Thanks for the comments, both positive and negative to last Fridays post. I am hopeful that as long as we agree that facts matter more than preconceived partisanship and we are able to really listen to one another and respond respectfully real dialogue can still occur.

Today I want to go in a different direction. I am posting a sermon that I preached a few years ago. Reading a sermon is not the same as hearing it. It is a spoken medium after all, But here it is for whatever it’s worth.



JOHN 11: 17-44



The local weather reader is a good- looking young guy who should just read the cards and not ad lib. Last week he said, “There were some icy conditions on the roads out there this morning, but there were no serious fatalities.” A matter of life and death would have been a pretty good title for the story of Lazarus.  It works from the standpoint of being alive physically and spiritually.

Death is always a serious matter. Philosopher Ernst Becker said the human race is “bound by death.” He believed that all of human existence is clouded by the reality of our mortality.  “No one gets out of here alive” a poster from the 60’s proclaimed.  Death is the ultimate statistic. It’s one out of every one. But for those of us who know the story, the inevitability of death does not have to bind us up and keep us from living.

Prudy had a lifelong friend named She was terminally ill. But she had no fear of dying. She explained to us that she knew where she was going, because she had been there before.  Years ago, she was clinically dead for a few minutes on the operating table before being revived. She shared the usual story of a bright light and the voices of loved ones already there. But she said, “There are no words to describe the feeling of peace and contentment and joy that I felt.”  Far from being afraid, she was anxious to go back there. Don Piper in his book “90 Minutes in Heaven” expressed the same frustration in not being able to articulate the deep joy of that experience.

I’m guessing that Lazarus had the same problem. Standing there blinking in the sunlight looking at Jesus, I wonder if he wasn’t sure which side of eternity he was on.  I wonder if the thought ever crossed his mind, “Did Jesus do me a favor or not?”



In Israel they will show you the place where everything biblical happened. Most of the sites are not authentic. But they serve as a good visual for what the original might have looked like. The tomb of Lazarus in Bethany goes straight down about 20 feet. It has a winding stone stairway. The further down they go the less light there is. There is perhaps morbid comedy  I thought about old Lazarus all wrapped head to toe in those burial strips, trying to make his way up that stairway.  Jesus is shouting “Lazarus COME OUT!  And he is thinking, “I’m coming I’m coming. I’ve been dead for 4 days you know. And I’m trying to navigate these stairs with my feet and legs tied up. Hold on to your Halo.”

And then Lazarus got a whiff of himself. (sniff) Is that me? The body decomposing for 4 days without any embalming is not minty fresh.  Death stinks in every way possible.  There is putrefaction that happens in a rotting body that causes an incredible stench.  The bandages that bound him up were filled with the stench of death and decay.  But it is not just physical death that causes that bad odor. It is the little deaths that occur along the way. Our souls begin to rot when we allow ourselves to me bound by a living death that will not allow us to climb the stairs to a renewal of life in the light of the presence of Christ.

Jesus had intentionally delayed his trip to Bethany in spite of his love for Lazarus. The Jews believed that the soul sort of hung around for 3 days and then took off for the after life. Jesus was there to blur the lines between life and death. Jesus had a lesson to teach about the connectedness of the body and the soul. The lesson was that we are given new life now; not just when the undertaker gets us, but here and now. We can strip off the stinking bandages that bind us up in a living death right now.



This is a key passage in the gospel of John. It is a turning point in which the Pharisees are now bound and determined to kill Jesus. The double entendre on the word bound, is intentional. In this act, Jesus leaves no doubt about who he is and what his life means.  I am the resurrection and the life.  And he means that he is the glory of God present with humanity.  The everlasting life that Jesus gives is basically the same on both sides of the grave. The verb that is used by John for Jesus shouting is It is used only 5 times in John.  Four of those times, it is used by the crowd before Pilate. They shouted, “Crucify Him!”  This was a pivotal moment in his ministry. Jesus shouts life to humanity. Death, you have been beaten. And the crowd shouts death to Jesus.  But he sees his death as glorification; the chance for all human beings to be free from the stench of death’s final victory.  Because we are also shown a foreshadowing of another empty tomb still to come in the story.

But the question that comes to the modern mind is more basic perhaps. “Could this have really happened?” Because we know! We know about what happens if the heart stops beating and the brain is not receiving oxygen. We know that after four days of decomposition there can be no revival.  We know. That’s why Jesus waits. He wants us to understand how much we don’t know. The line between life and death, the line between the natural and the supernatural, these are permeable lines.  Was there symbolic truth in the raising of Lazarus?  Yes of course.  Does that mean that the Spirit of God can’t do the impossible? Does that mean that this never happened?  What do you think?  Life eternal; that is our proclamation, not just at the funeral home but in every aspect of life; whether this one or the next one.

But I think the most significant lesson for us as a faith community is what Jesus says when Lazarus finally makes it up to the opening and steps out into the light. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.” I think that is the call to the faith community, the church that has to be a part of our mission. It’s not that we don’t care about each other, but we tend to keep things on a superficial level. How are you?  I’m fine, how are you? I’m fine. We say that even when we are not fine; even when we are bound so tightly in the stinking bandages of pain and heartache that we can hardly take one more step.  Why can’t we get real with our church family?  “I’m dying here. I need your help.” And Jesus calls every one of us to be in the business of unbinding each other and freeing each other to really live.



What happened to Lazarus tells us that Jesus has ended the separation between God and humanity once and for all. That means that in this life and the next, we will never have to be separated from the glory of God again. We don’t need to wear the stinking bandages of death around ever again. Did anyone ever say to you, “You don’t look so good?”  It is usually meant as an expression of concern for your well being. Once a deacon named Pat and I were visiting Erma in a nursing home. Erma told us that she was going to the beauty parlor in a few minutes.  Pat said, “Oh Erma, you look so lovely, you don’t look like you need to go to the beauty parlor.” And I joked, “Pat never says that to me. Maybe I should take your beauty appointment.” And Erma looked up at me form her wheelchair and said, “Well, maybe you should.”  The church needs to take off the bandages of death and look like we are alive.

