Submit Your Own!
Ring of Fire
By Rick Brand
Text: I John 4:7-21 “He who dwells in love dwells in God” Ring of FireMay 10, 2009Kenly Presbyterian Church, Kenly, N.C.Rick Brand, Preaching The Christian faith has to live by testimony because there really is no way to prove it logically. Like all those line dances, circle dances, folk dances we used to do at youth retreats, there was no real beginning and no end, so you just had to break into the circle and start doing it, if you wanted to be part of the fun. Harry Emerson Fosdick, one of New York City’s famous preachers in the l940’s and 50’s, told of a man who came to him and said he did not believe in prayer and wanted Dr. Fosdick to explain it to him. Dr. Fosdick said there was no way to explain it, but Dr. Fosdick asked the man to do something for him. Dr. Fosdick said, “I want you to go home and spend thirty minutes a day talking as if there was a God and you are talking to God as a friend.” The man came back and said he now believed in the power of prayer. There really is no way we can convince anybody about the reality of God and the power of the Christian life expect by our bearing witness that we have experienced the power of that life. Most of us here this morning might be able to talk about the great joy and blessings in our lives that have been given to us by our mothers. Mother’s Day. A day to talk about the impact and love that mothers give to their children. But in reality the facts suggest that there is no way to prove that mother’s are good. For every fact that praises mothers there are facts that point to the problems mothers cause. The same for fathers. The only thing that each of us can do is tell our own experiences with our own mother, and my own experiences with my mother turn out to be different and better than my sisters’ memories and experiences with our mother. John the Gospel writer and the writer of I John, they might have been the same person; jump right into this loving faith circle. John invites us in, and in fact, begs us to come in and abide in that circle. We are to be the branches that are connected to the Vine of Jesus. As we abide in the vine, the love and power of live abides in us, and the more we abide in the vine, the more the love flows through us and that results in our loving other people. Perhaps we do not use the word “Abide” very much anymore, but we still very much talk about what it means. There are “die hard” State fans, who have abided as State fans through Les Robinson, Herb Sendek, Sidney Lowe, and who continue to abide as State Fans now. There are Financial planners who have been urging us to abide in our financial plans even in the midst of these troubled times. Stick with the program. When Jim Valvano gave his last talk, he urged us all to “Never give up, never give up.” He was urging us to abide in hope. To stay in the same faith. Sticking with it. John remembers that Jesus asks us to abide in Him. I John writes about dwelling in the love of God. To live there in the love of God. Love is from God. God loves us and as that love dwells in us we are bound to produce fruits which are that we have this deep passionate concern for others. If God dwells in us, we will love others, and the more we love others, the more the love of God dwells in us. It is a ring of love. That is why there is always talk about the leap of faith. One has to jump into the circle; one has to do it to find the truth in it. No abstract debate or philosophical discussion can prove it. It power and credibility is found in the living in the circle. The more we involve ourselves in the lives of others, the more we find our own lives enriched blessed and full of joy, so that we have the energy and desire to be involved more. If you want to know more of the Love of God in your own life, then share more of the love of God for other people. That is one of the strange mysteries of life. Most of us are deeply concerned about our own lives and our own happiness, and yet I John says the more we dwell in the love of God the more we will become involved in the lives of others, and the more we are involved in the lives of others and share in God’s love, the better our own lives become. Primarily, that love of God makes our own lives better because we lose that oppressive weight of the fear of living. As the love of God dwells in our lives, the more we become concern about others, the less fear we have in our own lives. The more we know of the love of God in our own lives, the less fear we have of whether or not we are important. It is one of the most common expressions of what people want to do with their lives, to make a difference, to matter to someone or to something, to leave some mark on history. So the great fear that abides in our culture is the fear of insignificance. That in this great world of billions of people in a galaxy of millions of stars we are “is dust in the wind.” As the love of God dwells in us and we are involved in the caring for others, all fear is gone and we know we are important to God and we are making a contribution to others. Abide in the vine and the power of God’s love abides in you, you will bear fruits. One of the fruits is the loss of fear, for perfect love casts out fear. We no longer are afraid that we do not matter, and we are no longer afraid that we may not be good enough. The promise of judgment in the gospel means that what we do matters and what we do will be reviewed, but God has shown his love for us in the coming of Jesus to be a remedy for the defilement of our sins. So that we no longer fear that judgment. Our redemption is not dependent on how those works are judged. We are redeemed by the love of God as shown in Jesus so that we are not anxious about being worthy, or good enough, or being right. We know we are not saved by works, but we know that as we abide in the love of God there will be acts of compassion and works of justice on behalf of others. But we do not always have to be right. We do not have to always defend ourselves or prove ourselves better, smarter, stronger, or more righteous than others. It is not a contest and we