Luke 12:49-56 - "Family Feud"

Synopsis: Jesus brings the heat by pointing out the family conflict that will come as the reality of the Gospel sinks into people’s hearts and imaginations. In pagan religious traditions, often family’s had house gods or idols they worshipped as a family, and pledging allegiance to the Kingdom of God does not allow the worship of any other gods (whether Apollo, Aphrodite, Baal, success, money, or teams whether athletic or political). At some point, bifurcated loyalties will split hearts and households. Loyalty to just anyone or anything is not a virtue, and Christ calls us to live with love, grace, and justice for all, even when that creates conflict in a family system. Yet, as the Family of God, we a new beloved community not bound by blood and familial ties, but through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus reconciling us together as the one human family promised by God.

Keywords: Jesus, prophetic, family, conflict, grace, justice, loyalty, allegiance, honor, glory, care, love, Kingdom of God, Family of God

Luke 12:32-40 - “Stories Jesus Tells: Fight to Keep the Fire Burning”

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Synopsis: Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” and then tells a parable of servants waiting for the master to return from a wedding feast. Weddings were sometimes multiple days and in an era before cellphones, a watchman had to keep the fires burning to welcome the master home at any time day or night. This watchfulness is like a fire burning inside, too, where we keep focused on our heart’s deepest desire and duty. According to Jürgen Moltmann, at the core Christianity is a religion on promise. There is a hopefulness to our faith which challenges the despair or numbness of our culture. We are called to keep the fire of hope and love burning through the night time of our fears.

Watch Christian Picciolini’s story on TED.com

(The sermon title comes from the song, “Fight to Keep,” by the band Korean-American Indie Rock band Run River North)

Keywords: Parables, Jesus, Kingdom of God, hope, promise, despair, violence, evil, white supremacy, racism, justice, peace, peacemaking, relationship, transformation, salvation, longing, belonging

Luke 12:13-21 - "Stories Jesus Tells: Hearses Don't Have Hitches

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Synopsis: Jesus tells this parable to settle a family dispute where one brother believes he isn’t getting the fair share of the family fortune. The man in the parable is not chastised for planning for the future or even for relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. He is a fool for failing to see that salvation and security are not for sale, but gifts of grace discovered through our generosity. Ken Chafin once said, “I never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul on a trailer hitch, because you can’t take it with you.” True joy lies in sharing, not hoarding.

Keywords: Parables, generosity, joy, life abundant, greed, fear, isolation, security, love, community, family systems theory, sharing, stewardship

"A Shameless Request" - Luke 11:1-13

Synopsis: Jesus challenges his disciples to pray and make requests to God in such a way that they would never to a Patron or King. The Lord’s Prayer becomes a model for intimate, honest, and frank communication with the Creator of Universe. While culturally in an honor/shame matrix, you would never ask without expectation to return the favor (quid pro quo), but in the economy of God, we are not just invited but challenged to shamelessly carry our needs, wants, desires, and dreams to God and boldly ask, search, and knock.

Keywords: Parables, generosity, prayer, honor/shame culture, patron/client relationship, intercessory prayer, providence, provision

"Schooled By Grace" - Luke 10:38-42

Text: Luke 10: 38-42

Synopsis: Martha, frustrated with her sister Mary, tells Jesus to tell Mary to help her in the kitchen. While this story seems to stick in the craw of Type A folks (and rightly so), this is not a story about freeloaders vs. hard-workers. This is a story about Mary, who chooses get schooled by the Rabbi Jesus, even though, in that culture, woman belonged in the kitchen not in the classroom. This act of social overstep is praised by Jesus and share with not Martha, not to her shame but to her inclusion. Jesus schools Martha by inviting her to join Mary and the men as they all learn together at the feet of the Teacher.

Keywords: Jesus, hospitality, education, gender equality, women, inclusion, honor/shame culture, spiritual formation, Sunday School

"Counting on the Kindness of Strangers" - Luke 10:25-37

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Synopsis: In one of the two most popular, beloved, and convicting stories Jesus tells (the Prodigal Son being the other), we hear Jesus’ response to a young lawyer wanting to clarify his question and justify himself: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This scandalous story’s hero is a representative of one of the most hated people groups to Jesus’ Jewish audience. Samaritans are the ancestors of the remnants in the land of Israel after the Assyrian conquest. Their religion, blood, and cultural was a mix of surrounding people groups which was abhorrent to the national purification project in Judea during Roman occupation. The challenge Jesus offers is not only to be a good neighbor to those we might dislike, distrust, or even hate, but the real twist is wondering what happens to the human heart when you have to count on the kindness of a stranger? As Paul says about God, becomes true of our neighbors, “kindness leads us to repentance,” and human hearts are transformed by love.

