May 14, 2017 – Home on the Road

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Easter 5   May 14, 2017   Psalm 84, 1 John 4:13-16, John 14:1-14 (NRSV and The Message)          Home on the Road **************************************************************** How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! The psalmist says. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, Jesus says. “If it wasn’t so – why would I have told you– I go to prepare a place for you?”…and… All our readings today are about living with Jesus, living with God… (Even the big hairy-gorilla-questions Jesus raises – when he tells us ‘we’ll be doing even greater things than he does’ – and tells us again – ‘whatever we ask in his name for the Father’s glory will be done for us.’ Even these mysterious sayings, at the end of the day, are all about living with Jesus…) But – if it’s all about living with Jesus – all about ‘how lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord’ – why then does Jesus need to tell us “Don’t let your hearts be troubled?” Well… (to be sure…) we’re not exactly traveling in a straight line in recent weeks – as we’ve gone from Easter resurrection… back into the middle of John’s gospel…Looking again at what Jesus has said and done before Easter… but looking now in the light of his resurrection… And now as we hear Jesus say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” we may remember he’s giving his last farewell teaching for his followers. His soul has been deeply troubled, we’ve heard, just a few verses before where we begin today, as Judas Iscariot leaves the last supper to go and betray him. But here’s Jesus, telling the rest of his disciples not to be troubled. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus knows, though his disciples haven’t yet realized… He’s going to die the next day…The disciples don’t understand. But they must sense something terrible in the air… As Jesus says ‘In my Father’s house there’s many dwelling places… I’m going to prepare a place for you.’ The disciples may be feeling their world shaking, like in an earthquake, as Jesus lets them know he’s leaving… Even though he’s trying to be comforting, telling us he’s going before us, to prepare a dwelling place for us. “In my Father’s house,” Jesus says, “there are many dwelling places.” “There’s plenty of room for you in my Father’s home,” we hear it said in The Message translation. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions,” we have heard from of old, in the King James Version. (Noting that in the early 1600s when the King James Bible was first published, the word mansion just meant “dwelling place.”) It was only in later years that the word mansion began to mean a very large palatial residence…prompting poets to visualize heaven accordingly… I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop – In that bright land where we’ll never grow old… And someday yonder, we’ll never more wander… But walk on streets that are purest gold… Probably it’s best not to be expecting gold faucets on every sink and bathtub in our Father’s house. We really don’t know – but – it’s always good to have humble expectations. Still, I can’t help liking the sound of “many mansions in my Father’s house… and… I’m...

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May 7, 2017 – Shepherd us, O Lord

Posted by on May 11, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Easter 4   May 7, 2017   Psalm 23, Psalm 100, Ezekiel 34:1-6,11-16, John 10:1-16 Shepherd us, O Lord *********************************************************** Vermont, where I used to live, was more-or-less Sheep Capital of America, before the civil war… Till the sheep market soured…and most Vermont farmers switched over to milking cows… More recently, over the past half-century, sheep have made a modest come-back…I’ve got three or four sets of Vermont friends who raise sheep….Which I mention because… The bible was written mostly by people who lived close to the land. The bible’s full of stories that rely on agricultural images and examples… But times  keep changing, and.. I’ve been remembering visiting a monastery in rural Wisconsin once – and hearing a monk there from New York City, talking about being sent to the garden to pick carrots for supper… And not being able to find any. He went back, told the cook, “I can’t find any carrots. Are you sure we have some?” “They told me,” he confessed, “Carrots grow in the ground…(Not on trees.)” And I’m guessing most people know sheep don’t grow on trees… But I’m also guessing the concepts of God as shepherd and God’s people as the sheep of his pasture are metaphors that have become more difficult for many Americans… And I’ve been remembering once when our daughter Rohi was six years old and we were getting ready for bed. Reah was sitting close by Rohi’s bed, looking thoughtful. I asked Rohi, “What’s mommy thinking about?” She glanced over and said, “Mommy is thinking about life.” Reah and I laughed, and I asked Rohi, “So – what are you thinking about?”  Without missing a beat she replied, “I am thinking about the Old Testament.” We laughed some more… But our six-year-old got me thinking about how… Of course we should start thinking about any New Testament passage with thinking back to the First Testament… Where we find the first part of The Good Book chock-full of shepherds – Abel –  Abraham – Isaac, Jacob and sons – Moses – King David of Psalm 23 fame – all of them shepherds… And… Many of us know and love Psalm 23. We said it every morning when I was  in grade school (back in the dark ages). We always print the words of the psalm in funeral bulletins, but anytime I look around I see many saying it without looking at the words… From The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want… All the way to Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever… Psalm 23 is beloved spiritual-comfort-food… And of course we have Jesus, Good Shepherd of all the sheep. A wonderful Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-spiritual-comfort-food-image. (We’ve got a beautiful stained-glass window portrait of Jesus holding a little sheep (in the Bourne church/right over here). Dottie featured that window in a sermon here a year ago.) And in John’s gospel – Jesus says he knows his sheep, his sheep know him, and he lays down his life for his sheep… building on the shepherd imagery of Psalms 23 and Psalm 100… But I can’t help noticing – we’ve also got some bad shepherd imagery today. As Jesus, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life...

