Delivery Man sermon series – #2: Bushwhacked!

This is the second in a sermon series on the life of Moses. Enjoy!

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 3:1-15 – Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

SERMON
Turning Aside to God
Exodus 3:1-15
June 28, 2015

My family and I love summers because we all enjoy sleeping in, but one of the downsides is that we lose our morning routine. During the school year, we’re up every day at the same time, so the whole family, including our dogs, knows what happens and when. During the summer, we may get up at 6:30 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. or even 8:30 a.m., at which point our dogs come out of their crates with their legs crossed. There’s something to be said for having a routine.

As we continue our sermon series today on the life of Moses, we see in our reading today that Moses had settled into a nice routine. This day he probably got up early, put on some coffee and fetched his copy of the Midian Daily Gazette. He got his kids up for school and threatened to make them walk if they missed their camel. Then he kissed his wife goodbye and headed out to the sheep for a day of tending the flock. Nothing new here, just another day. At breakfast time, Moses was responsible for keeping the sheep safe. By dinner, he’d be responsible for freeing a whole nation of people from slavery.

On this workday like any other, on his umteenth trip up Mt. Horeb, probably chasing a pesky runaway sheep, Moses catches a glimpse of a strange sight, goes to investigate, and has his life changed forever by God. It’s interesting that God would choose to come to Moses, because from all we know, Moses wasn’t a particularly religious man at this point. In fact, there’s no sign up to this point that Moses worships the God of Israel; after all, he grew up bowing to golden Egyptian idols.

Moses’ lack of familiarity with God may explain some of Moses’ reluctance to jump at this opportunity. A call from God isn’t equal to winning the divine lottery, as Moses points out when he responds, “Who am I, that I should go to the Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Or, as it’s translated in the Living Bible, “But I’m not the person for a job like that!” Moses is saying, “Me? God, you couldn’t be suggesting that I go, could you? I mean, I’m a worker not a leader. I’m one of the behind-the-scenes people, not the frontline person. “

Have you ever responded to God like that? I know I have in the past. As soon as I heard a call to serve God, the Excuse Machine started churning: “You don’t want me! I’m not a trained spiritual professional. I can’t find the book of Hosea in the Bible without looking in the table of contents. I slept in one morning last month and didn’t make it to the worship service. I’ve spent a Sunday or two on the green instead of in the pew. You see? You don’t want me, God. I’m a little under-qualified.”

Here’s a news flash: We’re ALL under-qualified to do God’s work. Moses made excuses because he felt inadequate to do this alone. Well, he was half right. He WAS inadequate, but he wouldn’t be alone. God tells him, “Don’t worry, Moses, I’m not sending you out alone. I will be with you. I would never ask you to do something by yourself. You couldn’t do it without me, anyway. But with me, you can do anything.”

God’s giving him the hard sell, but Moses isn’t ready to give in that easy. “Well…well…What if they won’t listen to me? What if I tell them I’ve come to save them and just glare and cross their arms and ask, ‘Who sent you?’ What do I tell them?” In other words Moses is saying, “Not only do I not think I can do this, nobody else does, either.”

And God does something never done before: God gives a name: “I AM who I AM. Say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you.” Later, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus gives all his “I am” sayings – “I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the truth and the life” – he is drawing directly on this statement to show his divinity: “I am who I am.”

For Moses and for us, that name means both comfort and mystery. It is comforting because it reminds us of the rock-solid stability of God. In a world where absolutely nothing is stable – jobs, governments, economies, our own bodies – God stays God. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses is our God today, and we can put our trust in God just as much as those people did thousands of years ago. God is the great “I AM.”

But there’s mystery in that name as well. “I am who I am” – what does that mean, anyway? Sounds a little like Popeye, doesn’t it? “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” OK, you are who you are, but who ARE you, God? Have you ever asked that question? When we’re faced with our own crossroads or tough decisions or crises of faith, what does that mean to us that God is the great “I AM”? Who ARE you, God?

I believe we each have to answer that for ourselves, and here’s why. Another translation of God’s name to Moses is, “I will be who I will be.” In other words, “I am God, and what that means for you will depend upon how you life your live.” Who is God in our lives? For Moses, God may have been “I am with you.” For others, God may be “I am patient” or “I am forgiving” or “I am loving.” Who is God for you? Only you can answer that. That’s both the power and the mystery of God in our lives. “I am who I am.”

So after a little more hemming and hawing from Moses, he finally agrees to God’s plan, and the rest is not only history, but epic movie material. Moses’ journey to Egypt is the most important event in the history of our faith, at least until that night in the manger with shepherds and the angels and that bright star.

But did you know it almost never happened? We almost never had any of this story. No Great Plagues, no Ten Commandments, no Charlton Heston in the cool beard. But one thing, one split-second action, made the difference in this story and in the whole history of God’s relationship to his people. One teeny tiny little thing saved all those slaves, and ultimately saved us as well.

Moses is doing his job, living his life, tending his sheep, when he sees the Burning Bush. And the Bible says, “So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that Moses had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush.

What did Moses do? He turned aside. That’s the thing. That’s what gets the whole ball rolling. Instead of keeping his head down, or ignoring this strange sight, or just sticking to his routine, he goes over and looks. And then God calls to him.

Moses could have said, “Wow, that bush is burning and it’s not being consumed! I should probably check that out! But, you know, I’ve got a job to do, and the wife is making meatloaf for dinner, and I’ve already taken a break from work this morning. I should probably just ignore it.” It was certainly his choice. His attention was his to give or not to give. And by giving it, his life was forever changed and enriched by God.

Often times the circumstances of our life and the evil that operates in the world around us keeps us from focusing on God’s presence in our lives. God is right there, in the midst of the storm, in the center of the chaos, but we are so distracted that we don’t even look. In your life, what keeps you from looking? What distracts you from seeing God’s presence around you?

We complete our routine day after day, we tend our sheep and pay our bills and do our best to be good family people and good citizens and even good churchgoers. We fight the good fight and try to keep a smile on even when it feels like there’s not much to smile about. But maybe, just maybe, God’s calling us to something greater, something more meaningful, something more. Maybe there’s a burning bush in our lives, waiting for us to turn aside from our hectic pace and frantic lives, to take our noses off the grindstone and our hands off the panic button and look. And when we look, maybe, just maybe, God’s waiting to speak to us and call us to something far greater than we can ever imagine.

Moses turned aside to see a bush that was burning but not consumed. Today, God may work differently, but no less powerfully. My burning bush was a conversation in a parking lot with the minister’s wife, who said half-jokingly that I should go to seminary. Your burning bush may be a crisis in your life, or an empty nest, a job change, or a simple invitation from someone you know, maybe someone in this church, to serve or to teach or to lead. God speaks to you through those kinds of situations. And it’s your choice, your attention to give. Do you turn aside and look and give your attention to God, or do you ignore it because you think you are inadequate or under-qualified or not ready?