My dad died some ten years ago. He left a special gift to me. A series of cassette tapes of his voice telling his life story. I play them once a year. In one portion he says, “Rick, I want to talk to you now as if I was in the room with you.” And he is!  That line between life and death and life seems so fuzzy and permeable.  It doesn’t mean that we have to pretend that death does not hurt, and that grief is not real. Some of you are dealing with grief that is fresh and still very painful.  There is no magic to make that pain go away. But we need to learn to let the community of faith help to unbind us.

There are two words in Swahili for the dead. Zimani and Sasha. Zimani are the remembered ones. As long as they are remembered, they live on among us. My dad is Zimani. Once the last person who knew the deceased passes on, that person becomes a Sasha and moves on to eternity in another realm where eventually all are reunited in a circle of love

When I was in Sunday school and we had to recite a Bible verse from memory I would always choose John 11: 35. It is the shortest verse in the Bible. KJV says, “Jesus wept.” When Jesus was confronted with death, he cried tears of pain like all of us have done. The people around him said “See how he loved him.” Well, see how Jesus loves you. See how Jesus weeps at your pain. See how Jesus offers the hope of new life starting right now. See how Jesus calls the community to help unbind each other and set each other free; to be to one another Jesus with skin; to help us overcome our fear of death or the uncertainty of God’s power to overcome death, maybe it is time to take off those stinking bandages. Well, maybe you should.


A sermon about Christ as a priority


LUKE 24: 13-35

MAY 4, 2014


A. There was a small fire in the church and the firemen were able to contain it quickly.  The pastor noticed one of the firemen who was an inactive member of the church. The pastor said, “I haven’t seen you in church for a long time.” The fireman said, “It’s been a long time since there has been any fire in this church.”

B. There was no fire in these two sorry followers of Jesus walking to Emmaus. They believed that they had bet their lives on the wrong man as savior. And so they were making their way slowly back home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was only seven miles. But it was one of the longest journeys any follower of Jesus had ever made.

C. Do you know the longest distance in Christianity? It is the 12 inches from your head to your heart. Sometimes we recite our beliefs in a spiritual monotone that indicates that it doesn’t really matter to us. Knowing about Jesus does not a disciple make.  It’s only when that knowledge gets personal enough to make that journey down into your heart; into the center of who you are; into that place that makes your heart burn with zeal.

D. Now zeal can be a dangerous Witness the zeal of those who believe that killing honors God. Or witness the ones who hate zealously in the name of God. Zeal without Biblically grounded guidance is dangerous. But faith without zeal is just a head game.

E. The two men on the road to Emmaus had cashed in their chips. They had seen what had happened to Jesus. The faith that they had and the zeal that went with it were gone. They had as S Eliot wrote, “Learned to avoid excessive expectations.” And even when Jesus himself comes and starts to walk with them, they are so blinded by their minds concept of death that they don’t recognize him at all. They tell him the bad news about crucifixion and lost hopes. The road to their hearts was closed. And that can happen to us as well. Unanswered prayers; unfulfilled expectations; the frustrations of human limitations can all wipe out our zeal to the point where we can’t recognize Jesus even when he is walking right beside us.


A. I must tell you that something has to happen here. There needs to be a revival of spirit in our church. We need to catch fire. We need to have burning hearts for what God is calling us to do. We need to get beyond our heads. We need to move beyond church as a lower priority than just about everything else.

B. But how? How does that happen? Three words emerge as a recipe for revival. They are WORD and SACRAMENT and HOSPITALITY. Minister of word and sacrament is what they used to call us ordained types. I like that title much more than Teaching Elder.  So it starts with the Word. Jesus spends most of the journey (and the story is set in the context of a journey Hint Hint!)  Jesus spends most of the journey teaching them scripture truth.  Study of the Word is not just an intellectual endeavor. It is the way the heart is prepared for Jesus. Parents, take note. Making sure your children know the stories and ultimately the truths in those Biblical stories is a sacred expectation and an eternal priority

.C. Then the two travelers get to the house and Jesus offers to leave them alone. Jesus is never rude. He never insists on coming in. He waits to be invited. And they invite him in for supper. They practice hospitality before they know that it is Jesus

.D. Our call to practice hospitality is a sacred responsibility even if there is risk involved. What if you invited someone to come to this supper? They might turn you down. They might think you are a religious nut.  Or they might come and not like it.  But hospitality is a ministry that is expected from ALL of us. Cleopas is mentioned by   But the other traveler is not. I think there is another chance to insert your name here. Next time, YOU invite that stranger or friend or co-worker or family member to come in and join you in this sacred meal. The most important thing this church can do to grow is to practice hospitality to the stranger that develops burning hearts.


A. Many of those who were here on Easter have started back on the road to Emmaus. Sometimes Easter takes more than three days. Sometimes the zeal doesn’t follow for some time; even after belief.  We might ask, “What difference does Easter make if we go right back into lives dominated by death?”

B. There are so many weary travelers out there who had hoped that Jesus or Easter would have changed their lives into something filled with joy and meaning. But now they are on the way back to plain old existence instead of living with a purpose. Maybe you are one of them.

C. Jesus won’t force his way in. But even if you have blocked him with intellectual arguments or self-driven priorities; even if you have failed to invite him in, he is still there waiting for you to invite him back. And when you do, he always says yes.

D. In any event, there are three stages. There is the planning stage, the actual doing of the thing, and the remembering of the event when it is past. In the planning stage it is hard to really grasp the excitement of the event because at this point it is just an idea. While the event is taking place you are busy and it is hard to really reflect on its meaning. It is in the remembering stage that you really come to grips with the significance of what has happened.  Couples get weary planning a wedding. Then the big day comes and goes so fast and they are so nervous about every detail that they almost miss the experience. It is later when they are looking at the photos and remembering the day that they are really able to rejoice in it That is a little like what happened to the Emmaus travelers. They don’t really grasp what has happened and feel that burning in their hearts until it is over. But what opens their eyes to it?


