Archive for April, 2010

“Learning to Be Content” this Sunday… Plus a new sermon series starting on Mother’s Day

April 29, 2010

This Sunday, May 2, I’m preaching a sermon entitled, “Learning to Be Content.” The text is Philippians 4:10-13, which includes Paul’s words, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Can you imagine such a thing? I can imagine it—and even experience it, however fleetingly—but I am still in the learning process, believe me!

What was the secret to Paul’s contentment? What is it about being a Christian that ought to make us feel content and at peace? If there’s some secret to it, let’s try to figure it out this Sunday.

Beginning on Mother’s Day, May 9, and lasting—appropriately enough—through Father’s Day, June 20, is a 7-part sermon series on families in the Bible. Each week, we’ll focus on a different family relationship, with special music related to these themes and a video montage of church members talking about their families.

The scripture and themes are listed below:

May 9: Mothers and Sons. Genesis 25:19-2827:1-17, 41-45. We’ll focus on Rebekah and her relationship with Jacob.

May 16: Sisters. Luke 10:38-42. Mary and Martha.

May 23: Brothers. Genesis 33:1-17. Jacob and Esau.

May 30: Husbands and Wives. Genesis 2:18-25. Adam and Eve.

June 6: God’s Family. Mark 3:31-35. “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

June 13: Mothers and Daughters. The Book of Ruth. Naomi and Ruth—technically in-laws, but you get the point. (Larisa will preach a narrative sermon.)

June 20: Fathers and Sons. Luke 15:11-32. The prodigal son, his father, and his older brother.

More on John 21

April 29, 2010

As we have just finished our two-part sermon series on John 21, “Life’s a Beach,” I wanted to tie up a couple of loose ends in John 21. The scholarly consensus is that this chapter was added later as an epilogue to John 1-20, which is possibly why John 20:30-31 seems to serve as a tidy ending to the original book.

But maybe that’s wrong. Gail O’Day, among others, believes that the “signs” referred to in John 20:30-31 are not all the miracles recorded in John’s gospel but events pertaining to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (i.e., vv. 30-31 are a conclusion to chapter 20 only, not to the entire gospel).1

If this is true, then vv. 30-31 shouldn’t be read as John’s “original ending.” The original ending is the actual ending, John 21:25, which also sounds like a fitting conclusion: “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Read the rest of this entry »

God is too small on “House, M.D.”

April 28, 2010

Sometimes—as bad as I hate to say it—I worry that TV is not good for me. Really, that’s true of most popular culture—of which I am often a ravenous consumer. “Don’t worry,” I console myself. “It’s all sermon research! If I didn’t watch TV, where would I get sermon illustrations?” I’ve wondered at times if I could write off a high-definition TV as a business expense.

J.B. Phillips (d. 1982) was a canon of the Anglican church and a writer. Fifty years ago, he wrote a little book called Your God is Too Small. Although the book predates the explosive growth of TV viewership and so many other trends that have contributed to a dumbing-down of pop culture, what he says about pop culture and its relationship to religion couldn’t be more on target.

In one section of the book he discusses ways in which we live vicariously through books, films, and plays (and even more so, we can now say, through TV—although music, talk radio, the internet, and even video games will also play their part). Read the rest of this entry »

A prayer by Thomas Merton

April 27, 2010

I found this today on the Daily Office website.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Creation, not “environment”

April 22, 2010

In his essay entitled, “Conservation is Good Work,” Wendell Berry complains about our use and understanding of the word “environment.”1

The idea that we live in something called “the environment”… is utterly preposterous. This word came into use because of the pretentiousness of learned experts who were embarrassed by the religious associations of “Creation” and who thought “world” too mundane. But “environment” means that which surrounds or encircles us; it means a world separate from ourselves, outside us. The real state of things, of course, is far more complex and intimate and interesting than that. The world that environs us, that is around us, is also within us. We are made of it; we eat, drink, and breathe it; it is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. It is also a Creation, a holy mystery, made for and to some extent by creatures, some but by no means all of whom are humans. This world, this Creation, belongs in a limited sense to us, for we may rightfully require certain things of it—the things necessary to keep us fully alive as the kind of creature we are—but we also belong to it, and it makes certain rightful claims on us: that we care properly for it, that we leave it undiminished not just to our children but to all the creatures who will live in it after us. None of this intimacy and responsibility is conveyed by the word environment.

