cause actual damage to others. Some of these things will not go easily. This is where our concluding text from the life of the Patriarch Jacob becomes helpful. I can imagine Jacob’s wrestling match with God as both real and spiritually metaphorical. Jacob’s habits and ways of seeing the world aren’t going to be removed quietly. It will take no small amount of effort. Let the wrestling match begin. These wrestling matches are hard (I know this from experience), however the healing, clarity and liberation that comes at the end make the hard work worthwhile. The subsequent step from these moments is the next step into a new and fuller experience of grace.
August 06, 2020
Origin Stories: Navigating the Moment of Crisis
In every good hero story, there is a moment of conflict and crisis where it seems like the hero’s mission sits on a knife’s edge. It is usually portrayed as a moment when there doesn’t seem to be a good or easy way out. To navigate that moment of crisis will exact a price on the hero. This moment is typically when the hero is born. A hero whose previous life was marked by less than honorable choices typically reaches a critical tipping point where he/she doubles down on the past or steps out to choose a new way. As we continue our review of the life of the patriarch Jacob, we have reached such a point. After years of his Uncle/Father-in-law Laban’s abuse and manipulation we have reached a point in which the conflict is about to break out. On the verge of all-out clan warfare, Jacob is caught in an impossible situation: Capitulate to Laban and continue the abuse, or head home, into the hands of a brother whom you believe to be seeking your life. Not much of a choice. Into this maelstrom God will step in and help Jacob find his path. This is an important story for us today. With all the ways that we feel boxed in now and the fraught choices that lie before us, God is present to help us find our way into a new way.
July 30, 2020
Origin Stories: God Doesn't Just "Show Up"
In times like this, we draw strength from the consistent Scriptural promise of God’s providential presence in our life. It is like a warm blanket on a cold night. It is a source of comfort and strength. This message is the core of most every witness to faith, within in the body of Scripture right up to the present day. If we stop at that top-line truth, we fail to see the deeper import of it. The Jacob story we’ve been sharing during this series gives us insight into the deeper message. God says to Jacob, in his dream at Bethel, that God will be with him until God accomplishes God’s purpose. The promise of God’s presence isn’t just a singular gift for us in a particular moment, it is the next step in God accomplishing the creation, healing and renewal of God’s beloved community, the Kindom of God. This gift of grace is a critical component of God’s eternal presence. With this gift, there is yet another deeper revelation, an “ah-ha” moment that becomes solid ground for such a time as this. God has been preparing us to live and serve faithfully in this time. We may have not yet discerned what the new ministries of this time will look like, but rest assured that with all that we have received by God’s providential presence, we will find our way forward.
July 23, 2020
Origin Stories: In the Mirror
Where do we fit into God’s ongoing work of bringing justice and restoration to creation and the human community? The need is obvious these days. We know that there are many who have been called to specific aspects of this work. They are carved into statues and busts across the church. Pages of history have been written about their life and faith. Their names are remembered in hushed tones. They are the heroes of the faith. They become elevated in our awareness and conception of the church. And yet, Scripture cautions us again and again against disqualifying ourselves relative to other people. God continues to call, equip and transform failed and flawed folks to be partners in God’s work. We are reminded time and again to avoid characterizing ourselves as too much sin, or not enough righteousness. In fact, the story of Jacob the supplanter, Jacob the schemer, Jacob the cheat reminds us that God doesn’t wait around for us to get our act together. Even in our own uncertainty God breaks in to call us and equip us. We respond to God’s in breaking by turning toward God, engaging God in Scripture and prayer, and then, taking the next step forward to work toward God’s purpose in the world.
July 15, 2020
As the pace of change accelerates it would be understandable to feel swept away by them. To many, these fast moving currents might feel like social or political rip currents. Into the maelstrom of these currents God infuses the grace that redeems us and welcomes us to the safety of the shore, the realization of the beloved community. As with escaping a rip current in the ocean, the way out of the currents we find ourselves in isn’t binary. We don’t simply give in and be swept away, nor do we fight fire with fire as we try to resist. Escaping a rip current means that we take another course. We swim parallel to the shore until the current subsides and we can make our way safely to shore. The way of grace, the way of self-giving love is that third way. It is the act of swimming parallel to the shore. No matter how strong the currents are, God’s work is always to lead us home, into the safety of the beloved community.