A. I mean how could they not recognize him? How can we not recognize him? And more importantly what does it take for us to recognize the truth of the written word and the living Word?

B. Jesus goes into the house. Luke tells us that he took the bread, he blessed and broke it and gave it to them. AND THEIR EYES WERE OPENED AND THEY RECOGNIZED HIM.

C. He broke the bread. The sacrament begins with an act of hospitality. Only now it is Jesus who invites all of us to come and be fed. And when he breaks the bread, they remember; and all the scriptural lessons make sense and they say, “Did not our hearts burn with us?”

D. Then, just like that, Jesus is gone. And now they want nothing, NOTHING more than to be with other believers to share the good news that he IS alive and that Easter makes ALL the difference. Luke tells us that they stood still in the presence of Jesus. They were stopped in their tracks by the living good news

.E. What do we do when our hope is gone? Break the bread. What do we do when our faith is nothing more than a stale, passionless idea? Break the bread. What do we do when the truths of the Bible are incomprehensible? What do we do when we feel frustrated that Jesus doesn’t seem real or present in our lives? Break the bread. Break the bread and be renewed and revived and enlivened and aware and prepared and committed

.E. Some amazing things are about to happen in this church. I may not be there to experience it with you. But Jesus is walking along side each of us and teaching us and breaking the bread for us and causing some serious Maybe you better get the fire department on speed dial.

Holy Security

In these days of division and uncertainty, I found a sermon about Abraham as our model for the only thing we can really trust. I delivered this on the day we honored our high school graduates.



A.  I found a list of signs that it was time to retire

.1. Your wife gives your favorite polyester leisure suit to Goodwill and a teenager shows up at your door wearing it on Halloween night.

2. You throw away your alarm clock because your bladder wakes you up at 7:00 am every morning.

3. You mention Pearl Harbor and your grandson says he heard of her. Didn’t she used to wing in a big band?

4.  All you ever watch on TV is the History Channel and Turner Classic Movies.

5. You discover that the lifetime guarantee on everything you own has expired.

Do you trust guarantees? It probably depends on the level of trust that you have for the one giving the guarantee. If a person or a company has always kept promises in the past, then you probably accept it as dependable. I know ads for stock products come with the disclaimer: “Past performance does not guarantee future success.” And just because you took a hit at the black jack table with 16 and drew a five that does not mean that is a good strategy in the future.

B. But what about things you can really depend on? It’s not politicians or the economy.  Hebrews show us a model of trust. And that is found in the person of Abraham.  OF all the Old Testament figures, Abraham is the one we turn to when we want figure out how to trust. You may remember the story. Abraham left his ancestral home in Ur because God had promised him a land of his own and many offspring. But now he and his wife Sarah are old. She is way past the age of child bearing and they are still nomads. What Abraham needed was a better story. And that is what God promised him. John Lennon said, “If the ending is not OK, then it probably isn’t the ending.”

. God says, “I swear by myself that I will make good on my promises.” In other words God is saying I will stake my reputation on it. And the promise is kept. He ends up with a land and countless offspring. The writer of Hebrews holds up Abraham as a prime example of a God who ALWAYS keeps promises. God has a better story ready for Abraham and God makes that story reality.


A.  That was great for Abraham, but WE need something more than just blind faith. don’t we? WE need a guarantee that God has a better story in mind for US.  WE want to believe that. We really do. But what do we base that on?

B. On this day when we honor our graduates I remember a terrible sermon given by a black preacher to the graduates in his congregation. They had all excelled in school and were off to great colleges. The old preacher stood and said, “Children, some day you gonna die. You gonna die and they will carry you out back to the cemetery and put you in the ground and then they all gonna come back to the church and eat potato salad.” Now I know what he was trying to say. He didn’t want them to begin to think that they could trust the world or to be overcome with pride or to forget that their mortality left God in charge of their lives. But still, potato salad?

C.  Sometimes we just need a better story than the one we are living now with all of it’s uncertainty. This church has an interesting history. It almost closed during the depression. We shared leadership with the Myersville Church. WE could barely pay the bills. We had to sell the manse. It would have seemed reasonable to shut us down. But God and some very faithful people had a better story. They persevered by trusting God and eventually came out stronger than before.

D. I have these little sheep figurines lined up in my office. Some are moving forward. Some are moving backward away from the faith, but as long as they are on their feet, they can always turn around. The ones that concern me are the ones who are sitting down. I wonder if those sheep represent people who have become indifferent to the call of Christ. I think they need a better story.


A.  God is the maker of promises. God has made promises in the past and God has ALWAYS kept those promises. So when God promises us a better story for our lives, we can trust God to keep those promises like he did with Abraham. in the world around us sometimes promises are kept and sometimes they are not. How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.  Promises are like babies. They are fun to make, but difficult to deliver.  Well God ALWAYS keeps God’s promises. Of all of the characteristics of God there is none more important to us than God’s dependability. The fact that God has always kept the promises of grace and love and second chances gives us a security we can find nowhere else.  We are able to live our lives in security. The past is prelude to a better story.

B. The writer of Hebrews tell us that God is unchangeable in the midst of an ever changing world. God is immutable amidst efforts to drown out the message of grace and love. And the Word of God is irrevocable amidst all of the broken promises around us. In a Nazi concentration camp a group of men put God on trial. In the midst of all the evil and murder, the charge against God was perjury. God had not kept His promise. On man, a Rabbi asked them, “Why do you blame God for human evil?” Paul says nothing, not even holocaust, can separate us from the love of God.