do not have to win, and we do not have to be afraid of losing. And certainly, as we abide in the love of God and allow that love of God to flow through us in acts of justice and works of compassion, that love casts out the fear of the unknown. I think somebody told me once that the movie, ET, was the first movie in which an alien reality was not treated as a threat. So many of our decisions as a people are made because we are afraid of what we do not know, because what we see is strange and different from us. There is the fear that all this immigration, legal or illegal, is going to ruin our country. All our fears of the reform of health care are because we are afraid of what we might get. Abide in God and that love will bear fruit and the fruit will be the loss of the fear of all the rest of creation that we have not yet experienced. All those new worlds of space, all those people in other countries and cultures, all those new developments and discoveries are part of the creation that God has given us to enjoy and to share. There is no better illustration of the power of the love of God to cast out the fear of all things different than this story in ACTS of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip was one of the original disciples. He probably was from Beth-saida and apparently he was one of those people who was good at connecting people. He was instrumental in bring Nathanael to Jesus. Philip was the one to whom Jesus asked the question about buying food for the 5,000 and Philip responded that there wasn’t enough money in their entire pocket to buy enough food. Just before Jesus says that he is the vine, Jesus had been talking about in his father’s house there are many mansions, and Philip is the one who says,” well if you would just show us the father, we would be content.” And Jesus is stunned that he has been with them for so long and they still did not get that he was showing them the love of the Father. Now this same Philip, along with the rest of the disciples, are moving out into the world with the story of this love of God that abides in them and thus gives love for others. Even those who are way outside the box as it is said. Philip is on the road going South out of Jerusalem, along a desert road. There he sees this sedan chair being carried by servants. Inside is a man of high political power. Inside is the Treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia. Power, wealth and style. Inside was an Ethiopian man, a man who was not one of the chosen people, a man who was way outside the beaten path of Jews and Samaritans. There was a man in a different social sphere, a different political level, you remember the flack Michelle Obama got for touching the Queen of England, Philip was a lot lower on the tote pole than Michelle, a man of a different race, a man of a different culture and nation, and not only that this man was a Eunuch. As you know Eunuch were considered unclean and unacceptable in the Temple of God. Here was one who was so far outside the targeted population of Philip and the disciples that it is hard to imagine that Philip was not a bit intimidated about going up and talking to him. But the man had been to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. He must have had some curiosity and longings for a spiritual reality in his life. The man who had power knew the emptiness of that power and was looking for something else. He was studying the scriptures. Reading from Isaiah about the great Suffering Servant passages and wondering as all the scholars still do, was Isaiah speaking about himself or about somebody else. As always all Philip could do was tell of his own experiences and about how he was blessed by this circle of love: God’s love given in Jesus to the world, and as one abides in that circle, the love goes out to others, and as that love goes out to others, it brings the love of God more and more into a reality which gives life a great sense of peace, joy, contentment, no fear of judgment, no fear of tomorrow, no fear of the stranger. The Ethiopian Eunuch then asks that question, “Well, what is there to keep me from being baptized right here?” Philip can’t think of a single reason not to baptize him and they go right to the water and do it. Johnny Cash had a song about falling into a Ring of Fire, he fell in and flames grew higher. That is pretty much the same message of the Gospel, there is a ring of love that is God given: it goes round and round in circle game, there is only the testimony of those who have entered into the circle as to the truth of the matter. Those who abide in the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, find that they are full of the Love of God which flowers into a great passion for the good of others as much as for the good of ourselves, and the more we care and are concerned for others, the more our lives are expanded, enriched, and challenged, and the more we find ourselves freed from the fears of insignificance, the fear of failure, and the fear of the strangers. And so may the love of God abide in you now and always so that you may find your peace in the works of God’s love on the behalf of others.
The Risk of Not Coming
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19-31
St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA
Sunday, April 19, 2009,
Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
(word count: 974)
The Risk of Not Coming
“I don't need to go to church. I'm spiritual but not religious. I can have an encounter with God out in the woods. What do I need to go to church for?”
We have all heard people make statements like these. It is true that we can encounter God anywhere, but in the Church we are guaranteed to encounter God. Jesus teaches us in Matthew, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” When we eat and drink Holy Communion, we encounter Christ. Jesus says of Holy Communion, “This is my body; this is my blood.” The Book of Concord teaches us that, when we eat and drink Holy Communion, we are eating and drinking the real body and blood of God himself. You can't get that by walking in the woods.
