Category Archives: Sermons

Sermon Mark 12:28-44

Mark 12:28-44

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons

Sermon: The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-34)

Sisters and brothers today in our gospel reading we have the mother of all parables. Today’s parable is probably the most widely known, I would bet that most people here could probably recite, at least part it, from memory.

So, to recap, there is a sower that has see fall on four different types of soil. The common understanding, from what I can tell, is that the sower is supposed to be God, the seed is supposed to be faith, and the soil is supposed to be humanity. Are we all on the same page here?

Sower, God. Seeds, faith. Soil, us.

4 Types of Soil

First, there are seeds that fall along the path. Poor seeds never had a chance. Compact dirt that people are constantly walking on doesn’t even make the see have a chance to make into the ground. Even if they did make it into the ground, that dirt is not good for growing anything. Birds quickly came and ate them up.

Some might describe this as people who are hard hearted to the gospel. Faith, the seed, has nothing to hold on to. The Faith has no soil, no community, nothing to help cultivate it.

That is the problem with the path, it get’s trampled by others. It doesn’t even have a chance. I’ve known some people who didn’t have a chance. I’ve known people who were like the path were the seed fell and birds came and quickly ate it up. Jesus says that with this kind of soil Satan comes and snatches it away.

The second one, the second place that the seed falls is on rocky ground. It at least has the opportunity to grow. It at least knows what the soil feel like, even though it’s shallow. This is like a flower growing in the crack on the cement. This is a plant springing forth from cracks in the rocks. They can grow, but, inevitably, they are doomed. The plant grows a little bit, but eventually it hits the rock and can’t grow anymore. The crop can only get so far. Jesus says that these are the people who initially receive the gospel with joy, but when bad stuff comes along, well, their faith quickly whither and dies. I’ve known people who have been like this type of soil.

Well, we move onto the third soil. It looks good, but you don’t know it’s bad because it has had thorns sown with it. It looks like good soils and yet it’s not. The plant grows and blooms and eventually moves forward, but the thorns grow too. The thorns slowly begin to choke the life out of the crops that the sower scattered. Eventually the crop dies because the thorns have killed them. Jesus says that these are the people who care too much what the “world” can offer, allure of wealth desire for stuff. It can chokes the life out of them. I have definitely known people like this soil.

But then, we get to the fourth! The fourth is the good soil, and it produces more than could ever be imagined. It produces more than expected; 30, 60 100 times more than expected. This type of soil produces so much crop that it seems to make up for all the soil that didn’t produce. Interesting.

Thoughts on the Soil

When I reflect on the different types of soil, I think that I’ve known people who were all types. I have known people who were both bad and good soil. I have known folks who were no ready for the gospel or just had other things going on. The reason I know this, is because I have been each type of soil. In my life I can see moments where I can identify myself with each soil Jesus is describing.

It seems to me that the soil is the problem here folks, not the seed, not the sower, but the soil. So, what can be done about the soil. What is the prescription for making the soil better? Well, if you look at the scripture today, it’s not more seed and it’s not more of the sower sowing. No, actually, in this parable, it seems to only give a description of the soil, not a prescription for becoming better soil. Let me say that again. This parable gives a description of the soil, not a prescription for becoming better soil. I am unable to give you a prescription for becoming better soil. I can’t give you any ways that you cannot be like the path, the rocky ground, or the thorny ground, because the parable doesn’t give any advice on how to do it.

It makes me think, since we are not given a prescription for becoming better soil, maybe this parable is not about the soil at all? Maybe in describing the soil, it’s only mean to be a description of our reality? Let me say this again. Maybe the focal point of this parable is not the soil.

The Sower

 If it’s not about the soil than maybe it’s actually a parable about the sower. I didn’t grow up on a farm and have only been to a couple in my life. Farmers know their land intimately. They know what good soil and what bad soil look like. They know when to plant and when to harvest. They have the rhythms of the season down.

But honestly, the sower in this parable seems to be a little off. The sower sows seed everywhere. I can’t imagine any good farmer going out and just scattering seed haphazardly on everything that the farmer sees. I can’t image a good farmer scattering seeds on a path, or in rocky ground, or even among thorns. It’s the farmer’s business to scatter the see where it will grow.

But, really, that’s not this farmer. The farmer is so extravagant, so reckless, so foolish, as to scatter the seed everywhere. Even in places where he knows it won’t grow. He doesn’t judge the ground. He doesn’t decide if it’s useful, he just scatters the seed. He doesn’t see if the ground is worthy. He just does it.

And that, my friends, is what God is like. God loves humanity so much, all of humanity so much, that he did not send his only son to die for a few, but for all. God is so foolish as imagine that God would sow seed where it would never grow and because God loves us so much, God sows it anyway. That is grace. That is unmerited favor. And to us it looks reckless and foolish and we can’t totally understand that kind of grace. But, there it is.

