Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Paths We Choose (Lent 2)

Genesis 2: 15-18 & 3: 1-7 & Matthew 4: 1-11
Roger Lynn
March 17, 2019
2nd Sunday in Lent
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I once saw a bumper sticker that declared – “I can resist anything, except temptation!” Or the excuse often used by people who want to avoid taking responsibility for their actions – “It’s not my fault – the devil made me do it!” And then there is the ever popular defense – “I’m only human!” Which is another way of saying, “It’s God’s fault for making me this way.” Life is filled with examples of less than helpful choices which lead to less than helpful results, and we are often much better at making such choices than we are at owning up to them afterwards. Sometimes is is as simple as an insensitive remark which hurts someone’s feelings. Sometimes it is as disastrous as the use of weapons of mass destruction which kill thousands of people. Life is about the paths we choose to travel and the consequences of those choices.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Lent: Seeking God In Dark Times (Lent 1)

Genesis 9: 8-17 & Mark 1: 9-15
Roger Lynn
March 10, 2019
1st Sunday in Lent
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If a survey were taken about which of the church seasons is people’s favorite, I suspect that Lent would not be at the top of the list. With their darker and more somber tone, these forty days preceding Easter take us into territory we’d usually rather avoid. Traditionally this season has been a time for prayer, reflection, meditation, and sacrifice. We are challenged to face some of the hard realities of life and view them from the perspective of faith. Lent offers us an opportunity to discover meaning in Jesus’ journey to the cross. 

When we pay attention to the world around us, this season always seems particularly appropriate, for there are challenging circumstances to be faced. Whether we focus on the violence which seems to be endemic in our culture, or the ongoing threat of terrorism, or the ravages of disease and hunger and poverty and homelessness which afflict so many people, including sometimes even our family and friends, we long for the light of God to break through the gathering storm clouds and bring new warmth to our living.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Glimpses Of Glory

Exodus 24: 12-18 & Matthew 17: 1-9
Roger Lynn
March 3, 2019
Transfiguration Sunday
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“What was that!?!” Sally thought to herself, opening her eyes and looking around. A moment before she had been deep in prayer, with the pastor’s prayer filling in the background while her own meditations flowed free form through her mind and across her soul. She had been immersed in her praying when suddenly something happened. Well, maybe “happened” wasn’t exactly the right word. It was more like something had changed, or someone else had walked into the room. Describing the experience was difficult, but something was definitely different. As she looked around, trying to figure out what it was she was struggling to find words for, she noticed two things. The first was that whatever it was she had noticed was still there. She couldn’t say why she felt that way because she still didn’t really have a clear idea of what was there that hadn’t been there a moment before, but she knew something had changed and it hadn’t changed back yet. The other thing she noticed was that she was not alone in her experience. Pastor Robin was continuing on with her prayer, but the expression on her face told volumes about what was going on behind the words she was speaking. It seemed to be a mixture of awe, wonder, confusion, and fear, in roughly equal measure. That pretty much agreed with what she was feeling. Scattered around the sanctuary were others who were also showing signs that they were experiencing something out of the ordinary. Some of them were looking around, while others were simply sitting very still, with that same expression on their faces. Something was definitely going on.

The experience lasted for most of the rest of the service. After the initial shock wore off most of the fear faded away. It was replaced by a sense of exhilaration, which, when coupled with the sense of awe and wonder, tended to leave her a little breathless. At one point, as she caught a few words of the sermon, she found herself wondering how the pastor was managing to maintain her concentration. Sally could barely think at all. She only knew that something wonderful and amazing was happening around her, and somehow she was a part of it. And then it was over, almost as suddenly as it had begun, just as they began to sing to the closing hymn. What remained was the memory of the experience and a kind of warm glow which only slowly faded. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Healing Our Fear

Isaiah 6: 1-8 & Luke 5: 1-11
Roger Lynn
February 24, 2019
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God is all around us all the time! The Psalmist put it this way – “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10) There is no where we can turn that we will not encounter God’s presence. But the reality is that most of the time we don’t notice. We’re too busy or too distracted. Painful experiences from our past blind us to the present. We think we know what we’re looking for and where we need to look, and thus fail to recognize the unexpected ways in which God comes to us. Whatever the reasons, and they are many, we just don’t come face to face with God very often. Which may explain why we react the way we do when the reality of God’s presence does, in fact, break through our defenses. Fear. Throughout scripture, throughout history, indeed, even in our own experience, we find examples over and over again of people who catch a glimpse of the awesome enormity of God, and then respond with sheer, mind-numbing fear. Virtually every time angels show up in the scriptures (and angels are really just localized manifestations of God) the first thing they have to say is “Be not afraid!” It is apparently lesson number one in Basic Angel Training. It happens in both of our scripture readings for today. Isaiah and Peter both respond with fear. It seems to be deeply rooted in the human experience.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Living Into Our Potential

Micah 6: 1-8 & Matthew 5: 1-12
Roger Lynn
February 17, 2019
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We human beings have lots of potential. We are, in fact, loaded with it. There is the potential for powerful connection, transforming compassion, life-changing faith. We have the potential not just for goodness, but for greatness. In describing who we are, the writer of the first creation story in Genesis declares that we are a reflection of God’s very self, and that when all was said and done, God pronounced it all to be “very good.” In a similar fashion, the writer of Psalm 8 put it this way, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5) According to ancient Hebrew wisdom, there is nothing less than the stuff of God at the core of who we are.

