Sermons
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Every (Spiritual) Gift Matters October 11, 2015 Maple Grove UMC As you know, our stewardship campaign theme is: At Maple Grove, EVERYBODY MATTERS. And from 1 Corinthians, the specific message today is that Every Spiritual Gift Matters. Every Spiritual Gift Matters—that is true in at least three ways: It is simply a factual statement at Maple Grove. It is a deep theological truth. It is a vision to live into. First of all, that every spiritual gift matters is what the EMIM (Every Member in Ministry) model of ministry is all about. With the exception of a few leadership committees, we don’t call and ask you if you’d like to be an usher or prepare meals for homeless neighbors or be in the bell choir or help people find parking places. Every October at stewardship time, you have the opportunity to tell us what your spiritual gifts…
Revelation 7:9-14 From All Tribes and Peoples and Languages October 4, 2015 World Communion Sunday Maple Grove UMC The multitude that gathers around God’s throne in heaven, Revelation says, is from all tribes and peoples and languages. That’s quite the World Communion Sunday kind of scene! Heavenly is a wonderfully multi-cultural place. But increasingly that’s the kind of crowds we see here on earth as well. It sounds like, oh, New York City. Or like the United Methodist Church which, as we heard earlier has congregations in at least ten countries in Africa, several European nations, and the Philippines. Or like Columbus, Ohio, for that matter. I used to volunteer at Scottwood Elementary School on the East side, which has students whose families come from 28 different countries—that’s challenging but marvelous. The heavenly multitude is from all tribes and peoples and languages, a stirring display of inclusiveness. And World Communion…
James 5:13-18 PRAYER Is Powerful September 27, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Why are we having a worship service with prayer for healing? Well, one out of every five verses in the gospels is part of a healing story. The disciples continue Jesus’ ministry of healing in the book of Acts. And James says that when people are sick or in need of forgiveness, call the church together to pray for them. Here’s what you can expect today. After the sermon you’ll be invited to move to a station where you can sit down and a couple of people will be ready to pray for you. They’ll ask you what you want prayer for today, in what aspect of life you long for healing. They’ll offer to anoint you with oil. The disciples anointed the sick with oil. In fact, the word "Christ" means "the anointed one." We use oil sacramentally.…
James 3:13 – 4:3 ENVY is Constant Wanting September 20, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Henderson the Rain King is a wild, comical, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Saul Bellow. The main character Henderson is wealthy, healthy and blessed with family and talents. Yet he feels restless and unfulfilled. Here’s how he describes it: "Now I have already mentioned that there was a disturbance in my heart, a voice that spoke there and said, I want, I want, I want! It happened every afternoon, and when I tried to suppress it it got even stronger. It only said one thing, I want, I want! And I would ask, "What do you want?" But this was all it would ever tell me. It never said a thing expect I want, I want, I want. At times [Henderson says,] I would treat it like an ailing child. . . I would walk it, I…
James 3:1-12 The TONGUE is a Fire September 13, 2015 Maple Grove UMC The tongue, James says, is a fire. Don’t we know it! Whole relationships . . . families . . . churches can be ruined by just a handful of words. One year at annual conference seminary professor Tom Long shared with us about how fearful a thing it is to be called to be a preacher. It’s for a reason, he told us, that James says that not many should become teachers or preachers. The reason, Long says, is that James understands the potentially destructive power of speech. And he told the story of how his beloved daughter, at the age of 29, asked him one day, "Dad, when we had a fight one time, do you remember what you said to me?" He said, no, I didn’t remember. But she did—for fifteen years she’d remembered that…
James 2:1-10, 14-17 FAITH Is How You Live September 6, 2015 Maple Grove UMC This whole month we’re turning to the epistle, or letter, of James, a collection of wonderful but challenging moral teachings. We will listen for what James has to say about poverty and faith, about the tongue and how we speak to each other, about the nature of envy, and the power of prayer. And each Sunday, even if you don’t appreciate everything James has to say, I suspect you will receive his words respectfully and reverently, as Holy Scripture. But that has not always been the case. James almost didn’t make it into the Bible. Most of the writings that became the New Testament were settled on by 200 A.D. or so. James didn’t show up on most lists until almost 200 years after that, and even then it was disputed. In the 1500s Martin Luther…