You woke up today, maybe had some coffee, maybe read the paper. When you woke up, maybe you were responsible for doing your job or providing for your family or taking care of your children or just making it through the day with your sanity and your hope intact. Sometimes that’s all we can do. But there’s a call out there. Maybe you haven’t heard it yet. Maybe you’ve already heard it, but don’t know how to respond. What would happen if you turned aside and said to God, “Here I am,” if you invited God to do something extraordinary in your life? Who will you be when you wake up tomorrow?

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Delivery Man sermon series – #1: A Basket Case

This is the first in a sermon series on the life of Moses.

SCRIPTURE – Exodus 2:1-10 – Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses  “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

SERMON
Delivery Man Sermon Series
1 – A Basket Case
Exodus 2:1-10
June 21, 2015

Today we start our summer sermon series looking at the life of Moses. I’m sure this is a story that’s familiar to you. Next to Jesus, Moses is probably the most dramatized character in the Bible. From “The Ten Commandments” to the animated “Prince of Egypt” to this year’s epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” the story of this castaway-turned-deliverer makes for compelling storytelling and even better special effects. But as often is the case, with no offense meant to Charlton Heston or Christian Bale, the Moses we have met on the screen isn’t the same Moses we meet in the pages of scripture.

During this series, we’ll seek to meet the real Moses, starting with his enigmatic birth story. But to understand that story, you have to understand how we got to the events in the second chapter of Exodus. At the end of the book of Genesis, the entire nation of Israel had moved to Egypt to be with Joseph, Israel’s son who had become Pharaoh’s right-hand man when Egypt suffered a crippling drought. To thank Joseph for his service, Pharaoh invites Joseph’s whole family to come and live in the lush land of Goshen.

But that Pharaoh dies and a new one comes to power, and this new guy isn’t too keen on these foreigners occupying such prime real estate. Not only that, but the Israelites have taken seriously the command to be fruitful and multiply, to the point that they are more numerous than the Egyptians. Pharaoh fears a possible revolt from this underclass, so he enslaves the Israelites, making them indentured servants of the Egyptian empire, building sphinx and pyramids and such.

That doesn’t stop the Israelites from multiplying, so Pharaoh takes a more drastic step. He instructs the Hebrew midwives to kill any boy born to an Israelite woman, because in Pharaoh’s eyes, the boys were the threat. But the midwives outwit Pharaoh, telling him that the women are so vigorous they give birth before the midwives can get there. And Pharaoh, in his infinite wisdom, completely falls for it. And he thought the boys were the threat! The Israelites continues to grow strong, so Pharaoh gets more extreme. He orders that every boy born to the Israelites should be thrown into the Nile river to drown.

So that’s where we start today, and I hope you can appreciate the irony and humor of the story I’m about to tell you. In this country we celebrate American Pharaohs, but this particular Egyptian Pharaoh is about to get his gold-plated headdress handed to him. Upon hearing Pharaoh’s murderous command, one young mother – we’re not even given her name – decides to hide her baby for three months. That may be the biggest miracle in this whole story, because if you’ve ever tried to keep a baby quiet, you know they don’t always cooperate. After three months of trying to protect her son, this mother realizes he’s getting too big to hide. So she makes for him a small basket, places him in it, and sets him off floating down the Nile. How ironic that the body of water the Pharaoh had destined for death this mother is trusting to save her young boy. Pharaoh says throw the babies into the Nile; this mother puts her baby onto it.

The boy floats along, with his sister watching from the banks, until he is discovered in the river by the daughter of the very same Pharaoh who commanded boys like him to be killed in the very same river. Rather than carry out her father’s command, the daughter rescues the boy with the intent to claim him as her own. Notice that her nobility has its limits. She’s willing to save the baby, but she wants not part of changing dirty diapers, so she commissions the boy’s sister to find a nursemaid for him. The sister gets the boy’s mother, who just moments before thought she’d never see her son again, and Pharaoh’s daughter actually pays her to take care of the boy. Not long before this the mother was releasing her son to the fate of the river, and now she is being handed both her son and a wad of cash by the daughter of the guy who wants him killed! I tell ya, you can’t make this stuff up.

Now, who would you say is the main character in this story? Who is the protagonist, the one who is responsible for moving the story along? You might say Moses’ mom, who gets the ball rolling by putting her bundle of joy on the Nile. Or you might say its Pharaoh’s daughter, who makes the decision to spare the boy’s life and ultimately adopts him as her own. You could even make a case for Moses’ sister, who orchestrates the reunion of Moses and his mother. You could try to argue that it’s Moses, but all he really does is float and look cute.

But there’s one person that we would probably all agree is NOT a major player in this story, and that is God. God is not even mentioned in these 10 verses of chapter 2, which may lead you to wonder if God had anything to do with what happened to Moses. That’s not unlike how we sometimes wonder if God is really present in our lives, as well. Well, if you dive below the surface level of the text, you’ll find a treasure chest of symbolism that shows just how active God is at the beginning of Moses’ life.

For example, in verse 2, when Moses is born, the Bible says, “When his mother saw he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months.” Now, there’s nothing unusual about that statement. Every mother thinks their baby is a fine baby, even if they look like a plucked chicken or a wrinkly raisin. And even she didn’t think Moses looked particularly handsome, it’s not like she was going to toss him out the window. No, what’s interesting to note here is the Hebrew word for “fine,” translated other places as “goodly” or “wonderful,” is “tob,” a word which with the original readers would already be familiar. In the creation story, when God makes each thing, he pronounces it “tob,” meaning “good.” For example, “God made the plants and animals, and God saw that it was tob.”

Why does this matter? Remember, the Israelites are now slaves in Egypt. They were originally promised, through Abraham, that they would inherit the Promised Land, but now they’re stuck. Their story has hit a dead-end. So the author connects the birth of Moses to the Creation Story as a way of showing that, through Moses, God was active here, creating something new. There is reason, in the midst of their oppression and slavery, for the Israelites to have hope, because God is with them. If that connection wasn’t strong enough, Moses’ mother puts him in a boat made with bitumen and pitch, the same materials used to make another boat, Noah’s Ark. God also used that vessel to create a new beginning for God’s people. By using these literary devices, the author is saying, “God is at work here, doing something new.” God will use this Moses to bring new life and direction to this dead-end story.

