A Proverbs Woman; Proverbs 31:10-31; Delivered on Mothers' Day; May 14, 2017

Harry Cole was a dear friend of mine from my days as a pastor in Northern Virginia.  Sadly we have lost track of each other over the years. Back then he was a Methodist chaplain at a nursing home, retired now, I’m sure.   He came to ministry late in life.  Before becoming a chaplain, he had been a high school English teacher.  We met for lunch sometimes—to talk about our ministries, our understanding of scripture, that sort of thing. In the course of our conversations, we also talked about our families.  Harry had three grown daughters.  He was happily married. His father was deceased.  His mom lived in South Florida. 

Harry had many good qualities—however, and maybe I shouldn’t say however, because it wasn’t a vice, it was just the way he was-- easily excited.  I am sure he was calm and pastoral in his chaplaincy role, but my--he would show up for lunch, all in a tither and red-faced because the government was going to heck, or our president or governor or someone else had done thus and so… he was forever writing letters of protest and making angry phone calls to the powers-that-be. Don Quixote in a clerical collar. 

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Those Oddball Christians! Acts 2:42-47; Delivered on May 7, 2017

With my daughter getting married in a couple of weeks, I am getting nostalgic-so I hope you will bear with me.  This week, my mind has been flooded with memories of Paige’s growing up years (Paige is the daughter getting married). These memories are a blessing of course, although sometimes, a painful blessing. They are “poignant”—love that word—It comes from the French word, Poindre—which means to prick.  When we say something is poignant we mean to say that our souls have been pricked.  My memories of Paige’s growing up years are a mixture of happy and sad.  How many mistakes did I make as a parent?  And as much as I was in a hurry for them to grow up, now I wonder why especially Paige, the baby of the family, couldn’t have stayed young longer. I miss those days.    

So here, I thought I would share with you one poignant experience.  It was when Paige was in second grade.   Her class held a Mother’s Day celebration.  It was during school hours, on the Friday before Mother’s Day.  There was a lunch at the end of the three hour affair—a lunch that the kids themselves put together—they had peeled fruit, and made sandwiches and even baked cookies for us.  

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Just War Theory, Part II, Matthew 5:38-43; Delivered on April 30, 2017

In some reading I was doing these past two weeks, a writer levels this at us, we who are Christian: “Though most Christians, (that’s us) will, if questioned, claim that they support the use of violence in certain cases, on the basis of just war thinking, they do nothing of the sort.  The vast majority of [even] professional theologians would be at a loss to list the seven or more criteria used in just war decisions.  …In most cases, [to Christian minds] might simply makes right.” 

What a horrible criticism to level at us! Really, though, you have to admit that is probably the case for most, if not all of us, here in this sanctuary. We don’t know the criteria for just war, even though just war theory has its roots in the Christian faith.  And I’ll confess that I, who am I guess, a “professional theologian” couldn’t rattle off for you the seven Just War Theory criteria, before I started doing some reading for this sermon. Maybe still can’t.   

And that is really a travesty.  We are, or soon will be, voting Christian citizens.  Some of you may one day serve in the military, so it behooves us, you like that word, behoove?, It behooves us to know what just war theory is. 

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Just War Theory, Delivered on April 23, 2017; Matthew 5:43-47

I’m straying from the lectionary today.  I am straying from the lectionary for several reasons.  One is, that today is the Sunday after Easter, when congregation members are usually as hen’s teeth few.  So, I consider this kind of a “free Sunday” for us.  I am also straying from the lectionary because I want to scratch and itch.  For a long time now I have wanted to explore Just War Theory.  I studied Just War Theory in seminary some, but that was a long, long time ago, and I’d like to refresh my memory.  Third, with so many threats of violence going on on the world stage today, Just War Theory is a timely topic for all of us. Should our country be going to war with North Korea?  Was it really ok to drop that MOAB? MOAB.  First time I heard MOAB, I thought it was a Biblical reference —Moab is where Ruth and Naomi lived before moving to Bethlehem. Did you think of that, too?   Now I know, and you know too, that MOAB is military lingo stands for Mother of all Bombs.  Was it ok to drop that MOAB on Syria? These are questions I am asking myself as a Christian, trying to live my faith, and maybe you are asking yourself that, too.

Before we get into this topic, though, I have to apologize.  This subject matter is broad and it’s heavy.  Because that is the case, I have decided to preach this as a two-part sermon series.  What I start this week, will have spill over into next week.  In my 20 year preaching career, I have actually never delivered a two-part sermon, so prayers are in order!

