Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Whole Bunch of Numbers

A Whole Bunch of Numbers
Numbers 1:1-4, 17-21, Isaiah 11:1-9, Matthew 3:1-12

A heated and passionate argument occurred the last quarter of the year in the world of Major League Baseball. It was an argument between Sabermatricians and Traditionalists. Sabermatricians have a new set of statistics to evaluate the performance of players.

The debate centered around pitcher Felix Hernandez, with a record of 13-12, the fewest number of wins by a Cy Young winner. He also didn't pitch in the heat of a playoff race. But the award traditionally goes to the best pitcher.

Debates centered around numbers are always fascinating.

In our year long focus on the Story of Scripture, our last month has focused us on the Story of Israel: Exodus, Wilderness, Law & Order and then more order: the numbering of society

I want to offer three points today: You are a number. You are a number of things. You are not a number.

You are a number.
We read today of the numbering of adult males in early Hebrew society. This had several purposes...
Army development, census purposes, creating of community, marching alignment as they move toward the promised land.

  • We don't like to think of ourselves as a number. But if I were to give you a certain number, you might identify it: for example, 15 digits is your drivers licence, 16 is your credit card, 10 is your phone number and 4 is your atm code. In part, we are a number.

    You are a number of things.
    In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist shows us how diverse we are as individuals. What are some of things we are called in this passage?
    Sinner (repent)
    Recipient of a Kingdom Invitation (its near)
    Baptized in water (clothed in Christ)
    Fruit producer (in keeping with repentance)
    Not a merit based inheritance (we have abe as our father)
    Baptized by the Holy Spirit (By Christ)
    Wheat gathered into a barn (saved)

You are not just a number.
The Isaiah passage invites us to a whole new realm. In Christ, we have been invited into a new life, a new relationship, a new role in this world.

--Where New life with its fruit emerges from a lifeless stump.

--Where the Spirit of God with wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and fear of the Lord is resting.

--Where judgment occurs not only because of what we can see and hear.

--Where righteousness and justice help the needy and poor of the earth.

--where a wolf lies down with a lamb (leopard/goat, calf/lion/yearling, cow/bear, lion/ox

--and a little child shall lead them

The prophet describes wonderful images of traditionally relationships of enmity: the infant/cobra, young child/vipers nest

This vision of a coming kingdom is rooted in our readings final words. How can all of these things come to be? Because:

no harm or destruction on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

Order opens us to freedom, and the best form of freedom is spiritual freedom.

Today, if you find yourself as a number, don't be a single digit: be part of the community where the Spirit is alive.

Today, if you find yourself as a number of things, be those things for the glory of God.

Today, if you find yourself as not just a number, always remember Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and coming King.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Law and (Priestly) Order

Law & (Priestly) Order
Exodus 20:1-21, Matthew 24:36-43, Romans 13:8-14

In the Exodus story, we have the joy of salvation from slavery, the provision by God as the Israelites get on their feet, and, in today’s reading the ordering of society by God.

What is the Law?
The Law as 10 commandments
The law as 613 laws for a society

Who Kept Order?
Israel was, in its earliest wishes from God, to not have a king. God would be the King.
--the laws would be interpreted by judges
--the priests would provide order and meaning by way of ritual, sacrifice and religious observances.

Law would define and priests would provide order.

Today’s Story Brings Us Back to the Beginning of Genesis. The Garden story is so perfectly defined by Walter Brueggeman as one of
Promise, permission, prohibition

Promise: Matthew
· The Son of Man will come again to restore order and rule in a fallen world.
· That is what Advent really is all about: the anticipation of Christ’s coming
· The promise is to be remembered by followers (even when the ‘data’ doesn’t suggest an
imminent return).
· Negative illustration: if a house owner would know when a robber was to come, they would
be prepared. How much more if we know a king of Glory is to come?

God’s promises are not often expected by people of faith, but it doesn’t take away from their reality.

Permission: Romans
There are commandments, (many of which are in negative form), that are summarized by a very freeing and positive commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.

Love doesn’t harm.

Love is the fulfillment of the law.

That is a liberating permission given by God. Love your neighbor.
Wake up from your spiritual slumber.

Clothing yourself with Christ (clothing in the garden was shame-based). Here is the image of Christ being our identity, esteem, clothing ourselves in the beauty and image of the Lord.

Prohibition: Exodus
Have you ever heard the saying that ‘Religion is a bunch of thou shall not’s.’.

When I was younger, I used to defend against this. But in a sense, it is true.

But, there are prohibitions. In the garden: thou shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We did, and now we know evil, as well as good.

So “No’s” help us not know evil.
As an American, many have become foundational in our legal system.
As a Christian, they are acts that displease God, so we shouldn’t seek them.

No other gods. No idols or images for God. No taking God’s name in vain. No murder. No adultery. No stealing. No false witness. No coveting.

The thing is, to the extent that you follow these commandments, your life is probably better. So ‘yes’, the bunch of thou shall not’s are part of the story. Sorry. But when we follow Christ, we say yes to God’s promises, and our faith becomes more than just the prohibitions.

I think following Christ is more about Yes than No.
As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no’. For the Son of God Jesus Christ was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but in him it has always been ‘yes’. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘yes’ in Christ.
--II Corinthians 1:18-19

Prohibitions shape our permission. And our permission is built on the promise of God.

The Fear of God
God’s voice thundered the day the 10 commandments were spoken. The people, when they encountered God, had fear. They pleaded with Moses, don’t have God speak, or we will die.

Christians have seen the sacrifice of Jesus be the act that makes us able to be in God’s presence. The holiness of God is satisfied when we clothe ourselves with Christ. God looks at us through the lens of his son, and sees beauty. We can love God.

But let us be aware of losing fear. “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”.

After Moses teaches the people, he goes back to be with God…
“he approached the thick darkness where God was”.

That too is part of the story. Faith sometimes seems clouded, it seems confusing. It seems that God is elsewhere. That God is not approachable.

We are called to have eyes of faith. Faith honors the prohibitions. Faith captures the permission. Faith holds onto the promise.

Clothe yourself with Christ. He is our law. He is our order.


The Story of Scripture: Wilderness
Exodus 16, Colossians 1:15-20, Luke 23:32-42

Have you ever been to a sporting event where there was so much anticipation and excitement that even before the game starts, the spectators are cheering and jeering, clapping and fist pumping, going nuts…and if on broad and pattison, sometimes waving towels in the air?

Perhaps you have been to a game where the Cheers at a football game were quickly quieted

Today’s story of God providing for his people in the wilderness can be seen through the lens of preparing for a football game.

1-4 The grim reality
--45th day of desert travel (what is the longest time of travel that
you have experienced?)
--slavery: all we did was sit around pots of food and eat all we

Football analogy: sometimes the other team scores first.

4-8 the game plan
--Gather enough for one day says the Lord
--see if they can follow my instructions (the idea of test)
--honoring the Sabbath
--morning will show you God’s glory and evening will teach
you that God has rescued you from the land of Egypt.
--you will know God’s provision
--grumbling is to be taken directly to God

Football analogy: Sunday’s game happens because coaches homework

9-16 communicating the game plan
--Aaron, God’s mouthpiece, speaks to the community
--God starts to make himself known
--God lets Israel know that he heard their grumbling
--Then Israel will know the Lord is God.
--the food appears
--What is it? The people wonder.
--They take what they need.

Football analogy: coaches coach and players play.

17-18 the result
--Israel does what it is told
--Some gather much…and some little
--those who had much—not too much
--those who had little—not too little
--Each one gathered as much as they needed.

Football analogy: sometimes the coaches know what they are talking about.

19-20 the fumble
--the warning: don’t keep it until morning
--and some do not listen

Football analogy: takes the life/momentum out of team.

21-26 Driving down the field
--people adjust and do what is required
--gather each morning, twice as much for Sabbath

Football analogy: most of the time, you score because of sustained drives

27-29 another fumble
--don’t listen about Sabbath portion
--fool me once shame on you.
--God addresses the problem: How long will you refuse to
listen to my commands?

Football analogy: you might get benched if you repeat your mistakes

30-32 touchdown
--the people find rest
--the people become comfortable with God’s provision
--the people appreciate where they have arrived, and come

football analogy: the whole team celebrates when you reach the endzone.
Handing the ball back to ref or a touchdown dance, everyone is

33-34 reviewing the game
--keep some of God’s provision as a testimony to God.

Football analogy: gametape helps you take pleasure in victories and learn
from defeats.

35-36 the rest of the season
--ate this for 40 years as they traveled through the wilderness
and prepared to enter the promised land.

Football analogy: whether victorious or defeated, it is only one game. You
move on to next week’s challenge.
Christ the King Sunday:
The last week of the Church calendar. Next week is Advent, the Christian new year. The church calendar teaches followers about the life of Christ, and the final act of Christ is his reign as resurrected and ascended King.

--This Sunday is actually a recent addition to the church calendar: 1925 by Pope Pius.

--It does complete the idea of life, baptism, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, reign

--realm has started to replace reign. Stemming from a faulty misunderstanding of reign: because kings can present negative images, we shouldn’t call upon Christ as King.

