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Sermon for Christmas Eve, "Home for Christmas," Luke 2:1-20

Sermon 12/24/2015 Luke 2:1-20
Home for Christmas

I will admit to you that although some of you have heard me preach many, many times, I really only have a small repertoire of sermons. No, I don’t preach the same thing week after week of course. But I think if you boiled them down, you’d find the same themes running through my sermons again and again. God loves you so much, and God gives you this love and grace freely, without price. There’s nothing you can do to earn it, and nothing you can do to lose it. That’s one sermon. Or there’s this one: what God wants from you is everything! Your whole heart! Your whole life! Or another: God can do amazing things in you and through you if you open your life fully to God. Another: God wants you to have abundant life. Stop settling for stuff that doesn’t really satisfy. It will never work. I don’t feel too badly about this though, my repeated themes, because Jesus did the same thing in his preaching and teaching. When asked to sum up all of what Go…

Sermon, "Home for Christmas: Over the Back Fence," Luke 1:26-45

Sermon 12/13/15 Luke 1:26-45
Home for Christmas: Over the Back Fence

Last month, noted biblical scholar J. Ellsworth Kalas died at age 92. He was a prolific author, and I’ve used many of his resources in my years of ministry. He wrote a whole series of short studies on the scripture that were called “From the Backside” – the Parables from the Backside, the Old Testament from the Backside, Beatitudes from the Backside. Each book took a very relatable, straight-forward approach to drawing out themes from the scriptures, but by looking at the scriptures in a new light, from a different angle, focusing on minor characters or small details. My favorite is Christmas from the Backside, and I have had a particular chapter on my mind as I’ve reflected on Mary and Elizabeth this week. Kalas includes in his book chapters like “The Scandal of Christmas” and “Three Votes for an Early Christmas,” and he also includes a chapter called “Christmas Comes to a Back Fence” that focuses on the interaction be…

Sermon, "Home for Christmas: Prepare Him Room," Luke 3:1-18

Sermon 12/6/15 Luke 3:1-18
Home for Christmas: Prepare Him Room

If you go into my eight-year old nephew Sam’s bedroom, much of the time you might find a path from the door to the bed, but not much else. I imagine he’s in good company. We all love Sam, and we love giving him things, but when he was about 2 or 3, if someone would come for a visit, Sam would say, “What did you bring me?” He was so used to getting gifts from people that it had become an expectation. If you didn’t have a present for him, Sam wondered what was wrong with you! My brother and sister-in-law work hard to make sure Sam is kind and generous and not hung up on stuff, things – and yet Sam has so many toys – and that’s not counting ones that are stored away – so many toys that there isn’t much floor left in sight in his room. Our focus this second Sunday in Advent is Prepare Him Room. The phrase you might recognize from the hymn Joy to the World – we sing: “Let every heart prepare him room.” We’re meant to make room fo…

A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Christmas - Tune: Adestes Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)

A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Christmas: O Come, All Ye Faithful (Tune: ADESTES FIDELES) O Come, all you faithful, gather at the table
O Come, lift your hearts up and give praise to God
Come and be welcomed; Come and be filled with life
We come now to the table,
We come now to the table,
We come now to the table
of Christ the Lord.

God, our Creator, set us in the garden
God offered to us all our hearts’ desire.
We turned away, convinced that we knew better
Yet God would not forget us
Yet God would not forget us
Yet God would not forget us
Thanks be to God!

All through the ages, God still sought to reach us,
Through prophets and poets, through leaders and law,
Yet, we kept wandering, yet we kept falling
The people walked in darkness
The people walked in darkness
The people walked darkness
O save us, God!

