Sermons & Worship Services

March 29, 2020 Home Worship

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March 29, 2020 Home Worship Bulletin – Lent 5Download

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March 22, 2020 Home Worship

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March 22, 2020 Home Worship BulletinDownload

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March 22, 2020 – Psalm 36, John 9 Believing is Seeing

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Mar 22 Sermon – Lent 4 – Believing Download

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Lent 3 March 15, 2020 – Sermon

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Lent 3 March 15, 2020 Psalm 63, Genesis 29:1-2,9b-13; John 4:3-42 We who are thirsty… ************************************************************** We’ve just read together through the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anybody anywhere in the bible. Reminding us – last week we were listening as Jesus spoke with a religious leader named Nicodemus who came to visit him by night. And at the end of their conversation Nicodemus, the scholarly religious authority figure was still in the dark… Not understanding Jesus… Today a woman of Samaria (and now we’re reminded Jews and Samaritans avoided each other’s company and would not normally share hospitality with each other) – but today a Samaritan woman meets Jesus in broad daylight and remains in lively conversation with him… Gradually coming to see more and more of who Jesus truly is… This is a longer conversation today by comparison with last week. And at the same time, a relatively brief conversation within the larger story of the love of God that begins even before the first book of the bible… And in this larger story, we now find ourselves in a story within the story… in the biblical narrative of a man and woman meeting at a well that begins in Genesis (24)…. as… Abraham, patriarch of Israel, sends his servant to find a bride for his son Isaac back in the country he and his wife Sarah left when God said go…And the servant goes back to Haran, and comes to a well, where he prays for success…And as he prays, here comes Rebekah, tending her family’s sheep. And behold, Rebekah becomes the wife of Isaac – and later the mother of Jacob – who we’ve seen today returning to that same well in his grandparent’s home town – where he meets Rachel, shepherding the sheep. And Rachel becomes his wife. Their son Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt… And 400 years later, their great-great-great grand-nephew Moses flees Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave driver. And arrives in Midian, where he sits at a well and meets a group of shepherd women watering sheep – drives away some other shepherds harassing them – and marries one of them, Zipporah. Long story abbreviated – up to now anytime a man and woman meet at a well in the bible, marriage happens. So we have expectations… though – Of course we know Jesus is not like other men. (Mild understatement.) So – we listen closely… As Jesus engages with this woman in a different kind of courtship… Wooing her with words of mystery and wisdom… Coaching her to know him as Messiah… Never forcing the conversation… Just offering the gift of Who He is and what He has to offer… (and…) As with Nicodemus last week, there’s some word-play at work here… as Jesus asks for water – and the woman asks “what’s a Jewish guy like you doing talking with a Samaritan woman like me?” And Jesus replies “if you knew the gift of God and who you’re talking with, you would ask and he would give you living water.” (And…) We can hear her skepticism… but also a hint of interest… in her response… as she says, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket, and this well is deep. Where do you get this living...

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Lent 2 March 8, 2020

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Lent 2 March 8, 2020 Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17 For God so loved the world… ********************************************************** If we’ve ever been confused by something Jesus says… Today we’re in good company… As Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council of the faith community, who has been hearing about the amazing signs Jesus has been doing in Jerusalem, comes to visit one night, hoping to learn more about who Jesus is… and what his teaching is all about. We don’t know exactly why Nicodemus has chosen to visit by night – an unusual time to visit someone who you don’t know. Perhaps night time is the only time he has open in his busy schedule. Perhaps he figures Jesus is so busy all day teaching that night time might the only right time… to drop by this teacher from out of town… for a visit. Or perhaps Nicodemus might be a little nervous about being seen in public with Jesus – who has been identified already by the religious establishment that Nick is part of… as a potential threat to the good order of the community – having recently driven merchants and money-changers out of the Jerusalem temple courtyard… We’re not told the exact mix of his motivations. What we know is just that as the scene today ends, with Jesus still talking… Nicodemus is still… in the dark… And Jesus doesn’t seem to be trying to make it any easier for Nick to understand what he’s saying… as he speaks deliberately in words that carry multiple meanings. The word Nicodemus hears as “you must be born again” can equally well mean “you must be born from above” or “born anew.” All three ways of hearing the word are correct. But – Jesus means mostly “born from above” and “born anew”… While Nicodemus can only hear “born again” – which makes no sense to him… Jesus also uses a word several times that means wind – breath – and spirit… But by talking about the wind blowing wherever it blows, and we can hear it but not see it… Jesus has Nicodemus thinking about watching the weather vane to see which way the wind blows… While Jesus is actually talking about the Holy Spirit who makes new life – new creation – without which we can’t enter the kingdom of God. Poor Nicodemus gets lost in the word play – unable to make sense of what Jesus says… And it can feel like Jesus is playing with him… As Nicodemous asks ‘how can anyone be born (again) when they are old?’ And Jesus says ‘What’s your problem?’ Aren’t you a teacher of Israel?’ *** And I can identify with Nicodemus…. I enjoy the peculiar language of John’s gospel, even though it’s difficult…As Jesus keeps using words with double and even triple meanings… which does tend to bend our minds… and make us either think differently… or give up trying to understand… Still, I can enjoy John’s gospel, mostly because I’ve got access to a lot of help with interpreting Jesus… So I sympathize with Nicodemus, who doesn’t have as much help with knowing who Jesus is. He doesn’t have any commentaries (as we do now) on the gospel to help him figure it out. (The gospel of...