Who is this King of Glory? Jesus Christ.
The image of the invisible God: the invisible God made visible.
Firstborn over all creation
Creator of all things
Before all things and all things held together in him.
Head of body, the church, firstborn from the dead
Supreme in everything
God pleased to have all his fullness in Christ
Reconciler of all things through the cross and peace by his blood.

The majority of the references to Jesus as King in the bible occur in the Passion Week narratives. Christ is seen as king not because of policy or proclamation, but by giving himself on the cross.

Looking at the Cross Story through the lens of King:
Christ led to cross by the humanity he came to save.
Taking on sin and its shame: between two criminals
Offering prayers of forgiveness for humanity
Being mocked, despite his infinite goodness
Being given earthly accolades of kingship, even if as form of mockery.
The situation troubles one of the criminals, but out of the Lord’s rule, even when dying, came salvation.
The king knows where he is going.


Wilderness is the model for this world: it is wilderness, rough and tough, beautiful and trying, lacking resources and life all around. You can’t escape it, and avoiding it moves you further from everlasting life. So you have to embrace it and plow through it on the way to the reward. The reward of surviving wilderness is promised land. For the Hebrews, this meant the land of Israel. For followers of Christ, this means the kingdom of God.

Salvation Belongs to God

The Story of Scripture: Salvation Belongs to God
Exodus 14:10-31, Luke 21:5-19, Revelation 7:7-19

Superbowls belong to the Steelers.
Cheesesteaks belong to Pat’s.
Cars belong to Ford.
Soft drinks belong to Pepsi.
Big box stores belong to Walmart.

Or is it that
Superbowls belong to the 49ers.
Cheesesteaks belong to Geno’s.
Cars belong to Chevy.
Soft drinks belong to Coca Cola.
Big Box stores belong to Target.

Make no mistake: Salvation belongs to God. And there is no second choice. There is no competition.

Story of Scripture so far: creation, prohibition ignored, family dysfunction, start over in Noah, Abraham given covenant. Isaac son of promise, Jacob and Esau more dysfunction, Joseph’s providential care, the Hebrews in Egypt, Moses’ miraculous birth.

This week: some of the things I’ve been thinking about include:
· A church directory from 1991 in which Kirk Bingamen’s pastors article talked about the sacred being attacked by the secular. But Salvation does belong to God.

· In our study of World Religions during Friday Bible Study:
Hinduism: oppression of the caste system and the karma:
But Salvation Belongs to God.

· In preparation of this sermon: Egypt acts as the oppressor and enacts slavery upon the Hebrew people. But salvation belongs to God.

· Watching television, I caught the last episode of God in America: Exodus was the inspiration for MLK, and how one time they prayed, and then walked through the cops without harm.
Salvation belongs to God.

Exodus: Salvation Belongs to God.
Exodus is the salvation event of the Hebrew Story.

The Exodus is the central part of the story of God’s saving the Hebrew people:
Promised land. Slavery. Promised Deliverence. Wilderness. Promised land.

The Exodus becomes a model of salvation we find in Christ,
Promises of God. Freedom from slavery. Salvation by Christ. Journey through wilderness, kingdom of God.

· The darkness of the dilemma: v 10-12
· The vision from Moses 13-14
· God’s command and plan 15-18 (also note: Why are you crying out to me?)
· The cloud of God’s protection 19-20
· The waters divide, the people cross and the Egyptians are overcome 21-28
· The testimony 29-31

Salvation belongs to God.

Luke: Salvation Belongs to God, not the ways of the world
The beauty and majesty of human achievement does not save. 5-6
The false promises of teachers does not save. 8-9
The skewed plans of the nations do not save 10-11
The plans of evil men will not save 12

In the midst of these things, God will save. We live in the world answering to the name of our God (12). We witness about this God to the world (13). We know this God throughout difficult seasons (14). We find wisdom from this God to navigate difficult decisions (15). Some might even give the ultimate sacrifice for this God (16). You might be hated and disregarded because of this God (17). But in this God, not a hair of your head will perish (18). And standing firm upon this God leads to everlasting life (19). Salvation belongs to God.

Revelation: Salvation Belongs to God in Christ

The diversity of the saved in their new home (9)
The song of the saved (10)
The connection to redeemed creation (11)
The song of the cosmos (12)
Remembering what we have been rescued from (13-14)
What salvation means (15-17)
· Before God’s throne
· Service day and night forever
· No more…hunger, thirst, heat
· With the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ
· Led to springs of living water
· Every tear wiped away.

Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech was originally entitled “Normalcy, never again”. This is a great description of the life we are called to live for the Lord.
Salvation belongs to God. He will see it through. It is real. It is coming. There is no competition. There is no second choice.

Called In, Called Out

The Story of Scripture: Called Out, Called In
Exodus 1-2:10, John 3:1-17

Called Out: of Egypt, of slavery

Last week, we left off with the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers. Joseph, through a series of providential circumstances, Joseph finds himself second in command to Pharaoh in the Egyptian kingdom. He brings his 11 brothers and their families to live in Egypt during a severe famine.

Over time, we read that there was not acclamation into society. The Hebrews become slaves in Egypt. Several reasons are given: Hebrews were different than Egyptians, their population grows at a rapid rate, and the perception of a possible political/war alliance against Egypt poses as threat. The result is that life is made difficult for the Hebrews.

The Scripture says that it was more than difficult. The Egyptians were ruthless in the way they treated people. Ruth is compassion for the misery of another. Ruthlessness is to be merciless and cruel.

Way back in the story: God had said: This is the land I will give you. Egypt was not that land. Canaan, which would later be named Israel, was that land. And for whatever reason, they were not in Canaan in this point in the story. They were in Egypt. And that is part of the reason life is hard. The initial move provided for Joseph and his family, but then after his death, when “one who did not know Joseph” came to power, the Hebrews became slaves.

Would they get out of Egypt? If so, how would you even begin?
The process of being called out starts with the birth of a baby…and the sovereign-laden unfolding of the details. God was in these details.

The world is a harsh place.
When threatened by growth, the pharaoh institutes an evil genocide of the baby male population. He commands the midwives to participate in his murderous ways.

At this point, it is important to think about our world. Our world can also be a harsh place for millions and millions of people. Cries against injustice go up to God. Pleas for mercy extend from one suffering person to their fellow citizens. In our country, we have so much, but there is nonetheless a different kind of harshness. Our harshness is borne, not out of poverty, but out of abundance. As people of faith, we live amidst harshness, but are called to answer it with the way of the Lord.

God’s servants are strategically planted in a harsh world.
The midwives, however feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do, they let the boys live.
This is an amazing act of faith on the part of the midwives, even to the point of risking their personal safety when they have to answer to Pharaoh. “What happened?” asks the Pharaoh, to which the midwives respond, those Hebrews deliver their babies quite quickly. What can you say to that?

When Moses is born, his mother is able to protect him and keep him under the radar for three months, but then she must make a decision that is unfathomable. But she entrusts a little baby to a big river, and asks God that the river will guide this little one to safety. Moses’ sister walks along the river as the basket flows, adding her prayers and watchful anticipation.

Pharaoh’s daughter and Miriam, Moses’ sister
The river leads this baby to the daughter of Pharaoh, she has compassion within her heart, and will see that the baby is taken care of. “This is one of the Hebrew babies” she says. She could have followed that statement by demanding that her father’s decision be honored. Instead, she looks down and sees a little girl, who kindly offers, would you like me to find someone to nurse the boy. The little girl was Moses’ sister, and conveniently enough, she knew of someone who could nurse Moses.

And so a mother, who out of desperation, casts her baby into the wild unknown to preserve his life, find that life preserved and indeed, finds her baby back in her arms, at least for a few more years.

Next week, we will focus what Moses does when he grows up. But today, if no one else, Moses’ mother and sister must have known how special he was. What is the first step toward overcoming a struggle? Hope. And the struggle of the enslavement of a people: still hope. And whatever mountains and obstacles and struggles and barriers we face today: hope. Hope. One day, one hour at a time: Hope.

For the Hebrews were ultimately to be called out of slavery, and out of the land of Egypt. This story from history becomes a model in the Bible for all the people of faith. The Hebrews were called out of slavery, out of Egypt, into a promised land. Today, we live by the same model, we are called out of slavery to sin, out of the world, and into the promised land. This promised land is gained through Christ.

Called in: through Christ

What direction are you looking in?
We are to look in many directions throughout our faith:
Down in humility
Around with compassion
But primarily, You and I are called to look up
We are to look up to Jesus this day.

Nicodemus and his Encounter with Jesus
Nicodemus helps seekers throughout the generations meet the one who gives eternal life.
Nicodemus comes at night, when he wouldn’t be seen. He comes as a teacher of Israel, who should not have associated himself with this radical Jesus, who was challenging the religious establishment. He comes with questions. He comes not fully understanding what Jesus was saying. But yet, at the end of the day, he comes. And in doing so, he speaks to us, saying, you should come. You should look to Jesus.