But that will only happen if the people that Pharaoh has discounted are courageous enough to act. You realize that this story simply doesn’t happen without the people in it deciding to do something. Isn’t it delicious that the people who undo Pharaoh – Moses’s mom, his sister, and Pharaoh’s own daughter – are all of the gender that Pharaoh tossed off us not even important enough to fear? And yet, they all demonstrate amazing courage. Moses’ sister risks her freedom to connect Moses back with his mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter risks her father’s wrath by going against his command. And Moses’ mother is courageous enough to let go of her son and trust him to the open waters of life. Is there a harder thing to do as a parent, to trust that God goes with our children when they get on the school bus or go off to camp or get behind the wheel of a car? Moses’ mom exhibits radical trust in God’s presence and protection, and that trust gives her the courage to act.

It’s her courage as much as God’s providence that saves Moses. Even when her infant son is sentenced to die, she doesn’t give up hope that God is with her, although it must not have felt like it at the time. No matter how dead-end the situation, we trust that God IS there. When Pharaoh makes his decree to have all the Hebrew boys killed, God doesn’t throw up God’s hands and say in exasperation, “Well thanks a lot, Pharaoh! Now what am I going to do?” God works through Pharaoh’s inhuman decision and a mother’s maternal instincts and a sister’s protective actions and Pharoah’s daughter’s desire for life over death to bring about good. There’s always going to be a Pharaoh out there, isn’t there? There’s always someone or something that’s threatening us or our loved ones with harm. When a man can walk into a church and shoot nine people because of their skin color, we are painfully reminded that Pharaoh’s death sentence lives on through hatred and prejudice. But that Pharaoh is no match for our God.

That’s what these women have to teach us today. With a mixture of fear and trust, Moses’ mom let go of Moses and entrusted him to God’s care. His sister kept a watchful eye on him, making sure that he was safe. Pharaoh’s daughter took him in and protected him. They didn’t just stand on the bank and pray for a miracle. They didn’t sit idly by and say, “Oh well, God’s surely abandoned us now.” They act, trusting God will be with them. God gives them the courage they needed to stand up to Pharaoh, just as God has given us what we need to stand up to our own challenges.

I can’t imagine the emotions Moses’ mom went through as she put that little ark in the Nile river. We’ve all been in similar situations where we’ve had to let go, to give up, to change our dreams to fit a more sobering reality. It’s not a fun place to be. But we don’t have to stay there. There are situations in our lives where we have a role to play, an action to take, a decision to make to live out our faith in the midst of difficult circumstances. When the hatred of Pharaoh strikes in our world, our country, our community, we can wring our hands and say, “Gosh, what a tragedy.” We can sit back and wait for God to do something. Or we can realize God is waiting for us to do something. We’ll never do so perfectly. We’ll learn next week about how much trouble Moses had in following God’s lead. But let’s remember the lesson this story has to offer us: God has given us the gifts and the graces and the supports to change things, to liberate ourselves from captivity, to defy the evil forces in our lives and in this world. You may be wondering where God is, waiting for God to fix things. But maybe God is right here with us, waiting for us to do the same thing.

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This Week’s Sermon – Is There Room?

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 19:13-15 – Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

SERMON
Is There Room?
Matthew 19:13-15
June 7, 2015

As we’ve moved through this capital campaign to renovate and expand our South Wing, there’s been a lot of talk about room. There isn’t enough room, we’re cramped for space, we need more room. The choir room isn’t big enough, the Worship and Wonder rooms aren’t big enough, the bathrooms aren’t even close to big enough. We need more room! But I want to ask this question today: Room for what? What do we need room for?

In our passage today, it doesn’t appear as if the disciples felt that children needed more room. Glad we’re not asking them to pledge! In fact, the disciples acted as if children didn’t deserve any room. Jesus is meeting with the crowds, teaching and healing. And in the midst of the crowds were mothers and fathers with their little children, hoping to get a glimpse of the now-famous rabbi, hoping to have him touch and bless their child.

I wish you all could see what I see every Sunday morning when we call the kids down front for Children’s Time. I love the look on their faces as they come walking or running down the aisle, looking for a place to sit, already pondering what they’re going to say to torture…er, stump the minister. There’s simply no way to describe that moment when a child comes forward.

But imagine one of our Elders jumping up and saying, “Sorry kid, Kory has more important things to do.” That’s basically what the disciples do. Why in the world would they do that? In that culture, children were almost valueless; they had a very insignificant social status. The prevailing belief back then was that children should be neither seen nor heard. Besides, the disciples knew Jesus was a busy guy with impossible demands being placed upon him by the crowds, and by this time in Matthew’s gospel, they also knew he was headed toward Jerusalem and the cross. So the last thing he needs is a group of snot-nosed kids climbing all over him, tugging on his beard, getting his robe all dirty. So they hinder them. “Sorry kids, no room for you here.”

Can you imagine hindering our kids today? Can you imagine us telling our kids that there’s not room for them here at Crestwood? “Sorry, kids, we have more important things to do than make room for you.” Back in Jesus’ day, Christianity was really the first religion for the entire family that invited both sexes and children to participate. Thankfully, we’ve continued that trend and we welcome all shapes and sizes of families into our midst. We’re not doing anything to intentionally hinder the children from coming to Jesus.

But what about unintentionally? Our Children’s Wing has served this church incredibly well for many years, but we have simply outgrown it. We’re currently asking children to be taken care of in small nurseries, to learn in cramped classrooms, and to do the kind of thing you do in bathrooms that feel more like closets. We would never intentionally hinder the children from connecting with God. Not intentionally.

Part of the challenge we face is that we are dealing with a building that is old. How old? I’m not saying our children’s wing is antiquated, but on one of the walls there’s a mural of Noah’s ark…autographed by Noah. I’m not saying the children’s wing has been around for a while, but the key on Benjamin Franklin’s kite opens one of the storage closets. Are you getting the idea? This building has served us so well for 54 years. But we’ve grown, and our building needs to grow with us to sustain our vision for the future.

So, we need more room. Our plan is to renovate about 6,000 square feet by expanding classrooms, opening up the middle of the building as a spacious flex area, and turning our current choir room into a large arts and crafts room. We’re also proposing to add about 4,000 square feet of new building, which will include an expanded nursery suite and a choir room more than double the size of the current one. And have I mentioned bathrooms? There will be four new ADA-complaint bathrooms. So we’re making more room.

But I’ll ask it again…room for what? For example, will there be room for books? Will there be room for a child to sit down with an age-appropriate Bible and read the story of Jonah and the whale or Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? Those stories have echoed off the walls of those classrooms since 1961, told and read by some of our most amazing Sunday School teachers. Our new space will create more room and more opportunities for those stories to be told and learned through the mediums of drama, videos, cooking, science, and good old-fashioned reading. Yes, there will be room for books.

What about tables? You know, kids need a lot of space to spread out! Will there be room for tables? With larger classrooms and a significantly larger Arts and Crafts room, there will be plenty of space for tables, chairs, cabinets, and other furniture. There will be tables for decorating, tables for coloring, tables for gluing and glittering, and tables for snacking. As Disciples of Christ, we are a people of the table, where everyone is welcome and everyone has a chair. We are all guests invited to the tables in this church. Yes, there will be room for tables.

