The kingdom of God is not for sale. And look, the poor can’t buy it with their poverty any more than a rich man can buy it with his gold. The kingdom of God, according to Jesus, is God’s gift to be given to the people God chooses to give it to, and for whatever reason God wants. The catch is, you have got to be free to accept the gift. You cannot be otherwise engaged. You cannot accept God’s gift if your hands are handcuffed to something else. You can’t make room for it if all your rooms are already full. Yes, and you can’t follow Jesus to where Jesus wants you to go if you are already booked in a Ritz Carlton somewhere else.
... I’m reminded of the Rev. Gary Demarest (a well-known Presbyterian pastor) who received a similar lesson when he was a young man and a very new minister. His first call was to be an associate at a church in Florida, and he recounted his first speech on the floor of presbytery. This was the early 1950s. He rose to speak against the ordination of any one who had been divorced. Scripture was clear on this, he said, both in the Old Testament and in the very words of Jesus himself. “It’s a sin!” he thundered, “and if we open this door, what will follow?” He was 100% sure about this.
And then a few years later he went to his senior pastor with tears in his eyes and offered his resignation because he and his wife were getting a divorce. The senior pastor refused to accept it, as did the session -- unanimously. Some time afterwards, Gary said the following: “It was the community of faith that showed me the Gospel of grace and forgiveness that had always been there; I’d just missed it.” You know, we in the church miss a lot of things.
If I had said, “I will talk on in this way, I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.” Now, what does that mean? Well, I think he is saying, “If I continue to think this way it would be a betrayal of my grandchildren. I don’t want them to think of me as a sell-out to the rich and godless. Being tempted to give up my ethics in order to make a lot of money or to gain a powerful position – it makes me kind of sick. Especially when I consider what they might come to think of me.” Well, that sure makes a lot of sense to me.
Now, let me acknowledge that there are lots of emotions running high this week regarding the vote to confirm or not confirm our new Supreme Court justice. I’m not going to go into all that’s swirling around that decision, but I want to acknowledge that when it comes to receiving and defending children there are people on both sides of the vote that believe their side is the most just when it comes to receiving children – some are advocating for living children, others for the unborn, and both, of course, are deeply concerned about how the vote in the Senate will come out. This is the world we live in and we need to be respectful of one another when it comes to matters of conscience no matter where we are coming from.
Alien Invasion a Sermon by Andrew Fleishman
Being able to communicate something effectively plays a big role in our lives. It is a tool we use to organize ourselves, to speak our minds and to share our hearts. Despite the critical role communication plays, it can be imperfect and terribly flawed. To illustrate this reality, I’d like to share a story about communication.
Have you ever heard of something called, the Jerusalem Syndrome? It’s a kind of temporary psychosis that strikes a few dozen tourists, mostly Christian, who visit the city of Jerusalem every year. These are usually perfectly normal people who go on holiday to see the sites, and then, as a surprise to everyone and themselves as well, they have a psychotic break. Here are a list of possible symptoms put together to help tour guides and hotel personnel recognize the behavior ...
Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, says that whenever you and I draw a line in the sand, so to speak, Jesus is on the other side of that line. That is to say that when you and I draw a line or build a wall in order to exclude someone, for whatever reason, Jesus is on the other side of that line – Jesus is with the other person we are attempting to exclude, every time. Well, Paul understands this. Paul is asking Philemon to do some stretching when it comes to boundaries. Paul himself had done some stretching himself. A lot in fact. Paul was once a Pharisee, part of the reformed party of Judaism.
Like you, I imagine, I have this soft spot in my heart for individuals who are their own person – who speak truth even when it doesn’t serve them. We’re all thinking this weekend of John McCain. I will never forget that town hall when he was running for president in 2008 and a woman stood up and claimed Barack Obama was an Arab and McCain said, “No ma’am. He’s not. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” As we all know now, it might have helped him to agree with that deluded woman, but John McCain, God bless him, was not willing to base his presidential campaign on a lie.
