2/26/2017: Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-13 Last week was Peter’s identification of Jesus.  Jesus asked, “Who am I?” and Peter gave the right answer:  “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” This week we learn that it’s one thing to say it, and another thing to see it.  Before I went to the Grand Canyon, I could have said, “The Grand Canyon is a really big, very impressive national park.”  With a little research I could even have said, “The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and in some places over a mile deep.”  But that’s just book report. A whole different experience came during my family’s obligatory out-west trip as an 18-year-old.  We unloaded from our rental van and stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  It was near dusk.  The view went on from horizon to horizon, a huge rupture in the face of the earth.  My stomach flipped as I looked over the edge and saw just how deep a mile looks from above.  At that moment, all I could say was… “WHOA.” So here’s Peter – and James, and John – following Jesus up a mountain.  They’ve already given the book report about how Jesus is the Christ.  But now they’re about to see it. And what do they see? The gospels use a certain word to describe the event:  “transfigured.”  It comes from the root, “metamorphosis,” and it means “changed.”  It’s a strange word – not one we use in everyday talk.  What in the world does it mean to say Jesus was “transfigured”?  I think we’re...

2/12/2017 Sermon: Multiplication

Matthew 14:13-21 Jesus wanted some “me” time but he just couldn’t get it. Man, can I relate.  And not because I’m a pastor; it’s because I’m a mom.  Parents of the world, do you feel me? But before we talk about me – or us – let’s talk about Jesus.  Jesus wanted some “me” time on this particular day because he had just gotten some bad news.  His cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed by Herod.  Jesus is on his way to a deserted place to be by himself – no people needing healing, no disciples needing teaching, just Jesus and God and creation.  A little much-needed quiet time to grieve his loss and refresh his soul.  He even takes a boat there – what better way to ensure you’ll be alone than to head off in a vehicle by yourself? As he cruises across the Sea his weary soul is eagerly anticipating some space and silence.  As he steers toward land he’s mentally picking out his sitting spot.  As the shoreline comes into view he sees… …a crowd? His “deserted place” is far from deserted.  While he’s been sailing the crowds have been running.  They’re waiting for him.  They’re sick and they want healing.  They’re lost and they want leading.  They want him. While I’m hesitant to compare myself to Jesus, I think any parent knows what this moment feels like. I knew parenting would be hard.  Who wouldn’t guess that?  You’re responsible for a human being.  I figured my children would need a lot of attention.  I assumed they would change my life.  But I had...

2/5/2017 Sermon: Domination

Matthew 8:18-27 This is not a story about how Jesus calms our storms. It is very much a story about how Jesus calmed a storm.  On this day he and his disciples got into a boat to cross the sea of Galilee.  Jesus had been teaching and healing and answering questions, and he was tired.  He curled up in the front of the boat, with old fishing nets as a makeshift mattress.  Jesus continued to snooze as a storm gathered.  He snoozed as waves rocked the boat.  He snoozed as the wind got so strong, it looked like they might tip.  He kept right on snoozing as the water poured in over the sides of the boat.  Finally, the disciples couldn’t take it anymore; they woke the Son of Man up from his well-deserved rest: “SAVE US, JESUS!  WE’RE GONNA DIE!” I don’t know about Jesus, but I’m really grumpy if my nap is cut short.  Maybe he took a moment to throw the disciples a stern look before responding.  Then he stood up and directed a few short words at the wind and the waves.  It was like a switch had been flipped; the water turned to an early-morning stillness and the wind dropped so dead, it wouldn’t even ripple a flag.  Everything was still. I picture Jesus rolling back to sleep as he mutters something like, “Didn’t you have any faith at all, scaredy-cats?” Isn’t this a great story, the day when Jesus calmed a storm?  It’s so powerful that it tempts us to make it about our storms.  I want it to be about how Jesus...

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...

