Nov. 27th sermon: ‘Wonderful Counselor’

I am bad at posting the text of my sermons — mostly because I don’t usually write a manuscript from which to preach and then post. Plus, I’m convinced that sermons are best experienced when heard, rather than just read.

Here then, is the audio from yesterday’s sermon. My editing talents are limited so there is a little extra material at both the beginning and the end. Go to the four minute mark to hear the beginning of the sermon. Or start at the beginning to hear a bit of a song and the two scripture passages for the day, Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 7:17-23.

However, if reading is preferred over listening, I’ve also posted my notes below. The caveat being that I mostly use them as a guide, meaning what I actually said doesn’t completely match up with what I wrote. I doubt I’ve ever had a sermon completely match in that way. I suspect that’s true for most preachers.

We didn’t have time after the message for discussion in church, so I’d love for this to become a conversation here. So comment, question, and critique away.

”Names for the Messiah: Wonderful Counselor”

We are a country divided. From coast to coast, we have an issue that pits sister against brother; child against parent; even spouses against each other. I am of course talking about…

Properly using commas.

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

“To Oxford Comma, or not to Oxford comma, that is the question.”

I can’t and won’t solve this dilemma today, though if you know much of anything about me you can probably guess in which camp I fall. But for our purposes today, let’s at least acknowledge that comma placement affects the meaning of a sentence.

Here’s an example; notice the difference: “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain, and God.” OR “I dedicate this book to my parents, Mark Twain and God.”

Comma placement matters. Can we agree upon that?

Here’s why that’s important today:

The key passage for this sermon series, ‘Names for the Messiah”, is, as you might expect, the passage that, you know, names the Messiah: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

Thanks to Handel’s “Messiah”, we are probably most used to hearing that list as five names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, etc.

From Brueggemann:

“The two terms are to be taken together. ‘Counselor” refers to the exercise of governance, the capacity to administer, to plan, to deliver policy.”

‘Wonderful’ may suggest the new king will have great wisdom. Or it may suggest that the plans and policies of the new king will be tremendous and surprising.

Here’s my next controversial statement that’s not actually controversial at all: The prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th century BCE. He was writing about the crowning of a new king of Israel. He was not predicting Jesus of Nazareth, some 800 years later.

The early church read those terrific titles and used them to bear witness to Jesus, connecting the reality of Jesus to the expectation for a Liberating King, a Messiah, to the Hebrew Testament.

So we inherit a tradition that sees these titles in Jesus. And ‘wonderful’ becomes the operative word.

His teaching is ‘wonderful’ because he tells us and shows us that things we think are impossible are actually possible for God. Scriptures tell us Jesus is wise beyond explanation. He open up new possibilities for us. Thus he is a threat to conventional wisdom and conventional power.

The passage from Luke shows just how surprising and unconventional Jesus is. Even his relative, John the Baptizer, the one called to make the way for Jesus, isn’t sure he really is the one! But because of Jesus, the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed and the poor have good news.

“The old limits of the possible are frauds designed to keep the powerless in their place.” Jesus exposed this desire of the power order of his day and invited the common people to see that another way was possible, and not just possible but what God actually wants for all people. No wonder the religious and political leaders of his day wanted Jesus dead — he was “teaching them out of their allegiance to the entrenched order!”

Jesus breaks down such conventional wisdom, such as that “wisdom” that says white men should be in authority in order for society to maintain “proper” order.

Make no mistake, conventional wisdom and power are resistant to change; resistant to new possibilities. We’ve seen that in the rise of white nationalism, white supremacy, trying to disguise itself in a new name, “alt-right”, but with the same goals: keep white men at the top of the power structure; at the top of society. These are people who, intentionally or not, feel empowered by this month’s election to come out of the shadows and speak overtly, publicly that all who aren’t straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christians don’t belong.

Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist racism in all its forms.

Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means we who strive to follow in His Way must resist demonizing and “othering” of all groups of people: no matter their race, no matter their religion, no matter whom they love.

One way we are living this out is through our new Hospitality Statement. What is that statement? Come to Church Conference Dec. 7 to be part of the group that hears, and hopefully, approves this historic document.

Jesus as Wonderful Counselor means another, better way, another better world is POSSIBLE. Not just possible, but is actually what God wants for the world.

We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of hope, especially for those desperately in need of good news.

We who strive to follow Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, must be agents of God’s better way that includes ALL people.

That, I am convinced, is our way forward, together. Amen?

