Sermons
Matthew 25:14-30 Thanksgiving or Fear? November 19, 2017      Maple Grove UMC             This is Thanksgiving Sunday.  But the Parable of the Talents is just the assigned Gospel reading for the third Sunday of November.  It’s not a story about Thanksgiving. . .  Or is it?           It is a story about stewardship.  And a steward is a person appointed to take care of someone else’s property—a “manager,” is the word we’d use today.  All three of the slaves in Jesus’ story are stewards.  The master went on a journey and “entrusted his property to them.”            And isn’t gratitude all about acknowledging that everything is gift?  As the offering prayer says, “all that we are and all that we have is a trust from you, O God.”  Almost by definition, giving thanks recognizes that we haven’t made or deserved what we have.  If we had made or deserved it,…
Matthew 25:1-13 Something to Live For November 12, 2017             We’re getting close now to the end of Matthew’s gospel.  In chapter 25, Jesus tells three parables about the return of the Son of Man, the end of time.  And each holds a surprise. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we learn that when Christ comes in glory, he will sort us out not by what we've believed or how much faith we've had, but by whether or not we fed the hungry, visited folks in prison and welcomed strangers.  Hmm . . .  More on that in two weeks.  And in the Parable of the Talents, Jesus says that upon his return the master will want to know not what we’ve done to protect what he's given us, but how we’ve used and invested everything entrusted to us. More on that next Sunday.            And…
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 We Remember and Bear Witness  November 5, 2017Maple Grove UMC            In October we reviewed our United Methodist vows faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, presence, gifts, and service.  There’s one more:  we support the ministries of the church by our WITNESS.  That one is a little harder to wrap our minds around.  What do we mean by “witness?”  A lot of times it means what we at Maple Grove call invitation—inviting others to “come and see” this Jesus we know, inviting people to “come and see” what God is doing at Maple Grove.  But today I have a different take on witness.  To witness, literally, is to remember something and to tell about it.  If you’re put on the witness stand, that’s what you’re asked to do--to remember and tell. So let’s do that today. Remembering has always been part faith. …
Mark 9:33-37 Greatest of All Is Servant of All October 22, 2017             We pledge to support the ministries of the church by our service.  So last Sunday I asked you, “Why do you serve?”  Here are just a handful of your wonderful responses.  You can read more on the bulletin board down the art hallway.           --The greatest number of responses had to do with God telling us and calling us to serve: Jesus said God’s greatest commandment is to love one another.  Serving others is a demonstration of following this commandment. God called me.  I responded at age 9.  I’ve enjoyed serving.           --Another group of responses had to do with the satisfaction we get out of serving: Feels Good! Serving reduces my depression. Serving is my love language.  It gives me joy in my heart.           --Many cards echoed this theme: Because others have been there…
Mark 14:3-9 For the Love of Jesus October 15, 2017             I asked you last Sunday, “What is the greatest gift you’ve ever given . . . or received?” I’ll share just a few now and you can read many more on the bulletin board down the art hallway. --Not surprisingly, the greatest number of responses were about family.  Some were about family in general: 1. My family—I am blessed. 2. Inclusion in my husband’s family & Inclusion in the Maple Grove family of God --Many were about children: 3. My kids! Heart. Smiley face! 4. Micah, Suzy, Jaden (I know whose kids those are, Kris & Aaron Shear!) --And quite a few were about partners and spouses: 5. Greatest gift received? My wife who made all my happiness possible 6. My husband. God put him in my life and I give God thanks every day for this gift.…
Mark 9:14-29 Only Through Prayer October 1, 2017            Maple Grove UMC             Last Sunday I asked, If you could pray only one prayer, what would it be?  Most of your responses fell into a few categories: (Not Surprisingly) World Peace B. Here was another trend:           5. The Lord’s Prayer           6. The Lord’s Prayer.  You get the idea. C. There were several about the recent natural disasters:           7. I pray for God to be with the people of Puerto Rico. D. Many were prayers for self and family:           8. Please, God, keep my daughters safe and healthy.  (Oh wait, that’s my card!)           9. I would pray that Jesus be more in my marriage.           10. For my mom to get a job.           11. For the Lord to repair the relationship between my father and brother.  E. And then there was a card that had…