2 Samuel 18:5-15, 31-33; 19:1-8 David & Absalom: Leader and Griever August 16, 2013 Maple Grove UMC Well, we’ve come to the end of our summer series on King David. Today’s reading is not the end of David’s story—he still has another rebellion to put down, he has to arrange his successor, he gets in trouble with God again. But this is as far as we’re going with David. I hope you have learned a lot and enjoyed our journey with King David. Before we unpack the story of David and his son Absalom, let me give you a little quiz about King David. How did David rise to be a military leader at a young age? By killing a Philistine giant with his sling shot. By inventing a new, stronger kind of armor. What did David do to calm the nerves of King Saul? Read to him from the…
2 Samuel 12:1-13a David & Nathan: Hearing the Truth August 9, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Some other day I want to preach a sermon from this scripture called "Forgiveness and Consequences." We read how David confesses his sin and later in the chapter the prophet Nathan tells him: "Now the Lord has put away your sin." In other words, David is forgiven by God. "Nevertheless," Nathan goes on, "the child born to you shall die." And even more trouble will follow for David and his family. In other words, though he is forgiven, there are still tragic consequences to David’s actions. David confesses, David is forgiven, and you might expect everyone to live happily every after. But it doesn’t turn out that way. I suspect we’ve all experienced something like that. We may be forgiven by God. We may be forgiven by other people. And that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t…
2 Samuel 11:1-27 David & Bathsheba: How Little Things Become Big Things August 2, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Here’s what it gets to for King David: It gets to lust, adultery, and outright rape of Bathsheba. It gets to an elaborate cover-up attempt. David desperately tries to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so the child will appear to be Uriah’s. But Israelite soldiers are supposed to abstain from sex during battle, so Uriah won’t do it. Even when David gets him drunk, Uriah still won’t do it. So it gets to David arranging the death of Uriah, so that Bathsheba will become a widow and be available to marry him. It amounts to mass murder, actually. In Joab’s plan for Uriah to be killed, "some" other soldiers—it doesn’t say how many, but "some" other soldiers--fall as well. I think the word for ordering a battle plan that sets your…
2 Samuel 6:12-23 David Dances Before the Lord: Undignified July 12, 2015 Maple Grove UMC If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know all about the ark of the covenant—how at the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) they find it, open it up, and all the latent power of God flashes out and strikes dead the power-hungry Nazis. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen survive only by lashing themselves to a post and looking away. Everyone cheers. All that, of course, is made up. But it’s not entirely out of keeping with what the Bible says about the ark. The ark of the covenant was a highly decorated box that contained the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. The ark came to represent for Israel the power and presence of the Lord. There are some odd stories about the ark in 1 Samuel. The Israelites,…
2 Samuel 4:4, 9:3-10, 16:1-4, 19:24-30 David & Mephibosheth: Loyalty July 5, 2015 Maple Grove UMC David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is an island of loyalty in a sea of violence. After King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed, David became king. And one by one, everyone associated with Saul wound up dead. So many people were killed that David had to ask, "Is there anyone left . . . to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?" Last Sunday we heard how David made a covenant of friendship with Jonathan, and this covenant extended to their descendants forever. So after the bloodbath, David asks, "Is there anyone left for me to keep this covenant with?" And the answer is: yes, one of Jonathan’s sons, Mephibosheth, is still alive. Now, David’s loyalty to Mephibosheth is complicated. Mephibo-sheth got injured as a child while Saul’s family was running away from…
2 Samuel 4:4, 9:3-10, 16:1-4, 19:24-30 David & Mephibosheth: Loyalty July 5, 2015 Maple Grove UMC David’s treatment of Mephibosheth is an island of loyalty in a sea of violence. After King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed, David became king. And one by one, everyone associated with Saul wound up dead. So many people were killed that David had to ask, "Is there anyone left . . . to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?" Last Sunday we heard how David made a covenant of friendship with Jonathan, and this covenant extended to their descendants forever. So after the bloodbath, David asks, "Is there anyone left for me to keep this covenant with?" And the answer is: yes, one of Jonathan’s sons, Mephibosheth, is still alive. Now, David’s loyalty to Mephibosheth is complicated. Mephibo-sheth got injured as a child while Saul’s family was running away from…