What about doors? Will we have enough doors? That never seems to be a problem in this church, does it? We have plenty of ways in and out of Crestwood! Our renovated Children’s Wing will have controlled-access doors to our children’s and nursery area, so that we can ensure their safety while they are with us. We’ll have a new entrance on that side of the building with a canopy and beautiful sculpture. And, most importantly, all the doors will open so that guests who are visiting with us can walk through unhindered. Yes, there will be doors.

What about music. Will we have enough room for music? You bet! There will be space in the new Children’s Wing dedicated to our children’s choirs and instruments, and the new space for our adult choir will give them plenty of room to practice their gifts with which they bless us each and every Sunday. There will be ample space for their robes, their music folders, and they’ll even have their own restroom and bar…for coffee! Yes, there will be room for music.

The room we’re providing through this renovation is about more than bricks and books, more than mortar and music, more than tables and doors. We’re providing room for things like imagination. When we give our kids the space – both physical space and spiritual space – to imagine, we are opening them up to the mystery and wonder of God. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in our new space, we hear a story like the one where the girl was drawing a picture in Sunday School. Her teacher said, “Dear, what are you drawing?” The girl said, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher said, “Aw, honey, no one knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will as soon as I’m done!” In our new space, there will be room for our children to imagine.

There will also be room for their questions. Isn’t that important? Too many places try to feed us answers about God without hearing our questions. As we open up our space to our children, we invite them into a safe place, a sanctuary, where they can ask their questions about God, about Jesus, about faith, about life. Each Sunday, we intentionally take a part of our adult worship and give it specifically to our children. It’s called Children’s Time. By doing so, we are sending the message to them that they matter, their questions matter, their presence matters. Our renovated Children’s Wing will send that same message. Unlike the disciples, we’ll be saying, “You matter to us. You matter to Jesus.”

We’re also making room in our new space for blessing. Did you hear what Jesus did when the children came to him? “And he laid his hands on them.” In that culture, when a baby was born, it wasn’t officially accepted into the family until the father performed a ritual that included taking the baby in his arms and blessing it. By doing so, he was claiming that child as his own. At the end of our Worship and Wonder session, as each child leaves, and adult standing at the door touches the child on the head or hugs them and says, “Go with God.” Do you know the power of hearing that message each and every Sunday? “Go with God.” It can change a child’s life. In our new children’s wing, there will be room for blessing.

But all of these things for which we are making room are really secondary to what we’re really making room for at Crestwood with this project. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Jesus knew that a little child was the perfect representation of what the kingdom of God looks like, because he knew that a little child was utterly dependent upon its parent. I treasure the moments when my girls were little and they would hold my hand was we walked beside each other. That desire for connection. That trust and vulnerability. That willingness to be led, to be taught, to be blessed. Jesus says, “You want to see the kingdom of God? Don’t look to the palaces or mansions. Don’t look at the political or religious leaders. Look to the children. The kingdom of God is there.”

By expanding our South Wing and increasing the capacity for children here at Crestwood, we are doing no less than making room for the Kingdom of God in this place. We are inviting God’s kingdom to come and dwell among us. We have so much to learn from them, don’t we? Things we used to know but have forgotten, like how to laugh at ourselves, how to serve without expecting anything in return, how to imagine without worryin about what others think or counting the costs. Hey, if we pay close enough attention, we may even learn what God looks like!

With this proposed renovation, we are ensuring the future of Crestwood for generations to come. But this isn’t just about the future. This is about inviting the kingdom of God into Crestwood right now, so that we all can learn what it means to be touched, to be blessed, to be called a child of God. Is there room for that? Is there room? There can be.

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This Week’s Sermon – Renovating Crestwood

SCRIPTURE – 2 Kings 22:1-13; 23:1-3 –

 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lordand followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphanson of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant,which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillarand renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

SERMON
Renovating Crestwood
2 Kings 22:1-13; 23:1-3
May 31, 2015

As I sat down this past week to work on the worship service, I got a little panicky. We are trying to cram a lot of God into a small amount of time! A baby dedication, two baptisms, a ministerial candidate, not to mention our regular things like Children’s Time and the choir anthem. A fearful and bone-rattling thought occurred to me: what if there’s no room for the sermon? Anyone else here worried about that? No? Just me? Ok. I thought to myself, “There’s so much good stuff going on, we’re in the middle of a capital campaign, I’ve got to say…something!

But then I got to thinking, “Do I?” We’re talking about renovating and expanding our Children’s Wing, so what better witness to that need then a chancel overflowing with kids during Children’s Time, the celebration of a child’s life through a dedication, and the joy of having two young people give their lives to Christ through baptism? Those blessed events, more than anything I can say, testify to the way God’s spirit is moving in Crestwood and our need to grow in order to make room for welcoming in the people who are coming here. Those things speak for themselves. But just so I don’t disappoint my mom, who listens to the sermon on our website…I’m still gonna say little something.

You know, we’re not the first church to contemplate a renovation. In our reading from 2 Kings, King Josiah looked at the crumbling stone and peeling paint of the temple in Jerusalem and said, “This place needs an overhaul.” Fair enough. The temple was built in 950 BCE, which means it’s over 300 years old in our passage today. I’m sure you’d agree with me that building can use a good going-over every three centuries or so. So Josiah sends a message to Shaphan, the royal secretary, to gathering the offering from the temple and hire some workers to start the renovation.

Let me pause here a second to ask this: Did you get all those names? Because there’s gonna be a quiz. When I chose this passage to read today, I didn’t take into account ALL the names that would be part of it. That’s not easy to read. Then I had the most brilliant idea: Let’s make Trish read it! What better test of her ministerial abilities than reading about Meshullam and Hilkiah? But I like her a lot, so I couldn’t do that to her.

It’s easy to gloss over those names, isn’t it? People we never knew that don’t really matter to us. But before our eyes glaze over, let me propose that it’s those names on which the foundation of the temple is built, people who worked hard and served faithfully during their time here on earth. There’s a plaque outside the sanctuary with a bunch of names on it. Those are the charter members of this church. Some of the names you may recognize: Mr. and Mrs. Ben Cowgill; Mr. James Havens; Mr. and Mrs. W. Warren Rogers; Mr. and Mrs. Jason Taylor.

But then there are other names that are probably only remembered by a scant few. Mr. and Mrs. Carl Womack; Mr. and Mrs. John Oldham. Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Dillehay. They are the Meshullams and Hilkiahs of Crestwood, the people on whose shoulders we stand as we look toward the future. They did their part to build this church, and in our capital campaign we are called to do the same, to ensure the future of this congregation, which may look back someday and remember has as part of those foundation builders.