July 09, 2020
The small acts of attentiveness have always made a difference. In these difficult days, these small acts of generosity shared with our neighbors can change one person’s day. This small act can change the world. This is the core of the Gospel witness. Hospitality is a radical act. It is a subversive act. It actuates a Gospel view of the world. It is an act that reflects the radical equality we share in God’s vision of all that God has created. Hospitality is an act of welcome. It is the act of opening a door for another to invite them into homes, churches and lives. This foundation is born out time and again in the Gospel stories of how Jesus welcomed people of all walks of life. He welcomed them to table. He welcomed them to join him on his mission. He welcomed tax collectors, sinners, common folks, the broken and the needy. Without regard to how the “good folk” thought, he practiced radical hospitality. Two thousand years later, this is still the path that the followers of Jesus are called to follow. When we walk this path, we become a blessing to a world in need.
July 06, 2020
Working without a Net
In times of great crisis and upheaval we lean on the witness to the many ways that God’s grace sustains us through the fire and flood. When we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, from where will our relief come. When our days are the darkest, how do we know that we are not alone. Within in our community of faith, so many of us have known the redeeming grace. So many people with whom I have shared ministry have shared their stories with me. The cumulative effects of these stories bolster my hope, to be sure. The times in which we find ourselves, facing the COVID 19 pandemic and the reckoning that is coming around the scourge of systemic racism, require us to be considerably more reflective around how God’s grace is at work. The fact that grace covers a multitude of sins doesn’t absolve us of recognizing and accounting for the ways that we contribute to the chaos that swirls around us. In the Genesis story we reflect upon in this sermon, Abraham and Sarah seem to be given a pass on the ways that they make it necessary for God to step in and care for Hagar and Ishmael. To simply celebrate the providential grace of God without reckoning with our own actions and attitudes, cheapens that grace. If we are to weather this pandemic and create a new world of justice and reconciliation for all we must engage in this challenging work together.
July 06, 2020
You very likely have said it at some point in your life: I want patience…and I want it now. This statement usually brings smiles, the stray giggle and/or the knowing wink. It is almost as if this is the worst kept secret in all of human history. We struggle with patience. The more unpalatable a situation may be, the shorter is our supply of patience. This truth is in tension with an equally intractable reality: There are somethings that are beyond our control. Somethings we just have to wait on. As we endure the twin pandemics of COVID 19 and systemic racism, the hard work of dealing with the challenges before us are taxing our patience. We may be discovering that we just don’t have the emotional or spiritual resources to do what is before us. Where COVID is concerned this waning patience could be expressed in a clamor to ‘get back to normal’. This is one of those times when we have to realize there is no going back. The world has changed. Like the response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, something has shifted and there is no going back. Our faith witness reminds us that it is in these times that God continues to journey with us. The best way we can respond to the change is to continue the work of living faithfully, sharing love, mercy, hospitality and generosity with those we encounter. When we do, we encounter the God who is present. Our patience may be finite, but the grace we receive from God is infinite.
June 19, 2020
Peace WITH Justice
In the last few weeks we have been immersed in images of the toxic and corrupting influence of power exercised for its own sake. We know the proverb, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The exercise of unrestrained power and the unchecked pursuit of power, by people who seek it only to dominate others, has been on the rise around the world in the last couple of decades. At this point in our common experience it is important for us look deeply into what the Gospels have to say that would critique that rise. In Jesus’ own time the great power was Rome and the Empire sought to project an image of peace within their region, what was referred to as the Pax Romana, or, the Peace of Rome. Peace was an illusion because it was brought with violence and terror against anyone who dared to buck the status quo. There was no peace and there was no justice (unless you were a Roman citizen). The Gospel reminds us that if we want to know peace, wholeness, shalom, we must first work for Justice. It is important to remember that the definition of Justice was not, everyone gets what they ‘deserve’…in the Scriptural understanding Justice was a reality where, in alignment with God’s vision for creation, there would be self-giving love, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and inclusion extended to all. If we want to Know Peace, we must first Know Justice. In short, this is the revealing of the Kindom of God, the beloved community.
June 10, 2020
Who Are We...Really? We Are the Church!