· Looking to Jesus is a spiritual, not a physical birth.
Like birth, there is struggle, but looking to Jesus will create a spiritual
birth in our hearts. Spiritual birth is about the birth of the heart, the birth of our spirit
into a new relationship with the Holy Spirit of God.
· Looking to Jesus involves Trust.
Faith is like the wind: you don’t know when it comes or goes, you can’t predict it. It is
difficult to explain.

· Looking to Jesus is about the object of our faith: in this case, a person.

· Looking to Jesus is about eternal life.

· God is interested in his people finding eternal life. Not to condemn, but to bring eternal life to all who believe.

Moses reference: provides a way for disobedient nation to be forgiven their sins, requires them to look up and not around. The story involves the grumbling people of Israel who had seen God provide for them, but after a while, the provision was taken for granted. The people became comfortable in their abundance. And so they complained to their leader and they complained about God. God sent snakes to bite the people, and some of them lost their life. But the snakes cause a little urgency, and the people ask Moses to pray for them. God tells Moses, here is how they will find healing: put a bronze snake on a pole and have the people look up. If they have enough sense to just look up, they will be healed.

A bronze snake put the people face to face with their problem. They had to look at their problem. And when they did, they found the answer.

It is easy for most people to run from the problem. To avoid it. It takes a certain amount of faith to look at the problem. But just as Moses lifted up a snake in the wilderness, Jesus was lifted up on a cross. And people had to look at the problem, the problem of sin. And all that do, even if it hurts at first, it points us to the one who overcame sin: Jesus Christ. And when we come to him, and look at him, and believe in him, we will live forever.

A Man Named Joe

A Man Named Joe
Genesis 50:15-21, Luke 19:1-10, II Thessalonians 1:1-4

Joseph looks at his brothers and says: You intended to harm me, but God intended for good to accomplish what it is now doing.

Now that is a line that reality tv shows search for. 19 Kids & Counting, Kate Plus Eight. The Jackson family…they got nothing on this bible verse.

The Story of Scripture…So Far:
A promise given, believed and seen
Promise given by God. Believed by people and seen in the world.
Creation as good
Humanity violating prohibition
Family furthering dysfunction
Noah: God’s new beginning
Abraham and a promise
Abraham believes the promise
Isaac: a child of promise
Jacob & Esau: blessing & curses

Today, Joseph, who I will call Joe. Do you remember Joe the plumber, the famous player in the 2008 presidential election? Well, we have another Joe today. A man named Joe.

Genesis: A Man Named Joe
If you like soap opera’s, then this family tree is something you will love.

Today’s Scripture reading is near the end of Joe’s story. The plot of the reading is that brothers are fearful that Joe will punish them now that their father Jacob has passed.

· Jacob (who is renamed Israel) sees the woman of his dreams: Rachel. He negotiates 7
years of labor for his Uncle Laban for her hand in marriage.
· Jacob is deceived by his Uncle into marrying Leah, then works for Leah’s sister Rachel.
· Jacob has 12 sons, by four different women: Leah (first 4), Rachel’s Maidservant Bilhah
(2), Leah’s maidservant Zilpah (2), Leah again (2, 6 overall) and Rachel (2).
· Rachel’s oldest Son is Joseph.
· Joseph was the honored son in Jacob’s eyes (33:3: in rear with Rachel as he meets Esau)
· Rachel dies in giving birth to Joseph’s brother, Benjamin

One point of all this: these 12 tribes, with different, competitive, insecure backgrounds, bring their family story into the mix.

· 37:4: When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they
hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
· his dreams: sheaves of wheat, stars and sun/moon.
· the plot to kill Joseph, the cistern alternative/sell to the merchants and fake his death
· Joseph is sold by merchants to Potipher a leader in Egypt
· Joseph and Potipher’s wife, he is thrown in jail, gains trust of warden
· the dream of the cupbearer and the baker (cupbearer forgets Joe)
· 2 years pass, Pharaoh has a dream “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings” the
cupbearer says)
· Joe speaks to Pharaoh about a coming drought/famine and advice for overcoming it,
pharaoh acknowledges wisdom, puts him in charge of palace and the land of Egypt
· Joseph leads wisely and navigates the people through the famine
· people from throughout the world visit Egypt, includes the 10 sons of Israel, looking for
food (Benjamin was kept at home the first time)
· a series of stories in which Joseph {teaches his brothers a lesson}
· Joseph reveals himself to his brothers
· the sons return to the land to get Jacob and all of the families, surviving the famine (and
ironically, setting up slavery)
· Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons as he is dying then Jacob blesses his sons
· Jacob dies, leading to the story today

At the end of the day, this is a really incredible story, with unbelievable ups and downs. But it is also a very human story, universal in its appeal.

Emotions/Situations that You and Joe have in common
--do you feel disliked?
--do you feel betrayed?
--do you feel unsafe?
--do you feel snubbed?
--do you feel forgotten?

Ways to you and Joe can honor God
*integrity when tempted (literal running away when necessary)
*waiting patiently when things are down
*speaking to those in power, even if with trepidation
*having wisdom to navigate difficult situations
*the courage to show who you are and resolve differences
*trust in the sovereignty of God (God meant it for good)
*the desire to have your loved ones blessed.

Luke: Jesus Names and Renames Zacchaeus
Salvation comes to an unexpecting house.
A wealthy man (by shady and culturally rejected means) is interested in Jesus as he comes through town. Goes to humble means to see him (climbing the tree). Jesus says come down: I’m staying with you.
What would you do in order to see Jesus?

The presence of Jesus, and that encounter, changes Zacchaeus for the good. He rights his wrongs. And through Jesus, salvation comes to him and his house.
What would you say to Jesus

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. We are named and called by Jesus. And when we respond, are given our titles we had lost or misplaced: children of the living God, children of the king, sons and daughters of the living God.

II Thessalonians: Men and Women Named…
If Joseph is a story that speaks to all of us, and Zaccheus is given back his true name of Son of Abraham, then what about us? What are the religious titles that we bear? Paul’s words give us a few clues.
· A church
· Followers of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
· people of peace and grace
· people of a growing faith
· people of an increasing love
· people of a persevering hope

Today, is Reformation Sunday. Tomorrow is All Saints Day
The story of the church is that a bunch of men and women with everyday names like Joe who have changed the world. The world is changed for good when we remember the core of our faith, (as the reformers did five hundred years ago): Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone. We remember the saints who have gone into the presence of God.

Today, faith, hope and love
Tomorrow: a gift given by God
Forever: held in the arms of the Almighty

Abraham, the Early Years

The Story of Scripture: Abraham, the Early Years
Chapter 5: the Early Years

Today, we celebrate World Communion Sunday, which is a reminder that the family of Christ extends throughout the world. Today in our year long story of Scripture, we learn of Abraham, by whom the promise that God’s blessing will reach to the ends of the earth

So far in the story of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Cain, Flood.
Today, the story turns. We move from nations to nation. From humanity to a chosen people.
The tower of babel, and its attempts to throw off the power of God, are replaced by the hopes of one family and its faith.

Genesis 12:1-9
The Promise: I will make you into a great nation.
The problem with the promise: 11:30, “now Sarai was barren; she had no children”
There is humor in my title: The early years: we meet Abram when he was 75.

The Story of Scripture and the Story of Abram and Sarai are really the same story: the story of a promise from God. The promise requires faith.
Will God keep it? Will they believe it?

The promise: FROM GOD
I will make you into a great nation
I will bless you
I will make your name great
I will bless those who bless youI will curse those who curse you

Walter Brueggeman writes,
The promise of land is to a landless people
The promise of an heir is made to a barren, hopeless couple.

How do you make a future when there is no foreseeable options?
For this question, we must turn to our Seinfeld friend, George Costanza.
KRAMER (moves over and sits next to George): Do you ever yearn?
GEORGE: Yearn? Do I yearn?
KRAMER: I yearn.
GEORGE: You yearn.
KRAMER: Oh, yes. Yes, I yearn. Often, I...I sit...and yearn. Have you yearned?
GEORGE: Well, not recently. I craved. I crave all the time, constant craving...but I haven't yearned.
KRAMER (in disgust): Look at you.
GEORGE: Aw, Kramer, don't start...
KRAMER (moving back to the othe side of the booth): You're wasting your life.
GEORGE: I am not! What you call wasting, I call living! I'm living my life!
KRAMER: O.K., like what? No, tell me! Do you have a job?
KRAMER: You got money?
KRAMER: Do you have a woman?
KRAMER: Do you have any prospects?
KRAMER: You got anything on the horizon?
GEORGE: Uh...no.
KRAMER: Do you have any action at all?
KRAMER: Do you have any conceivable reason for even getting up in the morning?
GEORGE: I like to get the Daily News!

Like George, Abraham's data in his story did not look well. That is, if we forget the main character of the story> God is the main character.
In the midst of the dry land comes life giving water. In the midst of the barrenness comes hope.
God does his work apart from the human perspective, and human means of accomplishment.
“to stay in safety is to remain barren; to leave in risk is to have hope.” (B, 118)
And so Abram and his family get up and go.
Abraham intermingles with nations in the narrative: Egypt, Melchizadek, Moab, Ammon.
(just like the promise said).