C. Later, in Chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews goes through a litany of Old Testament heroes who saw the promises of God fulfilled. But here the writer brings in the New Testament.  Jesus Christ was the forerunner that was behind the curtain and led the way for all of us to be in the presence of God. The curtain used to keep the Holy of Holies off limits to everyone except the High Priest. But Jesus is the eternal High Priest who tears down the curtain and paves the way for all. The eternal promise of God is kept. How do we know that? Check the record.


A.  Graduates, hang in there. I am almost done.  You have accomplished something very special in your graduation.  Your parents and your church family are very proud of you. This is a real time of transition.You are all off to college and a taste of the real world on your own.

B. And in times of transition, we need to be reminded of the promise of God’s presence.  God has been with you through all that you have experienced so far. And we are here to tell you that God will continue to be with you  no matter what lies ahead. How do we know that? We’ve check the record. You can have confidence in God’s love and grace no matter where life takes you or how much life shakes you. There may come a time when you are all caught up in things that are far from God. You may decide to be one of those sheep that just sits down spiritually. You may even break the promises that you made at your confirmation. But hear this: GOD WILL NEVER BREAK A PROMISE TO LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT!

C. From the looks of the colleges you are going to, you have really made the grade and worked hard to be where you are. But there is another level of success that is beyond academic success or financial gain. It is that part of God within you that is your true essence as one of God’s children. That is who you truly are; created, redeemed and loved by God.  You probably don’t like people telling you what to do. But here is my only imperative. Grab on to the anchor which is Christ. The world will toss you and turn you this way and that. But hold fast to the promise that God has made. Hold fast to the anchor of faith. I believe that God has for each of you a better story than the potato salad one. You have been chose to make a difference in the world for Christ in whatever path you take. Check the record. Stay secure in the God’s presence in the future. God’s love and our love and God’s grace are guaranteed. And that is a guarantee you can count on.



An attractive woman fell from the balcony in church. But her foot caught in the rail and she hung upside down with her skirt  up by her chin. The preacher said, “Any man who turns and looks will be struck blind!” One old fellow said to his friend, “I think I’m gonna risk one eye.”

A sermon from Hebrews

I made a resolution to lose 30 pounds this year. I only have 40 more to go.

Here is a sermon about the believers who have gone before us and now encourage us to run the race of a faithful life.


HEBREWS 12: 1, 2

AUGUST 18, 2013.


A.Two men are walking in the woods when they come upon a grizzly bear. One man starts to put on his running shoes saying, “That bear is going to eat one of us.” The other says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” And the first man says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.” (Running Shoes) The writer of Hebrews uses the image of running a race to talk about the experience of faith. I’m not sure what kind of race she is referring to in this case.  It seems like it must be a marathon because the word perseverance is used. I’ve talked to some people who run marathons.  I asked them if they ever wanted to quit in the middle of a race. One man said, “All the time.”

B. So then I asked, “What keeps you going?” What is the motivation for running over 26 miles? I get tired driving 26 miles.  What is the motivation for persevering through the grueling painful experience of running that far? The Kenyans are known for being great marathon runners.  When asked what made them so good at it, one said it was the road signs at home.  “What kind of road signs?” “The ones that say Beware of Lions.”

C. The motivation to keep going in a long race is varied. Some run for health Others for the endorphin high they experience. Still others only run to avoid danger. There are not too many beware of lions signs here. Or they run to avoid inconvenience. If I don’t make that train I will have to wait another hour for the next one. One man said that one of the things that keeps him going is the crowd that cheers him on; that and the vision of the finish line when they will say well done.


A.Ann read the scripture that tells about the faithfulness and bravery and perseverance of Gods people who went before. And then in Chapter 12 it says THEREFORE!  Because of what the writer calls the cloud of witnesses, we are encouraged to run with perseverance the race of a lifetime of faith.  That’s a helpful image for me. Anyone who has ever tried to remain consistent and persevere through tough times will understand that it is not easy. For me, knowing that the ones who have run the race before me are now cheering me on is crucial.

B. Anyone involved in sports will tell you that a crowd cheering for you is a significant boost. They call it home field advantage. In football they call it the 12th man. It makes a difference. Who can help being motivated and energized when a group of people are cheering you on and encouraging you to persevere?

C.And so Hebrews has spent a lot of time telling us about the heroes of faith. The list starts with the Old Testament characters who demonstrated faithfulness to God. Then it tells us about the martyrs who died horrible deaths rather than quit the race of faith. But when you take a closer look at the list you realize that all of the “heroes” were flawed Abraham lied about being married to Sarah to save his own skin and cast Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert to die. Jacob was a habitual liar. Moses murdered a guy. Sampson was an incurable skirt chaser. Jepthah killed his own daughter to keep a silly oath. David was an adulterer. You get the point. These were not perfect people. That’s not why the writer holds them up as part of the cloud of witnesses. It was that they remained faithful to the end. And they know how hard it is for us imperfect people to keep going and not quit the faith race.

D. But there is another part of the cloud of witnesses that are more personal for us. That part of the cloud is made up of those people that we have known who have kept the faith and are now in the stands cheering us on. They are people like Charlie and Swiss and Terry and Mary and Susan. They are the pastors who have served faithfully throughout the years. My dad is my biggest fan. And Mrs. Sye and Mrs. Meeder and Mr. Meckey and Mrs. Sanders and Rev. Meanor are all season ticket holders. I’m sure you have your own list. Nobody can fully understand that cloud of witnesses the communion of saints until someone that they have loved is in heaven. They cheer us on and offer us encouragement because they have run this race before us. They know how hard it is. It is amazing to run the race of faith in that cloud.