Just at the right time, God sent us the Christ Child
Born to redeem us, Prince of Peace
Jesus: God with us, Word made flesh among us
O Come, Let us adore him
O Come, Let Us adore him
O Come, Le…

Sermon, "Home for Christmas: Moving Out, Moving In," John 1:1-14

Sermon 11/29/15 John 1:1-14
Home for Christmas: Moving Out, Moving In

            Have you moved much in your life? Have you had the opportunity – or challenge – or however you’d describe it – of packing up all your stuff, and moving it to a new place? Did you move across town? Or to a new town? A new state? Pastors in our conference are encouraged each year to take a health assessment that examines stressors that you might have experienced within the last year. One significant stress factor, according to the assessment, is whether or not you’ve had to move in the last year. Of course, for United Methodist pastors, who often move to new locations at the leading of the bishop, there are many of us who have to check that box every year! (And no, please don’t panic. This is not me telling you that I’m moving!) I’ve been thinking about this – the stress of moving – because as you know, I serve part time as chaplain to a retirement community. Folks come to live at The Meadows for a variety of…

Sermon, "Prayerful: Thanksgiving," Matthew 6:24-33

Sermon 11/22/15 Matthew 6:24-33
Prayerful: Thanksgiving
My mother will tell you that in some ways, I’ve been a worrier since I was a little girl. When I started kindergarten, I went through a stretch where I kept asking my mother “what if” questions about starting school. What if I couldn’t find my bus? What if I got locked in the bathroom and no one heard me calling for help getting out? What if no one was home when I got off the bus? What if the teacher didn’t show up? What if I wore a dress on a day I was supposed to wear pants for gym? What if I didn’t have my money for milk? These were apparently serious concerns on my 5 year old mind, and my mother did her best to help me relax, to know that I would be safe and that someone would be there who could help me no matter what I encountered. I don’t even remember having all these questions myself, so she must have done a good job in calming my anxieties. But I’m still a worrier. I might put on a good exterior show, if you think I am alwa…

Sermon, "Prayerful: Praying Like Jesus," Matthew 6:5-13

Sermon 11/8/15 Matthew 6:5-13 Prayerful: Praying Like Jesus

            We’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a prayerful people. We’ve talked about being confessional, and being persistent in our prayers. And we’ve talked about how we’re bound together in prayer in the act of communion, bound together across time and space in the body of Christ. Next Sunday, we’ll practice praying through music. In two weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayers of Thanksgiving. Some of you have had experiences, even over these past few weeks, of the power of prayer, as you gave thanks to God for some prayer answered. Some of you have offered prayer at one of our meetings or studies – I’ve really been encouraging everybody to feel comfortable offering a prayer to God on our behalf. And so far, everyone has survived the experience! Today, though, I want to spend a little time thinking about Jesus, and how Jesus prays. Jesus does a lot of praying, and it seems like we can’t find a better example to …

Sermon, "Prayerful: Communion," Hebrews 11:1-8, 13-16, 23-40, 12:1-2

Sermon 11/1/15 Hebrews 11:1-8, 13-16, 23-40, 12:1-2
Prayerful: Communion

How would you define a Saint? What does it mean, to be a saint? I’ve been reading a little bit about different religious traditions and what they understand by the term “saints.” Some traditions understand the term saint in more formal ways – there’s a process to be officially named a saint. And others have a more fluid understanding of what it means. How about you? How do you define a saint? What is a saint? In most any tradition, the folks I encounter are sure of at least this: A saint is something other than themselves. I can’t say I often hear people identify themselves as a saint. Are you a saint? And yet, regardless of tradition, if, instead, I ask folks to name those who have been saints in their life, those who have died, those who are living, people can usually quickly tell me people they view as saints.             There are many ways to define the word “saint,” but here’s what I’ve found most compelling. …

Sermon, "Prayerful: Persistence," Luke 18:1-8

Sermon 10/25/15 Luke 18:1-8
Prayerful: Persistence

            What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Christian values” or “Biblical values”? Maybe faith, hope, love, joy, peace? Some of those fruit-of-the-spirit words Paul talks about? Of course, those things are in there, in the scriptures. Lots of good lessons about all that good fruit we might cultivate in our lives, just like we talked about over the last several weeks. But there’s also several stories that seem to highlight values, personal characteristics, that we don’t really know what to do with. Jesus commends to us in one parable a household manager who deceives the master of the house for his own benefit, and he’s labeled as shrewd, something, apparently, we’re meant to admire. In our Bible Study last spring we read several stories about women who were tricksters, finding sneaky ways to exercise some control in a society where they had little power. And these trickster women become, in fact, part of the family tree of J…