“Just When Things Were Going Well…” – March 29, 2015 (Palm/Passion Sunday)

Narrative Lectionary Reading – Matthew 21:1-13


Some years ago, a woman named Kellie Lee was pregnant and only days away from giving birth.  She and her husband Danny already had one daughter, Amanda, and were eagerly anticipating the birth of their second daughter.  It was hard to imagine life getting any better.  Danny even had a great job working as a roadie for high-profile bands; as the birth approached he was on the road with the Backstreet Boys.  Thankfully, he was given leave to fly home to his family so that he could be present for the birth.  However, the day of his flight was September 11, 2001, and Danny died when his plane was flown into the World Trade Center.  Continue reading

“Let It Go!” – March 25, 2015 (Lenten Lunch sermon)

Preached at First United Methodist Church as part of the annual Lenten Lunches, sponsored by First United Methodist Church, Grace Episcopal Church, the Federated Church, and St. Luke’s United Church of Christ.

Scripture:  Matthew 6:24-34


It’s a mystery to me how I could preach last in these Lenten lunches and find that no one else made any reference whatsoever to the 2013 Disney megahit Frozen and its popular anthem, “Let It Go”.  Then again, maybe they just took the song’s advice to heart and let go of any impulse to go there.  Clearly, I have failed to let it go, so as the weather continues to warm up we’ll spend some time with Frozen—but first, some Matthew. Continue reading

Sermon – “When you need to cross a troll-guarded bridge, who are you going to call?” – March 22, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading – Matthew 25:31-46


For the season of Lent, the framers of the Narrative Lectionary keep handing us tough parable after tough parable, and frankly, I’m tired of it!  I’m weary of Jesus talking about “outer darkness” and people getting sent to Hell.  I’m exhausted with all these tales of people getting punished, imprisoned, and killed.  I want Easter to come, NOW, so I can preach about the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene and the open tomb—but I can’t, not yet, because we have another tough one today, and in some ways it’s the toughest of the bunch. Continue reading

Sermon – “Wait for It” – March 15, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading:  Matthew 25:1-13 (Parable of the Bridesmaids)


Waiting’s tough, especially when you don’t how long you have to wait.  I remember when I was young, how hard it was, waiting each month for the new copy of Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man to arrive in the mail.  I remember having to wait days and weeks in anticipation of our annual, summer trip to grandma and grandpa’s cabin.  I remember waiting for Christmas to arrive, and wondering what Santa Claus was going to bring us that year.  As a young child, so focused on the thing to come, the waiting was always difficult.  Continue reading

Sermon – “A Terrible Parable” – March 8, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading – Matthew 22:1-14 (Parable of the Wedding Banquet)


For several years now, in this church we have responded to the reading of Scripture with the same call and response:  “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church”, and, “Thanks be to God.”  We respond that way whether the Scripture reading is story or song, poem or parable, uplifting or unsettling.  But today’s reading, a parable, may well be pushing us to the boundaries of our comfort and even beyond.  What on earth could the Spirit possibly be saying to the church in this reading? Continue reading

Sermon – “It’s Not Fair!” – March 1, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading – Matthew 20:1-16 (Laborers in the Vineyard)


There’s a popular comedian working nowadays named Louie C.K.; he even has his own show.  He’s known, somewhat, for some pretty intelligent, insightful critique of society, and in an episode of his show he had a conversation with his daughter that you may find unsettling.  It went like this:


Daughter:  “Why does she get one, and not me?  It’s not fair.”


Louie:  “You’re never gonna get the same things as other people.  It’s never gonna be equal.  It’s not gonna happen ever in your life, so, you must learn that now, okay?  Listen.  The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.  You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” Continue reading

Sermon – “Seventy Time Seven” – February 22, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading – Matthew 18:15-35


Even if doing so is hard in practice, today’s Scripture lesson brings up, once again, the great challenge:  how often we should forgive.  Not just seven times, Jesus tells us, but seventy-seven—or, as it can also be translated, seventy TIMES seven, which is ridiculously more.  That’s love, right?  That’s the Christian thing to do:  forgive, move on, maintain the wholeness of the Body of Christ.  Except, there are two sentences in this reading that stand out vividly like a scar across an otherwise pristine body:


“If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  (And,)

“And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.”


What the heck?  This doesn’t sound like Jesus our friend, who walks with us, cures our ills, and loves sinners.  This doesn’t fit with, “No matter who you are or where you are in your life’s journey, you are welcome here!”  If anything, it’s the opposite, because it seems like exclusion instead of inclusion.  So in our bones, we know we have to get this right, because it’s all about hospitality and grace in a world desperately in need of them. Continue reading

Sermon- “What Goes Up Must Come Down” – February 15, 2015 (Transfiguration Sunday)

Narrative Lectionary Reading:  Matthew 16:24-17:8


The climb up the mountain.  The sights, the lights, the saints who appear there.  Moses and Elijah and the transfigured, dazzling Son of God in his true, and rightful place, shining with the light of heaven, his true nature revealed.  These are the events that lift the spirits of so many Christians today, as countless pastors deliver a word about the glory seen on that mountaintop (from the lofty height of our pulpits).  Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  On this day we celebrate God’s self-revelation in Jesus the Christ, whose human nature dims against the brightness of immortality.  And of course, we climb that mountain with James, Peter, and John, and like them we feel moved to build a shrine, to commemorate and immortalize the sight, so that we might always have a place to ascend, away from the blood, sweat, and tears of life below the peaks.  And sometimes we even sing:


I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day;

Still praying as I’m onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.” Continue reading

Sermon – “Power: to Use or Not to Use” – February 8, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading:  Matthew 14:13-33 (Feeding of the 5,000/Jesus walks on water)


It’s a strange day in our Narrative Lectionary journey to have two texts instead of one, for that is what we have:  the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water.  Because there are two, let’s run—not stroll—to the story.


In the first story we have the memorable and four-times-told tale of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry men (which of course might mean 20,000 people when we count women and children, too).  But just prior to that scene, we read, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”  What is “this”?  It appears to be something upsetting, to cause Jesus to go off by himself like he does.  As we read backwards, we figure it out:  Jesus has just learned of the death of John the Baptist. Continue reading

Sermon – “Keeping Up Appearances” – February 1, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Reading:  Matthew 6:7-21, 24


If you’ve spent much time watching programs on PBS over the years, you may well be acquainted with Hyacinth Bucket, who always answers her phone, “The BouQUET residence!” and corrects anyone who says otherwise, including her husband, Mr. Bucket.  Her show is Keeping Up Appearances, and its comedy comes at the expense of Hyacinth, a woman who is altogether obsessed with, as the title suggests, keeping up appearances.  Her own upbringing—in school we called it her “social location”—is a source of constant irritation for her.  Her family is somewhat poor and not, at least in Hyacinth’s eyes, very respectable.  Her father has a certain degree of dementia and often is found wandering or flirting or doing ungentlemanly things.  Her sister Rose dresses in a less-than-ladylike fashion and has a tendency to lust after the local pastor; she’s very much like Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls, but without class.  Hyacinth’s other sister Daisy is pretty humble, a simple woman who spends much of the day laying about with her husband Onslow, a man well-practiced in the art of belching and going out in public in his undershirt.  Pretty much each episode deals with Hyacinth desperately trying to mitigate the embarrassment inflicted upon her by her family, who regularly roll their eyes at Hyacinth whenever she puts on airs and gets flustered at their pedestrian lives. Continue reading