The Bridge: A Sermon For Easter

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John 20:1-18

When did death first invade your life?

When I was ten and in the fifth grade at Pinchbeck Elementary, our teacher Miss Gill used to read to us after the chaos that was lunch to calm us down and re-center our attention for afternoon lessons. One of the books she chose to read to us was the Katherine Paterson novel Bridge to Terabithia.

The novel is set in rural Virginia and tells the story of Jess Aarons, a fifth-grade boy with four sisters who trains all summer with the goal of becoming the class’ fastest runner, only to be surpassed by Leslie Burke, the new girl who has just moved to town. Jess and Leslie soon become dear friends, spending their free time swinging on a rope across a local creek to an imaginary kingdom where they reign as king and queen called Terabithia. One morning, Jess leaves town on a trip to the Smithsonian with the school’s art teacher, Miss Edmunds without first telling Leslie and only telling his mother while she was half-asleep and unaware of what he was saying.

We had just returned from the cafeteria to the classroom like every other day. We took our seats and Miss Gill sat atop a stool center-left of the dark green chalkboard at the front of the class and opened the book to read chapter ten of Terabithia to us, a chapter titled “The Perfect Day.” In it, Jess returns from a joyous day studying art at the Smithsonian, and he is dropped off at the end of the road by Miss Edmunds.

Miss Gill continued reading:

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Courage to Believe: The God Who Needs

 

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Palm Sunday – April 14, 2019 – Luke 19:28-40

For nine years, I served as the pastor of a United Methodist congregation in a small town that had a proud tradition known as the annual Fourth of July parade. Organized by the volunteer fire department, the parade welcomed anyone who wished to be a part, including fire trucks and ambulances with sirens blaring, tractors, simple floats made from flat-bed trailers pulled behind pickups, different community organizations marching while carrying signs indicating who they were, including churches advertising vacation bible schools, and the local chapter of the Lion’s Club in their yellow polos with the brooms they sold to raise money, sweeping the road and spinning their brooms in a carefully choreographed manner.

Of course, as though it were an unwritten rule, each group in the parade threw buckets of individually wrapped candy towards the crowds who lined the sidewalks along the roughly two-mile route, candy quickly grabbed and devoured by the local children before it melted on the hot asphalt. As adults have throughout history, we teach our children three cardinal rules: do not run into the street, do not eat things that have fallen on the ground, and do not take candy from strangers. Yet for one glorious day each year, children were permitted, if not encouraged, to do all three at the same time.

It was wonderful.

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Courage to Believe: The Cost of Discipleship

Fifth Sunday of Lent – April 7, 2019

Philippians 3:4b-14

Screen Shot 1.pngThe Screwtape Letters is a Christian apologetics novel written by C. S. Lewis, and first published in book form in 1942. The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior tempter named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as “the Patient.” The body of the letters that comprise the book has Screwtape giving Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in his Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine, and in doing so, the book provides a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in living out Christian faith.

One of these letters depicts Screwtape, advising the apprentice devil Wormwood that moderation is one of the keys to avoiding the Christian faith: “Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things.’ If you can get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point,’ you can feel happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all, and more amusing.”

This morning’s text would make Screwtape shudder. This is not a text about moderation.

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Courage to Believe: Building Endurance

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Third Sunday of Lent – March 24, 2019

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

“But with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

runI once read a time-management related weblog where I encountered an article about the danger of wasting time. The author’s premise was this: the worst kind of time-wasting trap that we can fall into is not goofing off. It is doing fake work. When we are goofing off, we know you are goofing off. However, when we are doing fake work, we are doing things that seem like real work, except for the fact that they aren’t. So, for example, when I should be writing my sermon and I am instead filing papers on my desk, re-shelving my books, and checking e-mail and Facebook, I may be in my office, I may feel like I am working. If you were to peek through my window, I may even look like I am working, but I am not working. What I am doing is using fake work to assuage my conscience because what I am really doing is avoiding what truly needs to be done. I do it all the time. The reason the bushes at my house are pruned is because I do it when I really should be raking the leaves, and so on.

Which brings me to Lent, this wondrous forty-day season of the Christian liturgical year that should, if nothing else, save us from “fake piety.” It is a chance to allow God to change our wrong-headed and self-centered desires, so that our lives will follow our hearts in a more faithful direction. Lent is, in the broadest sense, about the admission that in order for us to embrace the life for which we were created, that we need God. As much as we sometimes hate to admit it, we are in need of God’s guidance, God’s grace, God’s redemption, and God’s forgiveness. In order to be kingdom people, there are things we need to make certain we do, and there are things we need to make certain we avoid. Lent is a time for us to remember this, and to make the necessary adjustments to our hearts and minds, knowing that as Jesus teaches, where our hearts are, there we will find our priorities and our desires.