1 Samuel 18:1-4, 20:12-17; 2 Samuel 1:25-26 David and Jonathan: Holy Friendship June 28, 2015 Jonathan loved David as his own soul. David wept grievously when Jonathan died. The soul of Jonathan, it says, was bound to the soul of David—that’s how close their friendship was. Turn to a neighbor in the pews, if you will, and tell them who has been one of your best friends and what made that friendship so special. Some people see something other than friendship between David and Jonathan. The Hebrew word "love" can mean both emotional attraction and political alignment,1 sosome people think their relationship was all about power and politics. After all, Jonathan was son of the king and David wanted to be king. I suppose politics must enter into every relationship of powerful people, but it says they loved each other. David wept over Jonathan as a friend, not as a…
1 Samuel 17 Five Tips for Fighting Giants June 21, 2015 Maple Grove UMC I don’t suppose any of you have faced one-on-one combat with a ten-foot Philistine have you? I didn’t think so. And outside of battlefields, we don’t get to go around popping people in the forehead with rocks. So you might think the story of David and Goliath is entertaining, but not very relevant. But here’s the thing: there are all kinds of giants in the world, and most of them don’t wear armor or throw spears. I wonder what the giant is in your life? Family stress? Anxiety? Addiction? Paying the bills? Is there a giant lurking around your life? For the church, the giant these days is how to reach a generation that says it’s "spiritual but not religious" and lists its religious affiliation as "none." I’ve been fighting that giant for twenty-five years. Well,…
While preparing for this sermon I read some other sermons other pastors have preached on this passage from 1 Samuel and I found an interesting illustration in one from back in May of 2002. The pastor pointed out a poll done every year by CNN, USA Today and Gallup that asks "Who are your heroes?" The results of that poll from the end of 2001 were number 1- George W. Bush, 2- Laura Bush, 3- Hillary Clinton, 4- Oprah Winfrey, 5- Colin Powell, 6- Rudy Giuliani, 7- Pope John Paul II, 8- Tony Blair, 9- Michael Jordan, and 10- Modonna. I wonder, how many of those people would come anywhere near the top 10 in such a poll today? I’m sure many of you wouldn’t have identified some of those people as heroes even back then. It makes us ask ourselves, what are heroes? What are the qualities that make…
1 Samuel 8:4-22a Why We Want What’s Not Good for Us June 7, 2015 Maple Grove UMC This summer worship series is all about King David. But here before we ever get to David, we find out that having a king was never a good idea. Maybe that sheds some light on David’s story, which is sometimes glorious, but more often sad and violent. This is how it starts. The elders come to Samuel, their leader, and say, "We want a king! We want a king!" But Samuel is part of the anti-monarchy party and doesn’t like this idea at all. But being a good prophet, Samuel takes their request to the Lord. And the Lord says, essentially, "Oy, let them have a king. It’s a terrible idea. But if a king is what they want, let them have it." (Aside: the problem with God isn’t always that God doesn’t…
Isaiah 6:1-5 Holy May 31, 2015 Maple Grove UMC In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up. This story makes me feel like stepping back, covering my eyes, bowing down before the majesty of God. There are angels singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." The temple shakes, the room is filled with smoke, and Isaiah knows he’s in over his head. "Woe is me," he cries, "I am lost . . ." In the temple Isaiah was brought into the presence of the "holy." In the presence of the holy, we are not in control, we cannot grasp or understand it. We are rendered small, speechless, awe-struck. The classic description is German scholar Rudolph Otto’s book, The Idea of the Holy, from almost a hundred years ago. Otto says that "the holy" is a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose…
John 17:11-21a Who Is Jesus? The One Who Prays for Us May 17, 2015 Maple Grove UMC If you could have anyone in the world pray for you, who would it be? If you’re comfortable doing so, turn to a neighbor near you, and share with each other whom you’d most like to have pray for you. If you could have anyone in the world pray for you, who would it be? Well, how about Jesus? The whole of John 17 is Jesus praying for us. Technically, he’s praying for his disciples. But the New Testament makes clear Jesus didn’t stop praying for his disciples when he ascended into heaven. Romans 8:34 refers to "Christ Jesus, who . . . is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes [that is, prays] for us. And Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus "always lives to make intercession [that is, to pray]…
