Sunday, December 9, 2018

Seeking Peace In Hostile Times (Advent 2)

Luke 1: 67-79 & Luke 3: 1-6
Roger Lynn
December 9, 2018
2nd Sunday in Advent
(Click here for the audio for this sermon)
(Click here for the video for this sermon)

You have only to listen to the news for a few minutes or scan the headlines of the daily paper to reach the conclusion that we live in hostile and dangerous times. Mass shootings occurring more often than we can even keep track of. Wars raging across the planet. Repressive governments violating basic human rights of their citizens. Famine and drought and wildfires and the growing effects of climate change devastating countless people’s lives. If we are paying attention at all it is easy to reach the conclusion that this is a frightening time to be alive. 

And yet, it is in the very midst of such times that we have the audacity to gather together here this morning and light the Advent candle of peace. We dare to declare that God’s peace is actually a reality which is, even now, breaking into our world. Such bold claims represent either a strong undergirding of faith or else something resembling insanity. And the line between those two positions is often difficult to distinguish.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hopeful Anticipation (Advent 1)

Jeremiah 33: 12-16
Roger Lynn
December 2, 2018
1st Sunday in Advent
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

Today the season of Advent begins. It is a time for watching and waiting and anticipating and preparing. All of our spiritual senses are strained to catch a glimpse of God’s light coming into the world. It is no accident that this season occurs at the darkest time of the year. It is is these days when the darkness threatens to surround us completely that we most need to remind ourselves that it will not always be this way. God is at work, even now, restoring wholeness to the world. God is among us, even now, seeking to heal the brokenness of our lives and our world. 

Advent is a paradoxical season. We watch for that which is already here. We wait for that which is already true. We anticipate that which has already occurred. But in the watching and waiting and anticipating we make room for it to become real in our lives. If it were possible for us to be fully aware of, and fully in sync with, all of God’s activity around us, then we wouldn’t need seasons and rituals and symbols and traditions in the Church. We would just know and understand and appreciate and live in harmony with what God is doing among us. But one of the defining things about what it means to be human is that we forget. We need to be reminded, over and over again, before we can slowly begin to integrate our lives into the larger reality of God. So we catch glimpses of the truth that God has come to be among us and we tell stories of a baby being born. We keep telling the stories and we build up a variety of traditions around those stories. And we continue to do all of this with the hope that we will remember, deep down in the core of our being, that God’s light really has illuminated our darkness and continues to do so even now. And, we also know that this is not how we experience the world much of the time. If God’s light is right here, right now, then why does it still seem so dark? Why are we still fighting wars? Why are we still being cruel to each other? Why are there still so many people starving? So we tell more stories and create more traditions to help us deal honestly with these questions. We develop a season which is dedicated to themes of watching and waiting and anticipating and preparing. Not because God is somehow absent and needs to show up soon. But because until we practice being alert and watchful, we will continue to miss what is already true.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Genesis 12: 1-2 & 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11
Roger Lynn
November 25, 2018
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

The turkey and dressing have been put away. The table has been cleared. The guests have all gone home. Some of you have been over the river and through the woods, and have now returned safely. In short, we have counted our blessings and expressed our gratitude. We are thankful people.

And now we have a choice. We can sit back, relax, and maybe take a little turkey-induced nap, basking in the warm glow of being abundantly blessed. Or we can ask the all-important theological question – “So what?” What does it all mean? Where does our gratitude lead us next? What do we do with our blessings? And when we take such questions seriously, and look deep inside of ourselves for the answers, we discover what Abraham discovered all those thousands of years ago when he heard God calling him to set out for the Promised Land (the life of blessings). The message he heard from God was this, “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The whole point of getting in touch with our blessings is to recognize the part we play in the whole grand abundant flowing river of blessing which connects us all. When we take such questions seriously we discover the truth which Paul shared with the church at Corinth. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” What we begin to recognize is that we experience our gifts most fully and we are enriched by them most completely when we find ways to share them. That’s when we really begin to shine.

Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple”, wrote a children’s book called “Finding the Green Stone.” In it she says what I set out to say in this sermon, so I decided to just let her say it. I invite you to sit back and listen to the story.

[read “Finding the Green Stone” by Alice Walker]

May we use our gifts to help each other find our gifts. May we recognize that we have been blessed to be a blessing to the world. May God’s love shine in us and through us. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Grateful Giving

Deuteronomy 14: 22-29 & 2 Corinthians 9: 6-10
Roger Lynn
November 11, 2018
Stewardship Commitment Sunday
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

“Previously, in this sermon series. . .” If this were a television show, that’s how this sermon would begin. This is part two in a two-part series focusing on the theme of stewardship. So, it will be helpful to spend a moment reviewing what we covered in part one. To sum up in one sentence what it took me about ten minutes to say last week, “We have been abundantly blessed by God.” Well, OK, it’s not quite that simple. But almost. Recognition and celebration of the fact that we are the recipients of God’s abundant and ongoing grace forms the foundation upon which our stewardship responses are built. As I said last week, “I am convinced that in all matters of faith, and that includes stewardship, our actions are in response to the primary action of God. We are encouraged and empowered to give because we have first received.” So, hopefully, you have spent some time this week reflecting not merely on your finances, but on the “grace-full” nature of your living. 

