When (We) Grow Old

John 21:15-19

In John 21 the Risen Jesus appears to 7 disciples on a beach adjacent to the Sea of Galilee. He directs them to a huge haul of fish, then invites them to breakfast.  After breakfast, he allows Peter to affirm his love for him as often as Peter had denied him, three times.  And each time Jesus says to Peter, “Feed” or “Tend” my sheep.   Then Jesus looks straight at Peter and says:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

The text says that Jesus told Peter about the death he would someday die to glorify God. Then Jesus said, “Follow me.”

I have no doubt that those who first heard this story knew exactly how Peter died.  We can’t be sure.  An old and usually reliable tradition says that he was crucified in Rome. A less reliable source says that he was crucified upside down because he refused to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. Peter’s death “glorified God,” because it put the seal of authenticity on his life. Many times along the way he could have saved his life by denying Jesus, but he did not.

For twenty centuries this same text has served as a parable of old age. When we are young, we dress and gird ourselves and go where we want to go. But when we grow old, we stretch out our hands, perhaps asking for help, and others dress us and gird us and take us where we do not want to go. Continue reading

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on When (We) Grow Old

We are Witnesses

The Sunrise Service in God’s Acre.

Acts 10:34 -43, 1st Corinthians  15:19, etc., Luke 24:1-12, etc.

Today we are talking about what it means to be a witness to the resurrection.  We want to know what it meant to the disciples and what it now means to us.

According to St. Luke, on Good Friday, after the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the women followed those who carried the dead body of their Master to the garden tomb where it was laid. Then early in the morning of the first day of the week, they returned to the tomb bearing spices to prepare his body for the long sleep of death. To their surprise, they found the stone rolled away. Now the stones used to seal tombs were massive. The heavy stone that was rolled away from the tomb of Jesus has rightly been called “the Philosopher’s stone,” because from that day to this, philosophers have wondered “Who moved the stone?” Was it the work of God? Was it the work of a band of clever pranksters?  Or was it a mistake on the part of the women? Continue reading

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on We are Witnesses

Receiving and Using Our Voice

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-1l, Luke 19:28-40

This sermon is a revision of the one that I preached. It has
been revised for additional clarity.

This morning, we are talking about receiving and using our voice. As children, most of us began to babble about the time we were six months old.  We said our first words between ten and 15 months.  By the time we were 18 months old, most of us had picked up enough words to combine them into simple sentences.  I am pretty sure I looked at my mother and said, “Mama, hungry!” My son looked at the big steak on my plate and the hot dog he was eating, and then he looked at me, held up a finger and said, “Daddy, share!”  And my grandson looked at his mother and said, “Mama, phone!”

The power of speech is a wonderful thing, but the power of speech makes it very easy for us to sin.  Let me give a simple example. Continue reading

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on Receiving and Using Our Voice

Autobiography as Theology

Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14

Theology almost always begins with autobiography or history. It is one person, or, sometimes, a group of people trying to explain to others what it was like to encounter God. These encounters take different forms.

In Isaiah 43, the Prophet Isaiah remembers the history of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt, which had been handed down to him from the time of Moses. He remembers how the people were fleeing the slavery of Egypt, and how they were caught between the armies of Egypt which were right behind them and the Yom Suph which stretched out just before them.  He remembers how the LORD made a path for the people through the mighty waters, and how, when the Egyptians tried to follow, the LORD “extinguished” the Pharoah’s army including all its chariots and horses and warriors as easily as a man might put out a candle.

In Psalm 126, the Psalmist remembers how, after the people of Israel had been living in the promised land of Zion for some time, an undescribed crisis arose, and the LORD saved them from their troubles and restored their fortunes. We don’t know what the crisis was—perhaps an epidemic, a famine, war, or the threat of war. The Psalmist says when deliverance came, “We were like people who dream.”  It was a good dream, for the people laughed, and shouted with joy, and the nations around them took notice and said, “the LORD has done great things for them.” Continue reading

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on Autobiography as Theology

The Road Home: Are We There Yet?

Canyon Country

Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Definition: God’s righteousness consists in the promises God makes to us and keeps, in this world and the next.  Our righteousness consists in the promises we make to God, to ourselves, and to one another, and keep, in this world. Eternity belongs to God by right; but not to us. Eternity is God’s gift to us.

In his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck traces the journey of an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family to California, which they regard as the Promised Land.

Tom Joad has just gotten out of prison, where he has been serving a sentence for manslaughter. Tom arrives home to find out that his family has lost their land and is about to embark on a journey to a new life.  The traveling company includes three generations of Joads, Tom, who is breaking parole by going, his parents, his grandparents, his brothers, Floyd—and little Winfield, his sister, Rose of Sharron, her husband Connie, and a one-time preacher, a friend of the family, Jim Casey. They all join an exodus of “Oakies” following Route 66 west in hope of finding work in the fields and orchards of California. As the journey unfolds, the Joads make common cause with other families living at the margins, are courted by communist agitators, and find themselves constantly abused by unscrupulous farmers, bosses, and crooked lawmen, who serve not justice but the powers that be. Before the story is over, Tom’s grandparents die. The preacher is arrested and later killed. Both Floyd and Tom leave the family unjustly pursued by the law. Rose of Sharron’s husband Connie abandons her, and her baby dies. As the book draws to a close, the few remaining Joads have lost everything. They have taken shelter in an old barn. They are not alone.  There is a dying man and his son. The boy pleads for his father’s life, saying, “He ain’t ‘et for six days. He gave me all the food.  I didn’t know. I stole some bread last night, but he couldn’t keep it down.  He needs milk. You folks got any milk?”  In the final scene of the novel, in a supreme act of grace and humanity, Rose of Sharron nurses the dying man upon the milk that her baby will never need. Continue reading

Posted in Sermons | Comments Off on The Road Home: Are We There Yet?