12/25/2016: Word

John 1:1-14 “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What a big, fat lie. I’d much rather have someone throw a stick or a stone at me than words.  The cuts and bruises from blunt objects heal in a reliable way; the scratch I get today will be gone in a week.  The wounds inflicted by words, however – they’re unpredictable.  The recovery is long, or impossible.  They can re-open without warning, years after we put away the bandaids and Neosporin. For better or worse, our words have power. We resemble our Creator in that way; we are, after all, made in God’s image.  In the beginning God made the world, not with hammer and nails but with words.  God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Just like that. God’s words are powerful, and today we remember the mysterious moment when that Word became flesh. Matthew and Luke tell us the most familiar Christmas story:  a manger and shepherds, scared parents and wise men, swaddling clothes and an overbooked inn.  The Gospel of John is different.  John doesn’t start in the first century; John goes back to before time was ever recorded. “In the beginning was the Word…”  That creating Word, that life-giving Word – it has always been. But then came a moment when “the Word became flesh.”  God’s all-powerful Word came into the world with an infant cry.  That Word grew in body and soul, learned to speak words using human lips and lungs. What kind of words did the Word say? A lot; but I’m thinking of...

12/24/2016: Peace

Luke 2:1-7 Tonight we remember the birth of a first-born son, the moment when the Son of God was born to Mary and Joseph; when he took his first startled breath in and pushed his first tiny cry out. Birth is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.  I’ve seen it twice – my daughter and my son.  I’d relive that moment over and over again if I could, a thousand times:  the heart-breaking beauty of a new life coming into the world. Pregnancy and labor, though – that’s a whole ‘nother story. Pregnancy does not feel beautiful.  It’s losing sleep and gaining weight.  It’s being desperately hungry and uncomfortably full.  It’s turning your confident strut into a humbling waddle. And we haven’t even gotten to labor yet. I think I’m a pretty tough woman.  I don’t mind a little pain for a little gain.  But I confess:  I crumbled like a soft sugar cookie at the arrival of real labor pains. “How long will this last?” I asked the nurse, trying to sound cool and confident while desperately clutching the side bars of my hospital bed. “Oh, we think the baby will be here in about 12 hours,” she said in an absurdly pleasant voice. TWELVE HOURS?  That’s like some kind of torture!  But I never got anywhere near the 12 hour mark.  Right after the blessed epidural kicked in the doctor came and assessed the situation. “We’ll need to do a C-section,” he explained, noting several reasons – my first-born’s positioning being primary among them. Recalling the previous timeline of a leisurely “twelve hours,” I...

12/18/2016 Sermon: Dream

Matthew 1:18-25 If you think about it, Joseph shouldn’t be that important. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, after all, not the son of Joseph.  Jesus is born to Mary before Mary and Joseph ever consummate their marriage.  Almost proving the point is Joseph’s absence from the gospels after the birth stories; while we see Mary following Jesus all the way to the cross, Joseph is just a biographical footnote (Luke 4:22). Joseph shouldn’t matter at all… and yet he does. Take the first 17 verses of Matthew.  Which, I realize, you have probably skipped over.  I totally get that; they’re boring.  But take a look at that long list of names in the genealogy of Jesus Christ; follow that family tree all the way out onto its last branch.  You might be surprised to find the name that Jesus’s newborn leaf is hanging from:  not Mary, but Joseph. Having traced Jesus’ lineage from Abraham to Joseph, Matthew begins his story in earnest.  He explains that Mary is pregnant – not in a scandalous way from adultery, but in a miraculous way from the Holy Spirit.  Then Matthew leaves Mary and focuses us again on Joseph, telling us about his reaction, his dream, his ultimate decision. Why?  If Jesus’ daddy is God, then what’s so important about Joseph? I’ll tell you what’s important:  he is the adoptive earthly father of the Son of God. In the dream, the angel tells him to do two things that give him this status:  marry the girl and name the baby. Marrying the girl means accepting Mary at great price.  Engagement was...