And then, very quickly: “unfaith”
The promised land becomes famine land. And Abraham and family go to Egypt.
Between the characters and their speeches, comes the entrance of God.
At first, it seems unfair.
“Abraham’s shabby actions does bring curse” (Brueggeman, 129)
(just as the promise said)

Romans 4:13-25
Remember, it is God.
“God giving life to the dead and calling things that are not as though they were.”
“Against all hope, Abraham had hope in God.”
“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”
“Being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised”

Luke 16:19-31
Abraham emerges as one of the most influential characters in the Bible.
Jesus uses the image of Father of many nations, in a story about the afterlife.
Abraham shares to the rich man: that if you do not believe the words of God, you would not believe the works of God.
(just like Abraham did)

What is the choice?
“The story of Abraham and Sarah put a crisis before humanity. It is the crisis of deciding to live either for the promise, and so disengaging from the present barren way of things, or to live against the promise, holding on grimly to the present ordering of life.” (Brueggeman, 113)
What are we to do today?
Seeing the promise. And,
Live By faith

Sunday, October 3, 2010

post season predictions

My predictions for the upcoming season.

Based upon my pre-season predictions, I picked 3 out of the four NL participants, not seeing the emergence of the Reds. In the AL, I predicted 2 out of the four, suprised by the Rays and Rangers. Really, if the Sox hadn't been hit by the worst injury outbreak that I have ever witnessed, they probably would still be playing.

Phils over reds in three.
Giants over braves in four.

Phils over Giants in five.

Twins over Yanks in five.
Rays over Rangers in five.

Rays over Twins in six.

Phils over Rays in five.

This year, I actually have some sense of reason for being a homer.

Baseball Regular Season Predictions

Well, as promised, a followup to my regular season predictions. I'll keep my original predicted order, original predictions, final results, (final order), and games I was off by.


Phillies, 91-71, 97-65, six

Braves 89-73, 91-71, two

Marlins 84-78, 80-82, four

Mets 81-81, 79-83, two

Nats 71-91, 69-93, two


Cards 90-72, 86-76 (2nd place), four

Cubs 85-77, 75-87 (5th place), ten

Brewers 84-78, 77-85, seven

Reds 78-84, 91-71 (1st place), thirteen

Astros 77-85, 76-86 (4th place), one

Pirates 63-99, 57-105, six


Giants 87-75, 92-70 (1st), five

Rockies 86-76, 83-79 (3rd), three

Dodgers 85-77, 80-82 (4th), five

Diamondbacks 74-88, 65-97, (5th), eleven

Padres 71-91, 90-72 (2nd), nineteen


Sox 95-67, 89-73 (3rd place), six

Yanks 94-68, 95-67, one

Rays 85- 77, 96-66 (1st place), nine

O's 70-92, 66-96 (5th place), four

Jays 68-94,85-77 (4th place), seventeen


Twins 88-74, 94-68, six

Tigers 86-76, 81-81 (3rd), five

W. Sox 82-80, 88-74 (2nd), six

Royals 71-91, 67-95 (5th), four

Indians 66-96, 69-93 (4th), three


Angels 85-77, 80-82, (3rd), five

M's 83-79, 61-101, (4th), twenty-two

Rangers 81-81, 90-72 (1st), nine

A's 79-83, 81-81 (2nd), two

Fuve Biggest Swings and Misses:

Mariners, 22 off, signings didn't pan out, no offense.

Padres, 19, wow. good for them. good pitching. Maybe they will build on it.

blue Jays, 17. Good for them. Especially in a tough AL east

Reds, 13. They proved me wrong. Good job!

Diamondbacks, 11. Who cares.

My next post will be postseason predictions. I have to give it about 45 seconds of deep thought.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Story of Scripture: Out of the Flood

The Story of Scripture: Out of the Flood
Chapter 4: the Flood

Genesis 6:5-22, Genesis 9:7-17, Luke 24:1-12

In various religious and cultural literature, there are multiple accounts of a major flood that filled the earth. But today’s story is not about history, rather, its value is as a story about God. What do we learn about God in this story?

The tragedy of the flood
--tragic because of the expansion of wickedness
--Tragic because the Lord was grieved that he had made man, and his heart was
filled with pain.
--tragic that this event God said needed to happen. (6:7, 6:13)
--hopeful and holy in that God will fulfill his purposes for creation.

The Flood is not the end of the story. What comes out of the flood?
Out of the Flood: A new beginning. New life. A new humanity. New respect for human life. A New covenant. A new promise never to leave.

This idea of God declaring in new ways his faithfulness to humankind helps us understand some earlier references in the story of Scripture.
In the Garden of Eden; humans were placed out of the presence of the Lord.
In the story of Cain: he is cast out of the presence of the Lord.
Post-flood, we no longer hear or read of stories of people out of the presence of God. The template for God's patience and dealings with humankind are summed up by the biblical promise:
Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.
Another example, comes to us in Paul's Romans 8 passage, where we are reminded that things like angels, demons, heights and depths do not have the power to separate us from the love of God.

Our stories today focus us on two people: Noah and Peter:
“It is ironic that at the moment of passion and impending death, embodied faith first appears in the world” (Walter Brueggeman, pg. 80). Noah, in a time of extreme darkness, becomes a light that God sees. Peter, when the moments are darkest for the disciples, wonders about the news the women tell him and his fellow disciples.

These two stories tell of a New humanity that emerges out of judged humanity.

Noah: I’m sure he must have wondered as he built his boat.
Peter: he wondered too. Later in his life, he wrote some letters.

Noah in the New Testament: speaks to
Baptism I Peter 3:13-22
Second Coming II Peter 2:4-10, 3:3-15

God’s ultimate expression of never leaving us was through Jesus coming to us, being God in human flesh. And after sacrifice for sin, the new life of Christ.

Resurrection: another type of never again.
In the Resurrection story, we find: new life, new humanity, God’s care for all life, communion as the new cup and bread.

What do you do when the whole world has changed before your eyes?
--you come before God.
--you come to see what was promised.
--a rainbow
--a promise of never again.
--a promise for you and for those around you.
--a promise for those around you and for all creation.

Chaos is not the last word. God has the last word. And what is that word: the power, faithfulness, kindness and grace of the Lord. In the middle of the flood story, we read in 8:1: "And God remembered Noah."
Out of the flood, we find grace and mercy. Praise be to God.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Story of Scripture: Family Systems

The Story of Scripture
Chapter 3: Family Systems: Cain & Abel

Has something ever come out of your mouth, and you think to yourself, "Did I just say that?".
This also happened to the people in Scripture.

Did I Say That?
1. Peter: I will never deny you Lord.
2. Disciples: Which One of Us is the Greatest?
3. Mother of James and John: I’d like my one son to rule at your right hand.
4. Sarah: I did not laugh.
5. Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

We continue of Story of Scripture. So far we have learned about
Creation: God said it was good.
Fall: The purpose and permission for humanity is compromised.

Today, we see some dynamics from the 'first family.' The human family expands, as do the problems for humanity.

In the story of Cain and Abel, we see the
Randomness of offerings: the rejection by God of Cain's offering. Why was this offering rejected?
Cain’s choice: anger or righteousness (James 1)
The power of sin: Lurking, desiring.
You must rule over it is a command, while some see it as a promise.
Original intent: rule over creation
Post-fall: rule over sin

When God first approaches Cain after his murder, two things happen.
Lies: I don’t know
Misdirection: Am I my brother's keeper?

The short answer for humanity is 'yes', we are called to care for our brother. Each person is an individual, but we are connected as children of God.

The power of judgment:
More toil, fruitless
Restlessness, wandering
Hidden from God’s presence
Death and vengeance
Mark: Protected, and exemplified. Shame and security Walter Brueggeman writes about Cain, “He is protected, but far from home and without the promise of homecoming.”

Matthew 5:21-26 is a passage where Jesus picks up on this theme of the murder of brother/or sister.

In today's Gospel Parable
Peter feels the power to forgive 7 times is generous: Jesus expands that greatly, by saying that 77 times where one forgives is the new standard.
The parable is about God's kingdom: A kingdom where God demands justice, righteousness, neighborliness, forgiveness and mercy

Cain Interpreted: I John

How do we know we are right? Love that flows from faith
What is love?
Jesus Christ laid down his life. And we do the same.
Actions and truth more than words

Walter Brueggeman writes:
Most days we would choose {anything} rather than face the brother. But the gospel is uncompromising. The promises are linked to the brother and will be had no other way. It is a mystery that the gift of new life is so close at hand, present in the neighbor. So close at hand but so resisted. We do not readily embrace such a mystery. Perhaps that is the reason sin waits so eagerly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Be Fair

I realized that in my last two posts, I did not give appropriate reference to the enjoyable commentary I am reading.

Walter Brueggeman, Genesis: The Interpretation Series, John Knox Press, 1982.

