Surprised by Joy: Come and Die

pickupSecond Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2020

John 3:1-17

This is a true story of a colleague of mine.

Years ago, a young pastor was serving in a local church appointment not long after graduating from seminary in a United Methodist church in a small town in the deep south. While serving there, he found himself one night at a meeting of the Church Council when one of the items on the agenda was the fact that they had to find a new volunteer church treasurer, as their current treasurer had decided to step down. The office of church treasurer is not easy in any size church, so that congregation’s leadership would have to give a good deal of thought to determining who the new church treasurer would be.

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Shrove Tuesday People in A Mardi Gras World

Screen ShotReveille United Methodist Church

Ash Wednesday – February 26, 2020

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

I would like to begin by sharing with you a reading from Nick Hornby’s 2002 novel About A Boy, which tells the story of a middle-schooler named Marcus. Marcus’s parents are divorced, and his father is largely out of the picture. His mother, who suffers from severe depression, has just moved the two of them from Cambridge to London, and Marcus is having a terrible time, both fitting in with his classmates and bearing the burden of his mother’s mental health. Marcus is eventually befriended and mentored by Will, who begins the story as a shallow, materialistic man who has never worked a day in his life thanks to a trust fund he has inherited. The following reading is found in chapter one.

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Called: Hearing the Voice of God – Samuel

Called5th Sunday After the Epiphany – February 9, 2020

1 Samuel 3:1-18

There is a situation in which I would like for you imagine yourself this morning: corruption is rampant, and everything seems to be falling apart. Your leader is an ever-weakening, failure of a man with two astonishingly sinful and repugnant sons who always seem to do whatever they please, regardless of how abhorrent it is, and they never suffer any consequences for it. Also, no one is hearing from God anymore, and when God finally does speak, God speaks to you and informs you that God’s punishment will rain down upon this leader and his morally bereft household. You quickly learn that it is your responsibility to deliver this difficult news directly to the leader, who while not your father, happens to be the man who raised you. And by the way, you are eleven years old, a fifth grader.

And this is where we find ourselves in this morning’s text. Let us listen now to the word of God as recorded in the third chapter of the book of 1 Samuel, beginning with the eighteenth verse:

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Called: Hearing the Voice of God – Mary Magdalene

CalledFourth Sunday After the Epiphany – February 2, 2020

John 20:11-18

Just to be clear from the outset of this sermon, I did not make a unilateral decision to skip Lent. We are not celebrating Easter in February, although I suppose one could make a compelling argument that we are, since for Christians, each and every Sunday is Easter, since each time we gather on this day of the week, we do so to proclaim the glory of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and that is good news for the church and for the world.

The bad news is that we are still going to observe Lent. No one is getting out of that.

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With All Your Mind: Loving God With All Your Mind

All Your Mind Slides.001Audio is here.

Second Sunday After the Epiphany – January 19, 2020

Matthew 22:34-40

How does one love God “with all one’s mind?”

About twenty years ago, I was the board chair for an ecumenical endeavor called United Campus Ministries at Christopher Newport University. The board was comprised of clergy and laypeople from around the lower peninsula of Virginia, including some professors. Our tasks were basically to help set a course for the ministry and make sure it was funded.

One of the members of the board was a professor of psychology at the university who was also an active member of a local Presbyterian congregation. He and I became close enough friends that I could eventually ask him a question that had been on my mind since we first met: Does your being a person of faith ever cause issues for you in your professional and academic spheres?

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With All Your Mind: Noah and the Ark

All Your Mind Slides.001Audio will be here.

Baptism of the Lord Sunday – January 12, 2020

Genesis 7:17-24

Today is week two of three of our “With All Your Mind” sermon series wherein we are exploring the relationship between science and faith. Last Sunday, we considered the science of evolution and how it relates to the Genesis story of creation. This week, we will examine what we can learn today about who God is from the story of Noah and the ark, which is also found in Genesis.

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With All Your Mind: Creationism and Evolution

All Your Mind Slides.001Audio is here.

Second Sunday After Christmas – January 5, 2020

John 1:1-14

Today begins a three-week sermon series wherein we will explore together the relationship between science and faith. As Galileo famously said “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” In that vein, I would like for us over the course of these three weeks to explore the relationship between evolution and scripture, the story of Noah and the Ark, and what it means for us to truly love God “with all our minds” as Jesus entreats us to in the gospels, for it is my conviction that the Christian faith is indeed a religion for thinking people, despite so many modern assertions to the contrary. As such, it matters not only that we read scripture as we interact with the world, but how we read scripture as well.

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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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