The intro....

I've created this blog as a simple way of posting my sermons as I write them and possibly speak them. (occasionally I'll have recordings of the preaching of the sermon) I won't have sermons to preach every Sunday because I'm not going to write sermons that I don't have to preach, but I'll post what I do preach. Feel free to post comments/criticisms, I'm no pro and feedback is a great way to get better.


Light, Determinism, and Wile E Coyote Part II... This time it's Audio...

For all my followers who prefer to listen to the soothing sounds of my preaching voice.

Light, Determinism, and Wile E Coyote

This one was another one that was a lot of fun to write.  I got to take a little trip into my philosophy background and try to relate a discussion about determinism into a message of hope and meaning.  The textual connection here is a little less defined but it turns out I would've needed to preach for about an hour to say everything I wanted to say so I couldn't take the time to really explain out that connection.
The text is Matthew 4:12-23

Today is a very special day. Well to be quite truthful every day is special in some way so specialness is not just reserved for today, but nevertheless today is special. Today is special because today a certain character gets introduced into our Gospel story. Any guesses about who I’m talking about.? It’s a character that you’re very familiar with; one who I trust you know quite well. You have probably had a few conversations with this character, maybe you’ve given them a pat on the back… maybe you’ve argued with them… Maybe you’ve been just beside yourself struggling to understand why this person did certain things…. but no matter how frustrated you get every night you make your Peace with this person.
Any ideas yet?
Okay everybody on three point to who you think it is …. 1…. 2…. 3….. Point!
Who are you pointing at? If you know where I’m going with this, which I can’t imagine that you would already… but I’m not going to rule it out… then you’re finger is pointing right back at it’s owner… Yep… you should be pointing at yourself…
Why? You may ask…. Well…. Today’s Gospel is the part where you come into the story. Now of course you know that these Gospels are always ABOUT you… the life and times of Jesus Christ is the story of God’s relationship with you… but today is a little different than the usual story where Jesus does something and then we talk about what it means for us. Today you’re in the story. Today you’re a lead character. Because today Jesus walks down to the water and calls you. You may have heard me read that Gospel the first time and think that Jesus was only talking to a couple of fisherman but, well let me just tell you, that he wasn’t. He was talking to every one of you, and me. Jesus acknowledged that you are a beloved child of God and he gave you something that only really special people get….. he gave you a calling.
Now I COULD stand up here and tell you what that calling is… and what you should do about it when you walk out of this building today, but I think I’ll save that for the next time this text come around (which means you’ll all have to come track me down in three years if you want to hear that… sorry) Instead I think that it’s important that we spend sometime today talking about what it means for Jesus to be giving you this call…. Why it’s so important…. And why you should be deeply honored and proud that he’s done it. So I’m going to do this… but the thing is I’m going to need some help…. So I’m going to enlist some additional illustrational support… and for that support I’m going to turn to Mr. Wile E Coyote…. That’s right Wile E Coyote of Looney Tunes Fame, the one that chases the roadrunner all through the desert encountering frustration and calamity at every turn.
I would like to pause right now and just say that I’m tremendously curious to know what is going through your minds right now…. I’m guessing it’s something to the effect of… “How’s he going to pull this one off?” Let me tell you, I’m kind of asking that one myself.

Well… let me start by saying that I got the idea of this by listening to a radio program. Now I’m not normally one to give any plugs up here but I do want to give credit where credit is due. So… if you’re an NPR listener you may have heard, or at least heard of ‘Radiolab’ This is a show where the producers put together different stories that all speak to one particular theme and each show gets a different theme. This is a fairly common practice in radio today so this isn’t the only program that is structured this way… but it is a good one. The producers do a fantastic job of putting together entertaining and inspiring audio shows. So I was listening to one of their internet-only ‘Shorts’ this week and they were talking about a persons’ individual relationship with the universe… and they brought up Wile E Coyote.

