8/28/2016 Sermon: What is Faith?

Hebrews 11:1-12 Faith is hard, harder even than it seems. There’s a story in Mark 9 about a man and his demon-possessed son.  Jesus and the father go back and forth on whether or not it’s possible for his son to be healed, until the man blurts out this profound confession of faith:  “I believe; help my unbelief!” The first time I came across those words my soul breathed a sigh of relief.  Yes:  “I believe; help my unbelief!”  And for me, exactly in that order. From my earliest memories, I believed.  I grew up actively participating in the whole she-bang that church has to offer, from Sunday mornings to Tuesday nights back around to Sunday evenings.  My family bowed our heads before meals and dropped to our knees before bed.  I believed in God, in Jesus, in church.  It was simple and unquestioning. And then one day I was surprised by unbelief. It came in the form of a question:  “Is this “Christianity” thing really real, or does it just seem real because it’s what I’ve been told my whole life?”  And just like that the scales of childhood faith fell from my eyes.  I saw my religious affiliation as a humanly-constructed belief system.  The floodgates had opened, and now many questions were rushing in:  Do I really believe?  If I die, will I go to hell?  If I don’t believe, then why am I even worried about hell? Lord, help my unbelief! I wanted to find the truth, so I researched other religions as best I could.  The initial results of my feeble intellectual quest pointed me...

8/21/2016 Sermon: A Tale of Two Cycles

Hebrews 10:1-18 ‘I am drinking,’ answered the drunkard lugubriously. ‘Why are you drinking?’ the little prince asked. ‘In order to forget,’ replied the drunkard. ‘To forget what?’ enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him. ‘To forget that I am ashamed,’ the drunkard confessed, hanging his head. ‘Ashamed of what?’ asked the little prince who wanted to help him. ‘Ashamed of drinking!’ concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.  – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery This is what we call a “vicious cycle” – a series of events that perpetuate a negative outcome. We know them and we hate them.  We quit smoking… and then gain weight as a result… which makes us depressed… which drives us to start smoking again.  A group of people are overly competitive at work… which hurts feelings… and puts folks on the offensive… which causes more people to be competitive.  A leads to B leads to C leads to D… and back around again. Here’s another example: Human beings sin… so the priests offer a sacrifice for their sin… and the people are forgiven… but then they sin again. This is the vicious cycle of the first covenant – the law – as Hebrews 10:1-4 and 11 describes it: “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness...

8/14/2016 Sermon: Jesus > ________

Hebrews 3:1-6 If you’ve never read Hebrews before… no judgment.  It’s kind of an elusive book of the Bible. The title starts right off by tricking us, sounding like some lesser-known book from the Old Testament.  Even now you might be flipping through the opening pages of your Bible, scanning for “Hebrews” to show up in the upper-right-hand corner.  If that’s the case, you’re going to be flipping for a while – Hebrews is in the New Testament, pretty close to the end of the Bible. And let’s talk about that:  the end of the Bible.  As Fred Craddock points out, it’s way back there with obscure books like 2 Peter and the strange territory of Revelation.  Hebrews is not a gospel; it doesn’t tell a good story like Acts; it’s not one of the familiar letters from Paul. And who did write it, anyway?  As early as the second century, Christians thought Paul wrote it.  But as early as the second century, Christians doubted that Paul wrote it.  The Greek is in a different style, and one line (Heb 2:3) says that the author didn’t have a first-hand experience of Christ.  Surely Paul would have counted his road to Damascus experience as first-hand. There’s even less certainty about who the original recipients were.  Unlike the books of “Romans” or “Philippians,” the title “Hebrews” seems based more on the content (with all its Jewish references) than location.  The audience must be very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures – our Old Testament – but they are also clearly a Christian community.  And they are in some kind of crisis; attendance...

7/31/2016 Sermon: Greed and Investment

Luke 12:13-21 It all starts with a request. Moments earlier Jesus was teaching the crowd about the trouble that’s coming – trouble so bad it might even threaten their lives.  “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you,” Jesus says.  “Our God who takes care of each little bird will take care of you,” he says.  “When you’re drilled about your faith, the Holy Spirit will help you find the right words,” he says.  “Don’t worry about a scary and uncertain future,” he’s trying to say. Just as he finishes, a request comes from the crowd:  “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!” Even someone reading this without the context – just picking up at verse 13 – might sense that this request is somehow out of place.  Jesus’ initial response is almost mocking:  “What, did God send me to earth so that I could be your personal judge?” (see verse 14).  I imagine a chuckle rising up out of the crowd and possibly some ancient version of, “Oooh, dang!” But then Jesus turns to address all of them.  “Be careful, because there are many kinds of greed and none of them are good.  Your life isn’t made up of money or stuff” (see verse 15).  I see a quiet crowd after that line.  Maybe all their minds then went to the same concern this man was voicing, a universal concern that goes beyond just inheritance: Will I have enough for the future? In modern terms this concern usually involves retirement – a word that brings happy thoughts in regard to the stage of...