Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost — September 9, 2018 (Reveille Day)
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
There was once a little girl, about four years old, who had been very quiet for some time, perhaps a bit too quiet, so her mother went to check on her, to see what she was doing. Her mother approached and found her lying on the floor, very intently drawing on a sheet of paper with her crayons. “What are you doing, honey?” her mother asked.
Without looking up, the little girl responded “Drawing.”
“Well, what are you drawing?”
“A picture of God.” said the girl.
Her mother chuckled, “But dear, no one knows what God looks like.”
While continuing to draw, again without looking up, the little girl said “They will when I’m done.”
God Unbound: Wisdom From Galatians for the Anxious Church
Week 1: Human Approval or God’s Approval
Reveille United Methodist Church
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 2, 2018
Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Who remembers Taboo? In 1989, the Hasbro company released a parlor game called Taboo. The way Taboo is played is that each player has a partner. You draw a card and attempt to get your partner to say the word on the card by giving a series of hints. The challenge is that there are five other words on the card that you are not allowed to say, words that happen to be the five best hints. Say one of them, and you lose a point, and your opponent sounds a buzzer. Remember this, because I am going to come back to it.
My wife Tracy is a third grade teacher in the Henrico County Public Schools, teaching at a school in Short Pump. A couple of years ago, they decided to have a career day where they would ask professionals in the community to come and talk to groups of students about their work. “You should offer to be a speaker,” she said.
“I am a pastor, Tracy. This is a public school. They will never invite me to come.”
This sermon concludes our August, 2018 series on Holy Communion. As always, audio is here.
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost – August 26, 2018
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dolores Hicks was born in October of 1938 in Chicago, Illinois. She was an only child whose parents, who had married when they were teenagers, separated when she was three and ultimately divorced. As she grew, she found refuge from her parents’ marital problems in time she spent with her grandfather, who worked as a projectionist in a movie theater. He loved films, and his enthusiasm was contagious. Dolores would watch movies with him in the projectionist’s booth, albeit often with the sound turned off so as to not disturb her grandfather’s naps, awakening him when it was time to switch the reels.
In 1956, Dolores Hicks, who was now using the stage name Dolores Hart, was signed to play the role of Susie Jessup alongside Elvis Presley in the 1957 film Loving You a role that led to several more roles. Sometimes compared to Grace Kelley, Dolores Hart would eventually work on Broadway winning a 1959 Theater World award and a Tony Award nomination for her work on Broadway. In film, she would star alongside actors such as Stephen Boyd, Montgomery Clift, George Hamilton, and Robert Wagner.
Her final film would be 1963’s Come Fly With Me. It proved to be a transformational year for her life and career. She broke of her engagement to Los Angeles architect Don Robinson, and while in New York for a promotional stop for Come Fly With Me, the twenty-four-year-old acclaimed and in-demand actress took a one-way car ride to the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She disciplined herself under the rule of Saint Benedict and took her final vows in 1970. It is in this monastic community that she still lives and serves today.(1)
In this sermon in our summer series on Holy Communion, I describe why the United Methodist practice of open table is so important.
13th Sunday After Pentecost – August 19, 2018
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
It may be the case that I am a part of the last generation to grow up in the suburbs and be able to experience summer by rising in the morning, hopping on my bicycle, and disappearing for the day. Looking back, it seems like a completely different world than the one in which I am raising my own children today, but there you have it. In the early 1980s, my brother Michael and I would spend much of our summer days outside, in Ednam Forest, either at the pool, a friend’s house, exploring the woods near our home, riding our bicycles, or playing football in the street. We would periodically check in with our mother at home, usually when we were hungry or thirsty, but that would be it. My parents trusted our neighborhood, our neighbors, and for the most part, us.
In the evenings, at the end of those long, seemingly endless summer days, my father would return from work in Ashland, and we were always expected to eat supper as a family. We knew enough to spend the latest part of the afternoon within earshot of home so we could hear (and ignore) our mother calling for us.
This summer marks five years since we suddenly lost my wife Tracy’s mother. What follows is the sermon I preached at her service of death and resurrection.
