Sermon: The Right Question

In an era of political tension, it’s easy to misuse the Bible for political gain. As the events at Willow Creek church demonstrate, you can preach Jesus Christ every Sunday morning and still use it for demonic purposes if your focus is on yourself, and not God. Jesus says anything that is standing in the way of salvation is demonic.

We go through life thinking other people owe us the debt of being what we imagine them to be. That’s a lie. Paying attention is one of the most important skills in life, and it’s only possible when Christ helps us find our true self and abandon our selfish self. If you truly want to follow Jesus, you’ll have to deny yourself. You’ll have to go through life not having it your way. You’ll have to bear other people’s burdens and be transformed by their problems.

“The Right Question”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 8: 27-38
Aug. 12, 2018

Sermon: Cleanliness and Godliness

Mark07v1to8&14to15&21to23_2The few times Jesus gets mad in the Bible is when he is dealing with the Pharisees. In Mark 7, the Pharisees are criticizing the disciples for eating with unclean hands. Jesus fires right back to the Pharisees, mentioning their unclean minds. And he declares all food clean.

It’s not that Jesus is against religious traditions. But Jesus gets mad when people use religious traditions to cover up their contempt for what God really wants human life to be about. And we’re guilty of that too — individually and as a society.

When we do good deeds to benefit ourselves — like donating to charity for tax deduction purposes or helping a neighbor and bragging about it, we’re no better than the Pharisees who are using God to glorify themselves. We’re emphasizing cleanliness over godliness.

Here’s a challenge for the week: do something good for the sake of being good and don’t tell anyone about it. Reflect about it with God.

How did that feel?

“Cleanliness and Godliness”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
July 29, 2018

Sermon: Asleep in the Stern

In Mark 4: 35-41, Jesus and the disciples were on a boat as a severe storm hits. As the disciples were terrified, Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat. Eventually, they anxiously call on Jesus, and with one word he silences the storm.

The Bible contains many storms, and when called, God will calm them. Likewise, we have multiple storms in our life that cause us anxiety. We have problems that go beyond the scope of our capability. In these times, we must call on Jesus. He is the only one with the power to calm the storm.

“Asleep in the Stern”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 4:35-41
June 24, 2018

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 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

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

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 24

By Adrienne Bumpers

Mark 8: 22-26: They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, waking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and [the man] looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home saying “Do not even go into the village.”

I recently read through this scripture and was truly stumped. This is the first time that I remember Jesus performing a miracle in two stages. This seemed weird to me and sparked my curiosity so I started  looking at what transpired before this miracle to see if that could give me clarity. When I read from Ch. 8:11-21 (go read it!), it seemed as if Jesus was showing some frustration with the Pharisees and even the Disciples.

My first reaction was “did Jesus let frustrations pile up so much that He allowed it to distract him and He had to try twice to heal this blind man?”  I immediately laughed at my question. Sometimes I just want to see Jesus as human. I totally let frustration distract me at times, but that obviously wasn’t the reason for the two stages of healing.

So, after feeling even more stumped, I did some Google research and what I found was that you wouldn’t get the full effect of the miracle in v.22-26 without the context of v.11-21. The context reveals that Jesus is increasingly aware that everyone around him, specifically the Pharisees and even the disciples, are not fully getting it. The Pharisees wanted proof and the disciples keep forgetting, both displaying a lack of faith. Jesus ignores the Pharisees and lectures the disciples.

How frustrating that must have been for everyone.

So then Jesus’ next step was to respond to the need and the faith of this blind man in the next village. Some say the disciples were with Jesus at this time, so it makes sense to think that Jesus deliberately chooses to perform this miracle in front of them in two stages. The first stage the man can see but he doesn’t fully understand what he sees. Then the second stage Jesus allows him to see with full understanding.

I guess the thing that encourages me most from all of this is that Jesus extends the invitation for others to see clearly and more fully understand. Through my process of trying to better understand the two attempts at healing,  I feel like that same invitation was directly extended to me. Might I remember the constant invitation that is extended to me to not only see but to exercise my faith and more fully understand.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, give us the curiosity to see more deeply what you reveal to us each day. Heal us in as many stages as you need to show us the importance and majesty of your great love. Amen

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, Feb. 21

by Julie Dotterweich Gunby

“There is conflict—God be blessed.

When a sore spot is touched,
there is conflict, there is pain…

No one wants to have a sore spot touched,
and therefore a society with so many sores twitches
when someone has the courage to touch it and say:
‘You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that.’”

~Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love. Compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, S.J. (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), 26, 30.

As conflict-averse as I am, I have to say that this is beautiful, a word of good news.

Being ‘conflict- averse’ is a luxury, borne of  a life of ease in which one has the option for her own comfort rather than a daily unbidden battle with darkness, destruction, exploitation.

Oscar Romero’s life and words call us toward holy conflict.

The world is not as it should be.

To name it as such, to fight for its restitution, and to draw down ire for so doing is an act of faith in the good, the true, and the beautiful, as well as in the only One who can and will make all things right.

Racism, greed, abuse, self-absorption, waste, banality …

As unpopular as it is, the language of sin is the language that lets us touch the sore spots.

Consider the beauty of condemning the wickedness and wastefulness of the empire, and how essential the language of sin is to that endeavor:

But the fact is, we can’t go around battling the powers and principalities of this world unless we are first thrown into holy, transformative conflict within ourselves.

We can’t bring healing if we are covered in festering sores.  We can’t advance the charge into moral battle if our own inner lives are palaces of unreflective ease. We cannot crack open public pain if we know nothing of the inner landscape of despair.

We know this because it was true of no less than Jesus himself.

Between the launch of Jesus’ ministry by baptism and his proclaiming gospel of repentance, he is driven – by the very Spirit of God – into a state of conflict, of temptation, of purification, self-denial, and utter surrender to God.

Mark 1:9-14 (NSRV): In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Ours is not a journey from the clear waters of baptism to ever more enlightened perfection in the truth. Smug self-satisfaction has convinced no one ever, and what is worse, it betrays the reality of the Gospel.

In Jesus, God has become like us, that we, through the brutal work of transformation might become like God, and that our healing might be for the healing of the world.

May God not leave us in our complacency and ease, but disrupt us enough to pray:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”