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Throwback Thorsday

Today is Thorsday (aka Thursday) and, I’m told, it’s also #NationalSuperheroDay. I don’t know why that’s a thing, but I like it. Since I was just talking with a friend about a sermon I once did about Thor…seems like a good day for an archive post. Plus, I really do enjoy Marvel’s Thor books. The current run with [SPOILER ALERT – look away if you haven’t yet read the story arc revealing the identity of the new Thor]…Dr. Jane Foster as Thor has been particularly fun to read and is beautifully drawn. Here’s a small sample:

Thor image

 

Pretty awesome, right? Anyway, here’s The Gospel According to Thor


Originally posted January 30, 2014

You might think that putting up a sermon is the easiest kind of post. I mean, really, the content is already created, how hard could it be? Yet, somehow, it never ends up being that easy for me. Once again, here it is Thursday and I’m just now posting my sermon from this past Sunday (January 26). Which still beats the many times I didn’t post my sermon at all.

I’m sure this pathetic pattern is largely due to me being an inept blogger. But my particular process of sermon preparation plays a role as well.* I think a sermon is, first and foremost, an oral/auditory event. So I hope to add the audio soon. In the meantime, here are the notes I used as I spoke. Below I mention some of Julie Clawson’s writing; additionally, her 7-21 talk at Christianity 21 also informed my thoughts here.

Let me know what you think.

photo credit Colleen Erbach
This was the bulletin cover that day. Photo credit Colleen Erbach

“The Gospel According to Thor”

Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matt. 4:12-23

Realms collide as the only son of God comes to earth, offering displays of power, bringing his light into places of darkness, saving the world. I am, of course, talking about…Thor!

Why Thor? A quick search on Amazon of “Gospel according to,” yields 39,647 results. I am not making that up. Results include:

Pop culture icons: Dr. Seuss, Sopranos, Simpsons, JRR Tolkein, Peanuts, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Disney, Star Wars, Hunger Games

Other bible stories: Job, Daniel, Jonah, Isaiah, and, my favorite, The Other Mary.

Even some, er, really creative ones: Coco Chanel, The Beatles, Jazz, Waffle House, Hoyle, Elvis, Patti Labelle, and Starbucks – which I’m pretty sure is, treat others the way you want to be treated…unless they say ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘espresso.’ Then you are to mock them mercilessly.

So really, why not Thor??

Still, I’ll forgive you if you’re a little skeptical.

Heck, my own son – who has become a bit of a comic book geek himself (not sure how that happened) – even thinks it’s crazy.

“Hey Josh, look at this cool picture we’re using in church this week!”

“Why?”

“Whaddya mean ‘why’?? Isn’t that awesome?!?”

“You should’ve used Captain America; he’s cooler.”

“What! How do you figure?”

“His shield can stop Thor’s hammer.”

While Joshua hasn’t seen it yet, in The Avengers movie we have the video evidence that he is correct.

So why Thor? He’s become a fascinating and complex character. His stories are almost all about hope overcoming fear. And aren’t those the kinds of stories we need right now?

A recent story arc had him pondering the very nature of gods, had him questioning his own existence, had him flying all over the multiverse teaching people to pray.

When his not flying around the multiverse or smiting frost giants, what does Thor do? The answer might surprise you.

There’s this book, a filler of sorts, an issue between story arcs. But this stand alone issue continues a theme from the beginning of Thor: Thor always returns to Midgard. (That’s earth to the uninitiated.) If the tech will work, I’ll show you what Thor does on earth:

[I showed a few panels from Thor: God of Thunder #12]

-Thor drinks with friends. Ok, maybe not too surprising; he is a Viking god after all. Though I seem to recall another story about a son of God who made sure a party he was at didn’t run out of good drink…

-Thor visits a friend on death row and brings him his last meal.

-Thor brings food to seemingly orphaned children.

-Thor entrusts nuns with the seeds of an extinct orchid.

-Thor sits and talks with the proverbial wise man at the top of a mountain.

-Thor drinks with wounded soldiers; brings rain to dry land; scatters a crowd that claims “God hates you”; and hangs out with some fishermen.

-like a good celebrity, Thor responds to video invitation to attend a ball

-Thor grieves with a former girlfriend who is dying of cancer.

-Finally, far ahead in the future, Thor returns to Midgard…no matter how much it pains him.

Thor learns from and is inspired by his interactions with people on earth. The son of the highest god belongs on earth.

So what is the gospel according to Thor? Seems like it is “bring light and life into dark and dying places.”

“I could use a good saving the world story,” said Jane Foster as she was dying of breast cancer.

We need stories that inspire us; stories that remind us that hope doesn’t die; stories that remind us that fear, intimidation, injustice, oppression, and even death – as ubiquitous and implacable as they may seem – do. Not. Have. The. Last. Word.

As Julie Clawson writes, “We need as a culture to see that if we are creative and brave enough sometimes the biggest and baddest dragons can be defeated. Only story could do that for us.

Julie also points us to this quote from author Gerard Jones:

For young people to develop selves that serve them well in life, they need modeling, mentoring, guidance, communication, and limitations. But they also need to fantasize, and play, and lose themselves in stories. That’s how they reorganize the world into forms they can manipulate. That’s how they explore and take some control over their own thoughts and emotions. That’s how they kill their monsters.