While Josiah’s people are renovating the temple, they come across something interesting. “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord,” says Hilkiah. The Book of the Law was probably one of the first five books of our Bible, maybe Leviticus or Deuteronomy, which had gotten lost in the temple when it was allowed to fall into disrepair by some of Josiah’s unfaithful predecessors. To put this in modern terms, some workers are renovating a church and, underneath a bunch of musty rugs and old Sunday School curriculum, they find…a Bible! What’s that thing doing here? Can you imagine losing a Bible in church?

Have we lost the Bible, Crestwood? I don’t believe so. In fact, I think we’re following God’s leading in the Bible by making room to care for our babies, educate our children, and make a joyful noise to the Lord. No, I don’t think we at Crestwood have lost our Bibles. In fact, I think we’re doing our best to follow them faithfully, as God calls us to welcome people, to invite their questions, to help them take the next step on their faith journey. Our renovated and expanded South Wing will help us do that, being faithful to our mission and vision as we serve God boldly and faithfully. And I believe this project has the potential to illicit the same response from us as the renovation of the temple did from Israelites. Chapter 23 tells us, “The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.”

The dictionary defines the word “renovate” as “to renew, to reinvigorate, to refresh.” Josiah and the Israelites thought they were renewing a building. You know, some new bricks and mortar, a fresh coat of paint. But in the process of renewing a building, they also renewed their faith, they renewed their call, they renewed their purpose as God’s people. They pledged themselves anew to the mission and vision God had placed before them. The recommitted themselves to following the Lord. As you contemplate and pray about your participation in this capital campaign, as you think about what gift you’ll give to help make this happen, please remember this: It’s because of the Cowgills and the Taylors and the Womacks and the Dillehays that we are here today. And there are people out there, people we don’t know, people not even born yet, who will be able to say one day that they are here at Crestwood, enjoying our amazing Children’s Wing, because of people like you and me. It’s not just a building that’s being renovated. It’s this entire congregation, as we step boldly in faith into the future. Our Children’s Wing was built in 1961, and has been the place of life-changing moments ever since. And now, we need more room to change more lives. Let’s join together, Crestwood, and provide that room. It’s not just a building we’re renovating.

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This Week’s Sermon – Speaking God’s Language

Happy Pentecost, everyone!

SCRIPTURE – Acts 2:1-12 –  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

SERMON
Speaking God’s Language
Acts 2:1-12; Gen. 11:1-9
May 24, 2015

George Bernard Shaw once said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. I can attest to that. In my last congregation we had a wonderful family from Great Britain. They were really neat people, but we sometimes had trouble communicating. Tony would say to me, “I’ve just come from garage and ran into a bobby on the lift as I was heading up to my flat to visit the loo.” And I would say, “You’re in America now, Tony, speak English!”

England and America aren’t the only groups separated by language today. Within our own country, different sectors of the population use the different words to say the same things. Is it a Coke or pop or a soda? Is it a sub or a hero or a hoagie? Or, more seriously, do Black America and White America speak differently? Do Liberal America and Conservative America use the same words to mean different things? Do Christians across the country, supposedly united as the body of Christ, have wildly different vocabularies? We are a nation divided by a common language.

Language plays a prominent part in our scripture reading this morning. In Acts, on the day of Pentecost, we learn that the disciples are all gathered in one place. Hold that thought. Because Pentecost was a major Jewish festival, Jews from all over the Roman Empire would have been gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate. What you need to know is that most of them were at least bi-, if not tri-lingual. They probably would have spoken Greek, the language of the Roman Empire; they would have spoken Hebrew, the language of their religion; and they would have spoken the local dialect, like Egyptian or Phrygian or Cappadocian.

So the linguistic miracle of Pentecost is that when the disciples start their inspired speaking, the people in the crowd hear what they are saying in their own dialect. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is serving as an interpreter for each listener, translating the Spirited speech of the disciples into Egyptian and Phrygian and Cappadocian. In a sense, God was uniting this diverse crowd through the power of speech. God was speaking their language.

To understand the significance of God’s uniting people through language on Pentecost, you have to first understand how God used language to drive people apart. I believe Pentecost makes much more sense in light of Genesis 11 and the story of the tower of Babel, so let me read that to you now.

Gen. 11:1-9 – Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

For many years now I’ve had a fascination with mountains. I just wanted a documentary the other night on K2, the second-highest mountain in the world and much more difficult to climb than Mt. Everest. Now, I have absolutely no desire to climb a mountain. You could put a year’s supply of Reese’s Cups at the top and I won’t budget. But I’m captivated by people who do, who push their bodies to the limit in order to stand on top of the world, to be at the closest point between heaven and earth.

That is part of what motivated the builders of the tower of Babel to do what they did, and what got them in trouble. This story takes place shortly after Noah, when God got fed up with disobeying, greedy, power-hungry people and decided to wipe the earth clean and start fresh. Noah and his family obeyed the command to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with offspring who would have shared a common language. But there’s one major problem: all the people were still disobeying, greedy, power-hungry humans. The flood didn’t wash away their sinfulness, and it was only a matter of time before they exhibited the same destructive behaviors as before.

After the people settle in Shinar, they looked around at their neighbors and saw that all of them had big towers that reach high into the sky. And in their desperate desire to keep up with the Jonesites, they decided they needed one, too. So the property committee put together plans and conducted a capital campaign to pay for the bricks and the tar, and they began building a city with a tower that reached to the heavens. Why? Because, scripture tells us, they wanted to make a name for themselves. They wanted other nations to look at them and say, “Oooh, those must be the Israelites, the ones who built that really cool tower!” Why is that a problem? Because when you’re so focused on making a name for yourself, God becomes an afterthought, a means to the end of self-aggrandizement.

The tower they were building was a ziggurat, which was a common structure for pagan religions. Now, the ziggurat itself wasn’t the temple; the temple would be built right next door. On the outside of the ziggurat was a stairway that led all the way to the top, where there would be a room with a small bed. The belief was that the local god would dwell in that little room at the top, and would descend the stairway when folks were worshipping in the temple next door. Time for worship, ring the bells, down comes the god, “Blessings, blessings, blessings,” worship is over, the god climbs back to its little room.

Do you see why the Israelite God wasn’t too keen on the building of this tower? You can’t put our God in a box, not even at the top of a mighty tower. If the people could build a tower like this, then they would think nothing was impossible. So God intervenes. God took away the one common bond they had, the one thing essential to their sense of community: their common language. It’s hard enough to build something together if you speak the same language! Imagine all the finger-wagging and hand-gesturing and general chaos that would ensue. It’s hard to build something together if you don’t speak the same language. So the place was called “Babel,” which means “confused.” No one spoke the same language, so they scattered.