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Three Understanding of Christ Victorious; John 20:1-10; Delivered April 16, 2017

Preparing for Easter lo, these past few weeks, I have had conversations with Ethan and  Julia, about hymn selections.  We agreed that almost all the Easter hymns in our hymnal reflect the idea of victory.  These are loud and celebratory hymns—some of them even have a marching meter.  In one of the previous churches I served, every year, we actually hired a drummer among other musicians to accompany us in song on this special day. The drummer always brought with him two big kettle drums. Can you imagine trying to fit two kettle drums through our doors? 

Every year, the drummer would start out with some low rumbles, but by the end of our service he was applying great force to the drum heads.  It was like the sky was opening up—as it may have, when Christ appeared back from the dead.

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Reasons to Hope; Matthew 21:1-11; Delivered on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

I have a Frank Sinatra CD and I’ve been listening to the Cole Porter song recorded on that album, I’ve got you under my Skin. Do you know that one?  I’ve been listening to it over and over again. Or you might say that I’ve been listening to it Night and Day.  Which in fact is another Cole Porter Tune that I have been listening to, also on the Frank Sinatra CD.   What great songs, right?   And maybe you don’t know this, I didn’t until recently, Cole Porter is one of the few musical show tune composers of that era—we’re talking 50’s and 60’s,  who wrote without collaboration.  In other words he wrote both the tunes and the lyrics--unlike Lerner and Loewes, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.  So, he was both the lyricist and musical composer for the movie High Society—starring Grace Kelley, Bing Crosby and you got it, Frank Sinatra.

 I’m thinking that Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra must have been great friends.  

This week, immersed as I’ve been in old songs, after I read through the Psalm Sunday reading, I started humming to myself, no, not Hosanna Loud Hosanna, which you’ve got to admit is a great hymn and sadly one we only get to sing once a year, if that.  No, I didn’t hum Hosanna, Loud Hosanna.  I started humminganother oldie but goodie—Smile.  You know the words:  Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking, and then later, hide every trace of sadness, although a tear may be ever so near.  I got so caught up in the song, in fact, that I actually google- searched it to find out more about it. You know who wrote the tune?  The comic actor, Charlie Chaplin—isn’t that something? 

Two people collaborated to write the lyrics for Smile—John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.  Maybe like me you are able to guess the first person to record the song.  Nat King Cole.  He did that in 1954.

 Lots of other famous singers have recorded Smile—Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson and Judy Garland.  Two of those singers, Judy Garland and Michael Jackson, as we know, led very unhappy lives, and their lives ended tragically.  Choosing that song to record might have been an act of self-revelation because of course, it’s not really a happy song—it’s a sad song.  Someone’s heart is breaking—Still, the overall message is, keep smiling and eventually you’ll have a reason to smile.  So I guess you would say that it’s a song about hope. “Smile, and maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”  Maybe that’s what Judy Garland and Michael Jackson were yearning for--hope.      

Anyway, I think what made me think of  the song Smile in relation to our text today is that I imagine that Jesus was smiling broadly as he entered Jerusalem astride a donkey—isn’t that the way you imagine him, too?   We don’t often see pictures of a smiling Jesus, but since he was human, he probably laughed, frowned, and smiled, too.  Smiling is contagious. With so many joyful people surrounding him on the road on his way to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday--people singing and dancing and waving palm branches Jesus got caught up in their happiness.   If his donkey were travelling slowly enough, and donkeys are slow creatures after all, Jeus may have shook peoples’ hands and patted children on their heads as his donkey lumbered past.  Jesus was maybe smiling so much and so broadly that his face actually hurt.

But of course, Jesus probably wasn’t smiling on the inside.

Up until this point in his ministry, Jesus had been doing most of his teaching in provincial areas. He knew that although he was very popular with the masses, his ministry threatened the Romans and the high priests at the temple.  For that reason he kept under the radar screen of his opponents.  He kept away from big cities preferring to teach, preach and heal in small, out of the way villages and towns.  He wanted his healings to be kept secret.   How often did he tell people he healed: “Shh.  Don’t say anything to anyone.”

Jerusalem was dangerous territory for Jesus and yet coming into Jerusalem was something Jesus felt compelled to do.   He was going to try to win over the Jewish temple officials and the Roman elite. Maybe he hoped that the masses would help convince the elite few that Jesus was in fact, a man sent from God.   And that’s the key word isn’t it?  Jesus hoped.  Jesus was a man of hope. He came into Jerusalem smiling on the outside, crying on the inside hoping that the sun would eventually come shining through and on his Jesus movement.           

 Did you ever consider what makes for a hopeful person?  Why do some people always look for the silver lining when most of us would be crying into our soup? You see somehorrible devastation on the news—a couple’s house has been destroyed in a tornado—they have nothing left at all; They’re standing on what used to be their front lawn—now it’s littered with car parts, wet pillows and a mattress, and they say to a reporter “Well, we’ve lost a lot but God will get us through this.”  I mean really, did they feel that they had to say that for the camera, or is that what they were really thinking and feeling? 

