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Sermon Archive 2018

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Civil Twilight

twilightThursday, a week ago, we met our newest grandchild, Brandon Evans Henry. He is perfect and beautiful, a new life, full of wonder and promise and hope. As every new birth, a miracle. What a gift from God to this retiring pastor …

We came up from Philadelphia in the evening, probably around 8:30, I think. As we were driving north on Route 206, the sky to our left was streaked with orange clouds, a glorious sunset. And to our right, the light on the fields was clear and almost luminous– another gift from God, the beauty of this earth.

I remarked on it, and Peter said, “That’s civil twilight.” I had never heard of ‘civil twilight’. “What is that?” I asked him. He didn’t know exactly. He just knew that the look of the sky, east, opposite the sunset, was called that: civil twilight.

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Hurricane Goliath

stormMark 4: 35-41
1 Samuel 17: 32-50
Introduction to the reading
It is evening, the end of a full and exhausting day of teaching in the countryside along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ decision to cross to the other side is the only way he and his disciples can leave the crowd so they can be alone together and perhaps get some rest.

But they got no rest, for a great storm arose. A storm on a lake is fast and furious. With no room to spread out, it expends its violent energy over and over in the contained space. The boat is soon awash.

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God Only Knows

sowerandseedMark 4: 26-34
2 Corinthians 5: 6-10
Introduction to the reading
In the Gospel of Mark, the first parable that Jesus tells is the familiar “Parable of the Sower”. Later, when he is alone, his followers ask him about parables, those stories with meaning beyond the literal. And so, he explains to them the parable they’ve just heard. And you know that interpretation: the seed is the word falling on different types of soil that re either barren in some way or fruitful. The kind of soil is critical, and the take away of the story is that we should be good soil, open to the seed of God’s holy word.

The reading for today, five verses later, focuses on the seed that falls on good soil, the ones who “hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

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The Word in Practice

clayjarsMark 2: 23 – 3:6
2 Corinthians 4: 5-11
Introduction to the reading
Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark is one of five “controversy sections” in which we can see the tensions, conflict and outright hostility building up between Jesus and the religious leaders, which will ultimately lead to the crucifixion. Yet it is all part of God’s plan…

The issue today is Sabbath observance, a crucial question at the time the Gospel was written, when the Christian movement was still separating from the synagogue. How do the old rules and traditions apply to the newer way? It’s still a crucial question for our own time, as Sunday church-going seems to have become a thing of the past.

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These Three

nicodemusJohn 3: 1-17
Isaiah 6:1-9a
Introduction to the reading

This will be a familiar story to many of you – the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night to question him, to make up his mind about him. When John’s gospel was written down, toward the end of the first century, rabbinic Judaism was beginning to emerge. That is, the emphasis shifted from worship and sacrifice in the temple (as in the Old Testament) to teaching in the synagogue; this passage reflects that rabbinic style of discussion and debate over religious concerns.

Also, it was a time of conflict between those Jews who believed in Jesus as God’s Messiah and those who did not. Nicodemus, it seems, was on the fence about that. Jesus tries to teach him about his connection to God the Father and about his coming death and resurrection, but it is not clear that Nicodemus understands.
The passage ends with two of the most familiar and beloved verses in Scripture.

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pentecost18Acts 2: 1-21
Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Introduction to the reading

Today is Pentecost – in the Jewish tradition, the Feast of Weeks, a pilgrimage to celebrate the spring barley harvest fifty days after Passover. Jews from every nation had converged on the temple in Jerusalem, as they had been doing for centuries, and we will hear the names of all the places they had come from; the whole known world of that time was represented.

Christians mark this day – Pentecost – as the birth day of the Church, the day the church began to be more organized. It is the baptismal day that John said would come: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." The Holy Spirit did come upon the apostles that day and dramatically so. It filled them with the ability to speak the gospel in a whole raft of different languages, thus offering it to all the world.

The church began as, always has been, and still is a gathering of the diverse faithful, unified and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It started at Pentecost.

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Ordinary People

jesusprayingActs 1: 12-17 and 21-26
Introduction to the reading
The first chapter of the book of Acts is about transition and change in the leadership of the earliest church. Luke writes that after Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, he presented himself to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. He told them to wait there in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, that is, the coming of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes upon them – which we celebrate, next week, as Pentecost – they will receive power. And, he said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Immediately after making that statement, Jesus ascended into heaven on a cloud.

