Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2018: “Reality Check”


  • Joel 2:1-2, 12:13
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2


Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2018: “Reality Check”


Whenever the season of Lent comes around,

I hear from a number of people that they have trouble “getting into” the season because it’s such a downer,

That there is an over-emphasis on being solemn and sober.

Maybe that’s how you feel.

And that’s okay if you feel that way.

I’ve been there.

But over time I have come to realize that Lent is not a downer.

It’s a reality check.

And this reality check starts with Ash Wednesday.

Do you know why we put Ashes on our foreheads today?

Baptismal Font- beginning of life (past)

The Urn- the end of life (the future)


Ash Wednesday is a time when our past and future meet in our present

The ashes, the words, the touch are a reality check to remind us that we do not live forever.


Even if we immediately wipe away those ashes when we leave here,

The reason behind the ashes remain.


That reason is this: the life we have been given is precious.

Not just to ourselves,

But also to God.

How do I know this?


Because of what God does NOT do.


Being human we are 100% saint

And 100% sinner

We are not perfect.

And sometimes that Imperfection rules our lives.

We do not treat one another with dignity and respect.

We do not treat our loved ones as we should.

We abuse our bodies through alcohol, drugs, harmful relationships

We do not treat our lives as precious gifts.


That is where the Law comes in.

We have done enough that God as our Judge has overwhelming evidence to convict us.

We are guilty as charged.

To send us into the Darkness, the Void (into Hell) forever.


But God does NOT do that!

God does not punish us.

As the prophet Joel, “The Lord RELENTS from punishing.” (2:13)



to soften in feeling, temper, or determination; 


to become more mild,


or forgiving.


So rather than becoming angrier,

God becomes more forgiving.


God lets up.

And rather than sending us to our deserved punishment,

God turns to world upside down to make things right.


What that means is that instead of sending his Son, Jesus, to punish us.

God sends Jesus to be punished for us.


As Paul in Second Corinthians writes,

“For OUR sake (God the Father) made (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin,

so that in (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.


And God does this because of what Joel says is a Steadfast love.


That’s a big word

But an even bigger meaning

To be steadfast is:

to cling,

to stay close,

to stick to,

to stick with,


Think about that for a minute.

God sticks with us!


Because despite our actions,

God’s love is




& not subject to change



So instead of




Which is what we deserve and earned


God gives us

Eternal Light


And a place in His home


Rather than getting something old and ugly a

We get something new and beautiful.


The ashes today remind of our humanity.

They remind us that we are not in control.


But the ashes also remind us who IS.


The Ashes remind us that we do not have live in the prison made up of

our sins,


and evil deeds,


But we live in a world where that prison, our prison,

Has been unlocked

And destroyed

By Jesus.


While the ashes remind us of our past and future,

they also remind us of our present

the gift of the present


For each day is a new beginning,

washed in God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Each day is a day for us to live in the sticky/clingy/faithful love of God.


And that is not a downer.

That’s reality.


Sermon for January 14, 2018: “A.F.D.- Attention Faith Disorder”

E2 2018 Sermon “Attention Faith Disorder”


1 Samuel 3:1-10

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1: 43-51

We have short attention spans.
It seems like we start to do one thing (INTERRUPTION 1)
Where was I? Oh yes, attention spans. (INTERRUPTION 2)
Where was I? Look to acolyte? (Wake up)
Look to assistant (headphones)
Okay, time to get a little more serious.
But I think we have all been there.
We are talking, with people out and about, and they have their mind elsewhere.
Or rather than looking at you, they are looking at a screen.
Its rude. Unfriendly.
Now my question to you is this: How often do we cut our attention span with God?
How many times do we start then stop when it comes to listening to God?
The reality is we do not pay attention to God.
We put our hearts and mind on other things.
Money, politics, technology, toys, power, just to name a few.
It’s a condition that I like to call:
Attention Faith Disorder
But today I want to tell you some Good News.

The Good News is God still pays attention to us and continues to work to fix our AFD.

