Sermon: The Stranger

I wonder: who is the strangest stranger in this story? Who is the one who is most “other”? The woman? No. She is a Samaritan living in Samaria, in the town right there. Everyone knows her. Who, then?

Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796
Angelika Kauffmann; Christ and the Samaritan Woman: (1796)

I love the story of the Woman at the Well in John chapter 4. It’s a story rich in metaphor, allegory and symbolism. I could probably write a dozen sermons on it!

This morning, we’ll dig down on one specific aspect of the many meanings found in this story.

Because of its length, I’ll give a synopsis in place of our normal practice of reading the full passage.  We’ll then  watch a video that presents a modern reinterpretation of this passage, and conclude with a short meditation.

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Sermon: Repent

Would God’s love for us have any meaning or value if God did not expect something of us in return? The death of Christ on the Cross is proof that Love does not come cheap. So, while the Love of God is freely given to all, there is a price to accepting it. And, that price is Repentance.

sermon-of-st-john-the-baptist

There are lots of wonderful old traditions we celebrate this time year: the annual church rummage sale. The men’s pancake breakfast. The live nativity scenes. Going Caroling. Maybe in some churches the youth group sets up a tree in the sanctuary; and the younger children make ornaments to hang on them. Perhaps we have an “Angel Tree” or a box to donate gifts for those who would not otherwise have a Christmas at all. And then there’s my personal favorite: all those Christmas cookies!

These are all beautiful and very worthwhile traditions; they express who we are and what is important to us. And, many if not most of them are centered on Christ’s call to take of each other and take care of those in need. This is a good thing. But, such traditions, as wonderful and good and appropriate to Christmas as they are, are not what Advent is about.

Advent is about who we are about to become, not about who we are now. Advent is about preparing for the gift of God: the Christ Child who is not yet here. It is a call to prepare for what is about to happen.

So, what is Repentance? And, why is it a theme of this, our Second Sunday of Advent? I’d like to begin by exploring what Repentance isn’t.

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Sermon: It Didn’t Go So Well

Love is not a wimpy or sentimental emotion; but a passionate, fierce action. … Such Love requires us to participate in the life of the person in front of us. It makes us see that it isn’t all about us or our agendas. … Jesus will always confound our expectations because he isn’t here to meet our expectations, but rather to help us achieve all that God hopes for us.

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Christ Teaching in the Synagogue at Nazareth by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1658

This morning’s gospel reading focuses on the most extensive narrative we have of Jesus in a Synagogue; and, it didn’t go so well! Or did it?

Please pray with me… Lord, let it be your voice that speaks through my mouth, and let our hearts and minds be open and receptive to hearing the Word & Mission you have for us here today. Amen.

Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke narrates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. At the start of this morning’s reading, we are told that “filled with the power of the Spirit,” Jesus ministers in Galilee and eventually returns to the village where he grew up.

People throughout Galilee are saying he is the first true prophet in centuries, and perhaps more than that. But for those in Nazareth, he’s more: he is their celebrity – their hometown hero. Can you imagine? Such an important person, from a tiny, obscure village: they know him! …So exciting! The community was abuzz with rumors and speculation, hopes for a bright future to be brought about through the glory of their native son.

But some are filled with doubt: they watched him grow up. They know him as the son of Joseph the Carpenter. They know Jesus and his family all too well.

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Waiting…

John the Baptist in prison

Presented at Centre Congregational Church, UCC in Brattleboro, VT
December 15, 2013  (Advent, Week 3)

Scriptures: 

Luke 1:47-55 (The Magnificat)
James 5:7-10 (“Be Patient … Strengthen your hearts”)
Matthew 11:2-11 (“Are you the One who is to come?”)

This is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent; and tradition tells us it is “…a day to be joyful even in the midst of long waiting and keen awareness of suffering.”   

Our Advent readings started two weeks ago with a focus on the future: “The reign of God is coming. Prepare!” They end next week with a focus on the past: “The Messiah is about to be born in Bethlehem. Rejoice!”  And, as I said earlier, the word Gaudete is a Latin word meaning “to rejoice” in the imperative – meaning we are commanded to rejoice.

As Advent progresses, our emphasis on the future declines as our emphasis on the past increases.  Our readings for Advent begin with a mature Jesus teaching us about the reign of God, and they close with the unborn Christ Child in Mary’s womb.

This movement reflects our Christian understanding that the sacred story, to be understood fully and correctly, has to be told backwards.  The birth and ministry of Jesus are incomprehensible until we know of his death and resurrection.  To put it another way, our understanding of the past is muddled and incomplete until we grasp the nature of the future and purpose of History.  Christianity sees History as having a definite start, a definite end, and that it reflects the plan and purpose of God, reaching its crescendo in Christ.

Advent binds the future and past together.  It reminds us that there is a tension between them, and that this tension is where our faith is centered – the conviction that there is a known end to the road we are called to follow through History, and that God is continuously involved, even though the path that our feet tread at the moment is never clear to us.  You see this tension in each of our scriptures for today.

In the Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke (much of which we sang as our first hymn this morning) Mary begins by saying “My soul rejoices in God my saviour!” and she ends with “He has helped his servant Israel … according to the promise he made to our ancestors …”  Mary is linking past, present, and future – naming the promise made to Abraham long ago; and rejoicing because the long wait for its coming fulfillment is over.

In our first reading, in his Epistle to a Church that wonders why the Messiah has not returned, and why the suffering continues, James tells us to be patient and take comfort, in the same way that a farmer waits for the crop to mature, and warns us that the Judge is standing at the doors.  In other words, the time is at hand, and God is waiting to see the results of the work of the Messiah.

All of this comes to a head in this morning’s Gospel reading, where the Baptist’s disciples confront Jesus.  But first, let’s consider the setting of the story.

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