11/27/2016: Advent 1, “Watch”

Matthew 24:26-34 We start Advent by doing some double-watching. The first watch is for the birth of Christ.  This has already happened, but we go along for the ride by remembering the story with manger scenes and Advent calendars and Christmas plays. Spoiler alert:  the Son of God is going to be born as a tiny baby to average parents in a barn! We know that this baby Jesus will grow up to be Jesus the Christ.  We know that his route to the Throne will be the unexpected way of crucifixion.  We know that he’ll laugh in the face of death as he walks out of the empty tomb.  In other words, we know not only that this baby we’re “watching” for will be born – we know how the story goes on from there. The second watch is different from the first.  It hasn’t already happened.  We are actively still waiting for another arrival of Christ. Jesus describes it for us in a section of Matthew often called the “Little Apocalypse.”  The Greek word apocalypse means “revelation” or “disclosure,” so an apocalypse usually contains visions that reveal something about the divine – especially relating to the future.   The “Little Apocalypse” in Matthew 24 is that kind of disclosure. It comes up in conversation after Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple (Matt 24:1-2).  To say that the massive Temple rebuilt by Herod and occupied by God would one day crumble was a pretty bold claim.  The disciples have some valid follow-up questions:  When?  What will be the sign of your coming, and the end of this age?...

11/20/2016 Sermon: Wrestling

Genesis 32:22-32 In this corner:  The son of Isaac and Rebekah, the husband of Rachel and Leah, the brother of red, hairy Esau.  He grew up preferring light, indoor work but has spent the last twenty years tending his father-in-law’s livestock.  Let’s hear it for… Jacob!!!!  And in this corner:  a mysterious contender appearing out of nowhere who will reveal himself to be none other than… the One True God!!!! Yeah, so… who you gonna put your money on in that match?  Mama’s boy Jacob or the Almighty “I AM”? Believe it or not:  it was kind of a tie match. Jacob is the move.  It started out a run – away from Laban and back to his home country – but ended up more of a comfortable pace after his uncle’s blessing.  Jacob is prepared for a not-so-warm reunion with his brother, Esau.  Remember how they left things?  Jacob stealing their dad’s blessing?  Esau plotting to kill his brother? Jacob sent word to Esau that he’s coming:  “I’ve been with Uncle Laban, and I’m coming back with a small fortune in animals and people.  I want things to be OK between us” (see Gen 32:4-5).  Next comes the report that Esau got the message and is headed this way… with 400 men. Gulp. So Jacob prays.  “Um, God?  Remember how you told me to come back here?  I’m so not worthy of all that you’ve given me.  I went to Uncle Laban with nothing but a walking stick to my name; now look at all I’ve got!  But I’m afraid of Esau, God.  Save me from him, because...

11/13/2016 Sermon: Sifting

Genesis 29:16-28 When we last left Jacob, he was a man on the run.  Now he’s a man in love. Jacob stands around the well with his Uncle Laban’s people.  They’re waiting to water the sheep; once all the shepherds are there, they’ll work together to lift the heavy stone and water the animals in equal doses.  Jacob, leaning cooly on the well, sees the lovely Rachel walking her dad’s flock up to water… and he falls over himself in love.  He lifts the heavy stone in a feat of infatuation.  Rachel must be won over by this act of strength, because they kiss.  Jacob is moved to tears.  Rachel runs to tell her dad about the (kissing) cousin she just met. We have just witnessed Jacob and Rachel’s meet-cute. Uncle Laban embraces Jacob without hesitation.  He offers his nephew a job:  “Just because you’re my kin doesn’t mean you have to work for free; what do you want to be paid?”  But it seems the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.  Tricky Jacob has an even trickier uncle.  Maybe as Laban extends one hand out to Jacob, he has the other arm around his beautiful daughter. “What do you want to be paid, nephew of mine?” Jacob wants his uncle’s daughter.  He is in love and thinking of nothing else.  “I want Rachel!” he says.  “And I’ll work seven years for her.” Seven?  Seven years?  That’s about as unbelievable as Mulder and Scully not crossing the friendship barrier until the seventh season of the X-Files.  And yet, Jacob loves her so much that those seven years feel...

11/6/2016 Sermon: The Covenant Continues

Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob and Esau weren’t just brothers; they were twins. They were the sons of Isaac, the grandsons of Abraham.  That made them heirs to a promise made by God just two generations back.  One day their descendants would make great nations.  One day they would be blessed.  One day they would become a blessing to the whole earth (Genesis 12:1-3). One day… but not in the “today” that starts at Genesis 25. Esau is born all red and hairy.  Jacob is born literally hanging on his infant brother’s heel.  Esau grows into an outdoorsman.  Jacob grows into an indoorsman.  Esau is a daddy’s boy.  Jacob is a momma’s boy.  The fight that started in the womb continues throughout most of their lives. One time, Jacob was inside cooking some super delicious stew (Genesis 25:29-34).  Esau comes back from working in the field, and he is hangry.  He smells that tasty stew, and he wants some.  Jacob, seeing Esau’s weakened, hangry state, says he’ll trade some stew… for his birthright.  So Esau gives up his birthright.  Within five minutes his stew bowl is empty, and so is his right to be the first descendant. This is pretty much the norm for their relationship:  trickery and jockeying for position. It comes to a head as Father Isaac is on his deathbed (Genesis 27).  He can barely see.  He calls in his favorite son, Esau.  “I might die any minute,” he says.  “Go hunt some game like you do.  Cook me my favorite dish.  Bring it to me, and I’ll eat and give you my blessing.” A father’s blessing was...

10/30/2016 Sermon: Names and Invitations

“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). “Loving your neighbor as yourself” is not being partial; it is not showing favoritism to certain people. Loving your neighbor as yourself is like inviting people to a party. Imagine the best party you’ve ever been to.  They’re serving the finest cheeses and the most delicious chocolates.  The DJ is playing your jam.  The decorations are on point.  You’re having the time of your life! Out of the corner of your eye you spot someone by the door.  It’s that girl – you don’t really know her, but you know her reputation.  You’ve heard things.  You suspect some other things.  She’s peeking in around the doorman, trying to get in.  He’s pointing to the guest list and shaking his head:  “No.” Just as you’re about to go back to dancing – you make eye contact.  Her eyes light up, recognizing you.  She smiles and waves hopefully.  You can see the question in her raised eyebrows:  “Will you help me get in?” You turn away. In this moment, are you loving your neighbor as yourself? No.  You’re not. So let’s do that again.  Imagine the same party:  cheeses, chocolates, music, and all.  You’re dancing and laughing and living it up.  This time, though, the doors are thrown wide open.  Through them you see that same girl.  She’s standing outside looking hesitant, as though she’s thinking about coming inside but isn’t quite...