This morning we have 3 different ways God does that.
The three ways are:
• Psst
• something I like to call the “Well Hello There!”
• The Call Out

First the Psst.
Our first bible reading comes from the book 1 Samuel,
As the book opens, the word of the Lord was rare in those days.
What that means is that the people, especially the prophet Eli, believed that the Lord had stopped talking to them.
It’s like the feeling you get when you call someone, asking them to call, and they never respond.
Or you send a text to someone, and because of technology you can tell if that someone read your text, and they still won’t answer you!
It’s frustrating and heartbreaking.
And when it happens we tend to ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong?”
Well in the case of the people in 1 Samuel,
The problem was not that God wasn’t talking, it was that the people were not listening.
By that I mean they weren’t obeying God’s commandments and doing their own thing.
And the main culprits in our story are Eli and his sons.
Eli was a church leader, and his sons were leaders who disrespected God’s place.
They made a mockery of church.
And so God does something about it.
But rather than giving up out of frustration, God goes another direction.
And he calls on a child. Samuel.
It takes Samuel three times to realize that it’s God who is calling him in the middle of the night.
But when he does realize it’s God, Samuel responds!
“Speak, for your SERVANT is listening!”
Samuel responds by listening and doing.
Though young, Samuel takes the job God has called him too.
This is a powerful response for anyone, no less a child!
So let me ask you this:
Have you ever had that feeling that God was calling you?
Maybe it was in the middle of the night,
Maybe it was during a drive
Or in a quiet moment,
You just felt like there was another voice in your head,
Calling you to a task
Or easing your mind right before you take a test, or a job interview, or facing a difficult meeting

God’s call can come to us unexpectedly.
And it can come to us in the most unexpected places and people.

That leads to my next point:
The “well hello there!”
And this is the story we read from John, the first chapter.
The first chapter of John covers a lot of ground.
Four days.
The first day John appears.
The second, John witnesses to Jesus as the Lamb of God.
The third day, Jesus invites his first two disciples, Andrew and Simon, to come and see where he is going.
And our story today is set on the fourth day.
It begins with Jesus finding Philip.
Philip becomes a disciple.
And Philip does was a disciple is supposed to do.
He goes and recruits.
Philip goes and tells Nathanael. “We have found The One.”
And Nathanael’s response? “Pffft. Yeah, right.”
It’s the same reaction I have had when people say things like:
“Oh, Jesus helped us find that parking spot at the mall on Christmas Eve!”
My mom did remind me that my dad would argue that God absolutely helped him find parking places!
“God certainly wanted our team to win the national championship”
It’s the “Really? You think so?”
And that’s what Nathanael does.
He says
“Really? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Which was a slam against Jesus and his hometown.
Nazareth was a small secluded village.
Not many people gave it much thought.
The town was an afterthought, a blip on the screen of life in the eyes of Nathanael.
But Philip responds with the best answer.
Come and see.
See for yourself.
Which is a perfect way for you to invite friends to church.
Come and see for yourself.

And what Nathanael sees when he meets Jesus blows his mind.
The first thing Jesus does is compliment Nathanael.
Or as I call it, the friendly “Well Hello There!”
Jesus acts like he’s known Nathanael all his life.
But here’s the thing, God DOES know us all our lives.
Jesus says Nathanael is an honest man who does not worship other gods.
And that compliment is enough for Nathanael to give Jesus his full attention.
Nathanael called Jesus: Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel.
Pretty heavy stuff!
So now think back to a time when someone you least expected showed you the presence of God.
Maybe in something they said to you,
Maybe they asked how YOUR day was going,
Or they told you how they got through a difficult period in their life.
Or they tell you a great joke that gets you out of a bad mood
That is God saying, “Well hello there!” to you
But there is a third way I want to talk about as well.
While God can call us into something, like he does with is Samuel and Nathanael,
God can also call us OUT when we need to shape up.

That is what God does in our story from Corinthians.
This is what I call “The Call Out”
The Corinthians were going down a bad road.
They were not paying attention to God (echoes of the story of Eli and his sons)
They were paying attention to themselves.
They were doing immoral things.
They were doing stupid things.
They were doing things that would not be listed on any Christian Recruitment flyers, I’ll tell you that.
And Paul is calling them out on it.
Paul, the writer of Corinthians, tries and tries over and over to move the Corinthians away from an attitude of “It’s all about me” to a focus on what it means to be faithful to the gospel.
Here’s Paul’s point to the Corinthians and to us:
YOU (point to the congregation, to individuals) were bought with a price.
God did not get us on sale.
God paid the full price.
And that price was Jesus.
Whenever we wander from God,
Whenever our attention starts to wane,
we need not look any further than the Cross to set us back to reality.
Think of a time in your life when you needed to hear someone tell you to shape up.
When someone called you out for your sins, your mistakes and your need for repentance.
In my life I have met church people who have kept notebooks on all the things people have done to them.
Let me warn you in case you are one of those people: if you ever show me your list or book, I am going to ask you one thing: “Where is the book containing your sins?”

Talk about the ultimate attention getter.

But sometimes that is what we need to kickstart our faith.
And get us back on the right road.

I don’t know about you, but I am so glad we have a God who works so hard to cure of us our Attention Faith Disorder.

