January 29, 2017 – Blessed are

Epiphany 4   January 29, 2017 ( Ps 15, Exodus 19:3-6, 17-20, Isaiah 2:1-5) Matthew 5:1-12          Blessed are ************************************************** “Blessed are….” Even just the words ‘blessed are’ sound like a blessing. And who would not like to receive a blessing? Yet, somehow, a lot of what we hear and see does not seem designed or intended to be a blessing… I had a friend in seminary whose telephone answering machine greeting said, “If you have called to be a blessing, you may leave a message at the sound of the beep…” She didn’t exactly say do not leave a message if you are not calling to be a blessing… But you would get that message… If you were listening… If everyone was always calling to be a blessing – trying to be a blessing – what a blessing that would be! Though the question then becomes, I suppose – what do we mean by a blessing? Many seem to have their own definitions of what a blessing is. Jesus says Blessed are nine times today. And I’ve been pondering what it might be like if every time we prayed to Jesus we first got his answering machine with a message like my friend’s message – “Hi, this is Jesus. If you are calling to receive a blessing, or to be a blessing – stay on the line, I’ll be with you momentarily. Please listen first to hear what I mean by blessing…” Then we hear: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” …and… “Blessed are those who mourn”… And I imagine some people will be hanging up on Jesus already… Thinking “I don’t think I’m interested in blessings that sound like poverty and weeping…” But for those who stay on the line, and listen, the voice of Jesus continues, saying… “Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers”… Now we’re getting into blessings that sound more like blessings – at least the kinds of blessings we usually appreciate seeing in others… Although, thinking about these blessings applied to myself can still be a little like thinking about resolutions to join the gym or clean the garage or the attic… Hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being pure in heart sound great for everyone… And – like really worthwhile goals for me… (To begin pursuing in earnest… maybe next year…or the year after… ) But then we get to: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake”… Not exactly a blessing I’m ever eager for.. And I’m pretty sure its not just me… Persecution, according to the dictionary, is about being subjected to hostility, oppression, abuse, ill-treatment… I can’t recall anyone very eager for this blessing… Or it’s closely-related blessing – “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…” If we were to call up Jesus and listen to all his list of blessings, I wonder – how many of us are likely to leave our call-back number for Jesus to be getting back to us about being his disciples? How many of us will be able to sing: Count your blessings, count them one by one. Count...

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January 31, 2016 – Is…and is not…

Epiphany 4   January 31, 2016   1 Corinthians 13:1-13   Is… and is not… ********************************************************** Love is patient. Love is kind. And – Loves is not enviou – or boastful. Love is not arrogant – or rude. Love is not insistent on it’s own way. Love is not irritable – or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing… The word of God in First Corinthians defines love for us here – positively, in terms of what love is… And – negatively, in terms of what love is not… And I’m remembering one of my former pastors, Barbara, and her husband Mitch, a clergy couple – both of whom used to take turns writing the sermon that each of them would then deliver in their respective churches… And I remember Barb telling me “once you know that we share the sermon writing, you can tell who wrote a sermon any given week – because all of mine are about “Jesus loves you…” And all of Mitch’s are “Jesus loves you – But…” And both Barb and Mitch were formative influences on my preaching… And most of my sermons, you may have noticed, can’t quite decide – whether the main point is all about ‘Jesus loves us’ – or about ‘Jesus loves us – But’…. (The word of God says it both ways. Both can be right…) And here we are today hearing again the best-known writing on love in any language… And if anything, the word of God tells us more about what love is not… Than about what love is… Causing me to remember the old song that sings about love as a question mark – That’s why I ask – the Lord in heaven above – What is this thing – called love? Which can have a different implied answer, depending on who is singing the song… And this week, as it happens, our daughter Rohi borrowed a Mr Rogers video that features a circus performer asking virtually the same question – ‘what is love?’ But this time when the question is asked, an owl opens a bible and reads – “love is patient. Love is kind…” Which seems to settle the matter sufficiently, for viewers in Mr Rogers Neighborhood… But with many adults, I notice, there are often still questions about ‘what is love?’ Sometimes even for married lovers who have been together a long time in love… Even when we know we’ve got it, love is often still a profound mystery… All the more so, the closer we get to the author of love… Whose name is never mentioned directly here in our reading today – yet who is always present whenever two or three or more of us gather together in the name of Jesus. Who has revealed for us the truth – that God is love… God is love. Which is not the same thing as saying ‘Love is God’… Because God is love in ways so many, so deep, so wide we can’t fully comprehend… And because there is love, and there is love… And not everything we call ‘love’ has anything to do with love… or God… Which is yet another reason why it is still fair to ask “What is this thing called love?” And maybe love is defined here by the apostle...