John 15:9-17 Who Is Jesus? Love Itself May 10, 2015 The answer is nine. Jesus uses the word "love" nine times in these nine verses of scripture. We might gather, then, that love is important for who Jesus is. Here’s where I’m going: love is what Jesus commands us to do. But even deeper than that, Jesus is the love that he wants us to give. The question that today’s scripture raises for me is this: How can Jesus command us to love one another? He says it several times. In verse 12, "This is my commandment, that you love one another." And in verse 17, "I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another." But if you only love because someone commands you to, is it really love? I mean, isn’t love supposed to be freely given, not just an act of obedience? To address…
John 15:1-8 Who Is Jesus? Our Connection to God May 3, 2015 Maple Grove UMC It’s one thing to believe in God; it’s something else again to feel connected to God. And it’s one thing to know people, to have acquaint-tances, and it’s another thing entirely to be connected with people. We live in a world where connections—deep, lasting connections—are hard to come by. The absence of connectedness haunts and diminishes us. Families move all over the place. I have to travel 900 miles to see my brother and sister, while my daughter goes to college four states away. We’re connected, but it’s not easy. It’s harder than ever to keep marriages together, and kids bounce back and forth between their parents’ homes. Older people often feel disconnected from church because it’s changed too much, while younger people aren’t interested in church because it hasn’t changed enough. And then there’s…
Luke 24:13-35 Who Is Jesus? Stranger on the Way April 19, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Who is Jesus? That’s the question we’ll be grappling with in this worship series. It’s an essential question for Christians, since by definition Christians are not just spiritual in general, but followers of Jesus in particular. So who is this Jesus we follow? Despite how important the question is, it’s not as easy to answer as you might think. Literary critic, Terry Eagleton recently wrote, Jesus "is presented as homeless, propertyless, celibate, . . . socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, . . . a friend of outcasts and pariahs, averse to material possessions, . . . careless about purity regulations, critical of traditional authority, . . . and a scourge of the rich and powerful."1 Is that who Jesus is? Well, it’s part of who he is, and yet we follow him as Lord and…
Mark 16:1-8 The Good New Is for YOU April 5, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Out of Mark’s entire Easter story, which consists of 195 words, I want to bring your attention to just two of them. And those two words are: and Peter. Three women came to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning, to care for his body. But they were there met by a young man in white, apparently an angel, who said: "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." This is, of course, a stunning, announcement. It is a message if life-changing, world-changing proportions. Jesus, who was dead just…
Ephesians 4:25-32 How to Get to Forgiveness March 15, 2015 Maple Grove UMC I don’t know if this is true for the things you do, but for me it seems like the things I most need help with are the things that get skipped in the instructions. For example, I read lots of church leadership books. And here’s a standard outline for one of these books: (1) Build a great team of spiritual leaders. (2) Pray about God’s vision for your church. (3) Write the vision down. (4) Then implement the vision. And there’s lots of great advice about each of these steps. But it’s the step between "pray about the vision" and "write the vision down" that stumps me. Where does the vision come from? How do you know the vision when you see it? Who decides what it’s going to be? That’s what I want to know. And…
Romans 12:14-21 What Forgiveness Is . . . And Isn’t March 8, 2015 Maple Grove UMC When I was in graduate school—before I had met my lovely wife, you understand—I spent a brief but intense period dating a young woman I met at church. I spent Thanksgiving with her family and we made plans for her to spend Christmas with my family. Then suddenly she ended it. She gave no reason—just broke it off. And when I got back from Christmas break, I heard through the grapevine—not from her, but through the grapevine—that she had got engaged to an old boyfriend, somebody she had looked me in the eyes and promised me that she was completely over. I felt betrayed, humiliated, enraged. But after a while of that, I decided I wanted to forgive her. And I tried to, but it felt to me like I hadn’t really forgiven her.…
Luke 15:25-32 Why Forgive? Don’t Stay out in the Dark March 1, 2015 The journey to forgiveness begins with the experience of being forgiven. You can’t give to others what you haven’t received yourself. The first part of Jesus’ story told us: "The God of love is running to meet you with open arms and a heart full of joy. May you receive the forgiveness God so freely offers." If we allow ourselves to be held in God’s arms of mercy and love, then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to forgive to someone else. That’s where the journey to forgiveness begins. But sooner or later the journey always passes through this question: Why should I forgive? She doesn’t deserve it. Even if he said he’s sorry—which he hasn’t!—he still wouldn’t deserve it. But of course, that’s what forgiveness is—something by definition we don’t deserve, and desperately need anyway.…
