Joel: Return to the Lord

joel-212-widescreenIt’s the second Sunday of Advent, and our attention here at the church has turned completely toward the upcoming celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’ve often said that this is like the Super Bowl for us who lead churches—it’s the time of year when we have the biggest crowds and the most expectation. It’s something you actually have to train for—the extra stamina required for multiple services (four this year) plus Christmas Day is a Sunday. That means extra leg work at the gym and lots of preparation and practice for sermons, setting up extra chairs, etc.

Of course it’s also the time of year when many people wonder just why the crowds are bigger. Where are all these people the rest of the year? We go out of our way to prepare for them, but wouldn’t it be great if they all came back the next Sunday? Some ridicule them as “Chreasters” or H2O Christians (Holidays, 2 Only) and some churches make these folks feel guilty when they show up, not realizing that there sarcasm will ultimately insure that they never show up again. We’ve banned that sort of sarcasm here. For us it’s about rolling out the red carpet, no matter what it takes.

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Daniel: A Conspiracy of Hope

daniel-in-lions-denIt’s the first Sunday in Advent—a time when when we’re usually prepared to sing songs of the season and hear the familiar stories that will lead us up to the manger, whether it’s the preparatory texts in Luke’s Gospel or the prophecies of Isaiah, or the echoes of the Exodus story in Matthew’s Gospel. While there are lots of texts to choose from, Advent is always a challenge for preachers because we tend to cover the same territory.

But this year, using the Narrative Lectionary, we’re confronted with a text that looks like anything but an Advent story. If you grew up in the church, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6) is a familiar one that we learn in Sunday School as children. It’s a wonderful story of faithful resistance in the midst of a pagan and hostile culture—something we’ve been talking about a lot over the last few weeks.

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A Game of Thrones: A Sermon After the Election

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

campaign-signs-president-1This has been a historic week by any measure. As we gather here on Sunday, after Tuesday’s election, we suddenly realize that the usual way of things—the predictable politics of the past—is no more. Whether you are dejected or elated over the results, we share in common the fact that none of us knows how the future will play out. Pundits, both professional and amateur, have been offering their predictions since early Wednesday morning, but if we’ve learned anything this week it’s that polls and predictions can be dead wrong.

I’ve seen a lot of Christians posting this week on how to respond to the election. Some are quoting Bible verses, some urging caution and kindness, others despairing, and still others are shocked with no clue as to what to do. I suspect most people are in that latter category. We don’t have a real precedent for this kind of thing—we’ve now marched off the map. We don’t really know what’s next.

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The WCA and the Gospel According to Inigo Montoya

Note: This is a post in response to an article written by Rev. Paul Kottke in the Rocky Mountain Conference News concerning his impressions of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. It will be helpful to read his critique before reading my rejoinder.

montoyaThe Princess Bride
is one of my favorite movies of all time. This fairy tale about a beautiful princess, a dashing hero, a giant, an evil prince, and some colorful sidekicks always makes me smile, but one of the best parts about the movie is that it is eminently quotable in a variety of situations. Sending the church staff out at the end of a staff meeting? “Have fun storming the castle!” Got some bad news to deliver? “Chocolate coating makes it go down easier.” Trying to impress a potential mate? “Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”

Inigo Montoya, the Spanish swordsman, gets a lot of the best lines—most famously his practiced revenge speech for day he meets the six-fingered man who murdered his father: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But while that’s the quote everyone loves, there’s another that I find even more useful. When his boss, the nefarious Sicilian named Vizzini, keeps using the word “inconceivable” to describe situations that are, in fact, conceivable, Inigo looks at him thoughtfully and says:

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Moses: Standing in the Gap

Exodus 32:1-14

mosesonthemountainLast week we talked about the Passover as the meal signifying Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. Remember the way the rabbi described it? “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!.” The story of Passover is a microcosm of the larger liberation project God launched for the whole creation, summed up in Jesus’ meal with his disciples. In the communion meal, Jesus announces deliverance from human slavery to sin and death through the shedding of his own blood—the lamb given for his people. That’s how we summed up the Christian message: “They killed him, he won, let’s eat!”

But while we talked last week about what God frees his people from, this week’s text is really about what God frees his people for. What is freedom for?

For the answer, we have to go back a little further. Remember the beginning of the story, when God created humans and gave them the vocation of being his co-regents of creation, to be priests in the temple he has created, mediating and taking care of the creation. That was their mission and they were free to take express it in any way they saw fit, so long as they did not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and circumvent God’s wisdom, which is only given to human beings through relationship with him. They were “naked and unashamed” – which is like the freedom a toddler has when he strips naked in the front yard and runs through the sprinklers – a joyous freedom to experience the life God intends in its fullness.

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