Sermons

December 2, 2019

Posted by on Dec 7, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Advent 1 Ps 24, Genesis 15:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, Luke 1:5-25   Be ready ***************************************************************** Be ready. Don’t be afraid. Be prepared… for God’s Good News. One never knows when an angel might show up. Always remember  – Do not be afraid. But – Do – Be ready. Prepared… Zechariah the priest is serving in the Jerusalem temple. Doing God’s work in God’s holy place. He and his wife Elizabeth are old, getting older, still childless. Children were considered a sign of God’s favor, and they’ve been praying for a child – and they must be wondering – why is that we have not received this blessing that’s supposed to come to the righteous? And they are, both of them,  righteous and blameless we’re told. Yet they have no children. They’re still not seeing the blessing they believe they’ve been promised in spite of all their prayers. Zechariah the priest for sure knows the ancient biblical stories of Abraham and Sarah, childless for a very long time – till Sarah gives birth to their son Isaac (whose name means laughter) finally, when she’s 90 years old and Abe’s 100. Zechariah knows the biblical stories of Abe and Sarah’s grandchildren, Jacob and his twin brother Esau, born to Isaac and his wife Rebecca after 20 long years without children. He knows the story of Samuel the son born to Hannah after long years of childlessness and many tears poured out. He surely knows Psalm 113, where we’re told God“gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children…” And for sure Zack knows the first thing angels just about always say when they appear to people is “Do not be afraid.” But Zechariah is shocked out of his socks in fear and terror when the angel Gabriel appears… bringing good news of great joy…. And… Zechariah can’t quite bring himself to believe the angel’s words. Can’t quite believe all those prayers he and his wife have been praying all these years are finally being answered. Even though the first thing the angel tells him is “Don’t be afraid” – he is very afraid – literally terrified. *** And isn’t this still….the way life so often is? We know we shouldn’t be afraid –  especially not afraid to receive good news. We know we shouldn’t be afraid of the presence of God… Afraid of receiving the blessings we’ve been praying for. We remember Jesus telling us not to be afraid even of those who those who can kill the body, but not the soul. Long before Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Jesus said, many, many times – “don’t be afraid.” Roosevelt, in that same speech named many challenges and difficulties that lay ahead in the worst days of the Great Depression. Jesus names many great challenges and difficulties that lie ahead for those who follow him. But Jesus never stops telling us “Do not be afraid.” Yet of course we still have fears… Which I sort of understand, on one level. We’re programmed instinctively to fear things that can hurt or kill us if we don’t watch out… But I have a harder time understanding – Why, I myself, and many other people… often seem afraid not only of fearful things –...

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Christ the King Sunday November 25, 2018

Posted by on Dec 4, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Christ the King Sunday   November 25, 2018   Psalm 47, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-38a ************************************************************** Clap your hands, all you peoples – shout to God with loud songs of joy – for the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth…. Sing praises to God, sing praises – sing praises to our king, sing praises – for God is the King of all the earth – sing praises with a psalm…. God is King over all the earth Psalm 47 tells us joyfully and emphatically. But…as I read the daily news, it still feels like most of the world is in all-out rebellion against God. Not at all willing to have God rule… Arrogance, hatred, bragging, disrespect, doing our own thing without regard for others – disregarding God’s law of love – still seems to be considered normal…especially among those who have the most power in this world. Even in Israel of old, in our first reading today, all the elders of the nation ask Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel, to give us a king like all the other nations. Samuel is dismayed to hear God’s people talking like this. But God tells Samuel “it’s not about you, it’s about me. They don’t want me, God, as their ruler. They want a king like all the other nations have. Someone who will tell them how great the nation is and what a great leader he is… while leading the nation into idol worship and ruin…” So when God sends his only Son into the world to rule with him and save, teach, and heal the world and establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven… it shouldn’t be a total surprise… When God’s Son is rejected, mocked, scorned, crucified and buried. Even now, to this day – it often seems as if Christ our King still suffers through endless reruns of his trial before Pontius Pilate – as all the spiritual descendants of Pilate and Herod in every land still interrogate King Jesus, asking, a thousand and one different ways, the same dismissive questions asked by Pontius Pilate, concluding with – “What is truth?” Pilate, the governor over Judah is really not interested in truth. But he is interested in the politics of Jesus. He understands quite well the politics of self-preservation and self-advancement…And he does want to know “Are you the king of the Jews?” He really is curious to know: “What have you done… to get yourself sent here to me to be crucified?” Probably even Pilate senses something much more in Jesus…than he’s ever known. And as Jesus tells him “my kingdom is not from this world…” We can almost hear Pilate and all the kings of this earth ever since with him… breathing sighs of relief.  We can almost hear them say to themselves, “thanks be to God. (Even if we don’t believe in God.) Thanks be to God that Jesus says his kingdom is not from this world.” And yes, what a nightmare for this world’s kings it would be… if Jesus were to say my kingdom is of this world and I’m here to fight with all the angels of heaven to install myself as king… Sometimes the church has acted as...