Or consider this from CS Lewis:

“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

Stories within stories within stories.

In Matthew, Jesus has gone through the water via his baptism, has been sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, and is about to, in chapter 5, go up on a mountain (of sorts) to offer his fresh take on God’s law.

Through the water –> into the wilderness —> up the mountain… remind you of anything??

Matthew references Isaiah. Isaiah references Judges and the story of Gideon. And really, what is the book of Judges if not tales of superheroes? Men and women who display immense courage, who overcome their fear and their people’s fear, to defeat an enemy.

Gideon’s story is one of Israel’s deliverance from oppression – and all such stories of deliverance are references to the Exodus, when God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.

So we’ve come full circle once again, from Jesus back to the Exodus, God’s great deliverance of God’s people.

Stories within stories within stories.

There is a shadow side to superhero stories: apathy. If we are so wrapped up and addicted to the need for a super power to save us – whether religion, technology, or political platform – we might never live the courageous path the stories inspire us to take.

(paraphrased from Kester Brown: “We need also to let go of our hope that some other superpower—whether religion, technology or a political formulation—will bring eternal peace and equilibrium.” and Julie Clawson)

God continues to delivery us from oppression and misery. God does that by continually calling us to live lives of grace and peace and hope. God loves us and call us to live lives of love.

Do you know that? I mean really know that in the very center of your self? That at the core of your identity you are God’s beloved child? No matter who you are or who you aren’t; no matter who your parents are or who they aren’t; no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve left undone…you are God’s beloved child. Do you know that?

Well the story isn’t over. Because you are also called by God. You are called by God to be God’s agents in the world – this world, our world, God’s world.

One biblical commentator wrote, “God designates human agents whom God empowers and authorizes in the public process of history. Such human agents turn the public reality of politics and economics toward the will of God.”

You are called by God to be agents in the world fighting, what are our vows?, “fighting evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.”

Frankly, there’s plenty of evil to go around. Not to go all “We didn’t start the fire on you”, but we know the big evils:

-1 Billion w/o clean safe water

-800 million hungry

-27 million trapped in slavery

-1 in 5 women sexually assaulted

-climate already 50 parts per million above sustainability

There’s plenty of actual, real evil to go around. We can’t afford to waste time making up pretend evils, like fighting about which particular consenting adults are allowed to get married.

And we’re acting on those evils. Sometimes indirectly through our UM connectional system: clean water projects, rebuilding after the Haiti earthquake, UMW demonstrating in Chicago to fight the sex trafficking that accompanies every Super Bowl.

Sometimes very directly: your generosity in Nov & Dec resulted in over $1000 donated to West Suburban Community Pantry. That will allow the Pantry to buy 3 tons of food!

But if those evils I mentioned strike you as too universal, here are some closer to home:

-We have heroin deaths on the rise in DuPage & Will counties.

-we have drug addiction ravaging young people – though not just young people

-I learned this week that 52% of children in Woodridge schools receive free or reduced lunch.

-There are children in our schools in Woodridge who are homeless. Children whose only meals each day are the free breakfast and lunch provided by the school.

How will we address those? Maybe we start with just one. Maybe we need to partner with the Woodridge Resource Center, see how we can go to them with offers of help. Maybe we can help provide meals for children in the summer months when school meals aren’t available. I don’t know but I’m convinced you do know. God is at work in and with and through and even in spite of, you and me and us.

What story will your life write? What story will we write together, as the people of God called Woodridge UMC?

I say let’s make it a story of ordinary people who dared to respond to God’s call and do extraordinary things! I say we overcome fear and evil with stories and faithful actions of hope! Amen?

————–

*I almost never write a manuscript (that’s preacher-ese for writing out each word of the sermon); instead I use a hybrid style. By which I mean I use a combination of outline, fully-written sections, and, er, inspiration. I always have a thesis so that I know where I’m going with the message. I usually write out the opening and the conclusion and just outline the middle. I find I think about the message all week long, almost constantly playing it in my head, revising it and playing it again. For whatever reasons, I ended up writing almost all of this one. Go figure.

 

New parables?

My task this week is to tackle some of those most mysterious teachings of Jesus that we usually call parables. In particular, parables about what the author of Matthew’s gospel calls the Kingdom of God Heaven.

Why ‘Heaven’ instead of ‘God’? Most likely the author was Jewish or was writing for a Jewish audience or was otherwise strongly influenced by Jewish mores which preclude naming God. What’s more interesting (at least to me) are the implications of that language choice on us contemporary hearers…that’s some of what we’ll get into on Sunday with a sermon I call “Word Search.”

