A New Commandment

This morning we are going to end up talking about love, and I thought we should begin with a definition of love. Available definitions run from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the concise to the comprehensive. 

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets of 14 lines each. No. 116 is a sublime definition of love, and my friend the late Hal Cole recited it at every opportunity. He insisted I learn the part that goes:

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

Several years ago, in the early years of the war on terror, I saw a picture that captures the essence of this sonnet as nothing else could.  A beautiful young bride, dressed in white, is standing next to her groom, a Marine in dress blues.  His uniform is sharply creased, his gloves are pure white, and his chest is covered with medals; but his face has been horribly burned.  “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds…” Over the years, I have prayed for that Marine and his lady many times over, and I do so today. Continue reading

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What People Want

Way back in the year 2000 there was a movie entitled, “What Women Want.”  I don’t know how many people saw it, but enough people must have seen it to warrant a remake because in 2019 there was a sequel of sorts entitled “What Men Want.”  This morning I am going to fold those two titles into one and tell you “What People Want,” or, more specifically, “What Religious People Want,” especially, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, because Psalm 23 is claimed by all three major faiths.

According to the most beloved Psalm in the Bible, people want several things.

We want “No want!” The Psalmist begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” According to Abraham Maslow, our most basic needs are physiological needs, including food, clothing, and shelter. All those needs are covered in Psalm 23, and Jesus may have had it in mind when he spoke to his disciples saying:

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Today you and I are blessed to be among the richest, best-fed people in the history of the world. We seldom miss a meal, never really go hungry, and are surprised when we can see the bottom of our freezer.  Others have not been so fortunate.  In the 1920s and 1930s, the farmers of Ukraine were asked to give up the lands they had worked for generations and move to the collective farms established as a part of the Soviet Union’s Five-Year Plans.  They often worked the same land they had always farmed, but all the food—and I mean all the food went to the collective. Thousands of men, women, and children were sent to prison for ten years or killed for holding back even a few pounds of grain.  Ukraine has been the breadbasket of Russia the way Kansas and Nebraska make up the breadbasket of the United States. That is just one reason that Putin wants Ukraine. We ought to be concerned with the war in Ukraine for many reasons.  One that stands out is that the world’s food supply has been severely hurt by it—and shortages are ahead for many. I am pleased that our little church has now given almost $9,000.00 to the Board of World Mission for the relief of Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic and in Germany. We may be called upon to do more. Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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