A. But there is a little twist to the cloud of witnesses. We need them to show the way and to cheer us on. But they need us too. You see it matters to them how we run the race. Hebrews says that they are perfected in our life of faith.  You might call it a A man builds up a business from nothing. His son then takes over the business. And it matters a great deal to the father that the son is successful, even when he is gone. That same sense of legacy exists for the faithful ones who are gone

.B.They are cheering for us out of love for us. But they also have a vested interest in us persevering in our race. Do you remember the scene in Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi when the Emperor has been killed by Darth Vader to save his son Luke? Vader, who had been the ultimate villain, has repented of his involvement in the dark side because of the love that he has seen in his son. And now Vader lay dying. Luke tries to help him up and says, “I have to save you.” And Vader says, “You already have.” Maybe the image of marathon is blended here with the image of a relay race. One generation passes the baton to the next and the race goes on. The one who runs the first leg does not win until the anchor man finishes his race.

C. Those Old Testament characters never saw the salvation that we have seen. But they believed in it through faith and watched and cheered with great interest because that faith is perfected in what they see in us. Our loved ones and past faithful members of our church have lived out that salvation. But it is not complete without them knowing that we have carried on that


A.Running the race of faith with perseverance is everything that church is   Bible study is being in touch with the promise that the ones who have died are still with us. Mission is what we are doing that lets them know that we are still running the race and not quitting. Christian education is passing the story on to the ones who will be running the race when we are part of the cloud of witnesses. Prayer is the fuel that gives us perseverance.

B. And worship is our acknowledgement that we have a pioneer that leads the way. Jesus was the only one to run the race perfectly. He is our model. He endured even the shameful death of crucifixion and still he kept the faith. He kept his eyes on the prize. And that is what we are called to do when the race gets tough, when spiritual muscles cramp; when our commitment lungs burn and our flawed feet beg us to quit. We keep that vision of the finish line in our hearts. We hear that crowd cheering for us. KEEP GOING. YOU ARE DOING GREAT.  KEEP RUNNING

.C.Then we know what it means to lay aside the weight of sin that makes it so much harder to run the race. And not just personal failures, but also the corporate sin and the sin of passive indifference to suffering that builds structures that make it hard for anyone to run the race of faithfulness. Jesus is the one who leads us to something better.   I gathered a group of kids for a children’s sermon once and said, “We are going to play follow the Go!” They didn’t do anything. Finally one child said, “We can’t play that game unless we have a leader.” Well, we have a leader who is running and inviting us to follow. Are you ready? (Put on Running Shoes)

A sermon from the past

This is a sermon from my days at New Vernon. There is nothing unique about it except that New Vernon was the wealthiest church I ever served.


LUKE 12: 13-21

AUGUST 4, 2013


A. A man could see that his friend was distraught. “What’s wrong?”  “Three weeks ago a long lost uncle died and left me $10,000. Then two weeks ago a cousin I never knew died and left me $100,000. Last week my grandfather passed away and left me a million dollars.”  “Why so glum?” “This week, nothing.”

B. To listen to some preachers money is evil. But it is not. Money is morally   The Bible has a lot to say about money. So it seems that money matters to God. But it is not money itself that matters to the Lord. The question is, “What does God expect us to DO with our money?” And the warning is what having money might do to us.

C. The unnamed man in the parable, we will call him Mr. Bigger Barns, is wealthy. He might admit that he was fortunate. But he would not use the word blessed. For that would be to give God credit for his abundance and he believed that he did this all himself. When Bart Simpson was asked to say grace before a meal he said, “Dear Lord we would thank you for this food, but we paid for all of this stuff ourselves.” That was the attitude of Mr. Bigger Barns.

D. He believed that his wealth guaranteed his future well-being. He has more crops than he can store. So instead of sharing with those in need, he builds bigger barns to store all of his wealth. Listen again to his speech to himself “I will do this. I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger ones and I will store all my grain and goods. I will say to my soul eat drink and be merry.”

E. Was there any particular pronoun that stood out in that reading? No thought is given to what God expected him to do with his money. No thought is given to meeting the needs of others less fortunate. (Which is what God expected him to do with his money.) It’s all about me.  But as he knelt at the altar of his god, which was not money but self, something happened which he didn’t account for in his long term financial planning. He died.


A. David Schlafer paraphrased God’s comments to Mr. Bigger Barns this way. “You soul is bankrupt. Foreclosure is imminent. You’re dead fool!”  This passage is at its core not really about sharing. It is about God’s intrusion into our lives with a different pattern for living and a different version of success. Sure the man never thought of using his surplus to help hungry people. But that was a symptom, not the disease. The disease which is rampant in our time is called selfish materialism. But in the end we lose every possession that we ever buy and every dollar that we ever earn.

B. Here is a news flash from God. You are going to die. It’s not a question of if, just when. D. Rockefeller was asked once how much money is enough. He said “Just a little more.” When he died, someone asked his accountant, “How much did Rockefeller leave?”  The accountant said, “All of it.”

C. God says that one who invests only in self is a fool. That’s because the materialist has forgotten one crucial part of the equation; Death. Tillitson wrote “One who invests in this life and not the next is wise for a moment and a fool forever.”  I think is must be hard to be rich and be a disciple of Jesus. It’s not wrong. It’s just John Wesley visited a huge plantation owned by a church member. After riding for a long time and still not covering all of his land, the man asked Wesley what he thought. He said, “I think it will be hard for you to leave all of this.”  In more colloquial terms, the preacher told a Texan, You can’t take it with you.” And the Texan replied, “Then I ain’t goin’. But everyone goes. And everyone leaves everything behind. So where is your treasure? Can you imagine it having any value to you in 1.000 years?

D. Materialism in our time has morphed into abstract materialism. We buy things not because we need them or even necessarily want them. We buy them because we can. I was in the home of a very rich man who had famous and tremendously expensive works of art on the wall. He said, “They tell me they are valuable. To be honest, I don’t even like them.” When God intrudes into our lives we are asked to live radically different We are asked to take “self” off the throne so there is room for God.