And from our lessons we know of at least three ways God does this:
The Psst
The Calling Out and
The Well Hello There

Each way shows us that God isn’t done with any of us.
God has not stopped calling us.
God is reaching out to us.

It’s time we answer, “Lord, you have our attention!”

Sermon for January 7, 2018: “More Than Words Can Say”

Sermon for January 7, 2018
“More Than Words Can Say”

Reading: Mark 1:4-11

Sometimes putting into words how we feel about someone or something can be difficult, sometimes impossible.
When Kristen and I were waiting for Paul to be born, we would ask our family and friends what is was like to be parents, and they all said they could not fully describe what it is like.
Their words could not do justice to their feelings.
So when words are not enough, the best way to describe what you are feeling is to show it as well as say it.
Let me give you an example.
It comes from our Gospel lesson today.
Our lesson is from the opening chapter of Mark.
It is the story of Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan.
Let me say a few things about the Gospel of Mark before I get into the example.
Mark is the shortest Gospel in the New Testament.
It is only 16 chapters in length.
Mark does not waste a lot of words.
And the gospel reads very quickly because Mark uses words like “immediately” when he tells the story of Jesus and his ministry.
Jesus could be healing a leper and immediately he is in another town preaching the Good News and feeding five thousand people.
So as we read the Gospel of Mark throughout the year, remember that things in Mark happen very quickly.
And at first glance, Mark sometimes gives you the feeling he is not writing a book but a summary.
Take Mark chapter 1.
Here is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus.
Then comes John the Baptizer.
And here comes Jesus being baptized by John.
Oh, and there is a dove.
Okay, that might be too fast of a summary but my point is when you first read and hear Mark, there is not a lot of detail.
AT FIRST that is.
But if you take another glance at the Gospel, and dive deeper into the text you will uncover really spectacular and beautiful events, especially in our text this morning.
And in my opinion the beautiful event that happens today in our Gospel lesson can be found in verses 10 and 11.
Verse 10: “And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
For many years, I always pictured the heavens opening up like one opens up a curtain.
Nice and easy.
But that is not what the scripture says.
The heavens do not open like a curtain.
They are torn apart.
There is a great commercial out now, from a company called Grub Hub.
And in the commercial a man is trying to order some food over the phone.
And the restaurant worker on the other end of the line cannot understand the last four numbers of the customer’s credit card number.
After repeating the numbers over and over again, the customer becomes so frustrated he pulls hard on his phone line and
He pulls so hard that the restaurant worker BURSTS through the wall.
The worker literally CRASHES INTO the customer’s apartment.
It’s a great commercial, and my point is that just as the worker crashes into the apartment, the heavens are not gently opened, they CRASH INTO our reality.
This is a violent wrenching of a hole in the ceiling that bounds heaven and earth.
To “tear something” does not happen neatly, or with a tool.
It is usually done with hands.
And who is that does the tearing?
Not just God the Creator.
But God the Father.
And why does God rip open the heavens?
To get the best view possible of his son as Jesus beings his work on earth.
Think back to the moment your child or your godchild or grandchild was baptized.
Did you sit in the back of the church or at the front to watch the event?
You sat in the front.
You wanted to get the best view.
God wants to get the best seat in the house for this special moment.
And what makes this verse even more spectacular is after this violent action of the heavens tearing apart; the Holy Spirit makes an appearance as a dove.
Can you think of another moment in the Bible when a dove makes an appearance?
If you said, Noah, give yourself a pat on the back.
The dove was an image of peace.
It still is today.
And back in the story of Noah, the dove was the symbol that the flood had subsided and a new creation had begun.
The dove makes a return appearance today just as Jesus begins a new creation in the story of humankind.
Now I could stop at verse 10, but it is verse 11 that really tugs at my heart.
Verse 11 says- “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
“Beloved” is a wonderful term.
It is a term of endearment that is usually reserved for those who are especially dearly loved, as one’s spouse or child is.
Like the first time you told your significant other you loved him or her.
That you REALLY loved them.
God is saying the same thing today.
And I have to be honest, up until last February they were just words, and then when Paul was born and I held him in my arms for the first time,
All I could say over and over and over again was, “My son! My son! I love you! You are so beautiful! My son!”
That is when it hit me how deep these words in our verse are.
This is not God making an announcement.
These are the words of a father.
This is God putting into words his love for his Son.
“You are my Son, the I really love you.”

Sometimes words are not enough and the best way to describe what you are feeling is to show it as well as say it.

And in this short Gospel lesson, we have a father who rips open the heavens to see his Son and then tells his son how much he loves him.
He tells his son how proud and pleased he is.

