1/29/2017 Sermon: #blessed

Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus called the first four disciples to follow him – and when they did, he proved he wasn’t bluffing.  He led them all around the northern region of Galilee as he taught and healed.  Everywhere Jesus went, more followed.  Crowds began to form. But one day he stopped.  He climbed a mountain (more like a hill compared to our Appalachians).  He sat down facing the crowd so that the earth behind and sea ahead form a natural amphitheater.  Then he opened his first and best-known sermon with these lines: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The word “blessed” is obviously central to this teaching.  It also has the potential to confuse us.  Used in this context, “blessed” means “blessed by God.”  This is quite different from what the world calls “blessed.”  Most people...

1/22/2017 Sermon: Invitation

Matthew 4:12-23 This is a story about the day Jesus called his first disciples. Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Its water isn’t much different from the clean mountain lakes here in far-Western North Carolina.  Its shore line is; less of a steep drop off and more of a gentle glide, like the beach. If this was a movie the camera would be following Jesus along this shore, watching over his shoulder as gets his first glimpse of Peter and Andrew.  They’re knee-deep in the waves and hauling in a net of fish.  Jesus walks right up to them and makes his funny invitation:  “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  “Immediately” they drop the nets and go (did a day’s work scatter back into their natural habitat?).  Jesus sees James and John and calls them, too.  “Immediately” they go as well, this time leaving behind not just nets but a boat and a (probably confused) dad. That’s how the story went.  But here’s how it should have gone: Jesus:  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Fishermen: “Follow you where?   How long will we be gone?  What will we do?  How will we provide for ourselves?  What about our jobs and families?” Matthew gives us no indication that the disciples ask any of these valid questions.  And yet they go – they leave their whole lives, everything, for a man they just met. Why? Maybe it’s because he came to them.  Tradition was that a rabbi (teacher) was approached by potential students, not the other way around. ...

1/8/2017 Sermon: Seawall

Romans 6:1-11 Today we’re talking about baptism.  And having grown up in Florida, I know something a thing or two about water. There were many summer days when we lived in our bathing suits.  For many daylight hours we were actually in the water, jumping off the dock or swimming laps in the pool to earn a piece of Grandma’s candy.  But sometimes we were inside, towels wrapped around our waists like skirts while we ate lunch in the cold air conditioning.  The line between “swimming” and “not swimming” was a blurry one, because whatever we were doing we might dive back in at any given moment. Other times, that line was crystal clear:  the shocking change of status from “not swimming” to “swimming” when we accidentally fell in. When I was 7 we moved into a house on a little branch of Tampa Bay that looked like a slow-moving river.  It was a great little neighborhood with lots of kids and no through traffic. One winter day a bunch of us were playing together behind our houses, avoiding fences by tiptoeing along the seawall.  There was one boy on our street known to be rougher than the others (isn’t there always?).  Without warning he pushed me into the “freezing cold” 64-degree Bay.  It takes about a second and a half to make a fall like that, and yet I remember having time to think so many things that it was like I frozen mid-air between “not swimming” and “swimming”:  “This can’t be happening!”  “Why did he push me off the dock?”  “Am I going to freeze to death?” ...

1/1/2017 Sermon: The Perfect Gift

Matthew 2:1-12 As of December 13th I have a new niece.  Her name is Scarlet, and although I haven’t met her I’m confident that she’s sweet and beautiful and perfect.  Hopefully I’ll get to confirm all that with an in-person encounter before too long. Christmas provided a great opportunity to compensate for my absence with an exceptional present… but this is tricky with babies.  Normally we select gifts based on what the recipient most likes, which in a newborn’s case is pretty much eating and pooping and sleeping (often in that order).  So I tried to go with what her parents liked.  I looked for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers onesie, or a Tampa Bay Rays bib.  Unfortunately, everything I saw failed to fit either my budget or my taste.  I gave up and bought something that fits with one of those few things a baby likes to do: Diapers. But what if I knew more about the person Scarlett will one day become?  If I had that ability, I could pick out a really amazing present – and it’d be worth blowing the budget over.  If she’ll become a Rays superfan, I could stalk Evan Longoria for a “Future Rays Fan” autograph.  Then, as an adult sitting in the stands (assuming the Rays are still in Tampa Bay), she’ll treasure that piece of paper.   Or maybe she’ll grow up to be a doctor like her great-grandfather.  In that case, I could get her an early edition of Gray’s Anatomy (the textbook, not the TV show).  I can just see her going off to medical school, placing that early edition...