You might encounter God out in nature. Mary Magdalene does on Easter Day. Of course, what does Jesus tell her when she meets him? He says, “Go and tell the others.” In fact, over and over, when people encounter the risen Jesus, he urges them to go and tell. Don't keep it to yourself. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is alive. I wonder how many people who encounter God in the woods go and tell people about the encounter.
You might encounter God in nature, but you will definitely encounter God when you are with the believers, the Church. That's what happens to Thomas. The risen Jesus appears to the group of disciples. Thomas misses out because he is not there, not with the group. Where was he? Maybe he was in the woods. Maybe he was at work. Maybe he was sleeping in. We don't know. What we do know is that, wherever he was, he did not encounter Jesus there. Otherwise, Thomas would not have said, “I will not believe until I can see and touch him.” Wherever Thomas was, he did not encounter God there.
But he does encounter God when he is with the group, with the believers. Do you understand? It is only when he is with the other believers, with the Church, that Thomas meets the risen Christ. When you're alone, you might meet up with God, just as Mary Magdalene does, or you might end up like Thomas, who did not encounter God when alone. But when we are with the other believers, we will definitely meet up with God, just as Thomas eventually does.
“I don't need to go to Church. I can meet God in the woods.” Maybe. Come to Church, and God will be here. Guaranteed. Despite all our flaws, when we, the baptized, gather, God is here. Guaranteed.
So what? When I come to church I encounter God; so what? What benefits come from encountering God at church?
I wonder how Thomas would answer that question. What if Thomas had stayed away? What if Thomas had never encountered the risen Christ? Thomas would have continued to doubt, but when he does encounter Christ, he goes from being doubting Thomas to being devouting Thomas. When he sees the risen Jesus, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God!”
Sunday worship may not dispel all our doubts, but attending worship Sunday after Sunday does strengthen us, thanks be to God. When we gather for worship and come face-to-face with our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ, we learn anew that evil will not win. It is easy for us to doubt, easy to get discouraged, tempting to think that evil will win, that Satan is the victor. “Yup, that's right. The world's going from bad to worse. People are shooting each other, politicians are corrupt and getting worse, the world is sick with violence, the economy is derailed and plummeting off a cliff.” Satan puts his arm around you and says, “That's right. Be pessimistic, be cynical, give up. Evil has won. It's all hopeless. Why even bother going to Church? Doesn't do any good. Just stay home. What's the point?”
It is tempting to think in this rotten, smelly way, but then the Spirit compels us to drag ourselves to worship. The risen Christ shows up. He shows you his scars. He says to you, “Do you see? Yes, sinful people crucified me. Yes, I died, but now I am alive. Good has won. God has vanquished Satan. Don't listen to the doom-sayers. Don't listen to the pessimists and cynics. Sure, the world has problems, but I am still risen. I am still your Lord and your God. I am here to feed you, fill you, teach you, strengthen you, challenge you. I breathe the Holy Spirit into you.” Do you see? The risen Christ means hope, new life.
April 20, tomorrow, reminds me of this truth in a special way. April 20 is Hitler's birthday. April 20 is also the birthday of my best male friend, Glenn, who is Jewish. Hitler's plan was to eliminate all Jews, but he failed, thanks be to God. Despite Hitler's efforts, Glenn and millions of other Jews are alive. Hitler lost; evil lost. Evil is strong; God is stronger. Christ was crucified, but Christ is alive. Do not doubt, but believe. Do you see? [have Christ statue]
We come to worship with our doubts, broken-hearts, weariness, sharp pains and dull aches, fears. We bring all of this to worship, and being in worship does not erase all of that. But in worship, Christ comes to us through Scripture, Holy Communion, one another. Christ comes to us, the baptized, and says, “See the scars. See the marks from the nails in my hands. Put your hand in my side. Evil did its worst to me, but look: I am alive! I am alive. I have won, and so you will, too. You are the baptized. Do not doubt, but believe!”
Homiletical Monologue, Part Three
By David von Schlichten
ROCK PART THREE
(word count: 743)
I cannot believe it. I don't know whether to be hopeful or terrified or both. Right now I'm just shocked. Jesus used to call me Peter, which means Rock, but I feel more like jell-o.
He died. The women saw the whole thing, the crucifixion. The centurions took the body down from the cross, all bloody and battered. John saw. Others saw. He was dead. Not sleeping. Dead.
I went to the viewing at the funeral home. I saw his body in the casket. I dropped to my knees and sobbed right. My wife put her arm around me. I looked up and saw Jesus lying there, in the casket. It was him. His rugged face, swarthy skin, square jawline. I've looked into that face a million times. There was no mistake. It was Jesus. He looked like he was sleeping, but he was dead.