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November 11, 2018

Posted by on Nov 16, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 25  November 11, 2018   Psalm 42, Mark 12:38-42: Ruth 1:1-18,3:1-5, 4:13-17 ********************************************************** In the days of the Judges, one of Israel’s darkest times, a period of chaotic social break-down and deep divisions leading finally into civil war – a time of utter disregard for the law of God and the way of righteousness – a time when leadership fluctuated between useless and blatantly disobedient to God… In the time of the Judges, a certain Israelite family migrated to the nearby nation of Moab to the Southeast. The husband, Elimelech, whose name means “my God is king” died there, leaving his wife an impoverished widow. Naomi’s name means “sweetness” but as our story opens she is feeling bitter and forsaken. Her sons Mahlon (the name means “sickness”) and Chilion (the name means “spent” or “perishing”) have also died in Moab. Now, with no visible means of support, Naomi hears the famine that caused her family to migrate is over, so she starts home, bidding her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and seek husbands for security. She refers to the early Israelite custom of a brother marrying his brother’s widow to raise up children for her, the closest thing then to social security – saying she’s too old to have sons who they could marry. Her daughter-in-law Orpah (whose name means “back of the neck”) turns back to Moab. But Ruth, whose name means “friend” or “companion” insists on accompanying Naomi as she returns to Bethlehem in Israel… Ruth insists she will go wherever Naomi goes, saying “where you go I will go, where you live I will live – your people will be my people, your God will be my God.” And she lives the words she speaks, as she journeys to Bethlehem with Naomi. Back in Naomi’s hometown, Ruth goes to work gleaning, gathering leftover grain in the wheat and barley fields, working behind the harvesters. The humblest kind of farm work, at the bottom of the economic ladder. Every day she’s first to arrive, last to leave, working hard all day. Winning the praise of Boaz, owner of the field, who, as it turns out, is a relative of Naomi. His name means “in God is strength.” Like all the characters in the story, Boaz acts out the meaning of his name, doing what the word of God says to do – welcoming the stranger, treating Ruth as a neighbor – instructing his workers to treat Ruth well, ensure her safety, let her harvest extra grain… He shares his lunch with her… and doesn’t make anything out of her being a Moabite – a member of a despised nation that Israel’s had a long and troubled relationship with. Back in Exodus days, Moabites tempted and troubled Israel in the wilderness. As a result, Deuteronomy forbids Moabites from entering the temple. But now Moabite Ruth serves as a stellar example of the Hebrew word hesed, meaning steadfast love and faithfulness – a Hebrew word often used to describe God. As now Ruth, loyally following Naomi’s instructions – seeking security for both Naomi and herself – takes the initiative with Boaz – an honorable man, a nice guy with a good heart – who seems a bit slow in figuring out how to act on his obvious admiration for...