 If they were speaking honestly, then we have to count them as extremely hopeful people.  Is hopefulness an unconscious thing—maybe something some lucky few are born with-- or do people have to be taught to be that way?  I can’t answer that.  But I do know that as people of faith we are called to have hope.

 Martin Seligman is a psychologist who has studied hope.  He says that hopeful people have two common traits.  One, hopeful people believe that the cause or causes for the pain and anxiety in their lives are temporary.  The reverse is also true—people who are hopeless give up easily or don’t try at all because they believe the cause or causes for the pain and anxiety in their lives are permanent.

So for example--  a hopeless person will say, “Diets never work.” 

A hopeful person will say, “I didn’t lose weight this week because I ate too many carbs and sugary desserts. Next week I’ll do better.”

A hopeless will say, “It always rains when I plan to do some gardening.”

A hopeful will say, “It’s raining today.  Guess I’ll have to work on my garden tomorrow.”

 Hopeless people use words like always and never. Think about that next time you find yourself using one of those words in a sentence.  

Jesus held on to a fantastical hope that his world was temporary.  He had a vision of God’s kingdom—a time when everyone would get along, and everyone would look out for one another—we would all be brothers and sisters. Never and always were not part of his vocabulary. 

Hope in the Kingdom of God really is the biggest hope any of us could ever hope, don’t you think?  It’s something that has never yet happened.  And yet Jesus held onto that and we, who are Christians are still holding onto that.  The present circumstances of dog eat dog, of greed writ large, of war and vicious politics will one day be gone, vanished, wiped off the face of this earth. There will come a time when God’s kingdom will be a reality on this Earth. 

So again, Psychologist Seligman says that 1) people who are hopeful believe that their negative circumstance is temporary.  But there’s something else about hopeful people.  2)  Hopeful people believe that their negative circumstance is limited.  It is restricted to one area of their lives.  On the other hand, people who feel hopeless let the negative permeate every facet of their lives.  

So, say for instance, a man loses his job, maybe because he couldn’t get along with his boss.  A man who is hopeful will say, “I am so glad to be out from under that boss.  He was a real so-and-so.  I’ll get started working on my resume right away.  And, maybe I’ll contact my friends and let them know that I am job-hunting.  They may be able to help.” 

BUT a man who feels hopeless, will assume that the reason for the job loss is that he is a failure at life.; He will immediately assume that he will never find another job;  that all his friends will think he is lazy or stupid.   That his wife will stop loving him.  That he is doomed to a life of poverty.  Yes, he might as well pack his bags, sell his house, or move out of his apartment, and leave town immediately.  This person just bleeds all over the place.   

Jesus would not let the rejection of a few, color his entire ministry.  He saw hope in the pockets of the kingdom already starting to take a foothold.  People were being kind to one another—sharing the little they had with each other—like bread and dried fish.  They were looking out for each other in small ways.  And of course, They were spreading Jesus’ word.  That, too gave him reason to hope.    

There’s a third characteristic of people of hope, though,  that psychologist Seligman neglects to mention.   Not only do hopeful people believe that their negative circumstance is temporary and that it’s limited.  They also have faith.  We who are Christianhave faith that God is good, compassionate and merciful.  We have faith that God is able to turn anything around.  ANYTHING.  Jesus knew that as he rode into Jerusalem.  And because of Easter, we know that, too, don’t we? 

   As someone has said, when you say a situation is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God. We who are Christians know better than to slam the door in God’s face.  

Jesus rode into Jerusalem.  He was smiling on the outside but crying on the inside, yet he had hope.  And so do we.  And that is the rea


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Death by Despair, Ezekiel 37:1-14; Delivered April 2, 2017

In previous sermons I have mentioned how God calls us to have compassion for those who are less fortunate—those who are not treated fairly in our country —our country—a still mostly Christian country-- a Christian country whose citizens recognize, as did Jesus, that all people are CREATED equal even if they are not necessarily treated equal-ly.   

In case you weren’t listening, those unfairly treated Americans who I have mentioned previously and even devoted whole sermons to—in some cases--  are:

1)     African Americans 2)    Women 3:  Muslims  4) Undocumented immigrants and refugees

I’m not backing down.  These ARE among “the least of these” in our country.  But now I have one more discriminated, under-privileged group to add to our compassion list: 

—middle aged, middle class, high school educated whites.

I want to focus on that group today.  I want to do that because this past week I was struck by an article originally published in the Washington Post and reprinted in the Daily Progress.   That article is titled, “Death by Despair.”  The article laid out some facts that were SO upsetting that I could not get them out of my head and could not get them out of my head.    

