Serving Promises Unseen

Following is a sermon that I delivered on August 12, 2012 at Pocatello First United Methodist Church.

How many of you have been watching the Olympics?  Okay … I admit.  I get really excited when the United States does well, but what I find fascinating is how much I support the other athletes too.  Take a Bulgarian gymnast, Yourdan Youchev, 39 years old and at his sixth Olympics!  Who could help but root for the man, regardless of how he finished.  There was a diver who never expected to make the semi-finals. He was just happy to be there, thrilled to be a part of something bigger than himself, and the Olympics are filled with these stories.  Then, we, as we watch them from thousands of miles away, also become a part of this world wide experience.

In a way, this was what the audience of the book of Hebrews felt.  They were a part of a world changing movement, but … it wasn’t going as expected.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, they thought that he was going to return very soon. Paul in his earliest letters discourages people to marry because he thinks that the time would be so short (1 Cor 7:25-31).  But, there was a problem. The first generation of Christians were dying, and Jesus hadn’t returned yet. The author of Hebrews reminds them that our time is not God’s time.  He talks about their ancestors and how they were patient and had faith that God would fulfill his promises.

The word “faith” plays a prominent role in today’s Scripture passage. “By faith, Abraham obeyed … By faith, he lived … By faith, Sarah received …”

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Families Called to Hope

Following is a sermon that I delivered on May 13, 2012 at Pocatello First United Methodist Church.

John 15:9-17

How many of you read the newspaper today?  Watched the morning news?  Looked at headlines online? It seems that we are inundated with bad news.  The world looks hopeless. Every day there is a new crisis. A new reason to panic.

Was it always like this? Is there really more bad news than there used to be, or are we victims of a 24 news cycle, where everything is an emergency … but it will wait until the top of the hour or until after “a few words from our sponsor.”

If there is good news, it usually gets tagged onto the end, almost as an afterthought.  And yet, there are terrible things that are going on in our world every day: Financial markets just reported a 2b dollar loss at J.P. Morgan. Who can tell what will happen in Greece? Or Spain?  But that’s only money right?  What about war?  There are new reports of increasing violence in the Middle East. Unfortunately, there’s nothing surprising about that.  But, just a few weeks ago, there was a rocket test in North Korea. The good news is that it was unsuccessful, but does anyone think that they’re quitting?

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Puncturing Our Presumptions

Following is a short presentation that I gave at Pocatello First United Methodist Church's Leadership Summit today.

A day or two ago, when Pastor Craig was asking me what the title of this talk should be, I told him that I had many talents, but coming up with titles was not one of them. But when I saw Puncturing our Presumptions, I knew that it was perfect. Because that is the main thing that gets in our way when we try to connect with people who don’t have experience being in the church.

As you have already heard and seen in our program and guide for today, the Methodist Church’s main purpose is “the formation of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

One aspect of that is training the people who are here.  As Paul calls it in Eph 4, “Equipping the Saints.”  And when Paul talks about “saints” throughout his letters, he is not only talking about people like Mother Theresa or Francis of Assisi (though they would certainly qualify).  He is talking about all of us, those people who are a part of the church.

But in Matthew 28, Jesus calls us to make disciples of ALL nations.  That can mean going out to show new people about Jesus.  The church has both bad and good example of that in our history.  But it can also mean those people who find their way to us.  It might be a person who crosses our path at work, school, or even the grocery store.  Or, it may be someone or a family who wanders into our church on a Sunday morning.

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Come to the City of God

It's the new year, and towards the end of the book of Revelation, the Bible talks about God recreating a place for God and humans to live together. Let's look at it together, a sermon that I gave on New Year's Day.

Revelation 21:1-6

Happy New Year! We are entering a New Year, and our biblical reading tells us about a new creation.  Revelation is such a funny book of the Bible. Well, there aren’t a lot of laughs in it, but it is interesting. What’s interesting about it is more than the fact that it almost seems like a science-fiction movie.  There are epic battles between good and evil. There are enough fantastic creatures, symbols, and images to make your head spin. We are given glimpses into heaven and what it’s like. Evil reemerges again and again, but at last good achieves its final triumph.  What’s interesting to me is how everyday people, not to mention biblical scholars and theologians, run so hot and cold about it.

People, especially in the western world, either seem to avoid it entirely or they delve into it trying to figure out the code, thinking it will help them to predict about the end of the world.  Martin Luther didn’t really have any use for the book of Revelation. Yet, it was included in the Bible and has remained so through breaks between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, through the Protestant Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation.

Strangely enough, after the Reformation, the Protestants stopped considering several books as part of the Bible, such as Sirach and 1st & 2nd Maccabees. It seems to me that if other books were going to be removed from the Bible, this would have been the time, but Revelation was not.

What is its value?  I said that it is in the western world where people usually either dismiss Revelation as too complicated or dig into the details trying to figure out when Jesus will return.  However, there is a group of people for whom this book is very important and popular.  That is where the Christian Church is severely persecuted and oppressed.

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