Sermon: The Sense of an Ending

The original Gospel of Mark ends in a strange way:

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” –Mark 16:8

markThe Gospel ends with a preposition, and essentially says nothing happens after Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome were encountered by the spirit at the tomb, telling them Jesus had risen. It’s as if someone pulled Mark away from his desk just as he was about to wrap up his writings.

This Gospel ending was so unsatisfying the future Biblical scholars added onto the ending of Mark — adding a “shorter ending of Mark” and “longer ending of Mark” to the Bible we use today (NRSV).

But perhaps Mark was intentional about his ending. Because the Gospels aren’t about the disciples … they’re about Jesus. And Jesus lives on beyond the Bible, beyond the church and beyond the world.

“The Sense of an Ending
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 16:1-17 …
April 22, 2018

Sermon: Idle Tales for April Fools’

Too often Christians get distracted by things of this world … things that just don’t matter to God. But Christians often take things of this world too seriously. “God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.”

Christians get caught up in the minutia of the world,  for instance complaining about people not saying “Merry Christmas” or an ice cream shop in Canada named “Sweet Jesus.” But Christianity is so much more than that. And God just doesn’t care about a Canadian ice cream shop.

“Instead of doing things God’s way, we often want to use the powerful things of this world to accomplish our own powerful ends.”

“Idle Tales for April Fools'”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 1-11
April 1, 2018 • Easter Sunday

Homily: Stop Making Sense

Days before Jesus was sentenced to death, a woman busted open a jar of very expensive perfume to pour it on Jesus. While some rebuked her for “wasting” her very valuable possession which she could have instead given to the poor, Jesus praised her, saying, “She poured perfume on my body … to prepare me for my burial.”

This woman recognized the importance of Jesus. And while her critics were noble in their criticism — recommending she sell the perfume and give the proceeds to the poor — Jesus praises her for putting God at the center of her faith. She was not concerned with “wasting” her precious resource on God.

For many of us, time is our most precious resource. And we often make excuses to not attend church, to not pray, to not dedicate time for God because we don’t have enough time. However, “the true test of our love for Jesus is the willingness to ‘waste time’ in worship.”

 

“Stop Making Sense”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 14: 3-8
March 25, 2018 • Palm Sunday

Homily: The Voice of the Healer

“The Voice of the Healer”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 5: 2-9
March 11, 2018
Audio of this sermon is unavailable.
John 5:2:   Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes.  3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
At the heart of the encounter, Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus doesn’t ask, “what can I do for you?” He doesn’t begin with pleasantries. Jesus knows what the man needs—he needs to be made well, made whole. When Jesus saw him lying there he knew that he had been there a long time; Jesus knew his condition and its duration. Jesus the Remedy knew the man’s ailment. So he asks, “do you want to be made well?”
At first it seems a silly question. We can imagine the disciples standing there might have asked, “C’mon Jesus, you know how long he’s been here, you know how much he needs to be healed, so go ahead and heal him already.” But this is one of the places where our Lord shows a tremendous amount of restraint. Jesus could have healed him with a word, but it seems that he wants the man to co-operate with his healing. Jesus knows that there is something occurring inside the man that needs to be brought to the level of awareness, and the man’s answer shows this to be true. Rather than recognize the presence of the healer in his midst, the man gives an explanation, “hey look,” he says, “as you can tell, I’m having a hard time walking here, and as you can tell, the pool is over there, so put two and two together.”
I’ve often heard it said that the man is here giving excuses, and that in fact, the fact that he lollygags is just a sign that he is looking for a handout, but notice, the text is not interested in his motives, as is often the case with the Bible. While it seems obvious to say, if you want to know what the Bible means its usually best to start with what the words and sentences say. The story says that in answering Jesus’ question, the man actually answers a different question.
The question the man thought he heard might be something like, “hey, lame guy, why have you been here so long?” To which his response is, “well, because nobody will put me in the waters.” I should also add that some people at that time thought that the waters at the pool of Bethesda were healing waters, but only at certain times, when, as legend had it, an angel would come and “trouble the waters,” or stir them up. When that happened, people would rush forward to get in within a certain time, after which time, the water was just water again. In short, the man is saying, I can’t get there fast enough because the competition is just too intense.
On the other hand, the legend of the angel who troubles the waters isn’t necessary to understand the man’s predicament. His problem may simply be that the waters did not heal in the way they were thought to. It doesn’t really matter how the man answers the question he thought he heard, what matters is, there is another question we can answer—a question about being healed. This story focuses our attention not on all the things that do not heal, but raises to our awareness the presence of the One who can heal. Even though the Source of all Life was standing right in front him, this man played the same old tapes that had been playing in his head for who knows how long—and how could he have done otherwise? The pain of illness is often more accutely felt in the mind than in the body. But in spite of voices in our minds, we are still never out of earshot from the healing voice of Jesus.
Contemplative prayer is such useful aid in the life of the spirit because it is a practice that helps us turn off the noise of our own mind. At the first level, we’re able to silence the constant chatter that is constantly overdubbing our more substantial thoughts. Once that is turned off there are deeper patterns of thought that begin to surface—the stories we tell ourselves out of fear, or anxiety, or pain—the stories of why we can’t be healed or why we’re not good enough. When we learn to pay attention to our thoughts, we begin to notice how the operate on us, how they can take the wheel of our consciousness and drive us to all sorts of strange places. But in the habit of silence we learn to sit as someone in a quiet church, hearing the cars drive by on the street, but by no means hopping in to be taken to their strange destinations.
I’ve seen how silence can bring people back from the destinations they’ve found themselves wanting to leave. As your pastor, I have utter confidence in recommending the practices of contemplation and silence because I’ve seen up close lives that have been changed. My friend Sherri was a pastor working 80 hours a week at a large congregation when she found herself absolutely exhausted and run down. She discovered contemplative prayer on a weekend clergy retreat and at first, she took to it because it was the only time she could ever stop, but then, over the course of weeks and months, she began to hear the voice of anxiety that had been pushing her to exhaustion and beyond. There was voice saying, “if you don’t work as hard as the Senior Pastor, you’ll be a failure and everyone will know it.” “If you don’t work harder than everyone else, they’ll know you don’t belong here.” After a time, she was able to hear these voices without running from them, to let them in without letting them tell her who she really was as a child of God.
When we learn to be aware of these voices without letting them control us, what we discover underneath them is the presence of Jesus. I should add here that contemplative or centering prayer is nothing on its own. Like any spiritual discipline, it’s gift to us insofar as it puts us into contact with the healing of Jesus. The presence of God is always with us—we cannot do anything to diminish it. Christ is the ground of our being, the source of our life, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ is always present to us. When we quiet our minds and silence the stories in our heads, we can hear the Voice of the Healer, asking us again, “do you want to be made well?”