Matthew 20:1-16 God’s Big Love / Even Our Virtues Burned Away September 24, 2017     Maple Grove UMC             The Parable of the Landowner is . . . upsetting.  It’s unfair and unrealistic, and no way to run a business.  Fortunately, it wasn’t intended as payroll advice.  The story is intended to tell us about the kingdom of heaven--that is, to tell us about God and about our life together with God.            Let me share with you three things this parable suggests to me about the God Jesus wants us to know: God is more concerned with grace and love than with work and worth.  I know, we’ve heard that before, right?  We’re saved by grace through faith, not by works lest anyone should boast.  We say we believe that, and probably we do.  But when Jesus puts it in the form of this story, it catches our attention,…
Matthew 18:21-35 Forgiveness for the Sake of All September 17, 2017     Maple Grove UMC             One time an extended family member struck my mother in the face—hard enough to knock her down, make her bleed, and give her a black eye.  This was a dear family member, who loved my parents deeply but also had a violent temper.  He was immediately remorseful; nothing like that ever happened again.  But there were serious consequences—he was not allowed  in my parents’ home for a long time.  Eventually they worked things out and forged a new relationship.           Years later, though, I was talking about that family member with my parents.  I said some uncharitable things about him.  My mother stopped the conversation, looked intently at me, and said, “Glenn, you’ve got to forgive him.”           I said, “I have.”           “No,” she said, “you haven’t.”           I thought about that and…
Matthew 18:15-20 Reconciliation 101 September 10, 2017     Maple Grove UMC             Loving and hopeful as he was, Jesus was not naïve about the church.  Or if he was, he took off his rose-colored glasses before sharing today’s gospel reading.  “When another member of the church sins against you,” he says, here’s what you should do.  And if they keep on sinning against you, here’s what else to do. . .”  Even before there was such a thing as “the church,” Jesus was already giving a process for resolving conflicts in the church.  In fact, this is the one and only time Jesus himself ever uses the word “church”—when he’s teaching how to resolve conflicts in the church.1  Blest Be the Tie That Binds we’ll sing today.  And those ties are indeed blest, but they are blest because they are not automatic, because they cannot be taken for granted.  The…
Matthew 16:21-28 Life Is For Others September 3, 2017           Today’s reading is a watershed passage in Matthew.  Up to this point Jesus has called his disciples; he has taught and healed.  But in chapter 16 he gets down to brass tacks.  He asks the disciples if they know who he is.  And Peter gets it right:  You’re the Messiah, the Son of God.  But Peter didn’t get right what it means that Jesus is the Messiah.  When Jesus starts talking about suffering and death, Peter says, “No way, Jesus.  Not you!”  So from this point on, Jesus prepares the disciples for exactly that--his suffering and death.  Oh . . . and that to be his followers means denying themselves and taking up their own crosses.  This is a watershed moment in the gospel; no passage in Matthew is more important than this one.1           This passage has many things…
Isaiah 58:1-7 A Spirituality of Sharing August 27, 2017   Feed the World Sunday             On this Feed the World Sunday, the sermon is called “A Spirituality of Sharing.”  It comes from the prophet Isaiah.  His people were complaining that the old ways weren’t working any more.  Isaiah’s people went to the Temple.  They held their sacred fasts.  Eating nothing for days on end, they called upon the Lord.  And nothing happened.  It didn’t work.  And so in verse 3 they cry out to God, “Why do we fast, but you don’t see?  Why do we humble ourselves, but you don’t notice?”  They tried ever harder to get noticed by God—bowing their heads to the ground, wearing the roughness of sackcloth, lying in ashes.  These were religious practices that went back to the Babylonian exile, when in terror and anguish they sought to appease an angry God.  But now in…
Matthew 19:13-15 Let Them Come August 20, 2017     Maple Grove UMC             Why, do you suppose, were people bringing little children to Jesus?  Well, Matthew doesn’t tell us why, but we can figure it out.  Surely it was because they could tell how much Jesus loved their children--that he loved them with a special love, an unconditional love, a life-changing and soul-healing kind of love.  They knew they wanted their little ones to be blessed by this man, by Jesus.           It’s not so different today.  You brought your children here today to be blessed in the name of this man, Jesus.  You brought your grandchildren, for all I know you brought other people’s children to be with Jesus.  Today, and at least once in a while, you abandon the soccer fields, you give up sleeping in, you call off dance lessons, you kiss your one day off…
