Sermons
Matthew 5:38-48 Relationships Include . . . Enemies February 19, 2017        Maple Grove UMC             We may have smiled and nodded during the Gospel reading today, but if we’re honest we have to admit that those are some very hard teachings, aren’t they?  Jesus says not to resist anyone who harms you.  Whoa!  He says to love not only your friends, but even your enemies.  Really? These are hard teachings, and people know it.           Just days after the 9/11 attacks, Tony Campolo dared to read in church these words of Jesus about loving enemies and not retaliating.  One listener came to him and declared, “This is no time to go around quoting Jesus.”  “I’ve got news for you,” responded Campolo; “this is exactly the time we had better quote Jesus.”1           These are difficult teachings.  By that I do not mean that I’m telling you, “Hey, these may…
Matthew 5:21-30 Relationship with Others Is Relationship with God February 12, 2017             Maple Grove UMC               What if during worship everyone got up, walked across the room, and engaged in heartfelt conversation with someone?  Or what if everyone got up and walked out of church calling some long-lost friend on the phone?  Bad behavior in Church?  No, I think that would great!  Hold that thought—I’ll come back to it.              But first, what about those teachings where Jesus seems to equate anger and insult with murder and lust with adultery?  What are we to make of that?  Does he really mean it?  Are we all in a lot of trouble?              Chapters 5-7 in Matthew’s Gospel are called the “Sermon on the Mount,” which is the Bible’s purest, highest description of how Christians should live.  And today’s teachings about killing and adultery are the first of what…
Matthew 5:13-16 Salt & Light: It’s All About Relationships February 5, 2017               Before he was the bishop of Alabama, Will Willimon was the chaplain at Duke University, where part of his job was to have conversations with students about faith and religion and life.  One student told him that he and his roommate weren’t getting along well.  “Why not?” Willimon asked.  “Because he’s a Muslim and I’m not,” the student said.  Willimon asked why that made a difference.             “When we moved in together, he asked me what my religion was,” the student replied.  “I told him that I was a sort of Christian.  A Lutheran.  I told him up front that my family and I weren’t the very best Christians, that we only went to church occasionally, and it wasn’t that big a deal to me.  But my roommate has this nasty habit of asking embarrassing questions.”…
Church Well-Being 2016 Jane Rantz & Bill Tenney Address Delivered January 29, 2017   Let us pray together:   Deliver us, God, from the temptation of accepting the world that we see as the only world that is. For the world that we see is not the world for which you created us. Give strength to our pursuit of true knowledge, and to a life lived in your presence and in your mystery.   We give thanks and praise for the movement toward broad inclusiveness here in the diverse community of Maple Grove. We pray that even though at times we do not think alike, you will enable us, God, to love alike.   Open our hearts, our minds, and our doors. May we invite others to join us as we see Christ in every person we meet. We know we can experience a glimpse of heaven on earth when we make that spiritual…
Matthew 4:12-22 Not Alone January 22, 2017          Maple Grove UMC             Today’s gospel story is an early turning point in Jesus’ life.  He has submitted to baptism and heard those amazing words, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Then the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness where he fasts for forty days and is tempted by the devil.  There are many ways to think about these temptations, but in one way or another they all have to do with whether Jesus will make his ministry about himself—his own power, his own glory, his own ego--or let his ministry be about God and God’s will.  Then on the heels of that, Jesus learns that the one who had prepared the way for him, John the Baptist, has been arrested by Herod the King.  In other words, it is now his time.           Bible scholar…
Matthew 3:13-17 No Matter What—You Are a Child of God January 8, 2017             No matter what—you are a child of God, precious and beloved. No matter how high you climb in life, no matter how many degrees you may get or how many people may serve and respect you, you will never achieve a title higher than you received at your baptism:  child of God, precious and beloved.  And no matter how low your heart may sink, no matter what is done to you or how you may disappoint yourself, baptism never rubs off.  No matter what--you are a child of God, precious and beloved.             Baptism has many different meanings and associations. The word ‘baptize’ means literally to dip or to wash, so baptism represents the washing away of sin and the cleansing of our souls.  Baptism also symbolizes dying and rising to new life.  In…
