Sermons from 2014

110 of 38 items

Cradling the Future

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Some of you know I bought my first ever new car and I am truly grateful for the peace of mind it affords. You can drive an old car in Iowa and not worry too much if it breaks down. Here, if you break down you become a sig alert – or a road hazard. And even if your hood is up – and your predicament is beyond your control – it still doesn’t keep angry motorists from expressing their rage and raising a finger to you. So now that I have a new car, I have a little less anxiety about ending up a roadside statistic.

The fun of a new car is figuring out all the bells and whistles. I have yet to pull out the owner’s manual to figure out what some of the buttons are for but what I did figure out is how to play music from my phone through the car stereo. Using an app called Pandora, I created a channel of Christmas music that appealed to me. The funny thing about my Christmas music set up was that every time I got in the car it seemed like the musical artist Jewell was singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” So that is the song that is imprinted this Christmas. That is the song that still hangs in the air. And one line in particular lingers in my ears. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” What does that mean?

Shepherds and Angels

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Several years ago Mike Rowe stumbled across a brilliant idea. One day, while living in an apartment in San Francisco, his toilet “blew up” (his words). He wrote a check for the plumber, left it on the counter, and when he came home that night it was fixed, like magic. It suddenly occurred to him how disconnected we are from all those folks who work hard for a living, doing dirty jobs, keep everything running. And yet, these same folks; factory workers, agricultural producers, and skilled laborers get little respect and virtually no recognition.

He recalled his own childhood. When the toilet blew up at his parent’s home, it was his grandpa that came to the rescue. After twelve hours of hard labor, digging, sawing and sweating pipe, the toilet worked again. It was one of the best days of his life – working side by side with his dad and grandpa – doing dirty work.

Joseph – A Gracious Choice

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I seems like every nativity scene I have ever owned had problems with Joseph. His hand, which at one time gestured to the baby Jesus, is now fingerless, his beard chipping, his walking stick long gone. (If you want to see a beat up Joseph you should see the one with the nativity set over there. He can’t even stand up on his own.) But surely we can cut Joseph some slack. An unplanned pregnancy and an unexpected trip are enough to rattle anyone. But if the worst happened – the unplanned baby being born on the unexpected trip – you might just fall apart too.

The King of the Jews

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This is the weekend for pulling out Christmas decorations, falling off ladders, and trips to the emergency room. Many people decorate their home with at least one nativity set. Some are hand-carved wood, some are porcelain, some are from exotic places, and some have survived from the days when people poured plaster in molds and painted ceramics. The thing about nativity sets is that they are so, so, tidy. They represent the sanitized version of the Christmas story, the one without dirt and dung, the one without poverty and oppression. Where are the cow pies and rags? Where is Herod and John the Baptist? These are two of the main characters, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a mold for either one.

Luke opens his gospel with these words, “In the days of King Herod…” And the gospel of Matthew, after a long chapter of genealogy, begins Chapter 2 with the words, “In the time of King Herod.” So where is Herod? Why is he never part of the pageant?

Sheep and Goats

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This picture of Jesus knocking on the door is iconic. It was the first thing you saw when you walked into the door of my last church. What I remember as a child is that someone pointed out to me that Jesus didn’t have any way to open the door – there is no handle on Jesus’ side – Jesus knocks – and we have to open the door – and let him in.

The actual inspiration for this painting, and others just like it, is Revelation 3:20 which says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (NRSV) Jesus looks like such a nice guy in the painting. His robe is all clean and his hair is combed. He’s not scary or different; just a nice guy wanting to sit down and chat for a while.

The picture changes completely after you read our scripture reading for today. According to Matthew 25 you never know what Jesus might look like or what he might be asking for as he stands knocking at your door. If you looked out the peep hole – would you recognize Jesus? No one in Jesus’ story recognized him. They all are surprised. We’ve seen lots of people, Lord, when did we see you?