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April 30, 2017

Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Easter 3  April 30, 2017   (Psalm 8) John 21 ************************************* Today’s story, the very last in John’s gospel, is one I’ve loved for a long time… Not always necessarily for the best reasons… As an obsessive-compulsive fisherman in partial-but-not-complete-recovery-from-fish-aholicism I’ve heard this story as a classic fishing story – an encouraging word when I’ve got the fish-aren’t-biting-blues. A ‘keep fishing, never give up’ message, that I’ve sometimes heard to excess…when it was time to get off the water and go home… Still, I think this story can be a good cross-training parable for learning to fish for people. Even when nothing’s in the nets all night, still we look for Jesus, listen to do what he says. “Cast your nets to the other side.” But this year the fishing parable hasn’t been quite working for me. (At least not yet…There’s still time…) I’ve only been out fishing once this year. I went over to Peter’s Pond in Sandwich, more than a week ago, to conduct some research for this week’s sermon. (What better place to fish than a pond named after fisherman Peter?) But like our gospel fishermen today, I caught nothing that day at Peter’s Pond… And instead of hearing Jesus tell me where to cast, I think I heard him letting me know this sermon’s not supposed to be so much about fishing this year. (“Sorry, dude,” I can almost hear him saying…) Except of course… Jesus with fishermen is always a big part of the back-story of the gospel. Over in Luke’s gospel Jesus tells Peter he’ll be fishing for people, after guiding him into another catch of big fish, filling the nets of Peter and his partners, James and John, sons of Zebedee, after another long night of fishing without success. Today’s story brings some essential biblical perspective with it. And sometimes the biblical back-story is meant to be seen in the foreground. (As we remember…) God makes humankind in the beginning and blesses us and gives us right off the bat first thing, dominion over the fish…(As Psalm 8 today reaffirms.) And John’s gospel starts with the same words “In the beginning” as Genesis… God takes seven days to make creation. And John, like Genesis, is very into seven, the biblical number of completion. In John’s gospel Jesus does seven signs (water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, etc). And Jesus speaks seven “I Am” sayings (I am the good shepherd, I am the light of the world, etc)… And John sure seems to want us to be thinking of a seven day working week of New Creation… as… John even reminds us of Adam and Eve in the garden, as we see Peter, who’s been fishing naked, not ashamed, as if back in the garden – now putting on clothes to jump in the sea, dragging nets full of big fish onto shore, re-entering the working week… And all these connections between John and Genesis are important… But… If we linger too long in the background stories, we might miss the big hairy gorilla in the middle of the conversation between Peter and Jesus this morning – meaning that other conversation between Peter and Jesus that we overheard back on Holy Thursday – where Peter promises Jesus he will follow him always, even...

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April 16, 2017 – Why are you weeping?