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John 9:1-41; Delivered March 26, 2017; Hope, with a Capital H

Years ago, my family owned a dear, indoor/outdoor cat.  His name was Sammy. Before he became ours he just kept coming by the house and coming by the house—and then at some point my three girls actually let him inside.  From there, it was a natural—he entered our hearts, too. So again, Sammy was indoor/outdoor cat. 

One summer we were preparing to go on vacation, just a few days at the beach.  Sammy was not a good traveler.   We decided that Sammy would be happier staying home, and he would also be happier staying outside than inside.  I arranged with a neighbor teen, then, to feed and water Sammy while we were away.  I would leave Sammy’s water and food bowls out on the front stoop.  She could fill the water bowl at the outdoor spigot.  I would leave a container of dried cat food beside the front stoop behind some bushes.  That container was made of heavy plastic and it had a screw top.   

The night before our family was due to leave, I set out Sammy’s bowls, and the container of cat food, and then I went about loading the car.

I was heading out the front door of the house, my arms full of I don’t know, maybe board games and jigsaw puzzles, when I saw through the screen door an amazing sight!  A family of five raccoons, was sitting on our front stoop. The raccoons were sitting on their haunches, so in an upright position. Dried cat food was scattered all around and on the stoop next to them, was the now-open container of cat food.  With their little raccoon hands, they were picking up those dry morsels, and putting those morsels into their mouths! They looked like toddlers, eating finger food at a birthday party. I let out a whoop, their masked faces turned my way, then they slowly lumbered off, across the front lawn, and shimmied into a sewer opening further down the street.   

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John 4:5-42; The First Evangelist; Delivered March 19, 2017

If you’ve ever bought an oriental rug, you know that you don’t just look at it once on the showroom floor before you say, “I’ll take it.”  Any good oriental rug salesman will advise you not to be so hasty.  He will want you to look at the rug in different lights.  In fact, if he’s worth his salt, he’ll actually take the rug outside, so that you can look at it in the sunlight.  He may ask you to walk around it too—to see the fibers from different angles.  You just may find that what appears green under the florescent lights of the showroom, is aqua blue under a noonday sun, or turquoise as the sun glides slowly toward the western horizon.   

The same thing goes for stories passed down to us in scripture.  Their meanings change according to the intellectual, historical, and scientific light we shed on them.  Looked at in the light of the 2nd century, a text may say one thing, but in the 21st century, something else entirely.  That’s the way it should be, actually.  That is precisely why we call the Bible a living document.  It is not static. It is fair and right to bring contemporary questions to our Bible reading; and it is fair and right to bring new discoveries to our Bible reading.  “What does a certain text have to say about recent politics, or environmental issues?” for example Or, given that we now know the universe was not created in six days—how might we re-interpret Genesis?  Finally, it is always important to ask the text, “ How does what is written in the Bible intersect with my life, living as I do in  21st century Scottsville,  or Buckingham?       

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Genesis 12:1-4; Social Justice; Delivered March 12, 2017

Several weeks back, on the news, you may remember, we were reading and hearing about the government’s deportation threat of undocumented people from south of the border. It’s still in the news actually, but more so then, than now.  Now, I don’t have to tell you, the hot news topic is the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act. 

 So, again, several weeks back, I had decided to attend a free, half-day seminar titled, “Preaching during the Season of Lent,” a riveting topic—still don’t know why the Presbytery didn’t sell tickets—the Presbytery could have made a lot of money!  Anyway, preaching is my thing.  For that reason, I eagerly made the hour and a half drive from Charlottesville to Richmond.  In the car ALL I listened to was news reports about our government’s threat of deporting thousands of undocumented people living in the US.  

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Matthew 4:1-11; Power! Delivered March 5, 2017

Ok.  I am about to read to you something that appeared in the Daily Progress this week.  I am going to substitute the word “blank,” though, for the name of the person being written about. See if you can guess who it is:  

The title of the piece is “Blank, in other words, the person’s name.  And then a subheading for the piece, is this:   

On the national stage, Blank hedges bets on his political future. 

Ok.  Here’s the first part of the article proper: 

His young aides could hardly keep up as Blank strode through the US Capitol. 

“Anybody from Virginia?”  he boomed at a startled group of tourists.

“Barney Frank!” he greeted a familiar bearded figure.  I haven’t seen you in ages!”

He shook hands with a tour guide, told a Belgian family to “Spend every dime you’ve got in my state” and buttonholed Senator Roy Blunt, Republican from Montana to whisper about a bill.

“Appreciate it buddy,” Blank said as he broke away.  “See?  A good Republican senator.  I get along with everybody.”