This is a very enjoyable commentary. I find the whole Intepretation Series a beneficial read. It is a nice balance of scholarly, pastoral and informative reading.

Thanks for your patience in this matter.

Kean students, sorry folks, despite my mistake, you will need to source your research for your papers appropriately!

The Story of Scripture: The Fall

The Story of Scripture
Chapter 2: The Fall

Genesis 2 and 3, John 3:16-21, Romans 5:12-21

Today's story is about the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. We still live with a fair amount of uncertainty when it comes to what we must know in this world.

On the one hand, they say, Ignorance is bliss.
But on the other, Knowledge is power.
Is there a middle way for the people of faith?
Trust is our calling.
Trust knows and knows when it doesn’t know.
Trust in the Lord is our calling.

Brueggeman (40):
Delightful creation is finished. Sabbath is celebrated as a sign of new life. Now human destiny in that world must be faced. The destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, not a world of his/her own making. The human creation is to live with God’s other creatures, some of which are dangerous, but all of which are to be ruled and cared for. The destiny of the human creation is to live in God’s world, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms.

Last week: we began our series on the Story of Scripture. We read of creation and God's reaction to the creation: it was good, it was very good. And it was so.
This week: The story of beginnings continues. Both good and bad.
Interesting enough, when it comes to Evil: The narrative gives no explanation for evil. The OT is not concerned with origins, but with faithful responses and effective coping. (Brueggeman, 41)
The anxiety of life

Brueggeman’s 4 Dramas
1. man in the garden
2. the formation of a helper
3. the disruption in the garden
4. judgment and expulsion

Purpose: take care of the garden
Permission eat from the fruit
Prohibition don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good/evil

The succumbing to the serpent:
Loses purpose, abuses permission and violates the prohibition.
The result of which is sin, death and an anxiety-filled life.

Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (no other place in Scripture)
Be careful what you wish for.
“They now know more than they could have wanted to know, and there is no place to run” (49)

5 Questions That I Have
1. Why do we add to God’s words 3:3?

2. Why do we blame 3:12?

3. Why is God making clothes 3:21?

4. Who is God talking to 3:22?

5. Why is living forever bad in 3: 22?
Because we were marred by sin. And sin cannot dwell in the presence of God. It reminds me of the series finale of the TV show Alias. The bad guy (Sloan) had been searching for the formula to everlasting life, and he found it. The good guy (Jack), is trying to get the formula away from his maddened friend. Sloan takes the formula, and will now live forever. But Sloan had been doing evil. So Jack throws an explosive into the cave in which cave in which Sloan is, and the boulders come crashing around him. Sloan got what he wanted: to live forever, but at what price? And was there a better way?

John: Jesus Answers for Us
We learn in the gospel that God has a plan for us to live forever, in Christ-like bodies. We learn that we are not to perish. We learn that God does not desire to condemn

God loves the world, despite its state of fallenness. The perfection that he places upon fallen creatures is his perfection.

Romans: The Two Man Group.
The first man is Adam, the prototype of humanity.
1 man + 1 sin=death in this world (for all have sinned)
The second man is Jesus, God’s desire for humanity.
1 man + 1 free gift=life (for all justified by faith)

There was a fall. But God will get us up. It is called salvation. It is resurrection to new life.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Story of Scripture: Creation

The Story of Scripture: It’s All Good
Chapter 1: Creation

Genesis 1:1-2:3, Mark 4:35-41, II Corinthians 5:16-21

Every story has a beginning.

As I was preparing to write my sermon about the Creation, my eyes moved toward the latest news on my webpage. In bold lettering, in the corner of the screen was the headline:

Hawking Says God Did Not Create Universe.

Boy, I am glad that I read that before sitting down to write my sermon.

First of all, the article wasn’t that bad. Hawking is not denying the existence of God, but rather, if God is needed for creation to occur. But the interesting part was reading some of the comments in response to the article.

You know posted comments are like potato chips. You can’t eat just one. And you can’t read just one.

Well, these posts had it all. People were sending Mr. Hawking to hell (as if that is in their power). Others were mocking religion. There were bible quotes from Revelation about the end of time. I could have spent hours.

We have a story that captivates our attention, in addition to provoking debates and chat room name calling. In part, the story is so captivating because of its simplicity. But the world we live in today is not that simple.

There is a reason that in these chat rooms believers are feeling overly defensive and self-described rational beings are mocking faith as a viable explanation of how things came to be.

In the Medieval world, theology was the Queen of the Sciences. Now by sciences, we mean intellectual fields of study, or disciplines. Scholars considered theology as the umbrella which covered all human learning and where all other fields of learning found their place.

In the Modern world, and now in the post-modern world, Science and Mathematics are the Queen of the Sciences. And this is because in the last 300 years, humans have moved toward wanted to define determine and describe. Knowledge is king. And those who know yield the power.

And those who know demand that the words of Genesis 1 cannot describe how the beginning came to be. Meanwhile, believers want to defend Genesis 1 as a viable way, and have tried to force the story into something it is not.


Now please understand. I do not believe science and faith are enemies. But the story before us today is a beautiful beginning to a majestic book. It is not the first page of a “How to Build a Car Engine” manual. It is not technical language, but an invitation to see Creator, watching creating, be creation. Have you ever opened a book, and then it loses you within the first page or two. You don’t want to read it because you are lost shortly upon beginning the story. What if the Bible were to do this?

Problems arise when people force this story to be something it is not, and in doing so, ruin the original beauty of the story. Growing up, I was a huge Star Wars fan. I watched the movies, played with the action figures, the whole nine yards. But then the original three movies weren’t enough for the Star Wars enterprise. And the idea of a “prequel” came to be. “Let’s make a movie about the time and events that happened before the first movie”. And one of the horrible outcomes of this idea was a character named Jar-Jar Binks. I shudder to even mention the name. But folks, the truth is SOMETIMES, you can’t improve on the original. And when you force something onto the original, it can get ugly…fast. I wonder about forcing science into a story that had other purposes. Let us let it be, and stand for what it is worth.

So really, those chat rooms are a larger question about Scripture and Science (science being, human fields of learning). Can they work together? If so, how?

Well, I’m glad you came today, because I want to tell you four possible combinations that I believe are incorrect. And then I’ll present the correct relationship to you.

1. Scripture alone, with no regard for other fields
2. Other fields, with no regard for Scripture
3. Scripture and other fields as equals, as if there is no difference to any of them.

4. Scripture and other fields competing against each other.

I believe all fields of learning tell truth. And all truth belongs to God. How do we balance Faith and fields of human learning? Scripture and Science? Other fields interpret and support the premise of Scripture. That is, God is King, Theology is the Queen and mystery is our spirit.

We remember God. God is. God is attested to in Scripture, and Scripture is interpreted by knowledge of sciences. In short, we have a faith that seeks understanding.

As Stanley Hauerwas declares, Where the theology is true and the science is accurate, there is no discontinuity between the two.

So I would respectfully disagree with Stephen Hawking: God did create the universe. I would also affirm Mr. Hawkings contributions and attempts to help people understand how that might have happened.

In this story, which is the first of our year long pursuit of understanding the Story of Scripture, we quickly and clearly see God established in the story, a God who was, and is, and is to come. We see purpose and a plan for human beings, readers and hearers and participants of this story. We see the Creator. We see the Creator creating. We see the creation.

Why did the writer write Genesis 1?
1. It is a memory devise. This story was written in a world with no kindles and no Gideons. The story is one to be repeated and remembered. Days 4-6 mirror and complete Days 1-3.
2. To identify who is the most important character in this story
3. All creation bows to one more superior (and the idea of humans subduing the earth is a pre-fall call)
4. Male and female are made in image of God (though God is not made in our image, that is idolatry)
5. God’s intent for the creation: Be fruitful and multiply.
6. To show that God liked the original creation (in fact, there is more than liking, there is delight)
7. God’s work and God’s rest is a pattern for us
As Walter Brueggeman writes, “The creator did not spend his six days of work in coercion but in faithful invitation. God does not spend the seventh day in exhaustion but in serenity and peace.”

What is God trying to say to us in Genesis 1 and today’s scriptures?
1. Sin is not the ultimate definition of who we are. God is.
2. The earth around us is not our enemy, but rather a partner in the worship and service of God
3. There is a divide between the first chapter, and the other 1100 chapters of the Bible…this is the way it was supposed to be (One of the more clever book titles was a theological book on sin by an author named Plantinga: Not the Way it was Supposed to be)
4. If the world isn’t the way it was supposed to be: then how do we get back to what is right? (This is where the passage of II Corinthians comes in. God reconciles the world to himself through Christ.)
5. Jesus modeled God to us: he was surprised when the disciples did not believe in him as the authority over the waves. (Jesus also shows us the closeness and distance between Creator and Created)
6. The creation is moving toward new creation.
7. Little new creations (you and I) bear witness to the big new creation.

At the end of the Day: It is as simple as three words.
Creator creates creation.