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November 4, 2018

Posted by on Nov 6, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

All Saints Sunday  November 4, 2018  Psalm 24, Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-6, John 11:32-44 *************************************************************** In the process of preparing for our parish annual meeting tomorrow night… Reading over all our various reports that together become our annual report –  running even a little later than usual, due to three funerals in a week and a half…. Last Thursday night as I was finally reading over the minutes of last year’s annual meeting, I was reminded – how last year we prayed for the families and communities of those martyred a few days earlier in a Baptist church in Texas. Now this year we’re praying for the families and communities of the eleven martyrs of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh… And for the families of those murdered in a Kentucky supermarket when a man shot them after first trying but not being able to enter a nearby African-American church. Praying also for the people who had pipe bombs sent to them by a man who didn’t know them at all, but regarded them as mortal political enemies… On All Saints Sunday we remember all the saints – saints meaning all Christian believers. All Saints day is a reminder for us – that by faith, we are all united in life that cannot be extinguished, even by death – thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All Saints day is a joyful celebration of life without end. All Saints is also a time when we weep with Jesus for this world’s addiction to the power of death. Weep for this world’s refusal of the true life Jesus offers. We’ve lit candles of remembrance for loved ones and members of our congregation who, in the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn – have crossed over the narrow stream of death. As that hymn we’ve sung this morning also proclaims – we, too, expect to die. We, too, hope to be reunited in resurrection life with loved ones and all the saints from all ages, times and places… We’ve heard again today the visions sent by God to the prophet Isaiah – sent anew hundreds of years later, to John, author of Revelation. Powerful visions, sent by God – God swallowing up death, removing the shroud of death from all the earth – God abolishing death and wiping every tear from every face – as God makes all things new… In the beginning God created all things, and God sees that it is all good. Now God is making all things new again in the resurrection life of Jesus, our Savior. Christ’s resurrection is our new beginning. The new start of God’s new story, in which the power of death is defeated. We don’t and can’t know yet the details of how this new life unfolds. We know God will wipe away every tear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if once God has wiped away our tears, we now shed tears of joy… And tears of compassion. Heaven’s not likely to be dull. I don’t think we’ll be watching re-runs. I’d actually be surprised if God doesn’t keep offering us opportunities to continue to love and serve God… And since God is not God of this earth alone, but of all the universe, there’s probably no shortage of places and ways...

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October 28, 2018

Posted by on Nov 6, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

“WITH ALL YOUR HEART” Mark 12:28-34 A few weeks ago I went with Pastor Tim, Dottie, and Donna Mark to a workshop on stewardship presented by the United Methodist Foundation of New England.  The Foundation’s purpose is to help churches manage their funds and  also to help them grow in their understanding of stewardship, or as they prefer to say, to grow in our understanding of generosity.  I’ve been to many workshops on this topic, as I’m sure Pastor Tim has, but there was one thing that stood out for me that I don’t remember experiencing at other workshops. I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or the other things I had on my  mind that day, but as I listened to the Foundation’s president and two other staff  members, I found myself captivated by their Christian witness.  It wasn’t just the information they were sharing that caught my attention.  Rather it was the intensity of their voices, as well as their facial expressions, as they spoke of the spirituality of our giving, not only our financial support to the church but also the investment of our time and talents to the ministries of the church.  I could tell that these men believed with all their hearts every word they spoke because they love Jesus and want to help we United Methodist learn to express our love of Jesus, as well, through our generosity.  In other words, our giving is a spiritual matter.  And that brings us to today’s Gospel lesson. In this passage, we learn that a scribe, a teacher of the Law, is impressed with the way Jesus had just responded to a trick question put to him by the Sadducees.  He saw that Jesus didn’t argue with them, but simply quoted words from the Torah, the first five books of our Bible.  Realizing, then, that Jesus was well versed as to the content of the Torah, the scribe asks Jesus which commandment is the first of all, the most important.  And to his question Jesus recites the opening words of the Shema, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy:  Hear, O Israel:  the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Of course, these words weren’t new to the scribe or to the Sadducees.  Pious Jews repeated them every morning and every evening. They were foundational to their belief in God and their relationship with God.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues, quoting words from the Book of Leviticus, adding now a second part to that great commandment, saying:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What Jesus is saying here is that the most important thing is love—loving God and loving others. So, the question put before us today is:  How do we live by those words?  I’d like to suggest that the only way we can attempt to love God with all that we are is by placing our lives into God’s hands and asking our Creator to direct every part of our lives, forming us into the people we were created to be.  None of us will ever love God perfectly, just as...