Fast-forward several thousand years to Jerusalem, the day of Pentecost. God comes down, not using the steps of a ziggurat, but using tongues of flame borne of the Holy Spirit. It’s appropriate that it was tongues, because when they are touched the disciples start to speak. But they’re not babbling. No, they begin to proclaim the Good News and the Holy Spirit translates it into Egyptian and Phrygian and Cappadocian for the listeners. You see? This is the tower of Babel reversed. It’s the bookend to the scattering. It’s the reunification of God’s people through language. Remember the first line? “They were all gathered in one place.” The bond of community was broken at the tower, but the Holy Spirit was the epoxy that fastened those believers back together and united them to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Once they started speaking the same language again, they finally built something together: the church.

But Pentecost was about more than restoring language; it essentially accomplished what the builders of the tower of Babel couldn’t. Remember, they were trying to make a name for themselves, trying to reach up high enough to be equal to God. What Pentecost reminds us is that we don’t have to worry about getting to God’s level, because God came down to ours, not using the steps of a ziggurat, but using the beams of a wooden cross. Christ’s Spirit dwells within us, around us, calling us forward to speak God’s language. Instead of trying to build a tower out of bricks and tar, we’re called to be the living stones that build Christ’s church.

Now, fast forward again to the present day. The church has grown, the word of God has spread around the globe, the Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages, the Spirit is still hard at work amongst believers. So why are we still babbling? Christians can’t communicate with each other, much less people different than us. Even though we share a common spiritual language, we still have difficulty communicating in a way that honors God and the God image inside each other. I’ve seen numerous online debates over Christian issues that have devolved into name-calling and using ALL CAPS and condemnation, and I think, “Are we speaking the same language?” How do we know when our words are God’s words? How can we make sure we honor the spirit of Pentecost when we talk to each other?

I can tell you what I believe isn’t the language of God. “Hate” isn’t in God’s vocabulary. If a sentence begins with “God hates…” you can be pretty sure someone other than God is saying it. God’s language also doesn’t delineate between “us” and “them.” I preached once about the difference between slash language, which divides, and hyphen language, which unites. God speaks with a hyphen. God’s language doesn’t lump people into categories, doesn’t apply labels, and doesn’t lift someone up by putting someone else down.

To speak God’s language, first we have to know God’s language. It’s not that difficult to learn; in fact, you probably know most of the words. I’m not talking about words like “predestination” or “eschatological” or “transubstantiation.” If you know what those mean, you probably have either been to seminary or have way too much time on your hands. No, I’m talking about words like “Thank you” and “How can I help?” and “You’re welcome here” and “I’m sorry.” That’s the language of faith that unites us together as believers. When we speak those words, we are allowing God’s Spirit to work through us to connect with another person.

I’m keenly aware of the irony here. The people who tried to building a new building at Babel were scattered, and today we launch a capital campaign to renovate and add on to our own building. How do we avoid the mistakes at Babel? By making sure our space is filled with God’s language, the language of welcome and acceptance and encouragement and education. With our new South Wing our goal must not be to make a name for ourselves, but to glorify God’s name through our children’s ministries and our music.

There is so much that seeks to divide us in this world. We have tried to make a name for ourselves and our souls have been scattered. On this day, the day of Pentecost, we can begin the process of coming back together, of being all in one place, of listening the words God wants us to hear, words like “grace” and “welcome” and “blessing.” And then, we can go and speak those words into a selfish, scattered world. We can say to one another, “I’m sorry” and “You’re forgiven” and “How can I help?” I wonder how this world would be different if people stopped trying to speak for God and instead trying to speak the language God has given us. We have the words. We have the call. What are we missing? Come, Holy Spirit, come.

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This Week’s Sermon – Hugging the Trunk

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 25:14-30 – 14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

SERMON
Hugging the Trunk
Matthew 25:13-30
May 3, 2015

Hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Kory Wilcoxson and I work here… I can’t believe I haven’t stood in this pulpit to preach since Easter. I know you’re probably wishing it could be longer, but if I don’t preach any more Sundays I’m afraid you all will form a search committee. Seriously, I really appreciate having a few weeks away from the pulpit to recharge. I give thanks to the Elders who led worship and brought the message on April 12 and to Rev. Bruce Barkhauer for preaching both services last week. Thank you, Crestwood, for supporting them and for supporting me.

So let’s jump back in, shall we? And let’s not waste our time with those easy passages like “God is love” or “He is risen!” No, let’s tackle a parable in which God is compared to a harsh master and the one person in the story who does exactly what he’s supposed to do is punished for it. Sounds like a good way to ease back into this preaching thing.

This parable is probably one of the most difficult ones to make sense of because of the shifting shadows of judgment and questionable behavior that serve as its undercurrent. It helps to understand the context and where the parable fits into Matthew’s gospel. Jesus told this parable during Holy Week, after his arrival into Jerusalem and before the events of Maundy Thursday, when Jesus is arrested. This parable is part of a larger set of teachings in which Jesus warns the disciples about how to behave while he is gone.

Our story today is a thinly veiled allegory in which the master going on a journey is Jesus, who’s about to depart from this earth and his disciples. In the story, when the master returns, we’re told that the master returns to “settle accounts” with his slaves. The belief back then was when Jesus came back to earth for the Final Judgment, he would settle accounts with all his believers to see how they lived out their faith in his absence. This parable tells us that those who have been fruitful will be rewarded by “entering the joy” of their master, but those who are not fruitful will be cast into the outer darkness. No pressure here, folks, but just in case, let’s all start looking really busy in case today is THE day.

Let’s look more closely at the challenge placed before the master’s slaves. Before he goes, the master entrusts to each slave a portion of money. There’s no clear definition on the meaning of the word “talent” in this passage. Some commentators say it was a unit of weight for precious metals; others say it was a large sum of money equivalent to fifteen years’ pay for a day laborer. Matthew could have easily said, “To one he gave a bijillion dollars, to one he gave a gadzillion dollars, and to one he gave a blamtillion dollars.” The point that Jesus is making is that the master is entrusting to his slaves something very precious and valuable, more than they could have ever imagined.

While the slaves aren’t given any instructions on what to do with the money, we’re told that the one given five talents and the one given two talents went off “at once,” as if they recognize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they had been handed. I remember the first time I saw big money. I was riding in the car with my grandma, and I told her I didn’t believe there was such a thing as a hundred dollar bill, at which point she opened her purse, took out a $100, and let me hold it. I came so close to opening the car door and jumping out with the cash. I don’t care that we were on the highway, for $100 I’ll take my chances!

The first two slaves also take their chances, and they are able to double the money. But not the third slave. Instead of working to increase the amount he was given, he does the prudent thing: he gets a mason jar, stuffs the money inside of it, and buries it in the backyard. And when the master returns, the third slave hands him exactly what he had been given, not a cent less, but also not a cent more. And for that, he is punished. You could easily argue that the third slave didn’t do anything wrong, and you’d be right, I guess. But you could also argue that he did nothing, which in this case is worse than doing something wrong.