Posted by on Apr 25, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Easter Sunday   April 16, 2017   Psalm 126, John 19:25b-30, 38-42; John 20:1-18 Why are you weeping? *********************************************** “Woman, why are you weeping,” a pair of angels asks Mary Magdalene. We don’t know their exact tone of voice, but asking “Why are you weeping?” sounds to me like empathy – offering conversation, trying to be of help… Of course we know (as the angels know) Mary Magdalene’s weeping because she’s come to the grave where Jesus was buried… And found the tomb empty… And maybe this Easter story’s so familiar… we don’t notice… How Mary either doesn’t notice these angels are angels – or – she’s so focused on Jesus that even angels up-close-speaking-to-her… really makes no difference… She just tells the angels what they already know – she’s looking for Jesus… and he’s not here… And as she looks around she sees Jesus… without recognizing who he is… Perhaps it’s still dark. Maybe there’s heavy misty fog that morning. Maybe tears obscure her vision. Probably he’s dressed differently from what she’s used to… Mary’s thinking he’s the gardener.  Which makes sense, since Jesus is buried in a cemetery that’s also a garden. And Jesus is The Gardener who invites us back to The Garden… But, “Woman, why are you weeping?” – the same question angels ask – is also the question Jesus asks of Mary Magdalene… Mary has gone to the tomb early on the first day of the week while its still very dark… Where she finds the tomb open… the stone that had sealed it….rolled away… She runs to find Simon Peter and the disciple known as “the disciple Jesus loved.” They run together back to the tomb. The other disciple gets there first, but doesn’t enter… Simon Peter arrives, goes right into the tomb where he sees… the empty grave… and the wrappings Jesus had been wrapped-in…empty now. The cloth that was placed on his head now neatly folded by itself… Now the other disciple also enters the tomb, and he believes… (Though we’re also told “as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead”…) And having seen the empty tomb…The disciples now return to their homes… *** But Mary stays by the tomb, weeping… “Woman, why are you weeping,” the angels ask… “Woman, why are you weeping,” Jesus asks. “Whom are you looking for?” We know she’s looking for him. Weeping because she’s looking for his body – which is nowhere to be found… in the empty tomb… We may also know… Over the years Mary Magdalene’s had a reputation as a biblical bad-girl. Many have assumed she’s some kind of mega-sinner. There’s no evidence for this in the bible. But all kinds of assumptions have been made based on one verse in Luke (8), where we’re told Jesus healed her of seven demonic spirits. The bible never calls her a sinner… (Except in the sense we’re all sinners by nature…) And in those days mental illness was considered a form of demonic possession. (And according to contemporary mental health theory, we’re all mentally ill, to various degrees. Consider… And…) What we should remember most about Mary Magdalene is that she traveled with Jesus, who considered her a beloved disciple, part of the family of Jesus… And she’s the...

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Palm Sunday-April 9, 2017 – Look, your king is coming

Posted by on Apr 11, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Palm Sunday   April 9, 2017   Psalm 118, John 11:45-57, 12:1-11, 12:12-19   Look, your king is coming ************************************************* Signs are meant to point to something. And some signs are easier to understand than others. It’s relatively easy to know what a STOP sign means. (Even before we can read, we can learn to recognize the stop-sign’s message by its shape, size, color and that four-letter-word meaning something we don’t always want to do…) Other roadside signs can be a bit harder to decipher… traveling at highway speed in unfamiliar surroundings. Did that sign mean downtown Providence this exit? Or was it Providence, next exit? And then, of course, sometimes even clear obvious signs are widely ignored. It’s not considered unusual in Massachusetts to be going 9 miles over the speed limit and be the slowest car on the road. I’ve even seen motorists slow down just a little, glance both ways, then run the red light at Barlow’s Landing and County Road… And I confess, sometimes especially at night, that “No Right Turn on Red” sign can be hard for me to see… coming out of Market Basket when no one’s coming… Some signs are easier to read, believe, and interpret than other signs. St John the gospel writer uses the word “sign” to describe anything miraculous Jesus does. And just to keep us on our toes – John will also use the word sign sometimes to describe some less-obviously miraculous things Jesus does. Sign is a big word in the vocabulary of John’s gospel. And even way back when, not everybody notices every sign equally… When Jesus feeds thousands from just a few loaves and fishes, everyone who sees and eats that meal is ready to make him king then and there on the spot. But elsewhere in John’s gospel, people are often slow to see and slower still to understand signs Jesus does. Possibly partly as a result, Jesus does many signs almost in private. Only a few even notice what’s he’s doing when he turns water into wine. Only a few disciples see him walking on water. And when Jesus does signs that point to his divine power in public – healing a lame man, giving eyesight to the blind – many religious leaders are not only not impressed – they’re profoundly disturbed and angry with Jesus… for what they see as violation of good order… Since these healings take place on Sabbath days. Now Jesus has just raised his friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, up from the dead… (We’re picking up now where we left off last week.) And this giving of new life to the dead is the sign that seals the fate of Jesus (in John’s telling of the gospel)… Because, we’re told… Religious leaders are convinced this unauthorized raising of the dead will cause people to follow Jesus and name him king. And if Jesus is acclaimed as king – so the religious leaders reason – the Roman Empire will come down like a hammer on Israel, and destroy the temple and crush the nation. And Caiaphas, the high priest, says, “It’s better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation be destroyed.” With plenty of unconscious irony, Caiaphas speaks prophetically John tells us. Jesus...