“Coming In to go Out” What are you doing at Church?  Even better, why are you here? Tom Raines (President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources) conducted a Twitter poll of church leaders and church goers from around the country asking them to share some of the reasons people give for not going to church.  Some were ones that you’d might expect: “The church is full of judgmental hypocrites,” “they don’t sing the music I like,”  or “the church is not relevant to my life or the world today.”  But others were perhaps more interesting: -        We were out of peanut butter. -        My wife cooked bacon for breakfast and the entire family smelled like it. -        We got burned out on church so we’ve been taking a break for the last seven years. -        Both my girlfriends attend that church. -        I couldn’t get the lid off the peanut…
Matthew 14:13-21 Bread to Share August 6, 2017             Jesus sees things a different way from the rest of us.  After we heard his Parable of the Sower, someone told me, “No decent farmer is going to just keep throwing seed out there in places where it probably won’t grow.”  That’s true; but Jesus doesn’t see it that way.  After the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, someone said, “Yeah, but if you leave the weeds alone, pretty soon they’ll take over.”  I know that’s true and you know that’s true, but not Jesus.  He sees things a different way from the rest of us.  Jesus thought a yoke could be light—you saw how heavy that yoke was we had in here; he thought a cup of cold water was enough to make a real difference in the world, when we all know it’s not.  Jesus saw things…
Luke 4:16-21 / Mark 11:25 Today! July 30, 2017             What is a service of healing prayer?  The first thing to do about a healing service is to manage expectations.  So, on the one hand, will we hoot and holler here today?  Well, I’m not going to; you can if it helps you, I guess.  Will we throw crutches around?  No.  Will we sell hankies blessed by the Prayer Team?  No.  This is not a show; it’s a service of worship in which we seek God’s blessing.           On the other hand, will we pray today for people to be healed in body, mind, spirit, finances, relationships, and any other way they are oppressed?  Absolutely!  Do we believe that prayer taps into a power beyond our understanding?  Yes!            In the Introduction to its healing services, The United Methodist Book of Worship says:  “Healing is not magic, but underlying…
Matthew 13:24-30 To Grow Together July 23, 2017       Maple Grove UMC             Last Sunday Jesus’ Parable of the Sower was meant to address questions like, If Jesus really is the Messiah, why doesn’t everyone believe in him? and Why don’t more people to come to church in his name? This week’s story, the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, addresses a related question: Why are some of the people who do come to church such, well, trouble-makers? Why are there weeds in our church’s wheat?           Jesus’ response to people rejecting him, small crowds in church and disappointing results was to say, You know, that’s just the way it is. You scatter the seeds out there and the birds eat some and some don’t grow very well and some get choked out by weeds.  And some of them grow, but not all of them, not all the time. …
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Called to Keep Trying July 16, 2017       Maple Grove UMC             There are at least three ways of hearing this parable.  The interpretation that Matthew gives in chapter 13 invites you to ponder what kind of soil you are.  We could be like soil on a path where there’s just too much going on and kingdom messages get through. One prominent preacher complains that people don’t listen to what he says. Church announcements are published in the parish paper, he says, reprinted in the weekly bulletin, and repeated orally before worship. Then during the Benediction he prays: “Lord, please help the people to remember the fellowship supper on Wednesday at 6:30--that’s Wednesday at 6:30, Lord. And invariably at the door afterwards someone will ask, “Are we going to have the fellowship dinner?”1 People don’t listen! Don’t be like that path soil. We could be like shallow,…
Matthew 11:25-30 Easy Yokes, Light Burdens July 9, 2017         Maple Grove             Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Come to me, you weary.  What makes people weary?  Weary is not the same as tired.  You’re tired when you mow the grass and weed the flowers and trim the bushes.  And when you’re done your bones ache, but you pour yourself an iced tea and sit on the porch and admire how everything looks.  That’s tired.  Weary is when you get half-way done and the mower quits and no amount of pulling will bring it back to life.  So you weed the garden. go inside to brag to your wife about all the weeds you’ve pulled, and she says, “I hope you didn’t pull up the new flowers that just came up.”  “New flowers?”  Then…
Matthew 10:40-42 The Calling Right in Front of You July 2, 2017             This worship series is about God-Centered Wellbeing and Calling—what your purpose in life is, what God is calling you to do and how God is calling you to live.  We began by hearing three Maple Grove members tell about their individual, or particular, calling of God:  to love without needing to judge, to be a church youth group leader, to reinvent oneself after a season of grief and loss.  Last Sunday we heard about a calling that belongs to all Christians—to share God’s love to others and invite them to church.            Different as they are, one thing those two callings have in common is they both some involve some planning, or at least a little reflection.  God’s purpose for your life may smack you upside the head, but more likely you’ll need to spend some…
