Posts Tagged ‘David Letterman’

Sermon 09-25-16: “Keeping the Promise, Part 6: Our Witness”

September 30, 2016


This sermon is mostly about integrity: Do we believe what we say we believe about Jesus? Have we experienced the gospel as genuinely good news? If so, why wouldn’t we tell others about what we’ve experienced? Yet most Christians would rather undergo a root canal than initiate a conversation about their Christian faith! Why is this? And what can we do to change?

Sermon Text: Acts 1:1-11

Have you heard of Penn and Teller? They’re a comedy-magic duo famous for outlandish and often squirm-inducing magic tricks. I used to watch them on Letterman when I was in college back in the ’80s. They’ve been around a while, and they’re very good at what they do. Penn Jillette is the half of the duo that speaks. His partner, Teller, never speaks.

Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette

Anyway, Jillette is an outspoken atheist. I mean, he really, really doesn’t believe in God, and he wants you to know about it. Which makes it all the more surprising, several years ago, when he posted a video on his blog describing an encounter he had with a Christian businessman who, like other fans, met Jillette after a show. This Christian began by telling Jillette how much he enjoyed his work. He was sincere. And then he said that he would like to give Jillette a gift. And he handed him a new Bible—from the Gideons, I think—and said he really hoped he’d read it.

And I watched the video—Jillette was deeply moved by this man’s gift. So much so that even as he was describing the incident, tears were welling up in Jillette’s eyes. And he said something surprising. This man—who, again, isn’t anywhere close to becoming a Christian, at least right now—said that he doesn’t respect Christians who don’t share their faith with others. Christians who don’t do that thing that all of us Methodists promise to do when we join a United Methodist church. “I don’t respect it at all,” he said. He continued:

If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And [eternal life] is more important than that! Read the rest of this entry »

Letterman: “Misguided by my own ego for so many years”

December 21, 2015

I had an acquaintance, a gifted writer and journalist, tell me once—in the midst of a mid-life crisis—that failing to publish a second book is one of his life’s major regrets. For him it was a question of personal significance: he said he wanted to leave his mark on the world, to create something that would outlast him.

I said, “It wouldn’t help, you know? Even if you had written that book, no one would remember it, or you, a hundred years from now. After all, who’s the greatest writer ever? Shakespeare? Who reads him anymore?”

Before you throw rotten tomatoes at me, I’m not at all disparaging Shakespeare. It’s just that any number of contemporary authors, few of whom could touch Shakespeare artistically, are winning hearts and minds of people more than him. And if he weren’t (still, one hopes) required reading in school, relatively few would read him at all!

Obviously, his impact on the English language has been profound whether anyone reads him or not, but that influence is covert.


Letterman: Looking more like an Old Testament prophet every day!

The point is, if even someone like Shakespeare can’t achieve “immortality” through great literature, what hope does anyone else have? “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

We better find our significance elsewhere. As I preached about in yesterday’s sermon, I have a good idea where we should look!

As I said, if we look for significance somewhere other than in Christ, we risk committing idolatry.

With that in mind, I consider David Letterman’s recent comments about the perspective he’s gained in retirement a step in the right direction. Would some people find them depressing?

Looking back on his more than three-decade long career, Letterman says he has realized that his work in TV is probably irrelevant. “And because of this introspection, you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn’t true at all,” he says, laughing.

“It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don’t think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.”

Sermon 09-06-15: “Fight Songs, Part 1: Our Shepherd”

September 11, 2015

Fight Songs

Psalm 23, among the most beloved passages of scripture, is also one of the most misunderstood. While the imagery of sheep and shepherd seems peaceful and bucolic, the poem is set in the context of danger and death. After all, within the shadows of the canyon are dangerous predators who want to destroy the sheep. Their shepherd is their only protection. What does this say about those of us who follow the Lord our Shepherd? Will he protect and provide for us even when we find ourselves in the “valley of the shadow of death”? 

Sermon Text: Psalm 23:1-6

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Marine Lance Cpl. Jarrod Haschert is one lucky man! Over social media last week, Haschert invited Ronda Rousey on a date. He asked her to accompany him to the annual Marine Birthday Ball at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And Rousey, the undefeated mixed martial arts champion, the woman that Sports Illustrated called the “world’s most dominant athlete” in any sport, said yes. Even though she hadn’t yet met or even spoken to the the marine, she said “yes”—as a show of support for our troops.


Maybe you’ve never heard of Ronda Rousey, but it’s fair to say that at least millions of guys around the world consider Rousey “hot,” and most of them would dream of going on a date with Rousey… Although few of them would have the guts to do what Haschert did!

Ronda-RouseySo Rousey is going to go to this dance, and she’ll be wearing a formal gown, and she’ll be beautiful, of course. But don’t judge by outward appearances. Because even though she’s not a large woman, by any stretch, she could easily kill most men with her bare hands, I’m sure. Honestly. She’s tough, strong, quick, agile… and did I say tough?

But you wouldn’t know this by looking at her! Looks can be deceiving.