These are challenging days to be the church that was born to bear witness to God’s grace through Jesus, the Christ. The scourge of systemic racism, the stain of economic inequality and the corruption of institutions that are supposed to safeguard the common good have led us to a time of community brokenness. While this generation is new to this depth of brokenness, it is not the first time that the historical church has faced it. The church was born in a time of struggle when empire ran roughshod over the entire Mediterranean region. The church was a religious minority within a religious minority. It was not merely by human will and gritty determination that the church endured. The Holy Spirit empowered these simple people to make a faithful witness and reveal the beloved community that was woven into everything that Jesus did. Pentecost is the celebration of the Spirit’s power to enable us to overcome fear, pain, anger and frustration in order to stay focused on the call and work of restoring the integrity of the human community and all of creation. In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police and the nationwide demonstrations that followed, we celebrated Pentecost once again. We celebrated with anger, resolve and most of all hope, trusting in the presence of Christ in our life to lead us into the Kindom of God.
June 02, 2020
Who Are We...Really? The Wesleyan Way
As many congregations have scrambled to respond to the needs of people in this pandemic there has been an interesting consensus emerging. In the many interactions that I’ve had with colleagues there is a realization that the lessons we have learned about virtual worship will have an impact far beyond the time that Safer at Home orders are lifted. Many of the friends I’ve spoken with share stories of how important virtual worship has been for their congregations. In many cases, the number of people logging on to worship online was larger than their in-person worship prior to the pandemic. The gift of grace during this difficult and unprecedented time is that we are remembering what worship is really about and who we truly are as a church. Our spiritual DNA as the beneficiaries of the Wesleyan Way is being demonstrated in new and vital ways. The reach of online worship is carrying the church to people across our communities and even around the world. We are able to reach and inspire people who, due to any variety of needs, have not been able to attend or be part of a worshipping community. Just as Wesley and his cohorts would take the church outside the walls to serve people who weren’t previously served, the use of available technology is making it possible for us to do the same. A day is coming soon when we will be able to celebrate in-person and online worship simultaneously. In the meantime, we are grateful for the opportunity and means to extend our vital witness throughout the community.
May 28, 2020
Who Are We...Really? Spirit Empowered
In the era of interactive GPS in our cell phones it has never been easier to get from Point A to Point B. An equally valuable part of this technology is the ability to get un-lost. Neither do we need to panic anymore if we take a wrong turn. Siri is very good at getting us back on track. In our spiritual life we have had such a guide from the very beginning. Jesus spoke to the disciples about the one who would come as teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit would keep them oriented in their life, faith and ministry by keeping them connected to everything that Jesus taught and lived. The good news for us, 2,000 years later, is that this gift wasn’t limited to the first generation of the church. The Spirit works just as powerfully today to keep us oriented to the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. In every circumstance, but especially in times like this, when much is changing about how we conceive of our self and work as the Body of Christ, the Spirit still leads us. As we open our life to the Spirit’s movement through prayer, study and service we will continue to grow in our understanding of and connection to how Christ is at work in the world today.
May 22, 2020
Who Are We...Really? Living Stones
The call to radical hospitality is the basis of Jesus’s work toward the beloved community, the Kindom of God. Jesus demonstrated time and time again that welcoming the stranger, restoring the wounded and including the marginalized is essential if we are to be his disciples. As we consider the effects of the COVID 19 spread the disproportionate effects of the disease on communities of color, the generational damage by systemic marginalization are being laid bare. The call to reverse this legacy through the expression of radical hospitality is essential as we consider ministry in a post COVID world. We do this not because it is easy, we do it because it is necessary. We do this because the early church did this work in spite of the persecution they faced. What was true for them, is true for us, it was more important to be faithful than it was to be safe.
May 13, 2020
Who Are We...Really? Our Core Identity
When our sense of self or our identity as a community of faith is premised on recreating some version of the past, we can easily close ourselves off to new possibilities of faith. When we find a pattern of living, believing and serving we have tendency to normalize it. After we normalize it, we calcify it. Stories and ideas that are meant to shine a light to guide us end up becoming shackles that bind us. Luke’s vision of the post-Pentecost church is striking in how dramatically he paints the church as a radically different community. Because the outcome is so far outside of our experience, it becomes easy to dismiss it. It’s not about the outcome. The outcome is a product of the context, we could never reproduce it. However, the process they followed…growing in our understanding of Scripture, growing in grace through worship and fellowship and sharing the grace through service to others will be the gateway to faithfully fulfilling what it means to be the church today. This shift is a vital part of our work moving toward a post-COVID world.