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Lent 1 March 1, 2020 – Sermon

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Lent 1 March 1, 2020 Psalm 32, Genesis 2;15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11 Tempted… Tested… Loved. ************************************************************ The devil tests Jesus, saying first – “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” – then “If you are the Son of God”… jump from the top of the temple, let God’s angels catch you. (The devil quotes Psalm 91 here, and probably the devil knows scripture at least as well as most Christians…) And for his third temptation the devil skips over the “If you are” part – (as if conceding the point) – and offers all the kingdoms of the world in return for worship. Jesus counters each of the devil’s suggestions with quotations from Deuteronomy – replying “It is written ‘we don’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” – and – “Again it’s written, ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” – and finally “Away with you Satan! For it is written ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Now the devil departs…and angels wait on Jesus. We expect of course, the Son of God to withstand all the devil’s temptations. Just before where we’ve rejoined Matthew’s gospel-in-progress, the heavens have opened and God’s Spirit has descended on Jesus as he comes up from the waters of baptism, and God’s voice has said,“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (The same words we heard God say again last Sunday, on the mount of transfiguration.) Jesus knows – we know – even the devil knows – Jesus is the Son of God. What the devil says here “If you are the Son of God” can also be translated as “Since you are the Son of God.” The title isn’t really disputed. Just the job description. And… In his rejection of these temptations Jesus reveals what it means to be Son of God according to Jesus as opposed to the devil’s suggested job description. And throughout all the rest of the gospels, we’ll see Jesus faithfully living out his rejection of worldly power, fame, popularity, and short-term-short-cut solutions… And as we read the gospels carefully we see the total consistency of Jesus… in refusing all the devil’s temptations. Yet even with all we see of Jesus, teaching by word and example in the gospels – we, the church, have seldom rejected temptation with anything like the clarity and consistency of Jesus. Speaking not only now of flagrant sins of abuse, betrayal of trust, and lies perpetrated by some church leaders and members. We’re talking also about everyday yielding to everyday temptations that can also derail our lives if not noticed and addressed… The devil’s temptation to command stones to become bread can sound almost as innocent as eating chocolate in lent. After all Jesus is hungry… But it’s actually a metaphor that cuts to the heart of our immediate-gratification culture. A culture that wants everything delivered quickly and conveniently. Technical fixes, we’re told, are possible for just about everything. Including discipleship. We’ve got an app for that. Tap the app for Jesus on your phone. Next to the apps for pizza delivery and weather… But Jesus chooses hunger and solitude over quick-fix-fast-food…...

