Sunday, October 13, 2019

Participating in God’s Radical Justice

Isaiah 1: 10-20 & Luke 19: 1-10
Roger Lynn
October 13, 2019
(click here to listen to this sermon on YouTube)

Isaiah is pretty clear. There isn’t really much room to wonder what he is saying. With the confident audacity of a prophet, he dares to speak on behalf of God and declare that something has to change. It doesn’t matter if you go to church. It doesn’t matter if you say the right words. It doesn’t even matter if you fill the offering plate. Being in right relationship with God means aligning your life with God’s intentions for the world. Don’t come to me with your hands covered in blood, God says, and think that everything is just fine. Everything is not fine. The world is broken and people are being hurt. Until you start doing something about it we really don’t have anything to talk about. You want to call yourself a person of faith. You want to be in right relationship with me. Here’s where to start – cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. I desire justice for the whole world and being in relationship with me means participating in my radical vision for justice – where everyone, everywhere, all the time gets a fair shake. They will have enough to eat. They will be safe. They will have access to all of society’s benefits. They will be cared for and valued and honored. If you want to be in relationship with me, then working for that kind of a world will become your passion. And without that kind of justice-seeking passion your attempts at worship are really pretty hollow. If you are not a part of the solution then you are a part of the problem. Seek justice!

The people who first heard Isaiah preach were squirming in their seats. He was hitting way to close to home. And if we are paying attention at all, then we, too, will be squirming in our seats, because things haven’t changed very much in all those hundreds and thousands of years since then. The world is still broken, people are still being oppressed and abused and ignored, justice is still more dream than reality, and we still need to decide whether we are going to be a part of the problem or the solution. It is still about more than saying the right words when we come to church. Being people of faith still requires that we get out and do something to make a difference. The good news is that change is possible. Healing can take place. Re-alignment with God and God’s intentions for the world is within our grasp. Right after Isaiah cuts loose with his no-holds-barred diatribe against the evil ways of the people, he says on behalf of God, “Come now, let us argue it out. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) No matter how long or how far we wander off in the wrong direction, God still desires to embrace us and lead us back to more life-filled paths. We do not have to do it on our own, but we do have to be willing to participate in the process.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Discerning The Body Of Christ (World Communion Sunday)

1 Corinthians 11: 17-28
Roger Lynn
October 6, 2019
World Communion Sunday
(click here for the audio of this sermon on YouTube)

The church at Corinth was a difficult group of people to deal with. We have two books in the New Testament to prove it. Over and over again the apostle Paul found himself struggling to help them understand what it meant to be followers of Jesus. And over and over again they found new ways to misunderstand. Not unlike the Church today, I suppose. Faithful living is an ongoing process of growing and learning and changing. 

For the Corinthian church, the business of the Lord’s Supper is a prime example. When Paul writes to them about what is going on it is clear that he is not pleased with what he has been hearing. They had taken the very heart of Christian worship and mutilated it almost beyond recognition. They had lost sight of what they were doing and why. 

In those early days of the Church, worship centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. They sang some songs, read some scripture, prayed with each other, but mostly they ate together. The roots of the church potluck can be traced all the way back to the first century. Communion was a holy feast – sometimes even called a Love Feast. It was the gathering of the community of faith around a common table to break bread, share wine, and feed both body and soul together. They took very seriously Christ’s words, “As often as you do this, remember me.” This was a holy meal.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Spirituality That Matters

Isaiah 58: 1-14
Roger Lynn
September 29, 2019
(click here for the audio for this sermon)

Worship – holiness – spirituality – faith – openness to God’s presence. It goes by lots of different names, but being aware of God in the midst of our living, and connecting with that presence, has been a human endeavor for as long as humans have been on this planet. It takes lots of different forms, from highly ritualistic practices to casual, personal reflection. For some it occupies large portions of their every waking moment. For others it is a once-in-awhile sort of thing. There are breakthrough moments that change people’s lives. There are quiet, subtle moments that form the background against which life is lived. But all too often, I fear, our spirituality is less powerful and less meaningful than it could be, because we don’t allow it to be as big as it can be. We sometimes tend to try keeping it all to ourselves – just me and God! And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, such personal experience is an essential part of being spiritually aware. But when we stop there, we are shortchanging ourselves and the world.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Open to God’s Abundance

Joel 2: 23-29 & Luke 18: 9-14
Roger Lynn
September 22, 2019
(the audio and video for this sermon are unavailable due to technical difficulties)

The two were as different as night and day. The Pharisee had spent his whole life striving to do everything necessary to be in right relationship with God. He took his prayer life so seriously that he fasted twice a week. He took his financial responsibilities so seriously that he gave ten percent of his income to help the poor. He knew the scriptures backwards and forwards. Every action he took was calculated to conform to the law. He had his life together and he knew it.