So Wile E Coyote is one of two characters in one of Looney Tunes’ most famous recurring cartoons. These cartoons depict the Coyote chasing a Road Runner up and down desert highways trying to catch him… I presume as a snack… The problem for the Coyote is that he is hopelessly slower than the Roadrunner, who could move so fast as to be just a blur of blue feathers streaking down the highway. In hopes of accounting for this vast difference in footspeed the Coyote turns to his mind in one attempt after another to somehow outsmart, outmaneuver, trick, or trap the roadrunner and finally claim his prize. The rest… as they say is history, and many years of entertaining cartoons were borne out of this formula.
I should say that this is not the only example of a ‘chase’ cartoon. The other famous example is Tom and Jerry and there are others as well where one character endlessly chases the other, it turns out that this chase formula was quite common. But the Coyote and the Roadrunner are different. They don’t quite follow the formula. If you watch an episode of Tom and Jerry you see that Jerry is always faster or smarter or cleverer than Tom and so always escapes his grasp and runs into the hole in the wall to live another day. But Wile E. Coyote is never outsmarted by the roadrunner… if we think of this as a competition he’s never really beat by the Roadrunner at all. The Coyote is beat by something else entirely…. And that something is more like the universe itself.

Every time Coyote comes up with some brilliant plan to trap the roadrunner something always goes wrong. Sometimes it’s something as simple a mechanical malfunction that causes the net to fail to spring until the Coyote is stomping in frustration on the bullseye, or it might be the rocket powered roller skates that work great until the road turns and the coyote doesn’t, and then there is perhaps the definitive disaster for the Coyote. He has the brilliant plan to put a painting of a road going off into the horizon in front of a giant cliff so that the Road Runner will run through the painting and fall to the desert floor below where the Coyote will surely be able to scoop him up. So he gets the painting in place, goes off to hide behind a rock and waits. It isn’t too long before the Roadrunner comes screaming by, down the road, up to the painting AND….. straight on INTO the painting… continuing on towards the horizon as if the painting had become the reality…. The poor Coyote then takes off to chase him only to break the through the painting and fly out over the cliff face and hang in the air for a brief moment before plummeting to the desert floor some 2…3…4…hundred feet below.

It some of these disasters some mechanical malfunction or other ruins the Coyote’s plan but in a lot of these situations just like this last one I’ve described, it seems that the very laws of physics have turned against him, the universe itself is foiling his plan and spoiling his day.

And what is particularly interesting about that is that it makes the coyote somebody we can relate to. It makes him seem more human because even though he walks up on two legs and has such human features and facial expressions… it is his terrible luck and the feeling that everything is conspiring against him that we can all relate to. How often do we feel as though we just can’t catch a break and sometimes it gets so bad that we feel like the very nature of the whole universe is such that things will never just go smoothly our way. And so we watch the Coyote and we feel sympathy for him… and empathy for him because we know what that feels like….

But we don’t JUST feel sorry for him…. I think there’s something else that we feel in those times when the whole world seems against us…. And I think that that thing that we feel is…. Kind of Flattered….. I know it may sound crazy but Yeah… flattered

Flattered, because even though things aren’t going so well for him…. Those things are paying attention to him…. The laws of physics, it seems, are paying special attention to Coyote… and even though they are mischievously making his life that much more difficult…. In the whole universe, all of creation they’re paying special to him…. And it is the same for us…. Coyote looks up to the heavens and thinks why are you doing this to me? He may be tremendously frustrated but that frustration is directed toward the universe…. How much worse would it be if he had no direction for that frustration… if he just felt alone and things still weren’t going his way.

So…. That’s the story of Wile E. Coyote… I want to be very clear that I’m not going to try to convince you that the whole universe is out to get you the way it’s out to get him or even that you should be grateful for bad things happening because at least some thing is happening to you…. All I’m trying to do is show you an example of one character who is special because the whole universe is paying special attention to him…. Even something as fundamental as gravity is operating according to how it will individually affect this one particular furry little guy.

Ok… think of it like this…. Imagine that everything that has ever happened in the world, from the beginning of time up until this very moment… and everything that ever will happen on until the end of time… happens because something, or some things, cause it to happen. So… if I drop this pen… The pen drops because my hand opens, and my hand opens because my brain tells it to, and my brain tells it to because it wants to make an illustration for you… This is how the world works… nothing just happens on it’s own… Everything is the result of something else… it’s very simple cause and effect… Now what’s really cool about this is that what that means for the Coyote and for you is that the wholeness of time is arranged in such a way that a whole chain of events leads from creation down to that one curve in the road…

And what’s REALLY cool about all of this is that that whole chain of events leading down through history from the beginning of time leads to YOU… At the very beginning of time God sat down at looked at the world that was to be created and God could see You and he could see everything you would ever be and everything you would ever do… and God chose to create… God chose to create every single one of you.
and so today… When we sit on that beach and Jesus comes up to us and says “Follow me” when God says: “I choose you”… “ I CALL YOU” All of time and the universe conspired to make that happen. The whole of the universe pays special attention to you because you were created and Jesus came to earth… and you were called….