Looking for Jesus? Try the Manger Christmas Eve 2016 Maple Grove UMC             Are you looking for Jesus?  That’s been our theme here this season before Christmas.  Are you looking for Jesus—is that why you’re here?  Oh, I know—there are lots of reasons to be at church on Christmas Eve.  Some people come to sing the carols and hear the Christmas music.  Some people come because, well, they’ve always come to church on Christmas Eve—it’s a tradition.  Some people come just to make grandma happy once a year.  There aren’t any bad reasons to come to church on Christmas Eve. But maybe, just maybe, you’ve come to church this day because somehow or other, in the midst of it all, you’re looking for Jesus in your life.  Here’s where we’ve been the past few weeks.  Week 1 said that if you’re looking for Jesus, then stay alert—every moment of…
Matthew 11:2-6 Looking for Jesus? He’s Wherever the Lame Walk and the Poor Hear Good News December 4, 2016 This Advent season we are looking for Jesus, week by week making our way to Bethlehem to find the baby in a manger. But along the way, the Gospel readings invite us to look for Jesus in some unlikely places. Last week Jesus said the Son of Man will return at an unexpected hour. If you’re looking for Jesus, stay alert, because every moment of every day is a time when Jesus might show up. Because everything we do—cleaning house and going to work and forgiving others—can be a way to be aware. Are you looking for Jesus? Today, John the Baptist was looking for Jesus. Or more accurately, John knows where Jesus is; he’s looking to see if Jesus is One he’d thought he was--the Savior, the Messiah, the One.…
Matthew 24:36-44 Looking for Jesus? Then Stay Alert! November 27, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Advent is the season of four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it’s all about looking for Jesus, making our way to Bethlehem to find a baby in a manger. But every year the lectionary—the assigned scriptures for every Sunday—throws us for a loop. Every year Advent begins not with that baby in a manger, but with grizzly old John the Baptist talking about taking care of the poor and the sick and with bewildering words about the Second Coming. On our way to Bethlehem we wind up looking for Jesus in some unlikely places. Are you, perhaps, looking for Jesus? This Advent series is especially for two different sets of people looking for Jesus. In the first place, it’s for those who may be looking for Jesus, but don’t really expect to find him—because they…
Psalm 126 Between Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving November 20, 2016 Maple Grove UMC So what do you think? What is the mood of this psalm? I assume most people would say something like . . . joy. Anticipation. Gratitude. That’s why I chose it for Thanksgiving Sunday. It’s a happy psalm, right? I always thoughts so; in fact, I still think so. But Old Testament scholars classify this as a psalm of lament. Why is that? you might wonder. Well, right in the middle of the psalm is this verse: "Restore our fortunes, O Lord." Restore our fortunes, O Lord: it’s a prayer for deliverance. Which means that something has gone wrong, that help is needed, that in other words this is a lament. But it’s a certain kind of lament, isn’t it? It’s not a whiny lament, not a let-me-go-into-great-detail-about-how-bad-I-feel kind of lament. Rather it’s a cry for deliverance that…
2 Kings 6:15-17 More with Us Than with Them November 6, 2016 All Saints Sunday Maple Grove UMC This Old Testament reading is part of a larger story. The king of Syria has come to believe that the prophet Elisha is spying on him, or more like Elisha can read his mind. Elisha seems to know where the Syrian army will be before the Syrian army knows, and this inside information has led to victories for Israel. So the king of Syria sends some people to take care of Elisha. In fact, he sends a whole army to take care of Elisha. Elisha is holed up with one unarmed servant in a place called Dothan, which is surrounded by Syrian horses and chariots—they’re everywhere. The servant naturally is terrified. "Alas, Master!" he says, "What are we going to do?" But Elisha is cool as a cucumber: "Don’t be afraid," he…
Luke 19:1-11 Generations of Generosity: Lived in Faith October 30, 2016 When our daughter Rachel was little, she’d make a grand, dramatic entrance into a room filled with people, wearing hot pink and sparkles, dance and sing like Brittney Spears, take a deep double bow, and then look around with mock bashfulness, and say, "Why is everyone looking at me?" She was hungry for attention, and she got it. I’ve always wondered if there wasn’t a little bit of Rachel in Zacchaeus. Here’s a notorious man, wearing his fancy chief tax collector clothes, in the middle of a big crowd, climbing up to the top of a tree. And when Jesus calls him out, Zacchaeus looks around and says, "Aw shucks, did you mean me?" Zacchaeus too was hungry for something. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus "was trying to see who Jesus was," and we’ll get to that in a…