20140725-123730-45450975.jpg

I also hope to get into what we might (perhaps arrogantly?) call new parables of this Kingdom of God Heaven thing. Various verses from Matthew 13, our text for this week, offer five different examples Jesus used to describe this Kingdom. I want to add a few more. But sermons are fluid (at least as I prepare and present them), influenced by, to name a few, news, events, timing, congregational responses (or lack thereof), and – hopefully – the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. I might not end up saying what I think I will say. Or I might screw up and forget something. Or I might only tell part of a story. Or I might tell it badly. Or…??

In hopes that this will enhance your experience of, and participation in, Sunday’s message, I offer these stories for your perusal. Stories I intend to reference on Sunday as ways God’s Spirit of Life is at work in, with, and among us. Stories that might inspire you to find out about even more. Stories that might inspire you to notice the Spirit at work. Stories that might encourage you to tell your own story…and maybe even to tell it this week.

Remember a couple of months ago we became aware of Dr. Meriam Ibrahim’s story? We added our voices to those speaking out for her release from a death sentence. This week Pope Francis hosted her and her family at the Vatican.

A Tumblr blog using “collective life experience to be a safe haven for kids who need it?” Yep, it’s a real thing. And it is just so, so important.

Finally, a city chooses love and justice over short-sighted selfishness. Love Wins, indeed.

Click, read, repeat. Then comment here with reactions, or better yet, your own stories of the Life of God in the world.

The Gospel According to Thor #sermon

You might think that putting up a sermon is the easiest kind of post. I mean, really, the content is already created, how hard could it be? Yet, somehow, it never ends up being that easy for me. Once again, here it is Thursday and I’m just now posting my sermon from this past Sunday (January 26). Which still beats the many times I didn’t post my sermon at all.

I’m sure this pathetic pattern is largely due to me being an inept blogger. But my particular process of sermon preparation plays a role as well.* I think a sermon is, first and foremost, an oral/auditory event. So I hope to add the audio soon. In the meantime, here are the notes I used as I spoke. Below I mention some of Julie Clawson’s writing; additionally, her 7-21 talk at Christianity 21 also informed my thoughts here.

Let me know what you think.

photo credit Colleen Erbach
photo credit Colleen Erbach

“The Gospel According to Thor”

Isaiah 9:1-4 & Matt. 4:12-23

Realms collide as the only son of God comes to earth, offering displays of power, bringing his light into places of darkness, saving the world. I am, of course, talking about…Thor!

Why Thor? A quick search on Amazon of “Gospel according to,” yields 39,647 results. I am not making that up. Results include:

Pop culture icons: Dr. Seuss, Sopranos, Simpsons, JRR Tolkein, Peanuts, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Disney, Star Wars, Hunger Games

Other bible stories: Job, Daniel, Jonah, Isaiah, and, my favorite, The Other Mary.

Even some, er, really creative ones: Coco Chanel, The Beatles, Jazz, Waffle House, Hoyle, Elvis, Patti Labelle, and Starbucks – which I’m pretty sure is, treat others the way you want to be treated…unless they say ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘espresso.’ Then you are to mock them mercilessly.

So really, why not Thor??

Still, I’ll forgive you if you’re a little skeptical.

Heck, my own son – who has become a bit of a comic book geek himself (not sure how that happened) – even thinks it’s crazy.

“Hey Josh, look at this cool picture we’re using in church this week!”

“Why?”

“Whaddya mean ‘why’?? Isn’t that awesome?!?”

“You should’ve used Captain America; he’s cooler.”

“What! How do you figure?”

“His shield can stop Thor’s hammer.”

While Joshua hasn’t seen it yet, in The Avengers movie we have the video evidence that he is correct.

So why Thor? He’s become a fascinating and complex character. His stories are almost all about hope overcoming fear. And aren’t those the kinds of stories we need right now?

A recent story arc had him pondering the very nature of gods, had him questioning his own existence, had him flying all over the multiverse teaching people to pray.

When his not flying around the multiverse or smiting frost giants, what does Thor do? The answer might surprise you.

There’s this book, a filler of sorts, an issue between story arcs. But this stand alone issue continues a theme from the beginning of Thor: Thor always returns to Midgard. (That’s earth to the uninitiated.) If the tech will work, I’ll show you what Thor does on earth:

[I showed a few panels from Thor: God of Thunder #12]

-Thor drinks with friends. Ok, maybe not too surprising; he is a Viking god after all. Though I seem to recall another story about a son of God who made sure a party he was at didn’t run out of good drink…

-Thor visits a friend on death row and brings him his last meal.

-Thor brings food to seemingly orphaned children.

-Thor entrusts nuns with the seeds of an extinct orchid.

-Thor sits and talks with the proverbial wise man at the top of a mountain.

-Thor drinks with wounded soldiers; brings rain to dry land; scatters a crowd that claims “God hates you”; and hangs out with some fishermen.

-like a good celebrity, Thor responds to video invitation to attend a ball

-Thor grieves with a former girlfriend who is dying of cancer.

-Finally, far ahead in the future, Thor returns to Midgard…no matter how much it pains him.