Luke 15:11-24 Forgiveness: Where to Start—The Loving Arms of the Father February 22, 2015 Maple Grove UMC This worship series is mostly about learning to forgive others, about becoming a more forgiving person—as Ephesians puts it, "to forgive one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you" (4:32) But I believe that the journey to forgiving others begins with the experience of being forgiven. You can’t give what you haven’t received. So here is what I want you to take home with you today: the God of love is running to meet you with open arms and a heart full of joy. May you receive the forgiveness God so freely offers. Let me tell you a story. It is, well, an embarrassing story. Several years ago I drove up to Akron for a church meeting one Saturday. It was a productive meeting and I was in a good mood…
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 All for the Sake of the Gospel February 8, 2015 Maple Grove UMC "It is grace," wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian [brothers and sisters]"1 Seldom have I seen the grace of Christian community lived out better than this last week at Maple Grove. All the prayers that were said, all the tears cried and hugs shared, people serving food and singing in the choir and standing in the cold to help others park their cars. The community came together to support Dorothy and her family, to grieve our own loss, to honor Bill’s ministry and friendship, and to bear witness to the God Bill served. How precious and important it is that the life we have in Christ is life together. Amen? But again, anyone who has ever actually been part of a community—whether a family…
Some things we just know. Maybe we know them because they’re in the Scriptures, or because our parents taught them to us, or because they’re in our religious tradition. But some things we know in ways even deeper than those—they’re a matter of spiritual intuition, we feel them in our bones. For example, we would, I believe, have to guess that there’s hockey in heaven, minus the fighting, of course. I sure hope there’s football in heaven--otherwise all those Buckeye fans would refuse to go. But we just know there’s basketball in heaven, or maybe basketball is heaven. Dorothy said that the night before he died, Bill dreamed three different times that he was playing basketball. Now, he's not dreaming it; he’s doing it. As someone who loved and enjoyed this life, Bill was known to look around him—at his family, at nature, at church and food and yes at…
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 It’s Not About Me February 1, 2015 Maple Grove UMC In times of sorrow and loss like this, we become especially aware of how precious and important it is that the life we have in Christ is life together. We worship together, we pray together, we laugh and cry together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, part of the German church oppressed by the Nazis, wrote, "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian [brothers and sisters]"1 That’s the glory of life together. But anyone who has ever actually been part of a community—say, a family or a church—knows that life together can also be difficult, stressful. Quaker writer Parker Palmer has defined community as "that place where the person you least want to live with always lives. And when that person moves away, someone else arises to take his or her place."2…
Mark 1:14-20 Now Is the Time January 25, 2015 Maple Grove UMC The way Mark reports it, here is Jesus’ first sermon, in its entirety: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." That’s it. You don’t have to say it. I’ll say it for you: Why do I need fifteen minutes every Sunday, if Jesus could get by with twenty-one words? And it’s not just a brief message; it’s an urgent message. The time is fulfilled, it begins. Now is the time. If it’s ever going to be the time, now is the time. Wherever Jesus is, it’s time. Jesus goes on: the kingdom of God has come near. The kingdom of God—a new life of love and justice and forgiveness—is right here, so close you can feel it, taste it. You can live in it, if you…
1 Samuel 3:1-10 Wake Up Call from God January 18, 2015 Maple Grove UMC "One key to revitalizing our congregation," writes a Lutheran pastor, "was learning again how to listen—to God, to one another, and to our neighbors. When we start believing," she says, "that God speaks to us—and even more, that God is calling us—that is when renewal begins."1 A shiny new life, and a shiny new life together, comes from listening for God. Every Sunday, writes Barbara Taylor, we say over and over: ‘Lord, hear our prayer,’ "as if the job of listening were God’s, not ours. We name our concerns, giving God suggestions on what to do about them. What a reversal of power might occur," she says, "if we turned the process around, naming our concerns and asking God to tell us what to do about them.2 The question, then, is how does God speak to…