Luke 11:9-13 Generations of Generosity: Revealed in Prayer October 16, 2016 Maple Grove UMC We are in the middle of this series about our "Generations of Generosity" campaign, and today’s message is called "Revealed in Prayer." When it comes to prayer, some people will tell you, "Be careful what you expect from prayer because you may not get it." At the same time, other people will warn you, "Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it." We’ll talk about both of those concerns today. This fall, as we always do, we’re asking you prayerfully to consider how God is leading you to support the ministries of our church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. I hope you’ve received the stewardship packet in the mail. On November 6 bring both your annual and capital campaign commitment cards to worship and together…
Luke 17:11-19 Generations of Generosity: Grounded in Gratitude October 9, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Kent Millard is a retired United Methodist pastor who was once appointed to be a district superintendent in South Dakota, following Reuben Job who’d been elected a bishop. This appointment required his family to relocate, and as sometimes happens, not everyone in the family was happy about moving. Kent’s son Kendall absolutely did not want to move and leave his friends, and he made his unhappiness abundantly clear. When the Millard family arrived at their new parsonage, however, Kendall was shocked by what he found set up in the living room. It was a beautiful electric train set with a note that read, "This is a gift from the Reuben Job family to Kendall. Hope you enjoy your new home." You can imagine the excitement and joy from young Kendall to find such a wonderful gift…
  Revelation 22:1-2 Tree of Life: Healing of the Nations October 2, 2016 World Communion Sunday Maple Grove UMC Today we conclude this series on trees in the Bible. "Why trees?" some of you have asked. The name of our church was the inspiration. When you’re called Maple Grove, you really ought to know about trees in the Bible! But trees have always been at the heart of religion and deep in the human psyche. The epic of Gilgamesh, dating back to at least 2500 BC, has a tree of life that gets snatched away by a serpent. Our own book of Genesis has a serpent and a tree. The Buddha reached enlightenment sitting under the Bo Tree of Wisdom. In psychodynamic theory, Freud thought trees stood for . . . well, I’ll leave it to your imagination what Freud thought about trees. Perhaps more helpfully, Karl Jung found trees…
Isaiah 55:12-13 The Trees Clap Their Hands September 25, 2016 Maple Grove UMC How can I tell you about this joy of the Lord, this joy of just being alive in God’s world, this joy? Well, for one, the Psalms tell about joy: The pastures of the wilderness overflow, The hills gird themselves with joy, They shout and sing together with joy. (Psalm 65:11-13) O come, let us sing to the Lord; Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! (Psalm 95:1) May those who sow in tears Reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, Bearing the seed of sowing, Shall come home with shouts of joy, Carrying their sheaves. (Psalm 126:4-6) How can I tell you about this joy of the Lord, this joy of just being alive in God’s world, this joy? Well, the poets know about joy. There’s Gerard Manley…
Luke 13:1-9 Fruitless Trees—Grace and Manure September 18, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Like a tree planted by the water—or as we learned, like a tree transplanted by the water—that was our first Tree scripture, from Psalm 1. We can be strong and stable and fruitful because of our relationship with God. Last Sunday Charles Hill shared with us about the tiny mustard seed that becomes a tree. Little, he told us, is much when God is in it.1 Next Sunday we’ll hear about trees that clap their hands for joy, and we’ll conclude this series with a tree in the book of Revelation whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Narrowing down all the tree stories in the Bible for just five sermons was difficult. There are so many we won’t get to. There is that tree in the Garden of Eden from which they were not to…
Psalm 1 Like Trees Planted by the Water September 4, 2016 Maple Grove UMC The first word in the book of Psalms is "happy." Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked . . . The very first word in the Bible’s prayer book is "happy." And just one verse later it says that "their delight is in the law of the Lord." So there’s not just happiness, but delight is in this psalm. These words are so different from the ones we usually use about prayer that I think it’s worth pausing for a moment to bask in those words: happy are those . . . their delight is in the law of the Lord. So often prayer is portrayed as a religious chore, a time of struggling to keep our attention on God, something we do not so much because we enjoy it as…
Mark 8:1-21 Jesus Feeds People Again . . . and Again August 28, 2016 Feed the World Sunday August 28, 2016 You may have thought Rick made a mistake in reading the gospel when he said that Jesus fed "about 4000 people." You were too polite to interrupt, but you wanted to say, "No, that’s 5000. Jesus fed the 5000, not the 4000." How many of you knew that Jesus did both? In Mark 6 there’s the famous story of Jesus feeding the 5000, but just two chapters later he does it again, this time for a crowd of 4000 people. Oh, there are a few differences: 4000 instead of 5000, seven loaves instead of 5, "a few fish: instead of 2. But essentially it’s the same story. Why, I wonder, did Jesus do the same thing twice? And with only 16 chapters to work with, why did Mark take…