Which makes it all the more confusing to watch the ways things unfold much of the time. We hurt each other. We hurt ourselves. We hurt the planet. If we have so much potential, why do we keep doing things the way we do? The prophet Micah certainly understood this frustration. Things in Micah’s day had gotten so bad that he imagines even God is fed up. “God has a controversy with the people, and God will contend with Israel. O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” (Micah 6:2-3) What I appreciate about this image of God which Micah portrays is the way in which it reflects a God who seeks to remain engaged with humanity. Here is a God who will not give up on us, no matter what. Something has got to change. Things simply cannot continue as they have been.  But God can be counted on to hang in there with us through the often painful process of finding our way back to our potential.  And therein lies both the problem and the hope. We forget who we are. We lose sight of what it means to be human – truly, deeply, richly, fully human. And God will not give up on us until we remember – until we find our way home again. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Reaching Out – Reaching Up

Isaiah 40: 21-31 & Mark 1: 29-39
Roger Lynn
January 27, 2019
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In the Gospel of Mark we find lessons in faith revealed in and through the life of Jesus. We discover such lessons not only in the words which Jesus speaks, or even in the things which he does, but also in the shape and pattern of his life over the course of his ministry. One such pattern is revealed in the Gospel text for this morning. Even before the end of the first chapter, it has already become clear that actively caring for the sick and those possessed with demons is a central part of Jesus’ ministry. Relieving people’s suffering and restoring them to wholeness is at the heart of what Jesus does and who he is. And the more he does, the more demand there seems to be for such a ministry. He brings relief to Simon’s mother-in-law, who is suffering with a fever, and soon the whole town is gathered at the door desperate for an end to their afflictions. And Jesus obliged. He cured many. Scenes like this occur at several points throughout Mark’s Gospel. It is a powerfully compelling story which invites hope for those of us who live in this world which so often seems to be filled with pain and suffering. 

But Mark does not end the story there. Without any pause or transition whatsoever, the scene shifts from Jesus in the midst of the crowd, healing their brokenness, to Jesus alone, deep in prayer. And thus the pattern begins to form. We begin to catch a glimpse of the larger picture of Jesus’ life. Reaching out to touch the lives of those in need is a calling to which Jesus faithfully responds, but he cannot do so alone. Moments of public ministry, in which he gives of himself for others, are counter-balanced by moments of private prayer, in which he replenishes his spiritual batteries and maintains the intimate connection with God which is his source of both strength and direction. Jesus’ life reveals a cycle of reaching out to others and reaching up to God. Both are required for his life to be full and complete. Both are connected parts of one faithful response.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Church Camp: The Long View (Camp Sunday)

1 Peter 2: 4-5
Roger Lynn
January 27, 2019
Camp Sunday
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(the video for this sermon is unavailable this week)

It had been a full and rewarding week at church camp. We had just finished our last breakfast together and in a couple of hours we would be dissolving our temporary community and blending back into the larger Body of Christ. I stood up in front of 34 high school youth and 5 other adults with a guitar around my neck and began to sing. I had been leading them in singing several times a day for a week. My fingers were sore, my voice was shot, and I was very, very tired. But singing together was one of things which had helped to shape us into a community. So I put fingers to strings, opened my mouth, and began to sing. And what came out surprised me. It wasn’t even close to being perfect. But it was strong, and it was filled with more life and passion than I knew was there only moments before. We sang together and it was glorious. We sang “Micah 6:8” (God has shown you, O People, what is good), and we sang “How can anyone ever tell you you are anything less than beautiful?” We filled the sacred space of the dining hall with the beautiful harmonies of our blended voices singing “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary...” And once again we became aware that we were the people of God woven together in community.

I’ve watched it happened more times than I can count. It was about 36 years ago at Camp Galilee in north central Arkansas when I did my first high school church camp with my friend Randy Kuss. I’ve done lots of camps since then, and they continue to be worth doing. Community is formed. Lives are changed. God is present. Church camp is like the Church in miniature. We have the opportunity to see what can happen when faith is taken seriously. And what can happen is nothing short of a miracle!