Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1

At the market, a man picks vegetables, tying to decide between the vegetables. He thumps a melon, scans the cucumbers, and inspects the onions. He notices a cute little girl playing with her brother near his basket and smiles at them. He turns to their parents who are standing nearby and, in the chatty way that people sometimes talk at the market, asks a normal question: “Your kids are beautiful. What are their names?”

The parents expression darkens—the mother turns away, finding something else to do. The father’s eyes narrow, and he steps closer. Pointing straight at the little girl, he says, “We call her ‘unloved’. Unloved.” Not knowing how to respond, the man shuffles his feet a bit, and finally says, “And the boy?”

“Not mine.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought…”

“No, that’s his name.  His name is ‘not-mine.’ ”

Hosea is a shocking story. It does not allow for passive bland reading, and I assure you it does not consist of passive, bland writing. It opens with the story of Hosea’s family—a family whose very existence could not but shock literally everyone who met them. The book of Hosea consists mostly prophetic poetry. Not the poetry which many of us have in mind—the dry tedious metered verses we labored to understand as school kids. This is the kind of poetry that Walter Brueggemann describes as “shattering, evocative speech that breaks fixed conclusions and presses us always toward new, dangerous, imaginative possibilities.” (Finally Comes the Poet, 6) Hosea is full of wrecking-ball language, the kind that comes to destroy the peace of the present for the sake of the future.

The book opens with a narrative, but the story is just as disturbing as the poetry that follows. In fact, we might think of the story as a setting for three brief, super dense poems—the names of the children. After all, even within the story, it’s the word—the word from the Lord—that really matters. Continue reading “Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1”

I Just Wanna be a Sheep (Baaaa)—A Sermon on Receiving Shepherding

A couple of years ago a movie was released that I suppose a few have seen, although I have not and hopefully presume that not many of you have either. Indeed, it is astonishing that there was a market at all for Black Sheep. The film is set on a sheep farm in New Zealand, and tells the story of a farm where a bit of genetic engineering goes terribly awry, creating a new breed of—wait for it—Zombie Sheep. Yes, Zombie Sheep. The generally docile creatures turn bloodthirsty, devouring whatever humans they can find, and in true Zombie film fashion, develop the ability to turn some of the bitten farmers into mutant were-sheep—hideous creatures covered with wool, frenzied and ready to join the attacking horde-flock in their quest to devour the remaining humans.

This may well be a parable of the church.

While much attention continues to be given (appropriately) to training leaders and discussing the evolving model of elderships within churches, but we need to talk more about the other side of the relationship—what we sheep bring to our relationship with our shepherds. Like any relationship, we can’t work on only one side of the equation. For our model of shepherding to become truly effective, it can’t just be about the shepherds. We have to also develop our sense of what it means to receive shepherding. You can’t have good healthy shepherds in a church full of bloodthirsty zombie sheep.

Continue reading “I Just Wanna be a Sheep (Baaaa)—A Sermon on Receiving Shepherding”

Motherhood and Mystery—A Sermon for Mother's Day

This past week has been an unusual one. Preparing for the sermon has not been about deep exegesis, but deep participation.

Kelly, apparently knowing full well that I was unprepared to preach for mother’s day—being a man who understands almost nothing about the subject, graciously offered me the opportunity to deepen my understanding while she went to the beach this week. That’s right—for nearly a week I’ve been flying solo with the girls, which is of course a joke you can understand only if you know both me and the girls in question. Indeed, today’s short sermon is mostly due to the fact that I have to get home and clean up before she gets back later tonight.

Mothers are amazing. It is well and good that today is a day marked off to say thank you to all those mothers out there, the stay at home moms, the working moms, the single moms, the struggling and victorious moms who give so much of themselves to their families, fulfilling the sacrifice of Christ in the most humble and incredible ways. To you all we say, “Thank you. We could not be who we are without your love and sacrifice.”

The Bible has much to say about motherhood. The story of redemption is full of many stories of women, women who took down and raised up kings, who preserved the people of God and who opened the way for exodus, conquest, and redemption. Along the way, many of these stories (though not all!) are stories of women who worked, wept, and waited for children—women who saw their place in the story of God as being related to their calling as mothers. That’s not at all to suggest that this was a single, homogenous sort of work. Indeed, stories such as Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, Bathsheba, Ruth, Jochebed and Zipporah testify to the diversity of paths that may all be called, faithfully, “motherhood”. “Motherhood” mysteriously takes many forms, as each person who finds that role to be part of her story works out what it means in her own context, in the face of her own challenges and amidst her own blessings. We do motherhood a disservice when we try to make it take one form. Indeed, no two moms are any more alike than any two sons or daughters. Mothers, be free, not to become just like the other moms you see, but what has called you to be in the life of your family. Learn from the example and wisdom of other women as well as you can, but do not try to become them. God did not give your children to them, but placed them in your care, entrusted them to you. You honor that trust not by simply imitating others, but by seeking out the gifts and blessings that you can uniquely offer your children. That freedom is not license to be irresponsible (this is just my way!) but is an immense challenge, that by struggling, collecting wisdom, and discerning what is right and faithful you can become exactly the mother God created you to be rather than a copy of someone else. Continue reading “Motherhood and Mystery—A Sermon for Mother's Day”

Living Resurrection—A Sermon from Mark 16:1-8

It is John’s gospel that tells us that if all the things that Jesus did while on earth were written down, the whole world wouldn’t have been able to hold all the books. Nonetheless, God chose to give us four books, not so that we could hear more stories, but so we could learn different things, sometimes from different versions of the same story. The resurrection story is like that. Four different versions of the story each teach us different aspects of what the resurrection means to us. Continue reading “Living Resurrection—A Sermon from Mark 16:1-8”

Thoughts on Bread and Wine, Church and Covenant

Today I’ve been working on catching up on the sermon audio part of the site, with the recordings from the (Sermon on the) Plain, and James.