Luke 2:22-40 Lifting Our Children to God August 21, 2016 Maple Grove UMC What’s going on when we bring our children for a blessing? What are we doing here on Back-to-School Blessing Sunday? I want to begin to by showing a couple of movie clips. The first is from Roots, the TV series from the 1970s based on Alex Haley’s novel. The second is from The Lion King. Watch for gestures of the blessing of children. As a dad, I find these scenes deeply moving, even though my own children are neither African nor a lion. And as a Christian, I resonate with that gesture of blessing, even though neither film has a Christian context. What are we doing when we bring our children for a blessing? We are lifting them to God. Unlike the movie scenes, we may attach certain words to the gesture, or certain ideas or traditions…
Hosea 11:1-11 July 31, 2016 Maple Grove UMC David Kushner The Bible. Man, it can be a really difficult book to read and make sense of. It is ancient, it uses forms and genres that aren't really familiar to us. The New Testament can be tough enough, but when we include the Old Testament we are often at a real loss. The texts are foreign, they are rife with so many troubling aspects..., and then there are threats of violence, or religious and social intolerance that we have come largely to reject. And yet. And yet, it is the canon, the standard, for our identity as a community. The Bible contains the narrative of our understanding of God's character, God's intentions, and it serves as the guideposts by which we shape our interior life and the outward mission of our community. I would like to offer a reading that may…
Luke 11:1-13 Teach Us to Pray July 24, 2016 Maple Grove UMC I want to begin by asking you to write down your answer to this question: If you could pray for only five things, what would they be? There’s a blank card inside your bulletin for you to write on and there should be pencils in the pews. If you could pray for only five things, what would they be? Take a moment and write down your five. We’ll come back to that list later. This scripture, though, raises lots of questions about prayer: Doesn’t Jesus promise more than he can deliver? He says, "Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find." Really? I’ve asked for things and not received. Haven’t you? But notice what Jesus actually promises. He says, "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask…
John 1:1-5, 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus Is, No Wait, We Are the Light of the World July 17, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Today’s gospel readings say that Jesus is . . . no wait, they say that we are the light of the world. Which it is? Is Jesus the light of the world? Or are we the light of the world? And the answer is: Yes. Both! Let’s start with Vacation Bible School’s theme—Jesus is the light of the world. The kids learned that Jesus gives us courage, hope, direction and power. I can use some of that. How about you? Now, when we say that Jesus is the light of the world, we are also acknowledging that darkness is real; otherwise we wouldn’t need his light. The theme for Bible School was "Cave Quest." In part, I suspect, that theme was just a good excuse for us to…
John 1:1-5, 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus Is, No Wait, We Are the Light of the World July 17, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Today’s gospel readings say that Jesus is . . . no wait, they say that we are the light of the world. Which it is? Is Jesus the light of the world? Or are we the light of the world? And the answer is: Yes. Both! Let’s start with Vacation Bible School’s theme—Jesus is the light of the world. The kids learned that Jesus gives us courage, hope, direction and power. I can use some of that. How about you? Now, when we say that Jesus is the light of the world, we are also acknowledging that darkness is real; otherwise we wouldn’t need his light. The theme for Bible School was "Cave Quest." In part, I suspect, that theme was just a good excuse for us to…
Luke 10:25-37 Jazz Sunday Conversation July 10, 2016 Maple Grove This is Jazz Sunday, and one of the ways jazz works is that you have the same theme and the same progression of chords, but first the saxophone will play with that melody, and then bass will riff on it a while, and then the piano will improvise on that same tune. A jazz piece is always rooted in the same theme and chords, but you never know exactly where it’s going to go. So today we’re going to try a jazz sermon, or rather, a jazz conversation on the theme of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. First the priest and the Levite will take it for a while, then the Samaritan will play a few bars, and finally the beaten man will take us home. We’ll all be rooted in the same story, but who knows exactly where…