Let’s try to translate this parable into our modern context. First of all, when we apply this parable today we’re no longer talking about money. This parable is not an encouragement to make more money, because God knows no one in America needs to be encouraged to do that. Instead, the talents today translate into the gifts we are given by our Master, who is God, and there’s really no limit to what those gifts can be. Painting, administration, nurturing, investing, swinging a hammer, cooking a meal, running a meeting, rocking a crying child – all of these and many, many more are gifts we have been given by God to put to use.

And that’s where the third servant gets himself into trouble. He practices what one commentator called “fearful inactivity.” This is the kind of guy who wears a belt AND suspenders for fear of being exposed. Because of his fear, instead of taking a risk to increase the what he was given, he buries it. Instead of investing it and earning interest, he hoards it. Instead of going out on a limb, he hugs the trunk, because, you know, it’s safer there.  Because he feared the master, he did nothing.

I don’t believe in a God we have to fear. I believe in a God who loves us and wants to see us use our gifts to serve God. So what are we afraid of? What keeps us from using the gifts we’ve been given? Maybe we feel like we don’t have any special gift. Sure, we can do things, but they are just routine, they’re not gifts. Notice in this story there’s a man with five talents, a man with two talents, and a man with one talent. But there are no no-talent people in this story. You may think you skipped class on the day God was handing out gifts, but you have one. What are you passionate about? What fills you with joy? What do other people say you are good at? That’s your gift.

Now, as this story reminds us, not everyone’s gift is the same. Some may be more visible than others. I can stand up in front of people and prattle on, but I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. I know good folks who can cook delicious meals but make babies cry by just looking at them. Not all gifts are the same, but every gift matters, and every gift is meant to be used. As William Barclay wrote, “We are not all equal in talent, but we can be equal in effort.”

In my last church, we had a sweet old lady named Pat Garlich. Pat was a life-long Disciple and was in church every Sunday if her health allowed. She wasn’t in great shape, had a lot of health issues, and used a walker to get around. But Pat had one very important job – she is the person who brought the bread for communion each Sunday. And she took her job very seriously. If she knew she wasn’t going to be in church, she would tell me a month beforehand and add weekly reminders to ensure there was communion bread on Sunday morning. There wasn’t a lot that Pat could do, but she could purchase a $3 loaf of bread and make sure it was on the communion table on Sunday. That was her gift and she used it.

Maybe we’re afraid of using our gift because we think we’ll use it wrong, or that our gift is so inconsequential that it doesn’t matter, or that it won’t make a difference, or that someone else’s gift is a lot better than ours. To which Jesus says in his most loving, pastoral voice, “Get over it.” At the end of our lives, when we settle our accounts with God, God won’t ask us, “SO, why weren’t you more like Billy Graham? Why weren’t you more like Desmond Tutu?” No, God will ask us, “So, why weren’t you more like you?” God will say to me, “I created you to be Kory Wilcoxson. I gave you gifts to be Kory Wilcoxson. Why weren’t you more like Kory Wilcoxson?”

I understand not wanting to fail or do a bad job. No one likes to try and not succeed. But what this parable tells us is that the worst thing you can do is not try and fail; the worst thing you can do is not try at all. It’s what Max Dupree calls the sin of unrealized potential. God has given you a gift. Your life. Your mind. Your abilities. Your body. Your will. These are your gifts. And you are called to use these gifts to serve God, to provide God a return on the investment. Sure, we can use these gifts to serve ourselves. But that’s not what they are meant for. If you are only building a reputation, or building your retirement portfolio, or building a collection to display, or building an investment account, then you are not building God’s kingdom. You’re only hugging the trunk.

The danger is if you don’t use the gift you’ve been given, it will atrophy, it will lose its value. I like collecting Cincinnati Reds bobble heads, and for a long time I kept them up on a shelf in their original box because they are worth more money that way. But a few months ago I made the decision to open the boxes, take the bobble heads out of their Styrofoam protective cases, and put them on display in my office. Sure, they could fall and break. Someone could accidentally drop one. So why take the risk? Because their significance is not in their monetary worth, but in their sentimental value to me. I’d rather risk displaying the gifts than bury them in a box where no one, including me, can enjoy them.

As we move through our Time and Talent Stewardship Campaign, I encourage you to consider how you have been blessed by God. You have been given a gift worth a bajillion dollars – the gift of your life. You have been entrusted with this gift by God and called to go out on a limb and use it to further God’s kingdom. So what will you do? Bury it because of fear? Not use it because you’re too busy? Hide it away because you feel like it’s not good enough? Our church needs ushers and greeters who can help us welcome people into our midst. Our congregation needs nursery volunteers and people to make meals for the sick and new moms. Our church needs people to lead ministry teams, to serve communion, to fix door handles, to count money. Do you have one of those gifts? Do you have some other gift that needs to be used? Talk to me and we’ll find a way for you to put it to use.

My prayer for each of us is that our lives come as close as possible to realize the potential that God has intended for us. But we’re not going to get there by hugging the trunk. Sure, going out on a limb by using your gifts is a risk. But you’ll never know how much you can accomplish for God until you try.

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Easter 2015 – Explaining the Resurrection

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 27:57-28:15

 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

SERMON
Explaining the Resurrection
Matthew 27:57-28:15
April 5, 2015

I learned a new word this week I want to share with you. It’s “ineffable.” Do you know that word? I learned it in a book called “Baseball as A Road to God,” which may be the best book title in the history of Western literature. The word “ineffable” is defined as “that which we know through experience rather than study, that with ultimately is indescribable in words yet is palpable and real.” For example, the beauty of a sunrise or the joy of a baby’s laugh is ineffable. You can’t explain it or describe it; you can only experience it.

That certainly describes the joy of this day. The ineffability of Easter makes it for me both the easiest and hardest day on which to preach. It’s easy to preach on Easter because, well, it’s Easter! Frankly, I’d have to try really hard to mess this one up. And even if I do mess it up…it’s Easter! It’s a day of forgiveness and new life and resurrection.

This is also a hard day to preach. I understand the purpose of preaching to be education and inspiration. But this is Easter! There’s nothing I have to say that can educate you about the mystery of the Resurrection, and no words I offer that can even come close to the inspiration of “He is risen!” What do you say that can capture the ineffability of Easter?

For Christians, this is the greatest day of the year, because this is the day that makes all the other days make sense. Christmas wouldn’t make sense without Easter. Why celebrate the birth of someone who is going to die like everyone else? Maundy Thursday and Good Friday wouldn’t make sense without Easter. Why commemorate his last meal and his death on the cross if that’s where the story ends? But that’s not where it ends. There’s more to this story.