I believe the sower is the point of this parable. The sower is the one we have to look at. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating and being grateful for the extravagant love that the sower has for us. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend what God’s grace is to all of humanity. The kind of love that God has for us frees from having to judge others. We are free from putting ourselves in the position of God, determining who is a good and faithful Christian and who is not.

Sisters and brothers we spend so much time judging the soil. We spend so much time judging other people and why they are the way they are. We love to talk about the soil. We love to think that we are the good soil and everyone else is something else. This actually is not the way of Jesus. Luther wrote in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We can’t judge soils friends.

Maybe the world needs a God who is so caught up in scattering seeds of faith that it almost looks foolish. Maybe what the world needs is a God who is so extravagant in God’s love for us that this God would do something so foolish as to die for us. I Corinthians says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.” Maybe what we need is a little less judgment and a little more grace.

Brothers and sister you are free. You are free to love yourselves and others. You are free to look to the sower who sows liberally, who sows generously, who sows foolishly. Be of good cheer, God has overcome the world with God’s grace through Jesus Christ. There is nothing that you can do about it. Amen.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons

Trinity Sunday 2013

“Working preacher” is a website developed by Luther Seminary, I like visit the site when it’s my turn to preach and see what they have to say about the scripture passages for the week. There is always a column by David Lose called “Dear working preacher.” The column gives encouragement and advice about what to preach on for the texts that are assigned for today. Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity and Dr. Lose’s recommendation is, “do not” preach about the Trinity today. He says that we should preach on hope.

In fact, someone much wiser then me said once, “You shouldn’t talk about the Trinity too long, in any situation, or you will find yourself falling into some kind of heresy.” I think this is probably true. I could find myself emphasizing the oneness over the three-ness, or the three-ness over the oneness, and well Pastor John would be having a talk with me after the service.

The doctrine of the Trinity is hard to talk about because no matter how you dice it, it doesn’t make sense that 1+1+1=1. We affirm the Father is God, Jesus is God, and we the Spirit is God. And yet, we maintain a radical monotheism; that there is only one God. Each is a person, coequal, and co-eternal, and not to be confused with each other.

I’ll never forget the first time I was tested on doctrine of the Trinity.  I was in the third or fourth grade. (I know I was meant to be a pastor).  My brother, my father, and I were standing outside a mechanic shop.  We were picking up a car and the mechanic saw that we were wearing our catholic school uniforms.  Being a friend of my father, he decided to quiz us on the doctrine of the Trinity.  He said, “You are Catholic right?” We said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “You believe in the Trinity. Right?”  We again responded with, “Yes, sir.”  “Tell me” he said, “You worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you worship one god or three?”  My brother and I asked for a moment to discuss it -amongst ourselves. We got together bending in a football huddle, because we learned from T.V. that all matters that are important, should be discussed in a football huddle.”  We came with the answer, “Three, we worship three gods.” My father comes back with a swift embarrassed, “no, we only worship one God.” The Mechanic smiled and went back to his business.  Turned out he was a former missionary that had left the church and enjoyed making people squirm with trying to questions the mysteries of faith.

What it means that we worship God as Trinity is still something that we, I, try to get my head around, and when questioned about it, it could be very easy to say the wrong thing.

             We forget that when talking about the Trinity we can try so hard to get our heads around how God works inside of God’s self.  We can try and figure out how each person maintains person-hood while at the same time being intertwined and of the same substance.  Pretty soon the charts and graphs that describe this doctrine and misses the central point of why we even talk about the Trinity. It’s like the doctrine has gone from beautifully flowing lava that encompasses everything in its path and has hardened into rock.

We could spend so much time trying to figure out the Trinity that we forget why we even started talking about the Trinity in the first place. It reminds me of this story that I heard recently.

There was once rabbi who would go to the temple every evening to pray with his disciples. By the temple there was a stray cat who would wander in every evening during these prayers and disturb the peace. So, each evening before prayers the teacher would tie the cat to a tree outside before entering. The teacher was old and passed away a few years later. His disciples continued to tie the cat to the tree each evening before prayers. Eventually the cat died and so some of the disciples purchased a new cat so that they could continue the ritual. After a hundred years the tree died and a new one was quickly planted so that the cat (by now the eighth-generation cat) could be tied to it. Over the centuries learned scholars began to write books on the symbolic meaning of the act.

The disciples had forgotten why the cat was tied to the tree in the first place and it got out of hand.  Likewise, the Trinity can become this doctrine that we accept and try to define and have all figured out, but we need to go back and ask the question why the doctrine developed.

The Trinity arose out of a need for the disciples of Jesus to describe her experience with God.  It’s just that simple.  The church had this profound experience with the incarnate Jesus and continues to have the Holy Spirit among us and we somehow claim that they are all God, while maintaining that there is only one God.