Thor learns from and is inspired by his interactions with people on earth. The son of the highest god belongs on earth.

So what is the gospel according to Thor? Seems like it is “bring light and life into dark and dying places.”

“I could use a good saving the world story,” said Jane Foster as she was dying of breast cancer.

We need stories that inspire us; stories that remind us that hope doesn’t die; stories that remind us that fear, intimidation, injustice, oppression, and even death – as ubiquitous and implacable as they may seem – do. Not. Have. The. Last. Word.

As Julie Clawson writes, “We need as a culture to see that if we are creative and brave enough sometimes the biggest and baddest dragons can be defeated. Only story could do that for us.

Julie also points us to this quote from author Gerard Jones:

For young people to develop selves that serve them well in life, they need modeling, mentoring, guidance, communication, and limitations. But they also need to fantasize, and play, and lose themselves in stories. That’s how they reorganize the world into forms they can manipulate. That’s how they explore and take some control over their own thoughts and emotions. That’s how they kill their monsters.

Or consider this from CS Lewis:

“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

Stories within stories within stories.

In Matthew, Jesus has gone through the water via his baptism, has been sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, and is about to, in chapter 5, go up on a mountain (of sorts) to offer his fresh take on God’s law.

Through the water –> into the wilderness —> up the mountain… remind you of anything??

Matthew references Isaiah. Isaiah references Judges and the story of Gideon. And really, what is the book of Judges if not tales of superheroes? Men and women who display immense courage, who overcome their fear and their people’s fear, to defeat an enemy.

Gideon’s story is one of Israel’s deliverance from oppression – and all such stories of deliverance are references to the Exodus, when God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.

So we’ve come full circle once again, from Jesus back to the Exodus, God’s great deliverance of God’s people.

Stories within stories within stories.

There is a shadow side to superhero stories: apathy. If we are so wrapped up and addicted to the need for a super power to save us – whether religion, technology, or political platform – we might never live the courageous path the stories inspire us to take.

(paraphrased from Kester Brown: “We need also to let go of our hope that some other superpower—whether religion, technology or a political formulation—will bring eternal peace and equilibrium.” and Julie Clawson)

God continues to delivery us from oppression and misery. God does that by continually calling us to live lives of grace and peace and hope. God loves us and call us to live lives of love.

Do you know that? I mean really know that in the very center of your self? That at the core of your identity you are God’s beloved child? No matter who you are or who you aren’t; no matter who your parents are or who they aren’t; no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve left undone…you are God’s beloved child. Do you know that?

Well the story isn’t over. Because you are also called by God. You are called by God to be God’s agents in the world – this world, our world, God’s world.

One biblical commentator wrote, “God designates human agents whom God empowers and authorizes in the public process of history. Such human agents turn the public reality of politics and economics toward the will of God.”

You are called by God to be agents in the world fighting, what are our vows?, “fighting evil and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.”

Frankly, there’s plenty of evil to go around. Not to go all “We didn’t start the fire on you”, but we know the big evils:

-1 Billion w/o clean safe water

-800 million hungry

-27 million trapped in slavery

-1 in 5 women sexually assaulted

-climate already 50 parts per million above sustainability

There’s plenty of actual, real evil to go around. We can’t afford to waste time making up pretend evils, like fighting about which particular consenting adults are allowed to get married.

And we’re acting on those evils. Sometimes indirectly through our UM connectional system: clean water projects, rebuilding after the Haiti earthquake, UMW demonstrating in Chicago to fight the sex trafficking that accompanies every Super Bowl.

Sometimes very directly: your generosity in Nov & Dec resulted in over $1000 donated to West Suburban Community Pantry. That will allow the Pantry to buy 3 tons of food!

But if those evils I mentioned strike you as too universal, here are some closer to home:

-We have heroin deaths on the rise in DuPage & Will counties.

-we have drug addiction ravaging young people – though not just young people

-I learned this week that 52% of children in Woodridge schools receive free or reduced lunch.

-There are children in our schools in Woodridge who are homeless. Children whose only meals each day are the free breakfast and lunch provided by the school.

How will we address those? Maybe we start with just one. Maybe we need to partner with the Woodridge Resource Center, see how we can go to them with offers of help. Maybe we can help provide meals for children in the summer months when school meals aren’t available. I don’t know but I’m convinced you do know. God is at work in and with and through and even in spite of, you and me and us.

What story will your life write? What story will we write together, as the people of God called Woodridge UMC?

I say let’s make it a story of ordinary people who dared to respond to God’s call and do extraordinary things! I say we overcome fear and evil with stories and faithful actions of hope! Amen?