May 13, 2020
It Helps When We Open Our Eyes
With everything we’ve endured in these last weeks, I suspect that most of us have dealt with feelings of dejection, defeat and maybe even some depression. Being so abruptly separated from our routines and physical connections took a good deal of adjustment. In moments like this, losing sight of the place where grace is being poured out would be understandable. Cleopas and his friend, as they left Jerusalem on Resurrection morning, were unable to recognize the risen Christ as he walked with them. Some would say that there was some supernatural reason, like somehow God was preventing them. That interpretation has always seemed a bit cruel. I think the reason is much closer to our experience. When gripped with grief or some other deep shock to our life, it would be common to have our sight diminished. The Emmaus Road story gives us great insight for our life today. When Cleopas and his friend, though they were tired and worn down, extended hospitality (made themselves vulnerable to a stranger) they put themselves in a position to experience the life altering grace that came when the unrecognized Christ became known in yet another act of self-giving love. As it renewed and energized them, so it can do for us. The Emmaus story today reminds us that there is power and possibility at work when we extend our self in love and self-giving for another.
May 02, 2020
Reconciling with Creation
There is no doubt that we have had great success in using science and ingenuity to shape our world. We have mapped the human genome and put a human on the moon. And yet, with all that has been accomplished there is one fact that we too often forget: At the end of the day, we are still part of creation and not above it. The coronavirus is reminding us that we are not omnipotent in creation. A virus that is smaller than one micron has wreaked havoc across the globe. It is, to be sure, a rude awakening. It seems that we are in the maelstrom with chaos knocking on our door. It is all the more important to remember that the faith of Genesis 1 is still the operative truth. The work of God to bring order in the midst of chaos is still our vital hope. The second piece is to remember that we, too, still have a vocation. From the very beginning, humanity had the role of being a steward of this creation. It means that we are to be partners with God in this extraordinary work. To be faithful in this work it means that we need to reconcile ourselves with the creation of which we are a part. We need to reclaim our proper place. Rather than continue the work of exploiting creation, we turn our best efforts to its restoration.
April 23, 2020
Where Faith Begins
These weeks of physical distancing remind us of our need for resurrection. The Easter miracle that we celebrate isn’t an event relegated to the dusty annals of history. Thankfully the power of resurrection continues to ripple through creation. We are the beneficiaries of this gift each and every day. It is rooted in the original experience of faith. From that first moment of grace, when we became aware of God’s deep love for us, the ongoing power of resurrection became the engine of our growth in grace. As we move down this path in our life, we also carry the important memory of every step on the journey. On that first Easter morning, when Jesus instructs the women to tell the others to return to Galilee, it is an invitation to go to where it all began for them. Go back to the beginning and remember what it was in the beginning that drew you to faith. It is against that backdrop that the disciples will be encouraged and instructed how the reality of new life and resurrection will shape their life going forward. It is more than recollection of facts; it is a reclamation of meaning and purpose. When life can easily degrade and diminish us, this simple act, woven into the Easter story can renew and restore us.
April 22, 2020
When the Community Speaks
The experience of physical distancing has begun to yield a powerful community dynamic. Our hearts are warmed by the sounds of New Yorkers opening their windows and going to rooftops throughout the city to thank hospital workers and emergency medical personnel. In one of the most diverse cities in the world, across the different ranges of experience, people are speaking with one voice to say ‘thank you’. This image is woven into the fabric of the Palm Sunday procession story from the Gospels. Even though they didn’t all agree about what it meant, this vast crowd had been touched by some aspect of Jesus’ story and at the beginning of the Passover week they were going to acclaim Jesus in the image of the prophets who foretold the coming the Messiah. There is power when the community is able to speak in one voice. There is power when they realize that there is more that holds them together than holds them apart.
April 11, 2020
Can These Bones Live?
In the era of physical distancing as the community responds to the COVID 19 infection we are enduring challenges that would have been previously inconceivable. While most of us recognize that the long-term health and well-being of the community will be realized through this dramatic action, we are keenly aware of what it costs us. Spiritually, socially, politically and economically our view of the world has been challenged and shaken. We want to be hopeful. Yet, sometimes, all we can muster is wishful thinking. Where do we find hope, when all we see is what we’ve lost? Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a picture of what hope looks like. The hope is constituted in the promise of God. It is God’s gracious work in our community that brings life out of death and hope out of despair. Ezekiel 37:1-14
April 01, 2020
Is This the New Normal?
When we are caught in the middle of an impossible situation, one for which we have no experience and no road map, we can often lose heart. It is especially easy to feel stuck and discouraged. In these moments, the paralysis we feel can limit our view of the world around us. We can get stuck in old ways of viewing the world. We may yearn for the old or familiar, not necessarily because we think it is superior. We find comfort in it simply because it is familiar. The text from 1 Samuel reminds us that when we align our self with God's vision, we become open to seeing new possibilities. In the era of COVID 19 and physical separation, a time that is unprecedented in our experience, we need to align our self with how God is at work and the vision that God has for what comes next.
