Sunday, July 14, 2019

Admirers or Followers?

Matthew 7: 21-29
Roger Lynn
July 14, 2019
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
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“Talk is cheap!” True, deep, genuine faith is about more than just talk.  It is about the values we cherish and the ways in which those values are reflected in the living of our lives.

Sometimes I wish we weren’t called Christians. At times it seems like too big a temptation to misunderstand what really lies at the heart of our faith. All too often we find our attention focused on Christ, instead of on the life to which Christ points us. I think it was the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who observed that there were too many admirers of Jesus, and not enough followers of Jesus. The Church was never supposed to be a Jesus Admiration Society. It was intended as a community where we encourage each other to discover and follow the path which Jesus points us to. In the early days of the Church, before the name Christian caught on as the description given to those who were a part of the movement, the name by which they were known was “Followers of the Way.” 2,000 years later it’s still not a bad description. It helps to keep our attention primarily on the path, instead of on the guide. Please don’t get me wrong – the guide is important, but only if we allow him to serve as guide. In the text we read this morning from Matthew’s Gospel we find Jesus offering a warning about this very danger. “You can’t just use the right words. It’s not enough to drop my name and expect everything to automatically work out OK. I don’t want lip service. I want heart service.” 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

But, Then Again, I Could Be Wrong!

Matthew 15: 21-28
Roger Lynn
July 7, 2019
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The passage we just heard read from Matthew has always left me squirming. I have often had a difficult time knowing what to make of it or what to do with it. How did this story even get included in the Gospels? It seems to run against the grain at several different levels. In this story Jesus doesn’t come off looking very, well, very Jesus-like. He isn’t very nice, or kind, or fair, or just. It has always seemed just a little bit creepy to read this story. The floor tips a bit off-center.

But then I read it this time, and something different clicked. I saw something new. The trick is to set aside what you think Jesus is “supposed” to be like, and simply look at what he is actually doing. And what he is actually doing is being very human. In fact, it might be argued that this story represents one of the most honestly human glimpses of Jesus in the whole Bible. And in so doing, we find him offering us a faithful path to follow in our own humanity.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

God’s Abundant Garden

Isaiah 55: 10-13 & Matthew 13: 1-9
Roger Lynn
June 30, 2019
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Isaiah speaks of God’s word (God’s active, creative presence in the world) as being effective. It will, finally, accomplish God’s purposes. “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.” (Isaiah 55: 12-13) It may not happen in the ways we expect. It may not happen with the timing we would choose. There will be plenty of things about the ways in which God works in the world that we simply do not understand. And still Isaiah assures us that we can have confidence.

One of the things we know about Jesus is that he knew the Hebrew scriptures. On any number of occasions he quotes from them. So we can be reasonably certain he was familiar with this passage from Isaiah. The idea that God’s active presence in the world makes a difference is very much in keeping with the message Jesus tried to help people understand. It certainly seems to have been on his mind the day he sat down beside the water and told the gathered crowd the parable about the farmer who went out to sow seeds. 

I appreciate that Jesus’ parables aren’t neat and tidy. They’re open-ended and provocative. Rather than provide us with easy answers, they challenge us to really think about what we believe and to discover for ourselves what truth might be buried in the story. They have endured with such vitality for 2,000 years because they speak to us at multiple levels and from a variety of perspectives.

Someone sows seeds by gathering them in hand and scattering them. The seeds land everywhere. Some of them grow. Some of them don’t. The sower doesn’t seem to be bothered by that. Just get the seeds out there and something will grow.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Welcome Mat of Our Hearts

Matthew 10: 40-42
Roger Lynn
June 23, 2019
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Woven through all of scripture, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, is the challenge of hospitality. In the book “Practicing Our Faith Ana Maria Pineda describes hospitality as “the practice of providing a space where the stranger is taken in and known as one who bears gifts.” (p.31) Indeed, a case can be made that hospitality forms one of the key cornerstones of our faith. It is an essential part of what it means to be human. We are relational beings, with a basic need to be welcoming because we have a basic need to be welcomed, to know and to be known. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Hanging Out With The “Wrong” Crowd

Matthew 9: 9-13 & 18-26
Roger Lynn
June 16, 2019
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Over and over again Jesus seemed to find himself on the receiving end of sharp criticism for the same basic offense. He was forever getting in trouble for the same thing. After awhile you’d think he would learn. But he just kept doing it. He stubbornly refused to submit to the instruction of the religious authorities of his day regarding this unseemly behavior. “Stop associating with ‘those’ kind of people,” they would say. To which his reply was simple – “‘Those’ kind of people are who need my message the most.” So Jesus just kept hanging out with the “wrong” crowd, telling them in no uncertain terms that God loved them, and so did he. 