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February 23, 2020 – Sermon

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Transfiguration Sunday February 23, 2020 Psalm 99, Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9 Listen to him ******************************************************* Last week we were up on the mountain with Jesus and a large crowd of followers listening to his Sermon on the Mount. Today we’ve climbed another mountain with him – but this time there’s only three other disciples along. And instead of a lengthy teaching that takes all of three chapters of Matthew’s gospel – today’s teaching features only a pair of one-liners from God the Father and Jesus the Son – capped with the Son’s terse instruction – say nothing about what’s gone down… on high… The transfiguration of Jesus is all about disciples receiving a sneak preview of Jesus as the Son of God affirmed by God’s voice from the cloud… A reminder of the cloud and fiery pillar of God that led Israel through the wilderness…As Jesus is clothed in dazzling light bright as the sun – flanked by Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Moses, who fasted and prayed forty days and nights as he received the law on Mt Sinai, then shepherded Israel forty years in the wilderness – with Elijah, who rebuked some of Israel’s most depraved rulers – and like Moses, spent forty days and nights fasting and praying on the mountain… Today we’re imagining ourselves in this strangely dream-like encounter – which Jesus calls a vision as he walks with disciples back down the mountain. Yet the vision is so real – that Peter offers to build three dwelling places, one each for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. A nice hospitable thought, but – As he speaks a bright cloud appears – and Peter’s voice is silenced… as the voice from the cloud says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” The voice we heard speak these same words at the baptism of Jesus, not many weeks ago, at the beginning of the season of Epiphany… Now speaks these same words again from the cloud as Epiphany fades… And God’s voice from on high now adds: Listen to him! And three terrified disciples fall to the ground in unison. But Jesus touches them, saying, “Get up, don’t be afraid…” and… There’s no one there now but Jesus… Who tells Peter, James and John – say nothing about what you’ve seen till the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. *** The other morning, I actually awoke from a dream… in which I was trying to explain the transfiguration of Jesus to someone… Then, just a few minutes later, as I sat sipping coffee and looking out the window at a very bright sunny sky… Here comes suddenly dancing particles of light, falling and swirling, and filling the air. And I’m thinking ‘this can’t be snow – it’s so bright and sunny.’ So I went outside to check my vision… and sure enough, it was snow – falling without any visible clouds in the sky… Except way far off… on a distant horizon… A few tiny light-colored clouds barely visible… As if God and nature were teasing me into believing… there’s no clear borders… between God’s vision… and God’s reality… Last week we were up on what I’m picturing as a much smaller mountain with a much...

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February 16, 2020 – Sermon

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Epiphany 6 February 16 2020 Psalm 119:1-8, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Matthew 5:17-26, 38-48 Choose ************************************************************ WC Fields, the notoriously cynical, heavy drinking actor of American cinema in days of antiquity, was once seen reading the bible. A surprised colleague asked him, “What are you doing reading the bible, WC?” He replied “I’m looking for loopholes.” Which is how I sometimes feel when I hear Jesus say “Be perfect.” I’ve read the Sermon on the Mount many times. I can summarize most of it from memory reasonably well. But anytime I commit to preaching from this best known sermon of Jesus, I still find myself often perplexed and even intimidated….As Jesus tells us, first – he’s come not to abolish the law or prophets, but to fulfill them – then – not a letter or even a dash of a letter in the law will pass away till it’s all been fulfilled… Then – gives us a long list of sayings, each of them starting with you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times – but I say to you…. And in each saying that follows Jesus ratchets up the difficulty-level above and beyond what people of old were told… Poking all kinds of holes in the image we have of Jesus as meeker and milder than those stern Old Testament prophets…. As now here’s gentle Jesus saying– ‘You have heard it said you shall not murder and anyone who murders will be liable to judgement – but I tell you anyone angry with a brother or sister will be liable to judgement… and anyone who says “you fool” to a brother or sister will be liable to the hell of fire’ – literally the fires of Gehenna, a place near Jerusalem where pagans of old sacrificed children in fire… We’re skipping today over three more Jesus sayings, each of which makes a similar point – it’s not the legal offense – nearly so much as breaking God’s law in our hearts – that can send us to the gates of lower purgatory… And now we get to “you’ve heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…” Israel’s basic law of retribution – which, we were taught in seminary, was liberal in comparison with neighboring nations – where the law was two eyes for an eye, several teeth in return for one eye damaged or tooth knocked out in a fight… But, Jesus says – “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other – if anyone wants to take your coat give the shirt off your back…” Humble yourself, and humiliate your opponents, by exposing their behavior to public view… Which probably works best when people have lots of compassion for the oppressed and hurting…but can sometimes shock even cynics into a change of heart… Then Jesus says “you’ve heard it said ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “Love your neighbor” – a main theme of the bible. “Hate your enemy” – not in the bible, but said as if it was by people who don’t heed the bible. But, Jesus again says – I say to you – love your enemies– pray for those who persecute you – so you may be children of...