And when God could look back on all of time and see YOU, all that you’ve ever been and all that you ever will be… and God not only created you but then looked back at you and said…. “This is Good”
How could you not feel special? How could you not feel valuable, How could you not feel important when you are a part of all of creation and all of time?
Because first the universe was created, then God said it was good, then God walked on the earth, and God said I am well pleased, and then that incarnate God who knows every bit of you, looks at you and calls you good, and says… come with me… for we have work to do….
What are we waiting for?

More Christmas themes

This is a sermon I had quite a bit of fun with.  The text was the very well known intro to John, and I played around with what the metaphor/symbol of 'word' might mean.  I preached this sermon at the Apache Junction/Epiphany Campus
The text is John 1:1-18

Some of you may already know this but I am currently a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. This internship year is the third of my four years there. When someone goes to seminary in our ELCA this is pretty typical. They start with two years of class… go on internship for a year… and then come back to finish their classwork. If one of you were to go to seminary at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary you would show up with a pretty set schedule for your first semester, and then you’d get a little more freedom in the semester after that to choose what classes to take. So just like at most any college or university you’d get to have some flexibility with which classes you take and when you take them. There are, however, a few classes that you have to take before you are allowed to go on internship, that’s to ensure that us interns might actually be good for something when we get out here in the world. One of those required classes is Preaching. Preaching class at PLTS is a really fun class and if you were to take it you would probably get a lot out of it. You would get the chance to talk about interpreting Bible texts, ( a very important part of sermon writing) you would get to listen to your classmates preach, you would learn and talk about the relationship between the preacher and the hearer, and you would talk about some specific ways, or methods, or recipes of crafting a sermon that would hook and keep your hearers’ attention and also communicate your message effectively. One of the recipes you would probably learn about is called Lowry’s Loop. Lowry because the guy who wrote the book that talks about it is named Lowry and Loop because when you diagram the method it looks like a loop. If you were to learn about Lowry’s Loop you would probably then be able to identify the fact that most of sermons follow that structure… more or less… there’s an identification of a problem and then a rising in tension, then there’s a shift followed by an exploration of the solution to the problem and eventually some kind of resolution. This is how I normally write my sermons… it is a very literary form, and I have a strong literature background so it feels comfortable to me and I think it works.
I’ve told you all this now in order to say that today I’m not going to preach this way….
I’m not going to identify a problem in the world that this Gospel addresses and I’m not going to do that dramatic shift.
The reason I’m not going to do this is not because I got tired of preaching that way, it’s not because we’re in 2011 and Lowry’s Loop is no good in odd years, and it’s certainly not because I couldn’t think of any problems in the world that this Gospel could speak to.
I’m choosing not to preach the way I normally do today because I think today’s Gospel is too important and too special to just do the same old thing. So I’m going to stand up here today and I’m going to talk to you about Why today’s Gospel is so special and why it’s so important.