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 A Whole New World January 4, 2015 Maple Grove UMC Years ago I baptized a woman—I’ll call her Sonia—who had spent most of her life in prison.  She’d been brutally abused by her father and wound up brutalizing others.  But she started coming to church with a friend, met Jesus, and wanted a different life.  A couple of weeks after her baptism, she asked me, "Pastor, when am I going to start feeling like a Christian?  When is everything going to start being different?" "Well," I stalled, "I don’t know that there’s a time when everything is different all at once.  Through Christ, God forgives you and gradually you grow in love." "Oh," she said, clearly disappointed.  She stuck with her faith for a while, but eventually fell away. I did Sonia a disservice.  I was trying to protect her.  I didn’t want her to expect so…
Luke 2:8-20 and Matthew 2:1-12 A Journey Together to God Christmas Eve 2014 Maple Grove UMC What are YOU looking for?  That’s been our worship theme at Maple Grove this Christmas season.  The picture for this worship series shows a guy sitting on a park bench, leaning back in the semi-darkness, staring off into the distance, with a star shining in the sky like a sign from God.  And you can just tell this guy’s looking for something.  Don’t know what it is.  Don’t know when he might find it.  But you know he’s looking for something.  And the question is: what are YOU looking for this Christmas? That’s actually a great question to ask as we listen to the Christmas story.  Those shepherds, for example—what were they looking for?  They were, Luke says, keeping watch over the flocks by night, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them. …
Luke 1:26-38 Let It Be December 21, 2014 Maple Grove UMC What are YOU looking for?  That’s been our question this Advent season.  And we’ve been saying our mantra in response: I am looking for nothing less than the coming of Christ in my life and in everything I do and everyone I meet I am looking for signs of God’s power and love This Christmas, my friends, what are YOU looking for?  That’s a deep and fruitful question.  But today’s scripture suggests what may be an even deeper question. Today we read about Mary, who so far as we know was an ordinary Jewish girl engaged but not yet married to a man named Joseph.  Then an angel appeared and told her she was going to have a baby.  The angel had  more to say about this baby—he would be named Jesus and be the son of God and…
Mark 1:1-8 Changed Hearts and Lives December 7, 2014 Maple Grove UMC What are you looking for?  Last Sunday the guy on the front of the bulletin—Advent guy—invited us to take time to sit on the bench, to lean back in the semi-darkness and stare into the distance, with that star shining in the sky like a sign from God, and say: I am looking for nothing less than the coming of Christ in my life and in everything I do and everyone I meet I am looking for signs of God’s power and love. We say that.  But the truth is, this time of year, we’re mostly just  looking for baby Jesus in the manger—something cute and sentimental.  So we come looking for baby Jesus in the manger, but what the Bible gives us is John the Baptist in the wilderness—nothing cute or sentimental about John with his camel-hair…
Mark 13:24-37 Stay Alert! November 30, 2014 Our Advent worship series is called:  "What are YOU looking for?"  The guy on the front of the bulletin—Advent guy--is sitting on a bench, in the semi-dark, staring into the distance, and you just 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 forgive-ness, or the ability to forgive?  For an end to violence in Iraq or Ferguson or maybe in your own home?  For the power to live a new and different life?  Well, here’s where I hope to take you today.  Repeat after me: I am looking for nothing less than the coming of Christ in my life and in everything I do and everyone…
Genesis 28:10-18 Everything Is Holy November 16, 2014 Maple Grove UMC There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 Jacob and his twin, Esau, had fought with each other since they were in their mother’s womb.  Daddy loved Esau, but Mommyloved Jacob—which doesn’t make for good family dynamics.  First Jacob took away his brother’s inheritance, the money.  Then Jacob took advantage of their father’s blindness and cheated Esau out of the family blessing as well.  Esau was so mad he vowed to kill his brother, so mom sent Jacob away where Esau couldn’t get to him.  I mean, what a mess. So here is Jacob, running away from home, afraid for his life, not sure…
  Revelation 21:1-6 My Brother and the New World October 24, 2014 Maple Grove UMC Sometimes death and eternal life are almost abstract.  Real enough, but only in the back of your mind.  Even with a war going on, even with concern about Ebola, most of us aren’t walking around thinking about death and eternal life all the time.  And for the most part, that’s a good thing.  It’s far more enjoyable—both for you and for the people around you—to live life rather than focus on death.  Last spring I did a sermon series called "A Taste of Revelation," and I preached on today’s scripture from Revelation 21.  And I spent that sermon trying to persuade you that this scripture is not primarily a vision of how things will be some day, but a vision of how God wants life to be right here and now, in this life. I…
