Sermon: The Greatest! Shrub! … of All!

A child cried as her mother was searched and detained in McAllen, Tex., this past week. Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

In America, bigger is always better. But in the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus tells us that God uses what is small, weak and broken in the world, and when the time is right grows it into something big, and with an evasive power.

There are some lessons we get from scripture that are obvious. But in other instances, scripture may be conflicting. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify separating children from their parents, claiming the authority was given to him by God.  But Revelation 13 tells us that government is the anti-Christ — the empire that is crushing the saints. Twisting the Bible to our political will can get us in trouble.

Sometimes we rely on God to fix our problems. But other times God is telling us, “Don’t wait on my to do something, I’m empowering you to do something.” There are times for us to sit in the quiet contemplation of the love of Jesus, and there are times to stand up and go out in the street.

Whether we sit or stand, silent or shout, we look to the will of God. How we go about that discernment is anybody’s guess. But we take heart for the little seeds that God has planted growing up around us and inside us. And when the time is right, we must use that power to fight injustice and spread God’s love in our world.

“The Greatest! Shrub! … of All!
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 4:26-34
June 17, 2018

Sermon: Christ’s career as a home-wrecker

As a Christian, the problems of society can be overwhelming. Children are being separated from their families at the border. War is devastating regions around the world.  White supremacists are staking claim to our country.

Jesus says we cannot solve any of these problems without getting to the root of the issue: evil. Jesus tells us that the world is in need of salvation and the medicine of God is the only thing that can heal humanity.

That doesn’t mean we should sit and wait for change. The Holy Spirit gives us the power  of God to help heal the world. But are we ready to accept this huge responsibility? We have to come to the place in our lives where we have to have the humility to change the place that we live, our life situation, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

“Christ’s career as a home-wrecker”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 3: 20-35
June 10, 2018

Sermon: Saving Sabbath

The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples for doing work on the Sabbath. Jesus noted that the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.

This isn’t to say that the Sabbath is not important. God gives us the Sabbath as a gift for three reasons: rhythm, resistance and restoration. The Sabbath helps us find rhythm in our lives. It gives us the silence we need to let God in. Sometimes in the salvation of the sabbath we find resistance Just as Jesus broke the law by healing people on sabbath, we should respect the dignity of the children of God over the law and our capitalist society that promotes greed. Finally, the Sabbath gives us restoration.

“Saving Sabbath”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 2:23-3:6
June 3, 2018

Sermon: The Gift of the Spirit

Every year at the end of the Easter season we focus on Pentecost and what it means to be gifted with the Holy Spirit. Often, we recognize the energy and excitement that comes with the Holy Spirit. However, that energy is the effect of the Spirit, not its purpose.

We do need that energy and excitement, but the world desperately needs us to share the spirit — to tell the story of how the spirit has impacted us. If we tap into the power of the Holy Spirit, we can share the life-giving word of God to others.

In our daily interactions, in our conversations with others, we can communicate the role God plays in our lives.

“The Gift of the Spirit”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 2: 1-21
May 20, 2018 • Pentecost

Sermon: You Are My Witnesses

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he called on us to be his witnesses. But what does being a witness actually entail?

Rather than be silent about our faith, we should embrace Christ and not be afraid to share our witness with others. It’s not about boasting, or acting self-righteous or even trying to convert others.  It’s about linking our day-to-day lives and interactions with our faith. And telling people why we act the way we act and why we live the way we live.

It’s not enough to simply witness, but likewise, it’s not enough to simply do good.

“You Are My Witnesses”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 44-53
May 13, 2018

Sermon: Eat and Run

When Jesus comes back to the disciples in Luke 24, he doesn’t command their attention. He waits for them to accept him.

Throughout the Easter stories, we see God’s divine discretion. We have an ability to either invite God in or to let God slip away. Every day this invitation is open to us.

Jesus is always walking with us, regardless of whether we acknowledge him or not. And sometimes God leads us on a journey that we did not intend to take. Just know that wherever you are on your journey, Jesus is with you. Even if you’re walking away from church, Jesus is with you you. In every moment, Christ is here, knocking, asking to be your heart.

“Eat and Run”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 24: 13-35
May 6, 2018 • Sixth Sunday of Easter

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?”