Matthew 10:24-33 Do Not Be Afraid . . . Again June 25, 2017           We did a whole sermon series back in Lent—March and April—called Overcoming Fear with Faith.  We heard Jesus say, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat or drink. God knows you need those things. But seek first God and God’s kingdom and everything else will take care of itself. We may fear foreigners and strangers, but the Bible is clear we must welcome and care for them. When Peter tries to walk on the water, he grows fearful of the wind and waves, but when he falls, what happens? Jesus scoops him up and sets him back in the boat. There is no fear in love, 1 John says, but perfect love casts out fear. On Good Friday Jesus prayed his way through fear in Gethsemane. Even on Easter, the message comes two times:…
Acts 2:1-21 Made to Live with Authority June 4, 2017            Maple Grove UMC               The leader of Maple Grove’s “Invitation Team” is Don Ackerman.  He’s a husband and father of two young sons, he’s a seminary student up at Methesco, and he teaches military science at Capital University.  He’s in Kentucky for several weeks this summer training 600 cadets, but before he left he gave me some marching orders about the scriptures for today and next Sunday.  Acts 2 reports that on the day of Pentecost, 3000 welcomed the message about Jesus and were baptized.  A church Invitation Team has a natural interest in a story like that!             On Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell upon Peter and the other disciples.  Note that the Spirit didn’t cause them to know Jesus—they already knew Jesus.  Neither did the Holy Spirit cause them to love Jesus—they already loved Jesus.  But even…
John 17:1-11, 20-23 And Jesus, Still Up There Praying May 28, 2017     Maple Grove UMC   A friend told me this story. In the church where he grew up a retired pastor, Rev. Johnson, from time to time would be called upon to deliver the pastoral prayer.  He'd always been known for his, uh, stamina when praying.  But the older Rev. Johnson got, the longer he prayed, until one time, he just didn't stop.  He prayed so long that people opened their eyes and checked their watches.  Those with lunch plans started to file out.  Everyone else looked at the pastor, wondering what to do.  Finally, the pastor motioned for everyone to move downstairs for coffee time, signaling them to be quiet so as not to disturb Rev. Johnson’s marathon praying.  As fellowship time was wrapping up, someone asked, "Hey, where's Rev. Johnson?"  Someone ran upstairs and reported, "He's still…
THE SPIRITUALITY OF A YOUNG MOTHER BETH DONAHEY When Pastor Glenn asked me to to speak today on the spirituality of being a mother, I was reminded of God’s timely sense of humor. That particular Friday was the end of a particularly rough week of parenting, with most days resulting in both my 2 year old son and I on the floor crying. Spiritual was the last word I would have used to describe motherhood.   When I was younger, I thought that motherhood was something that just came naturally - when a woman became a mom, she would gain these insights and instincts, knowing exactly what to do and when to do it. My own mother’s actions didn’t support my theory, however, and I grew up determined to prove to myself I was not like her. I would be a better mom than she was. I don’t recommend this…
Luke 24:13-35 Into My Heart April 30, 2017               Maple Grove UMC   Into my heart, into my heart, Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.             Today's gospel reading is about a journey. It’s presented as a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  But hard as they’ve tried, scholars have never identified a place called ‘Emmaus.’  Which means, I think, that Luke is not reporting a literal journey, but a spiritual journey.  The journey to Emmaus is a journey from the head to the heart.                   There’s a difference between hearing about the resurrection and experiencing it, a great difference between knowing about the resurrection and being changed by it. Before Jesus came and walked with them, the two disciples had already heard all about the resurrection.  The women had told them about angels who said Jesus was…
Matthew 28:1-10 Fear Not! April 16, 2017     Easter Sunday     Maple Grove UMC             Here are some words from today’s Gospel reading that you might not expect to be part of the Easter story:  Don’t be afraid.  I mean, if ever there was a time when you shouldn’t have to tell people not to be afraid, you’d think Easter morning would be that time.  But here’s the angel telling them, “Don’t be afraid.”  And five verses later, the risen Jesus himself appears to them, and he has to say it again: “Don’t be afraid.”            What does it mean that even an angel of good news, that even the risen Christ himself, have to tell people not to be afraid? Surely it says something about the depth, the persistence of fear in our lives.  Over the past several weeks at Maple Grove, we’ve been studying and pondering how to overcome…