Verses 12-17: The apostles were mindful of their ancestral roots. Twelve men were chosen originally, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel, and so now, someone had to be added to replace Judas Iscariot. In order to qualify, this one had to have known Jesus personally.

Verse 26: and they cast lots... Casting lots was an ancient Biblical practice for determining the will of God.

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Spiritual Friends

calledfriendsJohn 15: 9- 17
Acts 10: 44-48

Dear Abby: My sister-in-law is demanding to know why I won’t accept her friend request on Facebook. I don’t consider her a friend and prefer not to allow her access to my Facebook page. How can I politely and honestly answer her questioning?
- Prefer to Decline

Dear Decline: Because she is forcing the issue, be forthright and tell her that while she may be your sister-in-law, you do not feel close enough to her to be comfortable having her review your activities on a daily basis.

I see several troubling things in this situation and it’s not about the difficulties of being polite and honest.

First off, being related – being family – doesn’t necessarily mean being friends. That is too bad and sometimes actually grievous, but it happens.  Then there’s the insistence: how can one person demand that another be her friend, even on Facebook? Is friendship all about accumulating the most number of people who “like” you?

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Together in Baptism

philipbaptismActs 8: 26-40
Introduction to the reading
Today’s reading from the book of Acts is a strange and unusual story, marked by a peculiar setting, multiple directives from divine agents and an exotic central character.
A few pointers:

  • Philip – not the Philip whom Jesus called as one of the original disciples.  This Philip is one of seven Greek-speaking Jewish Christians appointed by the Twelve to care for the needs of others.  He has become an energetic and effective evangelist apostle, having just completed a great work of preaching to crowds of people in Samaria.
  • the setting – a wilderness road in deserted place in the middle of the day.  The midday heat makes traveling here difficult and even dangerous and so the story takes on an air of absurdity.
  • The Ethiopian eunuch – quite a dramatic figure.  An Ethiopian referred to anyone with dark skin from the largely unknown lands below Egypt, and a eunuch is a castrated male.   This Ethiopian eunuch, we are told, is in charge of the treasury of Candace, the official title of the queen, head of the government in Ethiopia.  His non-Jewishness and sexual status make him an outcast unacceptable in the temple. His connection to Judaism tenuous but he is clearly an avid student of the religion.  He is a wealthy, educated and devout foreigner out in the middle of nowhere come face to face with the power of the Holy Spirit.

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The Way of Salvation

goodshepherdActs 4: 1-14
John 10: 11-18
Psalm 23

Introduction to the reading
The reading for today from the book of Acts follows through on the story from last week.  As they entered the temple for afternoon prayer, Peter and John came upon a crippled beggar asking for alms.  But instead of giving him money, Peter told him to stand up and walk.  And lo and behold, he did!  After the people saw the lame man walking and joyfully praising God, they were utterly astonished.

Peter’s response was, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?”  The lame man wasn’t healed by the apostles’ power but by faith in [Jesus’] name and the power of God.

At this point, the officials have heard enough…

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Living as a Believer: Healing From the Inside Out

peterandthebeggarActs 3: 1-16
Introduction to the reading
In our reading for this morning, we encounter the disciple Peter once again.  You may remember that Peter is the brash, impetuous one who dared to declare about Jesus, “You are the Messiah!”; and the one who dared also to get out of the boat and walk on water – at least briefly; and the one who avowed to Jesus, “I will not desert you, I will not deny you.”

But, of course, he did do that.  The memory of it - sitting around in the courtyard, warming himself over a fire while Jesus was being interrogated - must have been terribly painful.

The post-resurrection Peter is a changed man.  As if to atone for his sorry cowardly behavior, Peter becomes the great orator of the emerging church as Paul would later become its theologian.  Today, at a gate of the temple, he takes the opportunity to preach … and to heal.

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Living As a Believer: In Community

thomasActs 4: 32-35
John 20: 19-31

Introduction to the reading
The women had come to the tomb early that Sunday morning – the Sunday we have come to call Easter – to the place where the body of Jesus had been laid temporarily.  They couldn’t do the proper burial rituals until after the Sabbath.

We know what they found when they got there:  no Jesus.  Instead – as we heard last Sunday from the Gospel of Mark – a young man in white told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead just as he had said would happen.  “But go,” he said, “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him..."

But the women didn’t do that.  Terror and amazement had seized them; they were so afraid that they fled and didn’t tell anyone about their experience.

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khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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