2 Kings 5:1-14 Healing Is the Answer July 3, 2016 Maple Grove UMC 1. In the Old Testament, a prophet is someone who: Leads prayers in the temple Reminds people how God wants us to live Predicts the future 2. Elijah got the best of the prophets of the god Baal by: Bringing fire from heaven to light a sacrificial fire Walking on hot coals without being harmed Making a bush burn without being burned up 3. Elijah fed a poor widow and her son By turning stones into bread and serpents into fish By giving them a miraculous catch of fish By making their flour and oil not run out 4. Elijah confronted these rulers because they had a man killed in order to take his vineyard: David and Bathsheba Ananias and Sapphira Ahab and Jezebel 5. Elijah heard God’s voice in A powerful wind Silence An earthquake 6.…
2 Kings 2:1-14 Change Is Hard But Possible June 26, 2016 Maple Grove UMC The chariot and horses of fire come between Elijah and Elisha, and by the time Elisha can see again, Elijah has been spirited to heaven in a whirlwind (thus the song, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"). Elijah’s mantle, symbol of prophetic authority, falls to earth and Elisha picks it up. And whatever it was that had made Elijah so special, Elisha receives a double share. For two reasons, I have a soft spot in my heart for this story. One has to do with the way retiring pastors are recognized at annual conference every year. One of the—usually older—retiring pastors faces one of the—usually younger—newly ordained pastors. A stole, representing Elijah’s mantle, is placed on the new pastor’s shoulders, as the retiring pastor says, I transfer this mantle from our generation to the young indicating thereby that…
1 Kings 19:1-13a, and 1 Kings 19:13b-17 (with Hosea 1:4) Still, Small Voice of God and The Bible Corrects the Bible June 19, 2016 Maple Grove UMC What a story! There is so much in it. At one level this is the story of the beleaguered Elijah trying to run away and resign from the position of prophet; but God won’t let him. It’s also a message about burnout and a kind of recovery. But what I want to focus on today is that "sound of sheer silence," or as the version I grew up with puts is, that "still, small voice" of God. The commentaries say that this almost untranslatable phrase is a combination of the Hebrew words for "sound" and "silence"—it’s contradictory, paradoxical, mystical. Before the silence there was a violent wind, but the Lord was not in the wind and Elijah stayed hidden in his cave. And…
1 Kings 21:1-20b My Enemy the Prophet June 12, 2016 Maple Grove UMC This story has three main characters. We’ll look at them one by one. First, there’s the king, Ahab, who wants a vineyard belonging to a man named Naboth. You can see why the king would want that particular piece of property. It was right next to the king’s house, a convenient place for a garden; it would give him some room to breathe and expand. The king was willing to pay market price or make a fair trade for the property. He wasn’t trying rip Naboth off or anything. He just wanted that vineyard. But here’s the thing: the king was not entitled to Naboth’s vineyard, not at any price. Under Old Testament law it was critically important for inherited land to remain within the family and within the tribe. So the king is asking Naboth to…
1 Kings 17:8-24 The Prophet as Ambassador of Abundance June 5, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Here’s what the children learned last Sunday. Maybe you’ll repeat it after me this morning: A prophet is someone who reminds us How God wants us to live. So last week Elijah reminded us, when it comes right down to it, when you have to choose and the stakes are high, always put your trust in God—not anyone or anything else, but in God. Today Elijah is an Ambassador of Abundance, reminding us that there is plenty for everyone and the key to abundance is sharing. Here’s the story. There’s a famine in Israel, and God sends Elijah to a poor widow in Sidon. He asks her for a drink of water, a precious commodity during a drought. She went to get it and he added, "And how about some bread to go with it."…
1 Kings 18:20-40 Trusting God in a Multicultural World May 29, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Elijah was not only a wild, hairy, scary, miracle-working man, he was a prophet. And in the Bible prophets are not people who foretell the future; they are people who tell the truth. They call kings to account for their actions and remind the people of God’s covenant. Elijah appears mysteriously in 1 Kings 17, in the northern kingdom of Israel in the 800s BC, and is called Elijah the Tishbite. Some scholars think that means he was from a town called Tishbe in Gilead, others think it’s a word meaning "stranger" (and he was strange!), and no one really knows. Elijah is an important figure for Jews in part because 2 Kings reports that he never died, exactly, and centuries later Malachi prophesied that God would send Elijah again before the day of judgment.…