You see, in Jesus’ day there were people who made it their life’s work to define in very clear, very detailed terms what it took to be acceptable to God, and perhaps more to the point, what it took to be unacceptable to God. Some of it had to do with what you did (like eating the wrong kind of meat, or food that was prepared the wrong way, or working on the Sabbath). Some of it had to do with what happened to you (like bleeding, or coming into contact with someone who was dead). Some infractions of these ritual purity laws were temporary and involved only a certain degree of inconvenience. Other situations were more ongoing and resulted in what amounted to permanent “outcast” status. In a society where everything centers around religion, being out of favor with the established religious norm meant being cut off from anything even remotely resembling a “normal” life. And when interpreted in the strict, narrow way in which the Pharisees seemed to view these rules, it would be very difficult to be an ordinary, working person living a subsistence life and maintain ritual purity. It was an “us and them” reality written in large, bold, capital letters.

So Jesus’ choice of dinner companions, his choice of friends, his choice of disciples was a powerful faith statement. He hung out with “the wrong crowd” on purpose.  There is no “us and them,” Jesus says with both his words and his actions. There is only us. If you want to talk about “sinners” you better start by recognizing that it is a very long list. We all fall short in some way or another. If we start using that as an excuse to separate ourselves from each other and judge other’s status in God’s eyes, it can only end badly for everyone. The sooner we stop pretending it is otherwise, the happier everyone will be.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

God’s Creative Fire (Pentecost)

John 14: 16-17 & Acts 2: 1-21
Roger Lynn
June 9, 2019
Pentecost Sunday
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God’s Spirit is an amazingly powerful and creative force to be reckoned with. Science, scripture, and personal experience all point to this truth – each in their own ways. The book of Genesis and John’s Gospel both affirm that it is the Spirit of God which stands behind all of creation. Contemporary hymn-writer John Bell speaks of the Holy Spirit this way in his hymn “She Is The Spirit”:

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters.
Hov’ring on the chaos of the world’s first day;
She sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
Waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

Science, of course, speaks of such things with different images, but the sense of power remains. “The Big Bang” is how science talks about the beginning of all things – when the whole universe was flung outward from a single, infinitely dense point in one enormous explosion.

Turning back to scripture, we find other references to God’s Spirit which seem to pick up this same explosive nature. Wind and fire are images which occur again and again, from the Hebrew people’s experience of God in the wilderness, to the Pentecost encounter in Jerusalem. The ongoing creation in which the Spirit continues to be engaged is powerful and world-changing. Science tells us about the powerful reaction which occurs when oxygen comes into contact with fire. Scripture tells us that when the breath of God (Ruach) is added to the smoldering flames of our own spirits, there can be no containing the explosively powerful results. Nothing can ever be the same again.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Path To God Is Paved With Love

John 14: 15-21 & John 15: 12-17
Roger Lynn
June 2, 2019
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There is within each of us a deep longing to experience God’s presence in our lives. We hunger for a sense of the Holy through all of our days. The entire history of human beings is filled with efforts to discover paths which will lead us into the presence of the Sacred. Some of those efforts have been remarkably powerful and life-enhancing. Some of them have been remarkably destructive. So how do we know when we are truly on a path which leads to God and when we have taken an unhelpful detour into dangerous territory headed in the wrong direction? 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus offers some thoughts which help us gain some perspective on this matter. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15: 12) He takes our tendency to think in terms of rules and checklists, and turns it upside down. “You want commandments. I’ll give you commandments. Here, try this one.” When all is said and done it comes down to love. Not the love of mushy feelings found in most Valentines cards. This is the love which calls us to actively work for the well-being of others. This is the love which reminds us we are bound together in the one common family of humanity. When the path we are on is defined by such love, then we are heading towards God. If such love is not a central quality of our path, then we are moving away from God. Jesus makes it very clear – it isn’t about believing the right things. It is about living in ways which lead to wholeness. We recognize God’s presence in our lives when we are living in loving relationship with those around us. And when such love is not present, all the God language in the world won’t help us be truly connected with God.