————–

*I almost never write a manuscript (that’s preacher-ese for writing out each word of the sermon); instead I use a hybrid style. By which I mean I use a combination of outline, fully-written sections, and, er, inspiration. I always have a thesis so that I know where I’m going with the message. I usually write out the opening and the conclusion and just outline the middle. I find I think about the message all week long, almost constantly playing it in my head, revising it and playing it again. For whatever reasons, I ended up writing almost all of this one. Go figure.

“Eat the Bread…For a Stronger, Kinder Faith: Redefining Liturgy, part 2” Oct.7 sermon

Here’s my sermon from Sunday (October 7). As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I called it “Eat This Bread…For a Stronger, Kinder Faith: Redefining Liturgy, part 2.” Part 1 was last week. Part 3 drops next week (October 21) at our Evening Worship. Again, this sermon was inspired and informed by my reading of Brian McLaren’s new book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

Our text was John 3:16-17. Big thanks to my friend and tech guru, Chris McConnell for providing the video.

Eat This Bread…For a Stronger, Kinder Faith: Redefining Liturgy, part 2 from Dave Buerstetta on Vimeo.

“Words Mean What They Mean…Until They Don’t: Redefining Liturgy, part 1” Sept. 30 sermon

Here’s my sermon from Sunday (September 30), which I called “Words Mean What They Mean…Until They Don’t: Redefining Liturgy, part 1.” It is inspired by Brian McLaren‘s Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammad Cross the Road? I think it is a terrific book. For years now I’ve found McLaren to be an author who writes things I’ve been thinking, who seems to be in my head. Of course McLaren writes those thoughts much better than I can. Count me as one who very much wants to live a life of faith that is “strong-benevolent and not hostile.”

Galatians 5:13-16, 22-26 is my text, focusing especially on what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit.

Redefining Liturgy, part 2 (working title: Altering Altar to Table) drops on Sunday at Woodridge UMC.

I must admit it is difficult for me to watch myself like this. So why share it? I hope it is at least slightly less difficult for you to watch. 🙂

Giving Up Fear for Lent

That’s what we exploring at our next evening worship experiment this Sunday, March 4 at 5:00pm. Hope you’ll join us!

First, a short video to get us thinking:

What do you think of that?
Do you sometimes (always?!?) hide your true self?
What masks do you wear?

How does being in church affect those masks?

It seems to me we tend to hide our truest selves in church. That shouldn’t be so, church should be the one place we are most free and able to be real. Church should be a place where it’s ok not to be ok. What barriers keep that from being the case? What do we fear that keeps that from happening? How do we break down those barriers to honesty?

Consider some scripture: Gospel of John: Chapter 21. Yes, I know this is kind of a lot to read. But it is such a fascinating, weird, funny, challenging story. And I see a whole lot of unmasking going on. This is from the version called The Voice.

1There was one other time when Jesus appeared to the disciples—this time by the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: 2Simon Peter, Thomas (the Twin), Nathanael (the Galilean from Cana), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Simon Peter (to disciples): 3I am going fishing.
Disciples: Then we will come with you.

They went out in the boat and caught nothing through the night. 4As day was breaking, Jesus was standing on the beach; but they did not know it was Jesus.

Jesus: 5My sons, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?
Disciples: No.
Jesus: 6Throw your net on the starboard side of the boat, and your net will find the fish.

They did what He said, and suddenly they could not lift their net because of the massive weight of the fish that filled it. 7The disciple loved by Jesus turned to Peter and said:

Beloved Disciple: It is the Lord.

Immediately, when Simon Peter heard these words, he threw on his shirt (which he would take off while he was working) and dove into the sea. 8The rest of the disciples followed him, bringing in the boat and dragging in their net full of fish. They were close to the shore, fishing only about 100 yards out. 9When they arrived on shore, they saw a charcoal fire laid with fish on the grill. He had bread too.

Jesus (to disciples): 10Bring some of the fish you just caught.

11Simon Peter went back to the boat to unload the fish from the net. He pulled 153 large fish from the net. Despite the number of the fish, the net held without a tear.

Jesus: 12Come, and join Me for breakfast.

Not one of the disciples dared to ask, “Who are You?” They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus took the bread and gave it to each of them, and then He did the same with the fish. 14This was the third time the disciples had seen Jesus since His death and resurrection. 15They finished eating breakfast.

Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these other things?
Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.
Jesus: Take care of My lambs.

16Jesus asked him a second time . . .

Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me?
Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You must surely know that I love You.
Jesus: Shepherd My sheep.
17(for the third time) Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

Peter was hurt because He asked him the same question a third time, “Do you love Me?”

Simon Peter: Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.
Jesus: Look after My sheep. 18I tell you the truth: when you were younger, you would pick up and go wherever you pleased; but when you grow old, someone else will help you and take you places you do not want to go.
19Jesus said all this as an indicator of the nature of Peter’s death, which would glorify God. After this conversation, Jesus said,

Jesus: Follow Me!
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The story begins with the disciples oddly unmasked. They’ve apparently seen Resurrected Jesus twice now, yet as this story begins they are still dejected, despondent, depressed. Maybe they still don’t believe Jesus is really alive. Maybe they just miss Jesus so much that they don’t know what to do.

