Category Archives: Sermons

On Christian Unity

I am not sure whether my childhood experience of the church was normal or not, but I worshipped at a lot of churches when I was a kid. We were always active members at a Lutheran Church, that looked a lot like this one. Since most of my neighborhood was Roman Catholic, after sleepovers I attended quite a few masses. It was weird, it looked similar, but there seemed to be a lot of differences, too. Their priest sang a lot, our pastor never did that. I loved that the priest only preached for about five minutes, but I was not as enthusiastic with all the prayers and singing that surrounded communion every time they worshipped.

We bought a cottage and we went first to a local Lutheran church nearby. At the door they asked us whether we were a part of the Missouri Synod, which is a kind of Lutheran I didn’t even know existed. My parents seemed to understand the question and told him no. The man smiled and said we were welcome to worship with them, but since this was a communion Sunday, we were not welcome to take communion with them. Maybe, it would be better if we just came back another day. We left and didn’t come back.

Weekends in the summer we started going to a little white clapboard Baptist country church. There was about 30 of us there on a good day. Unlike the Catholic service that I never seemed to quite know what was going on, this service was easy to follow. We sang, and prayed, and sang then listened. The church had an ancient preacher, who was probably about 65, but he was funny in a down home kind of way. The thing that stood out was that he could get going in his preaching. No Lutheran pastor I ever heard had that kind of energy. He must never have been long winded, though because my dad had no patience for a worship service that went over an hour. The cool thing was that when he was done, we were done. We just pretty much said Amen, sang the Old Rugged Cross and were free to go.

My best friend went to a Church of Christ congregation. It was a big modern building that looked more like a school to me than a church. We had worship in what I would have called a cafeteria. I went nearly every Wednesday night to church with him. They had education for kids and adults then a full blown worship service, right in the middle of the week. Who does that? I liked the first part. We were Whirlybirds for Jesus. The worship service though was painful. It was like the Baptist one I knew but this pastor preached a lot longer and was never very funny, like the old guy. Amazing to me was that my friend’s dad seemed perfectly okay with it going on for an over an hour, on a Wednesday no less. I told my grandma about it. She was raised Baptist in southern Illinois. She told me I got the whole cow at that church and laughed.

I was raised to think it was okay to worship and take part in any church with Christ in the name. Maybe, this is why I am still curious and interested in how churches work, worship and do ministry in the world. My clergy colleagues here in Reynoldsburg show great patience with me as I ask them how they choose a council, what is an elder, how do they prepare a sermon, what songs do they sing, how long are their worship services, who can fire them, how does their budget process work and on and on…Our differences fascinate me, but even more important to me is what can I learn from them.

I celebrate the meaningful worship that each church in our community does week after week. I thank God regularly in prayer that they are doing it. People are moving closer to Christ because of them. People that wouldn’t likely feel comfortable with our Lutheran way of doing things. Every now and then we will have someone visit who was raised at a church where the pastors preach for 30 to 45 minutes. They will tell me they wish I would go on a little longer. I assure them, they are alone in that wish.

I don’t want to make light of our differences. Most differences don’t amount to much. There are differences that are more important to me, like the role of women in the church and in the family, welcome of all people to our worship space and the life of the church, the importance of relying on grace rather than works for our salvation, the intelligent and consistent use of scripture that focuses on finding Jesus in the Word. These are things that would keep me from joining some of the congregations of my friends, but they aren’t things that would keep me from worshipping, serving and fellowshipping with them.

I like to think that we should be able to eat with any church that puts Christian on their shingle. There is no difference that will keep me from sharing a pizza with another Christian…any other person actually. I have had lunch with nearly every pastor in Reynoldsburg. When we break bread together, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to grow closer together.

If we grow closer together, we can move from eating together to serving together. We all agree that God has sent us to be Christ in the world. This means a lot of things, but one thing we all recognize it means is feeding those in need. As Kay shared today in her temple talk we are serving a lot of bread in the world week in and week out at shelters across the metro area, but other churches around us are serving bread to our neighbors, too. The Church of Christ just a stone’s throw away weekly serves meals to this community. It was local churches, with a lot of different beliefs about things, that got together to create HEART, which gives out a lot of bread. We were able to work together at HEART because we already knew each other well through our own meals together. See how that works?

