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Sermon Archive 2016

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Joy in the Dark

visitationLuke 1:46-55
Introduction to the reading
The verses from Luke that we are about to read are preceded by a passage known as the Visitation.  Mary, having been told by the angel Gabriel that she is to bear a son and name him Jesus, has come to visit her relative Elizabeth, also with child, even in her old age.  Her son will be John the Baptist.

Upon her arrival, Mary greets Elizabeth, and as soon as she does, the child Elizabeth is carrying “leaps” within her and she exclaims:  “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb…”

Today’s reading is Mary’s response, known as the Magnificat because that is the first word of the Latin translation of Mary’s words:  “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

Listen now to Mary’s beautiful song.

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Moving Through It

advent w2Matthew 3: 1-12
Introduction to the reading
The season of Advent is a transitional period.  The story of Jesus – his life, teaching and preaching; his crucifixion, death and resurrection – has been told.  And now, in these four weeks before Christmas, when the story will begin anew, we are being drawn into a time of reflection, introspection, and contemplation, even as we are so busy with all the decorating, partying and present buying.  

John the Baptist is a fitting character for this Advent transition.  He has one foot in the old age that is coming to a close and the other foot in the new age that is being born.


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So… Live in the Now

advent w1Matthew 24: 36-44
Romans 13: 11-14
Introduction to the reading
Interesting, isn’t it, that our first Advent story begins near the end of a gospel- the Gospel of Matthew – and near the end of Jesus’ earthly life.  Soon he will take that walk to the cross.  Jesus has been preparing his disciples for that decisive event … but he also has been teaching them about the coming kingdom of God and holding out the promise of his own eventual return, for his coming again in glory.  They have asked him, “When will this be?”  It is this question which Jesus now addresses.

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Crown of Thorns

crownofthornsLuke 23: 32-43
Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Introduction to the reading

We have come to the last Sunday on the liturgical, or church, calendar, the end of the story of Jesus.  Yet, at the same time, it is a beginning, the beginning of how Jesus is with us forever and ever.  Next week is the first Sunday in Advent, another beginning, as we start the story all over again with the proclamation of his coming.

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And a Time for Peace

helpingothers2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Introduction to the reading
Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica is the oldest book in the New Testament.  The second letter to the Thessalonians, from which we read today, is very much like the first, at least in the beginning.  Some scholars have thought that the second letter was written so soon after the first that Paul still remembered his earlier wording.  Either that or, in order to deal with some crisis confronting the church, a later writer used First Thessalonians as a model and borrowed Paul’s name and reputation  - not unheard of in that time and not seen as plagiarism.

Whichever, the writer of Second Thessalonians seeks to refute the view that the second coming of Jesus is very near.  That climactic day has obviously not yet arrived, and since no one really knows when it will, actions in the present continue to be of utmost importance.

In today’s passage, Paul talks about idleness. Apparently some in the Thessalonian church thought the coming of Jesus would be so soon that they had quit working in order to wait for it.  Listen especially to the last line, for this is a good message for us all.

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torahLuke 20: 27-38
Introduction to the reading
The Sadducees and the Pharisees of early Judaism were opposing factions of the priesthood who differed in their interpretation of scripture, particularly regarding resurrection.  

The Sadducees, with whom Jesus has an encounter in today’s reading, were a conservative, mostly wealthy group who recognized as authoritative only the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures (the Torah, also known as the five books of Moses.)  The Pharisees, on the other hand, emphasized that the written Torah must be kept up to date with ongoing interpretations, taking into account prophetic and wisdom literature and conversing and debating among themselves.  Jesus operates more in the tradition of the Pharisees.

In today’s reading, it seems clear that the aim of the Sadducees is simply to play games with Jesus so they can demonstrate their superiority.  There is no spirit of inquiry or desire to learn.  They are baiting him with one of their ridiculous “what if” questions, a question which they had settled in their minds long ago:  there are no angels or spirits and there is no resurrection of the dead.