Matthew 22:34-40 Confirmation: Rite of Passage or Step in the Journey May 1, 2016 We have a lot to do today—we’ll hear something each youth discovered during Confirmation, we’ll give them Bibles and blessings, and they will serve us Holy Communion. But first let me say three things, very briefly, to all you parents and adults out there, and then three things to the Confirmation kids. First, to you parents and adults (and kids can listen in): This year’s Confirmation class marks a shift for our church, or perhaps more accurately, this is the year the shift became too big to ignore. This year a majority of kids in Confirmation told us they are choosing not to be confirmed …or they would choose that if their parents would let them. Which means that Confirmation has lost its power as a cultural rite of passage, for kids if not quite yet…
Matthew 22:34-40 Confirmation: Rite of Passage or Step in the Journey May 1, 2016 We have a lot to do today—we’ll hear something each youth discovered during Confirmation, we’ll give them Bibles and blessings, and they will serve us Holy Communion. But first let me say three things, very briefly, to all you parents and adults out there, and then three things to the Confirmation kids. First, to you parents and adults (and kids can listen in): This year’s Confirmation class marks a shift for our church, or perhaps more accurately, this is the year the shift became too big to ignore. This year a majority of kids in Confirmation told us they are choosing not to be confirmed …or they would choose that if their parents would let them. Which means that Confirmation has lost its power as a cultural rite of passage, for kids if not quite yet…
Acts 11:1-18 I Say ‘No,’ the Spirit Says ‘Yes’ April 24, 2016 "Peter," God’s voice came to him, "Peter, I know you’re Jewish, Peter, but I want you to eat a bunch of unkosher food, Peter." "No way, Lord," Peter replied. "I’ve never done it; and I never will." "Peter," the voice went on, "what God has made clean, you must not call unclean. Oh, and one more thing, Peter. I want you to go eat this unkosher food with a Gentile Roman soldier from Caesarea." As Peter tells the story, he wants everyone to know that none of this was his idea, that he tried not to do it. He wants everyone to be aware that he said, ‘No,’ but the Holy Spirit said, ‘’Yes.’ And so off to Caesarea Peter went, to eat unkosher food with a Gentile Roman soldier. And in the midst of their meal, the…
Acts 9:32-40 No One Will Stay in Their Place, Not Even the Dead April 17, 2016 Maple Grove UMC  Every scripture has more than one sermon in it—otherwise the world would have run out of sermons centuries ago. And today’s outrageous story from Acts is no exception. For example, one could preach a sermon about those two folks Peter healed--Aeneas and Dorcas--as representatives of what N.T. Wright has called the "unsung heroines" and heroes of the church.1 Aeneas has been what we sometimes call a "shut-in," laid up in bed for years. It’s never our intention, of course, but you know how easy it is for the church to lose track of people who can no longer get out and about. Despite years of faithful service, despite an ongoing life of prayer, we let people fade from our consciousness. But Peter did not. And Dorcas is a widow, it says,…
Acts 9:1-20 Saul (and Ananias) Saw the Light April 10, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Sequels are all the rage and Acts is a biblical sequel. Luke’s gospel—Part 1--takes the story up to the point where the risen Jesus ascends into heaven. Acts—Part 2--picks it up from there and tells how the Holy Spirit empowered his disciples to heal and save people in his name--in other words, to be for the world the ongoing presence of Jesus. Our worship series is called ACTing up (get it?)—Five Outrageous Stories from the Book of Acts. Outrageous, how? Well, in Luke Jesus was always doing outrageous stuff—healing the sick, and eating with sinners and outcasts, rising from the dead. But it doesn’t stop. In the sequel, outrageous stuff just keeps on happening: the Holy Spirit descends like fire and causes the disciples to speak in languages they don’t even know they’re compelled to include…
1 Corinthians 15:19-26, 50-58 Ultimate Healing March 27, 2016 Easter Sunday Maple Grove UMC Fleming Rutledge tells about chatting with a friend, a militant atheist, who said he didn’t like birthdays, since he was now "chronologically gifted."  She agreed that getting older is hard.  He said, rather sarcastically, "Well, it’s different for you.  You have eternity to look forward to."  She was indignant:  "That doesn’t make any difference," she told him, "I still don’t like getting older!"  But as she thought more about it, she realized she’d missed an opportunity.  "The next time I see him," she writes, "I am going to reintroduce the subject, and say yes it does too make a difference.  Faith in Jesus Christ and eternal life  . . . makes a great deal of difference." The reason Rutledge hesitated to say this to her atheist friend is that it makes it sound like the only…
