In a few minutes we’ll sing a hymn about God’s eternal giving of gifts enumerated as “nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom, costly cross, grave’s shattered door.” And we know that these are but some of God’s gifts. Here’s the thing: from our human standpoint it’s often difficult to recognize these gifts, let alone receive them or respond to them. Our passages today all help us to think about receiving the gifts, mostly by negative example.
In the introductory passage from the Book of Exodus, the Israelites – after being out of slavery about six weeks – were “complaining” to Moses and… Continue reading
Most of us like stories that have happy endings – it’s just one of those built-in ways in which we cope with our own stories that we hope will turn out well, but don’t always. Jesus told a story one day that dealt with the topic of forgiveness. And it didn’t turn out in a way that would make many of us comfortable or happy.
The story is found in Matthew chapter 18, which gathers together materials that give the Gospel writer’s take on Jesus’ teaching about how to be a community of faith together in hard times. He said… Continue reading
Each of today’s readings, though diverse, can be read as making a distinction between “us” and “them.” First, there’s the story of the establishment of the Passover from Exodus 12. We are used to hearing this text as a call to remember what God has done for us. We’ve been taught, at least tacitly, to hear this text as triumphant Israelites, about to be delivered from slavery by the God of our ancestors who will make quick work of the might and wealth of Egypt. The commemoration of this event remakes Israel’s year. Before, it had begun in the autumn,… Continue reading
Many people say they believe in God, but don’t go to church. This fact has led to a multimillion dollar industry that aims to get those folk in the doors. Many of the resources suggest that if we’ll just get the marketing right or the sociology or the doctrine right, we’ll succeed. Some of these resources even confuse “outreach” with “in-drag.” My own conviction is that much of what isn’t right is more basic than these things. Nonetheless, it is a problem that people claim to believe in God, even in Jesus, but not in the church. But, let me… Continue reading
All of our scripture lessons this morning point to that which is foundational to our identity as the People of God and the Community of Jesus’ Disciples. The lessons emphasize the importance of paying attention to what God is saying and doing in the world. This morning I’ll give pride of place to the Old Testament text from Isaiah 51. Three times in the English text of the verses we read, the Almighty says “Pay Attention”! “Listen Up”! “Listen to me” (verses 1, 4, and 7).
The ones God summons to pay attention are, first, called “you that pursue righteousness,… Continue reading
Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is reported to have said: “Woe to you…you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” This passage is not picked up in the Revised Common Lectionary readings, but it was intended to speak to the kind of community Jesus was seeking to form and Matthew was seeking to build. I say this latter because, as I remind us almost every week, Matthew was remembering Jesus’ words, not just to reproduce them as they were 60 years before he wrote, and just “get them right,” but as a relevant word to his own… Continue reading
In a few minutes we will sing a hymn called “O God, Unseen, Yet Ever Near,” written many years ago by the English hymn writer Edward Osler. The title speaks of a way in which I, at least, experience God in the world – unseen, unobtrusive, under the surface, and even, sometimes, unrecognized by me; yet, whom I sense as ever near, and so, vitally real!
The Bible has a reputation for always speaking of God as acting openly in the world, but, if we actually take time for a long read of the Bible and the world, we will… Continue reading
Anyone that has spent any time around First Baptist knows that we are a small congregation. That concerns some of us, since we worry about long-term viability. And we’re not wrong to be concerned. At the same time, it’s true that over 85% of American Baptist Churches have an attendance of less than 50, so we’re a denomination of small congregations. It’s been that way for a long time. You have to go back decades and decades since the Sunday worship attendance was 100 here. Nonetheless, many of us wish there were at least some more.
It’s easy to fall… Continue reading
I want to begin this morning with a little announcement. This will be the 650th sermon I have preached from this pulpit. I keep track of these things, and tell you of them from time to time, mostly because I cannot believe it. That’s more sermons than I have preached in both my other congregations combined, and all the guest preaching slots I preached when I taught in seminary. About 45 years ago, when I started my ministry, if someone had told me that I would preach 650 sermons (and counting, mind you) in one spot, I would have laughed… Continue reading