We believe in God, the Maker of heaven and earth.
We affirm the goodness of creating.
We are creatures who answer to the Creator.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Fantasy Football Team

Well folks, the winning team was just drafted. Unfortunately, I also was drafting in his league. The system is you get $260 fake dollars to bid on players.

Here is my team, with valuable football related comments.

QB: Matt Schaub, will throw crazy numbers for the best 8-8 team
in the NFL.
RB: LeSean McCoy, the reason I always do "pretty good" is that
I get 4-5 backs that are all "pretty good", instead of 1 or 2 studs.
RB: Jon Stewart, teams with Stephen Colbert for the best
(and funniest) backfield in football.
WR: Marques Colsten, Hofstra stud
WR: Calvin Johnson, the first and last names of the best 20th
century democratic presidents (minus Kennedy, Truman, and
perhaps Clinton...and Roosevelt, and Wilson, well, you get the picture)*
WR: Roddy White, got stuck with him trying to make someone else
overpay. Will probably be my best player
TE: Vernon Davis, I think Mike Singletary is a great coach.
D: Philadelphia Eagles, really didn't want them, but their special teams should be good.
K: Nate Kaeding, he stinks in the playoffs, but fantasy is about the regular season.

QB: Joe Flacco: Go Delaware Joe!
RB: Fred Jackson, really enjoy tough players like him
RB: Thomas Jones, really enjoy tough players like him
RB: Clinton Portis, see democratic comment above
WR: Wes Welker, should put up good numbers
WR: Dwayne Bowe, KC has some really good offensive players
TE: Brent Celek. I have the best tight end duo in the league. GO IT'S ALL GOOD!

So, all in all, I am pretty happy with my team. I had $13 left over to bid on a kicker, which no one ever pays more than a $1 for. But that is ok. It's All Good should finish with a solid 11-5 season. If only the Eagles could do that good!

*by the way, Calvin Coolidge was a republican. And don't tell me you knew that. You didn't know that.

Tom Napatano, I'm pulling for you

One of my students last semester was a proud Jets fan. And I was very happy for him when the Jets went to the championship game. Tom had enjoyed my baseball predictions (which I will review at seasons end) and I told him that I also would make football predictions (which I will also review at season's end).


Jets 9-7, I'm not sold on Sanchez yet.

Patriots 9-7, Will the defense be there?

Dolphins 9-7, Heading in the right direction.

Bills 6-10, I wish they were heading in the right direction*


Ravens 10-6, Better offensive team than defensive?

Bengals 9-7, hot pick, but like the Reds this past spring, prove it (which they are!)

Steelers 8-8, I think Ben's 4 game suspension hurts them.

Browns 7-9, I think they are getting better.


Colts 11-5, should be fine.

Titans 9-7, Vince Young does win. We'll see.

Texans 8-8, should be .500, again

Jaguars 5-11. Probably will win the super bowl.


Chargers 10-6, Leader in talent and crazy troubles.

Chiefs 8-8, getting better.

Raiders 8-8, getter better.

Broncos 6-10, not getting better.

*I used to live in Western NY and know how important the Bills are to that region. I hope I am wrong. Every year there is at least one or two suprise teams.


1. Colts 2. Chargers 3. Ravens 4. Jets 5. Bengals 6. Patriots

Ravens crush Patriots. Again.

Jets crush Bengals. Again.

Chargers beat the Ravens 13-12.

Colts beat the Jets, 31-28.

Chargers beat the Colts. 38-31.


Cowboys 10-6. Can't honestly pick my Eagles above them.

Eagles 9-7. I liked McNabb. But I am also ready for Kolb.

Giants 8-8. Could be better...can't look at them objectively.

Redskins 8-8 McNabb helps, but they need another year.


Packers 10-6. Heading in right direction.

Vikings 9-7. Favre misses 4 games to injury.

Lions 7-9. heading in right direction.

Bears 5-11, see Broncos.


Saints 10-6, won't be as good, but won't be bad either.

Panthers 8-8, they are good every other year, just like the jints.

Falcons 7-9, see Bengals.

Buccaneers 4-12 who knows? Literally, who is on this team?


49ers 10-6, I like Mike. Singletary.

Seahawks 8-8, I don't know.

Cardinals 8-8. I don't know.

Rams 3-13. I know.

1. Saints 2. Packers 3. Cowboys. 4. 49ers 5. Vikings 6. Eagles

Eagles pull the upset (Look for a Cowboys win in playoffs the following year)

49ers get payback for crazy favre throw last year.

Eagles get creamed by the Saints. 31-14

49ers lose to Pack, my wife cries. 21-20

Saints beat the Pack in a thriller, 37-34

Superbowl: Chargers over the Saints 27-24.

I think that the NFL is so unpredictable. In fact, sometimes I really get annoyed with the NFL because of that. But I'll go a little safe this year, nothing crazy.

So don't be suprised when the Jaguars beat the Redskins 42-28 to win the Superbowl.

I Love That Story

I Love That Story
I Samuel 1:3-20, John 8:1-11, Acts 20:7-12

Who is the best story teller that you know?

I am grateful for two family members...
My Uncle David used to gather my three cousins and I when we were young and tell wonderful stories. They often would include some bathroom reference about my cousin Ryan, which, when you are seven years old, is very funny.

My dad was the story teller of the Indian Guides tribe I was apart of growing up. I would imagine he must have gained that job because he missed an organizational meeting or something like that, but I am grateful that he did the job.

Starting in the Fall, we are going to focus on story telling:
During our Friday Bible Study: We will learn the stories of the world's major religions, and how they relate. or are different from Christianity.

During our monthly LIGHT House gatherings, we will focus on the stories of our upbringing, while looking at the Family life cycles of leaving home, becoming married, raising children and living alone.

During Sunday Worship, my sermon series this year (from Sept. to July) will be the Story of Scripture, the most important story of all.
Story of Scripture

I picked three stories for today’s sermon: admittedly random selections. Until I saw the theme that binds them together, that of the ultimate story teller: God.

Samuel: Belonging to God
John: Forgiven and set free
Acts: Go and serve

In Samuel we have the story of the birth of the prophet, and of his strong and couragous mother Hannah: out of great struggle, an answer to prayer, which was promised in a very random way, Samuel was born.

The great good that came out of this story. Hannah learned what we all need to learn: we belong to God. As Scripture reminds us again and again: you are not your own. You belong to God.

In John, we see the woman caught in a sinful act who encounters the forgiveness of Jesus. We see religion combined with selfishness is sick. Jesus offers a different way. And with Jesus, once you meet him, it can’t be back to normal. Forgiveness sets free with new life, Christ’s life.

In Acts, we read a crazy story of a man falling down 3 flights of house after listening to Paul go "on and on and on" during a late night teaching with the believers of Ephesus. I was thinking about how boring Paul must have been to this young kid who fell asleep in the window sill. But whether or not something like this happened to us (my money is on it not having happened to you or I), the point of acts is that the Gospel story is so compelling it drives those who embrace and believe it. Paul taught because he believed. He went to serve because of his faith, a faith that had transformed him.

Ultimately, God is the story teller: of history, of the cosmos, and also of our lives.
God is the beginning.
God is sovereign: present and working for the world.
God takes the end and gives it a new beginning.

Today, we belong to God. Today is a chance to be forgiven and set free. Today’s call is to go and serve.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Seeking What is Good

a summary of sermon on Colossians 3:1-17, using Micah 6:6-8 and Luke 10:38-42 as additional passages.

What are you seeking?

People seek all different types and sorts of things, feelings and experiences.
We have spiritual seeking of simplicity, joy and peace.
We seek more money, better employment and other mundane matters.
People seek items on Ebay.
Others seek my help in building farms and fighting the mafia on their facebook games---I have no idea what that is about.

All types of people seek many different types of things.

Today, we read the story of Martha and Mary, one working, one worshipping. Martha begs Jesus, "Tell her to help me". But Jesus sees that worship should not be forsaken in the midst of pressing work.

Ultimately, Martha doing her work as a worship experience would be the best combination. We worship God...and then we stay close to God in our daily responsibilities, whether that be workplace, daily chores, or other commitments that we make.

In Paul's Letter to the Colossians, he writes to his readers about what they should seek.

3:1-4, seek Heaven, not earth.
3:5-8, seek Good, not evil.
3:9-11, seek new life, not old life.

What is the new life that we are to seek? Christ's life.
This includes, a life of character, forgiveness, love, peace (as a body), gratitude and praise through song.

Let us be people who seek God. For God is good. And God has filled the earth with his goodness. By seeking what is good, we can pursue a thousand lifetimes of experiences and endeavors. Seek good. Seek God.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Not My King

Yes, I am a minister.

Yes, I teach a college course on our CIVIL society.

But if Lebron James stands up tonight in his made for tv announcement, and embarrasses the fans of Cleveland, then what little respect I have for him now will be completely gone. And it will not come back.

Shame on him.

The only way this thing works tonight is if it turns into a celebration of Cleveland. Otherwise it is empty and far worse, harmful and hurtful.

Someone good enough to earn millions of dollars should have the sense not to be so hurtful.