March 30, 2020
Come & See, Come & Drink
In the time of social distancing, the experiences that are immersed in community become difficult to sustain. This time of crisis calls us to expand our understanding of worship. It would be easy to say that it isn’t worship because we don’t feel the presence of our church family. I’m beginning to think that this perspective is more about us and our own expectations than what the grace of God is able to do in us. The fact that we don’t feel the experience in the same way doesn’t mean that in this time God can’t still connect us through the experience of live streaming worship. Are we willing to open our hearts to experience worship in a new way? Are we willing to see how God can come to us, heal us and restore us, even when we feel alone? In some respects, these questions are at the heart of the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women at the well.
March 20, 2020
Everyone Needs a Fresh Start
Do you ever feel like you want to hit the reset button on life? It would be nice when we feel painted into the corner to reboot life like we reboot our devices. Sometimes these reboots overcome personal mistakes. At other times they give us a fresh start from a past that plagues us. In our text this week we see something different. The Pharisee Nicodemus is so cemented into a particular mindset and understanding of how God always works that he is unable to entertain any other possibility. Jesus challenges Nicodemus to his very core. As difficult as it was for Nicodemus, there is a word of hope for us. Jesus doesn’t shake our core as an arbitrary or punitive act. Jesus’ ground-breaking ministry in our world was an act of grace that is meant to give us all a fresh start. It gives us a spiritual reset button.
March 20, 2020
Re - Centering Our Story
Periodically we hear the heart-breaking stories of people who struggle with a lie told to them by someone that should have been the source of support rather than pain. Unless we have experienced it our self, or know someone who has, it is sometimes difficult to understand the damage caused to people who are defined by the biases of others. “You’re too…”. “You’re not enough…”. When these lies are told to another person to intentionally cause harm or exercise control, that person often experiences long lasting damage. The damage that inauthentic stories cause has deep impact on our ability to be the beloved community. These Scriptural stories of sin and temptation give us insight into how to blunt the impact on this damaging narrative. Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Matthew 4:1-11 Pastor J.T. Greenleaf
March 05, 2020
When God Shows Up
As the modern church seeks to do its part in reflecting and building God’s beloved community there is a spiritual reality with which we must reckon. Too many people today have been inflicted with a toxic theology that leads them to be terrified of God. Rather than fulfilling the purpose of all theology, to liberate us from sin and draw us closer to God and one another, the people who purvey toxic theology seek to exercise control through tribalism, guilt, shame and spiritual bondage. Instead of helping us embrace a deeper relationship with God, these theologies move many to keep God at arm’s length. A deeper dive into the entire scope of the Scriptural witness should lead us to look forward to God showing up in our life. Even when God comes to hold up a mirror to us, that we might see clearly the ways we fall short of living into beloved community, God comes not to break us down but to build us up. As you listen this sermon we hope you’ll feel empowered in your own response to God.
February 25, 2020
New Year, Same Promise: Freedom
While different leaders in the world would use partial truth to divide us as a way to maintain their own power and/or wealth, God's promise and presence speaks a different vision of the world. The witness to Jesus' life and teaching stand as a counterpoint to the tribalism and a call to create beloved community together. This sermon reflects on that promise and how it liberates us to choose a life together.
February 11, 2020
New Year, Same Promise: Kindom
This is the fourth sermon in our series New Year, Same Promise. It is based on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12. In this sermon we celebrate God's promised experience through Kindom, the beloved community.
February 08, 2020
New Year, Same Promise - A Place At Jesus' Side
This is the third sermon in our worship series, New Year, Same Promise. It is entitled A Place at Jesus' Side and is based on Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23.
January 30, 2020
New Year Same Promise God's Faithfulness
January 19, 2020 Isaiah 49:1-7 John 1:29-42 This is the second installment in our worship series New Year, Same Promise. It celebrates the strength and power of knowing and experiencing God as abiding with us, co-habitating with us.
January 20, 2020
New Year Same Promise: New Life
This sermon explores God's eternal promise through our experience of new life. God's grace poured out in our life opens the door for us to experience transformed lives. More than simply changing belief, changing habits and changing practice, God's grace enables us to experience a change of heart.
January 16, 2020