Unfulfilled Promises in America

We cannot ignore injustice. We cannot turn away from racism as if it doesn’t exist. We cannot remain quiet as long as people are treated as less than other people because of the color of their skin. As Americans, we say in our pledge to the flag that we are a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” To indigenous people, to people of African descent …

Listen to the sermon ….

TEXT:  1 Corinthians 12:3-13
TITLE: “Promise Fulfilled”
THESIS: God keeps promises; so must we.

Introduction

  • Today is Pentecost Sunday – a day of celebration – a day to wear red as a sign of the Spirit who appeared as “tongues of fire” over the heads of the disciples – a day to remember the story of that day God’s promise to give the Spirit to all believers was fulfilled. – A promise fulfilled!
  • We make promises of many kinds in our lives – marriage vows, promises to always “be there” for a friend, promises parents make to their children, promises we make at baptism as Christians. … A favorite hymn says it: “O Jesus, I have promised, to serve thee to the end.” … When we make promises, we expect to keep them – and we expect others to keep their promises.
  • Let’s consider first this “promise of the Spirit.”

Scripture

  • John the Baptist said of Jesus that he would “baptize with the Spirit.” … Jesus said that “living waters would flow from” all who believe, meaning the gift of the Spirit to be with us. … On the night of Jesus’ resurrection, he said to his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And he said, wait in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high.”And again, he said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” – power to change the world.
  • In our text today, the apostle Paul describes how God empowers us – through different kinds of gifts all given by the same Spirit. … In everyone it is the same God at work. …. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophetic words, discernment – all of these and more are gifts of the Spirit to empower us to do the work God sent us into the world to do – to bring reconciliation and peace through compassion and justice – to love the world as God loves the world. At the end of the chapter, he begins to speak of the one supreme gift – the gift of love.

Conclusion

  • The promise of God to give us the Spirit is fulfilled not so much when we receive the Spirit but when we allow the Spirit to empower us – to love, to seek justice, to show compassion and grace, to do all we can that all people might live a life of freedom and wholeness.
  • That brings me to what has happened this week. As Christians gifted and empowered by the Spirit to do God’s work in this world, we cannot ignore injustice. We cannot turn away from racism as if it doesn’t exist. We cannot remain quiet as long as people are treated as less than other people because of the color of their skin.
  • As Americans, we say in our pledge to the flag that we are a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” To indigenous people, to people of African descent, to people who are of a different ethnicity or language – that is not their experience. Our constitution promises “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” … These “promises” have not been fulfilled for a great number of people.
  • As a nation, we must work to keep our promises to everyone among us. – God keeps promises; so must we.  As God’s people, followers of Jesus, we must be faithful to keep ours. God does not show favoritism. We are all one in the Spirit. More than that, we are all one as human beings, “made of one blood,” as the scripture says – and for all of us it is true that in God we live and move and have our being.
  • The gifts of God’s Spirit empower us in this world to show love and compassion, to seek justice and peace, to work for change and transformation. We are empowered to do God’s work of reconciliation, bringing people together rather than driving them apart. – To be an inclusive community of hope and love in the world around us.
  • As many people now say, it is not enough to not be racist; we must be anti-racist. In our words, our actions, our choices, our body language, our courage to speak out in the presence of racism of any kind – and to stand with people of color as their very lives continue to be threatened and taken from them.
  • God fulfilled the promise of the Spirit given to us to empower us. Now let us fulfill the promise of our nation to work for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – for “liberty and justice for all.” For these, too, are God’s promises. May the Spirit empower us in love and through the Spirit’s gifts to fulfill God’s promises for everyone.

Called as a Witness

(View the sermon here.)

TEXT: Acts 1:6-14
TITLE:  “Called As a Witness”
THESIS: We are called – and sent – as witnesses to Jesus.