In the hallowed heart of American politics, Blank managed to stand out as an alpha politician.  He could out-sound-bite, out-glad hand and simply outlast almost all the big-league professionals around him.”

And I’ll end my reading here.  If you want to read the entire article, it was in last Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Progress. 

Want to guess who the article is about?  If you guessed Governor Terry McAuliffe, you would be right.  The reference to Virginia and a “friend to Republicans” were clues.   It could also have been about Virginia Senators Mark Warner or Tim Kaine, though.  And if I had blanked out Virginia, and the line about Republicans, it could have been about almost any MAN in politics (lots of male pronouns), although admittedly about some more than others.  The trappings of power look pretty much the same whoever is wielding it in today’s legislative halls and state government offices.  The devil of course, is in the details. 

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Transcendence; Matthew 17:1-9; Delivered February 26, 2017

I want to introduce you to someone who has been coming to Scottsville Presbyterian’s worship services for quite a while now—in fact for as long as I have been preaching here.  His name is Sam Skeptic.  Sam is sitting in the back row, behind the La Fontaines and next to Bobby and Linda—You’ve probably never noticed him, but believe me when I tell you I always notice him.  Usually he’s got his arms crossed in front of him.  He often wears a smug gotcha grin.  Every Sunday I do my darndest to convince Sam that the text I am preaching on has some words of wisdom for us all.  Some Sundays I do an ok job, and Sam slinks off after the benediction—Other Sundays, though, while we are enjoying our fellowship time, he is moving among you whispering in your ears, “You don’t really buy that, do you?”  Given the strangeness, the weirdness of today’s text, Sam Skeptic is sure he is going to be entertained—he’s actually brought a box of popcorn and a soft drink with him. He’s ready to sit back and enjoy me squirm, dance, and maybe even stand on my head, as I try to make sense of this text from Matthew.

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Living together in Community; Matthew 5:38-48; Delivered February 19, 2017

About five years ago, I was at my bank branch, at the teller window, depositing some checks.  On this particular visit, the nice teller asked me if I was in the market for a credit card. The bank was offering a new one.  The points I would earn on this credit card would go toward paying down my mortgage.  “What a deal,” I thought to myself.   

That’s how I came to be sitting across a desk from another employee at that bank branch.  He looked to be in his mid-to-late 20’s, nicely groomed and wearing the requisite banker’s suit and tie.  I told him I was in the market for that particular credit card. Now, in a normal banker/customer exchange you get a few minutes of friendly banter, right? about the weather maybe, or traffic. “Boy, what a back-up this morning!”  In fact, though, as soon as we introduced ourselves, his name was Zach, his eyes became fixed on his computer screen.  Our conversation went something like this:   Zach said: Full name.  I gave him that;  Address: I gave him that, too:  Phone number:  and so on and so forth.  As I gave him the information, he in-putted it on his computer.

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Being Spiritual; Matthew 5:1-11: Delivered January 29, 2017

At Scottsville’s Chamber of Commerce dinner this week, whether by design or by luck, I sat next to Bruce Lugn, pastor at the Methodist Church.  I say by design, because it very well could be that it was the consensus among those already at their tables:  “Let’s let those boring clergy types sit together!”  But I say luck because it could just be that I came late and Bruce’s wife Alessandra was home sick with a cold—so there we go. At any rate, I sat next to Bruce Lugn, and we had a great time talking religion.    

In fact, Bruce and I always have a lot to talk about.  We attended the same seminary, so we enjoyed some of the same classes, the same professors.  I guess you could say that we speak the same Christian lingo.  

Bruce has finished his Masters in Divinity, of course.  He did that a few years ago—he’s a midlife-pastor. He has the education “bug,” now, though, so he’s still in school.  This year he’s taking a course in spiritual formation.  I did that, too, actually, many moons ago as part of my doctoral program.   And so spiritual formation was the primary thread of our conversation the other evening. Riveting.  Don’t you regret, now, that you weren’t at our table?  That conversation brought back memories and I thought I would share some of those with you today.  

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Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr; Matt. 4: 18-22; :Delivered on January 22, 2017

just say that Martin Luther King, Jr, was not Jesus. We know that.  Most of the time, anyway, we know that, right?  I will say though that MLK is really high on my list of people I admire. Maybe yours, too. ON MY list, at the very top, is Jesus, and I’m not just saying that because I am a pastor and I have to say that.  He really IS at the very top.  After Jesus, in no particular order, there’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Paul Farmer, who is still alive and is a doctor whose mission it is to end cholera and other epidemics in poor countries, including Haiti. Mohammed Yunis, who came up with the idea and now offers micro loans to poor people (mainly in India) so they can work their way out of poverty; and Mother Theresa, maybe.  I say maybe in regard to Mother Theresa because I really don’t know that much about her, although I am pretty certain she had her priorities right; and for certain my own works of compassion pale in comparison to hers.   It’s just that I have never read an entire book about her, like I have about the other five (five, that’s including Jesus).   She is a woman, though, and I think it is good for my list to have some diversity.  So there you go. Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Paul Farmer, Mohammed Yunis, and maybe, probably, Mother Theresa.       

