Archive for January, 2010

This Sunday in Vinebranch: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 2: Thy Kingdom Come”

January 15, 2010

We will continue to explore the Lord’s Prayer this Sunday in Vinebranch by looking at Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What does it mean to pray for God’s kingdom to come? Is this “kingdom coming” a reference to the Second Coming and resurrection? If so, what does it mean for us right now?

A timely debate on theodicy

January 13, 2010

I read this online debate last year between N.T. Wright, a New Testament scholar and Bishop of Durham (Church of England) and Bart Ehrman, a religion professor at UNC and former evangelical Christian-turned-atheist. In light of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, it might be helpful to our faith to review the major questions associated with theodicy: How is God good and just in a world of so much suffering, pain, and evil? I also read Wright’s book on the subject, which is in my library at church if you’d like to borrow it.

Something we can do now

January 13, 2010

In the wake of the tragic news out of Port-au-Prince, this is a reminder that our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helps victims of natural disasters very effectively: 100 percent of proceeds go directly to relief efforts. UMCOR has set up a Haiti-related website for online giving here.

Sermon for 01-10-10: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 1: Our Father”

January 11, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:9

You can listen to this sermon by clicking the play button, or click here to download an .mp3.

The following is my original manuscript with citations.

When I announced this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer on my blog, one of you commented that you think it’s disturbing that we say prayers without always thinking about their meaning. It’s disturbing but also natural. Once we memorize something, it’s easy to forget about the words that are coming out of our mouths. That’s why I wanted to shake things up this morning by having us pray a more contemporary version of the prayer. It forces us to pay attention again. Read the rest of this entry »

“You point the way to the truth when you say, ‘All you need is love'”

January 11, 2010

I collect vinyl records—mostly LPs—but recently I’ve been seeking out 45s of songs from my childhood and early adolescence. Between 1978 and 1982, listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Countdown, broadcast on Z-93 on Sunday mornings, was an important preoccupation of mine. Even when we went to church, I was still often able to catch the last hour or so. I remember rooting for certain songs to be number one on the chart. It was a big deal for some reason.

All that to say I recently picked up a #2 hit song from 1981 called “All Those Years Ago,” by George Harrison. In the wake of John Lennon’s murder in December of 1980, I developed a passionate interest in the Beatles, and this Harrison song was a tribute to his ex-bandmate. In fact, this song was the nearest thing to a Beatles reunion: Paul and Ringo sing and play on it. Read the rest of this entry »

What did Jesus call his Father? (Think of a Swedish pop band from the ’70s)

January 10, 2010

This is what I get for actually studying the Bible!

If you had asked me what word Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in 6:9-13 used for “Father” (Luke’s version is found here), I would have sworn Matthew used the Aramaic word “Abba,” a more informal and intimate word, often used by children to address their father. Abba is the English equivalent of Papa (notice how it sounds like it) or even “Daddy.” It turns out that Matthew did not use the Aramaic word (which I found out when I consulted my Greek interlinear Bible); instead, Matthew used the Greek word pater, or Father, just like we say it in church. (It’s slightly disappointing: I could really shake things up in Vinebranch by having us recite the Lord’s Prayer using “Daddy” instead of “Father”! Not that I would do that, of course!)

So what gives? For years I’ve always heard that Jesus called his Father “Abba,” including in the Lord’s Prayer. Where does this come from? Were all the commentators and writers who said this wrong?

Read the rest of this entry »

New 6-part sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer begins Sunday

January 7, 2010

Happy New Year! As I type this, we are experiencing a very underwhelming amount of snowfall after the local news media hype. How disappointing! After a hectic week, I was ready to enjoy a snow day—even if it meant working on a sermon from home. I like having an excuse to stay in, you know?

In Vinebranch this Sunday, we’re beginning a six-part sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. The first sermon is on Matthew 6:9: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Here are some things to think about: The word “Father” is more formal than Jesus’ word in Aramaic, Abba, which might be better translated “Papa,” or even Daddy. The beginning of the prayer challenges me: Do I think of God in such intimate and personal terms?

Then it gets trickier: “in heaven, hallowed be your name.” How can a God who is intimate as Father or Papa at the same time be in a place (heaven) that we can’t be or visit—a place that seems very far from us?

We’ll explore these ideas this Sunday in Vinebranch. See you there!

Sermon from 12-27-09: “Fully Human”

January 2, 2010

Sermon Text: Luke 2:41-52

Merry Christmas! During the Christmas Eve service, we sang “Away in the Manger.” When we sang that line, “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” I turned to Don Martin and said, “Wanna bet?” Of course, Jesus cried as a baby…. It was that sweet little newborn baby cry, which is very mild compared to the full-throated cry of a six-month old! The little Lord Jesus cried because he was human, just like any other baby.

I think that we Christians sometimes believe that Jesus came into the world like Superman, with superpowers and invulnerability. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The amazing healing miracles, the feeding miracles, the walking on water, and whatever else Jesus accomplishes, he accomplishes not because he possessed any innate abilities that you or I don’t possess, but because of the Holy Spirit working through him as a consequence of his obedience to the Father. It’s the same way we accomplish good works. Remember, with faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus tells us, we can move mountains—not because of what we can do, but what God does. Read the rest of this entry »

The refreshingly mixed message of “Up in the Air” (Spoiler alert!)

January 1, 2010

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Up in the Air yet, please note that the following blog post by necessity gives away the ending. It’s still a good and worthy film even if you know the ending in advance, but be forewarned.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a hired-gun consultant whose job is to fire people. In addition to breaking the bad news to terminated employees, his company’s purpose is to ease their difficult transition into an unwelcoming job market and theoretically a new job (although there is no evidence in the film that this happens). In today’s economy, as you might imagine, business is booming.

Bingham spends most of his life “up in the air” going from city to city, accumulating an unprecedented number of frequent-flyer miles and hotel and and rental car loyalty points. As we quickly learn, Bingham wouldn’t have it any other way: Living out of a suitcase enables him to avoid entangling commitments to family, friends, and potential love interests. He even enjoys a side business as a motivational speaker, urging his audiences to “empty their backpack” of things in life that weigh them down, the most important of which is—you guessed it—people. Read the rest of this entry »