Awareness of our bounty, however, is only the first step. In order for a gift to be fully appreciated, and, indeed, for it to be fully used, there must be some kind of response of gratitude on the part of the recipient. It is how we human beings are put together. Because we have been created in the image of God, we have, built into the core of our being, a need to give. I know that there are those for whom the whole business of stewardship is an uncomfortable subject. There are some pastors who avoid the topic, or try to soft-pedal it, or apologize when they absolutely can’t get out of it. There are some church members, or even outside critics, who complain that all the church ever does is ask for money. But I am here to tell you that I am neither uncomfortable nor ashamed about being a whole-hearted supporter of the idea of stewardship. It is important. Indeed, it is a vital aspect of faith. It is about so much more than just money – it is about giving ourselves away in grateful response to the God who fills our lives with abundant grace.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Grace-full Living

Deuteronomy 14: 22-29 & 2 Corinthians 9: 6-10
Roger Lynn
November 4, 2018
Stewardship Emphasis
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

“She is such an amazing athlete. Her moves are so graceful.” “His graceful dancing is a delight to watch.” “The lines of that building are so graceful and elegant.” Graceful is a word we use on a fairly regular basis, in a number of different settings, and yet we mostly fail to recognize the potential of its meaning. We associate it with elegance and poise and beauty. But we don’t always remember the theological roots of the word. That’s why, in case you hadn’t noticed, I took the liberty of modifying the spelling when I used it for the stewardship theme this year. To experience graceful living is to experience a life which is full of grace. When defining grace, the dictionary has this to say: “a) Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people. b) The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.” A life full of God’s love is grace-full living. And the good news is that everyone everywhere has the possibility for such a life because God is fully present in every time and every place and every person. The question then is not whether our living is full of grace, but whether we pay enough attention to allow such grace to become manifest in our lives and make a difference.

This is a stewardship sermon. It is, in fact, the first in a two-part series. I hope that by the time I’m finished preaching both sermons we will have explored some of what it means to be a giving people. So, towards that end, it was a very deliberate decision to begin by focusing not on giving but on receiving. I am convinced that in all matters of faith, and that includes stewardship, our actions are in response to the primary action of God. We are encouraged and empowered to give because we have first received. That is, by the way, the theological rationale for placing the offering after the Lord’s Supper in our order of worship. As the bulletin reminds us each week, “Having received the gift of God’s grace, we are invited to respond by sharing our time, our talents and our treasures.” We are able to give because we are truly wealthy people – in more than merely a financial sense. It is appropriate, then, that we begin our consideration of stewardship by reminding ourselves of the many countless ways in which we have been abundantly blessed by God.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How To Become A Saint

Isaiah 25: 6-8 & Revelation 21: 1-5a
Roger Lynn
October 28, 2018
All Saints
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

We are just a few days away from November 1st, the day when the church traditionally celebrates “All Saints.” The idea of a saint has taken on various meanings over the years, but in its original usage in the New Testament, it is roughly synonymous with “the faithful” or “those who belong to Christ.” So, for example, Paul writes to the Church in Rome and says, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints...” (Romans 1:7) With this understanding of the word, it becomes an expansive and inclusive concept, rather than narrow and exclusive.

So, how does one go about becoming a saint? What are the pre-requisites? What are the job requirements? What do we need to do? Natural enough questions, but mostly they reveal the limitations of our human perspective. Most of the time it seems as if we approach situations with the idea that we can accomplish whatever is necessary if only we can figure out what needs to be done and how best to do it. Which works remarkably well if we are trying to build a bridge across a river or learn a foreign language or decode genetic information. But when it comes to relationships, both human and divine, such an approach has serious limitations. And relationship is finally what being a saint is all about. We can’t just collect enough data and feed it into a computer in just the right way and come up with the formula for sainthood. At the heart of the matter, sainthood is a new way of relating with God and with each other. It is living in the presence of God. It isn’t so much about what we do as it is about who we are. And who we are is defined by the fact that we are fully and completely loved by God. When we begin to live into that reality then we begin to discover what is already true – we are already a part of the communion of God’s beloved saints.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Word of Hope from a Patient but Insistent God

Luke 18: 1-8
Roger Lynn
October 21, 2018
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

There is much in our world which cries out for justice and healing. You can make the list as easily as I can – wars and violence, hatred and intolerance, suffering and disease, isolation and loneliness. The brokenness of our world spans the spectrum from the global to the personal. And through all the tears we continue to wonder why – why is it happening and why isn’t God doing something about it? 

Jesus’ parable which we read this morning has often been offered as a response to our questions of why. And I confess that the interpretation it usually receives has frequently left me less than satisfied. In fact, it is seriously problematic. God is the unjust, uncaring judge and we are the poor, bereft widow. We don’t know why God doesn’t respond to our needs, but if we keeping beating on God’s door until we’ve made a complete nuisance of ourselves, then perhaps God will do something just so we will go away. 

It scores points in the “God’s ways are a mystery to us” category, but is not very appealing when it comes to offering a helpful image of God or a hopeful understanding of our own situation. The assurance Jesus offers at the end of the parable, that God will surely not delay in offering us justice, seems out of sync with the common interpretation of the parable.