To begin with I think it’s important to say that these first verses of John are unique… they are unique because for one thing they are the words of a sort of hymn, and when John begins his Gospel this way it’s like he’s beginning with the words of a song, and his audience would have heard these words as poetic and lyrical and meaningful and mystical. That style is important because it highlights what these first words are saying and if you listen to them carefully those lyrical lines are giving you what is perhaps the most eloquent, most concise, and most clear summary of the entire Gospel. And when I say that these words are a summary of the Gospel, I’m not talking about the little-g Gospel that is what we call the excerpt we read each Sunday or even the middle-sized-g Gospel that refers to one of the first four books of the New Testament. This is the big-G Gospel. This is THE GOSPEL. The entire message communicated to you by God, the message of hope, of salvation, of grace and of love. So if you read nothing else, if you pay attention to nothing else in the whole Bible… read these words of John. These words about The Word, and about a Light in the Darkness that is not overcome. This is what this whole business of being a Christian is all about.
The question that follows from this, at least for me, is that: what are these verses saying… exactly? Because if they are really the Gospel in a nutshell it seems important that we really understand them, it seems important that we would be able to crack open that nutshell. So there’s two important things going on here that really tell us a lot about the Gospel.…
The first can be summarized with verse 5 “The light shines in the darkness… and the darkness did not overcome it” Now I could preach a whole sermon about that one verse. And you know, I bet a lot of you could too. You could stand up here and you could tell us all how powerful a message this is, because the light shining in the darkness is the light of hope in a weary and broken world, and anyone that has felt the love of God in the midst of sadness and pain knows all about the light shining in the darkness.
The second important thing is probably not something that’s so widely understood. It’s the simple fact that Jesus is referred to in these verses as The Word. The question then I have for us today is two-fold, or possibly it’s two parts of the same question: why is Jesus referred to as The Word, and what does it mean for us the Jesus is referred to as the Word.
Now some of you may have thought about why Jesus is called the Word, some of you may have studied about it, or read about it, or taken a class and learned about it, some of you might never have thought twice about it. But if you’ve only ever thought about it just a little bit you might have figured that it probably has something to do with the “Word of God” which is what we sometimes call our scripture, and you might have concluded that basically John is saying that Jesus is the way that God communicates with the world… well… that’s kind of true. It’s not false, anyway. The problem with that answer is that, on the surface, it would just boil down to Jesus being a prophet. Again… that’s not really untrue, but Remember a couple of weeks ago and our Advent story about John the Baptist in Prison and he asks Jesus (through his disciples) if he’s the Messiah, and then Jesus is talking to the crowds and he asks them “What did you go out into the Wilderness to see?” He says: “A reed shaken by the wind…” No “Someone in soft robes….” Definitely not “A prophet.. Yes…” Oh okay… they went out into the wilderness to see Jesus right and here Jesus says they went out to see a prophet so he must be calling himself a prophet…. Oh wait I forgot what it says after that…. “and MORE than a prophet” So… Jesus is not just any prophet… if you’re looking for a prophet you can go to Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Malachi, or Micah… or any of the other books in the last part of the Old Testament…. Or Elijah, Or Elisha…. Or Moses. But this Jesus is more than just a prophet.
So it must be that “the word” means more than just God communicating with his people. But how much more? Well, this is a kind of Metaphor, right? Jesus is being called ‘the Word’, yeah that’s basically a Metaphor. Maybe to understand this metaphor we should think about what a Word is…. So What is a word?
Well a word is a collection of Letters right? Go to the alphabet pick out a few of your favorites, throw them together and you basically have a word… but that doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus. What else is a word….? Well let’s not think about the written word. Let’s think about the spoken word. Now again I ask… what is a word?

A word is that thing that you speak that turns some idea in your head into something that is out in the world. So, if you have an idea in your head, and say it’s red and shiny and about the size of a baseball and smells and tastes sweet…. then you say the word “Apple” and now we all have the same picture in our heads. So that idea has become real and alive and active in the world because of your using …. THE WORD. A word makes an idea real and alive and active in the world.
Now think about what that metaphor means. To say that Jesus is the Word is to say that Jesus is not just a prophet, he’s not just a nice guy, he’s not just the Son of God…. Jesus is God coming to be real and active and alive in the world. Jesus is God in a way that we can understand and interact with, he is God in a form that we can perceive. Jesus is the hope, and the salvation, and the grace and the love of and from God here among us. Jesus is Emmanuel, and Emmanuel means God with Us. God is with us because Jesus was born and God was spoken into the world.

This is why today’s Gospel is so special, because it’s the Gospel that tells us with one word that God has come into the world, that God is alive. And just like in your loneliness how the words of a friend or a loved one can pierce through the quiet and isolation. The Word of God, Jesus the Christ, breaks through the isolation and the darkness of our pain and sadness and becomes alive in the world so that, no matter how lonely and sad you might sometimes feel, you well never truly be alone.

And that is what today’s Gospel is about… it is about hope and salvation, grace and love all in that one single word.

Audio, Audi...ay??

Here... finally... is the audio for that Christmas day/day after Christmas sermon.
Text = Matthew 2:13-23