Sunday, June 30, 2013

Two Testaments, Same God (II Kings 1:1-17 and Luke 9:51-62)

St. Thomas Memorial Episcopal Church
“Two Testaments, Same God, Or, Samaritans, Prophets, Fire from Heaven: Revisited”
II Kings 1:1-17 and Luke 9:51-62

It was the fall of my senior year of high school.  It was “Bring your Bible to school day.”  I really didn’t want any part of this.  The last thing an anxious, young public schooler needs is to be known as the Bible thumper.  But, at the same time, I felt guilty about not participating.  I think someone pressured me into it, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t ashamed of the gospel—that I wasn’t ashamed of Jesus—so not only did I  bring it along, I put it on the top of my stack of books.  It’s only one day I told myself.  What could go wrong? 

It was first period.  My Calculus teacher had finished her lecture early and I was waiting for the bell that liberated my classmates and me from the clutches of rule and order for a mere six minutes.  As we waited, my best friend—who sat next to me—who I had been talking to about the Christian faith for… forever, saw my Bible and picked it up.  He plopped it open and read the first passage he saw…  What did he read the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, John 3:16?… No.  My friend happened upon the conquest narrative of the book of Joshua.  If you don’t know that story, suffice it to say it’s one of  what are known as the ‘hard sayings’ of the Bible.  A passage most Christians aren’t rushing to write on cardboard signs and hold up at football games.  The last place I’d direct a curious young spiritual seeker. 

I was frustrated.  My friend, who had been witnessing to and praying for, was further turned away from the faith.  The bell rang.  My six minutes of freedom in between periods were ruined.  “Bring Your Bible to School Day” was a complete failure.  I remember thinking to myself, “Lord, why?  Here was your chance.  Why didn’t you plop open the book to highlight how good you are?  Why would you open the book to the Old Testament and not the New?”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I Need Control (Luke 8:26-39)

Church of the Nativity Episcopal Church
Luke 8:26-39
“I Need Control”

Not too long ago, a well-known Methodist bishop, Will Willimon, told a story to a group of pastors about an elderly lady he once visited in the hospital.  This woman had just been given some horrible news—she would no longer be able to use her legs.  Like a good minister he came to be present with her—he came to listen, he came to console.  After about 45 minutes, his not-so-subtle body language hinted at the fact that it was time for him to go.
       "Well, aren’t you going to pray for me?” she asked.
“Oh, sure,” he said.  “But you haven’t mentioned anything that you’d have me pray for.”
At this she looked at him funny.  “Pray that I’m able to walk again, of course.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, half-heartedly.
So the bishop said that he prayed the weakest prayer he’d ever prayed.  Something like, “Lord, Sally would really like to be healed.  Please give her patience with her new set of circumstances.  And, if it be your will, please heal her. Amen.”
When he opened his eyes he noticed that Sally was trying to get out of her bed.
“Sally, what are you doing?” He asked.  “You’re going to hurt yourself.”
“I’m healed! I’m healed!” she yelled excitedly.  She then proceeded to hop out of bed, run out of the room, and shout for joy along the halls of the hospital.
Bishop Willimon told the group of pastors that in that moment he sneaked out of the hospital to hide in his vehicle.
In the safety of his own car he looked up and said, “Lord, don’t ever do anything like that again.”
The bishop had witnessed a miracle and it terrified him.  So what did he do?  He ran.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Still This Troubled Heart (Galatians 1:1-11)

St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Galatians 1:1-11 (I used the NRSV and J. Louis Martyn's excellent translation)
"Still This Troubled Heart"

When I was in college I was worried about my salvation.  I was worried about whether or not I’d go to heaven.  I was no axe-murderer—like the guys you see on the 10 o’clock news—but, at the same time, I was no activist, no monk, no “saint.”  So I took a few religion classes to find out more.  I took these classes hoping I’d find answers.  So I read and I read and I read. 

 “God will not deny grace to anyone who does what lies within them.”  I distinctively remember reading these words by the late medieval theologian Gabriel Biel.  I read further: as long you “did your best”—rejecting evil and trying to do good—you would be saved.  These words, originally meant to be assuring, proved to be anything but that.  In fact, they had the opposite effect on me.  As I noted earlier, I wasn’t a bad guy—at least, I didn’t think I was—but I had no way of knowing if I had done enough.  I had no way of knowing if I had done what “lies within me.”  In my quest for assurance I was left with doubt.  I was left with fear. 

But this all changed when I encountered the good news of the gospel.  And I am excited that for my first sermon here at St. Thomas I get to talk about the balm that quieted my troubled heart.  I get to talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  What one theologian refers to as the one-way love of God for suffering sinners like you and me.[1]  What the New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce summarized using these words, “Christ died [not for the healthy but] for the ungodly.”