Hopefully, our fellowship around bread and ministry serving bread, leads us to breaking bread together in worship. My seminary professor said we should commune at any church we believe the Holy Spirit is present. There is not one church I have encountered in Reynoldsburg that I don’t think that is the case. I have communed at some of them, even at some who don’t necessarily believe I should be doing that. Our denominational leaders out of Chicago are trying to make it so we can share communion officially with even more denominations. Who knows, before I die maybe even the Missouri Synod will invite me to Christ’s table in God’s house.

On World Communion Sunday, we should acknowledge our differences unashamed. As people, we believe are all made in God’s image and yet we look a lot different. Why can’t we all be the body of Christ, and still look a lot different too? Let’s pray though that those differences don’t keep us from being Christ together in our community. The world notices when we fight amongst ourselves. Let’s pray for leaders at the national and international level with a heart for figuring out how to eat with each other. And congregations in this town that want to find ways to eat together, in our fellowship halls, at local shelters and the communion rail.  Amen

Forgiveness

The text for this sermon is Matthew 18:21-35.

This lesson in Matthew puts forward a trickle down theory of forgiveness. A lot of forgiveness from the top is supposed to work its way down and spread out to become a lot of forgiveness shared between all of us. God showers grace on us. We let that love drip off us onto our neighbor. The world is saturated and new life grows up. God’s plan to fix and transform our broken world is for the forgiven to become the forgiving. Continue reading Forgiveness

Stay in the Boat

The text for this sermon is Matthew 14:22-33.

A seminary professor wrote in a cranky sort of way that  generally pastors preach a motivational sermon about taking risks using this this text. Our general theme is Get out of the boat. Wow. Did I feel convicted when I read that. When we were building our new fellowship hall and welcome center, I used this text for exactly that purpose. We even once did a sermon series based on this text, using a book by popular Christian author John Ortberg as a reference. The title of Ortberg’s book? If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat.   Continue reading Stay in the Boat

Following the Law

The text for this sermon is Romans 8:3-4

There are some who follow our speed limit laws to the letter and others that take them as mere suggestions. I actually am one of those who follows carefully the speed limit laws…but I always go five miles over if I can. Which is really pretty much following the law. I mean if I go exactly 70 on that stretch of highway between Columbus and Cleveland, I will be that loser that everyone is passing. I am just irritating people, that can’t be good. And really, what police officer is going to stop me for going 75 on a beautiful dry day. So, I consider going 75 in a 70 actually following the law. Continue reading Following the Law

Bold And Courageous Disciples

The text for this scripture is Matthew 10:24-39.

Jesus wants his disciples to do hard things, but knows that fear will keep them from doing those hard things. The hard things are telling people that the Kingdom of God that is drawing near in Jesus doesn’t look like the kingdom they are used to living in. Read Matthew 5 or Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. The Kingdom of God is an upside down place. The people at the head of the line in our world are sent to the back and the last are made first. Brothers and sisters in Christ are more important to us than blood brothers and blood sisters, even their own fathers and mothers. Those who serve are to be given more honor than the ones who can afford servants. I don’t have any problem preaching this, but it can be frightening to point out to people practical ways in our world we should be living this. Continue reading Bold And Courageous Disciples

Old and New Stories

I love stories. I love to tell a good story. I have one about when I was in Munich and meeting some Russians that kills. I love to watch TV with great stories like Better Call Saul. They draw me into the life of characters, understanding people I would never know in real life and don’t even much like. Great novels do the same thing. I am reading a great book now about an 18 year old Italian in World War II who spied on the Nazis. Stories help us make sense of the world. By exploring the lives of others, we end up understanding our own lives better. Stories are good gifts, but if clutched too tight, they can also limit our willingness to accept new facts and new experiences that run counter to the story we have been telling for years. Because each story we tell after all is just a shading of a truth. All of our stories are just what we can see and understand from our vantage point at that place in that time.  

Think about the stories we tell just to figure out our parents. Growing up, I was convinced my father loved my brother more than me because Keith was athletic and I was not. Keith was good at basketball and my dad not only put a slab of concrete in our backyard so he could practice, but even coached his teams. I lacked basketball skills. My dad’s nickname for me on the court was Tank, because my best move was just to knock people over and hope I didn’t get called for a foul.

