Prophetic Voices: Four Perspectives on Advent – John the Baptist

karateSecond Sunday of Advent – December 8, 2019

Matthew 3:1-12

The year 1984 saw the release of one of the most beloved movies of the decade, an Academy Award-nominated film called The Karate Kid. The Karate Kid stars Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, and it tells the story of a teenager named Daniel LaRusso who is violently bullied at his new high school. Daniel turns to his apartment’s handyman, a kind and generous Japanese immigrant named Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate, initially for self defense and eventually for competition.

However, Daniel quickly learns that his karate training is nothing like he expected. Each morning, he arrives early to Mr. Miyagi’s home for instruction, and each time, he is given a long, repetitive, boring menial chore to spend the entire day doing: wax Mr. Miyagi’s many cars, sand the floor of Mr. Miyagi’s enormous deck, paint Mr. Miyagi’s house, and paint both sides of the long fence that surrounds Mr. Miyagi’s beautiful backyard. What is worse, Daniel is forced to complete these tasks in very specific ways enforced under his teacher’s watchful eye.

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Prophetic Voices: Isaiah – A New Realm of Peace and Justice

swords plowsharesFirst Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5

Each week during Advent, we will explore the Scriptures of this holy season of anticipation from four different perspectives to see what each can teach us about the coming of the Christ into the world. Those four perspectives will come from the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the angel who appeared to Joseph. Today, we begin the hear the beloved words of the prophet Isaiah.

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Thank God It’s Friday

henry-viii-9335322-1-402Christ the King Sunday – November 24, 2019

Luke 23:33-43

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the youngest of the high holy days on our liturgical calendar. Founded in 1925 by Pope Pious XI, it was moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar before the new year begins at Advent in 1969 by Pope Paul VI. It is a day set aside for Christians to consider and celebrate what it means for this itinerant rabbi from the ancient Near East to be our king and for people like us to be subjects of that king.

In this spirit let’s think a minute about monarchs. In her book Henry VIII: The King and His Court, historian Alison Weir writes the following:

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The Quiet Mind – No Condemnation

Quiet Mind Master.001The Quiet Mind: No Condemnation (Part two of a two-part series. Part one is here:

23rd Sunday After Pentecost – November 17, 2019

Romans 8:1-17 

Under the old system of ordination in the United Methodist Church, one could be ordained while still a seminarian, and then be appointed by the bishop to return to seminary for the third and final year to complete one’s degree. This is how I came to be an ordained United Methodist pastor at the ripe old age of twenty-five. I was ordained in 1996 and then returned to Duke University Divinity School, which is when I completed my clinical work which I did as a hospital chaplain at Duke University Medical Center.

Up to that point, my pastoral care experience was limited to visiting members of my field education church in rural western North Carolina, either in their homes or occasionally in the hospital. Yet none of it could have prepared me for my Clinical Pastoral Education course: the life, the death, the grief, the profound hope, the diversity of people and experiences that would permanently shape my future ministry, and in so doing, would shape me.

The pager would sound and I would respond by reporting to the physician who had called me and given instructions as to what I needed to do. The patient is a woman whose heart keeps stopping. She is not going to survive, and I need you to go to the waiting room and support her mother and son until I can join you and speak to her.

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Four Virtues of a Joyous Life – Humility

Screen Shot20th Sunday After Pentecost – October 27, 2019

Luke 18:9-14

One of the convictions that shapes my life and ministry is my firmly-held belief that our God has a sense of humor. To wit: I chose to preach on the text I just read almost a year before I had any idea that this would be Reveille Day, and I would preach one time. In the sanctuary. Thirteen steps above where you are seated. At the end of the stewardship campaign. Using a text where the guy who tithes is actually criticized by Jesus. All in a sermon, on the virtue of humility.

I am convinced that there are certain things, sisters and brothers, that only happen to me.

The Academy Award-winning actor Brad Pitt was once asked what keeps him humble, and he told the following story: “I telephoned my grandparents the other day, and my grandfather said to me, ‘We saw your movie.’ ‘Which one?’ I said, and he shouted, ‘Betty, what was the name of that movie I didn’t like?’”

He goes on to say “I thought that was just classic. I mean, if that doesn’t keep your feet on the ground, what would?” (1)

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The Four Virtues of a Joyous Life: Week 3 – Persistence

luke19th Sunday After Pentecost – October 20, 2019

Luke 18:1-8

Our current sermon series is called “The Four Virtues of a Joyous Life.” I thought that for this year’s stewardship campaign we could focus on the elements of our living that help us to be the most alive, the things that bring us joy and that cultivate in us a sense of generosity that makes us want to share the good things in our lives because we are so grateful for them. So far, we have covered the virtues of gratitude and faith as facets of a joyous life. Today, we will examine persistence, and we will conclude next Sunday, Reveille Day, with humility and how it can enrich our lives and fill them with joy.