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April 2, 2017 – What makes Jesus weep?

Posted by on Apr 6, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 5   April 2, 2017   Psalm 130, John 11:1-46  What makes Jesus weep? ***************************************************** It’s as if Jesus is doing dress rehearsal here, as he journeys back to metro Jerusalem, where religious authorities have just been trying to kill him. Now here he is, in the Jerusalem suburb of Bethany… a few days late for a close friend’s funeral… He shows up late on purpose, we’re told, so God’s glory can be seen at work in him… (and…) Here we have the last and greatest of the seven sign-actions Jesus does, narrated  in John’s gospel. (We’ve seen him turning water into wine, healing the sick, making the lame to walk, feeding thousands from a few loaves and fishes, walking on water, giving eyesight to the blind. We’ve also been told – Jesus did many other signs not recorded in this gospel…) And all the signs together, all build to this one last, greatest sign… of raising Lazarus from the dead. Yet even reminded of someone risen from the dead today… What’s been standing out most for me in the word of God this week has been hearing that Jesus weeps… Jesus weeps with his close friends Mary and Martha of Bethany and their friends, as they weep for the death of their brother Lazarus. And here in one of the bible’s shortest verses – (in most translations its just two words –) Jesus wept – here we have one of the deepest of all the bible’s deep mysteries. Jesus knows of course that he will raise Lazarus from the dead. “This illness does not lead to death,” he’s just told his disciples. Showing up late when he hears Lazarus is ill is part of the plan, Jesus says, so God’s glory may be seen. So then – if Jesus knows, all along, he’s going to bring his friend Lazarus back to life –  why then, is he weeping? Bible scholars and interpreters through the ages have been pondering, puzzling, and arguing about this. (And there may be more than one true answer.. And we should notice… ) On one hand, the death and resurrection of Lazarus closely resembles a dress rehearsal for Jesus’ own death and resurrection soon to come. (In both the raising of Lazarus and in Jesus’ own death we hear women weeping for a loved one gone too soon. In both cases the body is sealed-tight in a tomb. In each case the stone will be rolled away – revealing life – not death. Even the descriptions of burial clothes in each case are very similar.) And with this raising of Lazarus, so much like a dress rehearsal for his own resurrection – perhaps, in some sense, also, rehearsal for the resurrection of all the dead to come… Perhaps Jesus is weeping now as he feels the intensity of this enormous drama… he’s the Center of. And at the same time… though this is like a dress rehearsal for his coming death and resurrection – this is not at all a rehearsal for Mary and Martha… And… Jesus weeping with people he loves is not so mysterious… on the most basic human level. Jesus weeps because he is compassionate. The most compassionate person who ever walked the earth. He weeps (of course) with those he loves....

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March 26, 2017 – Vision check

Posted by on Mar 28, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 4 March 26, 2017    Psalm 27, John 9 (v1-12, 13-23, 24-41) Vision check ********************************************** I may as well start confessing up front – I once was blind… Very blind. I couldn’t see to save my life. Not that there was anything wrong with my eyesight, other than needing glasses by the time I was in my twenties… It was more like that bad old song said – “Trouble with you, trouble with me – got two good eyes but just can’t see…” And probably the first thing we should see in our gospel story today is that it’s only secondarily about eyesight. This brief little drama within the larger drama of John’s gospel, told in seven short scenes is really all about checking our vision. (Quick review.) First, Scene One, disciples walking with Jesus see a blind man, and ask, “Teacher, who sinned? This guy or his parents, that he was born blind?” We don’t know how they knew he was born blind. Maybe he had a sign by his begging bowl, saying “Blind from birth. Please give generously.” (But we don’t know that.) With 20-20 hindsight we can see – what an awful thing it is – to assume his blindness is the result of sin. But we should probably give the disciples a little benefit of the doubt – remembering it is written in the law of Moses that ‘the sins of the parents will fall on the children to the third and four generations (Exodus 20).’ Of course its also written in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, ‘from now on, everyone’s sin falls only on themself.’ But what we should know, most of all, of course, is what Jesus says: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This is so God’s glory can be seen at work.” Then he spits on the ground and makes mud – (which kind of seems like a funny way for God’s glory to be seen – unless we remember how God makes that first prototype human from mud in the beginning) – and then, as far as we know, without giving any word of explanation or asking anybody’s permission – Jesus lays muddy hands on the man’s eyes, saying, “go to the pool of Siloam and wash.” Siloam, notice, means “Sent.” Jesus is the Son sent by God the Father. Later he tells disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you…”And the man goes as he is sent – and dips in the pool (some see baptismal symbolism here) and he comes back… seeing. Scene Two: Neighbors are talking with each other. “Isn’t this the guy who used to sit and beg?” Some say “yes, he’s the one.” Others say, “no, he just looks like him.” The man keeps saying, “I am the man…I am the man…” He keeps saying this, seems like, because no one’s really listening. Too busy talking to each other about him, and asking him intermittently, without listening for an answer, “How did you get to see?” He says, “Jesus told me – ‘go wash in the pool.’ I went, I washed, now I see.” “So where is he?” they ask. “I have no idea,” he says. He’s got eyesight… Already he’s seeing more than those who aren’t listening… Yet his vision...