I'm glad I serve a good King.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Christ is Supreme

II Kings 2:1-18, Luke 9:52-61, Colossians 1:15-23

The second in a summer sermon series on Paul's Letter to the Colossians.

You know the situation.
--The moral ambiguity of the surrounding culture
--Competing Voices for the allegiance of the people
--Questionable leadership, if not downright bad and evil leadership
--Cries of injustice raised by citizens
--Uncertainty and fear among citizens
--Military extending its power over civilians
--High tension with bordering nations
--Religious Establishment compromising its authenticity, ethics and spiritual life
--There is a major leadership change about to occur.

I am not talking about modern American society when I describe this situation, but rather, the life of the nation of Israel during the 840’s…BC.

In Scripture, Elijah was called THE Man of God. Emphasis on THE. But his ministry is coming to an end, and his successor had already been named. Elisha. The problem was Elisha was young and inexperienced, and the people weren’t quite sure that they wanted him being the head prophet.

But Elisha embodied Elijah’s lifestyle and message. They both affirmed that there was only One God, the LORD. They both confronted kings and religious leaders with their fiery temperaments. They both performed miracles to an unbelieving nation. They both appoint new kings. They both suffer rejection and rejection. They both have a deep reverence for history, especially God’s story. And at times, they both felt alone as they set out to do God’s will.

And as the world around them worshipped the god Baal, the storm God, it is Elijah who is taken up to heaven by the Almighty, who uses the storms for his purposes. Before Elijah goes up Elisha asks for double his power. After Elijah is lifted away (there is legend that Elijah never dies),, and Elisha is angry about it, so angry that he asks: Where is God now?, he strikes the water with the cloak, just like his predecessor had done, and the waters part, just like they did for Elijah. With Elisha taking over,

The people receive continuity, a fresh water in times of uncertainty.
The people have a spiritual leader, in times when earthly powers were colliding.
The people are invited to the same relationship with the One True God.

And after 800 years of history for Israel, with its constant ups and downs, God comes to earth. Jesus is born, grows up, and is ordained to public ministry. The Son of God witnesses to the truth, speaking to a rapidly changing culture with its moral ambiguity, competing voices, Questionable leadership, if not downright bad and evil leadership, Cries of injustice, Uncertainty and fear, Military powers, High tension and Compromised Religious Establishment. And just like the unpopular Elijah and Elisha, who in the midst of all of that chaos demanded the people stay true to the One God, so does Jesus.

He has some shocking and seemingly harsh words.
Like cold water they shock the body.
Like unexpected news, they shake the comfortable
Like a front page headline, they challenge the status quo.
But also,
Like a nutrition bar, they energize the body.
Like life changing news, they stir the soul.

Jesus looks at excuses. He stares at them, deeply. And then he answers them by putting them in their place.

Ironically, the third interaction resembles when Elijah met a young, up and coming prophet named Elisha. Elijah calls him to follow. Elisha requests “First let me go and kiss my family goodbye”.

Fred Craddock writes “the radicality of Jesus’ words lies in his claim to priority over the best, not the worst, of human relationships. The remarkable thing is that those who have done so have been freed from possession and worship of family and have found the distance necessary to love them.”

The words of Jesus are hard. But all good things are worth sacrifice. And the best things are worth the greatest sacrifices.

This brings us to Paul, writing to the church in Colosse. This week’s portion of the letter brings us face to face with that Jesus. Paul, writing 20-30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, has time to place him in his historical importance. Teaching the Colossians, Jesus is…

• An image of the invisible God
• The firstborn of all creation
• The creator of all things (in heaven, earth, visible, invisible, thrones, powers, authorities)
• The One who IS before all things
• The One who holds all things together.
• Head of the body, the church
• The beginning and firstborn from the dead
• The supreme One
• The fullness of God in human flesh
• The reconciler of all things (earth, heaven, by making peace, through blood on the cross)

Christ is Supreme.

He is the reality of the changing world, with its moral ambiguity, competing voices, Questionable leadership, if not downright bad and evil leadership, Cries of injustice, Uncertainty and fear, Military powers, High tension and Compromised Religious Establishment.

He is the one, and there really is no other.

So like Elisha, we have a message to preach regardless of how it is received.
Like the people who approached Jesus, we have to hear what is really important and follow, and not look back.
Like the Colossians, we have to remember the story…

We were alienated from God.
We were enemies with God because we were evil.
We have been reconciled to God by Christ and his physical death and resurrection
We are now holy in his sight, without blemish, free from accusation….IF

IF we continue in faith,
IF we are not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

The gospel has been proclaimed to every creature in heaven and earth.
Are you looking back? Or are you looking to Jesus Christ, the Supreme One.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

We'll Sing in the Sunshine

Yes you can sing in the sunshine
You can laugh everyday
You can sing in the sunshine
And you can find your way
--Gale Garnett

The scene was the beautiful Woolverton Inn, in Stockton NJ. The event: Stockton Elementary School Graduation. Congratulations to our four graduates as they continue their studies at South Hunterdon High School.

As part of the quaint celebration, the teachers, board of Ed, PTO, Parents of Graduates, Students and finally all gathered, each sing a verse of an adaptation of "We'll Sing in the Sunshine".

To sit together with the beautiful grounds around us, for a common purpose, howling this good old song, was quite a beautiful experience. I'm proud to be a part of the Stockton Elementary School community.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wednesday Worship in July

One of the most beautiful spots in all the world is located a mile from our house: the riverview at the Wing Dam, at Prallsville Mills.

Each Wednesday in July, we will gather at 7:30 at the river view for Wednesday Worship: Down By the Riverside. The worship service will be an informal and brief service that allows us to connect with God our Creator.

If traveling by car, you can take route 29 north past the town of Stockton, and you will see a "Prallsville Mills, Stockton Visitor Center" parking lot on your left. If you are walking the towpath from town, turn left right past the new Prallsville Mill Office.

If it is raining, don't come...or at least don't come looking for a service. Unofficially, I would encourage you never to be afraid of getting a little wet. Officially, we will not have a service if raining.


In All the World

In All the World
I Kings 19:1-8, Matthew 10:32-42, Colossians 1:1-14

This is the first in a summer sermon series on Paul's Letter to the Colossians. When I proclaim the sermons during Sunday worship, I will be using a more expository method, opening up the Bible together and talking about the verses...So this sermon works better in person. Hint. Hint. Stockton Presbyterian worship starts at 11am.

In his introductory statements, Paul greets the Colossian church with
THANKSGIVING (verses 3-8)
Among other things, he is grateful for the update he hears about his readers:
We HEARD ABOUT your faith in Christ and love for all people
Faith and love SPRINGS from Hope.

Just like I Corinthians, here is that ethical trinity again> Faith. Hope. Love. When we live lives of faith, hope and love, they speak a story. This story is heard by others. Your faith, hope and love make a difference in this world.

Paul is also grateful for the truth: we have hope because of heaven. We have hope because of the truth of the gospel. Hope is growing all throughout the world. For example, Samaritan's Purse recently told the story of delivering over 200,000 Christmas Boxes to the people of Afghanistan, where there are no official churches. They were delivering hope, even when of great personal sacrifice.

Paul is also grateful for Ephaphras: a Loved, faithful, connectional servant, who saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the believers in Colosse.

After sharing his reasons for gratitude, Paul then offers his prayer for the church.
PRAYER (verses 9-11)
--Know what God want.
--Great wisdom and understanding so that we will live an honorable life and one that pleases God.

What is a life pleasing to God?

There are a mulitude of examples, but Paul provides four ways...

  1. Producing fruit in every good work.
  2. Growing in the knowledge of God.
  3. Not giving up when trouble comes (because you have God’s strength)
  4. Giving Thanks. (Why not take the time to tell God 10 things you are thankful for each day?)

After offering blessing and prayer, Paul lays the foundation for our faith: WHAT GOD HAS DONE (verses 12-14)
--Qualified us to share in the people of light’s inheritance
--Rescued and freed us from darkness
--Brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
--Christ paid for our sins
--Christ has forgiven us.

Sometimes we are like Elijah, We feel down, deserted, doubtful. We all need to look to Christ,
Who asks complete allegiance (because he can), who demands our all, who warns us about looking at earth before heaven.

Colossians teaches us about the good news growing in all the world.
Be a part of the good news. Be it. Live it. Believe it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wicked Awesome

This past Monday, my wife and I celebrated seven years of marriage. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, and I am deeply honored to parent alongside her.

Our anniversary turned into "Anniversary Weekend Festivities" thanks to Aurie's mom.

We were able to spend a fun day in New Hope, the quaint local town across the river which whenever we drive through, we say to one another that we have to mosey throughout. Well, we did, and it was great.

We were able to spend a night at the Woolverton Inn, a delightful Inn in Stockton. Many props to Carolyn for her fine work as innkeeper. It is a wonderful place...one of those places in life where you feel God's Spirit dwell because of the unique beauty that dwells in that space.