A.The problem with Mr. Bigger Barns was not that he succeeded. And it was not that he planned for his retirement. It was that in his pursuit of security he was so distracted that he forgot about the only lasting security, which is the love of God. It turns out that materialism is not just wrong, it is stupid

.B.Sometimes scripture is comforting. Bu this passage is   We live in a culture that if we were honest, this symbol would not be a cross. It would be a dollar sign.  You are judged successful by how much you have accumulated. And the most disturbing thing is wondering if we as a church are different than the culture around us. Is this the symbol of our lives?  (The Cross) Are we ready for the radical intrusion of God into our lives that defines a successful life based not on what we have, but what we do with what we have?  Life is a gift. God is not concerned with how much you have. God is concerned with your level of trust in God and how you meet God’s expectations of what you do with your wealth.

C. Be on guard, Jesus says, of pleonexia. The Greek word for greed translates into the constant yearning to have more. The man who sparks this parable wants Jesus to stop talking about God and the poor and tell his brother to give him ½ of his father’s money. He has pleonexia. He is missing the point of what Jesus teaches. He would fit right in in 2013 where money is so often the true Lord.

D. When our priorities are wrong the value of life gets lost. Pleonexia leads to pride and anxiety and elitism and deterioration of the soul. Wealth can be a spiritual liability.  Our economic system is capitalistic.  Some ask if there is such a thing as Christian capitalism. I say But only when we remember what is of ultimate importance.



A.It’s hard to be a rich Christian. I admire some of you who have found a way to live faithfully and understand what God expects you to do with your wealth. Others still ignore the ultimate statistic, which is death. It is one out of every one. To ignore this is to be foolish. When we understand that life and everything we have is a gift of God to be used to forward God’s agenda then we begin to be rich towards God. That’s the guidance that Jesus gives at the end of his parable. Mr. Bigger Barns was But he was broke when it came to God.

B. It’s easy enough to fall into a pattern of more and lose sight of the concept of   A man found a lamp and a genie appeared and granted him three wishes. First I want 10 million in a Swiss bank account. Done. Next I was a red Ferrari. The car appears. Finally I want to be irresistible to women. And the genie turns him into a box of chocolates. “ ..Just a little more.”

C. So what does it mean to be rich towards God? It’s not asceticism which is just self-denial for its own sake. Jesus didn’t live that way. The redistribution of wealth in and of itself is not God’s plan. But when one who has much refuses to share with one who has nothing, God is not happy.

D. The great preacher, James Forbes said that “nobody gets into heaven without a reference letter from the poor.



 V.  HOW?

A.Here are a few ways I think we can be rich towards God. 1 Share, don’t hoard.  2. Begin to really trust God. You can’t give it away faster than God can bless you with all you need.  3. Reassess what your needs are. Many of the things we say we need are really luxuries that we could live well without.  A woman working at the soup kitchen was talking about the downturn in the economy and she said, “I don’t know if we will be able to keep our third house.” This as she stood in the midst of people some of whom live in a cardboard box. 4.  Don’t be legalistic about giving.  I have been asked more than once if tithing is on the gross or the net. That misses the point. Giving is of the heart. It is a reflection of the health of your soul.  5. Change your language from me, myself and I to God and others and me. Here is the bottom line. Learn to live simply, give generously and trust God

.B. I knew a man once who got it. His name was Norvel Christie. He was an eye surgeon who went to Pakistan during the partition in 1947 for a six month assignment. He stayed there his entire career. He performed 100s of 1,000s of eye surgeries giving sight to people who could not afford it. They made a film about him called The Lion of Taxilla. The interviewer asked Dr. Christie if he missed all of the money he could have made in the states as an eye surgeon. He was genuinely baffled by the question. He said, we have a home and the kids went to school and we have plenty of food and health care. What would we do with more money?” He was not in the business of building bigger barns. He was rich towards God. We can be too. Live in such a way that you are forwarding God’s agenda of peace and justice by learning to trust God for all that you really need. And don’t be a fool for Christ’s sake



The policeman pulled over a car that was going 10 miles an hour.  He asked the elderly lady driver why she was driving so slowly? She said, “I saw a sign back there that said the speed limit was 10 miles an hour.”  “No” said the cop.  “That is the route sign. You are on Route 10.”

Just then he looked in the back seat and saw two other older women who looked terrified and white as ghosts. “Are you ladies OK?” One of the ladies said, “Yes officer we will be fine. It’s just that we just got off of route 202.”


GENESIS 29: 15-2                            
ST. ANDREWS 7-30-2017


A. The wife stood looking into the full length mirror as she and her husband prepared for bed.  She said, “Just look at me. I have wrinkles. Everything is sagging. I’ve gained weight. My hair is gray.” She turned to her husband and said, “Please say something positive about me.” He replied, “Well there is nothing wrong with your eyesight.” He is expected to be out of the hospital soon.

B. Do you have any flaws? That is like asking if you are human. Imperfection is universal.  If you have no flaws whatsoever, then you really don’t need to be here. The church is just for us imperfect people who love the only one who was ever perfect. That’s why I am glad that the Bible is full of characters who are flawed human beings.  Adam wanted to be equal to God. Noah was a drunk. Abraham tried to pimp out his wife to save his own neck in Egypt. Moses was a murderer, David was an adulterer. The list goes on and on. And the Bible writers don’t try to hide these imperfections. They don’t white-wash them. Maybe that is so we can relate to being part of God’s plan without being perfect.

C. Abraham Lincoln was having his official portrait painted. He looked at the canvas when the artist was done and said, “Where are the warts on my face?” The painted said, ‘Well Mr. President, I didn’t paint those in.” Lincoln said, “Paint it again. This time with warts and all.”


D. Jacob fits right in to that rogues list of Biblical characters with major flaws. His name means supplanter or deceiver. He tricks his dim witted brother out of his birth right. He deceives his blind old father to inherit the family blessing. Jacob is a first class con man.



