What if God Was One of Us?

il_794xN.708428938_mncwFirst Sunday After Christmas Day  – December 29, 2019

Hebrews 2:10-18

In December of 1945, in the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, two Egyptian brothers were digging for fertilizer in an area around some caves along the Nile River when they discovered a large earthenware vessel containing several papyri which are known today as the Nag Hammadi library. These codices contained forty-eight early Christian but mainly Gnostic treatises, along with four other ancient works. Written in the Coptic language, these documents date from the second to the fourth centuries, and they provide tremendous insight into early Christianity and Gnosticism.

The word gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.” It is from this word that we get the English word “diagnosis.” The so-called Gnostics believed that God had imparted to them secret knowledge that only they possessed. Their writings flourished among certain Christian groups until the church deemed them heretical in the second century A.D. Some Gnostics adopted Jesus as one of the central figures of their faith, and some of our early Christian writings are polemics written against Gnostic claims about Jesus by the early church.

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The Scandal of Christmas

steeple.001Christmas Eve – December 24, 2019

Luke 2:1-20

 It was over twenty-two years ago that I graduated from seminary in North Carolina and began serving as the associate pastor of a mid-sized urban congregation in Newport News, Virginia. When I had been there for a short while, the time came for me to baptize an infant, something our senior pastor Larry graciously allowed me to do. Early in the Sunday morning service, I dutifully called the young couple forward to where the baptismal font was located and led them through the liturgy printed in our hymnal wherein the mother and father made those beautiful old promises to, by their teaching and example, to raise this infant as a Christian in a Christian home, and  in Christ’s church.

When the appointed time came for me to administer the water, I dipped my hand in the font, reached over to the child still in his mother’s arms, and placed my wet fingers on her tiny forehead and baptized her in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The following week, Larry spoke to me about the baptism the Sunday before and told me that in the future, it was necessary that when I baptized infants, I took them from the arms of their parents and baptized these children while holding them in my arms. “It is important symbolism,” Larry said. “It represents the parents’ giving their child to God.”

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Service of Remembrance: One More Step

220px-CandleService of Remembrance – December 22, 2019

John 11:28-45

In her book Encounters With Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John, Dr. Frances Taylor Gench draws an important distinction between the Gospel of John and the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The three synoptic gospels are so named because they share a common source, and as Gench points out, they are written so that the reader will understand Jesus to be the great culmination of God’s work on earth, which began with creation and continued with God’s covenants, law, and prophets.

By contrast, the goal of John’s gospel is not to place Jesus in an historical timeline but instead to show that Jesus is the Christ, the incarnate Son of God, co-eternal with the Father. In fact, John’s purpose statement for writing his gospel can be found at the end of chapter 20, where he says “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

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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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