Matthew 26:36-46 Praying Through Fear April 14, 2017      Good Friday         Maple Grove UMC             I grew up in a church where the big stained glass window was ofure of Jesus praying in Gethsemane.  His body was gray, his face had an anguished expression, and to my child’s eyes it always appeared that a sharp rock was poking him in the side as he prayed.  You’d think I’d have grown accustomed to this Bible story.  But I have not.  It’s a shock every time I hear about Jesus in Gethsemane—about Jesus throwing himself on the ground, about him repeatedly pleading with God to avoid the cup of death, about his friends not being able to stay awake with him even one hour, how Matthew says that Jesus was grieved, even unto death.  It’s still a shock to me.  It’s kind of like seeing your parents being afraid for the first…
John 12:12-15 / Psalm 46 / Psalm 27 When Afraid, Hold on to God April 9, 2017     Maple Grove UMC   Here's what that first Palm Sunday was: a crowd of people, banding together to prepare for the week to come.  They didn't know it yet, but Jesus would soon be arrested and put on trial and hung on a cross to die.  They themselves would soon desert and deny him.  And the scripture John shares for Palm Sunday is this, from Zechariah:  Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; See, your king is coming.   Actually, the "do not be afraid" part is not in Zechariah, at least not the version we have today. Perhaps John added that, knowing it's what the disciples needed to hear, given all they were about to go through. And here's what Palm Sunday is today: a crowd of people, banded together to…
1 John 4:16b-21 Love Casts Out Fear April 2, 2017             Maple Grove UMC   Here's how the great preacher William Sloan Coffin put it: "I am sure the Bible is right: the opposite of love,” he said, is not hate but fear."1 And here's how 1 John puts it: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."  I believe that with all my heart.  That said, I want to acknowledge that there is a relationship between fear and love.  Scott Bader-Saye points out that there is a sense in which love is actually born of fear.  We love something and therefore fear losing it.  And the more we love, the more we have to lose, and therefore the more we are subject to fear.  But this does not mean that fear is love.  Rather, Bader-Saye concludes, "fear is the shadow side of love."2   Fear is…
Matthew 14:22-33 Take Heart March 26, 2017   Maple Grove UMC             This Lenten worship series is called “Fear Not: Overcoming Fear with Faith.” We started with Jesus saying, “Therefore, do not worry about what you’re going to eat or drink or wear . . .” I heard one person summarize that message as “Take deep breaths and don’t watch the news.” That’s a great start to overcoming fear! The next Sunday was about balancing our natural fear of strangers and foreigners with the Bible’s insistence on hospitality and justice. Still to come in this series: 1 John says that perfect love casts out fear. Oh, to love like that! The psalms teach that the opposite of fear is not fearlessness but trust. On Good Friday we’ll watch in Gethsemane as Jesus prays himself through fear. Even the Easter story has the phrase Do not be afraid not once but…
Leviticus 19:33-34 / Deuteronomy 10:17-19 Fear (and Love) of Strangers and Foreigners March 12, 2017             Fred Craddock told this story: He stopped off at the Winn Dixie to get some peanut butter.  He was in a hurry, and those stores are so huge.  So he saw a woman pushing a cart, and he thought, She’s comfortable here. I’ll ask her.  He said, “Um, lady, could you direct me to the peanut butter?”           She jerked around, stared at him, and said, “Are you trying to hit on me?”           He said, “No, ma’am. I’m looking for the peanut butter.”  As he backed away from there, he saw a store employee, so he said, “Where’s the peanut butter?”           “Aisle five, I think, way down on the left.”           He went there, and sure enough—big jars of peanut butter.  As he turned to leave, that woman was there and…
Matthew 6:25-34 Not to Worry March 5, 2017        Maple Grove UMC             “I used to think that the angels in the Bible began their messages with ‘Do not be afraid’ because their appearance was so frightening,” writes Scot Bader-Saye in a book called Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.  “But I have come to think differently.  I suspect that they begin this way because the quieting of fear is required in order to hear and do what God asks of us.”1                     The quieting of fear is required to hear and do what God asks of us. That idea is at the heart of this Lenten worship series called “Fear Not: Overcoming Fear with Faith.”  Let me be clear:  this is not to say that all fear is bad.  Fear warns us of danger and teaches us much about ourselves.  But there’s a reason why “Fear not” is…
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…
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