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Church Leadership; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Delivered January 15, 2017

You, Larry and Duane, have already been ordained, as you know but maybe some of the rest of us don’t!   Today, you will be taking up the ordination mantle-- again.  You will be moving from inactive elder, or the way some people refer to it--unruly elder, to ruling elder status. You will once again become a leader in this wonderful church.  You ready to clean up your act?   

You are following in a long line of church leaders.  According to scripture, the first church leaders to be ordained were in the church in Jerusalem.  We get the why and how in Acts 6.  The Apostles who were leaders in the Jerusalem church, Peter, James and the rest, were spending their time reading and writing, praying and thinking great thoughts. All to say that the church in Jerusalem, was going to heck.  There was no one doing the administration end of things-- required to keep the church running;  Most distressing of all, the poor and the widows were being neglected. 


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Luke 1:32-56; The Perfect Mother; Delivered December 18, 2016

Where would you go to find this perfect mother?  Would you go to an abbey, if in fact abbeys still exist, and I guess they do—looking for that special someone who has dedicated her life to God and is living as a virgin?  Or, would you go to a rally, say, for women’s rights, to find a strong woman who speaks and acts her mind?  Would you go to a local high school, to find a naive, meek kind of girl—a wallflower? or would you check out Harvard and Yale, hoping to find an attractive, popular young woman who exudes smarts.  Would you go to a nursing home say, to find a young, gentle soul, who never finished high school, and is spending her days caring for sick, elderly people?  Or, would you roam hospital corridors looking for that special someone who has had the grit to make it through med school and is now dedicating her life to saving lives?  Would you choose a poor Mexicana, who is in this country illegally, or, would you choose the female attorney who is representing her in court, and whose passion it is to defend the poor and the outcast?  Be honest.  

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Isaiah 35:1-10; Standing Rock; Delivered December 11, 2016

Last Saturday night--That’s when I got a phone call from my eldest daughter. She is married and lives in Nashville.  She told me that her husband Adam was on his way to North Dakota—to be part of the protest at Standing Rock.  I have got to tell you I was not happy.  I tried my best to practice good pastoral care, though.  Out of my mouth came, “Well gee, Emily, I will certainly pray for him, and we will pray for him at church, too.” You will recall, if you were here last week, we did that.  Good to my word. 

That’s what I SAID, but I was thinking, “Emily, Adam is pushing forty for heaven’s sake, and he is going to North Dakota to live in a teepee?  Don’t you think it’s time for him to become a responsible adult?”  

In Adam’s defense, I should say that he is an idealist. And that is both a virtue and a vice.  A blessing and a burden.   I have just recently learned that social activists fall into three categories:  radicals, realists and idealists:  Radicals see inherent structural problems that need remedying if a particular change is to occur—so really they want everything to change.  They can be a little out there, if you know what I mean; realists on the other hand, are seeking reform but they don’t want to upset the status quo.  That’s most people, probably.  And idealists?  These concerned and sympathetic people are often more motivated by the heart than by the head; as I suppose Adam is. That is why he spent a small fortune buying warm winter gear, a plane ticket and renting a car, to travel to what amounts to a barren wasteland, to again, live in a teepee.   

Isaiah 35:1-10

The church I served in Northern Virginia, had a large staff.  So we had a staff meeting every Wednesday afternoon to try to beat back the confusion that was normative!  At one meeting, one of us, a Parish Associate, was due to preach that coming Sunday.  Wednesday is late in my book to be in the beginning stages of writing a sermon, but that’s where he was in his sermon writing process, poor soul!  With his head in his hands, he moaned, “What do I preach on? What would YOU want to hear about?“ I was just getting my feet wet in ministry myself, so I took to heart our head pastor’s response.  He said, “Well, I wouldn’t ask US. What do we know?   I would just preach what’s on your heart and what you hear God telling you to preach on.” 

And that is why today I am going to preach about Standing Rock, which, I realize, you might not have been following; and which I wasn’t either, really, until Saturday night.

Saturday night--That’s when I got a phone call from my eldest daughter. She is married and lives in Nashville.  She told me that her husband Adam was on his way to North Dakota—to be part of the protest at Standing Rock.  I have got to tell you I was not happy.  I tried my best to practice good pastoral care, though.  Out of my mouth came, “Well gee, Emily, I will certainly pray for him, and we will pray for him at church, too.” You will recall, if you were here last week, we did that.  Good to my word. 