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February 9 2020 – Sermon

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Epiphany 5 February 9 2020 Psalm 133, Isaiah 58:6-9a, Matthew 5:13-16 1st Corinthians 1:18-31 Foolish and weak… ****************************************************** There’s a sign we see especially around Christmas time, that says: Wise men seek him still. Which is probably one of the main reasons I wasn’t seeking Jesus for a long time. I was young and foolish…the opposite of wise… And determined to stay forever young. Forever foolish. I could blame my parents for letting me grow up listening to their jazz records – Billie Holiday with that swinging band singing “….Maybe I’m a fool but it’s fun… people say you rule me with one – wave of your hand, darling it’s grand…” Billie made foolishness sound elegant and seductive… But don’t blame my poor sainted parents. Nobody ever had to lead me into temptation. I always knew how to get there by myself. As a teenager I had a favorite record of Ray Charles singing a blues called I’m a fool for you… My friends and I would be crying in our beer trying to sing along. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were already oldies by the time I was in high school, but we knew their song – ooo-wah– ooo-wah – Why do fools fall in love? We considered it very cool to be a certain kind of fool… So perhaps theoretically I had at least a little cultural preparation for the gospel according to Paul the apostle – who quotes the prophet Isaiah of old, channeling for God, saying “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise…” The apostle continues in the prophetic groove saying – Where is the one who’s wise? (Where’s the learned scholar and debaters of this age?)… Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”… “For since in the wisdom of God the world didn’t know God through wisdom” (Paul says –) God decided to use the foolishness of the gospel – summarized in the cross – which, for those who trust in reason – is the most unreasonable thing anyone can think of. And for those who want to keep religion safe, strong and reasonable – the cross is the ultimate in foolishness and weakness. Greeks seek wisdom and Jews seek signs but God’s wisdom is revealed in the cross – foolishness to the one, a stumbling block to the other. (Greek here stands for secular wisdom. Greek being the dominant language and culture of the Roman Empire that ruled over the Mediterranean world. And Paul uses the word Jew here and elsewhere as shorthand for Paul’s home culture. Paul, remember, was a Jew who considered his Jewish faith and heritage a huge blessing. He understands the faith of his ancestors differently after he encountered Jesus and leaves his previous life as a persecutor of Christians. But Paul never stops teaching the Jewish bible as essential background for Christians and Christ the fulfillment of the First Testament. And by this slightly round about way, Paul takes us into what he wants to say about the cross as the wisdom of God – that’s wiser than all the wisdom of this world. Acknowledging – the cross is total foolishness for those who don’t believe the message God has delivered in Jesus Christ – who has come to transform the world and overturn...

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February 2, 2020 – Sermon

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Epiphany 4 February 2, 2020 Psalm 15, Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:4-17 How good and pleasant it is… ********************************************************** The psalmist proclaims: How very good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. And I’m sure the psalmist knows well – how rare such blessed unity is. And how difficult it can be to preserve whatever unity we have. It’s not just the Corinthian church in the first century or the world of electoral politics today. From the first biblical brothers and the murder of Abel by Cain… to the civil wars recorded in the biblical books of Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles… Picking up teams and having pitched battles has been the world’s default position from the get-go. Today’s Super Bowl and Impeachment Trial are actually rather mild events compared with gladiators fighting lions in the Colosseum and Aztec soccer games with the losing teams becoming human sacrifices… (At least our players get to wear helmets and shoulder pads…) And so far even our most passionately partisan political operatives haven’t seriously proposed the guillotine for their opponents… Still, celebrating human progress is probably premature. As we recall – In our gospel today we see Jesus’s apostles apparently listening as he teaches them (and us) to live into his poverty of spirit, his meekness, his purity of heart, his mercifulness, his peace-making… Yet so soon we see disciples then arguing about which of them is the greatest. And over in John’s gospel, Jesus prays for all his followers to be united in perfect unity (John 17). But that prayer still seems to be taking it’s time being answered. (At least as Jesus asks.) How very good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. And how rare this unity still is. Yet – Jesus has prayed for us… So – There is deep yearning in the depths of our souls for unity… Yet because of human sin and human frailty… persistent reminding is required… Driving home from a District Meeting in Barrington Rhode Island yesterday I noticed a sign hanging from a bridge saying: America – United We Stand – Divided We Fall. My first thought was “Too late for that!” Then I saw the same sign again on the next bridge. Hmm. Let’s pray about it… Then the sign appeared again on the next bridge… So I kept praying… And now, with the third sign I started hearing its message as a prayer. A prayer for unity a bit like the prayer Jesus prayed for the church. A prayer Jesus still prays… for all God’s people… *** It’s easy to be cynical about human nature and human behavior. And the more I feel cynical the more I need to keep my eyes, ears and heart open for signs of hope. Deeper hope… And the more I pray, the more the Holy Spirit reminds me… of things that I’ve said and done that have contributed to division and disunity. The more the Spirit reminds me also of the better sides of people I disagree with… “United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase that dates back to just before the American revolution. The phrase probably originates from Jesus saying (in Mark’s gospel) “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” A...

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