Isaiah 53 Redemptive Suffering:  By His Bruises We Are Healed March 20, 2016  Palm Sunday Maple Grove UMC People ask, especially during Holy Week:  Why did Jesus have to die?  And if you ask the question that way, you often wind up with an answer that sounds like this:  Because humans sinned, and because there has to be a price for sin, and because we humans can’t pay that price ourselves, therefore God’s Son had to die to pay the price for us.  That’s become the standard answer to the question, "Why did Jesus have to die?"  Admittedly, there’s a kind of logic to it.  But that was not the way early Christians asked the question.  They didn’t start with a philosophical question about what had to happen.  They started with a fact—the fact that Jesus, the one they’d called Lord and Messiah . . . the fact that Jesus,…
John 21:15-19 Healing Is a Chance to Redeem Yourself March 6, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Since our worship series is called Unusual Healings, you might be wondering: where was the healing in that gospel story?  Peter isn’t lame like the man in chapter 5, or blind like the man in chapter 9, or dead like Lazarus.  What’s Peter need to be healed of?  Lots of things.  But at this moment, Peter needs above all to be healed of denying Jesus--not once, not twice, but three times.  Peter, who earlier had claimed that he would lay down his life for Jesus, now won’t even admit to knowing Jesus.  That’s what Peter needs to be healed of.  In a word, Peter needs to be healed of his failure.  And I wonder—have you ever failed?  Or what may amount to the same thing, have you ever felt like a failure?  As a Christian,…
John 9 Healing as Gift and Problem February 21, 2016 Maple Grove UMC This story of Jesus healing the blind man and last week’s healing story both have surprising things in them Last week in John 5 Jesus asks the man, "Do you want to be made well?" And we’d expect the man to shout out, "Yes, yes, that’s what I want."  But you’ll remember, that’s not what he said.  He said, in effect, "Yes, but . . . ."  He was ambivalent.  Part of him wanted to get well, and part of him preferred to stay sick.  Surprised? Here in John 9 Jesus makes a blind man see.  And we’d expect everyone to rejoice with him.  You’d think there would be alleluias and high fives all around.  But there’s not.  In response to his healing, this man’s family, his neighbors and the religious leaders respond only with suspicion, anger…
John 5:2-15 You Have Been Made Well February 14, 2016 Maple Grove UMC Yes, but . . .  Essentially that’s what the sick man said when Jesus asked if he wanted to be made well.  Yes, but . . .  I’ve heard that answer myself.  "Are you ready for surgery?" I ask people.  Yes . . . but. I once asked a couple during pre-marital counseling, "Do you want to get married?"  I wasn’t sure.  "Yes . . ." she said. "But," he said. I might ask you, "Do you like coming to church?"  And if you were honest, you might say, "Well yes, but . . ." There was a man who had been sick for 38 years.  And every day for 38 years he would make his way to a certain pool.  The legend was that whenever the water in that pool would stir, the first one in…
Acts 3:1-10 / Luke 19:1-10 TRANSFORM:  Life-Changing Relationships January 31, 2016 Maple Grove UMC The mission of Maple Grove is first to be an open community of Christians.  And we are!  The vision, then, where we want to go with that mission, is to be invitational.  How will anyone know we’re an open community unless we say to them the three magic words:  Come and See?   The mission continues:  we are an open community of Christians who love God.  And we do!  But we don’t want the best years of our faith to be five or ten or fifty years ago.  The vision is to grow, for all of us to commit to an ever-deepening relationship with God. And the mission statement concludes: we are an open community of Christians who love God and serve our neighbors.  And we do!  We have over 75 ministry teams and more than…
Philippians 3:10-13, 4:8-9 GROW:  This One Thing I Do January 24, 2016 William Sloane Coffin, who was chaplain at Yale, "used to look around impatiently at the alumni returning for class reunions and mutter . . . ‘They look back on their student days and say, ‘Ah, bright college years!  Those were the best days of our lives.’  The trouble," Coffin concluded, "is they’re right."1  Coffin’s point, I think, is not that our teens and twenties, howver we spend them, shouldn’t be exciting and memorable.  His point is that throughout our years life should continue to grow richer and deeper and ever more precious.  So it is with our love of God.  We talked last Sunday about our church’s mission and vision.  The enduring mission of Maple Grove is first to be an open community of Christians.  And we are!  We are friendly, tolerant, welcoming.  The next step, then, where…
John 1:35-46 INVITE:  Come and See January 17, 2016 Maple Grove UMC The church leadership has been reviewing our mission and vision statements.  I know—I hear from folks who do this kind of thing at work and many would rather have a root canal than work on mission and vision statements.  But I’m not one of those people.  It is empowering, it unleashes our gifts to have clarity of mission and vision.  The mission, in a few words, is your purpose, above all else what God has called you to do.  Maple Grove’s mission statement is fourteen words long—it’s on the front of the bulletin and many of you know it by heart.  Say it with me:  We are an open community of Christians who love God and serve our neighbors.  That’s our mission. The vision, then, is where we’re going with that mission.  The vision is what it will…