And these experiences are deep within scripture.

The doctrine of the Trinity was developed because the early church was wrestling with understanding that Jesus was God. The disciples experienced Jesus is doing things only God can do: control creation, heal people, and forgive sins.  The scriptures we hold dear claim bear witness to the God they experienced

Yet, Jesus also talked about God being his Father, and how intimately he is connected to God the Father.  Jesus also says things like, “The Father and I are one.” Since we only worship one God, we needed to understand this experience under the lens of monotheism.  The Father is God, but so is Jesus.

The Holy Spirit was seen as divine because there are scripture passages where God is described as spirit.  Then we have today’s passage of scripture when Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” The Spirit of the Lord comes upon people in different stories.  In 1 Corinthians the Spirit has attributes that only God has.

The doctrine of the Trinity explains the experience of the church. It was to help make sense of who Jesus is, how the spirit came like a fire at Pentecost. We see images of the Trinity’s presence during the Baptism of Jesus where the father speaks from heaven and the spirit descends on him like a dove.”  The early church needed to experience

Ok, detect any heresies yet?  Maybe….

Last week my brother calls Enrique, my wife, and asks her if she knows any good books on the Trinity.  She says, “Yes, the Book of Common Prayer.”  As many of you know my wife is Episcopalian and that is a very Episcopalian answer.  But, she is right.  To fully understand the Trinity is not look at doctrines and creeds developed long ago, but, to be in continual fellowship with our Triune God through worship. To understand the Trinity is for the Trinity to be the continuing experience of the Church. And this is done both within worship and outside the church.

There are times where we don’t explicitly claim the Trinity in worship, but Trinitarian elements are always present.  We always pray through Jesus.  Today we prayed, “by the power of your Holy Spirit, you have made us recipients of your amazing grace.” We believe that the Spirit reveals to us the Truth about Jesus in scripture and we are given the presence of Christ himself in our meal.

See the Trinity should drive us into deeper experiences with worship but also with humanity.  By the spirit of God we are empowered to love our neighbors and see Christ in all people that we meet. We see the beauty of God’s creation and await the continual redemption of that creation.  We look at places like the devastation in Oklahoma pray, “God because of your love for us you sent your son to redeem all, so send your Spirit to even more to Oklahoma and redeem all creation.”  Our Trinitarian understanding shapes the way we view the world and experiences that we have. Our Trinitarian understanding allows us to hear and respond to what God is doing here and now and love others as God has loved us.  See if there was a way to describe how God exists within God self I would say that it is love.  God loves the world that he sent his son and empowers us to love us by his Spirit.

I am excited about a God how is not in history 2000 years ago but who is present here and now, who empowers her church to live the gospel and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom that will inherit the earth.

So, next time someone asks you to explain the Trinity, tell him or her that the Trinity is the way we experience God.  Show them scriptures that echo the divinity of each person.  And invite them into that same experience -that same mystery.

Amen.


[1]  Rollins, Peter (2011-06-30). How (Not) to Speak of God (p. 39). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons

Sermon: A Forgetful People (Luke 3:7-18)