Between Heaven and Earth, a Sermon by Luana Uluave
Brother Columban Mary Hall is a Catholic Dominican Friar that I’m working with this summer in a training program for chaplains at St Mark’s hospital. Though he is 32 years old, he was not long ago asked for ID to prove his age - for a PG-13 movie. He wears a cream colored habit that makes him look like a Jedi. So as you might imagine, I was immediately fascinated when I met him.
Now, David “was ruddy with beautiful eyes.” He was the Johnny Depp of his day. Both his power and his good looks worked a number on the everyone. In the first book of Kings in the Bible, you can read how he is remembered by history: “David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (I Kings 15:5)
You might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen are sitting outside their cave making stone tools. One says to the other: “Something’s just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and look … nobody lives past 30.”
It would be like someone from Delta, Utah coming up here to Salt Lake and addressing people in the foyer of the Main Library. He’d stand there yelling, taking the leadership of Salt Lake apart verbally and the patrons would just ignore him, write him off as one of the homeless rabble. One of the staff there would call the police to come and quietly take him away as they do there pretty often, I’m sure.
Well, prayer, real prayer, as someone has said, is “becoming weak toward God.” Anyone who has prayed long and hard in the face of something immovable comes to understand this. Paul certainly did. So do many others.
I think of how desperate I was once when my daughter, at the age of four, was suffering what seemed to be simple ankle sprains. Both ankles at once. We liked her pediatrician a lot, but all she could recommend was wrapping the ankles and waiting.
Well my daughter started feeling very very sick one night and we took her to the children’s hospital in Portland and the doctor we saw there, after midnight, looked her over and unwrapped one of her ankles, and nothing prepared me to see the mass of purple bubbles of skin her ankle had become.
All at once I thought this must mean she was deathly ill, but for this specialist it was proof, without the need of a blood test, that she had an auto-immune condition that could be serious but that, for most, was just a stage of development that should pass in a period of a couple of months. It was like going from a sentence of death to new life in a matter of moments for me, the desperate dad.
A week ago Hilary and I provided our children a three day Vacation Church School experience. One of the Bible stories we unpacked with them was the story of Noah and his ark. I asked the kids what an ark was and they said it was a boat, and they were correct – but I also let them know that the Hebrew word for ark also has a value meaning to it. An ark is, in fact, a treasure box. It is a place God told Noah to construct that was meant to hold the things that God deemed most precious – in this case it was the remnant of all the living creatures of the earth.
Now, all that is preamble to this morning’s story.
Jesus is asking the disciples (read: you and me) to give him all we have. He knows we are going to say, as we always do – “Hey we are inadequate. First let me go to graduate school. First let me poll my friends about this problem. Give me time to find some resources.” No, Jesus is saying, offer up the little you have; empty yourself.
Eli and his sons have become strangers to one another, if not actually, then at least morally. Now, most times when I have spoken about this passage Samuel and his calling has been my principle focus, but the incredible pathos that the judgment of God on Eli evokes here looms so large in this text. To ignore it would do such a disservice to the story. Besides, I wonder if there aren't a lot more Elis than there are Samuels in the world.
What is interesting is what occurs to Isaiah when his world comes crashing down. Look carefully at the text here and you can see that though Isaiah is crushed by the loss of his benefactor king, Isaiah, in that terrifying vacuum, finds out who the REAL King of the Universe is — He puts it this way: "In the year King Uzziah died, I SAW THE LORD.” Isaiah had a God-sized blind spot when it came to the foundation his life was built upon, and he was just finding that out.
There you have it: Attestations from the young to the meaning and value of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, what it means to be Presbyterian, what it means that we are a judgment free community of faith committed to growing in that faith together.
Some years ago, when she knew her time was short, the wonderful Nora Ephron made two lists: What I will miss - & - What I won’t miss.
Here is some of what is on her What I Won’t Miss list … Dry skin, E-mail, washing my hair, bras, polls that show that 32% of the American people believe in creationism, Clarence Thomas, Mammograms, the sound of the vacuum cleaner, E-mail – I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it, taking off make-up every night.
Here is some of what is on her What I will miss list ...