Whatever the reason, in this state they return to what they know: fishing.
But out on the lake, these professional fishermen can’t catch a thing. Maybe their hearts aren’t in it, maybe they’re just going through the motions as they wade through their emotions.

Then Jesus appears acting in ways we’ve come to expect from him. The disciples have witnessed Jesus like this before: telling them where to fish and being right. Hosting a meal. Breaking bread and sharing it. Being mysterious. (“No one dared to ask, ‘who are you?’ b/c they knew it was Jesus” ??? What is that?! So strange.) You know, just Jesus being Jesus.

Then comes the big reveal. The climactic unmasking of Peter. Jesus strips away all pretense that everybody is ok by asking three times if Peter Simon loves him.

What might it mean that Jesus calls him Simon here rather than Peter? After all, Jesus is the one who gave him the name ‘Peter.’ Why would Jesus deliberately not use ‘Peter’ here?

Perhaps because Jesus knew Simon needed to remove his Peter mask – the mask that allowed him to pretend – to himself and the other disciples – that he was still the leader. The mask that allowed him to pretend he’d never betrayed Jesus. Once Simon was able to remove that mask, once he was able to face Jesus and affirm him three times, then he could truly become Peter again. (I was going to write “look Jesus in the eyes”, but I suspect he wasn’t really able to do that. Maybe by the third time. But even then, only with tears clouding his vision.)

Now, what about us? What masks do you wear?

How might we be the church in such a way that would allow us to remove those masks?

How might we be the church in such a way that would go beyond ‘allowing’ and actually encourage us to remove those masks?

How might we be the church in such a way that would move beyond both ‘allowing’ and ‘encouraging’ and actually make removing our masks the only logical, reasonable, faithful way to be together?

Perhaps put differently (and paraphrasing Peter Rollins), how might we be the church in such a way that “acknowledges our brokenness, frailty, and heresy,” rather than seeing our brokenness, frailty and heresy as something to reject, mourn over, or attempt to overcome?

Jonah, Jesus & Us: Jan. 22 sermon “Changing Speech, Speaking Change”

I always feel inadequate when it comes to posting my sermons. Most all the blogging pastors I know are great at posting brilliant manuscripts, and most of them manage to do so by early Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, I usually don’t have a manuscript. But that’s ok because I think sermons are auditory (and visual) events to be experienced more than they are papers to be read. I’d love to post a video of my sermons. But we don’t video record our worship gatherings, so that’s out. We do, however, record all our Sunday worship services on audio cd, so I should at least be able to do that, right? Well, for the longest time the whole service (usually about an hour-long) was all on one track. Now though, thanks to our faithful and talented sound engineer, Chris, we at least have a few tracks on the cd’s.

Then there’s the whole question of which of our two services to post. No two sermons are exactly alike. This week for instance, listening to both sermons I thought the first time was a bit tighter. But I forgot to mention that Jonah, son of Amittai means “Dove,” son of “Faithfulness.” I remembered that the second time, but the audio quality wasn’t as good. What to do, what to do… (a first world problem, to be sure).

So I’m trying a hybrid today. Here’s the audio of my sermon (beginning with our Deacon Beth storytelling the gospel reading). Below that are the notes I used along with the two slides I showed. Rev. Russell Rathburn’s The Hardest Question posts and John C. Holbert’s reflections on Jonah helped shape my thoughts. (Along with memories from my favorite seminary class: Jonah & Ruth with Dr. Julie Duncan.)

Texts are Jonah 3 (though really the whole book) and Mark 1:14-20.

Hope you find it engaging. I’d love to hear your comments.

This is the only time in the whole three-year Lectionary cycle that we read Jonah, which is one of my favorite books, so there’s no way I’m passing up this chance to spend some time in this delightful, confounding, silly, challenging book. Plus, I think it will help illuminate the gospel reading.

Close your eyes. You go into work tomorrow and are given the worst assignment possible.
…What is it? Anyone willing to share?
I’d guess we’d eventually hear funny stories, poignant stories, dangerous stories, even maddening stories.

Well that’s what happened to Jonah: he showed up to work one day and God gave him the Worst. Assignment. Ever.

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah, ‘Go at once to Nineveh and cry out against it, for they are wicked.”

In other words, God said, “Go to the capital city of your greatest enemy, the Assyrians – people who don’t know the Lord, people who are known throughout the ancient world as ruthless killers – Go to them and deliver the message I give you.”

We’ll get into Jonah’s reaction to that word from God, but first we need to rescue Jonah. Rescue him from the whale that is the Sunday School pabulum we’ve been fed all these years. What’s the one thing most everyone knows about Jonah? The whale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think we confuse him with other whale riders like Pinocchio or maybe even Rudolph in that ‘70s classic, Rudolph Saves Baby New Year. The whale is probably the least important part of the whole story! Here’s how we’ll rescue him: by paying attention to genre.

