Living in the World; Romans 12:1-8; Delivered August 27, 2017

We’ve known each other long enough now—2 ½ years.  In that time, you have probably picked up on the fact that I have three grown daughters.  During my time here, I have not bored you with tales of my daughters’ beauty, and well, their brilliance.  I have not listed for you their astounding number of accomplishments.  Yes, I have tried not to brag, which is difficult to do, as you know if you are a parent or a grandparent. 

Well, today I am going to tell you a story that puts my oldest daughter in a good light—which I hope you won’t regard as bragging, but probably is.   

Emily is in her mid-thirties now.  She lives in Nashville with her husband, Adam.  When Emily was in her first few weeks of high school, so a LONG time ago, she told me that she was going with her friend, Felippa,  to her high school’s cross-country-track tryouts.  Now, Emily herself was not a sports enthusiast.  As a young person she had participated in Girl Scouts and Jr. High orchestra, but not sports.  Feilppa, though, was into sports and she wanted to try out for track. So Emily went, with her.  Her purpose: to cheer Felippa on from the sidelines.    

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Loving the Enemy; Matthew 5:23-27; Delivered August 20, 2017

We, all of us, I suspect, know about the witness of Heather Heyer, her death, on Saturday and her subsequent memorial service on Wednesday.  You really couldn’t get away from it, even if you tried. 

Heather’s story has reminded me of that of another young woman. I thought I would start today’s sermon by telling you about this second young woman. 

Her name was Amy Biehl.  Amy was born in April, 1967.  She was raised in a white, affluent, Roman Catholic family in Newport Beach, California.  As a young woman she was attractive---thin, but not skinny, with long blond hair and an almost ear-to-ear broad smile—you know like she is eating a banana sidewise—at least that is what I gathered from the pictures of her on the internet.  Amy was bright, too.  She graduated from Stanford University.  In 1992, she received a Fulbright Scholarship to continue her studies at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa. 

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Fear; Matthew 14:22-28; Delivered on August 13, 2017

OK.  Here is what we need to learn from today’s text:    Jesus often calls us to go into uncharted waters, but when we go in faithfulness, he will not abandon us.  Take heart, then.  You got that? Keep your eyes on Jesus and do not be afraid.

Now I have done my pastoral duty. I have told you what I am supposed to tell you according to the commentaries I read this week. 

But that’s not the whole story—or at least I don’t think it is the whole story. Let me tell you what I know to be true.  Dealing with fear is complicated.  Overcoming fear is not as easy as having faith, and being fearful in certain situations—say an upcoming surgery, or the president’s threat of using force against North Korea, or almost drowning as was the case with Peter--those kinds of fears are totally natural and not a sign of faithlessness. Got it?  You are not deficient in your faith if you are fearful in situations like that, no matter what the commentators say.

I want to share with you here, an example of what I am talking about. 

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Ephesians 6:10-17; How do we Respond to Violence? Delivered August 6, 2017

Last week if you were at Chestnut Grove, you know that I preached on the Stonewall Jackson and the Robert E. Lee statues controversy, taking place right now in Charlottesville.   In preparation for that service, I did my share of re-reading some of the works of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Today I want to start off by sharing with you something about my relationship with that man.  I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, as you probably know by now.   I was a child during most of the Civil Rights movement.  It was for me, like a distant, rumbling thunder cloud—that movement. a backdrop to a privileged, joyful childhood.  During my growing up years, I was mostly blind to the ugliness of segregation.

Even though segregation did not really impact my early years, though, I do have random memories surrounding the political turmoil of that time. Amazing the impressions and conversations we remember from long ago—they are like friendly post-it notes stuck to our brains, written by a younger me, accessed by a now older me.

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Statues! Romans 12:1-2, Delivered July 30, 2017 at Chestnut Grove in Esmont

This is such an opportunity for all of us.  Don’t you feel a sense of righteousness, just by walking through church doors when we worship together—Black and White people, united in Christ? We are doing what Jesus calls us to do—to grow in wisdom and to learn to love each other better.  We do that, by praying and singing together, and catching up on each others lives.  

Sharing our personal stories is the main way we come to love each other better. We can’t love each other, if we don’t know each other and we can’t know each other unless we know something about each others’ lives—what has made us who we are. 

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Why Do we Know Right from Wrong, Matthew 13:1-9; Delivered July 16, 2017

Last Saturday, sitting at my dining room table, eating breakfast, I skimmed the Daily Progress.   I do that every morning, so nothing new here. One of the articles I skimmed though, was by the Christian writer Tom Allen.  It was titled, “Why do we know right from wrong?”  It’s a good question.  “Why do we know right from wrong?”

Mr. Allen tells of an e-mail he received from someone in another country.  The e-mailer says she is living in a refugee camp.  Her father, who evidently did not live in the camp, has died.  Her father left her money, but because she cannot leave the camp, she needs help retrieving it. He, Tom Allen, is just the person to provide her with financial help!  If he will loan her money this one time, she will repay his kindness many times over with the inheritance money she receives.  Right.