Prisoners of Hope: The Eulogy for Nancy Ruth Crittenden
Delivered at Memorial Baptist Church in Staunton, Virginia
June 28, 2013
It was Good Friday 1997 when I was a seminarian at the Divinity School of Duke University and made the decision to travel back to Virginia, to the Northern Neck to spend Easter with my family, worshipping in the churches in which my parents were raised, the churches where I had spent the Easters of my childhood, reasoning that when I graduated and entered our United Methodist appointive itinerant system as a clergyman, I would no longer have this opportunity to spend Easter in these congregations, as I would be serving a church of my own.
However, that Good Friday evening, I changed my mind. The transmission of my little pickup truck was proving ever more sketchy in its reliability, and I was afraid of getting stranded in the dark atop the Rappahannock River Bridge, so I pulled off the road and called a classmate of mine serving a congregation in rural Louisburg, North Carolina, asked if I could spend the night, and spend Easter with him, and he agreed.
In retrospect, where I went wrong was in failing to call my girlfriend and tell her of my change in plans, my girlfriend Tracy Crittenden, one of Nancy’s daughters, Tracy who became my wife fifteen years ago. This was before cell phones were ubiquitous and she had no way to find me. She never received the call that I had arrived safely at my parents home, which led her to the obvious and inescapable conclusion that I had driven into a ditch and been eaten by wolves. When I returned to Durham on Easter afternoon, my answering machine was filled with frantic messages from Tracy, Nancy, and one from the State Police, who had apparently heard about the wolves.
Note: right now, we currently cannot update our audio page. I will add a link when it is working again.
Reveille United Methodist Church
10th Sunday After Pentecost – July 29, 2018
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
When I was serving in my first pastoral appointment after seminary, I was serving a congregation in the Denbigh area of Newport News. While there, I befriended a Newport News police officer named Jeff whose wife taught with Tracy in Hampton. One night, at a barbecue, he was telling me about his work, about the challenges of it, and how he sometimes wished he had become a firefighter (because everyone loves firefighters).
Jeff went on to describe for me how difficult it was for him to be a police officer, even when he was off duty. Although he was on the force in Newport News, he lived in the neighboring town of Poquoson. And even though he had no jurisdiction there, the residents had no qualms about seeing him off-duty, still in uniform, and telling him how to do his job. Jeff told me that he would stop to pick up milk on the way home from work at a store near his house, and how he would almost always be accosted by a resident of Poquoson filled with unsolicited advice. The conversation almost always would go like this:
Note: right now, we currently cannot update our audio page. I will add a link when it is working again.
Reveille United Methodist Church
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
So far in our “Summer of Forgiveness” sermon series, we have discussed the spiritual, psychological, and physical effects of forgiving someone who has harmed us. In the second sermon, I discussed the mandate to forgive that Jesus issues where he compares what God forgives us for to an enormous debt, and how what we must forgive one another for is a much smaller debt. Both of these sermons were rooted in verses from Matthew chapter eighteen.
So to recap, forgiveness is good for us, which is important, since as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are required to do it, required to forgive.
However, as we all know, things are not as simple as this. Sin exists on a spectrum, with some sins being much, much easier for us to forgive than others. This is especially true when we consider the effects of sin. Steal from me, for example, and you can repent and give back what you took.
Yet some sins, many sins, have painful, lasting, if not permanent consequences for us. What about those things? How can we forgive the seemingly unforgivable?
This is sermon two in this series. The audio is here:
Summer of Forgiveness: As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us – Seventh Sunday After Pentecost – July 8, 2019 – Matthew 18:23-35
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
One of the strangest things about the Christian faith has to be the ways in which it commands things that most of the world regards as mere feelings. For example, in our United Methodist wedding liturgy, nowhere does the couple say “I do” (present tense). Instead, they say “I will” (future tense). The question is not “Do you love him/her on your wedding day?” It is “Will you love him/her down the road when you have both changed and some of the gloss has worn off the marriage, or at least, some patina has developed.
Jesus loves this. He loves to command us to do things that we believe we only have to do when we feel like it. Love God. Love me. Love one another. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies.
Jesus has this way about him where he is able to command us to separate how we feel from what we do, as we have a tendency to keep feeling and doing a bit too close together sometimes. Forgiveness is no different. Forgiveness has little to do with our feelings or even our judgements; whether we feel like forgiving someone or whether we feel like they deserve our pardon.
Rooting forgiveness in our feelings and our judgements can pretty easily keep it hidden away forever, so in today’s text, Jesus removes forgiveness from our feelings and judgements and roots it in something deeper and eternal: the depth of the forgiveness of us by God.