4/24/2016 Sermon: What Binds Us Together

Acts 11:1-18 What makes a group, a group? It’s almost always some factor held in common.  A mom’s club is defined by their parental status.  The motorcyclists cruising up and down the Tail of the Dragon around here are bound together by their bikes.  My dad’s close friends call their group “CFS” – “Can’t Fix Stupid.”  But their common bond is not stupidity, unless you call waking up at 6am on a Saturday to play golf, “stupid.” Sometimes, in a slight variation, groups are made a group by what they commonly abstain from.  Vegetarians steer clear of meat.  AA groups support each other in not using alcohol. Either way, a group is made a group by a common bond, whether it’s something held together or something withheld together.  Often groups will make these bonds even stronger by attaching a visible sign to them.  Veterans will get tattoos to represent their branch of the military.  Once upon a time my friends and I drew black Xes on our hands to show that we were “Straightedge” – a much cooler way (or so I thought) to say that we didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. We do this in religious circles, too.  Orthodox Jews might wear a skullcap or scarf.  Some Islam women dress in a distinctively modest way, covering their heads and sometimes faces.  We Christians often wear cross necklaces.  All of these are ways to tell others that we’re part of a particular group. And likewise, in religious circles, our group is defined by what we share in common.  This can be more specific than just a belief in...

4/17/2016 Sermon: An Easter Paradox

Psalm 23 Lemme tell you about a paradox. A paradox is two seemingly opposite things that come together in a surprisingly true way.  If you’re familiar with some of Jesus’ sayings, you’re familiar with paradox because a lot of them fit into this category.  Like, “whoever wants to be first must be last” (Mark 10:44) – that’s a paradox.  And “whoever wants to save their life must lose it” (Mark 8:35) – also a paradox. But “paradox” in the Christian faith isn’t restricted to an isolated few of Jesus’ teachings; it applies to the unexpected pairings that we discover frequently in this Christian life. Here’s one I’ve found since becoming a pastor:  funerals are uplifting. Before I took my first church, I figured that the ministries of grief, death and dying would be among the downers of the job.  Kind of like conference paperwork or committee meetings that last longer than an hour:  stuff you’ve gotta do because it’s part of this gig.  What I discovered almost immediately is that funerals do not fall in the same category as committee meetings and paperwork.  They’re more like one of the best parts of the calling. I haven’t done a ton of funerals, but I have participated in a good variety of them – enough, I think, to give my point legitimacy.  I’ve done funerals for deaths that were very expected and also completely unexpected.  Some funerals were the result of illness; a few were horribly accidental.  Some were for the old and some were for the young.  Several were for people I had never met before; one was for someone...

4/10/2016 Sermon: Do Over

John 21:1-19 Today we’ve got a great story:  not catching fish, catching fish, sharing breakfast, feeding sheep…  But before we really dig into that, we need to take a look at the background.  Specifically, let’s look at the background of one of the main characters, Peter.  We’ll rely on the gospel of John to give us the facts, and the basic 🙂 and 🙁 emoticons for color commentary. In John 1:40-42 Peter is introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew.  There must have been some kind of natural bond here, because immediately after meeting the one born “Simon” gets a nickname:  “The Rock,” or in Greek, “Petros.”  A nickname from Jesus Christ.  Does it get any cooler than that? :)! Next, in John 6:8-9, Peter is the one who questions whether or not it’s possible to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.  Not a terrible moment for “The Rock” – Jesus doesn’t reprimand him for this or anything – but not exactly the poster child for believing either. A mild :(. Not to worry.  In John 6:68 Peter delivers a mic-dropper.  Jesus is noticing that some of his followers are dropping out because his teachings are “too difficult” (v. 60).  So he gives his inner twelve a bail out option:  “Do you also wish to go away?” (v. 67).  To which Peter replies, “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  Boom! :)! Next comes the Last Supper, where things get confusing for Peter.  First, in John...

Doubt and Faith

John 20:19-31 Have you ever had one moment – one isolated incident – that stuck you with a nickname? I have a friend called “Dome.”  I’ve known him for twenty years.  Once, a just a few months before I met him, he shaved his head.  I don’t know whether the end result was particularly good or bad.  What’s clear is this:  his shaved noggin had a distinctly dome-like shape, made more prominent by a sunburn (if I remember the story right).  The details are hazy to me because it was an isolated incident; in all the time I’ve known him I’ve not once seen Dome’s dome without a full head of hair.  And yet, the nickname lives on. Dome seems fond of his moniker, but not every nickname is a good one.  Sometimes the worse they are, the more they seem to stick.  Like this one, still being used after 2,000 years: “Doubting Thomas.” Poor Thomas.  He shows up a few minutes late and misses the Resurrected Jesus.  This is bad enough in and of itself.  It’s something akin to going to the restroom at dinner and missing a huge celebrity sighting:  “Aw, man, Taylor Swift was just here – look, she signed my napkin!”  But multiply that feeling of missing out by a thousand, because Thomas was out of the room when the Resurrected Jesus showed up.  I cannot imagine the disappointment. And maybe some skepticism, too.  Are they all pulling his leg?  While Thomas just happened to be out, Jesus Christ himself appeared?  “C’mon now, guys – that’s not funny.  Are you being serious?” And finally, maybe...