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Courage to Believe: Conformed and Transformed

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Second Sunday in Lent – March 17, 2019

Philippians 3:17-4:1

On Friday, my youngest daughter Claire, my ten-year-old, was not feeling well, so I kept her home from school. She was not terribly sick, so we decided to go for a drive in the country in the area where, a half-decade before she was born, I served my second pastoral appointment, a three-congregation circuit of churches called the Prince George Charge, located just east of Hopewell.

I was able to show her the outside of the two of the churches and the parsonage, the first church home we had lived in, and the inside of Salem United Methodist Church in Burrowsville. For some reason, it was important to me that Claire see this part of the history of her family of origin, and I was surprised by the number of memories this little trip brought back to me. When we moved there, Ellen, our oldest, had just turned one and had been walking for only a few months. It was in that home that she learned to speak, the first home where she was able to really experience the arrival of Santa and the Easter Bunny. It was the house where we used a yardstick to make marks on the wall as Ellen grew and grew.

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Back Down The Mountain

Screen Shot 1.pngTransfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019 – Luke 9:28-43a

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In 2016, the global gathering of United Methodist lay and clergy delegates known as the General Conference gathered in Oregon for their quadrennial meeting. While dealing with the business of the denomination, they reached an impasse on matters regarding the marriage and ordination to ministry of LGBTQ persons. The result was twofold: a special, called meeting of the General Conference was scheduled for February 2019, and the Council of Bishops created a task force to work towards a resolution to this issue, a task force called the Commission on A Way Forward.

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A Pastoral Letter to the People of Reveille United Methodist Church

Screen ShotFebruary 27, 2019

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

By now, you have certainly learned that the General Conference, the highest decision-making body of the United Methodist Church, passed on Tuesday legislation known as the Traditional Plan. This plan reinforces existing restrictions against same-gender weddings by United Methodist clergy and prohibitions against the ordination of LGBTQ persons. These prohibitions against marriage and ordination have existed in our denomination since 1972. However, as a result of the passing of the Traditional Plan, the penalties for clergy who violate these rules are now swifter and more punitive than before.

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Why Church? — We Are the People of Eternal Life

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Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany—February 24, 2019 

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

“This is the greatest moral question now before our people…. Resolved, that the time has now come when the church, through its press and pulpit, its individual and organized agencies, should speak out in strong language and stronger action in favor of the total removal of this great evil.”1

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Why Church? The Church is a Place of Hope

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Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany – February 17, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Screen Shot 1On Sunday, June 16, 2013, I had just finished attending a district United Methodist Annual Conference orientation session in Charlottesville and was halfway home to the parsonage in Crozet, driving through the tiny village of Ivy, when my phone rang. It was my wife Tracy who informed me that I needed to come directly home, that her father had called with devastating news, and that she needed to immediately leave for Baltimore.

The news was that Tracy’s mother Nancy Crittenden was in Maryland attending a bridal shower for one of her great-nieces when she tripped on a step, lost her balance, and injured her head so severely that she was airlifted to the trauma center of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where the following Wednesday afternoon, she would succumb to her injury less than an hour after life support was removed. She was sixty-five years old.

On that day, Tracy would remain with her father Jon, and I drove back to Virginia to pick up my two daughters Ellen and Claire from another family in our church, drive them to the parsonage, sit them on the couch in the front room beneath the picture window and break their hearts with the kind of news they had never heard before about a member of their family.

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Why Church? The More Excellent Way

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Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany (Year C) – February 3, 2019

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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Monument Methodist Church, Richmond, Virginia, November, 1950

It was on a frigid night in late-February of 2019 when the fire ignited that would almost entirely burn Reveille United Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia to the ground. The enormous fire started in the heating system and quickly spread through all three worship spaces and the education wing. By the time the first responders arrived, the building was engulfed in what would later be described as the largest church fire in Richmond’s history, perhaps one of the most significant fires in the area since the city burned near the end of the Civil War.

The fire was so profound and burned at such a high temperature that news crews were forced to stand on the opposite side of Cary Street, which was closed for a mile in both directions. Fire Companies were called from Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover. Yet by the light of day, it was evident just how devastating the fire had been, and just how little there was left. The sanctuary windows, including the stained glass nativity window, were all gone, blown out when the roof collapsed.

The organ pipes were twisted, melted in the intense heat, the bellows filled with soot. In a desperate attempt to stop the fire from spreading to Malvern Manor next door, the fire companies had to pull their engines through the historic boxwoods so that they could set up their defenses in the Reveille Garden. The water dripping from the ceiling of the chapel was already beginning to freeze into icicles as a morning breeze blew through what was once the the tall windows that filled the worship space with natural light.

For most of its history, Reveille United Methodist Church had been breathtakingly beautiful. Yet now it stood in ruins, a husk of its former self surrounded by early morning frost and a mile of yellow police tape, the elegant signature brickwork in a pattern of Flemish bond covered in scorch marks and soot. They would call it a miracle that somehow no one was killed or injured.

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