Pentecost 19 – "I Am The Lord Who Does All These Things" – Isaiah 45:1-7 – 10/19/14

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The text for our consideration this morning is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 45 that begins like this:
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.” (Isaiah 45:1-3)

It is said that politics and religion make for strange bedfellows, but here you have it. God is directing the course of human history, not through His Church and its theologians, but through Cyrus, the King of Assyria.

Cyrus is still the FUTURE king of Assyria. Isaiah writes what the Lord spoke to him, 200 years before Cyrus is born.

A lot of people have a problem with this. Predicting world events and the rise and fall of nations is something that political scientists and economists are trained for. And with a lot of skill and little luck, their predictions may be amazingly accurate.

But to identify the name of a king 200 years before he’s born? And to spell out in such detail what will happen during his reign? That’s too much. God may be OMNISCIENT, but He’s not that ALL-KNOWING.

And if you don’t believe that the Scriptures are really the INSPIRED, INERRENT Word of God, but are only the speeches and stories of wise and clever men passed down from generation to generation, added to and subtracted from along the way, then its easy enough to assume that some clever scribe added Cyrus’ name into the record after it all happened.

Which defeats the whole purpose of PROPHESY. God broadcasts His FOREKNOWLEDGE so that when things actually happens the way He said they would, we might say, ‘aha, His Word really is true and worthy of my trust.’ Continue reading

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Pentecost 18 – "The Banquet Is Ready!" – Matthew 22:1-14 – 10/12/14

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I don’t know about you but sometimes it gets to me. The never ending war, the disease upon disease, the natural disasters that turn lives upside down in a moment, the suffering, the faithlessness of many, and my own faithlessness. And the people with cancer on our prayer list keeps getting longer.

I know that Jesus warned us that as time goes on, things will go from bad to worse. “Nation against nation, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, a father against his own children and brother against brother…” And false Christs and many led astray…” (Mark 13)

But sometimes it gets to me. What's it all coming to? Where it’s all headed?

But then today, we hear a word that tells us what it’s all coming to. And, I tell you, it’s like a lightening bolt from heaven that shatters the darkness. The shutters are suddenly raised and the curtain is torn open, and the view is clear, and we see our destiny. And we ‘LIFT UP OUR HEARTS.’ Continue reading

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Pentecost 17 – "The Ridiculous Love of God" – Matthew 21:33-46 – 10/5/14

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Preaching on parables about vineyards and vineyard management is much easier done from California or up state New York than from central Maine. California preachers will have loads of analogies and illustrations to use in their sermon this morning that their congregations will easily understand.

But we live in central Maine where vineyards are about as scarce as snow blowers in San Diego. And unfortunately for you, you have a pastor who knows nothing about vineyards except that it’s where grapes come from and grapes are what wine comes from and I like the red stuff better than the white stuff.

Whether we know much about vineyards or not, the thing that strikes us right off the bat is just how similar the Jesus’ parable is to Isaiah’s.

Isaiah describes a vineyard has been planted on a fertile hill. Rather than contracting it out, the owner himself has done the digging and cleared the ground. He worked the soil and planted choice vines, healthy, good stock, only the best. He built a wall around the vineyard for protection and a watchtower in the middle of it to keep an eye on everything.

He hollowed out a rock to hold the wine and age it. And then, after everything was in place, He reflected on all that he had done and concluded with great satisfaction and confidence, “what more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?”

Sounds a little like the Creation account doesn’t it? Creating each little part and piece and setting each one in it’s proper place, “the Lord saw all that He had made and it was very good.” (Gen.2:1). Continue reading

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Holy Cross Day – John 12:20-33 – 9/14/14 –

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“Holy Cross Day” is one of the oldest, annual celebrations on the Church’s calendar, dating back to the early part of the 4th century. Legend has it, and there are several witnesses that claim the legend has a lot of truth to it, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, whose name was Helena, was a devout Christian. And her passion was to uncover as many places where Jesus carried out His ministry in Palestine as possible. And as the mother of the Roman Emperor, who was the Christian Emperor, she had all the backing and support she needed.

Under her direction, several archeological digs uncovered the supposed sites of our Lord’s crucifixion and burial. As the legend has it, on September 14, 320 AD, three crosses were discovered in the process, and one of these was presumed to be the cross on which Christ Himself had been crucified.

15 years later, a basilica was built on this site that is called the “Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher” and the remnants of the cross of Christ were kept in it. The building was dedicated on September 14, 335 by the Emperor Constantine who declared that September 14th was to be remembered as “Holy Cross Day.” Continue reading

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Pentecost 13 – "The Christian and Government" – Romans 13:1-10 – 9/7/14

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One of the big words that we learn in Confirmation Class is “omnipresent.” It’s one of the attributes of God that means, ‘everywhere present.’ Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”

That’s either good news or bad news depending on whether you’d like to hide from God or go someplace where you could escape God’s presence. For instance, if you were hoping that once you left here that you wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into God for the rest of the week wherever else you go, ‘omnipresent’ is not a good word. That there is no where that you can go where you don’t bump into God, is not welcome news if that’s what you are trying to do.

But God’s ‘omnipresence’ is good news if you’re someone who is anxious to worship God wherever you happen to be and everything you do.

This morning we hear St. Paul tell us that we bump into God Himself even in the government and in that messy business we call ‘politics.’ God is present in the ‘governing authorities,’ and that therefore we are to “submit to them,” “obey them,” “respect,” and “honor them.” Continue reading

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Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist – Mark 5:14-29 – 8/31/14

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It was just two fast months ago that we celebrated the “Nativity of John the Baptist” on June 24th. Now today we celebrate his death.

