Glory and Love

Psalm 148 and John 13:31-35

In Psalm 148, the Psalmist calls for everything (and everyone) created by the Lord God to  praise the Lord God. It is interesting to take note of the categories he assigns.

In verse 1, the Psalmist calls upon the angels and all the heavenly hosts to praise the God. According to the New Testament book of Colossians, the heavenly hosts include not just angels, which are ministering spirits sent forth to serve, but principalities and powers and all rule and authority. Like Plato this suggests that God made “ideas” before God made the “expression of those ideas.” In other words, God created the idea of a great light to rule the day and a lesser light to rule the night, before God created the sun and moon themselves. Likewise, God created the idea of rules and governments before the nations themselves came into being. Continue reading

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Reading Scripture Cafeteria Style

John 21:1-19

The late Bishop Herbert Spaugh was still living when I went to The Little Church on the Lane, way back in 1977. It was my privilege to meet with the Bishop for an hour once each week. He used that hour to good effect, trying his best to put his stamp upon me for the duration of my ministry. He talked me more or less permanently into the robe; but he could not talk me permanently into the collar, though I did wear it while I was at the Little Church, and I did find it useful, and once, even powerful.  It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was in an elevator at the Charlotte Memorial Hospital with two elderly ladies. They were about forty, or maybe even forty-five. Anyway, I was wearing an overcoat with my hands in the pockets, and the coat collar was turned up against the cold. I was standing sideways, and my round collar was invisible to them. We punched in our floors and started-up. Suddenly, the elevator lurched, and the ladies fell into one another’s arms, and one of them cried out,“God help us!” My hands were already in the pockets of my coat. In a fit of inspiration, I pushed down hard, suddenly revealing my round collar, turned, looked into their startled faces and said, “He will!” I felt like Superman coming out of a phone booth. Powerful.

Bishop Spaugh taught me a number of useful things. He was a great proponent of cafeteria style preaching.  He said, “In the course of any sermon, I set out a number of entrees, key ideas that I think will help people, and then, I let them pick and choose what they want.” He went on to say that, some people would stay with him to the end of the line, but others would latch on to one of the first entrees, and be lost to him for the remainder of the sermon. “It is okay,” he said, “those people got what they needed.”

The text before us this morning can be read cafeteria style because it presents a number of entrees, key ideas worthy of considerable reflection. Continue reading

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The First Apostle: Mary Magdalene

John 20:1-18

This morning I want to talk to you about the first apostle.  Children sometimes ask me about the difference between an apostle and an epistle. It is easy to tell them apart. An apostle will not fit into an envelope. When Jesus wanted to send his very best, he did not just send an epistle, he sent an apostle. In fact he sent more than one.

When Jesus lived in Galilee, he appointed twelve apostles to be with him, and he sent them out to announce that the kingdom of God was at hand.  The kingdoms of Jerusalem and Rome rejected the kingdom of God, and killed the king,Jesus. But on the third day after his death, God raised him up in accordance with the scriptures. And Jesus showed himself alive to his apostles by many proofs, then he sent them out into the world to announce his victory over sin and death for all of us. Continue reading

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To Thine Own Self Be True

Zechariah 9:9/Luke 18:1-12

There is a familiar passage in Zechariah chapter 9 verse 9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.

There is a familiar passage in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that goes like this:

This above all: to thine own Self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Jesus of Nazareth was the Servant of all, but he was true to himself, and true to the vocation that God had given him.  Nowhere is this better seen than in the story of his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, the foal of an ass.  As the typical traveler approached Jerusalem, he would dismount, and lead his beast into the city, so that no one in Jerusalem would suppose that he was bold enough or foolish enough to enter Jerusalem the manner that Zechariah prophesied for the coming of the Great King. Jesus did just the opposite.  He sent his disciples to find an animal just like the one described by Zechariah.  And, then, placing himself upon it, he entered the city in the manner that Zechariah had prophesied. And his disciples went before him, strewing his path with their garments. Then as Jesus drew near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples remembered all the might works they had seen him do, and they began to cry out saying,“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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We Know Who Holds Tomorrow

James S. Stewart taught Preaching at Edinburg University in Edinburg, Scotland and often lectured at Yale Divinity School, here in America.  Stewart was one of the best known preachers of the 20th century. He was born in 1896. In 1980, when he was 84 years old, I wrote him to thank him for a book that he wrote about the life and theology of St. Paul, entitled, “A Man in Christ”, more than 20 years before. Much to my surprise, Stewart wrote me back, saying that my letter, coming in as it did, when he was more than a decade deep in retirement, was like “a bright light in the gloaming to a weary traveler nearing home.” I treasured those words, and for the next 38 years, I kept that letter on display in my study. I treasure something Stewart said in one of his Yale Lectures on Preaching even more.  In his lecture, “A Faith to Proclaim,” Stewart wrote:

The central business of preaching today is to tell men and women (and boys and girls) that the same power that took Jesus Christ out of the grave is available to them right now, not just in the hour of death, but in the midst of life.

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