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February 1, 2015 – What do you know?

Deuteronomy 6:4-9                                                                                                                       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 might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Mark 1:21-28                                                                                                                                 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13                                                                                                                      Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat...

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February 2, 2014 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Epiphany 4   Feb 2, 2014   (Is 29:13-14,18-19; Mt 5:1-12; see below) 1 Corinthians 1:18-31                         Weak and foolish ********************************** 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” *** Some of our finest hymns name our human condition as weak. (I am weak but thou art strong…) Other hymns remind us foolishness is part of our human nature. (Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways…) But I can’t think of any hymns that name God as weak or foolish… Though the apostle Paul is coming pretty close today – talking about the foolishness of God and the weakness of God. We’re in our third week in the first letter to the Corinthians. And maybe it’s a sign of weakness and foolishness to be spending so much time studying a letter – an ancient form of  communication that’s practically extinct. Back when Neanderthals roamed the earth and I was still a teenager, we knew what the Marvelletes were talking about, when they sang“Mr Postman, look and see… is there a letter in your bag for me…” Not many people still write letters. And I feel old-fashioned now because I still use email, rather than texting or tweeting. Now we call sending letters ‘snail-mail.’  But once upon a time, letter writing was practically the only long-distance communication there was. And if the increase in the price of a postage stamp is bothering us, well consider – in days of old it could cost the equivalent of hundreds of dollars to pay for the papyrus that letters were written on, and to pay someone to deliver the letter, carrying it by...

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January 26, 2014 – Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Epiphany 3 Jan 26, 2014   ******************* 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?   I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. *** There’s an ancient proverb that says – Wherever two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name…. pretty soon there will be a church fight. So what’s up with the apostle saying, “I appeal to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another – so that there be no divisions among you – but that you be perfectly united in the same mind and purpose?” What planet could the apostle Paul be living on? I mean, Jesus himself prayed for unity among his followers (John 17) and even Jesus’ prayer doesn’t seem to have been answered affirmatively (at least not yet)… Isn’t this still the world that so loves to fuss and fight and always seem to be looking for conflict – picking up sides and going at it, til one side or the other drops from exhaustion or extinction, whichever comes first? And we the church, still seem to have much the same kinds of divisions as the world around us. There are reportedly now some 33,000 distinct Protestant denominations, along with many orders and sub-divisions in the Catholic and Orthodox branches of the church. Sometimes our differences in belief and practice are small, sometimes huge. Sometimes we argue politely over differences. Other times we fight pitched battles, even wars. Yet the word of God tells us – be in agreement, no divisions – united in the same mind, for the same purpose. Which seems virtually impossible for us humans. (Though we know with God all things are possible…) Though sometimes we’ve got to be very creative (as God, in whose image we’re made is always creative…) and think… expansively… *** Which reminds me of the story of a young Rabbi, newly installed in his first synagogue… having difficulty understanding the ways of the congregation. As soon as he thinks he’s beginning to understand how things function, someone come along and tells him something different, contrary to what he’s just heard… His confusion grows and grows… till it becomes almost despair… Finally he goes and seeks out the elderly retired former Rabbi, asking...

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