The tax collector’s life was a different story. He was employed by the Roman government, which was the hated occupying enemy of his people. And his wages were actually obtained by demanding more money from the people than payment of their actual taxes required. In other words, he was a liar and a thief and an enemy collaborator, and he knew it.

The Pharisee was sure he was so good that he didn’t need any help from anyone. The tax collector was sure he was so bad that he was beyond help from anyone. And they were both out of touch with the truth. The Pharisee’s problem was not that he was striving to live a good life. His problem was that he thought living a good life made him self-sufficient and earned him a ticket to heaven. The tax collector’s problem was not that he was making choices which put him at odds with both his people and his values. His problem was that he thought those choices made him a worthless person and earned him a ticket to hell. The truth of the matter is that it isn’t particularly helpful to think of ourselves as either saints or sinners. We are all just human beings who need both God and each other to experience our full potential.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Mind The Gap

Luke 16: 19-31
Roger Lynn
September 15, 2019
(the audio & video for this sermon are unavailable this week - hopefully next week)

When you ride the Metro Underground in London, you quickly become very familiar with a short little warning. At every station, as the doors of the train open for passengers to get on and off, an announcement politely reminds everyone to “Mind the gap!” The “gap” is the space between the train and the edge of the platform. Sometimes it is wide enough to catch a foot or a leg. The warning to “mind the gap” is a polite way of saying “pay attention or you might get hurt.”

At the heart of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus is that same warning. Sometimes gaps (chasms) open up between us, and if we aren’t careful they can do some real damage, both for us and for those on the other side of those gaps. “Mind the gap,” Jesus says, “before it’s too late.”

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Faith Under Construction

Philemon 1-25
Roger Lynn
September 8, 2019
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(the video for this sermon is unavailable this week)

Faith is always an “in process” endeavor. This is true whether we are talking about faith in our personal lives, or faith as we find it revealed within the pages of scripture. We could hang a permanent sign on the entire undertaking that reads, “Under Construction - Pardon Our Mess.” There is always room to grow. There is always room for new insights and new perspectives which bring us into ever closer relationship with God.

Take the book of Philemon for example. It is a wonderful little snapshot into Paul and his “under construction” faith. In many ways it is one of the more peculiar books in the Bible. It is definitely the shortest book (one chapter - 25 verses). It is arguably the most personal – a letter from Paul to an individual names Philemon.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

God In Every Moment

Luke 9: 51-62
Roger Lynn
August 25, 2019
(click here for the audio for this sermon)
(click here for the video for this sermon)

I confess that this passage from Luke’s Gospel has often troubled me over the years. It always seemed too harsh. Why would Jesus be so hard on people for wanting to grieve and love their families? Isn’t that what being truly and genuinely human is all about?

And then, as so often happens, as I sought to find a different way to understand this passage, two things came into focus which cast the whole thing in a fresh new light. The first of these insights is one which applies to a wide variety of scriptural references. It has to do with the concept of prescriptive versus descriptive. For a variety of reasons, the most common way of seeking to understand any particular passage is to read it prescriptively. Put simply, we take it to mean that whatever is being described is the way God wants it to be, or even the way God causes it to be. Sometimes we do this because it is how we have been trained to interpret scripture. And sometimes we do this because it is the filter the writers themselves used to interpret the concepts and events they were writing about. In either case, there are a great many instances when reading the Bible prescriptively leaves us with an understanding of God that can be frightening, disturbing, and profoundly unhelpful. Today’s passage is a good example. One of the reasons I have always had such a difficult time with it over the years is because I was trying to read it prescriptively. Thus the question – why would Jesus be so hard on people? 

But what if it isn’t Jesus who is being hard on people? What if Jesus is merely describing the way things are when we make certain choices? In other words, what if we read such passages descriptively rather than prescriptively? It changes everything. Some of the language may still prove to be a challenge, but that is because at the time scripture was being written, the prescriptive filter was often the only one available. For the most part, they had not yet recognized the possibility of looking at things any other way. When we begin to look past some of the language to the meaning which can be found underneath, suddenly the comment about not being fit for the kingdom of God becomes a description rather than a judgment. It is as if Jesus is saying, “As long as you are distracted and paying attention to other things, your heart just isn’t in it.”