Choosing God

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Sometimes I forget I am an odd bird….you see, when you are a minister, a minister’s wife, a ministry student, and spend about every waking moment at church, or thinking about church and God and Jesus and the Bible – you can forget that some people have other things to think about. That said, one of my responsibilities is to remind you how life and faith constantly intersect. It’s not a Sunday obligation – it is a 24/7 relationship. The way I see it – faith informs everything we do from how we relate to one another to how we care for creation. So even if ministry is not your profession it is the vocation of every Christian. I love how Frederick Buechner defines the word vocation:

IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work [humans are] called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done….The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

By that definition God is never far from our thoughts and our understanding of God permeates all we do and all that we are.

Boldly Go: Crossing Over

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If you grew up in the church it is likely that you learned about Moses’ successor, Joshua. However, the story most of us learned about Joshua is the story of the battle of Jericho. As children we re-enacted the story by holding hands and marching around in a circle seven times and on the seventh time around everyone would fall down, like the walls of the city. It was great fun – it was the Duck, Duck, Goose, Goose of Bible stories.

But like so many Bible stories the story of Jericho was sanitized for children. When Joshua sent spies into the city they just happened to run into Rahab the prostitute, who then hid them in her home and was celebrated as a hero. Then, of course, there is complete destruction of the city and all of its inhabitants. When I was rolling around on the ground I’m not sure anyone mentioned that part.

The Golden Calf

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The story of the golden calf in its entirety is rife with anger, violence, deceit, and sex and that is exactly why it is great for the big screen but awful for preaching. Even God looks bad in this story. This is the only story that I have encountered that comes with a warning in my Interpreter’s Bible. There is a “Special Note” in the commentary that starts off with the words, “These few verses are horrific…” Of course those verses were not part of our reading for today but they are part of the story, the part of the story we would rather skip.

Let me set the stage for you. The Israelites have crossed the Red Sea and are now free from slavery by the Egyptians. It takes them about thirty seconds to start complaining about life on the other side of slavery. They want food – God gives them manna. They want water – Moses strikes a rock and out comes water. Now they are camped at the base of Mt. Sinai. God descends and covers the mountain with smoke. The earth shakes violently. Thunder and lightning crack. And out of this tempest God gives them the Ten Commandments. God then asks Moses to come closer and Moses takes off up the mountain. Five days pass, ten days pass, 15 days pass, 20 days pass, 30 days, 39 days…

Boldly Go

Cyberspace, the new frontier. These are the ministries of First Christian Church of Orange. It’s perpetual mission: to love God and neighbor, to shine God’s light into darkness, to boldly go wherever God calls us to go…

For better or worse, technology has created a world unlike anything we have ever seen in history and it is continuing to evolve at an exponential pace. We carry in our purses and pockets more technology than it took to put a human on the moon. The internet has changed commerce and industry. We are now connected us with people in the remotest parts of the world and in the deepest pockets of poverty and warfare. It has changed the way we communicate, educate, humiliate and anticipate. Vast databases of knowledge are at our fingertips. Despite the fact that we are now raising a generation that has never known life without this technology – it is still relatively new – especially for the church. It is a new frontier with seemingly limitless possibilities. It is the great unknown that lies before us.

The Two Sons

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No one likes to be confronted. No one likes to be told he is wrong or out of line. No one wants to be told she is acting like a scoundrel. No one likes it but Lord knows we all need it from time to time. Perhaps you can remember a time when someone sat you down and helped you to see the error of your ways. I know I can. I was in ninth grade. I was sitting in the chair by the phone at our house on 29th street in West Des Moines, IA. I can’t remember what I did that made my mother snap – but snap she did. Evidently, I had just reached her last straw. She’d had enough.

It wasn’t a long speech. It wasn’t eloquent. It was succinct and devastating. And it was effective.

I’ll set the stage for you. I was a religious kid. I went to Bible camp and loved Jesus. I read my Bible and thought I knew everything. I wanted to save the world. I went to church, was active in my youth group, and a leader when allowed. I was also teenager. I cared more about friends than family. I wanted to fit in and at the same time stand out. I obsessed about clothes, hair, and all that stuff. I didn’t like myself and often times wished I could trade in my family for a newer model. In other words I had all the usual teenage angst. Evidently, I wasn’t all that pleasant at home. Who knew???