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March 19, 2017 – Thirst

Posted by on Mar 24, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 3  March 19, 2017 Ps 42:1-8,  John 4:5-42 Thirst ************************************************* Jesus and his disciples are heading home to Galilee by way of Samaria. Taking the road less traveled – the much shorter road that most Jews avoided if at all possible. You could save about two days of travel by going through Samaria, but Jews and Samaritans had a lot of bad history. We’re talking family feuds bordering on civil war, going back more than 700 years… But now we’re in the heart of the province of Samaria (once also a name for Northern Israel) – and now the disciples of Jesus have gone into town to buy food, and Jesus is alone, tired from the journey. A Samaritan woman comes to the well. Jesus asks, “give me a drink.” The woman says,“What’s a Jewish guy like you doing, asking a Samaritan woman like me for a drink?” Jews and Samaritans normally don’t drink from the same vessel. And – most Jewish religious leaders would avoid being alone with any woman – (from any nation) – any woman they weren’t closely related to. (Jews and Samaritans were relatives, historically – but they usually related to each other like family you haven’t seen on purpose, for a reason, for a long time…) This encounter at the well comes with a lot of history attached. And some serious biblical symbolism is also in play here….As we remember – Water is often a metaphor for spiritual nourishment in the bible. In Isaiah (12) we hear: “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation…” In Psalm 42 today we’ve heard: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Water and thirst… are words often used as metaphors for spiritual thirst. And it takes awhile, but then this woman does catch on – understands – Jesus isn’t talking about just H2O water and physical thirst… And the wellspring of living water he’s talking about is much deeper… than Jacob’s well. (A deep well, supposedly over 100 feet deep. But just a puddle compared to the wellspring of Jesus..) And Jesus and this woman are both aware… this well carries the names of Jacob and Joseph – common-ground ancestors of both Jews and Samaritans. When Jesus says to her, “if you knew who it was you are talking with…you’d ask, and he’d give you living water…” She says, “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” (Like ‘Who do you think you are?’) And yes, of course he is – a whole lot greater… than great-great-grand-uncle Jacob…. But Jesus seems to enjoy the irony… of letting her figure this out for herself…and… (Biblical History note:) Wells were informal community life centers. People went to the well for water, that basic bodily need. They also went for social networking, to be part of the community. A basic spiritual need. People met, exchanged greetings, shared news, etc at the well… And in the first books of the bible, wells are very strongly associated with courtship and marriage. Abraham’s servant meets Rebecca at a well – it’s a rather long and dramatic scene (in Genesis 24) – after which Rebecca is quickly married to...

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March 12, 2017 – To save the world