And the amazing thing is that God does and says the same thing to us.
God shows and tells us he loves us.
Through the waters of baptism, through the bread and wine of communion, it is God who shows and tells us what we mean to him.
That is why at Baptism, we say the name of the one being baptized as the waters are splashed over his or her head.
That is why at Communion, I saw your name, so that you know that this meal, this sacrament, was given for you as a person, as a child of God.
What God says to Jesus in our Gospel lesson, is the same thing he says to us.
And not just on Sundays, but every day of our lives.
He sees us as He sees Jesus, as His children.

Now if you please, take out your bulletin, and look at verse 11.
And right where God starts to speak, I want you to put your name in front of what God says, and either say that verse out loud or silently.
Do this a few times.

Do you hear what God is telling you?
Do you see what God is showing you?

There is a lot that is going on in these verses.
Sometimes we just need to slow down and let the words soak in.

God is calling you each by name.
God loves you.
We thank God for showing and telling how he feels about us.

Sermon for December 17, 2017: “John The Pointer”

Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Sermon for December 17, 2017: “John The Pointer”

Many people call John the Baptist
Others call him John the Baptizer.
I have a different name for him: The Pointer. Continue reading

Sermon for December 10, 2017: “A Voice Crying In The Gas Station”

Mark 1:1-8
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Sermon for December 10, 2017: “A Voice Crying In The Gas Station”

Years ago, when I was living in Pennsylvania I remember a trip I made to visit my mom and dad in Winston-Salem.
On the way home, there is a Shell Gas station, less than a mile from their home.
It had been a long day of driving but I thought I’ll fill up the tank so I don’t have to worry about it.
And then it happened.
I was pumping the gas,
Hand holding up my head,
I wasn’t bothering anyone,
When I heard a voice.
Continue reading

Sermon for Christ The King Sunday 2017: “Spellcheck”

Reading: Matthew 25:31-46


Sermon: “Spellcheck”

A woman named Judy passes away and heads up to Heaven, where she is greeted by St. Peter.

St. Peter says to her, “Welcome to Heaven, Judy. Now before you enter you have to answer one question.”

Judy is nervous. 

She says, “Ok. I’m ready.”

St. Peter- “Can you spell LOVE for me?” Continue reading

Sermon for November 12, 2017: “Shampoo: The (Non)Musical”

Sermon for November 12, 2017: “Shampoo: The (Non)Musical”

Reading: Amos 1-5:18-24

This morning I want to talk to you about the prophet Amos.

we do not often get to hear from Amos so I want to talk about him.

And Amos reminds me of a preacher I met many years ago.

I was in Baltimore visiting one of my closest friends, Tim.
And I went with him and his wife to their church.

Friendship Baptist Church.

It’s an African American Southern Baptist church.
And I had a really good time.

Two things I remember about that church;

First was the offering.
There were no plates to pass around.
Instead the people…ALL the people…came up to the front of the church, and in front of everybody, put their donation into the plate.

When I realized that ALL really meant ALL I said a little prayer,
“Please, Jesus, let there be money in my wallet.
Or its gonna get ugly.”

I am happy to announce that I did have money and I gratefully put it in the plate.

Then there was the Preacher.

The church was packed that day so we had to worship over in the next room where we could watch the service on a close-circuit tv.

The gospel was read.
We sang some hymns.
We sat down.

The preacher was about to preach.
And the camera zoomed in on his face.
And his face…well…it had me worried.

He looked ANGRY!

He looked like he was about to put a hurting on all of us.

I whispered to Tim, “Why is he mad?”

About a minute into the sermon, the hurting had commenced, and I whispered to him:

“I think I’m going to end up crying.”

What that preacher did to me and that congregation that day is what Amos is doing to his congregation.

Now at the beginning, Amos gets his congregation, the nation of Israel, on his side.

He does this by talking about how the enemies of Israel will suffer.

And how God’s judgment is going to come down very hard on every one of them.

So the people are really getting into it.

Watch out, Damascus!
Crowd: Yeah!
Watch, out, Gaza
Watch out, Tyre
Watch out, Edom
Watch out, Ammonites!
Watch out, Moab!
Watch out, Judah!
Oh most definitely yeah!

And then
Watch out, Israel!
Yea—wait. What?!

For the rest of the book, Amos directs his anger at Israel.

And it is not pretty.

And that all happens BEFORE our passage today.

By the time we get to our lesson,

Amos takes Hope

(Hold up signs that says “Hope” and “Deliverance” and tear it)

And tears them up.

But then Amos does something that takes the judgment up to another level.
I would say level 11.

Amos leaves the pulpit.