We thought Jesus might have a closed casket because he had been beaten so badly, but he didn't look too bad. The funeral director, John Lopatich, had done an excellent job with the makeup and clothes to hide the wounds. I stood up, reached out, touched his face.
I spoke with John Lopatich. “Is he really dead?” I asked him. John nodded. “Yes, Peter. He's really dead.” “Are you sure?” I asked. John said, “Yes, I drained all the blood out of him myself. I worked on his body. He didn't move, didn't breathe. I've been doing this job a long time. I know a dead body when I see one, and Peter, I am afraid to say that Jesus is really dead.”
I nodded and walked away, still nodding. My wife guided me to a chair.
Then they had the funeral. I don't remember what the pastor said in the homily; I'm sure it was fine. We all drove to the cemetery. Jesus' casket was placed in the upper cemetery here at St. James. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There stood the casket containing Jesus' poor, dead body. After the service, I leaned in and gave the casket a kiss. I walked away, crying, my wife holding me close. Then we went to the church basement and ate fried chicken, halushki, and gob cake.
Last night I came back to the grave site by myself. The casket had been lowered. Back fill had been shoveled in. Now there was a mound of dirt, and, at the end of the mound, a temporary grave marker that read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, REST IN PEACE.
That all happened yesterday, Saturday. At the end of the day, I went to bed, cried, did not sleep well. This morning, when the sun came up, I was wide awake, thinking about all that I had experienced with Jesus. I recalled how I had denied him three times. As I lay there, I prayed, “God, if I could do it all over, I would not deny him. I wish I had another chance. Please give me another chance.”
The phone rang. Who was calling at 7 on a Sunday morning? My wife didn't wake up; she was just snoring away. The phone kept ringing. I looked at the caller ID. It was Mary Magdalene's cell.
“Peter, something happened,” she said. “We went to the grave this morning to place some flowers there, and it was all dug up. We looked down into the hole. The casket was there, but it was open, and sitting in the casket was a young man, probably about eighteen, wearing a white robe. He told us that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that we were to go and tell you and the other disciples that he will meet you in Galilee.”
I said, “Mary, what are you talking about?” She told me everything again, and I thought this could not be right. I said I'd have to call her back and hung up. I needed a moment to think.
My wife rolled over. “What's going on, honey?” she asked. I told her, and she said, “Well, that makes sense. Didn't he used to tell you that he would die and come back to life?”
My wife was right, of course. I got dressed and drove to the cemetery. I looked into the hole in the ground. The open casket was there, but there was no young man.
I'm so confused. This is all frightening, strange. Could he truly be alive? Look! There he is! Do you see him?
Homiletical Monologue, Part Two
By David von Schlichten
ROCK PART TWO
word count: 397
Where are we headed? God, hold me up. I am falling.
Just a few hours ago, we were celebrating Passover. During the seder, he held up a pita and tore it in half. He said, “Take, eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” I didn't understand. I just stared at him. We passed the bread around and ate. The room was quiet from bewilderment tinted with holiness. I chewed the bread. The wheat flavor was rich, the texture gritty. I thought, “This is his body. This is his body.” What does that mean?
Later, he held up the chalice. He said, “Take this; drink. This is my blood given for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.” He passed the chalice. We each drank. The tart wine warmed my chest. His blood. Drinking blood. How strange. What does that mean? I could spend a lifetime thinking about that. I will.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. I will do it in remembrance of him. At least I can get that right, I hope.
Maybe I can somehow make up for the horrible sin I committed against him. Can I? Will I? Can I ever do enough to make up for what I did against him this morning?
This morning, this morning, I denied him. To protect myself, I said three times that I did not know him. The first time was in response to a servant girl. What a weakling I am, letting a servant girl intimidate me. Some rock. A little while later, I denied him again. An hour after that, I denied him a third time. I got defensive. I swore an oath. I hissed, “I do not know him!”
Then I heard the rooster. I remembered what he had said: “Before the rooster crows twice you will deny me three times.” In response, I had said, “Never. Even if I have to die for you, I will never deny you.” Blah, blah, blah. Empty talk. Typical me. A whole lot of talk, but, when the pressure's on, I crumble. I'm not a rock. I denied him. To save myself, I said I did not know him. I chickened out. I failed. I'm a coward. O!
God, forgive me. [Lean over font.] Hold me up. Hold me up.