Philippians 4:4-7 TOGETHER We Celebrate October 26, 2014 Maple Grove UMC After church last Sunday someone asked me, "Why are you calling it Celebration Sunday already next week?  The pledges won’t even be counted yet."  They asked in jest . . . I think.  It’s actually a great question.   The question implies that we will celebrate when our commitments of financial giving and service meet our needs and expectations—and we will, of course.  But it also implies that we might hold off celebrating until we know that the commitments tally high enough.  And that we will not do.  And to explain why, let me turn to Philippians 4:4-7. "Rejoice in the Lord always," writes the apostle Paul, "again I will say, Rejoice."  Notice that Paul does not say, "Rejoice in your own goodness and generosity."  He says, "Rejoice in the Lord."  And again, he does not say, "Rejoice when everything…
Philippians 2:1-11 TOGETHER We Serve October 19, 2014 Maple Grove UMC "The stories we tell," writes Brian Peterson, "declare who we are."1  There are people—I hope you know some of them—who are always telling about the good that’s happened to them, about their blessings and good fortune.  There are other people—you probably know some of them too—who only want to tell about how they’ve been mistreated and how awful things are.  The stories we tell declare who we are.  When I was first considering a call to ministry, I met with two pastors to find a mentor for the candidacy process.  One of the pastors mostly complained about how he never got the appointment he wanted and how every church was out to get him.  The other pastor told me how every church he’d been privileged to serve, had such wonderful people and taught him so much.  Guess which pastor…
Philippians 4:10-20 TOGETHER We Give October 12, 2014 Maple Grove UMC There’s a certain awkwardness when a preacher talks about money.  Have you ever noticed that?  To some extent it’s awkward any time we talk about money, especially in a context not of business but of loving, caring relationships.  Money can be a source of tension not just in churches, but also in families and marriages and friendships.  But there’s an added awkwardness when it’s a preacher talking about money.  Nowhere is this more clear than in Philippians 4.  We saw last Sunday that the apostle Paul and the Philippians had a special relationship.  They prayed for each other.  They had what Paul called a "sharing" or "partnership" in the gospel.  He thanked God every single time he remembered them.  They were close.  But still, when he writes to them about money, he hems and haws.  He says something, and…
Philippians 1:3-11 TOGETHER We Pray October 5, 2014 TOGETHER is our theme this stewardship season.  Our stewardship theme last year was, well, TOGETHER.  And though it may not be our stewardship theme forever, TOGETHER will always be a leading theme in the church.  This is true, in part, because in times of change and transition like these, being TOGETHER is both more difficult and more critical than ever.  It is also true because in John 17 Jesus prayed for our TOGETHERNESS.  "Holy Father," he prayed, "protect them . . . that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."  May it be so. During this month of the stewardship campaign, we have the opportunity to make commitments about how we will pray, give, serve and celebrate TOGETHER in the coming year, beginning with TOGETHER We Pray. I learned about how prayer connects people from…
Luke 4:16-19 and John 10:7-10 CARE: Transformation September 21, 2014 Maple Grove UMC How big is your vision? Not "How well do you see?" If that were the question, after so many eye surgeries, my answer would have to be, "Not very well." But the question is, "How big is your vision?" And specifically, how big is our church’s vision? In our breakthrough prayer, for months we have been praying for God to do, through us, more than we could ever ask or think or imagine. We often think believe that the church is limited by our resources—the size of the church staff, or nature of the building, or the charisma of the pastor, or especially by how much money we don’t have. But usually we are limited only by the size of our vision. If we can see it, and if it’s from God, there’s surely a way to…
Ephesians 3:11-16, 4:14-19 GROW:  An Ever-Deepening Relationship with God September 14, 2014 Maple Grove UMC Our former bishop, Bruce Ough, told how as a boy he would visit his grandparents every summer on their farm in the Dakotas.  He loved to go to their church, which was small and intimate and full of straight-talking country people.  His first summer there a middle-aged woman stood up in church at prayer time, as they did at the church, and gave her testimony.  She emotionally told how in her 20s she got addicted to drugs and became down and out, utterly  hopeless.  But the love of Jesus came streaming into her heart and turned her life around.  She was forgiven, set free and given new life.  Thanks be to God! On the way home from church young Bruce exclaimed to his grandparents how impressed he was by the woman’s testimony.  They kind of…