Introduction

  • I could easily preach six different sermons from this text, but I want to focus this one on Jesus’ words: You will be my witnesses.
  • What is a witness? Someone who can say, “I was there. I saw it. This is what happened.” … Sometimes witnesses in court disagree about what they saw and heard, and their experiences were different. But they speak publicly and give clear testimony – witness – to that experience.
  • Christians are called – and sent out into the world – to be witnesses to what God has done through Jesus and by the Spirit. … What God has done and is still doing. – The UCC motto is true: “God is still speaking.” The Spirit still works in this world, in and through us – and others – to do what God wants.

Scripture

  • V. 8 is our focus – You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. – The Greek word for “power” is where we get dynamite. This is an explosive ability to change things. The Spirit of God at work within us makes a difference – transforming our world.
  • How? By giving our life to follow Jesus – taking up the cross of loving others to death, if necessary – to give up our lives out of love for others and for God. The Gk. word for witness is also translated martyr. But not a physical martyr – a willing heart to give ourselves to God and to others out of generous love.

Conclusion

  • We witness best by our lives – by what we do and not what we say (or not just what we say). The best witness for Jesus is a life totally given up to God and to God’s ways – to follow Jesus by giving up our lives in love as Jesus did.
  • A familiar hymn says “They will know we are Christians by our love.” – Not by our doctrines, worship styles, what we believe about social issues, certainly not our politics – but by our love. …. Jesus said: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34)
  • When trial witnesses don’t agree, how do we know what is true? When people who claim to be Christians give a different witness to who they say Jesus is and what God wants to happen, how do other people know what is true?
  • We are called to be witnesses to Jesus – to who he was in this life – his words and actions – because who he was is who he is today. And Jesus said, “If you know me, you have known the Father.” – When we follow Jesus, living as Jesus lived and putting into practice what he taught, loving God and others without holding back, ready to give our lives for the world – when we live this way, we are his witnesses.
  • In years to come, what will we tell our children and grandchildren about the year 2020? The year of COVID-19? – Will we tell them about fear of dying? Or tell them about anger because we thought we were not free to live as we want? Will we tell them about deep divisions among the people and the hatred and bigotry we saw that year …. Or will we tell them how people loved one another and took care of each other? How people literally sacrificed their lives to provide care for the sick and the dying? How most of us were willing to give up some of our “freedoms” for months so that more people would stay healthy and stay alive?
  • What will be our witness? I hope that it will be a witness of love – a witness to what it means to love others and serve one another and give up our freedoms and “rights” so that others might live. … In part, this is what it can mean to be a witness to Jesus.
  • When the Spirit comes, you will receive a transforming ability to love God and to love people – and as you live in this way, you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Turning in their graves

“This is a Christian nation!” is the familiar cry of many evangelicals today as they seek to enshrine a form of Christian supremacy into the laws of the United States. Early Baptist leaders in America like Roger Williams and John Leland, not to mention the framers of the Constitution, must be turning in their graves. A hyper-nationalism has infected large swaths of American Christianity, effectively elevating the flag above the cross.”

H. Stephen Shoemaker wrote an excellent article – a call to the Church and all people working together to turn our nation in a good direction.

Please read…Rebuilding the foundations of ‘The City on the Hill’: the shadow side of American exceptionalism

 

 

 

 

 

In God We Live

My sermon on May 17, 2020:
Acts 17:22-31
“God Was Never in the Building”

Click here for video

Introduction

  • In 1956 Elvis Presley had a show in Louisiana which drew a huge crowd of teenagers. The show announcer, when Elvis left and the teens started getting up, wanted them to stay seated, so he said – “Elvis has left the building.” … Later on, when Elvis had left a concert and the crowd was energized and not wanting to leave, the phrase was used in an opposite way to say you might as well leave because “He has left the building.”
  • I’ve often heard the phrase used in a more general way – that someone “has left the building” to say there’s no point in staying here. … I thought of this when I read today’s scripture, in the context of our stay-at-home situation so that we are not able to come to the building – to the church sanctuary – where we have always felt we were meeting God in this place.
  • We give an invocation – inviting God to be with us. We speak of it as “the house of God.” People joke about the ceiling falling in if some people “dared” to “come to church” – with the idea of this being a holy place because God is here.
  • Well, in Paul’s sermon to the people of Athens that day – none of whom who were Christian except his little group – Paul clearly says that God does not live in [sanctuaries] built by human hands. – Perhaps this is a message we need to hear today. – God is not in the building.