One of the things that we said at that time was that the only other person besides Jesus whose birthday recorded in the gospels is John the Baptist. Like his Savior, John was one of those 'miracle babies.' A real surprise to his parents. And like Joseph and Mary, John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, are instructed by an angel what they are to name their child. “And you shall name him John.” (Luke 1:13)

Now today we note that John the Baptist is also the only person besides Jesus Christ whose birth AND DEATH is recorded in the gospels.
 And like his Savior, John's death is also an injustice and a bloody death, carried out in envy and anger and bitter resentment.
 Like his Savior, John's death comes at the hands of a civil ruler who is pressured into executing an innocent man against his will.

All of this of course is ordered by God. John pointed to Jesus Christ, not just by the sermons that he preached, but also by his life. His preaching testified to Jesus and his death testified to Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

But in John the Baptist, we can also see how sinful man twists God's good intentions and turns them around in such a way that they work for bad instead of good. Maybe it’s just because John's life looked so much like what the prophets had warned we should expect to see when the Messiah comes, but the people think that John the Baptist is the Messiah. Continue reading

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Festival of St. Bartholomew – "The Lord Is My Keeper" – Psalm 121- 8/24/14

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The text for our consideration this morning is the Psalm appointed for the Festival of St. Bartholomew, Psalm 121.

A very brief bit of background on Bartholomew before we begin however. Bartholomew is listed as one of the 12 disciples in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. Luke again includes Bartholomew in the list of Apostles in his book of Acts. That however are the only times that Bartholomew’s name is mentioned in the bible.

One of the names that’s missing from all of the lists of disciples is Nathanael, the friend of Phillip who is known for blurting out those memorable words, “can anything good come out of Nazareth.” And then he met Jesus OF NAZARETH.

In a time when it was not uncommon for someone to be known by more than one name, there’s a good chance that Bartholomew and Nathanael are one and the same.

But it is always dangerous to preach a sermon based on assumption. Continue reading

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Pentecost 8 – "Mange, Mange" – Matthew 14:13-21 – 8/3/14

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In Genesis chapter 2, we read, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Gen.2:7). A ‘living creature’ with an appetite. The ‘living creature’ is an ‘eating creature.’

That’s why God created things in the order that He did. First He created everything necessary to feed this ‘living creature.’ Then He created the ‘living creature’ and showed him everything there is to eat. And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the faced of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Gen.1:29). “And out of the ground the Lord made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Gen.2:9).

And in the background you can almost hear the angels singing, “mange, mange.” (At least the Italian angels.) Continue reading

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Pentecost 10 – "The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like…" – Matthew 13:44-52 – 7/27/14

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“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Occasionally while channel surfing, I’ll come to the “Antiques Roadshow.” People bring their ‘stuff’ to the experts to have it appraised to see if it’s worth anything. Usually it’s something either been passed down to them or something they picked up at a yard-sale for less than $20 bucks. And the appraiser gives a brief history of the item and then tells what its worth. And the owner of the treasure is always shocked. “I had no idea it was worth that much.”

The record find so far was set in 2011. A man had five, Chinese cups carved out of rhinoceros horn that he picked up somewhere because they looked interesting. When he was told that they were valued at between 1 and 1.5 million dollars, he responded, “Seriously? Wow. I guess I won’t have to depend on Social Security anymore.”

And I’m like, ‘yea, if you can actually find someone willing to actually pay that for rhinoceros horns.’

That’s NOT WHAT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE. But that is what THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IS LIKE. We don’t know what we have. We have Jesus Christ, and He is the Son of God. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col.2:9) In Him, you have the forgiveness of all of your sins and power of almighty God on your side and the only cure for death that there is, and the second by second guidance and care of the Holy Spirit.

And that’s only a spec of it. That’s only a fraction of a fraction of the value of this treasure that you possess. Because that’s only what you have in this time and this world. You have Jesus Christ, and He is eternal life.

We have been given this treasure, this precious pearl in our baptism. And we carry this treasure around with us and we don’t realize what we’ve got. Continue reading

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Festival of St. Mary Magdalene – John 20:1-2, 10-18 – 7/20/14

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Mary Magdalene seems to be one of those persons about whom people love to gossip. Throughout the church’s history, people have tried to connect her to the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus told to “go and sin no more.” But there’s nothing in the Scriptures that actually connects Mary to whoever this woman was.

In our own day, Dan Brown claims that the secret DaVinci Code identifies Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife by whom she had a child whose descendants are still among us today. It’s ridiculous, of course. But a little gossip sells a lot of books and makes a lot of money.

I’m not sure why she attracts so much gossip. There’s enough in the Scriptures to develop a fairly complete picture of Mary without having to make stuff up. In fact, other than Mary the mother of our Lord, no other woman in the New Testament has as much written about her in the gospels as Mary Magdalene does.

And not all that is written about her is pretty. If there’s one thing that the gospel writers seem to want us to know about Mary it is that she was someone who was possessed by demons. And not just one or two, but seven.

St. Luke writes that those who traveled with Jesus were ‘the 12’ “and also several women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene from whom seven demons had gone out….” (Luke 8:2).

St. Mark writes that when Jesus “rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)

That nasty little part of Mary’s life is certainly not covered up or hidden by the gospel writers. Everyone knew it and they seem to want to be sure that we know it too. Continue reading

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