Amos wasn’t even the feature act.
He was the opener.

And the headliner comes on stage in verse 21.
That headliner is God himself!

God speaks directly to his people in verses 21-24, and it becomes clear that the relationship between God and God’s children is strained.
And God uses very harsh language and cuts to the bone.
God declares that He “hates” and “rejects” every aspect of Israelite ritual –
the solemn festivals,
offerings of sacrifice,
even the music, (you better run, Bill!)
Why is God mad?
First let me say that God does not reject these rituals because they are
or false,
or because they are offered to other gods.

God rejects the rituals because they have become style over substance.
The rituals have replaced the actual service.
And because of that, God sees an absence.
An absence of justice and righteousness;
And if Israel will not commit to these things, then there can be no real relationship with God.
So our passage ends with two DEMANDS from God.
Notice I say DEMANDS
because I believe
at this point
God is not messing around with the To Do list.
God demands Israel take away the “noise” of their singing,
And “let justice flow down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In other words,
As the worship ends, let the service begin.
If that sounds familiar it’s because that is what I say at the end of our worship services.
As we end the worship,
We begin our service.

This is where that comes from.

And that is why I wanted to talk to you this morning about Amos,
But more importantly I wanted to talk to you about us.

What we do here on a Sunday morning is important.
It’s not only important it’s essential.
We come together after a week apart.
We see friends we haven’t seen all week.
We catch up on our lives.
And then we sing.
We pray.
We share a meal together.
We pass the peace.
And then we go home.

But over time it can feels like using shampoo.


And when our faith becomes like shampoo,
Pretty soon this ritual becomes a ROUTINE

And before you know it, style takes over.
And substance takes a back seat.

For instance:

A few years ago, a Christian was considered a “regular” worshipper of God if he or she came to church at least 3 out of 4 times a month.
Now: that number is 1 time every six weeks.

Have you ever heard “20% of the people do 80% of the work?”
I can tell you now it’s more like “10% do 90%”

We come late, we leave early.

We play on our phones during worship (and it’s not just the Youth who do this)

We don’t sing. We don’t pray.

We complain about church being so early on a Sunday morning,
And yet if we get the chance to play golf at the crack of dawn over at Eagle Pointe Gold Clube I just right at it!

I meant WE jump.

Or so I heard…

We don’t bring our children to Sunday School or Youth Events and then are amazed when the kids get older and they start to question God or leave the church.

We will judge someone’s sins on the other side of the political fence (BAD BAD BAD)
, but when those sins are committed by someone from our party, GRACE GRACE GRACE!

We have let the rituals replace our actions.
We have rinsed and lathered our faith for a long time.

And God is telling us:
“Folks, I hate it when you rinse lather and repeat our relationship.”

And do you know why God uses words like “hate” in this Passage?

He says he hates it because when we put style over substance, when we put the SHOW of faith over the Faith itself,
It means we don’t take God’s love for us seriously.
And we waste it.
We ignore it.
We use it for OUR benefit.

God hates that, because it breaks God’s heart.

And God wants his servants to get back to WANTING to be his servants.

There is more to this Christian…lifestyle…than what we do for an hour or so on a Sunday morning.

Being a Christian means being a servant of God 24 hours 7 days a week.
Being a Christian means:

• Acting on the promises we make to God this morning.
• Living in the promises God has made to us
• Loving our neighbors just as much as we claim to

A couple of challenges for you this week:

I challenge you to take your bulletin home, use it as a devotional, underline a word from the liturgy, the Bible, a song, and pray over that word. And then use the bulletin as a journal to write down what you did each day to make your faith real.

Here’s an easy one: when you are at the drive thru: pay for the meal of the car behind you.
This happened to me last week.
And all I got was a Diet Coke, and I was like “Um, is it too late to add to the order?”
But that is something you can easily do

Special challenge to those who use social media:
Share your experiences of making faith real
Take a picture of a cause or event that touches your soul and want us to know about
Take a picture of a bird, a tree, your child, spouse, family, friends and write a Thank you, God for that moment, and then “I promise you, God” to take care of said person in picture.

These challenges are not to confront you but encourage you to be the people we CLAIM to be.

And not to rinse and lather and repeat
And let the rituals ruin it for us.


God does not want your rituals.
God wants YOU.

Sermon for Reformation Sunday 2017: “Re:Formation”

Sermon for October 29, 2017: “Re:Formation”

Today marks Reformation Sunday.
For many years, the word “Reformation” didn’t mean that much to me.
Which is probably what you don’t want your pastor to admit.
But then I stopped pronouncing it “Reformation” and came up with another pronunciation.
“Re-formation.” Continue reading