“You Can’t Unsee What You Have Seen” - Acts 4:13-22

Proclaimer: Rev. Dr. Bob I. Johnson

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

"The Best of Intentions" - Luke 9:57-62

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

 

"Brother Paul and the Kin-dom of God" - Galatians 3:23-29

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In a biographical look at the life of Saul-turned-Paul, we see a life of violence, hate, and bigotry transformed on the road to Damascus in an encounter with the Living, Risen Christ. After this, Paul’s hatred of the Jesus-follower’s inclusion of Gentiles into their community becomes his life calling. In a world where we label, divide, and polarize, Brother Paul is still preaching today that we are all not just citizens in the Kingdom of God, but kinfolk and siblings in the family of God.

"Trinity Sunday: All in the Family" - Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and John 16:12-15

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Synopsis: On Trinity Sunday, we hear two distinct images from Proverbs and John bubbling up from the scriptures to spark our imaginations about the invisible, ineffable, eternal Trinitarian family. The image of the woman as the feminine “sophia” wisdom incarnate, begotten before Creation, and eternally dancing in communion with the Creator, sounds mysteriously like the masculine “logos” word in the Gospel of John. The biblical vocabulary describing the eternally mysterious Trinity is illuminated by these images of feminine wisdom and masculine word, to remind us that God is neither male nor female, but gender identity finds it’s genesis in God, who exists eternally in loving, familial-like relationships. The traditional Trinitarian formula of Father - Son - Holy Spirit is not about the gender of God (God is not male, and men are not more like God), but to the nature of the relationships which exist within the Trinity. We use the language of family to describe the Trinity because there is no more intimate, complex, and enmeshed relationship than the connect of the family system (for good or ill). As members of the “household of faith,” we are called to participant in the great family circle of the Holy Trinity by being church family to one another. The metaphors are not meant to hinder, but help us reframe family membership in God’s New Family where everyone is welcome regardless of status, identity, or lineage. This is why the biblical mandate is repeated so often to protect orphans (those without parents), widows (those without spouses or children), the poor (those without a support system), and immigrants (those without a homeland). We are call to be the new human family God is creating through Trinitarian love and Resurrection life.

“Pentecost: Tongues on Fire” - Acts 2:1-39

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On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrives in tongues of fire to set hearts and lives ablaze. The real miracle of Pentecost is that thousands of people were able to understand the Good News Story without miscommunication or mistrust. Peter stands to address the crowd, who would have most likely been the very same mob who just six weeks or so earlier would have cried, “Crucify!” Peter tells them that death could not hold Jesus anymore than violence would not solve their problems. They cried out for blood, because they wanted to blame somebody for their situation. Despite their rage, death was swallowed up by life and the Resurrection of Jesus proves that love and life will always find a way. In that miraculous moment, they ask Peter what they are supposed to do. Peter invites them to repent (think different) and be baptized (walk into a newness of life) through the miraculous power of God’s universal language of love. While rage and bitterness seem cathartic, the path of peace offered by Jesus is the path of grace, love, and forgiveness.

To hear the moving story of a father’s forgiveness referenced at the end of the sermon, click here.

"The Ascension: To Infinity and Beyond" - Acts 1:1-11

Jesus gathers his disciples before ascending back into full, spiritual communion with the Trinity and before sending the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit arrives, they will become his witnesses of salt and light in Jerusalem, all throughout the countryside in Judea and Samaria (two regions segregated by ethnic and cultural tension), and to the ends of the earth. Although, we are not told exactly when Jesus was culminate this work and exact where we are to go. The Infinite God is not bound by time or space. In God’s infinity of time, we are called to live and love each day like it’s our last and lean into the eternal present in each moment. In God’s infinity of space, we are called to bear witness to God’s love and Christ’s Resurrected Life in lands far away from our hometowns or even in our own backyard as God’s agents of peace and reconciliation. Wherever God sends us, we have an opportunity to lay roots and bloom where we are planted.

“Psalms, Part 4: A Boundless Benediction” - Psalm 67

Psalm 67 speaks of word of blessing over the audience borrowing the rich, priestly blessing of Numbers 6. A benediction is, literally, “speaking good” over the life of another. We call this in the normal rhythm of our lives words of affirmation or blessing. In our own stories, the power of a well-placed word of blessing can change everything. The Psalms reminds us the power of our words to bless or curse, and we are called to bless others with our words of kindness and affirmation just like we have been blessed by those who have gone on before us.