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October 7, 2018

Posted by on Oct 9, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 20   October 7, 2018  Psalm 8, Isaiah 8:16-18, Hebrews 1:1-4,2:5-13, Mark 10:13-16          As a little child ************************************************************* “Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…. (and…) Unless you receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives, you’ll never get in.” And as Hebrews tells us – Jesus, Son of God, is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters – since we share the same Father in heaven… And as Hebrews also reminds us – Christ is the very image of God – and through our relationship with Christ and God the Father we too carry the image of God… So we know intuitively, at least kind of sort of… what Jesus is talking about here… Which is probably why… even at a very early age… I was able to figure out… Peter Pan got it right. It’s a good thing to never grow up. As a little child I knew… I certainly did not want to grow up. It wasn’t hard to figure out – kids have all the advantage over grown ups, with all their worries and hurries… Why go there? And by the time I hit adolescence I was all the more convinced adults were doing life all wrong. I wanted nothing to do with grown up lifestyles. Adults “know” too much. Reason too reasonably… Or think they’re being so very reasonable… even when we’re obviously sometimes not…. not that my adolescent self wasn’t all the while starting down that same grown up road… As, I suppose, with most children, by the end of adolescence and into my early twenties, all my best-laid-plans to stay forever young went off the track… And I began to think it was time to be an adult and grow up. Hey, I even thought I was a grown up, already… I wish I could say this was just a phase I was going through… I wish I could say I’ve always managed to keep my inner child alive, alert, attentive to the ways of God and God’s kingdom. I wish… but that’s not the way it’s actually been… Still, thanks God, there are times when I do feel like I’m not far from the kingdom – like when I’m fishing, singing or just feeling good in God’s good creation… Or – when I’m here in church worshiping and singing to God with you… Or – when I’m passing pumpkins, along with 105 other people – unloading our annual truckload of pumpkins, making a sea of bright orange with nice contrasting tints of green and white… Doing for others, in the company of others doing the same… Young and old, laughing, smiling, sharing stories… strangers and friends… Crossing over that invisible border… into the kingdom of God… No one to stop us at the border… Because we’re doing it all as little children… The way Jesus said to do… *** Psalm 8, our psalm this morning, reminds us – out of the mouths of babes and infants God has established a defense against God’s foes – a sure defense that causes God’s enemies to hush and keep quiet… The voices of children can, when we pause to listen for God’s Spirit, cause us to hush from bickering,...

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September 30, 2018

Posted by on Oct 4, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 19 September 30, 2018   (Psalm 124, Numbers 11:24-29, James 5:10-11, 13-20)   Mark 9:38-40 ************************************************************ Disciples report back to Jesus, saying ‘we ran into this guy casting out demons who we didn’t know – and we told him to cease and desist, because he’s not following us.’ But Jesus says ‘nobody who does what I’m doing in my name will be able soon to speak a word against me’ and – ‘anyone who’s not against us is for us.’ Disciples want exclusive rights to the Messiah… But Jesus is inclusive. Like Moses, who we’ve heard today, when assistants try to get him to shut down a pair of unauthorized prophets, saying to Moses, ‘Make them stop” – thinking the gift of prophesy ought to be restricted just to Moses and elders closest to him. But Moses says ‘I wish all God’s people would prophesy… and be filled with God’s Spirit…’ And so, also – Jesus hopes his disciples remember Moses… But disciples, once again, don’t seem to remember the scriptures of old, or understand Jesus in the present day. As John, son of Zebedee, implicitly speaking for all the disciples, says, ‘Teacher, we saw a non-franchise exorcist casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he’s not following us.’ Not following us, notice, John says – rather than ‘not following you – Jesus.’ But Jesus doubles down on grace again, saying “whoever gives you even a cup of water because you carry my name won’t lose their reward…” Which sounds like setting the bar mighty low. You mean – all we need to do to receive a blessing is to give a cup of water to a follower of Jesus? Shucks, I’ve even done that… more than once… But of course this is not the only thing Jesus says today… And whenever Jesus seems to be setting the blessings-bar low… Wait a minute. Like a good track and field coach, when we make a good entry-level grade school high-jump – bar set three or four feet off the ground… Expect coach Jesus to raise the bar of blessing… a little higher… *** We don’t know how much time if any has gone by between our first paragraph in Mark’s gospel today and the second… But – as we read on we’re reminded –  when Jesus says “whoever isn’t against us is for us” – he says this in a particular context. He’s talking about someone casting out demons in his name. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus says “Whoever’s not with me is against me, and whoever doesn’t gather with me scatters.” The context then (in Matthew ch 12 and Luke ch 11) is religious leaders accusing him of being demon-possessed… Scattering flocks Jesus is trying to gather to God. In that context – whoever isn’t for Jesus – is against him… In yet another context (near the end of the sermon on the mount in Mathew ch 7) Jesus says ‘many will come to me saying ‘Lord, didn’t we prophesy and cast out demons and do deeds of power in your name?’ And I’ll have to say ‘I never knew you, get away from me, you evil doers…’ In end-of-the-age-judgement context, Jesus says, what we say will be measured against what we’ve done, and...