Wellbeing: Being at Home with God John 15:4-9 and 10:10 Sunday January 10, 2016 When I met Charles, he was a man in his early 50s.  An engineer at the university.  He had Type 2 diabetes and was enrolled in a research study at my practice site.  I served as his coach - although I am not sure he really needed one.  His blood sugars were always exactly in the middle of his goal range.  And his blood pressure and cholesterol levels were always on target.  Accept for one autumn day in 2003.  We downloaded his blood sugar numbers for the past month from his meter and there was one single spike in his levels recorded on a Saturday evening.  He asked me, "Do you know when that was?  It was the night of the Wisconsin/Ohio State football game (which we lost). Charles, like many of the people I know…
Hebrews 10:19-25 Holding Fast January 3, 2016 Maple Grove UMC John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a spiritual genius in the 1700s.  He was a practical theologian—a people’s theologian; he and his brother Charles invented a whole new kind of church music; and he started what today we call small-group ministry, bringing people together outside o worship for Bible study, prayer  and support—that’s where lives are changed.  Wesley realized that the spiritual life ebbs and flows, and that if we are not mindful, our relationship with God, like any relationship, grows strained and distant.  One of the things Wesley did to counter that was to have annual Covenant Renewal Services.  Typically held around the New Year, this service was an opportunity for people to take stock of their life, to reflect on their relationship with God, and recommit themselves to following Jesus Christ.  Centuries earlier, the writer of Hebrews…
John 1:1-5 Light in the Darkness Christmas Eve 2015 Maple Grove UMC I was standing outside a restaurant one time waiting for a friend, when a guy came up to me and I heard him say, "Do you have the light?" Hmmm, I thought, do I have the light?  I’m not sure.  Is that a philosophical question?  Was there something on the menu there called ‘the light?’  Was this some new slang phrase I didn’t know?  I was about to ask him what he meant, when I saw him pull out a cigarette, and I realized he hadn’t asked me if I had the light; he was just asking for a light.  But it’s a great question:  Do you have the light?  Let me tell you a story.  Yeas ago—before cell phones—two boys drove to a high school basketball game one cold January night in rural Kansas, where I grew…
Zephaniah 3:14-20 Home: Gathering the Outcast December 20, 2015 What are you looking for this Christmas?  Jeremiah offered hope--a long rope, one end tied securely around the promises of God, something to hang onto when you’re afraid.  Malachi offered God’s refining fire—painful perhaps, but a way to be your very best self.  Like the guy on the bulletin, when you sit on the bench, lean back in the semi-darkness and stare into the distance, with that star shining in the sky like a sign from God, what will you be looking for? Well, here’s where the prophet Zephaniah was looking for: The Lord will rejoice over you with gladness,   And exult over you with loud singing! At that time, says the Lord, I will bring you home,   At that time I will gather you. What are you looking for?  How about a gathering of the scattered?  How about…
Malachi 3:1-4 My Best Self: Spiritual Soap December 6, 2015 Maple Grove UMC What are you looking for this Christmas season? Last Sunday Jeremiah offered us hope--a long rope, one end tied securely around the promises of God, something to hang onto in the midst of discouragement and fear. Like the guy on the bulletin, when you sit on the bench, lean back in the semi-darkness and stare into the distance, with that star shining like a sign from God, what will you be looking for this Christmas season? Well, today, with Malachi, how about looking to be your very best self? Scholars believe Malachi was written after the exile, as the Israelites were trying to recover from their crushing defeat and the destruction of the temple in 587 BC. About seventy years later, the exiles miraculously returned from Babylon and rebuilt the temple. So you might assume these would…
Jeremiah 33:14-16 HOPE: Something to Hang Onto November 29, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Again this year our Advent worship series is called: "What are YOU looking for?" The guy on the front of the bulletin—"Advent Guy," I call him--is sitting on a park bench, in the semi-darkness, staring into the distance, and you know he’s looking for something. Don’t know what it is. Don’t know when he might find it. But the star in the sky is shining like a sign from God. That’s Advent in a nutshell. So what are YOU looking for this Christmas season? For a way not to be so fearful and worried? For the ability to forgive? For peace in Syria or peace between police officers and minority populations or maybe peace just in your own home? Are you looking for a new and different life? Well, let’s start our looking, as the lectionary reading…
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