A. Now back in Chapter 28 Jacob has an encounter with God and it seems to have changed him.  And God smiled.But like all of us, he is still a work in progress. But in todays’ text, he gets involved with the family of his Uncle Laban. Laban has two daughters.  Jacob runs into Rachel first and it is love at first sight.  He goes to live among his Uncle’s people. He also meets Rachel’s older sister But she doesn’t do it for him. The writer tells us that Rachel was beautiful, but Leah had dull eyes. The Hebrew word is RAK. Its meaning is unclear. Some versions translate it as lovely or tender. Bu it is clearly meant as a negative comparison to Rachel’s beauty. So along with his other flaws, Jacob was incredibly shallow.

B. Jacob tells Laban that he wants to marry Rachel. Apparently marrying your first cousin was OK then. So Laban says, “Tell you want I’m gonna do. You work for me for seven years and you can marry my daughter.”  Who would be crazy enough to take that deal? Someone who was in love. It’s not unheard of for people in love to pay a great price to be married.  The Prince of Wales gave up being King Edward the 8th of England to marry Wallace Simpson, a divorced American commoner. . My Irish friend said once, “Being in love will do in your head.”   (Book of poetry) So Jacob takes the deal and he works the seven years. Then Laban throws a big wedding party with lots of wine. Then in the pitch black night he sends the heavily veiled Leah into the wedding tent.  The marriage is

C. Jacob wakes up in a rage. It was like that Willie Nelson song, “Last night I got in at 2 with a ten and woke up at 10 with a 2.  “How could you trick me like this?” He is outraged.  Laban makes some lame excuse about the oldest has to marry first which he forgot to mention when making the bargain. But Jacob is stuck. So Laban offers a ”After the honeymoon you can marry Rachel too.  And then work for me for seven more years.”

D. What kind of marriage arrangement is this? It is outrageous. Jacob is married to two sisters, neither of which had any say in this arrangement. Leah and Rachel become antagonistic rivals with Jacob caught in the middle. It’s kind of ironic that the trickster was tricked. There’s a little bit of justice in there.   One wise psychologist said that a “perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up.” I don’t know what he would say about 3 imperfect people.

E. A couple was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. They were in pretty good shape, but their hearing had gone bad. The husband stood up at the party and raised his glass and said, “To my wife. You are tried and The wife stood up and said, “Well after 60 years, I’m tired of you too!


A. But now Jacob is a part of a very dysfunctional family. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “ALL families are dysfunctional.” But this one was a doozy! You see, everybody in this sacred story is flawed. Laban and Jacob were especially dishonest. The dysfunctionality is rampant.  The women in the story are Their feelings and needs are not even an issue. They are like possessions to be bartered.

B. I don’t know if you have read Margaret Atwood’s book or seen the Hulu production of “A Handmaid’s Tale.” It is a story of a dystopian future in which women are cast into functional roles over which they have no control .The handmaids are there solely for the purpose of bearing children. There were two things that I found interesting in the story. One is that the men use stories like the one we read today to justify their abusive actions. And the other was that nobody is happy. The men who run things are not happy. The women who are little more than slaves are not happy. It is a perfect example of societal dysfunctionality.

C. Then, as I re-read this passage about Jacob and the others it struck me that God is not mentioned once in the entire passage. This is a group of flawed human beings trying to do things that will be to their advantage and they made a dysfunctional mess of it all. You have to wonder if anybody is happy in Laban’ family. Laban might have been happy for a while, but then Jacob, up to his old tricks takes Laban’s two daughters and most of his good livestock and hits the road, leaving Laban holding the bag.

D. The church is like a family And sometimes it is hard to find any evidence of anybody being really happy. I was at a church on vacation on a communion Sunday and the preacher stood at the table and said, “This is the joyful feast of the people of God.” Really? I think God loves to hear us laugh. Ann Lamott said that laughter is “carbonated holiness.” Some churches are fortunate or blessed to not have any conflict. Some churches are destroyed by it. And some just let the dysfunctionality simmer under the surface.  One of the Executive Presbyters that I worked with in another Presbytery said to me, “Some churches are like Noah’s Ark. If it wasn’t for the severity of the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the smell on the inside.”


A. Why is it so hard to make families and congregations work sometimes? It is because both are filled with flawed people.  When I worked with PNCs I would always tell them, “Let me save you the trouble. There are no perfect pastors. AND there are no perfect churches because we are all human which means we are all flawed. (Pop psych book I’m OK you’re OK- I’m N OT Ok and you’re not OK, but that’s OK.)

B. Just like in the Jacob story, God has a way of using imperfect people to be about God’s work. Thank God. If only perfect people were allowed in church the pews AND the pulpit would be

C. God uses flawed people in lots of different situations. The movie Gran Torino is not a religious film on its surface. It’s about a grouchy bigoted older man who hates his Asian neighbors until he comes to know them. They are bullied by a gang of teens with weapons.  Walt confronts these gang members and allows himself to be gunned down by them causing them to be imprisoned and freeing his friends from their terror. He is a flawed character who becomes a Christ figure.  Oscar Schindler was a selfish war profiteer who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. He was an imperfect man who provided a miracle of

D And God doesn’t ask us to be perfected before God uses us. God knows all of the flaws in us better than we know them ourselves. Ann Lamott is one of my favorite writers, She wrote in Hallelujah Anyway,

 E. ”The ancient Chinese had a practice of embellishing the cracked parts of valued possessions with gold leaf, which says, ’We dishonor it if we pretend that it hadn’t gotten broken.’ It says we value this enough to repair it. So it is not a denial or a cover-up. It is the opposite, an adornment of the break with gold leaf, which draws the cracks into greater prominence. The gold leaf becomes part of the beauty. Somehow the aesthetic of its having been cracked but still being here, brought back not to baseline but restored brings increase.

F. And it is the same with God’s people. In our families and in our churches and in every aspect of our lives, God accepts us warts and all, flaws and all. In a small village in Scotland there was only one church. (Presbyterian Kirk of course) Everyone in the town attended there and everyone knew everyone else. One young woman had gained a bad reputation as being immoral. She had not been in the church for years. It was the practice in those days that before a person could take communion, they had to go to a preparatory service and receive a When communion was served, they had to have a token or they didn’t get served. One communion Sunday the young woman burst through the door crying. She sat in the front pew with her head bent low. Then the senior elder went over to her with the tray of bread and said, “Tak is lass, tak it. It’s fer sinners.”  And God smiled.



