Seekers recognizes that any member of the community may be called upon by God to give us the Word. Our Guidelines for Preaching help us prepare sermons. This section collects for study and reflection drafts of sermons that happen to have been prepared in electronic form. The most recent sermon is on the top of the page.
September 8, 2019
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
I’m not a big fan of calling the lectionary’s excerpt from the Hebrew Scriptures or the Epistle a “lesson.” Sometimes the excerpt does instruct us but sometimes it’s an invitation for us to engage with or even wrestle with God’s word. But I really cringe when I hear a liturgist say the “Gospel lesson” because the gospel is never a lesson. It is always good news. That’s what the word ”gospel” means – good news.
So, as we begin recommitment season don’t you feel excited by Luke’s good news of Jesus’ words that we just heard? We must hate our families and even our own lives to become disciples of Jesus! Hooray! We must pick up and carry our cross to follow him! Glory hallelujah! We must renounce all our possessions, not just declutter with Marie Kondo! Whoopee!
Today’s passage is frequently called a “hard gospel.” After our Learners and Teachers mission group discussion on this passage this week John Morris explored the Greek and found that there are two words in Greek for “hate.” Luke used the word “miseo” (the root of “misogyny”), which was most often used when a comparison was implied; that is, “to hate your mother and father” might be a strong way of saying, “to prefer [something or someone else] over them,” or “to hold less affection for them than for [the other thing].” To prefer Jesus over our families is still stronger than merely psychologically detaching from our parents and individuating ourselves from our siblings, spouses, and children. In Jesus’ day, family is where one found his or her identity, and so to be told that they must prefer Jesus to their families must have been deeply shocking to his disciples. And who wants to be called by God to be a martyr? Who wants to be homeless and have nothing?
September 1, 2019
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Please pray with me for a moment.
Holy One, let the words of my mouth and the ideas they express make sense in the minds and hearts of my hearers. Beyond this, dear loving God, may these words strengthen our connection with you and with each other and support us as we seek to love and serve your broken world. Amen.
It’s been a real challenge for me working with our liturgical theme for the current season, which ends today. That theme, “Faith is Hard” has evoked for me a phrase my father used frequently in his preaching.
More than once I heard him tell his congregation that “it’s a harsh Gospel.” Usually this was followed by a kind of pregnant pause, to make sure his hearers didn’t mentally brush by the truth he was uttering: It’s a hard Gospel.
Glendale Burton was a Disciples of Christ pastor who, for 23 years, served a church in Arlington. Among other distressing, at least to me, aspects of his life and ministry was his blatant plagiarism of the preaching of other pastors. He quoted, without attribution, not just brief passages and illustrations, but fully developed ideas and multiple paragraphs of text as though they were his own, when they came from the published, or at least mimeographed, sermons of others. So I have no idea if “it’s a harsh Gospel” was original with him or not. But however that may be, the phrase catches the same spirit as our theme, “Faith is Hard.”
It is in the context of this theme that I want to look at our lections: Jeremiah’s prophecy about the faithlessness of his people and its consequences, Jesus’s exchange with his Pharisee host about the proper invitees to a dinner or luncheon, and the reading from Hebrews which “connects our relationship with God with our relationships with one another,” thus providing a context of community within which to deal with the “hard” issues.
August 25, 2019
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
I’m going to talk with y’all this morning about salvation in the midst of tragedy. Let’s see what we can learn from the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah began his prophetic challenges in 627 BCE, about 650 years before the prophetic challenges of Jesus. Jeremiah was an educated priest well acquainted with the Torah, with the histories such as the book of Kings, with the Psalms and Proverbs. He knew about the tragedies of the destruction and ravaging of Israel, the ten Northern Tribes, from Hosea and other prophets. It wasn’t a stretch for him to worry about the rise of Babylon and the threat posed to Judah, and Jerusalem its capitol city.
Jeremiah’s witness was in Jerusalem and began during the reign of Josiah the boy king which began twenty-two years earlier. Josiah was raised in a priestly family. Priests acted as regents while Josiah grew up. The priests “discovered” Deuteronomy, meaning they wrote Deuteronomy, which became the fifth book of the Torah about three hundred years after the writing of Torah began. The priests, including Jeremiah, promoted the Deuteronomic spiritual revolution. Jeremiah, however, was not so interested in the revisions of customs and worship but rather in the injustices that continued in the kingdom. He criticized the powers in Jerusalem, and the people, for not paying enough attention to injustice, and that led to being remembered as a prophet. He also warned about the dangers of rising Babylon. Salvation, for Jeremiah, was to be had by living out the guidance of Torah, particularly the spiritual revolution centered on Deuteronomy.
Is Christianity, is the United States, facing tragedies on the scale of the destruction and ravaging of Israel and Judah? Is our Christian faith, as we explore it and practice it in Seekers, able to unflinchingly face such tragic dangers? Would those of us who survive be able to deepen our faith as we live into and through such a tragedy?
August 18, 2019
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Thank you very much for the invitation to give this sermon. Initially I was wondering, who am I to give the sermon? With the reluctance of those of us who know we are unworthy, I said to myself, “If they trust me to do so, there will be some reason from God.” And when I read today’s readings, I realized that I have something important to say, at least to myself. My family is a witness that I am too shy to talk about the things of God, and they have always complained to me about that. But let’s get started.
The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah, specifically from the first Isaiah, which occurs in the context of a social-political boom under the rule of King Ozías [Uzziah]. According to the book of 2 Kings, it was a time of splendor, of domination of other nations, of great construction, of economic bonanza, of expansion of agriculture. The vineyard had been taken care of by God, it had received all the necessary care to bear fruit, but the fruits were not as expected. Instead of justice the iniquity was generated, the poor were neglected, there were pomp, waste, luxury, and excess; even rites were copied from other cultures for other gods. The people who had been liberated from Egypt, and who had lived in abundance after that, did not bear fruit.
On July 19, 1979, 40 years ago, the people of Nicaragua were liberated from the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, the last of a dynasty that ruled more than 30 years in Nicaragua and that remained in power by repressing the opposition. That July 19, with the FSLN, the guerrilla who fought against Somoza, Nicaragua and many other Latin American countries had hope; it was a sign that change was possible. We left Egypt; we believed that a new society and a new humanity was emerging, fairer and more egalitarian. This project ended in 1990 as a result of its own mistakes, for not being able to understand the discontents of the people, and also because of the political and economic isolation to which it was subjected.
August 11, 2019
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who provided shelter for thousands of Jews in his friary and was an active voice against the Nazi violence. He was arrested by the German Gestapo and imprisoned at Auschwitz. When a fellow prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected ten other prisoners to be killed in reprisal. As they were lined up to die, one began to cry, “My wife! My children! I will never see them again!” At this, Maximilian stepped forward and asked to die in his place. His request was granted, and he led the other men in song and prayer as they awaited their deaths. Maximilian had also lived in Japan and founded a monastery on the outskirts of Nagasaki. Four years after his martyrdom, on August 9, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, but his monastery miraculously survived. Maximilian’s feast day, when Christians around the world celebrate his life and sainthood as a hero of thechurch, falls one week [on August 14th] after Nagasaki Day. Each year, we spend the week reflecting on the best and the worst that human beings are capable of. [footnote 1]
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together find favor in your heart, O my Beloved, my strength and my joy!
The gospel we read in Luke today is part of a passage that, in the New International Version, has the heading “Do Not Worry.” Right before today’s reading, Jesus tells his followers to consider the ravens, how God feeds them, and the lilies, how God clothes them. And Jesus says, in Verse 29, Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; … But seek the kin-dom of God, and these things will be given to you as well.