And what a confounding story it is! In the gospels, we have four different accounts of what happened on Easter morning, but they raise more questions than answers. In fact, even the people who experienced it couldn’t explain it. The women are scared out of their wits. The disciples are completely stunned. And the religious leaders are so caught off-guard they concoct a half-cooked cover-up to try and make sense of a rolled-away stone and an empty tomb. They give the soldiers some hush money and tell them to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” A stolen body is rational, it’s manageable, it makes sense. But resurrection is ineffable. It defies explanation. Yet, the chief priests need an explanation, they need to make sense of the empty tomb, because the only other alternative is that Jesus really was who he said he was.

Wanting an explanation is human nature. We want answers, we expect them, and mystery is finding less and less of a place in our lives. A few years ago I was showing a four-year-old the old “Remove Your Thumb” trick. Do you know that one? I showed it to him, expecting him to be wowed by this supernatural display of biological transcendence. You know what this four-year-old did? He looked at my hand for a second and then said “Big deal.” Big deal. He was not impressed by mystery.

Few of us are. We want the mystery in our lives confined to Patricia Cornwell books and TV crime dramas. At all other times, we want answers, and we want them now. And in this age of information, when we can carry the Internet in our pockets, we can get them. Our search engines have become action verbs. Need the name of a song or the one actor in that movie? Just Google it. The answers to all our questions are just a few clicks away.

Well, not all the answers. The resurrection? There’s no app for that. It’s ineffable. We believe that if we can explain the resurrection, then maybe we can explain other mysteries about life, like why kids get sick and why good people endure hardships. But life doesn’t make sense. I don’t see how anyone could read the Bible or the Easter story and come away thinking it paints a picture of a world that makes sense. Nothing about Jesus’ life makes sense. The virgin birth, the healing stories, multiplying the loaves and fish, his patience and forgiveness, his willingness to die on the cross.  None of that makes sense. It’s not supposed to make sense. Jesus didn’t come to explain life, he came to show us how to live it, and how deal with it when it doesn’t make sense. If we can’t explain his life and his death, then we certainly can’t explain his resurrection.

I know it would be so much easier to believe if we had concrete evidence to explain what happened on Easter. But the reality is that if we need tangible proof of the resurrection in order for our faith to be meaningful, we’re destined to be disappointed. None of the four gospels describe the resurrection. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – none of them tell us what happened when Jesus was resurrected. None of them say, “Then Jesus woke up, blinked a few times, stretched his legs, and walked out of the tomb.” All we are told is the after-effects: the empty tomb, the angel, the frightened women, the appearances of a risen Christ. It’s like a Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs Bunny is staring down the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s gun. One moment Bugs is there, and the next moment he’s gone, with only a few puffs of smoke and squiggly lines where he used to be. We didn’t see him actually leave; we only see the after-effects.

In fact, the only evidence for the resurrection that we DO have is the empty tomb, the ultimate after-effect. Some would say that’s the basis for some faulty logic. We are trying to prove the existence of something by saying what’s not there. We believe if the tomb is empty, then the only explanation is that Christ must be risen. And yet for 2000 years, starting with the chief priests, people have been trying to draw some other conclusion that makes sense, that doesn’t require them to let go of logic and reason and just believe. But we can’t escape the fact that the tomb is empty. Where did he go? We may not know for sure, but we DO know he’s not in there.

Sitting here this Easter morning, we are again confronted with the after-effects of resurrection and like the chief priests, we are given a choice. To believe or not to believe. To accept it or to ignore it or to try and explain it away. And what we choose to believe about the resurrection has real consequences for how we see God at work in our lives. If Christ is really dead in this story 2000 years ago, then Christ is still dead today. But if he was alive then, then he’s still alive now, working all around us to give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom here on earth.

I believe the resurrection not only was real back then, but it is real today, and that reality compels us to live our lives with a resurrection perspective, a perspective that accepts the resurrection cannot be explained. It can only be experienced. Nothing in our lives can help us make sense of the resurrection; instead, it is the resurrection that can help us make sense of our lives. Sometime life is so brutal, so unfair, that it ONLY makes sense when seen through the resurrection and the hope it promises us, that there is life after death, that there is life after pain and suffering and loss. Whether it’s dealing with our aging parents, the loss of our job, or a battle with illness, the empty tell us that because Jesus lives, we are not alone, that there is hope beyond our circumstances. The promises of the resurrection are real and they belong to us when we give up our attempts to understand and simply move forward in faith.

Author John Purdy said, “God is not in the past, shut up in the tomb of our sins, our youthful indiscretions, our wasted opportunities, our shattered hopes and dreams. God is ahead of us – in our future, out there freeing us from our past, easing the pain, feeding the hungry, making for peace, washing the feet, raising the dead. God is gone ahead of us and he is out there waiting for us to get moving.”

We come to church looking for proof of the resurrection, looking for proof of God, and we don’t even realize WE are the proof. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker writes, “…have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.” We come looking for evidence the resurrection, but we ARE the evidence of the resurrection, because we experience it all the time in our relationships, in our health, in our jobs. Some resurrections are so big they get written about in the Bible. But other resurrections are small and happen every day in the midst of ordinary lives.

We can stay rooted in the past, fretting over the historical validity of the resurrection. We can stay rooted in our own past, fretting over things we’ve done, beating ourselves or others up for past sins. But Matthew’s account makes one thing very clear without a doubt: Jesus is not back there. Where did he go? He’s in front of us, ahead of us, calling us forward into a future where resurrection can’t be explained; it can only be experienced.

When I was in college, I was struggle with an advanced French class, so I wrote my high school French teacher about my frustration. Her postcard reply contained only one sentence: “Before you can understand, you have to admit you don’t understand.” That’s the paradox of how resurrection works. The more we admit we don’t understand it, the more we see of it. The more I admit I don’t understand how God hears everyone’s prayers, the more answered prayers I hear. The more I admit to not knowing how God can love everybody, the more evidence I see of God’s love around me. The more I confess I don’t understand how God works, the more I see God working in and through this church. The more I surrender myself to a faith in what’s not there, the more I see and experience the One who is there. I can’t explain the resurrection, but I’ve experienced the power and love of the resurrected Savior over and over in my life.

So that’s where we are today. The empty tomb still stands before us. Rationally, we look inside and see nothing. The world is still as it seems. Thumbs cannot be pulled off and put back on. Yet what we can’t see is positively radiant with the glory of the resurrection. There will always be more power – and more hope – in what we can’t know than in what we know for sure. The tomb is empty. Christ has risen. How? I don’t know and I don’t care! All I know is that Christ isn’t back there! He’s out there, waiting for us to see him in our jobs, in our schools, in our homes, in the streets! So are we just going to sit here? Or are we going to get moving?

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