That’s what I SAID, but I was thinking, “Emily, Adam is pushing forty for heaven’s sake, and he is going to North Dakota to live in a teepee?  Don’t you think it’s time for him to become a responsible adult?”  

In Adam’s defense, I should say that he is an idealist. And that is both a virtue and a vice.  A blessing and a burden.   I have just recently learned that social activists fall into three categories:  radicals, realists and idealists:  Radicals see inherent structural problems that need remedying if a particular change is to occur—so really they want everything to change.  They can be a little out there, if you know what I mean; realists on the other hand, are seeking reform but they don’t want to upset the status quo.  That’s most people, probably.  And idealists?  These concerned and sympathetic people are often more motivated by the heart than by the head; as I suppose Adam is. That is why he spent a small fortune buying warm winter gear, a plane ticket and renting a car, to travel to what amounts to a barren wasteland, to again, live in a teepee.   

You know the movie, Bruce Almighty—Bruce is played by Jim Carrey.  He is driving along in is car, complaining out loud to God about his miserable life and asking for a signal.  He passes under a flashing sign that reads, “Caution Ahead.”  Then Bruce says to God, “Just give me a sign,” and Bruce comes this close to crashing into a truck filled with what?   Road Signs!

This week, I feel like anyway, I have been on the receiving end of God’s signals and signs—either that, or the universe has conspired to change my attitude, and opinions about—well, about Adam, the plight of the Native Americans and a lot else.  So just to give you a brief rundown of the first part of my week:

I had been invited to speak at a meeting of the Charlottesville Peace and Justice Center last Sunday afternoon.  That’s what I did after worship here.  During the meeting, the president of the Center, announced his plans to go to Standing Rock. I filed that away in my brain. Hum.    

Then, Sunday evening, as I often do, I read through the lectionary passages for today, hoping to get a start on my sermon.  I was struck by what I read in Isaiah.   It has everything to do with the current situation in North Dakota, or so it seemed to me—I mean really.  Just change out desert for prairie.  The colorful, blossoming landscape—for the colorful clothes of the Native American Indians—and the blossoming tents that now dot the landscape. In scripture, we read about a highway. There is indeed a highway at Standing Rock, one lone highway blockaded by protestors, who call themselves water protectors.  I had seen that in a newspaper picture of the standoff at Standing Rock.  Scripture says, “Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees,.” Those Native Americans probably have felt perpetually weak and feeble politically, but all of a sudden they have experienced strength; power—due to lots of press, the social media, and the surge of people who have traveled to Standing Rock to protest with them.

Finally, as I had already read and also in keeping with scripture, the protestors have made their will known non-violently—that is--no lion or ravenous beast at Standing Rock.  The 2200 or so veterans who joined the cause have vowed not to use weapons, either. I had read that in the paper, too. So for me anyway, obvious parallels—Isaiah and the issue at hand. 

Monday morning, a friend mentioned to me that the Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian, Tracy Wisperley, had gone to join the protest. Monday afternoon my Christian Century magazine arrived.  On page 13?  An article on Standing Rock.

Tuesday, I sat down at my computer to start writing a first draft of this sermon, which I had decided would have to be about the protest in North Dakota.   I was just getting started when I received an e-mail from the Presbyterian Church USA, announcing its support for the American Indians at….Standing Rock!


God STILL wasn’t finished though. Tuesday afternoon, I officiated at a wedding.   Small crowd—just the bride and groom and their respective parents.  The groom’s parents, as you might expect, were from North Dakota!  In college, the groom’s mother minored in Native American history, AND she and her husband, good Christians, do occasional mission work at a nearby North Dakota reservation!  Of course, they were following the Standing Rock protest closely and hoping the dispute would be resolved in Standing Rock’s favor.

So the rest of this week, I did my due diligence.  This is what I now knowA petroleum pipeline was originally slated to be laid near Bismarck, North Dakota.   The company laying the pipe is Energy Transport.  Because Bismarck is a highly populated area, though, plans for the pipeline were moved to land just outside the Sioux reservation.  To be fair to Energy Transport, the land they had intended to lay pipe on is not part of the reservation—it is all privately owned and the company has permission to dig there.   Plans called for the pipeline to go under the Missouri River, though—which, the Native American Sioux tribe feared, might eventually become tainted with petroleum.  The Sioux and others in the area, some 17 million people total, depend on the Missouri River for their water needs.  The Sioux rightly noted that there has been a dramatic surge in pipe-line leaks in recent years.

Energy Transport states that lots of electrical lines and other pipelines lie under the Missouri River already, and no one complained when those were installed—at least not complained THIS loudly. So, why now?