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 2    March 12, 2017   Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17  To save the world ***************************************************** Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. And maybe he’s had a long hard day. Nighttime might be the only time he has to get away from all his duties… and come, see Jesus… But… John’s gospel is famous for its night and day, dark and light contrasts – between those who see Jesus for who he really is, and those who don’t… So it’s more likely this dark of night setting is a not-very-subtle sign of misunderstanding… As Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, comes to Jesus by night. Representing not only himself, but also others like him – who, on the one hand, are attracted to Jesus, on the other hand, reluctant to be seen with Jesus. (Who has begun to have a reputation as both an amazing Godly guy – and also as a potentially dangerous radical with a reputation for rocking boats…) It’s also possible Jesus has been having a long day… He may be a little less patient than usual today with this after-hours visitor, as he responds to a respectful-sounding greeting – (Rabbi, all the stuff you’re doing – you’ve got to be from God)… But here’s Jesus, cutting his visitor off, almost mid-sentence, saying “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born anew.” The phrase (“born anew”) also means “born from above…” But either way, Nicodemus really doesn’t get it. And Jesus seems deliberately provocative now – challenging Nicodemus to deal with the radical nature of Jesus’s mission. Telling him – ‘The Kingdom of God is about everything made new. Born anew. Born from above. Its about new birth…Flesh, blood, water, Spirit… ’ But Nicodemus isn’t getting his drift… And Jesus questions his credentials as a leader – (are you really a teacher of Israel?) – as he goes into deep-theological-reflection-mode, building, with a reference back to the book of Numbers, building up to – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son – so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And this is the last we hear from Nicodemus. (At least till he resurfaces again in John 7 and again in John 19, where we see him again in cameo appearances, again in dark place, but now starting to see the light…) Meanwhile, this conversation isn’t over even though Nicodemus is silent. Jesus is still talking…Speaking the most famous verse in the whole bible… But John 3:16 is not the last word from Jesus. And there’s more in this conversation than we can unpack in the time we have… But I’d like for us to spend the time we do have today mostly considering the verse that comes right after the famous verse, “For God so loved the world…” Noticing how, in this last verse today (John 3:17), we hear yet another, even stronger confirmation of God’s love for the world – the whole world. And yet God’s love for the world – especially as expressed in John 3:16 – is of course sometimes taken for granted. (Good old, good old-boy Jesus. This week I heard a song video on You Tube called “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16″...

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March 5, 2017 – It is written

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 1    March 5, 2017   (Psalm 32, Genesis 2:15-17, Romans 5:12-17) Matthew 4:1-11    It is written **************************************************** We’re out in the wilderness today with Jesus, as he undergoes temptation and testing. (The same Greek word means both testing and temptation.) As it happens, our family has had some recent wilderness experience,  visiting family in Las Vegas recently. Las Vegas is desert terrain. Once you reach city limits you’re in desert wilderness, where from the highway everything looks very dry and barren. Yet when we paid a visit to an urban cactus garden we saw desert plants blooming with glorious blossoms in February. We learned the wilderness can be fertile, and strangely beautiful, up close… Much more beautiful than some of the human wilderness we also observed. As Reah’s brother drove us around sight-seeing, we saw many a drive-by Wedding Chapel (same day reservations accepted, Elvis outfits available for rent)… And Quickie-Stop Divorce offices next-door to wedding chapels. Tall towering casinos shaped the sky line, all lit-up in neon. Loud music piped into the streets. The Doors playing People are Strange… On cue, people walking by looking as if they’d been gambling for many days without sleep… Others dressed to look like  walking advertisements for temptation. I’m pretty sure I saw someone dressed as a devil, but I don’t really trust my memory… It was surrealistic like a bad dream… Advertisements for gambling, gawking, and strong drink everywhere… All the things the angel showed James Stewart that would have happened to his home town if he had not made all the little  sacrifices he did in that scene from It’s a Wonderful Life…And it’s easy to pick on Las Vegas. But Vegas is a parable, actually, for a  part of Everywhere USA, Everywhere Planet Earth… Though at first glance, the temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness don’t seem much like those on display in Las Vegas. Except that… the devil’s temptations do remind me of the view as soon as we came through the airport gates in Nevada…Facing row-after-row-after row of slot machines. Traveler try your luck.  Just a quarter a pull… to start… And “Just turn a few of these stones on the ground into loaves of bread,” the devil suggests. What can be wrong with that? God provided manna on the ground every day for the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Surely the Son of God’s entitled to feed himself? The temptation seems small. Use your God-given powers, Son of God. Put on your own oxygen mask first. You’re the Son of God. You’ve got to feed the world. Feed yourself first. But Jesus replies “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.’” Quoting Deuteronomy (chapter 8), where it is written – God lets Israel hunger in the wilderness to teach us appreciation for our daily bread – and let us know – the food we need most of all is the word of God. Jesus could have quoted Isaiah 49 where God says “they shall not hunger or thirst” or Isaiah 55 where God says “eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food.” But Jesus knows the mission he’s on. Knows he is both Son of God and Son of...

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