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Sermon Archive 2018

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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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Resurrection Living

stoneremovedMark 16: 1-8
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the four gospels in the Bible, probably composed in the late middle of the 1st century, around the year 70.  Mark’s work was formative for the later gospel writers Matthew and Luke; both used material from Mark in their writing, nearly word for word in some places.

So Mark is early, authoritative… and short, the shortest of the four.  Mark’s sole purpose is to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the embodiment and proclaimer of the kingdom of God, which is what he declares in the very first sentence:  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)  Mark gives us the most tightly written story of Jesus:  no birth narrative; no personal vignettes; only a few succinct parables; but – miracles, healings, exorcisms, the feeding of thousands, and the continuous, patient teaching of his disciples. From the outset, Mark aims at the climax, the eight verses we read today.   The crucifixion and resurrection are key to understanding who Jesus is, and nearly half of Mark’s gospel deals with these events.

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Getting Closer

grainofwheatJohn 12: 20-26
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Introduction to the reading

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover along with crowds from all over the known world.  This passage, which tells of the approach of the Greeks is important for three reasons.

  • First, it signals the close of John’s account of Jesus’ ministry.  From this point on, Jesus will offer no more signs, no more teaching, to the public, only to the disciples.
  • Second, coming after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, which we mark next week on Palm Sunday, it serves as a bridge to the passion narrative.  In the verses after this reading, Jesus speaks publicly about his impending death to those Greeks and to all who could hear.
  • Third, the Greeks – real Greeks, not Jews who could speak Greek.  

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There Be Dragons

nicodemusJohn 3: 1-17
Numbers 21: 4-9
Introduction to the reading

We begin with a well-known story - the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee and teacher, Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus in the dark of night for some private instruction. Jesus lets Nicodemus know that he is in the dark in more ways than one.

Verse 14 is a reference to the story from Numbers that you heard earlier. Jesus says that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to bring healing to people of Israel who had been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes (a reference to the serpent in Genesis, no doubt), so the lifting up of Jesus on the cross will bring healing, restoration and eternal life to all people.

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Can You See Differently?

cleansing1 Corinthians 1: 18-30
John 2: 13-22
Introduction to the reading

Paul is writing to a Gentile congregation in Corinth, a city where the people are diverse, smart, sophisticated and busy with their commercial and social lives. You’ve met these 1st century Corinthians before; in many ways that are not unlike us.

Divisions have appeared in the church; the Corinthian Christians have begun to identify themselves as disciples of particular teachers. Paul reminds them that the Gospel he preaches is not about himself, but about the power and wisdom of the cross of Christ.

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The Faith Difference

wilderness1Genesis 17: 1-7
Romans 4: 13-25
Introduction to the reading
This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans is his take on the ancient covenant between God and Abraham. Paul explains how this covenant extends over time to include those whose faith resides in Jesus Christ.

You have two inserts in your worship bulletin today. One is an order form for Easter flowers; even as we are now in the barrenness of Lent, still the business aspect of church life requires that we plan ahead.

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khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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