In eighth grade, I went out for football and I failed miserably. Because I was so bad, I became the source of ridicule by the coach and the players. I came home crying after a month wanting to quit. After hearing about the latest humiliation on the field, the locker room and the bus, my mom thought quitting made sense, too. I told her I can’t quit because Dad will be so disappointed that I can’t play football or basketball. My mom laughed and said Dad doesn’t care. Sports aren’t important to him. He never played any sport in high school and never watched any sport on TV.

This was new information that didn’t work into the story I was telling about Dad. It made clear that my dad didn’t like my brother better because of sports. Fortunately, it made me reconsider whether my dad liked Keith better than me at all. I realized he praised us equally, disciplined us the same and was quiet around both of us. The simple story I had told no longer made sense. It took years for me to create a new story to speak to the truth of a complicated, primary relationship.  

It is hard to look at a story that we have always told with fresh eyes. It seems almost dangerous to consider a new way to think about something that we have already made our mind up about. We are unmoored a little when we blow up how we understand those in our most primary important relationships. God is our most primary of relationships. Kay Morrissey, our Traditional Worship Leader likes to warn me that when people have their image of God messed with they tend to get upset. For the early disciples of Jesus, the revelation that came from the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus really messed with their story of God.

The disciples of Jesus were all Jewish, as was Jesus who was a Jewish Rabbi or teacher. The core belief of Judaism is that there is only one God. Their experience of Jesus challenged this core belief. Jesus was not just a prophet, a great teacher, a miracle worker or even the Messiah sent by that one God. Jesus was God. Jesus was God, but spoke to his father in heaven and promised to leave behind the power of his love in the Holy Spirit. One God but three different parts of God, too.

For Jews who became Christian in the early church, this was a real crisis. How do we tell a different story about God after Jesus? In the II Corinthians text we read today, we hear the apostle Paul in 55 AD or so, just twenty years after Jesus was crucified, playing with new language about God. His ending to the letter, which is actually the beginning we use at every one of our worship services, is not quite Trinitarian, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But it is something close. Paul is fussing with language like every good story teller does, to express his experience of Jesus.  

The Matthew text we read has the last words of Jesus in Matthew clearly identifying God as Trinity. The disciples left behind are to baptize Jesus in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Since there are no actual recordings of Jesus’ words, maybe more interesting than Jesus saying this is thinking about how the great storyteller Matthew came to remember Jesus saying this. Matthew probably wrote this account in 70 AD, nearly four decades, a generation after Jesus had died and been resurrected.

One generation away from Jesus, their experience of him was already clearly redefining their core belief in the one God. Yes, there is only one God, but God has revealed God’s self to us in Jesus as three distinct parts or personalities. By the time of Matthew, just 40 years after Jesus, the language they would use to tell this new story of Jesus would be Trinitarian. Jesus revealed the richness of God and they needed new language to express that revelation.

Once, Christians started telling this new story about God revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they started reading all of scripture with that story in mind. Now in the Genesis story of creation they heard the work of the Trinity. The Father creates and imagines. The Son puts words, flesh, body to the Father’s ideas. The Spirit brings life with her breath to everything that swims, flies and walks about. The original author had no thought of the Trinity in mind when he wrote down this poem. Now, for us telling a new story about God, revealed in Jesus, it seems so obvious.

Kay is right. Jews in the early church that messed with the image of God so fundamentally, got shown the exit. Yet, God is still causing controversy in our churches because God is still about revealing more and more of God’s self to us. Our God longs to rbe made known. God reveals God’s self through the Holy Spirit in our neighbors, in the creation, in the Church that gathers in God’s name. This means that we are constantly asked as followers of God to not only tell the old stories of God but be willing like the early church to tell new stories of God. These new stories will likely challenge the image of God that many will fight to hold onto.

If we clutch too hard to who we think God is, we miss the God that is making herself known in a new way. A good story only gets us so far, which is why we should never stop telling new ones. There might be a day when what God reveals to us through the Holy Spirit means that even that Trinitarian story doesn’t seem to fit as well as it used to. If that happens, hang on tight for the good thing God will do next. Amen