Additionally, I also had these recordings from the day where we recently focused more on the communion part of our worship.  It seemed better to post them here, so enjoy these thoughts on Bread, and these thoughts on Cup and Covenant.

Do Not Judge—A Sermon from Luke 6:35-42

Do not judgeI told somebody this past week that the sermon for today could really only last a few seconds. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s going to be longer than that, but it seems like I should be able to just say something like, “Jesus says, ‘Do not judge.’  So, stop doing it. Amen, let’s stand and sing.”

It’s not as though the command is unfamiliar to us.  The text we’re dealing with is in Luke 6:35-42.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” And he also told them this parable:  ” Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will not they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

It’s one of the most popular passages in the Christian Bible, well known among Christians and nonbelievers alike.  In fact, I don’t know if there is any Christian ethic as respected by the outside world as “Do not judge.”  Of course, the world is also acutely aware of our failure in following this command, and knows that while Jesus tells us not to judge, we are quite practiced in the art.  Unfortunately, it comes quite easily to us.

Judgement against our friends, family, neighbors and strangers simmers deep within our hearts.  Occasionally it might pop out as gossip or a sharp word, but we try to police ourselves about that, because we know it sounds bad.  We don’t want to be known as judgmental people, but truthfully, even when we don’t actually say what we’re thinking, it is just so easy to harbor our verdicts, the bitter condemnations of people around us, deep in our hearts.  We don’t want to judge.  We know we’re not supposed to, but it just comes so easily to us.

One of the problems here is that we try to avoid judgmental behaviors without really working on judgmental attitudes. We try to catch that stuff before it gets out of our mouths, but really, by the time we get to that place we’ve really already lost the battle.  The mouth is just speaking out of the abundance of the heart, and it’s the fact that all that condemnation is in our heart that is really the issue.  Our morality begins with our identity, or at least our understanding of our identity.  The way we understand ourselves controls the way we interact with other people and perceive them in powerful ways.  That said, there are two significant things I have come to understand about myself that, the more I internalize them, the more they help me escape my tendency to judge.   I want to share and confess here in the hopes that they can help you out as well.

1.  I am not God. I know, it’s a shocker. But, seriously, it’s helpful for me to get in touch with the fact that I am not the sovereign lord of the universe. I believe people are accountable for the good and evil things they do in the world—but most of them aren’t accountable to me. I didn’t create anybody, and I’m not supremely powerful.  Beyond that, my failure to be God also means that I have a limited amount of knowledge and insight into people.  I don’t understand the whole of anybody’s situation, don’t understand the different things in people’s backgrounds that make them act the way they do.  I don’t even understand why I do half the stuff I do, much less what’s going on in anybody else’s heart! So I will never the authority or information I need to pass judgment on anybody else.

2.  Not only am I not God, but I also know that I am not perfect. Far from it, in fact.  Most people I know can confirm this, but of course I know it more truly than anybody else could possibly suspect.  After all, they can’t see what’s inside my heart.  I am, like the rest of you, a broken human being, a person whose heart has been twisted by sin and who is powerless to recover except for the grace of God.

This is an important nuance to the world’s criticism of the church as being too judgmental.  It wants to believe everything is alright. It’s as if the world wants refuse our right to judge on the basis that everyone is basically equally good. But we refuse to judge on the opposite basis, because we know that everyone, including ourselves, is broken and sinful.

I know, that because I’m not God and I’m not perfect, that I need grace from God. I need the grace of forgiveness and the grace that God gives to change and purify me. Truthfully, I need all the grace I can get.  And that self-awareness really heightens the shock of this text for me. How I give grace to people around me can actually affect how God gives grace to me? Whoa. That is an absolutely stunning idea, and as it becomes more firmly lodged in my mind, it has the power to really shape the kinds of things I harbor in my heart towards other people.

Gratefully, though, I’m also aware that I receive grace from God! It’s not like I’m merely aware of my sin, awaiting some pending judgement and trying to butter God up before he makes his decision. I live in the joy and awareness that God has already acted decisively to extend grace to me.

Many of us live fairly aware of those two things, our need for grace and how we receive it.  But, we stop there, not realizing that those who need and receive grace from God are also called to learn grace from God. I want God to teach me how to treat others like Jesus treats me.

For our community of faith, that really is the critical turn. So much of our worship and conversation revolves around what we need and receive, and how valuable it is to us.  But how much value do we place on what we are called to become?  How much do we value a gracious spirit? May God help us to honor those among us who cultivate that spirit, who become people of heroic forgiveness, who turn back any effort to condemn others from taking root in their own hearts.  May we value those who work hard to become merciful, just as our father is merciful, and may we become a place of grace for those who—like us—need to receive it.

Amen.

(This is part three of a series on the Sermon on the Plain. A list of the sermons and the audio recordings are here.)