Genre matters. We know this. It’s probably just harder for us to apply that knowledge to the bible. Think about it like this: what’s the difference between a 10:00 NBC 5 news cast and a Saturday Night Live skit? Do we approach a Tom Brokaw Greatest Generation program the same as we do an episode of the Simpsons or South Park?

We need to similarly approach scripture. Jonah is the Colbert Report of the bible – whip smart, wickedly funny, and overwhelmingly satirical.

It seems to me, knowing that can help us make some sense of Jonah’s actions and words…and help us see just how darn funny this book really is.


Jonah is here, in Jerusalem. God tells him to go to Nineveh, here. So Jonah, whose name means, “Dove” son of “Faithfulness”, does exactly as one so named would do. He flees in the exact opposite direction! Tarshish is most likely in southern Spain. The exact opposite direction and the edge of the known world.

Do you know where Nineveh is today? What modern-day country? Iraq.
Maybe Jonah isn’t so crazy after all.

Jonah, the prophet, the mouthpiece of God, speaks not a word but flees instead, getting himself into many strange, and even funny, entanglements – worthy of a TV sitcom!
Maybe we need to do a study on Jonah, there’s so much here:
-He meets some pagan sailors
-Ends up inside a great fish
-Offers a prayer so sanctimonious it causes the fish the vomit
-Finally goes to Nineveh where he gives one reluctant, half-hearted sermon – a mere 8 words! – and suddenly everybody repents! I mean EVERYBODY: the people, the King…even the animals.
-even the animals are wearing sackcloth. Again, sounds like something right out of a Simpsons episode.

First the pagan sailors, now the awful, violent, enemies in Nineveh do what the prophet of God never does in this story: offer sincere prayers of repentance and change their ways to follow God.
Which, of course, makes Jonah furious.

I understand Jonah, I really do. I don’t have to think long to come up with a few people whom I think need to get what’s coming to them.

“This is what humanness is: sometimes we want education and enlightenment and understanding, and sometimes we want confirmation of our biases and soothing for our prejudices.” – Between Two Worlds commenting on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog on The Atlantic

Jonah tries to flee from God’s presence and finds that’s not possible. God doesn’t just reside in Israel. Jonah wants to limit God’s mercy – after all, the Ninevites were vicious, awful, sinful people. They were the enemy. But Jonah suspects and then finds out that’s not possible either. There is no limit to God’s grace.

And that brings us to Jesus. As author Gary Wills puts it, “Jesus continually tells people – shows people – to their astonishment, that no company is beneath his presence.” People in jobs that are despised? Not beneath Jesus’s presence, he spends time with them.
People that are outcast, excluded, reviled because they are the wrong race or the wrong gender? Jesus spends time with them. Speaks with them. Eats with them. They are not beneath his presence.

Notice what Jesus says in Mark. What is the good news? “The Kingdom of God has come near.” “Repent and believe that God is here with you, among you. God is near.”

How do we change the things we see in the world that are wrong? There are a multitude of ways, I’m sure. In one way or another, don’t most methods for change involve using our voice?

How do we make change?
-Vote. That’s a form of speech, isn’t it?
-With our money, we fund efforts with goals similar to ours “put your money where? Where your mouth is.” Is that a form of speech?
-We speak. Online, through letters, in person (such as at a city council meeting or    a Congress member’s office. Or to a family member or loved one in need of help.)
-And sometimes, we tell stories. The Emperor is a pompous jerk? Tell the story of his “New Clothes”

People trying to limit God’s grace? Trying to keep God for themselves? Insisting that God’s favor is ONLY for them? – Tell the story of Jonah. But remember, sometimes we’re those people. At least I know I am. So then we tell the story of Jesus. God draws near.

If we are to learn from Jonah, if we are to follow Jesus, then today we need to say to any whom the church has made unwelcome, to any the church has made to feel unwelcome, unworthy, or unloved… to them Jesus through words and actions says, God draws near to you.

Can there be any doubt that those who currently hear that message of being unwelcome and unworthy more than any others right now are our gay sisters and brothers? If we are to learn from Jonah, if we are to follow Jesus today, then to our gay sisters and brothers we must say we repent of our lack of love. To them we must say, God draws near to you.

But Jonah teaches me something else too: sometimes we’re the ones limiting God’s grace. At least I know I am. So again we tell the story of Jesus: God draws near.

Who are the Ninevites in your life? Really consider that: who do you despise? Who do you want to see “get what’s coming to them”?

The word I hear from God through Jonah and Jesus is: whoever your Ninevites are, this week, go and tell them ‘God draws near to you.’ Find out how speaking those words changes them. Find out how speaking those words changes you; changes me; changes us. Amen.