Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Risking the Church for the Sake of the Gospel

(The following sermon was preached on May 5, 2013, the Sixth Sunday of Easter at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville TN on the occasion of Messiah's first SERVE day experience. On SERVE day, Messiah's members gathered for one worship service, instead of two, and then left in teams, directly from worship, to go out into the community to participate in service projects. The text for this sermon is a modified version of the RCL pericope of the day, Acts 16:(6-8) 9-15.)

Those were the days, those long, lazy, carefree days of summer. Back then, my childhood friend and I would strike out on our bikes, unencumbered by time or fear or parental restriction. No helmets or fancy camelback water bottles. Just our bikes and a free and easygoing wanderlust. Me on my three speed Murray bike. My friend on his single speed Schwinn. Turning the pedals over we’d journey over suburban lanes, narrow dirt roads and grass covered fields. Whatever we desired; wherever we wanted; we would go, completely free to choose our path and destiny. 

Looking back with 21st century eyes, it seems what we did then - two children out and about, unsupervised - was risky, dangerous even. Maybe we were just being naive’ and didn’t know any better. Or, maybe it’s exactly what we needed to do in order to grow up. Maybe we needed to go out on our own, step out of the familiar, and risk something. 

According to today’s reading from Acts, Paul is striking out on the way, he and his fellow missionaries, going wherever their little hearts desired. In their thinking, maybe they would go on to parts of western Asia Minor (what is modern day western Turkey) or possibly to the Asia Minor province of Bithynia (what is modern day northern Turkey on the Black Sea.) There wouldn’t be much risk involved in that. Each of these destinations would be familiar territory for Paul. He was from Tarsus in southern Asia Minor (southern Turkey) after all. So this would be safe and easy going. Better to enjoy. More likely to be successful as far as building churches goes.  

But, Paul soon discovers that he is not as free as he thought to wander where he may. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Of Chicken Farms and Costly Grace

(This sermon was preached at Messiah Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2013. The sermon is based on the gospel text or the day, John 12:1-8

My first pastoral call was with a small family-size parish named Mt. Zion - St. Luke Lutheran Church. The small southwest Georgia towns of Oglethorpe and Montezuma -  separated only by the dirty brown water of the lazy Flint River - and the surrounding farm lands made up this mostly agriculture parish. In such an earthy place, so near the land, you couldn’t help but have your senses awakened by the smells and sounds, images and textures that surrounded you. Known mostly for its vast cotton fields and “pee-can” orchards, this land is also home to chicken farms and paper mills. Which, for any of you who have experienced the like, you know, chicken farms and paper mills produce THE...most...offensive...odor. Especially when those odors mix together on a hot, humid day. Depending on which way the wind was blowing, the smells of chickens and chicken manure and wood being milled into paper would repel your senses. The odor was sickening. It was like...it was like the stench of death. 

It seems in life, the stench of death is always near. Through physical, mental, and emotional illness; through family conflicts and national wars; through the uncertainties of economy and simple every day life; through aging and the approach of literal dying; the stench of death is carried on the wind, assaulting our senses. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What's Your Program, Jesus?

Sermon for January 27, 2013. Epiphany 3. Pastor Eric Murray. Luke 4:14-21. Jesus claims the words of the prophet Isaiah as his mission program.