Homily: Abiding in the Word

PruningJesus tells us in John 15:4 that “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Spiritual life is like a vine. And just as vines need pruning to stay in good health and bear more fruit, our spiritual lives need seasonal pruning. But we are not asked to do this task alone. God is the master gardener, and we can trust that God will help prune us so good things will come from us.

Lent offers an opportunity for spiritual pruning. Listen to God, and recognize what God is trying to do in our lives.

“Abiding in the Word”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 15:4-11
March 4, 2018

Homily: Inch Into The Light

During Lent, Oconee Street United Methodist Church will be focused around the theme of “Listen.” Sunday services will be built around this theme, allowing attendees an opportunity to listen and reflect on God. In lieu of a traditional sermon, Pastor Joe Gunby will offer a shorter “Homily,” implementing practices of Lectio Divina, a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word.

How-to-grow-raddish

Sometimes we struggle with prayer because we feel like we cannot get in touch with God. However, the Spirit of God is inside us. We just need to find the peace to talk to God within ourselves.

“Inch Into The Light”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Romans 8:26-28; 38-39
Feb. 25, 2018 • Second Sunday of Lent

Homily: The Sound of Silence

During Lent, Oconee Street United Methodist Church will be focused around the theme of “Listen.” Sunday services will be built around this theme, allowing attendees an opportunity to listen and reflect on God.

In lieu of a traditional sermon, Pastor Joe Gunby will offer a shorter “Homily,” implementing practices of Lectio Divina, a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word.

Lake Junaluska, 2017

The Sound of Silence.


“The Sound of Silence”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Kings 19:11-12
Feb. 18, 2018 • First Sunday of Lent

Sermon: Transfigured

The transfiguration story is a difficult one to grasp.

However, perhaps we need to look at in a different way. Instead of looking at it like a journalist, trying to decipher the who, what, when, why and where, look at it like an abstract painting. Admire its beauty, and the meaning will come to you.

The transfiguration is the ultimate reality of Jesus breaking through to the physical world. God’s power is all we can perceive with our human perception. But God will give you space to accept the presence of God. And when we do, we will experience something indescribably beautiful.

“Transfigured”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 9: 2-9
Feb. 11, 2018 • Transfiguration Sunday

To listen to the choir anthem, “O’ Wondrous Sight, O’ Vision Fair,” click here.

Sermon: Out of the Dark

In Mark 1:29, Jesus heals Mary — not with words — but with a touch. Later he goes into town, taking time to diagnose the problems  with the afflicted. For those with physical problems, he heals them. For those with spiritual problems, he casts out the demons troubling them.

And to this day, Jesus’ calm presence heals and restores us to help. Like a nurse that understands and continuously takes care of her patient, Jesus is continuously taking care of us. He knows our “case history.” He knows about our aches and pains. And he can help us.

There is something more going on here than any of can fix. We need the healing touch of Jesus. But we have to let him in.

“Out of the Dark”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 1:29-39
Feb. 4, 2017

Sermon: Holy One of God

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark opens his Gospel not with the birth of Jesus, but his baptism. And just a few verses later in chapter one, while preaching in a sanctuary Jesus casts out a demon from a possessed man. Many were surprised with the confidence with which Jesus did his work, and that he exhibited power over an “evil spirit.”

Although we may not possess power to perform exorcisms, we do have a power as a Christian people to be a strong, positive influence in the lives of others. Several stories of “evil people” have one thing in common — they joined a radical movement (for instance, the white supremacist movement) because it was a group with whom they finally felt accepted.  What if we were able to get to them first?

But we cannot go at it alone. As followers of Jesus, we go to church and worship among our community of believers to develop our practices of piety. Those practices of piety prepare us for works of mercy. And it is only then — when we love our neighbor — that we achieve holiness.

“Holy One of God”
Sermon by Dr. Robert Foster
Mark 1: 21-28
Jan. 28, 2018