MARK 16: 1-8 EASTER APRIL 5, 2017



A. So you are reading a good story. It is well written and it has kept your attention all through the chapters. The tension builds.Then, you get to the last line, where everything will be resolved, and there is no ending.  Would you be frustrated?  Or would you welcome the chance to decide for yourself how it would end?  In Martin Scorsese’s movie, Inception, there is a spinning top that tells you if the main character is inside a dream or in reality. At the end of the film he spins the top and you wait to find out which it is. And as the top spins, the screen goes black.  We never find out. We have to make up our own minds.

B. It’s a strange thing; a story with no ending. A young man played the bag pipes at funerals. The funeral director asked him to play the graveside of a homeless man who had no family or friends.  It was way back in the country where nobody else had been buried. The bag piper got lost. He was an hour late when through the clearing he saw the backhoe and the crew who were eating lunch. He apologized for being late, stepped to the side of the open grave where he saw that the vault lid was already in place. He began to play Amazing Grace as the workers gathered around. He finished and was walking back to his car when one of the workers said, “That was strange. I never heard anything like that before and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.

C. It seems so strange at first that Mark does not provide us with an ending to the story of Jesus. He tells us about the women who go to the tomb to anoint his body even though they don’t know how they will get in with a huge stone blocking the entrance. And when they get there, the stone has been moved and there is a messenger from God in white who tells them to not be afraid.  And he tells them that Jesus is not here. He has been raised. The angel tells them to go and tell the disciples and Peter that he will meet up with them in Galilee.  And the women run away in terror and say nothing to anybody….. The end. Wait… What?  That is strange. In fact, it is so strange that believers in the centuries following added endings to the gospel. They were not comfortable with Mark’s ending. There is no resurrection appearance by the risen Christ.  It just stops. In Greek, it is literally in mid-sentence.  The reader is left waiting for the other shoe to drop.  But I like Mark’s original ending. It is a master stroke of storytelling. It leaves it to the reader to decide by faith how it ends.



A. Maybe the problem with the Easter story is that we have heard it so many times we think, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve heard it and overheard it.”  Well, let’s take another look at Marks version. The women are the same ones who witnessed the crucifixion. Now, early on Sunday morning the sun rises, but they are still under a dark cloud of gloom and hopelessness. They are going to the tomb to serve a dead man. And it is not just the man that they mourn, but the end of a dream.  They didn’t know how they would overcome the obstacle of the stone, but they went anyway. When they got there the stone had been rolled away by God. And the young man in white told them to not be afraid and to go and tell. And they were terrified and they told no one.

B. But let’s not be too critical of these women. They were blown away. Who wouldn’t be? The angel says, see where they laid him?  He isn’t here. Nobody can put Jesus in a box. Death can’t hold him. Nobody can put up an obstacle that God can’t overcome.  Maybe their silence was due to the shock of this news. Sometimes silence is the only correct response. Prudy and I visited the American Cemetery in Normandy this summer. It was so moving, we both wept and neither of us could speak. We were blown away by the death of so many young men and the grief of those gold star mothers.  And here the women were confronted with the new reality of Jesus alive. It changed everything.

C. Maybe when we experience the real power and the real significance of Easter, we will be left without words too. If you came this morning wanting me to explain it or prove it, sorry. I can’t. But the power of that event is as real now as it was to those terrified women. If Easter is just a holiday to you or just a commemoration of an event, then you have missed that power.  The power of the empty tomb is strong enough to scare the hell out of us 2,000 years later.



A. Jesus was dead. He wasn’t in a coma or pretending to be dead. He was dead in every sense of the word. The women knew he was dead. They were there when they took his body off the cross.  They had seen men do their worst.And now they saw God at It was God who raised Jesus to life.   It was God who stood tragedy on its ear.

B. Maybe silence is the only appropriate response to such an amazing announcement. But it’s Easter and I feel the pressure to give a great sermon in response to the greatest news ever. That’s how preachers are.  We are born with an extra bone in our heads that makes us always want to say something. One woman said there will be no preachers in heaven.  Why, I asked. Because it says in Revelation that there will be complete silence in heaven for ½ hour and that would be impossible for preachers.

C. But I have to proclaim to you that He is risen. In my personal ending to Mark’s gospel, the women do ultimately tell the others that Jesus is alive. That’s backed up by the other gospel writers and Peter in Acts and Paul in Corinthians. But their initial silence shows that they understood the magnitude of this event. Awe struck and almost afraid to believe that it was true. And Mark allows us the readers to stand in their place and feel that power.

D. The angel tells the women that Jesus is going before you. Jesus will always be about what comes next. Jesus never dwells on what was before. And the church, Hope Church takes great comfort in that. We are the Easter people and we are ready to meet the living Christ in what comes next; no matter the obstacles. So God is present in the joyful, loud Hallelujah filled Easter morning celebrations. And God is just as present in the moments of our awe-inspired silence and speechless traumas.



A. Some cynics say that the early church borrowed secular elements for the celebration of Easter like the spring equinox and lilies and colored eggs.  Well, of course they did, because that is what Jesus He takes common secular things and turns them into sacred elements. So ordinary things like bread and juice and wood and nails and colored eggs and even death are given new meaning.

B. Easter is not just a holiday. And it is not just the remembrance of something that happened long ago. It is more than history. Its current events. It is a continuing reality for every frightened follower of the one who conquered the power of death for us all.  I’m sorry I don’t have a wiz bang, knock your socks off sermon for you. The point for each of us is to ask about our response to resurrection.  At first, if we really experience the power of what it means, our response might be awe-filled silence. And then we provide, not the ending of the story, but the ongoing reality of what it   And the response that God wants to see from us is……..