Scripture

  • The Aeropagus was a place where the men of Athens came to argue – well, to discuss the latest ideas. Paul acknowledged how religious they were and then went on to talk about the one true God. (vv.24-28)
  • “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.
  • We do not serve God by maintaining temples or buildings which we say “contain God.” God created all that is and God is in all that God has created. We are never beyond God’s presence, nor beyond God’s love and generosity. God gives everyone life and breath and everything else.And in God we live and move and have our being. – Paul is speaking to non-Christians, so these words are true of every human being.

Conclusion

  • This is one of the most inclusive statements of the gospel in scripture. It leaves no one out. – He goes on to say God did this so that we would seek God and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. – This is the invitation for us to seek God, to reach out, and to find God who is always there.
  • Paul does move on to a call for repentance – saying that God wants all people everywhere to repent.For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice and has given proof of this to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. – I understand this to be a call to turn around in our lives from following the ways of this world to following Jesus – to live as God intended everyone to live, in compassion, justice, freedom, and wholeness, and to love both God and people – always. God demonstrated his power to change lives and heal and transform the world through resurrection.
  • Our mission statement says that all we do together is for the purpose of transformation in our world. In a sense, God was never in this building – in the sense that somehow this alone is where we meet with God. Before this time – and beyond this time – we come to this sanctuary, this holy place set apart for the worship and praise of God. We will come together to pray and sing and preach and learn and be a community together in one place.
  • We are, however, always a community, wherever we are in isolation or apart from one another. We are an inclusive community of hope. We keep on serving, caring, and learning together in our homes, as well as in the church. And we continue to pray for and seek transformation in our world through all we do. Remember this – “In God we live and move and have our being – in our homes, as we begin to go out again, and when once again we have returned to worship in this place.”

 

An Inclusive Gospel

Paul preaches at Athens perhaps the most inclusive version of the gospel:

Acts 17:22-31

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

The Gospel

The Gospel is good news, not bad news. I’ve never understood how people can claim to “preach the gospel” when what they preach is bad news – condemnation, fear, guilt, shame. God’s love is good news. Freedom, healing & wholeness, justice, compassion – all of this is good news. This is what Jesus taught and how he lived – and what he called us to live out in our lives. This is the gospel.

Reframing social justice in the days of COVID-19

This is an important article.Some of what it says:

A day will come when this pandemic subsides. But will the world return to the way it was before this virus dramatically shifted its course? And more importantly, should it? Loving others is the work that God has called us to do. And if we love others, we will want justice for everyone, regardless of our differences. Social justice is one of the hallmarks of God’s word spoken from the heart of the biblical prophet Amos to “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream.”

As infections and deaths continue, a significant amount of the U.S. population will experience long-term effects on their physical health, mental health and finances. Families, friends and colleagues will have the stress and inconvenience of isolation. The millions who have lost their jobs will struggle to survive. With the stress and demands of being sick, caring for the sick, worrying about getting sick or trying to find food and pay bills, the mental health of many has already been negatively affected.

The church has a critical role to play in abating the appalling level of human suffering, especially in communities that are underserved. We should be like the good Samaritan, who, despite not knowing the person in need, gave so much to bring about the healing of his neighbor. Given churches’ proximity to and familiarity with the communities they serve, and the access they have to resources either directly or through networks, they are in a unique position to help where needed.

Jesus is the Way (to follow)

My sermon from today:

[Here’s the video of the sermon, as part of the service.]

TEXT:  John 14:1-14
TITLE:  “Untroubled Hearts”
THESIS: Trust God, stay in God’s love, follow the way of Jesus.