By David von Schlichten
(a three-part homiletical monologue)
(word count: 1077)
I don't know what to think. I love him. I don't understand him. Who is he? One minute I swear I know, the next minute I have no idea. Maybe I have a demon in me driving me insane. God help me. I feel as sure and dependable as sand.
I do love him. I know that. I cling to that, cling to my love for him.
I also know that he has changed me forever. He started changing me three years ago, when we first met. I had just docked our boat. Andrew and I had a net full of carp, all shiny, wriggling and flipping. It was a huge catch. Business was good.
Then he came walking along the shore. He was muscular, dark-skinned, with large, rugged hands. His eyes were dark and intense. He came walking up to us. Andrew and I dropped our net. He waved. He called out, “Hey, you guys. Come on. Drop everything. Follow me, and I'll teach you how to do some real fishing. I'll teach you to fish for people.”
We heaved the net back into the sea so all the fish could swim away. Then we dragged the net back into the boat and followed him. We didn't know what we were doing or who this guy was. But he had power, charisma, and we did not want to say no. I remember thinking, “I'll take a couple hours off and follow this guy, see what happens.” Three years later, and the biggest fish I have caught is myself.
We followed him, listened to his teachings as often as we could. We have families and other responsibilities, but we're with him as much as possible.
He's addictive. He does astonishing miracles. He healed my mother-in-law of a fever. He drives out demons. In fact, demons would scream in terror at his presence. I've seen wonder workers and faith healers before. Every town has someone who claims to do miracles, but no one like him. Every day he cures someone of leprosy or causes a blind person to see. Incredible. Imagine spending your whole life unable to see. You're reduced to begging, you never marry. Then a man touches your eyes, and now you can see. Overwhelming.
He is astonishing. One time, we were all out on a boat. he had gone off to pray. A storm kicked up. Demons, probably, were knocking our boat about.You get that on the water sometimes. Wind howled. I've spent my whole life on the sea, but I thought for sure we were going to capsize. Then we saw someone out in the water, walking toward us. It's a ghost! “No,” the man shouted. “It's I AM.” It was him, actually walking on the surface of the waves. He invited me out. I stepped onto the surface, my stomach tense, my heart rapid. Soon I was actually standing on the waves, looking at him. It was unreal. The water felt like wet skin. I kept my eyes on him, kept my eyes on him. But the wind was so loud and the waves were so high, I thought, “I can't do,” and I started to sink. I screamed, “Save me!” and he grabbed me with a strong, tight grip. So strange and powerful.
That's how it's been with him. He has shown incredible power. He has done wonders that only, well, only God could do. He must be the Messiah.
In fact, I even said as much to him. “Who do you say that I am?” he asked, his eyes locked on me, his face dark and a bit sunburned.
I cleared my throat. “You are the Messiah.”
He put his hand on my arm, smiled, and said, “Simon you are Peter, Rock, and on this rock I will build my church.” He calls me Peter, which means rock. I am his rock. I guess. I feel more like sand than rock. Such a title is humbling to the point of heartache, but also exciting.
Right after he said that, he started talking about how he would suffer. “They're going to arrest me, beat me, kill me, and then, three days later, the Son of Man will rise again.”
I glanced at John and James. What crazy talk was this? What is he saying? Being killed, rising again? It was like he had suddenly lost it. I wondered if he somehow had a demon in him, so I tried to drive the demon out. “Get out of him!” I shouted.
But then his eyes narrowed and his mouth became taut. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You don't know what you're talking about. You are setting your mind, not on divine things, but on human things.”
I felt punched in the stomach. I walked off by myself so that he would not see me weep.
He is a confusing one, this man, or whatever he is. One minute it seems like he will save the world. The next minute he is talking about being murdered. I don't get it. Who is he?
A couple weeks ago, he led James, John and me up a high mountain. While he was up there, he became blazing white. It hurt to look at him. I thought, “What is this? Death? Life? A vision? What?” Then two men started talking with him, and I somehow knew that they were Moses and Elijah, who have been dead for hundreds of years. It was like a dream. I thought I might die any minute. I said, “Uh, this is great. How about we make three dwellings, one for each of you?” What a stupid thing to say. Why would we make dwellings, and what were we going to make them out of?
A fog moved in, and a voice boomed, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” The voice of God, hard like iron, piercing like a nail. A second later, everything was back to normal. Did I imagine it? “Don't tell anyone about this until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead,” he told us.
Son of Man? Raised from the dead? The dead. God, help me. I do not understand. Is this man, the greatest being I have ever known, the Messiah, maybe even God himself – is this wonderful being whom I love more than anyone really, is he really going to die? Where are we headed?
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