I’m guessing, although feel free to give me your own thoughts on this, I’m guessing that this pipeline controversy was just the last straw—the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak—or in French, it’s la goutte qui fait déborder le vase  –the drop of water that made the vase overflow.  Native Americans have been pushed around, oppressed, taken advantage of, for centuries. Not this time.

 The other question I had this week is why, in particular, religious folk were getting involved? Was this merely a movement to support the oppressed?  Something that, you have to agree, Jesus calls us to do.  To get an answer to that, I called our Presbyterian Church, USA.  Presbyterian worker, Sara Lisherness is the director of Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries for our denomination. She was interviewed for the article I read in Christian Century.    

Sara said that she was one of some 500 Christian clergy who went to Standing Rock in early November, before it got so God-awful-cold (negative one degree Farenheit this morning, at Standing Rock, I checked).  They were there at the invitation of the Sioux. 

The Christian faith leaders expressed their remorse for the way religious folk have treated American Indians across the centuries.  While they were there, they officially disavowed the Doctrine of Discovery.  I had never heard of that, but it is a 15th century papal writing.  The Doctrine mandates Christian European countries to (quote) “Attack, enslave and kill the Indigenous Peoples they encounter and to acquire all of their assets.” The World Council of Churches officially rejected the document in 2012.  A long time in coming, I’d say.

Sara and those other 499 Christian religious leaders at the camp read the World Council of Church’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery during a religious service.  Then they ceremonially burned copies of it—but not in the sacred fire, a fire that burns continuously at the entrance to the camp—tribal leaders did not want to taint that blaze—they burned copies of the doctrine in a separate fire built just for that purpose. 

Two more things I wanted to know from Sara when I called this week.   What KIND OF folks were visitors at the camp?  Religious folk we know about, but who else?  For sure, she said there were people who had come, “just looking for a cause.” Think Radicals.  Others though, were from far away—like Bolivia.  Sara said, “Indigenous people from other countries identify with the Sioux’ cause—as do Palestinians—lots of Palestinians in the camp.” And there were people like Adam, there to act their conscience. 

She finished by saying, “Yes, there were young people in the camp, but actually lots of old people, too;” Don’t know what constitutes as “old,” but it’s a surprising comment nevertheless, when you consider the not-so-comfortable living arrangements:  biting weather, hard sleeping pallets.

So there you have it.  I’ve done what I believe God has called me to do.  Share this information with you.  I have also shared what has been heavy on my heart. 







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Baptized by the Holy Spirit and Fire, Matthew 3:1-12, delivered December 4, 2016

The church I served in Northern Virginia was part of the upscale community, of McLean.   Lots of lawyers, and a host of government contractors and officials in that town, and in the church, likewise.  Can you imagine getting anything done at a church with that kind of membership?  The head pastor used to shake his head and complain on almost a daily basis, “All chiefs, no Indians.”  

            Several of our members, worked for the State Department.  They would be with us for a few years and then go off on assignment.  Often their spouses were from other countries. One State Department official, Larry, was married to a woman who was originally from Japan. She didn’t attend our church since she was a practicing Buddhist.

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We Come to the Mountain; Isaiah 2:1-5; Delivered November 27th, 2016

I thought that today, we might talk about mountains, since a mountain, Mount Zion, is featured in our Old Testament text for today. 

Have you ever noticed just how often mountains are mentioned in the Old Testament? 

There is Mount Ararat: resting place of Noah’s ark;

Mount Carmel: scene of Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal; 

Mount Ebal: site of Joshua’s altar to God

Mount Gerizim: site of blessing; and later claimed by the Samaritans as their holy mountain

Mount Gilboa place of Saul’s suicide; 

Mount Hor: place of Aaron’s death;

Mount Moriah: where Abraham took Isaac, to offer him as a sacrifice

Mount Sinai: where God gives Moses the law—

Mount Nebo: place of Moses’ death; 

Mount Zion, really a hill, but called a mountain—where the city of Jerusalem is located, and which is central to our reading today, and

Mount Rainer—Just making sure you are still awake  

These mountains, minus Mount Rainer are just a few among many mountains and high places mentioned in the Old Testament. 

Now while we are still deep into Hebrew scripture, I want to teach you two Hebrew words that mean Mountain—one is Tur—This is just a ’guess but I am thinking that our word Tower comes from the Hebrew word Tur.  The other Hebrew word for Mountain is Har.  You know Armeggedon, something that some of us are fearful of, with this change in the political landscape?  Armeggeon, comes from the Hebrew.  Har (mount) -Megiddo. Mount Megiddo is a place North of Judah, where an important battle took place. Har Megiddo.  

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