Fifth Sunday in Lent (April 6, 2014)

Beatitude:  ”Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:10)
Scriptures:  Psalm 56:1-9, Acts 7:54-8:3

          During these Sundays of Lent, I’ve preached on some Beatitudes.  I’ve talked about how these blessings are for “have-nots”.  I’ve spoken of God’s preference for the poor, and for other oppressed groups.  And I’ve talked about how people who don’t necessarily fit the Biblical description of an oppressed group will nonetheless seek to identify themselves with those groups.  Remember: Matthew makes this a little bit easier.  Where Luke says, “Blessed are the poor”, Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  That covers more territory.  Similarly, lots of people mourn, so they identify easily with that one.  While we’re less apt to identify with the meek, we’re much more apt to identify with the merciful, because we want to be known by our love.  Yet all of these pale in comparison to the drive to identify with the persecuted. Continue reading

Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 30, 2014)

Beatitude:  ”Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  (Matthew 5:7)
Scriptures:  Matthew 18:23-33, 2 Samuel 9:3-8

          “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  Again Matthew offers us a beatitude not found in Luke, and again he casts his net wide, perhaps so that blessing might fall on the largest number of people—not that we should understand it that way.  Matthew wasn’t trying to reassure people so much as to reframe for them in yet another way the most important commandment:  love your neighbor.  In this case, though, the word in question is “mercy”.  Many, upon hearing this word, immediately associate mercy with criminal justice.  Take, for example, someone who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  Presume that the verdict is accurate—the murderer is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Even in such cases, we often find ongoing legal efforts to overturn the death sentence—to instead confine the murderer to jail for life.  Those who plead for this often do so on the basis of mercy, arguing that one death need not be met with another; that killing the killer will bring no one back; that capital punishment is too cruel.  Lawyers plead with a judge, a governor, or a President to show mercy and let the person live. Continue reading

Third Sunday in Lent (March 23, 2014)

Beatitude:  ”Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  (Matthew 5:5)
Scriptures:  Psalm 96; Isaiah 14:4b-10, 16b-20

          “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  With this Beatitude, the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew begins to show its differences from the Lukan “Sermon on the Plain”, for there is no corresponding beatitude for “the meek” in Luke.  But that doesn’t mean we have nothing to which we can compare it, since both Luke’s and Matthew’s Beatitudes clearly speak of, as I suggested last week, “haves” and “have-nots”.  In this case, then, “have nots” are simply called “the meek”.  It’s a word we don’t use much anymore, but we know what it means:  one who is weak, unassuming, and maybe even shy.  Sometimes we use the word as part of a phrase, like “meek as a mouse” or, variously, as a dove, as a lamb, or as a maid.  It’s the opposite of “mighty”, a word describing big manly men like weightlifters, linebackers, titans of business, and of course, we use it to describe God.  Continue reading

Second Sunday in Lent (March 16, 2014)

Beatitude:  ”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)
Scriptures:  Isaiah 61:1-4, Exodus 1:8-16

          The second Beatitude offered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount is:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Even more than “blessed are the poor in spirit”, this must be the one with which most people can identify, for we all mourn.  It’s usually a matter of loss.  We mourn the loss of loved ones when they die.  We mourn the loss of relationship when breakups occur.  We mourn the loss of employment when a weak economy forces layoffs.  We mourn the loss of independence when we become elderly and our bodies no longer can do what we ask of them.  We mourn the loss of “could have beens” or “should have beens” when we set our sights on something we want, only to find out that it went to another or was otherwise taken away.  We never lack something to mourn. Continue reading

First Sunday in Lent (March 9, 2014)

Lent featured a preaching series on the Beatitudes, with a different one selected each Sunday as the focus Scripture.

Beatitude:  ”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)
Scriptures:  Psalm 1; Matthew 19:16-22

          “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).  With this Beatitude, Jesus opens his Sermon on the Mount, a revolutionary and unsettling piece of preaching that includes a great deal of criticism regarding the dangers of monetary wealth.  For those who had great wealth, Jesus seemed to be suggesting that their money was an impediment to their salvation.  For those who had nothing, Jesus seemed to be suggesting that God was on their side, standing in solidarity with them as they faced the disregard of their richer sisters and brothers. Continue reading

Transfiguration Sunday (March 2, 2014)

Scripture:  Matthew 17:1-9

A recent trailer for an upcoming movie is a study in perfection.  It begins in a military cargo plane, where a platoon of American soldiers are preparing to execute a high-elevation jump.  The commanding officer notes, “Frankly, none of us has experienced a situation quite like this before,” suggesting to the viewer that this is an unusual jump.  The camera follows one soldier in particular as he leaps from the opened cargo door.  We hear his breathing, which gets shorter and more rapid as he descends further and approaches a massive bank of storm clouds illuminated by constant lightning.  As the soldier passes the cloud barrier, we can see that he’s jumping into the center of a major city in chaos.  Smoke conceals much of what’s happening, but it’s clear that many buildings are burning, and even knocked down.  The soldier’s breathing gets even more ragged, when suddenly something looms up out of the smoke, something at least as tall as the tallest buildings—something alive.  Something covered in jagged spikes.  Something that we recognize, for we have known this form for the last 60 years.  Continue reading

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (February 23, 2014)

Scripture:  1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

          Lovers of Biblical trivia everywhere know well the answer to the following question:  “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?”  The answer, if you didn’t know, is, “Jesus wept.” 

But do you know why Jesus wept? Continue reading

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (February 16, 2014)

UCC Science, Faith and Technology Sunday

Scripture:  Genesis 1-2:4a and selected readings (see below)

          In the first week of this month [February 2014], two events occurred that drew the attention of many Americans.  Both were contests, of a sort, between opposing sides seeking to establish their dominance.  In one, that dominance was a matter of winning a game, while in the other, the dominance was a matter of winning a debate.  The first event was the Super Bowl.  The second was a debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, CEO of “Answers in Genesis”, the organization responsible for the construction of the multi-million dollar “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky. Continue reading

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (February 2, 2014)

Scriptures:  Matthew 5:1-12; Micah 6:1-8 

Most days, I get the very distinct impression that our nation is obsessed with happiness.  It’s practically a cottage industry.  I regularly see articles and blogs on the Internet that extol the virtues of happiness from a scientific perspective, complete with data suggesting that happy people are healthier people (or is it the other way around?).  Further publications claim to have unlocked various keys to happiness.  Some say physical health is part of it.  Others say being married leads to happiness.  One article I read suggested that couples who have one child are happier than all other couples, though another study claims that couples who have NO children are the happiest of all.  Continue reading

Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 26, 2014)

Scriptures:  Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-23 

Not all that long ago I had a conversation where the catch-phrase “born again” came up.  The context of that chat doesn’t matter so much as my response, in which I admitted, “I don’t even know what that means.”  To be fair, I do know where it comes from:  John 3:3, in which Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew.”  And I further know that in certain Christian contexts, the term is used to describe someone who has come into his or her Christianity in a new, more vigorous way.  But that doesn’t mean I “get” it.  Continue reading