The sermon begins with one from our church family, Nora Gardner-Sinclair, telling her story of blessing through the words and courage of her colleagues at her trauma-focused social work agency, Safe Horizon, in New York.

"Love One Another" - John 13:33-35

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

“Psalms, Part 3: An Old, Familiar Tune” - Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is arguably the most familiar passage of scripture next to John 3:16. The pastoral, rural imagery of God as shepherd evokes emotions of comfort and safety, even though the life of a shepherd was hardly safe or comfortable. Traditionally attributed to David, the Psalm speaks of God’s parental care for God’s children (particularly poignant on Mother’s Day) which provides and protects us all the days of our life. Although, God does not promise to fix all of our problems, but promises to be present, responsive, and always pursing us with goodness and mercy. This promise is not made exclusively to the initiated, but the Good Shepherd even makes a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, God continues make all things new and fulfill the old, familiar promise to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah to make one family out of all Creation. The promise of the Good Shepherd is we are not alone, and there is no far away with the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

"Psalms, Part 2: Hold It up to the Light" - Psalm 30

Psalms offers surprising twists and turns and a picture of the world where circumstance is constantly moving through seasonal transitions. Today will not look like tomorrow. Psalm 30 sings a song which moves from darkness to light, as the Psalmist is surprised by joy as God fulfills promises of faithfulness. If we hold our circumstance up to the light of God’s love, our sorrow creates the space for deep joy in the midst of struggle.

As Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet, “Then a woman said, ‘Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.’ And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”

“Psalms, Part 1: A Righteous Racket" - Psalm 150

The first of a four part series on the Psalms. According to Walter Brueggemann, the Psalms come to us in three primary, genres (Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation) which lay bare the emotional arc of the human heart and remind us that our emotions are, to quote Mr. Rogers, “mentionable and manageable.” Psalm 150 is a Psalm of Orientation, singing praises and giving thanks for God’s goodness and trustworthiness to fulfill promises. We are called to praise because we are created to praise. We express love, honor, joy, and devotion when we talk about the people and things we love. We become what we praise, and when we praise God we reprioritize our lives and point ourselves towards the life and love of the Crucified, Risen Jesus.

Keywords: Easter, Resurrection, Jesus, Christ, praise, joy, gratitude, emotions, music

"Hope Springs Eternal" - Luke 24:1-12

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The women, who go to grieve and tend the corpse of Jesus, become the first preachers in the Christian faith. Their news is too good to be true, so the disciples ignore and silence them, but Peter has to see for himself. When he gets to the tomb to see whether or not their news was too good to be true, he sees an empty tomb and old burial linens and his hope springs eternal. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead inaugurates God’s Kingdom reality of all things becoming new. Even though we see crucifixion all around us, “Despite appearances, it is an Easter world.”

"A Kingly Cartoonist" - Luke 19:28-40

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Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, poking fun at earthly powers like Herod and Caesar who ride on great, white steeds in glorious parades to celebrate themselves and assert their power. The broader way of Lent liberates us to fearlessly laugh and find joy in the freedom our King Jesus brings. In the light of God’s love we are invited to not take ourselves and our faults so seriously, but rather experience grace by embracing laughter, joy, and our shared humanity.

“A Worthy Investment” - John 12:1-8

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Mary pours a ridiculously expensive perfume on Jesus as an act of love, devotion, and preparation for his imminent death. Judas, who John does not give any grace, grumbles about how she should have sold it and given the proceeds away to the poor (with the possibility that Judas wanted to take a cut). Jesus speaks the cringe-worthy words which have justified so many careless, callous Christians to ignore the God-given social contract of care for the poor. Jesus, who reads the Isaiah scroll declaring himself to be a champion for the marginalized, honors Mary’s gift and shames Judas, because there will always be more work to do, more care to give, more needs to meet, and more justice to seek. Life is not just about doing or accomplishing or fixing, but also about resting in the lavish love and peace of God. Sabbath means we work six days and then we rest, and Judas tried to embarrass Mary by taking the seventh day to celebrate that Jesus was still with them, even if only for a little while longer. The broader way of Lent is not just about suffering and self-denials but also taking the opportunity to soak in Christ’s love and presence in extravagant ways.

Art by Julia Stankova of Bulgaria