Jesus deftly turns their argument right back at them.  Jesus knows Torah too, but the books of Moses speak to him in a different, more imaginative way.  Listen…

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Meeting Jesus

zaccheusLuke 19: 1-10

Introduction to the reading
People probably didn’t have a lot of good to say about Zacchaeus.

He was a tax collector, Luke tells us, in fact, the chief tax collector.  Under Roman occupation, the Jews were compelled to pay taxes to the Roman government, and locals were hired to collect them.

The tax collection system was notoriously ripe for corruption.  Tax collectors were paid a commission for their work, but they could charge the people any amount they wanted as long as the government got its proper share.  There was great incentive to cheat people and increase your own profit, to become rich at the expense of your fellow Jews.  As you might guess, then, there was strong stigma attached to the job.  Tax collectors were, by and large, hated, seen as collaborators, traitors, sinners.  

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In the Great Scheme of Things

pharpubLuke 18: 9-14
Joel 2: 23-29

Introduction to the reading
Jesus communicates a profound truth in this short story about two men who have come into the temple to pray:  Being in right relationship with God is not about doing but about being, about who you are before God and therefore, then, how you behave.

A word about Pharisees and tax collectors in the context of the first century ancient Near East.  Pharisees held to a liberal interpretation of Torah and sought to make observance of the Law available to all.  The Pharisee was a prime example of that observance, exceeding the Law’s demands and strictly adhering to the moral and ethical code of his faith.

In contrast, tax collectors, were regarded as a collaborators with the occupying Romans.  They were seen to be (and sometimes were) unscrupulous, dishonest, the very antithesis of the upright Pharisee.

So what we have here in this parable is another great reversal.  Listen…

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persistentwidowLuke 18: 1-8

Introduction to the reading
Jesus speaks to us today in a parable about the need to pray always and to not lose heart.  
In the Scripture, of course, he is speaking to his disciples.  Just in the chapter before, he has told them about the coming of the Son of Man, that is, the second coming of Jesus, ushering in the kingdom of God.  When that day will be and what it will be like no one knows exactly.  But what we have been told is that will be a time of great role reversal between rich and poor, powerful and powerless.  The disciples are expectant and anxious and hopeful all at the same time.

By the time of Luke’s actual writing, however, several generations had passed and Jesus’ followers had been experiencing persecution and hardship, a decided lack of success it must have seemed to them.  Maybe they wanted to quit; maybe they’d had enough.  This is the parable they need to hear.

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Persistent Flame

Timothy2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Introduction to the reading
Our reading this morning is from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, his young protégé.  It was written to encourage and strengthen Timothy for the challenge of remaining in Ephesus to evangelize and instruct the churches around there.  

The letter overflows with Paul’s great love for Timothy and his genuine concern about the challenges and hardships that Timothy is facing.  It seems that Paul is writing from prison, having suffered abuse for preaching the gospel.  Paul seems to sense that Timothy might be ashamed of him for that; and that Timothy might be worried that he will suffer the same fate.

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End Game

lazausandrichmanLuke 16:19-31
Introduction to the reading
We hear another parable about economic injustice toward the least of those among us.

In the news this week, a story about Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that he was “deeply sorry” over allegations that the bank opened millions of accounts without customers’ permission in order to meet sales quotas (this over a period of the last five years).

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Reconciling Differences

Luke 16: 1-13
unjustmasterAmos 8:4-7

Introduction to the reading
Jesus spoke about the perils of striving after possessions and the spiritual danger of accumulating riches more often than anything else.  No subject is of more concern to him in the Gospel of Luke than the issues of poverty and wealth, taken both literally and metaphorically.

The parable that we will read today, however, seems to take an odd turn.  It seems that Jesus finds something commendable in the manager who acts dishonestly with respect to someone else’s money.  Scholars and preachers have been confounded by this parable for centuries, and they still reinterpret, argue and debate about it.

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khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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