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September 23, 2018

Posted by on Sep 25, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 18   September 23, 2018     Psalm 1, Proverbs 3:27-35, James 4:1-10, Mark 9:30-37          Afraid to ask? ************************************************************ The disciples are walking with Jesus in their home province of Galilee. Jesus is trying to avoid all public appearances now, as he’s teaching disciples in private how he’s going to be betrayed and killed and then rise from the dead. And as usual, his disciples don’t understand what he’s saying. (They didn’t understand last week. They won’t understand next week.) Not understanding is the pattern we see repeating again and again in the gospel… A pattern that appears all the more troubling now, though – as we hear they not only don’t understand, but – are afraid to ask. Maybe these disciples have grown so discouraged and dismayed by their failure to understand – and by Jesus’ frequent correcting of them – that now they’re afraid to ask questions… Except – if this was actually the case – why do we hear now that they are arguing with each other – about which of them is the greatest? As Israelites brought up and trained in the scriptures from birth, these disciples have got to be familiar with the word we’re hearing in Proverbs today, about God showing favor to the humble. They must remember how scripture calls Moses, our national hero and greatest of human leaders up to now, “the humblest of men.” They must remember how often the bible returns again and again in the psalms, the proverbs, the prophets – to the theme of the humble being exalted while the proud are brought low. A theme the apostle James recycles from Proverbs and underscores in his letter today. The disciples have got to know – promoting themselves as the greatest is completely contrary to all biblical teaching… The disciples know they’re doing the wrong thing. They’re clearly embarrassed when Jesus calls them out and asks what they were arguing about. But – maybe they actually do understand, at least subliminally– just enough of what Jesus is teaching – and where he’s going – so that they are actually being pretty deliberate now – in their not understanding… Maybe their boasting to each other about their relative spiritual greatness is their indirect backdoor way of trying to change the subject and avoid anything related to what Jesus was talking about last week, and again, today –  about crucifixion – and taking up our cross  – and following….The bible does tell us – there’s often an element of deliberate hardness of hearing when we humans choose to not understand… And looking in the rearview mirror at my own life – and looking around at the wider culture – it’s pretty clear not all of us humans have entirely kicked the habit… of arguing about who is the greatest… Many still engage in who among us is the greatest competitions – in sports – politics – the arts – religion. Now when this all happens with mutual respect and civility – and it’s not about who is the greatest, but about who can best serve the common good in a particular situation – a certain amount of competition is probably healthy; even a good thing… But too often competition turns into “conflicts and disputes among us” due to “cravings at war within...