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Sanctification; Romans 6:15-23; Delivered July 2, 2017

Several years ago, a friend and member of the church I used to serve in McLean, telephoned me. She had good news!  Her daughter was getting married.  Yes, Blair was engaged to a fine man named Chad.  The wedding was going to be at Veritas Vineyard—just outside of Charlottesville.   Could I officiate?   Of course I could—I would be delighted!   During the course of our conversation, my friend said, “You know it’s so funny.  Several times now I have referred to them as Chair and Blad.”  As in, Chair and Blad have finally set the date! We laughed. Chair and Blad.

I made a mental note right then and I returned to that mental note, as I crafted the wedding service—“DO NOT say Chair and Blad; Do not say Chair and Blad.”  And of course, the day of the wedding.  What did it say? “We come here to celebrate the marriage of Chair and Blad.”  AGH!

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Reinhold Niebuhr; Romans 7:14-25; Delivered June 25, 2017

You need to give me an A+ for being your preacher.  That is because I have taken on the ominous task of studying some of Reinhold Niebuhr’s works— so that I can share some of his thoughts with you.  Believe me, that deserves an A+ or maybe a special plaque on a wall here in the church?     

Now, I know I should have studied Reinhold Niebuhr back in seminary. He is regarded as THE greatest Christian ethicist of the 20th century.  Among the many religious and political thinkers who have been shaped by his writings are Martin Luther King, Jr and my favorite theologian, Walter Wink; also people who live and move and have their being in the political realm: Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, James Comey, Madeleine Albright, John McCain, David Brooks (he’s a political commentator) and many folks who worked in both the Regan and Bush administrations. He has been referred to as a public theologian.  In his day he preached before great crowds of Americans—of all religious persuasions and even of no religion persuasion. 

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Salvation: Romans 5:1-8; Delivered June 18, 2017

John was born in 1725—in England.  His mother died when he was seven.  She had been a strong woman, spiritually.  Taught him how to pray, even saw that John memorized some scripture.  But then she died.  That left John’s dad, John Senior—in a quandary.  What should he do? He had a thriving business—in the shipping industry—but it required that he travel— a lot.   No time or inclination to look after a little boy.  John Sr. did what he thought best.  He sent John, Jr. to boarding school.   

Only for a couple of years, though.  John Sr. remarried and retrieved his son. John Jr.,  his dad and the new wife lived together under one roof. Then John Sr. and his wife had a baby boy. 

Now up to this point, John’s life seems pretty heart-wrenching, right?  Small boy having to wrestle with the grief of losing a mother, coupled with feelings of abandonment in boarding school.  Probably he competed for his dad’s affections with wife number two and then his half brother. But John’s life was about to take a turn for the better. John Senior got it into his head that John Jr. should accompany him on his sea travels.

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Sermon Writing; Matthew 28:16-20; Delivered June 11, 2017

Boy this girl is in need of some time off—which I know I just had some time off, but life is hectic with weddings and with all the stuff going on at the church.  Not much time to work on a sermon this week, And couldn’t come up with anything creative.  So,  I thought I would do a “days in the life” kind of thing, just to give you an idea about what it takes to write a sermon.   

Sunday night.   Pull out calendar.  Note that next week(which is this week) is Trinity Sunday.  Color white.  Read over the lectionary passages. Old Testament passage is from Genesis--how God first created the heavens and the earth.  It’s long—too long to read in its entirety during worship.  Also, can’t see how it relates to the trinity.   What were the lectionary composers thinking? Read the lectionary Psalms passage.  This too, has to do with creation. “What are humans that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them, yet you have made them a little lower than the gods…..Beautiful poetry and it ties in so well with the Genesis passage, but what does the creation theme have to do with the trinity?

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Living with Faith in a Secular Age; Acts 1: 1-12; Delivered June 4, 2017

Happy Pentecost!  This is the day in the Jewish calendar, that Jews celebrate the giving of the 10 commandments to Moses—50 days after the Exodus.  The Hebrew name for this day is Shavuot, which early on in Christianity was translated into the Greek as Pente (50) koste—eth-- 50th.    The fiftieth day after God’s giving of the 10 commandments.   

Approximately 2000 years ago, faithful Jews are gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot or Pentecost.  Among them are also some 120 of Jesus’ followers.  Jesus has been crucified, and there have been reports of him being back from the dead. In the early morning hours of Shavuot, these Jesus followers are together in one house, praying and communing together.  No doubt the common feeling among them is sadness at the loss of their leader, depression, anxiety but also disbelief and confusion over the Jesus sightings.   

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Is it Fate or Chance? Acts 1: 6;14; Delivered May 28, 2017

You know the poet Billy Collins?  He has said that most poets write either about love or death. I’m not sure about that, but Billy Collins has read a lot more poetry than I have, I’m sure, so he’s probably right.  A lot of literature, movies, and songs, though, if not expressly poetry, have to do with something else. It’s been my observation, that a lot of playwrights, lyricists and novelists wrestle with whether it is fate or whether it is free will that dictates our lives.  Here are some lines I pulled from various literary and musical creations this week —See if you can guess where these cultural snippets come from:     

“Fear? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as we may, from day to day.” It’s a toughy.  It’s actually from the play Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles.  Oedipus learns from an oracle that he will marry his mother and murder his father.  Against Oedipus’ best efforts he cannot avoid this horrific outcome. The quote, about chance ruling our lives, is the theme of the play.  But by the end, Oedipus must accept as true that our lives have been laid out for us. We cannot erase what has been written by the hand of fate.  Ok.  Moving on.

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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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