I imagine, therefore, that Berry would approve of this 12th century prayer from St. Francis of Assisi. Perhaps we can make this our “Earth Day” prayer, understanding of course that as God’s image-bearing creatures charged with caring for this world, every day is Earth Day. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon for 04-18-10: “Life’s a Beach, Part 1”

April 22, 2010

Sermon Text: John 21:1-14

[Click here to download a podcast of sermon.]

The following is an original manuscript of the sermon.

Daybreak at the Sea of Galilee.

Does anyone know when it was decided to cancel spring this year? I mean, I know we had a harsh winter, but we didn’t have to go straight to summer, did we? Actually, if we were going to cancel spring, we might have also cancelled pollen! I’m not really complaining much. But just in time for summer, we have today’s scripture. It has two of my favorite activities in the world: hanging out on the beach and grilling! Throw in a boom box playing the Beach Boys, and it’s my idea of heaven! And Jesus is there. And what else do we learn in this text: charcoal really is better than propane because, after all, it’s what Jesus used!

“After these things,” John writes, “Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias”—or Sea of Galilee. What are “these things” that John is referring to? The events related to Easter and the week following that, when Jesus appeared again to the disciples, including Thomas—and offered to show him his hands and side. According to Acts, the resurrected Lord made appearances to the disciples for a period of 40 days, and according to John this was the third of those appearances. Read the rest of this entry »

New song: “Forty and Fine”

April 19, 2010

A detail from Elisa's birthday poster: Yes, I'm over the hill.

(Click here to download the .mp3.)

I wrote this song after I turned 40 in February. Forty is a nice round number—the official beginning of middle age. It’s a number that affords taking stock of one’s life, surrendering to the temptation to ask, “Where am I now? What have I accomplished? What do I have to show for these four decades on earth?” Life begins at 40, some well-intentioned friends consoled me. Yeah, right! John Lennon was dead at 40—and look at what he had accomplished by then!

Regret is the devil. Former Mr. Might-Have-Been, would you please make friends with the skin you’re in?

In my sermon yesterday, I said the following: Read the rest of this entry »

This Sunday in Vinebranch

April 16, 2010

This Sunday is the third Sunday of Easter. The Lectionary gospel passage is John 21:1-19. As I’ve been studying and reflecting on this scripture, however, I think this passage is too rich for one sermon. There’s too much interesting stuff going on. This Sunday, I’ll focus on vv. 1-14, which deals with the disciples’ miraculous catch of fish and their encounter with the resurrected Lord. Next Sunday, I’ll focus on Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus and those curious words about the beloved disciple in vv. 15-25.

Daybreak at the Sea of Galilee. (See John 21.)

Why do you think the disciples decided to go fishing after the events of Easter Sunday—and the following week, when Jesus appeared to Thomas? (See John 20.) Is there more going on here than just fishing? Why the emphasis on this abundant catch? What’s the point? What do these verses have to say to us?

We’ll explore these questions and more on Sunday. See you there.

The end of one long chapter

April 14, 2010

I’m happy and relieved to tell everyone who will listen that I was approved this week to be an “elder in full connection” in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. This means that at Annual Conference in Athens in June, the bishop will ordain me. I will receive a stole over my robe, a sign of being fully ordained. (When I’m in a traditional service, I can wear stoles now!)

This good news was a bit confusing to my mom (who’s Baptist, God bless her), who thought that’s what happened three years ago at Annual Conference in Athens. I tried to explain to her that I was commissioned as a “probationary elder,” the first of a two-step process. I’ve been in residency since then—working as a pastor while continuing to complete work required by the Board of Ordained Ministry. Read the rest of this entry »

This Sunday in Vinebranch

April 9, 2010

This Sunday, April 11, Vinebranch welcomes this guest preacher named Dr. Don Martin. You might not have heard of him. He’s still pretty green when it comes to preaching, but I think he’ll do O.K. Please ignore any obnoxious sermon illustrations involving the Georgia Bulldogs. 😉

This Sunday, our high school youth minister Jay Gulbin and the high school youth band will be leading in worship—which makes me wish I was going to be there!

Please pray for me as I prepare to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for interviews on Monday.