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September 16, 2018

Posted by on Sep 20, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 17   September 16, 2018   Psalm 19, Isaiah 50:4-8a, James 3:1-18, Mark 8:27-35 ************************************************************ Jesus asks his followers “who do people say I am?” Disciples tell him what they’re hearing on the street. So – what would we say today – if Jesus were to ask us?  I’m guessing none of us know anyone who’s still saying Jesus might be John the Baptist or Elijah back from the dead. But I’m guessing we probably do know someone (or at least know of some people) who say “Jesus is a great religious teacher and leader, but – ” And we may know also of others who say “He’s a great prophet, but… ” And still others who think “He is a great manifestation of the divine…” (Like Krishna or Buddha.) And when Jesus asks “But who do you say I am?” probably we can go with Peter, and say“You are the Messiah – The Christ.” (Messiah – Christ, same word in Hebrew and Greek, meaning anointed, as in anointed King.) And now we can also say what his first disciples didn’t know yet – You’re the Son of God, our Savior. Though, even if we’re pretty familiar with the Jesus Story, we may still be wondering why Jesus tells disciples to keep quiet now – and not say anything about who he is – just as they’re finally starting to actually get who he is… And yes, he is the Messiah, the Christ. And… If we remember the story, we know where Jesus is taking the conversation…As he tells us now he must go through suffering and rejection and be put to death, before rising from the dead. We anticipate Peter trying to talk Jesus out of this…And Jesus rebuking Peter, saying “get behind me Satan, you’re thinking like the world not like God.” We may also remember the gospel story makes a sharp turn here, toward the cross – as Jesus tells us where he’s heading, and tells us we also need to take up our cross and follow him… Here’s where I sometimes wish, along with Peter – that Jesus had given us an easier path to walk… Like Peter, I too have raised objections to the cross and tried to reason with Jesus: Lord, do you really have to submit to torture and death? Isn’t there a better way? Meaning, also, I suppose – isn’t there an easier route to heaven for me and mine… than taking up our cross and following you? *** But…No… There really isn’t any easier route, Jesus says. If there was, don’t you think I’d tell you and take it myself? (Don’t you remember how I prayed in the garden, “Father, if possible take this cup from me?”) If there was any easier, better road, don’t we think Jesus – who loves us better than we can imagine – would take us on it? But there is no other better way, Jesus says…(And I’ve tried looking at second opinions… But on closer inspection all the second opinions still look worse than second best…) So I’m still practicing learning the truth of our Thought for the Week from Philip Yancey – still learning how faith often means trusting in advance – what only makes sense… seen in reverse. And with the advantage of...

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September 9, 2018

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 16  September 9, 2018  Psalm 146, Isaiah 35:4-7, James 2:1-10, Mark 7:31-37   Faith at work ************************************************************* Jesus comes into town and people bring a man to him who can neither hear nor speak, begging for some hands-on-help. Jesus takes him aside – puts his fingers in the man’s ears – spits and touches his tongue – says Eph-phatha – be opened – (the word sounds maybe like ears coming un-plugged). Now the man hears – speaks – and can be understood.  All in a day’s work for Jesus – who does this everyday. At least – up to now in Mark’s gospel that’s how it seems. Crowds follow Jesus everywhere, seeking healing. Jesus teaches them about the kingdom of God, and demonstrates God’s power at work in the healing he does. Yet again and again people really don’t hear Jesus. The prophet Isaiah foretold long ago – the ears of the deaf shall be opened, the speechless will sing for joy. Now Jesus makes it happen. Yet more than once we hear Jesus say “let anyone with ears to hear listen!” He also asks rhetorically “Do you have ears, yet fail to hear?” Half a dozen times we’re told his followers hear but don’t understand. Even his closest disciples don’t really hear Jesus. And as in John’s gospel, where every miracle is called a sign, and the sign always points to something more than the immediate miracle, so too here, Jesus is doing work that goes a lot deeper than ear and tongue surgery today. And I can relate. Too often I only kind-of-sort-of-hear what Jesus says… I may be able to repeat back some of what he says… But until I’m hearing well enough to be doing what he says, Jesus and James both say – I’m really not hearing well at all. As James says – hearing the word of God without doing what God’s word says to do – isn’t really believing at all. **** Last week we were reading from the Song of Songs, a book that almost didn’t make it into the Old Testament part of the bible, mostly because it makes no direct mention of God, prayer, worship, or faith. The letter of James that we’re reading this week was one of the last books to be accepted into the New Testament – even though James, the brother of Jesus and the main leader of the Jerusalem church after Jesus is crucified does mention God, Christ, prayer, and faith, straightforwardly – and even though James restates much of the content of his brother Jesus’ sermon on the mount and sermon on the plain in language very close to what Jesus used. James has been controversial from early days mostly because of what James says today about “faith without works is dead.” Which can sound almost like a no-brainer – except it also sounds like a pretty different theological emphasis from what we hear in some of the apostle Paul’s letters, Romans and Galatians, especially – where salvation is said to be by faith and grace alone, not by works. This apparently different theology in James troubled Martin Luther, the reformer of the 1500s, so much that he called James a (quote) “straw epistle” and put this letter in an appendix at the...

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