And when it comes to Psalm 23, this most beloved psalm, looks can also be deceiving. I mean, when we think of this image of the shepherd leading his sheep to lie down and rest beside “still waters,” doesn’t it seem like one of the most peaceful, calm, restful word pictures in all of scripture? Read the rest of this entry »

“What punishments of God are not gifts?”

August 24, 2015

Bart Ehrman and Stephen Colbert

As a longtime Letterman fan, I was pleased with CBS’s selection of Stephen Colbert to succeed him. First, Colbert has been one of the sharpest wits on TV—original and fearless. He’s also proven to be a first-rate interviewer. Colbert will ensure that in the area of interviews, at least, there will be continuity between his show and Letterman’s old show—at a time when other late-night comedy shows, such as Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, seemingly deemphasize them.

Second, I’ve appreciated that Colbert, a Catholic, has never hidden or downplayed his Christian faith. What other TV personality, on Ash Wednesday, appears on air with ashes on his forehead? I also appreciate that he makes skeptics like Bart Ehrman squirm.

Sgt. Calhoun is "programmed with the most tragic backstory ever."

Sgt. Calhoun is “programmed with the most tragic backstory ever.”

In yesterday morning’s sermon, I used clips from the Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph to illustrate biblical truths. In one clip, for example, we learn that video game character Sgt. Calhoun was “programmed with the most tragic backstory ever.”

I then described Colbert’s recent interview in GQ magazine, in which he talked about his own “tragic backstory”: losing his father and his two closest brothers in a plane crash when he was only 10.

In the interview, Colbert described the time that J.R.R. Tolkien received a letter from a priest complaining that his novels and short stories weren’t theologically correct because they treated death as a gift, rather than a punishment for sin after the Fall:

“Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.”

While we may prefer to speak of the “disciplines of God,” rather than the “punishments,” the fact remains—and scripture loudly affirms—that God uses our tragic backstories for good, to mold us and shape us into the people that he wants us to be.

If this weren’t the case, how do we make sense of Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Recently, however, I analyzed a sermon by a fellow United Methodist pastor who obviously would disagree.

What do you think? Do you agree with Stephen Colbert? Does God turn our “tragic backstories” into gifts?

Sermon 05-24-15: “Honor God with Your Bodies, Part 2”

June 2, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

This is the second of two sermons I preached on the issue that threatens to split our denomination in half: homosexuality. (Click here to read or listen to the first sermon.) In this sermon, I use Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6 to refute the most common arguments used by opponents of the church’s stance. From my perspective, there is no room for compromise.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3 version of this sermon.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Last week, the Connectional Table, an official council of the United Methodist Church that includes twelve bishops, approved a petition that they will submit to General Conference next year, which, if approved by General Conference, would change our denomination’s stance on homosexuality. Their proposal redefines marriage as between not a man and woman but between two people.

I oppose the plan; in fact I don’t know anyone on my side who supports it. And maybe it won’t pass anyway. But as we look ahead to next year’s General Conference, as our United Methodist Church decides what to do about this most controversial issue that risks splitting our denomination apart, we can expect to hear more rumblings for change, and feel more cultural pressure to change. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 05-03-15: “Warts and All, Part 4: Tested by Fire”

May 12, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

The foundation of the church, Paul says, is Jesus Christ and him crucified. Unfortunately, in one way or another, we often forget about the cross and fall back into “works righteousness”—the idea that we can be good enough to earn salvation. Are you living your life on the foundation of the cross? Watch or read this sermon and find out.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

[Want to listen on the go? Right-click here to download an MP3 file.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Back in 1999, an almanac was published, which ranked cities in the U.S. and Canada from best to worst. They used criteria such as crime, job outlook, climate, and culture. According to this book, the city of Kankakee, Illinois, won the distinction of being America’s worst city—a distinction which might have been quickly forgotten, if not for late-night television personality David Letterman, who featured a Top Ten list related to Kankakee: “Top Ten slogans for Kankakee, Illinois.”

Number ten: “You’ll come for our payphone, you’ll stay because your car has been stolen. Number nine, ask about are staggering unemployment rate. Number eight, we put the ill in Illinois. Number seven, we also put the annoy in Illinois.” Number one: “Abe Lincoln slept here… by accident.”

You get the idea… But the jokes at the town’s expense didn’t end there. For weeks, Kankakee became a running joke on the show. Not long afterward, Letterman called the mayor of Kankakee during the show; he interviewed him; and then, with cameras rolling, Letterman’s people unveiled a new gazebo in the town square, which the Letterman show was donating to the city—hoping, he said, that it might spruce up the town and make it a more livable city. And not long after that, he gave them another gazebo.


So for the past 15 years, Kankakee has had two gazebos in the town square, which were given to them by Letterman, as a joke… Until a few months ago Some students in a high school civics class learned the history of these gazebos, and how they were used to make a joke at their city’s expense. And these students love their city. Sure, like a lot of U.S. cities, they lost some manufacturing jobs back in the ’80s and ’90s, but they’re doing O.K. now. So these students organized a publicity campaign to tear down the gazebos. They even had a carpenter take the wood from a gazebo and build a rocking chair for Letterman as a gift, for him to enjoy during his retirement, which of course will be happening soon. Read the rest of this entry »