Jesus in Jerusalem: Playing Faith vs. Living Faith

Audio is here.

8580408850_6d45ee21e6Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018
Mark 12:38-44

This past week witnessed two important historical anniversaries. One is what we celebrate today: the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, whose military and civilian dead and wounded totaled nearly 40 million. From 1918 until 1954, November 11 was known as Armistice Day and it marked the end of major hostilities in World War I. In 1954, November 11 became a day to honor all veterans of our armed forces.
The second major anniversary of the last week was the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which occurred on November 9 and 10 of 1938. Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany carried out by paramilitary forces and German civilians. The name Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, hospitals, buildings, and synagogues were ransacked and smashed with sledgehammers. The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged. Additionally, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. It was the pogrom that was, in many ways, the beginning of the Holocaust.
Friends, I believe that these milestones serve as an invitation for us to make the important distinction that Jesus makes in our reading this morning from Mark, the distinction between attaching ourselves to symbols and committing ourselves to all the ideals those symbols represent.
In this morning’s text, Jesus has recently entered Jerusalem to be crucified, which means in the chronology of things, Palm Sunday has happened and Jesus is waiting for Good Friday. He is teaching in the Temple, and Mark tells us this in Chapter 12, verses 38-44. Let us listen together for the word of God.

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The Next Faithful Step: Paul – The Most Unlikely Hero


Audio is available here. Please note that his week, the audio is very different than the manuscript. 

Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost – October 28, 2018
Acts 9:10-21

In the New Testament, Saul or Paul (two names for the same person, Hebrew and Greek, respectively) comes on the scene in the seventh chapter of the book called The Acts of the Apostles, when he is present for the execution of the first Christian martyr, a man named Stephen. While Stephen was being stoned to death, Paul stood at some distance and watched over the coats of the murderers.
Paul apparently approved of Stephen’s death, as he quickly becomes a leader in a great persecution of Christians, even going door-to-door, dragging men and women to prison for their beliefs. Acts chapter nine describes Paul as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” and tells of his gaining permission to hunt down these fearful, dispersed disciples, starting in the city of Damascus.
Yet on the way to Damascus, Paul has a theophany, a dramatic encounter with God, in this case, with the risen Christ. As he approaches Damascus, he is blinded by a great flash of light severe enough to knock him off his feet. As he lays there, blinded by the light, he hears a voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
It is Jesus, calling out to this fierce, determined persecutor of the church.
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asks.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Jesus then instructs Paul, who is still blind, to rise and continue to Damascus and await further instructions. His companions lead him into the city where he stays at the house of a man named Judas, on Straight Street, where he is without sight, and where he does not drink or eat for three days. This is where this morning’s text begins. Let us listen together for the world of God:

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The Next Faithful Step: Zacchaeus – The Tax Collector in the Tree


Audio is here.

Reveille United Methodist Church
22nd Sunday After Pentecost – October 21, 2018
Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

In this morning’s text we encounter Zacchaeus, a figure only found in the Gospel of Luke. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector” in the city of Jericho who has an encounter with Jesus that changes his life and vocation. In my humble opinion, it is disappointing that Zacchaeus never achieved the status of saint, especially since he is, as far as I can tell, the inventor of the tax refund.

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The Next Faithful Step: Peter – On Not Being Good Enough for God



Audio is here.

Reveille United Methodist Church
21st Sunday After Pentecost – October 14, 2018
Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

It is said that from time-to-time, it is good for clergy in congregations like ours to share the story of our respective calls to ordained ministry, so I would like to share mine.
I was born here in Richmond at the very end of 1970, and when I arrived in this world, I was uniquely surrounded by the warm glow of bright, heavenly light. In the delivery room, the doctors and nurses remarked how beautiful I was, almost as beautiful as the sound of angelic harps being plucked above me by the heavenly host.

Screen ShotTen months later, I was baptized in a small congregation, where the pastor ascended to the top of a high mountain and presented me to God, like Simba in The Lion King, and everyone in the congregation remarked how it was at that exact moment that they knew for certain that I was destined for service in Christ’s church, even before they heard the voice from heaven proclaim “This is my Doug, the beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”

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The Next Faithful Step: Gideon – The Weakest of the Least


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The Next Faithful Step: Gideon – The Weakest of the Least
20th Sunday After Pentecost – October 7, 2018 (World Communion Sunday)
Judges 6:1, 11-24

     The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.

     Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.” Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.” So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

A nice thing about a life where one forges a living by preaching is that it allows you to redeem the bad things that happen to you by turning them into sermons. This is the kind of week it has been.

     This past week, I was the victim of identity theft. Many of you are aware of this, thinking to yourself “I know, pastor Doug. I received the email.” Allow me, then, to give you the backstory.

     In early summer, members of our church staff began receiving emails purporting to be from me requesting help, which was easy enough to deal with. However, on Friday morning, I was driving to an appointment in Charlottesville when I received a text message from a church member who had received a suspicious email from me. Then, I received another text message. Next came the emails, the phone calls, the Facebook messages, and the voicemails. By the time I arrived at my appointment, the number of people who had reached out to me was in the double-digits.
What my digital doppelgänger was doing was emailing people in our congregation while purporting to be me, asking for assistance purchasing iTunes gift cards for a child suffering with cancer. According to these emails, I would have called you and asked for your assistance in person, but my phone was malfunctioning, and only then was I forced to resort to the more impersonal medium of digital communications.
Also, my imposter was kind enough to include scripture in these emails, which depending on how you look at it, was either a nice touch or an abomination unto the Lord who the Bible attests, shall not be mocked.
I learned a couple of things from this experience. The first is that you are wonderful, generous, trusting people who are always looking for ways to make a difference in God’s world on behalf of those who are in need. The second lesson is that the experience of having people mistake who you are is very, very weird. It is serendipitous that my personal case of (very) mistaken identity occurred during a week that I had dedicated to considering the story of an Old Testament military leader, judge, and prophet named Gideon, who had his own experience of what felt like mistaken identity.
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God Unbound: Life in the Spirit

8580408850_6d45ee21e6Audio is here.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 23, 2018
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

On Monday afternoon, I was in my office meeting with our United Methodist Richmond District lay leader when my assistant Cheryl Arrington opened my door and said, “I am so sorry to interrupt you, but there is a tornado in the area, and the staff is evacuating Reveille House and going to the basement of the sanctuary.” So, we went.
What I thought would take about twenty minutes took over two hours, two hours of waiting, checking the news, checking the weather, calling loved ones, receiving calls from schools, seeing how things looked out the windows, going back to the basement, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Reveille’s Finance Committee chairperson Ted Cox was there; he had chosen either the best or the worst time to stop by the church, and as we waited for the storm to end, Ted, Terri Edwards, our church’s director of administration, and I passed the time by telling stories of life on September 11, 2001 and the chaos of the days immediately thereafter. Ted, it turns out, was working in midtown Manhattan on that day. He told us of walking with the crowds to the shores of the Hudson River, of taking one of the commuter boats that volunteered their services that day to New Jersey. He told us of trying to get home on a day in which he had four dollars in his pocket and had forgotten his cell phone, as fighter jets circled overhead.
As we talked about the days that followed, he told us what surprised him over the course of the next several days: everyone, it seemed, had suddenly become so kind. New Yorkers, with their sharp elbows, people who ordinarily would have fought over the next available taxi cab were generously offering it to strangers: “No, really, you go ahead. I’ll take the next one.”
In the midst of such fear, anger, grief, hatred, and violence, people responded almost instinctually with kindness, a kindness that would, in the days to come manifest itself again and again, mercy upon mercy, in story after story.

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The Reveille Way Forward Toolkit

Screen ShotSome months ago, we at Reveille assembled a team to talk about how to talk about the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the future of our denomination at our church. One of the ideas that came out of our discussions was to create a toolkit to help inform and empower our congregation on this matter. As we created this resource, we did so with an eye to making something that might be useful to other congregations as well. You can find it at the bottom of this page. Feel free to use it as you wish. We hope this is a blessing to you as your congregation moves into God’s future.

God Unbound: You Are All One in Christ Jesus

8580408850_6d45ee21e6Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost — September 9, 2018 (Reveille Day)
Galatians 3:27-29

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.”

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