John 1:35-46 INVITE:  Come and See September 7, 2014 The word of the Lord came to the prophet Habakkuk:  "Write the vision; make it plain. . .  If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come."  That is the spiritual work of casting vision—not to grow impatient, not to think it up on our own, but to wait for it, to listen, to receive it from God.  Well, we have waited, we have listened, we have tested some things, and this month I am ready to share with you a vision for Maple Grove Church.  But what is this vision thing, anyway?  First, your mission is, in a few words, your purpose, what above everything else God has called you to do.  Maple Grove’s mission statement is fourteen words long and many of you know it by heart:  We are an open community of Christians who love…
Mark 6:30-44   You Give Them Something to Eat August 31, 2014 Maple Grove UMC Have you ever seen what’s called a "Red Letter" edition of the Bible?  Everything Jesus said is in red print so his words stand out.  If you look at one of these Red Letter Bibles, you’ll discover that sometimes Jesus could be pretty long-winded—especially in John’s gospel!  But once the Feeding of the 5000 gets started, there’s not much red ink.  Jesus has only two things to say in this story.  For their part, the apostles do five things.  The crowd have their part to play.  But in the face of hungry people, Jesus has just two things to say.  So we probably ought to pay attention to them, memorize them, and apply them to our lives. First, Jesus says, "You give them something to eat."  Say it with me:  "You give them something to…
Sermon: Marks of the True Christian Please be with me in prayer Clear our minds & Open our hearts So that we may hear your word This is the 4th and final installment on our series of Wellness. Most commonly known statement around this Relationship Wellness concept is the Golden Rule:  Do onto others as you would have others do unto you…. Basically, treat others like you want to be treated. In today’s reading, The Apostle Paul tells us to "Love one another with brotherly affection." This whole concept of relationships. How we:  Live with each other Interact with each other Communicate with each other Is at the core of what it means to follow Christ. Matthew 22 Jesus was asked: 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with…
Isaiah 65:17-25 What the Good Life Looks Like (Community God-Centered Wellbeing) August 17, 2014 When we began to share early versions of the model for God-Centered Wellbeing that you see on the bulletin cover, much of it seemed pretty intuitive to most people.  Personal Health—spiritual, emotional, physical and financial—that’s pretty obvious.  It’s clear that God-Centered Wellbeing involves our Relationships with God, our families and pets, friends, and our faith community—Duane Casares will be speaking about that next Sunday.  And how God calls us to work and serve and live—it’s easy to see how that’s connected to Wellbeing.  But Community?  Hmm . . .  Why is that part of the model, and how do we promote God-Centered Wellbeing in our communities?  Well, I’m glad you asked! Why is Community part of the model for God-Centered Wellbeing?  For one thing, because our personal wellness is enhanced by the quality of the community…
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 No More Piecemeal Lives ("Calling" and God-Centered Wellbeing) August 10, 2014 People are different.  Maybe you’ve noticed that.  Maybe it doesn’t seem particularly profound to you.  But it is one of the main points of 1 Corinthians 12—people are different.  And that’s a good thing. God made us that way, on purpose.  Even though I think the world would be a better place if everyone was just like me, that’s not how the Bible sees it:  "All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit," writes the apostle Paul, "and to all kinds of people!  The variety," he says, "is wonderful."1   Every single person has been given by God a spiritual gift—a special way of serving and contributing.  Paul names some of these spiritual gifts:  Wise counsel Proclamation Clear understanding Distinguishing between spirits Simple trust Tongues Miraculous acts Interpretation of tongues And this is not…
Mark 12:28-31 Personal God-Centered Wellbeing August 3, 2014 Maple Grove UMC "Much of what we think will improve our wellbeing is either misguided or just plain wrong."  That’s how Tom Rath and Jim Harter begin their recent book called Wellbeing.    They go on to say, "Contrary to what many people believe, wellbeing isn’t just about being happy.  Nor is it only about being wealthy or successful.  And it’s certainly not limited to physical health and wellness.  In fact, focusing on any of these elements in isolation could drive us to feelings of frustration and even failure." They say, "We are quick to buy into programs that promise to help us make money, lose weight, or strengthen our relationships.  Then we spend the next few weeks dedicating our time and energy to that specific plan.  Eventually, we give up on these programs when they conflict with other aspects of our lives." …
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