Screen ShotThe 1967 Academy Award-winning film Cool Hand Luke is a prison movie known for for many things including its Christian imagery. To name but a few examples, there is a scene where Luke, on a bet, attempts to eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in an hour and afterwards lays abandoned on a table in a crucifix pose. There is the closing scene where the camera pans away from two rural roads in the shape of a cross, and there is a scene towards the end where Luke, desperate and out of options enters a church and prays to God, who he refers to as “Old Man.” 

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Four Virtues of A Joyous Life: Week 2 – Faith

spockAudio is here.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost – October 13, 2019

Luke 17:5-6

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock was an American pediatrician who lived from May 2, 1903 to March 15, 1998, and who in 1946 published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, one of the best-selling books of the twentieth century, selling 500,000 copies in the six months after its initial publication and 50 million copies by the time of Spock’s death. As of 2011, the book has been translated into 39 languages.

Before Spock, pediatric care was permeated by rigid schedules, especially for feeding and  potty training. Spock’s predecessors in the late nineteenth century also believed that, in order to avoid spoiling children or making them “fussy,” parents should only kiss them on the forehead and limit hugs and other displays of affection. Yet Spock found these methods cruel and believed that they neglected the emotional needs of children. As a result, he encouraged flexibility and affection in caring for children.

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Four Virtues of a Joyous Life: Gratitude

Davis_Chick_1541-300x400Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost – World Communion Sunday – October 6, 2019

Luke 17:11-19

We were moving towards the end of the spring semester of our senior year at Emory & Henry College, looking forward to graduation and, honestly, little else. So much of what had been glossy and new at the outset of the fall term was now dull and faded, evidenced by the attendance of members of the chapel choir for pre-worship rehearsal on Sunday morning. Emory & Henry has a large, Reveille-like United Methodist sanctuary on its campus who worships each week and who draws people from both the campus and the wider community in Washington County. During the school year, its choir is comprised of students and back then, was directed by its founder, an alum named Charles “Doc” Davis.

Doc was a legend on campus and had been dating back to his days as a student when he was was the handsome young quarterback of the championship football team, the man who would return to campus to teach and found a remarkably talented touring choir. Yet on this Sunday morning in 1993, as but a handful of weary, sleep-deprived students entered the basement fellowship hall that doubled as our warm-up space, he could barely contain his ire as he realized that the students standing before him were all he was going to have to work with as he helped lead worship that morning.

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Invited: Living a Hospitality-Filled Life

invited master.001Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 29, 2019

Acts 8:26-40

In Bill Watterson’s beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, the protagonist is a boy named Calvin who is perpetually six-year-old and who serves to represent some of the worst aspects of human nature. Calvin tends to be an immature, impulsive, short-sighted, easily distracted loner who is alienated by his peers and who spends most of his time playing in the forest with Hobbes, a wise, thoughtful tiger who appears to the world to be a stuffed animal but who to Calvin is very much alive.

Calvin and Hobbes ran as a syndicated cartoon in as many as 2,400 newspapers from 1985-1995 and throughout that time, Calvin’s time with other children always involves his exclusion from them or bullying by them, especially the bully Moe, or as Calvin calls him “The six-year-old who shaves.” Calvin is not athletic. He is often lost in his thoughts, a daydreamer who is a poor student and has a difficult time relating to others.

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Invited: The Hospitality of God – The Lost and Found Department

invited master.001Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 15, 2019

Luke 15:1-10

I am not the kind of guy who takes excessive pride in himself. My humor is self-deprecating humor. My stories are self-deprecating stories, stories where I always seem to be the stooge, everyman stories where if I end up going the right thing, it is either by accident, or hopefully most often, by the abundant grace of God. When I had been serving this congregation for a short while, I know that at least one of you remarked of the stories in my sermons “I wonder if he ever does anything right.”

Yet one thing about myself that I do take great pride in is my almost unfailing, incredible, pigeon-like sense of direction. Even without modern conveniences like GPS, I rarely ever get lost. In fact, I can only recall three times in my life when I have gotten lost: the first time I tried driving in Washington, D.C. (surprise), once when I first began driving, and once when I was in my teens and cycling alone in Goochland. In light of this morning’s text, I would like to say a word about stories two and three.

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