And then up to Bean town. We were able to see a Phils/Red Sox game, which was fun. This was after a tour of Fenway Park (in which I was able to touch the Green Monstah), and a fun time at the park's outdoor pregame celebrations.

We were also able to walk around downtown for several hours. Our hotel was downtown, and that was a really great experience. We both really love Boston.

During our last night in town, we were sitting at an outdoor tavern waiting for our dinner, when who walks by but Brian Schubmehl, an old friend from Western New York. I only know about 5 people who live in Boston, but one of them walks by when we are having dinner. How delightful is that?

So all in all, Boston is a great place to explore in God's great world. A cradle of liberty in our nation's history, wonderful architecture and great site-seeing, plus the Sox. I highly recommend Boston for everyone to visit. And since they have added the big dig, (route 93, underground through town), even the traffic wasn't bad...

well, I shouldn't get too carried away.

Thanks to Elder Dan Serlenga from Lambertville, who led worship and allowed me the peace of knowing the worship service was in good hands.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Ordinary

The Ordinary
Psalm 19:14, Luke 15:11-30, Colossians 3:12-17

We've come to the second half of "Ordinary Time" on the church calendar. We will remain in Ordinary Time until the last week of the year: Christ the King Sunday.

Some people struggle with the idea of Ordinary time, after all, shouldn't each day be special and all of life celebrated? But much of life is ordinary, and the calendar speaks to us about faithfulness in the midst of common life. In fact, our spiritual pulse might best be reflected in how we live the ordinary stuff of life, rather than how great we feel when things are well or how down we are when things are struggling.

Today, we read the classic story of the Prodigal Son. In the parable: we are all three characters at different points in our lives. We identify with the Father whenever we are looking out for someone else. We identify with the younger son in the moments when we feel our sinfulness.
Let’s look at the elder son--is He the one most of us identify with in our ordinary lives?

What does the parable say about the behavior of the son?

  • Anger immediately limited the elder son’s ability to see and empathize.
  • The elder sons anger keeps him out of the celebration.
  • The older son distracted the father from the celebration.
  • The older son was faithful, obedient and reliable in his work and ethic.
  • The older son was wrong to be jealous of the younger son’s waywardness. The younger son who squandered his life, his story ended well, but he did not live well.
  • The older son was always in the presence and heart of the father.
  • Everything that belonged to the Father belonged to the older son.
  • The Father had to celebrate the return from death and lost-ness of the younger son.

What does the older son model to us about ordinary life?

  • It is better to be faithful and content than faithful and angry.
  • It is good to be faithful and do what is required of us, better than going off to squander life.
  • The entire human spectrum, from wayward to righteous, is in our lives.
  • The ordinary is a gift to us. Most of life is the ordinary. (life is not one big party)
  • The ordinary is in close proximity to the extraordinary (surprise and celebration are not far away when we live faithfully and well.)
  • Before we think too highly of ourselves, the teaching is directed entirely to the older son.
  • Don’t shut yourself out of the celebration.

Offering ourselves to God

Instead of shutting ourselves out of the celebration of God's reign, we should offer ourselves to God.

Psalm 19:14 teaches us to offer our words and thoughts.

Colossians 3 teaches us to offer our words and deeds to the glory of God.

Colossians 3 in light of the Parable:

How does Paul teach his readers to behave?
Peace of Christ
God’s word dwelling in you
Sing praise to God

Did the older son display these attributes? He hadn't seen his brother in years, and didn't even go to greet him. He speaks ill of his brother, even though the Father already knows the things the older son says. He was proud and insecure, styfling celebration.

One commentary I read identified a profound thought:
We all need the third son in the parable, the teacher, the Son of God.

Jesus displayed the perfect moral life, unlike the younger son. Jesus displayed perfect grace, unlike the elder son. Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth.

When we follow Jesus, we have all the adventure that the younger son was seeking, and all the stability the elder son lived.

Jesus allows us to live extraordinary lives in ordinary time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Holy X's 3

Isaiah 6, John 16:12-15, Romans 5:-15 5/30

Isaiah 6: Image of the glory of God

Today you entered into a sanctuary, a holy place, to pray. You have been here before, many times before. You have taken part in priestly duties. This place has been your spiritual home, where you sing, cry, laugh, wonder, believe, dream, listen and grow.

Today you walked into this holy place, and you see something magnificent. Something majestic. Pens cannot create words to do justice to what you see. The building is filled with a long train of a robe, Hundreds and hundreds of feet of robe. It is the most beautiful robe you have ever seen, one that must be worn by a king.

Then you look up above the sanctuary and you see God. Your faith has taught you that if you see God, you will die. No one must see God and live. But you see God, the Lord, the Almighty One, high above this holy place, exalted above the earth, seated on a throne.

As you look up to God, you see that you and God are not alone. Heavenly angels with six wings fly above God, covering themselves out of reverence for of the holiness of God. They are not worthy to look, but as they fly to sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory”.

The song is so loud that the doorpost and doorsill shake. Smoke fills the holy place where you stand.

And you are in trouble. You’ve seen God, Your human eyes have seen perfection. “Woe is me”, you cry. I am done. I’m finished. I’m ruined. Because I am unclean, and the people all around me are unclean, the whole nation is unclean. My lips are unclean and I have seen God.

But just then, one of the angels from above God flies down, and looks around the sanctuary, and finds the coal that is used for the sacrifices. The angel takes a tong from the altar, picks up the fiery coal and places it on your lips. “Your guilt is now taken away and your sin is atoned for”. Relief. Forgiveness. Mercy. All is right again.

Before you become too comfortable, you hear the voice of God who sits on the throne. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Us?

Having your sin atoned for, your guilt taken away, your good standing with God restored, you offer to go. “Here I am God, send me.” Surely, a good assignment is now coming, you rationalize. I will go tell good news. People will gather around me to hear about my experience, and we will all change our ways. We will return to what is good and right. I get to bring good news to the people.

And then the voice responds: Go and tell this people

“This people”, you think. Uh, oh.
You’ll be hearing, but you won’t get it.
You’ll be seeing, but you won’t understand.
Your hearts will be hard. Your ears will be dull. Your eyes will be closed. Because otherwise, you might actually see and hear and understand and turn and be healed.

Ouch., you think to yourself. But God has healed you. And you have said you will go. And you must do what you say you will do.

For how long, Lord?

Until the cities lie in ruins and no one lives there. Until houses and fields have been deserted. Until I have sent everyone away and the land is utterly forsaken, until only a tenth remains of what did exist. Trees that have been cut down have left stumps. But out of a stump will my holy seed grow.

Israel, during Isaiah’s time as a prophet, is taken away in judgment by the Assyrian empire. The hopes and dreams of the people interrupted. They had not turned to be healed. They did not want to see or hear or understand.

We often will read the first part of the story, because this story in its beginning reminds us of the holiness of God. It is harder to swallow that sometimes, God calls his people to speak a more difficult message. God’s holiness demands that sin and evil be accounted for. A just God cannot and will not let evil be victorious. Isaiah had to go and speak to the people. You and I are called to go and serve the Lord. Often with good news, other times with realistic news. But even our delivery of realistic news is shared with people to bring glory to God.

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a reminder of the majesty and mystery of God. It is a day to pause and consider that we serve a Holy God. Angels and saints and heavenly creatures, whenever they are before God, are always crying out, or singing out (with loud voices) Holy, Holy, Holy!

Trinity Sunday reminds Christians that we have a mystery at the core of our faith: One God in three persons. Not three gods. Not one person. One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our faith should be like Isaiah in that we understand our sinfulness, and cry for help. Our faith should be like the angels who proclaim the truth: God is holy, holy, holy. The whole earth is full of his glory.

The Gospel of John: How we know
The gospel of John passage speaks to how we know God. We do not know God because of our own attempts, but rather, God’s spirit coming to us and revealing God. Jesus taught us that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth: guides into all truth, speaks for Almighty God, brings glory to God by showing us God.

There might be days of cloudiness, days of darkness, but the trajectory of our life is that the Spirit is revealing God to us. We are not without a testimony to God’s presence. The Spirit lives within us, both in our hearts and in our community.

Romans: Finding Peace with God

Paul’s letter teaches us about how we encounter God.
Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

No angel has come down and placed a burning coal on your lips to clean your guilty self. But rather, faith in Christ has made you whole. Faith in Christ has placed you right with God. We have taken Christ’s name and identity. We belong to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For every departure from God’s ways is guilt, there is no intermediate neutral position with regard to the demand of the will of God. At all times we stand either in the grace of God or under judgment.
The reality is that Christ’s grace has given us peace with God. We have…

A peace and a freedom which are independent of outward success or failure.
--Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, Old Testament Library

What is our response to the Holy Trinity? There is an ethical trinity as well. Paul identifies it in the Romans passage.
Faith in Jesus Christ
Hope in the glory of God
Love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit
(Three things endure: faith hope and love.)

Isaiah’s story is important, because of Jesus Christ, someday, we will see God. We will live and dwell in God’s presence. But the way we encounter God this day is not necessarily by vision, but rather faith. We believe.

We believe in One God. Almighty God, his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves us toward truth.