Introduction

  • Today is Mother’s Day – an unusual day for it, of course, because we are not able to gather in person to give flowers and hugs and smiles – not in church, not even in our extended families. It is a bittersweet day.
  • “Bittersweet” can describe the life experience for many mothers. Children can give great joy and great sadness – times of delight and frustration and grief. – And women, whether mothers or not, intuitively sense those deeper levels of life – joy and delight … sadness, frustration, and grief at so many levels.
  • So today’s opening line in the scripture is for mothers, for women – but for all of us …. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
  • How can we live with untroubled hearts? I’m sure it is not my experience of life right now because there is so much trouble in the world. … But let’s look at the scripture and listen to what God wants to say to us.

Scripture

  • It’s in that upper room the night before Jesus died, and he is saying goodbye to his disciples. They don’t understand yet, but they know “something bad” is about to happen. After only 3 years with Jesus, they don’t want him to leave – whatever he means by that. ….
  • With confusion, anxiety, fear in their hearts, they hear Jesus say: Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust God; trust me. – Trust is one essential key to “untroubled hearts.” We don’t know what’s coming, but God does. And God will be with us on the journey – bringing us through the flood and the fire, as Isaiah says. Through the sea, as with Moses – and through the desert, as in the return from exile. The stories of how God stayed with the people and brought them through the worst of times give us trust for today, so our hearts might find peace.
  • Then Jesus talks about going to prepare a place in “the Father’s house with many rooms.” … We most often hear these words in a time of death when someone “has gone before us” – to “heaven.” Yet Jesus’ words surely mean more than this, for God is Spirit and does not live in a place called heaven, but is everywhere. … Perhaps these words mean that there is room for everyone where God is, for God is in the midst of all creation. And God’s self-giving love seen in Jesus’ death on the cross is perhaps what Jesus means when he says: I go to prepare a place for you – a place in the all-inclusive love of God which see us through everything.
  • When Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life¸- what does he mean? He does not say, “If you believe the doctrines about me” or “If you pray the sinner’s prayer” … then you will go to heaven when you die. … What he says is, I AM THE WAY. If you know me, you know God. If you follow my ways – my actions and words – you will follow God’s ways. You will be on the right path, the right journey – and God will always be with you. You can trust that. … So don’t let your hearts be troubled.
  • Then Jesus goes on to talk about this life – you will do greater works …. Ask me for whatever you need – and trust me to do it. … At the beginning of the Church, those who followed Jesus were “people of the Way.” Following the way of Jesus was what it meant to be a Christian – and still does.

Conclusion

  • The world faces challenges it has not faced since before I was born, in some ways, for 100 years. How will we face it all with “untroubled hearts.”
  • People starving to death could double during this pandemic, one headline read. – Another said that Medicaid will be cut significantly because states don’t have the money, so not only the poor but so many who are now out of work will suffer. – A black man gunned down for no reason – People marching in the streets with Nazi and Confederate flags and armed for war – People saying older people might need to die so the economy can open up again … How do we face it all with untroubled hearts?
    • Trust God – trust Jesus – who will be with us
    • Know that God’s love is available for all (and God “suffers” with us in the midst)
    • Follow the way of Jesus, and he will give us what we need for the journey
  • There is no “easy” path in life, without troubles – but Jesus said: My yoke is easy, my burden is light. Trust God. Be at peace in God’s love. And follow the way of Jesus. – And let not your hearts be troubled.

Untroubled Hearts

Adapted from John 14 …

Do not be troubled in your heart. Trust God, trust me. Where God is, there is room for everyone. Even though we must be apart, I will not leave you. When you follow the way I have shown you, you will always be with me – and with God. If you have seen me – and continue in the way I have shown you, you will know God, for we are one. All that I have done is what you will do. So keep on doing, and trust me for whatever your heart desires.

Where do we go from here?

We’re not going back. Everything has changed. The question now is how we make a better world? Compassion and community, perhaps contemplation, are key to this.

The church will never be the same. When have we ever not held Sunday services where we gather at least in small numbers to pray, learn, preach, praise, encourage? In 50 years as a pastor, I never cancelled more than one Sunday and then only because of a major winter storm. Now it’s been 9 weeks already.

How do show compassion to people? How do we build community? How does contemplation undergird everything else? These are questions I will explore on this blog and with the church I pastor now. I invite you to join me.