Ever walked into a room and forgot why you where there?  Have no fear, it’s not you that’s the problem, it’s actually the doorway you’re entering through. Some psychologists at the University of Notre Dame have discovered that going through a doorway triggers what is known as an event boundary.  This event boundary separates one set of thoughts and memories from the next.  So when your walking through a door your brain files away old information to prepare for the new information.  Your brain resets itself to process new information.  So, if you walk into a room and forget why you are there, have no fear, it’s the doorway that is making you do it.
The reason I bring this up because but I think this highlights an even more important point; we are a forgetful people. We forget how good we have it, how fortunate we are to live in the town we do, to have the careers we have, to be able to be retired and not have to work anymore.  We forget the comfort in which we live and it takes a tragic event to jar us out of our forgetfulness.  I was confronted with this harsh reality when I heard about a shooting that took the lives of 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut, 20 of which were children.  Then I remember.  I find myself grateful once again for the life that I have and that this time the act of violence wasn’t toward me and my loved ones.  We are indeed a forgetful people.
We need to be reminded again and again why we are here, and who’s we are, and how to be in the world.  But this is nothing new, it has happened before, and it will happen again.  We forget and then remember in what is almost an endless cycle.  It’s as if our default position is amnesia.
We heard in today’s gospel reading John the Baptist s with words calling people to account for their lives. John the Baptist comes and tells people to take a good hard look at their complacency.  He says to them, “Don’t presume to say that we have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise children to Abraham.”  The people claimed that they a special relationship God through natural birth.  But then they had forgotten what that meant.  At another place Jesus picks up this same issue and says, “If Abraham were your father you would be doing what Abraham did”  But they weren’t doing what Abraham did, they had forgotten.
People started to ask John the Baptist, What shall we do then?  How do we remember?  How is it that we live out who god has called us to be?  Repent and be baptized. See a long time ago the people of Israel had undergone a baptism.  They went through the waters of the Jordan as slaves of Egypt and came out free.  John was calling them to do the same.  Go into the waters as slaves of complacency and forgetfulness and come out again ready to be involved what God was doing in the world. John was telling the people who were coming out to be baptized by him.  The people who were already wanting something new.  This baptism was repenting of there sins and living into the new reality of God’s coming reign.
But they asked him what shall we do?  He tell tells them.  If you have two coats give one away.  If you have food give half of that away.  He tells tax collectors not to steal from the people and soldiers to be satisfied with their pay and not extort money from the people they were supposed to be protecting.  He tells them to do what they already knew was the right thing to be doing.  John was telling them to bear the fruit that was already being produced inside of them.  They needed to be reminded how to be in the world after they had undertaken this new baptism, this new exodus from their former slavery.
I have heard all over the news these last few days, “What shall we do?” How shall we live after this tragedy?” And naturally it turns to politics.   Stricter Gun Control Laws? Less strict laws? Armed police in every school? There are no easy political answers.  How are we to be a people together after such a tragedy has taken place?  We are jarred from our complacency and realize that we need some answers we need to remember who we are.  And it’s hard to do after a tragedy.
But there was also someone in the news this week that did not forget who she is.  The very day that the shooting happened in Connecticut, a Woman in Virginia by the name of Stacey Jackson was having a memorial service at Oakwood Baptist Church for her son Jerry Brown. Jerry and his friend Josh Brent play for the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry was killed in a car accident and it is suspected that his team mate Joshua is to blame for the accident. He drove drunk with Jerry in the car that ended up upside down on the freeway and it cost Jerry his life.  Stacey Jackson had an amazing response to Josh Brent, she insisted that they ride to the funeral together, she wanted them to mourn together.  She told one news organization, “I just told him keep his head up, we’re praying for him. And I still love him; he can call me at 4:00 in the morning; he can call me at 12:00 crying. I don’t care. Because Jerry loved him like a brother.”  Even though Josh may go to jail, Stacey is standing by his side.  She has forgiven him and has brought him closer into her family.
At a time of tragedy she has taken a different road.  She is not shouting for vengeance and stricter DUI laws and the evils of Alcohol.  She is doing what she knows.  She is being a mother.  She is forgiving.  She is loving. Even loving the man who took her sons life.         Not long ago there was another school shooting in Pennsylvania.  On October 3, 2006 a man named Charles Roberts, age 32, took a small Amish schoolhouse hostage in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He had walked in there with guns and rope, intending to do very bad things to the students.  After he tied them up, the oldest girl student knew what was coming and told Roberts, “shoot me first.” Her sister said, “Shoot me second.”  They had hoped to buy time for the other students.   Roberts killed 10 people that day not including himself.
And when I had first heard about this shooting my blood began to boil at the injustice, the pain, and the suffering that this man had caused. But this community had a different response.  One woman was going around to the students and was telling them, “We must not think evil of this man.”  In the moment of pain and suffering she was training them in Christ.  Another man said telling people, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he is standing before God.”  I saw a news report that asked a man in the community how he felt about Roberts. He said with tears in his eyes, “I have already forgiven him in my heart.” But it didn’t end there either.  This community didn’t just forgive this man, they sought reconciliation with Roberts widow, parents, and in-laws. Maria Roberts the widow was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral. The Amish, who are not accustomed to taking donations, helped set up a fund for the Widow and diverted some of the donations they received to her.
Some thought they were foolish to forgive. Others had a different explanation. One author wrote, “that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step toward a future that is more hopeful.”  Jesus said to his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Yes, we need to remember how to forgive. We need to practice forgiving and loving and learning what it means to be a Spirit filled people. So that, like this community, who underwent a tragedy more profound than words can describe their forgiveness is etched into their own bodies as the nails in Christ hand and feet- and the world took notice. In 2006 there were news programs, magazine articles, documentaries done on the Amish community because of the way they followed Jesus.
What if after this tragedy in Connecticut we also talked about forgiveness?  What if we talked about faith and hope and love?  What if we talked about holding those people with mental illnesses, those people who are on the outskirts of our society, those who are unloved, even closer?
I believe in hope.  I believe in a day when sin will be no more, when all injustices will be made just.  I believe in a day when there will be no sorrow and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes.  There will be a day when the reign of God will encompass all of the earth. and the lion shall lie down with lamb and peace, true peace, will be known.  I am filled with expectation this advent season that Jesus will return one day and make all things right again.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons